Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Updates will be a bit thin for a few days, as while I was typing this week's Skywatch last night, my two-and-a-half-year-old computer abruptly announced "page fault in non-paged area" twice and then failed to boot at all.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Good As Gold

The new three-minute episode by schoolkids

Not sure it’s on to be able to sonic a Weeping Angel to bits, even if it does start to come back right away.

Favourite bit was the preamble which explains the entirety of Doctor Who neatly and simply. Proper space travellers are supposed to have an adventure every week (it says so in a book) and the TARDIS has an “Adventure” setting!

It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Friday, 25 May 2012


Terrifying time-eating monster invades Scottish museum

Alright, it's a clock in the form of a terrifying time-eating monster, but still... yikes. Clearly someone in the Museum likes terrifying clocks, because it'll be down the hall from this history of the 20th century's wars which plays a jolly song every four hours.

Clocks are of course a recurring theme in Doctor Who, as are beings that interact with time in unusual ways. They're generally called Chronovores rather than Chronophages, of course...

But I'll go and see the Chronophage soon. And I'll keep an eye on it...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Sound Of Who

Today’s pretty epic Google Doodle celebrates Robert Moog. It would be a very silly Doodle based adventure that had our heroes relying on a sound synthesiser to save the world. But...

So instead, synthesised sound got me thinking about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire creating the theme and music for Doctor Who. Music continued to play an important role in the show to this day, from the eerie electronic soundtracks of early Doctors to the rollicking symphonic sound Murray Gold brings to the modern show.

I tend not to use music in session, partially because I usually GM in society spaces but also because I am, by default, pretty quiet. However, I’ll occasionally send a link to a suitable piece in a pre-adventure teaser email, or reference a specific song, or include “and now the creepy music starts” in my narration.

And an adventure about music, or sound in general, would certainly be possible. Consider the film Pontypool or the second issue of Global Frequency, where just hearing the wrong phrase can change someone...

Monday, 21 May 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 6: This Is Personal!

Doctor Who spinoffs such as Torchwood naturally include their own takes on Classic Who Themes. Plenty of action and adventure, a fair amount of horror, bits of knockabout comedy, and Big Emotional Episodes for everyone. I’m addressing the latter here, because it’s the most changed by the Earthbound format.

When tragedy strikes, or a character falls head over heels in love, or something else happens to do with Big Emotional results, it’s more likely that the non-emotional consequences are still there next week. Going to see how your father died when you were a baby is very different from dealing with your father dying right now. The Big Emotional Episode isn’t isolated in the way it would be in Doctor Who itself. Something to consider when preparing to run one.

This isn’t 100% the case, of course, there’s at least one Big Emotional Episode in Torchwood S1 with no fallout at all. But let’s try...

The less episodic setup can make a Big Emotional Episode stick out like a sore thumb if it isn’t integrated well. There are still ways to isolate it, of course - set the triggering events away from the normal setting, for example. You could also set this up as a solo episode, so none of the other PCs knows what the character involved really went through.

Or, at a pinch, explain everybody’s erratic behaviour as the result of a broken alien mind probe or something and make a joke out of the reset button and the lack of further impact. Don’t do that too often, of course - when discussing the equivalent episode in my Buffy season in TWH, I called it The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Planet X

An as yet undiscovered planet might be orbiting at the dark fringes of the solar system, according to new research.

Or might not.

Either way, is there anything more SF-y than an entire unknown planet? What is it like? How had no-one noticed before? Is it a new arrival, a captured rogue? Or was someone hiding it... on purpose?

Or maybe someone stole it. Or just put it there for us to find...

Bit of Who next week?

Just a wee bit, but apparently yes!

The written-by-schoolkids mini-episode is to air on Blue Peter.

Grumble grumble in my day we had no such thing grumble grumble Weetabix cards grumble down pit twenty-five hours a day eight days a week grumble...

Monday, 14 May 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 5: Secrets Within Secrets

In a game about a covert-ish organisation, it’s quite natural to look at other covert-ish organisations and what they might be up to. Torchwood kept themselves hidden from UNIT, MI5, MI6 and the police, and were indirectly responsible for the Children Of Earth situation. The three families behind Miracle Day were even m ore secretive, and are still out there, working on Plan B.

(Probably not this Plan B, but you never know.)

A conspiracy, governmental or criminal, could be mixed up in world-spanning (or bigger) threats, as well as smaller plots closer to home. They might be working with alien technology, with aliens, or for aliens.

They could be aliens themselves, taking over the world or pursuing another aim, passing for human or going unnoticed and keeping Silent.

Or something else paranormal might be going on. Or even nothing directly paranormal - they just cross paths with the PCs another way entirely and don’t take kindly to them...

Whatever the case, conspiracies and covert-ish organisations can cause a lot of trouble. Even a small one can have scarily dedicated followers, and a large one could have spies, assassins, security forces, expert thieves and hackers on speed dial. Even without any super-tech or powers, a black ops team could be more than many groups can handle.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A Runcible Adventure

A rather charming The Owl And The Pussycat Google doodle informs me it's Edward Lear's 200th birthday. Unlike his contemporary Dickens, he's better known for whimsy than drama or horror, so he'd get on with the Doctor but probably not get mixed up in terrifying adventures. Although one involving Catkind and Owlkind might work...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

In De Nile

Today's Google Doodle informs me that it's the 138th birthday of Howard Carter, the man credited with discovering Tutankhamun's tomb. I don't need to explain the plot opportunities here, do I?

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 4: Mysterious World

An earthbound genre series will often look to supernatural and paranormal stories as a source of plot ideas. And there are plenty of options, from pop culture icons to obscure local legends.

Doctor Who and its spinoffs have provided alien or other pseudoscientific explanations for vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, faeries, changelings, demons, daemons, mummies, Frankenstein, UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full-trance mediums, the Loch Ness Monster and the theory of Atlantis. Three times, in the case of Atlantis.

Any character type from The World Of Darkness games can be explained by putting “Space” in front of it...

So choose a story, look at the basics, decide what’s right and wrong in the legends, figure out the being’s agenda or the source of the manifestation and work out how Skywatch cross paths with it and how (and if) they can stop it.

For one example, the Leanhaun Sidhe.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

How to run Doctor Who the Steven Moffat way

This month’s Doctor Who Magazine has arrived, with a massed horde of Daleks from the show’s history on the gatefold cover, no review of the DWAITAS regeneration edition yet (someone at C7, make sure they get a box when it arrives!) and a big ol’ seven-page interview with Steven Moffat largely about how time travel and predestination work.

On companions: “They’re all going to be...” A bit mad? “A bit mad, yes. A bit dislocated. Not happy where they are. Are they yearning for outer space? They’re going to be people who feel that they can take on the Doctor, who’s quite an intimidating sort of person. So they’re going to be feisty. They’re going to be all those things.” ... “Also, I think responsibly, he doesn’t want to take someone away from a life that’s ongoing. He’s happy to take them away to be the equivalent of your gap year.”

On how they come in: “I think you need to have a story as to why someone gets on board the TARDIS - and yes, a story as to why they leave.”

On visiting old friends at different times: “Of course he could - but I imagine he must space out his visits to somebody, and at a certain point there is no room for new ones.”

On predestination: “I’ve just done a story about predestination. If you know elements of your future, you know that they’re fixed - but you don’t know how you get there, and you don’t know what you do after that. And you keep throwing in the words ‘time can be rewritten’ for that very reason.”

On free will: “They do have free will. But the future is already the result of what actions they take out of free will. That’s why free will and determinism are not in contradiction. The future is determined by you exercising your free will.”

On the dramatics of how much the Doctor knows, in Let’s Kill Hitler: “I did have a more complex version of it where he actually had figured out all along that their friend was the girl, but he couldn’t do anything about it, because it was already fixed. But it was just boring, so I didn’t do it. It’s much more interesting for him to be surprised.”

Or vice versa: “It absolutely can be dramatic, for people to keep secrets, that people have been knowing things all along. That can be really exciting. It’s a matter of how you find that out!”

On twists: “I think if you’re determined to work out a twist, you should be able to. It should all be there in front of you.”

And likewise, on why the Doctor lies: “He’s always lied, hasn’t he? He doesn’t give his name.” Does he lie because he doesn’t always trust people with the truth? “He doesn’t trust that they can cope with that... ‘I don’t want to put that burden on you’ is a reason to lie to somebody.”

And his name - Doctor Who? “Well, it’s the title of the show!” ... “Everyone knows that’s not his name, so why is it called that?... It basically says h’'s a mysterious stranger, and we should never forget that’s what he is. He’s withholding information and he’s not telling the whole story, and we don’t really know him. If you took all that away from him... I think he loses a lot of his appeal. Do you really want to know his backstory? I don’t think you do.”