Of the three continuing Doctor Who titles Titan Comics currently has running, The Tenth Doctor has easily been the best of the bunch. The latest, Issue #6, ushers in significant changes, however. Not only does it kick off a whole new story arc, it brings an entirely different creative team to the table. Writer Robbie Morrison and artist Daniel Indro replace Nick Abadzis and his cohorts, and put their own stamp on David Tennant’s Time Lord. While there is definitely a different mood and tone going on here, they’re still playing the long game, letting the narrative arc unfold and the characters develop over multiple installments, and Issue #6 reads like what it is, the first chapter in a larger story.
The first story for The Tenth Doctor might have had giant killer sculptures and sinister bipolar twin entities, but everything about this latest issue, from the plot to the setting to the art, has a grim, serious edge to it. Now that Gabby Gonzales has signed on to be the Doctor’s fulltime travelling companion, their next adventure finds them in a blasted, desolate place full of death and destruction, as a minor miscalculation (Gabby tried to make a spot of tea in the TARDIS) plops them down smack in the middle of No Man’s Land in World War I.
When the TARDIS, as well as the Doctor, take a direct mortar hit, things take a turn for the even worse. They wind up in a field hospital (the fact that the Doctor has two hearts is a matter of some confusion for the medic), their trusty transportation device in ruins, the sonic screwdriver confiscated, and, oh yeah, the British are convinced they’re German spies. The situation could be better. And as you probably guessed, there is even more going on than just this, the Weeping Angels keep showing up at inopportune moment and killing folks (because there’s not enough death in war) and doing horrible things, like sewing a dude’s eyes open.
Overall, The Tenth Doctor has been more serious than the Eleventh, which is almost nothing more than cartoonish bumbling about, but this issue takes that up a few notches. Visually, this a bleak, dirty, grizzled world, as you would expect of scenes from a war as vicious as this one. There are people being shot and blown up, but even beyond that, there’s a stern looks to the characters and settings that they didn’t have before, even the dapper Doctor. For some reason this new style reminds me of Steve Dillon’s work on Preacher and his run on Punisher, there’s a grittiness here that you don’t normally associate with Doctor Who.
From a content and thematic standpoint, Issue #6 goes to great lengths to show the ravages of war. Soldiers lose friends and family and limbs, and you see the toll combat takes on individuals physically, mentally, and spiritually. All in all, this is a surprisingly bleak story, though it never falls fully into oppressive depression, which is a nice little balancing act.
Like I said earlier, Issue #6 is really little more than the a first chapter and is primarily concerned with set up, establishing the time and the place and the who and the what, as well as catching your attention and hooking you. The whole issue is quite a bit like what you get before the first commercial break in an episode of the show. There is a much larger, longer narrative in store, one that will take more than a single offering to explore, but this slice does a solid job of making sure you want to come back for the next. There’s more going on and you want to experience it all.
This willingness to let a story unfold on it’s own terms and not force an entire arc into a single issue has been a big part of why The Tenth Doctor has distinguished itself as the top of the heap as far as current Doctor Who comics go, and why it looks to hold onto that position for the time being.