Despite being nearly 60 years old, the World’s longest-running sci-fi show Doctor Who has had a rather tentative and sporadic relationship with external media, most glaringly, of course, being videogames. While for the best part of 6 decades, Doctor Who has seen endless success and production of books, audio dramas, comics, and even pinball machines, it’s always been videogames that have been the most infrequent yet interesting output from the beloved franchise.
This may be partially due to the BBC’s firm-hold grip over the show’s license, but it could also be due to companies simply struggling to fully realise the show’s immense scope within the confines of a game. With all of Time & Space at your disposal, it can be hard to know where to start, especially when your budget is abysmally small. Games take far more time and money to produce than comics or audiobooks, but with the number of characters, planets, races, and stories spread throughout the show’s history, we can’t help but feel that Doctor Who should have had far more videogames than it currently does. Doctor Who Battlefront anyone? I know I’d play it.
Over the years and across numerous consoles, several attempts have been made to create an immersive playable adventure based on the hit time-traveling show; some wrought with meandering success, others….well, let’s just say it won’t be surprising if you’ve never heard of some of these games before.
Nevertheless, with the genuinely impressive-looking Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality game releasing this week, we thought why not look back on our favourite TimeLord’s bizarre, and often troubled gaming past.
So, grab your sonic screwdriver, bow tie, and comically long scarf, because we’re about to delve into the complete guided history of Doctor Who videogames.
Doctor Who: The First Adventure (BBC Micro, 1983)
And we’re already off to a bizarre start, but for the TimeLord’s first crack at a videogame in the grand ol’ year of 1983, any attempt this early on was frankly a surprise. BBC Software released The First Adventure on the BBC Micro, a micro-computer that was popular at the time amongst schools and businesses.
The game saw you play as the 5th Doctor (not that you could tell from the single pixel that’s supposed to represent him on screen) in 4 minigames that were very blatantly just ripped-off versions of popular arcade games; the games being Pac-man, Space Invaders, Frogger and Battleship, all with a very vague Doctor Who aesthetic (and by ‘vague’, I mean they just plopped a Tardis into the top corner).
The Doctor bizarrely has 15 regenerations in this game which act as lives, despite the fact that it had already been established in the show at this point that a TimeLord only has 13. What’s weirder still is that this game was written by a teenager, being the 17-year old Jeremy Ruston.
Due to Peter Davidson’s 5th Doctor appearing on the cover of the box, sales of the game went down after The Doctor regenerated into Colin Baker, as consumers believed the game to then be out of date.
While the game is nothing remarkable and frankly bears absolutely no relevance to the show it’s based on, it can at least be admired that this was probably a very cool way at the time to play knock-off versions of arcade classics at home.
Doctor Who and The Warlord (BBC Micro, 1985)
Learning their lesson from letting a teenager write a loose plot as an excuse for the Doctor to play Pac-Man and Frogger, BBC Studios decided to scrap visuals altogether for their next attempt. Doctor Who and The Warlord is an entirely text-based adventure, promoted as part of the BBC Computer Literacy Project.
The game had 2 stories. In one you go to a planet in the future in order to locate the Doctor and stop an evil King. In the second story, you go to the Battle of Waterloo where you must defeat Napoleon and The Warlord. Interestingly, this game was designed by Graham Williams, one of the previous producers of the show.
Text-based adventures were a much more common form of early videogame, where the player simply typed on a keyboard in order to progress the story. Presumably, in response to the drop in sales of The First Adventure after Peter Davidson’s departure, this game was marketed with no specific incarnation of the TimeLord in mind, so as to make the game more timeless when different actors took over the Doctor role.
Doctor Who and The Mines of Terror (BBC Micro / PC Amstrad / Commodore 64, 1985)
Deciding to immediately forget their idea about not featuring specific doctors in order to future proof a game, this next title is a 6th Doctor adventure, as evident by the glaringly vibrant clown suit that Colin Baker’s Doctor infamously wore. In this game, you play as The Doctor attempting to thwart the Master from building a chaos weapon.
How do you do this? By platforming through endless amounts of mines of course, with your trusty robotic cat Splinx at your side. If you’re wondering why you can’t remember which episode Splinx appeared in, that’s because he never appeared in any. Seemingly forgetting that The Doctor already had a well-known robotic pet companion in the form of K-9, Splinx was a completely original creation for this game. It’s not totally unfitting I suppose, after all the 6th Doctor did proudly wear a cat badge on his suit.
The game also has enemies that are basically Daleks in everything but name. Presumably, no one wanted to pay Terry Nation any royalties, so they stuck some wheels on them, changed their name, and called it a day.
The game does graphically differ quite drastically depending on which version you play, however the controls and mechanics do not. Being seen as a very confusing and frustrating title, the low sales of the game actually put the publisher Micro Power into bankruptcy. Woops.
Dalek Attack (MS-DOS / ZX Spectrum / Commodore 64 / Amiga / Atari ST, 1992)
Being bothered to actually pay the fees necessary to use the Daleks this time around (good thing they did, otherwise this game’s title would have been really awkward), this 90’s adventure sees you as the Doctor trying to stop Davros from turning Earth into a Dalek production planet.
Depending on the version you had, you could play as the 2nd, 4th, 5th, or 7th Doctors, with a second player being able to join as either companion Ace or a UNIT soldier. Bizarrely, the gameplay is not too dissimilar from Mega Man, as you platform your way through levels and use your sonic screwdriver as a lazer shooting weapon.
Interestingly it was one of the last games to ever be released on the ZX Spectrum. It was certainly the most involved and entertaining entry in Doctor Who’s videogame library at that point, even if it was an unusually violent adventure for the pacifist ‘no guns’ TimeLord.
Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors (Microsoft Windows, 1997)
The last of the videogames produced during the ‘Classic’ era of the show, and the first one to be fully in 3D, if you can count wobbling blocks of pixellated green cheese as 3D anyway. Destiny of the Doctors is a very special game for a myriad of reasons.
For one, it allowed you to fully explore the huge expanse of the Tardis interior and let you battle almost every single iconic monster from the show; Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Sontarans, Yeti, Sea Devils, Ice Warriors, and yes, even Quarks.
It also contained completely original live-action sequences featuring Anthony Ainley as the Master. They’re some of the hammiest, over-the-top, campest scenes of a monologuing villain ever, and I absolutely love them. Definitely worth checking them out either on YouTube or on the Special Features of the DVD release of Survival.
You’ll see plenty of the Master throughout the game as he constantly appears to mock and berate your progress. The story centers around the Master trying to gain control over a planet of pure physic energy and at the start, he has already captured all 7 classic doctors (sorry Paul McGann, though this game did start development before the 1996 Movie came out, which could explain his absence). You play as Graak, a blue telepathic blob created by the Doctor that must help to free all 7 incarnations of the TimeLord and foil the Master’s plans.
The game is a rather curious mix of 3D exploration and puzzle-solving, with you often having to use certain items to dispose of enemies and navigate long mazes of corridors. The game contains brand new recorded dialogue from Doctor actors Tom Baker, Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy, as well as Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier!
While its graphics leave much to be desired, this game is frankly a Doctor Who fan’s dream come true; The entire Tardis to explore, every Doctor to communicate with, every classic Monster patrolling the Doctor’s home, and exclusive footage of Anthony Ainley doing his final on-screen performance as the Master! This is definitely one we wouldn’t mind seeing ported to modern consoles.
Top Trumps: Doctor Who (DS / Wii / Windows / Playstation 2, 2008)
Picture it, 11 years since the last Doctor Who game. Doctor Who had been off the air for 16 years, but came back in 2005 bigger and better than ever. Everyone loves David Tennant, the show is larger, more thrilling, more spectacular, and more dramatic, there are toys, books and comics everywhere, and the first videogame we get in this new golden age of Doctor Who is….Top Trumps….yep…
Isn’t really much to say here, I mean it’s….it’s Top Trumps…why you would buy an expensive video game instead of the actual card game Top Trumps and why anyone thought this was a good idea is simply beyond me. It’s just Top Trumps in digital form, nothing more to it than that.
But hey, we get to see a bit more of the art style that was used in the animated adventure Doctor Who: The Infinity Quest, so that’s nice I guess….
Before this game came out, the Slitheen were the only things about Doctor Who that produced Top Trumps, but they were Trumps of a very different kind…
Doctor Who: The Adventure Games (Microsoft Windows / Mac OS, 2010 – 2011)
Yep, no seriously, Top Trumps really was the only videogame to be released under David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. But no matter, this is now where Doctor Who games finally became more complex and what’s more, actually played like actual episodes of the show. Between 2010 and 2011 at the dawn of Matt Smith’s time as the 11th Doctor, Sumo Digital and BBC Wales produced 5 free videogame adventures via the BBC website.
Released episodically, these games were essentially playable episodes of the show featuring new stories and recorded voice lines from the show’s actors, and honestly, given that these games were free and easily accessible, they were pretty darn great.
The 5 adventures were “City of the Daleks”, “Blood of the Cybermen”, “Tardis”, “Shadows of the Vashta Nerada”, and “The Gunpowder Plot”, with each one having a completely unique setting, story, and characters.
While not the most advanced and fine-tuned gaming experience ever, they did play very solidly for what they were. You had stealth sections that could be genuinely tense, basic puzzle-solving, platforming, open-world exploration, collectibles, custom dialogue, and occasionally some incredibly clever game mechanics.
Take “City of the Daleks” for instance. In this adventure, the Daleks take over Earth in the 1960s, meaning that Amy Pond should never have been born. When you eventually travel to the Dalek homeworld Skaro, Amy begins to dematerialise randomly like a ghost, due to the timestream having being changed. At this point in the game you actually have to use Amy’s flickering dematerialising as a game mechanic in order to sneak by enemies undetected. It’s ingenuity like this that proves just how smart and engaging a full-length Doctor Who videogame could be.
The other adventures had their own share of thrills and chills, with “The Gunpowder Plot” even having a special educational version that was used in schools across the UK. Doctor Who was always intended to be an educational family show, and it would have made original series producer Sydney Newman proud to see it still educating people today.
At the time, this was the closest we ever got to having a videogame that truly felt like you were playing an episode of the show, but alas, this style of adventure wouldn’t be attempted again until nearly a decade later.
Doctor Who: Return to Earth (Wii, 2010)
It is with great regret that I now have to talk about perhaps one of the worst videogames ever made. Doctor Who: Return to Earth is by all intents and purposes, a cheap ugly bug-ridden mess of a game that is a devasting chore to sit through, yes, even more so than the Doctor Who story Underworld.
The game takes place on a starship where The Doctor and Amy Pond must prevent the Daleks and Cybermen from obtaining an object called the Time access. How do they do this you may ask? By collecting multi-coloured crystals and shooting them at floating emojis….of….course?
Hoo boi where do I start? Well the game was developed by Asylum Entertainment, an abysmal studio known for such “hits” as Sabrina the Teenage Witch: A Twitch in Time, Bob the Builder: Bob Builds a Park and Galidor: Defenders of the Outer Dimension, a game which did so poorly it nearly closed the studio down and led to numerous staff being laid off.
It’s no surprise then to learn that their attempt at a Doctor Who game was ugly, glitchy, frustrating, and well…worse than that one episode where the Doctor communicates with a giant green bin bag by blowing on its large phallic-looking protrusion (yes, that is a thing that exists).
The game was developed in less than a year and yet it still came out looking like it was made in 5 seconds. Visual glitches and stuttering frame rates are abundant, enemies pose no threat and have completely non-functioning AI, the gameplay is the slowest most monotonous platforming ever, and even the voice actor for the Daleks sounds bored. In summary, it has a little something for no one.
The worst thing is, Nintendo reportedly signed a £10 Million contract to bring this game to the Wii. Was it worth it? I think it’s fair to say that you already know the answer.
Thankfully the one saving grace this game did have is bringing the Sonic Screwdriver Wii Remote into our lives, something for which I am eternally grateful, even if the game it’s tied to is less fun than massaging a Macra.
Doctor Who: Evacuation Earth (DS, 2010)
Despite also being developed by the atrocious Asylum Entertainment, this game is admittedly a much more fitting concept for Doctor Who. A point-and-click adventure akin to Monkey Island and Professor Layton that focuses on story and puzzle-solving? Why it’s practically a regular episode of Doctor Who with slightly less running and slightly more pointing and clicking.
Alas, that’s where the praise stops. While nowhere near as cumbersome or frustrating as Return to Earth was, this very simple adventure is just frankly a boring slog to get through for any age. With hardly any of the wit, intrigue, complexity, or mystery of the show, this game is quite simply a collection of basic boring puzzles swiped off the shelf of a discount Toy Store with the name Doctor Who hastily scribbled over the top.
Unlike Return to Earth though, this game does in fact have 2 saving graces. One, it brought us the Sonic Screwdriver DS Stylus’, and two, it isn’t Return to Earth.
Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time (iOS / Android 2011)
Goodness, they certainly did keep Matt Smith and Karen Gillan busy for those first two years. In the span of just one year, Doctor Who went from barely any videogames to suddenly 10 (14 if you count the Adventure Game episodes individually). The BBC went all out on marketing Matt Smith’s first series in an effort to save interest after the departure of David Tennant and to appeal to a more international audience. While those marketing efforts did in most parts work, the same can’t really be said for most of its videogame offerings.
With Mazes of Time, we have an incredibly basic isometric puzzler that sees you control both The Doctor and Amy Pond in doing the most basic and rudimentary of block-pushing puzzles in order to solve…time… things.
To be honest I don’t really care much about the plot because the developers clearly didn’t either. It was painfully obvious that they didn’t put much effort into this, as in the finished game, if you die as Amy Pond, she’ll start to regenerate like the Doctor does….woops…
Not only that, but despite being the first mobile Doctor Who game, it also became the most inaccessible, as the game had unresponsive touch screen controls and was known to crash often on Android devices.
Certainly not the most offensive title on this list, but also definitely not one by any means that deserves to be played again.
Doctor Who: Worlds in Time (Adobe Flash, 2012)
Ah, Adobe Flash, how we miss you *sniff*. Back in a time when it was still being used to make games and animate My Little Pony, Adobe Flash played host to the first and so far only attempt at a Doctor Who MMO. A novel idea to be sure; the whole of time and space to explore, the ability to create and customise your own character from the many available races in Doctor Who lore, endless monsters to fight…so what went wrong?
Nothing specifically went wrong per se, the concept was just simply too ambitious for the platform it was being held on. What promised to be a vast endless adventure across time and space quickly became a repetitive and monotonous series of mini-puzzles that unlocked more repetitive monotonous mini-puzzles. Also…microtransactions…yeah that’s never a fun thing.
I’d genuinely love to see this idea tackled again though with a much bigger budget and platform in mind. A Doctor Who themed World of Warcraft or No Man’s Sky is something that just has to be attempted again at least once more.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock (Playstation 3 / PS Vita / PC, 2012)
20 years later and the Doctor is back to their 2D platforming roots in this ambitious title for the Playstation 3. In this game, you play as both the 11th Doctor and River Song travelling around space and time to try and piece back together the Eternity Clock, all while avoiding the usual masses of Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians and another enemy that I can’t seem to remember (your welcome dedicated Whovian who understood that joke).
The game is a 2.5D platformer with some light puzzle-solving elements. One thing of note is that it has animations based on motion-captured footage of Matt Smith, meaning that this game by far has the most fluid, detailed and realistic Doctor animations to date.
Sadly the positives end there yet again. While by no means a bad game, it does leave much to be desired, and sadly due to technical faults and a flawed checkpoint system, the negative reviews led to all its future sequels being cancelled.
One last interesting tidbit; this game canonically takes place before Silence in the Library in River Song’s timeline (that story being the one where she “dies”), as is evidenced in various notes in her diary and the use of her title as a ‘Professor’. Added detail to the wider lore of the show is exactly why more Doctor Who video games could be so great.
Doctor Who: Legacy (Mobile Devices, 2013)
During the height of the mobile and Facebook gaming craze, it was only a matter of time until Doctor Who dabbled into its own daily match-3 puzzler. And to be perfectly honest, this is one of the most solid games Doctor Who has ever had.
While very light on plot and relevancy to the show, this game does indeed accomplish what it sets out to do. It’s a very simple but addictive puzzler with endless amounts of enemies to fight and characters with special abilities to unlock.
Very much like Destiny of the Doctors, this game is pure fan service, with practically every character, enemy and location across the show’s history making an appearance.
Originally the game was intended to re-tell every single Doctor Who story, starting with season 7 of the revived series and working backward all the way until the first-ever episode An Unearthly Child. While this plan never quite worked out, the game did still manage to bring some fun original stories and ideas throughout its run.
Out of the countless choices you had for basic matching puzzles on the app store, you could certainly do much worse than this very competently made Doctor Who one.
Lego Dimensions (Playstation 3 / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / Wii U, 2015)
Took them long enough to finally make Doctor Who Lego, but better late than never, and this may very well be the best Doctor Who game ever made, even if it isn’t technically its own stand-alone game.
Unlike Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Batman who all received their own individual Lego games, Doctor Who was one of the many franchises sold as an expansion pack to the game Lego Dimensions; a sort of amalgamation of all the various licensed Lego properties coming together in one game.
Provided you had the funds and space to collect them all, you could not only play as any incarnation of the Doctor you wanted, but also have them interact with the likes of Gandalf, E.T, Sonic the Hedgehog, Homer Simpson, Uni-Kitty, and yes, even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Having only one main level in the game’s main campaign, and an additional level through the paid expansion, these small segments certainly made the most of their time by giving us more fan service per square block than the last 20 years of the show combined.
Every single detail of the levels is brimming with references to the show’s past, constant callbacks, easter eggs and quotes are simply everywhere. The expansion pack may look small, but it truly is bigger on the inside. You can play as a Cyberman, ride a Dalek, ride K-9, and travel freely within the Tardis (which changes its interior based on which Doctor you’re playing I might add).
This truly was the best treat Doctor Who fans could hope for, it’s just a shame that it had to be relegated to an extra feature within a much bigger game. If the interest is there, I would simply love for Lego to consider making a full Lego Doctor Who game exploring famous episodes across every Doctor’s era in the show. I know I’d certainly buy it, and I’m pretty confident that every other Doctor Who fan would too.
Doctor Who: Infinity (iOS / Android / PC / Mac OS, 2018)
We won’t sugarcoat this, it’s just Doctor Who: Legacy again with a different art style and somehow more boring-looking gems to match. Sadly, Legacy was discontinued in 2018 in order to focus on Infinity instead, with the intention being to focus much more on storytelling.
To give the game credit, it does provide some beautiful motion comic scenes with original voice acting from the show’s cast, but this led to either the gem-matching feeling distracting from the story or vice versa the story being too disruptive of the gem-matching. The mixed reviews reflected these issues two-fold and the game has since quietly sunk into obscurity.
Doctor Who: The Runaway (Oculus / Vive, 2019)
At the dawn of a new decade, Doctor Who finally took the leap into VR with The Runaway. In this short but sweet game, you must help the Doctor return home a living ball of energy before it explodes.
While perfectly playable and charming in its own right with original voice acting by Jodie Whittaker, the game’s short length meant it was nothing more than a test demo that simply proved the potential of what a full Doctor Who VR game could be. Speaking of which…
Doctor Who: The Edge of Time (Oculus / Vive / Playstation VR / Steam VR, 2019)
While The Runaway was more of an appetiser for VR, The Edge of Time was the main meal, and my what a fine meal it was. The Edge of Time is simply an amazing immersive VR experience. With the Doctor’s guidance, you travel across the universe collecting crystals (it’s not like Return to Earth I swear) in order to repair the universe. You face Daleks, Cybermen and most terrifying of all, the Weeping Angels, who in VR are more terrifying than a Winter heating bill.
It may be a relatively short adventure, but for the immersion it offers, it’s simply one of the best things that a fan can experience.
Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins (Mobile Devices, 2021)
Well, after years of demand, we finally got our sequel to Blink, perhaps the most famous and critically acclaimed Doctor Who story ever, no doubt in part to it being responsible for introducing the Weeping Angels to the world.
This game is essentially a ‘found phone’ game, where your actual phone plays the role of a phone you find discarded in the street. Once you turn it on, you’re contacted by UNIT’s Petronella Osgood, whereupon you’re tasked with navigating the phone’s various apps to solve the mystery of a missing person. You examine text messages, photos, listen to recordings, essentially everything that you can actually do on a phone…on a phone.
While not a wholly original concept, this game does make it feel very fresh through the added tension of the Weeping Angels on your trail. Without giving too much away, due to both the clever writing and the pervasive influence of the angels, there are some genuinely frightening moments to be had in this story that may very well make you throw your phone across the room.
It may only be a 2 hour or so adventure, but it’s genuinely more immersive and memorable than even the fantastic VR game was. With the Doctor themselves only being a background character, you as the player feel genuinely vulnerable throughout and may very well catch yourself trying your best not to Blink…
Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality (PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / Microsoft Windows, 2021)
And finally, we’ve come to the present day where this week we saw the release of Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality. Being a sort of pseudo-successor / remake of Edge of Time, this game seeks to bring the same memorable atmospheric adventure of traveling through space and time but in a much more accessible non VR manner.
Featuring both Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant as the 13th and 10th Doctors respectively, this game seems set to be yet another grand thrilling adventure that I simply cannot wait to get my hands on. Everything great about all the previous Doctor Who games seems to be boiled down here into one epic playable story.
While that’s it for the list of officially released games, it technically isn’t everything, as there were also endless small games available on the BBC Website over the years, as well as countless fan games, Google games, interactive episodes, and an all sorts of extra Who gaming goodness. But frankly, if I was to cover all of them as well, we’d be here all year.
One thing that is worth mentioning is the special interactive Doctor Who Episode Attack of the Graske which saw you the viewer embarking with the 10th Doctor on a quest to stop the evil Graske. Incorporating real footage of David Tennant with basic point-and-click menus, this served as a delightful little distraction for Who fans young and old, and something that frankly should have become an annual staple in the series.
But alas, here we are in the present day, and what a rather interesting and extraordinary history to look back upon for the titular TimeLord. While some of the attempts at a Doctor Who videogame were undoubtedly unspeakably flawed (and in some cases, horrifyingly awful), there was indeed light at the end of the time tunnel.
Be it through trial and error or just simply hiring people who knew what they were doing, the last few Doctor Who games to be released have finally demonstrated just how fun, accessible and interesting a fully realised Doctor Who game can be. We can only hope that these games continue to be successful enough to lead to even more gaming adventures through Space and Time!
What’s your favourite Doctor Who Videogame? Let us know in the comments below!