Tony’s not all that bothered about breaking free.
Prisoners of Time was a comic-book extravaganza from IDW Comics, a monthly story featuring all eleven Doctors who then existed, a whole host of companions and villains – some old favourites, some new – and an overarching plot that saw companions being snatched from their Doctors’ sides by an uber-villain with hints of cyberisation and a look not unlike Doctor Doom (a presumably innocent but somewhat delicious foreshadowing of the fate they hope to bring about).
At the time it did its job extremely well, building the anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary, issue by issue, mixing and matching its old and new villains and delivering enough of the tone of each Doctor to provoke a sense of nostalgia from Classic and New Who fans alike.
Now the complete Prisoners of Time has been reissued as a single collected volume by today’s comic-book Whomeisters, Titan Comics. So does Prisoners of Time stand up, just three years down the line, and when read as a single long story?
The answer, to go all Yoda on your asses for a moment, pretty much depends what you bring with you.
If you read it issue by issue when it was originally released, then you lose the impact of the big reveal, but you can still get many of the benefits it originally gave – there’s some innovative (if occasionally rushed) storytelling here, as well as a good sense of the thrill we old folk got from The Five Doctors when we saw a mysterious figure pushing Doctor and companion playing pieces round a futuristic gameboard, inasmuch as the Big Bad here has a stalker-wall of images of Doctors and companions not unlike the one we eventually saw in the Black Archive on screen, and it gives you the feel of something enormous happening, imbuing the overall arc with scale and power.
Do the individual stories work? For the most part, yes – the writing team of Scott and David Tipton deliver fast-paced short Doctor Who stories, and there are at least notional moods and flavours of each of the Doctors’ eras on display. The big reveal, when it comes, is pleasing, as it honours a dangling thread of Who history that was simply left unresolved in the TV show, and if the ending is a little pat, a little predictably twee, it follows on the heels of some great rousing companion-to-the-rescue stuff, so you don’t mind very much.
Besides, if you read the episodes as they were released, this collected edition gives you the gift of substantiality, of being able to slide it into place on your shelf, and of being able, should you wish to, to read the whole thing uninterrupted.
Coming from a point of view that missed the whole of Prisoners Of Time when it was released, and having been spoiled by over a year of Titan releases, I have a slightly different perspective on it. Yes it still delivers multi-Doctorism at a high level, and yes, it still pushes the fan-thrill button on my brain almost to the point where it breaks off in its hand. But the year and some of Titan Doctor-specific releases have spoiled me to some extent when it comes to the absolute nailing to the mast of a Doctor’s period, his dialogue, his verbal tics and nuances, as writers like George Mann, Paul Cornell, Rob Williams, Robbie Morrison, Cavan Scott, Nick Abadzis and Si Spurrier have brought their Doctors to life on the page. The writing by the Tiptons is by no means bad, but coming to it after the work of all those other writers, it feels more like a Beta version of a product that was yet to be perfected. You get a sense of each Doctor’s era and unique personality, certainly with some served better than others, but there are several stories (starring the First Doctor, Third Doctor, Fourth Doctor, and Sixth Doctor most notably) in which there’s a sense that a vaguer version of the legends of the incarnations have been printed than is strictly fair. That said, others are delivered with greater clarity – in particular, a Sontaran story with the Fifth Doctor and a creepy Scottish castle story with the Seventh shine through, as do the more modern Tenth and Eleventh Doctor stories, with both later Doctors taking decisive action to stop the Big Bad from succeeding in its plans.
As a fan of the comic-strip and audio companion Frobisher, incidentally, there’s an enormous amount to please me here, the shapeshifter being central to the Sixth Doctor story, the Tenth Doctor story and in fact the defeat of the Big Bad’s evil schemes in the overarching plot. Frobisher spin-off, Titan? I gather Rob Shearman’s just emerged from a long piece of writing work. I’m not saying…I’m just saying…
And while we’re here, let’s talk artwork. There are some familiar names on the artistic roster for Prisoners Of Time – Simon Fraser’s here, and so’s Lee Sullivan. Elena Casagrande and John Ridgway. So the quality’s up there, but the necessities of the storyline in each issue – there being a main story and the overarching plot too – sometimes give a sense that there wasn’t the time or the space (ironic, no?) to allow the artistic talent that was mustered to always do its very best work. But again, this is probably an impression formed by coming to Prisoners Of Time after a year and a bit of the lavish panels and pages and extended storytelling of the Titan offerings. In themselves, do you ever look at the artwork here and think “Oh, that’s not very good, is it?” Rarely.
And while we’re on the artwork, let’s also talk about the glorious introductory panels to each story, usually consisting of a Doctor portrait with details of a villain. These moments of glory by Francesco Caravilla are worth collecting in and of themselves, though as you read through, there’s a frustrating lack of consistency in them – for instance, the First Doctor portrait includes the Tenth Planet Cybermen, which (spoiler alert) don’t feature in his story. That’s immediately followed by a Second Doctor portrait featuring the Ice Warriors, who do feature in the story that follows. The Third Doctor’s visual villain doesn’t feature in his story, while the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Doctors’ do. The Seventh and Eighth Doctors are shown alongside villains they don’t face in their stories, and so on. The portraits are, without exception, glorious, but the inconsistency of portrait and story-content can get a little irritating as you read through the more-than-300 pages of this collected edition.
There are little niggles in terms of dialogue that have the same effect – occasional Americanisms creeping in, like the Sixth Doctor “figuring” things, and the First Doctor’s inability to remember Ian Chesterton’s name being overplayed beyond what it’s worth, the villain of the Third Doctor’s story simply packing up and leaving when it’s demonstrably beaten and so on. But overall, Prisoners Of Time delivers plenty of fan wish-fulfilment, including the return for a couple of the Doctor’s early opponents and more Frobisher than you can flap a flipper at, and the overarching story works with the grandiosity of scale you hope for and expect from an anniversary celebration event. Like the Destiny of the Doctor audio series, it suggests something grand, and then delivers it, slice by slice (or better still, in this edition, all together, for gorging!).
One final word on the artwork – towards the back of this edition, there’s a feast for the artistically-inclined Who-fan: a series of full colour cover designs by some great artists and colourists, that, placed where they are, rejuvenate your senses and memories of everything you’ve just read, like a series of the best holiday snaps you’ve ever seen, and including a few double-page pieces, one of which by Robert Hack with colour by Stephen Downer could stand by any of the more official fiftieth anniversary pieces and hold its own.
So should you buy Prisoners Of Time? Yes, of course you should – it’s a collected fangasm, including stories with some great old villains and one or two newbies to the fold that would bear translation to an on-screen realisation. There’s a sense of justifiable thrill, and a strong build-up to an impressive pay-off that feels distinctly right for the celebration of fifty years of time travel.
As good as Titan’s own Four Doctors? Wellll, no, but then you tangle with Paul Cornell and Neil Edwards at your peril. But a rollicking multi-Doctor story to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary, and worth collecting in this edition? Oh hell, yes.
PS – Seriously, Titan. Frobisher spin-off. Just saying.
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