The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Doctor Who Monthly's
The Autonomy Bug

From Doctor Who Monthly #297-299


A Review by Finn Clark 22/4/03

When I first read The Autonomy Bug, I was underwhelmed. I was comparing it with Roger Langridge's previous DWM comic strips, Happy Deathday and TV Action!, and so I thought it moved too slowly and wasn't funny. I now think I missed the point.

The Autonomy Bug is the most interesting comic strip since Doctor Who and the Fangs of Time, and the most charming since... well, probably ever. Most post-1987 Doctor Who comic strips were TV-wannabes, giving us monsters, corridors, plot points and situations so derivative of what you'd get on television that they seemed to have disowned their own medium. There were exceptions: Endgame (DWM 244-247) or the miniature gems sparkling in 1989's short-lived The Incredible Hulk Presents. However for the most part, for better or for worse, the comics seemed to be trying to grow up.

The Autonomy Bug hasn't grown up a millimetre and it's fantastic.

Dr Andrelina Hastoff does everything that's required of her. She's a glowering Cruella De Ville harpy, as over-the-top as her dress sense and a suitable foil to her creations. She's not the reason you read this story, though her pseudo-scientific tortures in episode two are pretty damn horrific. However the story really belongs to the robots.

This story was clearly written with Roger Langridge in mind, since the metal fellas show him at his best. They're deranged, whimsical, childish and in the end heartwarming. The story's ending (particularly its final page) is what makes The Autonomy Bug special, taking Langridge's lunacy to its logical conclusion and showing us a hair-brained utopia that's both ridiculous and beautiful. Of course it's a silly story! That's the whole point! The Doctor Who ethos, the comic strip medium and Roger Langridge's art have combined to form a story that's moving because of the cartoonish silliness, not in spite of it.

(Though I should note that Scott Gray's script adds its own little touches, speaking in a portmanteau vocabulary not unlike that of Alan Moore's Pog episode of Swamp Thing.)

Random observation... the Doctor Who comic strips have a history of using robots as a symbol of innocence. See Vesuvius and/or Morris in The Iron Legion, the ship's robot in The Collector, the scavengers in The Gift and even Cyberleader Kroton in his early appearances back in the days of the Weekly. However The Autonomy Bug takes this to a whole other level.

It's a good Izzy story, giving her all the robot interaction while the Doctor deals with Hastoff, but there's still nothing distinctive about her. You could search-and-replace her with Sam Jones, Big Finish's Charley or Gary Russell's Stacy and nothing would change. However I think it's a perfect McGann story; I can imagine other Doctors in it, especially Troughton and Colin, but there's something about the 8th Doctor's wide-eyed simplicity that makes him the ideal hero to save the inhabitants of the Big House.

Ignore anyone who thinks this story is too silly. There's been machismo a-plenty in the comic strips, but this is special. Anyway it's 21 pages of lovely Roger Langridge artwork in the service of a story that couldn't be told half as well in any other medium. What's not to like?