Room With A Deja View

By | Monday, July 20, 2009 Leave a Comment
IDW has been fairly successful lately with their various Dr. Who comics, following on the success of the revived TV franchise. (Thank you, Russell T Davies!) The latest installment in IDW's comic line is Dr. Who: A Room with a Déjà View by Rich Johnston and Eric J.

Johnston is, of course, best known for his "Lying in the Gutters" column, which he's recently segued into Bleeding Cool. He has written a few comics before, but this was the first of his I'd read so I have to admit to being skeptical going in. He noted, too, when he sent me a review copy that he'd established "time travel in the actual structure of the comic itself, which can make it intentionally hard to read as a comic..." So I was going in extremely skeptically.

The story begins with the Doctor answering a distress call from the "Dead Zone." He naturally goes to investigate and stumbles across a murder. The main suspect, somewhat surprisingly, has already been apprehended; however, the accused is from a race who -- well, I don't know that I want to reveal too much, but let's just say that only a Time Lord like the Doctor has any hope of communicating with him. The Doctor extracts a confession out of the murderer who, after a brief visit with his family, is born. (Trust me, it actually makes sense within the context of the comic.)

Now, I'm not up to speed with all the Doctor's non-TV adventures, but this story is something of a tonal departure from the show. Johnston certainly keeps the Doctor in character (his dialogue especially is spot-on) and the story is very fitting for the Doctor Who universe, but the David Tennant episodes tend to have more running. Lots and lots of running...

Here, though, the story is more cerebral. Which makes sense given the change in medium; comics are inherently more cerebral than television. Indeed, it requires more effort here on the part of the reader than most comics, and I think it's safe to say that you'll need to read it at least twice. But that's deliberate on Johnston's part ("I'm trying to get the reader to work a little") and not entirely a bad thing.

Eric J.'s depiction of Tennant is recognizable, but he naturally runs into a generally difficult aspect of such a comic: namely, having to draw an actor's likeness from any number of angles and perspectives over and over again. But I discussed that topic in general a few years ago, and I won't dwell on it here. The other difficulty he faces is actually Johnston's story itself, where he has to show the Doctor communicating with the murderer. It would certainly be a challenge for any artist to convey exactly what's going on for that sequence, and kudos to Eric J. for not shirking away from it. I've only seen anything like this attempted once before in comics (by Walt Simonson) and while Eric J. does a commendable job, I'm not sure it was entirely successful.

To be fair, I'm not privy to either Johnston's script or any conversations the two creators (and any other involved parties) had, so I wouldn't presume any less-than-ideal storytelling execution here is due to any single individual. The concept is rather difficult to wrap one's head around, after all. But the interview sequence, I think, could stand a little more delineation on exactly how the Doctor is able to interview the murderer. The reader gets a general impression of the process, but the specifics are somewhat glossed over. I think this would be fine if it were a smaller or less significant portion of the story but, as the book's concept really hinges on the idea, I should like to see it expanded a tad more.

It's not a book that I think Doctor Who fans will be disappointed with. Like some of the best episodes of the series, it challenges people with new ideas and concepts. I think it might be a harder sell for folks not familiar/comfortable with the themes of Doctor Who. It's a book I can almost guarantee you'll need to read repeatedly and, because of that, it's not a book you're going to forget about soon.

Dr. Who: A Room with a Déjà View will be released this Wednesday. Johnston will be at Comic-Con International this week, signing copies.
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