‘And one of them will die!’When the Tenth Doctor had a full on-screen Tardis, this promise got us all worked up to watch Journey’s End and see which one of the Doctor’s companions would bite the vortex.
Yes, there was tragedy along the way, but there were those who felt a bit swindled when ‘one’ was sent back into a different dimension and ‘one’ was reverted back to the state she was in before ever knowing the Doctor, but no-one actually died in the traditionally accepted sense of ‘not moving about, and starting to smell.’
So let’s be clear about one thing at the outset of issue #2.10 of the Eleventh Doctor comic-book series. Now the Eleventh Doctor has a full Tardis again, with four companions, and by the end of this issue, one of them will absolutely, definitely, seemingly unequivocally die!
Suitably perked up and ready to read, are we?
In terms of its pacing, the Second Year arc of Eleventh Doctor stories went tearing out of the gate for almost its first half-year, building surprise on surprise, classic addition after classic addition – The War Doctor and his companion, Abslom Daak, the Master’s 80s Tardis, Sontarans with rubbish beards, a Time Lord prison, the Time War, River Song, you name it, the first half-year threw it down in two dimensions, illustrated the ever-living bejesus out of it and sold it to us as a fantastic comic-book event.
The second half of the year has been rather more calm, with lots of talking and rather less by way of psychotic chainswording action. It’s also seen the Eleventh Doctor being increasingly mean to his tried and trusted comic-book companion, library assistant Alice Obiefune, pushing her further and further out of his circle.
The calm ends here.
Alice has borrowed the Master’s Tardis and is aiming to smash it back into the Time War to find the answer to the central plot question – what created the Malignant and destroyed the Cyclors, the crimes with which the Eleventh Doctor was originally charged a lifetime ago, back in issue #1. Crimes allegedly committed by the War Doctor, but not remembered by ‘the man who forgets.’ If Alice can find the answers to those questions, she can get the information the Doctor needs to save River’s life (you’re going to want to run faster than that to keep up with the reasons why), and from there, hopefully, if he’s actually innocent, she can clear the Doctor’s name and maybe, just maybe, get the temporal energy-eating assassin, The Then and The Now to go the hell home, because bless it, as trans-temporal stalkers go, it’s turning into a giant pain in her very particular neck. This is the Year 2 equivalent of ‘Home In Time For Tea.’ Things have gotten very, very complicated, in true Eleventh Doctor, could-have-been-plotted-by-Moffat style.
Things have gotten particularly complicated in the last few issues, since the running around like mad things has tailed off. The Squire, self-proclaimed companion of the War Doctor, in wounding The Then and The Now, has been chronically injured, and now lies in the Tardis under the supervision of a medi-bot. River, having accidentally touched the Malignant, is in a cryo-trance so as to avoid the massive inconvenience of being killed by something she doesn’t understand. Daak, who revelled in Alice’s secret idea of going back into the Time War because his life as a Dalek Killer is more than a little meaningless in an ostensibly Dalekless universe, and at least in the Time War there’d be Daleks to kill, has proven that, while he might make the Daleks quiver in their casings, he can be out-thought by a London library assistant, and has been dumped on the Doctor instead.
So when this issue gets cracking, it gets properly cracking – showing us Alice in the Master’s Tardis, dreaming of her old job at the library and a young boy with a jet black pudding-bowl fringe, then getting distinctly Salvador Dali in the old time machine. The Alice arc here is not only visually gorgeous, Simon Fraser rendering the timey-wimey, almost Cheshire Catlike action as something talks to her in the Master’s Tardis in a series of beautifully curved illustrations, and Gary Caldwell bucking the norm and using luscious purples, blues and whites curves to bring them to life. It’s intellectually gorgeous too, as we try really really hard to connect things that we know, in retrospect, are going to be appallingly obvious and meaningful.
Meanwhile, Daak’s… well, unhappy suggests there’s a happy version of Daak, which unless he’s killing Daleks doesn’t seem to apply, but he’s particularly less than thrilled to be left behind with an Eleventh Doctor who seems to him to have driven the nice librarian lady away by the sheer force of brainboxery and meanness.
Whether that’s what’s actually happened or not, there’s a great confrontation between the Doctor and Daak here, the angry, snappy Eleventh Doctor entirely a match for he of the whirring chainsword. It brings the two archetypes of Dalek-fear slamming against each other in their most honest, vicious, mutually disapproving scenes yet this year, the Eleventh Doctor finally staking his claim to stand alongside previous incarnations like the Seventh when faced with the reality of Daak. It’s electrifying stuff, and you don’t want to miss it.
You want more electrifying stuff with the Eleventh Doctor? It’s here too, as – in case you missed it – one of the companions dies, flying directly, almost perversely in the face of what he here describes as the ‘first and most important rule of being the Doctor – the companions do not die.’ The one who dies doesn’t do it without a good deal of venom-spitting fury and desperation on the part of the Doctor, who tries everything to save them. Matt Smith was perhaps never bettered than when letting the old man inside the young body pour out of him like wildfire, and there’s a good solid dose of that Eleventh Doctor in this issue from Rob Williams, the Eleventh Doctor that makes you want to jump out of your seat and do whatever you can to help, to save the people important to him, to save him from having to face again the agony of the Time Lord who outlives all his friends.
You want more reason to buy this issue? That’s not even the cliff-hanger. The Eleventh Doctor and Abslom Daak at each other’s throats isn’t the cliff-hanger. Alice dealing with the darkness of the Master’s Tardis isn’t the cliff-hanger. The death of a companion isn’t even the cliff-hanger. Well, it is and it isn’t. The death seems to come as an aftermath to what feels like the real cliff-hanger.
We’re betting you’re going to want to see the cliff-hanger.
As well as giving us a fever-pitched final moment on which to squeal until next time, the cliff-hanger has the sense of coming full circle, of explaining more than we can as yet entirely guess at.
You’re not going to want to miss this issue for all these reasons – fury-spitting Daak and Doctor action, Alice alone in the Master’s Tardis with a mad plan, somebody dying, and that cliff-hanger, along with Fraser’s powerful artwork, and the import of the aftermath. What can be absolutely guaranteed though is that having come with the story across the continuum of a full year of issues, it’s unthinkable you’d miss the next issue. Get a sleeping bag and a supply of chocolate and prepare to camp outside your comic store’s front door for the next issue – things are about to get cataclysmic, people.
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