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Graphic Novel Review
Enter the TARDIS with the Doctor and Clara for two stunning new adventures! First, the pair battle an enemy who can slide between the cracks of the universe and take over unwilling human hosts – the Fractures! Then the travellers discover an alien invasion in 1960s Las Vegas – forcing them to team up with gangsters! Writer Robbie Morrison (Drowntown, Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante) joins astounding artists Brian Williamson (Torchwood, Primeval) and Mariano Laclaustra (Dark Horse Presents) to blast the Twelfth Doctor and Clara – as played by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman – into new comics adventures…!
This graphic novel collects #6–10 of Titan’s Twelfth Doctor comic, as well as the six-page The Body Electric strip from Free Comic Book Day 2015. The book begins with a three-part story that is new to me, because I missed the issues in which it was originally presented…
Molly’s father, UNIT scientist Paul Foster, was killed in a terrible accident – but is he really gone? And what dark creatures live in the veins of the multiverse, reaching out to ensnare those foolish enough to breach their domain? The Doctor and Clara are about to face… the Fractures! The time travellers race against time to prevent a dreaded new peril in a bid to stop reality unravelling around them…
The Fractures revisits a number of appealing story elements from Army of Ghosts / Doomsday. Well, not the Cybermen or the Daleks, but just about everything else. We have the inter-dimensional Void – “Something mankind shouldn’t be tinkering with again for another 500 years,” snipes the Twelfth Doctor at the perceived pudding brains that surround him, “Was Canary Wharf not enough of a warning?” Like the Tenth Doctor did before him, he dons 3-D glasses – “Not 3-D,” he explains to Clara and one of her pupils, “E-D! Extra-dimensional!” Even the notion of a bereaved family made whole again by virtue of a parallel universe is present and correct. In Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, it was Rose’s family (dad dead in this universe, dad the only survivor in the other), whereas here it is the loved ones of UNIT scientist Paul Foster.
The Unified Intelligence Taskforce takes the place of Torchwood as host of the latest inter-dimensional gateway, with Kate Stewart making her Titan Comics debut. Some text is missing from the first picture on page 17 – presumably the Doctor is asking Kate which idiot built the reality gate, or words to that effect.
A less welcome bit of familiarity is the similarity to the Series 8 episode Flatline, in which slender and malleable creatures from another dimension emerge through walls and floors to steal the forms of human beings. I presume this similarity is a coincidence, as I doubt that writer Robbie Morrison would want to rip off Flatline so soon after its transmission. Given the original publication dates of the monthly comic books (March to June 2015), it’s likely that this story was nearing completion before the writer had even seen the television episode. The comparable nature of the monsters, and the return of Kate Stewart (who came back at the end of Series 8), are both probably indicators of how in tune Morrison is with the style and format of the series he is writing about.
Brian Williamson’s art is a bit rough and ready – all right if you don’t look too closely, but rather lacking in fine detail. Some of the visual action is unclear at times, in particular during two occasions when the Doctor uses technology to trap his foes. On the plus side, the artist’s work is not as reliant upon reference photographs as his subsequent Fourth Doctor mini-series would be – though Dave the estate agent does look unnervingly like Boris Johnson. And there are a couple of nice dissolves into the clockwork of the television show’s title sequence.
There are neat in-joke references in the street names used in this story. Hinchcliffe Avenue, where the Fosters live, is almost certainly a homage to the 1970s Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Fenn Street, seen on the front of a double-decker bus, was the setting of the school-based sitcom Please Sir! and its spin-off The Fenn Street Gang. Also displayed on the bus is the legend Hob’s End, a reference to the film version of Quatermass and the Pit (of which Williamson appears to be a fan, if his use of images of Andrew Keir in the Fourth Doctor comic is anything to go by).
It’s all aboard the nostalgia bus with The Fractures!
The Doctor and Clara are off to 1960s Las Vegas for some well-earned rest and relaxation! But unearthly danger lurks beneath the desert city’s neon lights… and soon the time travellers are forced to ally themselves with gangsters on the Vegas strip in order to combat an even more terrifying foe! Will the Doctor’s morals prove as alien as the octopoid invaders – or can he triumph without compromise…?
I owe Mariano Laclaustra an apology. In my reviews of the individual comic books containing the two-parter Gangland, I noted the variable nature of the story’s artwork, which was due to Williamson and Laclaustra sharing the workload. Take, for example, the impressive scene-setting opening flashback to the days of the Time Lord President Rassilon. Later pages revolving around the Doctor and Clara are not as strong. Compare how the two illustrators render the eyes of the octopoid Cybocks – finely detailed, shiny and metallic when Laclaustra does them, but mostly black when Williamson does them. At the time, I assumed that Laclaustra was the weaker link, but having since seen more examples of both artists’ work, I now know that it’s the other way around. Sorry, Mariano – please don’t send the mob after me!
What is unmistakable, however, is that the ‘Wolf Pack’ encountered by a starstruck Clara, comprising the entertainers Frankie Seneca, Dino Martinelli and Solly Dancer, is the Rat Pack in all but name. They even look like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, which begs the question of why the names were changed. Rights issues? Satirical purposes? Confusingly, the Doctor’s closing comment references a famous song by Frank Sinatra… even though Sinatra doesn’t seem to exist in this version of history. Perhaps in this universe, Frankie Seneca sang My Way.
Las Vegas in 1964 is a good setting for our heroes. The Twelfth Doctor remains blasé about games of chance and murderous gangsters alike, showing a talent for one and refusing to be intimidated by the other. “Oh, I understand,” he quips to a group of heavies, “It’s an offer I can’t refuse. Actually, that film’s not been made yet, so you won’t get the joke…” Later, when mob boss Nick Dragotta asks the Time Lord if he’s trying to be a smart-ass, he cannot help but be just that by replying, “Trying hard not to be, actually, but you don’t make it easy.” Meanwhile, Clara rocks a groovy 1960s look, as we always knew she could. When a Cybock boasts to her about his species’ previous conquests, she winds him up in a typically sarcastic manner: “Right… and now you’re running a bar – sorry, casino – on a backwater world like Earth? Doesn’t sound very imperious.”
After a promising set-up, events in the second half of Gangland zip past with little opportunity for reflection or character development. The Wolf Pack don’t get much to do, aside from half a page of hoofing and fighting towards the end – though I was interested to note that their agent looks uncannily like Toby Jones. (Reference photograph alert!) Other characters reveal their true colours at the drop of a fedora.
However, this seems leisurely compared to the pace of the next strip…
The Doctor and Clara have an electrifying adventure on an alien planet made of quartz…!
The six-page short The Body Electric feels like a longer story edited down to its bare bones. The extravagance of its opening splash page followed by a page establishing the alien setting leaves the writer with just four pages to resolve the story. There’s little time for mystery, and the Doctor and Clara manage to work out what is going on within the space of just one page. Perhaps they’ve seen Star Trek episodes such as The Devil in the Dark, Lonely Among Us and Home Soil, to which the slender plot owes a significant debt.
This is not the greatest ever collection of Twelfth Doctor strips, and the artwork is a mixed bag, but the writing of Robbie Morrison – who really captures the voices of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Jenna Coleman’s Clara – is always worth a read.