In recent years, the cult British sci-fi classic Doctor Who has grown exponentially, both in terms of content quality and it’s rabid fan base. There used to only be a niche group who found the crazy Doctor’s time-jaunting adventures fascinating beyond anything else on television. These days, it’s uncommon to go to a party without someone bringing up the events of “The Big Bang, Part 2” or “Let’s Kill Hitler”, followed by three or four other people chiming in with their favorite episodes or quotes.
The major change in Doctor Who was Steven Moffat, the new showrunner who took over with season five and began the process of making the Doctor more relatable and emotionally impactful. This isn’t to say that David Tennant’s tenth Doctor didn’t have his fair share of emotionally saturated treks, but at the end of the day, erstwhile showrunner Russell T. Davies held to a largely episodic format for the show. Little elements connected everything, but remained separate enough so any casual viewer could potentially jump in without having to do much work.
These days, the time-and-space jumping exploits of the Doctor have a much less disjointed feel—instead of random journeying that leads into a whopper season finale, Moffat’s arcs are ongoing narratives that can even last more than a season, as evidenced by the Silence’s influence on the Doctor’s life throughout seasons five and six. The success of Doctor Who and other sci-fi/fantasy shows in recent seasons may have prompted a new volume of Time Warp, a Vertigo one-shot anthology issue that highlights time travel tales from some of the imprint’s best creators.
The first story of the bunch, “R.I.P.” by Damon Lindelof (LOST, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness ) and illustrated by Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Animal Man, Justice League Dark), uses the paradoxical nature of time travel to show the cyclical nature of our human lives. One of the biggest criticisms of Doctor Who has been the “deus ex machina” effect, or, allowing the Doctor to (at the last moment possible) figure out some ridiculously far-fetched scheme to stop the enemy and save the day. Sometimes, it makes sense; most of the time, it’s just a quick way out. If you’re able to look past this same conflict of ideas in “R.I.P.”, you’ll find that just like Doctor Who, this story isn’t about the mechanics of time travel. And while hearing the crazy, seemingly impossible ways time travel “works” is fun, the whole point is the human element, the relatable aspect of the story that we, the audience, can grab onto.
Rip Hunter is not a character I’m knowledgeable about beyond knowing his name and that he’s famous for adventuring through time in the pre-New 52 DCU. Fortunately, Lindelof and Lemire don’t require me to know anything about Hunter going in: the blond time traveller is stranded in the prehistoric past only slightly outrunning a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex. What makes things interesting is when other, future versions of Hunter begin to appear to help the stranded one get out of his current predicament. It doesn’t matter that this series of meetings doesn’t make logical time-jumping sense. It doesn’t matter that the easy out at the end of the story only somewhat satisfies from a logistical and scientific perspective.
What matters is the emotional impact this episode has on Rip Hunter. Much like how people say, “it’s not the destination, but the journey that truly counts”, Hunter understands how his manipulation of time would eventually result in him completely influencing his own life in ways we can only imagine. We all had that guy when we were kids who we looked up to. Mine were Dikembe Mutombo and John Elway. But imagine if your childhood idol was yourself? Lindelof and Lemire’s story highlights this moment in Hunter’s life, when he recognizes the paradox beginning to form, and that he must fulfill it in the future to secure his own existence.
“R.I.P.” was surprisingly insightful and emotionally raw. I’ll admit that I was skeptical of the time aspect when I began reading—time travel is a difficult story device to play with, especially when working within a framework of ‘everything affects everything’ system. Fortunately, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire do it as right as they can, and give Rip Hunter the emotional and narrative backing required for a story such as this. Time travel alone isn’t enough.