Frezno has done such a nice job continuing The Nintendo Project that I felt like I should let him play on this blog too.
1985 was a very eventful year, when one looks back on it from a broad perspective. Swap out your wide-angle lens and zero in towards two of the important moments of that year, for our purposes. In England, Doctor Who was supposedly struggling to entertain the masses. The Doctor, he of bright coat and bravado, faced off against deadly foes like the Bandrils and the tree mines. The final straw came just as Peri Brown was running away from a cannibal with bushy eyebrows. The program failed to get a passing Grade and was put on hiatus. As has been noted, this was the first major blow to Doctor Who in the 1980’s. One could argue it was the blow that eventually killed it. It got better, though.
You know what else got better? Video games. 1983 saw video games in North America face their own Ragnarok at the hands of over-indulgent capitalists. Howard Scott Warshaw, unfairly maligned man that he is, did what he could. The world ended. It was up to a red and white box from a land that did not exist now. It transcended the sea between worlds and became corporeal, becoming a magical grey box that was bigger on the inside. The Nintendo Entertainment System was born. Video games existed again. Put the wide-angle lens back on, and zoom out to track the course of history that stems from this grey box’s success. The NES gives way to the Super NES. Plans are made to give the Super NES an upgrade, a CD expansion. Nintendo works in tandem with Sony on this, but creative differences cause it to never happen, relegated to a different universe where we all have pods in our ears. Sony, to its credit, uses this knowledge to create the Playstation. Its success gives way to Playstation 2, and then to Playstation 3… and that leads us back to a world where the anoraks have taken over the asylum since the novel days, and Doctor Who is The Biggest Thing On Television. Naturally, licenses are made and agreed upon, the ever-present billowing dress of Lady Capitalism securing the creation of something that will make plenty of money. This, friends, is Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock.
It would probably help, then, to define what The Eternity Clock is. Aside from being a mystical video game Macguffin to be collected. Doctor Who dabbled in video games before. None of them really turned out to be all that good. This isn’t even the first Doctor Who video game since it came back; there were a handful of adventure games with the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond running around solving puzzles. The Eternity Clock goes in a different direction, and turns the Doctor Who video game into a cinematic platformer, not unlike Prince of Persia or Another World. Really, it’s the best direction one could have gone with when considering a Doctor Who video game. Adventure games are a fine idea, but running around and jumping across gaps is the sort of thing that saved video games in the first place. It adds a dash of excitement to the whole thing. Pity, then, that it isn’t as good as Prince of Persia or Another World… but then again, what is? Those are some of the finest computer games ever made. The Eternity Clock is not nearly as fine, but we won’t hold that against it. It draws its power from the brand. Names have power, as the bloggers with their alchemy kits will tell you… and the power of Doctor Who’s name is what’s brought us all here in the first place. So. The Eternity Clock. What does it have going for it?
Matt Smith and Alex Kingston, for one! Mr. Bowtie and Miss Hello Sweetie, virtual avatars flirting in high-definition compressed MP3 probably Redbook Audio for all the kids to hear! Crisp polygons and 3D rendered graphics! Daleks! Cybermen! Silurians! The Silence! Time corridors, vortex manipulators, sonic screwdrivers and hallucinogenic lipstick… and we haven’t even gotten into the kisses to the past. Have you ever wanted to hear a voice clip of Matt Smith referencing UNIT dating? Here you go! Let’s sneak a peek at River’s diary and read about how she snooped around 76 Totter’s Lane! Wow! These are the things that resonate strongest about The Eternity Clock, because they are the reason it exists. This game uses the mercurial ever-shifting power of Doctor Who to turn an otherwise unremarkable adventure platformer into something that a fan will gain extra enjoyment from. Certainly, I can admit to sort of falling into this trap. I mean, it was the reason I was playing this Doctor Who game. The same reason why we read the novels or pop Big Finish stuff onto our music players. We want more adventures with madmen and their magical boxes. This particular adventure is not a classic, but only a few things are. We can file it along with the many other pieces of Doctor Who that are merely okay.
Where does The Eternity Clock fall flat? For one, I have no real idea how any of the things in the game happened. We begin as many a new series episode will begin; explosions and alarms within the TARDIS as Murray Gold swells into our ears and Matt Smith flutters about like a Time Lord hummingbird. He steps out of the TARDIS and finds himself in the vault of the Bank of England as the blue box vanishes. After some basic tutorial jumping and climbing and pushing things on to other things, we cut to Stormcage and play as River Song as she breaks out to go help the Doctor. This segment is a lot of fun for a bit of forced stealth nonsense aping off of Metal Gear Solid. We’ve never actually really seen River bust out of Stormcage. It’s not required to show on television in favor of moving the plot along, but it’s a cute addition here. Once River retrieves her vortex manipulator, we get co-operative puzzles! You can get a friend to help or let the AI control River as she helps the Doctor climb ledges and operate dual-control switches and stuff like that. We’ll get to how effective the machine is at playing sassy archaeologist in a bit. After that, all hell breaks loose.
There are Cybermen below London, and they sound nothing like Nicholas Briggs because he and his distinctive vocal talents are replaced by Sir Not Appearing In This Electronic Video Game. Hell, they don’t even act much like Cybermen. Here we see the Final Upgrade, a process finally complete after 44 years. The Cybermen began as the shadow of us, the true microchip self. They killed Doctor Who, and it turned out that they also died with him. Replacing them were monstrous men in silver suits who buzzed that we BELONG TO UZZZZZ. Replacing those were different men in silver suits who liked to say EXCELLENT. More and more of humanity’s shadow was lost, and now we have the final result; a video game monster. These aren’t living things any more. They have no presence. They stamp forward and yell DELETE. The only reason they are called “Cybermen” is because names have power, and the recognizability is the heart of the clock. It could be anything. It could be a swarm of KL-2s. It could be Sandminder robots. Whatever these… things are, they are coming and it is the player’s job to outwit their evil plot.
London has been invaded by a whole fleet of these things, and… look, this is about where it all goes off the rails. This isn’t the London of the new series. This is an abandoned London with a gigantic Cyber warship smack dab in the middle of it. They hold a piece of the mystical and magical Eternity Clock, and it’s the Doctor’s job to Get It All Back. After all, Doctor who did invent the “collect them all” concept back in 1964. There aren’t any stakes, though! Iconic bad aliens from the show we love are doing bad things with time and they each have a piece of this powerful thingy. The Doctor says “River we have to get the thingy back” and then the player goes and does that. Hell, you don’t even leave the planet Earth! You jump back and forth in time to solve different problems in the London of the past, like a rogue Silurian who wants to pump deadly gas up to kill all the people. It is Doctor Who as video game in its most basic form, and in the process it debases the popular creatures from the show into video game enemies, turning the broad ideas that came from 46 years of time and space into Pokemon. The Cybermen yell DELETE! The Silurians yell about APES! The Daleks yell about EXTERMINATION! The secret of alchemy is not here. The only thing that makes it out of here with some character and innovation are the Silence, in a reverse stealth segment where River needs to sneak around them. If you fail to keep at least one on the same “screen” as you, River promptly forgets what she was up to and you are sent back. It’s clever, but not enough to salvage the game. There are too many issues.
Not to mention the bugs. See, the AI in this game is less than stellar. I can cast my mind back to a certain section in Elizabethan London, where the Doctor and River must work together to ascend a tower of some sort. Thing is, if you let River follow you to a certain section before you climb up, she gets stuck in an endless loop. Leaping for a platform, failing to grab it, climbing up again and again. Now, either someone really really liked the chronic hysteris from Meglos, or something’s gone terribly wrong with the AI script for Dr. Song. This is the most gamebreaking example, but little moments of her running around aimlessly crop up here and there… and this was the Steam version I was playing! This is the definitive version; it’s hard to imagine that the original PS3 release was worse, but that appears to be the case! Not that there will be much improvement, either; the developers of this fine computer game closed shop not too long ago. Troubling, since The Eternity Clock just sort of ends. You stop the Silurians, you conquer the Cybermen, and even deal with the Daleks during their invasion of Earth to get all four pieces of the Clock back… and then the game stops, all but throwing a To Be Continued at your face. It ends just as abruptly as it began, and sequels were planned. An assumption of success; it’s Doctor Who, it has to make loads of money! Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, but the simple fact remains that all of this is yet another dead end for Doctor Who. Perhaps, in that distant universe where the roses sing, we got sequels. Perhaps they were blockbuster hits. We’ll never know.
That’s The Eternity Clock. It’s the best intersection Doctor Who and video games have shared, even if it isn’t a standout. It occupied my time for 7 hours or so; fairly brief by video game standards, but fine by me. The thing was a gift, anyway, so I personally had fun with it. Nevertheless, it failed. That’s okay. We still have the show, and that’s still fantastic. Doctor Who doesn’t need video games to thrive. It’s doing that just fine. The money from the video games might help it a little, but that’s Lady Capitalism’s kiss for you. We’ll always have our dreams of what could have been, with the Clock fueling interactive adventures through time and space. Ah well. At least scanning things with the sonic screwdriver was a lot of fun.