Guest writer Mark A. Collins – @CPOcollins – has generously contributed his thoughts on the first comic book entry into the Time Lord Victorious megaplot – Defender of the Daleks #1 – written by Jody Houser with artwork by Roberta Ingranata.
And were off! Time Lord Victorious is here in comic form and with this issue we get our first clues to what this whole story arc is about…
We open with an amnesiac Doctor in a burning TARDIS…
So you’d be forgiven for assuming this takes place after some major event. Do you need to be up-to-date on Doctor Who comics before reading this? Well, it’s complicated. The short answer is no. The longer answer; not as far as we know. This is absolutely a fresh jumping-on point for the comics and Time Lord Victorious. But where it fits into the larger tapestry of either remains to be seen. For now, at least, we can safely say to just go with it.
Anyway, before long the Doctor bumps into some Daleks having memory problems of their own – they don’t remember the Time War. In case it wasn’t clear yet, memory and perception is being established as a major theme in the comics and, with multiple Doctors set to hop realities in the books and audios, it’s safe to say that this will be a recurring theme for Time Lord Victorious at large. The chase sequence that follows is perfectly suited to the comic format, as Roberta Ingranata’s artwork renders it simultaneously as a big-screen epic and an intimate escape with a focus on detail. Ingranata consistently delivered, using panel layouts and splash pages to intercut the Doctor’s flight alone in the TARDIS with the causality-spanning scope of the Daleks.
It’s here we get introduced to the Emperor Dalek – a fantastic design hearkening back to the classic series, even if it does make him look a bit like a Funko Pop – and an enemy so badass even the Daleks are afraid of them. The Hond want to destroy everyone; even themselves. And here’s the first stumbling block: the Hond make no sense in concept. Yet. This is part one of…oh, god knows…so the Hond have plenty of time ahead to make them into an interesting and threatening presence. But this debut is a bit lacklustre.
Recruited by the Daleks, the Doctor is paired up with a strangely articulate type of Dalek Strategist – anyone else sensing a big twist reveal? – and sent on a Tomb Raiding mission across Skaro to find The Web of Fear, Episode 3. Sorry, I mean weapons that can defeat this latest evil. And this does seem a bit odd. Here’s stumbling block two – we’re not told why the Daleks need the Doctor for this plan. As before, this may be explained in a future story but that only goes so far. You can drop in hints and teases but not at the expense of story logic, especially if each strain of TLV is set to stand alone.
I think it’s fair to say this comic favors dialogue over action, which is tricky when your only characters are the Doctor and a rel of staccato Daleks. This is where Jody Houser’s writing shines. Houser has a knack for writing the Tenth Doctor, capturing Tennant’s idiosyncrasies with precision. But it’s the introduction of our soon-to-be-figurines Dalek variants – the Emperor and the Strategist – that adds more spice to the script, giving them unique voices and characterisation. Leading into the cliffhanger, Ingranata offers up a lovely full-page montage of the Doctor’s quest across Skaro and efficiently condenses a lot of action.
Defender of the Daleks #1 is a strong start but its clues to the wider story arc are a little thin on the ground. There’s little less action than you might than expected though the artwork takes full advantage of what scant opportunities there are for visual variety. As the first of a two-part comic story it’s effective in setting up intrigue to be paid off in part two. But we can’t help thinking that some of it is going to be explored more in other mediums. Effective for marketing but frustrating for a reader. The Strategist is an intriguing new character – and it’s not often you can say that about a Dalek – so we hope they explore him further in part two. In theory, the Time Lord Victorious storyline has no starting point – if you just want to start with the audios, for example, you’ll still get a full story. But, if you’re along for the ride, the comic book starting point comes with a little more baggage but a lot of potential.