The Fourth Doctor Leaps Off The Screen Into Danger In ‘Doctor Who: Gaze Of The Medusa’ [Review]
For many longtime Doctor Who fans, the era of the Fourth Doctor holds a special place in our hearts. Tom Baker, an actor with a style as unique as his appearance, played the Doctor for seven seasons and 172 episodes from 1974 to 1981. And if you were an American kid watching Doctor Who on PBS in the 1980s, he was almost certainly the first Doctor you saw. Some of his seasons are better than others, to be sure, but long before David Tennant put on his own overcoat, this era set the standard by which all Doctors were judged.
So it’s with a hopefully healthy amount of Fourth Doctor nostalgia that I approach Titan’s Doctor Who comics. I haven’t read a lot of Doctor Who comics before, but the just released Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Vol. 1: Gaze of the Medusa seems like a good place to start.
The first thing that hits you when open the book is that the tone feels exactly right. The story begins, not unlike “Pyramids of Mars,” with a spooky Victorian mansion where something bizarre is happening. In this case the blind servants are admitting two men who appear to be giants, and one-eyed giants at that. We’ll find out later that they’re called Scryclops, because their eyes can see through space and time, which is a nice bit of wordplay.
The Scryclops have arrived to see the lady of the house, a mysterious woman in black whose face is entirely hidden beneath veils, and inform her that there are time travelers in London. The time travelers are the Doctor and Sarah Jane, of course, who have come to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But the Scryclops are waiting for them outside the theatre, and the story goes from there.
I’ll resist summarizing further, but I will say that Rennie and Beeby have written an adventure that would fit right into Season 13 of the show. The plot, the villains, the guest characters, and the cliffhangers all work within the Fourth Doctor’s classic milieu. There’s a great misdirect involving who the real monster is. (Obviously given the title, we’re set up to believe that the woman in the black veil is the Medusa who turns people to stone, and the truth is more complicated than that.)
There is one scene that departs from anything that could happen on the TV show, but does it in a delightful way that feels entirely appropriate to the Doctor’s move to comics.
The Fourth Doctor and a young woman named Athena are transported to an unknown location, where they’re confronted by a gigantic white-bearded figure surrounded by sci-fi imagery. In short, this is Space-Zeus. Athena asks if it can really be the god of myth, and the Doctor comments that it must be “the being that probably inspired the myths in the first place.” So basically, this is a story in which the Doctor meets Jack Kirby‘s Eternals. Like I said, the perfect introduction to the comics medium for the Fourth Doctor.
The Doctor’s voice is pitch-perfect throughout the book, which is a tribute to the work Rennie and Beeby have done. Williamson’s art also captures his likeness accurately, without the resemblance ever seeming too overbearing. Unfortunately, Sarah Jane, the other character imported from TV, does not fare as well. Her face is often weirdly indistinct compared to the other characters, as though Williamson is trying to capture Elisabeth Sladen’s features and can’t quite figure out how. But in everything else, the art does a great job of telling the story, as well as capturing a mood and tone that feels like the show.
After finishing Gaze of the Medusa, I found myself wanting both to read more Titan Doctor Who comics, and also to rewatch some Fourth Doctor TV episodes. That combination is a testament to the comic’s success at recapturing what was great about that era of the TV show, while still bringing more to the table than just nostalgia. If you’re a fan of the Fourth Doctor, or if you’re curious what Titan has been doing with Doctor Who, this book is a great place to start.