I remember Prester John. You don’t remember Prester John, or if you do you probably won’t admit it. For the uninitiated, Prester John was a maniacal would-be world conqueror from the Dark Ages who somehow got hold of a time machine and transported himself to the 1960s, where he fought the Fantastic Four and the Mighty Thor – although sadly not at the same time. He had an evil eye, or perhaps a stellar rod, depending on which edition of the Handbook you’re reading. More recently a somewhat calmer Prester John has been playing a supporting role in the wonderful Cable & Deadpool, which is fine by me as it’s allowed Nicieza to have some fun with an almost forgotten character.
Which brings me to Doctor Who. The trouble with Who is that, while it works fine as Saturday-evening entertainment, it’s been terribly inconsistent in tone. Sometimes scary, sometimes moving, sometimes magnificently thrilling, sometimes silly to the point of panto. Sometimes all of the above within minutes of each other. By the way, I’m not as bovvered as some people about Catherine Tate. Sure, her acting style is broad, but then she’s standing next to Crazy Dave, whose increasingly manic chewing of scenery makes Tate look like Lena Olin.
So Doctor Who was on retro week. UNIT are back! Ah, those far-off days of Sergeant Benton, Captain Yates, Sarah Jane and the good old Brigadier… you can almost taste the Spangles. Today’s UNIT, however, is not the two-men-and-a-dog outfit of old. It’s a Serious Organisation, although what that means beyond a nice visual of lots of red-bereted soldiers yomping around, I’m not yet sure.
Upping the retro quotient, we had the eagerly anticipated return of the Sontarans. Now, I’ll admit that the Sontarans have never really done it for me. If you must revive classic aliens, my personal faves would be the Ice Warriors, who had that whole Noble Savage thing going on, as well as actually becoming more sympathetic with time. But the Sontarans are hugely popular with the Whovian fan base, and have the kudos of being seriously badass aliens who fought Tom Baker back in the day.
Not, I have to say, the most subtle creations in the canon. Rather stoutly built aliens of slightly porcine appearance and with the demeanour of a more than usually grumpy Regimental Sergeant Major. Best known for fighting massive intergalactic wars for no better reason than that they enjoy it. Possibly an inspiration for Douglas Adams’ Vogons. And here they are, invading Earth again to no obvious end – but then, that’s what Sontarans do.
There were a couple of nice little touches in Helen Raynor’s writing that I especially liked, and it’s worth remarking that she’s done some of the best of the revived Who. One was the teenage technology tycoon, straight out of the Revenge of the Nerds supporting cast, who aids an alien invasion through a mixture of egotism (the world isn’t big enough for my genius etc) and just thinking it would be cool. It’s the sort of thing you can imagine Bill Gates doing.
And I really, really loved the idea of the Sontarans dancing a haka before going into battle. This instantly makes them 100% more fun in my book. A well above average week.