❉ This eye-catching and vibrant zine is bountiful territory for fans of Doctor Who’s early comics adventures.
As Doctor Who fans we are really are blessed with some quality printed fanzines that look as fantastic as they are written. Top of the list is without doubt Vworp Vworp! which focuses on Doctor Who’s adventures in comics. With issues one and two looking at Doctor Who Weekly, Monthly and the Magazine and issue three centred on the Daleks and TV Century 21 it is the turn of TV Comic, TV Action and Countdown to take centre stage in issue 4.
Depending on your taste, this period of Doctor Who comics is either a joyfully inventive romp through the Doctor’s adventures full of Mondasian Cybermen, Quarks, John & Gillian and our hero brandishing a gun, shooting monsters with classy lines like “Die, hideous creature… Die!” or it they probably make your teeth itch with their plentiful off-model drawings of characters, non-adherence to any TV continuity and storytelling that at times pitches towards a younger audience than the show might have been aiming for. Either way this is bountiful territory for the seemingly endless army of Doctor Who scholars who have documented, interviewed, enthused and assessed their way around this piece of the show’s history.
The main bulk of issue 4 concerns itself with profiles of and interviews with the key artists and writers of Comic, Action and Countdown, dealing with the challenges of creating weekly, serialised stories for children. For example when TV Comic began its Doctor Who run in 1964 it had two key problems. The first was that, generally speaking, Doctor Who was too scary and grown-up for the comic and so two child companions for Dr Who were created, John and Gillian, to act as identifiers for the younger readership. Secondly the heads at TV Comic were somewhat put-out (letters were sent) that the BBC had allowed the rights to the Daleks to be sold to another publication, TV Century 21. Cue the need to sign-up other monsters from the show, while having a need to create new ones. There weren’t only Cybermen, but also Menoptera and Zarbi, rubbing shoulders with the Kleptons and the Trods. There’s quite a lot of Trod love in this issue and the Anatomy of a Trod illustration by Steve Flanagan and a whole new Trod strip by Steve Lyons, Shaun Van Briesen and Colin Brockhurst is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Reading the articles about the artists and writers, many of whom have passed on now, one is struck by the sheer pressure of the work, especially when these comics were being published weekly. In some cases this led to heavy drinking or other expressions of burn-out. Take writer Roger Noel Cook who explains that he tried to retire at 38 in 1984, and spent seven years ‘studying consciousness in an attempt to become the second coming of Christ’. This pursuit is cut short when Richard Desmond telephones Roger and asks him to run the beleaguered Penthouse for him. Strange times indeed. I was particularly pleased to see a new interview with Bill Mevin who not only worked on Doctor Who, but also drew The Perishers (my favourite newspaper strip) alongside many other film and TV tie-ins. There’s also a marvellous retrospective of artist John Canning from archive interviews with Paul Vyse and John Ainsworth.
In fact there’s a lot of expertise on display here. Paul Scoones, the man who literally wrote the book on the Doctor in these publications (The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics – Telos, 2012) is on-hand to give his overview of not-only writing that book, but the challenges in cataloguing and critiquing these comics. It’s not without teeth either, Alan Stevens takes Tat Wood to task for an article in the previous issue which Stevens describes as ‘utter garbage’. Fan debate is alive and well here.
I could spend all night heaping a Trod’s-worth of praise on Vworp Vworp! Issue four. Its design is eye-catching and vibrant, its commitment to detail is fascinating and its style is lively and engaging. Even if you’re a younger fan who wasn’t around to experience TV Action or Countdown originally, there are still many facts and stories to wrap your heads around, on top of Lyons’ Trods contribution there are two other old-new comic strips to read featuring the Second and Third Doctors. In fact getting this to just marvel at the artwork is 100% acceptable – yes – the Second Doctor really does live in that hat!
171 pages of colourful, in-depth Doctor Who comics discussion for £9.99? “BUY, HIDEOUS CREATURE… BUY!”
❉ Order Vworp Vworp! issue 4, price £9.99, from vworpvworp.co.uk now. Edited by Colin Brockhurst · Published by Gareth Kavanagh.
❉ John Rivers has been a contributor to We Are Cult since the site’s launch in September 2016.