Mad Chinese dragon-style mood-dogs. David Bowie as a Tardis traveller (or near as dammit). A regenerated Uber-Bessie. Robert ‘sold his soul to the Devil’ Johnson. A black, female Eleventh Doctor. A companion made of what looks like Silly Putty. An entity that can give you whatever you desire. The theme park of death. A war between two races rapt in wonder. The Doctor turning evil. World of the happy smiley zombie people.
If you’re just joining us in the adventures of the Eleventh Doctor in Titan Comics, that’s just a quick summary of some of the stuff you’ve already missed.
About that whole ‘book early to avoid disappointment’ thing.
Fortunately of course, Titan’s a full-service bunch of groovers, and when enough issues of a Doctor Who comic have been released and you’ve either bought them or somehow missed them, the company releases a collected edition. So you can still catch all the mood-dog, David Bowie, Robert Johnson Uber-Bessie, Evil Doctor, female Doctor Silly Putty theme park of happy smiley zombie people death action in Volumes 1 and 2 of the collected editions of the Eleventh Doctor comic-book.
And now there’s another one.
Bet you’d like to know what’s in that one, wouldn’t you?
Let’s see – it’s difficult to pick a headline, really. God-fearing, vision-showing Cyber-armies? The first Christian Roman Emperor, and why he changed the world? A self-writing story-virus? The Tardis splitting in four? The Tardis locking the Doctor out and disappearing into time and space. The Doctor’s mother popping back to remonstrate with her errant son?
All that and more is here in Conversion, the third collected edition of Eleventh Doctor comic-books, and the one that finally, no, really this time, puts the cork in the bottle of the ServeYouInc storyline that took so gorgeously long and twisty a path to tell, you could mistake it for a Moffat season of hardcore Matt Smithery.
In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that you might well gain a clearer appreciation for all the subtlety and nuance of the Matt Smith Doctor from reading these comic-books than you’d get from rewatching his on-screen seasons. The whole reality of the tireless work he put in during his time in the Tardis is somehow clearer in this two-dimensional format than it is on-screen, the strands less cluttered and yet equally or sometimes more rewarding, frenetic, and powerful. Perhaps that’s the ultimate accolade: You’ll know and understand the Eleventh Doctor better reading these comic-books.
The storyline here involves quite a lot of travelling through space chasing something enigmatically called The Entity, in the intimate company of its detached brain (did we mention the comic-books are able to take more creative risks than the on-screen show, being limited only by the imagination of writers and artists?). Along with someone who’s David Bowie in all but lawsuit and a library assistant from Hackney, London. The main thrust of the story involves a Doctor trying to recover from an episode of selfishness, and the struggle of those around him to try and trust the bow-tie wearing young professor of time and space again. The most action-packed episodes include an enormous Cyber-invasion of the Earth, with Cybermen enhanced by the power to show you the things you want most in all the world. That’s where we meet Constantine the Eventually Great, as he becomes both a Christian and the undisputed Emperor of Rome. The Doctor’s response to that threat is what gives us the idea of there being a bunch of Cybermen somewhere in the galaxy fervently believing in a Cyber-God (Oh please let that be a future on-screen story), but it’s also another black mark of mistrust for Captain UltraChin, and it’s an action that makes the Tardis run off and leave him to think about his actions, stranded in fourth century Rome, while another of his friends is in mortal danger and apparently beyond his help.
The writing, from Al Ewing and Rob Williams, is almost ridiculously good. Honestly, you’ll read it and your mouth will drop open, as you ask why they don’t write for the on-screen Who. Certainly, knowing what we know about the on-screen version, these two have got an impeccable ear for Matt Smith’s Doctor, because his lines are crafted in such a way that there isn’t one of them that goes into your head without a Smithian voice track. Meanwhile, Smith’s Doctor is clearly eminently drawable, beyond ‘Big chin, floppy hair,’ because Simon Fraser, Boo Cook and Warren Pleece render him in all his moods in very recognisable ways here – again, reading this comic-book will help you identify everything you know about Matt Smith’s Doctor but had never particularly thought about – there’s the bandy-legged Chaplin walk, there’s the pointy-finger, there’s the considering face, there’s the rage, there’s the suddenly intent stare, there’s the collapsed-souffle face of realisation that something bad is happening – all nailed into two dimensions for you, and accessible in a much more immediate, intelligible way: the comic-books allow you to recognise these things as ‘things’ – parts of the Eleventh Doctor’s make-up, where on screen, they can sometimes pass you by as part of stories.
In particular, apart from the Cyber-story, look out for Chapter 11 here, called Four Dimensions. This allows Boo Cook on artwork and Hi-Fi on colour to really show off their skills, with pages split beyond the normal panel-structure, and sections delivered in monochromes, to indicate four separate environments. Beautiful, evocative stuff. There’s beauty of another kind too in later panels of the Doctor’s sadness and contrition, which takes the story full circle to when Alice Obiefune first met the Doctor, as he crashed colour into her ash-grey life of mourning for her mother. She’s able here to repay the favour when he loses the Tardis (to his mother – we mentioned that, right?), and feels entirely unable to move forward again. If the ultimate test of a companion is the effect they have on the Time Lord, then all three of the members of this Tardis team have done excellent work – there are plenty of occasions throughout the long story arc of ServeYouInc where they have saved the Doctor in some way or other, but this last one from Alice is particularly poignant, galvanising the Doctor for a moment of older man self-definition and surety, defeating his own self-doubts and guilt with the help of her belief in him.
Conversion is a must-have for Collected Issue fans, but it’s also pretty special if you’ve been collecting the issues one by one – not only is there a sense of more permanence having the collected issues on your shelf, but (and this was a delicious surprise), you also get the ‘Free Comic Book Day’ release, Give Free Or Die, which you’ll have missed if (like us) you were simply going issue by issue.
So update your complete collection – get Conversion today.
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