Comics If all of the Eighth Doctor's multi-medium appearances, mimicked the production method of the televisions series in some respect with book editors and audio producers working in a similar way to showrunners, the comics also had just one or two writers across their entire run, Alan Barnes and Scott Gray, developing a unifying style and a very specific idea of how this version of the Doctor and his adventures should be written whilst simultaneously being just as flexible and experimental in the media within which they’re working. Having jumped in originally halfway through the material in this collection, it's quite the experience to finally read the stories leading up to The Glorious Dead and beyond and understanding what all of those continuity references actually meant.
There’s an argument that Doctor Who’s rarely better than when it’s taking the piss out of itself but as writer Scott Gray suggests in his notes this was the main strip’s first attempt at out and out comedy. Predictably, it’s hilarious. As he says, after the TV movie had “flatlined” they were looking for any opportunity to celebrate an anniversary and this was the 35th and so we have eight Doctors and hundreds of monsters appearing across eight pages spoofing both The Five Doctors and Dimensions in Time (and arguably and spectacularly Terrance’s recently published novel The Eighth Doctors). There is a conversation between 4th and 7th about Time Lord allergies which is probably one of the best pieces of dialogue in the franchise’s history and an example of just the sort of fun you can have with this character.
Grace! Having waited a couple of years to bed in, the strip finally does the direct sequel to the TV movie on but harshes the mellow of the reunion by all but removing the romance from the relationship and in a way which doesn’t quite feel in character for Dr Holloway – though its fair to say that its probably impossible to say properly what is in character considering her limited screen time. Nevertheless it’s easy to admire how Scott Grey is able to turn the odder elements of the TV movie, 8th’s prophesies, the half-human thing to the advantage of the story and how conservative it is that despite the strip has access to the character (something neither the novels or audios have) they don’t use her as the companion. The strip wants to be its own thing so Izzy remains.
Unnatural Born Killers
Kroton! This short piece by Adrian Salmon acts as a kind of “Dalek Cutaway” for future attractions. The graphic novel helpfully reprints the cyberman with a souls first appearances in the then Doctor Who Weekly in which he first discovers he’s different and begins to make human friends and the Salmon strip somewhat continues his story to show that he’s begun to take the fight to races, in this case the Sontarans, who’re threatening what he knows to be his former people. The art is dynamic with great use of blacks to produce something distinctive to the rest of the strips. Of course the notion of expected antagonists, what are usually called monsters, becoming the Doctors and allies and friends would return in the new series with the Paternoster Gang if lacking the melancholia of this man caught between races and worlds.
The Road To Hell
A full on Japangasm with the sort of dense storytelling and heavy exposition you can usually expect from manga. With massive visuals and splash pages and acres of philosophy and alien mythology it’s sometimes difficult to quite follow. It’s noticeable the extent to which Izzy is being utilised to drive the narrative as much as the Doctor and across all of these strips is rarely damselled. Katsuri will clearly return (his condition also looks towards the future treatment of Captain Jack). Even after having been saved he’s clearly unhappy that it means he’ll have to walk in eternity, his honour devalued. As we’ve already seen, the sense of who’s an antagonist/protagonist in these comics is especially fluid. The Doctor had better watch out.
Good old TV Action. Of all the Eighth Doctor strips, this is one of those which is often talked about in hushed tones, I believe, the nod of recognition that people were there. I was. I began reading DWM some time during The Road To Hell, perhaps episode three, so felt like a bit of charlatan when suddenly handed a celebration for all the issues I hadn’t read – until I realised I been bought that very first issues. This now doubly nostalgic trip to BBC Television Centre in 1979 is fairly notable for the extent to which it dodges the yewtree in a way that even television documentaries from the late 90s singularly failed to and rendered themselves impossible to rebroadcast. Oh and the Tom Baker bit which is one of the funniest things I’ve read so far on these travels, the quotes all from actual interviews, the total legend.
The Company of Thieves
Kroton! Again! Designed to insert the Cyberman into the TARDIS crew, his first meeting with the Doctor’s noteworthy because it’s a rare cliffhanger in which our sympathy is with an attackee. The Time Lord “kills” Kroton first and so successfully has Scott Grey’s writing made us careful him that see him felled is genuinely worrying, notably also because we know how the Doctor will feel when he realises his mistake. As 8th tussles with pirates over the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, it’s also the first time I’ve really heard Paul McGann convincingly saying his lines and there’s even a moment with which I’m sure I’ve heard repeated between him and Charley as he worries about the TARDIS’s navigation, whispering so as not to heart the time capsule’s feelings. He’s always doing that, isn't he?
The Glorious Dead
Yes, a single paragraph is entirely inadequate. Once again it’s impossible not to see resonance with later escapades, notably the conclusion to Capaldi’s first series with its weaponising of death and a emotional Cyberperson sacrificing himself to thwart the Master’s plans (see also the clever misdirection the Time antagonist’s identity). The concept of the Omniversal spectrum just confirms my expectation that all of fiction and reality is Doctor Who (also neatly explaining the TV Action business) and the resulting Peanuts parody is inspired. It’s the first occasion when I’ve cheered on turning the final page and the whole thing took an hour to read, much longer than usual. Only really marred by the slightly odd moment early on when 8th describes Izzy as a “blushing beauty” during some introductions. Oh dear, Doctor.
The Autonomy Bug
For the final strip in black and white, Roger Langridge returns with some absolutely gorgeous cartoon visuals which smuggle a very dark tale about what constitutes identity and whether anyone one person has the right to dictate how another group should live. The whole thing looks like and is structured in the style of a Doctor Who Adventures strip but the storytelling is much more mature (though its true some DWA can be deceptively so too). Scott Grey suggests Cuckoo’s Nest as an influence in his notes but there are moments that recall Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the way that characters who could be simplistic gain depth through action and exposition (see also the novels The Crooked World by Steve Lyons and Paul Magrs’s Sick Building). A really impressive end to the collection.