The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.
“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?
“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.
It feels like ages since a new episode of Doctor Who has aired. I know season 12 finished airing this past March, but it feels much longer than that. After a year like 2020, it feels good to have a new Doctor Who episode to look forward to. And, let’s be real, a new episode of Doctor Who is always something to be excited for, even if you’re not loving the current run. Every episode of Doctor Who is a blank slate. There is a chance for that episode to be something great or, conversely, to be less-than-stellar. And that’s the joy of the show—you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s with this mindset that I approached the 2021 New Year’s Day special, Revolution of the Daleks. I enjoyed the previous New Year’s special, Resolution, so I was pretty excited going into this. Plus, there’s the added excitement of the proper return of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness and the drama of two companions departing by the end of the story—Bradley Walsh’s Graham and Tosin Cole’s Ryan. Revolution of the Daleks had a lot going for it, but how did it fare as a story? Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks is a rollicking adventure. Filled with action, drama, a surprising amount of introspection, and plenty of heart, it’s an excellent special that should prove plenty pleasing. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: This review features spoilers. Read at your own risk.)
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Lee Haven Jones) The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?
Finales are hard to pull off. Especially ones that have as much ground to cover as this one did. Where we last left off, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Ethan (one of the human survivors of the CyberWar, played by Matt Carver) were standing in front of the Boundary, a mysterious gateway between worlds/galaxies guarded by Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney), face-to-face with the Master (Sacha Dhawan) who is ready to explain what terrible secret he learned about the Time Lords caused him to destroy the planet. Meanwhile, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ravio (Julie Graham), and Yedlarmi (Alex Austin) were trapped on the CyberShip with Ashad/The Lone Cyberman (Patrick O’Kane) and the rest of his Cybermen Army, headed directly toward Ko Sharmus’s planet. With that in mind, The Timeless Children had a lot to tie up: it needed to reveal the secret behind the Timeless Child; it needed to reveal what Ashad’s plan was and how he would be defeated; it needed to reveal who Brendan (Evan McCabe), the mysterious man shown throughout last week’s episode, fit into everything and how the Ruth Doctor (Jo Martin) fit in with the established history of the Doctor; and, most of all, it had to be a good episode. Did The Timeless Child succeed at all of this? Yes and no. It featured a lot of answers that opened the doors to even more mysteries. It uprooted everything we thought we knew about the show before somewhat-disappointingly reverting to the usual status quo. It’s solid, but its ideas need more exploration to really land. (Full spoilers ahead!)
Season 12, Episode 10: The Timeless Children (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
In the epic and emotional series finale, the Cybermen are on the march. As the last remaining humans are ruthlessly hunted down, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) face a terrifying fight to survive. Civilisations fall. Others rise anew. Lies are exposed, truths are revealed, battles are fought, and for the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) — trapped and alone — nothing will ever be the same again.
It feels like we just started the season, but we’re already nearing the end. This week begins the first half of the season finale and my excitement levels are through the roof. The most interesting episodes this season have been the ones that have revolved around the multiple overarching plotlines – what is the Timeless Child?; who is the Ruth Doctor?; what does the Lone Cyberman want and how will the Doctor defeat it? Plus there’s been the promise of a glimpse of the Great Cyber War. Following any one of those threads would lead to an interesting story, but the promise of all of them? That’s something exciting. Of course, this first half was never really going to answer all of those questions, but it certainly would begin to tie together all of this season’s various strands into something exciting, right? Thankfully, this first half of the two-part finale does everything a first half should do: it sets up the stakes, deepens the mystery, and leaves us desperately wanting to see how it all is resolved. (Spoilers ahead!)
Season 12, Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
The aftermath of the Great CyberWar. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) arrives in the far future, intent on protecting the last of the human race from the deadly Cybermen. But in the face of such a relentless enemy, has she put her best friends (Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh) at risk? What terrors lie hiding in the depths of space, and what is Ko Sharmus?
I love it when elements of Classic Who and New Who are combined to tell a whole new story. With a history this vast Doctor Who is a franchise that’s perfect for such a mashup of the old and new. Especially given how much of a mixture of old and new this current era is – what with its female Doctor and its throwback to a three-companion TARDIS team. So, when the news broke that Sophie Alfred, the actress who played Ace (companion of the 7th Doctor and the prototype for the modern DoctorWho companion as we know them), would be writing a book detailing an adventure where Ace meets the current Doctor and her companions, I was totally on board. And, I gotta tell you, it’s a really good book. In fact, it’s so good that I wish it could be adapted into an episode or two of the show itself. (Mild spoilers follow.)
Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End (by Sophie Aldred, with Steve Cole and Mike Tucker)
Once, a girl called Ace travelled the universe with the Doctor – until, in the wake of a terrible tragedy they parted company. Decades later, she is known as Dorothy McShane, the reclusive millionaire philanthropist who heads global organisation A Charitable Earth. And Dorothy is haunted by terrible nightmares, vivid dreams that begin just as scores of young runaways are vanishing from the dark alleyways of London. Could the disappearances be linked to sightings of sinister creatures lurking in the city shadows? Why has an alien satellite entered a secret orbit around the Moon?
Investigating the satellite with Ryan, Graham and Yaz, the Doctor is thrown together with Ace once more. Together they must unravel a malevolent plot that will cost thousands of lives. But can the Doctor atone for her past incarnation’s behaviour – and how much must Ace sacrifice to win victory not only for herself, but for the Earth?
Mary Shelley + The Doctor + Gothic Ghost Story = genius idea. I mean, what else could you want? It’s such a good idea that it’s genuinely surprising the show has never done something like this before. To be fair, Big Finish Productions have done some audio adventures featuring Mary Shelley teaming up with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, but never has the show itself taken us on a trip to this particular part of history. And what better night for a Doctor Who story to take place on than the night Mary Shelley purportedly came up with the idea for her classic, Frankenstein. So, this would all seem like a pretty good set up for a great episode of Doctor Who. And, to be fair, it is – but not for the reasons you’d think. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a Frankenstein of an episode – pun intended – in the best possible way. (Spoilers ahead!)
Season 12 Episode 8, The Haunting of Villa Diodati (written by Maxine Alderton, directed by Emma Sullivan)
‘Nobody mention Frankenstein. Nobody interfere. Nobody snog Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy).’ Should be easy, right?
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her gang (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill) arrive at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s (Lilli Miller) Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real, and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: short stories are a great medium for Doctor Who tales. They provide authors with a nice ability to tell the kinds of stories that maybe wouldn’t quite work as an episode of the show and are too short to support an entire novel. Some of the most creative Doctor Who adventures have come from these collections of short stories (see the recently published Target Collection for examples) and I always look forward to them when they come out. Star Tales is no exception, especially as it finally unveils some of the stories behind the Doctor’s frequently referenced encounters with celebrities. This go ’round, we get our first collection of stories that primarily focuses on the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions – Ryan, Yaz, and Graham – save for one story, early on. How are the stories in this collection? They’re pretty good and definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of this era of the show. (Mild spoilers for the stories within Star Tales.)
Doctor Who: Star Tales (by Steve Cole, Paul Magrs, Jenny T. Colgan, Jo Cotterill, Trevor Baxendale, and Mike Tucker)
The Doctor is many things – curious, funny, brave, protective of her friends…and a shameless namedropper. While she and her companions battled aliens and travelled across the universe, the Doctor hinted at a host of previous, untold adventures with the great and the good: we discovered she got her sunglasses from Pythagoras (or was it Audrey Hepburn?); lent a mobile phone to Elvis; had an encounter with Amelia Earhart where she discovered that a pencil-thick spider web can stop a plane; had a ‘wet weekend’ with Harry Houdini, learning how to escape from chains underwater; and more. In this collection of new stories, Star Tales takes you on a rip-roaring ride through history, from 500BC to the swinging 60s, going deeper into the Doctor’s notorious name-dropping and revealing the truth behind these anecdotes.
This week’s episode of Doctor Who was another one of those episodes where I had no idea what to expect before watching it. The BBC’s promotional efforts for the episode played things very close to the chest, revealing only that it would be a fairly creepy episode and the villain, Zellin (Ian Gelder), would be doing something involving dreams and nightmares. Aside from that, it was super unclear what to expect from the episode. And, frankly, I think it really worked out in this instance because Can You Hear Me? is one of those episodes that has to be seen to be truly appreciated and understood. So, did I like the episode? For sure, though I think it could have benefitted from being a two-part story. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 7: Can You Hear Me? (written by Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, directed by Emma Sullivan)
From ancient Syria to present day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends. As Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) return home to see friends and family, they find themselves haunted by very different experiences. Who is the figure calling from beyond the stars for help, and why? And what are the fearsome Chagaskas terrorising Aleppo in 1380? To find the answers, Team Tardis embark on a mission that forces them to face their darkest fears.
This episode was a weird one for me because, unlike last week’s, I had exactly no excitement for it. I knew there was no way the episode would actually be continuing any of the overarching plot threads introduced in Fugitive of the Judoon, and after an episode as explosive as that one, it was really hard to be excited for an episode that would just be bog-standard Doctor Who. Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with regular, old stand-alone episodes of the show, but after something as exciting and groundbreaking as last week’s episode, it’s difficult to really get excited for “another random adventure!”. With that said, though, Praxeus is an excellent example of how great a stand-alone episode of Doctor Who can be. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 6 – Praxeus (written by Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer who washes up on a Madagascan beach? The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) investigate.
The Judoon are an interesting species but I, personally, have never understood the love for them. They’re rarely the actual antagonist of an episode, acting merely as a force for both the Doctor and the antagonist to face off against. So, while it’s cool they’re coming back in an episode more focused on them than those they’ve most recently appeared in, I can’t say that they were the big draw for me going into this episode. In fact, perhaps the most exciting thing about this episode, going into it, was the publicity hype it got beforehand. Throughout the last week, various official social media accounts tied to the BBC and Doctor Who have been teasing something that would be more shocking than the surprise reveal of the Master in the season premiere. Now that’s an exciting thing to tease before an episode airs. But, surely, they can’t actually deliver on that kind of monumental hype, can they? Short answer: YES. (This review features spoilers for Fugitive of the Judoon.)
Season 12, Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon (written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor)
Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?