Eleventh Doctor Year 2: # 4 - OutrunBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
 THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.4 (Credit: Titan)

WRITER - ROB WILLIAMS
ARTIST - WARREN PLEECE
COLORIST - HI-FI,  WITH THANKS TO AMOONA SAOHIN

LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS AND
COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

(ABSLOM DAAK CREATED BY STEVE MOORE
AND STEVE DILLON)

EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES
ASSISTANT EDITORS - GABRIELA HOUSTON
AND JESSICA BURTON
DESIGNER - ROB FARMER

PUBLISHED DECEMBER 23RD 2015. TITAN COMICS

The Doctor's antiquated but invaluable vessel has finally decided to land somewhere after a series of mind-bending detours. So begins an exploration of the Planet Veestrax. After everyone's ordeal in the TARDIS tested their perceptions of reality, some respite should really be in order. However, more headache-inducing visions soon appear on the horizon for the Doctor, his associates, and the unkempt, swearing and psychotic warrior - Abslom Daak.

The Doctor has to open up further about his past to a concerned Alice, as well as attempt to decipher the clues as to the present status of Veestrax. Can he do this, however, when another old enemy of his may also be about to make their presence known?

As intriguing as last issue's Pull to Open was, it ultimately has minimal bearing on this new story, albeit being part of a larger arc.  A lot of set-up and characterisation is the chosen focus by scribe Rob Williams. Despite the pace being sedate, there is much that is memorable here.

Daak certainly gets his best outing yet, in that his bullishness and lack of education comes to the fore. Most notably, there is a stark verbal reminder made by the Doctor of this grizzled near-do-well having much innocent blood on his hands. This is despite some of his heroic acts that helped save lives, once Daak became an infamous 'Dalek Killer'.

It is also engaging to witness how this chain-sword-brandishing man's involvement in the Time War is contrasted with the Squire's own battles. The Doctor is caught in a tightrope act of judging just whether she is a force for good or evil. Fall one way and denounce squire as an enemy in sheep's clothing, or fall the other way and place as much trust in this aged female warrior as any of his most beloved assistants from 'home from home' planet Earth. Pick the wrong side and he may feel guilty for letting her down, or feel guilty for risking the lives of others.

Outrun is also notable in reminding us how little the Eleventh Doctor tends to tell his companions about the period of his former life when morals were all variable shades of grey. Of course, compared to Doctors Nine and Ten, there was little over guilt over the deeds of yesteryear. Fittingly, Alice still knows little of her friend's role in the Time War. This is despite her many adventures shared with him, and furthermore, her retained memories of the adventures with both a past and future self of him, in the spellbinding Four Doctors crossover.

Of course, a good chunk of the Steven Moffat TV productions explored the Doctor being more dangerous than his worst enemies. For the new Year Two arc though, this is a chance to keep building on The Day Of The Doctor - which functioned as an intriguing nucleus of an idea, as well as a crowd-pleasing feature length special. Once again, a handful of panels feature the bearded John Hurt incarnation, who is also described as "X-rated" by the Eleventh Doctor. They manage again to leave an impression, perhaps because of their brevity. The standout example is the attempt by 'The Then and The Now' to regress the Doctor back to his past self. Another moment of impact - and one that has spooky undertones - is when Alice is totally confused by the fluctuations in time, and sees herself beside the aged warrior in the middle of an adventure, despite never having met him in the first place.

Again, I found Warren Pleece was up to the demands of Williams' vision for the vast majority of the tale. Character expressions are something that comics can boast as an inherent strength, and even over the televisual media, where it takes indifferent direction or a weak performance to miss out on a vital emotional beat. And the emotions explored in this story are definitely raw and heartfelt. The particular visual highlight from Pleece's art involves a jarringly blank 'protective view' of the Time War, which only the Doctor is able to really see for what it is.

The questions continue to outweigh the answers, come the final sections of the story. And this is welcome, as the parent TV show, with Matt Smith at the front and centre, did similar tricks in keeping followers intrigued, and indeed frustrated (!). This is a strong effort, and I unreservedly recommend it for reading, once the first two or three issues in Year Two are accounted for.

                                                                  ***

Bonus Humour Strip - "Who Who Who, Merry Christmas".

This comic was released just before Christmas Day, and fittingly this example of adventures and witticisms with the Pond 'family' centres on the Yuletide occasion. Whilst we are leaving Winter behind shortly, this still can be read as a depiction of the highs and lows that a group of relations encounter in having to put in some original effort into an overly familiar time of the year. The particular humour standout for me came in the form of mocking a number of festive foes, that were conjured up by showrunners Russell T Davies and Moffat over the years as a form of lightweight opposition.

                                                                  ***

There is also another fine variant cover. It is described as a 'Subscription Photo', and credited to Will Brooks.

 





Doctor Who – The War Doctor Vol 1: Only the MonstrousBookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 February 2016 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
The War Doctor: Only The Monstrous (cover) (Credit: Big Finish)
Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs
Produced by David Richardson
Big Finish Productions, 2015
Stars: John Hurt (The War Doctor), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra), Lucy Briggs-Owen (young Rejoice), Carolyn Seymour (older Rejoice), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Alex Wyndham (Seratrix), Kieran Hodgson (Bennus), Barnaby Edwards (Arverton), Mark McDonnell (Traanus), John Banks (Garv), Nicholas Briggs (the Daleks)
 

“Isn’t that a testament to what a sick place the universe has become?  A man harbours a hope for peace ... That should be a good thing, a noble thing ... But instead, that hope could have led to the destruction of everything good in the cosmos ...”
The War Doctor, Only the Monstrous

Going back less than three years, it’s amazing to think how unlikely it was that there would ever be tales about the Great Time War.  The mysterious temporal-celestial conflict had underlined so many adventures since Doctor Who’s return in 2005, with the multiple appearances of the Daleks and the Master adding some flesh to bare bones. Even the Time Lords’ triumphant return in The End of Time still only gave us a tantalising glimpse of what the war was like (and how monstrous the Time Lords had become), and of the Doctor’s role in its climactic events.


Of course, we finally saw the climax to the war in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and even then the Doctor who fought in the war – in the guise of legendary thespian Sir John Hurt – was not the version of the Time Lord we would ever have expected (Hurt as the Doctor would have been the stuff of fantasy by Whovians in the dark decade of the 1990s, although this is precisely what motivated Steven Moffat to cast him!). As brilliant as he was in The Day of the Doctor, it seemed pretty clear that this would be Hurt’s one and only foray as the Time Lord. It seemed highly unlikely he’d ever reprise the role, especially as he recently overcame a cancer scare.


It’s therefore a massive coup for Big Finish that not only can it now tell stories that are set during the Time War but that Hurt has reprised the War Doctor on audio. Again, three years ago, the prospect of BF doing any material based on modern Doctor Who was remote - as was the sheer impossibility of someone of Hurt’s stature ever playing the Doctor on TV and audio. How time makes fools of us all!


The War Doctor - Volume 1: Only the Monstrous retains all the moral themes, intrigue, action and adventure that we associate with Doctor Who but with an edginess, darker tone and sometimes black humour that arises from telling what is effectively a war story. Prolific script writer, director and resident Dalek voice artist Nicholas Briggs admits in the CD extras that he is a wartime history buff (he previously touched upon the subject in the first volume of Dark Eyes, when we were first introduced to First World War nurse Molly O’Sullivan) and he uses his extensive knowledge of wartime politics and psychology to great effect in this boxset.
In particular, Briggs explores the values and dilemmas of pacificism and appeasement, both in the broader context of the Time War itself and the more “domestic” example of the planet Keska, whose peace loving and gentle inhabitants find themselves under siege from their ancestral adversaries the Taalyans. In many respects, Briggs explores themes that date back to the very first Dalek TV serial in 1963, in which a similar race of people – the Thals – find themselves at the mercy of their perennial rivals but are reluctant to resort to violence to defend themselves.


The Doctor, who has traditionally opposed violence as a means to an end throughout his incarnations, is thrust into circumstances where he can see how pacifism and appeasement is simply lost on implacable, warlike enemies. Indeed, it all becomes a “no-win” scenario, with our hero having to implement a remedy that is utterly distasteful to him and which only entrenches the self-loathing that will plague him in his subsequent incarnations. As the 12th Doctor so beautifully put it in Doctor Who’s most recent TV season: “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones but you still have to choose ...”


Only the Monstrous comprises three one-hour episodes that, like other boxsets across BF’s range, form one greater story. The first episode, The Innocent, has a very different style of pace to the later instalments, as the Time Lord formerly known as the Doctor (“Don’t call me that! It’s not me!”)  crashes on Keska after an initial stoush above Gallifrey with the Dalek time fleet. Much to his confusion and disapproval, he is cared for by a young Keskan woman Rejoice (Lucy Briggs-Owen), whose gentle, almost childlike and naive outlook on life is refreshing and comforting for the aged, weary and embittered warrior.


The tone of the story also gives John Hurt a chance to develop the War Doctor’s character. Hurt’s initial dialogue with Rejoice, which is cranky, dismissive, bad-tempered and cynical, is very reminiscent of William Hartnell’s First Doctor. But whereas the First Doctor often hid a more mischievous and kind-hearted persona behind his veneer of impatience, discourtesy, distrust and arrogance, it becomes clear in this episode that the War Doctor’s reasons for putting up his guard are more psychosomatic – he is traumatised and disgusted by the terrible things he has seen and done so far in the Time War. This is exemplified by the intensity of Hurt’s performance in one scene when Rejoice suggests that the Doctor isn’t a monster. As Donna Noble once remarked, the Doctor needs companions to keep him in check and level-headed – and while Hurt’s rendition of the Doctor may prefer to work alone so that others remain safe from harm, it is clear that he could benefit from the counsel of a travelling companion.


The implication in The Day of the Doctor was that the War Doctor was prepared to abandon the Doctor’s traditional moral code and do what his other incarnations would not. Yet, when you hear Hurt’s masterful performance, you realise his interpretation is not that far removed from his predecessors and successors. Far from being immoral, the War Doctor is the most ethical character amongst the Time Lords we meet, if not the most principled protagonist full stop. At one point, he admonishes his people: “We’re better than this! We’re not Daleks!” He remains true and faithful to the Doctor’s core values throughout the saga and especially in later scenes with Rejoice in the serials The Thousand Worlds and The Heart of the Battle he shows compassion and empathy (Hurt’s scenes with an older Rejoice, played by Survivors veteran Carolyn Seymour, are amongst the most touching scenes in the three plays). Hurt’s also not without plenty of moments of humour – some of his lines in the three plays you can imagine were delivered with a twinkle in his eye, again aligning the War Doctor closer to the Doctor’s other incarnations than we previously thought.


The War Doctor has an intellectual equal in the Time Lord hierarchy who is sure to become a fan favourite and memorable antagonist in future boxsets. Jacqueline Pearce brings gravitas, clout and mischief to the devious, scheming and hardnosed Cardinal Ollistra. Although Pearce says in the CD extras that she tried hard to deliver a performance that was not too similar to that of her Blake’s 7 alter ego Servalan, the parallels between the two characters are unavoidable. It is not just Ollistra’s crafty behaviour that echoes Servalan but even some of her dialogue – when Ollistra tells the Doctor at the climax that it is her responsibility to ensure the Time Lords are protected from the “contagious virus of fear and appeasement”, she expresses a sentiment not too dissimilar to Servalan’s famous remark in B7 that “Where there’s life, there’s threat”. Whether it is deliberate or inadvertent on scribe Nick Briggs’ part, Pearce’s character brings an element of B7’s “realpolitik” to this Time War era of Doctor Who. Ollistra’s determination to preserve the Time Lords’ power base at seemingly any cost also illustrates how treacherous and dangerous the Time War-era Time Lords have become (and why they were so feared in The Night of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor).


The other Time Lord characters we meet are by comparison to the War Doctor or Ollistra typically arrogant, cold-mannered and ruthless or at the very least morally compromised and craven. BF regular Beth Chalmers shrugs off (as she describes it) her more “wholesome” demeanour as the frosty, abrasive Time Lady operative Veklin, a woman who makes Mary Tamm’s initial portrayal of Romana in The Ribos Operation look positively cuddly! Chalmers has played numerous parts across BF’s Doctor Who range over the years (most notably as Seventh Doctor companion Raine Creevy) but Veklin by far is her most memorable performance. She deserves to reprise the role in future War Doctor instalments, as Veklin is precisely the type of “companion” the War Doctor needs!
Barnaby Edwards’ Arverton and Kieran Hodgson’s Bennus are virtually the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” of the saga. Unlike Veklin, they do not strike you as fearless, battle-hardened soldiers at all, but hapless stooges, especially the more timid Bennus (although it becomes clear late in proceedings why Bennus behaves as he does and why he and Arverton have been selected for the mission to Keska). Alex Wyndham also delivers a plausible, sterling performance as Time Lord official Seratrix, the apparent holder of vital strategic secrets that could decide the outcome of the Time War. As noble as Seratrix originally appears, it becomes all too clear in The Heart of the Battle that this dignity hides a selfish, heartless and unsympathetic streak that seems inescapable in all of the Time War-era Gallifreyans.


The other supporting characters in Only the Monstrous are well written by Briggs and ably realised by the respective actors. Both Briggs-Owen and Seymour excel as prospective companion Rejoice at different stages in her life. Dalek Empire veteran Mark McDonnell makes the most of a limited, two-dimensional part as the Taalyan warlord Traanus (as Dalek henchmen, the brutish Taalyans don’t seem altogether much brighter than their predecessors the Ogrons!) and John Banks injects dignity into an even smaller but no less important role as reluctant scientist Garv.


Briggs, of course, continues to excel as the Daleks, using his voice to delineate between the regular drones and the sector-controlling Prime Dalek. Strangely, though, the Dalek threat in this trilogy of plays tends to be more abstract. There is a “grand plan” at the heart of the Prime Dalek’s “null zone” empire that could tilt the balance in the Time War but Briggs prefers to focus on the immediacy of that threat to the countless populations of more than 1000 worlds caught up in the Daleks’ machinations; in doing so, he holds up a mirror whose reflection barely distinguishes between Time Lords and Daleks.


If you’re a long-term listener of BF’s Doctor Who range and its assorted spin-offs, then you will not be surprised by the high quality of the production, whether that be Howard Carter’s outstanding incidental music and sound design (eg crashing TARDIS engines, Dalek and Time Lord weapon discharges, the motorised whirring of Daleks on the move) or Briggs’ direction and editing. Carter’s rendition of the Doctor Who theme for the War Doctor’s adventures is particularly inspired – heavy metal sounds and drumbeats underscore a fast-paced theme arrangement that effectively conveys a wartime atmosphere. Carter even has some fun in The Thousand Worlds when he devises the Taalyans’ war music – a cacophony of metallic beats that prompts the Doctor to dryly remark that the Taalyans are both “genocidal – and tone deaf!” It’s a delicious irony then that the Daleks are routed after being “deafened” by a premeditated burst of sound!


In all, The War Doctor – Only the Monstrous is a fantastic start to what promises to be an epic series of boxsets over the next two years. Briggs has certainly set a high standard for other writers to follow in future volumes. Coupled with a magnificent cast led by John Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce, and with veteran David Warner also set to join them in Volume 2, there is every reason to be optimistic that the War Doctor saga will become one of BF’s most popular and acclaimed Doctor Who spin-offs. Who would have picked that when the War Doctor was just a gleam in Steven Moffat’s imagination three years ago?

 

 

 





Eleventh Doctor Year 2: # 3 - Pull To OpenBookmark and Share

Friday, 12 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.3 (Credit: Titan)
Written By: Si Spurrier
Art by: Simon Fraser/
Colours By: Gary Caldwell

Letterer: Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Gabriela Houston
Designer - Rob Farmer

(Abslom Daak created by Steve Moore and Steve Dillon)

Published December 9th 2015. Titan Comics

Some crucial problems with the TARDIS linger on for rather too long in this latest batch of adventure, mystery and emotional bereavement. The TARDIS crew, their new ally the Squire, and Abslom Daak all fail to get an easy ride. Potential enlightenment may be the silver lining to the cloud, however.

Alice and the Squire are trying to cope with an uncooperative and arguably perilous TARDIS in a state of flux. Former Dalek killer Daak eventually comes into proceedings, and is still mightily frustrated over a lack of answers as to where his wife's body has been hidden. The TARDIS' long-lived pilot could resolve some of these issues, but he is nowhere to be found.

The Doctor is seemingly facing a judicial enquiry over the actions of the one past self he tries to shun completely. There is no way out of the law process that the Doctor had tried to avoid (in the preceding two-parter), and he feels there is little reason to deny what he may have been capable of. Whilst his abilities to recall everything that happened are affected by issues with the fabric of time itself, he still is prepared to confess every action that does enter his head..

 

The story does well to give regular readers more insight into why the War Doctor stepped in to ensure the removal of the Cyclors, and thus cause major seismic shifts in the Overcast society from that point onwards. The reveal of who the Doctor is actually talking to is also done well, and whilst not unprecedented in Doctor Who comics, is still a fine bit of (welcome) revelation.

The bold decision to use the front door panel layout of the TARDIS Police Box with which to arrange the storytelling is laudable for its ambition. At times the panels are consequently small and some of the bigger 'event' moments feel short-changed. But we also have some more conventional pages without this framework, most often for the storyline with the Doctor answering for his past, so a compromise of sorts is reached.

Otherwise though, Fraser manages to get back his overall creative vision and produce artwork as good as any he has done in the past for the Eleventh Doctor range. The overall story may have a somewhat thin plot, but it has some quite deep emotional depths to plough, and so justifies the overall arc in taking a somewhat side trip approach for this third issue.

I have always enjoyed a work of fiction that explores the reliability of memory, and also the sheer importance most individuals bestow on those past recollections. Each of Alice, the Squire and Daak has to contend with the ghosts of yesteryear, and this is brought to full life, given the overall simple nature of the story. Those of us who grew up with Daak as the 'backup' comic strip in (what is the present day) Doctor Who Magazine cannot begrudge a very similar visual portrayal of the tragic end that Daak's other half Taiyin suffered.

In summary, this is a decent one-off that passes a reader's time pleasantly, but may not be one to keep reflecting upon to the same extent, that the opening multi-parter to Year Two had the quality of in spades.

 

Bonus Humour Strip

Gunpowder, Time Lord, And Plot is a tale which harkens back to the major celebration that all British people know and love - 'Guyfawks Night'. A two page entry, this has ample space for a bit of time travel and for Fawkes himself to assist with the powerful fireworks one would require for holding a private display at home. The Ponds and the Doctor almost get more than they had bargained for, but nothing too vital ends up blown to smithereens, come the last panel.





The Eleventh Doctor # 2:1 'The Then And The Now'Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 17 January 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Eleventh Doctor - Issue 2.1 (Credit: Titan)

ELEVENTH DOCTOR Volume Two - Issue One
Writers - Si Spurrier + Rob Williams
Artist - Simon Fraser
Colourist - Gary Caldwell
Letterer - Richard Starkings 
And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

(Abslom Daak created by Steve Moore and Steve Dillon)
Editor - Andrew James
Asistant Editor - Kirsten Murrary
Designer - Rob Farmer

Released September 30th 2015
Titan Comics

This new start - for a slimmed down TARDIS team of the Doctor and Alice  - takes the journey of a long, long lifetime into new playing fields. It also, however, acknowledge the richness of the Doctor's past, and in particular the Time War.

A splendid cover  - with the image of a confident Matt Smith - belies the actual demeanour of his alter-ego for the story itself. The Doctor is firmly on the back-foot and has to try and show some resemblance of self-belief and ability to conjure a plan on the fly. In this case, he really struggles, and can only begin to reconstruct what is the reason for the leaders of the Overcast race to capture him, and declare he faces sentence for his crimes. It is Alice who is able to show more outright heroism - especially given her paucity of experience and knowledge, in comparison to her alien co-traveller.

A previously unseen ally (and from long ago in the Doctor's past) also lends a helping hand or two. Despite being somewhat eccentric, the dedicated Squire shows herself to be more than ready to stand tall in the face of danger.

 

It will not escape a loyal follower's notice that the unmistakably grey-haired and bearded John Hurt version is also on the front cover. And we do get a fair amount of material with the War Doctor. In the primary flashback he is accompanied by a tiny figure. When questioned by this unknown companion over what he is going to do, he replies "What I Have To", and is grasping a formidable gun with both hands. Further recalls of this deliberately sidelined  - yet long-lived -incarnation are interspersed later on in the story. The ultimate intent is that the current Doctor has a reminder that he is the same man as he always was, and he must take responsibility for what he has done.

But perhaps the writers are trying to make us think of quite an uncertain debate here. The Overcast blame the Doctor, in that he deprived them of the outsiders with powers that gave them so much prosperity. Soon after, they were vulnerable to a much more Malignant visitor to their planet. However, the War Doctor may still have been arguably balancing the scales in the right direction, so as to save the wider universe, and time itself. The specifics are not mentioned here, and may not be in the concluding issue to come, but the Doctor has every right to be a bit flippant when stating how he is in a courtroom just one more time out of a "Bazillion".

Of course, the theme of a fair portion of Matt Smith's tenure - Series' 5 finale and Series 6 in particular - was all about his accountability for actions that left a mark or two on those it directly affected. So, it feels quite natural to pursue this fascinating topic now, after much of Year One concerned itself with Serve You Inc's soullessness, and the resilience of one dogged enemy in particular.

I found the visual aspects of this season opener equivalent to be pretty good. Simon Fraser uses a deliberately gaudy style, that certainly leaves an impression for some time, after readers put their paperback editions down, or exit the reading app they prefer. The artwork consistency is pretty robust, and there are thus no glaring peaks and troughs. Much of the story is set in darkness or shadows, and this suits the rather grim subject matter of a once-bustling civilisation of pioneers now reduced to - effectively - scavengers crammed into a feeble space station complex. There is also a well-done 'symbolic' image of a brace of Doctor regenerations that reminds us of the brilliant Tom Baker cameo in The Day Of The Doctor, and what exactly it may actually be alluding to.

The monster introduced here is known by precisely the same title as the story proper. This creature is a resonant and brilliant example of Doctor Who showcasing creative talent. A truly fertile imagination sparked the TV show, and that aspiration grew manifold in the hearts of viewers and fans, as well as the minds of countless professional contributors, over time. The effect this powerful foe has on the Doctor and his companion is disturbing, yet quite, quite fascinating too.

 

The icing on the cake, however, is the re-introduction of one of the very best characters to join the Doctor Who universe in the early 1980s.

A man who has done some unspeakable crimes. A man who offered to try and atone for his sins. But still a man whose morals are questionable. 

He obsessed over a prospective girlfriend dying in his arms from a Dalek ray, before even a first date could be granted to them.

He died in a huge explosion. Then he was brought back through time, for yet another showdown with his lifelong nemeses. 

Yes, Abslom Daak is back into the fray, and ready for some visceral mayhem. Everyone had better hold on tight.

 

EXTRAS:

A humour strip and three alternative covers feature.

New Year. New Who is once more an example of Marc Ellerby wrong-footing readers. It devotes a lengthy set-up to suggest a most critical course of action by the Doctor, where he will re-assert his authority over an adversary or six. (In fact he is dealing with a very domestic problem, which serves to frustrate all three of Amy, Rory and River Song).

Two of the variant covers are done in the humour strip style. One of these is a very sharp parody of the Doctor facing all his enemies, whilst trapped in the TARDIS, by Ellerby





Four Doctors #2Bookmark and Share

Monday, 24 August 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Summer event (Credit: Titan)
WRITER - PAUL CORNELL; ARTIST - NEIL EDWARDS
COLORIST - IVAN NUNES;
LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS AND JIMMY BETANCOURT; DESIGNER - ROB FARMER;
EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES;
ASSISTANT EDITOR - KIRSTEN MURRAY
RELEASED AUGUST 19TH 2015, TITAN COMICS

When last we encountered the Twelfth, Eleventh and Tenth Doctors as well as their newly united array of companions, the former trio had seemingly set a foreboding chain of events in motion by briefly touching hands and in doing so causing the (fictitious but no less intriguing) Blinovitch Limitation Effect to occur. Upon glimpsing the final pages of this audacious mini-series’ potent first issue, eagle-eyed readers might have recalled that this particular Time Vortex-damaging event last took place way back in “Father’s Day” as Rose made physical contact with her toddler self, and just as was the case in 2005, the ruthless Reapers made their return in Issue 1’s delightfully dense final panel to fix the wound caused by the three Time Lords’ near-unprecedented interaction.

Given the rarity of multi-Doctor serials of this ilk (lest we forget, ten years’ worth of interplanetary adventuring separated the broadcasts of “The Three Doctors” and its memorably nostalgic 1983 follow-up), that so much time is dedicated in “Four Doctors”’ second instalment to both the aforementioned Limitation Effect as well as the increasingly tense dynamic burgeoning between Capaldi’s ever-antagonistic incarnation and his former selves should really come as little surprise, especially since half of the reason why “The Day of the Doctor” met with such rapturous applause in 2015 was the fascinating interplay witnessed between Tennant, Smith and Hurt’s versions of the titular time traveller. With that being said, whilst few would likely blame the series’ commander-in-chief, Paul Cornell, for taking a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”-style approach in this instance given the unquestionable need for works of comic-book and televisual entertainment to lure in a sizeable enough audience to make some form of profit, at the same time, that the second appearance of the oft-forgotten extra-terrestrial menaces who essentially caused Pete Tyler’s death acts more as a stalling tactic on the scribe’s part than anything else seems equally beyond dispute.

This initially well-disguised structural shortcoming makes its presence gradually known as Issue 2 nears its climax despite having made virtually no progress with regards to the series’ overall story arc of three morally contrasted Doctors joining forces to investigate the alleged repercussions of their Time War predecessor’s actions (or perhaps lack thereof) on the planet of Marinus. Certainly, we’re offered up some enticing sequences involving a chase through the various TARDIS console rooms which have made their debuts since the show’s revival as well as the continued squabbling provoked by the oldest of our three heroes’ continued rejection of his more spritely selves’ occasional recklessness and vice versa in the case of the Twelfth Doctor’s tendency to place his allies in necessary danger so as to achieve his goals. Yet aside from a few welcome moments wherein Tennant’s incarnation astutely namechecks the version of himself apparently set to rise between his twelfth and final bodies – see “The Trial of a Time Lord” if this description doesn’t ring any bells – and the classic series adversaries who cameoed last issue make their larger intentions transparently clear, it’s tough to shake the sense that either Cornell or those who assisted in his structuring of this much-anticipated Summer event struggled to find a way to keep its momentum up for four issues, hence the handy inclusion of the Reapers as an inspired yet nevertheless clunky means by which to stall for time. Indeed, that even Smith’s Doctor notes at one point how insignificant his pursuers are in terms of the trap apparently being laid for him and his other selves on Marinus does little to weaken this interpretation.

Even if “Four Doctors” doesn’t deploy quite as many satisfying plot twists or game-changing reveals here as was the case with its premiere, however, the number of readers who come away from Issue 2 wholly disappointed will still most likely be impressively minimal. The aforementioned TARDIS-warping set-piece and the frequent moments of verbal sparring between both the titular defenders of galactic justice as well as their companions – the most artistic of whom, the Tenth Doctor’s loyal accomplice Gabby Gonzalez, once again gets to open proceedings with a characteristically simplistic yet effortlessly visually sumptuous diary segment (as was the case in the first year of the Tenth and Gabby’s Titan Comics escapades) drawn wonderfully by Neil Edwards – which form the bulk of this instalment aren’t exactly the most innovative of scenes given that 2013’s “Day” placed a similarly substantial emphasis on such moments, but the inert hilarity of witnessing a variety of disparate heroes (both alien and human) attempt to put aside their differences whilst preparing for a universe-threatening conflict hasn’t waned in the two years since the 50th Anniversary Special first aired. If anything, the concept in question’s appeal has only grown with the releases of ensemble motion pictures like Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy, both of which showcased the entertainment value of such encounters and thus likely pre-empted Titan’s thinking in creating this type of event series.

Whilst we’ve already touched upon the gloriously accomplished renditions of images such as Gabby’s diary and indeed Issue 1’s explosive last-minute Reaper reveal, in discussing this second outing’s easily overlooked merits, it’d be downright churlish to wrap up without having reiterated the undeniable power of Edwards’ aesthetic work. Like most works of science-fiction, “Four Doctors”’ fundamentally basic yet sure-to-be timey-wimey storyline requires one to pay no shortage of attention to the dialogue contained within its ever-present speech bubbles, that the Welsh artist responsible for bringing past hits like Justice League United and Arrow Season 2.5 to life through his imagery might leave some wishing the entirety of this four-issue arc could be re-released with only its artwork rather than its dialogue remaining says a lot for how he manages to convey precisely what’s occurring through his crowded but accessible visual depictions of events. Many modern Who strips would leave their readership most likely confounded were they to be robbed of textual accompaniments, yet based on the strength of Edwards’ work on this particular mini-series to date, Titan’s first major crossover storyline may well prove to be the single major exception to the unwritten rule.

Indeed, it’s through Edwards that Issue 2 manages to somehow claw its way back from the jaws of defeat so as to become another memorable addition to the plethora of comic-books based within the so-called Whoniverse. Had this otherwise largely derivative sophomore instalment not found itself an artist with such incredible creative vision, an artist capable of succinctly yet powerfully rendering both the action-led and exposition-heavy moments of “Four Doctors” with equal ease (and more importantly equal success), then there’s no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that this month’s tale – if not the series as a whole – would have suffered immensely as a result, but instead, in him we’ve been graced with someone capable of ensuring that even a more repetitive, arc-lite outing such as this one still brings almost all of the thrills and shocks present in its predecessor, at least from a visual perspective. Better yet, since Cornell’s next move going forwards will surely be to pick up the pace exponentially, chances are that Edwards will receive opportunities aplenty to showcase his seemingly limitless capabilities in issues to come, something which – at least based on the hugely promising evidence presented here – could only serve to benefit the overall reading experience that much more.





Four Doctors Summer EventBookmark and Share

Sunday, 23 August 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Summer event (Credit: Titan)
WRITER - PAUL CORNELL, ARTIST- NEIL EDWARD,
COLORIST - IVAN NUNES, 
LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS/COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT, DESIGNER- ROB FARMER, 
EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES,
ASSISTANT EDITOR - KIRSTEN MURRAY
RELEASED AUGUST 12TH 2015, TITAN COMICS

During this month and next we are treated to a much awaited big event from the very capable team at Titan Comics. The major factor to note is celebrated author Paul Cornell is the writer of the entire arc, and will add to his impressive resume of TV Doctor Who (Father's Day, Human Nature/Family of Blood which were all Hugo-nominated), classic Doctor Who original novels such as Love and War and Goth Opera.  plus some previous comic book efforts including Wolverine, Action Comics, Demon Knights, Captain Britain and MI:13.

Although this review site will come back to the final works of Titan's year one for the different Doctor lines, this mini-series does not need too much prior knowledge to really be understood, however it will impact on the beginning of 'Year Two'. 

I myself have reasonably high expectation for this big event showpiece from Titan and little to make me think it could end up faltering in some way. Certainly it will be one escapist-fictional ways to warm up a tepid summer (at least on the British isles where I reside).

 

We start off with another piece of the mystery jigsaw that is the Time War. The War Doctor's lifelong quest to deal with the threat of the Daleks (and eventually the corrupt order of Time Lords led by Rassilon), sees this wonderfully grouchy forgotten incarnation pay a visit to the planet Marinus many years after the quest for the Keys. Now the Doctor Who backstory on the Voord is quite remarkable, as not only were they one of the first monsters on the program, but they also were brought back for a Sixth Doctor comic strip, an audio adventure that began the First Doctor Early Adventures line, and even some barely canonical stories in an annual and (collective) cigarette sweets' cards from the 1960s. Although it remains to be seen how much these creatures will feature in later issues, this new story sees the Voord becoming rather more benign as they evolve into more powerful creatures that help fight the malevolent Dalek forces.
 

The starting point for the TV Tardis crew of the Doctor and Clara sees the word 'Marinus' pop up in our favourite Coal Hill school-teacher's head, and this neatly leads to an amusing run of new encounters between normal Earth girls with extraordinary lives, and personality clashes between the different (and yet the same) Time Lords who are responsible for those incredible travels.

As he stated in my earlier interview with him, Paul Cornell is thoughtfully structuring this mini series so that each of the Doctor's trusted assistants will be carrying us through the story in their own distinctive manner. This opener gives Clara the most agency, with the various other Doctors and their companions having to react to her decision to take matters head on. In a piece of neat irony, her best efforts to prevent the multi-Doctor meeting, owing to what may be a massive disaster, only serve to produce the opposite effect.  

Cornell's considerable experience in stories of all sorts of lengths and scale (depending on what medium he employs), means that I am confident he is doing the right thing in starting in a relatively slow manner this issue. Yes we get time and space trotting, and a nice flashback to a jungle world with no official name where Clara does her best Lara Croft impression. However much of the issue is moving the pieces of the three most recent TV doctors into place, and teasing us over the use this time of the wonderful John Hurt version (who made The Day of The Doctor  such electric viewing).

I can happily confirm that the artwork is an absolute treasure trove of convincing character expression, ocularly arresting alien beings and landscapes, and superbly well used colours. Neil Edwards happily unites with Cornell with immediately convincing results, and also has communicated with Ivan Nunes in an effective manner.  So consequently the pacing of the core story is only enhanced by the energy that is projected by the visual. The dialogue is probably the most outstanding component of this story, but would maybe not feel so effortless if the characters' facial subtleties were not as authentic as presented here.

With a cliffhanger taking us cleverly back to Cornell's fine work in the New Series, the set up has been performed and a lot more excitement and surprises are sure to still come.

BONUS HUMOUR STRIP:

The Doctor Shops For Comics in this new bonus piece, and Marc Ellerby has a certain Mr Paul Cornell lend a hand to the story being told. Just the Doctor and a French newspaper vendor are involved in terms of protagonists. That is, unless you count a version of the Doctor who has just been there shopping three minutes earlier than the particular Eleventh Doctor we are reading about. I find it odd having no companions in this for the Doctor to spark off against, but this story tries to do something different, and may be the start of a successful team-up between Cornell and Ellerby for the other four issues to come.