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The World Shapers

From Doctor Who Magazine #127-129


A Review by Finn Clark 17/6/04

Big spoilers in this review. Huge, enormous ones. Don't say you weren't warned.

The World Shapers (DWM 127-129) is remarkable in several ways. It was DWM's last regular Colin Baker strip before McCoy's debut in A Cold Day in Hell. It stomps all over Doctor Who continuity, wanking over fannish detail ("Planet 14") but also rewriting history on the biggest scale imaginable. It's written by Grant Morrison and drawn by John Ridgway, both of 'em gods of British comics.

This was Doctor Who's first ever Genesis of the Cybermen, though not the last. Even the comics themselves did another one: The Cybermen by Adrian Salmon and Alan Barnes in DWM 215-238. (Coincidentally, both of these stories are exactly 24 pages long.) Grant Morrison presumably meant his creation story to be the definitive article, but a modern reading suggests that it's a parallel genesis: the coincidental evolution of Tomb Cybermen millions of years after cloth-faced versions had already appeared on Mondas. My reasons are:

  1. The Time Lords in episode three discuss how the Cybermen will evolve in the future, describing a radically different form of Cyberman "five million years" ahead. It's accepted that Mondas was thrown off its orbit by the moon's arrival at the same time as the Silurians went into their shelter. That's twenty million years ago according to Eternity Weeps, i.e. much less than 65 million years (extinction of the dinosaurs) but considerably more than five million.
  2. Frobisher has heard of Worldshaper machines. ("Listen, Worldshaper machines were banned ages ago, after they used one on Yxia and the whole planetary system fell apart!") This makes it unlikely that The World Shapers is set millions of years in the past, or even as much as hundreds of thousands. (Frobisher comes from the 82nd century.)
  3. Reconciling The World Shapers with the rest of continuity is easiest if you assume that the Doctor is mistaken at the end when he identifies Marinus as Mondas!
When compiling my comic strip timeline, I arbitrarily dated The World Shapers to 80,000 BC. Incidentally this would put The Keys of Marinus prior to this date (not to mention Land of the Blind in DWM 224-226, which has cameos for the Voord and the Fishmen of Kandalinga). I'm wondering whether Lance Parkin will take this factoid into account for his revised edition of A History of the Universe. Admittedly he excludes comic strips from his timeline, but they might still count as secondary evidence. For instance he might end up redating The Also People because of the Benny NAs, despite the fact that he's excluding them too.

Bizarrely, the Cybermen themselves hardly appear. This was a feature of Colin Baker's comic strips, which took their cue from Eric Saward's Cyber-obsession on TV to wheel them out regularly for the sake of it. Before this story they had background cameos in Kane's Story and Frobisher's Story (DWM 104 & 107) and became robot stooges in Revelation! and Genesis! (DWM 109 & 110). Even now I'm unhappy about the latter, though that was a poor story in all sorts of ways. However here it's not a problem. The World Shapers is bursting with story elements as it is.

Besides, if you think about it, there's no reason why a Genesis of the Cybermen story should heavily feature Cybermen. Compare and contrast with Genesis of the Daleks, for instance.

There's a lorry-load of continuity, with flashbacks to The Invasion and The Keys of Marinus. (We glimpse the first two Doctors, the Brigadier and UNIT.) To explain The Invasion's Planet 14 reference, Grant Morrison takes time out in the middle episode to visit 18th-century Scotland and pick up Jamie. What? Why? Fanwank ahoy! Grant Morrison is Scottish, so presumably he had a special place in his heart for everyone's favourite Highlander. You can tell because he turns Jamie into a hairy old recluse who's been laughed at for forty years before killing him. Awww, sweet. (He also retcons Jamie's memory-wipe in The War Games, perhaps finding that bit of the novelisation as distressing as I used to.)

Oh, and both script and art acknowledge the 1966 Hartnell annual.

If you can overlook that five-page side-trip to Scotland, this is a fast-paced tale of eyeball kicks and huge concepts. It's outrageous fanwank, but wrapped in a story so big that you can't help but be swept along. There's planetary devastation, a heroic end for Jamie and a final savage twist. For once the Doctor doesn't care about the web of time and just wants to destroy the Cybermen while they're still young and vulnerable (another clue that this isn't their only genesis?), but bloody hell, those Time Lords are bastards.

"I think a few million years of evil and bloodshed are well worth the ultimate salvation of sentient life, don't you?"

"Oh yes. Well worth it."

Strangely, this is only one of three companions to die in the last regular story for a Doctor in DWM's comic strip. (The only other companion deaths are arguable: Sir Justin in The Tides of Time and a parallel-Earth Brigadier before Final Genesis.) The Moderator saw out the 5th Doctor and killed Gus. This story saw out the 6th Doctor and killed Jamie. Then finally Ground Zero saw out the 7th Doctor and killed Ace.

John Ridgway does a stunning art job, assisted by Tim Perkins on inks. He draws a terrific Colin, though his Peri was always generic. Right from the start, this is a broody, menacing 6th Doctor. Great stuff! Grant Morrison considerately gives Ridgway plenty of fun stuff to draw, e.g. a beautiful new-model TARDIS (both exterior and interior), but there are subtle art touches too. Notice the weather. In this most apocalyptic of stories, the weather starts out vicious and just keeps getting worse. At the start on Marinus it's raining. Later in Scotland there's a hell of a wind blowing. On our return to Marinus there's lightning, a full storm and the whole works. Then in the last episode...

Grant Morrison did two other DWM comic strips, Changes (DWM 118-119) and Culture Shock! (DWM 139), but they're nothing to write home about. Jamie Delano's strips were better overall than Morrison's, believe it or not. However this is a prime example of how the 6th Doctor's comic strips outclassed the 6th Doctor's TV stories. The World Shapers should be unreadable for fanwank-sensitised modern readers, but in fact it's an unpredictable, shocking 24-page epic and the doom-laden capstone to the Colin Baker era that Trial of a Time Lord wasn't.

If nothing else, you get to see what happens when a Time Lord reaches the end of his regenerative cycle. It ain't pretty.

A Sixth Doctor Story... but Better! by Noah Blatt 14/5/15

This is a Sixth Doctor story in so many way, most of which are usually deemed annoying: Endless continuity references, even as obscure as the Morpho Creatures of Marinus (Remember those brain things? No? Don't blame you); gratuitous violence, including head-severing, a main character being fried to death and a Time Lord breaking down into gross molecules, in a scene that's way more disgusting than the rat-eating in The Two Doctors; and the Sixth Doctor going around insulting everyone. Wait, he only had one mild insult? Wow! Didn't see that coming. But, you know what? Those things that were, at the time of Colin Baker's two-year-era, annoying, in this story have a charming quality to them, which somehow makes them seem fun and original.

Let's begin with the Sixth Doctor. In his first season, he was portrayed as a rude, vain, insufferable "hero", who was quite possibly certifiably insane. Now he is a semi-kind-hearted, relatable Time Lord, who is actually a hero. You can really feel for him, like when he tries to comfort old Jamie or berating those absolutely despicable Time Lords. And, with that line about years and years of bloodshed being worth ultimate salvation, who can really blame him? He also had a nice sense of humor, as did Peri and Frobisher.

Then, there's the death of Jamie. I was so broken up about it but I'm glad he died stopping the world shaper and not some meaningless death, like Tasha Yar had on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for instance. "For Clan McCrimmon" was a fitting final line for my personal favorite companion. The plot was nicely intricate and there are so many small moments that make this one of the best comic book stories: the Doctor's disappearing act, the interesting Voord/Cybermen link, the absolutely sinister Time Lords, the dying Time Lord's artsy-fartsy TARDIS (it was indeed, as the Doctor put it, "gaudy and ostentatious"). I could go on and on.

I would've liked to this be a 3-part televised story, but unfortunately we're stuck with dreck like Attack of the Cybermen and The Two Doctors. Ah, well. A fan can dream.