Sunday, June 30, 2013

Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand (Panini, 2012).

Credit Where It's Due Dept: The last two Panini collections of Doctor Who comics got some pretty well-deserved raspberries from me, because the publisher solicited them at a price of about $24, and then when they showed up, they cost $32. Well, I no longer care to read advance solicitations for comics, but I do note that when The Crimson Hand finally showed up, as explained below, it came with a price printed on the back cover of the book itself of $31.95, covered up by a large sticker that corrected it to $24.99. Thank you, gentlemen, that's the way that it should be done.

Having said that, it's possible that when The Crimson Hand was originally solicited, it might have been so long ago that I actually was still paying attention to these things. The book was caught up in a sad and lengthy tug of war between various branches of the BBC's licensing and marketing departments. Apparently somebody started thinking about things too deeply and wondered whether Panini's license to print comics extends to giving them the right to collect these comics in a book form, and whether they might need a different license for that, because some other department has that license. And then there's the issue of the logo. Brands being all-important, it wouldn't do to have the David Tennant logo on new merchandise, because since Matt Smith became the star, there's a different logo... good grief, did anybody dare dream that when Doctor Who came back in '05 that things would get so silly?

The comic has always had a silly streak, but it's also played fairly within the rules of the continuity since the TV show returned. This left the comic's creators with a really great opportunity. They would have something like eighteen months between the end of series four and the debut of Matt Smith's Doctor to do whatever the heck they wanted. If the comic had become a little straitjacketed by the show continuity, this was a rare and happy opportunity to revisit the freewheeling anything goes decade of the Eighth Doctor, with long and involved subplots and lots of recurring characters.

Orchestrated by Dan McDaid, who wrote most of the resulting stories, the free-from-teevee-rules final run of the Tenth Doctor - you can slot this entire book in between the TV episodes "Planet of the Dead" and "The Waters of Mars" - sees the Doctor crossing paths with a ruthless green-skinned businesswoman called Majenta Pryce and, much to his surprise, traveling with her for a time. To his even bigger surprise, she has very mysterious origins of her own and is being pursued through time and space by four incredibly ruthless and powerful beings.

This collection is a great big satisfying chunk of story, realistically more than can be absorbed in a single sitting. Artwork is provided by the reliable Mike Collins, Martin Geraghty, and Paul Grist, and I really enjoyed Geraghty's Kirby-esque designs for the Crimson Hand. It's fun and surprising, and while the Doctor himself is probably not in any real danger, it's a book where everybody else is. Recommended.

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