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 Nicholas Briggs 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.

The Good Soldier (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Good Soldier (Credit: Panini)

Written by Andrew Cartmel, Dan Abnett, Gary Russell, Paul Cornell, John Freeman

Artwork by Arthur Ranson, Lee Sullivan, Mark Farmer, Mike Collins, Steve Pini, Richard Whitaker, Cam Smith, Gary Frank, Stephen Baskerville

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Good Soldier, the Seventh Doctor's time in Doctor Who Magazine didn't really find a voice until the show got canceled. The script editor for the show's final years under McCoy was Andrew Cartmel, and you can tell he has put an influence on the strip during this period. It helps bring the feel of the latter end of McCoy to the strip right off the bat, and that carries through the whole collection here.

Of the Seventh Doctor collections, this is possibly the strongest collection.  It actually felt like a collection of stories that worked together, as opposed to just a variety of random stories. In this book we start off from the moment Ace joined the strip, and the opening and closing stories of the volume are written by  Cartmel, and there is a great big story in the middle by Dan Abnett titled "The Mark of Mandragora," which has a couple of lead-in stories as well.  All around a good collection of stronger stories, a more cohesive tone, and Ace! It is sort of a shame the strip couldn't maintain this level under the Seventh Doctor for long after this. 

This collection felt the most like the Seventh Doctor's run on TV, which sort of makes sense as the stories in this were published right about the same time that a new season of Doctor Who might have started, but (of course) did not.  Panini's collection is, as usual, lovingly put together, and as this grouping of stories is some of the best stuff from the Seventh Doctor's time leading the strip?  Definitely worth a look in. 

A Cold Day in Hell (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 30 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
A Cold Day In Hell (Credit: Panini)
Written by Simon Furman, Mike Collins, Grant Morrison, John Freeman, Dan Abnett, Richard Alan, John Carnell, Alan Grant

Artwork by John Ridgeway, Kev Hopgood, Tim Perkins, Geoff Senior, Dave Hine, Bryan Hitch, John Higgins, Lee Sullivan, Dougie Braithwaite, Dave Elliott, Andy Lanning, Martin Griffiths, Cam Smith

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The first Seventh Doctor Volume, A Cold Day in Hell is, like all of Panini's Who collections, wonderfully put together and restored, but much of the stories in this volume didn't totally work for me. The first story tries to wrap up the Sixth Doctor comic era by having a finale adventure for companion "Frobisher," but just continuity wise it just feels out of place with the Seventh Doctor...too many references to "since Peri left" which just doesn't fit where the Seventh Doctor was from the moment he took over the part on TV. 

They should've just started fresh...time has passed, there is a new Doctor, and if you are going to say goodbye to Frobisher anyhow, why shoehorn him into the start of a new Doctor's run? It is an especially odd choice as Frobisher's exit lacks any real emotional impact.  If they wanted to say goodbye to the character, maybe they should have worked that into the end of "The World Shapers" which closed out the Sixth Doctor's run. Seems an odd choice, but this book is full of that. 

It seems at the time Marvel (who was still distributing Doctor who Magazine at the time) was desperate to drag Doctor Who into their big sweeping and ridiculous canon.  They used the Doctor Who strip as a weird in between for a character called "Death's Head," who appeared in some other comic and is shrunk down by the Doctor as an excuse to move him onto his own title by Marvel UK.  They also brought in two awful characters from another title called The Sleaze Brothers for a story so inept and awful. Admittedly, I am almost always anti-Crossover, but Doctor Who really does need to just live in it's own vast and strange universe. The stories that Marvel forced are also just plain bad.

The book also has so many artists, you'd think at least a few would manage to demonstrate an ability to capture Sylvester McCoy's likeness.  But very few actually did, which is odd.  The actor has, in my view, a fairly distinctive face, you'd think artists would find his features easy to capture or even caricature after the more non-descript faces of Peter Davison and Colin Baker.  But for most of this collection you only know it is the Doctor because he's the guy wearing the hat. 

It isn't all bad, "Claws of the Klathi!" is a decent atmospheric tale with good art and a better than the usual capturing of the Seventh Doctor's look.  I rather liked "Keepsake" and "Echoes of the Mogor!" and I did like the running gag in which the Doctor is always landing and immediately realizing he has not yet found his friend's birthday party, which he is apparently on his way towards. 

I think the biggest issue is that collected in this volume is a total hodge podge of writers, artists, and stories.  There is no clear voice (as Steve Parkhouse was throughout all of the Fifth Doctor's run and the early days of the Sixth Doctor), and no clear visual style (as the Sixth Doctor's entire run had in John Ridgeway).  That lack of any artistic vision, along with a company bullying them into working in their own characters that don't really fit...and what you get is a bunch of one offs and only a few stories that actually dig in for more than one issue.  Ultimately this is a collection for Collectors and Completists only, otherwise, I think it is rather easy to skip. 

The Blood Furnace (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 26 November 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Blood Furnace (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Eddie Robson

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast:Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), 
Bonnie Langford (Mel Bush), Julie Graham (Carolyn), Jade Anouka (Danuta), Todd Heppenstall (Stuart Dale), Clare Calbraith (Orla), Louis Tamone (Vinny), Ignatius Anthony (Lee).

Big Finish Productions - Originally  Released August 2017
Available Now on General Release 

The second installment of the recent trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor alongside Ace and Mel finds them coming back to a fairly familiar setting of Merseyside in 1991. It seems slightly odd that having had several previous adventures set in Liverpool owing to the presence of former companion Hex that neither he didn’t even rate a mention. This combined with Ace’s more youthful persona which has shown through in recent audio adventures has led this reviewer to wonder if this series is set prior to the arrival of Hex although for reasons that will be elaborated on in my review of the next release this seems unlikely.

Leaving these minor gripes aside, it seems appropriate to put Ace and Mel into a time which might have been contemporary if this series of adventures had followed on directly from the TV series’ cancellation in 1989. As such we are introduced a new element of Mel’s backstory in the shape of her ex-boyfriend Stuart, played by Todd Heppenstall who has an instant rapport withBonnie Langford that allows the listener to believe they really could be old university chums. In this story Stuart appears to have had a significant reversal of fortune since he and Mel last met as he is now managing a shipyard which seems to have bucked the trend of the early 1990s recession and be successfully ship-building with the help of his mysterious financial backers, the Dark Alloy Corporation. At this stage enter the sinister Carolyn, played as a fun villainess byJulie Graham, it isn’t spoiling too much to reveal that she is a character with much more going than on than is initially revealed.

This is an enjoyable tale of double-crossing, alien espionage, the science of magic and a reinforcement of the old fable that you should never go into business with mysterious strangers who probably aren’t human. Whilst Ace and the Doctor get into all the usual sort of trouble, and as ever Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy are on great form as usual, this story really belongs to Bonnie Langford’s Mel. For the first time since she rejoined the TARDIS crew last year (and indeed since she left originally left Pease Pottage with the Sixth Doctor – see the novel Business Unusual and the 2013 audio play The Wrong Doctors) we see her back in rightful time and place and seriously tempted to stay there.

Overall another fun story to accompany The High Price of Parking, although listeners will possibly hope for something with a little more originality from the concluding story for this year The Silurian Candidate.

The High Price of Parking (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 November 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The High Price Of Parking (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by John Dorney

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel Bush), Gabrielle Glaister (Cowley), Hywel Morgan (Kempton/ Tribesman), Kate Duchene (Regina/ Seraphim), Leighton Pugh (Fulton), Jack Monaghan 
(Dunne/ Selfdrive), James Joyce (Robowardens)

Big Finish Productions - Released July 2017

Having successfully reintroduced Bonnie Langford’s Mel Bush as a returning character last year alongside the already popular TARDIS team of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, the dynamic trio are all set for the first of a new trilogy of their ongoing adventures.

The High Price of Parking finds the travellers attempt to reach a galactic beauty spot and renowned tourist trap leads them to a nearby planetoid designed as a giant car park and named, appropriately enough, Parking. Here they quickly find themselves caught up in a civil war between the planet’s Wardens and a sect called Free Parkers. Beneath the rather obvious puns is a fairly standard Doctor Who plot with some nice twists and turns which builds to a satisfying conclusion.

As ever there is a competent supporting cast headed up by Gabrielle Glaister, who will be most familiar to television audiences from her role of “Bob”, the only character to have straddled the comedic universes of Blackadder and Upstart Crow. Here she plays the slightly out of her depth head warden Cowley and gets to share some enjoyable scenes with Mel. Bonnie Langford’s computer programmer is at her proactive best for most of this story. Also worthy of mention is Kate Duchene playing two very different roles, the first of these is Regina, tribal leader of the Free Parkers, and the other is super computer Seraphim. The latter role could easily have been very clichéd but the scenes shared with Sylvester McCoy in the play’s climax are very enjoyable with the Seventh Doctor as his “r” rolling best. Additional support comes from Hywel Morgan as the slimy Kempton and Leighton Pugh in several smaller roles including an enjoyable turn as Fulton an overzealous enforcer for Galactic Heritage.

Overall, this is an enjoyable tale which combines some light comedy with clever moments of jeopardy even allowing for the fact that the listener will know that whatever happens the three lead characters won’t come to any harm. The only slight misfire for long-term listeners is that having apparently established Mel’s return as taking place sometime after the departure of Hex, Ace seems to have regressed to a slightly younger version of her character. Unlike some of writer John Dorney’s more memorable offerings of recent years, this isn’t a story to set the world alight with originality but nevertheless is a promising start to this new trilogy of adventures.


The High Price of Parking is available now on general release.