Howard Lovecraft and the Kingdom of Madness

Howard Lovecraft and the Kingdom of Madness

Written by Bruce Brown

Art by Thomas Boatwright

Published by Arcana

The third in a continuing series, Howard Lovecraft and the Kingdom of Madness takes no prisoners with a frenetic opening which finds the father of the titular hero facing an uncertain death. Accompanied by his faithful Chuthlu pet Spot and dependable Constable Smith, Howard must journey to the Antarctic wastes where Dr Herbert West may hold a cure for his father’s plight.

In keeping with previous volumes, Kingdom of Madness is a delightful mixture of unspeakable horrors coupled to an art style not dissimilar to Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts. Previous experience of the main characters may help to orient the first few pages, but once Dr West enters the story, readers with only the slightest knowledge of H.P. and his creations will find much to enjoy.

The darker moments of Bruce Brown’s story – and there are many – are leavened with plenty of gags, not least West’s constant desire to take samples from anything that moves. Artist Thomas Boatwright gets equal laughs from the characters’ often slapstick actions and responses, while still finding space and shade to suggest the most abominable horrors that ever strode upon the Earth.

With an ending that hints at an exciting prequel, one hopes Brown and Boatman won’t leave us waiting so long for a fourth volume. If you missed out on the previous instalments, you’ll want to check them out now.

Cleaning Up – The Movie

How You Can Help Cleaning Up Become a Feature

Cleaning Up poster

When I was organising the first Big Blue Box convention for January 2012, one of the initial stars to jump on board was the lovely Louise Jameson. One day, looking at Lou’s website, I saw she had starred in a new short film called Cleaning Up, which also featured fellow Who alumnus Mark Gatiss. I made an enquiry to the director, Thomas Guerrier, to see if I could screen the 13 minute film at my convention, and he happily said yes.

Tom wasn’t free to present the film at Big Blue Box, but his brother Simon, who had written Cleaning Up, was. I then discovered Simon already had an established career as a Doctor Who novelist and audio author, and in the grand tradition of conventions everywhere, bagged him for another panel later that day.

Over the next eighteen months, the Guerrier Brothers delivered three more exquisite shorts – The Plotters, a Guy Fawkes comedy for the 2012 Virgin Media Shorts completion; Revealing Diary, which just missed entry into a 48 hour SF film challenge (and which surely would have won if it hadn’t) and most recently Wizard, a surreal short that sets David Warner’s Merlin in a call centre. You can watch two of these shorts for free on the Big Finish website.

As I got to know Tom and Simon better, I learnt that each of these wonderful shorts were intended as calling cards, to be laid at the door of those who might back the brothers’ first feature length film. Now, thanks to Big Finish, that moment is here, and for just £1.99, you can help to get Cleaning Up – The Movie off the ground.

This is no crowd funding exercise, with myriad options for payment levels and perks. Simply download the Cleaning Up short from the Big Finish website (£1.99 for the vanilla version (labelled Rookie) or £4.99 if you want the Hitman version with extras) and proceeds from that sale will go towards a £15,000 production fund. Once established, that fund will pay for script development, storyboards, casting and design, so the Guerriers have the very best pitch for the major moneymen who could back the shoot, post production, release and distribution.

Cleaning Up stillQuite frankly, what’s on offer here is a steal. For less than the price of pint, you get a great short thriller with Louise, Mark, Trscy-Ann Oberman and a blink and you’ll miss him Nick Briggs. And you get in at the ground floor of an exciting journey that will see the world of Cleaning Up extended for a wider audience. I know that Tom and Simon will be grateful for your support.

And who knows, when that oft-touted Doctor Who movie finally gets off the ground in around 2023, perhaps it will have the Guerrier Brothers at its helm.

Download Cleaning Up now at www.bigfinish.com

Modern Man – Short Film

Modern Man
Modern Man

Written by Simon Guerrier

Directed by Sebastian Solberg

Last year, accomplished Doctor Who author Simon Guerrier wrote a three minute film, The Plotter, directed by his brother Tom. The Plotters was shortlisted for the 2012 Virgin Media Shorts competition and got widespread screenings in cinemas and on TV. The film was classy and funny, but it just missed out on winning the competition.

Not disheartened, Simon is back writing another film for the 2013 Virgin Media Shorts competition, this year teaming up with director Sebastian Solberg and Producer Jassa Ahluwalia. Modern Man tells the story of an accidental time traveling cavewoman and her chance encounter with Rupert on the day he plans to propose to his girlfriend. Like all the films in this competition, it is short and sharp, but it also incredibly funny and warm-hearted, and what’s more achieves all this without one line of dialogue.

Ramanique Ahluwalia and Sean Knopp are perfect in the main roles of the cavewoman and Rupert, but supporting actors Nathan Byron and Nicola Posener create magic with mere seconds of screen time between them. There is a perfection of performance and direction that can perhaps only ever be achieved in a three minute film (unless your name is Stanley Kubrick). The highest praise I can give to this short is that it made me want to watch it again and again, and then share its brilliance with you.

Because Modern Man’s future isn’t in the hands of a boy genius with a time travel device, it is the hands of its audience. From today, Monday 22 July until Sunday 28 July, all the entries to the Virgin Media Shorts are being shown online, and the shortlist of 12 films for the final will be drawn from those most talked about on Twitter.

So, head on over to www.virginmediashorts.co.uk, watch Modern Man, and then spread the love over Twitter. Just remember to include the hashtag #VMShortsVote. And, if you have space in those 140 characters, copy @ModernManFilm into your tweet will you’re about it.

As the great Douglas Adams once wrote, share and enjoy.

Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks

Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks Classic Novel
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks Classic Novel
Written by Terrance Dicks

Read by Mark Gatiss

Published by AudioGo

There are many treats for Doctor Who fans in this 50th year, but few can fit so neatly in a plastic jewel case. Take Jon Pertwee’s iconic Third Doctor, his arch enemies the Daleks, legendary Who writer Terrance Dicks, and renaissance man Mark Gatiss and you have a perfect gift for every fan.

The story opens with a cliffhanger from previous story Frontier in Space. The Doctor is unconscious, wounded by The Master, and the Time Lords are piloting the Tardis and its occupants to Spiridon in pursuit of the Daleks. Pretty quickly companion Jo Grant is separated from the Doctor on this alien planet, where man-eating plants and an invisible race are but a prelude for the main drama – the efforts of a Thal terrorist cell to destroy a Dalek army.

Terrance Dick’s Target novelisation of Terry Nation’s teleplay is a model of economy – all action and dialogue – and Gatiss’s sometimes breathless narration complements this perfectly, while also evoking the excitement with which the original Target novels were read by fans in the 1970s.

The amazing sound design on this release more than compensates for the lack of narrative description in the audio. Poisonous plants spit, ships explode, scanners beep, and Daleks speak with the familar ring-modulated voice of Nick Briggs. These aural elements (and praise must also be given for Gatiss’ Pertwee voice) combine to create a listening experience closer to a radio dramatisation than a straight audiobook.

Given all the above, it is no surprise that this 3 CD set passes all too quickly. The only remedy is to line up Gatiss, Briggs, and the AudioGo production team to record Dick’s novelisation of Day of the Daleks. If enough fans buy this delight, maybe Michael Stevens will be encouraged to do exactly that.

Blake’s 7: Lucifer

B7 Book 3 - Lucifer cover

B7 Book 3 - Lucifer cover
Blake’s 7: Lucifer By Paul Darrow
Published by Big Finish

There can be few fans of the original TV adventures of Blake’s 7 who haven’t speculated about events beyond the end of Season 4. With Vila, Dayna, Tarrant and Soolin shot dead and Blake’s body at his feet, Avon smiles at the surrounding Federation troops and raises his gun. Shots sound over the closing credits, and the fate of the show’s most complex character is forever unresolved. Until now.

It has taken the actor behind Kerr Avon, Paul Darrow, to construct the (presumably canon) story of what happened after that fade to black. The first part of a planned trilogy, Lucifer reveals a Federation broken by a vicious war against alien invaders, and replaced by a ruling Quartet of dysfunctional individuals. Behind them, however, the figure of one time President Servalan still looms large.

The opening third of this novel is a thrilling read, detailing several attempts by Quartet soldiers to forcibly extract Avon from the planet Gaius 7, where he has been stranded for years. From then, we flashback to the events immediately following the episode Blake. I won’t reveal what happens here, only that the violent treatment of the bodies of Avon’s colleagues seems rather sadistic. That could make for some interesting conversations in the Big Finish green room when the cast regroup for new audios later this month.

Sadly, the novel devotes too many of its 200 odd pages to the machinations of the Quartet, which seem to play out over an interminable number of dinner parties. Most of the new characters lack any real depth, and there is rather too much planet hopping in the final third of the book. Most disappointing of all, the telegraphed reunion of Avon and Servalan is at best perfunctory.

Darrow really needed the guiding hand of a collaborator, or maybe a firmer editor, to punch up the prose. Reading Lucifer, I was frequently reminded of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars sequels, which had a similarly hefty backstory to shoulder with new and unfamiliar characters, yet did so with significantly more narrative drive. Hopefully Darrow and Big Finish can address this for the remaining books in the trilogy, and give Avon the rich afterlife that both the character, and his fans deserve.

Doctor Who: Babblesphere

Doctor Who: Babblesphere

Written by Jonathan Morris

Published by Audio Go and Big Finish

April is no longer the cruellest month. This year, it’s the month to celebrate Tom Baker’s time as the Fourth Doctor, and as such, former companion Lalla Ward narrates the latest Destiny of the Doctor release.

The Doctor and Romana find themselves on an Earth colony, modelled after the Palace of Versailles, where inhabitants are being killed by malfunctioning implanted microchips. Through these implants, the colonists share their every waking thought with others – creating the Babblesphere – policed by the most baroque robots ever conceived.

Author Morris wittily evokes the spirit of Douglas Adams, script editor for this period of the show, with plenty of repartee between Romana and the Doctor – though the latter becomes rather absent for the middle third of the tale. A scene where the colonists’ Babble is given voice is a real highlight, as is a brief incursion from the Eleventh Doctor and his surprising list of Top Five Foes.

Lalla Ward narrates the story in an engaging manner, but surprisingly struggles to emulate the vocal patterns of the Doctor. Roger Parrot offers good voice variety as the rebellious colonist Aurelius, and the Pedesequod robots are brought to life with some clever sound modulation.

Another strong instalment in the Destiny of the Doctor series then, though one hopes the collecting of artefacts doesn’t become too samey in subsequent stories, as the ‘collecting’ of former companions is already proving in IDW’s similar monthly Doctor arc.

Doctor Who: Vengeance of the Stones

Doctor Who: Vengeance of the Stones
Doctor Who: Vengeance of the Stones

Written by Andrew Smith

Published by Audio Go and Big Finish

This monthly series of Destiny of the Doctor releases goes from strength to strength with a gripping Third Doctor adventure that tells of Mike Yates’ entry into UNIT. The Doctor is called to Scotland to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an RAF jet, and uncovers a long dormant alien threat with links to the region’s standing stones.

Writer Andrew Smith has penned an evocative tale which makes the most of the Third Doctor’s derring-do approach – flying jets, flooring Bessie’s accelerator, and developing his kung-fu skills. Impressive sound effects bring several bravura sequences to life, and the story provides a delightful backstory for Mike Yates.

Richard Franklin, narrating the tale and revisiting his TV role as Yates, gives an excellent reading with a near perfect imitation of Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier and a solid voice as the Doctor. If I have one grumble, it is that support actor Trevor Littledale’s voice as the alien Garlin is very similar, leaving me wondering why Franklin didn’t handle all the parts.

A cameo from a later Doctor helps to bring the Destiny story arc slightly more clearly into view, and there are nods here to future flying UNIT base The Valiant and, for listeners of a certain age, to the final Quatermass serial of 1979. With eight releases still to go, this series is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the 50th anniversary celebrations. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, do start listening now.

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #2

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #2
Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #2
Written by Scott and David Tipton

Art by Lee Sullivan

Published by IDW

February 2013 is Second Doctor month everywhere, and naturally IDW’s comic series is no different, giving us a fresh tale for Patrick Troughton’s near definitive Doctor, with companions Jamie and Zoe (other companions are available).

What hits the reader first is the colour. For an era defined by its black and white delights, this would be a revelation in any event, but the story places our travellers in a galactic shopping mall, with all manner of colourful aliens for guest artist Lee Sullivan to devise. There are plenty of fan pleasing cameos here, and from more than just the Second Doctor’s adventures.

The story revolves around a new race of galactic traders, who take a shine to Jamie as an item of historical value. The Doctor encourages Jamie’s abduction to help uncover and crush a galaxy-wide slave trade, with the help of a familiar alien race that are soon to return to our TV screens.

Jamie generally comes off better than Zoe in this issue, the latter given little to do beyond opening a door lock. But the Doctor’s dialogue is true to period, and his inquisitive delight carries the story along, though most readers will want to linger on each page of detailed art. Fezzes are clearly cool.

The only disappointment is the ending, which is rather too similar to that of the first issue, with the Doctor separated from his companions. This could get very wearing over eleven issues, so let’s hope a more original climax awaits the Third Doctor next month.

Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter/The Sands of Life

Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter
Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter

Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter/The Sands of Life

Written by Jonathan Morris/Nicholas Briggs

Published by Big Finish

Two very different stories kick off the latest series of Fourth Doctor audio adventures, with Mary Tamm bringing Romana back to the side of Tom Baker’s Doctor, in recordings made just a few months before her sad passing last year.

In The Auntie Matter, the pair are hiding from the Black Guardian, disguised as a married couple in 1920’s London. When Romana runs into a charming bachelor in town, she soon finds herself in the clutches of the Aunt from Hell.

Jonathan Morris openly taps the rich vein of Wodehouse with this tale, as unsuitable girlfriends, knowing servants and conniving butlers revolve around the time travellers. Baker and Tamm clearly revel in their humorous interplay, as each tries to outwit the other, and they are supported by a strong supporting cast including Julia McKenzie.

Doctor Who: The Sands of LifeA shift of tone in the next release, which gives Mary Tamm in particular a chance to stretch her range within character. The Sands of Life finds K9 return to his Master and Mistress just in time to encounter the most lethal force known to robots – sand. The Tardis is knocked off course by a swarm of spacefaring creatures, and lands in the Sahara to find out why. Also out to hunt down the space whales is David Warner’s Cuthbert, an intergalactic entrepreneur with a hotline to Earth’s President.

This story is written by Nicholas Briggs, from an idea by Tom Baker, and serves up a rich table of aural delights in the dialogue and SurroundSound effects. Special mention should be made of Toby Hadoke, fulfilling a lifelong dream to act alongside Tom Baker as Cuthbert’s mysterious assistant, Mr Dorrick. The ecological theme is well woven into a strong story, without becoming overly preachy.

At 72 minutes long, Sands is a three (short) parter, and still ends on a cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until next month’s release. Yes, we have a Moffat style story arc here, but in the company of Tamm and Baker, it will be an enjoyable few months to the great reveal at the end.

Doctor Who: Shadow of Death

Doctor Who Shadow Of Death
Doctor Who Shadow Of Death
Doctor Who: Shadow of Death

Written by Simon Guerrier

Published by Audio Go and Big Finish

The second in the monthly Destiny of the Doctor audio series sees the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe crashland inside a base on the surface of a remote planet orbiting a pulsar star. The human crew of the base are investigating the disappearance of the planet’s indigenous race – nicknamed The Quiet Ones – while the pulsar warps time around them.

Narrated beautifully by Frazer Hines, whose imitation of the Second Doctor is even better than David Troughton’s, this tale uses a wonderful array of music and aural effects to evoke the black and white spacefaring exploits of the era. Evie Dawnay gives good support as Sophie, the scientist left in charge of the base when the team leader falls foul of a deathly ageing mystery.

With time pressing on and warping the base, it’s little wonder that it seeps into the story itself to powerful effect in Simon Guerrier’s sometimes lyrical story which, in style and substance, put me in mind of his recent Eleventh Doctor audio, The Empty House. Fans who bemoaned the lack of an obvious arc plot in last month’s release – Hunters of Earth – won’t be disappointed here, as Guerrier delivers a real jaw dropper.

It all adds up to a terrific hour’s entertainment which, like Stephen Baxter’s Wheel of Ice last year, reminds us of the glorious SF heavy years that belonged to the Second Doctor. You really never can have enough bases under siege.

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time

Written by Scott and David Tipton

Art by Simon Fraser

Published by IDW

This new comic series from IDW will see each Doctor take a monthly spotlight, rather like the Big Finish/Audio Go Destiny of the Doctor series. And, like those audios, IDW have one big fat arc plot up their, and a mysterious cowled figure’s, sleeves.

This first issue features the First Doctor, Ian and Barbara – no surprises there. But instead of ‘granddaughter’ Susan Foreman, the second female companion is Vicky Pallister, for this opener is set mid second season of the TV show. This allows for a wider range of aliens to feature, and here The Web Planet provides its cast of characters to face up to the Doctor and his companions.

The Doctor takes Ian and Barbara to meet Thomas Huxley, the Victorian champion of Charles Darwin’s theories. But a clutch of missing students sees the main action take place in the developing London Underground system (a nod to the newly back in vogue Great Intelligence, maybe), where the villains of this piece are revealed, via a Primeval-esque anomaly.

The art style is very effective, and Hartnell’s voice comes across well in the script, though there is little to tell his companions apart. The ending is something of a cliffhanger which begs the question how the Troughton era second issue will open. For now, this Doctor Who fan is hooked.

The outing of Dredd

The outing of Dredd

Late last week the Internet went wild with rumours that Judge Joe Dredd was coming out in the next issue of 2000AD. The tabloid press picked up the story, which itself outed a range of opinions, including some from Dredd fans that they would be burning their copies of the issue.

As a long time reviewer of 2000AD for Scifind I get to read each Prog in advance. So I know how this week’s Dredd pans out, but Rebellion’s clear embargo and my own desire not to spoil your enjoyment prevents me from divulging more here. What I will say is that the story is touching, effecting and thought provoking.

What provoked thought in me was a realisation that some fans of Dredd could be homophobic. That had never occurred to me before, despite the central character being a far right future parody of Clint ‘Republican’ Eastwood’s Dirty Harry role. Mega City One has been home to so many lifestyles, choices and relationships in its 36 years, surely there’s always been room for gay love and sex, even from Judges themselves. Still waters run deep, as someone once said.

Comics fans for many years were derided by the mainstream, and even with the ‘graphic novel’ and its ilk, I still get strange looks from time to time when I tell someone I read 2000AD. So let’s embrace difference, protect free choice, and applaud Rebellion for shining a well overdue light on homosexuality in the 22nd Century. And above all, buy Prog 1817 on Wednesday.