For this article I’ll be looking outside of the world of Doctor Who for inspiration. ‘Yellow Submarine’ was an animated film featuring the Beatles, released in 1968. In it Blue Meanies invade Pepperland, forcing Old Fred to flee in the yellow submarine.
The vessel brings him to Liverpool where he recruits the Beatles to help him. They make the journey back, travelling through the Sea of Time, Sea of Science, Sea of Monsters, Sea of Nothing, the Headlands and the Sea of Holes before finally reaching Pepperland. All the while accompanied by a variety of Beatle songs.
Having recently watched this film again I was struck at how easy it would be to fit Doctor Who. Both have a very British feel and an episodic format. The film was specifically written so that something different would happen every 5 to 10 minutes. As such it can act as a source of adventures or even a whole campaign.
Each location was called a sea but they could just as well have been alien worlds or other dimensions. There is very little difference between the Yellow Submarine sailing to these places and the TARDIS materialising at new destinations.
The Yellow Submarine
The titular vessel is a good stand-in for the TARDIS. Old Fred doesn’t have much of an idea of how to operate it, with the Beatles controlling it by randomly pressing buttons and pulling levers.
It would also appear to be bigger on the inside, since it holds giant cigars and an entire cavalry somewhere in its interior. At least once it transforms its exterior to impersonate a whale. All very TARDIS like abilities.
Having a TARDIS that resemble a vehicle can be very useful and has some precedent within Doctor Who with Iris Wyldetime driving around in a TARDIS that resembles a London Bus.
The trick would be not to make the TARDIS too mundane. There should always be something that makes it stand out. A spaceship would be boring, a flying submarine is just quirky enough to be distinctive. Ringo’s car (or is it George’s?) with its changing colours could also make a good template for a TARDIS.
The big difference is that the PCs will be able to use their TARDIS as transport, rather than a base of operations. To balance this the interior of the TARDIS vehicle should match its exterior. A car, especially an open topped one, should only fit four people, while a submarine can be spacious but difficult to manoeuvre due to its size.
Still there isn’t anything that prevents a camper van’s interior from being the size of a house or a larger vehicle being equally spacious. You just want to avoid PCs from driving everywhere in their TARDIS, never leaving its safety.
The TARDIS might be a mystery itself, with the PCs never quite knowing what will happen. It could even put them in danger, as happens when Ringo pushes a button that ejects him from the submarine.
The vessel could break down, requiring the PCs to find someone who can repair it. It could also go haywire and leave without them, possibly stranding them in whatever land they’re currently in.
It would appear that Old Fred recruits the Beatles, starting with Ringo, by pure chance. It is only by chance that they are musicians, when music repulses the Blue Meanies, and that they are doubles of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Their recruitment would make a good template for how a group of characters come to be travelling in the TARDIS. Simply have the Time Lord character approach them, asking for help.
They might have skills that are vital to help the Time Lord or they could simply be the first people that the Time Lord stumbled across. They could be strangers to each other or they could friends, as they are here.
There is a suggestion that this quest is an escape from 1960s Liverpool where nothing ever happens. The Beatles don’t seem to have any roots, spending their day playing around in a mansion. There is nothing to prevent them from accepting the call for help.
This can be an important consideration when designing a PC. You need someone who isn’t going worry about leaving their friends and loved ones or being fired from their job. Getting into the TARDIS should be an escape from boredom.
Notice as well how the Beatles relate to each other. They each have distinct personalities but also a common bond. They can tease each other, make jokes and share a similar sense of humour. In short they get along, at least in this film.
This means that if one of them gets into trouble the others come to help. This should be a quality shared by PCs. Even if their might be some internal conflicts they are still friends and should be able to depend on each other.
Within the context of the Doctor Who universe each member of the Beatles could be an incarnation of the same Time Lord. The mansion, with its doors that open into a variety of different locations, could be a TARDIS or a metaphor for the universe.
This could explain why the mayor refers to Old Fred as Young Fred. He could be the 1st incarnation, so although he appears as an old man he is actually the youngest of the incarnations.
The Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Club Band
The Beatles eventually encounter their physical counter-parts, the Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Club Band. Doppelgangers are nothing new in the Doctor Who universe but the use of them here puts a twist on things.
There is some debate about who are the originals, with some suggestion being made that they are representations of ego and alter-ego. An adventure can be built around this concept, with PCs encountering their doubles and having to decide who is the genuine article.
If Pepperland represents Gallifrey the duplicates could indicate something about the nature of reality. Gallifrey could sit at the heart of reality, with everything else being derived from this source.
Just as some of the Doctor Who books suggested that humanoids were based on the genetic code of the Time Lords, so could all personalities. This means that there could be an infinite number of variations of the same Time Lord, each one representing a different aspect of their personality taking into account their species.
This template could update each time the source Time Lord regenerates, creating eras of the same person in the universe. Most of these doubles would never encounter each other but time travellers might very well find their is a version of themselves in the past or on an alien world.
This could be left as a mystery until the PC arrives on Gallifrey and encounters the source of their existence. This would be like meeting their creator, a being that could possibly answer why they are the way they are.
Next we’ll look at the places the Yellow Submarine travelled through.