Watch Dogs: Legion | The best Doctor Who game never licensed?

watch dogs doctor who

Ubisoft’s open-world action-adventure Watch Dogs: Legion isn’t an official Doctor Who game, but as Chris argues, it sure feels like one…


Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge, deep game where you can spend your time doing everything from playing cards to gathering rare herbs, so it is not surprising I spent quite a portion of my time assembling an accurate version of Paul McGann’s costume as the Eighth Doctor in the 1997 Doctor Who movie.

There is also, if you have the right galactic coordinates, a base in No Man’s Sky with a fully functioning console room and an exterior that (kind of) appears smaller on the outside.

If you give me a huge open-world setting with almost limitless possibilities and options, it is basically a matter of time before I start trying to make Doctor Who stuff in there. And yet it has to be said, no game has got me closer to that experience of playing a Doctor Who episode than Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legion.

“I’ve had many faces, many lives…”

So, given the game takes place in a recreation of London, and that it gives you the ability to recruit its citizens – anyone you choose – to your cause, it’s no surprise that my first selection criteria was to start selecting DedSec recruits that resembled the 15 actors who (at the time) had played the Doctor, and then go about buying them the best cosplay the game had to offer.

The rules of selection were clear, but with a certain amount of flexibility. My first priorities were appearance and vibe. Accents, I rapidly decided, were not necessary, as the London of Watch Dogs is far too diverse to stick to the rule of Received Pronunciation that has dogged most of Doctor Who’s history. Gender was also negotiable, I decided, as the recruits with the most spot-on haircuts for Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker were women.


I was also trying to complete missions while doing all this, which meant compromises between looks and ability were necessary. My War Doctor was younger and quite a bit camper than John Hurt, but he could shoot bees. My Fugitive Doctor (as played by Jo Martin) wasn’t as close to the mark as I would like, but it was a fair trade-off for her extremely Doctor-ish hypnosis powers. And yes, my Ninth Doctor has a beard.

But at the same time, William Hartnell is a crotchety old man and if that meant spending a good proportion of my missions lurching along as if I’ve lost my Zimmer frame, then so be it. And sometimes there were happy accidents – the guy I recruited because he looked like Matt Smith, for instance, had an unfortunate habit of spending money on hats when I wasn’t looking.

In fact, after a while, my gang of DedSec Doctors fit the bill so well that I started to wonder… is Watch Dogs: Legion influenced by Doctor Who? The clues are there.

“It is forbidden to dump bodies into the river”

The War Machines is a 1960s Doctor Who story where the Doctor must foil an artificial intelligence looking to take over the world from London’s BT tower. The Dalek Invasion of Earth sees resistance fighters running around an occupied London – as does Peter Capaldi’s story, The Lie of the Land. The Rise of the Cybermen sees an alternate London in thrall to cybernetic earpieces installed by an evil corporation. The Bells of St John has an evil intelligence housed in the Shard trying to steal people’s souls through the Wi-Fi.

Watch Dogs: Legion’s world features a science fiction version of modern London, where the most recognisable landmarks are all secret installations run by the government or other, equally nefarious organisations doing evil schemes, often with killer robots or runaway AI.

It’s a setting that feels like it could absolutely play host to a Doctor Who story. It’s a place Christopher Eccleston’s, Sylvester McCoy’s or Peter Capaldi’s angry, more political Doctors would happily blunder into before deciding that, tonight, they’re going to tear the whole regime down.
And while a lot of the stories are rescue missions, heists and acts of strangely harmless domestic terrorism, missions like Coming Home, with its creepy house-in-a-cellar and the quiet horror of the experiments it points to, feel very much like something Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat could conjure up on a darker afternoon.

The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi)


And just in case that isn’t enough, your home base, a disused tube station right out of Patrick Troughton’s The Web of Fear, contains an actual frickin’ TARDIS. Oh, you can tell me it’s just a police box, and then you can tell me you haven’t noticed that the computer installed in it has a very TARDIS-like glowing column sticking out of the top of it.

But this comes down to more than appearances or even storylines. I’m arguing Watch Dogs: Legion is a perfect Doctor Who game, and it’s the gameplay that is the deciding factor here.

“Run for your life!”

Games are all about verbs, and while the many recruits and their skills give you access to a range of gameplay approaches, there are three verbs that will stick out more than any others. These are ‘Sneak’, ‘Run away’, and ‘Point gadget and machine to do thing’. The only way it would be a better distillation of the Doctor’s MO would be if the game included a monologuing button.

Yes, it’s possible to load yourself up with weaponry and go in guns blazing, but this is a strategy that is A: Entirely avoidable, and B: Not as effective as you might hope. A couple of missions require some hand-to-hand combat, but Jon Pertwee was always up for a bit of Venusian Aikido and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor wasn’t above throwing a punch if the situation demanded it. Worst comes to the worst, it’s easy enough to recruit a Brigadier or an Ace to get their hands dirty when the Doctor doesn’t want to.

And that’s before we get to Watch Dogs: Legion’s key gameplay mechanic, which is that if you fail a mission, moments later you’re back with a brand-new face. (Once I’d recruited my full gang, I made a point of playing through my members in incarnation order, regardless of how well suited their skills were to the mission.)


To add to the Doctor Who feel, by the end of the game, I was travelling almost exclusively by cargo drone, to get that genuine “crashing into rooftops in a poorly piloted TARDIS” sensation.

The thing is, as well as Watch Dogs, Ubisoft also makes the Assassin’s Creed games. Watch Dogs: Legion itself crosses over with Assassin’s Creed thanks to a brief DLC mission.

So as well as having the assets for a giant open world dystopian future London, Ubisoft also has the assets for a giant open world Ancient Egypt, a giant open world Ancient Greece, a giant open world ninth-century Britain, and, perhaps most importantly, a giant open world Victorian London.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be hell to download, but Ubisoft has all the assets readily available to make the giant open world Doctor Who game fans have been craving forever, if the BBC would only grant them the license.

But, as Madame De Pompadour tells the Doctor in The Girl in the Fireplace, a door, once opened, can go two ways. During his sabbatical from the TARDIS, Russell T Davies has also ventured into the dystopian British futures genre. His miniseries, Years and Years, shares quite a few interests with Watch Dogs: Legion, and from what we’ve seen of the upcoming Ncuti Gatwa-fronted Doctor Who series, Davies may not be done with that genre.

An eagle-eyed photographer on the set of a recent Doctor Who shoot in Cardiff caught these snaps. They show a building plastered with fascistic-looking Union flags, and a logo.

The logo says “Albion” – the name of the dystopian private security force that controls Watch Dogs: Legion’s London…

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