Monday, 9 June 2008

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: Alien Arena" by Richard Dungworth

The second book in the series of Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny adventures, Alien Arena is written by Richard Dungworth and again stars the Doctor and Martha (despite only featuring the Doctor on the cover). This time, "you're on an alien prison ship in the midst of a mutiny! The ringleader, Mr Big, has created an arena, where aliens from all over the universe are fighting each other. Only your quick wits, and a little help from the Doctor and Martha, can help you escape the arena!" Ooh, exciting.

After being somewhat disappointed by the first entry in this series, I had lowered expectations going into this adventure. It seems I needn't have worried -- this one has proper choices! Hurrah! As anyone who's read my previous review may remember, I disliked the style of choices the reader was offered in the first book (they let you direct the story, not your character's actions). Alien Arena consistently offers the latter however, with a nice mix between random decisions -- "go left or right" -- and actual choices -- "reason with him or run away", "hide or run away"... Yes, the second option is often "run away", but considering this is a Doctor Who story that seems reasonable enough (especially when most of the running away is down corridors). The many "left or right" choices give a sense that there's a lot of different adventures to be had here. While the plot must surely remain more or less the same (there are only 99 different sections in the book, after all), the encounters you have along the way, and the manner in which you approach some of them (for example, at one point, watching on a video screen for a clue how to save Martha, or just rushing straight to her location), would seem to allow for a nice degree of variation. Some choices are incredibly open: at one point, the Doctor and Martha each head off to do different things, and you have a choice of who to follow. Best of all is a fantastic final sequence in which you wind up in the titular arena, battling aliens! There are so many choices to make in this fight that it must take up a number of sections within the book, so I presume every storyline climaxes here. This is how a Decide Your Destiny book should be done.

Speaking of the Doctor and Martha (I was, a sentence or two ago), they don't turn up for a good while -- and when they do, the Doctor is Martha-less. Maybe he turns up sooner in some versions (or perhaps they even turn up together), but in the sections I read through you do a fair bit of solo exploring before you bump into the crazy side-burned time traveller. It gives a nice feeling of independence, whereas for much of The Spaceship Graveyard you just followed the Doctor and Martha around. Clearly the book doesn't fulfill my hope of continuing adventures in this series (every ending I saw in the previous book read "Your adventures continue" -- it seems they don't, at least not in this book). It's only a mild disappointment, which does nothing to hinder the excitement of this adventure.

After the lacklustre experience of the first Decide Your Destiny book, Alien Arena is a much more entertaining experience. There are several action-packed sequences and a real sense that you have choices and your decisions will matter. I'm tempted to start reading it again straight away and see what happens by going different ways down corridors or following different characters. Maybe this time it won't end with my memory being wiped...

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