Review: “Doctor Who: Combat Magicks” By Steve Cole (Novel)

Well, since I was still going through a phase of reading spin-off novels, I thought that I’d check out a “Doctor Who” novel from 2018 called “Combat Magicks” by Steve Cole.

This was a hardback novel that I splashed out on last December (and, yes, I prepare these reviews quite far in advance) shortly after series eleven of “Doctor Who” had finished.

Although I didn’t have time to review more than the first episode of this series, it was probably one of the best series of the show that I’ve seen and, well, I wanted more of it (especially since the 2018 “Christmas episode” was postponed to New Year’s Day 2019 and the show apparently won’t return until 2020). Hence getting this book.

I should probably also point out that, although “Combat Magicks” tells a stand-alone “Doctor Who” story and can be read without watching the “Doctor Who” TV show, it’s probably worth watching at least a couple of series eleven episodes before reading this novel in order to get to know the main characters.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Doctor Who: Combat Magicks”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 BBC Books (UK) hardback edition of “Doctor Who: Combat Magicks” that I read.

The novel begins with the TARDIS, a time-travelling spaceship shaped like an old police call box, being knocked off-course by a mysterious energy field. Inside the TARDIS, The Doctor and her earthly companions Ryan, Yaz and Graham try to work out what has happened.

When the TARDIS lands, they find themselves in Gaul in 451 AD. The sky is glowing. Something is interfering with Earth’s history and it is up to the Doctor to find out what it is and put everything right.

But, there is just one little problem. In the area around the TARDIS, the forces of Attila The Hun are about to do battle with the Romans who control the area. Being a fixed historical event that is a crucial part of Earth’s timeline, The Doctor can do nothing to stop the war. Still, it doesn’t take her too long to find out that mysterious witch-like creatures called the Tenctrama are involved in this whole mess…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s like an extra episode of “Doctor Who”, but with a slightly more complex storyline, slightly more horror and a much larger special effects budget 🙂

In other words, it’s a brilliant mixture of quirky science fiction, subtle comedy, gruesome horror and thrilling drama 🙂 Yes, it takes a little while for the novel’s story to really become gripping, but it is worth sticking with this novel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about this novel’s sci-fi elements. Every futuristic thing here has a logical explanation and follows a consistent set of rules (which the characters have to try to understand). The nefarious Tenctrama who are threatening Earth also have realistic motivations for their actions and all of the story’s futuristic technology also feels like technology rather than magic.

Of course, thanks to the historical setting, many of the Roman and Hun characters consider alien technology to be magic. This allows the story to include some really cool dark fantasy-style elements, in addition to allowing the story to occasionally explore the difference between knowledge and superstition. Seriously, as sci-fi stories go, this one is well within the “Doctor Who” tradition.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really cool 🙂 In addition to some brilliant scenes of paranormal horror, scientific horror, death-based horror, zombie/monster horror and suspenseful horror, the novel also includes a surprising amount of gruesome horror too 🙂

Yes, this gruesome horror is relatively tame when compared to “proper” horror novels (with the story’s grislier moments being described in a slightly quicker and/or less detailed way), but it still adds a bit of extra atmosphere, grittiness and horror to the story in a way that the TV series probably wouldn’t be allowed to do.

Not only that, the story also includes zombies too 🙂 Yes, they are a little different from typical horror movie zombies, but it’s always really cool to see zombies in “Doctor Who” (like in the series eleven episode “The Witchfinders”).

In a lot of ways, the horror elements of the story reminded me a little of modern historical dark fantasy/horror/zombie novels like Rebecca Levene’s “Anno Mortis” or Toby Venables’ “Viking Dead“, which is never a bad thing 🙂

Of course, all of these horror elements are also balanced out with the series’ trademark sense of humour, consisting of things like pop culture references, amusingly eccentric comments from the Doctor and a few amusing narrative moments. So, this is more of a “feel good” novel than you might initially think.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good too 🙂 Although the story takes a while to lay out all of it’s plot threads and become really gripping, this is worthwhile. There’s a really good mixture of suspenseful moments, a couple of plot twists, dramatic action sequences, clever plans and large-scale drama.

One of the cool things about the Thirteenth Doctor having three companions (rather than the usual one) is that this allows for more complex stories when they become separated, and this novel takes full advantage of this fact.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Not only are the main characters reasonably close to their TV show counterparts, but this story also allows them to be a bit more badass – whilst still staying within the show’s traditional pacifist themes.

Likewise, the fact that this is a novel means that there’s even more room for personality and humour too. In addition to all of this, the novel’s historical background characters are reasonably well-written – with the highlights being Attila The Hun and a Roman version of “Torchwood” called “The Legion Of Smoke” – although they don’t get quite as much characterisation as the four main characters do.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the novel’s villains (the Tenctrama) also come across as characters with defined motivations who do evil things for a practical reason rather than just for the sake of being evil. Because of this, they are even more chillingly effective villains. Not to mention that their backstory and motivations also help to feed into the novel’s anti-war theme too.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good. The story’s third-person narration has a little bit more of a distinctive “style” than I expected and it’s this brilliant mixture of more informal observations and mildly formal descriptions. It fits in surprisingly well with the tone of the TV show and, although there are a few mildly confusing moments (eg: a third-person segment written from the perspective of one of the Huns early in the story), it means that the story is a very readable and relaxing way to spend a few hours.

As for length and pacing, this novel is also really good. At an efficient 264 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. The pacing is mostly really good too, although the second half of the story is probably somewhat more gripping than the first half is. Although this is probably because the earlier parts of the story have to spend time setting everything up for the spectacular drama in the later parts of the story.

All in all, this is a really good “Doctor Who” novel 🙂 Yes, it takes a little while to really become compelling, but it’s a brilliant blend of the sci-fi, horror and thriller genres 🙂 So, if you enjoyed series 11 and wonder what it would look like with a higher budget, a bit more horror and more time to tell a story, then this novel is worth reading.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Meddling Kids” By Edgar Cantero (Novel)

A few weeks before I wrote this book review, I ended up watching several episodes of “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and was amazed at how good this modern Saturday morning cartoon was.

A couple of weeks later, I was looking around online for second-hand horror novels and happened to find a modern novel from 2018 called “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero, which seemed to be a Lovecraftian dark comedy parody of “Scooby Doo” 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Meddling Kids”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Meddling Kids” that I read.

In 1977, the four young investigators of the Blyton Summer Detective Club (and their trusty dog Sean), solve the mystery of the Sleepy Lake monster. Far from being a giant salamander monster, it was actually a masked criminal called Thomas Wickley who would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

Flash forward to 1990 and Wickley is up for parole. But, soon after he leaves prison, he is ambushed by Andrea “Andy” Rodriguez, a former member of the detective club who is determined to get the truth out of him. There were things in Sleepy Lake that were too strange to be part of an elaborate criminal scheme. Unexplainable, unworldly horrors that have haunted the nightmares of the club members ever since that fateful summer holiday.

As a result of that horrifying summer, Andy has ended up living a life of crime, nerdy redhead Kerri has ended up in a series of dead-end jobs and weedy, nervous Nate has found himself in a mental hospital (but, at least he has the ghost of tall, athletic Peter to keep him company). About the only club member who is vaguely ok is Tim, Sean’s canine descendent.

Rattled by the mysterious incantations that Wickley babbles after she questions him, Andy decides that the only thing to do is to get the club together again and return to Sleepy Lake……

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is WOW! It’s a funny, creepy, thrilling and mysterious mixture of dark comedy, Lovecraftian horror and retro nostalgia 🙂 In other words, this novel is kind of like a mixture of H.P. Lovecraft, “The Last Door“, “Blood“, “Twin Peaks”, “Supernatural”, “The X-Files”, “Scooby Doo” and some kind of alternative punk comic from the 1990s. So, yes, it’s pretty awesome 🙂

The novel’s horror elements are pretty interesting. As you would expect from a modern Lovecraftian horror story there’s a really good mixture of ominous horror, occult horror, monster horror, suspenseful horror, jump scares, psychological horror, implied horror, scientific horror, economic horror/ post-industrial decay, claustrophobic horror and gruesome horror. Although this novel isn’t likely to leave you frozen with fright, there is a wonderfully creepy and ominous atmosphere in many parts of the story 🙂

The novel’s comedy elements also work reasonably well. Although there were only a couple of moments that really made me laugh out loud, the novel has a wonderfully irreverent attitude, some moments of bizarre slapstick comedy, numerous retro pop culture references, a gleefully farcical denouement, lots of amusing dialogue and some brilliant dark comedy plot elements too.

The novel’s detective elements are fairly interesting too. Although the novel enters the realms of fantasy and science fiction, pretty much everything in the story has a logical scientific, practical and/or paranormal explanation. Even though fans of H.P. Lovecraft won’t be too surprised by the premise of the story, there are enough clever plot twists and intriguing clues, locations etc… to keep the story intriguingly gripping.

Interestingly, this novel starts out as a slower-paced mystery, psychological thriller and character-based drama novel. These elements all work surprisingly well and, although this means that the first two-thirds or so of this novel are relatively slow paced (but still really compelling), the novel then segues into this absolutely spectacular action-packed final act that occasionally reminded me a little bit of the classic computer game “Blood” (which, again, is never a bad thing 🙂 ).

The story’s atmosphere is really cool too. In addition to the kind of ominous atmosphere you would expect from a Lovecraftian horror story, this story also includes the cynical nihilism of the 1990s (in addition to some vague hints of that decade’s more famous optimism) and a brilliantly dark and twisted version of the fun atmosphere of “Scooby Doo” too 🙂

In terms of the characters, they are brilliant 🙂 Not only do all of the main characters come across as stylised, but realistic, people with a huge number of quirks, flaws and emotions but the novel’s characters are also both a brilliantly inventive parody of both “Scooby Doo” and Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” too. In short, the level of characterisation here is on par with Neil Gaiman’s amazing “Sandman” comics and Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” 🙂

The novel’s main characters also allow for the exploration of numerous themes such as mental illness, memory, non-conformity, friendship, love, trauma etc… too. Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this novel highly enough 🙂 They’re a glorious band of misfits who are so much fun to hang out with.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s (mostly) third-person narration is amazing. It is this wonderfully weird mixture of formal descriptive narration, highly informal narration and more experimental/avant-garde narration… and, somehow, it really works 🙂

In true punk fashion, this novel isn’t afraid to break the rules by doing things like using film script-like dialogue segments, breaking the fourth wall (usually subtly, but one instance of it – involving a chapter ending- is truly epic) and occasionally inventing new words just for the hell of it. The inventive, irreverent and unique writing style in this novel is an absolute joy to read 🙂 Still, if you’re used to more conventional writing styles, then you might not enjoy the narration as much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 442 pages, this is one of those novels that will sometimes feel like reading a DVD boxset. However, although the first two-thirds of the story are relatively slow-paced, they remain really compelling thanks to the atmosphere, the characters, the writing style and the mysterious plot. These slower-paced segments also contrast really well with the brilliantly gripping and fast-paced final act too 🙂

All in all, this is a punk Lovecraftian horror dark comedy parody of “Scooby Doo” that is set in the 1990s 🙂 Need I say more?

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Today’s Art (20th April 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Retracted”, this month’s four-comic webcomic mini series. You can find links to lots of other comics featuring these characters on this page.

This is a comic about last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. And, yes, I tend to make these comics quite far in advance. Even so, I was kind of surprised that there only seemed to be just one metal/rock/punk group (AWS from Hungary – with this song. Even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics, it was pretty cool – although it reminded me of early-mid 2000s metal a bit though) in what I saw of the contest. But, given the sheer variety of awesome music out there, it’s always weird how Eurovision almost always seems to focus on just one genre (pop music).

Note: Today’s comic update is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Retracted – Eurovision 2018” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – December 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month (and the year). So, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to the ten best articles about writing fiction, making art etc… that I’ve posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Surprisingly, due to all of the book reviews I posted here this month (it seems to be becoming a regular feature), there weren’t as many “ordinary” articles as I’d expected. Even so, some of them turned out reasonably well and I also ended up writing more writing-based articles than usual too 🙂

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – December 2018:

– “What Can Novel Cover Art Teach Us About Making Art?
– “Don’t Show Your Audience Everything – A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Basing Lots Of Stories Around A Single Theme
– “What Books Can Do That Other Entertainment Mediums Can’t – A Ramble
– “One Quick Tip For Writing Ultra-Gripping Action Scenes In Thriller Stories
– “Three Shocking Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Splatterpunk Horror Fiction
– “Three Tips For Making Webcomics When You’ve Got Less Time
– “Three Differences Between Thriller Fiction And Horror Fiction
– “How Straightforward Should Your Narration Be?
– “Two Basic Tips For Using Digital Lighting Effects In “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Silly Tips For Writing ‘Creature Feature’ Horror Stories
– “Three Tips For Writing 1990s-Style Cyberpunk Fiction

Top Ten Articles – November 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to compile my usual list of links to my ten favourite articles about making art, making comics, writing fiction etc… that I’ve posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, this was a bit of a variable month in terms of articles. Not only were there more reviews than I had expected, but I had both highly-inspired days and uninspired days when writing the non-review articles. So, the quality of this month’s articles varied quite a bit. Hopefully, next month’s articles will be better 🙂

Anyway, here are the lists. Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – November 2018:

– “Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble
– “What Can Games Teach Writers About Challenging Their Audience? – A Ramble
– “What An Old Novel Taught Me About Writing Thrilling Dialogue
– “What Tribute Bands Can Teach Us About Fan Art- A Ramble
– “Is There An Artistic Equivalent Of A “Live Version” Of A Song? – A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Remaking Your Old Webcomic Updates
– “Three Tips For Bringing Old Genres Up To Date
– “Three Random Tips For Modern 1970s-Style Storytelling
– “Four Tips For Getting Back Into Reading Regularly
– “The Library Of The Imagination – A Ramble

Honourable Mentions:

– “Why You Should Create Your Own Fictional Universe When Making Comics – A Ramble
– “How Subtle Should Dark Comedy Be? – A Ramble

The Complete “Nocturnal” – All 11 Pages Of The New Halloween Comic By C. A. Brown

Well, in case you missed any of it, here are all eleven pages (including the cover) of my new Halloween comic in one easy-to-read post 🙂 You can also find loads of other comics featuring these characters here too.

This comic went surprisingly well and was a lot of fun to make 🙂 The initial inspiration for it was a phase I went through where I re-played “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” almost obssessively. I then realised that whilst I’d made a haunted house comic in 2015, a zombie comic in 2016 and an “evil alternate dimension” comic in 2017, I hadn’t made a vampire comic yet.

Unlike last year’s comic, I initially decided to return to black and white artwork (mostly for time and/or sanity reasons, given the length of the comic). But, this soon mostly turned into limited colour greyscale after I realised that I could use red ink for blood effects. And, well, you can’t have a vampire comic without blood in it…

Anyway, here’s the comic 🙂 I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had making it 🙂

As usual, all pages of this comic are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. Likewise, you can click on each page to see a much larger version of it.

“Nocturnal – Cover” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 1” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 2” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 3” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 4” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 5” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 6” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 7” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 8” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 9” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 10” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (31st October 2018)

Happy Halloween everyone 🙂 Here’s the final page of “Nocturnal” 🙂 But, don’t worry if you missesd any of it – I’ll be posting a full retrospective here later tonight. In the meantime, you can find lots of other comics featuring these characters here.

Wow! Although the ending ended up being a little bit compressed and contrived (eg: I didn’t have space to include an explanation that the main characters survived because they were only recently turned into vampires), making this page was a surprisingly eerie experience.

Basically, my drawing pen ran out before the last two panels. So, I was forced to switch to one with a finer nib when drawing these panels. Then, when I was editing the page on my computer, I suddenly had vivid flashbacks to my early experiments with comics (using a finer pen than I normally do) during 2010. It literally felt like no time whatsoever had passed since then. It’s a difficult experience to put into words, but it really caught me by surprise.

Anyway, I’m rambling. So, here’s the comic page. Enjoy 🙂

As usual, this comic page is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Nocturnal – Page 10” By C. A. Brown