Episode 4: The Last Star Whale
embarking on a new series of adventures in time and space, our freshly-regenerated
Time Lady decides to make a quick stop at Avalon to speak to the Doctor about a
few things and entrust Rose Doherty to the Count of Saint-Germain. Well, at least
that was the plan before she received
a desperate call for help from a very old friend - Victoria the star whale…
Episode 5: Strangers in Florence
1895. Lady Penelope is enjoying a summer holiday of dolce vita, farniente and
post-regenerative contemplation in one of her favorite destinations… but Time
soon catches up with her, in the shape of a familiar face and a mysterious,
anachronistic gentleman, who turns out to be a 28th century professional
assassin sent to kill her… The game is afoot!
Victoria the star whale had appeared back in our fourth season (2012...) - in episodes 4 and 11, where she had guided Penelope to the secret, block-transfer-computation-created "spare" Eye of Harmony. This crucial discovery eventually led to the creation of Avalon, which has been her "home" (or "port of call"?) ever since (as well as the home of the Doctor and a growing number of NPCs)... So having her appear again after all this time, right after a new regeneration, created a pure moment of wonderment for Lady Penelope (and her player!) - but this time, the star whale needed the Time Lady's help to save her from a horrible and gruesome death at the hands of ex-space pirates turned star-whalers-for-hire - acting for another (more or less) forgotten NPC from 2012, the Bothan crime boss Akkam Velek (who looks like THIS), who wanted to adda few centuries to his already far-too-long lifespan by consuming the cerebral kernel of the (supposedly) last star whale.
This adventure was started by an "emergency call" between Penelope's regeneration and her brief return to Avalon. I wanted to catch the character off-guard and throw her into action before she even got the time to get used to her new body and find out if she had developed any new personality traits.
It worked like a breeze, with a confident and cool-headed Penelope quickly grasping the problem at hand and its possible solutions. Before she discovered the identity of the whalers' patron, there was a really great scene of witty, easy banter between the Time Lady and Captain Korba, the captain of the star whaling expedition, a roguish space adventurer à la Lando Calrissian - a character whose assistance Penelope cleverly enlisted during the following episode and whom she intends to see again in a later episode - a completely unexpected and delightful development.
In the end, Victoria the star whale escaped unscathed... and sent a "thank you" song to Penelope, before being joined by several other star whales - so no, she was not the last of her kind!
The destination of episode 5 (Florence in 1895) had been chosen in play by Penelope's player during the final scenes of episode 3 - after her quick stop in Avalon she wanted to take break (for some post-regeneration contemplation) in a beautiful, familiar place and Florence in the late Victorian times immediately came to her mind. She had visited it in 1894, back in season 12, during a very James Ivory-esque episode featuring the author Vernon Lee and (among other NPCs) a Miss Honeychurch-like young woman named Constance Norcott.
Of course I went along with the idea (I always try to give Penelope's player as much control as possible on her character's destinations) but this particular choice was something of a GMing double-challenge (but hey, isn't this what Doctor Who RPG GMing is all about?).
The first challenge was to give the episode a novel, fresh atmosphere, while playing on the memories of Penelope's previous stay in the city, three seasons and (historically) one year ago. In other words, I couldn't simply just play the James Ivory vibe again - a feeling of déjà vu may be an interesting element of atmosphere but I needed a new, fresh perspective. Since the 1894 Florentine adventure (The Quantum Ghost, episode 10 of our 12th season) involved the investigation of mysterious, seemingly supernatural events already tied to Penelope's previous stays in Florence (back in 1827 and season 10 - yes, I told you she LOVED this city), I needed to bring something new - and unexpected - into play.
And this brings us to the second challenge. Every time Penelope visits a historical destination, I try to avoid as much as possible using the "Big Temporal Coincidence" alibi - you know, a time traveller chooses to visit a certain place at a certain time just for fun and, BANG, she just happens to choose the time and place where Something Mysterious and Otherworldly is going on. I know it happens on a regular basis in the TV series but, whenever possible, I try to devise a slightly more complex explanation or to tie the mysterious events / otherworldly threat / whatever to Penelope's very presence or to her own timeline. Of course, it's not always possible and the "Big Temporal Coincidence" is also part of the spirit of the game... but in this particular case, I felt I really couldn't play this card. I needed a plot which was somehow tied to Penelope's own actions yet also would also create an element of surprise.
First, I decided that Penelope would meet miss Constance Norcott again - I wanted to play on the "déjà vu" vibe as a distraction, to establish the familiar James Ivory-esque atmosphere in which Penelope's player wished to re-immerse herself... before bringing a completely unexpected twist - a threat to escape from or to neutralize, a mystery to solve and, of course, some timey-wimey elements. After some ruminations, I came to the conclusion that the best choice would be a direct backlash from the previous episode - yes, the one about the star whale in the 25th century.
I eventually came up with the following plot: back in the 25th century, Akkam Velek had carefully plotted a vicious, merciless revenge against Penelope... Having managed to locate Penelope in time and space (how he did this was one of the main mysteries of the adventure), he had sent a Vortex manipulator-equipped professional assassin (masquerading as a Time Agent) after her... in 1895 Florence! Of course, Penelope had not entirely dismissed the possibility of a vengeance from Velek - but certainly not as quickly (from her perspective - it actually took him 13 years to put up the whole operation) and certainly not outside of the 25th century... so the element of surprise was, I must say, complete!
In the end, she managed to neutralize the assassin (who almost managed to kill her with a regeneration-preventing disintegrator so yes, the stakes were indeed quite high), hand him to the Time Agency, unmask Akkam Velek and, with the help of Captain Korba (see above), discover HOW the 25th century crime boss had managed to track her down through time and space - a shocking and moving moment, involving the artificially life-supported brain of a precognitive / time sensitive individual she had met (and seen killed) in the previous episode.
After laying the long-suffering brain to rest (at its request), she left the 25th century and returned to 1895 Florence. There, during the epilogue, she (more or less reluctantly) took a new passenger on board of the TARDIS for a few travels - miss Constance Norcott, our aforementioned Lucy Honeychurch-like NPC.
Next stop: London, 1965!