Sub Zero (1972)

Doctor Who Magazine issue 508, published 12 January 2017, comes bagged with a separate publication featuring a ‘free gift’ reprint of ‘Sub Zero’, a comic strip story that first appeared in Countdown for TV Action! in early 1972, 45 years ago this month.


To celebrate this new reprint, here is an extract from The Comic Strip Companion 1964-1979, presenting the complete entry for ‘Sub Zero’. (Note: plot spoilers lie ahead for anyone yet to read the story.)


Writer: Dennis Hooper; Artist: Gerry Haylock.

           Countdown for TV Action!
(1)     #47     8 January 1972     p13, 12 col
(2)     #48     15 January 1972     p13, 12 col
(3)     #49     22 January 1972     p13, 12 col
(4)     #50     29 January 1972     p13, 12 col
(5)     #51     5 February 1972     p13, 12 col
(6)     #52     12 February 1972     p7, 6 col
(7)     #53     19 February 1972     p13, 12 col
(8)     #54     26 February 1972     p13, 12 col


(1) The USS Jefferson, a nuclear submarine, is patrolling Antarctic waters when the vessel loses control and is drawn through a concealed entrance in an ice face. Lieutenant Davis is giving the Doctor a tour of an Antarctic weather station when Clegg, a dying survivor from the Jefferson, arrives. (2) Davis and the Doctor conduct an aerial search by plane for the Jefferson. Meanwhile the weather station is invaded by Daleks, accompanied by sailors from different time periods. (3) The Daleks destroy the weather station to prevent anyone warning of their presence. Without radar guidance from the station, the Doctor and Davis crash-land their plane and are forced to trek across the ice, following tracks left behind by the Daleks and the sailors. (4) In their secret base beneath the ice, a small number of Daleks have waited centuries for submarine technology to become sufficiently advanced to be used in an invasion of Earth. The Doctor and Davis reach the base in time to witness the Daleks departing aboard an assortment of sea vessels including the Jefferson. The Doctor and Davis discover older ships docked within the deserted base. (5) Desperate to warn of the coming attack, the Doctor and Davis use an old British seaplane, but they are caught in a storm and crash-land on the deck of a weather ship. The Doctor sends out a radio message but it is too late, as the Daleks reach Sydney, Australia and launch a nuclear attack. (6) The Daleks arrive in the ruins of Sydney Harbour and take control of the city, using mind control to turn humans into slaves and setting them to work building an army of Daleks. After meeting with authorities in Melbourne, the Doctor and Davis enter the cordoned-off city of Sydney on their own. (7) Masquerading as mind-controlled workers, the Doctor and Davis infiltrate a building by the harbour where the Daleks are converting humans into Daleks. Attacked by the human slaves, Davis escapes but the Doctor is cornered by the Daleks. (8) The Doctor dives into the harbour and contacts Davis, telling him to put their plan into action. The Daleks board the Jefferson and search the harbour. The Doctor lures the Daleks to the remains of Sydney Harbour Bridge where Davis uses a power cable attached to a generator to electrocute the Daleks aboard the submarine, eliminating the Dalek threat.


  • The Doctor: ‘This is a priority message. Hostile submarine pack approaching Australian coast … prepare for nuclear missile attack!’


  • The Doctor has a waterproof radio handset, and consults a 300-year-old book called Voyages written by Buryat. He appears surprised that the Daleks recognise him (suggesting that perhaps this is his first encounter with them in his current incarnation). The Doctor is known to the US Navy, who regard him as an important visitor, although one of the crewmen derides him as ‘that screwy Doctor guy’.
  • The title was prefixed with an asterisk symbol on the strip, and consequently was presented as ‘*Sub Zero’ in ‘Frame Count’ in Classic Comics #3. The reason for the presence of the asterisk is unclear, but it might possibly have been intended to represent a snowflake or a star.[1]
  • Each instalment was presented in landscape format, and the strip regularly appeared in the centrespread of each issue, except for #52 when it was relocated to make room for a centrespread feature on the Skylab space station.
  • The inclusion of the Daleks was most likely planned to coincide with the broadcast of ‘Day of the Daleks’. The Daleks’ return to the television series for the first time since 1967 was heavily publicised’ with coverage in the Radio Times magazine and newspapers and in a specially-produced television trailer. ‘Sub Zero’ likewise marked the first time that the Daleks had appeared in the strip since 1967, and the strip effectively formed part of this publicity drive. Permission to use the Daleks in the strip would have needed to have been sought from creator Terry Nation, but as Countdown had recently launched a strip based on Nation’s television series The Persuaders! it seems likely that the editorial team would have been able to gain the necessary rights without much difficulty.
  • One of the Daleks in this story is pictured with a distinctive red dome atop a standard silver and blue body. One of the full-sized Dalek props owned by Terry Nation at the time has this same colour scheme, indicating that colour photographs of Nation’s collection of Daleks were likely provided as references for artist Gerry Haylock. Another Dalek with the same colouring makes an appearance in the first episode of the following story. [2]
  • There is no hint of the Daleks’ involvement in the first episode. The reveal comes in the second episode, where they are partly obscured in two panels before finally appearing in the final frame, chanting ‘Ex-ter-min-ate!’ This must have been intended as a surprise for readers, as the presence of the Daleks in the strip was not promoted anywhere else in the issue.
  • The theft of nuclear submarines and their removal to a secret base with a plan to use their missiles to attack cities prefigures a similar scenario in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
  • On the cover: #48: ‘Dr. Who’; #52: ‘Follow Dr. Who’s fight against the Daleks’; #53: same wording as on cover of #52, this time with a colour photograph of the Daleks; #54: ‘Will Dr. Who be exterminated by the Daleks? See page 13’, with a colour photograph of the Doctor and a Dalek.
  • On television: ‘Day of the Daleks’ (Episode Two) to ‘The Sea Devils’ (Episode One).
  • Reprinted: Doctor Who Classic Comics #5 (31 March 1993).


‘Sub Zero’ is an epic adventure, spanning locales including Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and Sydney, Australia. It stands as an excellent example of the advantages of the strip medium, as such a story would have been impossible to realise in the television series.

This was the second time in a year that the strip had been set in Australia, which might have been a ploy to appeal to readers in that country as it formed part of Countdown’s overseas distribution network – although featuring a nuclear attack on Sydney might not have been the best strategy for endearing the strip to an Australian readership!

Although impressive, the story is not without flaws. Sydney is struck by three Polaris nuclear missiles, resulting in a nuclear mushroom cloud seen over the harbour, but there is no mention at all of radioactive fall-out, and the Doctor and Davis enter the city without protective gear soon after the attack. The Daleks are said to be defeated when they are destroyed aboard the Jefferson, but this does not account for the Daleks aboard other ships, at large in Sydney, and indeed still lurking in their hidden Antarctic base. Even if the entire Dalek contingent is rather conveniently aboard the submarine at the conclusion, there is no way that the Doctor could have known this to be the case. It is also strange that the Daleks decide to remain hidden for centuries waiting for Earth technology to develop nuclear submarines when they could have created their own weapons. Also unexplained is how the Daleks’ human slaves, who include sailors from earlier time periods, were kept alive and seemingly no older than when they were abducted; and, for that matter, what happened to them at the story’s conclusion.

Gerry Haylock’s artwork is extremely effective, depicting the icy wastes of the Antarctic with bleak, chilly vistas of greens, blues and white. The colour palate warms up considerably when the action moves to Australia, with illustrations depicting the ruins of Sydney Harbour Bridge against a dark red sky and a nuclear mushroom cloud. The Daleks are particularly well-drawn, and distinguished with different coloured casings presumably denoting their ranks.



[1] The symbol may have been intended to represent one star, denoting a minimum sub zero temperature of  -6 °C (21.2 °F) , as part of the four-star rating grading system on European domestic refrigerators and freezers.

[2] The red-domed Dalek prop can be seen in a photograph of Nation shot by the Radio Times in 1973 for that year’s Doctor Who tenth anniversary publication.


Extract from The Comic Strip Companion – The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics: 1964-1979, pages 262-265. Copyright 2012 Paul Scoones & Telos Publishing Ltd. Available from Telos Publishing




A comparison of Doctor Who Magazine issue 508’s reprint of ‘Sub Zero’ with its first printing in Countdown for TV Action! 45 years ago reveals that certain alterations have been made.

Speech balloons and caption boxes originally bridged the centrefold on five of the eight spreads. For the reprint these were relocated on the page to clear the centre, with  artwork extended to cover the gaps caused by the relocations. The restoration work was skilfully and sensitively performed by graphic designer Peri Godbold.

Writing on Facebook in January 2017 in response to Paul Scoones, Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury explained that relocating the text was necessary to avoid the risk of “losing the dialogue down the centre, or the possibility it would be misaligned when printed… Peri did an amazing job that hopefully you wouldn’t notice unless you’re comparing them side by side.”