THESE STORIES ALL
STEVE PARKHOUSE &
MIKE McMAHON &
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-
IN NOVEMBER 2005.
A GRAPHIC NOVEL
THE PAGES OF DOCTOR
Paniniís second volume of collected comic strips covers the remainder of the fourth Doctorís graphical adventures, and takes us from the last days of Doctor Who Weekly into the beginnings of Doctor Who Monthly. With several single-episode stories, it packs more adventures than the first volume, and also covers a wide variety of styles and settings. However, the standard of the stories is equally varied. The volume can easily be split into
two halves Ė the first written by Steve Moore, continuing his work from the first volume, with Steve Parkhouse taking over for the second half.
"Dragonís Claw" itself is excellent. Just the opening caption is enticing:
"It is 1522 AD, according to the calendar of the Western-Ocean-Devils,
but few Europeans are seen on the shores of the East China Sea.
Here in Chekiang, the fishermen know it simply as the Year of the PirateÖ
The Summer of Death!"
To start with, it looks like weíre in for a good old-fashioned historical, with Buddhist monks reluctantly taking up arms to protect their own people; until the Abbot Yueh Kuang pulls out his "star weapon." Weíre given some fine incidental characters, such as Chang, a noble monk whoís troubled by his orderís turning the violence, and Hsiang the Ancient, former abbot who mainly wants to get a large breakfast on. Thereís a tremendous reveal when we discover that the providers of Kuangís star weapon are none other than the Sontarans. Itís
all portrayed beautifully by Gibbons, and itís a rip-roaring story through to the conclusion.
The following two stories, "The Collector" and "Dreamers of Death," are pretty flimsy tales, without much merit. Neither is bad, as such, simply mediocre. "The Collector" is the tale of an alien held captive by the mind of his own ship, while "Dreamers of Death" is some confused nonsense about Unicepter, a planet of people who can control their dreams, which suddenly turns into a runaround about furry monsters called slinths. Its only noteworthy moment is writing out Sharon, the Doctorís one-note companion, in the usual clichťd way of marrying a man sheís only just met.
"The Life-Bringer" takes things in a rather different direction, with the comics making their first foray into the mythical, a realm they come to explore in more depth over this and the next volume. The Doctor
finds Prometheus chained to rock, starting an adventure on the planet Olympus in which we basically get an unimaginative crash-course in Greek mythology. However, there are some impressive visuals Ė such as a vengeful Zeus dominating the sky and attacking the TARDIS Ė and the final moments, when Prometheus escapes, are intriguingly ambiguous, as the Doctor attests:
"As I still donít know whereabouts in time we are, I suppose Iíll never be able to puzzle it outÖ if that was Earth I found him on, or if thatís Earth heís heading towardÖ"
"War of the Words" is pretty bog-standard sci-fi, with the Doctor landing on library planet Biblios, caught in the crossfire of a war between the splendidly repulsive Vromyx, and hardened nomads the Garynths. There are some fairly funny lines in there, but itís really just a by-the-numbers space battle, finished off with a big of smart talking by the Doctor, and is pretty hard to get worked up about.
"Spider-God," however, sees Steve Moore go out on a high note. Without giving too much away, as the storyís success hinges on its twist ending, itís a thoughtful science fiction story of a world on which the humanoid natives seem to be enslaved to a race of giant spiders. Both the Doctor and some human explorers become involved, but things arenít as clear-cut as they seem. Itís a more intelligent story than most in here.
"The Deal" is the first tale from Steve Parkhouse, and, as much as I like his later work, here heís still finding his feet. Itís a boring bit of macho nonsense which sees some intergalactic bully with too much hardware pick a fight with the Doctor, then get killed. And thatís it. "End
of the Line" isnít much better. Weíre really in pure 2000AD territory here, but on one of their particularly grim days, as we arrive on a desolated urban wasteland of a planet in which a few attractive humans are trying to escape to safety from cannibalistic mutants. Itís a joyless, uninspiring affair thatís hard to care about.
Thankfully, Parkhouse gets his act together with "The Free-Fall Warriors." Itís still macho sci-fi guff, but with some style and flair, as we meet the eponymous warriors. Theyíre actually a fancily-monikered stunt team, comprised of four bizarre humanoids; one with an almost featureless face, one with a tigerís head, one like a shark in a pilotís cap and one appears to have an Airfix model spaceship for a head. The Doctor teams up with them and Doctor Ivan Asimoff, a cheerful, nervous academic who looks like a blob in tourist dress. Itís just a race through space, but the difference here is that thereís a real sense of fun, something thatís lacking in some of the stories.
"Junk-Yard Demon," easily my favourite story in the book, is a departure; itís the only strip without art by Gibbons; instead Mike McMahon provides the pencils and Adolfo Buylla the inks. Itís a uniquely styled brand of artwork, and a resounding success that Iím amazed wasnít used more often; the Doctor, in particular, is perfect, the artists capturing his peculiar character and expression perfectly. The story sees Flotsam and Jetsam, two alien scrap-dealers, uncovering a Tenth Planet-style Cyberman in their junkyard. The Doctor lands in time to stop the Cyberman from reviving its Cyberleader (or Cybernaut, as itís also called here) to build an attack force. In the event, the Doctor does bugger all, with events unfolding perfectly well without his intervention, but itís tremendous fun and a high point of the collection.
"The Neutron Knights" ends this volume, setting up the style and content of much of "The Tides of Time," the volume that will follow it. The TARDIS is summoned to Earth I the far, far future, where it faces its final battle, courtesy of the mutant warlord Catavolcus. The interest mainly comes, however, in the interaction between the Doctor and the one who brought him here Ė none other than Merlin the Wise, portrayed here as elflike, with a wispy beard and pointed ears. How this relates to the Doctorís future role as Merlin, as revealed in "Battlefield," I have no idea; however, that story wasnít even a glint in the eye of Ben Aaronovitch when these strips were published, so thereís little point worrying about such things. The volume ends with the watching as Merlin fades away, promising that they will meet again in the future, in some other form, paving the way for his next confrontation with the Doctorís fifth incarnation. The fact that between these stories, the Doctor has to pick up Romana from wherever he left her; meet Adric; leave Romana and K-9 in E-Space; meet Nyssa and Tegan; fight the Master; regenerate; and, at some point, part company with his companions, doesnít seem to have bothered the editors of DWM Ė the fifth Doctor debuted in the very next issue!
Altogether, this is the most variable of Paniniís releases, in both quality and style. As such, although there are a couple of gems, itís at best averagely enjoyable.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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