The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who In Comics: 1964-1979 by Paul Scoones (book review).
If you grew up in the 1960-70s in the UK and a ‘Doctor Who’ fan, then chances are you would have either known or read the comicstrips in ‘TV Comic’, ‘TV 21’, ‘Countdown’. and ‘TV Action’. If you missed any of these or even if you didn’t, then you in the 1990s, you would probably have pulled the ‘Doctor Who Classic Comics’ which reprinted most of their Who material. Mind you, twenty years down the line, these are long over-due for another reprint for the current generation.
‘Doctor Who’ has had a separate career from the TV series in the comic stories and a whole different set of imaginary companions because, in the early years, it was deemed too expensive to pay for the likenesses of the TV companions as well as that of the actor playing the Doctor. It was interesting to discover that Bill Hartnell was getting £5 a week from this but in those days that was a lot of money for doing practically nothing.
This book, ‘The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who In Comics: 1964-1979’ by Paul Scoones, covers the first fifteen years. It gives details of what the BBC allowed and didn’t, especially where the monsters were concerned because the original creators held those rights, as typified by Terry Nation and the Daleks. I should point out that there are the occasional observation of the fees paid and although it might seem cheap today, this was in the days of little inflation and that money would have gone a long way. It’s interesting to see over the years that the fees keep up with the line in inflation and if anything, I’m still surprised how overall cheap it was on a weekly basis although annually it would probably have seemed a lot more. It would have been interesting to have seen a breakdown of expenses as to how much the comicstrip writer and artist were being paid on ‘Who’ compared to the other strips in the comics to give everything its proper perspective. When you’re also paying the likenesses and permission from the BBC, from an accountant’s point of view, it’s just an expensive strip amongst many. The fact that it survived so long is more a testimony for ‘Doctor Who’s popularity.
For each story, there is a brief synopsis, errors and what ‘Doctor Who’ story was on TV at the same time. ‘TV Comic’ editors had to submit storylines in advance to the BBC to ensure they weren’t going to do anything too close and in some instances, like menacing insects were told not to, just prior to ‘The Web Planet’ being shown. Interestingly, they later bought the rights to use the Zarbi and Menoptera for a story.
The more I read this book, the more I could see information from it being used for Who trivia quizzes. I mean, did you know that the comicbook version had the Doctor exclaiming ‘Great powers!’, first used in ‘On The Haunted Planet’, and later other phrases simply as a means to give him a catchphrase. Scoones points out all such usage over the stories and the first four regenerations. He also points out other extended use of exclamations that were also used over the years although quite why Jupiter was favoured so much is anyone’s business. It’s also interesting seeing confirmation of the Trods being used as a cheap substitute for the Daleks until the rights became available and the latter destroying the former. Speaking of the Daleks, they only uttered <DIS-INTER-GRATE’ once but that wasn’t in ‘TV Comic’ but ‘TV21’.
Another piece of trivia, the late Patrick Williams not only drew the Who material in TV Comic Holiday Special 1967 but also painted the Wall’s Ice Cream Sky Ray ice lollies Who collectable cards. I have vague memories of them.
Apart from the two creature species noted above, ‘TV Comic’ also acquired the rights to the Cybermen in 1967 and Quarks in 1968. No doubt they were also looking for their own breakout characters of popularity even if it meant paying more for the creator rights.
At the end of four years, the Doctor’s companions, John and Gillian, were left to go to university and he acquired an old acquaintance as companion, a certain Jamie McCrimmon, no doubt because of his TV appeal. Later, even Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart appeared for a few visits while the Doctor was stranded on Earth. Even more later, the Master and Sarah Jane Smith although the descriptions don’t give a good likeness. The ‘TV Comic’ strips had that problem a lot and you would have though after paying so much to use them, they’d do them some justice. Katy Manning was the only one asked that actually declined.
Having a reference to what stories were on TV at the time of the comic strip comes into its own with the transition between Troughton and Pertwee, having the former exiled by the Time Lords before he regenerates. Reading in context now, they just didn’t know who it was going to be and there were a few weeks gap between stories.
When the tales moved to 1971, it comes to an age where I was a regular reader because ‘Doctor Who’ appeared in ‘Countdown’, the ‘TV21’ of the 70s, and its assorted names later. This book affirms how not only did the quality of the art and stories go up but so did the age group for the stories and probably why so many of us regard this period with such affection. It’s hardly surprising that this is more in-depth analysis of these stories. Interestingly, among these is ‘Backtime’, where for the first in a long time, the Doctor is in the past, first visiting London and then the American Civil War. There were the occasional trip into Earth’s past, but a lot of the time, especially in the Pertwee era even when the TARDIS was working again, were in Earth present.
Of particular interest to ‘Countdown’ readers who can remember, I wonder what happened to Ian Fairnington who won the competition to invent the new Who adversary, the Ugrakks for a story? It is interesting to note that Paul Vyse who had a letter in ‘TV Comic’ became an illustrator because it heightened his interest.
Unusual for an unauthorised book but greatly appreciated is an eight-page insert showing the various covers from comics and annuals alike. They might not all give a flavour of the contents but it’s bound to stir memories in us older generations.
For those interested, although the Doctor used a variety of equipment from the TARDIS, including various access points when underwater or in space, but only once was the sonic screwdriver used in ‘The False Planet’. In many respects, the ‘Doctor Who’ comicstrips were only loosely based on the TV series and with little connection between the two that a lot of the time I’m amazed it survived in Polystyle publications until 1979. For those who didn’t know or forget, the turnover of kids reading and progressing through to other comics or even the American variety also meant that there was a turnover every three years anyway so there would have been little concern for continuity.
1979 is essentially the year ‘TV Comic’ ceased to have a ‘Doctor Who’ comicstrip because the £25 fee per week to the BBC was deemed excessive. It would be interesting to see how much licensing costs today as a comparison so presumably if Scoones does a follow-up volume to this one, this trail should become ever more interesting.
Apart from ‘Doctor Who’ in the comics and holiday specials, there is also a focus on the annuals in a separate section. These, for those who didn’t know, weren’t published by Polystyle but by World Distributors from Manchester and had their own complication of preparation and invariably featured companions who had recently left. Although I only have a couple of the early annuals, I was reading this time contrasting this to Polystyle’s output and continuity similarities to the TV series. One thing both companies have in common is only one story using the sonic screwdriver, that was in the 1978 annual story, ‘The Traitor’. However, in the 1969 Annual, is the first time that someone could ring the Doctor in his TARDIS, something which has been used a few times in the recent TV regenerations which should make for some interesting trivia quiz answer.
The final section focuses on the Daleks and rightly so, because rarely for villain/monsters of the piece, they’re own success and Terry Nation licensing them out separately from ‘Doctor Who’, garnered not only a comicstrip series in ‘TV Century 21’ but also a series of annuals from Panther Books. As such, they could also have their own stories without having to worry about that pesky Time Lord messing up their plans for conquest.
As a reader of and still owning a decent selection of ‘TV21’s in my collection, the Dalek stories are amongst my favourite material and especially the fabulous robot, K-2, from the story ‘Impasse’. Interestingly, ‘The Daleks’ stories appear to have been reprinted more times than the ‘Doctor Who’ stories although the last time was 1994 so we should be due for another reprint, shouldn’t we?
The Dalek Annuals have their own sense of continuity and it’s interesting to learn that Terry Nation was in talks with the BBC at the time to take deceased companion Sara Kingdom into her own TV series. Some of the character names used in the books ended up being used in ‘Doctor Who’ as part of Terry Nation’s Daleks stories.
I keep making reference to the reprinting of this material and if your budget can’t reach to the originals, at least the appendixes can point you at these if you can find them. I did have a ponder as to anything that was missed in all of these books and there was one. At the time of the first Cushing Doctor Who film, there was a colouring book that told its story as well. In my tender years, I had, coloured and lost it but collecting hadn’t really taken off at the time.
As you can see from the length of this review, there’s a lot to digest and react to. For you Who trivia fans, you are going to wear the pages out and would suggest you buy spare copies. This book has been a long time coming and a superb reference book.
(pub: Telos. 607 page indexed with illustrated insert small softcover. Price: £16.99 (UK), $35.95 (US), $35.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84583-070-0)