This summer, engineers at Google London added the Tardis to Google Street View, but that wasn't enough for Doctor Who fans, 4,000 of whom have signed a petition asking Google to do a doodle for the show's 50th Anniversary.
Today, those wishes were granted: not only did Google make the doodle, but the game gracing every Google homepage in the world today is one of the biggest the company has ever produced. But despite appearances, the "Whodle" – as it's known internally – is the work of just five people, led by Matthew Cruickshank, a Brit who has been working at the company as a full-time doodler for just over a year.
"It's the first game that I've designed," he explains over the phone from California. "But it's the technicians and programmers that actually make the game. I just art direct, create the assets, set the visual tone, design the characters, and then do pieces of animation."
It's not like Cruickshank has had much time to put everything together, either. Like all Google doodles, the idea wasn't set in stone until a few months before. "It was about four months ago that an employee here who's a massive Doctor Who fan added it to our list of potential doodles. We looked through it and realised that this was something special, a chance to really celebrate a national institution."
Cruickshank, whose previous Doodles include an animated tribute to American designer Saul Bass and the site's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, got the assignment through a handy bit of stereotyping. "They thought 'Oh, Matt is English, so he should do the doodle,'" he recalls with a laugh. "It was a bit of pressure!"
With a mammoth task ahead, the first job was to boil the entirety of Doctor Who down into something manageable. "I wrote the great things about Doctor Who, the things that fans would want to see. It came down to celebrating – obviously – all of the Doctors; I love the idea of regeneration. And then Daleks, and Tardises. Those are basically the three key points.
"The thing is that he's a Time Lord, a time traveller, so I really wanted to get the feeling across that you could travel to different eras. I definitely didn't want you to just play one level and that is it, I love the idea of the Doctor being able zoom around the universe."
Working with a character still very much in production can pose its own set of problems, but the BBC leapt at the idea. "I think they were maybe expecting a static doodle, or perhaps something that moved or animated, and we actually said well, we'd really like to try a multi-level platform game. They just said 'absolutely fantastic, go for it.' And they were also able to give us sound effects from the actual show."
So they have the real Tardis whoosh? "We have the whoosh."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google is full of Doctor Who fans. As well as Cruickshank himself, who grew up in the Tom Baker era and remembers "being absolutely terrified of a black and white episode with the Daleks" even before that, there's Rui Lopes, one of the programmers who worked on the project.
Lopes originally joined the team as a "20 percenter", making the most of a Google policy that requires all employees to spend a fifth of their time working on projects unrelated to their day jobs, but his involvement grew over time. "He's a 20 percenter that spent 90% of his time on it," Cruickshank explains. "I think he hasn't got in trouble yet."
Working on doodles inspires a level of passion, it seems, and it's one that Cruickshank shares even though it's his full time job. "I've never worked anywhere where you have such a broad scope of choices that you can make. You could celebrate a cartoonist one day, and then someone who was an expert in physics or something that was a bit more serious. And then you could do a piece of animation, and then you could do a game. There really aren't any parameters with the job, which makes it unique."
Even so, there are some areas he favours. He has an affinity to "anything British that comes up", and is particularly proud of the fact that the lines on the London Underground doodle remained relatively accurate to reality. "I really wanted the circle and district lines to work, and actually go around the two Os. It kinda functions, in some weird universe."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010