Tony’s punching the air.
The first thing you need to know about The Tenth Doctor #2.13 is that you’re probably going to need to strap on your Helmet Of Extreme Quantum Cleverness if you actually want to make any kind of sense of what’s going on. There are bubbles of mirror universe to contend with, there are superclusters and Timeline Manifold Barriers. There are trips to the deep, deep early time before the universe was half its current size. And there’s a slick slipstream of Tenth Doctor motormouthed technobabble besides, so yes – Helmets of Extreme Quantum Cleverness on, if you please. Or, y’know, you could just do the companion thing, nod politely and ask for an English translation.
That said, before all the mad Quantum Cleverness kicks off, you’ve got a solid half an issue of Human Stuff. After the emotional cataclysm of the Nocturne episode in 1920s New Orleans, with Cindy losing the man she was coming to love, the Tardis trio (don’t blame us, they’re actually known as the Tardis Triumvirate in the comic itself!) pop home to modern-day New York for a bit of R&R and a grilling by the companions’ respective mothers. Gabby’s Mama, Maria is somewhere between Jackie Tyler and Francine Jones – welcoming, sure that the Doctor’s a good man, but worried about her girl’s safety in his company, a lesson she imparts to him strongly over a little light palm-reading and tealeaf-wrangling. Meanwhile, Cindy scours the internet for references to her music man Roscoe, finding a single reference to him. In all of Google. His status as a Googlewhack is strangely little comfort to the girl looking for…something. Some validation of his life and its meaning.
If you’ve been keeping up with events over the last year of Tenth Doctor stories, you’ll remember Dorothy Bell, and the adventure of the Big Black Toblerone-Chunk In The Sky. You’ll remember who was behind all that, and you’ll remember how the story ended in a kind of hiatus, with the Doctor promising to help a creature known colloquially as Dogface, as soon as he found a way to do so.
Dogface and Dorothy have been off in a different part of the galaxy since then, building things. Honestly, it’s like they’ve been treating the universe as their own personal bumper Lego set. But every Dogface must have his day, and now, when the Doctor and his companions get on board the Tardis, it appears to be payback time. The Doctor’s more recent adventures, with witches in wells and jazz-loving Nocturnes appear to have taught him a thing or two, and so it’s off to the middle of galactic nowhere.
Annnnd Helmets of Extreme Quantum Cleverness on, everyone. There’s Stuff happening that draws on some of the more recent adventures – Cindy’s severe non-romp in a bubble universe has an analogue in Dorothy Bell’s bubble-universes of potentiality (in one of which, it should be noted, she sees the Tenth Doctor in the most incredible trouble), and Roscoe’s song, Sugar, is heard to emerge from another such bubble, strongly leading to the idea that Dogface might have something to do with their recent troubles. Except Dogface is a good guy.
To undertake a voyage of Extreme Blinking Stupidity into the deep, deep time of the early universe – we’re not kidding; when you read what the mission is, the line that will spring most readily to mind is ‘Well, what could possibly go wrong with this plan?’ - the Doctor and Cindy hop a Tardis ride, while Gabby stays behind with Dorothy and Dogface. It’s fair to say neither story-strand goes according to plan, with the map of the early universe being re-drawn under the Tardis’ outer shell, and Gabby discovering something truly, truly awful.
Truly, truly awful if you’re her, that is. If you’re a reader, what she discovers is a proper, old school Classic Who punch-the-air moment – a moment of ‘Ohhh boy!’ wonder and lurching fear, tinged with intense excitement. Which is why it works superbly well as a cliff-hanger for the next issue. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want – no, need a Tardis of your own, because publishing schedules are bunk and you need to know what happens next right now, darn it!
For nothing even remotely close to the first time, Nick Abadzis gives us a story that delivers that combination – the genuine shiver of fear with a punch-the-air wonder and a need for more. The first half of the story could be seen as excessive by those who don’t like New Who’s ‘soap opera’ elements, but in the context of what’s to come, it’s needed and justified by virtue of being a grounding section, a reminder of familiarity, and love, and domestic complication, and friendship before Things Get Weird. It’s necessary here because, as we’ve said, Things Get Very Weird in a big hurry once Dogface comes back to the fore. But the second half of the story amps and ramps up and up to that double-climax – the Doctor and Cindy lost in a space that shouldn’t be there, and Dorothy and Gabby discovering that all may be very very not-good-at-all in the serene world of the Dogboy.
There comes a point, when you’ve read a lot of comic-books by the same people, when it gets hard to say anything new about them. The artwork here, by Eleonora Carlini and Giorgia Sposito, almost lands us in that territory. Let’s say this – Carlini and Sposito bring atmosphere to the party by the armful – the bustle of New York is something physical in their work, something suitably precise without the headache of forensic detail, something that reaches out and blows your hair back with the energy of the city. It’s artwork you can practically smell – and that translates to Dogface’s world of serenity too, like the Eye of Orion only, as Cindy points out, ‘a bit pointier.’ There’s a semi-Manga influence in their character-drawing, pointy cheekbones and gritted teeth showing that stylistic influence, while they deliver some genuinely beautiful scenic shots of both the city and Dogface’s world. And blimey, but they give good Tardis. Seriously, there are a couple of Tardis shots here that make you yearn for the return of the Tennant time machine – one of which involves the Tenth Doctor performing one of his signature leg-up cross-console course adjustments.
Props are also due to Arianna Florean and Adele Matera on colourwork duties, for helping to really deliver these environments with the right brightness and palette to create the sense of change that gives Doctor Who its journey here – the friendliness of the family world, the alien wonderment of the Tardis, the peaceful greenery of DogfaceWorld and the sharp, dark beauty of space. Between them, the art and colourwork team here bring Abadzis’ balanced but demanding storyline to readers in a way that’s universally accessible.
All in all then, The Tenth Doctor issue #2.13 is one not to miss, not just because it starts off a new section of the story arc, but because it catches up with Dogface and Dorothy, and because the cliff-hanger is punch-in-the-face memorable, and once you’ve read it, you’ll be drooling for more. Allonsy! To the comic-book store!
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