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Doctor Who: Autopia

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009
By: Paul Brian McCoy

John Ostrander
Kelly Yates
IDW Publishing
Just a word of warning right off the bat. This is a story of the 10th Doctor and Donna. If Donna is a sticking point with you, this may not be the Doctor Who comic for you.

I thought it might be a problem for me, as I was not a fan of the character (although I thought the way she ended up that season was one of the most tragic events of the new series), but as it turns out, she's not too bad here. In fact, the conclusion of this story is something that is purely Donna and works well for it.

It's the rest of the comic that doesn't quite come together for me. However, I'm fully aware that my reaction is influenced by huge expectations, so I'm going to try to work through that as I write this review.

You see, this one-shot adventure is written by the legend, John Ostrander, and while I haven't kept up with his work of late, he's responsible for one of my favorite comics of the mid-eighties: Grimjack. That is enough for me to really expect something great from his take on the good Doctor.

Instead, the story is fairly simple. A world, Autopia, mastered robotics millennia ago and decided to close off the world and let the robots do all the grunt work while they sat back and created art and philosophy until the cows come home. Five beings calling themselves The Chronos Mission slipped through Autopia's security field to check up on them a century prior to our story and they were never heard from again. And Autopia upgraded their security field so no one's been able to get in since, to find out what happened.

Until the Doctor and Donna, that is.

All in all, it's a classic Doctor Who type scenario, and there are any number of interesting endpoints for a closed-off group of intellectuals and their robot slaves after millennia of isolation. What we get, on the other hand, isn't very interesting at all.

Yes, it's a utopia, as the title of the story implies. But, also as the title implies, it's a paradise that's build on the back of robotic labor. And with that sentence, you can probably guess exactly where the story goes.

While I would be the first one to admit that predictability isn't the worst thing that can happen in a story, I do think that the writer needs to acknowledge that predictability and, hopefully, by acknowledging it, bring about some novelty in the way the plot ultimately shakes out. At least give the reader some imaginative conflict that needs to be overcome before we get to our predictable ending.

Instead, we get one brief moment of peril that has absolutely no tension, and after that any conflicts that arise are overcome with a simple, "Come on, think about what you're doing." Actions are thought about and peace reigns supreme. This story is just boring.

That said, however, the characterizations are spot on. Ostrander captures the rhythms of the Doctor and Donna's dialogue almost perfectly and I can easily imagine David Tennant and Catherine Tate delivering these lines. The pacing is quite reminiscent of the television series, as well, although there is a decided lack of "running down hallways while being chased" in this story.

Yates' artwork is bright and energetic, not going out of the way to enslave itself to photorealistic representations of the actors, but referencing them casually, with a pleasantly simplified animation type style. If there's a lack at all in the artwork, it is in the almost complete absence of innovative and interesting design work. But that's the fault of the story itself, not the artist.

Actually, the visual high point is design of the robotic workers. There are a number of panels devoted to capturing a sense of looming sentience that work very well. I'd almost go so far as to say that those moments show the most emotion and depth of character in the entire story, the Doctor's and Donna's scenes included.

So, in the end, I end up giving this an average score. If you're a fan of the Doctor and can accept Donna's tagging along, this isn't a horrible piece of work. It's just not very inspired. It looks nice, though, and might be worth picking up on that level. Personally, being more of a casual Doctor Who fan (who loves the concepts, but not so much that I'm blinded to story faults), I just want a little more depth or at least a few surprises in my Doctor Who adventures.



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