Doctor Who: Once Upon A Time Lord – Comic Review

With Russell T. Davies having successfully revived Doctor Who almost 20 years ago now, a key part in maintaining its momentum and critical mass in those early days was in the casting of David Tennant. Not only did it manage to turn him into a household name, but he became synonymous with the part and the show.

No longer would it be the case that the image of Tom Baker’s manic grin, curls and seemingly endless scarf was the thing which came to mind by default when anyone mentioned the programme. For an entire generation, David Tennant is the Doctor, and brought an almost rock star-like status to both the show and the character. Whereas playing the Time Lord was once a risk of typecasting and career suicide, now it was a springboard to bigger things. Both the public and the fans loved Tennant, and he loved them back in return, becoming such a great ambassador and public face for the series.

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Unlike Baker, Tennant was never reluctant when it came to returning to the role, and – having departed on New Year’s Day 2010 – he donned his pinstripe suit and Converse once again for the 50th anniversary in November 2013. As well as reprising the part for Big Finish’s series of audio adventures in the meantime, Tennant has also carved out a somewhat unique place in Doctor Who’s legacy by his being cast as an entirely different incarnation of the Doctor, surprising the audience when Jodie Whittaker regenerated into him, and not Ncuti Gatwa as many people had been expecting.

With Tennant once again being the current iteration of our Saturday teatime hero, it seems only natural then for Titan Comics to revisit his earlier run for their 60th anniversary celebration of the show, in Doctor Who: Once Upon A Time Lord. Writer Dan Slott gives us two tales, taking us on a trip down Memory Lane, with the Tenth Doctor being front and centre throughout the first story, ‘Firelight’. Whilst visiting a fair on the planet Bobalabinko, companion Martha Jones is kidnapped by the Pyromeths, an ancient race who thrive on the psychic energy generated when stories are told.

Martha has to regale her captors with the most epic of tales, or else her life will be forfeit. What unfolds is the recounting of an epic adventure, which sees the Tenth Doctor crossing time and space, even entering the Realm of the Dead, in his relentless pursuit of the most valuable thing in the universe. Slott gives us a grand, high-stakes tale, which sees elements of both Moby Dick and Raiders of the Lost Ark mixed in with a tour through some of the Doctor’s past foes, both gods and monsters alike. Artists Christopher Jones and Matthew Dow Smith (a perhaps unintentional evocation of episode ‘Smith and Jones’) give proceedings a real energy and excitement in their rendition of Slott’s script.

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In the second portion of this special – ‘Rhyme Or Reason’ – it then becomes the Doctor’s turn to be a storyteller, as Martha hears about the occasion his previous incarnation and Rose Tyler had faced off against the Terileptils, high above planet Earth, as the villainous reptilians threaten the planet with a de-evolution ray. Slott takes a sci-fi MacGuffin and makes it background set dressing to a massively fun romp, which sees the use of language as the key to saving the day, in a way that the TV show has not truly explored. Mike Collins’ art captures the frenetic, urgent nature of the Ninth Doctor’s exploits, as well as making the Terileptils into more than the clunky and clumsy men in rubber suits they were on screen.

Doctor Who: Once Upon A Time Lord thankfully manages to avoid being a lazy exercise in nostalgia and box-ticking, and delivers a whole greater than the sum of its parts, by making storytelling a narrative device which drives the plots along. It was the Doctor who’d once declared: “We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”. By that measure, it must be said Slott has delivered handsomely on that front, giving us not just one but two good stories, weaving together so many past elements in a fresh and invigorating way.

Doctor Who: Once Upon A Time Lord is out on 7th November from Titan Comics.

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