I said this about the previous issue of the Twelfth Doctor comic-book, but Gangland is proper Twelve. You can just imagine it exploding across the screen in a glorious panache of Twelvishness. The Doctor and Clara in 50s Vegas, he wearing a truly superb hat and striding about the place like he owns it, she going gooey for the so-close-to the-Rat-Pack-it’s-probably-litigious Wolf Pack, octopoidal evil aliens from the dawn of time, using robo-legs to get about the place and stealing one of Rassilon’s own handguns to terrorise their way to supremacy. There’s literally (and I use that word sparingly and with extreme precision) nothing not to love about Gangland.
What’s more, it opened with a scene that would be meat and drink to Capaldi’s particular style of Doctoring – a game of Rassilon’s Roulette (like the Russian version, only with a time-gun), and has since been building back to that moment of insane tension – the Doctor and Kronos, leader of the octopoids across a table, taking turns to put the time-gun to their heads and pull the trigger.
This issue is more of the same – the pace deliciously frenetic, the lines very Capaldi and Coleman. When asked by a mob boss if he’s trying to be a smartass, the Twelfth Doctor drips dismissive intellect, saying ‘Trying hard not to be, actually, but you don’t make it easy.’ When Kronos boasts to Clara of his species’ impressive history, and declares we will all beg for death or mercy at their tentacles, bwahahahaha (he does like a good rant, this octopoidal nightmare from the Old Times), she pauses, then says ‘Right…and now you run a bar - sorry a casino – on a backwater world like Earth. Doesn’t sound very imperious.’
What’s clear is that writer Robbie Morrison has a great ear for the rhythm and pace of particular Doctors and companions (he’s showed this same mastery in the Tenth Doctor comic-books too), because you can very easily see this story appearing on screen. The structure is tight, and there’s lots of high-octane running (and indeed in this issue, flying) about the place, so you get the high thrill-count of New Who, but there’s also the glamour of the Vegas backdrop, the squirmy creepiness of chatty robo-legged octopoids with time-guns, the Rat Pack slickness of gangster movies and mob heavies, and the pausing for breath and backstory that comes with the Doctor making a friend (who, except for being raised in the wrong city, one would swear would go on to be boxing champion Sonny Liston – always handy to have around if there’s some punching to do).
The story also benefits enormously from artwork by Brian Williamson and Mariano Laclaustro which makes you want to see it on screen. The difference between middling artistry and solid, clever comic-book artwork is on display here (as to be fair it has been in many Titan Who comics) – the ‘shot-choices’ that are made are highly intelligent, blending the opportunity to give us the vibe of Vegas glitz and glamour with the need to serve the tightness and pacing of the script and whip us right along. It’s exciting, bright visual work, and it makes us look forward to the next issue, when Laclaustro is set to take lead artist credit on a new story penned by always reliable thrill-giver George Mann. Might want to strap yourself in for that one, as it’s billed as a gothic mystery. In the words of the Almighty Internet – ‘Shut up and take my money!’
Gangland has been a delicious quick two-parter, throwing a long list of ‘Things That Must Be Seen In Doctor Who’ into a sack, giving them a good hearty shake and, in the hands of Morrison, Williamson and Laclaustro, coming out as something beautiful – wit, pacing, style, characterization, back-reference, tension, plot, Gangland has it all. In terms of its place in the Twelfth Doctor stories we’ve seen from Titan so far, the thing to ask yourself is whether it stands up to the standards of The Swords of Kali (a personal preference, granted, but my favourite so far). It’s a very different style of story, to be sure, but the instinct is the same – using the Tardis to the full extent of its power to take us to worlds or times that dazzle, and set great stories there. The difference of subject and storyline make it a little like comparing oranges and office chairs, but Gangland is probably at least the equal of Kali, the scope, the pace, and the utterly sumptuous visuals making it a pleasure from panel 1 right to the end, and leaving you slavering and hungry for more, more, more.
You know – just like all the very best Who does.
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