Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Life Bringer! by: Steve Moore with art by: Dave Gibbons

The Life Bringer! is written by Steve Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.  It was released in Doctor Who Monthly issues 49-50 (February-March 1981) and is reprinted in its original form in Doctor Who: Dragon’s Claw by Panini Books.

As I near the end of Steve Moore’s run on the Doctor Who Monthly comics, I can’t help but wonder just where this idea came from.  The Life Bringer! is a two issue comic that has the Doctor arrive on Earth and find the literal Titan Prometheus chained up in punishment for giving humanity fire.  This comic decides to make bits of Greek mythology canon to the Doctor Who universe with the Greek gods as immortal aliens on Olympus responsible for life on several planets.  There are several questions raised by this comic that don’t get the answers, but lead to some interesting theories.  These gods could easily be Eternals, or the race in Ghost Light, or just a weird fever dream of the Doctor’s.  The plot itself has the Doctor bring Prometheus home to Olympus and wander around for a bit, convincing Zeus that maybe he should create more life in the universe, angering the head god, and then leaving.  In the Stripped for Action documentary for the Fourth Doctor it was mentioned that at one point the panels were drawn before a plot was thought up, and I can’t help but speculate if this was one of those stories.  The plot itself is almost non-existent and incredibly basic.  It’s a real step down from stories like Doctor Who and the Time Witch and Dreamers of Death, which worked well with a shorter format.  Here very little actually happens outside of the implication that the gods are responsible for evolution and some generic action sequences.

Moore does take a chance to subtly reference several Greek myths throughout, including their contradictory nature.  Both Apollo and Helios are mentioned as characters, with the latter appearing with Selene, noting the two as separate deities for the sun.  There’s also some interesting reactions to K9, who features as companion, as these gods don’t have this type of technology, yet still have spaceships.  It is an odd contradiction between having an ancient society with advanced technology shown to be of the same ‘modern’ type as the design of K9, but being unable to recognize it when they see it.  While this isn’t a large detail in the story, it jumps right out at the reader due to the incredibly short and basic nature of this installment.  The big problem is that there just isn’t enough time to properly explore this type of premise in the allotted page count, and the story suffers greatly because of that.  As always Dave Gibbons provides his excellent artwork to the strip, with an interesting interpretation of the Fourth Doctor’s Season 18 costume and some interesting melding of designs for Olympus.

Overall, however, The Life Bringer! just falls apart as a story due to being restrained while doing a potentially interesting premise.  It’s not among the worst of Doctor Who, but is just kind of dull overall making for a bland experience.  4/10.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Deep Blue by: Mark Morris

It is clear from his second novel Mark Morris has a great love for the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who and what is often referred to as the UNIT Family.  Deep Blue is a Past Doctor Adventure taking place right in the middle of the Jon Pertwee era, not long after the events of The Green Death, and serves as a reflection on just what that group’s dynamic was.  Like David A. McIntee’s The Face of the Enemy, Deep Blue removes the Third Doctor from events allowing UNIT to function on their own.  Unlike that novel, this one does include a TARDIS team, but this time the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough, after the events of Warriors of the Deep.  The most effective aspect of Deep Blue is the Fifth Doctor, whom Morris characterizes excellently.  He is giving his companions a holiday after their recent dark experiences and immediately is embroiled in the mystery of a small seaside town where murders and UFO sightings have brought in UNIT.  There’s that sense of optimism of the situation which the Doctor just exudes, as he knows he is going to save the town and is faced with a ghost from his past.  Morris understates the reaction of the Doctor to Mike Yates, pre betrayal and redemption in Season 11, and reaffirms thoughts that he is overall a good man.  Morris also embodies this Doctor as the one who could save the world with a cricket ball and some string as a future Doctor once said.  He uses his intelligence to solve the alien invasion of this small seaside town, which is highly engaging, and like the Third Doctor, eventually relies on diplomacy and finding that other way, mirroring the failure to do so in Warriors of the Deep.

Tegan Jovanka is also a character in this novel whom Morris spends quite a bit of time exploring, as he builds on the idea that she is slowly becoming fed up with the death and destruction that follows the Doctor around.  She’s become almost untrusting of the Doctor as he insists they need a holiday, and takes much of the early portion of the novel to get some fresh air where she meets PC Andy Weathers.  Andy is a police officer who meets Tegan in a bar in an oddly mundane situation for Doctor Who and they immediately hit it off.  It’s not an overly flirtatious relationship, but Morris writes it as two people getting to know each other and just maybe realizing the potential for something more than friendship.  As this is Doctor Who, and a story set during Season 21, Andy does have red shirt plastered over him, and Morris deals with this better than he could have.  His death still furthers Tegan’s motivations and the interactions she has with Mike Yates, who kills Andy as he is taken over by the alien force in this novel.  Yates did this when backed into a corner, Andy had been transformed into a Xaranti and would have killed them both, infecting Tegan in the process.

The idea of alien infection is nothing new to Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom and The Ark in Space had characters transformed painfully into aliens, and Morris’ Xaranti are perhaps one of the novel’s weaker elements.  The Xaranti are highly derivative of the Wirrn from The Ark in Space, something that Morris lampshades near the end of the novel, and outside of being more like scorpions than the insectoid Wirrn, have little to distinguish them.  They have a queen and hive mind which controls them, they infect people who are slowly turned into them, and the infection begins subtly at first before cocooning them and having their new forms burst out.  The only differentiation between the Wirrn is the plot point that the Doctor can find a cure for the infection, making the last fifty or so pages feel like a retelling of the end of Doctor Who and the Silurians.  The slow burn of the pace makes this novel feel like it’s following a disease outbreak which tonally distinguishes it from The Ark in Space enough to recover some of the quality that the book is lacking.  Morris also allows several familiar characters including Tegan, the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, and the Doctor to all be infected which is interesting enough.  Overall, Deep Blue suffers from being a highly derivative novel, taking from other Doctor Who stories which hold it back from being an all time classic novel.  As it stands, it is a good read and a decent way to spend some time if you’re a fan of the Fifth Doctor or the UNIT Family.  7/10.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Baptism of Fire by: Andrzej Sapkowski translated by: David French

There is something important to be said about writing dramatic fallout in one’s story after various events.  Building up to a tense moment and allowing everything to regroup and react is important, but in The Witcher Andrzej Sapkowski’s third book in the saga proper is dedicated almost entirely to the fallout from The Time of Contempt.  This makes Baptism of Fire an interesting novel as it doesn’t really have its own plot, but just deals with many of the dangling threads left by the destruction of the Chapter and Council and Vilgefortz’s machinations in the previous novel.  Geralt’s largest actions in this book are essentially searching for Ciri (eventually building a company and tagging along with another company) and getting himself knighted so his actual title would be Geralt of Rivia.  This is the first book where we get concrete confirmation that Geralt of Rivia was a title chosen by the witcher when he was young, one that was originally much longer and more pretentious, but shortened after Vesemir mentioned just how silly it sounded.  It’s this small little insight into Geralt’s youth which almost humanizes the rather inhuman character, showing that he initially had an almost smug sense of self-importance.

Baptism of Fire’s character development for Geralt is also interesting as Sapkowski once again reflects on what it means to be a monster and what it means to be evil in this universe.  Cahir aep Caellach is a somewhat minor supporting character who featured in the two previous novels where he was sent by the Nilfgaardian Empire to find Ciri, failed, was imprisoned, and given a second chance.  It is in this novel where he joins Geralt’s company and is spared a painful death due to Geralt’s mercy.  Cahir is a character whom Sapkowski attempts to give some sort of redemption, being forced to see the corruption of the Nilfgaardian Empire and reform his own ways.  The redemption begins here as he did have a large part in the destruction of Cintra and now almost wants to find Ciri in a way to repay his own debt.  It only took him being taken prisoner, tied, gagged, and carried around in a coffin for several days.  Yeah, this book somehow makes something as absurd as that sounds work incredibly well.  There is a large portion of the plot taken up in this village which believes that it is hunted by a vampire, yet as Geralt quickly deduces it is not.  The book is a travel book as Geralt is travelling with Milva (an archer from the previous novel who ended up following Geralt), Dandelion, and the company of dwarf Zoltan Chivay.  Chivay is this odd mixture of comic relief and dead seriousness which works incredibly well with Dandelion’s more permanent position as series comic relief.  His company also works as this ragtag band of humans and non-humans alike attempting to overcome the adversity of Nilfgaard’s invasion.

The most interesting character is Regis (full name Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy) who is a high vampire, one that does not need blood to survive and has sworn off consumption of blood.  He is characterized almost as a reformed addict, only becoming addicted due to social pressures of higher vampires believing themselves superior enough to partake in blood.  By every definition of the word, Regis should be considered a monster, yet throughout the book he is constantly showing a sense of nobility.  Regis rescues Geralt and Dandelion from their capture and tends to the wounds of the wounded characters.  Sapkowski uses him to expand on a theme which has often been explored in these types of stories, but adds to it by questioning if Regis can truly be redeemed.  He is not currently a monster, but he was one in the past and there is a question if he can ever truly make up for it.  The road to redemption could be under Regis’ feet, or he could be due for another relapse.  He and Geralt also interact at an interesting level, as Geralt attempts to make him flee (subtly promising that there wouldn’t be a contract for him that anyone could afford to pay).  Yet, he doesn’t stay away for long, coming back due to a sense of morality which binds him to this party.

Outside of this plotline, there is quite a bit happening in the background to build intrigue for future installments.  Ciri’s plotline, while not the most interesting, does further an idea of her losing her morality as she begins to taste killing, living up to the name of Falka given to her by the Rats.  She only appears a few times in the book, with more time spent on the false Ciri whom Emperor Emhyr var Emries planned to marry.  There are a lot of political machinations as var Emries attempts to find the real Ciri one final time as he demands an heir with the Elder Blood.  The political machinations increase with the surviving sorceresses including Yennifer and Triss Merigold setting themselves up as a new order, after the old order’s destruction in The Time of Contempt.  Overall, Baptism of Fire is very much a transitory novel, moving away from the status quo of the first two novels and towards what Sapkowski is attempting in the final two volumes.  Though transitory, it is an incredibly enjoyable through David French’s excellent translation and working as a moment for reflection on the series thus far.  9/10.