If issue #1 featured a Doctor unburdened by both his past or heavy-laden with foreboding about an unseen future, then, in a story that broadens the scope of the range while simultaneously removing some of the Doctor’s armour, Issue #2 works best as a sort of prelude to the Time War.
The issue sees the Doctor and Josie Day arrive on Lumins World, landing straight in the middle of a war zone. When Josie is injured by a shard of crystal rain, a transmogrifying element soon threatens to turn her into a Spherion – a race of sentient crystals who have pursued the blue cat-like Calaxi from home to surrogate home; seemingly hell bent on eradicating all trace of their existence from the universe.
It’s the Doctor’s familiarity with conflict – and our foreknowledge of where this will ultimately take him – that ultimately allows him to win the day. As he rallies against the universe and its self-destructive vendetta against peaceful co-existence, we really start to understand why the Doctor is keen to remain unburdened. It’s his distance from his own tarnished past that allows him to see not only just how war has chiselled away at the Calaxi’s reasoning but also a solution for both sides.
It’s largely a one-sided conflict – we never really learn much about the Spherions, only, rather ingeniously, through what we are told by the Calaxi (there’s a great double page spread where, underneath beautiful red and yellow cell-like structures and strange purple caves, we learn the history of their conflict through the words of the apparent victims in a reasonless conflict) and through the Doctor himself after he opens communications with this faceless destructive element.
The story does require you to draw several conclusions about the nature of this conflict in order to believe in the Doctor’s solution but, by letting the Calaxi themselves accidentally present an obvious solution, writer George Mann allows us to see the Doctor at his best.
Then there’s Josie herself.
There’s a little discrepancy between the time she’s been with the Doctor and her familiarity with him but, by choosing to stand by his side, even as she’s placed in mortal danger, to aid the Calaxi, that marks her out as a noteworthy companion. Perhaps it’s due to the absence of her overall arc where, last issue, she was presented as being more than meets the eye, or maybe it’s due to the rather loose adaptation of the TV series’ structure, that it feels as though she’s proven herself to the Doctor before the events of this issue occur.
In fact, once the Doctor learns that Josie has been wounded, his attitude towards her is more about what she represents than who she is – his anti-war stance drowns out any guilt he feels for placing her in a situation she perhaps wasn’t ready for
However, for the most part, the issue walks this tightrope rather well – we don’t simply get a repeat of the previously mentions TV structure (the first issue/episode: meet the Doctor and solve an Earth-bound alien threat, the second issue/episode: solve an off-world conflict by quickly adapting to a new way of thinking) the Doctor isn’t entirely guilty because it’s an act of random chance that leads to her downfall but conversely Josie doesn’t entirely save the day either, it’s only through her determination to make the most of what time she has left that the Spherions listen to the Doctor. It’s these minor detours along a well-worn path that make the journey worthwhile.
Then there’s the artwork. The character designs are bold and demonstrative; a dynamic mixture of inventive panels and heighten action that propel the story along and adapt with fluid ease to the rigours of building an alien world without the cage of a TV budget to worry about: There’s a hint of Chris Burnham’s (Batman Incorporated) work within each layout, some lovely little anime style heightened emotions – jagged flashed of colour cutting through the background – that work well with the overall design and the colours are superb – there precise selection and wonderful balance across each page are reminiscent of the work of Nathan Fairbairn (Seconds) albeit less bold in their choices.
But it’s the panels themselves that impress the most. Emma Vieceli and Hi-Fi’s stunning artwork recalls Grant Morrison’s ‘3D page space’ or ‘Pop out’ effect he ascribed to We3’s time-bending panel work. While it isn’t as extreme as playing with the notion that panels are time/space windows into an increasingly sporadic and subjective timeline – which is basically the difference between story and plot – but there’s a genuinely novel attempt within the issue to use the space between the panels, be it figures breaking panels, monolithic black bars framing the panels themselves within the white background or even overlaying panels on top of panels; each choice adds something different.
Despite having to look a little closer to find some of the fine work being done, Issue #2 ultimately succeeds because, at the moment, the Doctor and Josie work well together; here’s hoping someone or something will come along soon and truly test that bond.
The trade paperback Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor – A Matter of Life and Death now for release on 3rd May for £13.25 from Amazon.