Mon
Dec 26 2011 3:00pm
The Great Alan Moore Reread: Captain Britain Prologue...via Doctor Who

Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated the next twelve months to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the 9th installment.

This week, I’m going to request — nay demand! — a little more interactivity than usual, because we’re dealing with a subject I am barely familiar with, and I suspect Tor.com readers have far, far, far more expertise with the topic than I do. We’re talking Doctor Who, and while I’ve seen a handful of Tom Baker episodes and all the Russell T. Davies seasons (and read the quite-good Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale book), I would rank myself in the lower 20th percentile in Whovian knowledge. So, please, use the comments to let me know about all the connections I’m missing. Because I suspect that these early Alan Moore Doctor Who stories, as brief as they are, contain some potent stuff that may or may not have been picked up on or echoed by future chroniclers of the good Doctor.

Right, so we’re talking Doctor Who and Alan Moore, specifically the last three stories he wrote for the Marvel UK Doctor Who Monthly magazine in the early-1980s. We’re traveling back in time for this stuff — as you’ll do when you’re dealing with the TARDIS — and these stories were written prior to Moore’s work on Marvelman or V. Prior to Skizz. These were proto-Moore, and I’m interested in them for two reasons: (1) to look at how much Moore there is to find, and (b) how they provide a lead-in to Moore’s following work on “Captain Britain” in the Marvel Super-Heroes magazine only a year later.

Yes, Doctor Who is part of Marvel continuity, where Moore is concerned at least. You untangle that one.

 

“Star Death,” Doctor Who Monthly #47 (Marvel UK, December 1980)

Alan Moore writes and John Stokes draws this curt little four-pager narrated by Tom Baker’s head.

For just four pages, it’s an epic tale, and this is where I’ll need the readers to chime in. What’s the deal with the Time War and Rassilon? Because they figure prominently, and I’m not sure what the pre-and-post 1980 status of either of those things would be. How much did Moore contribute to Who mythology here?

Because here’s the story: it’s long ago, as the star named Qqaba dies, and the Gallifreyans prepare to harness the energy to become “Lords of Time.” Griffen and Lady Jolodex watch from their orbiting ship, basically providing the exposition to guide us through the story. Fenris, a saboteur from thirty thousand years in the future, plans to scramble some waves and flip some switches and ruin the whole project so the people of Gallifrey never become Time Lords. Rassilon appears, blasts Fenris with a lightning blast from his finger, and causes the time-jumping mercenary to get lost in time, via the black hole.

The science is complicated, I’m sure.

Anyway, the final panels show the Gallifreyans cheering as they realize they can harness the black hole energy and, indeed, become Time Lords. And Rassilon picks up Fenris’s time-controls, as if to imply that Fenris actually, unwittingly, helped the Time Lords more quickly learn to control the power they harnessed.

Rassilon, I know, appears in other Doctor Who stories and episodes. He was played by James Bond that one time.

But does this sound like the Rassilon who appears elsewhere? What about Fenris or Griffen or Lady Jolodex? Did anyone else — any of those 1990s Who novels — pick up on those characters? Let me know, because I have no idea and yet they seem like fertile ground for more stories.

I do know that, like Moore’s Star Wars shorts, this Doctor Who tale is more like an episode of Classic Star Trek than anything else. With spaceships and viewscreens and costumes and nearly-winking bits of ironic dialogue, this isn’t like any of the few Tom Baker episodes I have ever seen. Maybe I missed the ones that were full of action and explosions and black holes shooting out energy, though.

No “Captain Britain” prologue moments yet, by the way, that comes in the next installment. But this story leads directly into…

 

“The 4-D War,” Doctor Who Monthly #51 (Marvel UK, April 1981)

We jump ahead 20 years for this one, but it does follow from the plot of “Star Death,” as the daughter of Lord Griffen and Lady Jolodex prepares to enter the “Zone of No Return” to retrieve…Fenris the Mercenary o’ Sabotage.

Dun dun dunnn!

Oh, and this one’s drawn by a young Mr. David Lloyd. Who, in his near future, would draw a certain little story about a certain little anarchist who would look really amazing in black and white but not as great in color. Lloyd’s style on this Doctor Who strip was much more traditionally illustrative than his amazingly stark V for Vendetta work would be.

Back to the story!

The young chrononaut, Rema-Du, joins her escort Wardog as they travel into the Zone of No Return to pull Fenris back to the Gallifreyans, who will probe his since-fragmented mind to determine who sent him back to destroy the Time Lords.

As Lord Griffen declares, “We are fighting a Timewar, comrades. A war in four dimensions. A war which on our timeline hasn’t even started yet!”

The enemy turns out to be The Order of the Black Sun.

And just as the Gallifreyans discover the truth, emissaries of the Order arrive to clean up their time-displaced mess, as the disintegrate what’s left of Fenris, causing some collateral damage along the way. Wardog loses an arm.

Was any of this continuity business picked up on in the Who chronicles? I know this is a decidedly different depiction of the Time War from the one heard about in the David Tennant-era Doctor Who television show, but how does it fit in overall? This is what I wonder.

But here’s what I know: Wardog — who is kind of a space werewolf guy — is a member of the Special Executive, and that elite group will not only appear more fully in the next Alan Moore Doctor Who story, but they will play an integral role in his later run on “Captain Britain,” and then become a part of the Marvel Universe forever.

 

“Black Sun Rising,” Doctor Who Monthly #57 (Marvel UK, October 1981)

This one’s also drawn by David Lloyd, and wraps up Moore’s unofficial “Time War Trilogy.” I mean, it’s official in that it’s a sanctioned Doctor Who story, but I don’t think it was ever officially labeled by that Trilogy title, except in retrospect.

Here, in this final installment, we get, basically, a Special Executive feature. Four pages of it. Not a single Doctor in sight.

In addition to learning a bit more about Wardog (new arm-ified), we meet other Special Execs like Zeitgeist (who can phase through walls) and Cobweb (who has telepathic powers). It’s more like a pack of cosmic X-Men than anything resembling a Doctor-and-companion story.

The Special Executive investigate more about the Order of the Black Sun, we get a montage-like sequence as a Romeo and Juliet kind of story emerges. The Order of the Black Sun is fated to battle the Gallifreyans — we know this — but the war takes place in the future and hasn’t yet begun. Against that backdrop, the ambassadors from Gallifrey and the Black Sun fall in love. It’s lightning-quick (hey, it’s only a four page story, and this part is just a few panels of it). But the whole thing is sabotaged by Brilox, the Sontarian. He felt the love affair — and alliance — between Gallifrey and the Black Sun would leave his people “out in the cold.”

The prologue to war begins, caused by Brilox. Wardog pays him a visit, and only one of them walks out of the room.

There’s plenty packed into these four pages — an amazing amount condensed into the Time War Trilogy overall, for its concise size — but it’s not a particularly sophisticated story. Just a dense one, with many characters, events, and implications.

Are the Sontarans or the members of the Order of the Black Sun major players in the larger storyscape of Doctor Who? You tell me.

If Alan Moore’s name were removed from these three stories, I don’t think anyone would assume they belong to him. They do show his sense of irony and his imaginative ability to play with the compression and expansion of time within a few pages, but these are plot-heavy chapters that don’t give him much of a chance to explore the medium. His contributions to Doctor Who aren’t deconstructive in the way that much of his other 1980s comic book work turned out to be. No, these are traditional pulp narratives, swiftly-propelled nuggets of story, jammed with ideas and situations that others could build upon.

He certainly used some of the foundation work here for his take on Captain Britain, and I can’t help but think his Doctor Who and 2000 AD work helped to give him a fresh perspective on that contrived-for-the-UK-market superhero. He turned Captain Britain from a typical costumed punching-machine (or silly children’s character complete with elf sidekick) into an interdimensional, mystical, poetic, bombastic, lyrical, ambitious superhero saga. It was sci-fi imbued, to be sure.

The Time War Trilogy works pretty well to tee-up the Captain Britain stories to follow, even if it’s just a matter of providing some background on the Special Executive gang. As Doctor Who stories, I have no idea how important they are.

You tell me. While listening to this.

NEXT TIME: Captain Britain Part 1


Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, and Back Issue magazine. Follow him on Twitter.

3 comments
David Goldfarb
1. David_Goldfarb
Rassilon has been a key figure in Time Lord history for a long time. The Sontarans are major figures in the second tier of Who villains (I rank the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master as the first tier; everybody else is second tier or lower). Moore's version of a Time War has been basically forgotten and not referenced, as has the Order of the Black Sun. I would guess that Russell T. Davies came up with the Time War idea independently.
AndrewMcLean
2. AndrewMcLean
I would guess that Russell T. Davies came up with the Time War idea independently.

I don't think so actually. The Time War in the comics, although not referred to again, was an inspiration for a later Time War in the BBC novels. While this is different again from the Time War in the relaunched series, Davies was familiar with both the books and the comics and was certainly aware of both of these. His Time War is intended to be different and was created for a different narrative reason, but it can't help but have been informed by what came before.
Darth Skeptical
3. DarthSkeptical
RTD has long admitted his love of comics — he's quite a good artist himself, yanno — and of DWM comics in particular.  

There's little doubt that he was aware of the Moore panels and I don't think it would be wrong to assert that they are the source of the phrase "time war". They are certainly the earliest usage of the phrase in any medium in which DW stories have been told.  Although I'm not aware of a specific instance in which RTD admits to having read the Moore stuff, I'm pretty sure he has said something like "I've read 'em all!" In any event, he's definitely a fierce advocate of the strip.  And you have to wonder, too, why does the Tenth Doctor call the RTD time war the "Last Great Time War" in "Gridlock", unless RTD was acknowledging the earlier Time Wars like this one.  RTD is a fairly precise writer; he wouldn't use the superlative unless there were at least three time wars.  Which there are.  There's his, the one in the Eighth Doctor line of books, and then there's this Alan Moore time war.  

So I think he read this Black Sun stuff and lifted the term "time war" from it.  It's not like it would be the first or only time he borrowed from DWM. The most famous is probably the season 1 ender where Rose absorbs the time vortex and zaps away the nasty Daleks. This comes from "The Flood", the final Eighth Doctor DWM strip, where instead the Eighth Doctor absorbs the time vortex and dispatches with Cybermen. We absolutely know RTD read and approved that strip, because of comments he made in the collected edition.  Another thing that appears in the RTD "era" is Captain Jack clinging to the exterior of the TARDIS while it's in flight in RTD's "Utopia".  I'd be highly surprised if this image wasn't inspired by the Fifth Doctor DWM story, "The Stockbridge Horror", printed around the same time as Moore's work, where there's a full panel of the same thing happening.  We know, too, that he commissioned Gareth Roberts to write "The Shakespeare Code" partially on the strength of Roberts' DWM Shakespeare story, "A Groatsworth of Wit".  Also, it was RTD, not Steven Moffat, who first mooted the idea of adapting Roberts' "The Lodger", which began its life as a Tenth Doctor/Mickey comic story, but eventually became the debut of the Eleventh Doctor/Craig double act.

So, although — again — we don't have conclusive proof of RTD copying Moore, it seems likely he read them, and it's certain he was perfectly comfortable lifting ideas from the DWM comic strip.

What's the lasting DW impact of the Moore strips?  Not much.  As you've pointed out, the big deal about them is their influence on the Marvel UK universe because of the Special Executive.  What made them cool at the time was that they depicted the event hinted at in "The Three Doctors", "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Invasion of Time":  the moment when Rassilon and Omega managed to "create" time travel by harnessing the power of a black hole.  

The "Black Sun trilogy", as it's generally known amongst DW comic fans, is thus completely in line with what had been seen on television before it was published.  And it fulfilled the mandate of the so-called "backup DWM strip" quite nicely.  

I suppose it should be pointed out that Moore worked for DWM at a time when there were two regular strips in DWM.  The longer of the two starred the  Doctor; the shorter was set in the Doctor Who universe but didn't involve the Doctor.  Eventually, some of the creators on the backup panels worked their way up to the main strip.  What's rather remarkable about these Moore strips is that these were so early in his career that Alan Frickin' Moore was essentially not considered "good enough" for the main strip.  Or at least not better than Steve Parkhouse, who had himself only recently "graduated" from the backup strips to be the main writer.

Because these are backup strips, which were intended to highlight the dark corners and hidden alleyways of the Doctor Who universe, I'm not sure DW fans would agree with your assessment that they had "nearly-winking bits of ironic dialogue winkng towards Star Trek"  or that they otherwise don't feel like DW.  The trilogy is depicting events that are tens of thousands of years prior to the Doctor's birth.  Naturally, then, Gallifrey's going to look and feel a little different than it does on television.  It's particularly gonna feel a little different than the Tom Baker era of television stories, cause comics have a budget that TV of that era couldn't match.  Nevertheless, 1970s DW — even 1960s DW — was replete with spaceships and viewscreens and all those elements that you seem to be ascribing to Star Trek.  As a gentle reminder, DW is older than Trek.  Excluding the viewscreen that's on the TARDIS itself — which dates to the first episode in 1963 — there are viewscreens on spaceships as early as 1964's "The Sensorites".    

At any rate, where we run into continuity "trouble" with these strips is what happened after they were published.  I think it's fair to say that they're mainly ignored, though the phrases "black sun" and "time war" do pop up.  I think, too, that these strips do give credence to the argument that the terms "Gallifreyan" and "Time Lord" are not quite synonymous.    But as for the precise characters and situations — and indeed the Order of the Black Sun itself — they don't really crop up again.  On the bright side, they aren't strongly contradicted by much of anything.  For whatever reason, early Gallifreyan history hasn't interested other writers that much.  

Now I should point out that I'm saying "not really" instead of flatly "no".   A reference is made to the star Qqaba, and the Rassilon/Omega mission to it, in the novels Lungbarrow and The Infinity Doctors.  But Infinity is sort of a "what if" tale anyway, so that makes the reference have dubious impact on the broader continuity (such as continuity is in the Doctor Who franchise).  Lungbarrow, a Seventh Doctor novel, is a more positive reference.  It has a number of highly controversial elements that directly conflict with facts established on the televised show.  And Lungbarrow had a tiny circulation at the time of its original publication, meaning that not that many fans — particularly if you didn't happen to live in the UK at the time — were able to read it in the first place.  It also had the misfortune to be one of the last books printed in a range that suddenly had its license revoked by the BBC, so many of its ideas did not get carried forward into later book series.  I personally think it's fair to call it a "continuity dead end".  

But it does have a reference to Qqaba.  And it amends "Star Death" in that it says that not only were Rassilon and Omega there, as Moore postulated, but also this figure called "the Other", which is largely assumed to be the Doctor by another name.  Again, though, this continuity died with Lungbarrow, so "the Other" wasn't fully explained, and we never returned to the foundational mission to Qqaba.  

As for the characters in the strip, the question I would have is whether it's even possible for them to return.  Doctor Who is a weird beast.  Often, characters that appear in a single storyline remain the property of the individual creator.  It's entirely possible that Moore retains copyright on the Order of the Black Sun and most of the characters in these strips, and that this is why we've never heard from them again.  I mean, he was able to take the Special Executive with him to other Marvel UK publications, so that — and the entire absence of the Order of the Black Sun in other DW stories — would seem to indicate that he does indeed own 'em.

Finally, since Tim mentioned "Bond playing Rassilon", it should be mentioned that no one in the DW fan community quite understands the existence of the "Dalton Rassilon".  The usage of Rassilon in the Black Sun trilogy seems fine.  It fits with what the classic series told us Rassilon was: the engineer who figured out how to harness the power of a black hole and thereby allow time travel.  He is thought of as the founder of Time Lord society, and Moore uses him appropriately.  It's what happens after Moore that confuses the picture with Rassilon.  If he's from Gallifrey's distant past, how come he's sort of alive in "The Five Doctors"?  How in the world is he positively, spittingly alive as Timothy Dalton in "The End of Time"?  To be honest, neither Terrance Dicks nor RTD, the authors of these two Rassilon-o-ganzas, bothered to explain what the heck was going on.  But Moore, at least, is on solid ground with the series as it existed at the time he wrote his stories.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment