Torchwood: The ConspiracyBookmark and Share

Friday, 18 September 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood - The Conspiracy (Credit: Big Finish)
Torchwood: The Conspiracy
Wriiten by David Llewellyn
Directed by Scott Hancock
Starring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack); John Sessions (Wilson); Sarah Ovens (Kate); Dan Bottomley (Sam)
Released by Big Finish Productions - September 2015

“The twenty-first century is when everything changes – and Torchwood is ready.”

They’re not alone, either: echoing this memorable guiding mantra to a tee, Big Finish have spared no expense to ensure that the first instalment in their new series of Torchwood audio releases mirrors its televised source material, demonstrating just as much innovation, engaging storytelling and political layers as audiences could possibly hope for from a budding drama coming to the market in 2015. Indeed, where some of the studio’s recent titles like Jago & Litefoot and last month’s The Sixth Doctor – The Last Adventure justifiably kept one foot lodged firmly in the past so as to entice fans of their respective eras, The Conspiracy instead goes remarkably far out of its way to remind its listeners that it’s a modern beast through and through, not only via its aforementioned dramatic ambition but moreover its integration of contemporary social forums aplenty in an enviably seamless fashion. From pre-recorded voice messages to nifty Instagram posts to local radio interviews, the number of narrative elements which have been plucked straight from our present cultural stratosphere into this captivating opening instalment’s web beggar belief.

On the surface this renewed emphasis from Conspiracy’s honoured wright, David Llewellyn, on clearly establishing – or rather re-establishing in the case of the show’s considerable band of followers, although newcomers needn’t feel daunted about stepping aboard for the impressively accessible ride – his storyline’s setting as here and now mightn’t seem a particularly revolutionary contributory element, yet its effect on the overall listening experience couldn’t be more profound if it tried. One sequence in particular perfectly encapsulates its impact, in fact; as the ever-dedicated, ever-eternal Captain Jack Harkness investigates the seemingly innocuous ramblings of populist conspiracy theorist George Wilson regarding a seedy, seemingly omniscient organisation dubbed only “the Committee”, all the while relating his progress to the listeners and his teammates (none of whom are referenced directly beyond a single namecheck for Gwen Cooper, though we’re all but certainly looking at a pre-“Exit Wounds” mission here), he comes across an intrepid YouTube blogger who carries suspicious knowledge of the supposedly covert organisation based beneath Cardiff Bay. This chance encounter in turn prompts Jack to momentarily digress from his retelling of the day’s events in order to play us a subsequent clip from the budding reporter’s portfolio concerning Torchwood – a simple conceit to be sure, but one which works wonders in terms of revealing new, semi-paranoid layers to the construct in question, doubling the sense that we’re listening in on a fictional Earth near identical to our own, whilst only taking up a few moments of our time before we’re returned to Harkness’ ongoing interview-turned-interrogation of Wilson without so much as a hint of narrative disconnect. Insignificant as they may seem when viewed in isolation, it’s small moments such as this one which make all the difference with regards to the scribe’s valiant efforts to establish the latest franchise to have fallen into Big Finish’s lap as every bit as compelling a contender as its predecessors.

Had there not been an accomplished central cast ensemble present to back Llewellyn’s thoroughly contemporary script, however, all might have been nought; just look at how the original Cardiff-set TV drama’s lesser efforts such as “Cyberwoman” and “Sleeper” fared with viewers upon presenting them with scarcely memorable secondary performers, then in contrast at how the likes of Susan Brown and a certain Mr. Peter Capaldi elevated “Children of Earth” to previously unthinkable levels of gravitas with their work as Bridget Spears and her ultimately pathos-ridden employer just half a dozen short years ago. Enter John Barrowman, who – despite not having played the supposed “Face of Boe” on-screen since 2011’s divisive Miracle Day – steps back into the role of Jack as if not a day has passed since we last heard the ex-Time Agent’s charming voice, lending the entire production a characteristically jovial feel throughout. Regardless of whether he’s matching wits with Wilson’s marvellously sly daughter Kate (portrayed with delicious aplomb by Sarah Ovens), contemplating the need for answers in today’s world of alleged transparency with Wilson himself (prepare to be taken aback by John Sessions’ understated yet wholly believable take on what could easily have been a one-dimensional construct in the wrong vocal chords) or realising the consequences of his team’s increased publicity as his conversations with Dan Bottomley’s simultaneously intrusive and touchingly vulnerable reporter Sam Hallett take a turn for the deadly, the voice behind one of Doctor Who’s best-loved recurring heroes delivers to nothing less than an impeccable extent. Little wonder, then, that despite its relative lack of stakes-raising set-pieces, in contrast to recent instalments in Big Finish’s output such as the hugely underwhelming The Warehouse, The Conspiracy never seems poised to lose its audience’s attention, since Barrowman, Bottomley and company each bring such unrelenting energy to the table this time around.

Whilst we’re on the subject of individual commendations, let’s not forget the oft-overlooked yet undeniably sterling work done by everyone involved with the Torchwood range’s sound design behind-the-scenes. It’s one feat to yank across the audio effects used to depict the technologically brimming, almost sentient landscape of the team’s iconic Hub so as to strengthen the dominant sense that we’re very much bearing witness to a direct continuation of the original series here, yet to balance the volumes and background effects involved with rendering Jack’s narration, his past interactions with Wilson et al, the slightly distorted audio of videos recorded primarily for viewing on mobile devices and various other text-within-a-text scenarios takes true talent of the highest degree, talent which many devoted followers of all things Big Finish might argue (completely justifiably in this case, we should add) that only the Berkshire-based studio’s diligent band of technical wizards possesses. Indeed, given that this reviewer at times unashamedly favours literary evaluation which primarily critiques narrative and where relevant performances, it’s telling when an aesthetic or aural aspect catches his eye or ear, and in this instance, there’s certainly no getting around the extent to which the dramatic weight of the overall piece would suffer were we to remove the nameless geniuses whose invaluable work began after recording from the equation.

Now, chances are some readers have been sticking around this long in order to reach this critique’s inevitable “but…”, yet aside from the rather abrupt manner in which Llewellyn (no doubt hoping to allow his successors ample room to develop upon the Committee’s still largely ambiguous plans for Earth) brings his otherwise faultless tale to a close and the lack of much in the way of tangible character development for Jack beyond yet another unfortunate blast from his past, it’s astoundingly difficult to pinpoint much about which one can complain in any great substance here – an unexpected result indeed, particularly given how long Big Finish have already spent dabbling in the realms of audio storytelling to date. Then again, throughout its five or so years on air, Torchwood always dared to subvert expectations in the most spectacular fashion, and in this respect its stunning latest outing hasn’t let the side down in the slightest; quite to the contrary, The Conspiracy holds the even rarer honour of ranking, at least in this reviewer’s humble opinion, as one of the studio’s most thrilling, finely-paced, strongly performed and therefore satisfying works yet, or to summarise the situation in a more succinct manner:

This is when everything changes for audio storytelling – and we’re definitely ready to see what’s coming next.”





The WarehouseBookmark and Share

Saturday, 12 September 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Warehouse (Credit: Big Finish)
Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Phillip Franks (Superviser/Acolyte), Dille Keane (Lydek), Clare Buckfield (Ann/Darl), Barry McCarthy (Fred/Terminal), Anna Bentinck (Jean/Computer), Barnaby Edwards (Reef)
Released by Big Finish Productions - August 2015

Ever hoped for a Doctor Who serial which takes two entire episodes to actually get to the point, utilising every delaying tactic imaginable – including some heinously contrived cliff-hangers which rival “The Trial of a Time Lord” for their absurdity – as its protagonists essentially aimlessly wander about until the storyline’s halfway point? If so, then look no further than The Warehouse. Whilst this reviewer isn’t going to try and put forward the claim that the show hasn’t taken its good time to build narrative momentum in the past – just look at “The Ark in Space” Part 1 or indeed most of the New Series’ twelfth episodes – rare has been the occasion when a storyline’s overall set-up has taken so long and been executed quite so monotonously as is the case here. Thankfully, as has virtually always been the case with Big Finish’s endless array of Who titles, there’s just about enough in the way of pleasant surprises to be found in Mike Tucker’s latest Seventh Doctor script to warrant a listen for devotees of all things Sylvester McCoy, not least since the tale picks up the pace monumentally later on, yet whereas the greatest entries in the studio’s pantheon have appealed to the sympathetic and apathetic alike, in this instance the appeal will almost undoubtedly be limited to the aforementioned section of the programme’s vast fandom.

The first question that we must ponder, then, is precisely what makes Warehouse’s opening half such a downright chore to experience in comparison to this four-part adventure’s admittedly eventful (if not exactly action-packed) denouement. That Bonnie Langford’s Mel once again earns herself little to do beyond accompanying the Doctor around a clone-laden, futuristic warehouse as they’re chased by vicious rodents for almost 50 minutes certainly doesn’t help matters; indeed, between this relatively shallow storyline (the philosophical contemplations in which don’t go much further than mild commentaries on consumerism, our instinctive mistreatment of vermin and the inert dangers of deification) and “The Brink of Death”, the final chapter in last month’s largely brilliant The Sixth Doctor – The Last Adventure, Langford’s audio incarnation of her classic 1980s character rather seems to be getting short shrift at the moment, at least when contrasted with the considerable amount of emotional progression offered to Lisa Greenwood’s Flip in The Last Adventure’s grand “Stage Fright”.

In fairness, McCoy himself hardly fares much better, instead finding himself forced to simply untangle the mystery connecting the titular facility to the seemingly derelict planet below without ever revealing much more about one of the more divisive incarnations in Who’s half-century-spanning history, a true crime in and of itself given the extent to which his ludicrously accomplished 2013 trilogy of releases – “Persuasion”, “Starlight Robbery” and “Daleks Among Us” – went out of its way to develop the Seventh Doctor just as substantially as the Dark Eyes series had done for his increasingly sombre successor of late. That’s not to say that either Langford or McCoy doesn’t give their all in terms of creating a performance which remains both accurate in terms of their TV counterparts and genuinely earnest, only that Tucker has missed a severe opportunity in opting not to provide them with some juicier content with which to broaden their respective time travelling constructs’ psyches.

Perhaps the problem therefore doesn’t lie so much with the individual performances powering this underwhelming new chapter in the Seventh Doctor saga as with the flawed characterisation on the part of Tucker himself; that would certainly explain why many of the supporting players to whom we’re introduced here completely fail to resonate on any kind of personal level. Once we move forward into Parts 3 and 4 and the tedious introductions (most of which take up far too much of the running time, thus only adding to the laborious nature of the opening half), the various clone constructs such as Clare Buckfield’s Ann and Barry McCarthy’s Fred stationed aboard the space-bound vessel which gives Warehouse its name at least reveal some more engaging traits thanks to them having inspired an entire religious cult worshipping them from below, with the inevitable crossing-of-paths that occurs between these so-called deities and their blindly loyal followers lending a welcome dose of humour to the tale’s penultimate chapter. Even so, though, despite Tucker having showcased his talents with regards to bringing minor constructs to life in his past New Series Adventures novels like The Nightmare of Black Island and more recently The Crawling Terror, most listeners will more than likely find themselves hard pressed to name any truly memorable members of the ensemble beyond McCoy and Langford (which is saying something given that, as discussed earlier, Warehouse hardly represents a landmark chapter for the pair either).

That said, even if comparing The Warehouse to a Summer’s day might be construed as a step too far, just as “Fear Her” was redeemed by its overblown yet somehow wondrous image of the Tenth Doctor carrying the Olympic torch through London, so too does the 202nd addition to Big Finish’s ever-expanding line of Doctor Who sagas sport a few unexpected merits, the most notable of which is easily Tucker’s implementation of the aforementioned theistic cult, the seemingly psychologically unhinged leader of whom is brought to life with commendable aplomb by Dille Keane. At first a humorously ignorant and hopeful entity, this ever-faithful group shows its morally warped (and therefore dramatically stimulating) side later on by demonstrating to the Doctor both purposefully and (subsequently) inadvertently their dystopian origins (which in turn feed into a slight but appreciated discussion of how humanity’s meddling with unknown substances in the name of scientific advances could someday mean its end), their hilarious take on our increasingly pervasive loyalty card systems as well as their horrific solution to dealing with those who blaspheme in any way, shape or form.

Combine this saving grace with the undeniably admirable effort given by Philip Franks to his performance in the role of the scheming, manipulative Supervisor (despite the dull dialogue afforded to the character in question), not to mention the refreshing lack of attempts by Tucker to throw in convoluted arc elements into a yarn which, if nothing else, certainly works best as a standalone instalment, and we’re left with a serial that provides tantalising glimpses of its overall potential in its closing moments, albeit one which takes so long to do so that it’s all but guaranteed to lose the interest of plenty of its audience long before this transition from mediocrity to stunted greatness transpires. Its approach is not completely dissimilar “The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People”, which bided its time for longer than necessary before revealing the crux of its ethics-driven plot in its second half, but the Season Six tale in question at least endowed its viewership with a clear inkling as to what moral dilemmas lay ahead. Tucker’s latest, on the other hand, meanders for such a great length of time with no through clear-line that it’ll take a truly dedicated listener to persevere in search of its engaging (but still hardly revolutionary, not to mention hopelessly delayed) second and third acts. In all honesty, if Big Finish echoes the stock check conducted by the duplicates littering this at times painful outing’s central setting and happens to find that all remaining copies of The Warehouse have somehow gone astray, then – much as it pains this reviewer to say it in light of the traditionally high calibre of the studio’s contributions to the realms of the Whoniverse – it’ll represent no great loss to the fandom at large.





Four Doctors #4Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 8 September 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Summer event (Credit: Titan)WRITER - PAUL CORNELL;
ARTIST - NEIL EDWARDS;
COLORIST - IVAN NUNES;
LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS AND JIMMY BETANCOURT;
DESIGNER - ROB FARMER;
EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES;
ASSISTANT EDITOR - KIRSTEN MURRAY
RELEASED SEPTEMBER 2ND 2015, TITAN COMICS

Much as the Doctor has dabbled with parallel Earths, dimensions and the like in serials gone by, rare has been the occasion upon which he has come face to face with an alternate version of himself during these ventures into the unknown. After all, despite its containing a domesticated version of Rose Tyler (not to mention a near-uncanny facsimile counterpart to our Earth’s Davros in the form of one John Lumic), the so-called realm of ‘Pete’s Earth’ depicted in 2006’s “Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel”, “Doomsday” and later 2008’s “Journey’s End” showed no signs of featuring its own Time Lord protector until the real Rose brought her newfound metacrisis-formed spouse into the fold. Chances are that this prolonged absence of parallel incarnations of Doctor Who’s seemingly unique titular protagonist has come down to fear on the part of past incumbent writing teams at the prospect of scuppering up fans’ ever-precious regeneration numbering lists, especially given that the introduction of John Hurt’s ironically beloved War Doctor in 2013’s “The Day of the Doctor” – as well as its similarly acclaimed Paul McGann-starring prologue minisode – caused such a stir amongst the show’s hardened and sophomore followers alike.

Whatever the reasoning is or was behind this ongoing unwillingness to introduce Doctors from other dimensions, however, clearly Paul Cornell didn’t get the memo in this instance, at least if the penultimate instalment of his anything-but-unambitious Titan Comics crossover arc – “Four Doctors” – is any reasonable indication. Having set about last issue with his contemplation of the notion of the turning points in Theta Sigma’s many lives forging alternate realities wherein never before seen versions of the Oncoming Storm have moved forward from the events of “The End of Time”, “The Wedding of River Song” and “Dark Water” on vastly different trajectories to their ‘real world’ selves, the man perhaps best known for conceiving Bernice Summerfield continues to defy expectations by delving ever deeper into the psyche of a wizened Twelfth Doctor whose path was forever altered by his decision to cast aside Clara Oswald after her reckless attempts to convince him to resurrect “P.E.”.

The result? Well, for starters he does a fine job of clarifying exactly how this could-have-been take on our supposedly incorruptible hero came to be, how he and the three incarnations we’ve been spending time with these past four issues can occupy the same universe as well as how the Voord’s fateful conversation with Hurt’s combat veteran in Issue 1’s Time War-set prologue came to influence the future actions of Marinus’ oft-forgotten inhabitants, all of which will doubtless represent much appreciated moves in the readership’s eyes given how convoluted this near-complete series’ plot arc is seemingly fast becoming (just look at the dense ‘Previously…’ section’s deployment of several details regarding the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors’ present whereabouts which were barely touched upon as Issue 3 rolled to a close). This need for clarification regarding numerous loose narrative threads from previous chapters does inevitably have a slight impact on Issue 4’s pacing in that the first quarter or so essentially comprises of an extended explanation from the aforementioned dark manifestation of Capaldi’s incarnation, although given that Cornell somehow effortlessly integrates his tale into Who’s recent mythology by connecting his antagonist’s millennium-spanning scheme to the events of both the Time War and “Day”, to complain about an only somewhat clunky (and doubtless necessary) initial exposition dump does admittedly seem rather churlish in hindsight.

In that case, let’s not dawdle on this edition’s minor structural faults, instead focusing on those strengths which continue to render “Four Doctors” as scarcely less than a gripping crossover yarn. In critiquing the somewhat predictably corridor chase-led Issue 2, this reviewer still discovered hope aplenty in the form of lead artist Neil Edwards’ consistently visually mesmerising contribution to proceedings, to the point where yours truly speculated that even in the event that the arc as a whole failed to impress, at least repeat ‘viewings’ would still allow readers to revel in the series’ sumptuous aesthetics if nothing else. Suffice to say that nothing’s changed in this respect – Cornell isn’t exactly known for delivering sub-par denouements (just give “The Family of Blood” another watch for all of the necessary evidence), but if the manner in which his latest Who outing concludes doesn’t quite satisfy on the level that most might have hoped, then it’s safe to say that based on his pitch perfect rendition of the Voord’s campaign for peace, his ability to transform what could have been visually mundane chases through futuristic spaceships’ innards for Alice and Gabby into thrilling races against time, and his unyielding attempts to distinguish the three Time Lords at the storyline’s helm by drawing each as authentically and yet as dynamically as possible, there’s little reason to suspect his work here won’t win him countless rounds of metaphorical applause come the final issue’s publication next week.

Until then, though, rest assured that Cornell continues to complement Edwards’ masterfully engaging imagery with similarly compelling dialogue, not least by having both the Time Lords who give this particular arc its name and their faithful companions discuss one of arguably the most fascinating issues to arise in Who’s recent history: that of destiny. Whilst 2009’s set of Tenth Doctor-murdering Specials famously dealt with this very subject matter through their sustained exploration of the true meaning behind Carmen’s ominous prophecy regarding a song ending and four taps’ worth of knocking, Issue 4 goes one step further in continually examining the ramifications of Tennant, Smith and Capaldi’s incarnations seemingly being doomed to become the newly-revealed alternate version of the Twelfth Doctor thanks to the latter’s sinister machinations, an intriguing concept which the scribe uses to its fullest despite us knowing full well that the true Twelfth will surely emerge from next issue unscathed, ready to face both his second year of Titan escapades as well as the remainder of Season Eight’s multitude of adventures. Some might well lament the fact that the prolonged nature of said contemplation leads to this second-last chapter coming off as something of a dialogue-driven rather than an action-led instalment, especially given that Cornell hasn’t exactly been averse to spending significant chunks of time with his characters keeping their feet firmly on the ground as they talk business (in a manner of speaking, anyway), but judging by the potentially devastating final panels involving Alice and Gabby’s desperate sprint for the TARDIS’ welcoming doors, such qualms will more than likely be brushed away near-instantly next time around.

Speaking of the human beings unlucky enough to stand at the Doctors’ side here, it couldn’t hurt to think for a moment on the areas in which Cornell might find room for improvement post-“Four Doctors”, not least since one such area is that of the roles – or lack thereof – which Clara et al have played so far. No one’s denying that in a narrative titled after a quartet of eternal aliens who find themselves battling a menace who knows them all too well, the Impossible Girl and friends were always going to fulfil slightly inferior functions in the grand scheme of events, but at the same time, lest we forget, much of the power of Who’s post-2004 televised outings has come from its emphasis on how each Doctor’s diverse range of travelling assistants both literally and metaphorically brings him down to Earth in both his darkest and finest hours, making Cornell’s election to have Clara, Alice and Gabby effectively play second-fiddle for the vast majority of Issue 4’s running time seem bemusing at best. Worse still, whilst the latter pair do at least receive one moment to shine in the form of a touchingly brief exchange surrounding what the other party should tell their respective Time Lord accomplice in the event of their demise, that can’t compensate for the uncharacteristically shoddy handling of a subsequent cliff-hanger which rivals “Death to the Daleks” Part 3 for its sheer incoherency. All that’s before one even begins to dwell on the concerning lack of effort on Cornell’s part to afford the Twelfth Doctor and Clara more than a single panel to discuss the potential for their relationship to crack in the future (a startling omission when you think about it) or to afford the Voord much more than foot-soldier status in those moments where we’re seeing their actions as opposed to gleaning exposition regarding their back-stories from Capaldi’s equivalent to the Valeyard, though this reviewer can’t help but suspect these seemingly innocent bystanders might yet reveal some darker motives for their attempts to effectively seize the universe’s free will through subtle psychological indoctrination.

Yet as ever, picking nits in the framework of a largely robust instalment can seem far too easy and more often than not can therefore give an inaccurate impression as to the instalment in question’s overall quality. Indeed, whilst the chinks in “Four Doctors”’ armour are still very much there to see for those who scrutinise each issue closely enough, its merits rarely fail to shine through that much more brightly with each passing chapter. Not once has Cornell failed to capture the individual quirks of Tennant, Smith or Capaldi’s takes on the (supposed) Last of the Time Lords, nor does Edwards seem set to let up with his constantly stunning renditions of set-pieces both action-orientated and personal, lending weight to the persistent sense that we’ll ultimately be left with a finely-tuned, gloriously visually bombastic piece of graphic science-fiction that, despite its shortcomings with regards to its secondary constructs’ characterisation (or lack thereof), at least mirrors the philosophical audacity of its writer’s strongest Doctor Who tale by far, “Human Nature / The Family of Blood” (not to mention the similarly inspired original New Adventures novel of the same name), something which still absolutely can’t be said of the vast majority of TV-inspired graphic novels on the market right now.

Bonus Humour Strip Mini-Review:

As if it wasn't enough for Cornell to pen all five instalments of "Four Doctors" all on his lonesome, he's moreover the mind behind the series' variety of accompanying bonus strips, with his contribution this week coming in the form of a neat skit titled "The Doctors Do...Classic Comedy". Once again displaying the rather cute and oh-so-quaint anime-esque art style implemented by Neil Slorance in issues gone by, this brief three-panel yarn easily fulfils its purpose of humorously juxtaposing Capaldi's Doctor with his "I'm so sorry"-uttering and bowtie-donning predecessors so as to hilariously showcase the tonal constrasts between the three incarnations. The only real caveat here is that Cornell appears hell-bent on referencing specific sketches from hit genre efforts gone by, a decision which will doubtless leave slightly more youthful fans - such as this reviewer - in the dark if they're unaware of the source material which is apparently being parodied.





Four Doctors # 3Bookmark and Share

Monday, 7 September 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
ELEVENTH DOCTOR COVER A - TITAN COMICS DOCTOR WHO ​COMICS ​ 5-PART WEEKLY SUMMER EVENT
Writer - Paul Cornell, Artist Neil Edwards
Colorist - Ivan Nunes,
Letters - Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Assistant Editor - Kirsten Murray
Editor - Andrew James, Designer - Rob Farmer
.

After some temporal shenanigans in early 20th century Paris, the three most recent Doctors have found themselves on the planet Marinus and at the mercy of the Voord, who despite their partnership with the War Doctor in the Time War are again up to no good.. and are far more powerful than ever before!

Before continuing onto new developments I must fully pay tribute to the writer/artist combination, and their ability to really produce goods any self-respecting reader would hope fore. Paul Cornell and Neil Edwards have maintained my interest as well as I could have hoped and continue to litter the epic story they have forged together with exciting cinematic action, witty dialogue and enjoyably unobtrusive nods to the past. We almost get another 'timey-wimey' but Cornell is astute enough to recognise just how clichéd that is becoming, and so makes a 'stutter' joke out of it instead. This confident self-awareness is really a boon for the modern-day culture of being a Doctor Who aficionado (for whichever brand of the sprawling story one cares for inside and outside of television format).

 

The most enthralling hook in this latest 'event' issue is the exploration of a so-called 'continuity bomb' which both furthers the main plot but also furthers the required multi doctor adventure aspect of referencing past events. We get a glimpse of Wilf meeting a sorry end, and the resultant come-uppance for a thoroughly detestable version of the Doctor who would not graciously accept his fate. Rather less disturbingly is the Doctor who will pass on with stoicism, but even then this is not laudable as his final end at a possessed River's hands allows the converging of all time and reality and thus the victory of the Silence.

 

But of most relevance to the actual story advancing for our 6 protagonists, is the unveiling of a potential future scenario where the latest Doctor has aged considerably and seems rather cranky over being let down. The motivations of this new doctor are very much held to account by the contemporary one, and the accuracy of his cynicism definitely is verified by the time of the startling final panels.  

 

It is good to have some proper threat from the Voord, who were one of the very first monsters in classic Who to rather meet the stereotype detractors had of the program and its ability to actually scare little children. What also is involving is the mystery over how none of the three Doctors are able to really remember much about the original TARDIS crew's trip to Marinus and the quest for the various Keys. A reference to the sea of acid is made but it is just a fleeting memory-ghost and nothing too substantial.

 

The re-mixing and matching of different Doctors to companions and their reactions to the dynamics is a very enjoyable bit of characterization work that makes the story more than just a giddy romp. The confidence of Clara to tell the other two humans about the complex nature of the Doctor is yet one more great bit of consolidation for a companion who I have always liked, and has never been allowed to stagnate into mediocrity by any writer of decent ability or above.

 

And this issue has Alice involved with a bit of narration and her clear-headed, matter-of-factual stance is rather refreshing after the more emotive and giddy reactions of Clara and Gabby. I have made no secret of my high regard for Alice and her strong involvement in virtually every Titan comic book she graces month after month. So coming to her at issue three was certainly worth the wait, and now I can only hope all three companions put in a bit of a concerted team effort with their Doctors to end the latest huge threat facing the universe and the timelines.

 

BONUS HUMOUR STRIP:

The Meeting is another winner from the guest contributor Paul Cornell, who this time is assisting the dependably funny Rachael Smith. With many a former companion involved in a meeting that resembles an 'Alcoholics Anonymous' there is great scope for some fun nods to past companions. And they all have their own take on the riveting experience of time travel which they blurt out, when Alice is hesitatingly trying to convey her own views. 





The Ninth Doctor Mini-Series - Issue ThreeBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 1 September 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: Ninth Doctor #3 (Credit: Titan)Writer - Cavan Scott
Art/Colour Finishes - Blair Shedd, with Rachael Stott
Colours - Anang Setyawan, Letters - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt, Designer - Rob Farmer 
Assistant Editor - Kirsten Mu rray, Editor - Andrew James
Released July 29, 2015. Titan Comics

With a good amount of set-up and outer world building achieved in previous entries, Weapons of Past Destruction begins to gather focus in this latest must-read comic book from Titan.

The TARDIS crew of the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack are now forced on the back-foot as not only does the standoff between the heavily armed Unon and the Lect make escape near impossible, but the nearby star which strongly dominates the horizon is on the verge of becoming a supernova.

Through the Doctor rolling the dice for the highest possible stakes, he finds himself confronting the main leader of the Unon. And this a female leader called Arnora, or 'The Mother Empress'. The Doctor's knowledge and wits will certainly be tested against such a keenly aware entity. Most would-be opponents  the Doctor has encountered are not equipped with telepathy, and so he can keep his solutions safely hidden. Not this time though, as Arnora is almost thinking of his responses before he himself is fully aware of them. 

And of course without the Doctor,  Rose and Jack must use their 'fight or flight' instincts to deal with the time bubble that is going to pop and so permit the lethal supernova to proceed with annihilating everything and everyone..

 

Now at the midpoint of this (hopefully not long-term) one-off series, there is a change of focus in terms of reducing the spectacle and heady travelling and doing some solid character work - especially for the Ninth Doctor himself.Where perhaps other versions of the Time Lord would be a little more careful or calculating, the Ecclestone brand places himself in the path of seeming fatality. Some enemies as we know are more than strong enough to over-ride the power of regeneration, although some of us fans would perhaps pretend the Borad was all talk. Luckily Arnora. who is a key figure at the top of Lect hierarchy, is for the present interested in having a somewhat reasoned debate with her captive.

Rather more disturbingly it appears the Lect see the Time Lords responsible for a corrupt and fatally flawed universe which needs fixing, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their 'vision'. It still remains ambiguous, and quite deliberately saw by the author, what the Lect want and how it ties in with their struggle with the Unon over the ancient Time Lord inventions and such products of their vast time and space knowledge base.

For me anyway this is not a problem and certainly not a procrastination as most readers are coming to this knowing Series One reasonably well, and wanting the focus to be on the Doctor's struggle to cope with the after-effects of the Time War - doubly so with the new wrinkle introduced by The Day of The Doctor.

Dialogue is still effortlessly enjoyable and convincing, with this forthright Doctor showing the right combination of wit and suitably respectful awe for the Mother Superior figure of Arnora. Jack and Rose get involved in their own little story of timey wimey which is neatly illogical if I can allow myself to use that oxymoron. They are rightfully worried if they have truly lost the Doctor, but like the heroes they are proceed to move on anyway. 

I have been impressed for some time with Blair Shedd's work. and this issue sees the introduction of a co-artist in Rachael Stott. Shedd still gets most of the credit for the aesthetically strong barrage of eye candy (and some disturbing images too, given the themes) but having someone clearly in line with the intended end product means their is a seamlessness some comic books decide not to attempt or only half succeed in, and so I give even more credit for this third instalment,

My hopes now are that Cavan Scott and his team will unleash a real powerhouse of suspense, thrills and revelations, and fully realise the obvious potential thus far demonstrated.

 

BONUS HUMOUR STRIPS:

Both of these are from AJ (who again handles both the story and the visuals), and are focused on the actual dynamic set up by the main story. The first features the headache for Rose of Captain Jack creating myriad versions of himself by crossing his timeline over and over. The second is all about the Doctor somehow rationalising that being stuck in a Void is the perfect way to relax and reflect. An interesting decision really, as these add more to the 'Weapons' story - or suggest a variant in terms of events in a parallel timeline - and still remain faithful to the style we have become used to from AJ's considerable body of prior work for Doctor Who.