Not that I want to come across as colonial and xenophobic and “Rule Britannia” tra-la-la, but something very noticeable happens as you read IDW's Doctor Who Special 2012, an anthology of four short stories. Wherein, three of the stories are written by Brits, and one of them by an American. And you know which of the four features the most massively out-of-character and uninteresting version of The Doctor? You're ahead of me, I can tell.
This isn't a particularly good anthology, all things considered. It's noticeably aimed at an older audience that the TV series, perhaps because in America the show is more feted as a "nerd show" than as a family entertainment. Tony Lee's excellent skill in characterization, for example, is used in a story where the Doctor goes on a prison break from a muted, two-tone cell. Meanwhile Richard Dinnick gives us a talkative story where the characters spend almost the entire time in exposition, forgetting that they should also be giving us a story with set-pieces and thrills.
Len Wein's story comes first, so let's get to that one. Leaping upon the joke from a few years back that Matt Smith's Doctor has an obsession with the fez hat, Wein also brings back universally despised villains the Slitheen for a poorly paced, badly scripted story which ends with the Doctor assisting in genocide. If you read my reviews of the TV show, you'll know that there's nothing I hate more than the Doctor with his finger on a trigger, and again that's exactly what I'm given here. The basic premise is that the Slitheen have set up mind-control fezzes, and their plot is to have every human on Earth sing at a frequency which will make them explode. Which is ridiculous in the extreme, but isn't played out as such. With a last-minute flick of the Sonic Screwdriver, the Doctor switches the frequency so it instead makes all the SLITHEEN blow up, and hey presto genocide.
If this was played as camp and fun, the story would fit more smoothly into the TV show. But this is played as straight drama, with the Doctor's usually semi-distracted, secretly focused, agenda-comedy self-narration replaced by generic, out of touch dialogue. He doesn't feel like the Doctor, while Amy and Rory have barely anything to butt in from the sidelines. As a lead story, it's terrible. The art, from Matthew Dow Smith, does exactly what you want from a Who story: something unique. Smith's tendency is to try and express a lot in a face without drawing much on it, if that makes sense, so each character feels half-sketched and half-cartoony. It's perhaps not as dynamic as you might like, but it tries something different and is an interesting piece of work.
Richard Dinnick's story is very hard to read, in fairness. It's incredibly wordy, with most of it being exposition and explanation, without much story fitting in around the edges. The main plot has something to do with people pretending to be Time Lords and some space chickens, but is utterly lifeless. It's very easy to glaze over while reading, and there's absolutely no way anyone under the age of 24 will be able to pay attention enough to read it to the end. It's a story aimed at sci-fi buffs, rather than people with an imagination. Yeah, sci-fi buffs! You just got called out! By a comic book reviewer!
The special improves with the return of Tony Lee to a character he knows well. I wasn't entirely taken with his prison break story, but he did take the effort to include characters and plot in his piece, which is appreciated. Rather than playing with every toy in the sandbox, Lee isolates the Doctor and throws him up against a new character, capturing the essence of the show within the first few panels. The jokes hit home, the characters are solid and enjoyable, and the whole thing wraps up nicely. The art, by Mitch Gerads, is perhaps a bit too gray and downbeat in tone, but fits the setting and gives us a different spin on the adventures of The Doctor. Again, I think this story would perhaps appeal more to grown-ups than kids, but it's not so isolating as the previous two.
The final story is by Andy Diggle and Mark Buckingham, and boy does Diggle's prior experience writing short stories pay off here. The 2000AD vet has the benefit of the strongest artist of the book, but his script fits more into every page than Wein fits into his far longer page count. In just six pages, he establishes that he knows the voice of The Doctor, Rory, and Amy, gives us a brief history lesson, throws in a comedically villainous Nazi, and gets some great jokes in. It's a great piece of writing, complemented by Buckingham's expressive artwork. Given that Diggle will be writing the ongoing series for IDW, it's a very promising sign. He writes for the family, which I keep railing on about, but is IMPORTANT. Doctor Who isn't a character for a small demographic. He's somebody who relates to everybody, and needs to be written as such.
If you buy the special, just be aware that Diggle's story is the only real standout. Lee's piece is also good, but the first two stories are rather poor, and don't feel like they have anything to mark them out as Doctor Who stories. They could be any generic sci-fi piece. Only Lee and Diggle seem to understand what makes the Doctor tick, and it's a shame they have to share space here with two dud stories.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.