Non-Fiction Book Review – Doctor Who: The Episode Guide

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Episode Guide
  • Author: Mark Campbell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/15/2012

When I found this book, I was so excited. Finally, an updated Doctor Who episode guide and in hardcover! But the book is awful! It fails to point out on the back or in the book’s description that this is an opinionated guide to Doctor Who and the opinion of the author is he doesn’t like it very much!

Not only does Campbell not like Doctor Who, he really doesn’t get it. I’m not going to insist the show is perfect… far from it, it’s had it’s issues, and there are stories and episodes that are just plain bad. But Campbell seems to relish ripping up many of the series best episodes, while extolling many of the worst ones, such as “The Gunfighters” as the best TV has to offer? “The Gunfighters”, Really? May you be cursed with “The Ballad of Jonny Ringo” in your head for years. Campbell also praises “Love and Monsters” one of the few David Tennant episodes that I really hate, and having seen it twice, have no desire to ever watch again.

However, this book even fails as an episode guide. The summaries are too short, frequently only a single sentence. The cast lists for each story are incomplete. And, again, I could have done without the commentary. Completely.

Save your money and skip this book. Try to find Jean-Marc Lofficier’s Doctor Who The Programme Guide instead, it’s out of date, but at least it’s accurate and has the minimum of annoying, opinionated, ridiculous commentary.

Read this instead: Doctor Who the Programme Guide by Jean-Marc Lofficier.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Chicks Unravel Time

  • Title: Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who
  • Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press
  • Editors: Deborah Stanish, L.M. Myles
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/15/2012

This essay collection is the sequel to the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords. I really liked it. I enjoyed it more than the previous book. Each essay addresses a season of Doctor Who and the book covers the original Classic series (1963-1989), the TV Movie (1996) and the new series (2005-). The BBC Eighth Doctor books and Big Finish audios are also mentioned.

The essays in this book cover a number of topics while also reviewing each season, and the essays are organized thematically, not chronologically. I would have preferred chronological organization, but as the Introduction points out, I can always re-read the book’s essays in chronological order. Also, the subtle theme-order makes sense. I did find it helpful to have an episode guide handy while reading.

Below I’ll mention one of my favorite essays, but I’m not going to go through all the essays, there are just too many.

“A Dance with Drashigs” by Emma Nichols focuses on the Doctor & Companion relationship, specifically in Season 10. But more specifically it focuses on Jo Grant — and in a positive manner. Jo is a companion who gets no respect in Who fandom, and she’s often unfairly compared with the companion before her (Dr. Liz Shaw) and after (Sarah Jane Smith, often perceived as the Classic series fan’s most favorite companion). Yet, I’ve always really liked Jo, though I tend to be quiet about it. And, as this essay points out, it’s because I saw “later Jo” first — the first episode I saw with her was “Frontier in Space” and Jo kicks, um, butt, in “Frontier in Space” — she’s rescuing the Doctor, getting herself out of cells, successfully resisting the Master’s hypnotism, and figuring out just what the deal is with the Drashigs anyway (as well as the rest of the plot, which involves perception of an “enemy”). When I saw Jo’s first episode I understood why a lot of fans didn’t like her — but what I also like is she evolves and she takes it upon herself to learn and grow. This essay legitimizes my opinion of Jo and adds to it. I also enjoyed the fact that a new Who fan actually enjoyed classic Who (perceived “wisdom”, especially in the Moffat Era, is that a New Who Fan can’t possibly be interested in Classic Who. Yeah, right.) Or as Nichols put it: “…when Rose encountered an Auton in Hendrick’s basement, I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who. By the time she was crying on a Norwegian Beach, I’d seen every episode of Doctor Who. And then there were the 70-ish eighth Doctor novels and dozens of Big Finish audios…” (p. 24). I simply love that.

Course, it was the comments of one of the editors praising Jo Grant at a Chicago TARDIS convention panel that convinced me to go straight to the dealers’ room to buy my own copy!

But there are many, many brilliant essays in this book. I loved the one about my favorite Doctors and companions: What Would Romana Do?; I’m from the TARDIS and I’m here to help you – Barbara Wright and the Limits of Intervention; Build High for Happiness!, Ace, Through the Looking Glass. But I also liked essays that brought up topics I had never thought of before: Reversing Polarities The Doctor, The Master, and False Binaries in Season 8; The Problem with Peri; Identity Crisis, The Still Point, The Doctor’s Balls (not what you think!). And, without a doubt, many of the essays had me wanting to sit down and re-watch Doctor Who — in its entirety!

I highly recommend this book, everyone from the casual fan to fans like the guy who kept sitting next to me at Chicago TARDIS who could name every episode in order from the entire run (so far) — and did so, frequently, at length. (I look-up info like that, which is why Lofficier’s Programme Guide still sits on my desk). Anyway, it’s brilliant!

Non-Fiction Book Review – Doctor Who: The Programme Guide

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Programme Guide
  • First Edition: Target Books (1989)
  • Fourth Edition: Mystery Writers of America Presents iUniverse Inc.; Originally Published by W.H. Allen & Co. PLC and Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2003)
  • Author: Jean-Marc Lofficier (4th edition – Jean-Marc Lofficier & Randy Lofficier)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/15/2012

I couldn’t find my edition (published in 1989 with a foreward by John Nathan-Turner) of this book here on GoodReads but this (Fourth ed.) appears to be the closest I can get.

This is the best Doctor Who episode guide or program guide out there. Unfortunately it is out of date, and long out of print, but I’d like to see it brought back in an updated form.

Reasons that this book is superior to similar ones.

1. Full descriptions of all episodes from the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child” to “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”; episode titles and cast lists for all episodes including the last season of the Classic Series (up to “Survival”).

2. Full cast lists for all episodes that are covered.

3. True pocket size, it’s a normal paperback size.

4. Easy look-up format.

5. Includes production codes and number of episodes per story.

6. Very little to no opinion on the episodes. This really is a “just the facts” episode guide.

By the way, I have enjoyed many of the essay collections, especially recent ones, that are out there for Doctor Who but this one stays on my desk even though it’s out of date, because sometimes you just want to look something up.

Highly recommended, and one I’d like to see updated to include the New Who series.

Addendum: Fourth Edition – I now also have the Fourth Edition, which is a trade paperback size, so a bit less handy than the original paperback. Both copies stay on my desk. The fourth edition includes plot descriptions of Sylvester McCoy’s final season as the Doctor, full cast information (both actors and the characters they play), the production code, and the number of episodes and air dates – information included for every story of the original series. The book also lists the target novelization of every story, and in some cases the available video tape of the story (yes, OK, the book’s a date out of date for video editions, but it’s very worth it as an episode/program guide with factual not opinionated information about Doctor Who. If you are interested in factual information about Doctor Who on DVD you can’t go wrong with The Classic Doctor Who Video Compendium by Paul Smith.) In addition, the Fourth Edition of The Doctor Who Programme Guide includes the full cast and summary information for the Eighth Doctor TV Movie starring Paul McGann. The Fourth Edition also includes summaries and production information for Doctor Who The Missing Bits – various plays, unproduced scripts available as novelizations, and official BBC radio plays. The book does not include the Big Finish audios (a guide to those would be a book in an of itself, and probably one of several volumes). It also does not include the recent BBC Radio audio books (actors from the series reading books from the BBC Books New Who book series, such as The Stone Rose, or audio plays produced by the BBC. However, like the rest of the book, the Missing Bits section includes summaries, production information, cast information (for plays and audio adventures), novelization information, and the like – just like the rest of the book. The Fourth Edition is a fine updating of the original, but it doesn’t replace the original for me. Still both editions are highly recommended, and the Fourth Edition is probably easier to find.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

  • Title: The Chimes of Midnight
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Author: Robert Shearman
  • Director: Barnaby Edwards
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/27/2016

I originally listened to this Big Finish Eighth Doctor Audio Play when it came out in 2002. I decided to re-listen to it over Christmas, and I’m glad I did – it is a very good story to listen to around Christmas.

The Chimes of Midnight features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as his companion, Charlotte (Charley) Pollard. The play feels like Upstairs, Downstairs (the original from the 1970s featuring Jean Marsh as the Lady’s Maid, Rose) crossed with Sapphire and Steel with a dash of a 1920s British Murder Mystery thrown in. The story takes place on Christmas Eve as well. It’s one of the best conceived and realised audio plays that Big Finish have done. It’s also full-cast audio drama, not an audiobook.

The Doctor and Charley land at what appears to be an abandoned Edwardian House. But soon they are pulled into the House in an earlier period: 1906. In 1906, the staff below stairs are busily getting ready for Christmas. The scullery maid, Edith, is murdered and the staff quickly assume that The Doctor, as a guest of his Lordship, is from Scotland Yard. Or maybe he’s a famous amateur sleuth. And the servants think Edith’s death was suicide – when it was clearly murder.

As the story develops – a death occurs every hour as the Grandfather Clock chimes; but at midnight the entire story loops around and resets. Edith is always the first victim, but other servants are murdered as the loop goes around and around again. The murders also always represent the particular servant’s job and become more and more bizarre as the loop goes around and around.

But the top of the loop is always different, allowing the Doctor and Charley to gain more information about just what is going on – and to learn from it. The Doctor even gets so frightened by the paradox and time loop that he tries to leave – only to be caught in the trap again.

I won’t reveal exactly what’s happening, because I don’t want to spoil it – but it’s an excellent story, with a wonderful conclusion, and I recommend it. Also, the atmosphere really works. It’s helpful to have listened to Charley’s first story, Storm Warning prior to listening to Chimes of Midnight. Still, very highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Chimes of Midnight on on Download, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: For this release only, a Limited (collector’s) edition on vinyl is also available, The Chimes of Midnight Special Edition.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Invaders from Mars

  • Title: Invaders from Mars
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Director: Mark Gatiss
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Katy Manning
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/26/2017

Big Finish’s audio CD, Invaders from Mars is one of my favorites of the Eighth Doctor range CDs that I’ve listened to. It features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley, with guest appearances by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. This is a full-cast audio play; with music, sound effects, and the actors performing their roles – it is not a audio book read by a celebrity.

Although Charley has an appointment to make in Singapore 1930, the TARDIS lands her and the Doctor in New York in 1938. They almost immediately stumble upon a dead body of a private detective, and are caught-up in a plot involving mobsters. The Doctor quickly takes on the role of the dead detective, only to discover the woman who hires him to find her uncle isn’t his niece after all, but rather, a Russian assassin out to kill or return to Russia a defecting scientist and expert in atomic power.

Meanwhile, Orson Welles and his Mercury Players are preparing to present HG Wells “War of the Worlds” as a radio play. Yes, that infamous broadcast. And just to keep things interesting, a couple of aliens have invaded Brooklyn, but only to threaten Earth with an intergalactic protection racket that isn’t that far off from how the local mobsters work.

The guest characters in this play speak with harsh New York/New Jersey accents and use slang straight out of pulp novels and really bad films from the 1930s. It would be annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire play is just so much fun. Somehow, when the entire thing is a parody anyway – little errors can be noticed but it’s not as upsetting. The major error is “the CIA” plays a major factor in this story, which is set in the US in 1938. However, and I checked this to make sure, the CIA wasn’t founded until 1947 (I knew it grew out of the World War II spies). Second, the CIA is the foreign intelligence service, not the domestic one, that’s the FBI. The CIA isn’t supposed to even operate on US soil. The FBI did exist in the 1930s (think of the Untouchables) and was mostly involved in tracking down bootleggers and chasing mobsters. If the story had simply substituted FBI for CIA, the plot would have made a lot more sense. Also, at one point a female character tells a male character, “Why don’t you stand for Congress?” You don’t “stand for” Congress, you run for Congress. (You stand for MP, apparently, but the US doesn’t have MPs.) It caught my ear as a basic mistake. So, yeah, there are some grammatical and usage terms that just aren’t correct – and it makes no sense for an agency that didn’t even exist until nearly ten years after the story is set to play such a big part in the story.

However, that can be forgiven considering just how much fun this audio is. I will go with it and say, yeah, OK, so this is like one of those bad historical Hollywood films that gets everything wrong – because its fun. So still highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Invaders from Mars on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice

  • Title: The Stones of Venice
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 1)
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Gary Russell
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Michael Sheard, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/19/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Charley and the Doctor decide to take a nice relaxing vacation to get away from all the running down corridors and people trying to kill them, so the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Venice. However, this is a Venice about to sink under the sea. It’s a Venice under the control of a pompous, uncaring Duke, that is under a curse that would see the entire city destroyed due to an unhappy marriage, and the “death” of the Duchess – throw in a mysterious cult, amphibian gondoliers, and a curator of the royal museum and it’s not the vacation the Doctor and Charlie seek but more of a Busman’s Holiday.

The Doctor and Charlie arrive and discover the city is about to be destroyed and sink in to the sea. However, revelers are partying instead of trying to leave. The Doctor meets the Curator, who shows him part of the Royal Collection of art. The Doctor recognizes works of art that shouldn’t be in Venice, as they aren’t even from Earth. Meanwhile, Charlie meets a gondolier with webbed hands. She attempts to learn about the Gondoliers who are the underclass of Venice. However, she ends up in the clutches of a cult that worships the dead Lady Estella, wife to the Duke, whom they believe will rise from the dead to reverse the curse she set upon the city.

As the death of Venice approaches these elements come together. The Doctor and Charley meet up with first Charley impersonating the risen Estella, and then introducing the Doctor both to the plight of the Gondoliers and the Cult. The Doctor, meanwhile, starts to realize something more than a curse is going on.

He’s proven correct when Mrs. Lavish turns out to be Estella, and an alien, and in possession (well, once her jewels are returned) of very powerful objects that she used to cast the curse. The Duke, finally doing something heroic and for his people, takes the jewels and reverses the curse, though it costs himself and Estella their lives. Venice is saved and even the damage the city has already suffered is reversed.

Overall, this was a somewhat average Eighth Doctor story. It features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley. It is a full-cast audio, with music, sound effects, and the cast performing their roles. Even though it’s a bit average, I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Stones of Venice on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Storm Warning

  • Title: Storm Warning
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 1)
  • Author: Alan Barnes
  • Director: Gary Russell
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Gareth Thomas, Nicholas Pegg, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/02/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Storm Warning is the first Big Finish audio play featuring the Eighth Doctor, as played by Paul McGann and his companion Charlotte Pollard (Charley) as played by India Fisher. The Big Finish audios are full audio plays with music, sound effects, and actors playing their roles – not audio books with a single person reading the story. This is also one of the first audios from Big Finish that I ever listened to, way back in 2001. I just listened to it again for this review, and it’s still a very good story.

The story opens with the Doctor in the TARDIS, going through books in his library as the TARDIS moves through the Vortex. He sees another timeship that is stranded – doomed to die over and over. The ship is then attacked by Vortexsaurs, bird-bat-dinosaur things that live in the vortex. The Doctor uses his TARDIS to attack the Vortexsaurs and free the other ship. After the encounter the TARDIS is knocked free and must materialize.

The TARDIS materializes and the Doctor must find out where he is. Unfortunately, the TARDIS has landed in a ballast tank of an airship. And not just any airship, but the doomed R101. The Doctor gets very involved with activities on the ship. He finds Charley – a stowaway out for adventure. He discovers that rather than a normal shake down cruise to India, the ship is on a special mission. It’s returning a crashed alien (from outer space) survivor to a rendezvous with it’s alien ship. But all sides have secrets. The former military commander from India wants nothing more than to retire. He’s tired of war, but thinks alien technology will help enforce the peace in the Empire. The aliens are a fascinating race called the Triskenee. Like Freud’s theory of Id, Ego, and SuperEgo, the Triskenee had been a warring people – bent on destroying each other. To save their race – they split themselves into two sub-races: the war-like, angry, violent “Uncreators” (those who make death and destruction) and the intelligent, scientific, logical builders known as the “Engineers”, ruling the two races is the Law-giver. And while there are many Engineers who have built-up the race for centuries, and many “Uncreators” who are chained by the bonds of the Law-giver, there is only one Law-giver who rules both sides of this race. However, after centuries, the law-giver is dying. The Triskenee have come to Earth to find a new Law-giver. This is why, during the rendezvous, they invite only three to their ship, rather than the large group of dignitaries on the R101.

Things don’t go as planned though. The Doctor, brought on as a potential Law-giver isn’t human. The military commander, brought on as “Uncreator” is sick of war and death after The Great War.

Another member on the crew breaks in to the ship, thinking he can steal it for the glory of the British Empire. Yeah, he’s a bit arrogant – and stupid. He actually threatens the Law-Giver, trying to get him to surrender. Charley, and several troops and miscellaneous people follow this person into the ship.

There is a fracas. There are laser beam attacks. And in the mess – the Law-giver is mostly accidentally killed. This frees the Uncreator Prime. This Uncreator wants to do what they do, become leader of the Triskenee and wage war. But the Commander, with help from the Doctor, and even Charley tries to stop everything. In the end, the guy who attacked the aliens is knocked-out, the Doctor realizes the Uncreators are way out of practice – and scares them into retreat by having everyone roar at them. The Commander becomes the new Law-giver. Everyone escapes back to the R101. But Charley, the Doctor, and a German spy end-up amongst the hydrogen-filled gas bags of the airship. As the ship is being buffeted by the storm outside, the spy reveals he picked-up the Trikenee laser weapon. The Doctor tries to convince him to throw the device overboard. There’s an altercation. The Vortexsaur shows up and attacks. (It had shown up before at the beginning of the story having followed the Doctor and his TARDIS.) The R101 begins to crash as history says it will. The Doctor and Charley escape by riding the Vortexsaur that Charley has tamed somewhat. They land safely in France. At first the Vortexsaur, now called Ramsey, is afraid of Charley – and the Doctor realizes she was supposed to die on the R101. But then, Ramsey becomes more relaxed and happy. The Doctor agrees to let Charley accompany him in the TARDIS. The TARDIS having been ejected with the airship ballast, is somewhere in France, so he and Charley will need to find it.

This is an excellent story, well performed, and it introduces Charley, who is one of my favorite Doctor Who companions, and an excellent partner for McGann’s Doctor. Highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Storm Warning on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!