An Immersive 'Doctor Who' VR Adventure Lets You 'Runaway' With The Doctor [Tribeca]

Every Doctor Who fan dreams about hearing that vworp vworp sound outside their bedroom window, and running outside to find the time-traveling alien reaching out their hand. Now that dream can become a reality with the new Doctor Who: The Runaway virtual reality film from the BBC and Passion Animation Studios. This Doctor Who VR animated film drops you right in the middle of the cosmic action, as Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor scrambles to save the universe from being swallowed by a black hole — with your help.

/Film got the chance to experience this 13-minute VR film at the Tribeca Immersive Virtual Arcade during the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Here's what it's like to run with the Doctor.

First, I use "run" in a very loose sense, as there isn't much running in Doctor Who: The Runaway. Instead, you're placed in a swivel chair that will give you the freedom to view all of the 360-degree experience at your leisure. Filmed in one long shot, Doctor Who: The Runaway is a motion-capture film animated in a vibrant, storybook-like style that recalls both picture books and a little anime. The creature at the center of the story, Volta, is a living ball of energy with a cute face that looks like it came right out of a Studio Ghibli movie. In fact, with its adorable chirps and rotund form (not to mention its name), it could easily be mistaken for a Pokémon.

"At the core of the design, I wanted it to feel almost like an illustration, a volumetric illustration that you can walk inside," director Mathias Chelebourg told me at Tribeca. "So every texture inside the thing is hand-painted on the meshes, it has a very illustrative render. So that gives you a very unique look. It's almost like a cel-shaded, illustrated rendering, which is bold for a show that is live-action. But by going all the way in that direction, I think is way more compelling than trying to do it real-time for real."

Though the film is animated, it takes no time at all to get caught up in the story of Doctor Who: The Runaway. You play a random passerby who hits their head in a collision and is rescued by the Doctor. But as you're recovering from your head bump, the TARDIS is suddenly thrown into danger when its other occupant, Volta, becomes unstable and threatens to explode and take the universe with it. Not to mention a squadron of spaceships seem very keen to capture Volta before the Doctor can return it to its home planet.

Rather than allow you to sit helplessly, the Doctor puts you to work. She hands you her sonic screwdriver, which you can control through a VR remote with a simple trigger. The actions are fairly simple — mostly point and shoot to either distract Volta with cute stuffed animals or drain a machine of its electromagnetic energies. At one point you even get to steer the TARDIS with the sonic screwdriver, which is a little outside of the realm of the show's logic, but we'll let it slide for the VR film.

Jodie Whittaker's signature rapidfire dialogue and gangly physicality is on full display in the film, which is remarkable considering the actress was only responsible for the audio performance. The motion-capture was performed by actress Maria Mc Clurg, who had worked with Chelebourg on a previous Tribeca VR experience. Chelebourg directed Mc Clurg first in a long-shot performance typical of a "traditional theater show" on a set before Whittaker came in to dub it. "So it was a tricky and intensive performance for [Maria] because we tried to mimic her style in the mo-cap performance and then we had [Jodie] dub it," Chelebourg said.

"I found it interesting to bring this character to life," Mc Clurg said. "Doctor Who is an iconic character, and at the same time get inspired by how [Jodie] is, her physicality and the way she delivers her lines and play with it and make it my own part."

It was an unusual experience for both of them, as Chelebourg noted that in animation, the dubbing is usually done before the action gets animated. But it felt more like a "theatrical performance" than a typical animated one, so it seemed like the right way to do it, he said. "This is just another way of storytelling, which I love because it's so enhanced," Mc Clurg added.

Chelebourg directs the original story written by Victoria Asare-Archer and produced by the BBC's digital drama team, BBC VR Hub and Passion Animation Studios. Doctor Who: The Runaway will be available to view at Tribeca from April 26-May 4, 2019.