The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Doctor Who Magazine's
The Nightmare Game

From Doctor Who Magazine #330-332


A Review by Finn Clark 7/8/04

Gareth Roberts is a highly successful writer, both within Who and in the wider world. He was surely in the running to write for the Russell T. Davies series. He's worked in many media, including novels, audios, comics, television and short stories. The Nightmare Game is his seventh Doctor Who comic strip... and it's practically the first one of his that I've liked.

Going through the list, Operation Proteus (DWM 231-233), Plastic Millennium (1994 Winter Special) and The Seventh Segment (1995 Special) were bleah. The Lunar Strangers (DWM 215-217), Target Practice (DWM 234) and The Last Word (DWM 305) had more of his trademark wit and silliness, but I was never really sold on 'em. Target Practice was probably the best, giving us a 3rd Doctor that's lots of fun though so broadly written as to be almost parody, but for me The Nightmare Game is the first multi-part Gareth Roberts comic strip that's actually about something.

Specifically it's a hat-tip to British soccer comic strips, a mysteriously persistent genre that's cropped up in newspapers, children's weeklies and more. Even the adult comic Viz created a soccer strip parody with Billy the Fish. Here aliens are creating blobby superbeings to devour the universe... but more importantly they're wrecking Delchester's 1977 football season! The story's best feature is Billy Wilkins, a football-crazed child who thinks that aliens are cool, universal domination is a laugh and that the Doctor is less impressive than Steve Austin off the telly. His inappropriate reactions are always good for a laugh.

In many ways, The Nightmare Game reminded me of The Star Beast (DWM 19-26). You know, the Dave Gibbons classic with Sharon and Beep the Meep. Both stories give the Doctor a child as a temporary companion who talks about football and comic books, are set in a seventies northern industrial town and have a cliffhanger in which the whole area lifts off into space. That's a hell of a comparison to draw, but Gareth Roberts survives it since his story is almost as funny as The Star Beast. There are some glorious one-liners:

"Your mind is probably too stu- I mean, STRONG to be conditioned."

"I see! You want to - ow! - take over the universe." "Of course not. That would be silly."

The aliens are the story's weak point, if only since Gareth Roberts finds cliches funny. He'd probably call it camp or something. If you don't believe me, check out Gareth's 6th Doctor and Mel Decalog 3 story with authentic Pip 'n' Jane ear-hammerings. These aliens aren't crap, not really, but they're gleefully formulaic with dialogue that practically tips a wink to the audience.

At the end there's acknowledgement of the fact that DWM's 8th Doctor was still on the rebound from Izzy, offering Billy a trip in the TARDIS, but fortunately that never went anywhere. Sad to say, these days even Doctor Who probably couldn't let a small boy go off alone with a strange man for adventures. Sharon did go with the 4th Doctor in 1979, but Tom Baker could get away with anything.

Mind you, Gareth Roberts isn't the only returning name for this story. On art duties is Mike Collins, writer-artist of several DWM comic strips in the eighties. He previously drew Doctor Conkerer! (DWM 162), Party Animals (DWM 173) and The Good Soldier (DWM 175-178), also writing Profits of Doom! (DWM 120-122), Claws of the Klathi! (DWM 136-138) and Slimmer! (Hulk Presents 11). Assisted by David A. Roach on inks, he does rather nice work here. I also liked the colouring, which is bolder and less muddy than many DWM comic strips without becoming gaudy. Encore! More, more! Particularly worthy of note are the red and blue duotone way of colouring flashbacks, which were a real nostalgia buzz for me. They're authentic for those old football comics and far better-looking than DWM's earlier flashback scene technique of scratchy half-inking and sepia tones.

Overall, a laugh. It's Gareth Roberts's best multi-part comic strip to date, with comedy characters and crisp, attractive art. There's even a Judge Dredd cameo in episode three!

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/6/05

The whole idea of this strip is to recapture the comic serials of the 70s. Nostalgia dominates many DW fans' lives, and it appears Gareth Roberts (the writer here) is just as susceptible as most. The nostalgia being tapped into is the surprising thing here, but a very welcome one all the same for this reader.

I heard someone at a convention once say that there are very few DW fans who are also football fans. His point seemed to be that the fan gene was mutually exclusive, that you couldn't like both. I think he was hinting at the public acceptance of being a fan of football, but not so Who. Of course you can be a fan of both, as I certainly am. From the minute I could walk my Dad shoved a football in my steps, my first schoolbag was a bright Red Man Utd one (complete with red lunch box). I love football, and I love DW - finally the two have met, and for that alone The Nightmare Game instantly has my approval.

It's a nostalgia trip to the 70s football comics, with a good deal of DW thrown in of course. The likes of Shoot, Striker produced stories like This Goalie's Got Guts, this is like them. There was also a story, with sci-fi connotations, whose name escapes me about the Earth taking on some robots - and each issue introduced us to another wondrous footballing talent - and the whole world was at stake. It's a rich vein of storytelling, one that had me hooked in the 70s.

So does DW and football mix? Overall yes, even if the story is a little bizarre at times. The traditional footballing stereotypes are there - Ray being the brilliant striker, Billy the young fan. They form different, but appealing, companions for the 8th Doctor here. Since Izzy's departure DWM could very well be treading water on the companion front, especially with the recent announcement of a 9th Doctor. One-off companions like this though are great.

The artwork is excellent. It completely recaptures the tone of the 70s strips it pays homage to. David Roach and Robin Smith have really taken the baton, and are running smoothly with it.

It's all presented rather well overall. I had doubted Gareth Roberts as a comic book writer after his previous efforts, but a little break seems to have done him good - this is much better. All in all, an entertaining 3-parter. 8/10