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Review: The Gulf by Cody Quijano-Schell March 19, 2016

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105coverHere’s a niche item. It’s the first of a series of ebook original novellas combining Mexican luchadors (masked wrestlers) and science fiction — and it’s a spinoff of a spinoff from the Doctor Who tie-in novels.

Cody Quijano-Schell introduced the protagonist of the series in a short story in an Obverse Books anthology devoted to the character Iris Wildthyme. (Iris sort of first appeared in non-Doctor Who fiction by her creator, Paul Magrs, but Iris as she is known these days then appeared in a few Doctor Who novels by Magrs. It’s a long story.) Anyway, Señor 105 (a.k.a. Señor Cientocinco) made a definite impression. He had a short story collection of his own and then a series of ebooks starting back in 2012.

The Gulf picks up where the previously published stories left off. Señor 105 was mentored by wrestlers who named themselves after the classical elements — Agua, Fuego, etc — but believes that a wrestler in the Atomic Age should look to the elements of the periodic table (hence the series title, The Periodic Adventures of Señor 105). He has masks for each element and changes his name as new elements are discovered. He is a scientist, an adventurer, an explorer. His companion is a sentient sphere of gas contained in a balloon.

The Gulf is named after Chicxulub, where the asteroid impact believed to have killed off the dinosaurs occurred. An evil group known as the Terrible Lizards are rescuing ancient alien technology from the Gulf — the asteroid impact wasn’t quite what it seemed — and using it for evil acts when not auctioning it off to the highest bidder. Señor 105 and Sheila, the intelligent helium, are dragged in to the story when they’re rescued from a trainwreck by a mysterious woman. The trainwreck was, of course, the work of the  Terrible Lizards. On their way to investigate, they encounter a woman in a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform and her horse. She’s an investigator and crime fighter trying to prove that the RCMP should allow women to join. The four team up to work together, with occasional assistance from the mysterious woman.

The story builds on an altered version of Doctor Who history involving the lost twin planet of Earth, but instead of providing thinly disguised Whoniverse worlds and cultures, it puts a spin on them. It distances Señor 105’s world a bit farther from the Doctor’s reality.

The story is entertaining enough, but Quijano-Schell comes off as a bit of a new writer. He isn’t in full control of tenses or point of view, and he seems to forget about a character or two for a couple of chapters. Overall, though, it’s a quick and fun read. Definitely recommended for Doctor Who fans without enough to read, and for people looking for something very different in their pulpy SF adventure.

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2016, the year of almost no Doctor Who January 23, 2016

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12So Steven Moffat is leaving after the next series of Doctor Who, to be replaced by Chris Chibnall, who’s doing a third series of Broadchurch first. But Moffat’s last bow is scheduled for next year and all we get is a Christmas special for 2016. Oh the humanity. How will we cope with only one new episode?

(I’m not actually happy about it, because Capaldi’s really good and this last may have been my favourite season of the Moffat era. But when I started getting into Doctor Who there hadn’t been any new Who on TV for five years, and it would be four more before it was back. I’ll be okay.)

No Doctor Who until Christmas. What will I do? Well, for a start…

Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures DVDs. We’ve still got a few stories we haven’t seen from the 1963-89 Doctor Who and the final SJA episodes to watch. We’ve been saving them for a rainy day. It’s bound to rain some time this year.

K9. I have a whole season of the semi-official K9 series on DVD. I’ve only watched the first episode. I’ll be honest, I don’t think it looks all that great, but I bought it. Might as well watch it.

Class. Scheduled for later this year, eight 45-minute TV episodes of an all-new Doctor Who spinoff  from a critically acclaimed novelist. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

Big Finish. Every month there are several new audio adventures featuring past Doctors and their companions. Related series like Jago & LItefoot, UNIT, Torchwood, and more. The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble will have some new stories this year. Never mind that I already have a backlog of Doctor Who audios that is well into three digits now. I might catch up before the end of the year if I listened to at least one every day.

Comics. Ongoing series for the 10th, 11th, and 12th Doctors, miniseries for the 8th and 9th and, apparently, one coming for the 4th. These are from Titan. I still haven’t read all of IDW’s Doctor Who comics yet, and they lost their licence a couple years ago.

Novels. There are a few new ones scheduled for this year. And I’ve got a backlog of a few dozen.

Bernice Summerfield, one of the Doctor’s greatest companions, despite never being on TV. Last seen in the recent 12th Doctor novel Big Bang Generation. I loved her in the New Adventures books, with the Seventh Doctor and on her own, but I haven’t read most of the books published by Big Finish or heard most of her audio adventures.

Faction Paradox. Iris Wildthyme. Erimem. Lethbridge-Stewart. Spinoffs, all of them with several books I haven’t read yet, some with audios I haven’t heard. And more to come.

2016. The year of too damn much Doctor Who. Nah, no such thing. But there’s plenty.

Review: Doctor Who: Deep Time January 9, 2016

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Another Netgalley review of an advance ereading copy in exchange for a review.

Trevor Baxendale’s contribution to the three 12th Doctor novels featuring the mysterious threat of the Glamour is very different from Gary Russell’s quirky tale. In Deep Time, the Doctor and Clara Oswald join a dangerous mission into deep space. A privately-funded expedition is looking for two possibly linked artefacts: a spaceship lost decades ago and the last of the Phaeron Roads, a network of linked wormholes used by a long-gone civilization to travel through space.

Baxendale introduces the small crew; they tend to be familiar types, but he fleshes most of them out well enough. Different characters have different goals and there’s some conflict between them. The story follows the hunt through deep space, the mystery of the dead planet they encounter, the struggle to survive a world in which people can be flung back millennia into very different eras of the planet’s history — all of them less than hospitable, some deadly. Not everyone survives.

The story keeps up the suspense and mystery until near the end, when the plot threads come together and the Glamour connection comes into play. I’m not sure it feels entirely consistent with Gary Russell’s novel, but it works reasonably well. It’s one of the weaker aspects of the book, though. After an almost Alien-style extraterrestrial survival horror tale, he has to balance a slam-bang action ending with a fair amount of exposition and explanation. Still, a fast and suspenseful read overall, with some classic science fiction sense of wonder and good portrayals of the Doctor and Clara.

Review: Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation January 9, 2016

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And we’re back with more Netgalley reviews. Netgalley provides advance ereading copies in exchange for reviews. This time it’s the 12th Doctor novel Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell, the prolific Who novelist who’s also worked on Big Finish audios and the actual TV series, among many other things. This is one of three simultaneously released and loosely connected novels.

I didn’t like this one as much as I hoped I would.

After Doctor Who went off the air in 1989, the show lived in for several years in a series of novels, the New Adventures, that moved the story forward. One of the key developments was the introduction of a new companion, Bernice Summerfield, a 25th century archeologist. She was in many of the New Adventures and, when the publisher lost its Doctor Who licence at the time of the 1996 TV movie, they carried on the line with Bernice as the lead character for 22 more novels. When that line ended, the audio company Big Finish began its line of Bernice Summerfield audio adventures and books — dozens of them.

For Doctor Who fans who venture beyond the TV series, she’s kind of a big deal. And although she’s had audio adventures with the Doctor in recent years, she hasn’t appeared in an official Doctor Who novel in roughly twenty years.

So it’s a bit disappointing that she shows up in a mishmash of Douglas Adams and Steven Moffat featuring our protagonists battling against the end of all of time and space. It’s a humourous romp set against the backdrop of the destruction of Sydney, Australia, and the death of virtually all of its residents. Not that the humour always connects — Benny’s nickname, when she and her group are pretending to be con artists, is Da Trowel — nor does the huge body count really matter because you know there’s going to be a mighty whack on the reset button before the book is over. And that’s the problem. When you have the characters in a series book playing for the biggest stakes of all, there’s nothing at stake. The universe won’t be destroyed. All of the characters won’t be killed off. Everything will be back the way it was by the end of the book. All you’ve got is the journey, and it’s not as great a journey as it could be.

Russell does a decent job capturing Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, but his Benny doesn’t remind me of the one I’ve read about. But then she’s been through a lot of solo adventures I haven’t read or heard yet.

Then there’s the Glamour, the connecting thread of the three most recent 12th Doctor novels. It doesn’t seem to work quite the same way here as it does in Trevor Baxendale’s novel.

Overall, not awful, and sometimes enjoyable, but not fully satisfying. YMMV.

Review: Doctor Who: The Drosten’s Curse by A. L. Kennedy August 24, 2015

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Another Netgalley review.

Well, that was different. But ultimately quite good.

A.L. Kennedy contributed one of the Time Trips short stories, The Death Pit, a quirky Fourth Doctor story with more than a hint of Douglas Adams. This novel begins with story and expands considerably upon it, adding more characterization to its original characters. It drags a bit at times, and becomes perhaps rather less of a Douglas Adams type of thing — or at least less of the kind of thing people seem to think of when they think of Adams. The side of his work that deals with love and sadness rather than his unique style of humour is still present.

Ultimately, it’s a monster story about a monster that would rather not be one, and a story about people who are better than they realize, and the Doctor who helps them get there.

Though the stories couldn’t be much different, I found myself thinking of the title of a Harlan Ellison story, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. What starts off as quirkily funnily horrific and becomes genuinely darkly horrific for a while becomes touchingly emotional.

I’ve read some criticisms of the book from people who were grumpy that they wouldn’t have bought The Death Pit if they’d known this was coming… well, it was a bit odd, but it doesn’t tell you anything about whether it’s a good story, does it? Likewise people complaining about it not getting Douglas Adams right… that may not be exactly what Kennedy is trying to do. As I’ve mentioned above, I thought the pacing was a bit off, with a bit too much time on some parts of the story and not enough on others. But by the time I reached the end I found it a satisfying and entertaining tale that captured the Doctor well and introduced some new characters I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

Review: The Doctors Are In by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? August 24, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content, Doctor Who.
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Another Netgalley review.

Burk and Smith are longtime Who fans who’ve become prolific writers on the show. Both used to write for Canadian Doctor Who fanzine Enlightenment, and now they produce books.

There’s certainly no shortage of nonfiction books about Doctor Who. What was once a long-cancelled cult British TV series has become a worldwide phenomenon with millions of new fans who don’t know all the show’s history… and plenty of longtime fans who enjoy arguing obscure points of lore and debating which Doctor was best. So, obviously, there’s an audience for books like this.

As to this particular book– the emphasis is on the Doctors as characters. It’s not another episode guide — they’ve already done that sort of thing. Instead, each chapter puts a Doctor in context, with a few paragraphs on the production and writing of the show in that era, background on the actor who played the Doctor, information on the Doctor’s companions and a pick for top companion (and classic foe), a long look at the Doctor’s personality, some great and not so great moments, and then separate opinion pieces on the Doctor and his era from the two writers, and finally separate and definitely opinionated reviews of a handful of key episodes.

While the structure of the book means it’ll be helpful to newer fans, it’s the battles of opinions between Burk and Smith that’ll draw in the more knowledgeable fans. We’re suckers for opinionated takes on the show and its stories; there are several whole series of books dedicated to arguing the merits of different Doctors, eras, and episodes. Unlike some I could mention, this one delivers in relatively breezy, casual takes; not a lot of long drawn out critiques of colonialism here.

Overall, a good read for a broad audience of Who fans, suitable as an introduction or a source of arguments. I may have to look at their other DW books now.

(Incidentally, the ECW books I’ve bought in print form recently include an option to get the ebook at no extra charge. Not sure if they still do it, but it’s a nice incentive.)