Unsurprisingly taking full advantage of the medium’s lack of financial restraints, Andrew Cartmel’s opening to “Operation Volcano” is undeniably packed with just the sort of mind-blowing ‘space-opera’ visuals which would have had the Eighties television series’ producer John Nathan-Turner furiously scratching out the scene in the screenplay with a big red pen so as to desperately ensure the adventure’s cost remained well within budget. However, whilst such an Arthur C. Clarke inspired look to “the first full-length comic story starring the Seventh Doctor since Cat and Mouse in 2013” may well have seemed a great idea on paper, the publication’s disconcerting jump from the Australian desert in 1967 to high Earth orbit in 2029, and then back to an earlier time in South Australia as Rachel and Allison investigate a “most remarkable cave system”, must arguably have caused its 3,944 readers a somewhat disorientating experience.
Fortunately though, by the time the titular character and Ace finally meet up with Group Captain Ian Gilmore in the Bodleian Library, the British author would appear to have got his plot’s overly-enthusiastic scope more under control, and resultantly what follows is far more in line with what one might have expected from the science fiction programme’s former script editor. Indeed, as the “inquisitive explorer” and his “trusted companion” negotiate the deadly radioactivity of the Maralinga nuclear weapons test site, and encounter murderous spies along with a giant extra-terrestrial spaceship, this lavish-looking forty-four page periodical increasingly feels like a genuine story literally plucked out of Sylvester McCoy’s tenure as the Time Lord.
Admittedly, Cartmel’s annoying hops forward to the European Space Agency’s Kourou Launch Facilities in French Guiana on April 16th 2029, where an extremely long-haired Royal Air Force officer refuses to have his “mighty mane” trimmed, does debatably disrupt both the flow of his narrative, as well as the comic’s classic era ambience. But such interruptions are somewhat forgivable once Ace inadvertently discovers that Daku Darana and Jimmy Benforado are enemy secret agents, and has to literally fight for her life until the Australian military party’s counter-espionage expert puts a bullet in the murderous Adelaide Herald reporter; “Yeah, nice work, Cookie. But next time get here a bit sooner, eh?”
Still, infinitely less forgivable is this book’s secondary tale “Hill Of Beans”, which whilst written as a direct sequel to “The Greatest Show In The Galaxy”, is far more noticeable for having Mags the Werewolf herself, Jessica Martin, penciling as its (guest) artist. Sadly, such an innovative ‘sales pitch’ really doesn’t do Richard Dinnick’s already dire script any justice whatsoever, and instead just provides this super over-sized book with a dismally disappointing ending which resembles a quality not dissimilar to that seen in hundreds of amateur-drawn fanzines…