Supremacy Of The Cybermen - Complete CollectionBookmark and Share

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

Art: Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni, with Alessandro Vitti


Colorist: Nicola Righi With Enrica Eren Angiolini

Letterer: Richard Starkings
And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Senior Designer: Andrew Leung 

Senior Editor: Andrew James

Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton
& Amoona Saohin

Designer: Rob Farmer

Published :7th March 2017

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

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


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

So the logical question is: does the conclusion deliver?

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

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

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

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

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


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





The Sound Of DrumsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
John Simm as The Master in The Sound of Drums (Credit: BBC)

Series Three - Episode 12 - "The Sound Of Drums".

STARRING:

David Tennant , Freema Agyeman , John Barrowman, 
WITH John Simm and Alexandra Moen 

ALSO FEATURING: Adjoa Andoh, Trevor Laird,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Reggie Yates, Elize du Toit,
Nichola McAuliffe, Nicholas Gecks, 
Colin Stinton, Olivia Hill, Daniel Ming,
Lachele Carl, Sharon Osbourne. 

ALSO WITH VOICE WORK BY:
Zoe Thorne, Gerard Logan, and Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis 

WITH CAMEOS by McFly, and Ann Widdecombe. 


Written By - Russell T Davies,

Script Editor - Simon Winstone

Directed By - Colin Teague
Music - Murray Gold
Produced By - Phil Collinson

Executive Producers - Russell T. Davies + Julie Gardner

Originally Transmitted 23rd June 2007, BBC 1

This middle component of the storyline that saw out the 2007 run of modern Doctor Who is a dynamic, compelling slice of action and political satire. As good as it had been to have the likes of Autons and Macra come back from days long gone, and especially welcome to see the Who staple monsters that are the Daleks and the Cybermen return with a vengeance, the show badly needed the most masterly of humanoid villains to keep the Doctor on his toes.


John Simm's Master can be best likened to 'The Joker from Batman. He is utterly unhinged, and without remorse for the crimes he commits.  He actively enjoys causing chaos and misery. But such is this prolific performer's calibre of acting, the viewer cannot help but like him on some level. This is a quality inherent in all the more effective Masters – with other notable names being those of Delgado, Ainley, Jacobi (albeit mainly resting on the fake Yana persona), and Gomez.

Of course I will acknowledge the pure villainous qualities of the 'decayed' Master that showed up in the Tom Baker era, and in places also in the 1996 TV Movie. To my mind though, the ideal variant has some level of dark charm, and humorous edginess.

A great idea that makes this episode work, is putting the TARDIS crew firmly on the back foot. They do not even have their magic ship as a 'home base', and arrive late on the scene as the Master Plan has already unfolded to near finality. 'Harold Saxon' has become the British Prime Minister, and virtually the whole population are enthralled by his charisma and decidedly alternate style to politics.

The manner in which he sweeps aside all dissenting voices in his Cabinet through the method of poisonous gas, and tapping his hand on the table to the 'Sound of Drums' is a fine scene. He even gives some warning to his victims, but in such a way that he is comically obtuse, thus catching some of the supposed smartest people in the land completely off-guard.

It is hard to tell which is the more disturbing death in these 10 Downing Street sections: the prolonged suffocation of senior politicians by gas, or the way the Toclafane slice-and-dice Vivien Rook - a reporter rather too bold and determined for her own good.

                                   "I'm taking control, Uncle Sam, starting with you. Kill him!"

By contrast, the execution of the American President is played very much as black comedy. We have a boisterous and self-important world leader, and one perhaps looking down on Britain; no doubt due to the "ass" elected by the population. In this day and age, with such a controversial new president in charge this scene plays out on a different level. Even the very current affairs savvy Davies could not have anticipated this dimension his work would take.

Having a wife by the Master's side is a neat spin on an antagonist that was normally a lone wolf. Whilst he may have temporary stooges to help him (and usually hypnotised ones at that), this is the first time it appears he has a stone cold lover to endorse his villainy. In the Colin Baker portion of the Classic Series, there were tentative alliances with The Rani and Glitz respectively. However, in Lucy the Master has someone who seems to love his unending ambition, ruthlessness and even his sadism. (But of course there are limits to what evil a spouse can put up with, and this is explored effectively in the concluding episode).                                                                                                                                
The Sound of Drums (Credit: {s{LastoftheTimeLords}})The telephone conversation scene gives both Simm and Tennant a chance to share screentime equally. When they finally meet in the same frame the effect is even more marked.  However, whilst the Tenth Doctor swansong The End Of Time is inferior to this Series Three closer, it is ahead in terms of offering decent one-on-one material for two of Britain's most respected screen actors.

The 'Toclafane' - a name from young Gallifreyan fairy tales – essentially act as the Master’s force of marauding assassins. But they are a pretty neat invention, in that they combine a distinct monster look with some semblance of a disturbingly imbalanced personality. Having multiple voices to breathe life into them is also a great production choice. The story behind who these creatures are is kept mysterious for now in this particular outing. If one were to be overly critical, they could be accused of looking somewhat like the confectionary Maltesers - especially when the pulsating Voodoo Child track plays out for a distinctly long stretch. Using a piece of popular chart music was a bold move by Davies and can perhaps be seen as risking dating the production. But taken as a suitably offbeat piece of rhythmical noise, that the Master would choose to celebrate his crowning moment with, it is more than appropriate. Also, this is one of the few moments in the show at the time when composer Murray Gold is not providing persistently stirring backing music to the onscreen drama. 

Series Three did a serviceable job of giving the viewer a clan of relatives to make Martha’s attachment to Earth mean something, and managed to be both similar enough but also distinctly different from the dynamic that Rose Tyler had in terms of her original 'home'. Furthermore, some good groundwork was done in terms of exploring just why Martha eventually chose not to remain by the Doctor's side full time. Adjoa Andoh is probably the best performer out of this family group, and combines steely determination with a subtle sense of really caring for all those closest to her. She would justifiably return in Series Four's closing pair of episodes, as well. Trevor Laird is notably stronger in his acting, than the very tired and ineffectual henchman role that was part of 1986's Mindwarp. He makes for a devoted father figure, and shows some real bravery in helping the Doctor's party evade capture. Reggie Yates is the kind of casting choice that peppered the 1980s under John Nathan-Turner's watch, and is engaging enough. It is a rather generic brother role as Leo, however, and there is virtually no character development that the show normally pulled off so well by now. Also, for whatever reason, Yates barely features in this episode, and contributes even less in the following one. Martha's other sibling Tish, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw is perhaps the best used recurring character in terms of the Saxon Arc itself, and is performed with conviction throughout. Much like Freema Agyeman, Mbatha-Raw has had a very fine career post-Doctor Who.

Martha herself remains a solid companion, with Ageyman really selling the reveal that the Master is the most powerful man in the country. The response to the startling impact of her 'normal' world being so drastically changed is a strong core theme of this multiparter, and plays out with full effect in the ensuing Last Of The Time Lords. As this episode comes to its cliff-hanger ending, the viewer is utterly captivated as to how Dr Jones will cope without her near-immortal mentor. Like Rose she is capable and independent, but has usually needed some superior experience and incredible intellect from the Doctor to overcome the problem at hand. This particular challenge is mountainous to put it mildly.

The Tenth Doctor putting his mind to work (Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/images/S3_12)

Captain Jack perhaps is just more along for the ride after some very good material in the preceding episode where he sought some kind of acknowledgement from the Doctor. Of course, he does helps with the escape back to present day Earth - conveyed in a frenetic flash back - and he also gets to do a (very deliberate) plug for his own spin off Torchwood. Otherwise he is arguably surplus to immediate story requirements, and also suffers yet another helpless 'death' - this time at the hands of the Master, and his upgraded sonic screwdriver. This disconcerting cycle of painful demise and lurching back to life in traumatic fashion has been echoed in more recent times in the Forever TV series. Whilst short-lived at just one season, that particular show had a lead character - Henry Morgan - that has some minor similarities with the Jack Harkness character.

Pacing in this story is mostly good, and the episode packs a lot into its duration (which is slightly longer than the average of most episodes that year). The climax plays out for a good ten minutes, and thus is both truly riveting and furthers the long-running story concerning Harold Saxon, that first was glimpsed back in Love And Monsters. Most of the earlier sections are breathless chasing or exposition, with some detail on the Master's raison d'etre, and what he means to the Doctor. The whole thing could so easily be rushed, but in the hands of the dependable Colin Teague, it all comes together sufficiently well.

One recurring plot point which was a little less welcome was the call-back to The Lazarus Experiment, which many still regard as the weakest story of the run of thirteen episodes. Having the Doctor rendered helpless was a good idea on paper, but the choice here is to make him look like an especially ancient-looking man. Whilst showcasing good make up it never really adds much to the overall story, and would lead to the regrettable 'Harry Potter' CGI imp the following week. Perhaps something different, which rendered our main man immobile and slow of wits, would have worked better. 

Although much of the episode is focused on action, satire or re-establishing the Doctor-Master rivalry, the most moving and powerful portion concerns some exposition and visual display of Gallifrey and its orange skies. This is portrayed so much better on a respectable TV budget, compared to the closest precedent in the six-part 1970s serial The Invasion of Time. The narrated flashback makes use again of the poignant music Gold previously used in Utopia, and this backing track seems even more appropriate, as the key to the scene is making the viewer care for the Master through showing him in the form of a mere innocent child. Some mysterious and anonymous Time Lords also feature, with the scene notably breaking the ethnic onscreen barrier which for so long had been a minus point concerning the Doctors home world TV stories.


SUMMARY :

Whilst a little lacking in fully combining both fun adventure and true depth in terms of themes and moral lessons, this is still a good episode in a generally strong second full season for the Tenth Doctor. In comparison to the prior Utopia, it is a small step down in most respects, but many other stories would also struggle to compare favourably. Taken on its own merits, it is still a great watch, and has stood the test of time well. Back in mid-2007, the season finale was set up with a very dark and intriguing premise, and most regular viewers at the time were left desperate to see how it played out.





Doctor Who - The Tenth Doctor Tales (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Tenth Doctor Tales (Credit: BBC Audio)
Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Tales: 10th Doctor Audio
Original Audio CD – Unabridged
Read By David Tennat, Catherine Tate and Michelle Ryan

This compilation released by BBC Audio August 2016
Buy from Amazon UK
Pest Control (Parts One and Two) - By Peter Anghelides - Read by David Tennant.

On the planet of Recension, a bitter war is being raged between humans and the Aquabi. When Dr McCoy (The Tenth Doctor) and Captain Kirk (Donna Noble) arrive, they not only face the wrath of each side, but also a monstrous plan that mutates soldiers into giant insects, and a huge metal robot exterminator.

Pest control has the advantage of (in my opinion) the greatest Doctor and companion team that the series has provided us since it's return in 2005. Peter Anghelides writes for them perfectly, and David Tennant turns in a surprisingly good Donna. The story conjures up some fantastic imagery, especially the transformation of the soldiers into the giant insects (which is always accompanied by wonderfully horrendous sound effects), and the giant metal robot, whose sole job is to eradicate the insectoids by stamping on them. The story does plod a little in the middle, and Tennant's voicing of Surgeon Lenova sounds as if it is unintentionally comedic, but on the whole this is an exciting audio with some lovely Star Trek in jokes.

 

The Forever Trap - (Parts One and Two) - By 15094 - Read by Catherine Tate.

The Doctor and Donna are duped into being flatmates in a huge luxury apartment complex called The Edifice. They soon discover that not all of their neighbours are particularly friendly, in fact some are just out and out murderous...

As anyone who has seen The Catherine Tate show will know, Tate is by nature a master of creating different voices, and here she gives them all character (my favourite being the overtly camp lift attendant). The Doctor and Donna's chemistry is present in the writing, but the comparison to Paradise Towers (not one of my favourites) was too much, meaning the story didn't quite work for me.

 

The Nemomite Invasion - (Parts One and Two) - By David Roden - Read by Catherine Tate.

A frantic chase through the time vortex, a splash landing and a flooded TARDIS herald the Doctor and Donna's arrival in World War 2. They are tracking an alien parasite that is intent on taking over all human life on Earth.

This story starts at breakneck speed, with the Doctor and Donna crashing into the English Channel in the middle of U Boat battle. The threat here is an alien slug-like creature, that attaches itself to the host, and spreads it's young through the water supply. The story is full of very tense and creepy moments, with the Doctor having to make some very hard decisions. Again Tate excels at voicing the different characters (there are a lot of them), and keeps the listener's attention throughout.

 

The Rising Night - (Parts One and Two) - By Scott Handcock - Read by Michelle Ryan

The Doctor finds himself in 18th century Yorkshire, with no idea how he arrived. Women are being kidnapped, and men murdered - the Doctor of course is the prime suspect. Something is feasting on the blood of the villagers, meaning the Doctor must prove his innocence and catch a monster. His only ally being a young woman called Charity.

I found the Rising Night quite hard to get into, the story took a lot of time to get going, and I am not sure that Michelle Ryan's vocal talents helped. However things finally get wrapped up nicely, and in the end the Doctor finds himself with a new travelling companion.

 

The Day Of The Troll (Parts One and Two) - By Simon Messingham - Read by David Tennant.

In the future, England has become a barren, arid wasteland. The Doctor discovers a team of scientists who are trying to help the environment, unfortunately for them all, an ancient evil is hunting them down one by one.

The Day of The Troll has the tenth Doctor in his element, leading a group of terrified scientists in a what is initially a base under siege scenario. The second half suffers a bit from bringing the characters out in the open a little, but the monster is terrific, and with the help of some subtle sound effects, Tennant really gives it air of terror. The story reminded me a lot of John Pertwee's era, in that not only did the Doctor have to face off against an alien threat, but also the establishment. With the Doctor here traveling alone, Tennant really excels in his characterisation of him.

 

The Last Voyage (Parts One and Two) - By 15094 - Read by David Tennant.

The Doctor joins the flight of a revolutionary transposition cruiser, where he finds that almost all of the passengers and crew have mysteriously disappeared, and an alien threat starts to manifest itself.

Dan Abnett here writes out an out science fiction, with the craft in the story bending space and time to reach it's final destination. The realisation of the dimension hopping aliens is fantastic, with the terrifying way that they seep into our reality. There is though unfortunately an issue with one of the characters, Sugar, whom Tennant voices in a REALLY annoying American accent that I just couldn't take seriously. Still the story is tied up nicely, in a way that makes perfect sense.

 

Dead Air (Parts One and Two) - By James Goss - Read by David Tennant.

On a pirate radio boat in 1966, the Doctor and the crew are faced by a hostile alien that not only feeds on pure sound, but is also the perfect mimic. Who can he trust?

The alien threat onboard the Pirate Radio ship Bravo is outstanding, The Hush is a malevolent presence that the Doctor has been tracking that feeds on sound. However as the story progresses, it mutates into something far more threatening. The use of sound in Dead Air is brilliant. Where ever the alien has been, there are pockets of silence. Imagine walking into a room talking, and suddenly you can't hear anything, not even the words that are coming from your own mouth. Goss has created a monster that would be welcome in show on television. Capaldi would have a field day.

 

On the whole The Tenth Doctor Tales is a worthy listen, if a tad long. I felt that because of the running time (each complete story is around the two hour mark) some of the stories outstayed their welcome somewhat. Tennant and Tate are excellent narrators, Tennant using his own accent when not in character, and Tate of course excelling at handling the different characters voices and personalities. I did feel though that Ryan's delivery fell somewhat flat.

 

The stand out story for me was Dead Air. The Hush is a truly unsettling monster that works perfectly in audio. James Goss has created an instant classic. Tennant's Doctor is made to be properly vulnerable in Hush, in a similar way that he was in television's. Dead Air is a truly disturbing listen. On the other side, the weak point for me was The Rising Night. The story was too slow, and could easily have been cut to one hour.

 

BBC Audio here prove that they can indeed make interesting, entertaining and engaging audios, that rival Big Finish.

 





The Tenth Doctor: Volume 4 - 'The Endless Song' (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 11 September 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Doctor Who The Tenth Doctor: Volume 4: The Endless Song  (Credit: Titan)
Writer: Nick Abadzis
Artists: Eleonara Carlini, Elena Casagrande
Colorists: Claudia SG Iannicello, Arianna Florean
​Cover: Alex Ronald
​Released: April 27th 2016, Titan Comics

In a year almost completely devoid of new doses of televised Doctor Who, there’s more pressure than ever on the likes of Big Finish and Titan Comics to deliver quality plotlines set in the same narrative continuity as the TV series, albeit via other mediums of storytelling. Thankfully though, the latter publisher already seems to have plenty of great ideas as to how to fill the void until December 25th, as evidenced by the superb first five instalments of their ongoing Tenth Doctor comic strip’s second year in action, all of which have been compiled to form the aptly-named The Tenth Doctor: Volume 4.

Sub-titled The Endless Song after the first of its three contributory tales, this compilation of graphic adventures takes David Tennant’s incarnation of Who’s eponymous Time Lord – along with Gabby Gonzalez, better known as his first Titan-exclusive companion – from alien worlds fuelled by enchanting melodies back to the ages of Neanderthals and beyond. By and large, we’re presented with a fairly standalone set of narratives which can virtually be read in isolation of anything that’s come before or that Titan delivers in the coming months, yet which nevertheless keep us fully aware of how the explosive Anubis plot arc teased in Year One’s finale continues to develop behind the scenes.

Read on below for our takes on each of the three independent trips through time and space – “The Singer Not the Song”, “Cindy, Cleo and the Magic Sketchbook” and “Medicine Man” – as well as our overall verdict on Volume 4 at review’s end…

“The Singer Not the Song” (Issues 1-2):

Our first stop is the musical planet of Wupatki, a cosmic setting developed magnificently over the course of this compelling two-parter by Nick Abadzis as we discover the intricate inter-species dynamics formed between a band of human colonists, the seemingly benevolent Bovodrines – whose “photosynthetic processes” apparently form “the lungs of this world” – and most importantly the nigh-invisible Shan’tee, the latter of whom can only be perceived once their melodies are consumed through one’s ears.

That Abadzis even manages to find time amidst all of this world-building to offer up an equally engaging narrative is an achievement of itself, but rest assured that the Doctor and Gabby’s efforts to cure the plague infecting the Shan’tee before Wupatki falls, as a planned vacation turns into a race against time for the TARDIS crew, are just as much of a selling point as the tale’s setting. What’s more, the scribe even finds time to dwell on wholly topical themes like colonialism, perception and the power of undistorted music, all while paralleling the threat of the planet’s song ending with the Tenth Doctor’s own arc nearing its end and throwing in a melodic final set-piece akin to that of The Lazarus Experiment for good measure.

Occasionally, however, the – necessary – emphasis on action over nuanced character development here means that secondary players like the youngster who introduces Gabby to a range of toxic remixes dispatched from Earth to his colony and Allegra, a scientist whose disease allows her to see the Shan’tee without any technological aid, don’t receive quite as much attention as would have been the case in a less crowded, time-sensitive storyline. With that being said, there’s no doubting that as a season premiere, “Singer” more than fulfils its role of getting proceedings off the ground with aplomb, thereby guaranteeing that its readership won’t possibly resist the temptation of picking up future issues.

“Cindy, Cleo and the Magic Sketchbook” (Issue 3):

Unlike those fans who picked up Issues 1 and 2 when they first launched earlier this year, of course, Volume 4 doesn’t force its consumers to wait weeks for the next chapter in the Tenth Doctor’s escapades, instead launching us straight into the one-off tale “Cindy, Cleo and the Magic Sketchbook”. It’s here that resident artists Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean’s dazzling panels come into their own, as the team finds itself graced with a far more understated narrative than its predecessor, one packed with – gloriously executed – visual opportunities such as a masterfully drawn opening sequence focusing on the sketches Gabby sends to her old pal Cindy on a regular basis; an inherently fantastical antagonist whose visage can’t help but stun the eyes and above all a final page reveal virtually no one will see coming.

The last of those three elements does admittedly confirm “Sketchbook” to be more of a stepping stone instalment, in that – despite investigating the emotional and psychological aftermath of Year One’s finale, “Sins of the Father”, on those constructs who didn’t join the Doctor and Gabby aboard the TARDIS before the credits – the true threat of the maleficent Mister Ebonite upon Cindy, her time-travelling colleague as well as the cosmos at large is only gradually teased here, as is the larger role of the beloved modern Who companion who makes a shock return towards the plot’s end. Whereas Abadzis ensured “Singer” could be consumed in isolation – barring a brief teaser of what was to come when the Doctor and Anubis next crossed paths – he clearly wants to set up “Medicine Man” in this instance, but in fairness, there’s plenty to be said for intrigue and that quality absolutely manifests itself in abundance, giving this one just as much of a page-turning appeal as Volume 4’s two other fully-fledged storylines.

Better yet, “Sketchbook” arguably ranks as one of the Tenth Doctor strip’s finest character pieces to date, with readers afforded a far greater insight into Cindy’s psyche as a TARDIS reject of sorts forced to live the slow, linear life as the rest of the human race rather than joining Gabby on worlds like Wupatki as she might once have hoped, along with further exploration of the psychological toll that Cleo’s displacement from her home in “Sins” has oh-so-clearly had on her in recent weeks. As discussed in our “Singer” commentary above, too often these strips are forced to prioritize their set-pieces over their character arcs, yet combined with the captivating intrigue powering its bridging storyline, “Sketchbook” makes one hell of an argument for why the alternative approach doesn’t hurt once in a while.

“Medicine Man” (Issues 4-5):

Last but under no circumstances least comes a prehistoric age-set outing, “Medicine Man”, which serves as more of a standalone affair than its immediate predecessor despite its final pages revealing that Abadzis likes to play a far longer game than readers could have anticipated. Tasking the Doctor and Gabby with determining the truth behind the disappearances of entire clans from their Neanderthal villages alongside one such caveman whose paintings – vividly rendered by Arianna and Azzurra Florean – allude to the nature of the extra-terrestrial hunters responsible, this two-part epic boasts impressive scale thanks to its air-bound battles, not to mention a genuine sense of heart thanks to Gabby and the aforementioned Munmeth’s discussions with regards to the inevitable evolution of sapiens into homo sapiens.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the final chapter of Volume 4 would feel like a re-tread of previous cavemen-featuring Who romps like An Unearthly Child or the more recent DWM 50th anniversary comic “Hunters of the Burning Stone”, yet quite to the contrary, Abadzis goes out of his way to introduce surprisingly inventive creative flourishes along the way, delving into Munmeth’s inability to comprehend much of the Doctor and Gabby’s modern vocabulary as well as the struggle of the Time Lord’s latest companion to, in a similar vein to The Fires of Pompeii, understand why the TARDIS crew will eventually have to leave a species doomed to be lost to the history books behind for the sake of time’s preservation. These aren’t necessarily story beats we’ve never seen before in the history of Who, but even so, the tale’s scribe and art team alike make an admirable effort to ensure they’re implemented in such a nuanced manner that most readers will barely recognise any resemblance to serials gone by.

Unlike many of the previous Tenth Doctor volumes released by Titan Comics over the past 12 months, The Endless Song wraps up – perhaps aptly given its suggestion of the potential of this strip to endure “endlessly” until such a time when the events of The Waters of Mars must eventually kick-start the Doctor’s final days – on an entirely open note, leaving us desperate to discover how the events commenced in “Medicine Man” will resolve themselves given the seemingly intergalactic nature of the conflict to come. All the same, though, even if Issues 4 and 5 represent but a fraction of a longer-running storyline still to be fully told, what’s here will more than whet the audience’s appetites until Volume 5 lands in stores.

The Verdict:

It’s always a joy to come across a release which doesn’t sport much in the way of shortcomings, or at least nearly enough points of contention to warrant giving it a miss, and The Tenth Doctor Volume 4: The Endless Song absolutely falls into that bracket, presenting fans of Who with compelling futuristic voyages, fascinating historical drama, accomplished writing from Abadzis and above all utterly stunning aesthetic elements courtesy of the two contributory art teams to make it an absolutely essential purchase.

Three months may still stand between the fandom and its consumption of the long-awaited 2016 Christmas Special, but until then, judging by the stellar first five instalments of the Tenth Doctor’s sophomore run of Titan journeys through space and time, perhaps the most beloved modern incarnation of the eternal Time Lord remains in extremely safe hands.





Supremacy of the Cybermen #2 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 August 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
SUPREMACY OF THE CYBERMEN #2 (Credit: Titan)

WRITERS: GEORGE MANN & CAVAN SCOTT

ARTISTS: IVAN RODRIGUEZ & WALTER GEOVANNI

COLORIST: NICOLA RIGHI

LETTERER: RICHARD STARKINGS
AND COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

DESIGNERS: ANDREW LEUNG & ROB FARMER

ASSISTANT EDITORS: JESSICA BURTON & AMOONA SAOHIN

SENIOR EDITOR: ANDREW JAMES

MAIN COVER: ALESSANDRO VITTI & NICOLA RIGHI
 
Released: August 17th 2016, TITAN COMICS

Four Doctors, occupying four very different time zones and places, but sharing one common denominator: an old enemy, who spearheads the ambitions of a race of perennial foes. There is much chaos to cope with, and many problems to solve for the grey-haired Doctor and his predecessors - who favour exclaiming "Allons-y", "Fantastic!" and "Geronimo" respectively to signify reaction to major developments.

Silurians have upgraded to the Cyber Race, and prowl the startling environment that is prehistoric Earth. The Sontarans are desperate for an unusual alliance with a Time Lord, as they gather their armies together in their native Sontar system. And back in 2006, in a council estate area of London, the Ninth Doctor and his closest friends try to save London from devastation by Cyber Forces. The most pivotal action is on Gallifrey itself, in a time of unrest and anxiousness, as the recently Clara-deprived Doctor tries his best to figure out the plans of his mortal enemy, who was once a Time Lord deity: Rassilon!

 

**

"The Cybermen bend their knee to me, Doctor. We are Time Lords. We mold eternity."

That quote from the ex-Lord President, that the Doctor so efficiently deposed in Hell Bent, is a fine way to solidify just what power ratio exists between The Gallifreyans and the Cybermen that have joined forces. (I also cannot help wondering if some Game Of Thrones in-joke is operating, given that Donald Sumpter has also portrayed the rather more moral Maester Luwin). There also is the fine concept of there being factions on the home planet of the Time Lords, which perhaps was not always explored in Doctor Who as much as it might have been over the many years since The War Games first was transmitted.

Rassilon works well enough as an engaging antagonist that clashes with the current Doctor's familiar righteous fury. It is also useful to have a clear figure that gives the Cybermen foot soldiers that extra dimension, even if all their dialogue remains much the same.

Also, he seems to be the exception to the rule that a Cyber Leader or Controller has all his emotions removed to the core. If anything this character at times is that bit more moustache-twirling and revelling in evil than any onscreen or off-screen depiction of the Time Lord's founding father from the parent TV show. And for the purposes of a mini-arc series released over summer this is acceptable enough.

Perhaps, however, writers in general could resolve to abandon one of the less engaging Who catchphrases. The Cybermen look great here, but some of their dialogue could be better, not least a certain catchphrase of theirs. I really do scratch my head that "Delete! Delete!" is still alive and well, eleven or so years after it's 'premier outing'.

 

Some of the Doctors get to shine better than others here. Obviously, the Capaldi incarnation cannot be shunned as he is the contemporary one, and he has all the sections most pertinent to the main plot. Tennant's doctor is bustling and full of giddy energy too, and quick to adjust to changes of circumstances like a top level pro chess champion. I also enjoy the interplay with his two female companions, and appreciate there is little reliance on continuity references, given that quite a few readers will not be reading the Tenth Doctor range that often, if at all.

 

The material for Doctors Nine and Eleven must be declared as rather ordinary in comparison to their counterparts. The Eleventh Doctor shows he knows the Silurians but there is no need for his keenest wit or skills. Someone else who had taken moments to read the TARDIS logs or diaries could easily have the same thing to say. Perhaps the most appropriate substitution would be River, who knew Madame Vastra, and would have some emotional engagement as a result. Things do pick up later on, when the Doctor uncovers evidence of the grander scheme by Rassilon and his armies, and explains to Alice the threat of 'Ark' ships.

 

The Ninth Doctor sections can border on the run-of-the-mill, barring a potentially decisive accident that may leave this TARDIS team stranded or severely wounded.  This last development is one of the quite common 'mini cliff-hangers', that immediately precedes the actual one to end this instalment on. The knowledge that Rose will encounter the Cybermen for the first time, with the Tenth incarnation of her best friend - at least if the Web of Time is restored to normality - makes her sections with them here feel very ephemeral, but also interesting in that these remorseless beings are such a menace to her beloved home city. (And as Noel Clarke once commented, the Cybermen have that raw physical intimidation to them, in that they can kick down the front door of your home.)

 

I am still hopeful that the various plot threads that intermingle in this epic crossover event will become less opaque. This progression would then allow for a fine execution of the core premise, and perhaps bring some new groundbreaking changes for the various ongoing monthly series, including: the well-established one for Doctors Ten and Eleven, the increasingly confident sequence for Doctor Twelve, or the fledgling first year proper for the much underused Ecclestone Doctor (after Scott's splendid miniseries).

Art is generally of a pleasing quality, although I again find myself struggling to hear Tennant's voice carry through during the Tenth Doctor sections, as the likeness here for this ever-popular incarnation is not the most representative. This has been a problem several times in the main range involving him before, and is somewhat puzzling.

Colouring is something I almost take as a given when I do these reviews, but in these two issues of the mini-arc so far, I feel like some attention is necessitated. With such a busy storyline, and so many characters involved it is welcome that Nicola Righi manages to make everything cohere that bit more, such is his considered use of palette. A lot of scope is required of the pencils/inks, and they need a particularly illustrious colourist to breathe full life. Consequently this is one event series that will reward re-readings simply for the enjoyment of scrolling through the visuals.

 

EXTRAS:

Two variant covers are presented both in mid-size, and full-page variants. The first is a photo cover, and the second is a striking effort by Fabio Listrani.





Supremacy of the Cybermen #1 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 11 July 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Titan Comics: Supremacy of the Cybermen #1 (Cover A) (Credit: Titan Comics)
Writers: George Mann & Cavan Scott
Artists: Alessandro Vitti & Ivan Rodriguez With Tazio Bettin
Colorist: Nicola Righi With Enrica Eren Angiolini
Letterer: Richard Starkins And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Amoona Saohin
Designer: Rob Farmer
Released by Titan Comics - July 6th, 2016

“You know why I’m here, Ohila. Something is very wrong with time.”

There’s a whiff of The Pandorica Opens and A Good Man Goes to War’s bold, universe-spanning opening sequences about the first issue of Titan Comics’ new multi-Doctor crossover, Supremacy of the Cybermen, and that’s no bad thing. Not unlike last year’s Four Doctors Summer event, scribes George Mann – of Engines of War fame, if the name sounded familiar – and Cavan Scott don’t waste time establishing Supremacy’s similarly ambitious premise; quite to the contrary, within moments of proceedings getting underway, we’re brought swiftly up to speed with the present situations of the quartet of renegade Time Lords headlining this year’s team-up as the Ninth Doctor races to save a damsel in distress from the Powell Estate in 2006; the Tenth journeys with Gabby and Cindy to “the greatest shopping mall in the galaxy” in the 24th Century; the Eleventh and Alice pick up supplies for the Paternoster Gang in prehistoric times; and the Twelfth travels solo to the ever-increasingly popular planet of Karn so as to investigate the aforementioned universal crisis.

One might have forgiven this instantly audacious mini-series’ writing team for buckling under the weight of their own ambitions, particularly when they’ve crammed the various companions of each of those incarnations – as well as a fair few returning villains beyond the titular Mondasian cyborgs – into what would have already been a dense 25-page opening outing without them. Yet anyone who’s been following Titan’s array of regular Doctor Who strips since their debut in the autumn of 2014 will know all too well how competently their assigned strip-wrights tend to handle their serials and indeed, Mann and Scott don’t look set to represent the exceptions to the rule, somehow managing to balance these elements with unmistakable ease, ensuring each sequence has enough time to breathe wholeheartedly and that the reader will thus maintain a coherent sense of what’s occurring in each time-zone rather than longing for the next scene shift to occur in order to relieve their confusion. Just thinking of how critically acclaimed big-screen ensemble pieces like the Avengers or Mission Impossible franchises handle their hefty cast rosters will provide readers with a fair idea of what to expect going into this one, which says plenty for the safe hands in which Titan appear to have placed perhaps their riskiest Who-themed venture to date.

As if this supreme balancing act on Mann and Scott’s parts wasn’t enough of a substantial selling point to warrant a purchase, Supremacy Issue 1 simultaneously alleviates any concerns of lacking the canonical heft of a fully televised Who serial – especially in the absence of the TV show from our screens until December 25th – from the outset. In a welcomingly surprise turn of events, we essentially pick up the storyline of Capaldi’s Doctor straight from where we left off in last Christmas’ The Husbands of River Song as he encounters a face from his recent past, one who could very well hold the key to how the Cybermen have gained such an unparalleled foothold across time and space by the time that his former selves encounter their old adversaries here. Precisely how accurately this mysterious – yet familiar – benefactor is characterised in comparison to his televised self will doubtless define how successful his return in printed form proves with fans, but one would need to have missed the entirety of 2015’s Season Nine to miscomprehend the myriad tantalising implications this antagonist’s presence here will have for future issues so long as he’s portrayed with all of the necessary malice, self-perceived omnipotence and pompousness that many loved him for on TV last year.

Speaking of characterisation, whilst the understandably limited number of panels afforded to each Doctor in comparison to their solo efforts means the jury’s out on how effectively they’ll once again be brought to life here, Mann and Scott have evidently gotten the tropes of the four incarnations involved down to a tee, depicting a Twelfth Doctor whose brash exterior frequently fades to reveal an endearing sense of adventurous bravado, an Eleventh who never misses an opportunity to crack jokes even – or especially – in the face of potentially fatal dangers, a Tenth who willingly misleads his companions, Hartnell-style, in order to seek out intriguing mysteries as well as a gung-ho Ninth who’ll gladly dive into the action alongside Rose and Captain Jack regardless of the costs. Four issues stand between us and knowing for certain whether the scribes at hand will find enough time to offer any of these incarnations, their allies or their foes much in the way of satisfying character progression, but for now, at least we’re left into no doubt as to their understanding of how to provide a clear impression that we’re witnessing a continuation of the TV show rather than a ‘fan fiction’-style take on its leading constructs.

Any gripes? Well, by choosing to zip from planet to planet, timeline to timeline and TARDIS crew to TARDIS crew across their opening 25-page epic, writers George Mann and Cavan Scott don’t leave themselves a lot of time for character development so much as plentiful – albeit necessary – exposition, and despite their admirable efforts to clearly distinguish the dark, sombre hues of Karn and a ruined London with the far more eclectic, whimsical vistas of the Cosmomart and prehistoric Earth, Supremacy’s resident artists Alessandro Vitti, Ivan Rodriguez and Tazio Bettin would benefit from dedicating further time to reassessing their character designs, since some might mistake Jackie Tyler for Rose on occasion given the lack of effort afforded to individualising the pair beyond adding a few lines to the former’s face. On the whole, however, their artwork’s more than on a par with the finest produced in the various Titan ranges so far in terms of unpredictability and visual sumptuousness, with its failings constituting mere nit-picking elements at best.

If it wasn’t already obvious, then, the reasons to miss out on Supremacy of the Cybermen’s stellar initial chapter are so far and few between that they might as well be non-existent, particularly when juxtaposed with the countless reasons to cast aside any doubts and simply plunge straight in. Indeed, provided that the splendid fellows at Titan can keep up the excellent work undertaken here throughout this five-part multi-Doctor crossover, there’s every chance they’ll have a sure-fire critical and commercial hit like no other on their hands.