Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Neil Edwards
Colorist: Ivan Nunes
First off let me say that I’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum. However, to talk about the entire miniseries I’ve had to mention certain important plot points including the main villain
I’ve been a fan of the TV version of Doctor Who for years, but this series is my first time delving into the comic book side of the universe. The Four Doctors is a five part miniseries published by Titan Comics. Not only does it include four doctors (with a surprising appearance by a fifth doctor at the end), it is also a crossover between three of Titan’s ongoing Doctor Who series: The Tenth Doctor, The Eleventh Doctor, and The Twelfth Doctor. You can guess three of the doctors featured in this miniseries from those titles. The fourth is the War Doctor from Day of the Doctor.
The story begins with a bang–literally, as a Dalek ship falls out of the sky and crashes in a beautifully drawn sequence. This is a flashback to the Time War. The War Doctor is on the planet Marinus with a species called the Voord, allies of the Time Lords in their fight against the Daleks. The Time War, while being horrifically destructive, has also benefited the Voord. They have evolved due to the Time Lords mucking about with time and have gained power. While they fight with the Time Lords, they’re afraid of what their victory will entail–namely that the Time Lords will fix the timelines causing the Voord to revert back to what they were. This fear will become crucial to the later plot.
Flash to Paris, 1923. Clara has a hastily put together plan to stop the end of the universe. She leaves the Doctor in the Tardis and meets up with the companions of Ten and Eleven. These aren’t the companions you’re used to from the show. Ten is traveling with Gabby Gonzalez and Eleven is traveling with Alice Obiefune. Clara tries to convince them to keep their doctors from ever going to Marinus. Why Marinus?
While visiting a jungle planet, she accessed a computer in the Museum of Terrible Fates. Of course, she looks up the Doctor and learns that the three doctors will meet on Marinus. All timelines diverging from this event lead to certain doom. Clara, Alice, and Gabby agree to do everything possible to keep this fateful meeting from happening. Since this is a five part story, we can all assume they failed. The doctors burst into the cafe, causing a paradox in a fixed point in time which draws the wrath of the reapers.
Ignoring all reason and good sense, the doctors end up on Marinus, intending to stop whatever is going to happen. As Ten says, the doctor doesn’t live in fear. Once again, their plan doesn’t quite pan out and events end up happening exactly as they were fated to. A continuity bomb explodes, sending all of our characters into alternate timelines changed by a single decision made by the Doctor. In the first timeline, they watch in horror and shock as a previous self-sacrificing act made by the Doctor instead plays out as a moment of ultimate selfishness. Alice’s voiceover hovers over the scene, theorizing on the disconnect between what is essentially the same man in different forms:
“Maybe that’s why Time Lords change. So if they suffer guilt or grief they can become someone else. And they still remember it, only maybe it’s like it happened to someone else?”
The continuity bomb finds a timeline where each of the Doctors puts his life and his happiness before others. I didn’t expect how much I would be affected by this. I’ve grown used to the Doctor sweeping in to save the day with a smile and witty comment. The first two issues, filled with setup and action, made me think that was exactly what would happen in this series. In issue 3, we begin to see the deeper plot and realize that this story is going to explore a darker side of the Doctor. The Doctor is capable of great things, whether for good or evil can come down to one decision.
In issue 3, the Voord come back into the story as our big bad. In their fear of the returning Time Lords, they’ve hidden themselves in a pocket dimension. The biggest surprise is their leader–an older version of one of our doctors from an alternate timeline. Driven mad by betrayal and loneliness, he finds peace with the Voord and orchestrates all of the previous events to ensure that his dark timeline becomes the main one. Led by their alternate Doctor, the Voord plan to take over the universe by invading strategic points in time and space and become the new Time Lords.
This is the kind of story that is best told through this medium because the scope of the story is so big. Paul Cornell knows Doctor Who history and sprinkles his story with callbacks to both old and new Who. His writing shines the most in the moments between the doctors. There are so many places where this story could go wrong without the actors filling these characters with life. Cornell captured each of the doctors perfectly. Ten and Twelve immediately set each other off–Ten because he doesn’t think a twelfth regeneration is possible so obviously Twelve must be an imposter, and Twelve because, well Twelve always thinks he’s right. Eleven tries to play the peacemaker. He reveals later that knowing that there would be regeneration removed a huge burden from him.
Each of the issues features a voiceover from one of the companions. I enjoyed getting to know the new ones. Alice is practical, serving as a foil for the more whimsical Eleven. Gabby is a dreamer and an artist. Issue 2 opens with her interpretation of the Doctor’s regeneration. Alice was my favorite, not only because she’s a former library assistant. Issue 3 is filled with her insights on all of the Doctors. She’s also brave and steady under pressure. I love that there isn’t any infighting or jealousy amongst the companions. Instead there’s an instant kinship. Afterall, who else can understand a companion’s experience other than another companion?
For the most part, I liked the art. Neil Edwards has a clean style that really brings the characters to life. My only criticism is that in a few panels the art was off, making the characters look oddly smeared. This was mostly a problem in issue 5. The rest was fine. The Four Doctors is an intricate story filled with alternative timelines with alternate dark Doctors, advanced level timey wimeyness, megalomaniacal aliens, interesting companions, and surprising heartbreak. I highly recommend it.