26 July 2021

A Cold Day in Hell! (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 12)

After a brief respite, I'm back to catching up on reviews of Doctor Who books. I guess I have just read a lot of them a late! So for the next few weeks, it will be various bits and bobs from the Doctor Who universe, starting with...

Collection published: 2009
Contents originally published: 1987-89
Acquired: June 2009
Read: May 2021

A Cold Day in Hell!: Collected Comic Strips from the Pages of Doctor Who Magazine
by Simon Furman, John Ridgway, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Grant Morrison, Geoff Senior, John Higgins, Alan Grant, Dan Abnett, Mike Collins, et al.

This is the first DWM graphic novel (in strip order) that has bonus features beyond an archival interview; it contains a new introduction by Richard Starkings (the strip's editor for much of this era) and a set of interviews with the writers and artists put together by John Freeman (the magazine's editor for much of this era). This means I have more insight into the production decisions behind the strip than in previous eras.

The big difference between this run and previous ones is that it has neither a consistent writer (as the strip did from #1 to #110) nor a consistent artist (as the strip did from #1 to 69 and #88 to 133). Starkings explains the decision: "it had often occurred to me that the strip should reflect the series and feature a different writer and director for each story" (p. 6). But I think this neglects a way in which television is a different medium than tv. On screen, the writer and director might always change, but the performance stays the same. Every episode has got Sylvester McCoy in. But in a comic, the artist isn't just the director, they're also every actor. This means that even when the strips are good, there's no throughline, and the lack of consistency leaves it all feeling like less than the sum of its parts. From #70 to 87, you had a consistent tone and style from Steve Parkhouse even if the art was always different; from #111 to 133 you had a consistent tone and style from John Ridgway even if the writing was always different. Here you have neither. And no companion! (The strip was last companion free from #49 to 77.) I cannot think of any other ongoing non-anthology comic that took an approach like this.

from Doctor Who Magazine #133
Now, this might all be rubbish, because I read this all in one go, whereas it would have come out across two years. Maybe it reads fine when you have a month gap every time the creative team changes? But this is how I read it!

A Cold Day in Hell! / Redemption!, from Doctor Who Magazine #130-34 (Nov. 1987–Mar. 1988)
stories by Simon Furman, pencils by John Ridgway and Kev Hopgood, inks by Tim Perkins, letters by Zed
These two strips transition out of the trappings of the sixth Doctor era: Frobisher departs the Doctor; when he leaves, new companion Olla is introduced, but she's gone within one more strip herself! The actual stories here are so-so, the Doctor running around after Ice Warriors and such, and doing a lot of goofy stuff that makes you suspect all Simon Furman had to go off was the script for Time and the Rani. Frobisher's writing-out is pretty perfunctory, as is Olla's.
from Doctor Who Magazine #135
The Crossroads of Time, from Doctor Who Magazine #135 (Apr. 1988)
story by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior, letters by Zed
So I've been reading the Marvel UK Transformers comics in parallel with the DWM strips, all because here they collide. At the end of the Transformers story "The Legacy of Unicron!" (in Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five), the robot mercenary Death's Head is tossed into a malfunctioning time portal; here we find out where he went, as he emerges in the Doctor Who universe. I don't object to this on principle; indeed, it strikes me as one of the USPs of reading the strip, and I was curious to see how this whole crossover thing would shake out. 
Alas, in practice, it's freaking terrible. Death's Head, who in Transformers was a "principled" freelance peacekeeping agent in that he killed for money-- and not for pleasure-- here attacks the Doctor for no real good reason, just an accidental collision in the Time Vortex. The Doctor fights him with lethal force! It doesn't kill Death's Head, but he doesn't know that; I get that Death's Head had to be shrunk down to human scale if he was going to interact with other Marvel UK characters, but maybe the Doctor could have done it on purpose? And then the Doctor sends this homicidal bounty hunter to Earth in the year 8162 and is just like, "Ah, oh well, I'm sure it'll be fine." I think there could have been a great story about a clash of values between the Doctor and Death's Head... but this is manifestly not it. I can only hope that Death's Head's solo feature, which I plan on following him into, is better than this.
from Doctor Who Magazine #138
Claws of the Klathi!, from Doctor Who Magazine #136-38 (May-July 1988)
story by Mike Collins, art by Kev Hopgood and Dave Hine, letters by Zed
This is a decent piece of Victoriana by stalwart DWM contributor Michael Collins. It feels to me like it has a bit too much going for its three parts: a freakshow escapee, a pair of alien refugees, a giant robot, a gathering of men of science, and the Crystal Palace struggle for space. The men of science, for example, kind of feel pointless. But it's certainly the best story in this volume thus far, and Kev Hopgood is one of DWM's better post-Ridgway artists.
Culture Shock! / Keepsake / Planet of the Dead / Echoes of the Mogor! / Time and Tide, from Doctor Who Magazine #139-46 (Aug. 1988–Mar. 1989)
stories by Grant Morrison, Simon Furman, John Freeman, Dan Abnett, and Richard Alan & John Carnell; art by Bryan Hitch, John Higgins, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgway, and Dougie Braithwaite & Dave Elliott; letters by Zed, Annie Halfacree, and Tom Orzechowski
This run of strips reminded me a lot of Steve Moore and Steve Parkhouse's run from #46 to 60: it's all one- and two-part stories, often hinging on some kind of highbrow science fictional concept taken to a depressing conclusion. In Culture Shock!, the Doctor discovers a sentient race of bacteria who need his help; in Keepsake he (accidentally?) bullies a mercenary into helping him out; in Echoes of the Mogor!, he finds a long-dead species who embody their memories in crystal; in Time and Tide, he comes upon a dying species on a water planet. They are all varying degrees of fine, and the artists all have varying degrees of command over Sylvester McCoy's likeness. Culture Shock! had a cool hook, but I didn't really buy the Doctor's depression; I liked the idea of Keepsake but thought the humor didn't quite come off; Time and Tide was crazy depressing, and am not convinced it really fits the character of the Doctor. (There's a lot of standing around watching people die!) 
Planet of the Dead has the Doctor encountering first dead companions, and then his own previous selves. I didn't think John Freeman really captured the voices of the companions and Doctors enough to pull this off, but Lee Sullivan was an excellent choice for illustrating it.
from Doctor Who Magazine #147
Follow That TARDIS!, from Doctor Who Magazine #147 (Apr. 1989)
story by John Carnell, art by Andy Lanning, John Higgins, Kev Hopgood, Dougie Braithwaite, & Dave Elliott, letters by Bambos
The Doctor is forced by the Sleeze Brothers, a pair of private investigators, to chase the Monk's TARDIS throughout a series of historical disasters. I am convinced this could be funny, but I did not think the joke actually came off.
Invaders from Gantac!, from Doctor Who Magazine #148-50 (May-July 1989)
story by Alan Grant, art by Martin Griffiths and Cam Smith, letters by Gordon Robson
Going into this, I was like, "Oh no... another comedy story." But it turned out to be the best story in the whole volume! The Doctor lands on Earth in the far future year of 1992 to find out that it's been taken over by aliens, and his only ally is a homeless man named Leapy. In its mix of big events and light comedy, it very much felt like something I could imagine Russell T Davies putting on screen as a big, bright two-parter in the Aliens of London/Rise of the Cybermen/Daleks Take Manhattan/The Sontaran Stratagem slot. There's some good comedy, but also a serious edge: more than any other story, I could imagine McCoy doing this on screen. It's pacey and twisty, and the only thing I didn't like was the kind of perfunctory ending. That said, Griffiths and Smith don't exactly nail McCoy's likeness. (But then, who does!?)
from Doctor Who Magazine #140
Stray Observations:
  • If you were a hypothetical reader who never watched the show, I think you would imagine that after The World Shapers, the sixth Doctor, Frobisher, and Peri all went on an adventure where Peri left with Yrcanos and the Doctor regenerated. There's no indication here that, say, Frobisher was dropped off or anything.
  • I read The Age of Chaos, even though it was written many years later, between The World Shapers and A Cold Day in Hell! Doing so revealed an inconsistency; the way Frobisher mopes over Peri in Cold Day makes it clear he hasn't been visiting her and her descendants as Age of Chaos established, and wound of her departure is obviously quite raw. But if you wanted to get quite convoluted, I think you could solve it by imagining that for Frobisher, Age of Chaos takes place after A Cold Day in Hell!! The sixth Doctor and Peri drop off Frobisher and experience the events of Trial of a Time Lord. Frobisher is then picked up by the seventh Doctor, who tells him what happened, and then he gets dropped off again on A-Lux. Then he gets picked up by the sixth Doctor, who takes him to Krontep and meet Peri again, along with the kids. Easy!
  • Poor Olla: I am reasonably sure she is the only DWM-original companion to never appear or even be mentioned again. The Doctor doesn't call her up for help in The Stockbridge Showdown!
  • I did notice that in A Cold Day in Hell!, Furman did something he also does in his Transformers strips: so that reading the recap isn't dull, it usually also includes new information. But that means if you only skim the recap, you might miss the new information! However, I am used to it now, and it doesn't throw me as much.
  • Richard Starkings says the first thing he did when taking over as editor was fire John Ridgway because he cost so much... but back in the introduction to Voyager, Ridgway said he quit when the strip switched to McCoy so that he could focus on the steadier income from drawing DC's Hellblazer.
  • Fun fact: In The Crossroads of Time, the Doctor sends Death's Head to the year 8162. This is because that was the setting of Marvel UK's Dragon's Claws series, but because Dogbolter showed up in the Death's Head solo series that span out of Dragon's Claws, that means a significant chunk of the DWM mythos must also date to the 82nd century. If that's when Dogbolter is from, it must also be when Frobisher is from; we know the Free-Fall Warriors are from the same era as Dogbolter; and we know Ivan Asimoff is also from that era. It also seems likely that Olla is from the era. Abel's Story and War-Game also go in this era. Much much later, The Stockbridge Showdown would place Sharon's new home era in the same time as all the others as well. All because Marvel UK wanted to spin Death's Head into his own series! Plus, this means Dragon's Claws takes place in the Doctor Who universe...
  • Claws of the Klathi! commits one of my neo-Victorian pet peeves: there is no way a man of means who dabbled in science would call himself a "scientist" in 1851 as the gentlemen do here. It sounds like a job one might have!
  • Culture Shock! was the last Doctor Who Magazine contribution from Grant Morrison, who is arguably the most famous person to have worked on the strip other than Dave Gibbons. (Alan Moore only wrote for the back-ups.) He would write creator-owned stuff like We3 (Homeward Bound with killer cyborgs) later on, but I know him best as a prolific DC contributor, writing things like JLA, Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Superman, 52, Final Crisis, and The Multiversity.
  • Bryan Hitch illustrates just one strip, but still gets cover credit; he would do some genre-redefining work in the 2000s on The Ultimates for Marvel and The Authority for Wildstorm.
  • Doctor Who tie-ins often like to do a thing where the Doctor remembers his companions who died while travelling with him, but are hamstrung in this by the fact that on screen, that amounts to unmemorable and/or terrible ones like Katarina, Sara, and Adric. So DWM gains a slight boost from the events of The World Shapers in that stories like Planet of the Dead can now use Jamie, a dead companion who is both good and memorable.
  • Echoes of the Mogor! is the first story to establish that the Doctor is trying to get to the planet Maruthea; in Invaders from Gantac! we learn he's attempting to attend the birthday of someone called Bonjaxx, but he doesn't make it within the confines of this volume.
  • It also introduces the Foreign Hazard Duty team, a sort of future space police; evidently we will see them in future volumes.
  • "Richard Alan" is a pseudonym for strip editor Richard Starkings; so is "Zed."
  • Follow That TARDIS! is, I believe, the only DWM contribution of Andy Lanning, who would become a prolific contributor to Marvel and DC in the 2000s. My favorite work of his is a run on Legion of Super-Heroes, but he also contributes to basically every DC event, including Infinite Crisis, 52, and Flashpoint. He strikes me as one of those guys who is capable of great work, but will also happily contribute to drek if that's what you need.
  • So far the Master has never appeared in a DWM strip; the Meddling Monk has appeared twice. Who is the real Time Lord nemesis of the Doctor?
  • This volume contains the only Doctor Who Magazine contributions of Kev Hopgood, but he must have made a good impression on someone for his Sylvester McCoy likeness, as twenty-five years later he returned to Doctor Who to illustrate the seventh Doctor segment of Prisoners of Time! I liked his art here, but in my review of that volume I called it "stiff."
  • The Sleeze Brothers went on to have their own comic series from Marvel. The Tardis wiki doesn't count it as part of the Doctor Who universe, but who knows why. Their rules for "inclusion" are typically pretty asinine, anyway. You can get it pretty cheap on the secondary market, but I am not sure I am motivated to do so...
  • from Doctor Who Magazine #148
    Alan Grant never contributed to DWM again, and hilariously he doesn't even remember that he did this strip. I know him best as the co-writer of L.E.G.I.O.N. from DC, with fellow Marvel UK contributor Barry Kitson. But of course his greatest contribution to comics was the seminal and influential Bob the Galactic Bum.
  • Yes, that's a lot of "where are they now?" updates in this one! If your comic collection has twenty-one individual contributors (not counting letterers), I guess odds are a lot of them will go on to be famous.

This post is the twelfth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers part 1 of Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four
  10. The Age of Chaos
  11. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five

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