Not believing that Robin Hood was real the Doctor explored several possibilities to explain the situation in ‘Robot of Sherwood’. Ultimately it was revealed that Robin Hood was real but your players may find themselves in a similar situation with a different outcome.
It has been said that the past in recent series of Doctor Who are theme-park versions. That they are not how history actually was but how we imagine it to be. Things are simplified, locations reduced and there is every historical figure you’d hope to meet only a stones throw away.
Having a TARDIS arrive in a theme park version of the era PCs were hoping to reach can have its benefits. It avoids the potential for history being altered and if there are any period inaccuracies they can be explained away by poor work from those who made the theme park.
PCs need not be aware that they are in a theme park, especially if it is well made. It could be big enough that they never reach the limits of the park. The locals could either be very committed actors or artificial creations (either robots or clones) programmed to believe that they are in the era the park hopes to emulate.
The PCs could bump into other guests who are also looking for adventure. They might play along with the scenario, explaining why certain people the PCs meet don’t take issue with the appearance of an alien (believing their lame ‘its a skin condition’ excuse) or help cover up elements that don’t fit into the period. PCs might think they are dim, very accommodating or fellow time travellers.
This allows you to have an adventure that is based in a setting that is actively trying to ensure the PCs have a good time. The park could be designed to funnel the PCs to be the centre of attention and be the centre of an action set piece (carefully managed behind the scenes).
Thing can go wrong in theme parks, meaning there could be real elements of danger. Both ‘West World’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ show that a theme park can turn deadly. This could be the result of sabotage, simple errors or chaos breaking an organised system.
This could reveal the nature of the PCs environment. An investigation into a wave of madness in Victorian London could reveal that the inhabitants of the city are robots, their programming corrupted. The PCs now know that they are in a theme park but still must find out what has caused the problem and solve it before they and the other guests are harmed by malfunctioning robots.
An outside element could be the source of problems in the theme park. It might be invaded by aliens or targeted by a misguided time traveller. These intruders could be unaware of the nature of the theme park. Their presence and actions could in turn causes problems and malfunctions in the park.
Players may feel cheated if they learn that they’ve been adventuring in a theme park but it is important for them to realise that events there still matter. Their exploits could be remembered and they can still be responsible for not saving the park but the lives of those who work and visit there.
Historical theme parks allow a form of time travel for those who are in a suitably futuristic time frame but lack a time machine of their own. It could also act as a testing ground for a Time Lord, to see how their companions act in what they believe to be the ‘past’.
In ‘Robot of Sherwood’ the Doctor is fairly certain he is in the right time frame, having setting the co-ordinates himself, so his suggestion is that this is a theme park from the future. This would indicate that he believes a Robin Hood theme park has some how found its way into the past.
We’ve had several examples of spaceships from the future crashing in the past. It is feasible that one such vessel might be carrying a theme park or the components of a theme park, which could then be released into the local area.
This could result in an adventure where two or more time periods clash. The PCs would need to identify which is real (made more difficult if their TARDIS doesn’t tell them the correct era) and stop history from being corrupted.
This could result in a pre-destination paradox if the presence of the theme park influence the legends and myths that led to the creation of the theme park in the first place. For example if a Robin Hood theme park crashed into 12th century Sherwood forest and was responsible for the legends of Robin Hood.
If time travel becomes commercially viable it might be decided to create theme parks to make history conform to what people are expecting. This is the premise of the Doctor Who novel ‘The Last Resort’ by Paul Leonard.
PCs hoping to remove such theme parks will have to work out what is pre-destined and what is unnecessary. Removing the wrong elements could rewrite history as a consequence.
The existence and exploration of historical theme parks could be the basis for several linked adventures or a campaign setting. PCs might use their TARDIS to act as historical advisers and researchers.
They could be despatched into the past to ensure that a new theme park is accurate or to brain storm new attractions. They could also act as trouble shooters, sent to solve problems that arise in different theme parks and ensure that there isn’t any bad publicity caused by guests meeting unfortunate ends.
For further inspiration the Doctor Who novel ‘Earthworld’, by Jacqueline Rayner, introduces New Jupiter, where a variety of historical time periods bump up against each other.