Comics Scott Grey's The Flood (art by Martin Geraghty, inking from David A. Roach) contains one of the most creatively heroic decisions in the history of Doctor Who. Which is a statement that probably need unpacking a bit, as Melyvn says on In Our Time.
When the announcement of the return of Doctor Who was made in 2003, the inevitable consequence was going to be the end of the Eighth Doctor in his strip in the franchise’s official magazine.
A stalwart of DWM since 1996, and for a little bit the only brand new adventures featuring the character, until the novels and audios came along and made the continuity of the Eighth Doctor rather more complex. I’ve already discussed this here.
But the question was, how would it happen?
The answers are in the added extras of The Flood’s appearance in graphic novel form, and if you can I’d urge you to go and read that instead of the following paraphrase. It has quotes with actual people rather than the version I’m creating from memory.
The Flood is a ten-part story in which the Eighth Doctor battles the Cybermen in contemporary, well 2004, London. There are cameos from characters who’ve featured across the previous nine years and it’s a fitting end to the series.
Everything is being prepared, Scott Grey’s writing the scripts and then there’s a bombshell.
Russell T Davies offers them the regeneration. He suggests that the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration to Ninth should appear in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine.
Bit of a coup, isn’t it?
The publication schedule was already structured so that Eighth would complete his adventures the month before the new series premieres, so theoretically it would be possible.
Except, pretty quickly a few things begin to the dawn on them, on the magazine and RTD.
Eighth already has a companion in the comics, Destrii, who, though only just becoming a companion in the previous adventure, still has a story arc that needs to be tied up satisfactorily.
But you can’t have her being written out in the Ninth Doctor’s first story. Potential new fans buying the magazine for the first time aren’t going to want to be faced with someone who isn’t Rose Tyler and a mass of continuity from comics they’ve never read.
So you’d have to write her out in The Flood. Ok. The other problem is that by having the regeneration in the comic strip, readers of DWM are seeing the new incarnation before television. Which feels wrong too.
Davies suggested a mechanism whereby Destrii could be written out in a story in which the Doctor existed in the glowy orange mid-regenerative state which only resolved itself the following month. Same problem. See above.
Plus as we discovered in the new series there’s a whole Time War to be fought between the regeneration in the comic strip and Rose. So the regeneration would still be a cliffhanger that could resolve itself in the comic.
If you do read the sections of The Flood which deal with all this you can see the various writers and editors and creators intellectually going around in circles trying to sort all of this out.
The cynical approach would have been to have Dodoed Destrii, not completed her story or what have you, just so that the regeneration could happen in the comics somehow.
The TARDIS just buggers off and leaves her and the Doctor regenerates within however narratively unsatisfying that is. Other comics series have done much, much worse in the drive for circulation. The TV series has been equally cynically in places.
Something I didn’t understand either was how it could be allowed for BBC charter rules, anyway. If, as Russell took an entire Production Notes column in the same magazine to explain, the destruction of Gallifrey on the television couldn’t be the same one from the Eighth Doctor novels because the BBC isn’t allowed to create programming which only makes sense if you read some kind of ancillary merchandise, how could something like a regeneration be in the comic strip series?
With all of these insurmountable creative obstacles, they turned it down.
The regeneration did not happen in Doctor Who Magazine.
Which is commercially pretty heroic. Imagine the publicity! If you want to see the regeneration here it is. Watch the circulation shoot through the roof.
There’s a version of what if might have looked like in The Flood graphic novel, Destrii leaning over the Ninth Doctor’s new body in the Eighth Doctor’s old clothes. But it looks wrong.
Instead, The Flood resolves itself with a proper flourish. Plays about a little bit with the idea that he might regenerate, but ends instead with the Eighth Doctor and Destrii, in a homage to Survival, walking into the sunset, with more adventures ahead.
That feels right and leaves it to our imagination as to just how he and Destrii part company. Though they also put his companion in a leather jacket, the same leather jacket the Ninth Doctor wears, subtly glancing forwards to what’s to come.
Which is actually how it’s always been done. Regenerations have never been shown in Doctor Who Magazine. Incarnations and companions have come and gone with little reference and that’s certainly what happened when Ninth went to Tenth went to Eleventh. A small commemorative story here and there, but in general no.
It’s not too dissimilar to how the character’s novels ended. In the middle of his story, still fighting the good fight.
Interestingly, in more recent years, the nuWho version of the comic has been looking back into its own history. A recent Eleventh Doctor story, the strip’s own contribution to the 50th anniversary was a direct sequel of both The Tribe of Gum/An Unearthly Child/whatever and The Flood.
The comic’s Eighth Doctor’s even glimpsed fighting one of his era’s big enemies.
But exactly how he regenerated remains a mystery. For now.