Tuesday, September 30, 2014

[Behind The GM Screen] Campaign Planning: This Time It's Personal

A new academic year has begun and I finding myself getting ready to run a new campaign at GUGS. This time I'll be running the new Firefly RPG from Margaret Weiss Productions, but I'm going to be taking a different approach to my planning for this campaign.

With last year's Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign, I started out with a main arc in mind and then tried to weave the characters' backstories into that arc. While that campaign wasn't a total disaster, I do think this was a mistake in retrospect. I was too focused on developing the central arc and not focused enough on the characters themselves.

Re-watching Firefly and Cowboy Bebop recently has reminded me of an important aspect of storytelling: characters should drive the story, not the other way around (and that is even more true in roleplaying). In both shows, the main arcs are tied to the characters' backstories rather than being some external event or force that arbitrarily intrudes in their lives. The main arc of Cowboy Bebop comes from Spike's history with the Syndicate, and the main arc of Firefly comes both from Mal's animosity toward the Alliance following the war, as well as Simon's rescue of River.

How does this affect how I'm going to run Firefly differently from my Doctor Who campaign? This time round, I'm not going to construct a main arc in advance. I'm going to determine the general themes for the 'series' at the character creation session and then let the players make up characters accordingly. From there, I'll take the characters they've created and build up story arcs for each, with perhaps one or more of their arcs intersecting in much the same way as Simon's arc forced Mal into new confrontations with the Alliance.

The Ashen Stars RPG had a really neat method for building up character arcs for each PC which I'm considering applying to Firefly. I can't recall the specifics (I still need to redownload the PDF and my hard copy of Ashen Stars is currently packed away in a box miles from here), but I believe it had the players themselves suggest three possible story hooks for future episodes involving their arc. Of course, that assumes the players are comfortable contributing their ideas in this way. Some players will be, but others are much more comfortable just leaving it to the GM to come up with arcs for their characters. Still, can't hurt to offer the option, right?

The other method I was thinking of using was assigning 'screen presence' in the same way as is done in Primetime Adventures, as a way of working out whose spotlight episodes will occur at which point in the campaign. Assuming (as the Firefly RPG corebook does) that each session works out as an individual 'episode', I can run a minimum of 14-16 episodes, maybe even a full 'season' of 22 episodes if I'm lucky. I won't go into detail on how the 'screen presence' in PTA works, but I should be able to address each character's arc at least twice over the course of the campaign, with the most prominent arcs featuring a bit more as a central arc for the campaign (much like Spike and Vicious in Cowboy Bebop, or Simon and River's flight from the Alliance throughout Firefly). And who knows, depending on what everyones' plans are for next summer, or how I'm feeling about things by this time next year, I might continue it for a second season.

So I don't have a plan for the campaign yet, but I know what I'm going to do about forming one. Hopefully it'll work out better than my 'The Doctor is missing' arc for the Doctor Who RPG did.

This week we're wrapping up the taster oneshot sessions, so I won't be doing character creation for the Firefly campaign until October 7th. I'll be back after that with an update on the kind of characters my players have come up with, and what kind of series we're thinking of creating together.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Firefly, Steam and other stuff...

I'm queuing this post up on Saturday morning, because I've got a shift at work this afternoon and I'll be heading to a Firefly marathon at Heather's afterward, then staying the night and heading in for another shift in the morning, so I probably won't have time to round it off and publish manually like usual.

Swag
Nothing this week.

Achievements Unlocked
Monday was largely spent finishing off prep for my Firefly oneshot and sorting out my blurb before heading out to work that night. The next day - while going through the dull process of printing off and organising everybody else's game blurbs, and printing off lists to keep track of everything that's running - I started listening to the audiobook of Andy Weir's The Martian again from scratch. By Wednesday I had caught up to the point I'd left off at last time and started the second half of the audiobook. Since then, I've been listening to a couple of chapters per day during my commute, so I should probably have it finished by Tuesday.

Backtracking a little to Tuesday night, my oneshot of Firefly went fairly well. I used the scenario from the back of the book, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. I think we could have started earlier if I had completed the character sheets before play, but I'd left a few details undefined to allow a bit of customisation on the players' part. That would have worked out a bit smoother if half my group weren't complete beginners to the roleplaying hobby. Yeah, should have thought of that. As it was, I think we started a bit later than we should have, and then the opening barfight took about an hour to wrap up. Probably would have gone a bit quicker if I hadn't decided to hand out as many Complications when folks rolled 1s. We ended up having to wrap it up at the end of Act 2, so I'll be continuing it as a two-parter at next week's GUGS. Still, I got a good feel for how the game flows, and people had a good time, which is the main thing.

I've been continuing my rerun through Cowboy Bebop and I just finished Session 14: 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Really should have revisited this show long before now. I still reckon it's less useful as inspiration for Firefly, but I love how it plays around with genre throughout the series with episodes like Toys In The Attic. The episode was a nice homage to Alien, and now that I've seen it a couple of times I see how it still fits within the series continuity, despite the seemingly downer ending.

I've also been playing games a bit more on Steam of late. Which is to say, I have been playing on Steam. Mostly Bastion, which I bought last week as part of my 'No Longer Unemployed' celebratory purchases. I've played for about an hour and a half in total, and it's a fun enough game. Still not quite sure what exactly the Calamity is, or how the protagonist apparently slept through it, but I'm sure the plot will start to develop as I play. 

I've also played a bit more of Hotline Miami now that I've switched my trackball for my old mouse. Still finding the controls a bit tricky, and I'm rediscovering why I dumped the mouse in the first place. I don't know why, but when I click the mouse buttons they double click rather than just click once. Probably going to have to get a new one at some point. Other than that, Hotline Miami is okay, but I'm more interested in Bastion for now.

As mentioned earlier, I'll be heading out to a Firefly marathon tonight and we'll probably stop to watch Doctor Who at some point as well.

Works In Progress
You may have noticed I didn't post the full review of Time Heist like I said I would. That's because I'm still trying to adapt my blogging/writing schedule to work around my new work schedule. I also haven't finished editing episode 1 of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, or the outline for episode 2 either. In truth, it's not all down to juggling work time with personal projects. After all, I managed to put together a Tiddlywiki campaign journal for my upcoming Firefly game, as well as another Tiddlywiki for a speculative Traveller sandbox campaign I might run at some point, so there was a little bit of procrastination at play.

Okay, so I had time to watch Cowboy Bebop and play Steam, so it was perhaps more than a little bit. I'm working up a weekly schedule to try and organise my play and project time, using a time management method I found out about called the Unschedule. I won't bore you with the details, but basically I schedule things I have to do (sleep, eat, commute, etc) and fun things (playing games, watching DVDs, etc) and leave everything else blank. The blank spaces are the times I can use to get project stuff done. Chris Baty described a similar technique in his NaNoWriMo guide book 'No Plot? No Problem' and it served me well during NaNo, so it should work just as well the rest of the year.

By the start of next week, I should have the new schedule all worked out, so I'll aim to get more done this week. I definitely need to focus on the edit of DW/Eva episode 1, because I want that done by the end of the month which is (eeek!) Tuesday. So, yeah. Better get cracking on that. See you later!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

[Review] Premium All Rolled Up: 'Orbital Velocity'

The All Rolled Up I ordered arrived yesterday morning, just in time for me to pack it with all the stuff I would need to run my taster oneshot of the Firefly RPG for freshers at GUGS.
I thought I'd post some pictures and talk a little about this neat little accessory, showing how it works.

Because I hate making knots, I added the optional toggle to my order. Makes it easier to hold the the thing together than me having to tie it together. Still have to tie off the loose ends once I've tightened the toggle, but it's less fiddly this way. I also got the optional carabiner, which I can use to hook the All Rolled Up to my belt or backpack.
To the left you can see the velcro flap sealing the dice pouch, which is supposed to be able to house about 100 polyhedral dice. I'm using it for about 40 dice, plus 40 poker chips, and they all fit well enough. Think there's even room for another couple sets of dice, so the 100 dice estimate seems more or less accurate. Shiny!

As you can see, I've got a stack of index cards in the middle pouch. Since I'm running Firefly at the moment, these come in handy for noting down Complications and Assets as they're created in play. What you can't see is that I was also able to squeeze an eraser and sharpener in with the index cards. The middle pouch could be used for other things, like maybe some playing cards or a notepad, but index cards can be pretty handy for most roleplaying games.

You'll also see I have a bunch of pencils to share with players -  plus some pens just in case I have some reason for writing in indelible ink, probably come in handy for taking session notes, or if you happen to have a dry erase board you could bring a Sharpie to draw on that - in the pouches provided for stationary.

Here you can see the outer cover of the All Rolled Up. Given that a) I'm primarily a sci-fi kind of guy, and b) I'm currently
running Firefly and looking to run Traveller in the near future, I went with the Orbital Velocity design, since it seemed thematically appropriate. Looks pretty cool as well, no?

This is just one of a wide variety of great designs available for the ARUs, and the deluxe versions also include a 'chalk' line of ARUs which include chalk cloth panels on the exterior which can be used to sketch maps or diagrams on.

There are also licensed ARUs with designs based on DC comics, Doctor Who, Marvel, Star Wars and Transformers, if any of those take your fancy.
Long story short, this is a pretty neat little accessory for tabletop gamers such as myself, and its utility isn't limited to just roleplaying gaming. Pretty sure CCG players or wargamers can get some good use out of it as well.

Not sure how appropriate the Undecim rating system is for this kind of product, but I'd have to give it a +4, if not a +5. Definitely recommend this for organising and carrying your gaming implements.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Work and very little play...

Swag
To celebrate getting a new job after five years on the dole, I decided to go ahead and order myself the 'Orbital Velocity' All Rolled Up that I've had my eye on for a month or so now.  The husband and wife team behind All Rolled Up are headed to Dragondaze, so they won't be able to process my order until they get back from there, but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on my ARU when it arrives.

Also, since there was a sale on Steam, I bought myself an RPG I'd heard of, called Bastion and the original soundtrack for the same game.

Achievements Unlocked
Didn't do much in the way of geekery this week on account of GUGS being off this week, helping boost the signal about GUGS at the Freshers' Fayre by handing out flyers, plus adjusting to the new job. I did watch another couple of episodes of Cowboy Bebop, but besides that I've mostly been reading through my Firefly RPG corebook and getting myself ready to run the first of two oneshots this Tuesday.

I enjoyed this week's Doctor Who, although I didn't get to watch it in peace tonight due to my mum having her friend over and having to take a phone call about two thirds of the way through the episode. I'll rewatch it again tonight or sometime tomorrow and post a more in depth review as usual.

Works In Progress
I've almost got my custom GM screen for Firefly finished, just got a few extra little details to add to it and then it'll be ready to print out. I also found some pretty amazing fan images for the Firefly setting in this forum thread and I'll probably print off a few of them to use as inserts on the player-facing side of my custom screen.

I also need to finish off the pregens. I mostly just need to flesh out descriptions and backgrounds for the ones I've got, as well as stat up a pilot to add to the crew and finish off the ship sheet as well. After that, I should be pretty much ready to run it come Tuesday evening.

I got a bit of work done on the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, finished editing the first part of episode one (though I'm fairly certain I'll need to give that another pass before I go ahead and post it), started editing part two, and added a bit more to the outline for episode two.

My first week at the new job was a training run, working every evening from six to ten. This week will be my first one working the actual hours agreed when I took on the position, so the next week or two will be about fine-tuning my schedule to fit in time for my own personal projects around my working hours. While I'm doing that, I hope to finalise episode one of the Doctor Who/Evangelion fic this week and be ready to get to work on the next episode by the end of the month. Plus, I'll be settling back into running games on a regular basis in preparation for my Firefly campaign this year. Expect blog frequency to be down to a minimum until I've settled into the new pattern. See ya later!

Monday, September 15, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.04: Listen

Watching Steven Moffat's Listen I couldn't help but think of Russel T. Davies' Midnight. As I have with Steven Moffat, I had grown tired of RTD's writing for the show, but Midnight took me by surprise by actually being good. It was creepy, tense and the monster of the week remained mysterious even after the situation was resolved. Most of all, the episode showed how the Doctor's own personality traits can land him in a mess of trouble.

As with Midnight, Listen took me by surprise. This was a welcome return to the things about Steven Moffat's writing style that made him seem the perfect choice for Doctor Who showrunner in the twilight years of Tennant and Davies. Moffat takes simple things which, as children, we find frightening and turns it into something that will put a chill down even a grown-up's spine. When we're supposed to be alone, when everyone else is supposed be asleep, why do we still hear noises? Are we really alone? As with the best horror, the fear comes from the unknown, the unseen. Even by the end of the episode, the question of whether there really was a monster - or if it was just a flight of fancy on the Doctor's part - is never truly answered. It seems entirely plausible that there was a monster, but it's also just as possible that there wasn't. That uncertainty only heightens the creep factor of the story. And in the end, the monster itself isn't the Doctor's enemy. The Doctor's enemy is himself, his own curiosity and thirst for knowledge leading him on a dangerous path. He has to know, and is willing to risk his life in the process.

So, good episode? Yes. Great episode? Well, there *are* a few things that irked me.

First of all, as I had feared, Moffat is falling back on his romcom background, with the episode dipping in and out of a bumpy first date between Clara and Danny. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy romantic comedy, but I'd just like to see a bit less of it in Doctor Who. I suppose I should just accept it as a fact of the Moffat era though, given that it's hardwired into Moffat's writing style.

Then there's Clara. On the plus side, we're getting a bit more depth to her character now, Jenna Coleman is getting to do more with the role now that she's not a big mystery for the Doctor to unravel. The problem is that, once again, she's taking more of a leading role in the story than the Doctor is. There's nothing wrong with the role she takes on here, in fact it's one of the traditional roles of a companion in the revived series: she's there to save the Doctor from himself. The problem is, with this only being the Twelfth Doctor's fourth full episode, we want to see more of him being the main actor of the story. We want to see how this Doctor operates, how he deals with problems and how he thwarts the monsters. But as with Robot of Sherwood, he's never really given the chance. Peter Capaldi's performance in the role remains top-notch, but his character is not being given enough to do in the story.

As for the timey-wimey stuff and the scene in the barn towards the end...well, while I did like the callback to The Day Of The Doctor, there's no way they should even be able to travel there. Even though this scene takes place before the Time War, the past of Gallifrey shouldn't be accessible either. I did like Clara comforting the young Doctor, imparting sage advice that she had overheard the Doctor himself give to a young Roland (Danny) Pink earlier in the adventure, but it felt a bit self-indulgent on Moffat's part.

Overall, it's a good episode. I liked the concept and the way tension is built in the episode. I like how the truth as to whether there is a monster or not remains ambiguous and I like the way it showcases one of the Doctor's own self-destructive traits. But it doesn't give the new Doctor enough agency in the story, and still contains some of Moffat's bad writing habits.

Undecim Rating: +3

Sunday, September 14, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Space Outlaws, Bounty Hunters and other stuff...

Swag
Didn't buy anything this week, but I did download The Secret Of Cats, a new Fate Core setting by Richard Bellingham. I'll give it a read and review as payment for downloading it for free when I've got some spare time to read and review stuff again. Right now, things are a bit hectic though, so it won't be right away, but I'll do it when I can.

Acheivements Unlocked
At Tuesday GUGS, I sat down with half of my DWAiTAS players (Heather and the newly returned Maggie!) plus Peter - who's probably a bigger Browncoat than me on account of his having both expansions for the Firefly board game and a copy of the Firefly Companion - and got them to help me out with making up pregens for my upcoming oneshots. I'll still need to make up two or three more - since the crew is lacking a proper pilot, a clear leader and a medic - but folks had fun creating characters for it. It's likely that Heather, Maggie and Peter are probably going to be in my group for the main campaign when it starts up in October and probably Alex and Luke will want to sign on as well. Alex will have to do his homework (i.e. watch Firefly) though. But that's five players which means I probably don't have to recruit anyone at Fresher's Week. Makes me feel sorta guilty, actually. Oh well.

In other Firefly news, I've finished my Netflix binge of the series, plus the Big Damn Movie. Still annoyed about the order Netflix has the series arranged in, I think it's more or less the same order it was originally aired in, except the pilot episode still comes first. I'll probably write and complain, but for any future Firefly marathons I'll just stick to my DVD boxset, because at least I know that's in the right order.

With Firefly finished, I've started a marathon of my Cowboy Bebop DVD boxset. Cowboy Bebop's a bit of a different tone to Firefly, despite the similarities in concept, but it's still a decent way to get myself in the mood for the upcoming oneshots and campaign. Some of the more serious episodes - specifically the ones relating to the main characters' pasts - are also more in line with the kind of tone I want to go for with my campaign. The rest can help inspire ideas for more comedic episodes in my game.

I've also been watching some more of Leverage season two. I'm also using this to inspire me for the Firefly campaign, though not to the same extent as the other two shows. The Leverage team are highly competent and things - for the most part - tend to go smooth for them. Firefly is about crews of (mostly) competent people whose plans never quite go off without a hitch, but they scrape through and manage to keep flying. Every now and then, they even make a decent profit out of the venture. Still, Leverage is good inspiration for adventures similar to the more heist-y episodes of Firefly, such as Ariel or Trash. Plus the banter between the team is great as well.

Besides Leverage, I also watched another episode of Supernatural. Castiel reappears as a sales associate in a gas station, and we see him adapting rather well to life as a mortal. The episode's A plot brings into question just how content Castiel is with his new station in the cosmic order, but Dean encourages him to keep at it and let him and Sam worry about the whole 'fallen Angels' issue. Also, something odd's going on with Crowley, wonder what that's about?

Finally, I watched the latest Doctor Who last night and will probably watch it again tonight sometime. It was interesting, and I'd say it's one of Steven Moffat's better episodes, though it still had issues which I'll discuss in more depth when I do my full review of the episode. I'll try and have that up on the blog tomorrow afternoon.

Works In Progress
Once again, been preoccupied with doing my jobsearch this week, so I haven't got a lot done on my own personal projects this week. Looks like it might have paid off though, I'll know for sure after Monday.

Now that I'm finished watching the series, I've finished reading the episode guide section of the Firefly RPG and I'm now moving on to the rest of it. Should have it finished by the end of the week, and I'll work on putting together my custom GM screen as I read through it. I'll also read the sample adventure and probably run that for the freshers next Tuesday evening at GUGS. The week after that, I'll probably run the Wedding Planners scenario from the Thrillin' Heroics adventure book.

I'm hoping I'll be able to get back to work on my own projects this week, particularly getting episode one of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fic ready to publish on FF.net and getting started with episode two, as well as prepping for my SOS Files Storium game I mentioned a while back. As you may have noticed, my blogging has been reduced of late. That's probably going to be the case for a while, but I'll try and get back to a regular schedule with it as soon as I can.

That's all for now, see you later!

Monday, September 8, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.03: Robot of Sherwood

WARNING: SPOILERS!



After the darker tone of the Twelfth Doctor's first couple of episodes, we get to see how the recently regenerated Time Lord fares in a lighter-hearted venture with Robot Of Sherwood. The result is a buddy movie partnership/rivalry with the fictional - or is he? - Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. The flamboyant Robin is a stark contrast to this dour and no-nonsense Doctor, and a lot of the humor of the episode comes from the tension that creates between them.

The Doctor's refusal to believe that Robin is the real deal ties into a theme which has been evident in the series so far. The first episode has the Doctor scoffing at a clockwork half-man's belief in a 'promised land' only for the droid to end up in 'heaven', the second introduced the possibility of a 'good Dalek' and now we're shown that a legendary hero may be more than just legend. The new Doctor is sceptical of all three possibilities: he's no longer a 'young man', having become more set in his beliefs and less open to 'fairytales'. One wonders if the character arc of this series will be about him recovering that more youthful part of himself.

For the second time this series, Clara outwits a villain into revealing information, this time using her feminine wiles. And that brings me to one problem I had with this story. At the end of the day, it felt like much of the work from Team TARDIS came from Clara. It's Clara who gets the Sheriff to spill the beans, it's Clara who rallies Robin and his merry men to the Doctor's side offering much needed reinforcements. The Doctor organising a peasant revolt fighting off the robot knights with polished golden plates was his only notable contribution to the adventure. He gets several good moments - swashbuckling with Robin armed only with a spoon, matching him in the archery contest, tricking a jailer into getting too close to Robin with an embarrassing tale at the outlaw's expense - but he doesn't really get to match wits with the Sheriff and his robot knights the way he ought to. Plus, the solution he comes up with in the end to prevent the ship from destroying half of Britain feels a bit contrived.

Still, overall it is what it's intended to be, a lighthearted fun romp with swashbuckling heroes and anachronistic robots. An enjoyable episode, despite the Doctor being relegated to the role of comic relief.

Undecim Rating: +3[

Sunday, September 7, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Kingdom, Viewscream 2.0 and other stuff...

Swag
Okay...I maybe did something I shouldn't have. I bought the PDF of the 'Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics' adventure pack for the Firefly RPG. That gives me another four scenarios I can run if I feel the need to run from pre-written material.

Acheivements Unlocked
Real life has gotten a bit more stressful this week, so I haven't really set aside much time for other stuff. I did go to GUGS on Tuesday night, and we played a session of Kingdom which went okay. We were the command staff of a colony on Mars, facing a religious movement that wanted to let the colony be 'cleansed' by meteor showers, as well as dealing with those meteor showers and the alien natives...who never actually came up in the game. I still haven't got the hang of coming up with good crossroad questions, but that aside we all had fun with it.

I did manage to watch a couple more episodes of Firefly and read their entries in the RPG's episode guide afterwards. It's really cool how they use each episode as an example of how to play the game. Only trouble is, Netflix UK seems to have the episodes listed in their original airing order for some reason, whereas the book uses the actual intended order. So I'm flicking forward and back through the episode guide a little bit to find the corresponding entries for each episode.

On Friday night, I managed to get my friend David to join in a playtest of the new version of Rafael Chandler's Viewscream (the first edition of which is reviewed here). From the session we played, I think the new version is a definite improvement on the old one. It's a bit more flexible. I'll try and write a full playtest report on it once I've reviewed our Hangout On Air and read through the playtest docs again. Bottom line is we had fun, and we've discussed getting the group back together for other games in the future to help give David more of an introduction to the roleplaying hobby.

On Saturday night I watched the latest episode of Doctor Who. It was only natural that, after a dark episode like Into The Dalek, the next one would be a bit more of a lighthearted romp. I'll try and post a full review tomorrow, but I mostly enjoyed it.

Works In Progress
Was making good progress on both the revision of DW/Evangelion episode 1 and the write-up for our Tears of a Machine finale, but then I got stalled because of RL stuff, and my other stuff had to be put on the backburner while I figured things out. Plus, there's the ongoing clearing of rooms in preparation for the council's rewiring and bathroom refitting, so that's been distracting me a bit in general.

Things will hopefully stabilise over the coming week and I'll be back to a more regular blogging and writing schedule.

Monday, September 1, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.02: Into The Dalek (Spoilers!)

The problem with the Daleks is that it's hard to do anything new with them these days. Still, Steven Moffat and Phil Ford give it a shot with Into The Dalek. Like last time, this will be a spoilery review of the latest episode, so if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now.

It was a bit harder to get a sense of who the new Doctor is in his debut episode, but we get a bit more of a read on him here. Before they set out on their latest adventure, the Doctor asks Clara a question which proves central to the story: "Am I a good man?" It's a question we're led to wonder about throughout this episode. This new Doctor is brusk, cold, calculating and at times callous. This is most evident when - realising that one of the soldiers is about to die with no hope of escape - he quickly turns the soldier's impending doom to his advantage. The last few, at least, would have tried desperately to save him even knowing it was too late, but not this one. This is Doctor is a very different man, but ultimately his hearts are in the right place. He's still a man who tries to fight the good fight, even if he's more willing to sacrifice a few for the good of the many. But there's also a vulnerability about him, seen when he visibly deflates in front of Clara before asking the aforementioned question. Like previous Doctors he has no great love of soldiers, but this one has even less time for them than Ten or Eleven ever did, turning down Journey's request to join him simply because she is one. We're left to wonder how Danny Pink will manage to make the grade when their paths finally cross.

Speaking of Danny, we get a brief introduction to him after the title sequence, in which we learn that he's the new maths teacher at Coal Hill School (where Clara now works) and is also an ex-soldier. However, despite the 'drill sergeant' act he puts on in front of his 'Coal Hill Cadet Squad', he's not a stereotypical soldier type. Not only is he sensitive and socially awkward, but it's also strongly implied that he killed someone who wasn't a soldier during his tour of duty, and is deeply remorseful for whatever happened. I had concerns that Danny's character would just be an excuse for Moffat to continue his usual relationship comedy routine - since Capaldi put his foot down and said no to any romantic undertones between the Doctor and Clara - but it looks like the character at least has some interesting layers to be explored.

On to the story itself now. Like I said, it's hard to do anything new with the Daleks, but Into The Dalek pulls it off, even if the gimmick used is itself a bit old hat. The Doctor, Clara and a squad of future resistance fighters are miniaturised Fantastic Voyage-style and sent inside an apparently good Dalek (nicknamed 'Rusty' by the Doctor) to repair it so it can aid the rebel cause. But, of course, nothing ever goes that smooth. Besides the Dalek antibodies, fixing the damage turns Rusty evil again. Whoops. But the potential is there, and the Doctor seeks to unlock it once again. He tries to help Rusty find the good within it, by showing it the good within himself. Even as the Doctor's plan becomes clear, we know it's a bad idea. Whatever good the Dalek sees inside the Doctor is overshadowed by his hatred of the Daleks, and it is that hatred - not the good - which turns the Dalek on its own kind, to the Doctor's own horror.

We were promised a darker Doctor and a darker series, and that's definitely what we're getting here. Our protagonist is not a clear cut hero but a damaged man who tries to be, and his victories are bittersweet. Last episode he won by pushing/cajoling a mostly human droid to its death. This episode he wins by infecting a Dalek with his burning hatred for its own species. Not everyone is going to appreciate this new approach to the series, but I have to say I'm intrigued by it. I wasn't entirely sold on Series 8 after Deep Breath, but I have to say I'm looking forward to seeing what else is in store now.

Undecim Rating: +3 (Pretty good / cult classic)