THE STORIES FEATURING
MARTHA JONES TAKE
PLACE between THE
NOVELLA "Made of
Steel" and THE NOVEL
"Wooden Heart", AND
ARE CONCURRENT WITH
THOSE FEATURED IN
THE 2008 STORYBOOK
(INDEED, "Sun Screen"
APPEARS IN BOTH).
& IAN EDGINTON
& DAVID ROACH
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ISBN 1-
IN OCTOBER 2009.
NOVEL FEATURING THE
THE PAGES OF DOCTOR
“It’s a funny thing, but once Rose departed the pages of DWM, the strip began to retain a certain feel we’d lost a bit with the Eighth Doctor’s departure. A kind of weird, mad, odd loveliness...”
So says Clayton Hickman in the introduction to this graphic novel collection’s expansive commentary. He is, of course, right on the money. The strips within this volume are among the best since Doctor Who Magazine took on the trappings of the new series, and there is certainly a feel of the classic comic strip to many of them. The Widow’s Curse collects the strips from issues 381 to 399 (bar issue 394, which, for a good reason, will surface in the following volume), and covers the entire DWM comic run of companions Martha and Donna. Although, be forewarned, the two never meet, in spite what the cover may imply. Donna in particular gets a very short run in this book, which also includes the strips from Storybooks 2008 and 2009; however, although a short stint it may be, it is also a fine and memorable one.
Events kick off with The Woman Who Sold the World, which, I confess, didn’t appeal to
me all that much on first reading. It’s four parts long, it’s odd, it’s strangely old-fashioned,
and I was quite wrong about it. Read altogether here, the disparate plot threads and sheer weirdness come together to produce a story with real creativity and verve. Martha’s first appearance in the strip, TWWStW, as we like to abbreviate it, involves the strange goings on the planet Loam, a world that is under attack from gigantic robots called the High Goliax. It’s a world of brass automata and winged chariots, a world ruled by a Lady Prime Minister and her wife, known here only by their affectionate nicknames for each other, Sweetleaf
and Sugarpea. It’s a peculiar world that the Doctor and Martha find themselves in, to be
sure. Mystery upon mystery arises, as the travellers first find themselves within a child’s playroom, which turns out to be the inside of one of the great robotic Goliax; from then, Martha finds herself drawn into the ruling couple’s strange life, while the Doctor is spirited across the universe to a vast, pyramidal space bank, run by the obnoxious Kingfish (that’s his name - he’s not a fish, although even that wouldn’t have surprised me by this stage).
And I haven’t even mentioned the organic, singing computer network, or the Dr Strange cameo (yes, I spotted him, and Thor)... Writer Rob Davis, artist Mike Collins and inker
David Roach create quite an experience. You’ll have to read it to really appreciate what I mean.
Bus Stop! by the same author, is quite different, a silly, clever bit of fun. The Doctor foils a complex time-travelling scheme from the seat of a bus, with the story experienced though
the eyes of a long-suffering everyday Joe - if only the weirdos would stop sitting next to him! It’s funny, in both senses of the word, and very enjoyable. Artist John Ross usually draws for DWM’s kiddie counterpart, Doctor Who Adventures, which is hardly the pinnacle of sophi-stication, but undeniably fun, and his cartoony style fits the piece perfectly.
The First is a story in classic ‘pseudo-historical’ mode, with the Doctor and Martha meeting another famous face from history - this time Ernest Shackleton, the legendary polar explorer. So, we’re in the Antarctic, with Martha wrapped up in an atmospheric density jacket (haven’t seen one of those since Vortis). The Doctor almost meets his match in the arrogant, powe-rful, brilliant Shackleton, who is obsessed with being the first to cross Antarctica. However, the threat here isn’t from Shackleton, but from the Skith, a race of extraterrestrial enemies. These spiky, icy characters have a similar mindset as Shackleton. They live to explore the Universe, and insist on being the first to visit any new world... the problem is, they destroy any world that they come across, either to stop others exploring it, or out of sheer spite for not being the first. A bit petty, but they make for literally chilling villains, capable of infecting others with their own icy presence. The Doctor and Martha get some fine, heroic moments
in this four-parter, the first strip from Dan McDaid. We’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the next volume. What’s more, Martin Geraghty, chief artist during the eighth Doctor era, returns here, and he draws a very fine Martha. Not to mention a good giant ice-whale-jellyfish thing.
Sun Screen, by Jonathan Morris, comes to us from the pages of Storybook 2008. As such, I’ve already reviewed it, so as not to cover my past ramblings in too much detail, I’ll just say that it’s good fun - solid if unremarkable, and that Geraghty and Roach provide excellent artwork, especially with the creepy Silhouettes, the monsters of the piece. If anything, I feel that the original pitch, a grimmer, dirtier affair, might have worked better.
Morris provides another one-shot in Death to the Doctor,
a frankly brilliant bit of daftness, perfectly complimented by
Roger Langridge’s characteristically quirky artwork. The
premise: a bunch of rubbish monsters, who we’ve never
seen before, gather together to plot the final destruction of
their nemesis, the Doctor, only to end up killing each other
off in a variety of darkly humorous ways. It’s hilarious, from
the Mentor (the naff Master knock-off) to Questor (the Hart-
nell era baddie who only appears in black and white, and speaks with a bad Irish accent). Maybe the bit that made
me chuckle the most was the death of the terrible Kraarn,
who ends up fried on the floor with his arse sticking out.
Plus, we get ‘clips’ of past Doctors fighting the various
misfits - the glimpse of Izzy made this comics fan dispro-
portionately happy. It’s just a shame that the funniest line,
revealed in the commentary, got cut out.
Universal Monsters, by Ian Edginton, is a bit of a misfire. Not bad, just not great. The idea
is sound - inverting the Universal / Hammer cliché by making the vampiric overlord a benign scientist, and his Igor-like henchman an erudite gentleman, while the besieged villagers turn out to be a parade of monsters... all well and good. Somehow, for me, the story just doesn’t quite work. It’s a bit overlong, not quite able to fill it’s three instalments satisfactorily, and the Doctor, through sheer pigheadedness and an inability to listen, almost destroys the entire society. Sure, he makes good in the end, but still. Be more careful, Doctor. Adrian Salmon’s artwork doesn’t help. As I’ve said before, I like his spiky, simplified style, but over a whole strip, it can become wearing. An average story in an above-average volume.
That’s it for Martha in the strips, as Donna comes storming
in for the title story, The Widow’s Curse. This is something rather special, as we get the first return of a new series
monster in DWM - the Sycorax! Only this time, we meet the
female of the species, and the old saying is right. They’re
out for revenge on those who killed their husbands, and
will make the human race, and the Doctor in particular,
pay. While it’s possible to sympathise for the Haxan Craw, the leader of the females, whose husband was killed on Christmas Day by the Doctor, she’s certainly on the desp-icable side of evil. And, after all, those Sycorax chaps were here to enslave humanity on pain of death. There are some brilliant moments - my personal favourite being the Sycorax viewing the black box recording of the chief’s battle with the Doctor, while Donna watches, incredulous. “But who isss that?” cries the Craw. “Oh. My. God.” replies Donna.
Donna comes across very strongly here; perhaps too strongly. I’m not sure that she’d be quite so gung-ho without the Doctor by her side. Beside this, she’s very well characterised by Rob Davis, and supplying her with her own companion figure in the form of young Norah is a nice touch. In fact, the supporting cast of characters is one of this story’s strongest points. There is also some good humour - a lot of it good-natured jibes at wanky traveller types like me, as this story takes place on an impossible island in the Caribbean, with a contingent of tourists. The Doctor is also spot on - and even implies at one point that he
was sent to Guantanamo Bay. The Sycorax plan involves transforming all of humanity into
a race of living dead, cursing them to eternal suffering - surely marking them out as one of the most cruelly evil bunch of villains in the strip’s history. The images of rows of zombies planted in the ground is chilling. Another triumph from Geraghty and Roach.
Next is another strip from the Storybooks, this time 2009’s Immortal Emperor. It’s a fun piece by Morris, with great, stylistic artwork by Rob Davis - one wonders why he doesn’t provide art for his own strips. I do particularly like the concept of a man transforming into
an ancient oriental dragon - so much so, in fact, that I’ve subconsciously nicked it for one
of my own stories. Apologies for all involved, but, you know, you steal from the best.
The final story is another one-shot from Morris,
the very wonderful Time of My Life. This brief
joy is the the highlight of the volume. It’s quite
simple in approach, but complex in execution.
What we get is a sequence of brief glimpses
into adventures with the Doctor and Donna - the courtship of the Zyglots from the old 1980s
strips, an invasion by sapient dogs, a mission to the bowels of a living swamp, an encounter
with a robotic Miss Haversham, a gig with the Beatles, an attack by gothic vampires, a time-
addled battle in ancient Russia, a surreal trip inside Donna’s psyche... all beautifully brought
to life by Rob Davis. His artwork is stunning here, with each segment of the story given its
own framing device, providing a distinctive visual experience. This is a comic strip after all,
and, no matter how good the story is, if the art’s not up to scratch, the whole thing can fall
apart. Thankfully, both writing and artwork are on top form here. The final frame, in which
Donna, now lost to the Doctor, speaks to him via the appropriated Emergency Programme
One hologram, is just beautiful.
Once again, we also get a fascinating commentary from the editors, writers and artists. It’s
a particularly interesting one, full of disagreements, tales of unworkable submissions and
lost storylines. I for one would’ve loved to have seen the story where the tenth Doctor meets up with the eighth Doctor and Destrii. But we didn’t get that. We got The Woman Who Sold the World, Death to the Doctor and The Widow’s Curse, and above all the heartbreaking goodbye of The Time of My Life. Excellent.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
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