Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doctor Who Vol. 1: Fugitive - A Review

“All of time and space, everything that has ever happened or ever will, where do you want to start?”

This quote from the current season of Doctor Who pretty much sums up what has made this the longest running science fiction TV show ever made. A cultural institution in Britain, Doctor Who is the story of an alien who has adventures through time and space with his human (usually)companions. Essentially, this show can do a story in any location, any historical era, and any genre and the only obstacle is the BBC’s budget.

While Britain has a long tradition of Doctor Who comics, a tradition which includes such comic book luminaries as Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison, and Steve Dillon to name a few, IDW’s recent efforts mark the first sustained effort to produce original Doctor Who comics for an American audience. Written by Tony Lee and drawn by Al Davison and Matthew Dow Smith, Doctor Who: Fugitive collects the first 6 issues of IDW’s ongoing Doctor Who series.

Sadly, the volume gets off to a clunky start. The initial story is set in Hollywood during the roaring twenties, where the Doctor must team up with silent film star Archie Maplin (a last minute stand in for Charlie Chaplin, when IDW was unable to secure his likeness) to stop two aliens from using a machine that will drain the hopes and dreams out of aspiring actors. The most distracting aspect of the first story is Al Davidson’s art. While he does a fine job with story telling, his figures look stiff and unnatural, particularly the Doctor. A common trap for licensed comics, the artist spends too much time getting the Doctor to look like the actor who plays him on TV. The detail and emphasis he puts into doing this often makes the rest of the art look a bit off and it always takes you a out of the story.

Tony Lee also struggles in this first arc. He seems to be trying too hard to get the Doctor’s voice right. It almost reads like a parody of what he sounds like on TV as opposed to how he should sound. The story does do a fair job of introducing and establishing the book’s new ongoing characters: Emily Winter, an aspiring young actress, and Matthew Finnegan, a studio runner, but amidst the cluttered art and trying-to-hard portrayal of the Doctor, they kind of get lost in the shuffle.

While the first arc is fairly underwhelming, it is only two issues long and the book really hits its stride in the second, much longer, story arc. Abducted by the Shadow Proclamation, the Doctor is put on trial for violating the laws of time and he has to escape before the universe is conquered. Its fun, it moves fast, it’s easy to follow, and it feels like Doctor Who. In addition to all this, Tony Lee finally hits the Doctor’s voice in this story arc. He makes it sound like the Doctor we’re all familiar with, and it feels far more natural than it ever did in the opening storyline. However, the biggest advantage of the second arc is the art by Matthew Dow Smith. Smith uses a fairly stark, open style, but it is well suited for this book. He does a great job handling everything the script throws at him, from the diverse settings, ranging from an intergalactic courtroom to a desert planet, to the cast, which include at least 6 different alien races. He also does a great job at capturing the likeness of the Doctor, but not trying to draw a literal portrait of his face on every panel. It is an immense help to the book.

The only real problem with the second arc is that in includes a villain from the TV series who has utterly no reason to be in this story. From what I can tell he appears solely because he was played by Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and nerds like that sort of thing. All told, an original character would have done just as well and been less distracting.

What makes this book really work, where other licensed comics don’t, is that it neatly sidesteps the issue that holds most of these kind of books back – momentum. While this book stars the 10th Doctor (the Doctor doesn’t die, he just regenerates. Basically it allows them to replace the actor playing the Doctor and sort of reset the show), whose fate anyone watching the series already knows, it also introduces two new companions to travel with the Doctor. We know the 10th Doctor is safe isn’t going to die in this book, but we have no idea what is going to happen to these two new characters. Essentially, this book is giving us another season of the 10th Doctor as opposed to showing us stories about characters on the TV show in between episodes.

I really like this ongoing series quite a bit. The first two issues are a bit of a misstep and the second storyline is not without its faults, but you get the very real sense of Tony Lee learning what works and what doesn’t. In each successive issue, he seems to get it more and more and even when it falters a bit, the book still gets stronger every issue.

I can’t say a non-Doctor Who fan would enjoy this, but it doesn’t require a PhD in Who history to read. If you’ve watched any of the new series, you should give this a shot.

1 comment:

  1. If you read to the end of the book, you'll see the truth about 'Giles from Buffy'... :-)