Eleventh Doctor Year 2: # 4 - OutrunBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
 THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.4 (Credit: Titan)

WRITER - ROB WILLIAMS
ARTIST - WARREN PLEECE
COLORIST - HI-FI,  WITH THANKS TO AMOONA SAOHIN

LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS AND
COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

(ABSLOM DAAK CREATED BY STEVE MOORE
AND STEVE DILLON)

EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES
ASSISTANT EDITORS - GABRIELA HOUSTON
AND JESSICA BURTON
DESIGNER - ROB FARMER

PUBLISHED DECEMBER 23RD 2015. TITAN COMICS

The Doctor's antiquated but invaluable vessel has finally decided to land somewhere after a series of mind-bending detours. So begins an exploration of the Planet Veestrax. After everyone's ordeal in the TARDIS tested their perceptions of reality, some respite should really be in order. However, more headache-inducing visions soon appear on the horizon for the Doctor, his associates, and the unkempt, swearing and psychotic warrior - Abslom Daak.

The Doctor has to open up further about his past to a concerned Alice, as well as attempt to decipher the clues as to the present status of Veestrax. Can he do this, however, when another old enemy of his may also be about to make their presence known?

As intriguing as last issue's Pull to Open was, it ultimately has minimal bearing on this new story, albeit being part of a larger arc.  A lot of set-up and characterisation is the chosen focus by scribe Rob Williams. Despite the pace being sedate, there is much that is memorable here.

Daak certainly gets his best outing yet, in that his bullishness and lack of education comes to the fore. Most notably, there is a stark verbal reminder made by the Doctor of this grizzled near-do-well having much innocent blood on his hands. This is despite some of his heroic acts that helped save lives, once Daak became an infamous 'Dalek Killer'.

It is also engaging to witness how this chain-sword-brandishing man's involvement in the Time War is contrasted with the Squire's own battles. The Doctor is caught in a tightrope act of judging just whether she is a force for good or evil. Fall one way and denounce squire as an enemy in sheep's clothing, or fall the other way and place as much trust in this aged female warrior as any of his most beloved assistants from 'home from home' planet Earth. Pick the wrong side and he may feel guilty for letting her down, or feel guilty for risking the lives of others.

Outrun is also notable in reminding us how little the Eleventh Doctor tends to tell his companions about the period of his former life when morals were all variable shades of grey. Of course, compared to Doctors Nine and Ten, there was little over guilt over the deeds of yesteryear. Fittingly, Alice still knows little of her friend's role in the Time War. This is despite her many adventures shared with him, and furthermore, her retained memories of the adventures with both a past and future self of him, in the spellbinding Four Doctors crossover.

Of course, a good chunk of the Steven Moffat TV productions explored the Doctor being more dangerous than his worst enemies. For the new Year Two arc though, this is a chance to keep building on The Day Of The Doctor - which functioned as an intriguing nucleus of an idea, as well as a crowd-pleasing feature length special. Once again, a handful of panels feature the bearded John Hurt incarnation, who is also described as "X-rated" by the Eleventh Doctor. They manage again to leave an impression, perhaps because of their brevity. The standout example is the attempt by 'The Then and The Now' to regress the Doctor back to his past self. Another moment of impact - and one that has spooky undertones - is when Alice is totally confused by the fluctuations in time, and sees herself beside the aged warrior in the middle of an adventure, despite never having met him in the first place.

Again, I found Warren Pleece was up to the demands of Williams' vision for the vast majority of the tale. Character expressions are something that comics can boast as an inherent strength, and even over the televisual media, where it takes indifferent direction or a weak performance to miss out on a vital emotional beat. And the emotions explored in this story are definitely raw and heartfelt. The particular visual highlight from Pleece's art involves a jarringly blank 'protective view' of the Time War, which only the Doctor is able to really see for what it is.

The questions continue to outweigh the answers, come the final sections of the story. And this is welcome, as the parent TV show, with Matt Smith at the front and centre, did similar tricks in keeping followers intrigued, and indeed frustrated (!). This is a strong effort, and I unreservedly recommend it for reading, once the first two or three issues in Year Two are accounted for.

                                                                  ***

Bonus Humour Strip - "Who Who Who, Merry Christmas".

This comic was released just before Christmas Day, and fittingly this example of adventures and witticisms with the Pond 'family' centres on the Yuletide occasion. Whilst we are leaving Winter behind shortly, this still can be read as a depiction of the highs and lows that a group of relations encounter in having to put in some original effort into an overly familiar time of the year. The particular humour standout for me came in the form of mocking a number of festive foes, that were conjured up by showrunners Russell T Davies and Moffat over the years as a form of lightweight opposition.

                                                                  ***

There is also another fine variant cover. It is described as a 'Subscription Photo', and credited to Will Brooks.

 





Torchwood: More Than ThisBookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 February 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood: More Than This (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Guy Adams
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Richard Nichols (Roger Pugh), Guy Adams (Coachman), Tom Price (Sergeant Andy)
Released by Big Finish Productions - February 2016

Remember how in 2007, after a spectacular run of episodes featuring delightful trips to Renaissance England, adrenaline-fuelled races against the clock on doomed space freighters and terrifying encounters with the Lonely Assassins of old, Doctor Who’s third season since its 2005 revival unfortunately concluded on something of a sour note with the downright tedious “Last of the Time Lords”, sacrificing much of the brutal realism which made Martha’s one and only string of TARDIS journeys such a hit with fans in favour of having Tennant’s Doctor spend almost an hour looking like The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum before transforming into a cringe-worthy embodiment of Christ the Redeemer himself? If so, then chances are that sitting through the sixth and final chapter of Big Finish’s freshman Torchwood run will induce quite a tangible sense of déjà vu in your mind from the outset.

Going by the name More Than This – for various reasons, the most enticing of which being its investigation of the ways in which humanity copes with grief and finding subsequent hope – Guy Adams’ first contribution to the show’s lore since his well-received 2009 novel The House That Jack Built seems more than a little oddly placed as the conclusion of a run of half of dozen stories that has centred on the machinations of the oft-enigmatic Committee as well as how their increasingly audacious schemes could come to affect the Earth’s sanctity in the days ahead. 

Far from bringing this ongoing plot arc the same kind of closure which Roger Pugh (Richard Nichols) – the Cardiff councillor who’s unlucky enough to find himself caught up in Gwen Cooper’s latest excursion as she desperately struggles to convince him of the need for the Hub’s imminent reconstruction – seeks more than a decade on from his spouse’s parting, Adams makes the confounding decision to ignore these pivotal new antagonists entirely here, opting to prioritize Pugh’s danger-ridden journey towards a form of enlightenment rather than developing the brilliantly tense aura of threat which writers like James Goss, Emma Reeves and David Llewellyn have built over the course of the season (think what your reaction would have been if all of those hints of the coming darkness in Season Four had amounted to absolutely nothing, and you’ll no doubt begin to comprehend how infuriating this turn of events is for any dedicated follower of the run).

Now, in fairness, this reviewer has no intention of spending the entirety of this critique lamenting over what could have been, since what this somewhat disappointingly surprising denouement lacks in the closure that anyone who’s tuned in since day one – meaning Torchwood’s debut Big Finish outing, The Conspiracy, not the televised episode of the same name, for those confused – will likely have desired, its cast compensate for with consistently entertaining turns galore. Whether the listener is spending some one-to-one time with Nichols’ Pugh as he recounts the day’s events at his wife’s graveside whilst descending into heart-breaking outbursts of self-pity, or keeping abreast of the latest endeavours of Eve Myles’ ever-endearing Gwen Cooper as she rallies against Cardiff’s more reckless drivers with a hilarious ferocity, or even sympathizing with the constant efforts of Tom Price’s Sergeant Andy to establish more than a professional rapport with Gwen despite the increasingly fleeting nature of their regular encounters, they’re sure to have a whale of a time regardless, something which can’t always be said of Big Finish’s works in those cases where the central cast ensembles’ contributions come off as inconsistent as best.

Nevertheless, that Gwen and Andy merely showcase many of the aspects of their respective personalities which made them such fan favourites in Torchwood’s TV days only reaffirms the startling lack of ambition to be found on this occasion – in contrast to Pugh, who most certainly embarks on a compelling personal journey as he learns more of both the universe and its limits in attempting to counteract several temporal anomalies plaguing Cardiff’s population, neither Myles nor Price receives even the briefest of opportunities to develop their characters in any substantial manner here. Whilst such a shortcoming might well have been forgivable in any other instance, that the former actress recently indicated on Twitter that More Than This would likely mark Gwen’s swansong renders Adams’ bemusing insistence upon simply taking her character through the motions as that much more of a missed opportunity (and, in a similar vein to his omission of the Committee, denies Gwen of any of the closure she rightly deserves). At least Price will have his time to shine in the spotlight with Season Two’s Andy-led third chapter, Ghost Mission, but even so, that’s scarcely a valid excuse for the near-complete lack of attention paid to characterisation outside of Mr Pugh’s this time around.

As crushing as it is for this reviewer to admit, then, far from rounding off what’s otherwise been a sublime comeback for the Torchwood franchise with a satisfying storyline that ties up most of the myriad loose ends left dangling over the course of Season One, Adams’ emotionally charged but often depressingly unaspiring audio drama instead attempts to echo Uncanny Valley’s intricate, understated narrative when in reality its characters would likely have benefitted from being involved in a tale with slightly more scale and ambition than the one we got this month. Ultimately, though, that’s far from the case, and as a direct result, there’s a cruel irony about the title which the playwright selected in this case, as whenever one returns to this underwhelming final play, it’s almost impossible to feel as if they won’t be left longing for More Than This.





Torchwood: Uncanny ValleyBookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 February 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood: Uncanny Valley (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by David Llewellyn
Directed by Neil Gardner
Starring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Steven Cree (Neil Redmond), Emma Reeves (Miss Trent)
Released by Big Finish Productions - January 2016

Every now and then, Big Finish launch a work of audio drama which, against all of the odds, somehow manages to catch the audience (this reviewer included) completely off-guard. Just think back to last September’s Torchwood: The Conspiracy: in light of the wholly underwhelming nature of its source material’s fourth televised season, Miracle Day, few listeners would have likely been surprised if the studio’s first venture into the world of Captain Jack, Gwen Cooper and Torchwood Three had only served to further highlight the show’s supposed decadence in an age of myriad near-identical detective dramas. But quite to the contrary, Season One’s opening chapter had precisely the opposite effect, incorporating inspired contemporary storytelling devices such as social media and video-blogging whilst reminding us how captivating and morally layered a performance John Barrowman could offer up when gifted with the right script by placing the actor front-and-centre in a storyline which took full advantage of his considerable capabilities.

Fast forward four releases, and we reach a similarly masterful new chapter in the form of Torchwood: Uncanny Valley, which wisely brings Barrowman back into the fold in order to depict Jack Harkness’ ongoing efforts to decipher the still-ambiguous origins of the sinister Committee by investigating their backing of the reclusive billionaire Nick Redmond (Steven Cree). That’s not to say that spending time in the company of the rest of Jack’s gang – Gwen, the much-missed Ianto and even Yvonne Hartman included – over the course of Season One hasn’t been a treat unto itself, yet whereas titles like Fall to Earth, One Rule and in particular Forgotten Lives have each taken fairly predictable approaches to developing the mortal members of the series’ ever-changing ensemble, this penultimate chapter mirrors Conspiracy in its emphasis on quite how much of an unknown quantity Barrowman’s beloved construct remains more than ten years on from his debut in 2005’s “The Empty Child”. We may have seen Jack adopt the roles of Time Agent, conman, leader, mournful sibling and lonely immortal over the years, but given how many facets of himself the man has revealed in these various guises, the concept that there may be plenty still to learn yet still seems highly probable, if not downright inevitable, at this point.

Certainly, writer David Llewellyn (who, unsurprisingly, penned both Conspiracy and Uncanny) does little to diminish this trail of thought here, either, delving further into Jack’s increasingly flexible sexuality, his almost despicable mastery of psychological manipulation and the rules he’s willing to break in order to complete the mission at hand than any of Big Finish’s other Torchwood releases, to the extent that the hauntingly ruthless soul we saw murder his own son in Children of Earth’s closing moments fades back into view at times. Thankfully, though, the manner in which Llewellyn elects to portray his protagonist this time around doesn’t represent him in a wholly pessimistic light, with his exploration of how striving for immortality, be it literal in Jack’s case or cultural in Redmond’s, can take a substantial toll on one’s sense of their own identity casting the supposed Face of Boe in an entirely different, often more sympathetic shade than that which we’ve seen before, thereby ensuring that despite the character sporting a fascinatingly complex moral compass which often forces him into questionable territory in the eyes of the audience, many elements of his personality can and will still resonate with listeners everywhere as they contemplate along with Barrowman’s ageless vagabond and Redmond’s ageing icon whether it’s possible to stay true to their core values if they spend their lives only trying to ensure themselves a lasting legacy.

As for the narrative through which Llewellyn effortlessly develops Jack’s characterization, to spoil too much beyond Uncanny Valley’s previously-discussed premise would undoubtedly ruin our reader’s enjoyment of a relentlessly surprising, thought-provoking tale which had this reviewer thrilled, intrigued on an intellectual level and emotionally invested in equal measure throughout its running time. Suffice to say that what with its depiction of multiple incarnations of Barrowman’s character, the rather dazzling cover artwork Big Finish have produced for this instalment’s CD release at least provides a hint or two as to some of the issues which are explored as Jack discovers how Redmond attends corporate events while remaining safe and sound inside his cosy mansion. For anyone worried that the sight of doppelgangers might indicate they’re about to endure an hour-long ‘Greatest Hits’ tribute to recent cloning-orientated greats like Humans and Ex-Machina, however, rest assured that Llewellyn, director Neil Gardner (who lends a refreshingly intimate air to proceedings, ensuring that Jack and Redmond’s increasingly heartfelt conversation isn’t rendered as a farcical one by an overly heart-wrenching score or similarly clichéd technical elements) and the remarkably versatile three-player cast seem only too aware of these potential comparisons and as such make every effort to connect with their audience on a deeper level – both emotionally and intellectually – than any of their esteemed rivals.

Speaking of the cast, whereas Tracy-Ann Oberman’s backing players went some way towards reducing the overall impact of her return as Yvonne in last December’s One Rule with their one-dimensional portrayals of the most stereotypical representations of Welsh society in recent memory, the same can hardly be said of Barrowman’s co-stars; instead, Cree and Emma Reeves both seem born to play their respective roles as Redmond and his far-from-selfless benefactor Miss Trent. Admittedly Reeves has, for whatever reason, guest-starred in Forgotten Lives already this season and her ‘screen-time’ here remains particularly limited, meaning that Uncanny Valley places much of the onus on Cree’s dynamic with Barrowman, hence why it’s such a welcome surprise to see the pair develop such a deep, near-intoxicating chemistry in the space of but a single series of captivating discussions. By turns egotistical, pathetic and immensely relatable, Cree’s Redmond stands as easily Big Finish’s most compelling addition to the Torchwood pantheon to date (a remarkable feat in and of itself given how quickly many listeners adored Lisa Zahra’s hapless-but-endearing call centre worker Zeynep in Fall to Earth), and whilst Llewellyn’s constantly evolving portrayal of the character helps no end, that he’s such an instant success is primarily down to Cree’s unpredictable, unforgettable performance.

The word “unforgettable” seems as fine an adjective with which to summarize Uncanny Valley as a whole, come to think of it – like Llewellyn’s The Conspiracy before it, this morally subversive, intellectually stimulating and yet somehow incredibly understated tale takes full advantage of the strongest elements of the original TV series (Barrowman’s performance and its dealings with far more adult topics than his character could ever encounter in the world of Doctor Who). More impressive than that, though, is how its scribe goes one step further with his second script, placing his primary supporting construct on equal (if not superior) footing to Jack and in doing so creating that much more of a thematically rich narrative which brings out the best in both of its leading players whilst allowing the audience to connect with its events to a far greater extent than they might have when viewing them solely from the perspective of an immortal being whose humanity is debatably fading by the day. An all-out blockbuster Uncanny Valley mightn’t be, but in truth, we wouldn’t have it any other way, for in place of a shallow, action-driven storyline, we’ve gotten one of the most cunningly crafted and emotionally satisfying productions in Big Finish’s history.





Doctor Who – The War Doctor Vol 1: Only the MonstrousBookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 February 2016 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
The War Doctor: Only The Monstrous (cover) (Credit: Big Finish)
Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs
Produced by David Richardson
Big Finish Productions, 2015
Stars: John Hurt (The War Doctor), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra), Lucy Briggs-Owen (young Rejoice), Carolyn Seymour (older Rejoice), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Alex Wyndham (Seratrix), Kieran Hodgson (Bennus), Barnaby Edwards (Arverton), Mark McDonnell (Traanus), John Banks (Garv), Nicholas Briggs (the Daleks)
 

“Isn’t that a testament to what a sick place the universe has become?  A man harbours a hope for peace ... That should be a good thing, a noble thing ... But instead, that hope could have led to the destruction of everything good in the cosmos ...”
The War Doctor, Only the Monstrous

Going back less than three years, it’s amazing to think how unlikely it was that there would ever be tales about the Great Time War.  The mysterious temporal-celestial conflict had underlined so many adventures since Doctor Who’s return in 2005, with the multiple appearances of the Daleks and the Master adding some flesh to bare bones. Even the Time Lords’ triumphant return in The End of Time still only gave us a tantalising glimpse of what the war was like (and how monstrous the Time Lords had become), and of the Doctor’s role in its climactic events.


Of course, we finally saw the climax to the war in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and even then the Doctor who fought in the war – in the guise of legendary thespian Sir John Hurt – was not the version of the Time Lord we would ever have expected (Hurt as the Doctor would have been the stuff of fantasy by Whovians in the dark decade of the 1990s, although this is precisely what motivated Steven Moffat to cast him!). As brilliant as he was in The Day of the Doctor, it seemed pretty clear that this would be Hurt’s one and only foray as the Time Lord. It seemed highly unlikely he’d ever reprise the role, especially as he recently overcame a cancer scare.


It’s therefore a massive coup for Big Finish that not only can it now tell stories that are set during the Time War but that Hurt has reprised the War Doctor on audio. Again, three years ago, the prospect of BF doing any material based on modern Doctor Who was remote - as was the sheer impossibility of someone of Hurt’s stature ever playing the Doctor on TV and audio. How time makes fools of us all!


The War Doctor - Volume 1: Only the Monstrous retains all the moral themes, intrigue, action and adventure that we associate with Doctor Who but with an edginess, darker tone and sometimes black humour that arises from telling what is effectively a war story. Prolific script writer, director and resident Dalek voice artist Nicholas Briggs admits in the CD extras that he is a wartime history buff (he previously touched upon the subject in the first volume of Dark Eyes, when we were first introduced to First World War nurse Molly O’Sullivan) and he uses his extensive knowledge of wartime politics and psychology to great effect in this boxset.
In particular, Briggs explores the values and dilemmas of pacificism and appeasement, both in the broader context of the Time War itself and the more “domestic” example of the planet Keska, whose peace loving and gentle inhabitants find themselves under siege from their ancestral adversaries the Taalyans. In many respects, Briggs explores themes that date back to the very first Dalek TV serial in 1963, in which a similar race of people – the Thals – find themselves at the mercy of their perennial rivals but are reluctant to resort to violence to defend themselves.


The Doctor, who has traditionally opposed violence as a means to an end throughout his incarnations, is thrust into circumstances where he can see how pacifism and appeasement is simply lost on implacable, warlike enemies. Indeed, it all becomes a “no-win” scenario, with our hero having to implement a remedy that is utterly distasteful to him and which only entrenches the self-loathing that will plague him in his subsequent incarnations. As the 12th Doctor so beautifully put it in Doctor Who’s most recent TV season: “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones but you still have to choose ...”


Only the Monstrous comprises three one-hour episodes that, like other boxsets across BF’s range, form one greater story. The first episode, The Innocent, has a very different style of pace to the later instalments, as the Time Lord formerly known as the Doctor (“Don’t call me that! It’s not me!”)  crashes on Keska after an initial stoush above Gallifrey with the Dalek time fleet. Much to his confusion and disapproval, he is cared for by a young Keskan woman Rejoice (Lucy Briggs-Owen), whose gentle, almost childlike and naive outlook on life is refreshing and comforting for the aged, weary and embittered warrior.


The tone of the story also gives John Hurt a chance to develop the War Doctor’s character. Hurt’s initial dialogue with Rejoice, which is cranky, dismissive, bad-tempered and cynical, is very reminiscent of William Hartnell’s First Doctor. But whereas the First Doctor often hid a more mischievous and kind-hearted persona behind his veneer of impatience, discourtesy, distrust and arrogance, it becomes clear in this episode that the War Doctor’s reasons for putting up his guard are more psychosomatic – he is traumatised and disgusted by the terrible things he has seen and done so far in the Time War. This is exemplified by the intensity of Hurt’s performance in one scene when Rejoice suggests that the Doctor isn’t a monster. As Donna Noble once remarked, the Doctor needs companions to keep him in check and level-headed – and while Hurt’s rendition of the Doctor may prefer to work alone so that others remain safe from harm, it is clear that he could benefit from the counsel of a travelling companion.


The implication in The Day of the Doctor was that the War Doctor was prepared to abandon the Doctor’s traditional moral code and do what his other incarnations would not. Yet, when you hear Hurt’s masterful performance, you realise his interpretation is not that far removed from his predecessors and successors. Far from being immoral, the War Doctor is the most ethical character amongst the Time Lords we meet, if not the most principled protagonist full stop. At one point, he admonishes his people: “We’re better than this! We’re not Daleks!” He remains true and faithful to the Doctor’s core values throughout the saga and especially in later scenes with Rejoice in the serials The Thousand Worlds and The Heart of the Battle he shows compassion and empathy (Hurt’s scenes with an older Rejoice, played by Survivors veteran Carolyn Seymour, are amongst the most touching scenes in the three plays). Hurt’s also not without plenty of moments of humour – some of his lines in the three plays you can imagine were delivered with a twinkle in his eye, again aligning the War Doctor closer to the Doctor’s other incarnations than we previously thought.


The War Doctor has an intellectual equal in the Time Lord hierarchy who is sure to become a fan favourite and memorable antagonist in future boxsets. Jacqueline Pearce brings gravitas, clout and mischief to the devious, scheming and hardnosed Cardinal Ollistra. Although Pearce says in the CD extras that she tried hard to deliver a performance that was not too similar to that of her Blake’s 7 alter ego Servalan, the parallels between the two characters are unavoidable. It is not just Ollistra’s crafty behaviour that echoes Servalan but even some of her dialogue – when Ollistra tells the Doctor at the climax that it is her responsibility to ensure the Time Lords are protected from the “contagious virus of fear and appeasement”, she expresses a sentiment not too dissimilar to Servalan’s famous remark in B7 that “Where there’s life, there’s threat”. Whether it is deliberate or inadvertent on scribe Nick Briggs’ part, Pearce’s character brings an element of B7’s “realpolitik” to this Time War era of Doctor Who. Ollistra’s determination to preserve the Time Lords’ power base at seemingly any cost also illustrates how treacherous and dangerous the Time War-era Time Lords have become (and why they were so feared in The Night of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor).


The other Time Lord characters we meet are by comparison to the War Doctor or Ollistra typically arrogant, cold-mannered and ruthless or at the very least morally compromised and craven. BF regular Beth Chalmers shrugs off (as she describes it) her more “wholesome” demeanour as the frosty, abrasive Time Lady operative Veklin, a woman who makes Mary Tamm’s initial portrayal of Romana in The Ribos Operation look positively cuddly! Chalmers has played numerous parts across BF’s Doctor Who range over the years (most notably as Seventh Doctor companion Raine Creevy) but Veklin by far is her most memorable performance. She deserves to reprise the role in future War Doctor instalments, as Veklin is precisely the type of “companion” the War Doctor needs!
Barnaby Edwards’ Arverton and Kieran Hodgson’s Bennus are virtually the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” of the saga. Unlike Veklin, they do not strike you as fearless, battle-hardened soldiers at all, but hapless stooges, especially the more timid Bennus (although it becomes clear late in proceedings why Bennus behaves as he does and why he and Arverton have been selected for the mission to Keska). Alex Wyndham also delivers a plausible, sterling performance as Time Lord official Seratrix, the apparent holder of vital strategic secrets that could decide the outcome of the Time War. As noble as Seratrix originally appears, it becomes all too clear in The Heart of the Battle that this dignity hides a selfish, heartless and unsympathetic streak that seems inescapable in all of the Time War-era Gallifreyans.


The other supporting characters in Only the Monstrous are well written by Briggs and ably realised by the respective actors. Both Briggs-Owen and Seymour excel as prospective companion Rejoice at different stages in her life. Dalek Empire veteran Mark McDonnell makes the most of a limited, two-dimensional part as the Taalyan warlord Traanus (as Dalek henchmen, the brutish Taalyans don’t seem altogether much brighter than their predecessors the Ogrons!) and John Banks injects dignity into an even smaller but no less important role as reluctant scientist Garv.


Briggs, of course, continues to excel as the Daleks, using his voice to delineate between the regular drones and the sector-controlling Prime Dalek. Strangely, though, the Dalek threat in this trilogy of plays tends to be more abstract. There is a “grand plan” at the heart of the Prime Dalek’s “null zone” empire that could tilt the balance in the Time War but Briggs prefers to focus on the immediacy of that threat to the countless populations of more than 1000 worlds caught up in the Daleks’ machinations; in doing so, he holds up a mirror whose reflection barely distinguishes between Time Lords and Daleks.


If you’re a long-term listener of BF’s Doctor Who range and its assorted spin-offs, then you will not be surprised by the high quality of the production, whether that be Howard Carter’s outstanding incidental music and sound design (eg crashing TARDIS engines, Dalek and Time Lord weapon discharges, the motorised whirring of Daleks on the move) or Briggs’ direction and editing. Carter’s rendition of the Doctor Who theme for the War Doctor’s adventures is particularly inspired – heavy metal sounds and drumbeats underscore a fast-paced theme arrangement that effectively conveys a wartime atmosphere. Carter even has some fun in The Thousand Worlds when he devises the Taalyans’ war music – a cacophony of metallic beats that prompts the Doctor to dryly remark that the Taalyans are both “genocidal – and tone deaf!” It’s a delicious irony then that the Daleks are routed after being “deafened” by a premeditated burst of sound!


In all, The War Doctor – Only the Monstrous is a fantastic start to what promises to be an epic series of boxsets over the next two years. Briggs has certainly set a high standard for other writers to follow in future volumes. Coupled with a magnificent cast led by John Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce, and with veteran David Warner also set to join them in Volume 2, there is every reason to be optimistic that the War Doctor saga will become one of BF’s most popular and acclaimed Doctor Who spin-offs. Who would have picked that when the War Doctor was just a gleam in Steven Moffat’s imagination three years ago?

 

 

 





The Tenth Doctor Adventures Year Two # 1 – The Singer Not The Song Part 1Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 17 February 2016 - Reviewed by Dan Collins
Tenth Doctor Adventures Year Two # 1 (Credit: Titan)
Writer: Nick Abadzis
Artist: Eleonara Carlini
Colourist: Claudia SG Iannicello
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Onsale: September 16, 2015

Here we are with a brand new year of Tenth Doctor stories courtesy of Titan Comics. Considering that it’s a new “season” there is very little change from the previous issues. They continue on with the same companion, writer and artist. The most notable change would be the numbering. The publishing company decided to go with a snazzy new numbering scheme this time around so instead of having the first issue of this story arc continue on from where they left off, they start fresh and add a 2 in front to designate year two. So we don’t have issue #16 but rather the slightly more confusing 2.1. Titan must be hoping that their renumbering would attract new readers. Starting with a fresh number one every year has been a proven winner for industry leaders like Marvel. For new readers it may seem like an ideal new jumping on point, while older readers will continue to buy and so it creates a spike in sales numbers and revenue for the publisher.

The format of the story also lends itself to the idea that new readers may be on board for the first time. It’s one of those stories where we come into it at the very end. In this case it starts with Gabby narrating. She’s talking about the Shan’tee, beings who are literally made of music. As she speaks, the the world around her crumbles to pieces.  When she cries out for the Doctor, telling him he can’t be late this time, we are then transported back to where the story started. By beginning at the end we are given a hook to catch all of those new readers who may be unfamiliar with the characters. Then it takes them away from the exciting and catastrophic events to the more tranquil beginning and starts the slow development of the story.

The planet Waputki is the perfect utopia. The Shan’tees music inspires the air-born bovodrines to feed. They are basically a jellyfish type creature except they graze like a cow. The floating air cows create the atmosphere that allows the humans to live and breathe and trade on the planet. Of course there is no such thing as utopia and something has to go wrong. A deadly virus is attacking the Shan’tee. In many cases it kills them out right, but sometimes it turns the beautiful creatures into something terrifying and sinister.

This first issue of year two gets us off to a promising start. I found it well paced and exciting. The beginning at the end worked for me. The Shan’tee are really neat creatures and their evil counterparts (the Nocturnes) are great as well.  

Bonus Strip- A Rose By Any Name By Rachael Smith

Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I seem to have a love/hate relationship with these strips. One month I am going on about how great it is, the next is does nothing for me. It almost seems the writer herself is feeling some malaise as this cartoon literally shows the Doctor and his Cat just going through the motions.





Twelfth Doctor #15 - The Hyperion Empire (Part Four)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
DOCTOR WHO: THE TWELFTH DOCTOR #15 (Credit: Titan)
Writer: Robbie Morrison
Artist : Daniel Indro
Colourist: Slamet Mujiono
Lettering: Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Gabriela Houston + Jessica Burton
Designer: Rob Farmer
Released: December 23rd 2015, Titan Comics

Note: Some major spoilers are brought up in the course of this review.

 

"A generous offer, Time Lord: surrender the TARDIS and your death shall be quick, merciful. Resist, and you shall burn forever in the fires of Hyperios."

A bleak proposition from the Hyperion known as Zraa-Korr.

 

The final plans of the ruthless, truly despotic fire beings are coming closer to fruition, despite the efforts of the Doctor, his friends, and his various allies headed by UNIT. Warlord Dra-Khan is confident that he can counter any resistance, including some technology beyond the scope of planet Earth in this century. Thanks to the betrayal of self-serving politician Grove, the Doctor may now be a Hyperion prisoner, and so unable to offer his customary heroics. The Earth, its Sun and wider planetary systems are all at stake as the Hyperion Fusion Web nears final completion. Can the TARDIS possibly play a role though in preventing all-out catastrophe?

 

This latest epic for the team of Clara and the Doctor has done well to make the most of its four-issue story-telling space. Thanks to some good build up - in the very first story of Year 1 - there was always plenty of room for the already established Hyperions to be made out as an all-consuming threat, and thus deserving of a Doctor who is very much on-song with his intellect and application of centuries' experience.

Amongst all the rushing around, and name checking with UNIT, there has also been a fine exploration of the central relationship between the savvy Coal Hill school teacher and her grey-haired genius friend. Much of Series 9's goes onto see a warm relationship, and that was partly done to make Clara's exit that much more affecting. But 'The Hyperion Empire' can be regarded as a spiritual sequel to Death In Heaven, and one that could be of a significant collection of non-televised stories set between the first and second Capaldi TV seasons.

The Doctor is certainly still full of vanity and self-importance, but does have that element of winking and revealing a tender side, especially when he and Clara finally reflect on the sum of their efforts. A gun toting and militaristic Clara is perhaps a reminder of the odd characterisation of Nightmare In Silver but when not engaged in the frenetic action directly, is quite well portrayed by scribe Robbie Morrison. I enjoyed especially her slap to the head, when the Doctor claims to only have 'shared' when he actually has stolen a vital weapon from the "Elementals of Vortice City".  Another fine moment comes when her unpredictable partner in crime unashamedly explains how he can break a promise and yet technically still be honest, by stating that crossing 'one' of his hearts is not the same as crossing 'both' of them.

 

There was also a certain amount of set-up over the course of this Four-Parter that never quite pays off, which arguably came at the whim of the creative team. Sam was a character that perhaps did not make much new ground, but still had enough to him to be likeable and relatable, and would have offered a point of reference for forthcoming stories set on contemporary Earth. But Morrison chooses to both deny him a potential future role, and fizzles out any fleeting hope of a romantic link with Clara, into the bargain.

But a redemption of sorts is achieved for Colonel Weir, and it brings back memories of the somewhat disturbing fate of Astrid Peth in the 2007 Christmas TV special. Despite her family relatives having featured in a handful of panels, and being a case more of 'telling' rather than 'showing', it is still praiseworthy that the story ends with a final coda that is elegantly bittersweet.

The artwork has again reverted back to Daniel Indro, and perhaps due to the locations and character actions featured, there is less of the heavily gritty and jagged style and somewhat more of the expansive and 'big sci-fi concepts' visuals instead. To have a story with the art changing twice over the space of three issues is curious, but since Issue 15 is one of the best Twelfth Doctor comics in some time, I am inclined to accept this inconsistency.

 

BONUS:

No humour strip is included, but some alternative covers feature.

The second of these below is courtesy of Neil Slorance, who has previously done many humour strips. The first and third are by Will Brooks and Simon Myers respectively.

 

                   

 

Also, a black-and-white preview of the art of Rachael Stott for Year 2 Issue 1 is on show. On the evidence of this single page, it is most welcome to have more work from her, following the excellence that closed the Ninth Doctor Miniseries recently.