When Doctor Who Visited The Casino - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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When Doctor Who Visited The Casino

There can be no doubt that Doctor Who is a risk-taker. Every incarnation of the famous Gallifreyan has found themself in numerous tight situations, many calling for a daring gamble – with far more than just money at stake.

But did you know that the Doctor, and various other characters from the Whoniverse, have also done quite a bit of gambling in the more literal sense? Games of chance and gambling houses have featured repeatedly since the very first series, and it’s fair to say that the Doctor’s fortunes have not always been consistent.

Here we take a look at a few times that casinos or gambling have featured in a Doctor Who story, including television, comic books, stories and audio plays.

The First Doctor (William Hartnell)

Evidence of the Doctor’s penchant and skill for gambling shows up very early on, in the debut season of what became the sci-fi classic that we know and love. During the twentieth episode of the first series in 1964, viewers witnessed the first of many times that gambling games and casinos appeared in the world of Dr Who. In this case, the setting was the year 1289, at the Imperial Palace of the Kublai Khan in Peking – and there was something very important at stake.

The gambling episode was the concluding part of a seven-part story entitled ‘Marco Polo’, which saw the Doctor and his three companions join the eponymous merchant on one of his long caravan trips. The TARDIS is the source of much interest and subterfuge, and Polo claims it as his own – as a gift to the Khan to secure his freedom and return home.

The Doctor sets about retrieving the TARDIS by way of a game of high-stakes backgammon with the Khan. Having amassed winnings amounting to several thousand stallions, a number of tigers and elephants, and the whole of the year’s commerce for Burma, he wagers everything to get his precious transport back. In something of a shock, the gamble fails, and the group must instead steal back their property and flee.

The entirety of the Marco Polo story is missing from the archives, along with many other early episodes. Back before the days of digital media, archives were regularly cleared to make way for new material. Although some have been recovered, the Marco Polo story seems to be entirely lost.

The First Doctor once again loses the TARDIS while gambling – it’s a game of cards this time – in a 2006 short story ‘The Mother Road’. Set also in the year 2006, The Doctor and his companions are in Chicago and must travel to California to try and track it down. At the end of the story it is revealed that the whole saga was simply a ruse so that they could all go on a Route 66 road trip.

The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi)
Cards and backgammon may not be The Doctor’s games, but it would seem that craps is. That is, according to a comic book story entitled ‘Gangland’, released in 2015. In the story, the Doctor and companion Clara travel to Las Vegas in 1963 – coincidentally the same year that the series started. The pair visit The Sands Hotel, which was barely a decade old at that time. Some of the characters who turn up are called the Wolf Pack, clearly a fictionalized version of the Rat Pack who famously played the Sands on many occasions.

At the craps table before the Wolf Pack show, Capaldi’s Doctor rolls the dice. Telling Clara that he makes his own luck, ‘via the rigorous application of mathematics and the laws of probability’, he proceeds to turn her fifty dollars into $800,000 in half an hour. The Doctor expresses contempt for the gamblers at the casino, calling them ‘gullible fools’ for believing in Lady Luck. He obviously never saw the best casino offers at online casinos of today. Never mind, across space and time probably different rules apply.

Of course, he attracts the attention of the management, but before the mobster casino boss can do anything the aliens show up and give everyone something more pressing to worry about. The comic ends with a showdown that involves a game of Russian roulette, played with a Time Gun that can wipe someone’s entire existence from history. Naturally, the Doctor is not in any real danger, and the alien foe is vanquished.

Casino Portrayals in the Whoniverse
The Sands may be the only real casino that appears anywhere in the extended Doctor Who universe, but the landmarks of Las Vegas have provided inspiration for more than one location. In fact, there are two separate planets or civilizations that mimic the Nevada city in their architecture and customs. One of these, imaginatively dubbed New Vegas, is the setting for a 2013 audio play featuring the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), accompanied by Jack Harkness and Rose.

This 23rd century moon is a hub for casino entertainment, visited by pleasure seekers from every corner of the galaxy. Harkness claims that he was on the judging panel that awarded New Vegas the honor of most debauched place ten years in a row. As the moon appears only in an audio format story, there are no clear parallels between the casino where Rose is posing as a waitress, and any real Vegas venues.

Not so for the planet of Koturia, which appears in the 2013 short story ‘Something Borrowed’. This planet is deliberately modeled after Vegas, the Koturians having been seduced by its glamour on a visit to Earth during the late 20th century. A couple of hundred years later, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and companion Peri Brown visit Koturia, noticing replicas of The Sahara and The Flamingo. Both of these are located in the Swathe, which is a much larger version of the Vegas Strip. The Koturians have also taken on the Vegas wedding tradition, making Koturia a prime intergalactic destination for couples getting married.

A few more negative portrayals of casinos appear in various stories. The Trans-Vegas Casino, where the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) meets and defeats a notorious slave trader, is depicted as a place frequented by gangsters and criminals. Similarly, the sinister Black Pyramid Casino of Beta Osiris is clearly modeled on the Luxor Las Vegas. When the story ‘Scarab of Death’ was published in 1994, the distinctive hotel complex had opened just the year prior.

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