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Graphic Novel Review
The companions don’t die. That’s Rule #1 for the Eleventh Doctor. But with an immortal temporal bounty-hunter still on his trail and an exponentially growing Malignant entity following in the wake of the TARDIS, how long will he be able to protect them? Will Alice, the Squire, Abslom Daak or even River Song perish – just as answers seem within their grasp? Spectacular writers Si Spurrier (Cry Havoc, The Spire, X-Men Legacy) and Rob Williams (Unfollow, Ordinary, Suicide Squad) join with magnificent artists Simon Fraser (Nikolai Dante), Warren Pleece (Hellblazer) and Leandro Casco to continue this all-new Eleventh Doctor epic – as the crimes of the Time War come home to roost…!
This graphic novel collects #2.6 to 2.10 of Titan’s Eleventh Doctor comic, and also includes the six-page strip Obsessions from the Free Comic Book Day 2016 issue.
This whole year of Eleventh Doctor strips is proving to be one long, impressively audacious storyline, with the Doctor and his companions seeking answers regarding crimes he is supposed to have committing during the Time War. Those companions include the recent additions of the Squire (who claims to have fought alongside the War Doctor) and Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer (who first appeared in the pages of Doctor Who Weekly way back in 1980). Even the Daak-themed Obsessions strip slots into this overarching narrative.
However, the plot enters a new phase at this point, with the addition of another ally: River Song, who dramatically entered the frame at the end of the previous volume. As rendered by Simon Fraser, we get a rather cartoony likeness of her, but there’s no mistaking those tight curls and that mischievous grin. As written by Rob Williams, River is her usual sardonic yet dependable self, referring to Alice as “the side companion” (because this series takes place between the Eleventh Doctor’s adventures with the Ponds), knowing what the Doctor is going to say before he does, and telling him that she’d much rather see “the smartest man in the room unravelling his mysteries” than give him any spoilers about his personal history.
When Si Spurrier takes over the writing later on, he makes River a decidedly unlikeable character. She smugly liberates the TARDIS crew from a prison planet, only to then casually suggest sacrificing one of their number. “She was teasing,” the Doctor tries to explain. “I wasn’t teasing,” she insists. Does Spurrier dislike the character? Is River trying to push people away, just as the Doctor is? If so, she’s going the right way about it…!
Spurrier doesn’t shy away from the Eleventh Doctor’s less pleasant qualities, either, as the Time Lord quietly reveals that he has known all along about a certain problem surrounding one of his companions – just like he did with Amy and the crack in her wall, just like he did with Rory’s disappearance into the crack, just like he did with Amy’s pregnancy, and just like he did with the impossible girl Clara. “Ah, that,” he says. “When were you going to tell me?” demands the companion in question, to which he replies, coming across as very cowardly: “I was sort of hoping you’d work it out for yourself.”
Williams, meanwhile, captures this incarnation’s capacity for irritating smugness, as the Time Lord stands in the open doorway of his TARDIS, shouting out into space at The Then and The Now, “the most terrifying, unrelenting bounty hunter in all the universe”, which “never fails to bring its prey to justice”, but is nevertheless nowhere to be seen: “Come on, big boy… Come and get me!” This is the same Doctor who bellowed up at an assembled fleet of all his enemies in The Pandorica Opens, urging them to remember every black day that he ever defeated them, the same Doctor who dared the sentient planet Akhaten to take the entire contents of his mind: “Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!”
He has some reason to be smug, as we see “the smartest man in the room” in action early on in this volume, taking all the problems and enemies that are stacked against him, and then turning them to his advantage. This is the Eleventh Doctor at his most cunning – and all the while wearing a Dan Dare spacesuit!
Defying expectations, however, when the Doctor walks into a Mos Eisley style bar with his posse, he is surprised to find that, for once, he is not the most dreaded bringer of darkness in the room.
Further nostalgia is to be had in the Doctor’s office inside the TARDIS, which he clearly hasn’t visited (or tidied up) since his fourth incarnation. Here we find lots of relics from the Tom Baker era, including his trademark coat, hat and scarf, a bust of the Time Lord tyrant Morbius, and a packet of jelly babies.
Before long we arrive at a planet that may or may not count as coming from the Tom Baker era: the Time Lord prison planet that featured in Shada, a serial written by Douglas (Hitchhiker’s) Adams no less, that was partially recorded during Baker’s time in the title role, but never completed. Art imitates life, and that story’s uncertain status is reflected here by the Eleventh Doctor’s vague recollection of it: “It was deleted from my memory. Like it… never happened. A movie that was never filmed.”
Rob Williams is clearly a fan of Adams, as another of his ideas is present in the form of a depressed artificial intelligence. The Squire reasons with this machine in much the same way that the Doctor wins over the ship’s computer in Shada. And that’s not all – in the previous volume, the Doctor tackled a spatiotemporal problem in an infinitely improbable way by using a “sort of constantly changing exotic matter just to get past the event ripple. Preferably, ohhh, a proteinogenic amino acid with a neat line in barrier osmosis, ideally in an excited thermal state” – say, a nice hot cup of tea!
Some of Simon Fraser’s art looks a little rushed in this graphic novel – witness his Ogron-faced Abslom Daak towards the end of the first main episode. Fortunately, he has some help, from artists Leandro Casco (who splits an episode with him), Warren Pleece and Leonardo Romero (who handles the short strip Obsessions).
Their styles are all very different, with Casco producing arguably the most photo-realistic likenesses of Matt Smith, but with a less dynamic effect overall. Casco chooses to depict the criminals imprisoned on Shada as cowled figures (maybe that’s the prison uniform), none of whom look much like Time Lords, one of whom looks suspiciously like Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies. Casco and Pleece’s versions of The Then and The Now aren’t a patch on Fraser’s, looking more like a plain old green monster than a disturbing four-dimensional entity.
Happily, Fraser is back in action for the final chapter in this volume, which features some downright weird images, including a black, all-consuming, one-eyed thing in Alice’s fevered imagination; a tumour-covered console in an abomination of a TARDIS; roundels filled with eyes; and Alice with no eyes…
References to the Daleks being extinct sit rather oddly in a story that takes place after Victory of the Daleks, in which the pernicious pepperpots were released back into the universe en masse, but perhaps we should simply assume that the creatures have not yet been seen in this particular part of space and time. Not yet…
Five pages from the end of this compilation there comes a moment that’s worthy of being a cliffhanger in itself, as the story enters another new phase and Alice comes face to face with… well, guess who? However, there are still a few more pages of weirdness and angst to go before the creative team have finally finished with us… until next time, that is…