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Deadpool: Secret Invasion

featuring Jesse Blaze Snider and Daniel Way

(Art by Marco Checchetto, Paco Medina, Carlo Barberi, Juan Vlasco and Sandu Florea)

Three stories (one by Snider and two by Way) which see the titular Merc with a Mouth go up against ninjas, Skrulls and zombies.

This book is... pretty much what you would expect if you're in any way familiar with Deadpool.  There's lots of chaotic action, over-the-top plotlines and self-referential humour.  Plus there's ninjas, Skrulls and zombies (including sexy zombie nurses, if that's your kind of thing).  Unfortunately, it's not much else beyond that.  There's nothing that adds to Deadpool as a character, no ongoing storyline to develop and nothing that has any significant impact on the Marvel Universe or any of its other famous denizens.

Also, it has to be said that often this book is not as funny as it thinks it is.  Humour is very subjective, of course, but I found a lot of the humour here to be obvious and low-brow.  That said, there are a few moments of comedy gold; in particular the Killer Queen reference, the shout-out to Young Frankenstein and the fact that Wade is annoyed that the Skrull invasion in on every channel on TV (poking fun at the whole Marvel-wide 'Secret Invasion' storyline itself, if you didn't get it).

3 out of 5

 

Deadpool: The Beginning Of The End/Suicide Kings

featuring  Rob Liefeld , Fabian Nicieza, Mike Benson and Adam Glass

(Art by Rob Liefeld, Carlo Barberi and Sandu Florea)

Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 83.  Two stories of the Merc with the Mouth, starting with his first appearance in the pages of 'The New Mutants'.  The second story has Wade framed as a terrorist, putting him in the crosshairs of the Punisher.

Deadpool has become one of Marvel's most popular characters, not least because of how perfectly Ryan Reynolds brought the character to the big screen, so it's interesting to go back to his first appearance as a throwaway assassin who briefly pops up to fight Cable.  Interesting, yes, but not particularly enjoyable.  The story is little more than an excuse to completely re-jig the lineup of the New Mutants and introduce new characters like Domino, with Deadpool's inclusion being very minor.  Also, it's got some of the worst Liefeld art I've seen so far.  Seriously, had the dude never seen a human foot?

Thankfully, 'Suicide Kings' by Mike Benson and Adam Glass is a much more enjoyable story.  I think what made it for me was seeing how Wade interacts with some of New York's other 'street-level' heroes.  Including the Punisher is a stroke of genius considering the specific ways he is like and unlike Deadpool, not to mention how amusing it is to see the Punisher using repurposed supervillain tech against Wade (including a Doc Ock tentacle and Grim Reaper's scythe).  I liked seeing Daredevil trying to defend Deadpool's innocence only to get fed up with the constant banter when Spider-Man joins them.  It's with Spidey's inclusion that the book hits its best element, with the Wallcrawler being the perfect foil for Deadpool and seeing them take on the Wrecking Crew is just some great comic book action.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: 12 Doctors 12 Stories

featuring Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott, Marcus Sedgwick, Philip Reeve, Patrick Ness, Richelle Mead, Malorie Blackman, Alex Scarrow, Charlie Higson, Derek Landy, Neil Gaiman and Holly Black

This book does exactly what the title suggests, featuring twelve short stories; one for each incarnation of the Doctor up to Peter Capaldi's Twelfth (although sadly not including John Hurt's War Doctor).  In it, the Doctor faces countless dangers, including old enemies like the Master, the Rani and the Daleks.

This is a brilliant collection of adventures for everyone's favourite Time Lord and each author has managed to do a fantastic job of capturing the tone and personality of the particular Doctor their story features.  Two of the stories stood out for me as being of such perfect tone and quality that I found myself wishing to see them as actual episodes of the TV show; Reeve's 'The Roots of Evil' starring the Fourth Doctor and 'The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage' by Landy, featuring the Tenth.

On top of those two particular stories, there are countless brilliant Who moments scattered throughout the book, such as finding out that the First Doctor's pet hates include Blake's 7 and Marmite; or when the Fourth Doctor sees a statue of himself from another time and is assured by it's creators that the Doctor himself asserted that "Bow ties are cool".

As in any anthology, not all of the stories featured are gems.  Here the ones that don't quite hit the mark are those of the Eighth and Ninth Doctors, written by Scarrow and Higson, respectively.  This is not to say that there's anything hugely wrong with them, they simply weren't as enjoyable as the others.

As well as the twelve Doctors, we also get appearances by numerous beloved companions, including Susan, Jamie, Jo, Leela, Nyssa, Peri, Ace, Martha and Amy.  With Capaldi's time now winding down and the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) waiting in the wings, this is a perfect time to take a trip through the Doctor's many lives.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Adventures In Lockdown

featuring Chris Chibnall, Steven Moffat, Russell T. Davies, Neil Gaiman, Joy Wilkinson, Vinay Patel, Pete McTighe, Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss

Thirteen stories, one script and a poem by various Who writers, most of which were originally released online as part of the Who community's drive to create some positivity in the UK lockdown of 2020.  This printed edition, with three new stories included, was produced to benefit the charity Children In Need and features appearances by the First, Tenth and Thirteenth Doctors.

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting a great deal from this book; a charity version of previously online content didn't sound like a recipe for literary gold.  Perhaps in part because I had low expectations, I was really impressed by the stories we get here, which are among some of the best to appear in a Who anthology in recent years.  Given the writing talents involved and their relationship to the show itself (all three showrunners of the modern era!), I probably shouldn't have been surprised.

There are several fairly meta entries here, including McTighe's story about the self-isolating Doctor being encouraged to watch recordings of her previous adventures and Davies' original version of the end of the Time War before Moffat had revealed 'The Day of the Doctor'.  There's also a poignant 'Message from the Doctor' at the beginning which includes the line 'Listen to science.  And listen to doctors, right?  They've got your back'.  However, the best of these meta stories is Moffat's 'The Terror of the Umpty Ums', which is a meditation on Doctor Who stories themselves.  Although the Davies story which vaguely infers that Boris Johnson is an Auton attempting to exact revenge against humanity certainly gets you thinking...

There's also some really good straight fiction on offer here too with Neil Gaiman and Mark Gatiss giving us my favourite offerings.  Which is hardly a surprise because I love both of their work in general.  Gaiman presents us with a story of the Corsair, the Time Lord remembered fondly by the Doctor in 'The Doctor's Wife', as she attempts to steal the Hand of Omega and deliver it to a certain grumpy grandfatherly character.  Gatiss meanwhile takes the Thirteenth Doctor to the 22nd Century for a long-overdue reunion in a Britain still recovering from being invaded by the Daleks.

Overall this is a really good collection of fun and insightful stories told by some of Who's greatest writers.  On top of that it's a book with an express mission to deliver hope and positivity in dark times, whose proceeds go to charity.  What better book for a Who fan to buy than that?  Be kind.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Heroes And Monsters Collection

featuring Gary Russell, Stephen Cole, Jacqueline Rayner, Justin Richards, Moray Laing and Jason Loborik

An anthology of twenty-six short stories collecting ones previous published in The Doctor Who Files and the Official Annuals, as well as a few original ones too.  Including tales of the War Doctor as well as the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, this collection also features beloved companions like Rose, Captain Jack and Amy Pond, not to mention iconic villains such as the Cybermen, the Slitheen, the Sontarans and, of course, the Daleks.

A problem I often have with short story anthologies is that the stories don't have chance to develop the depth I'd like to see, but here it is the shortness of the stories that actually make for its strongest element.  Because none of them can develop into novel-length they tend to be fairly light reading which, if the short stories were just a bit longer, could have just felt like wasted time; however, here even the lightest (or worst) story never lingers long enough for its faults to become apparent.  Not enjoying seeing Rose chased around a funfair by a Slitheen?  Doesn't matter because you'll be on to another story in no time.

There are also a couple of gems in here that I really enjoyed and which felt like important Who lore.  The first of these (and, in fact, the first story of the anthology) is 'The Stranger' by Gary Russell.  Set amid the Time War it has a teacher on Gallifrey telling his students about the mythical hero 'the Doctor' whilst a grizzled warrior helps them to escape from the Daleks.  It's a nice character moment for the awesome John Hurt incarnation as he sees that although he may not feel worthy of the title, to those he saves he's still the Doctor afterall.  My other favourite story was Justin Richards' 'Birth of a Legend' in which four Dalek commanders are recalled to Skaro to see the Dalek Emperor, who instructs them to form the Cult of Skaro.  It's a nice bit of exploration of what the Time War looks like from the Dalek perspective, as well as interesting backstory for Dalek Sec and Dalek Caan; who had vital roles in the TV series.

So, although most of the stories here are short and unsophisticated, overall they make for a pretty enjoyable collection of tales featuring iconic and beloved incarnations of the Time Lord.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: I Am The Master - Legends Of The Renegade Time Lord

featuring Peter Anghelides, Mark Wright, Jacqueline Rayner, Mike Tucker, Beverly Sandford and Matthew Sweet

Five short stories and one novella, each telling a tale of a different incarnation of the Doctor's arch-enemy the Master.  Represented are the original Roger Delgado incarnation, the hooded and cloaked decaying Master, Michelle Gomez's iconic Missy, the Anthony Ainlee incarnation, John Simm's manic Master and the latest incarnation as portrayed in Series 12 by Sacha Dhawan.

I genuinely love the concept of putting together an anthology of different incarnations of the Master, there have certainly been plenty of collections of different Doctor incarnations after all, but as with any anthology this is a somewhat mixed bag in terms of how good the stories are.  Special credit should go to Anghelides and Sanford for giving pitch-perfect representations of the incarnations featured though.  Anghelides does a great job of capturing Delgado's suave charm and simmering anger at the universe in general, whilst Sandford perfectly captures the manic energy of John Simm's version of the character, with you simultaneously loving his gleeful exuberance whilst constantly being terrified for the life of the story's main character who encounters him.

The highpoint of the whole anthology for me was Mark Wright's 'The Dead Travel Fast', told in the idiom of Bram Stoker by that author himself as, whilst on holiday in Whitby, he encounters a monstrous man consuming the life energies of others.  At the other end of the scale, the lowpoint of the book was 'Missy's Magical Mystery Mission', which is an attempt at a comical farce but just feels tonally wrong for this anthology, not to mention being a total waste of one of the most individualistic incarnations of the titular Time Lord.

Fully a third of this book is devoted to the latest (as of 2021) incarnation of the Master in Matthew Sweet's 'The Master and Margarita'.  This story is pure brilliance in concept but, sadly, falls down in its execution.  Set within the events of the TV episode 'Spyfall Part 2', here the Master has been stranded in the 20th Century by the Doctor and has to pass the decades until he can take up his ongoing scheme in 2020 again.  The brilliant idea that Sweet comes up with is that during the 70s the Master, trying to keep away from his own timeline, decides to become the scientific adviser of the USSR's equivalent of UNIT.  It's a dark parallel to the Doctor's 70s escapades which is perfectly fitting for the Master who has always been a dark reflection of the Doctor to a certain extent.  As I mentioned, however, the execution of the idea isn't nearly as brilliant.  The story is disjointed and tonally all over the place and the Master shown here simply doesn't feel like the Dhawan incarnation.  Sure, we've not had a lot of time with Dhawan's character ourselves but we've had enough to recognise him or, in this case, fail to do so.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Short Trips - Dalek Empire

featuring Nicholas Briggs, Joseph Lidster, Sharon Gosling, Ian Farrington, Simon Guerrier, Justin Richards and James Swallow

A collection of short stories featuring the characters and situations of the 'Dalek Empire' series of audio dramas.  Although not all the stories feature the Doctor, his Third (Jon Pertwee), Sixth (Colin Baker), Seventh (Sylvester McCoy) and Eighth (Paul McGann) incarnations all make appearances.

I was completely unfamiliar with the Dalek Empire series and that meant that at first I was dubious about how accessible this anthology would be, but as it turns out the simple setting of a galaxy where the Daleks, for a time at least, are triumphant, isn't actually hard to get to grips with.  The stories on offer here range from the early days of the Daleks' invasion, through life under their brutal occupation to retrospectives looking back at the Dalek War from decades and centuries after its events.  As for the main characters of the series, Kalendorf, Susan Mendes and Alby Brook all get a story focused on them to establish their characters.  I was particularly intrigued by the complicated morallity of Susan's decision to collaborate with the Daleks in order to save the lives of millions at the cost of their freedom.

For me, the two standout stories here were 'Private Investigations' by Farrington and 'Museum Peace' by Swallow.  The former features and archeologist making a presentation centuries after the Daleks' defeat in which he seeks funding to investigate tantalising historical evidence about individuals known as Ace and the Doctor.  In the latter, the Eighth Doctor meets with Kalendorf in his old age and they are faced with a Dalek who has spent decades in a museum slowly recovering its power.

Some reviews I've seen of this book have been somewhat negative and the primary reason for that is the final quarter.  The last bit of the book features a printing of the script for the audiodrama 'Return of the Daleks' written by Briggs.  If you're the sort of person who can't stand to read scripts/plays then you will definitely find it frustrating that such a large portion of the book is taken up by one.  Personally, I don't mind and although I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have done a prose story, I still enjoyed reading an adventure for the Seventh Doctor which serves as both a link to the Dalek Empire stories and as a sequel to the classic story 'Planet of the Daleks' (novelised by Terrance Dicks).

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Tales Of Terror

featuring Jacqueline Rayner, Mike Tucker, Paul Magrs, Richard Dungworth, Scott Handcock and Craig Donaghy

Twelve stories, one for each of the Doctors up to Peter Capaldi, following the theme of Hallowe'en.  Across time and space the Doctor has spooky encounters with villains and monsters including the Celestial Toymaker, the Daleks, the Carrionites, the Mara, the Cybermen, the Family of Blood, the Weeping Angels and the Autons.

Despite a respectable who's who of Who monsters and a brilliantly creepy cover illustration, I found this book largely disappointing both in how it uses the famous antagonists and in its attempts to be scary.  The majority of the stories feel shallow, obvious and not-too-creepy in a way that makes them feel more like this book was intended for the Young Adult market more than the more mature reader ('mature' being a relative term in my case).  When there's less than 400 pages to fill with twelve stories, it certainly doesn't help any of them feel any deeper or more complex than the tone of the book already has done, either.

There are good bits here, though.  Each of the authors provides two stories each and Rayner cleverly uses that as an opportunity to write a linked duology of tales, featuring the First and Sixth Doctors.  This added a feeling of cohesion that was otherwise missing in the book as a whole.  There's also a great moment where the Third Doctor is confronted by the disturbing possibility of a sympathetic Dalek and Donaghy's characterisation of the Twelfth Doctor is spot on.  However, there are only two complete stories of the twelve here that are good all the way through.  Handcock's 'The Patchwork Pierrot' is the only story that really leans into the titular tale of terror theme, with the Ninth Doctor investigating disappearances at a 19th Century Carnival.  The other stand-out good story was 'Blood Will Out' by Dungworth in which the Family of Blood, great villains from a great two-part TV story, return to plague the Tenth Doctor once more.  This was so well-constructed a premise that I found myself wishing it could've been a full-length novel or, even better, the basis for their return to TV (although I have to say that I doubt they'd play as well against Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth as they do against David Tennant's Tenth Doctor).

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Cruel Sea

featuring Gareth Roberts, Clayton Hickman, Mike Collins, Robert Shearman, Scott Gray and Steven Moffat

(Art by Mike Collins, David A. Roach, Kris Justice and John Ross)

An anthology of comics and one short story taken from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, featuring the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Ecclestone) and his companion Rose Tyler.  Here the Doctor and Rose defeat a benevolent alien invasion in the 1960s, confront a deceitful alien artist, battle a gestalt entity on Mars, rescue the reincarnation of a wanted alien, encounter Shakespeare and use time travel to call on the help of a young girl.

These are mostly pretty run-of-the-mill Who stories, with little to make them stand out from the crowd.  They're not bad, just bland.  However, it has to be said that all of them capture the Ninth Doctor and Rose's chemistry perfectly and leave you wistfully thinking that we definitely could've done with more time with Ecclestone's incarnation.

The element of this book which will make it more desirable to read for Who fans is the short story, originally published in the Doctor Who Annual 2006, by Moffat.  This comes from before his time as showrunner on the series and is a story that the writer decided to revist soon after.  It features a girl called Sally Sparrow who discovers a message from the past, intended specifically for her, behind some old wallpaper.  This story is clearly the seed which went on to grow into the TV story 'Blink'; regarded by many as one of the best episodes of all time.  Don't get me wrong, 'What I did on my Summer holidays by Sally Sparrow' is nowhere near as good as 'Blink' (there's no Weeping Angels for a start), but it does give a nice bit of insight into how Moffat developed his ideas.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Missy Chronicles

featuring James Goss, Cavan Scott, Paul Magrs, Peter Anghelides, Jacqueline Rayner and  Richard Dinnick 

A collection of six stories featuring Missy (Michelle Gomez), the incarnation of the Master who tangled with Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor.  These stories see Missy confronting sexism in her uniquely whimsical and violent way, struggling against captivity at the hands of the Doctor and working alongside her vindictive former incarnation (John Simm) against the Cybermen.

I love Missy as a character.  She's such a departure from the standard mold of the Master and whilst still maintaining his brilliance, cunning and ruthlessness.  It has to be said then that the vast majority of what is good in this book is down to how appealing the character herself is, rather than anything to do with the stories we're given.  So, to give credit where it's due, four of the six writers here get Missy's character spot on.  However, the version in the stories by Magrs and Anghelides just didn't feel right to me, which robbed those stories of their biggest asset.

In regard to the stories themselves, they're not all that great.  Most of them are okay, but not much more than that in and of themselves.  There are a few nice touches, however, and for me the highlight was Dinnick's story, set amid the TV episode 'The Doctor Falls' which sees Missy and the Master working together; something that there just wasn't enough of in the episode itself.  Most interestingly, we get the seed planted that perhaps Missy's betrayal of the Master in the episode was not as spontaneous as it might have seemed.

2 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Target Storybook

featuring Joy Wilkinson, Simon Guerrier, Terrance Dicks, Matthew Sweet, Susie Day, Matthew Waterhouse, Colin Baker, Mike Tucker, Steve Cole, George Mann, Una McCormack, Jenny T. Colgan, Jacqueline Rayner, Beverly Sanford and Vinay Patel

A collection of fifteen short stories made up of sequels, prequels and 'sidequels' to episodes of the Doctor's TV adventures (plus two free-standing ones for the Eighth and War Doctors, who sadly never had enough screen time).  All of the Doctors (up to Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth) are represented and the stories are written by a mixture of experienced Who authors, screenwriters who've worked on the show and even actors who starred in it.

This collection gained some notoriety among Who fans for three main things: 1) Gareth Roberts' story being dropped due to his publicly transphobic views, 2) Terrance Dicks' death shortly after completing his contribution, and 3) Colgan's character-assassination of Rose and the Metacrisis Doctor.  For the first, I'm glad that BBC books (and, apparently, the other authors involved) took a stand against transphobia by dropping Roberts from the collection.  For the second, it's a real shame because Dicks was not only one of the people most influencial to the show itself, but his novelisations more or less single-handedly kept the idea of Doctor Who print media alive.  The third thing I'll get to shortly.

Overall, like all anthologies, this is a mixed bag in terms of quality but it has to be said that it is a largely enjoyable book.  The mixture of writing styles, different Doctors and other POV characters keeps the format changing up enough that even if you're not enjoying a particular story, a totally different one is never far away.

The highlights for me were Dicks' follow up to his seminal Second Doctor epic 'The War Games', Colin Baker getting to show who his incarnation of the Doctor was truly meant to be (along with sly subtext about outside forces meddling and editing to make him look bad), a pitch-perfect Seventh Doctor interlude amid 'Remembrance of the Daleks', Mann's return to the War Doctor (one of my favourite incarnations) and Vinay Patel's fascinating prelude to the melancholy brilliance of Series 11's 'Demons of the Punjab'.

Most of the other stories aren't as engaging but are mostly only a bit boring at worst.  The aforementioned story with the Metacrisis Doctor and Rose is definitely the book's low point, however.  Honestly it's not as bad a some of the reviews I've read of it but it does feel like a bit of a betrayal of those characters.  Here Rose is emotionally manipulative and claims to love the man she's with, whilst also regularly reminding him that he's not THE Doctor.  At one point, despite being pregnant with his child, she says that 'it' isn't even really a 'him'.  The poor old Metacrisis Doctor also gets stiffed by the writer in that he's depressed about how much he doesn't remember, the fact that Rose reminds him he's not the Doctor and that he's stuck on Earth.  Instead of Colgan using the opportunity to show the Doctor is a hero because of his character, here's it's implied that he's only a hero because he's a Time Lord and has a TARDIS.  Also, in the most cringeworthy moment of the whole book, he gets given the name Corin because he and Rose met a bloke called Corin once.  Just awful.

The gems outweigh the turds in my opinion, though, so this anthology is worth a read.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Twelve Doctors Of Christmas

featuring Jacqueline Rayner, Colin Brake, Richard Dungworth, Mike Tucker, Gary Russell and Scott Handcock

Twelve short stories, one for each of the first twelve Doctors (not including the War Doctor), all centred around the theme of Christmas.

First off, it has to be said that every one of the twelve stories on offer here is perfectly enjoyable.  But, whilst perfectly enjoyable, there are a few which are not particularly remarkable, notably Rayner's First Doctor story 'All I Want for Christmas', Tucker's Seventh Doctor story 'The Grotto' and Russell's Ninth Doctor story 'The Red Bicycle' (although the latter does follow up on an offhand comment Ecclestone's Doctor makes in one of the TV episodes).

Where this anthology excels, however, is in introducing various Doctors to familiar characters or villains that we never saw them run into on screen.  For instance, the Second Doctor faces off against a Raxacoricofalapatorian (like the Slitheen), the Sixth encounters the Catkind of New New York and the Twelfth encounters a young man who grows up to play a pivotal role in 'Rose' (as novelised by Russell T. Davies).

For me, there were two gems that stood out from the crowd, however.  One was Dungworth's 'Loose Wire' in which The Wire, the face-stealing electronic entity from Series 2, gets loose in the digital age but is once again confronted by the Tenth Doctor.  My favourite story of the lot, though, was Rayner's 'The Christmas Inversion', in which the Third Doctor picks up Harriet Jones' call for help (in 'The Christmas Invasion', novelised by Jenny T. Colgan) and travels forward through time to the 21st Century.  He is immediately confronted by Jackie Tyler, who bursts into the TARDIS and becomes convinced that the Doctor has not only changed his own face again, but has also forced Rose and Mickey to change theirs (much to the confusion of Jo Grant and Mike Yates).

I read this book in mid-December 2018 and since Chris Chibnall has decided to get rid of Christmas Specials (Why does he hate us?), this book was a perfect bit of festive Doctor Who entertainment.  It's not deep or weighty, but it's a great deal of fun.

4 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: The Best Of Tales

featuring Michael Williams, Roger E. Moore, Nick O'Donohoe, Nancy Varian Berberick, Mary Kirchoff, Paul B. Thompson, Tonya R. Carter, Laura Hickman, Kate Novak, Richard A. Knaak, Margaret Weis and Aron Eisenberg

A mixture of short stories, taken from the series of anthologies 'Dragonlance: Tales'.  Generally the stories are of good quality, giving a different perspective on events in the 'Dragonlance Chronicles' trilogy, but there are a few naff ones. 

The Weis & Eisenberg story (the only new story here) is a bit of a disappointment and I'm not struck on Michael Williams' narrative poetry, which I find lacks flow.  However, Williams' story about a Solamnic Knight serving under Sturm Brightblade during the events of 'Dragons of Winter Night' is exceptionally good. 

Another gem of this anthology is the story of the recovery of a Dragon Orb from Icewall, one of the irritating gaps in the 'Chronicles'.  This anthology is what got me into the Dragonlance novels in general and is well worth a read.

4 out of 5