Saturday, 18 April 2009

Doctor Who - Stories too Broad and too Deep for the Small Screen.

As fantastic as it is that Doctor Who is back on TV and as successful as it has ever been; the show has a rich history in other media. This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of posts looking at the Doctor's non-televisual adventures, which I believe to be just as valid, important and brilliant as the best that the TV stories have to offer.

For my own convenience I shall be starting out with the comics. In the future I hope to look at the BF audios and the books too. In this post I will be providing some context as I look at the comics of the first, second and third Doctors. In the next I will turn to an in depth look at the Fourth Doctor's comic adventures.

The comics were the first complementary media for the TV series, beating even the Cushing movies. Published in episodic format along side other strips in "TV comic" the stories of the first Doctor were an example of the worst in cynical cashing in. The best that can be said for them is that the likenesses of Hartnell were sometimes quiet good and, more importantly, they were the first Doctor Who stories to be in colour on a regular basis (the Cushing movies being by definition specials). Certainly at the time they were published they would not have even been particularly necessary as a means of filling the gaps when the show was not being broadcast, because the show was on the air for most of the year. Additionally the standalone Dalek Strips were far superior in every respect.

As with the Cushing Movies, the writers seem to have decided what made the show so great and unique, took it out of any of the strips and replaced it with the most generic story tropes and styles of the 1960s. The "Doctor Who" of these strips (seriously, thats how the character was refereed to) was a human being with children and grandchildren - John and Gillian, who were his companions. The TARDIS was dealt with as little more than a conventional spacecraft, rather than the spooky and wonderous alien ship/being that it is. The storylines were generally simplistic and uninvolving and often depenent on and/or resolved by The Doctor pulling a gadget out of his ever present Gladstone Bag. For the first few years the makers of TV comic couldn't get/wouldn't pay for the Daleks, so the strip made repeated use of The Zarbi and the Trods (their own invention) as the Doctor's main recurring foes.

By and large then these comics are rightfully viewed as a footnote in the history of Doctor Who. Some selected reprints in the Classic Comics collection (a DWM stablemate of the 90s) did little to revise anyones opinion. Thus the DWM "missing adventure" strips of the mid 90s are the only decent representation of Hartnell's Doctor in the form of comic strip adventures.

The second Doctors comics represent a marginal improvement on the first Doctors. Again they offered the reader to novelty of colour and they at least made some attempts to link in with the TV show in as much as Jamie was a companion in many of the strips. By this time the Dalek issue had been sorted so the second Doctor did get to pit his wits against Skaro's finest. But once again there are clear signs that the writers had only the barest idea of the show itself. Once again the Doctor is generally treated as being a human being. Worse, this Doctor regularly carries a laser pistol to kill his enemies with (Die Hideous creature Die!) and relies heavily on his Batman Stylie utility belt and inventions to get his way through his adventures. Now I appreciate that the Troughton Era of the show had a tendency to veer into a morality that the likes of Nixon or "W" would be happy with, but the character as portrayed in the comics is little short of homicidal! The main legacy for this era is that it showed that other media need not be subservient to the TV stories and can fill in the gaps. The comics were the first to explore the notion of a "season 6b" with the Doctor doing the Time Lords bidding for some time after the events of The War Games and prior to his regeneration into the third Doctor. These post War Games strips may still have been pretty poor, but it is arguable that this idea took a hold of people as it seems to have been assumed that the second Doctor had a life beyond the War Games in both The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors (which in turn gave rise to the books running with the idea).

By this point it will be apparent that the first and second Doctors' run in the comics presents something of a problem for those of us who have an inclusive approach to canon in that they are both poor stories and also in a continuity that is irreconcilable with the main canon. The latter point is not so much of a problem as my own view is that whilst there is an obvious and substantial overlap between canon and contininuity, they are not actually the same thing. The former point also presents a problem though, there are plenty of poor tv stories from that era! Fortunately there are two excellent retcon's available to remedy this problem. Steve Lyons' had the first go in his New Adventure Head Games, in which it is positied that the Doctor Who of the strips is a creation of the Land of Fiction. More recently the DWM comics have put forward the notion that they are dreams of the Doctor himself.

The third Doctor's strips are a strange era. I must admit that my knowledge her is more limited as I have not had as much exposure to them as to the strips of the first and second Doctors. However, it does seem that they are relatively faithful to the TV series and that the writers had some real understanding of what they were writing. The lack of UNIT was down to rights issues and is aruably an advantage as the comics feature much more space/time travel than was the case for the TV show. On the other hand the few strips I have been able to read are somewhat stilted and lifeless at times. There have been some rumblings on the DWF that DWM may eventually reprint these if they can get the rights, if they do I will post a proper look at this era then. One thing that I do remember is that they gave the Doctor his own cottage, this would become a home away from home for the 7th Doctor in his comics and indeed in some of the New Adventure stories too.

No comments: