Okay, Let’s Make A Good Doctor Who Game

Hey, BBC? It’s me, Edward Price. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of me before, or read that script I sent to you, but I’m not writing to you about that. Instead, I want to talk about Doctor Who. See, most of us used to love that whole wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey fish-fingers and custard thing you had going on but, nowadays, I’m more likely to find people who’d rather watch our time-travelling friend stick that Sonic Screwdriver elsewhere. I’m not asking if I can fix the show after whatever you did to it in season seven (and season eight, minus that episode with the Dalek) because this isn’t TVLives and I’m not a famous writer (yet), so instead I’m going to ask if I can help fix the games you shop the license out to.

Quite frankly, they’re an utter shambles. I get that they’re aimed at children, for the most part, but the last time I checked the actual show features people dying left, right, and centre. Plus, I’m pretty sure Amy Pond tried to force herself on the Doctor the night before her wedding. Yet, every time I’ve tried to play something with the Doctor Who name attached I’m more likely to push boxes, collect hats and use the Sonic Screwdriver to solve asinine “match the colours!” mini-games. Considering that the show itself does what it can to appeal to audiences of all ages, why don’t the games? Why does the show feature rampant death and witty dialogue while the latter contains intelligence-insulting puzzles where failure is barely an option? I’ve given it some thought and think I’ve stumbled upon a way we can all be happy. I think I’ve come up with a good Doctor Who videogame.

First, I don’t think that the idea of playing someone else who is, in turn, playing the Doctor is one that suits the corresponding action well; you essentially become pigeon-holed into controlling a character with quirks that don’t necessarily correspond to yours. Actually, that’s inaccurate for any of the titles that I’ve played; you take charge of a Doctor Who doesn’t act anything like how his counterpart behaves on the show, and it’s incredibly distracting.

Instead of an exuberant Matt Smith who bounces across the screen, enjoys confusing his enemies and who knows when to stand and fight, you’re instead forced to play a man who keeps talking to himself, avoids all conflict and takes it all so seriously that he can’t even make a joke to break the tension. In fact, the only similarity is that both versions use the Sonic Screwdriver for absolutely everything to the point it’s basically a short-hand deus ex machina.

My fix for this problem is a simple one: don’t base the Doctor on a pre-existing personality. In other words, have the story begin during one of his regenerations. It can all start at the end of a big conflict of sorts, as long as it’s not the bloody Time War, or even in the middle of one. Actually, I think that works better. Okay, hold on a second, I’ve got this. So, the Doctor has arrived at the scene of a giant conflict between him and the main antagonist(s) and he’s given them a final ultimatum: surrender and leave, or face the full force of the mightiest Time Lord in the universe.

There’s just one catch… the entire confrontation was a trap and our hero is mortally wounded in the ensuing fracas. The tutorial mission – if you so choose – tasks you with escaping from the ship and making it back to the TARDIS before the alien mother-ship explodes and takes you with it. As the iconic police box fades away we cut inside to see the Doctor writhing in pain until a blast of regeneration energy consumes the screen and we’re taken to the character customisation screen.

Much like Mass Effect and other Bioware fare, the Doctor’s face, characteristics and sex can be altered, with certain gender-specific dialogue choices and options to accommodate the player’s choice. After all, if we’re going to give the player freedom of choice it feels a bit backwards to only let him be a man, plus I’ve looked about and nothing says the Doctor couldn’t canonically regenerate into a woman (and he thought he had when first morphing into Matt Smith’s incarnation). Once the players have determined how their Doctor looks, the focus moves onto their actions and personality. While I’m keen on avoiding the idea of forcing gamers to play in a way contrary to their idea of the Doctor, I’m also conscious that the scope can’t be too large. With that in mind, choices should open up in a way that allows their Doctor to choose between several options in any given scenario. Would they sneak onto a ship and surprise everyone there, or barge through the front door and let their reputation precede them? No-one knows that the Doctor’s regenerated, so do you pose as someone else or let your enemies know that you’re alive and looking for revenge?

Rather than a standard morality system of “good, neutral, and evil”, actions and dialogue can differ between “pragmatic, madcap and War Doctor”. Will your Doctor carefully consider the situation, always have a back-up plan and have that “just this once, everyone lives!” mentality that values the lives of others above their own? Will they threaten foes until they back down and think nothing of destroying an enemy spaceship just to call attention to themselves? Or, will they do something zany, spout a catchphrase and run away while donning a hat of some kind?

As time passes your new reputation may begin to precede you, which may make some confrontations far harder to overcome; your enemies are far less likely to believe you’re going to wipe them out or consign them to a nasty fate if you’ve spent most of your time sneaking around and avoiding confrontation where possible. Conversely, some people will start anticipating what you’ll do based on your past deeds, so War Doctors will find that important figures will increase the size of their guard, or that they’re more willing to shoot first rather than face your wrath. In those cases it could even pay off to disarm everyone else by suddenly turning madcap and leave them utterly bemused and confused as you charm your way through or make good your escape.

However, I also want it to be possible to lose each showdown as well; the show’s started to run out of deus ex machinas, and there’s likely little more annoying or patronising to the potential player than something like that bailing them out of every situation. Alternative endings will be dictated by your final decision as to the type of Doctor you are, potentially offering you two of three possible conclusions corresponding to the player’s morality, with the ending tied to the least-used characteristic being locked off.

Early in the story your Doctor can also choose to take a companion along with them or ride out the adventure solo; if you go for the former you can still choose to leave them in the ship if you think the ensuing confrontation will be too much for them, although that doesn’t guarantee they’ll listen. Taking them with you may give you more dialogue options, or make certain choices more favourable if you want to keep your companion on your side. That being said, there’s no romantic benefit to keeping your companion happy; new millennium Doctor Who tends to start getting terrible when the companion arbitrarily falls in love with the hero, and I hate the concept that Bioware perpetuate in their titles where romance is a reward for spending a certain amount of time with someone. If they like you then they’ll stay, if they don’t then they won’t.

Image of the Tardis and earth by Guile93 http://guile93.deviantart.com/

As for the villains, no Daleks or Cybermen. Not even one. In every Doctor Who game I’ve played the bad guys have either been Daleks, Cybermen, or both. Cut it out. Your main foes can’t be the Weeping Angels or The Silence, either – they were a great concept approximately twice before all their impact and initial scariness wore off. If not them, then the role of the chief antagonist should definitely go to The Master. He’s not been killed off completely, and because the role isn’t currently attached to an actor you could potentially choose anyone to take the mantle. Imagine The Master as voiced by Alan Rickman, or played by seemingly-unstoppable juggernaut Benedict Cumberbatch? Maybe he’s also forced to regenerate after your opening confrontation and part of the story tasks you with discovering his new form?

To make things more interesting, you’ll also lose your Sonic Screwdriver in that beginning scuffle. It won’t be completely destroyed or left behind on the ship, but the battle leaves it broken and unusable, thus forcing you to make do without it early on and slowly attempt to fix it as the story progresses. It could even be upgraded as you proceed, with its own tech-tree to force you to think about how you’re going to put it back together. At first it’ll only able to unlock doors, but with a bit of fixing it can slowly scan objects and people around you, overload circuitry and even get quieter so you’re less likely to attract attention if you’re trying to keep yourself hidden.

As for stealth, it should be an option – not standard. My experiences with Doctor Who videogames have always led to broken stealth missions where being seen once often causes instant failure, and it’s much more frustrating when the only option is to non-violently keep hidden and instantly lose if you’re caught. If stealth was a must, then I’d want something akin to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where there are multiple ways through each location, you can regroup if you’re caught, and it’s possible – but disadvantageous – to subdue everyone around you if it starts rapidly escalating. The Doctor doesn’t do one-on-one murder though, so those manoeuvres would have to be things like turning off all the lights with the Sonic Screwdriver or messing with the air supply to send everyone to sleep.

Alternatively, you could just give the license to Telltale and get them to make something much more narratively-focused like they’ve done with The Walking Dead. Give players the ability to move around different locations and complete their various tasks, but make the main focus the morality-driven story, where the most intense battles take place with words rather than explosions and lasers. Just promise me the finale won’t take place in London or Cardiff.

With those – admittedly, bare-bones – ideas in place, it shouldn’t be too difficult to go on to make something at least good out of it all. It might not end up being the next Mass Effect, but as long as it doesn’t end up like Alpha Protocol (which is a distinct possibility, seeing as I’ve inadvertantly pitched you a Doctor Who re-skinning of it) it’ll be a considerable step in the right direction for a franchise that’s been around for fifty years, yet has still to have an even remotely-enjoyable videogame made of it. Perhaps you could even make downloadable content where you briefly cross-over with an earlier incarnation of The Doctor in the name of fan service like all those Comic Relief sketches? If none of this is possible, then I’ll settle for a day in the writer’s room, a visit to the set while you’re filming, or a minor role in the show. Call me.

P.S: I hope this doesn’t negatively impact that sitcom idea I sent you.

Last five articles by Edward


One Comment

  1. Tim Tim says:

    Telltale sprung to my mind for Doctor Who as well, and I always thought Cumberbatch would make a good Master.

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