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08 February 2023

The Chains of Olympus (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 35)

The Chains of Olympus: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine
by Scott Gray, Mike Collins, Martin Geraghty, Dan McDaid, et al.

What the heck happened!? It's so... tiny.

Collection published: 2013
Contents originally published: 2012
Acquired: July 2014
Read: November 2022

This era sees the strip expand to twelve pages per issue, a sign of unprecedented faith in it. (Compare to the dinky strips we get these days... assuming we get any at all!) But on the other hand, we get the smallest collection I can remember. If you were reading this in the mag, I'm sure it wouldn't matter. (And indeed, I remember liking this era quite a bit... a decade ago.) But it's hard to not feel disappointed when you've reached the end of a collection and read three whole stories!

What happened is that the twenty-issue collections weren't selling well. (At least, I guess, since the collection hiatus between The Widow's Curse and The Crimson Hand.) The problem was they had to be priced so high they priced most people out. So, smaller collections could have lower prices and people would be more likely to pick them up. In the future, collections of about thirteen strips would become the norm, but the problem here is that the story arc had been designed with a twenty-issue collection in mind, so it had to be split up into two chunks of roughly ten strips apiece, but based on where the stories divided, we ended up with a nine-issue collection here, followed by an eleven-issue one in Hunters of the Burning Stone. (They were, however, released simultaneously, so you could at least get all twenty strips at once.)

Thirteen strips is more satisfying, but in this case there wouldn't be a way to get to thirteen strips that wouldn't be awkward. If you chucked The Broken Man into The Chains of Olympus, you'd get up to thirteen, but then you'd end up with a pretty weird volume for Hunters of the Burning Stone if it went from #455 to 467. One Amy and Rory story, one companion-less anniversary story that brings an arc to a climax, and then a couple Clara stories.

It seems a weird paradox that the actual strip was doing well enough to get its page length increased while at the same time the reprint sales fell off enough that they needed to be slimmed down!

from Doctor Who Magazine #442
The Chains of Olympus, from Doctor Who Magazine #442-45 (Jan.-Apr. 2012)
story by Scott Gray, pencil art by Mike Collins, inks by David A Roach, colours by James Offredi, lettering by Roger Langridge

Rory makes his DWM debut... but more importantly, Scott Gray returns as scripter of the main strip for the first time since The Flood way back in 2005! There have been many good writers of the strip in the interim, of course, but something I like about Gray is his interest in the character of the Doctor himself. The Doctor goes through a little arc here, which is nice, in terms of his attitude toward Socrates. The plot itself is fun: the beginning sets you up to think that either the Greek gods were aliens all along, or aliens are impersonating the Greek gods, but the answer turns out to be neither, and more tragic. And of course Gray is great at peppering his very serious story with moments of levity, like the Doctor's double-take when he meets Plato, or the blacksmiths who make Rory's magic sword seizing an opportunity to advertise.
Mike Collins is back on art. Since Supernature, I think he's gotten a better handle on Matt Smith... I still feel unconvinced by his Karen Gillan. But he's a great illustrator regardless: lots of big expansive stuff here that he and inker David A Roach capture perfectly. One of the selling points of the strip is it's like what you see on screen but with an unlimited budget, and Collins is always great at that kind of thing. I like the inverted design of the Greek gods; nice work from colourist James Offredi there. Good, breezy fun with a strong undercurrent.

The final moment doesn't just point to a new story arc; it also points at an aspect of the Doctor's character. I like Socrates's evaluation of him.
from Doctor Who Magazine #447
Sticks & Stones, from Doctor Who Magazine #446-47 (May 2012)
story by Scott Gray, pencil art by Martin Geraghty, inks by David A Roach, colours by James Offredi, lettering by Roger Langridge
This is a highly effective two-parter, giving us two styles of story at once: an urban thriller featuring the Doctor and a domestic base-under-siege featuring Rory and Amy. An alien graffiti artist attacks London, spraying his name first across London landmarks and then across language itself: soon everyone finds themselves unable to say any word other than "MONOS" and then everyone finds themselves becoming the word "MONOS." It's a great concept, one of the things that plays very well to the strength of the comics medium, and everyone here works together to make it work: artists Martin Geraghty and David Roach, letterer Roger Langridge, and even DWM art editor Richard Atkinson, who supplied a panel of brand logos turning into "MONOS" again and again. The eventual resolution is quite good, too.

I like how for Rory, almost the entire story takes place in a supermarket. It's very human, and plays to the strengths of his character. I like that, however, meanwhile the Doctor is in a flying van, careening around London landmarks! Again, Gray is great at peppering his writing with small jokes, like Rory complaining about Amy's driving, or all the stuff about Amy's cooking. Geraghty is usually strong at this kind of urban escapade thing (see The Flood, The Age of Ice, The Golden Ones), but he also does well by the story's human elements, capturing all three regulars very well.

I have one complaint: if this had been on screen in, say, the Russell T Davies era, I think the characters trapped in the supermarket and the police detective the Doctor teams up with would have had a bit more material. This was plotted as a three-parter before Gray realized he could do it in two... but I wonder if three parts would have made these characters pop more and make a strong story even stronger.

Oh, I just got the title. Nice.
from Doctor Who Magazine #448
The Cornucopia Caper, from Doctor Who Magazine #448-50 (June-Sept. 2012)
story by Scott Gray, art by Dan McDaid, colours by James Offredi, lettering by Roger Langridge
The strip moves from strength to strength with another fun one with serious undercurrents. This brings us to the city of Cornucopia, which becomes the second of the strip's recurring settings alongside Stockbridge, and introduces someone who I am pretty sure goes on to be a recurring character, the unlicensed monkey thief Horatio Lynk. Lynk is an intstantly likeable character: telling the first part through his narration was an inspired move, and his flirtatious repartee with Amy Pond really sings. I loved all their escapades together. The Doctor and Rory get a nice subplot, too, with the Doctor on the back foot but still clever. And, I can't say this enough, lots of good jokes! I always genuinely laugh out loud at least once when reading a Scott Gray story.

I do think that unlike some other strip writers, Gray rarely tries to overtly mimic the style of the tv programme itself, though sometimes the strip resonates a bit with particular aspects of the screen version. Rather, it seems to me that back when he wrote his amazing run of stories from Ophidius to The Flood, he honed in on what a Doctor Who comic strip truly was and ought to be. So now, returning to the strip, he doesn't try to do Moffat on the page, he just takes his Scott Gray formula and applies it to a new set of characters, while still keeping those characters true to their screen counterparts. I imagine it's harder than it looks to strike this balance, but the result is, I think, the platonic ideal of the DWM comic strip.

Plus, of course we get some sweet Dan McDaid goodness. I love his Amy Pond; his less realistic style means he captures her perfectly without being beholden to Karen Gillan's actual likeness! The energy he imparts Lynk, the grubbiness of Cornucopia, the ominousness of his alien Ziggurat, the grotesequeness of his villains, it's all perfect.
Stray Observations:

  • Actually, at 129 pages (including commentary) the length of this collection ties for smallest with The Cruel Sea, The Land of the Blind, Ground Zero, Evening's Empire, and The Good Soldier. But I think it feels smaller, because 1) the extras I am pretty sure are a bit longer than normal, so there's less actual strip content, and 2) because the actual strips are longer than they have been, that means fewer actual strips and fewer actual stories are collected here.
  • Karen Gillan is a good-looking woman, of course, but I am not convinced she has the breasts that Mike Collins gives Amy. Indeed, I don't think that's true of any of the female companions!
  • I like how Gray manages to build up that sense of a DWM universe without obtrusive continuity references: this collection features a return of the Moblox from Ophidius et al. (#300-03) and the Necrotists from The Way of All Flesh (#308-10).
  • The three issues of The Cornucopia Caper didn't really come out across four months; DWM changed its way of doing cover dates with #450 (going from specific dates to just months), meaning there was no issue with a cover date of Aug. 2012.
  • A city where crime is legal but must be channeled through bureaucratic guilds... it's Ankh-Morpok from Terry Pratchett's Discworld, isn't it? Gray doesn't mention that as an influence, though, so maybe it was just somewhere in his subconscious. I think Izzy was established as a Discworld fan, wasn't she?
  • "YOU'RE JUST A TRACER" WATCH: There are exactly four artists who work on this volume. All but one of them receives cover credit. Who could have been left out???

This post is the thirty-fifth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers Hunters of the Burning Stone. 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
  23. Land of the Blind
  24. Ground Zero
  25. End Game
  26. The Glorious Dead
  27. Oblivion
  28. Transformers: Time Wars and Other Stories
  29. The Flood
  30. The Cruel Sea 
  31. The Betrothal of Sontar
  32. The Widow's Curse
  33. The Crimson Hand
  34. The Child of Time

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