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Graphic Novel Review
The Tenth Doctor and his new companion, Gabriella Gonzalez, take a terrifying trip into history, when a left turn in the Time Vortex strands them in the bomb-besieged trenches of World War I! And it’s not just the churning mud and the constant bombardments that they have to worry about… the fearsome Weeping Angels are here, and feasting on the futures of the soldiers on all sides…!
This volume collects issues 6 to 10 of Titan’s Tenth Doctor comic. The bulk of the book is taken up by a four-issue excursion to the Great War and the return of an old enemy, in The Weeping Angels of Mons!
This is the point at which Robbie Morrison took over the writing chores on this title. Having already done great work with Titan’s Twelfth Doctor series, Morrison now gets to tackle another Scottish Doctor (not that you could ever tell he was Scottish from David Tennant’s convincing English accent). The writer proves just as adept at capturing the speech patterns of Tennant’s Time Lord as he is when dealing with Capaldi’s, with dialogue gems such as: “That’s not a kettle! It’s an ingeniously improvised interface between two vitally important time/space thingamajigs!” He also populates his story with a platoon of battle-hardened Scottish soldiers. It may come as no surprise to learn that Morrison is a Scots laddie himself.
However, while the Scottish characters are convincing, Gabby is at first almost unrecognisable. Initially, I didn’t get much of a sense of her personality or background in this issue, though this improves as the plot develops and there are some hints of romance for the young girl. When someone describes the Doctor as her “boyfriend”, Gabby profusely denies being in any way attracted to the Time Lord… though this might have something to do with her taking a shine to a lad called Jamie!
To clarify, that’s a soldier, Corporal Jamie Colquhoun, rather than the former travelling companion Jamie McCrimmon, who gets name-checked by the Doctor on one page: “Another Scot. Bit of a rebel. Brave as they come.”
The Time Lord soon has cause to regret allowing Gabby to join him in his travels, though, and has a little rant in the heat of a fraught moment: “Thought you were going off on some great adventure, didn’t you? Just like all these poor boys. Oh, there’s joy and beauty and wonder alright, but there’s also mud and blood and monsters that’ll scar your soul. I should never have taken you with me. No matter how happy and clever and inspiring you are – those’re the things that get destroyed first when people travel with me.” This bitter proclamation is almost worthy of the war poet Wilfred Owen.
Morrison’s writing is brought to life by Daniel Indro, whose artwork is rich with grim detail, as befits the First World War setting. His landscape is full of grey rubble, blasted wasteland, swirling gas, smoke, bright orange explosions, gloomy skies, and anguished and angry people. If anything, we could have done with a few more smiles at the start of the story – on the faces of Gabby and the Doctor before they realise exactly where and when they are. As depicted by Indro, Gabby looks very beautiful, though rather different from the woman created by this comic’s previous illustrator, Elena Casagrande – more curvaceous and with a button nose. On balance, though, there is little to fault the quality of the art in this adventure.
Ironically, the only significant stumbling block is actually the main selling point of this graphic novel: the presence of the Weeping Angels. Though it is undeniably exciting to have these creatures here – the first old enemies to make more than a cameo appearance in a Titan comic – what makes the Angels so uniquely scary on screen cannot truly be depicted in graphic form. Though they can move, when no one is looking, they always seem to be standing stock still – and how do you show that in a comic strip, in which every image is a still image? If anything, by appearing to show tiny bits of debris falling from the Angels, the artist conveys a sense of movement that should not be there.
Perhaps I am over-thinking this. After all, most if not all of this comic’s readers will have seen the Weeping Angels ‘in action’ on television, and will bring their own understanding of the creatures to their reading. The visualisation of them improves as the story unfolds, with their unobserved movements being conveyed frame by frame, and less of the detritus affect that had been added to earlier pages.
The writer has the Doctor spend a couple of pages explaining the nature of the Weeping Angels, for the benefit of the other characters and any readers who still don’t get it. To begin with, it seemed to me that the premise of these monsters had changed since the television episode Blink. In that story, their victims tended to live full lives in the past, whereas here many of them face imminent death. In Blink, the Angels fed on energy released by time paradoxes resulting from the years which their victims would have lived in the present. Here the Angels are preying on people who were probably doomed to die anyway. As the Doctor puts it, the battlefields of World War I are: “Where 20,000 soldiers can be killed in a day… Where one and a half million men can die in a battle that gains six miles of bomb-blasted wasteland and little else… Where for four years, four months and four days, millions of people – men, women and children – lost their lives, many of the bodies never found”. What temporal paradox is there to be harvested from the removal of those people? Fortunately, the issue is addressed, and proves to be a plot point.
Towards the end of the tale, the Doctor and the writer rather casually allow a chaplain walk into almost certain danger thanks to a crisis of faith he is experiencing: “If these things are truly angels, then everything I believe, everything I’ve taught, my faith, my life, the prayers I said over dying soldiers… it’s all been a lie.” What the Time Lord might have pointed out is that these creatures are not the angels of Christian faith. The ending is also marred by the use of the TARDIS as an even more miraculous rescue device than is usual for this series.
Aside from that, however, this is an exciting and affecting adventure. Comparisons to the conclusion of The Family of Blood are inevitable, but even so, I ended up with a tear in my eye.
Overwhelmed by her experiences in the trenches, Gabriella is more than happy to return to Sunset Park, to see her friends and family again… until the Echo strikes, amplifying everyday noise into ear-shattering, mind-splinteringly debilitating waves of sound. What is the Echo, and can the Doctor and Gabby solve the mystery before the cacophony drives the city mad…?
The concluding tale, Echo, certainly strikes a chord with me! I often find modern telly programmes (including Doctor Who) to be too darned noisy, with music that’s too intrusive, sound effects that are too loud, and dialogue that I can’t make out properly. When the phenomenon known as the Echo strikes in this episode, characters similarly cannot hear others speak or even hear themselves think. Thankfully, this being a comic book, we can read the words being spoken, so the audio mix is not an issue. Loud sounds are rendered as big comic words.
The artwork, by newcomer Eleonora Carlini, veers towards the cartoony end of the visual spectrum, but it’s an appropriate look for this frequently zany one-shot romp. The bad guys are ugly little green critters in three-legged travel machines, which look rather like a cross between a Madball and Crazy Frog. One of them treats us to the following twist on a cry for help that was well-used by the Daleks in the 1980s: “My undercarriage has been discombobulated! I am unseated!”
Gabby looks more like her old self, which is fitting given the homecoming aspect of the story. Daniel Indro provided us with lots of great art in The Weeping Angels of Mons, but his Gabby never really looks much like the character originally envisaged by Elena Casagrande. As rendered by Carlini, she does. With the return of Gabby’s bickering family and her best friend Cindy, it’s almost as if Casagrande and this range’s original writer Nick Abadzis were back in the room. In fact, they will return in the next volume, towards which this episode is clearly paving the way…
Allow me to echo the fact that Echo is a short and simplistic affair, but a fresh and fun one.