Doctor Who has a fairly poor track record when it comes to video games, especially in recent years. Who remembers the notoriously horrible Doctor Who: Return to Earth and Evacuation Earth, for the Wii and DS respectively? Don’t seek them out, in any case. But the latest interactive adaptation of the franchise, PSN-exclusive (for now) Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, was promoted as the first title intended for adult Whovians – were we going to get a real video game, rather than a mish-mash, sub-par Professor Layton clone? A game that properly encapsulates the feel of the television show, without feeling condescending or watered-down? I had no choice but to play it eagerly.
Starting up Eternity Clock had the same initial effect on my fanboy head as the title screen of the recent Game of Thrones RPG. Everything feels perfectly Doctor Who-y, full of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey space stuff, appealing to even the most cynical Whovian on first glance. Unfortunately, however, Eternity Clock is equally as disappointing as Game of Thrones – it hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the aesthetics, but in every other error, it comes up short. The essence of a good Doctor Who story is perfectly encapsulated in platformer-form in Eternity Clock. True to form, the TARDIS crashes to London without explanation as Matt Smith’s Doctor struggles to unsuccessfully prevent a crash and then to resolve the source of the accident. Along the way, the Doctor and companion River Song work their way through London in three different time periods, encountering the Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians, and the Silence while wielding the Doctor’s trademark sonic screwdriver and River’s hallucinogenic lipstick. You’ll even get to visit a faithful recreation of the TARDIS between each level.
The meticulous attention to detail, in every aspect of the graphics and audio design, emphasizes that Eternity Clock wasn’t created as a simple cash-in, but was actually made by Whovians for Whovians, which is always something you’re looking for in a video game adaptation. Motion capture and voice acting is employed perfectly. Despite the gameplay itself being, at times, monumentally inane, Smith’s characteristic mannerisms and remarks can pull even the dullest task out of the pit of boredom. The banter between the Doctor and River plays out like it was taken from a good episode of the show, helped by full voice acting by Matt Smith and Alex Kingston. This is emphasized in the cutscenes, in which the mo-cap in particular perfects exactly what makes the show so brilliantly comic. The fantastic writing and recording is all held together by an original score by Murray Gold, the composer who’s worked on the show since the inception of the new series in 2005. Blending with some of Gold’s classic themes for the Eleventh Doctor (“A Madman With A Box”, for example) and his arrangement of the iconic Doctor Who theme song, Eternity Clock creates a perfect atmosphere by which to enjoy the game itself. The developers have chosen to take the Doctor on a linear platforming adventure – this’ll be fun for about half an hour, but it all gets rather repetitive quite quickly, which is a shame. I’ve never pictured the Doctor as the kind of guy to hang off of ledges and crawl through narrow spaces, so it all seems a little out of place watching him acrobatically manoeuvring his way around London.
While the majority of the game focusses on co-operative play between the Doctor and River, the co-op feature is horribly undercooked. Large portions require just one character active at a time, so if you’re playing with a friend, you’ll spend far too long relaxing on the couch while they work through a solo section, and vice versa. Additionally, the sections that require actual cooperation are largely walking to the right together and boosting each other up ledges. The puzzles themselves require a single player to operate – even if you’re playing co-op, during the puzzles the extent of this will be helping your mate with the puzzle rather than cooperating. Also lacking is drop-in/drop-out co-op, in a prime example of archaic game design, especially in such a co-op focussed game. When you start a game, you’re asked to choose either singleplayer or multiplayer. There’s no changing your mind once you’ve made that decision. It’s final.
Matt Smith and Alex Kingston are brilliant in their respective parts, but Eternity Clock is heavily based around season 6-era Doctor. Now, who were the main companions in this series? For the non-Whovians reading this, they were Amy and Rory, much moreso than River. The absence of the beloved husband-and-wife duo leaves a disappointing feeling of emptiness in the plot, as the Doctor’s quips with River never really equal his banter with Amy and Rory. I’m not sure of the reason for their absence – maybe they simply didn’t want to dress up in electrodes and jump around? – but it sure does leave a hole in the Doctor Who experience. We’ve only really known Smith’s Doctor alongside Amy, after all.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a game for fans of, well, Doctor Who. The combination of audio and visuals help to replicate the feeling of the show in all its glory. For those who aren’t Who fans, however, as one might expect, there’s really nothing on offer here. The platforming is a whole lot of pushing crates and mediocrity, and the puzzles no more than tacked on minigames. Waving around your sonic screwdriver can be fun, but again, it’s definitely aimed at Whovians and wouldn’t really be enjoyable for someone who’s not watched the show. Lack of drop-in co-op is a huge let down, as well as the disappointing co-operative sections. You’ll encounter a couple of bugs along the way, particularly when you have to team up with AI River, but it’s nothing that’s gamebreaking or anything that might ruin the fun factor.
Eternity Clock has obviously had a huge amount of love and care poured into its crafting. It really seems to have been made by fans of the show, and yet, the end result is a mediocre 2.5D platformer that can be enjoyed at a couple of minutes at a time. Lousy checkpoints, repetitive gameplay, and lacklustre AI detract from what could actually be the most faithful video game adaptation of Doctor Who to date. If you’re a fan, you’ll love the perfect music and acting, as well as the clever integration of the Doctor’s classic foes, but that’s about all you’re going to get out of it.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock by BBC Worldwide. The platform it was reviewed on was the PS3.