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

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Seventh Doctor

With The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook, 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 completes its coverage of ‘Classic Who’, the twenty-six year period from ‘An Unearthly Child’ in 1963 to ‘Survival’ in 1989, during which we get seven versions of the Doctor, over thirty companions, and over one-hundred-and-fifty stories. Of course, there are still another five Doctors and thus another five sourcebooks to come, but that is ‘Nu Who’ rather than ‘Classic Who’ with the Eighth Doctor to come in between... Traditionally, the Seventh Doctor is seen as Doctor Who’s last gasp in the face of continuing BBC hostility and in spite of that hostility is seen as having received some great stories and a genuinely interesting Doctor. Of course, such improvements did not stop the BBC from cancelling Doctor Who in 1989. Nevertheless, it does mean that The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook has a whole lot less to overcome than the previous The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook
Fortunately, The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook proved to be better than its source material and after the disappointments of The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook, established anew the standards for the publisher’s celebration of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary.

The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook actually begins and is organised much like the previous books in the series. It starts with a good overview of the Seventh Doctor’s era followed by character  sheets for the Seventh Doctor and his companions—Melanie ‘Mel’ Bush, Sabalom Glitz, and Ace, discusses the themes and elements that run through his twelve stories and how to handle them. The oddity here is that Sabalom Glitz is treated as a Companion rather than simply as a recurring character, but given that he appeared in three of the Doctor’s adventures—‘The Mysterious Planet’ and ‘The Ultimate Foe’ as part of ‘The Trial of a Timelord’ for the Sixth Doctor and then ‘Dragonfire’ for the Seventh Doctor, it could be argued that Glitz is a Companion. Anyway, it should be noted that Glitz’s write-up is as a playable character rather than as an NPC as in The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook. To design characters suited to a Seventh Doctor campaign, The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook takes character Traits from the Defending The Earth: The U.N.I.T. Sourcebook and The Time Traveller’s Companion as well as adding new ones, including ‘Back Up [Minor/Major Good’, ‘Innocent [Minor Good’, and ‘Well Mannered [Minor Good’, as well as ‘Distrustful [Minor Bad’, ‘Prejudice [Minor/Major Bad]’, and ‘Past Trauma [Minor/Major Bad]’. New gadgets include Ace’s Tape Deck, the Time Controller, and of course, Ace’s Nitro-9—the latter more of a plot device than a gadget. Rules are also given for artefacts along with write-ups of ‘The Hand of Omega’ and ‘Validium, the Silver Nemesis’, both of which feature in two of the Seventh Doctor’s better stories. Of course, it should be noted that when it comes to the ultimate gadget, the TARDIS, it is barely used in the Seventh Doctor’s adventures, being a means of travel in the main. In addition, the supplement updates U.N.I.T. for a more modern age, trusted and better equipped to face alien threats—as seen in ‘Battlefield’, but also discusses its precursor, the Intrusion Countermeasures Group—as seen in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. 

Extensive discussions are given of the Seventh Doctor’s enemies—the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Fenric, the Master, and the Master. Now this these are not necessarily discussions of the Seventh Doctor’s recurring enemies, since they each only appear in a single story only. Rather they are updates of the status and ambitions of the Doctor’s recurring enemies, so the Cybermen have been defeated and dispersed, the Daleks rent by civil war between Imperial and Renegade factions, and the Rani is attending to her own plans. Like the inclusion of Sabalom Glitz as a Companion, the Fenric as a recurring enemy seems odd, since only the Seventh Doctor encounters him on screen just the once. Off screen is another matter, as it is revealed that the Doctor has encountered Fenric in the past, so it could be regarded as a recurring enemy. It does mean that Fenric is fully described here rather than in the write-up of the episode, ‘The Curse of Fenric’, though had it been included there, it would increase the coverage of that story by several pages. Even if many of the enemies are encountered on screen just the once, they do seem to want to take revenge on the Doctor for actions committed against them in the past.

The exploration of the themes and elements running through the Seventh Doctor’s stories focus on the evolution of the Doctor, from whimsical and peripatetic Victorian gentleman traveller to something much, much darker—a schemer and manipulator with a disarming manner,  which typically sees him laying traps across time and space for the greatest of his enemies, but sometimes results in him pushing a Companion to confront her fears and emotional problems. Thus Companions travelling with the Seventh Doctor tend to have failings and weaknesses, but also a potential to overcome them. The Doctor also seems to have greater power and responsibilities to match his sense of justice. The stories are also darker in theme and tone with shocks and frights, as well as a sense of isolation and  if not an avoidance of the use of violence, then at least continued evidence of its futility. The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook suggests several means of handling the Seventh Doctor’s foresight and behind the scenes manipulation, such as the GM giving out secret, even cryptic, hints; extra Story Points for retroactive planning; and even have the Doctor played by a co-GM as a sort of directed NPC. This is of course, will be too radical step for some gaming groups, and perhaps then it may be best to have him handled as a normal NPC. Even then, there is a problem in that the GM will be playing a version of the Doctor who knows more about what is going on than normal.

As with other titles in the series, the bulk of The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook is devoted to the Seventh Doctor’s adventures—over two thirds of the book in fact! Now the danger here given that there are just twelve stories to cover is to overwrite the write-ups, particularly in terms of recounting the actual stories. This was an issue with The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook, but here barely more than a page is devoted to each synopsis. Which leaves as many as ten pages to explore and detail particular elements of the story, including running the adventure, describing key locations, and giving write-ups of various NPCs and further adventures. These will be familiar from previous entries in the series, but they are joined by a new addition, Continuity notes. Their inclusion makes sense given how continuity is such a strong factor across the Seventh Doctor’s stories, but there is just the slightest of niggling suspicions that their inclusion is padding out the sourcebook. That is a slight suspicion though, for the sourcebook takes great joy in presenting gameable material —and lots of it. Never less than five or six pages’ worth and in the case of the Seventh Doctor’s more highly regarded stories—‘Silver Nemesis’, ‘Battlefield’, ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, ‘Ghostlight’, and ‘The Curse of Fenric’—as many eleven pages! These lengthier guides reflect the esteem in which these stories are held.

Within each write-up, there are are of course stats for each of the major NPCs, but the supplement also takes the time and has the space to at least describe the minor NPCs. None of them need stats, but they do play a role in their stories, so their inclusion is all the more welcome. Equally as welcome are the write-ups of a retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Fenric—for if any villain in The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook deserves to make an appearance in a GM’s campaign, it is Fenric, and just for the whimsy of it, Nicholas Parsons, who of course played the Reverend Wainwright in ‘The Curse of Fenric’.

Physically, The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook is well presented and generally well written. Some of episode synopses are written in the past tense which really does jar with the writing style of the rest of the book and although there is a certain amount of repetition in discussing the Seventh Doctor’s themes and development, there is no denying that the balance of the book between story synopsis and support is nicely handled—with much more of the latter than the former.

The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook might have merely been a book of two halves, the first half concentrating on the early stories that would have been for the Sixth Doctor, the second on what are regarded as the stories specifically for the Seventh Doctor. Of course this supplements highlights those, just as it highlights the change in the Doctor’s character over the course of his twelve stories. Which is understandable because primarily these are what the GM of a Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game campaign is going to draw upon for inspiration for his game—and just as this is where the Seventh Doctor’s stories are at their strongest, it is also where The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook is at its strongest. Equally, The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook is at its strongest in getting the balance between synopsis and support, providing the GM with plenty of ideas and suggestions that he can bring to his game.