Monday 18 January 2016

WHO REVIEW: Four Doctors by Paul Cornell

Multi-Doctor stories are a tradition. A tradition that either marks an anniversary event, a charity telethon or an opportunity to get the fans to spend a few more quid on something that might just be unmissable. We've had the The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors, The Eight Doctors and The Four Doctors (already), plus many more that don't include numbers in their names. Four Doctors was touted as Titan Comics' big event for 2015, ostensibly for American audiences (not that getting the issues elsewhere is a challenge) and has now been reprinted both in the UK marketed Doctor Who Comic and in trade paperback collected format. A multi-Doctor story is basically an excuse for an knees-up, with overgenerous helpings of continuity and a few set pieces stringing it together. Occasionally, we get something with a little more substance, such as the fiftieth anniversary film The Day of the Doctor. This graphic adventure doesn't quite reach those heights, but it walks the line between fanwank and proper story well, something Paul Cornell has always been able to manage. He's also been a master of timey-wimey stories before Stephen Moffat came up with the silly term, so it's not surprise that he handles multiple Doctors and overlapping timelines very well indeed.

Some vaguely familiar people

The first question is which four Doctors will be featured, and early publicity suggested we'd have a team-up for Ten, Eleven, Twelve and the War Doctor. This isn't quite what we get here, for the War Doctor's appearance is little more than an extended cameo that supplies some background for the ensuing adventure. Everything that occurs here is fallout from the Time War, with some races, such as Voord, considering themselves considerably better off in the war-ravaged timeline.

Ah, yes. The Voord. Including the rubber-suited nasties in a story is guaranteed to make me smile, and their presence here, not as a joke but as a major adversary, pretty much sells the comic for me altogether. Again, Cornell has form, having turned the Vardans into a threat for the New Adventure No Future, but he takes the Voord reasonably seriously here, rethinking them as a formidable gestalt that genuinely threatens to defeat the Doctor. Fan-pleasing moments like this are never far behind, with the Blinovitch Limitation Effect coming into play and bringing Cornell's own creation, the Reapers, in to provide an arresting cliffhanger. However, the inclusion of Gabby and Alice - comicbook companions for the tenth and eleventh Doctors respectively - keeps this feeling fresher and not just a rehash of TV elements.


Four Doctors would seem to be, on the face of it, a perfect opportunity to bring the ninth Doctor back into the mix. Titan evidently have the rights to use the character, what with them publishing a series for him, and he does, at least, make a cameo. Still, it does seem like a missed opportunity. Three Doctors in the hero position is perhaps as much as a story can really handle before collapsing in on itself. As for the fourth Doctor of the title... his identity is a little more unexpected, and while hardly an original direction, works well with the conceit of the story.

The story does, by issue five, start to run out of steam, but the resolution is so rarely as satisfying as the set-up. Neil Edwards's artwork isn't entirely successful either, ranging from spot-on to unrecognisable within a single page.They can't all be The Day of the Doctor, but they needn't be Dimensions in Time either. Four Doctors has enough in its favour to mark it as a winner, if not quite an unmissable event.

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