BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Multiple Doctors and their companions are caught in a trap and must go up against a threat to their own future timelines.
PROS: Crisp dialog and sharp art; rewarding interaction between the Doctors.
CONS: The series title is slightly bait-and-switch; the gimmickry gets a little thick as the stakes ramp up.
BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable Doctor Who romp, though it doesn’t carry the impact it could have.
Titan has been putting out comics featuring the last four TV Doctors, and they celebrate the tenth anniversary of Dr Who’s return to TV with a multi-Doctor event written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Neil Edwards.
It opens with the Voord (remember the Voord?) assisting the War Doctor during the Time War. This scene is a callback to the story Dr. Who and the Daleks, serialized on cards included in packs of candy cigarettes back in 1964. It also gives the Voord a sympathetic motivation for the events that come after.
Elsewhere in time Clara discovers a photograph of the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth doctors together, and learns that their meeting will spell doom for the universe. She goes to Paris in 1923 to seek out the other companions in hopes of preventing this. As the current comic book adventures of the Tenth and Eleven doctors take place in the gaps provided by existing continuity, they have new companions: Gabby Gonzalez and Alice Obiefune. Their inclusion may irk readers unfamiliar with the comics, which is too bad. Gabby and Alice have had significant character arcs in their respective books and bring a bit of that baggage to this story.
Despite their best efforts, the combined companions are unable to stop the three Doctors from encountering each other. Things get meta very quickly as they recognize the tropes of a multi-Doctor event. But in the Doctor Who universe, Paul Cornell does meta pretty damn well.
Of course, it is all a trap. The Reapers from Cornell’s episode Father’s Day appear. Everyone escapes, only to be caught in the effects of a Continuity Bomb, a weapon which can rewrite the past of any individual. They encounter alternate futures where the Tenth Doctor did not save Wilfred Mott, and the Eleventh was never killed on the lakeshore by River Song. We also see the Twelfth’s future self, unhinged by something Clara will (or may) do in the future. An all-encompassing doom is impending. And it is up to the companions to find a way to undo the Doctors’ meeting and save the universe.
Cornell’s familiarity with the characters is unquestioned, and he flawlessly nails the behavior of the Doctors. Also, the heavy lifting is equally distributed among the six protagonists over the five issues, an impressive feat given how fast the tale accelerates.
Edwards’ art is sharp and widescreen, though occasionally dependent on forced perspective that looks straight out of Google Sketchup. He captures body language and mannerisms fans will recognize, especially during arguments between the Doctors. There are a few pages that look to have gotten less effort than others, but overall the visual storytelling is exceptional, never losing focus on the rapid succession of events.
Although the story is called the Four Doctors, we get a total of six. The War Doctor is confined to the prologue. The future Doctor (“Billy No-Mates” as the Twelfth calls him) is the main antagonist. There’s a cameo by another Doctor near the end, and a nice explanation as to why he is not caught up in this crossover. Despite all that, this is really a Three Doctors’ adventure.
The last issue contains clever uses of time travel, but a few scenes felt contrived. More than one aspect of the climax drop out of nowhere, or contain some component or circumstance conveniently useful to the Doctors. It is all a bit forced. This is one of the few series I have read that could have benefited from an additional issue to set up some of the strategies and give the characters a little breathing room.
Also, the second half of the story shares a problematic characteristic with many of the TV episodes: a sustained sense of glee from the characters in the face of existential threats. Maintaining a joyful tone amid scary monsters and time-wide crises is one of Doctor Who’s calling cards, but sometimes, such as here, it feels a little inappropriate. This quickly gives way to a rather tacit acceptance of the stakes. While the story points out the big difference between recognizing the consequences of one’s actions and taking responsibility for them, it does not address it in any substantive way. On the plus side it does give us a chance to see how each Doctor reacts, and how they respond to each others reactions.
Still, there are time paradoxes, exotic weaponry, alien landscapes, and lots of running. Every panel of this story oozes with the tropes of Doctor Who we know and love. Indeed, Four Doctors is a love letter to the franchise and a reminder of why it has endured and improved over the years.
For fans of the show, the comic heavily hints that something dark will be happening with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara later this season. It also dovetails nicely with the events of The Day of the Doctor anniversary special, adding a bit of ballast to the events leading up to the current season.
Each issue wraps with a comic strip written by Cornell and drawn by Marc Ellerby. While these strips are played for laughs (and they are funny, especially to fans of classic comedy), they are integral to the story and its resolution.
Four Doctors is a fine addition to the Doctor canon, as well as an excellent introduction to the expanded comic book universe.