‘Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor #3.3’ reviewed

❉ Smoking hot TARDIS-on-TARDIS vortex shenanigans and trippy, metatextual games ahoy!

Cover variant C: Papercraft by Ryan Hall.

Since the tenth Doctor departed in a blaze of big eyes, big hair and destructive regenerative self-pity I’d fallen out of love with him. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t begin to hate him but there was something about the character that niggled – a degree of self-infatuation and constant chirpiness. He might’ve been the most popular of the modern Doctors with the public but for me he’d turned into the cool kid you know you’d never be. Nothing against Tennant or the often magnificent stories, probably just me wishing I could pull of that combo of big eyes, insouciant swagger and easy charm.

All of which explains why I took so long to get round to Titan’s Tenth Doctor series. There were other Doctors I’d rather read about – what could you do with a Doctor who essentially seemed all surface? Really, I should’ve learned my lesson in the eighties, when Steve Parkhouse and John Ridgway located all the imagination and invention missing from the sixth Doctor’s TV era in the sublime Voyager storyline. Always look at the writer and artist’s names first, good ones can spy gold where the rest  of us see iron pyrite. And Nick Abadzis didn’t win an Eisner for nothing (and if you haven’t read Laika, order it up now. You can thank me at the nearest convention bar).

Over the last few years Abadzis has taken everything that gave Tennant’s incarnation mass appeal on telly – the seemingly boundless energy, peak Tom levels of self-confidence and charisma allied with geeky charm  – and made it work on the printed page. His key trick in removing what I found irritating lies in distilling the best elements from Tennant’s relationship with his companions. Companions Cindy and Gabby have the verve of Rose and Martha but also the confidence Donna had to challenge the Doctor’s decisions and keep him on his toes. It’s a bracing dynamic, lately spiced up by the addition of Anubis, son of Sutekh, to the TARDIS team. Yes, you read that right. His introductory story is well worth tracking down as an example of how to employ continuity creatively.

Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth kicks off by deftly avoiding a resolution to the cliffhanger for the previous story, Breakfast at Tyranny’s. It saw Cindy kidnapped by a giant organic red TARDIS. After some hot TARDIS-on-TARDIS vortex shenanigans we find ourselves in feudal China, a territory explored once on TV and once in novels. It’s fertile territory for Abadzisas he gives artist Giorgia Sposito plenty of room to demonstrate her talents. On top of some spectacular Chinese landscapes and there’s room for her to provide some beautifully stylised artwork which fondly recalls the metatextual games of Parkhouse and Ridgway’s Once Upon a Time Lord.

The issue itself is an intriguing set up –the red TARDIS entity has set itself up as the Red Jade General and enslaved a village towards mysterious nefarious ends. The Doctor and friends team up with the mysterious Wu Wei and his son Li. I suspect the results of googling Wu Wei may add a layer of understanding of story… but then again even that yields some pleasing ambiguities which doesn’t give much away yet. It all builds to a pleasingly disconcerting cliffhanger which harks back to the trippier elements of the previous story and even deepens them. This is a clever, perfectly-paced first part which is a textbook model for how to translate Doctor Who from screen to panel.

❉ ‘Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor #3.3’ (Writer: Nick Abadzis, Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Arianna Florean) is on sale from 15 March 2017, available in print from Titan Comics, RRP £2.65, and digitally from Comixology, RRP £2.49.

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