Tony Fyler says leave your fan-knowledge at the door.
The first part of The Fractures, told in issue #6 of Titan Comics’ Twelfth Doctor adventures, stuck very closely to modern, contemporary Who – Coal Hill pupil in the Tardis, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT at the Tower, wandering time traveler in an orange space suit and so on. Part 2, if anything, feels like we’ve gone back a few years, touching bases along the New Who timeline, all the way back to the first new series in 2005, as we learn what the Fractures are, and why they’re messing with the lives of ordinary Londoners.
In fact, at some point in issue #7, there are references to elements in the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors’ adventures, and the first and biggest of them make it tricky not to look at the Fractures as a kind of comic-book re-tread of a villain that was highly effective back in 2005, only now rendered in a more ‘CGI’-friendly, Twelfth Doctor way. Oh yes, there are hints of a similarity with a very recent villain too, and while the Fractured themselves are delivered very effectively by artist Brian Williamson, the danger of combining the elements that are mixed up to make the Fractures is that the writing begins to feel a bit retrogressive, a bit of a mash-up of some favourite beats into something that essentially relies on the artwork to carry it through. That feels like a shame from writer Robbie Morrison, whose work is usually fresh and innovative – but before we get carried away with condemnation, this story is by no means a waste of time. There’s some great back-and-forth between the Doctor and Clara, both building on what’s gone before and giving perhaps a clue of the apparently more comedic Twelfth Doctor to which we can look forward in Series 9. And make no mistake, Williamson’s rendering of the Fractures is occasionally very creepy, a kind of shattered eggshell look randomly infecting people’s faces, giving a nod to the Boneless, but with light or darkness wisping out of their mouths like the Gelth. Again, the theme seems to be the melding of the new and the old, both visually and in the philosophical underpinnings of what the Fractures are, or claim to be.
The good guys too have this sense of being glued together from remnants of the old and new, Kate and the gang having re-engineered some Cyber-technology left over from the events of Doomsday, which are actually given a reference, though sweetly re-engineered for the US readership, the ‘Battle of Canary Wharf,’ which works perfectly well for a UK audience or readership being renamed the ‘Battle of London,’ presumably to make the reference specific enough to be remembered, but vague enough not to confuse or scare off any newer fans in Arkansas or Missouri. And this, surely, is the point. While longer-term Who fans will spot references along the way, which combine to build a sense of re-trodden ground, if you’re anything less than an absolute old school New Whovian, and if you come to The Fractures with that uncluttered mind, then it delivers in spades. If you’ve never seen The Unquiet Dead, or Father’s Day, or Doomsday, or Flatline, then this is a great new adventure with a creepy monster and a central character drama rooted in the unbearable sadness of loss. It’s just slightly odd to read it and know that the less Who you’ve experienced, the better the story is and the more likely you are to enjoy it.
Certainly, older Who fans will look at the central dilemma – a young girl, missing her sadly dead father, when he comes back from, as it turns out, somewhere other than Heaven, and think both of the recent series 8 with its Nethersphere plotline, but more significantly of David Tennant’s era and think ‘Wait, didn’t that happen with…’
Yes. Yes, it did.
Not for nothing, but there’s even a double-decker bus fairly central to the second half of story in this issue, another Easter Egg for fans who remember Planet of the Dead, as well as Void-stuff and the 3D glasses, as worn by Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. The exact placement of this story in the Twelfth Doctor’s timeline is probably before Dark Water/Death In Heaven because among the more recent elements, there’s mention of Oswin and the fact that she now wears a bow-tie, all of which adds to the ‘Greatest Hits’ mash-up feeling of the story – on TV she may have died to prove Missy’s bananas badassery, but in the comic-book world, no-one’s ever really dead, because you can bring them back in stories set before they died – the essential privilege of the time traveler, given as a gift in comic-book form.
Beyond the bumper stockpile of New Who reference points, there’s something easily accessible about The Fractures as a story. Read it as if it’s new and what you have is a creepy mystery, which in issue #7 makes a great deal of economically-explained sense, making for a fast and easy read. Overall, Part 1 was more exciting because it delivered the set-up, while this part delivers the Doctor’s initial cleverness, which takes us quite a long way forward. It will depend on further twists to make the story warrant more than a third installment, but happily, issue #7 does end on a short, effective ramp-up of tension with the likelihood of further complications early in Part 3. So by all means buy issue #7 and enjoy Part 2 of The Fractures – you just might enjoy it slightly more if you retcon yourself of most of the last ten years.
The Twelfth Doctor #6 is released Wednesday April 15th. Check out an advance art preview here.
To find your local comic store visit: http://www.comicshoplocator.com/
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