SparkNotes Blog

Learn to Program With the Doctor!

Sure, The Doctor and the Dalek might look innocent. A tablet-based game featuring the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi? Okay. A galaxy-spanning adventure that teams the Doctor with the “the only good Dalek in the universe” for an outer space treasure hunt? Sounds good. Wait, it’s free? Sign us up!

Don’t be fooled. The Doctor and the Dalek isn’t just a game; it’s learning in disguise.

In The Doctor and the Dalek, players control both the Dalek, who is out in the field, as well as the Doctor, who remains behind in the TARDIS. See, on its own the Dalek isn’t very smart, and when it encounters a puzzle, the Doctor needs to take control. Acting as the Doctor, players give the Dalek a series of instructions—things like “Wait,” “Stun,” or “Turn”—and then the Dalek executes the script in real time, fighting off Cybermen, flipping switches, and collecting energy. The game grants bonus points for using as few instructions as possible to solve puzzles, as well as achieving secondary goals.

But there’s a catch. Those lists of instructions? To the trained eye, they look an awful lot like a computer programming language. That’s intentional. The Doctor and the Dalek comes from the BBC’s Make It Digital program, which aims to get teenagers and young adults excited about computer science. The Doctor and the Dalek might be a game first and foremost, but it also teaches you computer programming fundamentals—whether you like it or not.

It’s not all programming, of course. At times, players control the Dalek directly, engaging in light platforming challenges. And don’t worry; this isn’t some cheap cash-in, made without any respect for the source material. Peter Capaldi provided the voice-overs himself, and the game’s script was written by Phil Ford, a Doctor Who veteran who’s responsible for episodes like The Waters of Mars and Into the Dalek. The Doctor and the Dalek isn’t necessarily canon, but it’s an authentic Doctor Who experience all the same, made by people who know and love the franchise.

More importantly, the game is fun—not something you usually say about a product that comes with a 25-page teacher’s guide. The game currently has 4.5 out of 5 stars on the iTunes app store, and the biggest complaint is that the game is too short. The mobile edition, which hit last week, adds four new levels and finishes the story, but that’s apparently not enough. People want more.

Unfortunately, the game is currently available in the UK only; people living elsewhere are going to have to learn programming the old fashioned way, via books and Internet tutorials. That’s a shame, because the BBC’s put together a charming, innovative little game that appeals to Whovians and aspiring programmers alike. Let’s hope they find a way to release game internationally as soon as possible.

After all, if anyone can make topics like if-conditionals and Boolean logic exciting, it’s probably the Doctor.

Would you play this game if it were available in the US?