Saturday, April 27, 2013

More Merchandise

Continuing to catch up on some of the wonderful things I have been sent of late, and here's more goodies, from some USA exclusive items, to more books!

First off, I've been sent several items by the very lovely people at the wonderfully named Bif Bang Pow! in the USA. They have a large range of things available, and most can be obtained from their official outlet, Entertainment Earth.

Visit to find details of all the items from this company.


Sometimes these can be really cheap and tacky affairs, but this Travel Mug comes boxed, and is a sturdy plastic and brushed stainless steel affair. In a lovely translucent TARDIS blue, the mug has white Doctor Who and TARDIS decals on the sides, and comes complete with a plastic lid to keep the contents hot. The lid can be twisted to open some sipping slots at either side as well.

This seems to be an exclusive for Entertainment Earth, so you won't find it for sale anywhere else (probably).


A slightly bizarre idea, this is a little TARDIS which is mounted on a wobbly base that can stick to the top of your computer monitor.

There seem to be a couple of variants available. The one I have been sent is in proper full colour, and has a 'Toyfair13 Exclusive' sticker on, which suggests it was created for a Toyfair this year. The Entertainment Earth site also shows a black and white version available, which is also cute.


The Doctor uses this to jot down details of all his adventures, and this is a lovely little notepad with pages printed in an 'aged' manner. The cover has a reproduction of the title and copper clasp of the one we have seen on screen.

All in all, a lovely little item for collecting notes and thoughts in.


We've all seen standard round (or square) coasters for drinks but here we have something slightly more unusual - TARDIS-shaped coasters!  These are really lovely items, and the box contains four of the coasters, cork-backed and with a colour TARDIS printed on the other side.  Ideal for putting your drinks on!


Bif Bang Pow! have a lot of glasses available, and this pack contains four colour (or color, if you're in America) changing shot glasses. Each is printed with a TARDIS which appears in white. But when you fill the glass with a cold liquid, the TARDIS appears in all it's glory.

I love the way the pack says on the front: 'Just add cold water' ... because of course we all know that water is what you put in shot glasses :) Each glass holds 2oz of liquid, and would be ideal for a Who-themed party, serving, of course, cold water.


I picked up this latest Quick Reads from the local bookshop, and herein Mike Tucker presents a tale of Silurians. This is another very basic novella-length tale in the Quick Reads series, which is designed to encourage children to read.  I'm not sure that the simplistic style totally appeals to me, but then this is not aimed at me, and I'm sure that it bridges a gap between the readers of Doctor Who Adventures and the more complex novels which the BBC is releasing.


Speaking of the Novels, and I got hold of the three new additions to the range recently.

These have yet another design applied to them, and a part of me wishes that the BBC could make their minds up what the Doctor Who branding actually is. These look totally different from anything else in the range, different again from the recent paperback reprints for the anniversary, and different from any of the other licensed fare.

The three titles in the range are: The Dalek Generation by Nick Briggs, Plague of the Cybermen by Justin Richards and Shroud of Sorrow by a new writer to the range, kids' favourite (check out his Scream Street books!) Tommy Donbavand. I've not read them as yet, so can't comment on the content, but it's interesting that they have chosen Daleks and Cybermen to headline this set of titles.

More interesting to me, perhaps, is the lovely conceit in Donbavand's book that it opens with PC Reg Cranfield patrolling in Totter's lane in 1963. Cranfield was the name of the actor who played the Policeman on-screen in in the first ever episode of the show.


Just arrived is the new hardback non-fiction title from the BBC. This is Who-Ology by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright and appears to be an almost random collection of facts and figures associated with the show.  It's subtitled 'The Official Miscellany' and so that explains it ... it really is a random selection of facts and figures, along the lines of titles like Schott's Miscellany.

I dipped in and quickly checked the entry for Frazer Hines, who played Jamie in the show. Unfortunately his current location and occupation are incorrect: he doesn't live in Nottingham (he's near Newark), his Stud Farm is located at Newmarket, not where he lives, and he is still acting and performing rather than just breeding racehorses. In the entry for The Abominable Snowmen, it mentions that the creatures were actually robot servants of the Great Intelligence, but misses that Travers sees a real creature at the conclusion of the story: so they did actually exist in their own right. In the entry for Nom-de-Plumes, it misses that Jamie named the Doctor 'John Smith' in 'The Wheel in Space' because it was a name seen by Jamie on a piece of equipment in the sick bay where the Doctor was being treated. These are just three random spots (and may be the only things in the book which might be lacking), but I have to say that I remain impressed at the sheer content and scope of this book.

It covers so much ground, and so much is totally spot on! It's one of those books which would perhaps find an ideal place in the smallest room of the house, as it's dip-into-ability is somewhat addictive. It's also going to be invaluable for anyone who sets pub quizzes in the future, expanding the ability to ask impossible questions about Doctor Who a millionfold.

The book is very nicely illustrated by Ben Morris, but is sadly printed on a standard bookwove paper stock, which makes the whole thing look slightly cheap. It would have looked much better on a white bond, something which would make the images appear crisper, and the whole thing more substantial.

So overall, something of a curate's egg I feel. I'm not sure who it's really aimed at. Perhaps the kids who love Who today will enjoy seeing the plethora of facts and figures ... but given that they have been raised on a diet of Doctor Who Adventures and somewhat text-lite photo-heavy presentations, I wonder if this might fall flat. I hope not, as it's actually a marvellous piece of work, absorbing and fascinating and answering just about any random question about Doctor Who that you could hope to ask! One final observation: I have no idea how you would actually find anything in it ... it's not in any order that I could see, and by its very nature it is unindexable!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Doctor Who: Cold War

This is the one I was waiting for ... the return of the Ice Warriors after 39 years to Doctor Who! They'd better get it right ...

First off, the script is written by Mark Gatiss, so that's something of a good sign. Mark knows his Who and has a keen sense of writing style, and so hopefully it will work out well. Then the Warrior costume was revealed online before transmission ... this is practically unheard of for Doctor Who where they keep it all so secret that sometimes you wonder if they will decide not to show the finished episodes for fear of details of them getting out. I loved it. It maintains the elegance and reptilian look of the originals, while updating them for the modern audience. After all, if something is not broken and works well, then why change it?

So ... to the episode ... We kick off with a lovely 'floating in the air' caption telling us that this is the North Pole, 1983 ... and under the water is a Russian submarine going through a nuclear weapon deployment. We learn that this is a test, but that at any time, the Russians could be ordered to launch nuclear missiles at America. So far so good, but why are they all speaking English? And why is there a Professor there played by the sublime David Warner, who likes listening to Ultravox and Duran Duran. The questions start to stack up - why is a Soviet Nuclear submarine playing host to a Professor drilling for oil? And why decide to transport a huge block of ice containing a mammoth (more to the point, how did they get such a block of ice onto the Sub in the first place? The doors are tiny, and many of the rooms interconnect with smaller still circular hatches.)

So another crewmember randomly decides to thaw out the mammoth using a blowtorch, and a massive pincered arm crashes from the block and grabs him round the throat.  Crash to the titles.

The Sub is now sinking fast as this alien creature runs rampage, killing people and generally smashing the place up (not sure how it can get through the tiny doors and hatches mind you). And Oh no, they've not used the classic sound of the Ice Warrior's sonic gun. Shame. The TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor and Clara are expecting to be in Las Vegas rather than a sinking Soviet Sub. But the Doctor realises the problem and gets them to wedge the Sub on a ledge to stop it sinking. And thus they rest, 700 metres down, with a leaking Sub and an Alien on the rampage. The TARDIS abruptly vanishes, leaving the Doctor and Clara somewhat stuck.

The Warrior makes a proper appearance. I love the strange clicking noises it makes - similar to the creepy gurgling sounds the originals made, but why do its feet clunk like Cybermen? Then the Doctor calls it an Ice Warrior. Oh dear. In the original series, this term was coined by one of the men who discovered one buried in the Ice. It's not the name of the race - they are Martians! But I guess we can overlook this one.  What we can't overlook is the voice. Oh dear. Rather than the creepy hissing cadences of the original (caused because Earth air is of a different composition to Martian air, thus making it hard for the Martians to breathe) we have something that sounds more like the Honey Monster or the Judoon. This is dreadful. There is no-way that the people making the show didn't know what the Ice Warriors were supposed to sound like, so this is a deliberate decision to change the voice. Why, I have no idea, but it's awful and is certainly not an improvement.

The Doctor knows all about Grand Marshall Skaldak, his history and everything - there is a lot of time in the episode where the Doctor 'tells' everything, rather than showing it through the plot and action, and this leads to some quite talkie scenes.  Skaldak is subdued by a cattle prod (there in case of Polar Bear attacks? I'd like to see someone defend themselves against a Polar Bear with a short cattle prod) and chained up. Clara is sent to talk to him to try and persuade him to leave them in peace. But he has escaped from his suit of armour and is loose in the Sub.

I liked this idea a lot, that the Warrior could leave his armour and move around without it, but the design of the creature - in particular its hands - looked all wrong to me. How would something with such thin, clawed hands operate the hands in the suit? It looked like one of the creatures from the War of the Worlds series, or from the film Independence Day to me.  So they all go off Martian-hunting, and now the show feels like Alien or some such with the creature being in the walls (In the walls? of a Submarine? Where all space is critical? Come on ...) and it tracking them as they track it.

The Martian kills some humans to find out how they work (shades of 'Horror of Fang Rock' or 'Ghost Light') and meanwhile David Warner's Professor is interested to know if Ultravox split up when discovering that Clara and the Doctor are time travellers. He also comments that Clara's Russian is very good (but presumably he speaks English as he understands and knows the lyrics to the songs). Skaldak eventually calls his suit back to him (how on earth it gets there through all the small doorways and hatches is anyone's guess) and the Martian heads off to destroy humanity, assuming that his own distress call has gone unheard.  The Doctor and Clara try to talk him into showing them mercy and then suddenly they are all rescued by a Martian Spaceship which brings the Sub up to the surface and then teleports Skaldak away. As a parting gift, he resets the controls on the missiles, and they are all safe!

In the closing scenes, the Doctor explains that the TARDIS moved because he set the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System - previously referred to in 'The Krotons' in 1969) and is now at the South Pole. Not sure then how it's translation function is working for everyone then, unless it has a very good range!  Nor how the Doctor and Clara are going to actually get to the South Pole! The Russians can hardly 'give him a lift' as he asks.

Overall, and despite my massive disappointment at the Warrior's voice being so totally wrong, I loved this story. It has so much going for it and gets so much right. I loved the return to an isolated base approach, with a small group of characters (even if David Warner gets nothing to do here, and it's something of a waste of an actor of his stature to use him in such a minor role!) I loved the Warrior costume and the ideas presented (the alien being able to leave it, the technology of its suit and so on). I was less taken with the ending, which seemed rushed and something of a deus ex machina of the spaceship arriving - which is very like Close Encounters. I found myself wondering if there would actually be any Martians still alive in 1984 though - in Doctor Who history, the Red Planet was destroyed by the Fendahl on it's way to Earth in the distant past, and no Martian life remained apart from those Warriors who had left their homeworld. Other stories to feature them were set in Earth's future - 3000 for 'The Ice Warriors' where the Warriors had been buried in the ice for centuries and late 21st Century for 'The Seeds of Death' where they attack the Earth - and the two Peladon stories were set in unstated times. As with all Doctor Who though, this sort of thing only really matters to fans.

As I say, I loved the story, and I'm so pleased to see the show return to a semblance of the past, with standalone stories, where the Doctor and companion arrive, have an adventure, and then leave ... it's somewhat bizarre though that this should happen in this season, where there is arguably the strongest internal arc of all about Clara and her background (which seems to have been all but forgotten).  Kudos to all involved for a great piece of teatime telly, but please. Please. Please. Please. If you're going to bring back something from the past, don't change elements of it for the sake of. There's a reason these creatures and monsters are so memorable, so don't change the thing that made them a success in the first place! Thanks.

Alien Attax

There's something about collectible cards which appeal. I suspect you probably never quite grow out of wanting to get all the cards in a set ... and this appeal has endured for years and years, from the old cigarette cards from the fifties, right through to today's cards based on footballers and cult television.

Doctor Who has always had its fair share of cards. The earliest were in the sixties, when a set of cards were produced with packs of sweet cigarettes (remember those!) and then more were available with Sky Ray ice lollys ... In 2013 we have a new set available from Topps, and these are called Alien Attax.

The craze for these never seems to die, and since the show came back in 2005 there have been many sets and expansions being released,

Here's the technical gen on the Alien Attax set from Topps:

There are 5 designs of card pack available: 11th Doctor and Clara; Ood and Judoon; Sontaran and Silent; Weeping Angel and Ice Warrior; Cyberman and Dalek.

The box of 24 packets comes with an 'On Sale Here' window-poster.

Each individual pack costs £1.00 and contains 9 cards from the set.

There are 240 standard cards available: Cards 1-16 are rainbow foiled and with gold lettering; Cards 17-48 have mirror (silver) foil edges and silver lettering; the remainder are standard cards. The full list is available with the Collector's Pack

There are four collectible cards available:
LE1 - Clara Oswold Card (given away in a special packet with Doctor Who Adventures issue 313)
LE2 - Rainbow foil Weeping Angel (given away with the 5 Pack set)
LE3 - Lenticular 9th/10th Doctor card (given away with the Collector Tin)
LE4 - Lenticular 11th Doctor card (given away with the Starter Pack)

There is available on the UK Topps site a 'card generator' which allows you to create and have printed your own card designs for the range. These do not have the individual card number in the top right hand corner, but are otherwise the same as the actual set. This can be found at

The 5 pack set comes on a card and contains 5 standard packs of the cards (with 5 different pack designs) and a limited edition gold foiled Weeping Angel card (numbered LE2).

The Collector Tin has the 11th Doctor and Clara on the top. Contains: 26 regular cards; 3 mirror foil cards; 1 rainbow foil card; 1 exclusive animotion limited edition card (numbered LE3).

The Starter Pack is bagged and comes with a Binder, fold-out Collector Guide which contains details of all the standard cards, a fold-out two-sided Game Mat, a standard Packet of Alien Attax Cards, and a Special Promotion Card (Lenticular 11th Doctor card, numbered LE4).

The cards are printed on good quality stock, and I was pleased to see that they cover both the new and the Classic series. So we have Leela and Jamie alongside Donna and Rose; and Helen A and Commander Lytton as well as Jake Simmonds and Jenny Flint. The selections are a little strange at times, with minor characters included, while some of the more major characters don't have cards at all. I guess this just allows scope for future sets and additions to be made, which is what we have seen with all of the other recent cardsets that have been produced.

In terms of design they are simple and yet effective - a cut out image of the character against one of several generic background designs, and of course they have varying 'Defence' and 'Attack' values enabling you to play a variety of 'Top Trumps' type games with them.

I love that you can create your own cards too, using the generator on their website. These cards are identical in look and feel to the ones in the set (but don't have the card number in the top right corner) and you get four standard and one silvered card when you order them.

Another nice touch is that Topps allow you to order individual cards from their site, so collecting a full set is relatively simple. This is great for collectors, unlike some of the previous cardsets where it was basically impossible to get a full set without paying exorbitant eBay prices for the select cards which were ludicrously limited.

So get collecting and swapping, Time Lords!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Merchandise Keeps On Coming ...

Life here at Howeswho is anything but dull, and over the last few weeks, I seem to have been deluged with Doctor Who goodies of all persuasion.  Some I bought, some I have been sent by kind souls, but all are really appreciated!

I need therefore to do a little raving about them, as there is some darned good stuff out there that deserves to be promoted and talked up and hopefully then sought out and collected by all!

And so in no particular order:


Just received a selection of the new Vending Machine figures from Tarco ... and they are brilliant! Each comes in a round plastic container with a small sheet showing all the range that is available in this release.

There are 8 in the set, and these little figures are so detailed and cute that I can see them being snapped up by kids everywhere. There are three Daleks for those who want to build an army: a Red, a White and a Yellow, and each is constructed from a sturdy and weighty plastic. The arms and eyes are flexible, so you can bend them to be straight, and the paintwork is basic but effective given the size.  The little TARDIS is gorgeous! Yellow windows and even a tiny St John's Ambulance logo adorn it. For such a small model - only about 4cm high - it's really well done. The Cyberman is sturdy and stylistically represented, as is the Ood, complete with red eyes and white trainers!  And the Weeping Angel ... goodness! A terrifying sight, all snarling and arms ready to attack. There is even an 11th Doctor!

The figures have been based on the Doctor Who 'Worlds in Time' online computer game, and this accounts for their slightly stylised appearance. But as little collectibles at only £1 each, they are magnificent!  If I had any criticism at all, it would be that I want more Cybermen with different poses, and more Weeping Angels, again with different poses and faces ... and then add to this more and more monsters from the Classic and New series ... I don't ask much! Maybe a Dalek of each different design ... variant Doctors ... companions ...

Maybe if this release goes well, then Tarco will consider further figures and variants for future releases. After all, the more there are, the less likely you are to get doubles when you get them from the machines! They should be available all over the UK, from service stations to Toys R Us, Tesco and Sainsbury stores ... anywhere which has this sort of £1 collectible vending machine.


For the fiftieth anniversary, BBC Books has put together a selection of one novel each from each Doctor, and has released them in snazzy 'B' format paperback with, it has to be said, the most beautiful covers.

The choice of books is a little strange, and, I suspect, driven more by who the authors are than whether these the best examples of books in the range. It's basically a collection by the usual suspects - authors who have regularly contributed to the ranges of books and audios, or who have gone on to be 'names' in their own right.  I guess at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who writes the books as they will sell on the Doctor Who name alone, and so having another angle to sell on will help.

So from latest to earliest:

Doctor 11 is represented by a paperback of Dan Abnett's The Silent Stars Go By, which is the first paperback of this novel which appeared in hardback in 2011.
Doctor 10 is Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell, first published in 2008.
Doctor 9 is Only Human by Gareth Roberts, first published in 2005.
Doctor 8 is Earthworld by Jacqueline Rayner, first published in 2001.
Doctor 7 is Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch, first published in 1990, and the only one of this collection which is a novelisation of a television story. However Aaronovitch expanded the story so much, than many commented that this book formed the sort of template for the original novels from Virgin Publishing which followed.
Doctor 6 is Players by Terrance Dicks, first published in 1999.
Doctor 5 is Fear the Dark by Trevor Baxendale, first published in 2003.
Doctor 4 is Festival of Death by Jonathan Morris, first published in 2000.
Doctor 3 is Last of the Gaderene by Mark Gatiss, first published in 2000.
Doctor 2 is Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards, first published in 1998.
Doctor 1 is Ten Little Aliens by Steve Cole, first published in 2002.

Everyone would have their own favourite list of novels to reprint, but I think it's a shame that the original and first novel, Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks was not included, and that some of the others were novels which were deemed to be excellent reads, rather than some which seem to have been chosen just because of the author. All the books are good though - they wouldn't have been published in the first place if they weren't! And this is a superb entry into the many worlds of Doctor Who fiction for first time readers.

Of the covers, I like the designs immensely. It's a good example of what the BBC can do that no other licensee can - licensees have to follow brand guidelines, but the BBC themselves does not! Something that I have always felt to be a little bizarre to be honest. Favourites are the 4th Doctor one, Festival of Death - with a nice application of UV varnish in a skull effect on Baker's face, Players has a lovely image of the 6th Doctor, and Beautiful Chaos does a good job of capturing the 10th Doctor's manic movement, with more nicely placed UV varnish to bring the image to life.


Now this is a strange beast. It's penned by my old friend from the USA Paul Salamoff and collects the content of several individual editions into one book. The basic idea is to do a graphic novel depicting the lives of all the actors to play the Doctor.

We open with William Hartnell, then look at Tom Baker ... then Paul McGann (I guess you don't have to be chronological with these things). Matt Smith is next, and then finally Peter Cushing makes an appearance.  So ... I said it was strange ... we miss out Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant ... maybe the idea is to do follow-up books if this one is successful.

The art is not bad, and the book sort of presents a potted biography of each of the actors, with illustrations reflecting the text. It's only £4.79 from Amazon and as it's an independently produced project, worth supporting if you like the Graphic Novel form.


I raved about the previous book in this series - The UNIT Sourcebook - earlier on this Blog. This volume is also tying into the role playing game, and is as beautifully produced and absorbing as the first.

This volume is all about the Doctor and the TARDIS and is sort of 'everything you need to know to be a Companion' tome. It's full colour throughout and in hardback and 238 pages long!  A magnificent beast of a book.

There are lovely photos throughout, and if you are at all interested in the fictional side of Doctor Who then this is a must! It's published by Cubicle 7 in the USA and has an rrp of $39.99 ... but it really is a lovely, lovely book!

I wish we could get more books of this quality produced, and moreover I'd really like to write one!


New from Eaglemoss is a Doctor Who version of those collectible figurine sets. It's not cheap - £6.99 per issue, plus an additional £1 per issue if you want an exclusive set of Dalek figures on top. But the quality of the initial releases is very good, and bodes well for the future.

Issue 1 (at a bargain price of £2.99) comes with a figure of the 11th Doctor, which is passable in accuracy. He looks like Matt Smith well enough, but at the small size - about 4 inches/10 cm tall - it's hard to get totally perfect likenesses. Issue 2 is Davros, but here the figurine is perfect. A really lovely little model of the Daleks' creator from the story 'Journey's End'.  Issue 3 comes with a CyberController from 'The Age of Steel', and again this is a very nice figure, though to my eye he's bigger than the 11th Doctor than he should be ... but then I wonder if the figures will be in scale with each other - there's nothing to say or suggest that they will be.

The magazine which comes with each is a lightweight affair. There's 4 pages or so on the figurine, and photos of the character it is of (which has the unfortunate effect of highlighting where the sculpt is not perfect in each case); then more pages on the character's history from the show, a year by year timeline fills two more pages, showing events in Who history and real-life history side by side, then random piece on other elements of Doctor Who, and a piece on someone associated with Who, but not necessarily anything to do with the figurine ...

There's no writer credits, so I have no idea who has penned it, but it's passable and wholly in line with the somewhat bland and generic approach which BBC Worldwide take with regards to these magazines (vis a vis Doctor Who Adventures, Battles in Time and Monster Invasion, and probably the DVD magazine too, though I'm not so familiar with that).

For details head to


I love incidental music, and Doctor Who is no exception. I go crazy for it!  And now Silva Screen are releasing some new soundtracks, kicking off with Roger Limb's evocative score for 'The Caves of Androzani'.

I liked this at the time as it stands out from the rest of the Radiophonic Workshop's fare for Doctor Who in the eighties as being an impressive score, underpinning the action, and giving just the right amount of atmosphere to the story.  I love the rattlesnake noises for the villain of the piece, and the drumbeats and doom-laden air it brings perfectly matches the visuals.

Many of the eighties Doctor Who stories are lumbered with a score which today sounds dated, but 'Androzani' fares well and the score still sounds fresh today.

Coming next are all the sound effects from the Patrick Troughton story 'The Krotons', so not really incidental music at all. But in the sixties, the Radiophonic Workshop would lay down a soundscape for the stories, and 'The Krotons' is one of the best examples of their work.  I can't wait!


I love audio-WHO, and I came to this new series of adventures with anticipation. The idea is simple: one story per Doctor, released one a month up until November ... the first three are now out (in fact I think the fourth is probably available too as it's April) and I listened to them all on some recent long journeys.

Hunters of Earth kicks off the story, and author Nigel Robinson does a sterling job of trying to capture the mood of 1963 England in an adventure set before the Doctor and Susan kidnap two teachers and head off for their television adventures.

I explored this territory myself when we published the original Doctor Who novellas, first with Kim Newman's Time and Relative and then with Tara Samms' Frayed, and unfortunately I feel that we did it better. Part of the problem here is Carole Ann Ford's reading. She is really not very good, and the Doctor especially, comes over as just wrong. The plot is interesting - involving an alien invasion using radio waves - but it is very telegraphed, and some of the characters come over a little too much as ciphers to be wholly successful. I usually love Nigel's work, so for me this is a rare mis-step, and perhaps the brief was too challenging to be wholly achieved by anyone!

The second Doctor adventure, Shadow of Death is brilliant, however. Simon Guerrier delivers a cracking script which is straight out of late sixties Who, and Frazer Hines reads it so well, that you forget you're listening to an audio adventure, and start to wish and believe that this was the script for an actual missing adventure. Hines also reads the Doctor in the Doctor's voice, and he has become feted for this impression - and it's so good that again you forget you're listening to a reading, and become engrossed in the plot.  I loved this to pieces!

The third Doctor yarn is unfortunately not very good. The script is by Andrew Smith, and it contains an awful lot of 'tell' rather than 'show'. Richard Franklin reads, and the script has obviously been written with this actor in mind as it is very much a 'Mike Yates Adventure', which is fine, and obviously Franklin can bring life to that, but his third Doctor is somewhat stilted. In contrast, his Brigadier is brilliant!  Let's have an adventure where the second Doctor (Hines) battles alongside the Brigadier (Franklin)!  In some places, I would have sworn that it was the much-missed Nick Courtney speaking on the CD!  Plotwise it's a bit of a mess - something about alien stones in stone circles draining the power from the Earth by aliens displaced from their own world. It doesn't really ring true as a third Doctor adventure, and perhaps would be better suited to the comic strips.

Overall, I'm holding final judgement on this series to see how it develops. There is an overall story arc emerging which is intriguing (and handled best by Guerrier in the second Doctor tale) and it bodes well for the series as a whole.


It might have missed your attention, but this year is the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, and to celebrate, the Royal Mail have brought out a new set of stamps featuring all eleven Doctors and various monsters.

I'm pleased they relaxed the rules which said that no living person could appear on a UK stamp, as this would have made this endeavour quite tricky!  But nevertheless, we have the stamps, and a whole panoply of postcards and stampsheets and covers and booklets to go with them!  They are all quite expensive, and you'd be spending a pretty penny if you got all the variants of everything that were available.  I decided to get the postcard set, a little booklet containing all the different stamps, the two first day covers, and a stamp book with six of the stamps in.

Postcard Set: I like this as they show the stamps nice and large, and are just a good collectible. There are 16 cards in total, one for each stamp.

Booklet: This is quite small, and the text is written by Gary Russell. It contains examples of all the stamps released: One for each Doctor (1st); TARDIS (1st); and four monster stamps: Dalek, Ood, Angel, Cyberman (2nd).

First Day Covers: Two available. One with the first 8 Doctors on, and a second with the last 3. The imagery is different on each, and each comes with a different card inlay (again by Gary Russell) talking about the eras concerned.  I liked that the covers have a cut-out TARDIS shape on, and the inlay card has a TARDIS printed on which then shows through the hole. They come with a Cyberman First Day stamp from Cardiff.

Prestige Stamp Book: a cute little stamp book of 6 stamps: 11th Doctor, 1st Doctor and 4 TARDISes.

All these things and more are available from


You may remember the 10th Anniversary Special which the Radio Times produced back in 1973 ... well this is a brilliant pastiche from the people behind The Wonderful Book of Doctor Who 1965 which riffs on the first 8 years of the show since 2005.

The cover is a recreation of the original Radio Times special with toys, and the internal content follows the design of that original magazine perfectly, but with texts which cover and generally take the mickey out of the new series.

I loved the sense of humour throughout - and especially the content for the 2011 series, which is written as one whole stream of consciousness story involving Silents and Hitler and Puppets and whatever - a brilliant and telling summation of all that was wrong with that year's Who.

If you can get it, do so. But copies sell very, very fast. Check for details.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

This all seems familiar ... first episode with a new companion is set on contemporary Earth, the second takes her to some alien world where there are lots of monsters around ... thus is was with Rose, thus it is with Clara.

The second episode with her is 'The Rings of Akhatan', which is a strange little piece. Very enjoyable in and of itself, but riddled with holes as is much of modern Doctor Who.

We open with a nice sequence where the Doctor is looking in on Clara's life, learning how her parents met (through a leaf which blows into her dad's face and results in her meeting her mum), and then seeing her grow up. The Doctor meets her as a little girl (but why doesn't Clara remember him later on?) and then, when her mum dies, the Doctor is at the cemetery, watching. He comments in the TARDIS that she's not possible, but there's no explanation given, what is so impossible about her? Perhaps this is just one of the Claras, and the impossible bit is that there are lots of them? No idea.

So the Doctor fetches her a day later (we assume, following on from the last episode) and takes her to the Rings of Akhaten, a 7 world planetary system with lots of asteroids, all orbiting a vast planet (or is it a star, it's not very clear). The people of this system believe that life originated on their planet, and so the Doctor heads for a market there which is populated by all manner of exotic creatures and android things - a brilliant array of imagination from the prosthetic department to be honest, and many of them are better than the featured monsters and creatures that we do get in Who ... this is most reminiscent of course of 'The End of the World' episode with all the creatures assembled, but also reflected through the bar scene at the end of the Titanic episode, 'Voyage of the Damned', or even all the monsters under Stonehenge to trap the Doctor in the Pandorica in 'The Pandorica Opens' ... except this time none of them are remotely familiar.

As usual the music is OTT, but Clara meets up with a little girl called Merry, and together they hide out in an abandoned warehouse-like area. Merry is key to a 1000 year ritual and must sing, but is afraid she'll forget the words.  Clara puts her mind at rest, but three alien whispering things appear and try and find her - now these are really creepy. Excellent design and very underused here. Which is actually common with much of the episode - good ideas, but not really developed and rushed over.

So Merry goes off to sing, and Clara and the Doctor join the audience. It's all a little confusing, but thanks to some massive infodumps (what ever happened to 'show, don't tell' as a mantra for good scripting?) we learn that there's a Grandfather/Old God in the Pyramid, and that people keep a song going forever to keep it asleep ... and this 1000 year ritual is to continue the song - it's a lullaby to keep him asleep.

So a monk on the pyramid sings, and Merry sings, and the audience sings ... but what about the atmosphere? How does sound travel from this planet to the pyramid anyway? There must be some sort of breathable atmosphere between them, as the Doctor and Clara travel there on a air-bike to rescue Merry when she is taken to the pyramid ... so how then does all this work in terms of physics ... or perhaps best not ask.

Anyway, Merry is taken to the Pyramid place in the sky, and the Doctor and Clara chase after her having bought an alien sky scooter from a vendor (which is odd as all the other vendors were watching the song, so why wasn't this one?). The Grandfather starts to wake - he's an alien monster husk in a glass case, but because the song has stopped he's waking up.

It all gets very confusing now. Merry traps Clara against the case - no idea why, something about eating souls - and the Doctor talks her out of it and Clara is released ... Merry's soul was being sacrificed to this monster because there's only one of her ... but there are lots of Claras, and we get a shot of Clara presumably to bring this point home. But then 'the Vigil' arrive again - the spooky whispering robots - but the Doctor holds them back with the ever-present and all-powerful sonic screwdriver while Clara and Merry escape.

So the Grandfather escapes from the glass box, but then dies ... he wasn't the threat at all, but was an alarm clock for the big-bad, which is the planet or star or whatever it is that they are all in orbit around (it seems). This thing develops a skull-face, and the Doctor realises it is hungry and needs to feed on memories. So he gives it his own memories, and with no apparent adverse effect on the Doctor, it collapses in on itself, but then comes back as it's still hungry.

So Clara, who has headed back to the pyramid to save the Doctor, offers it her leaf - the one which made her mum and dad meet and which she has kept. Apparently this is all the life her mother never had. But this makes no sense as her mum died normally as far as we know ... and anyway, why would this leaf contain her future lives?  Given that the possibilities for her mum were infinite, this leaf represents an infinite meal, and so the planet/star/god/whatever eats its fill and vanishes.

But what about all the planets and asteroids which were orbiting it? Wouldn't they all just collapse? Would the atmosphere vanish and kill everyone? Would the sudden shift in gravitational patterns cause the system to rip itself apart?  No idea ... and the Doctor doesn't seem to care either. He and Clara return back to her home, where she leaves the TARDIS ...

As I said, it's a strange mishmash of ideas and concepts which are really good, but the whole thing makes no sense, particularly because of the lack of physics or appreciation as to how this all works on a scientific basis. I get that it's a fantasy show, but even in the most incredible stories and films, there is an appreciation of the laws of physics, and some McGuffin explanation of it all, but here there's nothing ... you just have to go with it.

And it's enjoyable as long as you don't ask questions: why was the God waking up now? Why didn't the people and aliens realise that the thing in the box wasn't the God, but instead it was the planet/star that they orbited? What was the point of the Grandfather - a raging alien husk in a case? What was the point of the Vigil - to bring Merry to the Grandfather? Why? So it could eat her soul? For what point?  The thing was so powerful it could have taken all the souls on the planet ... so why hers? And why did the Doctor have no ill effects from giving it all his memories - including things that should never be known as he told it in a good speech, and if all the Doctor's memories were not enough, why would one small girl pacify it ... it all makes no sense.

Anyway ... it's visually rich, and the performances are all good. Matt Smith has never been so Tennant in his performance, and Clara grows as a character. She's not so knowing here which is good. And it's good to see the Doctor just turn up and have an adventure too ... something I missed last year.

And next week, it's the Ice Warriors back ... so it can't be all bad ...

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Doctor Who: The Bells of St John

So Doctor Who returns for the second half of the latest season. I don't like this as it splits it all up and rather than being something to look forward to, which then runs for 14 or 20 weeks or whatever, Who becomes a blink and you miss it event ... but oh well.

'The Bells of St John'. Never was a story more misnamed. I suspect that they didn't know what to call it - 'The Return of the Intelligence', 'Connection Problems', 'The Curse of the Wi-Fi' ... those make sense, but the title they used refers to the TARDIS phone ringing when Clara calls and that's it - actually nothing to do with the actual story at all.

And the story ... well it's a light mishmash of everything that Steven Moffat has done before really. There's something real-world which goes scary (children, clockwork toys, statues, the dark ... and now Wi-Fi); a catch-phrase ('Are you my mummy?', 'Don't Blink!', 'Who put out the lights?' and now 'I don't know where I am!'); timey-wimey stuff; a manic Doctor; and a character who speaks so hip and knowing and arch that she comes over as being 'written' and 'developed' rather than natural.

So the Doc is in 1207 living as a monk whilst pondering the enigma which is Clara Oswold. Never mind why, he just is, okay! And then Clara calls him (or rather *a* Clara calls him - as we know, there are lots of them about) and wants to know why she can't get on the internet. She got the number from a woman in the shop ... so ... River Song? Clara is just plain daft ... doesn't everyone understand that you don't phone a help desk for something like that? Or maybe that's the point, she's meant to be daft (at least before the internetz are downloaded into her head ... or something ... but anyway, that's for later). But it's very 'written' and this is the main problem I have with her character. She's just not remotely believable!

So the Doctor dashes in his TARDIS over to her gaffe to see her, but she's a bit bemused at this mad Monk arriving that she ignores him. But, having clicked on the Wi-Fi thingy, she's then confronted by a girl from a book written by Amelia Williams (aka Amy Pond, aka something the BBC can then make money selling) who uploads her into the internetz run by that woman off of Acorn Antiques.

We get a sort of lo-fi re-run of 'The Idiot's Lantern' with people trapped in telly screens for a while, but the Doctor changes his outfit and rescues her by making the 'spoonhead' put her mind back in her body (as the upload wasn't complete - sounds like the dial up like speeds we have here at the moment to me!).

Miss Kislet (Celia Imrie, the Acorn Antiques lady) is apparently only capturing clever people into her web for her client ... but then they can give them intelligence and knowledge when they do ... so that doesn't make sense then. Oh well. She can also control the people who work for her from her iPad ... convenient little slider controls to manage Conscience, Paranoia, Obedience and IQ. I wonder what the people who wrote the software thought they were developing ...

The 'spoonhead' thing was sent by Kislet, but there's no explanation as to how it got in Clara's house ... but it is established that it is needed to put Clara back in her body ... important point for later on. Kislet also recognises the TARDIS ... and for totally random reasons decides to crash a plane on the Doctor and Clara! Given that later she demonstrates that she can control anyone in range of Wi-Fi this seems a little extreme ... why not just get someone from one of the other houses to go and kill them ...

Anyway, in a nifty bit of wassname, the Doctor takes the TARDIS onto the plane and saves the day and the passengers, before heading for London to try and track down these Wi-Fi controlling people. While Clara uses her new computer skills to hack their systems and identify them all from Facebook, and to find out where they are, Kislet shows off to the Doctor by talking to him via random people in the café (a nice, creepy sequence really) while another 'Base Station' spoonhead looking like the Doctor re-uploads Clara.

The Doc gets angry and rides his motorbike up the outside of the Shard, crashing into Kislet's office. But it's not the Doctor ... it's the Spoonhead (how did he get it to do all that then!), and it captures Kislet ... the Doc then makes her minions release everyone who has been trapped (despite the fact that they need a Spoonhead to replace them in their bodies as previously established!)  So loads of these people are presumably now just dead.

But in a dramatic twist, the Client is revealed to be Richard E Grant - it's the Great Intelligence again from the last episode ... this time capturing human minds and keeping them in the internetz ... which is sort of the plot of the Doctor Who spin-off film Downtime from the mid-90s, where the Great Intelligence enslaves humans and uses the Internet to try and take over the world ... Except that Downtime has Yetis and bleeping spheres and all the 'right' trappings, whereas 'The Bells of St John' has nothing except a 10 second cameo and lots of hot air.

The Intelligence releases Miss Kislet who reverts to acting like a little girl (not sure why) and the Doctor and Clara are saved. Hoorah!

Of course the Doc has to ask Clara to travel with him, and while she doesn't agree, she tells him to ask her again tomorrow ... she might say 'yes' then ... and it's all over for another week.

It's all very fast and furious and there are some lovely set pieces. I loved the TARDIS interior again - easily the best the series has ever had, and I liked the plane crash scenario, the café sequence, the riding the bike up the shard ... so many good bits ... but all held together by smoke and mirrors. There's no plot here. It makes no sense. There's no character development for anyone - all are just ciphers - and the Great Intelligence seems to be there for no discernible reason. You just have to watch, disengage brain, and go for the ride.

Back in 1967 it took the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria six weeks of tense action and drama to uncover the mystery of who the Intelligence was, what it wanted, who were its pawns, and why the Yeti were roaming the mountains of Tibet ... That's why there was another 6 part sequel set in the London Underground the following year, and why, some 45 years later, we still remember the episodes and the monsters ... here we get 45 minutes of flash bang wallop which is forgotten 10 minutes into the next programme.

Maybe that's all that Who can aspire to be these days, a flash in the pan ... which is the biggest mistake and the biggest tragedy of all.