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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
The Seventh Doctor
Operation Volcano (Hardback)


Writer: Andrew Cartmel
Artist: Christopher Jones
Colourist: Marco Lesko
Executive Producer: Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Titan Comics
RRP: UK £13.99, US $16.99
Age: 12+
ISBN: 978 1 78586 822 1
128 pages
Publication Date: 18 December 2018

Celebrate all-new Seventh Doctor action with his television showrunner! An unknown intelligence in orbit. A terrifying vessel in the Australian Outback. The future of the world at stake. The Intrusion Counter-Measures Group activated. And the Doctor and Ace slap bang in the middle of it all! This is Operation Volcano! Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London) and his characters from Remembrance of the Daleks join writer and Doctor Who script editor Andrew Cartmel (Rivers of London, The Vinyl Detective), artist Christopher Jones (Doctor Who: The Third Doctor) and colourist Marco Lesko (Robotech) to craft an explosively propulsive espionage thriller for the ages…!

Titan is making a big deal of how this graphic novel recaptures the television era of 30 years ago with an epic tale from the minds of Ben Aaronovitch (who wrote the phenomenal Remembrance of the Daleks and the somewhat less successful Battlefield) and Andrew Cartmel (who was script editor throughout the Sylvester McCoy era). Actually, Cartmel does most of the heavy lifting here as the writer of Operation Volcano, with Aaronovitch in an advisory capacity as Executive Producer.

As expected, Cartmel gives us the Doctor and Ace that we are familiar with from the original series’ final two seasons (after McCoy had settled into the role following a predominantly comedic first season). The Doctor is impish and calculating. Ace is headstrong and ready for action – though she is becoming more responsible under the Time Lord’s tutelage. The writer knows these characters well, having helped to create them. He also does a good job of reprising the Intrusion Counter-Measures team of Group Captain Gilmore, Professor Rachel Jensen and Allison Williams who were originated by Aaronovitch (and have in the meantime experienced numerous audio adventures courtesy of Big Finish Productions).

However, just as much as this story evokes the bygone days of a television era, it also takes me back to a golden age of the Doctor Who comic strip. During the programme’s run on the small screen, the strip had often felt rather distanced from it, frequently differing in tone (especially during its early years in TV Comic), never employing writers from the parent show, and going for long stretches without featuring any of the Doctor’s television companions. K9 appeared in the early 1980s, but without Romana. Peri turned up a few years later, but was accompanied by a shapeshifting penguin. Ironically, it was only when the show disappeared from our screens that the comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine really began to resemble it. In late 1990, when the programme had been off air for almost a year, Ace was introduced into the strip in Fellow Travellers, a story penned by Andrew Cartmel. The tone reflected that of the late McCoy era… and later echoed that of the New Adventures novels launched in mid-1991.

The McCoy era seems particularly well suited to the graphic medium. The Seventh Doctor’s screen adventures tended to be fast-paced, highly visual, and colourful yet moody. The creative team behind Operation Volcano have matched these qualities, while also showing us things that a late 1980s television budget would have struggled to realise: enormous spaceships, Australian locations, snake-like aliens, characters windsurfing out of a desert storm. The essential nature of the ‘army versus aliens a few decades ago’ plot reminds me of not only Remembrance of the Daleks but also Cartmel’s second DWM strip, The Good Soldier. Christopher Jones’s art not only provides good likenesses of the licensed characters (Gilmore is instantly recognisable, even with the surprise addition of long hair) but also evokes the style of Lee Sullivan, who drew several of the Seventh Doctor’s comic-strip adventures.

After a careful build-up, the end of the penultimate episode is crowded with exposition. The next instalment also comes to a hasty conclusion, leading me to wonder whether the plot was initially intended to last one episode longer (this story was originally published across three monthly issues, with a double-length first issue). However, we are used to McCoy’s television stories running long and needing to be cut down!

Each of the monthly issues also included a back-up strip, Hill of Beans, featuring Mags from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, with art by Mags herself, actress Jessica Martin. Writer Richard Dinnick seems confused as to what triggers Mags’s werewolf transformation (here it is prompted by anger, like the Hulk, rather than moonlight), but he has fun pastiching plot elements (not including the romance) from the film Casablanca and spoofing the Presidency of Donald Trump. When jeered at by a crowd of protesters, the President of Vulpana tells them, “You are all very rude! You all need to apologise to me!” Martin’s artwork gives him the unmistakable appearance of Trump, but otherwise looks rather amateurish. (I know, I am very rude.)

Operation Volcano’s Christopher Jones and Marco Lesko also provide the art and colours for The Armageddon Gambit, a five-page Seventh Doctor and Ace strip that first appeared in the Free Comic Book Day 2018 issue. The writer is John Freeman, another alumnus of DWM, who edited the publication from 1990 to 1992 and wrote several of the comic strips. Rather like a James Bond pre-titles sequence, the ending of this amusing but inconsequential little tale leads directly into Operation Volcano – so it really ought to have been presented at the front of the book instead of near the back.

The final strip in this collection is the similarly short and even less eventful In-Between Times, which was originally released as a digital exclusive in a Humble Bundle (charity) package. As its title partly suggests, this is a quiet interlude between adventures, a bit of character interaction between Ian, Barbara, Susan and the First Doctor during a sleepless night aboard the TARDIS. It was written by Paul Cornell four years ago, but then got stuck in limbo awaiting a suitable artist. The artist finally selected for the job was John Stokes – a highly appropriate choice as he has been drawing comics since the early 1960s, the period being recaptured in this story. Maintaining the DWM connection, he illustrated several back-up strips during the early 1980s. His style is comparable to that of Ron Turner, who drew the Daleks strip for TV Century 21 in the mid-1960s. The likenesses of the TARDIS crew are varied, with Stokes reserving close photographic reference for certain ‘hero’ shots, which make use of fine dots a la Chris Achilleos. Fittingly, the art is presented in black and white, just as the William Hartnell era was on television, while Cornell gets the characters spot on – including having the Doctor fumble a couple of his lines!

Despite weaknesses in one of the bonus strips, the problems of one little story don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, so on the whole Operation Volcano is hot stuff, worth getting into a lava about.


Richard McGinlay

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