Doctor Who and the Warlord

Doctor Who and the WarlordThe Game: You are the Doctor’s companion, separated from the Time Lord during an attempt to save the Doctor’s old friend, King Varangar. When you come to, the Doctor is nowhere around, you’re unarmed, and you’re surrounded by deadly swamps, war zones, and hostile alien soldiers. Your life expectancy away from the TARDIS isn’t looking terribly good – and even if you can reunite with the Doctor, escaping from planet Quantain won’t be easy. (BBC Software, 1985)

Memories: The second official Doctor Who computer game, released during the show’s mid-1980s merchandising heyday, Doctor Who And The Warlord is a decisive step away from the somewhat derivative arcade-inspired game play of Doctor Who: The First Adventure… and a step toward another well-worn style of game: the text adventure.

On the surface, that seems like it’d probably be a good format for a Doctor Who game, where the emphasis is on thinking or talking one’s way out of a problem, rather than fighting one’s way out. But this game wasn’t exactly programmed by Infocom: the text parser is more terse than verbose, and the descriptions offer few clues about what do to. It’s exceedingly easy to get very discouraged by a rapid-fire succession of unfortunate deaths.

Curiously, unlike The First Adventure, whose packaging was taken up with artwork of Peter Davison, and the following Doctor Who Doctor Who and the Warlordgame, The Mines Of Terror, which clearly casts the player in the role of the sixth Doctor, Doctor Who And The Warlord isn’t terribly specific about which incarnation of the Doctor it involves. It was, however, attributed to Graham Williams – not a well-known game designer, but the producer of Doctor Who from 1977 through 79 (the era that brought us K-9, Romana, the Key To Time, and a young writer by the name of Douglas Adams who also dabbled in computer games). While it’s tempting to blame the text parsing on the same person who oversaw such woefully campy episodes as The Creature In The Pit, it’s probably safe to say that the game’s story was written by Williams, with the actual design and programming falling to someone else.

Doctor Who is still fertile ground for video games, but it would be a while before something more closely resembling a definitive Doctor Who game would appear (in fact, it wouldn’t happen until well after the TV series’ 1989 cancellation and 2005 revival). Doctor Who And The Warlord was simply too terse and cryptic to actually 3 quartersland on the “fun” side of the fence. If the BBC’s software arm was trying to imitate Infocom, they forgot one of that company’s strengths – its sense of humor and reliance on puzzles that were more fun than frustrating.