Sunday, 11 August 2019

Doctor Who and the Adventures in the Far East

There's been a lovely little flurry on Twitter recently regarding some forgotten Doctor Who from South Korea. The details are available here at broadwcast, which focuses on the overseas sales of televised Doctor Who, but also includes a section on merchandise in each country.

South Korea didn't really go for Doctor Who much in the 20th century, but this little titbit has recently emerged. It turns out that Korean readers had their own, short-lived, probably unlicensed version of Doctor Who as a comicbook release. Treasure Island was a Korean manwha (cartoon format) publication which released hefty 400-page volumes from 1982 to 1992, and included various reprints and licensed materials as well as original creations. Quite how they managed to create their own version of Doctor Who is uncertain, and there doesn't seem to be any evidence that they acquired a licence to do so, although broadwcast suggests they might have cribbed some material from Marvel reprints and worked from that.

Certainly, there's a very clear influence of Tom Baker's fourth Doctor on the manwha Doctor, who wears a clear variant on his costume. These were released in early 1984, when the fifth Doctor's time was coming to a close and the sixth was making his debut, but Tom Baker's image would still have been the most commonly seen around the world. Indeed, his was still the face most people thought of when imagining the Doctor until Tennant and Smith assured the domination of the modern series in younger viewers' minds.

It's an idiosyncratic take on Doctor Who, with the Doctor (from the planet Black) and his companion Joy travelling the universe in a TARDIS that appears to be a rocketship. The only story for which there's any detail so far is "Fugitives," which saw the Doctor fight Nazis and pirates for the entertainment of avian aliens. The article's writer says that's the sort of thing only a manwha book would include, but I can easily imagine it turning up in an early Doctor Who Weekly or Monthly comic strip. If your Korean's up to scratch, you can read some of the adventure here.

It's wonderful that there are still elements of Doctor Who and its spin-offs that are turning up out of the blue like this after all these years. I've always had a soft spot for weird knock-offs and foreign language versions of my favourite properties (the tokusatsu Japanese Spider-Man series being perhaps the greatest). The Treasure Island strips and the manwha Doctor are still obscure enough that there's bound to be more material out there waiting to be discovered.

So far, the manwha Doctor has certainly caught a few fans' imaginations. Most notably, Doctor portrait artist extraordinaire Paul Hanley has added him to his line-up of incarnations. (He's got the rocket fins on the TARDIS and everything.)

The manwha Doctor isn't the only version from the Orient. The Japanese translations of the Muller and Target novelisations published by Hayakawa Bunko from the early 80s featured their own idiosyncratic versions of the Doctor, his companions and adventures. Starting with the translation of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, with a new title that translated as Space-Time Big Bloody Battle, the Japanese Dr. Hu appeared Asian but in the first Doctor's clothing style, and battled unique versions of the Daleks and truly unsettling Autons. Then there's Dr. Who, a completely unrelated but surprisingly Doctorishly-stylised villain from the tokusatsu movie King Kong Escapes. Who's to say there's not a universe for each of these alternative Doctors in the great Who-multiverse?

A crossover between the manwha Doctor and the Hayakawa Doctor, at least, has got to be worth something.


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

WHO REVIEW: The Legacy of Time



While Big Finish Productions started producing audioplays in 1998 (with the adaptation of the Bernice Summerfield New Adventure Oh No It Isn't!), it was in July 1999 that the released their first Doctor Who production, The Sirens of Time, on CD and audio cassette. Twenty years later, when even CDs seem a bit archaic and most people download their purchases, BF has released their own anniversary celebratory box set featuring a spread of Doctors, companions, favourite characters and time-twisting shenanigans. SPOILERS will follow in this review of the gigantic six-hour collection.






I've been a bit disappointed in BF's reliance on the same handful of writers and recurring cast, it makes sense for an event project to be placed in reliable hands. Ken Bentley directs all but one episode and by its nature, this features a host of recognisable voices playing familiar characters. The set involves six very separate stories which are linked by a general theme of things going wrong with time, all of which are eventually linked together in a just-about coherent fashion. The overall plot is basically irrelevant, though – the fun is in the individual adventures and the cross-pollination of various Doctors and spin-off casts.

LIES IN RUINS by James Goss

The set kicks off, appropriately enough, with Bernice Summerfield hard at work in the field. She's joined by River Song, who has of late been enjoying her own series of adventures in The Diary of River Song, where she has encountered various incarnations of the Doctor, and latterly, the Master, in flagrant defiance of continuity or logic. Given that River is essentially a combination of the two great heroines of the Wilderness Years, Benny Summerfield and Iris Wildthyme, it makes sense that she should finally meet one of them. (River meets Iris is one story that I'm dying to hear.)

Having two time-travelling archaeologists could have been an exercise in redundancy, but Alex Kingston and Lisa Bowerman have a great chemistry that balances finely between catty one-upmanship and bawdy companionship. It's a bit like when Rose and Sarah Jane fought over the tenth Doctor, only to bond over their mutual experiences of travelling with him. River has one up on Benny, having actually married the Doctor rather than simply been very good friends indeed, but they rub along together surprisingly well once the Doctor turns up.

The eighth Doctor is the version who arrives in the story, but he's not the version either Benny or River remember. Benny, of course, mostly encountered this Doctor in the earlier days of his life, while River, while meeting him in the latter years, still found him in generally good spirits. This is a tired, angry Doctor, though, one who's very, very close to becoming the Doctor of War. When confronted by a very personal threat, he comes closer than ever before to turning the corner from hero to warrior. It's not merely their shared affection for the Doctor that brings River and Benny together though, but also their mutual dislike of his new companion, the impossibly bubbly Ria (named for the companion in the old, pre-BF Audio Visuals range, and played with rambunctious energy by Alexandria Riley).

As good as the ladies are, though, it's Paul McGann's performance that really blows the competition away. This is a Doctor who's lost his faith in the universe after seeing it torn apart in the Time War, who, in the words of River, has lived a very long time indeed. It's a funny thing that the Doctor we saw the least of on TV (of the main incarnations) is the one whose borne one of the longest and most traumatic lives.

THE SPLIT INFINITIVE by John Dorney

The second story jumps back an incarnation for a story that sees characters from the eighties during the sixties and seventies. BF's Countermeasures series – one I haven't explored much, unlike The Diary of River Song – has featured the special operations team from 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks, in their natural home of the 1960s, and latterly regrouped in the 1970s. “The Split Infinitive” hedges its bets by being set in both decades, utilising the running concept of time anomalies to tie the two periods together in ingenious fashion. Cue lines along the lines of “meanwhile, ten years earlier...” as events in one period influence the other and vice versa.

Sly McCoy rrrrollls and rrroarrs through the adventure, while Ace hops back and takes care of events in the further past. They're both completely at ease in their characters after all these years, although McCoy's performance is still as idiosyncratic as ever. The Countermeasures team are a solid troop of characters, but it's Pamela Salem's Professor Jensen who stands out for me – she's an actress of pure class. Dorney's script brings in the Rocketmen, BF's own brand of recurring space gangsters, who work perfectly in the retro setting, although they are a bit too similar to the also-ran baddies that appear in the first episode. There is, however, a gorgeous joke put in just to explain the unending nonsense around UNIT dating.

THE SACRIFICE OF JO GRANT by Guy Adams

Episode three is an exercise in nostalgia, one that could have been saccharine but is actually rather beautiful and moving. BF's UNIT series is another one that's been going for donkey's years, on and off, and lately has been updated to include not only the Moffat-era UNIT team of Kate Stewart and Osgood, but also Katy Manning as Jo Jones. This (slightly misnomered) episode sees Mrs Jones and Ms Stewart pulled back in time to the Pertwee era.

As with “The Split Infinitive,” this episode involves a story split across two points in history, this time on the Jurassic coast. Yes, there are great sea dragons wrenched from prehistory by the temporal disturbances (good idea, that). Plot is secondary here, though, with this story hinging on the emotional interplay between the characters. I certainly didn't expect a highlight of this box set to be the Doctor and Jo chatting over a pub lunch.

I've been a bit sniffy about Tim Treloar's turn as the third Doctor, but it sounds like he's lately really gotten a hold of the role. There are moments in this episode where he's absolutely dead on Pertwee, although there are others where he drifts pretty far away. Regardless, hearing Jo catch up with her Doctor is a beautiful thing. Nevertheless, the most affecting moment is Kate taking a brief but moving phone call from her late father (recreated here by Jon Culshaw), and god, that was beautiful.

RELATIVE TIME by Matt Fitton


“The Doctor's Daughter” was a dreadful episode, but it did introduce a character who clearly had more potential than the episode explored. “Relative Time” brings back Jenny Anomaly, fresh from her own BF series about a year ago. Georgia Tennant (nee Moffett) is of course the real life daughter of Peter Davison, and having the sort-of daughter of the Doctor share a story with her actual father is, of course, irresistible. They have, in fact, appeared together in a BF Doctor Who before, 2000's Red Dawn, Georgia's first acting role I believe.

In “Relative Time,” she plays Jenny as a lively, adventurous, exciting character, heavily drawing on the performance of David Tennant as the Doctor. So, we basically have someone working with her dad while playing her husband. Still, it works, and the interplay between the more fuddy-duddy fifth Doctor and the boisterous Jenny is a lot of fun. It's always good to hear the snarky side of the fifth Doctor come out, as well, and he's in a dreadful mood for a lot of this story.

The episode see the insane Time Lord known as the Nine attempt a grand heist. This is, of course, an earlier version of the Eleven, the villain of the Doom Coalition box sets with McGann. While I'm not entirely sure if a character who continually reverts to his own earlier incarnations needs to be portrayed in earlier regenerations, I really enjoyed John Heffernan's posh kleptomaniac. He's got his own sidekick in the form of Thana, an immortal ne'er-do-well played by Ronni Ancona. It's a bit of silliness that has time for a few poignant moments between father and daughter, but mostly, it's just a lot of fun.

THE AVENUES OF POSSIBILITY by Jonathan Morris

The fifth instalment of the set was originally to have been a Jago & Litefoot story, but the death of Trevor Baxter necessitated a major rethink. Jonathan Morris has come up with an ingenious idea, of alleyways that lead from the past to variant futures, and as he says in the behind-the-scenes interview, it's something that could spawn a ten-part epic. Here, though, it's mostly used as a way to up the ante as the time anomalies threaten to turn British history into a fascist nightmare, and remind that there by the grace of god we go.

In place of the Victorian sleuths, the sixth Doctor is accompanied by Charley Pollard, formerly companion to his next-incarnation-but-one, and DI Patricia Menzies. These characters first appeared together in the 2008 release The Condemned, and it's bizarre to think that this radical mix-up of a later companion and an earlier Doctor happened over a decade ago. It's still a lot of fun to hear Anna Hope's broad Mancunian police officer join forces with India Fisher's posho Edwardian adventurer.

Acting as pseudo-companions are John and Henry Fielding, (Richard Hansell and Duncan Wisbey), who ground the story in some kind of rationality. I knew Henry Fielding as the author of Tom Jones and was only peripherally aware of his role as the founder of the first modern police force, but I was completely clueless as to his brother John. This was a man who revolutionised social justice and became a respected magistrate after he was blinded as a teenager. He could even, it is said, recognise the criminals of London by the sounds of their voices. This is someone who deserves far more exploration than this relatively short adventure can allow.

COLLISION COURSE by Guy Adams
The final story in the set has to pay double duty as both the fourth Doctor adventure and the obligatory multi-Doctor knees-up. Respect to BF for not making this another full-on multi-Doctor story with the Daleks and the Master causing trouble, as might have been expected. The eventual meeting of all the Doctors to save the day is only the climax to the story, and Tom Baker gets a fairly decent story to himself, but it's easy to overlook it in all the subsequent excitement. We do, however, get a rather lovely celebration of the varied nature of the fourth Doctor era, with both Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward returning as Leela and Romana respectively. The unlikely pairing have become a great double-act over the years in the Gallifrey series, and here we have them both remembering a trip with the Doctor to the planet Henlen; however, the details of their journeys are heavily at odds.

The overarching story reaches its head with temporal anomalies and jostling timelines running out of control. It's all down to the nefarious Sirens of Time, returning from the very first BF Doctor Who adventure, something that feels quite right and proper. Tied into this is the vital journey of the first ever TARDIS, a turning point for the history of the entire universe and a moment ripe for pardoxes and cosmic catastrophe. It's fannish as hell but there's nothing wrong with that in anniversary story, and the climax, while silly in the extreme, is punch-the-air good fun. While it's a trifle hard to swallow Benny being dragged into it again, seemingly just because she's so important to BF rather than any sensible story reason, it's a good excuse to have her meet Leela and Romana plus multiple other Doctors. (At the end of this story and including all media I think she's clocked up eleven distinct incarnations, even more than River.)

It's all an excuse, really, to get as many Doctors together in one room as possible. The proto-TARDIS needs six Gallifreyan pilots, so Romana needs a crew, and all six incarnations of the Doctor from earlier in the set turn up. What's even more indulgent, yet tremendously welcome, is a drop-in cameo from three more. I won't say the actors involved, but one played a villain on the series, one played a companion, and one is married to another star of this box set. It's all rather joyous and sends this very pick-and-mix release out on a high.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

FANS WHO: "The Final Game" - Part One



Back in 1973, plans for afoot for the upcoming eleventh season of Doctor Who. The final serial would have seen Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado face each other one last time as the Doctor and the Master. The Final Game would have served to write out the Master, revealing the secret of his true identity and might have also been the last serial for Pertwee's Doctor. Had The Final Game happened, the Master would have given his life for the Doctor in a grand send-off. The character would presumably not have been resurrected in the almost unrecognisable form played by Peter Pratt in 1976's The Deadly Assassin and Doctor Who history would have been very different.

Sadly, Delgado was killed in a road accident while filming abroad, and as such the story had to be scrapped. With his friend gone and several other cast members having left or being phased out, Pertwee made the decision to leave the series (by some accounts deliberately pricing himself out of the market so his contract wasn't renewed) so that the last serial of season eleven was confirmed as his last. The third Doctor regenerated at the end of Planet of the Spiders in 1974 and the third Doctor became the fourth.

Black Glove Studio - named for the Master's signature mittens - has been created with the purpose of bringing The Final Game to life. Chris McKeon, writer of a previous "lost story" -  the sixth Doctor regeneration novel Time's Champion - has taken the scant notes made by Robert Sloman for The Final Game and crafted his own version of the story, one that fits into the existing Doctor Who story. The essential part of the story remains: a final confrontation between the third Doctor and the original Master that we never had the chance to see.

With only part one so far available for preview, how the Master's story will play out is still a mystery until the serial is released in full on YouTube. Based on the first part, The Final Game has all the makings of a fine Doctor Who adventure, with an authentic late Pertwee era feel. This does mean it's a little slow in spots, but this was the case for many of the original serials, and there's a nice air of mystery concerning the Master's involvement in the story. The story includes an omniscient narrator, who uses a deliberately portentous style to sell the momentous nature of the story.

The performances in the story are generally good, with a selection of third Doctor era characters recreated for our listening pleasure. In most cases, the actors don't provide impersonations of the original cast, instead giving their interpretation of the characters. Sarah Wheatley's version of Sarah Jane Smith is a bit posher than the original but still has her confidence and humour, while Tony Fyler's clipped tones are perfect for the Brigadier. The vital roles of the Doctor and the Master are recreated excellently. Terry Cooper doesn't exactly sound like Delgado but reproduces the actor's delivery well, and convinces as the nefarious Time Lord. The biggest applause, though, has to go to Marshall Tankersley, who recreates Pertwee's Doctor with uncanny precision. He's better than Tim Treloar, who Big Finish have got to play the third Doctor in their own recreations of the era.

It's a fannish production with some characters who would been unlikely to appear in the serial as planned in 1973 but who are very welcome additions. It's a gorgeous celebration of the Pertwee era and I'm looking forward to the rest of the adventure.



At present, Black Glove Productions can be followed on Facebook. The serial will be released on YouTube when complete.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

More Picard speculation

TrekMovie.com has a full breakdown of the trailer here along with some speculation on what it all means.

Reflecting on all this, with more time to go over the details, it seems pretty clear that the Borg are a contemporary presence, rather than appearing only in flashback. This is reinforced by the fact that Hugh has been confirmed to be appearing. (He might be the Borg being operated on - not necessarily dissected - in the trailer, but it's not very clear).

It makes sense for there to be a link between Picard, Seven and Hugh, as they are the only recurring characters in the franchise to have escaped from the Borg. There are potentially, however, a lot more, especially considering that Voyager introduced a whole movement of drones who achieved individuality, and then ended with the destruction of a Borg transwarp hub and the Borg Queen. This was the last time we saw the Borg onscreen, except for the Enterprise episode "Regeneration," but that was set over 200 years earlier and featured Borg from Star Trek: First Contact (in either respect, from before the events of VGR: "Endgame).

We don't know the extent of the damage to the Borg following Voyager. The novel line and Star Trek: Online have explored the aftermath in completely different ways. Although the Queen died, she's died numerous times before and seems to simply be replaced by another, although the nature of her destruction in "Endgame" may have put paid to this.

In any case, there's nothing in the trailer to suggest that there are any Borg still active. The cube is being cut up and explored, and the Borg alcoves look like they might be in a Romulan facility. That said, I loved this detail, which suggests ate least some drones are being activated:




That's about sixteen years, by the way, so given the current understanding that Picard is set around 2397 to 2399, it's actually before the destruction of Romulus. Nonetheless, I'm wondering if the Romulans are trying to use Borg technology to set themselves ahead of the rest of the Alpha/Beta Quadrant powers, given that their power base in the area must be at rock bottom after their system was destroyed.

Interestingly, the IDW comic series Star Trek: Countdown, which until now has been the closest thing to a canonical look at the post-TNG period, revealed that Nero had enhanced the Narada with Borg tech, explaining how a mining ship could be so terrifyingly lethal. This had consequences in the Titan comic follow-up, but all this is outside of screen continuity and in another reality, so probably doesn't have much bearing here.

Then we have Data and/or B-4. Again, Countdown had Data as captain of the Enterprise-E after Picard's promotion to admiral, seemingly using B-4's body. This doesn't appear tenable with what we're seeing here, though. Brent Spiner's comments suggest that Data isn't fully restored, and a lot of fans have wondered if we're seeing a holodeck recreation. However, surely a holographic recreation of an AI could easily be considered an actual AI, especially if they're using Data's memories. To use a Doctor Who quote, "Different casing, same software."

A thread that was sadly not fully explored in Voyager, because it really got started just before the series ended, was the rights of holographic beings. There's no confirmation of Robert Picardo appearing as the Doctor, or indeed other versions of the EMH, but given his friendship with Seven and the AI theme that appears to be running through the trailer, I'd be unsurprised if he shows up.

So the remaining big question is Dahj, the young woman who comes to Picard for help. Based on nothing more than a hunch, I'm still convinced she's Lal, or at the very least, another android based off Soong's work. I realise she's bleeding in the trailer, but we don't know how sophisticated her appearance is now. In fact, given the research into the Borg, there's obviously a resurgence in the concept of integrating flesh and machine. Perhaps a restored Lal is a step ahead in the evolution of AI? Lal is Hindi for "beloved," although I haven't been able to find if "dahj" means anything.

Regardless of her identity, it looks like AI and cybernetic enhancement is a major theme of the series. The showrunners are obviously not worried about bringing back past characters and elements to use in Picard, and there's a lot of material from the TNG-era series for them to draw on. 

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Exciting Star Trek news! Short Treks and Lower Decks!




While Picard is the big news, there's plenty more Star Trek coming in the new year. Discovery is heading to season three, now over a thousand years in our future in the 32nd century. We don't know much, other than there's a new regular character called Book, played by David Ajala (Manchester Black on Supergirl), and that the Disco crew don't make it to safety on planet Terralysium. I;m looking forward to breaking away from the 23rd century and seeing a whole new era of the Trek universe.

However, for those who want to see more of the recognisable universe, Short Treks is back with six new episodes. The trailer above tells us something about the first three, which give us more time with the Discovery version of the original Enterprise crew. Looks like we'll get to see Spock's first day on the Enterprise - and yes, he's shouting his head off (altogether now - "THE WOMEN!") It's good that we get to see more of Rebecca Romijn's version of Number One as well, and any more time spent with Captain Pike is worth your time. Plus, a tribble episode, with Archer's H. Jon Benjamin of all people. Looks like I might get Archer Trek after all.

The remaining three episodes include a Picard introduction, and two animated episodes. Whether these tie into a particular series in uncertain, although they may be related to the upcoming animated series Lower Decks. This is reported as a series of half-hour episodes set on the USS Cerritos, a California-class starship - a new one for the franchise. We'll follow four ensigns who try to keep the ship running. Rutherford in particular sounds fun - a cyborg who's basically described as a shit Geordi la Forge (so, just like Geordi la Forge then).




Left to right are Tendi, a medical officer (a new alien species perhaps?), Rutherford, Beckett (further art shows her wielding a bat'leth) and nervous Boimler. Then we have the bridge crew (including a Caitian as chief medic, it appears). 90s favourite Jerry O'Connell's on the cast - haven't seen him on anything for a while.



It'll be interesting to have an out-and-out comedy in the Trek universe, but we've seen various series manage comedy well in the past (particularly DS9), and I have high hopes for this one. As yet, no more information on the other animated Trek series, the Nickolodeon-based adventure show aimed at kids, and it sounds like that's still very early in the planning stages.