Despite collecting all of IDW’s Doctor Who output, I’m always a bit apprehensive about the Doctor’s journeys into the comic book world. The idea of it combines the two things I love, and yet it sometimes delves into territory I think should be avoided.
This is going to be controversial, I’m sure, but I hate when a writer throws in as many old enemies, continuity references and radical redesigns of classics because it feels too much like fan fiction. Now, there’s nothing wrong with fan fiction; it’s just I don’t think it has a place in a licensed product. I don’t want to see Daleks fighting the weed creature from Fury from the Deep, or the meta-crisis Tenth Doctor manipulating events because he feels that he should be the one careering around the universe in the TARDIS.
I know there’s a fine line and whether this line is crossed is pure conjecture.
This is why I was particularly nervous about the comic publisher’s Prisoners of Time series, which features all eleven Doctors over 12 issues and brings back certain foes. This is treading on sacred ground. Please do not mess with established history too much.
Issue 1 quite rightly tackles the First Doctor, pairing him up with
one of the best TARDIS teams; Ian, Barbara and Vicki. And together, they battle a threat that fits just right: the Zarbi and Animus from The Web Planet. Sorry if this is a spoiler to you, but as the ant-like Zarbi appear on the Retailer Incentive cover (and that the creatures are just so suitable for the era), the majority probably already know.
I genuinely don’t know which monsters appear in later issues – I’ve purposely avoided knowing – but the First Doctor facing the Zarbi feels just as right as it would if the Second Doctor were to come up against Ice Warriors or the Cybermen, the Third Doctor fight the the Silurians or Sea Devils, or the Fourth Doctor battle Davros or Erato (shut up).
The issue’s scale feels right too; it could also be achieved by the 1960s production team – just about. It seems impossible that they could effectively realise many scenes (particularly towards the story’s conclusion), but then, comparing it to The Gunfighters, The Romans, The War Machines and, naturally, The Web Planet, it’s likely that if this were an on-screen adventure, all the stops would’ve been pulled out. Mind you, a speeding train at close proximity might’ve been a struggle.
However, I question whether such scale has been effectively realised in Prisoners of Time. The medium is perfect for visualising things we’d never be able to see on our televisions, even with the use of CGI. But a comic book needs direction just as much as a TV show or a film, and the choices made throughout this issue by artist, Simon Fraser, are… odd. The reveal of the Zarbi isn’t well utilised; the scale of one of the hostages being pushed down onto railway tracks isn’t right; and the army of drone Zarbis don’t feel like a good enough threat.
The Animus reveal, on the other hand, is excellent; the train itself is beautifully detailed; and the final page is simply wonderful.
What’s more, I love the detail Fraser puts into the first three pages as a mysterious onlooker reviews the Doctor’s life. There are nods to The Fires of Pompeii, The Long Game and City of Death; we can see Liz Shaw, Frobisher, and even Kamelion sharing space with Captain Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler and the Ponds. He’s even sneaked in Katy Manning posing naked with that Dalek.
His scratchy art reminds me of people like Jefte Palo (Moon Knight; Incredible Hulk) and Doctor Who Magazine’s John Ridgway, two names I’m certain any artist would be grateful to be compared with.
Gary Caldwell’s colours, something often overlooked, should also be applauded. He really brings the environs alive and comes into his own when the Animus is unveiled.
And a special mention to cover artist, Francesco Francavilla (Daredevil; Hawkeye), who updates his own blog with a brilliant Who-inspired piece after each episode is aired. His depiction of the First Doctor is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen, also segueing the stretched cloth of an early Cyberman into the waves of the ancient Time Lord’s hair. Looking at the covers of future issues, he continues his astounding work – but please can the Italian artist get a chance to do the interiors too?
But it all falls flat if the writing isn’t top-notch.
Thankfully, the Doctor is in safe hands with Scott and David Tipton. It’s full of promise and mystery; great flow and narrative; a deep understanding of the show and the main character. “Sometimes he is an educator,” they tell us, showing us the First Doctor. “Sometimes he is a soldier.” They single out the Ninth Doctor. “Sometimes he is a madman.” Just look at the Sixth Doctor’s coat! “Sometimes he is the Oncoming Storm.” They show us a brooding Tenth Doctor.
“He is all of these things. But there is something else… He is never alone… I’m going to have to change that.”
If that doesn’t intrigue and excite you, you must be a Cyberman.
Well done, IDW. This isn’t fan fiction. This is a celebration, just as it should be.