ComicBooked.com has made mention a few times of what this year is: the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Doctor Who. One of the longest running shows in the world that is not a news broadcast, Doctor Who has spanned a half a century in science-fiction entertainment. From its origins as an educational program to its current incarnation of plain-old fun and zaniness, the Doctor and his Police Box have taken us on some incredible journeys. To commemorate this milestone year, IDW is putting out a brand new miniseries based on the show, Doctor Who – Prisoners of Time, wherein each issue will focus on one of the 11 Doctors that have graced our television screen. Just like our January Doctor Who profile, this first issue focuses on the very first Doctor (portrayed by William Hartnell).
As is the case throughout the series, the Doctor is friends with a number of great historical figures. It’s rare that we see him as already being a close, personal friend of many historical figures whilst still in his first incarnation, but that’s exactly what we get here when the TARDIS materializes in 1868 London so her passengers can visit Thomas Huxley, a historical scientist who defended the ideas of Charles Darwin. Arriving within the TARDIS are, of course, our intrepid Time Lord, as well as schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright as well as a young companion of theirs, Vicki. While meeting with Huxley in private, it turns out that several of Huxley’s students have gone missing. In an effort to help his friend, the Doctor volunteers the services of the travellers to assist in finding the missing students.
The Doctor et al, along with Huxley and a number of other individuals who are joining in with the search, proceed into the incomplete London Underground to find a trace of the missing students. As they travel through the tunnels, Vicki begins to fall ill with a familiar sensation in her head. Almost as soon as that happens, the group is attacked by a bunch of Zarbi, an alien species from the planet Vorbis (who encountered this same group of time travelers in the classic episode The Web Planet). They are quickly captured and separated by the Zarbi and by the Animus, whom the Doctor assumes is still leading the insectoid creatures. He ultimately is proven correct and with the assistance of Ian as well as a train, the Animus is defeated and the Zarbi returned to their home planet. When the Doctor turns around to congratulate his companions, he finds that they have vanished on him.
Meanwhile, while all this goes on, a subplot has begun that will span the entire miniseries. Some unknown adversary is setting the stage. The Doctor has always succeeded in winning the day whenever he can, but the adversary notes that he was never alone. And that will be a hint as to what we can expect for the issues to come…
Just as in their previous miniseries surrounding the Time Lord, Doctor Who / Star Trek: The Next Generation – Assimilation2, Scott and David Tipton are attempting to create an epic story for our beloved Doctor. In my opinion, they did a fantastic job with the aforementioned crossover, but this story fell somewhat short for me (hopefully it is just this issue). I don’t think that the writers truly got a feel for the characters and how they interact – my sense was that they were not that familiar with them. I have no doubt that they have seen The Web Planet, which you would need in order to utilize the Zarbi, but we see very little in Ian, Barbara or Vicki even having something to do apart from following the Doctor around. Ian gets to have the spotlight a little bit, but it’s minimized. As well, the Doctor is continually calling Ian by a mish-mash of his last name, which was wont to happen in the Hartnell era, but not to the excess that we see occur in this single issue. After a few instances it simply got old. What I did enjoy, though, was when the adversary was looking back through the Doctor’s timeline. We saw images of companions from all of the eras, including the recent ones, but what was nice is that they also included characters from the Doctor Who Monthly stories – such as Frobisher, the Whifferdill shape-shifter who traveled with the 6th Doctor while taking on the form of a penguin. This is a tribute to Doctor Who that they are trying to pull off – no mean feat – and they are respecting all mediums of the Doctor, not just the TV series.
The artwork from Simon Fraser was not the best for such a milestone series, in my opinion. For certain characters, you could tell who they were to be (the Doctors were quite easy based on the outfit) but in some cases determining who the companion was in the imagery was hard. The only reason I know in advance that the companion here was Vicki and not Susan (the Doctor’s granddaughter) was the blond hair (and had the issue been in black and white I would not have known for some time into the issue). Perhaps that is a criticism more on the writing than the artwork, but if one doesn’t deliver the other should try to compensate. There is also the scene of the Doctor on page 21, where his right eye appears to be looking towards his nose but his left eye is looking straight ahead; that really did bother me (but I am such a nitpick…). That said, there were some times when the characterizations of Hartnell were spot-on, such as the pointedness of the Doctor on page 14 as well as Barbara actually looked like actress Jacqueline Hill in the first panel on page 15. In some cases it looks like the attention to detail was there to portray the appearance as the actor, and in others… not so much.
All in all, I am hoping that this series picks up a little more. I know that there will be a new artist per issue, with the hope that different artists will portray the respective Doctors in different ways. I’m really hoping this is true, as this is a huge deal for many folks – very few entertainment franchises hit a 50 year milestone – but I was not suitably impressed with this issue. This series really needs to pick up, to stand for the epicness of what the franchise is about, otherwise I don’t think this would be a suitable tribute to one of my favorite series of all time.