The Betrothal of Sontar (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Betrothal of Sontar (Credit: Panini)

Written by John Tomlinson, Nick Abadzis, Gareth Roberts, Tony Lee, Mike Collins, Jonathan Morris, Nev Fountain, & Alan Barnes

Artwork by Michael Collins, Martin Geraghty, & Roger Langridge

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

From the looks of the first volume of Tenth Doctor strips, it seems some lessons may have been learned from the Ninth Doctor run. From the moment the Tenth Doctor walks out of the TARDIS he seems far more fully formed (which is incredible as the only episode to air before he debuted in the comic was the 2005 Christmas Special).  No longer feeling the shackles of the TV show as a hindrance, the strip almost immediately feels like just more adventures from the new show. They had a year of trying to figure out the tone and voice of the New Series, and just where exactly the strip fits into all of it. They spent well over a decade doing their own thing, quite successfully during the Eighth Doctor’s run I might add, that trying to fit in with the real show must have been quite the shock. 

It helped that they began to publish the more child-friendly "Doctor Who Adventures" comic separately, and that let them realize who the target audience for the main strip was, and had kind of always been. So the somewhat less mature and scattered tones of the Ninth Doctor strips was done away with, and they veered back into the tone and style they had during the Eighth Doctor days, at least closer to it. The Tenth Doctor's voice is fully captured, and the tone of his first year is there as well. But despite some bits that don’t work or gel for me, I found this Volume to be decidedly solid. The Tenth Doctor fees fully fleshed out from his first panel, and they capture the tone of the new show, and managing to recapture some of their own mojo that had been lost when the Ninth Doctor came in and threw them off their game.

The opening story featuring the Sontarans before their reintroduction on the new series is a cracker...with fantastic art, great characters, and even better atmosphere.  Both "F.A.Q." and "The Futurists" feel like the strip working back to some of it's former epics...but there are smaller fun stories as well, including Gareth Roberts' blueprint for the later Eleventh Doctor televised story The Lodger which features the same name and similar premise, but the Craig Owens role is instead played by Mickey Smith.  There's even a Brigadier story to close out the book, though it is kind of mediocre. But it does fill the gap between the departure of Rose and the entrance of Martha. 

While they still aren't really practicing in major arcs and epics again, the first Tenth Doctor volume brings back the confidence and spirit of the Doctor Who Magazine strip, which makes it a far more enjoyable read than the Ninth Doctor's run had been.   This book is a solid collection the first year or so of the Tenth Doctor's time in the strip, from his introduction to just before Martha joined up.  It's a fun read, with a good collection of stories within...it may be a tad hit or miss, but overall this is a definite uptick in quality from the short era of the Ninth Doctor in the pages of the magazine. 





The Cruel Sea (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Cruel Sea (Credit: Panini)

Written by Gareth Roberts, Mike Collins, Robert Shearman & Scott Gray

Artwork by Michael Collins & John Ross

Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The relaunch of the show on television brought a new Doctor to the comic strip, but the Ninth Doctor's short run on television also meant his comic strip run would also end up being rather short.  This collection gathers together his entire run in one handy volume, which spanned from just after the show premiered in March 2005 and lasting to just before Christmas when the Tenth Doctor took over the show. Admittedly, while it is nice that you get all of the Ninth Doctor's strips in one volume (including a one-off comic from an Annual and a short story penned by Steven Moffat that served as the basis of Blink).  If you want a good collection of Ninth Doctor, this is a solid one, but with such a short comic run, why not include all the short stories that were featured in that 2006 Annual? 

One thing I find interesting in this book is that knowing that this started not long after the Eighth Doctor's great run ended, it kind of really makes this look a rather weak collection. I am glad they didn't do the regeneration in the comics, or even their idea of a possible "Ninth Doctor: Year One" run (which considering that Eccleston left so quickly and they'd have to shift gears yet again to Tennant?  It probably wouldn't have worked out too well), and I think that is the real reason RTD sort of put in place rules that tied the hands of DWM for the strip and what they had to do with the Ninth Doctor...he might've already known that it wouldn't be a long life for the Ninth Doctor in the comics. It would be problematic to let them set up an arc for Nine and Destrii that again would have to be cut short...and long run it was probably just a wise move to make it a comic starring the Ninth Doctor and Rose. New readers were going to be coming to the magazine when the new show hit, don't confuse them with a comic that has it's own continuity and storylines going. Start fresh, and the two leads of that new show were so clearly the Doctor AND Rose...the magazine needed to reflect that, it wasn't just a branding thing for the BBC or RTD...it was a good branding decision for the Magazine in the end. 

Of the comics featured within, really only the titular "The Cruel Sea" completely works. It has great art, story, and atmosphere...where the other stories feel lost. You can really get the sense that putting these comics together proved a bit difficult for the writers of the strip to get a handle on.  They didn't know what the new show would be, or what kind of readers the new show would garner for the strip...so I think they tried to make it a tad more family friendly, and maybe they felt a tad hindered by the lack of freedom they previously had before the show returned. The early New Series related strips feel as if they needed some time to figure out where they stood with the show back on the airwaves, unfortunately for the Ninth Doctor, that meant he ended up as a bit of guinea pig for the strip.  If Eccleston had stayed a year longer, they probably would've sorted it out and his adventures on the page would have come together. 

This is a decent collection, nicely put together by Panini...but with the exception of the titular story by Rob Shearman, most of it is rather forgettable stuff.  





The Flood (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 19 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Flood (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray & Gareth Roberts

Artwork by Roger Langridge, Michael Collins, Adrian Salmon, Anthony Williams, Martin Geraghty, & John Ross

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

This final collection of the Eighth Doctor's run in Doctor Who Magazine is a solid set of stories, but being that they did some standalone stories with the Doctor travelling on his own, and then began a new set of adventures with Destrii that ended up being cut short (though ended nicely in the epic "The Flood"), it just doesn't have the same kind of flow with build up and payoff that the other collections had. The other Volumes really do feel like a thought out season of Doctor Who. The final volume felt like some assorted adventures of the Eighth Doctor with no real running arc, which probably wouldn't have been the case had the new show not returned and probably cut short their initial plans for Destrii as a companion.  She had only really gotten started in the final story.  So there is a bit of disappointment that Scott Gray could never truly finish his storyline there.

Complaints aside, I highly recommended finding a copy of each Volume of the Eighth Doctor's DWM comic run. They a lot of fun to read.  I had enjoyed going through the Fifth and Sixth Doctor's run (though the Sixth Doctor's seemed to run out of a bit of steam in it's second volume), but the Eighth Doctor's was great, no doubt helped by the fact that they were totally free from the show being on the air, and they decided to find one writer to really focus and write the bulk of the scripts at the time.

Highlights in this volume include the opening story "Where Nobody Knows Your Name" which is a short one-off that has the Doctor and a Bartender discussing life, with the Doctor still a tad wounded from Izzy leaving him, and the Bartender helps the Doctor decide to carry on, with the comic revealing in the final panels that neither man knew who he was conversing with, and the bartender was actually Frobisher. Another great little story is the lovely "In the Land of Happy Endings" which is a tribute to the old TV Comic stories of the First Doctor's reign, drawn in that style with original comic companions John & Gillian. It is sort of goofy, but with a poignant ending. The aforementioned "The Flood" is another highlight for this book.

An interesting bit found in the commentary section was that Russell T Davies was such a fan of the strip, that he even offered to let them show the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the Ninth...but after certain rules put in place by RTD and the BBC took hold...it ultimately came down to DWM deciding it might be best to just not have the regeneration (they couldn't show Eccleston prior to him being on TV, they could only show him with Rose, and they couldn't even do one story with the current companion of Destrii staying on with the Ninth Doctor)...so they decided against it, and in the end have McGann not regenerate into Eccleston in the strip, instead they have The Doctor and Destrii walk off into the sunset after a chat about the importance of change, and that they really have no idea what could lie just over that hill. It is actually a rather brilliant ending.  It ends this rather consistent and phenomenal run for the Eighth Doctor in the comics (and that run lasted 9 years) very well.

It is a happy ending, one that leaves the potential for more adventures while subtly acknowledging that those adventures do not lie within the pages of the Magazine anymore. And quite frankly, not having the regeneration means we got The Night of the Doctor...and who would ever want to lose that (and having read the script for the alternate ending that they put in this collection...it doesn't hold a candle to what Moffat eventually gave us).  So I am glad they went with the ending they did, I can see this Doctor continuing on to have more adventures, probably going on to meet Charley and C'rizz and Lucie and so on in the Big Finish tales. I'd rather his adventures here lead to more adventures than to a definitive ending. 

While the unconnected stories and the seemingly unfinished Destrii storyline don't make this collection as strong as the previous Eighth Doctor collections, there is still much to enjoy in this book, and The Flood is a fine ending to his excellent run on the strip. 





Oblivion (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Oblivion (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Lee Sullivan, John Ross, & Adrian Salmon

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Eighth Doctor's third volume of his Doctor Who Magazine days is collected in the rather great Oblivion, which kicks off from the moment the strip went to full color, and also features the final arc featuring the Eighth Doctor's companion Izzy, who joined at the very beginning of his comic run.  I have to say, the plotting of story arcs within small stories with big old payoffs at the end, really feel like a forerunner to the format of the show when it finally returned to TV.  Since Davies was a fan of the strip, it's possible he read these strips and saw something of how the show could work for modern TV. 

The major storyline in this book involves the struggles of Izzy, who has her body swapped with an alien named Destrii in the opening story...and when it seems her own body is destroyed in an explosion...she is now stuck as a bluefish lady forever.  This storyline has some great moments, from the colorful explosion that is the opening "Ophidius," to the more subdued and sad "Beautiful Freak" in which Izzy deals with the initial fallout of what's happened. She slowly starts to deal with her condition, but then she is taken by Destrii's family, who kidnap her and take her to Destrii's mother.  The Doctor has to enlist Fey/Shade to try and track down the kidnapped Izzy, and in the hunt discovers that Destrii is actually alive and well and still in Izzy's body.  He takes the unwilling Destrii to her homeworld in hopes of saving Izzy and swapping her back into her own body.

It's an intriguing story and even the stories that seem like a standalone deal in some minor way with the ongoing story arc.  It's a well-crafted set of tales from Scott Gray, I may find the conclusion and elements of the storyline of The Glorious Dead a bit more, but I think that in terms of crafted storytelling, this book has a bit of an edge. It's all leading towards Izzy's exit from the strip, and Gray found a great way to build her character towards an ending that feels like a real reward. 

It is almost a shame to see Izzy go, perfect companion material, but she had a good long run, and her arc really came together beautifully in the end...the timid girl who loved sci-fi and struggled with the fact that she was adopted, and by the end of it she is stronger, is far more confident in knowing who she is, and accepts that her adoptive parents actually love her, they ARE her true parents. I love that early on in her stories there was this red herring of "she doesn't know her real parents" as if that would come into play at some point...but in the end?  She realizes that her real parents are the ones that adopted and raised her and loved her all those years. The final few panels for Izzy is beautiful stuff, a lovely end to a companion that I've really grown to love. And I haven't even mentioned that it was revealed that she was gay, which had been hinted at from time to time beforehand, making her the first openly gay companion in Doctor Who. Her time on the strip lasted about 7 or 8 years, certainly one of the longest-running companions in any medium, particularly of the comics, and it was one heck of a run. 

This book is, as most Panini reprints, wonderfully put together, and the chance to see a well put together storyline in full color makes Oblivion well worth reading.





The Glorious Dead (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 12 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Glorious Dead (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Adrian Salmon, Alan Barnes, Steve Moore

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon, Roger Langridge, & Steve Dillon

Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Endgame had been a fresh start for the long-running Doctor Who comic strip, it not only began the adventures of a new Doctor and a new companion, but it just had a cleaner more focused tone than the strip had had for some time. The Glorious Dead is this new incarnation of the strip coming into it's own.  Scott Gray took over the major writing duties from Alan Barnes, who had really just become to swamped with other Doctor Who Magazine work, and the results are top notch.  While I love a lot of what Scott Gray did as the lead writer for the rest of the Eighth Doctor run, I have to say I think the arc featured in this book is possibly his masterpiece. 

It starts with a story called "The Fallen", which is followed up with several stories that build up to the big finale of "The Glorious Dead," and it is a top-notch run of stories that effectively serve as a genuine sequel to the TV Movie, and quite frankly, it is a better story than that movie ever was. We see the return of Grace and what happened to her following on from the movie, and I thought they did a rather good job of reintroducing her to the fold, building what was started in the movie, and bringing some weight to what her lone adventure with the Doctor did to her.

The storyline also reintroduces a Kroton, a Cyberman character that was introduced in the 70s in a couple of "back-up" strips, which were Doctor-less features in the early days of the magazine.  Kroton is sort of an odd character to me.  In his early stories from the 70s (both of which are featured at the end of this book as well), he is a Cyberman that struggles because he somehow has emotions.  The characters were kind of revamped as a wisecracking action hero during the Eighth Doctor's time, and I have to admit that while I still kind of like the character, it doesn't totally work.  It's hard to picture what Kroton sounds like...does he sound like a regular Cyberman? If so everything he says is hard to imagine. But the character is a key role in this storyline, so you take the rough with the smooth, as we so often do with this franchise. 

Another key player is Sato Katsura, a Samurai who had planned to commit an honorable suicide after avenging the death of his Lord, but when he is mortally wounded during the adventure, the Doctor saves his life using nano-probes and inadvertently makes him immortal. The inability to kill himself sends Sato on a very different path, a path that a certain sinister Time Lord takes full advantage of.

That is, of course, the Master, who gets a grand return from his "death" in the Eye of Harmony. His re-introduction is only hinted at in the opening story, but the reveal is subtle and an exciting tease for things to come.  When he is finally revealed to the Doctor in all his glory, it is not only a great story with a fine climax, but it also happens to have some of the best artwork the strip had up to that point.  It should be noted that this book represents the final days of the strip remaining in black and white, as the strip would move to full color following this. 

The major storyline in this Volume just works really well. Everything flows and builds to a grand finale, and I can kind of picture these comics as a series that could've been following the TV movie (though had the show ever been made into a series it would've never been this good based on what ideas those in charge seemed to have in store for the show).  I loved the stories, the art, the spirit of it all.  My only complaint is that they printed some of the stories out of order.  I get that they tried to put all of the major arc stories in the front, and then some of the one-offs that were published in between after, but I think the collection might've worked a bit better as a book if it ended on "The Glorious Dead" as a finale. 

But these DWM comics really seem like a good start to the Eighth Doctor's adventures, and I can kind of picture them taking place before the Audios and Charley and everywhere he has gone since Big Finish got McGann behind the mic. These strips are like the early days of his Doctor to me, this book plays really well as a sequel to the lone TV outing of the Eighth Doctor, and almost as if it was a well thought out season of television, and knowing Russell T Davies was a fan of the strip, it is rather hard to not think that storylines like this had some influence on his modern take on Doctor Who when he brought it back to television. It really is a great book!





Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor Year Three #13Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor Year Three #13 - Cover A (Credit: Titan )Writer: Alex Paknad el & Rob Williams 
Artist: JB Bastos & Luiz Campello
Cover A: Blair Shedd Cover B: Photo

There are times when Doctor Who comics seem to be the ultimate storytelling form for Doctor Who. Such a malleable franchise deserves an equally malleable format. Comics are unrestricted by a television budget. Nor are they concerned with appealing to a larger audience than the one they’re guaranteed. Their stories can be as broad or as intimate as they want. As bold and new, or referential. Doctor Who comics can be anything.

No other line of Doctor Who comics exemplifies this better than The Eleventh Doctor series published by Titan comics. Their characters are rich, complex, hilarious, and charming. Their plots range from personal trials to epic battles (quite often both at once). Some concepts are simple and fun, while others are mind-bendingly brilliant. Most impressive of all - no matter how intense a story gets, there’s always room for a bit of silliness.

Number 13 in this Doctor’s third year of comic book adventures takes all the elements of Doctor Who that work best and brings them together with utterly gorgeous art by JB Bastos & Luiz Campello . The Doctor’s world has never looked more cleanly detailed, with not a single line out of place.

The story is a climax of sorts. The Doctor and Alice inhabit a world built on their memories, complete with a Gallifreyan skyline and sonic screwdriver buildings, with the two of them experiencing some pretty intense amnesia. The Doctor isn’t quite sure what he is, what he should be, or how to dress. His new wardrobe is mishmash of his old wardrobe, harkening back to Doctors past in a splendid way. Alice is with her mother, always thinking of the man from her dreams with the bow tie.  

A character losing one’s memory can often seem like a tired gimmick. More often than not the trope is used to change a character’s personality or a lazy effort of introducing conflict. Here, amnesia is both a tragedy of what was lost and a celebration of all the adventures we’ve had with these two phenomenal characters. Throw in an offshoot of The Silence controlling everything, characters surviving in the consciousness of a previously very dangerous sapling, and all the heart a Time Lord’s biology can muster, and you’ve got Doctor Who as you know it and love it best looking better than it ever has before.