Showing posts with label Doctor Who. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Doctor Who. Show all posts

Friday, 13 June 2014

WHO REVIEW: The Elixir of Doom

With the Companion Chronicles coming to a close, it seems quite right that they should revisit some of their greatest successes, and so we finally catch up with Iris Wildthyme and Josephine Jones (nee Grant) following their meeting in the superlative 2010 release Find and Replace. Once again, Paul Magrs writes a wonderfully odd, funny adventure in which Katy Manning performs both lead roles. Manning is absolutely on fire here, jumping between Iris, Jo and several supporting characters with ease. As the sleeve notes state, most people would assume she records each characters separately, but in fact she jumps between them, reading the script chronologically. She makes it sound effortless, a testament to her skill as a vocal actor.

The plot is fairly slight, just enough to generate some intrigue and mystery for Iris, Jo and the Doctor. Ah yes, he's here too, although not in his third incarnation, in spite of the image on the CD cover (Jo being a third Doctor companion gets a third Doctor stamp). While I won't give away which incarnation is featured, because it's much more fun just to wait and find out yourself, I will say that it's probably not the one you're expecting. Manning gets him spot on, too.

Iris takes Jo to 1930s Hollywood, to a party where they encounter the brash starlet Vita (another wonderful vocal turn by Manning). Jo and the Doctor saved her from a vampire in the 1970s, which sounds a lot more fun than dithering about on Solos or joyriding hovercraft. It turns out that not only are vampires real, but that there are all manner of movie monsters present in Hollywood in the Thirties. Vita is filming Leopard-Boy Meets the Human Jelly, with real monsters. But she has stranger secrets than that...

This story is an absolute joy, with witty dialogue, excellent performances and sound design and an atmosphere of decadent fun. Derek Fowlds provides fine support as Vita's partner Claude and other male roles, but this release belongs to Katy Manning. Iris and Jo make a fantastic team. Not many actresses display such amazing chemistry with themselves.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

New articles on Television Heaven

Just a quick heads-up: I have three new articles on Television Heaven this month. I've taken a look back at two Tom Baker Doctor Who serials, Genesis of the Daleks and Terror of the Zygons. Plus, a piece examining the lesser known but fascinating European 60s space opera, Raumpatrouille Orion. There are many more articles on a variety of TV genres on the site; pieces by other authors include new reviews of Press Gang, Knightmare and The Curse of Peladon.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Blogs I Like (I Like Blogs)

Fish Stix and Custard  The extremely beautiful and rather wonderful Ashley, aka Fish Stix aka Iso Suicide aka Papyrusaurus, blogs geeky stuff. Frequent awesome crafting updates. Occasional rudity.

Little Weirdos  A blog that explores the wonderful world of tiny plastic critters. Monster in My Pocket, Mini Boglins, MUSCLE etc, plus new lines being manufactured today. Cool stuff.

Yog-Blogsoth Michael Bukowski's eldritch illustrations of Lovecraftian monstrosities and creatures from myth. Good for nightmares.

The Theropod Database  Amateur palaeontologist Mickey Mortimer analyses the latest theropod finds and sees whether the main papers stand up to scrutiny. Pretty in depth and not easy for the layman, but still fascinating.

Written Worlds  Author Christopher L. Bennett talks about his own work and the shows he loves. Lots of Trek, Mission: Impossible and Godzilla.

E.G. Wolverson  Former supremo of The History of the Doctor, now finds time between child-rearing duties to read books and play with Lego, then blog about it. Particularly worth reading are his 'Prose vs Pictures' pieces.

Doc Oho Reviews  Doc Oho, aka Joe Ford, has been reviewing Doctor Who books, audios and episodes forever, along with Star Trek DS9, Voyager, The X-Files, Buffy and lots more. Reams of stuff on this site.

Doyleockian An excellent blog dedicated to all things Sherlock Holmes, with a special focus on the man himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Life on Magrs  One of my very favourite authors, Paul Magrs, blogs about his own work, what he's been reading, and his cat. And if there's one thing the Internet loves, it's cats.

Peculiar Times  Another great writer, Phillip Purser-Hallard, the creator of The City of the Saved and the editor of the upcoming Iris Wildthyme of Mars. Especially worth checking out around Christmastime, for special stories.

From a Story By...  Obverse Supremo Stuart Douglas reviews stuff and bibbles about anything that takes his fancy. Not updated very frequently, but worth reading whenever it is.

The Further Adventures of Bret M. Herholz  Bret's scratchy line drawings are unique and wonderfully characterful. He has a particular penchant for Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, but he illustrates all sorts. Definitely worth checking out.

KitchenFoyle Michael Kitchen/Foyle's War Tumblr. Lovely.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

REVIEW: The Annual Years by Paul Magrs

The Wilderness Years were not just the terrible empty span with no Doctor Who on TV. They were also the Annual Wilderness Years, a time with no yearly compendium of bizarre extraterrestrial text stories. World Distributors published Doctor Who throughout almost the entire original run of the TV series. However, the annuals weren't quite like the series. They weren't quite like anything else, really.

A lot of fans dismiss the annuals as speed-written tosh, but for many, they are a significant part of the Doctor Who experience. In the years before DVD and year-round repeats, the annuals were a vital part of keeping the show alive when it was off the air. The traditional Christmas day reading material for the young fan.

Paul Magrs was one of those children, and in The Annual Years, his tautologically-titled tome, he analyses the entire run, from 1965 to 1986, featuring six distinct version of the hero, Dr. Who. He even finds time to cover a handful of extra publications, including the novella Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space, The Amazing World of Doctor Who and the K9 and Company annual. Magrs looks at these strange publications with both an adult fan's eye, and through the lens of nostalgia. He not only gives us an idea what these books meant to him as a child, but how well they stand up today.

The stories in the annuals explored a vast and wondrous omniverse, far stranger and more varied than anything we saw on TV, even if Dr. Who did find himself visiting world on the surface of a uranium atom more often than might be expected. It's commonly supposed that the characters and themes of the annuals had little to do with their counterparts on TV, but Magrs shows that this was often not the case. He tracks the development of the Doctor and his adventures through this strange parallel continuum, noting at which points it is most in line with the series, and when it veers off the rails. Covering each story in detail, Magrs not only gives each one a quick summary, but analyses each annual as a whole. Section titles such as 'Curious Companions,' 'Egregious Errors' and 'Fiendish Wheezes' will give you some idea of the aspects he focusses on.

As well as the contents of the annuals themselves, Magrs provides swift background on the origins of these publications, and ends the book with a set of fascinating interviews with the people behind them. Together with a selection of correspondence extracts, this gives a candid look one of the least documented aspects of Doctor Who's long history.

Adam Bullock's gorgeous cover illustration begins a journey into the weirder recesses of the Doctor Who universe. A world of Sinister Sponges, Eye-Spiders and Devil Birds. A world where Dr. Who, aided with such inventions as the Floater and the vibro-flange, confronts evil, and often blows it up. The little boy called Paul grew up to become a beloved and prolific author. It's not hard to see what inspired him to write his stories, of dimensionally transcendent buses and tiny angels that incubate in the flesh of people's legs. The stories of the annuals can be even stranger than that.

The Annual Years is published in June and can be pre-ordered from Obverse Books 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sonic Technology

A clever chap here is working on a functional tractor beam. While the article begins by trumpeting how this is just like the thing the Enterprise uses to shift asteroids around, it's really not. It's a micro-scale acoustic beam, so it works only in an atmosphere or fluid medium. However, as outlined, it has enormous potential for medical use.

He's also working on a sonic screwdriver.

Also, here are some Star Trek cakes. Note to the original compiler: the final cake is clearly a work in progress, not an "epic fail." Prat.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Maketh the Man

It's fashionable to dress like the Doctor now. Look, The Radio Times is even doing a fashion guide. Truth is, I already own most of the things required to dress up as the Doctor. (I will say, Tesco's own brand tenner-a-pair plimsoles are far more durable and cosy than real Converse). I've been dressing Doctorishly for years. To begin with, when I was but a lad, I got into Doctor Who and part of its appeal was his clothes. I particularly fell in love with Paul McGann's frock-coated look and Jon Pertwee's dandyism. I discovered the joys of second-hand shops and filled up my wardrobe with as many snazzy items as I could - dress shirts, tailcoats, velvet jackets, militaria - as long as it more-or-less fit, I wanted it. Over the years I paired it down a little, got rid of most of the less well-fitting items and developed more of a dress sense, but I've always retained a rather fancy sense of dress.

The thing is, by the time Doctor Who returned to our screens, I'd already developed a style of my own, and begun to play around with it. I decided that a more casual look might be better for a while, especially as I was travelling a good deal back then and something practical would be, um, practical. I acquired a rather swish leather jacket, and although I sometimes wore it over a waistcoat and ties, I also went pretty casual at times. Then the Doctor turned up, wearing a casual outfit with a leather jacket. So, I smartened myself up again, took to wearing suits and rediscovered the joy of pinstripes. I even got a long, tan coat to wear over the top. Then David Tennant came along and stole my look. Everyone thought I was cosplaying.

Time-travellers kept pinching my look. I got hold of a gorgeous RAF greatcoat to wear in the snowy weather. And what did Captain Jack wear? I have a red military tunic from, I believe, the early twentieth century. Captain John turned up in something not dissimilar. I've been wearing tweeds, and sometimes even bowties, for years. Once the pinstripes went out, what did the Doctor switch to?

So, I might as well go with it. I got a nice stack of cash to spend of clothes for my birthday, which I eventually opted to spend on a gorgeous new coat. I got myself a Crombie-styled one from Brighton mod-shop Jump the Gun, complete with lovely red lining. I'm well pleased with it. Seeing that I've also found myself getting into cardies lately (it must be my age), and I wear navy trews quite often, my twelfth Doctor look is pretty much ready to go.

OK, sometimes I do dress up. I also own a fez.

New issue of Panic Moon now available

The May 2014 issue of Panic Moon fanzine is available now.

It’s a real mixed bag this time, but has an unintended – but nevertheless welcome – slight first Doctor bias, with articles about An Unearthly Child,Marco PoloThe Time Meddler and The Savages. We also look at The Time of the DoctorDoomsday and The Girl Who WaitedDoctor Who in Germany, missing episode animations and space opera in Doctor Who. As if that weren’t enough, we speculate on a connection between The Daemons and Ghost Light, and write in praise of Carmen Munro, Michael Grade, the Raston Warrior Robot, Tanya Lernov, the TARDIS doors and moments from Planet of Giants and The Enemy of the World.

The issue is lavishly illustrated with beautiful original artwork. The issue comprises 36 monochrome pages in Panic Moon’s distinctive A6 ‘pocket-sized’ format. Just right for reading on the bus (or in the loo!).

It costs just £1.50 in the UK including postage. For those outside the UK, it’s £3.00. Ordering details can be found here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Nine villains who should appear in new Doctor Who

The Toymaker:

A lot of fans love The Celestial Toymaker, for some reason. I'm not really sure why. It's dull, ill thought out, and horribly racist. Still, the Toymaker himself is a good concept, one that is ripe for an update and a rethink. You'd need to scratch out all that racist orientalist stuff - just the Toymaker, no 'Celestial' appenditure. 'Celestial' is a lovely word, meaning 'cosmic' or 'of the stars,' but it is also an old-fashioned term for the Chinese. Given that the original Toymaker was played by Michael Gough dressed as a Mandarin in an archaic Chinese parlour, making an 'inscrutable Asian' sort of face, I don't think we can give the producers of this story the benefit of the doubt. And that's before they started throwing the N-word around, which wasn't acceptable for children's television even in 1966.

Take the character back to basics: a powerful alien being that creates living toys and sets monstrous games for its victims. Strip away all the questionable 'Celestial' stuff, and you've a villain for a fun, creepy episode with a hint of sixties Batman to it.

The Meddling Monk:

The first adversary we ever met from the Doctor's own people, the Monk was fabulous fun, a mischievous time traveller who tinkered with history for the joy of it. Played by Carry On... star Peter Butterworth, he went up against the first Doctor twice, and had a run-in with the Daleks. A rather more dangerous version of the Monk since went up against the eighth Doctor, now played by former Goodie Graeme Garden. Cheeky and capricious, the Monk has set his sights on perfecting history, ironing out the errors and remaking it.

I'd not be at all surprised to see certain Time Lords escape from the Gallifreyan exile and return to the universe at large, now that the Doctor is on a quest to rediscover his homeworld. While we're bound to see the Master again at some point, a new incarnation of the Monk would fit in nicely with the more mutable version of history that we see in the series now. I could see someone like Stephen Fry playing him (after all, he's in everything else).

The Draconians:

Now that the Zygons have finally reappeared, the Draconians are the fans' favourite one-off monster. Even in 1973 it was a brilliant make-up job, so imagine how good they could look now. A civilisation of noble reptilian warriors, they're rather like the reinvented Klingons, but better, and fifteen years before The Next Generation. The series has taken a fairer hand with alien cultures lately, with the Silurians and Ice Warriors reintroduced as complex peoples with as much variation as mankind. We even have a nice Sontaran. The Draconians could take their place as a broad civilisation out in the stars.

The Rutans:

The Sontarans were the fourth big baddie to come back, following on predictably after the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master. Since then, they've become part of the background of the series, called on whenever some extra alien heavies are needed. We're well overdue a proper Sontaran story, and one thing we haven't seen on TV, in the whole history of the series, is the conflict between the Sontarans and their mortal enemies, the Rutan Host. The two species have been at war for ten thousand years, and we've never seen them on screen together, unless you count the Adventure Games. It's about time.

The Krynoid:

We love us a bit of body horror. The original series got away with some shocking stuff, at least until Mary Whitehouse got her way. The Krynoid could work fantastically again today; horrific plant life that infects a human host, slowly transforming him into a shambling mound of vegetable matter. In the 1976 serial The Seeds of Doom, Tom Baker put in an intense performance that totally sold the threat to the Earth when the Krynoid landed. Imagine Capaldi in the same role? Alternative extraterrestrial infections such as the Wirrn would do just as well.

The Eight Legs:

The giant spiders of Metebelis III ended the third Doctor, and returned to face the eighth on radio, thirty-odd years later. Russell the Davies made several plans with his co-writers to bring back the Eight Legs in an invasion of Earth in The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, this never came to pass, the writers unable to square the spiders' defeat at the hands of Sarah Jane with their besting of the Doctor back in 1974. The Eight Legs were not the best realised of props, although they were more effective than many fans suggest, but imagine how brilliant they could look today. The twelfth Doctor facing Shelob, two eyes staring down eight, would be a sight to see.

The Chelonians:

Gareth Roberts created these beasties for his novel The Highest Science, and they became recurring foes for the seventh Doctor in the New Adventures. At once stage, Roberts and Davies were going to use them in Planet of the Dead, a story very vaguely based on the aforementioned novel. It's about time we saw them on screen. Giant, green, hermaphroditic, cyborg tortoises – what's not to love?

The Eminence:

The Eminence is a being created by Matt Fitton for the Big Finish audio plays, and is perhaps the perfect audio villain. Nothing more than a voice – the voice of David Sibley, in fact – the Eminence is a powerful intelligence from the edge of the universe, determined to conquer all of space and time. The sixth and eighth Doctors have already faced it, with the Doctor's first encounter, in his fourth incarnation, upcoming. The Eminence sends itself out in gaseous form, inhabiting the bodies of human slaves and turning them into his Infinite Warriors. It's rather like a more effective version of the Great Intelligence, and could make a formidable threat. And it wouldn't cost much, saving money after all the spending on giant spiders and Rutan shapeshifters.

Cardinal Richelieu:

Doctor Who has a long tradition of having the Doctor meet individuals who have a surprising resemblance to himself. William Hartnell played the Abbot of Amboise, Patrick Troughton faced himself as both the Doctor and the dictator Salamander, and Colin Baker got to shoot his predecessor Peter Davison, as the Gallifreyan guard Maxil. Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi has already appeared twice in the franchise, as the Pompeiian Caecilius and Frobisher in Torchwood. Supposedly, some kind of explanation for this repetition of forms is coming once Capaldi takes over as the Doctor.

With this in mind, and given the success of the BBC's new series The Musketeers, howsabout a crossover? Capaldi is unable to reprise his role as the Cardinal Richelieu due to his commitments to Doctor Who, but given a crossover production, what's to stop the twelfth Doctor meet his lookalike in 16th century France?

Friday, 18 April 2014


Just reblogging some links to articles. Required reading, I feel, for the male geek contingent. Time to buck our ideas up.

Fake Geek Guys

Doctor Who and the Women

Monday, 31 March 2014

This is currently the wallpaper on my phone's lock screen. It's by Rachael Stott, a freelance illustrator who is both extremely talented and uber-geeky. You should check out her blog.

(Also thanks to my friends Tanya and Mlle de la Mort, who both searched the interwebs for me to find out drew this.)

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Yes, you're probably pronouncing it wrong. Don't worry about it.

If you're following my blog, you're probably into either Doctor Who, or dinosaurs, or some other bit of geekery. In which case, you could do worse than checking out the crafting genius of Papyrusaurus, if you have failed to do so already.

Ashley, the Chief Executive Dinosaur of Papyrusaurus, reclaims old books and transforms their pages into works of nerdy art.

She does Doctor Who tributes

and Monsters Inc. stuff for kids 

and Firefly stuff 

and she does pretty amazingly cute things with dinosaurs.

Check out the whole store. There's a lot more - not just prints, but Christmas decorations, wreaths and rosettes. She designs tributes for Supernatural, Harry Potter, Ghostbusters... all the geeking best.

You can check out her store at CraftStar through the link above, or on Etsy here. Papyrusaurus is US based, but ships worldwide.

And seriously, check this out. It's the Bakersaurus Rex.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

WHO REVIEW: Tales of Trenzalore

Nine hundred years, four enemies, and apparently, only one leg. That's the summary of the Doctor's time on the planet Trenzalore, recounted in this ebook-only release. It's a slim affair, enjoyable but a little unambitious. Undoubtedly designed to be a fan-pleaser, the book contains four short stories, each of which involves the Doctor defending the town of Christmas against an enemy from the classic series. The first story, 'Let it Snow,' features the Ice Warriors, the most recognisable of the aliens to Matt Smith fans, while the remaining three bring back the Krynoids, Autons and Mara. While the Autons were the very first monsters to appear in the revived series, fighting Christopher Eccleston back in 2005, the vegetable Krynoids and the evil-incarnate that is the Mara are likely to be a mystery to many new series fans. Oh, and these aren't spoilers: all four enemies are included on the front cover, robbing readers of any fun to be had trying to work out which villain has been chosen for each story.

The stories are all good fun, straightforward adventure stories in which the Doctor fights off an alien incursion. There's a great deal of similarity between the four tales, though, particularly the first three. Justin Richards, George Mann and Paul Finch each come with a similar answer to the problem of getting an invasion force past the no-technology barrier surrounding Christmas. The final story, 'The Dreaming,' is the best of the four, with author Mark Morris devising an creative and unique take on the Mara and it's need to manifest. Equally, it's the only story in which there is a plausible reason for the villain to want to release the Time War: the sheer desire for chaos.

Each story is enjoyable, though, with George Mann having particular fun describing the horrible transformation of a victim of the Krynoid. All four authors capture the mannerisms of the eleventh Doctor well, with his gradual ageing and waning faculties becoming clear as the stories progress through his exile. However, they all fall foul of similar problems. It's clear that no one has really outlined the extent or nature of the truth field that surrounds the town, and within each story, the pseudo-companion character gets only a short time to make an impact, so they are inevitably unmemorable.

Most of all, though, this feels like a missed opportunity. With each story being a fairly simple beat-the-baddies affair, there's little room for any exploration of life on Trenzalore. The society of Christmas still feels as sketched in and unreal as it did in The Time of the Doctor. There's no real indication what life under the Doctor's aegis is like. Where are the dissenting voices, the people who resent the Doctor for bringing the siege upon them? The only one who ever questions his presence is the Doctor himself. A single, full-length novel, giving room to explore the world and its protector, would have been more interesting and made more of an impression.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Infinite Artist

I'm jumping on the bandwagon a little here, seeing as a lot of people have been blogging about a particular piece of artwork, but I've been following Paul Hanley on DeviantArt for a while now, so it's not before time. Paul draws highly detailed, intricate scenes for his favourite pop culture characters and his own creations, and it'll come as no surprise to anyone that it is his Doctor Who art that has caught my eye. He's also one of Obverse Books' preferred artists, having previously provided the cover art for Iris: Abroad and Lady Stardust. He's now created the truly wonderful cover for the upcoming Iris Wildthyme of Mars. This is, of course, especially exciting for me, since this is the cover to the book that will contain my first professional fiction commission. 

Isn't it gorgeous? Paul often creates crowded vistas which act as geeky Where's Wally? style puzzles (or Where's Waldo if you're a Yank). So, as well as Iris (in her Barbarella incarnation) and Panda, he's provided all manner of Martians to try to identify. This should not be taken to mean that any of these creatures will be appearing in the stories, however. There are many more Marses than are depicted on here.

What's really been hitting the blogosphere is this. Paul has drawn numerous Doctors in the past, not only depicting an ever-increasing rolecall of the 'proper' Doctors, but having fun with apocryphal, unofficial, and fan-requested Doctors. Now, he's gone the whole hog, and produced something that I'd love to do, if my drawing skills were up to the task: 'The Infinite Doctor.'

Isn't that something? I particularly like how less well-known versions of the character are up front, with the often overlooked eighth Doctor (in his Night of the Doctor garb) sharing the limelight with the first Doctor, the Richard E. Grant animated Doctor, the War Doctor, and two of the Doctors from the wonderful Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. The latest addition to the roster, Peter Capaldi, gets pride of place, but there are all manner of extra incarnations on there, from the faces seen in the battle in The Brain of Morbius to Big Finish's 'Unbound' Doctors. There are even some that I could not identify, which, given my level of Who geekery, isn't to be sniffed at.

Two inclusions really leap out at me from this:

The 'Egon' Doctor, from the proposed Nelvana cartoon, as mentioned in my Harold Ramis piece last night. I considered including him in the 'Past, Potentials and Parallels' piece from my 'Other Doctors' series, but it was getting a little busy. It's quite heartwarming to see this version of the Doctor appear just as Egon was taken from us.

The second Doctor from the left, the rather cool, asiatic looking one with white hair and a black hat and cloak. This is a new one on me; although I was familiar with the Japanese Daleks novelisation, I hadn't seen all the illustrations before (you can view them all here). That's what's wonderful about Doctor Who, there's always more to discover. Add to the handful here who I didn't recognise a few more stage Doctors that I've just read about in Who-ology, and my Doctor catalogue is growing by the day.

There are some others I would have included here, had I the talent to do so. I'd have included some parallel versions of Doctors with distinctive looks, a couple of well-regarded fan Doctors, maybe some more spoof Doctors. But the wonderful thing about this image, in its conception and title, is that there need be no end to all the versions of the Doctor. The Doctors hang off the page, hinting at many, many more we can't see. If you can think of a Doctor, but can't spot him, don't worry. He's there somewhere, a few too many steps to the left.

For those who may need some more assistance in identifying the Doctors portrayed (or just like lists, like me) Paul has helpfully included a version with a key here. To view the above images at full size, just click on them to be taken to the original page, and to view his entire DeviantArt gallery, click here. To learn more about some of the mysterious faces pictured, try my 'Other Doctors' articles, which are already hopelessly out-of-date and lacking certain incarnations (John Guilor as the first Doctor in The Day of the Doctor? David McGrouther as the sixth Doctor on ice? Declain Brennan from 'Doctor Who Meets Einstein?')

Infinite Doctors in Infinite Combinations...

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

WHO REVIEW: Dark Eyes 2





The first Dark Eyes box set was a resounding success for Big Finish, capitalising on the popularity of their New Eighth Doctor Adventures and pushing forward the signature character's story. While the sixth Doctor might be the most celebrated by Big Finish, the eighth is the one which has led the way forward, being as he was for many years, the current incarnation. With this no longer the case, the open-ended nature of his tenure still allowed BF to take him in interesting directions, with only the nebulous future of the Time War to cap them. Dark Eyes was one of several 'event' releases of the last couple of years, but probably the most successful, even going on to win a BBC Audio Drama Award. A sequel was a sure thing, even before they announced they be making three more box sets.

Since then, the eighth Doctor's story has been closed off somewhat, finally given a definitive ending by The Night of the Doctor. Nonetheless, the storytelling possibilities for the eighth Doctor remain open. We know his last moments, but not how he got to them. With both Dark Eyes and Gallifrey VI creeping ever closer to the taboo subject of the Time War, Dark Eyes 2 takes the plunge, referencing certain revelations of the pre-War days that were let slip in the new TV series. While they still can't quite come out and have the Time Lords say “And now we enter the Last Great Time War,” they can they the groundwork both for the conflict and the devastating events that will damage the Doctor's moral character before he comes to die on Karn.

Dark Eyes 2 is, of course, a sequel to the first box set, which left with the timelines rearranging themselves following the Doctor's defeat of the Daleks' plans. It is no surprise that the Doctor is reunited with Molly O'Sullivan, his companion from the first Dark Eyes, but the other additions to the cast and story were harder to predict. Big Finish have trawled their back catalogue for things to include here. There's both the Dalek Time Controller and Sally Armstrong from the first Dark Eyes, Liv Chenka from Robophobia, the Eminence from The Seeds of War, the Viyrans from various previous releases, most recently Blue Forgotten Planet, and the new version of the Master from UNIT: Dominion. These aren't all things I've listened to, myself, although I'm reasonably well-versed in the lore. Nonetheless, the story brings new listeners up to date with the nature of the various factions involved in this sprawling storyline.

The main cast excel here. The best thing about Dark Eyes was the interplay between Paul McGann and Ruth Bradley. As well as having the most wonderful pair of voices you could ever hope to hear, they share such fabulous chemistry that they really do sound like they belong together. It's just a shame they're confined to audio – they'd be the most gorgeous TARDIS team in history if we could actually see as well as hear them. It's always a treat to hear stories where the eighth Doctor is put through the ringer, be it emotionally or physically. McGann brings such pain to his performance when it calls for it. Yet he can still deliver the witty, childish, excitable eighth Doctor of old when needed. There's a definite sense that this Doctor wants to remain the fun-loving character we used to know, but that the universe keeps knocking him down and making it harder and harder to do so.

The story is a little contrived in its need to get Molly back in the game and justify its title. It turns out that there are still traces of the “retro-genitor” particles that she was laced with in the first serial, and the Doctor's dropping in on her – living in his old house – reactivates them. This is the catalyst for a whole sequence of events, linking the various factions across time. Still, who cares how many hoops the script has to jump through to get Molly back with “(her) man, the Doctor” and his “Tardy-box” when they are so good together?

The inclusion of Liv Chenka is a little more unexpected, and is tied together in a sort of predestination paradox that becomes clear as events unfold. Nicola Walker is a wonderful actor, and I'm not surprised that BF wanted to get her back to play Liv once more. Then there's the Master, played by the wonderful Alex McQueen. Going by the marvellous alias Dr. Harcourt De'Ath, rather than pretending to be the Doctor this time, the Master is a little more subdued this time round, but nonetheless recognisable as the camp, cocky character we met in Dominion. It's astonishing that, after about thirteen years of audioplays with McGann's Doctor, we haven't heard him play up against his foe from the TV Movie. While I understand that the Eric Roberts version of the Master cannot appear due to rights constraints, having the eighth Doctor meet with another incarnation of his archnemesis is irresistible. And as nemeses go, this Master is certainly arch. The meeting between the Doctor and his old friend may be unexpectedly subdued to begin with, but McGann and MacQueen sparkle together, trading banter and criticising each other's morals, as if picking up from an argument they left years ago.

While Nicholas Briggs directs all four instalments of the serial, only the first is written by him. “The Traitor” is very like his Dalek Empire series – indeed, for all I know, it's set during it – and sees us meet Liv Chenka on a planet occupied by the Daleks. It takes quite some time for the Doctor to make his presence known, but this isn't a major problem in a lengthy story like this. Walker is more than capable of carrying the episode on her shoulders. Nonetheless, the first episode doesn't really seem to get going until the final few scenes, when we learn the Doctor's plan is to ally himself with the Daleks, in order to set them against an even bigger threat.

Alan Barnes gives us the second part, “The White Room,” which returns the Doctor to 1918 on the eve of the armistice, reuniting him with Molly and drawing them both into a Viyran plot. The time-twisting nature of the narrative is hinted at here, with events from the future affecting the past and present. Using the Viyrans is something of a mastertroke. Not only are they one of BF's more successful original villains, but they tie into Molly's “retro-genitor” storyline nicely. Plus, we get time-active ghosts, and a sinister turn by BF stalwart Ian Brooker as both the villainous Dr. Goring, and the Viyran using his voice.

Matt Fitton pens both the third and final parts of the set. “Time's Horizon” is the strongest of the four episodes, a strong, self-contained story with both a good sci-fi concept and a nice, creepy horro vibe. It brings three of the leads together, with the Doctor and Molly arriving on the Orpheus spaceship, upon which Liv and her crew are travelling to the very edge of space. Walker plays Liv even better here than in “The Traitor,” running from her past as far as she can, torn up by her actions as a Dalek collaborator. There's a nice parallel between the Doctor's seemingly unthinkable actions and Liv's own, both doing what they think is right to save lives. A further element is thrown in when we learn that, for the Doctor, episode one hasn't happened yet.

The Eminence is perhaps the strongest villain BF have yet created, and I intend to order its debut piece, The Seeds of War. Where once the Time Lords feared the Daleks may become the final, solitary form of life in the universe, now that place is set to be filled by the Eminence: a single, unassailable will. Given terrifying voice by David Sibley, we can believe it when the Doctor suggests that this force, capable of bending all others to its will, is the greatest threat in the universe. However, it seems the Time Lords are not necessarily on the same side of the debate.

“Eyes of the Master” brings events full circle, dropping the Doctor, Liv and Molly in 1970s London, where the Master is knee-deep in a particularly nefarious scheme, with full Time Lord approval. Hearing the Master rolling out the pleasantries as a mild-mannered optician while we know of his monstrous experiments is wonderfully macabre. Scarier than the Daleks and more unnerving than the Eminence is the little whizz and squelch as he plucks out his victims' eyes... masterful sound design, Big Finish, but I can't deal with eyes! The final episode gets a bit swallowed up in its need to get all the threads tied up – the Eminence, the Master, the Time Lords, the retrogenitor particles, the Daleks, the Doctor's about-face – but it manages it. It leaves each of our heroes and villains in uncertain circumstances, and me dying for the third box set. Oh, and Frank Skinner's in it, just because.

While it gets off to a slow start, Dark Eyes 2 is a strong follow-up to the first box set, building on the events of that while setting up more for the future. It does suffer a little from being just one step in a series, but each chapter and the box set as a whole work well enough as self-contained stories. Still, I am looking forward to hearing what the Master will be up to next, and learning how the Doctor will be justifying his increasingly questionable actions.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

WHO REVIEW: Time Trips #2 & #3



The second and third releases in the Time Trips series are both improvements on the first, and focus on more recent incarnations of the Doctor. Jenny T. Colgan – now sporting an Iain M. Banks-esque middle initial for her sci-fi work – writes for the eleventh Doctor, a version she has already shown a knack for capturing in her 2012 novel Dark Horizons. A month later, Nick Harkaway, author of the critically acclaimed The Gone-Away World, provides us with an energetic tenth Doctor story. Both are pacey, witty adventures that suit the fast-talking the authors have chosen (or been assigned?)

Colgan gives us Into the Nowhere, an evocative and creepy tale which sees the Doctor and Clara arrive on a planet which, impossibly, appears nowhere in the TARDIS databanks. This is enough to both spook the Doctor and make it irresistible for him. The nameless rock is, it seems at first, uninhabited, but there are revelations to come concerning its true nature. While the Doctor wants to get to the bottom of this mystery world, the main concern for him and Clara is just staying alive, on a planet that seems to have been designed to kill them.

Harkaway follows this up with Keeping Up With the Joneses, less spookily titled but no less bizarre and inventive. This sees the tenth Doctor, during his solo travels, in dire straits as the TARDIS collides with a weapon leftover from the Time War. He finds himself in Jonestown, a quaint Welsh settlement that seems to have spontaneously set itself up inside the TARDIS. There he meets Christina, a young widow who, inexplicably, is the spitting image of cat burgler Lady Christina de Souza. There's also a sentient electrical storm, firemen, and a lot of mushrooms involved. It's certainly not wanting for imagination.

Both stories have their similarities,each depositing the Doctor in an impossible space and leaving him to work out the truth behind it, while trying to stay ahead of the numerous threats. They fit their length well; a single, well-defined mystery suits these novellettes. They also find room for some decent characterisation of the leads. Into the Nowhere pushes Clara to the brink with its non-stop barrage of traumatic assaults, and sees her and the Doctor questioning just what sort life one has to lead when travelling in the TARDIS. Joneses, on the other hand, being essentially a solo Doctor piece, is more introspective, and manages that most difficult of tasks – believably getting inside the Doctor's head and examining his character.

Joneses trumps Into the Nowhere for me, though, for its conclusion. The eventual revelation of the mystery planet's nature is a little underwhelming, and the central villain is unimpressive. I realise he's supposed to be, but it's still anticlimactic. In Joneses, however, we know from the outset the nature of the villain, but it develops in unforeseen ways, and while we may suspect the true nature of of Jonestown, the ultimate explanation is rather ingenious. Both stories end on cautiously optimistic notes, with their monsters given a second chance in a new world.

Nick Harkaway pips it for me for his poetic turn of phrase. “There was indeed a dark cloud looming out towards the east, a pendulous monster grumbling and growling to itself, and he could feel the psychic backwash already.” There's also an extended riff on cheese, which is worth the cover price alone. However, both Harkaway and Colgan have provided excellent stories, complex yet easy to read, and a sure sign that this series can work very well indeed.

Placements: Keeping Up With the Joneses takes place between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, while Into the Nowhere would seem to occur between Day and Time of the Doctor.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Doctor's New Clothes

So, there we have it - the first look at the twelfth Doctor's costume. What do we all think? I rather like it, but then, it's not entirely unlike the sort of thing I might wear (then again, neither were the tweeds or the pinstripes). I love the frock coat, deep blue with a lovely red lining. Looks like it could do with a tie, though. I'm guessing we'll see some variation over the episodes, of course. It's got a nice feel of the earliest Doctor outfits, but with a modern cut and style. A nice update for our new Doctor. And I love the Pertwee pose.

WHO REVIEW: The Lost Stories 4.3-4.4



Among the mad rush of events that overtook the world of Doctor Who at the end of 2013, Big Finish reached the end of its Lost Stories range. Originally created to bring the unmade 1986 season of Doctor Who to life, later series moved beyond the adventures of the sixth Doctor, recreating unmade serials for the Doctors from Billy Hartnell through to Sly McCoy. The fourth and final run has reached its culmination with two six-part adventures, one for the second Doctor and one for the third. Naturally, each of these is in the enhanced audiobook type of format, somewhere between a reading and a performance. Indeed, these two releases are as close to a full-cast performance as you can get with several key cast members no longer extant.

Lords of the Red Planet is the gloriously named third and final story drawn from the archived notes of Brian Hayles, following the previous releases The Dark Planet and The Queen of Time . It involves the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie arriving on Mars and becoming witness to nothing less than the creation of the Ice Warriors. With the genesis of the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans all now established, it's not surprising that the Martian menaces would get there own treatment eventually. What is more unexpected is that this was actually proposed right back in 1969, intended to be the second appearance of the creatures. In the event, The Seeds of Death was made in its place. It's hard to say which was actually the stronger story; what we have hear is not a final script, but is based on two slightly different draft treatments by Hayles. John Dorney has done a good job of crafting them into a cohesive story. The performances are uniformly good, although Nick Briggs does overstretch himself a little by adding even more alien voices to his roster.

Where the serial falls down is in its length, something it has in common with many Troughton stories. It's a more interesting concept than what we got in The Seeds of Death, but perhaps a less televisually exciting one. It certainly would have been expensive to produce, with the sheer numbers of Martians of various stripes being a likely reason it was vetoed. Hayles paints a picture of Mars that sees it as a dying planet inhabited by the last vestiges of a once powerful culture, driven to indolence and marking time till their extinction. The Gandorans are the architects of their own maltreatment at the hands of their genetically enhanced mistress, and the ensuing power struggle has an air of inevitability to it. The actual origins of the Ice Warriors, accidentally christened as such by the Doctor here, is intriguing. There was always a sense that there was something artificial about them, yet they are clearly organic. Here we learn that they are forcibly evolved and technologically upgraded, transforming them from mere beasts to a powerful fighting force. A martial culture in both senses, then, and destined to inherit the planet. How easily this account fits with other tales of Ice Warrior history is harder to say, but given that this is penned by the real-world creator of the creatures, it should perhaps be considered the truest history.

I found The Mega rather less enjoyable to listen to. The first, and only, third Doctor release for the Lost Stories range, this one comes from a treatment by Bill Strutton, author of intergalactic bug-fest The Web Planet. It's at the same time a talky piece and an action-oriented one. It takes an age to get going, and once it does, it never really manages to do the action justice. Hailing from the hinterland between seasons seven and eight, The Mega is a story in the gritty, near-future style of The Ambassadors of Death. It's the plausible future from the point of view of a writer in the 1970s, with plenty of international political action, then-topical references and corrupt officials, with a hefty does of high-concept science fiction mixed in. It probably would have looked fantastic on television. The problem being that neither the action setpieces nor the bizarre, extraterrestrials (the Mega themselves) come across terribly well on audio. Simon Guerrier stresses that this was the toughest script assignment he's had, and it shows. I'm just not convinced this story was well chosen for adaptation to audio, particularly in light of the death of so many of the original cast. Both Richard Franklin and Katy Manning do their best, but it doesn't really come off. As much as I adore Manning, and as much as others have praised her attempt at Pertwee, her im-Pert-onation just doesn't work for me either.

While both the Lost Stories and the Companion Chronicles ranges are now over or winding up, Big Finish intend to move forward with an Early Adventures series. While the gradual development of these releases has shown that there is clearly a way that stories for the first three Doctors can still be produced, there are still some kinks to be ironed out. Although the Troughton stories have been largely successful, Pertwee adventures are harder to get right, something that is true both in the Companion Chronicles line and The Mega. With the sad loss of Elisabeth Sladen, Nick Courtney and Caroline John in recent years, this vibrant era of Doctor Who is slipping out of our grasp and may never truly be recreated.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Regeneration Rundown

So, with all the 'Doctor by Doctor' articles done, I thought it was time for a round-up of that most important element for list-making nerd-fans: the regenerations.

This has been somewhat complicated of late, with the numbering of the most recent few Doctors being called into question. To begin with, it's easy: same number for the Doctor, life and incarnation. Now it's fiddlier, but hopefully this rundown makes it clear. The Doctors are numbered one to twelve, with the War Doctor, unnumbered, between the eighth and ninth. Incarnations refer to distinct faces, while lives refer to how many times the Doctor has regenerated. So, Peter Capaldi is the twelfth Doctor, but the thirteenth distinct incarnation. Smith to Capaldi was “regeneration number thirteen,” so he is on his fourteenth life. Simple really.

Since the anniversary celebrations, we have a pretty full rundown of all the Doctor's regenerations, the reasons for them, and most of his selves' first and last lines. Even this is a bit complicated, though, with expanded universe media muddying the waters a bit. Still, here's my attempt to clear everything up. Wish me luck...

Friday, 24 January 2014

Fannual and Fanzine

You can line it up with all your old annuals, you big nerd.

There's a fantastic new Doctor Who fan publication now in print. We've had the fanthology, now we have the fannual. If you, like me, feel that Peter Cushing's movie version of Dr. Who was a bit left out of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, then you'll want to get this. Featuring the work of numerous artists and writers, the Dr. Who Fannual has been produced in the style of the old World Distributors annuals. It's available in both hardback and paperback, and in black and white or full colour, this is gorgeous piece of work. The various editions can be ordered here.

Also available now to download, the latest issue of the Canadian Doctor Who magazine Whotopia. This is, sadly, the last issue of Whotopia, at least for the foreseeable future. However, to mark the occasion this is a bumper issue with a host of material on the anniversary year and classic Doctor Who stories. It also includes a silly little feature on Doctor Who movies from yours truly. You ca download the issue here.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Doctor by Doctor Index

Having finally completed my eleventh Doctor piece (look, I was a bit Doctor Who'd out after Christmas, regular nonsense shall resume shortly), it seems as good a time as any to look back over the year-and-a-bit long project. It seemed like a fine idea to explore and analyse the changing face of the Doctor and the series for the anniversary year. How well it came out, well, I'll leave the readers to be the judge of that. The articles seem to have been fairly popular. I enjoyed writing them, even the rather long tenth Doctor piece. Well, he did technically count as two incarnations, so why not go on a bit longer?

Below are quick links to each of the eleven main articles, followed by the four 'Side-Step' articles that covered some of the extra incarnations of the Doctor. Which Doctors were included in this was a little arbitrary. I decided to write about the other first Doctor, Richard Hurndall, who stood in for the late William Hartnell in The Five Doctors. He counts as a Doctor to me, even if he is standing in for another actor. The same goes for Peter Cushing; the movies may not be canonical Doctor Who, but they are a major part of the experience, and some of the first Doctor Who that many of us saw. Richard E. Grant was the official ninth Doctor for all of a few months, and in the Wilderness Years, this was a big deal. And naturally, John Hurt's War Doctor is included, but is a Side-Step by dint of arriving out of sequence and not warranting a full-length essay due to his reduced screentime.

Brief accounts of yet more versions of the Doctor can be found in the "Other Doctor" articles, listed right at the end. Happy reading, Who-heads.

1) A Citizen of the Universe (William Hartnell, 1963-66)
2) The Cosmic Hobo (Patrick Troughton, 1966-69)
3) Licence to Frill (Jon Pertwee, 1970-74)
4) Bohemian Rhapsody (Tom Baker, 1974-81)
5) Captain of the Team (Peter Davison, 1981-84)
6) Loud, Proud and Dangerous to Know (Colin Baker, 1984-86)
7) The Man With the Plan (Sylvester McCoy, 1987-96)
8) Through the Wilderness (Paul McGann, 1996-2003)
9) Working Class Hero (Christopher Eccleston, 2005)
10) Earth's Champion (David Tennant, 2005-10)
11) A Madman With a Box (Matt Smith, 2010-13)

Sidestep 1) Grandad, We Love You (Peter Cushing)
Sidestep 2) The Stand-In Delivers (Richard Hurndall)
Sidestep 3) Cheer Up, Goth (Richard E. Grant)
Sidestep 4) The Missing Link (John Hurt)

The Other Doctors:
1) On Stage and Screen
2) On Audio
3) Pasts, Potentials and Parallels