Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Update #2: Feb through April Schedule

So January is nearly over so it's time for me to update the schedule for the blog for the next three months or so.  I've decided to make these updates a monthly, coming out on the final Sunday of each month and encompassing the next three months with changes made from what I was able to get through each month.

Jan 31-Feb 6
Four to Doomsday
Theatre of War (novel)
Theatre of War (audio)

Feb 7-13
All-Consuming Fire (novel)
The Web Planet
All-Consuming Fire (audio)
The Tomb of the Cybermen
Blood Harvest

Feb 14-20
Goth Opera
Love and Monsters
Strange England
The Ark in Space

Feb 21-27
First Frontier
Arc of Infinity
The Deadly Assassin

Feb 28-March 6
St. Anthony's Fire
The Time Monster
Venusian Lullaby
The Seeds of Doom
Falls the Shadow

March 7-13
The Crystal Bucephalus
The Horns of Nimon
The Power of the Daleks

March 14-20
State of Change
The Underwater Menace

March 21-27
The Romance of Crime (novel)
The Sensorites
The Romance of Crime (audio)
Set Piece
The Eleventh Hour
The Ghosts of N-Space

March 28-April 2
Infinite Requiem
Warriors of the Deep
Time of Your Life
The Web of Fear
The Curse of the Black Spot
Dancing the Code

April 3-9
Human Nature (novel)
Human Nature (TV Story)
The King's Demons
The Menagerie
Terror of the Zygons

April 10-16
Original Sin (novel)
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe
System Shock
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

April 17-23
Sky Pirates!
Paradise Towers
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The War Games

April 24-30
Invasion of the Cat People
Toy Soldiers
The Robots of Death
Nightshade (audio)*

*A review of the audio adaptation of Nightshade, while placed in the last week of April shall be most likely written the week the audio is released*

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tragedy Day by: Gareth Roberts: Peace for One Day and One Day Only

Gareth Roberts has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I love the two audio plays he did for Big Finish coauthored by Clayton Hickman, but I thought his TV work was always lacking in the creativity department.  Usually it isn’t below average, but that doesn’t make it anything special.  Tragedy Day is his second novel and is a vastly different style of novel to the previous The Highest Science.  While The Highest Science is flat out Douglas Adams style comedy, Tragedy Day tries to be Mel Brooks style satire, making fun of story tropes while still cracking jokes.  On this front the novel really fails as the subjects that Tragedy Day is trying to satirize isn’t very clear.  I guess it’s mainly poking fun at the people who act like they care for the poor, but in reality aren’t along with sitcom tropes and compliance to the government.  But by the final two chapters all that gets lost in a plot about a piece of red glass, assassins and an order of evil space priests which only really connects to the short prologue of the story.


The plot sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny arrive on the planet Olleril which is ruled by the Supreme One and everyone is obsessed with television sitcoms and the annual Tragedy Day where everyone takes care of the poor people of the planet.  The empire also sends several people off to an area where they get massacred by genetically engineered Slaags which will eat anything.  Now during the beginning of the novel, Roberts really handles the Doctor, Ace and Benny well.  They really feel like a continuation of the end of their experiences in No Future but that doesn’t last very long as Ace is sent off to a colony island where colonists want to rebel and have chosen the son of an alien assassin as their god.  From here to the end of the novel Ace’s characterization takes a nosedive as she becomes just as insufferable as many fans found her during the run of the Virgin New Adventures.  She is incredibly standoffish and a nuisance throughout the novel.  Roberts nearly makes up for this poor characterization with an excellent characterization of Benny, but in the plot of the novel there is really no reason for her to be there except to let the Doctor have someone to talk to.


The supporting characters are also really bland mainly because there are about fifty different characters named and it is really difficult to keep up with who exactly is who over the course of the novel.  It’s a shame that a novel that includes a giant spider human hybrid assassin is extremely dull as he has no character.  Roberts also is trying to satirize tropes by falling into those tropes which you really cannot do if you are doing a satire.  Some of the jokes Roberts has in the story do work well enough even with these problems and for the most part the pacing is enough to keep the timing going.  Some of the funny moments is the main villain and his plan as it is just to insane not to think of as hilarious, I won’t give it away but it involves television and mind control.  Then Chapter 16 happens when the plot is basically solved and the Doctor has to go to the evil space priests to defeat them and it drags on and on for three more chapters.  That plot thread finishes by using a plot device that would kill anything so it causes a lot of problems and it took me way too long to finish up the novel.


To summarize, Tragedy Day is a story that drips with good ideas with some of them leading to comedic moments.  Sadly a lot of the story happens to fall flat with bad pacing and basically pulling a Timelash by creating a secondary villain after the first was defeated.  The characters are boring or unlikable and any enjoyment is simply from the craziness of the actual story.  35/100

Monday, January 25, 2016

No Future by: Paul Cornell: Just Bending the Laws of Time

Ah, Paul Cornell, the writer of two of the best early Virgin New Adventures and now he’s back to wrap up the Alternate History Cycle in his third novel, No Future.  Comparing No Future to Cornell’s other work it is definitely the weakest of the three, but saying that it is still a really good novel that continues the streak of good novels that the Alternate History Cycle brought to us, bar The Dimension Riders which sticks out like a sore thumb.  But I’m not here to talk about the Alternate History Cycle, but No Future.  No Future sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny land in 1976 where the Brigadier doesn’t seem to remember who the Doctor was and even has hired a new scientific advisor while there is an alien invasion on amidst punk rock, Benny being in a band and Ace betraying the Doctor and working for an enemy from the distant past who has meddled too much.


No Future is a novel that continues from the tense ending of Conundrum only to ramp up the tension as anyone can actually die and the Laws of Time don’t matter as one of the three enemies of this story is Artemis, one of the Chronovores, who lives outside of time so Cornell could do whatever he wants.  Ok so he doesn’t do any of that and I will go into some of the problems that brings about later on, but just knowing that it could happen is enough to keep tension going.  The Doctor has to confront what he does over the course of his novel and ask himself if his meddling is any better than the meddling of our primary villain, Mortimus also known as The Meddling Monk.  They do the same thing, changing future into the way they see it should be and often cause some of the same damages, so the conflict between the two of them is some of the best that I’ve seen from the Virgin New Adventures and is up there with his confrontations with the Master throughout the Pertwee era and The Deadly Assassin.  The way Cornell decides to resolve the conflict is also great as Mortimus does what he does with the fatal flaw of hubris whilst the Doctor is doing it because there is injustice in the universe that he needs to fight.  This is apparent during the climax of the novel where Mortimu has become powerless and his meddling has spiraled out of his control.


Moving on we have the character of Benny.  In this novel, Cornell doesn’t know what to do with Benny and he knows full well, even commenting on how she hasn’t had much to do with this story.  So he lets her serve the purpose of comic relief which is honestly for the best considering a lot of this novel parodies Doctor Who as a whole and the Virgin New Adventures in particular with a cameo from Professor X and his TASID.  Benny’s characterization is honestly the best it’s been throughout the novels and even within the background she has some great dialogue and witty responses to situations.


Now with Benny taking a backseat in this novel, Ace is able to take center stage where we get the novel’s glaring problems.  No Future shows signs of being a novel where Ace is to sacrifice herself, content that the Doctor has been there to help her and not harm her.  This novel wraps up her character arc and makes her more content with the Doctor’s meddling in her affairs and it would be great if she left.  Instead she cops out and resolves the plot with some clever wordplay keeping the Chronovore trapped.  She betrays the Doctor to help the Monk who is just as bad as the Doctor in the manipulation department, praying on her love of Jan from Love and War, and treating her like his own personal pet.  Her development into appreciating the Doctor is so perfect she should have left it here and Benny should have become the sole companion.  That said I still love Ace to bits as a character and I hope they find some other way to develop her in forthcoming novels.


The supporting characters of this novel are of course the UNIT Family reunited with the Brigadier, Benton and Mike Yates all together again for one last adventure.  For them this takes place after Terror of the Zygons and you can really tell how their glory days are over as new people are going up in the ranks.  They are definitely at their best in the first third of the novel where they act like they don’t know who the Doctor is as you see exactly how harsh UNIT can be.  It is also a great way to introduce the tertiary villains of the piece, the Vardans, those tin foil aliens from The Invasion of Time.  Unlike their appearance in The Invasion of Time they are an actual threat here, even if Cornell continues to point out how asinine the Vardans were for being fooled by the Sontarans.  The only other character who actually gets some good development is Danny Pain who is the person the Doctor was sent looking for at the end of Conundrum.  He’s best when he’s with Benny.  Their best scene is when they wake up naked in the same bed which is just one hilarious gag after another.


To summarize No Future is a story that gets to see the evolution of characters from way back in the Third Doctor era and some great development for Ace.  There is a great story and the villains are some of the most complex since those in Blood Heat.  The Doctor and Benny have some of their best development even when Benny is shoved in the background.  The only problem is that it misses a lot of the opportunities with Ace’s development, yet is still able to wrap up the Alternate History Cycle in a near perfect way.  80/100.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Five Doctors by: Terrance Dicks directed by: Peter Moffatt: Only For The Gravest of Emergencies

The Five Doctors stars Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Richard Hurndall, Tom Baker and William Hartnell as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, Mark Strickson as Vislor Turlough, Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith with Anthony Ainley as the Master, Philip Latham as Borusa, Richard Matthews as Rassilon, Paul Jerricho as the Castellan, David Banks as the Cyber Leader, Mark Hardy as the Cyber Lieutenant, John Scott Martin as Dalek Operator and Dalek voices by Roy Skelton.  This story features cameos from Lalla Ward as Romana, John Leeson as the Voice of K-9, Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates, Caroline John as Dr. Liz Shaw, Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon, and Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot.  The story was written by Terrance Dicks, directed by Peter Moffatt, with Eric Saward as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  The story was broadcast on 25 November 1983 to commemorate Doctor Who’s Twentieth Anniversary on BBC One.


Now with those many credits someone new to Doctor Who may think that The Five Doctors would be a cluttered mess of a story, but anyone who has seen any Doctor Who will recognize at once that it is written by Terrance Dicks.  Dicks by this point has written several Doctor Who stories along with most of the Doctor Who Target Novelizations, and is often regarded as one of the best who writers, so of course he was a shoe in for this job.  Of course he masters it as he is often to do.  The plot sees the Doctor’s four past selves being plucked right out of time and are dropped right into the Death Zone on Gallifrey, an archaic arena full of monstrous aliens from the Doctor’s past, which four of the five incarnations of the Doctor have to defeat until they get to the Dark Tower which holds the Tomb of Rassilon to win the Game of Rassilon.  This allows us to have three plotlines play out separately as we get pieces of the puzzle as to who is behind all this until they meet up in the room where Rassilon’s casket is for a final confrontation with an old friend.  While I won’t give away who the villain is, as it is a brilliant reveal and the way the Doctor’s get out of the problem they’re in is really clever.


Now to get down to the nitty gritty of the story almost all the acting is perfect as each character has some great dialogue and works well out of each other.  I especially love Richard Hurndall’s interpretation of William Hartnell’s First Doctor, which shines through best when he is working off the other Doctor’s or during the scenes he has in the TARDIS with Susan, Tegan and Turlough.  Patrick Troughton and Nicholas Courtney also get some of their best interaction as they are being the old friends who haven’t seen each other for years, just to be reunited for a short period of time while they won’t be able to see each other again.  They get to have some of the best comedy as the Brigadier is basically the screaming companion who gets himself into danger often with the Cybermen and the Yeti.  Elisabeth Sladen is also great minus the horrid outfit she was put in, but Dicks missed a trick in not having her meet the Fifth Doctor to confront why she was left in Aberdeen and not in South Croydon.  The weakest of the main cast here is actually Mark Strickson as Turlough as here he really doesn’t have any character and is just dragged around as Dicks doesn’t know what to do with him.  Strickson also is incredibly hammy in his acting method.


With the supporting cast, Anthony Ainley and Philip Latham are the definite show stealers, with Ainley giving his goofiest Master and shines when he tries to get the Third Doctor to trust him and when he meets with the High Council of the Time Lords.  Philip Latham is also great as Borusa in his fourth form we’ve seen, living up to his other incarnations’ portrayals and elevating the character to new heights through Dicks’ great script.  The other Time Lords in this story suffer from the Master and Borusa with the exception of the Castellan, who is way too over the top for his own good (Not the Mind Probe) or too subtle to distinguish from other Time Lords in similar roles (Flavia reminds me way too much as The Inquisitor from Trial of a Time Lord).  That said Rassilon here is much better than Timothy Dalton’s portrayal in The End of Time.


The biggest problems with this story is its direction.  The story goes that John Nathan-Turner wanted to get Douglas Camfield to direct this story and he had agreed to do it, but had fallen too ill to do the story.  He would die a year later.  With that plan fallen through, who did Nathan-Turner get for direction?  He got the worst director in the show’s history, Peter Moffatt.  While Moffatt doesn’t do his worst job here, he isn’t very good either.  A lot of the shots stay in a wide shot while the story should really cut to close up.  He also lingers on some shots for way too long.  I also hear that John Nathan-Turner also took over direction for this story, and you can easily guess when he took over the duties.  To summarize The Five Doctors has a great script with some great actors, but is let down by poor direction.  The story is the quintessential Anniversary story, despite its flaws.  It is one of those stories that every Doctor Who fan should see before they call themselves a fan even though my score isn’t 100/100.  I give it an 85/100.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Conundrum by: Steve Lyons: Into the Woods You Have to Go

Once upon a time there was a Doctor Who fan, and this Doctor Who fan had one of his earliest classic serials be the Patrick Troughton story The Mind Robber.  The Mind Robber quickly became one of the stories he would return to as it was a fanciful dive into another dimension where every fictional character was real and reality could be altered by the uttering of words and the power of the mind.  And over this land ruled its Master, a human as humans create the best stories and he was eventually set free by the brave Doctor and his companions never to return to that land.  The End, or so he thought as on a cold winter’s night that fan opened a book starring the good Doctor and two companions this time five incarnations after the initial visit that returned to this Land with new companions to face the stories a second time, but this time everything was changed.


This mystical land was now under new management from a human child who knows how to write stories and acting as the fan’s narrator through the story, as events were manipulated in what the fan thought was a unique twist on the standard third-person narrative.  The masterful scribe of this story put it in with perfect aplomb the fan discussed as he progressed through the pages, holding on to every word that the master scribe Steve Lyons placed on the pages of the shortened novel.  Master Lyons was dutiful in allowing for the comedy in the Land as the absurdities of this new Master of the Land takes out his largest words in fight against the good Doctor and the empowered Dorothy and the cynical Bernice as they investigate the murders committed in the snowy and quaint village of Arandale.  Master Lyons worked his hardest on crafting the masterful mystery to keep the novel moving and of course the good Doctor succeeds in the end and the Doctor Who fan had been satisfied.  The End.


Ok, I’m going back to normal prose as I can’t integrate everything I’d like to say without having to break the fourth wall several more times.  So as the tale that opened this review I am a big fan of the story The Mind Robber and when I heard that Conundrum was a sequel to The Mind Robber, I was slightly apprehensive.  As I haven’t heard anything about Steve Lyons as this is his debut novel I was a bit apprehensive as how this story would go over.  Again in the tale that opened the review I admit I was wrong in my apprehension as Conundrum is one of the best Virgin New Adventures and continues the streak of high quality.  The story that the Master of the Land of Fiction has concocted for the Doctor to solve is great at revealing enough and not enough to keep it going strong as you question exactly how much you are missing.  This is considering that Lyons has the Master withhold pieces of information from the reader just enough so that you can figure out what the Doctor already knows.  The plot is very comic book like as there is a superhero powered by a radiation which is basically magic who has to defeat his arch-nemesis aptly called Doctor Nemesis who is evil for evil’s sake.  These characters are obvious pastiches of the Batman television series with Adam West smashed together with an evil vampire-like murder mystery.  Of course it isn’t vampires as they already exist in the Doctor Who Universe.


What Lyons gets down best are the characters of Ace and Benny as they both have to figure out where they are as they interact with the fictional characters.  This is especially great as you get some intentionally forgettable characters as Lyons refuses to describe them in any detail and Ace and Benny fill in the details.  This allows for some great comedy as the Doctor reveals how they don’t know many people here.  I also feel that Lyons was thorough in connecting the story down to the arc as we are left with clues to who is behind the manipulation and who led the TARDIS back into the Land of Fiction.  Honestly this book is nearly perfect with no real flaws that I can see.  100/100

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Left-Handed Hummingbird by: Kate Orman: That Power Would Set Me Among The Gods

After watching every Doctor Who story televised so far and several audio dramas I came up with a theory that when Doctor Who is written by a woman and there is little to no executive interference it is going to be a great story.  The only stories written by women that have been bad were Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks and The Woman Who Lived which both had interference from the showrunner.  I’m talking about this because The Left-Handed Hummingbird is the first Virgin New Adventure written by a woman and it fits in with my theory very nicely.  Kate Orman’s debut novel involves an alien device that has fallen to Earth in the time of the Aztecs causing a genetic mutation to amplify the powers of the brain to a select few with a genetic mutation.  It has infected an Aztec warrior, the titular Hummingbird, who has been able to extend his life indefinitely and it is up to the Doctor, Ace and Benny along with Christian Alvarez to stop him from taking over the world.


The first thing that strikes you about this novel is just how much of an expansive tale this is.  Much like Cat’s Cradle: Warhead, the setting is always changing location and time as we see the Hummingbird’s origins to his eventual defeat.  Once the story gets going around page ten it doesn’t stop for air as the Doctor continues to change his plans as he works out the mystery of the note Christian left him in 1994.  The story implements what the Third Doctor said about straight lines not being the most interesting way to get to two points as there are diversions that lead the Doctor astray.  Now this would normally be a problem in a story, but they do eventually come together and tie back into the plot.  They also allow Orman to explore the character of Ace and Bernice as she switches to other people’s perspectives at different times.  Explore she does as we really get inside the companions’ heads as they are both put through a ringer psychologically from hallucinations to violent outbursts.  Orman also puts in some great comedic moments between the Doctor, Ace and Benny, my favorite being when the Doctor calls for a conference which brings up images of the three of them huddling together while Christian looks on in confusion.


The villain of this piece is the titular Hummingbird who much like the titular character in Dracula doesn’t really appear much until the end of the novel, but his presence is felt.  This is especially in apparent during the sequences taking place in the time of the Aztecs.  The climax where he is defeated is also great as the tension is ramped up and the setting is shifted to the Titanic on that night in April when it was sunk.  Christian is also a really good supporting character as you see him grow and shrink when we meet him at different points in his time stream.


If I had to complain about this novel is that the constant changing perspectives can be extremely confusing especially when it happens in the middle of a page.  The other supporting characters are a bit bland with the exception of Lieutenant Macbeth who ends up capturing and torturing the Doctor for information and tying into the plot.  Macbeth is where most of Orman’s energy went when writing the novel’s middle sections.  To summarize The Left-Handed Hummingbird is an amazing novel with a near perfect blend of comedy and drama with some great tension and character interaction that falls flat with its supporting characters and has a few too many diversions within its plot.  90/100

Monday, January 18, 2016

Delta and the Bannermen by: Malcolm Kholl directed by: Chris Clough: Not the Bees!

Delta and the Bannermen stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel Bush with Belinda Mayne as Delta, Don Henderson as Gavrok and Sara Griffiths as Ray.  It was written by Malcolm Kholl, directed by Chris Clough, with Andrew Cartmel as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  The story was broadcast on Mondays in three weekly parts from the 2nd to the 9th November 1987 on BBC One.


This is the twenty-fifth worst story as voted on in the 2014 Doctor Who Magazine Poll and I would argue that it deserves to be even lower than that.  The story, even though it is just a three part story, has some extreme padding with a cast of ten plus at least thirty extras that could be cut in half to be a cast of five main characters with maybe fifteen extras.  Malcolm Kholl does not know how to write for characters as he is trying to make this a space opera and a love story, but to do both of those things you need to be able to do one thing, make the characters interesting so we can understand their motivations.  The characters here are as dull as a lead pipe.  They also don’t act rationally throughout the entire story with the exception of Bonnie Langford as Mel who actually is pretty decent in this story.  You know that something is wrong when Mel is the best character in your story.  Sylvester McCoy is obviously trying his hardest in this story, but the Doctor doesn’t do anything in this story except pop in to remind you that he is in the story.  While that may seem like it’s like one of the Virgin New Adventures, what the novels do is make the Doctor be doing stuff behind the scenes while here he is doing nothing except near the end of Part Two where he gets a great speech just before the cliffhanger.


Now I said that this story was trying to be a love story, which occurs between Delta, who is basically a humanoid alien bee, and Billy a biker from the 1950s.  While that is a weird pairing it could easily work if there was good chemistry.  Sadly Belinda Mayne and David Kinder look like two children in a school play who don’t know the first thing about acting.  The romance isn’t helped by the script which has them glance at each other and suddenly they have fallen in love.  What makes the romance worse is that Billy eats some magic alien bee juice to turn him into one of the Chimeron’s so he can get in bed with Delta.  The romance also doesn’t work for the reason of what we know about the Chimeron life cycle is that every 24 hours they gain about ten years on their life, making Delta about two days old.  Yes Billy is shortening his life by several decades to be with a woman whom he’s met for a day and will die in about a week.  But it wouldn’t be a romance story without a really forced love triangle and the third wheel is Ray, Billy’s childhood friend who is obviously smitten with the man for no real reason.  Sara Griffiths is trying her hardest to come across as vulnerable, but it just doesn’t work as the script is too weak to actually carry a love triangle.  It also turns out that Ray would have become a companion even though outside of the forced triangle she doesn’t do much within the story.


The story is also trying to be an action space opera with the evil Bannermen, who are not a real threat, as led by the insidious Gavrok.  Gavrok is a really boring villain who is just evil for evil’s sake.  He is trying to commit genocide but doesn’t have any motivation to do so that is stated on screen as we are told that he is evil.  He is played by Don Henderson who cannot act his way out of a paper bag.  He is just mugging for the camera and oddly delivering his lines.  The Bannermen are also extremely awful as in the way; to intimidate you by sticking their tongues out and hissing which isn’t intimidating.  Also with these villains there is a ton of mood whiplash where you have the tone being all comedic and suddenly half the cast is blown up near the end of Part Two.


Now there are also four or five other characters who are extremely boring and really are there to get from Point A to Point B in the story.  There are two Americans who do nothing, a Beekeeper who acts all mysterious but is just a way for Malcolm Kholl to be pretentious, the bus driver who is annoying, and a toll master who has a grading voice.  All these people are awful as the story keeps shifting locations with different characters at different places which can be cut out completely and you won’t really miss anything.


The direction for this serial was done by Chris Clough who did five other stories in the late 1980s.  Sadly this is not one of his best direction efforts as he can’t seem to work around some of the tiny sets making some of the actors look like they don’t have good peripheral vision and some of the shots look really badly put together.  He also doesn’t know where to put music correctly as at points the music is way too comical causing some of the crazy mood whiplash.


To summarize Delta and the Bannermen is a story that fails in almost every aspect with stupid ideas and a really weak script with bad actors and the only positive performance is the character of Mel Bush.  It doesn’t even hold up on a so bad that it is good level. 10/100

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Dimension Riders by: Daniel Blythe: Excuse the Muddle, Creative Disarray You Know

I’m going to start this review off by asking you to take a quick look at the cover of this novel.  Now it depicts the Doctor intently examining a chess game between two skeletons, possibly even manipulating the way the game turns out, but the thing about that is that event doesn’t really happen in the novel.  There are skeletons playing chess, but they are dead as doornails and the Doctor just gives them a passing glance.  They have absolutely no more significance than the other skeletons in the scene and they don’t have nearly as much to do with the overarching plot of the novel.  They don’t even tie into the arc that this novel is supposed to be a part of.  The novel is actually about two plots, one in the twentieth century in Cambridge and the other in the far future on a Space Station where everyone has died.  From these two plots the story basically becomes a rip off of the infamous incomplete Tom Baker story Shada.  Both stories have large portions at Cambridge, a book that is dangerous, people who reveal themselves to be Time Lords, a robot used for comic relief, a companion who doesn’t understand the time period and even an old professor with short term memory loss, who has large connections with the Doctor.  But instead of having Douglas Adams’s wit and charm imbued through every page, The Dimension Riders has any sort of humor sucked out of the novel and the changes to the basic plot that Blythe made have the awful habit of being really boring.


Blythe also decides to step away from other Virgin New Adventures and makes his story a more traditional one instead of being a bit more experimental.  That actually makes the novel a bit of a fresh change bringing the story back to basics even though he is blatantly ripping off Shada, but the traditional feel is enough to make the novel at least average for most readers.  Blythe pulls this off most when he is writing for the characters.  This time there is no real master plan that the Doctor is trying to pull off and he is here to save the day, and while I love it when the Seventh Doctor is the manipulator, it’s great to get an experience where he is just helping out people in need and trying to unravel a mystery.  Ace is also great here as she has great chemistry with everyone even with her more hardened personality.  Her banter with the Doctor and Bernice is really quite good and she acts a lot more sensible here than in some other novels.  The regular that got the best treatment however was Benny.  It’s almost comedic on how in my review of Blood Heat I complained about a lack of Benny, while here she is the best thing about this novel.  She gets some great one-liners and is just as good as she was in Birthright as she wants to learn about the twentieth century.  Every scene she is in oozes charisma and I tip my hat off to Blythe for what he did with her.  Blythe does an alright job of continuing the arc by giving us a glimpse of mysterious figures manipulating events at the beginning and ending and referencing the events of Blood Heat.


With all that said the supporting characters are extremely dull and are pale in comparison to the Shada characters for the exception of Amanda.  Amanda is a Gallifreyan android who is working for the President who is the Time Lord in charge of St. Matthew’s College at Oxford.  That said she still feels out of place.  The villains are extremely boring as well and they don’t really feel like a credible threat.


To summarize, The Dimension Riders is a novel that is a pale rewrite of Douglas Adams’s Shada which has the problems of a weak villain, a misleading cover, and an extreme lack of humor.  However it does succeed in the characterization of the Doctor, Ace and Benny and keeping the feel of the story back to a traditional story for a breath of fresh air.  Still if you take a look at the subtitle of this review you will see exactly what this story is.  45/100

January Update #1: Upcoming Schedule

So for the last two months I have been able to make it through nineteen Virgin New Adventures, two Novel Adaptations and the 2015 Christmas Special.  While I am happy with the output I am currently putting out, I'd like it to be a bit more varied in terms of medium.  The reviews of the novels will remain my main focus, but after reading the last episode ranking done by Doctor Who Magazine I'd like to take a look at the top and bottom stories, give them a viewing and review them.  Those reviews will alternate one of the quote on quote worst stories followed by one of the quote on quote best stories.  There will be a total of fifty reviews, with twenty-five being the worst stories and the other twenty-five being the best stories.  The only one on that list I may do out of order is Human Nature/The Family of Blood which will happen when I read the novel Human Nature  The timing of these reviews may not be very consistent, but I will try to do one of the worst and one of the best per week.

Next up is the novel reviews.  For the month of January they have been going a bit slower than November and December, mainly due to a busy schedule.  The speed of these reviews should begin to speed up a bit now and I am already nearly through The Dimension Riders.  After that my goal is to be up to Legacy by the end of January and have started the Virgin Missing Adventures by the end of February.  That depends on my schedule and anything unforeseen coming up.  I also hope to eventually branch out into other reviews of things non Doctor Who related

Below is the tentative schedule for everything until the end of February:

Jan. 17-23
The Dimension Riders
Delta and the Bannermen
The Five Doctors
The Left Handed-Hummingbird

Jan. 24-30
No Future
Four to Doomsday
Tragedy Day

Jan. 31-Feb 6
Theatre of War (novel)
Theatre of War (audio)
The Web Planet
The Tomb of the Cybermen

Feb 7-13
All-Consuming Fire (novel)
Love and Monsters
All-Consuming Fire (audio)
The Ark in Space
Blood Harvest

Feb 14-20
Goth Opera
Arc of Infinity
Strange England
The Deadly Assassin

Feb 21-27
First Frontier
The Time Monster
St. Anthony's Fire
The Seeds of Doom

Feb 28-March 5
Venusian Lullaby
Falls the Shadow
The Horns of Nimon
The Crystal Bucephalus
The Power of the Daleks

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Blood Heat by: Jim Mortimore: The Other Way

The Silurians have always been an odd villain for me as I really like Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils, but I agree with the opinion that Warriors of the Deep is an awful story.  When they returned in the New Series I felt that while I enjoyed The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, I found it to be a rehash of Doctor Who and the Silurians.  That, along with the new series redesign, is the real problem I have with these characters as the types of stories that you can tell are limited.  So Blood Heat by Jim Mortimore, on the surface looks like it would be another rehash and it is, but it is able to add enough onto the story type to keep it fresh in the same vain as Jonathan Morris’s Bloodtide.


The story sees the TARDIS being dragged into a parallel universe where the difference is that the Doctor died during the events of Doctor Who and the Silurians.  They land twentyish years later after Benny is dragged out of the TARDIS and the TARDIS is lost into a tar pit to find that the Silurians have become the dominant species.  The Doctor and Ace of course meet up with the human survivors to take out the Silurians even though the Doctor wants peace.  So you can see the similarities with the original Silurian story, but the further in you get the more interesting the story gets as Mortimore vividly characterizes the alternate versions of famous characters.


First is Jo Grant who has fallen in love, had a child and become an errand girl for the resistance.  While there isn’t much of Jo in the novel, what we do see is a woman in complete despair as she goes through hell before being murdered for information.  Next we have Liz Shaw who is mainly unchanged to her television counterpart except once the Doctor died her morality began to reflect his even more than before.  She is the one who tries to be a conscience among the madness of this new world.  Her initial interactions with the Doctor are extremely bittersweet as the Seventh Doctor actually shows some human emotion at seeing an old friend pushed to the brink.  Third we have Sergeant Benton who on television was a bit of a dope always but now he doesn’t care if the Silurians die, as long as the human race is allowed to survive.  Finally we have the Brigadier, who without the Doctor has lost his moral conscience and has fallen into insanity.  He is ready to commit genocide to protect himself, going so far as to killing Jo Grant for destructor codes.  Yet you can still see that he is the Brigadier we know by the end as the impression Mortimore writes is that he wants the Doctor to stop him.


Mortimore also does some interesting things with the Silurians.  The society’s division is nonexistent as they are led by Morka, the Silurian who was in control by the end of Doctor Who and the Silurians.  What is great about this is that we see Morka’s regret at killing the Doctor and you find out how much he actually wants peace with the humans but is unable to do so.  While initially the Silurians are villains, by the end of it the tables have turned and it’s the Brigadier who needs to be taken down.  The rest of the supporting cast however aren’t nearly as in depth as I barely remember minus two characters.


The Doctor, Ace and Benny are also brilliant in the novel.  First the Doctor gets some great moments as he has to formulate plans and get it out to Ace without letting the Brigadier know.  He also shows genuine sadness when he sees what happened to his old friends.  Secondly Ace is probably given her best portrayal since Deceit as she feels more like the Ace we know.  She gets her own subplot where she gets to reunite with Manisha who in this universe is still alive and helping with the research for the effort against the Silurians.  She also is paired up with a man called Alan who gives her a great relationship until it is brought to a swift end.  Her sections of then novel are the best bits of the story with some heavy suspense and real joy for once.  Finally we come to Benny.  Now I’ve complained in past reviews about how Benny isn’t used to her fullest potential and it happens again in this novel.  Basically she becomes a plot device and really doesn’t have much impact except for some light relief.


The only other real problem with the novel is that the plot wraps up with peace happening, but the Doctor destroying the Alternate Universe with a Time Ram in the same way The Time Monster concluded which you can see from a mile away.


To summarize, Blood Heat succeeds at evolving a pretty standard plotline above itself by raising the stakes and changing up the characters enough to keep things interesting, while it fails by having a rather bland supporting cast outside of people who have doubles in our universe and eventually wraps up with a bit of a deus ex machina those who have seen The Time Monster will have already seen.  I give it 80/100.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Iceberg by: David Banks: Tin Man, You Do Have A Heart

Now I don’t think I’m the only fan who thinks that on television the Cybermen have been dreadfully underused.  From their emotions in Revenge of the Cybermen to their shoehorning into Silver Nemesis, the metal monsters from Mondas really don’t get the respect they deserve.  The shame in this is because of how ingenious they are as an idea as humanity stripped of all emotions and left as cold creatures reliant on logic to survive.  Once I figured out that Iceberg would be a Cybermen story I got really excited considering the author is Cyberleader actor David Banks who had written reference books on the Cybermen which were acclaimed by critics.  I remained optimistic and even with the optimism I was genuinely impressed with how good the story turned out to be.


Iceberg involves the Doctor finding Cyber tombs on Earth near the base where The Tenth Planet took place.  Not only that, but the Cybermen have been waiting for twenty years to invade after the failed invasion attempt in The Invasion because without a successful invasion they are going to die out.  This novel basically takes all the problems of Revenge of the Cybermen and turns them into strengths and truly showing what a force to be reckoned with the Cybermen can be when written properly.  This becomes especially apparent when Banks describes the conversion process in all its gory glory.  He knows just how much to leave to the imagination by allowing the dismembered corpses to force our protagonist Ruby, who has shown herself to be strong willed and stomached, to vomit not once, not twice, but thrice in the face of the devastation around her.  Banks also does a good job when it comes to the exposition to place this story within the Cybermen’s timeline.  For them they’ve only seen the Doctor in The Tenth Planet, The Wheel in Space and The Invasion, three stories where he never really confronts them so they only know the Doctor as the frail old man from The Tenth Planet.  This fills in the gaps by creating the Cybercontroller, establishing the search for a place to create a tomb, and even showing how they know who each regeneration of the Doctor is and how they get their weakness to gold.  They’re done extremely well as they jump off the page and make the novel a really exhilarating read.  The Cybermen actually come across as humans who have had their emotions stripped away for once and act accordingly.


Banks also tackles the Seventh Doctor with aplomb as here he goes to the SS Elysium, the ship where some of the story takes place, as a way to take a vacation from the previous novels.  He has become almost a tired old man and needs to rethink his life and if he is justified in what he does.  He escapes the TARDIS in the Jade Pagoda which is a sort of escape pod, which explains his absence from the story Birthright.  This of course leads to Ace and Benny being absent from the novel and instead we get the character of investigative journalist Ruby Duvall.  Ruby is like a mix between Sarah Jane Smith and Liz Shaw two of the show’s greatest companions going however far she can for a story and using logic to get through the crazy situations the novel puts her in.  She also has an extremely fleshed out backstory and the story has her work through her issues against her disabled father.  It’s really interesting seeing that type of arc happen without having Ruby’s father present for the events.  Banks also uses the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz to be an archetype for the way she deals with things allowing a lot of parallels between the two stories.


Now that the companion is out of the way on to the supporting cast of the novel with is extremely large.  There are two main parties, the military stationed at the FLIPback machine, which is set to save the world following in the footsteps of the Snowcap base in The Tenth Planet, and the rich vacationers on the SS Elysium.  Going through the SS Elysium is the easiest as they have the least amount of development.  There are three characters of note in that cast.  First we have Mike Brack who is a famous sculptor who caused the injury of Ruby’s father.  The only thing of note for him is that he is a jerk and is used as a red herring throughout the novel which anyone can tell is just a red herring.  Agatha Christe David Banks is not.  The other two characters are Diana and Leslie who are two actors on the ship in a production of The Wizard of Oz and become friends of Ruby.  They make a great double act and get some humor to go along with.  On the base, firstly we have General Pam Cutler, daughter of the General Cutler from The Tenth Planet, who is just as no nonsense as her father but doesn’t fall into the same emotional traps.  Her personnel are also varied from the sex-crazed couple to her no nonsense second in command they all have something to contribute to the story.


Now with all of this praise you would think there was nothing wrong with this novel, which is entirely wrong.  The novel is approximately two hundred fifty-three pages which is a reasonable amount for this type of story.  Now once the Doctor appears on the SS Elysium in the story the novel becomes a really quick read, but the Doctor doesn’t appear on the ship until one hundred ten pages into the novel excluding the front page and table of contents.  The same things happen with the Cybermen other than some monologues from the Cyber Planner.  The first pages do introduce the characters and it works well with Ruby and those on the ship but not for those on the base.  It is the single element which causes the story to not be perfection and because of that I’m forced to drop the story from 100/100 down to 85/100.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Birthright by: Nigel Robinson: I Crossed the Void Beyond the Mind

Looking at the cover for Birthright I was immediately apprehensive as the author was Nigel Robinson, who previously wrote the lackluster Timewyrm: Apocalypse which I found a really generic tale.  I also knew that the novel barely featured the Doctor making this the first real Doctor-lite story of the series which are a mixed bag in terms of quality so my apprehension should be understandable.  As with most of my apprehensions of Virgin New Adventures, my apprehensions of Birthright were wrong as the novel is definitely the best novel since Deceit, probably since Love and War.  This is mainly down to the focus of the novel being placed on Benny instead of Ace.  Now I love Ace, she’s my favorite companion of the series, but her character post Deceit isn’t very good when it comes to having to relate to the audience.  It is a fascinating characterization to see her hardened and pushed to her limits through fighting Daleks, but the problem is that she isn’t as relatable as she was in the TV series.  Benny on the other hand is a lot more relatable as her backstory has her hardened by the Daleks, but that has turned her into a sarcastic genius professor who is just a fun character.  Here she is thrown into London in 1909 with the TARDIS seemingly dead and she has to figure out what happened and what’s with the murders of young prostitutes that have been going on four six months.  These are the best portions of the books by far with Benny fending for herself while being surrounded by death and betrayal.  The final part of the novel also focuses on Benny where we get a surreal experience where she defeats the villain.  The novel is jam packed with characters that Benny interacts with amazingly well especially Russian Private Investigator Popov who is a joy to read about as he has a tragic backstory and is in London because of the Doctor.


Yes the Doctor, while not physically in the novel bar a flashback near the beginning of the story and when he returns at the end, makes his presence known as there are references to a John Smith and how he has this bank account which Benny uses to store the Time Vector Generator as one of five cosigners (the others being Susan, Sarah Jane, Mel, and Victoria).  Heck he even saves Barbara Wright’s grandfather and pushes Ben Jackson’s father towards Benny for help, all without being seen.  You can see him moving the chess pieces from behind the curtain as the plot thickens.  Almost everyone Benny comes across have been contacted by the Doctor to nudge Benny in the right direction which includes the Prime Minister who bails her out of prison.  The novel also features Muldwych who is a mysterious time traveler marooned on the planet Antykhon where the novel’s villains live as the planet dies around them.  Muldwych is a hermit who never gives his true identity, but theories are that he may be K’Anpo from Planet of the Spiders, but I think he may be the Merlin incarnation of the Doctor as referenced in Battlefield.  He is just as crafty as the Doctor is, convincing the Queen of the Charrl to find a way to Earth in the past so he can get the TARDIS.


And on that note, let’s discuss the Charrl who are a sympathetic species of insects who act as the story’s villains as they want to claim the Earth as their own planet, taking it away from humanity by any means necessary.  They go so far as to recruit a human who eventually is absorbed into the TARDIS becoming an even greater threat to the universe which allows for the surreal sequence in Part Four.  My only gripe with them is that the Charrl contradict their own morals at points in the novels.  That isn’t my only gripe with the novel however as Part Two is the weakest portion of the novel.  It focuses on Ace on Antykhon who has gotten herself into a group of rebel humans going against the Charrl to reclaim their planet.  Ace has to take command to defeat them, but the problem I have with this is that Ace eventually makes an alliance with the Charrl.  This is really out of character as she should have noticed that the Charrl can’t be trusted by some of their actions they commit in the other portions of the novel.  I think that Ace’s section could have done with a few more pages so that Robinson could get her back to Earth easier than what eventually would happen in the novel.  Also the division of the Parts is a bit odd with Part One being the first half of the novel, Parts Two and Three taking about one-eighth of the novel each and Part Four taking up the last quarter of the novel.  Honestly it would have worked better if Part Two and Three were combined and Part Four became Part Three.


Even with these flaws Birthright is one of the best novels I’ve read from the Virgin New Adventures Line with an extremely engaging story that allows Benny to get another novel to shine off her great character while the Doctor is nowhere to be seen.  With that said I would have to score it a 92/100 as there are a few flaws that bring down the novel’s quality.