Admittedly not everyone would want to spend an hour locked in a room with several Doctor Who fans. But speaking as a life-long ardent fan of the show, I couldn’t wait. And just as the Doctor knows how to go about choosing the best companions, so Northern Soul assembled a crack team, including Flinn and Thomas (both 10), plus grown-ups Maria, Esther and Natalie.
Located in Manchester city centre by The Printworks and Victoria Station, Worlds Collide is a live escape room game. If you’ve yet to encounter this popular contemporary phenomenon, it involves you and your team trapped with a series of puzzles that you need to solve while up against the clock. Essentially, it’s The Crystal Maze for agoraphobics. The nationwide Escape Hunt company runs several variations on this theme – a Wild West escape game, a Viking one, a pirate one, an Alice in Wonderland one, etc – but this particular incarnation is like an episode of Doctor Who without the Doctor in it. Jodie Whitaker makes a brief cameo appearance of sorts, but otherwise it’s down to you and your pals to solve the mystery of…
…ah. Actually, here’s the thing. It wouldn’t do to give away what it is you need to solve, let along how you go about solving it. So, let’s just say that on playing the game, all (gradually) becomes clear, and you should twig the different elements involved in thwarting the threat to mankind at the other end of the hour that’s ticking away on a digital display. Also, the Cybermen are involved – that’s fair game as they star on all the Escape Hunt publicity, and sure enough a disembodied Cyber-voice pipes up at regular intervals throughout the game to scare the bejesus out of you.
A little bit of training is given beforehand (warning: in the process you may get referred to in passing as a ‘Whovian’, a term which should be reserved for somebody who feels time is just too precious to use all four syllables of ‘Doctor Who fan’ and who’d rather be described as something that sounds like you might vac the stairs with it). Then the door locks and the clock starts. As only one of our team (Esther) had any previous experience of escape rooms, understandably there was some trepidation among the rest of us. Would we have any idea what needed to be done or just stand around like well-meaning lemons?
We needn’t have worried. Apart from the fact that the whole team were gifted puzzle-solvers (well, present company excepted), Worlds Collide has been brilliantly put together, the assorted mysteries unfolding organically at a well-measured pace, with occasional judicious prodding from the game host over the speakers. There’s a winning variety between the challenges, too, from considered science and code-cracking to good old physical messing about.
It’s worth saying that you don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan – I repeat, a Doctor Who fan – to succeed. No specialist knowledge of the show and its history is required at all, but pleasingly the game room includes loads of little nods to it, right down to the throwaway use of the International Electromatics logo (geeky, moi?).
As though to prove again just how well paced the whole thing is, our team nearly won. Like, so nearly won. We were so close it hurts. We were mere moments away from victory when time ran out. Frankly, we’d have made it if only we’d managed to [REDACTED] the [REDACTED] a tiny bit sooner. Ah, well.
From being warily unsure on the way in, the whole team was buzzing afterwards, despite the awful, crushing feeling of defeat. It’s tense, it’s exciting, but it’s all done with a sense of flair and fun. It’s perfectly pitched, in fact. The children enjoyed it every bit as much as the adults, though under-10s require one-to-one supervision so it’s not a kids-only option, and generally the tasks reward teamwork rather than solo pondering. Playing with a much smaller team would seem to be a trickier, less enticing prospect, but presumably the host is then more forthcoming with the fed-in clues.
We all agreed that Worlds Collide is a treat, and by Esther’s estimation the best of the five escape rooms she’s ever done. The main difference being, it seems, that there were no padlocks in this one. But then, in sci-fi adventures you get key-code panels and sliding doors rather than locks, as every good Doctor Who fan knows.
Escape Hunt’s Doctor Who: Worlds Collide, Cathedral Walk, Manchester and other venues across the country