Regular readers will know that I was less than complimentary about the first issue of IDW’s first Doctor Who series, underwhelmed by a lightweight story and some disappointing art. But I’m still keen for there to be a good Who book out there, so it’s only fair that I should give this second miniseries, The Forgotten, a chance. Hence why I’m reviewing it now, even though it didn’t come out this week – I’ve just had to wait until I could get hold of a copy. At first glance, it would seem to have a number of improvements working in its favour. Tony Lee, while perhaps less of a dyed-in-the-wool Who bod than Gary Russell, is at least somewhat more experienced in comics storytelling; and Pia Guerra is a genuinely top-level artist (and no disrespect intended to Nick Roche, who incidentally provides an excellent cover here). But what really makes this of further interest is the fact that it promises to delve into the history of the character.
I mean, when you think about it, new stories about the Tenth Doctor and Martha running around battling Sycorax or whatever are never really going to have the same impact as TV stories written by the likes of Davies, Moffat and Cornell. But do something that the TV series can’t do, and you stand a bit more of a chance. So a series in which the Doctor finds himself stripped of the memories of everything prior to his current incarnation, and is forced to gradually recall them – flashing back, therefore, to a whole bunch of new “Classic Doctor” tales – is absolutely perfect material for a tie-in comic (even if it is startlingly similar to the plot of Terrance Dicks’ endearingly-lame The Eight Doctors novel).
And it’s nicely-timed, as well, since the newer generation of Who fans are finally starting to show an interest – or, rather, be given an opportunity to show an interest – in the past Doctors, now that the current one has had time to establish himself. Time Crash was the beginning of it, but the recent success of the Classic range of action figures has demonstrated it further – the kids actually want to find out more about these eight previous Doctor chappies. And so the history lesson that this series provides is rather welcome (or at least it would be, if it were more readily shipped to the UK) – while for long-time fans, the double-page spread in which we’re confronted by the costumes of all nine regenerations is an absolute joy.
Indeed, it’s the framing sequences in the “present” that impress more, with easy-flowing dialogue between the Doctor and Martha, and a genuine mystery at play. The flashback story, while it does feature Lee showing a good grasp of the differences in demeanour and speech patterns of the First and Tenth Doctors, is actually quite a simple and almost pointless tale – Doctor and companions meet Pharoah, Pharoah gets attacked, Doctor and companions run away. Nevertheless, it’s good to see a genuine link drawn between these two incarnations – a throwaway line in Time Crash aside, it’s hard to even imagine them being the same person – and setting the flashback in a tone halfway between black-and-white and sepia (evoking the b/w of the TV series without being quite so jarring as stripping all colour would) works well – though I wonder if this will continue all series, or only until they get to Pertwee!
Visually it’s a huge step up from the prior series, as well, as Guerra’s work is simply more consistent and accomplished – her interpretations of both characters are excellent even while not looking exactly like their TV versions, and she copes well with the expanded cast of the Hartnell story. A strong colouring job also lends it a classier feel. Indeed, there’s generally just a sense of the whole thing seeming far higher-budget than Russell’s series – it’s weightier, less throwaway, and feels like a genuinely significant addition to the canon (it could yet turn out to be even moreso, depending on whether the mystery villain turns out to be the obvious option, with all the continuity problems that might present). While it may still be lacking in anything like the substance of the TV series – it’s a little short of wit, for one thing – it’s certainly far closer to my notion of what a Who comic (or, indeed, any licensed comic) should be like.