6 reasons [besides Frobisher] why I don't consider the Sixth Doctor comic, "The World Shapers", to be canon

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BLOT: (05 Sep 2010 - 12:49:29 PM)

6 reasons [besides Frobisher*] why I don't consider the Sixth Doctor comic, "The World Shapers", to be canon

Discussing canonicity in Doctor Who can be much like talking about the literary merits of science fiction as a whole. While bits exist—large bits that are not up for question—a lot of the little bits get in the way, leading to long fights with otherwise like-minded nerd-kind. Enter, for me, "The World Shapers", a three-part comic featured in Doctor Who Magazine #s 127 through 129 (story by Grant Morrison). In it, the Doctor finds a dying Time Lord on Marinus (the setting for The Keys of Marinus). A cryptic phrase sends the Doctor out to find an explanation. Including an explanation for why time seems to be jumping forward. He ends up finding old Mad Jamie McCrimmon, his once teenaged companion now white haired, and coming back to confront the origins of the Cybermen and the real truth of the planet Mondas.

I suppose I should put up a !!!SPOILER!!! just in case you are interested in reading the three part comic. It's not too many pages, by the way, and you can find it in a graphic novel of the same name (if you are British) or in IDW's Classic Who volume 3 (if American). At either rate, reading it probably isn't necessary, and I would suggest avoiding it. The overall package isn't that bad, and had any of a number of changes been made I would have been happy, but every since I first read it I have been bothered by it, and how it tries so little to actually fit into the overall storyline. The six main reasons why (besides Frobisher, a shape shifting companion mostly trapped as a penguin), in honor of it being a Sixth Doctor adventure, are given below.

#6 Jamie's Death Scene: My first complain about the comic is how it resolves Jamie. Now old and wizened, treated as crazy and half-mocked, half-ostracized by his fellow Scots, he rushes forward to protect the Doctor, screaming he never wanted to die in his bed, and destroys a piece of equipment only to be killed. Except, well, by destroying the equipment he apparently helps it to function, and so his sacrifice is in vain (the only extra-canon death in any science fiction series I have found more annoyingly staged was Chewbacca's). While letting Jamie go down swinging is a nice touch, I cannot help but think that the lovable and loyal (and one of the longest running, no matter how you count it) companion deserved a bit more fanfare than "crazy old man...DEAD!" Had "The World Shapers" been a five or six part story, it might have worked, given him some time. As it is, feels cheap.

#5 Season 6b Issues and the Mind Trick: In The Two Doctors, we get told that the Doctor and Jamie (now older) have been allowed to travel together past than The War Games (explaining a portion of the three-hundred year or so gap between the Second and Fourth Doctor's given ages). The Time Lords sent them on at least a mission or two together past where they were originally going to be separated. However, if Jamie defeated the mind wipe with "the trick" the Doctor gave him, as "The World Shapers" says, without recalling the Sixth, then The Two Doctors has trouble fitting into canon.

#4 Contradicts The Tenth Planet: "The World Shapers" contradicts the original serial involving the Cybermen, The Tenth Planet, in an attempt to solve a single line from Classic Who (a potentially throwaway line about meeting the Doctor on Planet 14...in his Second Doctor form...which almost had to be Telos if not some untelevised adventure) at the expense of butting up against TV-series continuity. If Mondas is the Earth's double, and has been drifting in the cold of space until the Cybermen have returned to take the sister planet, then there is little place, or need, for the Marinus origin story to even work. What's more, it's...

#3 The wrong Cybermen: The Cybermen encountered at the end of "The World Shapers" are the model not seen until The Invasion. This would mean that the Mondas contingent—as well as the The Moonbase, The Wheel in Space, and The Tomb of the Cybermen contingents—were backward steps from the more perfect, original Cyber.

#2 The wrong Time Lords: Even the Time Lords are wrong in this one, meddling deeper and waxing more philosophical about how awesome the Cybermen will be. They can arrogant busy-bodies, for sure, but they don't tweak the cosmos for effect; yet, "The World Shapers" has them colluded with helping the Cybermen along because of a potential "Golden Path" pay out some five million years in the future.

#1 Spare Parts was better: Finally, Big Finish's Spare Parts** was a superior "origin of the Cybermen" adventure. The Mondas of Parts is a freezing Earth double, trying desperately to survive. The DWM strips often bent comic-book motifs, alien battle fleets and super-men and sleek moral-punch storylines, into the Whoniverse. An EC Comics like plot twist after a fleet and unfulfilling build-up fits that style (it could have easily been printed in Weird Science). Spare Parts, though, keeps the pressures of the Whoniverse in line with the series, including the aftermath of Adric's end, and looks for the human factor in one of the Doctor's most inhuman enemies, focusing on the everyday truths of people instead of great-big-questions, just like Doctor Who tends to do. In a canon where I can either take "The World Shapers" or Spare Parts, I will never take "The World Shapers".

So, that's my reasoning. I hinted above that there were some changes that could have been made to make me like it. That's true. The "Cybermen will eventually become forces of good and pure reasoning" plot point could have been kept, but that didn't take Marinus turning into Mondas. The Marinus being changed worked, too, and could have just became Planet 14. Jamie's end could have been tweaked. Him returning should have been an event, not just a clerical checkmark. As a whole, the story didn't have to be the "birth of Cybermen" storyline, it could have just been the ascension of Cybers story. Maybe the Cybermen find a planet and put down a battalion. They then activate the world shaper to speed evolution, bypassing thousands of years of research and development, making a new race? Or, more simply, if they had dropped "Mondas" from the picture, the Cybers from this, and later stories (chronologically) could have been a second race, only similar to the first by coincidence (the new series alt-Cybers suggest that their creation is inherent in the human race, not merely the output of a single event).

* Much like my statement about science fiction and literay merits, don't take my disparaging of Frobisher too seriously. I find him an intriguing character, but as of yet haven't read or heard a story with him in it that really shouts "DOCTOR WHO" to me.

** You can find Spare Parts as an about $10 download from Big Finish (or an about $20 CD). The story was at least part inspiration for the Tenth Doctor's "Rise of the Cybermen", up to and including a fee being paid out to Mark Platt for it. Russel T. Davies apparently felt it was one of the finest DW stories. I'd be inclined to agree.

TAGS: [Sixth] Doctor Who

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 35
BY MONTH: September 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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