26 December, 2015

How to (and not to) run a time travel game?

After watching this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, I'm reminded of one of the things that Doctor Who can do really well... Especially compared to a lot of other TV shows and narrative forms where time travel is an element.

Don't get me wrong, Doctor Who has just as many failures when it comes to temporal narrative, but it's been going for so long that there have been some great examples of how storylines and timelines can combine, compliment and even contradict. 

It basically reflects the way I run long term narrative in a campaign. 

Each episode has a few hooks, some of which get resolved, usually enough to get a feel of closure when the episode concludes, but sometimes not enough and people complain about plot holes. Usually there are one or two plot points that just don't get resolved, but in a show like Doctor Who they can be resolved in a later episode or even a later season. 

The "River Song" story thread that stretches across numerous Doctors has been a brilliant example of how two time traveller's might interact with one another. At various points, one character has had information in their past which still belongs in the other character's future, and this has made sorting out their stories a fascinating exercise in temporal topology. This episode saw some of the loose story elements tied back into the narrative, it wasn't a perfect episode but it linked years of meandering story  back together with new elements of it's own. 

I'd actually like to see more of this. We saw it when Clara stepped into the Doctor's timeline a couple of season's ago, but only as a one off. The episode "Blink" is considered one of the best episodes of the modern era, and it does similar manipulation of temporal narrative. There is so much potential for other episodes to go back, fill in plot holes, or create situations that might have been previously solved by the doctor in some way that we didn't understand at the time. 

There's basically 50 years of story that could be linked in this way, but the modern era of Doctor Who seems to ignore a lot of the old stuff except to dredge up some monster from the past when current ideas have been exhausted.

That's enough of my rant for the moment, I might come back to it in the future.


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