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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
The Eleventh Doctor
The Sapling: Branches (Hardback)


Writers: Alex Paknadel and Rob Williams
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Ivan Rodriguez, J.B. Bastos and Luiz Campello
Colourists: Triona Farrell, Thiago Ribeiro and Stefani Rennee
Publisher: Titan Comics
RRP: UK £17.99, US $22.99
Age: 12+
ISBN: 978 1 78586 537 4
112 pages
Publication Date: 03 April 2018

The Doctor and Alice must finally face up to the Sapling’s true nature… but has their influence managed to calm his destructive instincts? Or will they find themselves at his terrifying mercy? With the Scream hot on their tail, intent on using the Sapling for his own nefarious purposes, the Doctor and Alice must make an impossible choice… Meanwhile, the Doctor has possibly found another Time Lord! Incredible writers Alex Paknadel (Arcadia) and Rob Williams (Supergirl) join with brilliant artists I.N.J. Culbard (Wild’s End), Ivan Rodriguez (Doctor Who), J.B. Bastos (Knight Rider) and Luiz Campello (Doctor Who) in this epic conclusion to the Eleventh Doctor’s Year Three comics adventures…!

This graphic novel compiles #9, 11, 12 and 13 of Titan Comics’ third year of Eleventh Doctor adventures – the conclusion to the Sapling / Scream storyline. The reason why #10 is not included here is because that issue formed part of the Lost Dimension crossover event and was presented in Book One of that saga (though in terms of continuity, The Lost Dimension takes place after this graphic novel from the Eleventh Doctor and Alice’s point of view).

The Doctor, Alice and the Sapling stumble upon a planet whose technology has advanced at a much faster rate than should be possible. It’s clear the inhabitants had help… but from whom? And does that anonymous source of technological aid have anything to do with the Doctor and Alice’s inability to remember their mysterious pursuer…?

After treading water somewhat during the previous collection, Roots, the Sapling arc gets quickly back on track in this volume. Under the guiding hand of returning writer Alex Paknadel, the two-part Strange Loops kicks off with a dramatic throw-forward showing the Scream clinging on to the police box shell of the TARDIS while a pink vine smashes its way out through one of the window panes. From there, it’s intrigue all the way, as the TARDIS crew visit a planet that has undergone an extreme industrial revolution and the Doctor, overcome by temporal instability, believes that he may have found a remnant of his own people.

The Doctor’s lost memories make for an interesting bit of role reversal when it comes to exposition in this story. The Time Lord cannot recall having visited the planet Zoline before, because the Sapling possesses those particular memories. Therefore, it is up to the tree person to explain to his companions how radically the planet has changed. As he does so, he experiences the same horror and outrage that the Doctor would have felt in his place.

Elsewhere, the Sapling is charmingly childlike and eager. “I had called dibs on your fez in the event of your expiration,” he exclaims, when the Doctor wakes up in bed after a period of unconsciousness. However, Paknadel is not as good as his fellow writers on this title at capturing the personality of the Eleventh Doctor. The Time Lord’s use of words such as “chap”, “poppycock” and “fourth-dimensional skulduggery … afoot” makes him sound more like a classic series Doctor than an incarnation from the revived show.

Artist I.N.J. Culbard renders the people of Zoline in characteristically freaky fashion, with flagella-like protuberances on one side of the forehead, bizarre headgear and organic-looking gas masks. At one point, colourist Triona Farrell mistakes the bags under one character’s eyes for his eyeballs and leaves them white, though fortunately an error from #9, in which the Doctor’s gas mask went missing for a couple of frames, has been rectified for the graphic novel.

Strange Loops is a cautionary tale about irresponsible industrial development and the damage that this can cause to the environment. It builds very effectively towards a catastrophic cliffhanger that loops back upon the story’s opening and leads directly into the next adventure…



The Eleventh Doctor’s third year comes to its fiery conclusion! The Scream has managed to break into the TARDIS! Now with the Sapling in his largest tree form and unable to help, will the Doctor and Alice be able to triumph over the memory-stealer that’s been plaguing them all this time? Or will their minds be lost to its terrible appetite…?

The closing two-parter of Year Three, Hungry Thirsty Roots, is a game of two halves. The first episode is set almost entirely aboard the TARDIS. With much of the ship, including the console room, overrun by the Sapling’s foliage, the Doctor searches for an alternative control area. There is nostalgia aplenty as the Time Lord finds fruit growing in the shape of Axons, rediscovers the original console room, and recalls further old enemies.

The reason why the vessel is in such a state is because at the end of the previous story it had been about to break up. The Doctor asked the Sapling to put down roots, on the grounds that: “tree roots stabilize crumbling riverbanks… shifting sands. The Sapling can hold the TARDIS together!” That didn’t sound very logical to me. Though tree roots can bolster natural formations, they can undermine artificial structures. I can forgive this oversight, however, because the ship does indeed suffer damage as a result of the Time Lord’s reckless, spur-of-the-moment plan. Soon the Doctor is confessing to Alice that if the Sapling continues to grow, the TARDIS’s dimensional dams will rupture, venting the vast interior into the vortex.

The second episode is rather like The Wedding of River Song, in that it features a bearded Doctor and a radically altered Earth populated by familiar characters and objects taken out of their normal context – such as sonic screwdriver-shaped skyscrapers and a Cyberman at a rock concert.

Paknadel and his returning co-writer Rob Williams negotiate some tricky continuity issues, as their saga involves a rogue Silent but takes place before the Doctor met the species in The Impossible Astronaut. It helps that the Silence’s superpower is that they are instantly forgotten as soon as one looks away from them. As the Doctor puts it: “I’d keep an eye out for this Silence, except that’s rather impossible to do. Tricky that.” Indeed!

For this final strip, Culbard is replaced by a team of artists: Ivan Rodriguez, J.B. Bastos and Luiz Campello. This combination of contributors works better than the committee that produced the episode Fooled in the previous volume, giving a more consistent look overall. Rodriguez provides seven pages near the beginning and end of the first chapter, and the rest of Hungry Thirsty Roots is down to Bastos and Campello, who create complementary fine line work.

Like the Sapling’s many roots and branches, the numerous strands of his story and the various styles of the people who have told it come together successfully in the end.


Richard McGinlay

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