❉ Doctor Who Magazine comic strips and their links to the New Series.
On 11 October 2019, Doctor Who Magazine turned 40. Forty years of DWM! Recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running ‘TV tie-in’ magazine, it’s survived the cancellation crisis, the wilderness years, and Clive Swift. It’s indomitable… Indomitable.
The heart of DWM in its various incarnations – from a Weekly to Monthly, from the move from the Marvel stable to Panini – has been its long-running comic strip, telling cracking, often bold, sometimes innovative storylines, on occasion surpassing anything seen in the TV series for originality, audacity and breadth of vision, embracing the comic strip genre’s almost limitless possibilities, where writers’ and artists’ imaginations can transcend BBC budgets to realise literally fantastic, epic story arcs such as The Tides of Time, The Glorious Dead and the remarkable Voyager.
For four decades, the magazine, and those comic strips, has been fuelling the imaginations of generations of Doctor Who fans. Some of those fans have gone on to become writers and show-runners of the series in its’ twenty-first century incarnation, so it’s no surprise that since the show’s return, certain episodes have carried echoes of concepts and themes that first appeared in the DWM strip. Chalk them down to coincidence, unconscious homages, creative osmosis, shared sources of inspiration – not to mention 2010’s The Lodger, adapted by Gareth Roberts from his own strip of the same name. So here’s a well-meaning tip of the hat to the magazine on its anniversary, on the times its comic strip predicted new adventures for the Doctor and friends.
4-D WAR (DWM 51, 1981)
The second of dour, wizardly Midlander Alan Moore’s ‘Gallifrey’ back-strips first introduced the concept of a Time War into Doctor Who mythos. Moore’s story-line was concluded in Black Sun Rising (DWM 57, 1981) described by We Are Cult’s Jon Arnold as, “the final component of a storytelling engine with plenty of potential… that would only be fulfilled decades later by Lawrence Miles … and Russell T Davies.”
THE END OF THE LINE (DWM 54-55, 1981)
An unusually grim, downbeat yarn from the Fourth Doctor’s run in the magazine, and a favourite of RTD’s, who may have had this story nestling in the back of his mind when he came to write Utopia: End of The Line takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, overrun by the Futurekind-esque Cannibals, while the Doctor lends his supports to a band of human survivors, pinning their hopes of a new beginning at the ‘end of the line’ as per the human race’s survivors anticipation of being transported to the promised Utopia. In both stories the Doctor later discovers that he has failed to save the day – in The End of the Line the reveal is that the promised land is just as polluted as the city, while in Utopia the story ends with the Master reborn and we learn of the ultimate fate of the human race in Last of the Time Lords.
FUN HOUSE (DWM 102-103, 1985)
A malignant entity – a House, no less – attempts to possess the Doctor’s TARDIS and feed off its energy to become one with it, to the peril of its inhabitants. Wonder if this wonderfully weird Sixth Doctor strip was lurking in Neil Gaiman’s gargantuan cerebellum when he penned The Doctor’s Wife? He likes his comic books, dun’e? The house also shows the Doctor and companions illusions of their fears – a la The God Complex 26 years later.
TRAIN-FLIGHT (DWM 159-161, 1991)
This strip’s titular closeness to a shameful Davison-era flop is enough to tell you that it’s by far from a classic, but it saw the Seventh Doctor experience a brief and tender reunion with everyone’s favourite journalist, Sarah Jane Smith, where he asks her to forgive him for leaving her behind. Reliant on that old time DWM staple of artwork sourced from stills (Elisabeth Sladen was paid £40 for the use of her likeness) and featuring as that Dr Who Annual staple of giant insects, it was effectively overwritten by School Reunion, which certainly trumps it in the ‘not a dry eye in the house’ stakes.
2009 Easter special Planet Of The Dead also carries a faint echo of Train-Flight’s basic premise (along with elements of Roberts’ NA, The Highest Science). Planet Of The Dead also happened to share a title with 1988’s Anniversary strip of the same name: Clayton Hickman told We Are Cult’s James Gent, “I suggested the title so I know that one was deliberate!”
A LIFE OF MATTER AND DEATH (DWM 250, 1997)
Another ‘TARDIS parasite’ story, there’s definite shades of Amy’s Choice here – a series of trials and encounters that, it is revealed, turn out to be vividly real simulations inside the time-ship. There’s nothing here that could hold a candle to Toby Jones as the id to the Doctor’s ego, though, as it’s basically a celebratory reunion of friends and foes marking the magazine’s 250th issue. Still, as deus ex time machine go, ‘vortex parasite’ sounds a bit less underwhelming than ‘space pollen’.
The personification of the TARDIS – in this strip, the Grey Lady – anticipates Suranne Jones’s Idris in the aforementioned The Doctor’s Wife, although in the interim readers of BBC Books’ Eighth Doctor adventures encountered human/TARDIS hybrid Compassion.
THE FINAL CHAPTER (265)/WORMWOOD (266-271, 1998)
A decade before the Doctor Who production team pulled not one but two, headline-grabbing publicity stunts in 2008 – the shock ‘regeneration’ at the end of The Stolen Earth and the ‘is he or isn’t he?’ tease of David Morrissey as The Next Doctor – DWM put fandom in a tizz when the Eighth Doctor regenerated in the final chapter of, erm, The Final Chapter. For six issues, a likeness of Nick Briggs (previously glimpsed in DWM 127’s Party Animals) was the Doctor – and while there was some consternation at the onset, the new incumbent was more or less accepted by the time the big switcheroo was revealed.
THE FALLEN (DWM 273-276, 1998)
In the opening instalment of The Glorious Dead story arc, we learn that after the events of the TVM, the Master was spat out by the Tardis’ Eye of Harmony and reincarnated as a street preacher cum vagrant skulking the backstreets of London and prowling the Thames. Not dissimilar to the Master’s post-resurrection antics in The End Of Time, albeit minus the boyband peroxide ‘do.
CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION (312-317, 2002)
Anyone with fond memories of this acclaimed DWM strip – a sequel of sorts to The Evil of The Daleks – may have found the pre-titles teaser sequence for 2012’s Asylum Of The Daleks a little… familiar.
METAMORPHOSIS (The 1993 Doctor Who Yearbook, 1992)
On the subject of Asylum Of The Daleks, BBC America’s Anglophenia mini-site helpfully informs its readers:
The play on the word “eggs” as both a major ingredient of a soufflé and the first syllable of “exterminate!” has appeared before in Doctor Who, but not on the television. Future Who scriptwriter Paul Cornell wrote a comic in the 1993 Doctor Who Yearbook called Metamorphosis in which the Seventh Doctor turns into a Dalek, and he begins the transformation by saying first “eggs” and then “stir.”
THE CURIOUS TALE OF SPRING-HEEL JACK (DWM 334-336, 2003)
Somewhere in the fog-bound Victorian Britain of hansom cabs and gas-lamps, an innocent working class girl is used as the earthly conduit for a nebulous alien entity until the Doctor intervenes. Penny and the living flame Pyrodines in Scott Gray’s The Curious Tale of Spring Heel Jack, or Gwen and the gaseous Gelth in Mark Gatiss’ The Unquiet Dead? Six of one, half a dozen of the other really, as they’re both paying homage to the parent series’ exploitation of Victoriana with its own sci-fi elements bolted on, as nailed to perfection in Talons.
THE FLOOD (DWM 346-353, 2004)
The Eighth Doctor’s final graphic adventure is a motherlode of RTD motifs. A Cybermen stealth invasion which sees them moving among the populace of central London as spectral figures before materialising en masse to stage a global takeover of modern-day Earth, a la Army Of Ghosts. The climax of the story seems to have inspired at least two RTD season finales, as he absorbs the power of the space-time vortex, unleashing its force to wipe out the entire Cyberfleet, and making a glowy, Jesus-like resurrection. Pick it up in the graphic novel The Flood, where you can also find out how close DWM came to getting the go-ahead to portraying the regeneration from 8to 9!
Fans of the Peter Capaldi era may also have found Death In Heaven‘s ‘cyber rain’ reminiscent of The Flood, while blogger ‘Kert Gantry’ went one further with the new series parallels:
‘The amount of,ah, ‘cross-pollination’ to the new series here really is absurd, it really is some kind of modern day Cyber Ur-text. Woodrow’s ruthlessly self-serving characterisation is very Yvonne Hartman and we also have ‘fan’ science bod Dr Emily Rice who just is Osgood/Malcolm.’
A GROATSWORTH OF WIT (DWM 363-364, 2005/6)
The Ninth Doctor’s last DWM strip featured an alien race manipulating the psychic energy of Robert Greene, an unsuccessful and embittered rival of William Shakespeare’s. Various elements of this story were re-constituted by its writer, Gareth Roberts, in his first Nu Who serial The Shakespeare Code two years later, including a cocky, arrogant Bard of Avon flirting with the Doctor’s current companion.
LOVE AND MONSTERS (?)
Former DWM editor Clayton Hickman told We Are Cult’s James Gent: “The basic idea of Love & Monsters comes from a comic strip Russell was going to write for me, illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Gibbons couldn’t do it as he was under exclusive contract to DC, so RTD expanded his idea into the TV episode. ”
THE LODGER (DWM 368, 2007)
Roberts got to rework his next DWM strip much more thoroughly when Steven Moffat invited Roberts to adapt it for Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor. The Lodger started life as a Tenth Doctor DWM strip, featuring the Doctor staying with Mickey after the TARDIS jumps a time track, in a charming riff on The Odd Couple that doesn’t outstay its welcome as one-shot strip. The story’s a better fit for Smiffy, showcasing not only his nifty footy skills but also his Doctor’s gauche, awkward persona and comic timing. As befits a story with its roots in the RTD era, it’s a small-scale story with a big heart, something often lacking in Moff’s more concept-driven Who.
Doctor Who, the series, and its four-weekly companion DWM, has come a long way since 1979, moving with the times, showcasing the brilliant best of British talent, and having fun with the series’ wealth of mythos to draw from – in recent times the strip has even seen the return of Ian and Barbara, the Tribe of Gum, the Delgado Master, and over the years we’ve welcomed back Frobisher (Although the Doctor didn’t know he’d met his old friend, sniff), Josiah Dogbolter and his scion, Maxwell Edison… We’re sure a return from Olla the Heat Vampire is just around the corner.
In some respects, the series has only just caught up with the strip’s innovations – 1979’s Doctor Who Weekly gave the Doctor his first black companion in the form of Sharon three decades before we met Martha and Bill; and when Izzy and Fey shared a passionate kiss at the conclusion of Oblivion (DMW 323-382, 2002-2003), one Russell T Davies wrote into DWM to congratulate them in most effusive terms!
The modern-day series has openly acknowledged the legacy of the DWM strip as an important part of the show’s history and iconography. In Christopher Eccleston’s first series, Kronkburgers from The Iron Legion are served up in The Long Game and Muriel Frost (The Mark of Mandragora, Evening’s Empire) was one of the UNIT experts killed in Downing Street in Aliens of London. The Deathsmiths of Goth, from Alan Moore’s Black Legacy (DWM 35-38, 1980) were invoked in Russell T Davies’ A Brief History of the Time Lords, a fictional account of the Last Great Time War from the Doctor Who Annual 2006 (Panini, 2005), and in Monsters And Aliens (BBC Books, 2005) RTD also identified the Forest of Cheem as one of the ‘Higher Evolutionaries’, a pantheon of time-sensitive beings first glimpsed in the strip The Tides of Time (DWM 61-67, 1982). The now iconic depiction of Gallifrey under a glass dome comes from the header image for the magazine’s Gallifrey Guardian column, and the likeness of Absalom Daak, Dalek Killer, appeared in a rogue’s gallery of criminals from time and space in 2014’s Time Heist.
The academic arguments as to whether the DWM comic strips are part of such quaint Whovian concepts ‘canon’ and ‘continuity’ will rumble on, but to this writer it’s no mere ‘TV tie-in’ magazine – but a vital part of the Doctor Who storytelling engine. Happy times and places, DWM!
❉ James Gent is editor of We Are Cult, and co-editor with Jon Arnold of Me And The Starman.