‘The Eleventh Hour’ reveals that Amelia Pond was treat by four psychiatrists over a course of twelve years, all trying to convince her that her brief encounter with the Doctor was nothing more than a delusion.
What if it was? What if the Doctor was nothing more than a figment of the imagination?
In different periods of history and even on other worlds those who yearn for someone to save them, someone to show them the way, believe they meet a mysterious stranger called the Doctor who makes their life better.
This could be accompanied by a fugue state where they disappear for several days or even months. When they are found they either have no memory of what happened to them (experienced by both Jamie, Zoe and Donna) or are convinced they’ve had exciting adventures (claims made by Peri and Rose).
Descriptions of the Doctor vary greatly, both in appearance and character. Some describe him as an ill-tempered old man, a tall bohemian with wild eyes and a long scarf, an innocent blond youth in a cricket costume or a impish tramp.
Rather than accept these inconsistences those suffering from the condition weave tales of a mysterious regeneration process and time travel. The Doctor in his many forms can therefore be encountered in any of his guises in any order.
The Doctor can bring about great change in a persons life. He can give them self-confidence and instil important values that make a person better. He can give guidance and insight during stressful situations or just provide comfort.
Those suffering from this condition, so called companions, eventually outgrow the Doctor. Sooner or later they decide it is time to leave the ‘TARDIS’, the impossible blue box that the Doctor uses to take them on their adventures. They now feel ready to deal with life on their own terms.
Occasionally they were yearn for the return for the Doctor and their mind will oblige them. The Doctor may return to them briefly, allowing them to either resume travelling with him or have one more adventure before returning to normal.
Others are not so lucky, either never returning home or meeting an untimely death while on an adventure. While the loss of life is tragic those suffering from the condition can come to believe that the Doctor represents a cause worth dying for.
Historical records indicates that the Doctor Delusion has been suffered throughout history, maybe even into pre-history. Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill all spoke of encounter with the Doctor.
Science fiction writer HG Wells would confide to close friends that much of his work was inspired by an encounter with the mysterious Doctor. Vincent Van Gogh, no stranger to mental illness, enjoyed a renewed sense of purpose after is own visitation.
Recently declassified UNIT documents revealed that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart frequently consulted a scientific advisor he called the Doctor, despite the fact that official records show only Liz Shaw held that position.
Each additional account of the Doctor increases the publics awareness of the idea, making it much more likely that others will have their own encounters. The Doctor Delusion is nothing more than mass hysteria on a global scale.
Conveniently all supposed physical evidence, such as videos or photos, are lost, confiscated, destroyed or erased by a computer virus. Those who claim that the Doctor does exist claims this is further evidence that he is travelling through time removing proof of his existence.
In your own campaign taking this approach radically changes the Doctor Who universe. If everything is a delusion then there are no aliens or time travel. That doesn’t mean that the Doctor can’t be there to make the PCs lives more interesting.
While the Doctor might be a shared hallucination other fantastical things could exist. The Doctor could simply be how the human brain copes with encountering things far beyond its understanding. The Doctor gives them the confidence to deal with the bizarre and the strange by treating it as common place.
In this setup the Doctor is a NPC, a mouth piece for the GM to provide guidance. This is particularly appropriate for the 7th Doctor, who can manipulate the PCs into carrying out his wishes or test them, as he did with Ace. He can also be a means to get them into trouble, by forcing them to follow him into danger like the 4th of 11th Doctor.
He could be the father figure they always hoped for in the form of the 3rd Doctor or the voice of reason in the form of the 5th Doctor. He could represent their ego in the form of the 6th Doctor or their fear response in the form of the 9th Doctor, urging them to run.
The PCs might not be aware that the Doctor isn’t real. You could treat this as a plot twist, as long as you insure that the Doctor doesn’t interact with other NPCs. He always speaks through the PCs and NPCs always direct their questions to the PCs.
When the PCs need the Doctor to take direct action he is conveniently knocked unconscious, his gadgets fail or he simply vanishes (reappearing when it is safe). The Doctor always has an explanation for why he couldn’t help them earlier or claims that he was teaching them not to depend on him.
The PCs could discover the truth but still not know how to deal with the Doctor. Just because they know the Doctor isn’t real doesn’t prevent him from appearing to them. Working out his nature and how much they can trust him can be an on-going plot thread.
It could be that the Doctor is ‘real’ but that he just exists in the minds of others. He is only able to interact with them through hallucinations so while he lacks a physical presence he is an individual.
There could also be a ‘real’ Doctor who has inspired a delusion in the races he saves. One day the PCs might meet the real Time Lord. Would the Doctor try to cure them or is the delusion a form of recruitment, find those best suited to become his companion?
The television shows ‘Wilfred’, ‘Dexter’, ‘Awake’ and ‘Raines’ are good guides for how a mental delusion (or are they?) can lead to interesting stories.