Fourth Doctor #1 - Gaze of the Medusa (Part One)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 April 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor #1 (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: March 23rd 2016, Titan Comics​

Vintage Doctor Who – that’s the best way to summarize the joyful, relentlessly entertaining experience that awaits fans as they approach what feels like Titan Comics’ one-hundredth title set in the worlds of the BBC’s longest-running science-fiction drama. Given the sheer number of Doctors the publishers have been juggling around of late what with their ongoing series themed around Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, Capaldi and even Hurt (on occasion, anyway)’s incarnations, one might have initially expected their writing teams to falter under the weight of yet another version of the Time Lord – particularly one so esteemed as Tom Baker’s – but true to form, their The Fourth Doctor saga looks set to enjoy just as much critical success as its esteemed predecessors, if not more-so, based on its opening outing.

Just as many Baker devotees will surely have hoped, much of the appeal of his first Titan-produced comic strip adventure lies in its capitalising on the elements which made his era such an enduring hit: extra-terrestrials masquerading as human beings as they pursue sinister machinations, and best of all a reprise for the much-missed Lis Sladen’s Sarah-Jane, who continues her travels alongside John Smith at some point after the events of “Pyramids of Mars” (though the continuity references are justifiably kept to a minimum here so as not to leave newcomers in the dark). Throw in a deliciously gothic Victorian London backdrop which couldn’t feel more reminiscent of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” if Jago and Litefoot appeared in the background, and the result is a promisingly authentic debut narrative which could well give the strip just as much as momentum as the Ninth-Twelfth Doctor series already have so long as its next few instalments pan out effectively.

As the tale’s similarly 1970s-esque title – “Gaze of the Medusa Part 1” – suggests, writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby take a refreshingly bold dive into Greek mythology in this instance, weaving iconic creatures such as the Cyclops and Medusa herself in a manner which already seems far more seamless than BBC One’s attempts to merge myth with modernity in Atlantis, with the aforementioned adversaries all but guaranteed to herald from distant nebulas as was the case with the show’s take on the Loch Ness Monster in “Terror of the Zygons” or Egyptian deities in “Pyramids”. That said, barring a last-minute revelation surrounding the original femme fatale’s stony complexion, there’s sadly not much time for the scribes to develop these potentially fascinating ancient antagonists’ characterisation here, with much of their focus lying instead on bringing perhaps the most beloved TARDIS team in the show’s history back to life.

Suffice to say that any new work of Who fiction which dares to cast Baker’s eccentric, lovable galactic hipster in its leading role must live and die based on its depiction of his and Sladen’s characters, which makes Rennie, Beeby and Brian Williamson (who takes on artistic duties here, rendering the Doctor, Sarah-Jane in an impressively realistic style that goes so far as to border on the uncanny)’s success in this regard that much more of a substantial relief. Far from them coming off as caricature versions of their televised selves, both constructs instantly boast the same USPs on the printed page in 2016 as they did three or so decades ago, with the Doctor taking advantage of every and any opportunity to crack a quip about Buffalo Bill or War and Peace and Sarah brimming with much the same honest charm and intelligence as she did in both Who and her subsequent beloved spin-off series. Indeed, it’s overwhelmingly reassuring to see that the writing team understand their leading players’ strengths to such an extent that even when readers are presented with a relatively uneventful, oft-meandering yarn such as “Part 1”, they’ll still probably have a great time thanks to the protagonists’ instantly endearing dynamic.

Better yet, those readers who’ve been waiting for a “but…” to signal a shift towards this reviewer’s gripes are in for a shock, since in no small part thanks to Rennie and Beeby’s dedication to producing an authentic continuation of the Fourth Doctor era in terms of plot tropes, mythological intrigue and characterisation, the aspects which warrant even a single complaint are far and few between. Perhaps in an ideal world the core narrative surrounding Sarah’s untimely abduction by said legendary figures and the Doctor’s simultaneous encounter with a fearful father and his reckless daughter – whose names seem far too similar to those of other Greek icons to be a coincidence – could have received a little more attention so as to allow its sophomore chapter to kick off with a greater degree of momentum, or perhaps we could have had at least a wink or two to other elements of Doctor Who’s Victorian era continuity such as the Paternoster Gang or a certain barmaid-turned-Impossible Girl, but that these so-called shortcomings barely ever came to mind in the initial read-through speaks wonders for how captivating a ‘season premiere’ everyone involved has concocted in this instance.

Indeed, rather than supporting those fears of oversaturation discussed at the beginning of this review, Titan’s latest canonical contribution to the worlds of Doctor Who only seems to confirm once again that BBC Worldwide has placed their much-coveted licence in precisely the right mittens. Not only have Rennie and Beeby showcased in abundance their understanding of the narrative elements which helped the scripts of Robert Holmes and company succeed, they’ve also accomplished the enviable feat – and in 30 pages, no less – of perfectly encapsulating the appeal of Baker and Sladen’s heroes to the point that it’s difficult to imagine any reader being dissatisfied by the end result. What lies in the immediate future for the Fourth Doctor saga remains to be seen, yet if its pilot episode in any way offers even the slightest of hints at what’s to come, then anyone wise enough to follow the series should be in for a simultaneously thought-provoking, exhilarating and hilarious ride.

The end may have arrived for Baker’s scarf-donning, jelly baby-offering wanderer of time with “Logopolis” in 1981, but judging by the immense strength of their debut take on the character, the moment’s been prepared for by Rennie, Beeby et al ever since.