You’ve got a handful of pages to prove your concept, to introduce your character, to get your hooks into your reader and keep ’em coming back for more. How do you handle it? In The Art of the Start we look at first issues, be they new originals, fresh story angles, or total reboots. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
The Eighth Doctor is my favorite of the Doctors from Doctor Who, so you can imagine I was quite excited when this series was announced a few months ago. While he only has had two outings on television – a standout performance in an otherwise mediocre mid-90s American revival of the show and a seven-minute, stellar short for the 50th anniversary – the character continued to shine through books and comic strips. However, it’s Paul McGann’s return to the character in Big Finish Productions series of audio dramas that elevated him to being my favorite. And it’s somewhere after those adventures and before his swan song in “Night of the Doctor” that this new five-issue miniseries takes place.
The Doctor has returned to Earth to look for a copy of Jane Eyre he’s left in his long abandoned house. Only, there’s a squatter. A young woman with blue and pink hair – Josie Day – has taken up residence in the Doctor’s abode. The Doctor quickly excuses her presence, as it’s been decades since he last checked in and is about to leave the young artist to her painting when a frantic neighbor comes seeking help. It seems that Josie’s art is coming to life and terrorizing her quaint little hamlet.
The issue is a great introduction to the Eighth Doctor, who many fans haven’t had much experience with. He’s the incarnation full of compassion and joy, great swings of emotion and a childlike wonder. This story finds him near the end of his life, his zeal abated just a bit by the loss of friends and the oncoming of the Time War. You get the sense of the Doctor on break, taking a pause before jumping back into the fray.
George Mann is able to capture the Doctor’s attitude deftly. It’s neither a direct copy of McGann’s performance from his initial outing or the more sober McGann before he regenerates into the War Doctor. It’s clear that Mann turned to some of the Big Finish audios for inspiration for the Eighth Doctor’s character and this story slots right into that version of the character. I can hear McGann in the lines. Mann is no stranger to Doctor Who, having previously written the novel Engines of War, which features the War Doctor incarnation. While I had some reservations about that book, it seems the comic form and the Eighth Doctor are well suited to Mann.
But McGann isn’t just captured in voice. Emma Vieceli’s cartoony pencils and the nearly pastel palette of Hi-Fi’s colors set the mood incredibly. Emma perfectly captures the transition of the Doctor’s self-interested search for Jane Eyre to his almost manic reaction to Josie’s not having read it. It’s a not so subtle shift that seems aligned to manga. The Doctor’s eyes go from fully illustrated one panel to tiny dots the next as he focuses in. Vieceli’s art is never an outright tracery of McGann’s features, but the posture, costuming and the general look suggest the character while lending him a distinct look for the series.
Josie Day would seem to be a welcome addition to the TARDIS, a breath of fresh air poised for some lighter adventures with the Doctor. We get the hint of more going on with her as the issue progresses, but we also see Josie take charge in the resolution of this issue. The Doctor believes in his companions, and in the short time we see them together, the Doctor believes and trusts in Josie. Vieceli shows us this through posture and reactions. Again, cartoony, sometimes overemphasized but also perfectly right for the tone.
While there’s an overarching story arc to this miniseries, it seems like each issue will be a self-contained story, which seems to befit this Doctor’s era. Titan Comics have been doing great things with the Doctor Who license. I was also a big fan of their Ninth Doctor comic, which really encapsulates the Christopher Eccleston era. I’m glad to see McGann getting his due once again, and it seems like Titan Comics have put the right creative team in place. Fans really seemed intrigued by his one-off appearance in 2013, so hopefully this will introduce fans to the wonderful world of the Eighth Doctor, who – if given the right start – could probably have been just as big as David Tennant in fans’ hearts.