Doctor Who: THE CRYSTAL THRONE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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As part of our Sontaran-fest, Andrew East takes The Crystal Throne.

It’s the spin-off waiting to happen (and I’m sure in RTD’s day it already would have). The Paternoster Gang; the Doctor’s Victorian allies feature in this two part comic strip which was published in 2014, ‘between Doctors’ as it were. Vastra, Jenny and Strax have proved immensely popular since their first appearance in A Good Man Goes to War. So popular were they, that Strax – who actually died in that story – was brought back to life in a DVD extra so he could become Vastra’s butler and make a trio of Victorian crime fighters.

The first part, from DWM 475, gets straight into the action with Vastra accosting a man who is barreling towards Buckingham Palace with a carriage full of explosives. Soon after Jenny and Strax appear and we find ourselves following their investigations into the man which lead them to the Crystal Palace, which has now been moved to Sydenham Hill after the end of the Great Exhibition. It is hosting a Brazilian rainforest exhibit created by Lady Cornelia Basildon-Stone who, it turns out, is using alien technology in (yet another) attempt to wrest control of the throne from Queen Victoria.

The Crystal Throne characterises the three gang members closely to their TV counterparts. Vastra and Jenny’s dialogue in particular echoes the speech patterns of Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart and Strax is every inch Dan Starkey’s comedy portrayal of the Sontaran butler. We also get a bit some expansion on Vastra’s apparent position as a real life Sherlock Holmes (The Snowmen suggests he is a fictional creation - at odds with some other Doctor Who media - and that Vastra is actually the inspiration for Conan Doyle). Jenny bonds with a young urchin who is much closer to her original walk of life than her current position as the maid/wife of Vastra.

The marriage between Vastra and Jenny always strikes me as a bit odd. Not the ‘female/female’ (or female/lizard) aspect, but the way that, even behind closed doors, Jenny continues to act as her maid. In public, I can understand why this pretence would need to be maintained within Victorian society (although with a lizard face and a potato head, one wonders who would be paying attention to the unconvential marriage) but in their home, why keep up the pretence? It is the unbalanced power in the relationship that continues to irk me in the TV series, particularly in their most recent appearance in Deep Breath.

Another slightly controversial aspect, which actually reached the letters page of DWM, is Strax’s reaction to the Sikh bodyguard. He mistakenly assumes that the Sikh is injured or ill because of the ‘bandage’ on his head: something which fits well with Strax’s inability to understand human idiosyncracies, right down to his difficulty telling male and female apart. His attitude upset some people and Tom Spilsbury apologised for the offence. I can see why Scott Gray, the writer, chose to include this character quirk and I can see why it might be offensive. Whether the people concerned were right to complain, I can’t decide as it’s always difficult when religion is brought into anything, as someone somewhere is always going to take offense. Strax’s comments were never racist or particularly offensive and did fit his character’s TV portrayal – but it is something I reckon would probably have been tweaked in filming, were this a TV story.

The back story to Lady Basildon-Stone takes the story, briefly, to South Africa, and an encounter with a Silurian scientist. This echoes The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood a little and adds an interesting dimension to Vastra’s motivation.

The wasp/humans are effectively drawn and I like the idea of a hive mind being created out of the Victorian police force; trained to take orders and loyal to a queen. Unfortunately, in a two part story this doesn’t really get much time to develop much beyond some ‘kill, kill, kill’ style set pieces.

Aside from the Crystal Palace, and a few references to Queen Victoria, there is nothing historically factual in this story. It’s frustratingly vague in its time placement. Jenny holds up a copy of the Times at one point but only the day and month are shown: it’s a Tuesday in June (26th or 28th, I think). It doesn’t even give any hints as to where it is in the Paternoster Gang’s own chronology: is it before or after The Snowmen or The Crimson Horror? The only possible hint is when Strax states his is nearly thirteen; whereas in A Good Man Goes to War (apparently) he states he is 12, so roughly a year has passed, and Vastra and Jenny are picked up from around 1888 in that story.

Between Doctors 11 and 12, as originally published, The Crystal Throne provided a fun stop gap as we waited for Capaldi’s Doctor to grace the comic strip pages.

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 chance.

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