Torchwood #1 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 August 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood #1 - Cover A: Tommy Lee Edwards (Credit: Titan)
Script: John Barrowman & Carole Barrowman
Art: Antonio Fusio & Pasquale Qualano
Colours: Marco Kusko
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Amoona Saohin
Designers: Andrew Leung & Rob Farmer
Released by Titan Comics - August 3rd, 2016 

Few could ever accuse Titan Comics of lacking in ambition when it comes to their range of licensed comics set in the Doctor Who universe, especially since until now, that range had comprised of no less than four regular comic strips – featuring the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors on a monthly basis – as well as three mini-series bringing classic Doctors such as Tom Baker and Paul McGann’s into the fray. Yet on the basis of its astoundingly dense, plot thread-laden opening issue, the publishing house’s launch of a strip continuing the escapades of Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and the rest of the Torchwood gang already looks set to represent perhaps their boldest venture yet, one which will surely pay immense dividends in the near future so long as everyone involved keeps their eye on the ball.

Thankfully, the odds of this latest regular series’ writing team losing their way are utterly astronomical, not least as Titan have oh-so-wisely drafted in both Captain Jack Harkness himself, John Barrowman, as well as his sister Carole to take the permanent helm of what they’re bravely branding as the spiritual Season Five of the original TV show. As anyone who read the pair’s 2012 post-Miracle Day novel Exodus Code will know – and speaking of which, those who haven’t could do worse than to pick up a copy, since Issue 1 takes place after the events of that particular storyline and incorporates a few secondary characters from the text too – the siblings Barrowman have a fine handle on what made Torchwood tick on-screen. Whether it’s the endearing dynamics formed between the central team members, the world-threatening but morally ambiguous conflicts thrown at them every week or the underlying efforts by the likes of Chris Chibnall to develop plot arcs beneath the show’s usual procedural narratives, the pair show a promising dedication to keeping such elements alive here, thereby validating the strip’s status as a fully-fledged continuation from the outset.

At the same time, though, as they depict Jack, Gwen and Exodus Code’s Ice Maiden frigate crew beginning to realize that the Earth’s once again about to come under threat from antagonists both extra-terrestrial and worryingly closer to home, the helms can sometimes let their imaginations run almost too wild, to the extent that they end up juggling so many plot elements – including an elderly man spending the final days of his life in a familiarly-named Scottish house, the Iron Maiden’s membership tackling adversarial tentacle-clad creatures in the Otega system and Gwen’s beachside picnic with Rhys getting interrupted by one of the most bizarre invasion fleets in Torchwood’s history – that few readers could be blamed for losing track of what’s occurring from time to time. It’s by no means a crippling issue, particularly as Exodus Code more than confirmed the pair’s capability with regards to allowing seemingly disparate threads of their storyline to coalesce by the time of their narrative’s denouement, yet John and Carole could do worse than to follow a few less plot strands at one time as they begin drafting future issues and story arcs.

That issue of overcrowding extends somewhat to their characterisation as well, with the well-staffed crew of the Iron Maiden – as well as the aforementioned residents of Torchwood House – beefing up the show’s classic ensemble in the absence of the late Owen, Toshiko or Ianto, but at the same time consequently giving off the impression that they’re competing with the series’ returning favourites for ‘screen time’, a crease the writing team must iron out if they’re to develop these Exodus Code returnees in particular as the series progresses. With all of that being said, no-one could possibly accuse John or Carole as struggling to resurrect beloved protagonists like Jack, Gwen and Rhys in printed form – again, as demonstrated in their earlier novelised work, they know better than anyone how vital the rapport of this long-suffering trio of underrated heroes was to the TV drama’s original success, even during the divisive 10-week spanning Miracle Day, as well as how each of them functions, with Jack displaying all of the swashbuckling swagger that John did on-screen, Gwen still capable of standing up to the very fiercest opportunities in an identical vein to the manner in which Eve Myles portrayed her and Kai Owen’s Rhys still as lovably hapless – yet unquestionably loyal – as ever. Indeed, a long running theme of this reviewer’s critiques of Titan’s Doctor Who-centric output has been the strength of the individual writing team’s depiction of each series’ central protagonists, and suffice to say that this USP hasn’t been diminished by the Barrowmans in the slightest in this instance.

Yet if John and Carole take an admirably dedicated approach to portraying the former’s team of undercover agents as authentically as possible here, then the series’ resident artists – Antonio Fusio and Pasquale Qualano as well as resident colourist Marco Lusko – opt for a far more stylised range of accompanying images, preferring to revel in the sheer fantastical lunacy of their scribes’ globe-trotting, alien-encountering set-pieces while rendering many of the locales visited here in bright, bombastic hues that offer up a clear sense of the strip channelling much of the uplifting hope – even in the face of darkest odds – and awe-inspiring wonder at the unknown that made the TV show itself such a joy to watch in the latter stages of the noughties, in spite of all of its minor quirks. Anyone who’s familiar with the similarly eclectic artwork found in Titan’s regular Tenth Doctor comics should have a fair idea of what’s coming their way here, and whilst that far from photorealistic style of drawing won’t necessarily be to everyone’s taste, for the most part it works wonders in terms of bolstering this narratively accomplished freshman instalment.

In fact, aside from the rather off-key note on which Issue 1 leaves its narrative – expect a bonkers cliffhanger to be sure, but not one which succeeds in leaving the audience desperate to learn what happens next in three weeks’ time – only one real point of contention comes to mind here, and in fairness, the sticking point in question has mainly come about due to the marketing campaign more than anything else. When they first announced their Torchwood series, Titan claimed that John and Carole’s storylines would reside in the same continuity as Big Finish’s currently booming wave of audios exploring the titular organization’s past, present and future. Yet considering that the aforementioned series of radio dramas has already revealed the events succeeding Miracle Day to involve the remaining Torchwood members’ hunt for the sinister Committee, the decision here to make no mention whatsoever of either these ambiguous antagonists or to establish when the events of Exodus Code – so far unreferenced by Big Finish – took place in relation to audio dramas like Forgotten Lives or Made You Look – can’t help but seem downright baffling. Most readers won’t give a damn about such trivial matters, of course, but anyone like this reviewer who’s followed both of Torchwood’s recent audio seasons and looked forward to seeing the Committee arc continued – or at least get a mention – while we wait for news on Big Finish’s Season Three might well leave Issue 1 slightly underwhelmed.

That’s but a minor, somewhat nit-picky gripe, though, and one which doesn’t detract from the otherwise well-rounded success of Torchwood Issue 1 in bringing back a hit TV spin-off show’s storylines, its charismatic ensemble of lead characters, its quirky humour and its inspired aesthetic elements in full force. Purist fans who’ve followed every non-televised plotline featuring Cardiff’s most intrepid band of detectives might have wanted John and Carole to at least pay their respects rather than outright ignoring what’s come before in printed and audio form, yet it’s near impossible to pay such insignificant grievances much real heed when the fruits of the pair and their art team’s labours taste so gosh darned delicious so far. John may well be in the process of negotiating the show’s on-screen resurrection with the BBC, but even if those discussions don’t pan out favourably, judging by Big Finish’s stellar recent output and this memorable first issue from Titan, the brand will only continue to thrive regardless for the remainder of its triumphant tenth anniversary year.





The Eleventh Doctor Year 2 #7 - The One (Part Two)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 August 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
DOCTOR WHO: ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.7 (Credit: Titan Comics)















"THE ONE - PART 2 OF 2"

WRITER - 
ROB WILLIAMS
ARTISTS - LEANDRO CASCO + SIMON FRASER

COLORIST - GARY CALDWELL

(ABSLOM DAAK CREATED BY STEVE MOORE AND STEVE DILLON,  AND  APPEARS COURTESY OF PANINI COMICS, 
WITH THANKS TO DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE)
 

LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS +
COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

ASSISTANT EDITORS - JESSICA BURTON
+ GABRIELA HOUSTON

EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES

DESIGNER - ROB FARMER

MAIN COVER: BRIAN MILLER

RELEASED MARCH 23RD 2016, TITAN COMICS

"The Time Lords ensured that the mere knowledge of this place was removed from all living things. For the safety of all that was good. But I came here. Once. I think… it… it’s difficult to recall. there was a book…something… … something to do with Cambridge? I forget". The Doctor addressing his travelling companions.

 

*

"Shada.. Shadaaa" - those were the words uttered by a bonkers-brilliant Tom Baker during the early 1990s, as he introduced his narration of the missing Season 17 Douglas Adams epic. Originally released on VHS, and currently available on DVD in 'The Legacy Collection', the reconstructed Shada saw Baker pull off a unique mix of himself and an alternate Fourth Doctor, narrating the missing material, (which comprised more than half of the projected run time for six 25 minute episodes).

For many years I have had a soft spot for that outlandish story which could well have fallen flat on its face through sheer over-ambition if actually produced and transmitted. At its core, it was a good example of how Doctor Who so typically manages to avoid being generic and sterile (unlike a good number of other sci-fi franchises).

The rather loose position in canon of Shada allows for the many brilliant concepts of Adams to be used by any budding writer as they see fit, and Rob Williams has met his usual high standard with this latest stopover in the ongoing galaxy hopping arc. By this point readers will have seen a rather unusually stressed Eleventh Doctor forced to try and clear his name of the unspeakable crime committed against the Cylors.

 

It is quite appropriate to have the Doctor's nemesis - The Master - linked to this fascinating prison locale, where the Doctor's fellow Time Lords opted to safely lock away potential universal despots for millennia. Although the glimpses of the Roger Delgado incarnation are fleeting - and the villain does not directly interact with our protagonists - it still is richly satisfying to have the original (and arguably the best) Master of them all gracing a well-established comic from the team at Titan.

 

This issue makes effective use of the (by now familiar) River/Eleventh Doctor dynamic. It has little pause to catch its breath, but never feels rushed or mindless during any passage. Also, the overall arc continues to move well. It is welcome to have a group of do-gooders, with Daak as the quintessential wildcard anti-hero, who are of such different ages backgrounds and personalities. The mystery of the Squire persists, being explored here in the most in-depth and tantalising fashion yet since the character first became a regular player.

The cliffhanger is a fine bit of confirming readers' darkest fears over just low the War Doctor was prepared to sink. There is also a clever contrast of the 'hidden Doctor' with the fundamentally immoral Master who, for all his defects, at least some fixed 'code of honour' or 'sanity'.

Writing continues to be of the highest quality, and the artwork is at worst quite good, and at best excellent. Two artists get to flex their creative-flair-muscles, with a cleverly done transition mid-issue as the Doctor's party are subjugated to 'hibernation'.

The wait for each subsequent issue in Year 2 has now become harder to bear, and is the sign of a team of creatives who are very much on their game.

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:

No humour strip is present for this month's edition, but a pair of photo and art bonus covers do feature. The latter of those includes a tantalising promise of Daak visionary Steve Dillon entering the fray late on in Year 2(!).

There also is a collection of smaller sized preview/alternate covers for Issue 8.





Short Trips: Lost and Found (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 1 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Short Trips: Lost and Found (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Penelope Faith
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Narrated by Anneke Wills

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

Having recently listened to several of Big Finish’s 2016 Short Trips, Lost and Found stands out as one of the most memorable entries of recent times. Anneke Wills may not be able to offer an uncanny impersonation of the Second Doctor or fellow companion Ben Jackson (this story is set prior to the arrival of a certain Highlander so a Scots accent is thankfully not called for) but as this story centres around Polly, she is the perfect choice to read it. There is a lovely familiarity of the setting of the post-war London of Polly’s childhood and a rather sweet touch to use the setting of Henrik’s department store, the future workplace of Rose Tyler. There is a special moment in which the Doctor encounters a familiar face and a nice nod in the direction of another Rose’s TV adventures.

Ultimately, this is a very human story and new writer Penelope Faith has captured the season four TARDIS crew perfectly, especially Polly. It is very much to be hoped that we will hear more from her soon.





Short Trips: Foreshadowing (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 1 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Foreshadowing (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Julian Richards
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Narrated by India Fisher

Big Finish Productions – Released August 2015

This neat little story perfectly captures the camaraderie of the heyday of the Eighth Doctor and Charley’s early Big Finish adventures before Zagreus got inside the Doctor’s head and they ended up banished to the rather mixed bag of adventures set in another universe. It uses the straightforward format of the Doctor and Charley narrating a sequence of events to a young army lieutenant who refreshingly seems to take their account at face value.

The most memorable part of the story comes at its conclusion with the revelation of one of the characters’ identity and with it the significance of the story’s title, a foreshadowing indeed, as the person concerned is due to meet a previous incarnation of the Doctor very soon after this story’s ending. India Fisher narrates perfectly and this is an enjoyable tale albeit one which is very much reliant on established continuity. Whilst continuity and stand-alone short stories aren’t always a good mix, this story is a pleasant exception to the rule.