“It’s all a little too “timey wimey” for me.”
Ryan, lad: I couldn’t agree more.
Sometimes, you can find a story overstays its welcome. This one, unfortunately, has done so by about four issues. Given that it was only four issues long, that’s really not a good sign.
Jody Houser’s latest tale for Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor has desperately struggled to get into first gear, which is an awful shame, after delivering a strong four-issue opening run. This time round, however, her sophomore story has lacked any sort of dramatic momentum, and been threatening to promise far more than it can deliver. And, boy, does it fail to deliver in a big way.
The latest issue opens with the Doctor and Team TARDIS having followed the tip-off they’d got from Schulz and Perkins of the Time Agency, and heading over to Canada for the Battle of Ridgeway, where they… well, to be honest, they do very little. The quartet visit three funerals, the Doctor uses her Sonic Screwdriver much like a Tricorder from Star Trek, and then off they pop again. Unlike the previous time periods visited, there doesn’t seem to be any relevance for going here, other than it was mentioned in that bloody podcast at the centre of the story.
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In fact, they might as well not even have bothered, so little do we see of the era in question. At least in previous issues we had a decent wander round, and got a flavour of the period. Here, however, it barely gets a look-in, and after literally three pages, whoosh, we’re off back into the Time Vortex. It’s truly indecent haste here, and feels as though we may as well have not even bothered. In fact, the whole issue just plods along with a leaden-footed gait, and the storytelling seems turgid and uninspired.
The central mystery of the Hidden Human History podcast was always going to need a decent payoff, without coming over as a massive letdown or anti-climax: if you’re setting up something so integral to a story like this, it had better be worth it. Well, it wasn’t. In fact, it was disappointing, I found myself wishing I had a TARDIS, in order to go back in time and stop myself from reading this story. All the signs had pointed to someone who’s manipulating events, and getting the Doctor and fam to visit certain points in history for some nefarious or devious reason. Maybe it’s Missy/the Master? We’ve seen them use temporal trickery in the past, so it would fit their M.O.
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Nope. Instead, we find out it’s recorded by an evolved and aged version of the Stilean Flesh Eater who’d sank their teeth into the Doctor back in issue #5. It seems they got the idea for the podcast after overhearing the Doctor in one of the earlier eras going on about the podcast. So, Graham, Yaz and Ryan heard the podcast, then involved the Doctor by telling her about it, leading her to visit the eras, meet the Stilean, end up giving one of them the idea for doing the podcast in the future, which Graham, Yaz and Ryan hear, and so on. It becomes the snake eating its own tail.
However, there’s nothing more to it than that. The Stilean leader just wanted to do a Magical History Tour, based on its own experiences on Earth, and that was it. No devious plot or ulterior motive. But also no reason as to why it happens to be one of the most listened podcasts. It is because it is. End of story. And that’s not really a satisfactory explanation. You’d expect to have some justification for it, especially as it’s so unlikely that Graham, Yaz and Ryan would’ve independently happened across the podcast and listened to it, along with, well, pretty much everyone else on Earth, including the Time Agency in the future. It needs some rationale, and that’s lacking in this case.
So the whole thing boils down to Doctor Who In An Exciting Fireside Chat Over A Cup Of Tea With A Monster. Gripping and scintillating stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. It just feels like a pointless story to tell, and also that Houser has squandered all the goodwill generated by her blistering run over the first four-part story. Based upon the evidence here, it doesn’t bode too well for the future of the series, and I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone. Which is an awful shame.