THESE STORIES ALL
THE TV STORIES "THE
GREATEST SHOW IN
THE GALAXY" AND
BRYAN HITCH &
LEE SULLIVAN &
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-
IN MAY 2009.
A GRAPHIC NOVEL
THE PAGES OF DOCTOR
A Cold Day in Hell!
With a cover sporting a fur-clad seventh Doctor, a vampire, the penguin-shaped Frobisher and a looming Ice Warrior, A Cold Day in Hell! looks like it might be a pretty bizarre collection. Indeed it is – and the cover only illustrates the first story!
This collection covers the first twenty issues of Doctor Who Magazine to feature Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, mostly under the editorship of Richard Starkings, who also provides an introduction to this book. His enthusiasm for the strip is evident, but some of his decisions are downright odd. While I can understand his decision to break away from regular television companions in favour of one-off guest characters, the idea of bringing in characters from other comics is one that could easily go badly wrong. Also, his idea that the strip should feature creatures that look like men in rubber suits – because that’s what the series had
on television – is frankly bizarre; surely one of the greatest strengths of the format is that there is no budget to overcome and no limitations to what can be depicted! What’s more, Starkings fired John Ridgway as soon as he took over the magazine, depriving the strip of
a fine artist. Although many of the cheaper replacement artists have now gone onto great things – Bryan Hitch most notably – the mix of artists adds to the disjointed feel of the hotch- potch collection, which veers about wildly in quality from strip to strip, both in terms of writing and artwork.
Although on television McCoy was well into his
tenure, accompanied by Bonnie Langford’s
Mel and very shortly afterwards by Sophie
Aldred as Ace, neither of these companions
makes an appearance. Instead, the title strip,
A Cold Day in Hell! itself continues to feature
Frobisher, carrying on from the sixth Doctor’s
comic run. This isn’t too unusual a move for a
strip that has often paid more attention to its
own continuity than to that of the television
show that inspired it, but does throw up some
questions. Presumably the Doctor has left his
regular companion behind, and met up with
his old friend again. It’s always good to see
Frobisher, but this isn’t a great story for him –
a shame considering it is last appearance as
a regular. Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable tale
of an Ice Warrior assault on the holiday planet
of A-Lux. Having altered the weather control
systems to produce sub-Arctic temperatures,
the Martians have moved in and it’s up to the
Doctor and his friend to push them out and set
things right. As a three-parter, the story has more room to breathe than most in this volume, creating an effective in simple adventure. It also introduces Olla, a Dreilyn, or heat vampire. Her race is one that suffers from great distrust because of their deadly abilities. Here she is characterised as a resourceful ally, and although it’s a shame to see Frobisher stay behind to help out the people of A-Lux, Olla’s story promises to an interesting one.
Sadly, the following strip, the brief Redemption, does not deliver. A big space thug turns up and reveals that Olla – who has been doing her best to create a sympathetic background for herself – is nothing more than a villainous monster. This could have been very interesting if the truth had been gradually revealed over the course of the series, but through revealing it straight away any possibility of mystery is lost. You have to wonder why she was introduced in the first place, as this dull strip doesn’t seem to warrant the introduction of a new false companion.
Next is the fabulously awful Crossroads
of Time, a notorious crossover with the
Transformers universe. I’d actually read
this one before, a few years ago, and I
wasn’t any more impressed then than I
am now. I’m not totally against crossov-
ers – they can be great fun, but if the two series brought together don’t mix well, the result
is something like this. The story only exists to bring Death’s Head, a ridiculous, irritatingly
macho robot bounty hunter, down from gigantic Transformer size to human size, in pre-paration for his own title, which didn’t last long itself. To do this, the creators of the strip decide to randomly get him into a fight with the Doctor, who uses the Master’s TCE – which for some reason he has in his pocket – in attempt to destroy the droid. Instead, he is simply miniaturised. Frankly, it’s a badly written piece of nonsense, enlivened only by some nice artwork by Geoff Senior – although his Doctor is quite off the mark. In fairness though, the Doctor’s appearance varies so much through this volume it’s sometimes hard to believe he’s supposed to be the same character.
Claws of the Klathi! is much, much better. Mike Collins
provides a highly entertaining story in which the Doctor,
arriving in London in 1851, teams up with the gentleman
scientist Nathaniel Derridge and must fight against the
closed minds of the scientific community as he attempts
to solve the mystery of some riverside murders. It all
turns out to be down to the robotic servant of the alien
Klathi, a pair of vindictive extraterrestrials who will stop
at nothing to get back to their planet. There’re some
lovely images here, with much of the story based in the
confines of a freak show, where the Klathi and their
peculiar humanoid servant Caval – AKA Reptillo the
Lizard-Man – a eking out an existence while trying to
escape the Earth. At the story’s close, we get a visit to
the Crystal Palace, where the take-off of the Klathi ship
promises destruction for the entire area. The Doctor,
Nathaniel and, eventually, Caval make an effective team, and the strip as a whole is wonderful fun, with beautifully
atmospheric artwork by the team of Kev Hopgood and Dave Hine.
Culture Shock is a brief but rather wonderful little story, and is entirely unlike the rest of the
volume, or indeed, much of Doctor Who in any format. By the now legendary Grant Morrison and Bryan Hitch, it’s an intelligent science fiction tale of a peculiar race of beings who turn out to be living inside the body of a mindless animal, and whose tiny world is threatened by an invading pathogen – manifested to them as a swarm of vicious monsters. Although the artwork can be a little hectic, and again, the likeness of the Doctor could be improved upon, this is a thoughtful and charming tale.
The rather dull Keepsake did less to impress me. It has a very 2000 AD feel to it, like many DWM strips, and I never liked those strips they used to which would feature some overly butch spacer trying to be a hot-headed hero or bastard, or both. Here we get Keepsake, hauling his starship from world to world, suffering verbal diarrhoea under the watchful eye
of his pet vulture. He gets in a fight with some spear-wielding natives, and gets himself a
hot girlfriend, but has to say things like “Holy spit!” because this is a kids’ mag and he can’t swear. The Doctor is involved in there somewhere, but he might as well not have shown up. At least the artwork, by John Higgins, is rather excellent.
Planet of the Dead, in no way related to the recent episode of the same name, is an odd
but fun little two-parter. Intended as a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration for the show, it’s certainly better than Silver Nemesis, and features a whole host of companions and all of
the seven Doctors who’d featured up to that point. Well, sort of. In the spooky Part 1, the Doctor faces the ghosts of his dead companions, who are revealed to be nothing more
than vicious, shapeshifting monsters called Gwanzulum. Part 2 sees all of his previous incarnations drawn into the mix. This is less successful because we now know that they’re nothing more than impostors, but seeing the Doctor facing his former selves acting viciously out of character is amusing. The strip also features the first Doctor Who work of popular artist Lee Sullivan, who really nails the likenesses of the various Doctors. There’s also a
nice joke where a Gwanzulum takes the shape of Peri, apparently confused about whether she’s supposed to be dead or not!
Echoes of the Mogor is a fine tale, well-paced over its two episodes, and happily featuring Ridgway’s excellent artwork one more time. Author Dan Abnett, now a respected voice in the comics business as well as in the Whoniverse, provides a very Alien-esque story in which the crew of a planetary base are being killed – not by the alien Mogor, who are long extinct, but by their fear of them. The Doctor arrives, along with the successful new creative of the Foreign Hazard Duty – a sort of successor to UNIT – and it becomes clear that the Mogor – large, reptilian creatures – have left psychic echoes of themselves behind on the planet. As such, it’s an effective take on Alien that then becomes a ghost story. Just in case the Alien allusions weren’t obvious to readers, most of the FHD are named after actors and crew on the film – Scott, Cameron, O’Bannon, etc…
Following this is the frankly peculiar Time and Tide, another story that doesn’t feel very
Whoish. Landing on the only island left on a world that is being submerged beneath the ocean, the Doctor is forced to set sale on a raft to reach his TARDIS. The natives, lanky beaked creatures, have resigned themselves to their fate and have become fatalistic, spending most of their time trying to eat the Doctor and playfully maiming each other. In
a grim twist, the Doctor leaves them all to it, save one, the pregnant elder known as the Worrier. Who he then leaves to survive on his raft, alone. It’s all most, most odd, and
although I do like the design of the aliens, it’s hard to feel good about this one.
Follow that TARDIS! is the sort of story that seems designed to divide fans. Played almost
entirely for laughs, it’s another crossover, featuring the halfwit Sleeze Brothers. Who are they? I ask. Apparently they had their own brief comic series. Well, now I know. The strip also takes the unusual approach of having a different artist for each page, something which makes the strip feel terribly disjointed, like the whole volume in miniature, really. However, the story is good fun, as the Doctor, with the Sleeze Brothers
tagging along, goes after the Meddling Monk in his Port-a-loo
shaped TARDIS, chasing him through history. It’s not really
that funny, but there’s mirth to be had from seeing the Doctor
responsible for events like the Tunguska event of 1908 and
the sinking of the Titanic. Perhaps best viewed as an out-of-
continuity bit of silliness, this is flawed but fun.
Finally, we have the genuinely dreadful Invaders from Gantac, a truly terrible strip to round
off the volume. Aliens from the planet Gantac – apparently a race of social insects, although they look just like big blokes in silly space uniforms – have landed on Earth for the purpose of locating lost treasure, and are going around, killing and torturing and generally being very unpleasant. That’s kind of it. The Doctor arrives and teams up with a flea-bitten tramp called Leapy, and between them they get into trouble with the Gantacs, are sentenced to death by torture, several times, and escape just in time to meet the Gantacs’ gigantic leader, the fat and ugly Yaga. If you’ve ever seen Weird Science you should be able to get some idea of what Yaga looks like – remember the creature Chet gets turned into at the end? Kind of like that, but with antennae. Yaga is angrily embarrassed when he realises he has invaded the wrong planet, and decides to destroy everything in a fit of pique. Thankfully, Leapy’s fleas somehow kill him – and all his troops – ending this story after three interminable instalments. Poorly written and illustrated, it’s a very poor addition to the strip.
Overall then, this collection is very much a mixture of the good, the bad and the bleeding
awful. The strips are generally very brief, so if one story doesn’t work, another is along very swiftly to try and make up for it. As is par for the course, the book ends with a commentary, impressively getting together almost all the writers and artists featured to make some kind
of contribution. There are some interesting passages; several artists mention the difficulty
of getting Sly McCoy’s features right on the page, and included are some amusing ‘action’ shots of the actor that were sued to reference. Still, in spite of reading the various authors views, it’s hard to understand why they thought some of these ideas would ever work.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Frobisher, aka Avan Tarklu - shapeshifter, penguin and private eye. What a character. He has transcended
his comic book origins, arriving in both novels and audios to irritate those fans who simply cannot stand the thought of anything so silly. However, one thing remains unclear – just when does he travel in the TARDIS?
The trouble with the DWM strips is that they frequently took an independent view of their relationship with the television show, ignoring all but the most important developments. So the Doctor would regenerate halfway though a story arc, regardless of how problematic this would fit into the overall scheme of things. Now on the one hand, this is all very healthy, providing the strip with its own identity rather than bog it down in continuity. But for those of us who like things to fit – regardless of how irrelevant it really is – it poses something of a problem. For years, many fans dismissed the strips as being apocrypha or even set within a parallel timeline, but later crossovers into other media made the problem more complex.
On the surface of it, it shouldn’t be too much trouble. When we first meet Frobisher, the Doctor is in his sixth incarnation, travelling alone. This suggests a placement in the ever-useful gap between The Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani. However, after a few strips, the two travellers are joined by Peri, who has been back to the States, got a job and quit again. In The World Shapers anthology, the Doctor is accompanied by both companions (except in Salad Daze when he just has Peri, and Time Bomb when there’s only Frobisher, and in both these the Doctor makes reference to picking the missing companion up from an event that they’ve been dropped off to see).
This, then, is fairly self-explanatory. After Revelation of the Daleks, the Doctor must drop Peri off on Earth for a break from travelling with him, meet Frobisher, and take up travelling with him. They collect Peri, and enjoy travelling together as a trio. Peri smartens herself up, starting to look like her Season 23 self. Occasionally dropping either of the pair off for other events he isn’t interested in seeing, the Doctor continues to travel with both. He drops Frobisher back home eventually, and ends up on Ravolox with Peri.
But, but, but… the novels and audios with Frobisher cause more trouble. Mission: Impractical suggests a placement between the strips War Game and Funhouse, but this can’t be, because it is clearly after the Doctor’s trial, referring to this in dialogue throughout. The audios with Frobisher make no mention of Peri
being away, so presumably they take place after the trial too. Thankfully, The Maltese Penguin sees the Doctor collect Frobisher after a time apart, so the Doctor and Frobisher meet up again after the events of
the Doctor’s trial, once the Doctor’s dropped Mel off in her own time frame with his future self.
Yet, following the conclusion to The World Shapers, Frobisher is seen travelling with the seventh Doctor in this collection. Mel is nowhere to be seen, and together they even pick up another short-term companion, Olla. Equally, there’s no mention of Frobisher in Time and the Rani. As the Doctor is drawn as wearing his pre-Battlefield outfit, we have placed this collection just prior to Battlefield. References later in the run would confirm that Ace had been left behind in the Cretaceous period whilst these adventures were taking place. Presumably the Doctor collects her after dropping Frobisher off somewere (unless there’s a Frobisher / Ace dinosaur story out there waiting to be told...)
All in all, one gets the impression that rather than being a simple companion, Frobisher is more of a friend to the Doctor, and occasional travelling buddy who meets up with him from time to time. He last appeared with the eighth Doctor in Where Nobody Knows Your Name, although neither recognised the other, as both had changed shape since they last met!
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