Titan Comics: Doctor Who - THE EIGHTH DOCTOR #5 Review

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Tony has something to say.

Josie has secrets!

Ahhhhh, that feels better. Sorry, sometimes the pressure of not spoilering people about Titan Comics releases just gets to be too much, and please note, I’m not about to tell you what her secrets are, because that would not only be spoilering but actively spoiling this issue – and that’d be no fun at all.

For the last part of this five-issue run, the Doctor and Josie are living it up like the mega-rich at a spa with one or two extra-special services. Josie finds it sickening that the universe’s richest inhabitants can take advantage of one particular service to essentially emulate the Time Lords, while keeping the coherence of their personalities intact, but that doesn’t matter very much because sooner, rather than later, there’s a body in the swimming pool and our heroes are conveniently rounded up as scapegoats for what is undeniably a murder.

There are elements in this story which plug straight into a couple of Tenth Doctor stories, George Mann having with his usual skill come at similar ideas from a slightly different direction. Where, for instance, in New Earth, the Tenth Doctor and Rose found a hospital which could cure the sick of any disease, Mann’s vision of the process is rather more sceptical – which is to say realistic – inasmuch as he commoditises the process. The richest of the rich are not so much too big to fail as too big to die.

As in New Earth, there’s a species of servitors to this process, and as in New Earth, the Gallifreyan gets locked up, escapes, and encounters the dark secret on which the immortality trade is based. There’s a similarity too in terms of how the issue develops, a kind of war between the entitled and the underclass, with the former treating the latter with the utter disdain one has for a commodity, and the latter determining their own destiny, based on the Doctor’s intervention, becoming more than the sum of the injuries done them and choosing a pathway for themselves.

It's roughly at this point though that the similarities with New Earth fall away, and Mann’s first five-issue arc for the Eighth Doctor and Josie takes a peculiar turn towards its end-point. We learn a secret from Josie’s history, and she too has to make a choice about the pathway she will follow from now on. When it’s first revealed, Josie’s secret feels like a substantial diversion, but as the issue and the arc draws to its conclusion, we get to make sense of some other outlying details – and there’s a joyful logic behind the whole thing as the reason for the To-Do List they’ve been following is explained. What becomes very clear as this issue moves towards its end is the freshness of Josie as a companion in the best traditions – trusting the Doctor from the very outset and helping put right the chaos her artworks inspired, finding a way to bring peace to warring planets even where the Doctor fails, keeping her integrity in a creepy mirror universe, and here, arguing for the underclass right in the face of those who would use them as resources. Josie has never been afraid to believe in something better than the worst the universe can show her, or to put herself and her values between good people and the harm some in that universe would bring them. She’s very much her own woman with her own mind – which allows her a strong perspective in this story particularly, a strong viewpoint on the matter of life and death.

Oh and towards the very, very end of this story, you might find yourself wanting to run up to George Mann and give him a big hug, because there’s a twist in the tale that makes the whole thing – the whole five-issue arc – utterly irresistible and right. Clever dude, that George Mann.

Emma Vieceli, on artwork duties here as she has been throughout the run, maintains a standard – her Eighth Doctor’s face is only notionally McGann some of the time, but married to Mann’s dialogue for him, it’s enough to sell the idea and give you the voice of the man. Where she’s more successful is in rendering Josie clearly – the blue-eyed, blue-haired firebrand gets a handful of signature panels here, and the richness of Vieceli’s filled environments helps to deliver pace to the storytelling. She also delivers mood with significant success in this issue, working with colourist Hi-Fi to give us for instance a medical, sterile, green tinge for the behind-the-scenes world of the spa’s secret places, for instance, and ramping up the passion of one of the Eighth Doctor’s speeches of principle by splitting the panel-width in four and focusing in, sub-panel by sub-panel, on his eyes and the fire that’s in them.

As you’d expect of a select spa, there’s great use of light and colour here, which helps boost the speed of the read too, giving it a sense of bustle that belies its static comic-book form, and when we go into Josie’s backstory for the revelation of her secrets, the whole thing takes on a kind of fairy tale quality – think Rapunzel and run with it – that helps divorce the past from the present in her life, and highlight the difference between who she used to be, and who her experiences of the universe have made her.

Each issue of the Eighth Doctor’s first run of Titan Comics has been a slice of the diverse universe into which Doctor Who can uniquely take us – alien worlds of phenomenal beauty, Victorian Edinburgh and its dark mirror self, 1920s English gentility and aliens-as-fairyfolk, but in this issue, Mann and Vieceli do more than simply give us more of the same to finish the story-arc, they actually deliver something that explains everything that’s come before in terms of an evolutionary journey, a transformative force in a companion’s life – and, we suspect, in the Doctor’s too. Of course, as Josie and the Doctor learn to connect or reconnect with the importance one life can have, they teach us too – speak up, speak your truth, put yourself between the weak and the cruel. In the most fundamental terms, if Doctor Who ever demands a price of us for all the gems of pleasure it gives, that’s it. Learn the wonder of the universe, and the importance of every individual, and do your bit, as the Doctor would, and as Josie does in this series, to make your corner of that universe a better, safer place for those who want to live in peace. Normally, we’d say the bargain is the obligation to be more Doctor, but just this once, that deserves a twist.

Be better than the world is to you. Be more Josie.

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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