Episode 13: A Murder in Fiction
Where could Lady Penelope meet Hercule Poirot – as well as three other, somewhat less famous French-speaking master sleuths Jules Poiret, Inspector Hanaud and Hercule Popeau? Well, in the Land of Fiction of course! A meta-whodunnit, also featuring Jeeves, Professor X, Socrates the Bulldog (don’t ask), the Butler (of course)… and Agatha Christie herself!
The Land of Fiction was another Second Doctor setting I've been wanting to explore for quite some time - and oddly enough, this episode came right after the one with the Warlords...
As usual, I used my own take on the setting - but this time reinventing it took me quite some time, which is why I didn't run a Land of Fiction-based episode before. I guess I was waiting for the right combination of plot, characters and background... and it just fell into place a few days ago!
See HERE (on our beloved Doctor Who RPG forum) for a more detailed analysis of my alternate version of the Land of Fiction.
Some after-play notes: we had a grand time! During the first half or so of the scenario, Lady Penelope was (understandably) sure she was trapped into some kind of fiendish mind game created by the Marquis de Carabas (see a few episodes ago...), the Toymaker or some similar twisted "playful" entity... and her insistence on derailing the intended plot made the scenario even more comedic and wackier in actual play and also forced (or allowed ?) me to improvise a lot, using various twists of plot, ellipses and other narrative devices as active forces in the story itself, making the whole "Land of Fiction" theme even more relevant.
For example: the plot (as you might have guessed) revolved around the murder of Hercule Poirot, complete with the usual assortment of usual suspects, cryptic clues, hidden agendas, dissonant alibis and mutual accusations. Initially, Poirot was supposed to be found murdered in the library, where he had spent the best part of the night secretly looking for clues... but right from the start, Penelope stated: "A library? Great! Murders always take place in libraries! I'll stay in the library and see what happens..." So I had to hastily change the intended march of events so that Poirot's murder could take place outside of her sight and this was just one instance of our Time Lady's deliberate plot-jacking.
Of course, making things happen-as-planned ANYWAY felt unashamedly forced - and would have been quite unsatisfactory in a standard scenario (I usually try to avoid railroading and give the player as much as influence as possible on the unfolding of the plot - something which is probably easier with a single player than with a group)... but since we WERE in the Land of Fiction, such shows of Arbitrary Narrative Force actually enhanced the whole feel of the story and really gave the feeling that Fiction and Reality definitely operated under different rules (no mean feat since any RPG adventure is actually a form of Fiction but I won't go all meta on you...).
When the story entered its Resolution stage, Penelope had figured out that the true culprit was none other than Agatha Christie, who was fed up with her character (she actually loathed Poirot, whom she once described in an interview as "a little creep")... and the only thing she could do to resurrect Poirot (who had not yet lived some of his greatest adventures) was to persuade the author herself to do so. I had counted on Sylvie's usual flair for emotional dialogue and I can only say that she surpassed herself here.
She delivered an amazing speech, which felt like a rehearsed and perfectly delivered scene from a play or movie. She spoke about the "Reichenbach precedent" and Conan Doyle's decision to resurrect Holmes, about Molière's "Don Juan", who surpassed all the previous incarnations of the character and proved that imitation could actually spawn literary chefs d'oeuvre (this was about the legitimacy of Poirot as an original character since, as you may know, he was obviously based on previously existing - and now quite forgotten - fictional detectives: Inspector Hanaud, Jules Poiret and the ludicrously-named Hercule Popeau), about Jorge Luis Borges and his labyrnthine libraries... and most of all, she spoke about Poirot as a character, a very moving defence of the Belgian master sleuth's idiosyncrasies, which hid a somewhat darker obsession for justice...
Well, I was awed.
See you next week!