Tenor Tony doesn’t dare take for breath.
We kicked off the second year of Tenth Doctor stories with an evolution of a familiar danger – wave-forms that kill, taking Gabby Gonzalez back to an early adventure with the lanky rent-a-gob from space. This two-parter from Nick Abadzis though, with art from Eleanora Carlini and colour from Claudia SG Ianniciello and Azzurra Florean, shows more confidence than ever was visible in those early stories and a pace that grabs the reader by the hand and runs off with them.
There are some high concepts at play here – conceptual life-forms that keep a planet’s ecosystems in harmony, and what happens when a rogue signal corrupts them into ‘Nocturnes’ – evil songs, essentially, that look like nothing you’d ever want to meet in a dark alley, or a well-lit one either, come to that.
When we left issue 2.1, the ‘virus’ that had corrupted the Shan’tee (the conceptual beings) on the wonder planet of Waputki had found a way to cross species, and was busy infecting Dr Allegra, the leading researcher at the Presley Foundation (yes, really), with some pretty horrific visuals showing the advance of the corruption.
The one thing you need to know about issue 2.2 is boy is it pacey. I mean, there’s pacey, and then there’s run around, never breathe, bullet train storytelling, and that second is the area we’re in here. Just pages from the end of the story you’re still not sure how the whole thing’s going to go, with the Doctor off on a signal relay station where the Nocturne virus seems to have originated, in the company of an asexually generated copy of the friendly Shan’tee known as Smokey (still keeping up?), trying to find and eradicate the source, while at the Presley Foundation, things get grimmer and grimmer as the transforming Dr Allegra begs to be killed and a herd of Nocturne-terrified Bovodrines (that’s flying space cows, to you) batter the Foundation in their fear. It looks as though the Doctor will be too late to save everyone this time round, and there’s a doom-laden Fires of Pompeii vibe as everyone (almost including us – the pacing doesn’t give us a moment to step outside the action and think rationally, a neat trick from Abadzis and Carlini) wonders if this might be a time when the Doctor arrives with a miraculous solution just a little too late to save the world of Waputki from the Nocturnes of Death.
So – tightly plotted, and paced like a runaway horse then. What else do you need to know about this story of musical mayhem? Well, let’s take a moment to give Carlini her due. There’s a lot demanded of the artist that would tackle this story – several different environments, including the Presley Foundation, the outside of Waputki, the Tardis, the gloomy relay station, and the space background as the Tardis flies. Her Tardis work is exquisite, her space background is vivid, with the Nocturne signal especially given a primary visual cue in a sharp red waveform cutting through space itself. The relay station, in the grand tradition of on-screen abandoned or powered-down space-crates, is gloomy but highly detailed – you believe in its disrepair – while the Presley Foundation feels vital and alive and full of panicky sweating people by comparison. Of special note is the subtlety with which she renders different environments within the Foundation – there’s some challenging conceptual work here, with people inside force fields and people outside them, with our viewpoint given, almost because she has the skill and is confident of it blowing our minds, from a position that shows the different effect of the unfiltered world and the shielded world within the same panel. You need your sense of vision and perspective well and truly screwed on to deliver something like that, but Carlini not only delivers it, she almost throws it away – it’s there in some scenes, but the panel’s not enlarged to give a fanfare to it. It’s not ‘look how clever I am’ artwork, though in other hands it could be. It’s workmanlike, ‘this is the world you’re in’ artwork, and it makes you respect Carlini’s professionalism that she makes that choice, the difficult choice, twice in one panel. There are a couple of impact panels where all the actual background is removed and either left white or painted with a lattice of coloured dots or crosses – again, it’s a brave pop art technique that works by virtue of the confidence with which it’s presented and the quality of what Carlini makes you focus on – even something as simple as an outstretched hand, or two people arguing.
The character work is more stylized here than in some other comics, and it remains an issue a year on that David Tennant’s supposedly quite photogenic face appears to be insanely difficult to capture with a realistic likeness, but in terms of the narrative tone of the artwork, Carlini’s on great form here. Nor can we let this issue pass without highlighting the work of Ianniciello and Florean on colourist duties. While the narrative tone is strong in Carlini’s artwork, there’s enormous intelligence on display in the use of colour here – space shown not as an endless blackness but, close to a superstructure, glowing with a purple beauty. The use of red light close to the Nocturnes’ source, as contrasting with the pale pastel purples and mauves of areas where the Shan’tee sing, underpins the visual logic of the storytelling, and in particular the work as the Doctor battles behind another force field to trap the Nocturne on (of all things) a tablet and the world becomes more and more a cacophony of angry red confusion is superbly done. We said the force field work wasn’t given any fanfare, but what Carlini, backed up by her colourists, does give us is a glorious slash-divided full panel of the Tenth Doctor playing a keyboard, music swirling around him, and it feels so definitively Tenth Doctor you really wish it could have been captured on-screen, the Tenth Doctor informing the musical sensibilities of his Twelfth incarnation, the Rock Doctor ahead of time, as it were.
All in all, this two-parter has been a thing of high-concept, mentally challenging storytelling. The story itself feels like just another day with the Doctor and Gabby, the fact that the solution is cut very very close at the end another in a daily series of perils and wonders when you travel in the Tardis. But beyond that, The Singer Not The Song has been a statement of ambition and a demonstration of skill – it’s Titan’s declaration that they’ve done a year of this now. They know what they’re doing. And on the basis of this punchy, furiously-paced and visually stunning story, the plan is to outdo their former glories in year two.
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