Andrew East looks back at the Eleventh Doctor comic strip The Screams of Death.
The Screams of Death is a DWM comic strip from 2011 (appearing in issues 430 and 431) written by Jonathan Morris, which formed part of a story-arc that culminated in The Child of Time. It sees the 11th Doctor and Amy arrive in 19th Century Paris for a trip to the opera only to discover a time-travelling maniac is kidnapping girls. Sound familiar?
To be fair to Jonathan Morris, the parallels with previous stories are not blatantly obvious, but it has to be said that The Screams of Death is an, admittedly entertaining, mix of The Vampires of Venice and The Talons of Weng-Chiang (with a little touch of The Hunchback of Notre Dame thrown in for good measure).
The story has, as mentioned, an insane criminal, Valdemar, who has been thrown back through time, attempting to wreak revenge on his betrayers by wiping out their ancestors. He is using genetically manipulated women to track down and murder these ancestors, and the cover of the opera to find suitable girls. The Doctor and Amy visit the theatre and witness a distraught man, Louis, calling out desperately to his hypnotised girlfriend, Cosette. With his help they track down Valdemar’s lair and follow him to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral where a quick sonic of the bells causes his hold over the girls to fail and Valdemar ultimately plummets to his doom.
The scenes at the theatre and with the distraught Louis are reminiscent of The Talons of Weng-Chiang; the images of the possessed girls floating across Paris in search of their victims have echoes of The Vampire of Venice; and the final Cathedral-top death fall is very similar to the fate of Judge Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The Screams of Death is a fun story and, despite it’s similarities to other adventures, is a good read. It is only 2 episodes long so doesn’t overstay its welcome and has an intriguing idea, if not a very logical one, at the centre of its plot. Valdemar’s plan to track down the ancestors of his betrayers seems a little complicated. As the Doctor points out, he first has to check the DNA of each potential victim in case they are his own ancestor. Using just the surnames of his betrayers seems a little ‘needle in a haystacky’, as does the fact that the flashback we are shown of his failed execution (which due to some ‘story arc’ meddling from the Child of Time sees him sent back in time rather than killed) occurs in Salzburg not Paris. I’m a bit confused as to why he would be seeking the ancestors of his betrayers in Paris as opposed to Austria.
The Doctor and Amy are well-characterised, although the artwork does their depiction no favours. I do rather like Amy’s outfit though which, showing the story is rather wearing its influences on its sleeve, is very reminiscent of Leela’s Victorian outfit from Talons. And the Doctor has decided that top hats are also cool (he seems to be wearing the outfit he later wears in Let’s Kill Hitler, but bearing in mind this story’s publication date is before that one’s transmission, it’s probably just a coincidence).
Valdemar is a good villain, if a little stereotypically insane, although in 2 episodes there isn’t a huge amount of room to examine him on any more of a deeper level.
Historically there are no real figures or events. One character mentions Emperor Bonaparte and the Doctor asks Valdemar what he is doing in Second Empire France. The opera the Doctor and Amy go to see is Orpheus. Amy anachronistically mentions Jules Verne when trying to convince Valdemar they are simply innocent Parisians with an interest in science fiction, although the Doctor points out Verne hasn’t, by this time, had anything published.
The Screams of Death is an entertaining read but does seem a little short and betrays both its influences and its arc nature; which includes the mystery surrounding, Valdemar’s failed execution and time travel as well as Cosette’s sudden disappearance at the end of the story, and the final frame appearance of a small, Japanese girl – Chiyoko – who had first appeared in The Golden Ones and would go on to be pivotal to the story-arc.
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