Sunday, 21 December 2014 - Reviewed by
The Doctor is in a very compromising situation, and seemingly outwitted by the trap that has been sprung by the disturbed apprentice of artist supremo Zhe Ikiyuyu - who may be lost now forever, Once again it is up to the latest companion onboard the TARDIS to try and save the situation, and thus protect all those who live on the unusual world of Ouloumos. Will Gabby be able to cope given just how alien the environment is compared to her native New York?
This is a very good story to show the multilayered personality that underlines the Tenth Doctor. Even in comparison with the solid first story in this series ('Revolutions of Terror') this really feels like an authentic portrayal on paper of Tennant's magnetic characterisation. The Time Lord is very assured but also quite concerned about the potential ramifications of the apprentice taking over the art zone. He has a quip or two always to hand, but appreciates that he perhaps was a little too late to help his good friend Zhe - such is the somewhat arbitrary nature of when and where the TARDIS lands.
The team behind this comic continue to chart a course of fine conceptualisation and execution. Abadzis knows how to balance plot, characterisation and overall continuity very well, and clearly has thought through his abundant ideas so that the key skill of firm storytelling is not lost along the way. The constant threat posed by the antagonist is certainly played just right: Zhe has become victim to her own amazing computations, with her apprentice now a creature that is strong enough to form a 'male' and 'female' persona in separate corporeal forms. This two-parter has lots of deliberate confusing moments, almost as if the readers themselves have turned up in an absurdist, surrealist and nightmarish world.
Yet with some solid exposition this state of bewilderment is not over done, and there is a clear sense of what is fundamentally going on as the story reaches a crescendo. Also effective is the gentle set-up for the next adventures to feature the Doctor and Gabby; potentially leaving space for a return to the world of Ouloumos and/or its inhabitants. Art work this time is almost all done in the 'main style', as used in issues 1 to 3 and some of issue 4 - Casagrande and Florea doing some fine work together. One excellent visual device is the variety of odd animated objects - particularly the butterfly lips that perhaps reveal a little too much of characters' inner secrets.
However one especially large panel by Florea does see a brief appearance of the diary sketches that Gabby is able to put down as she makes use of spare time in-between high-risk escapades. This perhaps means that the entire story is best read in a single sitting. The journal is the most overt way of portraying a youngster joie de vivre and relative lack of world weariness, and reflects just what is most needed by the Doctor. He is by this point time-and-space-weary; maybe owing to how late into his original life cycle of regenerations he has progressed. The fine artwork seems to be fully reflective of the heavy themes and topics of the art world in the story, and is arguably at the highest level of the series thus far. Of particular note is how clearly the various characters are drawn - with the apprentices being particularly well-done as sinister and yet somewhat sympathetic living entities. The variety of frame sizes and how much dialogue is utilised also shows the strong harmony the writer and artist for these comic books have generated together.
And there is a lot of subtext at work in this story, making it a lot more memorable and imposing than the somewhat run-around nature of 'Revolutions'. We are made to consider what it is like to see a world and its occupants from another perspective entirely. There are also emotive topics such as lacking belief in oneself and allowing isolation to cause a flawed decision making process. Overall this is another winner in a very consistent series.
Bonus strips this time round are following suit with the main features by forming multi-part stories. 'To Heck and Back' by AJ sees the apparent return of the Satan creature (from the 'Impossible Planet' story in Series 2 of the parent TV Show). Although it is quite an imposing figure, we are never in any doubt that the Doctor is up to the challenge of fending it off once again.
The latest entry in the 'Rose by Any Other Name' storyline - courtesy of Rachael Smith - is again quite amusing. The new cat onboard the TARDIS is playing up to the 'prima donna' stereotype, managing to dash the lofty dreams that the Doctor had in mind for it. This is a good mini-story with nice traditional artwork. Composition is solid and there are clear emotions on the faces of the characters which don't feel forced.