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The Mark of Mandragora

Book review by Paul Scoones

The Mark of Mandragora is the first in what is intended to be a series of volumes reprinting comic strips in colour from Doctor Who Magazine. Virgin call this first book a 'graphic novel', but this is a little misleading; 'graphic anthology' would be better.

The stories represent a continuous run of comic strips from issues 159 to 172 (mid-1990 to mid-1991), and whilst also including Paul Cornell's text story from 163, Andy Lane's text story from 162 is inexplicably omitted which is somewhat odd, given that unlike Cornell's effort, Lane's story is closely tied to the comic strip continuity.

The first story in the book is Train Flight, which seems excessively padded but none the less is very nicely drawn by John Ridgway, whose art benefits greatly from colour, even if Sarah's top does suddenly change from blue to pink halfway through!

This is followed up by Doctor Conkeror - an apparent hangover from the style of the early Seventh Doctor strips in DWM in that it features a silly plot and bad likenesses of the Doctor. This really should have been omitted in favour of a story from beyond the final one in the volume. Perhaps it was only included to provide some justification for the Doctor's conker twirling on a couple of pages of the Mandragora story?

Andrew Cartmel's Fellow Travellers is on the other hand a superb story, strongly reminiscent of Season 26, particularly the claustrophobic horror of Ghost Light and, like that TV story, requires more than one 'reading' to fully appreciate all the subtle nuances. This is one story which does not benefit from being coloured. Arthur Ranson's superb artwork features a strong contrast of light and dark areas - an effect largely lost when the white becomes a variety of garish colours.

As a New Adventures author, Paul Cornell is a superb writer, but his text story Teenage Kicks (preceding his first novel by a year), is just plain boring, an impression not at all helped by the story's truly ugly illustrations.

The Mark of Mandragora is the final and longest story in the volume. Set in 1998, it features UNIT and the breakdown of the TARDIS as the Mandragora Helix makes its long awaited bid to reconquer Earth. The story is very good, both visually and as a piece of writing. The ending's a bit of a cop-out, unfortunately.

The cover, painted by Alister Pearson, has been very poorly laid-up; the 'beast' has been enlarged and superimposed over the painting - parts of the original 'beast' can be seen to the right of the picture, and it has also been very clumsily cut out around Ace's head. These faults should have been noticed and corrected before publication.

Whilst there are some improvements that could have been made in the choice of material and standard of presentation, this book is generally an attractive and entertaining volume. I hope Virgin proceed with more of these; as long as they are a little more selective over which stories to reprint, the series should prove very successful.

This item appeared in TSV 34 (July 1993).