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 Glorious Dead (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 12 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Glorious Dead (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Adrian Salmon, Alan Barnes, Steve Moore

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon, Roger Langridge, & Steve Dillon

Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Endgame had been a fresh start for the long-running Doctor Who comic strip, it not only began the adventures of a new Doctor and a new companion, but it just had a cleaner more focused tone than the strip had had for some time. The Glorious Dead is this new incarnation of the strip coming into it's own.  Scott Gray took over the major writing duties from Alan Barnes, who had really just become to swamped with other Doctor Who Magazine work, and the results are top notch.  While I love a lot of what Scott Gray did as the lead writer for the rest of the Eighth Doctor run, I have to say I think the arc featured in this book is possibly his masterpiece. 

It starts with a story called "The Fallen", which is followed up with several stories that build up to the big finale of "The Glorious Dead," and it is a top-notch run of stories that effectively serve as a genuine sequel to the TV Movie, and quite frankly, it is a better story than that movie ever was. We see the return of Grace and what happened to her following on from the movie, and I thought they did a rather good job of reintroducing her to the fold, building what was started in the movie, and bringing some weight to what her lone adventure with the Doctor did to her.

The storyline also reintroduces a Kroton, a Cyberman character that was introduced in the 70s in a couple of "back-up" strips, which were Doctor-less features in the early days of the magazine.  Kroton is sort of an odd character to me.  In his early stories from the 70s (both of which are featured at the end of this book as well), he is a Cyberman that struggles because he somehow has emotions.  The characters were kind of revamped as a wisecracking action hero during the Eighth Doctor's time, and I have to admit that while I still kind of like the character, it doesn't totally work.  It's hard to picture what Kroton sounds like...does he sound like a regular Cyberman? If so everything he says is hard to imagine. But the character is a key role in this storyline, so you take the rough with the smooth, as we so often do with this franchise. 

Another key player is Sato Katsura, a Samurai who had planned to commit an honorable suicide after avenging the death of his Lord, but when he is mortally wounded during the adventure, the Doctor saves his life using nano-probes and inadvertently makes him immortal. The inability to kill himself sends Sato on a very different path, a path that a certain sinister Time Lord takes full advantage of.

That is, of course, the Master, who gets a grand return from his "death" in the Eye of Harmony. His re-introduction is only hinted at in the opening story, but the reveal is subtle and an exciting tease for things to come.  When he is finally revealed to the Doctor in all his glory, it is not only a great story with a fine climax, but it also happens to have some of the best artwork the strip had up to that point.  It should be noted that this book represents the final days of the strip remaining in black and white, as the strip would move to full color following this. 

The major storyline in this Volume just works really well. Everything flows and builds to a grand finale, and I can kind of picture these comics as a series that could've been following the TV movie (though had the show ever been made into a series it would've never been this good based on what ideas those in charge seemed to have in store for the show).  I loved the stories, the art, the spirit of it all.  My only complaint is that they printed some of the stories out of order.  I get that they tried to put all of the major arc stories in the front, and then some of the one-offs that were published in between after, but I think the collection might've worked a bit better as a book if it ended on "The Glorious Dead" as a finale. 

But these DWM comics really seem like a good start to the Eighth Doctor's adventures, and I can kind of picture them taking place before the Audios and Charley and everywhere he has gone since Big Finish got McGann behind the mic. These strips are like the early days of his Doctor to me, this book plays really well as a sequel to the lone TV outing of the Eighth Doctor, and almost as if it was a well thought out season of television, and knowing Russell T Davies was a fan of the strip, it is rather hard to not think that storylines like this had some influence on his modern take on Doctor Who when he brought it back to television. It really is a great book!





Endgame (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Endgame (Credit: Panini)

Written by Alan Barnes & Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Sean Longcroft, & Adrian Salmon

Paperback: 212 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Seventh Doctor's tenure in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine had been kind of a mess.  The days during his television tenure were often one-offs delivered by a variety of different writers and artists.  There was rarely a consistent look or a consistent tone.  The best period was really right after the show was cancelled and people who had been involved in the show turned to the comic to continue the adventures of the Doctor and Ace...but once the Virgin books kicked in, those people became occupied with that venture, and the comics again became kind of messy, and they tried so hard to make it fit the continuity of the books that they would often write stories that required some knowledge of what had been going on in the books just to make some confusing detail make any sense. So when the  1996 TV Movie premiered and the magazine was given a brand new fresh Doctor to lead the strip...they managed to assemble a small team that could focus, and they actually made something that was fun to read again. 

Endgame represents the launch of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in the strip, and the opening story really showcases writer Alan Barnes and artist Martin Geraghty's plan to put a new stamp on the strip, one that has decided to sever ties with the Virgin line of books (which pretty much came to an end right after the Eighth Doctor took over as well) and it's continuity. They delve back into the strip's own rich history, with the Doctor returning to Stockbridge and reuniting with Maxwell Edison, we see the return of Shayde in the book.

There is also the introduction of another resident of Stockbridge, Izzy Sinclair, the girl who becomes the Eighth Doctor's companion for a good chunk of his run in the comic.  Izzy is a really well-written character, who comes to life immediately as someone who the kind of folks that were probably reading a magazine based on what was then a defunct sci-fi show could relate to.  Izzy is an awkward sci-fi nerd who's adopted and whose closest friend is the middle-aged alien hunting geek Max Edison. 

I think that what certainly sets this book apart from the bulk of the Seventh Doctor run, is that it kind of feels like a season of the show. I'm a big fan of the Big Finish audios that McGann has been doing since 2001, and as such, I've become a big fan of his interpretation of the role.  The comics collected in this book were written before he really gotten a chance to bring that interpretation to life, so they based this version of the character entirely on his one appearance on TV.  What strikes me s that they did such a good job bringing him to life, with a little more depth than the TV movie actually offered up...and they somehow got it pretty close to what McGann eventually really did with the role.  To me, this book plays sort of like a decent first season for his Doctor.  It may be a little rough around the edges, but Barnes stories are pretty solid, the artwork is gorgeous, and there is a decent running storyline featuring the Threshold (a villain which was introduced during the final strip featuring the Seventh Doctor), and we get other great additions like Fey Truscott-Sade, and the great fake out twist that comes for the story that pretty much brings this batch of comics to an end.

Ultimately, there may be a few areas where some fine tuning could have helped, but this is a vastly better set of comics than most of what came during the Seventh Doctor's tenure. The strip felt like it got some of it's mojo back under the Eighth Doctor.  It helps when you've basically been given a Doctor with only one appearance and you have carte-blanche to just do whatever you want with it. There must've been a real sense of freedom after being shackled to the Seventh Doctor and his book line. And it really shows. 





Doctor Who - Shot Trips - All Hands On DeckBookmark and Share

Monday, 20 November 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
All Hands on Deck (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer: Ian Atkins; Script Editor: Ian Atkins
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Eddie Robson; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

All Hands On Deck is the second consecutive release to feature the Eighth Doctor and mention the Time War - what could Big Finish be building up to I wonder? The story also just happens to be my favorite Short Trip to date. It's not often that these stories move me to shed a tear, but this one did.

The story is in parts a sequel to The Dalek Invasion Of Earth where we catch up with Susan in 2213. She lives in an apartment block that is on the site of the old Coal Hill school. Everyone she has ever cared for has gone, most of them had died in the second Dalek invasion.

Susan has quite a quiet life, that is until she is called away to help with a series of planet-threatening emergencies. Firstly there is the Dalek artifact that suddenly comes to life. It oozes a yellow liquid that turns out to be custard. This is followed by the asteroid that seems certain to hit Earth but fades away at the last minute. Then we have the cyborg spiders that suddenly start to terrorise the neighborhood, but turn out to be harmless. Every day there seems to be a new threat. What can possibly be happening? Perhaps the man hiding in her cupboard might be able to explain?

Of course, the man hiding in her cupboard is the eighth Doctor. He is creating events in an effort to try to distract Susan from noticing a message that has been sent via tesseract by the Time Lords. A message requesting that Susan return to Gallifrey as soon as possible, and help fight the Time War. Will the Doctor succeed in talking Susan out of heading home?

The story romps along at a great pace. It seems that Susan hardly has time to draw breath before another Bubble' is sent to her, which whisks her away to help avert a new disaster. The story also has some rather lovely nods, not only is it sweet that Susan now lives in the old Coal Hill School, but it's also rather touching that from her window she can see an oak tree that was planted in memory of Ian and Barbara. The story also finds Susan reminiscing about her time attending Coal Hill School, times when she loved to listen to the Beatles, but always being wary when she talked about them to friends, just in case she mentioned a song that hadn't been released yet.

Carole Ann Ford is a great narrator. She steps back into somewhat world-weary shoes of Susan Campbell (nee Foreman) with ease. Between her telling and Eddie Robson's beautiful story, this tale delivers a massive emotional punch. I really am going to look up Robson's other works as he is a truly skilled author.

All Hands On Deck is an instant classic and the only entry in this series that I have listened to twice. Don't miss out on this one, I promise it could be the best £2.99 you could possibly spend.






Doom Coalition 4Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 9 April 2017 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition 4 (Credit: Big Finish)
Doom Coalition 4
Written by John Dorney and Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), Emma Cunniffe (The Sonomancer), Rufus Hound (The Meddling Monk), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Carolyn Pickles (Cardinal Ollistra), Jacqueline Pearce (Ollistra), Olivia Poulet (Jerasta), Vince Leigh (Volstrom/ Matrix Keeper/ Computer), Sasha Behar (Presidential Aide/ Tessno/ Ladonne), Ronnie Ancona (Joanie Carrington), Alex Beckett (Alekall). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Released March 2017 by Big Finish Productions

Doom Coalition, the sequel series to the acclaimed Dark Eyes Saga, has come to its final instalment.  Having been able to review each individual box set as it was released, I was curious to see just what Big Finish might pull from the wealth of material they now have to play with, given their ability to use at least elements of “classic Who”.  Turns out that River isn’t the only thing transferring into the audio-only adventures this time, even just going from the trailer.  Let’s see what else the company manage to achieve and whether ultimately this works as well if not better than the conclusion to Dark Eyes.

 

4.1.  Ship in a Bottle

With the intro setting the tone for what is to come, the events pick up from the ending of Doom Coalition 3.  Feeling very much like a 12th Doctor introduction, there are even subtle nods to the cherished Tennant era and that’s just in the opening 5 or so minutes.  The initial scenario The Doctor, Liv and Helen find themselves in allows for significant demonstration of their personalities and their feelings as to the events of previous stories in the series.  Even as the story progresses, regardless of how dangerous the situation, the characters remain well-developed throughout.  This episode serves partly as a recap, but also as a method of seeing the entirety of Doom Coalition from a new perspective.  Given there’s no actual enemies, the slew of references to prior events and the theme of the acceptance of death featuring so prominently, it’s a very human opening to what I hope will be a fitting conclusion, even if there’s no complete closure to this story.

 

4.2. Songs of Love

With a title like that, it was almost certain what, or rather who, was going to show up and the character in question doesn’t disappoint.  Appearing as part of a flashback relative to the previous story, what we see is an interesting change of heart, though one that is sure to have a reason behind it.

This primarily Time Lord centric story features some moments that, whilst unexpected, are well-executed, in addition to sequences that really emphasise just how much danger the universe is really in at this point in the plot.  However, the references to Series 6 of the television show and events therein might confuse those who stopped watching after the 10th Doctor’s departure.

That does not mean this story suffers, though it does try to run two simultaneous plot threads as well as introducing several important points.  At least the political edges of this story fit with the rest of the puzzle in well thought out cinematic fashion.

 

4.3. The Side of the Angels

Finally this box set has a clear villain to work with, but blink and you might miss them.  If I say nothing else about them and if you haven’t heard the trailer, I will credit the sound designers on introducing one of The Doctor’s most well-known foes in recent memory with a fitting entrance.  Of course, The Eleven is now embroiled in the plot too, but that doesn’t mean other Time Lords from The Doctor’s history can’t join in either.

This story seems to take a far clearer line than the last, with sound design and musical scoring to match the setting and the enemies involved in what are only described as “insane” plans.  Such plans, with a fair number of references and memorable moments, speed this story forth to its dramatic conclusion.

 

4.4. Stop the Clock

Is it too much to make a half pun, half reference to Mummy On The Orient Express here, specifically that certain events we witness during this story have been Foretold?

Probably.  Then again, considering how many references the stories leading up to this have provided, it’s probably not the worst way to open discussion on this final piece in the Doom Coalition puzzle.  So as not to spoil what is a slightly disorienting conclusion, including an ending that appears to possibly have influences from a well-known Japanese film franchise, I’ll leave it at that.

 

With a seamless score, a confident cast and a plot that knows just where it’s going even if the audience doesn’t, Big Finish certainly deliver in what probably won’t be the final 8th Doctor adventures set in this overarching plotline.





The Chimes of Midnight - Limited Vinyl EditionBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 November 2016 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty
The Chimes of Midnight (limited edition vinyl) (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Robert Shearman
Director: Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor); India Fisher (Charley Pollard); Louise Rolfe (Edith); Lennox Greaves (Mr Shaughnessy); Sue Wallace (Mrs Baddeley); Robert Curbishley (Frederick); Juliet Warner (Mary)

Big Finish Productions – Released September 2016

This deluxe vinyl edition of TheChimesofMidnight follows on from the story being voted the best of Big Finish’s main range in their 2015 poll (runner up Spare Parts will also get the vinyl treatment next year). The release is limited to 500 copies and comprises the original story and a brand new retrospective documentary spread across four discs.

The story

As noted above, The Chimes of Midnight has been voted the best of Big Finish’s main range, and I’m not going to argue with this. Chimes is one of those Doctor Who stories where all the elements come together to create something truly exceptional. The writing, performances and production are pretty near faultless.

Putting a Doctor Who spin on classic TV shows Sapphire and Steel and Upstairs Downstairs was a clever choice by Robert Shearman. From those inspirations he tells a story which is both darkly funny and genuinely moving, skewering the injustice of the British class system in the process.

This is a story all fans of Doctor Who should own, and demonstrates not only the best of Big Finish, but one of the best Doctor Who stories in any medium.

What’s different?

The move in format CD to vinyl has resulted in some unavoidable modifications to the story. Instead of the original CD’s four episodes, this edition is split into six parts of around 20 minutes each. Rather than ending on a cliff-hanger, each disc finishes at a convenient (usually dramatic) point in the dialogue. It’s better to think of this as a compilation spread across six sides than as a six episode version, although I suspect some purists may miss the original cliff-hangers.

The documentary

The fourth disc in this collection contains a brand new documentary looking back at the production.  We’re fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the start of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range and it’s great to see the company celebrating their history. The audio releases have been a significant part of the Doctor Who landscape for nearly two decades, and it’s nice to see them getting some more in-depth exploration.

The documentary rounds up a broad range of contributors to Chimes’ creation, and conveys they sense that the story’s success was in part due to the coming together of the right people at the right time. Along with writer Robert Shearman, director Barnaby Edwards and the Big Finish producers, we also hear from sound designer Andy Hardwick and composer Russell Stone. Hardwick and Stone give a wonderful insight into their craft, and it’s great to see these (sometimes neglected) areas getting the attention they deserve.

For me the highlight of the documentary is the interview with Robert Shearman, in particular his discussion of discarded ideas for the story, and an audio tour of his own house (which inspired the story’s setting).

The one thing that feels missing from this documentary is a contribution from the cast. It would have been nice to hear Paul McGann and India Fisher’s take on The Chimes of Midnight’s continuing popularity but it’s a minor oversight in this excellent piece.

Overall

The Chimes of Midnight is a Doctor Who classic of the first order and is essential listening for fans. The documentary accompanying the release is a fascinating insight into the story’s creation, which brilliantly captures the context of the time it was created.

This release is a limited edition of 500 at a premium price, so it’s a shame that it will have a small audience. Hopefully the documentary will get a wider release at some point. If Big Finish have plans to explore their back catalogue in future such releases it would be great to see some cheaper downloadable options, alongside premium, physical releases like this.

The Chimes of Midnight (limited edition vinyl) (Credit: Big Finish)