It's a Doctor Who blog.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Realising the Time War

In the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, Scott Gray writes the Twelfth Doctor describing an incident in the Time War.

I've previously mentioned that I've found Big Finish's and BBC Books attempts at portraying the time war to be dissatisfying based on their lack of imagination, that they all tell the same story and at no point does it feel distinctive from non-Time-War Doctor Who.

Gray, on the other hand, writes Doctor Who like he owns it. Also, luckily for him, his medium is comics, which are vastly more suited to the temporal chaos implied by Russell T. Davies' brief descriptions of the war on television. You can simply show an image which tells and implies the story, rather than have to write a paragraph of exposition. You don't have the budgetary limitations of television, and so outlandish visuals are more easily achievable. Thus, Part Four of The Clockwise War is, for me, the most satisfying depiction of the Time War partly for these reasons.

Another - arguably more important - factor is the characterisation and context. Having the events narrated by a future Doctor, using a younger version of the War Doctor than Big Finish were ever able to do, and placing a long established comics character in the companion role allow Gray to bypass the standard 'Old War Doctor meets young female who dies and is sad about war' plot that appeared to have been mandatory previously.

Firstly, the young War Doctor is uncharted territory for licensed fan-fiction. Gray has free reign to characterise him as he wants, and uses this to present a Doctor who is gleeful in the face of war. It isn't til the end we see Gray write something more typical in terms of War Doctor angst, but prior to this we see a Doctor not dissimilar to the one we see in Tooth and Claw - still recognisably the Doctor, but emotionally distant and glib in the face of death.

Secondly, and possibly more importantly: there are absolutely no Daleks in this comic.

Whether that's because of licensing or simply because Terry Nation's estate prohibited it, it makes the story more interesting by virtue of forcing upon us something new. Gray also resists the temptation to realise one of the names RTD came up with for the screen, something that had previously always been tepidly done, and devises entirely new creatures.

The Time Lords are also notable by their absence beyond a group of soldiers - there are no dirty tricks or amoral gambits here, just fighting on a front line. True, Gray brings in the Sisterhood of Karn to tick off a fan-pleasing box, but they were there at the beginning of this incarnation, so it's not such a contortion to fit them in.

Overall it's a take on the Time War that drives home the War Doctor's differences, manages to hint at the chaos of temporal combat without actually involving any time travel, and doesn't outstay its welcome. I was very impressed by it, but the main thing this comic has confirmed for me is this:

I really never want to see another Time War story.

Part of this is simply that it's a story that's impossible to realise in a way that does justice to the idea; a brief interlude in the Time War is about as far as you can dip your toe in. Conceptually, it's not actually meant to be a story we visit on an ongoing basis, and so a spin-off series has to tweak the Time War into something that resembles a story, despite its very essence fighting against this method of depiction.

Mainly, though, it's that I don't watch Doctor Who for the horrors of war. The Time War necessitates a version of the Doctor who not only allows these and is culpable, but can revel in them. Seeing this done reasonably well for the first time is enough to demonstrate to me that it's definitely not what I want from Doctor Who.

The Caves of Androzani is brilliant. Genesis of the Daleks is brilliant. However, if you tried to make Doctor Who like those stories every week, it wouldn't be Doctor Who anymore. Things that aren't Doctor Who aren't intrinsically bad, of course, but this is why delving into New Earth is a much better idea than delving into the Time War will ever be.

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