Shada (DVD/Blu-Ray/Steelbook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 11 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Shada (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Shada
Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts, Charles Norton
Produced by: Graham Williams
Cast
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), David Brierly (K9), Christopher Neame (Skagra), Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons), Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis), Victoria Burgoyne (Clare Knightley), Gerald Campion (Wilkin), Shirley Dixon (Ship), Derek Pollitt (Caldera), James Coombes (voice of the Kraags), John Hallet (Police Constable), David Strong (Man in Car)
Cover Art: Lee Binding (DVD, Blu-Ray), Adrian Salmon (Steelbook)
Originally Released: November 2017

Shada Reborn

Quite possibly a record-breaking candidate for the longest filming period for a single script, Shada bridges two millennia – from 1979 to 2017 – and represents a heroic effort to finally plug one of the most egregious gaps in the Doctor Who canon.

In a way, Shada mirrors the antagonist of that other great Douglas Adams story, City of Death. Just as Scaraoth is shattered into dozens of versions of himself across the centuries, the industrial action that stymied the original production of the serial saw it fractured into a number of variants and doppelgangers. Most famously, Adams decided the root concepts and ideas behind his final Doctor Who script were too good to waste and they found their way into his Doctorless novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. In 1992, a rough edit of the surviving footage was patched together with exposition from Tom Baker and some unsympathetic synthesizer music. Later again, an animated incarnation saw Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor reunite with Romana and K9 and a new supporting cast to cure a nagging feeling of something undone in Cambridge 1979.

But this Shada is very much the real deal. The entire surviving cast have been reunited to record the missing dialogue, the missing sequences have been animated where appropriate, though brand new models and have constructed and filmed by the Model Unit to act as inserts in the live action scenes, and a brand new score by Mark Ayers is constructed like an act of musical archaeology to recreate the instruments, methods and style of 1970s legend Dudley Simpson. It can never by Shada as it would have been, but it by far lays the strongest claim to being the definitive article.

As with any such project, the team had to make creative decisions and not everyone will agree with all of them. For instance, with Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis) and David Brierly (K9) having died since their original contribution a couple of minor scenes requiring them are left unanimated, while others have their presence reduced to lines which could be reproduced from other recordings of the actors. While some no doubt may have preferred soundalikes to be used to make as complete a version as possible, it’s a sensitive decision and highlights that, in fact, the missing moments were largely padding anyway. Similarly, but much more controversially, is the decision to assemble Shada as a 138 minute film rather than as six episodes. (It even has - steady yourself - a pre-titles sequence). This will go against every instinct of many long term fans, still sore from VHS cassettes of hacked down stories and the fight to get episodic releases. But in this case it seems to work. Watched in one sitting it makes for a breezy, fun, adventure – yet the way the story is paced would have seen the episodic version with a curiously uneventful Part One and a number of extremely undramatic cliffhangers (only the midway point would have given us something as genuinely brilliant as “Dead men require no oxygen”). For me, the only genuinely poor decision is to seize on the existence of the original K9 prop, some original wall panels from the 1979 set, and the surviving (bottom) half of an original Kraag monster costume to recreate a few shots of K9 fighting a Kraag. I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but the fact the surviving bit of set to squeeze them into is so small, and the Kraag only visible from the waist down, makes for a weirdly, and unintentionally silly, looking moment that takes you out of the flow of the story more than the switches to animation do.

Few would argue, though against the decision to bring in Martin Gergharty and Adrian Salmon to do design work for the animation. Not only are they brilliant in their own right, creating clear lined, loyal yet character-filled, interpretations of the cast in warm, friendly colours, it also helps smooth over the slightly stilted, flash style – the characters may not feel like they have a full range of human movement, but the presence of Gergharty’s art, so familiar to the readership of Doctor Who Magazine, makes it feel almost like panels from the beloved DWM comic strip brought to life.

 

Shada Reviewed

But has all this effort simply been an ultimate exercise in obsessive, fannish, completeness? Are we seeing the resurrection of a poor story just because it’s there to be done, or the completion of a classic in its own right?  In short – is Shada actually any good?

As it happens, Shada is brilliant jewel to add to Doctor Who’s crown if one, like all the most spectacular diamonds, not without its flaws. One the wittiest of Who scripts, and certainly with one of the most fascinating premises, at six parts it’s basically City of Death with extra portions. Famously, one of the script’s biggest critics is its own author – written, as it was, at a point when Douglas Adams was juggling several different projects and deadlines and pouring his greatest effort into his own personal work rather than Doctor Who. Considering that a billion years from now, stuck in the glovebox of an interplanetary roadster, the fruits of that rival project may be the last sign of the human race’s existence, it would be churlish to complain about that but still, Adams is being ungenerous about the serial.

In almost every way, this is the fullest encapsulation of the latter half Tom Baker years. Tom himself exudes the same sort of relaxed charm, peppered with moments of total nonsense that marked City of Death while Lalla Ward has never seemed more possessed of an unearthly beauty. All of their scenes together are a joy and something as simple as them going boating, or visiting an old friend in his rooms for tea is all stuff I could watch hours of, even without any alien menaces showing up. And the alien menace that does show up is stupendous – possibly the most unbelievable thing about the whole story is the revelation on the commentary track that the people in the background of Cambridge genuinely ignored Christopher Neame in his outrageous hat and slowing silver cape as if he was an everyday sight. But the massively fun campness of Neame’s character Skagra is balanced by the imaginative and typically Adamsian plot the villain has hatched. Skagra is unusually preoccupied with the heat death of the universe in several billion years’ time and obsessed with stopping it. Like solving the central question of  Life, the Universe, and Everything the main stumbling block to finding the answer is processing power – so he’s going to absorb every mind in the universe into one great gestalt entity, so that every being in creation is simply a conduit for finding a way to save it without the petty distractions of life. In a way, it’s Douglas Adams inventing cloud computing thirty years early and typical of the scientific verve and imagination he brought to everything he wrote. (Tellingly, a year later his replacement would also craft a story about forestalling the heat death of the universe but, while propounding the superiority of ‘hard science’, would solve it by inventing some space wizards who use magic words to make it go away).There are undoubtedly flaws, mostly as we race towards the end with the mounting sense of a script with the ink still wet and no time for afterthought or final drafts. Chris Parsons is probably the best of the solid young everymen Doctor Who has ever featured, and pitched perfectly by Daniel Hall, yet despite early episodes spending more time of introducing and building on his character, he gets lost in the shuffle of the climax. There’s even a dramatic scene of Chris making a vital deduction and racing out to save the day, only for Adams to be plainly unable to think of anything to give him to do once he gets there (a problem Gareth Roberts ingeniously solved in his 2012 novelization but which, presumably for purity’s sake, the producers here don’t take the opportunity to steal). Meanwhile, the Kraag outfits are really quite poor, even for the era that gave us the Nimon and the Mandrel, and a lot of the location film work in Cambridge feels rather loose and in need of a tighter edit.Yet, there’s an inescapable magic to Shada that goes well beyond its status as a mythical ‘lost’ story, and had it been completed in 1979 it would still have been regarded as one of the highpoints of Season Seventeen.

 

Extras

This release comes with a full set of extras the complement the story perfectly. A commentary orchestrated by the unsinkable Toby Hadoke on less funding than the bus fare into town sees him interview Neame and Hall about their experiences during filming, and Gergharty and animator Ann Marie Walsh about the pressures and effort involved in creating the project against incredibly tight deadlines. Taken Out of Time interviews many of the those involved in front of and behind the cameras on the original production to build a picture of exactly how it came to abandoned in the first place. Strike! Strike! Strike! uses contributions from those involved in industrial relations at the time to help explain exactly how the unions of 1970s television came to be so powerful, and give a potted history of their rise and fall through the lens of how industrial action had impacted Doctor Who over the decades both negatively (when it was at the BBC) and positively (when it was arch rival ITV left showing blank screens opposite the Doctor’s adventures).  Both of these are proper, half hour documentaries that tell a story of their own almost as compelling as Shada itself.

There’s also fascinating Studio Sesssions - 1979, showing the working methods of the cast and crew in-studio as the cameras roll between takes. Most fun of all is are the Dialogue Sessions – in which we get to see Tom Baker and Daniel Hall record their contributions for the animation, with all Tom’s uproarious ad libs and suggestions for improvements to the script intact. The extras are rounded out with the video of the Model Unit filming of Skagra’s space station and ship, as well as the TARDIS model, new footage taken of Daniel Hall and Tom Baker’s stand-in as reference for animation, photo galleries, as well as the obligatory Now and Then tour of what the Cambridge locatoins look like three decades on. ROM content even includes a full set of scripts, storyboards, and the 1979 Doctor Who Annual (if, rather bizarrely, packed as 56 separate image files).The Steelbook release goes even further to try and lay claim to the definitive Shada package – with a third disc containing the 1992 reconstruction and the 2003 Paul McGann web animation adaptation (remastered for viewing on TV screens rather than computer monitors). About the only thing not included is the novelization.

 

Presentation and Packaging

The DVD version has a slightly astonishing error where the coding that tells a television to display it as 16:9 or 4:3 is messed up – meaning that if watched on a 4:3 television the image will appear in the centre of the screen, with black bars on all sides – top, bottom, left and right. On a modern 16:9 television it displays the picture correctly (with bars on left and right as this is archive television intended as 4:3) but even then some resolution is lost as the image is basically being blown up to fit. That said, you’d be hard pressed to actually notice the lower resolution on viewing the DVD and it probably still looks better than it would have done on the average 1970s domestic television. All the same it’s disappointing to see such hard work by so many involved obviously handed off to someone much less fastidious at the eleventh hour for authoring the DVDs. It should be stressed, however, that the Blu-Ray and Steelbook don’t share this flaw so, if it’s going to bother you, those are the routes to take.

The cover art, some may remember, was the cause of a bit of a social media flap last year when Clayton Hickman’s distinctive and unusual scarf patterned cover was ditched at the comparative last minute. In the final result, Lee Binding’s replacement is… fine, if a little bland and stilted seeming, probably as a result of the tight deadlines under which it was done. Strangely, a vestige of Hickman’s original design lingers on in the insert booklet.  “Bland” is not something anyone could accuse the Steelbook art of. Undoubtedly DWM’s most marmite love-him-or-hate-him artists, Adrian Salmon provides a cover piece in his distinctive, angular, impressionistic style. Personally, I love him.

A thread long dangling frustratingly at the corner of Doctor Who history, Shada is reborn by a massive and dedicated effort by a hugely talented team to reveal it as an all time classic mix of Douglas Adams’ trademark whimsy and intelligence. Handsomely accompanied by a great set of extras and marred only by some inexplicable technical sloppiness, this is a must for any collection. But one, perhaps, to get on Blu-Ray if possible.

 





Doctor Who and the KrikkitmenBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 7 February 2018 - Reviewed by Elliot Stewart
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by James Goss
Story by Douglas Adams
Published 18 January 2018
BBC Books
416 Pages

As we all know The Krikkitmen are now more well known for the action based and anglophile mocking aspects of Life, the Universe and everything, the 3rd book in Douglas Adams 5 book trilogy. So by reading this novel are we just reliving those moments with Ford and Arthur removed and the Doctor and Romana inserted in?

Well no, this is a lovely example of how much Douglas Adams was a massive doctor who fan with a return to Gallifrey and maybe a jokey feel that would more suit his time on the series in late 70’s than the Hinchcliffe era. James Goss has the Adams style down so much, I began to forget that I wasn’t reading Douglas Adams at all, Something that Eoin Colfer’s Hitchhiker installment was lacking, reliant itself on more of a ‘greatest hits’ fan-pleasing prose than a style of its own.

The plot itself follows similar beats to the hitchhiker version with sometimes only location and character changes, but a part of me wishes It had been given the Hinchcliffe treatment.Far out in the spiral arm of a distant reality, Douglas Adams got full creative control of the long-running BBC television institution Doctor Who earlier than expected. Impressing Philip Hinchcliffe with his first proposed idea involving robotic cricket players taking on the whole universe,

in 1977 The whole show was handed over to Doug Who before you could say ‘ok, when did that happen?’ Well sadly in our side of existence, this never took place, the advantage being that Mr Adams went on to make Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy whilst in that reality he just went around telling that biscuit story. So then when after not sitting in a small cafe in Rickmansworth, but succeeding in producing both Shada & The Pirate Planet novels, James Goss had another unique epiphany and did sort of the same thing again only slightly different.

This witty script could have been tailored to that gothic aesthetic and would have replaced the to my mind just as silly android invasion. Imagine the Krikkitmen gleaming menacingly, still ready to strike a lethal six. Obviously, on the show's budget we wouldn’t see as many as their forces as is described here, but maybe less is more. Adam’s script via James Goss’s talent is funny and fast-paced maybe too ambitious for Television, but an absolute hoot to read.

Like pirate planet before it or technically ahead of it (depending on where you are stood in the vortex) The narrative is complex, but the inventiveness is constant, witty and the down to earthness of our heroes helps even if they are both timelords. A race against time literally as The Krikkitmen seem undefeatable, The Doctor and Romana’s dynamic -quipping and solving throughout meeting up with Borusa and others make you care And this comes across in not only the writing but the scale.

The universe has often been on the brink of disaster in recent TV Doctor Who and either avoided or somehow kick-started back into existence with little of us thinking our heroes were that close to losing. In This Novel, I was with The writer, the characters, the plot all the way and hope maybe Big Finish Will consider doing an adaptation. With an infamous fictional book always a comparison, Doctor Who and The Krikkitmen makes you wonder what could have been as it is one of the best books produced this side of the unfashionable end of the western spiral of the galaxy





The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 January 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), 
John Leeson (K9), Martha Cope (Commander Lind),
Oliver Dimsdale (Rebben Tace), Toby Hadoke (V26),
John Dorney (Brin / SV9 / V12 / Gary), Cathy Tyson (Jennifer), Damian Lynch (Colin Marshall), Julian Wadham (Dr Holman), Dan Starkey (Linus Strang), Josette Simon (Taraneh),
Sarah Lark (Jacinta), Alex Wyndham (Raph),
Robert Duncan (Krayl / Sternwood / Eldren),
Andy Secombe (Cloten / Shift), Justin Avoth (Cain).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs

 

Available February 2018 via Amazon UK

The Sons Of Kaldor by Andrew Smith

 

"Please do not throw feet at me..."

That line is unfortunately……..not in this audio - but wouldn't it have been fun if it were?

Not that theThe Sons of Kaldor isn’t fun - in it, we find the Doctor and Leela are on a seemingly deserted craft, where, while having a quiet snoop around they discover a humanoid female and an angry looking creature, both in some sort medically induced suspended animation. As they journey deeper into the ship they meet some very familiar robotic faces in the form of the Voc robots from the planet Kaldor (previously seen in, of course, The Robots of Death). Concerned that there are no humans on the ship to lead a mission, the Doctor convinces the robots to revive the female, who is the ship's commander. Once revived she reveals that the ship and it's crew are in the middle of a vicious civil war, and that they are spying on the Sons of Kaldor, who are a group of alien mercenaries, looking to instigate a regime change on their home planet. However, things might not quite be when they seem...

The Sons of Kaldor is a great story for the fourth Doctor and Leela, and a perfect way to start this new volume of tales. It's great to hear the pair react to a for that is to both of them (are the robots REALLY a foe? Discuss). The sound design of this story is magnificent, especially in the way that the technology being used on the craft here, emulates that used on the Sandminer, from the classic television series perfectly. It really helps you to believe that you are in the same universe. This, along with the calm and friendly tones of the Vocs and Super Vocs, gives the story a very nostalgic feel.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are excellent, once again recreating their characters as if they had never stepped away. I'm loving Baker in these stories, he seems to be getting better and better.

The supporting cast are also great - Martha Cope (the controller in Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways) as the human commander of the ship is a strong but sympathetic character, especially when she realises the situation that she has been thrown into, Oliver Dimsdale is an old school, suitably smug villain. The writer of the last two parts of this volume, John Dorney provides most of the other voices, including SV9 and V12 - we also get the wonderful Toby Hadoke as V26. 

The Sons Of Kaldor is a perfect two part opener to this new volume of fourth Doctor adventures, and provides some great questions about the humanity and possibility of sentient robot life.

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment by David Llewellyn

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment is in itself, quite an experiment for this format, as it almost immediately turns everything that we are used to, upside-down.

The Doctor and Leela are attacked on an alien world, Leela is knocked unconscious and when she wakes up, finds herself in a completely different time and place. She is at the Crowmarsh Institute, in London, 1978. To her surprise, she is Doctor Leela Marshall, someone who isis struggling to separate realty from fantasy. In Crowmarsh the Doctor that she is used to is a work colleague, Doctor Stewart, and  she is married, with children. But Leela can feel  that this place is wrong. The question is, can the Doctor break through from the reality that she is used to and help her?

There are so many great things to say about The Crowmarsh Experiment. Louise Jameson really does carry the story, and it is a wonderful opportunity for her usual  supporting role to come a lot more to the fore. Never quite believing that Crowmarsh is a real place,  her nod’s, and knowing winks to Doctor Stewart (of course played by Tom Baker) are great fun. The Doctor as we know him doesn’t really feature until quite a way into the story. In fact if this were a modern day tale, it could almost be described as a ‘Doctor-lite’ episode. The threat here is palpable, and the Doctor’s (our Doctor’s) final solution is deliciously fiendish.

David Llewelyn’s writing is compulsive, and sometimes claustrophobic stuff. The supporting cast, which includes Cathy Tyson, Damian Lynch, Julian Wadham, and Strax himself, Dan Starkey are all excellent.

I think that no matter how much of a nostalgia-fest The Sons of Kaldor is (and believe me, I LOVE a nostalgia-fest!), The Crowmarsh Experiment is the best of this trio of stories, with a lot of that due to it’s originality and ability to bend the narrative of Who into something quite different.

 

The Mind Runners & The Demon Rises by John Dorney

 

Mind Running is a technique through which one can enter the minds of total strangers, just to see and feel what they saw and felt. The Mind Runners, however are being wiped out, dying in an onslaught of suicides. No one on the planet Chaldra knows why.

Something quite horrific is happening, and it’s up to the Doctor and Leela to find out what.

Both of these stories final stories on this volume have a real feel of classic Who. We find the Doctor and Leela separated on an alien planet. K9 is front and centre, and there is a puzzling mystery to solve. Everything is here, but rather surprisingly my interest just wasn’t quite held as well as it had been with the previous two stories.

For me, I really think the strange, almost electronic treatment to the sound of the alien's voices didn’t help. I also found the stories villain Mr Shift to be very over the top, in a bad, TheHorns of Nimon kind of way (his maniacal cackle closes the episode - I promise, you will cringe).

Don’t get me wrong - there are great bits. The macabre rocket, and a planet-wide, man-eating city does conjure up some quite horrifying imagery, these ideas, along with the way that the afore mentioned Mr Shift despatches his victims are quite inventive. However, I couldn’t help thinking that some of the elements of this story just weren’t quite gelling as well as they should have, and I really couldn’t put my finger on what and why.

These final stories, when compared to the others in this volume, do have quite a large cast, with Josette Simon, Sarah Lark, Alex Wyndham, Robert Duncan, Justin Avoth and Andy Secombe as Mr Shift all doing a great job.

My feeling is that if The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises were released as one stand alone story - then I probably would have appreciated them more. Whereas here, on a volume where the first two stories are so exceptionally strong, these slightly weaker stories get somewhat lost.

 

The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7, Volume 1 is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.





Dragon's Claw (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Dragon's Claw (Credit: Panini)
Written by Steve Moore‎ & Steve Parkhouse
Artwork by Dave Gibbons & Mike McMahon
Paperback: 162 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The second and final Volume of Fourth Doctor's run in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine (or as it was known then Doctor Who Weekly) strip, is Dragon's Claw. The Doctor, K9, and Sharon continue their adventures in Space and Time, traveling from 1522 China and then to spaceships and futuristic societies. 

With Sharon having been aged at the end of "The Time Witch" (which was the final story in the previous collection The Iron Legion), she is reluctant to return home when the Doctor manages to get her back to her own place and time. But luckily for her, they end up plucked from her home before they can leave the TARDIS, and eventually, she decides to leave the Doctor in classic Doctor Who style, by falling in love with a man she hardly knows and deciding to stay with him forever. It's kind of a shame they dropped Sharon from the strip, but I am sure with the show changing styles fairly drastically at the beginning of the 80s, and with it clear Baker would be leaving soon, they wanted to clean up the continuity a bit before the strip changed it's lead to Peter Davison.

The rest of this book features the Doctor solo or with just K9, and as they feature him in his Season 18 costume, it clearly takes place later in his timeline. There are some good stories featured throughout the book. The opening story, the titular "Dragon's Claw," is quite excellent. "The Free-Fall Warriors" and "Junkyard Demon" are also fairly memorable, and the closing story, "The Neutron Knights," is a solid final strip for the Fourth Doctor that also manages to set up a few mysteries and characters that would be picked up on during the Fifth Doctor's tenure. 

I would say that this collection is fairly notable for planting the earliest seeds of the internal continuity the strip has had in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine over the years.  There are characters, themes, places, and ideas that would continue through other Doctors and eras, and the earliest elements to that long and storied continuity begin in the strips featured within this collection. 

This book is another fine collection from Panini, who once again do a high quality job restoring the black and white strips to their former glory. There are a lot of stories within, in terms of quality of storytelling it can be a bit of a mixed bag, but overall it is a fine collection of stories wonderfully restored. 





The Iron Legion (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Iron Legion (Credit: Panini UK)
Written by Pat Mills,‎ John Wagner,‎ Steve Moore‎
Artowrk by Dave Gibbons
Paperback: 162 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Iron Legion is the first of two Volumes of the Collected Fourth Doctor strips from Doctor Who Magazine, it also happens to be the earliest comics from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine version of the strip. It is a good read, not as strong a run of stories as the strip developed into, but these are the early days of the DWM strip, so while they are often entertaining, they hadn't quite developed their voice as a strip yet. That is a minor complaint really, because when you get down to it these early strips in DWM capture a huge leap for the ongoing comic strip adventures of Doctor Who. 

The book also features the debut of DWM's first original companion, and the franchise's first companion of a race other than white, Sharon Davies. I rather liked Sharon, she has a good personality and works well with the Fourth Doctor.  Tom Baker's voice is most definitely captured within these stories, and that is really why, despite telling tales that are bigger and more sweeping than anything the show could have ever done at the time these were written and released, it somehow still manages to feel like they belong within the world of the show. 

The often beautiful Black & White artwork by Dave Gibbons is the most notable uptick in quality from what I have glanced and skimmed at of the TV Comic version of the strip that immediately proceeded it. One look at the opening page of "Doctor Who and The Iron Legion" and it far surpasses nearly anything TV Comic did in all the years it ran the strip.  From his depiction of the Fourth Doctor (for the most part, there are occasions where he can look a bit off) to the big sweeping pages of armies and spaceships...Gibbons really managed to draw something special within this book. 

The stories are also pretty solid, though I believe the strip only got better as it went along, there is no denying that these early stories are quite good. From the titular opening story, to "Doctor Who and the Star Beast" and "The Dogs of Doom," it has some pretty solid stories underneath all the beautiful art. 

This is the early days of Doctor Who Magazine's strip, so much so that the magazine wasn't even yet called Doctor Who Magazine, but Doctor Who Weekly.  It may not reach the same heights that the strip would under the Fifth, Sixth or Eighth Doctor runs, but there are some solid storytelling and great artwork, and despite the fact that Doctor Who has been living in comic strips nearly as long as he has been off adventuring on TV, it says something that one could easily, and happily, start reading the strip from the moment the magazine took over. Panini has also restored the strips beautifully in this collection, being released in their original Black & White forms for the first time since they were originally printed, along with some commentary from the people who made it...it's a collection that comes highly recommended. 





The Iron LegionBookmark and Share

Friday, 10 November 2017 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Iron Legion (Credit: Panini UK)

Written by Pat Mills,‎ John Wagner,‎ Steve Moore
‎ Illustrator Dave Gibbons
Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD
First Published (22 Jan. 2013

It’s difficult to imagine the impact The Iron Legion must have had on readers when it was originally serialised in the pages of the first eight issues ofDoctor Who Weekly. The world of Doctor Who comics had, up until this point, certainly been something of a mixed bag. The TV Comic adventures of the first and second doctors have become notorious in their own right (a particular panel of the Second Doctor shooting a giant spider with a laser gun whilst screaming ‘Die hideous monster! Die!’). Despite reaching a high point in Pertwee’s run, the strips had once again dipped in quality at the start of Tom Bakers reign. At points the strips even relied on reprints with Jon Pertwee given ridiculous hair in an attempt to resemble Tom Baker. Enter Editor Dez Skinn, who having come off the back of the successful Hammer Halls of Horror movie magazine, has grand ideas for a Doctor Who Weekly. When the comic was eventually launched he turned to two of the brightest upcoming names in the British industry at that time, 2000ad creator and stalwart Pat Mills and Judge Dredd creator John Wagner. Skinn didn't stop there, he also carried over 2000ad artist Dave Gibbons. The resultant story has quite rightly, become one of the classics of the early years of DWM along with The Star Beast and Junkyard Demon.

Immediately, Iron Legion stands out for the expansive nature of its story. Arriving in a small English village, the Fourth Doctor is quickly transported to a parallel Earth when the Roman Empire never ended and has now conquered the Galaxy with an army of robots. Featuring a robot General shaped like an eagle, hideous demon creatures known as the Malevilus, the brave cyborg slave Morris and of course Vesuvius, Historian and oldest surviving Robot of the alternative Rome, the story cannot be criticised for lack of imagination. Mills and Wagner really let themselves go wild and whilst certainly endowing the script with a flavour of 2000ad, with its bizarre off the wall characters and insane city-scapes, manage to keep true to the spirit of Doctor Who. The Fourth Doctor, whilst perhaps a little more active and energetic than his television counterpart still has the trademark wit and humour that Tom Baker brought to the role. Certainly, the concept of a Roman Empire that never fell, conquering its way across the universe is something you can imagine making an ideal two-parter. Here it’s given eight episodes but never outstays its welcome as Wagner and Mills explore all aspects of the world they have created. Whilst, the TV Comic/Action/Countdown stories had their epic story-lines (Sub-Zero springs to mind as one of the most successful of these), they pale in comparison to the sheer scale demonstrated here. Not only that but Wagner and Mills also give the story an emotional depth unseen up to this point, particularly in the character of Morris.

Their writing is equally matched by the superb work of artist Dave Gibbons. Gibbons contributed to the pages of DWM several times after this and really took the concept of the programme and brought superb and unrestrained visuals to it. His likeness of Tom Baker is pretty good, despite a few wobbly moments, but given the insane backgrounds he’s placed against, one can hardly begrudge him this. Admittedly as Doctor Who fans I think we’re used to small English villages and bases with five or six characters and so the sheer craziness on display can take a moment to adjust to. However if you let yourself just enjoy the sheer imagination on display, Gibbons artwork really is incredible and one of the main reasons why I revisit The Iron Legion time after time.

If you’ve yet to delve into the History of DWM, then Iron Legion is an ideal starting point. It’s available in an affordable paperback from Panini and contains a number of other early DWM strips, including favorites The Dogs of Doom and the aforementioned The Star Beast. Now…when are we going to see a rematch with Malvelius?