I love the idea behind the year-long “Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time” series at IDW; it’s a great way to not only use the “Doctor Who” series’ longevity but also celebrate its 50th anniversary in November. But in this debut issue from Scott Tipton, David Tipton and Simon Fraser, the actual execution feels like a series of misfires.
With a media tie-in comic centered around a currently running show, creators get a bit of leeway because it’s aimed not only at the die-hard fans but casual viewers as well. It gives them the freedom to play a little fast and loose with the continuity. When you’re setting something amidst episodes that aired in 1965, though, you’re writing squarely for the fans who aren’t just watching the show if they think about it. This is a comic targeting those who have bought the DVDs, perhaps some of the novels and quite possibly have an action figure or twelve balanced on their bookshelf. None of that’s a bad thing; I put myself quite firmly in that die-hard fan category. But it means that for die-hard fans, it’s hard to ignore when the tie-in has got things wrong — characterization, basic plot points, that sort of thing — and unfortunately, that’s what happens with “Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time” #1.
The idea of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki meeting Thomas Huxley isn’t a bad one. And despite a common consensus that “The Web Planet” is one of the poorer 1st Doctor stories, it’s not like there’s any shortage of sequels that bring back the Zarbi or the Animus. Unfortunately, so much of this issue seems to go wrong. Part of the problem is that it simply doesn’t mesh with the Hartnell era’s style at all. Having just recently watched a lot of Hartnell episodes, it feels off-base from the very moment that the crew disembarks from the TARDIS and not only has landed where they’ve planned (which was an impossibility in the time period the story’s set), but has everyone coming out in period costumes. This might seem nitpicky, but with each Doctor’s era having its own distinct approach to its stories, ignoring it bodes poorly for any other attention to detail. If you aren’t going to use any of the conventions of this particular era, why is it even set within that time period of the show?
All of the main characters are also unfortunately wildly out of character. When asked about not changing the past, having the Doctor shout, “I don’t rightly know, but I know we can’t sit by idly!” sounds about as far off-base from his characterization as you can get. It’s the characterization of a later Doctor, perhaps, but not the original. Still, that’s more than the other regulars get; the Tiptons clearly have no interest in a story with three companions as there isn’t enough for even two of them to do at any given moment, let alone all three. Ian at least gets one little scene in the climax, although once again it feels out of character; Barbara and Vicki might as well have just been screaming extras, save for a brief line about Vicki coming from the future. This just doesn’t work as a Hartnell story, and it’s fans of those earlier eras of “Doctor Who” that would be able to tell it as such that are the people that are buying this comic.
I’ve liked Fraser’s art on other projects (especially his webcomic “Lilly MacKenzie and the Mines of Charybdis” which is well worth your time), but he appears to be struggling to draw the characters in “Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time” #1. It didn’t bode well when on page 3 there’s a spread of the Doctor’s companions across the page and the identities of several of them were not immediately obvious. None of the main characters here look like themselves; the Doctor appears much, much older than he ever did on the show, with a strangely sunken face and a frailty that didn’t exist. Barbara has become dowdy, Vicki is oddly matronly despite being a teenager, and Ian is only identifiable through dialogue. By way of contrast, Francesco Francavilla’s cover portrait of the Doctor looks exactly like actor William Hartnell, but not in a frozen or overly posed manner. It’s certainly possible to find artists that do a good job with likenesses, but I don’t think Fraser is the person best suited for such a project.
It’s a little ironic that there’s an essay by John Ainsworth in the back of the comic talking about how the original “Doctor Who” comics published back in the day had no connection at all to the show that was being aired on the television, because that’s equally true here. It’s bad enough there’s an extremely generic Doctor being written here, but considering that the big focus on “Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time” is supposed to be the companions, their lack of characterization or even focus is a bit odd. This should have been a fun way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show, but right now it’s off to a leaden start. Great cover by Francesco Francavilla, though. It’s almost (but not quite) worth the price of admission.