Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Apollo 23: An overview

To start off this blog, I thought I'd do some in depth examination of one of the books from the New Series line. So I'm starting off with the first novel for the Eleventh Doctor, Apollo 23. This will be the first of (at  least) three articles I'm doing for the book.

I can't say I've read many of the Doctor Who novels. I recall reading Timewyrm: Genesys from the old Virgin Books line, but I never really got into the Doctor Who books. Only recently I found a few of the New Series books from BBC at the used book store, and the title and image of the burger wielding astronaut amused me so I picked it up.

The  easiest way to sum up the story is the synopsis from Wikipedia:

The Doctor and Amy arrive at a shopping centre much to The Doctor's disappointment. When arriving they discover that a spaceman has appeared out of thin air. They both decide to materialize to the moon which they successfully do and find the secret Base Diana. Investigating, they learn of a plot by the evil Talerians to take over the Earth by possessing human bodies. The Doctor ends up trapped on Earth and working with secret government officials, manages to return to the moon on Apollo 23, there having secretly been Apollos 18 through 22 before a link was established between Earth and the Moon that allowed instantaneous travel before sabotage caused it to break down, causing the spaceman to appear.  On the moon, Amy is captured and possessed and lures the Doctor into a trap, but he manages to escape with the help of Major Carlisle who managed to secretly remain unpossesed due to a power failure caused by Amy attempting to stop sabotage. With Carlisle's help, the Doctor finds a back-up copy of Amy's personality and restores her to normal and later manages to do the same using the fire suppression system to everyone but the alien leader, Jackson, who had kept his back-up with him. Restoring everyone's minds through their back-ups also erases the alien minds possessing them. Jackson manages to summon an invasion force of actual Talerians and reveals that the real Jackson's experiments had allowed him (the alien possessing him) to transfer himself to Jackson in the first place and start the invasion. The Talerians are revealed to be balloon-like aliens that are extremely fragile and are dying out. They want human bodies to survive. The Doctor restores the real Jackson by secretly giving him his back-up in his tea and he sacrifices himself to destroy the Talerians by shooting out a window, causing a depressurization that kills the Talerian invaders due to their fragility, and also kills him.

From a role playing stand point, this would be a fairly easy game to use as game scenario. It's mostly the "base under seige" story with the added paranoia of not being certain who you can trust inside.

Base Diana would be a useful location for other adventures. It was built in secret in the early 80's and has become the ultimate in maximum security prisons for people that for some reason or another need to be kept far away from the world. The story is very vague on what these people have done, so it might be that some of them are not here because they are violently dangerous, but politically dangerous. It's isolation and the unlawful experiments being conducted might be more for the benefit of the powers that be than to "cure" the inmates of their dangerous natures (shades of The Prisoner and Mind of Evil.)

The fact that the majority of the staff simply accepts the Doctor and Amy's presence on the base seems a bit out of character for the typical military.  Especially since this is supposed to be a top secret military base hidden on the moon and these two distinctly non-military strangers just pop in right as the base has a major system malfunction just makes me think one of the military guys should have at least thrown them into a cell and contacted command before anything else. The base staff for the most part came across as fairly blandly generic, but I think most of that might have just been a matter of how the author wrote the story.  They could easily have been played a lot more sinister or at least memorable.

The alien menace of the Talerians is definitely worth revisiting. Such a physically fragile race in search of stronger host bodies could be a good theme to play with. Their mind swap technology seems rather limited in the story, we never see how the Talerians turn themselves into mental energy, suggesting the equipment must be bulky and immobile. If they were to advance that to a more portable form, the possibilities of brain swapping and the horrible consequences of such might be worth playing out.

There is one very fun scene to inspire the GMs early in the story. At the car park where they left the TARDIS, it's sitting over two spaces. The attendant is about to fine them. The Doctor whips out the psychic paper and claims a  two-for one exemption. And in a classic example of a "yes, but..." success roll, the attendant validates the psychic paper with his signature! The paper is effectively useless for the rest of the story (Amy flips the paper around in the holder, but prints everything backwards.) Which makes for a nasty and amusing way for GM's to neutralize a player who overly depends on his psychic paper or other easy cheat. At the end of the story I would give them the option to spend a story point and go dig in their TARDIS for a hypersonic eraser or some such that will erase the writing off the paper and make it good as new.

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