Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Death of Art by: Simon Bucher-Jones - A Re-Review

There is often a reason as to why I decide to give a novel a second look and a second chance at review.  Often it’s because I’ve heard other’s opinions and perhaps felt I was a bit too harsh or the review perhaps wasn’t one of my best pieces of writing, but this time we have a re-review that is something different.  The Death of Art is the fifty-fourth New Adventure and the only New Adventure by one Simon Bucher-Jones and as far as I know the only book review of mine which has been seen by the author himself, so hi Simon, I hope you’re reading and if you don’t like this I can look forward to some excellent remarks about envy, my male member, and my perceived age from your followers.  Yes, The Death of Art is the only review where I actually got quite a bit of pushback, and with a low, low score of a 2/10 equivalent and a continuous accidental referral to the author as Butcher-Jones, I understand where the negative feeling comes from.  On reread, the author would be at least happy to know that I have found more to appreciate in The Death of Art even if the book on the whole is still incredibly flawed.  Bucher-Jones’s first novel’s largest issue is a writing style which is not only incredibly dense, but includes a story that perhaps isn’t suited to Doctor Who.  Often it is said that the Seventh Doctor is one who while not always being in the foreground has an always felt presence, and The Death of Art’s greatest misstep is failing to do this.  The Doctor is not present for much of the early portions of the novel and it really isn’t until the second half of the book where it actually feels like this is a Doctor Who book.

The dense style Bucher-Jones executes in The Death of Art gives the early portions of the novel an especially difficult pace, not helped by certain diversions in the plot which really don’t move things around.  The novel opens with a “Chapter 0” that is essentially a prologue in everything but name, and that chapter could easily be cut without losing anything.  Bucher-Jones’ book at its core is a mystery, but the actual mystery doesn’t have a real inciting incident until about 50 or 60 pages into the 276-page novel.  Once the mystery actually begins the writing style becomes more suitable to what the story is trying to do, reflecting mystery stories of the 1800s such as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue.  The setting of the novel is Victorian Paris which becomes incredibly evocative for the mysterious goings on with the Brotherhood of Imminent Flesh and a bridge in the Psi Powers arc of the book.  Bucher-Jones straddles two main villainous groups throughout the book, the Family and the Quoth.  The Quoth (as in quoth the raven nevermore) are one of those very New Adventures races with almighty power and their own dimensional plane of existence.  They are the weaker villains, being evocative in places of Ben Aaronovitch’s People from The Also People, done poorly.  Had Bucher-Jones cut the scenes in Quoth space perhaps he could have used them in a more Lovecraftian, cosmic horror sense, being an indescribable race trying to break into the universe proper.

The Family on the other hand work well as a threat, with Montague acting as the man in charge.  He is a toymaker who displays psychic powers, as many of the villains and supporting characters in this arc, and has become influenced by the Quoth.  Bucher-Jones writes an unsettling villain here and the rest of the Family and members of the Brotherhood are excellent.  The Shadow Directory is also an evocative aspect of the story though sadly not used to full effect here.  The Doctor and Chris also feel in their element as they investigate the mysterious goings on in Paris, revealed to be several instances of murder and conspiracy as the story goes on.  Roz sadly seems to fall into a more cliché portrayal here, with her plot of being kidnapped and shoved into the catacombs of Paris where she meets a blind man just feels out of place.  Overall, The Death of Art while definitely better than I initially gave it credit for, shows potential for Simon Bucher-Jones as an author but is utterly skippable and wedged between two greats (Return of the Living Dad and Damaged Goods). 4/10.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp by: Philip Martin directed by: Ron Jones

Mindwarp stars Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicola Bryant as Peri, Michael Jayston as the Valeyard, and Linda Bellingham as the Inquisitor with Brian Blessed as King Yrcanos, Nabil Shaban as Sil, and Christopher Ryan as Kiv.  It was written by: Philip Martin and directed by: Ron Jones, with Eric Saward as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 4 to 25 October 1986 on BBC1.

Attempting to pull together a fourteen-episode story arc for the 23rd season of Doctor Who was not a task without its pitfalls and dangers.  The longest story to this point had been The Daleks’ Master Plan, twenty years earlier and even then that was a story where the overall plot was written by Terry Nation, but the actual episodes were written by Nation and ex-script editor Dennis Spooner.  The decision was made by John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward to make The Trial of a Time Lord a story with four distinct segments which could easily be split between different writers with Robert Holmes penning the first four episodes.  The second block became Parts Five to Eight, was designated the production code 7B, and writing duties were given to Philip Martin who had written Vengeance on Varos for Season 22.  Martin provides the season with a return to the some of the ideas he didn’t explore in Vengeance on Varos, mainly the society of Mentors represented in that story by Nabil Shaban’s Sil.  The Mentors of Thoros Beta are set up as extreme capitalists, only caring about what can increase their own profits and allow the highest members of society to flourish and live longer.  The title of the story is Mindwarp, referring to the experiments being held to give the Lord Kiv’s consciousness a new body, as his mind is outgrowing his body.

Christopher Ryan’s turn as Kiv creates an incredibly slimy character who grasps onto his power at the top and becomes controlling of everyone around him.  Kiv as a character doesn’t get much backstory, and Martin doesn’t entirely explain just what he is a lord of, but it is clear that he and Sil are meant to represent the elite class on Thoros Beta.  Kiv has hired a team of surgeons who are tasked with finding him a new body, all while he is still working on expanding his own profits.  He even has a silent team of slaves which carry him and the other mentors around, with discrimination on those from Thoros Alpha being displayed at several points within the story.  He’s a character who plays with the lives of others and is totally uncaring as his motivation is to survive and make more money.  Nabil Shaban’s return to the role of Sil is equally as slimy, as unlike Vengeance on Varos where Sil was on top, Mindwarp casts him as the underling to Kiv.  Sil is duplicitous and scheming, and is ready to overthrow Kiv, and is really only held back by the fact that Kiv’s guards would kill him given the chance.  Being placed in the role of a henchman gives Shaban the chance to flex more comedic skills as Sil is constantly perplexed and has all of his plans circumvented, walking on eggshells metaphorically as he really can’t do anything to save Kiv.

The surgeon brought in to attempt to save Kiv is Crozier played by Patrick Ryecart.  Ryecart is an actor most well known for comedic roles, however, here he gives a fairly dramatic turn as the surgeon.  The performance is tinged with minor moments of insanity, giving the character an undertone of a mad scientist, motivated by the perfecting of his ability to transfer the conscious mind of one into the empty mind of another.  He’s essentially on the search for immortality and Kiv is his prime suspect.  Ryecart’s interactions with the Doctor in particular show some depth to the character, as he offers the Doctor every opportunity to find a suitable subject to use to transfer the Lord Kiv’s brain into.  Rounding out the guest cast is the eventual leader of the resistance Brian Blessed.  Yes.  Brian Blessed was in Doctor Who and it is just as over the top as you might expect.  Martin has given Blessed plenty of material to work with and of course his over the top style of acting is perfect.  Yrcanos of Krontep is a warlord with a real thirst for battle, with plenty of war cries and hilarious moments, but there are still some slight subtleties to the performance.  Blessed is a talented actor with range, even though he is typecast as the over the top shouty types.  While it isn’t enough to support the eventual reveal of Peri’s fate in The Ultimate Foe, Yrcanos is a fine character with an interesting dynamic to Peri.

Speaking of Peri, as this is Nicola Bryant’s last story, it is fitting that it has her best performance with Colin Baker.  Peri here is mostly in the background for the first half of Mindwarp, up until the Doctor seemingly switches sides and we see for the first time a Peri Brown who has had enough of the Doctor.  She no longer trusts him and had things gone differently there would be plenty of material to attempt to regain that trust.  Peri’s eventual fate is some of the darkest and most riveting material in Doctor Who and through Bryant’s performance, some fast paced direction from Ron Jones, and a look from Colin Baker, the final ten minutes of the final episode of Mindwarp are some of Doctor Who at its absolute best.  Martin’s script also serves the Doctor incredibly well, though this is mostly seen through the excellently integrated trial sequences.  The Doctor is convinced that what is being viewed has been altered, and that he doesn’t remember any of the events as they occur.  Of course this is denied by the Valeyard as the Matrix cannot be wrong.  Colin Baker is absolutely brilliant as both the confused Doctor and the darker version of the character seen in the events, and unlike The Twin Dilemma where he comes across as harsh, this is clearly an unhinged character.  On a final note Michael Jayston and Linda Bellingham serve as necessary narrators to events, Jayston’s Valeyard in particular being the clever one that gets the Doctor right into a position for him to lose the trial.  The Inquisitor’s defense of why Peri had to die is perfectly given by Bellingham as well, really defining the character who has appeared since in Big Finish’s Gallifrey spinoff series.  Overall, Mindwarp is the highlight of Season 23 and is perhaps Colin Baker’s best television outing, showing that even in these dark times Doctor Who still has life left.  10/10.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Millennium Shock by: Justin Richards

When it comes to writing novels there is something incredibly reliable about seeing the name Justin Richards in the author slot.  Richards is not an author to push the boundaries of Doctor Who storytelling or to completely shift the world to a different viewpoint, but he is one that knows how to tell a good story.  He’s a storyteller, content to entertain for a book and give you a good time with some fun characters so if you’re in charge of BBC Books and you have a book fall through so you need a backup, Justin Richards is a good person to turn to get a book out in a pinch.  It is these circumstances in which Millennium Shock was written, and to be honest Richards uses the limited time frame he had to write to his advantage.  The novel is a sequel to his Virgin Missing Adventure System Shock, opening the prologue with the epilogue to the previous book to give any first-time readers information of the previous novel they may need to know.  With the prologue out of the way the book itself is allowed to tell its own story, one that is similar in style but almost superior to System Shock as it uses its limited page count usefully and wisely.

Much like System Shock, Millennium Shock is a techno thriller dealing with the Voracians attempting to regain their position and re-poison the fledgling internet at the turn of the millennium.  As this is dealing with the turn of the millennium, Richards brings in real world fears about the Y2K bug which was predicted to cause widespread outages as computer coding wouldn’t be able to turn the year for the new millennium, as in many cases the year was shortened to the final two digits.  While in reality, very little actually came of the Y2K bug, but fictionalizing it into a tense setting and front for an alien invasion is excellent.  It creates an easy touchstone for the reader to grasp onto and explore some really fun character moments.  Richards fills the book with plenty of suspense as the Voracians are slowly converting people, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style to their own plot giving portions of the book not only a sense of heightened suspense, but also a sense of body horror as people are altered and lose their agency.  Their reptilian nature are also reflected in their tactics as the Voracians have slithered their way into influencing the British government and several other big British businesses.  This makes it incredibly difficult for the Doctor to get an upper hand as the Voracian force is able to turn the rest of the country against him.

Much of the second half of the novel sees the Doctor on the run with Harry Sullivan.  Yes, Richards brings Harry into proceedings this time around, using the older version of the character and setting this for the Doctor after The Deadly Assassin.  Richards uses Harry here to show just how much respect the Doctor has for the character.  On television Harry is most famous for his blunder in Revenge of the Cybermen, but the character is much more than that.  He’s working for MI5 and has matured as a person into showing that he does have a set of skills which are an asset to the Doctor in nearly every situation.  He’s also gotten a comfortable life for himself, with a housekeeper who the audience becomes attached to and several characters who are mutilated around him.  Harry almost appears here like an older, less witty, James Bond.  The Doctor is also  characterized excellently by Richards, feeling quite comfortable dealing with his old friend and with an old enemy.  Richards perfectly captures the alien nature of Tom Baker’s performance in the role and his absolutely manic energy is a highlight.  As this is post The Deadly Assassin the Doctor is just kind of wandering the universe in search of danger and literally materializes the TARDIS directly into trouble.  This first scene with the Doctor really shows where the character is and fits well with what he’s done.  Overall, Millennium Shock is an excellent piece of pulp fiction that somehow manages to be a near perfect Past Doctor Adventure, even when written on a time crunch.  9/10.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Shogun by: James Clavell

Historical fiction is not a genre which I often read, not for any adequate reason other than it doesn’t pique my interest.  The past of course can be just as fantastic and thought provoking of any fantasy or science fiction, so there really isn’t much of an excuse for my neglect of the genre as a whole, so when I was gifted Shogun by James Clavell I was intent on giving it a fair shake as an entry point into the genre.  This perhaps was a rather daunting task: clocking in at 1,300 pages Shogun can only accurately be described as a historic epic depicting the culture clash in seventeenth century Japan when British pilot Paul Blackthorne is marooned on the islands and forced to integrate into the culture.  Clavell has clearly done his research when it comes to the historic setting and he has implemented a plot which closely follows actual historical events, with some exaggeration and artistic license, yet on the whole things remain accurate.  This is especially impressive when you realize that the novel was released in 1975, meaning that there is a sheer amount of time spent ensuring that the details were correct.  This doesn’t mean that Clavell’s writing is perfect by any means, Shogun is a novel which suffers from going overboard on the epic nature of the story.  When you really start to examine the story contained in the 1,300 pages, you begin to notice some real flaws with the style that Clavell employs and the sense of flow from one event to the next.

What I mean here is that while Clavell follows Blackthorne as he is introduced to Japanese culture at the same time and pace as Blackthorne, learning the intrinsic details of how the culture functions, how foreigners are expected to behave, and various other cultural aspects.  The issue with this, however, is not the dense nature of the culture, but at several points in the novel where events and aspects of culture are repeated, or introduced when the focus is not on Blackthorne.  This gives these passages away from Blackthorne’s perspective to often seem unnecessary, even when they clearly aren’t for other events.  Removal of these non-diegetic explanations in many cases would not only assist in the flow of the novel, but also assist in bringing down the page count.  That isn’t to say the large amount of the book is too much of a problem: Shogun is a novel that tells an epic story about how a man is brought to the worst point in his life and has to find a way to survive in this foreign land.  Clavell should also be praised for presenting a nuanced look at the Japanese culture of the 1600s with regards to gender and sexual politics, religious politics, and their general stance on their place in the world.  A lesser author would automatically insert his own opinions on this culture in keeping with the cultural norms that they know, which Clavell avoids.  Generally, he allows the culture to speak for itself which assists in making Shogun work as a novel for a modern audience.

Where the novel excels is in its intense political and character drama.  Clavell uses Shogun to show just how people can overcome there preexisting notions of other cultures on all sides and really explores all of his players.  Overall, Shogun is a 1,300 page epic that’s merit can be easily digested and provides at least a riveting time.  It isn’t a book that would be suitable for everyone, though most will enjoy quite a lot of the plot and characters presented by Clavell, earning at least a look to see if it’s right for you.  8/10.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet by: Robert Holmes directed by: Nicholas Mallett

The Mysterious Planet stars Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicola Bryant as Peri, Michael Jayston as the Valeyard, and Linda Bellingham as the Inquisitor with Tony Selby as Sabalom Glitz and Joan Sims as Queen Katryca.  It was written by: Robert Holmes and directed by: Nicholas Mallett, with Eric Saward as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 6 to 27 September 1986 on BBC1.

The end of Season 22 brought several changes to the regime of Doctor Who.  Colin Baker’s first season in the role had enjoyed an average of 7.2 million weekly viewers, which was on par with the previous two seasons, but several complaints to the BBC about the violence and sexual content of the season, as well as Michael Grade’s disdain for the program which led to an eighteen month hiatus.  This hiatus would be the first visible death knell for the program, which would only enjoy four more seasons before the eventual 1989 cancellation.  This hiatus came at an inopportune time for producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward who had already planned Season 23, now being forced to abandon plans for a new four-story season totaling 14 twenty-five minute episodes.  As the show was on trial with the higher ups at the BBC, and as the originally planned Season 23 would go against the direction higher ups wished the show to pursue, Nathan-Turner and Saward devised The Trial of a Time Lord, a fourteen episode season where the Doctor would once again be put on trial, with three four-part stories making up the trial, and a final two-part finale closed the season under an umbrella title.  The Mysterious Planet is name given to the serial’s first story and was handed to veteran writer Robert Holmes.

Robert Holmes is my absolute favorite writer for Doctor Who, and the opinion at the time agreed with me, penning such classics as The Caves of Androzani, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Spearhead from Space, and The Deadly Assassin among others.  He was already on contract to contribute a three-part, 45 minute episode story featuring the Master, the Rani, and the Autons for Season 23 tentatively titled Yellow Fever and How to Cure It for Season 23, but when asked for a different script, Holmes returned to previous work for inspiration.  The Mysterious Planet is a story whose script is made up of several aspects of other stories Holmes wrote or script edited.  The idea of a robotic intelligence selecting those of high intelligence is straight from The Krotons, the idea of an artificial intelligence with a god complex and two factions with opposing levels of technology are from The Face of Evil, Glitz and Dibber are clearly a double act straight out of The Talons of Weng-Chiang or The Ribos Operation, and the idea of a Time Lord secret being hidden is from The Deadly Assassin.  Running a story of greatest hits sadly does not help set this story arc apart from the others and The Mysterious Planet is not one of Holmes’s best.  Luckily, as Holmes’s best are often the best stories in the show’s history, being below average for Holmes has a tendency to be above average for several other writers.

The plot deals with the Doctor being placed on trial with the Valeyard, played by Michael Jayston, serving as prosecutor, as the constant interference is “behavior unbecoming of a Time Lord”.  The story is told through the Valeyard’s testimony, a Matrix extract dealing with the Doctor’s interference on the planet Ravalox, which should be a wasteland, but has two distinct civilizations (one above and one underground) and unravelling a secret.  The eventual reveal is that Ravalox is in fact the planet Earth, millions of years in the future and moved from its regular orbit.  Holmes implies that the Time Lords could have something to do with this state of Earth, setting up an intended story arc throughout the trial that the evidence is being manipulated.  There is still the usual wit to be found with any of Holmes’ script, allowing the story to balance both light-hearted and heavy subject matter as the destruction of Earth is a dark idea, and the climax builds to the robot Drathro ready to allow the universe to be destroyed.  This plot, however, is a pretty standard story that has been done before, though here it is elevated by some interesting characters.  Of particular note, Tony Selby and Glen Murphy as Sabalom Glitz and Dibber respectively are a classic Holmes double act.  Selby in particular has excellent chemistry with both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, shining through a plot where in his nature as a rouge, he is attempting to steal secret information hidden on Ravalox about why the Earth was given this fate.

It really is the trilogy of Glitz, the Doctor, and Peri which elevate the Ravalox story in my eyes.  Every other performer either is too over the top to take the script seriously, or are performing in too much of an understated manner to really make the story memorable.  There’s a second double act of characters from the planet who are supposed to be funny, but come across as annoying.  Colin Baker is excellent with Nicola Bryant as both indicate that the Doctor and Peri have been travelling with each other for a while and have sparkling chemistry.  Where the character of the Doctor fails is the scenes in the courtroom.  The opening shot and introduction of the trial as a plot device work well enough and director Nicholas Mallett should be commended on the model work, but the constant cutting back and forth just gets in the way.  The pacing is off because of the interruptions and while Mallett is great at directing the Ravalox plot, the courtrooms scenes are uninspired, especially in the cliffhanger zooms which feel like a decree from on high.  The Valeyard and the Inquisitor are the only two characters with the Doctor in the courtroom scenes and while Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham are enjoyable, they are one-note here.  The Valeyard is a stereotypical villain and the Inquisitor is really just there as a mediator.  These scenes feel as if Holmes hadn’t been given the trial scenario until the very last minute.  Overall, The Mysterious Planet feels like a rushed production script wise, with some great performances making it at least worth a watch.  It begins a story arc and John Nathan-Turner’s desperate attempts to save the show, which at least were a success for a few years despite the BBC going against him.  6/10.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sky Pirates! by: Dave Stone - A Re-Review

Sometimes when you read a book things will just go over your head and perhaps you won’t appreciate what an author it attempting to do with a book.  Sky Pirates! is perhaps one of the Doctor Who novels which illustrates this fact perfectly.  In my initial review, I lambasted Dave Stone’s style of long and Tolkeinesque prose, however, on reread I found that many of my issues with the novel came down to my own impatience when reading.  Stone’s prose is lyrical in nature, full of incredibly dense paragraphs and many allusions and metaphors to classic literature which is all in aid of Stone’s major goal in this novel.  The point of Sky Pirates! is to tell a Doctor Who story that is examining the mythology of the show up until this point, partially reflecting on what the Virgin New Adventures had done with the Doctor and the Time Lords.  While I will admit this is something that Steve Lyons would later tackle to greater effect in Head Games, Stone’s own analysis is incredibly interesting and acts almost as precursor to Russell T. Davies’ era of Who and Big Finish’s Charley Pollard, web of time story arc.  There is this idea explored that the plot of this novel is all down to Time Lord conspiracy: Gallifrey has fought in several Time Wars in the past, and they will eventually fight one, mostly to stop species which have the potential to develop time travel.  There’s also a lot on the idea that Gallifrey influenced the universe’s evolution into mostly humanoid races.

This idea that the Time Lords interfere to stop people who may threaten their lordship was occasionally touched on in the classic series, but Stone expands it by including several hints that the Doctor’s own influence may be to blame for this.  There’s this metaphor introduced in the final third of the novel of how the idea of Zeus changed from Greece to Rome, from a brash and angry god to one that is lazy.  This feels very much like a reflection on the transition between the Sixth to the Seventh Doctor, especially when you take into account Season 24 and the development that the Seventh Doctor has undergone.  There is this idea that the Doctor has been waiting for his time to shine, planning in the shadows for some great final master plan.  Stone drops the ball on ever explaining just what this master plan may be, but it is implied to involve the Sloathes in some capacity.  Stone also pairs the Doctor with Benny for much of the novel which is an interesting pairing.  Benny in this book has a more comedic portrayal as Stone writes, not quite comic relief, but there are several moments and footnotes which are extracts from Benny reflecting back on the adventure in a large capacity.  Stone almost implies that Benny is narrating this book from some time after her travels with the Doctor, compiling gaps in her memory from historical records, but definitely put in the realm of fiction.

Sky Pirates! is also the first proper adventure for Adjudicators Chris and Roz who I initially criticized for being so different from their portrayal in Original Sin, and while it isn’t as strong, it is by no means a bad portrayal.  Stone does an excellent job of capturing the innocence of Chris Cwej’s character, still recovering from the body bepple from the previous novel, and shifting his own form at several points in the novel.  Roz on the other hand works just as well as the paranoid Adjudicator who takes absolutely no nonsense, and is of course placed in a situation where everything is nonsense.  The supporting characters are almost parodies of actual characters which allows Stone to set the tone for the book and integrate the copious footnotes into the text better than most.  At least once a chapter there is a footnote either dedicated to world building, giving some explanation to a character’s backstory, or even just telling a joke, which could easily have fallen flat, and only really works if you’re reading the book in print, but Stone does an excellent job of not overloading them.  Overall, Sky Pirates! is a novel which I initially disregarded as an overly long piece of writing that didn’t know it’s own good, but now I see it as a decent exploration of the VNAs as a whole.  7/10.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood by: Lara Parker

“My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning. A journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me and link my past with my future. A journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea, high atop Widows’ Hill. A house called Collinwood, a world I’ve never known, with people I’ve never met. People who tonight are still only shadows in my mind, but who will soon fill the days and nights of my tomorrows.”  This monologued opened the first episode of Dark Shadows on June 27, 1966, and fifty years later Lara Parker released her final novel to date.  This final novel finally tackles the story set out in this opening monologue.  As a soap opera, Dark Shadows’ plot strayed from its original premise within its first year, by the time vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced, and by the halfway point Victoria Winters was written out of the show, the audience no wiser to how her future linked with her past.  Heiress of Collinwood is the final Dark Shadows novel from Lara Parker and the one that is perhaps the most different from the others.  The first thing that strikes you about this novel is that it forgoes the third person limited perspective of the other three for the first-person perspective of the early opening monologues of the television show.  This aspect of the novel is a cue to the reader that this is going to be the story of Victoria Winters, not of Barnabas Collins and the rest of the Collins family.

This is perhaps a risky move from Parker as by the time Vicki left the show, she had been diminished in characterization to a complete background character.  She was given a romance with Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark from 1795/1796 and was sent back in time so the audience could say goodbye, and that is where Parker does start.  It is 1797 and Vicki is miserable.  She’s stuck in the past and while attracted to Peter Bradford, she’s realized just how rash she was.  The book opens with her once again being accused of witchcraft and hanged which Parker uses to bring her right back to the present, in the role of a reporter in Bangor, Maine.  She reports on grisly deaths and serial killers, living on her own, and not staying in contact with the Collins family.  She remembers her experiences at Collinwood and is hiding Barnabas’ own secret, not wishing to reveal that to the rest of the family until the inciting incident of the novel coaxes her back.  The Collins family barely appears in Heiress of Collinwood, this is Vicki’s story and nobody else’s.  The Collins family is missing, and in Elizabeth’s most recent will the Collins estate has been left to Victoria Winters under mysterious circumstances.  It is this which leads Vicki back to Collinwood to actually explore her past, as she needs to find her birth certificate to prove her identity.  This gives Parker a reason to explore the past and reveal that Vicki is in fact the daughter of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard at the book’s climax, and tying her in with later Dark Shadows lore.  The foundling home she was raised in was once owned by Ms. Charity Trask, Magda Rakosi was responsible for helping Elizabeth conceal her identity, and she turns out to be the first person who isn’t a reincarnation of Josette that Barnabas loves.

The only three returning characters in any notable capacity are Barnabas, Willie, and Maggie: Barnabas is still a vampire and is attempting to defeat an evil he sees lurking in the area, Willie has gone mad, and Maggie has become incredibly bitter.  Parker explores each of them excellently and uses this book to restore the status quo by the end and restore Vicki’s relationships with these characters.  Parker excels in introducing two main one-off characters in the Dark Shadows style of being played by the same actors.  Augustus Longstreet is a poor attorney who coaxes Vicki back to Collinsport, and is the spitting image of a Thayer David character, but not the charming type.  Longstreet is the more uncomfortable role that David would play, like Matthew Morgan or Count Petofi, but is not a villain.  He is good at heart and wants to get down to the mystery of the Collins family.  Stephon Vogelsang is a Roger Davis character, and one that seduces Vicki off her track and is revealed to be the mastermind.  He is equally charming and cunning as he manipulates Vicki and the reader through several warnings from other characters.  There is also a descendent of Aristede, but he isn’t really the most important character.  Overall, Heiress of Collinwood is perhaps Parker’s best novel.  It delivers on what it sets out to do excellently and does it without falling back on regular characters for Dark Shadows, leaving the series of novels in their nice little story arc of Parallel Time.  9/10.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Dominion by: Nick Wallace

Writing a first novel is always a challenge.  An author has to decide exactly what style they are going for and avoid falling into a pool of common pitfalls which would bring their book down into the depths of mediocrity.  It is these pitfalls which Nick Wallace exhibits in his debut Doctor Who novel, Dominion.  The largest pitfall of the novel is that the pacing of the story is incredibly slow after the inciting incident, when Wallace is telling a story which should be told through a quick pace.  Dominion deals with the TARDIS being pulled into a time anomaly while people are going missing in the forests of Sweden.  The Dominion is a secret pocket universe which a race of aliens are being completely dominated by the Bane, and people on Earth are getting killed as the universe is bleeding through.  The first third or so of the book is excellent, setting up plenty of intrigue for the Doctor and Fitz to follow as Sam is missing for the first third of the book.  The Eighth Doctor is characterized excellently as aloof into the danger that Sam is in while investigating the strange goings on and the disappearances.  He is fully invested in the mystery and believes that Sam can easily take care of herself.

Fitz on the other hand, is still recovering from his experiences in Revolution Man and is afraid of losing someone else that he has grown to care about.  Throughout the book he grows close to Kerstin, a woman who has lost her partner to the pocket universe.  Perhaps his characterization in places is just a bit too simplified down to the chain smoker we saw in The Taint.  Kerstin is also a highlight throughout the novel as Wallace uses her to explore how people grieve and bargain to get the ones that they love back in their life.  Having Sam not really appear during the first third is also a very interesting as it allows the reader to have a sense of worry along with Fitz and the Doctor.  It adds a stake that the reader can really feel, and once Sam does show up and fulfills an admittedly necessary part of the plot, that is almost lost.  We know that Sam is alive so these other characters who are missing perhaps don’t matter as much.  Once the reader gets to this point in the novel, the story slows down to a snail’s pace and it becomes more difficult to really invest time in.

This isn’t to say there isn’t anything great about the rest of the book, far from it.  Nick Wallace does an excellent job of evoking the setting.  It is a breath of fresh air to be exploring a then modern Earth location that isn’t in the UK, as Wallace takes full advantage of the forests of Sweden to really give a fairy tale setting.  There is also some excellent work done by exploring UNIT of this period and experiments they were conducting which caused the issue.  UNIT and C19 as presented here are put right into the morally gray, as they do not trust the Doctor and have been using alien technology in a very Torchwood in Army of Ghosts way.  Jennifer Nagle is the main UNIT operative to get her own story arc and it is perhaps the highlight of the novel.  Overall, Dominion has the potential to be one of the truly great Doctor Who novels and it is clear that Nick Wallace has promise.  The book fails in pacing which just drags the book down to an above average read that is difficult to get through in places.  6/10.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Spider-God by: Steve Moore with art by: Dave Gibbons

Spider-God is written by Steve Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.  It was released in Doctor Who Monthly issue 52 (May 1981) and is reprinted in its original form in Doctor Who: Dragon’s Claw by Panini Books.

If ever there was a single issue story to end an era on, Spider-God would be that issue.  Published in May 1981, this simple story ends the run of author Steve Moore for the Doctor Who Monthly comic strip in the fashion which had become the norm by this point.  It’s a story that takes up a small enough scale to fill a single comic issue, has the Doctor travelling on his own, and has a last minute twist that leaves the reader with a moral lesson.  The story echoes stories from the William Hartnell era like Galaxy Four and The Web Planet, adding in an exploratory mission to a mysterious planet where a team from Earth is terrorized by a giant alien spider.  The native inhabitants of this planet are being trapped and potentially eaten by the spider, and it’s up to the Earth crew to rescue them.  Moore makes the incredibly important decision to have there really only be three other characters in the story, as the natives are mute, bringing the total to four.  Sure the characters aren’t very deeply characterized, outside of maybe Randall being a standard gruff soldier with a sense of duty, but when there’s one issue to tell the story, then these are the types of concessions which have to be made.

This is also one of the very few stories that is able to get away with the twist that there really wasn’t any danger after all, revealing in the final panels that the spider isn’t cocooning natives for a food source, but to allow them to undergo a metamorphosis, changing into butterfly like beings.  The twist is handled incredibly well for an eight page comic, with the Doctor piecing together some small pieces of evidence presented earlier in the comic and stopping a potential genocide.  There also isn’t much time spent on wrapping up the story, ending on the reveal, implying that the Doctor and the expedition crew just leaves because they really have no reason for being there.  The real standout of the strip is the artwork by Dave Gibbons.  Gibbons’ style has always been an evocative one and Spider-God is no exception on that count.  The art really captures the horror of the situation early on which aides the implication that these poor natives are going to be eaten alive.  Gibbons also perfectly captures the Doctor’s emotions making the Doctor really come across as the Fourth incarnation of the Graham Williams era, as the comic has never really moved into the Season 18 version of the character.  Yes, the costume is now the one from that season, but the Doctor’s actions are still the more light-hearted version of the character.

Overall, Spider-God is a solid end for what has genuinely been a rocky run in the Doctor Who Monthly strip.  It isn’t perfect, and the strip is still suffering from the short nature of these stories, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless.  8/10.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising by: Lara Parker

Reading a series of books can often be an exercise in watching the improvements of an author as they develop their writing style, characters, and prose.  Wolf Moon Rising is the third novel from Lara Parker, and like The Salem Branch was for Angelique’s Descent, showing a marked improvement in the story and the characters.  Like her previous novels, this one picks up on the loose threads and continues in its own continuity for Dark Shadows, going in a different direction for the series than the ‘official’ Big Finish audio dramas.  This of course isn’t to say because it isn’t canon it shouldn’t be read, because it should.  It’s the first story to have Barnabas Collins back into a villainous role, as he’s back as a vampire, and the first to really use Quentin Collins in any meaningful capacity.  It’s also the book where Lara Parker finally perfects the use of flashbacks, instead of separating them, she does what the show did and sends characters back in time to interact with the past Collins family and unbury family secrets.  If there was one glaring flaw in Wolf Moon Rising is the characterization of Barnabas Collins in the beginning of the novel.  As a vampire, Parker nails the bloodlust and hunger that comes with the character, as well as the fact that Barnabas isn’t a protagonist, but in a fit of jealousy she has him slash Quentin’s painting which is used as a contrivance to put his plot into motion.  Barnabas and Quentin’s close friendship is one similar to Barnabas and Julia’s and if Parker wanted this, then she could have had Julia slash it.

If Julia slashed Quentin’s painting, bringing back Magda’s curse, it would have fit in better with the storyline Parker wrote for her.  Julia is now a vampire due to the events at the end of The Salem Branch, which is an incredibly interesting development for the character as it forces her into admitting her love for Barnabas.  She is also tempted by her bloodlust and takes several people, including Toni, as her victims which really allows Dr. Hoffman’s monstrous side to shine.  Her final fate is perhaps a bit convoluted and there is a lot which may need to be explained in further books, but overall it’s a nice different dynamic for the character.  She is contrasted with the arrival of a different doctor, Dr. Nathaniel Blair, brother of Nicholas Blair, come to Collinwood in an attempt to prove the supernatural.  He has come to hunt down a vampire and serves as the true villain in the story, putting David Collins through a basic hell and, unlike his brother, didn’t overstay his welcome and was effective in implementing plans.  His eventual defeat by Barnabas is incredibly satisfying to read and does quite a bit to redeem Barnabas’s actions throughout the novel.

Parker’s real focus for this novel is exploring the relationship between David and Jackie, as they both settle into this romance of which neither’s parents approve.  Roger believes that Jackie would bring shame on the Collins name, while Toni has the better claim of knowing the supernatural trouble the Collins family can bring.  David is shown here to have matured from the terror he was in the television show, building on his interest in cars attempting to get a luxury car from 1929 restored and accidentally being whisked on a strange and mysterious journey into the past with Jackie.  Yes, the portion of the book that is in the past brings David and Jackie right to it, where they interact with a younger Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Quentin Collins, and an older Jamison Collins during prohibition where the Collins family has taken up bootlegging.  It’s also a chance to bring back some characters from the 1897 story, including Magda Rakosi and Charles Delaware Tate who both make excellent appearances.  The book also goes a long way to have David become disillusioned with the image of his family he has.  Most notably Elizabeth and Quentin have a romance, with Elizabeth wishing to run away together.  This creates some dissonance with David, having to reflect on the possibility that he and Jackie are repeating history.  There is also the revelation that Jamison Collins was a member of the Klan, adding an element of historical realism never really touched on in the show.  It’s a development which creates a sense of danger as David and Jackie are tempted to stop a lynching and end up in a police raid.  Once, the 1929 flashback is over it’s a nonstop race to the finish as David and Jackie try to save Quentin’s portrait, realize Barnabas is a vampire and Quentin is an immortal werewolf, and generally shake the status quo in a way which the show never did.  Overall, Wolf Moon Rising is a book that’s another step up from Parker’s other work.  The plot is perhaps the most Dark Shadows of any of these, throwing together the kitchen sink and seeing just what comes out of it.  There are a few elements which don’t work, but what works is incredibly memorable.  9/10.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Players by: Terrance Dicks

For Doctor Who fans, Winston Churchill meeting the Doctor has been established since 2010’s Victory of the Daleks, with the Eleventh Doctor already having met the character as played by Ian McNeice and from subsequent appearances in Big Finish audio productions.  However, the character’s interactions and relationship with the Doctor actually originate in Players, a Sixth Doctor Past Doctor Adventure from Terrance Dicks.  It was chosen to represent the Sixth Doctor in 2013 with BBC Books’ reprint series for the Fiftieth Anniversary, and with good reason.  Players is a story which spans several time periods, fills in some gaps in the Doctor’s timeline, and puts the Doctor and Peri against a plot by the titular “Players” who wish to change the course of history.  The Count and Countess featured are one element Dicks throws into the book which sets the let’s change history apart from other stories of this nature like Timewyrm: Exodus.  The Count and Countess are not your stereotypical evil villain attempting to alter time for power, but are from a group of time travelers who attempt to alter history for the fun of it.  They are literally players in an intertemporal game just to see what sort of fun they can have by just watching things unfold.  The Count and Countess have this incredible sense of elegance, looking down on everyone and present themselves with the rest of the Players as almost a reflection of the Time Lords as a society, watching, but nudging enough to see just how much they can change.  The book is framed by them as a group repeating their credo promising a return at some point in the future of the BBC Books.

The one flaw with Players is perhaps that Dicks does almost too much in such a short time.  The story is helped by his wonderful writing style, but the plot shifts from the Boer War, to an extended flashback to World War I featuring the Second Doctor, and ending with a plot regarding the abdication crisis of Edward VIII of England as World War II looms on the horizon.  The Second Doctor’s flashback, while incredibly written and giving a formal explanation for the Season 6B theory, is perhaps the most superfluous to requirements.  Not much is actually imparted to the reader or Peri, who serves through that section as audience surrogate, that could have been done more quickly and efficiently with some dialogue from the Doctor to Peri.  That being said, even that section is easily readable with Dicks’ style and master of characterization for the Second Doctor, and it does give him a chance to visit characters from The War Games.  Dicks does show a mastery of giving readers the chance to explore the history around the Abdication of Edward VIII, who is portrayed here as a completely naïve man who falls into following fascists and being manipulated by everyone around him.  The climax where he attempts to gain power and broadcast the UK’s allegiance to the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler shows just how much of a slimeball he is.  Churchill himself is portrayed throughout the novel as the example of the stiff upper lipped British civil servant, wanting at all cost to avoid a war, yet understanding just how necessary it may end up being.  He’s perhaps a touch too one note, but with Dicks style being a throwback to Target novels that still works for much of the story.

There is also the return of Dekker, the private investigator from Blood Harvest, who remains a delight and luckily those unfamiliar with the character would need no prior knowledge to enjoy this one.  Dekker adds an element of espionage to the second half of the novel, where the book truly shines as the first half is a pretty bog standard pseudo-historical setting up the relationship between the Doctor and Churchill.  Where this one really does shine, however, is the Doctor and Peri.  Dicks gets the Doctor out of his coat at the first chance and while the Sixth Doctor is still gruff, pompous, and aggressive, there is a genuine sense of care and friendliness with Peri.  The Doctor here resembles the character whom Colin Baker would portray in the Big Finish audios, and to read about that Doctor is a delight.  Peri also is written incredibly well, being the audience surrogate and getting a chance to shine as she takes in a life of luxury, integrating into London society under the guise of the Doctor’s ward.  There is a sense of intuition and cleverness with Peri which was never really explored on television, even when the scripts attempted it.  Peri is the one who goes to do investigative work in her own style which makes everything come together nicely.  She also shows great courage in the face of Nazi torture, which luckily is avoided at the last minute.  Dicks manages to make the Nazi’s a real threat, even though only a few actually appear here as this is Britain before the beginning of World War II, using them as effectively as he did in Timewyrm: Exodus.  Overall, Players is one of those PDAs which sets up a greater world and while not the perfect novel proves just the potential of the Sixth Doctor and just how great a writer Terrance Dicks was for all of his contributions to Doctor Who.  Though riddled with numerous references to Dicks’ other work, that almost doesn’t matter and Dicks tells a great story.  9/10.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch by: Lara Parker

The publication history of Dark Shadows is an interesting one.  Angelique’s Descent was originally published by HarperCollins Publishing in 1998, with a follow up not by Lara Parker in 1999 before publishing stopped.  It wasn’t until 2006, the same year Big Finish Productions began producing Dark Shadows audio dramas, did Lara Parker return to write a second Dark Shadows novel.  The Salem Branch is a very different novel to Angelique’s Descent, still including many flashbacks, this time to Salem, 1692, doing another take on The Crucible but with Miranda du Val as its central character and explaining Angelique as a reincarnation of the woman, retconning bits of the 1840 story arc from the show where let’s be honest Dan Curtis had run his writers dry in redoing bits of literature that Curtis liked.  Parker’s take on The Crucible takes out the affair and makes du Val somehow both the victim and perpetrator, implying an unreliable narrator at points.  This section of the book is the weak point as while the flashbacks are better integrated in the novel without a framing story and the two plotlines do end up matching up at the end of the book, it’s a lot of stuff that viewers of Dark Shadows will have seen before and done better before.  Judah Zachary is kind of an interesting character, a powerful warlock who is beheaded in the end and his head becomes an eventual plot point in the television story, but here honestly he is far too boring as presented here.

The actual driving force behind the novel is the present day storyline with the now cured Barnabas Collins becoming emotionally restless as he has to deal with the fact that he is now, very probably, fully human.  There’s genuinely this internal struggle, as Parker uses Barnabas’ experience with having to eat food and deal with the fact that after so long he can be hurt.  This emotional outlet is something that never really was explored on television and the audios reestablish him as a vampire (because of course this is never actually going to be permanent, it’s Barnabas), both going under the mostly accurate theory that Barnabas’ appeal comes from his vampiric nature.  The Salem Branch may just be the exception that proves the rule, because the inner turmoil is brought into an outlet as Barnabas spends much of the novel obsessed with the woman responsible for buying and restoring to its near exact condition, whom he believes is the reincarnation of Angelique because she looks like Angelique.  Antoinette, or Toni as she is referred to in the novel, creates an excellent foil and allows Barnabas to be shown in an incredibly paranoid light.  Parker clearly understands that Barnabas Collins is not a good person and his obsession here is perfectly portrayed as both Julia and Quentin both attempt to affirm to Barnabas that she isn’t Angelique.  Sure her daughter is eventually revealed to be a reincarnation of Miranda du Val and is in love with David Collins, whom she promises not to harm as long as they’re together, but she’s completely innocent.

While Barnabas is the A-plot, the B-plot of the novel in the present day is dealing with a bunch of hippies allowed to live on the Collins land.  This is the part of the novel which leads directly into the climax and the hippies themselves are genuinely an interesting group of people.  It really allows both Roger, David, and Carolyn something to do.  David and Carolyn both partake of their rituals while Roger spends much of the novel being over the top about wishing to get them off the Collins land, even though he has no real way of doing that.  There’s also this added danger of two vampires wandering around the land, attacking and slowly bringing Barnabas back to his curse which adds some great tension.  The only issue with the present day storyline here is that Julia, while getting a subtle storyline throughout which gets revealed near the end, really doesn’t have as much to do which is a shame as Parker excels at writing these present day characters.  Overall, The Salem Branch is a marked improvement over Angelique’s Descent and makes for a great bit of Dark Shadows fun.  8/10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Revolution Man by: Paul Leonard

Many of the reviews I have written for the Eighth Doctor Adventures have spent quite a bit of time lamenting the TARDIS Team themselves.  Companion Samantha Jones is not one whom is thought of highly in the Doctor Who community for good reason: she has a characterization similar to that of Clara Oswald, incredibly abrasive and bold yet treated as if she’s somehow a flawless companion.  It was clear that the BBC Books were attempting to recreate the powerful female companions of the Virgin New Adventures such as Benny and Roz, but they failed by making Sam an annoying character.  What makes this an even harsher disappointment is that seven books before her departure they introduced a second companion who actually allowed Sam to overcome her character’s rougher nature and show the real potential to be a great potential.  Revolution Man is the third novel to feature companion Fitz Kreiner, and Paul Leonard uses the story to really explore each characters roles as well as an in depth reflection on the late 1960s’ place in history.  The plot deals with the Doctor investigating an anomaly in the late 1960s, a time of protest, a time of revolution, and a time of drugs.  There is a new drug on the streets which seems to give those who take it telekinetic powers, and it’s up to the Doctor, Fitz, and Sam to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Leonard’s plot is interesting as it spans three years in the history of Earth, 1967-1969, only ending when the threat is done.  Leonard does an amazing job of setting the atmosphere of the novel as one of tension.  You can feel through the pages that there is revolution brewing, the Vietnam war is dragging on, the youth are restless for change that hasn’t come, and the Maoist reign of China is in full swing.  Every supporting character in this novel is either a revolutionary in some way, or a drug user, or at least tangentially related to those professions, making Revolution Man come across as incredibly tense as a riot could be breaking at any moment.  There’s also a real psychedelic nature to the novel with the drug Om-Tsor basically being LSD with added telekinetic powers, creating a genuinely silent threat as the Doctor has to track it through as it poses a danger to society.  The ‘revolution man’ of the title is a figurehead, shifting from person to person and remaining an ever present threat throughout the novel, leaving symbols on the Great Pyramids and subtly broadcasting their presence to the world.  It makes a great off-screen threat, and the actual reveal of the two behind the title creates a true monstrosity for the Doctor and company to face in the climax.

Sam Jones is placed in an interesting environment here as throughout the book she is working with anarchists who are planning violent resistance.  Leonard uses this to explore just how Sam believes protest should be carried out.  Sam has truly grown since her introduction in The Eight Doctors and has built up the idea that everything can be accomplished with peaceful methods.  Leonard truly gives her a voice, as she investigates the trail of the Om-Tsor and the phenomena it had possibly caused in Rome, as well as its potential to destroy the rest of the world.  Leonard gives her a foil in the ‘king’ of the anarchists Jean-Pierre Rex, who eventually takes the mantle of Revolution Man at one point.  Rex is a character who insists on using violent tactics throughout the novel who serves as a glimpse at potentially what Sam would become if she becomes violent, ending his life with a bang and leaving an impression on Sam.  Fitz on the other hand genuinely goes through hell in this novel.  Putting the character only a few years after his own time is used to really show just how different the late 60s are from Fitz’s 1963.  There is the rise of drug culture which throws Fitz as well as the genuine shift in music towards the psychedelic, as Fitz gets a love interest in Maddie, a user whose boyfriend is in a band and addicted to Om-Tsor.  Maddie is pitiful as a character, as Leonard intentionally makers her one of those characters who cannot fend for herself.  It’s essentially because of her Fitz is brainwashed by the Chinese government which has a lasting effect and because of the monstrosity her boyfriend becomes that Fitz has to shoot him.  Yes, the climax of this book involves Fitz in a fight for his life against the Revolution Man, once called Ed, now an amorphous mutated, Lovecraftian blob of terror and he shoots him.  This event shakes the TARDIS crew but not further.

The actual shaking of the TARDIS crew is the Doctor then picking up the gun and finishing the job in cold blood.  This is one of those aspects which resonates with the reader, seeing the Eighth Doctor have the first hints of a darker side.  Throughout the novel the Doctor is presented as the savior, coming in to make sure everything, but in being a savior he has to take arms and this alone is the highlight of the novel.  Overall, Revolution Man takes a place as one of the best Eighth Doctor Adventures, challenging the characters and acting as a turning point in their relationship which the forthcoming novels must resolve.  10/10.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Dark Shadows: Angelique's Descent by: Lara Parker

Dark Shadows was a soap opera which ran for five years between 1966 and 1971, being one of the few examples of the genre to essentially overcome it’s status as a soap opera and earn a place as a cult classic.  It received a revival in 1991 which ran for one season and a film adaptation from Tim Burton in 2012, but what I’m covering today is one of two continuations from the main soap opera, the other being the successful line of Big Finish audio dramas (which was how I first heard of and got into the show).  This review is of the first of four Dark Shadows novels published by Tor Books and written by series star Lara Parker, this one exploring the origins of her own character, the immortal witch Angelique Bouchard, scorned by Barnabas Collins whom she cursed with vampirism.  Yes, this show was still very much a soap opera with all the dramatics the genre involves.  Angelique’s Descent is basically the origin story for a comic book villain, chronicling the unhappy childhood and adulthood of Angelique, retelling an entire story arc from the television show from her perspective.  As a novel, one of the greatest criticisms you can apply is that this is clearly Parker’s first novel.  The writing style is often a very generic series of events, especially in early chapters making the portions of the novel describing Angelique’s childhood become pretty tedious as similar developments repeat for several chapters.

That being said, the first half dedicated to Angelique’s childhood and upbringing sheds some interesting lights on the character.  The novel does a good job of showing the character in a state of grace, living initially with her mother in poverty on the island of Martinique, yet still happy, before being essentially kidnapped by Thomas Bouchard to be used in pagan rituals, exploiting the innate magical abilities of his assumed daughter.  Angelique is convinced she is the conduit for a goddess, so is repeatedly drugged, forced to partake in these rituals, and locked in a tower with nobody really for company for much of her childhood.  The highlight here is really getting into the head of the witch, as she develops her own, clearly dark, powers, yet still has an outlook of wanting to do good.  The Dark One/Diabolos/whatever demon Angelique eventually becomes servant to is responsible for granting these powers, but is toying with her, allowing her the idea that she is free throughout and that the power is her own.  She also has to endure the death of her only friend at the hands of her father, and is only saved by a revolution on the island allowing her to go back to her mother.  Thomas Bouchard serves as an excellent villain for the first half of the novel: written with a domineering presence and presented as truly cruel, treating his own daughter as a slave.  The slight issue is the pacing here, as after Angelique escapes him there really isn’t another threat to replace him as the book enters territory covered by the television series and Angelique began the descent into villainy.

The relationship between Angelique and a young Barnabas Collins is incredibly interesting in the way that it is presented here.  One important thing to note about Barnabas is on the show while he is a protagonist on the show, he is not a good person.  He is presented as taking advantage of Angelique before moving on to his one true love, which is in line with the way it is presented here.  Angelique truly believes that Barnabas cares for her and there truly is an innocence, which makes her fall seem all the more grave, as Parker also does an excellent job of setting up the friendship between Angelique and Josette, which was kind of lacking on television.  It makes the point where Angelique has to hurt Josette have a more emotional impact.  Though Parker doesn’t actually have to do much than just retell the 1795 story arc from the point where she entered and exited, with one major exception: the time travel aspect is completely ignored.  This is actually a missed opportunity as Phyllis Wick, the character who was replaced on television by Victoria Winters, only gets some background mentions with nothing changing.

Outside of the retelling, Angelique’s Descent also features a present day framing story which seems to be mostly setup for future novels which is fun to read, but really has little impact on the plot.  The Old House burns down and someone who is probably Angelique buys the property which just may lead into something interesting.  That being said the book on a whole is a pretty fun read for fans, though if you’re unfamiliar it may not be the best for you.  7/10.

Friday, January 10, 2020

War of the Words by: Steve Moore with art by: Dave Gibbons

War of the Words is written by Steve Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.  It was released in Doctor Who Monthly issue 51 (April 1981) and is reprinted in its original form in Doctor Who: Dragon’s Claw by Panini Books.

Well, the title of this story is clearly a pun of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, an integral novel to the history of science-fiction.  It is kind of fitting then that War of the Words deals with a war taking place over the library planet, Biblios.  Knowing that the comics were popular I can’t help but wonder if this was an inspiration for Steven Moffat when coming up with Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead.  The setting is one of the more interesting settings for a comic strip and Moore does a good job of allowing Gibbons to flesh out the setting so he can focus on getting the story told in only one comic issue.  Yes, like The Life Bringer before it, War of the Words is one of those stories which only occurs in one issue of Doctor Who Monthly.  Moore is able to do this by keeping the story to task with a plot that is incredibly simple.

There are two warring factions hoping to take control of Biblios, which contains all the data in the universe, so would be used as a deadly superweapon in the wrong hands.  It’s of course up to the Doctor to find a way of ending the war.  The two waring factions, the Vromyx and Garynth, are the weakest element of the comic strip as they don’t really have any identity of their own except generic alien species.  Gibbons does give them some fun designs and his art style is really useful for making them at least look interesting.  Where Moore really shines, however, is in the writing of the Fourth Doctor.  The Doctor in this comic strip uses deception and cunning to find a peaceful solution to the war, with some smoke and mirror tactics a la K9, which makes this strip be the first since Dragon’s Claw where the Doctor actually is allowed to show off what makes him the Doctor.  The other stories just had him in the role of almost generic protagonist which isn’t really able to be said about the Doctor.  Sure it isn’t the deepest characterization in this strip, but the solution is at least reminiscent of something the Doctor would in fact do as a character, bringing to mind stories like The Time Warrior.  You can just imagine Tom Baker ending this story with a toothy grin as he goes off back to the TARDIS.

Overall, War of the Words is a story which at least attempts to overcome its limitations with such a short page count.  Moore and Gibbons manage to come together as a team to give a Doctor Who story which at least feels like it is a complete story.  There are still issues with pacing, as the setting still could use some fleshing out, yet it’s still a fun read.  7/10.