Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #0
Single Issue | Digital
Writer: Richard Dinnick
Artists: Mariano Laclaustra, Georgia Sposito, Ariana Florean, Claudia Ianniciello, Iolanda Zanfardino, Neil Edwards, Pasquale Qualano, Rachael Stott
Inker: Fer Centurion
Colorists: Color-Ice, Carlos Cabrera, Adele Matera, Dijjo Lima, Enrica Eren Angiolini
Letterers: Comicraft’s Sarah Jacobs, John Roshell
Release Date: September 26, 2018
Beginnings, they are such tenuous times. Except on Doctor Who, where nearly every beginning is also an ending. In less than two weeks, the Doctor returns to our television screens with a new face: Jodie Whittaker. To celebrate a moment that’s only happened a dozen times in the last 55 years, Titan Comics assembled Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #0 with an intriguing premise.
As the Doctor regenerates, she recalls hitherto unrevealed adventures of all her previous incarnations. Oh, the stories that could be told! Does the finished book live up to its potential? On one level, it generally succeeds. In a scant 69 pages, this issue provides a brief but often satisfactory taste of what each Doctor was like. With that success, there is a failure, however: the taste is too brief and it is all over far too soon. To understand why, read on…
Thinking about this comic book, I keep coming back to a question: what is its purpose? Doctor Who is now entering its regular 11th series since its revival in 2005. That’s an amazing record for any prime time popular entertainment on television. Children who were just starting school when Christopher Eccleston first appeared are now heading off to college. Three more actors played the Doctor across those years. That makes for plenty of source material to draw upon to fill a retrospective glance backward before jumping off to something new.
This issue doesn’t stop there, though. It aims to be complete by showing adventures of every Doctor since the first TARDIS crew that appeared on the BBC on the day John F. Kennedy died. Children just starting school then are now turning sixty! So, entertainment aimed at children, adolescents, and/or young adults, this is not. No, this is a showcase. It’s a chance for a company to show off its entire roster of talent to serious fans of one of the longest running television series ever.
Understanding the terms on which this issue presents itself, it is now easier to understand how well it does what it does. It is an anthology that tries to show how it can capture the moods and visual styles of the many different television shows that Doctor Who was over 55 years. So, we get the Doctor with Ian and Barbara, with Ben, Polly, and Jamie, with Sarah Jane and Bessie, with the second incarnation of Romana, with Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough, with Peri, with Ace, with Josie, with Dorium Maldovar, with Rose and Jack, with River Song, and with Bill (plus two more companions I cannot immediately identify). There are monsters of the week, attempts at education, hard science fiction, and outright silliness.
With that kind of diversity shoved into an average of under 6 pages per vignette, it makes for a very mixed bag of styles, plots, and settings. On the whole, this works. The summary sketches of the first three Doctors (from 1963-1974) are quite effective — because it shows how Doctor Who staked out vastly different kinds of territory in its first decade. The comic really stumbles in its attempt to show the Tom Baker era. The style of the art is radically different here than elsewhere (making it an awkward read), and the material focuses on the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams years (and poorly!) instead of the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes years that were among the series’ best.
There is a return to form when showing the Doctors of the 1980s, though there is a tendency to hew to material that highlights the sins as well as the strengths of the John Nathan-Turner era. Not being a student of the novels and audio dramas of the Paul McGann era, I can’t particularly speak to the appearance of his Doctor here… though it’s the kind of story that could (and did) appear in any and every era of the show. The War Doctor makes a somewhat out of character appearance, given what little we know about him. After that, it’s the modern version of the show. Here, only David Tennant really gets under-served with a story that would be treated like a regeneration story on television (but isn’t one) that gives that Doctor little to do.
In the end, this issue works. Due to limits of space, some of the plots are almost absurdly condensed… and some of the plot twists are equally absurd. Yet we must remember that we’ve seen a lot of chaff as well as wheat from Doctor Who on television over the last 50 years. The only thing I really regret about this book is that it was over too soon. I wanted it to be the first part of an ongoing meta-dialogue between different Doctors from different times, as if all the shows that Doctor Who has been could comment on each other. But this is only appetizer, and the main course is yet to come… from Jodie Whittaker and the Thirteenth Doctor.