It’s mid-November as we write this. Yes, in case you were wondering, it’s absolutely too soon to start singing Christmas songs and being offensively cheerful to those of us who suffer from seasonal tinselitis. But geekery is of course a world of its own, which means it’s by no means too early to start getting excited about the return of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and to hope that for once, the perfect Doctor might get a Christmas special that serves him more than mediocre fare.
But you don’t really need to wait that long.
Neither do you have to be that worried, as, after the last few Christmas specials, you’d have a right to be. Titan Comics is coming to the rescue with a new Twelfth Doctor story from two principal talents who only know mediocrity as that thing they swerve away from every day of their working lives. Robbie Morrison and Mariano Laclaustra are in the house, geekbrothers and nerdsisters. You’re gonna want to strap in and hold on tight for this one.
Point one: this story takes the Twelfth Doctor to the time and place of Dumas’ Three Musketeers…except not really. Stick with it, there’s a point to that.
Cardinal Richelieu still stalks the corridors of French power, despite according to the Doctor’s records having died fifty years before. Something’s not right. In fact, something’s distinctly wrong, and Morrison’s imagination, matched with Laclaustra’s disturbing ability to render nightmares with economy and precision, are quite enough to give us the raging willies in the first handful of pages here, as Richelieu takes a ‘confession’ from the king’s embezzling treasurer that he’ll never have the opportunity to regret, and Something Else Entirely – something barely seen but for the flick of a forked tail, dangling from the rafters – makes a crunching noise and turns the treasurer’s guards into an advert for poison or pirates.
You’re hooked, aren’t you?
We are. The very notion of Richelieu being in league with dark forces, being alive five decades too long, and being in a Doctor Who story alongside the Twelfth Doctor (especially since Capaldi played Richelieu himself in Series 1 of The Musketeers for the BBC, and indeed was on the set of that production when he was told he would become the Twelfth Doctor) is enough to whet our appetites well and truly – although to be fair, we knew as soon as we saw the names Morrison and Laclaustra on the cover that this was going to be a goody to round out a year of exceptional Twelfth Doctoring. Indeed, despite some strong work from Cavan Scott on his Ninth Doctor series, of the 21st century Doctors, it’s really the Twelfth who’s had the best year in Titan’s output, and knowing Morrison and Laclaustra are set to take us to the end of the year means 2016 is ending on a high note in the Twelfth Doctor comic-book series (even if in the real world, it’s been a year of unremitting grimness).
The twin initial threats of something demonic in the rafters and what happens when Richelieu takes confession are rendered with Laclaustra’s trademark crispness, giving them a clarity that drives home Morrison’s ghastly, thrilling invention.
Then, in glorious contrast to the dark doings in Notre Dame, Morrison shifts us from hunchback territory to the domain of the famous phantom, the Paris opera house, and there recounts for us what sounds like the story of a natural born Doctor Who companion, La Maupin. What’s astounding to learn with a little research is that the version of her early life presented in the comic-book is more or less entirely historically accurate, meaning we have Morrison to thank for introducing us to a figure arguably far more fascinating than the Tenth Doctor’s Madame Du Pompadour. La Maupin, the cross-dressing, rampantly bisexual, sword-duelling scandal-merchant who also, by the age of 17 was singing on the stage of the opera house is a figure who lights up the history books as soon as you learn about her, and it’s fair to say she needs no borrowed Time Lord magic to make her instantly someone we want to know more about. Nevertheless, the fact that Morrison has her encounter – and duel! – the Doctor here and run on board the Tardis when the pair are apprehended makes for an extra special blending of reality and our favourite science fiction. Laclaustra gives us a very distinct shift of style at the moment when her narration switches from the present of the story to the past of her history, giving us a series of coloured ‘woodcut’ panels to illustrate the life of the young swordswoman, and then snapping back into full Laclaustra detail when the narrative returns her to the present just in time to bump into the Doctor and pick a fight with Old Battle-Eyebrows. As delivered in this issue, she has a combination of Leela’s violent tendencies and Amy Pond’s sexual appetites. What could possibly go wrong as she joins a grumpy rock and roll Time Lord in escaping from some people possessed by a truly disturbing darkness?
We’re not sure, but by all the gods of Gallifrey, we want to find out.
It would be entirely wrong of us, in commending this issue to you, to neglect to mention that this time out, Laclaustra has the aid of a couple of assistants – the fabulously-named Fer Centurion and Agus Caccagno – and as ever, the artist is also given significant assistance by the colourworkers, Carlos Cabrera and Juan Manuel Tumbrus here working wonders with a world of cloistered shadows and pooling candlelight, as well as the footlights of the opera house, the familiar but challenging light and colour palette of the Tardis interior, and the ‘history of La Maupin’ section with its radical change of style.
What this issue gives us is a first episode that’s insanely hook-laden, as you go in expecting a Morrison issue to be, deeply disturbing and atmospheric, but which also gives you a blaze of brilliance in the Doctor’s latest helper, if not as yet by any means his friend or companion.
Morrison, Laclaustra, some great light and colourwork, the crisp detailing that sets Laclaustra apart, Morrison’s endlessly story-tailored invention…where are you going? Ah, yes of course. This is the part where you steal a horse and ride off to your comic-book store of choice. There’s no need to challenge them to a duel though. A little money will suffice, and then The Twelfth Doctor #2.11 can be yours, all yours in all its glory. If you end up looking forward to issue #2.12 rather more than the actual TV Christmas special…well, we wouldn’t be at all surprised.
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