“Right. Children to rescue and a scientist to find and a temporal crime ring to stop. Sounds like a full afternoon.”
That one quote from the latest issue of Titan’s Doctor Who shows how writer Jody Houser has managed to craft a far more complex and intricate plot than some of the TV episodes in the latest run during which ‘The Thirteenth Doctor’ is set; after three issues, the comic is starting to outstrip the programme itself, with storytelling of a far more layered, densely packed nature. While showrunner Chris Chibnall’s stripped back and pared down approach to the show has been a breath of fresh air in many ways, you can’t help but wonder if the comic series is showing that perhaps he went a little too far with the relative simplicity of some of the plots as broadcast.
Fair play to Houser for managing to keep up the momentum and providing a resolution to the previous issue’s cliffhanger that is worthy of the show itself – having the Doctor held at gunpoint and managing to talk her way out of the situation without any need to resort to violence. This take very much indicates Houser’s apparent familiarity with the source material. It’s reassuring to know that the depiction of the Doctor and friends chimes very much with what we’ve already seen on screen. The smattering of continuity references peppered again throughout the issue is far from overkill – in fact, just the right amount of ‘kill’ – and helps to seal the deal.
Recognition should also be given to artist Rachael Stott for managing to portray convincing and believable alien locales – the colourful crystalline structures on one of the planets brings to mind the sort of imagery seen in the Series 11 promotional materials, but sadly not actually reflected in anything we saw realised in the show. Of course, the great joy of the comics – like the Big Finish audio adventures – is that the creative teams aren’t limited by a TV budget. Stott really manages to bring Houser’s visions to life in a beautiful and compelling fashion. It’s also interesting to see the TARDIS console room looking far brighter and more colourful on the page than the rather gloomy interior of which we’ve seen so little in the show to date.
Houser also manages to maintain the intrigue behind the villain pulling the strings behind the scenes, whilst still moving the story forward. We learn the mysterious individual is referred to as ‘The Hoarder’ and is using time travellers not only to acquire great riches and treasures for it, but also to abduct children to use as leverage in its nefarious scheme. Having this revelation adds an extra dimension to the character, making it seem even more diabolical than it did before. This acts as an effective hook in keeping the reader’s interest, by managing to drip feed just enough information in order to move things along, without giving the game away.
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Once the Doctor has managed to get Dr. Leon Perkins onside, after he’d tried to turn the tables by pulling a gun on her and the rest of Team TARDIS, we hurtle into full Indiana Jones territory, with a journey to an ancient temple (albeit an alien one, natch), replete with tricks and deathtraps. It really is great to see proper old-fashioned peril and jeopardy, as the series proper needs to remember that sometimes you just can’t beat a room with slowly-contracting stone walls for that certain old school frisson which you can’t always get with more sophisticated plot devices. It would have been nice to have ended this issue a few panels earlier, as the cliffhanger is rendered less effective by showing the escape route, even though the hint is it will also lead to great risk in itself. But that seems like a fairly minor quibble overall.
It all looks very encouraging for where the story is going and has already taken some unexpected twists and turns. It can only be hoped that Houser manages to carry on providing us with twists and turns aplenty, as it would be an awful shame if things should fizzle out, or ‘The Hoarder’ ends up being as uninspiring a bad guy as some of those we saw in Series 11. The characterisation is absolutely on point, even though some of the regulars are a little bit sidelined out of necessity to get lots of exposition out of the way. We just need to keep things moving along in the right direction and hope the payoff will justify the reader’s investment in the story so far.