Tony Fyler goes in search of the Fountains of Forever.
When we last saw the Tenth Doctor he was…erm…not quite himself, having been zapped by an alien MacGuffin that, it was claimed, could act like a portable fountain of youth. It made for a hell of a cliff-hanger. So here we are, over the cliff.
Was it worth it?
Well, yes – after the briefest of recaps, we’re into teased reveal of the Big Bad territory here – or at least the Big Really Very Alien Indeed. There’s a lot of space-based alien voice-over work for a story based in New York, but it’s done in a very Tenth Doctor style, in shades of The Beast, though as yet the identity and nature of the alien voice is being kept deliberately ambiguous as to whether it means any harm or not. Certainly, one of its first actions suggests there’s more to it than just ‘Raaarr, let’s take over the universe!’ Having been woken from a bit of a cosmic nap, it asks for compliance, for a kind of unity of mind and body, rather than simply bringing on the big monster schtick and taking over the form it needs.
The cliff-hanger is, a little disappointingly, resolved and dissolved relatively early on, and the continuing efforts of Gabby Gonzalez to make her friend Cindy understand about the whole space-time thing read as realistic and would work well either on TV or on audio, but as in the last issue, they feel pretty much like dead space in comic-book form. There’s certainly not much for the pair to do in this issue, and the balance of action has shifted very forcibly to the Doctor in this instalment of Nick Abadzis’ story of time-gadgets and the people who want them.
That’s the basis of an interesting new strand though, to make up for the lack of much relevant companion action: Cleo, the striking woman who wanted the gizmo, and who knocked the Doctor unconscious to get it, is not the lone operator she appeared – there are people to whom she reports, and they’ve heard of ‘Doctor John Smith,’ meaning her story is dangerously believed, setting wheels in motion that presumably will roll into play in issue #13.
Meanwhile, Dorothy, the ageing actress who went the staggeringly old-fashioned, traditional route and paid for the time-gizmo is unconscious, but my no means inactive in this issue, making contact with the Big Very Alien Indeed and getting the mother of all facelifts into the bargain.
The story in this issue is a case of two steps forward, one step back – the lack of anything very interesting for Gabby and Cindy to do except track the Doctor down has the feel of mid-story filler familiar from stories in the 70s and 80s, but the developments with Dorothy, from her true motivation in wanting the time-gizmo to her meeting with glowing female-shaped aliens which probably aren’t really female-shaped at all, and the hastening of, at the very least, another form of the same alien from deep space to Earth pushes the story along at an enjoyable pace. The introduction of Cleo’s bosses – who it turns out have a ‘sacred object’ with the same energy signature as the rejuvenated Dorothy – more than makes up for any interest lost by Gabby and Cindy not doing a great deal, and promises more complication to come.
If the storytelling is broadened here, the artwork from Elena Casagrande and Eleonora Carlini is consistent, with several stand-out panels – there’s a great upward-perspective shot when Gabby finds the Doctor, that could make you quite queasy as your eyes go up and up and up to the top of an apartment block, and the work that introduces the alien is highly effective, matching Abadzis’ spare, mysterious voice-over with both an intriguingly angelic feeling for the ‘female’ alien, and a vibe for the space-based version of the alien that seems to reference both the Five Doctors’ time scoop and the Forbidden Zone prison in which General Zod and his cronies were trapped in the Christopher Reeve Superman movie. This slab of interstellar Toblerone delivers a menace you wouldn’t think was within its power, but the artists interpret its simple statements with an angularity of form that above all, doesn’t look as though it should be able to fly through space in the first place, meaning whatever its ultimate intent, it brings cliff-hanger music to mind at the end of this issue.
Overall, if Episode 1 of The Fountains of Forever was an intriguing hunt for a space-time MacGuffin with a cliff-hanger you get to deliver once in a career, Episode 2 is a more muted, talky, story-developing instalment, raised above the mundane by the quality of some of its new threads and a handful of panels that artistically go above and beyond the norm. The cliff-hanger of Episode 1 feels a little wasted, ultimately, and there’s a definite moment of sadness about that which will register with you when you read it. But then the gimmickry of the cliff-hanger melts away as your interest is piqued by other, more strictly relevant strands of storytelling that help propel your interest in The Fountains of Forever forward. Is it hand-over-mouth best-thing-you’ve-ever-read good? No. Does it push the story on in new and deep and interesting directions? Definitely, yes.
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #12 is out now.
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