The Third Doctor #3
Tony’s in a nostalgic mood.
D’you remember when you first became a Who-fan?
D’you remember the rush of excitement of suddenly being a witness to this wonderful world, this eccentric world with the benevolent alien and his time travelling police box. D’you remember the urgent, evangelistic need to tell your friends about the great new thing you’d discovered, while they languished in the outside world, being thrilled by only ordinary superheroes?
That’s the feeling the Third Doctor comic-book series brings back to life – sure, it’s nostalgic, but it’s nostalgic in a way that feels fresh and bright, with a pace that reminds you of the best of the Third Doctor’s on-screen adventures, but ramped up to a realism that wouldn’t be out of place in the days of Kate Stewart’s UNIT. The Third Doctor comic-book series makes you want to tell people about it to make sure they don’t miss out, because not reading it is missing out by definition.
At the end of issue # 2, the Doctor had gone on a magical mystery tour into Jo Grant’s subconscious, after she’d been infected by the micro-machines that are the centre of the nominal story-arc across these issues. The joy of that issue was in the pure, unclouded simplicity of Jo’s psyche, and the hippie dippy artwork that symbolised her mind. Meanwhile in the material world, the Brigadier and his uninvited guest could only look on as both the Doctor and Jo glowed blue, almost entirely infested with the micro-machines.
We pick up the story with Jo rescuing the Doctor in a way that’s so thoroughly true to the character it gains writer Paul Cornell some Seventies Who bonus points, and leads to a confrontation that couldn’t be more Pertwee if it came with a lisp and a yellow roadster, the Doctor trying to bridge the gulf of understanding between the humans and the organised mind of the micro-machines, using his own experience as an alien among the humans to foster a connection, his own sense of fear, and loneliness, and loss to reach out to the machines. Cornell loads up Seventies bonus points by the bucketful as he gives Jo a sad and angry speech in response to that, and then evaporates the hurt the Doctor has caused her in a thoroughly Pertweean way.
Safely back in the material world, there’s more UNIT than you can shake a tissue compression eliminator at – cunning disguises, Venusian Aikido, Yates and Benton, discussing both the likelihood of dating Jo and the necessity of keeping a vivid imagination while on active duty in the UNIT. There’s another satisfying nod to the future of the Taskforce too, as a very particular scientific soldier feeds them information that sounds mad, and so is part of the day-to-day reality of UNIT. But just when you think this might be one of those third instalments that acts mostly as a bridge between acts one and two, Cornell goes and gives you a reveal that flips everything you’ve thought you’ve known so far on its head. It’s a not so much a nod back to the Sixties as a full theatrical bow to an artistic conceit that worked surprisingly well on-screen. Here, that conceit is turned around, and works just as well that way too, giving us a cliff-hanger you won’t see coming.
Artwise, Christopher Jones matches Cornell beat for beat – nowhere near as easy a task as this single line makes it sound - giving us bold construction, impressive, fluid detail, and in the regulars of the day, highly recognisable features and characteristics. The backgrounds are UNIT-functional, but manage never to be dull, never ‘just’ backgrounds, and in particular during the Third Doctor’s confrontation with the micro-machines in Jo’s mind, Jones gives us something familiar but puts it to a brisk new use. There’s praise to spare for Hi-Fi on colourwork here too, adding some real Seventies ‘Decade That Style Forgot’ flair to Jo’s mindscape and some bold colour-based delineations to the UNIT sequences.
What’s perhaps most impressive, artistically, is that between them, Jones and Hi-Fi make the issue’s cliff-hanger reveal work. It worked on-screen through the strength of a particular performance, but to render that performance entirely believable in a single page-long panel in a comic-book is a different skill again, and one that Jones and Hi-Fi use to pull off a mouth-dropping, eyebrow-raising ending to this issue.
You can stare at The Third Doctor #3 as long as you like, try and tackle it from whichever way appeals to you – if you’re looking for faults, you’re on a hiding to nothing. The Seventies nostalgia is there, the updated pace is there, the emotional beats of familiar characters are there (and in a couple of cases, turned slightly up from the TV), the nods forward, the nods back, and most importantly the balance are all in place to make The Third Doctor mini-series one of those stand-outs in your mind, one of those stories in your Who collection that you watch again and again for the sheer unadulterated pleasure of the experience. It’s a Terror of the Autons, Three Doctors, Time Warrior feeling. It makes you smile all the way through.
Grab your copy of The Third Doctor #3 today – and start saving your pennies for the collected version too. That, like a blu-ray Power of the Daleks, will be worth buying again, even though you’ve been getting it episode by episode. It’s that good.