Red Planets (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 30 August 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Red Planets (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

Released August 2018
 

Running Time: 2 hours

Now let’s make something clear first. I love spy stories. Le Carre, Fleming, Deighton; all three are in my favourite authors and the cold war period of espionage certainly seems like an excellent setting for a Doctor Who story. The first story in this years, Seventh Doctor Trilogy (though in matter of fact the first of a pentalogy), Red Planets continues the pairing of the Doctor, Mel and Ace. Taking it’s ques from Cold War spy thrillers in the vein of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Quiller Memorandum, Red Planets is an evocative, thrill a minute story that packs its punches but keeps its secrets close to its chest until its final moments.  Written by Una McCormack, this is an impressive high concept tale that weaves intriguing espionage, with time-bending mishaps-even if the impressive ideas aren’t always given enough room to breathe.

The story opens with the Doctor and Mel in a strange parallel future, in the socialist republic of Mokoshia and Ace in Berlin in 1961. Already even here there are a few problems as why the three are split into two groups is never adequately explained. At first, I thought that it could perhaps be another example of one of the more manipulative and darker Seventh Doctor’s masterplans, though this turns out not to be the case. The only other possibility is that it’s a hangover from a previous adventure, that’s all well and good if so but giving us a little bit more info would have been appreciated. In fact, even the story doesn’t seem to know, with at points it feeling that Ace’s presence in 1961 one is intentional and at others, it’s explicitly stated that it is not. Anyway, whilst the Doctor and Mel become embroiled in the politics of the shady new republic, Ace befriends a British spy. Up in space, the first mission to Mars is about to get a nasty surprise…

If that sounds like there’s a lot going on you’d be damn right. Unfortunately, this means that some of the ideas whilst ingenuous, need just a little bit more room to breathe. The revelation of what is up on Mars in particular. This idea is one of Una’s most captivating but unfortunately, it’s reduced to an exposition-heavy explanation by the Doctor in a story that has one too many of them. The result was I often found myself having to pause and skip back a little just to make sure I was taking everything in.

However, in terms of atmosphere and thrills, the story succeeds massively. The paranoia of a lot of the aforementioned Spy fiction is captured beautifully and Mokoshia really does feel like a threatening place, reminiscent of many of our darker Socialist dictatorships. The fact that the individual who will eventually cause all of this never makes an appearance is also a wonderful decision. This is a story about consequences and the characters who have to suffer because of his actions, not about him.

Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred are all wonderful as usual. Sophie Aldred in particular always works incredibly well alone and the character of Ace works wonderfully well in the world of 1960’s Berlin. Bonnie Langford gets some great moments taking further swipes at the Doctors character and in particular his moral stance on the rewriting of history- no matter how many individuals from the parallel world will be lost. Likewise, Sylvester gives his own in these scenes, giving a sense of a Doctor who is tired of trying to explain, knowing she’ll never understand. The supporting cast are all great, though admittedly I didn’t feel like they were really given much to play with, the emphasis being more on the ideas than supporting characters.

Red Planets is a great Doctor Who story with some great ideas. To really of been a classic it needed perhaps one more rewrite just to sort the pacing out. However, the result is none the less entertaining and comes recommended.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Sep 2018
Main Range #241 Red Planets (Doctor Who Main Range)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




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

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

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

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

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

"Catch a Falling Star":

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

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

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

“The Armageddon Gambit”:

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

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

“Midnight Feast”:

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

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

"And Introducing..."

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

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

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

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





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. 





Delta and the Bannermen AudiobookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Delta and the Bannermen (Credit: BBC Audio)
Delta and the Bannermen
Written by Malcolm Kohll
Read by Bonnie Langford

Relased by BBC Audio June 2017

As a televised serial, Delta and the Bannermen could have been a hilarious, delightful, Douglas Adams-esque romp with a dark side. Many of the elements are there. Completely alien beings transforming themselves into humanoids in order to visit Disneyland in the 1950s as part of a “Nostalgia Tour”, everyday people trying their best to work according to procedure in the face of utter strangeness, and intergalactic war taking place at a holiday camp in Wales. Unfortunately, it’s an uneven, overly violent, tonal mess, with delusions of depth.

As a novel, Delta and the Bannermen could have been an edgy sci-fi epic with fleshed out characters, deeply detailed mythology, real character motivations, high stakes, and humor. Where else but a novel would it be possible to explore Chimeron culture,  craft a romance between Delta and Billy that feels genuine, or uncover the psychology of why an assassin on vacation just can’t help but make a kill (there has to be more than his enjoyment of it)? Instead the novel adds very little to what was already an unbalanced story.

As an audiobook, Delta and the Bannermen has fun music, an effective soundtrack, and Bonnie Langford’s narration can be a delight when she’s really giving it her all and having a blast. However the weak story holds the entire production back. It is simply too difficult to separate the story from the audiobook to enjoy all the work that went into recording this otherwise pretty impressive audiobook.   

The setting of Delta and the Bannermen requires a soundtrack rich with popular music of the time. Characters openly reference songs like “Rock Around The Clock” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” It would be hard to imagine the story without a few needle drops of those vintage hits. Somehow the producers were able to concoct generic, certainly royalty free, Rock & Roll tracks sufficient enough to capture that particular musical shade of the correct pop cultural tapestry.    

Not to say the music is all perfect. Perhaps the most entertaining piece of the score is what appears to be the main theme. A sweeping, swashbuckling suite that may have been more at home in a pirate story, but is equally thrilling here.

Telling a story about about genocide across the stars, especially when the antagonist is as murder-happy as Gavrok, gunfire and explosions are crucial. At no point does the artillery become a wall of pounding sound overpowering the music or narration. Every auditory element is layered to compliment each other, resulting in a sense of immersion.  

Of course the natural standout is Bonnie Langford as the storyteller. She is tasked with performing a variety of accents for more characters than necessary, and she does so superbly. While Mel may not be everyone’s favorite companion, Bonnie Langford is a first class talent, and she shines throughout the entirety of this book.  

Delta and the Bannermen, regardless of the form it takes, is a story with a lot of promise that never reaches its full potential. At least this version has a narrator who seems to be enjoying themself.