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Graphic Novel Review
The Eleventh Doctor is accused of terrible war crimes – crimes that he can’t even remember committing! Tracked by temporal bounty hunters, both chainsword-wielding and monstrous, he goes on the run with his companion Alice Obiefune. Only by digging deep into the history of the Time War – and the past of the War Doctor – can they hope to clear the Doctor’s name! Thrilling writers Si Spurrier (X-Men Legacy, Cry Havoc, The Spire) and Rob Williams (Unfollow, Ordinary, The Royals: Masters of War) join forces with magnificent artists Simon Fraser (Nikolai Dante) and Warren Pleece (Hellblazer) to continue the all-new epic adventures of the Eleventh Doctor…!
This graphic novel collects #2.1 to 2.5 of Titan’s Eleventh Doctor comic, and it begins an audacious year-long saga for the Time Lord…
With the Doctor accused of a genocidal crime he (probably) didn’t (possibly) commit (oh, hell, he totally did it), a race ensues to clear our tricksy Time Lord’s name and spare the lives of his friends, with the only answers burnt in the fiery footsteps of an incarnation he can never acknowledge. But extreme hyperviolence-for-hire is hot on their tail, tracking them wherever and whenever they go… with chainswords…!
The collection begins with the two-part storyline from which it takes its title, The Then and The Now, though really this entire volume – and indeed the next two – are all part of the same continuing quest to clear the Doctor’s name.
The new and returning writers, Si Spurrier and Rob Williams respectively, throw us straight in at the deep end, with a squee-inducing flashback to the time of the War Doctor on the opening page.
This is immediately followed by the Eleventh Doctor facing an alien kangaroo court, which has already found him guilty of a heinous crime. Imprisoned beside him is his ‘accomplice’ Alice, who is not best pleased about them being captured: “Bloody great shining beacon, right in the middle of the timestream, specifically attuned to the TARDIS’s landing signal. ‘Someone’s trying to get our attention,’ I said, ‘it might be a trap.’ ‘Sensor baffles at all points,’ you said. ‘Definitely a trap!’ Whilst. Landing!” The frequently exasperated Alice swears more than I recall her doing during the first year of this comic series, which may be down to the presence of the new writer.
The Doctor, of course, protests his innocence of any wrong-doing, but you have to admit that the judge has a point when he gives the following description of the accused: “You are a capricious superorganism which likes to play at mortality. You smash across the timelines of the tiny lives you encounter – pausing only to congratulate yourself on your own nobility. You are a smug, cackling child with the power of a reckless god. And you never linger to count the cost.”
The Doctor isn’t held captive for long before he sonics his way to freedom – and then the mind-blowing, time-mangling thrills come thick and fast. We hear about the Cylors (or Cyclors – the spelling varies as the saga unfolds), the gods of the Overcast race (or Overcaste – this spelling varies, too) who want to punish the Doctor. We behold the Malignant, the black and bloody cloud of death that the people now fear. We meet the Squire, an elderly female knight, who claims to know the Doctor of old. And we encounter The Then and The Now, a bounty hunter that doesn’t exist in normal space-time and which briefly causes us to see past and future versions of the Doctor – including the Curator from The Day of the Doctor! It’s rather a lot to take in, to be honest – this is a very rich stew indeed!
However, an even bigger surprise is waiting for us inside the TARDIS – in the shape of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer, who first appeared in the pages of Doctor Who Weekly way back in 1980. I haven’t been this surprised and delighted by a Doctor Who comic since Kroton the Cyberman (another creation from the same stable of writer Steve Moore and artist Steve Dillon) returned to Doctor Who Magazine during the Eighth Doctor era. The mag and its parent company Panini Comics get a big fat acknowledgement on the credits page, and rightfully so. It’s wonderful that Panini and Titan, who are technically rivals in the publishing world, can co-operate for the greater good of the expanded Whoniverse!
There are some lovely whispered asides between the Doctor and his companions, especially when they encounter the Dalek Killer. “…Rrrright,” is all Alice has to say. “Don’t make eye contact,” advises the Doctor, “He’s literally insane.” Eleven’s dialogue is accurately presented as an unpredictable mixture of eccentric banter and casually persuading someone else (i.e. Daak) to carry out some necessary physical violence. Meanwhile, the Squire observes that Daak “smells like a bear and he has a dead girl in a bikini.” (Actually, it’s more like a one-piece swimsuit, but let’s not split hairs.)
The dead girl is Taiyin, Daak’s exterminated wife, who he takes with him wherever he goes, in the hope of one day finding a way to revive her. In this regard, the writers appear to depart from the later continuity of the character, as Daak reluctantly left Taiyin behind in the Seventh Doctor comic strips Nemesis of the Daleks and Emperor of the Daleks. Possibly this change is a result of the Time War, or maybe Daak was somehow reunited with Taiyin’s body in an unseen adventure. Perhaps she was given back to him by a client in order to win him over – which is no more unlikely than his rescue from seemingly certain destruction at the start of Emperor of the Daleks.
The Then and The Now wastes no time in setting up an exciting new year of adventures for the Eleventh Doctor.
The TARDIS has stopped. Lost within its maze of ever-changing corridors and compartments, a disgruntled Alice and the mysterious Squire are in search of the Time Lord. Can they find the Doctor and start the blue box up again… or will Abslom Daak get to them first, wielding his chainsword in a threatening way? It’s getting so they can’t even solve an intergalactic war crime without having to flee for their lives…!
Every now and again, Titan’s Eleventh Doctor series does a ‘weird TARDIS episode’. Something goes awry with time (as in Space in Dimension Relative and Time) or space (as in Four Dimensions) aboard the ship, and the crew have to figure out a solution. In Pull to Open, the TARDIS seems to have come to a halt, the Doctor cannot be found, and his companions are lost amidst the mutable architecture.
Many of the pages are rendered by artist Simon Fraser in a police box shape, with TARDIS blue surrounding the rectangular panels of the strip. One of these panels takes the form of the sign on the TARDIS door, with black lettering on white. Opposite that is a panel that reflects the design of the St John ambulance logo, be it a piece of TARDIS machinery, a light being shone in the Doctor’s face, or a close-up of the Time Lord’s bow tie – a delightful touch.
This issue explores the mystery of the Squire. The elderly might-have-been-a-companion certainly seems familiar with the events of the Time War, if her spouting of bizarre monikers is anything to go by. “At Vexa, the Doctor led the Shrikefleet against a Plasma-Wheel Armada,” she explains, in lines that could have been written by Russell T Davies in enigma mode, “At the Chronofracture on Borun, we held the line against six Barrage-Leks and routed the Exotic-Plunger! On Kether Prime, we threw down the Heisenberg Mutations…” “Squire, I get it,” interjects the plain-speaking Alice, “you can do wacky sci-fi names. None of this is helping us find a way out of an inert time machine, is it?”
Fraser’s illustrations of the Squire’s recollections include crab- and scorpion-like war machines, perhaps referencing the Spider Daleks that were designed for but never used in the 1996 TV movie, and what appears to be a gun-wielding toddler – could this be the Nightmare Child that Davies wrote about?
It’s likely that there is also supposed to be some initial mystery surrounding the identity of the Doctor’s shadowy interrogators, but I guessed this straight away, as it’s an idea that has been touched upon several times in Doctor Who novels, in particular Paul Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation.
The puzzle that is Pull to Open is a pause, a moment of reflection before the chase resumes – as becomes all too apparent in the cliffhanging final panel. You’ll want to pull aside the page to the next chapter as quickly as possible!
A supremely strange cosmic bounty hunter is tracking the TARDIS anywhere in time and space – which should be impossible. The Squire is starting to remember things… things about the Time War… and so is Alice – which should be impossible. The Squire’s very existence… should be impossible. The Doctor does ten impossible things before breakfast… but other people doing the same? That’s just cheating…!
When the transtemporal bounty hunter The Then and The Now catches up with the Doctor at the start of this episode, Outrun, its touch briefly causes the Time Lord to revert through his previous incarnations. Until it gets to the War Doctor, that is. That part of his timeline is, as the Doctor puts it, “X-rated, shall we say. Banned and, fortunately for me at this exact moment… unavailable.”
On one level, this is an acknowledgement of the problem inherent in tackling the War Doctor in a story that is set before The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor. In narrative terms, anyone attempting a chronological reading and viewing of Eleventh Doctor stories would have the surprise of the Time War Doctor’s identity spoiled for them. It would be like watching the Star Wars prequels before the original trilogy. Being realistic, of course, surely every Who fan knows who the War Doctor is by now, and I’m glad of any opportunity to find out more about his activities. In the context of the story, the “X-rated” nature of this point in the Doctor’s life is that he now has difficulty remembering it.
Another barrier is the fact that the Time War is time-locked, which means that our heroes cannot simply go back and find out what they want to know. This is demonstrated graphically, Pyramids of Mars style, when the Doctor shows his companions what happens when a TARDIS tries to access that period – they literally come up against a wall. In his version of the Fourth Doctor’s line, “1980, Sarah, if you want to get off”, we witness Eleven at his most angry and frustrated: “All aboard the Time War bus, eh? This season’s hot destination. OK. Fine. Fine! You want the Time War… You’ve got it! Roll up, Roll up! Get your ticket and a two-for-one offer on emotional trauma! Popcorn’s a bit burnt and smells of Time Lord flesh, but what can you do… Here’s the Time War!”
The fact that multiple Doctors managed to breach the time lock in The Day of the Doctor is immaterial, because on that occasion the Moment let them through. But, the Doctor wants to know, how did the Squire get out of it? How did she survive the Time War? That’s a question that cannot be answered yet (providing a very poignant moment), but let’s not forget that the Doctor also survived the conflict… as did the Master… and several Daleks, so it’s not really as strange as he is making out.
Abslom Daak is impressed by the Doctor’s actions in the war. “I knew there was a reason I liked you more this time around!” he says, “It’s ’cos we’re the same now. We’re like… brothers. So, tell me… Who’s killed more of ’em, Doctor? Me or you?” The Time Lord is far from pleased by the comparison.
Alice, on the other hand, is impressed by Daak, in spite of her better judgement. “I know it’s wrong, and I’m ashamed to admit this, but… he’s quite dishy. For a man with a chainsaw.” The Doctor reminds Alice that before he became a Dalek Killer, Daak was a mass murderer. In a private moment, however, we get a glimpse of Daak’s soft underbelly…
Time to take the fight back to those who have accused the Doctor of horrible war crimes and chase down the truth! The TARDIS team needs to break into a remote prison to get the tech that will allow them to pull off an incredible heist… Sounds like they’ll need some expert help! But with the bounty hunter The Then and The Now still in relentless pursuit, is there any weapon in the universe powerful enough to stop it…?
First the War Doctor, then Abslom Daak… and now the final chapter in this collection, The Judas Goatee, gives us not only the Master but also some Sontarans! This story just keeps on making me go “Oh, wow!”
“Imagine someone so… impressively insane they’d discovered a sort of ultra-sanity,” is how the Doctor describes the Master here, “Someone, say, who likes to play god… Someone so horrifically manipulative he was able to write out his involvement in some mysterious, ancient, time-locked atrocity.” Alice points out that the Doctor’s plan is just as devious, but writer Si Spurrier skilfully offsets this dark thought with humour. “It’s. I’m. I…” stammers the flummoxed Doctor, “I’ll do a witty riposte later, okay?” And, in due course, he does!
Following the revelation of his Doric column-shaped TARDIS towards the end of the previous chapter, we don’t get to see much of the Master, and when we do it’s only in flashback, but the concept he embodies is huge.
Spurrier’s depiction of the Sontarans has something to say about fundamentalism and radicalisation, in another brilliant speech from the Doctor: “The problem, you see, is that mindless devotion to a cause is… well… it’s actually repulsively common. Sontarans… Cybermen… Daleks. The loss of the self, faceless efficiency, blah blah blah… That’s how wars are fought.” One of the Sontarans’ strategies is to use a suicide bomber against the enemy.
Meanwhile, Alice’s attraction to Abslom Daak is reciprocated. “You got purdy hands,” he says. And, after his little moment of humanity last time, there’s an even greater one near the end of this instalment. I love what the writers are doing with Daak in this saga.
As for the final page… time to go “Oh, wow” again!