Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Fourth Doctor

With the publication of The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook, Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s celebration of Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary reaches the most consistently popular Doctor of the Classic Era, the Doctor with the most stories, and the Doctor whose era came to define Doctor Who in the minds of the public at large. Thus The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook  for the Ennie-award winning Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game has a lot of ground to cover, a lot to live up to, and a challenge to overcome. It is certainly no surprise that this is the biggest in the series to date—at some two-hundred-and-fifty-six pages—as it sets out to detail and explore the adventures of the most whimsical and mercurial of Doctors. Adventures that would see him once again return to being a wanderer in time and space, see him go back in time to confront the origins of the greatest threat to the universe, see him face his old enemy again and again, and return home to rescue his people, not once, but twice.

The era of the Fourth Doctor really begins with The Ark in Space—the story Robot really being a swansong for the Third Doctor and a sign of the Fourth Doctor’s disdain for the constraints placed upon him during his exile. Where the Third Doctor and thus The Third Doctor Sourcebook looked backwards, the Fourth Doctor and thus The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook looks very much forward, travelling into the near and far future again and again right up until the mathematical foundations are threatened by the Master in Logopolis. In doing so it would draw upon classic story after classic story for its inspiration, whether that it is the Ruritanian adventure of The Androids of Tara, the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the writings of Agatha Christie in The Robots of Death, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in The Brain of Morbius. In doing so, the series would draw heavily upon the Gothic and take it the height of its popularity. The other themes present in the Fourth Doctor’s adventures include the revelations about the Time Lords and the eccentricities of his bohemian nature, but its is the Gothic that stands out.

In addition to this reliance upon the Gothic in the Doctor’s wanderings, the era of the Fourth Doctor also brought back the competent and the liberated Companion, something that had been missing for much of the Third Doctor’s adventures. Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Nyassa, and Adric were all competent in their own way, but no companion was more competent than Romana—both incarnations of her! The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook perhaps concentrates upon her more than any of the Doctor’s companions. Indeed, each incarnation is accorded a full-page character sheet, just as the Doctor is himself, whereas each of his other companions is given just a half page each for their character sheets. So what this introduces is the idea that Time Lords can be played as companions and to support this aspect, several new Traits are given, these include Bio-Rhythmic Control, Cloistered, Sesquipedalian, and Tailored Regeneration. Character sheets are also included for K-9 and Harry Smith, but the inclusion of sheets for Nyssa and Tegan feel like an afterthought given the limited number of journeys they took with the Fourth Doctor in comparison with the Fifth Doctor. The second chapter is rounded out with stats for the Fourth Doctor’s TARDIS, this version being less obstreperous and easier to pilot.

Given the number of stories that The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook has to cover, it is no surprise that some nine tenths of the book are devoted to their detailing. Yet where in the previous entries in the series the stories were organised into a number of chapters, in The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook, all of the Fourth Doctor’s stories are collated into a single chapter—a chapter that takes up some nine tenths of the book. One side effect of this is that the first two chapters—the first devoted to the Fourth Doctor era’s themes and new character Traits, the second to character sheets for the Doctor and his companions—feels all too brief, underwritten perhaps. It does not help that there is no section on recurring villains, but then again, the Fourth Doctor had so few, and instead had lots of new villains, including the Movellans, the Rutans, and the Zygons*, which never appeared again.

*At least not in Classic Who.

Yet what this apparent adverse aspect of The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook does is give room for the individual stories and their elements to shine through. Each is given a synopsis—about a page in length, a guide to running the adventure, a discussion of ideas related to the adventure, and then possible further adventures. Also given are the stats for any relevant gadgets and technologies, NPCs, and monsters. So for example, in Doctor Who’s finest adventure—Genesis of the Daleks—it is suggested that the Time Lords’ meddling here could be the first shot in the Time War and that the Doctor could have been their agent before; the mechanics of the Time Lords’ Time Rings are detailed; and of course, stats are given for the Dalek Prototype (Mark III Travel Machine), Davros, Security Commander Nyder, and Mutos. Other gadgets and technologies detailed under their particular stories include Magnus Greel’s Time Cabinet from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the outlawed Demat Gun from The Invasion of Time, and the Master’s horrid Tissue Compression Eliminator from The Deadly Assassin. Notable additions include a list of real world myths—Set, dragons, vikings, ghosts, and so on—under Pyramids of Mars and maps them onto a matching time period and matching alien horror. So for example, the myth of dragons is matched with the American ‘Bone Wars’ of the 1880s and a Zygon living war machine. It is a simple yet pleasing table that provides a model for the GM to map other myths and alien horrors onto.

The other big event of the Fourth Doctor’s era is The Key to Time, the first story to tell a big story over multiple stories. In modelling this complete season and storyline, in game terms this broadens the scope of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game into full campaigns, rather than being just a series of adventures—as in previous series and incarnations of the Doctor. For an event as big as this, the overview of The Key to Time and how to run it feels underwritten, but again, room is given for the individual stories to shine through.

From The Key to Time, The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook winds down through the E-Space Trilogy to Logopolis and the end of the Fourth Doctor’s era. The sourcebook has one final, interesting inclusion—an appendix that details the lost story, Shada. Of course, filming was never completed on this story and this was never broadcast, but it has been given treatment a number of times since, both in Doctor Who and without. Its inclusion here is a pleasing touch, especially as perhaps this is the least familiar story detailed in the supplement.

Physically, The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook is well presented. The writing feels rushed in places and the use of black and white photographs does jar the eye given that everything else is in full colour.

Addressing every element and every story of the Fourth Doctor’s adventures was always going to be a challenging and daunting task. In attempting to cover everything, some things have had to be omitted. For example, the descriptions of both Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan are kept short and the GM referred to The Third Doctor Sourcebook and Defending the Earth, The UNIT Sourcebook for more information. Doubtless, the GM will need to refer to The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook for more detailed discussions of the Doctor’s later companions—Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan, as well as the next incarnation of the Master. Sadly the omission of stats for Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot from The Talons of Weng-Chiang is disappointing given their later, though noncanonical, adventures. Still, The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook covers a great deal and does it well, overcoming the challenge of presenting a lot of detail and background. In doing so, The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook brims with ideas, presenting for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game, the period when Classic Who was at its finest.