Doctor Who Week: Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #2 - "The World Shapers"
"Time? You don't understand the first thing about time!" This line, spoken by the Doctor at the climax of "The World Shapers"—the three-part story that comprises the second issue of Grant Morrison's Doctor Who —seems to me to get at what Doctor Who is really about: time. That might seem sorta obvious, but I'm not talking so much about time in the teleological or implications-of-time-travel sense, but rather of time as an almost aesthetic concept.
Doctor Who is a demonstratively complex figure; that dour imperturbability tinged with a knowing nonchalance—what Italians call sprezzatura—coupled with his submerged, yet still irrepressible need to do good peg him as an expression of the English Romantic temperament. The Doctor is unique, though, in blending the populist strain of Romanticism of Sir Walter Scott—"Mad" Jamie seems to have stepped right out of Waverly and into the Tardis—with the more theoretical High Romanticism of, say, Wordsworth or especially Shelley.
Of course Romanticism, with its political radicalism and rejection of contemporary literary culture, was born out of a complex aesthetic/ethical relationship with time. Thus as the Doctor repudiates the gaudy ostentation of the dead Time Lord's late-model Tardis, one can hear echoes of Wordsworth's rejection of 18th century poetic embellishment—or even Ruskin's association Neoclassical precision with slavery, but I'm getting a bit off track.
But what is really special about Morrison's treatment of Doctor Who in this story, and indeed what seems to place him firmly in the tradition of the Tom Baker era (even though the character is a different Doctor), is his reversal of conventional storytelling values. In a narrative that by any measure is remarkably economical, Morrison takes his luxurious time in drawing out incident. Panel after panel is spent in relishing the anachronistic oddity of the motley-clad Doctor milling about the Scottish highlands and glorying in the way the wind blows through his lavish curls. There is also the prolonged meditation on the pathos of the aged, "Mad" Jamie slowly decaying in his peat-roofed hovel.
The 'important' bits, on the other hand, are handled with a peremptoriness that borders on the comical. When the Doctor and Jamie finally confront the highly evolved Voord—who, I might add, are billed as a race of amphibious assassins—armed only with the Scot's slightly ridiculous sword, the "battle" is dispensed with in a mere panel. Then, after the anticlimactic defeat of the Voord, Jamie is allowed to run right through the force field that thwarted and killed the maintenance operative Maxilla a few panels before, though admittedly is does cause him a great deal of pain.
But just when it feels like the scales have tipped inexorably to the ridiculous, Morrison swerves sharply back to the downright poetic: first with Jamie's grand chivalric 'slaying' of the World Shaper machine and finally with the story's coda, which, echoing Genesis of the Daleks, shows two Time Lords concluding that the coming golden age of sentient life will be worth the several million years of suffering that will be wrought by Cybermen. I feel it almost superfluous to point out this moment's illustration of Shelley's conception of poets as "the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present." What matters, though, is that Morrison has somehow managed to translate the peculiar slapdash-serious of the television series into its comics equivalent, but without ever giving us the sense that he was trying to do so. Even more importantly, he has demonstrated the poetry of Doctor Who.