The Game: You guide the Doctor, that wayward Time Lord, on a quest to retrieve the three segments of the Key to Time, recover your companion from an alien prison, and escape aliens who are on your trail. The game appropriately takes place in four “episodes” (stages). Failing to complete a task will cost you time and a precious regeneration; running out of either one ends the game.
Memories: The first officially approved Doctor Who video game, The First Adventure isn’t a trendsetter or a great innovation in and of itself; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that this game for the BBC Micro would’ve been entirely un-noteworthy if not for the Doctor Who connection.
It’s a bit of a disappointment to say that most of the effort that went into The First Adventure went into securing the license and coming up with a decent likeness of Peter Davison for the game’s cover art. The game play itself barely makes a dent; the Labyrinth episode/stage is a vague homage to non-symmetical maze games like Crazy Balloon, while the Prison is clearly a ripoff of Frogger. The cleverly-named Terrordactyls stage lifts its game play elements from Galaxian and Demon Attack, while the final “episode,” The Box of Tantalus, is a cross between Battleship and Hunt The Wumpus. It’s a bit of a “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” kind of game. The graphics don’t do much to salvage it, no matter how much of a sucker I am for a little pixellated Police Box.
I won’t even get into the Key To Time having six segments in the series (as opposed to three in the game), or all of the bizarre talk about using it to “initiate the second age of time”; I can see sacrificing some of the minutiae of the television series to make a decent game, though there are certain broad strokes that The First Adventure manages to get wrong (i.e. 15 regenerations remaining – or, for that matter, 9,999 regenerations remaining, thanks to an emulator glitch that I encountered while grabbing video and stills).
If I have a beef with Doctor Who in video game form, it’s that the series has produced such a wide-ranging mythos, full of nooks and crannies ripe for further exploration, and yet in all this time has only produced a handful of games, none of which really seems to live up to the show’s potential. There are constant rumors and announcements that Doctor Who has been licensed for some modern platform or other, so I can hold out hope…but hopefully I can be forgiven for my cynicism when the best interactive experience to spring forth from the TARDIS to date has been…well…Attack Of The Graske.
The First Adventure offers some well-worn game concepts in a wrapper that bears a picture of Peter Davison; sadly, neither of those things wins big points.
Still, who am I kidding? If this thing had been on the Apple II back in the day, I would’ve fallen for it hook, line and Dalek sink-plunger.