Tuesday, August 26, 2008

doctor who: the world shapers

Didn’t John Ridgway’s hand get tired, drawing all of these Sixth Doctor comics unassisted? I really enjoyed this collection, and I’m not afraid to say I’m a Frobisher fan. He works really well with the Sixth Doctor and Peri.

The first story, Exodus/Revelation/Genesis, seems to have taken influence from The Grapes of Wrath and feels a bit like Justin Richards’ Dreams of Empire in its settings at least. In any case, Alan McKenzie writes 6 with a lot of affection and understanding, though he lets Peri be this Doctor’s conscience, much as Rose was for the Ninth Doctor originally. Unfortunately, the only thing I think Ridgway can’t draw very well is Peri! She improves as the collection goes along, but she never quite looks like Nicola Bryant. On the other hand, he’s superb at capturing Colin Baker’s expressions and body language. Peri and Frobisher being imprisoned during most of the story is a bit lame, but it does allow the Doctor to work on his own. There’s a great, huge, one-page panel of a half-human, half-Cyberman construct strangling someone as the cliffhanger to part two. The villain turns out to be someone who looks like Albert Einstein—“everyone laughs at a funny-looking little man!” to which the Doctor’s retort is, “Oh, it’s not so bad! I was one myself a few regenerations ago!” The comic ends adorably with the Doctor carrying the ailing Frobisher!

Nature of the Beast starts unpromisingly with Peri almost half-naked again. That, however, is followed by a very funny scene of the Doctor retelling a boring story to Frobisher and Peri. “I think I prefer him depressed . . .” Appearances are deceptive in many ways in this story, which includes a delightful sequence of the Doctor drawing on his experience from being Peter Davison and throwing a rock à la a cricket ball! I don’t know why the story reminds me of “Nightmare of Eden”; perhaps it’s the monster running amok, the misguided crew, the clandestine love affair with someone believed dead? Long before the Ninth Doctor told Rose about how humans are more flexible in the future with who they “dance” with, he chides Peri’s close-mindedness over an inter-species love affair.

Time Bomb is imaginatively drawn, Frobisher works out of his mono-morphia, there are humanoid-dinosaurs, but it’s uncharacteristically morbid when corpses launched from a time cannon start showing up all over prehistoric Earth. Salad Daze is entirely silly, and Peri has changed clothes and hair styles, which normally would be a good thing, but I kept thinking she was Nyssa! Her personality is certainly more like Mel’s, in any case, as she tries to get the rotund Sixth Doctor to eat his veg. Instead, she’s rather condescendingly tossed into an Alice in Wonderland dream-world and vows to go make the Doctor chips upon her return. The whole thing is validated because of a superb drawing of the Sixth Doctor in classic Colin Baker mode that forms the last panel.

Changes sees Peri borrowing Sarah Jane’s clothes (!) in another slightly “Nightmare in Eden”-esque tale. A shape shifter is lose in the TARDIS, and the Doctor and Frobisher have to find it before it gets Peri. There’s a wonderful insight into the Doctor’s character—he keeps a zoo, a “way station for endangered animals,” in a premonition of The Last Dodo. Some very cute drawings illustrate this. Frobisher has a wonderful sense of humor that echoes Peri’s as well—“Add to that information the fact that our intruder has been able to drain energy from the TARDIS, and what do you get?” “Hopelessly confused?” Another absolutely classic ending as the Doctor asks, “Tea, anyone?” (And a bit prescient of “The Christmas Invasion,” actually.)

Profits of Doom by Mike Collins is actually very, very funny due to slug-like aliens who are Ferengi with guns and a better vocabulary (“You cannot trust Gallifreyans—they’re zero tax rated!”). It actually reminds me a bit of Alistair Lock’s brilliant sci fi parody radio plays. Kara McAllista, “maintenance, third class,” on the ship that will eventually bring life to the future planet of Arcadia (remember “Fall of Arcadia” from the Time War?) is one of the better supporting characters I’ve read in comics. She’s funny, intelligent, and very confused. The storyline is something of a mishmash of ‘80s corporate culture and Colin Brake’s Colony of Lies, but it’s better than the average space opera.

I really liked Jamie Delano’s The Gift. I don’t know what it is, but the Sixth Doctor gets undressed a lot in these comics. He’s on the beach here with Peri (in a bikini—watch that drool, gentlemen) when they decide to take up Frobisher’s exhortation to go to a party. There’s something of Simon Guerrier’s “Categorial Imperative” in the atmosphere of a birthday party for the 21-year-old Lorduke of Zazz, which isn’t a bad thing. For once Peri gets a good costume—1920s flapper—and you can imagine the decor of Zazz is going to be semi-Jazz Age. Fantastic. The Lorduke himself is a fun character, perfectly capturing a 21-year-old’s combination of enthusiasm and ennui. The Doctor proves he can dance looooong before “Moonlight Serenade.” The Lorduke’s misfit but ultimately harmless brother wrecks the birthday party, and it’s up to Frobisher and the Doctor to stop his machinations. There’s a hilarious meta-fictional scene as a “Monektoni Shug faces oblivion.” The best part of this story, though, is that music comes out as the ultimate weapon in defeating mindless robots. This involves the Doctor writing a score—“It’s not Count Basie”—that a deranged band of Zazzian musicians have to play. It’s truly inventive.

Call me a pushover, but I also loved The World Shapers, even if it relies on fan wank continuity. The Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher land on Marinus (!) where a dying Time Lord’s TARDIS is represented as modern art in a breathtaking, purely Ridgway panel. The Doctor notes that two TARDIS gossip when they meet. They find out they have to go to Planet 14 and have to pick up Jamie McCrimmon on the way! “Mad Jamie” is old, still living in the Highlands in the 18th century, and doesn’t look a thing like the pushing-70 Frazer Hines does now! There’s a truly sweet panel as the Doctor embraces his old best friend and says, “I don’t care how old you are, Jamie. You’re still my friend and I’m counting on your help.” On Marinus, the Voord have evolved into Cybermen! The Doctor gets to kick @$$, and Jamie goes out in a hero’s death that brings a tear to this fan girl’s eye. “Just like the good old days?” “Aye, Doctor.” Now, you may be wondering, as I was, how Jamie could possibly remember the Doctor considering his mind was wiped by the Time Lords in “The War Games.” Well, Grant Morrison worked around this, brilliantly I might add—“That’s what they [the Time Lords] thought, too, Peri. Fortunately their understanding of the human mind is fairly limited.” Good news for fan fic writers everywhere!

Very, very good collection.

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