REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious” Comics (“Defender of the Daleks” and “Monstrous Beauty”)

Time Lord Victorious, the first Doctor Who multimedia crossover event, is a story told via multiple mediums—including novels, audios, short stories, and comics. The novels appear to contain the core storyline of the event—the Tenth Doctor’s battle against the Kotturah—leaving the audios, short stories, and comics to flesh out that main story. With the Big Finish audio dramas detailing how the Eighth Doctor gets drawn into the story and the short stories fleshing out the world of Time Lord Victorious, that leaves the comics to flesh out the Tenth Doctor’s backstory before the events of the novels and to explore how the Ninth Doctor joins the fray. While both comics feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the Time Lord Victorious event, “Defender of the Daleks” and “Monstrous Beauty” are still fun Doctor Who stories well worth a read.

Doctor Who: Defender of the Daleks (written by Jody Houser, illustrated by Roberta Ingranta)
Like most of the Doctor Who comics from Titan Comics, “Defender of the Daleks” is a solid, if simplistic, Doctor Who story—but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. “Defender of the Daleks” is a pretty bog-standard Doctor Who comic. It’s well-written, well illustrated, and a bit forgettable in the vast scheme of the Time Lord Victorious event. From the publisher: The Tenth Doctor awakes in a timeline that is not his own, finding himself pursued, impossibly, by the entire Dalek Empire. Even more impossibly, the Daleks are losing a battle with a race who ceased to exist long ago. The Dalek Emperor needs help, and there’s only one person in the universe more terrifying than Daleks – but can the Doctor ever trust the Dalek Emperor, and be willing to save his Empire?

At first glance, it’s difficult to see how “Defender of the Daleks” ties into the larger Time Lord Victorious storyline. Sure, the thing the Doctor is defending the Daleks from is a horror from the Dark Times—the setting of most of Time Lord Victorious—but aside from that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection. “Defender of the Daleks” acts as more of a sequel to a recent arc in the 13th Doctor comics where she and the 10th Doctor fought the Weeping Angels (during the events of the classic episode, “Blink”). It picks up for the 10th Doctor where that comic ends while the rest of Time Lord Victorious is set after “The Waters of Mars,” an episode from later in the 10th Doctor’s era. Still, I guess it’s introducing elements that will be important to the Time Lord Victorious story—particularly how the Daleks play into everything, a throughline that gets picked up in the Big Finish Eighth Doctor audios.

As its own story, “Defender of the Daleks” is solid. It’s almost entirely stand-alone, requiring little knowledge from the reader other than a basic understanding of Doctor Who‘s premise and who the Daleks are. Jody Houser’s writing is as good as it always is. She has a knack for perfectly capturing the voice of whichever Doctor she’s writing and that’s no different here. Her Tenth Doctor feels like it lept directly from the TV show to the comic page. The plot moves at a good pace, never leaving a boring moment. However, that comes with the caveat that I often have with Doctor Who comics—“Defender of the Daleks” also never slows down enough to explore its ideas with any depth. Roberta Ingranta’s artwork is, as always, great. Her depiction of Skaro feels both true to what’s been shown on the show but also uniquely her own and it’s so fun getting to finally see the Daleks in a Doctor Who comic. Ultimately, “Defender of the Daleks” is a fun story that’s well-executed and should please fans of the Tenth Doctor. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

Doctor Who: Monstrous Beauty (written by Scott Gray, illustrated by John Ross)
If the Titan Comics story is for the more casual fan, then this story from Doctor Who Magazine is for the hardcore fan. “Monstrous Beauty” is a lore-heavy story that feels longer than it actually is. It’s a well-written Ninth Doctor story that oozes with Gothic atmosphere—though feels similarly disconnected from the larger Timelord Victorious storyline. From the publisher: The Ninth Doctor and Rose find themselves in a place where no TARDIS is ever supposed to go – the Dark Times; an ancient era forbidden to all Time Lords. The universe is young but war has already been born: The Vampire Alliance is swarming across the cosmos, consuming everything in its path. The Doctor discovers that not all the stories surrounding Time Lord history match up with reality – but some of the horrors are actually worse than the myths. Rose becomes the first human in existence – and that’s a very dangerous thing to be…

It’s a bit easier to see how this story fits in with the Time Lord Victorious event. It’s set during the Dark Times, with the Ninth Doctor and Rose stumbling across the war between the Time Lords and the Great Vampires. However, that’s where the connections seem to end. Outside of that connection, it plays out like any other Doctor Who storyline—not that that’s a problem, though, as this is a pretty solid Doctor Who story. I always love when Doctor Who tackles some kind of mythological monster through its own sci-fi lens and that remains true here. I love the idea that what we think of as vampires are just legends told of an ancient race of aliens who died long ago. It’s fun to see how close the legends are to reality in the Doctor Who universe, though. The Great Vampires are pretty much exactly how we imagine vampires to be; they’re gothic, they’re creepy, and they’re scary.

While I liked the premise of “Monstrous Beauty,” it’s not exactly what I’d call easy to understand. It’s mostly hampered by its length, to be honest. While it feels longer than it is, so much has to happen in a short amount of time that it can be difficult to follow exactly what’s going on and why it’s happening. You find constantly find yourself wanting to spend more time in certain moments—like when Rose first meets the Great Vampires or when the Doctor talks with the Gallifreyan scientist. Plus, I suspect the somewhat obscure lore from an old episode of Classic Doctor Who, where the Great Vampires are first introduced, might completely go over the heads of fans who are only familiar with the modern series. Still, it’s a fun story that’s written well, with Gray capturing the voices of the Ninth Doctor and Rose deftly. Ross’s artwork, however, is a bit more hit or miss for me. It’s not that it’s bad or anything, just that it never quite captures the likenesses of Christopher Eccleston or Billie Piper. The artwork does succeed in telling the story and creating a palpable, enjoyable atmosphere that you want to spend time in. At the end of the day, it’s a solid story that I just wish was longer. I think Classic Doctor Who fans might enjoy this one the most, but those craving a Ninth Doctor story will still probably enjoy it. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

As stand-alone stories, both “Defender of the Daleks” and “Monstrous Beauty” do the job well enough. They’re both enjoyable Doctor Who tales that, while being a touch forgettable, are great ways to pass the time. But as pieces of a big multi-media event? I feel like they’re a bit lacking. They both feel tangentially related to Time Lord Victorious at best, with no clear indication of how they properly fit into this bigger story being told. Maybe one of the future stories—like Una McCormack’s All Flesh is Grass—will help connect the dots between all of these seemingly disparate stories. But, as of now, they don’t feel particularly important to the Time Lord Victorious storyline. And that’s a bit of a bummer. It feels like a lost cause to not tie them in more closely. I know those behind the event want to ensure that each piece of media gives a complete experience, but I feel like there’s still a way to accomplish that while connecting everything more closely than they’re doing. If you’re looking to get the core story of Time Lord Victorious, you can probably skip these comics. But if you’re trying to absorb everything, they’re still fun reads even if they don’t feel important.

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