Book Review – Doctor Who: A Big Hand for the Doctor

  • Title: A Big Hand for the Doctor
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Eoin Colfer
  • Characters: First Doctor, Susan
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/08/2016

A Big Hand for the Doctor is one of twelve short stories sold in a boxed set called 12 Doctors / 12 Stories, one featuring each Doctor – or each of the twelve actors to play The Doctor on the popular British series, Doctor Who. I was expecting this to be a children’s story, but it’s actually more “all ages” and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

The Doctor and his grand-daughter, Susan, are in Victorian London to stop Soul Pirates. The Soul Pirates are despised throughout the galaxy – they steal children and use them as an energy source – batteries, or for spare parts, leaving nothing left – thus the name. They fly from planet to planet in huge factory ships and pirate ships.

The story begins with the Doctor, having already lost a hand to these pirates, visiting a Xing surgeon for a replacement. The surgeon attaches a two-fingered bio-hybrid hand to the Doctor’s wrist, while growing him a new hand which will take a few days. But when the Doctor leaves the surgeon’s disguised shop he discovers a number of messages from Susan on his wrist-communicator. To his horror, rather than observing a house that she and the Doctor think the Pirates might hit, she’s gone in to rescue the three children from the Pirates.

The Doctor arrives and discovers Susan, the three children, and the soldier meant to guard them, being taken away in an anti-grav beam – a beam also flooded with soporific agent which knocks them out and causes happy dreams. The Doctor fights the Pirate on the roof and takes the beam to the Soul Pirate spaceship. There, in grand style, he does what the Doctor does – and performs rescues as well as a few surprises.

The entire story is full of references to Peter Pan – though this is a dark and scary version of Peter Pan. It’s also a lovely little book and well-worth reading and enjoying. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The 12 Doctors of Christmas

  • Title: The Twelve Doctors of Christmas
  • Series: BBC Books – Special Themed Short Story Collection
  • Author: Various
  • Note: Includes paintings for each story
  • Characters: One story per Doctor, with companions
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/22/2016

The Twelve Doctors of Christmas is a wonderful, wonderful book. Everything about this book is just awesome and it would make for a great Christmas gift for Doctor Who fans young and old. The presentation of this book is impressive – it’s a cloth-bound hard cover with incredible full-color art paintings – one per story. There is one short story per Doctor and one painting per story. The paintings are bound in groups, though, rather than as front pieces for each story, so you read four stories then get four pages of gorgeous art. Still, the full-color paintings are beautiful and aptly illustrate each story.

There are twelve short stories in the collection – one per Doctor, and the stories also feature many of the Doctor’s well-known companions. Each story also has a theme of Christmas – but it’s interpreted by the various authors in a broad way, so we get stories that range from Barbara and Ian “going home for the holidays” to the Seventh Doctor and Ace trying to rescue a crashed alien from Macy’s at Christmas (after hours) and trying to also save the few workers in the store. All the stories are inventive and approach the Holiday differently. It’s a wonderful collection.

This was an uplifting and fun read – and I could see myself re-reading it every year. It’s a beautiful presentation as a book, a great gift, and an enjoyable read. I simply loved it – and it was good to read at this time of year.

Stories, Doctor, Companion(s), Authors

  • All I Want for Christmas (First Doctor, Barbara, Ian) – Jacqueline Rayner
  • A Comedy of Terrors (Second Doctor, Jamie, Zoë) – Colin Brake
  • The Christmas Inversion (Third Doctor, Jo Grant, UNIT) – Jacqueline Rayner
  • Three Wise Men (Fourth Doctor) – Richard Dungworth
  • Sontar’s Little Helpers (Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough) – Mike Tucker
  • Fairy Tale of New New York (Sixth Doctor, Mel) – Gary Russell
  • The Grotto (Seventh Doctor, Ace) – Mike Tucker
  • Ghost of Christmas Past (Eighth Doctor) – Scott Handcock
  • The Red Bicycle (Ninth Doctor, Rose) – Gary Russell
  • Loose Wire (Tenth Doctor) – Richard Dungworth
  • The Gift (Eleventh Doctor) – Scott Handcock
  • The Persistence of Memory (Twelfth Doctor) – Colin Brake

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Empire of Glass

  • Title: The Empire of Glass
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Andrew Lane
  • Characters: First Doctor, Steven, Vicki
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 1/26/2017

The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki land the TARDIS in 17th century Venice, the Empire of Glass, and meet Shakespeare (currently a spy for King James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland), William Marlowe who isn’t quite as dead as Shakespeare thought he was, Galileo, and another Time Lord from Gallifrey who is hosting intergalactic arms limitation talks on a hidden island in Venice.

This story is short, barely over 200 pages in the e-book version, and a thorough romp. There are plenty of fights in bars, kidnappings, chases, mistaken identity (a cardinal looks very like the Doctor, apparently, so the two keep getting mistaken for each other by everyone), misunderstandings, and even a duel. It’s a fun and quick read. Even the opening chapter describing the infamous Lost Colony is successfully tied in by the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was so much fun.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Venusian Lullaby

  • Title: Venusian Lullaby
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Paul Leonard
  • Characters:  First Doctor, Ian, Barbara
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/19/2013

I was greatly disappointed with this book, especially after the last one I read in the Doctor Who Missing Adventures line was so good. Paul Leonard attempts to write a solid hard SF novel and drop the First Doctor, Barbara and Ian into his story. Perhaps he would have been better off writing an original novel or series of novels. This book has a series of problems (1) as a reader I spent way too much time trying to figure out what was going on… there simply wasn’t enough exposition, (2) The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian should have abruptly turned around and left – the second they realised everyone on the planet (namely Venus) was due to die (3) far too much time is spent “running around” – The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian keep getting separated and as a reader I got frustrated because all I wanted was for them to meet up again and leave, and finally (5) because this is a prehistoric Venus, like three billion years ago or something we know from the beginning that the culture and people of Venus are doomed – this oddly has the dual effect of distancing the reader from the characters and reducing any sense of anxiety, from the beginning we know what will happen.

Any one of those “problems” could have been addressed and written in such a way as to enhance the novel rather than make it worse. After all, a lot of the televised episodes of Doctor Who have ample “running around” or characters being split up, having separate adventures, then joining up again. It can be handled well, or at least better, than in this novel, where it simply doesn’t work.

Or, the knowledge that we “know” that Venusians never landed on Earth could have been used to create “anxiety” about their fate, after all, several of the best episodes of Doctor Who involve a known historical fact and the Doctor’s role in it. But instead in Venusian Lullaby plays out like something the reader simply doesn’t care about.

Overall, quite a disappointment.

Book Cover for The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  • Title: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Christopher Bulis
  • Characters:  First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Susan
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/27/2013

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is part of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who Missing Doctor Adventures . The Missing Adventures were companion books to Virgin Publishing’s The New Adventures line. Both series were published following Doctor Who being put on hiatus by the BBC in 1989. The Missing Adventures feature Doctors 1-6, and are independent novels. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and later Bernice, in an inter-connected series.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is great fun and I really enjoyed it, much more than I expected to enjoy it. The First Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian, Barbara, and Susan, set down on what appears to be an idyllic forest glen — Barbara and Ian even think they may have finally made it home to 1960s England. Well, until they find a body burned to a crisp, and a village with similar burn damage. Ian convinces the Doctor they should head back to the TARDIS at least for the night, because the forest is too dangerous. The Doctor, for once, agrees. But he also decides to take a short cut back to the TARDIS, and they encounter a downed spacecraft that’s been over-grown with forest. The Doctor, Susan, and Ian investigate briefly, but soon Ian and Barbara convince the Doctor they can leave the spacecraft alone for now and return to the TARDIS. One the way back, they are attacked by a dragon.

Yes, a dragon. When they reach the TARDIS, it’s doors are jammed and they cannot get inside. However, though Barbara is injured, they are rescued by a knight. Before long, the four are involved in the affairs of Albion, literally a fairy-tale world of magic and wonder. On Albion, knights and castles, witches and wizards, fantastic creatures, and magic all exist. Susan and the Princess Mellisa are kidnapped by flying monkeys and taken to the Dark Tower of an evil wizard. Ian, and the Doctor, join a quest of a knight, elf, dwarf, and leprechaun to find the mystical Helm of Merlin to defeat the evil wizard. Barbara, recovering from her dragon injuries, starts to investigate the situation on Albion (or Elbyon as the natives call it) while staying at the castle, but eventually wonders off and into her own adventure. As wild as this description sounds, the story was great fun. There are references to classic fairy tales and fantasy novels, including Baum’s Oz, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The story itself moves quickly, and again, is just fun to read.

Of course, the Doctor, manages to figure out what’s going on for real, which I’m not going to spoil. However, this novel does, even with the fantastic settings, by it’s end, fit into the Doctor Who universe. Highly, highly recommended.

Classic Doctor Who DVD Recs – The First Doctor

I started watching Doctor Who as a child, and I’m still a fan of the original Classic Series. I have all of Doctor Who on DVD, something which took me over ten years to accomplish. However, I know that fans who are new to Doctor Who, having started with the re-boot, or even Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi could easily be intimidated by dipping in to Classic Doctor Who – the series has been around for fifty years, after all, and even though many stories from the 1960s are still missing, there is a great deal to choose from, to quote the Eleventh Doctor, “Where do you want to start?”

I’m going to present my favorites by Doctor, in chronological order. However, if you’ve never watched any Classic Doctor Who at all, I’d recommend starting with Tom Baker’s last season and working forward in order from there. The Doctor Who Master Post lists all the episodes available on DVD in order. Why not start with Tom Baker at his beginning? Well, a number of reasons. Though I’d seen a few older episodes when I watch extremely young, it was watching Tom Baker’s last season that made me a fan. I caught it on PBS while on vacation, and I loved the show so much I started reading the Target novelisations, as well as books about Doctor Who, such as Peter Haining’s wonderful coffee table books (Doctor Who:  A Celebration, etc.) It wasn’t until a few years later that my local PBS station picked up the show. Though they did, to their credit, run all of it – I saw all seven Doctors. So, I actually think Tom’s last season is some of his best work. It’s two trilogies as well, the last episode introduces the new Doctor, Peter Davison, but the linking between the E-Space Trilogy and the Regeneration Trilogy gives the stories more impact. I think it’s some of Tom Baker’s finest work, though he has some outstanding stories throughout his very long tenure as the Doctor. However, you are certainly welcome to start at the very beginning – and William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton certainly made some excellent stories.

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The best place to start watching the William Hartnell stories is The Beginning. This DVD box set includes the first three stories of the series:  “An Unearthly Child”, “The Daleks”, “The Edge of Destruction”. It’s a variety of story lengths (“An Unearthly Child” is four half-hour parts, “The Daleks” is seven, and “Edge of Destruction” is two.) All Classic Doctor Who consisted of serialised stories, with several half-hour parts making up a single story. Most stories ran four to six parts, though they could be as few as two or as many as twelve. Cliffhangers every week were a staple of the Classic series. Also, very early on, each half-hour episode had it’s own title.

“An Unearthly Child” introduces the series, as Barbara and Ian, two teachers from Coal Hill School, decide there’s something odd about their student, Susan, and follow her home. There they find her grandfather and the police box they live in, which is bigger on the inside than the outside – and actually a Time/Space capsule. Before long they are accidentally travelling in time, back to the stone age.

“The Daleks” is a classic story which introduces the classic monster which still appears on Doctor Who periodically to this day. Though the story is a little long – it has it’s moments. This is also a story where Ian really gets a chance to shine.

“Edge of Destruction” is a short “filler” story, where the only set available was the TARDIS. However, it’s still a spooky and weird story – and it comes in the box set.

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“The Aztecs” is a purely historical story, however, it is also one of Barbara’s strongest stories. Mistaken for a god, Barbara attempts to change history, and discovers, to quote the Doctor, “But you can’t re-write history, not one line.” Meanwhile, the Doctor gets involved in a bit of a romance. It might sound silly but it’s a great story. I actually have the original DVD, however, as you can see from the screen grab – there is also a special edition DVD available. The first disc of the Special Edition has the same special features as the original release, though the video quality has been updated from the previous re-mastering. The second disc contains additional new special features.

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The Daleks return, and this time they’ve conquered Earth. Or at least London. Though at times a bit slow, with a lot of running around, this story is full of iconic images, such as the Dalek rising out of the Thames, and Daleks crossing the Westminster Bridge. It’s a solid story.

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“The Time Meddler” is a different type of story from the majority of the very serious Hartnell stories. Here the Doctor meets The Meddling Monk, another person of his own alien race, who’s decided to change the past – because he can. The story is filled with sharp, fun dialogue. That the Doctor has a new companion who isn’t ready to believe that the TARDIS really travels in time and space, also adds to the fun. The script is by Dennis Spooner. I’d even go so far as to say, if you are only going to have one Hartnell story in your collection – it should be this one.

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“The Tenth Planet” didn’t exist when I originally watched Doctor Who on PBS. That is, this is one of the stories that was thought lost. The Doctor Who Restoration Team was able to bring the story out on DVD with the support of the BBC, and animation (with the original audio track) filling in the missing parts of the story. This story introduces the Cybermen, still a major foe in today’s Doctor Who, and second only to the Daleks in popularity as a monster in the series as a whole. Though it is plain in the story that Hartnell’s health is failing, the story is actually quite good. I was surprised at how chilling the original Cybermen voices could be. This is a highly recommended story.

There you go – five recommendations for the William Hartnell, First Doctor Era of Doctor Who! Enjoy!