Book Review – Doctor Who: FrostFire

  • Title: FrostFire
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters: Vicki, Cinder (guest), First Doctor, Steven, Jane Austen (guest)
  • Cast: Maureen O’Brien, Keith Drinkel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Frostfire is the very first title in the Big Finish Doctor Who Companion Chronicles, and it does show a little bit in technical details – more about that at the end of the review. This story features the First Doctor (as played on the television show Doctor Who by William Hartnell) and his companions Vicki and Steven. The story is narrated by Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) who is literally telling a story to an unseen monster whom the CD jewel case identifies as “Cinder”, however, he is never identified in the story itself.

The story begins with the Doctor landing in London, where he, Steven and Vicki attend the 1814 Frost Fair. They meet Jane Austen at the fair, and among the novelty acts and food, they are harassed by a strange Italian and rescued by a British gentleman, Sir Joseph Mallard, and his wife, Lady Georgiana. The Doctor, Steven, Vicki, the couple, and Ms. Austen are drawn in to see a Cabinet of Curiosities show, only to discover amidst the kitsch and fakery, a genuine Phoenix egg. The Phoenix, however is not a creature of fire – but of ice. It entraps Georgiana and also captures Vicki’s attention. The Phoenix goes on a rampage, killing with ice. Jane Austen takes everyone to her brother’s house, offering an escape from the creature and lodgings for the TARDIS crew since she’s discovered they have no lodgings or plans in London yet.

Once at Jane Austen’s brother’s house, Georgiana takes ill – and the harassing Italian returns to bother her. The party is going well, until the Phoenix shows up in the fireplace, sucking the heat out of the room (literally). A chimney sweep boy falls out of the fireplace, unharmed, but Georgiana is entranced by the Phoenix and gets captured. Vicki is freaked out because she thought the creature wanted her as well.

The Doctor, Steven, and Georgiana’s husband, Joseph, head to a men’s club to look for news. Jane Austen, Vicki, and the chimney sweep boy, investigate on their own – discovering many people and animals of London have been frozen solid by the creature. They end up at a church, and find the egg and Lady Georgiana. When the Doctor and Steven arrive – Georgiana takes Joseph away, and the Doctor and company track them to the Royal Mint. The creature had planned to use the furnace that is normally used to melt metals for coins, to be born. This plan is ultimately thwarted, and Georgiana and her husband rescued. During the fracas to stop the Phoenix and snuff out the fire of the furnace, Vicki is hit in the eye by a cinder.

The story pulls back, as it has a few times throughout the telling, and we meet the mysterious guest in Vicki’s basement – a cinder of the Phoenix. Vicki, now living in Cartridge with Troilus, as Lady Cressida, knows eventually the Phoenix egg will be found in Tunis, and taken to the Frost Fair where the entire cycle will begin again.

Maureen O’Brien does an excellent job performing Frostfire and having Keith Drinkel as Cinder helps because it gives her someone to react to, and Companion Chronicles always work best as two-handers. However, the entire CD is only four tracks, so some are extremely long, like over 22 minutes long. This was very inconvenient when listening while commuting in the car (I’ve have to start at the beginning of a track and re-listen to a lot before reaching any new material.) Also, this is this the only CD in the series I’ve listened to with no extras, such as interviews.

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

Click this link to order FrostFire on CD.

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

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Book Review – Doctor Who: Ringpullworld

  • Title: Ringpullworld
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Neil Roberts
  • Characters: Turlough, Huxley, Fifth Doctor, Tegan
  • Cast: Mark Strickson, Alex Lowe
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/30/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I usually enjoy Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series, and Ringpullworld is no exception. The Companion Chronicles feature stories told from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions, and are closer to a traditional audiobook format, often with the main character telling the story to someone else. In the case of Ringpullworld, the narration of the story is split between Turlough, the Fifth Doctor’s Companion, and Huxley, the novelizer from Verbatim 6. The story actually opens with Turlough being quite cross or angry at Huxley, who is irritating him by constantly describing everything Turlough does and sees.

The Fifth Doctor, as played on the long-running BBC series, Doctor Who by Peter Davison, Turlough and Tegan had landed on the planet of Must, where they were latched on to by the three novelizers – Huxley, Wolf, and Joyce. The six explore the one building on the planet and find a strange artifact. Tegan dismisses it as a “tin of beans” but Turlough notices the Doctor seems oddly unsettled by the object.

Investigating the object, it is Tegan who also gives it a name, The Ringpull, as in, the ring used to pull open a tin can or a can of pop (soda for those of you outside the Midwestern US). When investigating, the three are shrunk and drawn into the micro universe inside the tin. The story then cycles back to it’s beginning. Turlough, empathetic with the Ringpull Universe, a whole galaxy that because of the natives war-like nature has been trapped on it’s own and cut off from the rest of the civilized universe, decides to steal a ship and free the Ringpull Galaxy. So Turlough, with his novelizer, Huxley, along for the ride, steals a ship and intends to open the Ringpull using a backpack of the Doctor’s tools.

The Doctor had already told Turlough that it would be a bad idea, and as Turlough heads off to open the Ringpull he is pursued by the Doctor and by the local aliens that he stole the ship from. Turlough and Huxley are captured, and as part two opens they are stuck in a cell. Huxley reveals he can telepathically communicate with his fellow novelizers through the Great Narrative. So, Turlough discovers the Doctor and Tegan are on the bridge of the ship, and the Doctor is pleading for Turlough’s life. Then Huxley reveals something else; as a narrator, not only can he reveal the past and narrate the present, he can provide a flash forward – reveal possible futures from the current moment.

Turlough is talked in to learning these futures. Huxley tells him one straight off – Turlough will be executed by the aliens – keel hauled and thrown into space with no protective suit. But, Turlough doesn’t accept this, so Huxley continues with another – The Doctor and Tegan rescue Turlough, but during their escape, they are forced to open the Ringpull, leading to catastrophe. Turlough, understandably, isn’t too pleased by this idea either. Then Huxley tells him he can provide the best possible future possibility. Not only that, he can link up with Turlough mentally and let Turlough read his thoughts and see the future for himself. Turlough takes him up on it. Turlough then narrates his own story. In this last version, he is again released, and he and the Doctor talk the aliens in to opening the Ringpull themselves. This happens, and the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough escape in a ship, riding out the explosion that destroys the warlike invaders, frees the Ringpull Universe, and even returns the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough to Planet Must, where their novelizers decide their adventures are too dangerous and release them from their parasitic relationship.

Then Turlough realizes he is back in his cell. The third possibility, which had felt so real, was, like the others, only a possible outcome. Turlough begs Huxley to tell him what would happen, but Huxley says he must wait and see, that to find out which possibility actually happens – he must live it. This frustrates Turlough to no end, then the door begins to open, bringing with it the future – and the ending music.

I enjoyed Ringpullworld and listened to it twice in my car. This is one of the few audios Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough) has done, and I enjoyed it. The story moves at a fast clip, and actually has a great deal of humor, as Turlough and Huxley have a great double act relationship. They irritate each other, but Turlough has a certain affection for Huxley, who reminds him of his friend from school, Hippo. In fact, during the audio, Turlough actually calls Huxley, Hippo on several occasions. The story, of a trapped galaxy, gives one food for thought. The only thing I didn’t like about the audio was it’s lack of a definitive ending. Still this story is recommended.

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

Click this link to order Ringpullworld on CD or Download.

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

Non-Fiction Book Review – Companion Piece

  • Title: Companion Piece: Women Celebrate the Humans, Aliens, and Tin Dogs of Doctor Who
  • Author: L.M. Myles and Liz Barr (eds.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/07/2016

Companion Piece is another book in the “Chicks Dig” series (other volumes include: Chicks Dig Time LordsChicks Dig Comics, etc.). This essay collection focuses on the companions in Doctor Who. The essays represent a variety of viewpoints, but often have a Feminist perspective. What I love about Companion Piece is that the essays really get you to think and to re-consider one’s opinions about various eras of Doctor Who and the companions therein. This collection begs the reader to reconsider companions that they may have not really cared for, and to think about how others might view a character – positively. But it also gives the reader unique, thought-provoking essays that will have the astute female reader nodded her head – and not as yet another dismissal of early companions as “screamers” (the “defense” of Barbara Wright is brilliant, as is the essay on Nyssa or “Science Princess FTW”). Companion Piece moves way beyond the common, oft-repeated fannish “wisdom” of long-time male Doctor Who fandom and gives the reader new ideas to consider. It even had me reconsidering my opinions about a couple of companions that I’ve never liked [Mel, Peri].

This essay collection is highly recommended to all Doctor Whofans but also to anyone interested in Feminist film/literary/television critique, as well as anyone who just wants to read passionate, intelligent, essay-writing.

The collection also is overwhelmingly positive, never strident. I loved that.

Again, highly recommended.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who

  • Title: Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who
  • Author: Steve Berry (ed.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/19/2015

Behind the Sofa Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who is a essay collection put together to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. A number of people relate stories about Doctor Who – some of whom I knew of (Neil Gaiman, Jonathon Ross, etc) some I didn’t. Some of the interviewees describe themselves as massive fans of the show, many having seen it from the very beginning in 1963. Others are newer fans, having started to watch New Who in 2005 or even later (one or two even started with Matt Smith). Others, such as Micheal Grade admit not liking the show. Grade’s interview is an interesting artifact – he seems to almost take pride in taking Doctor Who off the air then turns around and says New Who, particularly with Russell T. Davies at the helm was brilliant. In Grade’s mind, he seems to think he’s solely responsible for the success of New Who (newsflash – he isn’t).

Some of the essays in the book are brilliant. Most are interesting. Some contain fascinating stories and trivia. Several people with connections to Doctor Who are interviewed – but this isn’t solely a collection of essays by actors and other people involved in making the program. Some of the essays, especially regarding the book being a fund-raiser for Alzheimer’s Research – are heart-breaking.

What struck me once I had finished the book is just how much Doctor Who is a cultural touchstone in the UK – literally everyone is familiar with the show. They might not have watched it during the Classic Era. Or they might have only watched the program occasionally. But it’s familiar to the British people, and is a cultural well, since I don’t like the phrase “phenom” – touchstone. I had heard similar comments before – but I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess I saw the show as a classic but still an SF “cult” show – something the “cool” people watched and everyone else ignored. But it’s an everyday classic in the UK, and everyone is familiar with the show, the TARDIS, and the Daleks.

If you can find a copy of this book, do buy one. You’ll be helping a great cause, and it’s a good read!

Non-Fiction Book Review – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

  • Title: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who
  • Author: Marc Schuster
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/11/2015

I so wanted to like this book. I started reading it awhile ago, then put it down. I finally picked it up again, started from the beginning again, and re-read it. It was a real struggle – and any book that’s a struggle to read is unsuccessful. By struggle, I don’t mean that the language or concepts were difficult – nor do I mean it was boring. It was, well, I guess, the best word is – annoying. Like being stuck talking to a know-it-all arrogant buffoon at a party is annoying.

This book was more of an attempt by the authors to show off their knowledge of different academic disciplines, than an analysis of Doctor Who. The authors really didn’t seem to understand Doctor Who at all, they insulted the show’s fans, and they didn’t cover various academic disciplines well either. The insistence on describing Doctor Who as a kitchy, camp, silly show – doesn’t really sound like a fan pov. And it describes only one season really of the program, that of Gareth Williams (exec producer of Tom Baker’s second-to-last season), a showrunner who was so bad he was replaced after only one season, when, in general, most Doctor Who producers lasted three years or longer. Williams was the producer responsible for stories such as: “Underworld”, “Creature from the Pit”, “Nightmare of Eden”. When I tell you that the authors of this book found “Underworld” to be the peak of the show – if you’re a fan, you’ll understand why I have issues with this book.

One of the main problems with the text is that the author’s never once, in their arrogance, jingoism, and cultural imperialism, ever consider that Doctor Who is a British show. Yes, they mention that – but they never consider it. When analyzing “Carnival of Monsters” and “Kinda” the word “Colonialism” pretty much never comes up. Yet both stories are obviously criticizing British Colonialism. Doctor Who has never hesitated to present stories that get one to think about one’s own cultural bias’. For example, the character of the Brigadier, initially was presented as a negative character – not evil, but someone who’d follow orders without thinking – no matter the consequences, and the embodiment of British colonial attitudes towards others. That the Brigadier also became one of the most popular characters was due to the actor’s brilliant performance, and that the character learned from the Doctor and eventually stopped shooting first and asking questions later. Compare the Doctor’s relationship with the Brigadier in “Doctor Who and the Silurians” verses “Remembrance of the Daleks” for example.

“Kinda” is a story where the Galactic Empire has landed on the planet Deva Loka – and the colonials immediately assume the natives are “primitive” – only to discover, to their shock and surprise, that the natives of the planet are much more sophisticated than the colonials from Earth. But then, that story is densely packed with a lot to analyze – and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy does get into some of it – but ignoring the obvious references to the destructive nature of colonialism, does the story a huge disservice.

Throughout this book, the fans of Doctor Who are portrayed as geeky, unattractive, obsessive fanboys – who will never be successful (or get laid, to be blunt). That a book that sounds like a celebration of the show addresses the fans with “get a life” so to speak, is, well, insulting. In fact, many of the fans of Doctor Who ending up writing for the Doctor Who lines of original novels or comics, and then working in the television or comic book industries professionally. Among the fans of the show who are now professionals: Russell T. Davies (who brought the show back in 2005), Paul Cornell (who has published original modern fantasy novels, written for the new series, and wrote several original Doctor Who novels), Tony Lee (professional comic book author), Peter Anghelides (professional author), Mark Gatiss (actor, television writer, and television producer), etc. That’s just off the top of my head – there are many more.

It is also of note that the academic analysis also isn’t that great – the psychology chapter, for example, focuses almost solely on Freud, the largely debunked Victorian – with no mention of Adler, Jung, or Maslow. And Doctor Who, is filled with Jungian archetypes, some episodes more than others.

The chapter on linguistics fails to mention the debate of linguistic relativity (the idea that without having a word for something one cannot have an idea for something; though it does become a chicken-an-egg argument: Which comes first? The word, or the idea?); neither are Dell Hymes, Frank Boas, Edward Sapir, or even Noam Chomsky.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with this book, and I do not recommend it.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 3: The Third Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 3: The Third Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/18/2016

Hannah J. Rothman’s Twitter Who series is a joy to read. I read volume 3 last weekend, but unfortunately this week was so busy this is the first time I’ve had to sit down and review it.

Hannah’s project is to watch all of Classic Who and “live-Tweet” her reactions. The “live-Tweets” are then collected for each story, similar to a log of live-Tweeting session. In volume three, although the stories are presented in order, it’s evident from the dates for each collection of Tweets that the stories were not watched in order. However, that isn’t a negative. This book is even more fun and amusing, well-crafted and insightful than the previous two volumes. I enjoyed it very much.

I also found myself in complete agreement over Hannah’s opinions of Pertwee’s companions – all of whom she liked for different reasons, including one of my personal favorite companions: Jo Grant. I’ve always liked Jo, and for years Doctor Who fandom as a whole has been dismissive of her character – writing her off as a ditz and a screamer. However, Jo is quite capable, and she’s fiercely loyal to the Doctor. Jo grows during her time as a companion – something I always appreciate in any television character, where there’s time for a character to grow. But then, the first story I saw with Jo was “Frontier in Space” and she basically kicks butt in that, resisting the Master’s hypotism, rescuing the Doctor, even caring for an injured Doctor (which carries over to the next story, “Planet of the Daleks” where she leaves the safety of the TARDIS on an alien, hostile planet to find help for the Doctor). Anyway, Jo has inner strength. It was nice to read another Whovian who appreciates Ms. Grant. And the author, Hannah Rothman, also doesn’t fall in the trap of insulting or putting down Pertwee’s other companions. She rightly points out just how liberated and special Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw is – and that it was the production team at fault for not knowing what to do with a character as clever as the Doctor. And then there’s Sarah Jane, whom everyone loves.

The Pertwee Era, for all it’s “UNIT Boys” and James Bond-like emphasis on action, vehicle chases, gadgets, and even fancy dress costumes – had great female companions.

Twitter Who is a fast read, but it is well worth it. I recommend it and look forward to future volumes in the series.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 2: The Second Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 2: The Second Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2014

Rothman’s second volume follows the same format as the first, each Patrick Troughton Doctor Who story, including reconstructions of the missing ones is reviewed in Twitter posts, with several posts per story gathered together into a single blog post. So, again, it’s like reading a transcript of a live tweeting event. In this volume, the discussions of the individual stories are longer. However, it’s still a very fun, enjoyable, light, funny, and a quick read. I enjoyed it very much and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Twitter Who, Vol. 2 – The Second Doctor is highly recommended, especially to fans of the world’s longest-running Science Fiction television series, Doctor Who. The format is also unique to the deluge of non-fiction books about Doctor Who especially since the 50th anniversary last year.