Doctor Who: Fifteenth Doctor #1 – Dan Watters, Kelsey Ramsay & Valentina Bianconi (Titan Comics)

With the Fifteenth Doctor’s first series done and deathly dusted, and nothing for it now but the long slog of almost exactly half a year up to the Christmas special, Titan Comics stands ready to step into the breach and give us the Fifteenth Doctor content we’re already craving.

What’s perhaps more, it stands ready to fulfil our fantasies of meetings we haven’t yet had.

If that strikes you as fanciful, cast your mind back to the time of the Tenth Doctor, when Titan brought us an encounter with the son of Sutekh, Anubis, which was…

How to put this delicately…

…A gazillion times better than Doggy Daddy’s recent return to the screen. So what happens in Titan often scratches a deeper itch of fandom than TV is capable of, even, it seems, with Disney money.

Which means it’s not disingenuous to make this announcement:

Any fans who feel disgruntled that apart from Sutekh (who many younger fans would have had to look up), Fifteen has yet to face any fan favourite monsters, relax – Titan has you covered right from Issue #1.

Are you up for a spoiler?

Look away now if you’re not keen on comic book spoilers…

You’re sure?

OK, this issue sees Fifteen and Ruby come face to face with the Cybermen – but they’re not Cybermen like you’ll have seen before. 

It’s not the first time we’ve been introduced to new variants in the pages of a comic book, and there’s always something inherently exciting about that, because comic books get to deliver Cybermen that might be too grim or powerful or TV.

These are some particularly ghoulish-looking Cybermen. 

Kelsey Ramsay has delivered us Cybermen that look like famine-victims, like the last rictus of starvation has been captured in steel and set to march.

So – big ticks all along the way there – Fifteen versus Cybermen. And new variant comic book Cybermen, at that. Yes please. And, before we get into a pointless fan debate, they’re clearly meant to be a new variant – the Doctor even comments that meeting Cybermen is never good, even on the best days, and that these are really not the best days.


Before we get to meet the new Cybermen though, there’s a tale which chimes well with the Series 1 vibe of Ruby-focused storytelling. We go in via a childhood nightmare of hers, about being lost and separated from her mum in a giant shopping mall, with people turning to stare at her as though she’s an object of hate.

It’s creepy, evocative stuff, both inspired by and tied up with Ruby’s fear of abandonment. And it’s also particularly pertinent because the story actually takes place in a shopping mall.

But not just any shopping mall.

The shopping mall at the end of the world. The sun’s getting hotter, most of the humans have left Earth, and the Doctor’s been drawn to the biggest shopping mall left on the planet by a signal from a Cyber-gauntlet they picked up in the eighteenth century.

Timey-wimey nonsense is afoot, but there’s something else that’s very odd – there are people in the mall. Climate disaster, humanity streaking off towards the stars…and people in the shopping mall.

There’s a certain, vaguely Paradise Towers logic to it, though. As the Doctor explains as they wander around, picking up items for no money, a shopping mall is essentially a box full of everything humans could need – and it’s likely to outlast at least one generation of human lifespan. So if you’re not big on the whole “continuation of the species” thing, why would you not find yourself a cosy shopping mall to live and die in through the end of the world?

Sadly, there are the creepy pricklings of an answer to that question here. When a solar flare hits, the mall activates its nighttime protocols to minimize system damage.

And wandering around a shopping mall at night in the dark is quite the setting for Ruby’s nightmare.

Annnnnd then there are the Cybermen stalking the lower levels of the mall, on their own equivalent of a sales drive where literally everyone must go.

As first issues go, this is a belter – it carries a consistent tone from Series 1, including the banter between the Doctor and Ruby and a bit of a posey fashion show, but it takes them into territory they’ve never yet been to on-screen, and we get to see at least how Fifteen reacts to Cybermen.

The artwork is helped out by having such a very strong image for both the Doctor and the companion, and if some of Ramsay’s panels are a touch on the notional side, they at least always do enough to keep you in the story and move it forward – there are even some fairly artsy shots here, where dialogue between our heroes comes from outside the panel, which focuses on midriffs (and bulging shopping bags). Some would call that pretentious, others audacious. What can’t be disputed is that it works, and keeps you moving forward.

But the artwork you won’t be able to tear your eyes from once you’ve seen it is of course that of the new Cybermen. There are familiarities here, like the Cyber-briefs and the gaping darkness where there’s connecting tubing between limbs. But there are some new elements that distinctly up the horror factor of the design, including that seemingly extended rictus look to the face, and pipes feeding the Cyber-skulls that look distinctly like worms burrowing into the heads of bone-clean corpses.

As a first issue for the Fifteenth Doctor, this matches tone, introduces new mysteries, re-invents a classic fan monster and sets things in two varieties of motion. There’s the creepy nightmare motion, which is added to by voices in Ruby’s head, and the endless, relentless motion of the Cybermen on the march in the dark places beneath the shiny shopping mall.

Where’s it all going?

We’re not sure – that’s part of the joy of the thing. You know you’re going to come back for Issue #2. Tony Fyler

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