Doctor Who Review: Third Doctor #1

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Alt Cover C - Simon Meyers. Third Doctor #1, Paul Cornell & Christopher Jones. Titan, 2016.

Doctor Who: Third Doctor #1

Paul Cornell (Writer), Christopher Jones (Artist), Hi-Fi (Colors)
Titan Comics
September 14, 2016

Think of a significant marker of the Third Doctor’s era. Is it Bessie? The countryside on-location settings? Benton bearing the brunt of sarcasm? The Doctor’s unending strive for diplomacy and political understanding in the face of two militaristic engines? Hinting at a Jo and Yates relationship? The Master traipsing around in a ridiculous disguise, then dramatically revealing himself to the camera and viewer only, for no apparent reason other than he loves showboating, and knows we love it too? Is it Jon Pertwee pulling faces?

Although all polarities have yet to be reversed, Doctor Who: Third Doctor #1 covers all these significant factors, and even more. It contains everything a fan of the Third Doctor would possibly reminisce about and want. Set after “The Three Doctors,” and therefore after Three’s release from Time Lord exile, the plot revolves around an alien species that has crash-landed in Fairford. The Brigadier calls Jo and The Doctor in for reinforcements. That’s pretty much it. We learn a little about the nature of the aliens—they’re seemingly robotic, tied by wires to a central hub, and can rebuild themselves after being exploded. They arm themselves with energy bursts made of “lightning and lava” that they lob like artillery shells at the enemy. They’re not here to be friends. All in all, pretty standard fare for the era; it fits right in.

The problem with first issues is that it’s all set-up and exposition. I can’t tell you whether the story makes sense, or whether the character arcs are satisfying (or even if there are character arcs). The first issue of The Third Doctor, like most first issues of the DW slate of comics, is there to make you nostalgic for the era and want to celebrate what a great time it was to be a Doctor Who fan in the ’70s (or ’80s, or ’00s, etc.). In this respect, it very much succeeds.

The characters all sound right, which is always a treat in comics. It’s hard to explain exactly how Katy Manning’s sweetness is able to come across a comic book page, but it does. And for that reason, the relationships are also a strong highlight. We get to see the continuation of Jo and the Doctor’s concern and affection for each other—as when Three adamantly states he’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but then thanks her for her concern.

They’re all recognizably themselves too. The coloring keeps the era vibrant, and the line work does an amazing job capturing likenesses and characteristics, even if the realistic details can occasionally veer into uncanny valley. I don’t have as strong an attachment to the Third Doctor’s earth-bound UNIT days as I do to other incarnations, but I do still have an attachment, and this issue really plays strongly on that, to good effect.

My sole concern so far can only be answered in the following issues. Although the first issue is pure fun, there’s not a lot about it that feels urgent or exciting. Why do we need the Third Doctor right now? His era was full of allegories (and not-so allegories) for British politics in the ’70s, conquering a lot of controversial topics without fear. It would be great to see what Three has to say about Brexit, or current immigration controversies, or BBC funding.

That’s a lot to put on a first issue, I know, but the only thing that’s new in this issue is the monster. Everything else seems lifted (albeit lovingly) from other episodes and fan favorite moments. And I’m happy to revel in these moments. It’s totally okay to simply revisit the world for now, I’m just slightly concerned about the future.

The comic doesn’t really seem to be all that interested about overarching plot until the last couple of pages. Until then it’s just fun to play around in the sandbox again, revisiting old memories and, hopefully, building new ones. It brings all the best things about the characters and their relationships out to play, and ends with an exciting final page that will definitely have me anticipating the next issue. For any Three fan, it’s definitely a buy. 

Final page spoilers!

So look, Two is my favorite Doctor. Any time he shows up in any form or situation I’m automatically thrilled. This was an amazing surprise, especially since I’ve recently been grumping about his lack of comic space. Plus, Troughton’s dynamic and chemistry with Pertwee is unrivaled in Who history. I’m extremely excited to see more of the story and where it goes (Jamie? Jamie and Jo?!?) .But…this already takes place after the events of “The Three Doctors,” and are we really going to have another story that joins the two (and let’s be honest, probably three) Doctors together? How is it not going to be a rehash?

I don’t want to be overly pessimistic. There are a hundreds of different ways the story could go and to judge it before all issues have been released would be idiotic and shortsighted. Walking the line between nostalgia and rebirth is historically difficult, and there’s no way to make all readers happy (especially if those readers happen to be Whovian). Even if it doesn’t spark a storyline that revolutionizes the way we think of 70s Who, it’s still a fun read, and that’s its own kind of pleasure.

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Unrestrained nerd with purple hair and a lot of Doctor Who books.

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