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Doctor Who Classic Comics

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In the second part of our Doctor Who coverage (click here to read our interview with writer Gary Russell on the new IDW Who book) Broken Frontier takes a look at the history of our favorite Time Lord on the comic page and discovers a Time Vortex worth of Gallifreyan trivia. Which actor to play the Doctor on TV wrote a Doctor Who comic? Who were the Doctor’s other grandchildren? Which perennial foes of our hero spun off into their own hugely popular feature in the 1960s? Does the Doctor exist in the Marvel Universe? The answers may just surprise you...

Before IDW, had the Doctor appeared in any comics besides the mid-Eighties 23-issue Marvel run?

U.S. readers could be forgiven for thinking that prior to the upcoming IDW series the good Doctor’s comic strip adventures were limited to the pages of the Dell adaptation of the 1960s Doctor Who and the Daleks movie and that short Marvel reprint run in the 1980s that spun out of Marvel Premiere #s 57-60 (in themselves reprints of Marvel UK material).

The reality is far different though, with the Doctor having had a rich publishing history in the comic strip medium from the early Hartnell days onwards. In fact the Doctor has been in near-continuous comics publication in the U.K. since 1964! A pretty impressive record by any standard.

Which British comics carried Doctor Who strips?

First and Second Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton) appeared in the anthology  TV Comic in the Sixties. In the Seventies Third Doctor Jon Pertwee moved from TV Comic into Countdown/TV Action before returning to the former. Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, had a brief tenure in TV Comic before the license for all things Tardis-related went to Marvel UK with the debut of Doctor Who Weekly (later Doctor Who Monthly and now Panini’s Doctor Who Magazine). DWM, as it is affectionately known, has since covered the comic strip adventures of Doctors 4 through to 10 as part of its mix of news, articles, interviews and reviews, for the best part of the last thirty years.

In addition to this, most years saw a hardback Doctor Who Annual (a British Christmas tradition for several decades) from the early Sixties right up until the mid-1980s. These also often contained comic strips. 

Which Who villains had their own hugely successful 1960s comic strip feature?

Who else but the Daleks? Their full-color exploits (a rare privilege for British comic strips at the time) appeared on the back page of the weekly TV Century 21. This Doctor-free strip provided Doctor Who fans of the Sixties with a full history of the creation of the evil cyborgs from Skaro (which is obviously an alternate one to that shown in Genesis of the Daleks on the small screen some years later) and included a rematch with the robotic Mechonoids, echoing their confrontation in the TV show story The Chase.

Who were the Doctor’s other grandchildren?

When the Doctor was first introduced back in 1963, he was travelling in the Tardis with his granddaughter Susan. Subsequently, the TV show made few references to a Who family line (although the new series has been a little more forthcoming with some interesting "throwaway" lines on the subject…). In the early days of the TV Comic strip First Doctor William Hartnell’s likeness was the only one that could legally be used so TV companions were out. To get around this the creators introduced two other grandchildren, John and Gillian, who travelled with their grandfather in his first two incarnations until they left Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor to study at the galactic university. Impossible, continuity-crunching characters they may have been, but there have been some fun attempts to reconcile John and Gillian into the Who mythos in prose over the years...

Which actor who played the Doctor on TV wrote a Doctor Who comic?

It was none other than Sixth Doctor himself Colin Baker! Colin wrote the 1994 Doctor Who: Age of Chaos Special that saw his Doctor reunited with former companion Peri. Originally advertised as a four-issue miniseries, it was eventually published as a collected story in a one-shot 1994 Special after Marvel UK’s 1990s implosion.

Did the Doctor ever appear in any newspaper strips?

Kind of. After the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie starring Paul McGann, the Doctor had his own newspaper strip-style feature in the BBC’s weekly television listings magazine the Radio Times. This was written by Gary Russell, scribe of the new IDW book, and those interested in investigating further can find the full archive online here.

Who was the most bizarre comic strip companion?

The "bigger budget" of the comic page has given writers the opportunity to allow their imaginations a little more free rein in this regard. From World War II pilots from parallel Earths to Medieval noblemen, heat vampires to Earth girls trapped in hideous alien bodies, the Doctor’s comic strip companions have certainly been a diverse lot. The oddest of these oddballs, though, must be the unforgettable Frobisher. Frobisher is a walking, talking penguin (actually a shape-changing alien Whifferdill who got stuck in that form and couldn’t change back) who travelled with the Sixth Doctor.

You probably wouldn’t expect the Doctor to be on chummy terms with some of his TV enemies either, so special mentions must go to two "monster" companions. Firstly, Kroton, the only Cyberman with a soul and emotions, debuted in his own back-up strip in Doctor Who Weekly #5 and returned many years later to become a companion of the Eighth Doctor in issue #286. Secondly, Ssard, one of the race of Ice Warriors (sometime foes and sometime allies of the Doctor on TV) accompanied the Eighth Doctor in the Radio Times strip.

Does the Doctor exist in the Marvel Universe?

Technically yes! He’s certainly visited Earth-616. Remember Marvel’s original bounty-hunting robot Death’s Head, the memorable predecessor to the more forgettable Death’s Head II? Okay, sit back because this is where things get complicated... Death’s Head originally appeared as a bad guy in Marvel UK’s Transformers weekly comic. After his battles with the robots in disguise he encountered the Doctor in Doctor Who Magazine #135, where the Doctor shrunk him with the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator to human size. This encounter, in itself, would have given the Doctor at least a tangential link to the Marvel reality, given that Death’s Head and his successors went on to become firmly entrenched in the MU (the third generation of Death’s Heads were seen in Planet Hulk and Amazing Fantasy not that long back after all).

But we can go one better than that. In Death’s Head Vol. 1 #8, the Doctor had a return encounter with the mechanical mercenary that ended with the Tardis landing on the Fantastic Four’s Four Freedom’s Plaza and Death’s Head being left by the Time Lord in the Marvel Universe-proper.

Are there any other comics with links to the Whoniverse ?

Two very short-lived spin-off comics from the Doctor Who novels debuted in the Noughties. While their links to the Whoniverse were not that explicit to the casual reader both Miranda from Comeuppance Comics (starring the Doctor’s "adopted" daughter) and Faction Paradox from Image (featuring Lawrence Miles’s Voodoo-like, time-manipulating cult who were a big part of a number of the BBC novels) used characters and situations first seen in Who prose. Both titles sadly disappeared very quickly.

Have any of the comic strips had a canonical impact on Doctor Who–proper?

Well that all depends on what you term as "canon"... There have been a number of instances of characters from the comic strips making the transition to other media though. To give a few brief examples of cross-pollination: Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer who appeared in a number of Doctor Who Weekly/Magazine strips (both back-up and main feature) popped up in the Virgin-published Who novel Deceit. Big Finish audio plays The Maltese Penguin and The Holy Terror and the BBC novel Mission: Impractical have featured the Sixth Doctor alongside comic strip companion Frobisher. The villainous Beep the Meep from the Dave Gibbons-illustrated Doctor Who Weekly era also appeared in one of the audio plays The Ratings War where he met the Sixth Doctor.

Where can I find some of this classic material?

Well, as far as the Marvel stories go, U.S. readers can start picking it up in IDW’s repackaged and recolored Doctor Who Classics while readers in the U.K can enjoy Panini’s chronological trade paperback reprints in the original black and white (they’re up to the Sixth Doctor’s era now).

Much of the more vintage material will, admittedly, be very hard to track down now in its original format and at an affordable price. However, some of it has been reprinted within the last fifteen years or so and these representations may be a little easier to find if you’re up to a challenge! Between 1992 and 1994 Marvel UK published 27 issues of Doctor Who Classic Comics (not to be confused with IDW’s similarly-titled offering) covering all of the Doctor’s first seven incarnations from 1960s stories on. These were not chronological reprints but jumped around the Doctor’s (then) thirty-year back catalogue of comic exploits.

Those wanting to hunt down the TV Century 21 Dalek material (and it’s worth it for the instalments gorgeously illustrated by Ron Turner alone!) may want to scour back issue dealers for Marvel UK’s 1994 reprinting of the entire saga, entitled The Dalek Chronicles. Staying on the subject of the Daleks, the complete comic strip adventures of Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer were also collected as a graphic novel some years back from Marvel UK.

I hope this brief taster of the Doctor’s many decades of strip publication has opened a few eyes to a whole new world of classic British comics and whetted your appetites for more. With both IDW and Panini currently reprinting some of the best of the Marvel era there’s plenty of opportunity for fans in both Europe and the U.S. to get their graphic novel fix of this quintessentially British creation.

Allons-y!

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