MOST OF THESE STRIPS
TAKE PLACE BETWEEN
"THE DARKSMITH LEGACY"
SERIES OF NOVELLAS
AND IDW'S "DOCTOR
WHO ONGOING" STRIPS.
ROB DAVIS &
THE OFFICIAL PANINI
BOOKS GRAPHIC NOVEL
HAS BEEN POSTPONED
INDEFINITELY. DIG OUT
YOUR BACK ISSUES OF
DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE!
ADVENTURES OF THE
THE PAGES OF DOCTOR
APRIL 2008 - APRIL 2010
First a small disclaimer: this is not a review of the long-awaited graphic novel
The Crimson Hand. That particular volume has been postponed indefinitely, while Panini and the BBC attempt to sort out certain rights issues. Which is a shame, of course, because Panini’s collected volumes make attractive, collectable pieces. Still, no matter, because the strips due to be reprinted here are only a matter of months old, the earliest having first been printed in the April 2008 issue of Doctor Who Magazine. As such, the strips are still readily available, and, rather than leave a big chunk of the tenth Doctor’s adventures missing from our site, we’ve decided to review the stories anyway.
So, we’ll call this The Crimson Hand for the sake of simplicity, but we could just as easily call it the ‘Dan McDaid era, continued’, or even the ‘Majenta Price Adventures’, because
the strips are united by that writer and character. The first story here, Hotel Historia, is a
bit of a flounder really. There’s a nice central idea - a hotel offering time-travelling holidays
to the wealthy and privileged - but it can’t quite decide whether it’s being played for laughs
or not, and falls a bit flat as a result. McDaid provides both the story and the artwork here, and although the art is a bit scrappy, the benefit of such an approach is that you’re getting
to see exactly what the writer imagined. Still, it’s an important story, for it introduces the aforementioned Majenta Pryce, aided by the sycophantic Fanson. In Hotel Historia, she seemed to be nothing more than a straightforward one-off character; the entrepreneurial villain of the piece (let’s ignore the rubbish space thugs the Graxnix) who is despatched without much trouble and presumably wouldn’t bother the Doctor again. Next issue, the Doctor was travelling with Donna and facing the Sycorax (see The Widow’s Curse), and
all was as expected.
So it came as something of a surprise to see Majenta back, six months later, in the story Thinktwice, the first part of which was printed in DWM’s landmark 400th issue. Well, not an immediate surprise. I’d forgotten all about her. There was something familiar about Empee, the green-skinned inmate of a galactic women’s prison (I say women, but ‘alien females of all descriptions’ would be more precise), but I couldn’t quite place it. Still, as Empee and her cellmate Zed struggled to survive in this terrible gulag, she proved to be rather an interesting character, someone clearly strong and capable beneath her damaged exterior. Yet she had even less idea who she was than I did, because the chief warden, Jonah, a classic bulbous-headed mad scientist, had developed a machine to drain the minds of the inmates. The first ‘treatment’ removes their memories, while further sessions leave them braindead. Thankfully, the Doctor isn’t far behind, posing as a prison medic in order to enter the facility.
While McDaid continues with the writing duties, DWM stalwart Martin Geraghty provides the artwork for this three-parter. While Geraghty’s art can be a little staid, here he’s on top form, portraying the monsters in the machine with great tentacled malevolence, giving Majenta a touch of green-skinned glamour, and by now completely nailing the tenth Doctor. Together with McDaid’s script, this creates a rip-roaring thriller, complete with horrors from the dawn of time, impromptu space walks and a marvellous ‘Blue Raja’ moment for the Doctor. At the end of it all, we’re in new territory: Majenta hasn’t regained her memories, but has displayed some astonishing new powers, and she’s charged the Doctor with helping her discover her origins - it was, after all, he who got her arrested in the first place, landing her in the prison from hell. And so, without a full series or regular companion on the telly, DWM returned to an ongoing comic strip plot, with humour, mystery and a sassy new companion - or should that be, employer? - for the tenth Doctor.
I’m pleased to be on record singing the praises of Thinktwice, and confidently predicting a return to the glory days of the eighth Doctor strips. In the event, it wasn’t quite up to that great standard, but there are certainly some fine adventures to enjoy. For their first trip, the Doctor and ‘Madge’ arrive, not in Panacea as planned, but in Stockbridge. Where better to take this exciting new run of adventures than DWM’s traditional stomping ground, that most peculiar and English of villages. Naturally, our old friend Maxwell Edison is on hand to assist, when a strange corporation invades his village. In fact, this is all something of a duckblind - there are far stranger things afoot. In The Stockbridge Child, the little village becomes the site of the resurrection of the Lokhus, a vast, powerful alien entity from the next universe along. Not only is this being capable of ravaging the entire planet, he decides to take up residence inside Maxwell’s body, with Max’s mind consigned to the eldritch realm of the Lokhus’s prison. It’s another great story, with some colourful yet creepy visuals from Mike Collins, David Roach and James Offredi, plenty of peculiar twists and continued development of the range’s new central double-act. By the end of this three-parter, Majenta and the Doctor have established a fine, antagonistic rapport. Majenta can never quite keep the Doctor under control, and the Doctor can never quite trust Majenta. My only complaint here is that we didn’t get to see Izzy again, although Max hints at some interesting developments for her if she ever does return.
The story continues across several strips, with the Doctor continually failing to materialise
the TARDIS in his intended destination, and with further intriguing hints at Majenta’s back story drip-fed to the reader throughout. Mortal Beloved is an absolute triumph; a spook-fest with a science fiction twist. Sean Longcroft provides appealing artwork in an idiosyncratic style that perfectly suits this surreal two-part story. In a decrepit mansion on a planet drifting through a galactic storm system, the Doctor and his new companion encounter the bizarre fruits of technology. While the Doctor interacts with a holographic cocktail party (rendered
in glorious monochrome), Majenta is accosted by cybernetic duplicates of herself. All of this is revealed to be the work of Wesley Sparks, businessman extraordinaire. Not only are both he and Majenta - the love of his life, no less - represented by holograms, but his actual self, now a decaying cyborg in a bulky life-support machine, lurks in the bowels of his mansion. Add in Mr Owl, the malfunctioning service droid armed with a blunderbuss, and a committee of simplified chairmen, and you have a wonderfully strange two-parter, that hints at the trail
of havoc and broken hearts that Majenta has left across the universe.
UNIT return with a twist in the four-part story The Age of Ice. Here we meet the Australian branch of the international paramilitary task force, defending the last continent from threats otherworldly. The Oz division is great fun, and I’d love to see foxy Captain Kath Braxton and Colonel McCay again, flirting with the Doctor and taking the piss out of Martian Ice Warriors respectively. Time is on the fritz in Sydney harbour, and it’s up to UNIT and the Doctor to sort it out. Things really start coming to a head here. Fanson returns - no, I didn’t remember him straight away either, but he’s Majenta’s right hand man from Hotel Historia. Majenta doesn’t remember him of course, but it turns out that he had been tampering with her memory before Thinktwice ever got their hands on her. It’s all intriguing, but the main focus is on the returning villains - the Skith, first seen in the tenth Doctor and Martha story The First. It’s great to have a returning monster race from the strip’s past, and once again DWM has the opportunity to build up its own continuity. The Skith are a little better than before, more individualised and with some entertaining in-fighting. The shadowy, bitchy General is a treat. The Skith have been rummaging around in the Doctor’s brain (he linked with them before to defeat them, see) and have created a mighty warship. The General describes the SKARDIS best: “I’m afraid we haven’t yet decided what the acronym stands for. To be honest, we rather like the name. We’re surprisingly pithy that way.”
Events move rapidly, as dinosaurs storm the Harbour
Bridge, the Skith timeship threatens to destroy every-
thing around it and Majenta almost betrays the Doctor
to his enemies. It’s good, exciting stuff, and Sydney is
left a frozen ruin at the end of it. And while old school
fans can enjoy reference spotting in UNIT’s vaults (I
think the crate of Mona Lisas is my favourite), those
following the ongoing narrative are teased with flashes
of memory for Majenta, and the revelation that the Skith
homeworld was destroyed by a huge, red Hand…
Rob Davis handles the artwork for the next instalment, the one-off treat The Deep Hereafter. Written and illustrated in the style of a classic crime caper, this is a gorgeous little tale, and the Doctor is a dead spit for Eisner’s the Spirit in his blue suit. Not to say there are science fiction elements a-plenty here; the Doctor is drawn into events by dying private eye Johnny Sea view (a fish-man in a trench coat), and his suspects include an android femme-fatale,
an Alpha Centaurian, and a gangster cut in half by a transmat accident. They’re all after the world bomb, a devastating device built by the Worldsmiths. It all builds up to a grand, feel-good ending, and makes for a welcome change of pace.
Less successful is Onomatopoeia, an ineffectual story in which an alien device has robbed a world of all its voices. There are some rat people in there too, and some flying heads, but frankly it all makes little impression. Telling a story without dialogue is an interesting idea, but to keep it up for the length of this strip requires a more outrageous approach, as visuals are everything. Mike Collins’ artwork is just too standard for this, and can’t hold interest enough. As such, the whole thing is over in seconds, and quickly forgotten.
Ghosts of the Northern Line improves matters a little. Another ghost story with a science fiction twist, this one involves the spirits of everyone who ever died on the Northern Line of the London Underground, restored by an alien computer driven mad with grief. Mnemosyne - named for the Greek personification of memory, you know - is determined to take revenge on humanity for the death of her master. The story is fairly straightforward, but in this case it’s the visuals that make it. Not everyone likes Paul Grist’s artwork - his recent stints for IDW’s Doctor Who range and Titan’s Torchwood magazine have earned him a lot of flak from fans - but I can really go for it, and it certainly suits a spooky story to a tee, particularly when fused with James Offredi’s bold colour work. The story’s not at all bad, but by this stage the hints and teases are getting a bit much; we want to know what’s going on with Majenta. Luckily, both Dan McDaid and the Doctor feel the same. The Time Lord is now determined to get Majenta to Panacea to recover her memories, but is interrupted when a vast space fleet surround the Earth demanding her surrender…
What’s most rewarding about DWM running its
own ongoing storyline is that it can develop its
characters. In the Doctor’s company, Majenta’s
grown and matured - become a better person.
Yet, even though the Doctor is convinced she’s
a good person underneath, we as readers are
never sure just how much he can trust her. The
Crimson Hand, the five-part finale to Majenta’s
travels - and the tenth Doctor’s, as far as DWM
are concerned - keeps us guessing throughout.
We’re never quite sure whose side she’s on...
The curse of the finale is having to tell a good story in its own right whilst still honouring the previous episodes. The Crimson Hand is no different, and it just about succeeds. The first two parts deal with Majenta’s arrest by and attempted escape from Intersol, a space police force. Both she and the Doctor are imprisoned and interrogated, on a vast station run by a sentient computer under the name of JUSTICE. Majenta’s old cellmate Zed - aka Zephyr - is there too, now employed as a warden and security officer, although she swaps sides almost as often as Madge. Although there’s some great fun to be had working out what the various prisoners’ designations mean (each number stands for a letter of the alphabet, so it’s not too hard), this segment betrays its nature as just a set up for the real finale. For when Majenta’s memories are finally restored, they draw her old criminal associates across time and space to her - and she’s been involved in something far more serious than tax evasion...
Looked at individually, the four other members of the Cabal of the Crimson Hand don’t really amount to much - they’re just four odd-looking alien with a line in pithy banter and aggressive downsizing. Together with Majenta, however, they constitute something far more impressive. Utilising the Hand itself - a vast artefact from a higher realm, hinting at something interesting within this universe that we don’t know about - they are capable of reordering the shape of reality itself. Unfortunately, they’re complete bastards. Except Majenta - aka Lady Scaphe - whose pangs of morality led her to abandon them in the first place. With the Doctor evidently vaporised and the TARDIS disabled, the Hand are free to rule over the cosmos, but Majenta is more interested in returning to her home planet of Vessica to improve the fortunes of her people. She’s a lot to learn though, and not everyone is happy with her way of doing things, least of all the rest of the Hand. And, as well as all this, the fabric of reality is collapsing due to their ham-fisted restructurings.
So, it’s a good thing the Doctor’s not dead after all. Well, he couldn’t be. That’s something of a flaw in this story - it tries to play the ‘end of an era’ card by making you think that the tenth Doctor’s time is up, but we’ve already seen his final moments on the telly by now. Much more interesting is trying to work out which way Majenta will turn in the vital moments of the conflict. Naturally, she comes good in the end, and lives up to the Doctor’s faith in her - plus, she gets to have the greatest “talk to the hand” moment in history. It’s been a great journey, and this final adventure - brought to life with great pomp and colour by Geraghty, Roach and Offredi - is a pretty satisfying conclusion. The final panels, though, are the ones that really work the best, drawing a line under the tenth Doctor’s era and harking back to the eighth Doctor’s final comic strip moments.
Now, of course, the eleventh Doctor rules the pages of DWM, and the strip must once again adhere strictly to the events of the television series. But for about a year and a half, McDaid had a chance to take the strip back to what it does best - telling its own tales with its own unique additions to the Doctor Who universe. And Majenta Price, the sassy, ballsy, hoity space business bitch is a fine addition indeed.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Hotel Historia takes place between Voyage of the Damned and Partners in Crime. The remainder of the strips here occur later, between The Darksmith Legacy and The Waters of Mars.
The Intersol crew who arrest Majenta refer to Earth as being “post-Stolen Earth scenario.” Although the Doctor still claims not to want to travel with anyone, using Majenta’s ‘employment’ of him as an excuse, he is clearly starting to come to terms again with travelling with a companion.
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