The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor nears its end, with an adventure for the Twelfth Doctor and Bill in modern London

As a young Doctor Who fan I received the full benefit of having two older brothers. This included passing on to me the knowledge that you had to be careful of earwigs. That they’d crawl into your ear as you slept, gnaw through your eardrum and take up residence in your brain. When the first monster in this issue of The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor appears, it resembles nothing so much as a gigantic earwig dragon with wings. So it’s hard not to imagine writer James Peaty had similarly informative siblings in his childhood.

Tulpa is a story all about earwigs in the metaphorical sense too. For it’s an idea that’s crept into the brain of the hapless would-be writer at the centre of events. An idea of a surreal, magnificently alien planet inhabited by strange creatures and bizarre geography and an electric sky which he just has to get down on paper. But with every word he types, the more of central London is changed.

Peaty’s plan for the Road to the Thirteenth Doctor mini-series has been to encapsulate the scope of Doctor Who. The first issue’s had a runaround on a besieged spaceship in the far future. Last month gave us a pseudo-historical tale of steampunk butlers in the 19th century. Now, the final instalment completes that mandate with the Doctor and Bill summoned to present day London by Kate Stewart.

Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 1. Art by Brian Williamson. (c) BBC
Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 1. Art by Brian Williamson. (c) BBC

Brian Williamson’s superbly grotesque art is the perfect counterpoint to James Peaty’s truly alien tale

The fast pace of the story means that the UNIT team are sidelined relatively quickly, victims of the strange phenomenon. But with a dilemma and solution depending heavily on matters of philosophy and individuality, rather than shooting up the place, it’s no harm to have fewer voices to focus on.

Tulpa uses a story seen Doctor Who several times before – a civilization that can’t accept that everything has its time. Instead of accepting that everything ends, they seek to steal another’s future. It is a particularly smart and insightful take this common plot, and the Doctor explains they aree doomed to fail in an eloquent and thought-provoking manner

The story supplies artist Brian Williamson with plenty of grotesque slithering monstrosities and surreal imagery – something that he does so well. Williamson’s been associated with Doctor Who since way back in 2007 when his astonishing art for Robert Shearman’s Untitled dropped jaws across fandom. With Tulpa, he utilizes to the full his ability to depict creatures which are unknowably alien but also plausible – like something a far-flung version of evolution could create. The reality of “Karen,” the ghostly woman who is seen constantly massaging the writer’s troubled shoulders, is a particularly fine piece of lunch-threatening Cronenbergian design.

Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 2. Art by Brian Williamson.
Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 2. Art by Brian Williamson. (c) BBC

In The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor the mysterious figure in the portal returns, and presents the Twelfth Doctor and Missy with a dilemma

Meanwhile, over in the back pages of the book, is the final part of The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor. It finally reveals if the entire story was just an epic tease for next month’s Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor book. Or will it provide any resolution to the mystery itself? The answer will no doubt frustrate some readers, but The Road… has still been a fun way to introduce Houser and Stott’s style and gift, in particular for characterization in both script and art.

Featuring the Twelfth Doctor, Nardole and Missy, Part Three gives us the best window into that yet. All three turn their Witty Banter up to eleven for a quick and witty read. It also engages with the television story it intrudes into in the most satisfying way yet, with the Doctor finally able to take steps to save the mysterious stranger in the portal but having to choose whether to pursue that mystery or the desperately faint hope that Bill can be saved. Houser understandably seizes the chance to write Missy in all her glory one last time. My one quibble though would be that she appears a little too cruel and heartless regarding Bill’s apparent death. Considering when exactly in Missy’s journey this story is set, she should be a little bit more sympathetic.

Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 3. Art by Brian Williamson.
Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 3. Art by Brian Williamson. (c) BBC

Rachael Stott’s art is just short of witchcraft in its capturing of the performances of her cast

Rachael Stott’s art is given free reign to capture Missy’s fantastic body language and facial expressions in full. It’s just short of witchcraft as Stott manages to capture a performance as mercurial and exciting as Michelle Gomez’. But she does it with style. Stott continues the hallmark of her art – true performances that echo those acting choices the cast might have made if given this script but which are also always completely original and not just replications of poses or faces from other episodes- wth the Doctor and Nardole as well. All aided by Enrica Angiolini’s faultlessly atmospheric colouring. The sense of depth Angiolini consistently brings to the art creates an almost three-dimensional feel.

The three episodes of the Road to the Thirteenth Doctor backup strip may have been light on detail. But they’ve shown just how appropriate The Thirteenth Doctor comics are for this team. Stott’s cheeky vision of Jodie Whittaker has already created such a strong sense of the Thirteenth Doctor’s character, even before trailers and footage began to appear.

The issue rounds out, with more previews of Stott’s character design work. This time we see her take on Mandip Gill’s Yaz and Bradley Walsh’s Graham. Both feature Stott’s trademark life and energy, but for me it’s all about Graham. I’m going to predict right now that his incredulous reactions to the madness around him will be a highlight of The Thirteenth Doctor book.

Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 4. Art by Brian Williamson. (c) BBC
Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3, Pg 4. Art by Brian Williamson. (c) BBC

Official synopsis

Finish the road to the Thirteenth Doctor with the last of three stand-alone stories featuring the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor!
The Twelfth Doctor and Bill find London’s Piccadilly Circus transformed into an empty wasteland, populated only by pterodactyls… and UNIT!
Each issue contains a serialised short from the creative team behind the new Thirteenth Doctor ongoing series!

Continue the adventure with Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #0, out on the 26th of September.

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