Tuesday, October 25, 2011

5 Timey-Whimey Films to Slide Your TARDIS Into

Consisting of five more ideas for Doctor Who role-playing games (or simple daydreaming) taking very simple inspiration from the world of cinema.

Last week, I dropped the TARDIS into five "sideways" stories to take the edge off the monotony of, you know, the past and the future (lame!), and I return to those kinds of stories this week with a promised chapter on timey-whimey scenario ideas. Now sure, I could have gone for time travel movies like 12 Monkeys or Primer or even Terminator 2, but maybe those were too obvious? Instead, I'm going with films that play with time in unusual ways. So what if most of them have some kind of narrative or fantastical rationale? Temporal anomalies of all kinds can McGuffin your players into the right circumstances.Groundhog Day. A classic timey-whimey movie and one of the first, Groundhog Day presents a world where time is limited to a single day, which repeats over and over again until the heroes "get it right". Whatever the reason for this recursive temporal bubble, the TARDIS crew could only escape it by fixing, well, how about EVERYTHING? RPG players are probably gamers too, and should have all the necessary tools to play the same "level" over again, getting all the details right so they can move on. And any massive screw-up will be reset so... have fun!
Sliding Doors. In this Gwyneth Paltrow romance set in London (we're halfway to Doctor Who already), a woman both gets on and misses a train. Somehow, both her stories continue from there and eventually cross paths. There's no reason for it in the movie, except that fate is trying to get Gwyneth with the right guy, but that shouldn't matter to brave TARDISeers. It's Schrödinger's train/lift/door and bam! Split time streams. The twist is that the players get to play both versions of their characters as they take two separate paths to adventure. The ultimate goal is to get to a single track, hopefully the best of the two, so don't make it easy on them. You might be tempted to pull a Girl Who Waited at the end and require a sacrifice. Dude, don't. It made me cry, that thing.
Memento. I try to throw in a challenge when I can. How about a story that proceeds IN REVERSE, like Memento? Doable? There's a 10th Doctor comic that features aliens living in reverse, and the Doctor must navigate the adventure as best he can with effect preceding cause. Or you can have the TARDIS keep materializing in the recent past. Then an hour before that. And an hour before that. Going back into an event, revealing more and more. Can the players (and frankly, the GM) improvise their way into a victory in reverse? For advanced players, surely, but could be one you'll talk about for a long time. Memento is key inspiration for something like this. Make sure to leave clues the players will then have to manufacture (or have to pay for with Story Points - "Did I leave myself a clue?").
Source Code. Here's one that's part time travel, part brain puzzle, part Schrödinger's cat. Have the TARDIS crew hooked up to the McGuffin in Source Code and they can enter a certain past event using someone else's body. Can they find out who caused the event so they can be apprehended? Or does going into the "source code" create a parallel universe where the event can be prevented? That's up to you, but either way, a fun recursive set-up that is all at once Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap and your favorite disaster movie.
Melinda and Melinda. Ok, here's an odd one, but bear with me. This Woody Allen movie features a couple of writers discussing the merits of tragedy and comedy. Starting from the same ingredients, they each tell (going back and forth) Melinda's story, one tragic, the other comic. It's a conceit that could be used in Doctor Who as well! Remove the raconteurs, and instead have the TARDIS keep shifting back and forth between two realities. Some of the same characters are in both, and both worlds need help. If you give each world its distinct feel (one a thriller, the other a romp, for example), and perhaps make the TARDIS wheeze periodically (jump aboard before you lose your ride!), you can switch between genres within the same story. Or will the players do the unthinkable, and 'port characters from one world onto the other so the guest-stars can help their other selves fix their problems? It's up to you, but parallel time streams can be a fun new wrinkle to your game.

So that's my lot for today. What about you? What timey-whimey movies would you send the TARDIS to?


Anonymous said...

It completely wouldn't work, but MST3K's "The Undead" is a timey-wimey film about a present-day hooker who helps herself escape the executioner in a previous life, and so throws off her entire destiny.

Matthew E said...

12 Monkeys? Run Lola Run? Even Reservoir Dogs?

Jeff R. said...

Seconding Run Lola Run. Also, possibly The Hudsucker Proxy (which was only timey-wimey near the ending, but in general has the same sort of feel as a modern Who Christmas episode...)

Anonymous said...

Donnie Darko.

Anonymous said...

"Donnie Darko" is a terrible remake of "Harvey", but it is awesomely timey-wimey. Good call, other Anonymous!