Nostalgia can be an addictive thing. For all the desire to see TV series and movie franchises plough new ground, there is still a certain pleasure in revisiting old favourites, almost an ASMR reaction. However, if this returning to drink from the same well happens too frequently, things can become stale and repetitive, and it runs the risk of becoming just a vessel for fan service, but nothing more.
Doctor Who has gone through periods where it was largely ticking lots of boxes just to please its fanbase, and turning away from mainstream audiences. Continuity can become something of a chokehold on creativity if there should end up being little wiggle room to tell new stories purely at the expense of maintaining the sanctity of some really obscure and arcane plot point from something which happened in, say, a story from 1967 which no longer exists in the archives, and would be of little consequence to Joe Public.
So, it can be a very difficult line to tread, but at least Doctor Who has big hitters it can wheel out with recognition from casual viewers, and not having to then fret too much about maintaining six decades’ worth of detailed backstory every time they turn up. Take Doctor Who: Flux, for example: the six-part tale saw return engagements from a whole myriad of villains, from the Daleks and Cybermen, to the Weeping Angels and Sontarans. A real confection of evil, and quite a formidable menagerie of familiar monsters.
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Having to pack so much in, it meant that some were scarcely more than ‘cough and a spit’ turns overall; however, at least there seemed to be some actual narrative reason for them to be there, and none of them had been treated anywhere near as poorly as the Sontarans have been in Doctor Who: Empire Of The Wolf. After their having quite a significant part in the events of Flux, there is such an obvious crossover appeal by having them turning up in a comic series which is published around the same time as their TV appearances.
The last occasion in which a case of lip service went quite so badly awry, Hugh Grant was involved; the treatment of the Sontarans here, however, is considerably harder to swallow. It seems that writer Jody Houser has opted to have their ‘big name’ drawing power deployed, but ended up using them in the most casual, throwaway manner possible. Relegated to just henchman or hired gun status in effect, all they do is just stand around in formation, chanting. And that basically is it. No big involvement in the story at all.
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Not even a minor one, in fact, to the point that they actually bring nothing at all to the table, and may as well not even be there. Anyone familiar with Chekhov’s Gun will know that if you set something up which appears to be key later on, then you make sure it pays off. Having established the Sontarans early on, it seems like such a complete waste to then go and bin them off without having them do anything, or becoming involved in any way. Even more egregiously, artist Roberta Ingranata draws the Sontarans in the exact same formation in every single panel they appear in.
Titan Comics’ ongoing Doctor Who Comic series just feels as though it is creatively circling the drain now, and thinks that it has hit upon a winning formula by constantly putting out a combination of multiple Doctors, returning companion, old baddie, and unnecessary continuity, turning it all into some kind of nostalgia-porn driven Frankenstein’s monster. The big shame here is that there is still much to enjoy in Empire Of The Wolf, but it all feels overshadowed by the sameness of this law of diminishing returns, and this almost constant Ouroboros storytelling.
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Nostalgia is definitely not what it used to be, thanks to this creative cul-de-sac driving out any joy of anticipation of the following issue. Doctor Who: Empire Of The Wolf has come to an unsatisfying end, and you have to ask whether it may be best for Titan to now rest the series for a while, or at least have a change of talent behind the scenes.
Doctor Who: Empire Of The Wolf #4 is out on 9th February from Titan Comics.