Doctor Who: Four Doctors
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Neil Edwards, Ivan Nunes (colorist)
Publisher: Titan Comics
The best bit about any multi-Doctor story is how the Doctors interact. Paul Cornell, who’s written for two of them on screen (Nine in “Father’s Day” and Ten in “Human Nature”/“Family Of Blood”) and is an out-and-prod long-time Who fan, clearly knows this and so for a special five-issue “Four Doctors” mini-series last year he crafted a tale that’s deliberately light on plot but crammed full of amusing insights into how various Doctors differ and, as importantly, how they don’t.
Now those five issues have been collected together into this great-looking hardback edition by Titan, and the whole thing works brilliantly – possibly better – as a complete graphic novel.
Although timey-wimey is now an overused phrase “Four Doctors” unashamedly claims go be the timiest-wimiest tale of all (we kid you not – that phrase is actually in here, in word bubbles). Clara tries to prevent a destines meeting between three of the post Time War Doctors because of a mysterious photograph that spells the END OF EVERYTHING (or universe domination by an unlikely enemy from the Doctor’s past, at least). But things don’t quite go to plan the as various potential timelines don’t just interweave, they damn near strangle each other in a big temporal tangle.
Cornell captures each Doctor brilliantly and has enormous fun getting them to rub each other up the wrong way. The plot rattles along with surprises and twists at virtually every turn (of the page). It doesn’t make a whole load of sense in the details and potential continuity problems are dealt with via throwaways lines but this almost seems like a cheeky in-joke at the show’s expense rather than lazy plotting. And, like the show at its best, the grand sweep of the action makes plot-hole nitpicking a joyless “wood for the trees” experience. Plus, there’s a WMMD (Weapon Of Mass Multidimensional Destruction) in there called a “Continuity Bomb”; it may as well as have a winking eye painted on it. The plot gets a little unfocussed in the final issue, but it’s no great problem; it just feels a little like Cornell is having to cover a lot of ground quickly because he got carried away with the more fun stuff.
Plus, as a fan, Cornell can effortlessly and seamless drop in continuity references that can’t fail to make a fan smile. There’s also a lovely section where the Doctors get to bitch about their respective TARDIS interiors.
There are very few characters. Aside from the Doctors and the various companions there’s a couple of cameos and the monsters (who are barely “characters” anyway, just a threat with a few lines of exposition). This is clearly a deliberate move to let the Doctors share the spotlight. Of the companions, Clara fares well, but Ten’s and Eleven’s current comic companions, Alice Obiefune and Gabby Gonzalez do suffer a little from being not so familiar and therefore feel a little underdeveloped. But hey, only five issues… something’s gotta give.
The art is impressive and wonderfully detailed in places. Only Ten has the occasional “referenced from a publicity photo” look and there’s one alarming panel in which Twelve looks like Margaret Thatcher. But in “licensed” comics it’s too easy to get hung up on likenesses. Bottom line here is – if this weren’t a Doctor Who comic it would still be a gorgeously colourful sci-fi comic.
The collection also includes the some wonderfully cartoony comics strip interludes too, which manage to be just as geekily loveable as the main action.
And if you’re wondering why we only seem to be referring to three Doctors when it’s called “Four Doctors”, well… the answer that is not quite as obvious as it might seem in the first few pages (one of which is reproduced below). But as River Song would say, “Spoilers!”