THESE STORIES ALL
ANTHOLOGY "THE WORLD
STEVE PARKHOUSE &
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-
IN OCTOBER 2007.
A GRAPHIC NOVEL
"Voyager" collects the first seven DWM comic strip serials featuring the Sixth Doctor. Starting with "The Shape-Shifter," from the April '84 issue (which was published complete with ‘Colin Baker IS the Doctor!’ cover), it also includes title-story "Voyager," "Polly the Glot," "Once Upon a Time Lord," "War Game," "Funhouse" and a four-part serial presented as "Kane’s Story," "Abel’s Story," "The Warrior’s Story" and "Frobisher’s Story."
"The Shape-Shifter" sets the Sixth Doctor’s comic era off to a fine start. Continuing straight from the end of the previous strip, "The Moderator," (despite the Doctor’s regeneration) it sees the Doctor out looking for trouble on a seedy, backwater planet. The strip has a real 2000AD-like feel, much like many of the early Fourth Doctor strips. The Doctor is looking for the villainous frog-human Dogbolter; however, Dogbolter is looking for him too, and has set a reward for his capture.
In a fun change from the usual ‘Doctor-centric’ nature of the strip, this story is told from the point of view of a brand new character – Avan Tarklu, the shape-shifter of the title. OK, so that name might not be familiar to many, but he later goes by another name – Frobisher. Yes, in no time at all, the shape-shifting private detective has gone from pursuing the Doctor (including a fun sequence in which he disguises himself as the TARDIS console), to becoming his ally, the two of them teaming up to double-cross Dogbolter. Frobisher’s a tremendously fun character, spouting pseudo-noir styled dialogue and whipping between shapes as the whim takes him. Thankfully, he decides to hook up with the Doctor at the strip’s conclusion, giving us a rather unique new companion. By the next strip, he’s chosen his more familiar guise of an emperor penguin (!); he certainly seems fond of this form, as he rarely changes shape again afterwards (the writers realising, as revealed in the book’s introduction, that the ability made him a little too powerful).
The next strip, "Voyager" itself, sets a new, ongoing plot in motion. Drawn by a dream to a strange, fantastic environment, the Doctor and Frobisher face a killer robot at the world’s edge as they are drawn to the a lighthouse - the lair of the villain of the piece, Astrolabus. Revealing himself to be an ancient rogue Time Lord, Astrolabus may be the nominal baddie, but he isn’t really malevolent; more of an irresponsible meddler. Indeed, he reminds me rather of the Monk, or even the Doctor in his more whimsical moments. Astrolabus’s has gone down in Gallifreyan history for stealing the Book of the Old Time from Rassilon; now, the enigmatic being known as Voyager is pursuing him. Whatever his crimes, Astrolabus is a hugely likeable character – scatty, batty, prone to outrageous lies and random exclamation in French ("Gare du Nord!" he cries, wonderfully, at one point.)
Nevertheless, the Doctor and Frobisher find their way out from the outcast’s crazed world, escaping to the next adventure, "Polly the Glot." Reintroducing Dr Ivan Asimoff from the Fourth Doctor’s strips, this is a flimsy but entertaining tale of gigantic, space-faring ‘glots’, which are being exploited by the local beings. However, we find, at the end of the tale, that all the events have been orchestrated by none other than Astrolabus.
"Once Upon a Time Lord" kicks the fantasy into overdrive, heading as it does towards the final confrontation between the Doctor, Astrolabus and Voyager. The travellers are trapped within a story, told by Astrolabus to a group of alien children. The following section of the story is an absolute delight, told as it is in the joint comic/prose style of Rupert the Bear. This is such a sudden, bizarre change of pace that the reader feels just as wrong footed as the Doctor does. Peculiar threats arrive in rapid succession, continuing after the characters escape from these pages into a more conventional segment of narrative. Faced with such horrors as a puppet-Doctor and the terrible, approaching ‘end of the episode,’ the Doctor nevertheless reaches the magician, assaulting him with a delicious display of Sixth-Doctorish verbiage.
The Doctor bursts through the doors, shouting, "Knave! Varlet! Vagabond! Caitiff. Wretch. Rascal! Rapcallion! Blackguard. Shyster. Skunk. Cur. Tyrant. Fiend. Cad. 603n. Tergiversator!"
He doesn’t fear the Doctor, however. Voyager finally catches up with Astrolabus, assailing him and retrieving the Book. Dying, he admits that he is on his last life, and the whole purpose of the theft was to learn the secret of immortality. So ends Steve Parkhouse’s final script for the comic, his wonderful, fairy-tale vision of Doctor Who over. Astrolabus’s dying words surely channel Parkhouse’s own thoughts:
"Ah, Doctor... how can you know? How can you know.. how long...
I have been writing your life? What will you do now that I'm gone?"
In answer to that question, Alan McKenzie takes over the writing duties, heading the strip into far more standard, sci-fi action fare. However, to start with at least, the fairy-tale element is still there, as in "War Game" the Doctor and Frobisher land on Actinon, a mediaeval, sword-and-sorcery type planet. Caught up in a fight between two warlords, they aren’t prepared to expect the identity of the dominant warrior – the lord Kaon is nothing less than a Draconian nobleman.
"Funhouse" is certainly fantastic, at least in the literal sense; in terms of quality, it is less than impressive. As the travellers get trapped within a sentient house (the inspiration for "The Chimes of Midnight," perhaps?), they undergo a few dull threats until they escape by running the TARDIS back through time without the shields up. As Frobisher retreats through former shapes, then regresses in age, finally becoming a worrying pool of fluid on the floor, the Doctor regresses through his former incarnations. This aside, the story holds little interest.
The final serial sees the Doctor and Frobisher collect Peri from Earth, the writing team seemingly deciding to start tying into the television series all of a sudden (bear in mind that, apart from K9, there had never been a television companion in the strip before now). This awkward ‘reintroduction’ sets off another bog-standard sci-fi tale, as the three travellers team up with Kane, a disgraced professor, Abel, a sort of super-powered alchemist, and Kaon, at an earlier point in his own life. Sadly, none of the six are characterised well, and the story, concerning monstrous Skeletoids rampaging across the galaxy, is only interesting for the appearance of Davros as he declines an invitation to represent the Daleks at a galactic peace talk.
All in all, the first two thirds of the book is the superior part, with Parkhouse providing wild imagery and bizarre, imaginative plotlines; the final third, with McKenzie’s simpler tales, is entertaining enough but fails to grab the imagination in the same way. However, one thing that is of consistently high quality is John Ridgway’s artwork, perfectly suited to portraying both the more out-there elements, such as talking penguins and Arabic god-figures, and the less surprising space vistas and alien space wars. Ridgway’s art is entertaining and evocative throughout. At the end of the day, this volume is worthwhile addition to a comic fan’s collection, a fun and intriguing read that represents Doctor Who’s graphic stories well, if not at their very best.
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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