Steve Dillon: 1962 to 2016

This year has been awful. Too many incredibly talented people have died much too young in 2016.  Sadly yet another name has just been added to the list of creators who left us too soon.  British comic book artist Steve Dillon passed away on October 22nd at the age of 54.

preacher-by-steve-dillon

I first encountered Steve Dillon’s work in the mid-1980s when the back-up stories he had drawn in Doctor Who Weekly for Marvel Comics UK were reprinted here in the States. Two of the strips he worked on had lasting impacts on Doctor Who fandom.  “Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman” ran in Doctor Who Weekly # 5-7 (1979) and “Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer” ran in # 17-20.  Both stories were written by Steve Moore.

“Throwback” introduced Kroton, a being who despite being converted into one of the ruthlessly logical Cybermen somehow retained his emotions. Kroton was a tragic character, neither human nor Cyberman, trapped between two worlds.  This was some of Dillon’s earliest work.  He had a tendency to draw characters crouching in overdramatic poses or gesticulating wildly.  But even at that point Dillon showed genuine potential.  He certainly possessed the skill necessary to give emotion & pathos to the physically expressionless metal form of Kroton.  The bottom three panels of that final page from Doctor Who Weekly #7 always give me an emotional punch in the gut.

doctor-who-soul-of-a-cyberman

“Dalek Killer” featured the debut of Abslom Daak, a thoroughly unpleasant career criminal. Having been found guilty on multiple counts of murder & piracy, Daak is given two choices: execution by vaporization or Exile D-K.  The sneering Daak rejects vaporization because it’s quick & painless, and instead chooses Exile D-K, which involves being teleported to a world in the heart of the Dalek Empire to wage a hopeless one-man guerilla war against the mutants from Skaro.

Armed to the teeth, Daak is beamed to the planet Mazam, newly conquered by the Daleks. Despite his fervent death wish, the ruthless & brutal Daak manages to survive, in the process liberating Mazam from the Daleks and winning the heart of its ruler Taiyin.  Tragedy strikes, however, when a lone Dalek survivor kills Taiyin.  The grief-stricken Daak’s suicide-run is now supplanted by a mission of vengeance, as he vows to “kill every stinking Dalek in the galaxy!”

Dillon’s artwork on this serial was amazing. This is only a year after “Throwback” and he had already improved tremendously.  Dillon succeeded in humanizing the thuggish, menacing Daak, making him a character both comedic and haunted.  That final page, with Daak carrying Taiyin’s lifeless body, is incredibly powerful & tragic.

abslom-daak-dalek-killer-pg-16

Abslom Daak proved to be tremendously popular, and he has made numerous return appearances in Doctor Who comic books, most recently in The Eleventh Doctor series courtesy of Si Spurrier, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser. Daak even made it into the Doctor Who television series itself when his mug shot was seen in the 2014 episode “Time Heist.”

In the mid-1980s Dillon was a regular artist on the weekly British anthology series 2000 AD, drawing a number of stories featuring Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper. He also worked on the short-lived but influential anthology series Warrior.

Beginning in 1990 Dillon began working at DC Comics, illustrating Tom Veitch’s offbeat stories in Animal Man. Two years later Dillon worked with writer Garth Ennis for the first time on the DC / Vertigo series Hellblazer, chronicling the dark supernatural adventures of  chain-smoking occult detective John Constantine.

animal-man-45-pg-6

I recall that when I was in high school reading Animal Man and Hellblazer, I found Dillon’s artwork to be rather odd.  It was so very different stylistically from the tone of the flashy, ultra-dynamic work that had become prevalent in mainstream superhero books.  I really don’t think I even realized at that time that Dillon was the same artist who had drawn those Doctor Who comic book stories.  Nevertheless his work stuck in my head because it was so distinctive from ninety percent of what was out there.  It had what I would have to characterize as a starkness to it.

After wrapping up their run on Hellblazer, Ennis & Dillon collaborated on the Vertigo series Preacher, which ran for 66 issues between 1995 and 2000. Dark, brutal, sardonically humorous, and gleefully sacrilegious, Preacher became a critically acclaimed hit.  Underneath all the cynicism and gore, the succession of freaks, degenerates and psychopaths, Preacher was at its heart the story of the relationship between Jesse Custer and Tulip O’Hare.  Dillon ably illustrated all the sick weirdness that Ennis wrote, but he also brought to life Jesse & Tulip, made us believe in their love for one another.

preacher-12-pg-23

After Preacher wrapped up, Ennis & Dillon went over to Marvel Comics, taking over the Punisher. The pair transformed the then-moribund series into a ultra-violent black comedy.  Ennis also worked on a number of other Marvel titles, most notably a two year run on Wolverine: Origin with writer Daniel Wray.

I have always found Steve Dillon to be an incredibly effective comic book artist. As a non-artist it is perhaps difficult for me to articulate why this is so, but I am going to attempt to do so…

Dillon had a very straightforward, unvarnished style. He did not rely on overly-complex layouts.  He did not utilize excessive amounts of detail.  Dillon’s layouts and sequential illustration were crystal-clear and highly effective.  He absolutely knew how to create drama and tension.  Dillon could illustrate a multi-page sequence featuring nothing more than two characters sitting around taking over a beer and make it the most dramatic thing you could possibly imagine.

Dillon often illustrated stories that featured extreme violence. I think that it if often the case that when an artist who possesses an exaggerated or hyper-detailed style, violence comes across as cartoony or unrealistic or even glamorized.  Dillon, however, had a style that was very much grounded in reality, and so his scenes of violence and gore were starkly, shockingly brutal.

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I was fortunate enough to meet Dillon on a couple of occasions. The first time was in 1999, when I was traveling around Britain.  There was a big comic book convention in Bristol, England.  Dillon was one of the guests.  That whole show seemed to revolve around the bar, and most of the guests either had drinks at their tables or were actually doing signings at the pub.  As I recall, Dillon was at one of the tables in the pub drinking a pint.  He was kind enough to autograph an issue of Preacher for me, and to chat for a couple of minutes.  I commented to him that the “Until the End of the World” storyline that ran in issues # 8-12 has seriously freaked me out.  He smiled and responded, “I drew it, and it freaked me out, too.”  I had to laugh at that.

Years later, in 2009, I met Dillon again when he did a signing at Jim Hanley’s Universe here in NYC. Once again he struck me as a nice, friendly guy, and he did a sketch for me of Herr Starr, one of the villains from Preacher.

I was genuinely sorry to find out that Dillon had passed away. He was a tremendously talented artist.  Judging from the comments on Facebook from people who were friends with him or worked with him over the years, he was much-loved by those who knew him.

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Monsters Who’s Who

It can be a mixed experience revisiting a piece of your childhood, equal parts joy and surprise.

I’ve been a fan of science fiction and horror and monsters ever since I was a kid in the early 1980s.  As I’ve mentioned before, I was definitely a geek.  I didn’t have many friends; instead most of my free time was taken up by books and movies and cartoons.

The school library at Davis Elementary in New Rochelle had a handful of books about monsters, the kinds from movies, the ones from myth, and the supposedly-real creatures hiding just out of sight.  These were a real pleasure for me, a momentary escape from the tedium of homework and book reports.

One of the books from the library was Monsters Who’s Who, published in 1974 by Crescent Books.  It was a huge illustrated encyclopedia containing profiles on a diverse selection of strange, scary beings… at least that’s how I remembered it.  I hadn’t seen that book in literally decades, but last week on a whim I decided to see if it happened to be on Amazon.  Much to my surprise there were quite a few used copies available dirt cheap.  I ordered one for a mere 84 cents… plus $3.99 shipping & handling.  You have to laugh when postage is more than four times what you’re paying for the book!

I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight...

I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…

The book arrived in the mail, and with it were a couple of surprises.  The first was that it had a completely intact dust jacket.  I’d never seen the cover before; the school library copy was missing the jacket.  It’s actually a rather nice illustration.

As for the second surprise… hey, wasn’t this book much bigger?!?  When I was a kid Monsters Who’s Who seemed immense!  My memory of it was that it was a huge, thick volume.  Instead the reality is that it measures 11 by 8.5 inches and is only 122 pages.

Oh, yeah, after all these years I’ve finally learned just who wrote Monsters Who’s Who.  Seriously, there’s no author credit inside the book itself.  But the front flat of the dust jacket reveals that it was penned by none other than Dulan Barber!  Um, wait… who?!?  That has got to be a pseudonym.

Okay, putting aside my unreliable 30 year old memories of Monsters Who’s Who, it actually is a neat book.  I’m not at all surprised that I was so interested in it when I was a kid.  It contains a really diverse selection of subjects.  Yes, the write-ups are for the most part extremely short.  But the photos & illustrations are great.

Among the absolutely-fictional entities profiled in Monsters Who’s Who are such iconic figures as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Phantom of the Opera, King Kong and Godzilla.  A variety of mythological creatures including the Chimera, the Hydra, Medusa, the Sphinx and the Unicorn are also found in these pages.  Third, there are the real and possibly-real beings, such as dinosaurs, the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti.

Some of the profiles of mythical beasts are accompanied by very old artwork.  Very few of them are credited, regrettably, but they are certainly beautiful.  And occasionally you have an odd piece like this one…

Who's a good doggie? Who's a good boy?

Who’s a good doggie? Who’s a good boy?

This might have been the first occasion when I heard of Cerberus, the fearsome three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the Greek underworld.  Even at eight years old I found this illustration to be not so much fearsome as forlorn.  All three of Cerberus’ heads wear a sad expression, as if they want nothing more than to receive a nice tummy rub!

There are also a few comic book characters, specifically from the pages of Marvel Comics.  I had forgotten that Monsters Who’s Who was the first time I ever learned of the oddball Incredible Hulk character known as the Bi-Beast.  The Hulk himself also has a profile in the book.

Actually, the writer plays very fast & loose with the term “monster.”  The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man (spelled as “Spiderman”) have entries in this book.  Admittedly this does make a certain amount of sense.  The early Marvel universe devised by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko was definitely a weird, unsettling place populated by strange beings which did not neatly fall into the categories of “good” and “bad.”

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

There were also a few profiles of Doctor Who monsters!  Seriously, the timing of me discovering Monsters Who’s Who in the school library was perfect.  I’m not totally certain, but I think it was in 1984 when I was eight years old.  I had just started watching Doctor Who on PBS station WLIW Channel 21 only a couple of months before, first seeing the final season of Tom Baker and then the beginning of Peter Davison’s run.  Finding this book right on the heels of that helped me understand that the show had been around for quite a few years, and that the Doctor had fought some interesting monsters in the past.  I remember wondering if any of them would ever show up in the episodes I was now watching.

It must have been only a week or so later and I was at home one weeknight watching Doctor Who.  The TARDIS had landed in some dark caves.  A bunch of soldiers armed with ray guns were searching for something, not realizing that they were being hunted by these two mysterious androids.  Next thing you know the soldiers had come across the Doctor and his companions.  After the usual misunderstanding where they assumed the Doctor was their enemy, they joined forces when those androids showed up and started shooting.

And then the episode came to a completely shocking cliffhanger ending when the beings controlling the androids were revealed… at which point my eyes jumped out of my head.  Silver robot-like creatures with handles on the sides of their heads?  There’d been a photo of them in Monster Who’s Who, hadn’t there?  Oh, how I wished I had the book beside me at that moment!  The next day at school during lunch I broke land speed records getting to the library, grabbed Monsters Who’s Who off its bookshelf, and flipped rapidly through it.  Yes, it was them!  It was the Cybermen!

Destroy them! Destroy them at once!

Destroy them! Destroy them at once!

That was my very first Doctor Who related geek-out.  Obviously it left a major impression on me to remember it so vividly 32 years later.  I know I was equally thrilled when that night episode two of “Earthshock” aired on WLIW and contained actual clips from old Doctor Who stories.

I think that in the 21st Century we often take for granted the immense amount of information that we have at our fingertips.  Just hop on any computer, or turn on your smart phone, and within minutes you can Google any subject or look it up on Wikipedia.  You can download old movies and television shows with little effort.  It’s very easy to forget how things were in the pre-digital, pre-internet age, when discovering a book like Monsters Who’s Who was like unearthing a geek goldmine.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start with one of those “when I was your age” tirades.  I am not that bad.  Well, at least not yet!  Nevertheless it is nice to recall some of my more pleasant childhood memories.  Just me and some monsters taking a stroll thru the past.

Doctor Who reviews: Dark Water and Death in Heaven

The two part finale of Doctor Who Series Eight, comprised of “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven,” has the Internet all abuzz.  Steven Moffat seems to have hit all the right notes with his scripts.  Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson and Michelle Gomez each did excellent work portraying the Doctor, Clara, Danny and Missy.

There is soooo much to cover… where to begin?  I expect that most everyone reading this review will have already viewed these two episodes, so I can keep the plot summaries to a minimum and focus on my reactions & analysis.  If you need to refresh your memories about the details, well, as my girlfriend likes to say, “Look it up on Wikipedia!”

Doctor Who Death In Heaven promo image

“Dark Water” opens with Danny walking through the streets of London, talking to Clara on his cell phone.  Crossing the street, he is hit by a car and is instantly killed.  Wow, I did not see that coming.  And I was genuinely upset.  As with the character of Clara, I felt Danny was somewhat inconsistently written over this past season.  But Anderson played him so very well, made him such a compelling character, that when Danny died I was upset.

Clara is consumed with grief and shock.  Absolutely distraught, she attempts to force the Doctor to travel back in time and undo Danny’s death, threatening to strand them both on a volcanic planet by tossing all of the TARDIS keys into the lava.  However, the entire journey is revealed to be an illusion, as the Doctor hypnotized Clara to find out how far she was willing to go.  This sequence is interesting because throughout Series Eight we have seen Clara acting more and more like the Doctor.  Now she attempts to manipulate him, and in the sequence where it appears that they are standing on the edge of the volcano Clara really behaves in a very Doctor-ish manner.

Realizing that she has betrayed the Doctor’s trust, Clara is ready to accept banishment from the TARDIS.  But the Doctor informs her that despite this betrayal he still regards Clara as a friend, and if it is possible he will help her attempt to locate Danny in the afterlife, or wherever it is people go when they die.  While I did think the bit about the Doctor saying “Go to hell” was forced, both Capaldi and Coleman play this extremely well.  It really demonstrates Clara’s grief and remorse: she believes that having already lost the man she loves, she has now also let down her best friend.  Then Capaldi shows us a Doctor who, despite his disappointment at this betrayal, is still willing to help a friend who needs him.

Doctor Who Dark Water volcano

Speaking of Danny, he regains consciousness in the Nethersphere, the mysterious location where several other characters who died in recent episodes have also found themselves.  A bureaucrat named Seb (Chris Addison) informs Danny that he is deceased.  Addison portrays Seb with this amusingly smarmy quality.  He very much brings across the notion of a paper-pusher attempting to project sympathy, but who it is transparently obvious really doesn’t give a crap, and who delights in being able to tangle people up in red tape.

Danny is having difficulty believing he is really dead… until he comes face to face with the young boy he accidentally killed while serving in the military.  Moffat has previously been heavy-handed at implying that this is what took place during Danny’s time in the service, and why Danny dislikes the Doctor, who reminds him of the officers & politicians who sent him into a war zone.  So the revelation comes as no surprise.  But, again, Anderson plays Danny so well that he brings real emotion to this scene.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor uses the telepathic circuits to navigate via Clara’s thoughts, hoping to home in on Danny’s location.  They materialize inside a massive mausoleum containing dozens of skeletons seated in chambers filled with liquid.  The pair is greeted by Missy who introduces herself as the android interface of 3W, a facility dedicated to preserving the bodies of the deceased out of the belief that the dead remain conscious after death.  The Doctor dismisses 3W as a scam… and he is correct.

Missy is not an android, but the head of 3W.  She has conned people into letting them preserve their bodies, but in fact is converting them into Cybermen.  She has also spent centuries stealing the minds of countless people at the moment of their deaths, storing them in the Nethersphere.

The revelation of the Cybermen is not a surprise, as there’d been publicity photos of Missy standing alongside an army of them circulating about for weeks before “Dark Water” was broadcast.  So it wasn’t much of a mystery as to what was happening with all of those dead bodies in the possession of 3W.

Missy is a slightly different matter.  Over the past few months, since her debut in “Deep Breath” there’s been much online speculation concerning her identity.  It was clever for Moffat to throw in some last-minute misdirection so that, for several minutes at least, it appears that Missy is some sort of artificial intelligence gone rogue.  It then results in some more drama & surprise when her true identity, which many already suspected, is finally revealed.

Of course, I totally missed out on figuring out what the nature of the Nethersphere was, when it should have been so obvious.  The Doctor identifies it as “a Matrix Data Slice, a Gallifreyan hard drive.”  Introduced in 1976 in the serial “The Deadly Assassin,” the Matrix was a vast computer network into which the memories of recently-deceased Time Lords were uploaded.  Living minds could also enter the Matrix, within which a virtual reality world could be generated.  So, yes, as a long time Doctor Who fan, I really ought to have figured out that this was the destination where all of those deceased people were arriving at throughout Series Eight, especially given the speculation concerning Missy’s true nature.

Doctor Who Dark Water Cybermen

Trying to locate Clara, from whom he has become separated, the Doctor accidentally exits the 3W facility, only to finds himself outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, 2014.  As the corpses, now converted into Cybermen, begin marching out into the streets of London (in homage to a very similar scene from the 1968 serial “The Invasion”) the Doctor attempts to figure out Missy’s identity.

The Doctor: Who are you?
Missy: Oh, you know who I am. I’m Missy.
The Doctor: Who’s Missy?
Missy: Please, try to keep up. Short for Mistress. Well…couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?

The Doctor is absolutely horrified at this revelation.  The look on Capaldi’s face is epic.  You can just see an expression spread across his features that translates into “Oh fuck!”

Quite a few people guessed Missy’s identity well in advance.  So it wasn’t nearly as much of a shock as, say, the reveal several years ago in “Utopia” that Professor Yana was actually the Master.  Nevertheless the climax to “Dark Water” is well-written and well-filmed, so that even if you’ve deduced what’s coming it still packs a punch.

Regarding the Master becoming a woman… It was established in both “The Doctor’s Wife” and “Night of the Doctor” that Time Lords have the ability to change genders when they regenerate.  So it is not entirely unprecedented that the Master should resurface as a woman.  Honestly, it adds yet another wrinkle to the Doctor’s dysfunctional rapport with the Master.  The two of them have had a love-hate relationship right from the moment when the Master was first introduced in “Terror of the Autons” back in 1971.  On many occasions the Master has come across as a demented stalker, hounding the Doctor, attempting to impress and outdo him before finally trying to kill him.  It actually makes a certain twisted sense that the Master, regenerated into Missy, now refers to the Doctor as her “boyfriend” and is behaving like an unhinged, jilted lover.

Still in 3W headquarters, Clara is communicating with Danny in the Nethersphere over an audio link-up.  Danny refuses to give her any information that might prove he is the genuine article; he wants her to move on with her life and not attempt to find him, finally having accepted he is deceased.  A frustrated Clara cuts the link, and Danny is left weeping.  Seb hands Danny an iPad, giving him the opportunity to erase his painful emotions… which, of course, is exactly what the Nethersphere programs want him to do, in order to be able to convert him into a Cyberman.  Danny is ready to press “delete,” but then he sees the face of the child he killed reflected in the iPad screen, and he hesitates.

As “Death in Heaven,” opens, the Cybermen are marching through the streets of London.  The human bystanders, rather than fleeing, come up to the cyborgs and start taking selfies with their cell phones.  Oh lordy!  Yeah, I could see people doing that.  The Doctor has mentioned on more than one occasion that human beings have an exceptional gift for mass amnesia.  It seems no one in this crowd remembers the time several years ago that the Cybermen and the Daleks were fighting it out in the city streets.  So we get everyone taking photos of themselves posing with a murderous cyborg army and posting onto Instagram, much to the Doctor’s bewilderment & frustration.  Missy shows him via her own handheld device / disintegrator ray that the exact same thing is occurring in all the major cities on Earth.  “We’re going viral,” Missy proudly announces.

Doctor Who Death In Heaven gone viral

It turns out that many of the people in the crowd are undercover agents of UNIT headed by Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and her assistant Osgood (Ingrid Oliver).  Kate drops a wrecked Cyberman head left over from the 1968 invasion at the feet of this new wave and warns them to leave Earth because humanity has the Doctor on their payroll.  Instead all of the Cybermen fly into the sky via rocket-boots and blow themselves up, scattering “pollen” all over London.  The same thing takes place across the globe.  This infects the bodies of countless deceased people, transforming their corpses into Cybermen, and downloading their now-emotionless minds from the Nethersphere into their revived corpses.

In the past I have described the idea of being converted into a Cyberman as a fate worse than death.  And that is literally the case here.  Missy has stolen the minds of billions of dying people, imprisoned them in the Nethersphere, removed their emotions, and forced their consciousness back into their reanimated bodies.  It is an absolutely monstrous act, depriving countless innocents of the peace of the grave, transforming them into her enslaved army.

Interestingly, in the Big Finish audio story “The Reaping” it appeared that the Cybermen had gained the ability to convert the dead.  This turned out to be a deception on their part to trick the Doctor into assisting them.  But in “Death in Heaven,” enhanced by Missy’s pilfered Time Lord tech, they are able to do exactly that.  One of the most chilling aspects of this is how we see it affect Danny, who revives in the morgue transformed into a Cyberman.  Not having deleted his emotions, Danny is fully aware of what has happened to him.

The converted Danny tracks Clara to St. Paul’s and rescues her from the other Cybermen, rendering her unconscious in the process.  She awakens in a cemetery as disoriented Cybermen slowly begin crawling out from their graves.  There Danny removes the faceplate from his helmet, revealing his undead, distorted face to Clara.  It’s a genuinely heartbreaking moment.

Doctor Who Death In Heaven Danny converted

UNIT takes both the Doctor and Missy into custody.  Aboard their mobile aircraft headquarters, Kate informs the Doctor that due to the worldwide crisis he has been appointed the President of Earth.  Naturally enough the Doctor is appalled; he does not want that kind of power & authority.  Of course, when you think about it, that probably makes him the most qualified person for the position.

I enjoyed the interaction between the Doctor and Osgood here.  The Doctor shows a grudging admiration for the clever scientist, who is definitely a major groupie.  Osgood is a cool fictional version of a geek girl.  When we first saw her in “The Day of the Doctor” she was sporting a multi-colored scarf.  Now she’s switched to a bowtie.

Since she survived her run-in with the Zygons, in the back of my mind I assumed that Osgood had gained plot armor.  That’s sort of the thing with UNIT personnel: when they first appear they stand a very good chance of getting killed off by that episode’s alien menace.  But if they manage to make it out of their debut alive, their survival is all but assured in any subsequent appearances.

So I was genuinely shocked when Missy, who had been handcuffed & restrained by UNIT, broke free and, after taunting Osgood, murdered her, blasting her to atoms, and then crushed her glasses beneath her boot.  Shortly after, when the Doctor is horrified to discover that all that is left of Osgood is ashes and a broken pair of spectacles, Missy mockingly inquires in a child-like voice “Have you brought any more friends I can play with?”

At this point Missy reveals she was the lady from the repair shop who gave the TARDIS phone number to Clara prior to the events in “The Bells of St. John,” putting them together, in effect altering the Doctor’s entire life.  The idea that Clara had become the most important person in the Doctor’s existence, having been scattered along his time stream, giving him hope when he was a child, understandably annoyed some viewers.  Now we find out that all of this has occurred only because the Missy put her into that position.  It must have given the Doctor’s arch enemy a great deal of pleasure to indirectly influence and manipulate so much of her adversary’s life without him even realizing it.

The UNIT aircraft is destroyed by a group of flying Cybermen, seemingly killing everyone onboard, including Kate.  Teleporting back to the Nethersphere, Missy watches the Doctor plummeting to his death.  She is actually disappointed to see him dying such an ordinary death.  Then, in a cool sequence, the Doctor aims himself at the falling TARDIS and manages to streak down to it, enter, and dematerialize, homing in on Clara’s cell phone.  Seb, who is watching all this with Missy, is delighted by the Doctor’s feat, which causes an exasperated Missy to delete him from the Nethersphere.

When the Doctor arrives in the cemetery, a distraught Clara asks the Doctor to active Danny’s emotional inhibitor, erasing his emotions and ending his turmoil at his undead existence.  At first, the Doctor refuses to do so, alluding to his own relationship with the Master / Missy…

“I had a friend once. We ran together, when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now she’s trying to tear the world apart and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together. The difference… is this. Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.”

The Doctor asks Danny what the Cybermen’s plan is, but Danny is not connected enough to their hive mind to be able to discern their intentions.  The only way he will be able to find out is if the emotional inhibitor is activated…

“Clara, watch this. This is who the Doctor is. Watch the blood soaked old general in action. I can’t see properly sir, because this needs activating. If you want to know what’s coming, you have to switch it on. Didn’t all of those beautiful speeches disappear in the face of a tactical advantage, sir?”

Once more we see what the Doctor meant when he told Clara “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones.  But you still have to choose.”  It is an impossible choice, save Danny or let him become totally converted in order to learn the information needed to possibly save humanity.  When Clara takes the sonic screwdriver from the Doctor to conduct this awful task, Danny sardonically mutters “Typical officer, got to keep those hands clean.”

Doctor Who Death In Heaven Clara Danny and the Doctor

The now-emotionless Danny reveals that the clouds of cyber-pollen will rain again, this time killing all living humans and converting them into Cybermen.  At this Missy descends from the sky via umbrella, a demented Mary Poppins.  Surprisingly, wishing the Doctor a happy birthday, Missy hands the Cyberman control unit to the Doctor.  She reveals that the only way to halt the annihilation of humanity is if the Doctor himself takes control of the Cybermen army and uses them to bring order to the universe.

There is a great deal to say about the twisted relationship between the Doctor and the Master / Missy.  I’m planning to address it in an upcoming blog.  Suffice it to say that Missy is determined to drag the Doctor down to her own level.  She sees that as her ultimate triumph.  Yet again we have the Doctor confronted by two terrible choices: allow humanity to be destroyed, or join with Missy, in the process becoming everything he has ever fought against.  The question that has been haunting the Doctor since his regeneration comes rushing back at him: is he a good man?

Then the Doctor glances over at Clara, who is hugging the motionless form of the converted Danny.  He realizes that even with the inhibitor activated Danny has not lost all of his emotions, because he will not harm Clara.  The Doctor realizes that Danny is one of those people with a will strong enough to resist being fully converted.  And he comes to a realization.  Addressing Missy, he states:

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I really didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. You lose sight sometimes. Thank you! I am not a good man! And I’m not a bad man. I am not a hero. And I’m definitely not a president. And, no, I’m not an officer. Do you know what I am? I… am… an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Passing through, helping out, learning. I don’t need an army, I never have, because I’ve got them. Always them. Because love, it’s not an emotion… love is a promise. And he will never hurt her.”

The Doctor tosses the control unit to Danny.  Taking command of the Cybermen, Danny flies with them into the sky.  They explode, destroying the clouds overhead.  As Danny stated earlier in the season, “I’m a soldier. Guilty as charged… I’m the one who carries you out of the fire.”  He proved that here, protecting humanity, saving it.

Clara, once again mourning the loss of Danny, now knowing that he is gone for good, is ready to use Missy’s own weapon to kill her.  The Doctor realizes that the only way he can stop Clara is to do the deed himself.  Despite what Danny believed, the Doctor is willing to get his hands dirty, willing to kill Missy himself in order to prevent Clara from becoming a murderer.  Ready to pull the trigger, he sadly tells Missy “You win.”

At the last second, however, Missy is vaporized by a laser blast from a sole surviving Cyberman, one who has also rescued Kate Lethbridge-Stewart.  Although not stated, it is heavily implied that this is Kate’s father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, returned from death to once more protect the Earth, and to save the Doctor’s soul.

Doctor Who Death In Heaven satute

In the closing scenes of “Death in Heaven,” the Doctor and Clara meet up in a café.  Clara tells the Doctor that she can no longer travel with him.  He believes that Danny used the control bracelet to return to life, and that she plans to marry him.  Via a flashback, though, we see that Danny used this one time only “get out of jail free” card to instead restore to life the child he accidentally killed.  Clara doesn’t tell this to the Doctor, and instead lies.  The Doctor informs Clara that he is going home to Gallifrey, having discovered it at coordinates provided by Missy.  But it turns out that the Doctor is also lying.  The information that Missy gave him before she died was false, one last painful, torturous twist of the knife by her.  Clara and the Doctor part, each with the mistaken belief that the other, at least, has a chance at a happy future.

It’s a very solemn, downbeat ending.  Then, midway through the credits, we cut to the Doctor, brooding at the TARDIS console, hearing a knocking on the door.  And into the TARDIS pops none other than Santa Claus.  Sooooo, to be continued on the 25th of December, then?

Is everyone still here?  Yeah, this write-up went on really long, didn’t it?  The two-part finale was certainly jam-packed with material.  On the whole, I liked it.  While not perfect (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT felt somewhat wasted) it was certainly enjoyable, a real emotional rollercoaster.

In the past I’ve felt too many Doctor Who season finales have has the Doctor facing some apocalyptic threat that threatens the whole of existence.  In one respect that was the case here.  But it felt a lot different.  Instead of going into detail about the worldwide resurrection of the dead as Cybermen, Moffat’s script mostly focused on the Doctor, Clara, Danny and Missy, at exploring the relationships between them.  Against the backdrop of the looming annihilation of humanity, Moffat wrote a very intimate, moving, tragic character piece.  This story was much the better for it.

How would I rate it?  Well, as the Doctor’s former instructor Borusa once told him, “Nine out of ten.”

Steve Moore: 1949 to 2014

I was sorry to learn about the recent death of British comic book writer Steve Moore, who passed away at the age of 64 earlier this month.  Steve Moore was a longtime friend & associate of Alan Moore, so much so that they constantly had to remind people that they were not, in fact, related to each other.

Steve Moore was involved in the early days of the weekly sci-fi anthology series 2000 AD, penning several installments of “Tharg’s Future Shocks” in the late 1970s and early 80s.  In late 1979, he became one of the first writers for Doctor Who Weekly / Monthly for Marvel UK, penning a variety of back-up stories spotlighting the aliens & monsters of the television series.

With then up-and-coming artist Steve Dillon, Moore co-created two recurring characters in the comic book back-ups.  The first was Junior Cyberleader Kroton, introduced in “Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman,” published in Doctor Who Weekly #s 5-7 (1980).  Unlike the rest of the Cybermen, when he was converted into a cyborg Kroton somehow retained his human emotions, his capacity for empathy.  Struggling with his unexpected feelings, Kroton eventually sided with the human resistance on the Cyberman-occupied world of Mondaran, helping them to escape to the unoccupied jungles of their planet.  However, realizing he was neither fully Cyberman nor human, Kroton elected to blast off into outer space, where he shut himself down.

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The other character conceived by Moore and Dillon was Abslom Daak, the Dalek-Killer, originally featured in Doctor Who Weekly #s 17-20 (1980).  Although they shared a common enemy in the Daleks, Daak was the polar opposite of the Doctor.  Whereas the wandering Time Lord was eccentric, cultured, and sought to resolve conflicts with his intellect, Daak was a brutal career criminal, a cynic with a dark sense of humor and a death wish whose solution to any problem was violence.

On the opening page his debut Daak has been convicted of “23 charges of murder, pillage, piracy, massacre and other crimes too horrible to bring to the public attention.”  Given a capital sentence, Daak is offered a choice, “death by vaporization or Exile D-K.”  Dryly commenting that “vaporization doesn’t hurt,” Daak takes the second alternative.  Exile D-K involves sending an individual by matter transmitter into the heart of the Dalek Empire to wage a hopeless one-man guerilla war against the fascist mutants from Skaro.  This suits Daak just fine.  Armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons, including his beloved chain-sword, he is teleported a thousand light years across the galaxy to the planet Mazam, newly invaded by the Daleks.  There Daak plans to go out in a blaze of glory, violently taking as many Daleks with him as possible in an orgy of destruction.

Upon his arrival, however, Daak ends up saving the life of the stunningly beautiful Princess Taiyin.  Daak is all ready to do a reenactment of the ending to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Taiyin realizes this brutish warrior might just be able to help her escape.  Knocking the Dalek-Killer out, she transports the two of them away from her palace via sky-sled.  Once again attacked by the Daleks, Daak reiterates his hopes of achieving a spectacularly violent demise.  Taiyin reluctantly points him in the direction of the Daleks’ command ship and, against impossible odds, the two manage to destroy it.  Taiyin, who has begun to fall for Daak, asks him to stay on and help rebuild Mazam.  Before Daak can answer, Taiyin is shot from behind by one of the surviving Daleks, and dies in the Dalek-Killer’s arms.

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Moore did an interesting job of developing Daak.  He starts out as a thoroughly unpleasant individual who is looking to cash his chips in.  Along the course of the story, Daak reluctantly comes to realize that he likes Taiyin, and perhaps he could have a future with her, a reason to go on living.  And then all that is cruelly yanked away from him in an instant with Taiyin’s death.  From that point on, Daak vows to “kill every damned stinking Dalek in the galaxy.”  Revenge and the almost impossible hope of somehow finding a way to revive Taiyin are Daak’s only reasons to go on living.  That final page is powerfully illustrated by Dillon.

Moore continued Abslom Daak’s story in “Star Tigers,” which ran in Doctor Who Weekly #s 27-30 and 44-46.  The Dalek-Killer gains a battleship, the Kill Wagon, and a crew made up of exiled Draconian prince Salander, the Ice Warrior mercenary Harma, and the human criminal strategist Vol Mercurious.  The first few installments were again drawn by Dillon, with a young David Lloyd assuming art duties on the later chapters.

(There is an excellent interview with Steve Moore concerning his Dalek-Killer stories online at Altered Vistas.  Check it out.)

Moore intended to write additional installments of“Star Tigers.”  But he was then switched over to the main feature in Doctor Who Weekly / Monthly, scripting the adventures of the Fourth Doctor.  Here he was paired with regular artist Dave Gibbons.  In the mid-1980s, Moore’s Doctor Who work was reprinted in color in the American comic book series, which is where I first had the opportunity to read his various stories.

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Moore also contributed numerous stories to the short-lived anthology series Warrior in the mid-1980s.  Among these were the adventures of the psychotic cyborg Axel Pressbutton and his sometimes-partner, the beautiful & deadly Laser Eraser.

Throughout the 1990s Moore worked as a writer and editor at Fortean Times, the British magazine of strange & esoteric phenomena.  He returned to the comic book field in the late 1990s, when he began writing “Tales of Telguth,” a  horror / fantasy anthology feature in 2000 AD with dark twist endings.  This allowed Moore to collaborate with a number of very talented artists such as Simon Davis, Greg Staples, Carl Critchlow, Dean Ormston, and Siku.

In the mid-2000s, Moore once again became associated with Alan Moore, working on several stories for Tom Strong, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales and Tomorrow Stories from the America’s Best Comics imprint.  These were illustrated by an all-star line up that included Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, Alan Weiss, Arthur Adams and Eric Shanower.  In 2008, Steve Moore wrote Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Hercules: The Knives of Kush for Radical Comics.

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At the time of his death, Steve Moore was working with Alan Moore once again, this time on The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, to be released by Top Shelf.  Hopefully Alan will be able to complete the tome and it will see publication.

Steve Moore leaves behind a very impressive, offbeat, original body of work.  His two original characters from the Doctor Who comics, Abslom Daak and Kroton, became fan favorites.  Daak later encountered the Seventh Doctor, both in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and in prose fiction.  Kroton, after many years absence from print, reappeared to travel for a time with the Eighth Doctor.  So please raise a glass (or a chainsword) in his memory.

Doctor Who reviews: The Moonbase

On more than one occasion Colin Baker, who played the sixth incarnation of the Doctor, has observed that if it was not for Patrick Troughton’s portrayal of the Second Doctor, the Doctor Who series as we know it might never have existed.  If Troughton had not been able to sell the audience on the idea that the Doctor could completely change, taking on not just a totally new appearance but an entirely different personality, yet at the same time still be the same character previously played by William Hartnell, then the show would never have lasted half a century.

I believe that Baker is absolutely correct.  Nowadays the concept of regeneration, of a new actor coming in to play the Doctor every few years, is taken for granted by fans of the series.  But back in 1967, if Troughton had not given such a brilliant performance as the new Doctor, and won the audience over, the show probably would have been canceled.

For a number of years Troughton’s crucial contributions to Doctor Who became overlooked due to the fact that the majority of the serials he appeared in were either missing or incomplete.  Fortunately within the last quarter century a number of those previously-lost episodes have been rediscovered, and others have been recreated using the original audio tracks (recorded back in the day by avid fans) combined with brand new animation.  Younger fans now have the opportunity to view stories which have not been seen in decades.

Moonbase DVD

One of the recent DVD releases to feature Troughton’s Doctor is “The Moonbase,” a four episode serial written by Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis broadcast in early 1967.  It is only the fourth story to feature Troughton, and I think that it marks a major turning point in the series.  Episodes two and four have been in the BBC archives for quite a number of years, and I’ve viewed them a few times previously on the Lost In Time DVD set.  With episodes one and three now recreated via animation, it is finally possible to view the story in its entirety, which gives a much better feel for its significance.

It can still be a bit difficult to understand the evolution of the Second Doctor.  However, going by the soundtracks, photographs, surviving footage, and novelizations of his first three stories, it seems that Troughton did take time to find his feet.  Early on his Doctor was very comical, wearing strange hats and assuming oddball disguises.  With “The Moonbase,” Troughton finally settles into the role.  It is here that the Doctor solemnly states his now-iconic mission statement:

“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things that act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.”

From this point on, the Second Doctor is still humorous, but it is more often with the goal of distracting people or making villains underestimate him.

Looking back on my review of the Matt Smith episode “Cold War” last April, I see that I described the Eleventh Doctor as “an oddball with a steely determination beneath the babbling and flippancy.”  That also sums up the Second Doctor very well indeed.  Smith really did find quite a bit of inspiration in Troughton.

So, what is “The Moonbase” about, anyway?  Unexpectedly landing the TARDIS on the Moon in the year 2070, the Doctor and his companions Ben, Polly, and Jamie find that the weather-control center for the Earth is experiencing both a mysterious plague and unexplained technical difficulties.  They soon discover that the Cybermen are behind this crisis, with the goal of seizing the weather-manipulating Graviton and using it to wipe out all life on Earth.

“The Moonbase” is something of a retread of Pedler & Davis’ inaugural Cybermen story, “The Tenth Planet.”  However in most respects this serial is a marked improvement.  Morris Barry’s direction is top notch.  One of his most memorable sequences is the opening of episode four, with an army of Cybermen marching across the surface of the Moon.  The pacing of this story is much stronger.  The characters are better developed.  Unlike the unhinged General Cutler from “The Tenth Planet,” the Graviton’s commander Hobson (the excellent Patrick Barr) may be stern and short-tempered, but in a crisis he knows how to keep his head and rally the staff working under him.  The Cybermen costumes, while they do look rather more robotic, unfortunately betraying much less of the creatures’ organic origins, are better designed and built, at least from the practical aspect of actual actors having to wear them in a hot, cramped studio.  And unlike “The Tenth Planet,” which saw the Doctor unavoidably sidelined for much of the action due to Hartnell’s ill health, in “The Moonbase” the time traveler is front & center in the story.

Moonbase Polly animated

I also found that “The Moonbase” made much better use of the character Polly (Anneke Wills).  Yes, in the first half she is relegated to tending to the injured Jamie in the medical unit and serving coffee.  But in episode three it is Polly who figures out a way to fight the Cybermen, mixing together a cocktail of chemical solvents to spray at their chest units, which destroys their artificial organs, killing them.  When Ben (Michael Craze) attempts to convince Polly to stay in the medical center, arguing that fighting the Cybermen is “men’s work,” she has none of that, and charges into battle with a fire extinguisher full of chemicals.

If “The Tenth Planet” was the first “base under siege” story in Doctor Who, then it was “The Moonbase” that refined the formula.  Heck, the word “base” is actually part of the title, and in episode three Hobson tells his staff that they are “under siege.”  So there you go!  In any case, the basic structure would be repeated throughout Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor.  Even in modern Doctor Who this formula has been effectively utilized from time to time, namely in “The Waters of Mars” and “Cold War.”

A humorous aspect of this story comes out of the scripts having been written before the last minute decision was made to have Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) join the TARDIS crew at the end of “The Highlanders.”  This meant that Pedler & Davis had to write Jaime in at the eleventh hour.  Their solution was to have Jaime suffer a concussion early on in the story, and then spend the next two episodes lying semi-conscious in the medical center. And whenever a Cyberman pops into the room, the delirious Jamie thinks it is the ghostly “Phantom Piper” come to claim his soul!

There are, admittedly, a few faults to “The Moonbase.”  The Doctor supposedly conducts an incredibly thorough investigation in an attempt to find the cause of the plague.  He examines everything: food, water, clothing, boots, hair, and I don’t know what else.  The result is that he comes up completely empty-handed.  Then five minutes later another crew member dramatically keels over after drinking a cup of coffee and the Doctor realizes the Cybermen have poisoned the sugar.  Um, if he tested everything, how did he miss that the first time around?

I’m also trying to figure out what the deal is with the Cyberman who every so often pops out of the closet in the back of the medical center, snatches up a plague-infected crewman, and drags him back inside.  Each time this happens, a few moments later when someone goes to search the closet it’s empty.  Where the heck do the Cyberman and his captive go?  It’s like they vanish into thin air.  Yes, the Cybermen have dug a hole under the lunar surface into the underground storeroom of the base.  But we never find out how they do their disappearing act in the closet.

I’m also not too keen on the notion that the Cybermen are somehow inordinately affected by gravity, forcing them to infect the staff with a virus, take control of their minds, and use them to operate the Graviton.  So, tallying things up, that already gives the Cybermen three major vulnerabilities in just two stories: radiation, chemical solvents, and gravity.  (At least we’re still a couple of decades off from the point where you could kill the Cybermen by bouncing gold coins off their chest units!)

It’s also stated at a few times that all of the Cybermen died nearly a century ago when their home planet Mondas was destroyed, which is why initially Hobson doesn’t believe Polly when she says she’s seen them.  Apparently there was going to be dialogue in episode three where the Cybermen explained they were part of a group that departed from Mondas some years before its destruction.  Supposedly the scene was filmed but was then cut because the episode was overrunning, even though there was other less vital material that could have been edited out instead.  The result is that viewers are never told how the Cybermen survived.  At least Gerry Davis restored that piece of exposition when he novelized “The Moonbase” as Doctor Who and the Cybermen in 1974.

Doctor Who and the Cybermen

Well, aside from a few weaknesses, this is a solid story.  And the DVD extras are of a high quality.  First off, the animation used to recreate the two missing episodes looks fantastic.  I was watching this with Michele, and she was impressed, especially with the lifelike, nuanced animated versions of the characters.  Her specific comment was “Nice facial expressions.”  Troughton did much of his acting with his features, expressions and body language, so it is a lovely detail that the animators were able to restore that aspect of his performance.

There were, regrettably, only a few participants available for the making of feature “Lunar Landing” due to the fact that many of the cast and crew are no longer among the living.  Nevertheless, it is still an informative segment with some revealing information.  All these decades later Anneke Wills possesses very detailed memories of the production.  It was interesting to hear her explain that director Morris Barry, who she describes as “tough” and “highly disciplined,” played a crucial role in getting Troughton to tone down the comedic aspects of his performance and portray “the darker, more serious side of the Doctor.”

“The Moonbase” may not be the best Cybermen story of the 1960s.  I consider their next appearance, “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” to hold that honor.  But, as I’ve said before, I think Pedler & Davis were on a learning curve, and you can see the improvement from one story to the next, with “The Moonbase” improving on “The Tenth Planet,” and then “Tomb of the Cybermen” improving on that.  Certainly “The Moonbase” was a vital step in establishing the characterization of the Second Doctor, as well as setting the stage for many of the now-classic serials that would be produced over the next two and a half years.  And all that, in turn, helped to propel Doctor Who into a long and successful series that still resonates with today’s viewers.

Strange Comic Books: Doctor Who “Junkyard Demon”

As a comic book fan who also loves Doctor Who, in the last few years I’ve been spoilt for choices.   Here in the States, IDW has published a slew of Doctor Who comics featuring both new material and reprinting the British comic strips from the 1980s and 90s (I’m quite sad that their license expired at the end of 2013).  In addition, trade paperbacks from the UK have regularly made their way to comic shops here in North America.

Back in the mid-1980s, circumstances weren’t quite so positive.  If you were lucky, you might find the occasional issue of Doctor Who Magazine, which featured an eight page comic strip, at a comic shop.  I managed to snag three random issues during my youth.  By the time 1990 rolled around, I was finally frequenting a store that was willing to order the Magazine for me each month.  But until that point, the majority of the Doctor Who strips I read were those that Marvel Comics reprinted.

Doctor Who 13 cover

Marvel first began running the strips from Doctor Who Weekly (later Doctor Who Monthly, and then Magazine) in their anthology title Marvel Premiere in four issues that came out in late 1980.  Then, from 1984 to 1986, Marvel had an ongoing Doctor Who comic that lasted 23 issues, continuing the reprints of the British strips.  Dave Gibbons, the artist on many of the comic serials featuring the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, contributed some really great brand-new covers for those US issues.  Long before I picked up a copy of Watchmen, that’s how I discovered his work.

To tell the truth, the Doctor Who comic strips were often very strange.  Unencumbered by the shoestring budget of the television show, the writers & artists created an assortment of strange monsters and bizarre alien worlds.  Beep the Meep, the adorably cute but ruthlessly homicidal extraterrestrial tyrant, certainly epitomizes the weirdness that readers would find in those stories.  Many of the creators who worked on the Doctor Who strip were also regular contributors to the sci-fi anthology title 2000 AD, and they brought along their accompanying satirical, darkly humorous sensibilities.

All that said, one of the most unusual Doctor Who comic book stories is probably “Junkyard Demon,” which originally ran in Doctor Who Monthly #58-59 in 1981, and was reprinted in Doctor Who #13 in 1985.  It was written by Steve Parkhouse, who had become the strip’s writer a few stories earlier, imbuing it with a grim, sardonic atmosphere.  The artwork was by Mike McMahon & Adolfo Buylla, and it was an absolute 180 degrees away from the clean, realistic style of Gibbons.

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The TARDIS is snatched up mid-flight by the immense salvage ship Drifter, which is manned by the eccentric, oddball trio of Flotsam, Jetsam, and Dutch (keep in mind this was three decades before the television episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”).  The robot Dutch tries to open the TARDIS doors with a drill, in the process awakening the Fourth Doctor from his meditation.  Although initially annoyed at having been mistaken for scrap by the strange group, the Doctor quickly remembers that he needs a non-variable oscillator to repair the hot chocolate machine in the TARDIS.  Flotsam starts searching through her scrap for the part, in the process unearthing a Cyberman.  The Doctor understandably reacts in alarm and hurls a wrench at it, before realizing the cyborg is deactivated.  At this point Jetsam informs the Doctor that he’s planning to reprogram it as a mechanical butler!  A relieved Doctor brews up some hot chocolate for himself, Flotsam, and Jetsam.  However, they are then attacked by the Cyberman, which has now awakened.

“Junkyard Demon” is enjoyably offbeat, and I’d rather not give away the rest of Steve Parkhouse’s insanely clever story.  You can read the entire 16 page tale on Mike McMahon’s blog, where it is presented in the original black & white.  My thanks to the talented Simon Frasier (who himself worked on Doctor Who, illustrating the first issue of the Prisoners of Time) for posting a link to this on Facebook last month.

McMahon & Buylla’s artwork on this story is definitely striking.  I’m trying to remember exactly what my nine year old self made of it when I read this back in 1985.  Obviously I immediately noticed how completely different it was from Gibbons’ regular work.  As I recall, even though I thought it was strange, I did like it.  McMahon’s depiction of Tom Baker is, in one respect, a caricature.  Yet at one glance it is immediately identifiable as the Fourth Doctor.  It’s certainly not photo-realistic, but it is a fantastic encapsulation of Baker’s eccentric, bohemian persona.  That’s especially apparent in the intense, wide-eyed gaze McMahon gives the Doctor.

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I also loved the fact that the Cybermen in “Junkyard Demon” are similar to the original version seen in “The Tenth Planet.”  If you look closely, these Cybermen have physical characteristics from both their debut story and their second appearance in “The Moonbase.”  The Cybermen in “The Moonbase” were part of a group who had departed from Mondas a number of years before its destruction.  The ones we see in “Junkyard Demon” can be considered the transitional stage between their “patchwork creature” beginnings (to quote fellow blogger Paul Bowler), and the more functional, streamlined figures in subsequent television stories.  I don’t know if it was Parkhouse or McMahon’s decision to use early-model Cybermen, but it certainly made this story even more distinctive.

McMahon was definitely a good choice to pencil this story.  The US cover drawn in 1985 by Gibbons is perfectly fine, and I certainly do not want to disparage his immense talent.  But looking at McMahon’s depiction of the Cybermen within, they seem much more textured and organic, with a creepy, unsettling quality not present in Gibbons’ somewhat sleeker, robotic rendition.  McMahon brings across the notion of something once human, the product of spare-part surgery.

Actually, given that this whole story is about junk and refuse, a future of used, second-hand technology, McMahon’s style is perfect.  Years later, when I had the opportunity to see his work on various Judge Dredd stories for 2000 AD, I had that same feeling.  In those tales, McMahon definitely succeeded in creating a tangible atmosphere, bringing to life the post-apocalyptic dystopian metropolis of Mega City One.

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“Junkyard Demon” is apparently something of a fan favorite among both readers and creators who later went on to work on the comic strip.  Fifteen years later, writer Alan Barnes and artist Adrian Salmon created a sequel, which appeared in the 1996 Doctor Who YearbookYou can read the eight-page “Junkyard Demon II” on the Cybermantra blog.  I think Barnes and Salmon did a good job capturing the spirit of the original story, while also crafting a tale that also works well on its own.

Doctor Who reviews: The Time of the Doctor

Matt Smith’s four year tenure as the Eleventh Doctor has come to an end with “The Time of the Doctor.”  Not only that, but Steven Moffat has pretty satisfactorily wrapped up the plotlines and answered the major questions set out during that period.  I think this year’s Christmas Special was, all in all, quite good.  Not nearly as impressive as the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special last month, but that was a hell of an act to follow up.

The Doctor, accompanied by Clara (Jenna Coleman) arrives on the spaceship headquarters of the Church of the Papal Mainframe, one of innumerable craft now orbiting a planet from which a mysterious signal is transmitting.  The Doctor and Clara travel down to the planet to investigate it on behalf of the Church.  It is a world of almost eternal night with just one small human settlement, a village named Christmas.  The Doctor discovers the source of the signal in the basement of a house: a mysterious crack in reality, exactly like the ones that he encountered many years before.  Using a scavenged Cyberman head he’s nicknamed “Handles,” the Doctor translates the message: “Doctor Who?”  Suddenly the Doctor realizes exactly where he is.  The planet is Trenzalore, where he is fated to die.

Time of the Doctor

And here all the answers come out.  It transpires that the source of the cracks in time is the Time Lord home world of Gallifrey, which as we saw in “The Day of the Doctor” was saved at the end of the Time War, frozen in a single moment of time and sent off to another reality.  The reason why the question is being broadcast is because if the Doctor answers, the Time Lords will know that they have once again located their home dimension and return.  The Church of the Papal Mainframe and the various other alien races assembled over Trenzalore desperately want to prevent that.  No doubt this is due to the fact that, as seen in “The End of Time,” at the conclusion of the war, faced with defeat at the hands of the Daleks, Rassilon and the High Council of the Time Lords were planning to enact the Final Sanction, wiping out all reality and ascending to a higher plane of existence.

In earlier stories, I’d been really confused about the fact that the religious order known as the Silence had created River Song in order to assassinate the Doctor, but later on she was imprisoned by the Church for apparently succeeding in that task (as we saw in “The Wedding of River Song,” the Doctor faked his death).  In “The Time of the Doctor,” it’s revealed that the Silence were a breakaway faction of the Church of the Papal Mainframe.  The Silence was so fearful of the Doctor ever going to Trenzalore that they were the ones who blew up his TARDIS in “The Big Bang” in an attempt to kill him.  However, not only did that temporarily cause reality to be destroyed, but it also retroactively created the cracks in time in the first place.  And by creating River Song, the Silence inadvertently gave him a friend & ally who helped him stay alive through numerous crises.  As the Doctor explains, the Silence was caught up in a whopping big predestination paradox, causing the very problems they were attempting to prevent.  Yowsa, what a bunch of bunglers!

So now that the Doctor has arrived at Trenzalore, the main chapter of the Church decides that the only way to fix the mess their rogue members created and prevent the Time Lords’ return is to destroy the Christmas settlement and the crack in reality.  Allied with the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, and numerous other alien powers, the Church launches an all-out offensive.  The Doctor decides that it is his responsibility to protect the people of Christmas, and so spends the next several centuries repelling the invading forces.  In the process, after all his long wanderings through time & space, the Doctor finally settles down and adopts a new home. We see him growing older and older, eventually becoming an elderly figure.

The Daleks, not unexpectedly, eventually turn on the Church, transforming nearly all the members aboard their ship into brainwashed Dalek / human hybrids like those seen in “Asylum of the Daleks” (as the First Doctor keenly observed in the novelization of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” written by John Peel, “The Daleks don’t take allies – only victims”).  The Doctor manages to get through to Tasha Lem (Orla Brady), the Mother Superious of the Church, and she is able to overcome her Dalek conditioning.  (Tasha is an interesting, enigmatic character, well played by Bradley, and I would certainly enjoy seeing her return in the future.)  This leads to the Doctor fighting side-by-side with the Church and the Silence against the Dalek onslaught.

Time of the Doctor Tasha Lem

We also find out that the Doctor really has reached the end of his life; he has used up his allotted twelve regenerations.  He may call himself the Eleventh Doctor, but between the existence of the War Doctor, and the Tenth Doctor’s non-regeneration at the beginning of “Journey’s End,” he is actually in his thirteenth and final incarnation.  He fully expects to die on Trenzalore, that the planet will be his final resting place, as seen in the future in “The Name of the Doctor.”  He is only trying to stay alive to keep the town of Christmas safe for as long as he possibly can, before what he believes to be the inevitable happens.  He tells Clara, “Every life that I save is a victory.”

If there is one obvious weakness to “The Time of the Doctor,” it is that the Doctor’s centuries-long stay on Trenzalore requires Clara to bounce back and forth between there and Earth.  Otherwise she would have grown old & died long before the end of the episode.  So first the Doctor tricks her into going back to Earth, but by leaping onto the vanishing TARDIS she is returned to Trenzalore three hundred years later.  Then the Doctor pulls the same trick a second time, but on this occasion she is brought back a few centuries later by Tasha, who does not want the Doctor to die alone.  Clara, with all this coming and going (to quote a line from “The Claws of Axos”) comes across like “a galactic yo-yo.”

Nevertheless, Clara is vital to the final outcome.  Just as she was the one who encouraged the Doctor to find a non-destructive resolution to the Time War, so too does she appeal to the Time Lords’ better nature here, speaking to them through the crack in time, asking them to help him because of all the good he has done.  In response, the crack vanishes from the house and reappears in the sky just long enough to send out the energy needed to grant the Doctor a brand new cycle of regenerations.  The Doctor focuses this energy and uses it to obliterate the Daleks, and then returns to the TARDIS, waiting for the change to complete.

Yeah, perhaps it is a bit sappy, Clara’s appeal for the Time Lords’ sympathy.  But is has been shown over and over that one of the things that makes the Doctor a better person, that helps to prevent him from becoming some kind of lonely, angry god, is humanity.  So it makes sense that where the Doctor failed in his efforts to convince his own people to be a better species, it is a decent, kind human such as Clara who succeeds in guiding them towards the correct decision.

Clara is, I think, one of those characters who, if not played by the right actress, might come across as unbearably witty and sweet and clever.  Indeed, that was my first impression of her a year ago.  Fortunately Coleman quickly slipped into the role, making her an appealing, likable, fun character.  She certainly does good work in this episode.

I really appreciated that the Eleventh Doctor accepted his impending regeneration much better than his previous incarnation.  The Tenth Doctor’s final words were “I don’t want to go,” which I never liked.  In contrast, we have a lovely final scene for the Eleventh Doctor written by Moffat that Smith plays extremely well.  The Eleventh Doctor, while he is sad that he will soon be a very different person, acknowledges:

“We all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives. And that’s ok, that’s good, you gotta keep moving. So long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

And then… exit Matt Smith, enter Peter Capaldi!  The Twelfth Doctor is, of course, quite confused and, after complaining that he doesn’t like the color of his new kidneys, looks at Clara and asks “One question: do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”  My girlfriend laughed, declaring that was a very Doctor-ish question.

Time of the Doctor Twelfth Doctor

So, yes, the pacing of “The Time of the Doctor” was rather uneven, what with the episode taking place over a period of several hundred years.  In spots it did feel drawn out.  And, as I said, the whole back and forth between Earth and Trenzalore with Clara might have been handled in a somewhat smoother manner.

Also, the ending was perhaps something of a deus ex machina, with the Doctor receiving twelve new regenerations and conveniently using the energy from the process to wipe out the Daleks.  However, it has been stated more than once in the past that the Time Lords have the ability to artificially create a new regeneration cycle.  They dangled that promise in front of the Master in “The Five Doctors,” and subsequently did exactly that when they resurrected him to fight in the Time War.  And the victory over the Daleks seen here did seem more believable & natural than the one back in “The Parting of Ways,” with Rose using the heart of the TARDIS to destroy them.

(Truthfully, though, if you look at the history of Doctor Who, going all the way back to the 1960s, in many of their appearances the Daleks have been written as invincible enemies right up until the final episode of each story, at which point some convenient plot device is used to defeat them.)

Anyway, while not a perfect episode, “The Time of the Doctor” was nevertheless a solid, enjoyable farewell for Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor.  And it left me anticipating Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor.  I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays the role, and how the Doctor’s relationship with Clara will evolve.