Monday, 31 August 2015

Doctor Who and the Iron Legion

Look, it's the Marvel 1985 Summer Special Classic, one of Duncan's oldest Doctor Who books from 30 years ago!

There are two stories inside it, of which the main feature is The Iron Legion (or, to give it its full title, Stan Lee presents: Doctor Who and the Iron Legion). Colin Baker was the Doctor on TV at this time, but here the Doctor looks like Tom Baker. This is a great cover picture, and depicts a scene from later in the story.

It starts with robots and tanks attacking mannys, seemingly just for the lols.

The Doctor is in a shop but the manny there says "They're coming!" very dramatically before a robot comes in.

The robot shoots the manny right in the beans, removing any possibility of doubt that they are the baddys. The Doctor escapes from that robot and we the readers are introduced to General Ironicus, who is in charge of the robots but will later turn out to only be a henchrobot of the main baddys.

His design is very striking with his birdy head, making him a memorable character. The Doctor escapes from more robots back to the TARDIS and he pilots it to where the robots have come from.

The Doctor is mistaken for Caesar and is then immediately captured by General Ironicus.

The Doctor has seen enough to work out what is going on, but he is in trouble and will have to escape first before he can do anything about it.

The Doctor is thrown into the arena to face the Ectoslime, which is a huge and scary monster and is not supposed to be cute at all, even though it is a bit cute with a derpy face. This is the scene from the cover and is very dramatic, although it is not a moment that is vital to the plot.

The Doctor avoids being nomed by the Ectoslime using his brains in a properly Doctorish manner, which makes General Ironicus even more grumpy. Instead of killing the Doctor some other way, he makes the Doctor be "a slave in the Imperial Air Galley!"

This story was already pretty good, with an epic sense of scale, properly evil baddys, and a quick pace meaning lots happens on every page, but now it gets even better as the Doctor begins to make friends - first with Morris, who is another slave with a distinctive look and way of speaking, allowing him to develop a characterisation very quickly.

Lots happens on this page, from the Doctor and Morris becoming friends to the Doctor seeing a clue as to what is going on. As he says, "I've discovered the horrifying secret of the Galactic Roman Empire!" but that is held back from us readers to keep us in suspense for now.

Morris and the Doctor escape from the galley and are chased by "alien guards" but they get away and then meet another friendly character, the old robot Vesuvius. Vesuvius is, if anything, even more distinctive in look and speech than Morris, but part of his distinctive speech pattern - a stutter - is a deliberate attempt to evoke Claudius from I Claudius.

Because Vesuvius is called Vesuvius it is a bit more subtle than if he was called something that sounded a lot like Claudius, just as the Emperor is not called Caligula but instead "Adolphus", a name which manages to bring in a completely different kind of baddy.

Vesuvius takes the Doctor and Morris to the temple of the gods, where the Doctor's suspicions are confirmed.

The design of the Malevilus is impressively evil-looking, and their evil is confirmed as they nom the mannys that General Ironicus has captured for them.

This is a very scary bit. I am glad that cats aren't noms; not even Malevilus noms, because Cats Aren't Noms. The Doctor, Morris and Vesuvius escape and are chased by alien guards and the Malevilus for five pages - an exciting chase sequence that Jon Pertwee's Doctor would be proud of.

Morris gets a gun and shoots some of their pursuers, but just when they think they have managed to escape again...

... they are shot and Morris is injured! (Note the clever way that exposition is interwoven with action in the first few panels of that page.)

Morris goes
and the Doctor says "Goodbye, Morris, old friend." Even though the Doctor only met Morris 13 pages earlier, it is believable that he would call him "old friend" because of the adventure they have been through together and the Doctor's personality.

This is an emotional scene, but the action doesn't pause for long. Before the end of the page the Doctor and Vesuvius have discovered "the hall of the Bestarius -- the Beast Men!" and the Doctor has a plan to get them to help him.

Setting the Bestiarus loose, the Doctor heads for a final confrontation with General Ironicus and Magog, leader of the Malevilus...

Magog is established as the real main baddy of this story - she kills Ironicus off because her organisation does not tolerate failure. I really like the stylised way Ironicus's death is drawn to be horrible without being graphic.

There is a much more scary bit to follow... Magog transforms to her true form, taking four panels to do so. This is also depicted really well for maximum scariness. Any scarier and I will have to call in Scary Cat to help me finish this review.

This bit reminds me of the powers of Sutekh from Pyramids of Mars. But Magog has made a mistake as the Doctor uses the T.V. camera to make Magog appear on television, causing the citizens of Rome to revolt against the Iron Legion and the Malevilus.

Magog is going to nom the Doctor but, like General Ironicus earlier in the story, wants the secrets of the TARDIS first. The Doctor turns Magog's greed against her and tricks her into activating the deus ex machina ending.

"Good job! Every TARDIS carries a spare dimension as standard equipment!"

"Good job" indeed. By far the biggest weakness of The Iron Legion is the way this resolution comes out of nowhere and the ending is very rushed in comparison to the earlier sections of the story.

The other Malevilus are destroyed while trying to escape from the Bestiarus
Vesuvius is made the new Emperor by the citizens (because of course he is; he's Claudius as I already mentioned) and the Doctor leaves. The end.

The ending does feel rushed, with Magog and the Malevilus, the Emperor and the Iron Legion all taken care of in less than a page-and-a-half. But that doesn't matter so much because what came before was so good, in storytelling techniques, characterisation and in the art. This is a classic Doctor Who story in every important sense of the word.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Starcat and Scary Cat Can Has Been Assigned (Part Five)

Starcat and Scary Cat review Sapphire & Steel: Assignment Five

There are a lot of mannys in this story, and even more when Sapphire and Steel arive and they count as two each because they are pretending to be Miles & Virginia Cavendish. Starcat and Scary Cat thought that there are too many mannys for only two cats to keep track of, so got Gamma Longcat and Big Gay Longcat in to help them.

Starcat and Scary Cat and Gamma Longcat and Big Gay Longcat have been assigned.

Assignment Five is a blend of an Agatha Christie murder-mystery story with the Sapphire & Steel we know, as Sapphire and Steel attend a dinner party in 1980 but set in 1930 until the two periods are blended by Time. Sapphire uses telepathy as a great shortpaw way of letting us know about the several guest characters quickly, to allow the first episode to really get going.

After a pointless, crowbarred-in cliffhanger to end part one, the second episode is a little slower with not much happening to further the plot except for the arrival to the scene of George McDee, who has been dead for 50 years. The mannys accept this twist, as did we cats, but to Sapphire and Steel it is a sign that something is wrong with Time because he is not supposed to be here.

Part three is a bit of mess, with too many confusing instances of characters suffering from convenient laser guided amnesia so the guest characters don't know what is going on from one scene to the next and keep the mystery element going. There are good bits in the episode, and it does blend the two genres of period murder-mystery and sci-fi well - Steel takes charge as a detective (Poirot-style), and then later Sapphire and Steel confront McDee about genetics in 1930, a scene that fits Sapphire & Steel perfectly, but you would be unlikely to see in anything else.

The blending of the genres is a real strength of the story, and gets better in the second half. We all liked the bit when Felix Harborough (one of the guest characters) becomes "Brass" to work with Sapphire and Steel. After much cat discussion, we have agreed that our Sapphire & Steel names would be Hydrogen, Scariness, Length and Handsomeness. What would yours be?

While there are lots of new characters, David McCallum and Joanna Lumley remain the heart of the show, on good form throughout and looking like they enjoy the costumes and the 1930s setting in general.

There are many great directorial touches throughout, such as the moment when Steel teleports and we see it from his point of view, with the background fading out and in instead of him disappearing.

Scary Cat felt let down by the lack of scary moments in this story. There is one bit in the last episode where McDee reveals his sore chest, but it is over too quickly to be scary. It is as though it was a substandard visual effect that they were trying not to linger on so as to disguise it.

We were all agreed that, on the whole, this was a very good story with a clever concept that works well in the Sapphire & Steel universe.