The Ninth Doctor Collection,
Volume 1 – Weapons of Past Destruction
Tony’s been weaponized.
Fact 1: Cavan Scott is a man who knows his Who.
Fact 2: Cavan Scott is a man who, if anything, knows his comic-books even better.
Welcome to the good times.
The Ninth Doctor got a staggered start in Titan’s comic-book output – Doctors Ten, Eleven and Twelve were already romping about their respective universes when Titan dipped its toe in the Ninth Doctor’s pond with a short run, a mini-series to see whether, a decade down the line, anyone would particularly buy a Ninth Doctor comic-book. You can see their point: while we yield to no-one in our admiration of Eccleston, his performance or the Doctor he built, you have to be very very careful when delivering that Doctor in the comic-book medium. You need him to be quintessentially himself, and to be – as he was defined on-screen by being – accompanied by at least Rose. You need that broodiness, that occasional shouting, moments of sudden silliness, you need it all. But you have to balance it with the different demands of the comic-book medium to those of on-screen storytelling. Even if people wanted to read more stories with the Ninth Doctor, it’s a very delicate balancing act to pull off to make him fundamentally himself all the way through and still deliver an engaging comic-book story.
You got the part where Scott knows both his Who and his comic-books, right?
In hindsight, you don’t need us to tell you he succeeded. So far, the Ninth is the only Doctor to have started with a mini-series and graduated to a full monthly run, despite exemplary work on behalf of the Eighth, Fourth and now Third Doctors (Seriously, Titan – First, Second, Fifth, Sixth? Seventh if you feel you absolutely must…). Weapons of Past Destruction was the proof of concept, the proof of market that pushed the brooding Northern Doctor into full-time production. And the fact is, you can see why that happened. Cavan Scott’s storyline starts off with a bang and a conflict between two madly outer-space species, the Lect and the Unon. The Lect look like robotic Kinder Eggs, and the Unon, to quote Scott’s Ninth Doctor, look like ‘Flying space-centaurs, all gleaming armour and pointy sticks.’ The cause of their disagreement though? That’s where things get interesting. There’s enough post-Time War angst and shouting from the Ninth Doctor, but there’s also the Ninth Doctor on fire, as he was towards the end of his life in Bad Wolf and The Parting of The Ways, absolutely riffing it, heading into danger with a yell, a mad laugh, a flared nostril and a plan he cobbles together as he goes, based largely on the idea that the universe owes him a victory and the knowledge of his own brilliance. There’s that touch of Time Lord arrogance about him, convinced he has the right stuff in every situation, and that many other life-forms are tiny and ‘made of clay’ by comparison. But in the moments when he finds his outrage, as he does fairly early in issue #2 of the story, it helps focus him, helps remind him who the Doctor is, and how he acts, even in this body, to stand between the good people in the universe and those who seek to squash them under arrogant feet.
There’s plenty of timey-wimey in the story too – at one point, Rose gets lost in the vortex and ends up working at a bazar for a while, under the tutelage of a giant octopus, making her way in a barmy universe till the Doctor and Jack come to collect her. That also hits the ‘Companion doing their own thing’ note that was relatively new to on-screen Who when the series roared back into the public consciousness in 2005.
And what Scott combines are a hundred gracenotes of the Ninth Doctor’s time with a plot that’s suitably complex to fit alongside the Bad Wolf arc, and above all, an ear for voice. Oh man, Cavan Scott has an ear for voice. Check out this extract and tell us you don’t hear the Ninth Doctor.
‘I see the legends about you are true.’
‘Legends? Got to love a good legend. Go on then – what do they say? Please don’t tell me they mention the ears.’
‘They speak of your incessant babble.’
‘It serves a purpose. Self-preservation.’
‘To stop others hurting you?’
‘To stop me hurting them.’
How perfect is that? A Doctor that babbles not because he wants to, but because it’s what the Doctor used to do, and right now, in this war-scarred life, he needs every reminder he can get to claw his way back to being that man, to stop the fury and the rage and the anything-goes power of the alternative overwhelming him.
Both Rose and Jack are very true to their on-screen selves throughout this mini-series too – and importantly, they’re true to themselves at the time when this story’s set, rather than ever dipping into Torchwood Jack and Tenth Doctor Rose. Scott’s a far better writer than to allow that to happen.
Is the story perfect?
Mmmmm It’s close, but no – the first issue does involve quite a lot of not-very-much in story terms, and relies a little too heavily on the artwork and the sheer novelty of Ninth Doctor comic-books to be quite perfect, but it never even considers dabbling with the idea of badness, and it gets a lot better from the second issue on, filling its time with that delicate balance we were talking about: the Ninth Doctor imprinting himself on your consciousness just as he did on-screen while still delivering an issue-by-issue deepening of the backstory, a raising of the stakes, as war becomes complex, Rose Tyler stands between the opposing forces, and time’s new champions make a play to replace the Time Lords as arbiters of fairness in a universe of post-war chaos.
From a standing start it ramps up into a story you simply can’t stop reading – and that’s the hidden sales pitch of this collected volume. The issues, when they were released, made you want, and want more, and more, and left you at the end feeling utterly satisfied but still eager for more Ninth Doctor adventures. Here in the collected edition, you can absolutely binge on what is essentially Series 0,75 – a whole arc of moral complexity, anger, yelling, arrogance, plans, fun, silliness, humanity, teaching and Jack…being Jack. It’s the second series you always wanted Eccleston to do, and by the honesty of the voices and the complexity of the storyline, it stands up to everything Russell T Davies delivered.
Can we talk art? Oh go on, let’s talk art. We could talk about the art of The Weapons of Past Destruction till your eyes glazed over and you shuffled away with a nervous smile on your lips, in search of anyone, anyone else to talk to. Artwise, you’re looking at Blair Shedd and Rachael ‘Had a really good 2016 on the Twelfth Doctor comic-books’ Stott. You’re talking colour, vividness, strong, accurate portrayals of the Tardis crew – which when you’re reaching back ten years for your connection-point with a readership is even more important than it is when you’re delivering figures from current multi-media pop culture. Normally we’d pick out a couple of the best and most dynamic panels for you, but in Weapons of Past Destruction, the challenge is finding panels that aren’t dynamic, extraordinary or poster-worthy. If we’re absolutely pushed, there’s a fantast triptych of Doctors, Eight Nine and War on the same page, and there’s another, almost opposite panel including Troughtonesque Cybermen and Tennant Sontarans that sends a particular thrill up the geeky reader’s spine. Is the art perfect then? As with the story, there’s one issue that stops it claiming that honour, in this case the overuse of silhouette shots far beyond the point at which they’re an interesting inversion to accent the action, and into the realms of intrusive overkill of an artistic idea. But you’d be splitting nano-hairs, either with the storytelling or the artwork, to claim any issue of Weapons of Past Destruction was ruined for you by the flaws that stop it being entirely perfect.
The Weapons of Past Destruction was exciting when it was released in issue-by-issue format. Gathering the whole thing together in a single volume is a (ahem) fantastic idea, and makes it something rather more special than any of the usual collected Who volumes. This storyline, this artwork, helped fans remember their love affair with a brand new Doctor – and a brand new Doctor Who to boot. This collected volume is a ridiculous, compelling, ‘Don’t-talk-to-me-till-I’m-finished’ pleasure that (*cough* Just saying *cough*) would keep any Who fan quiet for a good few hours on Christmas Day.