If I existed in the world of Doctor Who, I reckon I’d have already been exterminated by a Dalek.
As much as I might like to think I’d travel space and time with the Doctor, save the world or even just help out in a single adventure, I’ve always known in my heart that if I did appear in the Whoniverse, I’d probably fill a different role – the random passer-by killed early on.
“Huh – what’s this hunk of junk?” I’d laugh to my friends as a deadly cyborg wheeled towards me. “Do you think it’s a marketing thing? Quick, help me get a selfie” – moments before I became the first casualty of the grand invasion of Earth, a screaming neon skeleton on the beachhead of Dalek aggression.
All of which is to say that the new Doctor Who escape room A Dalek Awakens brought up some conflicting feelings for me. Was this my chance to learn how I’d actually fare against those brave boys of Skaro? Or was my fate – and the failure of my team – already sealed?
To find out I headed down to Escape Hunt Studios in Reading, where I soon found myself trapped in a broken spaceship while Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor (performing a fairly large amount of voiceover) gave us our mission – fix the ship, help everyone escape. Oh, and don’t rile up the Dalek watching in the corner.
“It’s a spaceship that has various problems, and there’s a Dalek in it as well, which is one of the biggest problems,” Nicholas Briggs, the regular voice of the Daleks who provided the monster’s dialogue for this game as well, told me.
“And you have to solve all these rather clever puzzles to make sure there’s enough oxygen, and feed the space plankton and things like that, in order to save everyone on the ship and escape without being shot by a Dalek.”
Without giving anything away this basically means dashing around the ship’s “bridge” (actually a small-ish square room) to try and solve a selection of puzzles, some of which can only be fully activated after others have been completed. One or two are a bit like jigsaws, some require a bit of physical dexterity and still others will need some in-depth problem-solving skills, and overall it’s quite a challenge.
Still, as the game started I wasn’t too worried. I had a crack team of two BBC employees and Mr Dalek Nicholas Briggs himself (who only knew what he’d recorded for the game many months ago) on my side. How could we lose?
Well, as it turns out the answer was “pretty badly”. After wasting about a third of our time on one puzzle only, endlessly gawping at parts of the room we couldn’t actually use yet and completely misunderstanding a crucial final task the organisers actually had to take pity on us and skip a couple of steps so we could get closer to the ending, and even then we weren’t able to save the ship or dodge the Dalek, requiring a last-minute save by the Doctor.
I had considerably less trouble with previous Doctor Who escape room Worlds Collide (which was based on the Cybermen attacking) despite that game featuring two rooms and what felt like a great deal many more puzzles.
Maybe it was the stress of having a Dalek watch our every move, or maybe it was just that this escape room had fewer, more in-depth puzzles, so rushing about and trying lots of different things at once wasn’t always the best strategy. Either way, we were about as much use to the Doctor as a region-locked satnav.
But as we sheepishly filed out back into the real world I couldn’t help but feel the result was entirely appropriate. We were apparently the first to fail the room, but really it just proved my point – one way or another, I was always going to be Dalek fodder. And at least this way we “unlocked the secret ending,” where we fail and almost die, right?
And I definitely had a lot of fun. If I had to rank A Dalek Awakens against the other Doctor Who escape room Worlds Collide I think I found the latter more satisfying with its focus on multiple, smaller challenges, but that could be because I actually managed to complete that adventure (I’m not quite pathetic enough to be taken out by the Cybermen, come on).
Certainly, when it comes to feeling like a Doctor Who adventure A Dalek Awakens feels much closer to the Doctor’s world, partially because Whittaker and the Dalek were so well-integrated but also just because of the clear, spaceship-saving premise.
At this early stage there were still a few kinks in the process – at one point I shoved a crucial problem-solving item into a drawer then couldn’t retrieve it, which would have made the game impossible to complete even if we had solved everything else, and a door supposed to reveal a different puzzle to us was kept locked for an extra 10 minutes by accident – but overall it was a clear, well-thought-out experience that is sure to delight Who fans and more casual visitors alike (you certainly don’t need to know anything about Doctor Who to play it).
And who knows? If I get another go one day, maybe I’ll actually get a chance to dodge my Dalek doom once and for all.
Doctor Who: A Dalek Awakens is now ready to play in Escape Hunt locations around the UK. Check ticket availability here