Doctor Who: Four Doctors #1 (Titan)

Four incarnations of the infamous Doctor and their companions unite in this epic event series every bit as fun as the classic British TV show that inspired it.

 

22 pgs., full color; $3.99
(W: Paul Cornell; A: Neil Edwards)
When Titan Comics took over the license to create Doctor Who comics from IDW just a year ago, their new approach to the material made quite a splash. Rather than simply release one book that told stories of the current Doctor, they chose to release several different series, each one following a different incarnation of the Time Lord. The ongoing comics featuring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors have been greeted by fans with great enthusiasm, so much so that Titan has continued to expand their line with miniseries set in other eras and telling different stories than the main books.
The biggest of these series harkens back to the big anniversary events of the television series, The Three Doctors for the show’s tenth anniversary back in 1973, The Five Doctors for its twentieth, and more recently the special episode The Day of the Doctor which aired for the fiftieth anniversary of the show in November of 2013. Each of these television stories saw timelines get crossed when a myriad of the Doctor’s selves all ended up working together to defeat the same cosmic threat. Following in the tradition of these events, Titan celebrates their first year of having the Doctor Who license with the new comic series Four Doctors, a five-issue miniseries that will ship weekly starting on August 12th. It features the current Doctor, number 12, alongside his two most recent regenerations (and probably the most popular with fans of the new series), the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. It also promises that these three will cross paths with the enigmatic War Doctor, revealed in the fiftieth anniversary special to have been the incarnation to have fought in the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. For this grandiose event, Titan has tapped a scribe with a long history with Doctor Who across various media, Paul Cornell, and former Fantastic Four artist Neil Edwards as the creative team for the book, and judging based on the first issue the series is in excellent hands.
A big event like Four Doctors, which involves characters from a number of different previous series, might seem off-putting to those who aren’t devotees to Doctor Who, but quite the opposite. This series proves to be a great jumping-on point for casual fans. By bringing all these different Doctors together, Cornell and Edwards are able to appeal to fans from a wide variety of eras, so the series will truly have something for everyone. Yes the first issue is steeped in lore, and Cornell rewards those with an extensive background knowledge of the show’s past by making certain references. But being a Whovian of long-standing is not required here, as the recap page at the beginning of the comic fills readers in very easily. For example, I understood the significance of the planet which the War Doctor visits in the first few pages and quite enjoyed the joke made later in the issue about lapels, but such little details don’t impede the understanding of others who might not have a full set of the classic series DVDs as I do. On the other hand, despite being a huge fan of the show, I personally had not read any of the Titan line of comics before checking out this series, and I was able to jump into the interactions the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors had with their companions from those comics without any difficulty.
Plot-wise Four Doctors is a bit threadbare at this point. In this first issue Clara accidentally discovers a meeting of the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors is going to take place and that said meeting will cause some type of universal catastrophe. She tries to prevent this “multi-Doctor event,” but in the end her actions simply cause the meeting to happen instead. There’s also an introductory scene with the War Doctor that has yet to tie into the main thrust of the story in any way. This first issue thus has a lot of setup that hopefully will pay off in later issues in the series, but as of yet it is underdeveloped.
Luckily all that plot set-up is surrounded by some great characterization. Each Doctor feels distinct and Cornell has given each version of the Doctor dialogue which fits their individual mannerisms well, so that readers can almost hear them speaking in the voices of the actors who portrayed the characters. Cornell’s portrayal of the Twelfth Doctor was particularly strong, and his decision to have the Tenth and Twelfth Doctors dislike each other, with the Eleventh acting as a peacekeeper of sorts, was spot on. Ten represents youthful angst, Twelve the irascibility of old age, and Eleven acts as the moderation of early adulthood, bridging the gap. Most people would want to yell at their younger selves if they could about some of their decisions, and those younger selves probably wouldn’t trust the veracity of what they saw they had turned out to be over the passage of time. It makes perfect sense, and in the comic this dichotomy is played out quite humorously.
The companions too really felt fleshed out and played off of each other well. Clara gets the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor’s companions together, Gabby and Alice respectively, to enlist their help in preventing the Doctors from meeting, and the brief conversation the three have is the highlight of the book. It tells new readers everything about each of the characters’ individual personalities in just a few lines of dialogue, it provides expositional details about the plot in a fun way, and it highlights the common traits that run through the Doctor in all his incarnations, as well as the common traits he looks for in a companion. In short, that scene is a great piece of writing, not just because Cornell adeptly juggles all these tasks so well, but that he also adds some flourishes by making it a funny scene.
Neil Edwards’ art also does the story a great service and holds the light-hearted yet serious tone of the book together. He manages to really capture the look and feel of the Doctors without being too beholden to the actual likenesses of the actors. Some art on TV tie-in books can be very motionless, stationary, fixed, as if it is clearly traced from frames from the show itself, but not so with Edwards (although he does clearly use one photo reference for the Eleventh Doctor twice). His splash pages introducing each of the Doctors, and the final page in which one of the monsters featured in the story gets revealed, are all very dynamic. These pages work as a single image highlighting each central character in such a way that readers can visualize their significance, with Edwards framing the shots in such a way that the eye gravitates to the dominant figure. But these splashes also flow consistently with the story and keep it moving along at a brisk pace. Again, too often artists fall into the trap of splash pages freezing a moment too statically because the artist wants to highlight his/her technical skill, but Edwards manages to create beautifully rendered pieces that still work sequentially, which is the true mark of a talented comic artist.
The considerable skill of both Cornell and Edwards are on display throughout this first issue and definitely make this series worth checking out. Because the plot is so inconsequential at this point, it’s tempting to recommend this series as a “wait for the trade.” That way it could be read all in one chunk and the plot’s airy thinness won’t jar so much. But the best reason not to do that and instead to buy it in single issue form is simply that it’s fun. This first issue of Four Doctors was a light, breezy enjoyable read sure to thrill any Doctor Who fan. And just as I have trouble fathoming the reasoning behind those who wait until the television series hits Netflix to binge-watch the whole thing rather than having the thrill of the show spread out over twelve or thirteen Saturdays, I can’t help but wonder who would want to miss out on the fun of Four Doctors each week by waiting for the trade? As for me, I’ll be picking it up weekly; I can’t wait that long for the next thrilling installment. | Steve Higgins

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