There are many marks of the Eleventh Doctor, but one of the most potent is the drawing together of odd or disparate elements of storyline with a word or a line, a ‘that can happen’ that suddenly changes the world you’re looking at.
Coming in fresh to the Eleventh Doctor adventures from Titan Comics at issue #8, there’s a lot of ‘that can happen’ to contend with. He has three new companions, for a start; Alice, a library assistant, Jones, a former skiffle star, and ARC – who will either please my fellow Friends of Frobisher immensely, or make them seethe that the penguin’s central raison d’etre as a shapeshifting companion has been recycled in the New Who age without actually being Frobisher. ARC stands for ‘Autonomous Reasoning Center’ – yes, with the American spelling - and it can essentially assume any form it likes, or any form you want it to.
There’s a sense, too, of coming in in the middle of things – Alice has just been returned home, where her dead mother has just appeared, Rory-style, alive again to welcome her. In something of a long diversion, The Eleventh Doctor #8 starts with Alice imagining the way this could be true in the Doctor’s world – there’s a good sense of series self-mockery here, as she imagines the Doctor saying ‘It’s rare – impossibly rare – but in certain cases, time travel on the blah blah thing spectrum something something Time Lord stuff! Result – The dead come back to life! Hooray!’ A gentle ribbing on the Smith-era ‘nobody really dies’ mythos that saw characters compete to have died the most is no bad thing either, because it makes the reality of what’s going on here all the more hard to deal with.
When the dream of the way things could have been fades and the Doctor is challenged, he sets out to prove it can’t happen in a way that sounds very Matt Smith – all credit to writer Al Ewing here for capturing a number of the Eleventh Doctor’s moods in a short space of time. Jones and ARC, meanwhile, have curled up into balls on the floor – literally in both cases, though in some more literally than others – paralysed with fear. Readers of previous issues will understand a giant space war between the J’arrodic (another variation on the ‘Giant Space Chicken’ theme for Smith) and the Amstron (robotic creatures with more than a passing resemblance to Mysterio from Spiderman), which interrupts the emotion and threatens the Earth. There’s a delicious comic absurdity to the reason for the long-raging war, which Alice uncovers – formerly allies, the unlikely species sent a mission through a wormhole. What they found there caused debate, then argument, and finally a war that can only be ended if another team of two go through the wormhole and report back their findings so the whole wretched thing can be put behind them. When Alice and Jones do precisely this, there’s more than a hint of Douglas Adams about the story and how it is resolved, but more than that, the tone of the Eleventh Doctor is strong in this one.
That’s odd, mostly because being so recent and so bounce-off-the-wall a phenomenon, it’s rare to stop and peer at the Eleventh Doctor’s time under a microscope to determine exactly what the tone is. But here, there are definite grace notes – ‘that can happen’, and then with equal certainty ‘that cannot happen,’ challenges to the Young Old Doctor’s authority, events being taken out of his hands and resolved by his companions, and a universe significantly more silly and child-friendly than most of the other New Who Doctors, with the sinister elements underneath, working out somewhere in the background, unseen or only hinted at for most of the time. For all Matt Smith was often seen as channelling the Second Doctor, if you look at the tone of his time, there’s more than a dollop of Cartmel Masterplan Seventh Doctor chess-playing going on there, and there are distinct resonances of that in this strip – signs of this storyline, as heartbreaking as it is for Alice and Jones, being the work of an afternoon to sort out, a gambit in a much bigger overarching plot. The ending seems to underline this sense, as the Doctor and friends head off to search for what might really be going on.
The artwork here is, let’s say, good enough. There are occasions when but for the bow tie, the Eleventh Doctor could be anyone, and one in particular where he could be Stephen Fry, but overall, artist Warren Pleece consistently does enough to convince you you’re reading an Eleventh Doctor comic. That’s just as well, because unlike for instance the recent work of Robbie Morrison on the Tenth and Twelfth Doctor comic books, Al Ewing gives us a story that makes a kind of zany sense, but doesn’t particularly push itself along with as much verve as you might expect for a story with the elastic giraffe that is the Eleventh Doctor. If Frobisher ever was to make a return to the comic strip world, it’s in this kind of story that he might most easily and legitimately do so - it’s got more of a Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, or even a Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe feeling to it than a dark, God Complex or Night Thoughts vibe. Clearly though, the story’s not done yet, and this issue does bring that sense of escalating storyline with it, so check out The Infinite Astronaut in The Eleventh Doctor #8 when it hits your local comic shop, and strap in – you’re in for a long ride.
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #8
STORY BY: Al Ewing
ART BY: Warren Pleece
COVER A BY: Boo Cook
PUBLISHER: Titan Comics
COVER PRICE: $3.99
RELEASE DATE: Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Check out our 3 page advance art preview of The Eleventh Doctor #8
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Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk