Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doctor Who - SIMS of the Daleks


When I was a boy there was a dream that I had
That a war, if it's fought, was for good against bad
And I woke up to find out that the world had gone mad
And we'd all fall down.

And I'd feel like a child again, sitting, observing
You're toying with fire? Well, your fingers are burning
You're pushing so hard that the world won't keep turning
We'll all fall down.

No sun for a world that once stood so tall
No wind's going to blow and no rain's going to fall
No flowers for gaves, in fact no graves at all
When we all fall down...

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was little, and I wasn't alone in that. Slim paperbacks, no linear plot, pictures, the illusion of control... you don't get THAT with Harry Potter or Twilight, do you? They were always funky sci-fi, magical or spy thrillers - You Are Miscroscopic, You Are A Spy, You Have Access To The Internet In 1990 So Go Crazy... and there were Doctor Who versions as well! Freaking awesome!

They were rather good, all things concerned, especially as they had to make the Sixth Doctor likeable but in character for any reader to want to spend any time with him. Sometimes he travelled solo, sometimes with a new companion and sometimes with a truly retarded collection of other Doctor's companions like Turlough, K9 and Drax. Hell, it was the Big Finish rehabilitation decades early. And you'd be the strangely androgynous and gender-non-specific newbie called something like "Chris" or "Ix" or "Hey, you, what are you doing in my TARDIS you nauseating adolescent?!". Maybe you'd be a direct descendent of Sarah Jane Smith who left you K9 in her will, or some lonely sci-fi fan on a boring afternoon, and sometimes you'd just be the TARDIS crewmember that wasn't Peri.

Of course, some of these stories were better than others. Without doubt, the best was Race Against Time by Pip & Jane Baker, showing that whatever they may lack as writers, they are god's gift to these probability-tree interactive plots. Search for the Doctor by David Martin was pretty good too, and Invasion of the Ormazoids by Monsieur Phillip Martin wasn't to be sniffed at either (amazingly enough it ISN'T a rewrite of Vengeance to Varos!), and as for Crisis in Space by Michael Holt... well, it's Michael Holt, people. The bloke that thought Season 20 was boring because the Doctor didn't bully Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough into quizzes about science, magic, dinosaurs and something else that completely escapes me. This is a guy who thinks Doctor Who should be a Buffy-esque musical where the villain croons to his henchmen things like

"Destroy the TARDIS!
I don't care how hard is
The task ahead

But worst of all was Mission to Venus by William Emms. Cleary the bloke thought, "Oh, well, I've got that script for Doctor Who & The Imps knocking about, I'll just novelize that, change the Second Doctor, Ben and Polly into the Sixth Doctor, you and Peri and knock off for an early lunch." Which would be fair enough until he was reminded of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" bit, and hastily added in a dozen pages of completely random bullshit that had no relevence to anything. For example, the story opens with you, the Doctor and Peri stepping out into a hold full of triffids in glass jars when a guy dressed as a sailor arrives.

Do you
a) smash the jars and release the triffids despite the Doctor and Peri telling you this is likely to be the dumbest thing imaginable?
b) ask the sailor what he's doing dressed as Donald Duck?
c) do absolutely nothing?

The correct answer, of course, is C). A) would end the story right away as the triffids kill everyone and B) has the sailor tell you a complete pack of bullshit so you'll want to run away into the TARDIS and take him with you (odd how you don't get a choice whether to believe him or not...)

What we liked about Choose Your Own Adventures were the unhappy endings where either spies shot you or you got eaten by a giant wasp or sent to a fat farm for getting addicted to the internet. Doctor Who ones were so much better. Anyone can get shot by security guards, but how often do your choices lead to you stuck in an anti-matter universe getting younger and younger until you cease to exist? Or get turned into a mushroom on a planet of lethal fungus? Become the slave of a giant spider on a desert planet? But Mission to Venus had some truly retarded endings. Suddenly there's a stereotypical Aussie crook aboard the spaceship and you decide to team up with him to rob everyone aboard... even though you're under attack by alien monsters from all sides and you're actually meant to be a good guy... and then you get caught and arrested. The end. WHAT?! Worse, one wrong choice and you spend numerous pages getting eaten by Dracula who just happened to be on the ship as well...

Basically, Choose Your Own Adventures (no, not the ones with Laurence Leuing) only really work with a degree of control. And that is something I lack with City of the Daleks. Those whacky people at BBC Wales, determined to make Doctor Who the most talked about thing on the planet, went to incredible lengths to make a fully interactive official computer game... but only let people in the UK play it. Whatever, say I. I didn't want to play your stupid and disappointingly-unrealistic-looking computer games anyway. I'll stick to Wolfenstein and imagine all the Nazis are played by Mark Gatiss...

But some kind soul played the game, WON, filmed the result and edited it into a movie for me to peruse (along with a reconstruction of the Fourth Doctor story Exploration Earth... it's very good, especially when the Doc dismisses Mount Everest as a "slagheap"). Thus this allows my family and myself to watch the thing in luxury in dolby surround sound, but not play it. And it's meant to be played. It'd be obvious this is a game even without the obvious ways our heroes are suddenly surrounded by blue rings, grow unexpected subtitles and run around in silence for five minutes. Because the Doctor and Amy can't go three paces without facing another dialogue-free quest, be it Dodge the Dalek, rewire a subway, collect props from TimeLash, or collect ASBOs. And, and this is clincher, IT ALL GOES RIGHT THE FIRST TIME. That's the obvious clue. No alarms go off, no Daleks spot them, Amy doesn't get stung by a Vaaga plant, nothing. And thus it becomes rather boring as we await the next moment of "plot".

Another thing, these new Daleks are crap. I would have thought their iPod-style rebranding would have made them EASIER to animate, but these jerky, jagged and angular computer sprites make the ones in Destiny of the Doctors look convincing. Worse, they are so much more pathetic than they were sold as in Victory. They can't even look behind themselves any more! They're supposed to be indestructible war machines, but they are blown up by TNT, seem to be completely blind and deaf, have no kind of internal communication and often forget their funky ability to levitate. Worse, they're redefined as incredibly stupid, cheap, gormless, naive and easy to defeat. Yes, I get the whole thing about this being for kids to play so they can't be the omnicidal psychopaths of yore, and I also know that any computer game without the Daleks would be on a loser to start with. We end up with a story that can't do the tin bastards justice but is forced to use them anyway.

What story, I hear you grumble impatiently.

Well, and stop me if you've heard this one before, the TARDIS brings the Doctor and his exasperating ginger companion to a crapsack nuked world overrun by Daleks, and briefly team up with a badass woman survivor (until she is inevitably exterminated in the ruins). It turns out this is actually Earth and the Daleks have cranked the evilometer up to 11.4 to change history. After a touch of angst, the Doctor and co storm the Dalek stronghold BEFORE history was changed, sabotage the dues ex machina in a cheap reset and then head home for tea, scones and lashings of ginger beer.

Mind you, the ending seems a bit dodgy. OK, the Doctor and Amy stop the Daleks installing their doomsday device... but what's to stop them doing it all over again? Or somewhere else? A real symptom of the Moffat era, you can't tell if it's a plothole or foreshadowing...

Yes, it's The Empire of the Daleks done right. Well, they could hardly do it worse, could they? Plus, the fact it's done in this disposable, mostly-unknown and probably-not-canon way makes it slightly more acceptable. Writer Phil Ford once again picks up the slack and in the few brief scenes of character interaction, does a pretty good job. The Doctor and Amy are well captured with the former getting to shout "Geromino" more times in this one adventure than his first season... but that's about it. Sylvia, the last surviving human of 1963, doesn't live long enough to do much more than exposit (but it's nice to put a face to the chick who played Kim Kattrel in Memory Lane, the one who's defining characteristic was beating C'Rizz up...)

The Daleks don't get much either. Nick Briggs is wasted on a few dull "Exterminates" and "My vision is impaireds", getting only one (comparatively) decent scene as the new Dalek Emperor. Who's blue. That's about the most interesting thing about him, bar perhaps the fact that he's considered fat by Kaled Mutant standards - cause floating around in a tank all day just piles on the pounds, apparently. This Emperor's pretty boring and stupid too, nothing like the psychopathic godhead of the RTD era. The Doctor actually gets him to tell us the whole plan on the argument "it's not fun if no one's impressed by your awesomeness". You get the impression that even if this one DID know about cracks in time, he'd be too gormless to understand the danger. When the Doctor rates the Supreme Dalek more of a threat, it's hard to disagree.

Oh, and the continuity's a bit dodgy too. The Doctor and Amy act like they've just left the Cabinet war rooms (thus instantly showing them what the Daleks were up to), but The Time of Angels insists they never had such an adventure, and it doesn't seem to be post-Rory either. On top of that, not only does Skaro still exist, it is a planet whose atmosphere is made up of hydrochloric acid and it rains all the time, so only Daleks and Vaaga plants (redesigned to look more like Erato than thorny plasmatons) can live there. And the Eye of Harmony is now the Eye of Time... or maybe it's a completely different thing... no one really clarifies that... OK... guess those pesky cracks go overtime for this story.

So, can I really rate a game I can't play? Probably not. Given the fact that Smith and Gillan were FILMED... in COSTUME... to help animate this project, I do wonder if they couldn't simply CGI the sets around them instead of using this stiff-backed mannequins with next-to-no facial expressions. Why is it whenever Doctor Who tries to embrace a new medium, it does so in a manner about thirty years behind the times? Dreamland, Scream of the Shalka and now this!

The only good bit is Amy's weary head shake at the end of the episode... mind you, muppets on Sesame Street can do that sort of things and their faces aren't SUPPOSED to move!

Next Time: Blood of the Cybermen
Great, another adventure no one will remember. Stupid cracks...



Bernie Fishnotes said...

I found the Daleks worked better in this than they did on TV, but then I got to see them exterminate Amy and myself on several occasions...

And you say they don't see you even if you're right behind them? They flipping well do, as Amy could tell you when she's a bit slow following me down that tube tunnel...

Have you tried "acquiring" these games via nefarious means? I've seen them floating about...

Youth of Australia said...

I found the Daleks worked better in this than they did on TV, but then I got to see them exterminate Amy and myself on several occasions...
Lucky you.

And you say they don't see you even if you're right behind them?
Indeed I do.

They flipping well do, as Amy could tell you when she's a bit slow following me down that tube tunnel...
Well, how many times did I have to complain about it? HUH?!

Have you tried "acquiring" these games via nefarious means? I've seen them floating about...
Bernie Tiberious Fishnotes!

I am shocked! Shocked and disappointed!

OF COURSE I HAVE! Numerous times. But eventually one gets sick of waiting for a 2gb download to complain you're outside the UK, and you take what's damn well given...