One of the hallmarks of the original run of Doctor Who was its cliffhangers – the hook to get people coming back the next week to see how the Doctor would be able to get out of whatever diabolical fate the scriptwriters had concocted. It’s a device that has been seen sporadically since the show’s return in 2005, with the occasional two-parter, as well as the teaser of the pre-credits sequence (at least, until Chris Chibnall scrapped them when he took over as showrunner) providing its own mini-cliffhanger.
Thank goodness, then, for the adventures in other media, such as the Titan Comics series, as cliffhangers are still in full force in the Doctor’s tales on the printed page. When we last saw her and Team TARDIS at the end of issue #1, no sooner had she rescued an unknown individual from a mysterious vortex, a group of aliens had turned up and surrounded all of them. Issue #2 jumps straight in and picks up the story moments later, with the aliens – the Grand Army of the Just – taking the Doctor and friends as prisoners. The actual resolution of the cliffhanger is a little weak, as it tends to undermine any potential sense of peril set up at the end of the previous issue, which is a bit of a shame; the faintly ridiculous look of the Grand Army of the Just also fails to help matters.
However, it certainly is refreshing to see that writer Jody Houser has picked up on some of the companions’ characteristics, by remembering Yaz is actually a Police Officer and using this to try and establish a dialogue between her and the Grand Arny of the Just, who position themselves as being intergalactic law enforcers. The TV series has, at times, tended to forget or overlook this for much of Series 11, and Yaz has at times suffered from being the least developed member of Team TARDIS, only bringing up her Police connections at times when it suits the plot, rather than it seeming to be a fully integrated, organic part of her character. At least she gets a chance to try and lead, while the Doctor is busy stabilising the person she rescued from a time loop.
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The mysterious figure identifies himself as Dr. Leon Perkins, who was working alongside the foremost human expert on temporal physics – a Dr. Irene Schulz – to develop wearable time travel tech. On the trial run, things seems to have gone very wrong. However, the story shows regular cutaways to Perkins and Schulz having an encounter with the malevolent alien who we first saw directing their actions back in issue #1, so we get to see there is more to Perkins’ story than he is letting on, as he only tells the Doctor part of what has actually happened. We only get hints of what the villain of the piece is up to, but at least the story reinforces that Perkins is working for it, throwing clear and strong doubt on his motives.
Again, given the lead times of the comics, it would be reasonable to expect that any ties to the TV series itself would be slight at best. As such, it was surprising to see a device from the series finale – ‘The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ – used here, again aa ‘get-out-of-jail’ card, namely the Doctor summoning the TARDIS by using the Sonic Screwdriver. It feels a bit of a cheat to use this as a way to get out of a scrape, and at least the series tried to explain its way around this by suggesting it was a one-off facilitated by a mixture of alien psychic ability blended with Stenza technology. If the Doctor is able to do this with relative impunity, however, then the tension and jeopardy is seriously undercut, as she will potentially be able to just call the TARDIS at a moment’s notice, robbing us of drama and removing one of the familiar tropes, where the Doctor and her ship end up being separated. Hopefully, this device will not be a feature of the Titan Comics series, but the damage has already been done to some extent.
This latest issue does feel like a bit of an old-school Who episode, with a lot of getting captured, escaping, running up and down lots of corridors, then getting recaptured, before finally escaping again. A bit of a traditional runaround is good for this old fanboy’s soul. We still have yet to find out exactly who the Grand Army of the Just are (other than a more literate version of the Judoon), and how they fit into things, but the story does seem to be shaping up nicely (as well as potentially being more in-depth and complex than some of the TV episodes of 2018), and ends on another cracking cliffhanger: you can almost hear the sting of the theme tune kicking in. Roll on issue #3.