Tony hears the heavy heavy monster sound.
The Nocturnes were a pretty philosophically cool idea when they were first introduced – conceptual beings taking form in the physical universe as ‘evil sound.’ It’s interesting to think about them and realise the impact of an individual writer – give an idea like ‘evil sound’ to Steven Moffat and what you’d probably end up with is a creature that hides in all the sounds children think are monsters, but that every parent tells them are ‘just the bedsprings. Just the pipes. Just the wind.’ Give the same idea to Mark Gatiss and what you’d probably end up with is an ancient evil recorded on the string-pull voice of a child’s toy, or, for a modern variant, a children’s TV show with a killer theme tune. Give the same idea to Russell T Davies and you’d end up with…well, with Midnight, actually.
Nick Abadzis used the Nocturnes first in a suitably ethereal and ‘heavy on the effects’ outer space world, with floating song-cows and a virus that transmitted itself from conceptual beings called the Shan’tee to humans, growing more real and more slavering along the way. With this new story though, he’s created a kind of origin story for the species that has brought them right down to Earth in a literal sense – the jazz era, with its atonal scat-wanderings among the fields of musical notes providing a perfect birthing chamber for a sound-form that wants to eat everything else in the universe.
That gives Abadzis a chance to hit the reader with some hard lessons about human interactions – Cindy Wu, the latest Earth-girl to become a friend of the Doctor’s, has also been getting friendly with a hot musician named Roscoe, who’s become a prime pawn in the birth of the Nocturne-King, the first of their kind, which seems to resist all the ideas the Doctor can throw at it. There’s more than a hint of the Invisible Enemy here, a parasitical life-form with a hugely high opinion of itself being about to engulf the planet Earth for an hors d’oeuvre and move on to bigger and better things. But, as we say, there are lessons to learn along the way.
The lesson that if you stand close to the Doctor, the universe is going to try and kill you or maybe, just maybe those you love, feels like an established part of the Doctor Who mythos by now, but it was really only in the time of the Tenth Doctor that it became so integral a part of the show’s central core, so getting a refresher course in that lesson here feels intrinsically like the right move, the right place and time and Doctor to do it with. But there’s a more important lesson here – a lesson of trust, and of seeing things you can’t unsee.
The Doctor, seeming defeated in New Orleans, nips ahead two days to Chicago, where the Nocturne, through the bodies of Roscoe and Paradisa, another hot musician smokin’ up the town, intends to get itself recorded, broadcast and rebroadcast – the equivalent of a spawning frenzy for this music-based life-form (It’s really best not to think of music reproducing in your ears, it gets conceptually messy very quickly). And with a little inspiration from a trick Gabby pulled in an earlier issue, he’s found a way to at least imprison the Nocturne-King for a few centuries – till it finds a way out in the story we’ve already read. But here’s the thing. None of that happens till this issue, and it happens after Gabby attacks the Nocturne-King and it paralyses and kills a bunch of people.
When Gabby wakes up, everything seems sorted. But she out-thinks contentment, and guesses what the Doctor’s done: he doesn’t tell her, but he leaves her clues, and that in itself is heartbreaking. Because that’s a symptom of the loneliness of the Time Lord – he’s been ahead, done terrible things, seen terrible consequences, fought the demon and won, or at least called what he’s done a win. And he’s given her a choice – accept the gift of not-knowing, his gift to the world…or see the clues, make the choice to go with him, and share his burden of knowledge. It speaks to the fundamental Tenth Doctor, this writing from Abadzis – the Doctor hugely aware of his burden, his responsibilities, but masking it all with a cheery smile, and inviting the universe never to notice what he’s done on its behalf.
There are dark moments in this issue, not only involving the death of beloved characters, but moments that give a human being – that give us, through Gabby as the companion – an insight into the terrible loneliness of what it means to be both powerful and moral in a cold, unfeeling universe. Sometimes that means lying even to your nearest and dearest, involving them in fictions to spare them further pain. It’s an extraordinary viewpoint, and here it makes the Doctor look like a hospice nurse to the whole universe, cheering its days with a smile and a silly story, to divert it from the imminent departure of its light. As the Eleventh Doctor was eventually to say, ‘It all fades so fast. I’m running to it, before it’s gone.’
Potent, emotional, punch-in-the-gut stuff this time out from Abadzis then. What about the artwork? Georgia Sposito has proved an asset to the world of comic-books by virtue of a degree of faithfulness to the task at hand – you want jazz era New Orleans, she’ll give it to you, at least strongly enough in the styles and the feel of the world she renders to make you accept that’s where you are. You want a convincing Tenth Doctor? She delivers that with far greater consistency than you may have become accustomed to. Here, with help from colourists Arianna Florean, Mattia De Lulis and Adele Matera, she flexes her muscles and brings us impeccable Tardis interiors, an interesting new take on dematerialisation in the comic-book medium, rather than the simple fade-out to which we’re accustomed, beautiful cityscapes to give a much-needed beat that allows for a pause for thought between moods, plus wild music-monsters and big explosions. It’s certainly an artistically busy issue, but there is (at the risk of provoking a groan), harmony between Sposito’s work and the story Abadzis is telling – she has the restraint never to overwhelm the storytelling, especially not in an issue with such a heavy message, but always to step up to the plate when required, to lift or dampen the mood according to the beats of the story.
One to buy? Of course – not only does it (at least seemingly) round off a great inventive new story from Nick Abadzis, but it does so in a way that’s intrinsically Tenth Doctor, complete with hidden pain and a human ready, or at least thinking she’s ready, to share his burden of smiling silence. Whether Gabby is really ready for that is a matter of some debate, given the ending of this issue. But that too has a quintessential Tenth Doctor feeling to it, the ‘curse of the Time Lord’ causing pain to those he loves and travels with, but this Doctor needing that connection to stop him feeling so alone, because this Doctor alone, free to brood on his lives and losses, is the route to the Time Lord Victorious, the unleashing of his darkness.
Pick up issue #2.12 today, and remind yourself of the complexity of the Tenth Doctor’s song.
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
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