The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 4 (Big FInish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 8 May 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
First Doctor Adventures volume four (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith, Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), & Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton)

There is something so lovely about the David Bradley-led First Doctor Adventures.  Big Finish has perfectly captured that era.  The pacing is perfect, the tone of the episodes, the music, down to David Bradley’s cadence as the Doctor…it all just oozes the earliest days of the series.  In this latest installment we get two four part tales. The first is a direct sequel to the first Dalek story called Return to Skaro.  The second, The Last of the Romanovs, lands the TARDIS in another pure historical, this time in Russia in the lead up to the Bolsheviks killing the Royal Family and taking over.  

It is an odd thing when Big Finish only has two stories in a set, as is the norm for the Bradley First Doctor series, because they have to choose between leading with their big draw episode, or leading with the more low key historical episode.  They seem to continually choose to start off with the big episode, this time featuring the Daleks, and then ending with the Russian adventure.  As much as it may be harder to draw in listeners with a slower paced historical story, it seems like ending with the big Dalek tale might make more sense. But then again, with only two stories, you can’t have much filler and building a set is a different beast entirely.  I suppose I am just used to the slow build-ups of longer sets.  

That all said the draw of the set is, of course, the Daleks.  And it is a solid adventure that feels like it could definitely be an adventure with the villains set in between the first and second television stories. It is definitely the better of the two adventures in this set.  The second story is decent, and I have a certain fascination with the beginning of the Soviet Union, but it is a classic historical in every sense: it is somewhat slow and forgettable.  It does end on a cliffhanger, with the TARDIS seemingly dead and unable to move on.  

David Bradley’s performance is something I can barely wrap my head around. He doesn’t actually sound anything like William Hatnell.  He also isn’t trying to do an outright impression, but his own interpretation of the role. Yet he nails it.  He just captures the essence of  Hartnell.  He isn’t like The Five Doctor’s Richard Hurndall, who while not awful mostly captured the cantankerous side of the First Doctor.  But Bradley has that spark that made Hartnell so beloved by the children of the 60s. The actors playing the companions also do a fairly good job recapturing their 1960s counterparts (though something always feels slightly off about Susan for me).  

Bottom line: if you love the earliest era of the show, and you have enjoyed the recasted adventures thus far, then you will no doubt enjoy this one too.  





Ground Zero (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 25 February 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ground Zero (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Alan Barnes, Gareth Roberts, Gary Russell, Sean Longcroft

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon, Sean Longcroft

Paperback: 132 Pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Much like 2018's Land of the Blind, Ground Zero is a collection of different Doctor-lead strips from the 90s, which were all released in the gap between the ending of the Seventh Doctor era, and the start of the Eighth Doctor era.  Unlike that previous collection, there is an actual arc hidden within these stories, which culminates in the big finale of the collection's namesake "Ground Zero." This arc also played a role in the early adventures of the Eighth Doctor, as the main villains, The Threshold, would go on to be the major antagonist for the Eighth Doctor's first group of adventures (collected together in Endgame). This book has adventures featuring the Fifth, First, Third, Fourth, and Seventh Doctors and the grand return of the Seventh Doctor to the strip also marks one of the long-running strips most controversial moves in it's entire history.  

The opening of the book stars the Fifth Doctor and Peri, as they take on an Osiron Robot, similar to the ones from Pyramids of Mars.  It involves a Hollywood director attempting to use a Hollywood studio to perform an Egyptian ceremony that will release an ancient God of Locusts and gain power himself (using a studio set as the commotion will likely be ignored as filming). The Doctor, of course, foils this plan. While I didn’t find Alan Barnes’ story to be that exciting or interesting, it was lovely to see Martin Geraghty’s (who was the lead artist for the bulk of the Eighth Doctor run) beautiful black and white again. That made it worthwhile to me.

We then find the First Doctor and Susan have an adventure in London that takes place before the discovery of the TARDIS by Ian and Barbara in the series first episode, An Unearhtly Child. While the TARDIS is hiding in a junkyard, Susan and the Doctor stumble into an adventure with an alien attempting to turn humans into his own kind in order to help work his ship and escape Earth. The Doctor thwarts his efforts, as you’d expect. I found this story didn’t really work for me in any way. It was just too bland to get drawn into.

Up next was a shorter story starring the Third Doctor, one of the only stories in the set that doesn't have a connection to the finale.  Unlike the bulk of the book, this story is only one part and was drawn by Adrian Salmon, as opposed to Geraghty.  Overall this one is short and light, but I enjoyed it.  When it comes to classic Doctor strips, I want them to feel like they could easily fit into the era they come from.  The First Doctor story in this book doesn’t get tht right at all, but this is a perfect Third Doctor mini-adventure.  

We then travel to 2086 with the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry as they fight off Russian Zombies and a man who goes full-on nuclear.  It’s one of the stronger stories in the book. I liked the visuals Geraghty brought to this one, and Gary Russell’s story is pretty solid.  I don’t have a lot to say on this one, mostly because it is just a fairly good read, not too many critiques to expand upon that. The Fourth Doctor also reappears in the final story of the book, which is a goofy strip in which the writer put himself into the strip, and it's a fourth-wall-breaking joke about the strip itself...one that served as the final random Doctor tale before the Eighth Doctor took over in the next issue. 

Really, it all culminates in "Ground Zero," which saw the Seventh Doctor return to the pages of the strip for the first time in two years.  His time on the strip had always been a bit rocky.  It started off shaky with little stories that were often hit or miss, then finally found a voice when the show was cancelled and the TV writers began to continue the journey on the strip itself, but then lost its way again when the Virgin New Adventures novel series began and the strip was forced to play second fiddle to the books. Communication between the folks behind the Virgin series and the folks at Doctor Who Magazine wasn’t always in order, and their synergy didn’t always work.  A comic strip that relies on you having read two novels doesn’t work…and if you are reading both the strip and the novels, having two similar Silurian stories printed around the same time isn’t helpful either.  

So Gary Russell, who at the time was editor of the magazine, just decided to end the Seventh Doctor entirely.  When the TV Movie came out and they were going to get the rights to have the Eighth Doctor, who was essentially a clean slate and a chance to start fresh and with a bit of direction again, they decided that they ought to have one final adventure for the Seventh Doctor, to finally give him a proper send-off from the strip.  And they really went for it.  

The strip totally breaks continuity with the Virgin books, gives the comics their own conclusion for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and the path it set up was the spark that fueled the DWM strip for years to come. Instead of the older, edgier, darker version of Ace that had developed in the novels, the strip returned her to a state closer to how she had been when the TV series ended.  And then the strip did something majorly bold.  If you don’t want SPOILERS, then beware, I am about to get into them.  

The story involves the Threshold (who also serve as the antagonists in the early days of hte Eighth Doctor), and how they work for some monsters who live in the collective unconscious of humans and want to escape to the physical plane and destroy mankind.  In the process, the Threshold take three companions from the Doctor’s past (Peri during her adventure in the opening story, Susan from the second, and Sarah from the preceding adventure), and use them to lure the Doctor in. Susan, it turns out, can’t actually head into this other dimension, as it would destroy her mind, just as it would the Doctor. But the human companions can handle it.  The Doctor finds a way in, which nearly destroys the TARDIS (setting up his remodel seen in the TV movie), and he manages to stop the monsters…but not without dire consequences: the death of Ace.  Killing Ace was controversial to say the least, particularly as it drew a clear line in the sand as to where the comics now stood in terms of continuity with the novels.  

Going forward, the Eighth Doctor strips were excellent, especially when it came to building up their arcs and expanding upon what came before…and a major seed for that excellent era of Doctor Who Magazine comics is right here.  Ground Zero is a pivotal moment in the history of Doctor Who comics.  It was a bold statement that set the strips apart from the Virgin novel line, and the plot was important to the early days of the Eighth Doctor (though you can easily read the Eighth Doctor strips without having read "Ground Zero," as I did when it was reprinted years ago, but it is nice to get that background finally).  

As a whole package, the stories are slightly uneven.  The Third Doctor entry “Target Practice” doesn’t play into the overall story (though it is fun), and the other three Doctor tales are only tangentially connected to the final epic conclusion (and the First Doctor adventure is decidedly bland)…but that conclusion is something else. Even if you don’t agree with what the strip did in that moment, you have to give it props for being interesting.  It’s a good story too, regardless of the controversial elements.  And that finale makes this whole book worth it.





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. 




The War Machines (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 May 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Machines
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Read By  Michael Cochrane
Released by BBC Audio - March 2019
Available from Amazon UK

I have always ranked The War Machines fairly high in First Doctor stories.  I've always felt Hartnell is quite good in it, and it drops dead weight companion Dodo in favor of the charming Ben and Polly, who at the time better represented modern youth. It also had fun robot villains trying to overtake London and the World, and what isn't fun about that? But somehow, I didn't really find myself that interested in this audiobook of the Target Novelization. 

Written by original script writer Ian Stuart Black, the novelization just isn't written with any energy. It highlights the deficiencies of the television story.  On TV they got away with some filler and a story that isn't full of action, because the performances of Hartnell, Anneke Wills, and Michael Craze keep you engaged. But as a novel or audiobook, I just found that there isn't much happening, and even though I finished listening to it a week ago, I've been struggling to think of much to really say about it. 

The only thing of note I truly remember is that the first chapter adds a bit of business between the Doctor and Dodo, in which both note secretly think they will be parting soon.  This is certainly more than the TV version ever did, as Dodo just disappears at one point, and at the end of the story, her replacements show up and say she's gone to live on a farm upstate somewhere, and then they callously steal her job. The book does the same, but at least there is this acknoweldgement of her exit in the beginning of the story.

I don't think it is the fault of the narrator, Michael Cochrane, who I think does a fine job.  His Hartnell impression is particularly great.  But the guy has little to work with. I find it so odd that a story I have always liked has left me so cold in the novelization. 





The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Marc Platt, Guy Adams
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton), Carole Ann Ford (The Woman), Ajjaz Awad (Princess Elissa of Tyre), Jo Ben Ayed (King Pygmalion of Tyre), Orion Ben (Aiyaruc / Hanna), Youssef Kerkour (Bitias), Raad Rawi (Tubal / Maygo / King Hiarbas of Tunis), Mina Anwar (Horl), Susie Emmett (Katta), Belinda Lang (Nocta)

Big Finish's enjoyable series of adventures following the original TARDIS team as played by the cast of An Adventure in Time and Space continues for a third boxset, one which also sees a major guest appearance of Carole Ann Ford, the original Susan Foreman, whose younger self is played by Claudia Grant in these sets.  And Ford is the major draw of this set in more ways than one, as it is the story involving her that is vastly more entertaining then the first story featured here. 

The first story in this one is The Phoenicians, which is a pure historical that plays on legends and myths, and explores their true origins.  As classic pure historical stories go, this story features no sci-fi element beyond our heroes travelling to the past via the TARDIS.  I am not a huge fan of many of these historcials, which pretty much fell out of style for the series not long after the Second Doctor took over.  They only made one last attempt at a return in the early 80s, when the Fifth Doctor had a brief mystery to solve in the 1920s, with no alien threat whatsoever. But despite my own feelings that the historicals tend not to be terribly interesting, it doesn't mean I don't think they can't work.  In fact I secretly hope they can return to the show someday.  Not all the time, but I think it would be great to see a story where the adventure our heroes get embroiled in has nothing to do with aliens or monsters, but just the scariness of our own past.  They nearly did it in this most recent season, though there was an alien presence, it was incidental to the more historical turmoil our heroes got caught up in.  Someday, maybe once, Earth's ugly past can be enough for a Doctor Who threat again. 

That all said, this story is about as middle of the road and bland as so many historicals of the past had been. I just couldn't get into it, no matter how charming and likable I find the new versions of the original TARDIS crew. 

Luckily, the other story in the set, Tick-Tock World, is top notch entertainment.  With the TARDIS caught up in a planet that messes with time ships, which leaves the gang stranded in a place where time moves in mysterious ways, and ghosts of the past and future can appear and screw with them.  This is where Ford comes into play, as a mysterious figure that they all see. I doubt I am spoiling it for anyone as to who Ford turns out to be.  If you don't know that from the word go then I don't know how you ended up listening to a story based entirely on the show as it was in 1963. I just found this to be a really engaging story, and it felt like the kind of story that could have fit in really well with Big Finish's ongoing Time War tales, yet with that 60s flair that they capture so well with this cast. 

David Bradley is really a top notch replacement for William Hartnell.  He doesn't sound anything like him really, but the way he pauses and hems and haws, and stutters through his lines, it is truly like he captured the essence of the First Doctor.  Hartnell did most of it due to aging, ailing health, a giant year round workload with little to no rehearsal time...but that is part of what I find charming about the First Doctor.  Bradley captures it so well, but does it in his own way.  I definitely prefer this way of creating new 60s style Who to someone just doing an impression. 

I find this set to be somewhat harder to recommend, at least at full price. The first story is by no means awful, but it isn't really worth much either. The second story is tremendous though, which is what makes up for the whole set.  I'd say it was worth it just for that, but maybe at a sale price. If Big Finish set has 4 stories and only one is kind of a clunker, I usually can justify the price.  But with only 2 stories, the cost is essentially $10 a story, and I don't think The Phoenicians is worth $10.  Is Tick-Tock World? Absolutely.  And that's from a guy who was never much of a fan of Susan or Carole An Ford's performance in the 60s shows.  If you've enjoyed these First Doctor set so far?  It is a safer bet for you, for newcomers, I think start with the earlier sets and see if you want to spend the extra money on half of a good boxset. 






Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.09 - A Small Semblance Of HomeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
A Small Semblance Of Home (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins; Script Editor Ian Atkins;
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Paul Phipps; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

"Time is relative - the day is wherever we land - and if we are onboard the TARDIS - there are no days!"
 
It’s become his obsession. Through the hottest of deserts and the coldest of snows, the TARDIS crew have searched for the one remaining piece of the Doctor’s most important experiment. But now Barbara’s exhausted. Why hasn’t the Doctor learned his lesson? What’s so important that his scientific curiosity outweighs the safety of the crew once again? And will his latest arrogant trespass be the last he ever makes?
 
Paul Phipps brings us the latest Short Trips entry, which is a leisurely character piece, with Barbara Wright front and centre. We join the original TARDIS team quite early in their adventures. Barbara is starting to miss the normality of home. There is nothing in the TARDIS to indicate what time of day it is, or even what day of the week. The Doctor's new experiment is becoming something of an obsession to hi. He is looking for a plant, and seemingly finds it when him and Ian are captured by a local tribe on an alien planet. 
 
Carole Ann Ford narrates the story with passion, characterising the different characters very well. It actually made me feel rather sentimental for hearing more from this era of the Doctor Who, and with that sentimentality, rather sad also. Carole Ann Ford is seventy-eight years old now (something that I would never guess from her voice, which obviously sounds different from when she was on the show, but still quite youthful). These readings and dramatisations need to be cherished as only a handful of the original actors are still working.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is about the simple comforts of home, and is a rather enjoyable little piece of story telling that would have fitted perfectly in the very first series of Doctor Who.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is available here.