Doctor Who has a knack for reinvention or, more fittingly, regeneration.
I don’t just mean in the Doctor’s many changing faces but the way those changes come to shape its tone and feel. And then, on a more molecular level, its ability to shift from bombastic, silly sci-fi epics one week to legitimately terrifying ghost stories the next. At the heart of the show’s decades-spanning run, though, is one unifying link; it’s all a bit naff.
From shoddy BBC-budgeted CGI and egg-shaped aliens to startlingly contrived last-minute plot developments and technobabble; as good as Who gets it never escapes that endearing core. People love it because it isn’t Star Wars or Lord of the Rings; it’s the school adaptations of them your kids put on for the Christmas play. With the most warming of intentions, then, I say Edge of Time has that hokey heart intact.
That’s not to say this is low-rate. Far from it, in fact; Maze Theory’s upcoming VR adventure has dense forests to explore, intuitive (if pedestrian) puzzles to solve and a healthy helping of fan service. Stepping out of the Tardis, turning around and witnessing its physics-defying dimensions for yourself is a genuinely jaw-dropping moment. Quite rightly, though, there’s an embedded strain of second-rate Britishism about it.
It’s in the way Jodie Whittaker’s voice cheerfully pops up as you stalk the halls of a spaceship or, yes, the custard cream biscuit that ejects out of the Tardis console when you approach it. It’s the very DNA of Who; employing chalky British quirk to distract from whatever might be lacking elsewhere. In this case, it’s what gives the game’s surprisingly creepier moments a needed touch of safety. In the first level I see, red-eyed aliens scurry and scratch their way over fallen logs and around cliff corners, always just out of reach. They glare from afar in unnerving silence.
It would be enough to get me to take off the headset were I not aware of my context. The stifled screams and thudding heart rates employed in your standard VR horror game are swapped out for sound bites about how pesky these devilish creatures can be, and what a nuisance their haunting presence is. You quickly learn to shoulder that chipper camaraderie and push on through for yourself.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there’s the spectacle. At one point I’m hurried down a corridor as a vacuum threatens to suck me out into space. At times, I stop to stare out at the infinite abyss. Paired with routinely grabbing my Sonic Screwdriver, I truly feel rooted right in the center of this sprawling universe.
There is a fear, though, that this is all a little too much of a sightseeing tour. There are buttons to push and Sonic Screwdivers to buzz, but much of Edge of Time’s interaction isn’t uniquely Whovian. In one challenge I’m rearranging wires to correspond to drawings in a wall. It’s fast, flexible and refreshingly doable, but it could have been lifted straight out of practically any other VR puzzler.
The same is true of a later brain teaser involving rotating lasers. You have to pull levers to line everything up properly. Again, it’s a perfectly palatable affair, it’s just been done elsewhere. In a universe as infinitely impossible as this, I’d hope for a bit more spark. Narratively, it seems all there; it’s the gameplay that still has to prove itself.
But I’m optimistic there’s some of that too. Edge of Time’s trailers have run the gamut of Who villains, including Daleks and those most memorable of foes, the Weeping Angels. I don’t need to tell you how much potential their ‘move when unseen’ hook has, no matter how terrifying it may be. There’s an original story and new monsters, but much of Edge of Time’s promise lies in delivering on fans’ biggest dreams. Edge of Time might live or die depending on what lengths it goes to to do that.
I’d expect, then, for this to shine in places and maybe lack in a few others (which, incidentally, also describes pretty much every season of the show). For Who fans, though, Edge of Time represents the first real chance to step into a world they’ve loved for nearly 60 years. If even just looking at the Tardis as intended for the first time brings a smile to your face, the rest of it might all be worth it.
Doctor Who: The Edge of Time is coming soon to PC VR, PSVR and Oculus Quest.