Oh, it’s always so exciting when a series restarts. The Doctor Who comics line had been going strong at IDW for a number of years, but around the same time of Matt Smith’s onscreen regeneration, so too did the rights to the comic books transfer to Titan Comics. They proposed three new distinct ongoing series, with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors debuting this week and the Twelfth coming in October. It’s a pretty neat prospect all around, but made even neater when it was announced that 10 and 11 would get new companions as well and would, as many comics do, take place in between what we’ve seen onscreen. For the Eleventh Doctor’s first issue, “After Life,” we have him coming across a new, rather lonely and helpless traveling partner who is in desperate need of some excitement in her life. And, if one issue is to be judged, she certainly gets it.
Written by the team of Al Ewing and Rob Williams with art by Simon Fraser, the Eleventh Doctor line comes right out the gate with a runaround romp taking our mysterious hero and new audience surrogate deep within the TARDIS and right up to London’s most famous landmark. One thing before getting into any story elements that I really liked is that this issue feels exactly like the first episode of a television series, and one where we follow the companion for awhile first before the Doctor ever shows up. This companion, Alice Obiefune, a single librarian from London, is shown to need the Doctor perhaps more than she might care to admit or even acknowledge, but as happens when the Eleventh Doctor is at his best, she doesn’t have to say it.
For this series, we are planted in between the Doctor taking the Ponds on their honeymoon and when he meets them again for “The Impossible Astronaut,” so after Series 5, before Series 6. One very smart thing they’ve done with both of these titles is to give a page explaining who the Doctor is, what the TARDIS and sonic screwdriver are, and what just happened in his timeline. It’s quick, it’s direct, and it sets up everything any reader might need to know, be they fans of the TV show or not.
The issue starts with a very downtrodden and somber introduction to Alice, who has just buried her mother. Things get worse when she gets laid off from her job at the library and is being evicted from her flat so the landlord can sell the building to rich developers. Even her friends seem to be moving away. It’s just the saddest way to intro the character, but it’s also done with great style and economy. These panels are all drawn in shades of gray and Alice looks small within them, like she’s being surrounded by the oppressive dreariness of her life. However, at no point do we see anything like a tear on he cheek or a quivering lip; she’s incredibly depressed but she’s also a strong and stoic character, and we find out later, a very smart one.
The book immediately becomes vibrant and colorful (literally) when Alice encounters the Doctor, in this instance chasing what looks like a mix between a Chinese paper dragon and Barkley from Sesame Street. The Eleventh Doctor beckons her to help chase the animal (which he continually says is LIKE a dog but isn’t a dog), and eventually Alice is running through the streets of London trying to catch a big alien thing. She never questions what’s happening, nor does she hesitate in jumping into the fray. In these little moments, we see how thoughtful and open-minded she is.
The Doctor also sees, even through the running, that she needs a friend. After they’ve gone their separate ways, he returns to her to, as the narration says in the book, “just listen” to her problems. While there are glimpses of the Eleventh Doctor’s voice in the issue, and I’m betting the writers will be 100% on with it in no time, they absolutely nailed the level of compassion and desire to cheer up those he encounters. It’s such a sweet moment to have for this new companion, too, allowing herself to spill her guts to this man who appeared out of a police box that just materialized in her living room.
From there, we get the usual case of the companion helping the Doctor figure out what to do to solve this particular problem, and then his inviting her into the TARDIS with him. Perhaps more than any other companion, Alice truly has nothing to her name, no people or physical attachments, and so that really does make her the perfect candidate for time and space travel.
The first issue is a self-contained adventure but one that goes a long way of setting up character and relationships. We also get some fun bantery moments with the Doctor and some shenanigans involving Parliament and an appearance by UNIT. It feels very within the world of the television series which is exceedingly important for a officially licensed titled like this. Tone is the hardest thing to achieve and I think they do a brilliant job of it right out of the gate.
Fraser’s artwork is detailed and rich without being either too stylized or too photorealistic. It strikes a great balance between the two. His depiction of the aliens gives them weight and density and not just like wackadoo cartoon characters appear in the real world. They feel exactly in the same plane of existence as the humanoids, if you take my meaning. Also, huge props for showing us parts of the interior of the TARDIS we hadn’t yet seen fully and for getting the Series 5 and 6 console room dead on.
There will be two more one-off story issues in this range before the greater continuity takes over, but already we see a couple of small glimpses into what might be lying ahead for the Doctor and Alice. I’m very excited to see where this series goes and what new adventures we’ll see from the Time Lord.