“I gave you companions to help, an old enemy to fight. Well, it’s a game within a game.”


The Five Doctors’ is the clearest example of how the makers of the 80s series envisioned a game of Doctor Who.

In retrospect they missed an opportunity to release a tie-in board game based on the episode. The premise is perfect, with each player able take the role of one of the Doctors, moving around the Death Zone game board collecting companions and avoiding enemies, all racing to reach the dark tower. They even had the game pieces all ready made.

It could have been constantly expanded, adding the new Doctors and their companions, new monsters and new hazards to add to the already overcrowded game board.

What then is the template for this game?

Each Doctor appears in a remote location but with their objective, the tower, in sight. They quickly encounter a companion, giving them someone to protect and a reason (more than ever) to reach the objective.

Along the way they must not only cope with the natural hazards of the environment but also with their enemies, whether they be Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti or the Master. Sometimes these enemies are just an obstacle but some of them act as competition, also trying to reach the objective.

This exact situation could be the basis of countless adventures, only the detail need to be changed. This is more suited for pulp adventures, than social commentary. You present the PCs with somewhere they need to get to and see whether they can overcome the obstacles in their way before the enemy gets there.

We can take it that Borsua either meant that the companions are there to help the Doctor or he is there to help them. The former interpretation illustrates how the companions act as an extension of the Time Lord character, giving him access to skills he doesn’t possess and allowing his will to be carried out outside of his influence.

The latter interpretation  could indicate that companions serve as a motivation factor for the Time Lord. It has become increasingly apparent that without a companion the Doctor would retreat into his own world. He needs someone to look after, a reason to get involved.

Typically this will be a travelling companion but if a Time Lord is alone a local NPC can perform the same function. They may even graduate to full companion. For a single adventure all they need to do is put themselves in danger and only the Time Lord can save them.

Borsua states that he included an old enemy to fight. We know that the various Doctor fought several old enemies but perhaps Borusa picked an old enemy for each of the Doctors (a Dalek for the 1st Doctor, a Yeti for the 2nd, the Master for the 3rd and the Cybermen for the 5th.)

It wasn’t enough for Borsua to include a hostile alien race, they had to be ones that the Doctor had encountered before. It could be that their history would strengthen the Doctor’s involvement or it could be because Borsua knew the Doctor could beat them.

Having an adventure involve a past enemy can not only take advantage of the above reasons but it also speed the game up. The PCs don’t have to learn about their enemy or what their capabilities are. They’ve encountered them before and know what they are like. They can therefore just concentrate on the objective and anticipate what will happen if their enemy gets there first.

Borsua is an example of a proficient games master. His ultimate game is for the Doctor to reach the tower. He wants him to avoid death and solve the puzzles. He wants the Doctor succeed.

The important thing is that none of the Doctor’s are aware of this. They never feel that they are been protected or helped. We see very little of them pondering how their situation has occurred, only how to get out of it.

This shows how providing the PCs with focus prevents them from questioning the contrivances of the game or whether their choices are actually their own. They feel as if they are in danger, they feel proud when they solve a puzzle and they congratulate themselves when they reach their goal.

Even Borsua’s pretence as the president is an example of the games master acting through the NPCs. The games master can take many roles, helping the characters behind the scenes, prodding them in the right direction and giving valuable information.

If done well this will seem like a natural part of the game world. You may even employ scapegoats, creating NPCs who seem to be responsible for the PCs plight when really you’ve just cast them in the role of the villain.

The removal of the 5th Doctor from the Death Zone could be another example of Borsua’s cunning. He might have realised that the 5th Doctor was more likely than any of the others to work out something was a miss. It could always have been his plan for him to take the Master’s recall unit (after all why send the incarnation that had the strongest connection to the 5th Doctor?)

Within the fiction of the story this could have been a means to keep an eye on the Doctor. Given the mishap with his 4th incarnation Borsua could have hoped to use the resources of the capital to stabilise him before his earlier incarnations were pulled into the vortex, at least before they’d managed to reach Rassilon’s tomb.

It could also be that Borsua always intended to mind control the 5th Doctor so that he might control his predecessors. The Doctor discovering the secret room could either have always been intended or simply accelerated his schedule.

From the point of view of running an adventure separating a PC can serve similar functions. If you are worried that their abilities will make the challenge to easy or that they might reveal too much of the plot before you are ready you can come up with a way to separate them.

This could be teleportation, being cut off from the others due to a cave-in or rock fall, escorted or captured by a NPC to another location or given an incentive to head in a different direction.

The important thing is that the PC is removed from play, they are simply in another location. What they do matters, either advancing the plot or allowing them to gather resources.

When they are reunited with the others, typically in the final act, their presence has impact. They might take the role of the cavalry, saving the others in the nick of time, or they might be in peril, requiring their friends to free them.

Finally what happens when the PCs reach their objective? Do they win the game or is there a further twist? Will they end up in face off with their old enemy or the person who has manipulated them? Is the objective what they thought it was? These final scenes are an opportunity to reinvigorate the plot, increasing the stakes and getting the PCs even more involved in what is happening.

Done right you can play the same basic game and just change the pieces.

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3 Responses to “I gave you companions to help, an old enemy to fight. Well, it’s a game within a game.”

  1. Matthew C says:

    I don’t think Borusa brought the Cybermen, the Dalek or the Yeti. He says ‘old enemy’ not ‘old enemies.’ Borusa intends for the Doctors to reach the tower. He did not intend for them to be hindered. He sent the Master because his purpose would equally have been served by the Master reaching the tower.

    I think the monsters were brought by Rassilon. It’s his purpose to destroy dangerous individuals who would seek immortality. Hence, he surrounds the tower with monsters.

  2. etheruk1 says:

    It is a good theory and while I think some could be left over by the games the Cybermen are specifically mentioned as never having been used because they played the game too well. If new monsters were being brought in by Rassilon you’d think that Borsua would wonder who was doing it and how (which would be an interesting angle to explore). Rassilon would either need to access the time scoop remotely or have another one in the tower. It could be that Rassilon realised that multiple Doctor’s in the Death Zone increased the chances of them reaching the tomb and so broke his rule by bringing in the Cybermen.

    Since those who accepted the gift of immortality ended up frozen in stone (and we see that several Time Lords have reached this point before) would he make it impossible to reach the tower? A few dangers acts as deteriant so that the casual Time Lord seeking immortality stays home while those who are dedicated to this goal (and thus the most dangerous fantatics) end up eliminated. It could be that there is a whole other row beneath the ground with even more victims.

    • Matthew C says:

      I think it is clear that there are two games going on. The original games, the Gallifreyan bloodsports which Rassilon opposed and the Game of Rassilon, which is about obtaining immortality. The former did not include Cybermen, but the latter does.

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