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Graphic Novel Review
The first year of the Eleventh Doctor’s bold new adventures comes to a stunning conclusion – at once epic and intimate – as secrets and lies come tumbling out of the TARDIS, and enemies old and new conspire against the Doctor and his friends! The Time Lord is confronted by his greatest failure, Alice Obiefune faces her darkest hour, the shapeshifting ARC’s origin is revealed, and chameleonic pop star John Jones reaches transcendence! All this, plus a Cyber-invasion of ancient Rome… and the final stand against the Talent Scout! When the dust settles, who will survive – and who can still call the TARDIS home…?
As usual, this graphic novel compiles five issues of the monthly Titan Comics Doctor Who series – in this instance, #11–15 of its Eleventh Doctor title. However, this time there’s a little something extra, because this collection also includes the six-page Give Free or Die, the Eleventh Doctor strip from the 2015 Free Comic Book Day issue:
The Doctor comes down to Earth with a bang, as Free Comic Book Day gets out of control – thanks to an invasive story by someone or something called Zzagnar…!
The story here is perhaps not the best message to send out in what was a free comic book: that free gifts can be dangerous! Fortunately, there is an upbeat ending to this light-hearted tale. Given its duration, Give Free or Die is an inconsequential little item, but it’s a pleasant taster that manages to give all four members of the TARDIS crew a moment in the spotlight. The best bits are the Doctor getting ARC to excrete some waste goo for scientific purposes (“Ew,” says Jones, understandably) and the sad look on the face of Zzagnar when his real motivation is finally revealed.
The Doctor, Alice and Jones were getting used to having ARC around. A shapeshifter whose origins are shrouded in mystery, ARC has nevertheless saved their lives time after time. So why has it suddenly commandeered the TARDIS, crossing back over its own timeline in one of the most dangerous stunts a time traveller can pull? Has ARC been a sleeper agent all along, or are there deeper motives at work? It’s up to the Doctor and his companions to find out – if ARC doesn’t wipe them all out first…!
The second story in this volume, Four Dimensions, does for space what Space in Dimension Relative and Time did for time. When the TARDIS encounters a potentially calamitous temporal paradox, she divides her architecture, separating the four crew members. The colourists at Hi-Fi render each of these separate spaces in a different hue: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. This is something of a publishing in-joke, in that these are the very processes used in four-colour printing! As the companions are gradually reunited and the TARDIS is made whole once more, the colours combine, with cyan and yellow making green, and so forth.
We also see further reinventions of John Jones (clearly based upon David Bowie’s appearances in his Ashes to Ashes video and the movie Labyrinth), learn how ARC became separated from the Entity, and discover the secret origin of the Talent Scout.
If the above makes little sense to you, then it’s probably because you haven’t read the two previous graphic novels featuring the Eleventh Doctor. I would recommend that you do so before picking up this one, because there’s quite a lot of back-story. Four Dimensions picks up right where the previous collection left off (in fact, Give Free or Die might have been better placed after this episode rather than before it), with the TARDIS travellers searching for the alien Entity, which is actually the body to which ARC is the brain, and the Doctor experiencing feelings of guilt for what he was forced to do as the Chief Executive Officer of the evil SERVEYOUinc (rather like Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation after he became Locutus of Borg).
Got that? OK, then – onward!
A thrilling TARDIS chase through the atmosphere — after no ordinary comet! Tracking the Entity’s signal from the Berlin Wall in 1976 to Rome in 312AD, the Doctor, Alice, Jones and ARC stumble into an ancient mystery that will forever change the course of human history! But the burden and dangers of a life aboard a time machine begin to hit home for Jones – will this be his farewell tour? And has the Doctor truly been forgiven for the horrors he committed as the CEO? Only time will tell…
The two-episode Conversion storyline is the one that lends its title to this volume. It suggests the return of the Cybermen (which is not a spoiler, as we get to see several of the creatures on the prelim pages), but it also refers to religious beliefs, being set at the point in time when the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great turned to Christianity, and in fact is applicable to wider events in this graphic novel as a whole.
The scientist in me raised an eyebrow at the depiction of the ‘comet’ pursued by the TARDIS crew, which is hot and fiery rather than cold and icy as a comet should be. Thankfully, the Doctor soon decides that, whatever this thing is, “it’s definitely not a comet.” Jones theorises that it could be the object that kills off the dinosaurs, but the Doctor points out that his theory is out by about 200 million years. Actually, the dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago (200 million years ago is when the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event took place, allowing the dinos to dominate the Earth in the first place), though clearly the Doctor is speaking in very general terms. Had he been more specific, he might have mentioned that the Cretaceous–Palaeogene extinction event was really caused by a time-travelling spaceship from the year 2526 – now, that would have confused Jones!
Other aspects of the plot resemble a grab-bag of memorable moments from the television show, including the Doctor and Jones escaping from angry German soldiers (as in Let’s Kill Hitler), being exposed to the merciless vacuum of space (as in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe), a visit to the Roman Empire (as in The Pandorica Opens) at a crucial point in its history, and a certain alien race emerging dramatically from the crater caused by that “definitely not a comet”…
Actually, it could have been any old monster that steps out of the haze, because the Cybermen don’t really get to do their thing, and don’t even say anything. At the end of the tale, the creatures are driven away by a decidedly uncharacteristic emotional response.
Despite these flaws, the cliffhanger ending of Conversion will definitely make you want to read on…
The Doctor has fallen short of his own ideals and lost more than he bargained for. Abandoned by his TARDIS, all hope seems lost. Alice has grown into a courageous hero since her travels with the Time Lord began. With all she’s learned from him, can she now save the Doctor from himself? Meanwhile, Jones has unlocked his creative abilities after being absorbed by the Entity. Now they have discovered their true potential, can Jones and the Entity help the Doctor to do the same…?
“Symmetry, innit.” So observes Jones towards the end of the two-part The Comfort of the Good, in which three graphic novels’ worth of plot arcs come to a head. He has a point, as there’s a real sense of things turning full circle in this finale, of what goes around comes around.
We return to where Titan’s Eleventh Doctor series began: overlooking a grey, rain-lashed graveyard. Last time it was Alice who was racked with despair, and the Doctor who rescued her from that dark place. Now it is Alice’s turn to save the Doctor from his despondency. This time it is Alice who tells the Doctor to run. This time it is Alice who observes that the Doctor looks sad. In fact, all of the Doctor’s friends rally round to help him, as well as each other, as they face (among other calamities) being stranded in time and space, facing death, and facing those who shouldn’t be alive at all…
Artist Simon Fraser provides some particularly cartoonish work this time around. Ironically, though, this is more evident during the Doctor’s earthbound scenes than in the dreamscape in which Jones finds himself. The latter is, for the most part, rendered in a naturalistic style, despite activities such as floating through space. It’s in the Doctor’s anguished face that most of the distortion occurs, as if to emphasise the trauma he is suffering.
He describes a bond of trust that exists between a TARDIS and its pilot or pilots, which prevents the ship from falling into irresponsible hands and being misused as a weapon. This is why she has rejected him now – for his unethical actions of late. It does beg the question of how various renegade Time Lords, such as the Master, the Rani and the Monk, have been able to operate their own TARDISes. Did those ships therefore agree with their pilots’ dubious ethics? Were they evil TARDISes?
The Doctor learns to move forward (in a lavish double-page spread that references many previous incarnations and their title sequences), the Entity is made whole again, Jones gets his rock-star mojo, and for a moment Alice gets to see… ah, but that would be telling! They give each other what they need, without any ‘help’ from the exploitative Talent Scout. They give these things freely, with kindness, and with no strings attached. In just one of this story’s many punch-the-air moments, the Doctor tells his foe, “We already have everything we want.” You can almost hear Murray Gold’s rousing “I Am the Doctor” music during much of the concluding chapter!
Upon first reading, I was a little disappointed by the leniency shown towards the villain, but on reflection this is a fitting testament to the way in which our heroes operate – with mercy and compassion. With even that small gripe put out of the way, there is nothing to fault this beautiful resolution. This is one of the best Doctor Who season finales ever – not just in comics, but in any medium.