Doctor Who Week: Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1

The few reviews and discussions I've seen of these issues plays the rather easy game of "spot the Morrison trademarks" which is interesting and all, but this stuff's more interesting in terms of how Morrison's style kinda fits Doctor Who than the other way around. It's more feasible--and way more interesting--to think about the probably huge influence Doctor Who had on a young Grant Morrison which in turn, made him write some good Doctor Who stories, which after like 20-plus years of comics writing, some of these weird Who-isms look like total Morrison trademarks, especially if you haven't seen a whole lot of the TV show.

Still, a few aspects seem particularly Morrison-like beyond a superficial "this is bat-shit crazy like a Morrison comic" reading. In the first story "Changes", about a shape-shifter that's gotten inside the TARDIS, Morrison moves the reader through a particularly malleable and strange series of landscapes all the while moving the story towards the inevitable cliche of every shapeshifter storyline: The shapeshifter turns into a member of the crew and they have to play "Which is the real one?".

It's a good example of Morrison's interests in genre expectations and also playful, genre explosion. He leads us towards the inevitable and then jokingly switches it up, as the "which one is it" tension last a single panel before Frobisher points out "[The Shapeshifter] can't duplicate clothing" and so, Peri's necklace on the false Peri is colored to look like the real Peri's necklace but is in fact, "fused into the flesh". Reading it, especially knowing this is licensed comic, you're really expecting it to stupidly "go-there" and so, it's doubly jarring and extra funny when Frobisher's just like, "Dude, it's obvious which one is the real one" and then, the Shapeshifter freaks out and turns into a Tiger...Frobisher turns into a Tiger too, and they fight it out. That's Morrison in a nutshell and it's Doctor Who at its best, a grand mix of exactly what's expected and some very clever reversals and deconstructions.

The second story "Culture Shock", with art by Bryan Hitch (also interesting to note that Richard Starkings is credited as "Editor" on this story), is very Morrison-esque but again, not because it's full of trippy, from-another-world weirdness and a quasi-visionquest, but because of it's overarching warmth and optimism. What the best work from Morrison has-- be it Doom Patrol or All-Star Superman--is a spectacular understanding and presentation of the fucked-up, darkness of the world and a touching refusal to give into that darkness. Morrison stories often end happily, just not the simplistic "happy" you see in most comics or movies.

"Culture Shock" presents a self-doubting Doctor Who unsure of what or why he's doing what he does. With the TARDIS parked on the edge of picturesque cliff, overlooking the sun setting on water, he asks: "What's the point of all this bumming around time and space?". A few frames later, perched on rock, he tells the TARDIS, "You're almost as old and useless as I am!". This is intercut with a virus speaking to the reader and apparently heard by the Doctor as well. Even in this moment of self-doubt, the Doctor thinks to respond to the "telepathic cry for help" and jumps into action.

What makes it cool and extra affecting is how at first, you think the Doctor's apathy will win out ("I don't supposed I need to get involved...too many cooks spoil the child as they say") but then, he changes his mind and acts, encountering a slowly dying (and shrinking) Brontasaurus from which the telepathic cries stemmed. He quickly helps it, injecting it with "maxenshudicea" (whatever that is) and drops it in the ocean. Then, the Doctor playfully strolls back to the TARDIS swinging his umbrella, and says "Well? Don't just sit there. We've got people to see, places to go, things to do!" and the TARDIS flies away, ending the story. The shift from self-doubt to self-assurance is palpable and framing all this crazy space stuff around the basic idea of helping a sick animal (it just happens to be a purple Brontasaurus here) and re-gaining an understanding of purpose is brilliant in being both down-to-earth and relateable, while still being grand and cosmic and all about mortality and life/death and stuff.


crispy said...

i've been following your blog quietly for a while, but these recent posts have made me comment because they've been so good. i actually started buying "doctor who magazine" the very issue "changes" was first released and i'm one of those odd people who've only very recently come back to comics since childhood. as such grant morrison to me is "the one who wrote zenith, doctor who and some of the best zoids strips". i've only begun to see the rest of his output and still can't help but use those childhood strips as my benchmark. and they were fantastic, glorious things. one of the reasons why colin baker is by far and way my favourite doctor is those early DWM comic strips

but however good the grant morrison stuff was, it's still not a patch on the finest of them all - the first batch of sixth doctor strips by steve parkhouse and john ridgway that make up "voyager". i truly cherish the marvel UK graphic novel of that as one of my most prized belongings. an absolutely gorgeous book on every level and peerless in the adventures of the doctor in comics in my opinion

thanks for these entries. i'm really enjoying them...

brandon said...

Thanks, man.

I'd love to hear your opinion on Morrison because of your unique rarefied perspective. I've not read Zenith or Zoids--can't find em--but my love of Morrison still falls on the off the wall weird stuff or something like "Doom Patrol" more than his mainstream superhero stuff which always sorta sucks even though no one wants to say that or they really think it's got something going for it.

Will try to hunt down the Who strips you're talking about...


Anonymous said...

Don't know if crispy or brandon are still following this blog, but like crispy i am a returned reader. I am going slightly crazy trying to remember an extra strip that probably appeared in zoids before black suit spidey jumped in. As I recall it was a (intergalactic?) war environment where a group of young volunteers took part in an experiment to genetically turn them into better warriors etc, while locked in a eden project type place. Naturally they went crazy, died etc, but the strip still won't leave my brain after all these years. Do either of you remember it or have tracked down any old zoids comics? If anyone else remembers aswell, the name of the strip would be appreciated and the writer/artist would be great, so I might be able to track it down. left by 'satyr'