Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott
Colorist: Blair Shedd, Anang Setyawan
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleVol. 1: Weapons Of Past Destruction
Publication Info: London : Titan Comics, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Way back in 2011, I started watching Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor.  He remains one of my favorite Doctors and it’s disappointing that there’s only one season.  Even the Eighth Doctor has been able to get a ton of stories in audio dramas and novels.  So I’m pleased to read the further adventures of the Ninth Doctor with Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness.

Appropriately, these comics are set after The Doctor Dances and before Boom Town, the story in which the Doctor, Rose, and Jack spend a dinner with Mickey telling stories about adventures we never got to see.  I’ll have to go back and watch that show to see if the comics illustrate any of those stories.

The crux of this volume is that the Doctor and his companions discover an arms market selling Gallifreyan weapons.  They soon find themselves in the middle of a war that is rehashing the battles of the Time War.  The Doctor angrily – and carelessly – announces that he’s selling off the “mind of a Time Lord.”  The comic is epic and imaginative and uses the format well to illustrate ideas that wouldn’t have worked in a tv show.

Rating: ***


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Chris Bolson
Colorist: Matheus Lopes, Marco Lesko
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleThe Ninth Doctor, Vol. 2: Doctormania
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

There are two main adventures in this story.  First, the Doctor and his companions arrive at a planet where the Doctor is a big celebrity.  This leads to lots of meta-commentary about Doctor Who as a television show and fan culture. Ultimately, this story leads to a hunt on Raxacoricofallapatoria.  I don’t know if anyone was clamoring for more Slitheen stories, but they are the signature monster of the Ninth Doctor, and this comic does a decent job of setting a story on their planet.

The next story is much better with timey-wimey twists.  Mickey Smith calls the Doctor to San Francisco, but he’s the older, more confident Mickey whose married to Martha and teamed with her as free lance monster hunters.  The story requires that Rose not see future Mickey and the Doctor not meet his future companion Martha which makes for interesting plotting. Meanwhile, Rose is lured in a group of people who’ve gained flying powers and are contending with gargoyle creatures.  Her flirtatious romance with a handsome young man in the group is true to Series 1 Rose before she ended up romantically interested in Tennant’s Doctor.

This comic collection builds on the Ninth Doctor’s adventures in a fun and visually varied ways.

Rating: ***1/2


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Chris Bolson
Colorist: Marco Lesko
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleThe Ninth Doctor, Vol. 3: Official Secrets
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

The Doctor, Rose, and Jack continue there adventures by working with a 1970s or 1980s where they end up working with UNIT division in Bristol lead by Harry Sullivan.  This is a nice touch since it would be impossible to bring back Harry on TV due to Ian Marter’s early death. The story also introduces Tara Mishra, a UNIT nurse and soldier who joins the TARDIS Team!  Who knew the Ninth Doctor would be getting new companions between The Doctor Dances and Boom Town!

The second story sees the team travel back in time to 17th century Brazil, where the Doctor deals with both Portuguese slavers and alien mer-people.  Meanwhile, Jack continues to make discoveries about his past and the moments erased from his mind by the Time Agents.  Rose is uncertain she can trust Jack after what is revealed.

The characterization of Jack relies much on what would learn about him from Torchwood, while the Doctor in these comics is also informed by revelations of the War Doctor.  The creators of the comics cleverly retcon these things that no one knew about in Series 1 without overdoing it.

Rating: ***1/2


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Marco Lesko
Title:  The Ninth Doctor, Vol. 4: Sin Eaters
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

With Jack having left the team, the story begins with the Doctor incarcerated in a high-security prison on a space station for the murder of Tara.  It is, of course, a fakeout to give the Doctor a chance to investigate the prison’s suspicious rehabilitation methods.  Things go wrong when Rose arrives in disguise and is unable to prevent the Doctor having his anger and darkest thoughts removed into a doppelganger called a sin eater.  The sin eaters would be absolutely ridiculous in televised Doctor Who, but some how they work as in pen and ink, where the body horror is quite so bad. The whole story is built on well-worn science fiction tropes, but still somewhat entertaining.

The remainder of the volume pays off the plot of Jack Harkness losing his memories and the Doctor offering up the Mind of Time Lord plot is also paid off.  Once again the Doctor is held in captivity for much of the story as four alien agents attempt to bid on his brain.  The Doctor is able to defeat his enemies with his grief (not unlike a plot twist in an episode of Class). Tara ends up staying behind to help a devastated planet, freeing up the Doctor, Rose, and Jack to return to Cardiff to meet up with Mickey and Margaret.

Rating: ***1/2

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TV Review: Class (2016)


Title: Class
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

This spinoff series from Doctor Who was designed as a young adult science fiction drama with the scripts being written by popular young adult author Patrick Ness.  It’s curious that in many ways Class is darker and more mature (and more gory) than Doctor Who, although teens actually do like that kind of thing, tv productions don’t generally recognize it. The premise of a team of people fighting off the monster-of-the-week that emerges from a rift in space and time is very much reminiscent of the very grown-up Torchwood.

The show is set at the Coal Hill School, a frequent setting of Doctor Who going back to the first episode in 1963.  Because of the Doctor’s frequent visits to Coal Hill with the TARDIS time and space have become unstable creating the rift.  The Doctor has also placed two alien refugees at the school, disguised as human for their protection: Charlie, the prince of the Rhodians, and Ms. Quill, a revolutionary from the same planet who is tied to Charlie by a mental link that forces her to act his protector.  They are each the only survivors of their species after genocide by the Shadow Kin.

The rest of the kids are ordinary, highly-intelligent students with the typical problems of teenagers. Ram is talented football player who grieves the loss of his girlfriend to the Shadow Kin.  April is nerdy and well-behaved, but hides a troubled past with her father.  Tanya is the youngest in the group having moved up three years at the school and comes from a Nigerian immigrant family.  Matteusz is a Polish immigrant who is ostracized by his parents for being gay, and has a romance with Charlie.

The cast are all really charming and the show does a great job at developing their characters, albeit sometimes unevenly to serve the plot.  The scripts are especially good at exploring grief and young people learning to trust and work with one another. Ms. Quill is a scene stealing anti-hero, revolutionary become physics teacher.  The Shadow Kin are the main villain in this series and the four episodes they appear in are strained by the Shadow Kin being rather ridiculous and uninteresting.

The best two episodes come near the end of the series.  Episode 6 – “Detained” – is a bottle episode where the five students are shoved out of normal space-time and encounter a creature that makes them confess uncomfortable truths.  It’s good drama and also symbolic of young people learning to communicate with one another honestly.  The next episode – “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” – features Ms. Quill on adventure using a TARDIS-like device to travel into metaphysical realities in search of regaining her free will.  It’s a very imaginative and really lets Katherine Kelly to expand her character and acting chops.

Unfortunately, Class was canceled after one season, which is possibly a good thing because the cliffhanger hints at a premise that I don’t think would’ve worked well.  If the showrunners had known that they had only one season I think that they could’ve have reshaped these 8 episodes into a more self-contained miniseries.  But now we’ll just have to use our imaginations – and Big Finish audio dramas – to find out to find out what happens next.

Movie Review: Bruce Almighty (2003)


TitleBruce Almighty
Release Date: 12 February 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

I didn’t choose this movie, but I gave it a fair shake.  Jim Carrey plays Buffalo tv reporter Bruce Nolan who seeks to move away from fluffy segments to an anchor position.  But after a day of miserable bad luck – and learning that his rival was promoted to anchor instead of him – Bruce takes his anger out on God.  And so God (played by Morgan Freeman, of course) decides to let Bruce take over His work while he goes on vacation.

Bruce starts off by causing mischief and doing pervy things like making a woman’s skirt fly up (although I’ll have to confess that I chuckled when Bruce literally made a monkey fly out of a bully’s butt).  Then he uses his powers to create dramatic news events that he is onsite to cover for the local news thus enabling himself to move into the coveted anchor spot.  But his increasing self-centered behavior drives away his long-suffering girlfriend (played by Jennifer Aniston) and he’s overwhelmed by trying to answer prayers.  This leads to the formulaic part of this movie where Bruce learns a Very Valuable Lesson about life and love.

I find myself kind of surprised that this movie came out as recently as 2003.  For one thing, it feels like a mid-90s screwball comedy built to capitalize on the popularity of Groundhog Day (complete with an selfish tv reporter gaining superhuman powers and then Learning a Very Valuable Lesson).  For another, I thought after more nuanced, comedy-drama performances in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon (and soon to come in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that Jim Carrey had moved on from broad dreck like this.  I guess not.

This is obviously not my kind of movie, but I think Carrey and the rest of the cast can do better. Despite a handful of good laughs, this movie wasn’t worth watching.

Rating: *1/2

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor


AuthorAndrew Cartmel
Illustrators: Christopher Jones, Marco Lesko
Contributor: Ben Aaronovitch
TitleDoctor Who: The Seventh Doctor
Publication Info: Titan (2018)
Summary/Review:

The three parts of this Titan comics miniseries include two different stories.  “Operation Volcano” takes up most of the pages with “Hill of Beans” filling out each volume.

“Operation Volcano” is set in 1967 when a hydrogen bomb exposes an alien craft in the Australian desert.  RAF Group Captain Gilmore – a character introduced in Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks – calls in the Doctor and Ace to investigate. Subsequent issues reveal a horrifying snake-like species that can attach itself to humans and tap into their consciousness.  But all is not what appears and the Doctor knows more about these aliens than he lets on. Can his plan prevent the destruction of Earth by nuclear weapons, and how does Gilmore end up in the future with a snake on his back? There’s a strong UNIT/spy thriller feel and the artistry captures the 60s style (write up to the illustrator lovingly detailing the women’s breasts and short-shorts in the classic style).  This is faithful the Seventh Doctor stories as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy and the Virgin New Adventures and I could see it succeeding as a tv adaptation.

“Hill of Beans” catches up with Mags, the werewolf from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and the physic circus.  She’s under threat as her planet Vulpana is under fascist rule and rounding up werewolves and other noncomformists. Eerily, the villain looks like Donald Trump and says “fire and fury.” The art style is softer and works to capture an 80s aesthetic.  Being the shorter of the two stories, it is very bareboned, and everything gets resolved rather easily.   Again, though, it could be fleshed out into a tv show or book.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Transit by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Title: Transit
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who, 1992.
Summary/Review:

Having read Set Piece, I decided to jump back to this earlier book in the New Adventures series that introduces the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. The author, Ben Aaronovitch, previously wrote the teleplays for the classic Seventh Doctor serials Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield.  This novel was controversial at the time of its release because in response to the adult audience of the New Adventures novels, Aaronovitch depicted scenes with profanity, drug use, and sex for the first time in a Doctor Who story.

The main plot involves a transit system that connects the Solar System through “tunnels” which are actually transmat systems that carry “trains” over long distances at faster-than-light speeds. An entity from another dimension enters the transit system like a virus causing power surges and killing people.  The TARDIS gets caught in one of the surges separating the Doctor and Benny.  This is the first novel in which Benny is traveling with the Doctor and she ends up possessed by the virus, which is an interesting choice when her character hasn’t even been fully established yet.

Like other New Adventures I’ve read, this is a complex novel with dozens of characters and an entire fictional universe in the cyberpunk style without anything really for the reader to latch on to be introduced to the characters and their world.  I shouldn’t complain so much about the novels’ complexity, but I did major in English and read complex novels (heck, I even read Ulysses for fun!), so it’s frustrating to struggle with sci-fi tv spinoff novels from the 1990s.  Still, there are some great details, such as allusions to the Ice Warriors (here called “Greenies”) and a great war.  The final showdown between the Doctor and the entity is also well-written.

Rating: ***

Previously Reviewed:

Book Reviews: The Last Jedi by Jason Fry


Author: Jason Fry
Title: The Last Jedi
Publication Info: New York : Del Rey, [2018]
Adapted from: The Last Jedi
Summary/Review:

I’ve always enjoyed reading the novelizations of Star Wars movies.  Even the prequel trilogy is vastly better in book form.  I was especially excited to read this one because Jason Fry is someone I sort of know online because he’s also a Mets’ blogger.

Fry adapts Rian Johnson’s script (including scenes cut from the final film) and adds his own creativity to interpret the most complex and complicated of Star Wars stories. The great thing about a novelization is that the reader can get inside the character’s minds to explore the thoughts, feelings, and memories not expressed on the screen.  Fry is particularly good at detailing the thoughts of non-organic minds, whether it be Poe’s high maintenance X-Wing demanding repairs from BB-8 or C-3P0 reluctantly refraining from informing the Resitance that a group of crystal foxes should really be called “a skulk of vulpices.”

The humor in the book is great and balances well with the action scenes and moments of deep emotion. It would take a stronger person than I to not shed a tear when Leia and Chewbacca embrace as they remember the one’s they’ve lost: Han, Luke, and even Ben Solo .  This book will be a delight to diehard Star Wars fans and those who more casually just enjoy the movies.  And for the vocal group of people who actively disliked The Last Jedi, I think it’s even more important that they read this book as Fry makes the central themes of the movie all the more clear and ties them in to the unifying message of Star Wars dating back to 1977.

Favorite Passages:

“Let him think she’d given up — he’d soon discover otherwise.  Jakku had trained her to do two things better than anyone else could.

The first was to salvage broken things.

The second was to wait.” -.p. 70

“Poe was struck, and not for the first time, by how small Leia was – a petite, delicate-looking woman, seemingly at risk of being swallowed up by the bedding and the gurney around her.  It was an impression that many people had on meeting her — and that vanished the moment she engaged with them.  Her determination, her ferocity, her sheer force of will belied her size and made visitors remember her as far bigger than she was.” – p. 155

Rating: ****

Other Star Wars Books I’ve Read:

  • Star Wars by “George Lucas” – actually Alan Dean Foster (1976)
  • The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut (1980)
  • Return of the Jedi by James Kahn (1983)
  • Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn (1991)
  • Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn (1992)
  • The Last Command by Timothy Zahn (1993)
  • Specter of the Past by Timothy Zahn (1997)
  • Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn (1998)
  • The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks (1999)
  • Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Woodring Stover (2005)
  • Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka (2015)
  • The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken (2015)

Book Review: Human Nature by Paul Cornell


AuthorHuman Nature
TitlePaul Cornell
Publication Info: London : BBC Books, 2015 (originally published May 1995)
Summary/Review:

In this novel, the Doctor has himself genetically modified so he can experience life as a human. Forgetting his real identity, the Doctor believes he is a Scottish teacher named John Smith at a boy’s school in rural England in 1914.  If this sounds familiar to Doctor Who tv viewers, it’s because Cornell adapted this book as the two-part episode “Human Nature/Family of Blood” in Series 3 with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor/John Smith.  It’s best not to think of the television adaptation while reading the book as the stories differ in many ways.

Cornell’s basic idea was to have a story featuring the Doctor in a romantic relationship with a fellow teacher, Joan Redfern.  Again, in the present day we’ve seen the Doctor fall in love with Rose, snog Madame Pompadour, and marry River Song, so the elaborate plot of making the Doctor a human for him to experience romance would be excessive. Apart from the love story, this book is a good exploration of being human and the Doctor’s character.

On the one hand this is a brutal and gory story. The villainous alien Aubertides are merciless in slaughtering (and eating) anyone who gets in their way.  In response, the leaders of the school are willing to mobilize the boys into a military unit to fight back. There’s even a disturbing scene early in the book where the school boys murder one of their own.

On the other hand, John Smith, while still in a human guise is able to determine a better way.  To throw away the guns, lead the children to safety, attempt diplomacy, and then win through guile.  The willingness of the human characters in this book to support and sacrifice for one another shows our species at it’s best.

Like many Virgin New Adventures, there’s a surplus of side characters and interwoven sideplots that could be excised to make a tighter, more focused adventure.  But it’s still a gripping read and Doctor Who at it’s best.

Favorite Passages:

“I can see why Rocastle thinks that way.  It’s attractive.  Imagine, never having to make any decisions.  Because of honor. And etiquette. And patriotism. You could live like a river flowing downhill, hopping from one standard response to the other. Honour this. Defend that.”

“‘Isn’t it odd,’ opined Alexander, ‘how close masculinity is to melodrama?'”

Rating: ****

Book Review: Warlock by Andrew Cartmel


AuthorAndrew Cartmel
TitleWarlock
Publication Info: London Bridge (1995)
Previously read by the same author: Through Time: An Unauthorised and Unofficial History of Doctor Who
Summary/Review:

Andrew Cartmel was the final script editor on the original run of Doctor Who on tv from 1987-1989, and is known for allegedly having a master plan for the Doctor’s story that would be revealed over time.  Interestingly, he never wrote a screenplay for a Doctor Who tv  screenplay, so it is in books that one gets to see how he’d tell a Doctor Who story.  And this one’s a doozy.

The Seventh Doctor is living in a cottage near Canterbury with Ace and Benny, using the cottage to carry out research while sending his companions on missions. Benny goes undercover with a top secret drug enforcement agency (called IDEA) in New York to find out about a mysterious new street drug called warlock, while Ace becomes involved in a pair of animal rights activists working to undermine animal testing at a nearby research facility.

What’s stands out about this book is that the Doctor is hardly involved in the story at all, and it can also go chapters at a time without checking in with Ace or Benny.  Full plotlines are carried out by the characters Cartmel invented for the story including the NYPD detective Creed, IDEA agents, the lab researchers conducting experiments, and a couple named Vincent and Justine who have psychic powers (and were introduced in an earlier Cartmel novel).  It’s a tightly-plotted crime drama with just hints of science fiction/fantasy underpinning.  There doesn’t even seem to be an extraterrestrial element unless you consider, …. well I won’t give away the ending, but readers will probably figure it out well before then.

The strangest thing about this book is that a reader with little to no knowledge of Doctor Who could pick it up and read it as a solid, standalone novel.  And it’s a strange book which includes things such as human consciousness entering animals, a woman suddenly forced into prostitution and just as quickly rescued, the complete destruction of Canterbury cathedral, and a couple sneaking into Buckingham Palace to have sex, and these are all relatively minor plot points.  Whatever you’re expecting from a Doctor Who story, this novel will defy expectations.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks


Author: Terrance Dicks
Title: Blood Harvest
Publication Info: Virgin (1994)
Summary/Review:

Terrance Dicks has a long association with Doctor Who, writing scripts for the 2nd to 5th Doctors, serving as script editor for 5 years, and writing 60 novelizations of TV stories as well as original New Adventures. He can always be counted on for a ripping yarn seeped in Doctor Who lore. This story sees the Doctor and Ace running a speakeasy in Chicago and rubbing shoulders with Al Capone. Meanwhile, Bernice is left on a planet with a medieval culture and an infestation of vampires, and ends up teaming up with Romana. On top of all of this, evil Time Lords are plotting against the Doctor.

The last two plots follow up on TV stories Dicks wrote, the 4th Doctor story “State of Decay” and “The Five Doctors” 20th anniversary special. With the multiple plots and heavy continuity, this book should be a mess, Dicks does a good job of alternating the first two plots while bringing them together with the third at the end.

That said the writing also reflects Dicks’ old-fashioned mentality and casual sexism. This works well in the first-person portions written from the point of view of a Chicago detective, Dekker, less so in the third person omniscient parts. He also repeats the unsettling idea from Timewyrm: Exodus of alien influence causing human violence. In the earlier book it was the Nazis, here it is Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Still, the Prohibition Chicago story is an entertaining read, and it’s fun to have Benny and Romana teaming up.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: The Highest Science by Gareth Roberts


Author: Gareth Roberts
Title: The Highest Science
Publication Info: London Bridge (1993)
Summary/Review:

This is the first published novel for Gareth Roberts who went on to write numerous Doctor Who books, audio dramas, comics, and episodes of the revived tv series and the Sarah Jane Adventures including “The Shakespeare Code,” “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” “The Lodger,” “Closing Time,” and “The Caretaker.”  His stories are known for being clever and funny. Unfortunately, Roberts has also revealed himself as a bigot who rants against LGBT people and I believe the BBC has rightly decided to not have him write for the show again.  If it’s any consolation I got this book second hand so he won’t get any royalties.

As to the book, it features the Seventh Doctor and companion Benny investigating a Fortean flicker, a temporal anomaly bringing together beings from different people from different times on one unremarkable planet.  This includes the Chelonians, a militaristic turtle-like species who clear planets of “infestations of humans,” a group of hippie-like individuals traveling to a music festival; people riding an English commuter train; and a galactic criminal traveling with a stolen organic intelligence called The Cell.  Without giving too much away, the book is largely a parody of the elaborate plots and schemes that the Seventh Doctor is known to create, with the twist of this time the Doctor failing to anticipate someone else’s scheme.  But is it worth it to have to keep up with so many different characters and their plotlines, especially since only some tie in with the conclusion while others are shaggy dog stories?

Rating: **

Previously Reviewed: