A Cold Day in Hell (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 30 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
A Cold Day In Hell (Credit: Panini)
Written by Simon Furman, Mike Collins, Grant Morrison, John Freeman, Dan Abnett, Richard Alan, John Carnell, Alan Grant

Artwork by John Ridgeway, Kev Hopgood, Tim Perkins, Geoff Senior, Dave Hine, Bryan Hitch, John Higgins, Lee Sullivan, Dougie Braithwaite, Dave Elliott, Andy Lanning, Martin Griffiths, Cam Smith

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

The first Seventh Doctor Volume, A Cold Day in Hell is, like all of Panini's Who collections, wonderfully put together and restored, but much of the stories in this volume didn't totally work for me. The first story tries to wrap up the Sixth Doctor comic era by having a finale adventure for companion "Frobisher," but just continuity wise it just feels out of place with the Seventh Doctor...too many references to "since Peri left" which just doesn't fit where the Seventh Doctor was from the moment he took over the part on TV. 

They should've just started fresh...time has passed, there is a new Doctor, and if you are going to say goodbye to Frobisher anyhow, why shoehorn him into the start of a new Doctor's run? It is an especially odd choice as Frobisher's exit lacks any real emotional impact.  If they wanted to say goodbye to the character, maybe they should have worked that into the end of "The World Shapers" which closed out the Sixth Doctor's run. Seems an odd choice, but this book is full of that. 

It seems at the time Marvel (who was still distributing Doctor who Magazine at the time) was desperate to drag Doctor Who into their big sweeping and ridiculous canon.  They used the Doctor Who strip as a weird in between for a character called "Death's Head," who appeared in some other comic and is shrunk down by the Doctor as an excuse to move him onto his own title by Marvel UK.  They also brought in two awful characters from another title called The Sleaze Brothers for a story so inept and awful. Admittedly, I am almost always anti-Crossover, but Doctor Who really does need to just live in it's own vast and strange universe. The stories that Marvel forced are also just plain bad.

The book also has so many artists, you'd think at least a few would manage to demonstrate an ability to capture Sylvester McCoy's likeness.  But very few actually did, which is odd.  The actor has, in my view, a fairly distinctive face, you'd think artists would find his features easy to capture or even caricature after the more non-descript faces of Peter Davison and Colin Baker.  But for most of this collection you only know it is the Doctor because he's the guy wearing the hat. 

It isn't all bad, "Claws of the Klathi!" is a decent atmospheric tale with good art and a better than the usual capturing of the Seventh Doctor's look.  I rather liked "Keepsake" and "Echoes of the Mogor!" and I did like the running gag in which the Doctor is always landing and immediately realizing he has not yet found his friend's birthday party, which he is apparently on his way towards. 

I think the biggest issue is that collected in this volume is a total hodge podge of writers, artists, and stories.  There is no clear voice (as Steve Parkhouse was throughout all of the Fifth Doctor's run and the early days of the Sixth Doctor), and no clear visual style (as the Sixth Doctor's entire run had in John Ridgeway).  That lack of any artistic vision, along with a company bullying them into working in their own characters that don't really fit...and what you get is a bunch of one offs and only a few stories that actually dig in for more than one issue.  Ultimately this is a collection for Collectors and Completists only, otherwise, I think it is rather easy to skip. 





UNIT: EncountersBookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 December 2017 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
UNIT: Encounters (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Matt Fitton, Roy Gill, Andrew Smith, John DorneyDirected By: Ken BentleyJemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Ramon Tikaram (Colonel Shindi), Karina Fernandez (Captain Gonsalves/ Phoebe Breckenridge), Lucy Fleming (Alice Donelly), Matthew Cottle (Ben Donelly/ Overseer), David Jonsson (Corporal James Morley), Dan Starkey (Marshal Skar/ Commander Merx/ Sontaran Escapee), James Wilby (Professor John Torrance), Beth Goddard (Christine Colley), Barnaby Edwards (Satellite voice), Jot Davies (Guerilla/ AIDE/ Soldier) and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks). Other parts played by members of the cast. Producer David Richardson. Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney. Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Having four series already under its belt, Big Finish bravely decided to try something a little experimental for the fifth series of UNIT. Whereas previous sets have relied on a single thread and usually a single villain (The Nestines, Tengobushi, Silence and Silurians/Sea Devils respectively) the novel approach was taken here to have each story a separate adventure with a new foe. Of course that’s not strictly true, as there is a loose thread concerning an organisation known as the Auctioneers, though this only really comes to the forefront in the third adventure and even then is never fully explored, leaving the possibility open for a rematch in a later set. Anyway! What makes UNIT Encounters so enjoyable is the experimental nature of it. All the team are present and correct (except of course for Sam Bishop who is off on another Bondian adventure) but the stories they are involved in vary from jungle espionage tales, to ghost stories, to out and out comedies.

Opening the set is Matt Finton’s ‘The Dalek Transaction’, which takes the team to the jungles of central America on an undercover mission to buy a captured Dalek from a group of guerrilla rebels. Action packed and with a breakneck pace, it’s a hell of an opener, highlighting the real genius of what makes the audio UNIT based series work; the ability to fly all over the world and feature humongous set pieces that a BBC budget simply wouldn’t allow. The team are all seen working together in this story, with Ramon Tikaram’s Colonel Shindi given a real chance to shine. However undoubtedly the show is stolen by Guest actress, Karina Fernandez as Captain Gonsalves. Her interactions with Jemma Redgrave are some of the most enjoyable scenes in the entire set as despite being from completely opposite ends of the spectrum, they understand each other as the commanders of their respective troops. Unfortunately the story isn’t a total success and that’s mostly due to it’s titular villain. Single Dalek stories have been somewhat out-played now and although Finton tries to inject a few hints of this Dalek being ‘something more’ it never really goes anywhere and the stories twists and turns never really go anywhere. However if you allow yourself to become lost in the action and character moments, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Invocation is the next story and see’s Kate investigating happening’s at an old house that still appears to be on the UNIT books, despite having no projects there for decades. Meanwhile a mysterious ‘Grey Man’ is sighted across London. Highlighting the tonal shifts that make this set so enjoyable, we go from an action packed opener to a ghost story in the classic vein. Featuring dark secrets from UNITs past and highlighting the darker side of Kates character, I found this to be one of the highlights of the set. Admittidly a lot slower than the other stories, Invocation takes time to explore it’s mystery and towards the end really puts Kate into the centre, stressing her family ties in a far more rewarding way than Moffat’s interpretation allowed for. Perhaps a little derivative at points for some, it was a welcome change of pace for the UNIT franchise.

The Sontaran Project on the other hand I found to be perhaps the weakest of the bunch. Putting the Auctioneer plot front and centre, what results is something of a mess. At the end of the story we still know decidedly little about them, which if they return in a later series I’m all for, keeping them enigmatic and in the background makes them appear a formidable foe. The problem is the story meanders and plods along, torn between a plot concerning experimentation on Sontarans in order to clone private armies (an interesting concept) and revealing a little bit concerning the Auctioneers. Neither of these plots are given particular emphasis and neither feel like there’s any real threat. The Sonatarans turn up, join forces with UNIT, confront a foe we discover more about and the story ends. Dan Starkey is once again given a chance to shine but really that’s the only highlight of what otherwise feels like an attempt to give some connection to the various stories.

However all is redeemed in ‘False Negative’. Far from the explosive finales of previous sets, Encounters ends with an all-out comedy, centring on the hilarity that ensures when Osgood and Josh are flung into a parallel world that may or may not be a version of the one from Inferno. With much made of the fact that the Osgood and Josh of that world are not only unashamedly evil, but also in a highly sexualised relationship, I found myself laughing out loud at several points. False Negative is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste and I think individuals expecting an Inferno sequel or pastiche will certainly be disappointed but it is immensely fun. John Dorney has written a superb and highly amusing script that gives the cast (particular Ingrid Oliver and James Joyce) a real chance to shine and is another jewel in this sets crown. Choosing to end the set in this way was a brave and bold move and one that has to be respected.

With three highly enjoyable stories and one dud, UNIT Encounters took a lot of chances and for the most part they payed off. Whilst I may not have enjoyed the handling of their story in The Sontaran Project, I was certainly intrigued by the Auctioneers and look forward to any possible rematch between them and UNIT. However the real joys of this set came not from the loose overarching plot but from the experimental nature of the stories. A lot of brave decisions were made with this set and the production team have to be commended for willing to do something different.  





Twice Upon A TimeBookmark and Share

Monday, 25 December 2017 - Reviewed by Simon Moore
Twice Upon A Time - The Doctor Who Christmas Special (Credit: BBC)
"Twice Upon A Time".
Written by Steven Moffat 
Directed by Rachel Talalay

Starring Peter Capaldi, David Bradley,
Mark Gatiss and Pearl Mackie

This review contains spoilers from the Doctor Who Christmas Episode 

 

To be frank, the more recent “Doctor Who” Christmas Specials have somewhat fallen flat in my humble opinion, predominantly due to Steven Moffat’s overreliance upon festive frivolities and holiday humour. Indeed, with the possible exception of Matt Smith’s swansong, "The Time of the Doctor", I haven’t ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ one of these seasonal-themed shows since Russell T Davies’ 2008 masterpiece “The Next Doctor”. I’m also not the greatest fan of Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the time-travelling Gallifreyan either, and believe the Scottish actor’s considerable talents were woefully wasted during his first two seasons, and only really came to the fore once he was ably accompanied by characters like Bill Potts and Nardole.

"Twice Upon a Time" however, does not seemingly fall into many of the tinsel-laden traps its predecessors have succumbed to, and instead tells a relatively straightforward story of the Timelord trying to understand whether a company capable of replicating the memories of the deceased should be universally viewed as a villainous malignancy or, somewhat perturbingly for the Doctor, an actual cause for the greater good. In fact, the realisation that this particular adventure specifically occurs on Christmas Day only becomes relevant (and resultantly noticeable) at the episode’s end when it enables the titular lead to engineer a military ceasefire through the manipulation of a few blessed hours of time.

Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of a Timelord desperately seeking peace after two thousand years of life, is also far more watchable (and likeable) than the version who required Clara Oswald’s hastily-written handy cards in “Under The Lake” so as to demonstrate even the smallest amount of compassion and humanity. Despite being tired of living himself, the Doctor isn’t about to stand by and watch a single lone soldier die if he can help it, even when Mark Gatiss’ World War One British officer nobly agrees to sacrifice his life in the belief it will save others. Such natural empathy and warmth on behalf of the Twelfth Doctor was sadly missing through so many of his earliest adventures, so it’s nice to see a far more agreeable attitude being shown throughout his final adventure.

Twice Upon a Time: The First Doctor (David Bradley), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Far more impressive though, has to be David Bradley’s ‘tour de force’ as the First Doctor. For those old enough to remember, I thought Richard Hurndall’s performance in the Twentieth Anniversary special “The Five Doctors” would be hard to beat, yet the star of “An Adventure in Space and Time” effortlessly transforms into the grumpy grandfather’s role and proves a pleasure to watch; even if he is given the majority of Moffat’s less than subtle sexist jokes – ‘smacked bottom’ for Pete's sake… 

Admittedly, some of the “original” Doctor’s athletics are a bit hard to accept. The oldster’s zigzagging in between numerous Dalek disintegration beams as he fast approaches a watchtower belonging to the only ‘good’ Kaled in the galaxy takes a bit of getting used to, and one could certainly never imagine the frail-looking William Hartnell hurling himself from atop the TARDIS onto the ground, even if his fall was cushioned by a sheet of Antarctic snow.

Fortunately, such physicality doesn’t jar too much upon the senses, and are always quickly eclipsed by Bradley’s acting gravitas. In fact, one of the highlights of the story is the heart-wrenching despondency etched upon the old man’s face when he comprehends that he will become “The Doctor of War” his adversary is seeking after. This fate, despite being engineered through the sheer necessity needed in order to fight the universe’s many wrongs, clearly reaches down to the very core of the Timelord’s fears as to what his violent legacy may become should he accept the need to regenerate for the first time, and the Yorkshire man ‘nails’ this inner turmoil on-screen marvellously.

Twice Upon a Time: The Captain (Mark Gatiss), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Mark Gatiss’ Lethbridge-Stewart is similarly an inspiring casting choice, with the English screenwriter putting in a remarkably charming, stiff upper-lipped performance. Such firm fondness for a non-regular character is particularly impressive considering his sombre introduction, trapped inside a bomb blast crater with a wounded German soldier pointing a pistol at him. Yet the World War One Officer (“Sorry… Spoilers.”) soon becomes a decidedly engaging companion, whose baffled bewilderments and naïve nobilities quickly endear him to both the audience and the Twelfth Doctor. It’s certainly a role which seems to far better suit the actor’s strengths than his previous foray into the world of “Doctor Who” as the decidedly over-the-top villain-come-monster Doctor Lazarus.

Plot-wise, "Twice Upon a Time" undoubtedly still suffers from some of Steven Moffat’s infamously head scratching discombobulations, as no-one ever seems to properly rationalise just why the Gallifreyan’s dual contemplation of ‘ending his travels’ causes a participant of the Great War to be erroneously dispatched to the South Pole in the year 1986? There’s also little explanation provided as to just how the universe’s mysterious benefactors ever came to be in a position to extract everyone’s memories just before their moment of death, nor how they developed the technology to travel back in time and do so retrospectively?

Similarly disconcerting, though perhaps understandable given this adventure is supposed to finish with a feel good finale, are the handful of sickly sweet cameos thrust upon the Doctor at the very end of the show. Rusty the Dalek’s somewhat bizarre appearance mid-way through the tale definitely caught me by surprise, but it at least provided a valid contribution to the plot, seeing as how the Matrix no longer existed, and even Mark Gatiss’ revelation that he was Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart’s ancestor made some sentimental sense. Yet the sudden materialisation of Nardole in No Man’s Land appeared to have been manipulated purely to provide the tenth season TARDIS crew the chance for a last group hug, whilst the ‘blink and you’ll miss her’ manifestation of the Impossible Girl, Clara Oswald, was seriously super sugary-strong stuff…

Sadly, this particular Christmas Special also insists on treating the Timelord’s regeneration as an opportunity for the lead actor to perform a lengthy swansong; a trend arguably initiated by Russell T Davies dreadfully drawn-out dramatics for the Tenth Doctor in “The End of Time”. True, Matt Smith’s “like breath on a mirror” speech from “The Time of The Doctor” was memorably magnificent and encapsulated much of his tenure on the television series within the space of a few minutes. However, Peter Capaldi’s soliloquy seemingly comes across as a bit of an emotionless rant, in which the show’s producer appears, once again, to be trying far too hard to be funny or clever, and thus disappointingly causes the Twelfth Doctor’s final moments to be far more reminiscent of his disagreeable early days rather than the more warm, likeable time traveller he has become over the past twelve months.





Doctor Who - Short Trips - O TannenbaumBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 December 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
O Tannenbaum (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer & Script Editor: Ian Atkins,
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Anthony Keetch, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast Peter Purves (Narrator)

"His old body is wearing a bit thin......It happens to us all."

 

How very apt that Big Finish should give us a festive Short Trips, featuring the first Doctor (the original you might say!) ahead of this  Christmas day television outing?

 

The story opens with the TARDIS materialising into what seems like an idealised Christmas scene. As Steven and the Doctor step out, they see that there's snow all around, along with a forest of pine trees and, just off in the distance, a cosy looking cottage. However (as always) everything s not quite as it seems, because in the  cottage the pair find a young girl, Greta, and her Grandfather, Herman, cowering from an unlikely alien threat outside.

 

The story is a joy to listen to, and this is a lot down to Peter Purves narration, which starts off warm and gentle, but slowly leaves the listener feeling somewhat claustrophobic and quite tense. His impersonation of the first Doctor is almost perfect. Between Antony Keetch's writing talent, and Purves vocal skills we find ourselves suddenly in the company of William Hartnell, which is a lovely Christmas present in itself.

 

O Tannenbaum is essentially a tightly written, base under siege story, with a taste of first contact thrown in for good measure. What is a nice surprise though, is, as was the original intention of Doctor Who, the story also manages to sneak in some historical facts for the listeners to ponder over.

 

The words O Tannenbaum, of course is German for O Christmas Tree, and this short story will ensure that you keep you keep that real tree you have in the living room well watered and alive for as long as possible - otherwise, you never know it's loved ones might just come looking for it - and you!

 

As Steven Taylor / Peter Purves rounds off this story with a cheeky  "A very merry Christmas to all of you at home." you will walk away from this festive little treat with a lovely, warm feeling.

 

Merry Christmas!





The World Shapers (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The World Shapers (Panini Graphic Novel) (Credit: Panini)Written by Alan McKenzie, Simon Furman, Jamie Delano, Mike Collins, Grant Morrison
Artwork by John Ridgeway
Paperback: 186 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD!

The World Shapers sees out the end of the Sixth Doctor's tenure as the star of the strip.  The earliest stories are pretty good, but as the book goes on the strip seems to lose a bit of the focus that made the Doctor Who Magazine version of the strip such a joy from its debut up until this point.  I think it is "Salad Daze" which was the moment I was starting to lose interest in this book.  It is still fairly good up to there, which is about the halfway point...then it slowly devolves into mediocre to downright bad. 

For my money, the worst story in the collection is, unfortunately, the story that ended the Sixth Doctor's entire run in the strip, and the story from which the entire collection takes its name.  "The World Shapers" is exactly the kind of story I get bored by.  Instead of thinking of an interesting story or theme, the entire strip relies on continuity to seem interesting.  It's Jamie! The Voord! Marinus! Cybermen! The Voord are Cybermen? It's mixing together two monsters and claiming them as one, hoping that that twist is enough to hold up the whole story. It doesn't. I know Grant Morrsion went on to great success, but his work here is lame.  

While still a decent read with some great artwork and solid stories, I personally found the second volume of the Sixth Doctor comic strip run to be a bit more of a slog. I don’t really know why, but I think after the great run of stories featured in Voyager, it was hard to keep the momentum going. And the titular “World Shapers” was far too interested in delving into obscure continuities that it ended up souring the book for me. Not a bad collection of stories (for its first half anyhow), but it just can’t hold a candle to the first Sixth Doctor set, or even the Fourth and Fifth Doctor run. 





Voyager (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 23 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Voyager (Panini Graphic Novel) (Credit: Panini)
Written by Steve Parkhouse, Alan McKenzie
Artwork by John Ridgeway
Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

During his tenure, The Sixth Doctor struggled to connect on the television screen. But at the same time he was sort of bombing over the airwaves, on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine he was charming and fun to read. In many ways, he was still that same Doctor that Baker was playing on TV, but more palatable, and the fact that the art is black and white makes the coat easier on the eyes. I would say that for anyone that has ever listened to Baker's lovely Big Finish audios, the Doctor of the Comic Strip was much closer to that interpretation than the brasher TV counterpart.

The introduction of companion Frobisher, the shapeshifter who wishes to be a penguin, may seem like an oddball choice...but in the zany world of comics it just kind of works. The collection opens with his introductory tale, which also sort of wraps up the loose thread from the Fifth Doctor's tenure, by giving a bit of closure to the Dogbolter story.  

The book then goes into the "Voyager" storyline, which I personally find to be one of the finest comic story runs in all of Doctor Who Magazine. It just has beautiful artwork, a weird and ethereal plot, and in many ways surpasses much of what the TV show was doing at the same time. This entire plotline was also colorized and released in the 80s as a graphic novel, also titled Voyager.  The final story in the "Voyager" plot is also the final story by Steve Parkhouse, who had been with the strip since the Fourth Doctor. 

Unlike the 80s graphic novel of the same name, Panini's book continues on with the rest of the stories that came out in 1985, the rest of the book being written by Alan McKenzie. While the Parkhouse half of the book is definitely the stronger half, McKenzie's stories are still pretty solid, and still flowed as a series up through the final story of the book. 

The running storyline in the first half of this collection is great, and even the lesser second half of the book is quite entertaining. With the gorgeous black and white artwork by John Ridgeway and wonderfully weird adventures, it is a highly recommended read for fans who want to see just how good the ongoing Doctor Who strip can be.