Following on from the tradition started by Nu-Who since it’s return in 2005, Titan Comics are releasing the first part of their 13th Doctor Holiday Special this week. Along with the companions from last years successful series, Ryan, Yasmin, and Graham, The Doctor returns with a visit to a festive, little town where not all is as it seems.
After a year of writing the monthly comics, Jody Houser is more than comfortable with the characters and the tone of Jodie Whittaker’s take on the famous Time Lord. Without a second wasted, she throws the cast into a festive story, packed with the kind of adventure you’d expect from the longest running science fiction series.
A Festive Doctor
While planning a festive adventure it becomes apparent that not is all as it should be in the TARDIS. Someone has been altering the Doctor’s memories, and the memories of her companions. But more disturbing is that the TARDIS herself appears to have been tampered with.
Houser uses this mystery as the jumping off point for the Holiday madcap adventure. There is nothing more exciting than a festive mystery and the 13th Doctor is perfectly matched for this kind of caper. Houser draws on the fun elements of the 11th T.V. series, something that she did a number of times in her first year on the comic. She is able to draw out a whimsical idea and make it believable within the confines of a Doctor Who story. The secret to her success is that she never ventures too far away from the human drama at the heart of the 13th Doctor.
The opening of this issue, for example, portrays a family deciding on what to do for the holidays. A mundane situation made otherworldly by the location. However, Houser keeps the narrative tightly structured around what these four characters do and their interactions with each other even after they enter an alien world. The plot itself hinges on the Doctor’s concern for her ‘family’ and the potential harm that has been done to them.
The characterisations of the central cast are perfect replicas of their television counterparts. If you have read any of the 13th Doctor comics this year this will come as no surprise. It is one of the most striking elements of the comic. Al Ewing got Matt Smith’s incarnation spot on and Houser captures the energy and wonder of Jodie Whittaker. The conversations are a joy to read with humorous banter flowing across the pages.
Dreams of Festive Villages
Roberta Ingranata uses soft lines which creates a dreamlike quality to a lot of the artwork throughout this comic. The delicate touch, coupled with expressive facial and body gestures, makes the comic easily accessible; the visuals are comforting and easy to follow. This approach opens up the audience for the comic, pulling in ardent fans or first time readers.
Ingranata’s layouts are also easy to follow. The transition from the present time to flashback memories is instantly recognisable on the page because of the change in panel shape. Memories tumble across the page inside circular panels, often with a different color scheme provided by Enrica Eren Angiolini, reminiscent of the visions of sugar-plums from Clement Clarke Moore’s festive poem Twas The Night Before Christmas.
This is not the first subtle reference to Christmas and as the story progresses neither the writer or artists resist the urge to sprinkle the comic with a touch of festive magic. The overall feel of the comic is one of Christmas wonder, with an element of mystery. Reading this is like snuggling up in front of a fire to watch an old TV movie that you only ever see at Christmas, but that you know inside and out.
The punchy script has a rhythm to it. The vocal beats have been provided by the small, broken speech balloons placed almost poetically across the page. With the magical visual style that this issue of Doctor Who has it is difficult to integrate the lettering but Richard Starkings and Sarah Hedrick do an outstanding job. By spacing the text out into several balloons, spreading the speech around the panels, it allows the artwork to shine through.
The sound effects are almost the opposite, in that they jump out of the page at you. They are bold and have an old school comic vibe to them, however they work just as successfully as the speech. There is a jovial element to this comic that the sound effects pick up and run with. There is something warm and cosy about the bubbly, bright yellow sound of the TARDIS arriving next to a tiny Christmas village.
The story is new but it feels old. The artwork is very modern but familiar and warming. The Doctor is, especially as portrayed here, the perfect holiday hero; she is full of wonder and excitement but there is a serious side, glimpsed briefly just beneath the surface.
Jody Houser has embraced the Holiday Special tradition and crafted a warmhearted, exciting adventure with, surprisingly, cute Toy Soldiers as the creature of the week. The artwork is magical with a strong sense of humour but still manages to great some moments of tension squeezed in there.
This comic is a great addition to the Doctor Who methos and, just like Christmas, the second part can’t come soon enough.