25 May 2022

Land of the Blind (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 23)

Land of the Blind: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine
by Warwick Scott Gray, Lee Sullivan, Gareth Roberts, Martin Geraghty, Dan Abnett, et al.

Collection published: 2018
Contents originally published: 1993-95
Acquired: December 2018
Read: January 2022

I think at the time, this surely must have been an abrupt transition. From the dangerous and moody seventh Doctor in #211, straight into the fourth Doctor and Romana gadding about in #212. Ace and Bernice are gone without a word; the strip of course has had to write out TV companions before (i.e., Peri) but usually at least says something about it. We get nothing like that this time. For me, though, it reads a little less abruptly because of where I included The Age of Chaos, which caps off the VNA era with The Last Word and eases us into the "past Doctor" stuff with Under Pressure and The Age of Chaos itself; plus, in publication order, Bringer of Darkness opens this volume, which is sort of a second Doctor story in a seventh Doctor style, giving another transitional point.

Unfortunately, the backmatter doesn't include anything from Gary Russell, who was strip editor at the time, and thus the one responsible for the sudden, unprecedented change in the DWM comics format. No longer is the strip one ongoing story; it's now a nostalgia tour. Thankfully, Gareth Roberts does explain a bit in his notes on The Lunar Strangers: there was no longer a television programme to follow, and so the mag became a celebration of Doctor Who's history, driven in part by the VHS range, which randomly dipped into the show's history, "So he was going to follow a similarly randomised pattern in DWM." I'm not sure this would have been my choice, but it has a good logic behind it.

First, it makes sense to uncouple from the NAs: why should one range of tie-ins be beholden to another, when the other clearly doesn't care about this one? Had the strip kept following the books, Ace would have had to disappear again around the time of #223, and then two new companions would have appeared out of nowhere in #227. But if you're going to uncouple, it makes sense to do so in a strong, distinctive way: continuing to do seventh Doctor adventures, just without Benny and "Spacefleet" Ace I think would have raised questions as to why the strip wasn't consistent with the NAs (a range the mag promoted every month with the preludes!) if it was featuring the same characters. Going into the show's past gives a clear reason for the strip to be unconnected to the novels, even if I don't like the loss of the strip's ongoing nature.

from Doctor Who Magazine Summer Special 1993
Bringer of Darkness, from Doctor Who Magazine Summer Special 1993
written by Warwick Gray, art by Martin Geraghty
This is a neat little story, very effectively done. We begin our "past Doctor" adventures with the second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria, and the story follows on from The Evil of the Daleks in having the Doctor investigate if he really did kill off all the Daleks or if he needs to finish the job, and in examining Victoria's emotional reactions to the Daleks, who killed her father; Victoria narrates the story in retrospect from some time shortly after she leaves the TARDIS. Add the dark, moody art of Martin Geraghty, and it all works rather well: a story with some darkness, but also some emotional depth, and it does a neat job of foreshadowing the NAs in a plausible, interesting way. (This came out during Emperor of the Daleks!, so arguably at the height of DWM's VNA era.)
from Doctor Who Magazine #212
Victims, from Doctor Who Magazine #212-14 (May-July 1994)
story by Dan Abnett, art by Colin Andrew, letters by Enid Orc
The fourth Doctor and second Romana investigate murders on a world known for its high fashion. The best part of this is the repartee between the Doctor and Romana; Abnett captures season 17 perfectly in that regard. No, strike that; the best part is the joke about the Doctor trying on Colin Baker's coat, which made me laugh out loud. The story is a bit darker than a real season 17 story, which works; what works less well is that it's kind of a mystery... but it has exactly one suspect, who turns out to have done it. I felt like it fizzled out by the end despite a strong start. Colin Andrew does a reasonable Tom Baker, but his Lalla Ward likeness is very inconsistent; if you're going to go for this retro/nostalgia approach, though, I think you need artists who are good at likenesses.
from Doctor Who Magazine #215
The Lunar Strangers, from Doctor Who Magazine #215-17 (Aug.-Sept. 1994)
script by Gareth Roberts, art by Martin Geraghty, letters by Elitta Fell
The very first page of this one is genius, stuff only the DWM comic could do: cows in spacesuits on the moon. Nothing else here quite lives up to that. The evil space cows' evil plan didn't strike me as wholly plausible, even by the standards of reading about the plans of evil space cows, and I didn't buy the human base administrator's actions either; it turns out she's been pretending, but 1) a good fake-out needs to be plausible, and 2) if she was suspicious, she could have just locked up the evil space cows and every subsequent problem would have been avoided! Gareth Roberts does capture the voices of the fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough well, though, and Martin Geraghty draws a good evil space cow, even if I struggled to distinguish the two.
from Doctor Who Magazine #218
Food for Thought, from Doctor Who Magazine #218-20 (Oct.-Dec. 1994)
script by Nick Briggs, art by Colin Andrew, letters by Elitta Fell and Warwick Gray
In his notes, Nicholas Briggs says this wasn't his first comic strip, but it was his last. We can be thankful for this, I guess, because it feels like a first attempt, full of awkward, confusing transitions and unclear action, though perhaps a good artist could have saved the script somewhat. At least Briggs correctly notes that the characterization for Polly is downright awful.
Change of Mind, from Doctor Who Magazine #221-23 (Jan.-Mar. 1995)
story by Kate Orman, art by Barrie Mitchell, letters by Warwick Gray and Elitta Fell
This third Doctor and Liz Shaw story is, I believe, Kate Orman's only comics work, though I gather one of the characters here recurs from her novels. She has a good handle on Liz; the throughline of the Doctor trying to figure out why Liz left (this is set some time later) works very well. It has some good set pieces, such as where the Doctor and Liz use a sit-in to distract the villain, and the climax. Unfortunately, there are two mysterious men in long coats, and as Orman herself points out, some sequences are hard to follow the action of.
from Doctor Who Magazine #223
This leads me on to a different point: there are three different writers in this volume who were new to comics (essentially, as far as I can tell) in Roberts, Briggs, and Orman; contrast this against Dan Abnett, by this point highly experienced, and Warwick Scott Gray, gradually amassing a body of quality DWM work. For most of its run, the strip has been written by experienced comics writers from outside the Doctor Who world, but that's been slowly changing since the late 1980s. We've seen fan writers with little comics experience come aboard before, of course (e.g., Paul Cornell, Marc Platt), but this is the first volume where I've read a couple strips and thought to myself that the writers were clearly inexperienced comics writers. Orman mentions making mistakes of the medium: but addressing this kind of mistake the exact thing an editor ought to have been on top of! My inference would be that, say, John Freeman and Richard Starkings knew how to nurture a new comics writer in a way that Gary Russell does not. Which, if you've read any of Gary Russell's comics work, is entirely to be expected.
from Doctor Who Magazine #225
Land of the Blind, from Doctor Who Magazine #224-26 (Apr.-June 1995)
story by W. Scott Gray, art by Lee Sullivan, letters by Elitta Fell
Thankfully, the volume closes out as strongly as it opens, with another well put together second Doctor story (this time with Jamie and Zoe) from Scott Gray, now paired with Lee Sullivan. This is a clever, inventive story about a city cut off from the outside universe, with some neat turns, good villains, and one really good joke. You could have stuck this in the Dave Gibbons era and no one would have batted an eye: not crazy ambitious, but the exact kind of thing the strip ought to be doing. I breezed through it in the best of ways.
Stray Observations:
  • Surely the story should have been called Fashion Victims. It's so obvious it boggles my mind that it's not.
  • After a pretty substantial run on the writing roster, Dan Abnett finally exits the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. It's not his final Doctor Who work; he also wrote a couple Big Finish audio dramas and the Christmas novel The Silent Stars Go by. He has also been a pretty prolific writer in American comics. My favorite comics work by him is the excellent Legion Lost, but he's also the kind of writer who will reliably churn out tie-in issues to crappy "events," so I've actually read quite a lot by him, with things like Flashpoint and Convergence. Oh, and he also invented something called "Guardians of the Galaxy"!
  • Enid Orc has got to be a pseudonym, yes? But for who...
  • I always like to imagine what my hypothetical knows-Doctor Who-only-from-the-comics reader is thinking. In this volume, it's "Who the heck are Romana, Tegan, and Turlough? Where are Sharon and Gus?"
  • It is not clear to me what comics Nicholas Briggs has written other than Food for Thought; not Doctor Who ones at any rate. You may have heard of him, though, for going on to voice the Daleks on tv, and for writing a couple Big Finish audio dramas. (I have 79 releases written or co-written by him, according to iTunes!)
  • A hard-bitten space freighter captain going, "I ain't waitin' up here to get what's due! I don't care what the hell's goin' on down there! We're goin' in now, or we'll frazz the atmosphere!" (about which another character thinks "...hell's going on down there...") is surely one of the most Nick Briggs pieces of dialogue to ever Nick Briggs. I'm sure he put his heart and soul into it.
  • How do they decide who gets cover credit on these collections, anyway? Poor Colin Andrew contributes to more strips than anyone else in this volume (he draws six of them) but is shut out by Scott Gray (writes four), Lee Sullivan (draws three), Gareth Roberts (draws three), Martin Geraghty (draws four), and Dan Abnett (writes three). Well, I'm sure it's about who is famous, either to comicdom at large, or to Who fans, but it does seem unfair.

This post is the twenty-third in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers Ground Zero. 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
  12. A Cold Day in Hell!
  13. Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent (part 1)
  14. Nemesis of the Daleks
  15. Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent (part 2)
  16. The Good Soldier
  17. The Incomplete Death's Head
  18. Evening's Empire
  19. The Daleks
  20. Emperor of the Daleks
  21. The Sleeze Brothers File
  22. The Age of Chaos

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