Tony Fyler starts using his other hand.
Count to four for me.
Go on, in Moffat’s World of Broken Numbers, I double-dare you to count to four. And by the time you get to the end of issue #5 of Paul Cornell’s Four Doctors, I guarantee you’ll have got it wrong at least once.
This is the end of the line for this story, and, given the timeline-twisting, brain-juicing nature of the adventure it’s taken us on, you might need to sit down with it for a while in order to get it to make some sort of sense for you. You might need a big sheet of paper and a bunch of coloured pens.
No, a bigger sheet than that.
But the point is, this has been a story filled with treat after treat after treat. While of course it needed the Fiftieth Anniversary story to happen as it did in order for there to be a War Doctor (by all means, feel free to count him as Doctor #1 in this scenario if you like), this is what a celebration story should feel like. It’s also been, right from issue #1, more sharply-edged, more sparky than the on-screen anniversary story was – adding the Twelfth Doctor to the party in a meaningful way gives you a Doctor not in at all afraid to stir up the hornet’s nest of multi-Doctor potential, and bring the snappier sides out of his two younger predecessors. We’ve had a great evolution of a William Hartnell villain very much in the throes of a renaissance in recent years. We’ve had the return of a fantastic – in fact possibly the best uniquely Ninth Doctor villains. We’ve had a Twelfth Doctor with broken hearts, and perhaps forebodingly, a Twelfth Doctor gone to hell and damnation and a kind of dark madness – the closest thing to an actual Valeyard we’ve yet seen in the New Who era. We’ve had breathtaking moments where our heroic Doctor took the easy path, not the right one, and the consequences of that. We’ve seen companions die in shocking ways. And here, now, the story ends.
The treats don’t stop coming because we’re close to the end – there’s an appearance from a villain that made its debut in the time of the Tenth Doctor, and the debut of a unique way of using it. There’s the timeline equivalent of Robin Hood splitting the Sheriff’s arrow, as paths are retraced with foreknowledge. There’s a call-back to The Three Doctors with the three incarnations united in a mental battle (and a physical one) against a common foe, meaning that vibe of being stronger together is maintained and resonates through the solution. There’s a heartfelt apology – oh yes, someone’s sorry, so sorry, and no, it’s not who you think it is – and there’s a panel that will ensure you really can’t count to four. That’s a fantastic surprise, albeit a rather sentimental, cards-on-the-table one that adds a piece of absolute rightness to the puzzle, and gives you the satisfied feeling of having stuffed your way through a Time Lord banquet.
This is by quite some way the most timeline-twisting issue of a pretty convoluted story, but you’ll definitely stick with it – you can’t do anything else, because the story is so tight you’ll devour the panels greedily on the way to the ending.
Neil Edwards, on artistic duties throughout this five-issue celebration of all that’s best in New Who, is on great form as we race towards the finale, though his Twelfth Doctor is more interpretative than exact in this issue, and occasionally seems to be channeling his Inner Hartnell with his hair swept back. But as we’ve said before, what Edwards will always give you is a rich panel to look at, and at least a couple of bigger pieces per issue that you want to blow up and stick on your wall. For me this time round, there’s a gorgeous moment on Page 23, but by far the most absorbing artwork is the whole-page piece on Page 18, which is remarkable and scary at the same time.
Bottom line, The Four Doctors has been the Who-fan’s comic-book event of 2015 - a bold claim, given this was the year we started seeing the Ninth Doctor in two dimensions. But yes, it really has been that special. Issue #5 does what the finale had to do – maintain standards, then exceed them, give all the treats somewhere logical to go, and build into a climax that satisfies not only the storytelling and artistic demands it set for itself in earlier issues, but also the expectations of some of the most demanding, hard-to-please fans in the world.
Take a bow, Messrs Cornell and Edwards. Actually, take two. Hell, if you think you can count that far in this crazy, mixed up universe of Doctor Who, by all means take four.
Fans of the show, or fans of great comic-books, or really, fans of being alive and happy at the same time, take no bows. Take four Doctors, five issues and a tremendous sense of satisfaction in the knowledge of a great story, delivered to the point of practical perfection. You have been served, and served well. Pick up issue #5 of The Four Doctors today.
Issue #5 of Four Doctors is released today.
To find your local comic store visit www.comicshoplocator.com/, and then run there quickly.
You can check out all the variant covers here, and
watch the trailer here.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk