Tony Fyler remembers them.
We all know that in Doctor Who, there are the ok stories, and then stories that blow your brains out. Stories that make the unwary into fans, and make fans into acolytes for years to come. Y’know – the Pyramids of Mars, the Robots of Death, the Remembrance of the Daleks, the Caves of Androzani stories.
In comic-book terms, The Weeping Angels of Mons is one of those.
I said as much, pretty much all the way through its original part-work production: it was my jumping-on point with the Tenth Doctor in comic-books, so I had no backstory of Gabby Gonzalez to inform me – but when these two arrive on the battlefields of World War I, something special begins.
In fact, it begins before they even arrive. It begins in a graveyard both literally and figuratively, the battlefield of Mons running through a cemetary, where some Scottish soldiers, including a young lad named Jamie, are talking about the things that matter – their lives back home, plans to marry.
And then you see it.
A grey stone cherub on a grave. Your heart skips a beat, but then you realise it’s a graveyard. It’s probably nothing but a clever use of location.
But then there are dark grey wing-tips in the corner of a panel. And the angels attack.
It’s a chilling beginning, and it only gets better from there. Writer Robbie Morrison excels himself throughout the 128 pages of this adventure. He takes everything you think you already know about the Weeping Angels, turns it up to 11, and then adds hugely to their legend. There’s a particularly chilling twist on the idea of them zapping you back in time and ‘letting you live to death’ here, with the notion that you don’t get to choose where and when you go back to – but that maybe they do. And since their lives depend on using up the time energy of their victims, it’s in the interests of the ‘nicest psychopaths in the universe’ to make sure there’s not much of that energy left for the victims. In other words, it’s in their interests if you don’t last long…
There are treatises on faith that remind us of The Curse of Fenric here too, and the power of one good human being in the world. There’s love, and pain, and a breathtaking reason for the Angels to be active in Mons in the first place that I won’t spoil for you here. There’s a lesson of the futility of the war, a thing that’s always proven when a greater threat comes from outside, but more than that, if such a thing can exist, The Weeping Angels of Mons is a fitting tribute to those who fought and died on every side in that war, for causes that to our long-distant eyes may seem somehow to ring with futility. They seemed that way to some at the time too – the poetry sprung from the First World War is still enough to bring tears to the eyes. But nevertheless, the best parts of a generation of Western Europe threw itself into pits, crawled over mud and blood and barbed-wire and shot each other to death to try and maintain a world they knew and loved. Finding ways to pay them tribute would usually be beyond the remit of a comic-book – especially a 21st century, science-fiction time-travel comic-book. But in the very ending of this story, in a scene that bears some similarity to the end of The Family of Blood, but betters it, The Weeping Angels of Mons achieves that, giving the title a whole other level of meaning.
Of course, as heart-wrenching and pulse-racing as the adventure is – and it is, with lone angel attacks, mass angel attacks, and most peculiarly, a kind of angel chase when (irresistibly enough), the angels get the police box – to work in comic-book form the art has to match up to the pacing and the scope of the ideas of the writer. Here, it does in all but one respect. The humans of Mons are highly believable, and the blood and mud and greyness of the battlefield is a curiously perfect environment for the looming stone darkness of the angels. Daniel Indro and Eleonora Carlini work together, delivering the ‘real world’ of the battlefield and Gabby Gonzalez’ artistic impressions of the people and things she encounters, to deliver a world of varied environments, colours and light levels, which makes the adventure feel like it could and should be filmed. If Morrison manages to teach us something about the nature of humanity by throwing us against the angels, there’s no small debt of gratitude payable particularly to Indro for delivering both the angels that stalk us, and the world that shows why they do it. And in terms of the emotional punches the story delivers, you could write them as words, and no doubt Morrison did, but the translation into the visual is so massively powerful it tightens the throat and clenches the heart, from the fate of the soldiers, to a loving kiss at the moment of certain death, to the change of a blood-covered field to a flowering one, and to the final, fabulous tribute. The artwork here is superb in all but one respect, and that’s the ability to render the Tenth Doctor’s face so it looks like David Tennant. Tennant’s here in the dialogue, absolutely, Morrison capturing the Tenth Doctor’s speech patterns and character to a hair, but the face and expressions of the Tenth Doctor are never really delivered, which can distract some readers in early pages. Honestly though, the story’s so strong, and the art delivers so much else, including the emotional swings and punches, it will hardly matter to you.
Reading this story issue by issue was affecting, giving plenty of stomach-lurching highs and lows. But this collected edition is far, far more satisfying. It’s like upgrading to blu-ray, or to 4k TV. To be able to put the whole story on your bookshelf and read through it in one long edition elevates it to the position it feels like it deserves as one of the Tenth Doctor’s best stories in terms of character development, and arguably – very strongly arguably, since the angels are able to do things here they have never yet been able to do on screen – the best Weeping Angel story so far.
When the villains are on this strong a form, and the humans are this believable, the drama is agonizing and the comedy a blessing. That’s what makes the stories we all think of as ‘the best’ of Who work – our complete emotional involvement in them, from thrills to drama to comedy and back again.
That’s why you need The Weeping Angels of Mons in this collected issue. It’s as absorbing, as wrenching, as heartwarming and as tear-bringing as anything from the last 51 years.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk