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Graphic Novel Review
Returning to Sunset Park from her travels with the Doctor, Gabby Gonzalez has never felt more alive. But there’s barely time for the girl to catch up with her best friend Cindy Wu before an intergalactic terror causes chaos across the city! A secret auction, a cult organisation, a falling out between two lifelong friends, an ancient artefact, and a cosmic conspiracy from the heart of the universe collide in New York City to threaten all of reality! Even the Doctor is lost for words – and for answers! When an aging Hollywood movie star is empowered by an extraterrestrial device, the Doctor, Gabby and Cindy are swept up in their biggest adventure yet...
This graphic novel collects issues 11 to 15 of Titan’s Tenth Doctor comic. The content of those issues was presented as two stories, the two-part The Fountains of Forever and the three-episode Spiral Staircase, but really this is all one continuous narrative, and it works all the better for being compiled into a single volume.
The book also includes Laundro-Room of Doom, a light-hearted six-page strip from the 2015 Free Comic Book Day issue, in which the Doctor and Gabby have to deal with the effects of the TARDIS’s erratic washing machine following a trip to the muddy planet of Quompipping. This story is presented at the front of the book, though personally I would have placed it at the back, since the events of the main strip pick up where the previous graphic novel left off, with the time travellers still in Sunset Park, having just put paid to the noisy phenomenon known as the Echo.
There’s a real mixture (a less charitable word might be hodgepodge) of styles in this volume, with the main artist Elena Casagrande sometimes supported by inker Simone Di Meo or replaced altogether for several pages at a time by Eleonora Carlini, Rachael Stott and Leonardo Romero. Casagrande and Di Meo treat us to some impressive special effects on their pages, as the rejuvenated actress Dorothy Bell acquires a Ready Brek glow, uses her new-found abilities to assemble and disassemble buildings, and a strange alien device approaches our planet through the star-flecked heavens. Carlini is a good match for Casagrande’s semi-cartoonish style during Laundro-Room of Doom. Romero’s work is dynamic and pleasing to the eye, as he depicts Cindy hanging on to a TARDIS pillar for dear life, and provides some awe-inspiring views of the exterior and interior of an alien spaceship. Stott is no slouch, either, but her faces tend to be a bit ugly and scowly.
While the transformation of Dorothy Bell has many positive aspects (true, she experiences a few moments of fear and some ill effects, but she is younger and has some cool powers), the arrival of a shiny black vessel known as the Seeker does not bode well for our world. Though the device describes our planet as “the blue jewel”, it regards we “primates” as “unenlightened”, and likens New York City to a “termite mound”. Uh, oh...
Meanwhile, Cindy Wu comes into her own during this storyline – after initially coming across as a right moody cow during her tiff with her best friend: “Gabby Gonzalez, you’re a bad friend,” she texts at the beginning of the tale. She arguably gains companion status by accompanying the Doctor via a teleport beam and in the TARDIS. She’s no placid hanger-on, though (well, she does have to hang on in a quite literal sense, as the Time Lord erratically steers his ship). She really gives the Doctor what for, tackling him to the ground at one point, and warning him of harsh consequences if Gabby should ever come to harm while under his protection: “You better take care of her, buster. I love her, y’know.”
So does Cindy stay aboard the TARDIS or does she go? Writer Nick Abadzis tries to have it both ways: Cindy chooses not to join the time travellers, but almost immediately changes her mind when it’s too late and the Doctor and Gabby have gone again (it has to be said, they don’t stick around for long before dematerialising). I suspect that Cindy will rejoin them after a brief separation, a la Tegan Jovanka and Mickey Smith.
This graphic novel both flashes back to past events and throws forward to things to come. When the Doctor, referring to the terminally ill Dorothy, tries to tell her devoted assistant Vivian that everything has its time, that nothing can last forever, she retorts, “Don’t give me that. You think that, when your time comes, you’ll want to go?”, foreshadowing the Doctor’s reaction when facing the end of his tenth incarnation. Elsewhere, we catch glimpses of some of the Doctor’s previous outfits in Laundro-Room of Doom, and the Time Lord briefly regresses to a previous regeneration.
A far more major kiss to the past concerns the identity of the ‘gods’ idolised by Erik and his fellow cultists. The trapezoid shape of the alien Seeker provides a cunning distraction (well, it managed to fool me anyway), calling to mind the mysterious Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even the timescooping obelisk from The Five Doctors. But, no, it’s… ah, that would be telling! The title Spiral Staircase is an obscure clue…
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from the ending, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t what happens here. Mind you, what is a writer to do when his story reaches the point of unleashing an embittered member of a species so powerful that not even the Time Lords could stand up to them? Following a hugely exciting revelation, Abadzis elects to conclude his storyline not with a massive battle (though there is one fatality), but with rather a lot of talking. It is commendable that the Doctor should achieve a peaceful solution to the crisis, but… I dunno, I kind of expected something more explosive for what is the finale to the first year of Titan’s Tenth Doctor adventures.
Nevertheless, The Fountains of Forever is an intriguing artefact, with certain restorative properties.
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