Thursday, June 12, 2008

TV Comic Action In Exile 8: Awkward Continuation!

The new logo... like the new Doctor, it's barely noticeable...

The Arkwood Experiments! by Roger Noel Cook and John Canning - 6 episodes

This isn't apple juice! IT'S URINE RE-CYC!!

Official Plot Synopsis:
Given a new body and sent on a final journey by the agents of the Time Lords, the Dr Who finds himself at Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart's organization UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). In order to obtain the various 'spares' he needs to repair the damaged Tardis, the Doctor agrees to join UNIT. The Brigadier supplies the Doctor with expensive parts in return for the use of his services, and together they stumble onto a most amazing mystery: at a small zoo usually meek and mild animals like deer, gazelles and penguins have turned into raging beasts while lions and tigers have become as tame as pussy cats. Terror reigns when a mass of savage parrots burst from their aviary. Dr Who latches onto a vital clue: evidently a party of school boys had visited the zoo just before the animals changed character! Dr Who and the Brigadier arrive at Arkwood Private School to discover there has been a savage fight, started by the meekest boy in the school! A clever but wicked ten-year-old, Cedric Matthews, has produced a change drug and uses it to turn a whole class of boys into violent hooligans...

That’s Kind of Cool:
Well. Um. The Third Doctor is captured pretty well, considering how little he’s actually in the story. Although they clearly haven’t seen any of the episodes, he comes across as quite different to his predecessor – he’s older, tired, impatient and never smiles. He looks so sad thinking about his pre-exile days, a world away from the Second Doctor’s cheerful holiday anecdotes. What's more, his new face means he's had to abandon his carefree celebrity life at the Grange Hotel, and whatever friends he had (he can't even check in on Glenlock-Hogan without giving the poor guy a total nervous breakdown), so he's been left at square one thanks to the Time Lords and left with nothing else but UNIT to keep him going.

The Doctor muses on happier times, other places, and better plots.

The Brigadier being the one to drag the Doctor into the plot is a much better contrivance than anything else so far, and it’s interesting that the new Doctor is pitted up against reckless teenagers (as in The Tearaways!), ferocious animals and saves the day by using his previous unseen adventures and a chemistry (The Brotherhood). The Doctor visiting a zoo and a school follows the TV Comic tradition of putting the Doctor in kid-oriented situation, much closer to the real world than the actual Season 7.

You Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me:
After all the effort done by The Night Walkers to segue perfectly into Spearhead from Space, this story throws that out the window with the newly-regenerated Doctor landing in UNIT HQ and immediately offering his services to the Brigadier - and all of it off-screen. No Bessie, no Liz, no clue. Why the hell would UNIT be called to deal with events at the zoo when it’s just a case of rather odd animal behavior with no casualties or signs of being anything worth the senior commander and his scientific advisor while not telling the Doctor anything. In fact, UNIT seems to consist solely of the Brigadier, the Doctor and a jeep. Needless to say, neither of them have any personality outside the initial exchange (“Come to the zoo now!” “Fuck you, Brigadier!”) and it’s not remotely like Season 7... the Brigadier has the wrong uniform on for a start!

The new, cussing Doctor in the harder, grittier and more adult version of Doctor Who for the 1970s - it's so grown-up you can barely recognize it!

And as for Cecil Matthews has to be the stupidest ‘unusually advanced’ student ever. He seriously seems to think that by turning boys of his own age – no one over ten years old or under it – into a psychotic mob can allow him to take over the whole world. For a start, there’s no reason why a bunch of violently keyed-up schoolboys will actually obey any orders of his (not that he gives any beyond “get them!”), and he hasn’t considered that his army can’t stop a tank or a bullet or sleeping gas. He has no plan for what to do with the local village beyond ‘taking it’, and has decided to take on this operation with UNIT in spitting distance. Then he gives his drug to all the animals in the zoo, just to make sure they get interested. It’s also odd that there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the story older than Cecil and younger than the Brigadier, so his army overcomes a bunch of over-fifty shopkeepers and old ladies... and then what? The Brigadier only gets the police involved after the Doctor has gassed them all...

Since Specs got all the attention, it was only a matter of time before his dimwitted twin brother finally succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force.

And finally, what the hell is this drug, anyway? How does it turn meek animals into ferocious and easily-lead psychopaths? Is it some kind of hormone? If so, why do already-aggressive minds become incredibly docile? What drug acts as a Jekyll-and-Hyde on personalities? And given that it does, why does the Doctor have to create his pacification gas – just give all the schoolkids another dose of the drugs and it will cancel out their rage!

And what happened to the flock of parrots? Did they end up in The Birds or something?

Stupid Mistakes:
Why does the zookeeper feeding the parrots call them ‘pests’? Part of the job description of working in a zoo is actually liking the animals?

How did Cecil give his drugs to all the animals without anyone noticing he was feeding them ‘sugar lumps’? Surely they should have spotted the boy offering his hand to the lions? Why does he test his drug on the guinea pig AFTER using it at the zoo? How does the zoo animals help his scheme? Does he think he can control all the birds and gazelles?

The only part of the story anyone remembers. Least of all Doctor Who Classic Comics.

While Thompson probably would be given a caning after going nuts, it beggars belief that the teachers wouldn’t at least ask WHY he became so violent – if only to make sure none of the other children snapped as well?

Cedric wants a hundred psycho schoolkids to cause chaos... but only gives the drug to a ‘small unit’. Which he then uses to lead the revolution. Instead of spiking the water supply or something like that...

If the Doctor’s gas is as powerful as he says, he may have turned all the kids into totally anger-less passive servants – and since it works on Cecil too, that means he effectively lobotomized a whole class! Even if the gas is supposed to be temporary a) the Doctor’s memory is faulty, so the gas might not be composed correctly enough to wear off b) they’ll all turn psychotic the moment it does.

Why is Cedric Matthews taken to a detention centre when he’s drugged like the others and harmless? If his chemistry set is at home, what has happened to his parents? And why does the Brigadier let the police cart off the dangerous personality-changing drugs?

He REALLY hasn't thought this through...

Words of Wisdom:
“WHAT?!” - The Third Doctor's first words in TV Comic. Mind you, it's not up against much competition from the First, Second and Fourth Doctors (“You must be John and Gillian. How nice to meet you!”, “What a barren place! I'm glad I told the children to stay inside the TARDIS!” and “You're not the only one, Sarah-Jane. I have a similar problem when I shave each day!” respectively).

It was the Brigadier's keen powers of observation that made him the obvious choice to run the United Kingdom branch of UNIT.

“He’s gone as meek as a pussy!” – The Zookeeper. Talking about a panther. Let us move on.

“Excellent!” – Cedric Matthews does his Cyberleader impression. Badly.

“I’m afraid I won’t put up with this sort of thing even in your case, Thompson. It’s the cane for you, m’boy.” – The Headmaster proves not only is he ridiculously old fashioned, he’s also horrifically stupid...

“The parrots have flown off towards town. I dread to think of the terror they’ll cause there!” – The Zookeeper again. Odd how that plot idea is never actually explored...


“Good gracious! A great gang of hooligans!” “Hooligans! Coming this way! Prepare to defend yourselves!” “Our shops are in danger! These little tearaways have to be stopped!” “AR!” – The villagers react to the Arkwood Uprising with credible passion. Hands up if you care about them at all.

“We’re the only barrier between hundreds of innocent villagers and these little savages!” – Um, yeah, thanks for that, Brigadier, we really needed you to tell us that. Again.

“THREE CHEERS FOR DR. WHO!” – Obviously “Doctor John Smith” hasn’t taken off as a pseudonym yet.

Frobisher makes his first appearance in Doctor Who as a non-speaking villanous extra. Just like John Levine in The Moonbase.

  1. The ferocious parrots in the aviary break loose and swarm towards the Doctor and the Brigadier. Can Dr. Who and the Brigadier escape the frenzied parrots? See next week!
  2. Cedric Matthews plots the conquest of the world. As you do. Next week the takeover of the ten-year-olds begins!
  3. The Doctor sees Thompson being restrainted and muses that they have got to Arkwood Private just in time. Next week: wild ten-year-olds on the rampage.
  4. “Trample them and all other adults who stand in our way!” screams Cedric as the mob knocks over the Doctor and the Headmaster as they head for the exit.
  5. The Brigadier and the schoolmasters battered down by the mob as they finally break out of the school. Next week the savage ten-year-olds attack the village!
  6. The schoolboys cheer the Doctor as the headmaster thanks him for saving the village. A new all-action adventure with Dr. Who starts next week: The Multi-Mobile!

Empty Child Karma. Steve Moffat probably read this to take away the terror of marching window dummies. And I bet it worked, too.

At the End of the Day:
A disappointment. The Night Walkers was half the length with twice the plot, three times the atmosphere and a whole world of characterization compared to this. There are no personalities and the plot goes from ‘wild birds’ to ‘wild kids’ and then the Doctor gasses them with some nerve gas he concocts for a rainy day. If anything, this story is more offensive to the readers than The Tearaways, with children shown to be seen and not heard and anyone who says otherwise is obvious a deranged freak out to conquer the world. I dare say many would have preferred the revolution to succeed, as the adults are shown to be stupid, prejudiced and paranoid. The fact that a kid not dissimilar to Cedric was portrayed as a hero and companion of the Doctor only two stories ago, shows that this could have been a great story, even by TV Comic standards. Maybe they wanted to follow The Twin Dilemma approach of not overshadowing a new Doctor and format, but neither hardly appear. A quick tinkering could easy have had the Second Doctor (probably as part of a lion-taming telethon) visit the zoo and have the keeper as his companion-expository-device, and there’s a real sense of resentment to this – like being forced to go back to school after the holidays. A miserable, almost mute Doctor and an unengaging retarded plot make this the worst comic book debut of any Doctor. Even The Extortioner was better than this!

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