Tony’s sorry. He’s so, so sorry.
There’s a reason why the Tenth Doctor, among his grab-bag of catchphrases, included ‘I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.’ Many times the dark Doctor in the mask of childish glee misjudged a situation, or a person, leading to a need for others to sacrifice themselves to save the universe, and more often than is perhaps comfortable to think about, he let them. As he says himself in The End of Time, he ‘got clever. Got people to sacrifice themselves.’ While he eventually atones for that by voicing the truth that he could do so much more if he simply let Wilf Mott, the old warrior, die in his place, and then switching places with him anyway, the Tenth Doctor has form when it comes to getting people to trust him and then, when they choose to give him a way out of his moral dilemmas, letting them do so, letting them walk to their death for the sake of the bigger picture.
The finale of Nick Abadzis’ year-long Tenth Doctor comic-book arc has a very faithful Tenth Doctor feeling. Not everyone’s making it out of here alive. He’ll be sorry. So, so sorry.
To catch you up with the plot…erm…well, we’re screwed, essentially. An immortal of terrifying power and a certain on-screen recognisability has returned from the trap the Doctor devised for them, using their son as a vessel for their mind. They’ve brought back a host of other would-be immortal universe-conquerors or planet-eaters, some from the last year of comic-books, some from the on-screen version of Who, particularly the McCoy era – McCoy’s Seventh Doctor after all having something of a penchant for defeating Elder Gods and banishing them to…somewhere.
So, it’s Immortal Party Time, and the Doctor, Gabby, Cindy, Dorothy Bell and their friend, known affectionately as Dogface, are about to…you know? Have their souls torn apart. Receive the gift of death in a screaming fit of begging for mercy. All the usual stuff, but with a very particular, villain-specific flair.
Given that things seem so entirely hopeless, it’s perhaps peculiar that there are so many potential ways out of this story. The Doctor does what he always does – he talks, and introduces doubt to the other immortals, setting them against the Big Bad, more or less because they want to survive the day too, and the Big Bad is pretty much antithetical to all life, including theirs. And then, as was his wont, the Tenth Doctor prepares to do something part stupid, part heroic, and sacrifice himself and his Tardis in a convoluted, motormouthed, explanation-heavy festival of nobility, until Someone Else decides the universe needs him more than it needs them, and takes the burden of nobility off his shoulders. The conclusion to this long long arc then, has the same dramatic sense as the Tenth Doctor’s final on-screen story, but with Wilf not letting him take his place, but determining to stay in the booth and be irradiated to crispy old-man death.
But there are treasures along the way that step outside the urgency of the immortal clobbering party. Gabby and Cindy take time out to have a discussion on self-worth, love, being in love, and whether either or both applies to them – ticking another New Who box very neatly, in terms of the public recognition of sexuality as a spectrum that’s rather more fluid than it was publicly understood to be in earlier decades. Who was, and continues to be, a great advocate for an understanding of love that has very little to do with gender, and while the two best friends definitely love each other as best friends do all over the world irrespective of any attraction, the question of whether there’s more to their connection than that, or whether there could be and whether they want there to be is left undecided, mainly as a result of the apocalyptic, universe-threatening Stuff going on all around them, and the being taken prisoner by a dragon and suchlike – all in a day’s work on board the Tardis, but there are discussions to be had at some future time between all the surviving members of the Tardis crew.
There’s also an extra special peak into a fan favourite villain’s psychology. It’s often said that villains more often than not don’t think of themselves as villains – after all, it’s rare for anyone to espouse ‘evil’ just for its own sake. And here, we get a deeper insight into the psychology of this longstanding Big Bad, why they do what they do. Let’s just say it borders on the nihilistic – and then crashes straight through the border and sets up a commune in Nihilsm Central. But the reasoning, however ultimately depressing it may be, adds colour and depth to a villain that has previously been a little one-note, a little ‘I destroy therefore I am…and vice versa.’ This finale makes them feel much more like rational beings, albeit rational beings with a massive ego and a desire to make everything other than themselves unalive. That’s perhaps the central dilemma we’re left with at the end of this comic-book – if they’re so pro-death, why doesn’t that extend to themselves? Why in fact do they go down a genocidal path, rather than a suicidal one? The clue is in that monumental ego – here it’s explained that they think what they do is vital, merciful, and far more efficient than letting people and species go extinct in their own sweet, struggling time. This villain sees themselves as the universe’s ‘Go To Death’ card in the Monopoly game of existence. Go to Death. Go directly to Death. Do not have hopes and dreams and offspring. Do not collect 200 breaths. That’s how they see themselves, as a kindness and an efficiency engine for the rest of the universe. That understanding is worth getting this issue for on its own, but of course as the culmination to a year-long storyline, the chances are you’re not going to let this one go by you anyway.
Artwise, Georgia Sposito continues to deliver what Year 1 artists had such trouble with – a likeness of David Tennant that actually looks like David Tennant – while her work on the rest of the story, from the environments to the other characters, and especially the villain (which has to be right if it’s not to stamp on the memories of a generation of fans) is excellent. Sposito gives the story energy and vividness without making you stop and drool at her panels when, certainly in the final issue of the run, you should be pushing on, turning pages, desperate to find out how the whole thing resolves. That’s both a knack and a mark of judgment – Sposito here does exactly what’s needed, without making it all about the artwork.
It's been a long, wild, occasionally mad ride, the second year of Tenth Doctor stories from Titan. You could argue that this final chunk of the arc has perhaps stretched itself out rather more than was necessary – the villain was returning, and returning, and returning for three issues prior to #2.16. but in terms of a pay-off, #2.16 and #2.17 don’t disappoint, because the villain’s highly intelligent, and so refuses to be foolish just because they’ve been cast as ‘the villain’ in the Doctor’s morality play. Here it’s ultimate a surprise that defeats them, and one with a heavy price attached, so the victory feels suitably hard-won, and refuses to be predictable. All in all, #2.17 is an energetic, high-tension ending to an impressive second year.
Allonsy! Year three is waiting…
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