Tony’s running away with a strange man.
There are collected comic-books, and there are collected comic-books. Some feel like they’re there just to make up the numbers and feed the geeky compulsion for completion. And then there are those who politely shoulder their way through the crowd, with an ‘Excuse, me, pardon me, coming through, I’m terribly sorry but I think you’re in my space.’ Comic-book collections that, before they existed, you dreamed about, thinking ‘Oh, y’know what would be COOOL?!’
Welcome to The Eighth Doctor, Volume 1. It’s terribly, terribly polite in its awesomeness, but it leaves you in no doubt that here is a collection that makes sense to own in a collected edition, a hard-copy edition, an arguably old-fashioned but thoroughly ‘proper’ edition.
Fact 1: It’s the Eighth Freakin’ Doctor. We love the Eighth Doctor. Many, many geeks have a special, which is to say a slightly creepy, place in our hearts for the Eighth Doctor because he was the Doctor when Doctor Who was invisible to most of the world. After the single, ill-fated pilot, get this, the rest of the world thought Doctor Who was DEAD. But The McGann incarnation had impressed Who-fans so much that he lived on – the BBC released books with him in, taking him on no fewer than 73 adventures, from 1997 all the way up to 2005, when the Ninth Doctor took over the baton. Big Finish gave the Eighth Doctor a whole new home too, and as of now, has been making Eighth Doctor adventures for fifteen profitable years. He, not the War Doctor, was the Doctor on the day it actually wasn’t possible to get it right, and he saw us through the darkness of the wilderness years until the climate had changed and Doctor Who could, for the first real time in its long, long life, be cool to a mainstream audience. We love the Eighth Doctor, he can do no wrong.
Fact 2: This comic-book is written by George Mann. We love a bit of George Mann, too – he’s one of a handful of writers that could legitimately be an inheritor of Terrance Dicks’ mantle, in that when he writes, he knows his job inside out, knows his audience, and he does the job the audience needs him to, without too much in the way of self-regarding flourish, but just enough description to give us a sense of belonging in the places he writes. We love a bit of George Mann, he can do… well, let’s say very little wrong. What’s more, he knows his Doctors and from the beginning to the end, he populates this series with an authentic McGann-Doctor voice, so you read it in the Eighth Doctor’s voice.
Fact 3: This series of comic-books is almost custom-built for a collected edition. It’s not as though we’re just fading in on the Eighth Doctor on any particular day, and fading out when we’ve filled enough pages – Mann sets up his storytelling structure right from the off: there’s a To-Do List, left in his house (who knew the Doctor had a house in a Welsh village?), with a set of distinct items on it that frame the adventures the Doctor and his new companion Josie will have. The short series is meant to be experienced as a unit, for all it was released in episodic chunks. In a way, it’s the coherence of the whole thing that makes it work – if someone was to offer you the six individual episodes of Genesis of the Daleks, but, for instance, you had to keep changing the disc after each episode, it would still be a cool thing to own…just not as cool as one disc with all the episodes on. That’s how this collected edition feels – as though it makes a grander, more structural sense out of (in this case) five individual episodes.
Fact 4: If you were writing a short series of Doctor Who, this is pretty much exactly how you’d do it, starting off with a fairly contemporary story in which the companion not only features strongly in terms of the development of the threat, but gets a chance to be central to the solving of the problem too, while establishing both their individual sass and character, and taking a leap of faith in the Doctor, as we all do, every time we watch, listen to or read his adventures. Josie does exactly that in the first ‘episode’ here, a tale of artwork coming to life – scary enough in concept on its own, and then you add in the fact that without knowing why, she’s been drawing some of the galaxy’s grimmest creatures. Josie makes us warm to her immediately with her combination of sass and excitement, and
Moving on from that, you’d want to plunge the reader into the wild and crazy outer spaciness of Who, and ideally deliver a heartwarming message. With a war between a beleaguered people and aliens who bombard them from space with crystal darts, you’re in about as high-concept sci-fi territory as you can get, and again, here it’s Josie who, when the Doctor tries and fails to save the day, steps in and gets the job done, establishing a peace from the tatters of miscommunication.
You’d want something gothic and creepy, and the third story here delivers exactly that, with chicanery and mirrors in Victorian Edinburgh. The idea of there being more behind a mirror than necessarily is reflected to the eye is an old one, but Mann delivers it a new energy and darkness, giving the Doctor a proper hero quest after two instalments of ‘Look how cool the companion is.’ It’s a meaty tale too, one that has the bones of something that could live in longer form, but yet is perfectly packaged within the context of a single issue or episode to advance the relationship between the Eighth Doctor and Josie while doing the every-Doctor thing – putting themselves between the innocent of the universe and the darker minds that would do them harm.
While they perhaps haven’t been the most stellar successes in recent on-screen Who, you’d also want something more organic, more Triffidlike and naturally creepy. Aliens as fairy folk more than fit the bill in story four, and while perhaps the central mystery is a little In The Forest Of The Night straightforward, there are touches to the artwork by Emma Vieceli that really deliver the creepy potential of this one.
And finally, you’d want something to bring it full circle – something to challenge the companion and what we know about them. Something perhaps to break down the trust we’ve built up, only to have it revalidated. The fifth issue of this series adds some solid gravitas and backstory to Josie’s life, and brings us home with a delicious rug-pull, tying the series up neatly and in a way that fans will love, ready for the Eighth Doctor and Josie to embark on a whole new set of adventures next time round.
The artwork, by Vieceli is bright, energetic and intelligent throughout, giving both a sharpness and for the most part a watercolour beauty to the series that fits distinctly both with Josie’s career as an artist, and somehow with the ‘Romantic’ Eighth Doctor, for all he’s eschewed the velvet frilliness of his beginnings for a more hardcore, utilitarian. There are times when the rendering of the Eighth Doctor doesn’t quite match the authenticity of the voice Mann gives him, but there’s no panel that’s less than beautiful and interesting, and in some stories, like that of issue four, involving plants that possess people, it’s the strength and delicacy of Vieceli’s work that sells the shiver down your spine.
The only conclusion that can be sensibly drawn from this series of facts is that the Eighth Doctor, Volume 1 was made to fit the space on your bookshelf, or, if you don’t currently have a space on your bookshelf, was made to make you find one. We heartily look forward to more comic-book adventures for the Eighth Doctor and Josie, rooted as the first series is in a showcase of excellence that pays tribute to the work of Paul McGann and exemplifies the potential his Doctor still has to take us on adventures into the very heart of wonder.
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