Written By: Scott Gray, Tim Quinn, Paul Cornell, Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes
Artist: John Ross, John Ridgeway, Charlie Adlard, Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon
Paperback: 156 Pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD
Whatever the reason, Panini made the decision to hold back on the Twelfth Doctor's final Doctor Who Magazine story for it's own titular volume, and included with that story are some reprints of older 90s comic stories, specifically some stories that were originally printed in the Doctor Who Yearbooks in the mid 90s. This marks the first time that a Doctor from the new series has been combined in a Panini collection with Classic Series comics. While it was annoying that the Phantom Piper had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait months for the conclusion to get released, the volume is finally here and I can now just pick it up when I finish the previous book. I guess if anything they used it as an excuse to have a modern Doctor to sell the books, especially when the titular story for the book is actually quite good, to reprint some lesser known stories that don't really have a home otherwise.
Having finally read “The Clockwise War” story…I can only express how much I wish it had been included with the rest of the stories in The Phantom Piper. Part of what I really love about the Panini Graphic Novels is that they always seem to collect together stories that make sense. The best example is the Eighth Doctor’s run. The first volume featured his debut up to the climax with the Threshold, his second volume featured a running storyline that saw the return of the Master and a major battle between the two Time Lords in the finale…his third began with the debut of the strip in colour and lasted right up until the exit of longtime companion Izzy, and the fourth featured the final set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor. But since the Eleventh Doctor, the sets don’t always make as much sense. Sometimes storylines have been split up between two volumes…and it is clunkier. I would love to sit down with a volume of comics that begin with Bill debuting, and then right up until this finale…because it is truly great. And so much of the storyline of “The Clockwise War” hinges on the running stories that began in the previous volume’s opening story “The Soul Garden” and continued right up to the cliffhanging ending of “The Phantom Piper.” This story is the climax to a whole year’s worth of stories…and it wasn’t included in the same book. It seems like it is all coming down to release schedules. Why make a proper “graphic novel” when you’ve got schedules to keep. I’d much rather have waited for this whole volume to get released properly, then split them up. A graphic novel is meant to tell a whole story…these collections don’t always feel like that is the goal anymore. Which is a bit of a shame. They still do a great job putting these books out there, they are high quality in terms of their production value…it is just a shame that the story element isn’t being as properly looked after as it should be. Part of what I loved about “Doorway to Hell” is it collected together the full storyline of the Doctor’s life trapped in 70s Earth in one volume. It’d have been nice if the Bill/Dreamscape storyline could’ve got the same lovely treatment.
Now....with that all out of the way, I really loved the main story in this volume. We see the grand return of Eighth Doctor comics companion Fey Truscott-Sade, who is actually the main antagonist of the piece, and it is a big thrill ride that sees the exit of the Twelfth Doctor. Despite my complaints about the split of volumes, the story itself is fantastic. I loved the glimpse into a really bad day in the Time War, and seeing what turned Fey to the dark side…and it is in many ways the Doctor’s hubris that screwed her up. The story ties up all the storylines that have lingered throughout the run since Bill debuted on the strip, and it does it in a big exciting fashion. As a story, it is highly recommended!
From there, the volume beefs up its page count with some older strips, some back-up stories that focused on the Cybermen, and others that never actually landed on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, but were actually strips that were initially published in “Doctor Who Yearbooks” from the mid-90s. This was during the Wilderness Years, a time when the show was off the air but somehow extended media thrived, including the continued publishing of a monthly magazine and even some annuals. The comics included from this era came from Yearbooks published in 1994, 1995, and 1996. These stories feature the First, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors, as well as a brief cameo of the Seventh. The Yearbook strips aren't as deep or extensive as the DWM strips, as they are all just one part shorts, as opposed to serializing for several months on the pages of the magazine. It is nice to have them reprinted and remastered, but they aren't the best comic adventures for the Doctor and co.
“The Cybermen” was actually a series of short one page strips that appeared as a back-up comic in Doctor Who Magazine, and were written by Alan Barnes and drawn by Adrian Salmon, and was meant to evoke the 60s Dalek strips that appeared in TV Century 21. Unlike the forgettable Yearbook strips, these are actually pretty cool. Each story lasted about 5 or so pages, and the entire run is collected here.
On the whole, it is hard to not recommend this volume. Obviously, the decision to hold back the Twelfth Doctor's final story is more about marketing than anything. It is easier to sell a book with a more current Doctor on the cover, than various old Doctors with no cohesive theme. That said the Cybermen stories are neat, and it is nice that Panini, however they do it, is still remastering and collecting together all of these old comics into nice shiny volumes. The efforts of preservation should be applauded. With Ground Zero on the way, it would seem that the DWM era back catalogue will be wrapping up, and one can only hope that Panini continues their collections by going back and collecting together the pre-DWM strips from TV Comic, TV Century 21, and Countdown/TV Action. Perhaps rights issues could prevent that, but as they have reprinted some of those comics in the past, I have to believe they are considering it.