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Join the Doctor, that immortal traveller in time and space, on five of hiswildest and wittiest comic strip adventures: "The Iron Legion," "City of theDamned," "The Star Beast," "The Dogs of Doom," "The Time Witch." Featuring work from the award-winning Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), PatMills, and John Wagner (Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog), and SteveMoore (Abslom Daak), this special collection celebrates forty years of the Doctor Who comic strip!… (mais)
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Access a version of the below that includes illustrations on my blog.

The Iron Legion
I'll be honest, I expected to not like this! People seem to like it, but I was suspicious that was because the Golden Age of Doctor Who is twelve, and that as a 30-something 40-something years on, it was going to be eh, whatever. I even thought this having heard the Big Finish audio adaptation, which is fun enough, but wears thin after a while.

Well, I was wrong because this is great! This is perfectly paced comics; Mills & Wagner knew their stuff. Each incident propels you into the next, each installment brings you something new to marvel at. Roman legionnaire robots driving tanks through England; gladiatorial games fought by ecto-slimes; a guy whose half robot because of all the limbs that have been lopped off as punishment.

Dave Gibbons's art is great, too. I mean, you know this if you've read, say, Watchmen, but he was born great as far as I can tell. The man can draw anything and make it look good! In the interview at the front, he's down on his Tom Baker likeness, but I think he captures the essence of the man's face if not its precise details. The other thing that really shines is the voice: Baker's voice booms off the page. The quips and the anger and the portentousness, you can hear it all.

I don't think this is the best the strip can do, but it's a great start, showing how the comics medium really lets Doctor Who go big in a way 1970s tv just couldn't.

City of the Damned
This story brings the Doctor to a dystopian city where emotion has been outlawed; the Moderators hunt down those who display emotion and program it out of them. It's not quite as wild as The Iron Legion, but it has its own energy. The Doctor gets lots of good lines once again, and I loved the rebels, who each carry one book in their head... except filtered through the goofiness of Doctor Who. So here we get rebels named Nervous, Humble, Silly, and (my favorites) Slightly Angry, Fairly Angry, and Very Angry.

The plot gets a little bonkers: blood bugs that die if they consume adrenaline are kind of accidentally unleashed on the city, which means everyone will die unless the Doctor can bring emotion back. But again, it's all good fun. There's a delightful bit where the Doctor steals a Moderator teleporter, but can't quite get it right and keeps appearing in odd places.

As I'll note in future reviews, and in my stray observations below, it felt a bit Russell T Davies to me. Or rather, Russell T Davies feels a bit like this now that I know what I'm looking for; the whole emotion thing seemed reminiscent of what he did in "Gridlock," just kind of refracted. On its own, I don't think it would stand out, but as we go on, a pattern emerges...

The Star Beast
One of my favorite things Doctor Who can do is that juxtaposition of the everyday and the fantastic. What is more sublime, then, than Fudge's mother offering a Wrarth warrior more tea-- and the Wrarth warrior helpfully detaching its arm so that the Doctor can use it as a weapon!? In The Star Beast, Beep the Meep is on the loose in Blackcastle, a northern industrial town. Beep might look cute, but it's really a deadly war criminal, unbeknownst to local kids Fudge and Sharon.

I've heard the audio version of this, and I thought it felt very much like how Russell T Davies might have relaunched Doctor Who if he had done it in 1980 instead of 2005. That's not something Alan Barnes added in, that's very much present here. Like I said, it makes his signature moving of mixing the fantastic and the domestic, but even though it's a move that feels very Doctor Who, I struggle to think of many examples of it happening in pre-2005 tv Doctor Who outside of Survival. Yet here it is, Mills & Wagner and Gibbons tapping into something the tv show wouldn't devise for another decade, in its mixing of everyday Blackcastle life with fantastic space stuff.

There is one bit I really hate, though: one issue ends with Blackcastle being sucked into a black hole. This cliffhanger is resolved by the narrator basically going, "um, no it wasn't, everything was fine"! Were they making this up as they went along?

Sharon is instantly likeable, which is good, given she becomes the new companion, Doctor Who's first companion of color. But what on Earth is up with the way Dave Gibbons draws her hairline? It makes her look fifty... a bad fifty.

The Dogs of Doom
This is the last of the Wagner & Mills collaborations. It starts great, with colorful space truckers named "Joe Bean" and "Babe Roth"! I loved the way Gibbons rendered their space truck in particular. Babe is a single working mum, and we see her dealing with her kids' robot tutor, and struggling with being so far away from them.

Again, it made me think of something RTD would do later on; it reminds one of the comic-booky residents of New Earth in "Gridlock"... and where are these human colonists? The New-Earth System! Russell would have
been, what, 16-17 when these strips all came out? I don't think he's ripping them off or even deliberating pastiching them, so much as it feels like they were absorbed into his bones as part of the fundamentals
of How Doctor Who Works. Like how if someone hired me to make Doctor Who, I would make it like the 2001-02 Paul McGann audios without even meaning to.

After a strong start, though, it becomes the weakest of the Wagner & Mills joints once the Daleks turn up. Gibbons draws a mean Dalek, of course, and I derive sheer joy from seeing K-9 explode one, but running around on a Dalek ship as they carry out a typically inscrutable plot just isn't as imaginative as the stuff this comic has done up until now. The climax of the story is well-orchestrated, but in the middle I found
myself getting bored for the first time in this series.

Sharon gets a space jumpsuit in this story, which makes her look very leggy. How old is she supposed to be, anyhow? Like, fourteen? Anyway, she doesn't really get much to do here; the installments are so short, and she spends much of it away from the Doctor while he fights the Daleks with K-9 and a hypnotized werewolf. The idea of Sharon is great, but she's not up to much in the execution.

The Time Witch
Steve Moore takes over as writer here, in a story that introduces a number of changes. It's shorter (just four parts, instead of eight), Sharon gets a new haircut (that's good), and Sharon is aged up by four years! To be honest, having already read the rest of Sharon's appearances in Dragon's Claw, I'm not sure why this was done; Sharon never does anything at 18(?) that she couldn't have done at 14(?), except for how she was written out. I'm also not convinced that Gibbons draws her very differently, given how she already looked in stories like Dogs of Doom!

In this one, it's a mental battle of wills between the Doctor and a woman called the "time witch." I don't much like stories of that sort, in that it seems like anything can happen, but this one has some clever touches and decently defined rules. It's fine, but nothing special.

Stray Observations:
  • The village where The Iron Legion opens will eventually be established as Stockbridge, the village from the fifth Doctor comics. The Tardis wiki tells me this happens in The Stockbridge Child, but I am pretty sure Alan Barnes's script for the Big Finish audio adaptation also includes this retcon.
  • Another bit that feels very RTD to me is
    where the Doctor is running alphabetically through aliens before he remembers the ecto-slime and its weakness. Russell totally poached this for "World War Three"!
  • In The Star Beast, the Doctor proves he's a good guy to the Wrarth by showing them a medal he received for defeating the Cybermen: it has a picture of a Cyberman's head with an "X" over it! When was this issued to him and by whom?
  • At one point, a Dalek calls the Doctor a "fool." This just doesn't seem very Dalek-y to me.
  • Fact fans should note that Mills and Wagner would come up with the strip ideas together (I think all or most actually began life as pitches to the television series; one unproduced pitch of theirs would eventually become the Big Finish audio The Song of the Megaptera), they alternated on the actual writing; the "Mills & Wagner" ones are by Mills, while the "Wagner & Mills" ones are by Wagner. I do think there's a difference of tone. The two Mills ones are a bit... wackier? That seems to imply comedy. Maybe "colorful" is a better word. The two Wagner ones are a bit grimmer. Though both balance both aspects!
  • Pat Mills went on to write a couple Doctor Who audio dramas; in addition to the Megaptera "Lost Story," he would also write a couple "New Eighth Doctor Adventures," including The Scapegoat, which was a lot like these stories in its sheer energy. John Wagner is most famous as co-creator of Judge Dredd, but around these parts we best know him as co-writer of DC sf epic Bob the Galactic Bum!
Doctor Who Magazine and Marvel UK: Next in sequence »
  Stevil2001 | Feb 19, 2021 |

This is a collection of the Doctor Who comic strips from 1979-80 featuring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, originally published in the first 38 issues of Doctor Who Monthly; all inked and drawn by Dave Gibbons, but five different stories, of which the first and third are presented as by "Pat Mills and John Wagner", the second and fourth as by "John Wagner and Pat Mills", and the fifth is by Steve Moore. The presentation of the material is OK, but I would have liked a bit more information about the first (and subsequent) dates of publication.

The first and third stories, "The Iron Legion" and "The Star Beast", stand out as the best - I remember them vividly from first reading more than a quarter-century ago - and from what is said in the introduction I guess Pat Mills, who was also the first editor of 2000 AD, deserves the credit for that. They are pretty good examples of the comics medium, and while the Doctor of the drawn page isn't always exactly like Tom Baker's portrayal in appearance and manner, I think that the two "Mills and Wagner" stories stand on their own merits. ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 19, 2007 |
1985 Summer Special Classic
  Booksrme | Nov 25, 2006 |
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Join the Doctor, that immortal traveller in time and space, on five of hiswildest and wittiest comic strip adventures: "The Iron Legion," "City of theDamned," "The Star Beast," "The Dogs of Doom," "The Time Witch." Featuring work from the award-winning Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), PatMills, and John Wagner (Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog), and SteveMoore (Abslom Daak), this special collection celebrates forty years of the Doctor Who comic strip!

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