Writer - George Mann
Artist - Emma Vieceli
Colorist - Hi-Fi
Letterer- Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Editor - Andrew James
Assistant Editors - Jessica Burton & Gabriela Houston
Designer - Rob Farmer
Cover Art - Rachael Stott + Hi-Fi
Released February 17th 2016, Titan Comics
An arrestingly powerful being that seems to have sprung to life from the folk tales of yesteryear threatens a community of aristocrats and servants in the early 20th century. It has the power to completely subjugate even the most steadfast human that treads the earth. It reveals itself through a grisly combination of vines, leaves and bark, as it displays its sheer power of physical strength and mental control.
Ultimately a sacrifice of at least one person with much integrity and good will may prove unavoidable. And this is despite the considerable life experience and ingenuity of the evergreen, curly-haired Doctor. (And not forgetting the spontaneous problem-solving of Josie, who defiantly styles her hair in colours that raise an eyebrow or two in this altogether more reserved period in British history).
The budding new partnership of Josie and the ball-of-energy Eighth Doctor continues to ring true in this story, and I almost worry that this may one of a small handful of chances for the pairing that may not ever be taken up by another creative team. Within a seemingly short space of time, there seems to be an easy rapport, and solid understanding of what Earth girl and Gallifreyan semi-eternal each need and expect from one another. This story could have been presented in a deadly serious fashion and still worked handsomely, but the moments of levity that occur every so often are judged just right and consolidate the good character work of prior issues.
Writer George Mann certainly knows how to keep the reader hooked for the concluding fifth issue, and does so by an apparent 'flash-forward' where the Doctor and his green-blue-haired companion are at an auction of some significance. For the most part though this adventure is set in one place and one time zone, but is still rich in atmosphere, world building and confident in its use of an alien race. The Nixi has some superficial similarities to the dreaded Krynoid (of the Tom Baker TV era), but is rather more 'grey' in terms of its actual morality. It is portrayed as being not suited to our world as we know it, and of potentially devastating influence on any flora and fauna it comes across. Ultimately, though it is a threat that may be better off rendered docile and dormant, rather than facing rather more brutal and desperate methods of defeat.
Although artwork was on occasion inconsistent early on in this mini-series, last issue's The Silvering saw a definite raising of the bar. This trend continues with Briarwood. There are many wonderful images that deserve to etch themselves into the memory banks of the reader.
Page layouts are also pleasingly varied and the right choice of grand scale for action or visual exposition is mirrored by appropriate instances of smaller panels that solidify this story's emotional core. We are made to care for virtually every character we meet; whether a minor player or a major contributor to the plot. Clearly by now, Mann and Emma Vieceli have truly meshed in achieving both their individual and joint creative intents.
My one reservation that impedes this being a sure-fire classic is that the latter stages of the story feel a bit rushed. Having a crammed final page, with a squashed 'to be continued' just seems to be the result of not quite enough planning, and is unfortunate given how measure the telling of the story was for most of the preceding pages.
Once again there are a number of variant covers. In addition to the one featured with this review, there is a secondary cover by Will Brooks, and a tertiary one by Carolyn Edwards . The main image is nicely indicative of the main threat, and should help retain previous purchasers of these Eighth Doctor adventures. It is so striking that it deserves to catch the eye of those who roam their favourite comic stores and may not have yet given the Doctor Who universe a try in this ever-popular medium.
Titan have somewhat shied away from the light-hearted and satirical bonus strips of late. But by and large we have been granted some fascinating behind the scenes material. For this fourth edition of the mini-series, there is a nicely done 'q/a style' interview with Paul J. Salamoff, who is privileged in that he owns a refurbished version of the actual console from the 1996 TV movie. Salamoff has shown much career versatility in the space of two-and-a-half decades, by being a movie and book writer, a producer, a film executive, and a make up artist - all in addition to being well-recognised as a comic book creator and visionary.