REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz” by Jacqueline Rayner

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Doctor Who met The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then look no further. Jacqueline Rayner’s The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is exactly what it sounds like. After traveling to 1939 LA to see the world premiere of The Wizard of Oz, the Doctor and her friends are shocked to learn nobody’s ever heard of the film, the book, or its author. Even more shocking is when a tornado carries the TARDIS (and all of its occupants) away to a suspiciously Oz-like land. To escape, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, Ryan, and a stowaway named Theodore have to act out the events of the book and find the Wizard of Oz before the mysterious Wicked Witch gets to them. It sounds like it’s gonna be a big gimmick, but it’s surprisingly emotional. The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is a quick, fun read that exemplifies the endless possibilities of Doctor Who. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: Mild spoilers follow. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
When a sudden tornado engulfs the TARDIS, the Thirteenth Doctor and her fam find themselves transported to the magical land of Oz. With a damaged TARDIS and an unexpected stowaway from the 1930s, their only hope of getting home is to follow the yellow brick road.

But when an army of scarecrows ambushes them, they quickly realise that everything is not as it should be, and they’re thrown into a fight for survival against a mysterious enemy. As each of her companions becomes a shadow of their former selves, only the Doctor is left standing.

Desperate to save her friends, she must embark on a perilous journey to seek help from the mysterious Wizard of Oz – and stop whatever forces are at work before she and her friends are trapped in the fictional world forever.

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REVIEW: “Rabbits” by Terry Miles

A mysterious game found only in the darkest, most obscure corners of the internet. A game that ties together a multitude of conspiracy theories. A game that might be killing its players and lead to the end of the world. It’s a pretty great hook for a book, right? Thankfully, Rabbits, Terry Miles’ debut novel, lives up to its promising premise. It’s a fast-paced, twisty, mind-bending read. But it closest itself some to vagueness and underexplained ideas, resulting in an uneven climax that doesn’t quite bring its mysteries to a satisfying conclusion. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I received an early copy of the novel from NetGalley and Del Rey. All thoughts are my own.)

“Rabbits”
Written by Terry Miles
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. The identity of these winners are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself.

But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past—and the body count is rising. And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K—a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts, or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts”

A punk rock ghost story sounds pretty cool, right? Home Sick Pilots often lives up to its cool-sounding premise, but the plot and characters surrounding that premise are a little too thinly sketched for the comic to work as well as it could—for now, anyway. Simply put, volume one of Home Sick Pilots is a promising start to an ongoing series, but it’s not a home run. On paper, all of the elements are there. The artwork is great, the premise is intriguing, the pacing is solid, the broad strokes of the plot work well, and even the characters are interesting. The problem is just that not enough time is spent on any one thing, so everything feels a bit glossed over as though this volume is more of a prologue than a first act.

Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts
Written by Dan Watters, illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard
In the summer of 1994, a haunted house walks across California. Inside is Ami, lead-singer of a high school punk band- who’s been missing for weeks. How did she get there? What do these ghosts want? And does this mean the band have to break up? Expect three chord songs and big bloody action as Power Rangers meets The Shining (yes really), and as writer DAN WATTERS (Lucifer/COFFIN BOUND) and artist CASPAR WIJNGAARD (Star Wars/Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt) delve into the horrors of misspent youth.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The TV Movie” by Gary Russell (Target Novelization)

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.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss / “Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who Target Collection)

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.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: NBC’s “Debris”

If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.

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REVIEW: “The Future is Yours” by Dan Frey

Have you ever read one of those books that immediately envelops your interest? One that just grabs your attention and holds it like a vice, daring you to put the book down? There’s nothing quite like reading a book like that. It’s a high that all readers chase as often as they can. Reading Dan Frey’s newest sci-fi techno-thriller, The Future is Yours, created just that experience for me. The Future is Yours is an epistolary novel and tells its story through writing found within the novel’s world (like emails, text messages, blog posts, transcripts of congressional hearings). As a result, it creates a reading experience unlike those found in prose-based novels. The Future is Yours is a face-paced, thrilling read that asks what might happen if humans could access information from the future and then thoroughly unpacks all the reasons why humans shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s a nuanced page-turner with fully-fleshed characters and a well-executed premise that’s well worth a read for all sci-fi fans. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, this review is spoiler free.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined. Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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REVIEW – “Star Wars: Into the Dark” by Claudia Gray (The High Republic)

It’s great that Disney is finally starting to expand the Star Wars universe past the confines of The Skywalker Saga and the time frame it’s set in. I’ve always believed the Star Wars universe was one rife for exploration, and what better way of exploring new aspects of it than with a big, multimedia event? That’s exactly what Disney and Lucasfilm are doing with The High Republic, a multi-media publishing event spanning novels and comics. Set some 200 years before The Phantom Menace, The High Republic looks to explore a new corner of the galaxy’s history—and that’s exhilarating. While the first few titles of this event came out last month, I haven’t read any of them. Instead, I wanted to start my High Republic journey with Claudia Gray’s entry—the YA novel, Into the Dark. Gray is one of my favorite Star Wars authors and the book’s synopsis had a very claustrophobic Alien vibe. So, I was pretty excited to read it. And, having read it, it lives up to my expectations. Star Wars: Into the Dark is an exhilarating, character-driven story that deftly explores this new era. It’s a quick-paced, satisfying read, and I’m eager for more. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine. Additionally, this review will be as spoiler free as possible.

Star Wars: Into the Dark (The High Republic) by Claudia Gray
Padawan Reath Silas is being sent from the cosmopolitan galactic capital of Coruscant to the undeveloped frontier—and he couldn’t be less happy about it. He’d rather stay at the Jedi Temple, studying the archives. But when the ship he’s traveling on is knocked out of hyperspace in a galactic-wide disaster, Reath finds himself at the center of the action. The Jedi and their traveling companions find refuge on what appears to be an abandoned space station. But then strange things start happening, leading the Jedi to investigate the truth behind the mysterious station, a truth that could end in tragedy…

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REVIEW: SyFy’s “Resident Alien” Never Manages to Take Off

Who doesn’t love a good fish out of water comedy? There’s just so much joy to be mined out of watching a character from one environment have to navigate the ins and the outs of a totally new and alien environment. This trope is especially successful in sci-fi settings, where either a human has to adapt to an alien culture or vice versa. It’s this trope that first attracted me to SyFy’s Resident Alien, a TV adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name. Here, Alan Tudyk plays an alien who’s crash-landed in a small Colorado town and is forced to blend in with the local townsfolk as a quirky doctor, Harry Vanderspeigle, while searching for the remnants of his ship and the device he intends to use to destroy the world. It’s one of those premises that seems destined to become a classic sci-fi fish out of water story. Unfortunately, Resident Alien never quite manages to take off in its first seven episodes. It’s not a bad show, just a wildly uneven one. Its plot is unfocused, it struggles to balance its comedy with its drama, and many of the characters feel underdeveloped, at best, and paper thin and annoying, at worst. There’s plenty of potential here, but there’s a lot of work to be done before this show is as good as its premise is. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review is based off of the first seven episodes. It will be as spoiler free as possible.

Resident Alien (created by Chris Sheridan)
Based on the Dark Horse comic, SYFY’s RESIDENT ALIEN follows Harry, an alien played by Alan Tudyk that crash lands on Earth and passes himself off as a small-town human doctor. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life… but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world. As he does so, he begins to wrestle with the moral dilemma of his mission and asking the big life questions like: “Are human beings worth saving?” and “Why do they fold their pizza before eating it?”

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REVIEW: “CODE 404” (Peacock Original)

I love a good sci-fi comedy. The melding of sci-fi concepts and comedy is often endlessly entertaining. However, there seems to be a general lack of sci-fi comedies on TV – especially in America. There are the occasional horror comedies and fantasy comedies but you don’t see many sci-fi comedies. This is where Peacock’s newest show, CODE 404 enters. A blend of traditional buddy cop comedies and entertaining sci-fi concepts, CODE 404 is an enjoyable, dryly funny show. Plus there’s a pretty fun mystery at the heart of the series. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Code 404 ahead. You have been warned.)

CODE 404 (created by Daniel Peak, Tom Miller, and Sam Myer)
DI John Major (Daniel Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham) are the best of the best at an elite undercover police team. When Major’s cover is blown and he is met with his untimely death, he is brought back to life with some glitchy AI technology. Now, he’s better than ever – or so he thinks.

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