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Graphic Novel Review
The Tenth Doctor and his companion Gabriella Gonzalez set off on a bold new journey! Whether facing an evil corruption of sentient music on a gas giant, catching up on unseen trips with Gabby’s best friend Cindy Wu, journeying back to the dawn of humankind, or battling disc-like gladiatorial captors in a millennia-old free-for-all, there are no limits to the cosmic adventure – or the mortal danger! Strap in as the Doctor tries to untangle himself from an intergalactic conspiracy, bumping into old friends on the way! Nick Abadzis (Laika) and fantastic artists including Eleonora Carlini (Grimm Tales of Terror) and Elena Casagrande (The X Files, Suicide Risk) chart the thrilling next chapter in the Doctor’s ongoing story…!
This graphic novel collects #2.1 to 2.5 of Titan’s Tenth Doctor comic, and it has something of a recurring choral theme…
Death – the ultimate earworm! The planet Wupatki is a perfect example of human colonists living in harmony with indigenous life – in this case, the Shan’tee, conceptual beings perceived by humans as hauntingly beautiful music! But the Doctor and Gabby are walking straight into a war. A mysterious signal of unknown origin has corrupted the song of the Shan’tee – and now the human colonists are trapped in a fight for their lives! Can the Doctor, Gabby and a synaesthesic scientist uncover the truth and bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed… or will the song consume them all…?
The opening two-parter of this collection marks the return of artist Eleonora Carlini, following her one-shot stint with the Echo episode a couple of volumes ago. Coincidentally, this is another story with a sound-based motif – because the Shan’tee, one of three major life forms on the planet Wupatki, are composed of beautiful song. Their chief spokesperson is an insubstantial being known as Smokey, who is visually perceptible thanks to the invention of a scientist with synaesthesia (an intriguing neurological phenomenon in which senses can become intertwined, leading to experiences such as ‘seeing’ sounds).
“People made of smoke, and cities made of song.” So said the Seventh Doctor at the end of Survival, and the fascinating ecosystem depicted in The Singer Not the Song is not a million miles away from that surreal image. Wupatki is a gas dwarf planet with a convenient habitable, oxygenated layer of atmosphere surrounding it, within which human colonists have constructed a network of floating cities. The Shan’tee sing to giant balloon-like flying cows called Bovodrines (not unlike the Sky Moos from Clangers!), which create the oxygen for the humans, whose presence in turn has increased the sentient awareness of the empathic Shan’tee.
All too soon, however, dangerous invaders, the monstrous Nocturnes, threaten the delicate balance. As the Seventh Doctor once continued: “Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold.” Come on, Doctor and Gabby, you’ve got work to do!
The Singer Not the Song is an excellent tale, full of alien wonders, both beautiful and deadly. Talking of which, there’s a surprise guest appearance on the final page of the story – someone we knew would be returning at some point, but perhaps not quite so soon…
Meanwhile, back in Sunset Park, Cindy makes up her mind… Gabby’s best friend stayed on Earth at the end of her last adventure with the Doctor – a decision she immediately regretted! Now, with only Gabby’s sketchbook of unseen adventures to guide her, she must find her way back to the Time Lord… but sinister forces have her under surveillance…! The whole of Gabby’s adventures with the Doctor are laid bare to Cindy, as she reads Gabby’s illustrated diary. How can the journal be showing her things that haven’t happened yet? What does it mean for Cindy’s future… and the safety of the universe…?!
This single-part story is a Doctor-lite episode. Neither the Time Lord nor his companion Gabriella actually appear in Cindy, Cleo and the Magic Sketchbook, except as illustrations on pages from Gabby’s book. However, as with the best Doctor-lite episodes from the television show, their presence is felt throughout, as Cindy reads Gabby’s words and realises that she needs to get back in contact with them somehow.
For Cindy, this story takes place mere moments after the end of the previous graphic novel. Anubis and Dorothy Bell get a few mentions, while other characters from the Fountains of Forever and Spiral Staircase storylines return in person – Cleo and Erik, formerly of the Cult of the Black Pyramid. They are followed by a sinister new character – a thin, black-clad figure called Mr Ebonite, who is every bit as creepy as the Talent Scout from Titan’s Eleventh Doctor title. Appropriately enough, the sun gradually sets on Sunset Park over the course of several pages, and it is fully dark by the time the sinister Mr Ebonite makes his entrance and puts his magical skull-topped cane to use.
And there’s an even more exciting new arrival at the end of the episode – which forms a gripping, cliffhanging end to this chapter.
Unaware of their friend’s plight, the Doctor and Gabby are diving into a brand-new adventure, journeying into ancient prehistory – when the world was young and Neanderthals and Homo sapiens walked side by side! Meet Munmeth, Neanderthal healer of the Wolf Tree Clan, and discover what unexpected evil haunts the dawn of humankind…! For reasons as yet unknown, giant, sentient, flying metal discs have been abducting groups of humans – Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons alike! Can the Doctor and Gabby save the future by rescuing the past? Or is the human race doomed to face an early extinction…?
Following the aforementioned cliffhanger in Sunset Park, writer Nick Abadzis cruelly yanks us away from that plot arc and into a new two-part tale, Medicine Man, which takes the Doctor and Gabby back in time to the Pleistocene Epoch.
As I settled down to read, I wondered what similarities it might bear to Doctor Who’s earlier caveman story (indeed, Doctor Who stories don’t get any earlier than this), An Unearthly Child. However, Munmeth, the fascinating Neanderthal shaman, has more in common with the spiritual Nimrod in Ghost Light: “I am Munmeth. Hear my song. I am of the Wolf Tree Clan, we who know the Earth Mother, from the ice to the tundra, from the low valleys to the tall mountain tops. I am Munmeth, and I bring you gifts, for such are my stories.” At first, Munmeth and Gabby have a few communication problems, as the Time Lord gift of translation doesn’t work as well as it usually does, owing to the Doctor being injured, but Gabby is surprised by the Neanderthal’s level of intelligence. Like her, he is a talented artist – in his case, a cave painter.
Gabby feels guilty because she believes that her species, Homo sapiens, drove the Neanderthals to extinction. In humanity’s defence, the Doctor points out that (in the Doctor Who universe at least) “human evolution was influenced by several alien species – the Jagaroth, the Fendahl, the Osirans –” Them again! He could also have alluded to The Daemons, in which the Third Doctor claimed that Azal’s people helped “Homo sapiens kick out Neanderthal man.” This isn’t much of a comfort to Gabby, but there is alternative theory – that Neanderthals were absorbed into the Cro-Magnon population by interbreeding.
Artist Leonardo Romero, with his distinctive pupil-less eyes, illustrates the first half of this story, giving Gabby some compelling facial expressions and treating us to some beautiful cave art. Elena Casagrande takes over (with layout assistance from Simone Di Meo and Luca Maresca) for the second half, though the changeover is barely noticeable – a credit to the entire art team for giving a consistent overall look to the Tenth Doctor series.
Munmeth isn’t as prominent a presence in this section, which instead turns its attention towards the mysterious metal discs and the faction that is fighting them – which includes a Terileptil among its ranks! Together with the writer, Casagrande makes the newly revealed alien slave-traders the Monaxi a force to the reckoned with. They resemble giant, flying jellyfish in tin hats – and what are those intriguing symbols on their helmets…? They glow with energy, have numerous eyes and possess nasty pointed teeth. Nick Abadzis clearly takes pleasure in filling their mouths not only with vicious teeth but also some delightfully overblown dialogue: “Cretinous anthropoids! You think that’ll keep the Monaxi Guild away?” Boo, hiss!
Though this is the end of the graphic novel, the Doctor, Gabby and Munmeth aren’t out of the woods yet. As the episode draws to a close, the plot seems about to be all tied up, but then a new danger presents itself…
To be continued!