Let Zygons be Zygons

I’ve never really understood the enduring appeal of Dr Who, what with its ropey acting, unbelievably contrived plots, preposterously benign baddies and flimsy sets. If I’m in the mood for absurd sci-fi, it needs to be deliberately funny, not accidentally funny, in a so bad it’s funny kind of way. Umm, unless it’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. That’s hilarious.

Also what bugs me is that the producers were able to successfully trademark the use of ‘their’ Narnian time machine, despite it just being a phone box designed in the sixties by the London Metropolitan Police. Who were actually obliged to pay £850 plus legal fees to the court when their appeal to reclaim ownership of the distinctive cupboard was rejected.

Still, the show that first aired nearly six decades ago has clearly stood the test of time, amassing an off-the-scale global fan-base spanning all age groups and genders (no-one can decide exactly how many variations exist so I won’t wade in any further!). It’s so popular there’s even a designated word for Dr Who groupies; Whovians.

Normally you’d nominate one of them to take on the mantle of reviewing a game based on their hallowed pride and joy. CU Amiga’s Steve Merrett for instance (who published the most comprehensive evaluation of the game at the time, awarding it 70%). But since everyone else is soldering leaking capacitors, or getting sozzled in the Red Lion, you’ll have to make do with me, sorry. I expect my medal will arrive shortly in the mail, along with some heavy-duty psychotropic rebalancers.

“Yes, I know that the sets are wobbly, and that the monsters are nearly always a failed rep actor in a wet-suit, but Doctor Who holds a certain magic for me – and before you ask, my complexion is clear, yes I AM interested in women, and, no, I do not possess an anorak. As a wee nipper, watching Jon Pertwee battle against Autons, Sontarans and Roger Delgado’s Master was an essential part of my week. And, of course, there were the Daleks. If it wasn’t for Terry Nation’s gliding creations, Doctor Who probably wouldn’t have made it past its initial twelve-week run.”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

Much to dedicated Whovian’s dismay, Dr Who went MIA for sixteen years beginning in 1989 following the franchise’s cancellation by the ‘misguided’ BBC (the erstwhile BBC1 controller, Jonathan Powell, to be precise). Nevertheless the show spawned a profusion of associated paraphernalia, sporadically pertaining to our treasured sphere of interest, video games. Failing to plug the gap in the schedules left by the TV show, only three officially licensed Doctor Who games emerged across all platforms between 1989 and the show’s long-awaited return in 2005. Whilst their inspiration languished in the annals of celluloid history so too did Dr Who’s gaming homologues.

Currently a total of 23 titles fall into this category. In accordance with the laws of licensed gaming tie-ins, up until as recently as the dawning of the PlayStation 4 era these were almost universally shunned by critics and gamers alike, damningly deemed more feeble than the Daleks’ chances of taking over the world.

Funny I should entirely coincidentally drop them into the conversation. Prior to the Amiga’s heyhey during the ’90s none of these dubiously playable offerings had specifically focused on Dr Who’s most notorious, perennial adversaries, the Daleks. So when Alternative Software – masquerading as ‘Admiral’ – in 1992 proposed the latest gaming accoutrement in the pantheon, ‘Dalek Attack’, it was heralded with cheers and optimism.

“However, in the second story in this fledgling series, the Daleks glided up to menace William Hartnell and Co. And, in doing so, won themselves a place in the history books. It is ironic actually that in the 27 years Doctor Who was on our screens, only the Daleks broke the mould of the popular ‘men in suits’ idiom – although it was the easiness of copying them in the playground which started ‘Dalekmania’ in the 60s.

Whatever the reason for their success, even now in these days of Bart Simpson and the Toxic Crusaders, the Daleks still keep people glued to the telly – well, they would do it if the BBC saw sense and brought the programme back!”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

With the 29th anniversary approaching, Dalek Attack – devised by 221b Software Development (the number of Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street house in case you’re curious) – was initially released for the Commodore 64, and subsequently ported to the main 16-bit computer contenders a year later. Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, the usual suspects.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finally get a new neighbour!

Publishing ‘Dalek Attack’ under the ‘Admiral Software’ label is thought to have been a manoeuvre engineered to distance the slightly-above-cheapo-price title from Alternative’s budget quality reputation. What they didn’t factor in at the time was that another company already owned the Admiral trademark. Internet rumours suggest that the game had to be recalled and the boxes censored with stickers to address this oversight. It’s also claimed that the Admiral Software livery seen in-game was redrawn so as to comply with the ruling.

I can personally vouch for some of this. Most of the box covers I’ve seen include the Admiral moniker. I did, however, notice in the PDF scan of the manual found on the Hall of Light web site that all references to Admiral Software have been blotted out with a black marker pen.

Also, if you look at the copies of the game available for sale on eBay you’ll see that some of the covers have been ‘censored’ with an Alternative Software sticker. Others aren’t censored suggesting that these were purchased before the legal quibbles emerged and the unsold copies could be recalled.

Scroll back up for Dalek Attack box mk 1.

At least in my Amiga copy of the game and the DOS port, the self-promoting Admiral signs found attached to scaffolding and on the roofs of certain buildings remain in situ. Perhaps the enforced digital changes only applied to certain versions of the game? I suppose it’s possible the original Admiral Software’s trademark exclusively pertained to specific platforms, leaving others unaffected.

“Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore…”

We’ve already bought the game. Will you give it a rest.

Owing to the dwindling Amstrad and Spectrum user base, publishing further versions of the game for these 8-10 year old systems was thought to be counter-intuitive, even though the Spectrum version at least was already considered complete.

They say Ethan Hunt does his own stunts.

“The biggest change was in about 1993 when 8-bit was suddenly killed overnight. In those days the market place was dominated by Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad games, on cassette of course. We actually purchased a cassette duplication plant at that time because we were moving that amount of volume. What happened was WH Smiths decided it didn’t want to stock 8-bit anymore and then other retailers followed suit. That whole market died very, very quickly. We were set up at that particular stage in time to do much more. We were just developing 16-bit games and bringing a few through, but we didn’t have any volume. That was a major event for us.”

Roger Hulley (Alternative Software co-founder), MCV article ‘Alternative history: Three decades of the publisher‘ (30th October 2015)

You wouldn’t hit a pensioner in a wheelchair would you?

Ecky-becky-thump, would you Adam and Eve it? Due to a vocal outcry from the Speccy fraternity, backed by Your Sinclair magazine (Jonathan Nash specifically), members of the Church of Sinclair were ultimately treated to their own monochrome slice of Who pie. Announced in June 1993 (in Your Sinclair issue 90), it was to be the last licensed Spectrum game ever released.

“Yes folks, Doctor Who is in mortal peril (again). But this time he faces a far greater enemy than the Cybermen. An infinitely more dangerous foe than the Sontarans. Something big and slimy and nasty that’s even scarier than the ridiculously unconvincing Gastropods. Yes – it’s apathy!”

Apathetic Cybermen, yesterday, for illustrative purposes only.

“Alternative Software have, at last, finished Dr Who Dalek Attack. But they don’t think it’s worth releasing the game on the Speccy, as so few people will buy it. Or so they say. Good heavens! This sounds like a job for Wembley Saveourspeccy, aka SOS Man.

As you may recall, in a previous episode of SOS Man, our hero prevented the loss of Nigel Mansell’s World Championship by encouraging loads of peeps to fill in a bite-sized coupon saying what an awfully good idea it would be to release the game. Billions of readers did so and lo! the mustachioed one made his appearance on the Speccy to a huge round of applause. Now, we’d like to appeal to your sense of public duty once more. Or something.

Basically, if you’d like to have the chance to buy Dr Who – Dalek Attack, a brand-new, full-price Speccy game, then fill in the coupon below, bung it on the back of a postcard and send it to us. You won’t even need a stamp. We’ll pass ’em on to Alternative who can then make the fateful decision. It’s as simple as that. Obviously we’re not twisting your arm – we’ve no idea what the game’s like – but we trust the lovely folk at Alternative and, besides, the continued release of Speccy software has to be a good thing in anyone’s book.”

An Amstrad edition was announced, yet failed to materialise. Apparently Lord Sugar’s posse weren’t quite as excited over the prospect as Clive’s. Very little is known about status of the (work in progress?) project today.

“There’s too much panic in this town”. Come on, sing along.

“My favourite version was on the Amiga. The game was not easy to create, as the development team will no doubt testify, but it was a lot of fun.”

Roger Hulley (Dalek Attack’s producer), Retro Gamer issue 116 (May 2013)

Ensuring a smooth transition between the various systems, Dalek Attack takes the form of a largely traditional scrolling platformer. Similar, though not identical in each of its iterations. Believe it or not, a digitised Dr Who themed Top Trumps game was published in 2008 by Eidos for the Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, Wii, Windows and J2ME mobile platforms. No doubt the ZX Spectrum could have pulled off something similar back in 1992 (or even ten years earlier), yet thankfully Alternative and its founders, Dave Palmer and Roger Hulley, had more sense, learning from others’ past (and future?) mistakes.

“Obviously, for such a long-running programme, there is no shortage of Doctor Who merchandise, but whilst there have been a number of Who derivative games, only two ‘official’ titles have hit our screens – until now. The first was a tawdry Acornsoft BBC Micro effort, which starred Peter Davidson’s Doctor as he worked his ways through a series of dire puzzles and simplified arcade sequences.

The second was ‘The Mines Of Terror’ by Micropower and starred Colin Baker’s incarnation (no it wasn’t – that was a text adventure called ‘Doctor Who and the Warlord’ also published by The Beeb) – although, rather sadly, licensing restriction meant that Micropower couldn’t use popular characters such as the Daleks, K9 and Co. and the result was a dull little arcade/adventure involving the Doctor, a metallic cat, and a race of robots who trundled along on castors – sound familiar?”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

Storywise Dalek Attack is a bog-standard matter of the genetically engineered mutants invading and attempting to conquer the earth, while Dr Who steps in to save the day, and the humans.

Our hero, the time-travelling Doc himself falls into the ‘humanoid’ category so the usual limitations don’t apply, allowing him (and more recently her) to regenerate upon death. A tiny bit like James Bond, Dr Who is assumed to be a variety of interconnected representations of the same character portraying diverging stages of his/her eternal existence (the thirteen lives rule no longer seems to apply because Dr Who is too profitable to quit now).

“The thing I keep banging on about is that he doesn’t know what age he is. He’s lying. How could he know, unless he’s marking it on a wall? He could be 8,000 years old, he could be a million. He has no clue. The calendar will give him no clues.”

Steven Moffat, SFX (May 2010)

Being a time traveller it’s entirely possible for the Doc to meet her/himself. Ooh eck, time paradox territory ahoy! Let’s move swiftly on.

Davros – the leader of the Daleks – in cahoots with the Emperor Dalek has ordered his army to infiltrate four major cities around the globe to stage their heinous takeover. Deploying pods to destroy the earth’s ozone layer in readiness for their invasion, Davros has placed an impenetrable-ish force field dome over London, New York, Paris and Tokyo to stymy the Doc’s efforts to intervene.

“The plot is standard Doctor Who fare, with some wibble about Daleks taking over the universe while Davros cackles maniacally in the background like the mad person you always manage to bump into on your way to the newsagents.

Somehow the Timelords get involved and the Doctor has to save the universe and everything.”

Amiga Power issue 22 (February 1993)

Impressive for a title of this vintage, delivered on just two floppy disks, plenty of sampled staccatissimo Dalek-speak can be heard throughout the game to elucidate the plot, especially during the introduction.

“This is only the beginning. We will prepare, we will grow stronger. When the time is right we will emerge, and take our rightful place as the supreme power of the univeeerse. EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!”

To breach London’s alien defences, the Doc can enter its rat-infested sewer system (as seen in ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ in 1977), emerging beneath the dome to rid England’s capital city of invaders. Accessing the remaining three cities instead entails the use of ‘smart cards’ to pierce temporary holes in the shields.

Who are you calling stupid? Insubordinate machine!

Once inside, a specified number of hostages must be rescued to progress to the next region (the red number displayed in the HUD)…

…before finally confronting the Dalek leader on his home planet, Skaro. 500 points are awarded for each captive freed, contributing to the purchase of the smart cards we’ll need to crack open the next zone. Any extra hostages emancipated after the countdown reaches zero continue to boost our score and therefore currency.

Sylvester chaperoned by Bonnie Langford and Kate O’Mara.

Sylvester McCoy – being the most recent actor to play the Doctor at this point – is bestowed with the honour of featuring in the intro. His levitating, decapitated, winking head superimposed over the TARDIS, captivated in a space-time warp swirl…

…before being supplanted by the diamond-shaped logo from the TV show (the fourth revision, used from 1973 – 1980), albeit with a yellowy-orange glow (it was illustrated using a blue gradient originally). Sylvester was actually born Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith. Just saying in case it ever comes up in a pub quiz.

Everyone has their favourite Doctor I’m told, so if Sly (Doctor no. 7, 1987-9) isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll be glad to know that you can also opt to play as Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor)…

Cheer up Pat, the Daleks may never invade earth. Oh.

…or Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor).

Yeah, you and Who’s army? Oh, my mistake, sorry.

Unfortunately we don’t regenerate as the next Doctor in the chronological sequence when we perish as you might expect, although that would have been a nice touch.

But I want both! *stamps foot and folds arms in a huff*

“Before you play the game you can choose your Doctor from an array of three. There’s the one with the silly hat and the scarf, the one with the silly coat and stupid bow tie, and, er, somebody else dressed in incredibly ill-fitting clothes and looking like the last person on earth to be even remotely capable of saving the universe from a race of totally insane and heavily armed robots.”

Amiga Power issue 22 (February 1993)

Peter Davison sporting his PJ pants, super-dapper panama hat, cricket jumper, and ringmaster’s jacket (someone should let him know he’s dropped some of his sandwich filling on it).

Which of the Doctors serve as the selectable protagonists varies according to the system on which the game is played. In the C64 and Atari ST version Sylvester McCoy is substituted for the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, whereas Sly is our only option in the almost Game-That-Wasn’t Speccy incarnation.

‘The Five Doctors’ special, feature-length episode starring… erm, five of the Doctors (numbers 1 – 5!). First broadcast in 1983 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show.

Dalek Attack being a single or simultaneous two player game, accompanying the Doc is one of two companions from the TV show; Ace (a 20th century teenager aka Dorothy)…

Ace played by Sophie Aldred… with some stalker who looks uncannily like that bloke who starred in Dr Who for a while.

…or Brigadier, soldier and founder of UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce).

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart played by Nicholas Courtney (the one in the uniform I expect).

Managing the screen real estate between two players is often tricky in cooperative games. Here it’s handled more strangely than most in that whenever one player strays beyond the edges of the visible playfield, the game is transformed into a turn-taking affair, swapping between characters with the space bar. Adding to the frustration, players must share resources and often obstruct one another’s view. It’s debatable if the extra player is a help or a hindrance.

It doesn’t seem to make any difference to your abilities which Doctor or assistant you choose. Controls are sufficiently responsive regardless, each avatar equally agile having perfected formidable Prince of Persia impersonations, aptly demonstrated by their ledge-grabbing-and-hauling shenanigans. In effect you may as well make your decisions based on something as inane as colour coordination. In the Spectrum adaptation the choice is once again taken out of our hands… the options are Ace or Ace, and colour never was the Spectrum’s forte.

In the 16-bit variants, the sixties style pop-art cut-scene interlude screens always star Sylvester McCoy and Ace no matter who you choose to play as. A bit of an oversight there I suspect.

Level one constitutes an anti-gravity Dalek hover pad ride through the London sewers. Poised towards the middle of the screen so as to guard against Dalek stalkers from behind we must shoot the cocoons holding humans hostage to release them, whilst fending off attackers from both directions, and avoiding wall collisions.

A Spectrum counterpart of this dingy, infectious level exists, though disappointingly the Doc tackles it on foot, analogous to the proceeding stages.

Back on the Amiga, it’s a very brief exercise culminating in a guardian battle with an aberration of the Loch Ness monster, or more likely, a ‘Terrorkon’. In spite of all the misinformation disseminated in magazines at the time and online regarding this freak of nature, it’s not an original creature designed solely for the game. Rather a homage to the two-headed mutant beast featured in ‘The Terrorkon Harvest’ and ‘Impasse’ Dr Who comic books.

If we’re to exploit the stage selection cheat, this level must first be completed before keyboard text input is accepted. Each code is a reference to one Doctor Who TV episode or another, not just random nonsense.

Paris – ‘Day of Reckoning’ (the title of episode 3 in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ serial, 1964)
Tokyo – ‘Tricolour Coffee Shop’ (a location featured in ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, 1967)
New York – ‘The Slyther’ (the Dalek’s guard dogs as seen in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ 1964)
Skaro – ‘D5 Gamma Z Alpha’ (another name for Skaro as we learn from watching ‘Destiny of the Daleks’, 1979)

It’s anyone’s guess what the infinite lives cheat relates to: “James Bond and Oliver Reed were never good singers”. Oliver Reed was an acclaimed actor, while his short-lived singing detour never really left the ground. In 1969 it’s thought he possibly-maybe had the opportunity to play James Bond, supplanting Sean Connery. It’s not known why it didn’t happen. Does that help at all? No? Oh well, I had a go.

Eleven and Ten go vaping. David hasn’t exhaled for some time, while Matt waits for Paul McKenna to release him.

Whovian tributes percolate the proceedings throughout, although the connection to Doctor Who is often not immediately obvious seeing as assets were adapted from obscure spin-off fiction as well as the more cannon thread the general public are familiar with.

Another myth spread by people only accustomed to certain eras of the sprawling franchise involves the Doc’s laser-shooting multi-functional sonic screwdriver. It doesn’t in the show and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in particular was a principled pacifist who preferred to solve problems with his grey matter rather than projectiles.

“Alternative have broken the good Time Lord’s life-long tradition of not killing things unnecessarily by arming him with a laser gun – although on later stages Alternative try and validate this by explaining that it isn’t in fact a laser gun but a specially-modified Sonic Screwdriver. Hmmmmm.”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi (2014 – 2017)

“Blasting? Shoot-’em-up? Weapons? This doesn’t sound very Doctor Who-like. You’re right, it isn’t. In the television series the Doctor would solve problems using his vast intellect. Dalek Attack, however, is a licence-by-numbers. The Doctor Who elements have been grafted onto a bog-standard platformer. With a few minor changes to the graphics, it could just as easily have been a Blake’s Seven, Star Wars or even Last of the Mohicans game.”

Commodore Format issue 29 (February 1993). Shockingly Commodore Format went on to include Dalek Attack in their run-down of ‘The Bottom 10 Games of all Time’ in October 1995 (see issue 61).

“Great shot kid, that was one in a million.”
Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison (1982 – 1984)

“Dalek Attack is a five-level multi-scrolling shoot-’em-up. Oops – no, stop right there – it isn’t a shoot-’em-up at all, because if memory serves me correctly, Doctor Who is a pacifist.

It’s a sonic screwdriver-’em-up, this implement being the trusty tool that the Doctor is never without. Having said that, one blast from his screwdriver and the baddies certainly look dead to me – maybe they’re just mildly concussed and suffer no serious after effects. Oh who cares?”

Amiga Computing (issue 57, February 1993)

He pulls a knife, you pull a Demat Gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Whovian way, and that’s how you get The Sontarans!
Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (1974 – 1981)

“Then comes the shock when the game loads, because you’re controlling our Doc on some sort of high-tech floating platform massacring everything in sight with a powerful laser and chucking grenades, smart bombs and all manner of death-dealing heavy weaponry at the enemy. This hardly captures the atmosphere of Doctor Who, and in my day he’d take the lot on with only a sonic screwdriver and a clapped out old car called Bessie.”

Amiga Power issue 22 (February 1993)

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith (2010 – 2013)

Belying such a notion there are plenty of instances throughout the history of the series where the Doctor is seen firing a gun of some sort, so it’s not such a drastic deviation for him to be seen wielding a weaponised Sonic Screwdriver in-game. An upgradeable one no less that can alternately shoot lasers (intensified by collecting lightning bolts), single, double or triple volleys of bullets. Hardly a premise-nullifying goof then.

Incidentally a peripheral character, a renegade time lord known as The Master, has more recently been seen utilising a laser screwdriver as a deadly weapon. This was first introduced via ‘The Sound of Drums’ episode in June 2007. John Simm – renowned for his starring role in Life on Mars – played The Master at this point.

Authentic or otherwise, the sonic screwdriver isn’t all the Doc has in his burgeoning arsenal. Smart bombs, grenades (often found in drink vending machines and grandfather clocks amongst other equally bizarre places), and K9 (the tail-wagging android dog sidekick) comprise the remainder of his defences.

K9 – found wandering aimlessly in Tokyo and New York – isn’t controllable in the companion sense, although will helpfully fire in synchrony with the Doctor. Just a shame that he’s totally stumped by steps, rather like the Daleks and ED-209 parodies who pose a threat in Tokyo. Somehow I doubt the latter are veritable Doctor Who opponents.

An enforcement droid (model 209) brought to you by the Katakana letter ‘ho’.

Enhancing the strategy element, Daleks are impervious to the Doc’s standard guns; they can only be destroyed using grenades or multiple laser shots. Other adversaries succumb to his weaponry in an idiosyncratic fashion, encouraging us to adapt our approach depending on who or what we stumble across in various unique locales.

All the remaining levels beyond the sewer are of a runny-jumpy-roof-collapsey nature, having dispensed with the swiped Dalek hover-zimmer disc thingy (officially known as a hoverbout or transolar disc, dating back to 1964).

Enormous, convoluted and dizzyingly nonlinear, these stages are chockablock with secret areas (accessed by pushing up in places where there are no doors), hidden collectables, and leap of faith invisible platforms leading to clusters of floating power-ups.

As the story goes, the BBC wouldn’t allow the 221b team to include staff credits in the game, which explains the existence of a clandestine room located in Paris graffitied with the names of all the people involved. It’s reached by destroying some blocks and subsequently pushing up where they used to be, and can be seen in Ironclaw’s longplay on YouTube. In fact the majority of the pictures in this article were taken from the same longplay – thanks very much! 🙂

As can the graffiti in the subway, providing further clues as to the authors’ identities.

What’s odd (and not so secret) is that the Amiga game also includes these credits as part of the game’s finale sequence…

…and some are additionally duplicated in the high score table. Amongst these you’ll notice the names of some of the actors who have played Doctor Who and his companions over the years. And now Ironclaw who put their scores to shame!

Included in the list of wall inscriptions is the name of the person who worked on the Spectrum port and unreleased Amstrad rendition (Nick Kimberley), as well as some jokes and a ‘thanx’ to Choice Software (the developers of Platoon, Daley Thompson and New Zealand Story, all published by Ocean) and Peakstar Software who produced Sooty & Sweep, and Thomas the Tank Engine 1 and 2 for Alternative Software.

Each level is decorated with region-themed stereotypical street furniture and landmarks. Thus you can expect to find Big Ben…

…the underground transport network, red buses, red post boxes and red phone boxes in London.

Stuck to the wall of a building near Piccadilly Circus (not an actual circus you understand) you’ll also find a Totter’s Lane street sign. This is an allusion to the Shoreditch location of the junkyard where the original Doctor first hid the TARDIS in 1963 (it was situated at no. 76 to be precise). It’s now home to the Red Lion pub in the year 2254, a building seemingly invented for the game alone.

Tom Baker’s animated scarf even flutters in the wind. Nice Touch.

“As Dr Who fans we had wanted to do a game for some time, but as it had been off screen for several years we needed to have a good selling point and that’s when we realised that the 30th anniversary was soon to come up.

When storyboarding the game, we opted for a Dalek invasion of Earth, but we thought it would be more exciting if we had more locations, not just the UK as was the case in the series. So we went for London to start (we even got the correct street name) and then you went to Paris, New York and Tokyo.

We also wanted to incorporate other Dalek ‘baddies’ as well, so we had the ‘flying’ Daleks, The Emperor Dalek (as featured in the TV21 comic) and Elite Battle Daleks (we got the idea for these from a drawing in a book on Daleks at the time).

We also had end-of-level Guardians where the programmers’ imaginations were left to run riot.”

Roger Hulley (Dalek Attack’s producer), Retro Gamer issue 116 (May 2013)

Perhaps not the best example of off-script bosses seeing as there are plenty of references to dinosaurs in Dr Who mythology, so I’ll try again.

That’s more like it. Time for a sharp exit.

Gyrating our way onto New York stowed in the TARDIS, the backdrop scenery is dominated by the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan’s illustrious Waldorf hotel.

Spot the looters. I suspect someone had been watching ‘Warriors of New York’ or ‘Escape from New York’. It doesn’t matter; all New Yorkers are thieves anyway. 😉

If you thought the busiest metropolis in America was hostile before now, playing Dalek Attack will do nothing to allay your fears. Even the yellow taxi cabs are a serious threat to the Doc’s well-being, screeching blindly into our hero without stopping to ponder what that brake pedal thingy might be for. They’re invulnerable which doesn’t help (much like the armoured futuristic cars dodged in Tokyo).

In a dilapidated re-envisioning of Paris there’s the scaleable Eiffel Tower…

…Arc de Triomphe, and signs commemorating the 262nd year of Euro Disney, signifying that we’re now in the future. Deduct 262 from the year 2254, the period in which the game is set, and you get 1992. Significant since this was the year in which Euro Disney opened for business and Dalek Attack was developed.

Euro Disney has always been considered Florida Disney’s poor relation, and rather appropriately Dalek Attack was sold for a knockdown price of £16.99 (despite The One magazine reporting that it cost a more premium £25.99, and apologising in the next issue). Some of the critics who first put the platformer through its paces upon release still felt this was extortionate given the perceived quality of the game. Personally I think the scores at the lower end of the scale were overly harsh, and largely a reflection of how poorly they understood the mechanics of the game and relevance of its constituents.

“Doctor Who’s been knocking the socks of every Speccy fan who’s seen it (‘How did they get it moving so quickly?’ ‘Wow!’ etc) but then again, they’ve not been playing it. I have, and I’m disappointed. As a tie-in it falls to bits (as most do) and as a game it irritates the hell out of me. It’s above average, but then only marginally.”

Your Sinclair (56%, July 1993)

Gardienne numbre quatre… erm, in Japan, not France. I don’t know where I’m going with this either.

“There will be those who criticise the graphics for being flat. It’s true that a few parallax backgrounds could only have enhanced the game, but I was more than impressed with the level of detail, and the realism of the city backdrops, particularly the part where the Doctor gets flattened by a New York yellow cab.

It’s not often we mention price tags in a review, the idea being that a game either will or won’t stand up on its own merits. Dalek Attack is an original twist on a tried and tested formula – at seventeen quid it’s outstanding value for money, an absolute must for all Doctor Who fans.”

Amiga Computing (83%, February 1993)

“You want progression? You ain’t got it. Apart from the first level – a fairly easy flight through the sewers on hover pads – all the others play exactly the same, requiring the same level of skill (and luck). It’s a case of play one and you’ve played ’em all.

This is strictly one for die-hard fans only, and they deserve better than this. Sheesh, even El Dorado fans deserve better than this.”

Commodore Format (28%, February 1993)

“It’s got hardly anything going for it I’m afraid. The scrolling is so bad it gave me a headache, there’s no excitement whatsoever, it doesn’t give you the flavour of Doctor Who at all and it still doesn’t explain how the Daleks are so powerful when they can’t even get up a flight of stairs. Find a better way of spending your fifteen quid.”

Amiga Power (who Alternative attempted to sue over their 28% score, February 1993)

“It is by no means a complete loss and I’m sure that it’s sub-twenty quid price win it a lot of fans, and Alternative are indeed to be commended for this price point, but even so I hope when Alternative have another tab at the licence – and I sincerely hope they do as they are on the right track – it regenerates into something better than this.”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

In stark contrast to the more negative magazine assessments, according to Alternative’s sales manager, David Watkins, when he demonstrated the game to a panel of 750 members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society “the response was quite amazing, totally surpassing all our expectations”. By way of appreciation for their appreciation, the Spectrum version of Dalek Attack included a flyer (and sticker) to promote the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.

This suggests to me that real aficionados appreciated all the perceptive winks to the show’s legacy, while casual viewers and non-devotees missed them, assuming the game to be a cheap cash-in made by people who knew nothing about Doctor Who and couldn’t be bothered to research it. While I appreciate that everyone is entitled to their opinion, I strongly disagree.

On the contrary it features faithful – albeit caricatured – portrayals of…

  • Robomen (helmet-wearing, surgically enslaved, converted humans who will obediently follow orders to the letter).

  • Mutants (creatures contorted by Skaro’s atmospheric radiation, fallout from the neutronic war). Likely inspired by ‘The Dead Planet’, 1964.

  • Ogrons (dimwitted mercenary ape-ish humanoids, typically seen wearing their traditional green uniforms)

  • Red Ogrons (non-standard ape-men varieties found only in-game on Skaro, distinguished by their red uniform).

  • Robo-pet, K9, and the Doctor’s ultimate nemesis, Davros, as already discussed.

  • Magnedons (metallic lizard-like creatures with stalked eyes). Hmm, I don’t remember seeing these in-game.
  • Slythers (black, tentacled, predatory creatures). Not seen in Ironclaw’s longplay either, I don’t think. Well, I wasn’t going to get to Skaro myself!
  • The Emperor Dalek (supreme ruler of the Dalek Empire).

  • Special Weapons Daleks (heavily tooled varieties with enhanced defences, aka ‘The Abomination’).

  • Redesigned Daleks (courtesy of Raymond Cusick) as seen in the Dr Who magazine 10th anniversary special (and eventually in the 2005 reboot).

  • Imperial Daleks (obsequious Davros-worshippers distinguished by their white bodies with gold ‘studs’). I can’t say I spotted any of these in-game. Oh wait, they’ll be these ones with the wrong colour scheme, though otherwise true to their established design…

  • Red Daleks (indistinct mid-ranking variants, airborne thanks to their hoverbouts, or grounded).

 

  • Renegade Daleks (xenophobic, racist opponents of Davros, yet still delighted to incinerate the Doctor).

You can even identify Whovian correlations with the stripey mimes…

One false move and the Doc will be riding one of the Cushing movie design Daleks, as seen in Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965). Luckily the love-struck pepper-pot only has eyes for that dustbin. PRO-CRE-ATE, PRO-CRE-ATE, PRO-CRE-ATE.

…and mummies seen in Paris…

…and Japanese ninjas (as opposed to Russian ones?) if you look hard enough. It’s difficult to decipher if these sprite choices were deliberate, or if it’s just that Doctor Who has been around so long that every region in the world has been visited by one time-hopper or another, and every classification of human and alien organism depicted.

“The Doctor sprites are too small and, although recognisable, are far from impressive. In addition, although Alternative will please die-hard fans with the inclusion of Ogrons (apelike henchmen), Robomen (converted humans harking back to Hartnell’s era), and Emperor and Special Weapons Daleks, the sprites just aren’t imposing enough, and it’s hard to be intimidated by a Dalek or Ogron which is little more than half an inch tall and is barely distinguishable from the similarly-coloured backdrops.”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

In one boss skirmish against an overgrown ‘Super Guardian’ Dalek you can even momentarily see the octopus-like, mutated Kaled creature harboured within. A detail meticulously transcribed from Doctor Who lore.

Conversely, the Chinese dragon we face in Tokyo appears to have been adopted from ‘Four to Doomsday’; these were employed in recreational dances on board Urbankan Monarch’s ship.

A real panoply of pests! Not so for loyal Spectrum stalwarts sadly – their antagonist portfolio comprises just Ogrons, Robomen and standard Daleks, plus a series of attenuated guardians to compliment the limitations of the ageing system.

Weapon usage aside, something else I struggle to get my head around is the criticism levelled at the “reasonably suitable”, “dodgy, warbling rendition” of the Dr Who theme tune composed by Paul Tankard. Underwhelming appraisals courtesy of Amiga Format and CU Amiga respectively. I think it’s as accurate an interpretation of Ron Grainer’s original as you could hope to achieve given the technology available. Performed by Delia Derbyshire, the iconic piece is equally as celebrated as the show itself. I’ve consulted my own ears and they tell me Paul does it justice. That’s sufficient to settle the debate.

Clearly some of the baddies are filler material, befitting their respective habitats, while bearing no relation to the Dr Who TV series, comics or movies. Chimpish sumo fighters…

Did you know there was a direct-to-video Japanese sequel to Snakes on a Plane? Allow me to introduce ‘Sumos on a Train’.

…minigun robots…

…gun turret robots, several Xenomorphs in Skaro (found in the sewer in the original C64 game)…

…ED-209, looters, and ninjas immediately spring to mind. Several of the bosses too are conspicuously non-Whovian. Artistic license always plays its part somewhere along the line. That’s the nature of the beast.

A reference to TV sitcom ‘Miss Jones & Son’? Derek Seaton was involved with this as well as Dr Who. Otherwise *shrug*.

Collectables are everywhere we look, most notably health-restoring, spinning ‘WD’ icons. No, I don’t get it either. A reference to Amiga graphics artist, Wayne Dalton, who worked on the game along with coder Richard Turner, and fellow graphicians, David Tolley and John Gyarmati? Obviously also Doctor Who backwards so that sort of ticks a double box.

Jelly Babies go the extra mile, replenishing our energy to the max… which reminds me of the ‘Pepi’ logos adorning the streets of downtown New York. Not Pepsi, Pepi you understand. For copyright reasons I presume, also explaining the other examples of nearly-product-placement such as McDos (instead of McDonald’s), Fost (a truncated version of Foster’s lager), Kodk (short for Kodak), generic Cola, and Burger (without the King). What’s the blue sign that appears to begin ‘San…’? Answers on a postcard. Don’t forget the stamp!

Except elsewhere we find bona fide Coca Cola and Sony signs displaying their unmangled brand names, completely contradicting my theory. Genuine Mitsubishi logos don’t help either. I suppose the joke is to self-censor then forget about it later? Hmm.

Jelly Babies have made recurring appearances in the franchise throughout the decades. Multiple Doctors have alluded to the Bassett’s confectionery, eaten them, or offered them to others. Hence their inclusion in the game, serving as life-savingly crucial power-ups.

Time Lords bearing gifts, however, are the most impressive power-up imparters we’ll encounter.

These emerge from the ether upon the accrual of 25,000 points (earned by gathering coins, slaying the evildoers, and freeing hostages) offering a generous selection of goodies to choose from. These include an extra life, a full energy boost, grenades, laser potency, a smart bomb, shield or fire outriders (protective force fields that orbit the Doc for a limited time).

Reflecting upon the insanely steep difficulty curve (not alleviated in the slightest by the incidence of fatal falls, respawning baddies and a lack of restart points), we’ll need all the help we can get, so some friendly faces are always a welcome sight. At the behest of the Time Lords, our mission in Skaro is to recover the sacred Time Ring stolen by Davros.

Navigating a Dalek assembly line and cave system we eventually rendezvous with the Golden Emperor and the megalomaniac Dalek leader himself.

Is that a Rockasaur from Tonka’s Rock Lords collection?

“I’m not sure if I was expecting way too much because I’m such an ardent fan of the programme, but Dalek Attack falls short on a number of counts. Admittedly, the game proves quite fun in the short-term, but prolonged play prompts irritation thanks to numerous ‘no-win’ situations, and I’m also disappointed by the platform action the programmers have opted for.”

CU Amiga (February 1993)

Given the treacherous endurance trial it has been to reach this juncture, the finale is a somewhat of an anticlimax. Davros is actually a pushover; no doubt the brains behind the world-conquering operation, though certainly without the brawn to back it up. It makes sense since – courtesy of a nuclear attack on his laboratory orchestrated by the Thal race – he’s a dishevelled wreck, getting by with a single cybernetic cyclopsian eye and just the one hand. Substituting for a lower body is a life-support chair the Daleks will recognise as a component of their own metal shells since he went on to design these based on his own mobility scooter.

Use the Jelly Baby Luke! (before that red Dalek nicks it)

Assassinating him to guarantee Davros can’t make a comeback would make sense… and when did Doctor Who ever make sense? Instead we freeze and banish him to the equivalent of Superman’s Phantom Zone, immobilised inside an ice block capsule for the rest of eternity. Or at least until the Doctor Who writers run out of new nemesis ideas and decide to haul him back from suspended animation to ‘Die’ Another Day.

 

Rarely will we have the opportunity to discover what the movie or TV star a game revolves around thinks of their transition as a playable entity. Dalek Attack curiously represents the exception to the rule seeing as Commodore Format and Sinclair User managed to track down Sylvester McCoy while performing in a local pantomime to seek his verdict. Cinderella (also starring ‘Bird of a Feather’ Lesley Joseph, the since convicted criminal, Rolf Harris, and former rugby union player, Gareth Chilcott) at the Theatre Royal, Bath, in case you’re interested.

He wasn’t impressed to say the least. Partly because he had no awareness of the game’s development until it was too late to have any influence over its direction. Though also on account of the violent proclivities of his pixelated Minime, to which he took great offence.

“I think it’s rather rude. The first I heard about it was when my son said that he had seen it somewhere. Then other people told me about it.

When I got the job as Doctor Who I didn’t want to be violent in the role. I didn’t want to beat the monsters to death. I wanted the Doctor – because he comes from another world – to be much more intelligent than humanity and he would know that violence is not the answer. If my Doctor is doing anything violent I’m really saddened by that.

Although I have a very little brain personally, the character I was playing had a very big brain, and I wanted to use that to good effect. I really strongly believe that we should have superheroes not with their underpants outside their trousers but with their brains inside their heads.”

Commodore Format issue 29 (February 1993), though what he told Your Sinclair (published in issue 88, April 1993) was almost identical.

Had he been consulted it’s entirely possible Sylvester would have harnessed the power to veto his inclusion, or at least steer the game on a more cerebral trajectory. A point and click adventure would perfectly lend itself to the transposition of the Dr Who universe to the small screen so his ‘interference’ may well have been a positive influence. Although knocking out the Whovian equivalent of Monkey Island in record time to meet the looming deadline of the 29th anniversary of the TV show was never going to be feasible with such a small development team on board.

By the time the 16-bit revisions were being prepared for publication, the Big One was rapidly approaching, the 30th anniversary, so perhaps an entirely separate design was called for to mark the momentous occasion? It wasn’t in fact until 2010 when someone (Sumo Digital) finally had a stab at the Who-infused adventure game genre. Four times actually.

“There had already been a previous adventure game, so we decided that we should do something different, and we decided an all-out action game in which the Daleks would actually shoot and exterminate you. When watching the TV series as a child, it was always exciting when the Daleks cried “Exterminate!” and fired their guns (and the unfortunate target became a black and white ‘negative’), so we wanted to get this excitement in the game.”

Roger Hulley (Dalek Attack’s producer), Retro Gamer issue 116 (May 2013)

‘What-ifs’ aside, the game that did come to fruition is hardly the disaster many would have us believe. It’s vast, immensely challenging, and awash with reverent allusions to the much-cherished subject matter.

Sure, a smidgen more variety might have been nice, but isn’t being EX-TERM-IN-ATED a zillion times to the dulcet tones of a rabidly overzealous Stephen Hawking impersonator what it’s all about? Doesn’t this chilling prospect only enrich the jittery joyousness of playing from behind the sofa, squinting through your fingers, clutching a bumper pack of Ibuprofen?

While you’re back there have a rummage around to see if you can spot your cowering grandparents. You never know, they might still be hiding, quivering with shell-shock from witnessing the onslaught of the egg-whisking tinpot invaders from Skaro back in the swinging sixties.

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