Four Doctors #2Bookmark and Share

Monday, 24 August 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Summer event (Credit: Titan)
WRITER - PAUL CORNELL; ARTIST - NEIL EDWARDS
COLORIST - IVAN NUNES;
LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS AND JIMMY BETANCOURT; DESIGNER - ROB FARMER;
EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES;
ASSISTANT EDITOR - KIRSTEN MURRAY
RELEASED AUGUST 19TH 2015, TITAN COMICS

When last we encountered the Twelfth, Eleventh and Tenth Doctors as well as their newly united array of companions, the former trio had seemingly set a foreboding chain of events in motion by briefly touching hands and in doing so causing the (fictitious but no less intriguing) Blinovitch Limitation Effect to occur. Upon glimpsing the final pages of this audacious mini-series’ potent first issue, eagle-eyed readers might have recalled that this particular Time Vortex-damaging event last took place way back in “Father’s Day” as Rose made physical contact with her toddler self, and just as was the case in 2005, the ruthless Reapers made their return in Issue 1’s delightfully dense final panel to fix the wound caused by the three Time Lords’ near-unprecedented interaction.

Given the rarity of multi-Doctor serials of this ilk (lest we forget, ten years’ worth of interplanetary adventuring separated the broadcasts of “The Three Doctors” and its memorably nostalgic 1983 follow-up), that so much time is dedicated in “Four Doctors”’ second instalment to both the aforementioned Limitation Effect as well as the increasingly tense dynamic burgeoning between Capaldi’s ever-antagonistic incarnation and his former selves should really come as little surprise, especially since half of the reason why “The Day of the Doctor” met with such rapturous applause in 2015 was the fascinating interplay witnessed between Tennant, Smith and Hurt’s versions of the titular time traveller. With that being said, whilst few would likely blame the series’ commander-in-chief, Paul Cornell, for taking a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”-style approach in this instance given the unquestionable need for works of comic-book and televisual entertainment to lure in a sizeable enough audience to make some form of profit, at the same time, that the second appearance of the oft-forgotten extra-terrestrial menaces who essentially caused Pete Tyler’s death acts more as a stalling tactic on the scribe’s part than anything else seems equally beyond dispute.

This initially well-disguised structural shortcoming makes its presence gradually known as Issue 2 nears its climax despite having made virtually no progress with regards to the series’ overall story arc of three morally contrasted Doctors joining forces to investigate the alleged repercussions of their Time War predecessor’s actions (or perhaps lack thereof) on the planet of Marinus. Certainly, we’re offered up some enticing sequences involving a chase through the various TARDIS console rooms which have made their debuts since the show’s revival as well as the continued squabbling provoked by the oldest of our three heroes’ continued rejection of his more spritely selves’ occasional recklessness and vice versa in the case of the Twelfth Doctor’s tendency to place his allies in necessary danger so as to achieve his goals. Yet aside from a few welcome moments wherein Tennant’s incarnation astutely namechecks the version of himself apparently set to rise between his twelfth and final bodies – see “The Trial of a Time Lord” if this description doesn’t ring any bells – and the classic series adversaries who cameoed last issue make their larger intentions transparently clear, it’s tough to shake the sense that either Cornell or those who assisted in his structuring of this much-anticipated Summer event struggled to find a way to keep its momentum up for four issues, hence the handy inclusion of the Reapers as an inspired yet nevertheless clunky means by which to stall for time. Indeed, that even Smith’s Doctor notes at one point how insignificant his pursuers are in terms of the trap apparently being laid for him and his other selves on Marinus does little to weaken this interpretation.

Even if “Four Doctors” doesn’t deploy quite as many satisfying plot twists or game-changing reveals here as was the case with its premiere, however, the number of readers who come away from Issue 2 wholly disappointed will still most likely be impressively minimal. The aforementioned TARDIS-warping set-piece and the frequent moments of verbal sparring between both the titular defenders of galactic justice as well as their companions – the most artistic of whom, the Tenth Doctor’s loyal accomplice Gabby Gonzalez, once again gets to open proceedings with a characteristically simplistic yet effortlessly visually sumptuous diary segment (as was the case in the first year of the Tenth and Gabby’s Titan Comics escapades) drawn wonderfully by Neil Edwards – which form the bulk of this instalment aren’t exactly the most innovative of scenes given that 2013’s “Day” placed a similarly substantial emphasis on such moments, but the inert hilarity of witnessing a variety of disparate heroes (both alien and human) attempt to put aside their differences whilst preparing for a universe-threatening conflict hasn’t waned in the two years since the 50th Anniversary Special first aired. If anything, the concept in question’s appeal has only grown with the releases of ensemble motion pictures like Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy, both of which showcased the entertainment value of such encounters and thus likely pre-empted Titan’s thinking in creating this type of event series.

Whilst we’ve already touched upon the gloriously accomplished renditions of images such as Gabby’s diary and indeed Issue 1’s explosive last-minute Reaper reveal, in discussing this second outing’s easily overlooked merits, it’d be downright churlish to wrap up without having reiterated the undeniable power of Edwards’ aesthetic work. Like most works of science-fiction, “Four Doctors”’ fundamentally basic yet sure-to-be timey-wimey storyline requires one to pay no shortage of attention to the dialogue contained within its ever-present speech bubbles, that the Welsh artist responsible for bringing past hits like Justice League United and Arrow Season 2.5 to life through his imagery might leave some wishing the entirety of this four-issue arc could be re-released with only its artwork rather than its dialogue remaining says a lot for how he manages to convey precisely what’s occurring through his crowded but accessible visual depictions of events. Many modern Who strips would leave their readership most likely confounded were they to be robbed of textual accompaniments, yet based on the strength of Edwards’ work on this particular mini-series to date, Titan’s first major crossover storyline may well prove to be the single major exception to the unwritten rule.

Indeed, it’s through Edwards that Issue 2 manages to somehow claw its way back from the jaws of defeat so as to become another memorable addition to the plethora of comic-books based within the so-called Whoniverse. Had this otherwise largely derivative sophomore instalment not found itself an artist with such incredible creative vision, an artist capable of succinctly yet powerfully rendering both the action-led and exposition-heavy moments of “Four Doctors” with equal ease (and more importantly equal success), then there’s no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that this month’s tale – if not the series as a whole – would have suffered immensely as a result, but instead, in him we’ve been graced with someone capable of ensuring that even a more repetitive, arc-lite outing such as this one still brings almost all of the thrills and shocks present in its predecessor, at least from a visual perspective. Better yet, since Cornell’s next move going forwards will surely be to pick up the pace exponentially, chances are that Edwards will receive opportunities aplenty to showcase his seemingly limitless capabilities in issues to come, something which – at least based on the hugely promising evidence presented here – could only serve to benefit the overall reading experience that much more.





The Sixth Doctor - The Last AdventureBookmark and Share

Monday, 24 August 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Last Adventure (Credit: Big Finish)
Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor - The Last Adventure
Written by Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, Alan Barnes, Matt Fitton and Nicholas Briggs
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Trevor Baxter (Litefoot), Christopher Benjamin (Jago), India Fisher (Charley), Lisa Greenwood (Flip), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard), Bonnie Langford (Mel) and Miranda Raison (Constance)
Released by Big Finish Productions - September 2015 ​

“It’s the end…but the moment has been prepared for.”

Regardless of its origin as the ominous yet somehow inertly reassuring final words uttered by Tom Baker prior to his Doctor’s regeneration in “Logopolis”, that fateful line of dialogue has rarely rung truer than with the wholly timely demise of the Sixth Doctor. Not only was Colin Baker’s divisive incarnation robbed of his own on-screen transformation thanks to behind-the-scenes disputes leading to Sylvester McCoy donning an unwieldy blonde wig in “Time and the Rani”, but as was revealed in last month’s edition of DWM (Issue 489, to be precise), Baker himself had until quite recently declined Big Finish’s various offers to send his most famed construct off in proper style. With all of that contextual background taken into account, the mere existence of The Sixth Doctor – The Last Adventure, a near unprecedented audio saga intended to rewrite continuity somewhat so as to give old ‘Sixie’ the denouement he deserves, represents a staggering development in the programme’s history worthy of applause in and of itself.

Of course, although the same could have been stated of the Eighth Doctor’s one and only televised serial, that the TV Movie managed to premiere both in the States and here in Britannia didn’t prevent the one-off, bumper-length special from receiving a far from congratulatory critical reception soon after its debut. Will the so-called Last Adventure (a title which admittedly seems more tenuous by the day given Big Finish’s ongoing plans for Baker’s most iconic persona) go down as another such tragic misfire, then, or as a near-unprecedented triumph on the scale of Russell T. Davies’ much-adored reboot-turned-faithful continuation “Rose”? To discover precisely this truth, let us plunge back into an age of technicoloured jackets, politically corrupt Gallifreyan trials and – most importantly – morally warped future Doctors, evaluating each of the four one-hour tales intended to chronicle the darkest – and by all accounts finest, though we’ll be the judge of that claim – hour of perhaps Theta Sigma’s most controversial regeneration to date.

The End of the Line:

Perhaps it’s this reviewer picking nits for the pure sake of doing so, but if any of the episodes featured on what is undoubtedly one of Big Finish’s more audacious compilations in their eventful history could have been released separately so as to reduce the hefty 420-minute running time awaiting listeners here, it’s this one. Try as they might to connect their largely gripping yarn – which sees ‘Sixie’ and his soon-to-be incumbent assistant Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) investigate an increasingly mysterious railway train packed to the brim with temporal surprises (think “Mummy on the Orient Express”, albeit with far greater exploration of what lies beyond its primary setting) – to The Last Adventure’s central arc surrounding the Doctor’s inevitably self-destructive series of final confrontations with the ever-sinister, ever-vainglorious Valeyard, writers Simon Barnard and Paul Morris ultimately offer the sense that like 2014’s Trial of the Valeyard (a once-apparently pivotal storyline which receives scarcely even a passing reference here, we might add), The End of the Line could easily have been released as a standalone title, or even in the form of a Short Trips-esque prequel several weeks prior to this box-set’s launch. Indeed, save for a few choice moments which the scribes strategically reserve for End’s denouement as well as a well-guarded cameo from one of the 1980s Doctors’ most persistent adversaries, this largely self-contained opening instalment could easily have come off as unnecessary filler in light of its acting as a Greatest Hits showcase for ‘Sixie’ as opposed to a fitting opener for what had always been pitched as a tightly-woven quartet focusing exclusively on the manner in which the Seventh Doctor truly came to be.

Enter Baker and Raison, both of whom excel at establishing a fresh dynamic of intellectual equality, genuine faith in the titular Time Lord’s ever-risky machinations, and most of all earned respect between Constance and her extra-terrestrial TARDIS crewmate in spite of Big Finish not yet having released the story in which these two great minds meet for the first time (though that’s due next month in the form of the Matt Fitton-penned Second World War thriller Criss-Cross). Without the promisingly assured performances of this enviably talented pair, we’d probably have been left with a primarily lacklustre audio drama, especially given that the turns provided by the likes of Anthony Howell and Maggie Service as the aforementioned track-bound vehicle’s band of waylaid passengers don’t exactly rank among the most memorable additions to Who’s ever-expanding audio ensemble (since, suffice to say, anyone expecting emotional depth from these secondary players on a par with those introduced in “Midnight” will come away severely underwhelmed), barring the moments where Barnard and Morris afford them significant chunks of dialogue so as to haphazardly further the compelling but easily condensable plot powering this intrigue-laden – albeit at times frustratingly inconsequential – initial outing.

The Red House:

Ironically enough, though, whereas it’s the leading pair of voice actors at The End of the Line’s helm who prove to be its handy saving grace rather than its supporting cast members, the opposite is in fact true of Alan Barnes’ The Red House, wherein Michael Jayston’s deliciously exaggerated take on his returning “The Trial of a Time Lord” antagonist the Valeyard – or the Doctor, as he claims he’ll one day become known by the wider cosmos – elevates an otherwise forgettable play centring on a frankly dull dystopian world of part-werewolf, part-humanoid beings; clichéd outsider communities who’ve been shunned by their former colonist allies and, worst of all, hopelessly predictable conflicts entailing reckless rebellions against a false empire. The latter’s presence in proceedings remains so minimal that the audience can’t help but struggle to give anything close to a damn about the war which Baker’s semi-iconic adversary appears absolutely intent on sparking (for reasons that mercifully become far clearer once the bell begins to toll on both versions of the Doctor’s respective character arcs), hence why the focus of all but the most avid fans of Hunger Games-inspired (or Brave New World-inspired; by all means take your pick) worlds without hope or compassion will soon inevitably shift to the aforementioned sub-plot in which Charley Pollard (brought to life with magnificent aplomb once more by India Fisher) faces off against the dark side of the man who she’s seen fit to travel with through time and space on not one but two occasions.

As anyone who persevered with “The Trial of a Time Lord” through to its high-octane denouement will surely attest, there was scarcely ever any reason to fear for the strength of Jayston’s third performance in perhaps his most infamous role, and indeed, despite being forced to dip into the realms of melodrama on occasion here just as he did in the original 1986 adventure, he doesn’t hold back when delivering the manipulative, psychologically assaulting and yet at times somehow subtly charismatic (proof if ever any was needed that the Valeyard hasn’t sacrificed everything in the name of peace and sanity at this point as was the case with John Hurt’s Time War-bound incarnation) dialogue afforded to him both over the course of House’s second half by Barnes as well as in The Last Adventure’s two remaining instalments. Nevertheless, with ‘Sixie’ curiously relegated from the bulk of proceedings despite the moments preceding his demise supposedly being intended to form the crux of this long-awaited set, it would seem that Barnes didn’t quite heed to the collection’s overarching criteria in this regard, something which would be that much more forgivable were it not for the disheartening lack of innovation present in his uninspired setting, a near-fatal flaw which only just fails to cripple The Red House entirely, with its redemption coming only fleetingly in the form of Jayston’s various prolonged (and oh-so-welcome) cameos.

Stage Fright:

For those beginning to question the need for their investment in this hefty £20 or £40 title having reached the halfway point of this review and having read of the considerable shortcomings sported by Red House – as well as to a far lesser extent End of the Line – now’s the time to breathe a hearty sigh of relief. Whilst this reviewer’s overall familiarity with Victorian quasi-detectives Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and Gordon Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) didn’t extend far beyond his initial viewing of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” (an entertainingly fast-paced, if at times disbelief-testing, introductory tale first broadcast as part of the Fourth Doctor era in 1977, though this won’t exactly come as news to the characters’ ever-expanding fan-base) when the time came to consume “Stage Fright” in its delightful 60-minute entirety, this lack of knowledge regarding in particular the history of Big Finish’s aptly-named Who spin-off Jago & Litefoot didn’t prevent Last Adventure’s penultimate instalment from easily ranking as the most satisfying entry of the bunch by an immeasurable distance.

There’s a chance this sweeping evaluation might come as a shock to any readers expecting the Sixth Doctor’s swansong to peak in its concluding moments: surely “The Brink of Death” should take the crown as this incarnation’s finest set-piece given its valiant efforts to rewrite the character’s botched demise? Surprisingly, no. That’s not to say the aforementioned serial disappoints – by and large, it’s another winner, as we’ll discuss later, but even so, it’s not dripping with the same level of periodic atmosphere as “Fright” by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps director Nicholas Briggs (who has in fact seen fit not only to helm all four tales but also to try his hand at penning their finale in the form of “Brink”) and the cruelly underappreciated team behind this masterpiece’s soundtrack deserve the most credit, especially since it’s all too easy for us to forget the incredible work that goes on beyond the confines of the recording studio in order to elevate the studio’s projects higher than most. Even so, however, to deny the influence Benjamin and Baxter have as they reprise their hilarious roles, bringing with them all of the energetic gusto, occasional (but vital) pathos and undying comedic interplay which made both constructs such hits with ‘70s viewers and modern listeners alike, thereby owning both the metaphorical and literal stage in the process.

As if all of that weren’t enough, they’re presented with the chance to converse with Lisa Greenwood’s Flip as she confronts the inherently personal fear which lends this episode its name – a wholly welcome emotional development for a previously shallow character who’s rarely caught this reviewer’s attention until now – and Jayston’s Valeyard as the latter manipulator takes control of the two wannabe investigators’ New Regency Theatre in a bid to gain power through theatrical plays intended to mimic his arch-nemesis’ past lives (or rather deaths) prior to their coming battle. Admittedly the glorious return of these Not-So-Great Detectives can’t quite compensate fully for the predictable manner in which proceedings come to a close, with the necessity of the Valeyard’s survival to fight another day inevitably necessitating his fortunate escape from the City of London’s confines, yet in stark contrast to its immediate predecessor, “Stage Fright” effortlessly negates its minor weaknesses by offering up an atmospheric, perfectly paced hour of entertainment which’ll endure in its listeners’ minds for just as long as “Talons” has, if not longer still.

The Brink of Death:

Whether the same can be said of Briggs’ undeniably bold quest to rewrite what’s easily one of the most loathed moments in Doctor Who’s hardly clear-cut canon will naturally remain a matter of fierce discussion for some time to come, not least since Steven Moffat’s namechecking of Charley et al in “The Night of the Doctor” only further muddied the waters in terms of discussions surrounding whether Big Finish’s audio releases can be considered official chronicles of their inspiration’s (supposedly) previously untold escapades. As disheartening a realisation as this must have been for Briggs at the time of drafting his script for “The Brink of Death”, only one fact is absolutely certain – there could have been no pleasing everyone with this latest endeavour, although in all honesty, given this reviewer’s unashamed disdain for the mere sight of “Time and the Rani”, the chances of the esteemed Dalek voice actor coming anywhere close to producing an inferior effort were always all but second to none.

If the latter admission like a prelude to a largely cynical evaluation, however, then fret not; it’s by no means perfect (few Who serials are, if we’re being brutally truthful here), but “Brink” comes about as close to conceiving the triumphant denouement Baker and Big Finish’s execs must have been hoping for as any budding audio production could. Is the Valeyard’s prolonged arc of darkness and mystery brought to a comprehensive conclusion? Not quite – most will still likely find themselves somewhat bemused as to the character’s precise origins (or rather the true reasoning for them) come the credits, a disappointing turn of events given that we had been promised a transparent resolution in this regard during recent Last Adventure press releases. Does the fate with which ‘Sixie’ meets echo the selfless, stirring demises originally presented to all but Baker’s seemingly doomed-from-the-outset incarnation? Absolutely. In fact, as those fortunate enough to have placed a pre-order for this collection will have already learned, the completely poignant sequence in question still finds a way of keeping “Rani”’s ludicrous but nevertheless (somewhat tragically) canon opening scene intact, albeit while ensuring that the moments preceding the Doctor’s fall from an exercise bike and subsequent collision with the TARDIS’ apparently rock-solid floorboards can be seen as fitting in terms of both his tenure at the ship’s helm and indeed in terms of his oft-overlooked concern for his future selves’ uncertain moral compass, a trait which manifests itself beautifully with both his final line of dialogue and with the first uttered by McCoy here in a similarly touching cameo.

As easy as it would be to elaborate in greater detail about the convoluted nature of the Valeyard’s grandiose final machinations (which takes into account his actions in all of the first three plays, only to then surely leave the vast majority of listeners boggled as to why the scheme took quite so long to plan and thus why this plot required quite such an elaborate set-up), Briggs’ misuse (however intentional) of Bonnie Langford’s almost non-existent Mel or the aforementioned ambiguity continually engulfing the true nature of the Doctor’s alleged future malevolent persona, it’s simpler still to instead end with our much-needed confirmation that, these minor faults in its metaphorical stars aside, “Brink” flourishes where its justifiably despised 1987 TV counterpart fails, bestowing the downfall of Baker’s incarnation with a timely aura of victory over moral corruption, not to mention over the naysayers who constantly seek to ridicule this particular version of the Earth’s longstanding alien protector. It’s little wonder that Baker expressed his disillusionment last month with the fans who ranked him as their least favourite Doctor in the pages of DWM, but on the basis of the mostly haunting “The End of the Line”, the dramatically charged (if oft-convoluted) “The Brink of Death” and especially the marvellously authentic – not to mention downright hilarious – “Stage Fright” (if not the surprisingly dissatisfying “The Red House”, The Last Adventure’s weakest link by far), neither ‘Sixie’ nor the still remarkable thespian portraying him have much left to fear, barring perhaps an overdose of particularly zesty carrot juice.

Believe it or not, after decades of painstaking waiting, this time around Baker's revised exit truly has been prepared for and executed with a commendable degree of success - and based on this legendary actor's recent contemplation of his own incarnation's worth, it would seem this much-needed change has arrived not a moment too soon.





Four Doctors Summer EventBookmark and Share

Sunday, 23 August 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Summer event (Credit: Titan)
WRITER - PAUL CORNELL, ARTIST- NEIL EDWARD,
COLORIST - IVAN NUNES, 
LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS/COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT, DESIGNER- ROB FARMER, 
EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES,
ASSISTANT EDITOR - KIRSTEN MURRAY
RELEASED AUGUST 12TH 2015, TITAN COMICS

During this month and next we are treated to a much awaited big event from the very capable team at Titan Comics. The major factor to note is celebrated author Paul Cornell is the writer of the entire arc, and will add to his impressive resume of TV Doctor Who (Father's Day, Human Nature/Family of Blood which were all Hugo-nominated), classic Doctor Who original novels such as Love and War and Goth Opera.  plus some previous comic book efforts including Wolverine, Action Comics, Demon Knights, Captain Britain and MI:13.

Although this review site will come back to the final works of Titan's year one for the different Doctor lines, this mini-series does not need too much prior knowledge to really be understood, however it will impact on the beginning of 'Year Two'. 

I myself have reasonably high expectation for this big event showpiece from Titan and little to make me think it could end up faltering in some way. Certainly it will be one escapist-fictional ways to warm up a tepid summer (at least on the British isles where I reside).

 

We start off with another piece of the mystery jigsaw that is the Time War. The War Doctor's lifelong quest to deal with the threat of the Daleks (and eventually the corrupt order of Time Lords led by Rassilon), sees this wonderfully grouchy forgotten incarnation pay a visit to the planet Marinus many years after the quest for the Keys. Now the Doctor Who backstory on the Voord is quite remarkable, as not only were they one of the first monsters on the program, but they also were brought back for a Sixth Doctor comic strip, an audio adventure that began the First Doctor Early Adventures line, and even some barely canonical stories in an annual and (collective) cigarette sweets' cards from the 1960s. Although it remains to be seen how much these creatures will feature in later issues, this new story sees the Voord becoming rather more benign as they evolve into more powerful creatures that help fight the malevolent Dalek forces.
 

The starting point for the TV Tardis crew of the Doctor and Clara sees the word 'Marinus' pop up in our favourite Coal Hill school-teacher's head, and this neatly leads to an amusing run of new encounters between normal Earth girls with extraordinary lives, and personality clashes between the different (and yet the same) Time Lords who are responsible for those incredible travels.

As he stated in my earlier interview with him, Paul Cornell is thoughtfully structuring this mini series so that each of the Doctor's trusted assistants will be carrying us through the story in their own distinctive manner. This opener gives Clara the most agency, with the various other Doctors and their companions having to react to her decision to take matters head on. In a piece of neat irony, her best efforts to prevent the multi-Doctor meeting, owing to what may be a massive disaster, only serve to produce the opposite effect.  

Cornell's considerable experience in stories of all sorts of lengths and scale (depending on what medium he employs), means that I am confident he is doing the right thing in starting in a relatively slow manner this issue. Yes we get time and space trotting, and a nice flashback to a jungle world with no official name where Clara does her best Lara Croft impression. However much of the issue is moving the pieces of the three most recent TV doctors into place, and teasing us over the use this time of the wonderful John Hurt version (who made The Day of The Doctor  such electric viewing).

I can happily confirm that the artwork is an absolute treasure trove of convincing character expression, ocularly arresting alien beings and landscapes, and superbly well used colours. Neil Edwards happily unites with Cornell with immediately convincing results, and also has communicated with Ivan Nunes in an effective manner.  So consequently the pacing of the core story is only enhanced by the energy that is projected by the visual. The dialogue is probably the most outstanding component of this story, but would maybe not feel so effortless if the characters' facial subtleties were not as authentic as presented here.

With a cliffhanger taking us cleverly back to Cornell's fine work in the New Series, the set up has been performed and a lot more excitement and surprises are sure to still come.

BONUS HUMOUR STRIP:

The Doctor Shops For Comics in this new bonus piece, and Marc Ellerby has a certain Mr Paul Cornell lend a hand to the story being told. Just the Doctor and a French newspaper vendor are involved in terms of protagonists. That is, unless you count a version of the Doctor who has just been there shopping three minutes earlier than the particular Eleventh Doctor we are reading about. I find it odd having no companions in this for the Doctor to spark off against, but this story tries to do something different, and may be the start of a successful team-up between Cornell and Ellerby for the other four issues to come.

 





The Brood of ErysBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Brood of Erys (Credit: Big Finish / Damien May)
The Brood of Erys
Released by Big Finish
Written by Andrew Smith
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released: Feb 2014

Remember how after making promising progress in terms of their narrative trajectory, recent modern Doctor Who serials such as “Night Terrors” and “Into the Dalek” somehow managed to squander their potential come their respective final acts by making sudden forays into overly sappy territory (if this reviewer never has to endure the sight of the Doctor teaching ex-Kaleds the beauty of the stars again, it’ll be too soon)? Well, much as The Brood of Erys, the second outing in Big Finish’s January – March 2014 trilogy of Sixth Doctor and Flip storylines, does its utmost to maintain a consistently impressive benchmark of quality throughout its four contributory episodes, so too does the 183th chapter in the aforementioned studio’s never-ending range of Who-themed audio dramas lose its way at precisely the wrong moment, thereby threatening to ruin its audience’s perception of what might otherwise have been one of Colin Baker’s finest off-screen hours to date.

More on that momentarily, however – let’s first align our metaphorical TARDIS scanners towards Brood’s strengths, since in spite of its lacklustre denouement, the drama in question can’t possibly fail to hook its listeners during its opening three-quarters. Central to its resounding success in this respect is the pair of increasingly tight-knit travellers currently piloting their Type 42 machine through time and space; although one gets the sense nowadays that Baker’s incarnation – nor the man himself, if his recent revelatory interview with DWM was any indication – will never quite shed his reputation as the version of the Doctor who underwent one of the weakest overall runs in the show’s history, the 72-year old thespian responsible for bringing the character to life during the mid-1980s has rarely been on finer form than he is here. Channelling all of the compassion and bombast he can muster as old ‘Sixie’ and his faithful accomplice explore a sentient moon known as Erys whose emotional motivations become murkier by the second (a fascinating narrative concept which this reviewer couldn’t help but wish writer Andrew Smith had deployed before “The Doctor’s Wife” aired on BBC One in 2011, but there we are), he not only reminds Nathan Turner devotees of the merits of his era but also affords the ever-complacent yet ever-righteous hero an emotional gravity which this incarnation’s haters might have claimed was lacking during his original run.

At the same time, every accomplished – if in this case cruelly unappreciated – Doctor needs a similarly worthy assistant at his side, hence the above reference to not one but both members of the TARDIS crew. When this reviewer came to pass judgement on Antidote to Oblivion last July, Ms. Philippa Jackson (Lisa Greenwood) appeared to represent one of its only notable caveats due to the lack of much in the way of character development afforded to her by scribe Philip Martin, yet just as Matt Fitton recently showcased Flip’s potential by exploiting her fears of performing before an audience and her realisation of her ability to overcome those long-running self-doubts in “Stage Fright” – the penultimate of the four captivating tales contained within Big Finish’s newly-released boxset “The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure” – Smith achieves much the same feat here, adding additional layers to Jackson’s personality by having her demonstrate her raw recklessness in a valiant but nonetheless risk-laden effort to reunite herself with the Doctor come Brood’s action-packed (sometimes to the point of its own detriment, as we’ll discuss later) second half, not to mention during the numerous Hammer-riffing body horror sequences where the young adventurer finds herself forced to navigate the depths of the titular living planetoid, encountering an all manner of spectacularly-voiced secondary constructs along the way including the slimy – in every sense of the adjective – Terrill (Chris Overton), the wayward amnesiac Sarra Vanser (Nicola Sian) and best of all the hauntingly omniscient persona of Erys (Brian Shelley) himself.

Indeed, in a similar vein to how Greenwood’s ever-passionate work as Flip has been complemented (and thus strengthened) to no minor extent here by Smith’s beneficially character-led script, the latter trio of supporting cast members each thrive in their respective roles thanks to the layered dialogue that their individual constructs spout out over the course of their extensive airtime. In a weaker science-fiction audio yarn, for instance, Terrill and his band of shameless, ever-troublesome Drachee scavengers would have come off as mindless slaves created for the sole narrative purpose of serving as the frankly dull lackeys of a (mostly) physically formless antagonist, yet far from allowing this to be the case, Smith throws more than one curve-ball into the figurative mixture that ensures the Drachee have just as significant a function to fulfil in the grand scheme of events as the Doctor, Flip or their latest adversary. It’s a true thrill to be able to confirm that as a result, once Brood moves into its fourth and final 25-minute segment, all but the most apathetic of listeners are sure to empathise with every character who they’ve encountered so far, and as such to feel as if they are on tenterhooks with regards to how each construct’s arc will come to an end.

What a crying tragedy it is, then, that after three episodes’ worth of steadily rising tension and intriguingly unravelled mysteries surrounding Sarra’s curiously absent yet vital memories, Smith hurriedly injects a small armada of emotionally vapid – albeit purposefully so – enemies not unlike those described previously here as being the stuff of lacklustre sci-fi efforts so as to add in some physical dangers for his ensemble despite the fact that the psychological toils presented by Erys’ meddling with the minds of ‘Sixie’ et al were more than enough to carry Episode 4 on their own merits. Whereas the scarecrow-styled hordes introduced a little way into “Human Nature / The Family of Blood” back in 2007 at least acted as a decent metaphor for the ceaseless, meaningless slaughter committed over the course of the Great War as they were endlessly gunned down by the students unlucky enough to attend the school which was playing host to one John Smith, the so-called “mud soldiers” who elect to crop up in Brood’s closing quarter hold no such deeper moral implications, instead existing only as a rushed means through which to off one or two supporting characters so as for (Andrew, not John) Smith to rest safe in the knowledge that his serial didn’t conclude without containing a single demise of some kind. Worse still, in subsequently attempting to add some further emotional levity (perhaps realising too late his mistake in abruptly prioritising action at the last second) by lobbing in a hopelessly indulgent throwback to the First Doctor era which doesn’t receive any of the necessary moments of foreshadowing earlier on required to justify its inclusion, the playwright comes cripplingly close to offering the impression that he had little idea whatsoever as to how to call it a day.

Yet to end on such a defeatist assertion would represent an unfair manner in which to resolve this particular assessment, especially given the strength of the ground-work laid during the opening three instalments. Make no mistake, Smith at least structures proceedings in such a way that the thematic discussion of matters such as corporations attempting to lay claim to entire landscapes without any thought of the immediate (or even distant) repercussions, not to mention that of the infuriating global political bureaucracy which can often force individuals to take drastic action for their family and / or community in today’s society, scarcely ever fails to captivate, a rare accomplishment given that many dialogue-led audio pieces can often lose their way by using too much exposition to delve into such themes and not enough in the way of tangible plot developments. As was the case with “Night Terrors” and “Into the Dalek”, though, Brood will forever be remembered as coming within inches of fulfilling its commendably lofty aspirations of centralising psychological drama over action, only to lose its nerve at the last instant and in doing so rank amongst the most notable could-have-beens in Who’s history.





New Adventures With The Eleventh Doctor #13 - Conversion Part 2Bookmark and Share

Monday, 17 August 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

WRITER: Rob Williams
ARTIST: Warren Pleece, COLOURS: Hi-Fi 
LETTERER: Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
 DESIGNER - Rob Farmer, EDITOR - Andrew James
ASSISTANT EDITOR- Kirsten Murray
PUBLISHER: Titan Comics
RELEASE DATE: June 17, 2015 

"The entity with the might of a Cyberman army... an army that now shows you what your heart wants most as they attack. That is... unstoppable. Oh... oh no... They’re going to conquer everything"  The Doctor under a mysterious influence, and seemingly losing hope.

Having done a bit of globe-and-time-and-space trotting in the first instalment, this second and final comic 'episode' now focuses on a singular setting. Thus it can pay full dues so as to make the most of the premise and circumstances that were established. Tension rarely leaves from panel to panel and page-to-page, and some fine dialogue intermingles with well-done action visuals.

Using Romans in Doctor Who has often been very effective, were viewers or fans of any generation to recall watching the Dennis Spooner story in William Hartnell's era, or (brief) sections of Patrick Troughton finale The War Games. So the pedigree is there, in addition to modern Who efforts with Matt Smith and David Tennant, and goes back to almost the dawn of this (happily) never-ending story. Also, the sheer depth of Roman society will continue to offer any number of further settings and hierarchy-society thematic exploration.

By contrast, as much as I love the concept and aesthetics of the Cybermen I must admit their full potential is not always realised. This story does a neat job of making their conversion/ horror theme come to the boil, and yet offer a different actual opponent for the Doctor. The artwork from Warren Pleece also does a fine job of using the sheer height and presence of the Cyber-army, with some moody background imagery and colours to really make them stand out. 

 

Themes of steadfastness and cowardice come into operation here with the civil war being decided not by conventional battle but by the way the two opposing leaders respond to the threat of the Entity/Cyber-Army. In the end one is shown to pay the ultimate price and in ignominious fashion, and the other, whilst not understanding everything properly has such integrity at his core that he and his followers live to fight another day. There is also that subtle bit of extra depth where we are not forced to believe one was wholly good and the other bad, and the Doctor may have helped someone with a lot of blood on his hands and demons in his head. No mistake should be made that these were brutal times in human history. But the Doctor just does the best he can to achieve the ideal outcome, even if on the surface this Eleventh incarnation is bumbling or lackadaisical at times.

In addition to well-sketched supporting characters. there is enough care and attention from Rob Williams' writing to incorporate some interesting consequences of having a contemporary 21st century Londoner suddenly transposed into the days of the Roman Empire. This is seen when Alice is simplistically referred to as  a 'warrior princess' by one of the feuding Emperors, due to her skin-colour and her assertive manner. Alice has always been given a good deal of focus and development as I have stated in my prior reviews, but this issue is particularly strong for her and without her concerted input the outcome would almost certainly be a different one. We again also have some brief flashbacks to her past which still feel involving and not just treading the same old pathways. I for one now eagerly anticipate her use in the new Four Doctors event that is being released imminently.

 

Let there be no misunderstanding: the Doctor does have much to do come the end, but for certain moments he is haunted by the mysterious Time Lord that has intermittently popped up since the very first issue. And despite using his ingenuity, he still cannot prevent a game changer that leaves one member of the quartet cut off and seemingly unreachable. The remainder may have to take the long route to find their associate, as problems with the TARDIS continue to persist. Overall this latest multi-parter from the Eleventh Doctor line has presented a neat twist or two, and made proper use of the TARDIS crew. The denouement is perfectly paced and does not veer into the 'easy out' that some of the Matt Smith TV stories were arguably guilty of. 

 

Bonus Humour Strip:

A typically strong effort from Marc Ellerby with a good plot, fizzy dialogue and a good range of cartoonish facial expressions. That old chestnut of where to go on Summer Wholiday gets a welcome inspection in the humour coda, and again the two page format is totally justified. Out of the River/Doctor and Amy/Rory family set, only one individual gets a properly satisfying vindication of their chosen destination. 





The Gods of WinterBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 August 2015 -  
 
The Gods of Winter (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written By: James Goss
Read By: Claire Higgins
Released by BBC Audio, 20 August 2015
Finding themselves yanked across the cosmos to a human colony world, the Doctor and his travelling companion are tasked with seemingly their most mundane mission yet: rescue an innocuous young girl’s missing cat. Suffice to say that as premises for a new yarn set in the limitless realms of Doctor Who go, this initial set-up seems neither as thrilling as that of recent TV serials like 42 nor indeed as continuity-shaking as that of The Day of the Doctor, yet it’s precisely the opening scenario which scribe James Goss lays before us with his latest contribution to the show’s mythology, The Gods of Winter.

The first instalment in a four-part series of BBC Audio releases featuring Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor as well as Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald – although only in name, since the studio have recruited the likes of David Schofield to narrate this interlinked quartet – Gods wastes no time in establishing the central plot arc which will bind together these otherwise standalone tales, introducing the aforementioned youth known as Diana Winter as she utilises an ominous "calling card" bestowed upon the Doctor to her ancestors for use on the worst day of each family member’s life. As was the case with Professor River Song back in 2008’s Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, however, the increasingly antagonistic Time Lord might well feel the desire to play Michael Buble’s "Haven’t Met You Yet" through the TARDIS’ speakers, since his initial meeting with the Winters clearly hasn’t occurred for him yet (and no doubt will be held back for the final instalment’s launch this December).

Regardless, even if answers regarding precisely why Diana’s family will have such a bearing on their newfound saviour’s life in days to come are a way off, Goss provides more than enough in the way of reasons for listeners to stick around in the meantime. Much as this reviewer jested about the subdued – to say the very least – nature of the quest placed on our time-travelling protagonists’ bigger-on-the-inside doorstep above, the situation involving the colony on which Diana resides and the apparently ruthless invaders plaguing its residents quickly escalates in unexpected ways, with the TARDIS crew forced to consider the origins of the Golhearn, a race whose motivations for serving as Gods’ supposed antagonists might not be all that they seem. Rest assured that we’ve no intent of spoiling any plot details beyond those offered in the audiobook’s précis, but we’ll at least tease that jumps in time, trips to other celestial bodies and commentaries on issues such as the dangers of blind faith and corporate legalities all factor into the piece’s overarching storyline in the seamless, inspired manner which only Goss can manage (as proven by his acclaimed past work on sub-plot laden Who romps including 2007’s The Infinite Quest).

Yet although the case of Diana’s lost feline companion does give way to a more layered, compelling adventure with political undertones aplenty, those hoping that Gods’ overall stakes would simultaneously be raised in the process might come away disappointed. Certainly, later set-pieces involving space shuttle flights across planet surfaces and seemingly abandoned religious temples up the ante in terms of action, placing both the Doctor and Clara – not to mention the first known member of the Winter dynasty – in occasionally grave danger, but if anything, this audiobook’s oft-relaxed tone at times seems far more reminiscent of that of a First Doctor serial (perhaps aptly given the representational similarities between Hartnell and Capaldi’s incarnations) than of one produced since Russell T Davies took the series’ helm just ten short years ago, a trait which could well deter any listener who approached the Twelfth Doctor’s latest audio voyage hoping for an adrenaline-fuelled experience along the lines of Into the Dalek or Death in Heaven. What Gods lacks in the way of substantial threats, however, the soon-to-be released tale compensates for with a hugely intelligent structure that initially lures the audience into wondering why Big Finish didn’t take the project on as one of their Short Trips scripts given the narrative’s supposed brevity, only for Goss to then throw a spanner in the works at the episode’s halfway point which ultimately more than justifies its (approximately) 60-minute running time.

Better yet, in the form of The Night of the Doctor star Claire Higgins (better known to series veterans as the mysterious figure who resurrected the Eighth Doctor shortly before kick-starting his successor’s plunge into the Time War), Goss has scored himself a simply ideal narrator, not least thanks to Higgins’ valiant attempts to distinguish the irritable Scottish tones of Capaldi’s Doctor, the remarkably more compassionate (if infrequently reckless) voice of Coleman’s Impossible Girl as well as the ever-maturing Diana. Whereas some of the previous contributors to BBC Audio’s various audiobook versions of the New Series Adventures novels have arguably tried and failed to capture the essence of either the programme’s current on-screen lead actors or indeed the one-off supporting players who’ve never featured on the TV show, there’s little point in denying that the first of the four thespians enlisted to bring the Winter escapades to life using their only vocal chords excels in both respects, effortlessly holding her audience’s attention as a result during both Gods’ (rare but appreciated) high-octane sequences and its calmer moments.

For a Who storyline which could quite easily have left its listeners baffled as to why BBC Audio didn’t simply transform it into a Sarah Jane Adventures novelisation, then, The Gods of Winter achieves a truly commendable number of feats, utilising its lack of action set-pieces as a means by which to tell a politically (and indeed philosophically) engaging yarn while bringing a hugely accomplished narrator into the fold so as to ensure that its audience never fails to remain captivated by proceedings. As with just about any tale intended largely to set up a broader plot arc, one could reasonably claim that the lack of genuine closure regarding the origins of Diana’s calling card robs Gods of a place amongst the higher echelons of off-screen Who, yet even if that’s indeed the case, this reviewer would gladly wager that the vast majority of those wise enough to pick Goss’ supremely accomplished latest work up will be too busy lapping up its myriad merits (not to mention attempting to predict how the story of Diana’s family tree might develop come October 1st in George Mann’s The House of Winter) to even begin to notice such incredibly minor shortcomings.