Doctor Who: The Betrothal of Sontar

This graphic novel collects together several comic adventures of the Tenth Doctor and Rose that were originally published in Doctor Who magazine between 2006 and 2007. It’s quite a nostalgic collection for me, because I read most of them when they first came out and that was at a time when my love of Doctor Who was really reaching its peak for the first time. All the comics in this collection capture the feeling of that era perfectly, but they also throw a few bones for fans of the classic era.

The Betrothal of Sontar by John Tomlinson and Nick Abadzis
This story sees the Doctor and Rose meeting the Sontarans – and this was before they’d made their return on TV, so you get to see them with their darker armour of the classic era. This story actually includes a sympathetic Sontaran, and as the concept is played completely straight, I thought it was much better than how the same thing was handled with Strax later on on TV.

The Lodger by Gareth Roberts
The Doctor becomes temporarily stranded on Earth and so ends up having to stay with Mickey. Mickey is initially jealous of the Doctor because of the fact that he inadvertently shows him up with everything he does, but the situation gives the pair of them a chance to address some of the tensions that exist between them. It actually works great as a transitional story, explaining how the Doctor and Mickey go from a more adversarial relationship in Series 1, to much more friendly in Series 2. Fun fact, this was also the first Doctor Who comic story to be adapted for TV (albeit with the Eleventh Doctor and Craig instead).

F.A.Q. by Tony Lee
This story actually reminds me somewhat of the Series 2 story, Fear Her – though is potentially a little more interesting. It’s one where I can’t really say what’s happening without spoiling anything, but the Doctor and Rose get caught up in a situation among young adults in modern day London, with one of them having strange powers. It’s a pretty cool story.

The Futurists by Mike Collins
The Doctor and Rose encounter 1920s fascists who end up getting sent back in time and perverting the course of history. This was a fun time travel-based story and I appreciated its use of an historic political group. Something I’d have liked to see as a TV episode.

Interstellar Overdrive by Jonathan Morris
This story felt almost a little too silly to me. To be honest, I actually found myself thinking that it felt more like a Rick and Morty story than a Doctor Who story. It’s about a washed up old band who are performing well past their prime (one of them is literally a reanimated corpse) and it turns out someone is trying to assassinate them. It has a really shocking cliff-hanger at one point and is still generally enjoyable, even if the tone felt off.

Opera of Doom! by Jonathan Morris
Another music-based story by Jonathan Morris. This one was pretty short and kind of forgettable – the Doctor and Rose meet an old opera singer who ends up helping them out with an insidious alien plot. It really didn’t leave much impression on me, and I don’t easily remember what happened, to be honest.

The Green-Eyed Monster by Nev Fountain
This is another really silly one… but you know what? I absolutely love it. The Doctor, Rose, Mickey, and Jackie all appear on a reality TV show where they talk about their relationship problems and the tensions between them. It sounds absurd, but there’s a good reason for it in the end. I laughed out loud at some parts of it, and admire it for being one of the few stories that directly tackles the romantic tension between Rose and the Doctor.

The Warkeeper’s Crown by Alan Barnes
I love this story, partially just because it features the Tenth Doctor meeting the Brigadier – it’s sweet to think that he got to reunite with one of his oldest and dearest friends just after losing Rose. In it, both characters are forced to assist in a war between two alien races. That aspect of the story is decent enough, but I loved seeing the Doctor being quite affectionate with the Brigadier, and in hindsight, it might be the final meeting between the two characters, which makes this quite bittersweet.

All in all, it’s a pretty great collection, with almost every story in it having some unique aspect that makes it worth reading. If you have a sweet spot for 2006-era Doctor Who, then this collection is going to be a pleasant trip down memory lane.

Rating: 8.3/10

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Far-right Appropriations of Medieval Military Orders by Rory MacLellan

I haven’t read an enormous number of academic papers before, but this was easily the most entertaining read of them all. Of course, I don’t want to suggest that it favoured entertainment over information, because it’s a well researched and informative piece of writing – there’s just something very satisfying about seeing the hateful perspectives of regressive people unravelled and debunked.

People who subscribe to far-right political beliefs always seem to point to history and say “Well, we had those same beliefs hundreds of years ago, it’s arrogant to think new so-called progressive perspective should supplant them” but so often, this is done with a misunderstanding, or intentional misrepresentation of how the actual history played out. Rory does an excellent job of highlighting some modern examples of this.

There are modern far-right groups who claim to be continuations of medieval military orders, perhaps in an attempt to make themselves seem more prestigious or respectable, but who are really entirely unrelated and tend not to even follow the same ideologies. The most embarrassing thing that Rory highlights is the fact that in a lot of cases, there’s evidence that the actual, historical medieval orders had a more progressive attitudes towards women, or people of other races.

Not only does it do a good job of highlight these groups’ ignorance (or dishonesty), but it’s a good reminder that history is rarely as simple as people try to make it out to be – and those who do so are usually doing so with an agenda. Overall, it was a really interesting piece of writing and I enjoyed reading it.

Rating: 8.7/10

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Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

The second Dune novel sees Paul Atreides now ruling as an emperor. Sadly, like all the other sci-fi and fantasy boys, he’s just an all-powerful, amoral dictator. It’s hard to really feel anything for someone who pontificates about how great of a man Hitler is (which he literally does), but I did really enjoy exploring the politics of this world.

The novel feels almost completely different from the first one. Initially, Paul is a young and almost helpless young man battling against the odds to avenge his family and overthrow the powerful forces of evil that turned his life upside down. Now he’s struggling to hold together a giant empire, and trying to cement himself as a kind of god-like being.

Although it was a little harder to understand what was going on sometimes, I was still pretty engaged throughout. I wish there was more sandworm action, but I’m glad that was swapped for something that feels very different, rather than just giving us more of the same.

One of my favourite additions to this book is Alia – though she did have a small appearance in the first book, she really becomes her own character here. She’s a strange mixture of teenage girl, and someone who’s wise far beyond her years due to the knowledge she received from her Bene Gesserit mother. She’d kind of other worldly in the way she behaves, and I found her quite enigmatic.

This book also sees the return of the formerly dead, Duncan Idaho. He was revived as a gift for Paul, but intended to be an assassin. The process of reviving him meant that he maintained his technical skills, but lost all his memory and personality. He now goes by the name Hayt and kind of considers himself a separate person, but also seems to want to find out more about who he was. He’s quite conflicted, and I generally think the concept behind him is very cool.

The problem is, Hayt is also connected to one of my least favourite parts of the book. I won’t spoil it but essentially, he’s shown to be sexually attracted to Alia, who is just a teenager, and who Hayt himself is shown to see as a child. If that’s not gross enough, Frank Herbert also thought it was necessary to have Paul see his sister naked and have some confusing feelings about it. Why do all male sci-fi and fantasy writers feel the need to put stuff like this in?

Overall though, I could look past the unpleasantly weird stuff and enjoy the book. It has its flaws, and is quite dry sometimes, but it’s an interesting enough setting. It’s hard to compare it directly against the first book – sometimes I think it was a bit worse, sometimes I think it was a bit better. Either way, its a worthy continuation.

Rating: 6.3/10

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The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

This collection of stories features the grand return of Sherlock Holmes after his seeming death in The Final Problem. I think he comes back strong, and the stories in this collection are very much on the level of his earlier outings. Here are my thoughts on the stories:

The Adventure of the Empty House
This is the story in which Holmes and Watson are finally reunited – with Sebastian Moran attempting to track him down and assassinate him. Although I feel bad for Watson and wish there was a deeper look at the emotional impact of Holmes’ faked death, I really like the tension in this story and think of it as one of my favourites.

The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
Holmes and Watson are visited by a man who claims to have been set up for a murder that he did not commit. It’s difficult to say anything about this one without spoiling it, but the ultimate twist in this story was very satisfying – it goes in a very different direction than you might expect.

The Adventure of the Dancing Men
This is probably one of the most iconic Sherlock Holmes stories, with Holmes’s client showing him a strange language made up of tiny dancing stick figures. Ultimately, it’s also one of the bleakest Holmes story, and much less whimsical than others, and much less than you’d expect this one to be, given the central theme and the title.

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
A woman seeks Holmes’s advice after finding herself being followed by a strange man on a bike as she rides to work. The character has a rather interesting backstory, and I liked the nuanced twists and turns – and to see Holmes stepping up against the mistreatment of women in his time.

The Adventure of the Priory School
In this story, Holmes and Watson investigate the disappearance of a student and his German master. This is another story where the characters have quite an intriguing backstory and there are twists that I never saw coming. One of my favourites in the collection.

The Adventure of Black Peter
Holmes is called in to investigate the murder of a horrible and violent man – his method of finding the killer is characteristically quirky, and the actual circumstances of the death are quite different to what may have been expected.

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
Holmes and Watson come up against an awful professional blackmailer. He’s one of the most unpleasant people in all the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the adventure that surrounds him is quite an atypical one. Holmes and Watson aren’t actually so important to the story this time, but I absolutely love what happens.

The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
In this one, Holmes is investigating the destruction of miniature busts of Napoleon. In this story in particular, I enjoyed reading about Holmes’s methods of investigating a problem that seems so illogical and incomprehensible, and then ultimately getting to the bottom of quite an interesting story.

The Adventure of the Three Students
During a visit to a university town, Holmes gets caught up in a scandal involving the potential leak of an upcoming exam. Together with Watson, they work to prevent a huge problem for the university – I liked this for being a smaller scale, slightly lower stakes story.

The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
In some respects, this story reminded me of the Norwood Builder – at least in terms of its revelation. However, while there are some superficial similarities, it still stands alone as a unique narrative, and one that has a character with a really interesting backstory.

The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter
Holmes and Watson get caught up in the world of university sports. After a key Cambridge rugby player disappears, Holmes is brought in to investigate. I always enjoy Holmes in a university setting, for some reason, and in the end, this turns out to be another very bleak story.

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
Following on from the last story, this was another one which is actually pretty sad. I quite like it though, as it has Holmes standing up for a woman who has been abused by a horrible partner. In some respects, I found it similar to The Solitary Cyclist in that it has Holmes opposing the misogyny of his time, and I always like to see that.

The Adventure of the Second Stain
A fantastic story that sees Holmes having to investigate the disappearance of some government documents which, if released to the general public, could have disastrous consequences for the country. The situation turns out to be very different from what it appeared and this is actually a very sweet story. I love seeing Holmes involved in political adventures, and the ultimate twist in this story was delightful.

The collection really ends on a high note and I think, all things considered, I probably like this just a little bit more than The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but maybe a smidgen less than The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. There are some fantastic stories here.

Rating: 9.3/10

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Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

In this book Reni Eddo-Lodge paints a very clear picture of racism in the UK, going into detail about the history from which it has grown. As someone who likes to stay well informed about this subject, so that I am well equipped to tackle it, I learned a number of things here – especially about racism in fairly recent history. As the author suggests, the fact that a lot of the things she writes about (e.g. the racist actions of the Bristol Omnibus Company, now known as First Buses) are relatively unknown among the general populace is a sign of the failings of our education system.

I thought the title felt a little bit like the bookish equivalent of clickbait. Other than the opening, where she talks about not wanting to talk to white people about race (even though she’s kind of indirectly doing so through this book), that doesn’t really come up throughout the book. She also writes about the decision as if it’s really shocking or controversial, but to me it feels like a fairly standard decision for people from marginalised groups to avoid talking about the discrimination they’ve faced when among those who haven’t experienced it – it just makes sense if you want to protect your mental health. On the other hand, I suppose there’s probably a significantly sized demographic who think this really is a shocking stance because they’re quite ignorant about the subject.

That was the only part that didn’t sit quite right with me – the rest was fantastic. Although, of course, when I say “fantastic” I mean, well-argued, informative, and insightful. The subject matter can often be extremely bleak, especially when covering police brutality, and even the murder of black people at the hands of racist police officers. If anyone ever thought that institutional racism in the police force is only a problem in America, they should definitely read this.

Importantly, she also highlights the racism that comes from so-called progressive groups – talking a lot about British feminism, and how it is very often angled at white women and the problems they face, rather than taking an intersectional view to help women of all skin colours. Looking to the mainstream feminist voices, this can definitely be true sometimes, though there are people like Laura Bates who certainly try to avoid that (and I believe she is mentioned specifically as an exception).

There seems to be two main points to the book – the first being to offer a cathartic voice of solidarity for anyone else who may have decided to give up on talking to white people about race, and the second being to highlight that white people have more to do in the battle against racism. I agree with both points, although think that the responsibility to stand up and tackle racism is not something every white person can do (potentially for lots of different health reasons or power dynamics), but the point still stands generally. All in all, it’s a book I’d recommend to all people who care about eliminating racism.

Rating: 8.6/10

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A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

This is the seventh Wheel of Time book, which I read almost back to back with the eighth – it’s a comment against both of them that I can’t easily remember which events happen in which books without checking a synopsis to remind myself.

I didn’t not enjoy this novel, but I feel that it’s generally moving in a direction I don’t enjoy so much. There’s a lot about Rand as the Dragon Reborn trying to expand his influence by combatting the Forsaken. He has Min with him more often this time, which is nice, because I kind of like her and she makes his scenes more enjoyable – however, they do also share a romance, which is kind of eye-rolling (everyone loves Rand) and it contains one of the stupidest sex scenes I’ve ever read.

As always, I was more interested in the goings on with the Aes Sedai. Here the faction in Salidar debates whether or not to return to the fold with the White Tower, which, of course, Egwene and Siuan are staunchly opposed to. Egwene as Amyrlin also changes up the dynamic a little, and as much as I felt the previous book just kind of made her Amyrlin pretty randomly without much explanation (and Egwene herself not seeming to question it) I was pleased that that was given more context here.

Something I enjoyed, which adds an element of tension to things, is that the temperature gets hotter for everyone as the novel goes on. The Dark One is effecting the climate, and so everyone has to deal with uncomfortable heat and the droughts and other problems that follow. It helps make everything feel more connected, and I like seeing how the world changes, even if it’s a relatively minor thing. Nynaeve and Elayne are both trying to find a solution to this in their portion of the story (along with Mat) and they end of encountering a group of women who can channel, but are separate from the White Tower.

All things considered, it wasn’t a bad installment (and I was glad Perrin and Faile weren’t in it) but it just didn’t captivate me quite as much as some of the previous ones. It feels like a while since there were any really clever or interesting developments, and unfortunately, I know this doesn’t get much better in the next book either… Even the relatively exciting bits, like the return of a certain character (which I won’t spoil) are handled in a quite an underwhelming way. I’m still entertained as I read, but it’s not at its peak.

Rating: 6.8/10

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Spider-Man/Deadpool Omnibus

Spider-Man and Deadpool are two of my favourite characters in the Marvel universe, so I was very curious about this volume. Marvel encompasses so many different types of story, and I feel that the adventures of Spider-Man feel much more rooted in reality than those of Deadpool, and I love crossovers that clash two very different feeling things.

There are quite a lot of different stories in this collection and I appreciated the variety – the first one sees Deadpool hired to assassinate Peter Parker, not knowing he is Spider-Man, while also being friends with Spider-Man. another has them sharing an adventure with Penn and Teller, one sees Deadpool appearing in a comic intentionally done in the style of the earliest Spider-Man comics, and my favourite has Spider-Man going down a darker, morally ambiguous path, while Deadpool starts to get more of sense of needing to do what’s right. In the midst of all that, they also clash with a character named Itsy Bitsy – the humanoid spider “daughter” of them both.

What I liked about this comic most of all is that it seems to go out of its ways to analyse the characters while comparing and contrasting them. Spider-Man and Deadpool are very different people and it’s interesting to see how they both respond to intense situations – you get a good sense of who each of them are at their core, and I loved that. Their relationship is explored in a lot of detail too, and the bond between them is one that I really felt – for me, that’s one of the most important things for keeping me invested in a story. They’re great together and I always enjoyed their semi-playful bickering, though not as much as I love the moments of true affection.

The only problem with this comic is that it is not really accessible to people who don’t have a pretty detailed knowledge of the Marvel universe. I’ve read some Deadpool and Spider-Man comics before, and I thought that I would know enough to fare well, but there were quite a lot of references to things, and aspects of their lives that you’re supposed to be familiar with, but I just wasn’t. This sometimes left me feeling alienated and confused. It did what I suppose it’s supposed to do – made me want to read more so that I could understand it, but it was a bit off-putting. I suppose I shouldn’t complain though – it was obviously written with an audience who is better versed in Marvel than me. Occasionally, it felt just a little too silly as well, not to a large degree, but enough to weaken my immersion (but what do I expect from crossover comics?)

Though I wish that I could have chosen a slightly more accessible crossover between Spider-Man and Deadpool, or perhaps that I had just read more comics about both characters first (they already know each other at the start), I still had a lot of fun reading this comic, and there was some genuine emotion and character development here. It was also pretty funny too (with a particularly hilarious Tommy Wiseau joke). I can’t recommend it to casual readers, but huge fans of the two characters will love it.

Rating: 7.7/10

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Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

I was aware of the Everyday Sexism project from its very earliest days. For those who are unfamiliar, Laura Bates was using both the Everyday Sexism website and its social media platforms to raise awareness for the misogyny that women faced every single day of their lives, but which otherwise might not get much attention.

A lot of what the project talked about in its early days was street harassment and it went a long way towards bringing this to the attention of otherwise oblivious men, and of highlighting how harmful such behaviour can be – but that wasn’t all that was covered, and that isn’t all the book covers either. Everyday Sexism looks at the ways in which misogyny has infiltrated practically every aspect of our lives, and sometimes in insidious ways.

Throughout the book, statements submitted to the original website are included, which gives everything a very direct, human perspective. For example, she’ll write about how many employers continue to discriminate against female staff despite it being illegal, due to the fact that most workers won’t be able to afford to take their employer to court, and then she’ll back it up with examples.

The book is admittedly mostly UK-focused (and she is a UK writer, so it makes sense), but I think she does a fantastic job of illuminating the breadth of the problem. From the sickening and dehumanising levels of misogyny found in newspapers like The Sun, through to the appalling statements made by even so-called progressive politicians, the author does a fantastic job of underlining how deeply rooted this really is – but by tying it into the submissions to her project, she really strongly reinforces that this is ruining people’s lives and isn’t just an academic matter.

If you’re looking for an entry-point for feminist reading, this is probably the best place to start. I have been very conscious of the sexism in our world for many years now, but she made an excellent point that I had never considered before – namely, that sexism is the form of prejudice that is most widely considered acceptable, with different forms of misogyny arising from countless public figures, and there rarely being any substantial consequences for them. Heavily recommended.

Rating: 9.3/10

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Out of Office by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen

I am a huge advocate for employers letting their employees work from home whenever it’s possible, and so I was naturally very curious about this book. Not only does it look at the many different ways that businesses have approached home working since the pandemic, but it also explores the deeper history of workplace developments and how new things that should have made life easier for workers, have sometimes been twisted so that they actually make things harder. I learned a lot from it.

The authors talk about how home working has loads of benefits: better work-life balance for employees and so better mental health, no expensive commutes and so more money too, a broader talent pool for employers, and more accessibility for those who wouldn’t be able to come into an office for health reasons. To me, it’s obvious that this is the way forward for work, and it’s great to see it being advocated through this book.

Although it also raises things that we need to be conscious of, because home working does actually pose a bit of a risk to workers. For example, there are some employers who have grown to expect more from employees when they are working from home, arguing that they have no reason not to check work emails when they are at home and out of hours, because they still have access to their work computers. The lines become blurred and more and more work is then expected of people. There are also instances of work places not making their offices accessible, because they think allowing home working is an easy accessibility catch-all. Meanwhile, it also raises that remote employees can often be seen as kind of second class citizens and be passed over for promotions and other opportunities, in favour of those who come in.

It was a really interesting analysis and one that reinforces that we should be striving for a world where people’s entire existence is not filled by the necessity of work. Home working is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Rating: 8.4/10

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New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

When I started reading Twilight, I did so with extremely low expectations. I only ever heard about it mentioned in the context of being one of the worst things ever written. As it happens though, I thought it was okay. Sure, Edward is a complete loser who doesn’t deserve Bella’s love, but he had his moments, and I thought that vampirism was explored interestingly enough, and that Bella was comically endearing in the way that she looked down on all the other teenagers (even if that would be annoying in real life).

New Moon, was quite a contrast to the first book because Edward, and indeed the whole Cullen family, are not present for most of the story. Though I missed the vampirism, I actually really appreciated the change in direction here. With Edward gone, Bella mourns their relationship and ends up trying to reintegrate into normal teenage life again. She even starts to form a bond with Jacob Black (who appeared in the first book) and I actually thought the two of them were pretty cute together.

Unlike Edward, Jacob makes Bella feel relaxed, is laid-back, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Their relationship felt much more real, and though it didn’t seem to be a romantic connection on Bella’s part, I was really rooting for the two of them because I was invested in their friendship and felt that they had the capacity to enhance each others lives. It was a lovely story about overcoming loss and finding comfort in new connections… at least at first.

After a while, Jacob starts to becoming strangely aloof and disrespectful towards Bella, just like Edward. I won’t spoil it, but a new supernatural element is introduced. There’s a lot of mystery about what happened to Jacob, and as I didn’t really know, I found this quite compelling and intriguing. I really wanted the rift between them to be healed, which I guess shows that Stephenie Meyer can make a compelling relationship, even if she didn’t do it with Edward.

Sadly, I thought the ending was extremely disappointing. I guess, partially, it was just a case of things not turning out the way I wanted them to turn out. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that even though I already thought Edward was a predatory loser in the first book, by the end of this one my respect for him had plummeted even lower. He does not deserve Bella’s love, and I just felt it reinforced toxic behaviours that are already really prevalent in our society.

In the end, because I was so disappointed by the final 25% or so of the book, I don’t know if I really liked this any more than the first one. It’s got some weird eye-rolling religious stuff rather shoe-horned in as well, which left a bit of a sour taste for me. I thought the book had the capacity to go in a pretty interesting direction, but didn’t really live up to it. I still enjoyed it overall, but I’m not left keen to read the next one.

Rating: 6.6/10

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