Agent Provocateur

Chapter One

I don’t think it is any great secret that Gary Russell isn’t the worlds greatest writer; his books are generally badly written, his audios overlong and over complicated and now he is turning his hand to writing comics and of the three I think this shows the greatest promise. He often has great ideas but doesn’t execute them very well but here the artist is doing that for him, he just has to imagine and narrate. The very first page screams Russell, as it is a great splurge of continuity as he sums up the entire history of Doctor right up to the present day. The idea of the Doctor and Martha travelling the galaxy to find a perfect chocolate milkshake is just crazy enough to work! Whilst I find the idea of a Sycorax keeping the last of several species on ice whilst a shape changer pretends to be the last of their kind so they can sell a last hunt over and over quite enterprising (and worthy of a story) the choice of alien bugs me. Why did it have to be a Sycorax? They hardly seem like Ferengi style businessmen, more concerned with honour than profit. If it was just to include a popular new series villain then the idea failed and I think it would have worked far better as an original villain. The Doctor and Martha are depicted as high flying and cool and hip throughout – it’s a bit much to be honest and Russell will need to calm that right down if we are going to give a toss about them throughout this graphic novel. I sound quite harsh when I did quite enjoy this little story (its length precludes it from having any great depth or surprises) but I think there is much better to come.

The artwork by Nick Roche was pretty strong overall but I thought the colouring was a little pale throughout. There’s a frame on the first page which depicts the destruction of Gallifrey – how’s that for an opening? Why is Martha’s mouth so huge? I love the crazy paving frames on page 3 suggesting the madness of travelling with the Doctor. There’s a glorious couple of images showing the Doctor and Martha as a holidaying couple visiting America, Centuri VI and Mexico. The high angle look down at the bustling café and the mad array of alien characters is gorgeous, its packed full of stories to tell. Before he is whipped into a skeleton the shape changer looks a little like C’rizz from the Big Finish audios! The Doctor’s crazy long running legs leap from a frame on page 13! I really liked the Doctor’s crazy hedgehog hair, whilst Martha looks a little too sassy throughout the tenth Doctor is all wild eyed and angular, a great look. In places the Sycorax looks vaguely comical like the drawing was rushed at the end.

On both a storytelling and artwork level this is no where as strong as the DWM strips but there is enough potential here to keep me wondering what’s coming next: 6/10


Chapter Two

A lot better, this story with some crazy imagination in play and hints of an arc plot brewing. You’ve got a great mystery on the first page when a planet of six billion souls is reduced to one – it’s the sort of hook that the comics need to reel you in. I really like these hops to worlds we will never know much more about, both Kas and Nyrruh 4 sounds interesting and its great that the mystery surrounding them isn’t wrapped up straight away. That feeling that the Doctor and Martha big kids without a care in the world continues but with them grooving on down in 1970’s pop culture it is quite addictive here! Plus Russell adds them genuine peril here with Martha brilliantly turned into a sand sculpture. Continuity starts to seep in again with a member of the Pantheon of the Shadow Proclamation on Earth during the formative years of the planets development helping to push things along. The story leads you to believe that Burbaston just wants to go home but it turns out it she may have been trying to attract the attention of the Doctor for a more sinister reason… It is genuinely touching to see Henthopet and her slave crumbling to sand after being alive for so many centuries.

There’s a great full-page image of the Doctor and Martha at the Festival of British Pop with Parliament standing proud in the background, it’s the sort of photographic drawing DWM is famed for. I loved the page of Martha trying on some groovy seventies fashion, artist Jose Maria Berdy has really got into the spirit of the era and includes some awesome psychedelic backdrops! Have I taken acid or is there a 50-foot cat made of sand attacking 70’s London within this stories pages? There’s a page of artwork in the back of the book of Martha as sand trickling away which looks beautifully captures the joy of artistic Doctor Who. An astounding image.

This is just is nutty as the first chapter but it feels much more sure of itself, both visually and dramatically. It has left me hungry for more which can only be a good thing: 7/10

Chapter Three

Now this chapter took me totally by surprise by pretty much jettisoning all the jolly antics of the first two parts and telling a pretty engaging, gritty story. True we once again have giant cats parading the streets but there is a pleasing amount of backstory added to give it all some context. The only thing that really bugged me was the initial scenes featuring the Doctor and Martha which once again sees them characterised as excited kids (he says something like ‘the bestest, funnest thing ever’ and she says ‘did the nasty little hurt the ickle Doctor?’) but as soon as they land on New Savannah they are dealing with terror explosions so suddenly they are behaving like professionals (Martha leaps straight into action when she sees injured people) and it is very welcome. I really enjoyed another to the year 5 billion, it’s exactly the sort of thing that the spin off material can do, take what the series has given us and expand it. There is a great detail about how the cat people came to be, adopted by the humans and given their culture which is surprisingly detailed and again very welcome because the series simply dropped them in our laps with no explanation and this is one instance of Gary Russell’s insistence to plug every gap in fan knowledge that really pays off. His groan worthy conversation about the two Loch Ness monsters less so (the Skarasen and the Borad are both mentioned). What I really loved was the further hints and whispers about Burbaston and the Parthenon’s plans. Turns out they need a place of operations and thought this galaxy might be a good place and they are testing the Doctor upon each of his visits plus Burbaston drops a hint that something is coming. I love it when the comics build up an arc and this one has my appetite whetted, especially with more planets losing their entire population except for one specimen…

What elevates this even further is the dazzling artwork on display here bringing New Savannah with real aplomb. It’s all futuristic technology, avenues of towers and minarets and hover cars – it’s a visually stunning place to visit. The Pantheon can be seen in all their glory on page two and I adored the giant squid creature with lots of crazy eyes! The planet Mer, another to be wiped clean, is another excellently depicted world – this time its floating whales carrying passengers, habitation domes flying through the air and crab men drinking on the shore. Page 51 channels the Twin Towers terror attack and has an explosion rip through a skyscraper and debris fall on citizens in the street. The Giant robotic cats doesn’t look as silly as you might think, especially since their awesome eye lasers are blasting people into icky skeletons! I really liked the touch of the Doctor and Martha mirrored in Burbaston’s eye.

Agent Provocateur is really coming together now after a slow start, this is a beautifully realised instalment that continues to drop hints of an exciting climax: 8/10

Chapter Four

The weakest instalment so far by some way even if it does address the subtly building mystery of the planets and their rapidly decreasing populations. There are five pages (five pages!) wasted on some lame gag featuring the Doctor and Martha arsing about in the TARDIS. I don’t mind the Doctor and his friend having fun but this is atrociously written with the sort of characterisation a five year old would give them. Then we land on a planet with robots that go about saying ‘flesh!’ causing the Doctor and Martha to run away when actually what they should be saying is ‘please lead us!’ which would sort out all of their problems. Its insanely childish, this writing. Then we are treated to a scene taken straight from The Stolen Earth featuring planets circling around the Doctor’s head before he falls down a hastily added portal to God knows where to look for some bracelet that we’ve never heard about before. If you’ve lost what I am talking about you are about at the same place as me. This is just a hopelessly padded chapter to reveal to the Doctor the situation that has been going on under his nose the whole time and it can’t even do that in a dramatically satisfying way (‘Ah Doctor these the survivors of ten worlds, how I feel for them…no wait I don’t because I am the one responsible! Bwahaha!’ about sums it up).

After pages and pages of dull TARDIS artwork page 75 hits you with an astonishing piece of design, a huge building made of all kinds of styles (I love the London gherkin building which is squashed into the middle) and a mixture of robotic creatures scuttling about. There are far too many pages with strips showing exactly the same image just slightly altered in each one. However I did like the impressive double page spread of monitors showing the survivors of the different worlds.

To be frank both in its writing and its artwork this chapter feels rushed and amateurish. Such a shame because this could have been some very exciting building up for the finale: 4/10

Chapter Five

The banality of the writing is starting to irritate me a bit now, especially with such good artwork on display. Just look at the first page which depicts screaming gulls landing on a sandy beach and turning to glass and shattering – it’s beautiful. Then read the exposition that goes with it, its dreadfully childish (why is it empty of life? – you don’t pose questions to your audience, they can figure that bit out for themselves!). My advice is to admire the drawings and don’t bother to read the inadequate words that come with it. This is an odd excursion into the fifties for no other reason than the writer likes the period because there is no reason of it to be set there – all of the characters and wrapped up the overall story arc and are either aliens or in disguise – so there isn’t even any period colour. We learn that Silas Wain is the Pantheon’s Agent Provocateur (that’s an employee of the Pantheon to ensnare the Doctor, not dirty knickers) and that Martha has been followed through time by one of the Pantheon (a few hints of this would be nice). Planets with life being extinguished is being channelled into a massive beam of energy is being absorbed by something huge and powerful – hang on didn’t we learn that in the last chapter? You cannot repackage it and serve it up as a twist in this story as well…and if that isn’t the case why repeat yourself? Unfortunately my irritation (akin to have fleas in my boxers) grew when on page 111 there is a wrapping up of everything that we have seen so far in this series of stories – more padding, more wasting of time re-iterating old events where if it required explanation it should have been clearer in the narrative!

Don’t let this rant put you off of taking a look at the artwork at least, which has a lovely softness to it and some real detail to the likenesses. They are smoothly shaded and almost feel like portraits. The Doctor looks far more exotic and dashing than usual but that can never be a bad thing (it occasionally happened with the eighth Doctor in the DWM strip, usually when John Ross was involved and he looked gorgeous). Mirco Pierfederici has a real eye for striking imagery and there are two amazing drawings that sum up the quintessence of evil – one of the nurse grinning behind the door and another of Mr Rawlings, all glowing red eyes and shadow. There is a mad Victorian scientific nightmare in the shape of the sonic weapon, which looks huge and has some impressive detail (I especially liked the giant light bulbs).

This chapter and the last have simply been running on the spot, padding out the story with a couple of extra issues when clearly all the surprises have been had and the climax is patiently waiting to happen. Some writers can pad out a story entertainingly, others keep repeating themselves and waste your time. Unfortunately Agent Provocateur has now had two whole chapters of the latter: 4/10 (I would love to score more for the artwork but it is dragged down by the story)

Chapter Six

This should have been spectacular (and frankly if you look at the four page wartime artwork you could be forgiven for thinking it is) but once again the story is let down by some truly atrocious writing. You wont believe me when I tell you this but we get not one (page 115), not two (pages 120-121) but three (page 126) further explanations and wrap ups of the plot so far (after the two in the last chapter). I promise you Mr Russell I have been paying attention (it was hardly the most complicated plot to start off with) and it does lead me to wonder if IDW trust their audience to come back issue after issue. With this much repetition I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t! As soon as Martha starts mentally writing a letter home to her folks on the battlefield I thought we might be in for some decent characterisation of her at last but nope, she starts gushing over how much she loves the Doctor and their life together once again (this has been re-iterated over and over and over again through this graphic novel to a point beyond nausea). Then there is some weird stuff about Martha being grumpy but liking ER and both the Doctor and Martha thinking about the Tellytubbies during the battle, which is typical of the random childishness, this story keeps throwing in. Have you ever seen such HUGE speech bubbles as the ones in this chapter? The story ends by the Doctor waving the sonic screwdriver and getting them all out of danger (nice to see the New Series being mimicked) plus the hearts and thoughts of thousands of people being beamed at the creature to save the day (hang on…isn’t that the ending of Last of the Timelords? Yeah, it sucked in that story too). The Pantheon just vanish and there is no wrap up of their story and the creature that was being summoned doesn’t even get a name, a motive or even a remote bit of exploration. How underwhelming.

My one recommendation of this wrap up chapter (wrap up? Even that’s false advertising) would be the aforementioned four pages of stunning artwork showing the war breaking out between the robotic forces and the stolen planetary populations. Its all in those four incredible pages – deaths, explosions, laser eye beams, giant one eyed robots, planets hanging in space, bull men, spiderbots, hover discs, robot skeletons – its on an epic scope and packed with incredible detail and violence. I would probably recommend buying this disappointing graphic novel just to marvel in that spread of destruction. I love the Doctor in the cats paw as the war rages on beneath him. Tharlot transforms into crystal and shatters and the energy hits the terrifying looking creature with dazzling colours.

A hugely disappointing climax with so many unanswered questions: 2/10

Imagine if we had had Scott Gray, Alan Barnes or Dan McDaid penning the dialogue and structuring the story? It would have been dazzling, surprising and dramatic. Instead Agent Provocateur starts with a touch of potential but plunges downhill after the halfway point never to recover. If you are interested in visiting the year 5 billion again this might be something of a curiosity but don’t expect much else from massively inadequate graphic novel: 4/10