Talk about a blast from the past. Doctor Who Classics Series 4 #1 is a republication of the original Doctor Who comic book series as first released in Doctor Who Magazine. Younger fans of the original television series who have viewed the DVD releases may recall some special features dealing specifically with these comic strips.
Classics Series 4 undertakes the interesting era of the Colin Baker years. During his time as the sixth incarnation of the Doctor, the television series was under threat of cancellation, an ever-increasing strain on budget availability, and a rising dissatisfaction from many fans as their criticisms of the John Nathan-Turner showrunner years would reach their peak.
Alternatively, this era of the comic series was anything but bleak. In fact, it was an intriguingly creative era for the creative team behind the Doctor Who comics, with much support and praise from the fans. While the Colin Baker comic strips wouldn’t receive as much love and pride from enthusiasts as they did from the earlier incarnations (the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years are of particular noted highlights), they are still regarded among fans as of a first-rate standard.
And to be quite honest, this quality stands the test of time. The republication of Exodus, Revelation, and Genesis in this issue have matured exceptionally well; with the core elements of the plot ringing in true Doctor Who fashion as much as both the classic and modern TV shows do.
The Doctor, (along with his American assistant from the television series, Peri) has a new companion aboard the TARDIS. His name is Frobisher, and he is a penguin.
Yes, you read that correctly. An intelligent penguin who speaks; and his name is Frobisher.
The three travelers come across an indication that the local dwellers of the planet Sylvanair are combating starvation based on poor farming conditions. After being informed by some of the native species (who got lost on their exodus from the planet) that many people are disappearing, the Doctor becomes concernedly interested and decides to visit the planet.
Upon reaching the castle of the authorities, the Doctor realizes that many of the elite class scientists in the facility are also going missing. With assistance from Captain Krogh, wearing an outfit which should have placed him on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Doctor ascertains that one of the scientists may have some negative plans for the planet, and it turns out that it involves some of his greatest and deadliest enemiesâ€¦
If I tell you that it is not the Daleks, would that make it a spoiler?
That aside, the quality of this comic is quite simply mind-boggling. The plot is absolutely solid substance, using titles that take cues from Biblical sources that evolve into strong storytelling that would suit even the newer television series â€“ perhaps even more so in this era considering that the effects needs of this story would have been beyond possible during the classic era. Writer Alan McKenzie‘s work on the Doctor Who comic series is timeless, and highly revered; and is highly evident among these pages.
The unforgettable original artwork is also of an exceptionally high standard, so much so that it almost brings tears to this old Whovian’s eyes. John Ridgway developed a specific and memorable style with these comics back in the day. The pencils and inks are used with great benefit to bring important focal attentions to shading and lighting in backgrounds â€“ an area highly overlooked in modern comics. Ridgway’s approach made the setting as much of importance as the characters, and this is exceedingly evident in this comic, particularly in the second two stories set within the castle. The attention to detail is breathtaking, and the likenesses of the main characters is also of a high standard, while Ridgway does leave himself a little latitude to portray them in his own style without detracting from all of the other art or the story itself.
And let it be said that his visuals of Frobisher are just as important. The concept of a talking penguin in the TARDIS sounds preposterous, and it ridiculously is wonderfully soâ€¦ but while it suits Doctor Who, there are a million and one ways this could have been done wrong or depicted poorly. It could have been a death knell for this comic series. Instead, Ridgway does the impossible, and accomplishes the inclusion of Frobisher in the series with wonderful respect and attention to detail. The accomplishment of this in the classic series no doubt influenced the modern IDW crew to include Kevin the Dinosaur in their newer series.
Charlie Kerchoff comes in to this comic as part of the new crew, responsible for adding color to the mix. While many of the determined classic fans would demand these classics remain inked and colorless, I have to disagree. Kerchoff clearly has high respect for the original material, and adds dimension to the visuals without taking away the weight of Ridgway’s original work. His finishing touches are an important love letter to Doctor Who in comic book form, and should be commended for a fine job.
Having expostulated all of my (very biased) praise all over the text of this review, I will be forthcoming in admitting that Doctor Who Classics might not be for all comic book fans (How’s that for a “It’s not you, it’s me” line?). Doctor Who fans (and actually Sci-Fi fans in general) will thoroughly enjoy this though, through and through â€“ even the Nu Who fans will dig this. Despite this, I am desperate in encouraging other comic book fans to check this out. Sentimental reminiscence aside, the creative team behind the original publication was tight and on-the-money as far as Doctor Who was concerned. This publication has been the highlight of my comic book reading for the month, and I highly suggest everyone at least give it a look.