Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Tides of Time

7 parts (DW Monthly 61-67) February to August 1982
Writer: Steve Parkhouse, Artist: Dave Gibbons, Editor: Alan McKenzie 

The Prime Mover, universal guardian of the Event Synthsizer, plays a discordant note in error, causing the timestreams of the Universe to cross and opening a rift... 

A cricket match in the quiet English town of Stockbridge is interrupted... the cricket ball suddenly being substituted, mid-throw, for a grenade from an Army testing range on the same site forty years previously. 
The Doctor leaves the match to investigate the time anomaly, and comes to the rescue of PC Jim Marshall, who's unexpectedly attacked by a time-displaced Roman centurion!
Although he initially suspects that his own TARDIS could be responsible...

He soon realizes the situation is so serious he must return to his home planet of Gallifrey.
But things are worse than he knows; the discordance has allowed the demon Melancius to escape from his other-dimensional prison. 

Before actually setting off for Gallifrey, the Doctor goes to collect his things from the village, where it seems he's been settled for some time. [Although we now know the village is Stockbridge, it's not actually named as such in this story!]  
When a temporally displaced knight, Sir Justin, attacks the TARDIS in confusion... 
...and is knocked unconscious, the Doctor brings him aboard the TARDIS as his newest travelling companion. 
Melanicus dispatches the Prime Mover and sets about inflicting further chaos on the universe... 
On Gallifrey, Rassilon himself can no longer maintain a policy of non-intervention.
The TARDIS arrives on Gallifrey, where it seems the Doctor is still President after foiling the Sontaran Invasion
 A mysterious agent made of shadows infiltrates the TARDIS... 
While the Doctor connects himself to the Matrix to commune with the High Evolutionaries of the cosmos, including Rassilon... 
...and Merlin! 
There he learns that Melancius has seized control of the Event Synthesizer and intends to plunge the Universe into war. To this end, he has removed the Synthesizer from spacetime, creating a maelstrom of event turbulence in the Universe. 
Returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Sir Justin come under attack from one of Melanicus' assassins... 
...but are rescued by the shadow agent, who introduces himself as Shayde, a construct of the Matrix. 
The three enter the maelstrom in search of the Synthesizer, but are plunged into a surreal dreamscape that takes the form of a malevolent funfair. 
There the TARDIS is menaced by a giant rubber duck... 
...and placed squarely in the sights of a shooting gallery. 
Reunited with Justin, the Doctor thinks he sees former companion Zoe Herriot... 
But she's an illusion that leads the Doctor on a ghost train... hell! 
The Doctor is able to leap from the train when Shayde intervenes... 
...and after escaping the attentions of Count Dracula when Justin smashes the fairground mirrors... 
...they escape in the TARDIS. 
Whilst they've been distracted in the maelstrom, Melancius has used the Synthesizer to instigate the Millennium Wars, crossing timelines so that different worlds in different time eras fight each other for the right to survive. 
Shayde directs the Doctor to a starcraft from Althrace... 
...a gestalt organism of a star system where the planets have been bolted together and set in orbit... 
...within a white hole as a testament to the glory of Creation. 
The High Evolutionaries of Althrace take the Doctor to their own version of the Matrix... 
...and explain that Melancius was exiled from their system when he attempted to lead his people into war.

On 3rd-century Earth, Melancius contacted a despot named Catavolcus and introduced him to the secrets of technology and time travel, but before they could conquer the world Merlin banished Melancius to a dimensional prison.

The Doctor now understands the significance of his previous encounter with Merlin. 
The High Evolutionaries of the cosmos join mental forces to halt Time and locate the Synthesizer... a church on a future Earth devastated by the Millennium Wars.
There, Melanicus is posing as the Prime Mover, a deception undone when Sir Justin douses Melancius with holy water. 

As the demon attempts to escape, Shayde shoots him... 
... and Sir Justin leaps through the window of the church to stab Melancius through the heart and sacrificing himself to destroy the demon once and for all. 
The Event Synthesizer is thus restored to the hands of the Prime Mover... 
...and the Doctor awakens back in Stockbridge. 
Now he's uncertain how much of what he experienced really happened... 
...and returns to his cricket match, back where he started. 

The Tides of Time marks the arrival of the Fifth Doctor in comic strip form in considerable style, in this acclaimed story that remains to this day amongst the very best Doctor Who strips ever made. 
Steve Parkhouse's tale of a demonic villain unleashing chaos and war across all of time and space places a dynamic and straight-down-the-line heroic Doctor against a breathtakingly imaginative, almost psychedelic, blending of mythic and cosmic grandeur. 

Naturally, for something so ambitious to have any sort of reality or consistency it's in desperate need of a strong and fearless interpreter, and to say that Dave Gibbons is equal to the task is no small understatement. 

Although a story it its own right, it is of course something of a sequel, to the earlier The Neutron Knights, wherein the 4th Doctor defeated Catavolcus and first encountered Merlin. 

Parkhouse's Doctor Who inhabits a different space to its on screen counterpart, with a Doctor happy to set down roots on Earth without his TV companions in the quaint English village of Stockbridge and to return, as needs be, to a more spectacular Gallifrey, one that is happy to maintain alliances with other powerful races and whose grandfather time like Rassilon particpates in the council of High Evolutionaries.

Gibbons famously struggled with Davison's likeness early on, but it's not a problem in those first couple of parts where the scene is being set, and by the time the Doctor is really headlong into the battle, Davison has sat for the great artist, and the leap in quality is there for all to see.
Whilst the Doctor's companion in this story, Sir Justin, is perhaps a thin character sketch, he's likeable enough and a suitable foil, and though he's unlikely to be anyone's favourite, after just a few installments to make an impression there's no denying that his self-sacrifice and elegy are nonetheless affecting. 

Of far more interest, though, is the Matrix agent Shayde, a sci-fi superhero of startling originality. He's an intriguing character who claims to have no free will of his own but whose actions and choices make him very much his own man and a hero in his own right. Nevertheless, the  Doctor cannot completely trust him due to his allegiance to the council of High Evolutionaries. 

Melancius is a distinctive adversary; part villain, part Monster and a formidable physical presence. His bird-like legs are an interesting choice from Gibbons, but it's very much in keeping with Merlin and knights that here we have a beast seemingly drawn from heraldic creatures such as lions, eagles, and dragons, giving him a the look of a somewhat rotund gryphon.  As the monster behind Catavolcus, too, it's clear that he is a force to be reckoned with. 
A breakneck and breathtaking rollercoaster of an epic that fully deserves its reputation for scope of imagination and wonder; it's not as thought-provoking or challenging as other perhaps "worthier" tales, but it's stylishly entertaining, pleasing as a 'summer blockbuster' type, and undeniably and fittingly timeless. While the imaginations of Parkhouse and Gibbons would have probably sent JNT scurrying behind the sofa, what it does share with its' contemporary screen counterpart is its confident, polished, vim and vigour. Memorable for all the right reasons and still fresh over 30 years later.

(N.B. This strip was originally published in black and white, but the snapshots presented here are from the sympathetically coloured reprints by IDW)

Coming Soon... Uninvited Guest


  1. Just to pick up on your interpretation of bird-like legs: I always took them to be based on the goat-like legs that certain imaginings of the devil are shown with (see also Gibbons' slinth devil in Dreamers of Death). That's just the way I've always read it

  2. Ah, yes, that would make sense, but his feet are definitely Y-shaped claws rather than hooves. I did have to go and look, though!

  3. Yup, I know, that's why I hedged my bets and said 'based on'. Hedging my bets ;)