Friday, August 29, 2008

Doctor Who: The Forgotten, Issue 1 Review

Six months or so ago, the good folks at IDW Publishing launched an all-new, ongoing, monthly Doctor Who comic book featuring the first-ever stories created exclusively for the US market. As a Doctor Who fanatic, I’ve been dutifully reading the comics as they appeared, although I have yet to take the time to write any reviews of the individual issues. The reason for my lack of commentary on the comic thus far is two-fold: 1.) I wanted to complete the first 6-issue storyline before discussing the comic, and 2.) I just haven’t been that thrilled with the series. I finally finished the sixth issue last night and, well, I’m still not going to write about the ongoing series. Instead, I’m going to write about the first issue of a new six-issue Doctor Who miniseries also from IDW Publishing called Doctor Who: The Forgotten (written by Tony Lee with art by Pia Guerra).

Now this is more like it!

Going in, I was a little wary of Doctor Who: The Forgotten’s premise. If you’re unaware of the basic idea of the mini-series, please allow me to explain. Basically, The Doctor and Martha are somehow stranded, TARDIS-less, in a mysterious museum that is dedicated to The Doctor’s nine previous incarnations. On top of this, The Doctor suddenly begins losing his memories, prompting Martha to try to jumpstart his brain by showing him items from the museum that relate to his earlier incarnations. Each of these items spurs The Doctor to remember one untold adventure of each of his previous forms. Intriguing premise for old-school Doctor Who fans, yes – but it could also be a recipe for disaster. First off, this set-up includes quite a few unexplained plot contrivances. How did The Doctor end up without his TARDIS? Why is there a museum dedicated to him? What force could erase his memories one by one? And who is the mysterious, so-far-unseen puppet master who is keeping an eye on The Doctor and Martha on a bank of monitors, turning dials, and talking to himself? These are questions that need to be (and hopefully will be) answered by the end of the series, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Tony Lee has a coherent plan. Secondly, even ignoring the set-up contrivances, I was afraid that the story’s flashback-of-the-month device could get old. If the flashbacks are just inconsequential, unrelated vignettes, then the forward momentum of the overarching plot could get lost in a wave of nostalgia.

I am happy to report that, for now, my reservations have been allayed!

Perhaps the best compliment I can give to Tony Lee’s writing is that The Doctor actually sounded like The Doctor. I could almost hear David Tennant saying the lines in my head. As for the story, none of the mysteries that I mentioned above were answered, but I will give Mr. Lee the benefit of the doubt for now. After all, it’s only the first issue! The “current” portion of the comic did a good job of setting the stage while the flashback adventure with Susan, Barbara, and Ian in ancient Egypt was cute and enjoyable. I really enjoyed the infusion of a more modern sense of humor to The First Doctor and to Ian and Barbara. Seeing these characters enlivened with slightly updated sensibilities made me wish that we could get a Classic Doctor Who TV series (running concurrently with The Tenth Doctor series) where we could go back and revisit the previous Doctor’s adventures with updated writing, acting, editing, and special effects. How fun would it be to see a new actor playing the curmudgeonly First Doctor traveling with new actors as his 1960s-era companions? It would be great to see Susan, Ian, and Barbara visit the Incas or the Daleks with today’s special effects – or visit the present and be totally amazed by cell phones and the Internet. But back to the comic at hand! I got the feeling that the flashback story would somehow tie in with the overarching plot, which helped it to feel more substantial than its relatively few pages would normally warrant. Next issue will have two flashbacks (to The Second Doctor and the Third Doctor, naturally), so we’ll see if they can both maintain relevance on their own while forwarding the main plot. I also quite enjoyed the scene where Martha expressed surprise at the idea that The Doctor basically abandoned Susan on a war-torn future Earth and that he was unsure what ever became of Ian and Barbara. This interaction harkened back to Rose’s discussion with Sarah Jane in the Series Two episode “School Reunion.”

One thing I was absolutely not wary about coming into this series was the art of Pia Guerra. As a fan of Y: The Last Man, I was already familiar with her spectacular pencils. Check out the first page to the right for an example! Pretty great drawing of The Tenth Doctor, eh? She really captures the subtle tics of each of the characters. Susan, for example, has that same sort-of-scared, sort-of-bewildered expression that she always seemed to have when traveling to a new place with her beloved grandfather. I do wish that the flashback adventure had been in color instead of black and white, but I understand why the creative team made that choice. Still, it seems kind of odd given that The Doctor would have lived all of his adventures in color (even if we didn’t see them that way on our TV screens).

Overall, the first issue of Doctor Who: The Forgotten was a great deal of fun and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the mini-series. Given what a difficult time I had finding the issue (it was sold out at all four of the comic book stores I checked last week), I can only speculate that the combination of great art from the popular Pia Guerra with the nostalgia factor of seeing The Doctor’s previous incarnations in comic form has driven up demand. Hopefully the mini-series will do really well for IDW Publishing so we can get more Doctor Who comic books of this caliber in the future.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dittar Latoni's Bottom Lip

Marvel at the ineptitude of the 1982-era make-up department!!  Yay!

Review of Story 121: "Black Orchid"

This past Tuesday saw the release of two more classic Doctor Who stories, "The Time Meddler" (starring William Hartnell as the First Doctor) and "Black Orchid" (starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor).  Because it is shorter (only two 25-minute episodes), I have already had a chance to watch "Black Orchid," so I'll be discussing that story first.

First off, I think this might the first classic two-parter that I've ever watched (not counting the two-parters during Colin Baker's tenure as the Sixth Doctor, which ran 45 minutes an episode).  At two episodes of 25 minutes apiece, this makes "Black Orchid" roughly the same length as a modern episode.   So, is this 50-minute story the same level of quality as an episode of the new series?  Well, no; but, then, this was made in 1982, over 25 years ago, and television programs were quite different beasts then than they are now.  If the story was made now, for example, it almost certainly wouldn't begin with an overly indulgent five-minute cricket match or a plot that fails to coalesce until the second half.  Taken for what it is, though, I found "Black Orchid" to be quite enjoyable.  Yes, it plays out like an underwritten Ms. Marple episode of Mystery, but that's okay with me as a change-of-pace Doctor Who episode.  Actually, it kind of reminded me of this season's Agatha Christie-centric episode, "The Unicorn and the Wasp."

To quickly recap the episode, then, The Fifth Doctor and his entourage (consisting of Adric Nyssa, and Tegan) land on an English train platform in 1925.  Immediately, The Doctor is mistaken for another cricket-playing, local doctor and is carted away to a country estate to take part in a friendly match.  As The Doctor and crew arrive at the Cranleigh Hall, Lord Charles Cranleigh marvels at how much Nyssa looks like his young fiancee, Ann.  That afternoon, as the TARDIS crew enjoys a Roaring 20s-style kegger, a series of murders takes place at the estate.  All is not as it seems at Cranleigh Hall....

This story takes place during an odd time in the history of Doctor Who, during which The Doctor traveled with a crew of three companions, which was probably two too many (I'll let you decide which ones should go).  With four people in the TARDIS, two of the crew members invariably end up just standing around, getting a line or two per episode.  Adric and Tegan, for example, just eat and dance, respectively, throughout this story.  Neither adds anything to the plot or action.  Personally, I think Adric could have been an interesting protege for The Doctor, but he was crowded out when the two ladies arrived.  Thankfully, the crowded  TARDIS only lasts for one more story -- and then Adric gets blasted to Kingdom Come by the Cybermen.

"Black Orchid" revolves around a series of mistaken identities.  First, The Doctor is mistaken for a different doctor.  Then, Nyssa is mistaken for Ann.  Next, The Doctor (or his harlequin costume, anyway) is mistaken for a killer (really George Cranleigh).  Finally, the "unspoilt" George Cranleigh (as he appears in a portrait) looks exactly like his brother Charles.  Whether they are twins or not is never mentioned, but I think George can be seen as the flipside of Charles regardless.

Oh, one last thing; I simply cannot end my discussion of this story without mentioning possibly the worst "special effect" in all of Doctor Who's history.  No, it's not some futuristic spaceship. It's not a cheesy laser beam.  It's not even K-9.  It's the South American "Indian" Dittar Latoni's bottom lip.  I'll post a pic later so you all can enjoy it.