Doctor Who: The Day She Saved the Doctor - Audio BookBookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 February 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Day She Saved The Doctor (audiobook) (Credit: Puffin)
Stories by Jacqueline Rayner, Jenny T Colgan,
Susan Calman and Dorothy Koomson
Read by Yasmin Page, Rachae Stirling,
Catrin Stewart and Pippa Bennett-Warner

Published by Puffin on 8th March 2018
Purchase the Book or Audiobook from Amazon

The Day She Saved The Doctor (Credit: Puffin)






 
This interesting take on Doctor Who includes four stories that are told from the point of view of the Doctor's companion, who in each of these cases are female. The collection is published quite handily on March 8th, which is International Woman's Day. Each story is written by a high profile, female author and read by an actress with ties to Doctor Who.
 

 

Story One - Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes
Written by Jacqueline Rayner. Read by Yasmin Paige.
"It's a snake. Great" - Sarah Jane Smith.
 
In this, the opening story of the four we find the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith somewhere near Rome, at the height of the Roman Empire. While perusing a market they come across a woman who has quite literally just been struck blind. With the help of Sarah's finely honed investigative reporting skills, they discover that this isn't the first time this mystery blindness has struck, and rather mysteriously, the blindness only afflicts women.
 
As their investigation proceeds, it's not before long the Doctor is tied up and about to be slaughtered by a female cult - can Sarah Jane Smith save the day?
 
Jacqueline Raynor has a list of previous credits with Doctor Who that is VERY impressive, from
original novels, through to comics and Big Finish. This is probably why this story was my most anticipated of the set, especially as it featured my companion, Miss Sarah Jane Smith and my Doctor. Because of this, to say I was disappointed is sadly an understatement. 
 
The story is placed somewhere between The Brain of Morbius and The Hand of Fear, which doesn't leave a lot of space for it to fit in. Raynor's story deals with blindness and a female cult - which means there are a lot of similarities between this story, and The Brain of Morbius. Too many if I am honest, it all felt too familiar. I also struggled with Raynor's characterisations of my favourite TARDIS pairing. For me it didn't feel quite right.
 
Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes is read by Yasmin Paige, who played Maria Jackson in The Sarah Jane Adventures.  Unfortunately I found her narration very bland - which didn't help the weak story at all.
 
 
Story Two - Rose and the Snow Window 
Written by Jenny T Colgan. Read by Rachael Stirling.
"Ohhh! I will NEVER get tired of the TARDIS translation circuit." - Rose Tyler
 
The second story opens with the tenth Doctor and Rose playing cat and mouse with the International Space Station. They are looking for a time leak, and quickly find it in Toronto. Once they arrive in the Canadian city, they quickly find a tall building from where they have a better vantage point. The time leak is (rather handily) in the building opposite, where they can see a room that looks out of place from those surrounding it. This room looks bigger than it should be, and there is a roaring fireplace. The room is indeed out of place - by a couple of centuries. It belongs to a Russian aristocrat, Nikolai, and it's up to Rose to get into a corset, pop on a posh frock and enter the quantumly displaced room to find out exactly what is going on.
 
Jenny T Colgan (or J T Colgan, and also sometimes Jane Beaton) has written for Who before, and is also known for her romantic fiction. Which actually comes into play quite well here as there is definitely a spark between Rose and the enigmatic Russian aristocrat.
 
Colgan has great fun with the 'person out of time' concept, as we witness the pure joy and wonder Nikolai experiencing a 21st century warm shower for the first time. This also works the other way with the amusing imagery of a group of rather confused 21st century Canadian Mounties trapped in a snowy 19th Century Russia. Thankfully Colgan's characterisations of the tenth Doctor and Rose are absolutely spot on. The story is very fast paced, dashing between different time-zones faster than anyone could say 'time-anomaly'.
 
Rachael Stirling, who played Ada Gillyflower in The Crimson Horror, does a great job at reading Colgan's work, and throws herself eagerly into making a good impersonation of both Rose and the Doctor.
 
After the rather bland Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes, my faith in this new set of tales was well and truly restored.
 
 
Story Three - Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta
Written by Susan Calman. Read by Catrin Stewart
"Doctor, don't you think there is something strange about this place?" - Clara Oswald
 
Bored with her housekeeping duties Clara begs the eleventh Doctor to whisk her away to somewhere exciting, so he takes her to Cui Palta, where they find a colossal maze. As always, finding his curiosity hard to resist the Doctor leads them both into a maze, a maze that they discover seemingly has no solution. The pair are soon hopelessly lost and surrounded by the bones of those who previously wandered the maze's ever changing paths. The situation looks desperate indeed. 
 
Comedian, author, presenter, Doctor Who fan and sometime Strictly contestant Susan Calman's entry is a wonderfully breezy story that captures the pairing of the eleventh Doctor and Clara perfectly. If I had one complaint (and it is a small one), it would be that Clara sometimes falls into being the 'default' companion by saying things like "Look Doctor" a few too many times. Otherwise Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta is a lovely romp, lovingly written by a fan of the show.
This entry is read by Catrin Stewart, the Paternoster Gang's very own Jenny Flint, Catrin reads in a lovely bright and breezy way that perfectly suits this story.
 
 
Story Four - Bill and the Three Jackets
Written by Dorothy Koomson. Read by Pippa Bennett-Warner
“Time and Relative Dimensions in Space means....Life!" - Bill Potts
 
Bill has a hot date that she is VERY excited about. She wants to get herself a smart, new jacket for the occasion, and quickly finds a shop on the outskirts of Bristol centre that seems absolutely perfect. Inside, she finds a very helpful sales assistant named Ziggy. Bill picks three coats, but would love to see how they suit her, so Ziggy breaks the shop's strict 'no selfie' rule (they don’t want their designs stolen), and takes some polaroid pictures of Bill in the three different coats. Bill decides to go and get a coffee so she can ponder over which coat to buy, but strange things begin to happen. No one she knows now recognises her as Bill, plus there is an imposter in the TARDIS with her face. Can she convince the Doctor that she is the real Bill before she loses all of her own memories?
 
Dorothy Koomson is a contemporary author, originally from Ghana who has a dozen published novels to her name. Her entry into the Whoniverse is fast paced, claustrophobic, confident and sometimes quite frightening. It's a story of loss of identity and the fear of never getting it back. Bill and the Three Jackets has a lovely continuity with the series, especially proven when Bill employs the help of Lou - the 'chip girl' from the episode The Pilot. I enjoyed it immensely, enough for me to want to read more of Koomson's work. 
 
The story is very enthusiastically read by Pippa Bennett-Warner, her Who credit being that she starred as Saibra in season eight's Time Heist. Her impersonation of Bill is spot on. So much so that I had to check that it wasn't actually Pearl Mackie on reading duties.
 

 

Overall I felt that The Day She Saved the Doctor contained three very good original stories. It's odd for me that the story that I was looking forward to the most was the weakest, and the one I was least anticipating (Bill and the Three Coats) was my overall favourite.
 
The Day She Saved The Doctor is a highly recommended listen/ read. I have to be honest though, I'm not entirely sure that it is unique in the way it approaches it's story telling, as a lot stories featuring the Doctor are told from the companion's point of view.

This new entry into Who cannon though, is far more unique in introducing real female talent to a very male dominated world. There are around 500 'official' novels and novelisations that feature the Doctor. After a quick glance over the this very long list I found 30 by, or with input from female writers. Thats 6% - which is a truly shocking statistic.





Shada (DVD/Blu-Ray/Steelbook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 11 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Shada (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Shada
Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts, Charles Norton
Produced by: Graham Williams
Cast
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), David Brierly (K9), Christopher Neame (Skagra), Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons), Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis), Victoria Burgoyne (Clare Knightley), Gerald Campion (Wilkin), Shirley Dixon (Ship), Derek Pollitt (Caldera), James Coombes (voice of the Kraags), John Hallet (Police Constable), David Strong (Man in Car)
Cover Art: Lee Binding (DVD, Blu-Ray), Adrian Salmon (Steelbook)
Originally Released: November 2017

Shada Reborn

Quite possibly a record-breaking candidate for the longest filming period for a single script, Shada bridges two millennia – from 1979 to 2017 – and represents a heroic effort to finally plug one of the most egregious gaps in the Doctor Who canon.

In a way, Shada mirrors the antagonist of that other great Douglas Adams story, City of Death. Just as Scaraoth is shattered into dozens of versions of himself across the centuries, the industrial action that stymied the original production of the serial saw it fractured into a number of variants and doppelgangers. Most famously, Adams decided the root concepts and ideas behind his final Doctor Who script were too good to waste and they found their way into his Doctorless novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. In 1992, a rough edit of the surviving footage was patched together with exposition from Tom Baker and some unsympathetic synthesizer music. Later again, an animated incarnation saw Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor reunite with Romana and K9 and a new supporting cast to cure a nagging feeling of something undone in Cambridge 1979.

But this Shada is very much the real deal. The entire surviving cast have been reunited to record the missing dialogue, the missing sequences have been animated where appropriate, though brand new models and have constructed and filmed by the Model Unit to act as inserts in the live action scenes, and a brand new score by Mark Ayers is constructed like an act of musical archaeology to recreate the instruments, methods and style of 1970s legend Dudley Simpson. It can never by Shada as it would have been, but it by far lays the strongest claim to being the definitive article.

As with any such project, the team had to make creative decisions and not everyone will agree with all of them. For instance, with Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis) and David Brierly (K9) having died since their original contribution a couple of minor scenes requiring them are left unanimated, while others have their presence reduced to lines which could be reproduced from other recordings of the actors. While some no doubt may have preferred soundalikes to be used to make as complete a version as possible, it’s a sensitive decision and highlights that, in fact, the missing moments were largely padding anyway. Similarly, but much more controversially, is the decision to assemble Shada as a 138 minute film rather than as six episodes. (It even has - steady yourself - a pre-titles sequence). This will go against every instinct of many long term fans, still sore from VHS cassettes of hacked down stories and the fight to get episodic releases. But in this case it seems to work. Watched in one sitting it makes for a breezy, fun, adventure – yet the way the story is paced would have seen the episodic version with a curiously uneventful Part One and a number of extremely undramatic cliffhangers (only the midway point would have given us something as genuinely brilliant as “Dead men require no oxygen”). For me, the only genuinely poor decision is to seize on the existence of the original K9 prop, some original wall panels from the 1979 set, and the surviving (bottom) half of an original Kraag monster costume to recreate a few shots of K9 fighting a Kraag. I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but the fact the surviving bit of set to squeeze them into is so small, and the Kraag only visible from the waist down, makes for a weirdly, and unintentionally silly, looking moment that takes you out of the flow of the story more than the switches to animation do.

Few would argue, though against the decision to bring in Martin Gergharty and Adrian Salmon to do design work for the animation. Not only are they brilliant in their own right, creating clear lined, loyal yet character-filled, interpretations of the cast in warm, friendly colours, it also helps smooth over the slightly stilted, flash style – the characters may not feel like they have a full range of human movement, but the presence of Gergharty’s art, so familiar to the readership of Doctor Who Magazine, makes it feel almost like panels from the beloved DWM comic strip brought to life.

 

Shada Reviewed

But has all this effort simply been an ultimate exercise in obsessive, fannish, completeness? Are we seeing the resurrection of a poor story just because it’s there to be done, or the completion of a classic in its own right?  In short – is Shada actually any good?

As it happens, Shada is brilliant jewel to add to Doctor Who’s crown if one, like all the most spectacular diamonds, not without its flaws. One the wittiest of Who scripts, and certainly with one of the most fascinating premises, at six parts it’s basically City of Death with extra portions. Famously, one of the script’s biggest critics is its own author – written, as it was, at a point when Douglas Adams was juggling several different projects and deadlines and pouring his greatest effort into his own personal work rather than Doctor Who. Considering that a billion years from now, stuck in the glovebox of an interplanetary roadster, the fruits of that rival project may be the last sign of the human race’s existence, it would be churlish to complain about that but still, Adams is being ungenerous about the serial.

In almost every way, this is the fullest encapsulation of the latter half Tom Baker years. Tom himself exudes the same sort of relaxed charm, peppered with moments of total nonsense that marked City of Death while Lalla Ward has never seemed more possessed of an unearthly beauty. All of their scenes together are a joy and something as simple as them going boating, or visiting an old friend in his rooms for tea is all stuff I could watch hours of, even without any alien menaces showing up. And the alien menace that does show up is stupendous – possibly the most unbelievable thing about the whole story is the revelation on the commentary track that the people in the background of Cambridge genuinely ignored Christopher Neame in his outrageous hat and slowing silver cape as if he was an everyday sight. But the massively fun campness of Neame’s character Skagra is balanced by the imaginative and typically Adamsian plot the villain has hatched. Skagra is unusually preoccupied with the heat death of the universe in several billion years’ time and obsessed with stopping it. Like solving the central question of  Life, the Universe, and Everything the main stumbling block to finding the answer is processing power – so he’s going to absorb every mind in the universe into one great gestalt entity, so that every being in creation is simply a conduit for finding a way to save it without the petty distractions of life. In a way, it’s Douglas Adams inventing cloud computing thirty years early and typical of the scientific verve and imagination he brought to everything he wrote. (Tellingly, a year later his replacement would also craft a story about forestalling the heat death of the universe but, while propounding the superiority of ‘hard science’, would solve it by inventing some space wizards who use magic words to make it go away).There are undoubtedly flaws, mostly as we race towards the end with the mounting sense of a script with the ink still wet and no time for afterthought or final drafts. Chris Parsons is probably the best of the solid young everymen Doctor Who has ever featured, and pitched perfectly by Daniel Hall, yet despite early episodes spending more time of introducing and building on his character, he gets lost in the shuffle of the climax. There’s even a dramatic scene of Chris making a vital deduction and racing out to save the day, only for Adams to be plainly unable to think of anything to give him to do once he gets there (a problem Gareth Roberts ingeniously solved in his 2012 novelization but which, presumably for purity’s sake, the producers here don’t take the opportunity to steal). Meanwhile, the Kraag outfits are really quite poor, even for the era that gave us the Nimon and the Mandrel, and a lot of the location film work in Cambridge feels rather loose and in need of a tighter edit.Yet, there’s an inescapable magic to Shada that goes well beyond its status as a mythical ‘lost’ story, and had it been completed in 1979 it would still have been regarded as one of the highpoints of Season Seventeen.

 

Extras

This release comes with a full set of extras the complement the story perfectly. A commentary orchestrated by the unsinkable Toby Hadoke on less funding than the bus fare into town sees him interview Neame and Hall about their experiences during filming, and Gergharty and animator Ann Marie Walsh about the pressures and effort involved in creating the project against incredibly tight deadlines. Taken Out of Time interviews many of the those involved in front of and behind the cameras on the original production to build a picture of exactly how it came to abandoned in the first place. Strike! Strike! Strike! uses contributions from those involved in industrial relations at the time to help explain exactly how the unions of 1970s television came to be so powerful, and give a potted history of their rise and fall through the lens of how industrial action had impacted Doctor Who over the decades both negatively (when it was at the BBC) and positively (when it was arch rival ITV left showing blank screens opposite the Doctor’s adventures).  Both of these are proper, half hour documentaries that tell a story of their own almost as compelling as Shada itself.

There’s also fascinating Studio Sesssions - 1979, showing the working methods of the cast and crew in-studio as the cameras roll between takes. Most fun of all is are the Dialogue Sessions – in which we get to see Tom Baker and Daniel Hall record their contributions for the animation, with all Tom’s uproarious ad libs and suggestions for improvements to the script intact. The extras are rounded out with the video of the Model Unit filming of Skagra’s space station and ship, as well as the TARDIS model, new footage taken of Daniel Hall and Tom Baker’s stand-in as reference for animation, photo galleries, as well as the obligatory Now and Then tour of what the Cambridge locatoins look like three decades on. ROM content even includes a full set of scripts, storyboards, and the 1979 Doctor Who Annual (if, rather bizarrely, packed as 56 separate image files).The Steelbook release goes even further to try and lay claim to the definitive Shada package – with a third disc containing the 1992 reconstruction and the 2003 Paul McGann web animation adaptation (remastered for viewing on TV screens rather than computer monitors). About the only thing not included is the novelization.

 

Presentation and Packaging

The DVD version has a slightly astonishing error where the coding that tells a television to display it as 16:9 or 4:3 is messed up – meaning that if watched on a 4:3 television the image will appear in the centre of the screen, with black bars on all sides – top, bottom, left and right. On a modern 16:9 television it displays the picture correctly (with bars on left and right as this is archive television intended as 4:3) but even then some resolution is lost as the image is basically being blown up to fit. That said, you’d be hard pressed to actually notice the lower resolution on viewing the DVD and it probably still looks better than it would have done on the average 1970s domestic television. All the same it’s disappointing to see such hard work by so many involved obviously handed off to someone much less fastidious at the eleventh hour for authoring the DVDs. It should be stressed, however, that the Blu-Ray and Steelbook don’t share this flaw so, if it’s going to bother you, those are the routes to take.

The cover art, some may remember, was the cause of a bit of a social media flap last year when Clayton Hickman’s distinctive and unusual scarf patterned cover was ditched at the comparative last minute. In the final result, Lee Binding’s replacement is… fine, if a little bland and stilted seeming, probably as a result of the tight deadlines under which it was done. Strangely, a vestige of Hickman’s original design lingers on in the insert booklet.  “Bland” is not something anyone could accuse the Steelbook art of. Undoubtedly DWM’s most marmite love-him-or-hate-him artists, Adrian Salmon provides a cover piece in his distinctive, angular, impressionistic style. Personally, I love him.

A thread long dangling frustratingly at the corner of Doctor Who history, Shada is reborn by a massive and dedicated effort by a hugely talented team to reveal it as an all time classic mix of Douglas Adams’ trademark whimsy and intelligence. Handsomely accompanied by a great set of extras and marred only by some inexplicable technical sloppiness, this is a must for any collection. But one, perhaps, to get on Blu-Ray if possible.

 





Doctor Who and the KrikkitmenBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 7 February 2018 - Reviewed by Elliot Stewart
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by James Goss
Story by Douglas Adams
Published 18 January 2018
BBC Books
416 Pages

As we all know The Krikkitmen are now more well known for the action based and anglophile mocking aspects of Life, the Universe and everything, the 3rd book in Douglas Adams 5 book trilogy. So by reading this novel are we just reliving those moments with Ford and Arthur removed and the Doctor and Romana inserted in?

Well no, this is a lovely example of how much Douglas Adams was a massive doctor who fan with a return to Gallifrey and maybe a jokey feel that would more suit his time on the series in late 70’s than the Hinchcliffe era. James Goss has the Adams style down so much, I began to forget that I wasn’t reading Douglas Adams at all, Something that Eoin Colfer’s Hitchhiker installment was lacking, reliant itself on more of a ‘greatest hits’ fan-pleasing prose than a style of its own.

The plot itself follows similar beats to the hitchhiker version with sometimes only location and character changes, but a part of me wishes It had been given the Hinchcliffe treatment.Far out in the spiral arm of a distant reality, Douglas Adams got full creative control of the long-running BBC television institution Doctor Who earlier than expected. Impressing Philip Hinchcliffe with his first proposed idea involving robotic cricket players taking on the whole universe,

in 1977 The whole show was handed over to Doug Who before you could say ‘ok, when did that happen?’ Well sadly in our side of existence, this never took place, the advantage being that Mr Adams went on to make Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy whilst in that reality he just went around telling that biscuit story. So then when after not sitting in a small cafe in Rickmansworth, but succeeding in producing both Shada & The Pirate Planet novels, James Goss had another unique epiphany and did sort of the same thing again only slightly different.

This witty script could have been tailored to that gothic aesthetic and would have replaced the to my mind just as silly android invasion. Imagine the Krikkitmen gleaming menacingly, still ready to strike a lethal six. Obviously, on the show's budget we wouldn’t see as many as their forces as is described here, but maybe less is more. Adam’s script via James Goss’s talent is funny and fast-paced maybe too ambitious for Television, but an absolute hoot to read.

Like pirate planet before it or technically ahead of it (depending on where you are stood in the vortex) The narrative is complex, but the inventiveness is constant, witty and the down to earthness of our heroes helps even if they are both timelords. A race against time literally as The Krikkitmen seem undefeatable, The Doctor and Romana’s dynamic -quipping and solving throughout meeting up with Borusa and others make you care And this comes across in not only the writing but the scale.

The universe has often been on the brink of disaster in recent TV Doctor Who and either avoided or somehow kick-started back into existence with little of us thinking our heroes were that close to losing. In This Novel, I was with The writer, the characters, the plot all the way and hope maybe Big Finish Will consider doing an adaptation. With an infamous fictional book always a comparison, Doctor Who and The Krikkitmen makes you wonder what could have been as it is one of the best books produced this side of the unfashionable end of the western spiral of the galaxy





Tenth Doctor Novels (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Tenth Doctor Novels (Credit: BBC Audio)

Sting of the Zygons
Written By Stephen Cole,
Read By Reggie Yates

The Last Dodo
Written By Jacqueline Rayner, Read By Freema Agyeman

Wooden Heart
Written By Martin Day,
Read By Adjoah Andoh

Forever Autumn
Written By Mark Morris, Read By Will Thorp

Wetworld
Written By Mark Michalowski, Read By Freema Agyeman

Sick Building
Written By Paul Magrs, Read By Will Thorp

The Pirate Loop
By Simon Guerrier,
​Read By Freema Agyeman

Peacemaker
Written By James Swallow, Read By Will Thorp



Released by BBC Worldwide Auguest 2017
Available from Amazon UK

BBC Worldwide have released this collection of Eight Abridged Audiobooks from the Tenth Doctor's line of Novels, all of which feature Martha Jones as the Companion. The stories themselves range from mediocre to just plain decent.  Nothing in the collection really jumped out at me.  The readings all all decent, particularly those read by Freema Agyeman and Will Thorp.  Adjoah Andoh did a decent job as well, but Reggie Yates lacked something in his reading...while others found a way to capture the Tenth Doctor's voice in some way (Agyeman being the best in my opinion), Yates just never found a tone that worked for me.  His approach seemed to just be talk faster, but he missed key elements of this Doctor's delivery that took me out of the story, and just thinking "oh but the Doctor would've said it like THAT," which made it much harder to get into the story. 

It didn't help Yates that he was saddled with one of the least interesting stories of the bunch. In Sting of the Zygons, The Doctor and Martha battle Zygons in the early 20th Century...imagine Zygons on Downton Abbey, only somehow that isn't fun.  The second story of the bunch is The Last Dodo, read by Agyeman, which was a definite improvement in terms of story and reading.  The Wooden Heart is another decent story, but again nothing too stellar is found within this collection.  I did enjoy the Halloween themes and monster in Forever Autmn as well as the adventure with the sentient otters that is WetworldSick Building had some decent ideas, but the story is decidedly average. Peacemaker is another average adventure, this time with the backdrop of the old west, though I do think it got better as it went along.  This particular audiobook does show off some of the vocal range of Will Thorp, who does a lot of different Amercian accents. 

The one story that really jumped out at me was The Pirate Loop. Read by Agyeman, it has neat time travel mechanics, intriguing mysteries, unique storytelling devices, and Space Pirates who look like humanoid badgers.  What's not to love in all that?  Of all the stories, it seems the most memorable,  the only one I will probably continue to think of from time to time. 

Ultimately, this wasn't that impressive a set of stories.  There was nothing that was too bad, but everything was just middle of the road. A little bland. As someone who had not read any of the BBC original novels, these abridged audiobooks were sort of like a sampling of them...and it left me uninterested in reading more.  Because of the ongoing series, there is (or at the very least was) probably a lot of rules for what they could and couldn't do in the novels.  As such I think you end up with a fairly bland output of stories, things that certainly work as Doctor Who, but because of restrictions from the show itself take some of the edge out.  It could be that sme of the spark gets lost in the abridged nature of the audiobooks, or it could be the readings themselves weren't to my liking. For the most part, anything read by Thorp and (especially) Agyeman were more entertaining to listen to, but I can't say this was the most entertaining set of audiobooks. For collectors only, I would suggest just checking out either the audiobook of the prose version of The Pirate Loop, instead of going for the whole boxset.





Doctor Who - The Eleventh Doctor Adventures - Vol 6: The Malignant TruthBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 - Reviewed by Damian Christie


Written by Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Illustrated by Simon Fraser, INJ Culbard,
Gary Caldwell & Marcio Menys
Titan Books, 2016
HB ISBN: 9781785857300
SB ISBN: 9781785860935


Previously ...

The Squire is dead. Alice Obiefune is lost in the Time War, having piloted the Master's wounded
TARDIS back through the Time Lock. River Song's life hangs in the balance. And infamous Dalek Killer and bounty hunter Abslom Daak is almost certainly going to kill the Doctor for letting Alice go.
Now it's time for the Time War to give up its answers.
How was the Malignant created? Who killed the Overcaste? What great crime was the Doctor
responsible for? But will they be the answers that Alice - and the Doctor - want to hear?


The Malignant Truth is the concluding book which collects issues 11 through 15 of Titan Comics'
Second-year story arc for the Eleventh Doctor (as formerly played on TV by Matt Smith). The Doctor
has been blamed for killing the gods - or at least hyper-dimensional beings worshipped as gods - of
an entire species during the chaos of the Time War. It's a "crime" the Doctor doesn't even recall but
that's no excuse for the godless Overcaste who send bounty hunters after the Doctor, Alice and the
TARDIS, including an anomalous being known only as the Then and Now and notorious Dalek Killer
Abslom Daak.
With an extended TARDIS crew in tow - comprising an unwilling Daak (whose dead, trophy wife
Taiyin is being held hostage within the bowels of the Doctor's erratic time machine), a mysterious
elderly woman who claims she was the Doctor's squire in the Time War, River Song (who has yet
again escaped the sanctity of the Stormcage), and an Alice plagued by a string of "future memories"
of the Time War - the Eleventh Doctor establishes that he, and not the Master, may indeed have
committed the atrocity of which he is accused. This prompts Alice to steal the Master's TARDIS in a
desperate bid to break through the Time Lock and seek to prove the Doctor's innocence or stop his
wartime incarnation from committing a heinous crime.
By far the most interesting aspect of this storyline is the comic's interpretation of the Time War. The
war itself was glimpsed only briefly on TV (The Day of the Doctor) but has been portrayed in Big
Finish's War Doctor saga, in prose such as George Mann's Engines of War, and in Titan's own Four
Doctors
mini-series in 2015. Alice meets the War Doctor (as portrayed by the late, great Sir John Hurt
on TV), the younger Squire and an unexpected, dare I say "impish", version of the Master that will
astonish many readers (but could plausibly tie into Professor Yana's origins back in the 2007 episode
Utopia). A few other tropes from the Time War are also adopted within the story, including the
application of a Gallifreyan Psilent song box, another weapon from the Time Lords' arsenal, which is
very reminiscent in shape and size to the infamous Moment of The Day of the Doctor.
Alice also becomes a prisoner of the Volatix Cabal, a hitherto unknown faction of the Daleks that was hinted at in the chapter Downtime in Volume 5 (originally issue 8 of the Eleventh Doctor Year Two run) and are revealed in all their infamy here. In the Master's own words at the beginning of this volume, the Volatix Cabal are a "Dalek death cult of abominations, deliberately bred for disorder. Reviled by their own kind, tolerated only for the talent that no pure Dalek could possess. Creativity."
Certainly, in terms of style, the Cabal seemingly combine the concept of "spider Daleks" from the 1990s abortive US TV series with the covert zombified human agents that were glimpsed on TV in Asylum of the Daleks and The Time of the Doctor. But it is the Cabal's eerie, melodramatic and almost poetic dialogue and their proclivity for cannibalising the organic parts of other species (which is anathema to their regular counterparts) that makes this breed of Dalek quite sinister and creepy. Indeed, they encapsulate more of the body horror of the Tenth Planet-style Cybermen than the regular Daleks do.
In addition to the Volatix Cabal, Alice, along with the War Doctor and his colleagues, also encounters the Cyclors, the so-called "gods" of the Overcaste. Intriguingly, these "dimensional nomads" are recruited by the Volatix Cabal in a very similar fashion to the way that the enigmatic beings in Big Finish's War Doctor audio drama The Enigma Dimension are solicited by the regular Daleks.

While visually the Cyclors are well realised in the artwork, conceptually they are a disappointment. There is an implication that like the Enigma of the Big Finish drama, the Cyclors are almost naïve and immature, unskilled in the ways of the plane they are visiting. Yet unlike the Enigma, there also seems to be a malevolence and bloodthirst to the Cyclors (based on the new "sensation" the Volatix Cabal has offered them) that the book's scribes Si Spurrier and Rob Williams don't really elaborate on, aside from a throwaway line. Indeed, any threat they may pose to the War and Eleventh Doctors and their companions has all but vanished by the conclusion of the tale

In timey-wimey fashion, the story eventually returns to the "present day" as the Eleventh Doctor, with Alice's help, realises the awful truth and is virtually helpless to avert the triumphant return of the Volatix Cabal. Again, in a manner that is all too frequently criticised about the modern program by fans (especially during the Matt Smith era), key pieces seem to fall into place which enables the Doctor to seize a last-gasp victory from the almost certain jaws of defeat. At any rate, the tension and excitement that ought to be felt at this juncture in the story is lost because there is far too much exposition between the Doctor, Alice, the Squire and River Song about how they have managed to pull off the supposedly impossible victory.

 

 

For the most part, the characterisation and dialogue in this volume is consistent with the TV series.The Eleventh and War Doctors and, to a lesser extent, River Song (as portrayed by Alex Kingston on TV) are true to their on-screen personas, although River spends much of this book in stasis as she was infected by the Malignant entity in Vol 5.
The "pint-sized" version of the Master is as Machiavellian as his predecessors and successors, delighting in the moral dilemmas that the War Doctor encounters in the Time War (as it clearly makes them more alike, to the Doctor's disgust). Indeed, he's probably creepier than usual because physically and mentally he could easily be mistaken for an urchin.

What's particularly interesting about this portrayal is how much Spurrier and Williams reference Roger Delgado's Master throughout the whole Year Two story arc (rather than Anthony Ainley's version), even down to the interior of the renegade's TARDIS (which is the version first seen in The Time Monster, not the later black décor of Geoffrey Beevers' and Ainley's time machines). Perhaps this is just the authors' bias towards Delgado's incarnation, or perhaps the idea is to reinforce that despite his stature, this version of the Master still houses the sharp wit and intellect of the original (especially hinted at when Alice's time-sensitive imagination in one panel depicts the Master's original Delgado-esque features on his rascally form).
Abslom Daak's portrayal is true to the original one-dimensional character envisaged by the late Steve Moore and Steve Dillon, and is entirely predictable in his actions and motivations ("I got to smash a Dalek! I got to smash a Dalek!"). Daak's fate in this tale is entirely fitting - it gives him renewed purpose (after it seemed in Volume 5 that the disappearance of Daleks from the universe had made him redundant). Aside from inviting chuckles from the reader, the closing panel also raises the potential of a War Doctor mini-series. I suspect the pairing of the Doctor's wartime incarnation with the Dalek Killer - chalk and cheese multiplied by a factor of 10! - would be short-lived but it could make for great storytelling over five or six issues.

The true hero of the story is undoubtedly Alice who literally leaps through hell and back to prove the Doctor's innocence, little realising that she has been manipulated by the Doctor himself. ("You proved you weren't a manipulative, reckless abomination by being manipulative and reckless?" she asks him angrily when she learns the truth.) Nevertheless, Alice proves herself to be a compassionate, faithful, selfless and courageous companion, someone worthy of the Doctor's company, even if he makes her feel otherwise. There is no reason why she couldn't become one of the Doctor's most memorable comic strip companions (after the legendary Frobisher, of course!).The Cyclors look impressive on paper but are otherwise a disappointment.
The artwork in this volume is shared between INJ Culbard and Simon Fraser, with Marcio Menys and Gary Caldwel providing the colours. Comic artwork is, of course, a form of shorthand, so it's no surprise that established characters like the War Doctor seem more caricatured than some of the original characters. The artists, though, seem to struggle with capturing Matt Smith's youthful appearance; the Eleventh Doctor, particularly in the climactic scenes in the Overcaste's arena, lacks the defined features that made Matt Smith's appearance (eg the high forehead, the chin) seem so outlandish and extra-terrestrial. Fortunately, the artists provide a good rendering of Smith's features in close-up panels of the Eleventh Doctor.
The placement of Menys and Caldwel's colours are also interesting. Predominantly they use darker shades in the background with splashes of colour in the foreground. This is arguably most visible in the Time War scenes, whereby Alice's purple ensemble adds colour to the grey, drab features of the War Doctor and some of the other characters. Similarly, in the final showdown in the arena, the Doctor and his companions are of a brighter palette than their drab, grey surroundings and the Overcaste that are trying to convict them.
Overall, The Malignant Truth is an example of Doctor Who comics at their best - at least certainly within the Titan stable. Not only this volume but the entire 15-part Eleventh Doctor Year Two arc overall has been highly entertaining, creative and intriguing. Aspects of the story aren't perfect, to be sure (and some of it will no doubt be redundant after the release of BF's War Master boxset this month). It's a bold move for any comic book publisher to run an arc that is effectively 15 months long and could effectively lose readers and deter others. Yet Titan, through a great writing team and some talented artists and colourists, makes it work almost effortlessly.

Now, Titan, about that War Doctor/Dalek Killer Time War team-up ... In memory of the late Steve Moore, let's make it happen! :)


My thanks to Martin Hudecek for the opportunity to review this volume.
 





100 Illustrated AdventuresBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 22 November 2017 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
100 Illustrated Adventures (Credit: BBC Children's Books)100 Illustrated Adventures
Hardcover: 208 pages
Age Range: 7 - 12 years
Publisher: BBC Children's Books
Published 2 Nov. 2017

The latest hardcover large-format book, 100 Illustrated Adventures, published by Puffin, highlights one hundred of the Doctor’s ‘most wonderful, jaw-dropping and eye-popping escapades’ and claims to bring these episodes to life like no other episode guide.

So does it live up to this billing?  The book is bang up to date, covering the show all the way up to the end of the 2017 series.  Most stories are given a double page spread which includes a brief episode guide on one page – the incarnation of the Doctor and his companions, first transmission dates, number of episodes and the writer, along with a very brief (around 200 words) story synopsis.  The other page is typically devoted to a related piece of artwork.  It is these, as the ‘illustrated’ in the title suggests, that are the selling point of the book.  These were gathered from the publisher’s Illustrated Adventures competition which has provided art in a variety of styles ranging from detailed pencil drawings (including some stunning portraits) to abstract representations, and from comic strip styles to children’s drawings.  These are therefore original pieces of art that you won’t have seen anywhere before, and whilst the breadth of styles means that not all the art will be to everyone’s taste they all display great talent, imagination, and creativity and show a love for the show.

The inevitable question with this sort of book – is my favorite story in?  Well probably -  If we take the DWM 2014 poll as a benchmark most of the top 100 from that list are in and you have to get to 38th in the poll to find a story not included in this book (The Daemons – sorry!) and all in all only 32 of the DWM top 100 are not included here.  The choice of stories to include may also, therefore, be an interesting point of discussion for fans.

Overall, as an episode guide this book probably works better for the newer fan than for someone who has followed the show for a long time, but as a delightful, original collection of art that shows the passion and imagination of fellow fans, it works for all.

 

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