Friday, 31 August 2012

Whotember Begins

As I write it's the 31st of August and we're just hours away from the start of the new Doctor Who season.  Or as I prefer to call it now: Whotember.  Because, for probably the first time ever, a new series of Doctor Who will begin and end in the same month. 

It does seem a little sad that, after previous years of getting 13 weeks of new episodes, we're now down to just 5 (and a Christmas Special).  But, speaking as someone who only got to watch one new episode in the 16 years between 1989 and 2005, I'm grateful for whatever I can get.  While I no longer get as excited for new Who as I did back in 2005, I'm still very much looking forward to what's coming up over the next few weeks.

In fact, based on the little information that I have, I think I'm looking forward to this series more than I was to the last series back in the Spring of 2011.  There are, I think, a few reasons for this:

- Daleks.   Or to be more precise: Every. Dalek. Ever!  At least according to Steven Moffatt.  Although I suspect that it'll be more a case of 'Whatever we could find hanging around in the BBC Prop Department'.  Nevertheless I'm really looking forward to seeing all the old Daleks on screen again.  As we get ready to enter the anniversary year, it's a nice acknowledgement of the show's history, not to mention the Daleks' history, which is almost as long as that of the show itself.  I think this will be one occasion when I really don't care whether the story is good or bad, I'll just be looking at the visuals.

 - No 2-part stories.  This may a little controversial to some but I'm generally not a fan of multi-part stories.  Modern Doctor Who seems to work better in the single episode format.  It has a pace to it that the original series was never able to have and this allows good, exciting stories to be told in 45 minutes.  This has become the norm now and at times the show seemed to struggle when it had to adapt to a two-part story structure.  Because of this we did end up with some rather slow and dull 2 parters over the years.  Of course we had some great 2-part stories too but, for me at least, the misses outweigh the hits.

 - Hardly any River Song.  Much as I like the character I'm rather glad that she's taken a bit of a back seat this year.  She appeared in almost half of last year's episodes and, even when she wasn't around, her presence was felt as the overall arc of the season revolved around her.  One has to wonder whether, with her parents leaving the series, will we be seeing a lot less of River in the future?

 - No pirates this year.  I don't like pirates and I really didn't like Curse of the Black Spot last year.  I do, on the other hand like cowboys and Westerns so this year's A Town Called Mercy should be good fun.  In fact, I don't think that there's a single episode this year that I'm not looking forward to in some way whereas I couldn't have said the same last year. 

So there we are: just a few reasons why I'm looking forward to Whotember.  Not long to go now...


Saturday, 18 August 2012

Comic Strip Time Team : Are You Listening?

"They probably think I'm a city or something."

Writer: Warwick Gray
Artist: Colin Andrew
Published: DWM Summer Special. 1994

TARDIS crew: First Doctor, Steven and Vicki
Chronology: Between The Time Meddler and Galaxy 4
Time & Space: Time unknown; the 'city' of Xenith on an unnamed planet

Story: The TARDIS crew arrive in what appears to be an abandoned, futuristic.  Although the travellers don't realise it, the city is in fact a sentient machine-like being called Xenith.  Xenith attempts to communicate with them but, misunderstanding Xenith's intentions, the time-travellers rush back to the TARDIS and leave.  Xenith is alone again.

Mark's Remarks: If you think that the above synopsis sounds like just half a story then you'd be right.  The 1994 Summer Special had two 4-page comic strips: this one and Younger and Wiser, which picks up the story with the Seventh Doctor.  Yes, that's right, once again the Seventh Doctor returns to sort out a mistake made by the First Doctor.

Although there isn't a great deal of continuity between these First Doctor strips (mostly because they're all written at odd times during the early 90s), one thing I have noticed so far is that Doctor is always portrayed as someone who doesn't like to get involved with things but will do so when pushed into it. The very minor issue I have with this is that, whilst this is standard behaviour for Hartnell's Doctor in the earliest days of the series, by the time we get to Season 2/Season 3 era where this story is meant to be set the Doctor has become a lot more proactive.  By this point he's realised that his lot in life seems to be to help people and right wrongs.  In short, he doesn't just run away at the first sign of danger.  So it makes his actions here a little out of character.

Still, what the heck, it's just a short 4-page story that really does little more than set up the aforementioned Younger and Wiser so I feel I should cut it some slack.  Despite its slightness, there is some nice stuff here.  I particularly liked how Xenith seems to be quite taken with the TARDIS - the closest we may ever get to the TARDIS having a secret admirer.

What is also notable though, apart from the very nice artwork by Colin Andrew, is that this is the first appearance in this comic strip marathon of writer Warwick (later Scott) Gray.  He'll go on to play a major role in the shaping of the 8th Doctor's comic era in what is considered by many readers to be something of a high point in the comic strip's history.  But that is some way in the future. 

Next time: The final First Doctor strip - Food for Thought

Monday, 6 August 2012

Random Thoughts

Just a few things that I've been thinking about over the past couple of weeks:

The Series 7 (Part 1) Trailer

I know that I wasn't the only one waiting to see this.  And now that I have,  I have to say that I was...underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still looking forward to the series a lot (particularly the chance to see Every.  Dalek.  Ever!) but I didn't feel that the trailer really provided much more than the previous trailer shown a few months back.  There was some new stuff obviously, particularly the opening shot of the Doctor surrounded by Daleks, "dinosaurs on a spaceship!" and the almost-unexpected glimpse of River Song (I try to avoid spoilers so perhaps her return was common knowledge but I wasn't expecting it).  But otherwise it all seemed a bit flat.  Perhaps showing the trailer in the midst of all the real-life Olympic drama diminished its impact  somewhat. 

Still, roll on the start of the new series!  Whenever that is...

Mary Tamm RIP
Another companion gone and just weeks after Caroline John which just seems to make it worse somehow.  For those who don't know, Mary played the first incarnation of Romana for one series in 1978.  Although her time on the series was relatively short, she was still very popular with the fans and it's a great pity that she didn't stay with the series for longer as she and Tom Baker made a great double act.

Like Caroline John, Mary returned to the series and the character via the Big Finish audio plays, most recently alongside Tom Baker in the second series of the 4th Doctor audio adventures.  Her stories aren't available until next year which will make listening to them a sombre experience.  On the other hand, I'm extremely grateful for the fact that Big Finish has given us the opportunity to enjoy the 4th Doctor/Romana double act one last time.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony
With a show that included the Queen meeting James Bond and then jumping out of a helicopter, followed by Mr Bean doing Chariots of Fire and an army of Mary Poppinses (Mary Poppi?) fighting a giant Voldemort I was prepared to believe that maybe the Doctor really would turn up to light the flame.  Alas he didn't but we did hear the TARDIS at one point.  Maybe he got lost?


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Comic Strip Time Team: A Religious Experience

"I think we're about to replace that worm as the locals' God."

Writer: Tim Quinn
Artist: John Freeman
Published: Doctor Who Yearbook 1994 (1993)

TARDIS Crew:  First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Vicki (mentioned only), 7th Doctor (cameo)
Chronology: Takes place before 'The Chase'.  Or to be more precise it can only really take place between the first two scenes of 'The Chase'.
Time & Space: The planet Seetar, time unknown

Story: The Doctor and Ian are exploring a beach on the planet Seetar when they save a member of a native tribe from being eaten by a giant worm.  It turns out that the worm was a tribal god and the tribe now set about making the Doctor and Ian their new gods.  However, when the high priest prepares to make a human sacrifice in their honour, the Doctor and Ian decide to take their leave - not before Ian has knocked out the priest - and they leave in the TARDIS

Many years later, the Seventh Doctor returns to the planet to find the tribe still worshipping images of the First Doctor and Ian and making sacrifices.  He declares that it's time this came to an end...

Mark's Remarks: Another story written by a writer who I think is better known for his humorous work.  For those who don't know, Tim Quinn, amongst other things used to write a short humorous strip each month in DWM called 'Doctor Who?', which at the time used to be one of my favourite parts of the magazine.  This is a rather more serious affair but, if I'm honest, there's nothing much about the story that particularly stands out for me.

The regular characters are well characterised.  Ian and the Doctor get all of the action as Barbara only appears briefly at the end and Vicki is mentioned but not seen.  One nice touch I thought was Ian's wonder at the beauty of the alien world he was exploring.  At this point in time he would have been travelling with the Doctor for close to two years so it's nice to see that he can still be impressed by it all.  

The Seventh Doctor's cameo appearance at the end is a bit of a surprise although it fits with his character.  On TV he made a habit of sorting out long-standing issues from his past (Remembrance of the Daleks, Silver Nemesis and so on) so it makes sense that he would step in here to deal with repercussions of his earlier visit.  We never find out what he does to end the sacrifices but, as the Seventh Doctor by this time had been built up to almost god-like proportions through various novels and comic strips. one imagines that it involved more than giving the natives a stern talking to. 

In terms of artwork, I've always enjoyed John Ridgeway's work ever since I first encountered it during the tail-end of the Sixth Doctor's comic strip run.  There's some good stuff here although he tends to use a lot of photo references for the close ups of the Doctor and Ian.  Also the artwork is ruined slightly by the colour which just seems too garish for my tastes.  It would have benefited greatly by being toned down just a little.

Overall then, a nice little story marred slightly by some dodgy colouring.

Next up: Are You Listening?