Tony believes a teenager can fly.
The end of the three-issue Doctormania story led readers straight into the Ninth Doctor’s next dilemma – the seeming return of someone for whom he doesn’t care, to add complications to his life.
The opening page of this issue makes it clear that things are much, much worse than that, and much, much more complicated. We’re in territory here that was once assayed by Douglas Adams. ‘What if,’ he posited, ‘there are all these different dimensions where every possibility is played out. And you’re Macbeth. The witches give you the idea of murdering your king and stealing the crown for yourself. Now in one reality you listen to them, become king, and eventually face Macduff, who’s more than a little put out by you murdering his family. But suppose you’re the version of Macbeth who doesn’t kill the king, who shakes it off and serves his leader faithfully, growing to be a much-loved thane.
‘And then imagine the Macduff from one of the other dimensions, where you killed his family, crosses over to yours. You’d be walking along one day, entirely innocent, when this madman with a claymore leapt out at you, determined to kill you in revenge for the family you murdered. Except you didn’t.’
In other words, in the timey-wimey world of Doctor Who, what happens if your future comes back to bite you before you’ve done the things you need to do to have the future that wants you bitten?
Welcome to the mind of Cavan Scott, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s play!
Scott uses the closed Tardis door and a little something more to separate the Ninth Doctor from Jack and Rose in this issue, and balances the storytelling weight well between both threads, each of which finds a way to twine themselves around the world of San Francisco in 2016. But this is a San Francisco with Weird Stuff happening, of which the least conspicuous – and probably the most explanatory – is that the Northern Lights have popped down for a visit at the relatively low latitudes of the city.
There are some gorgeous touches in this issue, both in terms of storytelling and visuals, with at least two callbacks to Classic Jon Pertwee stories and one bizarre but pleasing call-forward to a David Tennant forward, giving a sense of the Doctor’s universe as a single fluid, connected thing, in the same way that the recent New Monsters, Classic Doctors set did. But there’s also an intriguing central mystery, with teenagers who apparently have gained the power of flight, and creatures that might be one thing, and might be another, but (it’s revealed before the end of this issue) are actually something else again, which complicates the Doctor’s usual problem-solving methods more than somewhat.
On top of the flying teenagers and mysterious creatures, there’s some heavy duty web of time stuff to contend with in this issue, with timelines creaking under the strain of existing where and when they shouldn’t and, in a riff on the Big Finish idea of the Wrong Doctors, it deals with the idea of the whole wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey universe by having a Doctor turn up to solve a problem – ‘but probably not the one you were expecting.’
Storytelling is an art that will often let you get by simply by working the numbers. ‘Let’s put the Doctor and X together and see what unfolds.’ But the stories with really interesting ideas will still shine brighter, because you’ll appreciate as you read them that they’re ideas that you couldn’t have had. That’s the territory we’re in this time around – the idea has been hiding in plain sight for years, but it takes a very special mind to actually see it, and work it, and write it in a way that balances its mysteries. The Ninth Doctor series so far has always taken the time and the opportunity to delve beneath the surface of the actual story being told and give us something extra, and this issue’s no exception – yes, it’s crammed with Whoish elements, but it’s also got that philosophical angle of the future coming to bite you and the discrete tapestry of events that makes a timeline going for it, that will leave you thinking for days after you read it.
Artistically, Cris Bolson does good work here in bringing in another Ninth Doctor-era character from whom so far we’ve heard nothing in the comic-book world – they’re highly recognisable immediately, and there are other treats along the way in flashback sequences (Torchwood fans, prepare to have some fun). The ‘villains,’ if we can call them that, are artistically close enough to another species to deserve a name-check, and the other humans we encounter, while they’re never going to win Robert Holmes awards for Secondary Characters at this stage, are drawn with enough difference as to be memorable as individuals. Bolson’s artwork also helps balance the up-rush to the cliff-hanger in this issue beautifully – Scott’s words revealing something, just at the moment where Bolson’s art reveals the true nature of the stakes. It makes for one of those cliff-hangers that is less punch in the face, more sudden stomach-lurch. There’s every likelihood that after that stomach-lurch, you’ll start playing the closing theme in your head, because it works to drive you spare with worry, just like a proper Who cliff-hanger should.
So far, the Ninth Doctor comic-book series hasn’t put a foot wrong in 2016.
It still hasn’t. Get down to your comic-book supplier of choice and make nice. Pick up The Ninth Doctor #4 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
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