Any science fiction series that has the protagonist encountering alien species has to address the issue of language sooner or later. The Doctor has the added complication that he also travels in time, meaning he and his companions have to know the language of other countries and past dialects.
In Doctor Who it has been explained that the TARDIS uses its telepathic circuits to translate everything the Doctor and his companions see and hear, as well as making them understood by locals.
Recently the Doctor has displayed a level of understanding that extends beyond this. In ‘A Town Called Mercy’ we learn that the Doctor can speak horse and it was previously shown in both ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and ‘Closing Time’ that he can speak baby.
His companions lack this gift so it can’t be a function of the TARDIS translation ability. It would seem that the Doctor has learnt to speak to these subjects independent of his ship. The question is what form this would take.
What he can’t be doing is learning a language. Putting aside the question of intelligence levels it is very unlikely that horses and babies have a formalised language that they all share. The lack of such a language explains why the TARDIS is unable to translate it.
It is far more likely that the Doctor is making use of his own telepathic abilities. Rarely used, aside from communing with his other incarnations or influencing others as he did in his 7th incarnation, this would explain how he can understand or ‘speak’ to horses and babies.
This would let the Doctor understand the thoughts of the subject. He is merely understanding their basic thoughts and translating the concepts for the convenience of those around him. Given the character of the 11th Doctor this lets him indulge his whimsical side, for example telling Craig that his baby, Alfie, calls himself Stormaggedon, Dark Lord of All.
Alternatively the telepathic link with the Doctor might allow the subjects to indulge in deeper levels of thought and reasoning than they would normally be capable of. For example allowing Susan the horse to respond to a conversation about his name.
The details are therefore subconsciously influenced by the Doctor. It can’t be a coincidence that the name the horse chose for itself was also the name of the Doctor’s granddaughter. Similarly the megalomania and dark undertones of Alfie’s alter-ego could have come from the brooding Time Lord.
It could be that the Doctor is unaware that he is doing this. Rather than being a joke the Doctor might be unaware that he is projecting these thoughts into his subjects, or that it is telepathy that lets him understand them.
The Doctor has been the only Time Lord for hundreds of years now. Without equals he has been communicating with lesser beings, and trying to understand them, for so long that he doesn’t know where to stop. It could be that he attributes a deep level of intelligence to every living thing he encounters.
Given that players will expect their own Time Lord character to be able to do anything the Doctor does the question of who they can communicate with will come up during adventures.
If permitted this ability can drastically alter a narrative, especially if taken to include any living being. This greatly increases the sources of information and potential allies that PCs can encounter during a game.
They can question babies about the activities of their parents, use cats to scout out areas or dogs to track down the enemy. Fields of cows could give statements about the UFOs creating crop circles and birds can warn of unnatural storms sweeping in.
Such possibilities make the approach to mystery based adventures very different, since such scenarios are defined by the amount of information that can be gathered. GMs will need to consider what animals are present in any given adventure.
This also opens up the possibility of animal companions for a Time Lord. A gerbil might be just as intelligent and insightful as a human companion, if you can ‘speak’ gerbil. A Time Lord might end up travelling with a whole menagerie.
Such far reaching communication skills do tip the game into the realms of fantasy rather than science fiction. This is fitting for a 11th Doctor era game, with the current series frequently evoking the feel of a fairy tale but it is hard to imagine the 1st Doctor conversing with chickens.
To moderate this ability players could be required to spend Story Points each time the wish to ‘speak’ with infants or animals. This will make it a much less frivolous action and fit the intended purpose of the Story Points to advance the plot.
You may also wish to make a ‘Doolittle’ Special trait with the prerequisite Time Lord (Experienced) and Telepathy. This makes it a trait only available to older Time Lords (such as the 11th Doctor).
Characters who routinely converse with animals will be seen as very odd by those around them. Even companions may doubt the Time Lord’s ability since they know the TARDIS will usually translate intelligent speech for them.
Such characters will be viewed as eccentric at best and insane at worst. In superstitious cultures communing with animals might be seen as witchcraft. Telling a farmer the thoughts of his sheep in 17th century Salem might just result in the Time Lord being burnt at the stake.
The degree that this is used or controlled should be agreed upon the group. If everyone agrees that it is fun and it doesn’t unbalance an adventure it should be used freely, while campaigns that strive for more realism might restrict or eliminate its use altogether.
What ever you do you should respect each others life choices.