EP0013: Doctor Who Classics, Volume 7 (Review)

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A look at the Seventh Doctor’s earliest comic strips in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine as he battles the Ice Warriors, and lends a hand to a microscopic species.

Transcript below:
It’s time to set your TARDIS time coordinates for 1987, then we’re going to take a look at the start of the Seventh Doctor’s comic run in Doctor Who Classics: Volume Seven just ahead.

Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.

As I mentioned in a previous podcast, going back to the late 1970s’ Doctor Who Magazine was the home of Doctor Who comic strips, and this continued into the Seventh Doctor era. The Seventh Doctor was portrayed by Sylvester McCoy who took over at a very difficult time. Colin Baker had been fired as the Doctor at the request of the BBC – quite unfairly in my opinion – and hadn’t actually appeared in a regeneration story with McCoy donning Baker’s costume and a blond wig. Definitely a bumpy way to begin an on-television run. Are the comics that bumpy? Well, we’ll take a look here. We’re going to be reviewing Doctor Who Classics: Volume Seven from IDW.

Back in the earlier part of the Twenty-First Century IDW landed the Doctor Who license for comics and they not only printed new comics with the Tenth and the Eleventh Doctor, as well as a Fiftieth Anniversary Special series, they also did Doctor Who Classics which reprinted stories from the Doctor Who Magazine. Doctor Who Classics: Volume is not the only way to read these stories. You can actually buy Panini’s Collection which is now the one who will print all of the previous classic Doctor Who comic collections. A big difference with the Panini Collection is that the books are in their original magazine size and they’re also in black and white. I like the Doctor Who Classics presentation because they’re more typical American comic size which I’m used to, plus they’re also colorized. The colors are done by Charlie Kirchoff who just does a fantastic job on here. They feel very true to the type of color choices that the artist would have made had they had the option of doing color comics back in the 1980s. The only downside to reading this in the Doctor Who Classics version is you don’t get the commentary at the back, which the Panini version is kind of nice but we can forego that. The book is about 120 pages long. The comics and Doctor Who magazine at this point were eight pages in length, so you have fifteen strips collected in here and a total of eight Doctor Who stories.

The first story is A Cold day in Hell which finds The Doctor travelling to a planet that is supposed to be a tropical pleasure planet along with Frobisher who was best known as a Sixth Doctor companion. He is a shape-shifting, hard-boiled private investigator who, through most of his Doctor Who comic run, took on the shape of an anthropomorphic, talking penguin. Give the comics credit for introducing a companion they couldn’t have done on TV. As the title implies the Doctor and Frobisher find that the planet is now in the midst of an Ice Age and the Ice Warriors are present on the planet.

This is a fairly decent, if not spectacular, Ice Warrior story. It hits most of the highlights though the Ice Warriors lacks some of the complexity and nuance that can make them interesting in the TV series. The one big problem with this is I’m not entirely sure this was originally written with the Seventh Doctor in mind. The story serves as a goodbye point for Frobisher but is somewhat confused as to chronology, partially because Peri traveled with the Sixth Doctor and Frobisher, and so this is assuming that this is right after they dropped off or said goodbye to Peri, when in fact the Sixth Doctor had a fair amount of living left to do before he regenerated. It kind of feels like the writers were not given full details as to what was going on with the series, so they produced something that was a little bit more out of continuity than it needed to be. Still it’s an OK story.

Redemption is a one strip story that finds the Doctor allowing someone from A Cold day in Hell to travel with him in the TARDIS but it turns out they are wanted. This story, I guess, was OK. It didn’t do a whole lot for me. It’s kind of mediocre. The Crossroads of Time finds the Doctor bumping into a giant metal angry creature called Death’s Head. It’s kind of supposed to be like the Doctor having a fender bender, except Death’s Head wants to kill the Doctor in payment for the inconvenience of the Doctor hitting him in time. This story tries to be funny but it kind of fails. It does end up with the Doctor doing something to save his skin that alternately endangers earth. And I know it’s a comedy story but good comedy stories really try to tell a story that’s got comedy that’s based on the way the characters actually behave. That’s actually funny – the Doctor doing something completely out of character like this isn’t funny, it’s just kind of dumb.
The Claws of the Klathi is a three-strip story and it’s probably my favorite in the book. It finds the Doctor in Victorian England that also involves some inhabitants of a freak show. There have been a series of strange burglaries but the Doctor suspects there’s more to it. This story takes, I think, what’s a pretty perfect and tried Doctor Who method where you throw the Doctor back into the Victorian era. It works pretty well here. There’s a lot of great art and some imaginative twist in here – even though it’s just a twenty-four page story it was well worth the read. Keepsake is another one strip story and he’s a pilot flying what I think is a salvage ship and is living a typical selfish life until the Doctor comes along and drags him into a rescue attempt. This story is not bad but again it’s kind of unmemorable. Plan of the Dead is an interesting story that finds the Doctor landing on a planet where he encounters his past selves as well as departed companions. The story doesn’t add up to a whole lot but the art is fun, particularly as we get to see a lot of characters who you don’t get a lot in comic book form such as Adric and Jamie. The twist at the end isn’t amazing, but it’s a fun little story.

Culture shock is written by Grant Morrison who went on to become a legend in American comics with titles like All-Star Superman. The story is about the Doctor feeling down on himself and on his future and if there’s any point to what he does, and he’s encouraged when he runs into a sentient cell culture that needs his help. It’s a fun story that manages to cover a lot of emotion in a short time. The final story in the book is The Echoes of Mogor which is a two strip story running about sixteen pages that finds the Doctor arriving on a planet where an expedition has been totally wiped out, the last member dying just before the Doctor arrived as they investigate what’s believed to be a long extinct race. The Doctor arrives just before the relief party does and it’s a mystery as to what happened and the Doctor has to figure it out. This one’s a good high concept mystery; it’s got a bit of a base under siege element but the sixteen pages limit how much of that can actually be worked in as part of the story. One of the big parts of that setup is the local authorities believing the Doctor’s responsible for whatever has gone on and threatening him. That last for all of two panels so that we can actually get to the solution and resolution of the story in sixteen pages.

Overall I enjoyed the book. I would give Doctor Who Classics: Volume Seven a rating of Somewhat Classy. You know, there were some pointless strips in here and I also think the last strip was a bit rushed in its resolution. Still there are some truly classical enjoyable stories in here and it’s a nice look at how the Seventh Doctor comic strips were panning out while Sylvester McCoy was still on the air. If you can get your hands on the Doctor Who Classics version of it the colors again are really impressive and make the story pop without seeming out of place.

Alright, well that will do it for today. If you have a comment e-mail it to me: classycomicsguy@gmail.com and check out our website classycomicsguy.com. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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