Tony Fyler sees lights in the sky.
Well, that’s different.
Having zipped about all over time and space trying to defeat ServeYouInc, the Eleventh Doctor, Alice, Jones and ARC are still tracking ‘the entity’ that was ultimately behind it all – the other half of ARC’s existence, and with a Moffatish touch, they begin this new phase in their adventures separated, the Doctor and Jones riding a motorbike along the top of the Berlin Wall in 1976 (as ya do), and Alice and ARC in the Tardis. It quickly turns out that the Doctor and Jones are tracking the entity, which, having spent some time swanning about the Tardis engines recently, has developed ‘time-travely’ capabilities (yes, the Doctor actually says ‘time-travely’). Really though, this feels mostly like a space-filler beginning, to zip the two of them into a wormhole while chasing the thing, be rescued by Alice and ARC – most particularly ARC – and then be zapped to the meaty bit of the story. If we mention that the story’s called Conversion, what do you think of?
Yep, thought as much. However, there’s some interesting stuff before all that – if history is recorded by the winners, there’s seldom been a more complete instance of the phenomenon than the rise of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Did you know that he, like many crunch-point emperors before him, fought a rival for the title? Conversion takes us to a crucial battle between the would-be emperors Constantine and Maxentius as they slug it out for the right to rule the Roman Empire. Sadly it takes us there as the Tardis is trapped by the entity, which has melded with a thing that is most definitely not a comet, screaming, hurtling towards the Earth. There’s a great little fan moment here where Jones bets this is the comet that wipes out all the dinosaurs.
Clearly, it isn’t. Little bit late for that one. But if you know much about Constantine at all, you’re probably aware he was the Roman emperor who converted from the worship of the traditional, respectable, nicked-from-the-Greeks gods of his forefathers and started worshipping some dead Judean hippie who was supposed to be the son of the slave-god of the Israelites – and he took the whole officialdom of the Empire with him, establishing Rome as the heart of a new, at least theoretically Christian Empire.
As conversions go, it is intriguingly, massively unlikely, and writer Rob Williams treads on some deliciously blasphemous ground here, suggesting that the conversion was largely down to the courage and sacrifice of a young Roman soldier who revealed himself to be one of the Christians (who’d been persecuted roundly under previous emperors as extremists and dangerous lunatics) just before dying on the battlefield… annnnd a big fiery glowing sign in the sky, which landed with a big bang – the thing that definitely isn’t a comet, mingled with the entity.
Doctor Who has a long tradition of demystifying big unlikely events by the addition of a misinterpreted alien, but this has to be one of the most chuckle-worthy, near-the-knuckle uses of the technique ever deployed, and the chances are you’ll either love it or hate it, depending on how seriously you take Christianity as a ‘real thing.’
It’s very good ponder-fodder, this development, especially after the pretty blatant high-octane beginning (as we say, there’s no particularly good reason why Jones and the Doctor should be riding a motorbike along the top of the Berlin Wall, but it makes for a great ‘in at the deep end’ pre-credits sequence), but perhaps fortunately, there’s not that long to contemplate the religio-social implications here, as out of the bright orange explosion come a squadron of soldiers. Marching soldiers whose image is at first unclear. Getting clearer as they march closer, and closer, and closer.
Did we mention that the story’s called Conversion? And that something that’s definitely not a comet is crashing into the Earth? Jusssst checking if we need to signpost the cliff-hanger here any more clearly for an audience of geeks.
Didn’t think so.
So is Conversion a particularly must-buy addition to your comic-book collection?
Hmm. Well, it starts a new phase of the story-arc, so if you don’t get it, you’ll be scratching your head pretty soon. Also, once we get to ancient Rome, yes, things getting solidly interesting, and of course the cliff-hanger’s pretty gorgeous. The beginning feels a little like fan button-pushing, if we’re honest, and there’s a degree to which a couple of footnotes feel like a slightly patronising history lesson. But if you get through them without them having put your back up, then yes, there’s potential here. It’s less edge-of-your-seat reading than some recent issues, but then it’s worth remembering that those issues were drawing a long story-arc to its conclusion whereas this, while it still has a few hangovers and hiccups left over from that arc, is beginning the ramp up all over again, so it’s necessarily going to be a slightly less intense affair.
The artwork by Warren Pleece is functional and rather more traditional comic-strip than you might be used to from recent issues, and just occasionally, it feels a little laboured – a whole page of panels to deliver a manoeuvre with a motorbike in space feels a touch excessive, though it does add to the Bondish grandstanding chutzpah of the whole thing. Similarly, panels showing the not-a-comet plunging, plunging, PLUNGING towards the Earth could be seen as overkill, but again, they do reinforce the scale of the drama that’s about to unfold.
But if the beginning’s a little laboured and button-pushing, the mid-section sets up an intriguing dilemma and the ending runs off with it and delivers an additional surprise, even beyond our spoilerific hinting. So sure, why not invest in Conversion, Part 1 – it promises a lot of fun and adventure just around the corner.
The Eleventh Doctor #12 is released Wednesday May 20th. 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