Comics, Reviews

Villains and Masterminds: The Third Doctor #4

The Third Doctor #4Third Doctor #4 cover

Paul Cornell (Writer), Christopher Jones (Artist), Hi-Fi (Colors)
Titan Comics
January 11th, 2016

It’s hard to imagine anything topping The Third Doctor #3’s explosive reveal that the Second Doctor was really Ramón Salamander in disguise. And yet, things are only getting more interesting as we hurtle into issue #4. Fragile alliances are built, characters’ darker motivations are revealed, and new depths are added to the Third Doctor’s era of Doctor Who.

Plot-wise, issue #4 serves primarily as a filler episode. We learn how Salamander survived being thrown out of the TARDIS at the end of “The Enemy of the World” and how he has spent his time preparing his revenge against the Doctor. UNIT, the Master, and the Doctor build a temporary alliance to attack a mutual enemy. And Salamander finally completes building his own TARDIS, setting up our final confrontation for the next issue.

But exposition and flashback explanations have never been so beautiful or engaging. Paul Cornell so deftly fits Salamander’s survival and exile into existing Second and Third Doctor stories that it feels completely natural, like I should’ve already known how he survived from watching those Classic stories. Christopher Jones also gorgeously realizes those scenes, using the visuals from the Third Doctor’s opening titles to illustrate the Time Vortex. And floating alongside Salamander in the Vortex are some familiar figures from Classic and New Who, like Chronovores from “The Time Monster” and Reapers from Paul Cornell’s “Father’s Day”!

We also get some new insights on some familiar characters, particularly Mike Yates. If you’re a new fan who hasn’t yet seen “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” stop reading here, watch that story, and then re-read this mini-series. In just a short while, Mike Yates is going to betray the Doctor and UNIT by assisting a plot to send a certain select few back in time to create a “Golden Age” on prehistoric Earth, endangering all of humanity’s existence.

Yates’ transformation from loyal UNIT officer to traitor always felt abrupt to me, but this series has added a new perspective onto how Yates fell. We see how deeply uncomfortable Yates is with the situations around him. He’s tired of witnessing the waste, destruction, and bloodshed associated with his work. He’s wary of how fast the world is changing. And he’s resentful and afraid of how these experiences are changing his friends, particularly Jo Grant. Issue #1 showed us another interrupted date between them, where Yates tries (rather underwhelmingly) to appear more worldly. He later confides in Benton that he’s afraid that Jo might just disappear on them, like the Second Doctor’s companion Zoe did. And indeed, Jo is just a few stories away from leaving UNIT for good in a story that also results in a fair amount of trauma for Yates. It begins to feel a lot more believable that Yates would want to help create a “Golden Age” for humanity in a more simple past.

And in issue #4, it’s the Master who notices and comments on this change. Yates may justify his eventual betrayal with lofty-sounding language about bettering humanity, but his and the Master’s schemes are rooted in the same impulse – desire for control. Yates is uncomfortable with the world around him and wants to force it to become more manageable, without regard for the untold millions of lives he’ll destroy or how they might feel about being erased for the “greater good.” The Master is just more honest about his goals and methods. He wants to control the universe, and you will obey.

Salamander is much the same. Before the Second Doctor arrived in the far-off future of 2018, Salamander effectively ruled the world. He manufactured a series of crises and disasters that allowed him to gain power and re-wrote the truth to always make himself the hero. He could control anything and anyone he wanted. The Second Doctor undid all of that and removed him from power, but inadvertently showed Salamander that he could re-write history even more effectively by traveling back in time. Now Salamander is using the Doctor’s own technology against him to bring the world under his control again.

As this series ruminates on what drives men like Salamander, the Master, and even Yates, it’s hard not to think about the current political situation in the all-too-real present year of 2017. We’re facing a climate in which objective truth is being put up for debate, where “alternate facts” are being presented when the real facts aren’t flattering enough, and where questioning these facts is treated as a violation of some owed loyalty. Of course, our current situation isn’t exactly analogous to the larger-than-life villains faced by the Doctor, but it does seem like they can all be fought in the same way. You just need the courage and willpower to fight back. If they attempt to re-write history, expose the truth. If they repeat the same “alternate facts” over and over and demand you accept them, refuse to back down. Fill your head with nonsense if it helps – I’ve found that chanting “Can’t build a wall, hands too small!” is just as effective as repeating “Mary had a little lamb” for resisting misinformation campaigns. The Third Doctor would probably also approve of a little Venusian Aikido when faced with actual literal Nazis. So go out and be the UNIT agent or Time Lord you want to see in the world.