Book Review: Return of the Living Dad by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
Title: Return of the Living Dad
Publication Info: London : Virgin, 1996
Summary/Review:

In this story, Berenice returns with her newlywed husband Jason to investigate what became of her father.  It’s long been believed that Admiral Isaac Summerfield turned coward in a space battle against the Daleks and died, but new evidence suggest otherwise. Berenice asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to witness the battle and see that her father’s ship is sucked into a wormhole.  Following through, the TARDIS team arrives in a remote English village in 1983.

Isaac and his crew are not surprised to see the Doctor and Berenice, as they’ve been expecting them to arrive one day.  Isaac’s ship arrived 20 years earlier, and in the intervening years he’s opened a cafe and taken up the duty of cleaning up the messes left behind by UNIT and the Doctor himself.  With an Air Force base nearby with nuclear weapons, the village attracts a strange assortment of refugee aliens, paranormal investigators, and anti-nuclear protesters.  Of course, once the Doctor arrives, strange things begin happening as the TARDIS and several people go missing. There’s a mystery to be solved and a traitor or two in their midst.

Kate Orman is one of the best writers of Doctor Who and particularly good at getting at the humanity (or lack thereof) of her characters and their relationships.  It’s surprising that she’s never written for the television series like other New Adventures writers, but perhaps she’s just not keen on scriptwriting.  Nevertheless, aspects of the book are familiar to what would be picked up ten years later in the new tv series, such as the need to clean up after the Doctor’s adventures, and the nodding winks to fan culture.

Since this is an Orman novel, it also has approximately a gazillion characters and it does get hard to keep track of them all.  I kept forgetting the Doctor’s other companions, Roz & Chris, were even there, and their main plot is their getting romantically involved.  Berenice, who had left the Doctor in Happy Endings, is front and center and this book is very much setting up her own series of New Adventures that would start in 1997.  Indeed, in various media, Berenice Summerfield is still appearing in new stories through today.

 

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating:

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)


Title: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Release Date: August 14, 2009
Director: Robert Schwentke
Production Company: New Line Cinema | Plan B Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Based on one of my favorite books, the trailer for this adaptation never looked promising, but out of morbid curiosity I finally broke down and watched.  It’s basically a heavily-abridged version of the book.  Obviously an adaptation of a long book can’t include everything, but a good adaptation should over something for the movie viewer.  Clare in this movie comes off as far more passive than in the book, and the talents of Rachel McAdams are wasted.  Henry’s relationships with anyone else, including his father, are depicted as very superficial.  And for some reason the creepy aspect of adult Henry spending time with Clare as a child seems to be emphasized. The location shots in Chicago are pretty but other than that the best I can recommend is to read the book.

Rating: **

Movie Review: See You Yesterday (2019)


Title: See You Yesterday
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Director: Stefon Bristol
Production Company: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
Summary/Review:

C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) are a pair of nerdy teens who develop a device that allows them to jump into wormholes and travel back in time.  Their rather modest goal is to win a prize at a citywide science competition but when the device actually works it opens new possibilities and deadly consequences. The movie draws on classic time travel movies like Back to the Future which it acknowledges with a cameo by Michael J. Fox as C.J. and Sebastian’s teacher (and in a double reference, he’s first seen reading the time travel novel Kindred).

The movie also draws influence from producer Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, as well as current events. C.J. lives in an African-American and Afro-Caribbean neighborhood at a time of heightened tension following a police shooting of a community member. The tension is exemplified in a scene where C.J. and her brother Calvin (Brian “Stro” Bradley) can’t even have an argument on a sidewalk without drawing harassment from the police. Another police shooting is a key event as C.J. and Sebastian use their time travel technology to attempt to prevent the killing but each time they go back they inadvertently change events leading to someone else dying.

This is a movie that deserves a happy ending.  Instead we get an ambiguous ending as we see C.J. returning the past once again and running as the screen goes black.  Perhaps her running represents the endless cycle of death she cannot break, perhaps this time she is planning to sacrifice herself to save the lives of others.  Marty McFly was able to change events in the past to save the live of Doc Brown and inadvertently make his family happier and more prosperous.  But there are no happy endings in Black and brown communities where children continue to be shot dead by the police with no consequences.

The movie is very short, which is a strength in tight plotting and scripting, although I felt a longing for more. Sometimes the messaging has an after school special feel to it.  But the acting by Duncan-Smith, Crichlow, and Bradley is strong, and I hope to see more from them in the future.

Rating: ***1/2

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor


Here are reviews of all nine volumes in the Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor series to date.

Author:  Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Boo Cook
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 1: After Life
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

The first set of Eleventh Doctor comic adventures introduce a new companion (between the Ponds and Clara), Alice Obiefune.  I immediately love Alice, because she’s:

  1. a library assistance, and her job skills are shown as valuable on adventures with the Doctor.
  2. she’s a character who is depicted as grieving and depressed, and her storyline is handled accurately and sympathetically.
  3. she stands up to the Doctor’s condescending ways and challenges his assumptions.

There adventures include picking up another companion, John Jones, who is a thinly veiled David Bowie from the late 60s before he becomes famous.  Basically he’s there for running Bowie gags while the focus remains on Alice as companion.  They also visit with Robert Johnson in 1930s Louisiana, who happens to already be acquainted with the Doctor.  But the main conflict in various places in space and time is standing up to the evil SERVEYOUinc, and not always meeting their agents in chronological order.

The Eleventh Doctor comics are refreshing and fun, and I hope keep up the good work, because the Tenth Doctor comics kind of became as slog.

Rating: ****


Author:  Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Boo Cook, Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 2: Serve You
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

This volume starts off with a terrific story of the Doctor figuring out how to escape the destruction of the TARDIS while repeatedly hopping backwards in time.  ARC joins the TARDIS crew for a distinctively odd trip of companions: grieving human, parody of David Bowies, and blob of something that’s not quite defined yet.  Other stories put the TARDIS Team in the middle of an endless war that threatens to capture Earth in collateral damage and the gravest threat yet from SERVEYOUinc, which appears to take over the Doctor. It’s a bit of a step down from the first volume, but still a rollicking good adventure.

Rating: ***


Author:  Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Boo Cook, Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 3: Conversion
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

Another spectacular visual and storytelling device in the comics sees the four main characters split into different parts of the TARDIS, with distinctive art for each concurrent story.  The Doctor also goes through the humbling experience of having the TARDIS turn against him for his misbehavior.  There are also Cybermen in ancient Rome and a motorbike race on the Berlin Wall in 1976.

This volume ties up the threads in the SERVEYOUinc and Talent Scout stories, as well as the Jones and ARC, uh, arcs.  I look forward to reading more adventures of Alice and the Doctor.

 

Rating: ***


Author:  Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser & Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 4: The Then and the Now
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

A new story arc has the Eleventh Doctor being tracked down for a genocidal crime he can’t remember quitting. New companions join in the form of Abslom Daak, a rageful man with a vendetta against Daleks, and The Squire, a soldier who previously fought alongside the War Doctor. The plot is a complex muddle of things brought up from the Time War that probably don’t need to be explained, but it does feel like it’s going somewhere.

Rating: ***


Author:  Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Leanrdo Casco, Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Arianna Florean, Nicola Righi, Azzurra Florean, Rodrigo Fernandes
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 5 The One
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

The pursuit of the Then and Now continues, with some revelations and a lot of confusion, and effort to be “epic” without really earning it.  River Song and The War Doctor and The Master all join the plot.  And that’s not all.  It’s okay, I guess.

Rating: **


Author:  Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Simon Fraser
Colorist: Marcio Menys, Gary Caldwell
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 6 The Malignant Truth
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

The Doctor’s secret revealed!  Shocking surprises!  Really?  I just wanted this storyline to finally be over.  It does finish up better than a lot of what preceded it, for what it’s worth.  I did enjoy the War Doctor getting to act as the main protagonist, and Alice being awesome.  She’s a great companion and deserves better stories.

Rating: ***


Author: Rob Williams, Alex Paknadel
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Leandro Casco, Wellington Diaz, Simon Fraser
Colorist: Triona Farrell, Gary Caldwell
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 7: The Sapling: Growth
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

A new storyline, with a new character – The Sapling – who is basically Groot with the ability to steal memories and cause genocide.  There’s a cool sequence where every year on Earth is happening at the same time and the Doctor and company have to take a double decker bus to 1968 where the people have erected a wall around their time. It’s much cooler in illustration!

Rating: ***


Author: James Peaty, George Mann
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Andrew Leung, Ivan Rodriguez, Wellington Diaz, Klebs Junior, Leandro Casco
Colorist: Triona Farrell, Stefani Renne, Thiago Riberio
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 8 The Sapling: Roots
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

The Sapling is growing, the Doctor and Alice are still missing their memories, and Ood Sigma needs help. They also visit a Memory Ark and a medieval village where the Sapling becomes a renown historical figure.  Good fun.

Rating: ***


Author: Alex Paknadel, Rob Williams
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Ivan Rodriguez, JB Bastos, Luiz Campello
Colorist: Triona Farrell, Thiago Ribeiro, Stefani Rennee
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 9 The Sapling: Branches
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2018)
Summary/Review:

The finale of The Sapling saga.  Like all these comic storylines, my patience begins to wear thin with the plots as they go along.  But at least this one is only three volumes along.  There’s also a renegade member of The Silence known as The Scream behind it all, but it’s kind of a meh idea since I think the tv shows did all they could with The Silence.  Still some awesome Alice moments though.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler


Author: Octavia E. Butler
Title: Kindred
Narrator: Kim Staunton
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 1998 [Originally published in 1979]
Summary/Review:

I’ve only recently become aware of the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, whose contributions to the genre have likely been overlooked due to her being an African American woman.  This novel, starting in the bicentennial year of 1976, tells the story of Dana, an African American writer repeatedly torn from her own time in California and sent to antebellum Maryland plantation.  There she has to save the life of a boy, and later a man, named Rufus, the heir of the plantation owner.  Early on, Dana discovers that Rufus is her own ancestor, so her existence depends on his survival.

This book does not shy away from the malignant evils of slavery – beatings, selling off family members, and rape.  But it get’s even more uncomfortable in how on Dana’s increasingly longer visits to the past, she grows to consider the plantation as home, and develop a fondness for Rufus.  Dana’s devotion to protecting Rufus is unsettling considering that Alice, a freed black woman who is reenslaved by Rufus over the course of the novel, is also her ancestor, and Dana never shows the same level of concern for protecting her. It’s something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, or more accurate the way in which its possible for one to look past the most grievous faults of family members and friends.

Dana is married to a white man named Kevin, and one occasion she brings him back in time with him, stranding him there for several years when she bops back to the future.  Although Kevin is a progressive white man, he is still not capable of understanding the power dynamics that privilege him in the past over Dana.  Nevertheless, Dana’s knowledge of the future and seemingly magical power to appear and disappear over time gives her something of a an advantage over Rufus in their ongoing relationship.

This is a powerful and well-constructed novel that feels very contemporary despite being over forty years old.  Much like reading Ursula Leguin, I had to remind myself that Octavia E. Butler actually inspired and informed many of the conventions of later time-travel fiction.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis


Author: Connie Willis
Title: Doomsday Book
Narrator: Jenny Sterlin
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 2000 (Originally published in 1993)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I first read Doomsday Book 16 years ago and it immediately became one of my favorite books and lead me to several other Willis’ novels. This novel begins in Oxford in 2054 where history students use time travel technology to observe the past.  Willis has written several loosely-connected novels and short stories using this same premise.

In this novel, undergraduate Kivrin Engle desires to study the Middle Ages, even though the time travel net has never been used to travel that far back in the past.  The leader of the Medieval Studies department is eager to make a splash by permitting Kivrin to go the the 14th century, and even bypasses some of the standard safety protocols. Kivrin’s advisor and mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, is frustrated by Medieval’s carelessness and deeply worried about what dangers Kivrin may face in the time of cuthroats and Black Death.

The stage is set for Something to Go Wrong, with the twist being that an outbreak of deadly influenza strikes Oxford, with the city placed under quarantine.  The engineer who ran the time travel net for Kivrin’s drop into the past is one of the first to fall ill, thus making it impossible to retrieve Kivrin.  Mr. Dunworthy ends up helping his friend Dr. Mary Ahrens care for the sick, and also watching Mary’s visiting nephew Colin, with whom he forms a paternal relationship.

Meanwhile, in the 14th century, Kivrin has also been stricken with influenza. In a state of delirium, she is brought to the home of a village near Oxford to the home of a minor noble family, and nursed back to health. Some of the best scenes illustrating “the past is a different country” involve Kivrin initially having trouble communicating with her hosts, despite her studies and a translator implanted in her head.  Kivrin also has a recorder imbedded in her hand, cleverly allowing her to look like she’s praying when recording her thoughts, and many passages of the novel are in the form of her journal entries.

Once Kivrin recovers from her illness, she forms a bond with the children of the household, the playful 5-year-old Agnes, and the more serious Rosemund, who at the age of 12 is already promised in marriage to a much older man.  Kivrin essentially becames a caretaker for the children, aiding the overtaxed Lady Eliwys, while being an object of scorn and suscpicion for Eliwys’ mother-in-law Lady Imeyne. It is rare to have a female protagonist in time travel stories, often for the practical reason that for most of history the life of women was severely restricted and dangerous.  But through Kivrin’s point of view, the reader gets an (admitedly fictional) look into the overlooked women’s domestic sphere of the Middle Ages.

Another key character in the medieval storyline is Father Roche.  The poor and uneducated priest is mocked by Lady Imeyne, but nevertheless is devout to God and the community.  Kivrin forms a strong relationship with Father Roche as well, and despite her own lack of faith, recognizes Roche as a good person. Father Roche by turn, sees Kivrin as an angel, and while literally not true, it’s easy to see why her sudden appearance and seemingly magical skills would be interpreted as such from his worldview.

There are a couple of other twists in the plot, that I won’t spoil here, although I will not that the source of the 21st century influenza outbreak is a genius plot device.  By and large, things don’t turn out well for most of the characters in both storylines.  And since Willis is excellent at developing the characters and their relationships, Doomsday Book is a heartbreaking novel.  Nevertheless, it is also uplifting, because it emphasizes love in the relationships (Kivrin and Father Roche, Mr. Dunworthy and Colin, and others) among people who are neither related nor romantically involved, which is surprisingly uncommon in fiction.

Doomsday Book is not a flawless novel and others have pointed out its anachronisms and the many coincidences in the plot that are just too neat and tidy.  I think what’s good about the book outweighs these problems for the most part. One distracting problem with this book is that Willis envisioned a future with the technology for time travel and implanting translators and recorders in the body, but she did not anticipate mobile telephones (even though they already existed at the time this novel was published).  Instead, people in the future Oxford story use video phones, a device that is found in a lot of futuristic fiction of the 20th century (see 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Until the End of the World for prominent examples).  This would just be a small quirk, but so much of the novel relies on characters needing to find a phone and not being able to reach others by phone that it becomes laughable at times.

Overall, this is a terrific book in the time travel genre and one with a lot of humanity and heart. And a future without mobile phones really doesn’t sound all that bad.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Christmas on a Rational Planet by Lawrence Miles


Author: Lawrence Miles
Title: Christmas on a Rational Planet
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Summary/Review:

This is the first Doctor Who novel by Lawrence Miles, who would later go on to be one of the leading writers of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, introduce the Faction Paradox, and co-wrote the history of Doctor Who series About Time.  But in this first novel, Roz is trapped in a town in New York in 1799, Chris is trapped in the TARDIS with someone trying to kill him, and secret socities are worshipping Satan and the like.  The book is interesting at parts, but also just weird in ways that makes it hard to follow.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Just War by Lance Parkin


Author: Lance Parkin
TitleJust War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, c1996.
Summary/Review:

The Seventh Doctor makes frequent visits to World War II: The Curse of Fenric on tv, Colditz on audio, Timewyrm: Exodus and this book in the Virgin New Adventures. We begin this book with one of this Doctor’s great manipulative plans.  Roz and Chris are working with British intelligence in London, Benny is undercover with the Resistance in Guernsey, and the Doctor is seeking a particularly genius Nazi scientist.  Things go horribly wrong, of course, and as happens all to often in the New Adventures, it leads to a companion getting tortured. The book features a strong narrative though, one of the most easily readable New Adventures, with great character moments for Benny, Roz, and Chris.  It’s also close to being a pure historical, with The Butterfly Effect and the Doctor’s hubris being the main antagonists outside of the Nazis.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
TitleThe Also People
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1995.
Summary/Review:

The Doctor takes Benny, Roz, and Chris on vacation to the Worldsphere, a world populated by the technologically advanced, utopians society of The People.  In addition to the advanced People – who can change their shape and gender – the Worldsphere is populated with sentient artificial lifeforms, including God (who got its name as a joke from watching over the Worldsphere), ships, drones, and even tables, bathtubs, and parachutes.

Because The People are so technologically advanced they have a nonaggression treaty with the Time Lords that prevents them from developing time travel.  The Doctor and God are friendly but also don’t trust one another and dance around a lot of tensions.  And despite saying the visit to the Worldsphere is a holiday, the Doctor also has ulterior motives involving an old frenemy, and a difficult decision for Benny.  When a drone is murdered, the Doctor also volunteers to investigate the crime, and Roz is key in using her skills in the procedural story.

The Also People is inspired by a science-fiction series called the Culture by Iain M. Banks.  I’m not at all familiar with Banks’ work, but it does appear to be another example of Doctor Who crashing into another genre and making another story.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Original Sin by Andy Lane


Author: Andy Lane
TitleOriginal Sin
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1995.
Summary/Review:

There’s a lot going on in this sprawling Doctor Who New Adventures novel.

    • First, it introduces a pair of new companions, Roz & Cwej, a pair of Adjucators (basically, cops) from Earth in the far future.  Roz is the grizzled veteran whose partner/mentor died and Cwej is the cheerful, ambitious rookie. In addition to these buddy cop story tropes, they find themselves uncovering a conspiracy!
    • The setting is the Earth in the far future when cities like London have been build up as spaceports with the wealthy living in gleaming towers, while the rest live in the dark, decaying Undertown (a concept that was later used in the tv story Gridlock).
    • The Earth is part of a dystopian society ruled by a Divine Empress who controls the galaxy (or at least the solar system, not sure).
    • Also featuring in this story are the Hith, a species of large, slug-like creatures who.  Berenice’s befriends a Hith whose death actually prompts her and the Doctor to visit future and get involved in this story.
    • There’s an imprisoned serial killer who the Doctor calls upon for advice, very much modeled on Hannibal Lecter.
    • Finally, the big reveal is that the Big Bad behind this all is Tobias Vaughn from the 1960s tv story The Invasion, who has managed to live thousands of years as a cyborg.

It’s a very busy story with a lot of weirdness, such as Cwej spending part of the narrative resembling a teddy bear, for fashion.  It also has the New Adventures’ trait of introducing lots of characters in new places and expecting the reader to remember them. That is, when the author actually mentions the names and is not doing that trick of keeping their identity secret.  It’s rather annoying and makes this book more of a struggle to read than necessary, but otherwise it’s entertaining.

Rating: ***

Virgin New Adventures