Andrew East looks back at a classic Eighth Doctor comic-strip.
The Curious Tale of Spring Heeled Jack is a DWM comic strip featuring the 8th Doctor travelling solo and visiting early Victorian London. He’s just enjoying Victorian nightlife (a recent trend due to the invention of gas lamps in 1840, when the story is set) when he witnesses an attack by Spring Heeled Jack.
Aiding a young Essex woman, Penny Chapman, he eventually discovers all is not as it seems. As monsters explode from the gas lamps, he discovers that Penny is really an alien called Morjanus and that Jack is tasked with hunting her down. A blast from Jack’s psychic force wipes Morjanus from her mind, leaving only Penny whom the Doctor takes home leaving Jack to guard London (although from what is not made clear).
The DWM strips are rarely disappointing. This one, appearing in issues 334-336, is a shorter than usual at only 3 parts, but still satisfies. Practically the entire story happens at night lending itself to some delightfully moody and effective illustrations of Victorian London. The frames are populated by a variety of posh and poor Victorians and the depiction of Jack is goblin-like and effective. I also liked the supporting character of Inspector Arnold Porter, particularly when his dour, sarcastic demeanour disappears in the face of his constable’s death and he screams at the watching crowds to run for their lives.
The 8th Doctor is well drawn and characterised. Penny is a fun companion (before her true identity is revealed) and I remember at the time of publication, thinking she would make good companion material for the solo 8th Doctor – I was sure at least until the final part that she was going to step aboard the TARDIS at the close of the story. Apparently, the writers also thought the same but, ultimately, she was passed over for Destrii who was considered to have more potential. What’s interesting, of course, is both Penny/Morjanus and Destrii are both alien criminal-style characters and I can imagine Penny’s loss of memory about her real identity would have been something that would have featured in future stories (and is something which featured to some extent in another alien criminal companion, Majenta in the 10th Doctor’s strips, when her involvement in the Crimson Hand organisation was revealed). I believe there may also be another abandoned aspect to Penny as well, which is the fact that the stories of Jack were printed, in Victorian times, in what were termed 'Penny Dreadfuls'. This is an aspect of the story writer Scott Gray considered and then ultimately abandoned to make this tale work.
Whilst Jack is an interesting character I did find the back story to him and Morjanus a little vague. He is described as a Hunter and is supposedly at war with Morjanus’ people, but there is no motivation given for that war, and aside from Morjanus releasing the Pyrodines on innocent bystanders there isn’t any real reason given for why the Doctor would side with Jack rather than Morjanus. Her past is left particularly vague – why is she on Earth, how did she get there, what had she done to be hunted down?
However, the atmosphere of the story helps it along and it’s a good visual depiction of the 19th century. Overall, an enjoyable comic strip adventure for the 8th Doctor.
A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the
worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed
with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon
is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of
the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the