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? 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6 - Episode 8 - The Skin of the SleekBookmark and Share

Sunday, 3 September 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Skin Of The Sleek (Credit: Big Finish)
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana),
Joannah Tincey (Sartia), Alan Cox (Eamonn Orensky),
Kieran Hodgson (Klick Chervain),
Des McAleer (Blujaw Skaldson),
Alex Wyndham (Linnis Skaldson), Jamie Newall (Greygul), Jane Slavin (Frithra), John Banks (The Sleek),
Producer David RichardsonScript
Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and
Nicholas Briggs

There's a new Time Lord on the block….

 

The planet Funderell is a strange place. The whole surface is an ocean that you can walk on….but stand still and you will sink. Underneath the surface a myriad of giant electric eels flicker in the darkness. The eels are known locally as Sleeks.

 

The other indigenous life on Funderell are the Wavewalkers, a group of hunters who live in floating villages. They roam the surface using giant balloons to help keep the surface tension beneath their feet as light as possible. A ship has recently crashed on the surface of Funderell, the occupants of which have an uneasy alliance with the Wavewalkers, studying them from a distance.

 

The Doctor and Romana arrive, and the TARDIS sinks below the surface, leaving them are stranded. We soon discover that one of the survivors of the crashed ship is Sartia, a very old friend of Romana’s….but all is of course not quite what it seems….

 

I have to admit, the opening to The Skin of the Sleek did not grip me. It is essentially around twelve minutes of exposition about the Wavewalkers, a lot of which is done in a West Country accent to show that the natives of Funderell aren’t the brightest, or the most advanced. This annoyed me a tad as I am a very proud Bristolian with a slight West Country twang myself. I consider myself to be quite bright, and have a good grasp of technology…. but this seems to be the ‘go to’ accent when trying to depict a village of simpletons. Don’t worry Big Finish – I’ll get over it!

 

However, once the exposition is over, the story quickly becomes quite a gripping one. The planet itself reminded me a lot of those videos of people walking on the surface of a large vat of custard. It’s true – if you don’t believe me look it up – custard has the same viscosity of the surface of the planet Funderell. You can walk on custard, but if you stand still you will sink – I wonder if this was the initial inspiration for Mark Platt’s story?

 

Funderell is quite brilliantly realised, with slow moving, rolling waves that never break, and surface currents that can snatch you away. There is real evidence that a lot of thought was put into it’s creation. The Wavewalkers are also a great  concept for a people. They are fiercely loyal to their God, and are in possession of a strange book that seems to tell the future, including the arrival of the Doctor. It is all very intriguing.

 

Alongside Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, we have Joannah Tincey as Sartia, who is a fantastic new character that enables us a glimpse of Romana's (or ‘Mana’ as Sartia calls her) history. The end revelation is no surprise, (the cliffhanger is very well executed) but I do hope Sartia is a character that will crop up again in the Big Finish range. Of course this being part one of two, I have no real idea as to her fate as yet – but I hope that she survives.

 

Other cast members of note are Alan Cox and Kieran Hodgson who play the other two crew members of the crashed ship, there is also Alex Wyndham, Jamie Newall and Jane Slavin who play various Wavewalkers…..we also have John Banks as the voice of the sleek.

 

There is something mysterious happening on the planet Funderell……and so far everything points to the Time Lords of old being involved - bring on the next installment!

 

The Skin of the Sleek is available from Big Finish now as a digital download or an audio CD.






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6 - Episode 6 - SubterraneaBookmark and Share

Thursday, 29 June 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Subterranea (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Jonathan Morris; Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana) 
Matthew Cottle (Mr Maxwell Wilberforce Bell)
Abigail McKern (Mrs Lucretia Bell)
Robbie Stevens (Mr Jelicho Wigg/ Mr Wilfer Wagstaff)
Jane Slavin (Miss Arabella Wagstaff/ Mrs Betsy Wagstaff)
 John Banks (Silex/ Mr Stoker)

The TARDIS somehow manages to materialise INSIDE a planet, but before the Doctor and Romana have time to work out the hows and whys, they are swallowed by a giant burrowing machine. It turns out the inhabitants of this planet have been forced to live underground, in giant Drill Towns, which are essentially monstrous ships with drills at the bow in which they roam beneath the surface, burrowing for minerals and anything else of use.

Of course though, nothing is simple in the world of Doctor Who, there is also something else lurking beneath the planet's surface - and that is the Silex.......and they are hunting!

Let me start by saying I loved Subterranea. On paper it should be just a simple, straight forward Who story. The TARDIS arrives on a strange planet, there are new aliens. The Doctor and Romana are quickly split up, and must work locally with different factions to overthrow a massive threat. You get the idea.

Perhaps it's that very simplicity of the story that adds to it's appeal. That said, Jonathan Morris injects some fantastic twists into the narrative that lifts the events way above run of the mill, and truly makes them sparkle.

The inhabitants of this planet are mole like people, who to prove how industrious they are speak with northern accents (well, why not? - every planet has a north!). The tech is all very steam punk, evoking a very Victorian time period, and the characters are all very reminiscent of those to be found in a cracking Dickens novel (with names like Maxwell Wilberforce Bell and Jericho Wigg, this does get hammered home somewhat). BUT this world is so believable, which is simply down to top notch writing and a cast that seem to gel perfectly.

The only slight issue with the story is that the treat is very familiar. The Silex are a scavenger cyborg race, somewhat more reminiscent of Star Trek's The Borg, more than our very own Cybermen. The solution to defeating them is, to be honest, a bit mundane (imagine a hive mind running on....shortwave radio), but again, it's about the overall journey. Which is a true joy. For me, this story reminded me of The The Crimson Horror, crossed with The Robots of Death (there are some great sound effects used for the Drill Towns, that will instantly put the listener in mind of a sand miner in Robots of Death) all of that AND a smattering of a certain Jules Verne classic. In my book, not one of those influences is a bad thing at all.

As mentioned, the cast are stellar. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are effortless at evoking Tom's final season, and as always gel together perfectly. The stand out of the supporting cast has to be Matthew Cottle (probably best known for the '90s sitcom Game On) as Maxwell Wilberforce Bell, a jobs worth of a character, who is very proud of his Drill Town, and very much devoted to his wife. Bell's character also provides a fair bit of comic relief to the proceedings. Among the others we have stage and television character actress Abigail McKern, who gives a suitably duplicitous performance as Bell's wife Lucretia. We also have Big Finish stalwarts Robbie Stevens as Mr Jelicho Wigg, and Jane Slavin as the heroic Arabella Wagstaff.

 

Subterranea is available now as a digital download, or audio CD from Big Finish.






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - The Haunting of Malkin PlaceBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Haunting of Malkin Place (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), 
Simon Jones (Talbot), Denise Black (Mrs Mountford), 
Gunnar Cauthery(Maurice), Fiona Sheehan (Beatrice),
Rikki Lawton (Tom), Phil Mulryne (Jack). 
Written By: Phil Mulryne, directed By: Nicholas Briggs

We first come across the Doctor and Romana in the Doctor’s Baker Street address in 1922. Romana is reading an M R James novel and is questioning the Doctor about what makes a good ghost story, all the while being interrupted by unexplained bangs and bumps from the attic Spooky goings on that for once the Doctor refuses to investigate. To further enlighten themselves, they decide to hop on a train and visit the village where M R James lived. While on the train the pair befriend a spiritualist, Talbot (Simon Jones) , and his assistant Tom (Rikki Lawton), who are on the way to Malkin Place, where their presence has been requested by Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) and her brother Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery), who claims that Malkin Place is VERY haunted. Of course, the Doctor can never resist a good ghost story, so he and Romana decide to tag along and help.

 

Doctor Who will of course normally do a ghost story very well, and this one has all of the hallmarks of a classic:

A daunting house in the middle of nowhere? Check. 

A vulnerable woman who (at the beginning) refuses to acknowledge the danger that she is in? Check.

Creepy séances? Check.

A mysterious neighbour with an ulterior motive? Check.

A great reveal of a scientific explanation by the Doctor? Check.

 

So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I felt that I should? I'm as surprised as anyone else, as I’ve been loving these Fourth Doctor audio dramas. I suppose there would have to be the odd one that I wouldn’t find up to scratch. I think with this, it was just the predictability of it all. You know that there is something amiss with Maurice, thanks to the opening scene. If this had been held back, and we just get the details of his nightmares, things could have been a little more intriguing. Plus no matter how spooky things get, you know that the Doctor will have a non-supernatural explanation for events – even if it is starting to sound like he might have doubts himself. I did chuckle though at the big reveal as to who was making the noises in the attic of Baker Street.

 

The sound design is great and reminded me of the recent Knock Knock television episode from its audio abilities. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are as always very reliable, and the supporting cast is good. I just found the writing by Phil Mulryne a tad pedestrian. I hound the Haunting of Malkin Place to be average stuff I'm afraid.

 

The Haunting of Malkin Place is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6, Episode 2 - The Eternal BattleBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Eternal Battle (Credit: Big Finish)

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana) 
John Leeson (K9) 
Dan Starkey(Field Major Lenk/Sergeant Major Stom) 
Jane Slavin (Captain Nina Albiston/Sycon Computer) 
John Banks (Brennan/Trooper Varn)

Producer David Richardson Script Editor John Dorney Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

This review contains spoilers!

Sontaran zombie eat flesh!

Now, if that short sentence doesn't send a thrill down your spine, I don't know what will. The Eternal Battle finds the Doctor, Romana and K9 aiming the TARDIS for the Lake District, where the Doctor wants to go and visit (much to Romana's joy) a pencil museum. However, they find themselves stranded on an alien no mans land, in the midst of a great war, a war that nobody involved seems to really know quite how long has has been raging (here is a small clue faithful DWN reader: the story is called THE ETERNAL WAR).

Our space and time traveling trio are saved from certain death by a rather large Sontaran tank, the occupants of, when they find out that they have rescued the Doctor, insist on killing the enemy of the Sontarans there and then. Can the Doctor sweet talk himself out of this one? Of course he can. Before you can say "Probic vent" there is an uneasy truce between the Doctor and the Sontarans as he strives to help them in a rather strange war against humans.....and undead Sontarans.

Just to make things matters worse, the TARDIS has rather handily gone missing, and Romana and K9 are trapped in a bunker with a dying Sontaran (the zombie rules are pretty standard - in this story, you die, then come back hungry for flesh).

I really enjoyed The Eternal Battle. What a great idea to have the Sontarans, the greatest warriors in the universe, fighting undead versions of themselves, whose masses will only grow as more Sontarans die in  battle. Brilliant. Plus, just to complicate matters more, the dead humans turn into zombies as well. 

The writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright have really struck gold here, with a fantastically original spin on rejuvenating an old foe. As the art work on the cover suggests, these are classic seriesl Sontarans, two of whom, in the extras, Dan Starkey himself says are based on Linx from The Time Warrior and Styre from The Sontaran Experiment, the similarities to those two classic characters are very evident, especially in the calculating way that they react to a situation. Scott and Wright have truly taken the Sontarans back to their roots, away from the more comedic characters that they have become.

Talking of Dan Starkey, he really does steal the show. He has perfected Sontarans in a way that Nicholas Briggs has done with perfecting the daleks. I have absolutely no problem at all with Strax, the Sontaran that Starkey plays in New Who, I think his comic timing is absolutely spot on - but here he proves that he can play old school.

Of course Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson come across as if they are having a whale of a time, and this carries into the story's extras. Ward seems particularly overjoyed to have her version of Romana finally meeting the famous 'Potato Heads'. As always the trio of leads play off of each other very well, creating some classic moments (Romana's enthusiasm for the pencil museum is indeed a classic moment that would have been at home in any of her televised episodes) The rest of the cast, most notably Big Finish stalwarts Jane Slavin and John Banks are all excellent also.

Directed by Nicholas Briggs himself, The Eternal Battle is a joy to listen to. A thrilling ride that I would definitel, most highly recommend.

 

The Eternal Battle is available now from Big Finish.

 






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6 Episode 1 - The Beast Of KravenosBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Beast f Kravenos (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), 
John Leeson (K9), Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), 
Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), 
Ed Stoppard (Sir Nicholas Asquin)

It's Victorian London, and K9 is on stage, entertaining the masses at the New Regency Theater, while the Doctor and Romana are making a social call on the Doctor's old friends Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, what could possibly go wrong?

Well a fair bit actually. Our three heroes have joined forces with Jago and Litefoot to help stop a major crime spree that is gripping London. The mysterious burgler, known as The Knave has the city on it's knees, the master thief has been performing seemingly impossible burglaries by expertly breaking into locked rooms, and pilfering anything of value. Then leaving silently with the room still intact. There is also the matter of some very strange readings from the TARDIS, and worse of all, something rather monstrous lurking in the fog.

The Beast of Kravenos is expertly written by Justin Richards, who, thanks to his raft of previous work in the Dr Who Universe (including the Jago and Litefoot audios for Big Finish) has an expert handle on all of the characters involved. I've not listened to any of the other Jago and Litefoot audios (yet!), but I must say, the way these two fantastic characters are written here, they could have just walked in from the end of The Talons of Weng Chiang. Of course the realisation of the characters is ably (and seemingly effortlessly) aided by the pitch perfect performances of Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin, who are, of course effectively the straight man and his stooge in the story.

If Talons was Who doing The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, then The Beast of Kravenos is Who paying homage to the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde, and it does it very well, especially with one of the main characters falling foul of a transformation, turning into a rampaging hairy and fanged beast to great and sometimes comic effect.

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are at the best that I have heard them on audio, and along with a great performance from John Leeson, prove that they are absolutely at the top of their game. The chemistry between the three leads is fantastic.

This is also an audio that oozes atmosphere. In the value added material it is revealed that although this story is set somewhere in Season 18, at the start of which Peter Howell and the Radiophonic Workshop came in with a new theme and music, the makers here thought that the incidental music from Dudley Simpson would be better, and it works very well, evoking the mood of Talons perfectly.

Of course, with Jago and Litefoot front and centre, there is a lot of humour to be had in this audio, from Jago marveling at the fact that the Doctor has traveled with two different ladies, both with the name Romana (imagine!). To when the Doctor is questioning Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith) as to the location of the monster "Where man!?" he pleads, to which Jago blusters "WereWOLF more like!"

The supporting cast of Colin Asquith (who was of course also in Talons)and Ed Stoppard (Sir Nicholas Asquin) are also very good, and their performances only act to enhance this story further.

All of this is held together expertly in the directorial hands of Nicholas Briggs, who I think must have had as much fun as the cast. I would recommend listening to the extras on this one as they are absolutely wonderful.

I believe that The Beast of Kravenos is the most enjoyable Big Finish audio that I have had the pleasure of listening to so far, and I cannot recommend this Victorian monster romp highly enough. Listen to it and enjoy.

 

The Beast of Kravenos is available now as either an audio CD or a download from Big Finish.