Tony’s back in time.
The early Seventies were a rich period of Doctor Who history. The Third Doctor exploded onto the screen in a blaze of colour, action and a rather more refined sense of charm than either of his two predecessors.
The Ninth Doctor exploded onto the screen in 2005 with the same effect – a big noise, a blaze of colour and action - but with a very different personality. Suffering fools not at all, and humans only vaguely, the Ninth Doctor was in many ways the antithesis of the Third. The dress-dour Doctor as opposed to all the velvet jackets and frills. The dour, brooding Doctor very much at odds with urbane and charming predecessor. The ‘Northern’ Doctor at odds with the Doctor who perhaps most of all was most at home in the company of authority figures. In other ways though, they shared a lot of traits: both could be moody, both could regard military aggression as the hallmark of human stupidity, and both, when the moment called for it, could lambast any power, human or alien, with a vicious tongue and the haughty perspective of a Time Lord.
All of which is by way of creeping up on what might be a spoiler for anyone who’s been avoiding the internet for a month or two. The Ninth Doctor, Rose and Jack have followed a ‘gargoyle’ (that used to be a flying American teenager – do keep up) back in time and landed in the 1970s (or is it the 1980s? The UNIT Dating Conundrum is entirely ridiculous, given the radical difference between the decades, but ah, we do love it so). They’ve encountered a whole other bunch of monsters, that seem to be conjured spontaneously into being, do a fair bit of damage, and then unceremoniously vanish again, just as the dinosaurs did in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Except we’re not dealing with a plan to take the Earth back in time to the cretaceous age this time. In Cavan Scott’s new story which pits the Ninth Doctor and his friends against suddenly appearing monsters, the villains are less idealistic and far more corporate, the issue at stake being who you trust more when bad things happen – the internationally co-operative forces of sovereign nation states, or private, unelected, unaccountable firms.
Weirdly, while this actually wasn’t that much of an issue in the actual Seventies, you can bet it became an issue in the Eighties, during the era of Thatcher and Reagan, and it’s still an issue we’re facing and debating today. When you’ve been in a car crash, do you trust a nationalised health service that’s free at the point of need, or do you go with the commercial service that will give you anything you want so long as you’re credit’s really really good? Do you want a publicly funded police force or a pay-per-crime private security force? An army trained to protect a nation, or a mercenary force that can be deployed as needed? When the aliens come crashing through your house…who you gonna call?
Scott intertwines the worlds of the Ninth and Third Doctors, though the incarnations have yet to meet. But there’s nostalgic joy aplenty because of course what is obvious is that Seventies Who had an international co-operative force of sovereign nation states, and the Doctor’s come to pay them a visit. So if you’re in the Who comic-books for a good healthy dose of nostalgia and world-mingling, Scott’s got you covered.
We’re absolutely up for some nostalgic world-mingling here at WarpedFactor Towers, so we threw our blue berets in the air when we realised what was going on in this storyline, but let’s not get all silly and fizzy and champagne-drunk, just because Cavan Scott has given us the Ninth Doctor meeting some Seventies stalwarts (and Jack, as ever, flirting with them). In fact, we don’t need to get champagne-drunk on nostalgia here at all because there’s some solid socio-politics to get our teeth stuck into, just as there usually was back in the Seventies, whether it was miners on Peladon (or miners in South Wales, come to that), mutants on Solos, Autons as the avatars of commercial disposability or Axons to expose Mankind’s greed. This idea of a familiar set-up being challenged simply because a private company thinks it can do better feels inherently like bad news, and we instinctively side with familiar faces against the onslaught of the venture capitalist approach to protecting the world from alien threats. In case that instinctive urge is not enough though, Scott throws us an additional incentive, inasmuch as the would-be new kids on the alien-fighting block appear to use torture, and potentially kidnapping, to create the threats that drive their message home. Old friends gooood. New kidnappy, torturey people, baaaaad.
There’s an intensely intimate, personal story at the heart of all this, with the person who seemingly against his will is conjuring the creatures actually basing them on together-time with his son watching Japanese monster movies, but there’s also lots of Ninth Doctor pace – people driving Land Rovers off bridges into rivers, Captain Jack saving squaddies from certain death, companions punching government ministers in the face, the Doctor being all dour about a big weapon and then being the one to make it work and fire it. Action, action, action, all the way, but with the beats of emotion studded through it to deepen the storytelling. We might be in the Third Doctor’s world, but Scott never makes the mistake of forgetting it’s a Ninth Doctor story, and while there are national treasures toppled by Japanese movie monsters, and stakes that could eventually endanger the whole world, he keeps us connected to one family, and the impact this story is having and will have on them. So the Doctor and friends are absolutely fighting for the safety of the world and the rights of nations over corporations, but also, as importantly, they’re fighting to re-unite one family who’ve been torn apart.
Chris Bolson on artwork and Marco Lesko on colour deliver an effective, easy-to-read, occasionally blow-your-socks-off issue here, with characters we know looking more than good enough to anchor us in their adventures, and so bring the new characters along into our shared reality. There are a solid handful of big challenges here, and they seem to skip through them as though they’re picking flowers – destroy an impressive national treasure? No problem. Get a bunch of Japanese movie monsters right enough in two dimensions that people familiar with the genre will accept the intention? Got it. Give a briskness to the action, an impulse that makes it feel like a Ninth Doctor story despite the settings? We’re good. Bolson and Lesko here do everything you could expect of them, and then give us an extra scoop of coolness in terms of the scope of some of their one-page monster specials, and draw us down from all the whooping and air-punching to realise the suffering of Alex Yaxley – he who brings the monsters – at the heart of the story. They blend the worlds of the Third and Ninth Doctors, but take Scott’s point that in a modern story, the villains aren’t really the monsters, but the profit-eyed pragmatists prepared to do whatever is necessary to get their way. They reflect that in the contrast between the monster attacks and the scenes where they are generated, Yaxley wired up with electrodes, sweating and grimacing in a room somewhere, seemingly restrained in his chair. Where both the Third and Ninth Doctors expressed disgust at the military options humans – good humans – sometimes deployed against alien species, Scott, Bolson and Lesko here show us a different, more extreme and venal form of humanity against which the Doctor and his friends (both old and new) can rage.
Third Doctor nostalgia, Ninth Doctor pace. Running and monsters and Jack being heroic, plus all the emotional beats you could need and some truly horrible human villains. Japanese monsters and American gargoyles. And – which we can’t tell you about in too much detail – a couple of real heartwarming moments where new meets old, and where old stands up for itself against the forces of political, potentially corrupted idiocy. It’s possible The Ninth Doctor #7 has everything you could possibly wish for. Run for your life down to your comic-book store, and just hope they haven’t sold out yet.
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