Comic Review: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #1

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #1
Written by Scott & David Tipton
Art by Simon Fraser
Colors by Gary Caldwell
IDW Publishing
Release Date: January 30, 2013
Cover Price: $3.99

Fantastic! Grab your bow ties, scarves, recorders, celery sticks, and sonic screwdrivers for some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey lunacy: 2013 is going to be a squall of a year for Whovians. Being the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, aside from the broadcast plans from the BBC, there are bound to be a variety of other celebrations in a range of media for us all to sop up. And IDW are jumping on the celebratory TARDIS with their special series for the anniversary, entitled Prisoners of Time.

Ostensibly a limited series that will eventually include every single incarnation of the Doctor, Prisoners of Time #1 begins with the inevitable nemesis, shrouded in darkness and hidden from our view, drawing his/her designs against the Time Lord. Meanwhile or later or yesterday or after breakfast or whenever, the First Doctor arrives at the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 1868, with his three companions.

His associates, teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright from 1969 England, and Vicki from the planet Dido in the 25th century, have arrived to meet with the historic defender of Darwin’s theories, Thomas Huxley. After attending a lecture, and a short discussion with Huxley, it is revealed that several of his students have gone missing in the London Underground. The Doctor volunteers the services of he and his companions in joining the search, simply to find the Underground unexpectedly overrun by the Animus and the Zarbi from the well-known serial, The Web Planet.

The scriptwriting of issue one is of a good quality, and actually mirrors the speech patterns, deliveries, and scripting of the William Hartnell era quite well. It is also a delight to revisit the Hartnell era in comic book form, something that has been a long time coming if you ask me.

Also, this is a unique period for the Doctor. This is before he has accepted the role of hero or protector. He still hasn’t really come to a final conceptualization on making changes to time and whether it should be rewritten. He is pigheaded and often angry, and it’s wonderful to revisit this bossy Doctor.

Notwithstanding this, there are plot elements introduced that tie very closely to The Web Planet without explanation or exposition, so many readers who have never viewed the old 1960’s episodes may find themselves confused on some of these references.

This aspect will be a real kick for the longtime enthusiasts though. Those of you who have experienced the early Doctor Who eras will chuckle at the several moments that the Doctor mispronounces Ian Chesterton’s last name. For those not in the know, Hartnell would often cockup his lines during filming, and one of the common mistakes was slipping up on actor William Russell‘s character’s name; so much so that it was eventually written into the scripts to be part of the show! And that is just one example of some of the included references and "in-jokes".

On that note though, it is a sagacious move of writers Scott and David Tipton to use the Animus and the Zarbi as the bad guys for this issue. Both creatures were underused during Hartnell’s tenure, though many modern fans will scoff at the awkward visual effects from the episode. I have a problem with this attitude though: many newer fans don’t understand how hard the effects, costuming, and make-up crews in Classic Doctor Who worked to make a serial happen, especially with the restrictive budgets. Despite my moaning, it’s a delight to see the writers choose enemies for this issue that are not your stock-standard "Daleks/Cybermen" for a change. All praise to you for taking that step!

The artwork strikes a nice balance between visual likenesses and paying homage to the timeless Doctor Who comic book art style. It flows well with the events as they unfold, and serves the plot very well. It’s also wonderful seeing Simon Fraser and Gary Caldwell render the Zarbi in comic book format; and dedicated fans will be thrilled to see the small appearance of Frobisher the Penguin – one of the comic book companions of the Doctor. I will add that it’s a little disorienting to see the First Doctor in full color as opposed to black-and-white, but Caldwell does knock down the saturation in certain panels in a manner that really helps sell the story.

Collectively, the writing and the art work well – and although the manner of victory seemed a little obvious and contrived, it does give way to something a lot more surprising – there is a larger scheme afoot, that will be an incredible and intimidating test for the Doctor. Or would I say, ALL of the Doctors. That said: I’m looking forward to Issue 2, in which we visit Patrick Troughton‘s Doctor. And I hope very much that we see the wonderful (LOVE OF MY LIFE) companion, Zoe Herriot (ooh la la).

But although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I do wish to add that this one is strictly for the Doctor Who fans – especially those who also love the Classic Series. I’d recommend all Whovians check it out – but I think many casual readers may be lost on many of the continuity references to both the classic series and the old comic books to be a little disoriented. But then again, maybe that is the way it should be – the 50th Anniversary series SHOULD be for the hardcore fans that stuck by Doctor Who for decades, including those who were still die-hard during the lean years of the show’s absence from television.

So, Doctor Who fans: sink your teeth into this one!

Overall Rating: 3½ out of 5

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