Click here to return to the main site.
Graphic Novel Review
The Tenth Doctor thought he was done with new companions after Donna’s tragic exit… but that was before he met Gabriella ‘Gabby’ Gonzalez during an incursion of psychic parasites in Brooklyn, New York! Stuck running her father’s Laundromat, Gabby always dreamed of horizons beyond Sunset Park – whether that meant going to college, making it as an artist, or just escaping her humdrum life for a while. Now she’s travelling the cosmos as the Doctor’s latest companion, and life couldn’t be more exciting! Whether battling invisible creatures on the Day of the Dead or uncovering a galactic conspiracy in the universe’s most famous art gallery, the only downside is the constant threat of death…
Notwithstanding certain special releases prompted by the 50th anniversary of the show, licensed fiction based on new Who has tended to focus upon whoever is the current incarnation of the Time Lord at the time. However, in 2014 Titan Comics began to buck that trend by presenting monthly titles devoted to two past Doctors: the Tenth and the Eleventh. The volume collects the first five issues of Titan’s Tenth Doctor title.
All Gabriella Gonzalez wanted was to skip her shift at the laundromat and hang out with her friends as Sunset Park hosts its first-ever Day of the Dead festival! But her father wouldn’t listen – again – and now she is stuck with a store full of empty machines while the rest of the neighbourhood goes wild. On the longest night of her life, Gabby ends up trapped in a powerless subway car, and the only thing standing between her and horrific death-by-monster is some skinny guy in a suit – who’s waving a blue flashlight around and talking about an infestation of psychic aliens! If Gabby survives this, she’s going to kill him…!
In common with the Eleventh Doctor collection (also out now), this volume begins by (re)introducing readers to the Time Lord and the series premise in general via a new companion-to-be. In this instance, the new character is the Hispanic Gabriella Gonzalez. Like Alice Obiefune in the Eleventh Doctor stories, the drudgery of Gabby’s everyday life is getting her down – though her stifled dreams of going to college and bettering herself are not as heartbreaking as the tragedies that have befallen the unfortunate Alice.
Another thing that these women have in common is that both are second-generation immigrants. Not only does this inject a more diverse ethnic mixture into the strip than we usually get on the television series, but it also gives each companion an immediate connection with the Time Lord. Both have encountered racism and been made to feel like outsiders – like lonely aliens. Whereas Alice is based in the UK, Gabby is located in Brooklyn, New York, presumably with the aim of appealing to American readers.
Unlike the Eleventh Doctor collection, the serials that comprise this volume are not divided into comic-book length chapters but are presented as two continuous stories. This certainly works to the benefit of the opening tale, Revolutions of Terror. What had been the first episode of a three-part story develops fairly gradually, with much of the opening third devoted to establishing Gabby and her nearest and dearest. The Tenth Doctor does appear during this section, but in something of a background role, characteristically bemoaning the fact that his latest gadget doesn’t go ding – a casual reference to a similarly Doctor-lite episode, Blink.
Read as a single story, the pacing works better, slowly but surely building towards critical mass as Gabby meets the Doctor, and the latter then takes on a more prominent role as he and his new acquaintance are thrown together by one perilous situation after another. The Time Lord provides some explanations for the strange events that have been occurring in the run-up to Halloween, in a typically verbose yet casual manner, well captured by writer Nick Abadzis. He explains, for instance, that: “Earth doesn’t just exist in spatial or temporal dimensions, y’know. Every planet with life and an atmosphere has a psychosphere, too. Earth is covered in psychic fault lines, all held in a mild telepathic field… It’s like a huge cauldron, a big ol’ soup of thoughtstuff and supersensory activity just outside the range of human perception.”
Yes, that’s right – this story involves creatures that feed on emotions, which is also a recurring theme of Titan’s Eleventh Doctor range. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence (rather than a lack of ideas), but it’s an unfortunate one.
To be honest, I am enjoying Eleven’s comic-strip adventures more. Perhaps this is because I prefer Matt Smith’s Doctor to David Tennant’s (though in truth I love them all). Maybe it’s because the Tenth Doctor strips have less of a tendency to tackle creatures, locations and effects that I feel the television series really couldn’t. The benign, ethereal Pranavores that we encounter here are impressive, but rather similar to the Arcateenians from the Torchwood episode Greeks Bearing Gifts and the Sarah Jane adventure Invasion of the Bane. The deadly Cerebravores and their transformational powers are a somewhat different proposition, though…
The Doctor does spend some time on an alien planet, interacting with a reptilian survivor he encounters there. Gabby gets sidelined for a bit during this interlude, though she is richly rewarded at the end of the tale. She is granted new freedoms on a couple of levels – including a chance to board the TARDIS! The writer neatly sidesteps the Doctor’s stated reluctance to take on another companion after the hearts-rending departure of Donna Noble (this series takes place some time between Journey’s End and The End of Time). Gabby’s inadvertent choice of words gives the lonely Time Lord hope that “no song should end too soon”. Indeed, the girl’s reinvigoration of the Doctor’s joie de vivre might go some way towards explaining his happy-go-lucky demeanour at the start of The End of Time.
The writer packs in plenty of references to the television series, as the Doctor is confronted by his fears, including the Beast, Sutekh and a Cyberman. Curiously, he also sees the ‘reborn via black magic’ version of the Master (a bestubbled and hooded John Simm) and the gauntlet-wielding Timothy Dalton incarnation of Rassilon, versions of the characters that were not seen prior to The End of Time. So how can he be ‘remembering’ them now? It’s possible that the Doctor encountered the ruthless Dalton Rassilon during the Time War, but the Master is harder to explain. Could the Cerebravores be terrorising the Doctor with visions from his own future?
Revolutions of Terror has plenty of intriguing and unsettling moments, neat visuals from artist Elena Casagrande (including a photo-realistic opening scene of the TARDIS approaching the Earth) and a decent likeness of David Tennant. There are some curious inconsistencies in the visualisation of Gabriella, though. One almost expects this kind of thing with licensed characters, but not with artist-created ones like Gabby. The size of her eyes vary considerably, from tiny nonplussed pinpoints to big worried saucers (I was reminded of the cover to the Eels album Beautiful Freak). Perhaps this has been done for deliberate effect. Certainly the girl’s face can be highly expressive – just check out the imploring ‘Puss in Boots’ look that she unleashes upon the Doctor towards the end of this adventure!
All in all, things are looking up for Gabriella Gonzalez, and for the Tenth Doctor…
In exchange for the invaluable assistance she offered defending New York – and to say sorry for dropping into her life like a tornado! – the Doctor has promised Gabby one trip – just one trip! – in the TARDIS. With the whole universe laid before her, all of time and space, where will Gabriella Gonzalez choose to go? What will they find when they get there… and can one trip in the TARDIS ever be enough? Trapped in a terrifying creative retreat, where what was once beautiful has been rendered corrupt and horrifying, will Gabby’s imagination be strong enough to save an intergalactic artistic community from itself…?
There’s a lot to like in the second story, which is untitled here but was originally called The Arts in Space, a play on the title of the Tom Baker serial The Ark in Space. (Perhaps they made the change because to a British reader it sounded uncomfortably close to The Arse in Space!)
There’s a real sense of Gabriella’s wonderment as she embarks upon her first trip to an alien planet, and for the first time in Titan’s Tenth Doctor saga we are treated to visuals that are probably beyond what could realistically be achieved on the television show. There are sky aqueducts (water courses suspended in mid-air), flying seahorses, space elevators, and other weird structural details that are not named – and which remain all the more mysterious as a result.
This story really allows the artistry of Elena Casagrande to take flight – with due credit also for the help provided by ink assistant Michele Pasta, layout assistant Annapaola Martello, Giorgia Sposito, Paolo Villanelli and colourist Arianna Florean, who supplies several charmingly cartoony excerpts from Gabby’s sketchbook. We feel that much closer to Gabby thanks to the inclusion of amusing and delightfully cute drawings by the budding young artist herself, addressed to her friend Cindy. This strip really makes use of its medium. “I ♥ comics!” says the Doctor enthusiastically in one panel. So do I, when they’re like this! The journal of Gabby’s visit to the Gallery of Ouloumos also includes a cameo appearance by some familiar Doctor Who aliens and a reference to one of my favourite stories, Logopolis.
After the first few pages, the style of the strip and the architectural features of Ouloumos become more conventional, with Earth-type doors, windows, an office, a castle, etc. However, things get strange in another way, as some modern art and a decidedly creepy apprentice defy the laws of physics and become very dangerous indeed. Events take a surrealist turn as the Doctor falls victim to some M. C. Escher architecture (what with the references to block transfer computation, I’m guessing that Nick Abadzis is, like me, a fan of Christopher H. Bidmead’s Doctor Who stories from the early 1980s), a crumbling staircase becomes a rearing dragon’s head, the artistic retreat is besieged by Henry Moore-ish sculptures, and a swarm of butterflies metamorphose into photographic mouths.
On the subject of art, this volume also includes a couple of pages detailing the creation of the Gabriella character, and biographies of the production team, though not the humour strips that originally appeared in the individual comic books.
The companion’s creative powers also summon up the vision of an Ood, which builds upon the girl’s apparently coincidental choice of phrase in the previous strip, transforming it into a full-blown foreshadowing of The End of Time. “We see and hear much,” the apparition tells Gabby, “but yours is a new harmony… happening so many years ago and in the future, changing the now…” The Ood Elder says something very similar in The End of Time: “So many years ago, and yet changing the now.” Both Ood Sigma and the Ood Elder criticise the Doctor in that story for having delayed his destiny, and it would seem that his travels with Gabriella are part of that postponement.
After all the weirdness, the explanation for it and solution to it prove to be rather simplistic, but overall this is an entertaining work of art. At this point, the Tenth Doctor saga feels as though it has hit its stride. The Time Lord only agreed to take Gabby on one trip – but then he said that to Martha Jones, didn’t he? Their adventures are only just beginning…