Doctor Who regenerates. When I say that, I’m not just talking about the in-universe concept that the main character’s cells re-grow to cheat death, the canon justification for a change of actor. I’m talking about the show as a whole: it transforms, changes. It’s going to be something very different and new, with a touch of the familiar.
That’s not all that unusual in Doctor Who. Even more so than its similarly long-time American rival, Star Trek, the “Blue Box Show” can be fairly neatly divided into eras based on the creative teams responsible and the actors portraying the Doctor. Nonetheless, this is a bigger shift than most – partly because it marks the return of legendary television writer Russell T Davies to the top job as showrunner, but also and foremost because it welcomes the series to American money and influence.
The return of Davies is important because he’s the man who resurrected the show in 2005 after over a decade off-air and delivered some of the series’ biggest hits. He’s also a savvy writer, deftly weaving biting real-world commentary into family-friendly sci-fi games. But the money is of course even more important – and this time Doctor Who has the backing of Disney.
Famed for shaky sets and dodgy CGI, the concept is pretty simple: the BBC will retain all creative control and will air the show in the UK, but it’s getting a cash injection and it’ll air worldwide via Disney+. Disney’s influence offers a huge cash injection, and British broadcast industry magazines are reporting that it will be effective triple the show’s budget and turned it into a £100m series.
All of this is a big thing for Doctor Who on TV, but I also think it makes for an interesting conversation in games. That’s for a simple reason: mechanically and sonically, the world of Doctor Who is fertile ground for video games – and it’s barely explored.
Of course there are games since the 2005 reboot, and there are also old games from the eighties. But all of them had one major downside: they were produced on a tight budget and were mainly aimed at the show’s limited audience – mostly in the UK. A game for Wii was big enough to pay the actors to do the voice work and release a Wii Remote in the form of the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver tool, but at the same time not big enough to be released anywhere other than the UK and Australia.
The most recent big swing was The Edge of Time, a VR game that also got a jerky, hasty non-VR port as The Edge of Reality. This release had interesting ideas and some nice voice acting from two different TV doctors – but again felt quite held back by the fact that it had big ambitions and probably a pretty tight budget. It also didn’t help that it was released alongside an era of the show that was enjoying near-disastrous popularity. But with this new deal, that could all change.
The reason I think Doctor Who is perfect for video games isn’t just because I’m a fan of the series because of my sins – it’s because of how the series is structured. Its ability to go anywhere and do anything, crossing genres, is a perfect place for a creative development team to flex its imaginative muscles. The Doctor’s nature as a hero is also unlike most – willing to blow things up from time to time, but equally focused on intellect and non-violence – but in a gruff sort of way rather than a booming, didactic Starfleet sort of way . The character is achingly British in style and execution – which always sets her apart in the genre.
Despite being so unique and important, the great thing is that the Doctor doesn’t have to be the main character! That’s the thing that The Edge of Time got right – understanding that the ambitious dream of the audience in Doctor Who isn’t necessarily to be the Doctor, but to be with the Doctor. This is unlike Star Trek, where people want to be the captain, not some red shirt. In Doctor Who, the companion characters are always the audience’s entry point – and that makes room for a perfect character to insert players into for any video game. It also decouples the game’s protagonist from any weird canonical red lines that the Doctor wouldn’t cross in terms of the actions available to the player. This has been explored but always on a budget, lots of bells and whistles and very little success.
There are many ways I could see this manifestation. A Telltale-style adventure game would go well with the series. So would an action-adventure full of puzzles and a bit of combat. Perhaps most interesting would be a game that leverages the TARDIS’ ability to travel anywhere to offer a genre-hopping experience that changes mechanically, and perhaps even visually, as you travel to different locations and face different threats. That’s really my point: the budget was never really there to take full advantage of this property. My apologies for continuing to play around with the comparison, but Doctor Who is far more fertile ground for video game concepts than Star Trek, which only really works as an adventure of choice or something like Bridge Crew. As on television, the show’s greatest strength is its sheer, unstoppable breadth.
I hope this deal with Disney+ can unlock all of that. If the show’s new-old creative team has its way and Disney’s money is put to good use, Doctor Who could quickly become one of the biggest family shows on TV — if not one of the biggest shows ever. When that happens, a video game is practically required. It’s certainly when, not if, now. I just hope it can live up to its potential.
https://www.vg247.com/as-the-rebooted-show-shoots-for-international-success-now-is-the-time-for-a-big-budget-doctor-who-game As the rebooted series heads for international success, now is the time for a big-budget Doctor Who game