25 May 2016

Comic Review: Doctor Who - The Fallen

Words by Matt Michael

January to April 1999: leading up to the third anniversary of the movie, and coming off the back of one of its more involved story arcs, the DWM comic strip presented The Fallen. Of all the eighth Doctor spin offs, in any form, this is the only story that’s a direct sequel to his one and only TV appearance.

Most obviously, this is the only spin-off (barring an issue of the IDW strip and a couple of single panels in later DWMs) to feature Grace Holloway – a character Big Finish has conspicuously and consistently refused to use, despite the availability of Daphne Ashbrook. It’s a big moment – her reveal as the part one cliffhanger gets a full-page panel - and one the strip makes the most of.

However, Scott Gray doesn’t merely drop Grace in as a nod to the movie, but as a way to examine some of its implications. The connection is made clear from the off. In part one, a preacher warns against the sin of pride, and man playing god. A whole load of commentary about the movie highlighted the references both to James Whale’s Frankenstein (whose eponymous character declares, ‘Now I know what it’s like to be a god!’), and to the Christ-like imagery associated with the eighth Doctor (rising from the grave, wrapped in a shroud; the crucifixion poses he strikes, and the ‘crown of thorns’ the Master forces him into).

In The Fallen, Grace has been using the remnants of what she believes to be the Master’s Time Lord DNA to try to ‘hold back death’ for all humankind. She will be the resurrection and the life, believing that the Doctor, like some angelic messenger, had indicated that this was her destiny. Sadly, she’s mistaken – the Master’s DNA is actually that of the snake morphant, which has now merged with Grace’s collaborator, Professor Donald Stark, to create a voracious new monster blob that’s working its way through London’s surplus population. This is essentially the story of The Lazarus Experiment, eight years early.

Grace is also working with MI6 – a deal with the devil in the shape of Leighton Woodrow, a man who looks like the Ainley Master and has a nice line in dry wit. His interest in regeneration is less messianic than Grace’s – he just sees the benefit of ‘operatives [who can] completely regenerate their appearance at will’, thus providing a back-door origin story for James Bond. Woodrow gets very little to do, but he’s memorable enough that Gray brought him back six years later for the swansong McGann strip The Flood.

Grace’s failure to recognise the danger of what she’s doing: her blinkered, single-minded determination to create a half-human, half-Time Lord hybrid is shown to be the result of her over-thinking everything the Doctor said to her. His hints that she will be an important historical figure; mentioning her dream of ‘holding back death’, even revealing his great secret (he is, himself, a human/Time Lord hybrid), all these have coalesced in her mind to convince Grace of her righteousness. In this, she’s like pretty much every fan writer in the late 1990s, who’d pored over each line of the TV Movie, looking for hints about what a McGann series would be like, desperately drawing on those 90 minutes to try to hold back Doctor Who’s death.

The arrogance of Professor Stark, the hubris of Grace, and, ultimately, the Doctor are all examples of individuals playing god. This means that the strip’s resolution – the Doctor’s averted act of Christ-like self-sacrifice to destroy Stark – ends the story on a slightly cursory but thoroughly appropriate note.

The Doctor is relatively passive throughout – as the eighth Doctor often was in the pre-Big Finish spin offs. He spends a lot of time raging against Grace, Woodrow, Stark – before finally recognising his own failure in dropping into someone’s life, transforming it, and moving on without a thought of the consequences. His shamefaced admission that he needs to be called out on his meddling, and his parting snog with Grace are meant to heal the wound, and to close their story (although he leaves her with a dog whistle in case she needs him again).

But that’s not quite the end – the mysterious preacher who’s been cropping up through the story turns out to be the third major character of the TV Movie. The Master’s return adds a further weight to the story (which, at only four parts, is a lot shorter than many of the strips), turning it into the opening shot of a new, multi-part arc that took the strip through to the conclusion of its black and white era.

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