Sunday, 31 July 2011

Doctor Who And The Adventure You Have Lying Around

One key advantage of Doctor Who that makes it so game-friendly (as well as so flexible generally) is how many settings and genres you can drop the TARDIS into.

I more-or-less managed to combine GURPS Aztecs, Espionage and Horseclans when I got them to run an adventure off-the-cuff, but it would have been easier to pick one or two and run with it. I've used a Traveller adventure (albeit one about uncontrolled time travel) with no trouble at all. Plenty of WEG's Star Wars adventures feel like they emulate a 45-minute TV series in the setting more than the movies. When I discussed pre-Communist Russia here, Siskoid considered an all-historical-ish season based on GURPS historical books.

But it would be easy enough to go further with this idea. Very few RPGs are off-limits.

Several dozen examples.

Call Of Cthulhu has a special place for one of FASA's Doctor Who adventures being a reject from it slightly rewritten, but hey, too easy...

So I'm off to grab a random D&D adventure from the official site... paging back through the subscriber-only ones... The Haunting Of Kincep Mansion would be too easy...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A museum should be inspirational

Even when it isn't like this outside.

Opening day at the refurbished Royal Museum of Scotland, 15000 people in the door, loads to see and do, dinosaur skeletons, sarcophagi, squid in jars, medieval weapons, Stevenson lighthouse mechanisms. On a quieter day I'll go through and pick something from every gallery to Who about.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The End Of Time Itself!

How will things end?

Something I’m considering because I now have three series of The Door In Time partially done, and that’s one and some specials less than Russell T Davies before he handed over to Steven Moffat. Of course, I could double him (after all, I managed seven twenty-two-episode seasons of The Watch House) but I should at some point consider a final run.

Like a season finale but much more so. Smashing timelines, facing down armies, bringing back an ultimate villain despite their on-screen death or wheeling out some enormous new threat that’s been built up for the last few episodes.

Blow your budget, go bigger than ever, bring out a cast of thousands, threaten the Earth as a whole (while focusing on a few people we know and care about, naturally), toss in surreal new images like the Master turning transparent or Gallifrey looming over Earth, reveal secrets and hint at further mysteries about the PCs and NPCs, all possibly building up to an ending so over the top that it's best to retire.


Example: The Last Second

Searching for the Doctor, Emily finds herself in the space between times, London frozen in time. And the nightmarish black-cloaked figure of the half-dead Master hunting her, swooping over the still streets, surrounded by millions of unmoving people who cannot hear her calls for help. And the Doctor himself being used as a time engine to try and reverse time and shatter the universe.

One day... nobody dies...

So we're now 30% of the way through Torchwood: Miracle Day and I have very little idea what's going on beyond the original what if. I'm sure an episode and a half into Children Of Earth things were a bit clearer.

And I've resisted the temptation to make one of those cut-out-and-keep Soulless masks.


Until reading this month’s SFX, I had never heard of the Starlord comic strip Timequake. It’s your basic Time Agents story, modern person (in this case none-more-blokeish) gets mixed up with heroes from the past, present and future trying to stop time being broken. Shapeshifting aliens out to destroy humanity in the present, Martin Bormann remaking history so the Nazis won World War Two, Aztec spaceships, reckless time tourists, the usual.

Okay, the Aztec spaceships are pretty unusual. Worth clicking through to see them, anyways.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Action Figure Test

Since you probably don’t come here for gloomy introspection about the future of humanity... this week we also saw the first pictures of Mego-style Doctor Who figures (although not by Mego) and Sideshow-style sixth-scale high-end dolls (although not by Sideshow) as well as the new classic-era packaging that we're getting the Leela figure in. Which got me thinking about the original actually-by-Mego toys that I got several of when I was three and a half or so.

Ten years ago, the long-dead-alas Quarterbin once proposed tests for the fun-ness of comic characters, including the Action Figure Test. (Among others, like the Index Card and the Kid With A Towel test.)

(Noting that a number of actual Doctor Who characters made into action figures fail this test spectacularly.)

So, how would your character fare as a figure, assuming they were released reasonably promptly?

(And I did this for real with The Watch House.)

To take the example of The Door In Time, Kai with his sonic cane would be a safe sell, original Effie perhaps less so, Young Effie maybe more, Dan with service revolver, Nimue with maybe a floating stand and blue transparent glowy thing that fits over her head... Gabriel would sell okay, but a light-and-sound replica toy of his scanner might well sell better.

The Daleks would of course get a box to themselves. Tarokka and Vas Murb would sell, the clockwork Romans, ice wolves, Kai 2, the Christmas special’s collapsible robot assassins (two in a pack - displayed with one folded up in the box and one opened up)...

Alan Turing, Amelia Earhart and the terracotta soldiers probably wouldn’t get figures, as none of the real-world characters in Doctor Who have (although Dickens and Van Gogh are available in another company’s line of 5” scale novelty figures based on history and public-domain pop culture).

So how would your group fare in the battle for the Christmas toy charts?

And if you’re looking for an adventure idea, consider this one...


The Down-To-Earth Toymaker

The TARDIS crew, doing some late/early shopping for a birthday, are perplexed to find toy Daleks, Cybermen and the like on the shelves of Henrick’s. A recent dramatisation of the Dalek conflicts and assorted other near-apocalypses has lead to someone tapping the market for collectibles.

(Or, to really get the PCs’ goats, they land in a parallel universe where someone has received news from their Earth and turned it into fiction... inspired by the idea that aside from occasional alien invasions, the main difference in popular culture in the Whoniverse is the big gap where Doctor Who should be... And the actors playing the PCs are wrong in so many ways, and what do you mean my figure doesn’t sell?)

And what are the odds of the 5” Daleks not being part of some wicked scheme by the Nestene?
Today the Space Shuttle era ended.

Not the day’s most shocking news, of course, but the news we knew was coming so I’ve had time to process it. Will we ever see its like again? In a decade or two, it’s likely that no-one who walked on the Moon will still be alive. Where do we go from here? Do we go out into the stars, to explore and to learn, or don’t we? I know which future I’d rather see.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

5 More Horror Films To Drop The TARDIS Into

Five more, eh, Siskoid? Challenge accepted!

The trick here is finding things that could make an interesting Who spin and which haven't been spun that way already. For example, that rules out pretty much the entire zombie apocalypse subgenre. And the Doctor adding the prefix "Space" to a monster's title is rather easy.

The Birds
(Or, if you prefer, The Long Weekend. Or Birdemic, but, well, no.)
Nature turns on humanity, animals attacking people with no apparent provocation. It probably has been done, but what the hey. The original film (and Daphne Du Maurier's story) offered no real explanations, but a Who version would have to. Aliens would be obvious. How about a human experiment, in a research facility nearby so the effect is currently local but as it moves into the final phase it's about to go global?
(And since we're in Britain, we just have to affect the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, as seen in one of the early-build-up-Earth-goes-mad scenes in The Core.)

Cat People
Most admired for its horror noir style, Val Lewton's film also has a great plot hook to snag someone with. A werewolf (well, werepanther) story where the trigger isn't the full moon, but anger, desire and especially their combination in envy. Someone cursed with a terrible power which she can control if she can keep her emotions in check... pushed into a situation where she can't. Becoming a monster for the most human of reasons.

An experiment accidentally produces telepathic and more dangerously telekinetic subjects, some in control, some very much not so, and the most powerful deciding that non-psionic humanity can bow to its new master or go the way of the dinosaur. Add people involved with the experiment trying to take the psychics down, others wanting to use them as weapons, a beneficial conspiracy of telepaths, and more... although you probably can't get away with the exploding head at 7pm on BBC One.

Dead Of Night
This one could be an entry all by itself, being a portmanteau collection of shorts, but I'm here for just one. And not the ventriloquist's dummy, either. No, the one I'm thinking of is the evil mirror. An object that fascinates its victim, drawing him out of everyday reality, showing him another world... another time. The room the mirror first hung in, when its first owner went mad and killed his wife. Is its new owner going mad as well, or is the mirror really showing him something that should not be there?

Darkness Falls
An obscurity which I only know because it stars Emma Caulfield and has a Stan Winston monster, but it contains two perfect Moffat-style episode hooks. Not only does she prefer to attack at night like the vast majority of horror monsters, she has to because, even more than a vampire with sunlight, any light harms her. And she only attacks people who have seen her, so if you know she's coming, can you keep your eyes shut?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Happy Bastille Day! I don't need to explain the possibilities there, do I? While considering that, consider these as well.

So, instead, have a look at the Screamer, an angry spiky head on a crawling hand, created by a thirteen-year-old for Doctor Who Adventures and made into a model for the Experience. Kids today, we never got anything like that, grumble grumble. But yeah, head on a hand, she's got a bright future ahead if she wants to create monsters.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Pre-Communist Russia as a setting

Part of my accidental series of Google Doodle plot ideas, marking the 450th anniversary of St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, the most recognisable landmark in Russia.

I'll freely admit that when I think about dramatic events in Russian history, I generally think of the Revolution and Communist era, like the Civil War, Yuri Gagarin and just last week Rasputin, because it's the era I know best, having studied it as a historian, and also because it was a science-fictional time, going from a peasant backwater to sending a man into space in a lifetime, while parts of it were still a peasant backwater and utopian ideals clashed with the depths of human depravity.

I'm not alone here, the TARDIS Index File only lists two events before the 20th Century across Who media. (Although it doesn't mention the Master sharing a name with Koschei The Deathless in the New Adventures.)

But I have GURPS Russia and Mythic Russia on my game shelves, and something like St. Basil's has plenty of history going for it. Just that article on the Google Doodle alone points out "Saint Basil was an unorthodox saint infamous for his naked walks around Moscow in the bitter cold, shoplifting and for his open mockery of Ivan the Terrible, who feared Basil as 'a seer of people's hearts and minds'."

Russia has plenty of historic events, battles, betrayals, revolts, and its share of legends, heroes and monsters, as well as a vast number of amusingly cynical proverbs to quote.

Ride with the Bogatyri against the forces of Baba Yaga, queen of witches! Flee the Cossack purge of Ivan the Terrible! Marvel at the beauty of the new city of St. Petersburg!


Example: Blood And Ice
1770, and Catherine the Great rules Russia, but far from unopposed. Her opposition of serfdom has drawn the ire of a number of powerful noble families, some who would see her son on the throne instead, and one of them is happy to plot with an outsider against the crown. That outsider hails not from another European power, but another world, an agent of the Frost seeking to destroy humanity as winter descends...


Stop-motion rather suits the Weeping Angels. Lego maybe less so. Although it's actually less cute than the bobble-headed official not-Lego Character Building version.

5 Horror Films To Drop The TARDIS Into

Rather obviously inspired by Siskoid's 5 Sci-Fi Films To Drop The TARDIS Into...

Doctor Who has never been above a bit of creative recycling. Quoting Robert Holmes: "We only use original ideas in Doctor Who. Not necessarily our original ideas." This was the writer-producer who set a Frankenstein story on a distant planet and did a Mummy story with robots, so he knew what he was talking about.

So anyway, four supernatural or paranormal threats and one exaggerated natural one. Going full paranormal or SF-horror would have been too easy...

The Haunting
A parapsychological experiment to find "sensitives" and study their responses to a house regarded as haunted, cursed or "unclean". Nothing is directly seen, but is the overwhelming sense of foreboding only the atmosphere of the house, or...? (For a less ambiguous version, maybe Poltergeist, complete with solvable mystery and big implosion at the end. But not the Haunting remake.)

A natural threat, but far stronger than normal, threatens a tourist attraction, and the town's rulers won't listen to reason and warn people off. Put that in space and imagine the Doctor dealing with a monster he can't argue with and a human authority who ignores his arguments.

Something Wicked This Way Comes
A circus comes to a small Depression-era town, arriving unannounced, bringing strange temptations and perhaps, just perhaps, relating to a string of disappearances in other towns... (Ray Bradbury could fuel a series of Doctor Who by himself. And as an added bonus, its Big Bad was the Master for one night only.)

The Ring
A psychic entity that demands to have its story told... or it will kill you. Can its threat of death within seven days pursue a target through time?

The Omen
A child marked as a future apocalyptic threat to the world, protected by strange "accidents" and fanatical servants. Is he human? Is he innocent in all this? What do you do?

Saturday, 9 July 2011


A thread on ideas for celebrity historicals asked for suggestions for Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley, both of which I’ve covered and so tried to help through recycling, and also...

“I also thought about the possibility of the Master being Rasputin.”

It certainly fits his MO - dark-bearded hypnotist/weirdo taking power through unorthodox means in a powerful country on the brink of collapse. Ah, but why...?

Readers familiar with the classic World Of Darkness will recall that Rasputin is apparently a vampire of half a dozen different clans, as well as several other supernatural beings. (See also thoughts on portrayals of real characters here.)

Of course, he could just have been a weird guy who caught the eye of an eccentric royal and died at the end of a couple of botched assassination attempts, but where’s the fun in that?