Sometimes - in fact, with a regularity that’s becoming almost monotonous, given the quality of output by the likes of Big Finish and Titan Comics – you read or hear a story in a non-TV medium and you think ‘Ooooh, I must start a Twitter campaign for an adaptation of that to be filmed.’
Not being a sad git of course, you don’t actually do anything about it (although it has just given me an idea for a future article). But Robbie Morrison’s latest Twelfth Doctor story is right up there in the top ten stories that could fit that bill.
It is, though, surprisingly difficult to tell you about at this stage without spoilering the villains of the piece. Let’s just say they’re a returning villain long overdue an on-screen rematch, and Morrison’s plot for them in this story is better by a factor of ten than the last story in which they actually appeared on-screen. For anyone who’s been paying attention, that should give you enough to work out who they are, without necessarily spoilering the rest of you.
They made a great big stand-up-and-shout-about-it announcement of who they were at the end of the previous issue, and when you do that as a cliff-hanger, you have to re-invest the story with energy immediately when you pick it up again. Fortunately, saying as much to Morrison would be teaching your granny to suck (in this case) slimy, smelly, rather aggressive eggs, and while she might be gone from the TV timeline, there’s still a great energy in Morrison’s writing of Clara – if anything, the Clara of Titan Comics is slightly less likely to irritate people than the on-screen version appeared to do, while for those who loved her, she hits enough of the right notes to get them smiling. Here, she’s shepherding two pupils from Ravenscaur Academy, (isolated Scottish island school for the sons and daughters of ladies, gentlemen and the insanely rich) from a lush, practically pre-historic incubator environment hidden deep beneath the surface of the island, like Journey To The Centre of the Earth, but with grow-lights. Cue peppy chase sequence, bumping into the Doctor, quite a hefty pile of exposition for the new and the uninitiated, along with some great flashback panels from artist Rachael Stott, at least one of which will make fans of the Virgin New Adventures punch the air and dance around the room shouting ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, oh my freakin’ god, yes!’ In our review of the last issue, we were possibly a little unkind to Stott about her rendering of the villains there, though if so, that was unintentional. Rest assured, this issue both explains why they look different from how they did on-screen, and – just as a bonus – gives us a panel of that somewhat signature look, which will make fans of the Target novels punch the air and join the ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, oh freakin’ god, yes!’ conga.
‘Don’t tell me, more twisty-turny, timey-wimey stuff?’
‘Consider that phrase banned from now on – too cutesy by far.’
While it should come as no surprise to anyone that Morrison displays a great ear for the rhythms of speech of the Doctors and companions for whom he writes, there’s been a glorious sense of cheek embedded deep in this story’s bones right from the beginning – castle-like school in an isolated Scottish environment, children of the damned, and so on – but here, Morrison grabs the lapels of Doctor Who legend firmly, and invents a life cycle for a Classic species that is, to be absolutely honest, only of use if you want to tell this particular story. We assume it’s by no means definitive, but merely a way in which their life cycle can progress in extremis. We assume that so we can root them in some sort of general biological sense, but allow them the rather awesome creepiness that this story grants them, a kind of ‘enemy within’ element which could entirely revolutionise the sorts of story you could tell with this species.
There’s a moment too that pays homage to Jon Pertwee’s idea that ‘monsters’ were much more scary if you put them in domestic environments – in fact it comes so close to his idea of finding ‘a Yeti on the loo’ as to be both scary and vaguely comical. But the storyline belts along, only punctuated with these moments because it can be. The face-off, so to speak, of the story makes use of the Sonic Shades (we don’t care, we loved them), and again, Stott does excellent work delivering a shot that was seldom if ever seen on-screen – the view through those shades. But as we predicted last time, the scale of this story in time (and this issue opens with a cogent reminder that we’ve arrived on Raven Isle at a very late stage in this particular game), and in space, means that there’s no simple, contained, Ravenscaur solution – the villains are out there in the world, in positions of power and plenty, they’re not going to be deflected or defeated by anything happening on a remote Scottish island. Understandably then, the issue ends not with a triumph for the Doctor and Clara, despite their being able to alert the world to the threat, but with an escalation and the shifting to an instant war footing. Stott’s rendering of Morrison’s final idea of the issue is simply sublime, and the kind of thing that really persuades you that you want to see this story on-screen. If filmed, it would be one of those signature moments of New Who that make you so grateful for 21st century vision and budgets when interpreting Classic villains.
The escalation to a war footing at the end of this issue also brings with it one tantalising prospect for issue 2.4 – the chance to right a wrong that has for three decades darkened the memory of these villains among Who-fans everywhere. We can’t of course guarantee that will be an opportunity that’s taken. But the chance is there, which in itself will be enough to get us buying the next issue.
What more do you need from us? This issue’s got pace, great Doctor and Clara dialogue, plenty of exposition, a whacking great dollop of escalation, an explanation for the new look of a Classic villain, a storyline that’s bold and wildly inventive, adding creatively to the legend of a species long overdue a return to Who, and a sense of cliff-hanger that makes you feel like an eight year-old again. It’s also got a vivid sense of visual busyness, with little left to vagueness or interpretation. Stott earns every penny of her money here, rendering a range of environments in a way that lets them carry the impact of the storytelling on a first pass, but also makes them interesting enough to examine in their own right on a second reading. Ivan Nunes helps light and shade the whole adventure with intelligence and a sense of real-world ‘rightness’ on colourist duties, and the whole thing zings along and makes you want to read it again and again and again. We’ve often said that you get far more than your money’s actually worth from a Titan Comics Doctor Who adventure. That’s rarely truer than when Robbie Morrison tasks his imagination on your behalf (remember, this is the man who gave us our Comic of the Year in 2015, the Tenth Doctor story The Weeping Angels of Mons. While there’s not a real-world emotional impact here to match that story, for sheer enjoyability and repeat reading, it’s right up there with his finest. Mere money is a ridiculously small price to pay for that.
Go. Go now. Get The Twelfth Doctor Year 2.3 today.
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