The 1976 film ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ concerns an alien, played by David Bowie, who crash lands on Earth. Dealing with time, the corrupting influence of humanity and an aliens attempt to end his exile all have thematic ties to Doctor Who and are ripe for plot hooks in an on-going campaign.
SPOILERS FOR THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
Thomas Jerome Newton
David Bowie’s portrayal of the stranded alien is ethereal and mysterious. Given the scenario it is possible to view this as an alternative third Doctor, exiled to the US in the 1970s rather than the UK.
He keeps his nature and plans a secret from everyone in the first third of the movie. Firstly selling gold rings for some quick cash and then patenting numerous advanced technology he gathers a fortune in order to build a spaceship to escape the Earth.
Would the Doctor try such a ploy if he found himself in such a situation? If instead of removing his knowledge of how to operate the TARDIS the Time Lords had instead removed the time machine would he attempt to rebuild it?
It could be that introducing the advanced technology is the only way to get the parts he needs. To avoid disrupting history too much the technology might be finite, requiring resources that the Doctor knows will run out once he leaves or he simply shuts down his business and makes sure that no one can retro-engineer his technology.
The actions of Thomas Jerome Newton could be carried out by any stranded alien. PCs could find that a sudden influx of advanced technology in a time period are due to an alien who just wants to get home. Can they shutdown his business and prevent the advances in science disrupting history?
If I Stay, I Die
Newton’s quest is to save his family but he also states that he can’t stay on Earth because he’ll die. This doesn’t occur in the film and indeed doesn’t age over the course of decades. Like the Doctor it is his companions who wither and die.
The Doctor has always been prone to wanderlust. What if he literally would die if he stays in one place for too long? What if the price for leaving Gallifrey was being cursed to wander the universe and all of time, forever?
Just how long he’d have to stay in the same place (and whether the same place constitutes a city, country, planet or star system) before he died will greatly affect the feel of a Doctor Who story.
If he was in possession of his TARDIS then he should have to move on after 1 or 2 adventures. His companions must travel with him because he can’t stay with them, as much as he’d like to.
If he was stranded the time limit could add tension to his attempts to escape. In this scenario there should be enough time to get away (ranging from months to years). Long enough to feel trapped but not enough to settle down.
Of course this could be a figurative death. It could be that if he stays too long in one place he looses the magic that makes him special. He becomes just like everyone else, absorbed into the community.
While this means he could have a life on whatever planet he finds himself it would mean giving up his regenerations, his twin hearts and his knowledge of time travel. This could be the price the Time Lords require from the Doctor if he doesn’t want to be one of them anymore.
PCs could be tasked with reminding a Time Lord of his true nature (maybe even the Doctor) and restoring their memories and abilities. This could be how the campaign starts for a Time Lord PC, when they discover they aren’t human after all.
Something Amazing; A Boy Falling Out Of The Sky
In one particular scene we focus Brughel’s Icarus, coupled with a poem about the work. It depicts Icarus falling into the ocean, his fall witnessed by ploughmen. It is supposed to remind the viewer of Newton’s own fall to Earth.
What if it was more than that? What if this relates another alien visitation that has been mistakenly interpreted as the myth of Icarus?
Using artistic works from hundreds of years ago is an excellent way to introduce plot hooks to time travellers in the present, as ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ demonstrated. They allow both a snapshot of something what happened but an indication when they happened.
Newton has a family, left stranded on his own dying alien world. What if one his children attempted to follow him but arrived hundreds of years too early? The picture or the poem could alert him to that fact but how would he reach them?
This could be where the PCs come into an adventure. They could encounter an alien who knows that one or more members of his family are dispersed through history. He has collected historical paintings, books and documents that can help track them down. Will the PCs help him?
Imagine as well if the Time Lords didn’t have the TARDIS. What if every time they travelled they plummeted. Their time jump mechanics could be configured so they land in bodies of water but maybe not always. This would certainly be one way to make the start of each trip exciting (and prevent PCs from taking too much with them).
You’re An Alien!
While Thomas Newton appears human on the surface we learn that much of this is disguise. With reptilian eyes, earless and bald his true appearance is apparently nauseating to others.
The Doctor is alien in that he has two hearts and can regenerate but how would people feel about him if he was hiding an alien appearance? It would be much harder for companions to connect to him or accept him if he had scaly skin, inhuman orifices or body parts.
Companions are sometimes struck by the fact he is an alien but this is a mild compared to actual discomfort with something that is physically strange or unknown. It would only emphasis that the slightly eccentric human guise he usually adopts isn’t real and that they don’t actually know him or what he is capable of.
This deception might only be revealed when the Doctor and his companions run into Time Lords who don’t hide what they are. It could be that when this happens the Doctor simply lies and claims they are different race (maybe withholding the gift of translation from his companions so they can’t learn the truth from the Time Lords).
If you don’t want to change the nature of the Time Lords this is still a good experiment to run to test how the PCs reactions are based on appearance. If they find out a friendly human looking NPC is actually an alien whose form is so horrific it is difficult to look at do they treat that NPC differently? Will they accept them for who they are, feel they’ve been lied to or not trust them based on their terrifying appearance?