The Doctor returns to Vortis – only to tangle once again with the Zarbi. Thanks to TV Comic’s usual brisk efficiency we only have to wait until the fourth panel on the first page before Doctor Who confronts his old enemies.
But wait! Now they can fly … and that’s not all. “LOOK! The Zarbi have a new weapon – A STING THAT CAN DESTROY A ROCK!” Easy Doctor, no need to shout ….
But there are familiar allies on Vortis as well. The friendly Menoptera (who unlike their television counterparts don’t have names) quickly befriend Doctor Who and explain to him that all the trouble seems to emanate from a mountain area. It’s from there that the Zarbi have somehow learnt to fly ….
That the Menoptera aren’t the most proactive of races is made clear after the Doctor discovers a spaceship on top of the mountain. “We did not know this was here” exclaims the Menoptera. That’s a little hard to believe, just how long have the Zarbi been flying about and blasting them to atoms? Surely after a while someone would have thought it might just be worthwhile to explore the mountain?
A mysterious mushroom-like object suddenly rains down a hail of gunfire on our heroes. But Doctor Who is beginning to see the light (after ducking for cover). Picking up a piece of rock, he declares that it’s Glavinium X – the rarest mineral in the universe. It just looks a mouldy old piece of rock to me, but I’ll bow down to the Doctor’s greater scientific knowledge. He then explains that the mineral could be used to build bombs of terrifying power.
Gillian, who so far has done precisely nothing (at present we’ve reached the final panel of the second instalment, so we’re four pages in), is given a close-up as part two ends on the cliffhanger of a Zarbi menacing her. But John quickly bops it on the nose with a rock at the start of part three, so this mild crisis is averted.
We then see the Doctor casually handling a spacegun as he amuses himself by picking off the Zarbi. “Got it! That’s one less to deal with!” Possibly it’s the Doctor’s trigger-happy nature which makes him a target – as shortly afterwards a passing Zarbi drops a rock on his head (“grandfather has been struck by a flying rock” says John, stating the patently obvious) and swoops down to carry him away. The sight of the Doctor in the clutches of the Zarbi is a striking image.
If the story wasn’t strange enough, then things then get a little stranger. John discovers that the Zarbi are nothing but hollow shells, operated by a warlike race called the Skirkons who don’t believe in small talk. “Soon we will be masters of the universe”. It’s always good to think big.
Quite why the Skirkons (who piloted the mysterious mountain ship to Vortis of course) elected to masquerade as the Zarbi is a puzzle that’s never answered.
The concept of a hollowed out Zarbi seems to have been a popular one, since it also featured in a story in the first Doctor Who annual. What’s interesting is the fact that this TV Comic strip was published during March and April 1965 whilst the annual wasn’t released until September 1965. Was David Whitaker, who wrote all the stories in the first annual, inspired by this story? It might have been so ….
Zarka, leader of the Skirkons, taunts Doctor Who and then straps him to a table. Unless the Menoptera surrender, the Doctor will be neatly sliced in two by the venom ray. This is so reminiscent of a scene from Goldfinger that it’s a great shame that the Doctor doesn’t ask Zarka if he expects him to talk.
But John and Gillian, disguised in a Zarbi suit, are on hand to rescue the Doctor. John keeps the Skirkons covered with a gun, although Zarka remains confident. “You won’t get away with this. No one can stop my plans, no one”. He’s not the most interesting of conversationalists, that’s for sure.
How does the story end? With a rather large explosion of course, as once again Doctor Who delights in blowing his enemies to pieces. Not quite in the spirit of the television series, but there you are. The Menoptera are chuffed though and as the TARDIS goes spinning off into space, they have the last word. “They have gone – into the mysterious depths of time and space again!”