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Comic Book Review
The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith have had many adventures together, roaming across time, space and the furthest boundaries of the universe! Now they have arrived in Victorian England, where a mysterious woman commands a hidden army in a house of the blind, and Scryclops stalk the streets… From facing the K1 Experimental Robot to battling the Wirrn on Space Station Nerva, and defeating the terror of the Sontarans to battling Sutekh and his robot mummies, the Doctor and Sarah have triumphed over many threats. But now they must face… the gaze of the Medusa…!
The final issue of Titan’s five-part Eighth Doctor series took us back from the Twelfth Doctor to Number Eight. As that series ends, another begins, and this one reaches back as far again – to the era of the Fourth, as played by Tom Baker, who regularly tops fan lists of favourite Doctors. As with McGann’s incarnation, Baker made a surprise reappearance for the programme’s 50th anniversary, playing ‘the Curator’ in The Day of the Doctor, which may have been a further incentive for Titan to tackle this particular Doctor. Who knows, eh? (Taps nose.) Who knows?
Of course, since 2009 Baker has also been reprising the role in audio books and audio dramas for BBC Audio and latterly Big Finish – but one thing they cannot do is reunite his character with Sarah Jane Smith, since actress Elisabeth Sladen passed away far too soon in 2011. Not a problem for a comic strip, though, which makes Titan’s selection of Sarah Jane as the companion for this five-issue series such an excellent choice. She doesn’t get a lot to do in this issue apart from be terrified, but we do get glimpses of her feistier side, when kidnapped and blindfolded by villains who have identified her as a time traveller: “Look, if you want my help,” she says to them, “then you need me to trust you. Letting me see you would be a good start, don’t you think? And – believe me – I really have seen a lot more surprising things than you might think.”
The Doctor, meanwhile, is his usual madcap, mercurial self. “Ah, gentlemen!” he says brightly, when approached by sinister, one-eyed attackers, “I wonder if you could direct me to Wembley Stadium? I would find it myself, only I don’t think it’s quite been built yet… Oh, you’re foreigners! That’s a coincidence! I’m not local either–”
Instead of the structure of linked single-issue adventures used by George Mann’s Eighth Doctor series, writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby have elected to tell a single five-part tale, entitled Gaze of the Medusa. It appears to take place not long after the events of Pyramids of Mars. That is the most recent serial to be referenced on this issue’s introductory page, and the length of Sarah’s hair, as drawn by artist Brian Williamson, does seem to match that in Pyramids.
London, 1887 is an appropriately Gothic setting for the era of the show being depicted, though the creative team also throw in elements that would have been difficult or impossible to achieve on television at the time, such as the giant, monocular Scryclops. It’s a period that this Doctor has visited before, or rather since, in Talons of Weng-Chiang. Other familiar elements include scrying (peering into an object to see a supernatural image), as performed by the Sisterhood of Karn in The Brain of Morbius. The Doctor’s patronising reaction to the inventions of a scientist, Professor Odysseus James, are also comparable to his dismissive attitude towards Laurence Scarman’s Marconiscope in Pyramids of Mars: “Hello! This is interesting. Is that a photon flux modulator? Rather primitive, but still an admirable attempt.”
There’s a similar level of pastiche in Brian Williamson’s art, which is rather static and heavily reliant on reference photographs – and not just for the likenesses of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. Professor James appears to be portrayed by Andrew Keir in his Quatermass and the Pit role, while his daughter Athena looks uncannily like Diana Rigg in one of her outfits from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You can pretend that those actors are this serial’s illustrious guest cast!
Despite my criticisms of the art, it does have the advantage of being true to the period, looking not dissimilar to the style of contemporary Doctor Who illustrations, such as Gerry Haylock’s work on the TV Comic strip Death Flower (the very first Fourth Doctor strip) or the Doctor Who Annual stories illustrated by Paul Crompton.
Unlike Sarah Jane, I haven’t been entirely captured by this serial – at least, not yet – but Gaze of the Medusa is still worth a look.
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