Saturday, 29 June 2013

'World (Re)Shaping With Grant Morrison

As promised a very long time ago now (sorry readers, been awhile since I've been able to sit down and compose a proper blog entry review for this page, I'll try and be more prolific now that we all are impatiently waiting for the 50th Anniversary episode), it's time to delve into 'Doctor Who' comics review. We'll begin with tales from the current rights holder of the property for comics, IDW Comics, who in addition to publishing an on-going series featuring the current Matt Smith Doctor (I've been catching up on some of them, so expect a review soon), also produce special issues such as the recent 'Star Trek The Next Generation/Doctor Who' crossover story 'Assimilation Squared' which Steve (rightly) slagged to pieces on 'The Whostorian' podcast. To add to this creative output, they also print a title, 'Doctor Who Classic Comics', that exclusively presents material reprinted from 'Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine' ongoing comic strip, and it is an issue of that series we will be reviewing this time around.

Before we get down to it, let me state that, for better or for worse, IDW Comics has been impressively prolific when it comes to presenting material based on 'Doctor Who'. Whether the stories are creative masterworks or as bad as a Sil bowel movement, whether the artwork is beautifully rendered or as terrible as it was in 'Assimilation Squared', it is good to see that 'Doctor Who' comics are being produced regardless, and clearly IDW are squeezing as much material as they can to justify what must be a massively expensive licensee fee from BBC Worldwide. Good on them! I will also say that, from what I have ascertained in what I have personally read, they are dedicated to adding modern computer colouring and other flourishes to old material. The pages of 'Classic Comics' no longer contain the printer's dots so indicative of 1980's comics and the lesser paper stock and weak ink. These days, they are presented in high-quality, computer-aided rendering, and it really shows. So, again, a pat on the back to IDW for treating 'Doctor Who' material with care and respect.

..even 'if' some of the stuff they produce is just creatively terrible.

OK, then. Let's get down to reviewing 'Doctor Who Classic Comics', issue #2, shall we?

Who wrote it: Grant Morrison, regarded as one of the comic industry's best and brightest. Morrison's Justice League America story 'Rock Of Ages' is widely considered the definitive super-team story. His 'Animal Man' run pushed meta-textual boundaries, while his most recent accomplishment has been to kill off the latest incarnation of Robin The Boy Wonder, his own creation, in an un-dramatic, one-panel sequence in DC's least solicited Bat title, 'Batman, Inc'. Fans were not amused.

Who drew it: John Ridgway, a British artist, and no stranger to 'Doctor Who Magazine'. He is credited with 13 Sixth Doctor stories, many of them written by Morrison, as well as 10 Seventh Doctor stories, all of them published in 'Doctor Who Magazine' and reprinted later by IDW. Other comic work includes Marvel's 'Transformers' series as well as 'Incredible Hulk', while other science fiction work includes DC's 'Babylon 5' and the iconic British anti-hero 'Judge Dredd'.

Who published it: The story originally ran in three parts for 'Doctor Who Magazine', from issues #127 to #129. It is collected together and reprinted in full as issue #2 of IDW Comic's 'Classic Doctor Who' series, under the title 'Grant Morrison's Doctor Who', with new covers by Robert Hack.

The story: The Sixth Doctor, with companions Peri and Frobisher, arrives once again on the acid rain-swept planet of Marinus (as depicted in the classic series' televised episode 'The Keys Of Marinus'), responding to a distress call. They encounter a fellow Time Lord, rapidly dying from the effects of  'sporadic pulses of accelerated temporal progression'; time itself is moving at a far more rapid pace here. The unnamed Time Lord, sent by the High Council to investigate this, dies due to being on his final regeneration, his body glowing and decaying far faster than normal. Before he dies, he mutters the words 'Planet 14'; The Doctor cannot remember the details, but is sure he's heard of this before, while he was the Second Doctor. To gain insight, he decides to locate his former companion Jamie.

Arriving in 18th century Scotland, the TARDIS crew are taken aback to discover that Jamie is now a recluse living in a battered old hut, considered quite mad by the townsfolk, who don't believe his ravings about visiting other worlds and encountering alien life: The Doctor has 'miscalculated the arrival point', thus it is 40 years later in Jamie's life, and he is now a wizened old man. Jamie confirms that 'Planet 14' refers to their battle against the Cybermen (depicted in the classic televised episode 'The Invasion'). Realizing the Cybermen are involved somehow, The Doctor is determined to get to the bottom of how the Cyber Controller from that time period could remember him when at that point he hadn't visited 'Planet 14' yet...along with Jamie, the TARDIS crew re-visit Marinus. Though they have only been gone a week by the TARDIS's internal chronometer, the planet's oceans are dried up and great devastation has occurred. Before they can investigate further, Cybermen-like creatures advance on them, necessitating a rush back into the TARDIS, this time accompanied by Maxilla, an intergalactic repairman...of machines called 'WorldShapers'.

As the TARDIS cruises the time vortex, a shaken Maxilla explains that he had been contracted to fix a series of broken worldshapers, devices that are designed to localize time distortions and rapidly age uninhabited worlds to the point they can sustain life.. and Marinus was the '14th Planet' on the list. When he arrived on Marinus, he discovered that the native Voords had captured the worldshaper device, and their tampering resulted in a 'rapid evolve' of the entire Voord race; the planet's oceans suddenly dried up, and the Voord race were now so advanced they grafted mechanical parts to themselves, becoming...the Cybermen! Shocked by this development, The Doctor decides the worldshaper machine, always intended to be used on uninhabited worlds, is a devastating weapon in the hands of the Cybermen, and sets the TARDIS to home in on the device's residual energy.

The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS in the catacombs of the capital city, with just Maxilla and Jamie in tow; he explains to Jamie that in order to facilitate their earlier adventure in which the Cyber Controller remembered them from 'Planet 14', it must be this way. Maxilla discovers the worldshaper machine, apparently unguarded. He hurries to appropriate it, but is killed instantly when he hits a protective force shield. The Cybermen arrive, and the Doctor instructs the Cyber Controller to 'remember our auras, we'll be meeting again'. When the Cyber Controller scoffs, the Doctor and Jamie attack them, dispatching the small group. Jamie bravely leaps into the force shield, telling the Doctor he never 'intended to die in bed'; with his dying breath, he summons the strength to shatter the delicate machinery with a swift slash of his Clan McCrimmon sword. The resultant burst of time-stream energy begins to engulf the entire planet, turning it into a desolate waste, while The Doctor runs back to the safety of the TARDIS.

When the TARDIS crew once again venture outside, the planet is a dead husk..The Doctor now recognizes this as Mondas, home of the Cybermen!  The Doctor is not surprised to find a group of Time Lords, flanked by Chancellery Guards, sifting through the rubble. The Doctor argues that the worldshaper's last gasp of timestream energy has completed the evolution of the Voord into Cybermen, and he attempts to rally the Time Lords in preventing their evil from escaping out into the universe.

Dismissively, the Time Lords rebuff him and simply say 'it is being dealt with', before threatening to impound the TARDIS and recall The Doctor to Gallifrey if he doesn't immediately leave. Disgusted, The Doctor promises that they 'haven't heard the last of this', and as he leaves, two Time Lords discuss the cyclical nature of evolution and reveal their motivations behind not involving themselves in stopping the birth of the Cybermen; in the far-future, millennia from this point, the Cybermen will evolve into the universe's most peace-loving beings, and become allies and mentors of the Time Lords....what's a few million years of evil and bloodshed to the inhabitants of the cosmos, if the end result benefits Gallifrey?

Review: Let's begin with the artwork, which, as any comic fan is aware, can make or break a story regardless of how well written it may be. Ridgway's conservative, back-to-basics style lends itself well to depicting the Whoniverse and all its myriad inhabitants. The use of heavy, charcoal-type pencils with a heavy touch of appropriate shading and  emphasis on natural movement as opposed to the traditionally North American 'posed' style of comic books is a definite plus; there is no cartoony exaggerations of movement, no cluttered and over-worked panels. The artwork is simple, smooth, and pleasing. There is evidence that Ridgway consulted publicity stills of Nicola Bryant as Peri (specifically from 'The Mysterious Planet' episode, as Peri is depicted here with the exact same clothing as there), and Baker's Doctor, who along with Peri are the two characters given close-up shots. The Sixth Doctor's outlandish costume, notoriously difficult to accurately depict for artists, appears perfectly weighted and hangs naturally on The Doctor; there is no Todd McFarlane-esque flapping cloth or exaggerated length. Outside the regulars, the guest characters are somewhat of a mixed bag; Ridgway's simple style definitely tones down the character of Frobisher the shape-changing Wifferdill, nominally in the form of a penguin in most stories, and normally treated to 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'-type, fourth-wall breaking moments by most artists, which detracts greatly from the stories he appears in. Jamie looks nothing like he did in the classic series, though due to the dictates of the story itself that's not saying much; he's a generic old man. Wearing a quilt.

The Voord-Cybermen are impressively designed, as well, resembling Troughton-era Cybermen with webbed metallic appendages and elongated heads. The Time Lords are, to quote the Tenth Doctor, 'Time Lords in funny hats', the traditional depiction of High Council members as seen in numerous episodes; the Chancellery Guards, with their ‘Buck Rogers'-style ray guns and domed-shaped helmets, were a nice touch. Finally, the unnamed Time Lord investigator who sent the distress signal that kicked off the entire story is himself nothing more than an aged man akin to Jamie, though his TARDIS, described simply as a 'newer model' by The Doctor, is a visual treat; the exterior is giant and ominous, pearl black coloured with grooves and spikes, and the visual drives home that, just perhaps, this is a secretive Celestial Intervention Agency craft. The interior is large and 'beautiful', to quote Peri, with silvery shards of stalactite-like material extending from the ceiling, almost as if it is a Fortress of Solitude.

Now, on to the story...and where to begin?  IDW Comics ought to be applauded (or at least, their sales and marketing department should), for having the foresight to tap into the average comic fan's knowledge of the name Grant Morrison and thus subtitling this special reprint series 'Grant Morrison's Doctor Who'. Like a young Vidaal Sasoon designing the hairstyle that the First Doctor's grand-daughter Susan wore in the first season of the classic series, James Acheson providing set designs for several Tom Baker episodes years before he won numerous Academy Awards for doing so in big-budget films, and writer Alan Moore penning text stories for 'Doctor Who Magazine' years before he turned the entire comic book industry on its head with 'Watchmen', the Whoniverse has always benefitted from the contributions of individuals who later would leave their mark on the television, film, and graphics industry in big, bad ways...why not boost sales of reprint collections by branding it as little-known work by a writer who went on to become a well-respected name in the comic book industry?

The problem, as it seems to always be with matters pertaining to The the timing. In 2013, Morrison is at the peak of his storytelling prowess, a meta-master with a bibliography of hits, from defining runs on established pop-culture icons like Superman and the X-Men, to arguably 'the' finest graphic novel presentation of Batman, 'Arkham Asylum'. In 1986-7, however, he was a struggling writer pitching mind-bending ideas to Marvel UK, and doing fill-in work for 'Doctor Who Magazine' while he awaited his 'big break'. Though we are concerned solely with the 'Worldshapers' story in this review alone, the entirety of his 'Doctor Who' work, to borrow River Song's oft-repeated mantra of 'spoilers''s just not very good.

While of course opinions, like the TARDIS, are all relative..facts are, simply, facts. Morrison's casual approach to canon, on display in numerous works published by the 'Big Two' of Marvel and DC, may grit some teeth among comic book fans but the sheer number of other stories written by other writers featuring the same characters appear to mollify them; if you don't like his 'Batman is James Bond in a cape' approach, you can simply read another title written by another writer featuring Batman. But to take a casual approach to 'Doctor Who' canon? One needs to have balls the size of a Sontaran War Wheel to think it will escape notice or reproach. In the mid-1980's, in an era when the series itself was being considered for cancellation...with no internet, no Big Finish audio plays, no BBC Books text stories (only sporadically-printed Target novelizations of existing episodes), no other fictional exploits of The Doctor that fans could choose instead...'Doctor Who Magazine' was IT for Whovians. Even Marvel Comic's 'Doctor Who' comics were themselves re-printed from this source material. Thus, the sins of sloppy stewardship of the comic stories are magnified tenfold given this placement in time.

The first detrimental element is Morrison's approach to The Doctor's character. Devoid of mannerisms, bland and wishy-washy, the Sixth Doctor, a bombastic, arrogant, and spirited meddler in the television series is reduced here to 'generic Doctor'; for all intents and purposes, this Doctor may visually be the Sixth, but in action and dialog he may as well be Peter Cushing's Technicolour incarnation, for all the difference it would make. It's a shame, too..if ever an incarnation of The Doctor was tailor-made for the type of out-of-the-box (no pun intended) writing Grant Morrison is capable of, it's the Sixth Doctor.

Next, the companions; this particular story brings together two televised companions from different eras...and a penguin. While the Sixth Doctor has been burdened in other media with what can at best be described as unfortunate choices for companions (the hyper-active fitness buff Mel in the television series; Maggie the aged professor who looks and sounds like Robin William's 'Mrs Doubtfire' in the Big Finish audio plays and 'Real Time' webcast; Jason the 17th century fop in 'The Ultimate Adventure' stage-play; Grant the manic-depressive in the 'Missing Adventures' novels), Frobisher the shape-changing Wifferdill is, without a doubt, the worst of the spin-off material lot.

Exclusive to the comic strips, and created, presumably, to fulfill the role of companion as well as serving to provide the strip authors with dramatic opportunities to place him into situations of dire peril not permitted by the script-immunity nature of the television series, Frobisher is nothing more than comic relief at best. Like the better-known Howard The Duck, Frobisher is an anthropomorphic comedian, offering one-liners in inappropriate junctures; numerous dramatic cliff-hangers are undercut by either his 'Looney Tunes'-like wide-eyed reactions, his one-liner zingers, or both. It is extremely difficult to buy into the shock of, say, a Cybermen race evolved from the Voord and advancing slowly upon a trapped and helpless Doctor...when the little penguin is cowering in fear and scampering behind his legs.

Peri herself retains some semblance of her television character, and it is this fact that further fuels the speculation that 'The Mysterious Planet' was source material for not only Ridgway, but perhaps Morrison as well, as in this story she is quietly confident and clearly happy to be traveling with The Doctor. Though she falls victim to the 'explain the dangling plot points to me, Doctor' behavior all companions through the series' history and in every medium, she also has good moments, such as the obvious pity she feels for old Jamie, murmuring to Frobisher that when last she encountered him, Jamie was 'much younger then'; this is a moment when Morrison and Ridgway were in lock-step, as she is shown looking down, her face shadowed in a moment of empathy. Peri's mere presence is enough to discount Frobisher's very existence, as her rapport with The Doctor, even as it is given only a few brief moments to shine and hampered by The Doctor's obtuse nature as written by Morrison, is still clearly evident; Peri is The Sixth Doctor's natural companion, and despite the legions of other creations that populate the spin-off merchandise, she is still the one best suited to him.

Jamie, though he doesn't look a thing like fans remember, still has the fighting spirit, tenacity, and loyalty to The Doctor that makes him among the most favourite of all companions. Perhaps the finest portions of this tale come in the moments where The Doctor collects Jamie from 18th century Scotland. Upon arrival, they are treated to a gaggle of stereotypical 'Och! Aye!' Scots, and given Morrison himself is Scottish, one can detect the deprecating jabs he gives his homeland. Jamie is clearly Morrison's favourite character within this story, though, and for many reasons. He is given moments of gravity such as breaking down and crying, ashamed of having The Doctor see him so old and frail, which leads to a tender moment between the two, and later The Doctor facilitates a measure of revenge on the villagers who mocked and belittled Jamie by gathering them to see 'a conjuring trick'; the TARDIS dematerializing, which not only shocks them, it confirms that 'Mad Jamie' was speaking the truth all along, and the look of shame on the face of the ringleader for doubting him was beautifully illustrated. Later, there are throw-back Second Doctor/Jamie moments, such as attacking the Cybermen to throw them off guard, then running like hell, that were enjoyable. The denouement of the story also lends credence to the belief that, whatever else was accomplished or revealed within it, and whatever Doctor stars in it, this is, truly, Jamie's story.

Morrison's failure to pay even lip service to established canon is the true downfall to what, on the surface, could have been an enjoyable story; while casual fans will thrill to the sight of a TARDIS that towers, literally, over the characters, established Whovians are left scratching their heads over bizarre scenes such as The Doctor directly questioning the unnamed Time Lord's craft itself, and, even more bizarre, it answering him! While this scene provides crucial plot information, had Morrison simply had the unnamed Time Lord reveal the same information himself prior to dying, it wouldn't have been necessary to bend canon to the breaking point. It has long been established that all TARDISes are sentient to a degree, and this has been depicted quite often in the current series, most blatantly in 'The Doctor's Wife' episode, in which the TARDIS literally takes human form (complete with swapping roundels for cleavage; but we digress). In 1987, however, it had been well established that, as much as the TARDIS provides non-verbal clues to its various moods and even can, when required, attempt to save the lives of its occupants from impending doom ('The Edge Of Destruction' televised episode is an excellent example), no TARDIS is capable of carrying on full conversations with anyone! It is a clumsy failure to adhere to basic guidelines established in the series, and quite unforgivable given the existence of the unnamed Time Lord who could have provided the exact same exposition.

Before exploring further canon-bending, it is important to note that, as detailed above and within several other blogs on this site, the importance of the comic strips to the overall 'Doctor Who' mythos cannot be taken for granted. More than all other forms of spinoff media, the comic strips are, essentially, the 'B Grade Canon' of the Whoniverse. Though the Target novelizations form their own canon, being mostly penned by former classic series script editor Terrance Dicks (co-creator of The Time Lords themselves), they are 'after-the-fact' canon; at no point does anything printed within a Target novel take precedence over what has been already televised, even if the novels may fill in details that were glossed over or missing altogether from the episodes.

The comic strips were birthed not long after the very series they were based upon was, and thus have become by Guinness World Records consideration the longest-serving science fiction comics based on the longest-serving science fiction TV series. Though a majority of the early work is juvenile and obviously not meant to conflict with or add to established TV canon, by the early 1980's the strips were, indeed, considered to be the proper forum for 'Doctor Who' professionals, be they former script editors, writers of episodes, or even producers such as John Nathan-Turner who suggested or demanded alterations to certain stories, to convey ideas that were not permitted in the TV series for reasons of budget or time, but nevertheless were intended to be disseminated to fans.

Let us reiterate that producer Russel T Davies had instructed the pivotal regeneration from the Eighth Doctor to the Ninth be depicted in the pages of the comic strip; it was the strip editor who refused, on the grounds the page count would not do such a monumental moment proper justice. Clearly, outside the series itself, the modern comic strips are secondary canon that, from time to time, move up to the forefront and run neck-and-neck with the real thing in Whovian's eyes. Against this backdrop and with these salient points in mind, let us resume Grant Morrison's numerous canon-breaking moments in 'The World-Shapers'.

Though it is not explicitly stated the unnamed Time Lord who sent the distress signal was a CIA agent, it is heavily implied; after all, as noted above, his TARDIS is sleek and powerful, and by the conclusion of the story Marinus/Mondas/'Planet 14' is crawling with Time Lords who make short work of The Doctor's objections to their handling of affairs, much as they did numerous times in numerous stories that fall into the fan-generated 'Season 7B' mold (for more on 'Season 7B', see 'The Whostorian' podcast, we covered it there). Their interactions with The Doctor harken back to the televised episode "Genesis Of The Daleks', in the suggestion of altering the origins of a race of galactic conquerors (while in the episode it is suggested TO The Doctor, here it is The Doctor who does so), while the suggestion that they dispatched an agent to investigate unauthorized time disturbances echoes not only the televised episode 'The Two Doctors' (which also of course features Jamie), but also 'Carnival Of Monsters', which features a similar plot, concerning a device that can alter, rearrange, or capture time; in the episode, it is the Mini-Scope, and here it is the world-shaper...and both have a token number of Cybermen.

While accidental or intentional, these 'your roots are showing' moments are pleasures to experience for fans, as it does lend to the belief that this story fits into the overarching tapestry that is the Whoniverse, with reoccurring themes, scheming and aloof Time Lords manipulating events, and the like. Whether the credit can go to Morrison the writer or the 'Doctor Who Magazine' editors who were well-versed in Whovian lore who insisted he sprinkle this stuff in to spice the story up for the initiated, it's not known. However, of the positives that one can take, there are negatives...lots of them.

In addition to the talking TARDIS is the conceit that, for no reason other than to advance the plot and allow for the insertion of Jamie into the story, The Doctor simply blanks on the details of past adventures. Unless it was a subplot at the time of the original run of the comic and was addressed and resolved elsewhere, there is no underlying reason ever given as to 'why' he doesn't clearly remember the events of 'The Keys Of Marinus' or 'The Invasion'. 'If' it was a subplot, there is no context given to it, no indication in later stories that were published, and no 'editor's note' pointing to previously published stories in the line for any clue: The Doctor simply does not remember certain events of his past, and therefore must seek out Jamie in order to figure it out. Uhm...OK, then. Couldn't he have consulted the TARDIS data banks? His 500 Year Diary? Again, this is done specifically to justify bringing Jamie into the story, and for no other reason. Yet another dagger in the fan-boy heart thrown by Grant Morrison. He's not done yet, though...

The Time Lords captured The Second Doctor, put him on trial, and forcibly regenerated him, as depicted in 'The War Games' televised episode. That one episode was a turning point for the series, and events surrounding it have led to Whovian legend-making for decades, culminating in the 'Season 7B' belief system. One of the best-remembered moments of the episode is of the Time Lords wiping clean the memories of Jamie and Zoe from their time with The Doctor, save their respective first encounters (because you always remember your first..). Jamie had his mind erased of The Doctor and their travels together, except for the events of 'The Highlanders', his first encounter with does he remember all that 'Planet 14' stuff the Cyber Controller was babbling about in 'The Invasion'? Grant Morrison's answer was: 'cause the Time Lords are idiots.

Harness the power of a star and suspend it in a perpetual supernova and turn that energy into time travel capability, thereby conquering all of time and space and unlocking the power to bodily renew themselves for thousands of years? Done. Properly wipe clean the memories of a dirty Scottish teenager from the 17th century? THAT was out of their skill set!

Yes, Jamie patiently explains to Peri, ('cause she was in her 'I have to ask the question on behalf of the reading audience' phase), the Time Lords 'thought' they wiped clean his and Zoe's memories...but fortunately, The Doctor taught them both 'certain mental tricks' to combat the attempt. The Doctor derisively adds that 'fortunately, the average human brain is more advanced than the Time Lords believe'.

....Who wants to call 'bullshit' on this? Show of hands?

On the one hand, some elements of this feed into those of 'Season 7B' quite nicely; Jamie is depicted as traveling with the Second Doctor in 'The Two Doctors' AFTER the point they were supposed to be mind-wiped and The Doctor exiled and regenerated, after all..they are even on a mission on behalf of the High Council in much the same way the unnamed Time Lord was when he arrived on Marinus. But as much as 'Season 7B' is a unique, elaborate (and far too sensible to ever be given official canon status) fan-generated explanation for tons of stuff that just doesn't make sense in the Troughton era and multi-Doctor team-up stories, it's not canon...and neither is Morrison writing off the 'oldest and most advanced civilization' as being defeated by The Doctor's Far Eastern mental trick (did we mention Grant Morrison is a big fan of Tibetan spiritualism?). So they can expand mental energy sufficient to capture a TARDIS from the time vortex and force it into a space station during The Doctor's (second) trial...but they can't properly mind-zap two teenage humans. Sure.

However, the granddaddy of canon-altering is the dramatic reveal in this story that the Cybermen, that universe-conquering race of emotionless robotic warriors that consistently come second only to the Daleks in terms of 'Doctor Who' monsters...are originally Voords. From Marius.

The 'true origins' of the Cybermen have, admittedly, been shrouded in secrecy; beyond consistently appearing as humanoids, there is not much to point to as to their origin point (we are specifically referring to the classic series' version, the so called 'Mondasian Cybermen', not the current series' overused Cybus Industries models; we know they originated in a parallel universe Earth). What 'is' known is that, during their first-ever appearance in the televised episode 'The Tenth Planet', they revealed they once were much like humans, as emotional and humanoid as those they terrorize in the South Pole tracking station. They also reveal they originate on 'Earth's twin planet, Mondas', and of course in their first story, their home world is destroyed by absorbing too much energy, which weakens them greatly, to the point they are defeated. Later revelations have slightly amended this weakness, along with that of radiation, magnetism, freezing cold...basically, all that remains now to classify as a semi-consistent weakness is gold. But at 'no' point during their televised appearances, and nowhere that has been found within spinoff media, have they been revealed or even hinted at originally being Voords.

To begin with, in order for this to be the case, fans would have to accept that Marinus is Mondas..which means that it was 'Earth's sister planet, hidden behind the sun'. Further, fans would need to accept that in all the planet-hopping The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara and Susan do in 'The Keys Of Marinus', there is not one mention of the technology found there possibly being adaptable to limb-replacement or skin grafting, which the Cybermen have alluded to often enough as being the starting point down their path of full conversion.

Further, two schoolteachers with more than a passing familiarity with astronomy never give a passing thought to the skies, where stars and planets would reveal they were not far from their home of Earth, where at this point in time they desperately want to return to if only The Doctor could get them there...The Doctor himself, a scientist with an IQ off the charts, also never mentions it. Sure.

Perhaps the above reads as nebbish, nit-picky, and ridiculously inverse: good, it should. Because in order for Grant Morrison to weave his canon-altering tale that serves as nothing more than a moment in a story but would have lasting repercussions on the entirety of the Whoniverse, then it needs to pass muster and stand up to scrutiny, and, like all the other casual, dipsy-do 'facts' he trots out in the pursuit of telling this tale, it sure doesn't.

It is one thing to write a story that adds depth to the Whoniverse, only to see the story kicked down the ladder of canon later by the series itself. This occurred in the wonderful comic story 'The Mark Of Mandragora', which teamed the Seventh Doctor with Sarah Jane-Smith in battle against a Fourth Doctor adversary. The story was a rollicking, fun, fast-paced adventure and Sarah-Jane was extremely well-written in it, demonstrating, as if any further proof were needed, that shewas the definitive 'Doctor Who' companion character, able to evince a level of camaraderie, love, and friendship with any and all incarnations of the Doctor.

Over a decade later, the televised episode 'School Reunion' obliterated it's canon value with one throw-away line of dialog, to the effect of The Doctor having regenerated several times since last he saw Sarah-Jane, establishing that 'The Hand Of Fear' televised episode was the last time the two were together (since she doesn't recall the events of 'The Five Doctors'). To be relegated to non-canon status by the TV series itself is perfectly acceptable; it happens. To attempt to undercut multiple episodes 'of' the TV series, multiple other comic strips past and present, and devise an origin story for the Cybermen when the TV series itself has always seemed reluctant to do so? It is one thing when David Banks, the actor who played the Cyber Leader in the 1980's, releases audio cassette tapes of his reading of 'The Origins Of The Cybermen'; all the 'revelations' are his alone, unsupported by anyone else, and were released under a production company called Silver Fist, as nothing more than a vanity project. That and others like it, from fan fiction to Big Finish Audio, are comfortably slotted to 'tertiary canon'; most Whovians wouldn't dream of considering these modern examples of spinoff merchandise to be even approaching canon. As stated above, the comic strips, however, are an entirely different matter.

Then, of course, there is Jamie. Morrison reveals that he can survive a Time Lord-induced mind-wipe with no ill effects. He is 40 years older than he appeared in the 'Two Doctors' episode, which is name-dropped frequently in this story....though the explanation for this, too, is extremely weak, and is chalked up to The Doctor 'misjudging the coordinates'; when it serves the plot, Morrison is happy to dumb-down The Doctor, it seems. Though, as stated, it leads to the only moments in the strip that conveyed true emotion mixed with the best characterization all around for the TARDIS crew, the set-up is ludicrous; why not simply have invented a more logical reason for Jamie's aging? Perhaps the Time Lord's tampering with his mind also aged his body prematurely? Perhaps the TARDIS was acting wonky due to the worldshaper's effects, and itself overshot the mark...anything would have been better than simply having The Doctor be stupid. Then again, he's a Time Lord. They can't even manage to wipe a kid's mind, after all.

The death of Jamie is handled with sensitivity and pathos. As one of the most popular companion characters, the very concept of killing him off seems repugnant on the surface of it, especially as up to this point it has not been reflected or referenced within the TV series or other spinoff media...but in this instance, it has yet to be contradicted specifically, either. 'If' indeed one chooses to accept the comic strip adventures as at minimum having the closest ties to the established Whoniverse canon, and as stated above personages such as Russel T Davies and John Nathan-Turner supported this belief by their words and actions, and at maximum being the adventures of The Doctor as important as the series itself, then it is a pivotal and important moment.

Grant Morrison is no stranger to controversial deaths, as anyone who follows the current 'Batman' comics series is well aware; in comparison to the cavalier treatment he afforded his own creation, the Damien Wayne Robin, having him stabbed in the midst of a battle by an unnamed ninja, Jamie's death was afforded far greater measure. Dying heroically in a self-sacrificial way in order to not only save his friend The Doctor, save the planet Marinus and by effect the universe itself from the destructive time waves crashing over it, and prevent the Voord-Cybermen from accessing a super powerful weapon of mass destruction, all by his own choice and in order to preserve his dignity, leaves fans saddened, shocked...but relieved that the character was given the proper respect for what he means to Whovians to be given such a death.

The only minor quibble regarding the entire death may not be Morrison's fault so much as the limited page-count, which also affected Davies' plans to 'kill' the Eighth Doctor, after all; The Sixth Doctor does not have proper time to mourn or address the death in the manner that it truly deserved. Though he gravely barks 'Jamie's dead!' at Peri when in the safety of the TARDIS, and though here Ridgway's pencils again maintain a respectful and even tone that only adds to the panel and the scene, the relentless pace of the story racing to its climax means no further time can be spared dwelling on it. Like so much to do with this story, it is the quieter moments that define it far more than the canon-breaking nonsense that encompasses its bulk.

In summation, as a slice of what 'Doctor Who' is like in the hands of a writer now revered for his bucking-authority style, his wild disregard for established canon, and his off-the-wall concepts, 'The WorldShapers' has a few solid moments, all of which involve Jamie. For the sheer fun of it, from an outrageously shaped TARDIS to a return to Marius to a gaggle of moustache-twirling evil Time Lords, it has its moments. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny as a document for change within the Whoniverse, and it doesn't do any favors to its source material, that's for sure. It operates far better for the impressive visual work of John Ridgway than for the convoluted mess Morrison writes himself into a corner over. 

The death of Jamie is, truly, the only element that one could recommend as a reason to read this. Perhaps that's enough....but then what about the Cybermen with flipper hands..?

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