Land of the Blind (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Land of the Blind (Credit: Panini)
Written by Dan Abnett, Gareth Roberts, Nick Briggs, Kate Orman, Scott Gray
Artwork by Colin Andrew, Enid Orc, Martin Geraghty, Barrie Mitchell, Lee Sullivan
Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Available from Amazon UK

In the mid-90s, with Doctor Who off the air for a few years and showing no signs of returning, Doctor Who Magazine Editor Gary Russell tired of the comic strip playing second fiddle to the Seventh Doctor novel series, and decided it was time to change it up. Instead of continuing to have confusing continuities with a book series that possibly not all readers were reading, he decided that the Comic Strip should forge it's own path.  The first step to that was to stop the Seventh Doctor adventures in the strip. This was a bold move, because up to that point the Doctor Who Magazine strip had been pretty much running continuously in a variety of publications, but had always featured the most recent Doctor. Instead, the long running strip would now focus on different Doctor adventures.  Land of the Blind is a collection of the first batch of these comics, and features a story each for the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors.

The book opens with the Fourth Doctor story "Victims," which has the Doctor and Romana thwart a plot to take down the Human Empire via beauty products on a Fashionista Planet.  The story here is okay, and the art is pretty bad, but there is a bit of charm to the premise...it is just rushed.  We then move forward the Fifth Doctor who has an adventure on the Moon with some evil Space Cows.  That is just the kind of bonkers premise I like in Doctor Who, particularly in comic form.  Following from there we venture back to the First Doctor with Ben and Polly, in which they battle a giant slug that is eating cryogenically frozen people or something.  It is fast paced and hollow, with little substance. It also doesn't really capture the tone of those early 60s stories.

The next stop is the Third Doctor, who is reunited with his first companion Liz Shaw as they stop a Professor who is using psychokinetic powers to kill his perceived adversaries. This story captures the tone of the Third Doctor era pretty well, and tries to give more detail to the offscreen exit of Liz Shaw from the TV series, which is nice.  The final two stories both feature the Second Doctor.  First up is the titular Land of the Blind and has the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe save a spaceport from some alien overlords who have trapped them there for decades. This is a pretty good story, with a good script and good art.  The last story in the volume is a one-off from a a Doctor Who Magazine special, called "Bringer of Darkness" which is told from the perspective of Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield, as she explains of an adventure with the Daleks that made her realize that her time with the Doctor was going to need to end soon.  It is a short but solid piece, with some good character development, including some stuff about the Doctor that surprisingly has paid off in the years to come.

While not the most cohesive period, for the strip, it is an interesting one.  There may not be a uniting factor behind all of the stories, whether that be a single Writer or Artist, or even a continuing plot thread.  But it does have some fun random adventures for these past Doctors. They are all pretty short and light, but that isn't always a bad thing.  Only a few feel like they rush to the finish line. I think this was sort of a lost period for the strip.  The Seventh Doctor had run his course, especially with all the Novel Continuity clogging up the works, and they didn't really find their voice again until the Eighth Doctor would finally launch as the star of the strip. So here is this weird little period, where they are trying to figure out their voice again, and they didn't even really have a regular Doctor starring.  As a bit of a novelty, this volume collects together some interesting stuff.  It may not be the best collection they have put together, but I still enjoy reading these old black and white strips.  





The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - The Tenth Doctor (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Road To The Thirteenth Doctor #1 (Credit: Titan / Robert Hack)



"The Ghost Ship"
Writer: James Peaty
Artist: Iolanda Zanfardinoy
Colorist: Dijjo Lima

"The Road To..."
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Scott
Colorist: Enrica Angiolini

Published by Titan Comics in July 2018

Titan Comics can't actually show the Thirteenth Doctor before she debuts on TV in the fall, so they have decided to build to her Comic Book Debut with three one-shot comic books that leads into her debut story.  The first of these, in what is being called "The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor," is this story featuring the Tenth Doctor.  It is short and light doesn't really feel like it is building towards anything.  It isn't necessarily bad, but at this point doesn't really feel like it is on the "road" to anything. 

It begins with the Tenth Doctor and his two Titan Companions, Gabby and Cindy...as they land on a space station and face off with some creepy beings that the Doctor defeats easily, and exposes a creepy plot by the "Earth Corps" to create genocidal weapons.  And that is seemingly it. The conclusion feels quick and easy, nothing to write home about. The fact is the main story is just a regular Tenth Doctor story, which may or may not play into future events for either his series or the Thirteenth Doctor...but either way, it seems odd to build up and market this as a build up to her strips and then just give us an average story with an attached four page short story that is meant to sort of build to her. 

The short story that actually is meant to serve as the actual "Road To.." storyline, just goes back into the Tenth Doctor's first season on TV, where we see the Doctor in between scenes in The Girl in the Fireplace in which he finds something even crazier than 18th Century France on a space station, though it is left ambiguous as to what it is, as the Tenth Doctor races off to save Rose and Mickey before exploring anything further.

One can only hope this is actually going somewhere. I felt this story was too light, too easy an enemy to defeat...but I didn't quite know what it was they were setting up for the Thirteenth Doctor. I only discovered later that only the four page mini-comic had anything to do with the Thirteenth Doctor's eventual debut.  And I gotta say it was too short and ambiguous and relied a little too much on past continuity for me to get too interested. 

The art is nice, and as per usual for Titan, they just nail the characterization of the Tenth Doctor, but this ultimately is just a regular issue of the Tenth Doctor ongoing series, and anything that may be setting up the actual road to the Thirteenth Doctor feels like an afterthought...or something that might work better when the whole story is collected together. Right now, it isn't the strongest start for the big build-up to the new Doctor.





Doctor Who The Seventh Doctor: Operation Volcano #1Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 June 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Seventh Doctor #1 - Cover A (Credit: Titan )Writer: Andrew Cartmel
Artist: Christopher Jones
Published 6 June 2018

Something big is building in Operation Volcano. The entirety of the first issue is setting everything up for what promises to be a massive fallout. Characters from across the globe, as well as time, gather together in the Australian desert to inspect what appears to be a recently uncovered and massive, spaceship. At the same time (while also being several decades in the future) another spaceship appears above Earth, with a familiar character being held inside.

Upon first reading, I was disappointed by how cold the issue left me. I make no apologies for my fondness of the Seventh Doctor’s era, and I couldn’t wait to see what Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch would do when budget was no option. There wasn’t much in the way of fun or humor, not many big sci-fi ideas were displayed, and the characters came off a little flat. Had Cartmel botched his return to Who?

After rereading a few scenes and mulling it over, I realized something: We are in Act One of the story. We need to round everyone up, get them talking, introduce any interpersonal conflicts they may have, then hit ‘em with something big at the end that leads into Act Two.

This is in no way an attempt to convince myself I enjoyed the issue. On the contrary, it’s simply a method of understanding what left me so unfulfilled. I thought maybe it was the art. While the landscapes and details are phenomenal, the lifeless expressions on character’s faces is quite unsettling. Eyes seem to be Christopher’s Jones’ only weakness. A forgivable one at that. There is such a breathtaking scope to the comic (only amplified by the color work by Marko Lesco) that one could easily ignore a few odd faces.

The realization that this was only the beginning of the story cinched it for me - the central mystery isn’t compelling. This is Doctor Who, why should I be so interested in the fact that an ancient spaceship was found in Australia? This is Doctor Who, what’s it matter that a guy from the ‘60s shows up in the future not having aged? This is Doctor Who, why should I be surprised that two of the investigators have nefarious intentions? It’s not enough to keep me interested.

That could all change in Act Two. Cartmel could explain why all this matters, why it’s different, why it’s special, and blow my mind. After all, you don’t call a story “Operation Volcano” unless you’re planning a shocking and sudden surprise.

 




Free Comic Book Day 2018 - Doctor Who Special (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 May 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Free Comic Book Day 2018 (Credit: Titan)
Writers: Nick Abadzis, John Freeman, George Mann and Jody Houser
Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Arianna Florean, Christopher Jones, Mariano Laclustra and Rachael Stott
Colorists: Marco Lesko and Carlos Cabrera
Publisher: Titan Comics

FC, 30pp, $0.00
On sale: May 5, 2018

With Titan Comics' regular Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor strips each having reached the natural conclusions of their Year Three runs, and their recently-announced The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor mini-series still two months away from its launch, now seems as opportune a time as any for the publisher to take stock and prepare its readers for the adventures ahead. Enter their contribution to this year's Free Comic Book Day line-up, a 25-page one-off Special containing four bite-sized primers for the future of their regular Doctor Who strips, the Road saga and the Seventh Doctor's Titan debut alike.

There's every chance, of course, that the aforementioned annual event - held at comic-book retailers the world over to promote the industry and its physical purveyors - will be over by the time that you're reading this review, yet that doesn't mean you won't find some stores such as Forbidden Planet still housing the odd copy of this much-anticipated strip here and there. Should Titan's most dedicated followers and / or newcomers to the worlds of Who comics make the trip, however, or are they best off waiting for the Doctor's printed exploits to kick off again this Summer and beyond? Let's find out...

"Catch a Falling Star":

For any readers like this reviewer who've yet to finish reading the latest string of Titan storylines based in the David Tennant era, Special's opening tale might well prove rather disorientating at first, though that's rather the point; seemingly deceased companion Gabby Gonzalez seems just as perplexed as she's flung through outer space after the Year Three finale presumably detached her from the TARDIS with considerable force. How better to spend the time, then, than by taking a metaphorical trip down memory line, simultaneously bringing newcomers up to speed on her recent voyages across the Time Vortex?

From Sontarans to Sutekh in his reincarnated form, from Cybermen to Gabby's best friend Cindy Wu stepping aboard the Doctor's iconic Type 40 capsule, it's been one heck of an eventful ride for the despondent waitress-turned-pro artist over the last 36 months. True to form, Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean's dazzlingly whimsical artwork splendidly reminds us - alongside the awe-inspired sense of wonder and fantasy coming via the dialogue which writer Nick Abadzis affords Gabby - of the eclectic and unashamedly outrageous tone which made this particular TARDIS team's travels such an instant hit with fans of Titan's licensed Who output.

Naturally, though, few could blame Ms. Gonzalez for questioning her life decisions given her present near-fatal predicament, so that Abadzis briefly explores her justifiable doubts as well comes as a welcome surprise, in many ways enabling us to draw parallels between the character and past companions such as Martha Jones for whom the Doctor's entrance signalled virtually the destruction of their personal lives and family ties. Who wouldn't reconsider the same dilemma as that which was posed to Donna in "Turn Left", namely whether life would've turned out better had their path never crossed with "the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not out of shame"? As such, it would seem that Gabby needs affirmation that her story doesn't end on such a somber note, and while we'll refrain from revealing her just how "Catch a Falling Star" concludes, we can say that she might just get her wish and transform the Doctor's future in the process...

“The Armageddon Gambit”:

The best way to summarize the second narrative barrage in Special’s artillery is as an audition piece for Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch’s impending Seventh Doctor mini-series, “Operation Volcano”. Unlike that five-part saga, John Freeman takes on writing duties for “The Armageddon Gambit”, but if his remarkably authentic rendition of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s wit-laden, mentor-student-esque banter from their 1980s run as the Doctor and Ace serves as any indication of what to expect from “Volcano” upon its launch next month, then experiencing each issue over the coming weeks should seem remarkably akin to watching a McCoy serial on TV / home video / streaming platforms for the first time.

While Freeman’s relatively standalone narrative – which sees the ever-courageous time travellers chirpily interrupt a band of galactic tyrants standing on the brink of galactic conquest, having bested the Draconians, Chimerions and Voord alike – probably won’t win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for literary ingenuity, his script does at least enable the mini-series’ artistic / colour tag team of Christopher Jones and Marco Lesko to amply strut their stuff. Their bold style, in marked contrast to Sposito and Florean’s tonally befitting impressionistic imagery, does a splendid job of bringing the tale’s characters to vivid life, with Lesko’s choice to embroid the chief Kla-shi-kel clansman with striking golden armour for example visibly setting him apart in military stature and greed-driven ambitions. Look out in particular for their pitch-perfect depiction of the Doctor and Ace’s grand entrance, an instantly iconic raison d'etre for “Armageddon” which easily stands among Titan’s most memorable panels to date.

“Midnight Feast”:

Whereas Abadzis and Freeman both had their fair share of legwork in terms of painting a roadmap for the future flights of the Seventh and one other Doctor here, one can almost hear George Mann’s relief at finding no such pressure exerted upon his Eleventh Doctor contribution by Titan’s head honchos. “Midnight Feast” makes no apologies for its lighthearted tone or completely standalone storyline, then, with Mann instead affirming to newcomers his ability to capture Matt Smith’s zany eccentricity and energetic zest for life, all while re-introducing his ex-librarian companion Alice Obiefune along the way. Yet it’s fair to say that Alice rather laments her inclusion here, finding her travelling companion ransacking the TARDIS kitchen for edible delights before he zips off to the nearest alien restaurant to find alternative inspiration.

Laying many criticisms at the feet of a self-proclaimed “culinary adventure” such as “Feast” would seem rather harsh, especially with Mariano Laclaustra’s diverse menagerie of stunningly-rendered alien patrons calling to mind Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina in its aesthetic inventiveness. The only warning that we’d give, however, is that those unfamiliar with Alice won’t find the same level of introductory exposition here as that which Gabby provided regarding her past in “Falling Star”, largely since the latter’s existential plight gave Abadzis the ideal plot device to justify such nostalgic reminiscing. Since Alice only features for but a few panels here, this reviewer would instead advise anyone wanting to catch up on her entry into the Doctor’s life – between Amy and Rory’s turbulent honeymoon and reunion for the Time Lord’s death in “The Impossible Astronaut” – to check out the first volume of Year One, After Life, ahead of Year Four’s presumed launch later this year.

"And Introducing..."

What of Doctor Who’s fast-approaching return to BBC One with a new face, though? Does Jodie Whittaker’s absence from Special’s multi-Doctor front cover mean that we shouldn’t expect to see her incarnation feature in Titan’s licensed roster for the time being? Not at all – browse past the insightful Reader’s Guide at the end of the strip, which details the various regular strips, crossovers and classic Doctor mini-series currently available, and you’ll find three panels featuring a strange new world, strange new fauna and feathered onlookers, a strange new TARDIS and its strange new occupant embarking on her first ‘canon’ journey, her face brimming with visible passion and already infectious joy at discovering the unknown.

Much as every fan relishes jumping to far-fetched conclusions from even Who’s most basic marketing materials, the rousing thrill that comes with turning the page and witnessing the Thirteenth Doctor in action for the first time can’t possibly be denied. That her increasingly coveted costume and intriguing extraterrestrial surroundings are drawn in such a majestic light by Rachael Stott, the upcoming Thirteenth Doctor regular strip’s resident artist, just goes to show that she’s fully aware of the significance of this watershed moment for the show. The same can be said of Jody Houser’s daringly dialogue-devoid script, aping Whittaker’s reveal video last year in building its structure entirely around the new incarnation’s gravitas-laden arrival.

A tremendous end, then, to a tremendous Free Comic Book Day special, one which accomplishes the remarkable joint feats of setting past Doctors on unexpected new trajectories for the coming months and making the Thirteenth’s debut – both on-screen and the printed page – that much more of an exciting proposition.

Be sure to follow our reviews of Titan’s The Thirteenth Doctor series as it kicks off in tandem with Season Eleven this Autumn…





Doorway to Hell (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doorway to Hell  (Credit: Panini)

Written by Mark Wright

Artwork by Mike Collins, John Ross, & Staz Johnson

Paperback: 148 pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The third Twelfth Doctor collection from Panini, Doorway to Hell, collects together a series of stories published in Doctor Who Magazine between the end of Series 9 (and the exit of Clara), and the long wait until the launch of Series 10 (in which Bill could finally join the strip). All of the stories within were written by Mark Wright and featured a running arc of the Doctor stuck on Earth and living with the Collins family. Jess Collins was previously met by the Doctor and Clara in "The Highgate Horror," one of the stories in the previous Twelfth Doctor volume (of the same name as the story). 

The book opens with the Doctor landing back in 1972 and running into Jess Collins again, and she follows him as he tracks down an alien presence.  That presence turns out to be some alien tech which has been trapped underground for centuries, and has evolved the Bubonic Plague into a disease which turns people into Bird Monsters!  It makes more sense when you read it.  The Doctor is able to thwart the alien threat and save the Collins family, but in the process burns the TARDIS out...and the Doctor is stuck on Earth while it repairs itself. The Collins family take him in as a thank you for saving them, though the Doctor is initially reluctant to such a gesture. 

But the Doctor does move in, and we get a lovely one-shot that shows the Doctor interacting with each member of the family.  Bonding with the father over his traumatic transformation into a bird monster, cooking for the mom, debating comics with the younger brother, and discussing art with Jess. It's a great character piece, and it made me quickly fall in love wit this arc.  It was nice to see the strip try something really different.  Sort of doing their own small-scale take on the Doctor's exile to Earth from the Pertwee Era, but instead of being employed by a military organization, he is just living with a family in the early 70s.

The battle Alien Hunters together, and help out a poor neighbor whose own guilt creates a monster, and finally, in the big finale, the Doctor faces off with the Master...not just any Master, but the original Roger Delgado version! This final story is a really great finale and gives us a great battle of wills between the Twelfth Doctor and the Master, not to mention a bit of fun continuity gap filling, showing us what happened to the Delgado version of the character following his final appearance in Frontier in Space.  It was always a shame that Delgado's untimely passing meant we never got a final confrontation between he and Pertwee. 

This book was excellent, easily among my favorites of the Modern Doctors comic runs. The fact that it had a grounding with the Doctor stranded and living with the Collins family, the fact that between some fun Alien battling adventures they peppered in really nice small one-shots that explored character stuff. And since it is all so small scale for the most part, it makes the grand finale with the Master all the more satisfying.  Mark Wright's stories were uniformly fun to read, and the art is solid throughout.  I especially grew to love the art by newcomer to the strip Staz Johsnon. While his likeness of the Doctor took a bit of time, he just had a really pleasant art style, reminded me of John Ridgeway's Sixth Doctor run a bit.  I highly recommend this book, if you only read one Twelfth Doctor book, make it this one.  It is well written, has lots to love, and is so entertaining, I read it fairly quickly.  I genuinely had trouble putting it down!





The Highgate Horror (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 23 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Highgate Horror (Credit: Panini)

Written by Mark Wright, Jonathan Morris, Steve Lyons, Jacqueline Rayner, & Scott Gray

Artwork by Mike Collins, John Ross, David A. Roach, Adrian Salmon, Roger Langridge, Dave Gibbons, John Ridgeway, Dan McDaid, John Ross, Martin Geraghty

Paperback: 180 pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Twelfth Doctor's comic adventures continue in Panini's second volume, The Highgate Horror, which sees the final set of adventures for Clara on the strip, and a special 20-page adventure celebrating the history of the Doctor Who Magazine strip itself. 

The opening one-shot is "Space Invaders!" which was originally printed between two stories featured in the previous volume.  Since it is only one part and doesn't play into any big arc or anything, I wonder why they didn't just place it in the previous volume.  That collection only had about four stories anyhow. But I digress, it is a simple and fun little adventure, not too deep, but fun.  And it has a nice nod to the Simpsons, as there is an alien that looks kind of like Bart Simpson that gets eaten up by a monster in one panel. 

The second story, "Spirits of the Jungle," has a bit more meat to it, with a big crazy jungle adventure with robots and monsters to battle. It's got good art, a fun story, and lots of crazy Doctor Who-ness to enjoy.  The titular story "The Highgate Horror" has great art, a decent story, and monster, a solid character known as Jess...but I think it has a rather unsatisfying conclusion, which is a shame.  The Doctor basically tells the monster to go away and the disappear into a void, it doesn't really work. 

Clara and the Doctor then travel to a planet where techno-savvy folk has decided to live out their dreams of living in the middle ages, complete with Dragons...unfortunately the Dragons have been freed from their computer control and are now free to rampage against the villagers. I think this was an entertaining story, but even by Peter Capaldi standards, the Doctor seems TOO grumpy throughout.  Just annoyed with everyone and everything from the word go.  This story is followed by a shorter one-off involving Houdini trapped in a computer program, which is light goofy fun. 

Clara's final adventure in the strip involves a trickster time traveller known as Miss Chief, who causes all sorts of havoc and a Halloween fest, and gets Clara (who is dressed as a witch) sent back in time to face off with Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, all while playing a time travel game with the Doctor in order to save her.  It's a fun adventure, and sends Clara off with a high note, giving her some good stuff to do, and ends with her raising enough money to name an I.T. room after Danny Pink.  Danny, despite his death, is quite present in this book. Appearing as hallucinations and computer programs. His memory lived on in the strip better than it really ever did in the show! But at any rate, while they can never do a true exit for companions and Doctors in the strip when they get such a thing on TV, they often find a nice way to say goodbye to those characters in the strip, with some little hint or nod that lets you know that they won't be in the strip anymore. 

The final story in this collection is "The Stockbridge Showdown," which was a special 20-page comic strip (as opposed to the now usual 12 pages), which was printed in the 500th Issue of Doctor Who Magazine.  As such, this story is a massive celebration of the strip's DWM history, featuring a bunch of the Magazine's own additions to Doctor Who lore, with places from Stockbridge (first seen in the Fifth Doctor's era and revisited often in the strip) to Cornucopia (a more recent addition from the Eleventh Doctor's era), and featuring comic-original companions from the first DWM companion Sharon, as well as Maxwell Edison, Majenta Pryce, Destrii, Izzy, and Frobisher!  The plot involves a takedown of Josiah W. Dogbolter, a villain from the Fifth and Sixth Doctor eras, who has teamed up with a villain of the Eleventh Doctor, Chiyoko.  To add even more fun to the mix, this strip is drawn by a variety of artists. With pages drawn by the first artist for the magazine, Dave Gibbons, as well as the man who drew the entirety of the Sixth Doctor's run, John Ridgeway, as well as the artists that remain with the strip today, many of whom really took off during the Eighth Doctor's run and beyond. Scott Gray, who has pretty much run the strip since the Eighth Doctor's days (either as lead writer or as the Editor), wrote a great celebration of a strip that has had many successes for many years. It's great to see so many of the strip's original creations and great artists put together such a fun celebration of the strip itself.  The show has a long and stories history, and the strip does as well, particularly the Doctor Who Magazine version of the long-running strip, so this 500th issue celebration is well deserved. 

This is a better collection than the first Twelfth Doctor volume.  It has a better variety of stories and includes a great celebration of the strip itself in that final story.  It's nice that they took a break from the big epic arcs, and just told a bunch of fun stories again, and if you want to dip into the Twelfth Doctor adventures, I'd say you get more bang for your buck by purchasing this collection over his first.  There's no real story arc to follow, just random adventures...so starting here is worth it in my view. If you have a love for the Doctor Who Magazine strip, then "The Stockbridge Showdown" alone is worth it!