Tony’s renewing his subscription to the Third Doctor fan club.
You have to go pretty darned far to beat the cliffhanger of issue #3 of the Third Doctor comic-book series from Titan. In fact, despite its annual ‘special event’ comic-series, which in 2016 was Supremacy of the Cybermen, and despite the joy of a short-run Fourth Doctor series, The Third Doctor sequence was probably the Who-based comic event of last year, and issue #3’s cliffhanger was the highest of several high-points in those first three issues.
That begs the question of how you’re going to top it.
Issue #4 has a damn good try. For the most part, it deals with some backstory for the main human villain of the piece, as revealed in that ass-kicking cliffhanger. When we last saw them on TV, they were pretty comprehensively screwed. But we never saw them die, and we never ever saw what became of them after they drifted out of our attention and the Doctor’s adventures moved smartly along.
Now we know. We know because Paul Cornell, never any kind of slouch in freely inventing believable chunks of Doctor Who mythos, has shown it to us, narrated it for us from the villain’s point of view, and in their voice. As ever with Cornell’s writing, we’re left with a sense that of course that’s what happened. It seems so right and natural as he unfolds it for us that it slips seamlessly into our consciousness as the inarguable, logical next chapter in this villain’s life.
Here Cornell also shifts gears on us, luxuriating in giving us this wealth of backstory for most of the issue, then turning the last third of the pages into a race against time as the villain concocts a suitably grandiose, barking mad plot – ‘to steal time from the Time Lords’ – and the Doctor and friends, including a surprising-not-surprising ally, race to stop them. It comes down to a foot race, the Doctor and friends legging it past an army of micro machines, just in time to see the villain pull a good old Seventies snooker-ball-on-a-stick lever and more or less turn the tables on the Doctor for the way their on-screen adventure together ended. The shift in pace happens subtly, like an automatic gear change, and by the last few pages, we’re turning frantically to get to the end.
And if anything, the cliffhanger stakes get higher still.
Now, because he’s got some serious form and he takes the business of pushing Who’s boundaries forward fairly seriously, it takes an artist and colourist of almost ridiculous quality and inventiveness to keep up with Cornell. Christopher Jones and Hi-Fi have been doing it for three issues now, giving a beautiful surrealism to some sequences, but rendering the regulars with a terrific faithfulness that anchors us in the world of the Third Doctor, and giving great environment – you want a Seventies nondescript research station, Jones and Hi-Fi will give you that. You want a weird and wonderful tentacular metal monster, they’ve got you covered there too. In this issue, it’s possible they both out-do all their previous efforts, and even come close to out-doing Cornell himself! There are utterly fantastic Pertwee-titles space-time vortex shots, and the pages that show what happened to the villain immediately after we last saw them are of such thoroughgoing quality they help Cornell pull that signature trick, making us think ‘But of course that’s what happened!’ And yet, when needed, there’s an old-fashioned magnetic tape computer bank room, there’s a solid square army Jeep, there are dismal corridors to run down. It’s that ‘best-of-both-worlds’ vibe that helps this really feel like a Third Doctor story…only better. Matching Cornell’s mixture of the UNIT favourites and a pacing that’s thoroughly 21st century, Jones and Hi-Fi give us production values the Seventies show could only dream of. And what this issue particularly teaches us is that in the right hands, things that would have seemed a little underwhelming in the actual Seventies, like much of an episode given over to a villain’s monologue or the sudden escalation into a squaddie-tramping run down some corridors, can be both engaging and thrilling. It also teaches us that these are very much the right hands to pull that off.
If you’re new to it, grab yourself an armful of the Third Doctor comic-book and get back to the Seventies today, with some thoroughly 21st century oompf. If you, like us, are already confirmed Third Doctor comic-book fans, prepare yourself for an issue full of delicious explanation of that issue #3 cliffhanger that will immediately seem like it makes perfect Doctor Who sense. The Third Doctor – forty years in the past and still kicking ass.
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