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Graphic Novel Review
The Eleventh Doctor has an all-new TARDIS crew: whip-smart Alice Obiefune, mercurial Jones and the shapeshifting ARC! But whether battling a threat in reverse as time inside the TARDIS flows backwards, or an ancient alien war for supremacy in the skies above London… terror, awe and danger are never far away! And the deadly machinations of SERVEYOUinc are revealed, when the Doctor hits them where it hurts – in their wallets! Three companions, three times the danger, three times the excitement! Experience every twist and secret reveal in the thrilling second act of the Eleventh Doctor’s first year with Titan Comics…!
Following on from After Life, this graphic novel compiles #6–10 of Titan’s Eleventh Doctor series. Rather bizarrely, however, this time-twisting collection begins at the end…
Reverse in going is TARDIS the inside time that realises Doctor the when strikes terror! “Time can’t run backwards. It’ll destroy us… It’ll destroy everything.” The Doctor knows that life must move forward, even if we cannot see how that is possible at the worst moments. No matter how much it hurts, it has to. He is the only one who is aware that the flow of time in the vortex has been disrupted – but will he be able to uncover the cosmic culprit and put causality back on its correct course before Alice and her fellow TARDIS travellers are wiped right out of existence? “I can’t believe he’s dead. It’s all too much to handle…”
Some of the most inventive and memorable Doctor Who strips have been built around the concept of time flowing backwards. The innovative First Doctor story In Reverse (TV Comic, 1965) stands out as one of the most intelligent Who strips of the 1960s, while Timeslip (Doctor Who Weekly, 1980) was the first comic-strip story to feature Doctors other than the then-current one, the Fourth.
Just like In Reverse, Space in Dimension Relative and Time begins at the end and ends at the beginning! The first page is marked “THE END” and the subsequent page numbers count down from 21. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than that! We don’t just see the TARDIS crew experiencing events backwards. Alice, Jones and new alien companion ARC are also affected by the temporal phenomenon. Only the Doctor is able to sense that something is wrong and is soon perceiving events through a “secondary ‘backwards’ consciousness”, as he describes it in a characteristic bit of jargon.
Therefore, you cannot simply read this episode in reverse order to experience the ‘true’ chronology, because the Time Lord’s perceptions and dialogue run counter to that. As the story unfolds, he gains more insight and is actually able to shape events. In true Eleventh Doctor style, he cheats, in a similarly light-hearted fashion to the way he did in The Big Bang. He manages to bend the rules of time without actually breaking them or the philosophy he outlines to Alice at the beginning/end of the story, that life has to move forward. Along the way, his attitude towards the fate of his companions and even his TARDIS may seem callous, but ultimately it’s all for the greater good.
Much of the above (and what follows) won’t make much sense to you if you haven’t read the story, but that’s OK, because you can re-read my review after you have read the strip and gain a new insight – just as I did by re-reading the strip! In fact, I have read it roughly three times. Why “roughly”, you may ask – what can be so approximate about that? Well, first I read the episode in published page order. Then I read it mostly backwards, though I still read pages 04–03 and 12–11 in their published sequence because there are no time-jumps between these pages. Then I did a sort of half read, taking in just the Doctor’s backwards consciousness. Then a reverse half read, taking in all the events apart from the Doctor’s backwards experience. That makes about three reads in total – this story is a gift that keeps on giving!
Writer Rob Williams helps to keep any confusion to a minimum by featuring an old enemy rather than establishing a new one. I won’t say which old enemy it is, though it is one that hasn’t appeared very often. One might argue that it is a very obscure monster to bring back, though it is one that was mentioned during the Eleventh Doctor’s era, so it is a fitting inclusion. I certainly enjoyed it.
However, a few aspects of this episode don’t stand up to close scrutiny and demand further explanation. The TARDIS doors seem to be open on page 21, despite the sound of them closing with a “THOOM”. Alice seems to change location between pages 15 and 14 when she shouldn’t. (We might attribute this to the damaging effects of reversed time upon the TARDIS’s structure.) On page 06, Alice says she is in her thirties, though in the previous volume she claimed to be forty. (Perhaps she is really in her late thirties and she rounds her age up or down depending on whether she wants to emphasise her youthfulness or her maturity.) And finally, what became of the Doctor with the vortex manipulator? (Did he return to his own, now altered, future? Did he fade away, Back to the Future style, once time was restored?)
On the whole, though, there’s a lot to love about Space in Dimension Relative and Time, which includes many dramatic moments, and exciting visuals from artist Simon Fraser. The most darned cool page of the strip, nay, of this entire graphic novel? That would have to be page 05! See also the opening/closing page, as well as pages 19, 18, 15, 08 and 07.
As I was saying, some of the most inventive and memorable Doctor Who strips have been built around the concept of time flowing backwards – and this one is no exception.
Intergalactic war brings the London skies to a shuddering halt! The day after tomorrow – and the Amstrons and the J’arrodic Federation have brought their eternal air-war to Earth. They’re not here to invade, and they’re being exceptionally considerate about collateral damage, all things considered. But the deadlock needs a peaceful and clever solution – so let’s hope the Doctor is up to the job! Meanwhile, Jones has been piling on the pounds of late – nervous overeating, or something more sinister?And in the middle of it all, Alice, back in London to deal with her landlord, is given a shocking offer that she dare not refuse…!
Warren Pleece takes over the art duties for the next two episodes, The Eternal Dogfight and The Infinite Astronaut, which form a two-part story concerning a space war. He retains the clean and detailed lines that have quickly become a tradition for the Eleventh Doctor series. His faces sometimes have a tendency toward flatness, though this mainly affects the Doctor. This does have an unexpectedly endearing quality: coincidentally, it reminds me of the style of Neville Main, the very first Doctor Who comic-strip artist, whose work includes the aforementioned In Reverse!
The endless war that has been raging between the Amstrons and the J’arrodic Federation is obviously similar to that between the Sontarans and the Rutans in the television series. In fact, I did wonder whether the Amstrons had actually been Sontarans in earlier drafts of the script and art, because the creatures’ silhouette is almost identical – facially, they resemble Sontarans wearing stockings over their heads! This is all a cunning ruse, though, a set-up for a wonderful moment when the Amstrons reveal their true natures…
Regardless of who the combatants are, writer Rob Williams arms us with plenty of reasons to keep reading. His pre-credits teaser could have ended with the full-page reveal of spaceships filling the sky, but in common with a number of Steven Moffat episodes, he adds a few more dramatic beats before finally cutting to the titles. There is intrigue surrounding every one of the Doctor’s companions, including a mysterious weight problem for the ever-transforming Jones, and an unexpected visitor for Alice that I couldn’t possible disclose here.
There is humour where you might least expect it – in the immediate aftermath of this two-parter’s jaw-dropping midway cliffhanger. This is also quite a Moffat thing to do, so kudos to writer Al Ewing (who takes up the reins for the second episode) for picking up on that. Alice is surprised by the Doctor’s reaction to the apparent miracle she has presented to him. We see parodies of her fellow travellers (of the series concept as a whole, really) as she imagines the reaction she had hoped for, with the Doctor explaining things via impenetrable pseudoscience: “Temporal protogenic reversal! … In certain cases, time travel on the blah blah thing spectrum something something Time Lord stuff!” Meanwhile, Jones boasts that ARC “did a weird alien thing and I referenced my back catalogue! And now everything’s all right!”
Things turn sombre again as Alice reminds the Doctor that, “We see miracles every single day,” and asks, “but not today? Is that what you’re saying?” This gives the Time Lord pause for thought, because he has seen such miracles before – he thinks of Rory Williams as but one example.
There’s also more than a hint of 2001: A Space Odyssey in this episode – or perhaps that should be Space Oddity, given Jones’s penchant for misquoting David Bowie. In a scene straight out of the aforementioned movie, Alice turns around to find an elderly and dying person lying in bed. It’s not herself, though, but a memory of her late mother, who has wisdom to impart.
Elsewhere, it is revealed that the Amstron–J’arrodic war is connected to a Stargate-like portal to an extraordinary realm, in which… could that be the creator in there? Any readers with spiritual beliefs may be disappointed by the implications of this strip: that war is the inevitable consequence of disagreements over the nature of a deity. In other words, the Amstrons and the J’arrodic were getting along just fine before they found God. It takes a person who lacks faith to break the cycle. Ironically, that in itself is something of a miracle. I don’t have a faith, so I wasn’t offended, but some people might be. Personally, I found this storyline compelling and tragic.
One conflict may be resolved, but the Doctor’s battle continues. In light of recent events, he elects to set the TARDIS on course for a showdown. Things are getting serious again. He means business, and it’ll serve the bad guys right…
“I disliked my enemy so much, I bought the company!” The Doctor has decided that enough is enough – if SERVEYOUinc won’t stop plaguing him and his friends wherever they land, he’s going to hit them where it hurts – by buying a controlling interest in the company! But what does his corporate career mean for Alice, Jones and ARC? Is there a place for them in his bold new venture? And what kind of sting does SERVEYOUinc have left to deploy…? When the Doctor loses himself in the hostile takeover, it’s up to his companions to bring him back to his senses. And if that takes a little judicious cosplay… well, Alice is all for it…!
The book concludes with another two-part tale, The Rise and Fall / The Other Doctor. This begins with a prologue that takes us right back to the second chapter of the previous volume, which ended with a mysterious and amorphous alien entity reacting badly in a SERVEYOUinc holding facility. The final page of that episode is recapped on the first page of this one (though redrawn by this episode’s artist Boo Cook), and then we find out what happened next…
The Doctor has to employ unusual methods in order to take on SERVEYOUinc. As he tells Alice, “A corporation isn’t a Nimon, or a Wirrn, or a Dalek Fleet or anything like that. It’s not something you can scare, or reason with, or stop by reversing the polarity of the thingy-whatsit. A corporation is a very special kind of monster.” We therefore find the Time Lord on umpteen telephones, carrying out multiple simultaneous business deals. But how can he afford to become a majority shareholder in the company? By saving up. “I’ve spent a thousand years living in a box and stealing most of my clothes,” he explains, which is quite true. At least three Doctors pinched their costumes from hospitals, the Eleventh Doctor included!
However, playing villains at their own game can have its disadvantages – because power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What is most scary about the Doctor’s corruption, when he is tempted into becoming SERVEYOUinc’s new CEO, is that he doesn’t appear brainwashed. His eccentric personality remains recognisably his own, and he enjoys light-hearted banter with the “scary old Talent Scout. You smooth-talking nefarious presence, you.”
Simon Fraser returns for the final episode to provide us with some splendid imagery: a giant police box tower in the middle of SERVEYOUinc City, Jones in his garish persona as Xavi Moonburst, Alice dressed as the Doctor – well, someone’s got to be him while the real thing is otherwise occupied. There is also a legion of Doctor-shaped grey guards, whose function is to stamp out instances of unauthorised storytelling among the population.
Fortunately, as in Last of the Time Lords, the Doctor’s companions are able to keep the flame of hope burning while the hero is away, and they do this by encouraging new stories. “Fan fiction, Jones me old mate,” an avatar of the Doctor observes, “Brilliant, isn’t it? Keeps ideas alive.” Spin-off stories (including comics) certainly kept the spirit of Doctor Who alive while it was absent from our screens for many years.
The ending feels rather rushed and far too tidy, with a complex and enormous situation being resolved within a few pages. However, as the next serving will show, there are still some loose ends and fallout to be dealt with by the Time Lord and his friends, and the full resolution to the Eleventh Doctor’s first year with Titan Comics lies ahead…