DEZ SKINN &
MICK AUSTIN &
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-90415-9926) RELEASED IN MAY 2005.
A GRAPHIC NOVEL FEATURING THE ADVENTURES OF THE FIFTH DOCTOR FROM THE PAGES OF DOCTOR WHO MONTHLY.
The Tides of Time
The Tides of Time is a bit of a weightier volume than the first two Panini graphic novels; not surprising considering that it contains the entire run of fifth Doctor strips from Doctor Who Monthly. Steve Parkhouse is still on hand for writing duties, penning a selection of inter-linked tales with an overarching mythic quality. Parkhouse’s style suits this epic format, and Dave Gibbons’ artwork is of his usual high standard. However, we do get something of a mixture of artistic styles this time, with Parkhouse himself trying his hand, before handing over to Mick Austin and Steve Dillon.
We start off with a story that seems plucked from the legends of old. “The Tides of Time” is a stirring seven-parter that crosses time, space and reality, as the Doctor, seemingly taking a holiday in the sleepy village of Stockbridge, finds his weekend cricket match interrupted by a stray World War II grenade. This is the start of some terrible temporal trickery – time and space are becoming unravelled. The demon Melanicus, a monstrous being intent of universal destruction, has taken hold of the Event Synthesizer, the foundation engine of reality itself. It’s all vast in scope, so it’s thankful that Parkhouse drops a little humour in – the first smatterings of his trademark whimsy. As time comes unbuckled, the Doctor, companionless, picks up a temporary new friend. Sir Justin, a medieval knight, could have been the cheesiest character ever, but Parkhouse pulls it off with some very genuine-sounding dialogue and gives the character a real likeability. Intensely moral and unafraid of the unknown, Sir Justin is a perfect companion for the upright fifth Doctor.
The story moves rapidly, transporting us to Gallifrey – albeit one rather different to the world we saw on television. It’s a space-age world of hi-tech towers and turrets, a sort of futuristic fortified city. It’s also home to a link to the Higher Evolutionaries. Quite who these high-flying chaps are is never really made clear, but they seem to be a grouping of the most powerful minds in the universe. Rassilon is there, appearing to be in surprisingly rude health, as is Merlin – meeting the Doctor just as he said he would in the previous, fourth Doctor story, “The Neutron Knights” (available in the Dragon’s Claw anthology).
Appealing for the Evolutionaries help, the Doctor and Justin are dragged away by the psychic powers of the terrible Melanicus – into a bizarre, surrealist realm modelled on a funfair. It’s a heady, baffling ride; the Doctor and Justin all the time pursued by a shadowy, globe-headed figure… This turns out to be Shayde, a Gallifreyan construct sent to aid the Doctor, and to keep him on the straight and narrow. As the Doctor and his two new companions continue in their quest, to Melanicus’s homeworld, the beautifully bizarre crystalline world of Althrace, the universe begins to collapse into turmoil, as time unravels. Cue some frightening, evocative imagery as battles across time rip history apart.
In the end, during a showdown with Melanicus, it’s Sir Justin who saves the day. Time reverses, and all is as it was. However, this use of the reset doesn’t hurt at all, coming as the natural conclusion to this temporal horror, and there are still losses on the Doctor’s side. The Time Lord continues his vacation alone, or so it seems.
“Stars Fell on Stockbridge” introduces a young man named Maxwell Edison, a UFO-spotting geek who is ridiculed by the rest of Stockbridge’s populace. Whilst tracking alien emissions, he quite coincidentally happens upon the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Doctor is still hanging around Stockbridge, but has detected signals from a craft in decaying orbit. Taking a nervous Max along for the ride – although he’s convinced that the Doctor comes from Venus (Gallifrey isn’t in the A-Z of Inhabitable Planets) – he investigates the apparently abandoned spacecraft. It’s a sweet little story that’s really about the Doctor making one man’s life a little happier, and the ending’s rather lovely.
“The Stockbridge Horror” takes on more serious matters, although it’s still shot through with a rich vein of humour. The Doctor, enjoying his vacation, is horrified to read that a police box has been dug up out of 500,000,000-year-old limestone. Rushing to where he left the TARDIS, he’s relieved to find it still there, but caked in mud after apparently having travelled without him. Worried, he sets out to investigate, but he has bigger problems on their way; not only have the Time Lords sent Shayde after him, to arrest him for such gross negligence in allowing his ship to alter scientific thinking on earth, but there’s an elemental being after him too.
This strip gives us some arresting images, such as the elemental, black and muscled, stubbornly holing onto to the TARDIS as it hovers in space, and the first ever image of a war TARDIS. However, it’s told in a confusing, disjointed style, and I wasn’t entirely sure why any of this had happened by the end of it (although more hints were on their way, they didn’t explain much either). The switch in artists, from Steve Parkhouse to Mick Austin halfway through is also jarring as their styles are very different.
That isn’t to say that I don’t like Austin’s artwork. Far from it; his unique style is one of the best things about this book. It’s peculiarly cartoonish yet highly emotive at the same time. He takes on art duties for the next two strips, although they’re really one extended story. “Lunar Lagoon” is a grim beauty, although why it’s called “Lunar Lagoon” I don’t know – it’s not on the Moon, and it’s not in a lagoon! Nevertheless, it’s a quietly beautiful story, as the Doctor, still living the quiet life, now on a Pacific island, finds himself up against Fuji, a Japanese soldier who has been hiding in the jungle, and believes that WWII is still going. Parkhouse makes Fuji the antagonist, but never the villain, and his own life is sympathetically portrayed. As US fighters cross overhead, the story plays out to its tragic, inevitable conclusion.
This leads straight into “4-Dimensional Vistas”, a time-tangled tale that heads off the ongoing story arc. The Doctor confronts Gus, an American fighter pilot, discovering that it isn’t 1983 as he believed, but 1963 – yet the war really is still going! The Doctor chooses to take Gus along with him, giving the trooper a chance to escape the unending war he’s part of. They track disturbances in time, eventually landing in the Arctic of the ‘original’ Earth. There, we discover that time is being manipulated by none other than the Meddling Monk, who has join forces with the Ice Warriors! It’s not a team-up you’d ever expect, but it’s cleverly done. The Monk – or “the Time Meddler” as he’s referred to here – has swapped his habit for some tundra wear, but is still modelled on Peter Butterworth. The Ice Warriors look tremendous – faithful to their original design, but beefed up and made more menacing and expressive by Austin’s artistic style. The story is fairly puzzling – I still have no clear idea why the Monk has teamed up with the Ice Warriors – but it’s fast-paced and visually exciting, with a stunning chase scene, in which the Doctor’s TARDIS pursues the Meddler’s (also disguised as a police box, oddly) sideways through time. It’s a baffling but exhilarating story.
“The Moderator” ends the fifth Doctor’s comic strip tenure, and it’s a change of style and pace. Steve Dillon takes on artistic duties, and ably illustrates this grim tale of an intergalactic bounty hunter. The greedy Dogbolter, a frog-faced entrepreneur who owns Mars, Jupiter and Venus, wants to buy the TARDIS (time is money, so a time machine could be very useful). The Doctor refuses, making himself a new enemy in the process. The tale ends with a gunshot, as the bounty hunter guns down Gus. As the story closes, centring on the grieving Doctor, for a moment you can genuinely believe he’s taken to revenge…
We also get a bonus strip – “Timeslip”, an old fourth Doctor strip from Doctor Who Weekly by Dez Skinn and Paul Neary. Quite why this is in this volume, and not one of the previous two, I don’t know. In any case, it’s a flimsy tale that sees the Doctor pulled back through his incarnations as the TARDIS is swallowed up a space creature. Essentially, it’s an excuse to get the first Doctor back in the strip to save the day, and it just about works as a silly bit of fun.
Altogether, bonus strip not withstanding, this volume is a heady ride through time and space. The fifth Doctor’s graphic adventures, supposedly tied together as one long string of events, can become somewhat confusing, but when the stories are told with such fervour and illustrated with such style, it’s hard to quibble. Not only that, but this volume sees DWM truly carving out its own piece of the Whoniverse, with its own mythology, and its own version of Gallifrey, introducing recurring characters such as Rassilon; Shayde; Max; and Dogbolter along the way.
Excellent stuff, all told.
Copyright © Dnniel Tessier 2008
Dnniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Most of my
Beyond History’s End selections have required very little
effort on my part. Since closing The History of the Doctor’s
doors almost two years ago, there have been a flood of stories released
across the media that I’ve been keen to talk –and invariably rave –
about, most of them coming out of Big Finish Production’s incessant
Who factory. However, determined not to let this fiftieth
anniversary series turn into an ode to Big Finish, as is the obvious
temptation, when it came to choosing the fifth Doctor’s story I decided
to take a side-step into his often-overlooked adventures amidst the
pages of Doctor Who Monthly, as collected together in Panini’s
colossal 2005 volume, The Tides of Time. In so doing, I erred.
Having heard its collective tales described as “Some of the greatest Doctor Who comic strips ever published”, I had high hopes for the heavy paperback – hopes raised even higher by two of the adventures’ Stockbridge setting. The quaint Hampshire / Mummerset village was used to astounding effect by Big Finish as the canvas for a trilogy of linked audio dramas in 2009, not to mention a stirring one-off instalment in 2006. My expectations were promptly dashed, however, as I soon found myself in a world that seemed to subscribe to the notion that Doctor Who is a kids’ show – and an exceedingly wacky one, at that.
anthology’s seven-part title track is, admittedly, an incredible visual
banquet, abounding with all manner of Dave Gibbons’ finest monstrosities
and delights, which I imagine must have been even more liberating in
their day, given the budgetary restraints that kept the television
series’ writers’ imaginations in check back then. However, without
context art is just art, and unfortunately the story that these
enchanting pictures paint is not only bonkers, but bears little
semblance to Doctor Who then or now.
The Doctor is a case in point. Save for his opening-scene batting and a passing resemblance to Peter Davison, there is nothing about this story’s Doctor that put me in mind of the series’ focal hero at all – a trend that regrettably extends across the whole volume. I recall writing reviews of stories in which I’ve felt that their Doctor was portrayed “generically”, but until now I’ve always meant that the Doctor in question could easily have been any of his incarnations - here I mean that he could be any quasi-scientific hero full stop. The Doctor’s world is arguably even more off-kilter – instead of the vice-ridden hegemony borne of Robert Holmes’ seminal Deadly Assassin script and perpetuated by the Gallifrey spin-off and even recently-televised Who, this Gallifrey’s “Time-Lords”, with their laissez-faire approach to hyphens, live inside the Matrix as “Matrix-Lords”, along with their Celestial Intervention Agency, and, apparently, Merlin. On occasion, this colourful, two-tone insanity does produce something fresh and exciting that works well within the Whoniverse as I know it, and especially so in the medium – take the removable-headed Gallifreyan construct Shayde, for instance –, but for the most part, it seems to shoot wide of the mark.
The Stockbridge strips, on the strength of which I’d purchased this volume, are much better, though my complaints about the Doctor’s dearth of distinguishing features stands in both. “Stars Fell on Stockbridge” is the lovely tale of the Doctor saving loveable misfit Maxwell Edison (sans silver hammer), and vindicating his Mulderish existence into the bargain. Whilst even Dave Gibbons’ finest sketching couldn’t measure up to the amiable performance that movie star Mark Williams gave in The Eternal Summer, the story is so very poignant that, even as someone approaching the media-sprawling Stockbridge saga backwards, I was considerably buoyed going into “The Stockbridge Horror”, which is probably, on reflection, the collection’s finest offering. Steve Parkhouse’s sophisticated tale plays with temporally-twisted elements that would unwittingly sow the seeds of audios the calibre of Neverland and particularly The Fires of Vulcan. Further, as far as I know, this strip boasts the Whoniverse’s first-ever battle TARDIS, and more notably still, throughout it boasts a level of implied horror that you’ll seldom find in any form Doctor Who, offsetting the juvenile vibes that I got from “The Tides of Time”. Like an X-File ahead of its time, Parkhouse and Austin’s artwork never actually shows the dreadful images of immolation that the dialogue refers to, and on which the tale turns, but this only makes it play on the reader’s mind all the more.
downhill from there though, as the next two stories descend into utter
anarchy. With the stalwart Steve Parkhouse leaving for bigger and better
things, Mick Austin takes sole responsibility for the artwork, bringing
with him a slightly surreal style that, whilst perfectly in keeping with
the tone of the adventures, does little to aid their penetrability. “Lunar
Lagoon” makes “The Tides of Time” seem straightforward, deliberately
blurring the lines between ally and antagonist as well as one timeline and
another, while “4-Dimensional Vistas” just blurs everything, pitting the
Doctor and his newfound ally Gus against the interesting pairing of the
Monk and the Ice Warriors. I desperately wanted to like both strips, as
each contain elements that I think are inspired, but I struggled to follow
The final fifth Doctor strip, “The Moderator”, is more successful. Save for “The Stockbridge Horror”, it has the most adult tone of all the stories in the anthology - a feeling exacerbated by Steve Dillon’s spikier illustrative style. The villain of the piece, the frog-like mogul Dogbolter, is an especially magnificent creation, particularly in this medium and particularly in an era of rampant Thatcherism. The volume is then capped, rather abnormally, with a fourth Doctor strip of questionable relevance but fair spirit, bringing The Tides of Time to a discordant finish that somehow feels oddly appropriate.
Overall then, my fifth trip Beyond History’s Endhas been the most disappointing. I had assumed that Big Finish’s Stockbridge stories had shown me only the top of the proverbial iceberg, and that these evidently-inspirational strips lurked below like some great clandestine masterpiece. In the event, it seems that the Big Finish stories cherry-picked the most successful elements of the fifth Doctor’s DWM run, leaving the confusing and contradictory remnants festering frozen below water, where I wish I’d have left them.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2013
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
These strips all appear to take place between the audio dramas Circular Time: Autumn and Renaissance of the Daleks. Autumn takes place in Stockbridge, whilst Renaissance opens with the Doctor travelling alone and Nyssa exploring 13th century Rhodes, suggesting that Nyssa was in Rhodes “while” (if that’s the right word) the Doctor partook in his Doctor Who Monthly comic strip capers.
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