The Disappointing History of Doctor Who Games

Currently in its 13th season of its rebooted run, Doctor Who is one of the BBC's longest running TV programs, and has amassed quite the fan-base over the years, both in the UK, and internationally. While Doctor Who has had a few cinematic releases, a range of successful books, comic books, and audio books, the video game medium has never really seen a good Doctor Who adaptation.

Over the last 40 years, since the first Doctor Who game released, there have been plenty of attempts to put the Time-Lord in a video game. However, despite trying at least once every year or so, there's never been a critically or commercially successful Doctor Who game. That said, it's not been for a lack of trying.

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Doctor Who: The First Adventure (1983)

Releasing in 1983 for the BBC Micro, the very first official Doctor Who game, appropriately titled Doctor Who: The First Adventure, was a bit of a disappointment back in the day. Even for its time, the extremely pixelated graphics and eye-warping colors were very off-putting.

The gameplay didn't do much to win back fans, with the game just being a collection of four simple mini games, Doctor Who-themed clones of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Frogger, and Battleship. The entire game had a time limit of just 60 minutes, leading to a severe lack of replayability.

Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror (1985)

Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror is a marked improvement over the previous entry in the franchise, perhaps due to it originally being a sequel to the incredibly successful Castle Quest. Players take control of Colin Baker's Doctor as he side-scrolls his way to defeat The Master. The Mines of Terror has pretty bright visuals, and uses some iconic series foes to keep fans interested, but that didn't stop it receiving fairly low scores at the time, with many outlets pointing to its low audio quality and repetitive gameplay as key criticisms.

Doctor Who and the Warlord (1985)

Perhaps a natural fit for a Doctor Who game of the time, Doctor Who and the Warlord is a 1985 text-based adventure. Unfortunately, Doctor Who and the Warlord suffered from some weak writing, and scenarios that were remarkably simplistic considering the often absurd nature of the source material. The puzzles within the game were also fairly lackluster, leaving fans with another disappointing Doctor Who game, just in a different genre.

Dalek Attack (1992)

One of the only Doctor Who games to actually receive a solid critical reception, Dalek Attack is a 2D side-scrolling action platformer that features some pretty solid combat mechanics and has a wealth of iconic Doctor Who villains to fight, and companions to assist. On the PC versions of the game, players could choose between the Fourth, Fifth, or Seventh Doctors. The game also featured co-op, allowing a second player to pick from Ace or a UNIT soldier to aid the Doctor in their adventure.

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors (1997)

A game that is littered with fan-service, but still received widespread critical-panning, Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors brings together all seven of the Doctors at that point in time, featuring voice work from the respective actors who were still alive. The game features all of the Doctor Who villains a fan could want in a game, from Cybermen, to Daleks, to Zygons.

However, Destiny of the Doctors has some extremely flawed gameplay, that barely lets the player take control of the action. While it presents like a 3D adventure game, Destiny of the Doctors' main gameplay loop only really allows the player to run between consoles in the TARDIS, and watch or listen to the action unfolding around them.

Doctor Who: The Adventure Games (2010)

The age of classic Dr. Who had ended, and Matt Smith had just taken over the role. 2010 is the busiest year for Doctor Who games, but it's far from being the best. However, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games did at least try to stand out. These 3D adventure games were released for free to those in the UK, and were later available on Steam for a limited time.

While the gameplay was fairly simple, being just a standard 3D adventure game with very limited action, the narrative, writing, and voice work were the real draws. Phil Ford and James Moran, veterans of the Doctor Who writing team, penned the story for these games, and Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill all lent their voices to the game. The final product was a simplistic, but very authentic Doctor Who experience that actually managed to add something to the franchise.

Doctor Who: Evacuation Earth (2010)

A Nintendo DS title, Doctor Who: Evacuation Earth offered some pretty okay puzzle gameplay, but was definitely aimed towards a younger demographic. Older fans will zoom through the game's extremely simple logic puzzles with barely a thought, which isn't necessarily a slight on the game, but it does limit its appeal.

Doctor Who: Return to Earth (2010)

Released alongside Evacuation Earth, Return to Earth was a Wii title that earned an exceptionally great critical panning upon release, with many outlets scoring it in the 2-3/10 range. The graphics were a large part of the game's criticism, with many outlets pointing out that they looked like a Nintendo 64 game. The gameplay wasn't much of an improvement, with many considering it to be frustrating and half-baked, leading many to assume that the game was a simple cash-grab.

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Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time (2010)

Surprisingly one of the better reviewed Doctor Who video games, Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time was an iOS and Android 3D puzzle game. The gameplay was pretty rudimentary, but for a 2010 mobile game, it did the job, and critics gave it a solid score of around 3-4/5, even despite not having any voice work from Matt Smith or Karen Gillan.

Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock (2012)

By far the biggest Doctor Who video game at the time, The Eternity Clock centered around Matt Smith's Doctor and Alex Kingston's River Song, who both voiced their characters in-game. This 2D action/puzzle platformer was generally considered fine by most critics, but still lacked a few layers of polish on both its presentation and its gameplay mechanics, but critics could tell the development team was at least trying with this entry.

Doctor Who: Worlds in Time (2012-2014)

An MMORPG running on Adobe Flash, Doctor Who: Worlds in Time sounds more exciting than it actually was. In practice, the game was a simple collection of mini games, disguised by the presence of other players and their own uniquely created avatars. The game didn't last long either, being shut down in 2014, seemingly for no reason.

Doctor Who: Legacy (2013)

Doctor Who: Legacy can be summarised in three (technically two) words: Match-three game. That's really all there is to this title. While players do collect and level up a cast of Doctor Who characters, the gameplay boils down to a simple match-three puzzle game, much like Bejeweled or Candy Crush.

Doctor Who: The Edge of Time/Edge of Reality (2019/2021)

The latest games released using the Doctor Who license, Doctor Who: The Edge of Time is a VR title that puts the iconic Sonic Screwdriver directly in the player's hands. While the plot of the game is fairly standard for a Doctor Who story, and the gameplay is incredibly simple, boiling down to pointing and clicking, and grabbing items, the Virtual Reality aspect really helps to elevate the experience. Fans can come into close contact with the Weeping Angels and face off against the Daleks themselves, all while Jodie Whittaker's Doctor guides them.

Last year, Doctor Who: Edge of Reality released, which is a reimagining of Edge of Time, with some new puzzles and plot elements thrown in for good measure. This game can also be played outside of VR, but this does shine a brighter light on just how mediocre the original title actually was. The real reason for fans to check this one out, though, is that David Tenant reprises his role as the Tenth Doctor, and he's as brilliant as ever.

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