The Love Invasion.

Comics For the first time in nearly a decade, Doctor Who Magazine's comic strip has changed shape. Writer Scott Gray's epic run of Eighth Doctor adventures came to a necessary end a few months ago with an excellent story featuring an invasion of London by the Cybermen and a regeneration-skirting finale in the flames of the time vortex. It was vintage stuff, Gray being one of the unsung heroes of the wilderness years bringing exciting, touching, gut wrenching stories month after month.

After an extended period when the strip could find its own way and develop into something entirely distinctive from the other forms in production (in sound and text) it would have to fulfill the expectations of new readers and return to pastiching whatever's happening on screen. This would have to be a recognisable Ninth Doctor and Rose, and more importantly, the rich continuity which had built up over the years would be out of the window. It had been rumoured that Russell himself would be writing the first story, but in the event, Scott Gray takes a breather and lets general franchise stallwart Gareth Roberts take the strain.

This new story began in March with the three part The Love Invasion. It's London in the swinging 60s and a group of shapely girls in pink t-shirts from something called 'Lend-A-Hand' are passing through the crowd doing random acts of kindness. The Doctor's immediately suspicious ("She didn't smell human") and is even more intrigued when they find that a luxury complex of flats is being built on the site of what should be the estate that in the future Rose calls home. So far, so Adam Adamant Lives!. But as the story progresses it becomes clear that 'Lend-A-Hand' is a front for Igrix, a Kustollon, a time travelling alien who wants to blow up the moon as part of a plan which would mean humanity doesn't reach the stars and start a war with his people.

Much like the novels, it's initially strange seeing and 'hearing' The Doctor and Rose in this new media. After the initial 'teaser' featuring a 'Lend-A-Hand' girl being apparently murdered there's the TARDIS and already The Doctor's quipping that the 60s are the only decade when his timeship is a good disguise. The first thing the reader notices is how close the ensuing banter between him and Rose is to that heard on screen. Already there is a great rationalisation as to why this TARDIS crew seem to spend most of their time on Earth around the 20th century. (Doctor: "Humans just aren't very curious people. Like you, choosing to come here. We could have gone and seen the warriors of Sun Tzu, or the Ottoman Empire, or the Oligocene era -- you'd love the first porcupines ... but nah, it was 'Let's Go Somewhere Different ...' " Rose: "I just don't wanna go too far back. Nowhere before electricity, OK? I'm always reaching for light switches that ain't there...") Importantly it passes the test of sounding like the actors something which isn't very easy to do.

Like the tv series, and cleverly for a medium in which space is a premium, there are very few featured characters. Charlotte Cobb is a scientist who designed a serum to fight against the insidious alien 'Lend-A- Hand' girls after they did away with her husband. Shirley Gilbert is effectively Rose's companion during the adventure, asking for the plot to be explained to her while she tries to grasp all the futuristic phrases which are thrown into the mix. Mr Love is Igrix's human relation on Earth. Charlotte makes the biggest impression, coming across the strongest, even if as the story progresses she becomes more of a bystander as The Doctor and Rose complete their self-engineered mission.

The artwork is very -- busy. Action fills every page and the artists have gone as far away from the rows of frames approach as you can go. On page two of part two, the top frame is almost pushed off the page by the title. There is, however, the usual issue of making the characters look like their real counterparts. One approach is to create artwork so stylised that this doesn't matter (see some issues of the Buffy comic). The other way is photo-realism, effectively copy frames from the film or tv series (see the recent 24:One Shot). Perhaps understandably this goes for something in between and ends up looking like Roy of the Rovers. Oh well. Eccleston becomes something of a caricature -- big ears, big nose, big forehead. In some frames during the opening part he looks more like Kenneth Williams. Piper's rendering is more successful, especially in the final part. The characters created specially for the strip come across better, especially Charlotte. I've often wondered were artists who have to draw humans get the image from -- is there a Littlewoods catalogue somewhere with a photo which was the inspiration for her likeness?

What's particularly surprising is how close the strip comes being the tv series. There is a Bad Wolf reference and The Doctor doesn't quite save the day all by himself. It also lets the plot resonate with the characters. There is a moment in part three similar to the scene in The Unquiet Dead were The Doctor and Rose debate the morality of allowing the Gelph to live on in the corpses of humans. Here, the alien's Igix's plan could mean that humanity would go on leaving a lovely peaceful life on Earth without war. When they have one of their 'special chats' The Doctor points out 'All the horrors I've seen in the future -- swept away. So tell me, Rose Tyler -- should I be fighting that?' Rose says that she doesn't want anyone running her life, she wants to make her own mistakes. But The Doctor has frequently been guilty of much the same meddling as Igrix, usually on other worlds.

Overall this was more enjoyable that might be expected. It's interesting to see a Ninth Doctor adventure in a format which is closer to the old series than the new with shorter parts and cliffhangers. Time and again I found myself grinning at some bit of business or dialogue, some of which is just as quotable as the tv series ("They're humans now -- with basic human instructions. Eat, sleep, fancy the wrong person, worry, cry a lot, pick fights, that sort of thing...") Most importantly for me, it doesn't feel dumbed down, and would have made a great tv episode given the money and time. Can't be better than that.

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