Full disclosure: Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor is my Doctor. This is comic book escapade with Sarah Jane that wouldn’t have been possible on a 1970s BBC budget. Five issues of a comic book collected to tell the story of an adventure through time: from Victorian high society to ancient Greece, written by Gordon Rennie (Judge Dredd; White Trash) and Emma Beeby (The Alienist; Judge Dredd) with art by Brian Williamson (The New Avengers; Torchwood: Rift War).
When the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith took a trip to London in 1887, they didn’t count on being dragged into a petrifying alien conspiracy that stretches all the way back to Ancient Greece!
Gaze of the Medusa as a title doesn’t leave room for ambiguity. Which is odd, because for the opening pages, we’re in London. A masked and invalid Lady is talking to one-eyed giants in an alien script. The aliens are informing the Lady about the arrival of a certain blue box. Meanwhile a father and daughter are giving chase to a carriage. We’re introduced to the Doctor and Sarah Jane watching a Buffalo Bill Wild West show. Not very Medusa! This being Doctor Who, however, it’s not long before Sarah Jane is kidnapped (witnessed by Athena and her father). So far, so typical. Athena and her father, revealed to be Professor Odysseus Hames are working in the shocking field of chrononautology!!
Eventually, we do get to ancient Greece to meet the titular villain, who is not quite what mythology has led us to believe. The Doctor must rescue Sarah Jane, and the story must explain the connection between the Lady and her collection of statues. This is a tale which brings the modern incarnations of Doctor Who into the past. The Medusa’s power of petrification is related to that of the Weeping Angels, first introduced during David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor timeline.
The key to make a tie-in book a success is to tell an original tale while remaining true to the original format. Rennie, Beeby and Williamson nail it in this book. The plot is full of interesting characters and twists. It has an element of the absurd – a hallmark of Baker’s Doctor – while giving Sarah Jane and Athena plenty of their own agency. There is even an unfortunate and surprising death. The Doctor has some terrific and appropriate lines that took me back to the original TV show. When he speaks, I really hear Tom Baker speaking. Williamson’s art is fairly classical. Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are rendered just off likeness – I assume deliberately – which is odd at first but soon sits comfortably with the reader. Williamson manages to get the devil in the Doctor’s eye. The inside of the TARDIS is perfect while Victorian London is suitably sinister. The panelling is varied, from luscious whole page images to the more surreal. The alien cyclops are suitably creepy while the Medusa herself is a sight to behold. Like something out of Alien. The colouring by Hi-Fi is rich and warm and atmospheric.
Gaze of the Medusa is a proper Doctor Who adventure. Fun and witty and exciting and yes, moving. It dips into history and mythology. And the companion gets captured. All the key ingredients! But it’s also a great comic book – great pacing and storytelling and some delicious art. A cracking comic for fans and non-fans alike. Good job Titan!
Title: Doctor Who Fourth Doctor Vol. 1 – Gaze of The Medusa
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson