31 January 2014

AFT: The Coming of the Comet

Bohemian: The Doctor in The Coming of the Comet is typically eccentric for Tom Baker's portrayal. Overall, he's shown as a quick-thinking, quick-acting, off-hand madman - exactly right. I don't know what it is but Phil seems to have an ear for well-crafted dialogue, with both of our TARDIS Team sounding completely authentic here. I certainly wouldn't object to having Phil write for Baker and Jameson for Big Finish if he could keep this standard up. The Doctor makes friends easily, after initially making them think he's a fool, a simpleton. His exchange with K9 and little asides to Leela are so reminiscent, it's uncanny. Although not my favourite incarnation of the Time Lord, I always enjoy Baker's performance in his stories. He always seemed to act beyond the script, if that makes sense, in that even presented with one-dimensional lines or direction, he would find some way of making it humourous, or at the very least make it count or be memorable. My point is that this somehow transpires into this script, which is highly impressive and deeply satisfying for all the nostalgia~trons out there (I know you're there). The Doctor steals most of the scenes he's in, with some stiff competition. A great turn for 4.

Noble Savage:  Leela has long been one of my favourite companions, so I was delighted when Character Options decided to immortalise her in three different lumps of plastic. I suspect it's mainly due to the availability of this figure that Phil has used Leela in the story, but I'm grateful nonetheless. Having watched her introduction The Face of Evil for the first time this week, I'm very impressed with how faithful Phil's writing is to that incarnation of the character. Although this is supposed to be set between The Invisible Enemy and The Invasion of Time, she does seem more akin to her Series 14 / Chris Boucher portrayals. She's a joy to be around, and I can only pray we get more stories with her on the AFT. I loved everything she did throughout The Coming of the Comet, and this was a masterful craft from the fingers of Mr Lawrence. Her dialogue particularly was evocative of the mid-'70s. Quite easily my favourite element of these two episodes. There was only one little thing that didn't feel entirely accurate to me - and trust me it was just this one thing. I think Leela is one of the most naturally intelligent companions we've ever had, so for the Daleks to contradict that felt a bit off. Perhaps they're confusing experience for intelligence?
Great Lines: "Is Brighton Pavillion in the middle of a space battle?" / "Not in the period we'll be visiting." / "Then I think you have got it wrong. Again." / "What? Nonsense! I... Leela? I think I've got it wrong again."

"We've found what the Daleks and Cybermen have been fighting over!"

"Know this, metal creature. If the Doctor is your enemy then be sure that I am your enemy too."

"Good morning! Or do I mean good evening?" / "It speaks basic!"

"By Borusa! What a brilliant idea!"
The Plot: On course for Brighton, the Doctor and Leela arrive in the Matraxi Corridor - the main battleground of the war. K9 detects an object travelling out of phase with normal space-time and naturally he and the Doctor pop out to investigate. They find a comet, iced over for millennia. The Cybermen assume control of the TARDIS before the Daleks steal it. They then try and open the comet, but it is in a state of temporal grace, and the heart is made of pure armageddon, meaning it can't be opened until planetfall. The Doctor and K9 are transported to a far flung planetoid where he is later awoken from freezing by two archaeologists, now without his spacesuit (?). Leela is captured by the Daleks, but escapes when a Cyber-Resource Ship chews up the Dalek craft. The TARDIS returns to the Doctor, summoned by something in the planetoid. He creates a wormhole, sucking the races to opposite sides of the galaxy. The Doctor sets his alarm for seventy-nine years' time when the comet strikes.

Plastic Fantastic: It's good to see the '70s Cybermen getting an outing in this, seeing as they aren't afforded much attention in general. I have to say I'm not the biggest fan of this costume, but it's still good to see them here. They're shot from some interesting angles too, which make them much more appealing than possibly the straight, distant direction of Revenge of the Cybermen did. The Chalfont custom is great, a really impressive piece of adaptation (likewise with Latimer). It's a bit of a shame that it comes in the episode following An Unfair Advantage, seeing as the Jabe figure (which Chalfont is based on) appeared in that. It doesn't really matter, after all they're only representations. It was also nice to see the return of the Closing Time Cybermats, which are infinitely superior to their Revenge counterparts. Elsewhere, I thought the Doctor in his spacesuit looked totally convincing. So much so, that I wasn't sure if it was a custom or a Photoshop job. From the Behind The Scenes section it would seem like the latter but I'm still not convinced. Superb.

Verdict: Overall, this is a really enjoyable little comic. After two stories without much presence of either the Daleks or the Cybermen, it's nice to have them back. Each race is afforded some technological development with the Cyber-Resource Ship and the Dalek Asteroid Cruisers, which are nice touches. The visual effect of things being pulled into the resource craft was especially well done. I don't know if it was done by hand or with some sort of effect, but it was really professional either way. It feels nice to be out and seeing the Universe again, after the (relatively) interior-based last few episodes.

Phil says the rocks used on the comet's surface are fake, but they look totally authentic. All of the shots there are, perhaps even more so than the rest of the scenes, well framed and look epic. The revelation that the two species have been fighting over this comet is a real surprise. The first time I read this I was particularly shocked because I hadn't expected it to be something physical, more domination of this 'Matraxi Corridor' or similar. The fact that the Doctor leads them to it is another key point, and the plot's well manipulated to make it the Doctor's fault. I suspect we'll see some sort of downfall as the result of these actions in the next story.

Chalfont and Latimer (cleverly named after a Tube station - I got the reference) are brilliant characters. They feel like the sort of eccentric duo Robert Holmes may have dreamed up. Their retro-futureness and initial suspicion of the Doctor only to be followed by gratitude certainly fit his mould. I think these are perhaps my favourite 'supporting cast' we've seen so far in this arc. They're ingenious original characters, and I really hope we get to see them again. For some reason, I get the feeling they would work best with Sylvester McCoy and Christopher Eccleston's incarnations best, possibly Matt Smith's at a stretch. But still, any return would be welcome.

It's amazing that within the same narrative strain, such different and diverse stories can be told. I don't know if it was subconscious or not, but even the situations and settings applied for each individual Doctor are totally authentic of their era. Obviously I don't mean Sil for the Sixth Doctor, Mondas for the Fifth Doctor etc., I mean more the tone of the places and people they've met. This is a real strength of the range, and a credit to Phil's writing. I say this because it's hard to compare two stories. On an enjoyment level, I would probably put this on a par with The Seige of Skaro but you can't compare the two directly because they are so diverse. This is an amazing quality to have as a writer, to be able to totally change the way you write. It may just be me, but the direction also seems to be era-appropriate as well, with more angled shots here, and flatter, possibly Pennant Roberts-esque framing elsewhere - not in a bad way though!

One notable absence from this was the Dalek creator/sometimes-emperor Davros. Although he wouldn't have fitted in in An Unfair Advantage and System Restore due to the nature of the plots and stories that were being told there, it's a shame Leela doesn't get to meet him in this story. Wouldn't the Daleks want their 'saviour' around to help them win the war? They were in deep enough trouble trying to out-think some disco robots that they needed his help (Destiny of the Daleks), but they seem to be managing fine without him against the Cybermen. Could he be the key to winning the war? Perhaps he has been saved for the final story intentionally. If we do get more Leela and more Davros from the AFT, I can only hope the pair cross paths at some point.

I feel obliged to quickly mention the excellent editing on display here. Once again there's an interesting variety of shapes, text representation and other effects such as space, and the energy weapons of each side. These are points a reader may skim over when following the narrative (as it's so easy to do in a story this gripping) but without them, the overall effect and impact of the comic would be significantly decreased. Thanks to Phil for all the time he dedicates to these stages of the process, let alone the rest!

The Coming of the Comet is thrilling insight into the war at its height, with swathes of Daleks and Cybermen being slaughtered at the others' hands. It's great to see the power of each side, and it's totally credible that it's the same war that's been raging since Apocalypse Dawns. Leela shines brightest in this story, rivalled by the Doctor and the archaeologists. A really imaginative penultimate instalment, and I love that the series has been told out of order from the Doctor's perspective (Moffat's lawyers will be in touch, no doubt). Pure Armageddon promises to be a truly epic finale, with five episodes starring Sylvester McCoy, and featuring the return of Belinda and Thadius, as foreshadowed at the end of this story.

In a Nutshell: The war approaches its climax as we discover what it was over... Great from start to end.

You can read An Unfair Advantage on the Action Figure Theatre site here

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