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So here’s what’s most wrong with the 21st century’s rendition of Doctor Who: everyone on Earth knows everything now. I’ve lamented since the beginning of RTD’s shift on the rebooted series that it breaks the one thing that makes anything of this ilk fun: it doesn’t keep any secrets. When you have Daleks taking over New York, or dinosaurs romping through London, or bloody UFOs seen by everyone in every country in the world, you absolutely demolish every glimmer of mystique, of suspense, and more than anything else, of being in the know. From Doc Who MD through to X-Files and all it spawned, the joy of such science fiction was getting the secret glimpse behind the curtain of all the extra-normal shenanigans taking place in what everyone else thinks is just the regular real world. The moment your programme has everyone on Earth finding out too, two massive things break:
- Nothing feels special or secret or exciting any more. Aliens and killer robots are now normal and expected.
- The programme is no longer set in your world, but one completely other. You know these monsters and creatures aren’t under your bed, because you’d have seen them when they took over the government and announced themselves on national TV, or whatever idiotic plotline the show’s had in the last 15 years. Hell, if it were set in our reality, we’d all have studied the time a dinosaur romped through Westminster in our history lessons.
This may seem something of a tangent, but bear with me, because the freshly released Dr. Who PhD lost phone game, The Lonely Assassins, begins held back by this ludicrous situation not of its own creation, breaking both the illusion of the game being set behind the scenes of our known reality, and that of a standard lost phone game. And yet somehow it manages to work.
You may also be wondering why a site dedicated to unknown treats of gaming would be writing about this, but it’s because a) this game is from fabulous lost phone indie developers Kaigan Games (Sara Is Missing, SIMULACRA), and b) no one’s noticed it! And it’s worth noticing!
Kaigan are good at this. Not the subtle, personal tales of Accidental Queens’ A Normal Lost Phone games, but bombastic, complicated conspiratorial tales, told out with the aid of a third party texting you throughout. Here you have the TV series’ Petronella Osgood as your remote guide, asking for your help recovering information from the phone of Lawrence Nightingale. He’s gone missing, and if you happen to have seen the incredibly famous and popular early reboot episode, Blink, you might remember him as one of the survivors of the Weeping Angels.
Picking Blink is a smart idea, as it was one of the very few not-terrible episodes during the grim third series, that most people who even loosely follow the programme will have at least heard about. The Weeping Angels were Stephen Moffatt’s excellent invention, stone statues that can only move when not being looked at, horrifyingly grabbing people and dragging them out of time. And because it was the first time they’d appeared, and not the 394th, they were still very scary back then. The game ignores all their other wasted reappearances in the show, and instead focuses on Lawrence, Sally Sparrow, and the aftermath of the disappearance of Nightingale’s sister, Kathy. It’s set in March 2021, long after the original events, but steeped in their consequences.
Beyond that, you don’t want me telling you story. Just that it’s very much the usual affair: find stuff on the phone, report it to Osgood, she unlocks more stuff on the phone, repeat. There are text messages, calls, photos, and web browsing to trawl through, all made extra-simple and streamlined by automatically allowing you to upload key finds to Osgood as you go. This isn’t Mr. Robot: 1.51exfiltrati0n – it’s aimed at a much more general audience, as you might expect.
But back to where we began, the poor game has to exist in such an awkward space. This is set in an Earth where absolutely everyone knows about and accepts the existence of aliens, where weird, inexplicable things happen loudly and openly all the time, and so no one is surprised or excited by any such things. It’s such a superb demonstration of why the ridiculous plotting on D. Who is so crap. Therefore you’re browsing so-called conspiracy theory message boards, where the only person who’d actually sound crazy would be the one arguing for rational explanations. You’re told by Osgood that aliens are involved and your dialogue options are all completely nonplussed. And in a pretty sad irony, the only thing about which you’re really able to act surprised is the existence of The Doctor.
Still though, the wisdom to riff of Blink, to have talk of Wester Drumlins, read through messages of people discussing the building and the disappearances associated, it does manage to find a small niche in the bloated, spoiled world of the Doc that still feels mysterious and unknown. And then from there it goes off in all sorts of fun hokum directions, with angelic naughtiness punctuated by audio, video and some moments of genuine suspense.
It’s by far the simplest lost phone game I’ve played, but for one particularly dreadful mechanic about trying to ‘delete’ files from the phone by manic and frustrated tapping. There are no great puzzles to solve, but, crucially, there are tasks at which you can succeed and fail. Upon completion I’d missed two out of six goals, without realising it, so there’s clearly more to dig into within the files on the phone. Plus I suspect some of the dialogue choices might have more significant repercussions on the tale told.
I love lost phone games, so I’m a sucker for this. I wish I loved Doctor Who, so I’m a sucker for anything that tries to tell an interesting story within its wibbly wobbly walls. Plus it’s fun to see appearances from the original Blink actors, plus another I won’t spoil. No, it’s no great science fiction classic, but it’s a bright, silly tale with what were once one of the best ever Whovian enemies, managing to be scary once more. (I shall never forgive Moffatt for the Statue Of Liberty. Ever.) And at just a fiver on PC, or three quid on phones, it’s a good two or three hours of distracting fun.