Comics The adventure continues and here we go again. When I finished reading the Eighth Doctor novels a few years ago I had planned to return to him and read the comics and then catch up on the audios, but after spending most of 2013 watching my way through the whole of the television series I was a bit exhausted with the whole thing and still am to an extent. But Jac Raynor’s superb Review 2014 post from this very parish about being a Reginald Fortune completist has nudged me towards working my way through the rest of my favourite Doctor’s appearances, especially since last year’s screen disappointments have led to my fan gene experiencing a bit of a wobble. I’ve even considered selling on the earlier dvd versions of stories which have later been given special edition treatment. It’s that serious.
A few pieces of house keeping. The Eighth Doctor novels were approached much like the television series with length reviews filled with words, sentences and paragraphs and acres of analysis which was sometimes fun and sometimes a real drag and one of the reasons the whole process took longer than it should because of stopping after every novel and spent many hours in analysis, sorry, offering an analysis. Not now. I want to enjoy this. Everything from now onwards (strips and audios and any other prose materials which crop up) will be given a capsule review of roughly the same length (ten lines in Times New Roman 12pt on Microsoft Word 2000 if you must know), not least because I’ve already covered a lot of the audios in some depth elsewhere (which I’ll link to where necessary).
So that the blog isn’t then littered with these short bursts of text, I’ll also group most of these around recognisable seasons and sets and for the comic strips that means the four graphic novel reprints which appeared in the late noughties and are apparently soon to be reprinted. For some reason, perhaps to do with narrative flow, these aren’t printed in publication order, something I didn’t notice initially so some of these stories were read out of sequence but I’ve inserted the reviews back into the correct order. Which is an incredibly boring sentence but an important grumble. I didn’t notice until I reached the commentary at the back which is in publication order but in reading made me think I’d accidentally skipped some instalments like I did with that episode of The West Wing that time when I was watching all of those back.
We last left the Eighth Doctor leaping to certain doom at the end of The Gallifrey Chronicles in a story which was purposefully left open ended. As you know, my personal version of his continuity roughly expects the comics to fit after the books before leading into the audios mainly because it’s less fiddly than trying to put one lot of one thing between a bunch of something else. Some fans see major discontinuities between the versions of stuff like his home world between the various runs which often appeared simultaneously and created to purposefully contradict each other (often, frustratingly, by writers who worked on all of them), but as we’ve seen in the television series recently, decades and centuries full of unseen narrative can occur between stories and runs of episodes which can later be enunciated or retconned where necessary.
Since there has to be a Gallifrey in existence at least so that it can be part of the Time War, there’s nothing to say (unless I’ve missed this story somewhere along the line) that between The Gallifrey Chronicles and End Game, that the Doctor hasn’t used the knowledge in his head to somehow recreate his home world, but that it’s the version which appears in the comics rather than the one it became in the books. In The Final Chapter (see below) there’s even a suggestion that Doctor is a myth, and the stories could perhaps have derived from his memories having become part of the planet’s lore. Having all of that removed could have helped his memory somewhat which was also flooded with everything which happened during the earlier runs of the comic strip to become foremost in his mind which is why he decides to pay Stockbridge a visit.
What’s primarily notable about Eighth’s first comic strip is how it follows many of the tropes of most other post-regenerative stories (even though it isn’t quite that) whilst being simultaneous very assured. The Doctor returns to old strip location Stockbridge, where he bumps into the Celestial Toymaker who puts him through the usual games. As writer Alan Barnes admits in his commentary, they were still hedging on who this new Doctor was and he is fairly generic. Not so Izzy, who’s immediately defined as the contemporary companion in the mould of Polly, Ace and latterly Sam, Lucie and Rose. Her look is apparently based on Louise Wenner, he says. I wonder if she knows. I definitely disagree with his assessment of Sleeper (“utterly rubbish”). No they’re not.
Empirically, not a lot happens to the Doctor here. He and Izzy land on Earth in the future during some T-Mat wars, are menaced by the pirate lackeys of Magnus Greel, before being beamed into the eponymous Keep where Eighth is forced into doing a thing (because he’s “a good man” no less) which then results in another thing and then it ends, his lack of real agency neatly hidden below some glorious artwork penciled by Martin Geraghty and inked by Robin Smith (with biblical connotations in places) and epic exposition. But it’s clear we’re world building already, setting material up for later in the series which shows a real confidence from the editors and the magazine that both they and the comic strip had a future in the wilderness years. The final page is as mature and robust as anything I remember seeing in 2000AD underscoring the strips position in the UK comics ecosystem.
A Matter of Life and Death
The Eighth Doctor’s first one shot which and a continuity fest apparently designed to demonstrate that this version of the character is still very much part of the comics mythology in a way that it wouldn’t really be when the show returned to television in 2005. The dream sequences allow for all kinds of sight gags and cameos most of which I don’t understand (having not read many of the earlier strips yet), but none of that stopped my enjoyment (which is as it should be). The Doctor and Izzy are already comfortable in each other's company in despite this being only their third story and seventh issue taking into account how these were originally published and also how the series was originally broadcast. Often a TARDIS team would be firm friends as though they’d dozens of adventures even though they’d really only just met (cf, Fifth and Peri pre-Big Finish).
Fire & Brimstone
Daleks! Russell T Davies! How different nuWho must have seemed to fans who’d read Fire and Brimstone, which mirrors the final stories of the first series in structure with The Long Game (as per The Keep) setting up events for the finale, with an extermination which is actually a teleport and the action taking place on a space station which ultimate resembles in form and capability the Reality Bomb in Journey’s End. Moffat was also influenced by the Dalek zombie creating nanites. But we’re also sequelising previous DWM comics with the return of Threshold, whose existence is helpfully explained in a text prologue in this graphic novel edition. Eighth’s more clearly developing to reflect how he’d become in the other media too, though it’s Izzy who is first to say “Stupid, stupid, stupid…”
By Hook or By Crook
To spoil the ending, Scott Gray’s first Eighth strip is resolved using what’s now often described as a Moffat loop, a piece of foreknowledge utilised to get the hero out of a jam creating a paradox, in this case in a way which isn’t that dissimilar to The Big Bang with Izzy simply reading a book published in the future which has information which proves that the Doctor is innocent of a series of kidnappings by explaining who the real culprit is and releasing him from jail. There’s also a perennial scene in which the Doctor assuming all is lost says his final goodbyes to his companion explaining how the TARDIS will take her home when necessary. It’s about this time the way Izzy’s being drawn. Out with Louise Wenner and in with Luisa Bradshaw-White who played Kira in This Life. Welcome to 1997.
Tooth & Claw
A tribute to the Hinchcliffe era, we’re in gothic horror territory but as is always the case in Doctor Who what seem like vampires, or at least Bram Stoker’s variety, are nothing of the sort. There’s also Christie and Connell references in there too. What’s notable is how on some occasions a returning Barnes is taking full advantage of the monthly nature of the strip to create cliffhangers with real impact but on others it’s as though he’s assuming the stories will eventually become graphic novels so the scenes run on easily across the chapters to point its easy to miss that we’re into another part (which could be a homage to the how the tv series was originally released on video?). Features the first appearance of Fey Truscott-Sade who it seems had an adventure with the Doctor we’ve not seen ala the Paternoster Gang in A Good Man Goes To War.
The Final Chapter
Gallifrey! And, oh boy, that ending! The fakegeneration is of course now a legendary piece of trolling from Doctor Who Magazine and gloriously bizarre now that Nick Briggs is such a public figure in relation to the franchise rather than simply known within close fan circles for the Audio-Visual productions. That readers genuinely believed in the change prefigures the conclusion of The Stolen Earth though in this case there was a whole month to speculate. In his notes, Barnes describes the messy gestation of the story, pages being written in a rush around his other work for the magazine simply so that the artist would have something to draw but with hindsight this isn't too obvious. These are all stories bursting with ideas with a sense of experimentation that typifies the Eighth Doctor in all his media.
Or three months until the reveal. Reading this in graphic novel form it’s difficult to quite fix on what the fuss was about but you can well imagine a readership quietly dividing across three months as to whether regenerating the Doctor in the strip was a good thing or not (especially since the post-regen is so authentic). The reveal itself is reminiscent of The Dying Days, the Eighth Doctor’s triumphant re-emergence though it’s notable that Izzy’s aware of it before the rest of us given the companion’s usual spot as our POV. The overall story is the usual cosmic, universe-threatening bursts of energy with massive awe-inspiring artwork by Geraghty and Smith again presenting images that could never exist on screen or even in a reader’s imagination. Scott Gray assumes the writers chair full time now and the shift is seamless.