Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Christopher Jones
Colours by Hi-Fi
Letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Billy Seguire
In many ways, Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor is the definitive version of the character as we knew him in the first half of the classic era of Doctor Who. Venusian akido, frills, and a stern sense of righteousness were only part of the appeal, while the rural backdrop of the Doctor’s exile in seventies England forced writers into a focussed story-mode that had to constantly push new ideas forward in order to avoid going stale. In keeping with that tradition, veteran Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell does a remarkable job with an uncharacteristically straightforward story, setting all the necessary elements in place for a return to the era where The Third Doctor #1 truly kicks off.
The issue opens as Mike Yates’ date with Jo Grant is interrupted by a call from the Brigadier. A crash-landing in Bedfordshire has been deemed a Condition Black Emergency. Something enormous and under intelligent control threatens the safety of the country. When the Doctor diligently drives his roadster Bessie out to the scene, he quickly discovers a horde of shining silver mechanoids with purple lasers careening out of a gold plated ship, lightning and lava being chucked into the air, and an unavoidable firefight between U.N.I.T. and the alien menace.
In its primary strength, The Third Doctor #1 does a splendid job of reuniting the ensemble cast of the Third Doctor’s era without sacrificing story for nostalgia’s sake. While Yates and Benton only get brief scenes within the issue, U.N.I.T. as a whole is portrayed as a mechanism with many moving parts. I was pleasantly surprised to see that team included Tom Osgood, a one-off character from The Daemons, working the radio controls as he puffed on an inhaler. Further linking him together with Ingrid Oliver’s Day of the Doctor character of the same name, it’s a small touch that adds a lot to tie together the worlds of old and new Who.
Through Cornell’s writing, Pertwee’s Doctor remains cagey and enigmatic on the page, with his patriarchal nature shining in a positive light as the Doctor seems genuinely proud of Jo’s grasp of the science behind the Doctor’s dismantling of the alien technology. At times both aloof and fully concentrated, you never quite get to keep a grasp on where the Time Lord’s mind is at, and it’s a disconnect between the character and the reader that keeps us following along at an arm’s length from the Doctor himself, an effect modern Doctor Who hasn’t accomplished for some time.
Few stories, however, could ever hope to capture the Third Doctor’s era properly without the inclusion of the Brigadier. Although the publishing rights to stories featuring Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart are currently controlled by Candy Jar Books, Titan has thankfully been allowed access to the character for the purpose of this story and the opportunity hasn’t been squandered. The Brigadier is perfectly rendered in Christopher Jones’ style and sets the tone almost immediately for a U.N.I.T. that believes in the philosophy of five rounds rapid. While he tells the Doctor that the aliens had already begun firing when they showed up, you can’t help wondering whether the trigger-happy Brigadier had a hand is escalating the situation he’s trying to control.
Colour is explosively dominant in The Third Doctor #1, and it’s far more appropriate here than it has been in any other Titan book so far. When Doctor Who first transitioned to colour during the Third Doctor’s era the result was a world which was bold, brash, and abundantly enthusiastic in its aesthetics. One need look no further than the fact that this was a Doctor who wore a cape to understand that fact. Hi-Fi’s colours leap off the page in full celebration of everything about that era. Purple lasers blast from the robot’s hands as they attack. An orange ripple of sound emanates from the Third Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. Night is a gorgeous mix of blue and green. These colours pop even more when set against the dull browns and beiges of British interior design or the earthtone greens of the Brigadier’s cable-knit U.N.I.T. uniform, grounding the unbridled whirl of colour in seventies reality without hindering its effect.
Characters are entirely consistent and represent their characters flawlessly. In a licensed book, I cannot stress neither the importance of getting this quality right nor the skill it takes to actually accomplish such a feat. Christopher Jones’ lines are gorgeous, with confident inks that showcases the effort involved. The look on Yate’s face when told he has to cut his date with Jo short is astonishingly emotive, indicative of the many small touches Jones provides. Jon Pertwee’s facial expressions are as entertaining as ever, with a definite highlight in a sequence where the Doctor finds himself being strangled by an errant piece of alien tech.
Buy It! Titan is currently best known for their New Series Doctor Who comics, but The Third Doctor #1 proves they can be just as capable at recapturing the eras of the Classic Doctors as well. Where limitations of budget and dated effects may have left a sour taste for this era in the mouths of many modern viewers, that shouldn’t stop anybody from picking up this book that celebrates the triumphs of the era. I’d love to see this series continue on and thrive beyond its intended miniseries. While my one complaint will always be that this story chose to take place during the Jo Grant era rather than feature Liz Shaw, this first issue includes an ending that justifies its placement in the timeline set after The Three Doctors and makes The Third Doctor #1 an instant buy.
The Third Doctor: Heralds of Destruction #1 releases September 14, 2016