If you’re not a fan of River Song, you’re probably not gonna like The Ruby’s Curse, Alex Kingston’s first Doctor Who book and River’s first solo novel. It’s pure, unadulterated River Song, with all the pros and cons that come with that. The book’s been advertised as a sort of melding of fact and fiction, with River writing a new Melody Malone story only to have elements of that story bleed into her reality. And, honestly, it’s every bit as mind-bending as it sounds—in the best way possible. Doctor Who: The Ruby’s Curse is a love letter to River Song and her time on the show. It’s clever, thrilling, action-packed, and oh-so-meta. Is it perfect? No, but it sure is a lot of fun. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
Doctor Who: The Ruby’s Curse by Alex Kingston 1939, New York. Private Eye, Melody Malone, is hired to find a stolen ruby, the Eye of Horus. The ruby might hold the secret to the location of Cleopatra’s tomb – but everyone who comes into contact with it dies. Can Melody escape the ruby’s curse?
1939, New York. River Song, author of the Melody Malone Mysteries, is forced to find a reality-altering weapon, the Eye of Horus – but everyone who comes into contact with it dies. River doesn’t believe in curses – but is she wrong?
From the top-security confines of Stormcage to the barbarism of first-century Egypt, River battles to find the Eye of Horus before its powers are used to transform the universe. To succeed, she must team up with a most unlikely ally – her own fictional alter ego, Melody. And together they must solve another mystery: Is fiction changing into fact – or is fact changing into fiction?
It may not be the most beloved episode of Doctor Who (or of season 7, even), but I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Angels Take Manhattan.” I love River Song and I love film noir-style detective stories. So, of course, I love an episode where River is a film noir-style detective. And in that episode, there’s a book that’s based on her adventures as this detective—Melody Malone. It’s one of my favorite elements of the episode; I mean, who doesn’t love a good book-within-a-show? Honestly, I’d love to read a novelization of the episode written like a Melody Malone novel. And, when I first came across Justin Richards’ “The Angel’s Kiss,” I thought that’s what I’d be getting—a recreation of the book featured in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Unfortunately, that’s not what this is.
Look, I’m gonna be honest—season two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist started to lose me a bit during the middle episodes. A lot of it felt like retreading familiar ground, with the show continuing to rely on the Max/Zoey/Simon love triangle (to the point where it became a love hexagon for a hot minute). But the last few episodes easily won me back, offering buckets of character development, heartfelt moments, and a whole lot of humor. And the season two finale hits a home run, managing to be everything you want a season finale to be. It satisfyingly brings many of the ongoing storylines to a close while offering a compelling pitch for a third season. As the episode ended, it felt like the show had so many different places it could go, not least of all by further exploring that jaw-dropping cliffhanger. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the very beginning. It is, after all, a very good place to start. (5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There are major spoilers for the season two finale of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Read at your own risk.)
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×13: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Goodbye” (Written by Austin Winsberg, directed by John Terlesky) In the season finale, Zoey must face a difficult goodbye.
It’s an absolute delight to be living in a world where Christopher Eccleston is acting in new Doctor Who stories featuring his Doctor. Like Paul McGann, Eccleston’s time on the show was brief but full of promise. So, it’s quite nice to see him return to the role after a nearly sixteen-year absence in a new series of audio dramas for Big Finish. Unfortunately, the first set of these stories, Doctor Who: Ravagers, isn’t the home run it could’ve been. It’s not a bad set, or anything, just an underwhelming one. It’s a three-part story that’s stretched across two-and-a-half hours and, honestly, the story just doesn’t support its length. But still—it feels like a story that might’ve aired during the Ninth Doctor’s era. Plus, Christopher Eccleston was always going to be the selling point of these sets and he doesn’t disappoint here. (3 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Minor spoilers for Doctor Who: Ravagers follow. Major plot points are not spoiled, but read at your own risk.)
“Doctor Who: Ravagers” (written by Nicholas Briggs) 1.1 Sphere of Freedom – On the Sphere of Freedom, the Doctor is about to shut down an evil Immersive Games business empire. He’s assisted by a valiant galley chef called Nova. But his plan spectacularly fails… And who exactly is Audrey?
1.2 Cataclysm – Nova is dislocated in time while the Time Eddies are out of control. Meanwhile, the Doctor is about to face the end of the universe. Or is that just the Battle of Waterloo?
1.3 Food Fight – The TARDIS is starting to get a little crowded! Audrey finds herself haunted by a ghostly Doctor.
This might be controversial, but I enjoyed Child’s Play 2 more than I enjoyed the first film. Yes, it’s an obvious rehash of Child’s Play, but without the need for tons of exposition, the movie simply gets right to all of the good stuff, resulting in a more dynamic, fast-paced film. This time around, it’s two years after the Chucky doll’s first murder spree, and Andy’s been bouncing around the foster system after his mother was institutionalized for standing by Andy and his stories about Chucky. As the film begins, Andy is taken in by a foster family, only for a re-awakened Chucky to quickly find him and resume his reign of terror. The rest of the film plays out similarly to the original Child’s Play: Chucky terrorizes Andy and his (foster) family, nobody believes Andy about Chucky, and a trail of carnage leads to an explosive climax.
I’m gonna be honest—the only reason I watched Girls5eva is because Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldsberry were in it. I never watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and I’m not the biggest fan of Tina Fey comedies (they’re well-made but the humor tends not to be my particular cup of tea). But, I gotta say, I enjoyed Girls5eva. To be clear, based solely on its writing, it’s a pretty standard comedy. I’ve seen similar premises done in similar ways before, and the jokes are a bit hit or miss. But Girls5eva’s special sauce is its cast. Bareilles, Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Philipps are so good that they frequently pick up the writing’s slack. Plus, there’s a whole host of entertaining guest stars that join them, making Girls5eva worth watching for its outstanding cast, alone. (3 out of 5 wands.)
Girls5eva (created by Meredith Scardino) When a one-hit-wonder girl group from the 90’s gets sampled by a young rapper, its members reunite to give their pop star dreams one more shot. They may be grown women balancing spouses, kids, jobs, debt, aging parents, and shoulder pain, but can‘t they also be Girls5eva?
Most movie novelizations end up being a not-quite-final draft of the film’s script converted into prose. There’s the occasional deleted scene or expanded character backstory, but it’s mostly just a book version of the film, as you’d have seen it. Doctor Who: The TV Movie is precisely that kind of novelization. It’s well written, sure, and Russell’s prose adds a fair amount of depth to the story that a ninety-minute TV film simply can’t have. But it’s still a very safe, very standard novelization. It’s a little disappointing compared to how different some of the other recent Target novelizations are to their original stories, but I’m kind of okay with Russell’s adaptation being as faithful and safe as it is. I have quite the soft spot for the TV film, and Russell’s novel does a great job of capturing what works about the film. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for Doctor Who: The TV Movie and its novelization. Read at your own risk.
Doctor Who: The TV Movie (written by Gary Russell) It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.
But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.
Dalek is a perfect episode of Doctor Who. It’s got great character work, thrilling action sequences, and an expertly crafted and executed plot. The idea of novelizing the episode must have been a daunting one for Robert Shearman, the episode’s original writer and the author of this new Target novelization. How do you successfully translate the episode’s bone-chilling tension into prose? The answer, in Dalek’s case, is that you don’t. Instead, Shearman takes the opportunity to delve deeper into the story, stretching out the backstories of all of the characters and allowing the narrative a lot of room to breathe. This results in a compelling novel, but one that lacks the tension and focus of the episode it’s adapting. It’s a fun read—but a wildly different experience when compared to the episode. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There will be mild spoilers for “Dalek” ahead. Read at your own risk.
Doctor Who: Dalek (written by Robert Shearman) The Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground vault in Utah in the near future. The vault is filled with alien artefacts. Its billionaire owner, Henry van Statten, even has possession of a living alien creature, a mechanical monster in chains that he has named a Metaltron. Seeking to help the Metaltron, the Doctor is appalled to find it is in fact a Dalek – one that has survived the horrors of the Time War just as he has. And as the Dalek breaks loose, the Doctor is brought back to the brutality and desperation of his darkest hours spent fighting the creatures of Skaro… this time with the Earth as their battlefield.
Believe it or not, I’ve never seen a Chucky movie. I know a lot about the franchise thanks to culture osmosis, but I’ve never sat down to watch any of the films. With SyFy working on a TV continuation of the franchise, I figured now was the perfect time to give the movies a watch. And what better place to start than at the beginning, with 1988 Child’s Play. It’s weird watching this movie and knowing that Chucky is going to be a cultural icon because while this is a great horror film it doesn’t have a lot of the trademarks associated with a Chucky film. The kills aren’t particularly gnarly, Chucky’s not cracking a bunch of jokes, and Chucky’s not even in the movie much. It’s more of a thriller than a horror movie, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Max Brooks’s first foray into Minecraft literature, The Island, was better than it had any right being. So naturally, I was excited to see what direction he’d take the follow-up, The Mountain, in. While The Island was a charming, unique take on a Minecraft story, The Mountain overstays its welcome a bit. The whole “protagonist finds himself in the world of Minecraft and is confused about everything” gimmick grows stale, even with Brooks’s attempt at spicing things up by introducing a new character, Summer, to act as a foil to Guy, the protagonist of the two books. The problem with The Mountain is that it’s too much like the first book. What felt quaint there feels tired here. It’s just another book that hints at this grander, more interesting idea (why have these people suddenly found themselves trapped in the Minecraft world, with barely any memories of their former lives?) instead of properly exploring it.