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.

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