Greetings and salutations, fellow Fridge Nukers! Bradfield here, reporting from a fez factory, somewhere in 17th Century Morocco.
Having a few (roughly eight) months between now and the new season of BBC America’s (well, BBC International’s) juggernaut, Doctor Who, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, as the most popular and enduring scifi television program on the planet, there are seven seasons of the current series – twenty four if you want to go all in and check out material from its now fifty year run. If you checked out Whovianism 101, you know you don’t necessarily have to watch the show from episode one (whether in the original series, or the current series) to get what the show is all about. It’s more about a solid entry point, and surfing the rest of the series with an open mind.
[NOTE: If you haven’t read the prior article, please do. To really enjoy Doctor Who, starting in the right place is important. Otherwise, one just gets confused.]
To that end, once you’ve acquired your sea legs (rather, your “time legs”), Legacy Interactive‘s Doctor Who: The Adventure Games [“DWTAG”] is a fun way to get to know some classic Who aliens by immersing yourself in the world of the contemporary show, as (re)envisioned by showrunner, Steven Moffat. As a rule, videogame adaptations of movies and TV shows, at best, fall flat, and all too often, stink outright.
Fortunately, there are exceptions to every rule, and DWTAG is one of them. It keeps things relatively simple by mimicking the action you would find in the average episode – cataclysmic situations, a breakneck pace (though if, like me, you suck at videogames, the pacing is slower), and problem solving as an alternative to violence, with a dash of dry British humor. Oh yeah, and a lot of lurking instead of direct confrontation. In fact, the individual games are so much like playing an episode of Doctor Who, they could be considered canon. Further, as a whole, the five games end up mimicking a season of the show itself — minus a couple episodes — right down to a “Christmas Episode.” Perhaps this is because they are written by regular series writer, Phil Ford. Plus, if you took my advice and started with The Eleventh Hour, the games feature the Eleventh Doctor, so it won’t require acclimating to unfamiliar actors to understand what’s going on.
Making up this virtual “mini-season”:
City of the Daleksis not unlike a nightmare version of Star Trek: First Contact. The Doctor and Amy Pond, hoping to get a little R&R in 1960’s Britain and meet the Beatles, end up in a dystopian version of London, in which the Daleks have arrived some time before them, and decimated Earth, save for one woman. To set the timeline straight, they must travel to Kalaan, the capital city on the planet of the Daleks. Literally, the “belly of the beast.”
Blood of the Cybermen features another classic Who villain, the Cybermen. A brush with the TARDIS damages a Cyberman ship, stranding it in the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle, thousands of years in the past. In the present, a research team unearths it, and if you don’t know by now, the Cybermen either overwrite or delete (assimilate or kill) any life form that stands in their way.
Game three, TARDIS, while as strong as the other games, is not one I’d recommend buying alone and/or as your entry point to the games. Yet still, it features a type of episode that pops up every now and again: exploring The Doctor’s vast, complex, time-travelling Police call box, the TARDIS. An entity imprisoned in a bottle in The Doctor’s drawing room escapes and sends Amy to the distant past, while still in the TARDIS, and The Doctor has to figure out a way to communicate to Amy how to save herself. After that, Whovians, longtime and new, will have a blast with a lesson in flying the iconic space-time machine. It’s also a Back to the Future II style transition to…
Blood of the Vashta Nerada. The fourth game is also the aforementioned “Christmas Episode.” If you’re still a little new to Who, you may or may not know that the annual Doctor Who Christmas episode is a holiday tradition that, in terms of viewership, rivals other traditional holiday broadcasts like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rose Parade. Of course, instead of an endless barrage of equestrian units, floats and marching bands, you get, well, Doctor Who. Sometimes, the Christmas Episode comes in the form of a little bow – it’s “Christmas-y” in that it simply takes place at Christmas. Others, it’s a huge Christmas package, the “Red Rider BB Gun,” if you will, in that it’s a tale that can only take place at Christmas and with The Doctor as the central character. [see, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe] Blood… is the former. The Doctor and Amy help an underwater mining company rid their “human habitrail” of the energy eating shadow creatures, the Vashta Nerada, while trying to avoid a giant, alien shark.
The fifth and final installment (hopefully, only for now), The Gunpowder Revolution, pulls together all the elements of classic (contemporary) Doctor Who; a symbiosis of everything that makes the show great, creating a tale that just as easily could have been an episode of the show proper. This time, Amy’s husband, fan favorite, and The Eleventh Doctor’s co-companion, Rory Williams is along for the ride in another adventure in which The Doctor’s poor driving skills strand an alien race in the distant past; this time, the Rutans, who haven’t been seen onscreen since 1977. They look like jellyfish that hover in the air, and are shape-shifters. Upping the alien ante is a battalion of the Rutan Hosts’ eternal enemy, the Sontarans, who detected their enemies’ presence in 1605 London. Specifically, around November 5th, 1605. So, while preventing all out war between two perennial, cosmic enemies, The Doctor and crew face Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, and try to minimize the damage of The Gunpowder Plot. There is also a cameo appearance by one of the contemporary Doctors’ most popular enemies. I’d like to say more, but I just can’t quite remember who it is…
In addition to “fan candy” in the form of the roster of antagonistic aliens, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are on board to lend their voices to their digital dopplegangers. And, as with the show, the emphasis on history is notable, yet not intrusive. That is to say that, though it most likely won’t help anybody with a history report, as you pass by particular relics, both in the world of the show, and in the time periods you visit, they will illuminate, and you can learn about anything from life in the fifteenth century, to the origins of cryogenics, ancient torture devices, and on a lighter note, the significance of the Fifth Doctor’s cricket ball.
While the graphics aren’t “bleeding edge,” the look of the show, from the sets to the actors, is well represented, and with the exception of some mapping issues in Gunpowder… (which might be resolved with the game’s relatively new promotion to Steam), mostly glitch free. The main thing that may frustrate gamers who enjoy scifi fare is the thing that separates Doctor Who from a lot of its scifi cousins on TV: the action is heavier on solving problems with one’s wit and intelligence than with a gun. So, you’re going to spend a lot of time running, hiding and solving variations of about a half dozen different logic and coordination puzzles. [Well, Rory gets a slingshot, and an improvised sonic blaster toward the end of his adventure…] At the most, you will stun, daze, and perhaps knock out your adversaries. But by now, you should know that The Doctor rarely kills.
While you can buy the individual adventures at ten dollars and under per game, the full package is a steal at twenty-five dollars. You get a lot of “bang for your buck,” and dare I say it, it’s not only a “safe” game for the little Whovians in your life, but really does have a little educational value. You can find more information, and download the game at Legacy Interactive’s homepage. The game, and trial versions, are also available at Amazon.com.