Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Doctor Who - What *does* IDW stand for, anyway?

DOCTOR WHO - THE IDW COMICS

Now that I've lost everything to you
You say you "wanna start something new"
But if you wanna leave, take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there's a lot of bad and beware...


After three years, it really is about time I actually reviewed these things...


AGENT PROVOCATEUR
(set between Human Nature and Blink... I think...)

"We were being chased by robots! ...somehow that sounded scarier in my head..."

The range gets off to a good start with the pages reprinted above: a long, Superman-style prologue showing the destruction of Gallifrey and its only surviving child... a complete foam-at-the-mouth loony with the mind of a six year old in charge of a goddamned time machine! No pompous crap about Time's Champion or the Legacy of Rassilon, just a guy who makes the entire cast of glee look well-adjusted and described in the story as "John Cleese overdosed on caffiene". Imagine if the Earth was destroyed and Russell Brand was the only human left - simultaneously ironic, hilarious, embarassing yet awesome.

It's immediately obvious this comic isn't quite fitting in to the parent series. The Tenth Doctor and Martha have no angst, no unrequieted love, no Rose Tyler references. They're an endeering pair of kids rip-snorting through time and space having so much fun it boggles my tiny human mind - and its the endearing, Season-17-like fun and adventure rather than the smack-those-bitches-down of Tennant's first year. It's like the angst-free Infinite Quest, only slightly-less-authentic-feeling.

The first episode has the Doctor and Martha check out a deep space milshake bar to get the best chocolate milkshake in existence, their enthusiasm so infectious it makes me (something of a chocolate hater) want to break the habit of a lifetime and ask for one myself. While there they meat a very anxious shape-shifter who is being hunted by a Sycorax so huge and musclebound it's somewhere between scary and ridiculous. The Sycorax hunts down the last surviving member of a race and sells it to the highest bidder, occasionally passing off afforementioned shape-shifters as targets when the genuine one is extinct (a rather confusing and badly-explained plot point that doesn't add much... or indeed anything).

Wasting no time, the Doctor sacrifices his still-new sonic screwdriver to first shatter the Sycorax's sword and then take over his spaceship of last-survivor-prisoners and return them home. The Doctor and Martha then bugger off, bored, and arrive outside Big Ben where the Doctor suddenly sees something horrible!

What is this hideous sight? We never find out as episode two begins with the Doc and Martha J chilling out in 1974 England, being stalked by a small black cat as they go clothes shopping (the sight of the Tenth Doctor voguing in the Third's outfit is slightly undermined by my sneaking suspicion that it's actually an Austin Powers gag). The random mention of Kolpasha - the fashion centre of the universe and specifically where the Sixth Doctor got his threads from, as seen in the Season 17 comic Victims - is the first hint that Garry Russell is actually writing this. Well, bar his name in the credits, anyroads.

Things go a bit Goodies as the black cat turns Kitten-Kong behemoth made out of sand, causes a few panels of chaos and - the moment the TARDIS crew notice - vanishes. "Blimey we're good," says Martha, her and the Doctor continuing to act like Daria and Jane with a TARDIS. Deciding to visit a gallery of sand sculptures, you know, just in case there might be some connection. The fact all the exhibits are clearly ordinary members of the public magically transformed into sand-statues is a slighty dodgy clue. Then the cat turns up and Martha gets turned into a statue herself.

Don't think I'm skipping details here, because storytelling starts to slide around this point and I'm struggling to make sense. This is probably why this issue is the only one I actually bought (dude, half the comic is literally ads for other comics...). Anyway, it turns out that the two owners of the gallery were Ancient Egyptians who got into trouble with Bubastion - that's the evil black cat - who was an alien guardian sent by the Shadow Proclamation to Earth to help humanity advance. As a result, the Pharaoh's daughter and her mate have been left immortal nutjobs with the ability to turn people into sand. For some reason. When it looks like they're going to help the Doctor, Bubastion the space cat turns THEM into sand statues as well.

The cat reveals that he is a Time War refugee and got the two Egyptions to go on their killing spree to draw the Doctor out. The Doctor promises to help the cat if he releases all the humans, the cat does (except for the Egyptians who crumble to dust insisting that the cat is actually evil and not to be trusted) and the Doctor and Martha head off to the TARDIS to find the cat's homeworld. Except they don't take the cat with them. They seem to have completely forgotten the promise. So has the cat. Plus whole planetary populations are vanishing from their worlds (kinda like The Stolen Earth) and the cat is part of a gang of Lovecraftian monsters who intend to use the Doctor as the agent of the title.

Basically, this comic was a confusing waste of time and I refused to buy another, preferring them as crisp CBR downloads. Oh yeah.

Onto episode three, a New Earth prequel. It's New Year's Eve, 4.9 Billion and on the unimaginately-named planet of Felinus, the Cat People are bitching that they get taken over by the Earth Empire. Some cats are not pleased by this when suddenly terrorist bombing happening type things. The Doctor and Martha split up to help the injured (one of whom knows who Martha Jones is... for some reason...), when Martha gets put into protective custody and exposited at: turns out that Neanderthal-like cat savages live outside the gleaming city, deeply pissed off at human intervention and wanting a jihad before the Earth Empire takes over Felinus at midnight. Whereupon the cat savages terrorists will lower the forcefield and bat shit will go down. Because Bubastion the space cat and his panthoen of bastards are doing this for fun and profit.

At midnight, giant mecha cats with frikken laser beams out of their eyes storm the city. As you do. Oh, and these are supposed to look like vengeful spirits or something. Because Bubastion (who isn't a cat but just looks a bit like one) wants to take over Felinus as a base of operatations. But then one of the cultists switches off all the giant mechas and Bubastion buggers off after a cryptic warning, seemingly having absolutely sod all interest in the fact his plans are screwed. He then goes and spills the beans about the pantheon manipulating the Doctor. What a moron. Also this week, the fanwank gets into overdrive with references to Gridlock, The Lazarus Experiment, The Shakespeare Code, Time Lash, Terror of the Zygons, Full Circle, oh, and someone called Townsend.

Onto part four, and some new, slighly-less psycho artwork. After piss-farting about with the TARDIS antigravity, the Doctor and Martha get drawn to one of those mysteriously-deserted planets and get attacked by zombie-like robots shouting for Martha's flesh. This is followed by a genuinely (and intentionally) painful scene in an elevator where Martha idly bitches about Rose, shattering the cheerful grin the Doctor's had for the last three issues. Mind you, makes a change from the Doctor absent-mindedly guilt-tripping Martha...

Did I mention each planet leaves one survivor? Well, the Doctor and Martha meet the local one, having a video conference with all the other survivors. The Doctor immediately accuses "his" survivor of being a lying bastard. And one of the other survivors is a lying bastard. Because (did I mention this is INCREDIBLY bad in terms of story structure?) there are eleven planets that have been "zapped" but only ten of them in a freaky space alignment or something. The Doctor works this out by strutting through a hologram of the floating planets. Yes, just like The Stolen Earth. Is there HONESTLY the sort of quality control we're promised from BBC Wales? Or do they steal all their ideas from other media?

The androids try and capture the nearest lying bastard, who blows them all up and sends the Doctor and Martha through a wormhole under orders to capture "the leash" and in return they'll be allowed to go back to the TARDIS. OK, I really don't understand this bit, as the Doctor and Martha somehow announce the TARDIS has been stolen when they're in an empty room nowhere near where they left the damn thing! Oh, and this ISN'T part of the Pantheon's plan.

Issue five... this increasingly poorly-drawn story draws towards a conclusion. The Doctor and Martha get spat out onto an English beach in Ainsworth, 1957, where some random guy shoots Martha in the head. The Doctor carries her half a mile to an MOD building that is, for some reason, full of nurses who have very good experience with head wounds. Calling himself Harry Sullivan, the Doctor announces he's giving the place a surprise inspection. With a bit of fanservice, clad only in her underwear, Martha immediately accuses her nurse of being an alien spy. Christ, I am getting sick of that plot twist that happens twice an episode. Yes, Martha's right and the alien spy is in fact the cat person that recognized Martha on Felinus (before dying). It's actually a NICE member of the Pantheon of Bastards, a shape shifter with a stalker-like crush on Martha J. Well, THAT explains everything... not.

Meanwhile, the Doctor visits the head of the MOD production and finds it full of wierd space technology. Epic continuity fail - the Doctor says his cat person adventure occured in the 51st century. Instead of the year 5 billion. Russell, you n00b! Where was I? So, the Pantheon were organized to stop a massive extra-universal demon break the walls of reality. But it has managed it. And they need a hero to stop it by sacrificing their life: ie, the Doctor. One problem, their plan relied on lying bastard # 1 who sent the Doc and Martha here against orders. Lying bastard then turns up and aims a sonic canon at our heroes. Cause he's insane.

Onto the final part, mostly told in flashback from the middle of a warzone because there simply wasn't enough space in the last FIVE ISSUES to do it justice. The Doctor effortlessly switches off the sonic canon with his sonic screwdriver, so Lying Bastard teleports away with the usual Dr. Claw "NEXT TIME!!" threats and stuff. Our heroes then discuss Martha's addiction to ER for a bit. Then the Doctor finally confronts the Pantheon, calls them all a bunch of fuckwits, explains the entire plot twice, and then decides to go and help stop the demon because... would you believe it... this monster from outside reality CAN BE STOPPED BY A SONIC SCREWDRIVER! But this is still a suicide mission and, after discussing her plans for the Time Lord's bollocks (you think I'm joking don't you, you innocent people you...) the Doctor and Martha go ahead.

Why were all those people kidnapped from the planets? Not entirely sure. It creates a psychic wave of panic that can be used as a weapon but I dunno if it's FOR or AGAINST the monster. Either way, the Doctor and the pantheon run across a quarry towards Lying Bastard # 1, and after he's massacred some poor sods, kill him, steal his gun, shoot the monster. The End. Literally. The End. A couple of hastily-drawn panels about how everything is sorted, which doesn't balance much with the HUGE amount of detail of one of the Pantheon plotting to kill the Doctor. Did this go anywhere?

There HAS to be a better way to tell the story than the one we were lumbered with. A waste of a story arc. A waste of paper. The massive injection of angst and constant changing of artists was rubbish too. Frankly, only the first issue was worth reading. The rest, bar some rather funny gags, are completely disposable. The whole "stolen planets to fuel master plan over universal breach" was done WAY better by RTD. And HE did a particularly crab job. That's how rubbish and unsatisfying this ends up. Still, you hire the bloke who wrote The Next Life.

What did we expect?



THE FORGOTTEN


(between Journey's End and The Next Doctor)

"What happened to me? That's easy. The Time War happened. I saw Arcadia destroyed. I laughed in the face of the Nightmare Child. And I saw Gallifrey sacrificed, burned when the Cruciform fell. I turned the key in the lock. I doomed them all."

Well, after that crushing disappointment and exercise in wasting my time, what could be better than a massive fanwank extravaganza with all ten Doctors?! Yes, it does turn out to be crap. How on Earth did you possibly guess?

The first chapter, Amputation, is set between The Keys of Marinus and The Aztecs. Charmingly depicted in sepia, the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in a pyramid under construction and, mistaken for godly beings, get rushed to meet the Pharoah. Two evil conspirators decide this will be the perfect distraction to kill the Pharoah with a poison dart, only for it to accidentally imbed itself in the Doctor's walking stick. The TARDIS crew leg it.

It's not much but it's only eight pages long. The characters are drawn faithfully but not necessarily in terms of personality. The First Doctor isn't the stubborn bastard from his early stories but the badass grandpa of his later years, the type that Vicki hung round with beating the crap out of assassins, correcting people's mistakes and treating royalty with no respect whatsoever. The bit where he tells Barbara off for not knowing about the events of Pyramids of Mars is the only blatant anachronism.

I don't know if it's down to the writer or the fact it's supposed to be the Tenth Doctor retelling the story, but there seems a bit too much wisecracking going on, with Ian's sole personality trait being him bitching about the Doctor. That's better than Susan though, who simply stands around being more cute than Carole Ann Ford was on TV. I suppose trying to distill an era into a NuWho friendly format was going to cause these sort of problems, but it begs the question of why the hell try it in the first place? HUH?

Onto Renewal, with the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. Seemingly set at the end of their time together, this black and white adventure has the trio arrive in a space station under siege from nasty telepathic alien snakes. Sneaking through an air vent into some control room or other, the Doctor plays the recorder and causes all the alien snakes to fall over.

The slight dodginess of the characters cranks up to 11 here. The Second Doctor is almost unrecognizeable, an arrogant, sarcastic know-it-all who at no point panics, improvises, or in any way acts like Patrick Troughton's incarnation. Even the Flanderized Reunion Second Doctors were better than this. Zoe acts more like DoctorDonna than her awkward teen genius, more interested in showing off than saving the day and to be honest far too happy and huggy to be the girl I remember. Jamie has a Scottish accent and runs into danger a bit. He is nothing else.

This less-than-a-parody of Season Six reaches a clear nadir when Jamie decides to sing Jon Pertwee's "I Am The Doctor", leading the Second Doctor to mutter "I hate that song!" under his breathe. I have tried numerous occasions but I can't visualize the Second Doctor EVER saying that sentence about ANYTHING. Epic fail in all but artwork. Truly, truly disappointing - did this guy base the story on the 1970s Annual rather than the actual episodes?

Finally into colour, with an adventure between The Daemons and The Sea Devils. A truly pathetic plot has the Doctor, Jo and the Brigadier being chased in Bessie by a greyhound-shaped alien in a War of the Worlds tripod. The Brigadier blows it up with a bazooka. The Doctor uses a sonic screwdriver. The end.

This is arguably worse than the previous tale. The likenesses are terrible, and I assumed Jo was a badly-drawn Liz. The characters have the banter of a 21st century sitcom, but at least seem to have the right personalities. There's something truly badass when the Brigadier dubs a bazooka his "sonic screwdriver" because it solves problems incredibly quickly and efficiently. But, no matter how funny it is (the Brig murmuring "Kill me now Yates" when the Third Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow), it's terrible as any kind of homage to the era. When did they ever deal with silliness like dogs with laser beams?! Paying lip service to the Master isn't good enough, and no doubt confused a lot of newbies wondering who the hell this mysterious "he" to blame for everything is. The author should hang their head in shame for this. Why do a Third Doctor story if you have no clue how the era works? Did this guy base these missing adventures on something he one read on wikipedia?!

Next, Misdirection, is set between City of Death and The Creature from the Pit. And it just gets worse and worse. The artist is drawing Tom Baker too old and fat for Season 17, wearing his Season 12 outfit and some Manga blonde for Romana who acts like her first incarnation only with far too much colloquial slang ("Does the randomizer only got five settings or something?"). Her temper tantrum when the Doctor grins like an idiot, ranting about how she wants to go back to Gallifrey... well, I almost stopped reading. The Fourth Doctor is in character - mind you, is that something to be impressed by? - but he talks far too much and never lets Romana get a word in edgeways.

The plot? Returning to 1900 Paris, the Doctor and Romana spot a street mime jump through a wormhole in the middle of the street. So they jump through it after him and arrive in the catacombs under the city with a bunch of soldiers from 1810. They chase after the mime who leads them to a giant minotaur... in a beret. The mime leads people to the minotaur so it can eat them, but it will let them go if they answer a very rubbish Sphynx-like riddle. Not that Romana can, of course. But the Doctor opens the door to the catacomb and the mime and the minotaur explode for no readily explained reason.

Well, some real imagination went in there, didn't it boys and girls?

Still, at least its ripping off of City of Death and Horns of Nimon endeavoured to evoke Season 17. Sod all occurs in the next chapter, which has the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough (between The Kings Demons and The Five Doctors) staying at the old house at Allen Road when Judoon invade. To put that in perspective, that's like a story where the Third Doctor and Jo visit the Powell Estate and meet the Saturnynians. The Judoon want some old nicknack so the Doctor gives them a cricket ball, using the exact same sleight-of-hand trick he used in the previous story. The Fifth Doctor is far too much of a sarcastic action hero, even more than Time Crash, while Tegan does nothing more than wander around looking like a punk and saying she's Australian (her hugging the Doctor is a bit wrong too). But much better than poor Turlough, the comedy coward who couldn't pass for a human being if he tried and even the Doctor takes the piss out of him every single chance he gets. This story treats the regulars with contempt unrivaled until The Kingmaker redefined Peri as a non-functionally-retarded teenage mum and part-time lesbian. For the laughs. The Judoon get better treatment...

Survival next, for the Sixth Doctor and Peri set between The Two Doctors and TimeLash. For once, the poor characterization actually works in favor. Peri and the Sixth Doctor are the best of friends, despite the latter acting like an utter loon and pointing a gun at her head. They'll do anything for each other, and woe betide anyone who gets in the way. Even the truly rubbish idea of putting the Sixth Doctor in a trial room drama works since the Doctor is the lawyer for the defense (Peri) rather than the prosecutor, and can actually fix problems rather than making them worse.

Anyway, Peri is minding her own business on an alien planet when some passing guy forces a gun into her hand. The gun goes off and a passerby falls dead. Peri's put on trial for murder but Old Sixie is on da case! He soon works out that the gun worked on quantum technology and thus could assassinate the victim no matter where it was pointed, and Peri is being used as a pansy!

The only real failure is the artists' rendering of Peri. Apart from the fact she's depicted as borderline flat chested, they don't even get the face right! Tut tut. And she's in that cute headband too...

Next, possibly the most forgettable of the lot, is the Seventh Doctor and Ace (between Dragonfire and Rememberance of the Daleks) visiting a wartorn planet off-limits to Time Lords. However, someone has given one side a Gallifreyan bioweapon, so the Doctor is determined to restore the balance by providing some cure hidden in his umbrella. The End.

Yeah, I thought it was a bit weak too. The Seventh Doctor and Ace are depicted quite well in both art and scripting, but they don't do much. There's a couple of line foreshadowing psychic paper and the Doctor being President Elect, but it's almost like this was written at the last moment to fill a gap. Ironic, what with it being the best written of all the stories so far.

And onto Revelation! Oh, at long last, the Eighth Doctor In The Time War story we've all been waiting for! And... it's awful. Spectacularly awful. The Eighth Doctor looks more like Sukozu from Farscape in a cravat than Paul McGann. He doesn't talk like any version of the Eighth Doctor I know of either, like some Mark Gatiss parody of a parody. And the bit where the Doctor tries to retcon the movie by claiming the whole "half-human" thing was a trick to fool the Master with a chameleon arch is... is... FUCK IT! WHAT KIND OF IDIOT CAME UP WITH SHIT LIKE THIS?!

Calm down.

OK. It's the Time War. The Doctor has decided to build a giant demat gun to wipe the entire Dalek race from the universe. Um, one problem, he needs the Great Key of Rassilon to do that and a bunch of robots on a jungle planet in the middle of the war zone have it. The Doctor lets himself get captured by the robots and locked in a prison with a Sea Devil and a Malmooth (like Chantho). After a month of sitting on his arse playing "Chan-Scissors-Paper-Rock-Tir", the Doctor stages a breakout and gets the Great Key. The end.

Now, you might think a glimpse into the Time War with no Daleks, Time Lords or indeed anything remotely interesting might count as lameness personified, but this is the tip of the iceberg as the next story makes this look The Caves of fucking Androzani it's so, so bad.

The Ninth Doctor and Rose (between The Unquiet Dead and Aliens of London) land in the English trenches on Christmas Day 1914 when everyone stopped fighting a world war for a game of soccer. The Doctor organizes said game. The end.

Yes. That's it. That's the best they could come up with. A few pages of a football game and the Ninth Doctor in a green coat. That's IT. The only other moment of note is the Brigadier substitute Dobs and his mate Benton, and mention of "Captain Harkness" who is too busy recovering from a fatal gunshot to meet the Doc and Rose. I boggle. I really do. I mean... just... GAH!!! The artwork is atrocious as well.

But surely the Tenth Doctor story, Reunion, has to be an improvement?

Weeeeeeeeeelll...

The Doctor and Martha wake up in a dark spooky museum full of stuff from all Doctor Who history and no idea of how they got there and a nasty suspicion the TARDIS has been destroyed. They find a special section devoted to the Doctor himself, when the Doctor realizes he can't remembering anything before "BARCELONAA!!". Feeling sick, he collapses and Martha finds a pile of junk to restore his memories of the previous nine stories - a walking stick, a recorder, the keys to Bessie and the TARDIS, jelly babies, cricket ball, cat badge, umbrella, cravat and the psychic paper. But a bearded Time Lord running the museum decides to get nasty and sends an Auton after them (blown up by nitro-9), some giant spiders (distracted by a blue crystal), a Voc robot and a Clockwork man...

Eventually the Doctor works out Martha's acting pretty weird and realizes that this isn't a 2007 story but a 2008 story... ripping off a certain Angel episode to boot! Yes, the Doctor's lying unconscious in the TARDIS with a sluggy parasite on his head trying to take over his mind and the TARDIS is trying to snap him out of it by using Martha as an avatar. Suddenly 10.5 himself appears, sporting a beard and a black suit and explaining he is the Valeyard, come to take the Doctor's remaining regenerations for a stupendous cliffhanger moment!

Things kind of REALLY go downhill from hereon in.

After spending about five pages ripping this cliffhanger to shreds, pointing out all the flaws and revealing that "the Valeyard" is just that damn bug from earlier that jumped onto the Doctor after the events of Journey's End, the avatar goes batshit crazy and turns into (deep breath) Harry, Leela, Mel, Steven, Kamelion, Adric, Sarah, Adric again, and then the past Nine Doctors. And the "Valeyard" promptly melts. As the first Doctor notes, pretty fucking anticlimactic.

There then follows the traditional Doctor bitching scene (the Fourth uses my own catchphrase of "Hey, I resemble that remark!" Who do you think you are? Nigel Verkoff?!) while it's nice to see the Seventh Doctor being the one to lure the Sixth out of a miserable sulk. The Doctors fade away and the true Doctor wakes up with the brain bug dead. Next stop Barcelona.

The constant change in artists is pretty nasty too, with some of them forgetting to make the museum exhibits Who-related (I did like Martha getting a Liberator teleport bracelet while looking for a Time Ring though). The retcon of the Eighth Doctor as a loser who had no companions is a bit of a bitchslap to not only Big Finish, but BBC Books, DWm and all points in between, surely? The stuff about the Time War sits very awkwardly with what we see on TV, with apparenltly the Time Lords quite cool about their own annihilation and the events of Rose happening "immediately" after the Doctor pressed the button.

This collection has a lot of problems, but the biggest and most unforgivable? At the very end, the Doctor asks the TARDIS avatar to change into one specific companion so he could say goodbye.

And it's Susan.

Not Donna, Susan.

Donna is, in fact, the ONLY companion not involved in this. And we get to see Astrid Peth for Cliff's sake! But no, Susan angst. Gimme strength.

Oh, yeah, and the whole Valeyard stuff was bollocks but enough people have complained about that before now.


THE WHISPERING GALLERY

(between 42 and Utopia... or thereabouts)

"This is horrible. All these voices, all these regrets. It's so stupid. Why didn't they just say it? Why couldn't they let the world know how they felt instead of bottling it up until they were gone? Until it was too late. These pictures can't feel. They can't see or hear. Even when their unrequited love finally answers them, they can't understand... so what's the point?"

The trouble with the first two series was that they were simply being released too damn slow. Part one of The Forgotten came out when Martha was still a companion and ended circa The Next Doctor (leading to an admittedly clever twist of where the story was truly set). But this meant that when the IDW specials turned to one offs they were stories way out of date. I mean, a world fascinated with speculation on who will be the Eleventh Doctor and what do the comics offer us? Another missing adventure that would have vaguely been contemporary three years prior!

And at first glance this comic anything but value for money. The artwork is atrocious and I mean that most sincerely folks - rather than draw artwork like everyone else, Ben Templesmith has decided to use some very dogdy screengraps and trace vague shapes over them. Usually this leaves the Doctor and Martha looking strangely deformed and ugly, while he seems adamant about NOT drawing the TARDIS and using the same photo of a police box over and over again. It really reaches a nadir when we get a panel showing Martha climbing into the control room where no one's noticed the Ninth Doctor is clearly standing at the console!See? You can't make it up!

In fairness, there is a vaguely fairytale kid's book vibe to the whole thing, particularly the monster which is black, hairy tentacled death with lots of teeth and works on a primal vibe. But that's undone when it's clearly a drawing fighting photos, and poorly cropped photos at that!

All this makes more frustrating that this is a brilliant - if incredibly miserable and depressing - story that has more to say than the last two epics encompassing the entire Whoniverse and the fate of reality itself. It's set in an empty art gallery and a graveyard on a rainy afternoon. Small scale, big results.

It turns out that the Tenth Doctor had a companion we never knew about, an alien girl called Grayla from the planet Gratt - a society repressed where no one shows any emotion. When the locals die, a chunk of their mind is downloaded into a painting which can then whisper all the things they never got to say during life. "Kinda sad, really," the Doctor notes. Being a spunky rebel, Grayla teamed up with the Doctor, saw the universe, opened her eyes, and she promptly returned back to Gratt to tell everyone to loosen up and admit what they feel.

One problem, the society was repressed in order to not feed an emotional vampire and keep it docile. Grayla's little cultural revolution caused a Godzilla-style rampage that slaughtered countless lives, and Grayla herself, unable to hide what she felt, ended up a sad portrait in the Whispering Gallery with the bitter knowledge that her good intentions literally lead the world to hell.

And when the Doctor and Martha arrive in the Gallery, they are horrorfied by this state of affairs... which, of course, wakes up the empathivore Morkon once again...

Oh, if only someone else had drawn this. Coulda been a winner...


BLACK DEATH WHITE LIFE

(set between... well, same as The Whispering Gallery, I suppose...)

"I have a plan. A good plan. A reasonably well-thought-out plan. Well, I saw it in a film once. It worked well then."

Fact: those bird-faced 17th century plague doctors look creepy.

Which seems to have been the inspiration for this story. Hell, there are worse reasons.

Anyway, the TARDIS dumps the Doctor and Martha four centuries too early to meet the Beatles at Abbey Road - London, 1669 where a strange plague has broken out and is just as mysteriously being cured by an "angel" in a nearby church. The plague doctors are a bit pissed off at their loss of business... or rather, they are the ones causing the plague! Yes, virus-people and antibody-people are at war on Earth so the Doctor lures them both to somewhere they can fight in peace.

It's not a particularly deep story, but it is dark - literally and metaphorically, and the sight of Martha dying of plague is as nasty as other victims exploding to reveal wierd Thirdspace aliens. The ending, where the Doctor encourages war rather than peace is pretty bleak as well. Alas, there is little truly memorable here, and Martha does little bar show she's clued up on the history of the black death.

And that wierd skeleton Doctor on the cover? Never happens in the story itself.


COLD-BLOODED WAR


(um... between The Doctor's Daughter and Midnight... somewhere in that gap, definitely...)

"Good grief! Are you telling me that women are to be seen but not heard? And WHAT are they wearing? Burquas?! You have GOT to be kidding me! What, you cover em up so the boys don't get disturbed by their curves? Now THAT is what I call cold-blooded..."

Ah Donna Noble! The only companion (assuming you're not a history teacher from Colchester) to be completely writer-proof! I always considered the reason she was so popular was that she had the mindset of a child - in a good way. No hiding her feelings like Martha or toying with emotions like Rose. If Donna has something to say she will damn well say it with every fibre of her being, from the awesomeness of first century Pompeii to cutting the Time Lord Victorious down to size. There's a reason she is the only RTD companion to be dubbed the Doctor's "best friend" by the man himself (standards are way higher than when C'Rizz fitted that category, right, kids?) and frankly, I think she's awesome. So awesome I might be so biased as to forgive these comics for any and all failings they have. Super-Temp is in town and all is right with the world!

So... Draconia is in civil war as a female has ascended the throne! In desperation, Earth sends two Adjudicators to Draconia... but they get blown up on the way. When the Doctor and Donna arrive on Draconia, they get mistaken for the Adjudicators by the Ice Warrior security forces (mind you, psychic paper helps). Alas, the Doctor is immediately kidnapped by Draconian ninjas, leaving Donna Noble to deal with negotiations.

It should come as absolutely no surprise Donna succeeds in less than two pages.

This is a story by Gary Russell by thankfully written by someone else. Mind you, the old "How come a Draconian wasn't in The Curse of Peladon?" question that has vexed mankind for aeons might have given that away, but the clash of Pertwee era and NuWho isn't as seamless as it should be. The Adipose newsreader was cute, Alpha Centauri's cameo definitely wasn't, and the idea of the Galactic Federation being subservient to the Shadow Proclaimation is ugly even on paper. The angsty conclusion is rather like that of The Doctor's Daughter though, but it reinforces how the Doctor and Donna relate in a way that Rose, Martha or even Amy couldn't. There's even a nice logo from the 80s DWM comic strips on the last page. Top notch.


AUTOPIA


(between Midnight and Turn Left)

"Oi! You can't do this! I NAMED YOU AFTER MY CAT!"

A slightly more photorealistic artstyle after the big scratchy Adrian Salmon artwork of the previous tale, yet it continues the frankly irritating practice of "adapting" a TV episode rather than taking a comic book approach, so all the back story is contained in big dialogue-heavy talking head panels. When TV Comic has a better grasp of the medium than you, you need help, IDWDW!

The plot. A bunch of lotus-eating no-fist losers seal their planet in a forcefield and then create armies of robots to tend their every sordid whim in private decadence cut off from the rest of the universe. The TARDIS, of course, can get through the force field easily and the Doctor and Donna are immediately... put to death by the bodacious blond(e) inhabitants who don't visitors and prefer to lie about the place in their Grecian underwear looking hot.

Luckily, the robot slaves have begun to develop consciences and they spare the Doctor and Donna and decide to revolt against the filthy human meatbags. As ever, Donna is on hand to stop a bloodbath and generally fix things.

It's a rather thin story, but the characterization is perfect, the jokes funny, the plot's just complicated enough to be straightforward, and the art's good too. See what Donna can do to a franchise? Imagine how good The Forgotten might have turned out if they'd bothered to use SuperTemp!


ROOM WITH A DEJA VU


(between Planet of the Dead and The Waters of Mars)

"Inside that room is a temporal paradox. Open it and... well... you know Schrodinger's Cat? No? Well, this is Schrodinger's Tyrannosaurus Rex!"

Boasting the disconcerting waver that this comic may not work if you read it in a strictly linear order, this imaginative one-off is a comic designed to be read backwards in parts and so manages to pull off a stunt that couldn't really be done on television. Even Red Dwarf: Backwards pales in comparison.

Beginning with the Doctor trying to ween himself off companions by sitting in the corner of the control room and going "ohmmm" a lot, the TARDIS picks up a distress signal from a space station hidden in intergalactic void. This station is so isolated because it's quarantined from a ridiculously lethal plague ravaging galaxies - how lethal? You can get it off a phone call! So sending off a distress signal is incredibly dangerous, and the scarily-cheerful lightbulb-headed alien what did it also killed someone just to do it. The Doctor is immediately on the case, which is because he's a Time Lord and the only person who understands what the hell the murderer is on about.

Coz, get this, the murderer lives his life backwards. He answers questions before they're asked and has a completely different frame of reference - he thinks people that will kill him are his parents, and the day he was born was a rather upbeat funeral. Thus, the whole "reading the comic backwards thing" rapidly comes into play as we try to understand what in the name of God's bollocks is going on.

Basically, the murderer knows that it won't be long before some alien battle fleet blows up the entire station and everyone on it and is attempting to avert "the great creation" by sending out a distress signal. Having a mind that works backwards, he knows there won't be any plague outbreak because he doesn't remember one. He's quite happy about being executed for his crime, since it's how he was born.

Having sorted this out by constantly doubling back on his time stream until there are four versions of the Tenth Doctor in the same room ("This story never gets out!" grins one of them), the Doctor heads off into the wild blue yonder to find a new companion, segueing reasonably into the ongoing IDW series. The artwork's good, too, and the spot-the-Sontaran gag wasn't bad either. Worth actually buying.


THE TIME MACHINATION


(I'm guessing directly after Room With A Deja Vu)

"But this phantasm as I rubbed my eyes. The time machine was gone, save for a subsiding stir of dust... Dammit, Doctor, you've got me thinking about writing again!"

Let's get one thing clear before we start. I hate Paul Grist's artwork. I dunno why, but his ugly cylindrical-headed, barely-recognizeable doodles with their sole facial expression rub me up the wrong way. I might have been able to cope with a one-off, but he keeps getting employed, doing absolutely no justice to the stories he gets. It's boring, symmetrical and often colourless. I couldn't even recognize David Tennant, just some leering git in the Tenth Doctor outfit. This is all the more problematical given The Time Machination is

a) a crucial prologue to the ongoing IDW comics
b) a fanwank fest that even Craig Hinton might back away from

The main thrust of the story is simple. Why didn't Torchwood catch the Doctor prior to 2006? We discover they were loitering around Krakatoa as the Ninth Doctor got his picture drawn, and perhaps its best for their own safety they missed him at Gabriel Chase (seriously, does anyone think the Welsh psycho lesbians stood a chance against Ace in that story? Hell, the local psycho lesbians were dead meat too...). But for Robert Lewis and Eliza Cooper (they're not named here, but they will be important one day), they haven't yet twigged the Doctor can change his face.

Then, the TARDIS crash-lands in 1889 London and needs refeuling - the Doctor needs to get it to Cardiff but he knows the unfriendly reception he'll get there. Especially with this particular face. Thus, he decides to recruit HG Wells to aide him, and HG Wells gets a scientist called Jonathon Smith to help him. No sooner have they planned to get a "petrol can" together so they can refuel the TARDIS without heading to Wales, the Torchwood Institute arrive and they're even more psychotically dedicated than usual!

Upon learning that the Doctor (who committed the sins of TimeLash upon him) is a threat to the Empire and Queen Victoria, the outraged HG Wells immediately throws in his oar with the institute and they capture the notorious time traveller, and send him off for Cardiff to be dissected! MWAHAHAHAHA!

Except, it's all a Hustle-style ruse! The TARDIS was never broken, it was all a trick to lure Jonathon Smith, an evil time traveller, out of hiding so he could be dumped on Torchwood (who would never believe his entirely truthful claims not to be the Doctor), who would then leave the real Doctor alone (assuming his ultimate destiny is to be on a Welsh mortuary slab). The fact they had a certain Jack Harkness working for them didn't exactly hurt the plan either.

The fanwank explodes in this story. The Tooth and Claw and TimeLash stuff is forgivable, maybe even The Unquiet Dead bits, but then it just goes out of control with Shada, Ghost Light, Inferno, The Gunfighters, An Unearthly Child and even the comic strip War of the Words... It then hits the "You're Pushing It Chester" level on the FanWankOMeter with the last few pages literally dramatizing The Talons of Weng-Chiang with a guest appearance by the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Does Robert Holmes get any credit for this? A clue: no.

Of course, the revelation that HG Wells was in that same foggy street when the Doctor and Leela were discussing Little Titch, or the newspapers about missing girls, might be forgiveable, but it goes out of control. The whole thing turns out to be a prequel sequel to the TV story, with the evil time traveler being a Magnus Greel groupie out to get the Doctor killed by Torchwood before he can kill Weng-Chiang... did any new readers understand the relevence of the Li Sen Chang poster?

Certainly it's very annoying to have HG Wells portrayed as a completely unimaginative and gormless tit. Even his one park of ingenuity is revealed to be all down to the Doctor's cunning plan. I mean, suggesting the odd poetic line to Shakespeare is one thing, here the Doctor reads out whole pages from the guy's works and orders him to start writing even though Herbet keeps insisting he doesn't enjoy writing at all... And then we find out the best title our hero can come up with is... The Time Machine. Remind me to take off my glasses before I start repeatedly headbutting the desk.

Sigh. So close to being good, but let down to the shitty artwork, some rubbish ideas (so you can pull the TARDIS console apart, can you? WITHOUT unleashing the Bad Wolf? Gimme strength...) and someone - possibly G Russell - cutting the brake cable on the Pointless Continuity Reference flow. Did any new readers appreciate the toss about Professor Chronotis? Wouldn't they rather the plot be explained with some usual flashback panels instead of endless monologues? This does, of course, assume anyone was still reading at this point...

- TO BE CONTINUED...

12 comments:

Miles Reid said...

IDW- Idea and Design Works.

Anyway, go on then, Ewen, tell us how you really feel!

Anyway, yeah, the IDW stuff is very mixed bag. I used to know Nick Roche, the artist of the first few issues of Agent Provocateur back when he was drawing Transformers fancomics and to be honest, I think his artistic talents are better suited to Transformers more than anything else. The story itself though, meh.

I do agree that the charecterisation of 'The Forgotten' is appalling and suffers from overabundent fanwank as a lot of Tony Lee's comics seem to do. I'll be honest, I don't like excess fanwank and it can ruin a perfectly good story. But the true tragedy is that Pia Guerrea (fresh off Y: The Last Man, one of the best Western comics in a long while) never got to finish drawing the comic due to personal problems forcing the company to grab a mixed bag of artists to do a rush job with... unfortunate results. The two page spread of all Ten Doctors just looks ugly.

I've got the TPB of the one shots, they're okay, nothing truly groundbreaking. I've never noticed the Ninth Doctor in 'The Whispering Gallery', but Ben Templesmith's art is very much a 'either/or', it's much more suited to his horror comics such as 30 Days of Night.

That's the real problem with the IDW comics, they've seemingly been able to attract some star names (well, in the comic industry anyway) but their Doctor Who output is so horribly hit and miss. Obviouslly it doesn't help that unlike the Star Trek/Transformers/Star Wars tie-in comics that slam the shelves, Doctor Who is still an ongoing property and thus the comic can never really catch up or go anywhere dramatically special. It also doesn't help that the IDW Doctor Who comic is effectively unavailable in the UK due to rights issues.

Youth of Australia said...

IDW- Idea and Design Works.
That was meant to be a joke.

IDW Comics, Irritating Doctor Who Comics... joke... funny... no? ...little bit...?

Anyway, go on then, Ewen, tell us how you really feel!
I used to use my hands.

I do agree that the charecterisation of 'The Forgotten' is appalling and suffers from overabundent fanwank as a lot of Tony Lee's comics seem to do.
There's fanwank and there's fanwank. The Talons stuff in Time Machination is gratuitous but at least it makes sense...

But the true tragedy is that Pia Guerrea never got to finish drawing the comic.
They seem to get that a lot, but in this case it was terrible - the flashbacks are meant to have one artist, the museum another. Then they end up with neither...

The two page spread of all Ten Doctors just looks ugly.
As Jared pointed out, the Fith Doctor is clearly Adric in a wig (well, they both have the same oriental face anyway...)

Ben Templesmith's art is very much a 'either/or', it's much more suited to his horror comics such as 30 Days of Night.
Artwise, I did like all the bits that didn't have photos in them. The story's great.

That's the real problem with the IDW comics, their Doctor Who output is so horribly hit and miss.
Yup.

It also doesn't help that the IDW Doctor Who comic is effectively unavailable in the UK due to rights issues.
What the hell? You can get them in Australia, America... but not the place they'd get the highest turnover?

THIS IS MADNESS!!!

Miles Reid said...

Oh, don't get me wrong, the Whispering Gallery is a great story, one of IDW's best (and is this proof that writing talent is hereditry? One of the writers is Alan Moore's Daughter) but the rather scratchy artwork was never really my cup of tea.

Yeah, I think the problem is that Panini at the time where the ones with the rights to release a Doctor Who comic strip in the UK, so IDW's Who titles are extremely hard to find in most shops. It's one of the same reasons behind why Panini have lost the right to release Doctor Who graphic novels and the storybooks after the BBC decided they wanted to do original Graphic Novels inhouse.

This isn't the worst case of rights issues screwing things up for everybody. That's why the classic Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV series won't be seen on DVD EVER. That show is so tied up in rights it's insane.

-Fox own the TV show, Warner Brothers owns DC and Batman. Although people have said that the battle isn't between Warner Bros. and Fox but with Fox and DC. There's rumours that some of the higher-ups in DC don't want to push the campy, FUN Batman while they're too busy making tons of cash over having Batman being a growly voiced psychopath.

All this is just strange because the movie based on the TV series has been on DVD many a time.

Huh.

Youth of Australia said...

Oh, don't get me wrong, the Whispering Gallery is a great story, one of IDW's best
Fair comment, but getting that kind of content into one brief installment is a tall order for most people...

IDW's Who titles are extremely hard to find in most shops.
Well, you have to go to special places in Australia like the Galaxy Bookshop or King's Comics, but when you get there the shelves are positively overflowing...

It's one of the same reasons behind why Panini have lost the right to release Doctor Who graphic novels and the storybooks
...gah what now?

But... but... THAT'S NOT FAIR! I was hanging out for The Crimson Hand book, and Nemesis of the Daleks and whatever they'd call the book they'd shove everything else into... I HATE EVERYTHING!

the BBC decided they wanted to do original Graphic Novels inhouse.
Give me strength. Last time they tried it the whole thing was cancelled because the TV series ripped the idea off.

That's why the classic Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV series won't be seen on DVD EVER.
WHAT!??!

Are you systematically trying to drive me to suicide, Mr Reid?!

There's rumours that some of the higher-ups in DC don't want to push the campy, FUN Batman while they're too busy making tons of cash over having Batman being a growly voiced psychopath.
Wow, I guess my VHS of Season 3 are definitely going to be kept (not that I'd throw them out anyway, they're bound to my childhood and the addbreaks are actually pretty cool).

But you're right about the fun. Remeber King Tutt? Verdigris, the Joker's Martian impersonator? Louis the Lilac, the most suicidal villain ever? "Batgirl, where do you come from, where do you go, oh Batgirl, we just gotta know..."

Oh, fuck, I cannot believe people want to STOP this genius being appreciated! NO FIST!

Miles Reid said...

Am I trying to drive you to suicide... wow, I must be.

Yeah, the whole Batman thing probably pisses me off more than the Doctor Who comics (shocking confession for a Doctor Who fan I know) and all we can really do is hope that the BBC and Panini find some kind of middle ground. Or at the very least, have the next BBC graphic novel be of a higher quality.

Plus, the Batman TV show is just wonderful. It's there with 'ReBoot' in the 'WHY THE FUCK ISN'T THIS ON DVD YET?' stakes.

'The Only Good Dalek' isn't bad, it's very much a Space Opera romp and it's kind of nice to have a generic Dalek story now that the Daleks are back as a major Galactic power that won't be wiped out any time soon again.

Which is strange, I enjoy it because it's generic... huh.

Anyway, I'm holding out for Michael Moorcock's novel.

Youth of Australia said...

Am I trying to drive you to suicide... wow, I must be.
*sucking down tranqs*
Hah! I knew it!

Yeah, the whole Batman thing probably pisses me off more than the Doctor Who comics (shocking confession for a Doctor Who fan I know)
Shocking? I'm right there with you (hell, I've got most of the comics anyway, so the collections were just my completist urge), but this means I'll never see the first two seasons when Catwoman was white or Liberace was the villain or if False Face was as much of a headfuck like he looked...

and all we can really do is hope that the BBC and Panini find some kind of middle ground. Or at the very least, have the next BBC graphic novel be of a higher quality.
My hopes seem wasted now...

Plus, the Batman TV show is just wonderful.
Fuck yeah! I've got the three parter where they go to "Londinium" and meet Rudy Valley aka Lord Ffogg (his sister, Penelope Peasouper) and his gang of hot teenage girl crims...

This is second only to junking 1960s Who as an unforgivable crime!

kind of nice to have a generic Dalek story now that the Daleks are back as a major Galactic power that won't be wiped out any time soon again.
Mmm. Guess I've lost that, what will all the BFs doing the exact same sort of thing...

Anyway, I'm holding out for Michael Moorcock's novel.
Why does it have such an awful cover though?

Miles Reid said...

Do you have a Demonoid account?

On the subject of book covers- it must have been decided about ten years ago that Genre books for adults CAN'T have flashy covers that would make anybody reading these books on a bus be thought of as some kind of manchild nerd.

http://www.infocon-inc.com/CoverImages/DBLargeThumbNails/20100120.028.jpg

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/images/the-sword-of-shannara.jpg

or just look at the different covers for the Children editions and adult editions of the Harry Potter books, or the Discworld books. They're a lot less evocative, doesn't show the genre roots so much and just look bland.

Youth of Australia said...

You saying Batman eps are on demonoid?!?

Miles Reid said...

I may or not be saying Batman episodes are on Demonoid.

But to find out, you must first climb the tallest mountain in the world and chop down the Great Ash Tree... no, wait... they're on Demonoid.

Youth of Australia said...

I'm not sure how I can process this information. My brain cannot comprehend this. Metaphysical dichotomy. All elephants are pink.

*slumps lifelessly*

Rich Johnston said...

On Room With A Deja View, it was meant to be set, in my mind at least, between The Parting Of Ways, and that downneat rainsodden ending, and The Next Doctor, where he is suddenly all upbeat and motivated.

Youth of Australia said...

Parting of the Ways, huh?

Definitely didn't see that one coming...