Tony’s moving house.
Oh. Hell. Yes.
That is all.
Oh, all right, that’s not quite all.
There are, among fans of the Big Finish audio stories, certain tales that stand out from the rest for the quality of the ideas at their core, and the quality of their construction. That means they’re built essentially out of a sprawling pile of curiosity-hooks joined together, one following another, spawning three more, spawning six, spawning nine, till you reach a point where you just want to know what the hell is going on – you almost want it to be over, so you can have the satisfaction of knowing the storyline, but at the same time, you want it to go slower, so you can appreciate every little nuance of the production. We’re talking about stories like The Chimes of Midnight, Embrace The Darkness, Domain of the Voord, The Darkness of Glass, Spare Parts, Jubilee – and a host of others.
This is one of those stories, only pressed flat onto the pages of a comic-book, rather than poured directly into your ears.
We start from a familiar premise – the Tardis stops suddenly because something’s wrong. Temporal radiation (time leakage to you and me), on 20th century Earth. Not good. There’s a creepy house (writer George Mann does love a creepy house when it comes to the Twelfth Doctor – and if you can blame him for that, it’s a strange, sad, grey little life you’re leading). There are ghostly children playing hide and seek. There’s a clock that strikes fifteen (thank you, George Orwell). There are creepy, astral shapes tapping on the windows, the doors, the ceilings, trying to get in. And then there’s a house that really doesn’t act like a house should. Doors appear out of nowhere. Insides are connected to outsides, and then back again. And the owner is looking for her children – and her husband, who vanished while looking for them.
Once the Doctor gets a look at the creepy astral shapes outside, things get clearer in a hurry: as you might expect from part 1 of a two-part story, once an absolute shedload of curiosity-hooks have been delivered, Mann decides to give us some early answers. And then, being the Twelfth Doctor, Mann has him do something left-field and unpredictable. This has become one of the Twelfth Doctor’s trademark characteristics – more than any other New Who Doctor, he’ll talk and talk and talk, often in quite a simple, conversational way as though he’s only half-listening to the other people in the room, and then suddenly he’ll throw a grand, wild, almost-mad gesture into the mix that seems contrary to every ounce of good sense left in the universe, but from which something logical and productive will come, seemingly because he’s several moves and a couple of corners ahead of everyone else, and really of course because the people who have been able to write him have learned to structure their stories that way, to make him an entirely different class of ‘cleverest person in the room’ from both his immediate predecessors, who each in their own way showed off their genius. Here, Mann’s giant gesture is something you can imagine Murray Gold having a field day with, and, as mentioned, something logical comes from it – something that involves a lot of running, a lot of spectacular scenery, and a conclusion you’ll have started to suspect much earlier on, but which, through clues in the artwork, will become sneakily, increasingly obvious in the panels leading to this issue’s cliff-hanger.
While we’re talking about the scenery, let’s – oh please, let’s – talk about the artwork from Rachael Stott. Scott’s done some positively epic Twelfth Doctor artwork this year. Clara Oswald and the School of Death was a particular high point, but in this issue, she may well have surpassed her own already pretty Olympian high standards. Her Twelfth Doctor has a style that slightly softens Capaldi’s own, her detailing of environments is almost ridiculously good, bordering on sensory overload in this issue as there are so many environments to deliver – but sensory overload as a positive, in that Big Finish sense of wanting to savour every one, but wanting to rush ahead at the same time. Each panel, each environment gets registered by your brain as something exquisite, but inspires a kind of visual greed, a sense of ‘Wow, wonder what’s coming next!’ that makes you want to flit forward through the comic-book. More than anything in this issue though, it’s her choice of angles for some of her shots and panels that really impresses – rooftops that lead down into quease-making drops, with a couple of oblong character panels, but the perspective of the drop leading the eye into a diagonal view of a treasure room, leading to a shot halfway up a wall as Hattie, the Doctor’s new companion, tries to open the door – it all makes for a sense of jumpy pace and off-kilter environment that keeps you on your toes or the edge of your seat, unsure what’s going on. You’re also absolutely not going to want to miss some panel-boldness as the Doctor and Hattie explore the house, with each of them outside the main panels, a great use of circular panels to indicate particular rooms, and a cheeky, glorious backdrop of a map of the house, with altogether more rooms than it should have. In fact, you’re going to want to read that map very closely, there are things on it that will make you laugh out loud and punch the air.
Did we mention the sneaky homage to Capaldi’s similarity to Jon Pertwee? Stott even gets that in here, despite a Twelfth Doctor dressed comparatively simply in his hoodie and lacking Pertwee’s trademark dash.
Stott has delivered amazing things this year. This issue acts as her calling card to say ‘The year’s not finished yet.’
It’s worth spending a moment to welcome Alexandre Siqueira to our experience too – a new name to us on colourwork, but one that may well become quickly familiar judging by the quality of the work here. Siqueira brings a gorgeous luminosity to the Tardis in full flight, and does sneaky things to heighten our experience of the time machine – screen glare reflected in faces, for instance, showing an intelligent understanding of light and what it actually does. This issue is one hell of a challenge with which to wrestle, simply because of the number of environments, many of which are entirely different from everything else, but Siqueira appears to take them on without any fear, and delivers a comic-book that feels rich and real, and adds a dimension of genuine creepiness to plenty of scenes, especially including the window-tapping astral figures – they’ll actively take you back when you first get a look at them.
All in all, this is a comic-book that’s firing on every conceivable cylinder, then nipping through a convenient, suddenly-appearing door to a cylinder shop to strap on a whole bunch more. It’s been rare in his second year of comic-books for the Twelfth Doctor’s writers, artists and colourists to put a foot wrong. Here, they put more feet right than an army of spiders in a kicking contest with a convention of centipedes. It’s a comic-book you’re going to want to take apart and pin to your wall for a long while simply for its visual beauty and daring, and one you’re going to want to re-read over and over to appreciate all of Mann’s nuances and plot-hooks. That means you need to go and buy three copies – two to make sure you’ve got both sides of each page on your wall, and one to keep for re-reading in your hands. Go away now and buy out your comic-book store’s supply of issue #2.9.
No really, that actually is all.
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