Writers: Nick Abadzis, John Freeman, George Mann
and Jody Houser
Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Arianna Florean, Christopher Jones, Mariano Laclustra and Rachael Stott
Colorists: Marco Lesko and Carlos Cabrera
Publisher: Titan Comics
FC, 30pp, $0.00
On sale: May 5, 2018
With Titan Comics' regular Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor strips each having reached the natural conclusions of their Year Three runs, and their recently-announced The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor mini-series still two months away from its launch, now seems as opportune a time as any for the publisher to take stock and prepare its readers for the adventures ahead. Enter their contribution to this year's Free Comic Book Day line-up, a 25-page one-off Special containing four bite-sized primers for the future of their regular Doctor Who strips, the Road saga and the Seventh Doctor's Titan debut alike.
There's every chance, of course, that the aforementioned annual event - held at comic-book retailers the world over to promote the industry and its physical purveyors - will be over by the time that you're reading this review, yet that doesn't mean you won't find some stores such as Forbidden Planet still housing the odd copy of this much-anticipated strip here and there. Should Titan's most dedicated followers and / or newcomers to the worlds of Who comics make the trip, however, or are they best off waiting for the Doctor's printed exploits to kick off again this Summer and beyond? Let's find out...
"Catch a Falling Star":
For any readers like this reviewer who've yet to finish reading the latest string of Titan storylines based in the David Tennant era, Special's opening tale might well prove rather disorientating at first, though that's rather the point; seemingly deceased companion Gabby Gonzalez seems just as perplexed as she's flung through outer space after the Year Three finale presumably detached her from the TARDIS with considerable force. How better to spend the time, then, than by taking a metaphorical trip down memory line, simultaneously bringing newcomers up to speed on her recent voyages across the Time Vortex?
From Sontarans to Sutekh in his reincarnated form, from Cybermen to Gabby's best friend Cindy Wu stepping aboard the Doctor's iconic Type 40 capsule, it's been one heck of an eventful ride for the despondent waitress-turned-pro artist over the last 36 months. True to form, Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean's dazzlingly whimsical artwork splendidly reminds us - alongside the awe-inspired sense of wonder and fantasy coming via the dialogue which writer Nick Abadzis affords Gabby - of the eclectic and unashamedly outrageous tone which made this particular TARDIS team's travels such an instant hit with fans of Titan's licensed Who output.
Naturally, though, few could blame Ms. Gonzalez for questioning her life decisions given her present near-fatal predicament, so that Abadzis briefly explores her justifiable doubts as well comes as a welcome surprise, in many ways enabling us to draw parallels between the character and past companions such as Martha Jones for whom the Doctor's entrance signalled virtually the destruction of their personal lives and family ties. Who wouldn't reconsider the same dilemma as that which was posed to Donna in "Turn Left", namely whether life would've turned out better had their path never crossed with "the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not out of shame"? As such, it would seem that Gabby needs affirmation that her story doesn't end on such a somber note, and while we'll refrain from revealing her just how "Catch a Falling Star" concludes, we can say that she might just get her wish and transform the Doctor's future in the process...
“The Armageddon Gambit”:
The best way to summarize the second narrative barrage in Special’s artillery is as an audition piece for Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch’s impending Seventh Doctor mini-series, “Operation Volcano”. Unlike that five-part saga, John Freeman takes on writing duties for “The Armageddon Gambit”, but if his remarkably authentic rendition of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s wit-laden, mentor-student-esque banter from their 1980s run as the Doctor and Ace serves as any indication of what to expect from “Volcano” upon its launch next month, then experiencing each issue over the coming weeks should seem remarkably akin to watching a McCoy serial on TV / home video / streaming platforms for the first time.
While Freeman’s relatively standalone narrative – which sees the ever-courageous time travellers chirpily interrupt a band of galactic tyrants standing on the brink of galactic conquest, having bested the Draconians, Chimerions and Voord alike – probably won’t win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for literary ingenuity, his script does at least enable the mini-series’ artistic / colour tag team of Christopher Jones and Marco Lesko to amply strut their stuff. Their bold style, in marked contrast to Sposito and Florean’s tonally befitting impressionistic imagery, does a splendid job of bringing the tale’s characters to vivid life, with Lesko’s choice to embroid the chief Kla-shi-kel clansman with striking golden armour for example visibly setting him apart in military stature and greed-driven ambitions. Look out in particular for their pitch-perfect depiction of the Doctor and Ace’s grand entrance, an instantly iconic raison d'etre for “Armageddon” which easily stands among Titan’s most memorable panels to date.
Whereas Abadzis and Freeman both had their fair share of legwork in terms of painting a roadmap for the future flights of the Seventh and one other Doctor here, one can almost hear George Mann’s relief at finding no such pressure exerted upon his Eleventh Doctor contribution by Titan’s head honchos. “Midnight Feast” makes no apologies for its lighthearted tone or completely standalone storyline, then, with Mann instead affirming to newcomers his ability to capture Matt Smith’s zany eccentricity and energetic zest for life, all while re-introducing his ex-librarian companion Alice Obiefune along the way. Yet it’s fair to say that Alice rather laments her inclusion here, finding her travelling companion ransacking the TARDIS kitchen for edible delights before he zips off to the nearest alien restaurant to find alternative inspiration.
Laying many criticisms at the feet of a self-proclaimed “culinary adventure” such as “Feast” would seem rather harsh, especially with Mariano Laclaustra’s diverse menagerie of stunningly-rendered alien patrons calling to mind Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina in its aesthetic inventiveness. The only warning that we’d give, however, is that those unfamiliar with Alice won’t find the same level of introductory exposition here as that which Gabby provided regarding her past in “Falling Star”, largely since the latter’s existential plight gave Abadzis the ideal plot device to justify such nostalgic reminiscing. Since Alice only features for but a few panels here, this reviewer would instead advise anyone wanting to catch up on her entry into the Doctor’s life – between Amy and Rory’s turbulent honeymoon and reunion for the Time Lord’s death in “The Impossible Astronaut” – to check out the first volume of Year One, After Life, ahead of Year Four’s presumed launch later this year.
What of Doctor Who’s fast-approaching return to BBC One with a new face, though? Does Jodie Whittaker’s absence from Special’s multi-Doctor front cover mean that we shouldn’t expect to see her incarnation feature in Titan’s licensed roster for the time being? Not at all – browse past the insightful Reader’s Guide at the end of the strip, which details the various regular strips, crossovers and classic Doctor mini-series currently available, and you’ll find three panels featuring a strange new world, strange new fauna and feathered onlookers, a strange new TARDIS and its strange new occupant embarking on her first ‘canon’ journey, her face brimming with visible passion and already infectious joy at discovering the unknown.
Much as every fan relishes jumping to far-fetched conclusions from even Who’s most basic marketing materials, the rousing thrill that comes with turning the page and witnessing the Thirteenth Doctor in action for the first time can’t possibly be denied. That her increasingly coveted costume and intriguing extraterrestrial surroundings are drawn in such a majestic light by Rachael Stott, the upcoming Thirteenth Doctor regular strip’s resident artist, just goes to show that she’s fully aware of the significance of this watershed moment for the show. The same can be said of Jody Houser’s daringly dialogue-devoid script, aping Whittaker’s reveal video last year in building its structure entirely around the new incarnation’s gravitas-laden arrival.
A tremendous end, then, to a tremendous Free Comic Book Day special, one which accomplishes the remarkable joint feats of setting past Doctors on unexpected new trajectories for the coming months and making the Thirteenth’s debut – both on-screen and the printed page – that much more of an exciting proposition.
Be sure to follow our reviews of Titan’s The Thirteenth Doctor series as it kicks off in tandem with Season Eleven this Autumn…