Oh, that’s who they were, says Tony.
Sometimes, when you have a wealth of over fifty years of history to pick from, you see a thing that looks like something and think “Oh, interesting, looks like them.” And then the whacking great history of the show you’re remembering slaps you in the face with a swordfish, and you realise, it’s not them you’re looking at all, it’s them. When I saw the villains in issue #2.1, I thought “Oh, look a bit like the Fish People from The Underwater Menace.” I’m not sure if this counts as a spoiler or an anti-spoiler, but I’m delighted to report it isn’t them. The slightly weird thing is that unless the story had told me who we actually were dealing with, I’m not sure I’d have looked at them and ever gone “Oh, but of course – it’s them.”
Returns and makeovers are always a risk – on the one hand, bronze Daleks, big ticks all round, on the other, Silurians with breasts, hmm… The villains who are back in part 2 of The School of Death (seriously? Sounds almost like a parody title) are one of those that must surely be due for a TV return soon, and in this story, they gain a new skill at subterfuge that we’d never have thought of as part of their arsenal. There’s also an evolution in their physicality, which is what stopped me seeing them for what they are till they actually told me who they were. But make no bones about it – a) The School of Death is good, fast-paced, creepy stuff, riffing heavily on Invasion of the Body-Snatchers and Harry Potter to bring back an old enemy with a familiar plan, albeit a new method of attack, and b) once you know it’s them you’re dealing with – as you only really find out in the final panel of this issue – you’ll do a solid amount of air-punching, because their return in and of itself will please you a very great deal.
But let’s go back a step. What do we have in this issue? Clara beginning to teach at Ravenscaur, the school-castle on the remote, Scottish island, like Hogwarts’ evil twin. Classrooms full of silent pupils, who only speak to display a haughty arrogance to those who are not like them. The Doctor, arriving at the local pub dressed partly as a sailor but managing in at least his first panel to look rather more like David Bowie (neat little moment of tribute, there, if intentional). Swordfish-fighting with the locals. Clara in the bath. A couple of uncreepy kids (one boy, one girl), who, along with Clara, get ‘washed down the plumbing’ of Ravenscaur to a world that’s a million years BC – or is it? – beneath the floorboards of the austere Scottish school. A visit from the British Prime Minister, an ex-pupil at Ravenscaur. A great Bullingdon Club gag. Creepy tunnels, the return of them, and of course, very possibly the end of humanity as we know it. As mentioned, The School of Death balances its material extremely well, managing to be both atmospheric and creepy and fast-paced and breathless if not at the same time, then at least in logical sequence. So, big ticks for Robbie Morrison on managing to cram a lot of material in, while pacing his story extremely effectively. It’s especially notable that while in part 1, The School of Death had all the hallmarks of an isolated base under siege story, what part 2 makes patently clear is that there are bigger issues to deal with, because the plot on which we’ve stumbled hasn’t just begun at the start of part 1. It’s been going on for decades, and the students of Ravenscaur have been released out into the world, the children of the rich and powerful becoming themselves the rich and powerful. If nothing else, this expanded sense of threat means there’s less likely to be a Ravens Isle-centred MacGuffin at the heart of the solution, and more likely to be running around and scrambling and a worldwide focus. Buckle up, folks, things are about to get bumpy.
If anything, even bigger ticks should go to Rachael Stott and Ivan Nunes on art and colourwork respectively, because not only is the mood of each location and scene crisply delineated here, there’s innovative panel-intercutting to deliver camera-shots of reactions, and speed the story along through the unique techniques of comic-book presentation. Personally, I’d say you know an artist is on their game when they have an easy option and a hard option, and they choose the hard route because it makes for a more effective shot, as Stott does here a number of times (check out the through-the-window shot of Clara in the classroom, with its tree-reflection, and tell me Stott’s not on form, I dare you). Top of the class work across the board then, plus some funny Doctoring and the return of a villainous species that haven’t been seen in on-screen Who since the eighties, as well as Clara being a clever-clogs with a couple of her students.
Bottom line, if you’ve missed out on either issue of The School of Death, you’ve missed out on some cracking Who, and why would you do that with a long, long year to wait before the Capaldi Doctor resurfaces on TV screens? If you’ve read part 2 of The School of Death, I guaran-freaking-tee you, you’ll want to get part 3 when it’s released, because while part of the fun with these villains has always been seeing their arrival on the scene, now that you know it’s them, you’re not going to want to miss whatever they do next.
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