THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
"SHADOWS OF THE VASHA NARADA" AND THE TV EPISODE "THE LODGER."
OFFICIAL BBC HARDBACK
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER 2010.
Station 7 is where the Earth Forces send the equipment captured in their unceasing war against the Daleks.
It’s where technology is analysed. where the Doctor and Amy have just arrived.
somehow the Daleks
have found out about
Station 7, and there’s
something there that
they want back.
the commander of THE Station knows he has only one desperate defence. Because the last terrible secret
of Station 7 is that they don’t only store Dalek technology. It’s also a prison. And the only thing that might stop a Dalek is...
The Only Good Dalek is the first original graphic novel, as opposed to a trade collected edition, to be published bearing the Doctor Who logo since Colin Baker’s The Age of Chaos back in 1994. As such, it marks a new step for BBC Books; a chance to begin a whole new range of graphic novels that could run alongside the current run of prose novels. However, even given the slightly different format, The Only Good Dalek is still a comic strip, and there are an awful lot of other comics in the market these days, both Doctor Who-related and otherwise. In such an environment, this really needs something new about it in order to stand out.
So it’s a very peculiar choice of story - an enjoyable, yet highly derivative work that has ‘standard Doctor Who fare’ written all over it. It doesn’t even look any different to the strips already out there. Mike Collins is one of the current regular contributing artists to Doctor Who Magazine, and as such this volume doesn’t stand out against that publication in the slightest. I doubt many people picking it up realise that it’s being produced by different publishers. On the one hand, I can see the wisdom of sticking with tried-and-trusted writers and artists. Justin Richards and Mike Collins are old hands, and you know exactly what you’re going to get from them. They’re a safe bet, unlikely to alienate any potential new readers with weird visuals or esoteric storylines. Yet this is also the strip book’s greatest weakness, and there is nothing remotely surprising or new about this story.
It kicks off with the Doctor and Amy apparently arriving in the petrified forest of Skaro, an unashamed slice of the Hartnell-era grafted into the Matt Smith series. It’s even presented in virtual monochrome. Charming though this is, in a fan-pleasing way, with its magnatons, Varga plants and Slyther, it immediately sets out the tone for this story - cribbing from earlier stories for an attempted Daleks’ greatest hits approach. And, the faux-Skaroene landscape - lifted from the ruins of the planet and embedded in the secret Space Station 7 - is distinctly unimpressive when compared to the majestic Skaro that we only recently saw in the opening instalment of the Doctor Who Adventure Games, City of the Daleks, and that time we didn’t even get to go outdoors.
Before long, there are Ogrons, Robomen and sundry other nods and winks to classic-era Dalek serials. Richards channels the ghost of Terry Nation and the spirit of Eric Saward, presenting us with grizzled space veterans and Dalek agents, gun battles, explosions and exterminations, and someone called Tarrant. It’s a shame, really, that the storyline is so standard in its telling. There’s nothing wrong with the odd bit of macho space-battling, and this is all perfectly enjoyable in an undemanding way, but there are some interesting ideas here that could have been developed further. The central crux of the story, a genetically-modified Dalek mutant that has had all its aggressive impulses removed, could have been exploited to provide some genuinely interesting scenarios. Frustratingly, the Doctor, who sticks to his guns by insisting that there’s “no such thing as a good Dalek,” never has to face the prospect of a genuinely harmless Dalek creature. There’s a great moral dilemma here that’s completely skirted over.
There’s an entire plot thread regarding attempts to mechanically neuter Dalek drones and turn them into weapons for fighting their brethren, but immediately we can tell they’re faking it, because we’ve seen it all before. Readers unfamiliar with The Power of the Daleks will nonetheless remember this year’s episode Victory of the Daleks, and will be expecting them to switch sides at the opportune moment. Amy even references that episode herself! Things improve around the half-way point, when our heroes are stranded on a planet of ice and magma, and a steam-powered cyborg scientist and his army of hairy henchmen are introduced. This is at least something a little more original, at least for a Dalek story, and leads to an enjoyable Daleks versus snowbeasts battle. There are a couple of character twists in the later stages that amp up the jeopardy for the regulars, and events lead to a pretty satisfying conclusion.
However, though the storyline is functional and derivative, it is unarguably good fun. What really lets this volume down is the artwork. Collins’ work is bog-standard in some cases, astonishingly scrappy in others. The impact of many of the battle scenes is lost amidst the scribbling, and certain panels are so small and cramped that it becomes virtually impo-sible to tell what’s happening. The colour work doesn’t help, being quite unsympathetic to the line work, even though it apparently took five people to do. A real problem point is the depiction of the regulars, who rarely look anything like either Matt Smith or Karen Gillan. Occasional close-up shots manage to do them justice - would it be terribly cynical to suggest that these have the essence of a reference photo to them? And, although there’s probably no way around this, it is strangely anachronistic seeing the primary-coloured new Daleks inhabiting the 1960s and 1970s Who backdrops. I can’t help but feeling that having Daleks more closely based on the originals would work much better, but then, that probably wouldn’t sell as many toys.
What a release like this needed was someone willing to take a chance, to hire an author and artist who could bring something new and challenging to an already flooded market. IDW have experimented with artists new to Who; true, it has been to mixed success, but at least their comics stand out and demand a browser’s attention. The overwhelming sense with this volume is that of a missed opportunity.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Amongst this last Christmas Day’s stocking fillers was a copy of what could be considered the first Doctor Who graphic novel, and what is definitely my first Doctor Who comic book – The Only Good Dalek by Justin Richards and Mike Collins. Wrapped in a suitably colourful and glossy dust jacket, this slim black hardback with gold lettering couldn’t have been any more appealing to the eye from the outside, and for the first time ever for me, I can safely say the same about a book’s inside too.
Originally having started life as the tenth Doctor’s Dalek Project, Justin Richards’ story has patently been written to look good, rather than to read well, and look good it does. Doctor Who stalwart Mike Collins delivers some stunning renderings of the novel’s set pieces, some of which span more than a page, never mind a single panel. Generally speaking I’m ambivalent about the “New Dalek Paradigm”, but I must admit that in this medium, the chunky and colourful new Dalek race looks extraordinary, and it’s great to see Richards carving up the ranks and having the blue strateg-ists scheming and the red warrior drones swarming around the story’s focal space station - some of this novel’s panels read like a rendering of The Parting of the Ways on acid. I don’t think I’ll ever be as keen on any Dalek design as I was the battle-worn bronze of 2005-2009, but in the world of pencils and ink they wouldn’t have looked half as striking as they do in resplendent red, blue and orange.
However, even as a newcomer to the world of Doctor Who comics, I can see that Collins has hardly covered himself in glory when it comes to his depictions of the Doctor and Amy. I realise that graphic novels are an art, and photo-realism isn’t the name of the game, but even so Collins’ romantic, dashing portrayal of Eleven and the wantonly befreckled Amy Pond fail to evoke their live action counterparts; indeed, we have the most peculiar of Doctors looking, for the most part, like a handsome action hero. This is offset to a certain degree by the odd close-up panel and Richards’ perfectly-pitched dialogue, but this still doesn’t quite redress the balance.
The narrative itself is more of a ‘Best of the Best of the Daleks’ than it is even a ‘Best of the Daleks.’ Varga plants; Slythers; Bret Vyon and Sara Kindgom; Robomen; even marauding Og-rons - Richards draws upon in-numerable Dalek stories here (even Pond muses about Daleks “pretending to be good” again), cherry-picking whatever he thinks will look good on the page and shoe-horning it into a loose-fitting plot about a scientist trying to create a Dalek who’s not only free of his genetic conditioning, but actively reveres all life. Anything of weight or consequence is glossed over in favour of colour and spectacle, and Richards’ characterisation in particular is lacking his usually deft touch.
But here’s the thing - I loved every single second of it. Having spent 2010 labouring through some of Doctor Who literature’s most opaque tomes, I tore through The Only Good Dalek in about as long as it would take me to watch an episode on television, not pausing to let a single critical thought breathe until I’d finished. I can now see why the Daleks’ 1960s comic outings are so revered, and what’s more, if this is how much I enjoyed a Doctor Who strip that our resident comic book guy labels a “missed opportunity”, then it certainly bodes well for those that he champions.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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