THESE STORIES TAKE
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV EPISODE "MIDNIGHT"
AND THE NOVEL "GHOSTS
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-846
53-067-8) RELEASED IN
JOIN THE DOCTOR AND
DONNA AS THE TARDIS
TRAVELS TO UNSEEN
TIMES AND PLACES IN
THIS NEW COLLECTION
OF ADVENTURES, FULL OF
MONSTERS, THRILLS AND
THE TIME TRAVELLERS
FACE MYTHICAL BEASTS
ON A DESERT ISLAND IN
THE COMPANY OF JASON
AND HIS ARGONAUTS,
SQUARE UP TO AN ICE
WARRIOR IN THE ARCTIC
CIRCLE, BATTLE THE CUTE
OF A THEME PARK GONE
MAD, GET TANGLED UP IN
THE MYSTERY OF THE
BAYEUX TAPESTY, AND
TRY TO PREVENT AN
ENTIRE PLANET FROM
(EIGHT SHORT STORIES)
It’s that time of year again, when the bookshops start filling up with Christmas gift ideas. Yes, it certainly does happen earlier each year, but I shan’t complain when we
get the latest Storybook on the first of August… even if it does mean that it’s released a full four months before the year specified on the cover.
The latest Storybook follows the structure of the previous two without deviation, and it’s no bad thing – the format is pretty much perfect in its simplicity. Eight short stories by eight top writers, illustrated by top artists. Like the previous two books, this one has a beautiful cover painting by Alistair Pearson – probably his best yet – and kicks off with ‘A Letter from the Doctor.’ Whereas previous letters were written by – sorry, forwarded by – Russell T Davies, this one is by upcoming showrunner Stephen Moffat. Despite being less than a page long, it contains just as much humour and cleverness as you’d expect from him, and sets things off to a fine start.
The first story, Hello Children, Everywhere by Paul Magrs, gets things going nicely. It’s a fairly simplistic tale of a fantasy theme park modelled after the writings of fictitious children’s author, Aunty Winnie. I still feel that Magrs has to reign in his style when writing for children, but he gives us a fine little story with a good mixture of humour and chills. However, the real star of the story is Brian Williamson, whose bold, colourful illustrations capture the simulta-neously cheery and creepy aspects perfectly.
James Moran’s Grand Theft Planet is also pretty good. I was expecting something rather special from Moran, writer of both The Fires of Pompeii and the highly-rated Torchwood episode Sleeper, two of my favourite recent episodes. Grand Theft Planet is an enjoyable tale of a floating city, with a clever pseudo-scientific threat, but it’s nothing groundbreaking. The alien villains of the piece, the pug-faced Sarriflex (brilliantly realised by Daryl Joyce),
are so stupid you wonder how they came up with their plan.
One of my favourite authors, in Doctor Who or otherwise, pens the next story. Cold is the simply-titled entry by Mark Gatiss, and tells, from multiple points of view, the story of an expedition to the Arctic to gather preserved specimens of the Great Influenza Pandemic
that ravaged the Earth in 1918-19. We discover that this was an example of germ warfare, down to none other than those classic monsters, the Ice Warriors! Gatiss manages to make the Martian commander, Issaxyr, a sympathetic character in spite of his admission of gen-ocide against humanity. There’s a harsh end to the tale, but a hopeful one. Ben Willsher’s illustrations are absolutely fantastic – his Ice Warrior, huge and hulking in a rich shade of green, is gorgeous, especially in the stunning close-up. He also gives us the sight of Donna wearing the fourth Doctor’s famous scarf.
Jonathan Morris is on hand for comic strip writing duties. He gives us a story that really feels part of the show, taking a fairly well known slice of history and giving it a Doctor Who twist.
In Immortal Emperor, we discover that the Chinese terracotta army were actually ceramic robots created by an alien with the look of a Chinese dragon! It’s a fun, fast moving tale, with little nudges and winks for fans, and is complimented well by Rob Davis and Geraint Ford’s stylish, cartoony artwork.
Next up is Bing Bong, by the tried-and-tested
duo of Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman.
As you’d expect from this partnership, it’s a
funny, whimsical tale; indeed, it features Doctor
Who’s first ‘socialist computer,’ who just wants
to make things better for everyone. Donna is
also served best in this story; her character is
spot on and her believable reactions to her
money being cleaned out set the narrative off. Daniel McDaid provides slick, stylised illustrations, giving us an impressive-looking Doctor
(though I’m not too sure about Donna’s 1980s power dress). This is all the more impressive considering that there really isn’t a lot to illustrate in this story.
Island of the Sirens, by Keith Temple, is my favourite story in the book. In it, Jason of the Argo tells us in his own words (a quirky mixture of archaisms and modernisms picked up
off Donna) of his final secret adventure. Referring to our heroes as Skinnyman and Red,
he spins a yarn about Cyclopean aliens and fish-men. It’s all great fun, and is absolutely hilarious in places.
“Even the redhead looked confused.
‘This isn’t Landan’ she said.
Not that she seemed bothered. “
Adrian Salmon’s spiky art suits the tone of the piece well. A real winner.
Nicholas Pegg’s Hold Your Horses is also excellent. A twisty time-travel tale of alternative histories and the Bayeux Tapestry, it all revolves around one schoolboy, Alex. Full of likeable characters and amusing lines, and with a perfectly characterised Doctor, it’s great fun. I’m not so keen of Jon Haward’s illustrations, though – done in a dreary style, and with a Doctor and Donna who look absolutely nothing like their real-life counterparts.
The final tale is The Puplet by Gary Russell. It’s a sweet little story of a bunch of kids taking care of a lost alien – the Puplet of the title – along with their bemused teacher, who can’t see it. It suffers by comparison with the story just before it in the volume, also set in a school, and the Doctor seems a little shoehorned in. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable story, ably served by Andy Walker’s pleasantly old-school artwork.
Altogether, this latest Storybook is another winner for the series, a far superior yearly treat to the BBC’s Official Annual. With tales simple enough for adults and complex enough for kids, plus enough references to Mentiads and “the planet Quinnis in the Fourth Universe” for us old fanboys, this is a wonderful little collection.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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