THESE STORIES ALL
MANNERED WAR" AND
THE GRAPHIC NOVEL
PAT MILLS &
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-
IN APRIL 2004.
A GRAPHIC NOVEL
THE PAGES OF DOCTOR
The Iron Legion
"The Iron Legion" is the first of Panini’s graphic novels, collecting comic strips from previous issues of Doctor Who Magazine. In fact, these tales are technically from its predecessor, Doctor Who Weekly. First issued in 1979, the publication was a very different affair to its modern counterpart – more of a comic than a tie-in magazine, aimed at kids and dedicated less to information than to simple entertainment. If anything, the modern equivalent is Doctor Who Adventures, which has been created to fill the niche left by the old weeklies. Then published by Marvel, and with ‘Stan Lee presents’ emblazoned on each strip’s opening page, these stories are of a classic age of British comics.
Back in 1979, Uncle Tom Baker was the Doctor, and so it is he who graced the pages of the DWW in his own continuing comic strip. Surprisingly sophisticated, these tales stand up well today, and it’s no surprise that Panini decided to dig them out of the archives (IDW, a US company that has just started its own tenth Doctor title, is also planning to republish colourised versions of the earliest strips). "The Iron Legion" sticks to the original black and white artwork, and that’s no bad thing. Dave Gibbons style is classic, starkly powerful and arresting. A short introduction gives the background to his work, and informs those who didn’t know that Gibbons was also a recurring artist for 2000AD. Certainly, these early strips are more evocative of that fellow publication than of any era of televised Doctor Who – partly due to Gibbons’s artwork, and partly to the writing style of Mills and Wagner, a partnership best known for their work on Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog titles.
"The Iron Legion" collection starts with the story of the same title. At eight parts, the story might threaten to drag, but the instalments are fairly short and very fast-paced. The first page is a classic image in itself, with the eponymous robotic legion clashing with ‘contemporary’ England. The story takes the concept of an alternative universe where Rome never fell – old hat even in 1979 – but uses it so well it’s impossible to not be swept along by the tale. We’re introduced to memorable villains and monsters, such as the callous, hawk-faced General Ironicus, the globby Ectoslime. The goodies a less inspiring, being two ‘comedy’ robot sidekicks for the Doctor. Nevertheless, they get the chance to shine and even have a little character development in the process (something that the television series did little of at the time). The Doctor himself isn’t quite how I remembered him – he may look like his 1979 self, all tweeds and scarf, but he’s more of a wise-cracker than a bohemian wit. Strangely enough, this makes reading the strip more akin to watching the current series than the original.
The strip’s greatest triumph is the main villain, Magog. The ruler of the Malevilus, described by the Doctor as "the most terrible of alien races." Bat-winged, with lithe, saurian bodies and huge, grinning, tusked faces, Magog and her Malevilus are fantastic monsters. Having twisted this Earth’s history, aiding the Roman Empire’s conquest of the Galaxy, Magog seems all-powerful. In the end, the manner of her dispatch by the Doctor is a little whimsical and glib, but this doesn’t lessen the enjoyment or impact of this stirring tale that appealed directly to my inner little boy.
The following story, "City of the Damned," is astonishingly grim for a children’s tale. It’s akin to the twenty-first century movie Equilibrium, telling the story of a futuristic city state in which all emotion has been purged, the inhabitants rendered virtually mindless and utterly homogenous by their Moderators overlords. The Doctor joins forces with a bunch of terrorists in silly hats and red noses, gleefully spreading anarchy and fighting their way to the true power – another exquisite monster race, this time the brain-headed Brain Trust! It all goes a little manic after that, with blood-drinking Barabarus blood-bugs running amok. Needless to say, emotion is the key weakness of these monstrosities, and is isn’t long before the Doctor and his new gang have turned the Moderators over to their side.
"Star-Beast" sees the debut of a truly classic of a villain, one who has since reappeared in the strip and even made it into Big Finish’s audio range. Beep the Meep, furry, fuzzy, baby-eyed murderer from the stars! He’s discovered by teens Sharon and Fudge (two one-dimensional characters who could’ve come from any comic in any decade), who, believing him to be hurt and harmless, take him into their care.
Meanwhile, the Doctor arrives (after a detour to pick-up K-9), in the mistaken belief that the English town of Blackcastle is in fact sunny Benidorm. Soon, he is being trailed by yet another fantastic monster race (Gibbons really had a skill for creature design), the Wrarth Warriors. These hulking insectoids, with crab-clawed arms and Alien-esque arms in their mouths, are tracking Beep and are rampaging through Blackcastle. Confusion and misunderstanding eventually give way to the Doctor and the Wrarth joining forces, to arrest the vicious Meep, scourge of the Wrarth Galaxy. The strip gives us some peculiar images before it’s done, such as Blackcastle being uprooted and drawn into a black hole, and the Doctor pretending to be a dog. By the end of the strip, Sharon has joined the Doctor on his travels, although her character’s so thin, you’d be hard-pressed to notice.
"The Dogs of Doom" is another eight-parter, and again, the individual instalments are pacy and see the threats faced by the Doctor and his companions change rapidly. To begin with, we arrive in the New Earth system (nothing to do with the New Earth in the new series, or the one in Virgin's Missing Adventures), as it is under siege by the Werelox. Vicious werewolf-like troops, they’re tearing their way through the human settlements of the system, murdering and spreading the Werelox curse through their venomous bite. Naturally, the Doctor won’t stand for this, and sets out to help the colonists – but ends up being bitten and contracting the mutation himself. He spends no less than three months in the TARDIS attempting to isolate a cure, while we’re given the unsettling sight of a bestial Doctor barely unable to control his own rage. It’s a pretty brave move for the fledgling comic.
Returning with the cure mere minutes after he left, the Doctor transforms back into his former self. The end of Part Four gives us a classic cliff-hanger; after pondering who may have created the Werelox strain, the Doctor discovers the answer – the Daleks! It’s a bit random, really; there’s no reason for the Daleks to have gone to all this trouble, especially as they then declare their plan to wipe out all life in the system form orbit anyway! No doubt the editors just thought it was about time the pepperpots turned up. From here, we get the strange sights of the Doctor, Sharon and K-9 joining forces with a reformed Werelox whilst trapped in a Dalek zoo – I can’t tell you why, but it does lead to a fun showdown between the Daleks and various alien monstrosities when the Doctor knocks out the security systems.
Steve Moore takes on writing duties for the final story, "The Time Witch." Up goes the whimsy here (and it was pretty high anyway) as we encounter a woman who can control anything within her own realm. All a bit Omega, but her domain is considerably more interesting than the old quarry. She conjures up various threats for the Doctor to face, though Lord knows why. The most fun is her hulking warrior, who gets defeated when the Doctor
pits his will against the witch’s; the poor creature gets pulled in half, as one side obeys the order to kill, and the other cannot resist the compulsion to make a cup of tea.
In the end, Sharon is aged to young adulthood, for some reason, the witch is trapped, and the collection ends rather suddenly and strangely. Altogether, the volume is a resounding success, but things definitely lose their way towards the end, with the final two stories
making very little sense indeed. The following volume, "Dragon’s Claw," takes on a good deal of this style. If I’m going to recommend a graphic novel to start a Who fan on, I’d definitely choose either "The Iron Legion," or suggest sticking to the much later eighth
Doctor volumes. "The Iron Legion" is a highly enjoyable read, but it’s essentially a bit of fluff – don’t expect high-concept SF or cutting edge drama here, just sit back with a ginger beer and a bag of sweets and enjoy it.
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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