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.

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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 Official Quotable Doctor Who

  • Title: The Official Quotable Doctor Who: Wise Words from Across Time and Space
  • Author: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/29/2014

I’ve actually had the idea for this book, which is precisely what it says on the cover, forever. Doctor Who is a very quotable show, and quote books such as Primetime Proverbs or I’d Rather Kiss a Wookie – the Star Wars Quotebook are popular and fun. So, reading this I thought – how’d someone else get to do this first?

However, the book is fun. The quotes – from both the Classic Series and New Who are good and most favorites are included. However, there are some mistakes, such as – “The coffee’s just about as filthy as UNIT tea, if that’s possible.’ – Jo Grant, Planet of the Spiders” – which is simply wrong. Jo’s last episode is “The Green Death” and she didn’t suddenly reappear in “Planet of the Spiders” (Jon Pertwee’s last story). So, either the attribution is wrong, or the episode title is wrong. Since I can’t quite picture Jo saying, “filthy”, I’m guessing she never said that – it was someone else. And there are other similar errors. I’m pretty sure all the transcribing is correct – but some of the titles or attributions contain errors.

A second issue is that any quote from the Doctor is simply attributed to “The Doctor” – I really think the actor who played the Doctor should have been included. Episode titles are included, but not everyone has the entire run of the series from “An Unearthly Child” to the last Capaldi episode memorized. I mean, I’ve been a fan since the 1980s – and I have to look stuff up occasionally.

By the way, I actually have a hardcover version of this book, not an e-book. There’s also an UK version available, but Amazon UK won’t ship it to the US. I’d love to know why.

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!

Book Review – Doctor Who Tenth Doctor vol. 5: Arena of Fear

  • Title: Arena of Fear
  • Author: Nick Abadzis
  • Artists: Elena Casagrande, Eleonora Carlini
  • Line:  Tenth Doctor
  • Characters: Tenth Doctor, Gabby Gonzales, Cindy Wu, Capt. Jack Harkness
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Publisher: Titan Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/08/2017

This is the third time I’ve tried to post a review of this graphic novel. First time I read the book, my Internet went out for a week and I couldn’t review it. Second time, I got the entire review posted, only to have it completely disappear when I hit save. Rest assured, I will copy this review to Word before hitting send this time. Just background as this is definitely not a “first impressions” review.

Titan Comics Arena of Fear features the Tenth Doctor as played by David Tennant on the BBC series, Doctor Who. This volume picks-up directly after the first volume, and the first story is told from the point-of-view of Cindy Wu. She has lost her memory, as have her companions, Capt. Jack, Cleo, Erik, and Muthmunno a Neanderthal healer. No one has their memories – and the environment is hostile, with the people being forced to constantly fight each other. They join an alien “River Goddess” and find the Doctor. They locate the Doctor, deep in meditation, who helps everyone to regain their memories. Gabby shows up and goes on the attack. But the Doctor realizes she shouldn’t have the power she has. Gabby is being controlled by Ebonite. The Doctor uses the Song of the Santee to bring Gabby out of it. Breaking Ebonite’s control also means that the Doctor and Gabby are able to free the group entirely – who are being held in a miniscope. The Doctor will help everyone to get home, and invites Gabby and Cindy to travel in his TARDIS. Muthmunno decides to gather the Neanderthals who are held captive in the miniscope and seek “new hunting grounds” – a planet where they can live without being driven to extinction.

The next story really feels like filler – Cindy complains that the TARDIS is haunted. The Doctor tells her it’s not possible. Gabby explains she may have seen the impressions of the Doctor’s past lives, and shows her portraits of the previous Doctors. However, they are attacked in the library. The Doctor rescues the two then, explaining he was re-configuring the TARDIS rooms to get more power.

Finally, Gabby asks the Doctor to take them on vacation. They land in Dewbury, the most haunted village in the UK, just in time for the Paranormal Literary Festival. Gabby, Cindy, and the Doctor discover the village has a high incidence of OCD – often apparently caused by encounters with the Witch of the Wishing Well. The Doctor meets an old man who was affected, who senses the Doctor is a mage, and takes him to the cave that is home to the witch. The Doctor senses time traces with his sonic screwdriver and finds a window to the Time Vortex. The witch is a being, held captive by the Vortex. The old man, Randall, states the Witch has seven faces, and to the Doctor it mentions Regeneration. The Doctor sees a connection to the Untempered Schism. He’s able to use the TARDIS to free the “witch” – which cures the affected in Dewbury, including Randall. But the TARDIS is deeply affected and even starts to break apart.

Finally, references to Anubis and also Sutekh are sprinkled throughout the book, and it ends with Dorothy Bell convincing “dogface” Anubis, he isn’t Sutekh. Still, these references will no doubt have consequences in the next volume or two.

Arena of Fear has some excellent art, but at other times Gabby and Cindy are drawn in such a similar fashion it’s hard to tell them apart. Much of this novel also feels like it’s a transistion between last volume’s adventures with Neanderthal kind and something to happen with Anubis, Sutekh, and the Osirans. The Doctor even uncovers a device to hold an Osiran captive, while heading for New Orleans in the TARDIS. Still, a good story, and no doubt an important part of the on-going series.

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.