Tony smells something fishy.
If you’re going to steal, steal from the very best. Then it becomes an homage.
There’s a sense going into year two of the Twelfth Doctor stories that writer Robbie Morrison has squared his shoulders and said “Let’s get wild!”
First, after the long and multi-faceted Rise of Hyperion, this is a straightforward high-octane two-parter. Secondly, we’re back in the world we almost understand – a friend of Clara’s, teaching in a remote Scottish school, gives her a call when things get creepy, and Clara goes to investigate.
Incidentally, this is a remote Scottish school that looks like a castle, where the original builder had noble intentions, and his ancestors thought “Screw that!” Thank you, JK, for the Hogwartian basis of a school called Ravenscaur.
The school is absolutely perfect for intrigue and creepy goings-on – the only road to it floods at high tide, it educates the would-leaders of the Western world, it appears to come complete with a demon headmistress, and it even has a kind of Gilderoy Lockhart games teacher, all bluster about his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, but two twists his ankle the moment something unexpected happens.
The fact that creepy things are happening at the school is extremely well rendered by three early visuals: chalk that writes taunting, threatening things on a blackboard all by itself, with a hint of Listen…if Listen were actually called Murder; some grim-faced children of the damned who force Clara’s friend off the road, and finally, to seal the deal, a leaping fishy creature that seems built half of The Underwater Menace’s Fish People, and half of Venom from the Spiderman comic-books. Effective stuff.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s in a space bar being threatened by horn-headed pirates.
As ya do…
It’s interesting when you think about the Doctor drinking. There are Doctors who would, and Doctors who wouldn’t. You get the sense that the First Doctor would have enjoyed a glass of the local beverage for politeness and the learning experience of it, whereas, for all his twinkly-eyed mischievous darkness, the Second Doctor comes across as strictly a fruit juice sort of Time Lord. The Third Doctor we know enjoyed the finer things in the fermented universe, appreciating many a vintage. The Fourth Doctor gives the first sense of wild nights of enjoyable debauchery in seedy booze emporia throughout time and space, in contrast to which the Fifth Doctor feels like every designated driver you ever had – level-headed, responsible and jusssst a little bit judgy. The Sixth Doctor, like the Fourth, gives that sense of ‘It’s my party and I’ll drink like twenty giants if I want to,’ and in fact in The Wormery, by Big Finish, you even hear him get a tad on the tipsy side. The introduction of the Seventh Doctor’s Scottish burr brings a Calvinistic streak of puritanism, asking usually only for rea or a glass of water, and even stopping Ace from having the drink she so richly deserves. Doctor number Eight has the Byronic look of a dabbler, and the address book of a party fiend, but whether he drinks much as a pleasure is an open question. The Ninth Doctor has the air of a man who stands alone in dark corners at parties, watching all the pleasure of the universe but never quite trusting himself enough to join in – for all we know he can, ahem, dance. Doctor number Ten – born of tea, does at least some great drunk acting and appreciates the partying abilities of the French. As with all the sensory pleasure of the universe, you get the sense that if the opportunity presented itself, the Tenth Doctor would. The Eleventh Doctor is that odd thing – someone who likes the idea of alcohol, but hates the taste, a party animal who’d rather drink something fun and bubbly than anything distilled or fermented – an eight year-old, in fact.
What’s the point of all this? Simple – we discover the Twelfth Doctor in this issue, in the bar on board the Rosette of Sirius, flagship of the Onedin Interstellar line (another deliciously stolen reference), drinking the best pan-galactic gargle blasters in all of time and space. For real – Douglas Adams’ legendary drink, ‘the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped round a large gold brick’ is the rock and roll Doctor’s drink of choice in his off-hours. You just know if he lives long enough, this Doctor’s going to party with the Rolling Stones. Or possibly Caligula.
After dispensing with a bunch of homicidal pirates by the simple act of sliding on his shades – yes, deal with it, the sonic shades are still cool, even though there’s a new screwdriver in town (there isn’t at this point in the comic-book timeline, as Clara’s still travelling with the Doctor), and all it takes is putting them on to outwit the pirates – the Doctor heeds Clara’s call to come and investigate Scottish spookiness (to be fair, you’d think he’d be right in his element). Clara’s friend, Cristel, is nowhere to be seen, so Clara applies for her job and starts working at the school.
Meanwhile, the pretentious games teacher and a gang of schoolboys stumble on something fishy down by the beach, a kind of caviar of the damned. It may well be the last thing they ever do, or it might not – you’ll have to buy issue 2.2 to find out.
But this is what we mean about Morrison going all out – the creepy atmosphere, the coolness and the comedy are all turned up to twelve, and because they’re all on overdrive, they all work in a kind of thrash metal harmony. The story starts out reminiscent of both Listen and The Sontaran Stratagem – someone on the last drive of their life, calling out for help. Clara rushing to investigate brings the Series 9 vibe of irresponsibility, while the Doctor on his own has that same Series 9 sense of a more relaxed Doctor, comfortable with himself and bringing the cool in a way his monolithically-chinned predecessor could never do simply by saying things were cool now. Meanwhile the comedy works as an antidote to the dark and creepy goings-on, and somehow the cheek of stealing as many elements as Morrison does here makes the whole thing work with a wink and a glint in its eye.
We’ve seen Morrison pull incredible work out of the bag several times before in the Titan Who range, but kudos to Rachael Stott on artwork, who seems to hit all the notes required to make this heavy metal symphony work, and hit them dead on – you want creepy Hogwartian castle-schools in the literal middle of nowhere, she’s got you covered. You want comedy with flying horn-headed space-pirates – no drama. In particular, there are a solid handful of panels where Stott’s artwork makes you sit up and take extra-special notice. By no means least of those is the final full-page panel. The thing about that is you already know what’s going to happen, but Stott’s art (ably assisted by Ivan Nunes on colourwork, who gives the whole thing a kind of dank, sea-stinking sense of sub-aquatic life) still manages to punch you in the face with the horror of what happens.
Also, when you buy this comic-book, check out Page 16 – it’s a combination of great landscape work and a complex panel of Clara looking through a car window at a building. The work with reflection there is superb, and promises much going forward into the Twelfth Doctor’s second year of adventures with Titan.
And yes, we said when you buy this comic-book, because let’s face some facts here – either you were going to anyway, or you weren’t but you really should. Not for our benefit, not for Titan’s benefit, but because a) you get so much more than you pay for, in terms of great stories written by writers on the top of their game, and rendered by artists with a fantastic imagination and a budget limited only by time and their mind, and b) if you don’t, you’re missing out on some great extra Who, and it could be a long wait before Series 10 appears on your screen.
Even if you haven’t followed the adventures of the Twelfth Doctor in comic books up to now, buy this comic-book and jump on board – it’s the start of a whole new year, a whole new cycle. What have you got to lose?
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