Doctor Who: The Highgate Horror by Mark Wright, Jonathan Morris, Steve Lyons, Roger Langridge, Scott Gray, etc. (graphic novel review)
This latest collection of strips culled from recent issues of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ perhaps shows just how difficult to get a handle on the character of the twelfth Doctor. The darkness at the heart of Peter Capaldi’s version of the Time Lord, as well as the occasional lightness of touch, is a balance that many find hard to achieve.
First up is ‘Space Invaders’, written by Mark Wright and drawn by Mike Collins and inked by David A Roach, a lightweight tale that riffs on the plethora of Storage Wars programmes that litter cable channels across the world. The Doctor and Clara end up an intergalactic auction where various creatures bid for abandoned storage units. Given that this is a ‘Doctor Who’ story, one of the containers has much more than they bargained for. It’s pleasantly action-packed with a nice bit of banter as the Doctor laments people’s need to cram their life with ‘stuff’. Which is a bit rich from a man who has a TARDIS that seems to have a universe worth of junk inside. However, despite its attempt at satire, the story really misses some of the blunter edges of Capaldi’s Doctor.
‘Spirits Of The Jungle’, written by Jonathan Morris and art by John Ross, is a more complex affair which sees the Doctor and Clara find themselves as part of a group of mercenaries who land on a jungle planet to try and recover a sentient super-weapon. While the set-up is a little muddled (would The Doctor really volunteer to become part of raiding party?), this is another solid action piece which manages to keep the interest thanks to some fine twists and turns. Capaldi’s Doctor is given more of a bite here as his disgust at the universal war machine and those who profit from it is given fine form. Clara is also given a bit of strength when the jungle planet presents her with a face that is very familiar which, as we shall see later, becomes a bit of a cliché through both the comic and the TV show.
The titular story, ‘The Highgate Horror’, is one of the best stories in the collection taking its cues from 70s Hammer horror. Highgate Cemetery becomes the next source of mystery for the Doctor and Clara when they discover the terrified Jess Collins, whose brother has gone missing looking for a fabled vampire. They soon discover Gabriel Rosewood, a charismatic cult leader who is also leading a group of followers in search of the creature. The truth about the vampire will soon reveal itself amongst this disparate group of people and it will be up to the Doctor and Clara to save everyone. Again! This is a dark and moody piece with some suitably gothic artwork from David A Roach and Mike Collins. It’s clear that both the artists and writer Mark Wright have done their research about the storied history and myths surrounding Highgate and, amongst all the typical aliens and monsters, there’s a sense of gloomy authenticity. Wright also gets the tone of Capaldi’s Doctor right, both brave yet slightly removed from humanity. His and Clara’s reaction to a death is very well done.
‘The Dragon Lord’ by Steve Lyons and art by Adrian Salmon brings the shades of gray morality prevalent in much of the Twelfth Doctor’s run as they discover a planet where dragons exist. It soon becomes apparent that human inhabitants have a secret which will make the Doctor vow to set things right. Here the Doctor is given a lot of self-righteous anger as he rails against the selfishness of humanity. Whilst the story is entertaining, it never really picks up speed despite the Doctor’s characterisation.
A breather is offered by one shot story ‘Theatre Of The Mind’, by Roger Langridge, is a fun and breezy story of the Doctor’s friendship with Houdini. When he finds Houdini trapped in a strange world, it’s his and Clara’s job to try and find the key to unlock it. With an overtly ‘comic’ art style from Roger Langridge, it’s a knockabout ride that is a fun addition to ‘the Doctor meets someone famous’ stories.
Clara Oswald’s final comic strip appearance takes place in ‘Witch Hunt’ by Jacqueline Rayner with pencils by Martin Geraghty and inked by David A Roach, in which the Doctor find himself in a battle with ‘Miss Chief’, an all-powerful time traveller who is using Clara as a pawn. This is another rollicking adventure, set between Coal Hill School and 16th Century UK that blends some fun action sequences with some more emotional content. Bringing Matthew Hopkins aka the Witchfinder General into the proceedings allows for a serious discussion of the witch trials while Clara must face a visitation from dead boyfriend Danny Pink. Which would have more impact if it hadn’t already happened numerous times in the comicbooks and on the TV show. This is a good send-off for Clara with a fitting final scene and a farewell line with a sad sense of irony.
‘The Stockbridge Showdown’, the final story here, appeared in the 500th edition of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and is a glorious celebration of the comic strip history of the Doctor. He returns to small English village Stockbridge, a place he has visited many times in the past. Bumping into old friend, Max, he soon finds that the majority of the inhabitants seem to be frozen in time. Just what is going on and what does his old enemy, Dogbolter, have to do with it all? It’s all a bit of a continuity cavalcade with lots of comicstrip characters from the past. Those who have not followed the strip in the past may not get all the references but it’s still an enjoyable celebration. The story, written by Scott Gray is also illustrated by many of the artists above, plus ‘Watchmen’ artist Dave Gibbons and it’s also a fun little wallow in nostalgia.
With Capaldi heading on his merry way, it may be hard for the ‘Doctor Who’ comicstrip to get the measure of Number 12 exactly right. While sometimes uneven, there is a nicely eclectic selection of stories which, on occasion, shows just what make the twelfth Doctor such an interesting take on the Time Lord.
(pub: Marvel/Panini. 180 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84653-749-3)
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