Retro Review: Doctor Who Classics Volume 4 #1 (November 1985/February 2010) #DoctorWhoDay

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Oh, sure, you know Rose and Clara and even Bill Potts…  But do you remember The Sixth Doctor’s adventures with a shape-shifting penguin?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Doctor Who Classics Volume 4 #1 awaits!


Writer: Alan McKenzie
Artist: John Ridgway
Colorist: Charlee Kirchoff
Letterer: Annie Halfacree
Editor: Shiela Cranna/Denton J. Tipton
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Cover Price: $3.99
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously in Doctor Who As a recent Top Five reminded us, the regeneration of the Fifth Doctor was a particularly difficult and fraught one, and the resulting incarnation was unstable for slightly longer than most of his other selves.  The Sixth Doctor never quite shook his arrogance (mostly because it was quite justified) and he accomplished things that none of his earlier selves could, such as repairing the Chameleon circuit of the TARDIS.  Traveling the universe with his companion, Perpugilliam Brown, known to her friends as Peri, he encountered a creature as strange as he is, a Whifferdill shapeshifter named Frobisher, who preferred the form of a penguin (mostly because a woman he once loved adored the weirdo waterfowl.)

Now, they travel the cosmos together…

Our story begins in the TARDIS, as the dynamic duo of Doctor and Penguin working on some obscure part of the ship, while Peri goes through one of what must be millions of closets onboard the nigh-infinite craft.  While seeking out the “pnema-spanner”, Frobisher instead discovers a group of stowaways, a young family escaping their home planet, currently being terraformed into something entirely different.  They’re just as surprised as Team TARDIS to discover that their ship somehow landed inside ANOTHER ship, but it’s Peri who is most moved at the plight of the alien refugees…

Years and years ago, John Ridgway was the regular artist on ‘Hellblazer’ for DC Comics at a time where that series was my entire jam, so I love this issue’s art as much as I feel for the colorist who has to keep painting in Ol’ Sixie’s coat panel after panel.  Loading up their new friends with as much food and clothing as their tiny ship can hold, the Doctor heads off to a new destination: Planet Sylvaniar, in the hopes that they can help with the emergency that led to the exodus in the first place.  Of course, The Doctor never goes anywhere without complications.  Landing in the study of one Professor Verdeghast, The Doctor, Peri and Frobisher have the bad luck to arrive immediately after his MURDER!

If these seem like short chapters, it’s because they are.  Although recolored for their representation, the stories in Doctor Who Classics Volume 4 #1 originally appeared in the pages of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ during The Sixth Doctor’s original run circa 1985.  Indeed, readers of DWM got a much more rounded and humane Six than those who only saw his television incarnations, since his TV redemption arc was cut so short.  Frobisher makes for a fun companion in these pages, always ready with a snarky reference or cutting remark, and his utter cowardice makes The Doctor look even more heroic in comparison.  Initially thrown in jail, The Sixth Doctor is freed to help the local constabulary figure out the murder once it becomes clear that it’s part of a series of such crimes, each targeting Sylvaniar’s greatest minds.  An investigation makes it clear who’s behind the murders, as well as the unleashed technological madness that has taken over the entire planet…

…THE CYBERMEN!  The Doctor learns that a single one of the cyborgs had crashed on the planet a year or so earlier, and every since it has been transforming the populace into his ilk, with the help of one Dr. Sovak.  The Doctor advises not to ignore the threat of “the funny little man”, as The Doctor himself was one just a few regenerations ago.  (If you’re familiar with The Second Doctor, you’ll realize that’s actually good advice.)  Sovak’s anger leads to a system overload, and the entire complex is consumed in flames, forcing the Doctor to make a run for it.  Snatching Peri and Frobisher from the brig, he is surprised to find that the shapeshifter hasn’t broken them both out yet, but finds that his penguin friend is feeling a bit under the weather.

The Sixth Doctor’s unforgiving nature is right up there with Ten’s, as he gets his friend clear and watches the whole castle burn to the ground with the mad Sovak and his Cybermen inside, pausing only to let people know that he survived.  But that final panel is the kicker, as somehow Frobisher’s illness has locked him in the form of a penguin!  Well, not locked, necessarily, as the type and size of penguin does vary throughout his run in the TARDIS, indicating clearly that his Whifferdill DNA is still shifty and not at all that the artists changed without proper photo reference.  Regardless, Doctor Who Classics Volume 4 #1 is a fun little volume, one which doesn’t call out the silliness of a penguin in the TARDIS, making it that much more fun, featuring strong art and some clever plotting and story beats, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  There’s really no such thing as Official Continuity with Doctor Who, but it there were, this would be a part of mine.

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Weirdly wonderful.

It's a peculiar time for The Doctor, but a well-drawn, cleverly-written one...

...with a penguin in it.

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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