By Steve Morris
Here we go: our final big trip with The Eighth Doctor and Josie. It’s been good this, hasn’t it? The final stop on their tour of universal events leads them to a space spa, where everybody is chilling out in dressing gowns and drinking chilled ribena. I’m assuming. Just saying, if you show a purple liquid being drunk in any story, my immediate assumption is that the Suntory firm have made some very canny marketing moves.
Josie isn’t impressed by the “opulence” of the spa, and neither is the Doctor by the looks of things. It’s a shame none of the trips was to an Irish pub or something, which I think is where those two would be in their element. Perhaps a slam poetry session, or a story set at Thought Bubble. This spa is set on a “Bakri Resurrection Barge”, where rich people go to be literally downloaded into a new synthetic body once they get too old. It’s a way to never die, which I imagine isn’t going to sit too well with The Doctor.
In fact, it’s really interesting how the pair of them react to this whole thing. There comes a point where every companion starts to really click into the mindset of their Doctor, and Josie’s definitely reached that point now. Her outfit certainly mimics his, with a loose tie and a shirt/waistcoast combo – she’s just missing the jacket.
You can sense the disinterest that both of them have to their surroundings, the whole concept of this particular issue, which makes for a fascinating approach into the story. Everyone around them is a synthetic rich person, so when one of them suddenly vanishes with a scream, their reaction is of complete delight rather than worry. When I say that companions and Doctors tend to click into a single mindset, that wasn’t always a good thing, you know – just look how Rose and Tenth Doctor’s relationship grew.
Heading to the pool, they find one of the alien servants floating dead in the water, nasty looking head-wound and all. See, this is different, isn’t it? Now it’s one of the alien hosts rather than one of the synth-guests? The Doctor immediately attempts to take over the situation and find out what happened, but security arrives sharpish and explains they already know who the killers must be: Josie and The Doctor. After all, they’re the only two intruders on the ship. They get thrown into the prison, which is a strange room to have on a pleasure boat, but maybe that’s one of the off-menu services which clients can request.
Josie goes into a bit of a huff about the whole thing, somewhat understandably, but in the process forgets that every issue of this series so far she’s been locked into a prison and rescued by the Sonic Screwdriver – which happens here, once again. I’d like to once more formally request that Josie end up with a sonic paintbrush at some point before the end of this miniseries, please.
Having escaped, they promptly head to the resurrection chamber, where all the synth bodies are creepily being stored for use later. Perhaps just as creepy is the idea that everybody who has uploaded their consciousness still has a backup consciousness stored up on the computer systems which the Doctor looks into – George Mann has this brilliant line in the script “thousands of people, asleep in an infinite space” to describe it. Unfortunately that focus on the database means the Doctor’s taken his eyes off the pods, and hasn’t realised that one of them is open. As I’m sure happens fairly often to Paul McGann at conventions, he’s promptly swarmed by a streaker.
Josie, because she’s brilliant, picks up a chair and prepares to lamp the dude, but the Doctor stays bolted in his ergonomic chair. Which I guess is the point of something being ergonomic, really. Although the attacker originally was aggressive, suddenly a different consciousness seems to take over and holds the body back for as long as possible. It seems that the bodies are starting to wake up into sentience even though they’ve been implanted with a new consciousness – two minds in one body, it seems, one synthetic and one human. And once the synths have full control over themselves, there’s going to be a riot.
Heading back upstairs they find the uprising is already underway, which the Doctor attempts to deflate with a cup of tea. That plan failing, he offers them some cucumber sandwiches. Skipping Plan C of “a nice glass of Pimms and episode of Countryfile”, he instead yells at everybody to shut up so he can offer a classic Doctor lecture. Basically his message is that whenever a story involves humans inadvertently creating life, that life turns sentient and tries to rise up and overthrow the oppressors immediately, without thinking of talking first. With the Doctor here to act as a mediator, they can wait and talk rather than leap straight to the “kill them all” bit. And, sort of, they all agree to it.
The Doctor arranges so that half the attendees are synth-minded and half of them are human-minded, creating a perfect split between the two groups. As he does this, they’re all say in the ballroom, and there’s a particularly pissed-off singer stood up on stage in the background, wondering why her manager booked this gig for her. The synths and the humans each have a bit of a yell at each other, which includes the all-time great SFX insert “murmurmurmur” rumbling along the bottom of one of the panels. There’s nothing better than on-the-nose SFX.
Weirdly, though, this is all actually just a pretext for a very different story. As Josie stands up to offer an eloquent speech of her own, someone in the audience notices her and yanks her back by the hair to hold her hostage in a sort-of citizens’ arrest. The woman says that she “is” Josie – the real Josie – and our Josie responds in panic. Erm… what?
So okay, let’s dip into the reality of all this, and what’s really been going on this whole time. Once upon a time there was a beautiful lady called Josephine, who commissioned an artist from across the galaxy to paint a portrait of her which would genuinely capture how beautiful she felt herself to be. Unfortunately, after eleven days of sitting for the portrait, the thing got infused with those flipping ‘animae’ particles again, and brought the painting to life. Whilst Josephine died of a rare illness, the portrait retained its life, and was sold off at an auction – to the man with the “12” placard from last issue, remember.
When the original Josephine was resurrected thanks to the Bakri into a new synthetic body, she was surprised to find that her portrait was in the room right with her – Josie. The Doctor is shocked (which is fairly understandable when you find out that your travelling companion is actually a sentient portrait) but adamant that Josephine can’t transplant her mind into Josie’s body and “overwrite” her. Just as with the synths, both Josie and Josephine are real people, and need to be allowed to live their own lives. Josephine called Josie a “reflection”, harkening back to the mirror storyline a few issues back. Clever, this, innit?
The Doctor appeals for mercy, but Josephine says she doesn’t have any – lucky for Josie, though, that wasn’t who the Doctor was speaking to. It was the synth that Josephine’s consciousness was taking over – and which has now, in turn, taken over her. Listen, you’ll just have to buy the issue, this is making my head hurt. At any rate, Josephine is shut down and Josie is allowed to keep going, so hurray!
The Doctor does something to allow everybody to have a happy ending too – I glazed over a bit reading the explanation of what he does, but it’s been a long day at the spa. Most important is that when Josie and The Doctor next have a chance to talk, she asks if she’s really his friend – and he responds with a hug. What a GOOD Doctor this one is. This is like if Donna’s storyline had ended properly.
Back at their… shared… home in Wales, Josie explains that when she was put up for auction, one of the other Doctors bought her and gave her freedom to be her own person – and even dropped her off at this house. It’s not the Third Doctor, though, but a Scottish, grey-haired one who hung out with a schoolteacher. CAPALDI!!! The Doctor puts his hands over his ears, though, because of all the spoilers.
Each specific adventure they went on had Josie argue the case for co-existence and independent, sentient life – so essentially she’s been arguing for her own life this whole time. This whole thing was designed to give Josie an understanding of her own freedom, but also…
Sat outside the windows are The Twelfth Doctor and Clara! This wasn’t just a way to help Josie, but clearly a mission to make the Eighth Doctor’s life a little happier, by giving him a chance of friendship with someone who’d make him better and stronger. Capaldi dismisses the idea, but you can tell it’s there. I am so here for inter-Doctor protectiveness, you lot, I really am. Especially when it brings unexpected pairings together like this one.
Also, I enjoy the visual image of the Twelfth Doctor crawling around in the bushes.
Back inside, the Doctor finally gets to start reading his book, cup of tea in hand and feet (rudely!) resting on the coffee-table. Josie wonders what’s meant to be happening next, and the Doctor casually mentions that maybe they’ll go off for another adventure once he finishes this chapter – prompting her to give him a spontaneous hug. So many hugs in this series! And it’s on this final hug that the comic concludes – for now.
Will there be more Eighth Doctor comics from Titan? Perhaps so, and certainly that’s what this creative team have teased. But if this is all we get, it’s certainly quite a lot. It’s nice to get independent standalone stories which show off just how well the Doctor Who ideal can transfer over to comics. It’s not too complicated for its own good at any point, and it does a really good job of explaining who this Doctor is and how he stands different to the others. Josie is a brilliant companion, too, especially as the comic goes on. There’s a standard journey for companions where they ‘over-win’ to start off with, get something wrong, and slowly build to become a real pairing for their Doctor. See: Rose and Ten; Amy and Eleven. Arguably Bill and Twelve is the reverse, which is what I like so much about them.
So yeah – this was a real fun comic to read and recap, overall. It’s certainly got me interested in doing more Doc Comics for Shelfdust. We’ll just have to see where the future leads us, eh?
Writer: George Mann
Artist: Emma Vieceli
Colorist: Hi-Fi Studios
Letters: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.