‘Trial Of A Time Lord’ was the name over arcing plot of the 23rd Season of Doctor Who. The Time Lord in question was the Doctor, accused of meddling in the affairs of other planets and transgressing the First Law of time.
It was eventually revealed that this was a ploy to cover up Gallifrey’s involvement in Ravalox, even going so far as summoning a possible future incarnation of the Doctor in the form of the Valeyard.
What if it wasn’t?
Certainly there are people involved in trial that believe it to be legitimate. If the Doctor was deposed as President it seems only natural that those in the High Council would take the opportunity of re-examining whether the Doctor should be allowed to continue interfering in space-time events.
This could provide a framework for a campaign (or an extended series of linked adventures) to explore the adventures of previous Doctors. This allows it to be more of an anthology series, with each adventure being provided as evidence in the on-going case.
One week it might be a 3rd Doctor adventure and the next a 1st Doctor or 5th Doctor story. ‘Trial Of A Time Lord’ demonstrated that they can even view events in the Doctor’s future, allowing incarnations after the 6th Doctor.
In the year of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who this is a great excuse to explore the whole series and really explore what makes the Doctor the Doctor. Past companions and even enemies might be pulled from the time stream to take the stand and provide evidence.
Those brought to the courtrooms might not be sent back immediately, in case they are recalled to the stand. This allows companions from different eras to meet and interact. They could even band together to find a way to clear the Doctor or help him escape.
Each adventure can played straight, with the court room scenes only occurring at the beginning or the end but you might also wish to have both the defence and prosecution interject during the case.
This can allow either side to provide additional insight into events or reveal things that the main characters weren’t present for. In this way either side can manipulate the context of events.
For example a PC might destroy an important piece of technology. The prosecution could seize upon this as a demonstration of the accused’s reckless nature, with this act putting peoples lives at risk. The defence could counter by revealing Matrix footage that shows the technology had been sabotaged or otherwise changed to threaten people’s lives, thus justifying its destruction.
This gives the players greater control of the narrative, allowing them to introduce new evidence and facts. The important thing is that they don’t allow PCs in the ‘past’ to act on information they haven’t yet gained.
If you decide that this trial is also a sham you may allow it to be revealed that certain evidence has been doctored or falsified. In this situation facts in the adventure can be changed completely or entire scenes to be dismissed.
Major changes such as this should come at the expense of plot points, agreed by the games master. The story should still make sense even if a ‘fact’ is revealed to be a lie. This requires good improvisational skills on both sides of the table.
In ‘Trial of a Time Lord’ the Doctor waives his right to a court appointed defender. If you wish to bring in your players own characters this is a perfect opportunity to change events.
Either the Doctor has encountered them before or has heard of their reputation. The PCs could find themselves pulled out of the vortex only to find that the Doctor is placing his faith in them.
While this could involve presenting past (and future) adventures in the format discussed above it could also require them to go out into the field to collect evidence and talk to witnesses.
This can be used as an excuse to take the PCs to revisit past adventures. They could lurk behind the scenes of ‘The War Machines’, ‘The Highlanders’ or ‘The Arc of Infinity’ trying to clear the Doctor’s name while also staying undetected (although if they bump into the past Doctor this could explain how he knows them).
Rather than travelling in time the PCs might instead experience these adventures replayed to them within the Matrix. In this virtual environment there is no danger of them affecting time but there is still danger, as being hurt or even killed within the Matrix is still dangerous.
If they are successful the Time Lords might be impressed with the PCs talents and employee them as part of their justice system. Your campaign can then focus on the trials of other Time Lords.
If they can capture the Doctor why can’t they also bring the Master, the Rani or the Meddling Monk to trial? In this situation the PCs could act as the prosecution, putting them in even greater danger as these evil Time Lords would doubtlessly have laid traps for anyone delving into their past.
Would would these villains choose as their court defenders? It is easy to imagine they’d pick someone with their own morality who might use any strategy they can to undermine the prosecution, from tampering with evidence to intimidating witnesses to outright murder.
It should be easy to create a constant stream of Time Lords to place on trial (for the PCs to both defend and prosecute), especially if you introduce Faction Paradox, twisted worshippers of Rassilon or Borusa and those who are secretly vampires.
The Time Lords have also been known to punish other races, such as placing the Fendahl in a time loop. The PCs could take part in their trials, bringing them into contact with other species history and making important decisions over whether the Time Lords have the moral right to punish them.
If you wish to explore diverging timelines you might like to consider what would have happened if the Doctor had been found guilty? Such a scenario is explored in the Big Finish audio ‘He Jests At Scars’ but you are free to present your own version of a universe without the Doctor.
In addition what if the Doctor had succeeded but had been so incensed by what he had learnt that he saw the Time Lords as the enemy? This could have led to an extended campaign of dismantling their power base and freeing them from the influence of his own people.
The Time Lords could turn to the Master, as they had in the past, to hunt the Doctor down. The Master could quite relish the power this gives him as well as the irony that the Doctor was now the criminal.