“I think a few million years of evil and bloodshed are well worth the ultimate salvation of sentient life, don’t you?”
Originally I hadn’t intended to review comics on this blog for one simple reason: There’s too many of them. Within the Doctor Who Media Empire we have television, audio drama, novels, comics and each month adds two or more new stories to the mix. One would need a small fortune to keep up with just one medium let alone all of them. And yet, the longevity of Doctor Who is quite fascinating. It is the only television show that I can think of that has the scope of a comic book. In his introduction to Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore makes this fascinating observation about horror comics that I believe also applies to Doctor Who: “Anyone picking up a comic book for the first time is almost certain to find themselves in the middle of a continuum that may have commenced before the reader’s birth, and will quite possibly continue long after his or her demise.” This is certainly true of Doctor Who, as the majority of viewers had not been born at the time of An Unearthly Child and as the show is rapidly approaching its 50th anniversary, there have been deaths of original cast members as well as original fans. To be able to collect all the stories is a mammoth task, one that I neither have the time or money to devote to it.
The second reason is that so many of the Doctor Who comics I’ve read haven’t been very interesting. I do understand that the comic tradition in Britain has evolved in a slightly different way to that of America, but in my defense, many of my favorite comic writers are British. Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins are all British and all great comic writers in their own unique ways. In fact, the first three on this list have actually done more to shape the modern American comic than many American writers. What would comics be like without Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or indeed anything by Alan Moore? But the Doctor Who comics I have read seem less interesting than some of its superhero counterparts. However, I fully admit that I am biased. Right now, I feel that DC Comics is going through what may be a mini-golden age with Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison doing amazing work on two major DC titles. Grant Morrison in particular is shaping and redefining Batman, and while it hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, it has been groundbreaking, original, and (in my opinion) brilliant. How could I resist tracking down IDW’s republication of Grant Morrison’s comics for Doctor Who. I say “tracking down”. What I really mean is that I came across the reprints in a comic shop I decided to drop in to on the spur of the moment while on vacation in California. There was no intentional pursuit, but I was more than happy to passively acquire them. The stories were originally published in the 1980s, and since one story involves the return to Marinus, and I have just finished reviewing The Keys of Marinus, I decided this would be a good intermission.
First, what do I like about Grant Morrison? Morrison has this amazing ability to deconstruct characters in established universes to their core characteristics, then redefine the world around them. In New X-Men, Magneto was always about the superiority of mutants over homo-sapiens. Morrison introduced the idea of Magneto losing his powers as he grew older. How would he react when everything he felt made him superior was gone? Morrison introduced the idea of narcotics that gave the user mutant powers or heightened already existing powers. Thus, Magneto would start taking these drugs and even become addicted to them.
In addition to the deconstruction of characters, Morrison doesn’t like to maintain the status quo. In New X-Men he introduced the idea of another race evolving that would take the place of mutants. He created the social phenomenon of people wanting to be like mutants as a “scene”, not unlike a goth, emo, or vampire scene. In his work on Batman, Morrison has introduced a new Robin who is actually Bruce Wayne’s son. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now the Batman of Gotham City, and the concept of Batman is now being franchised under the guidance of Bruce Wayne. Essentially, Batman is going global and is now a crime-fighting corporation. The cultural and political ramifications of this new paradigm for The Dark Knight are staggering and I’m sure Morrison will explore these in due time. But while Morrison moves the material into new and unpredictable directions, he never fully abandons the past. Bruce’s son Damien is the result of a night shared by Bruce and Talia al Ghul in a comic from the ‘80s. In this issue, Bruce Wayne was drugged and manipulated by Ra’s al Ghul who saw Bruce Wayne as his natural heir. Batman also feared a master criminal who was manipulating Bruce Wayne’s life from behind the scenes and this actually traced back to a comic where Batman underwent a psychological experiment where he attempted to understand The Joker. The doctor who ran the experiment used his findings to attack Batman all these years later. Morrison even found a way to work in appearances by Bat-Mite and The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, characters who go as far back as the 1950s. He weaves these unlikely characters into a mythology where they shouldn’t exist, and he does so in a very believable way, largely positing that The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh isn’t a Batman from another planet but a second personality for Batman should his original personality be compromised due to psychological manipulation or breakdown. It is a back-up personality.
These are the things I love about Grant Morrison’s writing, the grasp of character while still deconstructing said character to the core, the redefinition of the mythology of the work he is writing, and the complete love of the continuity of the story and finding ways to reincorporate it from different perspectives. Even though the stories cited above were written in 2000 or later, my question is would these elements be present in Doctor Who: The World Shapers, a story written early in Grant Morrison’s career. The answer is yes. While the above elements aren’t as refined, they are still present in some minor ways.
The World Shapers stars The Sixth Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher. They answer a distress call on the planet Marinus, which The Doctor claims to be a water planet. While this claim is never made in The Keys of Marinus, one can certainly see why Morrison would go this route: The first episode takes place on an island surrounded by an acid ocean, the Voord wear wet-suits, adhering to the Terry Nation Naming Convention, Marinus would be a
perfectly logical name for a water world. The Doctor finds a Time Lord who is dying. He has exhausted all his regenerations and his body decomposes. The Doctor is shocked at the speed of this procedure, saying that it usually takes much longer. The travelers find the dead Time Lord’s TARDIS and discover that he was investigating violent temporal disturbances. Indeed, Frobisher has begun molting very badly and Peri’s hair and fingernails are rapidly growing. Time has been sped up. The only clue The Doctor has is the dying words of The Time Lord, “Planet 14.” The last time The Doctor had heard reference to Planet 14 was in his second incarnation but The Doctor can‘t remember anything about the place. So, The Doctor and his companions leave Marinus, which is dangerous anyway due to the temporal disturbances, and go in search of Jamie McCrimmon who traveled with The Second Doctor.
At the end of The Second Doctor’s era, The Time Lords erased Jamie’s memory of traveling with The Doctor. It seems this mind wipe wasn’t nearly as successful as The Time Lords hoped. Jamie remembers everything, but when questioned by The Doctor he has no memory of a Planet 14. The only thing Jamie can recall is hearing a Cyberman mention Planet 14 when they attempted to invade Earth. The Doctor reasons that if The Cybermen are involved then the situation must be dire. The Doctor determines to return to Marinus. Jamie begs to accompany him. Ever since he had returned to Scotland he has been an outcast. His life has been miserable. The Doctor graciously accepts his friend’s return. They arrive on Marinus one week after they had left it and find a planet devoid of water and populated by half-Voord/half-Cyber men.
In the end, The Doctor discovers that the temporal disturbances are being caused by a machine called a World Shaper. These machines were designed to cause rapid environmental change to uninhabited planets to make them more hospitable. The one on Marinus had malfunctioned and since Marinus wasn’t uninhabited, The Voord began to
evolve rapidly. They became The Cybermen. The Doctor and Jamie confront The Cybermen and Jamie sacrifices his life to destroy The World Shaper and thus inhibit the rapid evolution of The Cybermen. The Doctor sees his chance to alter the progression of The Cybermen, to prevent them from causing the violence and bloodshed they will be responsible for in the future. Two Time Lords then appear to stop him. The Doctor, enraged leaves Marinus, which is now the planet Mondas, homeworld of The Cybermen. The Time Lords watch The Doctor leave, lamenting his youth and naiveté. The timeline must be preserved because one day in the far future The Cybermen will complete their evolutionary cycle and become beings of pure thought. With this final evolution comes a complete embrace of peace, which they use to guide the universe into a new era. The End.
I’m sure you can already begin to see a few of Grant Morrison’s hallmarks. Doctor Who continuity is everywhere in this comic, from the return to Marinus and the return of Jamie, to the development of a throwaway line referring to Planet 14. Morrison provides an origin for The Cybermen, something that hadn’t been done at the time this comic was written. (An origin of the Cybermen was written many years later, and it bears no resemblance to this story. That doesn’t mean the new story is bad, just different.) Morrison even does something interesting with The Time Lords, making them more powerful and god-like than the characters we typically see on Doctor Who. This really pushes the concept of Time Lords, quite possibly bringing more in line with how the original writers of Doctor Who saw them. In the early years of the show, The Time Lords were a mysterious force and hardly ever seen. Then, in the 1970s, Robert Holmes wrote a story in which we finally see Time Lord Society and they took on more of an appearance and characterization of bureaucrats. In The World Changers, Morrison almost presents The Time Lords as a type of galactic Men in Black who protect the Time Line because they can see the ultimate end of many races. They know where time is going and the present (or past) of any race is irrelevant to the ultimate good. They are a bit Machiavellian in that the end truly does justify the means. Who cares if The Cybermen have killed millions when one day they will lead trillions in an era of peace? This isn’t too far out of line with how The Time Lords are portrayed in Genesis of The Daleks when The Doctor is sent on a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks because The Time Lords discover there will be no good to ever come from their existence. In fact the epilogue of The World Changers is almost a mirror of that prologue. It wouldn’t surprise me if Morrison had that firmly in mind.
The story isn’t without its flaws. The art is a bit rougher than some styles I’ve seen. Peri and Frobisher are sidelined most of the time after Jamie joins the crew. The connection between The Voord and The Cybermen is a bit weak and may be a bit of a joke: the Voord costume was a wet suit, the original Cybermen costume was also a wet suit. While the connection is amusing and even creative, I’m not sure this really makes for an epic origin story. The Doctor isn’t quite the same in this story as how he was portrayed on screen (this may actually be an improvement). But even with these quibbles, the story is very creative and I love the portrayal of The Time Lords. The story is imaginative and certainly expresses a love for the history of the show. Really, who would deliberately make a reference back to The Keys of Marinus but someone who had a great passion for the show. Well, perhaps someone who hadn’t seen it. Regardless, I thought it was a fascinating story and certainly a fun way to see how one of my favorite writers intersected with one of my favorite series. I would welcome a return of Grant Morrison to Doctor Who in whichever medium he wished.