Ginger Nuts of Horror
This book is a collection of the first sixteen issues of Titan comics Twelfth Doctor run, and all feature Clara Oswald as his companion.
And I guess I need to start by acknowledging that it’s an odd time to be reading this series. As I write this, both the Capaldi and Moffat eras have come to a close a mere two weeks ago, and the forthcoming Jodie Whittaker/Chris Chibnall series I know almost nothing about, beyond that there will be ten episodes in Autumn.
As such, returning to Capaldi’s first year was in some ways a bit jarring - especially the dynamic with Clara, which in the first televised season was necessarily fluid and evolving, as the newly regenerated Doctor figured out who he was, whereas equally necessary, in the comic it’s far more of a fixed dynamic, with playful banter very much the order of the day. Indeed, towards the end of the run, it becomes clear that these adventures are post Season 8, judging by some of the lines Clara says regarding Danny Pink, which makes more sense of the more settled central dynamic.
That said, Capaldi’s Doctor fares much better than Clara does in this run. Throughout, the writers felt to me to have captured the voice of Capaldi’s Doctor better than the show itself managed in that first season, sometimes, even if there is for my money a slight over-reliance on stock 12th Doctor terms like ‘pudding head’. I found I was reading the 12th Doctor words in Capaldi's voice, and I honestly couldn't find a single line that didn’t ring true, which I found pretty impressive.
Clara is for the most part also captured well, but I felt some of the writers slipped a little into ‘generic companion’ voice for her, and while she was mostly handled well (and given enough to do), there were moments here and there where her dialogue felt like an afterthought - or a device to ask the Doctor the relevant question of the moment. While that is one of the jobs of the companion, the stronger writers found ways to do this that fit well with Clara’s self assured, confident character.
Overall, I really enjoyed the stories, finding a good mix of shorter stand alone tales and longer continuity. The collection starts with Terror Former (2 parts - written by Robbie Morrison art by Dave Taylor), which introduces The Hyperions, a race of sentient suns (though without the power to possess humans that a similar creature had in the TV episode 42). I enjoyed the lengthy ‘pre-credits’ sequence that set the scene, and the story action unfolded well, especially in the second part. The art style was a little basic for my taste, with a lack of detail on both the 12th Doctor and especially Clara, at times, but the big set piece scenes were well realised and impressive.
The Swords of Okti (3 parts - written by Robbie Morrison, art by Dave Taylor) features a dual narrative, set in India in 1825 and the year 2314. I really enjoyed this one - the unfolding of the duel timeline narrative was well judged, and the supporting cast were well drawn and impressive characters. The villains were suitably creepy also, and the action in the final part had some real twists and turns. I prefered the art style here also - though it’s the same artist as the previous story, the colour palet is both darker and richer, and the lines cleaner, and while Clara is still drawn a bit ‘generic-beautiful-woman’, The Doctor’s face is much improved here.
Fractures (3 parts - written by Robbie Morrison, art by Brian Williamson) featured villains that felt like a retread of the idea behind Father’s Day, albeit crossed with the Family Of Blood’s malevolence. It was a fun, action packed runaround with a solid emotional core, but if (like me) you’re any kind of Who continuity nerd, you might have had some nagging questions about how come these creatures haven’t turned up before in the history of the mythos, given, well, the history of the mythos - especially when 12 breaks out 10’s 3D glasses as a plot point. If you can/will put that aside, it’s a good romp with a nice cameo from Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and the best art of the collection so far, with superb depictions of both Clara and the Doctor.
Gangland (2 parts - written by Robbie Morrison art by Brian Williamson) - Dropping an alien invasion into 60’s Vegas mob drama (Casino meets Who meets Mars Attacks?), Gangland was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It felt like a bit of an uneven fit stylistically, in that I can’t imagine the Doctor ever having anything but contempt for gangsters, and the stand-in ‘Rat Pack’ characters seemed both superfluous and incongruous - why not just do the real thing, if you’re going to do it at all? That said, the aliens were enjoyable, and their murderous scheme and motivation worked well for me. The art is superb in this story, with a wonderful double page splash in the second part that evokes the classic 50’s and ‘60’s B-movie sci-fi tradition. Overall I enjoyed this despite the misgivings and caveats.
Unearthly Things (1 part - written by George Mann, art by Mariano Laclaustra, Nelson Pereira) is a quieter historical piece. I enjoyed the atmospheric art, but felt it was a bit derivative (especially of Unicorn and the Wasp). Again, enjoyed the colour palate and art style of this one.
The Hyperion Empire (4 parts -written by Robbie Morrison, art by Daniel Indro) - the grand finale of the first year series sees the return of the Hyperion. The story has a suitably epic scale, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance as the Hyperion attempt to absorb the power of Earth’s sun. I found a lot to enjoy here, from the ash zombies, to Kate Stewart organising the resistance from the Underground Stations turned shelters, to Sam the fireman (!), a new character who takes on a pivotal role as the story progresses.
The Doctor has some superbs moment in this story, including some defiant one-liners and a real battle of wits with the Hyperions,and the story overall is very pacy and action packed. I enjoyed the art here, but it is more stylised than the last few stories, which makes some of the face work inconsistent. Overall, a suitably explosive finale to the first year arc.
Relative Dimensions (1 part - written by George Mann, Cavan Scott, art by Mariano Laclaustra) is a curious coda. On the plus side, the art style and framing is beautiful and imaginative, playing with the form in a pleasingly, whimsical way that is in perfect service to the story that’s being told. On the downside, the reveal of the villain felt like a severe anticlimax to me, and I’d question the wisdom of resurrecting such an obscure part of Who lore, especially given the amount of emotional weight that it’s meant to carry in the climax. In some ways this is the most classic Who story of the lot, in that the promise of the first three or four pages is never going to last to the end of the story - but there’s much fun to be had on the way.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection. For me, the bottom line is I’ve enjoyed Capaldi’s run on the series, and it was a huge pleasure, as that run came to an end on TV , to revisit his Doctor in some additional adventures. The key to that enjoyment was just how well the writers captured the voice of 12, which really sold me on the collection as a whole. The art was variable, but never less than passable, and often far better than that, and the stories are for the most part action packed and fast moving.
If you feel like a bit more Twelve in your life, while you await the coming of Thirteen’s debut season, there’s a lot here to enjoy.