Tony’s sure he left a pot boiling somewhere.
Issue #2.6 is an odd one. At the end of #2.5 there were shenanigans that made it perfectly clear that while it was technically the end of a story within the arc of the Tenth Doctor’s second year, things would pretty much have to pick up where they left off at the beginning of #2.6, and so, after a fashion, they do. It’s a very retro fashion, to be fair, Nick Abadzis choosing to come at his continuation of the story of people and life-forms pitted against one another in a gladiatorial arena made to look like a natural environment from a very different angle, with a different bunch of characters, but still, it feels like a direct continuation.
That said, Abadzis’ angle-shift really does work to make you wonder just what the hell is going on, particularly as, one by one, you begin to recognise who these characters actually are. There are surprises aplenty along the way, as the storyline dips back into the Tenth Doctor’s timeline much further than the previous instalment of the gladiatorial story. For those who were with us all the way, you’ll recognise some old hands as they appear, and when one particular character arrives on the scene, there’ll be air-punching and wounded groaning in almost equal measure. Me, I’m an air-puncher, but groan away if you feel the need.
There’s an artistic and storytelling hark-back too, to issue #2.4, with that whole Clan of the Cave Bear feel it had, and the story is similarly narrated to bring us up to speed by one of its chief protagonists, acting as our window into the more openly gladiatorial world in which we find ourselves in this issue. It lacks some of the poetry of #2.4, because so too does the narrating character, but it’s still an effective way of bringing us in, getting the curiosity-hooks under our skin and dragging us along with the story. The artwork by Eleonora Carlini and the colourwork by Arianna and Azzurra Florean gives the landscapes a sense of watercolour innocence, allowing for the feeling of dissonance to creep up on us again when the beautiful, unspoiled scenery becomes the site of bloody, barbaric conflict. When the Big Bad shows their hand here, there’s also a distinct hat tip due to the letterers, Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt, for making the speech of the villain something entirely different from the normal speech of all the other characters, almost forcing you to put on a ‘Doctor Who Villain’ voice to get the full effect of their dramatic colour-choice.
The final panel of this issue delivers a coup de grace that works less well than it might have done, because there’s a character missing throughout the course of the issue, and we’re waiting for them to make an appearance. Quite what’s happened off-screen to lead to the climax of this issue, we can only imagine, but perhaps perversely, in an issue where there are character revelations early on and fairly consistently throughout, this final one feels like a bit of a fallen soufflé in a Valentine muffin basket. By then though, we’ve already done the whole air-punching/wounded groaning thing, so while a punchy ending would have been an extra gift, it’s not as though we’re remotely short-changed on incident or surprise.
The Arena of Fear, in general terms, has the feeling of a short filler leading to something bigger and better than it has the space itself to deliver, a Sontaran Experiment of a story, essentially. It would be remarkable to think that the story which claimed to end with issue #2.5 could actually come to a conclusion in just another issue’s time after the spin of re-invigoration it’s given here, but in the same way as the Osiran story in Year 1 broke its long narrative into chunks, some longer, some shorter (pause here for anyone who hasn’t read that story to completely lose their mind and back-order it like mad on the basis of it being an Osiran story), so this arena set-up, which felt as though it could have ended neatly at the conclusion of #2.5, seems set to roll on into something bigger as layers of its storytelling onion are peeled back.
For the most part, issue #2.6 has a renaissance feeling – by which I mean it mostly looks backward as an inspiration to move forward. There are lots of gracenotes from previous stories here, melded into something which advances the story, albeit in a way which rather loses its punch towards the end. Arguably, as issues go, you could skip it. But don’t – if nothing else, you’ll lose the moment when one particular character comes back into the Tenth Doctor’s life, and that’s not really something you want to allow to pass you by.
Go get the Tenth Doctor, issue 2.6 today, for that moment of reunion and the convoluted continuation of a story that has hints of The War Games and the Death Zone about it. That can’t be a bad thing in any universe, so what are you waiting for?
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