Remember the anticipation you get before the introduction of a new Doctor? That mix of wanting them to be brand new but also instantly recognisable? Well, that idea links very well to Titan Comics’ The Road to The Thirteenth Doctor comic series, and that’s not because, you know, they’re supposed to be lead-ins to the Thirteenth Doctor’s comic debut.
The series starts with Tenth Doctor story Ghost Ship, an isolated romp (rather than tense space thriller) that feels slightly like a repeat of the final Twelfth Doctor Ongoing story by Titan (spoilers).
And the isolated, standalone status of this story makes it feel very much like filler. That’s despite the ‘Previously…’ page inside the cover detailing the most recent Tenth Doctor comic stories, and a plot that is high on ethics, deaths, and worldbuilding. Not necessarily in that order.
As with the other two comics in this series, the first few pages make perfect pre-titles sting material, but the Doctor is introduced to us in a way that, even post-Series 4, is just way too self-important to be likeable.
We know the Tenth Doctor can command a scene instantly, but the drawing of the panels drops this swagger for an ego show, with the TARDIS team responding to a soon-to-be-dead man by posing like underwear models on a mid-2000s rap music CD.
To fit the dialogue of said scene, the Doctor and his companions Gabby Gonzalez and Cindy Wu could’ve been drawn with concerned or flustered looks, perhaps reaching out a hand a la The Fires of Pompeii rather than crossed arms and an open collar.
Some of the Doctor’s actions and reactions in this story are difficult to understand, and just like with a new Doctor, it’s the first impressions that count. One highlight of Ghost Ship is a quickly used subplot that mirrors the recent The Diary of River Song audio drama featuring the War Master.
This story feels quite detached, but the switch of ships for the Road to… segment instantly drags us into a recognisable setting, the S.S. Madame de Pompadour.
It’s a clever way to revisit the much-loved story, The Girl in the Fireplace, and features the return of Arthur. It’s brilliantly drawn, and adds anticipation for the next segment of the story.
For what author James Peaty got wrong in judging the character of the Tenth Doctor and his companions, he gets absolutely right in Eleventh Doctor and Alice Obiefune tale, The Steampunk Conundrum. The banter between the two is engaging and believable, especially for a reader whose knowledge of Alice goes no further than her character bio at the beginning of the comic.
The first page lays down the setting and genre instantly, and the panels fit the dialogue perfectly from the off.
Alice’s Dalek-themed dress is, if not horrifically out of character for the Doctor to own, beautifully illustrated, and the Doctor seems to know what we’re thinking as he jokes about it in-text.
The Eleventh Doctor’s character is captured superbly in dialogue and illustration, and the plot is interesting enough that even when the Doctor basically explains it all, you still want to read on.
Revealing the villain’s true form is the weak point of this tale, with its visual punch essentially disappearing as soon as it politely ushers the Doctor along in one panel.
Once again the Road to… segment excels, with a brilliantly believable monologue and another cameo – this time the incredibly well-captured Ponds duringThe Power of Three. As a whole, issue #2 reminds us why we love the recognisable, but adds something new and worthwhile that you want to see more of.
The final story, Tulpa, is actually the ‘conclusion’ to the Twelfth Doctor’s Titan Comics adventures, bar any future Free Comic Book Day appearances.
Peaty captures the Doctor’s voice instantly, and soon after adds an exceptional portrayal of Bill Potts’ character. In Tulpa, we also get Kate Stewart, another character written to a tee, and a UNIT setting serves the story well.
The illustrations are a bit hit and miss, with the tone and setting executed well, but the Doctor frequently appearing as Dick Van Dyke. The fault isn’t in the illustrations though; it’s the plot that sees London being evacuated amid a level of chaos that isn’t exactly believable. But the rules are different in comics, I guess.
For what the plot then starts to lose in plausibility, it makes up for with canny paneling and a two-hander between the Doctor and Bill that keeps the reader invested in the scenario taking place.
Like Tim Shaw, the villain of this piece gets given the name Karen, but this isn’t played for laughs, and leads to an upbeat ending.
This is a story that allows us to see multiple sides of this Doctor, far more versatile in Series 10 than he would’ve been in Series 8, but when push comes to shove it’s still Bill’s emotional capability that saves the day.
There’s one more voice in this story that guides the reader: a narrator whose words bookend the story. The format works wonders, far more effective than, say, in The End of Time, although the ending is so strong it would work without it. (Are all Doctor Who scenes set in diners guaranteed to be brilliant?)
Concluding the Road to… storyline is a ‘deleted scene’ from World Enough and Time, which features a bored Missy attempting to provoke the Doctor, and you can’t help but love it.
Rachael Stott’s artwork is the pick of the bunch again, capturing all of Missy’s mischievous tendencies.
It’s a joy to be back in one of the Twelfth Doctor’s best stories, and Road to… adds a new element that makes Titan’s Thirteenth Doctor series all the more worth the wait.