The Phantom Piper (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 10 December 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Phantom Piper (Credit: Panini)
Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Staz Johnson, Mike Collins, Scott Gray, James Offredi

Paperback: 148 Pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD 

The latest Graphic Novel from Panini collects together some of the final Comic Strip Adventures for the Twelfth Doctor, who ended his run as the star of Doctor Who Magazine’s monthly strip in October, just prior to the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut on TV. We'll get into a bit deeper, but it seems this will not be the final Graphic Novel the Twelfth Doctor will get from Panini.  Joining the Twelfth Doctor is Bill Potts, who launched on the strip not long after her TV debut, and stuck with him until the end of his tenure on the strip (just as on TV).

The book begins with the Doctor and Bill exploring Jupiter's moon Titan, but they soon get whisked into an adventure with Rudy Zoom, the conceited millionaire adventurer we first met in the Twelfth Doctor's first comic strip story.  Zoom has chartered an exploration of Titan because a woman was being called there by something.  The something turns out to be plant monsters that feed off of people's dreams and want to escape their prison on Titan.  It's a solid beginning for this Twelve/Bill era for the comic strip...it's fun, colorful, humorous, with drama and action. It is a solid start.  However, the book then takes us to the American Old West, and where they face an alien threat using a Native American Woman to exact her revenge on the White man.  This has flawed execution...while I like the idea of exploring a woman who faced adversity and great tragedy on the Trail of Tears, I think they made her too much of a revenge seeking generic villain in the end.  I think they tried to counteract this by making the Sheriff who teams up with the Doctor a black man. I guess they didn't make the Native characters have classic "Savage Indian" tropes...but I still felt like they started somewhere interesting with the character, and it kind of loses that thread, and the interesting backstory doesn't really play too much into her story.

At the end of that story, the TARDIS was marked with some kind of mysterious symbol.  To investigate, the Doctor takes Bill to Cornucopia (the alien world created and often visited during the Eleventh Doctor's comic run), and visits the vast library there for answers on what the symbol could mean.  The story is then about something evil having some kind of control over the librarian herself. It is honestly not that memorable, and really only serves as a one off filler strip.  In the end the Doctor realizes that the symbol is actually a code that needs cracking, so he then whisks Bill off to World War II, to find Alan Turing and get his help on cracking the code. This leads us directly into the final story in the set, the titular "The Phantom Piper" which closes out the set.  This is by far the best story in the collection, it has a big sweeping idea, a fun villain, and leans into Doctor Who Magazine's comic continuity in fun ways. Usually, I'd rather that media not lean too heavily into it's own storied continuity, as it can end up alienating the audience or dragging a story through the mud of references without any real deeper meaning.  This story is about something, and the continuity serves the story. 

I did think it felt like it had maybe a bit too much build-up and a solution that seemed to quick...but maybe that is because I was enjoying reading this story so much I breezed through all five parts fairly quickly.  It should be noted that for this story the page count for each installment shifted from 12 pages back to 8, which was the usual page count for the strip for a number of years. I think it wasn't until the Tenth Doctor that they beefed up the installment length.  At any rate, it did feel like the plot wrapped up rather quickly, and the set up what was the final story for the Twelfth Doctor on the strip, "The Clockwise War."  I think the ending may not have felt so quick and easy if I didn't have to now wait for an entirely new volume to come out in order to get the resolution to the book's cliffhanger.  If that final story was included, the epic scale would've probably just grown and been more satisfying.  

I'm not sure why they made the decision to leave out the final Twelfth Doctor story in this volume. Perhaps it was a decision that came down to deadlines not really coming together.  The final story for the Twelfth Doctor wrapped up only just before the Thirteenth Doctor premiered on TV. I would've honestly preferred them push back this volume to include that final story, and instead of sticking to their usual release schedule of Modern collection followed by a collection of older stuff, they could've held off and given us a bigger book that included the entire Twelve/Bill run in one volume...and in the meantime release an equally anticipated volume of classic comics, which will probably collect together the final batch of stories in the awkward years, and featured the final Seventh Doctor story ("Ground Zero") that came out before the long running Eighth Doctor era. Now it seems that there will be one more volume of Twelfth Doctor Comics to come from Panini.  This time it will be one story (about 60 pages worth of story). Maybe they will put more stuff into it.  Time will tell.

It is a shame that Bill Potts didn’t get more time in the TARDIS. In some ways, I wish her character could’ve joined the Twelfth Doctor at the beginning of Series 9 as opposed to Series 10. Bill was a solid character, well performed, and sadly will only ever have a short run on TV and a short run in the comic strip, and a short run in Titan’s line as well. Maybe someday when he’s ready, Capaldi and Pearl Mackie can revive this duo on Big Finish. Until then, we have this volume...and I guess we can await another yet to come, one story or not.

This collection is hit and miss. It starts and ends strong, but I didn't particularly care for the stories in the middle..and the fact that it ends in a cliffhanger that leads directly into the only Twelfth Doctor story left from the Magazine not included here leaves me a tad disappointed.  Ultimately, if you are a fan of the Strip, it is another well put together volume (missing the finale or not). I still think the best Twelfth Doctor volume remains Doorway to Hell, but I also enjoy Bill...so I'm happy to have more of her in any format. 





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 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!





The Eye of Torment (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Eye of Torment (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Mike Collins, & Jacqueline Rayner

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Mike Collins, & David A. Roach

Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

We have now entered the most current era of the comic strip, with the First Volume of the Twelfth Doctor's run, The Eye of Torment.  While the Twelfth Doctor has already left the TARDIS behind on television, his adventures are still carrying on in Doctor Who Magazine, and his final strip adventures with Bill will most likely continue until after the Thirteenth Doctor's first full episode debuts. But before his tenure comes to an end, we still have his earliest strips to review!

This volume is somewhat similar to the Eleventh Doctor volume The Chains of Olympus.  Both don't feature too many stories and are a bit forgettable collections, but both technically feature solid stories that are well put together.  This collection has the edge on The Chains of Olympus because at least this doesn't start some grand story arc that doesn't get resolved until later.  All four of the stories are standalone, which means you can read this volume in one go without feeling like you only got half the story. 

The opening story, the titular "The Eye of Torment"  is quite a good epic opener for the Twelfth Doctor.  It involves a spaceship trying to traverse the sun and accidentally awakening an evil race of killers that had been imprisoned there centuries before.  It's a good read! Clearly the folks behind the strip decided to do something different, rather than wait until after the Twelfth Doctor debuted on television, and keep the Eleventh Doctor running right up until then, they decided to wrap up the Eleventh, have a buffer story featuring the Poternaster Gang of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax ("The Crystal Throne" which is also included in this volume), before launching into Twelfth Doctor stories, but knowing they couldn't really do much with him until he debuted on TV, the first part released focused heavily on Clara, and didn't show the Doctor until the final page, in a big tease for his official debut the following week.  It was a great way to introduce a new Doctor...make the fans wait for it, and build to that big reveal...and once he arrives they are off to races.

The second story is an average and somewhat problematic Sontaran adventure taking place in the Sahara Desert during World War II.  I found this one weird mostly because the Doctor and Clara kind of team up with the Nazis...they each befriend some Nazi, and I found it just off. I don't believe we should always treat Nazis as inhuman, because I think it very important that we remember that it wasn't some other species that committed those atrocities...it was us, but I also don't see the Doctor and Clara befriending a Nazi and getting all worked about them when they are in danger. I mean they are still Nazis.  Come on now.  So when the Doctor is forced to help Sontarans and Nazis, against a Rutan threat it just left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn't a horrible story, I just don't think I want to see Nazis made too sympathetic. 

The final Doctor and Clara tale is "Blood and Ice" which has them trying to thwart a mad scientist in the Antartica at a University on the site of where the First Doctor's regeneration initially took place, and Clara meets Winnie, a girl who turns out to be one of the Splinter versions of her from The Name of the Doctor. An echo of Clara meant to die saving the Doctor, and the idea of them bumping into one of these fractures is neat, I mean she was supposed to have been split into a whole lot of different people to restore the Doctor's timeline, why don't they continue to bump into them?  The mad scientist is trying to turn people into walruses and stuff so they can more easily live in Antartica.  Which is goofy, but that's okay, goofy can be entertaining...and the real focus of this story is about how Clara, and ultimately WInnie, deal with what Winnie's own existence means. 

The final story featured in the volume is the aforementioned "The Crystal Throne" featuring the Poternaster Gang. It is a decent adventure, but I am glad it did not venture beyond two parts.  The characters are fun, but I think by the end of the second part I was done with the gimmick of their lead of the strip.  I think the fact that it also features some mad lady trying to transform people into some kind of creature (this time big bugs), it felt a little bland after the Antartica story. 

As a launch for the Twelfth Doctor, this is only a mild recommendation. His debut story is excellent, and I rather liked "Blood and Ice," but I had some philosophical issues with "Instruments of War" and only mildly enjoyed the Poternaster Tale.  It doesn't have a lot of meat, but it is an easy read, and at least feels like a fresh new start after the long sweeping arcs of the Eleventh Doctor comic era.  Probably for completists only, but that debut story really is great. 





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. 





The Chains of Olympus (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 9 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Chains of Olympus (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Michael Collins, Martin Geraghty, & Dan McDaid

Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Eleventh Doctor’s comic strip adventures continue in this second volume “The Chains of Olympus.” Eighth Doctor scribe Scott Gray returns to full time writing duties after a 6-year hiatus, and in doing so launches a whole new arc. Unfortunately, Panini made a somewhat unusual choice of splitting up that arc over two volumes...so while this volume has some solid stories and set up for the new arc, you don’t get the same level of satisfaction as you do when you get the full story.

Only three stories are featured in this volume, the opening has the Doctor, Amy, and (making his debut on the strip) Rory travel to Ancient Greece and meet Socrates and Plato...and end up battling “Zeus” and other Greek “Gods.” The second is a slightly lighter adventure involving an alien graffiti artist turning humans into his art. The final takes place on a criminal world called Cornucopia and definitely plays a role in stories to come, based on the little hints at the end.

This is not a bad book, all the stories are pretty entertaining, it is just a shame that you are getting the beginnings of a larger story, but none of the payoff. This was a problem that sort of plagued the Eleventh Doctor’s TV run as well, particularly following his first year...so in a way, this seems appropriate to his Doctor. I have a feeling that the longer 50th Anniversary strip that headlines the next volume and keeping to a certain release schedule are reasons for the splitting up of the volumes...but this volume feels short and lacks the big story payoff...so in a way it just feels like a release that isn’t as rewarding as previous volumes.