The Eleventh Doctor’s second year at Titan Comics has been an almost insane escalator, on every step of which there’s been a blast from the past – we’ve encountered a past Doctor, a past companion that can’t be remembered, the psychopathic wonder that is Abslom Daak, a Tardis from the eighties, a vast battlefield of Sontarans, killing each other for differences of view about the correct facial hair for potato-headed clone warriors this year, and then a companion it will – for better or worse – be forever impossible to forget. At the very beginning of all this, the Doctor was on trial for a genocide he supposedly committed during the Time War, but again, can’t remember, and since then he’s been outrunning a truly original and not a little creepy creation called The Then And The Now, a creature that wilfully destroyed its own timeline (is it me, or does that sound like something that both the Doctor and Daak might have at some point been mad enough to try?).
And now the Doctor and his increasingly full Tardis (he does like collecting, the Eleventh Doctor) are off to break into the most impossible place in the universe. Bank of Karabraxos be dammed, we’re talking about an impossible prison, trapped inside an impossible quantum wall. To get past that kind of immovable object, you pretty much need to throw the unstoppable force at it.
Really, really hard.
The thing about forgetfulness is that if it doesn’t come naturally, you have to work extremely hard at it. And what becomes clear by the end of this issue is that the Doctor has worked extremely hard to forget a thing. Not necessarily the Time War, or the genocide, or the Squire, but the thing behind the impossible quantum wall, where there just might be a Tardis from the eighties – or indeed, there might not. The thing, when you see it, or more accurately when you hear it described, will send yet another shiver of escalation down your geeky spine, because almost the very point of this thing is that it’s intended to be forgotten, because if it isn’t, some damn fool is bound to try smashing the unstoppable force at the immovable object to get at it – and that’s a really, really bad idea. This thing is not so much The Then and the Now as the Then and the Really Best Left The Hell Alone.
So – as the Eleventh Doctor would be bound to say – let’s go and poke it with a stick. Or, y’know, a chainsword. That probably works too, it’s just a bit messier, and…urgh…
Really, in terms of plot escalation, it’s as though the folks at Titan got to the end of the epic Year 1 arc, scratched their heads for a moment, had an idea, grinned a slightly mad grin, turned all the engines to maximum, looked straight down the imaginary camera lens of their lives and said ‘OK… let’s really see what this baby can do.’ We’d say writer Rob Williams had run off with the year’s supply of ambition pills if we didn’t know there was a Twelfth Doctor story by Robbie Morrison waiting in our inboxes that was looking pretty bloomin’ ambitious too, last time we checked. What perhaps is the most remarkable thing about the already enormously convoluted Eleventh Doctor Year 2 storyline is that it absolutely shouldn’t work, but indisputably does. There’s something almost galling about that level of cleverness, and it’s probably simple jealousy that somebody else has had the brain to think of it. If you wrote the storyline down as a sentence, it would look absurd in the extreme, and your English teacher would send you home with a D-, because it would have far too many ‘subjects’ in it. But in the episodic form of a Doctor Who story, what you have is not a rambling string of subjects, but a daisy chain of escalating stakes and potential terror. The Doctor on trial for a crime he committed in a previous life is high concept enough. The Then and the Now is a madly inventive temporal danger, even if it’s not technically a villain. Abslom Daak was always brilliant, is brilliant and will always be brilliant, beyond question. The idea of going back into the Time War to find out what happened is bold. The malarkey with the eighties Tardis is thrilling. The issue with the hirsute Sontarans is…not a little mad, actually. The central pick-up of this issue is both mad and oddly par for the course by the time we read it, but certainly has the Eleventh Doctor right down deep in its bones. And the reveal at the end of this issue is…
We’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s like one of those moments in New Who when you had to double-blink at the screen, and swallow a dry mouthful of spittle, and whisper to the fanboy or geek-girl in your heart the mystical words ‘Holy crap, they’ve only gone and done it!’ When the Metaltron lit up in the darkness of Van Staten’s vault and you clapped your eyes on a brand new bronze Dalek for the first time. When the sphere opened in Torchwood and you realised you were watching a Daleks Vs Cybermen story. When you first realised that Derek Jacobi’s sweet old Professor Yana was really the Master in disguise. When you heard the voice of Julian Bleach and saw the one blue eye of Davros in the dark. When Gallifrey appeared in the sky above the Earth. When the words ‘Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor’ appeared on screen. When the Eighth Doctor arrived with the words ‘I’m a Doctor – but probably not the one you were expecting.’ When the Twelfth Doctor stepped out onto the surface of Gallifrey. Take the feeling of those moments, and prepare yourself, because the ending of this issue is up there with them.
There – that wasn’t oversold at all, now was it?
Still though, for Classic fans, it’ll probably have been justified.
In terms of the artwork, we’re prepared to bet a pair of Tom Baker underpants that Simon Fraser read a bit of Dan Dare in his youth. Or, y’know, last Thursday, whichever was earlier. There are a couple of glorious plays on the Pilot of the Future in this issue. In fact, let’s come out and say it – the Doctor stole Dan Dare’s spacesuit. Whichever of the two contentions is the accurate one, it delivers a loving tone of space adventure and mad derring-do to the storyline here which fits absolutely with what the Doctor actually has to do (Please, please, please let us run into the Mekon behind the impossible quantum wall – we could die happy of an ultimate geekgasm if that happened), and the Doctor’s latest pick-up is rendered in a way that makes it clear it could be nobody else, the character evoking solid memories in anyone interested enough in Who to be reading this review. Fraser also delivers some killer action panels - the Tardis screaming through space, the quantum wall, The Then and the Now - and some great monochrome panels to highlight particular moods as the Doctor does something either cataclysmically stupid or staggeringly clever (or possibly, given this is the Eleventh Doctor we’re talking about, both together). If we’re absolutely, nit-pickingly honest, there’s Daak, who stands up to scrutiny most of the way through this issue, but who just occasionally has the look of having forgotten who he is, and in one crestfallen panel bears more than a resemblance to the Squire (Hmm…female Daak, companion of the War Doctor. Yes, that could work…). But that’s a niggle the size of a gnat’s migraine in a storyline that’s given us enough to think about, and enough to gorge our eyeballs on in six issues to last us for the whole of this Who-free wilderness year. And clearly, given the reveal at the end of this issue, it’s really not finished yet.
Run to your comic-book store and smash the unstoppable force that is money into it to get the Eleventh Doctor Year 2.6 today. Go on, your brain deserves a boggle.
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