Doctor Who: The Forgotten #1
Writer: Tony Lee
Artist: Pia Guerra
Inkers: Kent Archer and Shaynne Corbett
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
Cover: Nick Roche
By Michael David Sims
04 September 2008 — Having recently devoured the first four seasons of its revival, you could say I've been on a bit of a Doctor Who kick lately. The action is fast, the characters are strong, the storytelling is smart and the depth is astounding. Best of all, though each season features an overall storyline, every episode is the perfect starting point for new viewers. And that's done without burdening longtime fans with "we know this already" exposition. If you're not watching Doctor Who — for fear of not knowing the rich continuity, you're put-off by science fiction, you're afraid the sets are still made of cardboard or whatever your reason — you really should give the show a try. It's wonderfully engaging television that can pack breakneck action, high suspense and tragic drama all into 60-minute bites. However, if you don't have access to the Sci Fi Channel or BBC America, or you're still worried that the show isn't for you, there's another way you can treat yourself to the good Doctor, and that's by reading Doctor Who: The Forgotten.
IDW Publishing's latest limited series follows the 10th Doctor and his companion, Martha Jones, as they find themselves trapped inside a museum dedicated to the Doctor. Artifacts from many of his travels are there, including the nine outfits (some would say costumes) worn by his previous selves. Along with each outfit is a trinket that doctor employed: a walking stick, recorder, car keys, jelly babies, a cricket ball, a cat-shaped brooch, umbrella, cravat and his psychic paper. Each one of these items, in a way, defines the Doctor it's associated with — which is a good thing, because the 10th Doctor suddenly can't remember a thing about his previous lives, and needs to use said items to restore his memories.
On the surface this might sound like an indulgent walk down memory lane — and it is — but it's more that that. The Forgotten isn't just about the Doctor rediscovering himself; it's also about us rediscovering (or, in most cases, discovering) the Doctor. Instead of penning a six-issue series that only longtime Who fans could appreciate, Tony Lee has crafted a story that rewards fans of the original series while embracing those who are entering the TARDIS for the first time. By treating us to previously untold events in the lives of the Doctor, Lee is shining a spotlight on the past to illuminate the present. In the process, everyone will learn something new about each Doctor that came before the 10th, and all of those reclaimed memories will come together to give us a better understanding of who the Doctor is now. It's brilliant, really, and the execution is perfect.
Besides the story, what Lee truly excels at is capturing David Tennant's speech pattern without recycling dialog from the show. Each line reads as if the actor spoke it himself, making it impossible to not hear the Doctor's voice throughout the comic. When tackling a character with such a lush history, it would be easy for a writer to fall into a fanboy trap; the desire to gush all over the pages, to scream "I can't believe I'm writing a Doctor Who story" must be there, but Lee deftly pockets his childlike enthusiasm and redirects that giddy energy into writing a perfectly balanced story that sounds and feels like a missing episode of the program. Someone who reads this and then watches one of Tennant's episodes will already feel familiar with the character, making the transition from reluctant viewer to instant fan seamless.
Helping to build that bridge is Y: The Last Man artist Pia Guerra. As soon as the Doctor awakens to find himself in the museum, Guerra brings life to the pages. The Doctor's irresistible charm, boyish glee, wild curiosity and restrained anger are all there, and they're presented with such subtlety — or as subtly as the Doctor's contagious excitement can be. The Doctor is never drawn like a caricature of David Tennant; he isn't Stanley Ipkiss, bouncing from one exhibit to the next with an impossibly slacked jaw and wild eyes. Like any person who's just discovered a museum dedicated to his life, the Doctor is at first thrilled to see so many familiar items, but quickly troubled by who put the display together. Guerra reveals the Doctor's growing fear and awe in every panel, with little more than a slight gesture, a stern glare or a stiff upper lip.
Much like Lee's writing flawlessly presents Tennant's portrayal of the ageless time traveler, Guerra's pages, as colored by Charlie Kirchoff, nail the visual style. An unseen source of light places a muted blue hue over everything (elsewhere, a harsh red does the same), harkening back to so many episodes where colors and lighting set the overall tone ("The End of the World," "42" and "Midnight," just to name a few). It's one thing to throw colors onto a page, making sure complexions and clothing match from one page to the next, but it's something else to use it for mood. Giving a book its own flavor while attempting to make it feel like it could take place between episodes of a long-running television show is not an easy task, and the team of Guerra and Kirchoff deserve much praise for doing just that.
As far as the flashback adventure goes — which involves Barbara, Ian, Susan and the first Doctor — this is where the history lesson begins. Set in ancient Egypt, the Doctor and his companions are unwittingly used in an assassination attempt on the life of Menkaure. Though the look back is short and doesn't fully do justice to the multi-episode stories of classic Doctor Who, what it does do right is remember its roots. The Doctor is a grumpy old man who seemingly dislikes Barbara and Ian. Through the Doctor and Barbara (a teacher), we learn a little about the historic setting, as was a common practice with the old show. And, best of all, the entire tale is awash in white and grey; it might seem like a minor point to mention that they didn't treat the pages with color, but it serves to give the adventure a classic feel and goes along with my previously mentioned point about using colors (or, in this case, a lack thereof) to establish mood and setting.
Really, it's wonderful to see the writing, art and coloring come together to form a loving tribute to all things Doctor Who. Better still, even though I've yet to see an episode starring the first Doctor, I never felt lost. All of the characters' personalities and the storytelling style of those old adventures are right there in those eight pages. With this quick look at the first Doctor, the current one can be better understood; when he gets a little grumpy or curt, we can now say, "Hey, that's the first Doctor coming through! Neat!"
If the remaining issues in Doctor Who: The Forgotten are just half this good, IDW will have published a wonderfully accessible limited series that will generate new fans of the show. For current fans, when combined with the upcoming Doctor Who specials, The Forgotten will help fill the long void between now and the start of the fifth season. So no matter what your experience with the show is, I highly recommend this one.