WRITER: ROBBIE MORRISON
ARTISTS: RACHAEL STOTT, SIMON FRASER
COLORISTS: IVAN NUNES, MARCIO MENYS
LETTERS: RICHARD STARKINGS +
COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT
SENIOR EDITOR: ANDREW JAMES
ASSISTANT EDITOR: JESSICA BURTON
DESIGNER: ROB FARMER
***************************************************************PUBLISHED: 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016 TITAN COMICS
"There’s something fishy going on at the remote Scottish school of Ravenscaur...
Something that has bedevilled students and teachers alike...
Something that has lurked in the caverns beneath the school for millennia!
Only the Doctor and Clara can unravel a deadly conspiracy that reaches as high as the Prime Minister of England!"
(Official Teaser To The Title Story)
The feature story had originally four issues in theYear Two run with which to build up suspense, and feature a number of engaging subplots, as well as a loosely connected solo adventure for the Twelfth Doctor taking on Captain Volk, and his lethal pirates/mercenaries. With this prologue of sorts, the reader only witnesses the climactic moments, but it still resonates enough to feel like a proper story in its own right.
An exciting first impression is made in the 'pre-credit' sequence counterpart, as teacher Christel is hounded by mysterious forces. This 'sacrificial lamb' is given enough likability, and connection to Clara, for us to care about her grim fate.
As the primary action unfolds, the creepy Mr Beck is keen to fully introduce The 'Impossible Girl' to the school, which turns out to have a number of skeletons hidden in its closets. After some mystery, the majority of the tale can be described as a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Two additional new 'assistants' help the Doctor overcome the real threat behind the cold-hearted bureaucratic school; one that Clara had intended to teach in, as a change-up from her hectic life in the capital city.
Overall the story can be likened to a mixture of prior Sea Devil stories, with a 'Village Of The Damned' situation, as the local island/school community are all but completely mentally subdued. The Doctor and Clara clearly are at a stage in their partnership, where they enjoy each other's company and accept that they are very different in approach. Thus they can work together assuredly to solve the problems as required. I know many devoted fans prefer the Doctor to actually get on with his best friend, more often than not, and I count myself in that group.
It is also welcome to have UNIT involved once again in these comics, with this present variant of the Doctor; (albeit now sadly announced as departing come Christmas this year). After the Zygon Invasion/Inversion story of Autumn 2015, this story honours continuity in typically faithful Titan style, by having both Osgoods feature in the narrative. Along with the much-loved Kate Stewart playing her role to help the Doctor, in the same way her father helped his 'predecessors', there has been a proper 'renaissance' for UNIT, of late. This is in thanks not only to the TV shows being seen globally, but also the work done across Doctor Who's various other mediums, ever since 2012's The Power Of Three.
But ultimately the final triumph comes down to the TARDIS duo, and a pair of delinquent but warm-hearted teenagers, who have been too stubborn to be recruited by the Sea Devil's army of zombies. Come the ending there is a nice hint of the next stage in the journey of life for these two guest characters. The TV show - particularly the modern version - has always been good at not only wrapping up the main problem but making followers care about the fortunes of characters, most of whom are unlikely to ever be seen again.
Some nice light-heartedness helps the story from taking itself too seriously, which is a wise move given how close to the Establishment Nose the satire verges on, at times. The Doctor's blasé attitude, or boldness, when confronted by the pub of possessed villagers would certainly play out well on primetime TV. His weak 'sea urchin' disguise is a fun example of his inconsistent ability to blend into his environment. I also enjoyed the swordfish ally, he acquires as he pretends a completely inanimate object is of the same value as K9 or Kamelion from his days of 'youth', but a nice irony is made of this towards the final stages.
Other elements though would stretch the budget quite considerably, with some of the action being worthy of a proper Hollywood blockbuster. With the fine artistic skills of Rachael Stott and Ivan Nunes on display, the epic scope of the action is translated handsomely well, however.
This effort entertains throughout. I cannot honestly say any of the new characters were ones for the ages, or worthy of a further adventure down the line, but they fit well into a fun story, where the odds seem stacked against contemporary human society. The original Sea Devils had its flaws but always knew how to move the narrative into some new location, or confound expectations. In that sense then, The School of Death rises to the surface with gusto, rather than stagnating to the bottom of the sea, like the much-maligned Peter Davison sequel.
The second story is rather more satirical and self-referential, both in terms of its moods and its themes. It does an impressive job in casting retrospective light over the Doctor Who mythos itself. There is even a rather 'meta' take on the comic book medium which makes the story both entertaining, and distinctly different from other such stories, that centre on a mystery and a relentless force needing to be overcome.
A fun poke at the TV show's once male-dominated fanbase is briefly incorporated into the tale. As many know, the male-female ratio of Doctor Who aficionados has evened up considerably in recent years thanks to the quality writing and casting of the 21st century series.
Readers get to see some decided vanity from the Doctor – a defining characteristic whichever face/body he is inhabiting – when he displays outrage over the persona, or image, that he has online. This internet portrayal of our title hero reminded me of the very knowing TV portrayal of Clive, a superfan utterly obsessed with the mysterious Ninth Doctor, who featured in the reboot triumph that was Rose.
Also notable - if perhaps somewhat surprising, given how much Clara has experienced - is the Coal Hill School teacher's cynicism over comic book shop staff claims regarding people going missing. At this point in her (ultimately infinite) life, she has seen enough weird and wonderful things. Then again, real people that we all know, are contradictory and three-dimensional. Whilst very likable, Clara would not be human without some judgemental sides to her character, and some entrenched pre-conceptions over certain types of people.
With perhaps other references to the biggest comics and comic book companies also being intended by Morrison, I did enjoy one particular nod towards Marvel’s Silver Surfer.
This story also operates as a loose sequel to Series Eight gem Flatline, and does a fine job of using a well-designed monster without just simply repeating the same ‘gimmick’. Whilst ‘The School Of Death’ had more time to develop its key supporting characters, as well as have some decent tertiary ‘cast members’, The Fourth Wall still is well-paced, and does a fine job of marrying continuity between the Titan comics and the actual TV show.
Dialogue also seems to be pitched perfectly for the talents of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, were this to be an actual story made for Series 9. Prior stories (including the preceding Sea Devil one) have ‘cameos’ as panels within the story, enabling a clever parody on the comic book canvas and panelling techniques.
The story also works on another level by having a strong message concerning escapism, especially one found in a personal hobby that others deem as 'not cool'. The danger of slipping too far into make-belief, however, should always be an important consideration for someone to still be healthy and interact well with others. For a story that had a solitary issue originally with which to get its objectives across, this is very impressive, and arguably the high point of this collection.
Rounding off Volume Four is a fun, if very brief, sequel to Fourth Doctor debut Robot. With its limited page/panel count Robo Rampage acts more as a straight-up King Kong homage. The difference between the 1933 classic movie and this story, is that the English capital city is the playground for chaos, as opposed to Manhattan. As the metallic monster attacks the London Eye, this much 'older' Doctor rants over the greed and irresponsibility of humanity that has allowed for Professor Kettlewell’s invention to suddenly be back in the public sphere.
This story has no Clara, but we do get a nice turn for Osgood, giving her more to do than in the main Sea Devil story. The UNIT scientist is still eager to be a proper companion (and into the bargain be excused from her day job duties). Showing her fanatical side, Osgood showers the grey haired wearer of sonic sunglasses with a number of 'alternative titles' to that of "Doctor". Some of those names are references to past TV stories. Ultimately though she tries to christen him with one of her own monikers.
The previous two stories had their moments of mirth, but this one is probably the most amusing in terms of comedy, and can be regarded as a longer attempt at the (once customary) ‘bonus humour strip’.
Two alternative covers are featured in full page size. They are credited to respectively Brian Miller, and Simon Myers.
Other featured (albeit smaller-sized) covers are credited to Myers, Alex Ronald, Will Brooks, JAKe, and main artist Rachael Stott
The main title cover is credited to Alice X. Zhang, and also features in the gallery section
Altogether then, this is a fine collection of wholly new original stories that help develop both the main two characters, as well as some of the recurring allies to feature in the Steven Moffat epoch. It deserves to be taken as authentic and official in the time lines as the main televised entity itself. Oddly, there is no separate title for The Fourth Wall story within the collection (although the phrase is found within dialogue), whereas Robot Rampage (originally published for Free Comics Day) retains its name in-story. Regardless, if the reader has missed some or most of the prior issues released in Year 2, then this collection is the best option on the market.
One to keep and enjoy.