Wednesday 30 June 2021

WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: New Adventures for the Eighth Doctor (Mann, Vieceli, Hi-Fi)



Written by George Mann, art by Emma Vieceli, colours by Hi-Fi

Titan Comics' 2016 miniseries featuring the Eighth Doctor, collected here under the umbrella title A Matter of Life and Death, is a punchy five-part run of short adventures that make up a single overarching quest. The Doctor pops to one of his various properties on Earth, this one seemingly the cottage he used in the TV Action comic strips from the 70s, absorbing a fragment of these almost-certainly apocryphal stories into the modern day ongoing franchise. As questionable as some of the earlier Doctor Who comics were, it's wonderful to think that there's been a pretty much continuous run of strips since 1964 across multiple publishers. 

Entering his cottage he discovers that a young woman has taken up residence there. This is the beautiful blue-haired Josie Day, an artist who somehow knows to paint alien beings like Krotons and Cybermen and seems reluctant to answer questions. "The Pictures of Josephine Day" is a fun beginning for the series, with living paintings besieging a sleepy village, while setting up a central mystery. Josie clearly knows more than she's letting on, but it's subtly written and illustrated and only becomes truly evident rereading once the story is fully played out. 

The second issue, "Music of the Spherions" is my least favourite story of the run, with a pretty hokey central story about infectious sentient crystals, but it has a strong and noble central message and shows just how good a companion Josie is, saving the day through impassioned speeches and a willing to sacrifice herself if necessary. Josie's fun and arty but deep and serious at the same time. The story shows off Vieceli's artwork at its best, though, with some impressive alien vistas. Her Eighth Doctor is neither a realistic depiction of McGann nor a caricature, rather an impression of the character, always recognisable as this passionate, flighty regeneration.

"The Silvering" riffs on "The Unquiet dead" and The Talons of Weng-Chiang with a trip back to the 19th century and a night out at the theatre, where some very spooky going-ons are going on. Featuring mirrors that act as portals into a nightmarish parallel universe, it's not exactly original but it's atmospheric and exciting. The best moments involve mirror-soldiers, created from glimpses and part-reflections, horrible, tragic fractured beings. Lovely stuff.

"Briarwood" sees the Doctor and Josie attend a marvellous party at a fancy house in 1932, where there's a touch of Christie-style mystery and some sinister plant elementals to deal with. Oddly Mann names these the Nixi, whereas the folkloric nixies were water spirits, not tree spirits like the dryads. It's a solid adventure with a more meaningful resolution than I'd have expected.

The series finishes with "A Matter of Life and Death" itself (not to be confused with the Eighth Doctor comic story "A Life of Matter and Death," from DWM). Again, this seems to be riffing on existing Doctor Who stories, but with a new twist that answers the questions of the series and the Doctor's shopping list of missions in an "Ah, of course, how obvious!" way. It's all painted out for us to see throughout and yet it's so wonderfully easy to miss. And the revelation of the ultimate mastermind of the story is rather fun as well.

Placement: By the Doctor's appearance, this is clearly the Time War era, which is to say the modern iteration of the Eighth Doctor who seems to be the default version since 2013. More pertinently, the Doctor's dialogue reveals someone utterly exhausted by the constant shadow of war, but he still remains the recognisably enthusiastic, occasionally bouncy Number Eight. So this is likely early on in the Time War, before things have really started to threaten everything.

Highlight for a spoiler: for the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, likely between series eight and nine.

Sunday 27 June 2021

WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: 13th Doctor - Time Out of Mind (Houser, Sposito, Ingranata)


TIME OUT OF MIND - written by Jody Houser, art by Giorgia Sposito, Roberta Ingranata and Valeria Favoccia, colours by Enrica Angiolini

Catching up with the Thirteenth Doctor comics from Titan (now the only place to enjoy an ongoig graphic adventure for the current incarnation, since DWM sadly stopped their regular strip feature) brings us to this interim volume, which collects the 2109 Free Comic Book Day release (which I missed) and the two-issue Holiday Special from the same year. As with the whole run, it's all written by Jodie Houser, who ansolutely nails the character of the Thirteenth Doctor and makes the fam work with a real light touch.

The FCBD issue (apparently titled “Meet the Fam!”) is a fun little side trip, bringing the TARDIS to an alien amusement park where Graham manages to get himself abducted by losing a game of space coconuts. It's silly, fun, and a bit throwaway, with some lovely artwork (including a double-page spread by a guest artist), but ends on a sinister. Each of the time travellers remembers a different version of events at the theme park, and can't even recall what planet it was on. Actually reading on release there would have been months between this cliffhanger and finding out the resolution, but as it is, we can steamroller on ahead the the Holiday Special.

It was a canny move releasing this as a Christmas story, given that the Thirteenth Doctor still hasn't had one on TV and that 2019 was especically bereft of screen adventures for the Doctor. This sees the Doctor and her gang follow a brief trail to a frozen world where it seems that Father Christmas is causing trouble – except his name is actually not Santa, but Mr. Henderson, who seems to be some kind of evil anti-Santa, with a platoon of toy soldiers to do his bidding.

You can see where this is going, right? Mr. Henderson is in fact the Krampus (or at least, a Krampus – there have been several takes on the Yuletide monster since in Doctor Who comic and audios since he became popular in the English-speaking world). Also, this Krampus is a she, and why not indeed? As well as answering who's been messing with Team TARDIS' memories, this is very fun festive adventure that ties in playfully with other takes on the Father Christmas idea seen on the TV series. To begin with there are tiny elf-like aliens, before an honest-to-goodness elf named Baxter turns up, very much like the ones seen on “Last Christmas.” The Doctor never gives a definitive answer as to whether Santa is real (just as in that episode), and both she and Baxter refer to him as Jeff, the very name the Eleventh Doctor claimed to know him as in “A Christmas Carol.”

There are no big revelations in this slim trade collection, no world-shattering events, no crossovers. Just a couple of solidly enjoyable imaginative stories, and that's exactly what it needs to be.

Placement: The Doctor wears her fez, so it's after Kerblam! but more notably, Ryan mentions the Corsair, so it's after Old Friends. There's nothing to suggest this entire run of comics doesn't take place in the gap between Resolution and Spyfall.

Saturday 26 June 2021

WHOTOPIA #37 out now

 The new issue of the Canadian Doctor Who fanzine is now available for free download from

This latest issue features two pieces by me: my review of "Revolution of the Daleks" and the latest (and presumably final, but who knows?) installment of my Master Who column, looking at Sacha Dhawan's incarnation.

As well as that, there are articles on the unmade serial The Masters of Luxor, The Return of the Cybermen,  the Children of Time, Doctor Who on film, the physics of time travel, authorship in the series, horror in Who and the mystery of the Timeless Children, plus the first chapter of a Cybermen comic strip.

Thursday 17 June 2021

WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: The Gates of Hell (Out of Time 2)

The first volume in the Out of Time trilogy gave us the irresistible team-up of Tom Baker and David Tennant. Now we get something we've seen before: Tennant teaming up with Peter Davison. The last time, way back in autumn 2008 (which seems like yesterday but was actually almost thirteen ruddy years ago), there was a wonderful frisson from having Tennant meet his favourite Doctor on screen. In "Time Crash" Tennant was clearly sharing the screen with his hero, remaking his role as his own and paying tribute to it (along with a script from Steven Moffat, who also cites Davison as his favourite Doctor). Now, though, there's even more of a buzz to it: for the first time, father-in-law and son-in-law share a Doctor Who adventure playing their own versions of the same character.

As such, there's a different feel to The Gates of Hell than to "Time Crash." This is two men who know each other well, playing off each other in a familiar, comfortable way. Both are, by now, so well established as their Doctors that they slip effortlessly into the roles. It all feels terribly cosy.

Nonetheless, this is a better story than Out of Time. David Llewellyn provides a gripping script that utilises the Cybermen effectively (and after the Daleks last time, it was inevitably going to be the Cybermen). The Cybermen are basically a technological version of the living dead, so putting them in a crypt - the catacombs beneath Paris - just works, the same way that having them stomp through graveyards in "The Next Doctor" worked, or having them emerge from graves in "Death in Heaven" did. Cleverly, he uses the two Doctors overlapping timelines as a threat, rather than an awkward social situation, with the collision of two timestreams destabilising history and allowing the Cybermen to rework history to their own design. We end up exploring Paris in various periods of history, from the 14th century to the French resistance, as the Doctors try to undo the damage to the timeline.

Llewellyn's not afraid to chuck in a few fanwanky references. It's fun that the two Doctors remember meeting each other in "Time Crash," and, being in Paris, we could expect the Doctor to reminisce about visiting the city with Romana. I wasn't expecting the Fifth Doctor to mention his previous self's visit to the catacombs in the comic series The Forgotten, though. 

The guest cast in this one are very good, with Mark Gatiss putting in an insidious turn as the villainous Joseph Delon. Glen McReady does a fine job as both his father Marcel and King Charles the Mad. With Gatiss being one of the core group of Doctor Who writers and performers, both for Big Finish and on television, and McCready being a prolific BF semi-regular, it's a bit of an inside gig and a boy's club - and that's before you factor in Nick Briggs, the company's director, once again voicing the monsters. Thank goodness, then, that we have one significant female guest role, and someone pretty new in the role. Shelley Conn has been in one BF release before - Situtation Vacant, eleven years ago - but by BF standards that's practically unheard. Her character, time agent Tina Drake, makes a very likeable pseudo-companion. The only thing that was slightly off-putting was her faux-American accent - not because it was particularly bad, but because it sounds almost exactly like Nicola Bryant's in some scenes, and when the episode opened I just assumed Peri was travelling with the Doctor.

Altogether, a solid bit of Cyber-action, livened up by the interplay between the two Doctors. 

Placement: Both Doctors are travelling alone, and both remember the events of "Time Crash." The Tenth Doctor seems to imply this wasn't too long ago for him, so probably between "Voyage of the Damned" and "Partners in Crime." Finding any alone time for the Fifth Doctor is a challenge, but The Compleat Adventures suggest a gap between The Awakening and Frontios where these stories can happen and that'll do (unless the Doctor really does bugger off for years while he's meant to be dropping off the Gravis).

Monday 14 June 2021

WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Ravagers




It's still hard to believe that Big Finish have secured Christopher Eccleston for their Doctor Who audios. We probably have the pandemic to thank for that, since, as Eccleston said, it's a paying gig, and the sort that can be done remotely while screen and stage work is in a major lull. Still, I don't think anyone ever seriously expected him to return to the role, and while he's never likely to work for the BBC again, it's great to have him back in any capacity.

What's interesting about this set, which is made up of a single three-part story even though it's presented as three individual adventures, is that the Doctor isn't the brooding character we thought we might get. Given that Eccleston cited the quality of the scripts as a major reason for his taking the gig, it was safe to assume we'd be getting some of the heavier weight stuff he's best known for, all the more since these sets seemed to be set before the beginning of the 2005 TV series. Many of us expected a Doctor still weighed down by the guilt of the Time War, the broken character we glimpsed in "Dalek" and "The Parting of the Ways." 

What we get, though, is the grinning, goofy Ninth Doctor that it's easy to forget was actually the majority of Eccleston's performance in the role. This is the Doctor who has a powerful lust for life. Yes, this is his way of avoiding facing his past, and there are elements of the damaged Doctor there - a reluctance to trust, a reactive attitude when things go wrong. Overall, though, this a Doctor who's a pleasure to be with, and hearing Eccleston bring him back to life is a joy.

For better or worse, Ravagers is very much a standard Big Finish release. It's easy to imagine any of the Doctors from Fourth to Tenth arriving and having this same adventure. This is hardly surprising, since it's Nick Briggs writing and directing again, so a certain stylistic sameyness is inevitable. Maybe this is better, though, than some epic designed to showcase how different the Ninth Doctor is to the others. The difference comes from Eccleston's performance, not something forced into the story. In time, of course, we're going to be subjected to the rollcall: we've already had meetings with the Cybermen and the Brigadier confirmed, and Eccleston has expressed interest in doing stories with River Song and the Master. We'll get a multi-Doctor story somewhere along the way, and it'll be great to hear this Doctor interact with his fellows (in fact the only TV Doctor we haen't seen or heard meet another incarnation). For now though, this is just a fun adventure, not an exercise in ticking off a list of Doctor Who-must haves, or an event release. Just having Eccleston back is event enough.

Indeed, had this not been Eccleston's big return, it's easy to see this release being overlooked. A timey-wimey tale that utilises alinear storytelling and the characters experiencing events in different sequence, it's sometimes hard to follow due to the lack of any visual or prose clue to tell the times apart. The eponymous Ravagers are an interesting idea but fail to make an impact as monsters. Camilla Beeput is great as Nova, the one-off companion for the story, the sort of gobby young woman the Doctor immediately takes a like to, even if she is a bit of a generic assistant sometimes. Jayne McKenna is solid as Audrey, the sympathetic villain with a very un-villainous name, but she's never going to jump to the top of the memorable villains rundown.

No, this isn't groundbreaking new Who. It's a solid adventure that features Christopher Eccleston jumping back into the role, a return for one of the greatest Doctors ever, and for now, that'll do nicely.

Wednesday 2 June 2021


Before I get on with the review of the very exciting new release The Ninth Doctor Adventures, I thought I'd step back and review some of the releases in the Short Trips series I've enjoyed lately, including two adventures for the Ninth Doctor from prior to Eccleston's return to the role.


First we go back to series nine of Short Trips, from 2019, for the first appearance of the Ninth Doctor in the range. Written by Selim Ulug, who joined Big Finish's roster of writers on the strength of his winning entry in the Paul Spraggs Memorial Story Competition, it's one of those stories designed to plug a hole in the canon. Back in "Rose," we saw a picture of the Ninth Doctor with the Daniels family, who'd mysteriously not travelled out on the Titanic and lost their lives in 1912."Battle Scars" tells that story, with the Doctor arriving almost literally on the Daniels' doorstep, injured and insensible. 

We find the Doctor very soon after the Time War and his regeneration, possibly right afterwards. It could easily have been nothing more than a fanwanky gap-filler, and while there's nothing wrong with that, it's far more. There are elements of this, of course, with the Doctor even picking up his "Fantastic!" catch phrase, but it's fundamentally an exploration of the futility of war, the damage it causes to an individual and others in their lives, and the difficulty of moving on. There's an extraterrestrial influence as well, but that's just colour. Young Connie, the pseudo-companion for the story, is the standout character. Like all BF's Ninth Doctor stories until Eccleston returned, this is narrated by Nick Briggs, who gives as solid a reading as we've come to expect. His Ninth Doctor is sometimes dead on, sometimes a bit parodic, but overall one of the better stand-in Doctors. Altogether, an excellent trip.

Placement: Very soon after The Day of the Doctor.


Onto series ten from 2020, and we have another Ninth Doctor story, this one by Amy Veeres. This one tidies up some trailing continuity threads from "Rose" as well, looking at why the Doctor was at Krakatoa just before it erupted (both Krakatoa and the Titanic have been visited by so many iterations of the Doctor and other time travellers it's amazing there's room for any actual historical people at either event). However, it's mostly a standalone story which sees the Doctor tidying up after the Time War and trying to prevent a young scientist from being remembered as a terrible war criminal. Althea Bryce actually ends up being a quasi-companion character, and while it's all wrapped up in a neat paradox, it's a fairly strong character piece.

Placement: Not long after "Battle Scars," with both thematically linked by having the Doctor clean up old Time War weapons. Authorial intent puts the final scene with Rose just after "The Long Game."


Stepping back from the revived series is this Second Doctor story from the tenth run of shorts, a charming little story of fin de siecle filmmaking. It's 1908 and the Doctor and Jamie have arrived in gay Paris, stumbling into the life of one Celine Tessier. Naturally, anyone from such a fine and storied lineage is a boon to any story and it's long overdue that a Tessier is the centre of a Doctor Who adventure. More tragic events lead on from the first meeting, in a gentle but affecting story by Angus Dunican. Cinematic pioneer George Melies also has a major role in the story, and it outdoes "Her Own Bootstraps" by having an entirely different Doctor follow up on events in the epilogue.

Placement: The Doctor is travelling with only Jamie and no lady companion, so presumably between Fury from the Deep and The Wheel in Space, unless it's much later on in the "Season 6-B" era.


Finally we have the last story from series ten, Eugenie Pusenjak's winning entry in last year's Paul Spragg Memorial contest. It's a high concept science fiction story which sees the Tenth Doctor arrive on the planet Skaz, where speaking costs money. Pusenjak takes this seemingly simple concept and explores its every repurcussion. The primary character Aymius finds himself under arrest, having to recount the events of the story under interrogation, but rapidly running out of funds to do so. While he tries to keep things concise and not waste words, if his account runs dry he will be automatically silenced by a tongue chip, a catastrophic result in his situation.

It's an ingenious conceit that allegorises how the voices of the poor are ignored while those of the rich and powerful are always heard. It's a thoughtful but pacey story which sees the Doctor as the instigator of change but doesn't pretend that he has overturned the status quo himself. Jacob Dudman, the main man when it comes to 21st century Doctors for BF, gives a strong and spirited reading of an excellent story.

Placement: Could pretty much happen anywhere when the Tenth Doctor is travelling alone, but dialogue hints it might be shortly before "Smith and Jones" since the Doctor mentions an adventure with Benjamin Franklin in both.