Just under a year after An Unearthly Child aired on British television, the Doctor made his debut as a comic strip character in the pages of TV Comic. These early strips are fascinating for a number of reasons. They may be simplistic but they also have a certain charm, although there’s no denying that they bear only a passing resemblance to TV Who.
Yes, there’s a white-haired man called the Doctor who flies a spaceship disguised as a police-box through time and space, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends, at least in this story. The strip Doctor is a gung-ho fellow, happy to shoot first (or more accurately get others to do the shooting for him) and ask questions later.
Although this first story runs over twenty pages there’s an economy to the storytelling that’s evident right from the first panel. A number of flying machines, piloted by the evil Kleptons, are swooping over the city of the hapless, humanoid Thains. The Kleptons make their intentions plain straight away. “We are the Kleptons! We will take over your cities and your land! You Thains will be our slaves!” Clearly the Kleptons believe in getting to the heart of the matter with the minimum amount of waffle. After such a comprehensive mission statement it does render the Thains’ cries of “Who are they? Where have they come from? What are they going to do?” rather redundant.
It’s a black and white strip and we’re in a black and white world. The Kleptons are evil and the Thains are good – it’s as simple as that. So there’s no point in attempting to reason with the Kleptons, the only thing that will stop them is a force of arms. To be fair, the television Doctor has often followed a similar route, so we can’t be too critical about this.
As for the Doctor, when the story begins he’s on Earth and inside the TARDIS. He’s surprised to be visited by his grandchildren John and Gillian, whom he’s obviously never met before. And he’s even more surprised when John pushes precisely the wrong button which sends them off into time and space. It’s like the first twenty five minutes of the television serial compressed into seven panels of art.
The fun really starts when the TARDIS drops them right in the middle of the fight between the Kleptons and the Thains. The Doctor is quick to decide that force is the only answer and to this end the peaceful Thains take the only weapons they have (stored in a museum) and ready them for the upcoming struggle. When writing The Dominators did “Norman Ashby” use this strip as an inspiration?
Although the Doctor’s a strong advocate of force, the strip is still careful not to show him actually firing a gun, so he gives that job to his young grandson. Hmmm. But the Doctor is on hand to offer these sage words of support. “Open fire! Blast those Kleptons out of the sky!”
Neville Main’s art may be rather functional, but at times (such as when the Doctor, John and Gillian travel to the city of the Kleptons in one of their stolen machines) it’s really rather good. Things don’t go well for the Doctor and his two young grandchildren though as they’re captured by the evil Kleptons and the Doctor passes on more wise words of advice. “Don’t try anything. These ugly customers are just itching to let fly with their guns!”
They manage to escape from the cell they’ve been locked in, thanks to John suddenly realising he’s carrying a heat gun provided by the Thains (lucky that). Once out of the cell, John chucks it over to the Doctor, telling him to open fire, but once again the Doctor isn’t seen to fire a weapon, he simply knocks the Klepton out with it! John punches another Klepton (“sweet dreams”) whilst Gillian no doubt cowers somewhere off-panel.
Events then take an inevitable turn as a really large explosion puts paid to the Kleptons and the time-travellers prepare to bid farewell to the Thains. As with the television series, the Doctor makes an attempt to return his companions to the twentieth century but I’ve a feeling he’s going to have a similar lack of success. John seems happy enough though. “I don’t care what century we arrive in. I’m sure we’ll have loads of adventures anyway!”
It’s a crude and simplistic story, but I can’t find it in my heart to dislike The Klepton Parasites. But I hope that some of the upcoming stories will have a little more depth to them. We shall see ….