‘She’s very clever, Doctor…I hate her.’It takes real chutzpah to write an issue of a Doctor Who comic-book like this. An issue where all of our heroes go to a space bar, sit down in different groups and talk through how to advance the plot. Even Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer is reduced to sitting down, at a table, with a pint of something orange and not entirely identifiable, for a whole heck of a lot of jaw-jaw.
The Squire, thought to be a companion of the War Doctor’s from the last great Time War sits down to talk to the Doctor about his full Tardis. River reveals why the hell The Then And The Now, the weird hunter which destroyed its own timeline, has such a bee in its timey-wimey bonnet for our Tardis travellers and suggests a straightforward but fairly hardcore solution for its relentless pursuit. And the Doctor himself seems altogether to be in one of his Mr Grumpy phases, striding and moping his way through the issue without very much in the way of reasons to be there, although in true Eleventh Doctor style, he does turn out to have a reason, it’s just not one that can be brought to light without a little bar brawl and some whirring chainsword action.
There’s one of the most preposterous bits of smug-faced psychobabble in the history of the show to open the issue though, to explain how our heroes escape from The Place They Were [Spoilers] with The Thing They Came For [Spoilers], and how they escaped The Dreadful Peril that faced them at the end of the last issue [Spoil – oh wait, you know about The Then And The Now, don’t you?], for which which Si Spurrier should get some sort of Medal from the Time Lord Academy of Smug Bastards, and which prompts the Squire to make the observation with which we started this review, proving incontrovertibly that whatever else the Squire is or isn’t, she’s a longstanding Doctor Who fan.
There’s also a mention of a species that haven’t been heard of since the Doctor wore a much more colourful, far less tweedy ensemble, though to be fair, it seems rather throwaway, and in the grand tradition of Doctor Who throwaway lines make absolutely no sense on any level whatsoever. Still funny though, so let’s take our sonics out of that place our parents told us never to keep our sonics and enjoy the laugh.
The thing about an issue like this is that in the on-screen version of Who, they get away with it, but in a comic-book, this amount of static sitting about and talking could quite possibly try the patience of a whole heap of readers, especially since it takes up all but the initial technobabble and the last page of an issue. But scenes and issues like this are actually necessary. They allow us to process everything that’s come before and shift the dynamic of both our knowledge and occasionally our personnel, then head off in a new, story-advanced direction to deal with the next Big Drama. Effectively, that’s what happens in this issue too, the Doctor processing what they’ve all done, and possibly – though this may yet prove to be an enormous red herring – pondering on his own potential guilt of the crime he was accused of that kicked off this whole Year 2 saga – the destruction of the Cyclors, allowing the Malignant (or as Daak rather endearingly calls it, ‘the, whaddayacallit, the creepy black goop thingy’) to wipe out the Overcast.
There’s another rather dangerous game played in this ‘resting’ issue by Spurrier. Just as arguably it wasn’t the best idea, back in the 1980s, to bring Doctor Who back from a long hiatus with a story that put the Doctor himself on trial, so it could be said to be a risky idea in this issue to bring Abslom Daak face to face with a figure from his past, who acts essentially as prosecutor, reminding Daak of the Dalek Killer he used to be, the force of unconquerable savagery who even made the Daleks, lords of all the universe, shake in their casings at the mention of his name. His accuser compares that Daak, that unquenchable badass, with the Daak he sees today, travelling with a tweedy dude in a bow-tie, an old woman and a library assistant, and finds him distinctly wanting in badassery. That might well chime with readers, who, thrilled as we’ve been to see the return of Daak to the world of Doctor Who, are still waiting for him to break out and get properly Daakish, if nothing else to justify his return. In a full Tardis, it’s frequently been difficult to find Daak the space he needs to be anything more than a commentator on the gibber and the softness of others. Perhaps that will abate in the issues to come though, because there’s a significant revelation for Daak himself towards the end of the issue that could see him play a larger role. And, in a semi-spoiler, we don’t leave this issue with quite as full a Tardis as we had when we arrived, so perhaps that will give Daak the space he needs to go Full Metal Dalek-Killer. The story does seem to be coming round full circle though, given the final page poster-style reveal, which brings back Mr Gloopy but takes it significantly on from the last time we saw it, in a way that makes it rather more familiar and perhaps gives us an extra clue of what the hell has been going on all this time.
Warren Pleece, on artwork, doesn’t have an awful lot to do in this issue, to be absolutely fair to him. Sitting at tables does not a visual banquet make, though he gives some good ‘memory action’ at the start and that creepy ending, and clearly has some fun breaking out with a Daak-fuelled bar fight at one point. But is the point of this issue is to breathe and then advance the storyline at the end, Pleece more than does his bit, in particular making the face from Daak’s past visually interesting while they do their whole ‘J’accuse!’ thing and give both Daak and the Doctor somewhere new to look and something new to do in the matter of The Overcast Vs The Doctor.
Downtime is never going to set the comic-book world alight – that’s not its function. A few issues ago, we were almost begging for a plateau after the fairly constant doubling-down of stakes and visuals and elements from the on-screen past and the uniquely comic-book version. Downtime is that plateau, so grab a tanker of something nourishing, take a breath, maybe leave one of your friends behind after they misinterpret your stroppiness, find a new reason to be alive and new Big Bad to hone your chainsword on. With Spurrier and Pleese at the helm, we confidently expect there to be more Mind-Bending Bad Stuff To Run Away From, Very Fast along any minute now.
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