Doctor Who: The Adventure Games - Episode Three: TARDIS review
Although the BBC’s two previous episodic games based on the Doctor Who television show haven’t been the most rewarding experiences so far, there’s been some enjoyment to be found in their grand plots and interesting backdrops. However, with the third instalment, TARDIS, the developers seem to have taken a huge step back and completely removed most of what gave the early games their appeal. The franchise’s core charm still remains intact, but the mere half-hour of gameplay offered this time around is so drudging and stale that it makes the experience feel like second-rate filler that can really only be recommended to the most dedicated of fans.
As the title suggests, the episode opens in the Time Lord’s bigger-on-the-inside spaceship. A bumpy ride through the wrong time vortex causes the Doctor to be flung outside, suspended in space and unable to reach the TARDIS again. He and Amy are caught in a rip between the fabric of space and time, and with the Doctor out of action, it’s up to his faithful companion to sort out the mess and try to set the ship on its rightful course. Unfortunately, Amy’s clumsiness unwittingly allows ‘The Entity’ to escape from its container while exploring, which begins feeding off her time energy. For some some oddly convoluted sci-fi reason, this causes a time split, so when the Doctor does manage to get back on board, the pair end up separated on the TARDIS by a thousand years, with Amy in the future. So far, so Doctor Who.
The Doctor describes The Entity as a “glowy, blobby thing” and it’s exactly as dull and unfearsome as it sounds. It’s an entirely new creation made especially for the game, but it’ll make you wonder why they even bothered. You never interact with this floating orb during gameplay, nor do you feel any concern over its presence. It starts attacking Amy (by which I mean flying past and firing some orange beams) during a cutscene, and once the duo are reunited, the Doctor manages to reason with it mere moments later, the TARDIS translation circuits conveniently allowing them to converse. The whole scenario just feels shoehorned in to establish some sort of threatening enemy in the story, but failing in the attempt.
With the game taking place inside the TARDIS, you might think there’d be vast amounts of exploration, but outside the main console, the only place you’ll be visiting is a drawing room. The Doctor issues Amy some bizarrely complex directions via video link on how to get there, but you never follow these steps personally, the instructions only teasing a quirky potential that never comes to fruition. The room itself is full of ticking clocks and props from the Doctor’s past trips, and it’s a treat for fans of the show to see memorable items and their factual descriptions, but that’s really all there is on offer here. There’s nothing wrong with the room per se, it’s just nothing extraordinary and could be a study belonging to anyone. Apart from the memorabilia, generic features like wooden floors, a fireplace and book-lined shelves do nothing to distinguish the room as belonging to such an eccentric man in such an incredible vehicle.
You’ll also spend time in the TARDIS’ central hub, known as the console room. We’ve seen it in previous episodes, but for the first time you’re able to walk around it here. There’s not really much to see, but it’s a faithful recreation from the show, especially the attention to detail on the control panel. Trouble is, there’s not a lot for you to do because of the unimaginative gameplay. If you’re not running back and forth between the two rooms picking up things, usually to help the Doctor fix something technical, you’ll be at the controls pulling levers and twisting dials. There’s not much difficulty attached to this, as anything you need to click on will be flashing to let you know. It’s interesting to see how everything works first-hand, but it doesn’t make for a fun experience. At other times, you’ll see a recycling of the minigames that popped up in previous episodes, connecting circuits or navigating a mini-maze. You’ll also engage in a quiz based around the history of the show (that memorabilia isn’t just fan service), integrated as a password protection system put in place by the Doctor. Although it breaks the fourth wall a bit (Amy wouldn’t know the answers), this is a decent attempt to mix in a different style of play.
Although not a problem in the previous episodes, the mouse-controlled camera seems to be incredibly awkward this time when needing to look at something directly. You still move the protagonists around with the WASD keys or holding the right mouse button, but the erratic object highlighting system means you can spend a while trying until you’re allowed to click on something interactive, especially in tight spaces or when needing to look downwards. At the end of the game, you have a minute to take control of the TARDIS in a timed sequence. While this wouldn’t normally be a problem, the time constraint highlights the inaccuracy in manoeuvring the camera to where you want it to be, creating a section that is far more frustrating than is intended. There’s no real consequence for failure, as you’ll simply try again from the start, but it’s a shame when the interface is the biggest obstacle to overcome.
Apart from the locations, there are no real changes visually, as this episode predictably looks similar to Blood of the Cybermen. The main redeeming feature of the episode is its audio improvement. Previously Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were a bit reserved in their delivery of the Doctor and Amy, but they both seem to have found their grooves for delivering dialogue, eliminating the tendency to whisper lines for no apparent reason. The cutscene exchanges between the two are once again amusing, providing a few chuckles as they attempt to play a game of charades or argue about how trouble seems to follow them around. Murray Gold’s music manages to squeeze what little liveliness there is into the game, switching between whimsy and intensity with ease.
Ultimately, TARDIS is mostly a disappointment for the mere thirty minutes it lasts, and a drastic step down from the previous two episodes. As a free game in the UK, there’s nothing to lose by giving it a try, but it offers little value for purchase elsewhere in the world, even for its minimal cost (strangely priced just as much as the first two episodes combined) at Direct2Drive. The developers had huge potential in their hands – an enormous spaceship belonging to a time traveller is something that is rife with possibilities. Instead, what we’re presented with is a banal storyline with no solid gameplay to support it. Series fans will get a kick out of briefly controlling the TARDIS themselves, but that’s not enough to save this lacklustre adventure. Doctor Who deserves better.
With its promise of exploring the TARDIS largely wasted, Doctor Who fans will be disappointed with this step back in the series.
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