The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Doctor Who Monthly's
The Stockbridge Horror

Credits: Script: Steve Parkhouse, Art: Steve Parkhouse (pt3), Mick Austin (pt6), pencils: Steve Parkhouse (pts1+2), Mick Austin (pts 4+5), Inks: Paul Neary (pts1,2,4+5), Letters: Steve Craddock, Editor: Alan McKenzie

From Doctor Who Monthly #70-75; Reprinted (coloured) in Doctor Who Classic Comics #21-23


The Artwork Horror? by Tim Roll-Pickering 10/10/98

The Stockbridge Horror strikes me as a story with some excellent ideas at its core, but is let down heavily by the scripting and artwork, primarily due to a combination of outside circumstances. With no less than four separate art team combinations working on it, each lacking experience of drawing the strip, and with Steve Parkhouse having to devote time to both writing and drawing the first half resulting in a lacklustre strip, the whole thing is disjointed and difficult to follow.

The story starts well, with several mysteries such as why has an impression of the TARDIS been found in the quarry that must be half a billion years old? Who burned the tramp without scorching the area around him? Why is the TARDIS refusing to help the Doctor? And, from Stars Fall on Stockbridge, what was the presence aboard the ship? All these questions are eventually answered as the TARDIS progresses, but there are many loose ends, such as the creature burning up Wells Wood for no particular reason, and some absurd concepts such as the Gallifreyan military, with no explanation as to why it was not deployed in The Tides of Time. The anticlimax of the final part is a considerable letdown, and the Doctor's trial absurdly collapses because Shayde destroys the evidence just before the military TARDIS arrives to inspect it. Surely the Time Lords would still be able to use the impression as evidence?

One of the few points of interests is the introduction of the S.A.G. 3 team in what is little more than a cameo, but a nice link to 4-Dimensional Vistas several issues later. From their mysterious appearance here, the reader is left wanting to learn more, and is also reminded of Parkhouse's great skill in tying together the various stories.

Parkhouse's artwork on the first three parts of this story is reasonably okay for a first time attempt, but as for Mick Austin's work, it is beyond description! Admittedly he was under immense pressure to get the fourth and fifth parts in on time and new to the strip, and so it would be foolish to expect miracles, but this is easily some of the weakest art ever. With the final part, the art begins to show signs of improvements, though Austin's inking is considerably weaker than Neary's.

A classic case of the excellent ideas behind a story being let down in the execution. 3/10

A Review by Finn Clark 22/9/04

This is probably Steve Parkhouse's weakest DWM comic strip, suffering both in its art and its script, but it's not without interest. It's trying to be another spine-chiller along the lines of The Stars Fell on Stockbridge, but the art lets it down. These six episodes had four artistic teams: Steve Parkhouse and Mick Austin on pencils, both with and without Paul Neary's inks. The result is a bitty story that feels less coherent than it should. Parkhouse's and Austin's respective halves of the story almost feel like two separate tales.

Ironically I like both Parkhouse and Austin as artists. Steve Parkhouse's comedy stories (e.g. Alan Moore's Bojeffries Saga) are masterful, while Mick Austin did wonderful work in Lunar Lagoon and 4-Dimensional Vistas when he was allowed to do his own inks. However they don't necessarily do their best work when aiming for realism. Apparently Steve Parkhouse felt overloaded trying to do both pencilling and scripting, but even so his pages don't look great. They're okay, I suppose. [Mind you, he remains the only writer-artist to have performed both duties simultaneously for DWM on an ongoing basis. Adrian Salmon and Sean Longcroft have drawn their own fill-in stories, Doctor Who and the Fangs of Time (DWM 243) and Unnatural Born Killers (DWM 277), but even the likes of Paul Neary or Mike Collins never drew their own scripts.]

Then there's Mick Austin, of luscious inks but sometimes cartoonish pencils. His episodes don't serve the horror (it's even in the story's title!), though in fairness by episode four the oogie-boogie is trapped inside the TARDIS computer and the plot is getting bogged down in Gallifrey and Time Lords.

I'm not wild about the first episode. The art is unattractive and shouldn't the Doctor have heard the fire engine into whose path he runs for the episode cliffhanger? Mind you, there's an amusing moment when he's arguing with the TARDIS console. "Are you LYING to me?" "Vworp?"

Things heat up in the second episode with the arrival of a fire elemental who can incinerate you where you stand. I liked the bit when his flames blast past the Doctor and instead FWAM a tree. There's a topless Davison for all the fangrrrls out there, not to mention a kick-arse cliffhanger. The Doctor's characterisation takes an odd turn though... "Then pain and fatigue took him, sending him down into unconsciousness and dark despair." Later we learn that this was the fire elemental's psychic influence, but this wasn't the only time that Parkhouse's 5th Doctor would seem more vulnerable than his TV equivalent. I've mentioned this before and I'll do so again.

The third episode has the story's one and only moment of Parkhouse whimsy. A demonic force takes control of the TARDIS and develops a sense of humour, showing Spiderman on the scanner as it pelts the Doctor with custard pies and fruit. However by this point the Doctor's in trouble, trapped in his rebellious ship with nowhere to turn as his enemy closes in. It's sinister stuff...

...until Mick Austin takes over for episode four and Shayde blows off the monster's head! Of course exorcising demonic possession won't be as simple as that, but suddenly the tension is broken. With Shayde around, we feel safe. The Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS is at breaking point, but otherwise his biggest problem has become Tubal Cain and the Time Lord military. The story starts feeling almost jolly!

Episode five informs us that the elemental induces fear, which explains that line I quoted from episode two. The Doctor finds a clever solution to his Tubal Cain problem, but then he's captured...

...and the last episode is little more than exposition with the Time Lords putting the Doctor on trial. Yes, again. Theoretically this should have been a terrible end to a bits-and-pieces story, but to my astonishment it's rather good. The Time Lords have a genuine case against the Doctor. He's screwed up and for once he's on the back foot, hoping they can't prove their claims instead of being able to open up and be honest. However despite this Parkhouse doesn't put his wit to bed, instead letting the Doctor have fun at his interrogators' expense. What's more, for the first time Mick Austin is inking his own pencils and creating some scratchy atmosphere. There's foreshadowing for 4-Dimensional Vistas (DWM 78-83) and a moody, ambiguous ending that left Shayde hanging for fifteen years.

Overall, there's a lot you need to forgive in this story. Even leaving aside the art inconsistencies, it's full of "oh dear" story elements like endless TARDIS scenes, Gallifrey, Rassilon and the Time Lords. However it's also a sinister piece that pushes the Doctor and his craft beyond anything you'd expect. If The Tides of Time was "Doctor Who fights Satan", then much of The Stockbridge Horror is almost "Doctor Who needs The Exorcist". There's no projectile vomiting or cuss-words, but it builds on the tension generated in its prequel two-parter The Stars Fell on Stockbridge. Had Dave Gibbons only stayed for another six months, this story's reputation would have been stellar.

I can't think of another Doctor Who story which hits the doom-laden notes Steve Parkhouse aimed for here. Above all it's a moody character study of the 5th Doctor, his ship and their mutual relationship. Flawed, but fascinating.