Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Dresden Files: Death Masks by: Jim Butcher


Death Masks is a book which has plenty of problems, but not enough to yet bring it down to a point where it reaches the level of problems of Fool Moon.  Jim Butcher seems to have this issue which was present in Summer Knight and is here that each book has three or four different plots going on vying for attention, but all centering on Harry as our point of view character so things seem cluttered.  Other fantasy books with multiple plot strands often make the decision to split the viewpoint so each plot can be connected to a character and while those characters intersect, the plotlines can be essentially compartmentalized.  With The Dresden Files, this really cannot be done and while that isn’t always a detriment, in fact it worked really well in Grave Peril, it doesn’t work as well when the main thrust of the book becomes the least interesting element of the entire thing.  The plot of Death Masks, as promoted by the back cover of the book, has Harry Dresden hired to attempt to find the Shroud of Turin, a Christian artifact which wrapped the body of Christ in Christian mythology, which has been stolen and is discovered to be set to auction in the upcoming days.  This plot does eventually become the main plot, but really it isn’t nearly as interesting as the follow up to the end of Grave Peril with Susan Rodriguez coming back to Chicago to deal with some final arrangements before she flees to South America permanently away from civilization.  The war with the Red Court is also progressing in this book with the first chapter essentially opening with Harry being challenged to a duel by vampire Paolo Ortega where Harry gets to pick the weapons and Ortega picks the time and place.  There are also fallen angels and Michael Carpenter and holy knights, meaning that Death Masks is packed full of things and not everything gets the time it needs to breathe.


Paolo Ortega actually makes a brilliant villain, being introduced as a vampire masquerading as a human professor, skeptic of all things supernatural.  It isn’t a twist or anything that he is a vampire, Harry’s internal monologue gives the reader that fact right as he’s introduced in the first chapter, but there is this air of class about the character.  He doesn’t actually appear much in the book, but when he does Butcher provides a slick villain.  He has a village which he essentially rules over, being given tribute to sustain himself and in return he genuinely offers this town a good life, something that disgusts Harry (and rightly so), but as bad situations go it isn’t an awful one.  I’m not sure that Butcher meant it as a criticism of class, but that reading is also there.  The Denarians and their leader, Nicodemus Archleone, also make an excellent primary villain once they come into the forefront in the back half of the book with the final confrontation with Harry, Michael, and Shiro.  Nicodemus essentially gives Harry an out and tries to tempt him in a Faustian bargain, however, as Harry essentially represents good that doesn’t actually matter.  There’s also some setup for later books with some minor characters like Butters and Michael’s oldest daughter Molly, who don’t end up contributing much to the plot though they provide these little character moments which work incredibly well.


Susan and Harry’s relationship really is the thrust of Death Masks, though it is where some of the book’s problems can come to the forefront.  Harry is childish, which is understandable: he knows that Susan will have to leave him simply for their own safety.  This does mean that the passion of their reunion kind of comes out of left field and taints a lot of their future interactions, as Harry becomes jealous and convinced that she has moved on to someone else.  This perhaps would work if Susan wasn’t turned into a half-vampire near the end of Grave Peril and just left Harry out of fear or something, but that trope of jealousy played here doesn’t work.  Luckily by the halfway point of the book this gets worked out and they end up working together (meaning that Karrin Murphy is kind of sidelined which is a shame as while not a romantic interest her relationship with Harry and in The Dresden Files contributes to a lot of the fun) to track down the Shroud.  The sequence at the auction actually has some of Butcher’s best character interactions with Johnny Marcone, done incredibly subtly and foreshadowing the twist as to why the man actually wants the Shroud.  That twist won’t be spoiled here, but it humanizes a character who had tended to be simply a stereotypical mob boss trope, fun for a few books but not the best here.


Overall, Death Masks is a book which has plenty of potential and along with the previous two novels shows that Butcher is going somewhere with The Dresden Files, but some of the tropes used here brings it down.  It’s a book which is a bit too stuffed for its own good, with three separate plots occurring all at once meaning there is an uneven pace, with some portions feeling underdeveloped while others work their best to be some of Butcher’s best so far.  It’s a book which is good, but not great, though getting better.  6/10.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Space Age by: Steve Lyons


It is an odd day when a review of a book by Steve Lyons turns out to not be up to almost the gold standard of Doctor Who.  His novels up to this point have essentially all been highlights for the Virgin New Adventures, Virgin Missing Adventures, and Past Doctor Adventures, but his debut for the Eighth Doctor Adventures is one which falls into several pitfalls of the range thus far making a story that doesn’t actually add up to anything substantial.  The Space Age has a fairly intriguing premise, though it is nothing unusual when it comes to a Doctor Who premise, seeing on the surface an alternate history of Earth where technology has taken on that future aesthetic of the 1950s and 1960s ruled in a sealed city.  Lyons uses misdirect with an extended prologue setting up power couple Alec Redshaw and Sandra McBride, a couple of teenagers who are deeply in love in the year 1965.  Only the prologue indulges in that saccharine style of romance which sets up the book excellently, with Lyons really selling this whole star-crossed lovers angle going out to somehow change history.  Their jaded selves as essentially puppet rulers of this city and this city’s gangs also fill the role.  The Mods and the Rockers are clearly influenced by the subcultures of the 1960s with some flair, but the actual characters in the gangs are fairly bland and really don’t get a lot of focus or sense.  While The Space Age has numerous problems, the worldbuilding clearly isn’t one as Lyons excels at filling this faux future city with such atmosphere and intrigue that it almost single handedly saves a lot of the book from the numerous flaws that it has.


Compassion stands out as the biggest problem here, Steve Lyons like Trevor Baxendale before him, just doesn’t know what to do with her.  Gail Simone names the trope of killing off a woman simply to advance the plot of the male characters around that woman fridging or putting the woman in the refrigerator after a character in Green Lantern, and that’s essentially what happens here with Compassion.  She isn’t dead, but she starts the book, already landed in the city, deactivated and unable to move or even speak.  This is how she remains for most of the novel which is simply not a good move: the Eighth Doctor Adventures have setup Compassion as the focus of the arc, so giving her a full book where she barely features is simply a problem.  At least Coldheart featured her as a character where she got to interact, here she simply does nothing.  Fitz is served at least a little better in that Lyons characterizes him, but Fitz kind of fills a role that could have been filled here by literally any other companion.  There’s a little fun here with Fitz enjoying himself in this future which is essentially modeled itself after the media he would have consumed in his own time, making it an interesting little idea.  He also gets stabbed which feels like a kick of adrenaline in a book that limps through an already short runtime.  The Doctor is actually characterized really well, as he plays throughout quite a lot of the city with a flair for the dramatic.  When it’s eventually revealed that an evil computer is behind everything Lyons starts to go down the tribute to The Green Death route, but then lampshades that fact as it’s clearly a story that he’s enjoying writing.  Lyons’ writing style is at least an easy read, but it really doesn’t feel like something which ends up creating a book that could have been great.


Overall, despite it’s genuinely evocative title, The Space Age doesn’t ever amount to anything of note.  This feels like it could have been released literally at any point as filler which feels like an attempt to avoid the harsh reality of the Compassion arc (especially The Shadows of Avalon and The Fall of Yquatine) by playing into problematic tropes and genuinely just leaving the reader with a genuine bland taste in the mouth.  It could have been a much more interesting book if perhaps it was released before The Shadows of Avalon, but it does not do enough to actually bring things together for a good experience.  5/10.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Decalog 3: Consequences edited by: Andy Lane and Justin Richards


With each Decalog the editors find a different way of presenting ten stories from ten authors featuring each of the seven Doctors.  The first had a frame story connecting each story from the editors, the second on a theme of homes, while the third, Decalog 3: Consequences, decides to have each story have some connecting tissue so one leads to another.  The Doctor is analyzed as the catalyst for these events, especially in the Seventh Doctor story, and the consequences of the Doctor existing and erasing himself from history are the main theme.  Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker are no longer the editors, handing the reigns to veteran Doctor Who novelists Andy Lane and Justin Richards and only three of the ten stories are from returning writers, meaning that this is the first Doctor Who work of writers including Peter Anghelides, Colin Brake, and even future showrunner Steven Moffat.  As such this is going to be one of those reviews where because of ten different authors giving ten different stories, the score at the end of this one is going to be perhaps a bit lower as it is an average and Decalog 3: Consequences is one of those releases that is actually better than the sum of its parts.


This concept can easily be seen in the opening story by Stephen Bowkett, “…And Eternity in an Hour”, a story with the Third Doctor and Jo Grant on an alien planet that suffers simply because it has the task to introduce a lot of the conflict that will be the thread of the anthology.  A mission from the Time Lords sends them to Alrakis where there are several time storms occurring, giving the story its title.  Jo doesn’t actually get to do much in this story, which is really a shame as Jo Grant is one of those companions who when she isn’t allowed to do anything you can get the real sense that this is not a character Bowkett understands what makes the character work.  The Third Doctor and Jo are a dynamic duo, but here Jo is pointless and a lot of the setup is just that, setup for later.  None of the characters are particularly jumping off the page, and the first half of the short story breeze by on the fact that it’s trying to be a fun romp, which then turns rather dark creating some tonal whiplash.  The dark ending does really stay with the reader, but it is not necessarily something that could be good.  It’s also telling that Bowkett didn’t ever write again for Doctor Who and while selling himself as a writer of books he also places hypnotherapist in that description.  4/10.


The debut of novelist Peter Anghelides comes next and this one is actually one that shines.  “Moving On” continues Decalog 2: Lost Property’s trendsetter of including at least one story where the Doctor does not appear, and the focus is on Sarah Jane Smith, something that would most likely had continued had Virgin Publishing not lost the Doctor Who license.  Anghelides gives a character focused story that examines Sarah Jane Smith’s time after being left in South Croydon at the end of The Hand of Fear and receiving K9 Mark III in K9 and Company, attempting to find some sort of purpose in her life after being far away from the amazing things she saw in the universe.  There of course is the throughline obviously setup in the previous story, but that really isn’t the point of “Moving On”, the point is that Sarah Jane has to find the strength to actually move on and live her life.  Eventually K9 is put away and Sarah Jane has taken her experiences and used them to start a career as a successful novelist, something that is essentially an epilogue to a short story that does have an issue of feeling like it was meant to be a novella.  8/10.


“Tarnished Image” by Guy Clapperton is unique for this era of Doctor Who as it is a First Doctor and Dodo which is not tarnished by any sort of dark character exploration or exploitation.  Clapperton seemed to take one look at The Man in the Velvet Mask and decided that it was going to tell a story where the Doctor and Dodo have a fun adventure together and just get to be happy.  There was a reason of course that Dodo stayed with the Doctor and indeed the Doctor allowed her to stay.  Dodo’s reaction to their last adventure here, told in “Tarnished Image” through newspaper clippings making a great format for a short story.  It also allows Clapperton to really show how irascible yet charming the First Doctor can be: he is completely floored by the bias in the newspaper stories, placing him and Dodo in events in ways that he clearly will be remembered wrongly.  Dodo, on the other hand, is just having the time of her life, even if the last adventure was quite dangerous and there really wasn’t a great deal to actually save.  Clapperton’s prose actually works really well with its clipped, reporteresque style which makes the reader feel that there is definitely something to this collection.  9/10.


Jackie Marshall’s story on the other hand is the perfect example of a story being incredibly middle of the road.  “Past Reckoning” is a story that doesn’t actually feel like a story, more connective tissue bringing the consequences for the Doctor to Earth and a new era so that the next story can actually pick them up.  There is also a theme of home and family which feels almost out of place, as the last decalog was Decalog 2: Lost Property, all dealing with homes.  Nyssa perhaps is the closest thing to a highlight here, as there are moments of reflection on just what the Master being in the body of her father means to her along with Adric’s death and Tegan’s exit, although the Master doesn’t actually appear and has nothing to do with the story.  There are also divergences to a mother and son which could be touching, but the constant cutting back and forth doesn’t quite work.  This is a short story that is written like a novel with a bunch of the connecting tissues taken out.  There also isn’t anything that can just bring the reader in, just getting things onto a page is difficult and the attempted side plot to explain the villain just doesn’t do it.  5/10.


“UNITed We Fall” is not only a story who’s title is a pun, it is a story where the Brigadier has to essentially defend himself for his actions with the Third and Fourth Doctors as well as what UNIT would have become post-Battlefield.  Keith R.A. DeCandido’s story is one that for the most part functions without the Doctor, who only appears halfway through the story and being the Fourth Doctor means that the insanity that the Brigadier is trying to convince the antagonist is real, only makes things worse.  Both the Brigadier and the Doctor are highlights from DeCandido and the entire plot is fairly tense.  There is this melancholy permeating throughout and clearly DeCandido is an author who knows how to write a short story, which makes me wonder just why he only wrote two short stories, though looking at his other work in science fiction franchises such as Farscape and Star Trek, but this was one of his earlier short stories only doing a few things for Marvel up to this point.  There are also some incredibly poignant moments sprinkled throughout which give this story some of its life while not necessarily being the pinnacle of the anthology.  7/10.


Colin Brake’s stories can easily be criticized for perhaps being overly long and not very interesting.  His debut short story, “Aliens and Predators”, actually has the opposite effect: it’s one of those stories that stops before it really has the chance to get going.  It’s a story where the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe essentially are chased down a corridor until a genuinely great ending brings it up just a little bit.  Really it’s the one story in Decalog 3: Consequences which I really don’t have many strong feelings about and can barely find the effort to bring a lot of words towards it.  It’s just boring and like many of the other stories here, is one where an extension in length could have created something more interesting.  4/10.


With “Tarnished Image” before it Gareth Roberts’ contribution, “Fegovy”, takes a less used TARDIS team and gives them an incredibly fun little adventure featuring the Chelonians.  Fegovy is actually the villain and the Sixth Doctor and Mel have to take down in a story kind of about the accumulation of wealth and the evils that come with that.  Roberts as always is incredibly humorous and puts the Sixth Doctor and Mel’s relationship in stark contrast to Millennial Rites and Head Games as they genuinely like each other and take part in some good natured ribbing.  The Chelonians featuring area always fun and it’s just nice to see the Doctor and Mel having an adventure.  The Doctor has to sing opera at one point and Mel as a character is clearly one whom Roberts has a soft spot for.  Often maligned for her screaming, Melanie Jane Bush is one of those characters who simply got a bad run of stories on television, really only having one that could qualify as good, a few that are alright, and then the rest are mostly clunkers, yet Bonnie Langford’s Mel perhaps deserved more than the scrutiny she received.  Mel is an optimist and always fun to include in a story and explore just why she would want to travel with a life that’s pretty good on Earth.  Roberts doesn’t do that, but her inclusion here is an especially nice one.  7/10.


A compelling complex comedy.  That’s essentially how Steven Moffat’s first Doctor Who story, “Continuity Errors”, plays out.  This is essentially the beginner’s guide to what makes a Steven Moffat story work.  It’s split in two: first a lecture from someone substituting for Prof. Arthur Candy on the nature of who the Doctor is, and second scenes set in a future Library of Alexandria where Benny is left by the Doctor told through the perspective of a librarian.  Like many Steven Moffat stories, “Continuity Errors” delights in using time travel as a central premise, with the butterfly effect in full force.  Andrea, our librarian, has her life turned upside down over the course of the day while Benny is left in the library and the Seventh Doctor is off working on his latest master plan, changing Andrea’s past many, many times in the process.  As this happens many times over the course of a few hours, Andrea is slowly becoming aware of the changes and trying to bring all of the continuity errors in her life to some sort of real story.  There is also a war brewing with the library being told to suppress some information about one race that might seem distasteful if it came out that the allies of this planet were involved in genocides.  The Doctor is supposedly trying to stop this and Andrea is setup as simply a ripple effect a la Remembrance of the Daleks, though Moffat leaves the reader with one final twist that changes the meaning of “Continuity Errors” entirely, recontextualizing everything.  This is a review if I were writing in full on its own I could have fun with the format because of the odd style, and how it just leaves itself in the mind of the reader.  It’s absolutely brilliant and the best part of the book.  10/10.


The penultimate story has the hard task of following up “Continuity Errors” and Ben Jeapes’ “Timevault” does it to be incredibly fine story.  Jeapes tells a tale which has the Fourth Doctor and K9 Mark II engaged in some Graham Williams style insanity, however, there really isn’t a lot there that brings this up.  The Fourth Doctor is at his zaniest which means that there is a lot of fun there and the dialogue at the beginning with Xo’ril is one of those brilliant little moments which just feels like Tom Baker come to life.  The Doctor comforts a child who has been given a Sisyphean task of scrubbing the deck of an incredibly large spaceship.  The actual premise is largely okay, there is well written conflict, but it never actually rises above mediocrity because things just fall apart as Jeapes is a first time writer, though there is some promise for him to write things in the future.  5/10.


Craig Hinton ends the anthology with “Zeitgeist”, a Fifth Doctor and Turlough story which is filled to the brim with continuity references as is to be expected form the originator of the term fanwank.  The Fifth Doctor being replaced by an alien Time Lord, who may or may not represent an incarnation of the Other metatextually, is actually really interesting and Hinton could have done a lot more with that.  Hinton has this style where every character is written to be on top form, and including the sniveling Turlough is also great as Hinton allows him to have some of those moments where latent courage, or the glimpses of it, can actually break through.  He’s the one who has to figure out the plot which is great and the examination of the idea of zeitgeist (a word which means the spirit of a period of history based on its ideas and beliefs) in regards to Doctor Who is also apt for the end of Decalog 3: Consequences.  Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who license is ending and this is the first point where their lasting legacy on the show in regards to bridging things from Survival to The TV Movie.  It’s a great ending and bittersweet.  8/10.


Overall, Decalog 3: Consequences is definitely worth a look, but the average of the scores is really only a 6.7/10.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead by: Rick Riordan


The Ship of the Dead is an interesting title for the end of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard as the actual ship is simply a setting for a majority of the novel.  A more proper title could have been something along the lines of “The Capture of Loki” as that is actually where a lot of the book is headed.  This is also a book which is incredibly focused in on the importance of character relationships and ensuring the world ends at the proper time.  Much of this novel has the characters preoccupied with preparing for a duel so they can gain passage to where Ragnarök is meant to eventually occur, but of course this is not the time, while it is the place.  The plot of The Ship of the Dead, like many of the other works of Rick Riordan, follows a fairly similar plotline.  It’s not really more interesting or different from the other plots, though there are a few interesting aspects.  The foldable ship, nicknamed the Big Banana for it’s yellow shade and the development of the other residents on floor nineteen, something that really hadn’t actually been done in the previous two books.


Mallory Keen is perhaps far too much of just being defined by sarcasm, though her connections to the IRA and her own death is also an interesting reflection on everyone from floor nineteen somehow being a revolutionary, bar Magnus and Alex.  Riordan does some interesting things in setting up these revolutionary situations where both the good and evil people are put as those warriors who will fight Ragnarok on the side of good.  TJ is perhaps the most interesting as his death as a freed black man in the Civil War fighting with the Union, and it is stated that there are Confederate soldiers who live at Hotel Valhalla.  It makes for an interesting commentary on bravery as Loki posits near the end of the book that there is no such thing as good and evil, just capable and incapable.  This is something that Riordan seems to be against, as there is commentary on those fighting for the Confederates not being good people and evil, but it’s also an attempt to setup morality away from the standard Christian view of good vs. evil.  Norse mythology was a system of beliefs which had been Christianized, including themes of a new world being ruled by only one God above all other gods and Loki, due to the snake theme occasionally, is often conflated with Satan.  A lot of The Ship of the Dead can be described as attempting to refute the Christianization of ancient religions and expanding the modern view of religions from a secular standpoint.


Samirah is actually where a lot of this exploration also happens: the book takes place during Ramadan.  This is something that it is stated that she doesn’t have to observe on her quest, but she goes above and beyond to actually fast throughout the novel and it is treated as admirable.  Her relationship with Amir is also actually coming across really well in this book, as they kind of reach an understanding and the romance is actually there.  There’s also some stuff where Amir has to come to terms with Sam’s double life which is also confirms that their relationship is on equal footing, going against the traditional arranged marriage, and it does help that you actually see where their lifelong friendship actually came from.  There is also the relationship and understanding between Magnus and Alex which actually comes to something more than just romantic tension.  Magnus does have a moment where he has a crisis of identity, which is quickly overcome as he gives an inspiring speech at the climax of the book essentially so that everything comes to a good ending.  Alex is also just that right level of sarcasm to not come across as over the top or annoying, though Alex’s character arc in helping Sam overcome Loki’s influence and both of them working together as siblings.  The only real problem in this book is kind of that the climax is a bit of an anti-climax in places, though Loki as a villain is great and using trickery to beat a trickster god obviously works, it just kind of comes to a stop.


Overall, The Ship of the Dead is most definitely an interesting conclusion and it does end up flying by with the spectacular character work which is par for the course for Riordan’s work.  The Norse Mythology aspects of this and the entire trilogy simply makes The Kane Chronicles look like a dry run for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.  It brings a story to a satisfactory and incredibly fulfilling close and genuinely makes me sad that these characters’ stories are over.  9/10.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Malazan: The Bonehunters by: Steven Erikson


As Malazan: Book of the Fallen enters its second half, Steven Erikson finally begins to pull some threads together in the sixth installment to give readers some of the trajectory that the series is heading for.  This also means that the books from this point onwards are at their longest, with The Bonehunters clocking in at 1,200 pages.  As such, this means that this is a book where a lot happens to a lot of characters, as is known to happen with a lot of epic fantasy, so this review is not one which can adequately discuss even a majority of the aspects of this novel, as with every book in this series, there is a lot.  So this review is one looking at the aspects of The Bonehunters which stand out to me.  This is a book which actually brings the threads from Gardens of the Moon/Memories of Ice and Deadhouse Gates/House of Chains together as things finally begin to cross.  There is also an obvious justification for Midnight Tides and the mythology explored in that novel, meaning that the fifth book was obviously not meant to be a throwaway diversion and necessary to actually continue the story from this point forward.  There is this feeling that the stakes are getting higher, that the Crippled God’s plans that seems to be a major part of the backbone of Malazan as a world along with the expansion by the Mazalan Empire under Laseen and Adjunct Tavore.


While Laseen is a character here, I think it’s Tavore who is a more interesting character as you get some interesting contrast between Tavore and Ganeos Paran.  Tavore is a woman blinded by ambition and expansion which makes the points in the book where we actually see her grabbing for more power and moving pieces across the board.  It makes her interesting as I suppose an antagonist, though there is something in her philosophy and mindset that just connects with me.  She’s clearly not meant to be a positive figure, but there is something there that screams humanity at its most human.  Meanwhile, Ganeos Paran has the incredibly interesting arc where he doesn’t really meet his sister (I think she thinks he’s actually dead, which yeah he kind of should be), but there is something morose about the character.  He’s undergone great hardship and has assumed the role of the master of the Deck of Dragons, and as a character I am reminded of a quote by the late great Douglas Adams: “Anyone who is capable  of getting themselves made President should be on no account be allowed to do the job”.  Paran is a character who didn’t want to have any power, at least any power of this kind.  He is a man being forced among the gods in a way that he clearly never wished to be.  There is this dread whenever you get to Paran’s segments of the book where he is clearly trying his best, but needs to find something different.  It kind of helps that he was one of the characters I grasped onto in Gardens of the Moon who actually survived that book.  There is also this power play between him and the absent Anomander Rake which is hinted at here that I desperately hope gets picked up on in later books.


The Bridgeburners also have a reunion here which makes for some really interesting interactions early on in the novel.  Having Fiddler/Strings seeing just where his crew has scattered to is interesting and introspective as everyone’s goals has seemingly changed greatly.  Strings is also almost the perfect character for a book like this as he’s slimy enough to survive, but his actions never come across as a slimy character trying to survive a heartless world.  There’s also this hinted at cleverness there.  Cutter’s continuing story with new character Scillara also does not bode well after the end of House of Chains saw him essentially falling down into general darkness away from Apsalar.  Apsalar also it is noted has matured and changed into a genuinely terrifying assassin here and this is where I think The Bonehunters shines.  Apsalar actually reunites with Cotillion in this novel and their interactions makes for an interesting commentary on abuse and how victims become survivors.  Apsalar is most definitely a survivor by this point, not falling into trappings of abuse and holding her own against a god who still has some sort of a grip against the woman.  She has grown and she is the one who can hold her own.


Cotillion and Shadowthrone, however, may have the best interactions in this book.  This is a book where the gods seem to be scared of something coming and that added threat just builds the tension through the rest of the book.   There’s a point where Shadowtrone goes missing and Cotillion is the forefront of the domain of Shadow which for the first time really separates the characters from each other.  Erikson of course is brilliant in creating double acts, but splitting up those double acts allows an exploration of what makes the double act work.  It’s also just a sequence of events filled with tension and dread.  The actual thrust of the formation of the Bonehunters can be directly traced to every plot thread thus far, as Erikson excels at making things in this book feel like something really is coming together.  There is still the standard for Malazan in not quite understanding everything intentionally, and ambiguity but this book feels for the first time like a slow boil and build in tension to something absolutely brilliant.  The Bonehunters perhaps might be my favorite installment thus far, as it takes what really worked in Memories of Ice and House of Chains while still bringing things together into a different ideas for what Erikson really is working with.  It’s a thrilling lead whose last 400 pages especially building to a brilliant climax which shakes every character we know, like, and dislike thus far into different scenarios and the next book feels like it’s going to integrate lines further for a conclusion.  10/10.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Robot by: Terrance Dicks directed by: Christopher Barry


Robot stars Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan with Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, John Levene as Benton, and Michael Kilgarriff as the K1 Robot.  It was written by: Terrance Dicks and directed by: Christopher Barry with Robert Holmes as Script Editor and Barry Letts as Producer  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 28 December 1974 to 18 January 1975 on BBC1.


1974 saw the end of what to that point had been the longest running production team for Doctor Who: Jon Pertwee’s five year run came to an end in Planet of the Spiders, deciding to leave after the death of costar Roger Delgado, Katy Manning left after her own three year run as Jo Grant, script editor Terrance Dicks had already been replaced by Robert Holmes, and producer Barry Letts would leave at the end of the eleventh production block and the introduction of the new Doctor.  After seeing his performance in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the part was offered to out of work actor Tom Baker, current companion Sarah Jane Smith played by Elisabeth Sladen was contracted for another season, and Ian Marter was hired as a third companion as the original plan was to have the new Doctor be an older version of the character.  This was changed with the casting of Baker, but production had begun and Marter’s Harry Sullivan would stay until the end of the twelfth production block.  As with Carnival of Monsters at the end of the ninth production block and The Time Warrior at the end of the tenth production block, Serial 4A would be produced as the final serial of the eleventh production block.  This allowed Barry Letts to establish Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor in the familiar trappings of an Earthbound story with UNIT, meaning that the new Doctor would be the only new element for returning viewers.


Before the casting of Baker, Serial 4A was commissioned under outgoing script editor Terrance Dicks, who had convinced the BBC that this was a tradition for Doctor Who where the previous script editor would oversee the first story of a new Doctor (this was not a tradition and had only been done by Derrick Sherwin for The Invasion when several scripts fell through).  Letts and Dicks contrived a story about a giant robot, taking inspiration from 1933’s King Kong for the plot structure and the climax, titling Serial 4A, Robot.  Interestingly, taking inspiration from classic horror films would become standard practice under producer Philip Hinchcliffe who would replace Letts at the start of the twelfth production block.  Robot’s script is one that reads like a Jon Pertwee story in every aspect except not featuring Jon Pertwee: UNIT is called to investigate several governmental break ins where no evidence of a human presence while the new Doctor adjusts to his body.  Sarah Jane Smith investigates Thinktank, an organization which has been working in robotics, whose director is also in league with the Scientific Reform Society, a conspiracy network planning a fascist takeover of the world using the work of J.P. Kettlewell.  Sarah Jane connects with the robot which at the climax captures her as the SRS are held up in a bunker ready to unleash nuclear destruction.


The plot, while something out of a B-movie, is an enjoyable one.  Terrance Dicks as a writer knows how to keep the audience’s attention and clearly is setting up a scenario which can showcase the new Doctor’s talents which is excellent.  It does, however, fall apart near the end with the final two episodes in particular dragging quite a bit after Dicks apes a scene out of his script for The Avengers: The Mauritius Penny.  After this point it’s essentially trying to rescue Sarah and Harry and then stopping the robot and destruction.  The robot is killed by a plot device setup in the second episode, being splashed with a bucket and melted down by the Doctor and Harry who drive by on Bessie.  This climax is where Dicks’ script falls apart the most: it’s an anti-climax, once the robot is splashed the story is essentially over and is only saved by a lovely scene where the Doctor and Sarah Jane tease Harry into coming onto the TARDIS with them.  The direction of the story is by Christopher Barry who does help lessen the anti-climax, clearly enjoying himself with the numerous effects shots on the K1 Robot.  His direction elevates the subpar aspects of the script, and the use of perspective helps with some of the obvious models.  The Blu-Ray level restoration does reveal a number of production flaws, however, it is clearly done with care so this old serial is one shown to its best clarity.


The K1 Robot is played by Michael Kilgarriff who actually gives a very emotional performance as a robot who slowly becomes human over the course of three episodes.  Kilgarriff is performing through a rather large, though excellent, costume which is a feat especially considering Doctor Who’s general penchant for having an actor off-shot doing a creature voice.  The rest of the supporting cast are also excellent with the standout being Patricia Maynard as Miss Winters, our would be fascist overlord.  Maynard gives Winters a subtle level of camp that sells some of the more absurd aspects of the script.  Tom Baker also shines, establishing his Doctor as the more outwardly eccentric than Pertwee, Troughton, and Hartnell, though his actual actions feel like they were written for Pertwee with Baker’s personality edited in.  Baker also immediately shines with Elisabeth Sladen, who had already established Sarah Jane Smith as a more proactive companion.  Dicks doesn’t have Sarah Jane question the regeneration in the slightest, mostly due to already seeing a version of it in Planet of the Spiders.  Sarah Jane is the one who investigates the robot and ends up putting large parts of the plot together independently of the Doctor.  Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan hasn’t quite found his footing yet in this trio, as Dicks was clearly intending to have the Doctor be older and changing that with the casting of Baker, so Harry serves more as a comic foil for Tom Baker in some iconic sequences.  Nicholas Courtney and John Levene also work as comic relief and two more familiar faces to ease the new Doctor into the series.


Overall, Robot while a good start for Tom Baker and enjoyable enough, is a story which is heavily flawed.  It especially feels out of place considering the tone the rest of Season 12 and the early Tom Baker era would take.  Playing out like a Jon Pertwee serial complete with a third episode that drags and an anticlimax, plus rewrites to accommodate a different type of actor for the Doctor than was expected, there are still some rocky elements that take this down from being an all time classic.  Still, it is a worthwhile watch and the restoration is already a marvel to behold.  It starts the Tom Baker era with some minor glimpses of things to come and a great little horror film homage taking on an action B movie tone from a veteran writer.  6/10.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

End of the Line by: Steve Parkhouse with art by: Dave Gibbons


End of the Line is written by Steve Parkhouse with art by Dave Gibbons.  It was released in Doctor Who Monthly issues 54-55 (June-July 1981) and is reprinted in its original form in Doctor Who: Dragon’s Claw by Panini Books.


It is telling that Steve Parkhouse’s second Doctor Who Magazine comic story was the first of several two issue stories, only returning to a single issue once it was time to cross over from the Fourth to the Fifth Doctor.  End of the Line is a fairly simply structured adventure, but putting it across two issues allows Parkhouse to actually include more than one supporting character comfortably and build a world for the story to inhabit.  The world of End of the Line is a planet at some point in the future which has become overrun by zombie cannibals who travel on a complex subway system.  There are few surviving humans including a group of Guardian Angels lead by Sonny and the Engineer, a man who is trying to make sense of the system and get to the fabled end of the line.  The first issue is a fairly standard chase sequence where the Doctor has to try and survive the zombies who constantly come to devour his flesh while the second is the simple solution of the Doctor helping the Engineer and the surviving humans get to the end of the line without falling to the cannibals.  Like The Deal before it, End of the Line ends with a gut punch: the Doctor finds his way to the countryside and finds that it is no better than the rest of this world.  There is still radiation and pollution storming the city and he finds the Guardian Angels don’t actually make it, possibly being killed by the Cannibals on their way there.


Parkhouse seems to be developing a theme of Doctor Who comic stories without happy endings where the Doctor saves the day, and as this was published after the airing of Logopolis it makes the reader wonder if that Parkhouse was getting ready to make the switch over to the Fifth Doctor as there would be only three more Fourth Doctor stories after this release.  Yes, it is played as slightly bittersweet, but this does make a Doctor Who Magazine comic that really does have some emotional weight as the Doctor is found in a situation that he really cannot fix.  There are no qualms about leaving these people to their own devices and it leaves everything with a bittersweet note.  Dave Gibbons is also inspired in his artwork, filling the backgrounds with a real sense of dread as the city is subject to death and decay.  There is also a real sense of menace made with the Cannibal designs, looking gruesome and deformed, all costumed differently to imply that this has been going on and spreading out like a slow plague that the Guardian Angels have been fighting.  It makes the entire story have this sense of tiredness with great use of shadows topping off a rather dark story.


Overall, End of the Line may not be some revolutionary Doctor Who story: there are television stories which had aired by this point to be darker, but it does mark an important step for Doctor Who Magazine.  The comic stories prove here that there are stories to be told with weight behind their events and it proves that Parkhouse has a vision for the comics, something that he would spend a number of years fleshing out.  The first issue has an issue of not having much happen, but the second issue’s conclusion leaves the reader satisfied with what was happening.  9/10.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by: Rick Riordan


While Rick Riordan’s previous trilogy, The Kane Chronicles, failed by attempting to setup a story right in book one for the trilogy to follow but then running out of interesting ideas at the end of the second book, The Hammer of Thor, the second book in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard avoids this as The Sword of Summer ends with the idea of Ragnarök still coming, but Magnus content to face it.  The Hammer of Thor picks up, like many of Riordan’s sequels, sometime after the events of the first book where Magnus has had a chance to really acclimatize to his afterlife existence at Hotel Valhalla which makes for an interesting new status quo.  Magnus was used to simply living on the streets with no stability, and putting him in a situation of stability is interesting as Riordan still sets him up as wandering Boston when he gets the chance or the fact that he ends up going hiking in the woods to relieve stress while preparing for the end of the world.  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is a series where it seems that Loki and his trickster nature is where everything that Riordan attempts to do works really well.  Loki in many interpretations due to an association with snakes is often interpreted as a Satanic figure, and while he is cast in the villain here, he is more of the mythic trickster figure of mythology than any attempt to be Satan.  Throughout The Hammer of Thor his presence is felt, guiding and nudging characters in the right direction and eventually getting them right into a corner so that his goals can actually be achieved without anyone realizing it until it is too late.  Riordan also makes an important decision in not making Loki’s plans simply being the end of the world like Apophis’ plans were in The Kane Chronicles.


Like many of his other books Riordan takes inspiration from various myths to retell them in interesting ways, most obviously the story of Utgard-Loki (no relation to Loki) and the theft of Thor’s hammer (hence the title), though by this point Riordan has mastered not simply retelling the myths but integrating his characters into the myth.  For example, in the theft of Thor’s hammer, Thor has to “marry” a giant who demands his wife’s hand in marriage and he disguises himself as his wife with Loki’s help, before allowing wholesale slaughter to get his hammer back.  While there is trickery involved in The Hammer of Thor much of the drama in the retelling comes from it being a looming threat where Sam has to be the one to marry a giant, something that comes into conflict with not only her personal worldview, but her religious worldview.  The eventual resolution involving her sibling (through Loki) taking her place while she stays off to the side, but it remains this looming threat throughout the book, especially as Sam is a character who struggles under the control of her father which is an interesting plotline as the climax sees her start to form a resistance.  Riordan is smart not to pull the usual young adult trope of a protagonist suddenly overcoming everything on an early try, as Sam is only able to resist Loki enough to not die at his command.  Riordan also goes into a bit more depth at how her religious faith can play into the fact that this is a world where gods are real and technically it’s the polytheists who have it right.  As mythological deities are seen as dead faiths, the living faiths are still endorsed by Riordan as worthwhile and requiring faith, something that he will not be tackling for good reason.  Though Magnus still being an atheist is weird as he is the son of a god.  I think Riordan wants to equate atheism with being nonreligious which is a bit over simplified: yes, atheists are generally nonreligious but not always.  Atheists just don’t believe in a god.


Magnus also gets some interesting development here as this is a book where his sarcastic façade actually breaks down and you get this idea of Magnus Chase as the person who loves everybody and genuinely cares a lot.  There is this softness underneath the hard exterior which is really fitting for a narrator and allowing our main character to be willing to become vulnerable is something Riordan hasn’t done before, at least not in this way.  The sarcasm is still there, the chapter titles especially are very metatextual and self-aware that this is a story being told.  There is also an effort to replicate a five man band structure with the story as all of the characters end up going in and out for most of the narrative with people getting sidetracked and brought back in right before the climax.  The most important character to be introduced is Alex Fierro, a child of Loki, who serves as a romantic interest for Magnus, though he doesn’t actually ever outright say there is a relationship between the pair.  At the end there is this understanding between them that is unspoken, yet incredibly important development.  Alex is genderfluid, and as a child of Loki that literally means changing Alex’s appearance and not at will (I’m avoiding the use of pronouns because both he and she are used, but there is a specification that in this instance they is not appropriate), yet Magnus becomes the only character apart from Alex at the end of the novel to recognize what gender Alex is expressing at a given point, even if he doesn’t quite get what that means.  Riordan is does an interesting thing in writing how it is not important to understand someone who is non-cis, but to give them the basic human decency in interactions with that person.  Alex can also genuinely shapeshift, uses a garrot, and could probably murder you if you gave Alex the chance.


Overall, there’s something very special about The Hammer of Thor.  It introduces this interesting dynamic and moves the trilogy forward in a much better way than The Kane Chronicles did.  It also hits on a more emotional level than The Sword of Summer did with Riordan setting it apart from the other books he has written and given the characters something to grasp onto with a raising of the stakes for the end of the trilogy.  9/10.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Target Storybook edited by: Steve Cole


The Target Storybook was perhaps one of 2019’s most anticipated anthology releases in the line of Doctor Who books.  It was a celebration of all the Doctors and their prose, starting way back with 1965’s Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks and the first ever novelization, the Virgin New Adventures, the Eighth Doctor Adventures, and the trio of Thirteenth Doctor novels released in 2018.  Each Doctor gets at least one story celebrating their era and the entirety of the show’s history, yet not for any special anniversary of the books, 2019 doesn’t fit with the start dates of 1965, 1973, 1991, 1997, or 2005 for any of the book ranges.  This just seems to be an anthology for the sake of celebrating Doctor Who in prose, with writers being chosen who have deep connections to the era, form novelists, to screenwriters, to actors, and even fans given their shot writing for the show that they clearly all adore, all placed in the hands of editor Steve Cole.  Each story comes from a place of love and dedication to the show, and the anthology is one that shows that each era has its ups and downs while all making up one small part of Doctor Who as a whole.


The current Whittaker era bookends The Target Storybook from two Series 11 writers.  Up first is “Gatecrashers” by Joy Wilkinson, set immediately after The Witchfinders.  “Gatecrashers” is a locked room murder mystery in a space pizza parlor where the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan stumble on a dead body.  It doesn’t take long to find the murderer, Ronan Sumners a man attempting to keep his people inside, controlling socializing by a teleportation network a la Three’s a Crowd.  This is a story where there is one real flaw that just leaves the reader dissatisfied: the TARDIS team.  This is a short story and as such having a four person TARDIS team means that the writer has to be creative in using them so each character feels like they serve a purpose and have a depth of field.  Wilkinson, however, does not do this, sidelining Yaz and Ryan meaning that they have absolutely no character while the Doctor and Graham take center stage.  They are great together, but cutting back to Yaz and Ryan still being stuck in a room doesn’t work, especially as “Gatecrashers” is only 20 pages long, meaning that things wrap up just as they are getting started.  6/10.


“Journey Out of Terror” takes us back to 1965’s The Chase and another four person TARDIS team, however, Simon Guerrier’s short story is much more resourceful than Wilkinson in effectively using each character.  This takes place after Journey Into Terror, the fourth episode of The Chase where Vicki is captured by the Daleks, and “Journey Out of Terror” deals with the emotional fallout of the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara having lost a companion.  This is a point in the show’s history where the TARDIS is uncontrollable, and the Doctor is unable to actually go and rescue them.  Guerrier injects tension into the story as the Daleks are clearly on the tale and an intentional homage to The Rescue begins as the TARDIS lands in a comic book where Julia Jett is waiting.  She wishes to escape her existence by travelling in the TARDIS and the Doctor is almost ready to oblige.  This creates conflict in the TARDIS team as Ian and Barbara cannot believe the Doctor is so readily willing to move on from Vicki.  Guerrier’s story is a highly emotional one that helps build to Ian and Barbara’s eventual departure from the TARDIS while examining just how Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor’s dynamic actually works.  9/10


Legendary Doctor Who scribe and Target Novelist Terrance Dicks provides “Save Yourself”, a Second Doctor story set right after The War Games.  “Save Yourself” is short, taking place as the Doctor waits to be punished and is interfered with by an operative of the Celestial Intervention Agency, offering him an out.  Dicks sends the Second Doctor on missions for the CIA, bringing Season 6B to the forefront, but with one final twist on the theory that I will not spoil.  The mission of this story is the first of many chances of the Doctor to save himself, being sent to the planet Karn where the War Lord has escaped his execution and it is up to the Doctor to stop him from acquiring immortality through the Sacred Flame of Karn.  Bringing The War Games and The Brain of Morbius together is an interesting prospect, but much of the story is not concerned with exploring the world or anything, just leading the Doctor to his eventual demise is where this story succeeds.  Dicks’ style never wanes in what is his last story, although the revelations here may not be for everyone.  It’s a fitting story to go out on and although this is not dedicated to him, it gives one last hurrah for such an integral writer to Doctor Who’s history.  7/10.


Environmentalist stories just seem to define the Third Doctor’s era and Matthew Sweet’s entry into The Target Storybook, “The Clean Air Act”, is no exception.  This story is one of those stories where the UNIT family is explored, as are many Third Doctor short stories.  Sweet’s is notable as it does not feature the Master, lampshading this fact, with a character with the surname Mastersson thought to be the Master, however as she is female, it is dismissed with a joke that lands like a brick (though the image of Roger Delgado in a female disguise is something I wouldn’t say no to seeing at some point).  The actual plot involves alien parasites in a story that feels like a tribute to 1960s and 1970s science fiction films like The Day of the Triffids.  Jo and the Doctor are always fun to have a story centering around them, but sadly once it gets going, the story is over far too quickly.  Sweet’s prose is worth the read as there is a lyrical charm, making it surprising that he has never written a full-length novel for Doctor Who. 7/10.


Newcomer Susie Day provides “Punting”, the Fourth Doctor story for the collection, and an interesting take on Shada and The Five Doctors.  The story opens with the scene from Shada playing out with the Doctor and Romana being taken into the Timescoop, and continues from there as they attempt to break into The Five Doctors’ plot while providing witty, Douglas Adams style commentary on events and the other four incarnations of the Doctor which are present.  Many of these witty comments have been echoed by fans over the years, such as laughing as Sarah Jane is menaced by a gentle sloping hill, or the shabby state of the Yeti, or the misunderstanding of Borusa being evil.  Day’s story is one which should not be taken seriously, as it sets itself up from the off as a farce.  This farcical nature makes the story an incredibly jovial read, even if it’s slightly derivative of two other stories.  The derivative nature of “Punting”, however, seems to be part of the point that Day is making about the anniversary special and the nonsensical plot that has entertained so many audiences since 1983.  Day is one newcomer who’s first story is pure perfection, and it will be interesting to see what she continues to do in the future.  10/10.


The biggest surprise of The Target Storybook is that Matthew Waterhouse was chosen to represent the Fifth Doctor’s era in “The Dark River”.  Waterhouse would not strike any Doctor Who fans as a writer, but his story, set with Adric and Nyssa flying the TARDIS during The Visitaiton, is an excellent character study.  One complaint of Adric is that he is an insufferable know it all, though “The Dark River” allows him to be wrong as he accidentally pilots the TARDIS to the United States of America interacting with a runaway slave, James, whom they immediately help to get to safety by traveling up the Mississippi River when the TARDIS is stolen by a rival Time Lord.  The rival Time Lord is an interesting character and gives Adric and Nyssa a real view into the ineffectual nature of Time Lord society.  Adric and Nyssa as protagonists is also incredibly interesting, as both are flawed companions and this story accentuates their flaws.  Nyssa has to learn to rely on Adric for help while Adric has to find a way to get the TARDIS back, and think outside of his standard intelligence to help the renegade Time Lord featured here.  Waterhouse also just knows how to capture the reader immediately and shows that he clearly understands what worked and what didn’t work about the character he played, being willing to criticize his own performance through the text of the story.  Tackling racism with two alien companions also provides an interesting perspective, if limited by the nature of being a short story with a small page count.  9/10.


Colin Baker’s “Interstitial Insecurity” is another standout story, this time taking place in between Mindwarp and Terror of the Vervoids, as the Doctor is picking out evidence for his trial in the Matrix.  Baker offers an interesting glimpse into The Trial of a Time Lord as he shows the reader some of the changes made by the Valeyard to the testimony, something the Doctor claimed in Terror of the Vervoids.  Colin Baker clearly was against the Doctor committing genocide as this implies that he genetically altered the Vervoid pods to allow the species to grow, though not as an evil race intent on universal domination.  The Doctor also spends much of this story in the Matrix, examining his future, being manipulated into choosing Terror of the Vervoids, while being shown adventures with Dr. Evelyn Smythe and Charlotte Pollard as possibilities, giving Big Finish Productions their one big mention in this collection.  Baker also clearly understands how to write for Doctor Who, understanding just how Peri’s death breaks the Doctor and revives a determination to route out evil in the universe, becoming attached to a Time Lord program in the Matrix who is really only there to help.  While it is no surprise that the Valeyard has a hand in events, Baker stays restrained in keeping him only in brief appearances, right at the beginning and right at the end as the two stories are bridged by “Interstitial Insecurity”.  10/10.


The Virgin New Adventures range of books is represented here with “The Slyther of Shoreditch” by Mike Tucker, though by using a television story, Remembrance of the Daleks, as linking material.  This is fitting as the novelization of Remembrance of the Daleks is essentially where the VNAs as a range started and Mike Tucker’s story adds a second element to the story’s already vast mythos and worldbuilding.  The Daleks don’t actually appear as the premise is that a modified Slyther from The Dalek Invasion of Earth is attempting to recover the Hand of Omega late at night while Ace sleeps.  The Doctor, just before the café scene (you know the one), is on the streets trying to stop it when he is first informed of the forthcoming Time War by the same Time Lord from Genesis of the Daleks.  Tucker has excellent use of the Seventh Doctor, a Doctor who easily could have won the War given the chance, essentially being manipulated into avoiding the War at all costs as it is implied the Time Lords fear this incarnation of the Doctor in particular.  It helps to bridge the VNAs right in with the rest of the show and it’s a nice little intrusion into one of the best Doctor Who stories, like many stories in this anthology, being a supplemental to an already good story.  9/10.


Eighth Doctor Adventures range editor Steve Cole provides “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” where the Eighth Doctor, Fitz, and Trix face off some evil accountants in a scathing satire of bureaucracy which ends in a paradox.  Like many of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, the big plus here is the Eighth Doctor and Fitz’s relationship being stunning as the characters have this brilliant repartee and while Trix is not a character I am familiar with, her first impressions here makes for an exciting time as this is set right near the end of the Eighth Doctor Adventures line.  Fitz’s appearance in particular is a welcome one as he is the only book exclusive companion with Bernice Summerfield to really have transcended the book range he is a part of, even if he never got a spin-off series like Benny.  Cole’s prose is also suited to the short story format, making “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” a nice little glimpse into a long dead range of Doctor Who novels that may make new readers come to try it out.  8/10.


Engines of War author George Mann provides “Decoy” for the War Doctor in The Target Storybook, taking readers straight into the Last Great Time War where Rassilon has made an Auton duplicate of the Doctor in an attempt to end the War, as the title suggests, as a decoy to end the Daleks.  The Time War as a setting is not that interesting here, as it amounts to the cliché Daleks and Time Lords shooting each other, and not the Lovecraftian horror a Time War implies.  The story also does not succeed in showing the War Doctor as anything other than the other incarnations of the Doctor, something made such a big deal of that should be explored.  It is not a bad story by any means: Mann’s prose is enjoyable and it is an incredibly easy to read as the Doctor has some fury against Rassilon.  The interactions between the Doctor and Rassilon are where “Decoy” succeeds as Rassilon is a desperate man attempting to end the War at any cost, even if that doesn’t actually mean changing history.  The final decoy of the story is also a surprising little twist that on reread is set up rather nicely in the end, though this one is not one that deepens the War Doctor as a character.  7/10.


Una McCormack’s poignant “Grounded” represents the Ninth Doctor’s era in an interesting way.  This is a story that doesn’t feature the Doctor in any capacity, instead focusing on Clive Finch, the man in Rose whom Rose sees to learn about the Doctor and gets killed by the Autons at the climax as New Who’s first real casualty.  “Grounded” explores Clive’s relationship to one of his sons who is grounded for breaking a neighbor’s window with a football, while his mother and other brother go out for the day.  Ben Finch is an interesting narrator as McCormack perfectly captures the voice of a child and once again there is a poignant twist as it is revealed that this story is relayed after the events of Rose.  The entire point of “Grounded” is to show just how Clive is a good father, despite his eccentricities in finding aliens in the world and his unending search for the Doctor.  He comforts his son and brings him along on an expedition to a place where a genuine alien crashed and they end up helping the creature get back to its spacecraft and leave the Earth quietly.  It’s melancholic as a story and that is just what McCormack needed to do with this particular character at this particular time. 8/10.


The Target Storybook this far hasn’t had a bad story, but “The Turning of the Tide”, by far the longest story in the collection, is the weakest.  It follows Rose Tyler in her parallel universe with Corin, the name she gives to the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor.  The plot of the story is serviceable: Jenny T. Colgan brings in an alien invasion which has been going through parallel universes for business opportunities which could be fun, but Corin and Rose’s relationship, which is the main thrust of the story is where things fall apart.  Colgan writes Rose with introspection on how Corin doesn’t actually count as the Doctor and the inner turmoil would be nice, but she is also pregnant with his child.  The issue here is that there is no implication that Colgan understands how messed up of a situation this is and how the introspection must have happened before this.  Also they’ve been living together, but Colgan writes it as if they’ve just gotten back to their universe which doesn’t feel right.  Add that to the fact that Corin is just the worst aspects of the Tenth Doctor with little of David Tennant’s charm, “The Turning of the Tide” is a story that just loses the reader quickly.  3/10.


The quality then immediately increases with Jacqueline Rayner’s critique of the Moffat and Chibnall era’s “Citation Needed”.  “Citation Needed” is told as entries in the Encyclopedia Gallifreya, essentially a chronicling in the TARDIS library of the Doctor’s time stream, while the Thirteenth Doctor and company are making themselves breakfast.  Rayner takes the time to take jabs at Clara, the Meta-Crisis Doctor, the War Doctor, and the current era, much like Day coming from a place of love.  The entire point of the story is all about poking fun at obsessive continuity and just letting those who enjoy stories enjoy those stories, continuity be damned.  Rayner is the perfect writer to do this as she has written for many Doctors in many eras and clearly loves writing.  The non-traditional storytelling is also one thing that sets this story out as the rest of the entries are generally written traditionally, while Rayner here writes as if this is a series of encyclopedia entries.  It’s a breath of fresh air just for how different it is.  8/10.


Bill, Missy, and Nardole are the stars of new writer Beverly Sanford’s “Pain Management” which is also an examination of an aspect of the Moffat era.  This story is one where Missy’s turn to the side of good is examined, and parodied as the Twelfth Doctor lets her out of the vault on a day trip, falls asleep, and she attempts to cure humanity of the flu by turning them into zombies.  Yeah, Missy’s plan doesn’t quite make sense which is fine as it fits into Michelle Gomez’s portrayal of the character, which is lovingly imitated here, and Bill and Nardole’s inability to stop her is also excellent.  Sanford writes a story straight out of Series 10, showing just what worked about that particular series and made Moffat’s last such a good one.  7/10.


Finally is Vinay Patel’s bookend “Letters from the Front” which is a reflection on Demons of the Punjab and a story that does must be read to be understood.  Patel plays around with Prem, showing his time as a soldier, drawing on the history of the era and genuinely ending this book on a high note, though one that does not connect to any Doctor in particular.  9/10.


Overall, Steve Cole has curated an excellent collection of short stories celebrating Doctor Who prose with only one falling short.  This comes highly recommended to old fans and new as it is a nice primer to what each Doctor’s era is like in prose format and beckons you to read more.  7.8/10.