Retro Review: Doctor Who: Return To Earth

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I’m a long term, diehard Doctor Who fan. But there are some official products that even I can’t stomach, even when they’re technically free.
I’ve played a lot of Doctor Who games. Mines of Terror? Played it. Dalek Attack? Played it. Doctor Who Legacy? Reviewed it.
Heck, I even played through and enjoyed Destiny Of The Doctors, because Anthony Ainley’s performance in it is sublime in that so-bad-it’s-good way.

Scene chewing, the Ainley way

But I’ve never been able to say that there’s been a really good Doctor Who game. The pinball table seems to be the sole exception; the adventure titles are merely OK, and everything else is, at best, poor.
I had avoided Return To Earth, however, because even when it was sparkly brand new, it didn’t review well with anyone. Then, just recently, I ended up buying a replacement Xbox 360, because they break from time to time, and it came with a bundle of titles I didn’t want.
So while I’m not a big fan of game trading, because it’s rarely good value, in this case I did so because it functionally reduced the cost of purchase for the console itself. I picked up a few things I wanted, and had a tiny bit of credit left, when, in the second-hand pile, I spotted a copy of Doctor Who: Return To Earth. It was within my trade budget, or, to put it another way, effectively a zero cost purchase. Surely I couldn’t go wrong there?

Doctor Who: Return To Earth: On the plus side

I’m struggling here. I guess the theme tune is pretty good, and there’s genuine voiceover work from Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.
It’s also home to the Wiimote shaped like a sonic screwdriver, which is seriously sweet if you’re a Doctor Who tragic like I am. That I did pick up when this was brand new, and mine is still boxed and still looks great.
Finally, the trailer is almost hysterically funny in its over the top nature. Almost, but not quite.

Doctor Who: Return To Earth: On the minus side

It’s difficult to know where to start, because apart from securing the licence for Doctor Who, something that apparently cost a pretty penny, there’s almost nothing that this game does right.
It’s a visual mess. Not just in the way that it looks sub-par for a Wii title, but also in the way that basic screen geometry is sometimes misdrawn. You hobble around as Amy or the Doctor, but beyond basic colour schemes being right, you may as well be anybody. Also, to indicate that he’s thinking, Matt Smith’s Doctor intermittently scratches himself as though he’s got fleas.
Somebody, somewhere, spent time animating Matt Smith so that he looked like a mangy dog. Ponder on that for a while.
There are naturally enemies, because a game needs some kind of challenge. The enemies, which include Cybermen and Daleks, aren’t really a challenge per se, because they don’t so much lack artificial intelligence as intelligence of any kind.

This is full of spoilers. I don’t really care, because you’re better off not knowing.

The gameplay is basic. Not basic in a “gripping you in a simple puzzle way” basic, but basic in a “rudimentary and stupid” way. You run around collecting crystals that act as basic colour keys, but have to shoot the crystals at moving targets to do so.
This is where the game’s “challenge” comes in, because the Doctor and Amy control as though they’ve been busily slurping from a bottle of meths the entire time. I’ve stopped playing to write this review because I just spent no less than 25 minutes trying to shoot one moving blue target, fighting controls and camera the entire time.
The most fearsome creature in the universe isn't a Dalek. It's a Wiimote being used to play this abomination of a game.
The most fearsome creature in the universe isn’t a Dalek. It’s a Wiimote being used to play this abomination of a game.

Yes, I’m stubborn, but that’s because Doctor Who: Return To Earth has one of the worst control schemes I’ve ever encountered. I’ve played through, for example, the Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home games, and I’m seriously considering digging them out just so I can refresh my palate.

Doctor Who: Return To Earth: Pricing

As noted, my copy came about because of some trade-in malarky, but if you’re keen — and as if that wasn’t obvious by now, unless you’re a must-collect-them-all kind of Doctor Who fanatic, you really shouldn’t be — it can be had for around ten bucks, or a whole lot more if you believe certain optimistic idiots on eBay.

Doctor Who: Return To Earth: Fat Duck verdict

It’s just occurred to me that I have the companion DS game, Evacuation Earth, as well. That came with a bundle with my 3DS (the guilty parties know why). After Return To Earth, I’m not even willing to slot it in and give it a try.
Doctor Who: Return To Earth? Return to store. Or possibly return to landfill. My copy’s headed for a shelf of related Doctor Who merchandise, never to be played again.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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