Comics Just a week after the TV movie was broadcast, the Radio Times began publication of what was to be a sixty-part comics series featuring the Eighth Doctor written by Gary Russell (for it is he) and drawn by veteran Who artist Lee Sullivan (between his work on DWM and much later Battles in Time). The bottom half of a weekly page dedicated to sci-fi genre television it was certainly in the mix when I was slowly working towards becoming a fan (again). Sadly after forty-odd issues the magazine decided that since the show was unlikely to return to television any time soon that it would be best to give the space over to something else and so the original narrative intention was curtailed after, wouldn't you know, forty-two episodes. Russell would later somewhat complete the story of companions Stacy and Ssard in his EDA Placebo Effect, which I originally reviewed back in 2006.
As I said back then, what we effectively have here is an era within an era as this stories now fit snugly in the gap between The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science when Sam's been left at a Greenpeace rally and the Doctor's apparently gone off on his for three years to sort himself out. For ages some chronologies, including the TARDIS Datacore attempted to put all of the Eighth Doctor's comic and audio adventures in here but since The Night of the Doctor's broadcast and whatever's happening at Big Finish that seems to have changed into something which resembles my chronology. Which is a big step for the Datacore which for a while had banned edits to an order which quite incorrectly mixed and matched. Putting the Radio Times pieces in here allows the Doctor to have some travels and so give the impression of having been away without having lived a few hundred years in the mean time.
What's most impressive about these installments is how the writer nails the Eighth Doctor in action and word. The Altered Vistas page on the strips which proved invaluable in preparing these reviews isn't much of a fan of them and suggests that all the talk of Enid Blyton and The Famous Five is out of character when I'd disagree, I'd say they're a superb decision which fits neatly in how Eighth would develop across the novels and into the audios in which he often seems to be all to aware of being part of a fictional narrative. Only the companion feel a little undercooked, with Stacy rarely rising above the generic for this era but you can see how Ssard would have developed in time as a relative of Ben Grimm. Placebo Effect isn't apparently the last we see of them either judging by the spoiler I've just seen on Stacy's Datacore page....
What immediately strikes you about this first story is how Russell plunges the reader into a fairly standard Cyberman assimilation story (they attack a cargo ship then become particular excited when the Doctor turns up) which won't seem that innovative to fans who've been keeping the faith for the previous seven or eight years through its various paper related off-screen formats but is being handed to readers for whom this will be their first visit with the Doctor since it went off-air if not before. The narrative is dense and ambitious in scale with a strong emotional through line as new companion Stacy copes with the loss of her shipmates and one in particular which has beats that look forwards to both Spare Parts and its new series reimaginings, the Cybermen themselves more like the versions which would be wandering through Big Finish's audios a few years later. There's also an odd moment when the Doctor's about to be turned cyber himself which feels like a precursor to Nightmare in Silver, internal dialogues ahoy. All within ten half page strips.
Not having an encyclopedic knowledge of the spin-off material pre-1996 I'm not sure about this, but is Lee Sullivan the first artist to render both an Ice Warrior female and an Ice Warrior outside of their armour? That's a pretty huge piece of history to be hosted in the Radio Times comic strip, even if the drawing of Queen Shssur looks like the Silurians from the television revival. Court intrigue as the Doctor must retrieve an Ice Lord who's been kidnapped. Not a lot happens but you can see Russell is slowing the pace a little knowing he has a fair amount of stories to fill which is a bold decision given the weekly drip delivery of this end of the franchise. Cheekily, the TARDIS Datacore tells me, the writer brings in some of the Martian mythology he originally authored for his first Virgin New Adventure Legacy, Ritual of Tuburr, in which an Ice Lord comes of age. Also worth noticing that Stacy hasn't really been given any of the usual introductory gubbins in relation to becoming a companion, she just sort of is, just as Ssard seems to be by the end of this too even though he's barely had much frame time, other than a hilarious shared look between the two them.
Essentially a continuation of the previous story, with the Doctor and the previously kidnapped Ice Lord Izaxyrl now heading into Mars to find Stacy and Ssard and investigate who's behind all the aforementioned intrigue. Pretty old school, by which I mean the 60s, with the two of them being chased through caves by a giant beastie. Much of it seems to be Russell paying homage to the TV Comics material and even if tonally it's pretty dark in places as half the guest cast is murdered by the other half and the Doctor doesn't ultimately have much to do in the denouement. The writer's clearly having much fun essentially writing his own era of Doctor Who even it's very oddly structured especially in terms of character. Izaxyrl's the character the Doctor spends most of the story with, yet it's Ssard who ultimately becomes his companion. Right at the end the real world intrudes too, with Christmas turning up in the final episode because it was published in the annual double-sized festive issue with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall as is now becoming customary on these occasions. Were parts nine and ten both published in that issue?
Aha, the one with the, Equinoids, talking pink and yellow pantomime horses as originally mentioned by the Doctor during Frontier in Space and as ridiculous as you might expect as sympathetic aliens. Say what you like about Gary Russell, he's nothing if not continuity sensitive, which is rather why I've always loved his work. Must get around to reading Spiral Scratch some day. Anyway, here he's having fun with perception filters and aliens lost in Victorian London and becoming part of freak shows, a premise which has been utilised with surprisingly regularity in Who, notably in one of the BBV Zygon spin-offs and experienced by Cr'zz in Other Lives. Once again pretty dark stuff given where it was originally published, including as it does the murder of a street urchin by the antagonist. Sullivan's art is especially atmospheric in its depiction of the time period and there are a couple of first rate close-up hero shots of the companions.
Boo. Originally planned as another ten parter, Deceptions, in which the antagonists were to revealed to be the Zygons and would have taken place on the home world, instead Russell's effectively forced to draw a narrative line under what was already in place and it feels like it, with a Fanthorpian lever pull and a bit of shouting at some aliens who aren't even granted a name. At the top the final strip Radio Times warns its reads that it is so, as though the content itself wouldn't be enough of an indication. The TARDIS Datacore has a scan of what would have been the first episode of the other story, with the Doctor and SSard going fishing which is an outrageous choice but provides a lovely moment between the two "aliens". So, yes, boo. On the other hand, Russell does leave it on a particularly fannish note echoing the Seventh Doctor's words at the close of Survival as he himself experiences his own cancellation crisis.