Tony Fyler rolls the dice.
After three episodes of a storyline that felt a little like the Series 8 Greatest Hits compilation, pitting the Doctor and Clara against two-dimensional guardians of reality The Fractures, against a backdrop of Coal Hill School, grieving schoolgirls and mysterious men in orange space suits, this feels much more like new and rather glorious territory – the Twelfth Doctor, that lean, smartly-suited figure, mixing it with gangsters and entertainers in 50s Las Vegas, with Clara as his lucky mascot at the gaming tables and his right hand when things then tricky. You know you want to read more of that!
The ‘pre-credits’ sequence in this issue is a moment of pure class, that sees a sort of return for a practically recognizable Timothy Dalton playing Rassilon’s Roulette.
It’s also got the Doctor in the kind of hat that, if there’s any sense in the Production Team, Peter Capaldi will be wearing for Series 10 when he calms the bejeesus out of his expanding hair, because on the evidence of this comic strip alone, he should never wear anything on his head again but this kind of trilby.
Power from the Dark Times, inveterate gambler, looks a bit like a scarlet squid in a supporting exoskeleton, so far so groovy. Oh and the Wolf Pack – essentially the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr), only rather less likely to have descendants who could sue a comic book company back to the stone age, being fictional and all.. In some ways, it’s the sort of story that you’d expected to find in the Tenth or Eleventh Doctor’s repertoire, but which, Robot of Sherwood not particularly included, the Twelfth Doctor has yet to make his TV mark on – aliens getting involved in a fundamentally cool period in history, utterly divorced from the kitchen sink world of Coal Hill or the space opera of future worlds, and only he and Clara to stop them in their nefarious tracks. What’s delicious about that is it gives writer Robbie Morrison a chance to define the difference in the Twelfth Doctor’s approach to this kind of scenario – his slightly arrogant, but fundamentally right, approach to the business of gambling, his blackboard-brained mathematical approach to winning lots of money to prove a point to Clara (and making us realise in the process what a fundamentally dangerous force he could be in the universe if he ever particularly put his mind to it), and his Tennish, but harder-edged more dismissive approach to dealing with alien would-be mob bosses, disguised as failed mafia hit-victims. So what we’re saying is that this issue has style by the guitar-case full, psychology that helps define the Twelfth Doctor in two dimensions as separate from any of his other incarnations – except, possibly the Seventh Doctor, of whom there’s a dark tinge here - a little fangirl action from Clara, a raw-edged and relatively reckless Twelfth Doctor getting into trouble he appears to be above, and the result of that recklessness as it catches up with him, possibly costing lives in the process. While the style of the adventure seems like the kind of thing we’d expect from the Tenth or Eleventh Doctor, the way its told, and the way it unfolds, is pure Twelfth Doctor all the way – that knife edge of exciting and frightening that takes Who as a show back to the Hinchcliffe years of never quite knowing what might happen next. It’s a great beginning to a story set in a time and place that, like Morrison’s other opus, The Weeping Angels of Mons, makes you wonder why it’s never been the setting for a Doctor Who story before, because it’s clearly absolutely perfect for alien shenanigans of one kind or another.
In an era and a setting where style is all important, you’re going to need some great art to conjure the world effectively and do the storytelling justice. Fortunately for this storyline, Titan has Brian Williamson and rising star Mariano Laclaustro on drawing duty to render everything from Rassilon’s gaming table to the Nevada Desert to the gaudy electric beauty of primetime Vegas, as well as the sharp suits and stunning dresses of the period that really sell the atmosphere of the story. Look out for an image on Page 15 that’s the stuff that posters are made of, and pretty much an indicator of that solidly dangerous edge the Twelfth Doctor brings to all his adventures. Throw the dice, save a planet. Also, check out a stylistically fabulous free-form chase scene later in the issue, entirely free of the concepts of comic-book panels, that gives the moment a wild Vegas charm beyond the confines of linear storytelling.
If you were getting tired of the Twelfth Doctor always being tied to Coal Hill and its pupils, get this issue.
If you love the idea of the Twelfth Doctor in Vegas with mobsters, get this issue.
If you’re a fan of Robbie Morrison (and frankly, why wouldn’t you be?), get this issue.
Or if you just want to see the Twelfth Doctor looking cooler than he’s ever looked before, get this issue.
Basically, leave now. Get this issue. Disappointment will be too scared to come anywhere near you.
Check out an advance art preview of The Twelfth Doctor #9 here.
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