Fantastic? Mmmmmmaybe, says Tony Fyler.
When taking a beloved TV show like Doctor Who and rendering it in comic-book form, there’s a very peculiar marriage that needs to happen – the story has to be busy but not too busy, and the artwork needs to help tell it, and ideally take it to the next dimension as a visual experience.
So far, the Doctor Who range from Titan Comics has usually fallen somewhere on the ‘Hellyeah’ end of the success-spectrum – Doctors Ten, Eleven and Twelve each sounding like their on screen portrayals, and saving the day with a signature flourish.
Now the range is opening up a gap in the Ninth Doctor’s on screen history just after he and Rose have picked up Captain Jack, and gleefully thrusting a highly-anticipated comic-book series in there to expand the arc of that Doctor.
And for the first real time since the company started doing Who, there’s a sense of ‘Helly – oh.’
It’s not disappointment, as such. The Ninth Doctor in issue #1 sounds like the on screen version, and he certainly looks like the on screen version. It’s possibly just that that we’ve grown used to a lot happening in each issue of the comic-book series, so that when, as here, not a lot at all really happens, but there’s lots of banter, running and colourful explosions to fill the gaps, the fact that the gaps are there is actually heightened, rather than successfully covered up.
Cavan Scott is a good writer, more than familiar enough with Who to make the Ninth Doctor work in the comic-book medium. But while this adventure begins in a semi-classic (not to say semi-cliched) way – the Tardis team arrive on a spaceship, are chased by big armoured metal things, and then the ship is attacked by another group of aliens - the writing still manages to wrestle the feeling of a slow start out from under the high-octane artwork.
In terms of the artwork, Blair Shedd is on great form here, delivering a Ninth Doctor, a Rose and a Captain Jack who look distinct and recognizable, and an alien environment that’s rich, well-detailed and highly satisfying. Several panels in particular stand out – the opening ‘shots’ that take a cue from the TV show and deliver a view of the Doctor we’ve never seen before; the first glimpse of the attackers in space; an extremely big explosion and the final cliff-hanger panel, which delivers both beauty and shock-value to hammer home a story-point. Shedd also uses – at a count of eight panels, perhaps just slightly over-uses – a relatively new technique in the Who comic-book range, the silhouette panel, as well as bringing the villain-viewpoint panel into the mix to deliver colour and diversity to the visual storytelling.
Really then we’re left to ponder the slow start from Scott, and wonder whether it’s more than a comparative impression coming as a result of unfair comparison with other recent Who comics.
It’s worth remembering of course that much of the modus operandi of the Ninth Doctor was stillness and running, as opposed to the chatterbox Tenth, the elastic giraffe Eleventh and the snarling genius Twelfth. So perhaps it’s immediately unfair to compare issue #1 of the Ninth Doctor series with episodes from those livelier Doctors. Certainly there are recognizable Ninth Doctor moments in this issue – most notably his compassion for anyone he deems an underdog, and irrespective of his personal position at the time. There’s a solid moment of Ninth Doctor smugness too, one of those folded-arm, ‘I’m so much cleverer than you, so don’t try and imprison me’ moments, that’s delivered with an aplomb that wouldn’t have been out of place on screen. And it’s also worth keeping an eye on the ball in this issue – the main story thread is actually delivered in the pre-credits sequence, before the running and the explosions begin to take our mind off that fundamental issue.
But even on second or third reading, the beautiful artwork stretched across pages, while serving as its own reward, does highlight the lack of any Ninth Doctor action in the late mid-section, prior to the moments leading up to the cliffhanger.
Do we feel short-changed then? Again, not exactly – there’s plenty of plotline actually laid down here, which we’re confident will be realized in future issues. And the artwork from Shedd really is worth the admission price on its own. At most we’re slightly change-challenged by this first episode of time travel banter, anti-weapon lecturing, stompy monsters who may not be monsters, and space battles. It feels just a little like a great beginning and a great ending with just a strand or two connecting them through the middle. But let’s focus here – it’s a mostly authentic Ninth Doctor voice (with only one real exception – the Ninth was rather more stripped down than many of his incarnations, so the use of ‘the old place’ to describe a planet that’s no longer there feels more in keeping with the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors than the Ninth), it’s a young, as-yet-unheartbroken Rose Tyler and an almost-equally young, as-yet-mortal Captain Jack Harkness, in the closest thing to new TV episodes that we’re ever likely to see. Arguably, given all that, it’s allowed an issue or two to limber up and get going.
Check out an advance art preview, discover the range of variant covers, and for more information visit Titan Comics.
To find your local comic store visit: http://www.comicshoplocator.com/
The Ninth Doctor #1 is released April 1st.
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
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