Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Comic-Book Flashback # 9: Doctor Who: "The Stockbridge Horror"

Presented by Marvel in June 1986 (though originally seen in Doctor Who Monthly #72-73), this Doctor Who comic adventure was written by Steve Parkhouse.

The tale occurs in the era of the fifth Doctor, portrayed by Peter Davison. It's concerns a "the thing in the TARDIS," a being with "no name, no mind and no heart" who invades the Doctor's beloved conveyance feeling "fierce flames of heat...and awesome need." For a million years, this thing walked in "darkness" but "no more."

In fact, this thing is some weird reflection of the Time Lord himself; as the Doctor is currently sans companion in this chapter. When the creature invades the Doctor's
time machine (appearing first as an image of Spider-Man, no less, making this a rather odd Marvel cross-over...), a larger conspiracy reveals itself. On the Doctor's last visit to Gallifrey, the Time Lords apparently inserted a device into the TARDIS to monitor the renegade Doctor, and now the Time Lords have sent a warrior named Shayde to destroy the beast rapidly taking control of the TARDIS.

Shayde promptly informs the Doctor that the TARDIS and he have become too alike. Both are "quirky, idiosyncratic and ultimately schizophrenic." Wow -- great description (though not especially true of Davison's incarnation/interpretation)!

Then, a new brand of military TARDIS appears off the bow, ready to blow up the Doctor's time ship if things go awry. It is captained by the militant Time Lord Tubal Cain. The doctor expresses horror at the thought of a Time Lord in the military, and fears what's next: a Time Lord in politics?

As the story ends, Shayde prepares to do battle with the monster inhabiting the TARDIS. This Marvel comic-book also features two other short stories worth mentioning. The first is "Skywatch - 7, concerning UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force) tangling with a Zygon (from "The Terror of the Zygons"). The second is "The Gods Walk Among Us," about a Sontaran trapped in Tutankhamun's tomb for 5,500 years. (I wonder if he ever ran across Sutekh while he was there...). Confession: I love the Sontarans. I just do. Can't help it. It might have to do with the fact that the first Doctor Who serial I ever saw (on WWOR TV, Channel Nine out of New York) was "The Sontaran Experiment.")

So "The Stockbridge Horror" is a flashback to 1980s Who, though if truth be told, I've always preferred 1960s and 1970s era Who (and now, David Tennant modern Who). This comic-book is plenty of fun, though, and I always appreciate tales that examine the deep bonds that tie the Doctor to his unusual TARDIS.

My biggest problem with this overall story (as well as this issue in particular...) is the concept erosion apparent in the dramatization and handling of the Time Lords. I wrote about this in my book at length, but originally in Doctor Who lore, the Time Lords were the most feared creatures in all of time and space (even the Doctor feared them...). They were more terrifying than Cybermen or Daleks. Their justice was Draconian, to say the least (witness the conclusion of "The War Games").

But by Pertwee-era Who, the Time Lords were effete British dandies sending The Doctor on special missions, like some futuristic "M" in the James Bond series. By the time of the Davison era, the Gallifreyan Time Lords were just like any other race on any TV show (like the Vulcans on Star Trek, for instance), and had lost all their menace...hence all their individuality and special nature. Their grandeur was reduced by multiple visits to the planet Gallifrey and the dawning realization that the Time Lords could not be dramatized (by the low-budget BBC production) in a manner that preserved their mystery and superiority. (That said, I quite enjoyed "The Deadly Assasin" and "The Invasion of Time," both set on Gallfrey; I merely mourned the death of the original -- and superior - concept of Time Lords as awe/terror inspiring.)

First the McCoy era and then the new series have attempted rather successfully to rectify this concept erosion (in vastly different ways...), but this comic chapter is perfect evidence of it at a terrible low point. Along comes Time Lord Tubal Caine, wearing shoulder epaulets and a green military uniform, (and twentieth century style military haircut...) flying a TARDIS that looks like a terrestrial tank, ready to blow up the TARDIS if "the exorcism" of the time machine goes badly. It just wreaks of...bad Star Trek.

Still, I've been waxing nostalgic for Doctor Who lately, and I today I felt like looking back at the adventures of an incarnation that I never liked that much (Davison's). So I plucked out this comic book and - right here, in one issue - I found the reasons that I both liked and disliked that era in series history...


  1. Dude, you totally need to blog some more Who. The show has gotten sooooo good now. Any comments about companion Donna?

  2. John:

    I need to see more Who!

    I am only caught up through Billie Piper's departure (and I saw one weird episode out of order involving a futuristic traffic jam or something...). I totally want to blog more Who, but worry that if start I will fall behind and disappoint everyone...

    But I will get to the series on DVD again soon...

  3. That "traffic jam" ep is one of my favorites, too. It's called "Gridlock", and it's a throwback to the satirical Doctor Who of "The Sun Makers"!