Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Owl Service

A small cast of characters. An isolated location. A lot of supernatural things happening for inadequately explained reasons. It's like a Sapphire & Steel story where Sapphire and Steel don't turn up.

The Owl Service is an eight-part TV series from 1969 starring Edwin "Captain Hart" Richfield. Like Sapphire & Steel's first assignment, it appears to have been made for little mannys to watch, but is really far weirder and scarier than it probably ought to be.

Three of the characters - Roger, Alison and Gwyn - are obviously being played by mannys who are significantly older than the characters they are playing, and one character - Alison's mother Margaret - doesn't appear at all.

The fantastical element, where a Welsh legend repeats itself every generation and it is up to Roger, Alison and Gwyn to see if they can break the cycle or else suffer the same tragic fate as Gwyn's parents, is even subtler than in Sapphire & Steel. Several episodes in the middle pass without any sign of it at all, before it ramps up in the final part for a sudden, dramatic, albeit rather rushed, ending.

Any fan of Sapphire & Steel should give this series a look.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Fall of Eagles: The Last Tsar

We've had two episodes on Austria, two episodes on Germany, and so now the series turns its attention to the third eagle: Russia. There Alexander iii is the Tsar, and his son and heir is Nicholas, played by Charles "Pendleton" Kay.

Nicholas has no interest in politics, and spends all his time drinking and playing games with his friends, or carrying on a relationship with ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska (Jan Francis, Lisa in Secret Army). His parents want him to marry a princess, not a ballerina, and considering the difficulty he has breaking it off with Mathilde, it becomes clear just how indecisive and generally useless he is.

The princess he chooses is Alexandra "Alix" of Hesse-Darmstadt, and while his parents do not approve of her because she is German, it does meet with the approval of both Queen Victoria and, especially, Kaiser Wilhelm - Barry Foster making a short appearance in the episode to practically order Nicholas to propose to Alix immediately.

Princess Alix is played by Gayle Hunnicutt (Irene Adler in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). Nicholas's lack of tact means he makes a mess of his proposal by talking about his affairs to Alix, but then they do appear to come to genuinely love each other.

Sadly, they are going to prove to be very bad influences on each other, with their shared conviction that the Tsar is appointed by god and can therefore do no wrong and need not share power with anyone else. There are early signs of that here as Alix ignores advice from those around her, even her own sister.

No sooner are they engaged when Tsar Alexander falls ill and is probably dying, and Nicholas has to face the fact that he will be Tsar very soon. The Russian liberals, represented by industrialist Sergei Witte (Freddie Jones, Claudius in The Caesars, Ynyr in Krull, among many other roles) and professor Paul Miliukov (David "Monkey" Collings), hope they can influence him into being more of a reformer than his father.

Witte is actually doing very nicely out of the status quo, but he fears that if Russia does not modernise at least a little, their whole system could be threatened by revolutionaries.

In the leader of these revolutionaries we meet the final main character of Fall of Eagles, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, played by Patrick "Sejanus" Stewart. He is only in a couple of scenes in this episode, meeting his future wife Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya for the first time as he takes over her secret group just by being better at organising than the rest of them are, and by actually having a plan.

In the closing scenes Tsar Alexander dies, and there is a brief appearance from Kevin Stoney as the priest who officially recognises Nicholas as Tsar Nicholas ii. His only dialogue is a long list of the many titles Nicholas has inherited, which carry on even as the credits start to roll.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Once Upon a Time-Lord...

Once Upon a Time~Lord... (the comics love ellipses so much they're even making their way into titles now) is a direct continuation from the end of Polly the Glot, with the Doctor pursuing the renegade Time Lord Astrolabus who has penguinnapped Frobisher.

The TARDIS scanner proves to be useless, showing "an empty world, devoid of life" while we can see it has countryside, buildings, hot air balloons, Little Red Riding Hoods, and Black Riders.

As soon as the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS he is attacked by a Black Rider and cries out
"By Elbereth and Luthien the fair, you shall have neither the ring nor me!"
Even the Doctor is confused why he said that, but then Frobisher arrives and starts speaking in a strange way:
"I've been having a lovely time, Doctor! Come and meet some of my merry chums!"
"Merry chums? You're a guttersnipe from a slum on some backwater planet... you've never had a merry chum in your life!"
I can just imagine Colin Baker shouting "merry chums?" three times if it had been him delivering this dialogue. The Doctor seems to accept that this is the real Frobisher, but he doubts that the other things in the land are real, including the talking tree they meet. The Doctor has plenty of experience with illusionary landscapes, such as in The Mind Rober, The Deadly Assassin, or The Penalty, so he knows they have a "dark side" as well (although he may be thinking of The Force there).

Astrolabus is watching them and decides to let the little mannys and aliens in his audience choose their fate:
"Only you can decide, children! So on with your thinking caps... and let the story commence!"

Astrolabus is so powerful that he changes the very nature of the comic strip. For the next three pages the Doctor and Frobisher are trapped in a six-panel strip with rhyming couplets beneath each picture, and the main story told in text form at the bottom.

The perils they face are those of old-school adventure stories. The badger is friendly enough, although my friend Longdog is still suspicious of him, but the eyes in the woods are sinister.
"It's only the little people who live in the woods." "Yes, Doctor," replies Frobisher. "But what kind of little people? It seems to me that they're the kind of p-people who like to p-pick up a p-penguin!
Lol! Although a possibly trademark-infringing lol at that. Frobisher tries to run away and gets captured by primitive little mannys from before the era of Political Correctness, who intend to nom him.
"Don't they know they can't do that?" gasps the Doctor. "It would be too horrible, too tragic. Why, penguins taste awful and give you terrible heartburn!"
The Doctor is too busy making this joke to rescue Frobisher, but luckily Frobisher gets rescued by a passing Tarzanalike. The comic goes back to normal as the Doctor and Frobisher run towards a castle and get chased by a giant, but now Astrolabus has taken over the caption boxes.

While it seems as though the Doctor and Frobisher are escaping from the successive perils pretty easily, it is revealed that this is because the Doctor is mentally fighting Astrolabus for control of the story - when Astrolabus is dominant there is a new threat, but when the Doctor is in control they can get away.

In the castle, the Doctor finds Astrolabus and challenges him. They swordfight until the Doctor uncovers one of Astrolabus's arms, where he sees "the missing star charts" have been drawn. Astrolabus runs away and the Doctor chases him across a number of panels depicting different genres until Astrolabus gets even more meta and says
"Got to... get through... door. Short cut to... next page..."

"Made it! I'm in the clear! Out in the open! Untrammelled! Unshackled! Free!
If I can just make it to the next episode!"

"But what's this? I feel a power greater than my own! I'm losing control! It's taking over! By Odin's beard... que pasa?"

"Oh no! It can't be!! Not at this stage of the game! Please! Say it isn't so!"

On a minimalist page showing only Astrolabus and his footprints against a white void background, we see Astrolabus's costume has changed. Voyager arrives upon a ship of the desert (Clever. Clever. Clever.) as the Doctor uncovers Astrolabus to reveal his body is covered in the charts.

Voyager finally explains what the plot has been about.
"You stole the sacred charts for the secrets and the power they contained. For access to the last, the most mysterious dimension of all...
The dimension of death! 
You shall have your wish!
Death will be your dominion!"

He blasts Astrolabus with "a hurricane force" and then turns his camel around and leaves, telling the Doctor
"I have claimed that which is mine... you are free now, Timelord... you are free..."
Although Astrolabus is also a Time Lord, so there is an ambiguity as to which one of the two Voyager is talking to there.

The Doctor asks Astrolabus the question that's insoluble for manny or machine. The final exchange between them, as Astrolabus lies hidden behind a rock except for his withered hand, hints at something even more epic in scope than even that which we have seen.
"Such a shame... Doctor... that you had no interest... in my powers. You would have made... a worthy... successor...
You were just getting... the hang of it!"
"I follow nobody, Astrolabus. I'm free... I go my own way!"
"Aah, Doctor... How can you know?
How can you know... how long... I have been writing your life?
What will you do?
Now that I'm...

Astrolabus's castle explodes, in accordance with the rule of No Ontological Inertia. The Doctor and Frobisher find themselves back at the Ridgway Ringway Carnival, where Frobisher suggests visiting "the tattooed man" but the Doctor declines, saying
"I'd much rather go somewhere else."
and looking sad to show that he regards Astrolabus's death as a waste, and that this is not a totally happy ending after all.

Once Upon a Time~Lord... completes the story arc begun back in Voyager by tying up the Astrolabus-Voyager conflict. The sections where the different characters are playing with the medium of comic-strip storytelling is fantastically meta, and ensures that this is like nothing that could be done in the TV series (which would have a go at playing around with its own medium in Vengeance on Varos about the same time). As a result this a very distinctive, memorable conclusion to the plot, and sends off the characters of Astrolabus and Voyager in style.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Polly the Glot

Polly the Glot is the second story in Collected Comics, and the picture on the cover shows characters from it.

It starts on board a great big space station where Dr Ivan Asimoff, a friendly green alien with four arms and his nose above his eyes, meets his old friend the Doctor and asks for his help with "the 'Save the Zyglot' trust."

In space we see two other aliens (not so friendly ones) in their spaceship capturing a Zyglot, an enormous pink alien, using a "gravity net." They sell it to "the Ringway Carnival."

The manny in the top left panel there is a reference to Rolf Harris and his 'Jake the Peg' routine, which fortunately hasn't dated as badly as some of his material.

Strictly speaking, Polly was a Glot... a subspecies of the Zyglot.
I see what they did there. Dr Asimoff sees Polly, "the only Zyglot in captivity," at the Ringway Carnival.
"Oh, Polly... you're so... beautiful."
he says.

When next he sees the Doctor, Dr Asimoff gets kidnapped by Frobisher at gunpoint. This leads to space headlines in the space newspapers:
"Read all about it! Famous scientist disappears read all about it!"

The Doctor's plan is to demand a ransom from the Zyglot Trust. Dr Asimoff points out
"The Zyglot Trust is broke!"
But the Doctor is one step ahead:
"I suspected that. And as soon as the public find out, they'll be sending in donations from far and wide."

Kidnapping Dr Asimoff is probably a safer plan than releasing a charity single - the Doctor doesn't have a good track record with those.

The plan starts to go wrong when the Dr tells the Doctor the name of the president of the Zyglot Trust:
"His name is Labus. Professor Astro Labus."

Yes, even though we only saw him in the previous story, Astrolabus is back already! What is this, Season Eight or something? The Doctor hallucinates being nomed by Astrolabus's giant mouth and faints (although he claims this was caused by a "post-hypnotic suggestion").

We now cut to "the ninth general meeting of the Save the Zyglot Trust" where Astrolabus is in charge. When he hears that Dr Asimoff has been kidnapped he says
"Stone the flamin' crows! Vous ne dites pas!
I smell a rat here, gentlemen. I smell a big, fat, furry rat... And throw in a penguin for good measure!"

Ooh... a big, fat, furry rat... cat noms! No, wait... he's talking about the Doctor, isn't he? That's a bit harsh... although about as curiously prescient as that remark about "BBC Producers" in The Shape Shifter. (Look, I'm a cat. You have to expect a catty remark from time to time.)

The Doctor takes the TARDIS to the spaceship of the Akkers, the aliens who captured Polly earlier in the story. He, Frobisher and Dr Asimoff go investigating, and soon Frobisher is separated from the other two. He meets two Akkers, Baz and Gordon, and asks them where they keep the Zyglots.
"Ignore him... he's a figment of the imagination."
"But I haven't got an imagination!"
"You're right! Therefore... he must be real!"
They raise the alarm.

There is a very funny scene where the Doctor and Dr Asimoff are confronted by a shape-shifting robot who claims to be "the Defender" of the ship and can transform into a variety of alternative shapes that seem mainly concerned with cleaning, like a sort of proto-Kryten from Red Dwarf. He hits the Doctor with his mop, but then when Dr Asimoff threatens to shoot him with the pewpewpew gun he picked up, the robot surrenders and admits to being the janitor and not "the Defender" after all.

The Doctor and Dr Asimoff go to the ship's bridge and force the Akker captain to release their Zyglot prisoner. The captain threatens to use the gravity net to crush the Zyglot, but the distraction provided by the arrival of the real Defender (who makes a speech about how he is "the real Defender, mind you... not some dumb service robot who thinks he's a whiz with a mop...") allows the two doctors to free the Zyglot.

The Akker captain then confesses the Ringway Carnival is run by somebody called "Astral Arbus"... honestly, he's making the Master's aliases look good here, mew.

Back at the Carnival, Astrolabus says
"Do I hear a vworp? Do I hear two vworps? What? Are they on to me so soon?"
Dr Asimoff and Frobisher come in to his tent to try to capture him...

But Astrolabus captures Frobisher instead, grabbing him and then they both disappear into his magic cabinet.

The Doctor was not there because he was busy freeing Polly, who escapes into space. The Doctor then departs in the TARDIS, leaving Dr Asimoff behind, along with a suitcase full of moneys (the ransom that the Doctor and Frobisher acquired at the end of The Shape Shifter) as a gift for the Zyglot Trust. It may be the proceeds of theft, but it is going to a good cause... we are left to assume that the currency is legal tender where Dr Asimoff is, or is that perhaps another Time Lord gift the Doctor allows him to share in?

Polly the Glot is a lovely little story. The comedic parts work better than the serious parts, perhaps because it is too fast-paced to build up much dramatic tension, but it is still a lot of fun. The art is well-suited to the material, and the alien character designs look better in the colour version of Collected Comics - especially the final 'splash' panel of Polly's escape.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Voyager (part two)

The story so far.

The Doctor sends Frobisher back to the TARDIS and orders him to stay there while he ascends the lighthouse and looks through the keyhole of a locked door.

He sees the old manny studying the charts he took from the ship. The Doctor picks the lock and sneaks in, and then he picks up the manny's gun and tries to capture him.

The old manny has an idiosyncratic turn of phrase.
"So! You win again, Professor Moriarty! Curse you for the fiend you are!
Go on, then... shoot! Scatter these old bones far and wide! Parbleu! I've had a good innings... now do your worst... Send a poor, frail old man back to the pavilion..."

You can tell Eric Saward isn't writing this, because the Doctor doesn't shoot him. Instead, his bluff called, he lowers the gun. The old manny then produces a pistol of his own.
"Mon dieu! The world is full of pacifists these days!
As for me... you may find I am made of sterner stuff!"
And he shoots the Doctor!

...Except the pistol just fires a dart that sticks to the Doctor's forehead with a "Plop!" The old manny then runs out of the door and locks the Doctor in. The Doctor decides to shoot the lock with the gun he took earlier,  but it also turns out to be a toy gun and goes "BANG" (with a flag). The Doctor thinks
"Oh, I see..."
He gets the door open and then decides to nearly fall off the lighthouse, although this makes a bit more sense than when a similar situation occurs at the end of part one of Dragonfire. The old manny appears again and he tries to make the Doctor fall off until the Doctor says
"You can't do this to me! I'm a Time Lord!!"
The Doctor did like gratuitously throwing around that he's a Time Lord during this era, so this seems in character for him. Here it causes the old manny to change his approach, and for the story to start taking an even stranger turn. He clicks his fingers (show off, mew!) and says
"You are in mortal peril, Time Lord. Voyager has seen you and he wants your soul...
You've met him, haven't you?"
The Doctor tells him of his dream and finds that he is not dangling over the edge of the lighthouse any more, but is instead back in the room. The old manny says "You have arrived at the ends of the earth..." and the Doctor, in order to set up the next line, says
"That's illogical. The world has no end..."

"Logic tells us the world is round.
But logic is a new toy."

I've heard worse catchphrases, mew. The Doctor demands to know who the old manny is, so he tells him.

"I? I am Astrolabus, the star taker... I am the sandman, the jester, the conjurer and the clown. I am the fool... I am...
El Diablo! Zorro! Robin Hood! I am a willow wand in the diviner's hand...
I am the last man, the flame-keeper, the light at the edge of the world. I am Santa Claus. I have charted the secret places of the earth. I have journeyed to the stars...
I am the fairy at the bottom of your garden.
I am the spring in the well... the story-teller, the star-spanner. I am the goblin, the imp and the ace of wands. I am magic... I am myth...
I am legend..."

Most of these sound like the sort of grandiose titles given to the Doctor himself in the new TV series! I think the first of these actually answered the question though.

Astrolabus tells the Doctor his backstory, although it is probably meant to be taken allegorically. He built the lighthouse and lit it using "fire from the sun and the stars" until "skyships came, bearing travellers from beyond the stars" who stole his charts and escaped "into the abyss of time and tide..."

The artwork for this section is particularly impressive, and reminds me at times of the style of Bryan Talbot as used in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Astrolabus finishes his tale but the Doctor doesn't believe him because he has remembered who Astrolabus is really.

He accuses Astrolabus of being "a plunderer, a pirate, and a thief!" and it would seem he is another renegade Time Lord and the lighthouse is his TARDIS.

When it is clear the Doctor is not going to team up with him, Astrolabus runs away and the Doctor chases him down the steps and through
A door into the dark.
But there are more illusions that are working for Astrolabus and the Doctor ends up in the water outside the lighthouse. Oh noes he will get wet! Frobisher sees the Doctor on the TARDIS scanner.

Lol! After wrestling with his conscience, Frobisher decides to disobey the Doctor and runs out to try to rescue him.

Voyager's ship materialises upon the sea, and Astrolabus's ship takes off from under and inside the lighthouse. The Doctor finds himself drawn back onto the ship like in his dream at the beginning of the story, and again it is sailing towards the giant waterfall.

Voyager says
"Gaze upon the void, Time-Lord... the universe ends here!"
"It cannot end here! The universe has no end!"
replies the Doctor, once again acting as the feed line for
"Logic tells you the world is round.
But logic is a new toy."

It has to be significant that Voyager uses almost exactly the same words as Astrolabus used earlier. Are they connected somehow - maybe Voyager is to Astrolabus as the Master is to the Doctor... or the Valeyard? (Except the Valeyard didn't exist yet when Voyager was written.) Just like in the dream the ship goes over the edge, and then the Doctor finds himself on a rock having been rescued by Frobisher.

The Doctor sees a giant Voyager, who demands the Doctor returns
"The charts stolen from me by the Time-Lords!"
and he isn't prepared to accept the Doctor's perfectly reasonable response that it was Astrolabus who took them, not him. Voyager continues to make non-specific threats to the Doctor as the TARDIS dematerialises.
"And remember...
There is no escape..."
That is the end of the story for now, although it is clear that we have not heard the last of Astrolabus and Voyager.

This story uses the comic format to best effect, and it would have been impossible to realise on the TV show of the time. The plot is very melodramatic (as the number of exclamation marks used indicates!) but is acting as a vehicle to allow the artwork to really impress - everything from the character design of Voyager, to the lighthouse setting, to the epic sweep of the Astrolabus backstory flashbacks.

As the first story to feature penguin Frobisher, he takes a back seat to the Doctor-Astrolabus confrontation for much of it, but still gets some good moments of comic relief and he is already developing into a great Companion character.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

It was a Devil Ship.. The Voyager

Voyager feels like a deliberate attempt at an epic Doctor Who story, much as Trial of a Time Lord would be for the TV show a couple of years later. But unlike on the TV show, the makers of the comic stories did not have their imaginations limited by a BBC budget. Artist John Ridgway gives this story the requisite sense of scale from the very first panel.

The Doctor begins the story already trapped on board a ship with a mysterious craggy-faced manny with a big collar (although not quite a Time Lord collar). The manny claims to be "a Lord of Life!" as the ship goes over a giant waterfall, and then the Doctor wakes up because it turns out it was only a dream. This would be a disappointing end to the story, except we are only four pages in and the story is just beginning!

The Doctor goes looking for Frobisher, who is at last named as such... although it is not actually his real name:
The Whifferdill, in spite of numerous aliases, had finally adopted the name "Frobisher", in deference to the Doctor's love of all things English...

Already Frobisher has adopted the shape of a cute penguin, which will be his main shape for the rest of his time in Doctor Who, rather than the round-faced alien form he used in The Shape Shifter.

They find a ship in the ice that resembles the one from the Doctor's dream, and go aboard.

They go into the captain's cabin and find star charts of places the Doctor doesn't recognise, and then a strange old manny comes in with a gun and he wants the charts too.

He takes the charts and escapes to a flying machine that the Doctor calls "a da Vinci original!" The Doctor and Frobisher go back to the TARDIS so that they can give chase.

Frobisher decides to stay as a penguin, although it is not clear for now if this is a joke or not.
"Anyhow, I'm staying a penguin for a while for... well, personal reasons...
D'you know... I once spent fourteen years as a till on a checkout counter in a supermarket in Walthamstow? I did it for love...
But she thought I was only in it for the money..."


The old manny lands by a lighthouse and goes inside. The Doctor can tell that this is a lighthouse for ships, but
"Not the kind of ships that sail on the sea..."
(I think he means spaceships.)

The TARDIS lands and they go outside. Investigating the island before they go into the lighthouse itself, Frobisher goes into the water and sees there is "a space-craft of some kind" hidden there.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Shape Shifter

Previously on the Doctor Who Books Project...

Check out these pistols!

The first story in Voyager is The Shape Shifter, which is also the first story to appear in Collected Comics, a rather generic title for a 1986 Marvel special similar in appearance to the Marvel 1985 Summer Special Classic that featured The Iron Legion.

The only difference between the two versions of The Shape Shifter is that the one in Collected Comics has been coloured in, so I will review that one since I like colourful things more, perhaps because I am a colourful cat?!

The art here is by John Ridgway, and already we can see his trademark style of sometimes having part of the picture escaping from the confines of the rectangular panel system. He's a maverick!

This is the first appearance of the Doctor's new Companion Frobisher, and the story begins from his point of view. He is the "shape-shifter" of the title, an alien "Whifferdill" who works as a private investigator on some nameless space-noir planet.

After a couple of pages of seeing Frobisher getting into scrapes and demonstrating his shape-shifting power that gets him both in to and out of said scrapes, he returns to his office where he sees there is a reward being offered for the Doctor, either as Peter Davison or as Colin Baker. This story was first written in 1984 when Colin Baker was the brand new Doctor on TV, so it is clever of them to also give a reminder of the previous Doctor that readers would have been comfortable and familiar with.

He goes to look for the Doctor in nearby bars (space bars?) and, while the comic is not above the pun of Frobisher disguising himself as a "barfly", it does miss the trick of, when he eventually sees the Doctor, not including something along the lines of 'Of all the bars in all of time and space, he had to walk into mine.' Oh well. Mew.

The Doctor is already involved in a plot of his own, although precisely what it is we don't find out, and is looking for clues. When he gets attacked by two mannys outside the TARDIS (using the old cat logic of 'if they attack me it must be a clue'), Frobisher saves him before vanishing. The Doctor goes into the TARDIS and then

Frobisher hi-jacks the TARDIS. The Doctor makes a joke here that, with the benefit of hindsight regarding Colin Baker's ultimate fate, proves to either be foreshadowing or just bitterly ironic, not to mention exceptionally meta:

Frobisher gives the Doctor some examples of what he can do if the Doctor doesn't agree to fly the TARDIS to Cuba Venus:

The Doctor's likeness to Colin Baker is variable throughout this story, but this page is the nadir. The Doctor gives in and agrees to take Frobisher to Venus, but then Frobisher informs him he is going to hand him in for the reward.

The next page sees the TARDIS arrive on Venus with a "Vworp! Vworp!" It lands on the roof of Intra Venus Inc, the headquarters of Mr Dogbolter. It seems it was Dogbolter that offered the reward for the Doctor.

Dogbolter, who is not a dog but a cigar-smoking alien with a passing resemblance to Michael Grade's uncle Lew (could this be the real origin of Michael's vendetta against the programme?), is a recurring baddy in Marvel comic stories, although The Shape Shifter is the earliest story with him in that I have read.
In the way of Marvel comics, Death's Head #8 (published in 1989) is a crossover story with Doctor Who that seemingly brings the Doctor and Dogbolter's story arc, of which The Shape Shifter is a part, to an end.

The Doctor is handed over to two of Dogbolter's henchmannys in exchange for a suitcase full of moneys.

But then suddenly there are three henchmannys instead of two-and-the-Doctor. This is because it was not the Doctor who was handed over, but Frobisher shape-shifted to look like the Doctor. Frobisher stuns the two real henchmannys (at least I hope he only stuns them, he does say they're "out for the count") and then waits for the Doctor to rescue him.

The TARDIS materialises ("Vworp! Vworp!" again) and it turns out that between two pages the Doctor and Frobisher decided to team up and pull a heist on Dogbolter, like a two-alien IMF team. This makes for an effective plot twist in addition to further showing off Frobisher's shape-shifting skills. There is then another twist right at the end as Frobisher announces he has "decided to stick around" and become the new Companion... whether the Doctor likes it or not.

This is a decent enough story, with the fairly minimal plot being secondary to introducing the character and abilities of Frobisher - that is clearly its main purpose and one at which it succeeds.

What is therefore surprising is that Frobisher isn't named as such at any point during The Shape Shifter. He doesn't tell the Doctor his name, and is always referred to in the captions as "the Whifferdill." Curiously, his office door does have a name on it, but it says "Avan Tarklu Private Investigator"..?