REVIEW: Doctor Who 2019 Christmas Special – “Time Out of Mind” by Jody Houser

Doctor Who - Time Out of MindAs the saying always goes, if the BBC won’t give Doctor Who a Christmas special on TV, then the comics will pick up the slack! And pick up the slack they do as writer, Jody Houser, and illustrator, Roberta Ingranata, team up once again to tell a new story with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor and her friends – this time as they go against a holiday threat as scary as anything they’ve faced to date. It’s fun, it’s festive, and Houser and Ingranata continue to show the vast understanding they have for these characters.

Doctor Who: Time Out of Mind (written by Jody Houser, illustrated by Roberta Ingranata) 
The 13th Doctor and co visit an inter-galactic fair for some down time, only to realise things aren’t all as they seem. Both their minds and the TARDIS’ logs have been tampered with, and in a bid to discover just what in Gallifrey’s name is going on, they head to a distant planet where they encounter a mysterious festive figure involved in an audacious plot…

I have really been enjoying Titan Comics’ ongoing Thirteenth Doctor title. They’ve made for a really excellent way of continuing to spend time with Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor during this year where the show was mostly off the air. This is doubly true with Time Out of Mind, a comics-only Christmas special that’s as good as nearly any of the televised ones. In this story, the 13th Doctor and her friends discover they each remember the events a previous adventure in vastly different ways and seek to find out why. Their journey takes them to a completely unexpected destination: Santa’s workshop. There, they uncover a sinister threat that threatens Christmas, itself, and watching them figure out what’s going on and solving the problem is as fun as you’d hope it would be.

Trying to stay away from spoilers, I really enjoyed this story. Apparently, it loosely continues a story found in the 2019 Free Comic Book Day issue of the run, but I haven’t been able to find a copy of that story, so I can’t comment on how it does or doesn’t mesh with that issue. But what I can say is that this story opens with a premise that immediately hooks you and never lets you go until everything is neatly wrapped up in the end. One of the best and also worst things about the 13th Doctor comics is its pacing; it’s so quickly paced that it keeps your attention really nicely, but you do miss out on some of the quieter moments you might get in a TV episode. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as comics tend not to do those slower, character-driven moments outside of comics written specifically for adults. In the context of what this story is trying to be, the pacing works very well and you’re immediately into everything that’s happening and, as the various mysteries of the story begin to be unraveled, you never really find yourself lost or confused. This story’s ultimate villain is super threatening and even a little scary, but not too scary – it’s exactly the kind of threat you’d want for a Christmas episode and I can’t believe the show hasn’t done a story with this character before.

I loved the way the Doctor and her friends interact within this story; it really feels like they’ve been traveling for a while now and they just feed off of each other so well. As their interactions are one of the most important parts of any Doctor Who story, it’s almost immensely satisfying when it’s pulled off with such ease. In fact, nearly everything about this story worked perfectly for me, save for the climax itself. As is often the case in Doctor Who, everything is wrapped up a little bit too neatly. It’s usually because of the time constraints and pacing of an episode/comic issue, and the same is true here. It doesn’t come anywhere close to ruining the story, and a Christmas-themed story probably isn’t the best place to really challenge the Doctor too hard, but it is always ever-so-slightly disappointing when the resolution seems to be achieved so easily. But, aside from that, this is just a really well put together Christmas story and I’m so glad it exists as it doesn’t appear we’ll be getting any kind of holiday special this year, as the new season is premiering on New Year’s Day and doesn’t seem particularly holiday-themed.

As always, this comic works largely because of its creative team and their complete understanding of this era of Doctor Who. Jody Houser has such a grasp on the voices of these characters and manages to make them feel just as alive in the pages of her stories as they do in the episodes of the series itself. Every line of dialogue is written so perfectly that your brain literally reads them in the voice of whichever character is saying them. The same is true for Roberta Ingranta’s excellent artwork. Ingranata really understands how to draw a Doctor Who comic. She completely nails all of the facial expressions, ensuring each of the characters who have previously appeared on-screen look like the actors who play them while still having the correct reactions they should have within the context of the story being told in the comic. Here, Houser really gives Ingranata some fun stuff to play with as Ingranata conjures an entire winter wonderland within the pages of the comic. This new world looks exactly how you’d imagine a Santa’s Workshop kind of place to look and Ingranata’s art, coupled with Enrica Eren Angiolini’s colors, quickly puts you in the Christmas spirit. I also always enjoy scenes set in the TARDIS as Ingranata and Angiolini perfectly capture the feeling of the 13th Doctor’s TARDIS, always playing with different lighting styles while still ensuring it looks and feels like the TV version. This team of Houser, Ingranata, and Angiolini is such a dream team and I hope they continue working on these comics for a long time.

Time Out of Mind is the kind of Christmas special you always wish Doctor Who would try to do. It’s that perfect blend of festive and scary. It features a wonderfully creepy monster, that’s a twist on a couple of different Christmas-related myths; some delicious science fiction elements, including a few really fun planets and that always-lovely trope of missing memories; and it’s a whole lot of fun. Houser continues to perfectly translate these characters from screen-to-page and I will always enjoy the vast amounts of creativity she brings to this title. Ingranata’s art continues to impress as she finds that perfect mixture of grounded moments and science fiction weirdness. She can go from a perfectly drawn emotional moment to an action scene that’s incredibly easy to follow and her artwork perfectly meshes with Houser’s script to form a book that’s so much fun to read. If you’re longing for a Christmas special this year, I cannot encourage you enough to give Time Out of Mind a read. It’s so good you’ll wish it were an actual episode of the show.

4.5 out of 5 wands.