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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Doctor Who The American Adventures by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

This is the first of two novels I got from Net Galley as advance review copies, thinking they were graphic novels! WRONG! Rest assured I shall be very cautious about selecting anything from Net Galley that comes in a flyer advertising graphic novels from now on! Nevertheless I have to read these and see what happens. In this one, the answer was nothing much. I was very disappointed. Had the stories actually been in graphic format, I would still have been very disappointed, because for me the story is more important than the art.

The book consisted of six short stories, each one an adventure featuring the current Doctor (Peter Capaldi) who has been conspicuous by his complete absence this year for reasons the BBC has utterly failed to justify. However, on the bright side, there is a new Doctor Who spin-off titled Class which is set in Coal Hill Academy, and features the exploits of a teacher and five students, and in the first episode, a guest appearance by Capaldi.

But I digress! The stories in this book are as follows, with a brief review of each:

  1. All that Glitters features an alien usurpation of a gold prospector in old California. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story lacked any real oomph. Yes, you heard me right: oomph!
  2. Off the trail is about a family traveling the Oregon trail in the old west, who are abducted by aliens. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. Wait! Isn't that essentially what the previous story was about?
  3. Ghosts of New York is about the discovery of a buried spacecraft under New York City during the excavation of the subway tunnels. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story happened to be very reminiscent of the 1967 Hammer film, Quatermass and the Pit, which I liked better.
  4. Taking the Plunge concerns a fun fair ride used by an alien to suck life-force out of human riders for later sale. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story sounds very familiar to me, too, but I can't think of the Doctor Who story I saw it in. It's like the inverse of the episode The Unquiet Dead which featured Eve Myles before she became a Torchwood cast member.
  5. Spectator Sport is the story of a robot assassin who tries to murder an alien spectator at the Battle of New Orleans. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This has elements of the episode A Town Called Mercy, but mostly reminded me of the movie Timescape, which was released on video as Grand Tour: Disaster in Time.
  6. Base of Operations features aliens trying to take over Earth by emulating and replacing humans undercover of preparations for the D-Day invasion in World War 2. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right.

The problem with all these episodes is that they were predictable and boring. There was no companion, no humor, no risk that something might go wrong. This is quite literally how it happened - evil alien causes problems, Doctor shows up miraculously and fixes it, Doctor leaves. Rinse. Repeat. It was that monotonous. The stories were simply not entertaining. There was nothing really new or original here, and they failed comprehensively to exhibit the Doctor in a lovable light. The Doctor was boring and essentially a will o' the wisp; he had no real presence and so what;s the point of a Doctor Who story which feels like the Doctor isn't in it for all realistic purposes?

What's the point, for that matter of setting these in the USA? There wasn't anything in any of the stories that really solidly tied the story to the US. The gold rush story had really nothing to do with the gold rush. The Oregon Trail story could have been any road trip horror story in any country. The New York subway story could have been told of any underground railroad excavation anywhere there's an underground. The funfair story could have been any funfair. The spectator sport story could have been told of literally any battle anywhere at any time. The World war two story could have been set in England or anywhere in Europe for that matter, and not have lost a thing. I didn't get the US connection unless it was solely to try and sell copies of this this book in the US.

You can say what you like about Steven Moffat, but one thing he was not, was boring. He produced some of the most amazing Doctor Who episodes ever, he wove the old series into the new often and expertly, he had a great sense of humor, a great way with words, and I will miss him when he's gone. These stories are not a patch on the TV show. I'm hoping that Chris Chibnall will be able to not only carry this heavy mantle but to run with it. These stories didn't cut it for me and I cannot recommend this collection.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Doctor Who 2 The Girl Who Waited, The Boy Who Lived by various writers and artists


Rating: WARTY!

I hate to end my 2015 reviews on a negative note, but this is the second of two novels I didn't like that I'm reviewing today! Fortunately I got them both from the library so I wasn't out anything but my time! Annoying as that is, it's not as bad as throwing good money after bad literature. I love my local library and all who sail in her!

I'm a big fan of the Doctor Who TV series, despite recently concluded series nine being rather less than satisfactory, but my experience with Doctor Who in written (as opposed to visual) form has been so unsatisfactory that I'm giving up reading Doctor Who stories! I will simply have to wait until series ten starts next year for my next fix!

This fat, hardback, large-format graphic novel weighed a ton, but while the artwork - by assorted artists - was okay, and in some cases good (except for the sad cover), the stories were derivative and uninventive with tired old characters being recycled in unengaging ways. For the most part, the stories, evidently compiled from individually-released comics, were not entertaining and I liked only one of them (out of a dozen or so). It was a double-feature, and the only saving grace it boasted was Kevin the dinosaur who turned out to be more interesting than Jim the Fish. The latter has had several mentions in the TV show, but has failed to put in an appearance so far, and he (or she!) is unlikely to put in an appearance now that River Song has evidently been retired from the series.

There were Sontarans and Silurians doing nothing interesting. There was a text-free Santa Claus story which made no sense at all to me. There was a sad Jack the Ripper story, and though there were lots of references to canonical events and catch-phrases from the TV show, the stories which contained them were lifeless and sadly executed. I can't recommend this one.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Doctor Who The Forgotten by Tony Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

Pia Guerra, Nick Roche, and Kelly Yates's art work was good here, except in trying to depict the seventh Doctor, who looked nothing like him! The framework for this is the tenth Doctor (David Ten-nant in the TV show) traveling with Martha Jones (Freema Agyemon) to a museum which seems to be aimed at The Doctor and no one and nothing else. The Doctor suddenly loses his memory and so we get a chance to enjoy a short story with each of the Doctor's incarnations in turn and in order, beginning with William Hartnell's first Doctor back in 1963. The first two incarnations are even depicted in gray-scale since their shows were transmitted in black and white. This story can only be done in this way (in print or in anime) now that so many of the original characters have grown old and died in many cases.

As the tenth Doctor tries to recover his memory, Martha brings to him in turn the walking stick from the first Doctor, and the descant recorder from the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton). In Hartnell's adventure, he's in ancient Egypt with his original companions, Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Susan Foreman, his granddaughter (Carole Ann Ford), and Ian Chesterton (William Russell). Two of those four are no longer alive. The Doctor and his group manage to escape captivity when pharaoh Menkaure is attacked - an assassination attempt thwarted by the Doctor's walking stick!

Troughton appears with his companions Jamie McCrimmon (Fraser Hines, the only male companion not to wear trousers...), and Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury) fighting against the sentient snakes on a space station (evidently). The third Doctor is triggered by a set of car keys, and appears with his companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning, the only companion to appear nude with a Dalek to my knowledge!), and with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney). He also gets to ride Bessie once more (that's not what you might think!) as they flee dog-people riding mechanical spiders!

The fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) arrives with the scent of Jelly Babies, and appears with a time lord companion Romana (Lalla Ward), who he married in real life. She's now married to Richard Dawkins. Their (that is the Doctor and Romana's) quest is to escape the labyrinth - of tunnels under Paris. The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) arrives with Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding), and Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) and is triggered by not by celery, but by a cricket ball which he use it in a subtle sleight-of-hand to ward off the Judoon. The sixth (Colin Baker - no relation) is depicted rescuing Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown (Nicola Bryant who arrive on the show wearing less than Amy Pond was!) form a murder charge by employing his unexpected expertise in exotic firearms.

The seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) appears with companion Dorothy Gale McShane, aka "Ace" (Sophie Aldred), on another war-torn planet where some irresponsible Time Lord has given a virus to one side to use on the other. The Doctor corrects this by administering a restorative hidden in his brolly, which the tenth doctor makes use of to recover from a weak spell.

Held in prison, the eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) can hardly appear with his only companion Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) so we get to see him with Chan-Tir, no doubt in some way related to Chan-Tho of the Utopia episode. They escape and bring the Doctor to his previous incarnation (Christopher Eccleston) and his companion Rose (Billie Piper). To defeat his own evil self, however, inexplicably requires all ten Doctors. Finally, he gets to hug his granddaughter Susan.

Despite a few flaws, this was a great retrospective and visitation with all ten doctors (minus the so-called war Doctor), and a lovely bit of nostaglia. I recommend it.


Doctor Who Vol 3 Final Sacrifice by Various Authors


Rating: WORTHY!

There were several stories in this one volume. Old Friend and Final sacrifice were written by Tony Lee with art by Matthew Dow Smith. Ground Control was by Jonathan L Davis with art by Kelly Yates. The Big Blue Box was by Matthew Dow Smith, and To Sleep Perchance to Scream was by Al Davison.

Old Friend

This is (combined with the separately titled part two) the longest story by far and occupies most of this graphic novel. It begins with The Doctor and his purely-in-print companion visiting a dying man in a retirement home. From there we quickly end-up several solar systems away with some Victorian adventurers, on a devastated planet fighting a bloody war between two factions, neither of whom knows when to give up. The planet, it turns out, was supposed to be terraformed, but the war has been going on so long that no one has a clue where they came from or how things got to be where they were. It's very reminiscent of the tenth Doctor and Martha's adventure in the TV ep. The Doctor's Daughter.

Final sacrifice

Is part two of Old Friend.

Ground Control

If you've ever been chased by a giant panda militia, you'll know exactly what's going on here, but that's just the introduction. The real problem comes when the Doctor is effectively pulled over by a speed cop and given the third degree.

The Big Blue Box

Borrows from Victory of the Daleks wherein the Daleks have left a robot human in London which they plan on detonating but which fails. This story doesn't involve Daleks, but otherwise is pretty much the same idea.

To Sleep Perchance to Scream

What does the Doctor dream about when he finally sleeps, and who helps him out when he has a bad dream?

I liked this in general. It wasn't spectacular, but parts of it were really good. I wasn't too keen on the sexism exhibited by The Doctor when he snidely remarks about a man and a woman:"I just knew them as the 'annoying woman'...and the one in the dress". Later he repeats this kind of insult referring to 'screaming like a girl". That aside this was, on balance, a worthy read.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Wraith World by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright


Rating: WORTHY!

This is one-disk audio book, read impeccably by Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith in the long-running BBC TV kids' series, spun off from the even longer-running Doctor Who, was excellent fun. Very much in the spirit of the TV show, but separate form it, this story was about an aging fantasy writer, who has just published his last book in his most famous series. Little do Sarah Jane and the young adults she works with, dealing with or even combating alien visitations, realize that another one is going on right under their noses.

Being a big fan of the series, young Rani visits the author with Sarah Jane, but little do they know that the author, because of the alien paper he wrote on, quite literally made up the series - and precipitated it in real life. Before long, there are worm creatures, which can congregate into evil aliens (note unsurprising similarities to season nine of Doctor Who!, which is current as I wrote this.

This story isn't brilliant by any means and the Beeb lards it up with too much special FX, but that aside, the story was a fun romp for youngsters, and I enjoyed revisiting one of the most loved companions of The Doctor, who died long before her time. The only companion so far to have had her own spin-off series. RIP Elisabeth. You will never be forgotten.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Doctor Who: Engines of War by George Mann


Title: Doctor Who: Engines of War
Author: George Mann
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Rating: WORTHY!

I was pleased to be able to get a copy of this novel because it covers the mysterious time of the so-called 'war doctor'. In severe withdrawal after the Xmas Doctor Who show, I needed a good fix, and this delivered. It's not the same as actually watching The Doctor on TV I don't think any novel ever could capture that, but it did the trick. In this novel, we hit the ground running. We don't begin with his regeneration, but at a much later point - several centuries later - when he looks more like he did in the fiftieth anniversary special, and not long before he unleashed The Moment.

I have to say at this point that a lot of time travel stories: novels, TV and movies - and including the Doctor Who series - often make no sense. The problem is the time travel. For any Doctor Who episode (or any movie or novel where they have control over their time-traveling), it's completely valid to ask the question: given that the main character typically arrives in the middle of this problem he or she has to solve, why does the character not simply go back in time to a point before the problem began, and nip it in the bud right there?

Obviously the short answer to that is that the show, movie, or novel would be completely boring in that event because there never would be any thrills and spills, but it's nonetheless a valid question. In the Doctor Who series, they limply try to explain this away with vague hand-waving at 'crossing your own time line' and so on, but whatever explanation(s) they've ever given are always over-written by The Doctor himself who crosses his own time line and changes things with impunity in scores of episodes.

In this very novel, the Doctor expresses regret at not having dealt with the Dalek problem when he'd had the chance (in his regeneration as the fourth Doctor), when he chickened out of wiping out the Daleks at their very genesis. His weak excuse was some clueless hand-waving at how communities - even planets - had been brought together because of the Dalek threat, but he never once talked himself out of it by hand-waving at the billions to whom the Daleks have brought suffering and slaughter. The problem here isn't that however, but the war doctor's regret! Why regret it? He has a time machine. He's in a warlike mood! Why not quit regretting it and go back and kill Davros, solving the problem? If he went back early enough, he wouldn't even be crossing his own time-line.

Of course, then there would be no more Daleks, and the BBC would be short of a big crowd-pleaser and revenue-puller. Aye, there's the rub! So in order to enjoy this you have to let that go. You also have to let go the question of why it's been some 400 years of non-stop war when both the Daleks and the Time Lords can travel through space and time.

This brings us to Moldox - a planet reminiscent of Earth in the old Doctor Who story from the second (original) season,and an episode titled The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Moldox is all but destroyed by the Daleks, and is on its last legs, with a few pitiful resistance fighters trying to fight back using purloined Dalek weapons. As one of them, Cinder, thinks she's about to die, The Doctor crash-lands the TARDIS, destroying the Daleks and mutants working with them, and saving Cinder.

The Doctor informs her that he has to go to the nearby city to find out what the Daleks are up to, and despite her extreme fear, she accompanies him. It turns out that mutating humans to create new Daleks isn't the only plan they have. They're also building a weapon which will destroy Gallifrey and eventually win the war. With this information, The Doctor travels to Gallifrey to reveal this news, and Cinder tags along with him.

On Gallifrey we discover that Rassilon has been resurrected to lead the Time Lords, and he has a few dark secrets of his own. One of these involves employing a weapon which is described as being able to collapse black holes. Seriously? Black holes are in a perennial state of collapse. It makes no sense to talk of deliberately collapsing one. Exploding one, on the other hand, would be spectacular if it were possible, but collapsing one? No. Bad science!

There were some other issues with this novel. There always are, especially in a case like this where the novel can realistically never be as good as the TV show because it doesn't have what makes the TV show worth watching every minute: the visuals, the TARDIS noises, the lively companions, the Doctor himself. Novels are simply not the same. That was expected, so this is about issues other than that. I mentioned the absurdity of the black hole collapsing "bomb", but there were other, relatively minor things, but nonetheless important.

For example, Daleks are supposed to have a hive mind, yet we're told they have identification marks on their casing, just under the eye-stalks. I don’t get that. What is its purpose? How would one Dalek not know to which other Dalek it was talking? Why would it even need to talk out loud? Indeed, since it is a hive mind, why would it make a shred of difference which Dalek the other one was? You could have Dalek 'A' working with Dalek 'B' all morning, and then Dalek 'C' replacing Dalek A for the afternoon and it didn’t ought to make an iota of difference to the work being done if they're all linked. No matter with which Dalek you interact, it ought to feel exactly like you're interacting with the same one every time.

At one point some Daleks are described as having guns. I assume this simply means their weapon sticks. It just seemed weird to refer to them as guns. While we're on the topic, there are several new varieties of Dalek introduced here (and some old stand-bys such as the special weapons Dalek from TV's Remembrance of the Daleks during the tenure of the Seventh Doctor. I found myself wondering why. If the Daleks are as fearsome and deadly as they are, then where is the impetus to improve them or create varieties?

A big deal was made on the show where the thirteenth Doctor (Matt Smith, as it turned out, since Tennant's Doctor aborted his first regeneration, and the war doctor was slipped in there between Gann's and McCoy's Doctors) visited Winston Churchill and was witness to the Dalek 'regeneration'. These were to be the new, scarier Daleks, and yet every single show since then, they've been completely absent! I never got the point of revamping them if they're never going to be seen again. But I digress!

The writer did do an excellent job of writing in general, however. He shows us exactly why The Doctor would not have qualms about time-locking both the Time Lords and the Daleks: The Doctor reaches a point where he sees no discernible difference between the two races. Having said that, of course, the time-lock seems to have failed dismally, since the Time-Lords were indeed tied up by it, but not, evidently, the Daleks - not in the least, given how often they've showed up in the rebooted TV series!

However, let's get back to the book, which I recommend for those having the same withdrawal symptoms as me. It wasn't brilliant, and as I've mentioned, had a few issues, but it was worth reading, and I enjoyed it. it was really nice to see a little bit of a largely unknown and intriguing Doctor. John Hurt's incarnation is the only one of which we never had a series, so this book was welcome. Although it;s technically not canon, it did fit into the canon nicely, and was enjoyable.

The problem was, it never cured my withdrawal. I need more! Much more! You know the TV shows used to be almost weekly, in episodic form. Now at least we get a complete show each week, but we get them for only a paltry few weeks of the year. Why? There are scores of good writers out there who would love to write these shows. I demand more! Let's make it at least a half-year's shows - or even one every other week so we can get them for the whole year! We need a revolution! Demand more Doctor Who NOW!


Friday, August 8, 2014

Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker


Title: Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror
Author: Mike Tucker
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Errata:
p27 "Her and her Doctor..." should really be "She and her Doctor..."
p66 "...that your were some of them..." should be "...that you were some of them..."
p69 "...that the Germans..." should be "...than the Germans..."

I never got into the habit of reading Doctor Who novels because the medium is such a visual one so closely tied to TV that it feels wrong, somehow, to read the stories, but I'm excited about the impending new season with a new doctor, and I did actually review a novel some time ago titled Shada. I made an exception for that one because it was written by Douglas Adams, and because it was canonical - based on an un-transmitted TV show script written by Adams himself. Some of that script was even filmed, but it was never finished. Part of it (well, two brief scenes) was shown as an integral part of the 20th anniversary special titled, The Five Doctors transmitted in November 1983.

When I saw two novels available for review with the new doctor on the cover, I decided to take a chance - and hope the novels were not older ones which had simply had a new cover slapped on them. When you think about it, it ultimately doesn't matter given the history of the show, with its ever-mutable doctor, but The Doctor, when it comes to novels, is really defined by his companion, so if Clara is in it, for example, you know that The Doctor can only be the Matt Smith or the Peter Capaldi Incarnation (so far) so until I read it, I feared that this novel could be about either one despite the cover. However, and blessedly, Mike Tucker removes all speculation in chapter one, revealing this novel to indeed be about the newest doctor.

There's a prologue to this novel. I do not read prologues and I never miss them. In my opinion, it's an amateur conceit. To me, if it's worth relating, it's worth putting right there in chapter one. On the positive side, this novel isn't told in first person PoV, which was a pleasant discovery. I find that 1PoV rarely works well and is uncomfortably restricting to the author. It fails dismally in Doctor Who novels because it destroys the immediacy which the viewers demand, and which the show delivers so generously.

This novel, I'm happy to report, begins exactly like a TV episode - The Doctor and Clara appearing out of the TARDIS who has delivered them, in her infinite wisdom, to yet another hot-spot. This time it's in the Wiltshire countryside in England, where inexplicably large insects and arthropods reminiscent (somewhat!) of those which actually lived on Earth during the Carboniferous period, have begun appearing in the little, and aptly-named village of Ringstone.

I have a theory that the reason Steven Moffat picked an older actor to replace Matt Smith is his love for the entire series, not just the modern reinvention, and that Capaldi, in some ways, harks back to the time of the first Doctor, William Hartnell (it also seems to have something in common with the incarnation of the sixth doctor). I may be wrong about that, but I think one of the reasons I liked this novel was because it also, in a small way, harks back to that time, in particular the episode titled The Web Planet.

It's not long before a dead body shows up wrapped in a cocoon of spider silk, and the police and even the army, become involved - not that that seems to help much! It all seems to lead back to an experimental science lab which has opened for business in the area....

I have to say that I had some practical issues with the enlarged invertebrates. You can't simply enlarge an invertebrate without paying the hefty price which physics demands. The laws of nature are not like the pirate code (which is more like guidelines, really). The laws of physics are much more akin to solid prison walls which effectively trap convicts in cells. Organisms were able to grow so large in the Carboniferous because there was extra oxygen in the air, and even so, they did not grow to ridiculous proportions. Most of them maxed-out at a couple of feet or less. There was a centipede which grew to seven feet, but that was restricted to the ground and had a very flat body which didn't pose problems for oxygenation.

If you're going to propose a beetle the size of a small delivery van, you run into all sorts of difficulties. First it's really hard to passively oxygenate something that massive with internal passages so far removed from the surface, and secondly, there's the problem of supporting that massive weight on such spindly legs. It doesn't work, not even with a spider's hydraulic legs. There's a real limit on how large invertebrates can grow and still be able to breathe and move. That said, these organisms were artificially created, so we can allow some leeway for that, but even so, they were still highly-improbably sized in my amateur opinion!

One thing which bothers me about stories like this is the laser-like focus of the mutant beast upon hunting humans! Humans are not the natural prey of invertebrates. Yes, we get stung by wasps and bitten by spiders, but they're not hunting us when they do that. They're defending something. Yes, mosquitoes do hunt us, but aside from that, invertebrates, even giant ones, wouldn't zero in on humans and ignore their natural prey - especially if that prey was the same size as them.

The Primeval TV series that came out of Britain did this, too. Every week, almost without fail, some voracious antique animal came after the investigators and it got a bit tedious. As it happens, vertebrates are largely unaware of humans and don't think of us as prey. Indeed, they really don't think in any real sense at all. They're more like robots, or a computer program that, rather like the hologram of Dr Alfred Lanning in the movie I, Robot which has fixed responses to an assortment of inputs. They don't become 'enraged' or 'frustrated'!

Again, since the ones in this novel are genetically engineered, we can allow some leeway, but there's a limit to how much anthropomorphization of insects a person can accept, especially when they shriek!! And contrary to popular opinion, the bombardier beetle doesn't shoot acid from its butt. Nor does it shoot the components: hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones. These two are mixed prior to eruption, and the hydrogen peroxide breaks down, providing the oxygen which heats up the fluid, resulting in a literally boiling, irritating liquid. It's definitely something you wouldn't want in your eyes, but while the fluid would be acrid, it's not a highly corrosive acid and it wouldn't burn through a helicopter (although it might short-out electrics).

Again, do we allow leeway for the fact that these invertebrates are artificially engineered? You can, but there comes a point along this leeway after which you must ask yourself, how much more of this am I going to permit before I give up in disgust?" I guess that point is right after you stop having fun?!

But those concerns aside, I did enjoy this novel. It felt like an episode of the show. It was inventive, and interesting, with realistic characters doing realistic things. There was a mad scientist, and there were Nazi schemes, and dangerous insects, and time travel, and aliens. In the final analysis, what's not to like about a story with all that?! I recommend this novel. The Doctor orders it to be taken with a pinch of salt, but nonetheless to be taken!


Doctor Who: The Blood Cell by James Goss


Title: Doctor Who: The Blood Cell
Author: James Goss
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

I never got into the habit of reading Doctor Who novels because the medium is such a visual one so closely tied to TV that it feels wrong, somehow, to read the stories, but I'm excited about the impending new season with a new doctor, and I did actually review a novel some time ago titled Shada. I made an exception for that one because it was written by Douglas Adams, and because it was canonical - based on an un-transmitted TV show script written by Adams himself. Some of that script was even filmed, but it was never finished. Part of it (well, two brief scenes) was shown as an integral part of the 20th anniversary special titled, The Five Doctors transmitted in November 1983.

When I saw two novels available for review with the new doctor on the cover, I decided to take a chance - and hope the novels were not older ones which had simply had a new cover slapped on them. Yes, I'm an addict, and I admit it. I couldn't wait for my august fix in August! When you think about it, it ultimately doesn't matter given the history of the show, with its ever-mutable doctor, yet when it comes to novels, The Doctor is really defined by his companion, so if Clara is in it, for example, you know that The Doctor can only be the Matt Smith or the Peter Capaldi Incarnation (so far). This story could be about either one notwithstanding the cover.

In this particular novel, we find The Doctor in prison on an asteroid, apparently incarcerated for nefarious crimes which are unspecified. Clara is initially nowhere in sight. The story is, disturbingly, told from first person PoV by the warden of the prison. It's a curious thing, because it does, in a small way, evoke the viewer's experience when watching the show, but a moment's more thought will show that it's just not right.

The problem is that when we're actually watching a show, we're directly seeing what The Doctor and his companions are up to, but putting the warden between us and The Doctor forces us to cut that immediate connection. Instead of watching The Doctor, we're constrained here to watch the warden watch The Doctor and it makes the story awfully third-hand and depressingly dreary. We're no longer part of the action, but confined to listening placidly to a story told by a boring narrator - and the story isn't that interesting to begin with.

The energy of the TV show comes from The Doctor or his companion(s) doing their thing, and being threatened, and overcoming obstacles. You can't tell it passively. This was rather like when Ian Fleming wrote The Spy Who Loved me and it worked just as badly.

The Doctor is initially referred to as Prisoner 428, but it's obvious who it is. Clara shows up briefly, in short scenes where she's a visitor trying to get in to see The Doctor, and trying to get the governor to let him go before bad things happen. (Perhaps either I or The Doctor might have worded that better!).

The Doctor doesn't actually seem in much need of being freed, since he can evidently, and despite having all his belongings confiscated, escape from his cell at will. Getting off the asteroid is a larger problem, but he doesn't want to - not immediately. He tries to warn the governor of the danger, although in true Doctor Who fashion, he's too vague. The problem is that there's something running loose on the asteroid - something which is preying on the prisoners, you see....

I have to confess that I wasn't impressed by this novel. It struck me as being very derivative of the season six episode The God Complex, wherein Matt Smith's Doctor, along with Amy and Rory, find themselves trapped in a "hotel" with something stalking they and others, who are trapped there with them. The only real difference is that in that episode, the prisoners ("guests") were running around outside the cells (rooms), and the dangers were in the rooms, but there was also a 'monster' stalking them.

I wasn't a huge fan of that episode either, although I did find myself dearly wishing that Amara Karan, who played Rita, would become a companion. She was smart, amusing, resourceful, strong, and interesting, as well as being a positive replacement for the usual white Anglo-Saxon companion of which we see all too many in the show. Unfortunately, Toby Whithouse killed her off, and Steven Moffat didn't stop him!

I cannot recommend this novel because it really was not very interesting. The 'settings' were constrictive and monotonous, without much excitement in them. Clara, who has been a powerful companion rivaling Amy, and who is a delight as such, was completely marginalized here, and for all practical purposes portrayed as a bit of a ditz, which was not appreciated. There was nothing exciting or inventive happening, and I couldn't even finish reading it. I reached page 81, which is roughly 60% of the way through, and couldn't generate sufficient enthusiasm to read any further.


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon





Title: The Exile
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: WARTY!

I decided to add some graphic novel/comic book content this month, and this is the first I will cover. I love Scotland, Karen Gillan, Stephen Moffat and all that. My own novel Saurus is set there. I'll also be reviewing two other - and new! - comics up next right after this one. The Exile is written by Diana Gabaldon, better known for her non-graphic novel output, but this one, part of the Outlander series, is really well illustrated by Hoang Nguyen and is apparently being picked up by Starz TV as a series.

Jamie Fraser is the main character, and his is hardly an original Scots name, but Gabaldon essentially took the character from Jamie McCrimmon, a fictional character in the longest running Sci-Fi series on TV, Britain's Doctor Who. McCrimmon was played by a man born in Yorkshire (the same county both my parents were born in!): Frazer Hines! It's not much of a stretch to get to that name, is it?! So note that Gabaldon hatched this whole series from an episode of Doctor Who. No problem so far, but stay tuned for a comment on this in my conclusion.

Gabaldon's character returns to the highlands after a stint of mercenary work in France, so we have the text, which is written in English, being peppered with the occasional phrase in French and also, Gaelic. Honestly? I see nothing but pretentiousness in this in the context of this specific story. Anyway, Jamie returns and is met by his godfather, although how his godfather knew he would be there at that time on that night is a mystery. Jamie tells his godfather that he has no idea what he wants to do with his life, but he doesn't want to kill anyone any more after the horrible death of a woman he had the hots for. She died (perhaps at his own hand) as he tried to shoot the guys who were trying to rape her. Of course after this, Jamie totally rejects his pacifistic stance and blithely enters upon a humongous killing spree. Jamie's a jerk.

But don't worry, his "love" for this irreplaceable woman of his past is soon to be completely annihilated by the new woman in his life - a married nurse who was somehow deposited back in time, apparently by faeries (at least we don't have to gag over the term 'fae' here, but look at that spelling!). Rest assured that being happily married and pining frequently for "Frank! Frank! Oh Frank!" is in no way a hindrance to Claire Beauchamp's glomming onto Jamie without a second thought. Along with Claire's trip through time, some evil fairy king type dude was unleashed simultaneously, and he's a very naughty boy, so hike up yer kilt, we're off and running o'er the bonnie hielands!

Not that the fairy king really does diddly in this story. Unfortunately, the story itself shamefully lets down the classic artwork. This story completely sucks, makes no sense, and seems intent upon conveying only two messages: firstly, any time you're away from your spouse, the best way to handle it is to start having sex with a complete stranger whose sexual history you have zero knowledge of and secondly, if you're ever heartbroken because you think you killed the partner of your dreams, just get your leg over the nearest available flesh and everything will be fine and dandy.

Oh, and the Brits are to be worshiped out of one side of your mouth and portrayed as the most dastardly villains out of the other, because all that any British officer ever had a mind to do in Scotland back in the 17th century was to brutally rape English women who were lost in the highlands. This novel is WARTY!

Now you will recall that I said I had a little comment to make on Gabaldon's source material for this series, and how she had no problem taking her inspiration from the BBC's long-running Doctor Who Sci-Fi TV show?? So now read this taken from her web site: "You know, I’m very flattered that some of you enjoy the books so much that you feel inspired to engage with the writing in a more personal way than most readers do. Both for legal and personal reasons, though, I’m not comfortable with fan-fiction based on any of my work, and request that you do not write it, do not send it to me, and do not publish it, whether in print or on the web. Thank you very much for your consideration." That's Gabaldon's fan fiction policy!

I guess Gabaldon is a big "Do as I say, not as I do" artist, huh? I'm not going to be reading any more of her material.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shada by Douglas Adams






Title: Shada
Author: Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts
Publisher: BBC Books
Rating: Worthy

I can't believe I'm reviewing a Doctor Who book! Doctor Who is very much a visual medium and it's very much influenced by the personalities of the guy playing the doctor and the people playing his companions, so I never read the books, but I decided to make an exception for this particular one since it's canonical (in an important sense!) and since it is Douglas Adams, after all! You can read my reviews of the Doctor Who TV shows here (reboot seasons 1 - 5) and here (reboot season 6 and onwards).

Shada is a novel taken from an untelevised (due to a strike and the ep only being some 50% completed) TV script written by Douglas Adams for the long-running Doctor Who TV series - which is in its fiftieth anniversary year this year. Adams is best known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a series of novels in which I've never had the slightest interest, nor in the radio series, nor in the TV show, nor in the movie! I do like Adams, though and went to a lecture given by him on one occasion which was quite entertaining.

I've also read Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic written by Monty Python's Terry Jones based on an idea by Adams, and published in 1997. That was good. Even better was the non-fiction Last Chance to See written by Adams with Mark Carwardine, and published in 1990. This book focused on animals facing extinction and was a most enjoyable read.

Though this episode was untelevised because it was never completed, it was later put together as a show for the DVD release. This ep is shorter, because there is much missing, but it is narrated by an older Tom Baker, with his hair somewhat silvered, and minus the mass of curls it sported when he played The Doc. The image quality is somewhat lacking, too, just so you know.

Shada is evidently the Time Lord prison planet, although neither The Doc nor Romana recognize the name. This amnesia is explained admirably in the story, which concerns a villain by the name of Skagra, who escapes confinement by stealing the minds of his five fellow confinees and somehow makes it to Earth. He has discovered that there is a book secreted away in a professor's office in Cambridge university which is from the Time Lord home planet of Gallifrey and which contains ancient and secret knowledge of one of the founding fathers of Time Lord society: the great Rassillon himself. The professor, a Time Lord himself, also happens to have a TARDIS in his room!

As Skagra looks from a bridge over the River Cam (in Cambridge, of course!), who should be punting beneath it but the fourth doctor and his then companion, Romana. It's a clip from this sequence which is one of two clips from this episode which are used in the Five Doctors - an anniversary episode in which Baker, for reasons unknown, declined to appear. In that anniversary ep, The Doc and Romana are captured (as are the other doctors) but the capture goes wrong and the two are trapped in the time vortex (or something!), thereby explaining why they don't appear in the rest of the show until the very end.

It’s heartening for us amateur writers to note that even a professional of Adams's stature screws up! On page 20, The Doc is punting, thrusting his punt pole into the dirty water, and then in quite literally the next sentence, Romana is trailing her fingers in the clear water! Romana is played by The Honorable Lalla Ward, who was once married to Tom Baker (who plays the fourth doctor in this episode) but is now married to Richard Dawkins, who was introduced to her by Douglas Adams!

Romana is one of the only two companions the Doc has had who has also been a Time Lord. The first such companion was his own Granddaughter, Susan, who hung out with the first doctor back in the mid-sixties. Romana is known as Romana 2 because she is a Time Lord who had regenerated in the show and was being played a this point by a new actress to the part.

As The Doc and Romana pass under the bridge, they both hear faint voices, which are indistinct, but which sound like people suffering and calling out for help. On the bridge is a guy wearing a silver cape and carrying a carpetbag. He is Skagra, and those voices are coming from a sphere he carries with him which contains the knowledge and experiences of his five companions from Shada.

Both he and The Doc (with Romana) make their separate ways to professor Chronotis's room. The groundskeeper, who knows The Doc, lets him in, but refuses access to Skagra, who retreats back to his ship, capturing the mind, and stealing the car of a human on his way. Why he didn’t do this same thing to the groundskeeper is an unexplained plot hole! It’s heartening for us amateur writers to note that even a professional of Adams's stature screws up!

In Chronotis's office, The Doc and Romana learn of this dangerous book, but the professor cannot find it. It turns out that one of his students took it by accident when he was borrowing some books from the professor earlier that day. This same student, Chris, is also conducting experiments on the book because he as discovered it has some very weird properties indeed. He calls a girl of his acquaintance, Clare, someone with whom he would love to strike up an intimate relationship, to share his discoveries with her.

While Romana is in the TARDIS retrieving some milk for the endless cups of tea they drink, Skagra suddenly shows up at Chronotis's room and extracts his mind into the grey sphere. Now Chronotis is one of those many voices the sphere contains. Romana returns after Skragra has left, to discover that Chronotis is dying. As she applies a med-collar to try and preserve his life, Chris shows up. Chronotis is only able to give them a cryptic warning about Skagra, using his hearts-beat as a form of Morse code!

Romana discovers that The Doc is in trouble, and takes the TARDIS to rescue him. Meanwhile Skagra has encountered the Doc, who has the book, and given chase. The Doc loses him, but cannot lose the sphere. In his haste to escape, he loses the book, which Skagra recovers. He's saved from the sphere by Romana retrieving him in the TARDIS (this is the second clip used in The Five Doctors). They return to Christ to discover that Chronotis has dematerialized. The Doc then reveals that Chronotis must have been on the last of his twelve Time lord regenerations, and is now gone forever. But he's really not. And indeed, he's really not Chronotis either!

The three of them enter the TARDIS and give pursuit when they detect another event with the sphere, and they end up in a field outside Cambridge, where Skagra's spaceship is parked, but made invisible to outsiders. The three of them enter the ship, and are separated, Romana, Chris and the robot dog confined in one room from which they cannot escape, and The Doc with Skagra, who uses the sphere to extra The Doc's mind when he will not agree to help Skagra. Romana is sprung from her imprisonment by Skagra and he steals the TARDIS, using The Doc's mind to open and fly it. He takes her to an asteroid way out in space, where he has set up his base of operations. Part of his operation is creation the Kraag, sentient beings made from crystallized carbon, which do his every bidding. He orders the head Kraag to set production of Kraags into overdrive.

The Doc, whom Romana had thought dead, revives. He had fooled the sphere into thinking he was dumber than he is, and so only a distorted part of his mind was extracted. Now the ship's sentience thinks he is dead, and no therefore longer an enemy of Skagra, so according to its limited logic, he is not a threat. This gives The Doc some leeway to ask favors of the ship, including taking them to the last place which Skagra was at before he went to Earth.

The last place Skagra was at was, of course, the prison he was in. The Doc and Chris visit that while Chris's girlfriend discovers that Professor Chronotis isn't quite as dead as he seemed, and his room at Cambridge is actually an old TARDIS, which is in working order, even though he isn't supposed to have one. Meanwhile Romana tries and fails to dupe Skagra!

Finally I finished this. It seems like it took forever to get through it, but it's only been a week! Graham wraps up the novel nicely by bringing Skagra to book in a delightful way when all seems lost, and getting Chris and Clare together as you knew he would. Note that while the screenplay and notes for the Doctor Who story were written by Adams, it was Graham who turned it into a novel and I think he's done a fine job. He lets Adams shine through, and emulates the latter's wit and writing style admirably where he had to fill in the blanks. He explains exactly how it was done in an afterword. I recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of Adams and/or of the Doctor Who TV series.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time by by Scott & David Tipton, Art by Simon Fraser, Color by Gary Caldwell






COMIC BOOK REVIEW!

Title: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time
Author: Scott & David Tipton
Art: Simon Fraser
Color: Gary Caldwell
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley, and is available now.

I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review.


This is an excellent comic about Doctor Who in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary this year, which the current season on TV is somehow failing to get into. Hopefully this will change in the second half of the season, as we approach closer to the month and date of the anniversary. The comic I had a chance to read is divided into three chapters of 22 pages each, one chapter for each of the very first three doctors, portrayed on TV by William Hartnell (died 1975), Patrick Troughton (died 1987), and Jon Pertwee (died 1996). Even Richard Hurndall, who stood in for Hartnell in 1983's The Five Doctors is no longer with us.

That, I'm afraid, is a huge problem for TV. Once a series is half a century old, it’s inevitable that many of the original actors have died, or grown so old that they cannot reasonably portray the characters we remember so fondly, but this is no problem for this comic book. We can once again enjoy the people we loved and grew up with as fresh and vital as they ever were, and in new adventures!

The artwork in this comic is standard comic book art, but the renditions of the Doctors are remarkably reminiscent of the actors who played them, even down to facial expressions and dialog. Clearly this comic was done by people who know and love the show as well as I do - if not better. Chapter one, for example, was very much William Hartnell, and I'd actually forgotten how he kept misstating Ian Chesterton's name! But here he is back to life, spouting his exasperated and dramatic catch-phrases! It was nice to see a strong scientific element get some mention in the story, too (they hang out with Thomas Huxley in 1868), but I wasn't quite as impressed by the drawing of his companions. They're still better than anything I could manage, I freely admit, but not quite as captivating as the Doctor himself was.

This chapter takes place after his granddaughter, Susan has left the TARDIS and has been replaced by Vicki, who joins Barbara Wright (played on TV by Jacqueline Hill, sadly also no longer with us) and Ian (played on TV by William Russell). They face the Zarbi, a race of ant-like beings the size of Great Danes, which are harmless unless taken over by an evilly-inclined controlling agency as they are here, by an octopus-like creature called The Animus and invading the London underground. On TV, we first met these creatures in season 2, ep 5 of the classic Doctor Who series back in the sixties, in The Web Planet. The Zarbi are freed when Ian runs over The Animus with one of the trains! Unfortunately, right then, all three of the Doc's companions disappear!

In Chapter 2, we find ourselves with Patrick Troughton's portrayal of The Doc, traveling with Zöe and the feisty, kilt-wearing Jamie McCrimmond, a highlander from the mid-eighteenth century, both of which are drawn much better than the first doctor's companions. Jaime was played on TV by Fraser Hines, and he appeared in more episodes of Doctor Who than any other companion - and more episodes than most of the doctors for that matter! The three of them materialize in a store which specializes in selling police boxes! They have models in all shapes, sizes, and colors, so The Doc's TARDIS fits right in. When they step out of the store, they're in a mall, which happens to be one of the greatest trading posts in the galaxy, but it’s also a haven of black-market activity. I loved the one frame where The Doc is standing outside a hat store and there's a fez in the window, and then the next frame is a close up of The Doc angled so that it looks like he's actually wearing the fez! lol!

Some of this activity is slave-trading, and The Doc decides he's going to put an end to that! They follow the alien traders, who look rather like alligators, back to their store, where one of them takes an interest in Jamie, observing that he's from the past and therefore valuable. As the three time travelers meander into a bicycle shop (where one bicycle looks remarkably like the bikes from the TV series The Prisoner!), Jamie is kidnapped by the aliens and disappears. Fortunately, the Doc, in true second doctor fashion, has anticipated this, and has put a tracking device on him! He and Zöe trail him to an auction house, where slaves are being auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Doc's tracker leads them straight to Jamie, where they find many slaves in holding pens. They free all of them, but once again, right as their adventure reaches a successful conclusion, The Doc's companions disappear. Where the heck are they going? Who is taking them? Well, I guess we know it's not Who!

Chapter three is the third incarnation of the Doctor. He's hanging out with his usual companions, Sarah Jane Smith (played on TV by Elisabeth Sladen) and Liz Shaw (played on TV by Caroline John). Both of these actors are sadly no longer with us. The problem for this doctor is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's erratic behavior. Stewart was played on TV by Nicholas Courtney, now also deceased. Courtney had to be one of the few people in Doctor Who who had actually fulfilled in real life the role he played on screen, in that he actually was in the British army for a while! The Doc discovers that Lethbridge-Stewart is being controlled by the Remorax, by means of a small fish-like creature in his throat. Once that's removed, he returns to his usual self, but he, along with The Doc's other two companions is abducted by a strange man in a hooded costume. So now we have an idea of who's behind it, but we still know nothing of exactly who this person is, or why he's doing this.

And that's all we get! I hate this! Now I'll go insane trying to figure out what happens next until I can get my hands on volume two of this series! But what a joy to see a series celebrate the Doctor's companions? I can hardly wait for volume 2.

If you're neither a fan of Doctor Who, nor a fan of comic books, then this is probably not for you, but if you're even mildly into either of them, I recommend this series based on this opening salvo. It’s fun, it’s well done, it’s a wonderful trip down the Doctor Who memory lane. I don’t know if this will ever become a collector's item, but it's about time(!) someone did something for the 50th anniversary, and I'm glad it was this! I'm definitely going to be looking for these coming on sale. Not for myself, of course, but for my kids...Ahem!