Tony’s feeling morbid. There’s probably a reason for that.
There’s something about reading The Eleventh Doctor #2.14 that feels inherently wrong.
It’s the fact that Abslom Daak, at the end of issue #2.13, took a chestful of fire, and in the interim between issues, Steve Dillon, Daak’s co-creator, died. So even though for Daak, a chestful of fire is probably just a sign that it’s Tuesday, there’s a worrying sense as you set out on this issue that both the creation and the creator might leave the stage of our lives almost simultaneously.
You have to get beyond that pretty quickly though, because this is the penultimate issue of a year-long story arc, and there’s a whole hell of a lot going on.
More than anything else, we finally get to understand fairly accurately the answers to the questions that kicked off the arc all that time ago – did the Doctor kill the Cyclors when he was in his War Doctor incarnation, committing the Overcaste, who worshipped the Cyclors as gods, to the plague that is the Malignant? If so, why, and how does he live with that now he no longer has the option of being ‘the man who forgets’? If not, who did? And why? And is there something deeper and more devious going on?
Without spoilering you too much, we can answer that final question. Oh hell yes there’s something deeper and more devious going on. What’s more, we also get to find out in this issue exactly what that is.
There are questions of the essence of things, questions of destiny, and we finally get to understand the true nature of the Malignant and its relationship to the Overcaste. We understand that jusssst in time for things to get grim in a whole new direction. Above all, the Doctor ends this issue lonely, as some of his oldest enemies are on the verge of a ghastly triumph. River, we already know, is in a kind of cryo-sleep after a previous tangle with quantum forces. Daak takes a chestful of fire at the end of the previous issue, and suffers further in this one. The Squire is looking significantly less than well. And even Alice, who’s been back into the Time War for her Doctor, ends this issue on her knees. The Overcaste are dying, the Malignant is revealed for what it’s been all along, and its true nature spells destruction for pretty much everything in the universe as it becomes a kind of god. Time for a Murray Gold soundtrack of soaring, stabbing choral voices, everyone – and if there’s a fat lady waiting in the wings, you might want to wake her up, because she’s on in five.
Writer Si Spurrier dances this issue along, beginning with some typically Eleventh Doctor philosophy, delivering a debate about good and evil and destiny, and all the time, spinning the story on, speech by speech, panel by panel, so even though a lot of this issue is technically expositional, it never particularly feels like an info-dump as much as it does a waltz or a tango, a spinning, whirling escalation from a simple beginning to an almost unbearable cacophony of events and violence, of endgames and terrible, terrible understanding. It’s a clever, passionate work of the writer’s art, and the tricks of Spurrier’s trade are well used but equally well hidden – you’ll find yourself reading faster, turning pages more impatiently as the issue goes along, without necessarily understanding the art that’s gone into making you do that. That Spurrier chappie, he’s one to watch.
For all Spurrier writes this issue to pull together all the strands of what’s come before in grandeur and terror and philosophy and grief and regret and violence and a dark, dark wonder, really though this issue belongs to Simon Fraser on artwork and Gary Caldwell on colour.
There’s art here that wouldn’t look out of place in 2000 AD, one particular character undergoing a continual visual transformation that’s different each time you see it, and a little more ghastly and unnerving too, as flesh and blood does battle with something utterly else. The Malignant, a kind of swirling black sentient cloud, has a sense of purpose in this issue that would happily take on Spider-Man’s Venom-suit and beat it to dripping death. There’s a vivid, fire-toned scene of many deaths that is both beautiful and horrifying by turns, and the final page, the becoming of the Malignant echoes that scene, but turns the brilliant colours into swirling wraiths of horrible, intentional darkness as the true destiny of the Malignant is revealed. There’s great Daak art here too, Fraser and Caldwell working together to bring the snarl back to everyone’s favourite Dalek Killer, and to show ‘the red mist’ as more than a concept in his case. It feels – despite the intellectual reasoning that says it’s absolutely not any such thing, or not especially in this issue – like a tribute to Dillon, that Daak here feels so spectacularly like his old self.
Issue #2.14 is a thing of darkness and beauty in almost equal measure, the sombre note of Dillon’s passing playing in to the cataclysmic tone and the seemingly impossible odds against which the Doctor must stand and fight in #2.15. Go get it now, and start counting down the days till the end.
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