As cheesy as saying this in a Doctor Who review may be, come back in time with me. Way back in 2005 Doctor Who returned to television for the first time in nearly a decade. Then, in 2007, Cubicle 7 announced they had acquired a licence to the new show. Shortly after that the first edition of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space came out, featuring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. A few years later the Second that edition featured Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, and then a limited edition as part of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary.
As the show entered its fifth decade, Peter Capaldi picked up the reigns as the Twelfth Doctor. At the conclusion of his first series (or season as North America refers to it) the fourth and most current edition of the rule book was released, rebranding the game the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game.
It is interesting to note that while the cosmetics and content changed between editions, the actual rules are the same. What that means is that all the supplements and sourcebooks that were previously released are still entirely accurate. At worst, some of the details and statistics may have been updated for certain creatures. Even then, that doesn’t invalidate the old creatures or make them unusable in a newer campaign. It’s a great way to handle an ongoing and ever-changing universe.
The book starts with an introduction, as most RPGs do, but this one has some interesting points beyond just “what is roleplaying”. There’s a great note about gender, pointing out that while the Doctor was male at the time (she, of course, isn’t any longer) and most of his companions have been female, the writers will generally use “they” because it’s simply easier and more concise. Because it is. The other beautifully worded section is on measurement and language. Doctor Who is quintessentially British, but Cubicle 7 is wise enough to realize it is also a worldwide phenomenon and this game will be sold in US markets. They politely point out most of the world uses the metric system, The Doctor uses the metric system, and the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game uses the metric system in most cases. They give a close-enough conversion to Imperial before moving on to language. British English uses less ‘Z’s and more ‘U’s (while we Canadians often flip-flop between the two dictionaries with impunity).
The second chapter is entitled “Old-Fashioned Heroes From Old-Fashioned Story Books” …
(Okay, wait. I’m interrupting myself for a tangent. The chapter titles in this game are possibly some of the best things ever. I probably won’t mention all of them, but they’re seriously great stuff.)
(Let start that again.) The second chapter is entitled “Old-Fashioned Heroes From Old-Fashioned Story Books” and it covers everything about character creation. At its heart, the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game is a game about roleplaying as The Doctor, and his companions. But it doesn’t have to be, and even that narrow criteria is broader than any core rulebook should tackle. The Appendix at the back includes a premade character sheet for the Twelfth Doctor, several of his Companions, as well as a number of other notable characters. But if you want to play a different incarnation of The Doctor, a different companion, a team of UNIT or Torchwood agents, or whatever really, this is the chapter that has the details to make that happen.
It’s important to remember that not all Doctors are the same. A quick glance at the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook, for example, and you’ll see he statistically differs greatly from the Twelfth. In fact, even with the numerous sourcebooks, there is over 50 years of additional material to draw inspiration from. My favorite example is later in rulebook when the Silurian section references a Seventh Doctor audio adventure, The Silurian Candidate, from Big Finish Audio.
Moving on to Chapter 3: I Can Fight Monsters, I Can’t Fight Physics. This chapter goes into actually playing the game. When you are resolving any sort of challenge, it’s is a simple formula:
ATTRIBUTE + SKILL (+TRAIT) + TWO REGULAR DICE = RESULT
If the total result is higher than whatever the Difficulty was that the GM assigned to the thing, the character is successful. If the player rolls significantly higher (or lower) than the Difficulty the result could also be significantly better (or worse) than they expected.
There are rules for getting into a physical conflict, and otherwise getting injured, but The Doctor’s general distaste for violence has always been paramount in Doctor Who. An adventure focused on UNIT, might use these rules a great deal. But, more often players are involved in a story surrounding an incarnation of The Doctor and are more likely to find themselves in a mental or social conflict. Maybe they get into a chase or have to use a strange Gadget to progess in the story.
The discussion of Gadgets carries us into an incredibly well-written chapter on time travel and the TARDIS, before moving on to Chapter 5. This chapter gives us All The Strange, Strange Creatures, but not really. I assume (having only seen this edition of the rulebook) that this section is the most different, content-wise, of the four editions. It’s chalked full of Series 8 creatures, including The Boneless, Robot Knights, and The Master’s latest incarnation, Missy. I’d be curious to see how entries for classic villains like The Cybermen may have been updated from previous books, including the Alien and Creatures supplement that is now called All The Strange, Strange Creatures under the current branding.
Chapter 6 is a useful chapter for new players and Game Masters that may not have encountered a lot of games like this one. Even for experienced RPG players, there are some nice pointers for playing THIS game. But either way, if you only ever intend to be a player, not a GM, you can skip ahead to the character sheets in the Appendix.
Chapter 7 looks at creating your own Doctor Who adventures, while Chapter 8 presents two short adventures, Stormrise and Seeing Eyes. Chapter 7 isn’t really relevant to the average player, and no player wants to spoil an adventure by reading ahead.
To me, the mechanics of the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game, which are both simple and solid, are honestly secondary. To me, the most important thing about this game is that it FEELS like Doctor Who. If you look back at the past 15 years of the “New Who” era, you can pick out the storytelling style of the show. If you go back further, you’ll find that the pacing may differ and some of the episodic structure may differ with the classic Doctors, but so much of how the show actually resonates is largely the same throughout.
Recently I’ve been working my way through Sylvester McCoy’s run, with Paul McGann waiting in the wings. But going through this Twelve-centric (is that a word?) edition of the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game makes me want to jump back into Capaldi’s great performances after that. (Just don’t ask me about the writing on his run, trust me.)