The Clockwise War (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Clockwise War  (Credit: Panini)
Written By: Scott Gray, Tim Quinn, Paul Cornell, Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes
Artist: John Ross, John Ridgeway, Charlie Adlard, Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon
Paperback: 156 Pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Whatever the reason, Panini made the decision to hold back on the Twelfth Doctor's final Doctor Who Magazine story for it's own titular volume, and included with that story are some reprints of older 90s comic stories, specifically some stories that were originally printed in the Doctor Who Yearbooks in the mid 90s.  This marks the first time that a Doctor from the new series has been combined in a Panini collection with Classic Series comics.  While it was annoying that the Phantom Piper had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait months for the conclusion to get released, the volume is finally here and I can now just pick it up when I finish the previous book.  I guess if anything they used it as an excuse to have a modern Doctor to sell the books, especially when the titular story for the book is actually quite good, to reprint some lesser known stories that don't really have a home otherwise.  

Having finally read “The Clockwise War” story…I can only express how much I wish it had been included with the rest of the stories in The Phantom Piper.  Part of what I really love about the Panini Graphic Novels is that they always seem to collect together stories that make sense. The best example is the Eighth Doctor’s run.  The first volume featured his debut up to the climax with the Threshold, his second volume featured a running storyline that saw the return of the Master and a major battle between the two Time Lords in the finale…his third began with the debut of the strip in colour and lasted right up until the exit of longtime companion Izzy, and the fourth featured the final set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor.  But since the Eleventh Doctor, the sets don’t always make as much sense. Sometimes storylines have been split up between two volumes…and it is clunkier.  I would love to sit down with a volume of comics that begin with Bill debuting, and then right up until this finale…because it is truly great.  And so much of the storyline of “The Clockwise War” hinges on the running stories that began in the previous volume’s opening story “The Soul Garden” and continued right up to the cliffhanging ending of “The Phantom Piper.”  This story is the climax to a whole year’s worth of stories…and it wasn’t included in the same book.  It seems like it is all coming down to release schedules. Why make a proper “graphic novel” when you’ve got schedules to keep.  I’d much rather have waited for this whole volume to get released properly, then split them up. A graphic novel is meant to tell a whole story…these collections don’t always feel like that is the goal anymore. Which is a bit of a shame. They still do a great job putting these books out there, they are high quality in terms of their production value…it is just a shame that the story element isn’t being as properly looked after as it should be.  Part of what I loved about “Doorway to Hell” is it collected together the full storyline of the Doctor’s life trapped in 70s Earth in one volume.  It’d have been nice if the Bill/Dreamscape storyline could’ve got the same lovely treatment. 
Now....with that all out of the way, I really loved the main story in this volume. We see the grand return of Eighth Doctor comics companion Fey Truscott-Sade, who is actually the main antagonist of the piece, and it is a big thrill ride that sees the exit of the Twelfth Doctor.  Despite my complaints about the split of volumes, the story itself is fantastic.  I loved the glimpse into a really bad day in the Time War, and seeing what turned Fey to the dark side…and it is in many ways the Doctor’s hubris that screwed her up. The story ties up all the storylines that have lingered throughout the run since Bill debuted on the strip, and it does it in a big exciting fashion.  As a story, it is highly recommended!
From there, the volume beefs up its page count with some older strips, some back-up stories that focused on the Cybermen, and others that never actually landed on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, but were actually strips that were initially published in “Doctor Who Yearbooks” from the mid-90s.  This was during the Wilderness Years, a time when the show was off the air but somehow extended media thrived, including the continued publishing of a monthly magazine and even some annuals. The comics included from this era came from Yearbooks published in 1994, 1995, and 1996.  These stories feature the First, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors, as well as a brief cameo of the Seventh.  The Yearbook strips aren't as deep or extensive as the DWM strips, as they are all just one part shorts, as opposed to serializing for several months on the pages of the magazine.  It is nice to have them reprinted and remastered, but they aren't the best comic adventures for the Doctor and co.  
“The Cybermen” was actually a series of short one page strips that appeared as a back-up comic in Doctor Who Magazine, and were written by Alan Barnes and drawn by Adrian Salmon, and was meant to evoke the 60s Dalek strips that appeared in TV Century 21. Unlike the forgettable Yearbook strips, these are actually pretty cool. Each story lasted about 5 or so pages, and the entire run is collected here. 
On the whole, it is hard to not recommend this volume.  Obviously, the decision to hold back the Twelfth Doctor's final story is more about marketing than anything.  It is easier to sell a book with a more current Doctor on the cover, than various old Doctors with no cohesive theme.  That said the Cybermen stories are neat, and it is nice that Panini, however they do it, is still remastering and collecting together all of these old comics into nice shiny volumes. The efforts of preservation should be applauded. With Ground Zero on the way, it would seem that the DWM era back catalogue will be wrapping up, and one can only hope that Panini continues their collections by going back and collecting together the pre-DWM strips from TV Comic, TV Century 21, and Countdown/TV Action. Perhaps rights issues could prevent that, but as they have reprinted some of those comics in the past, I have to believe they are considering it. 




Class - Original Television Soundtrack (including Bonus CD)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 May 2019 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Original Television Soundtrack (Credit: Silva Screen)
Available Now on Streaming, FLAC/MP3, CD and Vinyl.

Class will be remembered by most sci fi fans and BBC viewers as a short-lived 8 episode romp that was fleetingly available on BBC3 online before having late night showings on BBC1. Despite positive reviews, the show was undone by lacklustre viewing figures and an unwillingness by the higher ups at the BBC to provide another chance.

 

This album comes two years after the final transmission of Class on mainstream TV and is a veritable goldmine of musical atmosphere.

 


Main CD

 

I can happily report that not only does this CD meet expectations, it also goes on to exceed them. From the rousing opening of The Shadow Kin, to the hauntingly chilling cliffhanger of Governors Revealed, the forty-plus collection of music forms a very compelling and re-playable primary CD in the set.

Along the way comes the 'weird but wonderful' Strands From The Rift, the crowd pleasing Here She Comes in a Ruddy Great Bus, and the especially exciting (and unsettling) Asteroid track - which would hold its head high in an X Files or Outer Limits soundtrack collection.

Furthermore, the final brace of audio wonderment for the season conclusion (and sadly the series proper) cover all the necessary emotions, thoughts, and attachments to the core characters one can hope for. The CD culminates in Fight till your Last Breath and Souls Released with the auditory skill of Blair Mowat living up to such notable titles. 

 

**

Many other tracks are worth the listener's time. These include:

Rhodia; with the use of the first modern 'Doctor's Theme' from the parent show that Murray Gold used to such striking effect.

Time Has Looked At Your Faces; containing good multiple instruments and vocals 'as instruments' in a manner reminiscent of Enya.

Chasing The Dragon; here be rock vibes that evoke many a teenager's choice of allegiance when it comes to musical taste.

Dragon Attack has a sense of real adventure and character growth, as Charlie, April, Ram and Tanya all come under threat.

April's Past; adding further emotive pull to a character of much good writing and acting (such that she is my personal favourite of the teenage gang.

Heavy Petal; a chilling and foreboding concoction, ma­de further memorable still by the pounding drum backbeat as it comes to its conclusion.

To Share A Heart; this fits the bizarre but brilliant premise of the show's mid-season two- parter.

(And Finally) Charlie's Angry, Charlie's Winning; a multilayered effort from Mowat that helped with Detained being so intense and compelling. 

 

The only drawback is the lack of opening credits music, especially as the closing riffs of Track 43 are there to round off the album. But any such disappointment is somewhat negated by the [Song For] The Lost , which would not be out of place at a mediaeval monarch's court, and easily is one of the top 3 tracks.


Bonus CD

 

These tunes are not to be dismissed as mere 'best of the rest' but can be enjoyed repeatedly on their own, or even as part of a specific playlist to get the best possible reminder of given episodes.  The darkness and creepiness factor is ratcheted up to a great degree in many of these tracks, so for those that enjoyed Class for its horror aspects there is much to enjoy here.

At the same time a welcome change of pace comes in the form of several songs:

Nightvisitors – Tanya's Dad is a full-on song (as compared to the other CD's subtler vocals) that uses guitar and a male solo to intriguingly tell the 'point of view' of the alien visitors to various class mates in the show's third episode.

Black Is the Colour works as a good song in its own right, which also perfectly fit the overall feel of Class. It concerns fraught emotions, and unlike the track immediately analysed has a number of different singers to help give extra gravitas to the show's poignant endgame.

Previews of Episodes 3,4,5,6,7 and 8 form the tail end of this bonus disc and convincingly remind us how they added punch to viewers' initial desire to see further episodes.

 


To recap then, this release provides a solid couple of hours of arrestingly emotive and memorable music, and reminds the listener that Class (while surviving on through Big Finish) should have been allowed a couple more 'terms' at school at the very least.





9.2. Doctor Who - Short Trips: The Astrea ConspiracyBookmark and Share

Monday, 1 April 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

The conspirators sit in Antwerp, plotting to kill King Charles the Second. Aphra Behn's mission is simple: get former lover William Scot to turn against his treasonous comrades. But her money is running out and the complications don’t stop there. A strange Scottish man arrives at her inn with troubling news.

William Scot is out and the Doctor is in.

Rather excitingly, The Astrea Conspiracy marks the twelfth Doctor's first entry into the Big Finish range.....or at least that is what I thought.

Lizbeth Myles has written a historic story with a twist (there always is, isn't there?) Neve McIntosh narrates, and she does very well - until she tries to voice the twelfth Doctor, which just isn't convincing and doesn't hit home. This is the story's main problem, as it quickly becomes very distracting. I would rather McIntosh just read the story, something that I am sure must have been evident to the director, Nicholas Briggs.

The other problem with the story is that it just didn't appeal to me. There was no 'grab'. I found myself losing interest and then concentration, having to go skip back and re-listen to segments, which eventually made this Short Trip a Not Quite-So-Short Trip. It's a shame as I was quite enjoying a long run, but that is the nature of the Short Trips series, they can be quite divisive.

The Astrea Conspiracy is avail from Big Finish HERE.

 





The Phantom Piper (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 10 December 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Phantom Piper (Credit: Panini)
Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Staz Johnson, Mike Collins, Scott Gray, James Offredi

Paperback: 148 Pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD 

The latest Graphic Novel from Panini collects together some of the final Comic Strip Adventures for the Twelfth Doctor, who ended his run as the star of Doctor Who Magazine’s monthly strip in October, just prior to the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut on TV. We'll get into a bit deeper, but it seems this will not be the final Graphic Novel the Twelfth Doctor will get from Panini.  Joining the Twelfth Doctor is Bill Potts, who launched on the strip not long after her TV debut, and stuck with him until the end of his tenure on the strip (just as on TV).

The book begins with the Doctor and Bill exploring Jupiter's moon Titan, but they soon get whisked into an adventure with Rudy Zoom, the conceited millionaire adventurer we first met in the Twelfth Doctor's first comic strip story.  Zoom has chartered an exploration of Titan because a woman was being called there by something.  The something turns out to be plant monsters that feed off of people's dreams and want to escape their prison on Titan.  It's a solid beginning for this Twelve/Bill era for the comic strip...it's fun, colorful, humorous, with drama and action. It is a solid start.  However, the book then takes us to the American Old West, and where they face an alien threat using a Native American Woman to exact her revenge on the White man.  This has flawed execution...while I like the idea of exploring a woman who faced adversity and great tragedy on the Trail of Tears, I think they made her too much of a revenge seeking generic villain in the end.  I think they tried to counteract this by making the Sheriff who teams up with the Doctor a black man. I guess they didn't make the Native characters have classic "Savage Indian" tropes...but I still felt like they started somewhere interesting with the character, and it kind of loses that thread, and the interesting backstory doesn't really play too much into her story.

At the end of that story, the TARDIS was marked with some kind of mysterious symbol.  To investigate, the Doctor takes Bill to Cornucopia (the alien world created and often visited during the Eleventh Doctor's comic run), and visits the vast library there for answers on what the symbol could mean.  The story is then about something evil having some kind of control over the librarian herself. It is honestly not that memorable, and really only serves as a one off filler strip.  In the end the Doctor realizes that the symbol is actually a code that needs cracking, so he then whisks Bill off to World War II, to find Alan Turing and get his help on cracking the code. This leads us directly into the final story in the set, the titular "The Phantom Piper" which closes out the set.  This is by far the best story in the collection, it has a big sweeping idea, a fun villain, and leans into Doctor Who Magazine's comic continuity in fun ways. Usually, I'd rather that media not lean too heavily into it's own storied continuity, as it can end up alienating the audience or dragging a story through the mud of references without any real deeper meaning.  This story is about something, and the continuity serves the story. 

I did think it felt like it had maybe a bit too much build-up and a solution that seemed to quick...but maybe that is because I was enjoying reading this story so much I breezed through all five parts fairly quickly.  It should be noted that for this story the page count for each installment shifted from 12 pages back to 8, which was the usual page count for the strip for a number of years. I think it wasn't until the Tenth Doctor that they beefed up the installment length.  At any rate, it did feel like the plot wrapped up rather quickly, and the set up what was the final story for the Twelfth Doctor on the strip, "The Clockwise War."  I think the ending may not have felt so quick and easy if I didn't have to now wait for an entirely new volume to come out in order to get the resolution to the book's cliffhanger.  If that final story was included, the epic scale would've probably just grown and been more satisfying.  

I'm not sure why they made the decision to leave out the final Twelfth Doctor story in this volume. Perhaps it was a decision that came down to deadlines not really coming together.  The final story for the Twelfth Doctor wrapped up only just before the Thirteenth Doctor premiered on TV. I would've honestly preferred them push back this volume to include that final story, and instead of sticking to their usual release schedule of Modern collection followed by a collection of older stuff, they could've held off and given us a bigger book that included the entire Twelve/Bill run in one volume...and in the meantime release an equally anticipated volume of classic comics, which will probably collect together the final batch of stories in the awkward years, and featured the final Seventh Doctor story ("Ground Zero") that came out before the long running Eighth Doctor era. Now it seems that there will be one more volume of Twelfth Doctor Comics to come from Panini.  This time it will be one story (about 60 pages worth of story). Maybe they will put more stuff into it.  Time will tell.

It is a shame that Bill Potts didn’t get more time in the TARDIS. In some ways, I wish her character could’ve joined the Twelfth Doctor at the beginning of Series 9 as opposed to Series 10. Bill was a solid character, well performed, and sadly will only ever have a short run on TV and a short run in the comic strip, and a short run in Titan’s line as well. Maybe someday when he’s ready, Capaldi and Pearl Mackie can revive this duo on Big Finish. Until then, we have this volume...and I guess we can await another yet to come, one story or not.

This collection is hit and miss. It starts and ends strong, but I didn't particularly care for the stories in the middle..and the fact that it ends in a cliffhanger that leads directly into the only Twelfth Doctor story left from the Magazine not included here leaves me a tad disappointed.  Ultimately, if you are a fan of the Strip, it is another well put together volume (missing the finale or not). I still think the best Twelfth Doctor volume remains Doorway to Hell, but I also enjoy Bill...so I'm happy to have more of her in any format. 





The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - The Twelfth Doctor (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Road to The Thirteenth Doctor -Twelfth Doctor (Credit: Titan)
"Tulpa"
Writer: James Peaty
Artist: Brian Williamson
Colorist: Dijjo Lima

"The Road To..."
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colorist: Enrica Angiolini

Published by Titan Comics in September 2018

The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor ends here, with the Twelfth Doctor's entry.  Again, the main story of the issue seemingly has nothing to do with the Thirteenth Doctor, only a brief short comic at the end of the book actually seems to lead to the new Doctor, but at least this time the main story of the issue is fun and interesting.  

The story involves a weird alien parasite, that feeds off of a guy's dreams and imagination, and practically destroys the Earth to revive the long-dead species.  It's fun and creative and has some tremendous art by Brian Williamson, who has an art style I am always impressed with. Again, it is a story that could have easily just headlined the Twelfth Doctor's ongoing line, but that isn't a complete negative, it is really only a negative in terms of the marketing of the book.

The "Road To..." segment in this final entry takes place near the end of the Twelfth Doctor's life.  The Doctor, Nardole, and Missy are on the lift on their way to save Bill in World Enough and Time.  They see the glowing light,  the hand reaching towards them and the Doctor acknowledges that he saw it before as the Tenth Doctor (having missed it when it appeared in his Eleventh incarnation), but despite knowing it is a situation that will need to be dealt with, he must carry on to save Bill, leaving it a problem for another day. To Be Continued with the Thirteenth Doctor.  

While this overall issue was an improvement over the previous entries of the mini-series, I don't think the actual "Road To..." segments were terribly satisfying.  For one, I always find it a bit annoying when there is an adventure of a Past Doctor, and they shoehorn in another adventure in the middle of it.  While it can work (I rather liked Twice Upon a Time), it often just feels like fan service. They could have just as easily weaved the glowing vortex with the hand reaching out into the main story of the issue, which would have tied the whole concept of the mini-series together a little neater. 

On the whole, this mini-series felt a bit like a half-baked bust. None of it is awful, but it doesn't really feel like it is building towards the Thirteenth Doctor in any meaningful way.  It feels like they just took a regular issue of each Doctor's ongoing line, slapped a mini-story in the back of each issue, and then marketed as if the whole books would be about the adventures that lead to the Thirteenth Doctor, or at the very least lead to the main arc of her upcoming Ongoing Comic.  So that is a shame.  I wouldn't say don't read the books, as they are serviceable and mildly entertaining, just know going in that they definitely lack the marketed Thirteenth Doctor element.  





Twice Upon a Time (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 9 August 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Audio)
Adapted by: Paul Cornell
Based on the script by: Steven Moffat
Read by: Mark Gatiss
Cover by: Anthony Dry
Duration: 3hrs 15mins
Publisher: BBC Audio
Originally Released June 2018

“Stories too broad and too deep for the small screen.”

That was the credo of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels of the 1990s. It’s a phrase that is written on the heart of certain circles of fandom right next to “Never cruel or cowardly.” It seems appropriate then that one of the authors that most defined the voice of those books, Paul Cornell, uses his last Doctor Who book (though he’s said that before, in fairness) to lend greater breadth and depth than the small screen could allow.

Twice Upon a Time was always a remarkable story to play out on a Christmas Day. Ultimately it’s the story of a man, standing at the precipice, deciding whether or not to commit suicide. Normally that sort of thing is the reserve of Albert Square, where Christmas means even more misery than usual. But in 2017 Doctor Who danced on the tiny overlap that allowed it to be a funny, thrilling adventure about wanting to die with dignity. Part of that trade-off was the Doctor’s exact reasons and feelings not having room to be deeply explored, but Cornell takes full advantage of his page count to give us exactly that. It’s no less witty or packed with incident, but it more clearly acknowledges that this is a story full of characters who are, one way or another dead or dying.

The Doctor’s yearning for completeness comes to the fore of his thoughts. His desire to be able to finally provide a full stop to his life and say ‘so that was it.’  River comes to the fore of his thoughts and, in a genius spark of perspective, Cornell notes that this is a Doctor who lived for 75 years in a rather settled life. Twenty-four years in one long night with River, and then fifty years at St.Luke’s University. He’s had his retirement and his good death. Why can’t he just have it?

Bill’s future history with Heather is also fleshed out and with purpose as it shadows the Doctor’s dilemma. We learn of them returning to Earth to live a full, long, human life and how Bill ultimately chooses to die of old age rather than resume her ‘puddle’ form and return to the stars, even as she urged Heather to go without her. The faint hypocrisy of this isn’t touched upon, but it’s very human. The deeper, broader question of Bill’s existence – something the TV episode has time to little more than nod at – gets intelligently examined too. The Doctor connecting the concept of Testimony to growing up with the everyday reality of the Matrix on Gallifrey seems obvious in retrospect, as does that informing his opinion on whether such digital ghosts are actually the person involved, or simply an extremely detailed diary left behind by them.

All in all, Cornell has constructed a novelization which adds a new dimension of tenderness and emotion relative to the time and space of the original. A fine example of a Target which doesn’t so much overwrite, or compete with, the televised version in your mind, but rather adds additional layers of quality and grace to it.

As an audiobook, Cornell’s efforts are assisted hugely by Mark Gatiss. Himself no stranger to reading the Target range as a child, he knows exactly what’s required and turns in a touching, sensitive reading of the material. Not only are his Doctors note perfect in their voices (interestingly, he’s definitely decided to channel Bradley rather than Hartnell for his First Doctor) but he invests them with a sense of performance and character beyond the voice that truly captures their personalities.

Gatiss’ own persona also meshes smoothly with the tone required by the text. At times you can almost picture him in a comfortable antique leather chair, relating a diverting anecdote he thinks might amuse you. At others, his dropped voice and quiet control effortlessly communicates the pathos of a moment. All of the audiobooks in this series have selected appropriate and talented readers. But Gatiss is probably the only one so far to feel like he could genuinely have read any of them.

The sound design also keeps up the high quality of the series. Unobtrusive, yet giving an appropriate sense of setting, it hits just the right balance. It’s particularly nice to get the unique, and never repeated, bloops and whirrs of the console going crazy during the First Doctor’s regeneration faithfully presented her. One tiny niggle though is when the polar winds continue to blow in your earphones even when time stops still – which did prompt a little Bradleyesque “Oh, surely not? That can’t be right, can it, hmm?” from this listener that momentarily took me out of the action. But when that’s the worst criticism one can make of a three-hour recording…

This is the final of the current set of new Target novelizations and it’s fitting that they’ve proven just how varied the original range was, and just what their readers loved about them. We’ve had Jenny Colgan’s deeply traditional Dicksian take, and RTD’s version which took cues from both David Whittaker and Ian Marter (gleefully raiding other stories for bits and pieces, while upping the gore and violence beyond anything BBC One would have allowed at 7pm on a Saturday). We’ve had Steven Moffat’s wildly experimental take which doesn’t so much expand on the original but treats the TV episode as a kind of Serving Suggestion for where the story could go. And now Paul Cornell’s fine novel which manages the trick of adding massively to the inner lives of the characters while altering the actual events hardly a line.

Here’s to the next batch (“The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss” anyone?)