Sunday, 14 March 2010

Do You Suffer From Long Term Memory Loss? I Can't Remember - Doctor Who: The Forgotten by Tony Lee, Pia Guerra and others

I've really no bloody idea how to review graphic novels - trying to disentangle who's responsible for what is largely nightmarish. You can probably say the writer's responsible for the speech and words and probably the story, but how much of the artwork's success lies in the script, and how much in the artist's interpretation? How much is in the inking and the colouring? If you know the author personally, or read chunkloads of their work you might have an idea, but it's tough. Which is primarily why I've been reading a load of them but not reviewing them, because I'm unsure of attribution and always end up giving up halfway through. Mind you, how do you know if an editor, writer, or even a mate of the writer suggested that moment you *really* like in a story (as demonstrated fairly often in the Ben Cook/Russell T Davies The Writer's Tale opus). Anyway, enough about that, plunge taking time...

I hadn't actually read any of IDW's Doctor Who comic up til last month. In the crowded world of Doctor Who publishing something had to go by the wayside, and the comic strips were the path of least resistance. Time constraints mean I'd even got way behind on the DWM strip, and that's an automatic monthly purchase (has been since 1983 with the exception of nine or ten months around 1987-88). But then at the recent Gallifrey One convention I wandered over to their table. I'd have bought their Iron Legion recolouring on the spot (it's stunning, the new colouring work's so beautiful, detailed and sympathetic to the original artwork I was a whisker away from purchasing it) but for owning it four times over already. As officer and gentlemanly type Tony Lee was a guest, and had been convivial company in the bar I went for his sort of ten Doctor epic instead. Obviously vindication that being pleasant company wins sales.

If it didn't sell this short I'd call this a fanwank dream. Over the series it has a mini-story for each of the nine previous Doctors, as well as a satisfying main story for the Tenth Doctor, no mean feat to squeeze into six issues worth of story. It looks intended as a crash course in Who history for newbie fans who might only have started following the series (and hence the comic) during the Russell T Davies era, maybe even those who only know the Tennant incarnation. It's a daunting challenge, but that Lee (and Guerra) succeed in wrangling a coherent tale out of it is a herculean storytelling feat in itself - even the most experienced Who writer of all, Terrance Dicks, had blown it with a mere eight. Where Lee follows Dicks is in largely confining the Doctors to their own tales, eminently sensible as ten main characters would be a headache in any story. The medium he's telling the story one in requires a degree of visual storytelling however, so at some point the reader of the comic's going to demand a panel with all ten Doctors in at some point. And it happens, and in an impressively uncontrived manner too. This does lead to the intra-Doctor banter you'd want, which does occasionally strain the limits of storytelling credibility, but the dialogue's witty enough for Lee to get away with it and walk off, if he chooses, grinning massively. It helps that he's got a good ear for the way the characters actually talk

I can't quite make my mind up about Pia Guera's artwork, without going for likenesses she manages to make the characters recognisable as who they're supposed to be (not always a given in the history of comic book Who!) but it's simply that her style doesn't appeal to me particularly - that's entirely a personal thing, and as I've never particularly analysed why certain artists are more pleasing to my eye than others I can't particularly tell you why. I did, however, adore Ben Templesmith's cover for the trade paperback, deceptively simple and stylish.

I should, before I forget, mention that I adored the central concept of the Doctor waking up in a museum dedicated to him, even if it's not quite what it seems. Actually I can forgive the mind parasite thing for the witty and self aware cliffhanger resolution at the beginning of what was issue six, which stretches the joke it's playing to the limit before tapdancing off laughing.

I rather suspect I'd have thoroughly enjoyed this as a Who newbie, but I've been hardcore for over thirty years now, so there was an element of 'seen this sort of thing before'. Even for a grizzled vet of the 'JNT MUST DIE!' years, it still had enough fun, wit and ideas to make it a fun ride. Not essential, but a fabulous place to start for anyone looking for a fast, fun crash course in Who history .

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