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