Greetings, disparate peoploids of the unified galactic empire of Hackney Borough Council, we come in peace and not to eat your brains, like. So chill.In many ways, this doesn’t feel like the beginning of a new adventure, but rather like a hangover of grief from the previous two-part story, Conversion.
The ‘pre-credits’ sequence is a thing of beauty that you can absolutely imagine Davies or Moffatt coming up with to wrong-foot you after the sombre ending of the previous episode – like following Earthshock with a party – but the pre-credits sequence is complete in and of itself, while also seeding a crucial question for the rest of this issue: what the hell has happened to Jones?
It’s a tricky business, keeping two parallel story-threads with entirely contrasting emotional tones intertwining and intersecting, but when you have the combined talents of Al Ewing and Rob Williams on the job, you’re in safe hands. Jones’ thread here is the more lighthearted of the two – which is relatively comical in itself until you realise what’s going on. The Doctor meanwhile is in a foul old mood, and this continues the work of Williams and artist Warren Pleece in issue #13, having a quintessential Matt Smith Doctorfest – sad, despairing, angry, demanding and utterly, utterly heartbroken. The darker end of the Eleventh Doctor’s palette is all here, and the artwork is simply not fair to reviewers. We heaped praise on Pleece’s capturing of the young actor’s facial display of his character’s emotions last time, but here, Simon Fraser takes the art to an almost gallery-worthy level, so as to never at any point drop the emotional ball created by Ewing and Williams’ script. This is high-powered comic-book teamwork, because while the storyline going forward appears to demand such sturm and drang of the writers, the writers themselves deliver a script that with lesser artwork would absolutely fail to do its job.
It doesn’t fail to do its job – it succeeds splendidly, rendering the Eleventh Doctor’s stages of guilt, grief, demand, control, shock and desolation in such a way that the heartache transfers from the character to the reader. The Doctor as a character has of course lost so very much over the course of his life. To see him lose what he loses here feels like one hit too many and we want to be Alice, who, when he is at his lowest ebb, simply puts her arms around him and hugs him, and holds him, as you would a grieving child.
Jones, when he figures out what’s going on, is splendid in this issue – he’s struggled sometimes to be more than comic relief when contrasted with Alice’s more tragic backstory (dead mother) or ARC’s more…erm…complicated one (disembodied, gooey, shape-changing mind of an entity that’s been tormented all its life for its ability to give people what they want), but here he pretty much comes into his own, as well as delivering what would seem to be a perfectly logical solution to a big problem and undergoing his most radical change of persona to date, becoming The Man Who Fell To Hackney.
What’s peculiar as we go along towards the end of this issue is that an ending finally seems in sight for the long, long arc of the entity. But the cliff-hanger at the end of the issue suggests that might be a rather simplistic conclusion.
Oh yes. The cliff-hanger. We’re going to need to talk about the cliff-hanger, really rather a lot.
Firstly, we’ve seen a foreshadowing of the cliff-hanger not long ago, and it surprised us then. In some ways, that foreshadowing slightly spoils the moment of shock and awe we get at the end of this issue, because it suggests what we think we’re seeing may not be genuine. But if it is, then it’s time to go wild and damn near crazy.
The cliff-hanger sees the return of a character who may – or may not, depending on who you believe – have appeared on screen. They look different here – notably less kind and less pleased to see the Doctor, but one thing’s for absolute certain: if you buy this issue, you’re going to buy the living bejesus out of issue #15. You might even buy it twice, just because of the power of that cliff-hanger. On some levels it’s a stunt at which Titan’s writers are getting better and better as they go along – the cliff-hanger which means you absolutely have to buy the next issue. And it’s only really a stunt on the most surface of levels. In some ways, Titan is doing in comic-books what Big Finish proved it was capable of doing early – exploring the wider universe of the character to deliver all the things the TV show could, but never has. It’s earning its stripes as a provider of legitimate storytelling of a quality that wouldn’t drive fans completely mad if suddenly, as happened to Big Finish in The Night of the Doctor, it became considered as canon. That’s the sort of gamble Ewing and Williams take here – writing up to possibilities, rather than down to denominators. As I say, it combines the highest aims of the art – to explore and deliver new possibilities – with the simple commercial imperative of ensuring you’ll buy the next issue. But that after all is what cliff-hangers have always been about: declaring to the audience ‘Don’t touch that dial,’ or ‘Come back next week.’
With a cliff-hanger of this quality, Titan can confidently start cashing checks on the income from the next issue. Get issue #14, however you can.
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