Sunday, January 14, 2018

Season 12, Episode 5

Episode 5: The Cavern of Kronos
For years, fans of Nightshade have tried to solve the mystery of Penny Smith, the never-seen-before, never-seen-after actress who co-starred along Edmund Trevithick in the final (and now lost) episode of the 1950s cult TV series. The truth (which is, of course, stranger than fiction) can now be revealed, in this tale of buried memories, phantom pains and secret lives.

This episode was a bit of an exercise in style. It was conceived as a homage to Mark Gatiss’ brilliant NIGHTSHADE novel – itself a nostalgic homage to the great QUATERMASS TV series of the 1950s. After listening to the wonderful Big Finish audiobook adaptation of Nightshade, I knew I HAD to build a scenario related to this fascinating fragment of the Doctor Who mythos. Since Sylvie had remarked that Penelope had never been to the 1950s, I decided a few months ago that her first trip to this decade would definitely involve the making or impact of the NIGHTSHADE TV show… but I wanted to find the right tone, without interfering with the contents of Gatiss’ novel so I built a story focused not on Edmund Trevithick, the fictional actor who played the part of Professor Nightshade (although I did use him as a supporting character) but on the people who actually created the character and his adventures, which led me to invent a whole backstory.

My main sources of inspiration were (of course) Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass (and some other brilliant stuff), as well as the TV movie “An Adventure in Space and Time” (also written by Mark Gatiss, so yes, our session had a very “Gatissian vibe”) – but instead of depicting the creation of a brilliant, classic TV show, I portrayed its final triumph and unfair demise at the hands of narrow-minded, begrudged BBC men-in-suits - so yes, the story also carried echoes of the 1989 cancellation of Doctor Who.

Despite what the title of episode* might suggest, the story included no fantastic / weird / alien element – except for Penelope’s own involvement, decisions and actions, so in the end we had a very moving, human-focused story that could only have been lived by a time traveler… and we had a fantastic session!  No chases, no fights, no alien menace to battle, but lots of roleplaying, period atmosphere and memorable moments.   

* “The Cavern of Kronos” is mentioned in the Nightshade audiobook as one of the most popular episodes of the series – but oddly enough, it is mistakenly identified as “Cavern of THE Kronos” on the TARDIS wikia website.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Season 12, Episode 4

Episode 4: Heir Apparent
S’ral, the Throne Worls of the S’rax. 25 years ago, Prince Mordred sacrificed his life to help his half-sister Penelope to defeat the psychic, sun-eating ghost of their mother Morgana*. And now the Time Lady has returned to claim her rightful title of Empress and rule the Nine Worlds – or has she, indeed?  Introducing the Dark Lady, Penelope’s own shadow nemesis…

* This was back in Season 2, Episode 13…

Talk about a "blast from the past", eh?  So who (or what) is this new "shadow nemesis" anyway?  And how can she have the face of the Second Penelope?  Is she a clone, an evil twin, an alternate Time Lady from an alternate timeline, some kind of doppelgänger?

Well, here again, we must look back at some earlier (but far more recent) episodes. In our previous season, Penelope had a multi-episode battle with the Dark Dimension, which was trying to get hold of the Key to Time in order to create a new omnipotent avatar of itself, a new Fenric or Black Guardian (since both entities have ceased to exist in Lady Penelope's current reality - yes, that means there's a vacancy!). 

This battle involved, among other things, facing an evil copy / dark doppelgänger of the Doctor and preventing the "Millington Entity" from reaching the Dark Apotheosis which would have made it the new supreme avatar of the Dark Dimension... Last but not least, Penelope's victory was obtained at a very heavy cost: to escape the hold of the Dark Dimension and to prevent it from corrupting her TARDIS, the Time Lady had to regenerate, triggering the "regeneration / purification" of her ship in the process - all this being made possible by the now-completed Key to Time. The Dark Dimension had been defeated - but as the one who had defeated it, Penelope was now right in the middle of the whole dimensional struggle.

And now the Dark Dimension's riposte has manifested itself in the person of the Dark Lady, an evil doppelgänger / clone wrought by the Dark Dimension itself, using all the biodata and psychic stuff which it had managed to record and copy during an even earlier confrontation with Penelope (we'll get to this in the next paragraph). This Dark Lady doesn't have a "dark TARDIS" - probably because Penelope DID manage to save her ship from contamination by bringing its aforementioned rebirth - but seems to be able to open "dark portals" allowing her to arrive at some chosen times and places, most likely linked to Penelope's own timeline, as was the case here. As for the Dark Lady's agenda and personality, she could be described as her negative twin or Shadow, in the Jungian sense of the word, embodying her "anti-personality", a reflection of her own inner darkness. 

So why does she have the face and body of the Second Penelope?  For two reasons: first, probably because this was the face that the S'rax knew, allowing her to pose as the Time Lady returned to claim her imperial birthright... but also (most probably) for a darler, deeper reason: back in her second incarnation (and shortly before entering her third), Penelope had been captured by the Black Guardian (who was still active at the time - those were the days...) who had tried to influence / manipulate / possess her. The Guardian had failed but this meant that the appearance, personality and surface memories of the Second Penelope had long been stored / imprinted in the abstract, unliving "memory" of the Dark Dimension (which can be seen, among other things, as the Black Guardian in a completely disincarnate and abstract form - or if you prefer, back when he existed, the Black Guardian was the embodiment of thie dimension).

So if the Dark Dimension HAD to create a dark clone of Penelope, her Second incarnation would definitely be the most logical choice - but at the end of our latest episode, Penelope's player wondered whether or not the Dark Lady would now be able to alter her face to imitate her current's appearance...

Last but not least, Penelope's first encounter with the Dark Lady gave her the opportunity to discover a unique, quite weird (but quite "logical", in the broadest sense of the word) feature of thie new Nemesis: they have symmetrical psyches, as if the Dark Lady was the dark reflection of Penelope's own mind... and consequently, they CANNOT enter any form of psychic conflict between themselves, because that would be the equivalent of attacking yourself - or, as the Doctor explained it afterwards, like adding "-X" to "X": the result is always zero. And this "psychic neutrality" (along with the intertwined / interdependent nature of their fates) will, of course, impact the way their next battles are fought... when and where will these take place?  As always, time (i.e. the GM) will decide - and it's interesting to note that Penelope has decided NOT to try and track down the Dark Lady, being 100% certain that their paths would soon cross again anyway...

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year - and a NEW SEASON!

So, 2018 kicks off with the first three episode blurbs from the twelfth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey, starting with a triad of adventures in the 18th century...

Episode 1: Cry of the Banshee
1771. Answering a call for help from the time-sensitive Alicia Maddox, Lady Penelope returns to the Scottish highlands to investigate what is either a typical case of autosuggestion through superstition or a genuine menace from the Grey Dimension - but where exactly is the frontier between belief and reality?  Perhaps the answer can be heard in the Cry of the Banshee…

Episode 2: Britannica
It’s still 1771 and Penelope is still in Scotland, but in another world entirely – in Edinburgh, at the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment. The first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has just been completed, heralding an age of Reason, Learning and British grandeur - provided the Time Lady can save history from the sleep of reason and the madness of kings.

Episode 3: The Art of Escapade  
Back in 1790 Sweden for the New Year royal ball, mademoiselle Penelope soon ends up trapped in the TARDIS of the mad Collector, along with the chevalier de Marigny, the mesmerist Hesselius and her theatrical rival Louise Saint-Rémy. Will the Time Lady manage to save them, herself and the entire Braxiatel Collection from her captor’s deadly ultimatum?

So what's in store for season 12?   I'm not telling yet (SPOILERS!) but after the tumultuous events of season 11 (which saw, among other things, the reassembly of the Key to Time, a new regeneration for our Time Lady AND the return of Gallifrey from the Time War),  I felt a change of pace would be welcome and deliberately focused on the human angle for these first three stories, which shared the same historical era (actually, it was Penelope's player who decided it would be nice to stay a bit in the 18th century after the first episode so I had to react swiftly) but had very different atmospheres: eerie and gothic for Cry of the Banshee, historical light drama (well, at least that's how it started) for Britannica and a more caper-like feel for The Art of Escapade, which also introduced a new, hopefully recurring villain in the person of a greedy, obsessive elderly Time Lord known as the Collector.

Due to various time constraints (ah, Time...), we didn't have a real Xmas Special this year BUT the resolution of episode 2 borrowed quite a bit from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (well, if you replace the various Ghosts of Christmas by a Time Lady and Ebenezer Scrooge by George III but I'm sure you get the idea) AND episode 3 was both set AND played during New Year's Eve (1791 and 2018, respectively).

Bonne année à tous !