Doctor Who: The Edge of Time review – “Too scary for its own good”
The Weeping Angels have never been more terrifying than in this virtual reality game – but does it still feel like Doctor Who?
Standing facing two long hallways, I’m in the middle of my own worst nightmare.
To my right, an empty, dark and forbidding corridor. Fine. To my left? A Weeping Angel, a terrifying monster who can’t move while I look at it. Frantically, I turn a crank to get the elevator working so I can leave this place for good.
Then, a noise. Unconsciously, I look to the other corridor as an unattended pram rolls, unnervingly past. What could…no!
Back to the left-hand corridor. Now, the Weeping Angel is just a few feet away.
All of this forms the centrepiece experience of new Doctor Who virtual reality game The Edge of Time, which aims to present a fully interactive Doctor Who adventure as you fly in the Tardis to alien worlds and the distant past, battle classic Who monsters and take orders from an absent Jodie Whittaker.
In the works for a long time (and following up on a more limited animated VR game where players were unable to move) The Edge of Time is an impressive achievement – even if it’s sometimes too scary for its own good, and has a slightly incoherent storyline.
Players begin the game in a fairly ordinary laundrette, albeit one that quickly fills with unpleasant-looking aliens, where you’re encouraged to learn the basics of gameplay. To whit, you can walk around (better done using the joystick rather than physically) or “hop” short distances to move about, using the hand controllers to pick up and interact with items and clues and – once you acquire it – the sonic screwdriver, which can be clipped to your hip when not in use.
It’s all fairly intuitive, albeit with a few niggles – occasionally small glitches prevented me from entering certain areas, and the sonic screwdriver’s “hip” placement doesn’t alter when you’re sitting down, which makes it difficult to put away if you’re playing the game in that mode – and soon enough you’ll be building a transmitter to call the Tardis and flee the danger, upon which you’re properly introduced to Whittaker’s Doctor.
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In an attempt to maintain a sense of realism and sidestep any Uncanny Valley animation issues, Whittaker’s Doctor only appears on fuzzy viewscreens or in holograms (no humans are shown in person, only environments and aliens), but the performance from Whittaker nicely binds the game together with the series.
However, in a slightly odd choice the regular voice of Whittaker guiding you along (having been captured by the Big Boss of the game) is soon replaced by a separate Artificial Intelligence character, who fulfils essentially the exact same function as the Doctor could have (guiding you along while being a bit snarky), replacing her for no real reason.
Anyway, whoever you’re talking to it’s not long before they’re guiding you through a series of arcane and genuinely challenging puzzles, some of which feel quintessentially Doctor Who – piloting the Tardis, connecting electricity grids, redirecting lasers on a spaceship – and some of which, well, don’t.
In one Victorian level, I was slightly perplexed to be told that my AI companion had once heard of some “enchanted books” that when burned in the right order would reveal something. Aside from the fact that burning books is a pretty anti-Doctor Who idea, the casual introduction of magic to the Whoniverse jarred for me – and it wasn’t the only tonal issue I had with the game.
Genuinely, this game is sometimes too scary. When watching a Doctor Who Weeping Angels episode, there’s a certain vicarious enjoyment from imagining how awful it would feel to be being chased by a Weeping Angel. In practice, yep, it turns out it feels terrible!
The depiction and gameplay for the Weeping Angels scene is undeniably well done, and may only get more sophisticated (in conversation with one of Maze Theory’s developers, they mentioned that some VR headsets can track eye movement, so one day they genuinely might be able to tell whether you’ve blinked or not) – but in practice I was just desperate to get out of that level as quickly as I could, so creepy was the whole thing.
For some, that might come as a ringing endorsement. For me, I genuinely didn’t find myself enjoying this section of the game – and at a later point in the story, when it was suggested I might have to return to the terrifying Victorian setting of this level, I was horrified (luckily, that didn’t turn out to be the case). And it’s not the only scary level either, with plenty of jump scares available whichever part of the game you’re playing through.
Other parts of the game I found significantly more fun. Battling my way through the Daleks in my own casing was great, and frankly I’d play a spin-off based on that section alone if I got the chance. I also enjoyed just how interactive the environments were, with my avatar able to grab and throw around almost any object I came across (with apologies to the Victorian vases) and the sonic screwdriver actually feeling like a useful tool rather than a seldom-used gameplay mechanic.
However, by the end of the game (it took about 3 hours to complete) I’ll admit that story-wise, I was slightly none the wiser about why I’d been doing any of it. I’d been collecting time crystals for a purpose, but none of the aliens I’d encountered seemed to be linked to the final challenge, I wasn’t sure how long I was supposed to have known who or what the final boss was (I’ll avoid spoilers here) and generally the story felt a bit tacked on afterwards.
Fundamentally, The Edge of Time felt like a few different VR experiences stuck together, some of which felt very Doctor Who-y and some of which felt like they could have been in a different sort of interactive game altogether – perhaps one with a more horror-based background.
It’s entertaining and interesting enough, and full of fun Easter Eggs – but for some fans, it may be that they’d prefer watching a spooky Doctor Who adventure to living through one.
Doctor Who: The Edge of Time is a Maze Theory production for BBC Studios, and is available for purchase now