Creating a tie-in comic for an ongoing live-action TV property must, I imagine, be something like unicycling on a tightrope while juggling. You’re effectively translating at the same time as telling a story, taking characters performed by actors and rendering their much-scrutinized verbal quirks and physical mannerisms as illustrations and word balloons. You have to understand the storytelling conventions of the source material well enough to evoke them, but pace your narrative for 24-page monthly comics instead of 40-odd minutes of weekly television; your story must be interesting enough to entice fans who may or may not be into comics as a medium, but its consequences have to fit within a predetermined status quo.
Keeping all those constraints in mind, with the launch of their new Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor ongoing, Robbie Morrison (2000 AD, Nikolai Dante, The Authority) and Dave Taylor (Force Works, Batman, Judge Dredd) had an additional challenge: creating a tie in for a television character before he’d made his screen debut. So if their blindfolded juggling tightrope unicycle act has started off a little wobbly, we can applaud them for not falling right off the rope.
Wisely, for their opening story Morrison and Taylor adhere to the classic formula good for all Doctors and companions: the TARDIS lands somewhere unexpected and there’s a mystery to be solved, but not before a few extras meet gruesome deaths. A 25th century terraforming project, interplanetary politics, and Gallifreyan technology gone awry: it’s an intriguing set-up, and a visually rich setting. Taylor goes to town – so to speak – on a verdant jungle populated by two-headed birds and colorful skunk-monkeys. The speaking cast are also a wild bunch, made up of all of aliens ranging from the near-human with added wobbly bits to fish-people in environment suits. One major advantage of Doctor Who in comic form is that the artist’s imagination isn’t limited by the BBC budget – on TV Who the completely ordinary-looking humans of the future have a surprising predilection for 19th and 20th century retro, but that’s not the case here.
On the flip side, Taylor occasionally struggles with the main cast itself. As sometimes happens with characters drawn from reference, the Twelfth Doctor’s face is incongruously well-defined compared to everyone else’s, whereas Clara’s is strangely mushy. It doesn’t help that she spends the entire issue in a bizarrely tight snowsuit instead of one of her trademark collared shirt and floaty skirt ensembles. The snowsuit makes sense for the plot, but what’s with the shoulder pads? And how does she get it down over her hips to pee?
Although there are a few references to Clara’s job and her thing for Danny, for the most part she plays the default companion role of asking questions and getting into trouble. It’s not always a great fit – out of all of the Doctor’s friends, Clara seems one of the least likely to brazenly pick a fight with a pack of “skunkies”, no matter whether they’ve taken her hat – but for the first part of a multi-issue arc it works fine. Without Capaldi’s trademark silences, Twelve seems a bit more like Ten having a bad day. It’s true that they’re the same man, but this made more sense after I found out that Morrison’s other title for Titan is Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor. Even if it doesn’t work perfectly here, I’m sure it’ll improve as we get into issues scripted after the creative team have a few episodes under their belts.
Altogether, a solid start under difficult conditions. Do I plan on picking up the next issue? Well, I’m not sure, but I’m certainly curious enough to check in on the complete story arc – not to mention The Tenth Doctor.