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Doctor Who: Black Death, White Life

Posted: Saturday, September 26, 2009
By: Ray Tate

Charlie Kirchoff
Tom Mandrake, Charlie Kirchoff(c)
IDW
The Doctor shoots for Beatles-era London, but he winds up in a plague-ridden village. Trouble is, the Black Death ended three years ago. Fortunately for the villagers, the Doctor recognizes the symptoms of a different kind of plague - an alien one.

It's rare to come across a colorist/writer, and I especially did not expect to see one in Doctor Who, but Charlie Kirchoff does a commendable job. I rate him higher than every hyped up hack and rank him squarely with some of the writers of the Bronze Age.

The original dialogue that Kirchoff provides for the Doctor and Third Series companion Martha Jones often echoes the lines spoken by David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. The writer directs the Doctor to a problem with suitably cosmic connections, and it's one that only The Doctor can solve. Kirchoff even draws upon the Time War to lend more resonance to the Doctor's actions. Rather than just mention the event, he makes the Doctor's feelings about participating in the Time War relevant to the situation. The protagonist in some ways mirrors the Doctor. Wounded by a war, the protagonist is a warrior who needs to "regenerate" in order to start anew.

Tom Mandrake handles the science fiction aspect quite impressively. Mandrake is best known for moodier works such as The Spectre and Batman. Even his illustration for Martian Manhunter was Lovecraftian with a theme of protean anatomy.

Black Death, White Life is a story where optimism is set at the highest level. It must be. The Doctor is in it. Mandrake nevertheless seems quite at home in a happier environment. Kirchoff's bright reds, blues and sunny yellows help establish some of the mood, but Mandrake takes pleasure in depicting the Doctor's loose body language and his less serious expressions.

The latest Doctor Who one-shot is nothing more than well-plotted science fiction pitting a superbly characterized Doctor against a nasty conundrum requiring a clever solution. That's all I think the creative team wants this adventure to be, and that's enough.



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