Missing Matt Smith? Wishing the eleventh Doctor had a better final series than the extremely-divisive Series 7? Then Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 is exactly what you’re looking for!
Written by Al Ewing and Rob Williams, the first issue (named After Life) takes place after the events of 2010’s A Christmas Carol. Amy and Rory Pond are settling into married life, leaving Matt Smith’s Doctor to travel the universe alone.
It was only the opening scenes of this comic that didn’t quite work. The opening is all in black and white, and it follows the story of Alice Obiefune who is having a hard time of it recently: her mother’s just died, she’s frustrated by her job, and she’s losing her flat. At one point, the comic reads “Everything just seemed to get worse. The grief. The grayness. The emptiness.” To be honest, the comic tried a bit too hard to make the reader glum. Such bleakness meant the opening failed to feel like a Doctor Who episode – Doctor Who episodes should have strong, intriguing opening scenes! This, however, felt slow moving.
But then, amongst the black and white panels, a shade of blue appears. Is that…? Yep, it is. It’s a blue box……
What Ewing and Williams capture brilliantly throughout the rest of this comic is the ‘fairytale’ tone of Matt Smith’s first series. For example, when we first see the eleventh Doctor, he’s chasing a brightly coloured space-dog (sorry, ‘rainbow dog’) through traffic. It’s a cracking scene, with just enough silliness and madness to inject a good amount of humour into the story.
They also convey the alien-feel of this rainbow dog – as the Doc tells Alice, the tail of the rainbow dog is not actually a tail, but instead a feeding tube which “absorbs its diet from the atmosphere around it.” It’s such a simple sci-fi idea, but it works very well. And, ultimately, the rainbow dog (called a Kharitite) has a real purpose for coming to Earth; a purpose which ties into Alice’s story very nicely.
One of the main strengths of After Life is that it’s a clever, self-contained story, which gives a sense of how Titan Comics are going to handle the eleventh Doctor. Perhaps, then, self-contained stories work better as openers than ‘epics’ with big old ‘to-be-continued’s at the end. Indeed, After Life is much more enjoyable that the tenth Doc’s adventure, Revolutions of Terror, as After Life was fun, clever and it was tied up neatly at the end. Also, After Life’s style of short storytelling was a lot more effective at conveying the overall tone of Doctor Who.
Like Revolutions of Terror, this issue would be accessible to those who had never seen a Doctor Who episode before (do such people exist!?). But there was also a healthy amount of fan-pleasing references in After Life. For example, we get to see the TARDIS swimming pool, which looks a lot better than it did in both The Invasion of Time and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (oooh, hey, and is that Jim the Fish?). In addition, the writers also refer to Silence in the Library, add to the list of ‘it’s-bigger-on-the-inside’ gags, use UNIT, and..….oh, wait, what’s that in the doorway!? No, that can’t be right. But it is. What’s that doing there? Oooh, what a nice, intriguing way to indicate a larger story-arc!
However, the best thing about this issue is that the writers portray Matt Smith’s Doctor perfectly! They show his childishness (“Don’t do cryptic! I do cryptic. I already bagsied cryptic”), his excitement at the universe (“Look at all the cool stuff”), his compassion (going back for Alice because she “seemed sad”)….they even paraphrase his famous catchphrase! (“Aliens are cool”). But, behind this fun exterior, they also convey eleventh’s internal sadness. For example, when Alice asks the Doctor if he travels alone, Simon Fraser’s artwork poignantly displays the loneliness behind Smith’s eyes. Because of this excellent characterization of the eleventh Doc, After Life feels like episode 1 of a new Matt Smith series.
In conclusion, After Life is a very promising Doctor Who story with brilliant artwork. It’s fun, wacky, clever and wonderful, and it feels like it’s going to be part of a larger story arc. (Oh, and it’s much better than most of Series 7). Apart from a slow opening, I have no complaints.