Rivers of London: Night Witch

Drawn from from Ben Aaronovitch’s novel Rivers of London, this serialised comic is co-written by Andrew Cartmel, who was Aaronovitch’s script editor on the Doctor Who television series.

Chapter one, page one we’re sat in a van with a trio conversing urgently in Russian. Balaclavas are pulled on, shotguns grabbed and then it’s out into a London morning for a meeting with The Night Witch.

Issue 1 is rich in back story, much of it set in Russia. Politics and power, money and migrants and military women practising the Old Religion.

Varvara Sidorovna is doing time at HM Prison Holloway but her army past is causing trouble in her London present. This hasn’t escaped the attention of police constable Peter Grant, who spots the mysterious Faceless Man behind recent events just as the Russians have turned their attention to him as well.

Artist Lee Sullivan is also no stranger to the Doctor Who franchise. Here he shows his talent for pushing a lot of character out of the faces in his panels without resorting to outlandish facial features. He’s got a good exchange going with his colourist, Luis Guerrero; a reflective laptop screen and the ‘golden hour’ before dusk come to mind particularly.

During one flashback, an actual Russian stock certificate fills the page behind the panels, bringing a sense of high-def to the necessarily bold shapes of comic art. The technique was a good choice here; the last time I was so delighted by it was long ago in an adaptation of The Vampire Lestat.

The trickiest part of the read was that the visual focus of issue 1 is relatively even; main story and back story are interlaced but the transitions between the two aren’t very marked.

As a newcomer to The Rivers of London I found the story stood alone quite well but after some research it seems like this chapter puts PC Grant – the main character – into the background somewhat. Perhaps this is because it’s not the first tale from the novel and it’s only the first bit of the serial.

Night Witch issue 1 is a cracking bit of urban fantasy overall. The pace is good and the international angle contributes to a freshness that no modern tale of London can do without.

Rivers of London - The Night Witch issue 1, pic 1

Rivers of London - The Night Witch issue 1, pic 1

Rivers of London - The Night Witch issue 1, pic 2

Rivers of London - The Night Witch issue 1, pic 3

The Light of September

A maritime audio drama with a science fiction twist from the makers of Minister of Chance and Death Comes to Time.

Episode 3, They Thought He Was a Goner: It’s the morning after the very speed of light has been surpassed but aboard the RRS Venus May is starting to wonder if she woke up on the same ship as everyone else. Listen now in your browser or subscribe to all the episodes in iTunes or Android.

Writer/director Dan Freeman’s research on England’s south coast included sound effect recordings that bring the research vessel to life. The voice talent pulled together give nice aural contrast to the proceedings as well.

Returning to the mic from the Minister of Chance cast are Sylvester McCoy, Tamsin Greig, Jed Brophy, Simon Hickson, Stuart Fox, Simon Bugg and Richard Oliver.

They’re joined by Laura Cayouette (Django Unchained, Friends), Robert Picardo (Stargate, Star Trek), Thorbjørn Harr and Gorge Blagden (Vikings), Karim Saleh (Iron Man 2), Heida Reed (Vampyre Nation), Julian Seager (Poldark) and Tuppence Middleton (Sense8).

As with previous series this production is powered by you and I. Help unlock the next episode at the website for The Light of September.

Previous Episodes

1. Breakfast on Venus: a ten-minute stroll aboard the Royal Research Ship Venus as May Sutherland (Tuppence Middleton) joins the crew. Her look round culminates in a, erm, memorable encounter with Engineer Allan (Sylvester McCoy).

2. The Long Light Shakes: on the poop deck of the RRS Venus, Lorraine (Laura Cayouette) and May peer up at the International Space Station as it prepares to launch a faster-than-light vehicle. Yeah, Noel (Karim Saleh) thinks that’s ridiculous too.

Doctor Who: The Churchill Years

Reprising his performances during Matt Smith’s era of Doctor Who, Ian McNiece is back as Winston Churchill. Big Finish’s new box set departs from their well-honed format of unmediated aural adventures, with McNiece narrating as well as performing in each episode. The narration does cover a few bits that I felt it shouldn’t, notably an action sequence in the first story and the introduction of a famous historical figure in the third. I mention this to balance what I think has been a refreshing experience and a success overall.

Churchill’s narration includes recounting the words and actions of the first three new series Doctors. This has the brilliant effect of bringing the Christopher Eccleston Doctor to Big Finish, complete with the Ninth Doctor signature tune. As The Doctor changes, the title music changes. Across the stories one can spot the different speech patterns of each Doctor, even as related (and occasionally imitated) by McNiece.

There’s still plenty of full-cast audio action aboard, moved along nicely by the ‘companions’ of Churchill. As his new secretary, Hetty Warner (Emily Atack) leads many scenes apart from Winston and works well with both her employer and The Doctor. Kazran Sardick (Danny Horn) returns from Dr Who’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ and provides good contrast to the 20th century way in which Churchill reacts to being dropped into Roman Britain. In the final piece, another supporting artist from a Matt Smith Christmas special returns, Holly Earl As Lily Arwell. She looks after Winston at a particularly action-packed point in his twilight years.

The first story is the most conventional, with an alien object dropped into wartime Britain. The second shatters that mould as we find Churchill’s Black Dog – his controversial mental issues – woven into the story. In the third, Winston lives amid the subjects of his own historical books and the statesman’s fascination for butterflies is rolled rather surprisingly into the fourth adventure. Additionally, there’s a nice bit of Nick Briggs’ Dalek voice work in this set.

Doctor Who: The Churchill Years brought a delightful, fictionalised Sir Winston into my home over a couple of winter evenings. So pleasant was it that I might just sit down with Churchill’s own writing for just a bit more time with this true-life legend from long ago.

Back to The Future is Now

Pepsi Max and the Empire Cinema Leicester Square sponsored a showing of Back to The Future, Part II. The show was scheduled to coincide with the time shown on the time-travelling DeLorean: Oct 21 2015, 04:29 PM.

The car in question was waiting out in Leicester Square, where – guess what – the rain had just stopped. I dodged the amused tourists, snapped a few pics and headed into Cafe 80’s.

A copy of the cafe seen in the film was constructed in the Empire Cinema’s concession area and a mix of contest winners and press were invited to echo Marty McFly’s plea: “All I want is a Pepsi!” The costumed waitress seemed delighted enough even though I quoted the almost identical lyric from Institutionalized instead. I got my Pepsi, though: a replica of the ‘Pepsi Perfect’ bottles seen in the film.

No sooner had I explored the place (and a hoverboard someone left lying around) than a familiar old man in mirrorshades and his young companion showed up. The geezer hopped up on a table and explained to us how our presence in the adjoining theatre was required for our trip Back to The Future.

The cinema kicked in a bag of popcorn to sweeten (and salt) the deal and there was a brief introduction by ‘Doc’ and ‘Marty’ before the lights went down. The film was preceded by adverts for hoverboards and Pepsi and Jaws 19 and a special bit that Christopher Lloyd shot for the occasion.

I remember Back to The Future quite well; I’ve seen it loads of times but here’s the kicker: today was my first viewing of Part II. My review in brief: Who’s for Part III?

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures

The natural impulse for genre fans granted new material, before they’ve even enjoyed it, is to put it on the shelf. Its ability to ‘fit in’ seems so important at first but why would we want exactly what we have? What we get with these Third Doctor Adventures isn’t a lonely replay of a dusty videocassette. It’s the fresh sound of a graduate Doctor.

From Peter Davison to David Tennant we’ve seen our favourite performers return in victory laps on audio that have become regular gigs. The actors don’t sound quite like they did on telly but before long the wonder of the experience takes over. Suddenly we’re not reliving the past; we’re experiencing a special sort of future.

The occasional sibilant ‘s’ of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, the easy confidence, that delightful vocal texture, they’re all there but so is Tim Treloar. The Welsh actor has certainly taken on the southeast England style of Jon Pertwee but most importantly, he’s gone beyond the skill of the impressionist to give us a character that fits right in with the remarkable animal that is this 21st century return to the Pertwee years.

Alongside are Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Richard Frankin as Mike Yates. Having been delighted with their performances as Iris Wildthyme and the retired Captain Yates, it was lovely to hear them cast their voices back a few decades into the characters that made them famous. Of course, we’re getting a graduate Classic Jo and a graduate Classic Yates but this should be no surprise (or worry) to regular listeners to Big Finish audio drama.

Before long, The Doctor is disturbing the room as he upbraids a bureaucrat, Jo is making battle armour out of her faith in him and Yates is, well, getting chances to be more heroic than ever. Big Finish is generous like that. And the gap in the shelf behind me is forgotten completely.

Having dropped five paragraphs on why things shouldn’t slavishly imitate our best loved Pertwee adventures, I must mention that the music is absolutely spot on. Prisoners of the Lake has the musical style of The Sea Devils but with a very welcome melodic quality and Havoc of Empires has a Dudley Simpson style with friendly tones evocative of the Third Doctor’s first serial on TV.

The only true oddity is the narration sprinkled throughout the stories which might have been Big Finish treading carefully, couching Treloar as both narrator and Doctor. They needn’t have bothered but certain action sequences play quite well narrated, whereas in dialogue the characters would have had to illustrate the action for us in odd sorts of ways.

Big Finish know well each era of classic Doctor Who and their output is forward-thinking, waxing creative and progressive in precisely the areas of the old series that we’d like expanded or redressed. The Third Doctor Adventures continue this trend. Roll on, Doctor Treloar!

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures at Big Finish

Review-The Troop by Noel Clarke

In The Troop a team with super powers rises from a nightmare parade of violence, with memorable action sequences and flashes of sexual activity along the way.

Author Noel Clarke was part of the the main cast of Doctor Who’s 2005 return to television. Since then he’s written an episode of Torchwood and a couple of independent films, all of which show his knack for dark material. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he wanted to push boundaries with this comic. Where he does that is in his depiction of real life abusive human behaviour, which exists in the backgrounds that these super-humans come from. The Troop are not so much a fearless team of super heroes as a damaged pile of kids united by a shady character who comes off as a bit of a creep.

We’re in an early period for digital comics as they differentiate themselves from the heavy lines and solid fills of the past. In this book, artist Joseph Cassara paints with loads of photographic colour and texture. In one panel he simulates shallow depth-of-field, where the background has those discs you get from expensive cameras when points of light in the background are blurred.

It can be a little noisy but structure does win out over chaos, particularly in the action sequences. Movement in illustration is tied to the way shapes strike across the page and Cassara works this well. In a rainy forest chase he does this by putting his virtual camera high in the trees and in another, he grabs a snapshot from a flying belt’s hang time before a dangerous dad brings it down.

Issue 1 of The Troop is a bit of a contest between abuse violence and revenge violence but Noel Clarke is setting up something that is intentionally not shiny. This is a tale where everything soft is burnt away – that can lend the truly poignant bits great impact later on. Now it’s up to Clarke and Cassara to deliver on the promise shown so far.

Listen to our interview with Noel Clarke here.

Artwork preview:


Issue #1 is out 9th December 2015

Holy Hi-Def! Batman ’66 on Blu-Ray

Batman Blu-Ray set

It’s about bat-time but not a moment too soon! I can still remember being delighted and terrified by reruns of the 1966 Batman TV series, from the age of four onwards. From 10th November 2014 it will at last go on sale for Batman’s 75th anniversary, with the original film prints presented in high definition, Blu-Ray™ glory.

At the dawn of colour television, producer William Dozier adapted Bob Kane’s superhero comic in an intentionally vivid manner, from the rainbow colours of costumes, props and lighting to dramatic camera work and the lush physical texture of everything in vision. Batman comics of that era were straightforward adventures but with oodles of absurdity: adapted faithfully into live action they came off extremely camp. Resisting the temptation to cushion the spectacle with a laugh track gave Batman its signature feel.

Because a film studio brought Batman to telly, an army of Hollywood film stars were at hand. Each celebrity ‘did a turn,’ taking the campy spirit of the programme very much to heart. This luxury would also keep the programme off shelves for decades, mired in conflicts with actors’ contracts and studio ownership. Now all differences have been resolved and the wait is over!

Continue reading Holy Hi-Def! Batman ’66 on Blu-Ray

‘Minister of Chance’ Kickstarter

Minister of ChanceThe podcast version of The Minister of Chance proved that quality audio drama on a grand scale can be brought into being by the sheer force of the masses of us who want it to happen. If you haven’t heard it and you’re here on Bad Wilf reading this, go check it out and tidy the flat with your earbuds in and your heart soaring.

Fan favourites Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Paul Darrow and Tamsin Greig join class acts Julian Wadham, Jenny Agutter and Lauren Crace in a fascinating mix of cavalry and rocketry with a slightly darker tone than Doctor Who but with plenty of charm to match.

A short film – the saga’s introduction – was shot amid the gorgeous countryside and architecture of Britain and also made available for free, with donors getting a peek just a bit earlier.

Two nations brandish an odd mix of weaponry at each other in this world but the clearly more primitive nation in the struggle may not be as helpless as it seems. It’s in this pastoral nation of Tanto that The Minister of Chance parts the curtains of reality, revealing a shimmering ‘frost bridge’ into the unknown.

TODAY begins the Kickstarter to fund the first full episode. Why not tap a few credits into the hovering paypoint and take a seat by this bonfire? The tale told here will be thanks in part to you.