‘The Doctor has abandoned his crew to chase a mysterious message into deep space! As Cindy recovers from the splitting headache she developed on her most recent adventure, Gabby’s mysterious block-transfer butterfly powers evolve even further. But will the team ever be reunited? and what secrets will the Doctor find waiting for him, out in the cosmic dark?’
Doctor Who comics have always had a history of being more bizarre than its parent show, and of telling more complex and in some cases psychedelic stories. Much like Frobisher, the shape-shifting penguin companion of the sixth and seventh Doctor, the latest comic book companions Gabby and Cindy are more than meets the eye.
With the traumatic events of the previous volume still raw in the minds of the two young humans, the Doctor dumps them both on Earth in order to investigate a mystery that is effecting the TARDIS. Over the course of the book the Doctor discovers that Gabby has begun to evolve past simply being human, she is becoming a Time Sensitive, a being that possesses the time and space travel abilities of the TARDIS.
Whilst the book explores some heavy sci-fi concepts, and takes a lot of time to begin to make a lot of sense, it tells a very effective human story throughout. The book is as much a story of how travelling with the Doctor changes people, how it gives them the chance to grow into a bigger person, yet also how those adventures can go on to damage a person.
Cindy is reeling from her experiences with her clone daughters, forced to face the complexity and bizarre nature of time as she realises she is her own ancestor, whilst Gabby has just seen someone who looks like her best friend die. These are traumas that would effect most people deeply, yet the two of them are without the Doctor to help them through this, someone who undoubtedly has experience with dealing with trauma.
Thankfully, the book has the surprise inclusion of Sarah Jane Smith to help the two of them out, with the character using her extensive history with the Doctor to assist the young women with what has happened to them.
Any inclusion of Sarah Jane Smith is a genuine treat. With the late Elizabeth Sladen passing suddenly during the production of the fifth series of The Sarah Jane Adventures there is a hole in the Doctor Who universe. Getting to see her again, even in comic form, brings back all of the wonderful memories of not just the character, but Elizabeth Sladen herself. Her inclusion definitely makes the book better.
Whilst the human story is interesting, and the inclusion of Sarah Jane Smith is a good thing, a lot of the story is given over to the mystery of what’s affecting the TARDIS, and the Doctor investigating this across time and space. Unfortunately, this is one of the weakest areas of the book, and not even the inclusion of Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor saves it from tedium.
A book with both a strong emotional undercurrent, and a plodding central mystery sadly makes ‘Vortex Butterflies’ a weak book overall.