No, not a new Doctor Who adventure (yet), but rather, a fantastic illustration by Paul Hanley. Take a look.
Sword of Orion is the second Doctor Who audio drama featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. In it, he winds up aboard a salvage ship where an unknown creature is killing off crew members, and it is linked to their latest mission. And judging from the cover, you can guess the Cybermen are involved.
Sword of Orion is a straightforward, old school Doctor Who adventure. Doctor and companion arrive, they find a dying crew member. Said crew member dies, the crew blames the Doctor and companion, and much confusion and delay ensues. This doesn’t hurt Sword of Orion a great deal, but the story feels (like a lot of the Eighth Doctor’s first season) like a “safe” one to tell. The construction of the story creates a satisfying, creepy atmosphere, and the Cybermen are pulled off well here, better than on some of their previous TV outings. Being one of the iconic Who villains, what new can really be done with them, given the time frame when this story was released (before the new series and its first Cybermen two-parter)?
McGann and Fisher are good, as usual. They aren’t really challenged in this story, from an acting perspective, but they manage the most out of the material. The twist in the latter half of the story is a okay, but by the end of the story, you feel like you’ve seen (or rather, heard) this tale before. Sword of Orion is good, it manages to be a decent tale, and retains an old school charm, but disappoints in that it underachieves to a great degree.
Fear Itself, by Nick Wallace, was the final Eighth Doctor adventure to be released back in 2005. With the announcement of the new TV series, the Eighth Doctor books- then the ongoing adventures of the current Doctor- came to a conclusion with The Gallifrey Chronicles, and the Eighth Doctor was relegated to “Past Doctor Adventures” status. Fear Itself was the first novel featuring him as a Past Doctor, and it takes place between EarthWorld and Vanishing Point.
Fear Itself effectively builds a mystery via its narrative approach- two alternating threads, taking place 4 years apart, regarding a disaster aboard a space station orbiting Jupiter that left the Doctor and companion Fitz presumed dead, and Anji left alone for 4 years, stuck in the 22nd century, to move on and build a new life. This includes getting married and building a new career for herself. If you followed the Eighth Doctor Adventures, then you would know these are pretty ambitious events to have occurred between the books Fear Itself is slotted between, but Wallace provides some rather ingenious answers without resorting to a reset button.
Fear Itself establishes itself as an inventive novel that takes the “Past Doctor” format and pushes it like few others do- working within the confines of established continuity and giving us new ways to look at the characters and providing real character growth. The novel actually is one of the best uses of the Eighth Doctor’s amnesia (established in The Burning and used as part of the narrative framework for the rest of the range’s run) and uses the revelations provided in The Gallifrey Chronicles to make it more than just a convenient prop to make the Doctor mysterious again.
The Doctor and Anji go through the most changes in this novel. Fitz undergoes few changes, which is understandable- he has had the most “screen time” than any other Eighth Doctor companion, appearing in something like over 50 novels. He is a stalwart, faithful companion, as shown here where he is still trying to figure out the Eighth Doctor post-amnesia, and wrestling with telling him the truth about the events that lead up to it (namely, the Doctor blowing up Gallifrey).
There are plenty of twists here, and it makes Fear Itself a blast to read. Wallace’s prose is rather straightforward- not real flowery or heavy on details- but gets the job done and concentrates on carefully constructing the story, using perspective and use of memory to give us the best surprises. It all holds together beautifully through the ending, and it’s unfortunate that we did not get to see more Doctor Who novels from him before the range was put on the back-burner for the newer, lighter New Series Adventures novels.
Fear Itself is one of the best Past Doctor novels that I’ve come across. The plot is tight, leaves you guessing throughout, and perfectly captures the cast. If you can still find a copy, it’s well worth a read.
Along with my recent desire to start reading the BBC Past Doctor novels, I decided to once again pick up the Eighth Doctor audio adventures, starring Paul McGann and published by Big Finish. McGann only had one stab at his role as the Eighth Doctor, which was in the 1996 TV movie that was co-produced between the BBC and Universal television. The American influences in the movie, I have to say, killed any hope of the movie turning into a series. Still, the movie was not a total failure. For example, McGann’s performance was fantastic in light of the material that he had to work with and limited screen time. Eric Roberts’ Master has a certain campy charm, and given better development he could have been a particularly strong iteration of the character. Either way, the movie is a strange footnote in Doctor Who lore, and it seemed that McGann would only get this one shot at playing the Doctor.
Then, Big Finish, who had been producing original audio dramas featuring the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors, secured Paul McGann to play the Eighth Doctor in a series of ongoing audio dramas that were set after the television movie. In essence, this is continuation of the Eighth Doctor adventures, and as such were broken out into seasons upon release. The first McGann audio dramas appeared in 2001, and before the new TV series made the airwaves, this felt as close to a new series as we would have. McGann is my favorite Doctor, and I have a great fondness for his series of audio dramas, even if they were not all perfect. Years ago I used to own a number of the adventures on CD, but for various reasons sold them. Recently, Big Finish has begun selling downloadable MP3 versions of the audios, many for the cheap price of $7.99 (for the older 2-CD stories) and $12.99 for the newer ones. At these great prices, I couldn’t resist.
First up is Storm Warning, a flawed but solid tale written by Alan Barnes. The Doctor winds up stuck aboard the doomed Airship R101, and things get complicated by a mysterious passenger being kept in one of the cabins and a certain young lady named Charley Pollard.
The biggest flaw with Storm Warning is that it sounds like the author’s first audio drama. Too often, particularly at the beginning of the story when the Doctor is alone, we are “told” about what’s going on as opposed to hearing it happen. Characters describing events and things in the story that comes off as stiff and awkward; no one would really say (for example, not in this story), “The cup? You mean the blue one right there with the flower pattern by the toaster?” Thankfully, things improve in later Eighth Doctor stories, but in Storm Warning this is an audio drama sin.
McGann himself is slipping into the role but does so with grace. McGann once again shines in the role, taking the full-of-life character of the Eighth Doctor and having him work through the mystery and try to save the day when the aliens arrive. India Fisher makes her debut here as companion Charley Pollard, and does a great job of giving the character spunk and depth, a tough balance. The rest of the cast are fine; no great standouts and the eventual alien threat is one with an interesting social makeup. Aside from the flaws mentioned above, the cast and production are very nicely done.
Storm Warning isn’t a fantastic start to the Eighth Doctor audios, but it’s a very good one. Despite its flaws, Storm Warning makes for enjoyable listening and gives us a great TARDIS team.
Let me just start out by saying: Combat Rock was the most visceral and violent Doctor Who reading experience I have ever read.
Mick Lewis really took Doctor Who to some dark places in Combat Rock, applying an almost real world tone to sections of the novel, and then upping the gore and violence factor. This is the kind of novel only possible back before the new series was on the air and the novels became slanted towards younger viewers. It is bizarre enough to imagine the team of the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria wrapped up in a horror novel, let alone facing guerrilla violence that reminded me of the worst of some modern-day African nations and even the Middle East. Add in the elements of cannibalism and tribal violence, and you have an experiment that is not to everyone’s liking.
Combat Rock obviously wants to shock you; its horror is not of the paranormal variety but of what humans can be capable of when taken to the darkest extremes. In this way Combat Rock resembles Lewis’ previous Doctor Who novel, Rags, which used the punk rock movement of the late 70′s and coupled it with the social malaise of discontent youth. But whereas the horror of Rags was internal (our characters- outside of the Doctor- being driven to horrible acts based in part on their prejudices and social discontent), the horror of Combat Rock is perpetuated by external forces, in this case the people and environment all around our characters. The world of Jenggel is an awful one, with a corrupt government and rebels perpetuating horrible acts against each other with the population caught in the middle. This doesn’t even include the dangerous wildlife throughout. If anything, Combat Rock is unflinching in its depictions, possibly being the most “realistic” of what man can do against man when ideals of freedom and political power come into play.
One of the flaws in Combat Rock which was evident in Rags is that the Doctor is not an active player in events, but rather passive (or in this case, captive) and swept along. The Doctor is unable to do very little than observe the horrors and connect the dots at the very end of the novel to reveal the true threat, but even then is unable to stop it thanks to a timely deus ex machina. In this manner, Combat Rock (again, like Rags) feels less like a Doctor Who novel and more like a horror novel that happens to feature the Doctor and his companions. While this approach did not bother me in this case, it will not be to everyone’s liking.
As an experiment, Combat Rock is a divisive novel; back when it was released in 2002, it caused quite an uproar from the fan community, since it was clearly not a traditional past Doctor Who adventure that many were used to for that range. It reads unlike most other Doctor Who novels, and is easily the most mature one to date (don’t let your kids read this, parents). The novel is brutal and savage, and even for horror fans may not be everyone’s cup of tea. This doesn’t translate into it being a bad novel (because it’s not), but it can be exhausting to read.
This has been in the works for a while, but it’s just gotten a lot more official. Several months ago, a call for submissions went out for a charity anthology of essays regarding how and why we love Doctor Who, called You and Who, with all proceeds going to Children in Need. I really dug the idea, wrote up my essay (called “The Third Era”), and sent it off. Editor J. R. Southall was pleasantly enthusiastic about the piece and accepted it. During its development, the anthology was later picked up by Hirst Publishing, and is now finally up for pre-order.
I’m very honored to be a part of this and can’t wait to see it made available. You can pre-order it here, at the official Hirst site page, which is currently light on details. You can also check out J. R. Southall’s original You and Who page for the table of contents.
As more details are made available, I’ll share them here.
Years ago, I used to be a huge Doctor Who novel reader; namely, of the then-current Eighth Doctor range of novels. I never read the Past Doctor Adventures, featuring Doctors 1 through 7. I wanted forward-looking, “current” adventures where the characters could grow and things could really change, as opposed to everything needing to be set back to the status quo by the end of the novel. I held this attitude until I read Simon Guerrier’s excellent The Time Travellers, a novel featuring the original TARDIS team of the first Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara. I can’t remember too well what had made me pick up the novel; it had gotten good reviews and I had interacted with Simon online through the forums and his blog. I gave it a chance and I was very glad that I did.
Fast forward a few years. With the advent (and success) of the new television series, any novels not featuring the current Doctor have been shelved, and I understand the reasoning. The old books sold in the 5,000 range (for example), and the new novels sell in the 25,000+ range. Why spend money and effort on a book that will receive only 20% of sales when you can spend it on a sure thing? (I can’t take credit for that analogy; I read it on one of the forums, and something tells me that it was author James Swallow who wrote it, but I could be totally wrong) I get that, but the new series novels don’t, for the most part, appeal to me. They are written for a younger audience, and many of the criticisms I’ve read online are that they are “dumbed down” compared to the old BBC Who novels. This initially made me cautious about the range in general. Since then, however, I have purchased, read, and enjoyed several of the New Series Adventures.
And since my stance has softened on “media tie-in fiction” that slots stories between episodes, and figured, I should really just enjoy the storytelling, I obtained a few old Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures.
So, Heat of TARDIS was up first. The choice is obvious; a novel featuring the Second and Fourth Doctors? Could it have been any more stamped with win? My only caveat was that Dave Stone wrote it; I say that having read only one other Dave Stone novel, the Eighth Doctor novel The Slow Empire, which was slow reading (haha, see what I did there? Boooo…). I’ve read summaries of Stone’s other novels, and I’ve always liked the ideas he brought to the table. The problem has been his habit of being a thesaurus abuser; seriously, Dave Stone injects words into his prose that no real person ever uses. A lot. It almost became a game with my wife, where I would just call out the word to see if she knew it. It doesn’t make him seem smarter; it comes across as superfluous.
I did, however, greatly enjoy Heart of TARDIS (despite the mixed reviews it received). It’s just a flat-out fun story. The Second Doctor tale starts out as a creepy mystery, where they land in a Midwestern American town, where, of course, Things Have Gone WrongTM. Even worse, they have become locked out of the TARDIS, and as things begin to spiral out of control, they are left with dangerously few options.
The Fourth Doctor story, taking place during the Key to Time season, has the Time Lords assigning the Doctor a mission of vital importance… or, rather, it would be, if the Doctor hadn’t received an emergency call for help, apparently from the Brigadier. So, naturally, he blows off the Time Lords and said critical emergency to help an old friend. Naturally, both story threads eventually converge, though not in a way you expect.
The characters sound spot-on here. The notoriously difficult-to-capture Second Doctor comes across as authentic, as do the rest of the regulars. The plot is fairly paper-thin; the running around and solving problems drags on a bit (this is mostly in the case of the Fourth Doctor story thread; the Second Doctor’s tale has enough atmosphere to keep things interesting throughout). The novel is humorous (though never laugh-out-loud), and at times self-indulgent (Simpsons cameo, I’m looking right at you). But this is typical Dave Stone; if you go into the novel knowing that, you should be fine. It’s certainly better than The Slow Empire. Which may or may not be saying a lot.
Overall, it’s a fun Doctor Who, and worth a read.