Click here to return to the main site.
Graphic Novel Review
Trapped in the Arena of Fear, and with their memories wiped, the Tenth Doctor and Gabriella Gonzalez, along with their friends Cindy, Cleo and even Captain Jack Harkness, are forced to battle against one another – to the death! Worse – those who escape the madness risk losing everything they are – at the hands of the Wishing Well Witch! Join the Doctor for a collection of stunning revelations, widescreen action and deeply personal surprises! Nick Abadzis (Laika) and astounding artists Elena Casagrande (The X-Files, Suicide Risk) and Eleonora Carlini (Grimm Tales of Terror) chart the dangerous next chapter in the Doctor’s ongoing story…!
This graphic novel brings together #2.6 to 2.10 of Titan’s Tenth Doctor comic. The volume takes its title from the opening two-part story...
It’s the Doctor and Gabby versus Cindy, Cleo, Erik and Jack , with the mysterious Mr Ebonite pulling the strings! With friend pitted against friend, they must fight to keep each other – and themselves – safe, and bring down the arena once and for all. But with their memories erased and their closest allies strangers, can they really trust anyone?! Forced to race each other for an extraterrestrial artefact, friendships are put to the test in the most surprising of ways – and the TARDIS team changes forever…!
Not for the first time, writer Nick Abadzis catches us off-balance with his follow-up to a cliffhanger. The previous graphic novel, The Endless Song, had ended with the jellyfish-like alien Monaxi summoning a time bridge, and the Doctor and his allies (including some Neanderthals and a gang of intergalactic bounty hunters) being sucked into it. However, Arena of Fear opens by switching the focus back to Cindy, Cleo and Erik, who we last saw being attacked by the sinister, skeletal Mr Ebonite in New York City in the present day, only to be rescued by none other than Captain Jack Harkness! As you may have gathered, this is not an ideal jumping-on point for newbies – it will make more sense if you have read at least the previous volume.
However, Cindy and co are not in Sunset Park any more. In common with the Doctor’s lot, they have been moved to a strange new location. They have also lost most of their memories, including how they got there. Even we don’t know where they are, though the untamed landscape (which is beautifully rendered by Eleonora Carlini) looks vaguely prehistoric. In their search for answers, Cindy’s party encounters individuals who are familiar to us but not to them, including the Neanderthal Munmeth’s daughter Muthmunna and a Terileptil ‘river goddess’. As this strange aquatic creature joins the Asian on her mystical quest (as Erik calls it), I was reminded somewhat of the Japanese television series Monkey, not least because many of the characters carry and fight with staffs.
On the subject of abilities, Mr Ebonite’s powers, including being able to disperse himself into little Ebonites, remain very cool – let’s have him/them back soon.
In the second half of the tale, the writer struggles somewhat to tell a coherent story. There are a lot of characters at work here, all of them jostling for our attention, and during some of the more crowded or action-packed scenes, I struggled to tell some of these characters apart. Story elements from even further back in the series also come into play, such as the butterflies from Gabby’s fertile imagination and the music box that was created for her by the sentient song Smokey.
To his credit, however, Abadzis manages to give everyone a satisfactory conclusion, even if it is sometimes rather overly reliant on convenience. Of particular note, Captain Jack is presented with the possibility of forming a new top-secret Earth-defence organisation, a successor to Torchwood (though this appears unlikely to be followed up in Titan’s recently launched Torchwood comic), and Cindy proves herself as a travelling companion.
The charming village of Dewbury has a very disgruntled resident – the Wishing Well Witch! How will the Doctor, Gabby and Cindy fare against this seven-faced supernatural force when the Witching Hour strikes for real? And is there a darker, more complicated truth to the Witch that still stands to be revealed? You bet! What lurks within the well is something far worse, and more strange, than the legend! It’s an unearthly terror, cast through a schism in the universe… and it’s tearing the town apart…!
The next two-part story, The Wishing Well Witch, is not to be confused with the Tenth Doctor novel Wishing Well or indeed the Eighth Doctor audio drama The Witch from the Well. This strip has more in common with the former, taking place in a present-day English village that comes complete with a doomsaying tramp (who at times looks a bit like the War Doctor), a wishing well containing an alien horror, and an exploration of said well by the Doctor – though on this occasion he goes in the ‘back way’ via a cave entrance rather than lowering himself down on a rope.
“Dewbury’s beaten Stockbridge this year as most paranormal place in England!” boasts one local, referring to a favourite haunt of the Time Lord in Doctor Who Magazine’s comic strip. Accordingly, Nick Abadzis’s script ticks a number of ‘scary story’ boxes. Pagan ritual? Check. Romantic couple coming a cropper while out after dark? Check. Fortune teller channelling more than she bargained for? Check.
That something is amiss in the village is highlighted by some particularly surreal images from Eleonora Carlini in the first half of the tale. She lends distorted expressions and poses to characters including an OCD scribbler (“Something’s missing, something’s missing, missing missing missing”), an anxious vagrant with very bad teeth (you can almost see his bad breath), a moment of unbridled rage from Gabby, and a fearful Cindy.
If ever Titan Comics decides to produce a new X-Files strip, then allow me to recommend artist Iolanda Zanfardino, who completes the second half. The reason I make this suggestion is that sometimes on these pages the Doctor looks more like David Duchovny than David Tennant. There is also some confusion over whether Gabriella is wearing trousers or has bare legs, leading to some potentially indecent poses, though it is unclear whether the fault lies with Zanfardino or the colourists at Hi-Fi. (As drawn by Carlini, Gabby had been wearing a skirt and dark-coloured tights.) In other respects, though, Zanfardino’s visuals here are a good match for the cartoony yet stylised art set up by Carlini, with plenty of dramatic, wind-ruffled poses from the humanoid characters, and lots of contorted shapes assumed by the Wishing Well Witch.
Meanwhile, resentment is building between the formerly best friends Gabby and Cindy. New TARDIS passenger Cindy is enjoying being with the Doctor – perhaps too much for Gabby’s liking. Gabriella is used to having the Time Lord to herself. Cindy takes a dim view of being told by Gabby how best to behave when visiting a new place. “Are you pulling rank on me?” Cindy asks Gabby at one point, “Let’s get this out of the way, then. He invited me. And hey, no need to worry – it’s clear that you are ‘senior friend of the Doctor’.”
The origin of the Witch herself… itself… themselves… whatever proves to be a big revelation for the Doctor and for fans of his era of the television show. I expect there will be consequences…
“Father, I hear you… I have a conscience now. She buzzes in my ear, like a Nile mosquito. I am caught between these two conversations, my own thoughts disappearing like so much dust caught in the spinning, vanishing funnel of a downward spiral. And still I wait. I grow impatient…” The TARDIS is under attack and its internal and external dimensions are about to collapse! Only one suspect has the power required to breach the ship’s defences. Has Anubis slipped back into his father’s old ways…?!
I get the distinct impression that the writer had planned to begin another two-part story at this juncture, set during the Jazz Age. This is evidenced by the cover for #2.10, which is reproduced at the back of this graphic novel. It shows the Tenth Doctor, Gabby and Cindy in New Orleans, but, though they are en route to that destination here, they won’t actually get there until the next volume. Because these graphic novel compilations typically collect issues in groups of five, Abadzis had to come up with this one-shot filler, The Infinite Corridor.
The strip does feel as though it is treading water, with the TARDIS crew encountering technobabble-inducing spatial weirdness which puts Cindy in jeopardy but is quickly sorted out. We also get a brief cutaway to deep space, where Anubis the Osiran is losing patience at the Doctor’s lack of progress in aiding his quest – a plot strand that will be developed further later.
On the plus side, it’s good to see old dog face again, and there are lots of dramatic images from Elena Casagrande showing stellar patterns in space, the swirling time vortex, and the TARDIS getting twisted out of shape. There’s also a neat nod to Pyramids of Mars, as the Doctor and his companions wonder who or what could be affecting the ship: “Nothing can get inside. Except…” “Except…?” “Except for a psychic projection. Mental force of that power is… unimaginable.” The Doctor and Cindy’s words echo a much earlier conversation between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith in 1975: “Nothing can enter the TARDIS. Unless…” “Unless what?” “Mental projection of that force is beyond imagination.”
What is not beyond imagination is an eventual landing in New Orleans – next time…!