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Graphic Novel Review
Alice Obiefune was at her lowest ebb when the Eleventh Doctor burst into her life. She’d lost her mother, her job and her apartment. But it didn’t take much of the Doctor’s compassion to get her on board the TARDIS, rediscovering the beauty in life, one adventure at a time! From tackling an alien pet in the streets of London and discovering the truth behind an austerity-hit pleasure planet, to exposing a devilish mystery in the 1930s Bayou and facing a shapeshifting horror in a scientific research station, every day with the Doctor brings a new, impossible, life-threatening experience! But there’s a storm gathering, just out of view – one that threatens to offer both the Doctor and Alice their deepest, fondest wishes… Just hope they don’t accept…
This volume collects the first five issues of Titan’s Eleventh Doctor comic book.
After rebooting the universe with a second Big Bang, the Doctor has seen Amy and Rory married, and given them a honeymoon to remember. Leaving the Ponds to settle into their newly-wed life, the Time Lord is travelling the cosmos alone, checking for anomalies in Reality 2.0 – a mission that is about to change his life forever…! Alice Obiefune has just lost her mother when the Doctor explodes into her life, kicking off a whirlwind adventure through eternity. But what does this grieving woman have to do with a giant space dog, the career of a 1970s musician, an amnesiac alien, and a terrifying cosmic threat…?
Writers Al Ewing and Rob Williams have chosen to slot this series into the gap between A Christmas Carol and The Impossible Astronaut, during which time the Doctor is travelling on his own, having left Amy and Rory on Earth to enjoy married life. There are many other, later gaps that the writers could have exploited, but the beauty of this one is that it is quite a happy time in Eleven’s life – before he started to worry about things like his impending demise at Utah’s Lake Silencio, or on the fields of Trenzalore, or while trying – unsuccessfully – to locate the infant Melody Pond. It’s nice to go back to a time when this Doctor still had genuine joie de vivre. The absence of Amy and Rory from the strip appears to be in order to allow the writers more creative freedom, rather than being a restriction imposed upon them by the BBC.
As depicted by artist Simon Fraser in the opening chapter, After Life, the Doctor is a suitably wiry, elongated and energetic figure, though the likeness of Matt Smith is a little uneven. Ewing and Williams give him some characteristically amusing lines, such as: “Don’t do cryptic! I do cryptic. I already bagsied cryptic! You can’t have cryptic!” However, they also capture his quieter, more soulful moments, like his simple observation of Alice Obiefune: “You seemed sad.”
Alice is a new companion created specially for the comic. She is a refreshingly level-headed character who nicely balances the Eleventh Doctor’s more mercurial qualities. In common with the introductions of several recent television companions, the story opens from her point of view. It’s a bravely downbeat beginning, presented in a colour scheme that is practically monochrome. Things are going badly for Alice, who has lost her mother and her job (as a library assistant) and is about to be turfed out of her flat. It is with an abrupt burst of full colour that the Doctor enters her life, chasing an alien rainbow dog!
There are some lovely touches in this strip. In common with the TV series, it opens with a pre-credits sequence, and, though this opening episode is pretty much a stand-alone affair, a seed is sown that sets up a recurring plot arc. As a follower of the show since the classic series, the length of the strip also appeals to me – its 23 pages just happening to coincide with the approximate duration in minutes of a 1963–1989 episode. Given its brevity, this story is somewhat shallow, but it nevertheless manages some surprisingly poignant moments.
When the Doctor last visited Rokhandi, it was a planet of such stunning natural beauty that an entire solar system had sworn to preserve it. What better place to take Alice on her first off-world adventure? It would have been a magical vacation, if the TARDIS hadn’t overshot by fifty years! Now the austerity-hit pleasure planet has become a ‘theme safari’ corporate hell, overrun by eerie, giant-headed mascots and a trillion tramping tourist feet! But there’s something more sinister at play than rampant commercialism and ecological devastation, and the Doctor and Alice will need to uncover all of Rokhandi’s long-buried secrets if they’re to escape with their lives…
The second chapter, The Friendly Place, builds upon the strengths of the previous one. Once again, a fine balance is struck between the fun and frivolity of certain panels and some grim moments and moving revelations in others – the most dramatic example being an intricate double-page spread which contrasts the unspoilt paradise that the planet Rokhandi used to be with the industrial wasteland that it has now become. Some reviewers have compared the false jollity of the theme park to The Happiness Patrol, though it reminded me more of The Macra Terror, with its supposedly ‘happy’ colony with a parasite lying at its heart, intent upon silencing any dissenting voices.
Writer Al Ewing provides more great Doctor moments, such as when Alice sarcastically wonders whether anyone has ever attempted to throttle the infuriating Time Lord with his own bow tie, to which the man replies, “Well, this one happens to be a clip-on. And also… Yes. Hence the clip-on.” A couple of pages later he is seen merrily firing away at annoyingly cute stuffed corporate merchandise at a shooting range, offering the explanation that he wants to win one of those really useful paper targets that he’s always wanted!
A less fortunate bit of repetition is that for two episodes in a row the Doctor and Alice face an alien creature that feeds on mental energy – though perhaps this is a deliberate connection that will be explored further at a later date. Also, the Doctor’s invitation to the creature to “Come and get it” and feed on his mind has been done a few times during the television series.
On a more positive note, artist Simon Fraser’s rendition of Matt Smith is improving, certain continuing plot strands are gathering momentum, and the use of the comic’s ‘C’ cover (containing the speech bubble “Hoi! You with the face! What’ve you done to my planet?”) as a chapter opener blends perfectly with the story.
There’s a devil out on the bayou, or so they say… Something stalking bluesmen through the swamps of Mississippi, offering them talent beyond imagining, worlds at their feet – in exchange for their souls! When Alice asks the Doctor if they can visit one of her late mother’s musical heroes, she’s initially disappointed. Can John Jones, a forgettable singer whose only skill seems to be that of disappearing in a crowded room, really be the colossal talent who brought passion, creativity and meaning to her mother’s life? And what does he have to do with the nightmarish deals taking place in the dead of night…?
Mimicking the pattern of several recent seasons of television Doctor Who (the Russell T Davies years in particular), following a couple of relatively light episodes, things get darker in What He Wants… I mean that quite literally. After the bright colours of the rainbow dog in After Life and the Rokhandi theme park in The Friendly Place, the colour scheme in this issue is dominated by muted blues and browns, with most of the action taking place at night. The light from torches and alien energy stand out piercingly bright in contrast – kudos to colourist Gary Caldwell. This issue’s pre-credits sequence is particularly effective: sinister and mysterious, and throwing forward to a dramatic event from later in the story.
Meanwhile, providing some much-needed humour is John Jones, a chameleonic pop icon who is clearly based upon David Bowie. However, it would appear that Jones has yet to find his mojo, because when the Doctor and Alice attend his first-ever gig in 1962, they find the artist completely lacking in charisma and stage presence. In fact, he is so unremarkable that he manages to follow the Doctor and Alice into the TARDIS in 1962 and travel with them to 1931 Mississippi without either of them noticing!
The strip also features a real performer, whose presence ties in well with the subject matter of the story – Robert Johnson, a 1930s blues singer and musician who, according to legend, made a Faustian pact in order to achieve success.
The scrambled sequence of events presented in this episode disguises the fact that the story’s resolution is actually quite perfunctory, and it does feel a little rushed. For the most part, though, this is a thrilling little adventure. Building up plot strands from both of the previous chapters, writer Rob Williams and artist Simon Fraser continue to serve us well (that’s a clue to one of the strands, by the way)…
Alice Obiefune always wanted to see a space station – one of those proper ones, like on the telly, with impressive bulkheads, sweeping corridors and stunning views of eternity. Maybe with an exotic matter wormhole nearby, if it’s not too much trouble. Aliens optional, but a bonus as long as they’re friendly. That’s just one of the reasons why Alice, John Jones and the Doctor have come to a remote space research facility. The views are breathtaking – but so is the formless creature that is creeping through the station, stealing voices and inflicting comas on those scientists unlucky enough to get caught…
In Whodunnit?, the Doctor and Alice meet the ruthless August Hart of SERVEYOUinc for the first time (from his point of view), having already encountered an older version of him in The Friendly Place. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded waiting a little longer for this prophesied meeting, but perhaps Titan didn’t want to risk their readers forgetting about or losing interest in this timey-wimey plot arc. Commendably, writer Al Ewing builds in a convincing explanation as to why this event has come to pass so soon – with Alice intent upon returning to her own time in order to straighten out her life, the TARDIS needs to ensure that a paradox is prevented…
Alice has an argument with the Doctor early on in this episode, which strikes me as being a little forced. I was briefly reminded of the bickering that used to happen on a regular basis aboard the TARDIS during the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the even newer companion Jones continues to provide comic relief, this time by composing lyrics that sound eerily like those of David Bowie, spending much of the episode trying to find a toilet, and generally getting into scrapes. This is often the lot of the male companion, right from Roy Castle’s Ian Chesterton in the Dr Who and the Daleks movie, through Harry Sullivan, to Mickey Smith and Rory Williams. Alice joins in with the lyrical larks during a canteen scene, suggesting that Jones take his protein pill… though perhaps his loo-based verses later on in the issue go a bit too far! As written by Al Ewing, Jones seems a lot more easy-going than in the previous episode. He reminds me somewhat of the Eighth Doctor companion Fitz Kreiner, who hails from the same decade.
For this story, artist Boo Cook replaces Simon Fraser. Cook’s line work shows a similar level of detail to Fraser’s, though his Eleventh Doctor sometimes looks eerily like Michael Portillo! It’s a two-part story, so we have an exciting cliffhanger – just like a good Doctor Who episode should – before the fifth and final chapter in this volume…
Dying space station! Shapeshifting horror! Alice’s last breath? Tracking the temporal trail of the slippery SERVEYOUinc corporation, has the Doctor found more than he bargained for? Trapped aboard a research satellite, he, Alice and Jones must unravel the mystery of the creature codenamed ‘ARC’ – while staying one step ahead of its whisper-quiet rampage through the station! But there’s something essential the Doctor’s missing – something he’s overlooked. Can Alice help him see it, in time to save her life… or is the story of the Doctor’s favourite sarcastic library assistant doomed to end in the icy depths of space…?
The two-part ARC storyline is brought to a close with The Sound of Our Voices. However, following the build-up of the previous chapter, the plot seems rather slight. Without giving anything away, the solution to the problem will come as little surprise to regular Doctor Who fans.
That said, the visual revelation of the creature is impressive. We didn’t get to see much of it during Whodunnit?, in which the ARC’s anatomical structure wasn’t altogether clear, but now we see that artist Boo Cook has designed a semi-liquid organism whose parts aren’t all connected in the conventional sense. Its fingers hover just in front of its hands, as though linked by some invisible force. We also get to behold the full eyeball-popping horror of what the being does it its victims – and it ain’t pretty!
Similarly striking is writer Al Ewing’s characterisation of the Eleventh Doctor. It is easy to imagine Matt Smith speaking the lines as it turns out that the Time Lord is not talking about what the villainous August Hart thought he was talking about on the fourth page, or the Doctor’s assertive intellectual deduction soon afterwards: “What’s so big and important and scary that you’re all puffed up like a threatened fish? Eh? What are you trying to hide?” And his moral outrage at what he discovers in the sealed laboratory is straight out of The Beast Below.
Among the companions, Jones faces the greater level of peril, with the resourceful Alice doing much of the rescuing. Her age is given in this episode as 40. I had thought from the writing that she was more mature than your average companion, and it’s nice to have that confirmed – though this is somewhat at odds with the young girl shown accompanying the Doctor on the photographic alternative cover of issue 5, which is included in a gallery at the back of the book. There are also biographies of the creative team, but none of the humour strips that originally appeared in the individual comics.
It’s good to have these chapters together in one volume. This way the ARC, um, arc feels just like a 45-minute television episode! All in all, this is an impressive start to a new era of Eleventh Doctor adventures.