The Betrothal of Sontar (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Betrothal of Sontar (Credit: Panini)

Written by John Tomlinson, Nick Abadzis, Gareth Roberts, Tony Lee, Mike Collins, Jonathan Morris, Nev Fountain, & Alan Barnes

Artwork by Michael Collins, Martin Geraghty, & Roger Langridge

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

From the looks of the first volume of Tenth Doctor strips, it seems some lessons may have been learned from the Ninth Doctor run. From the moment the Tenth Doctor walks out of the TARDIS he seems far more fully formed (which is incredible as the only episode to air before he debuted in the comic was the 2005 Christmas Special).  No longer feeling the shackles of the TV show as a hindrance, the strip almost immediately feels like just more adventures from the new show. They had a year of trying to figure out the tone and voice of the New Series, and just where exactly the strip fits into all of it. They spent well over a decade doing their own thing, quite successfully during the Eighth Doctor’s run I might add, that trying to fit in with the real show must have been quite the shock. 

It helped that they began to publish the more child-friendly "Doctor Who Adventures" comic separately, and that let them realize who the target audience for the main strip was, and had kind of always been. So the somewhat less mature and scattered tones of the Ninth Doctor strips was done away with, and they veered back into the tone and style they had during the Eighth Doctor days, at least closer to it. The Tenth Doctor's voice is fully captured, and the tone of his first year is there as well. But despite some bits that don’t work or gel for me, I found this Volume to be decidedly solid. The Tenth Doctor fees fully fleshed out from his first panel, and they capture the tone of the new show, and managing to recapture some of their own mojo that had been lost when the Ninth Doctor came in and threw them off their game.

The opening story featuring the Sontarans before their reintroduction on the new series is a cracker...with fantastic art, great characters, and even better atmosphere.  Both "F.A.Q." and "The Futurists" feel like the strip working back to some of it's former epics...but there are smaller fun stories as well, including Gareth Roberts' blueprint for the later Eleventh Doctor televised story The Lodger which features the same name and similar premise, but the Craig Owens role is instead played by Mickey Smith.  There's even a Brigadier story to close out the book, though it is kind of mediocre. But it does fill the gap between the departure of Rose and the entrance of Martha. 

While they still aren't really practicing in major arcs and epics again, the first Tenth Doctor volume brings back the confidence and spirit of the Doctor Who Magazine strip, which makes it a far more enjoyable read than the Ninth Doctor's run had been.   This book is a solid collection the first year or so of the Tenth Doctor's time in the strip, from his introduction to just before Martha joined up.  It's a fun read, with a good collection of stories within...it may be a tad hit or miss, but overall this is a definite uptick in quality from the short era of the Ninth Doctor in the pages of the magazine. 





Static (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Static (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Jonathan Morris
Director: Jamie Anderson
Featuring: Colin BakerLisa Greenwood
Miranda Raison, David Graham 
Big Finish Productions Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: December 2017
Running Time: 2 Hours

Available on General Release from January 31st 2018

The recent trilogy of adventures for the Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip concludes with this final main range release of 2017. It would be fair to say that Big Finish’s eighteenth full year of monthly Doctor Who releases has continued to provide some strong stories even whilst facing stiff competition from a dearth of other ranges such as the final instalment of the Eighth Doctor’s Doom Coalition saga and the opening boxed set of his adventures during the Time War. Whilst this reviewer’s favourite main range release of the year remains September’s delightful political comedy Time in Office, it would be fair to say that the latest trilogy of Sixth Doctor’s adventures has also been very much a highlight. As a concluding instalment, Static by Big Finish regular Jonathan Morris does not disappoint. This story sets out to try and be one of the scariest Doctor Who plays Big Finish have produced since 2002’s The Chimes of Midnight and whilst this doesn’t quite achieve the same atmosphere of a ghost story for Christmas (and whilst competent and prolific Morris is not Robert Shearman), it’s opening two episodes are an especially unsettling listen.

In addition to the usual enjoyable performances from Colin Baker, Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood, a special mention must go to the main guest contributor for this story, David Graham, who will forever be known as the voice of Parker from Thunderbirds amongst his many other credits. It’s fair to say that a few actors with connections to director Jamie Anderson’s famous father have popped up in recent releases but Graham’s casting as the mysterious Percy Till is sublime and very much adds to the spooky atmosphere. The other cast are also very competent although the dual casting of Scott Chambers isn’t entirely effective as despite an attempt at a regional accent his Sergeant Webster sounds a little too similar to the character of Andy who he plays for most of the first half and as a result does distract the listener a little.

The atmosphere is suitably aided by sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian. Kraemer has also produced a competent music score although there are some deliberately 1980s style moments which whilst giving this story the feeling of its setting within that era of Doctor Who does occasionally lessen the overall atmosphere of genuine jeopardy.

Minor criticisms aside, this story still ends this trilogy and the year on a high note and as the main range enters its nineteenth year of monthly releases it has a lot to live up to. Whilst both Flip and Constance seem keen to return to their respective times and places, they are an enjoyable team and hopefully have some mileage left for further adventures. In the meantime, the start of 2018 sees us return once again to 1982 to join the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric in Kingdom of Lies.





The Cruel Sea (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Cruel Sea (Credit: Panini)

Written by Gareth Roberts, Mike Collins, Robert Shearman & Scott Gray

Artwork by Michael Collins & John Ross

Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The relaunch of the show on television brought a new Doctor to the comic strip, but the Ninth Doctor's short run on television also meant his comic strip run would also end up being rather short.  This collection gathers together his entire run in one handy volume, which spanned from just after the show premiered in March 2005 and lasting to just before Christmas when the Tenth Doctor took over the show. Admittedly, while it is nice that you get all of the Ninth Doctor's strips in one volume (including a one-off comic from an Annual and a short story penned by Steven Moffat that served as the basis of Blink).  If you want a good collection of Ninth Doctor, this is a solid one, but with such a short comic run, why not include all the short stories that were featured in that 2006 Annual? 

One thing I find interesting in this book is that knowing that this started not long after the Eighth Doctor's great run ended, it kind of really makes this look a rather weak collection. I am glad they didn't do the regeneration in the comics, or even their idea of a possible "Ninth Doctor: Year One" run (which considering that Eccleston left so quickly and they'd have to shift gears yet again to Tennant?  It probably wouldn't have worked out too well), and I think that is the real reason RTD sort of put in place rules that tied the hands of DWM for the strip and what they had to do with the Ninth Doctor...he might've already known that it wouldn't be a long life for the Ninth Doctor in the comics. It would be problematic to let them set up an arc for Nine and Destrii that again would have to be cut short...and long run it was probably just a wise move to make it a comic starring the Ninth Doctor and Rose. New readers were going to be coming to the magazine when the new show hit, don't confuse them with a comic that has it's own continuity and storylines going. Start fresh, and the two leads of that new show were so clearly the Doctor AND Rose...the magazine needed to reflect that, it wasn't just a branding thing for the BBC or RTD...it was a good branding decision for the Magazine in the end. 

Of the comics featured within, really only the titular "The Cruel Sea" completely works. It has great art, story, and atmosphere...where the other stories feel lost. You can really get the sense that putting these comics together proved a bit difficult for the writers of the strip to get a handle on.  They didn't know what the new show would be, or what kind of readers the new show would garner for the strip...so I think they tried to make it a tad more family friendly, and maybe they felt a tad hindered by the lack of freedom they previously had before the show returned. The early New Series related strips feel as if they needed some time to figure out where they stood with the show back on the airwaves, unfortunately for the Ninth Doctor, that meant he ended up as a bit of guinea pig for the strip.  If Eccleston had stayed a year longer, they probably would've sorted it out and his adventures on the page would have come together. 

This is a decent collection, nicely put together by Panini...but with the exception of the titular story by Rob Shearman, most of it is rather forgettable stuff.  





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.