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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

IDW's Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Gives Whovians Their Fantasy Team-up [Review]

Every true Whovian dreams to one day watch a Doctor Who episode in which all the actors who played the various incarnations of the titular characters reprise their roles for that one epic team-up adventure. However, for various reasons, that most likely will never happen. Not for the foreseeable future, anyways. The 50th Anniversary episode "The Day of the Doctor," which will air this Saturday, is the series' most promising and, possibly, last opportunity to do so—at least for a while. Unfortunately, show-runner Steven Moffat indicated in interviews that the fandom will just have to settle for the tenth and eleventh Doctors played by David Tennant and Matt Smith, respectively. Doctors Ten and Eleven will team up with the recently revealed "War Doctor," a previously unknown incarnation played by John Hurt. Three Doctors are enough, I suppose.

Then, again: Moffat's penchant for lying and misdirection to protect the magic of the show from leaks and spoilers until their scheduled air times might also indicate that this door is not competely closed. I submit as evidence,  the series seven season finale, "The Name of The Doctor," which used clever camera angles and computer-generated movie magic to splice old Doctor Who footage into the episode to bring all the previous Doctors back, even the late William Hartnell (1st Doctor), Patrick Troughton (2nd), and Jon Pertwee (3rd).

Prisoner of Time's
12 Covers Merged
[Image Source:]
I suppose until then, we Whovians will just have to settle for spin-off media like novels, audio-plays, and graphic novels as stop-gaps. In which case: may I recommend IDW Publishing's Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time graphic novel mini-series?

IDW, one of todays leading comic book publishers, specializes in licensed property. They also hold the license for popular titles like Star Trek, Transformers, and G.I.Joe. Unfortunately, their relationship with the BBC and their license to publish Doctor Who will end with the 50th Anniversary of the show. Fortunately, they refuse to leave without a big bang.

Prisoners of Time, a 12-issue limited series comic book, is IDW's year-long contribution to the 50th Anniversary. From January through November 2013, each issue of the first 11 were dedicated to one of the eleven Doctors and followed each of the Doctors in sequence on an adventure. As each issue closed, a shadowy figure kidnapped that Doctor's traveling companion(s), linking each story together and leading into today's release of issue 12 in which the Doctor team-up with all himselves to save his friends.

Written by siblings Scott and David Tipton, the story asks the reader to examine the Batman-ification of the Doctor and the effects, both good and bad, that he leaves in his wake. We see this same question in the current TV series in such episodes as "Vampires in Venice" and "A Good Man Goes to War." Yet, by end of issue 12, we are still left with that strange feeling that, just as in life, everything remains gray and blurry despite all the arguments for the Doctor's goodness, despite the fact that those arguments won.

IDW has given fans well-written, canon-worthy between-the-episodes adventures for a while now. In fact, they have gone out of their way to carefully integrate on-screen story elements to each of their stories as well as to avoid contradicting Doctor Who Proper. Prisoners of Time is no exception. I love how they blended elements from both the show's classic run and the revived modern series. IDW went a step further and included Frobisher, the Sixth's and Seventh's shapeshifting companion from Panini Comics' Doctor Who Magazine comic strip adventures from the Eighties. (Frobisher likes to use the form of a talking penguin as his "normal" appearance, by the way. What's cooler than that?)

Prisoners of Time features different artist for each issue. I can't say I like the art in all the issues but I think it works and each artist's style matches the feel their respective Doctor invokes as well as the story for that issue. I do like that IDW brought back John Ridgeway, the superb artist who illustrated the Sixth Doctor's comic strips back in the Eighties, to do the art for issue six which follows Doctor Six.  I think the Tiptons and Ridgeway even channeled the same atmosphere and feel of those original Sixth Doctor comics into the issue, reiterating my belief that Colin Baker's Six got the short shrift in the TV series and is one of the most underrated and unjustly maligned Doctors. I hear Colin Baker performances in the audio plays drill this fact home even further.

The one downside to this story is that the eighth Doctor's companion is, once again, Grace Holloway from the 1996 TV movie. Despite living the excruciatingly boring life that past companions are all doomed to live after their tenure on the TARDIS ends, Grace does not want to ever be part of the Doctor's adventure again and spends the entire issue complaining. I felt that this was a missed opportunity for the writers to bring in characters from Eight's audio or Panini Comics adventures. But after the big reveal in last week's mini-episode prequel "The Night of the Doctor," I kind of understand why they didn't—or most likely, couldn't.

Otherwise, I have no complains.  Ultimately, this is a classic tale of revenge pitting our favorite Time Lord against a villain claiming to be a former companion that the Doctor has wronged or will wrong. But who is he? And what could the Doctor have done to become the target of such hatred? As the story progresses, we find the villain's face and history very familiar. Arguably, the Doctor, in a fit of rage and impatience, did wrong this companion. In fact, fans have wondered what had happened to the character all these year. Now we know. Abandoned to fend for himself, hiding for years in the shadows, he was left to nurse his hate and now he has the means to exact vengeance.

One other cool "extras" you will get with Prisoners of Time" are the "Reflection in Time" essays at the end of each issue in which "prominent Whovians past and presents" wrote about their involvement with Doctor Who especially with the show's history and the various incarnations in comic book form.

All in all, this was a strong, well-written story arc and a fun read, worthy of the Doctor Who name. I don't normally read comics as they come out. Often, I either wait for the story arc to come out on trade paperback or for all the issues for the arc to be released then I read it all in one sitting. I am glad that I decide to break from my norm. The anticipation between each issue was like wait those long months between seasons. I devoured each issues over and over, re-reading each install when the next ones came out, then brooded that it wasn't next month already. It's sad to see IDW lose the rights to continue publishing Doctor Who. They've done a stellar job and they deserve a standing ovation, especially for this story.