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Graphic Novel Review
In the wake of Clara’s exit, the Doctor is flying solo – and finding just as much trouble, danger and cosmic wonder as ever before! His latest destinations: a space station with a distressing secret and a murder mystery, and a haunted house that’s primed to explode! Writer George Mann (Warhammer 40K, Dark Souls) and artists Mariano Laclaustra (Dark Horse Presents, Assassin’s Creed) and Rachael Stott (Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Ghostbusters International) chart the next chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s electrifying adventures…!
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
This graphic novel collects #2.6 to 2.10 of Titan’s Twelfth Doctor comic – and gives the Time Lord a new companion! No disrespect to Clara Oswald, but I wonder why Titan waited this long before dropping her from the comic. After all, she ceased to be a companion on the television show in December 2015. Perhaps the BBC would not confirm her departure to Titan until the event had actually been transmitted, or maybe they were initially reluctant to allow the publisher to create a comics-only fellow traveller for the Twelfth Doctor.
The Doctor travels to the Twist, an artificial world with “the best punk scene this side of the 40th century!” But when an old-fashioned murder mystery requires his detective skills, he uncovers something far more sinister buried in the space station’s history! What is this dark secret, and will anyone live long enough to tell the tale…?!
So who is the Doctor’s new companion? Writer George Mann presents us with two possible candidates in the opening story, The Twist: revivalist punk bass guitarist Hattie and hunted fugitive Jakob. The obvious choice is Hattie. She doesn’t exactly set the page alight with any distinctive personality traits, but she fits the usual type of feisty young female, as opposed to Jakob with his cybernetic eye. The biggest giveaway, though, is the fact that Hattie is pictured on the ‘story so far’ page at the front of the graphic novel, whereas Jakob isn’t.
Less predictable is the nature of the Twist’s hidden conspiracy. I half expected the crab-like Macra to turn up when Jakob started telling the Doctor about “beasts… that creep around in the darkness.” The conversation plays out rather like a discussion between the Second Doctor and the rebel Medok in The Macra Terror: “But no one believes you, do they…?” replies the Doctor. “No,” says Jakob, “none of them will admit the truth. They don’t want to believe there are monsters here on their precious colony. But I’ve seen them…” However, the feral creatures at the heart of the Twist turn out to be something else entirely. How’s that for a twist?
Mann manages to keep us guessing for quite a while, adding layers of wonder to the almost impossibly huge space station, even as he lifts the lid on its secrets. We encounter a subterranean habitat beneath the surface of the colony – a whole, self-sustaining ecology, complete with birds, trees, lizards… and foxes. Yes, those wild canines who often encroach upon human territory, and are frequently despised and attacked for doing so, are here, too – and you thought the only Twelfth Doctor episode with Foxes in it was Mummy on the Orient Express! No, the canids in this story are the Foxkin, intelligent bipeds that evolved from ordinary foxes in the absence of the humans the vessel was intended for. It’s a similar idea to the Cat in Red Dwarf, (but with fewer laughs). You might feel differently about the urban fox once you’ve seen what they’ve been up to in this bushy tale.
The strip is beautifully illustrated by Mariano Laclaustra, who includes an impressive double-page establishing shot of the space station itself. Within the structure, Laclaustra’s depictions of row upon row of suspended animation capsules bring to mind scenes from The Ark in Space, though in this case it’s not Homo sapiens that have proved to be indomitable…
The Twist comes to an unconvincingly convenient and sappy ending, with the Doctor managing to overcome fear and prejudice among the station’s inhabitants by staging a rock concert. “I know it’s terrifying – to face the unknown,” he tells the gathered crowd, “but you must remember who you are. Don’t be the monsters. Be better than that. Be human.” Oh, please! And at a punk rock concert – hardly the most calming and peaceful musical genre.
A more trifling imperfection is that the dialogue refers to the Doctor wearing a “sharp suit”. Evidently the writer did not have the Time Lord’s hoodie and t-shirt outfit in mind, though that is how the artist has chosen to depict him. It certainly is the more rock ’n’ rock look.
The very end of the story redeems it, however, as the Doctor is joined in the TARDIS by his new companion, and he prepares to play her a tune he thinks she’ll love. You can almost hear the end title music after that closing panel. Diddly-dum, diddly-dum…!
“That’s… unexpected. It’s the emergency stop. The TARDIS is landing.” When the Doctor and Hattie receive a strange summons from an impossible source, they find themselves trapped inside a house of infinite dimensions! What is the Doctor’s connection to the family that brought him there? Could it be a connection to the house itself…?
Rachael Stott returns to provide the art for the second and final story in this collection, Playing House. She gives us some very bendy renditions of the characters – especially the Doctor, who splays his vein-strewn hands across the surfaces of walls, hunches his back and cranes his neck to look around as he and Hattie explore a house that seems to defy the physical laws of the universe.
The artist depicts the building’s varied architecture, which includes old-fashioned rooms, a spacious library, Escher-inspired staircases, a crystal cave, a car park and even a forest. Fifteen pages of Stott’s impressive uncoloured artwork are presented at the back of the book as a special feature.
She also realises the sinister Spyrillites, skeletal, ghost-like creatures from the Time Vortex, that feed on Artron energy. “They’re scavengers,” the Doctor explains, “carrion feeders, attracted to the carcasses of temporal vessels, or collapsing time anomalies.” They are the reason “why the human race has never found any evidence of time travellers in their midst, because the Spyrillites have a tendency to swoop in and clean up after them.” In this respect, the creatures are rather similar to the winged Reapers from the episode Father’s Day. However, the Spyrillites differ in appearance and the fact that they use the energy they absorb to take on corporeal form. Amidst all this exposition, writer George Mann subtly works in a mention of the means by which the Doctor and his allies are ultimately able to defeat the monsters.
There’s a satisfying sense of “Oh, yes, of course” as the nature of the peculiar house is revealed, after which the reader can enjoy the story again with a new understanding.
On the downside, in terms of characterisation Hattie could be any old generic companion when she’s not jamming with her guitar. Surprisingly, though – and more unexpectedly than her being written in – she is written out again at the end of Playing House. When the Doctor told her “One trip” at the conclusion of The Twist, he evidently meant it (unlike the Tenth Doctor with Martha Jones). How’s that for a twist?