The Phantom Piper (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 10 December 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Phantom Piper (Credit: Panini)
Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Staz Johnson, Mike Collins, Scott Gray, James Offredi

Paperback: 148 Pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD 

The latest Graphic Novel from Panini collects together some of the final Comic Strip Adventures for the Twelfth Doctor, who ended his run as the star of Doctor Who Magazine’s monthly strip in October, just prior to the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut on TV. We'll get into a bit deeper, but it seems this will not be the final Graphic Novel the Twelfth Doctor will get from Panini.  Joining the Twelfth Doctor is Bill Potts, who launched on the strip not long after her TV debut, and stuck with him until the end of his tenure on the strip (just as on TV).

The book begins with the Doctor and Bill exploring Jupiter's moon Titan, but they soon get whisked into an adventure with Rudy Zoom, the conceited millionaire adventurer we first met in the Twelfth Doctor's first comic strip story.  Zoom has chartered an exploration of Titan because a woman was being called there by something.  The something turns out to be plant monsters that feed off of people's dreams and want to escape their prison on Titan.  It's a solid beginning for this Twelve/Bill era for the comic strip...it's fun, colorful, humorous, with drama and action. It is a solid start.  However, the book then takes us to the American Old West, and where they face an alien threat using a Native American Woman to exact her revenge on the White man.  This has flawed execution...while I like the idea of exploring a woman who faced adversity and great tragedy on the Trail of Tears, I think they made her too much of a revenge seeking generic villain in the end.  I think they tried to counteract this by making the Sheriff who teams up with the Doctor a black man. I guess they didn't make the Native characters have classic "Savage Indian" tropes...but I still felt like they started somewhere interesting with the character, and it kind of loses that thread, and the interesting backstory doesn't really play too much into her story.

At the end of that story, the TARDIS was marked with some kind of mysterious symbol.  To investigate, the Doctor takes Bill to Cornucopia (the alien world created and often visited during the Eleventh Doctor's comic run), and visits the vast library there for answers on what the symbol could mean.  The story is then about something evil having some kind of control over the librarian herself. It is honestly not that memorable, and really only serves as a one off filler strip.  In the end the Doctor realizes that the symbol is actually a code that needs cracking, so he then whisks Bill off to World War II, to find Alan Turing and get his help on cracking the code. This leads us directly into the final story in the set, the titular "The Phantom Piper" which closes out the set.  This is by far the best story in the collection, it has a big sweeping idea, a fun villain, and leans into Doctor Who Magazine's comic continuity in fun ways. Usually, I'd rather that media not lean too heavily into it's own storied continuity, as it can end up alienating the audience or dragging a story through the mud of references without any real deeper meaning.  This story is about something, and the continuity serves the story. 

I did think it felt like it had maybe a bit too much build-up and a solution that seemed to quick...but maybe that is because I was enjoying reading this story so much I breezed through all five parts fairly quickly.  It should be noted that for this story the page count for each installment shifted from 12 pages back to 8, which was the usual page count for the strip for a number of years. I think it wasn't until the Tenth Doctor that they beefed up the installment length.  At any rate, it did feel like the plot wrapped up rather quickly, and the set up what was the final story for the Twelfth Doctor on the strip, "The Clockwise War."  I think the ending may not have felt so quick and easy if I didn't have to now wait for an entirely new volume to come out in order to get the resolution to the book's cliffhanger.  If that final story was included, the epic scale would've probably just grown and been more satisfying.  

I'm not sure why they made the decision to leave out the final Twelfth Doctor story in this volume. Perhaps it was a decision that came down to deadlines not really coming together.  The final story for the Twelfth Doctor wrapped up only just before the Thirteenth Doctor premiered on TV. I would've honestly preferred them push back this volume to include that final story, and instead of sticking to their usual release schedule of Modern collection followed by a collection of older stuff, they could've held off and given us a bigger book that included the entire Twelve/Bill run in one volume...and in the meantime release an equally anticipated volume of classic comics, which will probably collect together the final batch of stories in the awkward years, and featured the final Seventh Doctor story ("Ground Zero") that came out before the long running Eighth Doctor era. Now it seems that there will be one more volume of Twelfth Doctor Comics to come from Panini.  This time it will be one story (about 60 pages worth of story). Maybe they will put more stuff into it.  Time will tell.

It is a shame that Bill Potts didn’t get more time in the TARDIS. In some ways, I wish her character could’ve joined the Twelfth Doctor at the beginning of Series 9 as opposed to Series 10. Bill was a solid character, well performed, and sadly will only ever have a short run on TV and a short run in the comic strip, and a short run in Titan’s line as well. Maybe someday when he’s ready, Capaldi and Pearl Mackie can revive this duo on Big Finish. Until then, we have this volume...and I guess we can await another yet to come, one story or not.

This collection is hit and miss. It starts and ends strong, but I didn't particularly care for the stories in the middle..and the fact that it ends in a cliffhanger that leads directly into the only Twelfth Doctor story left from the Magazine not included here leaves me a tad disappointed.  Ultimately, if you are a fan of the Strip, it is another well put together volume (missing the finale or not). I still think the best Twelfth Doctor volume remains Doorway to Hell, but I also enjoy Bill...so I'm happy to have more of her in any format.