Doctor Who‘s “Terrorformer” Is Good, But It Could Be Great


The Twelfth Doctor makes his comic debut in Titan Comics’ “Terrorformer.”

For those fans for whom 50 years of televised episodes aren’t enough, Doctor Who has had ongoing comics for nearly as long. And while I dig the TV show, sometimes comics seems like the better medium for the series. Where televised episodes are constrained by budgets and the skill of a myriad of special effects artists, in comics Doctor Who is only limited by the imagination of the writer and artist — which allows the series to go places that TV just can’t take it. There’s no bubble-wrap monsters for our heroes to pretend to be menaced by and every non-TARDIS location isn’t recognizably that same building in Cardiff.

Plus, comics means we keep getting stories — canonical stories, no less — about the Eleventh, Tenth, and, soon, even the Ninth Doctors, all of whom have left the role of The Doctor behind them. And this month the Twelfth Doctor has finally made his comics debut for Titan Comics. Though we’re nearly to the end of the first season of Peter Capaldi’s run as The Doctor, we can be reassured that there will be comic adventures to sustain us while the show is off the air.

The first comic story arc, “Terrorformer,” is off to a good start, even though it’s only setting up the building blocks for the story to come. If Doctor Who comics have a failing, it’s in the pacing as the comics series typically follows a standard “24 pages with a cliffhanger ending” format. Sometimes this works, and sometimes those cliffhangers feel forced and abrupt, interrupting the flow of the story. Regardless, it’s a different story flow than TV viewers are used to with the show’s tendency to wrap up a storyline in a single hour-long episode — though it’s very reminiscent of the classic series in which episodes were split into half-hour chunks (each with a requisite cliffhanger ending) that would be broadcast over the course of several weeks.

Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor #1
Writer: Robbie Morrisson
Art by: Dave Taylor, Hi Fi
Covers art: Alice X. Zhang, Brian Williamson
Release Date 10/15/14

The Story So Far
“Terrorformer” joins The Doctor and Clara during season 8 of the show, some time after “The Caretaker” but probably before The Doctor and Clara have their falling out in “Kill the Moon”. The duo are headed to an ice planet so Clara can learn to ski (The Doctor warns her of ice-sharks before sending her off), but of course the trip has gone somewhat awry and they’ve landed on a tropical paradise instead.

The ice planet has been terraformed. Get it? It’s been terror-formed! Yeah, Doctor Who does love its clever titles.

The Look of Comic Doctor Who
The exotic locale gives the series a chance to do what the comic allows it to do best: We get to see sweeping vistas of an alien landscape (ranging from tropical jungle to lava pit to alien skyscraper), several different alien species, and a couple of different spaceships. It might not seem noteworthy, but presenting all of this in full, which is easy in a comic, would be really expensive for television… which allows the comics to have a particularly grand scale.

The art and coloring is well-suited to telling this kind of story. Each panel is dense with action, from backgrounds teeming with alien plant life to ships shooting across the sky to images of characters actually doing things, little in this comic is still. Even panels with less activity use dramatic angles to suggest action (or the possibility of it), and the art style does a lot to drive the comic along. The colors are crisp and bright in a way that seems somewhat unearthly, adding to the feeling that we’re not exactly in Kansas.

As to the character art… The Doctor looks a bit disconcertingly like John Kerry, but the rest of the art is enjoyable enough that I’m trying to ignore that.

dw 12 comic jungle

Making Time for Laughs
One thing the comic does admirably is catch Doctor Who‘s sense of humor… which has been very much lacking in season 8, where we’ve seen The Doctor presented as darker and gruffer. The bleak turn has left little room for the optimism and humor the show has been known for over the years.

The comic doesn’t ignore Capaldi’s darker take on the character — he’s still quite brusque, with a tendency to ignore others’ feelings — but it does show a more light-hearted side to him that feels a little more like some of his earlier incarnations. But since that’s something it feels the show itself is very much lacking for, it’s nice to see The Doctor showing a sense of humor here: he reprograms robotic guards to sing and dance (“Let’s jump the time tracks again,” which mentally plays out to the tune of Rocky Horror‘s “Time Warp”), he jokes about having once shrunk an entire universe (which he keeps in his pocket), teases Clara about those ice-sharks (or at least one hopes he was teasing), and even makes a “behind the sofa” gag.

And since it’s the first issue, they even work in a “Doctor WHO?” joke, which is practically obligatory.

So What Actually Happens?
As I mentioned earlier, if “Terrorformer” suffers, it’s because of its pacing. This first issue shows off the world, gives The Doctor time to monologue and make jokes, and dives briefly into inevitable disaster before the required cliffhanger ending. As it turns out, The Doctor has arrived just in time to save the day because this terraforming project has gone very wrong… and it’s all thanks to our old friends the Time Lords.

No, the Time Lords aren’t back here any more than they’re back in the series (yet), but the terraformer device smashed into a Time Lord beacon inside the planet and the end result is… well… we don’t really know yet, but as it’s fiery in a way we have to assume it’s bad. (Or, in Doctor Who terms, a sign that it must be a day ending in Y.)

Still, there’s not a lot of meat here simply because the story’s barely started. We’ve set the scene and briefly shown off the presumed antagonist, but we don’t know what it is, what it wants, how The Doctor will save the day, or how many people will get killed in the process (lots, if season 8 is any gauge). If we were watching an episode of the TV show, this would be the first ten minutes… and as such a small part of a larger whole, it feels vaguely unsatisfying.

Not that it’s going to stop me from buying the next issue to see where this is going, but Doctor Who comics, like classic Who serials, feel like something that’s best enjoyed as a whole. All but the most stalwart Whovians will likely be better served by waiting for the trade paperback.

Bottom Line: “Terrorformer” is a solid start. The characters appropriately resemble their comics counterparts, the art gives us a look at stunning vistas that would be well beyond the TV show’s budget, and the story itself sets up an intriguing mystery.

Recommendation: Fans of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara will want to check this issue out, as it expands on their stories — and shows off a lighter side to The Doctor. But if cliffhangers drive you crazy, you might want to hold out for the trade.




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