The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Age of Chaos

Doctor Who Comic Special (1994)


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 5/11/02

In 1994 a DW Special Graphic Novel came out, written by Colin Baker. There were a few instances of past Companions writing for the show (notably Harry Sullivan's War by Ian Marter), but this is the most significant instance of a past Doctor writing for the show. Colin Baker actually followed it up to with a few short stories. I have met Colin Baker on a few occasions, and I find his interviews hugely enlightening. This is a bloke who really likes Doctor Who. Not just an actor who is doing a job, but one that enjoys the show, and all its many facets. He wouldn't have written this if he wasn't extremely interested in it.

It's quite a novelty item now though. I have been trying to get the thing for years, with no luck. Then I managed it, and eagerly sat down to read Colin Baker, the writer. In his foreword he acknowledges the help of others in the publication of Age of Chaos. The likes of John Burns (art for first 23 pages), Barrie Mitchell (art for pages 24-90) and Steve Whitaker (colours) were vital. The comic strip, of necessity, has to be a partnership between writer, artist and colourist. It seems Barrie Mitchell helped touch up the dialogue and story - but the main idea, and the story, are very definitely from the mind of Colin Baker.

Colin Baker says he feels responsible for the fate of Peri. He asked the writing staff whether Peri was really dead after the events on Thoros Beta (Mindwarp). They weren't sure (says a lot for that season that does!), and it seems Colin's enquiry promoted a re-appraisal. Thus she was bundled off with Yrcanos. It remains one of the silliest ends for any companion. But Colin runs with this idea. Instead of doing the obvious though, and setting the story on Krontep during Yrcanos and Peris reign, he goes a few generations forward. Thus the main players in this drama are Peri's grandchildren.

Krontep, by this time, is a world plagued by civil war. Two of Peri's grandsons, Artios and Euthys, fought for the right to rule. Their wars plunged the world into chaos, and Advisor Farlig does the best he can until Peri's granddaughter, Actis, is old enough to rule by herself. It's quite clear though that external forces have been influencing Krontep. Thus the Doctor, Frobisher and Yrcanos clone Carf, are sent to Brachion - a world full of monsters and wasteland. They must uncover the truth before Krontep is destroyed.

There then follows a, kind of, quest. The threesome of 6th Doctor, Frobisher and Carf go through jungles, lava rivers, infested swamps, dangerous mountains, meeting and defeating a whole hoard of monsters along the way. Actis joins them later on too, adding a further string to the bow, against the evils lurking in Brachion. She is accompanied by Ptou, a small cute lizard thing, that spends all its time on her (or Frobisher's) shoulder. They meet a religious cult too, intent on atonement. The more pain the better, so they can atone, atone, atone! They also come across Actis' long believed dead brothers.

At 90 pages you can't accuse this comic strip of coming in half measures. No sooner has one story strain been exhausted that another comes along. The depiction of the 6th Doctor is excellent, as you would expect from the one who knows him best. Frobisher continues to prove a wacky companion can work in this medium. His dubious acceptance of little Ptou is particularly noteworthy. Carf is nothing more than Yrcanos reincarnated - you know what that's all about - lots of SHOUTING and BATTLES! Good against the monsters then. Actis is the most likeable member of the group. She has inherited Peri's adventure, and her prettiness.

The story is a traditional one. It's not terribly original, but then I can't recall a DW story quite like it! There's enough humour in there for quite a few guffaws, there's a simple story of alien infiltration. It's not deep and dark like many comic strip writers like to present things (Cartmel for example), but bright and breezy.

The artwork is mixed. The difference between the 2 artists, John Burns and Barrie Mitchell, is minimal. Mitchell impresses with his range of monsters, but doesn't quite have the 6th Doctor down pat. The artwork is functional, rather than spectacular - but this too matches the nature of the story.

Mad monks, people who turn out to be robots, underground passages, fearsome monsters, family squabbles, meeting God! It's all here, mixed together. Colin Baker and Barrie Mitchell also have time too for a shadowy figure in the background. It's no big surprise who it is, but there's a wonderful finish to the whole thing when she stands there gazing at the TARDIS, with the Doctor looking on.

Age of Chaos is the longest comic strip of them all - it may not be the most profound, or the best drawn, but it is extremely entertaining throughout. I'm glad I finally have it - I really liked it! 8/10

A Review by Finn Clark 13/7/04

In 1994 Marvel Comics published The Age of Chaos, a story like nothing we'd seen in Doctor Who for at least twenty years. It's a wild romp of an adventure that TV Comic might have embraced, which isn't meant as criticism but simply classification. It's like fantasy rather than SF. It has a quest structure, instead of Doctor Who's usual story templates based on horror films or James Bond villains. Essentially it's a sword-and-sorcery epic.

In other words, nothing could have been less like the self-conscious, self-referential state of Who in 1994. Even the DWM comic strip required a different storytelling discipline, with seven pages a month and careful black-and-white art instead of these 22-page episodes drawn in broad, energetic lines. Compared with that, The Age of Chaos seemed childish. We read it in bewilderment and then forgot it. Today hardly anyone remembers it... which is a shame, since it's a lively piece of work from one of my favourite writers. He's not best known for his penmanship, but I'm a fan of everything I've seen him do. The fact that he happened to play the 6th Doctor on TV doesn't hurt either.

Is Colin Baker the only Doctor to have written for the show? He never wrote a TV episode, but in addition to this comic strip he's penned short stories for DWM, Marvel Yearbooks and the Missing Pieces fanthology. The man's a wonderful ranconteur and this spills over into his writing. I've always enjoyed his stories. The Age of Chaos dilutes Colin's voice, giving him only a script for his artists to interpret, but it's still bright, breezy and funny. More than once I laughed out loud.

What's more, he doesn't just tell good jokes. Even the 'straight' story elements have a light touch that make them far more entertaining than they'd become with many other writers. Episode three introduces a subterranean race of loonies into pain, masochism and atonement. They're going to torture our heroes. This should theoretically be as dull as your father's old socks, but Colin Baker brightens things up with gentle spoofery. These guys like the word "atone". A lot. They build happy songs around it. It's like Jabberwocky crossed with Sesame Street. Colin's wit helps him nail Frobisher effortlessly. I greatly admire The Holy Terror, but its Woody Allen Frobisher is a pale shadow of the one in The Age of Chaos. Check out his opening line, aimed at the Doctor: "Does your grandma know you're out with this tasteless lowlife, Actis?"

It's hardly a fair criticism for a Xenon Whifferdill, but Frobisher's the wrong species of penguin. I preferred the original John Ridgway version. However in all respects these visuals roar past on energy rather than accuracy, both from John M. Burns and Barrie Mitchell, and I shouldn't criticise the artists for something they're obviously not aiming for. Even the 6th Doctor's likeness is approximate at best. This is a speedy read, with less detail than we're used to in the DWM strip, but that doesn't mean it's bad. On the contrary, it's rather refreshing.

It's important continuity-wise. Personally I give more weight to Colin Baker's imagining of Peri's post-Who life than I do to the mean-spirited likes of Bad Therapy. The fact that it's penned by the actor who played the 6th Doctor must count for something, but also it's a warmer, wider vision that encompasses whole generations. Colin Baker's short stories use Mel rather than Peri, but The Age of Chaos shows genuine affection for his original companion. That's more than I can say of all the writers to have written for her in books, comics and audios. What's more, it's just part of Colin's creation of Krontep and its rich parade of warriors, monsters and royal history.

It's noticeable that Colin creates Krontepians reminiscent of both Brian Blessed and Nicola Bryant. Actis is definitely Peri-like, while Carf is practically Ycarnos reincarnated. The story isn't afraid to play 'em for laughs either.

You won't see another Doctor Who story like The Age of Chaos. DWM's comic strip is too dense and self-aware to come within a million miles of its freewheeling style, but those weekly two-page episodes of TV Comic don't compare either. They come nearer in tone and storytelling, but they can't capture the breeziness of a writer and artist with 88 pages to burn. Incidentally unless you count TV21's Dalek Chronicles as one story, this is the longest Doctor Who comic strip ever. The Glorious Dead (DWM 287-296) is second at 75 pages and The Tides of Time (DWM 61-67) is third at 57 pages.

This certainly isn't a tightly woven, intellectual tale. Instead it's charming, witty fluff with plenty of invention and palpable affection for its characters. I've always enjoyed The Age of Chaos, but the more I read it the more I admire it.