The Flood (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 19 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Flood (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray & Gareth Roberts

Artwork by Roger Langridge, Michael Collins, Adrian Salmon, Anthony Williams, Martin Geraghty, & John Ross

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

This final collection of the Eighth Doctor's run in Doctor Who Magazine is a solid set of stories, but being that they did some standalone stories with the Doctor travelling on his own, and then began a new set of adventures with Destrii that ended up being cut short (though ended nicely in the epic "The Flood"), it just doesn't have the same kind of flow with build up and payoff that the other collections had. The other Volumes really do feel like a thought out season of Doctor Who. The final volume felt like some assorted adventures of the Eighth Doctor with no real running arc, which probably wouldn't have been the case had the new show not returned and probably cut short their initial plans for Destrii as a companion.  She had only really gotten started in the final story.  So there is a bit of disappointment that Scott Gray could never truly finish his storyline there.

Complaints aside, I highly recommended finding a copy of each Volume of the Eighth Doctor's DWM comic run. They a lot of fun to read.  I had enjoyed going through the Fifth and Sixth Doctor's run (though the Sixth Doctor's seemed to run out of a bit of steam in it's second volume), but the Eighth Doctor's was great, no doubt helped by the fact that they were totally free from the show being on the air, and they decided to find one writer to really focus and write the bulk of the scripts at the time.

Highlights in this volume include the opening story "Where Nobody Knows Your Name" which is a short one-off that has the Doctor and a Bartender discussing life, with the Doctor still a tad wounded from Izzy leaving him, and the Bartender helps the Doctor decide to carry on, with the comic revealing in the final panels that neither man knew who he was conversing with, and the bartender was actually Frobisher. Another great little story is the lovely "In the Land of Happy Endings" which is a tribute to the old TV Comic stories of the First Doctor's reign, drawn in that style with original comic companions John & Gillian. It is sort of goofy, but with a poignant ending. The aforementioned "The Flood" is another highlight for this book.

An interesting bit found in the commentary section was that Russell T Davies was such a fan of the strip, that he even offered to let them show the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the Ninth...but after certain rules put in place by RTD and the BBC took hold...it ultimately came down to DWM deciding it might be best to just not have the regeneration (they couldn't show Eccleston prior to him being on TV, they could only show him with Rose, and they couldn't even do one story with the current companion of Destrii staying on with the Ninth Doctor)...so they decided against it, and in the end have McGann not regenerate into Eccleston in the strip, instead they have The Doctor and Destrii walk off into the sunset after a chat about the importance of change, and that they really have no idea what could lie just over that hill. It is actually a rather brilliant ending.  It ends this rather consistent and phenomenal run for the Eighth Doctor in the comics (and that run lasted 9 years) very well.

It is a happy ending, one that leaves the potential for more adventures while subtly acknowledging that those adventures do not lie within the pages of the Magazine anymore. And quite frankly, not having the regeneration means we got The Night of the Doctor...and who would ever want to lose that (and having read the script for the alternate ending that they put in this collection...it doesn't hold a candle to what Moffat eventually gave us).  So I am glad they went with the ending they did, I can see this Doctor continuing on to have more adventures, probably going on to meet Charley and C'rizz and Lucie and so on in the Big Finish tales. I'd rather his adventures here lead to more adventures than to a definitive ending. 

While the unconnected stories and the seemingly unfinished Destrii storyline don't make this collection as strong as the previous Eighth Doctor collections, there is still much to enjoy in this book, and The Flood is a fine ending to his excellent run on the strip. 





Oblivion (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Oblivion (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Lee Sullivan, John Ross, & Adrian Salmon

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Eighth Doctor's third volume of his Doctor Who Magazine days is collected in the rather great Oblivion, which kicks off from the moment the strip went to full color, and also features the final arc featuring the Eighth Doctor's companion Izzy, who joined at the very beginning of his comic run.  I have to say, the plotting of story arcs within small stories with big old payoffs at the end, really feel like a forerunner to the format of the show when it finally returned to TV.  Since Davies was a fan of the strip, it's possible he read these strips and saw something of how the show could work for modern TV. 

The major storyline in this book involves the struggles of Izzy, who has her body swapped with an alien named Destrii in the opening story...and when it seems her own body is destroyed in an explosion...she is now stuck as a bluefish lady forever.  This storyline has some great moments, from the colorful explosion that is the opening "Ophidius," to the more subdued and sad "Beautiful Freak" in which Izzy deals with the initial fallout of what's happened. She slowly starts to deal with her condition, but then she is taken by Destrii's family, who kidnap her and take her to Destrii's mother.  The Doctor has to enlist Fey/Shade to try and track down the kidnapped Izzy, and in the hunt discovers that Destrii is actually alive and well and still in Izzy's body.  He takes the unwilling Destrii to her homeworld in hopes of saving Izzy and swapping her back into her own body.

It's an intriguing story and even the stories that seem like a standalone deal in some minor way with the ongoing story arc.  It's a well-crafted set of tales from Scott Gray, I may find the conclusion and elements of the storyline of The Glorious Dead a bit more, but I think that in terms of crafted storytelling, this book has a bit of an edge. It's all leading towards Izzy's exit from the strip, and Gray found a great way to build her character towards an ending that feels like a real reward. 

It is almost a shame to see Izzy go, perfect companion material, but she had a good long run, and her arc really came together beautifully in the end...the timid girl who loved sci-fi and struggled with the fact that she was adopted, and by the end of it she is stronger, is far more confident in knowing who she is, and accepts that her adoptive parents actually love her, they ARE her true parents. I love that early on in her stories there was this red herring of "she doesn't know her real parents" as if that would come into play at some point...but in the end?  She realizes that her real parents are the ones that adopted and raised her and loved her all those years. The final few panels for Izzy is beautiful stuff, a lovely end to a companion that I've really grown to love. And I haven't even mentioned that it was revealed that she was gay, which had been hinted at from time to time beforehand, making her the first openly gay companion in Doctor Who. Her time on the strip lasted about 7 or 8 years, certainly one of the longest-running companions in any medium, particularly of the comics, and it was one heck of a run. 

This book is, as most Panini reprints, wonderfully put together, and the chance to see a well put together storyline in full color makes Oblivion well worth reading.





The Glorious Dead (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 12 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Glorious Dead (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Adrian Salmon, Alan Barnes, Steve Moore

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon, Roger Langridge, & Steve Dillon

Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Endgame had been a fresh start for the long-running Doctor Who comic strip, it not only began the adventures of a new Doctor and a new companion, but it just had a cleaner more focused tone than the strip had had for some time. The Glorious Dead is this new incarnation of the strip coming into it's own.  Scott Gray took over the major writing duties from Alan Barnes, who had really just become to swamped with other Doctor Who Magazine work, and the results are top notch.  While I love a lot of what Scott Gray did as the lead writer for the rest of the Eighth Doctor run, I have to say I think the arc featured in this book is possibly his masterpiece. 

It starts with a story called "The Fallen", which is followed up with several stories that build up to the big finale of "The Glorious Dead," and it is a top-notch run of stories that effectively serve as a genuine sequel to the TV Movie, and quite frankly, it is a better story than that movie ever was. We see the return of Grace and what happened to her following on from the movie, and I thought they did a rather good job of reintroducing her to the fold, building what was started in the movie, and bringing some weight to what her lone adventure with the Doctor did to her.

The storyline also reintroduces a Kroton, a Cyberman character that was introduced in the 70s in a couple of "back-up" strips, which were Doctor-less features in the early days of the magazine.  Kroton is sort of an odd character to me.  In his early stories from the 70s (both of which are featured at the end of this book as well), he is a Cyberman that struggles because he somehow has emotions.  The characters were kind of revamped as a wisecracking action hero during the Eighth Doctor's time, and I have to admit that while I still kind of like the character, it doesn't totally work.  It's hard to picture what Kroton sounds like...does he sound like a regular Cyberman? If so everything he says is hard to imagine. But the character is a key role in this storyline, so you take the rough with the smooth, as we so often do with this franchise. 

Another key player is Sato Katsura, a Samurai who had planned to commit an honorable suicide after avenging the death of his Lord, but when he is mortally wounded during the adventure, the Doctor saves his life using nano-probes and inadvertently makes him immortal. The inability to kill himself sends Sato on a very different path, a path that a certain sinister Time Lord takes full advantage of.

That is, of course, the Master, who gets a grand return from his "death" in the Eye of Harmony. His re-introduction is only hinted at in the opening story, but the reveal is subtle and an exciting tease for things to come.  When he is finally revealed to the Doctor in all his glory, it is not only a great story with a fine climax, but it also happens to have some of the best artwork the strip had up to that point.  It should be noted that this book represents the final days of the strip remaining in black and white, as the strip would move to full color following this. 

The major storyline in this Volume just works really well. Everything flows and builds to a grand finale, and I can kind of picture these comics as a series that could've been following the TV movie (though had the show ever been made into a series it would've never been this good based on what ideas those in charge seemed to have in store for the show).  I loved the stories, the art, the spirit of it all.  My only complaint is that they printed some of the stories out of order.  I get that they tried to put all of the major arc stories in the front, and then some of the one-offs that were published in between after, but I think the collection might've worked a bit better as a book if it ended on "The Glorious Dead" as a finale. 

But these DWM comics really seem like a good start to the Eighth Doctor's adventures, and I can kind of picture them taking place before the Audios and Charley and everywhere he has gone since Big Finish got McGann behind the mic. These strips are like the early days of his Doctor to me, this book plays really well as a sequel to the lone TV outing of the Eighth Doctor, and almost as if it was a well thought out season of television, and knowing Russell T Davies was a fan of the strip, it is rather hard to not think that storylines like this had some influence on his modern take on Doctor Who when he brought it back to television. It really is a great book!





Endgame (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Endgame (Credit: Panini)

Written by Alan Barnes & Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Sean Longcroft, & Adrian Salmon

Paperback: 212 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The Seventh Doctor's tenure in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine had been kind of a mess.  The days during his television tenure were often one-offs delivered by a variety of different writers and artists.  There was rarely a consistent look or a consistent tone.  The best period was really right after the show was cancelled and people who had been involved in the show turned to the comic to continue the adventures of the Doctor and Ace...but once the Virgin books kicked in, those people became occupied with that venture, and the comics again became kind of messy, and they tried so hard to make it fit the continuity of the books that they would often write stories that required some knowledge of what had been going on in the books just to make some confusing detail make any sense. So when the  1996 TV Movie premiered and the magazine was given a brand new fresh Doctor to lead the strip...they managed to assemble a small team that could focus, and they actually made something that was fun to read again. 

Endgame represents the launch of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in the strip, and the opening story really showcases writer Alan Barnes and artist Martin Geraghty's plan to put a new stamp on the strip, one that has decided to sever ties with the Virgin line of books (which pretty much came to an end right after the Eighth Doctor took over as well) and it's continuity. They delve back into the strip's own rich history, with the Doctor returning to Stockbridge and reuniting with Maxwell Edison, we see the return of Shayde in the book.

There is also the introduction of another resident of Stockbridge, Izzy Sinclair, the girl who becomes the Eighth Doctor's companion for a good chunk of his run in the comic.  Izzy is a really well-written character, who comes to life immediately as someone who the kind of folks that were probably reading a magazine based on what was then a defunct sci-fi show could relate to.  Izzy is an awkward sci-fi nerd who's adopted and whose closest friend is the middle-aged alien hunting geek Max Edison. 

I think that what certainly sets this book apart from the bulk of the Seventh Doctor run, is that it kind of feels like a season of the show. I'm a big fan of the Big Finish audios that McGann has been doing since 2001, and as such, I've become a big fan of his interpretation of the role.  The comics collected in this book were written before he really gotten a chance to bring that interpretation to life, so they based this version of the character entirely on his one appearance on TV.  What strikes me s that they did such a good job bringing him to life, with a little more depth than the TV movie actually offered up...and they somehow got it pretty close to what McGann eventually really did with the role.  To me, this book plays sort of like a decent first season for his Doctor.  It may be a little rough around the edges, but Barnes stories are pretty solid, the artwork is gorgeous, and there is a decent running storyline featuring the Threshold (a villain which was introduced during the final strip featuring the Seventh Doctor), and we get other great additions like Fey Truscott-Sade, and the great fake out twist that comes for the story that pretty much brings this batch of comics to an end.

Ultimately, there may be a few areas where some fine tuning could have helped, but this is a vastly better set of comics than most of what came during the Seventh Doctor's tenure. The strip felt like it got some of it's mojo back under the Eighth Doctor.  It helps when you've basically been given a Doctor with only one appearance and you have carte-blanche to just do whatever you want with it. There must've been a real sense of freedom after being shackled to the Seventh Doctor and his book line. And it really shows. 





Emperor of the Daleks (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 9 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Emperor of the Daleks (Credit: Panini)

Written by Dan Abnett, Warwick Gray, Paul Cornell, Richard Alan

Artwork by Colin Andrew, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgeway,

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Emperor of the Daleks is a set which essentially wraps up the end of the Seventh Doctor's tenure as the regular Doctor in the strip, and the stories collected within this book are pretty much a mess. I must say the constant attempt at keeping continuity with a book series not everyone (including myself) was reading was problematic. Essentially to understand some of the things that happen to the characters in the strip, you needed to be thoroughly read up on the novels. For instance, Ace suddenly disappears with no explanation, so at the start of this book, she is just replaced with Bernice Summerfield, who was created in the Virgin New Adventures series. There is no clear intro for Bernice in the strip, she is just there. If you were only reading the comics, you were getting half the story, and it becomes fairly clear that the strip, despite its longevity and popularity, was now playing second fiddle to some upstart series of novels.

I liked some of the stories in this set, and it should be said that while my experience with the character is entirely from some Big Finish adaptations of the NA novels and this strip...I like Benny as a character. But the lack of introduction of her in the strip (and the lack of explanation as to where Ace went) is definitely a problem. And the fact that Ace comes and goes throughout the book and acts contrary to how she was before she disappeared. 

The big meat of the book is the titular "Emperor of the Daleks" which appears in the middle of the book. This big sweeping story is such a clunky read due to it's obsession with trying to clean up continiuties (what happened to Davros between Revelation and Remembrance of the Daleks as well as that army of Daleks forgotten about since Planet of the Daleks) and working in the Sixth Doctor and Peri and the Seventh Doctor and Benny...as well as the unwelcome resurrection of Abslom Daak and the Star Tigers who had a great end in "Nemesis of the Daleks" from an earlier comic volume...that it seems a shame to bring them all back for a messier end.  The strip became run by fans so deeply into the continuity that it forgot that part of what makes Doctor Who fun is that it is constantly moving forward and having NEW adventures.  Even as a fan who loves the minutiae of the continuity and connecting dots, I found "Emperor of the Daleks" to be a rather tedious read.  Connect all those dots if you want in your head, but trying to actually spell it out for everyone is a total bore. 

There is also the full-colour anniversary story "Time & Time Again" and the one-off from a special issue titled "Flashback" both of which feature appearances from past Doctors and show a love for continuity that is less interesting if you aren't so deeply into the nooks and crannies of the franchise.  Admittedly these were comics printed in a magazine geared towards just that audience, but that doesn't really make them fun adventures to read. Write a reference book instead of a comic if that's what you are into. 

After the final story in this collection, they moved on from the Seventh Doctor as the lead of the strip, and actually tried something new for the long running strip, which is to have a different Doctor star in each installment.  At a time when the show was off the air and showed no signs returning, that kind of made sense, particuarly as trying to make all the contiuity with the books work seemed to not be working out for the Seventh Doctor. The Seventh Doctor to the strip for one last tale before the the Eighth Doctor would take over, and I look forward to reading that adventure (and the other Doctor tales that filled that gap) when it gets collected in it's own volume.

This final volume of the Seventh Doctor's run is a mixed bag.  Fans of the Virgin New Adventures or of the strip in general may want to check it out, but casual readers beware. While I admire that at the time they had wanted to try and make sure the continuity with both the TV series and the books that were effectively trying to be the legitimate continuation of that series fit...I don't think that experiement proved too successful, and this collection is the proof of that. I don't really care for much in this volume, and I think it is easily skipped. 





Evening's Empire (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 8 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Evening's Empire (Credit: Panini)

Written by Andrew Cartmel, Dan Abnett, Warwick Gray, Marc Platt, Andy Lane

Artwork by Richard Piers Rayner, Vincent Danks, Adolfo Buylla, Robin Riggs, Brian Williamson, Cam Smith, Steve Pini, John Ridgway, Richard Whitaker

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Evening's Empire is the fourth volume of the Seventh Doctor's adventures in the Doctor Who Magazine strip. To me, while it starts strong and has a few high points, it is mostly hampered by the attempt at keeping continuity with the Virgin books being published at the same time, and a tone that the strip and those books seemed to take on that I don't particularly care for.  Too dark, too dreary, too far removed from the fun I want out of Doctor Who.

The titular opening story was actually sort of a director cut of the original, as originally art fell way past the deadline and only the first part ran in DWM before the ongoing production issues ended up canceling the whole story. Then they apparently finished the story as a graphic novel in color later on, but this new version restores the original black and white art and a few tweaks that they never did, with the original artist contributing brand new artwork. And it was a great story! Shame it never got to run in the strip as originally planned, but nice that the Writer (Andrew Cartmel) and Artist (Richard Piers Rayner) finally were able to get it out there and have people see a story that sort of fell apart for them back in the day.

The rest of the collection is hit or miss really.  "The Grief" can be fairly solid, but it is mostly just an Alien knockoff.  "Ravens" has beautiful art but a story that just doesn't feel like Doctor Who to me at all.  I know that in the Virgin New Adventures they made the Seventh Doctor more mysterious and darker than even he had been at the end of the TV series, but while I've only sampled a bit of those books (mostly via some Big Finish adaptations admittedly), I think they might've gotten carried away with that.  "Ravens" just makes the Doctor unlikable in my opinion.  "Cat Litter" requires so much knowledge as to what must've happened in some book that I barely understand what was going on in the strip.  If you were a regular reader who had not been keeping up with the books, you'd probably feel pretty confused and annoyed by a story that just assumes you'd read something else.

The only story beyond the great opener that really did anything for me was "Merorial," which was a nice reflection on the horrors of war and the grief it can cause.  It was a simple but fairly beautiful little story, and it's writer, Warwick Gray, would later change his name and take over the strip with some fantastic results. 

I would say that despite most of the stories collected in this volume are mediocre to downright bad, the opening epic from Cartmel and Rayner being beautifully brought together after failing to do so back in the 90s kind of make up for that. The usual section of commentary from the Artists or Writers is particularly illuminating in this Volume, as the main draw for the book is the remastering and completion of a story that failed to make it's proper debut.  This isn't the best collection of stories, but at least the best story of the bunch is lovingly restored, with some beautiful new art to replace lost pages, and some explanations from the artist as to what exactly caused the thing to not get properly completed at the time.  There is some value in this book...even if I think a good chunk of the stories ended up being lousy.