The Flood (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 19 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Flood (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray & Gareth Roberts

Artwork by Roger Langridge, Michael Collins, Adrian Salmon, Anthony Williams, Martin Geraghty, & John Ross

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

This final collection of the Eighth Doctor's run in Doctor Who Magazine is a solid set of stories, but being that they did some standalone stories with the Doctor travelling on his own, and then began a new set of adventures with Destrii that ended up being cut short (though ended nicely in the epic "The Flood"), it just doesn't have the same kind of flow with build up and payoff that the other collections had. The other Volumes really do feel like a thought out season of Doctor Who. The final volume felt like some assorted adventures of the Eighth Doctor with no real running arc, which probably wouldn't have been the case had the new show not returned and probably cut short their initial plans for Destrii as a companion.  She had only really gotten started in the final story.  So there is a bit of disappointment that Scott Gray could never truly finish his storyline there.

Complaints aside, I highly recommended finding a copy of each Volume of the Eighth Doctor's DWM comic run. They a lot of fun to read.  I had enjoyed going through the Fifth and Sixth Doctor's run (though the Sixth Doctor's seemed to run out of a bit of steam in it's second volume), but the Eighth Doctor's was great, no doubt helped by the fact that they were totally free from the show being on the air, and they decided to find one writer to really focus and write the bulk of the scripts at the time.

Highlights in this volume include the opening story "Where Nobody Knows Your Name" which is a short one-off that has the Doctor and a Bartender discussing life, with the Doctor still a tad wounded from Izzy leaving him, and the Bartender helps the Doctor decide to carry on, with the comic revealing in the final panels that neither man knew who he was conversing with, and the bartender was actually Frobisher. Another great little story is the lovely "In the Land of Happy Endings" which is a tribute to the old TV Comic stories of the First Doctor's reign, drawn in that style with original comic companions John & Gillian. It is sort of goofy, but with a poignant ending. The aforementioned "The Flood" is another highlight for this book.

An interesting bit found in the commentary section was that Russell T Davies was such a fan of the strip, that he even offered to let them show the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the Ninth...but after certain rules put in place by RTD and the BBC took hold...it ultimately came down to DWM deciding it might be best to just not have the regeneration (they couldn't show Eccleston prior to him being on TV, they could only show him with Rose, and they couldn't even do one story with the current companion of Destrii staying on with the Ninth Doctor)...so they decided against it, and in the end have McGann not regenerate into Eccleston in the strip, instead they have The Doctor and Destrii walk off into the sunset after a chat about the importance of change, and that they really have no idea what could lie just over that hill. It is actually a rather brilliant ending.  It ends this rather consistent and phenomenal run for the Eighth Doctor in the comics (and that run lasted 9 years) very well.

It is a happy ending, one that leaves the potential for more adventures while subtly acknowledging that those adventures do not lie within the pages of the Magazine anymore. And quite frankly, not having the regeneration means we got The Night of the Doctor...and who would ever want to lose that (and having read the script for the alternate ending that they put in this collection...it doesn't hold a candle to what Moffat eventually gave us).  So I am glad they went with the ending they did, I can see this Doctor continuing on to have more adventures, probably going on to meet Charley and C'rizz and Lucie and so on in the Big Finish tales. I'd rather his adventures here lead to more adventures than to a definitive ending. 

While the unconnected stories and the seemingly unfinished Destrii storyline don't make this collection as strong as the previous Eighth Doctor collections, there is still much to enjoy in this book, and The Flood is a fine ending to his excellent run on the strip. 





Doctor Who: The Complete Series 10Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Doctor Who Series 10 - DVD (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Written by: Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Mike Bartlett, Jamie Mathieson, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Rona Munro, Peter Harness
Directed by: Rachel Talalay, Lawrence Gough, Bill Anderson, Charles Palmer, Daniel Nettheim, Wayne Yip, Ed Bazzalgette
Starring:
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Michelle Gomez (Missy), John Simm (The Master), Stephanie Hyam (Heather), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen), Tim Bentinck (Voice of the Monks), Jennifer Hennessey (Moira), Ronke Adekoluejo (Penny), Justin Chatwin (Grant/The Ghost), David Suchet (The Landlord), Nicholas Burns (Lord Sutcliffe)
The Fan Show presented by: Christel Dee
Format: DVD, Blu-Ray
Duration: 10hrs 15mins
BBFC Classifaction: 12
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
Originally Released: November 2017

It’s a tribute to the flexibility of Doctor Who that though these episodes represent the end of an era both before and behind the camera, they feel as fresh, if not fresher than the show has in years. As beloved as she was to many, after three seasons of Clara it was time for a new dynamic and, importantly, a companion specifically tailored to emphasize and complement the strengths of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. In Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), always questioning, always sincere, always learning, the Twelfth Doctor received the perfect student to his shock-haired professor.  The presence of Nardole (Matt Lucas) in the mix adds to the sense of this being something new. We’ve had TARDIS Trios before, but the previous pattern has largely been the Doctor’s own companion (Rose, Amy) gaining a companion of their own (Mickey, Rory). Nardole’s mix of a loyal manservant and nagging prison guard – hectoring the Doctor to keep to his vow – is something we haven’t seen before. The dynamic between the three is charming and funny and, nicely, the writing team avoids the obvious route of making Nardole antagonistic to new girl Bill. Instead, as much as he disapproves of the Doctor putting them all in danger to show off to Bill, he regards her as entirely blameless and is always kind and protective towards her.

Lucas and Mackie prove themselves more than equal to the challenge of the scripts. Although she was an established theatre actor, the mix of pluck, innocence and pure emotion Mackie brings to Bill is all the more remarkable considering that by the end of her first day working on Series 10 she had more than doubled her entire time on a set up until that point. Lucas, for his part, proves a clever actor, adept at judging a line of a scene and the extras make clear that a lot more goes into his approach than to simply steal every scene with ad-libs.

But without a doubt, this season belongs to Peter Capaldi. For an actor leaving the role because he fears he was running out of new ways of doing it, it's the mercurial, ever-evolving nature of his Doctor which astonishes most. Back in 2014, echoing the approach to the Sixth Doctor by making the Twelfth initially prickly and difficult so he could mellow over time was a high-risk policy. But the 2017 series entirely validates the idea, with the concept of Capaldi's Doctor as someone who only likes to think of himself as cold and aloof, but is actually an exposed nerve of love and anger giving us not only some interesting story possibilities but opportunities for some of the most compelling performances of any actor to play the Doctor.

After Series 9's barnstorming "Call this a war?!" speech, and the bravura one-man show of Heaven Sent, you wouldn't have been blamed for thinking the Doctor Who slot in Capaldi's showreel for his inevitable Lifetime Achievement Awards had been taken, yet the raw emotion of his pleading "Because it's kind" speech in The Doctor Falls gives them a run for their money. While elsewhere, he can speak entire novels without a word when asked if he can even remember how many people he's killed in Thin Ice. But most impressive is the continuity of character - there's never a sense of an actor changing gears as the Twelfth Doctor flits between passionate academic ("TARDIS... It means LIFE!") to ironic asides to towering rages.

This relationship between these three leads fits perfectly with the setup for the new series. The decision to make the Doctor a professor at Bristol University is genius. It gives the excuse for a number of the type of nerve shiveringly perfect monologues Peter Capaldi does so well, disguised as college lectures and echoes Rose’s introduction of “the War” as a mysterious event that’s scarred the Doctor since we last saw him? Why has he lived in exile on Earth for half a century? Is it self-imposed? What’s in the Vault?  This last question also provides a shakeup of modern Doctor Who’s formula for series arcs. Usually, some keyword or hint is scattered through the scripts, the significance to be revealed in the finale. Or, alternatively, the Doctor is faced with some puzzle and then sets out to… put off solving it until his Plot Alarm Clock hits “Series Finale.”  Here the mystery isn’t spun out for too long and instead replaced midway by a new one: is Missy (Michelle Gomez) really reformed? And the answer to that itself turns out to satisfyingly untidy and an opportunity to show not just how gloriously mad Gomez can be, but how great a dramatic actor she can be.

Meanwhile, though the arc may not reach the extent of serialization of something like The Walking Dead or Jessica Jones, there’s no doubt that the standard Doctor Who notion of ‘one parters’ or ‘two parters’ breaks down this season. This sense of a narrative flowing and building from one episode to the next makes Series 10 a genuinely fresh feeling and exciting ride. The building of the Doctor’s wanderlust, the recklessness that borders of death wish that comes with it, and the resulting consequences define the whole strand of episodes from Oxygen to The Lie of the Land which then segue effortlessly into the revelation of Missy and the Doctor’s deep need to believe she can change.The individual episodes soar to meet the quality of the arc, like the wit and fun of The Pilot, and the insanity and claustrophobia of Oxygen, and the meditations of how small random mistakes can so easily build to a nightmare in The Pyramid at the End of the World, while the final two-parter possibly finally gives the body horror of the Cyberman concept the treatment it deserves, Series 10 hits several highs. It’s a testament to this high bar that even the worst story of the series, Knock Knock, is merely a bit ordinary compared to the others rather than actively poor.

 

Extras

While sadly the days of commentaries on every episode appear to be long gone now, the three we get here are both witty and informative. Writers Steven Moffat, Mike Bartlett, and Jamie Mathieson provide insight into how their scripts reached their final form, with Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas on hand with their own tales from the sets of The Pilot and Oxygen, and balance between being engaging and funny company with showing a genuine interest in the writing process and the roads untaken in the versions of the scripts they might have performed in. Director Bill Anderson appears on the commentary for Knock, Knock and the unique challenges that shoot provided. Good as these commentaries are, the reduced number means there’s less scope for hearing from a greater variety of departments.

That slack is taken up, somewhat, by Doctor Who: The Fan Show – The Aftershow (as host Christel Dee herself admits in the first episode, a mouthful of a title) which manages to give a voice for everybody from costume designers to prosthetics artists, as well as guest stars as varied as David Suchet or man-behind-the-Monks Jamie Hill. While episodes such as Matt Lucas and Mark Gatiss’ hilarious, and slightly naughty, ramble around the houses of every question, and Steven Moffat’s in-depth interview about the final two-parter, are genuine highlights of the entire box set.

Christel makes for a charming and personable host, so adept at making you feel like you’re simply sitting with her having a lively chat about Doctor Who in her front room that fans meeting her at conventions probably take a moment to remember they’ve never actually met her. Yet with The Fan Show also freely available online (and indeed, in a longer form than presented here) giving over an entire disc to it does feel a little pointless – except, perhaps, as future proofing for generations to come in case YouTube ever goes the way of AOL Online.

Elsewhere, Becoming the Companion delves into the process of casting an excited, and slightly daunted, Pearl Mackie and follows through her early days of being announced and starting work on set. It’s bookended at the other end of the series by twin documentaries The Finale Falls and The Finale Countdown, which present a similarly excited, and also slightly fraught, Steven Moffat as he scrambles to the finish line to get The Doctor Falls finished with only days left before broadcast. But the Inside Look which accompanies each episode is eminently dispensable – not only the fluffiest of fluff but obviously created as teases to be shown to people who haven’t yet seen the related episode. And how many of those will have bought the box set, let alone watch the extras about an episode before the episode itself?

 

Packaging and Presentation

The most inexplicable thing about this set is the absence of any way to tell which episodes or special features are on each disc. There’s no insert sheet or booklet with a listing and, even as a cost-saving measure, it makes no sense for the usual listing printed on the disc art to have been dispensed with. Fortunately, thanks to Matthew Purchase, a fanmade insert is available and downloadable here:

The DVD box itself is a slimline sort and though some complain they find the format flimsy, it’s sturdy enough for me and sits more tidily on the shelf. The cover art is striking and takes a greater risk than simply placing a previously released promo photo on the cover. Even better, the Blu-Ray Steelbook has typically stunning art by the dependably brilliant Alice X. Zhang.





The Middle (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Middle (Credit: Big Finish)

  Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: November 2017
Running Time: 2 hours

Available Now on General Release 

Having got off to an excellent start with October’s historical adventure The Behemoth, this new trilogy of adventures for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor alongside unlikely but clearly very able companions Mrs Constance Clarke and Flip Jackson (portrayed as ever by Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood who are both clearly enjoying their roles) continues with a story slightly more typical for the 1980s era of Doctor Who, The Middle. This adventure is the first full-length play from Chris Chapman, whose credentials include having produced a number of very memorable DVD extra documentaries for BBC Worldwide’s Who releases.

The play opens with a rather chilling teaser scene which gives the initial impression that the Doctor and his companions are about to land in world which euthanizes its older population once they reach the age of 70. However, when in the following scenes we are introduced to the futuristic colony world of Formicia through the eyes and ears of the TARDIS team, the truth of how this society treats both its elder and younger population is even more surprising. It’s not long before the Doctor finds himself on the receiving end of some bad treatment when he’s identified as being much older than he appears and having just celebrated her 35th birthday, Constance is soon separated from Flip and dispatched to work at The Middle, a place of never ending bureaucracy where it seems the middle-aged inhabitants of Formicia must eek out a dull existence whilst they wait for “The End”.

It is here that Constance first encounters the sinister Middleman, the most sinister company man you can imagine and perfectly played by Mark Heap. Meanwhile, Colin Baker is reunited with his former TV co-star from Vengeance on Varos (more recently seen as Clara Oswald’s Gran) Sheila Reid, who is here playing the spirted Janaiya, an elderly inhabitant whose spirit proves that “The End is the Beginning”. They are joined by Wayne Forester (fast becoming a Big Finish regular after his appearance in the previous release amongst others) as Roman.Chloe Rickenbach portrays a younger inhabitant who ends up teaming up with Flip and a finally a nice turn fromHollie Sullivan rounds off another great ensemble.

With excellent music as usual from Jamie Robertson and well-crafted sound design from Joe Meiners, this story gives a convincing future sci-fi setting which contrasts very neatly with the previous adventure. Overall, this is a second strong entry for this latest trilogy and probably one of the best of the monthly releases for 2017. However, this trilogy looks set to go out on a high with the spooky December release Static.






Oblivion (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Oblivion (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Lee Sullivan, John Ross, & Adrian Salmon

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Eighth Doctor's third volume of his Doctor Who Magazine days is collected in the rather great Oblivion, which kicks off from the moment the strip went to full color, and also features the final arc featuring the Eighth Doctor's companion Izzy, who joined at the very beginning of his comic run.  I have to say, the plotting of story arcs within small stories with big old payoffs at the end, really feel like a forerunner to the format of the show when it finally returned to TV.  Since Davies was a fan of the strip, it's possible he read these strips and saw something of how the show could work for modern TV. 

The major storyline in this book involves the struggles of Izzy, who has her body swapped with an alien named Destrii in the opening story...and when it seems her own body is destroyed in an explosion...she is now stuck as a bluefish lady forever.  This storyline has some great moments, from the colorful explosion that is the opening "Ophidius," to the more subdued and sad "Beautiful Freak" in which Izzy deals with the initial fallout of what's happened. She slowly starts to deal with her condition, but then she is taken by Destrii's family, who kidnap her and take her to Destrii's mother.  The Doctor has to enlist Fey/Shade to try and track down the kidnapped Izzy, and in the hunt discovers that Destrii is actually alive and well and still in Izzy's body.  He takes the unwilling Destrii to her homeworld in hopes of saving Izzy and swapping her back into her own body.

It's an intriguing story and even the stories that seem like a standalone deal in some minor way with the ongoing story arc.  It's a well-crafted set of tales from Scott Gray, I may find the conclusion and elements of the storyline of The Glorious Dead a bit more, but I think that in terms of crafted storytelling, this book has a bit of an edge. It's all leading towards Izzy's exit from the strip, and Gray found a great way to build her character towards an ending that feels like a real reward. 

It is almost a shame to see Izzy go, perfect companion material, but she had a good long run, and her arc really came together beautifully in the end...the timid girl who loved sci-fi and struggled with the fact that she was adopted, and by the end of it she is stronger, is far more confident in knowing who she is, and accepts that her adoptive parents actually love her, they ARE her true parents. I love that early on in her stories there was this red herring of "she doesn't know her real parents" as if that would come into play at some point...but in the end?  She realizes that her real parents are the ones that adopted and raised her and loved her all those years. The final few panels for Izzy is beautiful stuff, a lovely end to a companion that I've really grown to love. And I haven't even mentioned that it was revealed that she was gay, which had been hinted at from time to time beforehand, making her the first openly gay companion in Doctor Who. Her time on the strip lasted about 7 or 8 years, certainly one of the longest-running companions in any medium, particularly of the comics, and it was one heck of a run. 

This book is, as most Panini reprints, wonderfully put together, and the chance to see a well put together storyline in full color makes Oblivion well worth reading.





The Behemoth (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Behemoth (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: October 2017
Running Time: 2 hours

Available Now on General Release 

The Behemoth picks up from the end of December 2016’s Quicksilver which saw Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and still relatively new companion Mrs Constance Clarke team up with his former companion Mrs Flip Ramon (née Jackson). This chalk and cheese pairing, one from Wartime Bletchley Park and the other from near Present-day East London, are ably portrayed by Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood. Despite the obvious generational differences, they have quickly established an enjoyable relationship which is already likely to rival the popularity of other companion pairings of the main range as well as the Eighth Doctor’s current companion duo, Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair.

And so, the first of this new trilogy of adventures finds the three TARDIS travellers arrive in Bath in the year 1756. This is a great example of something of a rarity, a purely historical adventure featuring the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker revels in the Georgian setting, even down to being at one point mistaken for a major historical celebrity. However, while most of the characters in this story are fictional there is a genuine historical figure to be found in the shape of Captain Van Der Meer (ably portrayed by Giles New) and his mysterious companion Lady Clara (no, no that Clara!) who is revealed to be (and genuinely was in actual history) a rhinocerous.

Beyond the initial layer of fun to be had with the story’s setting, there is a beautifully layered story of the dark heart of the early years of British colonialism; the slave trade. The slaves in question are sensitively portrayed by Diveen Henry as Sarah and Ben Arogundade as Gorembe. By contrast, most of the action revolves around the upper-class characters who are well rounded characters especially Georgina Moon as Mrs Middlemint and Glynn Sweet as her brother Sir Geoffrey Balsam. There is also able support from Wayne Forester (recently heard in a more prominent role in Big Finish’s The Spectrum Files) as anti-slavery minister Reverend Philip Naylor and finallyLiam McKenna enjoys a more overtly chauvinistic and villainous turn as the sinister Titus Craven.

Overall, this is a very strong start to this new mini series of adventures.Marc Platt has created an extremely convincing historical setting and once again reminded listeners that visiting one’s own past isn’t always a comfortable experience, particularly when social injustice abounds.

The Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip’s adventures continue with the November release The Middle.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Nov 2017
Doctor Who Main Range: 231 - The Behemoth



The Lives of Captain Jack (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Lives of Captain Jack (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: James Goss, Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Cast
John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Russell Tovey (Midshipman Alonso Frame), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Vortia Trear), Shvorne Marks (Silo Crook), Scott Haran (Malfi Pryn), Aaron Neil (Gorky Sax), Katy Manning (Mother Nothing), Ellie Heydon (Ginny), Jonny Green (Station Computer), Hannah Barker (Female Passenger), Conor Pelan (Male Passenger), Ellie Welch (Bay Guard), Kristy Philipps (Colby), Joe Wiltshire Smith (Pods), Sakuntala Ramanee (Maglin Shank), Kieran Bew (Krim Pollensa), Alexander Vlahos (The Stranger), Chris Allen, Christel Dee and James Goss (The Council)
Producer James Goss
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Originally Released June 2017

Captain Jack Harkness has long had something of a split persona – two distinct characters in one. There’s “Doctor Who Jack,” who is sparky and cheeky and fun and whose notorious omnisexual nature never gets further than a ribald anecdote of a flirtatious ‘Hello.’ And then there’s “Torchwood Jack,” tortured and cynical, weighed down by his sins, and known to be found in the company of his butler, trousers around his ankles among the office’s potted plants. The obvious real world answer to that is as clear as the differing audiences between Saturday tea time and post-watershed midweek audiences, but in-universe it would seem that Jack actually feels more comfortable as a sidekick – happiest when the Doctor is around to shoulder the tough decisions and conscious that, when the Doctor is in the room, the world is such an ever slightly kinder place.So a slight question mark over The Lives of Captain Jack as to which Captain Jack, exactly, we were going to get. Ultimately the decision to label this not as a Torchwood release, despite half of it being set during Jack’s Torchwood days, but as being from “the Worlds of Doctor Who” was our clearest signpost.  Even when this boxset sees Jack at some of the lowest ebbs of his life, in the aftermath of sacrificing his own grandson’s life to save the world, or as he crashes out of the Time Agency, it never loses a sense of lightness or optimism. Wonderfully, though, one element of Torchwood present and correct is Jack’s magnificent theme, affectionately known by fans as “Here He Comes in a Ruddy Great Tractor,” and it’s in particularly fine form with the jaunty treatment it gets here.

 

The Year After I Died

We open in the 200,101ad on an Earth that’s been in a hellish spiral for almost two centuries – first under the blobby heel of the Mighty Jagrafess, then the mad reality of the GameStation and now a desolate wasteland of displaced refugees left by the Daleks’ bombardment. Jack, trapped in this time and place for a year now, isn’t doing much of the rebuilding that the Doctor predicted he would. Instead he’s lost his mojo and has taken to living as a hermit in the wilderness. It takes a visit from plucky young reporter Silo (trying to jump start the journalistic tradition back into life all on her lonesome) to tease out exactly why. It’s a neat idea to give us a Jack that doesn’t yet know that he’s immortal but, having been dead just the once, didn’t like it much and is desperate to avoid repeating the experience. That’s why, initially, he’s prepared to do nothing more than warn Silo away from the Hope Foundation. Promising the starving masses of the Earth new life on her old colonies among the stars Jack can smell when something is too good to be true, but is too risk averse these days to do anything about it. But when Silo ignores his warnings and boards one of the departure ships she finds herself in a living nightmare and before you can say ‘Soylent Green’ realizes that the only asset Earth has left to strip is its people, one organ at a time. But will Jack really not come for her?

The Year After I Died is a pretty light, swift footed story with no real twists or turns, but it’s a nice tale of Jack getting his groove back. It also has the small, sharp slice of satire traditional to these Satellite 5 stories– with the former wealthy elites of the ravaged Earth doing whatever it takes to stay on top, from their ivory tower on the former GameStation. That, as embodied by leader Vortia Trear (former Superman II villain Sarah Douglas on great form), they’re entitled, conceited morons, as inept as they are cruel, rather than dastardly cunning supervillains makes sense. After all these are the people the Daleks allowed to rise to the top in the belief they ran the planet while anyone smart enough to detect the guiding hand of the Emperor would have been done away with. But you are left wondering what the 21st century’s excuse is.

 

Wednesdays for Beginners

Captain Jack. Jackie Tyler. A match made in Heaven or at very least a nice wine bar. If Wednesdays for Beginners disappoints at all, it’s simply because no meeting between these two giants of 00s Who could live up to the epic hilarity that lives in the fan hivemind. There is a great deal of spark and wit in the banter between two of Doctor Who’s most naturally charismatic performers, but it’s hampered a little by the exact choice of setting. Jackie is in her Love & Monsters phase of feeling somewhat abandoned and forgotten by Rose and the Doctor, while Jack is in the period between the murder/suicide of his old Torchwood team and his recruitment of the new one seen in the Torchwood TV series. It leads to them both being atypically glum in many of the scenes. Placing it pre-2005, with Jackie in full Mama Bear mode over a threat to her young child and not quite grasping alien involvement might have allowed for a little more lightness.In fairness, the setting is in service of the dramatic need to leave the characters different from where we found them. This Jack has had about enough of waiting for the Doctor and is actively staking out (or, as she puts it, “stalking,” though she seems mostly flattered) Jackie in order to force a meeting with him. By the end he’s accepted that what will be will be, and that he needs to rebuild his life in Cardiff until the universe bring the Doctor to him. Jackie’s arc is a bit of re-tread of Love & Monsters, with her ultimately affirming that, abandonment issues or not, the Doctor is under her protection and anyone who tries to come after him and Rose is in for a world of Mama Tyler hurt.The nature of the threat is left quite vague and technobabble heavy, mainly so that Jackie can cut through it all with basic instinct and common sense where Jack’s hard science and experience fails. There’s a lot to enjoy here, most especially the sheer joy of Camille Coduri’s brilliant performance, sounding like she’s never been away, while the counter-intuitive idea of the normally hyper-flirtatious Jack trying to keep an appropriately platonic distance from Rose’s mother (he rarely gets past the barrier of insisting on calling her “Mrs. Tyler”) is surprisingly sweet in execution.It may not live up to its full potential, but it’s still a fine investigation of what makes the two tick.

 

Some Enchanted Evening

In contrast, the third episode is surprisingly upbeat and humourous considering its placement in the aftermath of Children of Earth. But once you put that incongruity aside, this is a riotous, over the top celebration of Jack at his most flirtatious, cheeky, and preposterous and therefore massive fun. It turns out that the Doctor didn’t arrange a cute meet for his former companion and Alonzo Frame (Russell Tovey), formerly of the Titanic, just so Jack could shag himself happy again but so that the two would be placed to team up to defend the space station from an imminent attack.That attack comes from a giant, carnivorous space beetle called Mother Nothing and her army of killer robots. Mother Nothing is performed as a spectacular grotesque by an almost unrecognizable Katy Manning, plainly having the time of her life in a role that puts subtlety in a cannon and fires it far, far away from the recording studio. She wants the universe’s largest diamond even though, being artificially grown, it’s worthless, simply because it’s so very shiny. Unfortunately, it’s also a vital component in the station’s power generator and removing it will kill hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people so it’s up to Jack and Alonzo to stop her. Plus she keeps shovelling down handfuls of crew and passengers like popcorn, so there’s that too.The action conspires to separate our dynamic duo almost immediately, with Jack taking the fight to Mother Nothing while Alonzo tries to get the escape pods back online and evacuate the survivors. Rather than dulling their interaction, it amplifies it – their constant radio chatter being filled with humour, innuendo and a growing genuine affection. Barrowman and Tovey are both such charismatic leads that they make for a perfect pairing that, whisper it now, effortlessly eclipses Jack and Ianto as a couple. With a climax that involves Jack battling a giant insect as they swing from the world’s hugest glitterball, and an ending that leaves the listener laughing like a drain even as our heroes scream their mutual frustration, Some Enchanted Evening is perhaps the most definitively Captain Jack story in the boxset and almost worth the purchase by itself. Hopefully a sequel pops up sooner rather than later.

 

Month 25

One of the great unexplored subplots of Doctor Who is the mystery Jack’s missing two years. When we meet him, it’s what defines him – he’s a Time Agent turned con man, working to acquire leverage by any means necessary to force the Time Agency to restore the two year gap in his memory. Yet, short of a brief mention in the Torchwood episode “Adam”, it pretty much never comes up again – a casualty of a character bouncing from one creator to another and back again. Now, at last, the story can be told. Direct from the mind of Russell T Davies himself, and skillfully scripted by Guy Davies, Jack’s backstory here seems to delight in being not at all what you’d expect. Where most fans might have imagined that Jack had had a solid two year span of his life removed to conceal some posting or off the books undercover operation he’d been part of, instead it turns out to be a matter of a day here, a week there, and for reasons a bit more grandiose and villainous than perhaps we’d expected. It’s probably a smart move to avoid retreading a story people have already played over in their minds in favour of something fresher and wilder, but it doesn’t sit particularly well with Jack’s later actions on screen. I’m not really sure what Jack is trying to accomplish in The Empty Child anymore, though Month 25 does sort of make a stab at explaining why Jack later drops the mystery entirely.John Barrowman has tremendous fun as the younger Jack, or rather to give him his real name… well, you’ll just have to listen for yourself if you want the answer to that particular mystery. Even lustier, reckless and self-obsessed than when we first met him on TV he’s riotous company for this play’s hour long duration but would wear a bit thin if you had to deal with him every day (and indeed a recurring element of the play is how everyone in his office hates him). A light, over the top, sauna full of fun rather than a political thriller, Month 25 still manages to fill in a couple of gaps in Jack’s life in entertaining fashion, while providing John Barrowman with a showcase for his acting ability in an unexpected way.

 

 

As a pick’n’mix of slices of Jack’s life, this boxset successfully hits on all the different aspects of his surprisingly complicated and evolving character though often in unpredictable or surprising ways. And with its unbending Davies era style cheeky optimism it provides a nice counterpoint to the doom laden, if high quality, Torchwood range. Highly recommended.