TLV Blog Project #8 – Defender of the Daleks #2

Defender of the Daleks’ conclusion confirms its place as a side-line in the wider TLV tale but, as the first story element to fully conclude, it is satisfying to be able to see clearly where it fits. It also features an exciting appearance from a character not featured elsewhere in Time Lord Victorious, which I’ll get to later in the review once I have addressed some less spoiler-y points first.

Defender of the Daleks, looked at as a whole, remains a relatively straightforward story, but this issue is an improvement on the first part — or at least more happens in it. The Hond are a fairly under-characterised threat: a generically drawn jelly monster with an angry face, presumably to go with their generic motivations. Something could be said however for their being an interesting ideological opponent to the Daleks. While the Daleks seek to commit genocide as a result of a perceived racial supremacy, the Hond act from a place of self-pity. In this sense, perhaps the gelatinous mess of their forms does draw a further interesting contrast to the cold hard metal armour of a Dalek, but I still can’t help feeling something more visually interesting would have better suited the comic book medium.

It’s nice here to have a glimpse at a more well adjusted Tenth Doctor — compared to the post-the Waters of Mars incarnation featured in other TLV stories — but there is interesting foreshadowing of what’s to come for him. He criticises the alien Hond for having a “I clearly know what’s best for the universe, who cares what anyone else thinks or wants?” attitude, accidentally skewering his own future self’s actions at the end of The Knight, the Fool and the Dead. Actions he has to deal with the consequences of now, with the implication being that a species as destructive and useless as the Hond would have had its life limited by the Kotturuh in the original timeline. Which would explain why the Doctor believes they haven’t existed since the Dark Times.

Going into full SPOILER territory now, the unexpected appearance of the Thirteenth Doctor, shows that this story is ultimately an interlude in Titan’s ongoing stories featuring that pair together, as much as it is a standalone TLV piece. Her appearance is relatively short but her voice is captured at least as well as the Tenth Doctor’s. It’s a nice little cameo, although in part feels like an easy way of helping the Tenth Doctor escape from the Daleks; a Deus Ex Doctor, if you will.

Regarding its relevance to TLV, it is more significant in terms of the Daleks’ story, as the ending leads directly into their next appearance: The Enemy of My Enemy. The Daleks realise they are going to need another Doctor to help, and identify the Eighth Doctor as a target. This is a nice tie-in to the Big Finish range, but I can’t help thinking it’s odd that — in the middle of a tightly orchestrated multimedia event — this comic should feature the Eighth Doctor with his TV Movie hair and costume, rather than as he appears on the relevant Big Finish covers (with the The Night of the Doctor hair and costume).

I think it’s clear from the above review that I’m not the most enthusiastic about this part of the TLV range. It’s certainly not the most relevant to the overall TLV range, and is a fairly generic and relatively thin-on-the-ground story. But, that being said, this is by far the cheapest element of TLV, and it can’t be understated how genuinely stunning the artwork is, particularly in the first part. I suspect that comics of this kind just aren’t for me, but if they are for you — that’s great! — and I am sure you will enjoy these two issues, or indeed the soon to be released collected edition.

****

Well, it’s nice to have concluded one strand of TLV, and since the last reviews many more have opened up, which you can expect reviews of soon (I already have my drafted notes on four further stories!). I have also taken the decision to review Daleks! as one thing once all five episodes are released, to give me more time to catch up on the other stories. And, in very exciting news, you can hear me discuss The Knight, the Fool and the Dead in greater detail on Trap One Podcast. This discussion was very fun to record and I hope to appear on the show again at some point in the future!

TLV Blog Project #7 – Short Trips: Master Thief/Lesser Evils

The following review was originally written for WeAreCult, and was made available there first on the 19th October. It is reproduced here in order to maintain the chronology of the blog project.

****

With the Time Lord Victorious event well and truly underway now, Big Finish joins in the party with two short but sweet tales, as Jon Culshaw gives us his take on two classic Masters in stories from newcomer Sophie Iles and stalwart Simon Guerrier. These stories are curious side pieces as far as the Time Lord Victorious narrative is concerned, giving us brief glimpses into the lives of the Master, the first in particular with little obvious connection to TLV. The Short Trips range has often been a bit of a hidden gem for Big Finish. Despite full cast audio being the company’s USP, they excel at these short single-reader audiobooks, and this pair of two very different stories demonstrates that nicely.

In Master Thief, the incarnation of the Master originated on-screen by Roger Delgado, dressed for the occasion in suit and gold tie, seeks to steal from the Repository (A famously secure vault housed inside a pyramid) under the pseudonym Director Maelstrom. The story capitalises on the character’s distinguished charm, differentiating him from some of the later Masters. There’s a nice moment where the audience might think he is about to hypnotise a young employee, Georgina, but instead he elects to manipulate her through subtler means. This reminds us where the character’s real power lies (even if his decision not to hypnotise her comes back to bite him later in the story).

Here the Master is on his own, unfettered by the Doctor’s presence, and racking up quite an impressive body count with a unique and recently acquired weapon. Regardless of his brutality, you can’t help but root for him as he treks through a vault of priceless objects, methodically focussed on a single, clear goal: securing a particular map. The sequence of him within the vault also features one particular fannish indulgence which genuinely made me pause to giggle (trust me — you’ll know it when you get to it).

Cleverly, the Master’s weapon, at first seemingly a bit overpowered, is far more than just a plot convenience for dispatching people. It creates a great deal of problems for the Master — I won’t say how — and as a result, we get a slightly different side to his character, albeit one equally determined and hell bent on success. It’s from this development that the story brings in themes around identity, questioning “What is the point of a Time Lord without his history?”. At times I was reminded of discussions in the television series around the Doctor’s identity and the significance of his chosen name as something to live up to.

Jon Culshaw is a compelling reader, and differentiates the characters’ voices well, even if his Delgado isn’t pitch perfect. But the story here isn’t a vehicle for impressions, just a well-written piece in its own right. As Sophie Iles’ first widely available contribution to Big Finish (with her previously having written a subscriber-only Short Trip) this is a fantastic showcase for her abilities in prose, and, if this is any indication of the general quality of her work, I’m hopeful we get to hear much more from her in the future.

In Lesser Evils, Culshaw captures Ainley slightly better than he does Delgado, which is to the story’s advantage, given it is primarily a dialogue between the Master and a Kotturuh. Here the Time Lord Victorious tie-in is clear from the off, and it’s the most in-depth look we have gotten so far at how the Kotturuh operate, focusing on a single one and answering questions that the other stories have thus far failed to, like how the Kotturuh deal with a planet that (like our own) has a huge range of different species beyond just the sentient humanoids focused on by the novel The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead and short story Dawn of the Kotturuh. It also raises the idea that, for this particular Kotturuh at least, species’ lifespans are designated mostly on a whim, which is curiously different to how we have thus far seen them depicted as cold and calculating – and may cause us to view other stories in a different light.

The additional details are nice, but it’s a very lengthy description of a process we already know from other stories. The Kotturuh spends over eleven minutes alone before the Master appears. It’s a slower, more precise story, almost in real time, and it’s a long while before the Master’s intentions become clear, so a lot of the story is spent wondering why exactly he is doing what he’s doing. This contrasts hugely with the pacy opening story of this little bundle, but that’s no bad thing. Certainly, the two very different stories will appeal to two very different sorts of listeners.

While the Time Lord Victorious connection is nice, neither of these are essential stories for understanding the ongoing narrative. They are, however, very good stories, well worth listening to regardless of one’s thoughts on the multimedia event they are a part of. As examples of what Big Finish can do, to a potential new audience bought in by Time Lord Victorious, they are sublime. The recording quality and sound design work are unimpeachable, which will undoubtedly help new listeners settle into stories in a potentially unfamiliar medium.

Like many of Big Finish’s Short Trips, these stories combine a cheap price with quality production, an elegant reading, and just plain good storytelling. I would definitely recommend picking them up if you’ve enjoyed past Short Trips, want to get a better insight into the Kotturuh, or love these two Masters (versions of the character that historically haven’t had much of a look-in at Big Finish for obvious reasons). This release is representative of what Big Finish has started to do really well in recent years, of having stories by brand new, exciting voices placed directly alongside reliable and solid writers who’ve been around since the early days of the company. It’s a trend I’m always happy to see continue and – looking forward to Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Time Lord Victorious audios, two of which are written by people with only one other Big Finish credit – I’m excited to see what other joys new talent can provide.

TLV Blog project #6 – The Knight, the Fool and the Dead

In the first part of what could easily be considered the centrepiece of the Time Lord Victorious range, the Tenth Doctor travels back into the dark times and takes on death itself, claiming the title of ‘Time Lord Victorious’.

Finally, the story teased in most of TLV’s promotion is here, and we get to read about how the Doctor goes from the ending of The Waters of Mars, to changing the entire history of the universe, resulting in the timeline featured throughout the TLV stories. In many ways it could be said that this would make more sense as the first story released, as it is the events of this one that leads to the others. However it becomes clear that other TLV stories are occurring chronologically concurrently with this, and others still happen earlier in the dark times. Proving the point that perhaps there is no right order in which to release (or for that matter read/listen/watch) such a crossover. That said, if readers were only interested in reading the books, I think that this would be the most narratively rewarding strand to experience in isolation, as it is the story around which the others pivot.

The Tenth Doctor’s characterisation in this novel is fascinating, and full of contradictions that motivate the character. At times he seems to have a death-wish, including but not limited to willingly travelling through a time fracture into the deepest depths of the dark times, and yet he is also on the run from his death, having ignored Ood Sigma’s call at the end of The Waters of Mars. He objects to words like ‘admiral’, and using the command ‘fire’, and yet still commits to the actions associated with these words. He’s twisting his own morality into a set of rules, rather than a set of values, the same rules that mean you can’t pick up a gun, but it’s okay to blow up a fleet – this story takes that to it’s logical extreme. In short, it’s the flawed morality of Tennant’s Doctor (sometimes a deliberate part of the text, e.g. Waters of Mars, sometimes less deliberate) explored in greater detail than ever before in licensed Doctor Who. Here we see the mental hoops a ‘good man’ can jump through in order to justify an act of genocide.

Despite how happy I was to see some interrogation of the character in this way, there’s an argument the story doesn’t go that far in exploring what is quite a meaty concept. After all, The Knight, the Fool and the Dead is a short book, more novella than novel, and more akin to the (discontinued as of 2018) BBC New Series Adventures range, than the hardback novels we have had more of in recent years. Hopefully, in amongst the confrontation of three different Doctors, All Flesh is Grass will have chance to explore the Tenth Doctor’s morality further, as the themes and questions this book raises deserve that greater insight.

Curiously, in contrast to what some of the released TLV synopses might imply, the Doctor doesn’t travel into the dark times with any sort of plan, but more out of a petulant desire to break the rules of time that he now claims as his own (“The laws of time are mine. And they will obey me! – The Waters of Mars). He’s quickly caught up in events, and this is what leads him to an encounter with the Kotturuh and becoming involved with a scientist, a young girl, and, of course, Brian the Ood. Brian is already very enjoyable here, and him and the Doctor have an almost instant rapport, which may well be informed by the fact that Brian has known the Doctor before in a previous incarnation, something hinted at in their early interactions and confirmed by one of the interludes. Despite the fact that it was a previous incarnation who knew Brian (as anyone who has seen the Big Finish TLV covers will already have known), this Doctor doesn’t recall having met him before, presumably a symptom of the changing timeline.

The mention of one of the interludes brings me onto the topic of what for me was the book’s highlight and nicest surprise, the three interludes which briefly dip us into different points in the Doctor’s life – and are threaded throughout in order to tell the story of a fairy tale that is is clearly influencing the Doctor’s actions in the main story. One result of these interludes is that another incarnation of the Doctor not previously featured is now technically a part of Time Lord Victorious.

Stylistically, the prologue (which I discussed in more detail in my post on The Dawn of the Kotturuh) is one of the better written prose passages I’ve read in a new series Doctor Who book in a while. The style of the New Series Adventures, and indeed hardbacks like At Childhood’s End have, in my experience, often been a little dry and functional, and while that style is still present in this book, the efforts to break away from it with the prologue and interludes is commendable. In fact the atmosphere of the prologue and the controlled quietness of the interludes can at times make it feel like the best parts of the book are the bits outside of the ongoing story, which itself is a little predictable, especially being the narrative we already understand the rest of TLV is based around.

For people who aren’t interested in the full TLV experience, but want to see what it’s all about, or are intrigued by the idea behind it of the Doctor going up against death, this book is definitely what I’d recommend. Ultimately, as we near the end of the second month and the shape of TLV starts to become clearer, it’s apparent to me, that the main stories for TLV are the two novels, and the 8th Doctor audios and 9th Doctor DWM comics that lead up to their involvement in the novels. While all the stories can receive recommendations based on quality or lack-thereof, in terms of wanting to experience TLV with limited time and/or budget, it is this triad of audio dramas, comics, and books that I would point your attention to. And for what it’s worth, I do think this book is a reasonably enjoyable read, and it’s nice to have expanded universe stories that push the Tenth Doctor in new directions, rather than simply emulating what has come before in an attempt to invoke nostalgia (not that it can be earnestly said that TLV isn’t also drawing on quite a large degree of nostalgia).

As for the question I have sometimes raised about whether or not a story makes particular use of the medium it is being presented in, I think this is apparent from the structure around the prologue and interludes, and it is also a notable decision to place the largest scale stories in book format. In this regard I think it is fair to say the story fits the format. However, what with the book range’s rather sporadic releases, there isn’t the same clear effort to promote the licensees wider Doctor Who output as we have seen with Titan, DWM, and Big Finish.

****

After a bit of a gap between my last post and this one, I hope to soon be caught up on these reviews. Tomorrow I’ll be reposting my review of Master Thief/Lesser Evils (already available via WeAreCult), and soon after that we’ll look at the conclusion to Defender of the Daleks, with reviews of He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not; online short story Canaries, and Monstrous Beauty #2 to follow.

TLV Blog Project #5 – The Dawn of the Kotturuh (Doctor Who Newsletter)

Today’s review looks at the short but sweet The Dawn of the Kotturuh: released for free as part of the Doctor Who newsletter. As always with reviews of free shortform content, I’ll be going into full spoilers with it (as without doing so I wouldn’t have a lot to talk about)!

This short story’s primary concern is depicting the modus operandi of the Kotturuh, who various synopses/press releases have already informed us travel around the universe, landing on planets and determining what lifespan the indigenous species ‘deserve’, and then enforcing that. The fact that this story is actually showing us the first planet on which the Kotturuh inflicted their gift of death, has minimal impact on the actual narrative and how the Kotturuh operate, and it very much seems to be a depiction of ‘business-as-usual’. The story stops short of actually revealing anything new, or developing any element of TLV, but rather serves as a sort of prologue, and does start out with a nicely comic tone courtesy of the narrator – a data worm – although the humorous elements relatively quickly abandoned as the story goes on to depict the death of most of the planet’s population.

There’s not a huge amount to say about this piece, other than that it serves a purpose, in teasing and promoting TLV to the newsletter audience, however there are some interesting comparisons to be made. The description of how those older than the newly set lifespan turn to dust, for instance, may put the reader in mind of a similar phenomenon in a recent superhero blockbuster. Another, perhaps more pertinent, comparison is to the prologue of the TLV book The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead. While I will be reviewing this novel in full shortly, it felt worth bringing up early here, as the two stories seem to be at cross-purposes.

Not only do both this short story and the novel prologue depict what happens when the Kotturuh land on a planet, both were made available for free via the Doctor Who newsletter (the novel opening is here for those interested. This has the upshot of making the short story feel more than a little bit redundant. I also believe that the novel’s prologue is superior, as it does a better job of conveying the horror of the Kotturuh’s actions, due to it presenting the perspective of a young girl left behind when her parents are dusted. It wisely keeps the Kotturuh at a distance, focussing more on the horror of their actions than on the aliens themselves. In contrast the newsletter short gives us a near omniscient narrator, completely detached from events, informing us of the conversation between the Kotturuh (who feel much less threatening when they speak so much) and a planetary leader figure, who is far less compelling than a terrified young girl.

Given all of this, I don’t think The Dawn of the Kotturuh is exactly a necessary read, but it is free and perfectly well-written prose. In reality, it’s more of an advertisement than a story in its own right, and it does a perfectly good job at fulfilling this function.

TLV Blog Project #4 – Monstrous Beauty #1 (DWM issue 556)

In Time Lord Victorious’ most exciting instalment so far, the Ninth Doctor and Rose travel back into the Dark Times and face a couple of old enemies. Please note that this review might be a little bit more spoiler-heavy than most, as I wasn’t sure how to talk about it without acknowledging a couple things, but I held off from mentioning one major spoiler, as I imagine I will have a lot more to say about it after future issues.

This story starts very much in the action, with the TARDIS’ accidental arrival in The Dark Times, and things escalate quickly from there with the introduction of (pre-Time Lord) Gallifreyans and Vampires of the kind first seen in State of Decay. Although their presence in The Dark Times was referred to as recently as the Doctor Who annual’s Guide to the Dark Times, I did not anticipate their appearance as the featured enemy for one of the stories. This particular threat makes a change of pace from Daleks, and demonstrates effectively (and relatively early on) that Daleks are not all TLV is about (thankfully). It is also utilised as a way to separate the Doctor and Rose, presumably in order to emphasise the Doctor’s interactions with the Gallifreyan characters as this story continues through the next few issues.

It’s exciting to see this incarnation of the Doctor and Rose in a DWM comic after almost a decade and a half absence, and also to see them interacting with classic series elements such as the Great Vampires (especially given how light the 2005 series was on references to what had come before). Rose is characterised well, capturing series 1’s presentation of the character in the dialogue, although unfortunately the narrative doesn’t give her much to do other than be menaced by vampires. The initial outfit choice for her is well drawn and provides a pang of nostalgia for anyone who grew up playing with the first wave of new series Doctor Who action figures (à la moi), and by the end of the story she is changed into the outfit featured in Lee Binding’s key artwork for TLV (pictured below). This particular element really cements this range as one of the primary elements of Time Lord Victorious, especially when you factor in that it is the only place you can find Ninth Doctor content outside of the main crossover book (the upcoming All Flesh is Grass).

Due to their identical mediums, comparisons to Defender of the Daleks are inevitable, and while I personally prefer Monstrous Beauty (so far), both have their strengths and weaknesses. They each do a respectable job at capturing the rhythms of their featured characters in the dialogue, but Monstrous Beauty gets more out of this by featuring characters other than just Daleks. Although notably both of them seem to underplay the Doctor’s reaction to massive revelations (Ten’s reaction to the Time War not happening, and Nine’s reaction to seeing his own kind again). As far as story is concerned, there’s no competition. I mentioned earlier how Monstrous Beauty starts in the action, and this makes Defender of the Daleks #1’s pages and pages and pages of setup feel even more dull in retrospect. There’s also some impact from knowing that while we are already halfway through Defender of the Daleks, we still have two more instalments of Monstrous Beauty to continue and resolve this story in satisfying manner. Not only has this story already done more, but it’s got more space to wrap up the questions and threads its raised.

The only place where Defender of the Daleks may gain some points over Monstrous Beauty is in the artwork. And don’t get me wrong, I love the Monstrous Beauty artwork: there’s a clear and consistent colour scheme, and the slightly more stylised take on the characters really sits well with the tone. However compared to the sheer scale and scope of some of Defender of the Daleks’ art, it doesn’t seem on the same level. It’s clear that art is where Titan excels, and their release emphasises this, which makes sense as a use of TLV to promote their brand. There is also a question of accessibility, Forbidden Planet sold me Defender of the Daleks #1 for only £3.75, whereas Monstrous Beauty will set you back £9.99 (due to it being paired with DWM, and this first comic being part of a special polybag released). The DWM issue it comes with includes some lovely features on TLV, and is generally a pretty great magazine (I was happy to see my favourite Classic series serial covered by The Fact of Fiction), but if you are only purchasing it for the TLV story, it comes across as quite pricey.

A factor I’ve discussed in a few of these reviews is whether or not a story utilises its medium effectively. I’ve looked at this in terms of whether it is telling a story in a way that could only be told in its particular medium. Despite loving it, I can’t honestly say that Monstrous Beauty wouldn’t be equally or more effective in another medium, in the same way I can with Defender of the Daleks. This probably has more to do with the fallibility of my success criteria than anything else, but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

This comic makes it feel like Monstrous Beauty will be a crucial element of the TLV range, and yet I’m sure many will want to wait for a collected edition if they are not interested in Doctor Who Magazine. However, as an on-again-off-again DWM reader, I am more than happy to have an excuse to pick up and read a few more issues. Moreover, if this was the first DWM someone picked up (as a result of wanting the comic), I think this issue is a perfectly good example of what the magazine is like, and would encourage them to continue reading it. Once again the financial/business motivations of TLV are clear and, at least to me, seem like they would be effective.

****

Well, after that I can’t wait to review the 2nd issue of Monstrous Beauty when it comes around, but between now and then I have many other reviews to complete. I’m already reading the newly released The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead, and you can also expect my review of the free newsletter short story to crop up soon!

TLV Blog Project #3 – The Guide to the Dark Times (Doctor Who Annual 2021)

Firstly, special thanks to John Salway, who was kind enough to send me his copy of the 2021 Doctor Who annual after I had problems with my own order. He is also reviewing Time Lord Victorious content over at Tides of Time, his reviews are really good, so check them out. Now, onto the review itself…

Ahead of the start of the Ninth Doctor’s entry into the Time Lord Victorious story in DWM, the 2021 Annual gives us a sideways and more removed look at Time Lord Victorious and grants us insight into its key setting: the Dark Times.

Across pages 53-59 of the 2021 official annual, we are introduced to the Koturruh and other residents of the Dark Times through the eyes of River Song, who is utilised as a sort of omniscient force from outside of the TLV narrative. Her perspective grants more opportunities for humour, suiting the tone of the annual, which is aimed at a younger audience and takes a rather irreverent approach to the source material. One particular double entendre just about gets away with featuring in a children’s book due to its possible interpretation as a series 5 finale reference.

While the annual as a whole mostly focuses on content related to the Thirteenth Doctor’s era and specifically the most recent series, this TLV feature not only starts with the Doctor reminding us of her previous incarnations (“I am a man, though. Bit weird, but I’ve been through worse…”), but also goes on to feature some indulgent references to the species we already know to exist within the Dark Times. This includes (among others) Racnoss, the Great Vampires, and (bringing it bang up to date) the villains from Can You Hear Me? (while also explicitly tying them to the Eternals from Enlightenment). As it’s likely these aliens won’t get much of a look-in in the rest of the range, it’s a nice bit of table clearing – letting the audience know ‘yes these things were here, no we’re not ignoring them’.

Elsewhere in the feature there are several implied hints/set-ups for future elements of TLV, and it will be interesting to see how many of these will be relevant, and how many are just additional details which it is too easy for the over-analytical fan (moi) to read into.

Notably, while the Time Lord Victorious website labelled this feature “The Guide to the Dark Times” (a name I have also used for the purposes of this blog post’s title), neither of the two TLV features are referred to by that title within the annual itself. This is perhaps wise, given the necessarily vague nature of the segment on main TLV antagonist the Kotturuh (which tells us little more than the previously available synopses/press releases). There’s clearly been an attempt to strike a balance between creating a ‘guide’ and not spoiling future stories which unfortunately results in making this element of TLV feel by its very nature inessential. Some new information does feature however in the form of a rundown of the TLV Daleks (which will make up the figurine collection) and I can picture this being a useful reference for readers as they jump between various stories. Likewise we get our first hints at the personality of Brian the Ood, with the suggestion that he suffers from sort of split personality disorder. It will be interesting to see how this potentially sensitive topic is handled in the range going forward.

All in all, this particularly entry into the TLV epic is slight but jovial and, across seven pages, is more substantial than I might expect from an annual. Likewise the annual as a whole, although not really the subject of this review, is a nicely quirky and amusing retrospective of the recent series, which is more substantial than I recall these sort of books being when I grew up (although it’s possible the memory cheats). I’m not sure it’s enough to justify picking this up if you’re only interest is in Time Lord Victorious, but its a lovely piece of merchandise in its own right, and has done more than enough to earn its place on my bookshelf.

****

Shortly, I will be reviewing DWM comics’ first foray into the TLV narrative (in fact due to the lateness of this piece I already have the magazine in my hands). We’ve also recently had the announcement of Daleks! a 5x10minute animated serial coming exclusively to the Doctor Who YouTube channel. Rest assured I will be tackling this in some form when it comes, although I have yet to decide whether I will be dedicating an individual piece to each episode, or grouping episodes together to tackle them, and this will likely be determined by the release schedule for the episodes.

TLV Blog Project #2 – Defender of the Daleks #1

The first thing readers will notice about Defender of the Daleks #1 is that, from the perspective of the Tenth Doctor, it picks up directly from events in the previous Titan Doctor Who comic: a multi-Doctor story also featuring Thirteen (as explained by this issues opening ‘previously…’). This tie-in makes sense as a promotion of Titan’s other ranges, with TLV likely attracting different audiences to the regular run, but new readers (such as myself), will be pleased to know that the connection is minor – the Doctor starts off on his own in a burning TARDIS, with no memory of his last adventure, due to the the typical post-multi-Doctor story amnesia.

For those who haven’t been following the press around these stories, it might not be clear (particularly given the beautiful Lee Binding artwork used on Cover A and pictured below) that this comic does not feature the Time Lord Victorious version of the Tenth Doctor, but rather an earlier one. This Doctor has to deal with the consequences of his own future actions (unbeknownst to him), as he encounters a squad of Daleks with no knowledge of any ‘time war’ and who fear an enemy from the Dark Times that the Doctor believes long dead (and which he adds to the list of frightening Time Lord bedtime stories which turn out to be true *coughs* Zagreus *coughs*).

It appears from this opening issue (1 of 2) that this comic’s connection to the wider plot of TLV might be relatively minor compared to the other elements, however it is a good piece of merchandise in its own right. The story in itself is a tad generic – replaying the now commonplace trope of the Daleks asking the Doctor for help. Despite this trope’s commonality and audience’s prior expectations of it, this issue still feels the need to spend over half its length establishing this state of affairs, before then expositing about the new threat the Daleks fear.

However where this comic shines, perhaps unsurprisingly, is in the artwork: particularly the landscape and background work. The opening sequence of the Daleks chasing the Doctor features no less than seven different planets and this definitely fulfills the criteria of telling the story in a way that could only be achieved in this particular medium. Yes, an audio drama could feature a sequence including seven different planets, but it would be challenging to make them as distinctive as this comic does without visuals. Elsewhere in the issue there are some impressive whole page panels, and two page vistas, the most exciting of which depict [SPOILERS!!!] the planet Skaro as it appeared in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar and the TV Movie (for the city and the planet as seen from space respectively).

Some praise too can be given to the dialogue which, while by no means perfect, does through certain words and rhythms effectively evoke the Tenth Doctor’s speech, and puts the voice of David Tennant in the reader’s mind. It is a shame, and in part the cause of some of the dialogue problems (in particular the over-reliance on having the Doctor talking to himself), that this comic’s only speaking parts are the Doctor and various Daleks. The Daleks have never exactly been the most thrilling conversationalists. However the comic does go out of its way to pair the Doctor with a more eccentric and person-like Dalek for the final third, and it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops in the second issue.

I suspect if you are not the sort of person who is typically interested in comics, this won’t be the issue to change your mind. But to a typical comics audience and a more casual reader who happens to pick it up (such as myself), its extended length, impressive scale, and stunning artwork (Not to mention the fact it’s by far the cheapest part of TLV) will make it a more than worthwhile purchase, and a nice addition to your shelf.

TLV Blog Project #1 – UNIT Field Log (Time Fracture)

Well here’s a surprise, and not an unwelcome one as it goes. I expected this blog’s first proper post to come in the form of a review of Titan Comics Defender of the Daleks #1, and yet, here we are, a couple of weeks early. This is because, over three days from the 18th – 20th August, three short live action clips have been released on the Official Doctor Who YouTube channel, promoting the live experience Time Fracture.

One might question the merits of reviewing what are, in effect, adverts, but given their combined length of eleven minutes, a cameo from a notable Doctor Who character, and the fact this might well be the only live action audiovisual element of Time Lord Victorious; they seemed more than worthy of discussion.

While generally my reviews on this blog will attempt to toe the line between giving insight into and yet not completely spoiling a story (with any major spoilers being marked), due to the free and accessible nature of these videos, I will be talking about them from here on out with the assumption that the reader has watched them. So if you have yet to do so you can find them here, and afterwards…

So, as already acknowledged, for a promotional piece these three clips are reasonably fleshed out and detailed. Although by design this is a bit of an exposition fest, and one that raises far more questions than it answers (questions that presumably will be answered in the live event if you can afford to fork out £47-£57 + booking fees), there are some genuinely clever touches. The use of the heads-up display overlaying the clip at first appears to be just there to add visual interest to an otherwise fairly static scene, but is then used in the first part to build tension as we see the readings slowly climb unbeknownst to Dr Errol Courtney (the man addressing us throughout the clip). I did find this quite effective and was aware of myself glancing back towards it regularly as the scene went on.

Beyond raising the question of what exactly is the difference between Chronon and Artron energy, this use of the display achieved one of the things I have been hopeful for in the TLV project as a whole: stories that utilise the specific features of the medium they are in to tell the story. After all, what would be the point in a big cross-platform project if all the stories could easily be told in one medium, and were only being placed in different ones as a corporate marketing exercise? I hope that the upcoming TLV stories find similar ways to make use of the unique features of their respective mediums to effect the audience.

As the story goes on there are plenty of references to elements of the wider Who world, with Dr Yates contributing to the great tradition of UNIT operatives sharing their surnames with previous UNIT members, and shoes belonging to two different Doctors appearing. Footage from the main Time Fracture trailer is incorporated into the second part of the Log, featuring “Time Lords by London Bridge, a Cyberman at St Pauls Cathedral, and a Dalek emerging from the river Thames” and these quick teases no doubt show some of what participants in the live experience can expect to encounter. This was all reasonably standard fare, but the final installment of the log succeeded in creating a stir with the surprise return of a character who last featured in televised Doctor Who almost five years ago (and has been a Big Finish regular since).

Jemma Redgrave’s appearance as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s appearance was certainly an unexpected surprise. At just under a minute, it’s not really much more than a cameo, but it lends the video some credibility within Doctor Who fandom (who manage to simultaneously disavow canon and spend 90% of the time arguing over what counts or not), and sets up for the character potentially having some sort of larger role in the live event. It also, along with the earlier line from Errol about “cutbacks” and being “woefully understaffed”, ties in neatly with UNIT’s current state in the world of Doctor Who (after Resolution), as she refers to herself as the “former Chief Scientific Officer…” It’s also Kate who gets to deliver the promo’s ‘pitch’, if you will, as she directly address the audience telling us to “step up, and save the universe”. This sort of synthetic personalisation, goes beyond being a hollow marketing technique, as it links effectively to the immersive theatre being promoted. Participants in that will actually get to be a part of this story, in the way this clip’s use of second person pronouns and determiners suggests.

The small budget and straight to camera nature of these videos may well create a comparison in the mind of Doctor Who fans to the recent series of videos produced by Emily Cook to accompany watch-alongs taking place during the UK lockdown. This comparison perhaps doesn’t place the UNIT Field Log videos in the best light as, official content or not, the writing and cast can’t hope to compete with the things achieved by Emily and her team(s). But despite this, they still stand up well on their own, and do far more than is required of them as – in effect – glorified adverts.

My intention with this blog is to review stories, and so that is the mindset at which I have looked at these clips, and with that criteria they are good, quick fun, nothing mind-blowing, but well worth watching as free content. However to review them more fairly in relation to their purpose as ads, do they make Time Fracture seem like an exciting event? Yes. Do they convince me to get tickets for Time Fracture? Well no, but that’s more to do with me and my budget than the success of these promo clips.

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Join me again in a couple of weeks for reviews of Defender of the Daleks #1 from Titan, and The Guide to the Dark Times in the Doctor Who annual, followed by the rest of Time Lord Victorious as it comes.

The Time Lord Victorious Blogging Project – Introduction

Since the announcement of Time Lord Victorious, a new multimedia project from BBC Worldwide featuring contributions from multiple Doctor Who licensees, there’s been a great deal of speculation. What’s it about? Why these Doctors? How much is it all going to cost? Will it be successful? And who exactly is Brian the Ood?

Most of these questions do have answers, but this blog is less concerned with the overarching structure of TLV, and is instead setting out to look at the individual stories. So much fan excitement and/or negativity has been built up around the scope and scale of the project, that I think it will be important in the coming months to look at and review the individual stories on their own merits, as they come out. James Goss (the man behind TLV, responsible for coordinating the specifics of the project from a BBC brief stipulating the elements that should feature) assured viewers of the online Titan Comics SDCC panel that each thread of TLV would stand on its own as an independent story, and this fits with what we’ve learned about the way different Doctor’s stories have been confined to different mediums.

As well as seeking to review each of the TLV releases (with the exception of the live events and figurine collections), the blog will feature wrap-up posts at the end of each month in which TLV is running, exploring how the stories released fit into the wider context of the project. This blog is planned to run from September until December, based upon the current schedule of releases (pictured below). However Goss has recently said that there are other parts of the project yet to be announced (including some free elements), and so I am likely to cover these as well.

Starting in September, with the release of the first Titan comic, DWM comic, and the Doctor Who annual, I will be seeking to post reviews for these products as quickly as possible, however I will be at the mercy of the distributors delivering them. Going forwards I will endeavour to maintain speed in my reviews, however some may take longer than others depending on the medium: particularly with the BBC Books novels.

I’ve set myself this project because I’m very curious about Time Lord Victorious, and because the mainstream discourse around it seems more interested in its success or failure as a whole, than the quality of the individual stories. I’m also looking forward to exploring mediums I’m less familiar with, and would normally be less likely to buy, in particular the comics. Undoubtedly introducing audiences to new mediums is largely the point of this project, and so hopefully these releases will show off the best of these methods of storytelling, and what they contribute to the world of Doctor Who.

So if you too are interested in Time Lord Victorious, whether you have pre-ordered the whole lot, or remain a sceptic, please join me in this journey through ‘The Dark Times’ with the Doctors and Brian the Ood. See you soon for the first releases Defender of the Daleks #1 and the 2021 Annual (featuring The Guide to the Dark Times).

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