Don’t blink. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away.
Doctor Who is, to quote the Doctor’s 9th iteration, fantastic. It’s one of the best shows on TV, and the Doctor is the quintessential role-model, always ready with a strong message on what it means to be lead a good life. ‘Never be cruel or cowardly.’ ‘Always try to be nice but never fail to be kind.’ ‘What’s the point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes?’ But alongside spewing out wisdom like some kind of Pyrovile infested Versuvious, Doctor Who is genuinely educational. There’s a generation of kids out there who know about Madame de Pompadour, the partition of India, the life of Agatha Christie and so much more, all because Doctor Who stepped up and taught them about the events their school would never cover, in a way that doesn’t even feel like learning.
Unfortunately, however, the ‘goodness’ of Doctor Who drops off rapidly as soon as we exit the realm of television and move to another medium. There’s never been a Doctor Who game that you could honestly say is as good as an average episode of the show. As much as I enjoyed Doctor Who: The Edge of Time in VR and I’m looking forward to its upcoming non-VR sequel, it was only good in the category of ‘Doctor Who game’ and less so in the much broader category of ‘game’. This is where Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins comes in (you know, the subject of this review). It’s the first Doctor Who game that I’ve seen that thinks about what makes Doctor Who brilliant and does that, rather than trying to gamify the franchise and lose its soul. I’d describe it more as an interactive experience than a game, and it turns out that that’s what the genre needed.
Have you always dreamed of being in an episode of Doctor Who? Specifically, have you always dreamed of being in the Doctor Who episode ‘Blink’ – the early Steven Moffat episode that introduced Weeping Angles to the show and which is commonly thought of as the scariest Doctor Who episode of all time? If you answered yes, you dream wrong. But don’t worry, Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins has you covered. The game is situated as a pretty direct sequel to that very episode of Doctor Who where, if you need your memory jogging, Sally Sparrow and Lawrence Nightingale stop a group of Weeping Angels from stealing the TARDIS by trapping them in the basement of Wester Drumlins, a creepy old Scooby-Doo house.
Several years after that adventure, Lawrence has gone missing and thanks to some intervention from your friendly neighbourhood Time Lord (Time Lady?), his operating system androgynous mobile phone has ended up in your possession. It’s up to you to work your way through the files, photos and messages on the phone and solve the mystery of what happened to Lawrence, with the help of your local UNIT member, potential Zygon and Doctor fangirl, Petronella Osgood. You’ll explore what happened after the episode and in the intervening years, through Lawrence’s interactions with other characters from Blink, and the rest of the Doctor Who universe, all to find out what sinister forces have come for Lawrence, now Wester Drumlins has a new occupant.
If that all sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry. You have the Doctor’s implied belief in your abilities and much more tangible help from Osgood, with whom you’ll spend most of the game in contact. She’ll talk you through the story, hacking into the phone to tell you what’s happening in the investigation in the outside world and to guide you to the information you need to find on the phone. This will involve a lot of puzzle-solving. You’ll be pulling together information from various sources to impersonate Lawrence to one of his contacts, fill in online forms to request missing persons information and interface with Osgood’s other technology at Wester Drumlins. Throughout all of this, you could almost believe that the phone is fighting back, after all, we all know what happens to that which holds the image of an angel.
The game is not a long one. It’s about 2 hours in total which is a fine amount of time to get you invested in the story and for it all to draw into a satisfying conclusion. It’s a lot like sitting through a two-part Doctor Who adventure but one that you’re involved in – which again feeds back to my point of the game feeling more like an interactive adventure. I think that’s perfect for a Doctor Who game as you want the game to feel like an episode of the show, not for it to somehow be twisted into a cover shooter or management sim.
The only slight frustration I had is the game being quite slow to Weeping Angel. The random member of the public that you’re playing as obviously has no idea what a Weeping Angel is or what happened in Wester Drumlins during the events of Blink, and neither does Osgood. That means that there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the events that unfolded there despite you, as a player, knowing exactly what happened from watching the show. It feels a lot like the worst bits of a Phoenix Wright game, where you’ve worked out what happened but the game won’t let you tell it yet. It would’ve been nice if the second Wester Drumlins was mentioned, Osgood gave a quick rundown of what happened there so your character is up to date with the knowledge the player has, and there isn’t a lull at the start of the game where you’re working out what you already know.
Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins plays as an interactive Doctor Who adventure, with a returning cast of well-loved Doctor Who characters and actors. It gives you some interesting and realistic puzzles to solve, a dangerous mystery to unravel and Easter eggs galore. It’s everything a Doctor Who fan could want from a novel, self-contained Weeping Angel based adventure. All that remains is to ask is, with adventure on the horizon, will you pick up the Doctor’s call?