Saturday Crapshoot: Destiny of the Doctors

Richard Cobbett at

THAT THING WE SAY! THAT THING WE SAAAY!

On the face of it, there's no good reason why nobody's ever made a genuinely good Doctor Who game. The Doctor is great. The entire universe is his playground. He has an amazing gallery of enemies. He's the ultimate adventurer, constantly mixed up in both universal and human scale chaos. And yet, somehow, it's never worked. The recent Adventure Games should have been great, but ended up feeling cheap and undercooked. Before them, it's only really been platform games and a couple of text adventures, usually with names like Dalek Attack. We've never however had the interactive Doctor Who he deserved. Hell, we've yet to have one that lets us walk into the TARDIS and admire its bigger-on-the-insideness, like everyone's been talking about doing since Unreal showed up with its portal effects back in 1998.

What we did get was Destiny of the Doctors. Start the Cloister Bell chiming...

THAT THING WE SAY! THAT THING WE SAAAY!

In fairness to Doctor Who games, when you start thinking about the details of how to make them into game experiences, it starts feeling like a nightmare license. You've got a main character who doesn't like weapons, who typically gets through problems by either seat-of-his-pants thinking or being a million times smarter than everyone he meets. As a result, the sensible thing to do would be to let the player be a Companion, ideally of their own creation, but nobody's ever done that... probably because most of the games were made at a time when that would have restricted the action to pressing one button to yell "DOCTOR!" and another to say "Oh, Doctor..." in an admiring tone of voice.

Still, there's no excuse for what Destiny of the Doctors decided to do instead. It makes you play as a monster called Graak. Yes. Really. Graak. A blobby jellyfish like alien, created by the Doctor when he apparently decided one day that making some slave life forms would be a whizzer and chips hobby, regardless of whether he one day got captured in a hilariously stupid trap by the Master and needed an artificially created stooge to fight and die for him. Artificially created stooges are cool.

In the kind of plotting you usually only see in fan-fiction and Comic Relief specials, the plot of the game is a desperate attempt to tie all the Doctors' incarnations together into a single story. The only thing that makes it even remotely entertaining is that Destiny of the Doctors was Anthony Ainley's last performance as the Master, giving one of the most scenery chewing monologues in the history of film.

Ainley is the star of the show, although Destiny of the Doctors uses sound-clips of the first seven Doctors every now and again to try to pretend that this is a Doctor Who story instead of a version of The Crystal Maze hosted by the Master. (Which, now I think about it, actually sounds quite fun. I'd definitely watch that.) Like most licenses, it had to make a straight choice between telling a new, interesting story using the Doctor Who characters and concepts, or just loading as many of them as possible into a trebuchet and hurling them at the nearest wall. It went with the latter. Instead of bothering to create a proper world, the game is set within the 'Determinant', a psychic maze where the Master has trapped the Doctors' completed incarnations. Since it's officially a dreamworld, nothing has to make sense.

No, wait. That's phenomenally lazy design, always. Things should make sense, even if only by their own internal logic. Otherwise, you just get Silly Shit. Destiny of the Doctors is nothing but Silly Shit, of the most boring variety, with the abysmal 3D engine banging the last nails into its coffin and face.

Saving each Doctor is basically the same every time, and can be done in any order as long as you collect a few items first. You choose a Doctor via the TARDIS control panel's single button and head out into a maze of passages, mostly alike, full of monsters that are best just ignored. Your goal is to get to the Great Divide - a bridge in the middle of a big swimmy mass of energy and stupidity - at which point the Master will show off the evil moxie that made him such a great villain by sending you on a trivial little chore, usually kicked off by a riddle. The Fourth Doctor's involves three bridges, identified by the faces of companions and enemies, with the goal being to walk across one with a friendly face. Another is a True/False game about which characters are Autons. At one point, the Master decides to take a bath and demands you bring him the soap while he hums "Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside". It's about that point that you start suspecting that the poor guy's just running out of ideas, or has gone utterly senile.

When this is part of your evil plan,
your supervillain reputation is officially on the line.

The only challenging part of any of this is finding your way to the Great Divide. The TARDIS plays with space in the most annoying way imaginable - it's a maze where you don't simply have to backtrack quite often to keep going, but have to head forwards a good distance into a corridor before the door behind you is reconfigured to go to the right place. Nnnngh. Most of the doors don't open, but which ones depend on which Doctor you're working on. All the time, you're being shot at by enemies who do massive damage if you bump into them, are expected to be picking up objects, and worse, are tortured by the same handful of voice clips of various Doctors saying random things in the most "We were contracted to do this" way possible. It's a relief to get back to the Master, the only person in the entire universe who's actually having fun with this dreadful game. Especially when he gets to be a boss fight.

This being a lame cash-in, it doesn't even bother trying to fill the clashes with the Master with anything like drama or tension. Instead, you solve his challenge and he challenges you to something stupid to win back one of the Doctor's incarnations - exploring the insta-kill recesses of the Doctor's brain, fighting a Sontaran, and other similar unimpressive stuff. By far the best is a race through the English countryside, which is perhaps the worst racing game ever created, but redeems itself by a shameless detour through... yes... a quarry. The Master spends most of the race laughing his head off, while the Doctor complains that you're not running over the Autons taking pot-shots at you from around the track.

With excitement like this, who even NEEDS a sky?

Say what you like about the Master - he's a good sport in this game. Beat him in a challenge and he releases the Doctor's incarnation just as promised, even if he does make a point of trying to pretend that he's only letting you win for his own amusement. Get them all back and his tone somewhat changes, as his allies realise that he's been playing them in order to conquer the universe and go after him. As the ancient Galifreyan proverb says, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 56,756,234 times in assorted universes, seriously, just kill me and get it over with." A few fans like to pretend that the ending of this game explains why the Master was dead in the dreadful TV movie, but that's clearly nonsense. Destiny of the Doctors had as much impact on the canon as a fly randomly landing on the set of Castrovalva.

If you are curious to fill some holes in this non-canonical game, here's a complete Let's Play from YouTube. It's a bit edited for content, with some extra bits and pieces added, but you can get the basic idea well enough. The very basic idea. Trust me, you're missing nothing. At all.