Rolling with the Doctor: Doctor Who Role Playing Game (FASA)

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Who rpgLike an immutable law, at some point, every long-lasting science fiction franchise attracts at least one role playing game based on its setting, lore, and characters. Doctor Who proves no exception to this rule, with several different role playing games to its name over the fifty-odd years of its existence.

FASA produced the first of these in 1985, The Doctor Who Role Playing Game: Adventures Through Time and Space, a boxed set featuring three booklets: one for the players, one for the gamemaster, and one a sourcebook with information about the world of the show. All three are illustrated copiously, though only in black and white (an unintentional homage, no doubt, to the early years of the series), a mix of photos from the show and drawings of varying quality. Later years saw the publication of nearly a dozen sourcebooks and adventures to supplement the core rule books.

The game system itself broke no new ground upon publication, being a fairly standard attribute-based system using skill checks to determine the success or failure of actions the players wish to take. Players are allowed to take on the role of the Doctor or other Time Lords if they wish, though the rules suggest new players stick to being companions; regardless, the assumption is that all players are members of an organization known as the Celestial Intervention Agency, a group created by FASA for this game to provide a framing narrative for the core rule books and the supplements to follow.

And, indeed, the degree to which the writers employed by FASA for this project added backstory to the Doctor Who universe makes this game interesting. These inventions are certainly not canonical in any form (though, as any brief perusal of my Doctor Who Project posts will attest, adherence to a consistent lore did not figure greatly in the concerns of the show’s production team), but they represent an early attempt to formalize certain aspects of the show’s setting.

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From attempting to judge the relative strengths of Daleks versus Silurians to postulating the existence of a standard time zone based in Gallifrey, from providing a user manual for K-9 to summarizing visits to Earth by Time Lords other than the Doctor, The Doctor Who Role Playing Game makes for compelling reading, albeit in a form punctuated by charts and game statistics.

I’m not sure contemporary role players would find the game experience to their liking, being too casually designed for those who like a bit of crunch in their rules and too restrictive for more free-form gaming. As an artifact of mid-1980s thinking about Doctor Who, however, The Doctor Who Role Playing Game provides fascinating insight into the areas of the series’ universe never fully explored in the show itself. This active fan engagement with the series beyond passively watching it on television speaks to its enduring legacy today.

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