A Doctor Who game being released by the BBC this week requires much more than a game controller or a computer mouse. Instead, players must solve puzzles through a series of commands that teach the basics of programming and coding skills. The fate of the universe depends on your ability to help a rogue Dalek survive.
The Doctor and The Dalek begins with the TARDIS materializing in the middle of a space battle, where a Dalek saucer is bearing down on a Cyber-ship. But then a distress call is broadcast from the Cyber-ship — from a Dalek. Upon freeing his old enemy from the Cybermen, the Doctor (voiced by Peter Capaldi) and his new ally embark on a mission to save creation.
If only the Dalek could be taught to cross a bridge.
The online game (which, unfortunately, can only be played if you live in the UK), is aimed at kids between the ages of 8 and 11. The BBC is also releasing teacher packs to help schools incorporate it into lessons.
Dominic Connor, a writer for The Register, observed his 10-year-old son playing the game:
The puzzles are spiced up by including the ability to program your tame Dalek to change color and loudly emit the standard set of empty threats they feel make them sound hard.
This includes the ability to burn holes on the ground under them, which is a cunning way of introducing binary and bitmaps because you can make the Dalek form letters and shapes on a grid by writing movement code. The more feral kids will use this to write rude words, which can be a powerful motivator to learn things at that age.
Code elements are dragged and dropped into a timeline, which is then executed step by step with the Dalek following your orders. This provides the sort of feedback that appeals to kids – but you can have bugs that you need to sort out, where the Dalek gets stuck or drives off the edge of the zone to fall into an eternal abyss. Inevitably the kids fated to grow up as Register readers will contrive to make their Daleks' demises as entertaining as possible.
This means that although the puzzles have solutions, they are reasonably open in that it isn't a dull "here is some logic, type in the truth table" (hint: a truth table is Boolean logic, not a Sontaran interrogation device).
"When you solve each of the eight coding puzzles, this makes the Dalek more powerful with force fields, weapons and flight, which apparently is seen by the BBC as a good thing," writes Connor. "Do they watch their own programs?"