Eleventh Doctor Year 2: # 3 - Pull To OpenBookmark and Share

Friday, 12 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.3 (Credit: Titan)
Written By: Si Spurrier
Art by: Simon Fraser/
Colours By: Gary Caldwell

Letterer: Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Gabriela Houston
Designer - Rob Farmer

(Abslom Daak created by Steve Moore and Steve Dillon)

Published December 9th 2015. Titan Comics

Some crucial problems with the TARDIS linger on for rather too long in this latest batch of adventure, mystery and emotional bereavement. The TARDIS crew, their new ally the Squire, and Abslom Daak all fail to get an easy ride. Potential enlightenment may be the silver lining to the cloud, however.

Alice and the Squire are trying to cope with an uncooperative and arguably perilous TARDIS in a state of flux. Former Dalek killer Daak eventually comes into proceedings, and is still mightily frustrated over a lack of answers as to where his wife's body has been hidden. The TARDIS' long-lived pilot could resolve some of these issues, but he is nowhere to be found.

The Doctor is seemingly facing a judicial enquiry over the actions of the one past self he tries to shun completely. There is no way out of the law process that the Doctor had tried to avoid (in the preceding two-parter), and he feels there is little reason to deny what he may have been capable of. Whilst his abilities to recall everything that happened are affected by issues with the fabric of time itself, he still is prepared to confess every action that does enter his head..

 

The story does well to give regular readers more insight into why the War Doctor stepped in to ensure the removal of the Cyclors, and thus cause major seismic shifts in the Overcast society from that point onwards. The reveal of who the Doctor is actually talking to is also done well, and whilst not unprecedented in Doctor Who comics, is still a fine bit of (welcome) revelation.

The bold decision to use the front door panel layout of the TARDIS Police Box with which to arrange the storytelling is laudable for its ambition. At times the panels are consequently small and some of the bigger 'event' moments feel short-changed. But we also have some more conventional pages without this framework, most often for the storyline with the Doctor answering for his past, so a compromise of sorts is reached.

Otherwise though, Fraser manages to get back his overall creative vision and produce artwork as good as any he has done in the past for the Eleventh Doctor range. The overall story may have a somewhat thin plot, but it has some quite deep emotional depths to plough, and so justifies the overall arc in taking a somewhat side trip approach for this third issue.

I have always enjoyed a work of fiction that explores the reliability of memory, and also the sheer importance most individuals bestow on those past recollections. Each of Alice, the Squire and Daak has to contend with the ghosts of yesteryear, and this is brought to full life, given the overall simple nature of the story. Those of us who grew up with Daak as the 'backup' comic strip in (what is the present day) Doctor Who Magazine cannot begrudge a very similar visual portrayal of the tragic end that Daak's other half Taiyin suffered.

In summary, this is a decent one-off that passes a reader's time pleasantly, but may not be one to keep reflecting upon to the same extent, that the opening multi-parter to Year Two had the quality of in spades.

 

Bonus Humour Strip

Gunpowder, Time Lord, And Plot is a tale which harkens back to the major celebration that all British people know and love - 'Guyfawks Night'. A two page entry, this has ample space for a bit of time travel and for Fawkes himself to assist with the powerful fireworks one would require for holding a private display at home. The Ponds and the Doctor almost get more than they had bargained for, but nothing too vital ends up blown to smithereens, come the last panel.





The Diary of River SongBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 February 2016 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Written by Jenny T Colgan, Justin Richards,
James Goss and Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley
Big Finish Productions, 2016
Stars: Alex Kingston (River Song), Paul McGann (The Doctor), Samuel West (Mr Song), Alexander Vlahos (Bertie Potts), Alexander Siddig (Marcus Gifford), Imogen Stubbs (Isabella Clerkwell), Gbemisola Ikumelo (Prim), Charlotte Christie (Daphne Garsington), Alisdair Simpson (Colonel Lifford), Oliver Dimsdale (Archie Ferrers), John Banks (Professor Straiton), Letty Butler (Spritz), John Voce (Jenkins),
Aaron Neil (Sanukuma Master)

“You know nothing about my life! You don’t know what I’ve lost, what I had to do, who I had to leave behind! You think you were a pawn in someone else’s scheme – you don’t know the half of it!”

River Song, The Diary of River Song: The Boundless Sea

Over the years, Doctor Who has hinted at River Song’s exploits away from her husband. On TV, we’ve seen some brief examples of her misadventures, such as her near death experience-cum-rescue on the Byzantium in the prologue to The Time of Angels and her dealings with Winston Churchill, Dorium Maldovar and Liz Ten (not to mention her impersonation of Cleopatra in a Roman army camp!) in The Pandorica Opens. She’s clearly also intimidated the Daleks at some point because she made one beg for mercy before dispatching it! Away from the TV series, she’s even applied her private detective skills in the e-novella The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery.

But it was only recently in the 2015 Christmas special The Husbands of River Song that we really saw River in full flight. She showed that, oblivious to the presence of the Doctor, she can be every bit as resourceful, charming, vivacious, black-humoured, demanding, commanding, duplicitous, ruthless, mischievous and self-interested as the unsavoury characters and groups that she encounters in her travels, eg King Hydroflax, the Harmony and Redemption’s maitre ’d Flemming. And, without his knowledge, she’s not above stealing her husband’s TARDIS on occasions to complete her missions! Alex Kingston’s performance in The Husbands of River Song was strongly reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s famous archaeologist persona Indiana Jones, another character not averse to gambling on huge odds and skating on thin ice while striving to stay one step ahead of the plot’s antagonists.

The Diary of River Song is a great opportunity to hear River in her prime, strutting her stuff and (no doubt in her mind) being pretty marvellous without the Doctor around. It follows a similar formula to Big Finish’s other Doctor Who boxsets (including the recent adventures of BF’s other resident archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield) – four linked tales, each part of a greater story but each being sufficiently different in style and atmosphere to maintain the listener’s interest. There is definitely a pay-off in the final instalment, as River runs into an earlier incarnation of her husband – the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) – and must assist him without giving away her identity and potentially disrupting the Doctor’s timeline.

Jenny T Colgan’s The Boundless Sea is the most entertaining of the first three instalments. It’s a riff on the old MGM/Hammer Egyptian mummy horror story, as River investigates disappearances at a newly-opened Mesopotamian tomb in the 1920s. The tomb is plagued by mysterious fireflies and a reanimated 3000-year old corpse with an insatiable thirst for fluids. Doctor Who in the modern era has really upped the menace of its monsters as protagonists find that they cannot suppress natural, inevitable vulnerabilities that play to the creatures’ strengths, ie blink (the Weeping Angels), don’t look away (the Silence), don’t breathe (the clockwork men in Deep Breath) or don’t think (the Bank Teller in Time Heist). The Boundless Sea offers its own variation on these themes and as a result, the sense of threat in the serial’s climactic stages is convincing. Colgan, however, still manages to elicit enough sympathy from the listener for the villain of the piece; the mummy’s back story is tragic and poignant in equal measure, and even River herself can relate to the character’s desire for another chance at life – and revenge.

Justin Richards’ I Went to a Marvellous Party is a traditional “who-dunnit” on a spaceship that is host to one of the galaxy’s most exclusive, elitist parties, hosted by a triumvirate that informally self-style themselves as the Rulers of the Universe: Marcus (Star Trek DS9 veteran Alexander Siddig), Isabella (Imogen Stubbs) and Bertie (Alexander Vlahov, better known as BF’s Dorian Gray). River, of course, receives an invitation for the most mysterious of reasons, and it is not long before she is playing sleuth after two murders occur aboard “The Party” ship. This instalment is the weakest of the four serials. As Richards himself admits in the “Making of ...” CD, his task as a writer is to ensure that events unfold in a manner that links with the next story in the quadrilogy. Unfortunately, this means Richards’ story is really a “by-the-numbers” contribution that appears to have been hastily written and isn’t necessarily well thought out (and given this is the first boxset in a new series, I’m surprised that a “by-the-numbers” affair is required so early!). The reasons for the murders and the identities of the killers are anti-climactic and dull and as a result the serial proves to be quite underwhelming and disappointing.

James Goss’s two-hander Signs is a little more engaging than Marvellous Party, largely due to the camaraderie between River and Samuel West’s Mr Song (in the CD extras, West jokes that the part is a great opportunity for him to show off his wares as the next Doctor Who!), but the plot is not compelling faire either. River goes on a quest in search of the spore ships, vessels that are once believed to have seeded life in the universe but are now being employed to extinguish it on civilised worlds. The narrative flits back and forth through time, as River battles radiation sickness and is nursemaided by the enigmatic Mr Song who seems more concerned with the ways you prepare triangle sandwiches and a pot of tea than he is with River’s health or the threat posed by the spore ships. Of course, Mr Song’s agenda is not as benign as it ought to be and River proves to be ... well, not quite herself (spoilers!).

However, the ending to Signs feels hurried and ill-thought out – and the manner in which River extricates herself from her predicament is unconvincing. One of the common criticisms of modern Doctor Who is the manner in which the Doctor and his companions can often “magic” their way out of trouble without logical explanation. In Goss’s conclusion, we’re also expected to believe that River simply out-thinks her way out of her predicament but there is little evidence in the dialogue to convey how she worked out she was ever in danger in the first place! In the CD extras, Goss says that he wrote this piece within a day or so – you are definitely left wondering if he should have committed some extra thought to the conclusion.

Fortunately, the quality of the writing improves in the final instalment The Rulers of the Universe, as the Eighth Doctor becomes entangled in “The Party” society’s agenda to capture a spore ship. Not only does Matt Fitton deliver a cracking script after Richards’s and Goss’s weaker efforts but he also raises the stakes at two levels – for the Doctor, it’s about averting a cosmic plan that will change the universe forever, while for River, it’s about assisting her man and ensuring his survival without letting him know who she is.

Paul McGann gets to stretch his performance as the Eighth Doctor; this is the Time Lord closer to the end of his eighth incarnation, at an unspecified point of the Time War (before The Night of the Doctor), not the Eighth Doctor as we last heard him in the first volume of The Doom Coalition. McGann conveys a sense of weariness and cynicism in his Doctor that comes from having already witnessed aspects of the Time War first hand, even if at this point he has resisted pleas to actively take part. As a result, with the focus more on the Doctor, The Rulers of the Universe feels more like a regular BF Doctor Who serial than a River Song adventure. Nevertheless, there are still some quirky River moments – especially when she explains to a perplexed Bertie how she manages to sabotage “The Party” ship, despite apparently lacking the resources to do so. This wouldn’t be possible in a regular Doctor Who release; it’s the sort of behaviour the Doctor (not to mention most other Time Lords) would frown upon and would never dare to attempt or exact!

The dialogue between Alex Kingston and Paul McGann suggests this will be a great River/Doctor pairing for audio. With River set to guest star in The Doom Coalition saga later this year, it will be fascinating to see how this relationship is developed, especially as she will be journeying even further back in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline.

Despite the inconsistency of the scripts in this boxset, Big Finish’s sound production values as ever remain high (I particularly enjoyed Howard Carter’s James Bond-like signature tune for River) and director Ken Bentley does an impressive job of casting the supporting characters. Alex Kingston, of course, owns not just the part of River but really the entire saga. She has a commanding presence on audio that maintains your attention from the get-go, even in the two faltering middle instalments. We see how ruthless River can be when she’s crossed, especially in the concluding moments of Signs: “I’m sure it’s all very nice for two omnipotent forces to play chess with the universe ... but they’re about to discover that a pawn can become queen!”

Kingston also skilfully conveys moments when River expresses a whole gamut of emotions, eg compassion, humour, sarcasm, sadness, anger and remorse. She really puts her heart and soul into the performance and eclipses most of the supporting actors around her.

Overall, The Diary of River Song is a relatively good, if not brilliant, start to River’s adventures on audio. The boxset has its hits and misses but Alex Kingston proves that she can hold her own in a River-centric series and the stories, as diverse as they are in terms of style and settings, at least show that there is great potential for ongoing adventures. There’s an unanswered question from this boxset that, while probably minor in the scheme of things, could inform future adventures. River talks in The Boundless Sea of doing her “penance”, as if the reason she has taken up residence in 1920s London is because of an overwhelming sense of guilt (perhaps over her part in the Silence’s efforts to assassinate the 11th Doctor).  By the end of the boxset, it’s clear she is done being manipulated, whether that’s by the Kovarian chapter of the Church of Silence, or the Rulers of the Universe. No doubt in future series, this is one lady who will mean business!

 

 





New Adventures With the Tenth Doctor #15 – The Sins Of The FatherBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 February 2016 - Reviewed by Dan Collins
The Tenth Doctor #15 (Credit: Titan)
Written by Nick Abadzis
Art by Elena Casagrande
Lettering by Richard StarkingsAnd Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Colorist Hi-Fi
Published September 2, 2015 by Titan Comics

In the previous issue they established that we are dealing with the Osirians, a race of aliens who came to Earth and made our ancestors think they were Gods. We’ve seen them before, most notably Sutehk from the Pyramids of Mars. Now the Doctor is face to face with Sutehk’s son Anubis and they are squaring off over the fate of the entire universe. His family left thousands of years ago and now the Osirian wishes to rejoin them. Unfortunately the device that would allow him to depart this mortal plain is unstable and will destroy everything if used.

As things reach a boiling point here the Doctor is called upon to do his thing and save the universe. But the circumstances are a little unusual. Anubis is not a mad God intent on destruction, rather a forlorn wanderer who just wishes to return home to see his loved ones again.  Because this is a Doctor Who comic, in the end it reaches the expected conclusion. The universe isn’t destroyed. I don’t think anyone would be shocked to know that, but while wrapping up this particular story arc, things are still left open enough that I expect them to revisit this at some point.

I have to fess up to being completely wrong about Cindy. Over the past five reviews I have repeatedly mentioned that I thought she would shed her annoying in your face attitude and rise up to be one of the big heroes of this story arc. It didn't happen. In fact she had such a small role that it makes me wonder why they even brought her along in the first place. Perhaps she was needed as a plot device, something to get Gabby (her best friend and the Doctor’s current companion) from point a to point b. Beyond that she remained an irritating character who just got a little better over this story arc. Poor Cindy even has a terrible final scene where she turns down the Doctor’s offer of a journey through time and space in the TARDIS only to instantly regret it the second they dematerialize.

So over all how do I rate this story arc? It was pretty good. In my opinion it got off to a really slow start when Nick Abadzis took over but it picked up steam every issue after. There were characters who underwent radical changes (Dorothy, Cleo) and characters who defied expectations and stubbornly remained the same like Erik and Cindy.  While it was an enjoyable read I don’t think that there is much substance to it that would warrant revisiting it in the future, unless as a primer when the story picks up again.  If you are looking to read further adventures with the Tenth Doctor and Gabby, their story continues in the Four Doctors mini series as well as the Year 2 adventures beginning with the Tenth Doctor #2.1.

Bonus Strip- A Rose By Any Other Name by Rachael Smith

After a disappointing strip last month, I almost forgot to even read it this month. I am glad that I did. It was another enjoyable page. Rose-The-Cat decides to create a cat flap in the TARDIS door. The change distorts time and space resulting in some funny and interesting moments.





Twelfth Doctor #14 - The Hyperion Empire (Part Three)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 1 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
DOCTOR WHO: TWELFTH  #14 (Credit: Titan)
Writer: Robbie Morrison
Artist :  Ronilson Freire
Colourist: Slamet Mujiono
Lettering: Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Humour Strip: Colin Bell + Neil Slorance

Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Gabriela Houston + Jessica Burton
Designer: Rob Farmer

Released: December 2nd 2015, Titan Comics

A fireman that goes by the name of Sam has had a disastrous time of things recently, with most of his colleagues and friends either dead or reduced to zombies by the maniacal Hyperion race. But perhaps there is a turn of the tide, as he has got to know a curious fellow called 'The Doctor', and a young lady who perhaps would be someone he would like as a friend if things resembled any kind of normal order.

As of present, he and his new colleagues in averting disaster are trying desperately to  foil the nefarious Hyperion master plan once and for all. The Earth's sun may be facing a significantly truncated lifespan, as the alien invaders wish to harness its power so they continue to exist, and continue to spread their ghastly legacy across the galaxies.

But an unexpected friend may be able to offer some crucial insight into what weaknesses there are with this twisted agenda. A bit of trust, and not taking a walking inferno at face value could be the key to the salvation of humanity.

 

A slight change in the creative line-up is probably the most noteworthy aspect of this penultimate instalment. Rob Williams continues to tell a reasonably exciting and suspenseful yarn, and his characterisations of do-gooders, ordinary people, villains, and cowards are once again perfectly serviceable. We have a notable follow up to the prologue of Part One, in that the remarkable astronaut Major Weir is not exactly dead anymore, but neither is she alive. Instead having been reconstituted into a 'Thrall' by the Hyperions. The Doctor's calmness in recognising she is not a flat-out monster, but a being that can be pointed back in the right direction is touching.

Yet, I do wish that there had been some clarity as to where she was left to recuperate in the TARDIS during the section where the Hyperions try to commandeer the Doctor's ship. All the same, the overall story is in no mood to sit around, and events have now built up to a head such that the ensuing issue will probably be able to execute the climax in a pulsating way, without the need to rush any more explanations.

I personally feel the art takes an overall shift for the better with Ronilson Freire taking on the duties this time round. As stated previously, there is something about Daniel Indro's method that while technically sound does give me an experience that I find a bit chilling, and perhaps more in line with a series like Survivors than Doctor Who.  Freire does perhaps make the mistake of sometimes portraying Clara a bit too loosely in his own style, but I still believed in the basic concept of a fearless and forthright 21st Century school teacher. Kate Stewart does however lack a bit too much of the core attributes, but the character does not appear for all that much in the story, and has a role that counts but not one that defines the overall impact.

As for the overall presentation of the main man, I am more than satisfied, and also enjoy the chance to see a Twelfth Doctor still with plenty of the rough edges in looks and behaviour, which so defined his maiden season on Television.

 

HUMOUR BONUS STRIP - One! Two! Three! Four! To Doomsday.

Although this was delayed one issue, it was more than worth the wait as we are again treated to a two page extravaganza of wit and Doctor Who lore. Clara may be able to stand up and teach a class of unpredictable children, but crooning on stage for some less-than-beautiful aliens is not. Thus she resorts to desperate - but ingenious - measures. There has been an overlapping arc of 'Battle of the Stars', but this story would appear to be wrapping proceedings up now. However, the title of the next story may hint at some kind of epilogue..