The Clockwise War (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Clockwise War  (Credit: Panini)
Written By: Scott Gray, Tim Quinn, Paul Cornell, Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes
Artist: John Ross, John Ridgeway, Charlie Adlard, Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon
Paperback: 156 Pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Whatever the reason, Panini made the decision to hold back on the Twelfth Doctor's final Doctor Who Magazine story for it's own titular volume, and included with that story are some reprints of older 90s comic stories, specifically some stories that were originally printed in the Doctor Who Yearbooks in the mid 90s.  This marks the first time that a Doctor from the new series has been combined in a Panini collection with Classic Series comics.  While it was annoying that the Phantom Piper had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait months for the conclusion to get released, the volume is finally here and I can now just pick it up when I finish the previous book.  I guess if anything they used it as an excuse to have a modern Doctor to sell the books, especially when the titular story for the book is actually quite good, to reprint some lesser known stories that don't really have a home otherwise.  

Having finally read “The Clockwise War” story…I can only express how much I wish it had been included with the rest of the stories in The Phantom Piper.  Part of what I really love about the Panini Graphic Novels is that they always seem to collect together stories that make sense. The best example is the Eighth Doctor’s run.  The first volume featured his debut up to the climax with the Threshold, his second volume featured a running storyline that saw the return of the Master and a major battle between the two Time Lords in the finale…his third began with the debut of the strip in colour and lasted right up until the exit of longtime companion Izzy, and the fourth featured the final set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor.  But since the Eleventh Doctor, the sets don’t always make as much sense. Sometimes storylines have been split up between two volumes…and it is clunkier.  I would love to sit down with a volume of comics that begin with Bill debuting, and then right up until this finale…because it is truly great.  And so much of the storyline of “The Clockwise War” hinges on the running stories that began in the previous volume’s opening story “The Soul Garden” and continued right up to the cliffhanging ending of “The Phantom Piper.”  This story is the climax to a whole year’s worth of stories…and it wasn’t included in the same book.  It seems like it is all coming down to release schedules. Why make a proper “graphic novel” when you’ve got schedules to keep.  I’d much rather have waited for this whole volume to get released properly, then split them up. A graphic novel is meant to tell a whole story…these collections don’t always feel like that is the goal anymore. Which is a bit of a shame. They still do a great job putting these books out there, they are high quality in terms of their production value…it is just a shame that the story element isn’t being as properly looked after as it should be.  Part of what I loved about “Doorway to Hell” is it collected together the full storyline of the Doctor’s life trapped in 70s Earth in one volume.  It’d have been nice if the Bill/Dreamscape storyline could’ve got the same lovely treatment. 
Now....with that all out of the way, I really loved the main story in this volume. We see the grand return of Eighth Doctor comics companion Fey Truscott-Sade, who is actually the main antagonist of the piece, and it is a big thrill ride that sees the exit of the Twelfth Doctor.  Despite my complaints about the split of volumes, the story itself is fantastic.  I loved the glimpse into a really bad day in the Time War, and seeing what turned Fey to the dark side…and it is in many ways the Doctor’s hubris that screwed her up. The story ties up all the storylines that have lingered throughout the run since Bill debuted on the strip, and it does it in a big exciting fashion.  As a story, it is highly recommended!
From there, the volume beefs up its page count with some older strips, some back-up stories that focused on the Cybermen, and others that never actually landed on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, but were actually strips that were initially published in “Doctor Who Yearbooks” from the mid-90s.  This was during the Wilderness Years, a time when the show was off the air but somehow extended media thrived, including the continued publishing of a monthly magazine and even some annuals. The comics included from this era came from Yearbooks published in 1994, 1995, and 1996.  These stories feature the First, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors, as well as a brief cameo of the Seventh.  The Yearbook strips aren't as deep or extensive as the DWM strips, as they are all just one part shorts, as opposed to serializing for several months on the pages of the magazine.  It is nice to have them reprinted and remastered, but they aren't the best comic adventures for the Doctor and co.  
“The Cybermen” was actually a series of short one page strips that appeared as a back-up comic in Doctor Who Magazine, and were written by Alan Barnes and drawn by Adrian Salmon, and was meant to evoke the 60s Dalek strips that appeared in TV Century 21. Unlike the forgettable Yearbook strips, these are actually pretty cool. Each story lasted about 5 or so pages, and the entire run is collected here. 
On the whole, it is hard to not recommend this volume.  Obviously, the decision to hold back the Twelfth Doctor's final story is more about marketing than anything.  It is easier to sell a book with a more current Doctor on the cover, than various old Doctors with no cohesive theme.  That said the Cybermen stories are neat, and it is nice that Panini, however they do it, is still remastering and collecting together all of these old comics into nice shiny volumes. The efforts of preservation should be applauded. With Ground Zero on the way, it would seem that the DWM era back catalogue will be wrapping up, and one can only hope that Panini continues their collections by going back and collecting together the pre-DWM strips from TV Comic, TV Century 21, and Countdown/TV Action. Perhaps rights issues could prevent that, but as they have reprinted some of those comics in the past, I have to believe they are considering it. 




Hour of the Cybermen (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 July 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie

Hour of the Cybermen (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Andrew Smith
Director: Jamie Anderson
Featuring: Colin BakerDavid BanksMark Hardy

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

Released July 2018
Running Time: 2 hours

Hour of the Cybermen, is the second entry in this year’s UNIT themed multi-doctor main range trilogy, following on from the previous The Heliax Rift. To that end, it features the return of a number of characters from that story namely Blake Harrisons as Daniel Hopkins and Russ Bain as Colonel Price. Of course, for many fans, however, the main draw of this story is the return of David Banks and Mark Hardy as the Cyber-Leader and Cyber-Lieutenant respectively. The 80’s Cybermen have a curious longevity about them that make them something of a fan favourite. Whilst the Cybermen had already had several reinventions by the time they appeared in 1982’s Earthshock, this new version was so utterly modern and completely terrifying yet somehow evoked memories of their previous designs. Add to this Banks’s portrayal of a Cyber-Leader that somehow manages to have underlying currents of emotions, whilst debating their usefulness. Banks would return to play the role in three more serials; The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis, whilst Hardy would return in just two (The Five Doctors and Nemesis). Since then Banks became something of a ‘spokesperson’ for the Cybermen, writing an original novel and a ‘history’ of the Cyber-Race. However, it’s always been something of a missed opportunity that he, nor hardy, never got to reprise their roles for Big Finish….until now. So does Hour of the Cybermen provide the triumphant return for the Cyber-races two stars?

Well yes and no, depending on your expectations. What hour isn’t is a dark exploration of what it means to be a Cyberman, along the lines of Spare Parts or The Silver Turk. No, Hour is more the Cybermen as ‘monster of the week’, featuring them using a dehydration weapon in an attempt to take over the earth. It’s pretty classic ‘alien invasion’ storytelling. However whilst the general plot may be somewhat basic, the way in which the story chooses to get from point A to B is not. There’s a hefty helping of ‘Sawardian’ nastiness in the way that some of the characters are dealt with and several brutal and distressing descriptions of Cyber-conversion. The story also chooses to play with our expectations of those characters we’ve already met in The Heliax Rift. Whilst the decisions these characters make may not always be wholly…convincing (without giving too much away, motivation seems somewhat thin for one individual), the grim, bleak world that Hour takes place in allows you immediately sympathise. Not only that but the story brisks along with so much pace that you can easily forget it, with a heavy emphasis on Cyber-Action.

And what of Banks and Hardy themselves? Well in a word they are superb, it’s like they never went away. Banks, in particular, gets plenty of time to shine, including uttering some of his most famous catchphrases. However, it is his scenes with Russ Bain’s Colonel Price that he really gets to shine. In these moments Banks is utterly terrifying, reminding us immediately why his Cyber-Leader was such an imposing figure when he first stomped onto our screens in 1982. He also works particularly well against Colin Bakers Sixth Doctor, who seems to be relishing his first Cyberman story in quite some time. Their final confrontation is a hell of a moment and builds expertly on the tension achieved in what is an almost non-stop action thriller. Blake Harrison impresses again as Daniel Hopkins and is certainly given plenty of chances to show off his range, as does Russ Bain. Newcomers Frog Stone (Riva) and Wayne Forester (Atriss) are also given plenty of chance to shine, with my only regret being a lack of exploration of Rivas part cyber-conversion.

Hour of the Cybermen is a thrill-a-minute action adventure that manages to take two icons of 80’s who and give them the comeback they deserve. Highly recommended.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 May 2019
Doctor Who 240 - Hour of the Cybermen (Doctor Who Main Range)



U.N.I.T Series 6- Cyber RealityBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 30 May 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
UNIT: Cyber-Reality (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
R
eleased  May 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

The sixth series of U.N.I.T, entitled ‘Cyber Reality’, sees a return to the format of one ‘blockbuster’ story across four one hour episodes as opposed to the previous series which featured single hour stories only loosely connected. Of course the big bad this time are the Cybermen, though the cover spoils another Who villain who makes his appearance in the final story. The regulars all reprise their roles, with Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, Ingrid Oliver as Osgood, James Joyce as Josh Carter, Ramon Tikaram as Colonel Shindi and Warren Brown as Sam Bishop and the series picks up directly where the previous left of, with U.N.I.T on the hunt of the mysterious auctioneers…

Game Theory- Matt Fiton

‘Game Theory’ opens the series and sees U.N.I.T being put taught a lesson by the Auctioneers who seek to try and attempt to keep them out of their business once and for all. It’s a thrilling series opener, with Kate Stewart and Osgood being forced into a sick game that presents the Auctioneers as a palpable threat and a powerful foe. Meanwhile Warren Brown gets to take the spotlight after being conspicuously absent last series. His role here is an interesting one and although towards the end his segments do tend to get…repetitive, however intentionally so they do tend to drag. Unfortunately, the story is let down somewhat by a semi-obvious plot development but it’s at least interesting. A brilliant series opener and one of the highlights of the set.

Telepresence- Guy Adams

Picking up directly where the previous story left off, the U.N.I.T team are investigating some strange technology that sees’s Osgood, Shindi and Carter embarking, ‘virtually’ into a strange deserted desert-like world. It’s a deliciously creepy tale that is incredibly imaginative in its imagery, with strange metal worms bursting out of the ground and attempting to convert our heroes. There’s a genuine feeling of danger throughout, of something extremely malevolent and dangerous lurking (quite literally) beneath the surface. Of course, the listener knows who the secret rulers of this planet are, but that doesn’t make the build-up any the less effective and I kind of wish we could spend a little more time in this cyber-ruled post-apocalyptic nightmare. Another success for the sixth series of UNIT.

Code Silver- Guy Adams

Again following on directly, Code Silver sees an offshore UNIT base (which we’re told should be familiar to fans of The Sea Devils) invaded by a new breed of Cybermen. Guy Adams really works wonders with the Cybermen here, managing to do the impossible and bring something new to the table. He uses the idea of the Cybermen utilising modern technologies to its logical conclusion and we’re presented with a rip-roaring action fest that features Kate Stewart and Josh Carter trying to compete with a cyber-force that is constantly updating and bettering itself. A rip-roaring adventure.

Master of Worlds- Matt Fitton

Unfortunately, after three incredibly strong stories, what should be the explosive finale ends up being my least favourite. Now as a story, it’s not bad, not bad at all. As a season finale? It’s terrible. Why? A simple reason- the inclusion of the Master. Now I should say that in fact Derek Jacobi was actually my favourite thing in this story, if not the entire box set. This is my first experience of his version of the Master on Audio and he is incredible. Fitton also gives him some incredibly juicy moments but that’s just the problem. The Master is introduced only in this story and suddenly all the attention is on him. The result is that the other elements that have been built up throughout this series (and to an extent the last) are suddenly pushed aside. Indeed one particular element that felt should have been central to the plot had about two minutes and was dealt with in at least thirty seconds of those. It’s a shame really as the Master elements are the best part of this story but they result in a weak finale to the set. Big Finish really should have held off and had the Master as the villain for an entire series.

All in an all another amazing set of stories. Unfortunately, the last episode does let it down somewhat but it’s still an amazing set of audio dramas and whilst it may not work as a series finale, it still works as a brilliant showdown between UNIT and The Master.






Supremacy Of The Cybermen - Complete CollectionBookmark and Share

Friday, 17 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
SUPREMACY OF THE CYBERMEN (Credit: Titan)
Writers: George Mann + Cavan Scott

Art: Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni, with Alessandro Vitti


Colorist: Nicola Righi With Enrica Eren Angiolini

Letterer: Richard Starkings
And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Senior Designer: Andrew Leung 

Senior Editor: Andrew James

Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton
& Amoona Saohin

Designer: Rob Farmer

Published :7th March 2017

The most recent incarnations of the Doctor must combat the might of the Cyberiad - an overwhelming force that links the minds of Cybermen through all of time. The Tenth Doctor is forced to use a super-powered, and truly gigantic machine, as part of a combat alliance with Sontarans (who are normally his sworn enemies). The Ninth Doctor is on the back foot as he seemingly loses Rose forever, and his faithful time ship into the bargain. The London of 2006 that was established as relatively safe is now totally overcome by the silver giants. And as for the Eleventh Doctor, both he and Alice face a change of evolution back in the ancient time zone of ‘Prehistoric’ Earth. A change that contradicts established knowledge concerning the fate of the Silurian race.

But it is the Twelfth Doctor who is facing the eye of the storm and discovering what his Cybermen nemeses are intending to do, not only with the wider cosmos, but with the  temporal flow of causality itself. It soon becomes clear that this Doctor’s apparent triumph over Rassilon (in Hell Bent) was only short-lived. The alternately legendary and reviled keystone figure in Gallifrey’s history (depending on when in his elongated lifespan) is now truly betraying his own kind, by allowing the Cybermen to have access to the higher technology of his race. In return for this 'sharing' of superior knowledge, the former Lord President is accepting some Cyber ‘enhancements’ to his own person.


The initial two issues of this arc were separately reviewed on this site last year, and the consensus was that the initial foundations were promising.

So the logical question is: does the conclusion deliver?

In a nutshell - this is a satisfying romp  for the general time required to read through it. And as a collected edition it also perhaps reads in the best way, for one to enjoy such a large scale and ambitious type of story. When this story was first being released every month (or every other month) in the second half of 2016, sometimes the wait between issues highlighted how sparse was the material that most of the starring Doctors were given. 

The key premise of the Cybermen looking to master both space and time is perhaps not new when one is to consider the likes of Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis, but with all due respect to those 1980s stories, the ideas at work here are that much stronger. Also, the limitless 'budget' of comics is also put to better use than was ever the case with those TV outings’ resources. The Doctor rarely is put under such immediate pressure as in this tale, and it is refreshing to have his other selves being so helpless and threatening to drag down the ‘present’ (Capaldi) incumbent. There are plenty of moments of high drama, with full-on ‘shock effect’ as various associates, or close friends of the Doctor(s) are seemingly slain, or coldly assimilated by the impassive forces of the Cybermen.

The biggest stumbling block for this distinctly ambitious story is that the jeopardy is raised to such intense levels that the final method of bringing things to a close verges on deus ex machina. Yet it does see some welcome character development for one of the main antagonists, that arguably was not the most easy to anticipate based on much of the previous storyline. If one were to look for how strong the conclusion is overall, such as by comparing it with the prior year’s Titan comic event, then it is clear that the ending Paul Cornell devised for his Four Doctors story was just that margin more satisfying and neat.  

Also, whilst it was brave to force the Twelfth Doctor to be the one regeneration to have the key to the puzzle, it is a little frustrating that the Doctor’s various companions are so passive here – again Cornell’s story was mindful of keeping the considerable precedent of the assistant role being crucial to the Doctor’s fortunes. As an introduction to those not so familiar with Doctors of past times – even in the recent decades – this adventure does fine work in maintaining key defining traits. The Eleventh Doctor is as light hearted and unflappable in the face of danger, as the most striking turns Matt Smith contributed on-screen. The Tenth Doctor has those hints of darkness and fury, such is the relatively short period that has occurred since the Time War. The Ninth Doctor’s relatively macho and assertive nature is well captured, and despite the human casualties that assault his senses, he still has that firm core belief in his ability to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Titan had also done a fine job in their ongoing regular comic lines to introduce teasers for this saga by having Doctors from the classic era of 1963-1989 pop up , and this is executed well in the main story by having further glimpses of the TV Time Lords of yesteryear..There are also some other pleasing references that operate in relieving the often relentlessly grim vibe – such as the mention of the 'Kessel Run' by the Ecclestone version of the Doctor.

The visuals are mostly effective from the artwork team that contributed to this mini-arc, and the wealth of time and space is no doubt a cause for excitement for both casual reader and loyal monthly purchaser alike.  The main artists – Ivan Rodriguez and Walter Geovanni – are able to put their personal stamp on a wealth of familiar faces, along with those newly introduced for this particular story. There is good further art support from Alessandro Vitti, and the main colouring work from Nicola Righi is typically lively and effective in conveying the mood intended by co-writers Scott and Mann.


Overall, readers can do far worse than give this graphic novel some time and careful attention as they uncover the myriad threads concerning Doctors past and present, as well as the turbulence that is Gallifrey in the future. It perhaps is not up there with some of the very best stories from Titan, but as an adventure featuring the second most recognised monster of the show, and one that makes some interesting use of the different Doctors from television screens in the last 12 or so years, it is definitely worth a look. It remains to be seen if Series 10's concluding episodes make equal or better use of the (potentially infinite) Cybermen concept; one that is now more than Fifty Years of age.





Illegal Alien (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 19 September 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Illegal Alien (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Mike Tucker + Robert Perry
Read By: Sophie Aldred
Voices Of The Cybermen: Nicholas Briggs


Publisher: BBC Audio
Released: 28th July 2016

Duration: 543 Minutes 

American private detective Cody McBride witnesses the arrival of the sphere, and is certain it opened, allowing some alien being to depart its confines. But the British military will only credit McBride's account of events as a German weapon, that has 'accidently failed' to work. It is November 1940 and Britain is enduring the Blitz, with the Second World War dominating human affairs. As the Luftwaffe wreak devastation on London, other dangers are not far away. A brutal murderer, branded as 'The Limehouse Lurker', is at large around the streets of the capital that have sustained attack. And a mysterious silver sphere has fallen from the sky. Its contents could bring massive change to the fortunes of the two sides in the War.

However, soon he encounters two bizarrely dressed people that call themselves 'the Doctor' and 'Ace', and they very much give credit to his account. And many more odd events are about to happen now McBride is involved with people who can seemingly navigate the fourth dimension of space and time...

 

Once again, as with other books featuring earlier Doctors, BBC Audio has released another such title to bring to full life a story that was popular enough with fans and general readers to merit a re-release in recent times.  When this story first hit shelves in late 1997, it perhaps came across as rather 'traditional' and 'safe', given how many original novels of the decade aimed to break new ground. But in its defence, it was originally conceived as a properly made TV story featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Of course, the infamous cancellation of the classic series put paid to any realisation of the story onscreen. And if anything the story would have been very ambitious for TV, and here benefits from expansion to a full novel.

The narrative fundamentally is a simple one, but does have a notable number of subplots and allows for certain characters' back stories to be sketched out in detail. For the most part, the listener is left in no doubt over the virtues or vices of the supporting characters.

On one side we have clearly brave and good-intentioned people such as McBride and Chief Inspector Patrick Mullen. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, are a number of deplorable Nazis and/or their conspirators, with notable antagonists being Captain Hartmann, Colonel Schott, and the creepy Mr Wall.

But, then there is one key character that is more shades of grey, and who is a real intellectual match for the Doctor. He almost evokes some sympathy, but his methods are still deplorable, and he clearly leans towards the amoral and indifferent stance, despite all the suffering and devastation going on around him. Despite this story being nigh on 20 years old, I will leave it to the individual listener to go on the path of seeing which character I am describing.

 

Mike Tucker and Robert Perry not only know how to pace their story well, but how to achieve effective inter-relations between the personalities that populate the novel. There is plenty of fine material for either the 'one-to-one' or 'group' dynamic, with it being most effective when featuring the leading lights, that are the Seventh Doctor, and his still very exuberant teenage protégé Ace. The authors are well-versed in the McCoy section of Classic Doctor Who, and there is never a moment when the complex character that is the Seventh Doctor feels any less than authentic. And, in terms of this being not just a dramatic story, but a thriller as well, there is sufficient depiction of war and monstrosity in equal measure.  Cyber body horror is done very well here, and the full lethal potential of the Cybermats is also explored in commendable fashion. Some aspects of Cyber-Lore, that were new to this book at the time, have since gone on to feature in New Who stories such as The Pandorica Opens and Nightmare In Silver.

 

Sophie Aldred is as impressive here as in any audio book or full cast drama I have heard her in previously. In the audio release Dark ConvoyI had a small reservation with her being forced to convey a group of characters that were all male. But with time to use the prose and character development here, she grasps fully the opportunities afforded to her to show her vocal range. And yet again, her own defining voice/performance of Ace works just as well, as when first unveiled in 1987 

The actual vocals for the Cybermen are handled by Nicholas Briggs - who has clearly become the definitive voice of the metal conquerors at this point - and work well, both in tying with modern TV stories, but also a vintage 1960s TV escapade. This bit of continuity work is given just a passing bit of exposure in the wholly satisfying epilogue to the novel.

There are some fine bursts of incidental music, which never linger too long, but do add successfully to the overall impact of this audiobook. They are particularly strong when a chapter ends or one of the four 'episodes' reaches a climax, (with Tucker and Perry being determined to retain the original TV serial structure in this book version). The 'shooting' signature noise designed to evoke the Blitz is quite effective in its unsettling intent, and helps remind listeners this is not just an entertaining work of fiction but something with roots in our own world history and reality.

Ultimately, Illegal Alien is best described as a rattling good yarn. It is worthy of unequivocal recommendation for anyone who feels the Seventh Doctor and Ace TV stories deserved more entries, than what eventually transpired in actuality.