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

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Sixth Doctor


“Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon.”

In coming to review The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook, the sixth entry in Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s celebration of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary for the Ennie-award winning Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game, it is appropriate—surprisingly appropriate—that the review begins with the Sixth Doctor’s most well known quote. For after the somewhat lacklustre tone and content of the previous book, The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook, and given the Sixth Doctor’s abysmal reputation, it may come as a surprise that this supplement is actually good.

For in writing this supplement, the author of The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook has had to overcome three hurdles—one of them very big and two of them not so big. The very big hurdle is that the Sixth Doctor is not popular. In fact the Sixth Doctor is arguably one of the most unpopular of incarnations of the Time Lord, being brash, arrogant, abrasive, petulant, at times callous, and possessing a dress sense that is arguably worse than that of Zaphod Beeblebrox. The first of the not so big hurdles is that the Sixth Doctor’s  stories are generally regarded as being of a poor standard and just like the character of the Sixth Doctor are not popular. In particular, his first full story, 'The Twin Dilemma' is held to be one of the worst stories ever filmed, though 'Time Lash' is not far behind (personally though, I quite like 'Revelation of the Daleks'). The second of the not so big hurdles is that the author has just eleven stories to detail and expand upon and that could have been an excuse to undermine the book’s usefulness and application if he had repeated the design of The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook and overwritten the story descriptions. After all, it would have been the easy thing to do. Fortunately, just like the Doctor and the personality of the Sixth Doctor, Cubicle Seven Entertainment has decided that ‘easy’ was not the best option in overcoming any one of these three hurdles. 

The two lesser hurdles, the unpopularity and the poor quality of the Sixth Doctor’s stories and the fact that there are just eleven of them are dealt within a very simple manner. The author focuses upon what can be done with each story rather than on the story itself. In practice this means that no summary is more than four pages long and whilst these are not always the most interesting of reads, they are at least concise, which is huge improvement over the overwritten summaries in The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook. This leaves more room for the stats and write-ups of the characters and devices in each story as well as advice on running the adventure and further adventure—typically eight pages of useful supporting material and ideas.  Again, a huge improvement over the supporting material in The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook.

Of course, this come with its own problems—stats for everything and I do mean everything! It is arguable, for example, whether stats are really needed for the watching Arak and Etta from the story, 'Vengeance on Varos', but the need for stats for the Varosian Guard Buggy is far less debatable. Or indeed the inclusion of stats for Ruth Baxter and Mr. Kimber from 'Terror of the Vervoids'. Nevertheless, there are lots of nicely write-ups scattered throughout the descriptions of the stories. This includes the obvious such as Gustave Lytton in 'Attack of the Cybermen', Sil in 'Vengeance on Varos', but also George Stephenson from 'The Mark of the Rani', H.G. Wells from 'Time Lash', and of course, Sabalom Glitz and Dibber from 'The Mysterious Planet'. 

The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook actually begins and is organised much like the previous books in the series. It begins with a good overview of the Sixth Doctor’s era followed by character  sheets for the Sixth Doctor and his companions—Peri and Mel as well as a discussion of the Sixth Doctor’s TARDIS. These are accompanied by various new Traits such as Have I been here before?, Positive Outlook, and Time Lord Mentor, plus a number of new Time Lord tricks such as Trance and Completely Impossible Escape. The latter enables a Time Lord to burn all of Story Points to escape certain doom, which whilst seemly appropriate also appears to be somewhat mechanically redundant. 

The bulk of the sourcebook is, of course, devoted to detailing the Sixth Doctor’s adventures. As already mentioned, these are well written and well supported, particularly in terms of further adventures. This continues a trend begun from the book’s outset, where the given further adventures are more akin to scenario outlines, and all of this in addition to the ideas often discussed in detail for each story. It is no surprise though, that 'The Trial of a Time Lord' gets a whole chapter of its own, discussing in detail the purpose of the trial, its location aboard the Time Lords’ Justice Machine, and of course, the Valeyard. In previous stories the supplement discussed both the Master and the Rani in detail, but they are known enemies with aims, advantages, and weaknesses, whereas the Valeyard is very much an unknown. Various ideas are discussed as to where the Valeyard might have sprung from and who he might be working for, some of them stemming from the Doctor recent adventures.

If 'Genesis of the Daleks' is, as discussed in The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook, is the opening shot in the Time War, then by the time of the Sixth Doctor’s stories, as extrapolated by The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook that war is really heating up, with the major powers in the galaxy—the Cybermen and the Daleks in particular—moving to gain the highly advanced technology needed to bring the fight to Gallifrey. An appendix explores how each of the Sixth Doctor’s adventures fits into the framework of the Time War, although of course, neither the Doctor, the Master, the Rani, or the Valeyard are aware of this connection yet. The accompanying adventure seeds do make more of this connection, as does a complete campaign outline that might just see the need for the Time War put on hold…

Physically, The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook is decently done. The use of black and white photographs in places feels jarring (if understandable if that is all that is available). The book feels a little overdone in places in terms of detail, but better to have it than not.

Where The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook was a disappointment, sadly showcasing the undevelopment of decent source material, then The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook is a revelation, showcasing how well disappointing source material can be developed. This development does come with the benefit of hindsight, the Time War being a modern addition to Doctor Who, but what the development means is that not only is the GM given lots of support, ideas, and adventure seeds to work with, but that also all of a sudden, the Sixth Doctor’s adventures look intriguing. Above all, The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook is a good sourcebook for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game, one that sets high standards for the remaining titles in Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s celebration of Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary.