McGanniversary Week: THE ROAD TO HELL

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Andrew East drives the M25...

The Road to Hell was the hundredth Doctor Who Magazine main-feature comic story. Originally published in five-parts (DWM 278-282) the story features the 8th Doctor and Izzy, alongside many of the motifs one might expect from a medieval Japan-set story – we have samurai, honour, fighting and mentions of the Shogun and Shogunate.

The Road to Hell’s big advantage is in the visuals. The artwork from Martin Geraghty is striking and evokes feudal Japan well. The samurai warriors are dressed authentically and the surroundings, both natural and manmade make atmospheric settings. The alien Gaijin are an intriguing alien extrapolation of Japanese and samurai stylings. Also a lot of fun are the legendary and modern monsters conjured up by the insane Lady Asami – dragons, demons and comic book robots galore.

The comic book robots and manga-inspired enemies are thanks to Izzy, the Eighth Doctor’s girl-geek companion. Izzy is a great companion, particularly in the age she was written. The Wilderness Years saw fans making Doctor Who for fans and so to have a self-confessed sci-fi and comic book geek as a companion made complete sense. Izzy was the female version of us – or probably for some fans, the ultimate ideal girl (the fact she turned out to be gay, notwithstanding). I really like Izzy. Her joy at travelling with the Doctor is infectious (I’ve always loved her ‘cool robot monsters’ bit in Fire and Brimstone) but it is tempered by a real sense of loyalty and deeper emotion as evidenced in her relationship in this comic strip with Sato, the disgraced samurai. Furthermore, her guilt at causing many of the problems faced in the latter part of the story through Lady Asami witnessing the horror of Hiroshima in her mind is palpable. The Eighth Doctor, on the other hand, is a bit harder to get a handle on. Without Paul McGann’s performance, the Eighth Doctor of the comic strips can come over a little generic.

The main threat in the comic strip is the Lady Asami, an insane Japanese matriarch who has been given godlike powers (thanks to the sci-fi staple of nanobots) by the Gaijin. ‘Gaijin’ means ‘foreigner’ (the Doctor and Izzy are called it at the beginning of the story) and it’s a nice touch to have the aliens named it by the locals as they are the ultimate foreigners and it sounds suitably alien. The Gaijin are observers who are basically watching what Asami does with the power they have given her. They want to understand honour although this isn’t a theme I felt was fully explored within the strip. Most of the characters are simply out for revenge.

Sato, the disgraced samurai, is an interesting character. Although wanting revenge for his master’s murder, he is still relatively honourable, for example when rescuing Izzy. He is made immortal at the story’s conclusion and this is a thread which is picked up in later strips. He blames the Doctor for not allowing him an honourable death and it is only his respect for Izzy which stops him from killing the Doctor.

This is a fun strip with some serious undertones. The cliffhangers are great (if a bit repetitive on a couple of occasions) and it is part of a strong run of comic strips in DWM around this time.

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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