Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins is a brand new video game that follows on from the events of Blink, the beloved Steven Moffat episode from the David Tennant era of the show.
Designed to be played on mobile devices (although it’s also coming to PC and Nintendo Switch), The Lonely Assassins has live-action scenes starring Blink’s Finlay Robertson, who reprises his role as Larry Nightingale. Players are entangled in a mystery involving the Weeping Angels, which is tied to a phone that your character has found, and they’re guided through the story by Petronella Osgood (with Ingrid Oliver donning her lab coat once more).
This is the second game in the “loose trilogy” that a British company called Maze Theory is overseeing. Last year they delivered a VR game starring Jodie Whittaker called Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, and now it’s The Lonely Assassins’ turn in the spotlight. Next they’ll unite Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant in a console game called Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality.
As well as teasing that The Lonely Assassins could spawn “totally different” sequels, and popping in for a chat on the RadioTimes.com Doctor Who Podcast, the developers of this Weeping Angels game have also revealed where Larry Nightingale is now, how the game reflects Osgood’s personality, and what it was like revisiting the real-life location of the creepy Wester Drumlins house (with the added wrinkle of a global pandemic to contend with).
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Read on for all that and more, in RadioTimes.com‘s exclusive interview with Ian Hambleton (CEO of Maze Theory, the publishers of The Lonely Assassins) and Jeremy Ooi (co-founder and game designer at Kaigan Games, a specialist in story-driven mobile games, who collaborated with Maze Theory on The Lonely Assassins). Right then. Allons-y!
RT: You’ve brought back Larry Nightingale, played again by Finlay Robertson from Blink. What can you tell us about where Larry is now?
IH: It was really important to us that the timeline was just ‘Where would Larry be now?’, so the game is sort of present day. But it sort of matches the old timeline [following on from the events of Blink] too. The other thing is that we wanted [our games] to connect. We’re calling the three games a sort of trilogy, although it’s the loosest trilogy ever, because we want fans to play them all, of course, but you don’t need to watch them in any order. But they are a bit interconnected. So, for example, Larry is the East London laundrette manager that is in The Edge of Time. So his phone has basically been found. But he is that laundrette manager, and that’s what he’s moved on to be. And he’s got a few different properties and businesses, as well as his music shop and stuff. So yeah, that’s what’s happened to him, bringing him up to date. But he’s now a 45-year-old man, with a partner.
Players flick between different apps and piece together the story themselves. Is there a sweet spot between giving the player total autonomy, but then also giving them just the right amount of guidance? It must be tricky to find that?
JO: Yeah, I think it’s tricky. I think being in the Doctor Who universe also helps, because there’s a lot of stuff that we can introduce that we don’t really need to overly justify. Like, in our previous games, we had to walk a finer line in terms of realism and technologies that do not exist on a phone. I think for this game, in particular, we have an easier time, because Osgood is there, she’s from UNIT, she’s very knowledgeable. She’s a scientist and she knows a lot of things. And it makes sense – if you know her character, it makes sense. And as you speak to her, it makes sense. So, in a way, with this one, we have a lot more space to enjoy the moment rather than having to set up the moment, if that makes sense. And we can also introduce a lot of interesting scenes, like especially the opening of the game, just to get you excited about what’s going to happen there. And also, the way she [Osgood] collects information to reveal more information – that mechanic itself is sort of like we put her personality in the mechanics of the game. The mechanics of the game are an extension of her personality, an extension of the character.
Playing the game, there was one moment when I felt like I let Osgood down. I won’t say what it was, but she had to jump in and help me out!
JO: [Laughs] Right, right. Yeah, that’s also another thing. For our other games, like Sarah Is Missing and Simulacra, the audience there are used to our mechanics. They know what to expect. But for this one, we need to make sure firstly that you can jump into the ‘found phone’ genre relatively quick. Secondly, you don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan to enjoy this game. And if you are a Doctor Who fan or if you’re a veteran of the game itself, there are elements that you can push yourself to do to master the game itself.
So you can never lose in this game. There’s no Game Over. We don’t want to put a ‘stop’ to say, “Oh, try again, you failed, go back and do this again.” We don’t really want to stop the players from moving forward. But having said that, if you proceed through the game, and you understand how the game plays, you can try it again. And there might be some surprises hidden if you do. Or, if you know the Doctor Who universe, and you’ve got the hang of the found phone genre relatively quickly, and you solve the puzzles or you manage to solve the problem that Osgood presents to you, you will unlock additional tidbits as well, which will then give you a bonus at the end. So we reward you for being a veteran, but also we do not reject the newer players, the new audience, the ones that are just picking up the genre.
Was there much of a debate behind the scenes about which Doctor Who Easter eggs you wanted to throw in?
IH: I think, with that layering of extra [content], everyone’s a winner, right? So we can go back and add in extra content and little Easter eggs for people… if you don’t find them, you’re none the wiser. And if you find them, you just feel like, “Okay, this is a really solid Doctor Who experience and we care, the developers care”. And I think that’s our approach to it, really. Why wouldn’t you add loads?
JO: Yeah, I think for us, when we got the story at first, we also noticed that Osgood is a relatively new character, and Larry is a relatively older character. And we are playing a game where the newer generation and older generation are coming together in one unique platform. So we wanted to make sure that the Easter eggs do reference the fact that Doctor Who has come a long way. And we’ll throw in references here and there. A lot of the Easter eggs do tie into previous episodes, but most of them are tied to the effects of this stuff that the Doctor’s journey has left behind. So imagine, if the Doctor went back in time and did some stuff, like, [people] in the present, we might experience something or find something that is a little bit odd, but we just don’t know why. And because we [as fans] know that the Doctor is involved, we’ve got a lot more context and a lot more perspective in that sense. So we wanted to add that little fun tidbit to the game where things in the present have been affected by stuff in the past.
A lot of the game takes place on the phone interface, but there is a smattering of live-action scenes. It must have been quite interesting to film during COVID times?
IH: What’s been good is that we’ve been here in the UK, and able to organise those shoots with James, the producer. We were a bit lucky, because I think it was the end of August  when we did the shoot. So there were COVID regulations and guidelines, up to the point of two days before the shoot, where we were just like, “Everyone’s gonna have their COVID test, and let’s hope that’s all okay!” So it was a bit tense. But it all went to plan. There’s not many crowd scenes, and there’s not many multiple-people scenes. But we did, again, to go back to the authenticity, we did shoot it at the fictitious Larry’s house, and we shot it at Wester Drumlins, in and around there, with all the right talent. And I think that comes across in the game.
Wester Drumlins looks like it’s had the DIY SOS treatment since Blink!
IH: Yeah, I don’t want to ruin it too much for people. But basically, we did shoot it at Wester Drumlins, which is not actually in London, even though it’s meant to be. You can Google it and find it. So we shot it there. But some of the interior is partly new because, obviously, part of the story is around what has happened to Wester Drumlins, and what might have happened to that building since then.
You have teased a very special voice appearance from a certain Jodie Whittaker. How did that come together? I know you worked with her on The Edge of Time, as well…
IH: Yes, the BBC is great for that kind of collaboration. And it’s not always the easiest thing to get hold of the actors, because they’ve got the show to work on. We’re also working on The Edge of Reality at the moment, which is coming out soon, with David Tennant and Jodie in it, and so we were able to coordinate those two VO recordings, so that we got her in The Lonely Assassins. And I think, without giving away too much, that is quite a special little moment.
It’s an interesting time to play a game where you’re text-chatting and video-chatting with characters, when that’s what we’ve had to do with all our real-life friends over the last year…
IH: It’s been a very difficult time for the whole world, hasn’t it? But I think the games industry has been buoyed and there have been a lot more people playing games. I guess we’re on the edge of the end of lockdown, so hopefully our game is a good final hurrah before people can go out and enjoy seeing their friends as well.
Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins launches 19th March for iOs, Android and PC, with a Nintendo Switch release following at a later date. You can hear more of our exclusive Lonely Assassins interview in the RadioTimes.com Doctor Who Podcast.