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Graphic Novel Review
After bringing us titles dedicated to the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, Titan Comics followed up with brand-new adventures featuring the latest Doctor: the Twelfth (as played by Peter Capaldi), who joined the party slightly later than his predecessors. This graphic novel compiles the first five issues from his series…
The Twelfth Doctor has just regenerated – but the universe won’t give him a minute’s rest! On the terraformed ice planet of Isen IV, the Doctor and his companion Clara Oswald discover that a monstrous Hyperion has been awakened at the planet’s core. Can they halt the rampage of a violent living star, in the middle of the celebrity wedding of the century, before it escapes to conquer the galaxy…?
Unlike the previous two ranges, this one does not introduce us to a companion unique to the comics. Instead, the Doctor is accompanied by his television companion, Clara Oswald, as portrayed by Jenna Coleman. Casual readers need not be put off, however, as the prelim pages contain brief descriptions of the Twelfth Doctor, his ship and his fellow traveller. Dialogue within the first story, Terrorformer, also reminds us that the Time Lord has recently regenerated, as he makes a snide remark about his predecessor’s fondness for fezzes and his use of the word “cool”.
The characterisation of the TARDIS crew is spot on – which is remarkable when you consider that author Robbie Morrison probably hadn’t seen many Capaldi episodes at the time that he wrote this comic. We are treated to one dialogue gem after another, from Clara’s sarcastic, “If there is anything odd about me, it probably rubbed off of you,” to the Doctor’s characteristically edgy, “You always learn faster when your life depends on it,” to wonderfully meta references such as, “If you’re scared, find a sofa to hide behind,” and the Doctor’s reply to the question, “Doctor who?”: “Doctor who turns up in the nick of time to save the day, though sometimes wonders why he bothers! Doctor who’s quite possibly your only chance of getting off this world alive! Doctor who advises you to do exactly as he says and stop attacking him with dull, boring, pointless questions!” I surmise that Morrison must have seen at least the opening instalment, Deep Breath, for he has the Doctor take one of those standing-up catnaps that he mentioned in that episode.
The writer’s wit is also evident in sly references to The Rocky Horror Show and Slartibartfast’s fjords in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, while Rann-Korr, the villainous Hyperion unleashed on Isen VI, is unusual in that he is a monster with a sense of humour. He takes a sarcastic view of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver: “A fearsome weapon indeed. A veritable doomsday device!” I half expected him to add, “Ooh, I’m so scared – not!” Furthermore, and I don’t know whether this was Morrison’s idea or that of artist Dave Taylor, but the priest who oversees the wedding of business tycoon Kano Dollar resembles the lab assistant Beaker from The Muppet Show!
Taylor contributes to what is proving to be a consistent look across all three ongoing ranges of Doctor Who comics, with detailed line work that is slightly cartoony but tends towards realism rather than stylisation. The first character we meet is a Star Trek kind of alien, a humanoid with strange growths on his face, which doesn’t bode too well. From that point on, though, the artist injects more variety, including diverse droids and an aquatic life form wearing a water-filled environment suit. When the fiery Hyperion first appeared, I was slightly concerned about his similarity to the Pyroviles, the monsters all in a lava in the Tenth Doctor episode The Fires of Pompeii. There are some superficial commonalities, but a flashback sequence explains the unique and interesting properties of the Hyperions. Vaguely human-shaped sentient suns, they were – like life-giving stars – initially benevolent, but – like stars approaching the supernova phase – they turned bad.
The likenesses of the licensed characters don’t get off to a brilliant start, but they begin to improve within the space of one page. The Doctor’s hair colour is too light throughout – closer to white than its true grey – but perhaps this imperfection is down to the colourist, Hi-Fi.
Tonally, though, this comic retains the dark edge of its source material – witness the fate of the selfish Dollar towards the end of this story. When another character got zapped, I almost expected him to wake up in Missy’s Nethersphere, but either the writer was not aware of this overall arc from Series 8, or the BBC forbade him from participating in it.
As to precisely when during the series this storyline takes place, I would guess between Flatline and In the Forest of the Night. It must be after The Caretaker, because the Doctor is aware of Danny Pink, and Clara mentions the Skovox Blitzer. The presence of Courtney Woods in both The Caretaker and Kill the Moon probably rules out any gaps between those two episodes, and these comics cannot take place between Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express, owing to the argument between Clara and the Doctor. A throwaway remark by the companion regarding three dimensions and “pancake people” might be taken as evidence of a post-Flatline placement. Clara’s carefree attitude towards travelling in the TARDIS probably means that Danny has not yet discovered, in In the Forest of the Night, that she has been concealing these trips from him.
The strip’s resolution is a tad predictable and also rather flawed – without giving too much away, surely the Doctor’s solution to the problem cannot be a permanent one in all that jungle heat… One intriguing loose end, however, is certainly entirely deliberate… And talking of temperature, isn’t Clara uncomfortable in that fur-lined ski suit?
When Clara and the Doctor land in India, a conspiracy hundreds of years in the making comes to light! The Thuggee cult of Kali is trying to resurrect one of the most deadly aliens ever known. Split across two time zones, our heroes must stop Kali’s return at all costs – with the help of huntress Rani Jhulka in the 1820s, and Priyanka Maratha, daughter of one of the Doctor’s oldest friends, in Mumbai, 2314…
The second story, The Swords of Kali, is a more flighty, time-hopping piece, which takes in such diverse settings as Florence, Italy in 1505, India’s Madhya Province in 1825 and Mumbai in 2314. It’s all fascinatingly tied up with the real-life Thuggee assassins, who regard themselves as children of the many-armed goddess Kali, having been created from her sweat during her battle against the demonic Raktabija.
Renaissance Italy is where we initially encounter the Doctor and Clara. It’s just an introductory couple of pages really, but it provides plenty of food for fan speculation, as we find Clara posing for Leonardo da Vinci, who appears to be painting the Mona Lisa. The Fourth Doctor visited this period and encountered the painting in City of Death, in which he referred to the model as “that dreadful woman with no eyebrows who wouldn’t sit still.” This implies that the Fourth Doctor was also present at the sitting. Perhaps a number of models posed for Leonardo while he was working on the picture. After all, Clara doesn’t look much like the painting, or the woman who emerged from it in Mona Lisa’s Revenge. Maybe the Fourth Doctor was recalling something Leonardo had told him about the model, or he was simply making a joke. As if to dispel any doubts that Morrison is familiar with the Tom Baker era, a couple of Indian characters (Tiger Maratha and his daughter Priyanka) are revealed to have encountered his Doctor.
The likenesses of the licensed characters continue to vary, except when obviously drawn from reference photographs. And do my eyes deceive me, or is one of the other characters (the ‘renegade Amazon’ Rani Jhulka on page 55) based on a photograph of Jenna Coleman? On the other hand, Taylor’s lighting effects are exquisite, in a tale that takes place mostly at night or in sinister secret caves illuminated by grotesque floating lanterns, and the god-like Kali looks decidedly sexy on several pages.
Meanwhile, the characterisation of the regulars maintains its high level of accuracy, with some great lines from the grumpy old Doctor. These include, “Honestly, the more unsociable I am, the more people want to get in touch. I should try reverse psychology – be friendly,” (Clara has a sarky response to that) and, to Priyanka Maratha, “What do you want? Compassion? Sympathy? A shoulder to cry on? Someone to say, ‘There, there, it’ll be alright’? Or do you want to cut to the chase? To find out who murdered him and bring darkness to them?” The Time Lord couldn’t care less about Rani Jhulka’s past romance: “Man loves woman. Man loves man. Woman loves woman. Who cares? People hating each other, that’s what bothers me. That’s when the trouble starts.”
After taking about a third of its duration to hit its stride, the final third of this story doesn’t hang about when it comes to resolving the many arms of its plot – such as tracking down a long-lost sword within the space of a page by means of the handy TARDIS, the monstrous Kaliratha revealing their true natures in front of the world’s media, the Doctor correctly surmising their evil plans for the Haven space station, and dealing with Kali with a deus ex machina ending. The latter is not so much a case of “god from the machine” (the literal translation of deus ex machina) as defeating a god via a machine.
The Swords of Kali feels as though it could have played out for longer, but then that might have complicated the page plan for compilations such as this one.
The graphic novel also includes cover galleries and biographies of the creative team, but none of the humour strips that originally appeared in the individual comics – perhaps there will be a separate volume for them some day. I have nit-picked, but this remains an enjoyable collection, ideal for tiding you over until the Twelfth Doctor returns to our television screens.