“Are you suggesting that my TARDIS, my sentient TARDIS which travels through the Time Vortex itself to any point in time and space that she wants… listens to an Earth podcast about history?”
After a very promising four part opening tale, Titan’s Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor continues in triumphant fashion, with writer Jody Houser having captured perfectly the tone and style of the latest series – every last nuance of the Doctor’s dialogue is captured to a tee, particularly her penchant for inspiring speechifying, to the extent that you can virtually hear Jodie Whittaker’s delivery of the lines the Doctor’s been given.
Houser is someone who clearly does their homework and takes it seriously, as we’ve been delivered an instalment that would fit perfectly on our screens, alongside the episodes that we saw in 2018. Callbacks – whether intentional or not – help to build the link between the comics and the series itself, such as the Doctor’s menacing of a sheep tying into ‘It Takes You Away’, when she warned of the Woolly Rebellion taking place in 2211. Also reminiscent of that tale is the Doctor’s overly eccentric manner of finding out where they’ve landed, with all manner of strange contortions and quirks in evidence. It might be tempting to think Houser used an advance script of ‘It Takes You Away’ as a template for the landing sequence, so closely does it resemble the equivalent scene. Hopefully, it’s simply a case of pure coincidence, rather than lack of originality.
The setting itself also evokes other Series 11 stories, such as ‘The Witchfinders’, as issue #5 is also set in a small, rural village with strange happenings afoot, hinting at alien intervention rather than devilry or witchcraft. Like ‘Demons Of The Punjab’, this adventure focuses on a more obscure period of history, rather than going for the more flashy or showy events, such as the destruction of Pompeii, or those celebrity historicals where the Doctor meets people like Winston Churchill or Queen Victoria. In fact, it’s so far off the beaten track that there’s a need for a whacking great chunk of exposition early on, to explain exactly what the setting and context is.
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It’s a bit of a shock that the Doctor’s ‘fam’ know all about the period and location, given that it’s such a highly unusual one to have selected. However, fair play and much respect for Houser to have chosen to set the story somewhere the readers may well not have heard of, as it goes all the way back to those early ’60s Reithian BBC values of informing and educating the audience, which makes it incredibly faithful to the parent TV show. Given the rise of podcasts to something that’s now an everyday thing and taken for granted, I’ll forgive Houser for using one focusing on hidden history as being the reason for Yaz, Ryan and Graham being so informed, especially as it’s funny to see the Doctor being unable to do her usual showing off, and being upstaged by a podcast. Still a slight stretch of credulity, but I’ll allow it.
We find ourselves right in the middle of the Guelders Wars of the 16th Century in the Low Countries. The Habsburgs cast a shadow which hangs heavy over events, even though they don’t appear, as there are rumours running rife of them being in league with demons. Team TARDIS run – literally – into one of the local villagers, Magda, who is terrified of the Habsburgs and the otherworldly soldiers which are supposed to be fighting for them. Magda is our jumping on point for the story, as she befriends the Doctor, and provides all the background detail we need to know. She’s also very similar to the character of Willa in ‘The Witchfinders’, and serves a very similar function.
The Doctor does her usual snooping about to find out what’s going on, as well as why the TARDIS should have brought them all to this particular place and time. After a bit of standard Sonic Screwdriver jiggery-pokery, she realises that the stories of the demons have some truth to them, as she finds a local barn filled with Stilean Flesh Eaters, a nasty breed of aliens, who are closer to vampires than carnivores. The issue ends on what is quite a surprising cliffhanger, with the Doctor placed in far more jeopardy than we’ve seen in some of the TV stories from last year, leaving us wondering just how she’s going to get out of her predicament, given what’s actually happening to her while she’s busy doing her galactic tourguide routing, and being totally distracted in the process.
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Artist Rachael Stott is doing a cracking job in capturing the likenesses of the regulars, without the need for every frame to just be a copy of standard reference photos of the actors. Every little wrinkling up of the nose or scrunching up of the face by the Doctor is faithfully recreated her, giving the character a feeling of life and realism, rather than just lazily cycling through the same half-dozen or so expressions, which another artist could have simply fallen back on doing. Stott also deserves credit for doing her best to create a believable looking setting – historicals must be far more difficult to deal with, because you can at least make things up if it’s set in the far flung future; however, Stott doesn’t appear to be phased or intimated by this challenge, and ends up doing a more than creditable job.
Given that we’ve had a reasonably strong set-up, the next issue will hopefully see the story start to run in exactly the same way the Doctor talks here about loving so much. Houser and Stott’s run as creative team certainly has legs, and it looks as if they’re going to be here for a marathon stint, not just a sprint to the finishing tape.
Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #5 is now available from Titan Comics.