Tony goes hunting.
The Slitheen are an archetypal 21st century Doctor Who villain. Unlike the Classic series, where with some highly notable and honourable exceptions, a species was deemed to all think the same, especially when it came to taking over the world and waggling their tentacles about, the 21st century series has made room for individual character and thought. The Slitheen take that to an admirable degree – they’re not a species, they’re a family, the Corleones of the cosmos. Within their family, we’ve also seen particular differences of individual character, and a degree of evolution over time.
In Doctormania, Cavan Scott’s first story in the new continuing comic-book series of Ninth Doctor adventures, we’ve seen the family as a whole make significant technological progress, and we’ve learned more about Raxicoricofallapatorian culture generally, the different families and species that make the planetary union the Slitheen call home work.
In this final episode, we’re given one more advancement of this philosophy of the individual, as the villain of the peace learns a thing or two. As has been increasingly the case in 21st century Who, she learns it not from the Doctor, the imperious, angry authority figure, but from his companion, the human prepared to take the universe on its own terms, prepared to be surprised and thrilled and scared and prepared also to put their own interpretation of right and wrong between people and the harm the universe would do them.
Rose Tyler rapidly became a new archetype of companion as far as that bolshiness was concerned on screen – rescuing the Doctor from the Autons, certainly, but also standing in front of the last Dalek in the cosmos when the Doctor picked up a gun and determined it should die.
The Doctor’s not about to pick up a weapon in this comic-book, but the turning points of this issue’s drama have that feeling about them – Rose Tyler, standing up for what’s right, no matter who says she’s wrong, changing hearts and minds not by force, not by outmanoeuvring the bad guys, but by the sheer, important power of her example. If you asked her, she’d probably say she’s trying to be more Doctor, and there’s an element of that in her actions, but the point about the Ninth Doctor and Rose is that he’s almost forgotten how to be the Doctor, so consumed is he by his Time War guilt and fury. It’s Rose Tyler who heals him, who ‘is’ the Doctor long enough to re-train his instincts, so that he can find himself again and be better than the man the Time War has left him. That she’s up to that monumental task is shown once or twice on screen, and it’s the central pivot-point of the storytelling in this third issue.
Slist, the Slitheen who confused the bejesus out of everyone in issue #1 by being ‘the Ninth Doctor’ has Rose Tyler hostage and, as Rose has let the rest of Raxicoricofallapatorius know what she’s been upto, the two are on the run from the first great Raxian hunt in generations, perversely bringing feuding clans of Raxicoricofallapatorians together in the primal pleasure of hunting live prey. What becomes quickly clear though is that there’s more going on on Raxicoricofallapatorius than simply the schemes of a lone Slitheen pretending to be a Time Lord. In fact, there’s a plot to take over the whole union, of which Slist has no idea and in which she plays only the part of a pawn. When the truth of that plan is revealed by some truly shocking weather, Rose gets her moment, and changes the course of history simply by standing up and…well, being Rose Tyler.
There’s a saying that what goes around comes around. In fact, it’s the principle on which things like the Karmic Wheel and the Wiccan Law of Threefold Return are based, so it’s an idea that goes deep into the human psyche and our quest for things to make a kind of mathematical, equal sense. Sadly of course it’s utter nonsense – bad people win as often as good people, and simply having a good example is not inherently, always, enough to melt the badness from a dark heart. But it is a pervasive idea, and it’s been used to make fairy tales work as long as they’ve been told, exactly because it is mathematically satisfying. As you sow, so shall you reap. If you see a true example of goodness, you’re bound to ‘pay it forward’ and be good to someone else. It’s hardwired into the fictions we tell ourselves and our children and it’s the best way to deliver an ending that makes a reader nod in satisfaction and believe that, even if it’s not the way the universe really works, it’s the way it should work. It’s the inherent sense that leads us to believe in heavens for the good people, and hells for the bad. It’s in no sense real but it does make sense. Cavan Scott plays his ending here on those well-established principles, Rose Tyler’s pure heart inspiring acts of contrition and, not to put too fine a point on it, stitching up the bigger bad good and proper. Yes, absolutely, it might be convenient, it might not be especially realistic. But you might as well shut up, because when you read it, your Inner Child will be punching the air and telling you it makes perfect sense (before it steals all your action figures and runs off to play with them!).
The artwork here, from Adriana Melo, faces quite a few challenges – on a Raxicoricofallapatorius as diverse as the one Scott writes, delivering individuality among the locals is harder than, say, drawing a story like World War III, where the villains all look fairly similar. But she copes admirably, delivering not only that individuality, but also significant changes in mood through light and colour choices (which means we need to give a hat-tip to colourist Matheus Lopes too), and a set of lead protagonists that always look like themselves, whether they’re Rose throwing a principled fit and not having any of this nonsense or the Doctor leaning against a doorframe with that ‘I’m really very good at this you know, you should probably give up now’ smile that Eccleston made his own. The recognisability of the leads helps anchor us in the world of the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack, and means we encounter few speed-bumps in the reading, and practically no moments when the visuals slow us down or stop us believing in the drama.
Cavan Scott’s first new story in the Ninth doctor’s comic-book life has been crammed with fun, social commentary, references to the Classic show but most importantly, an absolute truth to the Ninth Doctor era, while evolving the capacity of the Slitheen to live in the wider universe outside ‘this cunning plot we’ve concocted to make 45 minutes of television.’ He’s taken a villain that was an early indication of how things would be changing in the 21st century of the show and pushed it on significantly further, showing us the world and the system that spawned them, making them ingenious, and showing us more definitively than was ever achieved on screen their ability to be psychologically complex, to be like all of us, a mixture of good and bad, and like all of us, at least capable of redemption through a really good example.
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