February 9, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Doctor Who Classics “Doctor Who And The Iron Legion”

The Fourth Doctor travels to an alternate reality where the Roman Empire never fell but instead got really high tech.

Alright, I had this stashed away for when everything else was finished:  Doctor Who Classics Omnibus Volume 1, a collection of comic strips about the Doctor that originally appeared in Doctor Who Weekly and were later reprinted in America in Marvel Fanfare (meaning many of these stories start with “Stan Lee Presents”), and feature stories from the writers like Grant Morrison and Judge Dread creators Pat Mills and John Wagner and artists like Bryan Hitch and Dave Gibbons.

Actually, it looks like Gibbons was responsible for most of the artwork, and a lot of it is rather gorgeous.  Anyhoo, up first:  “Doctor Who and the Iron Legion”.

The Doctor threatens General Ironicus with a gun that instantly rusts robots.

From credited writers Mills and Wagner (a little online research told me that Mills wrote this one solo) and artwork by Gibbons, this story is pretty straightforward:  the Fourth Doctor lands in a small English town that just so happens to be under attack by some robotic Roman legionaires.  He takes one down by accident (it counts one human but two hearts and never considers that there might be one person with two hearts and shorts out), but in his attempt to escape back to the TARDIS, the Doctor is knocked to another reality where not only did the Roman Empire never fall, but it’s gone intergalactic.  This version seems to have completely taken over that reality, and the child Emperor seems like a real brat.

That’s not the problem.  The problem is the Roman gods, here having been supplanted by the powerful and evil Malevilus, shapeshifting aliens with a number of odd mental powers that can eveb alter reality itself.  Sure, the Iron Legion’s leader, General Ironicus, comes across as pretty bad in his own right, but the Doctor quickly realizes he has his number and nicknames him “parrot” based on the shape of his head-helmet (as opposed to the Roman Eagle Ironicus claims it is).

Now, the nice thing about a comic book series, much like the Big Finish stories, is the stories are less limited by the BBC’s notoriously low budgets.  Yeah, that cursory research I mentioned said this story was considered for the TV version, but I think it’s safe to say that was unlikely to ever happen.

However, this is the Doctor.  He stops an alien monster by telling it a joke in its own language, makes a couple allies in the form of cyborg gladiator Morris and a small robotic volcano named Vesuvius, and eventually saves the day when he tricks the leader of the Malevilius into opening up a portal to an empty dimension while trying to learn how to fly the TARDIS.  The others just blow up, despite the fact the Doctor seemed to believe the things were more or less immortal, but that might have just been the leader.

Of course, there are some minor annoyances, mostly in the form of how Vesuvius uses pronouns, basically switching nominative and objective cases, saying things like “Dearly I!” and so forth.

I wouldn’t rank this as one of the all time great Doctor Who stories or anything, but it was fun enough.  Flipping through the rest of the book, it looks like there are a lot of Fourth and Sixth Doctor stories plus one with the Seventh.  And when I finish these dozen or so stories off, I do have something else lined up next.

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