(Another winning write-up by Orion, folks! Do the Doctor Who comics live up to the TV show’s greatness? Does the story’s young-female Doctor Companion function as a Mary Sue for a middle-aged British writer? Are comics readers and DW fans ALL Special Snowflakes? Read on, and find out…)
by Orion Tippens
Writer: Paul Cornell
Pencils: Johnny Broxton
Published by: IDW Publishing
Released: Dec. 2013
Notes: One-shot, self-contained story
The Doctor meets…Doctor Who?!
After a mishap send the TARDIS astray, our favorite Time Lord stumbles upon a world most familiar to us readers.
This is our real world, or as the Doctor puts it; a world of “anti-fiction,” “non-fiction,” and “un-fiction.” Here, all of the exciting moments in the Doctor’s life are passed off through stories, through a fictional TV show called “Doctor Who” staged with special effects. “Doctor Who” is well-received by its huge fandom base, very popular at geek conventions, and a growing oncoming merchandising storm.
The Doctor is bewildered and fascinated by this strange view of himself. He soon blends in and become his own fan (and popular cosplayer). He visits conventions, greets fans, and even meets his portrayer, Matt Smith. The Doctor also bonds with a very special fan, Ally, a 10-year old girl with problems of her own. Together, they uncover a new threat as an old enemy of the Doctor is near…
I am a huge fan of Doctor Who and writer Paul Cornell. I enjoy Doctor Who for its campy and occasionally well-written sci-fun. Paul Cornell is an awesome British writer of science-fiction goodness including many novels, comics, audio dramas, and some TV. For DW, his most notable work includes his screenplay for “Father’s Day” from Season 1 and the “Family of Blood”/”Human Nature” two-part episodes from Season 3.
I don’t follow many licensed TV/movie franchises made into comic books. But for a story this ridiculously meta, I could not resist.
The Doctor seems to look upon his fictional character as a strange reflection, raising many questions for the reader. How does the Doctor react to the idea of actors portraying him and friends? How do the crummy special effects of the classics factor in? Does the Doctor know of the missing episodes? How about the passing of Elizabeth Sladen (who played his longtime companion, Sarah Jane Smith)? We get some answers, and some humorous observations. I love his observation of the action figure of himself, that though they are a bit alike, “my chin is much smaller.”
The world of DW merchandise, publicity, and fandom are slow for the Doctor to accept. It’s a lot to handle, to see your life summed up in a series of DVD descriptions. But also frustrating for the Doctor is how he tries to convince his biggest fan of his authenticity, who wanted to meet Matt Smith. Eventually, a trip to the TARDIS for Ally helps create a much-needed anchor for the Doctor to study and figure out his place.
This “companion” is also a bit strange as a seemingly random example of the obsessive Whovian fangirl. Ally’s entire life in growing up thus far, seems to revolve around her favorite TV show. Her fandom also seems to be a distraction or antidote to the real-life trouble she faces as a victim of bullying. Even more odd is the bully, who seems much older (and outside of school), as a motivation for his aggression isn’t made clear. Still, the Doctor helps the Girl Who Believed; as she copes and gains enough confidence to handle her bullying problem. This subplot is sweet, but a bit too predictable.
The best of this story lies in the interaction set at a nearby Doctor Who convention, which Paul Cornell treats with much respect. This situation reminds me a lot of the Gallifrey One conventions I attended in Los Angeles, where we get a mix of old and new Who depicted. We see a lot of cosplay and discussions of DW fandom. It’s sweeter to have the fans respond to the Doctor, not as Matt Smith, but a remarkable cosplayer. The Doctor in return is humble and accepting, as he enjoys the inspiration and joy his life has brought these fans.
Later, at a live podcast recording, Doctor meets Matt Smith, the star of “Doctor Who.” Matt Smith plays off well, as a humble person who finds this fan sort very amusing and worth talking to. From what I have seen in interviews and convention appearances, that portrayal is very accurate. The Doctor has his own fun in return by asking for details on the next upcoming episode. This creates a paradoxical dilemma, as the answer is very surprising and evolves the meta of the situation. Hint: the show could be cancelled if the Doctor doesn’t get back home. Also, a Cyberman actor is on set: which means a “real” Cyberman is waiting somewhere…
The art is very fitting for this story, but often surreal. We have many playful color mixes, moody backgrounds, and dramatic comic angles mixing together. The placement of figures and people are perfectly bland, as our world of “un-fiction” can usually be. The Doctor seems a bit “off” compared to his TV appearances, which is okay because it seems that no comics artist can capture him and his multidimensional characteristics perfectly. So his face and reactions are best when minimal, as he finds himself reduced to these lesser extraordinary circumstances.
The end result is like a cool dream, transcending what would otherwise pass off for some ridiculous fan-fiction.
Overall, this is a memorable story for hardcore Doctor Who fans. Cornell displays a respect for DW fandom with a mutual understanding of the fun it brings. He shows a bit of unity and connection between the fans, TV production (as the set and star loves the show as well), and this character we have made “real” in our hearts.
This single-issue comic story is now available digitally through all current and complete app outlets for IDW publishing (mine is Comixology). You can also check your local comics store, if you’re lucky (this may have been overlooked and ordered in small quantities). For regular book outlets, it will likely be available in a future collected-issue trade paperback.
By Orion Tippens: longtime comics and sci-fi enthusiast, occasional journalist. Currently blogging at travelingorion.wordpress.com.