Titan Comics: Doctor Who Origins: THE FUGITIVE DOCTOR Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Titan Comics: Doctor Who Origins: THE FUGITIVE DOCTOR Review

Tony goes back to (almost) the beginning.
The Fugitive Doctor was controversial right from the moment she got her Time Lord memories back and started calling herself the Doctor in the Jodie Whittaker episode, Fugitive of the Judoon.

She would go on to cause howls of protest from some Doctor Who fans by shattering everything we thought we knew about the Doctor, about Gallifrey, and about the Time Lords in general.

Her existence – and the eventual expansion of her existence – would reveal not only that there were practically armies of Doctors before the one we all thought of (and that, more to the point, the Doctors always thought of) as the First Doctor, but also that it was the Doctor – who was, it turned out, not a native-born Gallifreyan – who first gave the Time Lords the power of regeneration, and that therefore, there was never really any limit on the number of times she could pull the trick of cheating death.

Time Lords, certainly, were under an arbitrary life-limit, but the Doctor? Notsomuch.

That’s quite the legacy for a character who only appeared on screen a handful of times.

But the one thing that’s undeniable about the Fugitive Doctor is that, from that same moment when she regained her Time Lord consciousness (so to speak), she was a lesson in screen-eating charisma, and she made you, body and soul, want to know more about her.

Where she fit in the whole Timeless Child saga, where she fit in the drama of the Doctor as we’ve always known them. How she found herself working for the deeply dubious Division, and why she was in hiding from Gat and the rest of the Division, on Earth. Quite how long had she been hiding? Had she had a hundred thousand different cover-lives? The Fugitive Doctor is a whole bucketload of questions wrapped up in a hell of a lot of charisma.

No pressure, then, on Titan Comics, producing what it boldly defines as the “origin story” for the Fugitive Doctor.

Does it deliver on that promise?

Well, the answer is both yes… and no. But mostly, yes.

The one thing that writer Jody Houser is wise enough not to attempt is a “David Copperfield” version of the Fugitive Doctor – we don’t see her inception, her regeneration into the incarnation we saw on-screen. This comic-book collection gives us at least a physically fully-formed version of the character played with all that spectacular charisma by Jo Martin.

But it does answer a handful of other questions. Why is the Fugitive Doctor’s Tardis shaped like a 1960s London police box? Easy – she arrived there in 1962 on the trail of a planet-burning miscreant, and the Tardis assumed that big blue form then. From there, it’s easy to assume that at some later point, when the Time Lords (or Tecteun) removed the Doctor’s memory of their past, the police box Tardis was reset to the cylindrical base-shape of all native Tardises, and Clara Oswald would eventually lead the Hartnell Doctor to it – after which, on its first opportunity in London, 1963, it “relaxed” into the police box shape that suited it best, and could barely be persuaded to change again afterwards.

Problem solved.

The story of that trip to Earth in 1962, appropriately enough given the imminent on-screen celebration of Beep the Meep, has a strong essence of The Star Beast about it – cute things that aren’t cute, the misplaced trust of youngsters in appearances, and the intervention of the Doctor to sort things out before the planet goes boom.

More importantly than the actual story though is the shift it brings in the Doctor’s attitude. When she arrives, it’s strongly suggested that she’s never been to the Earth before, and she regards it as an uninteresting backwater. The actions of the children she encounters on this adventure though seem to change her mind, and to make her interested in the planet, seemingly for the first time. A postscript to the story also strongly suggests that it’s this short story that – beyond whatever happens to his brain and his life in the intervening time – lodges the idea of the Earth as a potentially friendly place to hide out with Susan when they eventually arrive in London in 1963.

So it could be said that the first short story in this collection gives us an additional strand of the Doctor’s origin story as we’ve always understood it, using the Fugitive Doctor to achieve that satisfying knitting together of chronologies.

The second and significantly longer story in this collection takes us back a lot further in the Fugitive Doctor’s timeline, to when she’s a devoted Division agent, with a particular mission on her plate, and an assigned “companion,” in the form of Taslo, a very green agent who has yet to see enough of the universe to say so.

They’re sent on a mission of total destruction, to eradicate a bunch of different “hostiles” on a handful of planets. These “hostiles” are supposed to be inimical to the Gallifreyan way of life, but there’s a sense that even by this time, the Fugitive Doctor is developing the traits that will ultimately come to define her over many, many lifetimes, in that the Doctor is more curious than trigger-happy. When her Tardis is armed with weapons of mass destruction to turn on the “hostiles,” she jettisons them without a second thought, much to the shock of her new companion.

And when they go down to take a look at the hostiles, the Doctor’s “stay and chat” methodology is even more shocking to the green new Division agent.

What they discover as they visit each of the “hostile” worlds is very much in the tradition of The Trial of a Time Lord, and of Gallifreyan chicanery throughout the history of the show. In particular, it shows Gallifrey at a point when it had many potential roads to go down, and chose the pathway that we know “our” Doctor eventually rebelled against – the haughty, homebound Time Lord existence of alleged “neutrality”, sitting in their ivory towers and their snowglobe cities, as opposed to getting out there and engaging with the universe. By the end of this story, the Fugitive Doctor has begun her time AS a fugitive, having hopped in her Tardis and left Gallifrey, sickened by what she’s learned and determined to see more of the wider universe.

It's also a story that shows what happens if Time Lords DO get out there and mix with the wider universe, and what happens most particularly to the Time Lords themselves. In a sense, that’s a truth that’s exquisitely written by Houser, because it also goes some way to explaining our Doctor’s perpetual wanderlust and wonder – they keep surrounding themselves with good people, and that notion of seeing the universe through someone else’s eyes keeps them youngish, and just, and enthusiastic to always see more.

This story really lands the weight of its premise, explaining important things about Gallifrey, about the Doctor, and about the ultimate pursuit of the Fugitive Doctor by Gat, as seen in Fugitive of the Judoon. And while the Doctor’s relationship with Taslo is something of a rollercoaster, that too delivers a punch of sufficient weight to give you what you want – an instance of the positive impact made by the Doctor on the people who travel with her (as well as, for the most part, vice versa).

It might not necessarily be a “true” origin story for the Fugitive Doctor, but this collection does deliver on its premise by giving us a handful of key moments that help explain the Doctor we saw in her first on-screen outing, as well as some of what we saw in her subsequent appearances. As such, it’s tender and true to the spirit of the character gifted to us by Jo Martin, and that makes it a deeply satisfying experience.

In terms of the visuals through which these stories are told, artist Robert Ingranata and colourist Warnia K Sahadewa give extremely good Jo Martin, which means you always feel anchored in the age of the Fugitive Doctor, as you imagine she’d appear on-screen in a spin-off series (Ahem – Mr Davies? Just a thought). They also give extremely good architecture, which might sound like an odd compliment, but when you have, for instance, a Tardis as visually joyous as the Fugitive Doctor’s, is no small beer.

Given that the story romps from planet to planet, and from life-form to life-form, the visual imagination deployed here is both of a high standard and in a high gear, meaning you get a lot of two-dimensional eye candy for your comic-book money. And there’s a harmony of Houser’s storytelling with the art and the colour choices here that delivers an expensive aesthetic, more Blade Runner than Classic Who, which also adds to that sense of value for money.

If you’re at all intrigued by the Fugitive Doctor, Titan Comics has delivered a fantastic, weighty beginning to her adventures, that ties in some of the key elements we saw in her on-screen appearances without getting overly bogged down in them. And in particular, the second story rings true with sixty years of things we knew about the Time Lords and their duplicity, their ego, and ultimately, their fear. And in having the Fugitive Doctor run away from what she learns of them here, the collection very much ties into the First Doctor’s emotional reality, rather than undermining a thing.

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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