Sunday, 27 April 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Two

Taking a break from a celebration of all things comic (that's comic strips, not funny comic - this blog is always dedicated to the funny. No, don't laugh at that!), it's time to continue with a retrospective look at the series of Doctor Who, in preparation for the arrival of Peter Capaldi's début series later this year. This month, we look back at another (Scottish) Doctor's inaugural year in the TARDIS. It's Mr Fantastic himself (yes, I know I said I was giving the comic-theme of this month a rest), The Tenth Doctor!

Starring: David Tennant (the Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith) and Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler). 
Produced by: Phil Collinson
Executive Produced by: Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner

Best Episodes

Tooth and Claw by Russell T Davies
Often overlooked in the grand scheme of Doctor Who episodes, 'Tooth and Claw' is a fine adventure, mixing a simple story about an old werewolf folktale come to fruition with the 'true' personal history of Queen Victoria. This is an episode that Who's original creator, Sydney Newman with his dedication to education, would be proud of. 

Girl in the Fireplace by Steven Moffat
The episode that proved the Moff was not a one-hit wonder after 'The Empty Child' and could repeatedly deliver the goods. The writer's typical time-wimey shenanigans (on first display here) are used to tell one of the most heart-rendering romances in Doctor Who's history - and it involves the Doctor himself...

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday by Russell T Davies
I'd be remiss if I did not mention the series finale which sees the Doctor's hearts broken when Rose Tyler is lost to him in a parallel universe. Chuck in a war between the Daleks and the Cybermen and the spin-off series spawning Torchwhood and you've got one of the most memorable episodes in the whoniverse. 


Has there ever been a companion who has emotionally effected the Doctor more than Rose Tyler? In the time they travel together, he goes from a warrior suffering from survivor's guilt to a chirpy, dashing hero (it's a personal theory that the Doctor influenced his regeneration into a young handsome Londoner to impress Rose). With Rose at his side, this new Doctor is a lighter soul than his immediate predecessor but still feels the weight of being the last of his kind at heart. He also seems to have picked up Rose's humanity - what is it with Time War survivors and Rose? See 'Dalek' - as seen in his emotional farewell to Rose herself. Dear Rose made such a mark on the Time Lord that he mourned her loss for a long while; when it came to his regeneration many years later, his visited her immediately before dieing. The Doctor and Rose are such a perfect match, it's no wonder that the pair are often ranked at the very top of TARDIS teams. 
The only other frequent flyer joining those time-travelling love birds on their adventures this series is Rose's ex Mickey Smith who finally gets his dues here as he matures from 'Mickey the Idiot' to 'Mickey Smith: Defender of the Earth', fighting the Cybermen. Elsewhere, Jackie Tyler is still around to root the TARDIS to modern-day Earth while a parallel version of Rose's dad, Pete Tyler, is also discovered, meaning that when stuck on said alternate world, Rose has a complete family once again. And for a while, the Doctor did too. Unlike Number Nine, this Doctor definitely did domestic. 

Story arc

Taking its lead from the previous series' running references to 'Bad Wolf', Series Two makes several passing nods to the mysterious 'Torchwood.' As seen in 'Tooth and Claw', after being attacked by a werewolf, Queen Victoria creates the Torchwood Institute to protect her empire from all alien threat - including the Doctor. It isn't until a hundred years later that the Time Lord finally bumps into them - just as the Cybermen break through from their dimension into ours. Followed by another of the Doctor's old enemies, the Daleks, who have yet again survived the Time War. Before you can say 'pest control', the Daleks and the Cybermen cause worldwide destruction in the Battle of Canary Wharf, resulting in the dissolution of Torchwood. Or so the Doctor thinks...
In some ways, Series Two could be viewed as a large backdoor pilot for Russell T Davies' long-held dream of making an adult sci-fi show, an idea which became Torchwood, based around Captain Jack's version of the Institute run from Cardiff. Soon after this, another character who appeared in Series Two, classic companion Sarah Jane Smith, starred in her own spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures. With the central show at the top of its game and in rude enough health to spawn two sister series, Doctor Who was truly travelling to brave new worlds.

Next month: Series Three... Have you met Miss Jones?

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Films

It seems the whole world's gone webheaded this month as the latest film starring The Amazing Arachnid is released across the globe. For the last decade and a bit, as one of Marvel comic's biggest successes, Spider-Man has been hot property at the box office with Sam Raimi's original trilogy being so popular that a rebooted series swung into view a mere five years after the last lot finished. With some enduring characters, its hard to single out just why they do so well but with Spider-Man its clear that he remains ever-loved due to his being the only everyman super-hero. While numerous comic book creations fight costumed villains (and live in New York), few feel as fleshed out and believable than Spidey, with the best stories of the character featuring real heart. The films starring that web-shooting, wall-crawling, wise-cracking hero thankfully carry this to the big screen. Look out, it's...

Spider-Man (2002)

One of the first big comic book films of the 21st century, Spider-Man was a phenomenal hit at the time and still stands up today, even in our superhero-saturated world. Tobey Macguire makes for a likeable lead as, you all know how it goes, geeky high school kid turned Spider-Man and he's well supported  by Kirsten Dunst, who does the most with her damsel-in-distress role, the brilliant J.K Simmons as Parker's boss J. Jonah Jameson and Willem Dafoe, staying on the right side of ham as nemesis the Green Goblin. Its skilfully-directed by Raimi with grand, sweeping visuals of the urban vistas and is made by its mix of humour and emotion. This is how to do a superhero origin film.

 Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The first Spider-Man film could have been hard to live up to but thankfully things only improved for Spider-Man 2 with many claiming it to be one of the best films in the superhero genre. It sees Peter struggling to balance his crimefighting with his everyday alter-ego, while still trying to gain the affection of Mary Jane. Its even tighter than the first film in delivering an engaging story with some great set pieces plus Alfred Molina shines as the surprisingly tragic Doctor Octopus. Every Spider-film (and every superhero film, come to that) has had a lot to live up to ever since.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Poor, misunderstood Spider-Man 3. Few superhero films have been so looked forward to only to be met with a truly venomous reaction. This blogger seems to be in the minority in that he finds it an entertaining adventure. It certainly is not as well held together as the previous entries in the series, and there are more elements to the story than can the director can manage, but it retains the core of the first two films while also suitably tying up the franchise's ongoing character threads. It is definitely not as bad as it often thought - I'll even defend the 'dancing in the street' scene as a deliberately cringe-inducing moment rather than a failure. There I said it.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

With the first Spider-Man trilogy so recent in the memory, it is understandable that this reboot does not wholly step out of the original film's shadow. While it tries hard to spin a different take on Spidey's beginnings - e.g. the mystery of Peter's parents - the story is essentially the same as but without the directorial and storytelling flourish of before. However, the film is saved by Andrew Garfield, pitch perfect as awkward genius teen Peter, and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey who's chemistry, outshining MacGuire's and Dunst's, makes any scene they're in - thankfully, most of the film - a joy to watch. Let's hope the sequel can provide a more memorable story as well as more from Garfield and Stone. If so, then - just like for Spidey himself - the sky's the limit.

If you fancy reading more of my thoughts of the amazing Spider-films, use those web-shooters of yours to swing on over to Whatculture to find out my '15 Greatest Spider-Man Movie Moments.' 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Best Doctor Who Comic Stories

Continuing with the comic book-theme going on here this month, it's time to turn the page to that ever-present topic here at Scribble Creatures; Doctor Who. The long-held tradition of Doctor Who comics is, in my humble opinion, the most underrated of all the mediums in which Who is produced - and also the oldest; even the First Doctor was accompanied by a concurrent comic strip version of himself back in the day. To me, it is the best off-screen Doctor Who; while it is wonderful to hear the original actors in their roles, audio dramas lose the vital visual aspect to Doctor Who while the novels, although they have the space to breath and add more detail, can never reproduce the pace of the television series. So join us as we travel to the two-dimensional world to look at the best Doctor Who comic stories ever. Vworp vworp! 

The Shape Shifter 

While also having the visuals and the pace of the TV show, the comics also have the privilege of being able to be stranger and wilder than the confines of television may allow. The Sixth Doctor comic, 'The Shape Shifter', is a prime example of this as it introduces a new companion for the Doctor; Frobisher, a talking penguin. Yes, you read that right. Frobisher, really an alien shapeshifter/private eye who enjoys the form of a penguin, is one of the great Doctor Who comic creations and the epitome of how weird and wonderful Doctor Who comics can be, pushing the boundaries of sanity and what is acceptable further than the TV series ever could. I think we'd all love to see Peter Capaldi p-p-pick up a penguin on his travels some time in the future...

Here's an example of everyone's favourite wisecracking penguin in action:

The Tides of Time

One of the great freedoms of the comic strips is that they are not restrained by the budget of a television product but by the limits of the imagination, being able to depict exotic alien landscapes and strange alien creatures without relying on sets and rubber suits. This classic Fifth Doctor comic shows this perfectly. One of the strangest, most surreal Doctor Who stories in any medium, 'The Tides of Time' sees the evil alien demon Melanicus trying to destroy the whole of reality, leading the Doctor on a quest through time and space to stop him - from English village Stockbridge (which would become a recurring location in the comics, right up to the present day) to Gallifrey by way of a giant bathtub. Told you it was surreal. The writing is fresh and inspired while the artwork - by future Watchmen man Dave Gibbons - is fantastic. Still don't know what the giant bathtub's about though...

The Lodger

Before it was one of Doctor Who's funniest ever episodes starring Matt Smith alongside James Corden, 'The Lodger' was a comic, penned by series writer Gareth Roberts, which sees the Tenth Doctor move in with Mickey Smith for a week, when the TARDIS drifts off into space with Rose Tyler still inside. With many of the same beats from the episode (including a much more ouch-inducing version of the sonic-screwdriver/electric toothbrush idea, see image), the comic gives the oft-overlooked character of Mickey his dues as we truly understand his frustration with the Doctor - not only has he ran off with his girlfriend, here he takes over his life. Just as funny and heartfelt as its TV counterpart, this is a fine instance of how the comic can impact on the main series.

The Glorious Dead

Since Doctor Who was off the air for nigh on ten years after his debut in 1996, Doctor Who Magazine (the producer of all the comics on this list) had complete free reign to do anything they wanted with the Eighth Doctor - and, thankfully, they did some great things.
One such great thing was the finale to the 'Return of the Master' arc which saw, I'm sure you've guessed it, the return of the Doctor's old enemy, the Master, after he was swallowed by the TARDIS in the television movie. This time, however, the Master has become a religious zealot after he has glimpsed the Glory, the Omniversal Spectrum, the wheel on which the whole of existence turns. As per an ancient prophecy, the Master wishes to fight the Doctor for control of the Glory, catching Earth in the crossfire - where else? Spanning twelve issues, it's epic in size and scope, yet still finds time for another of the comic's great characters; Kroton, the Cyberman with a soul who becomes one of the Doctor's companions. Simply glorious storytelling.


And another Eighth Doctor story arc finale takes the top spot. While the previous entry on our list demonstrated the comic's depth of storytelling, 'Oblivion' shows the depth of characterisation the comic can achieve. For several stories, the Doctor's companion, Izzy, has been trapped in the body of alien fish girl, Destrii. As an insecure teenager who was already uncomfortable in her own body, she is really not having a good time in an alien one. This all comes to a head here - as the Doctor and the real Destrii (in Izzy's body) have to rescue Izzy from Destrii's homeworld of Oblivion.
The greatest thing about the story is certainly the exploration of Izzy's character as she comes to terms with herself and her own identity, eventually accepting her own repressed homosexuality. Just like the best of Doctor Who companions - of which she is one - Izzy has grown up and leaves the TARDIS for good. Stories such as 'Oblivion', that contain the range of imagination and the same level of characterisation as its parent series, make the Eighth Doctor comics one of my favourite eras of the time traveller in any medium, proving that the comic strips can be the best of Doctor Who. I'm not being funny.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Top Five Batman Graphic Novels

As our, ulp, very special guest established earlier, for one month only Scribbles Creatures is... Comic Creatures! To start our series of posts on everything comic, we're turning to that courageous Caped Crusader, that determined Dark Knight, that reliable Roving Rodent (that's not right, is it?), the Batman. While not as encompassing as my love for those other long-lasting heroes, the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes, I've been a Batman fan since watching repeats of the gloriously-camp 1960s television series as a kid. Though I'm much more familiar with on-screen exploits, I've also read a fair few Batman comics over the years and the following five are those I like to keep handy in my utility belt. Just in case I get a chance for a spot of reading while crusading at night.

 Batman: Gothic

While not as well-known as the others on this list, this early comic from modern-day Batman writer Grant Morrison was one of the first Batman graphic novels I read - and it's rather stuck with me. The story starts with Gotham's mobsters being picked off by a mysterious stranger called Mr Whisper. As Batman investigates, he finds out this Mr Whisper, a man without a shadow, may be something more peculiar than the Penguin, more curious than Catwoman, something altogether more... gothic.
With allusions to the Faust legends and Matthew Lewis' classic novel, The Monk, this is a graphic novel that stands out for the strength of its literary illusions, taking the Bat from his usual superhero habitat and putting the Goth firmly back in Gotham.

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Batman is dead and every one of his friends and foes has gathered in Crime Alley for his wake. And so has Batman. With a ghostly guide for company, Batman watches as various stories are given as to how he died. But which is the real one? Or is he even dead?
As strange and as lyrical as anything Neil Gaiman writes, this was intended to be a bookend for all the different versions of the Batman across the ages. Rather than pitting the Bat against a scheming villain, this sees Batman face up to his own subconscious, or maybe its something else. As a touching testament to the endurance of the World's Greatest Detective, WHTTCC? cannot be beaten. Much like the Dark Knight himself.

 Batman: The Killing Joke

The Joker is far and wide the greatest comic book villain, a raging lunatic who's popularity has sustained as long as the Batman's own. As you would expect for such a popular character, he's featured in dozens of strips over the years but Alan Moore's The Killing Joke is certainly the definitive Joker story.
Detailing the two-sides-of-the-same-coin nature of Batman and his arch-enemy like never before, Killing Joke gives us a potential origin for the clown (but even the man himself isn't sure if its real), his most despicable crime (poor Barbara Gordon...) and the only time he's ever made Batman laugh (what does that ending mean?). An influence on both Nicholson's and Ledger's portrayals of the character, this is a deeply psychological, often grisly, look at what makes the usually-unfathomable Joker tick.

Batman: The Long Halloween

The Long Halloween is most probably my favourite story in a Batman comic. A proper whodunnit, it spans a year-long investigation of the serial killer known as 'Holiday' by the triumvirate of Batman, Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. As that name may have suggested, aside from an engaging mystery featuring appearances from all your favourite Bat-villains, TLH also details the fall of Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face, one of the most interesting of Batman's rogues gallery. An expert blend of classic Hollywood film noirs and traditional Batman detective work, this is actually a sequel of sorts to another Batman storyline. I wonder which one...?

 Batman: Year One

While it may be sacrilegious not to include Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns in a 'Best Batman stories' list... it's what I've gone and done! As previously stated, while TDKR is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work, an ultra-violent, tank-driving version of the Caped Crusader is just not my preferred idea of the character. Conversely, the quality of Miller's follow-up Batman: Year One, which details how the Batman came to be, is much harder to argue with. In a Gotham corrupt to its core, Year One follows its two true heroes, the fledgling Batman and rising cop James Gordon, as they attempt to clear up their beloved city, eventually coming together in an alliance. Year One is a perfect summation of what makes Batman so enticing a character; due to his terrible past, Bruce Wayne gives his life to guarding over the people of Gotham City. It's not just an act of pure vengeance but a dedication to a bigger purpose. Unlike many of his comic counterparts, Batman shows you don't need to be super to be a hero.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

C for Comic Creatures

Hello there, my dears.

It's your favourite homicidal harlequin here - don't worry you're faithful blogger will be returned to you shortly. Once he's stopped dangling over a tank of my special laughing fish. He's always hanging around, but he'd better be careful - or he'll end up in deep water.

Under my jurisdiction, this blog will have a little makeover for one month only - out with the Scribbles, in with the comic - and will be dedicated to the THWACKing, POWing and OOFing world of comic books. 'But why now, Clown Prince of Crime,' I hear you cry. Well, it's obvious, isn't it - April begins with April's Fools Day, a day known for its comical pranks. Comics... comic books. Geddit? No? Hey, I'm not the Riddler...

You'll be treated to posts on a cavalcade of comic creations - and, first up, its my beloved Bats. But before I go, how about a joke? 

'Doctor! Doctor! I feel so flat and two-dimensional. And wherever I go it's like I'm trapped in a box.'

'Well, that's very easy to diagnose,' says the very pale doctor with a big ol' grin on his face. 'You're in a comic book!'

Keep smilin', darlings,

The Man Who Laughs. 
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