TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Hijackers of Thrax

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A cargo ship, en route to Venus from Earth mysteriously vanishes. It’s not the first time one of these ships has gone missing, which spells trouble for those anxiously watching back on Earth. “Another supply ship lost! If we don’t get to the bottom of this mystery soon our colony on Venus will be starved out!”

Who can be responsible? It’s a space pirate called Captain Thrax, that’s who. And make no mistake he really is a pirate – complete with a striped jumper, eye patch and a nice line in pirate talk. Frankly all he’s missing is a parrot and a peg leg.

You could never say that scientific accuracy was one of TV Comic‘s priorities, something which is clearly demonstrated by the cunning way that Thrax remains undetected from Earth observation. His space station is covered by a cloud. A cloud in space, how exactly does that work? Never mind, let’s press on.

The Doctor, John and Gillian, having landed on the space station, find themselves prisoners – locked up along with the crews from the captured spaceships. Luckily the ever-resourceful John has an escape plan – he takes a bar of soap (don’t ask) and puts it on the floor. When the guard comes in, the inevitable happens.

If you get the sense that this adventure has been a little strange up until now, the best is saved for the final instalment. Cornered by Thrax’s guards, the only weapon that the Doctor and the others have to hand is the stolen food. This leads the Doctor to utter one of my favourite TV Comic lines. “Use the vegetables! We’ve nothing else to defend ourselves with!” Sheer brilliance.

And the vegetables come in very handy, as not only are they used to beat off the guards but Doctor Who (as ever, very keen to incite others to violence) tells John and Gillian to throw the spuds at Thrax’s mist-making machinery. Once that’s put out of action, Thrax’s goose is really cooked.

The Hijackers of Thrax is a fairly short story, which is something that works in its favour (ten weeks of potato-based action might have been too much, even for me). It’s another tale that bears only scant resemblance to TV Who, but no fear as the next strip promises something closer to canonical action (“DR WHO meets the ZARBI on the Web Planet”).

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TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Therovian Quest

We can file the first few instalments of this strip under “blatant padding”. Doctor Who, Gillian and John crash-land on a rather inhospitable, moon-like planet. Like the moon it has hardly any gravity, although it must have oxygen otherwise the time-travellers (who aren’t wearing spacesuits) would have expired the minute they set foot outside.

I don’t think we need to get too worked up about scientific accuracy though, as shortly afterwards they are all menaced by a large dinosaur-like creature. Given how bleak the planet looks I’m not entirely sure what it feeds on (passing space-travellers maybe?). There’s a temporary respite from this silliness when the Doctor and the others take shelter in a nearby space-ship. The alien inhabitant doesn’t seem friendly though. “Don’t move or I’ll blast you to atoms!”

But things take an unexpected turn after the alien, called Grig, is revealed to be a good chap after all. After the single-minded villainy of The Klepton Parasites, it’s nice to have a story where an apparently threatening alien turns out to be benign. Grig tells them his story and it’s a very strange one.

All the people on his planet, Theros, have been gripped by a strange weakness, meaning that they loll about all day long with no desire to do anything. For some reason he’s the only one not affected so he’s set off in his rocket ship to look for help. Yes, this is a little odd but after several panels of the Doctor being menaced by a whacking great dinosaur it seems less so. Touched by Grig’s story, they all return to Theros to see if they can help.

If this was the television show then you know what would happen next – the Doctor would fiddle with some test tubes and find a cure. Alas, the comic strip Doctor lacks the skills of his television counterpart and is stumped. But don’t panic! The Doctor may be no use but the oldest living Therosian, Wodan, suddenly pipes up to let them know that there is a cure – a rare moss from Ixon, the planet of ice. Now if only he’d thought to let Grig know this before he set out the first time (and the Doctor had travelled straight to Theros) we’d have been spared all that nonsense with the dinosaur …

After being introduced to Grig, a menacing alien who turns out not to be menacing after all, there’s another reversal after the Ixons are revealed as baddies (they’d initially seemed reasonable enough). But no matter, after Doctor Who, John, Gillian and Grig have braved the ice caves they’re not going to let a few Ixons stand in their way. Doctor Who has a handy box of matches (maybe he didn’t kick the smoking habit like his tv counterpart?) which enables him to create a heavy smokescreen to aid their escape.

Barking mad best sums this story up. The interlude with the dinosaur, a planet of lethargic aliens, the hunt for the magic moss, it just keeps on springing surprises. But compared to some later TV Comic strips I guess this is quite sensible fare.

TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Klepton Parasites

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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.

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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!”

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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 ….

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Doctor Who Fanzine Musings

Inspired by the efforts of a new Facebook group (The Doctor Who Fanzine Database) I’ve recently been digging back through parts of my own collection for the first time in a number of years. Pre-internet, these zines – sometimes glossy A4, sometimes photocopied A5 – were the beating heart of fandom. It was just as easy to start a heated debate within the pages of a fanzine back then as it is today on Twitter. The only difference is that the responses would appear over a number of months, rather than minutes ….

The first DW fanzines I can remember buying were issues six, seven and eight of Private Who from London’s Forbidden Planet in 1987. At this stage it hadn’t quite transformed itself into the prozine it would become (later it would attract bitter criticism from certain quarters thanks to its enthusiastic cheerleading of the McCoy era). This incarnation of Private Who was willing and able to lob a few brickbats in the series’ direction (issue six featured a thumbs down review of The Trial of a Time Lord).

Since at that point DWM (my only resource for DW news and reviews) was a very non-controversial publication (the arrival of John Freeman, who began the process of beefing up the tone of the magazine, was still a year away) this review was slightly eye-opening. Although as I was shortly to learn, Private Who‘s negative viewpoint was mild compared to the vitriol that the current series attracted from other quarters ….

I had and have a love/hate relationship with DWB.  I loved the in-depth articles and interviews which documented the series’ past but hated the editorial tone which delighted in trashing the series’ present at every opportunity.  Gary Levy/Leigh was hardly alone in disliking the way DW was heading, but the endless personal attacks directed at JN-T were very wearying. And yet, since the good stuff outweighed the bad I  simply tutted at the more hysterical ravings and passed over to the next interesting article.

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The lowpoint of the magazine has to be the extensive Eric Saward/Ian Levine interview from the early nineties which, even by the magazine’s own standards, was a breath-taking hatchet job aimed at (who else?) JN-T.  Especially disturbing was the way that certain people who had passed on (Robert Holmes, Douglas Camfield) were cited by Levine as hating the direction JN-T had taken the series in. Other zines (like Skaro) were quick to find the use of the dead to bulk up their arguments more than a little distasteful.

Mind you, even pre-eighties Who could sometimes find itself under attack. Paul Cornell’s DWB review of Terror of the Autons (he didn’t like it, not one little bit) chimed with the then current trend of early nineties fandom, which tended to give the Pertwee era a good kicking at regular intervals.

One major attraction for taking out a regular subscription to DWB (the only magazine I can remember which used to send out a strip of blank address labels and requested that you filled them out!) was the fact that it ran adverts for many, many fanzines.  So DWB was incredibly important to me as it opened up a conduit into the wider world of DW fandom (and beyond, as it became increasingly common for zines to cover a variety of different programmes).

Purple Haze and Perigosto Stick were two which really struck a chord. Often these zines (almost always A5) only lasted a few issues, but that didn’t seem to matter as more titles always seemed to pop up to replace them. This era of DW fanzines had a very definite identity and style – irreverent and with a keen desire to slay some sacred cows (which more often than not meant poor old Jon Pertwee).  The recent new Time Team squabbles (some people aghast at the fact that a bunch of twentysomethings have the temerity to offer their opinions about old Who) rather overlooks the fact that back in the early nineties that particular generation of twentysomethings were even more outspoken about eras of the programme they were too young to have watched the first time round.

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The battle between the A5 photocopied zine and the A4 glossy seemed to concern some people (but then Doctor Who fandom loves nothing more than a good fight).  Some – like the relaunched Skaro – were able to mix the feel of an A5 with the production quality of an A4, thereby creating the best of both worlds. Second Dimension also ended up as a glossy (a far cry from its early days as a bunch of loose sheets stapled together) without sacrificing too much of its tone.

Even though I loved the slapdash nature of many of the A5 zines, it’s possibly In Vision which remains my favourite of the 1990’s era (and certainly the one I come back to the most).  Although new research has invalidated some of the facts presented (even more so with its predecessor, Space and Time) I-V is still a treasure trove, which became even more detailed as it began to cover the 1980’s stories.  Tip of the hat to The Frame as well – although sometimes criticised for being bland, if you dig through a complete collection there’s more variety than you might expect.

One interesting thing about skimming through the FB group is realising that so many of these zines had very limited print runs (a fair few in the tens, rather than hundreds).  Given this, it’s a pity that more material hasn’t been collected in book form or otherwise made available.  There are some publications out there (Keith Miller’s, for example) but this only scratches the surface.  It would be nice if more classic DW fanzines were made available, otherwise this fascinating era of creativity is in danger of being lost forever.

Doctor Who – Day of the Daleks (a question of time and distance)

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This isn’t – you’ll probably be grateful to hear – an attempt to unpick the temporal paradox at the heart of the story. I’ll leave that for another time ….

Rather, it’s simply a quick post about a few elements from episode one which caught my attention during my latest rewatch (and following on from my series of tweets about the story).

UNIT HQ always seemed to be on the move during the Pertwee era. In story terms you could argue that it made sense for a top secret organisation (despite what the The Three Doctors might suggest!) to be somewhat mobile. On a practical production level it’s a little harder to understand.

Especially given that the Pertwee era (following on from the somewhat shambolic production and scripting travails of the later Troughton years) had a much more efficient production base. You’d have assumed that by keeping certain sets – like the Doctor’s lab – in storage they’d have saved themselves a little bit of money. But no, in every new story it seems that the Doctor has moved his base of operations to a new room.

The Day lab is especially interesting. Although it’s never directly stated on-screen, it would appear that the Doctor has (for the first time since Inferno) removed the console from the TARDIS. Otherwise it would be perfectly possible to accept that what we see here is just a very strange console room. Two things count against that – one is that there’s a working telephone and the other is that the Brigadier doesn’t seem in the least put out when he ambles in to chat to the Doctor. Whereas in The Three Doctors he had a nervous breakdown when entering the TARDIS.

I still like to think that what we see here is a secondary control room though, even though the facts doesn’t really bear this out ….

The main oddity of the first episode is the very strange timeline. We’re told that Auderly House is a Government owned country house about fifty miles north of London. Given this, the current UNIT HQ can only be – at best – a few minutes away.

Otherwise, there’s no way to explain how the Doctor, Jo and the Brig (having travelled to Auderly in order to give Sir Reginald a hard time) can, once they’ve returned to the lab, discuss the strange apparitions the Doctor and Jo witnessed prior to their visit to Auderly (which only occurred a few “moments ago”).

So they travelled to Auderly, chatted to Sir Reginald and combed the grounds for any stray guerrillas, but all this only took a few moments. You’d swear the Doctor had a working time machine.

Following on from this point, Benton escorts the wounded guerrilla to the hospital. As the ambulance sets off, there’s still time for the Doctor to return from Auderly to the lab, run a metallurgical analysis on the guerrilla’s gun and then start footling around with his portable time machine. When he does this, the guerrilla vanishes from the ambulance, with an amazed Benton watching on. Again, how does this timescale work? If the hospital’s not several hours drive away, it makes no sense.

Maybe the original intention was to record the scene with the Doctor and the time machine on location? If so, that would have fitted nicely, since at that point only a few minutes would have elapsed between the guerrilla being bundled into the ambulance and the time machine springing into life.

If not, it appears that Terrance’s script editing was a little hit and miss that week ….

Doctor Who – The Sensorites. Episode Six – A Desperate Venture

The Doctor and Ian are in trouble. They’ve gone down to explore the aqueduct, but aren’t aware that their map has been doctored (plus their guns are useless). I like the way that when they hear a noise they roll up the map to use as a weapon. Quite how effective a few pieces of paper would have been as a club is something of a moot point.

There’s a characteristic moment when the Doctor burbles on, not heeding Ian’s warnings that they’ve been surrounded! The Doctor and Ian are captured by the survivors of the spaceship which landed ten years ago. They’re a rum lot, to say the least. They’ve spent all this time down in the aqueduct, poisoning the water and patiently waiting for every last Sensorite to die. This single-minded course of destruction has driven them all quite mad, but even though they’ve regressed to a somewhat primitive state (they wield pointed sticks as weapons) it’s interesting that they still retain a rigid hierarchy with a clear chain of command that’s run along military lines.

John Bailey, as the Commander, is able to invest his character with a rather pathetic sense of honour and duty, and he makes quite an impression during the brief time he’s on screen. But Bailey was always a class actor (he returned twice to the series – first as Edward Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks and then later as Sezom in The Horns of Nimon, where his dignified turn was in sharp contrast to the panto antics from most of the other cast members).

Susan gets a final chance to demonstrate her telepathy and also shares a scene with the First Elder where she reveals a sliver more about her home planet.

1ST ELDER: When I listen to you, you who are so young among your own kind, I realise that we Sensorites have a lot to learn from the people of Earth.
SUSAN: Grandfather and I don’t come from Earth. Oh, it’s ages since we’ve seen our planet. It’s quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burned orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.
1ST ELDER: My mind tells me that you wish to see your home again, and yet there is a part of you which calls for adventure. A wanderlust.
SUSAN: Yes. Well, we’ll all go home some day. That’s if you’ll let us.

The oddest thing about the conclusion of the story is that we don’t see the City Administrator receive his comeuppance. He just fades away as we’re told that he’ll be banished to the outer wastes. It’s one of those moments, and there are several others during the story, where it’s surprising that David Whitaker didn’t tweak the script a little in order to produce something a tad more dramatically satisfying.

But whilst there are various niggles, overall this is a pretty solid serial. It’s not the most sophisticated or layered tale, but anything with the original TARDIS crew (and indeed, anything with Hartnell) is always going to appeal to me.

Doctor Who – The Sensorites. Episode Five – Kidnap

Ian and Susan rescue the Doctor from the mysterious creature in the aqueduct. The Doctor implies that there’s something strange about the monster (otherwise how could it have ripped his coat to shreds but not touched his skin?). You have to assume that the monster, like the poisoned water, has been arranged by the (as yet) unseen survivors from the human spaceship which landed ten years ago. Quite how they were able to create the illusion of this monster is a mystery though (and if they are responsible, don’t the Sensorites think it’s strange that mysterious creatures suddenly appeared in the aqueduct some years ago? Where had they been before that?)

The Sensorites continue to maintain that they have a perfect society. “Our society is based upon trust. Treason or secret plotting is impossible.” But the continuing plots of the City Administrator (and the fact that he is able to recruit willing helpers) sharply contradicts this. It’s possible to argue that it’s only the arrival of the humans which has caused the Administrator to go off the rails, but this doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny. Because he reacts so strongly (and with very little provocation) it does seem probable that he would have snapped soon anyway. And if the Sensorite nation is so peaceful and well-ordered, why do they need a Warrior class?

I like the way that that Sensorites are able to run the Doctor up a lovely cloak to replace his ruined coat. It’s hard to imagine that Sensorites themselves wearing cloaks, but maybe they do – otherwise surely they’d get a little chilly in the winter time?!

There’s a few line fluffs in this episode, but Hartnell’s not to blame for once. This is my favourite, courtesy of one of the Sensorites. “I heard them over, over, talking”.

Carol gets a decent share of the action in this episode. She shares some key scenes with the Sensorites, is overjoyed when John is returned to normality (which is a well-acted scene by Stephen Dartnell) and finds herself kidnapped at the end of the episode.

It’s unusual for a non-regular to be the focus of the cliff-hanger, especially as Susan could easily have been substituted for Carol. Maybe it was felt that since Susan was kidnapped at the end of episode five of The Keys of Marinus it would have felt too much like deja-vu had it happened again so quickly.