New To You Comics #125: Examining `Doctor Who: Origins’
by Tom Smithyman
New To You Comics is trying to shake off the post-holiday blahs with a visit to the Doctor. But this one doesn’t look like any of the previous versions. This time, we learn about the origins of the so-called Fugitive Doctor, who was introduced in the BBC series a few years ago.
Doctor Who: Origins collects the four-part series into a single graphic novel as the Doctor learns of a conspiracy. Neither of us has read the book until now, though we’re both fans of the long-running series.
Tom Smithyman: I’m a bit of a boomerang fan of Doctor Who. I first started watching the Fourth Doctor reruns on PBS in the 1980s but didn’t keep up with it. Fast forward a couple of decades and I started to watch the new adventures starting with the Ninth Doctor. I’m happy to say that I’m all caught up – and can’t wait to see more of David Tennant in his return to the series.
The Fugitive Doctor was introduced during the run of the 13th Doctor and turns out to be a past incarnation of our favorite time lord. Confused yet?
Tony Thornley: The Fugitive Doctor is one of my favorite concepts from the Whittaker/Chibnall run of Doctor Who. The concept opens up so much in the Doctor Who universe.
Tom: I thought the story in this graphic novel, written by Jody Houser, would shed some light on the actual origins of the character. Instead, we’re presented with a fairly self-contained story from her days working with Division, the ultra-secret organization charged with protecting the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey. It’s a conspiracy aimed at eliminating renegade time lords who settled on other planets.
Tony, did the direction that Houser took surprise you?
Tony: It made perfect sense to me. All we know about the Fugitive Doctor is that she worked for Division, did things she didn’t like, and then her memory ends up erased after regeneration. As good as Titan’s Doctor Who comics have been, the Beeb isn’t going to allow a tie-in miniseries to reveal too much more than that. So it was a light story focusing more on characters and a single incident than it was a big story.
Houser has really impressed me with her Doctor Who work in general though. It was a fun plot, the Time Lords were portrayed well, including the interesting little bit of information that regenerations would allow for adaptations in a non-controlled environment, and it was a great suspense thriller in the Whoniverse. I think there were some obvious editorial/licensing restrictions, and she did a fantastic job within those restrictions.
Tom: Surprises can be good. And I didn’t think the story was a bad one, though it did feel somewhat familiar. I thought the first part of the story, when the Doctor visited Earth and rescued some kids from some troll-like aliens was different and a good was of reintroducing readers to the main character. After that, though, it seemed fairly predictable.
What about the visuals?
Tony: I really like Roberta Ingranata’s work. Licensed comics artists have to walk a fine line, and she’s grown into it quite a bit. She’s able to mix Jo Martin’s likeness with a host of weird aliens, and her new companion Taslo without Martin/Fugitive standing out. Beyond that, everything is visually engaging from the Time Lord colonies to Gallifrey itself.
Tom: One of my favorite things about sci-fi comics is that they can visually explore story elements that are too costly for most TV series. I think that’s largely true with Ingranata’s artwork. I can’t say that her art blew me away, but it is always nice to see aliens on the comic page that would look ridiculous in real life – or at least cheesy given the show’s budget for costumes and CGI. (Though with Disney+ now funding the televised series, it sounds like the budget is going to grow considerably.)
Tony: Yes, exactly! These aliens are ones that we wouldn’t ever see on screen because the TV budget is not big enough. The designs are all fun too. You believe the evolution/adaptation part of the plot here because Ingranata makes it look believable and Warnia Sahadewa’s colors were very solid. Colors can make or break alien worlds in comics, and I think here it worked to the story’s advantage.
Tom: Agreed. The colors were a high point of the visuals for me.
Tony: I liked this, but it was a bit of a trifle. It’s fun, it fits cleanly into the Whoniverse, but it’s not groundbreaking or revelatory.
Tom: In my mind, the story doesn’t really live up to its title. I don’t feel like we’re learning about this mysterious Doctor’s origins but rather just one formative story in her early career. Year One, this is not. (Although, we do see the First Doctor and his companion/granddaughter Susan show up early in the book. There is no payoff to their arrival, which only adds to the confusion and missed opportunities.) I was also annoyed that the story ends with the promise of yet another conspiracy in Division, though the stinger “To be continued?” doesn’t instill a lot of confidence that we’ll get the chance to explore that one.
Tony, what do you and Scott have in store for us next?
Tony: We’re headed into the upper class with BOOM! Studios’ recent hit Eat the Rich. Scott’s been singing its praises for a while, so I’m hyped.