You Were Expecting Someone Else 28: The Forgotten

(28 comments)

A commissioned essay for ?ukasz Bury.

The Forgotten is a different sort of Doctor Who comic to any we’ve discussed before. For one thing, it’s American - so American, in fact, that it didn’t even get a UK release. This was a peculiarity of IDW’s deal to acquire the license: because Panini has the UK license already, none of IDW’s Doctor Who comics could be distributed in the UK (which is why their Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover led with Star Trek - because that made it technically a Star Trek comic that could thus get UK distribution. No, really, the licensing rules are that dumb). 

IDW, upon acquiring the license, commenced with a two-pronged approach. First was a six issue run of Tenth Doctor/Martha Jones comics by Gary Russell, with art by Nick Roche, which was published alongside reprints of 70s/80s Doctor Who Magazine material starting with Doctor Who and the Iron Legion, all with quite slick colouring. (These books are presumably out of print or on their way out of print now that IDW has lost the license, and I actually highly recommend them if you can track them down. Voyager has never looked so good.) The initial Ten/Martha series was followed by Doctor Who: The Forgotten, intended to be by Tony Lee and Pia Guerra, the latter fresh off the esteemed Y: The Last Man series with Brian K. Vaughan, and the former a writer with some Doctor Who pedigree, having written a few Tenth Doctor strips for Doctor Who Magazine (which we’ll speak more of on Wednesday). Technically this is a bit old - it’s properly set right after Journey’s End. But I like doing comics stuff at the end of a Doctor - it’s become quasi-traditional. So. 

The major hook for The Forgotten was that it was the first “all the Doctors ever” story of the new series. That this would be at all novel already feels like an odd historical moment - even if we’ve not had a televised The Thirteen Doctors due to some actors being inconsiderately dead, we get compilations and sets of the entire line of Doctors fairly regularly at this point. And given that this was pointedly not “all the Doctors meet” but rather a story about the Tenth Doctor regaining his memories by exploring a museum of his past selves. Still, this was by far the most substantive crossover between the new series and the classic series that existed to date - especially given that the first issue predated The Next Doctor, and thus predated our first on-screen montage of the classic series.

On the one hand, then, this is a fairly slick production. Tony Lee knows his stuff pretty well, and has researched the rest. There are bits where his characterizations are a bit inept - his Hartnell never feels right, and his Romana is miles off base - but it’s not as though plenty of longstanding Doctor Who writers haven’t fluffed characterizations in their day. For every one he’s off on, there’s another he does particularly well on. His Troughton isn’t great, but for a Doctor who is notoriously difficult to capture off-screen, it’s solid, and his Davison is spot-on. Little decisions like having McCoy’s Doctor make a veiled address to Tennant’s Doctor across the time stream suggest a writer who gets the history of the show.

This isn’t exactly extraordinary, mind you; loads of writers know their Doctor Who. But there’s a degree of “trying to get it right” involved here that stands out. There is also, mind you, a few moments of serious unfortunateness. Guerra is a fantastic artist, but personal problems prevented her from being able to do the third and fourth issues, and for reasons unexplained IDW declined to use her art for the sixth issue despite it apparently being submitted to them by the agreed upon deadline. In amidst all this artist swapping (which did no wonders for the art) came a breathtakingly unfortunate moment where the colorist on the third issue was apparently unaware that Martha is not white. 

But for all that the comic is well put together, there is something oddly hollow about it. It is not, as I said, The Ten Doctors. Rather, this is a story in which a semi-amnesiac Tenth Doctor wanders around a mysterious museum being attacked by monsters and reminiscing about his past selves, where at the end it turns out that this has all been caused by an alien parasite. So effectively The Eight Doctors mashed up with Amy’s Choice, which is more creative than it sounds given that Amy’s Choice hadn’t actually aired yet, though still not exactly a concept that lights up the world. It is, ultimately, a concept that exists only to pile on the continuity.

The Forgotten is, in other words, ultimately just a hall of mirrors: an endless procession of bits of Doctor Who continuity presented out of context, with no goal other than piling them on. It is a comic of pure fanservice - an attempt to put IDW on the Doctor Who map by giving a group of people what they want. But, interestingly, no more than that. The Forgotten piles up the continuity references without ever actually building anything out of them. They exist for their own purpose, culminating in nothing save for an ultimately self-consciously empty scene with Susan, or, rather, the TARDIS impersonating Susan.

It is of course worth asking what else anyone expected from a ten Doctor story. Even aside from the problem of aging and death, ten main characters is an awful lot for a self-contained story, and that’s before you add in companions. Finding an adventure in which everyone would have something to do is an outright logistical nightmare. Somewhere between 1983 and the present day the history of Doctor Who became too large to do in a single all-encompassing story. (Indeed, it was barely possible in 1983 - The Five Doctors is, let’s face it, a bit of a mess) In many ways The Forgotten does it as well as it can be done - by getting rid of everything else except the excuse for piling on Doctors and continuity references, it at least can get through all the bases in just six issues of comic book. 

So what we have is ultimately a fairly empty exercise in continuity. What, if anything, do we make of this? Certainly it’s an interesting move on IDW’s part - between this and their high quality classic comic reprints they quickly established themselves as, along with Big Finish, the company that’s invested in the history of the series. Unlike Big Finish, of course, they also have the new series license, which puts them in a position to do something like this that tries to encompass the whole history of the show.

But that history is simply too big, and The Forgotten is most interesting in how it demonstrates that. There is no such thing as a story that encompasses everything that Doctor Who is at this point. The Forgotten is in many ways the ideal title for this attempt, not for the superficial reason of it being a story about the Doctor trying to remember his past, but because a story attempting to do this will necessarily leave much out. A story about the entire chronology of Doctor Who will be full of holes and forgotten things. (Most notably and obviously, in hindsight, John Hurt and the Time War, which The Forgotten ascribes to McGann’s Doctor, and does reasonably well with.) 

In other words, the fact that the continuity ends up drowning out the actual story is altogether fitting here. It’s what something like The Forgotten was always, almost inevitably, going to be. Here is all the iconography a long-standing fan of the series could ever hope for: ten Doctors, Susan, Ian, Barbara, Jamie, Zoe, Jo, the Brigadier, Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton, Romana, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Ace (with separate Nitro-Nine and baseball bat), another of Chantho’s species, Rose, Autons, Judoon, spiders from Metebelis Three, Robots (of death and of clockwork), a Chameleon Arch, a Valeyard reference, a Key to Time reference, and cameos from Harry Sullivan, Leela, Mel, Steven Taylor, Kamelion, Nyssa, Adric, and Sarah Jane. All that’s missing, ultimately, is the heart and soul of the series past 2005: actual plot and character and emotional content. 

So we reveal the iconography of the series as what we always suspected it was: mere iconography, devoid of substance on its own merits. Doctor Who isn’t some vast and impressive story, but rather a thing that happened in history. In hindsight, The Forgotten is essentially an extended version of that extensive trailer for Day of the Doctor. But its extension adds nothing that the melange of images in that trailer didn’t already bring, save perhaps doing it a few years earlier. Not for the first time in Doctor Who’s history, giving the people what they want only exposes how fundamentally vapid their desire was in the first place. 


On top of that, the frustration involved in this series seems to have led Guerra to an extended hiatus from comics work that she hasn’t broken yet. Which, actually tips the series into downright infuriating.

Comments

Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

Yay, I'm first! :-D

Oh, and... dammit, I should've commissioned that "Eleventh Hour" video blog. That was the trick. :-(

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

I think it's suggestive that the official 50th anniversary IDW multi-Doctor series pretty much took the same "showing a mini-adventure of each past Doctor for an issue before uniting them all at the end approach" as well.

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh, and the fact that Pia Guerra was unable to continue on the project -- for entirely understandable reasons, I hasten to add -- kind of damaged my interest in the whole thing. The art was the primary draw of this series, to be honest.

And I was looking forward to seeing her Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 8 months ago

Would you mind elaborating on that last point?

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J Mairs 3 years, 8 months ago

"I didn't care much for IDW's take on DW. "

I don't know... they have their moments in amongst the continuity porn... The Eleventh Doctor series is better than the Tenth.

But between the IDW comics and the Crimson Hand arc, Tenth had about as many companions during his "year off without companions" as across his whole televised era, which is always worth a smile.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 8 months ago

Who precisely are the "people" who wanted an American comics series featuring all of the Doctors in a single story? Because that sounds like a cheap and easy shot at the vapid tastes of the "many" (author and blog readers obviously excluded) which somehow allows you to blame the vapidness of this story on a phantom "demand" instead of the artistic choices of its creators.

New Who on TV has huge audience figures and strong AIs and I take it from your readings here you don't find it "vapid." Is that not concrete evidence that one set of artists can provide the "many" with what they want without vapidity being a necessary byproduct?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 8 months ago

From the author of the "Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic" comes a labour of love - Rich's "The Ten Doctors".

http://comics.shipsinker.com/downloads.php

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 8 months ago

He,s getting evn more in the new Titan Comics series. (Or is it Panini?)

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

The Five Doctors is, let’s face it, a bit of a mess

THANK you. I've never found it very satisfying, even when I saw it as a kid. I so often hear people say otherwise these days that I wonder if I'm watching the same thing.

I have to wonder what's going to happen with these down the line. Ten Doctors here or Thirteen in "Day of the Doctor" is overstuffed enough -- what are they going to do when there are twenty of them? Because you know they're going to try.

There are two main reasons I usually don't buy Doctor Who comics, and have been disappointed with almost all the ones I have bought. One of those reasons is the art, and the other is the writing. I have a book of Sylvester McCoy comics which I still haven't managed to drag myself all the way through. I should probably just pass it on to someone who'll appreciate it; for me it just creates memories of his Doctor I'd rather not have.

Not for the first time in Doctor Who’s history, giving the people what they want only exposes how fundamentally vapid their desire was in the first place.

I'm not sure what to say. Don't most of "the people" want good stories? I mean, yeah, I'm sure there are a lot of fans who want to see old Doctors and old companions and old monsters come back, and thrill to see them placed in new contexts, but they imagine there's a way to do that without sucking. I think you're probably right that it's at best extremely difficult, but I'm not convinced by a small handful of examples -- particularly comics, where most of them are awful anyway -- that it's impossible.

But even if it is, I don't think the desire itself is vapid. At its root I think it's the same desire that makes us interested in reading your essays about classic series episodes, or throwing classic series episodes into the DVD player in the first place. It's an abiding interest in those characters and scenarios, and a not unhealthy nostalgia...maybe there really are fans whose desire is JUST to see those faces on a screen for a moment, but I really hope most people have higher expectations.

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Galadriel 3 years, 8 months ago

I was planning on mentioning that, but you beat me to it. Admittedly, it's been a while since I read it, but I think all the Doctors were well-used and plot relevant.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 8 months ago

To follow on from what others are saying, I think when Phil says The Forgotten's emptiness is due to "giving people what they want", what he means is "giving people what they think they want"; the same mistake the JNT era made.

ISTR that somewhere he's said that the average viewer's instincts as to what good TV looks like are sound, but they often don't realise why something is good, demand more of what they think they liked about it, and then don't like the result because it's missing what they actually liked about it. Or something.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

I felt that The Ten Doctors has a certain fatal attraction towards the Saward era. Is there any other excuse for using the Rani? It seems as if fanwank calls to fanwank like two drashigs across a swamp.

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

What I'm wondering is if both JNT and Phil are actually talking about "giving people what [JNT or Phil] thinks they think they want." In other words, in classic self-loathing Who fan fashion, there's this perception that fans want empty nostalgia pageants and continuity porn, or that what they think they want amounts to no more than that. And JNT and Phil could both be right about this, because granted I haven't talked to THAT many Who fans in my lifetime apart from a convention, a few comments sections, and a short frightening stint on r.a.dw, but I can't recall anyone actually saying anything that could reasonably be reduced to this rather insulting caricature.

Some fans will say something like "I hope they have all the classic Doctors in the 50th anniversary special," sure. What does that mean to them? Do we know that it means those fans want present-day Tom, Peter, Colin, Sylvester, Paul, plus CGI versions of Bill, Pat, and Jon dancing the macarena on a row of Ogron skulls? Do we know that it even means what they got -- the visuals from "Name of" and "Day of" which actually people seemed pretty excited about and which in no way that I know of rendered those episodes vapid? Or are they saying they want some homage paid to the classic series, some sense of connection to the years without which it would actually be a 7th or 8th anniversary special?

See, I don't think they know exactly what they want, these hypothetical fans who definitely are not like us, who are We but also Not-We. I think they want what we want: good stories with resonance, and they are far more willing to hope that the writers and editors and showrunners in charge can figure out a non-vapid way to do that. They may be mistaken, but I don't think they're the problem.

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Chris 3 years, 8 months ago

Yay! My signed books arrived today!

Boo! It's the first day in weeks it's rained, so the package got completely soaked.

Yay! It's going to make the pages better match the distressed cover art!

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

To be clear, I don't think JNT or Phil are self-loathing Who fans. What I'm referring to is the fact that Who fans always seem to me more embarrassed by each other and their perceived flaws than fans of other shows. They seem more likely to berate themselves or hypothetical other people for continuity obsessions and other real and imagined fannish tendencies, perhaps a result of the Time War wounds most or all of us classic fans carry around. The mantra -- "it doesn't matter what we fans want, it's all about pleasing the masses so we can keep our show alive" -- may (or may not) be on-target, but it's also a little too willing to dismiss those masses as soon as they become fans. It's okay to love the show...just not TOO much, or suddenly you become part of the problem and not part of the solution. I do self-loathing as well as anyone, but that doesn't sit right with me.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

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Anton B 3 years, 8 months ago

>I have to wonder what's going to happen with these down the line. Ten Doctors here or Thirteen in "Day of the Doctor" is overstuffed enough -- what are they going to do when there are twenty of them? Because you know they're going to try.
Tom Baker's cameo as a future Doctor 'revisiting' an old familiar face in Day of the Doctor, introduces the idea that the Doctor is eternal; that stretching on into the future far beyond his limit of thirteen or even the next thirteen is a long line of Doctors, perhaps including some more 'mayfly' non-Doctors, Warriors, Caretakers or Curators and that this presents the possibility of a story where the Doctor can meet future incarnations of himself who we, as viewers, may never know. It seems to me therefore that eventually we'll just stop counting and accept the character of the Doctor as an archetype who has and will have many faces. A little like Moorcock's Eternal Champion itself inspired by Campbell's 'hero with a thousand faces'. I imagine then the idea of multi-Doctor anniversary stories, while still possible to stage, will cease to have the same resonance.

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Mackerel Sky, Ltd. 3 years, 8 months ago

Is "The Big Band" the episode where Eleven goes back to the 1940s and conducts for ENSA?

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othemts 3 years, 8 months ago

On tenterhooks wondering if "The End of Time" post will be tomorrow or if there's some other Tennant-era ephemera that I overlooked.

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Anglocat 3 years, 8 months ago

My signed books arrived today, too, but were dry, I'm glad to say. Phil, if you're still reading this far down, they are beautiful, and I am delighted to have them.

They are, in fact, so great that I am seriously thinking of self-publishing a novel I've written instead of hawking it around. An author friend with 20 published novels to her credit has dropped her publisher since they don't do much for you if you aren't a star, and is urging me to go the CreateSpace route. Your books may have just decided the issue.

(If anyone's interested, my books are a continuation of Anthony Trollope's Pallisers novels, set 20 years later--intrigue, political gamesmanship--almost like House of Cards set at Downton Abbey--with a villain who was, in the 70s, played by blog favorite Anthony Ainley.)

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ferret 3 years, 8 months ago

Rich certainly does try to pack way too much in, but also has the occasional lovely character moment, such as the 4th Doctor's thoughts when regaining consciousness after being blown out a Dalek saucer:

http://comics.shipsinker.com/?id=161

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

It also arguably resuits in one of the problems that Phil's identified with the latter stages of the RTD era; a show which increasingly seems to be afraid to actually take any kind of risks, not even limited to those of continuity, for fear of frightening off this homogenous blob of Not-We viewers.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

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Anton B 3 years, 8 months ago

Doctor Phil's being meta-textual and stretching it out as much as RTD and Tennant elongated the tenth Doctor's demise. I'm impatient for the change of tone for the Moffat era when this blog goes all fairy tale, timey wimey and arcy warcy.

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Unknown 3 years, 8 months ago

I had never seen this! Flawed as it is (and frankly couldn't help given the multidoc nature) I really enjoyed it. Ate up my afternoon. Really nailed the tone and voice, and what we loved about each doctor. Particularly loved the way its used Eccleston (not my favorite ordinarily) and thought it was brilliant the way it contrasted pairings. Favorites being the 2nd and 7th getting along so well, and antagonism btw Ace and Rose. All very well done!

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Allyn Gibson 3 years, 8 months ago

Jonathan Inge, I'm going to disagree with you. I don't think that IDW erred in their approach to continuity (embracing and referencing it).

The mistake I think you're making is that you're assuming IDW is trying to reach the same audience as Cardiff and DWM. Unlike the television series (mainstream British family audience) and Doctor Who Magazine (mainstream British newsstand audience), the audience IDW was going to reach with their Doctor Who comics was neither mainstream nor British. And IDW pitched their series at the audience they would reach, a completely rational decision.

They were locked out of the British market, and they sold in comic book shops. Thus, the audience that would be buying IDW's comics was 1) American (because of license limitations) and 2) college-age and up (because that's the average market comic shops reach in the US). The IDW Doctor Who reader would be older and more dedicated than the average Doctor Who fan, and thus would likely be more familiar with the continuity references.

In short, IDW's Doctor Who reader would be more typical of the American genre fan, and that fan's expectations for continuity and the relationship of the material to continuity are more demanding. That's where IDW pitched their series. They weren't unsuccessful with that approach, their books sold well and steady.

That said, I think IDW stumbled out of the gate with Russell's series and The Forgotten. They found better footing with Winter's Dawn, Season's End (the 10th Doctor ongoing, which starts slow but builds to a devastating conclusion) and The Girl Who Waited (the first 11th Doctor ongoing). The less said of the Tipton brothers' work, the better. (I remain convinced they have never seen an episode of Doctor Who.)

I am curious to see what lessons, if any, Titan takes from IDW's time as the license holder. I suspect that, because of their license limitations (again, no UK distribution), they'll make the same market analysis that IDW did.

We shall see.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

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