For a very brief time during The Big Bang, an alternate history exists in which Earth is the only planet with life in a universe with no stars. The planet orbits the Doctor’s exploding TARDIS, which provides the light and heat that allows life to continue mostly as usual for the human race from the first century of the common era up to the early years of the twenty-first century.
The wrenching change, a total event collapse that undid every moment ever, threw up anomalies, fossils from another history that one could say irrupted into the new, starless history. As the Doctor races around the British National Museum, you can catch glimpses of some of the oddities of this alternate history: dinosaurs in the Arctic, fossilized Daleks, penguins on the Nile and Egyptian pharaohs in Tibet.
This universe isn’t very long-lived. As time collapses around Earth, protected at the eye of the storm, it’s probably no more than an hour or two, linearly speaking, from the TARDIS exploding to the brink of total non-existence. But in that hour, a whole history exists, one which happens to be riddled with anachronistic oddities and Fortean-like phenomena. Sounds like a setup for a campaign of reality detectives to me!
The best part is it doesn’t even have to be a secret team of reality cops. In the Starless history, anachronisms are available for viewing in public institutions like the British Museum and American Smithsonian. Like the comic book version of Hellboy, where Big Red is a known celebrity, these oddities are part of history as humans know it. There’s no need for reality cops to skulk in the shadows, collecting artifacts and keeping them safe from public knowledge.
Instead, the motivations are prestige for institutions providing backing, celebrity for independent oddity hunters, riches on the artifact market and satisfying insatiable curiosity about the seeming bizarre state of affairs of natural history.
A few campaign guidelines:
- The emphasis is on humanity and playing with history as we know it. There may be a few offworld artifacts scattered around Earth, but they are remnants of the original timeline, likely fossilized and inert, like the Daleks on display in the National Museum.
- In the Doctor Who ethos, everything is ultimately explicable. What some call magic is highly advanced science — block transfer computation and quantum mnemonics are two convenient labels — which includes psychic abilities. So an ancient South American civilization ruled by a lineage of sorcerer-kings is plausible, but the sorcery will turn out to have been chicanery or misunderstood natural abilities.
- Starless is continually contracting. In the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sense, it only exists for a few hours as the universe collapses, despite also existing for hundreds of billions of years in the linear sense. In Starless, the lost decade phenomenon is very real: humanity invented whole dynasties of rulers to cover the missing years for which no one could account, a la Kenneth Hite’s proposition of hollow history.
- Remember the changes that come from seeing no stars in the sky: lovers walk under the moon, lunologists give advice based on the phases and motion of the moon and one of Van Gogh’s most famous works is Moonlit Night.