Comics Hello again and here we are nearly a quarter of the way through the present hiatus, gap or whatever word you’d like to use for a year in which the only televised episode is at Christmas. But there’s still plenty of Who around, certainly far too much than most of us can afford, between the BBC and Big Finish audios, books and comics. My strategy is to pretty much stick with making anything with the Eighth Doctor a priority then picking and choosing whatever looks essential from everything else. Does anyone really have the purchasing power to collect everything produced each month now? How do people find the time to read and listen to everything. Presumably enough of this stuff is selling to different fan demographics to sustain itself, but there can’t be many franchises this prolific.
Anyway, at the sharp end of production is Titan Comics, who having nabbed the license to produce US comics from IDW has set about creating their own cottage industry with titles for all of the nuWho Doctors (10th, 11th and 12th initially and now 9th) and a series of limited series for the classic models which means the Eighth inhabits yet another media. The selected approach, set the story during the Time War, is somewhat predictable given the world having moved on from being able to create sequels to the now twenty year old TV movie and the wild popularity of Night of the Doctor (which according to this month’s association circular led to an increase in sales of the McGann audios at Big Finish) making the pre-regenerative Eighth the expected model.
Except this is not a story directly about the Time War. As with the River Song cameo, this is a Doctor who’s actively trying to avoid the thing and seeking a distraction. George Mann brings some weariness to the incarnation, but for the most part he’s back in the powerful adventurer mode, life’s champion and all that, carefully dodging the cataclysms which are presumably destroying the universe as hinted at in the Justin Richards short story Natural Regression. Perhaps at some point in the future, perhaps in the Big Finish audio, someone will make an attempt to define the chronology of these stories. For now I’m putting it early. At this point there aren’t enough stories for it to matter too much.
Mann’s story somewhat mirrors one of the Big Finish boxes, the Doctor having been tasked by some mystery other with discovering the origin of his new companion, Josie Day, a painter who somehow knows more than she should about the universe, with each issue developing from visiting a space and time on a handwritten list. We’re back in Seasons of Fear, Keys of Marinus or Key To Time multiple territories, though the impetuous is much looser, there’s no ticking clock, it’s simply a way to justify each adventure and when the conclusion comes, it would probably have worked out the same way if they’d simply skipped to the end (not that you couldn’t argue that the emotional connection sparked by the intervening adventures doesn’t help).
New companion Josie is pretty old school in Eighth Doctor terms, fitting a similar silhouette to Sam Jones, Izzy Sinclair and Lucie Miller (and so Ace and Rose), although for various spoilery reasons it’s not quite that clear cut. If you haven’t read the comics yet, if you’re waiting for the trade paperback, my suggestion is that you stop reading now. I want to briefly discuss the implications of Josie briefly. Have you gone? Good. Right so, yes, the cleverness of Mann’s writing is that as well as making the final instalment provide a logical conclusion to the first and provide a twist (effectively shifting the cliche into someone akin to Majenta Pryce of DWM fame), it’s how in those intervening adventures by giving Josephine a key part to play in helping the Doctor, often with a big speech attached, he justifies the Doctor’s faith in her more than is often the case with companions.
Paintings coming to life is as good a start as any and Mann connects it well to that central mystery about Josie. As we discover (and yes, I’m writing this after reading all five issues) (twice!), Josie knows full well why she has all the knowledge that troubles him and in re-reading the issue, we can already see Mann layering in that she’s hiding something, providing lame excuses but doesn’t overplay his hand, aided by Emma Vieceli’s superb characterisation of her face which manages to capture the double meaning of the words so that can read something new into everything in hindsight. Mann notably doesn’t feel the need to reintroduce Eighth, treating him as being as much of a known quantity as any of his other incarnations. Although he’s not sequelising the cross-media legacy exactly, he is at least acknowledging it.
Tricky second story. Arguably imperilling Josie Androzani-style is an odd choice for her second adventure, but it does provide a good moment of raging anger which you can absolutely hear McGann himself relishing and his companion having the first of her big speeches as she brokers peace between the inadvertently genocidal Spherions and the accidentally oppressed cat like inhabitants of the war-torn planet. Vieceli’s artwork really is epic and gorgeous in places, taking anime as a clear influence especially in the latter stages when Josie’s infection is flushed out. Unlike the various DWM artists across the years which strove to create a clear likeness of the actor, Vieceli’s most offering an idea of the Eighth Doctor, preferring to underscore movement over tableau.
Following the pattern of the 2005 series, after a contemporary setting, then something alien comes Earth’s past, Edinburgh 1866 and like The Unquiet Dead a trip to the theatre. Are these influences intentional? The Doctor confronting magic that isn’t is a deep seam running through his biography and Eighth in particular, this recalling some of the atmosphere of Lloyd Rose’s Camera Obscura. It’s pretty slight stuff, like one of those pieces that would turn up the DWM strip between the larger arcs when Scott Grey or Alan Barnes needed a break from writing in order to catch up. I didn’t notice the twist at the end first time around, perhaps because there’s not enough room in the reflected mirror to see that Josie isn’t there. There's probably a discussion to be had about who the viewpoint character is in these stories.
“Aaah, it’s The Krynoid Invasion or Invasion of the Krynoids” “[Caption: Seeds of Doom]” Sadly, The Paul McGann Years would be a very short video although I’d pay good money for Big Finish to produce an audio version in which he attempted to provide anecdotes about spending a week in the booth every couple of years recording his scenes. Anyway, Mann returns to another of the Doctor’s key antagonists, alien plant life, on this occasion crossed with a big mansion mystery. The piece has a Masefieldian tone as Mann foregrounds a small boy getting to grips with the notion of having an adventure and the mythology which has built up around his family. You could well imagine this story told with mid-80s production values, the moments when the plants take control of humans achieved through stop-motion animation ala The Box of Delights.
The finale caught me by suprising, having thought that this was a six-part series. Despite rehearsing some of the same arguments as The Almost People from television and Immortal Beloved from the audios, this is my favourite issue of the run with its strong antagonist in the source of Josie’s existence and the Doctor having to take moral decision that underscores how he stands apart from humans without undermining his heroism. The reveal of who provided him with the original list (which also reconfigures our understanding of the first page of the previous issue) is the kind of thing which should annoy me, but I couldn’t help grinning at how well Mann provides necessary contrasts in personality. The final moments hint at there being further adventures for Eighth and Josie. Good.