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[ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE] Setting thoughts

Whollyrandom

Not a chance
Validated User
I've been considering ways to mix two great flavours that might go well together and simultaneously address what is, to me, one of the great irritations of Who, namely the apparent total stagnation of the human race as a species throughout all periods after the present day - no obvious evolution (natural or otherwise), no increase in intelligence, no move towards anything that wouldn't be immediately recognisable to a modern human as One Of Us. Heck, the Gallifreyans are pretty much human apart from the terribly silly clothes and incidental ability to do something completely bl**dy amazing.

The background goes something like this:

Once upon a time said:
Only one species in the history of the Universe has ever successfully ascended to post-physical status. This should come as no surprise; even the most ethical gods tend towards jealousy.

It is believed that Kasterberous was once a stellar cluster formed of a dozen stars. Now, it is a profound emptiness, a space which can be neither entered nor crossed at any point in time, past, present or future. A race which evolved on an orange-yellow planet within the cluster developed a technology which boosted them beyond the physical constraints of space-time, powered by the controlled and supposedly perpetual collapse of their own star into a black hole.

It has been suggested that they subsequently initiated, from their timeless zero point, the big bang and subsequent creation of the universe. Paradox theory would then account for the unstable nature of spacetime and the relatively ready availability to sufficiently advanced cultures of technology for its manipulation. Paradox theory does not account for why there are legends of a people who have never been encountered directly by any race that has ever existed; nevertheless, their story appears in the mythology of every sentient species. A theory that basic awareness of these hidden lords of time and space has been written into the source code of spacetime itself for purposes unknown is the closest thing to an explanation to have been advanced.

Other than this, it is said that they have never intervened directly in the physical universe. Much as their technology would allow them to control spacetime at the conceptual level, they instead use a number of manifested physical agents, each representing a control function. The functions are self-aware, self-perpetuating algorithms, capable of downloading themselves to physical form and subjecting themselves to the restrictive laws of physical science. Their knowledge is, it would appear, deliberately limited by the download process but still exceeds any science known within the confines of material spacetime. They most commonly appear as highly charismatic members of the species with which they have elected to interact. While certain technological elements repeat from one manifestation to another, there is relatively little consistency between functions nor between subsequent incarnations of the same function.

Estimates of the numbers and roles of these functions vary, and the guesses as to their ultimate purpose are largely futile. Some seem to fulfil roles which might fit into certain moral structures or suggest the existence of a guiding ethical plan. Others are more difficult to explain. Consensus has been reached amongst the most technologically advanced civilisations as to the following facts and no others:

1. One of their roles is to prevent any other species from arriving at a technological singularity and subsequently achieving transcendence. Thus, while advanced species may progress at a phenomenal rate for a time, their progress is ultimately retarded to a degree where scientific development continues to be measurable and transcendence is always a few steps away. Whilst the most fortunate species manage to remain on the cusp of permitted development for prolonged periods the usual result is stagnation and, ultimately, collapse.

2. The functions tend to rely upon external physical devices for their technology and certain themes have been observed - capsules that travel through spacetime and portable quantum manipulators being the most common.

3. The following functions have been identified:

  • the Player of Games - also known as the Toymaker, this function kidnaps sentients apparently at random and requires that they participate in games of skill and chance. Extraordinary, civilisation-changing prizes are offered but it is almost unheard-of for a player to survive, still less win;
  • the Black Guardian - a flexible function which typically adopts a role displaying most of the tendencies that a given society sees as negative and undesirable;
  • the White Guardian - a flexible function which typically adopts a role displaying most of the tendencies that a given society sees as positive and desirable;
  • the Scientist - why a transcendent race would wish to conduct experiments within or study the technology of the material universe is unclear. This function is usually to be encountered performing experiments on the stellar or galactic scale, though it may also be found working on something seemingly trivial. Speculation that its role is that of the anthropologist, observing rather the effect of her experiments and technologies upon individuals and cultures, is unhelpful;
  • the Meddler - its role is believed to be that of the malicious and capricious experimenter and it is most commonly encountered providing advanced and inappropriate technology to less-advanced cultures;
  • the Master - a bringing of order at the cost of freedom, it subjugates species and cultures and adapts them to new tasks and environments, often offering survival at the cost of repurposing;
  • the Doctor - a healer of people and societies, a remediator who averts disaster through the application of incredible science and barely-controlled chaos. In many ways the most restricted and least powerful of the functions, this also appears to be the most flexible, improvising solutions from locally-available resources rather than manufacturing its own.
Is it wrong that I want to call it Transwhoman Space?
 

Kevin Mowery

WAUGH!
Validated User
In Season, IIRC, 3 of the new series, the Doctor comments offhandedly that, even at the end of the universe, humans look like humans because they keep coming back to that form. I think the implication is that sometimes things do get all transhuman; we just don't see those periods on the show (because they'd be bloody hard to film on a TV budget). After a while, humans get tired of being space squids or computer files and say, "You know what was great? Thumbs and bilateral symmetry."
 

Anonymous GM

Registered User
Validated User
I've been considering ways to mix two great flavours that might go well together and simultaneously address what is, to me, one of the great irritations of Who, namely the apparent total stagnation of the human race as a species throughout all periods after the present day - no obvious evolution (natural or otherwise), no increase in intelligence, no move towards anything that wouldn't be immediately recognisable to a modern human as One Of Us.
It should be noted that the modern incarnation of the show has moved away from this, as much as a limited budget allows. We're told that by the 51st century humanity has crossbred with basically every species it has encountered, so in a very real way any alien species who shows up in the far future is human. By the year 5.5/Apple/26 (aka 5 billion AD) there is nothing recognizable as 'baseline' humanity left in the galaxy, with the species having evolved into various subspecies and essentially alien races.

When the Doctor and Martha go to the end of time, the Doctor adds that humans always return to the same basic phenotype essentially out of nostalgia. They spend millions of years as uploads, sentient gas clouds, and so forth, but they always go back to being bipedal apes. One assumes that the Doctor usually goes to the area with 'proper' humans because of personal preference. (And of course, it's a lot easier for the show's makers.)

None of which invalidates a potentially very cool setting idea, of course.

Personally, one element I would definitely want to keep is that the Doctor is a rogue element. Making the Time Lords less humanlike is fine, but I'd still suggest having the Doctor be a rogue function, or a Time Lord who has downloaded back into material space-time without permission, or somesuch.
 

Whollyrandom

Not a chance
Validated User
In Season, IIRC, 3 of the new series, the Doctor comments offhandedly that, even at the end of the universe, humans look like humans because they keep coming back to that form. I think the implication is that sometimes things do get all transhuman; we just don't see those periods on the show (because they'd be bloody hard to film on a TV budget). After a while, humans get tired of being space squids or computer files and say, "You know what was great? Thumbs and bilateral symmetry."
Hmm. I'd missed that; also, of course, your comment about TV budgets is entirely fair. It's more, though, that we never seem to get any better ... with Who-style science you should be able to have bilateral symmetry and thumbs and still regenerate/control machinery with your thoughts*/take a pill to resequence your genes into something more interesting/upload yourself to the net and download somewhere else ... none of which should be terribly difficult even on Who's effects budget.

I know it goes against the ethos of the show but that's rather the point. For something that can be so magnificent, it tends towards the pedestrian - in fact the bipedal, bilateral, hair-in-only-the-usual-places pedestrian in its approach to people.

* alright, the Big Brother episode does at least have cyberwear
 

g026r

I'm a boat
Validated User
In Season, IIRC, 3 of the new series, the Doctor comments offhandedly that, even at the end of the universe, humans look like humans because they keep coming back to that form. I think the implication is that sometimes things do get all transhuman; we just don't see those periods on the show (because they'd be bloody hard to film on a TV budget). After a while, humans get tired of being space squids or computer files and say, "You know what was great? Thumbs and bilateral symmetry."
I'm tempted to say that it's from "Utopia", when they end up in the far future. So series 3, yeah.

Edit: Missed Anonymous GM's comment. Oops. :eek:
 
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Whollyrandom

Not a chance
Validated User
It should be noted that the modern incarnation of the show has moved away from this, as much as a limited budget allows. We're told that by the 51st century humanity has crossbred with basically every species it has encountered, so in a very real way any alien species who shows up in the far future is human. By the year 5.5/Apple/26 (aka 5 billion AD) there is nothing recognizable as 'baseline' humanity left in the galaxy, with the species having evolved into various subspecies and essentially alien races.

When the Doctor and Martha go to the end of time, the Doctor adds that humans always return to the same basic phenotype essentially out of nostalgia. They spend millions of years as uploads, sentient gas clouds, and so forth, but they always go back to being bipedal apes. One assumes that the Doctor usually goes to the area with 'proper' humans because of personal preference. (And of course, it's a lot easier for the show's makers.)
Consider me re-edumacated and happy that the point has at least been considered. Of course, one of the problems with allowing for posthumans is that the classic Doctor looks rather less impressive next to humans who are themselves capable of marvels; the Doctor always has to be capable of more, hence the upgrade.

None of which invalidates a potentially very cool setting idea, of course.
Thank you.

Personally, one element I would definitely want to keep is that the Doctor is a rogue element. Making the Time Lords less humanlike is fine, but I'd still suggest having the Doctor be a rogue function, or a Time Lord who has downloaded back into material space-time without permission, or somesuch.
Having it as a rogue element was rather the idea; none of the Functions make very much sense to posthuman perception nor to the more comprehensible alien species that posthumanity has encountered. However, the Doctor comes closest; in times of extraordinary danger - not all of which are obvious as such - it turns up, chaos ensues and somehow the outcome is always better in some sense than it would otherwise have been. It comes into conflict with the other functions and seems, in ways that the others don't, to care not merely about the outcome but also the individuals and species that it interacts with. Of course, it could just be a highly-skilled PR rep.

The setting more generally was designed to allow the use of various Functions - come up with an idea for a form of interaction, slap a seemingly-irrational personality onto it and you have your Timelord. Most of them operate through mortal agents as much as possible, hence your companions. The Doctor is the most commonly-encountered and, let's say, has a tendency to keep the same appearance as far as possible, though of course the non-linear nature of its visitations makes it hard to keep track, so it's the Timelord that posthumans are most likely to meet and work with.
 

Anonymous GM

Registered User
Validated User
Hmm. I'd missed that; also, of course, your comment about TV budgets is entirely fair. It's more, though, that we never seem to get any better ... with Who-style science you should be able to have bilateral symmetry and thumbs and still regenerate/control machinery with your thoughts*/take a pill to resequence your genes into something more interesting/upload yourself to the net and download somewhere else ... none of which should be terribly difficult even on Who's effects budget.

I know it goes against the ethos of the show but that's rather the point. For something that can be so magnificent, it tends towards the pedestrian - in fact the bipedal, bilateral, hair-in-only-the-usual-places pedestrian in its approach to people.

* alright, the Big Brother episode does at least have cyberwear
Being Doctor Who, they're wildly and gleefully inconsistent with this sort of thing, but this does come up in the show. In Captain Jack and River Song's era, self-replicating nanoclouds that can repair all physical harm to your body are standard first aid equipment. On Platform One, buying a neural implant that lets you interface with computers by thought is as casual a purchase as buying a cell phone (remember that failed companion from the first season who tried to get rich off of time travel)?

And come to think of it, people being stored in computer form is a feature of life in the 51st century, too - the situation in "Silence in the Library" was unusual because of the difficulties of maintaining a planet-full of uploads simultaneously on a computer that wasn't built to do it, not because it was a new idea.

In a way, I think they've passed through transhumanism and gone out the other side. On the new series, at least, it's not that people don't have these capabilities - it's that they've had these capabilities for so long, and they're such a basic part of society, that people don't make a big thing out of them.
 
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Whollyrandom

Not a chance
Validated User
Being Doctor Who, they're wildly and gleefully inconsistent with this sort of thing, but this does come up in the show. In Captain Jack and River Song's era, self-replicating nanoclouds that can repair all physical harm to your body are standard first aid equipment. On Platform One, buying a neural implant that lets you interface with computers by thought is as casual a purchase as buying a cell phone (remember that failed companion from the first season who tried to get rich off of time travel)?

And come to think of it, people being stored in computer form is a feature of life in the 51st century, too - the situation in "Silence in the Library" was unusual because of the difficulties of maintaining a planet-full of uploads simultaneously on a computer that wasn't built to do it, not because it was a new idea.

In a way, I think they've passed through transhumanism and gone out the other side. On the new series, at least, it's not that people don't have these capabilities - it's that they've had these capabilities for so long, and they're such a basic part of society, that people don't make a big thing out of them.
Interesting, and a valid observation.

I still want a more transhumanist take on the whole thing :p

I want Doctor Who stories where a genuinely alien Doctor, or something that is claiming to be the Doctor, is prowling the carved-out inner reaches of a Kuiper-belt planetoid, accompanied by a communist Foglet, a self-aware accountancy program in the body of a robot squid and an uplifted gorilla that moonlights as a private eye and keeps its spare personalities in its antique ray-bans and I want him to still be the odd one. Then I want him to turn up as a political activist on a former Sontaran colony where the new human administers are trying to release the agri-clones from slavery and the clones are preparing to stage a revolt in protest, having taken the minds of his companions with him and found them something to wear that works a little better in context.

I'm not sure that grim'n'gritty is necessarily where I want to go all the time, but I want a political, dirty, realistic future with a fluid approach to what constitutes a person and abso-bloody-lutely magical science.
 

Anonymous GM

Registered User
Validated User
Consider me re-edumacated and happy that the point has at least been considered. Of course, one of the problems with allowing for posthumans is that the classic Doctor looks rather less impressive next to humans who are themselves capable of marvels; the Doctor always has to be capable of more, hence the upgrade.
Well, it all depends. You don't necessarily need to make the Time Lords bodiless to make them vastly posthuman (or postgallifreyan). They always keep it vague, of course, but you get the impression that the Time Lords have simply integrated their science into their meat-bodies to a degree that makes a mind-upload in a nanocloud look like a caveman banging rocks together.

I mean, we already know that the meat-based Time Lord brain has more processing power than even high-end scifi supercomputers. Plus various other ill-defined powers that are pulled out as needed by the Doctor and/or the writers.

One sort of gets the impression that Time Lords look exactly the way they want to, without actually needing to sacrifice anything in terms of capacity or power to do so. The fact that this just happens to look exactly like a human is, of course, due to the realities of filming, but personally I rather like the fan-wank idea that in the show, it's the reverse. Humans look like Time Lords because of the Doctor taking such an interest in their species all through the history of their world. (I mean, heck, the Doctor is directly responsible for the creation of life on Earth - is it too much to expect he's responsible for us looking so much like Time Lords?)

Having it as a rogue element was rather the idea; none of the Functions make very much sense to posthuman perception nor to the more comprehensible alien species that posthumanity has encountered. However, the Doctor comes closest; in times of extraordinary danger - not all of which are obvious as such - it turns up, chaos ensues and somehow the outcome is always better in some sense than it would otherwise have been. It comes into conflict with the other functions and seems, in ways that the others don't, to care not merely about the outcome but also the individuals and species that it interacts with. Of course, it could just be a highly-skilled PR rep.
I should clarify that by "rogue element," I don't just mean in relation to the situations he wanders into. Rather, I mean a rogue element outside of the control of even the Time Lords, back outside space/time or whatever.

To me, one of the key elements of the character is that he's a bit of a wash-out from his own people. The Doctor is a god from out point of view; from the point of view of his species, he's an eccentric weirdo who stole an old broken-down car and went to live in the wilderness.

In this context, he'd perhaps be seen as a malfunctioning tool. Or, to carry the usual analogy one step further, perhaps a mad Time Lord who, instead of stealing just a broken time machine, stole a material body no one was using and used the Function system itself to get back into the material world.
 
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Anonymous GM

Registered User
Validated User
Interesting, and a valid observation.

I still want a more transhumanist take on the whole thing :p
Oh, sure. I'm digressing a bit - I find the level of transhumanism on Who as it stands is already actually pretty out there compared to most TV scifi, but it's probably a bit of a thread derailment, sorry.

I want Doctor Who stories where a genuinely alien Doctor, or something that is claiming to be the Doctor, is prowling the carved-out inner reaches of a Kuiper-belt planetoid, accompanied by a communist Foglet, a self-aware accountancy program in the body of a robot squid and an uplifted gorilla that moonlights as a private eye and keeps its spare personalities in its antique ray-bans and I want him to still be the odd one. Then I want him to turn up as a political activist on a former Sontaran colony where the new human administers are trying to release the agri-clones from slavery and the clones are preparing to stage a revolt in protest, having taken the minds of his companions with him and found them something to wear that works a little better in context.
I'd say the nice thing about Who is that you honestly don't need to change things that much, though. You can keep everything very recognizably Whovian and still get more into the Transhuman Space/Eclipse Phase swing of things. The only element you just described that wouldn't be perfectly at home in an episode of Doctor Who is the 'genuinely alien Doctor'.

Trying to figure out exactly how alien to make the Time Lords is an interesting question, though. In gaming terms, it runs the risk of making him too inhuman to be a player character, at which point you're in danger of just having the players follow a godlike NPC around watching him be awesome.
 
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