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…





The Curse of Fenric (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Curse Of Fenric (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Ian Briggs
Read By Terry Molloy

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

It is quite probable that The Curse of Fenric is my favorite story of the Seventh Doctor. I loved the atmosphere, where it developed the character of Ace, and her relationship to the Doctor and her past, and I loved where it seemed to be pushing the show...even if imminent cancellation shelved those plans.  Maybe that is for the best. The writer of the story, Ian Briggs, wrote his own novelization, and the results are pretty stellar. 

The way Briggs wrote it, it feels like a novel unto itself, it doesn't feel like it was based on a cheap TV show, it feels like an original novel that once got adapted for TV. That is rare in these novelizations.  But Briggs puts in a Prologe and an Epilogue, and instead of the standard Chapters, he breaks the story up into "Chronicles" which are the more straight adaptations of the serial, and "Documents" which give more in-depth background on elements of the story in a unique and creative way. 

It is things like that that up the ante, make this story feel like it is completely fresh, and not just a quick novelization of the story to sell some paperbacks.  Briggs seemed to put in some extra effort on this. I've been enjoying my audibook tour of the old Target books, but this one really jumped out at me.  I understand that apparently Page limits were removed for Briggs, and so maybe he felt the impulse to go wild with it. But there are elements to the story that Briggs expanded upon, and little details that he made clearer, and in general the story just feels thematically stronger. 

Terry Molloy does a good job narrating the story, managing to capture the characters and keep in that ominous atmosphere when needed. All in all...this was a great listen.  Having recently slogged my way through the less enjoyable Two Doctors audiobook, I found this was far more entertaining, and I breezed through it much easier. I think I can give no higher recomendation than, I didn't want to stop listening to it!





Survival (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Survival (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Rona Munro
Read By Lisa Bowerman

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2017
Available from Amazon UK

In 1989, Doctor Who aired the final story of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor...and then was quietly put into "hiatus," but was really just secretly cancelled. That final story was Survival, and involved the Doctor and Ace facing off against the Master and Cheetah People in Ace's hometown of Perivale. In the end the Doctor and Ace walked off back to the TARDIS, and they weren't to be seen together on screen again. It was one of the stronger efforts in that final era of the Classic show, and while you can definitely see the upturn in quality of scripts returning during the Seventh Doctor's era, I think it was very much a "too little, too late" situation for the series at the time. 

So we come to Target's novelization of that finale episode, which is written by the author of the television script Rona Munro, and it is actually slighlty better than it's television counterpart.  Munro adds in some extra details and character motivations which were lost in the TV adaptation, as well as whole sequences that were probably cut for time.  These details improve the overall story.  The television version was always pretty solid, but the book just works better in some ways. 

The audiobook is read by Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra the Cheetah in the original serial, and has gone on to become quite well known to Who fans as Seventh Doctor companion Bernice Summerfield in a wide variety of Big Finish audios.  She does a fine job as narrator for the most part. Her impression of Sophie Aldred's Ace is impeccable, though her McCoy is a little too cartoonish and distracting.

This is a good audiobook, it's a novelization that builds on and improves upon it's source material, and it is nicely read by Bowerman...even if her impression of McCoy is kind of awful.  Fans of this era and this story would most likely enjoy this one. 





The Blood of Azrael (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 4 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Blood of Azrael  (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Michael Collins, David A. Roach, & Adrian Salmon

Paperback: 180 pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Eleventh Doctor's tenure in Doctor Who Magazine comes to a close in fine fashion, in The Blood of Azrael. Joining him in his final set of adventures is Clara, and together they meet Famous British Pilot Amy Johnson, battle Animated Characters in an evil Amusement park, take on a mental parasite, lose the TARDIS and save Cornucopia from an ancient Artist who kills for his art.

In the opening story featuring Amy Johnson, the Doctor and Clara take on an evil bug that uses telekinetic powers to make Sand Monsters, which is fun. They even save Johnson from her eventual young death at sea by saving her and placing her on Cornucopia (and not changing history because her body was never found). They then travel to Tickle Town, an Amusement Park where the walls are closed off and the visitors can never leave...and they are kept in line by Holograms of the Animated Characters the park is themed around. In a strip that was published in the 50th Anniversary Issue, they take on a mental parasite that makes the Doctor believe he is a boring bureaucrat afraid to change the rules, using a mental parasite as a good excuse to make a bunch of references to old friends and foes for the Anniversary.

The Doctor and Clara then end up in a corrupt auction world, where in order to save Clara from being auctioned off herself, the Doctor puts the TARDIS on the auction block, hoping to disrupt the systems of the Auction Planet.  It does the trick, but while Clara is saved, the TARDIS is lost.

This final story ties into some previous arcs as well, the Lake family and their Project Wonderland from Hunters of the Burning Stone are heavily featured in the final story, and the concept of the Necrotist (the artists that kill for their art) were first introduced in the Eighth Doctor era, and made a brief return in the Eleventh Doctor's "Sticks & Stones" (which can be found in The Chains of Olympus). The final story is nice because it doesn't involve having to save Earth, but save Cornucopia and a wide variety of aliens from a Human...which makes a nice twist on the usual. 

It's another great set of stories from writer Scott Gray and gives the Eleventh Doctor a nice exit from his pretty solid tenure in the strip (a tenure that was, in some ways, generally more consistent than his own TV run).  The best part is that instead of breaking things up again, the whole arc is nicely packaged in this one volume.  The Eleventh Doctor's time on the strip was an improvement over both the Ninth and Tenth Doctor strips, as they continued the trend of quality storytelling and solid arcs that returned to the strip during the Tenth Doctor's final year in the strip. 





Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension Book OneBookmark and Share

Friday, 23 February 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension Book OneDOCTOR_WHO_THE_LOST_DIMENSION_VOLUME_1_COVER_.JPG (Credit: Titan )

Writers: George Mann, Cavan Scott & Nick Abadzis
Artists: Rachael Stott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Mariano Laclaustra, Carlos Cabrera, Leandro Casco, & I.N.J. Culbard
Colorists: Rod Fernandes, Marco Lesko, Dijjo Lima, Hernán Cabrera, & IHQ Studios
Letters: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Publisher: Titan Comics
Hardcover, 128pp
On sale: February 20, 2018

Book One of Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension, released by Titan Comics is all about setup. If the image of seeing Doctors Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve standing together, each reacting in their own characteristic way, to some unseen threat (as depicted on the cover) gets you excited...consider it a bit of a tease.

Stories in which more than one Doctor feature prominently can be structured a few different ways. The two most common ways feature each Doctor in their own story which relates to the other in some way, until the stories collide, or, something forces these Doctors together rightaway. The Lost Dimension takes advantage of the former option with mixed results.

While the draw to this crossover event is, undoubtedly, the chance to experience our modern Doctors bringing their vastly powerful minds together to solve some universe-shattering problem, the creative teams behind it make you wait. It can be equal parts thrilling and frustrating.

Seeing the return of the Doctor's "daughter" is fun, especially her interacting with Twelve, but the time spent explaining how she got their slows everything down to a crawl. Her arrival catapults an epic story into motion, Upon her reveal, the reader is ready to take off through time to find Nine, Ten, and Eleven.

Unfortunately, the story breaks to let us know what Nine's been up to, and as cool as it is to see he and Rose hanging around with Lady Vastra and her...companion?...the adventure leaves a lot to be desired.

Doubly for Ten taking on an armada of Cybermen. At any other time, the story would be heart-poundingly exciting. It's a station under siege by lots and lots of Cybermen! Given the impending menace that we certainly know will bring these Doctors together, and an overabundance of technobabble weighs this story down hard. It's simply too difficult to become invested in the base when you can't understand much of what's being said and you're waiting for more Doctors.

Perhaps the most interesting story in the book tells of Eleven, on ancient Gallifrey, assisting Rassilon and other Time Lord scientists in developing TARDIS technology. On its own the story is exceedingly well done, with all the hallmarks of a great Eleventh Doctor story. It's mind-bendy, funny, suspenseful and a little sad. That's Eleven through and through.

Beyond that, the story appeals to any fan of the ethereal "Cartmel Masterplan" and the concept of The Doctor going by another name in Gallifreyan lore. The inclusion of it here is immensely gratifying, making Eleven's story by far the most entertaining of the bunch.

After such a gargantuan, unbalanced setup, one can't help but hope that the rest of the story, or stories, does justice to that phenomenally promising cover.

 




Hunters of the Burning Stone (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
{s{Rose}} (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray
Artwork by Martin Geraghty & Michael Collins
Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Eleventh Doctor's comic adventures from Doctor Who Magazine continue in his third volume, Hunters of the Burning Stone.  Like the previous volume, it only features half of writer Scott Gray's story arc, but at least this volume features the conclusion to the whole thing. The two volumes should have been collected into one slightly larger volume, but as that did not happen, I suggest getting both and reading them back to back, because it is a pretty satisfying storyline. 

This volume also collects together just three stories, the first two seeing the end of Amy and Rory's time on the strip.  The opening story takes place in 1989 Prague, around the time the Soviet Union was falling apart. It continues some of the elements that began in The Chains of Olympus, and setting up some key elements for the storyline's major finale.

The second story "Imaginary Enemies" is a one-off that unrelated to the rest of the arc, and doesn't even feature the Doctor. Instead of showing us an adventure of Amy, Rory, and Mels as children, though the events are only remembered by Mels (AKA the eventual River Song).  The ending of this story is a nice little tribute to Amy and Rory, giving us a glimpse into what their life was following their departure from the Doctor at the end of The Angels Take Manahattan.

The final story is a longer-than-usual adventure, which saw the return of First Doctor companions Ian and Barbara, concluded up the ongoing arc involving Psychic metal, was a bit of a sequel to the first serial in the show's history (An Uneathly Child), and served as the comic strip's 50th Anniversary Celebrations. This is not only the best story in the collection but probably the best story in the whole arc. Reading it only made me wish that both volumes were collected together more...as the stories featured in the last book were solid, but they rather need this conclusion to make them all the more satisfying.  Breaking them up does a disservice to both.  It's a well-told tale, with lots of nods to the show's history which add flavor to the proceedings, rather than feeling like the entire point. 

I would definitely recommend reading both books (The Chains of Olympus and Hunters of the Burning Stone) back to back. Splitting them up is an odd choice, as these collections, Panini puts together usually make a lot of sense. Still, both volumes are good reprints of the stories, with the usual commentary. If getting both is not an issue than you get the whole story. But it does seem a shame to have to pay about the same for both books when they each feature only a half of the complete story.