The Curse of Fenric (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Curse Of Fenric (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Ian Briggs
Read By Terry Molloy

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

It is quite probable that The Curse of Fenric is my favorite story of the Seventh Doctor. I loved the atmosphere, where it developed the character of Ace, and her relationship to the Doctor and her past, and I loved where it seemed to be pushing the show...even if imminent cancellation shelved those plans.  Maybe that is for the best. The writer of the story, Ian Briggs, wrote his own novelization, and the results are pretty stellar. 

The way Briggs wrote it, it feels like a novel unto itself, it doesn't feel like it was based on a cheap TV show, it feels like an original novel that once got adapted for TV. That is rare in these novelizations.  But Briggs puts in a Prologe and an Epilogue, and instead of the standard Chapters, he breaks the story up into "Chronicles" which are the more straight adaptations of the serial, and "Documents" which give more in-depth background on elements of the story in a unique and creative way. 

It is things like that that up the ante, make this story feel like it is completely fresh, and not just a quick novelization of the story to sell some paperbacks.  Briggs seemed to put in some extra effort on this. I've been enjoying my audibook tour of the old Target books, but this one really jumped out at me.  I understand that apparently Page limits were removed for Briggs, and so maybe he felt the impulse to go wild with it. But there are elements to the story that Briggs expanded upon, and little details that he made clearer, and in general the story just feels thematically stronger. 

Terry Molloy does a good job narrating the story, managing to capture the characters and keep in that ominous atmosphere when needed. All in all...this was a great listen.  Having recently slogged my way through the less enjoyable Two Doctors audiobook, I found this was far more entertaining, and I breezed through it much easier. I think I can give no higher recomendation than, I didn't want to stop listening to it!





Survival (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Survival (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Rona Munro
Read By Lisa Bowerman

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2017
Available from Amazon UK

In 1989, Doctor Who aired the final story of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor...and then was quietly put into "hiatus," but was really just secretly cancelled. That final story was Survival, and involved the Doctor and Ace facing off against the Master and Cheetah People in Ace's hometown of Perivale. In the end the Doctor and Ace walked off back to the TARDIS, and they weren't to be seen together on screen again. It was one of the stronger efforts in that final era of the Classic show, and while you can definitely see the upturn in quality of scripts returning during the Seventh Doctor's era, I think it was very much a "too little, too late" situation for the series at the time. 

So we come to Target's novelization of that finale episode, which is written by the author of the television script Rona Munro, and it is actually slighlty better than it's television counterpart.  Munro adds in some extra details and character motivations which were lost in the TV adaptation, as well as whole sequences that were probably cut for time.  These details improve the overall story.  The television version was always pretty solid, but the book just works better in some ways. 

The audiobook is read by Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra the Cheetah in the original serial, and has gone on to become quite well known to Who fans as Seventh Doctor companion Bernice Summerfield in a wide variety of Big Finish audios.  She does a fine job as narrator for the most part. Her impression of Sophie Aldred's Ace is impeccable, though her McCoy is a little too cartoonish and distracting.

This is a good audiobook, it's a novelization that builds on and improves upon it's source material, and it is nicely read by Bowerman...even if her impression of McCoy is kind of awful.  Fans of this era and this story would most likely enjoy this one. 





Delta and the Bannermen AudiobookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Delta and the Bannermen (Credit: BBC Audio)
Delta and the Bannermen
Written by Malcolm Kohll
Read by Bonnie Langford

Relased by BBC Audio June 2017

As a televised serial, Delta and the Bannermen could have been a hilarious, delightful, Douglas Adams-esque romp with a dark side. Many of the elements are there. Completely alien beings transforming themselves into humanoids in order to visit Disneyland in the 1950s as part of a “Nostalgia Tour”, everyday people trying their best to work according to procedure in the face of utter strangeness, and intergalactic war taking place at a holiday camp in Wales. Unfortunately, it’s an uneven, overly violent, tonal mess, with delusions of depth.

As a novel, Delta and the Bannermen could have been an edgy sci-fi epic with fleshed out characters, deeply detailed mythology, real character motivations, high stakes, and humor. Where else but a novel would it be possible to explore Chimeron culture,  craft a romance between Delta and Billy that feels genuine, or uncover the psychology of why an assassin on vacation just can’t help but make a kill (there has to be more than his enjoyment of it)? Instead the novel adds very little to what was already an unbalanced story.

As an audiobook, Delta and the Bannermen has fun music, an effective soundtrack, and Bonnie Langford’s narration can be a delight when she’s really giving it her all and having a blast. However the weak story holds the entire production back. It is simply too difficult to separate the story from the audiobook to enjoy all the work that went into recording this otherwise pretty impressive audiobook.   

The setting of Delta and the Bannermen requires a soundtrack rich with popular music of the time. Characters openly reference songs like “Rock Around The Clock” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” It would be hard to imagine the story without a few needle drops of those vintage hits. Somehow the producers were able to concoct generic, certainly royalty free, Rock & Roll tracks sufficient enough to capture that particular musical shade of the correct pop cultural tapestry.    

Not to say the music is all perfect. Perhaps the most entertaining piece of the score is what appears to be the main theme. A sweeping, swashbuckling suite that may have been more at home in a pirate story, but is equally thrilling here.

Telling a story about about genocide across the stars, especially when the antagonist is as murder-happy as Gavrok, gunfire and explosions are crucial. At no point does the artillery become a wall of pounding sound overpowering the music or narration. Every auditory element is layered to compliment each other, resulting in a sense of immersion.  

Of course the natural standout is Bonnie Langford as the storyteller. She is tasked with performing a variety of accents for more characters than necessary, and she does so superbly. While Mel may not be everyone’s favorite companion, Bonnie Langford is a first class talent, and she shines throughout the entirety of this book.  

Delta and the Bannermen, regardless of the form it takes, is a story with a lot of promise that never reaches its full potential. At least this version has a narrator who seems to be enjoying themself.

 




Emperor of the Daleks (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 9 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Emperor of the Daleks (Credit: Panini)

Written by Dan Abnett, Warwick Gray, Paul Cornell, Richard Alan

Artwork by Colin Andrew, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgeway,

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Emperor of the Daleks is a set which essentially wraps up the end of the Seventh Doctor's tenure as the regular Doctor in the strip, and the stories collected within this book are pretty much a mess. I must say the constant attempt at keeping continuity with a book series not everyone (including myself) was reading was problematic. Essentially to understand some of the things that happen to the characters in the strip, you needed to be thoroughly read up on the novels. For instance, Ace suddenly disappears with no explanation, so at the start of this book, she is just replaced with Bernice Summerfield, who was created in the Virgin New Adventures series. There is no clear intro for Bernice in the strip, she is just there. If you were only reading the comics, you were getting half the story, and it becomes fairly clear that the strip, despite its longevity and popularity, was now playing second fiddle to some upstart series of novels.

I liked some of the stories in this set, and it should be said that while my experience with the character is entirely from some Big Finish adaptations of the NA novels and this strip...I like Benny as a character. But the lack of introduction of her in the strip (and the lack of explanation as to where Ace went) is definitely a problem. And the fact that Ace comes and goes throughout the book and acts contrary to how she was before she disappeared. 

The big meat of the book is the titular "Emperor of the Daleks" which appears in the middle of the book. This big sweeping story is such a clunky read due to it's obsession with trying to clean up continiuties (what happened to Davros between Revelation and Remembrance of the Daleks as well as that army of Daleks forgotten about since Planet of the Daleks) and working in the Sixth Doctor and Peri and the Seventh Doctor and Benny...as well as the unwelcome resurrection of Abslom Daak and the Star Tigers who had a great end in "Nemesis of the Daleks" from an earlier comic volume...that it seems a shame to bring them all back for a messier end.  The strip became run by fans so deeply into the continuity that it forgot that part of what makes Doctor Who fun is that it is constantly moving forward and having NEW adventures.  Even as a fan who loves the minutiae of the continuity and connecting dots, I found "Emperor of the Daleks" to be a rather tedious read.  Connect all those dots if you want in your head, but trying to actually spell it out for everyone is a total bore. 

There is also the full-colour anniversary story "Time & Time Again" and the one-off from a special issue titled "Flashback" both of which feature appearances from past Doctors and show a love for continuity that is less interesting if you aren't so deeply into the nooks and crannies of the franchise.  Admittedly these were comics printed in a magazine geared towards just that audience, but that doesn't really make them fun adventures to read. Write a reference book instead of a comic if that's what you are into. 

After the final story in this collection, they moved on from the Seventh Doctor as the lead of the strip, and actually tried something new for the long running strip, which is to have a different Doctor star in each installment.  At a time when the show was off the air and showed no signs returning, that kind of made sense, particuarly as trying to make all the contiuity with the books work seemed to not be working out for the Seventh Doctor. The Seventh Doctor to the strip for one last tale before the the Eighth Doctor would take over, and I look forward to reading that adventure (and the other Doctor tales that filled that gap) when it gets collected in it's own volume.

This final volume of the Seventh Doctor's run is a mixed bag.  Fans of the Virgin New Adventures or of the strip in general may want to check it out, but casual readers beware. While I admire that at the time they had wanted to try and make sure the continuity with both the TV series and the books that were effectively trying to be the legitimate continuation of that series fit...I don't think that experiement proved too successful, and this collection is the proof of that. I don't really care for much in this volume, and I think it is easily skipped. 





Evening's Empire (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 8 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Evening's Empire (Credit: Panini)

Written by Andrew Cartmel, Dan Abnett, Warwick Gray, Marc Platt, Andy Lane

Artwork by Richard Piers Rayner, Vincent Danks, Adolfo Buylla, Robin Riggs, Brian Williamson, Cam Smith, Steve Pini, John Ridgway, Richard Whitaker

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Evening's Empire is the fourth volume of the Seventh Doctor's adventures in the Doctor Who Magazine strip. To me, while it starts strong and has a few high points, it is mostly hampered by the attempt at keeping continuity with the Virgin books being published at the same time, and a tone that the strip and those books seemed to take on that I don't particularly care for.  Too dark, too dreary, too far removed from the fun I want out of Doctor Who.

The titular opening story was actually sort of a director cut of the original, as originally art fell way past the deadline and only the first part ran in DWM before the ongoing production issues ended up canceling the whole story. Then they apparently finished the story as a graphic novel in color later on, but this new version restores the original black and white art and a few tweaks that they never did, with the original artist contributing brand new artwork. And it was a great story! Shame it never got to run in the strip as originally planned, but nice that the Writer (Andrew Cartmel) and Artist (Richard Piers Rayner) finally were able to get it out there and have people see a story that sort of fell apart for them back in the day.

The rest of the collection is hit or miss really.  "The Grief" can be fairly solid, but it is mostly just an Alien knockoff.  "Ravens" has beautiful art but a story that just doesn't feel like Doctor Who to me at all.  I know that in the Virgin New Adventures they made the Seventh Doctor more mysterious and darker than even he had been at the end of the TV series, but while I've only sampled a bit of those books (mostly via some Big Finish adaptations admittedly), I think they might've gotten carried away with that.  "Ravens" just makes the Doctor unlikable in my opinion.  "Cat Litter" requires so much knowledge as to what must've happened in some book that I barely understand what was going on in the strip.  If you were a regular reader who had not been keeping up with the books, you'd probably feel pretty confused and annoyed by a story that just assumes you'd read something else.

The only story beyond the great opener that really did anything for me was "Merorial," which was a nice reflection on the horrors of war and the grief it can cause.  It was a simple but fairly beautiful little story, and it's writer, Warwick Gray, would later change his name and take over the strip with some fantastic results. 

I would say that despite most of the stories collected in this volume are mediocre to downright bad, the opening epic from Cartmel and Rayner being beautifully brought together after failing to do so back in the 90s kind of make up for that. The usual section of commentary from the Artists or Writers is particularly illuminating in this Volume, as the main draw for the book is the remastering and completion of a story that failed to make it's proper debut.  This isn't the best collection of stories, but at least the best story of the bunch is lovingly restored, with some beautiful new art to replace lost pages, and some explanations from the artist as to what exactly caused the thing to not get properly completed at the time.  There is some value in this book...even if I think a good chunk of the stories ended up being lousy. 





The Silurian Candidate (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Silurian Candidate (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Matthew J Elliott

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Fiona Sheehan (Ruth Drexler/ Avvox), Nicholas Asbury (Chairman Bart Falco), Nicholas Briggs (Chordok),
 Caitlin Thorburn (Karlas), Ignatius Anthony (Gorrister),
 Louise Mai Newberry (Director Shen)

Big Finish Productions - Released September 2017

Available Now on General Release

The latest trilogy of adventures for the reunited team of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor and both of his TV companions Ace and Mel played by Sophie Aldred and Bonnie Langford respectively, concludes with an interesting story from Matthew J Elliott. As the title suggests there are shades of The Manchurian Candidate, although anyone expecting a political thriller in the mould of The Deadly Assassin may find themselves slightly disappointed.

The story serves as a direct sequel of sorts to 1984 TV story Warriors of the Deep with the action taking place in 2085, exactly a year after the disastrous events on the seabase. Sylvester McCoy revels in the opportunity to once again show off his Doctor’s mysterious side as we once again see him following him on unfinished business without letting either Mel or Ace in on his secrets.

The story takes advantage of having four episodes to play with by using the first two episodes mainly to establish the setting and the threat as the Doctor, Ace and Mel find themselves teaming up with a mercenary expedition into what the Doctor knows full well to be a Silurian jungle base. What he hasn’t reckoned on, however, is that the Silurians have enacted a plan to bring destruction to, rather than peace with, the human occupiers of planet Earth. To do this they have taken control of one of the leaders of the two power blocs which control Earth who coincidentally are due to meet. And so, the second half of this play brings into play the characters of Director Shen (played with admirable restraint byLouise Mai Newberry) and Chairman Bart Falco, enjoyably portrayed as a sort of Australian Donald Trump by Nicholas Asbury. The cast is also ably supported by Big Finish exec producer and all-round monster voice 17021 and Sinead Keenan in the roles of Professor Ruth Drexler and a Silurian named Avvox.

Without wanting to give too much away once again the play works by playing to the character strengths of both Ace and Mel. However, once again this reviewer is mildly frustrated that Big Finish seem to have abandoned the slightly more adult version of Ace which they established over the many years of her adventures alongside the younger character of Hex. Of course, it could be suggested that maybe these new adventures are set at an earlier point in the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s timeline. However, this story and several of the other previous stories since Mel re-joined the TARDIS crew, clearly features theTV Movie console. It was previously established within the Big Finish canon that this console first came into being just prior to the 7th, Ace and Hex release The Settling (2006) so therefore these adventures cannot be said to be taking place prior to Hex’s arrival. This aside, this is a more than worthwhile conclusion to this second trilogy featuring Ace and Mel and minor character gripes aside this reviewer will be very much looking forward to the trio’s return for another trilogy of adventures beginning in August 2018 with Red Planets.