TV Comic – The First Doctor. On The Web Planet

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!”

TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Hijackers of Thrax


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”).


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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