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

Friday 17 January 2014

The Second Doctor

The latest supplement for Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s Ennie-award winning Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game is The Second Doctor Sourcebook (though this review appears almost at the same time as The Third Doctor Sourcebook comes to print and The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook is announced). It continues the publisher’s celebration of Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary begun by the The First Doctor Sourcebook by delving back into the show’s past to explore perhaps that most pivotal of incarnations of the Doctor. For without the role being recast with Patrick Troughton the series would never have been kept going by the concept of Regeneration. In addition, the second Doctor’s tenure also introduced us to the Sonic Screwdriver plus the Time Lords and the Doctor’s home of Gallifrey as well as pointing towards the creation of UNIT, the agency that will figure so strongly in the adventures of the Third Doctor. Thus The Second Doctor Sourcebook prefigures much to come that is covered in both The Time Traveller’s Companion and Defending the Earth: The UNIT Sourcebook, the previous two sourcebooks from Cubicle Seven Entertainment.

The Second Doctor Sourcebook takes us from the Second Doctor’s first encounter with the Daleks in his first adventure in The Power of the Daleks to his confrontation with the renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief and his subsequent trial by the Time Lords in The War Games. Apart from a visit to the Scottish past in The Highlanders, the Second Doctor’s adventures primarily take place in the near future, the Doctor coming to the aid of mankind as it tries to survive ecological upheaval and numerous invasion attempts. He and his companions face foes again and again, not just the Daleks and the Cybermen, but also the Ice Warriors and the Yeti. The Second Doctor Sourcebook presents an opportunity for the Doctor – or indeed, the player character Time Lord and his Companions not to be mere wanderers in the Fourth Dimension, but to face evil and actively intervene to save others. To visit the Himalayas and get lost in the tunnels of the London Underground while menaced by the Yeti; to discover what the Daleks are doing in 1866 and what they want the Doctor to isolate; and to foil the machinations of Salamander, the Mexican scientist who is the spitting image of the Doctor!

The book is essentially broken into two parts. The first introduces us to Troughton’s portrayal and explores his character, his Companions, the difficulties of his travels during this period, and the common themes and ideas. Most notably these include singular adventures rather than campaigns, adventures set at isolated bases ripe for attack or invasion, the evolution of a world government dealing with the issues of arms control, overpopulation, and ecological catastrophe, and of course, evil that must be fought. In comparison with the First Doctor, the Second Doctor is more aware of the threats that he might face out in the universe and is thus more capable of dealing with the dangers of his tenure. Although the TARDIS remains as cantankerous and as difficult to pilot as ever, the Second Doctor has least access to his 500 Year Diary, his Sonic Screwdriver Mark 1, and of course, his Recorder!

Two notable issues are addressed in dealing with Second Doctor adventures. The first is how run them without muddling up the timeline. The solution given is to run them after the Doctor is found guilty at his trial and before his sentence is carried out by having him work for the Celestial Intervention Agency. This set-up would allow for a good mix of Companions too, whether official or player created. Indeed, such Companions of either type could come from any time period. The second issue is that of the timeline of the Second Doctor’s adventures, many of which take place in the place in the very near future. Of course, this is a future of the 1960s, so already looks odd by the twenty-first century. The solution is to either adjust the stories and feel to our timeline or be authentic as possible.

As well as the stats and write-up for the Second Doctor himself, The Second Doctor Sourcebook includes stats and write-ups for all of his companions. The most notable changes in the Doctor are his pacifism (reflected in his Code of Conduct), though not all of his Companions share this attitude and are handy in a fight – Ben and Jamie in particular. To support the new Companion and the guidelines for creating Time Lord and Companion player characters suitable for the period, The Second Doctor Sourcebook includes a slough of new Traits such as 'Epicurean Tastes' and 'Menacing'. Many of these are taken from The Time Traveller’s Companion and Defending the Earth: The UNIT Sourcebook. These are joined by descriptions and write-ups of the Second Doctor’s major foes – the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Great Intelligence, and the Ice Warriors. One oddity covered in these write-ups is why the Doctor meets the Model 2, Model 3, and Model 4 in the order that he does...

The second and longest part of The Second Doctor Sourcebook is further divided into chapters that travel chronologically in order through each of the Second Doctor’s adventures. For each of these there is a synopsis followed by a guide to running the adventure and a listing of any appropriate characters, aliens, and gadgets. The guide to running each adventure is not a straightforward adaptation, but rather a discussion of themes and ideas inherent to the adventure. So for example, with The Tomb of the Cybermen the author draws parallels with pulp serials and how the Cybermen are looking for suitable successors (almost like an ancient Mummy come back to life!), while with The Abominable Snowmen, the author highlights its Lovecraftian feel. Rounding the entry for each story is a selection of Further Adventures hooks that could be run as possible sequels.

Physically, The Second Doctor Sourcebook is a slim hard back book, suitably illustrated throughout with black and white photographs – though it will be the last to be done in black and white. As fitting the switch to colour of the series, The Third Doctor Sourcebook will also be in colour. The volume feels solidly researched and well written, but if there is a downside to the book, it is that not going to appeal or be of use to everyone, and that is going to be an issue with each of the subsequent volumes in the series. After all, almost everyone has their favourite Doctor and also their least favourite Doctor, and that may be reflected in the Doctor Sourcebooks that they purchase. With The Second Doctor Sourcebook, the adventures presented here are more dynamic, more knowing, and more exciting than those of The First Doctor Sourcebook, and as such foreshadow the style of adventures to come right up to, and including new Who.

As much as many of the Second Doctor’s adventures are unavailable to watch and will thus be unfamiliar to all but the dedicated of fans, there is a familiarity to the style and feel of the adventures detailed in The Second Doctor Sourcebook. That of visiting a place, being mistaken for someone else or intruders before investigating and getting involved in some kind of threat or mystery. What this means is that the contents of The Second Doctor Sourcebook are more accessible and potentially easier to use than those of The First Doctor Sourcebook. That though seems in keeping with the character of the Second Doctor compared to the First Doctor and just serves to show how both are well served by their respective First and Second Doctor Sourcebooks.

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