McGanniversary Week: Doctor Who In The Radio Times - PERCEPTIONS & CODA

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Andrew East revisits the Eighth Doctor comic strip, Perceptions.

Perceptions is an instalment of the short-lived 1996-97 Radio Times comic strip that appeared in the wake of the TV Movie. It was written by Gary Russell and is an attempt at a newspaper-style strip with VERY short episodes published weekly. Lee Sullivan did the art and I have always had a soft spot for the stories.

Being Gary Russell, one can expect a certain amount of ‘fanwankery’ for want of a less damning word. The first story in the series featured the Cybermen, the second and third featured the Ice Warriors. This story, beginning on January 4th 1997 and running until March 8th, was designed to be the beginning of a series which would feature the Zygons, but a premature curtailing meant this never came to pass. What Perceptions does have, however, is an appearance from purple horse-like aliens with yellow spots; a typical Gary Russell reference to a line from Frontier in Space. It also features my favourite aspect of the Radio Times comic strip – Ssard; the Ice Warrior companion! It’s such a fan idea, it’s glorious.

Ssard starts the story moaning about the difficulty of blending into Victorian London and his (not particularly effective) hooded cloak disguise is highly reminiscent of other alien attempts to disguise themselves on Earth (I’m thinking Teal’c or Worf or any other ‘bit alien but enough like a human to pull it off’ character from Stargate, Star Trek or the like). I’m not sure the love story which occurs ‘off-screen’ between Stacey and Ssard between this strip and their reappearance in Gary Russell’s 8th Doctor novel Placebo Effect (the Doctor and his companion Sam go to their wedding!) is particularly convincing, but I just love the idea of an Ice Warrior companion. It could have been such fun were it developed.

Stacey is a bit more generic, but she does get some stuff to do trying to rescue the Equinoid, who has been kidnapped by a travelling showman and then being replaced by the mysterious aliens trying to capture the Equinoid spaceship.

Story-wise its all a little rushed, due to the pacing required for such short instalments (roughly 4-6 frames per ‘episode’) and so aspects of the plot do get dashed through. On the plus side, the artwork is gorgeous and Victorian London, in particularly, looks marvellous.

The 8th Doctor feels very McGann-ish and one wonders if there is any value in Big Finish bending Russell’s arm to adapt these stories for audio. It would give more scope to develop the rushed stories and he could finish the planned Zygon adventure. It would also mean we could hear Ssard brought to life.

The story of Perceptions continues into the two-part ‘Coda’ which is where the Zygon story gets curtailed and turned into a quick – Stacey is okay, the aliens are defeated and a ‘that’s all folks’ final frame, with the Doctor, Stacey and Ssard heading off for new adventures. It’s a real shame after the great potential the strip showed to end in such an abrupt way, but then, that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Historically, as is often the case with Victorian-set stories (The Next Doctor or The Snowmen, for example) it’s more about the atmosphere of Victoriana than specific historic events or people. There is a bit of a thematic link with Other Lives which also featured an alien forced into being an exhibit in a travelling show– a popular pastime for Victorian gentlefolk, and a setting which also appeared in the BBV release, The Barnacled Baby, with yet another displaced alien (ironically, a Zygon). The Equinoid’s disguise as a firm of solicitors is very Dickensian and the alien’s disguise themselves as ‘blue guards’, but other than that, there is little of note historically.

Perceptions is a good story and it is a shame its second part was so abruptly curtailed. One of the better what ifs…

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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