Doctor Who magazine, issue 449, has extracts from the ‘Dalek’ script, revealing what they would have done if the episode couldn’t feature a Dalek. In the script the replacement threat is simply called Sphere.
The Doctor describes how the race of Spheres travelled backwards in time, wiping out entire species and decimating civilisations. Their origins and their purpose are a complete mystery. We only know that in order to stop them the Time Lords had to sacrifice themselves by trapping the Sphere on Gallifrey and destroying it.
The general idea of the Sphere was reused as the Toclafane in ‘The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords’, although they played second fiddle to the Master. In these script extracts we have something a lot more interesting and scary.
The lone Sphere is cruel, sadistic and childish. It reminds me of Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Jim Moriarty in the BBC series ‘Sherlock’. I also can’t help but hear Mark Gattis’ voice when reading the script.
The Sphere, or whatever name their race is eventually given, would have made a great Doctor Who villain. In your campaign you can introduce them as the ‘Big Bad’, a threat from the future that will never stop.
From the description the Spheres possess time travel capabilities. The Doctor says that they travelled back through time from a billion years in the future. This could indicate that the Sphere jumped back a billion years, or that is just their point of origin.
It also isn’t clear what the Doctor means when he says they came from a billion years in the future. Does he refer to the current timeframe or Gallifrey’s relative timeframe? The book ‘Time Link’ has a large section on trying to establish the Time Lord’s ‘present’ so it could be either parallel to our own or some point in the future.
If the Sphere arrive in our future then it explains why Earth hadn’t encountered them. Even if the Time Lords wiped them out there would be a period in which the Spheres were rampaging across the universe, which you think someone would have noticed.
If it was the present (the early 21st century) then the Spheres would have to have chosen not to attack Earth. This could be because of our relative unimportance or because of their true origin. One would imagine that someone on Gallifrey might have picked up on this and guessed at their nature.
I like to imagine that the Spheres literally rolled backward through time. From their starting point they move back a year and wipe out the universe, then they travel back another year and do it all again. For a billion years they kill and kill and kill.
The Time Lords would be fighting a species that had already killed their future incarnations, forced to retreat just to give themselves time to prepare their trap. Imagine panicked Time Lords materialising in the past of Gallifrey with a terrible warning, that death is coming.
The Daleks at least want to achieve something with their mass exterminations. Eventually they want to be the only species in existence. For the Sphere their only goal is killing. Time travel allows them to do it almost forever, until they reach the beginning of everything.
This does require the Sphere to have almost limitless resources. Vast armies of Spheres, enough to destroy everything they encounter. Given the size of the universe that is a staggering number to contemplate.
For the Sphere to be a threat to the Time Lords they should be virtually indestructible. It is also possible that if they were placed in danger that they could ‘time shift’ away. The sacrifice of Gallifrey was necessary because it was the only place where the Sphere couldn’t simply jump away.
The Toclafane were armed with lasers but I think that the Spheres require something more. In the extracts it says that it loves killing because there are so many ways it can be done.
The Sphere should be a Swiss Army knife designed by a serial killer. It can blast, roast, gas, implode, poison, dissolve, slice, dice and invert its victims in a near infinite combination. Being killed by a Sphere should be truly horrible, the sheer thought of how they’re going to do it enough to make the bravest warrior weep.
The glimpse at the Spheres personality indicates that it also enjoys psychological torture. It offers a less painful death for the Doctor’s friends if he grovels before it. This suggests that in addition to killing it would gain pleasure from forcing others to do terrible things.
An adventure could be built around a Sphere that is playing the role of a serial killer. Each murder is more gruesome than the last. Can they play the Spheres game and work out the pattern before it kills again? Will they obey its instructions if it prevents someone else or themselves from dying?
On mass the Sphere aren’t an enemy that the PCs can fight on their own. The future is a graveyard, a testament to their capabilities. This would make a shocking initial encounter, with the PCs arriving in the future only to find that time has been changed by the Spheres slaughter.
Now they must flee into the past to warn others. The Time Lords might not be enough and the PCs could go to other races to form an alliance. Can they convince the Daleks, Sontarans and Cybermen to work together to prevent their mutual extinction?
The limited time travel capability of the Sphere might be the key in defeating them. It is possible that the PCs could engineer a time loop, trapping the Sphere forever. They could also use Time Lord technology to remove knowledge of time travel from the Sphere, stranding them in an isolated section of time.
They could also undertake a dangerous mission a billion years into the future to eliminate the Sphere before they begin their journey backwards in time. It would be ironic if this attack is what motivates the Sphere to begin travelling back to wipe out other species.
Could the PCs find a way to turn the Spheres on themselves? If they could lead the Spheres to their point of origin they might attack their younger selves. This could lead to a stalemate, with equally matched Spheres fighting for all eternity and leaving the rest of the universe in peace.
What then is the origin of the Spheres? In the script extracts the Doctor is still in the dark, although the Sphere says that the Doctor won’t like the answer. The obvious answer, given the nature of the Toclafane, is that they are the future of humanity.
This would be terrible knowledge for the Doctor. The species he cares about so much, the race he has protected time and time again, will be responsible for universal genocide. It is also, now, predictable.
The other obvious answer, one that would also have cause to upset the Doctor, is that the Spheres are future Time Lords. The very reason that only one Sphere exists after the destruction of Gallifrey is because one Time Lord still exists, the Doctor.
In this scenario the Time Lords continue to grow in power and become increasingly bored Gallifrey had Dark Times before and they may do again. The belief that they should wipe out other species to safeguard their position might lead them to travel back and wipe out whole species.
It could also be a very bloody way of resetting time. With the major races dead the history of the universe would be drastically changed. The Sphere Time Lords would then have 1 billion years of new history to explore and catalogue.
What if each Sphere was actually a TARDIS? While the exterior is no bigger than a football a full sized Time Lord could be inside. This would make an incredible reveal when the Sphere opens up.
The Sphere are an apocalyptic threat that will drastically alter your campaign. They are also an enemy that can bring out the best in your players, giving them a threat that will take all of their intelligence and resources to defeat.
Will they be able to undo the damage they’ve caused or will the Sphere continue into the past to kill again and again?