Sunday, 29 December 2013

Doctor Who Special 2013 review

Thrown through an anomaly, the Doctor finds himself on a familiar world. It's Earth, but not his Earth - it's a world in which everyone recognises him. Not, though, as the Doctor, but as the actor Matt Smith, who plays the Doctor on a television show that's celebrating its golden anniversary. 
As is his wont, the Doctor soon makes a friend, 12-year-old Ally, a massive fan of the show who takes some convincing that this is the real thing. Her mother is quicker to accept - mums are cool - while the BBC production team can't believe the money they're suddenly saving on SFX. 

Oh, and is that an actual Cyberman?

As Christmas gifts go, this is one I don't want to send back. Paul Cornell and Knight & Squire partner Jimmy Broxton produce a pacy, charming, great-looking tale of the Doctor that, for me, is the best thing to come out of the 50th anniversary. The metafictive nature of the narrative allows for some good gags and commentary, but never overwhelms the central idea of what the hero means to his fans. There's also a well-handled, utterly non-cloying strand about finding the hero within yourself - Ally is more excited to meet Matt Smith than the Doctor, but it takes both men to inspire her to solve her own problems. 

As a writer for the reborn Doctor Who series, it's no surprise Cornell captures the current model so well, and his Smith certainly seems true to the chap we've seen interviewed so many times. Ally and her mother are recognisable as contemporary Brits, not easily impressed, but ready to embrace wonder. And the Cyberman, well, has as much personality as you'd expect from a Cyberman. 

One of my favourite scenes in 40 pages packed with delightful moments addresses the loss of an especially good companion. 
It's a typically elegant, emotional writing from Cornell, wonderfully sold by Broxton, who makes every page wonderful to look at with his fine storytelling. His Doctor/Smith is spot on, without ever looking photo referenced, and his Britain lives and breathes 2013. Cybermen only truly look good in packs, but Broxton's solo soldier has real presence on the page. The artist colours his own work, making the mundane look simply lovely and having fun with the special effects. 

While this story could be done on TV, the comics page serves it better; on television, the conceit of real Doctor meeting the person portraying him and interacting with production staff and sets might 'break' the show, foregrounding the fictional nature of Doctor Who. As a different medium, comics puts alien and actor on the same level, allowing us to enjoy the story without feeling that one is more real than the other. 

Whether you're a fan of current TV Doctor Who or, like me, someone who wishes the show would stop obsessing over its mythology and just get on with telling stories, I recommend this special - the last Doctor Who story published by IDW as the licence goes elsewhere - without hesitation. Who wouldn't enjoy it?

6 comments:

  1. I agree entirely. It was a lovely story, mixing - it's hard not to believe - autobiography, advice to the bullied, a manifesto about the essential nature of Who and - without any of the previous intruding upon it - a rollicking good story. Without doubt, one of the comics of the year :)

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  2. It was a much better swan song for Eleven than Moffat's.

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  3. Hi Colin, we do have good taste - nice one on including it in your Best of Year list over at Too Busy thinking About My Comics.

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  4. I enjoyed Cornell's take on The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man, which is no mean feat as it conflates with the tired and worrisome "real thing meeting the man behind the fiction" trope that you rightly point out can break a fiction too easily. It can on occasion go right, though, as seen here, and in Eerie Indiana, Big Wolf On Campus, Supernatural, and even Mork and Mindy, where Robin Williams helpfully played himself and his creation side-by-side to illustrate that just because an actor plays a part in a tv show it doesn't mean that any films that the actor's been in now no longer exist in that fictional tv universe - a bit of pub philosophy that I still hear trotted out to this day when people try to convince me that the Carry On films don't exist in Eastenders. NRRRRGH. I suppose Galaxy Quest is worth a mention, too, if only for being the last time Tim Allen had a brush with the notion of an egalitarian and fair society before he turned into a gun-toting right-wing nutbag.
    I especially enjoyed Broxton's deft use of Google Street View to flesh out the locations, as in this day and age there's no excuse to still be drawing Britain as some sort of medieval theme park NOT EVEN CARDIFF etc. There's a lot in the bullying sub-plot that rings true, though I think the resolution was the product of overthinking the situation rather than something more simple and direct as hinted at with the lines about "still playing by their rules" and the constant reminder that people aren't alone in difficult times. Ally's resolution seemed dependent upon her entrenched belief that she wouldn't be believed if she spoke up, her dialogue sadly backing this reading up, which isn't very aspirational but sadly is far more often true than otherwise. Still, it's Christmas and I like happy endings a lot more than the alternative.

    This was the only Doctor Who comic I have ever checked out from IDW, but it's a good one despite its one glaring logical inaccuracy: if the Doctor came here he'd take one look at David Cameron and go "Right... lizard in human form. The disguise is almost perfect, but you can just tell."

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  5. Hi Brigonos, I'd not heard of that Mork & Mindy business, now that does sound like overthinking. I must seek it out when I need something excruciating to watch.

    It's hard to imagine Carry On, or indeed, anything nice, existing in EastEnders, innit tweacle?
    Now I want to see the Doctor Who/David Cameron crossover. Is even the Doctor a match for Cameron's slime?

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