I'm currently listening to the audio drama SITUATION VACANT. I've heard about half of it now. DON'T SPOIL THE REST, PLEASE.
Anyway, the entire audio is basically the Doctor *spoilers* interviewing for new companions. *end spoilers, sorry for uneccesary spoliering but I HATE spoilers when reading about Doctor Who*
Anyway, I need some cliches from Doctor Who. Ones that any companion would know or have to face at some point. I need as many of these as possible to create a champion-bred cliche pool of... cliches... to bend.
Example: Alien Invasion Bend: There is no invasion, the aliens are friendly, the invasion is faked or unrelated to the current objective.
Doctor Who has a tendency to bend its own tropes and clichés, of course.
This is a good place to start. Slightly narrower than the general TVTropes page for the series, focusing on plotting stories. Of course, being a TVTropes link, it contains its own time dilation effect.
Anyway, here are some examples, including an adventure hook I bashed together myself.
Aliens disguised as or possessing humans... who are here for a non-nefarious purpose like fixing a broken engine on their spaceship, or observing human culture out of scientific curiosity, or saving the world from another group of aliens or a human threat. The Doctor counts as this subversion himself...
I can imagine the line of potential assistants waiting in the hallway for their interview. All of them are reading from a script, trying to give their own unique reading of the line "What is it, Doctor?"
I started writing up a guide to various common Doctor Who plotlines and how to represent them using the RPG rules, but I never got around to finishing it. For what it's worth, here's an example of the kind of notes that I was making:
The Quest through Time A classic Doctor Who plot structure that involves a plot to gather the pieces of a dangerous artifact. Examples include the Keys of Marinus, the entire Key of Time season, and The Infinite Quest. Some echoes of this structure also appear in other Doctor Who stories such as The Five Doctors and The Dalek Masterplan. A few key tropes are:
A powerful artifact that must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. This artifact serves as a macguffin to drive the plot, but remain firmly in the background until the climax of the story.
The artifact is often extremely ancient and comes from a semi-mythical period (eg: the Dark Times, early Gallifreyan history, etc). Its origins and exact nature are often ambiguous.
A scheming villain who is keen to get his hands on this artifact. Typically the villain in this type of story does not actively oppose the characters in person, but sends minions to deal with them.
The artifact has either been divided into multiple fragments that are scattered through time and space or the clues necessary to locate the current resting place of the artifact have been scattered through time and space.
The characters must visit a sequence of 5-7 different locations to recover pieces of the artifact or to learn the location of the next clue to its current whereabouts.
Each location visited should provide a self-contained problem that the characters must resolve before they can locate the next piece of the artifact. Typically, each location should be designed as a mini-adventure that can be resolved in no more than an hour of play.
The locations visited during this section of the adventure tend to be built around archetypal themes. There is usually a jungle planet, an ice planet, a desert planet, etc. The settings are painted in broad strokes because the characters are not expected to linger there for more than a brief period.
Some pieces of the artifact are disguised as incidental objects. THe characters must recognize their true nature through deduction.
The characters might need to solve some sort of puzzle or escape from an elaborate trap to prove that they are worthy of the final piece of the artifact or the final clue.
The characters should be pursued by minions of the major villain and may be only one step ahead of them throughout the story.
Stories that utilize this plot structure almost always feature a sudden reversal of fortune near the end. In some cases it is revealed that the villain has manipulated the characters into gathering the pieces of the artifact all along, while in other cases the villain captures a companion or innocent NPC and blackmails the characters into handing over all of the fragments or clues that they have recovered.
The villain may gain access to the power of the artifact at the climax of the story only to be destroyed by it...or at least imprisoned for the rest of eternity...
Stories of this nature typically end with a renunciation of the power represented by the artifact. The protagonist realizes that the artifact is dangerous and either destroys it or scatters the fragments of it again.
Here are some rough notes that I made about another archetypal Doctor Who plot structure:
Alien Invasion! The classic Doctor Who invasion stories are inextricably linked to the Pertwee era, although the basic formula was developed during the latter half of the Troughton era. Some of the most iconic moments in the history series come from these stories.
Alien invasion stories can be effective, but they should be used sparingly -- you want to avoid the “invasion of the week” syndrome if possible. In addition, running too many alien invasion stories back-to-back stretches the credulity of the audience (i.e. the players). Personally, I recommend that you shouldn't do more than a single story of this type each season.
It is interesting to note that invasion stories in Doctor Who tend to have a unique structure that is slightly different to the B-Grade alien invasion films of the 1950s. Many of the differences are due to the episodic nature of the TV series and the need to string out the invasion story over four to six episodes.
Classic Doctor Who invasion stories are usually built around an iconic moment when the nature of the alien threat is openly revealed - the Cybermen emerge from the sewers, Auton dummies smash through shop windows, etc. These moments typically occur quite late in the story. In a four-part story, they tend to occur towards the end of episode three and in a six-part story they tend to occur late in episode four or early in episode five. The reason for this is pacing - once the alien menace is openly revealed, the story needs to move briskly towards the climax.
In many cases, the presence of the aliens is not revealed to the Doctor until the climax of episode two. Typically, the Doctor is confronted with a mystery in episode one that leads him to gradually uncover evidence of alien activity.
One common feature of Doctor Who invasion stories is the presence of a human collaborator who gains access to alien technology in exchange for assisting the invaders with their plans. The archetype of the human collaborator appears again and again in Doctor Who, from Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion through to Luke Rattigan in The Sontaran Strategem.
In most cases, the human collaborator is a wealthy entrepreneur who is uses advanced alien technology to develop and market revolutionary devices that are far beyond their time. Examples include the electronic circuitry developed by International Electromatics, the ATMOS devices in the Sontaran Stratagem, and the advanced plastics in Terror of the Autons.
The new technology introduced by the human collaborator typically has four major features.
The new technology has become ubiquitous very quickly, grabbing market share from competing products in a matter of months.
The new technology is more advanced than should be possible with contemporary human technology.
The new technology has a sinister purpose that is not immediately evident. Often a character who examines an example of the device early in the story will find evidence of parts that are not obviously related to its supposed purpose.
It should embody contemporary concerns about technology in some way. For example, the electronic devices produced by International Electromatics in The Invasion reflect concern about the spread of consumer electronics in the late 1960s. The plastic toys in Terror of the Autons reflect concerns about the spread of plastics and automation in the 1970s. And the ATMOS devices in The Sontaran Strategem reflect 21st century concerns about atmospheric pollution and global warming.
The motivations of the human collaborator are important. Often, the human collaborator has a change of heart late in the story and allies himself with the Doctor once he realises that his alien allies plan to betray him. For example, Tobias Vaughn tries to use the Cerebration Mentor against the Cybermen, George Hibbert tries to destroy the Auton machinery at Auto Plastics, Luke Rattigan uses his Atmospheric Converter to blow up the Sontaran ship, and so forth.
Typically the collaborator is killed by his former alien allies as he redeems himself with a heroic act that destroys the invasion force....or at least slows it down for long enough for the Doctor to implement the measures necessary to defeat it.
Early in the story, the Doctor begins to suspect that the human collaborator is in contact with an alien intelligence of some kind and confronts the collaborator verbally. Subsequently, the collaborator either decides to eliminate the Doctor as a potential threat or is ordered by his alien allies to do so.
Previously, the audience may have witnessed the collaborator kill a journalist, private investigator, or UNIT agent who has gotten too close to the truth, demonstrating that this is no empty threat. An attempt to eliminate the Doctor by conventional means often forms the climax of the first episode.
Although the Doctor survives the initial attempt to eliminate him, the actions of the villain confirms his suspicions that something is seriously wrong. Typically, he decides to sneak into a factory or industrial facility owned by the human collaborator in order to discover the true nature of the threat. Depending upon the story, the Doctor may need to dodge security guards and cameras to research the location where the secrets are held. Typically, the Doctor discover some incriminating evidence that reveals the true magnitude of the threat. Often he will encounter one or more inert members of the alien invasion force - cybermen cocooned in packing crates, inert autons, etc. This discovery often forms the climax of the second episode.
At the beginning of the third episode, the aliens realise that the human authorities are close to discovering the truth and decide to bring their invasion plans forward.
The third episode in the story often adventure features the use of alien simulacra to infiltrate the command structure of the human authorities. For example, in Terror of the Autons, the invaders used duplicates of miliary leaders and politicians. And in The Sontaran Strategem, the invaders used clones to infiltrate UNIT - even going so far as to produce a clone of the Doctor's companion!
The third episode usually ends with the moment when the alien invasion is openly revealed. This is the iconic moment that people tend to remember - Cybermen on the steps of St. Paul's cathedral, Autons coming to life in shop windows, etc. It is worth putting a bit of time and effort into the moment where the alien menace is revealed - try to come up with a strong visual image that communicates the immediacy of the threat to the players.
Immediately after the aliens emerge into the open and begin to execute their plans, there is a set-piece battle that underscores how helpless the humans are in the face of the menace. This is the scene where dozens of UNIT soldiers blaze away ineffectually against the advancing aliens. It is interesting to note that the new series contains an excellent example of this trope in The Sontaran Stratagem.
At the beginning of the fourth episode, the Doctor usually develops a device that can weaken but not destroy the alien invaders, giving the human forces a chance to hold them at bay for long enough for him to develop a more permanent solution.
Shortly afterwards, the human collaborator realizes that he has been duped by his alien allies and he has a change of heart. In many cases he attempts to use their own technology against them. This act of defiance is futile, but buys the Doctor some additional time.
Finally, the Doctor develops an ingenious solution to the alien menace that allows him to deactivate or disable most of the minions of the alien leader. The Doctor must then confront the leader of the alien invasion force before he has a chance to call in overwhelming reinforcements. At the climax of the story, the alien leader is killed and the approaching reinforcements are destroyed.
Great stuff! I really like analyses of the structure of the storytelling for Who (and other shows for that matter) - it really helps to get a feel for it as well. Have some Karma.
Thanks. Here's some more of my rough notes....
An Ancient Menace Awakens
Examples: The Daemons, The Pyramids of Mars, Image of the Fendahl, The Awakening, The Curse of Fenric, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
Some common plot elements in this kind of story:
The ancient menace usually originates in the semi-mythical period before the rise of Gallifrey. Consider the Osirans, the Fendahl, the Daemons, the Great Vampires, and even the Racnoss...
The Time lords possess little certain knowledge of the nature of the ancient menace. In The Pyramids of Mars, the Fourth Doctor emphasizes that the early Time Lords feared the Osirans. In a similar vein, the mysterious language used in The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit is so old that the TARDIS cannot translate it - it predates the records of the Time Lords.
In some cases, the menace is a transcendental entity that seeks a way back into our universe. The Great Intelligence is a classic example of this approach, but Fenric from The Curse of Fenric provides another good example.
The ancient menace often possesses a human to serve as its agent. This individual is granted immense powers at the cost of their humanity. The transformation of a minor character into the agent of the ancient menace often early in the story or takes place offstage. They are typically given a mission to free the ancient menace from its imprisonment. Examples of this trope include Padmasambhava from The Abominable Snowmen, Marcus Scarman from the Pyramids of Mars, Thea Ransome from Image of the Fendahl, et al. To some extent, the Master fulfills this role in The Daemons.
The human agent of the ancient menace is granted control over its inhuman servitors. For example, Padmasambhava controls the Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen, Marcus Scarman controls the robotic mummies in Pyramids of Mars, Thea Ransom seems to control the Fendahleen in Image of the Fendahl.
The ancient menace may surround the area with an impenetrable barrier to ensure that its resurrection is not prevented. The Doctor and his companions are typically trapped inside the barrier. For example, in The Daemons, the entire village of Devil's End is encircled by a heat shield that destroys anything that comes into contact with it. Similarly, in Pyramids of Mars Laurence Scarman commands the mummies to secure the perimeter around the priory by constructing a force field.
There is often a character who seems to possess an eccentric belief in the occult but who is later revealed to possess genuine psychic abilities - typically some form of telepathic sensitivity. Examples include Olive Hawthorne from The Daemons, Mother Tyler from Image of the Fendahl
Local superstitions provide clues on how to defeat the minions of the evil entity. The folklore proves to have a rational explanation. For example, the use of table salt against the Fendahleen in Image of the Fendahl is prompted by Mother Tyler but the doctor reveals that the salt disrupting the osmotic balance and electrical conductivity of their cells. The role of Reverend Wainwright's faith in The Curse of Fenric may also fit this pattern.
Often one or more humans are converted into servitors of the ancient menace. Consider the fate of Jean and Phyllis in The Curse of Fenric or the conversion of Stael and his fellow cultists into Fendahleen in the final episode of Image of the Fendahl.
During the final confrontation with the alien menace, most of the incidental NPCs are killed. This type of story often has the highest body-count of the archetypal Doctor Who plot structures.
I've got a few more notes Doctor Who plot cliches if you're interested. And some of the ones that I've been thinking about writing up in future include:
Rebels in Corridors (eg. The Sunmakers)
The Regressive Colony (eg. The Krotons, The Face of Evil, State of Decay
I'd love to see any other notes you have along the lines above - I think you've done a great job with the ones you've posted, they really help to crystalise in my mind what elements go into a good traditional Who story. Any others would be gratefully received!