Tony squints at his reflection.
For the third of the Eighth Doctor’s comic-book adventures, The Silvering gives us a hearty bowl of Scotch Broth, rich and redolent with influences, but stirred and served up in a new and very ‘Eighth Doctor at Big Finish’ style. Before that metaphor gets any more tortured, we’re in the Victorian era – always a favourite for Doctor Who – but just to change things up a little, we’re in Edinburgh, not so much Jack the Ripper territory as Jekyll and Hyde world, and when the Doctor takes Josie to the theatre, they see something they’re absolutely not expecting to see – a conjuror with a very unique trick. Needless to say, he does it with mirrors, and the volunteers he picks from the audience are never quite the same again once they’ve gone into, and come back from, the inside of his looking glass.
As should by now be no surprise, George Mann gives excellent Eighth Doctor, bustling, charming, talking while he works out our dastardly scheme, picks your pocket, reverses the polarity, rescues your prisoners and saves the day, and in this issue, Mann gives us a scope of adventure that’s both intimate and self-contained and yet has the capacity for grand adventure. Going through this particular looking glass, in the best traditions of Alice, leads to a strange and sharp-toothed world of opposites and almosts, and reflections that want to get out. Again, the story’s rich with reference – the MacGuffin may be pure Lewis Carroll, but the idea that what you see in the mirror may not be an accurate reflection of who you think you are is Robert Louis Stevenson all the way. Authors throughout history have of course made use of the potential and the danger of mirrors, because we can’t ever quite escape the minor miracle they represent – reflection, repetition, an avatar of form made out of nothing but light. There’s a touch of Terry Pratchett’s warning slivered through this story – Never get between two mirrors – and a scope of reflection used by Joanna Clarke in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, whole worlds behind the silver of a mirror – but Mann is by no means content to simply use these elements. First of all, he gives his creepy conjurer a cool name – The Silversmith – to cement him as a new contender on the mirror-magic block, and secondly, he adds substantively to the potential ghastliness of mirrors, with a kind of ‘monster’ that would, if rendered on TV, give younger viewers guaranteed nightmares, and something new to be terrified of. That’s perhaps the thing that pushes The Silvering into the category of the extraordinary – as a story, you could make it in so many ways: swap the Eighth Doctor and Josie for two other eminent Victorians, and you have yourself a great spooky Jago & Litefoot story. Swap out for two early 80s weirdos, and it could be very much a Sapphire and Steel story. Fast forward thirty years and the Torchwood team could have their hands full of shadows and reflections. Add in a couple of slower, creepy mirror effect shots and perhaps a companion sub-plot and you could make The Silvering as the kind of scare-the-bejesus-out-of-the-little-darlings Who that we know just warms the cockles of Steven Moffat’s heart. It’s that flexible, and that layered. But it also works perfectly well with Mann’s Eighth Doctor and Josie, heading into the Silversmith’s world in search of a way of undoing all the harm he’s done. There’s a logic to the solution that, once it’s found, allows this to be a perfectly contained, pacy, that’s-that-then one-shot (albeit with an ominous note and a To Be Continued at the end, suggesting there may well be more stories to tell about the Silversmith and his reflections (which, even though it’s never mentioned, I’m going to have a hard time not thinking of as ‘the Slivers’)), but again, you can see the flexibility in the concept – with more space to fill, you could easily make this a two-parter, which just underlines the potential of the idea on which the story hangs.
Another effective, pacey, creepy one from George Mann, then. Again, by now, this should surprise no-one, and indeed probably doesn’t. As for Emma Vieceli, she’s becoming more and more key to the whole feel of the Eighth Doctor in two dimensions, more and more adept at capturing distinctly Paul McGannish faces and expressions, and her panels, ably coloured by Hi-Fi, continue to bring energy and innovation to the storylines – as you might imagine, in a story based on mirrors and reflections, there are some great opportunities to play around with panel design, and Vieceli takes full advantage of those opportunities – there are panels here as if viewed from behind prison bars, panels broken up into crazy paving, panels overlapping and undercutting, and she renders Mann’s creepiest idea in a way that drives its disturbing qualities home to the reader.
If issue #1 was all about nailing the Eighth Doctor to the page, and issue #2 was about exploring more of Josie’s nature while giving them both a great outer space adventure, issue #3 is largely a high-octane Victorian creepfest, with an ending that’s particularly unsettling after all the dark forces have been vanquished.
There’s no question that of the media in which he’s appeared, Big Finish has staked an enormous claim on the personality of the Eighth Doctor, significantly inspired by the books that came before. But issue by issue, Mann and Vieceli are revivifying the Eighth Doctor in the comic-book medium too, bringing new strengths and illuminating existing ones in both his character and the universe in which he travels. Pick up issue #3 now, and you’ll never look in the mirror with quite the same carefree abandon again.
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