Tom: Doctor Who is back on our TV screens with a new Time Lord and a new TARDIS. The history of Doctor Who games on PC is spotty at best. There was Dalek Attack, which saw the Doctor jumping between platforms, blasting aliens to ash with lasers—a brief lapse in the Doctor’s pacifist stance. A few years ago the BBC and Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil made an episodic adventure game starring Matt Smith (no longer available to download, sadly), which is as close as we’ve come to a proper Doctor Who experience on PC. You can find a bunch of short experimental games on the Doctor Who site, but they struggle to capture the personality of the show.
Samuel: The adventure games were on the right track (we gave City of the Daleks a respectable 64% in the UK magazine), and it's pretty amazing that the BBC bankrolled those and gave them away for free to UK viewers (they were $5 each in the US). While the facial animation is a bit Gerry Anderson-esque, a PC adventure game still makes a lot of sense—and if you remove voice acting as a requirement, developers could even make adventure games about past Doctors, with more of a '70s or '80s art style. Hell, get Paul Cornell to write them—he's been writing stories featuring the different Doctors for his entire career, plus he wrote two of my favourite episodes from the modern series ('Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood').
The follow-up to those adventure games was the disappointing platformer/puzzle game Eternity Clock, which you can't get on Steam anymore. There was a flash-based online game that shuttered in 2014, Worlds in Time. On consoles, the Doctor featured in the now-deceased Lego Dimensions toys-to-life games, if you ever wanted to team up Peter Capaldi with Sonic the Hedgehog. Travelling further back, it looks like pre-New Who games popped up on the BBC Micro (The First Adventure looks, er, rubbish) and the PC with Destiny of the Doctors, which the UK mag gave a magnificent 21% back in 1997. Tom, the latter looks atrocious.
Tom: I’m watching this video in slack-jawed amazement. What did Doctor Who do to deserve this? The TV show has had its ups and downs, but it’s an institution that deserves a little better than some empty corridors and the odd FMV cutscene. It was 1997, to be fair, but this is emblematic of how the Doctor has always been treated in games.
Samuel: I feel like Doctor Who falls into that weird territory of being hard to translate into a commercial game to begin with—a shooter would make no sense, for example. It's also probably not popular enough to get a game on the scale of something like Shadow of War. That said, the reason I started thinking about Doctor Who games again—along with the arrival of the new series—was the leak of that Harry Potter game from a few weeks ago. The idea of a big publisher taking that universe seriously as a 'core' game got a lot of people excited.
Who knows what the BBC's current stance on making Doctor Who games is? In 2010, Return to Earth on the Wii was released, which ONM gave a measly 19%, so maybe getting permission is easier than I thought. Perhaps I'll pitch a 2D platformer I've made in Game Maker where you jump over Daleks, just to see if I can get the official licence and sell it on Steam for $2.
I feel like Doctor Who would be a great episodic adventure in the anthology style of something like Darkside Detective, or a Wadjet Eye-style game. Hell, it sounds like Dave Gilbert would even be interested based on this old Twitter exchange with Charles Cecil.
What do you think, Tom? What is the ideal Doctor Who game in 2018?
Tom: An adventure game seems like the best way to let the Doctor caper about on screen, but Doctor Who has the Sherlock problem: it’s hard to play as a character with a genius intellect who then has to solve puzzles. It doesn’t have to be a tough game, though, some high-production fan service will do.
Fans want to poke around a highly detailed TARDIS, pull some levers, hear the engines go ‘whoosh’. It doesn’t have to be an epic adventure covering the Doctor’s history either. Embrace the idea of small episodes set in different times and on different planets. It could be a really exciting adventure game with an emphasis on exploration. Kids should also be able to enjoy it. It is a family-friendly Sunday evening show after all.
Samuel: I agree. It's a tricky problem to solve, but the old adventure games show that the potential is there—and the arrival of a new Doctor and showrunner surely make this a good time to try again.
Doctor Who currently airs every Sunday in the UK on BBC One, and on the same day on BBC America in the US. If you're based in the UK, you can watch it on iPlayer for free.