Ninth Doctor Issue 4 - The Transformed (Part 1 of 2)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 25 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Ninth Doctor Issue 4 'The Transformed' (Part 1 of 2) Titan Comics  (Credit: http://media.titan-comics.com/dynamic-images/comics/issues/DW_9D_Ongoing_04_Cover_A_Verity_Glass_1z7XcBF.jpg.size-600.jpg)
WRITER - Cavan Scott
ARTIST - Chris Bolson
COLORIST - Marco Lesko

LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS
AND COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

DESIGNER - ROB FARMER

SENIOR EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES

ASSISTANT EDITORS - JESSICA BURTON &
AMOONA SAOHIN

Published 10 August 2016 - Titan Comics

"You never listen, do you? We can’t do this.The Web Of Time.."

"Oh, an expert now,are we?"

"Look, they’re in [the TARDIS], aren’t they? Rose and Jack Sparrow? They see me and you can wave goodbye to the timeline. History rewritten. You know that!"


Mickey arguing with the Doctor over how much discretion should be taken, given the point in time concerned for the Doctor's various allies.


 

The main hook in this opening instalment of another new storyline in the ongoing monthly comic, for the short-lived Ninth Doctor, is that Mickey Smith is not the rather hapless, insecure on-off boyfriend of the independent Rose Tyler.  Instead we have the toughened, quick-witted and battle ready figure last seen fighting at Martha’s side, in the ‘victory parade’ that closed out The End Of Time.

It is an interesting idea by regular writer Cavan Scott to have a companion meet the Doctor out of order, and for our hero to somehow not have his future self - or selves - compromised in terms of future actions. Nonetheless the Doctor is extra careful to not have Jack or Rose cross paths with this friend from the future.

The main plot point of normal human beings gaining unearthly powers, but then the mutations spiralling out of control, leaving the people in (perhaps permanent form as) ‘monsters’ is a pretty solid core idea. In some ways it echoes the themes of the Doctormania three-parter that just came beforehand in this series. There is focus on image, reputation and mistaken identity. It also is a somewhat reordered working of the Solonian life cycle in the Mutants story from the Third Doctor era.

Having a change up back to Earth, but this time in 2016 San Francisco, is a fine idea. This city has little precedent in the Who canon, and certainly the USA is still not mined on television often, mainly due to budget concerns

The art is up to the higher standards set by this publisher since the inaugural issue that revisited Eccleston's Doctor back in Spring of 2015. Chris Bolson is on board for the first time in these Titan bundles of escapism. He knows how to tell a story clearly with both character expression and some sweeping action. Panelling is a little more varied than is the norm, and some pages need to be read as a 'double' so digital readers should take care accordingly to follow the words and pictures in a meaningful fashion.

Although the essential story has been done many times before, we have some good new characters, and some mystery over just what has happened to the 'missing' people. It also is welcome to not have a clear enemy - on the evidence of this opener that is. The pacing is strong throughout, and the references to various Who continuity from the main series is done in a careful way so that newcomers will not be overly confused.

Altogether another fine example of a monthly series that deserved its chance, both on the shelves of comic book stores and newsagents, as well as the digital market.

 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6, Episode 2 - The Eternal BattleBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Eternal Battle (Credit: Big Finish)

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana) 
John Leeson (K9) 
Dan Starkey(Field Major Lenk/Sergeant Major Stom) 
Jane Slavin (Captain Nina Albiston/Sycon Computer) 
John Banks (Brennan/Trooper Varn)

Producer David Richardson Script Editor John Dorney Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

This review contains spoilers!

Sontaran zombie eat flesh!

Now, if that short sentence doesn't send a thrill down your spine, I don't know what will. The Eternal Battle finds the Doctor, Romana and K9 aiming the TARDIS for the Lake District, where the Doctor wants to go and visit (much to Romana's joy) a pencil museum. However, they find themselves stranded on an alien no mans land, in the midst of a great war, a war that nobody involved seems to really know quite how long has has been raging (here is a small clue faithful DWN reader: the story is called THE ETERNAL WAR).

Our space and time traveling trio are saved from certain death by a rather large Sontaran tank, the occupants of, when they find out that they have rescued the Doctor, insist on killing the enemy of the Sontarans there and then. Can the Doctor sweet talk himself out of this one? Of course he can. Before you can say "Probic vent" there is an uneasy truce between the Doctor and the Sontarans as he strives to help them in a rather strange war against humans.....and undead Sontarans.

Just to make things matters worse, the TARDIS has rather handily gone missing, and Romana and K9 are trapped in a bunker with a dying Sontaran (the zombie rules are pretty standard - in this story, you die, then come back hungry for flesh).

I really enjoyed The Eternal Battle. What a great idea to have the Sontarans, the greatest warriors in the universe, fighting undead versions of themselves, whose masses will only grow as more Sontarans die in  battle. Brilliant. Plus, just to complicate matters more, the dead humans turn into zombies as well. 

The writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright have really struck gold here, with a fantastically original spin on rejuvenating an old foe. As the art work on the cover suggests, these are classic seriesl Sontarans, two of whom, in the extras, Dan Starkey himself says are based on Linx from The Time Warrior and Styre from The Sontaran Experiment, the similarities to those two classic characters are very evident, especially in the calculating way that they react to a situation. Scott and Wright have truly taken the Sontarans back to their roots, away from the more comedic characters that they have become.

Talking of Dan Starkey, he really does steal the show. He has perfected Sontarans in a way that Nicholas Briggs has done with perfecting the daleks. I have absolutely no problem at all with Strax, the Sontaran that Starkey plays in New Who, I think his comic timing is absolutely spot on - but here he proves that he can play old school.

Of course Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson come across as if they are having a whale of a time, and this carries into the story's extras. Ward seems particularly overjoyed to have her version of Romana finally meeting the famous 'Potato Heads'. As always the trio of leads play off of each other very well, creating some classic moments (Romana's enthusiasm for the pencil museum is indeed a classic moment that would have been at home in any of her televised episodes) The rest of the cast, most notably Big Finish stalwarts Jane Slavin and John Banks are all excellent also.

Directed by Nicholas Briggs himself, The Eternal Battle is a joy to listen to. A thrilling ride that I would definitel, most highly recommend.

 

The Eternal Battle is available now from Big Finish.

 






The Star Men (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 13 February 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Star Men (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Andrew Smith

Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sue Holderness (Kala Tace), Sophie Wu (Autumn Tace), Peter Guinness (Rovus), Damian Lynch (Fell/Lom), Kris Dyer (Nomar/Vedrin / Surgical Robot/ Pilot), Barnaby Edwards (Computer).

Big Finish Productions - Released January 2017

Big Finish’s first trilogy of main range releases for 2017 gets off to a flying start with this enjoyable entry from stalwart Andrew Smith. After the critical success of 2014’s The Fifth Doctor Box Set, it was only a matter of time before Big Finish persuaded Matthew Waterhouse to reprise the role of Adric once again and so this story sees his debut in the main Fifth Doctor range. Once the usual season 19 checklist is ticked off (Adric learning how to fly the TARDIS in the opening scene, an obligatory line for Tegan about them not yet reached Heathrow during which you can almost sense Janet Fielding’s eyes rolling as she says it), the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the Gallius U space station at a pivotal moment in the history of space exploration. The typical scenario of the TARDIS crew being mistaken for stowaways is quickly bypassed as Adric is given the first of several hero moments in this story (presumably this was incident which led to an interesting exchange on twitter between Waterhouse and Fielding last year).

The team are sensibly split up with Adric and Nyssa remaining on the Gallius U whilst the Doctor and Tegan head off to explore the mysterious goings on in the Large Magellenic Cloud (a nice touch to include a genuine astronomical phenomenon) which leads to the first direct encounter with the eponymous Star Men, led with menacing example by the excellent Peter Guinness as their ruler Rovus. There is further strong cast support from Sue Holderness as Kala Trace and Sophie Wu as her daughter Autumn, who proves to be something of a potential love interest for Adric. Knowing that fate has another path in store for our favourite Alzarian the audience is kept guessing as to how the story will resolve itself. Although it is to be hope that the remaining stories in this trilogy will resist the urge to continuously foreshadow that fate. Whilst Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are on their usual great form as the Doctor and Nyssa, this particular story belongs most to Tegan and Adric. The only mild criticism this reviewer can think of is the author’s occasional over use of the phrase “lead on” which brought to mind some of the author’s previous plays at inopportune moments.

Overall though, this play sets a high bar for the remaining plays in this trilogy to match up to and certainly left this reviewer looking forward to this TARDIS crew’s next adventure which will see them return to Victorian London for a visit to The Contingency Club.

 

The Star Men is available now from Big Finish and on general release from February 28th 2017



Associated Products

Audio
Released 28 Feb 2017
Doctor Who Main Range 221 - The Star Men
$24.99



The War Doctor - Box Set 3: Agents of ChaosBookmark and Share

Monday, 13 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The War Doctor: Agents of Chaos (Credit: Big Finish)





 

STARRING:
John Hurt (The War Doctor) +
Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra)

WITH:
Neve McIntosh (Lara), Honeysuckle Weeks (Heleyna), 
Timothy Speyer (Kruger), Helen Goldwyn (Professor Crane), 
Gunnar Cauthery (Kavarin), Matthew Cottle (Leith), 
Dan Starkey (General Fesk/Sontarans), Josh Bolt (Kalan), 
Barnaby Edwards (Vassarian), Andrew French (Muren) +
Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Time Strategist/Daleks)

PRODUCTION CREDITS:
 

Written By: David Llewellyn, Andrew Smith + Ken Bentley

Director: Nicholas Briggs, Sound Design/ Music: Howard Carter

Producer: David Richardson, Script Editor: Matt Fitton

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery + Nicholas Briggs

Cover Art: Tom Webster

Duration: 250 Mins

Product Format: 4-disc CD (slipcover box set)



Released October 2016

BIG FINISH PRODUCTIONS

He was once intended as just a one-shot player in The Day Of The Doctor. But over the ensuing four or so years, the War Doctor has garnered plenty of new material. He had his own full length novel in the shape of Engines of War (written by George Mann), and also was designated the opening short story in the Heroes And Monsters anthology, as well as popping up in The Shakespeare Notebooks. (All three of these were published by BBC Books). More recently, this most destructive, but no less noble incarnation of the title hero was instrumental in the timey-wimey contortions of the Year Two arc in Titan's Eleventh Doctor comic book line, (having already featured in The Four Doctors 'event' of 2015).

Although when first introduced in the Series 7 finale, there was a sense of shame and terrible wrongdoing connected to him, Who followers quickly came to bond with the War Doctor, and have a firm investment concerning both his wellbeing, and his effectiveness in saving the day.

We now have sadly lost the main force behind this character being so enduring, as John Hurt passed away in January of this year. However, he obviously leaves behind a considerable legacy owing to his many years in TV and film, as well as radio and theatre. This is the third box set from Big Finish to afford Hurt the primary starring role, and was released last Autumn. A fourth and final one is due to come to the market soon.

As with the first and second miniseries, there is both standard adventurous narrative, with twists and turns typical of most Doctor Who, but also a vein of dark comedy and satire; one example being the standard under-estimation of how Dalek armour can withstand standard 20th Century Earth handguns. Also persisting, in terms of the thematic core behind the storytelling, is the sense of war time chaos and suffering, which underlines the long history of human conflict in real life on our planet. 

In comparison to how he was portrayed in the Eleventh Doctor comics, this War Doctor embodies perhaps a little more typical humour that we associate with the 'regular' Doctor of any given TV era, and he also is quick to bond with strangers, too. But then again, such is the tempestuous nature of war, and the effects it has, there should be no surprise that can be more open to accepting others' company at different points in this (unofficial) regeneration than others.

Regarding the other major starring performer of these original stories from Big Finish - namely Jacqueline Pearce  - this set offers the character of Ollistra the most audio time so far, and therefore also the most character development. Pearce is quite incapable of a dull and phoned-in performance, and like Tom Baker, or Hurt himself, has a richly unique voice.
 

The Shadow Vortex (Credit: Big Finish)The Shadow Vortex is a fun romp, if perhaps the least successful in overall impact of the three plays. It is set in the Cold War - 1961 to be exact - and involves the British, Germans and Russians .. plus of course the Daleks themselves. It is also yet another adventure where the Daleks have a ruthless and duplicitous agent working on their behalf - namely Lara Zannis (Neve McIntosh). 

There is also some fine development for one of the Stasi officials, who initially tries to subdue the (English-accented) War Doctor. Kruger, however, is outwitted by a man he thought he could break, before going onto assume the perennial - yet always intriguing - 'pseudo companion' role. Added into the mix, are some internal political tensions running amongst  the British scientific establishment, not to mention threats to causality, time lines, and planet Earth. It all comes together into making a season opener that will engage and surprise enough, thus leaving the listener wanting access to the next story - and in double-quick time.

 


The second entry - denominated The Eternity Cage - is arguably the jewel in the crown of the set, and one of the best stories altogether in the War Doctor's saga. It offers the possibility of the brutal Sontarans becoming a viable faction in the Time War. There are some great plot twists and revelations. It also is welcome to see the mutually captive Dalek Time Strategist and Cardinal form an alliance; however temporary and involuntary in nature that may be. The Doctor acquires a motley crew of would-be rescuers to help him in extricating Ollistra from the clutches of the squat and brutal warmongers from Sontar, who are led by the uncompromising General Fesk (Dan Starkey). Chief amongst his new allies is a boy called Kalan, who is native to Rovidia (where the action mostly takes place). He reminds one of Leela, in that he is technically primitive but loyal and proactive. This supporting character also features in the ensuing finale to the box set.

It of course helps that so many TV viewers will know the Sontarans. This may be in connection to Strax, who was part of the recurring Paternoster Gang, or owing to one of the stories to feature them as out-and-out foes. They always have made for a worthy antagonist, but some degree of humour is always involved too. In this middle episode, we do get a pretty emphatic reminder that sometimes their ambitions are simply a little too bold.

It also is an asset that Andrew Smith is behind the play's script. Smith first broke into the Doctor Who business, when the program was still in its 'classic era' phase, all the way back in Season 18. He has more recently done a good number of these Big Finish audios. Knowing just how to merge with the house style, but also to offer something that typifies the show in having a mesmerising 'hook' or conceit behind the narrative, he paces this story to perfection. Consequently its 'cliff-hanger' works to the very best effect.

 

The Eternity Cage  (Credit: Big Finish)The third and final story is primarily set in the TARDIS itself, but makes full and profitable use of the Eye Of Harmony aspect. Despite having the story take place in one location, the TARDIS is never a dull place - such is its endlessly changing and infinite nature. And by having a small cast, all concerned get their chance to contribute in a meaningful fashion. The main point of interest is the extent of Ollistra's involvement in the final outcome. She displays some more overt heroism, as well as seemingly genuine concern for others' wellbeing. However, the coda, which is brilliantly executed, reminds everyone of just how fickle and opportunistic high-ranking politicians can be.

 


With this particular box set being released, the Time War mystery is slightly less opaque. However, there are some more questions raised along with the answers: Just how confined was it in terms of space and time, despite the assertions of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors? And how many other races tried to muscle their way into the aeons-old conflict between the children of Davros, and the Gallifreyans?

These three stories can all stand on their own, but together in this set they all resonate stronger. The initial story in mid 20th century Europe is more separate, in the sense that it barely qualifies for Time War status, but still offers jeopardy in terms of changing history and its effect on the wider Web of Time. The other two entries are rather more traditionally located back in the broader war occurring across the cosmos. Yet, clearly a lot of careful work has been done by script editor Matt Fitton to make the trinity of Time War episodes feel suitably cohesive.

The theme of a traitor (or two) in the ranks is well-utilised, as is the major new Dalek character. The Dalek Time Strategist is unrelentingly sure in its abilities to forecast what is come, and for much of the trilogy this clairvoyance appears to be a most formidable tool in the Dalek's arsenal. Nicholas Briggs does fine work with the Dalek ‘foot soldiers’, but his main achievement as a cast member is breathing life into the strategist. Chilling, loathsome and yet also arresting, this thorn in the War Doctor's side can be ranked amongst some of the best villains. 

Compared to Only The Monstrous and Infernal Devices, there is a little more mellow side to the Doctor here, that complements his moral outrage and consternation at the horrors he comes across. His "Not that old chestnut" retort, when threatened with either the "easy" or "hard way" interrogation method, shows much of the more 'normal' Doctor of years and decades gone by. Also, his confidence in leading a team, or issuing orders shows how much he welcomes slipping into his 'old shoes', and becoming a somewhat standard hero - at least for the time being.

But still, at times difficult choices are required of him. And the very ending of the third story sees him powerless to save all he would have intended to.

Where the fourth and final set of adventure - Casualties Of War - will take Hurt's Doctor is still open to speculation - especially given his mixed fortunes in overcoming opposition, and keeping the Time Lords' chances of triumph as strong as he possibly can.

 

Eye of Harmony  (Credit: Big Finish)The supporting cast here are generally strong, with several exceptional performances. Kalan - portrayed by Josh Bolt - is consistently engaging, and helps to give his two stories some emotional heart and soul. As good as the plots are, there is much sci-fi technobabble and large scale action, that require some serious 'mind's eye' work on the part of the listener.  Bolt manages to diminish the conscious effort involved. Dan Starkey is also tremendous fun as Fesk, as well as the Sontarans that serve under him. Whilst Kevin Lindsay set a high standard in the 1970s as Linx and Styre, Starkey is the definitive modern Doctor Who clone warrior - much in the same way Briggs encapsulates latter-day Daleks. Out of the guest female cast, I would say that Honeysuckle Weeks is more memorable than Neve McIntosh, but it also helps that she is given more to do, and that her character has a fuller back-story that is linked to previous adventures for the War Doctor. Elsewhere, Timothy SpeyerHelen GoldwynMatthew CottleBarnaby Edwards and Andrew French all authentically portray the given attributes and drawbacks of a particular character.

Music is first-rate yet again, thanks to the creative gifts of Howard Carter, and also makes for a welcome separate track, that can be enjoyed in isolation from the sound and fury of the plays themselves. This bonus feature allows the listener to recall the most stirring moments of the three tales, and is just as welcome as the standard inclusion of cast and crew interviews. 

Carter also is again at hand to provide some convincing audio effects, amongst them are various weapons firing, as well as unusual devices such as The Eternity Cage itself, not to mention the startling portrayal of the War Doctor drifting away (potentially endlessly) - thanks to the actions of someone who is not all they appear to be. Whatever the punctuation of sound needed to make these stories feel fully alive, the appropriate effect is invariably selected.

 


SUMMARY

Whilst the loss of John Hurt will resonate for a long time to come, this CD/ Digital Download release is yet another example of us being able to celebrate all the great skill and magnetism the man was capable of. From the (typically revealing) behind the scenes material, there is a clear sense of how others put their all into collaborating with him, and make a strong, firm effort to raise their own bar so as to match his sheer class and artistic integrity.

Furthermore, out of the three box sets released thus far, this works best in offering straightforward, easy-to-follow entertainment. Perhaps less new ground is broken here than in some of the earlier stories of Sets One and Two, but regardless there is a palpable sense of a cast and crew totally in synch with the material that they are working on.

David Richardson, alongside Jason Haigh-Ellery, has once again assembled a top-notch original production, which does justice to the core idea that sprung from Nicholas Brigg's seemingly boundless creativity.

 

 

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 Dec 2016
The War Doctor 3: Agents of Chaos (Doctor Who - The War Doctor)



Short Trips - The World Beyond The Trees (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 February 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The World Beyond The Trees (Credit: Big Finish )
This is the review side box.
Click on the image above to change it to one relevant to this review, and then highlight and replace this text with the required credits. Please note that you need to press SHIFT-ENTER to split lines in this area!

January’s short trip sees a very Doctor-lite entry (if that is even possible when the narrator is usually a companion). Paul McGann may be peering heroically out of  the cover, but his character is only mentioned fleetingly.

 

The story is narrated by Liv Chenka (Nicola Wood), and features quite a few references to a previously released Short Trip from last year - Damascus, that featured the third Doctor. Jonathan Barnes wrote both Damascus and The World Beyond The Trees.

 

I must confess that I found myself at a bit of a disadvantage with this story, which probably dented my enjoyment somewhat. I’ve not listened to Damascus, and I’m also not familiar with Liv Chenka, a character who started with the seventh Doctor, but is more of a companion to the eighth.

 

In The World Beyond The Trees, the Doctor is seemingly communicating with Liv through a dreamthat she has. In the dream, the Doctor is in a rose garden, he mentions Damascus, and that she should knock four times (does that ring any bells reader?). Liv is living in Baker street, with another of the eighth Doctor’s companions, Molly. When she wakes from her dream though, something is wrong. Molly is unresponsive, staring into space. When Liv ventures outside, she finds the whole of London has been affected by what is revealed to be a 'Listless Field', rendering the population prone and inert…..except one other person….

 

Nicola Wood reads well, and is quite engaging, ensuring that there is a differentiation between her and the other major character. The stories undertones are about grief, and losing someone who is dear to you (in this case Liv’s father), and that message is relayed well.

 

For me there were two main problems, the first being the lack of the Doctor’s presence. I’m a big fan of most of the ‘Doctor-lite’ television episodes, but when you are relying on a story based around a character that might not be as familiar with the general audience as others, then the missing Time Lord becomes a problem. The other issue is that it seemed to heavily rely on the listener’s knowledge of previous Paul McGann audio’s, which - as they are now released in big chunks of series box sets can be a big ask if you haven't listened to them before.

 

The World Beyond The Trees is a fine science fiction story, but not a particularly great Doctor Who entry.

 





Twelfth Doctor Vol #4 - The School Of Death - (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek


Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #1 (Credit: Titan)

STORY 1 - The School Of Death

STORY 2 - The Fourth Wall

STORY 3 - Robot Rampage

Originally Published in Twelfth Doctor Year 2 Issues 1-5
(+ A Free Comicbook Day Issue)

***************************************************************

WRITER: ROBBIE MORRISON

ARTISTS: RACHAEL STOTT, SIMON FRASER

COLORISTS: IVAN NUNES, MARCIO MENYS

LETTERS: RICHARD STARKINGS +
COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

 SENIOR EDITOR: ANDREW JAMES

 ASSISTANT EDITOR: JESSICA BURTON

 DESIGNER: ROB FARMER

***************************************************************

PUBLISHED: 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016 TITAN COMICS

"There’s something fishy going on at the remote Scottish school of Ravenscaur...

Something that has bedevilled students and teachers alike...

Something that has lurked in the caverns beneath the school for millennia!

Only the Doctor and Clara can unravel a deadly conspiracy that reaches as high as the Prime Minister of England!"

(Official Teaser To The Title Story)


The feature story had originally four issues in theYear Two run with which to build up suspense, and feature a number of engaging subplots, as well as a loosely connected solo adventure for the Twelfth Doctor taking on Captain Volk, and his lethal pirates/mercenaries. With this prologue of sorts, the reader only witnesses the climactic moments, but it still resonates enough to feel like a proper story in its own right.

An exciting first impression is made in the 'pre-credit' sequence counterpart, as teacher Christel is hounded by mysterious forces. This 'sacrificial lamb' is given enough likability, and connection to Clara, for us to care about her grim fate. 

As the primary action unfolds, the creepy Mr Beck is keen to fully introduce The 'Impossible Girl' to the school, which turns out to have a number of skeletons hidden in its closets. After some mystery, the majority of the tale can be described as a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Two additional new 'assistants' help the Doctor overcome the real threat behind the cold-hearted bureaucratic school; one that Clara had intended to teach in, as a change-up from her hectic life in the capital city.

Overall the story can be likened to a mixture of prior Sea Devil stories, with a 'Village Of The Damned' situation, as the local island/school community are all but completely mentally subdued. The Doctor and Clara clearly are at a stage in their partnership, where they enjoy each other's company and accept that they are very different in approach. Thus they can work together assuredly to solve the problems as required. I know many devoted fans prefer the Doctor to actually get on with his best friend, more often than not, and I count myself in that group.

It is also welcome to have UNIT involved once again in these comics, with this present variant of the Doctor; (albeit now sadly announced as departing come Christmas this year). After the Zygon Invasion/Inversion story of Autumn 2015, this story honours continuity in typically faithful Titan style, by having both Osgoods feature in the narrative. Along with the much-loved Kate Stewart playing her role to help the Doctor, in the same way her father helped his 'predecessors', there has been a proper 'renaissance' for UNIT, of late. This is in thanks not only to the TV shows being seen globally, but also the work done across Doctor Who's various other mediums, ever since 2012's The Power Of Three.

But ultimately the final triumph comes down to the TARDIS duo, and a pair of delinquent but warm-hearted teenagers, who have been too stubborn to be recruited by the Sea Devil's army of zombies. Come the ending there is a nice hint of the next stage in the journey of life for these two guest characters. The TV show - particularly the modern version - has always been good at not only wrapping up the main problem but making followers care about the fortunes of characters, most of whom are unlikely to ever be seen again. 

Some nice light-heartedness helps the story from taking itself too seriously, which is a wise move given how close to the Establishment Nose the satire verges on, at times. The Doctor's blasé attitude, or boldness, when confronted by the pub of possessed villagers would certainly play out well on primetime TV. His weak 'sea urchin' disguise is a fun example of his inconsistent ability to blend into his environment. I also enjoyed the swordfish ally, he acquires as he pretends a completely inanimate object is of the same value as K9 or Kamelion from his days of 'youth', but a nice irony is made of this towards the final stages.

Other elements though would stretch the budget quite considerably, with some of the action being worthy of a proper Hollywood blockbuster. With the fine artistic skills of Rachael Stott and Ivan Nunes on display, the epic scope of the action is translated handsomely well, however.

This effort entertains throughout. I cannot honestly say any of the new characters were ones for the ages, or worthy of a further adventure down the line, but they fit well into a fun story, where the odds seem stacked against contemporary human society. The original Sea Devils had its flaws but always knew how to move the narrative into some new location, or confound expectations. In that sense then, The School of Death rises to the surface with gusto, rather than stagnating to the bottom of the sea, like the much-maligned Peter Davison sequel.


The second story is rather more satirical and self-referential, both in terms of its moods and its themes. It does an impressive job in casting retrospective light over the Doctor Who mythos itself.  There is even a rather 'meta' take on the comic book medium which makes the story both entertaining, and distinctly different from other such stories, that centre on a mystery and a relentless force needing to be overcome. 

A fun poke at the TV show's once male-dominated fanbase is briefly incorporated into the tale. As many know, the male-female ratio of Doctor Who aficionados has evened up considerably in recent years thanks to the quality writing and casting of the 21st century series.

Readers get to see some decided vanity from the Doctor –  a defining characteristic whichever face/body he is inhabiting – when he displays outrage over the persona, or image, that he has online. This internet portrayal of our title hero reminded me of the very knowing TV portrayal of Clive, a superfan utterly obsessed with the mysterious Ninth Doctor, who featured in the reboot triumph that was Rose

Also notable - if perhaps somewhat surprising, given how much Clara has experienced - is the Coal Hill School teacher's cynicism over comic book shop staff claims regarding people going missing. At this point in her (ultimately infinite) life, she has seen enough weird and wonderful things. Then again, real people that we all know, are contradictory and three-dimensional. Whilst very likable, Clara would not be human without some judgemental sides to her character, and some entrenched pre-conceptions over certain types of people.

With perhaps other references to the biggest comics and comic book companies also being intended by Morrison, I did enjoy one particular nod towards Marvel’s Silver Surfer.

This story also operates as a loose sequel to Series Eight gem Flatline, and does a fine job of using a well-designed monster without just simply repeating the same ‘gimmick’. Whilst ‘The School Of Death’ had more time to develop its key supporting characters, as well as have some decent tertiary ‘cast members’, The Fourth Wall still is well-paced, and does a fine job of marrying continuity between the Titan comics and the actual TV show.  

Dialogue also seems to be pitched perfectly for the talents of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, were this to be an actual story made for Series 9. Prior stories (including the preceding Sea Devil one) have ‘cameos’ as panels within the story, enabling a clever parody on the comic book canvas and panelling techniques.

The story also works on another level by having a strong message concerning escapism, especially one found in a personal hobby that others deem as 'not cool'. The danger of slipping too far into make-belief, however, should always be an important consideration for someone to still be healthy and interact well with others. For a story that had a solitary issue originally with which to get its objectives across, this is very impressive, and arguably the high point of this collection.


Rounding off Volume Four is a fun, if very brief, sequel to Fourth Doctor debut Robot. With its limited page/panel count Robo Rampage acts more as a straight-up King Kong homage. The difference between the 1933 classic movie and this story, is that the English capital city is the playground for chaos, as opposed to Manhattan. As the metallic monster attacks the London Eye, this much 'older' Doctor rants over the greed and irresponsibility of humanity that has allowed for Professor Kettlewell’s invention to suddenly be back in the public sphere.

This story has no Clara, but we do get a nice turn for Osgood, giving her more to do than in the main Sea Devil story. The UNIT scientist is still eager to be a proper companion (and into the bargain be excused from her day job duties). Showing her fanatical side, Osgood showers the grey haired wearer of sonic sunglasses with a number of 'alternative titles' to that of "Doctor". Some of those names are references to past TV stories. Ultimately though she tries to christen him with one of her own monikers.

The previous two stories had their moments of mirth, but this one is probably the most amusing in terms of comedy, and can be regarded as a longer attempt at the (once customary) ‘bonus humour strip’.


BONUS

Two alternative covers are featured in full page size. They are credited to respectively Brian Miller, and Simon Myers.

Other featured (albeit smaller-sized) covers are credited to MyersAlex RonaldWill BrooksJAKe, and main artist Rachael Stott 

The main title cover is credited to Alice X. Zhang, and also features in the gallery section


SUMMARY

Altogether then, this is a fine collection of wholly new original stories that help develop both the main two characters, as well as some of the recurring allies to feature in the Steven Moffat epoch. It deserves to be taken as authentic and official in the time lines as the main televised entity itself. Oddly, there is no separate title for The Fourth Wall story within the collection (although the phrase is found within dialogue), whereas Robot Rampage (originally published for Free Comics Day) retains its name in-story. Regardless, if the reader has missed some or most of the prior issues released in Year 2, then this collection is the best option on the market. 

One to keep and enjoy.








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