The Fourth Doctor #4 – Gaze of the Medusa, Part 4
Remember that. Fix it in your mind, because there’s a kind of blending going on in the latest issue of the Fourth Doctor comic-books that has nothing to do with relics from Ancient Greece turning up in Victorian London. It’s more a combination of the mid-seventies and the early 2010s. We’re talking about the likes of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor whimsically wondering about the existence of those mythical creatures, the Weeping Angels. It’s a delicious shock to read those words in the tones of that eminently imitable voice, and you begin almost immediately to wish for a Big Finish story that pits this Doctor against those creatures. The Fourth Doctor against the Angels. Ha! Can you just imagine it? ‘You’re nothing but a thought on the breeze, desperate for the attention of the living, but terrified of being alive!’ Oh yes, Tom Vs The Angels now please, BF!
The reason the Fourth Doctor starts musing about Angels here is because – not to put too fine a point on it – people have a habit of being turned into statues in this story, most notably the ever-reliable Sarah-Jane Smith, which is something of a pain in the granite butt when you’re in ‘probably about 500 BC’ and you’ve already seen your statue-self in the 1900s. It suggests you might have to clear your diary for a while. A good, long, long, long while.
The story of Gaze of the Medusa is a seductive one, inasmuch as it feels like it takes a pause here while a lot of people do a lot of talking, but then you read it a second time and realise quite how far you’ve come in the space of 30 pages.
Yes, Sarah’s frozen in stone 500 years before His Nibs was attracting the attention of kings and shepherds and the like, but everyone that as far as we know is on the side of good and right and crumpets for tea is back there too – writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby have contrived a way of getting Professor Odysseus James, would-be ‘chrononaut’ (that’s time-traveller to you and me) back there too, where he’s been as much use as the proverbial chocolate teapot in protecting Sarah-Jane from the titular Gaze of the Medusa, which is why everyone’s getting turned to stone. The Doctor and James’ daughter, the equally portentously named Athena have gone back in time to rescue them, leaving the Tardis in the potential clutches of the veiled Lady Emily Carstairs and her cringe-inducing henchmen, the Scryclopses (told you so). The Scryclopses are clearly not from around here, and have equally clearly at some point in remote history made their presence felt, going down in historo-mythology and Ray Harryhausen’s notebooks as the Cyclopses, mono-optic monster-men, long on clobbering time, short on witty dinner party banter. This issue also introduces us – in fairly classic Fourth Doctor style through a long speech, of the kind Tom Baker made his meat and drink - to the information that the Medusa’s not from round these parts either, and that there’s a grim but fairly logical reason why she turns her victims to stone. No, she’s not a Weeping Angel. In fact, the Medusa is a weird invention – it’s probably the only thing in the story that feels like it takes full advantage of the comic-book medium, because, and there’s no real disguising this, it looks like the kind of creature that would fare… not at all well were BBC designers of the mid-1970s to try to render it in any kind of realistic way. In the same way that there was a gap between the idea and the realisation of things like the Wirrn and the Creature From The Pit, so we would be thinking of the Medusa as ‘one of those monsters’ had it appeared on screen. That said, Brian Williamson renders it here in a way that doesn’t seem especially coherent or convincing either – despite the fact that it’s the creature responsible for all the stone-turning, we still feel more wary of Lady Carstairs and her acquisitive streak, which has expanded from time-lanterns to time-travelling police boxes by the end of this issue.
While the Medusa’s not visually rendered in an especially exciting way, it does have a considered malevolence in its dialogue that does more than enough to redeem it. Don’t underestimate the power of considered malevolence; remember that Sutekh the Destroyer was actually a sitting-down and fully-masked role for most of his screen time, but still, his considered malevolence (aided by his big chunky violence-doers) makes Pyramids of Mars a thing of eternal genius. Gaze of the Medusa aims at the same territory, and by the time this issue ends, it’s still in the running to actively achieve that kind of status – the Medusa’s ability to consider and control events works well, for all it looks a little slithery and bizarre.
And then there’s the ending.
The ending of this issue has a properly Stones of Blood ‘Whhhhhat-the-hell-just-happened?’ feel to it, as well as maintaining the Sutekh vibe of ancient religions being inspired by potentially alien creatures. There’s been a sense growing over the issues of this story that perhaps – just perhaps – we’re not seeing the whole story here, and the ending of the issue makes us wonder whether the whole thing has not in fact been a game of gods and monsters, played out for some purpose we’re yet to discover.
Gaze of the Medusa, Part 4, does involve a lot of talking, but it’s talking to a purpose – the purpose of putting the villains in some degree of context, of taking a shot at epic stature, given that it’s the first of Titan’s Fourth Doctor comic-books, and of pulling the rug out from under us in classic mid-seventies style. The artwork by Williamson, despite what we’ve said about the rendering of the Medusa, is evocative of both period and mood, with some great Fourth Doctor shots, married to a sense of that blurred timeline, the dialogue very Baker and yet tinged with a New Who sense of control and barely-supressed rage. The confrontation between the Fourth Doctor and the Medusa has a touch of The Pirate Planet’s ‘Then what’s it FOR?’ subdued beneath the modern idea of giving the villain a chance.
This is the Fourth Doctor in 2016. And in the mid-seventies. At the same time. It’s definitely worth picking up and reading, because quite apart from being the Fourth Doctor’s first foray into Titan’s comic universe, it’s a story that’s building to some serious punching power, while sounding and looking absolutely true to the spirit of Tom Baker’s era.
Give in to the Gaze of the Medusa – pick up issue #4 today.