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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 496 (Feb 16) > THE LONG GAME

THE LONG GAME

After the recent success of Lego Dimensions and Doctor Who Legacy, we uncover three decades’ worth of Doctor Who videogame projects...

The 1980s was an exciting, formative era for videogames. It was the age of Donkey Kong and PAC-MAN, and a time when games started to move away from the arcades and into living rooms, via home computers such as the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. And it was here, at the birth of this new entertainment medium, when Doctor Who games started to materialise.

The first Doctor Who title was actually printed as a code within Computer & Videogames magazine in March 1983. The publication featured an illustration of Tom Baker on its cover [see left] – despite the fact Peter Davison had been playing the Time Lord for two years – and readers had to painstakingly type the long code into their Atari computers to get the game working.

The result was a rudimentary piece of software, where players moved a barely recognisable Tom Baker around poorly constructed mazes.

Fortunately, fans didn’t have to wait long for the first, full-blooded Doctor Who game to appear in computer shops. The aptly titled Doctor Who: The First Adventure arrived towards the end of 1983 and was created by BBC Publications – a division that was initially set-up to make books and magazines.

The group had commissioned 15-year-old Jeremy Ruston to make the game, whose talent belied his young age. This was a teenager who had written a book on the BBC Micro (he would actually go on to write four of them), he’d made multiple computer animations for BBC Children’s TV, and perhaps most significantly, he was a huge Doctor Who fan.

There was just one problem. “I wasn’t much of a gamer,” Ruston admits. “I was, as I am today, a passionate programmer. But I can’t recall if I had even played a game, which probably made me the wrong person for the job. I think I was asked to do it because they knew I was a huge fan of Doctor Who, and I just happened to be there writing these books about BBC Micro. How I imagined it, is that that they were sitting around after lunch drinking port and saying, ‘What shall we do about that Doctor Who game?’ And someone replies with, ‘Well there is that young man, Ruston, he does a bit of programming, maybe he could do it?’

“They had form for just choosing the person close at hand. One day, they wanted somebody to be a model on the box of a BBC Micro accessory that was coming out. So again, instead of going to the trouble of finding the right person, they just collared me as I walked in.”

Ruston was not a games designer (The First Adventure would be his only game) and the game he built largely mimicked other products of the time. There were levels inspired by Frogger,Battleships and Galaxian, all tied together with a loose story about finding ‘The Key of Time’ and defeating the Black Guardian.

“They were very inferior copies of games,” explains Ruston. “Back then there were very few game archetypes, and we were not up for inventing a new one. One of the games was a puzzle that you could have even played with pencil and paper, it was that simplistic.”

The First Adventure turned out to be a dud, both critically and commercially.

“They knew it was a turkey by the time it came out,” recalls Ruston. “I felt I had been put under an absurd amount of pressure to put together so much in a restrictive amount of time. The game didn’t receive the attention it deserved.”

The Dalek Attack team. Clockwise from left: Nick Kimberley, Jason Heggie, Richard Turner, David Vout and Paul Tankard.
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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: John Hurt interview; the War Doctor on audio; Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; Feature – The story of Doctor Who videogames; Comic Strip – Theatre of the Mind written and illustrated by Roger Langridge; A tribute to Anthony Read; The Fact of Fiction – The King's Demons; Time Team – The Beast Below; Missing in Action – The Myth Makers; Relative Dimensions; Wotcha; Reviews and Previews; Crossword
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