The Eleventh Doctor, Collection One
Tony Fyler finds a lost season.
The Eleventh Doctor had a very conspicuous style.
We say this here because it’s only really with hindsight that it becomes apparent. Matt Smith’s Doctor very often seemed to be a ragbag collection of mannerisms and surprises – that was part of the appeal of him: you never quite knew what you’d be getting next. So it comes as a shock with hindsight to get the feeling that you know, inherently, who the Eleventh Doctor is, what’s right for him, and what’s wrong.
Happily, it’s a positive shock in terms of Titan Comics’ first collection of Eleventh Doctor stories, like having the Doctor pop out of a cake at your stag do, or tumble out of your chimney on Midwinter’s Eve. There’s a stylistic familiarity to Al Ewing and Rob Williams’ storytelling, particularly as far as the first chapter here is concerned – it starts in shades of grey to show the life of a forty year-old woman who cared for her mother, who lived in a rented flat, who worked as a lowly library assistant. In the wake of her mother’s death, everything goes wrong for Alice Obiefune. After losing her mother, she’s sacked due to budget cuts, her landlord wants her out to turn her building into luxury flats – Alice is not so much at the end of her rope as aware that she has plenty of rope left, and only sadness left to propel her on with it.
There he is, yelling out while running down the street, chasing what looks like a Chinese dragon but happens to be a great big mood-eating dog-like creature from outer space, and the change in Alice’s world is rendered instantly by colourists Gary Caldwell and HiFi, who go from grey to full colour in the space of two panels, with Alice herself remaining the only truly grey element. Subtle stuff, this, and it works a treat.
The Doctor and Alice chase down the big alien mood-dog, which as it turns out feasts on negative emotions (a theme that resonates from the Tenth Doctor Collection, Volume One) – and gets noticeably bigger after paying a quick trip to the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions. The story though doesn’t throw Alice’s grief away – far from it. There’s a beautiful heartbreaking scene in which the Doctor – particularly the Eleventh Doctor – does none of the things that the Eleventh Doctor usually does. He doesn’t bounce off walls. He doesn’t come off like the cleverest or most important life form in the room. He just makes a cup of tea, and listens. This is an Eleventh Doctor humanized to some degree by where he is in his timeline – he’s just left Amy and Rory, letting them settle in to wedded bliss. But the rest of his character is very much intact – his ‘Ta-Dah!’ moment as he introduces Alice to the Tardis is priceless, his rejoinder to the UNIT forces about to disintegrate the great big alien mood-dog is spot on, and his quiet talk with Alice (in the Tardis swimming pool!) is a flash forward to the Eleventh Doctor of later years, with Amy in The Power of Three and with Amy and Rory both in The Angels Take Manhattan. The solution to the issue of the great big alien mood-dog has a sweetness that Hide was trying to achieve, but it works much better here in comic-book format, because the logic of the resolution feels less forced and less grown up.
Chapter two continues to strike the right Eleventh Doctor notes, even though they’re entirely different notes – and you begin to realise again, possibly more than you did when watching his TV episodes, how layered and varied and yet oddly coherent Matt Smith’s portrayal really was. The story of a paradise planet turned into a noxious amusement park and a bunch of toxic waste mines (we’re never quite sure why anyone would actually mine toxic waste, but that’s a small niggle) has a self-contained, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship feel, with a chunk of nastiness at the core that even vaguely harks back to The Happiness Patrol. There’s also a hefty dose of Eleventh Doctory Timey-Wiminess here, as we meet an adversary who’s met the Doctor before, though we’ve not seen that encounter. The threat is credibly built, if, when it comes down to it, rather rapidly disposed of, but the ideas of plastic, happy, always-smiley people concealing something rotten inside is as old as The Stepford Wives, and arguably as old as Dorian Grey. The thing that makes this chapter unique though is the Eleventh Doctorness of the whole thing – shooting a toy pig to win a paper target, for instance, is a deliciously backward-thinking, oddly sense-making Eleventh Doctor thing to do.
Chapter three is ‘the odd one’ in this collection of five interconnected chapters. Bringing together a pop star who’s the thinnest David Bowie parody you’ve ever seen (it actually gets quite wearing when John Jones starts singing almost-Bowie songs, and it tips the balance at one point when Space Oddity is rendered as a trip to the bathroom), with legendary bluesman and (naturally) friend of the Doctor’s, Robert Johnson, the people behind the ghastly amusement park in chapter two turn up again with a plan to recruit the Doctor – and they briefly succeed. It takes Alice, Jones, Johnson, the power of rock and roll and oh yes, did we mention, a regenerated Bessie to save the Doctor this time.
Chapters four and five are very much one two-part story, which follows the thread of the overall arc, but takes it back in time, to show us the first meeting with that adversary from the amusement park, and introduce us to the newest shape-changing companion of the Doctor’s, ARC, or the Autonomous Reasoning Center (It’s not lost on us that a set of comics based in the world of Moffat-Who have both an arc and an ARC). They work as a proper whodunit, allowing the Doctor to pull some proper smartest man in the room shenanigans, as well as to have a moody strop and a moral judgment moment, before saving the day with a gesture of simple communication.
All of this feels very distinctly right for the Eleventh Doctor – the five chapters have a thread running through, and the thread extends into comics going forward. The tones and topics and artwork and colour-choices are all very different, but they all work – the style of the Eleventh Doctor in Titan Comics is generally crisp, concise, and detailed, whether the artwork is supplied by Simon Fraser, as in chapters one, two and three, or by Boo Cook, as in chapters four and five. Indeed while stylistic differences are there, it’s hard to pick a favourite between Fraser’s work, particular in chapters one and two (look out for a great two-page comparison of worlds with the Doctor divided between them), and Cook’s in chapters four and five (in particular the rendering of ARC).
Coming off the back of David Tennant’s high octane chatterbox Doctor, Smith’s incarnation was always a surprising oddity – he could be bouncy by all means, but he took more time, had odder reactions, said altogether odder things, had a snappier temper, and on the whole did more in the way of quiet introspection. It’s by no means an easy mixture to convey in the comic-book form. But both in the artwork here, and the storytelling and dialogue by Al Ewing and Rob Williams, there’s a real sense of delivering unseen Eleventh Doctor stories. Indeed, with a Tardis full of new companions, each of whom is given a credible origin story within the pages of this first collection of stories, it feels as though we’re seeing the first half of an entirely credible unseen season of Smith scripts brought to life.
You know you want that, don’t you?
The download version of this first volume of collected Eleventh Doctor stories from Titan Comics is coming soon – significantly sooner than the hard-copy version. The choice is yours whether you get the electronic version, the swanky proper paper-book version, or both. But one way or another, this ‘lost season’ of Eleventh Doctor stories belongs with you.