Saturday, August 9, 2008

doctor who: the flood

At this rate, I’m going to go through all the graphic novels in the library before the month is out and then I’ll be forced to buy some from the comic store (who won’t hire me for some reason). Now, I’ve read one Eighth Doctor comic collection (The Glorious Dead) and I’ve skipped to the end, the very last of the Eighth Doctor’s strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. As usual it’s beautiful stuff. My favourite story is “Bad Blood” written by Scott Gray and illustrated by Martin Geraghty. As the author asserts, Doctor Who has tried to do Westerns over the years—but never before has it come through so effectively, plus with a minimum of embarrassing stereotypes. The art is superb, with enough inks to have made Darwyn Cooke happy. As it focuses on the Lakota of South Dakota in 1875, the costumes are accurate, the Native Americans believable characters with believable dialogue rather than caricatures, and Sitting Bull makes a formidable ally for the Doctor. (There’s only one section that makes me wince, and that’s when the Doctor holds up his hand to Sitting Bull—aka Tanaka Yotanka—and says “How.” Oi, the Doctor’s not that stupid!)

The Doctor gets to wear a hat and some killer boots, but otherwise he fits in quite nicely, for obvious reasons! There’s always a tendency in Doctor Who to talk down native “superstition,” and while the Doctor is guilty of it to an extent, at least by the end he’s acknowledged that there is more than one way of looking at things. Custer makes an appearance, and he’s neither a monster nor a hero (though I learned that he was a teetotaller!). As if all this wasn’t enough to throw into a story, some cat-like creature named Jodafra (who’s apparently the Doctor’s nemesis) and a fish-like creature named Destrii who the Doctor met before, apparently. There are beautiful atmospherics caused by long, snowy scenes, and an ending I didn’t see coming. Excellent story.

“Where Nobody Knows Your Name” is sweet story to kick off the volume, written, again, by Scott Gray, and with wonderfully distinctive art by the accomplished Roger Langridge (who draws the Eighth Doctor so winningly). I could hear Paul McGann’s voice as soon as his Doctor started processing dialogue bubbles (and that’s a good thing, of course!). The story is sweet, warm, and life-affirming, despite the Doctor having just lost Izzy (“It’s a terrible shame when you lose someone special, isn’t it? When they die . . . When they leave . . . When they change”). It ends with the Doctor regaining his confidence with the unwitting help of . . . Frobisher! Neither of them recognize each other, but it’s a lovely idea.

I guess it’s high time Doctor Who did something in the realm of football, though Gareth Roberts is the last person I’d expect to be writing about it! (How many Doctor Who fans are football fans, I wonder?) “The Nightmare Game” is also an homage to the north in the ‘70s (much as Life on Mars would later be). It’s very funny, features a kid named Billy who keeps thinking the Doctor should pump the aliens full of lead, and gives the Doctor the chance to complain about socks and drive a bus. Mike Collins is all about the epic art, which is quite suited to this story. And his drawings of Eight are just gorgeous, rowr. (But why did he dispense with the cravat and Belle Époque costume?) The Doctor tries to convince his alien captors that he’s a chef who travels the Earth looking for recipes!

Silly me, I thought the first comic Adrian Salmon had drawn was the fab one he did for the Tenth Doctor and Martha. His distinctive style makes him one of my favourite comic artists of all time, and the light-hearted script by Scott Gray, “The Power of Thoueris,” made me laugh and laugh. And hey, the Doc’s in swimming trunks and the Panama hat, cha-king! The Doctor gets the last pun, as usual, “That’s what you get for living in denial.”

“The Curious Tale of Spring-Heeled Jack” is also dear to my heart—Anthony Williams brings 1840 London to life beautifully, and the Doctor looks quite good in a top hat! There’s a feisty, blonde, beautiful Londoner companion, with a crush on the Doctor, with a secret, named Penny (!). Spring-Heeled Jack makes about as much sense as Astrolabus in Voyager, and his pouncing around groping ladies (while he actually has a motive, which is more than you can say for the “real” Spring-Heeled Jack) looks a bit like the Green Goblin in Spider-Man! Even with all this drama, there’s a fair bit of humor (“And here I stand, giving a lecture to a walnut muffin”). Susan makes an appearance, and the ending is not quite what you’d expect. Fab.

“The Land of Happy Endings” is illustrated in a rather ugly style, but I can see why this story made people cry. “Sins of the Fathers” is beautifully illustrated by John Ross, shows off the fish-lady Destrii in a bikini before she transforms into a beautiful premonition of Martha, and gives us reason to believe the hellion would make a good companion (which she in fact does, a bit of Ace running through her fish-veins). She also gives the Doctor a big snog! “And you’ll stop doing that, too!” he snaps.

“The Flood” is a bit more approachable than “The Glorious Dead.” It’s set in Camden and starts out with some really funny attempts by Destrii to fit in on Earth. Martin Geraghty does a complete 180 with his art, which is suddenly modern and illustration-quality. It tries to reinvent the Cybermen, and as you know, I’m not a very receptive audience to that. They look rather androgynous and weak, even more laughable than the current version we have tromping around on TV. Whatever. There’s a presentiment of Torchwood, Dr. Flowers from The Monsters Inside, and in some ways the feel is already that of the new series. I’m not quite sure how they achieved that, but it’s there. Destrii in her human form is on the cover of this book looking like a Jedi warrior, and in this story she gets to justify that grandiose picture. The Doctor stakes it all on saving humanity: he offers to regenerate by radiation poisoning so the Cybermen can analyze that data. Scott Gray, I think, loves to get the Eighth Doctor into mind-bending, near-sublime situations, and this is his last chance to do it. The Doctor resists being a god, for cows and companions. There’s a nice tribute to Izzy, that other guy from Stockport, and Dr. Grace. The story was meant to end with a regeneration into Eccles, and there’s even a lovely sketch of Eccles in McGann’s costume. But it makes much more sense to have the regeneration take place, presumably, in the Time War and off screen at least. (However, Destrii does suggest the Doctor wear a leather jacket!)

Doctor Who continuity is hard to deal with, as this collection shows. Had the Doctor regenerated in the comic, it would have nullified The Infinity Doctors as well as any possible plans Moffat may have to revisit the Time War. It’s a case of you take what you want and ignore the rest. It’s a shame we most likely will never see McGann on TV again, but in the comics he was quite the action hero, in the books, quite cerebral. With all that tunnelled into the character, he feels like one of the most multi-faceted of the Doctors.

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