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Role-Playing the Doctor

By Morgan Davie

It is often said that the most difficult job in a role-playing game is game- mastering, a task which calls on virtually every skill an individual has. But I would venture to place one other task above this in Time Lord gaming - namely running the Doctor as a character.

There are many problems involved with running the erratic Time Lord. Firstly, the Doctor is highly intelligent and perceptive, able to draw conclusions from facts that a normal human might not even notice. Secondly, the Doctor is an alien. Although this has been de-emphasized in the series, he is not human, and his basic perceptions and reactions to any stimuli are different to those of a human. Thirdly, he has a prodigious memory and a store of knowledge surpassing most libraries.

These three things are exceedingly difficult, and in the third case impossible, for most game players to replicate. Consequently, playing the part of the Doctor is not an enviable position as it is rarely carried off convincingly. How then can a player take the part of the Doctor and play it in such a way that it resembles the character epitomized in the television series itself?

A few suggestions come to mind. Most importantly, above the knowledge and wit so characteristic of all the Doctors, concentrate on the personality exhibited by each. If the idiosyncrasies of the individual Doctor are brought out and emphasized in play, a lot of credibility will be added to the portrayal of the character, overshadowing any uncharacteristic errors of judgment.

However, the wealth of knowledge the Doctor has cannot just be ignored. The answer to the dilemma faced by players of the Doctor is, in my experience, only solvable by the Game Master. The Game Master must be ready to supply all the information and knowledge that the Doctor has access to. For example, if the adventure involves an alien race such as the Sensorites, the Game Master will have to supply the player with a summary of the Doctor's knowledge of them. The best method for this dispensation of information is a number of prepared handouts. Using this case for example, the Game Master would give the player a sheet containing a run-down of the Sensorites at the appropriate point in the adventure. This means yet more work for the Game Master, of course, but it could prove vital.

The problem of the Doctor's expert ability to draw accurate conclusions from minimal facts can also be replicated in the game. Whenever the Game Master feels that it is possible for the Doctor to draw a conclusion, but the player doesn't have a clue, make a knowledge roll in secret. If it succeeds, give the player copious hints in your descriptions - for example, don't say 'He looks like a gibbering wreck', say, 'he looks as though his mind has been torn apart by an alien force.' On the other hand, if the roll fails dismally, feed the player misleading information - 'He looks like a gibbering wreck, as though he's seen a monster so terrible his mind couldn't accept it.' Be careful of that last one, however - it can be lots of fun, but can backfire dismally!

The solutions suggested above involve a lot of Game Master in put into the running of the Doctor. Care must be taken however, to prevent the Doctor's player becoming a mere dice-roller, with all his thinking taken over by the Game Master as this is the bane of any game session. If this is avoided, the Doctor should suddenly be able to do all the things he does on television - and running the Doctor will no longer be such a chore.

This item appeared in TSV 31 (November 1992).