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 Man in the Velvet Mask

  • Title: The Man in the Velvet Mask
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Daniel O’Mahony
  • Characters: First Doctor, Dodo
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/27/2017

The Man in the Velvet Mask is part of the Virgin Publishing Doctor Who Missing Adventures series. It features the First Doctor (as played on the classic television series by William Hartnell) and Dodo, an under-used companion. The Doctor and Dodo land in the TARDIS in what appears to be Post-Revolutionary France. Yet almost immediately something seems very off. Historical characters who are known to be dead are alive. People who should be alive – are dead. And everything is just off. Yet, for two-thirds of the book, though the reader is aware that something is off, it’s not explained what’s going on – making this book a frustrating read.

Almost immediately after alighting the TARDIS, the Doctor and Dodo are separated. Dodo takes up with a troop of actors, eventually falling in love, or at least having a physical fling. She grows up and becomes an adult woman. The Doctor gets to meet a number of people, gathering clues as to what is going on. And, he eventually ends up a prisoner in the New Bastille.

Meanwhile, hidden in the Bastille is another prisoner, Prisoner Number 6, the man in the velvet mask of the title. Number 6 has his face hidden so no one will ever know who he is. Also, he’s held in the cell of the condemned – those to be guillotined the next day. Yet, the warden of the prison doesn’t ever plan to send Number 6 to his death, instead every day she simply changes the name on the records, so the cell holds a “new” condemned man. This has been going on for years, even decades. And yes, that a Prisoner is known only as Number 6 is no coincidence.

Minisk, the dictator in charge of this weird world is involved in weird, grotesque experiments, and keeps cruel law, with an early curfew. It’s breaking curfew that got the Doctor taken to the Bastille in the first place. After interviewing the Doctor, Minisk decides that he will be placed in the should-be-empty cell of the condemned man. When he forces the Warden to take them there, he discovers the warden’s deception and that Number 6 is alive. He orders Six’s death. This forces the Warden, as soon as Minisk leaves to actually aid Number 6 and the Doctor in escape, though she only lets them out of the cell and says she can’t let them out of the prison. But the prison is a warren of levels, rooms, cells, corridors, etc. It’s a labyrinth – and actually a good place to hide. By talking to Number 6, and observation, plus – eventually some information from Dodo and her actors, the Doctor figures things out.

The conclusion of the story is an conclusion, and a hitting of the reset button, but with a bit of a spook factor.

I read this book as an e-book, and I almost wonder if it was condensed or re-edited. It’s a short book, and it’s very, very confusing. At times this book is difficult to follow, though eventually the plot more or less falls into place. This is also very much a horror story, with some really disgusting descriptions – such as the head that continues to speak after it’s been separated from it’s body. One of the main historical characters of the story is the Marquis de Sade, so you can guess how that turns out. The story is creepy, often gross, but also difficult at times to follow. This is one of the few times I wish more time had been spent in a set-up chapter before the TARDIS arrives explaining what’s going on.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Lights Out

  • Title: Lights Out
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Holly Black
  • Characters: Twelfth Doctor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/11/2016

Doctor Who Lights Out is the last volume in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary 12 Doctors 12 Booksset of mini-books. GoodReads describes these as “e-books” and they may have been first published that way, but my set consists of 12 little mini-books the size of your hand, plus 12 postcards in a slip case. I bought the set from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble (I don’t remember which).

This particular story features the Twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. Clara is mentioned but is not actually present in the story. The story begins in first person with a “space trucker”, someone who ferries coffee beans from the Intergalactic Coffee Roasting Station (ICRS, pronounced Icarus) to “the planet of the coffee shops”. This un-named character is waiting in line at a coffee shop, a couple of people behind the Doctor, when the lights suddenly go out – when they come back on, someone is dead, and people nearly panic because the coffee supply has been cut off. The Doctor immediately begins to try to solve the mystery.

But as the Doctor starts talking to people, suddenly the lights go out again – and there’s another murder. The Doctor suggests he and our point-of-view character go to the station control center to find out about the power outages. During the walk through long corridors the lights go out again, but no one is killed.

The Doctor and our character go to the control center, only to find both workers dead. The Doctor convinces our main character that they must go to his ship. On the ship, the Doctor has a talk to him about monsters – about becoming a monster. We learn more about the guest point-of-view character, whom the Doctor had rescued from a scientific “research” laboratory that was creating merged creatures, monsters, as weapons. The Doctor’s “pep” talk convinces our point of view character that the Doctor must take his escape pod and return to the Station and he will do what is needed.

The ending of this story was surprising, but it felt a bit rushed. I wasn’t sure I liked it. Having the main point-of-view character as the “monster”/murderer was a different approach as well. I just don’t know about this last story.

The series, however, is worth getting both for veteran Doctor Who fans and for new fans. In fact, I’d say, this collection is ideal for new fans – it introduces each of the Doctors and some of their best-known companions. The stories are modular and not dependent on any continuity knowledge and can be read independently. Each story features the Doctor and a single companion, or no companion, or a companion for the individual story only – a format familiar to New Who fans. Even eras of the show that had a larger supporting cast, are stripped down to the Doctor and a companion. This means the stories are approachable to New Who fans. And Classic Who fans aren’t forgotten – there is a story here for each Doctor as well as featuring some of the best known companions. The booklets are small – about the size of your hand, and short – easily read in a single sitting. Recommended.

Book Review- Doctor Who: Nothing O’Clock

  • Title: Nothing O’Clock
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Characters: Eleventh Doctor, Amy
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/08/2016

Doctor Who Nothing O’Clock is one of the short booklets found in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary 12 Doctors 12 Stories collection. This story features the Eleventh Doctor as played by Matt Smith on the revived series and Amy Pond. It’s also written by Neil Gaiman, an accomplished writer of fantasy novels, graphic novels, screen plays, and television – including two episodes of Doctor Who. Gaiman’s story is quite possibly the scarest of the bunch.

The opening chapter describes a prison, built by the Time Lords, for a terrifying monster known only as the Kin. The prison was meant to last forever, but when the Time Lords disappeared, the Kin were able to break out.

On Earth, a young child tells her father someone has come to buy their house. The father, who seems preoccupied with bills, doesn’t believe it – but a person in a mask offers three times what the house is worth. The man takes the money and moves his family into an hotel. He finds that the hotel is filled with other people who have sold their homes under similar circumstances – and no one can find any property to buy. Eventually the hotel is sold out from under them. Even the local police are perplexed about what to do – because the building housing their station has been sold.

The Doctor and Amy land in her time to find Rory, and not only is Rory not there, the Earth is silent. Amy hears a message that the Kin now own the planet, it was purchased legally, and the Shadow Proclamation found nothing wrong with the transaction. Also, the people died out, the message concludes.

The Doctor and Amy rush back in time to prevent this outcome. They encounter the kin, and the Doctor warns Amy to never ask the Kin what time it is – that question being a verbal trap that allows the Kin to control people to their own ends. Amy, however, is tricked and whisked away from the Doctor.

The Doctor becomes angry and lets the Kin think they’ve tricked him into letting them into his TARDIS – however, he’s pulled a trick of his own.

This was a wonderful and spooky story, with a terrifying villain. I highly, highly recommend this story.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage

  • Title: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Characters: Tenth Doctor, Martha Jones
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/08/2016

Doctor Who – The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is another short, little volume in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – 12 Doctors, 12 Books collection of mini-books. This one features the Tenth Doctor and his companion Martha Jones. The TARDIS lands in a bank of fog, but when Martha steps out of the TARDIS it immediately becomes a clear and sunny day with grass and trees and such. The Doctor and Martha meet four children – two boys and two girls, and Martha realizes she recognizes them as the Troublemakers – characters from a series of books that she read as a child. Quickly, she realizes that the situation is the same as the first Troublemakers book she ever read, “The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage”.

Martha and the Doctor work to figure out the clues and solve the mystery. When they take a boat down an underground river they are attacked by mysterious beings. They also quickly discover not only who is behind the mystery from the children’s book – but who the real threat is. This threat attacks the Doctor and Martha – causing them to run to escape through a maze of fictional characters and landscapes.

The Doctor confronts the being at the center of everything successfully and he and Martha, ultimately escape.

This story was a bit disappointing – it’s very simple, both in structure and in writing style. The Doctor makes some good points about “The Troublemakers” books and Martha makes some good counter-arguments (the books might not have been that good in an objective sense, but she loved them as a child and they set her on the path of a life-long reader). The descriptions of the Troublemakers books reminded me of Nancy Drew (syndicated series – written by ghost writers), and the characters also reminded me of Scooby Doo (but without a dog), because the Scooby kids included two guys: Fred and Shaggy – two girls: Velma and Daphne and they solved mysteries. Overall, though, the story was about as flat as the type of books and stories it parodied. The ending part, with the reveal of the real villain was slightly better, but not as good as other books in this series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Beast of Babylon

  • Title: The Beast of Babylon
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Charlie Higson
  • Characters: Ninth Doctor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/05/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who – The Beast of Babylon is part of the 50th Anniversary 12 Books – 12 Doctors collection of mini-books. This book features the Ninth Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccelston and takes place between Rose deciding not to travel with the Doctor in “Rose” and the Doctor coming back and asking her a second time, also in “Rose”. It’s a unique idea that the Doctor could have an entire adventure in that brief span we see as seconds in the first episode of the new series.

The novel starts with Ali having a picnic with her family, when the Doctor shows up. The Doctor, well, does Doctorish things, which seem a bit confusing because the story is from Ali’s point of view. Then Ali sits and thinks about how much she wants to travel and have adventures as she watches the moons over a lake at night. So we know Ali and her family are on an alien planet. The Doctor arrives and says that Ali has something he needs back, a silver orb. Ali does have it, but she wants to travel with the Doctor. The Doctor agrees.

As the Doctor takes the TARDIS to ancient Babylon on Earth, he explains he is after a Starman – a being created during the collapse of stars into black holes and white dwarfs and such. The silver orb can be used to send the Starman back where it came from before it can eat a planet. And it was the silver orb that the Doctor used to defeat the Starman on Ali’s planet. The Doctor also talks about the girl, Rose, he met on Earth.

When the Doctor arrives on Earth, he tells Ali to stay in the TARDIS. Ali listens, but full of curiosity, figures out how to use the TARDIS scanner. So she sees the Doctor getting in trouble. When the guards, who have hauled the Doctor off, attack the TARDIS – Ali strikes back, using her antenodes and even killing a man. Ali then wanders around, following the Doctor, trying to help, and causing havoc in a way. It’s at this point we realize she isn’t human.

The ancient Babylonians think Ali is a monster and the Doctor a sorcerer. However, when the Starman attacks it prevents the Doctor’s execution, and the Doctor and Ali work to defeat the Starman. The Doctor then rushes Ali in to the TARDIS. Ali is, it turns out, an ant-like being, but, obviously, intelligent. The women are the deadliest of her species. And she convinces the Doctor to give Rose another chance. Ali is returned to her home planet, glad to be home, and appreciative of her home.

This is a good story, especially the way Higson gradually reveals that Ali isn’t human, but that she is still a “person” so to speak. And I really liked seeing the Doctor with a non-human companion for a story. The Starman wasn’t a great villain – basically a monster to defeat that, despite being a strong threat, is rather easily defeated. Ancient Babylon and King Hammurabi make for a different setting for a Doctor Who story.

Recommended.