❉ We review the first offering in BBC Studios’ multimedia event, from Titan Comics.
The past is another country, as the saying goes. Of course, Doctor Who does things differently there. Ever since the series recognised that it had a history – a process that unfolded across much of its first decade – the past has rarely been much further than one town over. The term “prequel” wouldn’t come into vogue until some years later, but by transforming Doctor Who’s past into something that could be recreated in the present, 1972’s celebratory serial The Three Doctors also made the advent of prequel stories virtually inevitable. The emergence of such stories dovetailed with the series’ “Wilderness Years”, where new adventures were almost exclusively the province of spin-off media, regardless of when they took place during its history.
Both the fans creating the stories and those enjoying them understood that Doctor Who was well-suited to these non-televised efforts even as the BBC itself seemed to understand little to nothing about its appeal. Fortunately, the Corporation wised up about such things by the time the series returned to television, making its 21st century success an impetus to continue such extensions – even those set in more esoteric corners of its past – rather than doing away with them. The latest high-profile example is the new multimedia event Time Lord Victorious, an interlinked narrative featuring multiple incarnations of the Doctor, whose components range from novels and interactive events to audio plays and comics.
It’s clearly an ambitious undertaking, which is virtually the only thing that can be said about the project with certainty. The sheer volume of disparate elements will make it difficult to assess the event as a whole even after all the parts have been released. At the same time, the producer’s stated goal of making individual parts sufficiently standalone that fans don’t feel the need to buy every one of them to enjoy any other particular instalment raises questions of its own. If none of its component parts are deemed completely essential, can any of them genuinely be considered consequential?
Titan’s newly-released comic – the initial chapter of a story entitled Defender of the Daleks – isn’t technically the starting point for the larger event. However, being the first of the more traditional narrative offerings makes it the first release that has to engage with that underlying question of significance. Ironically enough, despite being fairly entertaining, what makes the answer inconclusive is also one of the factors that made this release seem generally noteworthy.
David Tennant’s popularity as the Doctor is undeniable. Along with Matt Smith, he embodies Doctor Who’s emergence as a global pop-culture phenomenon while also symbolising a golden age within the history of the series akin to Tom Baker’s early seasons – factors which offer equally undeniable marketing benefits. Unfortunately, from a narrative standpoint, that iconic status makes it difficult to do much with him as a character. Fans may welcome deeper explorations of Doctors that were seen as mishandled on television or those perceived as having unfairly curtailed tenures, but when dealing with highly popular incarnations, the default seems to be a depiction that conforms with the folk memory of the character.
That’s not necessarily a negative. Tennant’s appearance in the anniversary story The Day of the Doctor was very much in that mould as are his recent appearances in Big Finish’s audio dramas. However, those stories benefited from the actor himself reprising the role. Absent the subtle dimension Tennant brings to the part, the portrayal can seem a bit by-the-numbers, as shown by the Doctor’s first words in Defender of the Daleks being simply a riff on his particular approach to asking, “What?” While it isn’t hard to envision Tennant saying much of the dialogue, that’s also a function of how closely it matches audience expectations.
To its credit, the story reflects an admirable desire to put a fresh spin on the Daleks, but it also suffers from a sense that it’s simply vamping for much of the time. Interesting ideas, such as a Dalek that takes pride in its battle scars, lose their impact amid a far too languid approach to storytelling, exemplified by dead space throughout the issue and a two-page spread of the Dalek city on Skaro that adds nothing to the narrative. Under normal circumstances, one might assume these are simply missteps by the writer and artist, but an endeavour like this is far from normal.
While not the first Time Lord Victorious release, this comic is the first where the creative contributors’ names are readily apparent. Unfortunately, the first impression it creates is that writer Jody Houser and artist Roberta Ingranta are being pushed to tell their story haphazardly to avoid stepping on another instalment of Time Lord Victorious set to come out before the next part of Defender of the Daleks. Based on the published timeline for the crossover, that could mean something in a novel, an audio play, or even another strand of comics. In principle, fans should be able to assess any of these in their own right. Time will tell.
❉ News source: Titan Comics. ❉ We Are Cult is not responsible for the content of this news release.