Monday, 1 April 2013

Doctor Who Classics Omnibus

Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve Moore, Grant Morrison & others
Doctor Who Classics Omnibus volume one (2010)

Perhaps inevitably, I was once quite the fan of Doctor Who, right up until its 2005 reinvention which, for me at least, missed all the major points of what had made the series so enjoyable in the first place; and then I found my disappointment somewhat polarised by the repellent fervour with which so many embraced the revival, a fervour which often seems indistinguishable from bullying from where I stand, and bullying offered in support of opinion presented as doctrine, received wisdom reiterated as fact.

The wonderful thing about Doctor Who is that it can allow for the telling of almost any kind of story.

That's just one example; and it might work if accounting for novels like Campaign or The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, but these are usually some way off the radar of those for whom Doctor Who is beyond criticism. I have no idea who first said those words, and I'm amazed they can be restated year after year without anyone actually pausing to ask themselves what is actually meant, whether it might be true, or whether it's just another flavourless lump of hyperbole wheeled out because it sounds vaguely more authoritative than the one about my dad being bigger than your dad. What it appears to mean, so far as I am able to tell, is that being as the Doctor can go anywhere in time and space, the settings may vary a great deal without stretching credibility too thin, additionally allowing for some liberties to be taken with the narrative. You could probably say much the same of Star Trek, not that it would necessarily be any more true as a statement. Stories set in fictional environments or from the viewpoint of a minor character are not necessarily indicative of wild narrative anarchy, and certainly not when every last one boils down to the magic Doctor Who telly man having adventures in his TARDIS whilst occasionally reminding us to be nice to those who are a little bit different. Maybe I'm wrong, and Doctor Who really does allow for the telling of almost any kind of story, in which case I assume I must have missed the equivalents to Finnegans Wake, Rendezvous with Rama, Heart of Aztlán, Lady Chatterley's Lover or all those other Doctor Who stories which didn't frame everything in relation to a time traveller having adventures whilst human companions are captured and find themselves having to ask what's happening, Doctor?

So the wonderful thing about Doctor Who is more likely that it can allow for the telling of almost any kind of story, excepting stories of which any aspect is of greater importance than the main character, which actually leaves quite a lot that Doctor Who can't do without looking ridiculous.

Anyway, that's just one aspect. My point - quite aside from Doctor Who merely being a television serial from which a mighty ocean of merchandising has sprung forth, just as Softly Softly and On the Buses were merely television serials - nothing was ever the better for being taken more seriously than it deserved.

Nostalgia guided the hand that picked this from a pile of cheapies in a branch of Borders just before the retail chain imploded, specifically the nostalgia of having read about half of the strips collected herein when they first appeared in Doctor Who Weekly back in the early 1980s. The Iron Legion, The Star Beast, City of the Damned and others - they were great at the time, just as you might expect from 2000AD regulars like Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons, but returning to these now that I'm fat and in my forties, it's difficult to get beyond their being written for a slightly younger audience than at least those early 2000AD strips which have generally stood the test of time. The ideas are nice enough for all the predominance of primary narrative colours, and Dave Gibbons' artwork is beautiful, but it's the kind of shorthand storytelling wherein panels are captioned so as to describe what is quite clearly seen to be happening without any real need for such descriptions. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just that I'm a fully grown man and it no longer works for me, not least because the mere presence of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as etc. etc. does not in itself hold my interest. The thing is, as children's comics go, there are plenty which retain some appeal in later years mainly through having refrained from too much talking down to their readers - Asterix the Gaul, Dan Dare, at least some of what 2000AD published - besides which these strips read sadly like ham-fisted promotional material such as you might find printed on the wrapper of an ice lolly. Neither content, vintage nor the presence of a Doctor Who logo is really enough to justify describing these stories as classic, although I've no doubt there are many people out there prepared to wage dreary online wars in their defence. There may even be one or two reading this review, getting ready to fulminate, having never before taken any interest in either Pamphlets of Destiny or the novels I've written about herein, but this is Doctor Who we're talking about and it must therefore be debated with all due reverence, which I really feel proves my point about things being taken more seriously than they deserve.

Of course, it could be argued that this is also what I have myself done when I could just have said Doctor Who Classics Omnibus is all right if you're about ten, but even then you'd be better off with some Judge Dredd or whatever.

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