Titan Comics: THE NINTH DOCTOR #4 Review

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Tony Fyler has happy eyeballs.

It’s been a good year for the word “Wow” at Titan Comics.

We’ve seen the Tenth Doctor battle Weeping Angels on the battlefields of Mons. That was a wow moment. The Eleventh Doctor battling religious Cybermen and running into his mother? That was a wow moment. The Twelfth Doctor battling an ancient Indian goddess – wow. Back to Ten for a degeneration cliff-hanger and the son of Sutekh. Bit of a multiple wow moment there. Even the Eleventh Doctor’s latest episode has got at least two solid wows in it. And of course, Paul Cornell and Neil Edwards’ stunning, brain-melting Four Doctors series – more wows than you can poke with a fairly big stick.

Pound for pound though, certainly as far as your eyeballs are concerned, the Ninth Doctor #4 is way up there in the wow stakes.

Lee Sullivan’s kickass ‘beams of multiple death’ cover should give you a clue that we’re in multiple wow territory. But my, has Blair Shedd, on main artistic duties for this issue, been taking his vitamins. The only panels that look anywhere near ordinary in this comic-book are those that take place entirely in silhouette, and that’s only because it’s a device we’ve seen from Shedd in previous issues of this comic. The rest – all the rest - is the kind of art that makes you glad you evolved eyeballs. From the word go, with Captain Jack losing touch with Rose on a world about to be roasted by a supernova, through some gorgeously ‘lit’ Tardis panels to sumptuous red and gold vortex chases and a villain portrait shot that you could use as a pin-up, on through visually complex ‘through a force field’ work, another superbly detailed villain shot, another vortex shot that leaves you gasping for breath, a solid ‘angry Ninth Doctor’ shot, and a retrospective montage that brings in some seriously Classic Cybermen and some New Who Sontarans, and on, and on and on it goes, panel after panel, page after page of visual inventiveness, staggering detail, mind-blowing colour (with credit also due to Anang Setyawan) – frankly whatever you pay for this comic-book, it’s simply not enough on the basis of the artwork alone. Buy two copies – one to read, and one to take apart and plaster all over your walls or put in frames: it’s that good.

Of course, the demented brain who came up with all the things that Shedd renders with such vibrancy and style here is none other than Cavan Scott – comic-geek and longstanding Who writer. It feels like more than three issues ago that we began this journey with the Ninth Doctor, and we’ve certainly come a long, long way – and of the four issues so far, it’s true to say this one advances our understanding of everything we’ve seen the most, with the conflict between the Lect (walking metal Kinder eggs) and the Unon (silver centaurs) being put into some kind of proper context (at least from the Unon point of view – there’s a hint here that the Lect may be more victimised than they’ve previously seemed to be). But there are glorious amounts of wow in the story that unfolds here – tales of the Time War, and its aftermath, the scrabble for power to become the new lords of time, time’s new champions. It’s a role the Unon have taken on, and which they seem jealous to protect, stopping other species from messing about with the warp and weft of causality, which is how they come to be in conflict with the Lect, or so it seems. But with the Doctor frantic about Rose (as far as he knows, last seen burning to a crisp), it takes a very great deal of persuasion and a Gallifreyan doohickey to make him take time out to do the Unon’s bidding on a mission involving, if not a crack in the wall, then the same kind of potential catastrophe, and a compromising position with a woolly mammoth. Along the way, Scott treats us to some glorious throwaway lines about all manner of things that will ring bells on the fan-o-meter – learning to speak horse is here, Romana gets a name-check, Jack’s super-powered flirting, ‘time’s champion’ gets a mention too, all while Jack himself is bantering about some of his best friends being delinquents and proving himself a genuine friend of Dorothy’s with a riff on the famous “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” line from The Wizard of Oz.

Scott pulls the threads of his story more tightly together in this issue than in any of the three preceding instalments, and the ending, while in fact visually being a riff on a future TV story, brings the conflict between the Lect and the Unon into much closer quarters than it’s previously been, giving us a solid cliff-hanger to impatiently tap our feet about until issue #5 is released.

When issue #1 of the Ninth Doctor comic-book came out, there was a slight sense of Scott perhaps not having quite enough storytelling elements in it, and leaning a little heavily on the artwork to get him through the course of a whole issue. Three issues on though, the balance has been more than restored, with plenty of action as well as healthy doses of backstory helping propel issue #4 to its climax. That said, Blair Shedd is on utterly superlative form in this issue, meaning you really could buy two copies and not feel hard done-by. With the Unon to some extent explained, hopefully in issue #5 we’ll get some similar insight (beyond the reveal we get here) of their situation, which would certainly explain the ending. After perhaps a slightly slower start to his adventures in the comic-book medium than some of his later incarnations, the Ninth Doctor is really developing a rich and character-consistent storyline that just won’t let you go.

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

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