Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

*** Contains spoilers ***

So it's come to this - Doctor Who for the Nintendo DS.

I'm surprised to even find myself reviewing this. There was a time when I would claim to only be interested in actual TV episodes of Doctor Who. Not the spin-offs - apart from any other reason, there were just too many of them!

However I watch the minisodes, because they are TV episodes of a sort. Then more recently there have been live shows which have included footage that, viewed in isolation, to all intents and purposes form further minisodes. Similarly, computer games contain cutscenes.

And then there's this one.

This handheld computer game from Asylum Entertainment features a mere five - count 'em five - cutscenes starring Smith and Gillan as the Doctor and Amy, that are audio only. (at a picky stretch ten if you factor in the DS' dual screens, stacked above each other)

Unlike the BBC's Adventure Games series, they don't even sync with any moving images - just stills, and drawn ones at that. If they're not good enough to count, then by the same token, maybe I should no longer watch slide-show reconstructions of the missing TV episodes from the 1960s, productions which are themselves spin-offs, like Big Finish's original TV cast CDs? Hrrrm.

And yet, author Oli Smith has scripted these nuggets of banter to be so enticing…

Doctor: "Can you pass me a screwdriver by the way?"
Amy: "You need a screwdriver to fix your sonic screwdriver?"
Doctor: "I'm not fixing it. I'm improving it."

Doctor: "Argh no you've hit the time-defibrilating-re-bustler!"
Amy: "The WHAT?"
Doctor: "The time-defibrilating-re-bustler!"
Amy: "Is that really what it's called?!"
Doctor: "I don't know, 'time-defibrilating-re-bustler' just sounds better than what I usually call it!"
Amy: "And what's that?"
Doctor: "Well the 'if-you-press-this-the-TARDIS-will-stop-being-bigger-on-the-inside-than-the-outside-and-crush-us-in-forty-seconds-switch'. See - that's even less catchy!"
Amy: "Why do you even have one of those?!?"

I have to admit, I wanted to believe in dialogue like this so much, that I was unable to construct an argument not to. Yes, I was sucked in by the script. I guess I should be pleased about this.

All right, all right, onto the game then…

With Amy impressively still wearing the same outfit as in the BBC computer games series (I never notice what the Doctor's wearing), this story features the duo helping mankind to abandon the future Earth onto a giant spaceship only hours before the solar storms will start to do their thing. Along the way, and with agonising slowness, they repeatedly pause to help out just about everyone they meet with some task or other, although quite why the Doctor would want to fix a broken water tap when everyone is about to evacuate the planet is anyone's guess.

This results in a huge collection of puzzles to solve, most of which are very simple. Indeed, in the case of the sonic screwdriver mini games, a few of them seem to even be identical. And that's when the characters even remember that they have the sonic - other tasks require a lockpick! Nearly if not all of them are fairly irrelevant to the action that they are intended to represent though. For example, cracking a password - a repeated need here which you would have thought a touchscreen computer game could replicate quite well - is on multiple occasions achieved via a game of Pipe Dream.

Now, obviously, in order to enjoy this, you just have to take on board the culture and limitations of the Nintendo DS, however it's still a significant disappointment that the original TV voices feature in this so fleetingly. Aside from oft-repeated soundbites like "We haven't got much time" (which perhaps they should have conserved for timed games), most of the dialogue has to be read in speech-balloons, which on occasion contain some open-minded punctuation:

Or a good old-fashioned typo...

All this dialogue does quite well too though, and remains in character, if a little clunkily in places, but dang I'd prefer to actually hear the actors again, like when I was hooked in at the beginning.

Stretched out across these four chapters, there is a legitimate Doctor Who story getting up to speed, but not one which I've really found myself daydreaming about between sessions. There are some nice pieces of design, such as Eleanor's quarters, and plenty of nods to the TV series' long history.

However, as you may have noticed, there's only really room on that lower screen for two character-stills at a time, which clearly got confusing for the programmers when three or more people were meant to be present…

As for placing it, several lines reference different episodes from season 31, the chronologically latest of which I think was their recognition of Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers painting, suggesting this game to be set later than Vincent And The Doctor. Taken together with the absence of Rory, that only leaves before or after The Lodger. Given the Doctor's almost total inability to hold a normal conversation with a stranger in that one, I gotta place this after it, along with, by implication, all the BBC's Adventure Games in which Amy is similarly attired.

On a related note, Amy somehow recognises some Power Ranger Daleks that she and the Doctor believe they have met before in the future.

Amy: "Doctor? It's them. The squad we defeated in the future!"
Doctor: "They must have engaged the time axis at the last minute."

Sheesh, when/where was that? During City Of The Daleks - a computer game by another company - in which the Daleks' home planet was arguably in the future?

Or does the answer lie somewhere in sister game Return To Earth which Asylum Entertainment went onto release a week later for the Wii?

Naw, surely they didn't release these the wrong way around?

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