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Subj: Doctor Who:12th Doctor #16 - Goodwill To All Men...
Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 at 08:46:13 pm CST (Viewed 585 times)
"You Love Christmas!"
"Not Anymore. I Can't Even Make It To Boxing Day Without Someone Trying To Kill Me."
To mark the Christmas season Titan Comics' latest adventure for the 12th Doctor opts for a tale that unashamedly mines the depths of the television series for not only its main protagonist but for a fan-pleasing array of guest stars and visual motifs, truly if the eventual story that unfolds were not so rewarding and with a warm point to its telling then this episode would likely collapse under the weight of its own misguided over-indulgence in trying to please the committed Doctor Who fan.
Given the unarmed and peace-loving nature of the central character Titan Comics' determination to format their range of books to appeal to the US market seems slightly dubious considering the American model for comics prefers the superhero/action genre where people get hit repeatedly and an earnest expression of gritted teeth with attitude is increasingly the preffered archetype for getting things done. Doctor Who promotes none of those things. Not to say the Doctor is some paragon of unarmed virtue, as he most certainly isn't, any viewer of the television series will testify to his imperfections and frequently ruthless nature, but nontheless he remains a rather unusual figure in contrast to the American mold for a hero, as he is a thinker, an anarchist, a genius, and an individualist. Never one to suffer authority gladly it would take some stiff circumstaces to have him allied longterm with an official body, and so there is the Tardis and a need for a travelling companion. A lone eternal wander in time & space he has no one to counterpoint him. And so no one to impose any rule of order over his actions, good and bad.
And so with Peter Capaldi's abrasive and no-nonsense Doctor as their chosen study writers George Mann and Cavan Scott have a christmas issue to sell and reader expectations to subvert...
When we were all a lot younger and fresh to reading comicbooks I would say with confidence that we rarely ever approached a comic with great trepidation or cynicism, we simply gave each new book the benefit of the doubt and aproached it open mindedly in the faith that it would be at least worth the read, and hopefully in fact quite terrific!
What is marvellous about this particular issue, apart from exquisite art from Mariano LaClausta, is that here is a tale that is self contained and of the old school of American superhero comics in that it has a beginning, a middle, and most definitely an end, and a meaningful one at that. As we open to the story we watch a close-up of the Tardis exterior lamp flashing away as the ship lands in the nighttime grounds of an estate, the houses lights all fully ablaze the setting is unclear but judging from the mailbox could presumably be somewhere in America.
The richness of detail on this panel, and the first page, sets the standard for the rest of the book - Mariano LaClausta's superb fine lnes and attention to filling every scene with detailing and depth is enhanced magnificently by top notch colouring from Carlos Carbera. The age of the colourist as co-artist has most certainly come of age, and here is one fine example of the power and worth of pairing the right colourist with the right artist. As the Doctor and Clara enter the fully lit sunptious foyer a voice calls out "grandfather" and we are then thrust straight into the mystery along with the Doctor as he enters and is greeted by a room filled with old and familiar friends. And among them Susan...
The double page offered by LaClausta & Carbera is filled with rich detail and in a deliberate and powerful move is an effective evocation of the traditional Christmas firelit living room seen in idealised cards and films from yesteryear. As K9 roams the floor a casual and relaxed Ian Chesterton stands chating with The uniformed Brigadier. In front of the glowing fireplace Amy and Rory stand chatting with Sarah-Jane and Donna. As a scene it is at first glance warming, but whether by purpose of design also one of sadness. Out of all the people who could be chosen to be here it is the ones now sadly no longer with us, and as such is both touching but sad. Perhaps this was the intended effect, perhaps not, but it does add to the strong atmosphere of the Christmas flavor throughout the issue. It is an effect that lingers long after finishing the issue and putting it down.
The Doctor we learn is here after an inexplicably appearing card in the Tardis requested his prescence here, and his suspicions are immediately rewarded as without ado the warm company of old friends warps into something altogether more surreal and dangerous. The people in the room shft into a bizarre and very unnerving sight of wooden oversize dolls towering threateningly over the Doctor and Clara, the realisation of this moment might well fall flat in any other artists hands but as with every page in this book Mariano LaClausta does not fail to make the reader gasp at the sight on the page and his expertly judged composition. Wooden parodies of some of his closes friends over the years, light aand perspective combining to form a highly memorable image that lingers long after digesting the isssue...
Snatching te Sonic Screwdriver from a struggling Doctor Clara takes the initiative and disrupt the rooms ornate lighting, the expressions on both the grotesquely surreal attacker and the freed Doctor forming another memorable image.
But exiting the room and locking it there is no time for consideration of these remarkable events, as behind them mail begins to pour through the letterbox, in the form of seasonal cards... and the pour turns into a whirlpool as reality warps and the duo find themselves transported into the imagery of the cards. It is a clever and effective use of the motifs associated with the Christmas season that George Mann and Cavan Scott play with here, there is something of the classic work of Steve Parkhouse and John Ridgway's as the Sixth Doctor battled the impossible power of Astrolobus, fleeing through surreal manifestations of Lewis Carroll illustrations, these similarities between two stories and protagonaists are likely merely coincidental, but as Ridgway did back then Mariano LaClausta's page layout for the set-piece work very effectively, playing with the possibilities that come only with the comics medium to create a reading experience that will be talked about for years to come if there is any justice.
And so The Doctor and Clara flee as reality warps and shifts around them, if the Christmas Card segment was visually striking then the subsuquent Snakes and Ladders double spread is its visual superior, a treat as the potential of the comics page is again exploited for its strengths and possibilities, and as we begin to glean who it is who might be behind this extraordinary game with the two. For the Doctor Who afficiando the sight of the oversized Chrismas tree and presents, the sense of the Doctor and Clara being inside a childs idea of Christmas, the use of games and toys, and finally the Doctor struck literally speechless and struggling to communicate the true rapidly approaching true threat to his companion...
"You're In My Toyroom Child, Time To Play."
The Celestial Toymaker. Piloting a childs toy aeroplane. And gleefully chasing down hs targets in cat and mouse fashion.
Explaining that the Toymaker is an old nemesis with near limitless power and obsessed with gamesplay the Doctor puts his obsevations and theories about this place to the test as he experiments with imposing his own will on the environment, with success! He manages to bring down the Toymaker and his Plane, but indestructable the Gamessmith merely continues his tormenting of the duo by other means, other means being giant playing cards appearing and encasing the duo in a prison. The use of playing cards harks back to the Toymakers first appearance and almost certainly a deliberate nod from the writers to the Toymaker's 1966 debut. Back then the days of Black & White robbed the motif of its visual impact but here in full colour and in the hands of a very capable artist the effect is very striking indeed visually. LaClausta's use of perspective and angled shots lends the scenes great power as the Doctor and Clara are contained within a room built from playing cards. Adapting the Doctor again exercises his will on his surroundings, shifting the cards and setting the pair free to face the advancing Toymaker. The visual skills of Mariano LaClausta again stamp their impressive ability on George Mann and Cavan Scott's script as these two Neo-Gods face the other, conjuring their chosen forces to face off against the other. With fan-service in full effect the Doctors choices for his army are a who's who of old foes, but before mass chaos and brawling can ensue rationality prevails and the Doctor calls a halt to the game - it is time for discourse.
And this ability to seek an alternative to violent action is the magic and appeal of Doctor Who.
Titan Comics' Doctor Who range is the evolutionary beneficiary of 50 years worth of Doctor Who in comicstrip. This is a fact reatuvely few people are aware of, that there has been a continuous Doctor Who comicstrip since almost the beginning of the television series. Published in Britain and for a British audience the style and presentation of that strip has always tended to be influenced by the resered nature of British comics and the flow of the television source material. It is only in recent years that Doctor Who in Comics form has begun to be aimed at an audience much broader than just Britain, and that target audience is unsurprisingly now American, with all of its conditioned expectations for action and violence to resolve problems. That Doctor Who is partly of the Superhero milieu is debatebal, but the shifting tone and styles of the television series do support the contention that the Doctor does, even if only occasionally, have one foot planted in the traditions of the Superhero. For what else if The Celestial Toymaker and his enduring appeal but that of a superpowered comicbook villain facing his opposite moral number in battle and the best man winning through being the hero of the piece and therefore... better.
Yes, The Celestial Totmaker evokes that tradition, but this particular story delivered by George Mann & Cavan Scott opts away from what would be expected if this was a Marvel or DC production with their testosterone fuelled Hit-Me-Punch-You protagonists, for although the superhero comic is frequently over-obsessed with a wearying impersonation of realism that is all grit encrusted surface and little heart or sense, the best of Doctor Who has always known the difference between discussing important matters and pretending to be important. It's ability and traditions of absorbing other genres and forms allows it a flexibility and adaptability which anables it to rise above the easy solutions of the Hit-Me-Punch-You formula to instead show a morality and compassion that speaks to us, that means something to us.
Characterised by his abrasive and sometimes morally grey manner the 12th Doctor is one of the most coarse incarnations of the Timelord we have yet seen. Is he a Good Man? That has been a question he has posed to himself and us for two seasons now, as regular viewers we accept that underneath the unsocial gruffness he is a good man, but that assumption is always tested when the latest threat presents itself and we wonder just how far he might be pushed by it. It may come as a surprise then to watch as the Doctor steps forth to discuss matters of motivation and desire with the Toymaker and instead of some brutal and no-nonsense manoeuvring calmly probes the Gamesmans intentions and desperation. This is what a Doctor does, it isn't what the 12th would necessarily do on the television screen, but it is what he should do, be a Doctor, offer help to those in need, even if that is someone who has bedeviled you in the past.
The Doctor learns that the Toymakers realm is decaying due to its extreme age, entropy finally eroding the barriers between it and the outer Universe, and so he seeks a new sanctuary, a new Toyroom. This deterioration is what has allowed the Doctor to exert control over his surroundings but in contacting the Doctor it is not he but his ship that the Toymaker wants, his new refuge and Toyroom. As the Doctor instantly assess the problem he declares that the Toymaker has won, and so the Tardis is his!
As the Tardis manifests around them the power of the Toymaker exerts itself and the ship begins to warp to his desires, in scenes that are as exciting as anything from out of the television adventures the Doctor races to move his plan into motion as he operates controls on the still stable console to ensure both parties win. The wonderful thing underpinning these scenes is the obvious fact that it is not vengeance that drives the Doctor, but compassion. The Toymaker is one of the most powerful and self-centered forces he has ever encountered in his travels, but it isn't old scores that concern him at this moment it is his foes need. The Doctor could end him or help him, and he unhesitatingly moves only to help, by giving his foe what he wants. What he needs.
For a christmas message that is a wonderful and human thing thing to do for someone, unusually it isn't Clara who prods him into it either, which might be a criticism of the plotting in other circumstances as that is usually her role, to question or support the Doctor's difficult decisions, but here and now the Doctor is in full control of his actions and is able to manipulate the Tardis' dimensions to seal the Toymaker in a Zero Room - a piece of the Tardis' transdimensional architecture that will given him the security and comfort he is desperate for. His own little universe again. As Clara observes the similarities between the Lonely God in the Zero room and Lonely God in the Tardis is ironic indeed....
Excellent. This book is excellent in every respect. A good old fashioned example of a done-in-one tale with exceptional art and colouring, a strong moral center, and an ending that is both human and entirely satisfying. Find this book, and treat youself to excellent Doctor Who and above all an excellent example of the comicbook mediums strengths and ability to occasionally get everything in its production spot on. Strongly recommended.
It was 1966, when the world (in Britain at least) was still in Black & White, William Hartnell was The Doctor, and we saw the debut on teatime Doctor Who of a villainous figure played by Michael Gough who would never be seen or heard from again in the television series. And yet, despite having three of its four episodes wiped clean in the years immediately after transmission, the character of The Celestial Toymaker would, in the last two decades at least, go on to make an indelible stamp on the broader Doctor Who universe as the wider media of comicstrips, Book novels, and Audio came into existence.
Belonging to a time of the shows history that now seems remote and increasingly distant from modern concerns The Toymaker is an unusual example of a foe from the Black & White era who is largely unique in that he is a cosmic being cast in human form. The series had other cosmic forces to challenge it to be sure - The Animus and The Mind Robber for example, but none would fascinate modern generations of fans as The Celestial Toymaker did. When first we meet him the Doctor reveals this is not his first encounter, by stories end we are promised this won't be his last either. Perhaps this unfulfilled teasing is a reason why fans would take up the promise and by committee return him to the forefront of the Doctor's rogues by using him wherever there was a new medium to support him. Intriguingly writer and script editor Donald Tosh had originally intended that he should be one of the Doctor's own mysterious race, which may seem odd, but the precedent had already been set with The Meddling Monk shortly before this story... and it would be shortly after the Toymaker departed that William Hartnell too would depart. In hindsight the Toymaker falls into the same niche that The Meddling Monk fell into then, a memorable villain in his brief time, but one who never made it past the era and the Doctor he was set against. The show moved swiftly on and passed him by.
Decades later, with the arrival of the VHS age, fans reevaluating the forgotten and receding Hartnell years would at last be able to sift, analyse, and spot the gold in the era, and even with just one episode extant from his story The Celestial Toymaker would stand out as something gold. Something of value... with potential... worth reconsidering...
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