Hello again, you, says Tony Fyler.
Bye bye, ServeYou Inc. Bye bye year one’s Eleventh Doctor enormo-arc. It’s year two of the Eleventh Doctor’s Titan Comics adventures, and we kick off with the Doctor and Alice having known they were flying into a trap – annnnnd flying into it anyway. Because the Eleventh Doctor, that’s why.
Except actually, we don’t begin quite there. We begin about 900 years earlier, relative time. Your brain may well explode when you realise who the Eleventh Doctor was 900 years ago, relative time. Really, this whole issue deals with the consequences of who the Doctor used to be – he’s not exactly on trial in this story, as he was tried in absentia (well, you would, wouldn’t you, the damned man keeps disappearing and turning up with a new face, so it makes it ridiculously hard to try him for the crimes of his former selves), but he and Alice, while post-trial, are certainly not above or beyond sentencing, hence the trap, and the tubes of temporal agony, and the grumpy-faced people, known poetically as the Overcast, trying to exact vengeance for what they think of as the Doctor’s crimes against their people. It turns out that 900 years ago, he did A Thing that not only made his accusers’ life massively less groovy, but also raised up a horrid, evil homicidal Other Thing known only as the Malignant, that’s been progressively killing its way through the Overcast ever since, and will eventually consume them all.
It’s fair to say they’re a little annoyed about that. Again, hence the trial and the tubes of agony and so on and so forth. A highly significant part of that so forth is ‘The Then and The Now’ – oh yes, it’s a thing, rather than a description, and it’s been employed by the Overcast to severely mess with the Doctor’s day – and indeed his days, most likely. There’s a lot of ground covered during an otherwise fairly straightforward ‘running down corridors’ sequence, and while it’s an Eleventh Doctor comic-book, the action of The Then and The Now, which has the look of a walking green vortex, and seems to separate your life out into temporal slivers, cutting you literally into the then and the now, means there are cameos from a couple of other incarnations, as well as an introduction to a previously unseen companion who has a convoluted way with language, an effective poky-sword and a way with the occasional well-timed smooch. It’s high-octane stuff, explaining itself mostly on the run, and it leads to a final page that slams you fight in the face with a reunion from the pages of comic-book history. If the idea of bringing the Doctor face to face with one of Who comic-books’ greatest non-Time Lord figures makes you go weak at the geek-knees, congratulations – it’s your kind of day. Deliciously, it’s left ambiguous whether the return of this figure from the Doctor’s past is an effect of The Then and The Now, or whether they just happened to be hiding in the Tardis waiting to re-introduce themselves. Certainly their presence in the Eleventh Doctor’s demolishes another strand in the rapidly diminishing idea of there being anything unique to one medium or one period in the Doctor’s timeline, and it will be fascinating to see how this particular Doctor deals with this particular character in the next issue.
Writers Si Spurrier and Rob Williams keep the pace pretty edgy throughout this issue, the Eleventh Doctor and Alice chatting while under pain of…well, pain, in a scene reminiscent of the force field prison scene from Journey’s End, and then, when all Hell and one Time Lord break loose, the flow of the scene barely stops, despite explaining a lot of backstory, history and current threat, and involving the Doctor having a kind of breakdown along the way. But that ending is a challenge from the authors to themselves. It’s the comic-book version of the great writing maxim – if you show a gun in Act 1, you have to make sure you’ve fired it by the end of Act 3.
The character revealed at the end of this issue is not so much a gun as a collection of homicidal intent with access to enough hardware to blow up half the galaxy, but a dedication to carnage that makes them prefer to do it one enemy at a time. How Spurrier and Williams make use of them in the next issue will be key to determining whether their appearance here is a cliff-hanging cheap shot, or a triumphant re-uniting of this character with the Doctor.
Meanwhile, artist Simon Fraser and colourist Gary Caldwell rise to the challenges of this issue well – Fraser’s characterisations are reasonably crisp, and his larger, more scenic panels give a sense of power to the story, even if the artwork doesn’t necessarily come with the sharpness or bristle with the light or invention of some others’. The large panel revealing The Then and The Now is impressive, not least because there’s a dedicated greenness to it that contrasts with most other things in the story so far, the multi-Doctor panel is the stuff of which small posters are made, and the final panel is a great character portrait. Caldwell deals with the storytelling demands of different moods and moments well, using colour to highlight the shifts – the green of The Then and The now, black to isolate the Doctor in his moments of despair and pain, the colours of flame to highlight a particular recurring character, and the odd orange Tardis-light in the final shot, all helping to punctuate moments, while the ‘palliative ark of The Overcast’ - the ship-cum-space station on which the story takes place – comes in a dull institutional brown-grey.
If you’re going to try and follow something as epic as the year 1 Eleventh Doctor arc, you’re likely going to need to throw in quite a lot of bells and whistles early on to differentiate the story, the style and the pace of your new beginning from what has come before. That’s what The Then and The Now, issue 1, does – Doctor cameos, a familiar recurring character, a new old companion and that ending all serve to bolster the newness of the story we’re now embarked on. Underneath all that though is the idea that lives have consequences if they’re lived at all well, and for better or worse or both, you have to face those consequences if you simply don’t die. Get this issue because it lets us take off again, running, on another adventure with the drunk giraffe Doctor. Plus, you’re going to want to have that moment of “Oooh!” at the end if you have a history with Doctor Who in comic-book form. Besides, there’s so much backstory delivered here, if you don’t get this one, you might well find yourself on slippery ground with issues to come.
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