Fire up the TARDIS and dig your bow ties and fezzes out of the drawer, it’s time to meet Matt Smith once more in the start to our first ever Summer Comics Binge.
Written by Al Ewing and Rob Williams
Illustrated by Simon Fraser
Colored by Gary Caldwell
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
A stunning new era begins for the Eleventh Doctor, as played by Matt Smith!
Alice Obiefune has just lost her mother when the Doctor explodes into her life.
But what does this grieving young woman have to do with the career of a 70s musician, an amnesiac alien, and a terrifying cosmic threat?
In the wake of the second Big Bang, find out what the Doctor gets up to when Amy and Rory aren’t around!
Series architects Al Ewing (Loki: Agent of Asgard, Mighty Avengers, Trifecta) and Rob Williams (Revolutionary War, Ordinary, Miss Fury, The Royals: Masters of War, Trifecta) kick off a whirlwind adventure through eternity with artist Simon Fraser (Nikolai Dante, Grindhouse, Doctor Who)!
Whovians always say, you never forget your first Doctor. My first Doctor was Matt Smith’s young at heart but old soul Eleventh Doctor, the Doctor that propelled the series to meteoric heights of popularity in America. Coincidentally, Titan Comics received the US Doctor Who comic license from IDW in 2013, just as Smith’s tenure on the show ended. For our inaugural Summer Comics Binge, I’ve decided to revisit my first Doctor once more – – but this time, with the comics. It’s my opportunity to finally and properly read Whovian comics in order, rather than attempting to jump in for events and try to figure out how they fit in with the TV show.
As I explore the series, formats of reviews and probably what I will review in each installment will change. The plan is to look at the entire run of Eleventh Doctor stories that are not connected to other event comics in the Titan Doctor Who universe, a total of three “years.” A cursory look at the catalog and solicits reveals a first year of primarily self-contained stories, so I’ll take those an issue or two at a time. In the second and third years, more structured arcs of around four or five issues each make up those runs, and owing to our compressed timeframe for the Summer Comics Binge, I’ll look at each of those as a collected story arc. Depending on time left, there may even be a dive into other stories, such as “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives” or Eleven’s installment in “Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor.”
Let’s kick off this era of Whovian comics with eleven (natch) brief thoughts on the very first issue of “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor.” Note that this will contain spoilers for the Eleventh Doctor seasons of the TV series, so if you have not watched that era, proceed with caution.
1. The Continuity
The continuity of this series places it right at the end of the very first season of Matt Smith’s run. Titan’s “Previously…” recap seems out of place for a first issue of a series, but it frames this comic run as taking place somewhere between his first Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol,” and the start of the second Matt Smith season, “The Impossible Astronaut.” Amy and Rory have had a memorable honeymoon (aspects of which we saw in “A Christmas Carol”) and the Doctor has given them space to enjoy married life before he presumably joins them again in America in “The Impossible Astronaut.” I will be keeping close watch to see just what aspects of the TV continuity make an appearance in the comics. Will we see a fez or two? A passing mention of the Pandorica? A wistful moment with a Vincent van Gogh painting?
(Side note: If you are looking to start with Doctor Who and with the Matt Smith episodes, “Vincent and the Doctor” is a personal, emotional, heartbreakingly beautiful favorite of mine.)
2. Meet Alice
Our new Companion is Alice Obiefune, a library assistant (don’t call her a librarian!) who just cannot catch a break. She’s lost her mother, who was the center of her life, leaving her feeling empty and gray. The death of Mother Obiefune starts a spiral of bad luck for her, from job loss to eviction to a close friend moving away. And it’s when she least expects it that she meets the Doctor, unsuccessfully chasing after a Technicolor alien puppy and a tumble into a lamppost.Continued below
It’s a chance meeting but us readers know better that it will be anything but fleeting. The Doctor has a tendency to show up just when you need him or her most, not always in the smoothest of introductions, and you don’t realize until much later just how much impact that first chance meeting had. He popped in to Amy Pond’s life both in her lonely orphaned childhood and as a woman on the eve of her wedding day. He found Donna Noble as a runaway bride. (What is it with the Doctor and weddings?) He found Ace when one of her chemistry experiments went awry.
Alice may think she’s just going to heal this poor man’s wounds, and her unanswered questions after he disappears shows her curiosity captivated. We all know he’ll be back, though. That rainbow alien puppy got away and he’s going to need some help catching it.
3. The Pleasantville Effect
From The Wizard of Oz to Pleasantville, film loves to play with the transition of black and white to color to symbolize a new look or new lease on life, and that’s the color approach used here – – opening with Alice’s current state of affairs in black and white, slowly and gradually ramping up the color in the opening half. By the time she sets foot on the TARDIS, we see the full range of Gary Caldwell’s color work, a metaphor for her journey from what was an ordinary life into something extraordinary. The gradual transition makes sense as Alice herself is just making sense of this strange raggedy man that dropped into her life so suddenly.
And speaking of the TARDIS . . .
4. Bigger on the Inside
For a spaceship that’s supposed to be bigger on the inside, the landscape spread (presumably a two page one, though I am reading this on an iPad that renders it as one page) and paneling does not do it justice. It’s a 12 panel grid that plays with size, shape, and space to show flash cuts of Alice’s reactions to stepping inside but does nothing to convey the grandeur of the TARDIS. Readers see the awe that Alice experiences upon seeing that it is really bigger on the inside. But we’re still getting to know Alice, so we don’t really share in her awe and wonder yet, at least not without seeing what she is seeing. We need to have that shared experience with her, and half of that shared experience is missing.
The glimpses of the main TARDIS controls reinforce where this series is in the continuity, taking the design from the 2010-2011 TARDIS: warm, whimsical, comical.
We also get a look at the infamous swimming pool, which had just returned to TV TARDIS continuity the year prior, after being burnt up in “The Doctor’s Wife” to get energy to enter the bubble universe. Hopefully it does not meet a similar fate in the comics, for it is now also the home of some cute goldfish-like aliens that the Doctor calls friends, even naming one of them Reg.
5. Just Look at That Cover!
I must give a moment of praise to Alice Zhang and the beautiful main cover she provides for the issue. It’s a cosmic photorealist Impressionist look that is mysterious and alluring. If you didn’t think of Matt Smith’s Doctor as a sex symbol, this cover will change your mind.
6. “I . . . am a Library Assistant!”
The running joke of the Doctor calling Alice a librarian and her correcting him as she’s just a library assistant gave me a sad chuckle. Unfortunately, there is still a class stratification within the library profession between librarians and library assistants, as certain librarians feel that because they have the master’s degree in library science, they are more of a “real” librarian than library assistants who may not have that degree, even though both do the same type of work. And librarian social media drama bubbles up now and then about who is and is not a “real” librarian and how to define a “real” librarian. (Seriously. It happened this week.) It’s arguments I hear too often, especially as someone who has that master’s degree but pursues an alternative career path working for a company that works with libraries rather than in one. And to hear Alice refer to herself that way breaks my heart a little, for she does good library work, work that professional librarians do every day.Continued below
7. Where’s My Raggedy Man?!
While Alice Zhang’s cover is stunning, the same cannot be said for Simon Fraser’s Doctor. He gets the look of Matt Smith’s Doctor right in costume and hairstyle, but his face for Matt Smith is too round, too plump, too young. Where’s that strong angular chin and jaw that I love? Fraser goes for straight up cartoon look with the Doctor here, emphasizing that youthful look. It doesn’t do Smith’s unique and beautiful face justice. This is a veteran “Doctor Who” artist here, and I’m hoping this is just a case of first issue jitters and things move closer to the end of photorealism in future issues. The beauty of the Eleventh Doctor is that juxtaposition of the old soul trapped in a young body. Strip that away, and not much is left.
8. Prime Minister’s Questions
Since Prime Minister’s Questions makes an appearance here, I have to make mention of one of the most amusing exercises in government to watch. The late Robin Williams describes it best: “Congress with a two-drink minimum.” It’s another small moment, like Alice’s correcting the Doctor about whether or not she is a librarian that just adds to the series’s charm, as well as a reminder of the franchise’s British roots.
9. The Power of Two
Our Technicolor alien puppy is a Kharitite Empathy Beast, a creature that grows by feeding on the sadness of others. When Alice and the Doctor meet it again, it’s larger than life in size, color, and scope, getting more and more negative energy as it rampages through the House of Commons. But it was also harboring its own sadness, a search for a missing friend. With the pals reunited, our empathy beast returns to normal size. There’s still plenty of grief in the world for it to feed upon should it be hungry again, but it has its bestie back, and that’s all that matters.
Seeing the two together inspires Alice to put aside sorting out the landlord and the rest of her life for another adventure or two with the Doctor, after a little convincing from him. Her new friends taught her how much more there is to life with the power of two.
10. “Service with a Shhh!” and “Pond Life”
The two one page backup stories in this issue have their own charms and capitalize on the popularity of the recently concluded Who era. The first one features the Doctor in his Titan vinyl figure personal filming a bank commercial with the Silence (the aliens we met in “The Impossible Astronaut”) with amusing results. “Pond Life” shows Amy and Rory dealing with daughter River going on a date with the Doctor. Of the two, “Pond Life” is stronger in its wink-and-a-nod humor, and does what the main narrative could not do: provide a more accurate look for the Doctor, even in caricature form.
11. Final Thoughts
If it wasn’t for Doctor Who’s cancellation in 1989, I doubt we would have the franchise legacy we have today. Those dark years of the 1990s and early 2000s birthed us original novels, comic strips, audio adventures, along with the occasional special TV appearance or two. And while the show has returned and thrived in the 21st century, the tradition of spinoff stories continues. Art weaknesses aside, this kickoff to the Titan era starts strong and carries on that legacy, with a good script that brings familiarity of a beloved incarnation into a new adventure.
Welcome home, Raggedy Man. How I’ve missed you so.
If you’d like to read along with me this summer, the first four trades of the series are available on Comixology Unlimited, along with the first fifteen issues of Year One and the first five issues of Year Two (as of this writing). If you are in the United States or Canada and your local library has access to the Hoopla Digital service, you can make Alice happy by borrowing single issues and trades from the series via your local library.