Discovering Critical Role led me to find a form of media entertainment and storytelling that I didn’t know existed before: a world of tabletop RPG streams and podcasts. Many of the popular shows are set in original fantasy worlds, most often running on Dungeons & Dragons rule sets. However, today I want to tell you about one of my most unexpected finds, a little hidden gem in the landscape of RPG streams—Eric’s TBD RPG, a show on Geek & Sundry’s streaming services, currently playing the official Doctor Who RPG. Although it was initially conceived as an anthology show to run short adventures in different RPG systems, the creators got so attached to their very first characters that it turned into a full Doctor Who campaign. The show combines the best things about the original canon material — wanderlust, curiosity, saving the universe, and whimsy — and it’s carried out by creators who appear to be very mindful of issues of representation.
Some spoilers below.
Eric’s TBD RPG is led by Game Master Eric Campbell. The main cast is filled out by Amy Dallen (the Doctor), Duncan Barclay (human Cillian Rail), Gina DeVivo (human Captain Finn), and Sam de Leve (Ovokali Rokokokoko). Recurring players include Jody Houser (Time Lord Corsair), Darin De Paul (Sontaran Vellig), Taliesin Jaffe (Time Lord Chronotis), and Matthew Mercer (Ood Meatstick).
I don’t want to spoil the plot too much, but to give you an idea what the story is about, it’s set in the canon alternate universe known as Pete’s World where Rose and the Doctor’s half-human clone reside. During the regeneration from Ten to Eleven (now played by Amy Dallen), the Doctor from the prime universe is mysteriously transported into this one, along with the TARDIS and Cillian, an electrician from London. Cracks are appearing in space-time and the Doctor works to figure out why and close them.
The players’ familiarity with Doctor Who varies, but it’s clear that Eric has a lot of love for the source material and he works with the players to create that feeling of goodness, comfort in the face of darkness, and curiosity which were what originally drew me to the series. Eric brings many iconic characters to life as NPCs with great sensitivity, causing no small amount of nostalgia, without stealing too much of the show. There are plenty of great intense moments, allowing the Doctor’s companions to shine (aided in part by the game mechanics letting the players spend “story points” in order to succeed at feats they normally couldn’t). Amy Dallen’s Doctor is a return of the early post-reboot days Doctor who is just a person travelling around in a blue box trying to help, with a deep dislike of violence and plenty of convincing speeches to go around.
Speaking of Amy Dallen’s Doctor, this little RPG show does quite well on representation. I would even go to say that it’s better than the source material in terms of female and LGBTQ+ characters. For one, it has given us what I’ve been waiting for so long—a female Doctor regeneration, and handles it extremely well, I think. She’s not different because she’s a woman, which, to compare, I feel is a problem with the latest Master regeneration on the TV show. When the NPC River Song remarks about the Doctor’s new body, it actually leads to a bit of a nice conversation about nonbinary genders and how Doctor never really understood the fuss humans make about gender anyway.
In addition to a pretty evidently nonbinary Doctor, this show has another explicitly nonbinary character played by a nonbinary person (both of whom use they/them pronouns): Rokokokoko. The half-tree-half-lizard Ovokali species was fleshed out by Sam de Leve, giving the character an origin in a species which does not have a male/female classification system and where everyone uses gender-neutral language to describe themselves. Having a nonbinary person play a major role in developing the in-game lore assures that we’re getting their perspective; it’s just one person’s perspective, admittedly, but at least it isn’t cis people trying to explain what nonbinary representation should look like. What’s more, the rest of the cast are quite good at using the correct pronouns. Coming from Critical Role, which has trouble with that, it was a very nice change. They do slip up sometimes, especially at first, but often correct themselves and each other. By the time we’re a few episodes in, everyone is consistently using the correct pronouns and it just goes to show how important it is to correct each other in order to improve.
The show also has great character dynamics both between players and between their characters. Everyone is very protective of everyone (NPCs included). Vellig and Meatstick provide excellent comic relief without resorting to gross and/or sexual humor, which is something that happens a lot in most other RPGs I watch/listen to. While this type of humor is often fine, other times it crosses the line into uncomfortable and straight up disgusting. So, it’s nice to watch a show where I don’t have to worry about that. Taliesin Jaffe inserts quite a bit of chaos with his character, but his interactions with everyone, and especially the Doctor and the Corsair, are great—and from out-of-character reactions, it’s clear that everyone playing enjoys them too. However, my favorite dynamic on the show is that of Roko and Finn, who are in love; every time they interact, it tugs on your heartstrings. It is the love story of the show and it’s wonderful to see that universe-saving love doesn’t have to be straight.
Lastly, I want to mention two sad things about Eric’s TBD RPG. Firstly, the main drawback of this show is that, in the world of free RPG content, most of this show is behind a paywall (except the first episode), unless you can catch the livestream at 12PM PST Fridays on Twitch, which doesn’t require a subscription. Although I do believe that if this is your cup of tea and you can afford it, it’s worth it (especially with all the other content G&S produces). Otherwise, Geek & Sundry does eventually upload a lot of its content to YouTube, so we might yet see Eric’s TBD RPG there as well.
Secondly, and especially sad, is that this Doctor Who adventure is about to be concluded. Beginning on July 5th, they will start to play the official Star Trek RPG; the show will be called Shield Of Tomorrow and move to Wednesdays 9:30PM PST. However, all the Doctor Who videos will still be there for us to watch. Also, given that Eric Campbell, Sam de Leve, and Amy Dallen will remain on board and most of the additions to the cast will increase the diversity of the players, I feel like the new adventure will be pretty great as well.
All in all, if you’re looking for some wholesome RPG content, if you love Doctor Who, and/or want to see a little more diversity in your media, I highly recommend Eric’s TBD RPG. However, if you want to see it from the beginning, you will need to subscribe to one of the G&S streaming services: Alpha or their Twitch channel. Go check it out!