11th Doctor

Supernature written by Jonathan Morris with art by Mike Collins

Some people might say that Jonathan Morris is being overused in Doctor Who spin off material of late considering he has written a wealth of Big Finish stories in the last couple of years, a dozen comic strips and this year is writing one of the books as well. But considering his hit rate is probably the most successful of any current writer working on Doctor Who having a wealth of stories by him could never be a bad thing. What’s particularly impressive is how he tips his hat to so many different genres so while the one similarity in all his works is that he provides a good time he always manages to make each story feel unique and with an imagination this fertile its almost always a creative gem. I’ll take that tenner now, Jonny. No I’m being serious – it seems inevitable that people want to backlash against a success story but given the strength of Supernature I can only hope that we will see more from the pen of Mr Morris in the strip for years to come.

It’s a great story, well paced and with plenty of surprises. The setting is instantly vivid; a colony of convicted criminals being used as guinea pigs to see if a planet is viable for colonisation. Ships arrive with enough fuel for the one-way trip and enough snoops to keep them in check. However the prisoners are being mutated into all kinds of monsters – its hybridisation, two distinct life forms amalgamating. Imagine all the kids scuttling off to the encyclopaedias to learn more about these ideas. It’s a pick’n’mix world of every plant and animal going and it doesn’t take the Doctor long to learn that people have been merging with the wildlife, just as Amy is. The Doctor describes the planet brilliantly as ‘life in the fast lane’ – a gene splicer tried to make the planet habitable but it all went wrong and the colonists became the jungle. The way Morris stacks these ideas one on top of the other is beautifully judged and the pacing is just about perfect with enough room for some action between the evolving plot. At the same time I really enjoyed the characterisation of some of the colonists – Nerena is instantly likable and her quiet confession that she is here because she murdered her family in a traffic accident whilst drunk is devastating. I cheered when the Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to dismantle the gun being pointed at him (with the great unheroic line ‘unless its made of screws!’) and the fact that the whole framing device is revealed to be a fake to give the colonists a new beginning in Eden ends the story on a surprising and touching note.

The characterisation of the Doctor throughout is superb which was especially important considering this was his comic strip debut. It’s a brand new world waiting to be explored and that’s all the Doctor cares about. When he discovers that the disease that is ravaging through the colony makes no sense he is delight because he hates things to make sense. He loves this gloriously, brilliantly mad planet and is positively delighted that he is about to be killed by a brand new species! He thinks that the merging of species would be totally cool if it wasn’t so icky – good point that man. ‘Are you saying I have odour issues, Pond?’ he cried with a wink as Amy the butterfly discovers him by his pheromones. Frankly he’s a whole lot of cool in this comic and very funny in places. Poor Amy goes through the wringer (but not before making the brilliant observation that it is very odd to be standing in the rainforest without David Attenborough narration) transforming into a creature (but not before pretending to be a nurse, something that she has had much practice at apparently). I think it’s rather wonderful that once she has finished her transformation Amy is in fact a beautiful butterfly.

Mike Collins rocks my world when it comes to Doctor Who art and Supernature is his big, bold colourful opener for the 11th Doctor. The first page is immediately arresting with six strips of pure horror as bodies pile up and corpses hide underneath shrouds in the morgue as Nerena tells the world of their terrifying situation. Collins draws a fiery red haired grinning Amy and a very handsome Doctor – their introduction to the world of Doctor Who comics is a full-page delight bursting with colour and detail (giant mushrooms, butterflies and lizards). There is a fantastic ariel view of the colony (I remember saying ‘wow’ when I first read it) – a technological shantytown made out of clapped out spaceships and patrolled by spider like snoop cameras. I love the surprised expression on the Doctor’s face when Nerena hugs him, Collins has his likeness perfect. There’s a very dramatic shot of a space blasting down and kicking up smoke. I really enjoyed the atmospherics of lighting scenes in the green glow of the sonic screwdriver. Amy as half woman, half beast is terrifying (although I kind of wish it had been full page to preserve the surprise because my eyes were instantly drawn to the bottom of the page before they should have). There is a close up of the Doctor at the beginning of part two where he looks so gorgeous he’s practically edible (what’s wrong with me?). What a great page of ecological grotesques with roots that look like insects, hands reaching into the air like branches on a tree, the multi eyed bush and the slab of sinewy land that rears up with its many fanged mouths! How cool is the Doctor straddling the snoop and riding it high above the colony and the groping hands of the creatures? There is an impressive giant waterfall that he rides the snoop passed that is framed by mountainous lizards. I loved the glistening crystals of the ancient ruin – they sparkle just like the stars of the 80’s title sequence! Who could forget the grotesque image of the Doctor with mandibles, claws and segmented eyes? Amy transforms into a beautiful butterfly that tears free of the page with its lilac wings. The insectoid Doctor bashes away at the organ like gene splicer like some mad gothic monster. I howled with laughter at the Doctor’s terrified face as Amy returns to normal but completely naked!

A great start to the 11th Doctor’s comic adventures which is imaginatively conceived and drawn with a good central mystery, plot advancing twists and a clever ending. It is a driven linear narrative, a simple story with plenty of interest and frankly the series could do with this kind of classic series plot than the mental non linear timey wimey madness that is plaguing recent stories. More please: 8/10

Planet Bollywood written by Jonathan Morris with artwork by (yay!) Roger Langridge

Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of elephants in ornate feathered caps dancing in formation as their ship explodes around them but I knew one thing for sure…this was going to be great fun! Doctor Who as a Bollywood musical in comic strip form – now that is genius that we only see on very rare occasions. Picture this 30 years old geek laughing his head off in the bath, singing all of the songs in a faux exotic fashion under the gaze of a highly perturbed but slightly amused cat perched on the toilet seat! The songs are inspired – taking the Buffy musical style method of singing crazy numbers about familiar elements of the show (strange new planets, visiting civilisations, technobabble). Morris writes some great lyrics that had me howling: ‘Strange new world! Love this bit it’s really cool! Don’t wander off, Pond – that’s the rule!’ The Baloch song (spirit fingers and all) had me doing odd Egyptian style dance moves as well (‘Cos if we’re dancing’ ‘Yes we’re dancing!’)! A machine to induce musical numbers from people involuntarily would be very entertaining but of course where there’s a will there’s a warlike race waiting to turn this influential technology to nefarious purposes. Amy’s technobabble song was my favourite – ‘Technobabble? High score at scrabble! How d’you ‘reverse a neutron flow?’ Timey-wimey? Makes me stymied!’

I would recognise the gorgeous artwork of Roger Langridge anywhere – probably the only Doctor Who artist I can tell at one glance and the very first frame of a screwball dogfight in space typifies his quirky approach. The Doctor and Amy are no longer the detailed handsome pair they were in their first strip but more colourful, crazy character with laugh out loud slapstick expression. A small secret – Bollywood films are a secret pleasure of mine because the production values are so high, the dance numbers are beautifully extravagant (I am a gayer, you know!) and (this is the real reason) the lead males are often chocolate skinned, is-that-a-gun-in-my-trousers specimens of gorgeousness! The third frame of Rajiv is the epitome of the sort of exotic beauty that is often on display! There’s a wonderful vwappa shapp-shapp sequence where the Doctor and Amy are peddling in the air away from explosions. The 11th Doctor skipping comically away from the Baloch feels hilariously right. The Doctor (in a hay truck with a duck, naturally) as the centre piece of an all out Bollywood dance sequence with the evil Maharaja scaling the hill (‘oh my! Oh my!’ said I!) to spoil everyone’s fun is priceless. We even get the typically romantic vision of Rajiv and the Muse in front of the giant moon gazing into each others eyes.

DWM always excels at these one off idiosyncratic specials and this is another massive winner. Any story that can get me belting out Bollywood numbers, giggling like a kid with his first porn magazine and opening up about Egyptian belly dancing in the bath and unfortunate reactions to gorgeous Bollywood leads is definitely doing something right! This is a huge burst of colourful and fun and sees the 11th Doctor strips skipping merrily from one top notch tale to the next: 9/10

The Golden Ones written by Jonathan Morris with artwork by Martin Geraghty

I always read the strips twice, once to just enjoy the story and then again to examine the storytelling and artwork but it was during the first reading of The Golden Ones that I realised that I wasn’t enjoying it very much but I couldn’t put my finger on why. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my second reading that I realised why this wasn’t working for me – it was a tenth Doctor/Russell T Davies story with the eleventh Doctor and Amy! This is the first time we have seen a Davies style worldwide threat by an alien force with newscasts, overseas action and big scary set pieces. But the 11th Doctor plays a different game altogether and his first season avoided this sort of story, even playing its two part finale on a far more intimate scale than usual. There were even moments in this story when I could hear David Tennant saying the eleventh Doctor’s dialogue – he spits out threats to Axos at one point and it is structured and dramaticised in exactly the way Tennant expressed those scenes! There are very few idiosyncrasies that we come to expect from number eleven which surprised me after Morris aced his characterisation in his first two stories. He works far better in dark fantasies and feels completely out of place in action epics like this. There are some other flaws with the story too such as using the perfectly obvious (and therefore not remotely funny) Mika gag, featuring children marching through the streets to the horror of their families (which again was done to death in the Davies era with The Christmas Invasion, The Rise of the Cybermen, Invasion of the Bane and Secrets of the Stars as notable examples) and having a tonally incompetent scene in part four where a giant Goruda takes on the Axon building that feels really uncomfortable when the story is trying so hard to be serious elsewhere. Also the ‘reverse the polarity of the electron flow’ gag made me sigh – for some inexplicable reason it felt like the entire story had been dreamt up to justify that gag. I also feel that for the amount of storytelling there is here this could have happily have had at least one and maybe two parts excised.

Its not all bad though and I do like how we jump straight into the story with no time for niceties as the Doctor investigates a UNIT operatives death. Amy teases that the Doctor has a girl in every port when Martha is mentioned. The brain tonic not making the children more intelligent but telepathic was a surprise and the Axon involvement was strongly hinted at with a chameleonic molecule that can absorb energy (although the ‘what are the links between neurons called?’ cliffhanger line sucked). I loved the twist of the Shining Dawn building actually being Axos because I never saw that coming. Plus the Doctor’s line of ‘It (Axos) gains a foothold by preying on the gullible and greedy which is presumably why it came back to Earth’ was fab even though it would sound far more convincing coming from the ninth Doctor. We are also left with an intriguing mystery that hints at a running story – who was the Chinese girl with the heavy fringe working for unknown powers who wanted Amy kept alive and betrayed the Axons?

The artwork is something of a mixed bag too which really surprised me coming from Martin Geraghty but I feel this is mostly because the set pieces are spread thinly amongst the four parts and we could have easily have trimmed some of the dialogue scenes that leave no opportunity to shine stylistically. Still the opening is smashing with Mr Okuda crashing through a window and affording us a vertiginous view of his terrifying descent on a Tokyo street. The sequence of the Doctor and Amy being shot at by Machi is oddly ineffective with a long shot, close up and then mid shot – it does flow particularly well and then when they are in the train the Doctor is thrown out of the window but bizarrely ends up on the roof! I love the heroic shot of the Doctor atop the roof with Tokyo’s glowing towers as a backdrop. The cliffhanging tilted image of the Axon children marching through the streets is astonishingly vivid. One helicopter tears at another in an explosively spectacular image followed by a similarly impressive high shot of the wreckage making its way down the building to the ground. I howled with laughter at the filthy shot of the Doctor jumping from the building on the tightrope that has a perspective shot through his legs! Apart from one brilliant frame of the Doctor through a smashed windscreen as blazing eyed Axon children approached I was quite underwhelmed by the artwork in the third part, it is lots of pale coloured reaction shots and very little visual splendour that I have come to expect from the strips. You would have thought an Axon story would be ripe for psychedelic art and colourful pages. However the final image of the Axon tower mutating almost makes up for the blandness of that part. Amy hangs from a helicopter ladder one handedly in an impressive action shot as Axon tentacles whip at her. The giant Goruda looks totally daft. Look at the striking colours and beautifully grotesque artwork on the last few pages – the horrid giant eye, the man melting into gloopy tendrils, Goruda and the Axon building sliming into each other – this is how good this entire story should have looked. Best of all is the Axon gunge tearing through the streets of Tokyo and enveloping the buildings!

I’m not really used to feeling ambivalent about the DWM strips, usually I either love them or don’t but The Golden Ones leaves me with a strong feeling of…meh. We learn very little about Axos so their return appearance is for show (which really grates me with returning monsters) and the story itself is perfectly geared for another era of Doctor Who entirely complete with an out of character Doctor. However there are moments that shock (I haven’t mentioned the Axon Amy which is wonderfully icky) and every few pages of dull art you get a great set piece. Its not a bad story but an unmemorable one and I feel stretched beyond its ability to tell a decent story: 5/10

The Professor, the Queen and the Bookshop written by Jonathan Morris with art by Rob Davis

Without sounding either proprietarial or kinky this is my Jonny Morris! After four issues of so-so high octane action this magical one part story is precisely the reason I fell in love Morris’ work in the first place; its imaginative, beautifully written and has a real sense wonder.

You know you are in for a treat (and something a bit different) as soon as the story opens on Rory and Amy running down a snowy street as children. Out falls the Doctor in a shower of books and he makes a wonderful wizard like figure, grumpy and quirky and a little bit wonderful. Isn’t it glorious how removing a book makes the ship take off and how the door slams to start the take off. As well as feeling like a pastiche of Lewis’ work there is also a great feeling of the Doctor, John and Gillian to this piece that makes me go all warm and fuzzy. A statue comes to life and reminds us of the Weeping Angels so there is a lovable nod to the new series as well. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe steals really work because the visuals are beautiful and Morris subverts the story having the creatures working for the Queen and Amy bring the Doctor back to by writing him back into the story. The sentiment of ‘so long as you keep making up stories about me, I’ll keep having adventures’ makes me want to give the page a big kiss its so true. And the idea of the bookshop just being around every corner… The last page is suffused with warm feeling and as a tribute in the Doctor Who format to a writer that has inspired so much wonder I can think of nothing finer.

The opening page featuring the Professor’s giant library is without a doubt my favourite comic strip image yet, it is dazzlingly gorgeous and full of storytelling possibilities. I would love to have a console room that looks like this – I could happily get lost amongst all those staircases and books. Look at those blasted, twisted trees in a nostalgic and glorious trip to Skaro mirroring the very first trip we took away from Earth and that wonderful shot that mimics the discovery of the Dalek city. Horrid trees with screaming faces on them…brrr! Awesome, amongst the Queen’s army you have creatures who look like Azal, Nimon, Zarbi, Judoon, Dalek pig slaves, Cheetah People, Tharils – fabulous! The Queen sits on a throne with the Gallifreyan symbol – could this story look any cooler? Apparently so as the Queen gets sucked into a book where she belongs! The colours on the last page are gorgeous, you get sucked into the pages (ooh just like the Queen) and Amy’s skirt length raised an eyebrow!

A magical fairytale adventure which is inspired by a great work of fiction, I found this one off wonder to be enchanting: 10/10

The Screams of Death written by Jonathan Morris with artwork by Dan McDaid

Maybe its just me but any European City in the past feels like an exotic setting and setting this in 17th Century Paris automatically whips up something of an atmosphere! The title of the piece is gloriously Doctor Who and the idea of a death song is so simple (and cheap!) you have to wonder why the classic series never happened upon the idea! Despite the historical trappings this is actually a pleasing traditional adventure with a delicious scream that would do even Bonnie Langford proud at the end of the first part. I like how Jonny Morris holds back from thickening the mixture with explanations until the concluding part where we learn that Valdemar was the leader of eugenics cult (why does the word eugenics always make me shiver?) and was sentenced to death for genetic manipulation of the human form. Much like our Ace from the McCoy era he was snatched up through time inexplicably (and just like Ace there seems to be a plan behind it…) and with the reappearance of that Chinese chick from The Golden Ones we have the grumblings of an arc plot…which I always love in the comics! There were some lovely touches too – I can’t remember a time in a Doctor Who story where a character has attempted to change his unfortunate future by murdering the ancestors of the people that enforced that future (answers on a postcard if there has please!) and I really liked how Louis figured out that he was Valdemar’s grandfather and threatened to kill himself if he didn’t let the Doctor and Amy go. Amy’s lesbian zombie snog raised and eyebrow and I was chuckling away at her attempt at a cover up of the Jules Verne name drop. Hurrah for concluding the story at the Notre Dame – a very NuWho thing to do. And extra points for ‘top hats are cool!’ and ‘viva la France!’ as the Doctor is carried away into the night!

Dan McDaid was responsible for one of the most exciting run of comics the magazine has ever seen and his work as an artist is just as skilful as his storytelling. I loved the scratchy, not quite finished look of some of the frames – for a story that was wrapped up in a sense of historical romance I felt at times I was looking at stylistic oil paintings rather than drawings which really suited the piece. There were a lots of little touches on the early pages such as the washing hanging between buildings, the bottle of Absinthe by the piano and the open mouth of the wannabe opera singer that really help to plant me back in time. Amy looks as though she is dressed up like Leela from Talons and the Doctor looks fantastic as a moustachioed (actually he isn’t but there is a shot of him on page three where a shadow looks very like a moustache!) top hated hero. I always like titled angle drawings and the skwiffy view of the rain soaked corpse with the rat on the run was terrific. There’s a moody high shot of shadows growing up the alley wall. I loved the rooftop silhouettes, that was a magnificent bit of whimsy. The rows of girls with gas masks sneaking away from them and smoke leaking from their mouths was enough to give me the willies! You really feel as though we are approaching a memorable Doctor Who cliffhanger when the daughters of the night float like ghastly open mouthed spectres into the night, green smoke trailing away behind them. The final set piece of the girls tearing through the air towards Notre Dame (and yes you can see right up their skirts for those who are interested!) is unforgettable. Like all good villains Valdemar falls from a great height screaming as lightning splits the sky.

The work of two clever storytellers (one with words, the other with pictures) take a standard Doctor Who premise and jazz it up to something a little bit special. Its not the best strip you will ever read but The Screams of Death is a great, chilling example of how good the strips are these days even when dealing with traditional adventures: 8/10

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night written by Jonathan Morris with artwork by David A. Roach

Come on Jonny – nursing homes are scary enough without having spooky blank faced children turning up at your bedroom at night! It’s a great setting for a nice one off tale which works because it isn’t given too much time to breathe and the overall effect is a gentle piece with just enough character and plot to keep it ticking over. Morris knows how to put the willies up his audience you can see exactly how the scene of Amy looking at the picture of Margaret as a child only to find her standing behind her would be shot on screen – its creepy as hell. This really is the era of timeywimeyness since the Doctor knows the events of this story because the corpses are dug up in 800 years time (or was that just a bluff to get her to speak?). At the heart of this story is a lovely concept of a benevolent robot that can create clones of older people on the verge of death and transplant their consciousness in them – whether you would think living your life again with all your experiences intact as a curse or a blessing is down to personal taste but it is certainly food for thought (when I first read this I had a debate with my hubbie and we came out on opposing sides). I’m wondering if this is Jonny Morris’ way of telling us that the Chinese chick that keeps showing up is in fact somebody far older – you see how suspicious this arc plotting of recent years has made me! I bet she’s behind all this somehow! The ending is beautiful when the old dears choose to live again as children, its an upbeat and considerate final page.

Nurse Amy might stir a few gentlemen down below when reading this! Sister Frost is so seriously in need of a nip’n’tuck – she had to be an alien because nobody could be that ugly! There is a winding drawing of blank faced kids in vats of liquid suspended in webbing that comes completely from left field after the normality of the Earth setting. That is one of the coolest robots I have ever seen; it has a skull like insectoid head with tentacles and its all covered in prickly metal barbs – ouch! Riding dinosaurs, diving into a waterfall and playing on top of the TARDIS – that is a sunny final frame that should make the frostiest of hearts melt.

Thoroughly enjoyable to read, my only complaint would be that after the gorgeous visuals of the last strip this felt far too static and ‘normal’ but that was the nature of the story and they can’t all be about floating spectres attacking Notre Dame! Nice: 8/10