Sunday, May 3, 2009

Doctor Who: The Betrothal of Sontar

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of Doctor Who: The Betrothal of Sontar (Panini, 2008).

Panini has released a pair of 100-page magazine collections of the more recent episodes of their long-running Doctor Who strip since the series returned. In fact, Christopher Eccleston only played the Doctor long enough to make it to about 100 pages of comics, so that's all the compilation that he'll ever get, but "The Betrothal of Sontar" is the first time that one of their big, lovely graphic novels is devoted to the modern series. It contains all of the Tenth Doctor & Rose strips from Doctor Who Magazine #365-377 plus one from the 2007 Storybook, and wraps up with the first post-Rose story "The Warkeeper's Crown" from #378-380, which features the return of the Brigadier along with longtime Eighth Doctor artist Martin Geraghty.

From a creators' standpoint, it really is a mixed bag. One thing that has made the strip so enthralling over its thirty-year run have been the lengthy runs by a consistent team, whether the original Mills/Wagner/Gibbons lineup, or the Parkhouse run of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors, or the terrific Gray/Geraghty run for the Eighth Doctor. The strip was at its weakest in the early 90s when it was without a regular team. Since 2005, it's had rotating writers and artists, and sometimes there are eye-rolling duds like Tony Lee's "F.A.Q." but the approach does have advantages. By letting the TV show dictate the subplots and continuity, the strip can focus more on high-concept adventures that no TV show's budget could manage, like John Tomlinson's titular adventure and Mike Collins' reality-warping "The Futurists."

That might seem an odd distinction, but it results in a mix of stories simply too wild for any TV budget and more amusing episodes that play with the modern series' character dynamics. Best of all is a one-off written by Gareth Roberts and drawn by Mike Collins and David Roach in which the Doctor spends a TARDIS-free weekend on the Powell Estate waiting for Rose to arrive, making Mickey completely miserable. It's a really hilarious little gem. A similar story, bidding farewell to this set of supporting characters and drawn by the great Roger Langridge, is a wonderful recap of everything that both drove us nuts and made Rose, Jackie and Mickey so endearing. It's a perfect companion to the TV series, and is certainly recommended for all Doctor Who fans.

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