Fourth Doctor #2 - Gaze of the Medusa (Part Two)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 20 June 2016 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
DOCTOR WHO: FOURTH DOCTOR MINI-SERIES #2 (Credit: Titan)Writers: Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Artist: Brian Williamson
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Comics Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton and Gabriela Houston
Designer: Rob Farmer
Released: April 20th 2016, Titan Comics

If the superb opening instalment of Titan Comics' five-part Fourth Doctor miniseries gave fans of Tom Baker's incarnation the impression that they might be in for something special, then Issue 2 confirms those suspicions wholeheartedly, embracing its predecessor's strengths whilst building upon them so as to further fulfill the "Gaze of the Medusa" storyline's vast potential.

Penned once again by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, this similarly accomplished sophomore instalment doesn't so much centre on Issue 1's fascinating final panel revelation - namely that Sarah Jane appears doomed to be converted into a lifeless statue by the supernatural forces plaguing the TARDIS crew at present - as put it to one side for now. Instead, its focus lies on how the mysterious Lady Emily Carstairs' temporal machinations have forced the ancient Greek and Victorian worlds to abruptly collide, placing Sarah at the heart of the exposition as she converses with Carstairs about her somewhat tragic past while the Doctor tags along with his newfound allies, Professor Odysseus James and Athena, in the hope of rescuing his companion before it's too late.

This somewhat familiar premise might sound like a recipe for mediocrity to those readers still on the fence about picking up Titan's latest Doctor Who strip, but for all Part Two treads water as opposed to making genuine progress towards this one-off serial's endgame, there's plenty of compelling material to keep Fourth Doctor devotees hooked regardless. No more do the strip's merits come to the fore, in fact, than with the scribes' decision to separate their lead players for the majority of the issue, since their depictions of both Baker and Lis Sladen's characters are accurate in their emphasis on how each of the two characters can more than hold their own in the face of seemingly unfavourable odds. Yes, Sarah might remain in Carstairs' clutches here, yet by no means does that make her a passive participant in proceedings - if anything, that she manages to quickly convince Carstairs of how invaluable both she and her waylaid Time Lord can be to their foe if she keeps them alive only goes to demonstrate her endearing charisma, while the Fourth Doctor's constant joke cracking clearly does just as much to earn him the faith of his latest comrades as they plunge headfirst into a wealth of new dangers.

What's more, despite them having only five issues in which to depict the Baker era's most beloved assets and convey a captivating standalone narrative, Beeby and Rennie also show an admirable commitment to rendering their secondary constructs as equally sympathetic individuals to 'watch' develop. Odyesseus, for instance, displays a rather charming passion for the unknown that prompts him to seem believably reckless at times, with his daughter's determination to rein in this enthusiastic fervour for his own safety feeling similarly akin to some of the more memorable parental relationships we've seen on the TV series in recent years - albeit with the parent usually worrying more about their offspring than the other way around. Carstairs' surprisingly heartfelt backstory, meanwhile, endeared her to this reviewer far more than he might ever have expected upon picking up Issue 2, a trait which could bode extremely well for her memorability as a regretful antagonist of sorts in future issues should the capable writing team capitalize on her appeal between now and the "Medusa" arc's conclusion. Nothing's guaranteed, of course, but at the rate Beeby and Rennie are developing their impressive level of layered characterisation from issue to issue, chances are this five-part saga's primary and secondary constructs alike will linger in the memory of the strip's followers long after they've read its final panel.

Speaking of the panels themselves, thanks to Brian Williamson's phenomenal Gothic artwork, they're just as much a thing of beauty as the "Medusa" storyline itself. Whether he's depicting a simple, carraigebound exchange between the Doctor and his Victorian partners-in-crime with photorealistic facial imagery - not to mention authentically chilling mists surrounding the carriage - or the temporally unique, supernatural glare of the lamp of Chronos as it illuminates the room in which Sarah's busy untangling Carstairs' intentions or indeed the horrifyingly morbid cliffhanger moment which will all but guarantee that readers can't help but return for Issue 3 to discover what's next for the character, Williamson doesn't falter on any front whatsoever. Indeed, it's a wonder that he's not called upon more often to accompany the scripts for the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh or Twelfth Doctors' regular strips, since judging by the work he's produced in the space of two Fourth Doctor-centric issues alone, the man's got just as much to offer Titan Comics' ever-expanding franchise of Doctor Who comics as any other artist who's contributed to the various ranges to date.

Alternatively, though, Titan could take an even more obvious route once Issue 5 brings the "Medusa" arc to its end, commissioning a regular Fourth Doctor strip off the back of this miniature arc just as they did after their five-part Ninth Doctor miniseries, "Weapons of Past Destruction", met with such critical and commercial acclaim upon its debut on the comic-book scene last year. Certainly, based on the immeasurable strength of both Issue 1 and its immediate follow-up, there's no substantial reason to think why a fully-fledged continuation courtesy of Rennie, Beeby and Williamson couldn't continue to develop the pitch-perfect adapted rapport of the Fourth Doctor and Sarah, their era's much-loved supernatural array of adversaries as well as the supporting characters tasked with helping or hindering the pair in their adventures for many issues to come. Perhaps the Fourth Doctor will one day return to the TV series in the form of the Curator as introduced to us in 2013's televised 50th Anniversary Special The Day of the Doctor, but in the meantime, the character's printed incarnation evidently has plenty of life in him yet.