THESE STORIES ALL
THE BBC RADIO
MIKE COLLINS &
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-
IN MAY 2008.
A GRAPHIC NOVEL
The World Shapers
Panini’s latest collection of DWM comic strips covers the second half of the sixth Doctor’s era, spanning the editorship of Sheila Cranna. This was the time of the infamous hiatus of 1985/86, still spoken of in hushed tones by long-term fans. The strips effectively bridge the gap between the end of Season 22 and the beginning of Season 23, with Peri now in her more sophisticated tailored outfit, as opposed to her earlier leotards. Penguin fans needn’t worry though, because the erstwhile shapeshifter Frobisher is still on board the TARDIS too. If anything, he’s far more a part of the proceedings here, as Peri’s character is pretty
broadly written – Frobisher’s given far more personality than his human comrade.
As in the previous volume “Voyager”, John Ridgway handles the art duties throughout. His style is effective and clear, if sometimes a little pedestrian. However, it’s clear when the subject matter catches his imagination, as his designs suddenly stand out. The only subjects that really suffer are the leads – the portrayal of Peri and the Doctor vary in quality, sometimes clearly recognisable, other times surprisingly poor. Ridgway is regarded very highly in comic circles, but he could miss the mark on occasion.
On the script side of things, we get a great variety of contributors. Ridgway himself is credited for the first story, but the main writing duties went to his co-author, Alan McKenzie.
A three-part serial, the episodes titled individually as “Exodus”; “Revelation!”; and “Genesis!”’, this story gets the collection off to a good start. We’re presented with an unusual opening scene, as a group of alien refugees materialise aboard the TARDIS, which in turn leads to the Doctor investigating their planet of Sylvaniar. It seems people are going missing, and he’s determined to find out why. Behind the medieval front of the planet’s society is a background of high technology… the Cybermen have landed, and are using the locals as a source of spare parts. In spite of the strip’s title, there are no great revelations about the Cybermen here; however, the sight of a partially organic 1980s-style Cyberman in a medieval castle is evocative, just the sort of incongruous image the DWM strip excels at. It also sets up the Cybernetic theme of the volume… they’ll be back before the book’s end.
Simon Furman provides two storylines, both of which are pretty disposable. “Nature of the Beast” is a slight tale about lycanthropy. There’s some nice imagery, and a pleasant ending to the events, but it’s pretty generic filler material. “Salad Daze”, on the other hand, is a
pretty pointless one-off. Seeing Peri alone with the Doctor, it begins with an argument over salad (thrilling, I know). The Doctor has, for some reason, created a sort of reality-warping dream machine, and Peri gets caught up in a bizarre vegetable-themed take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There are some nice images – the Doctor as the white rabbit, for one, holding hands with a date (6th September, 1986) – but the strip used the children’s story as a backdrop in the previous volume, and covering the same ground, less effectively, so soon after, is a mistake. You can also feel the influence of Season 23 by this stage – it’s the first of two strips that end with a close-up of the Doctor’s smirking face.
Jamie Delano, of 2000AD, Captain Britain and Batman repute, does much better. “Time Bomb” is a fantastic tale of time gone awry, as the people of the planet Hedron discover a way of disposing of their dead and their genetic waste through a sort of generated wormhole. However, a problem arises – the waste is arriving throughout Earth’s prehistory. Realising that this threatens to irrevocably disrupt terrestrial evolution, the Doctor and Frobisher set about stopping it. There are some arresting images here, including the decadent race of reptile people who rule an alternative Earth, and the sight of Frobisher fleeing from a plesiosaur. In the end, things turn out for the best – from Earth’s point of view at least. The downbeat ending highlights the philosophical pitfalls inherent in the concept of time travel.
Delano’s second contribution, “The Gift”, also provides us with unusual imagery, but of a different sort. Never did I think I’d see the sixth Doctor lounging on the beach in trunks and
an open shirt, or doing the twist at a party! The whole tone of this story is one of fun and frolic, but there’s a more intelligent side to it as well. The planet Zazz, devoted to the partying of the ruling Lorduke, is threatened when the Lorduke’s exiled scientist brother releases a robot onto the capital city. The robot has been recovered from Zazz’s moon, and turns out to be a form of self-replicating scavenger. As it threatens the whole planet by reproducing
using whatever raw materials it can find, the Doctor takes the TARDIS into the moon’s past, to witness a miracle of mechanical evolution. The story’s resolution is a world away from the sixth Doctor’s violent reputation.
Mike Collins, a particularly prolific comics writer, provides a single serial for this volume. “Profits of Doom” features a sleeper ship on the way to colonise a planet. When one of the crew wakes up to do a routine six-monthly systems check, only to discover an alien intruder, a web of lies is about the mission is untangled. With an effective set of villains and logical involvement of the Doctor and his companions, this story is an enjoyable, if unremarkable, addition to the collection. It also boasts an excellent monster race – the Profiteers of Ephte, money-obsessed slugs, a sort of precursor to Star Trek’s Ferengi, only even more unpleasant to look at. One of the most enjoyable aspects to this strip are the various hints and references to other science fiction works; plus, we learn that the ship is on way to the planet Arcadia – perhaps the same planet Arcadia as seen in the New Adventures, and more recently mentioned on screen with relation to the Time War…
The final contributor to this collection is none other than Grant Morrison, almost legendary comics author and creator of such classic titles as The Invisibles, The Filth, We3 and Arkham Asylum. Morrison provides the two most memorable strips in the collection – “Changes” and “The World Shapers” itself. “Changes” is a fine little story, seeing the TARDIS invaded by a carnivorous, shapeshifting insect. The story is simple, and the power lies in the imagery, so perhaps the kudos should go to Ridgway. Along with mind-boggling scenes of the TARDIS’ deep interior (light years away from the brick-lined corridors of “The Invasion of Time”), we get to see some disturbing shape-twisting going on. Frobisher is well used here. Although ostensibly suffering from “monomorphia”, leaving him in the shape of a penguin for good, the writers seem to grant him his metamorphic powers whenever it suits the story. Here it certainly does, as we watch the two metamorphs battle it out, shifting forms as they do so.
“The World Shapers” itself is a story that has divided opinion amongst fans for years, and I can see why. So much of it is just so wrong, yet it works strangely well. Morrison takes a surprisingly fan-wanky approach to his subject, taking an obscure line from 1968’s “The Invasion” and using it an excuse to rope Jamie back into proceedings. I wouldn’t mind – Jamie’s one of my favourite companions, so any excuse to bring him back is fine with me – but for the appalling way he’s treated. Old, bearded and shunned by his clan, Jamie here
has managed to retain his memories of his time with the Doctor, and has been branded as “Mad Jamie” as a result of his tall tales. The character’s pretty unrecognisable, and, what’s more, he’s killed off at the end! Unforgivable.
On the other hand, taken on its own merits, the story does have a lot going for it, even if it does sink to the continuity-obsessed style of the television show at the time. Returning the Doctor to Marinus for the
first time since 1964, bringing in the Time Lords and resurrecting the Voord, it’s pure wankery. However, it delivers some brilliant concepts – TARDISes gossiping to each other, for instance – but most of all, the eponymous world shapers, alien devices that speed up time on a planet’s surface. In a brilliantly batty move, it turns out that Planet 14 is in fact Marinus, which is also, believe it or not, Mondas! The Voord evolve into the Cybermen – what a wonderfully daft idea!
In the final pages, the Doctor appeals to the Time Lords to halt the Cybermen’s evolution here and now. They assure him that it’s being dealt with. However, the strip – and this volume – end with this chilling exchange:
“Within five million years, the Cybermen will have evolved again.
Beyond the need for bodies. They will become pure thought…
the most peace-loving and advanced race in the Universe…
They will lead us into a new era of understanding…”
“I think a few million years of evil and bloodshed are
well worth the ultimate salvation of sentient life, don’t you?”
And with that, one of oddest volumes of Doctor Who strips concludes. Along with a spoof interview with Frobisher, this selection is, despite a couple of rather mediocre tales, a winner. I look forward to when Panini eventually decide to publish the seventh Doctor’s mammoth era.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
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