Doctor Who is first and foremost a television programme. It was created for this medium and to this day enjoys phenomenal success as the longest-running science fiction series in the world. The Comic Strip Companion is not about television Doctor Who, but rather about the series as it exists in an entirely different medium.
First launched in the pages of TV Comic in November 1964, the comic strip version ofDoctor Who is just one year younger than the television series on which it is based. The strip appeared almost every week: first in TV Comic, then in Countdown and TV Actionbefore returning to TV Comic. All of these titles were produced by a company called Polystyle Publications (formerly TV Publications), which held the rights to publish a Doctor Who comic until May 1979 when the last instalment of the strip appeared in TV Comic. Once relinquished by Polystyle, the rights were soon snapped up by Marvel UK, who created their own ongoing comic. This new strip initially appeared in the pages of Doctor Who Weekly, launched in October 1979, and continues to this day, now in Doctor Who Magazine published by Panini Magazines.
The book covers what could be referred to as the ‘Polystyle era’ – a 15 year period from 1964 to 1979 during which several different versions of the Doctor appeared in the comic strip. Theses were the first four Doctors, as played on television by William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. The book also examines comic strips published elsewhere during these years, including those in both Doctor Who and Dalek annuals, as well as The Daleks strip that ran for two years in TV Century 21.
At times, the comic strip appears to be in sync with the television series. It is just about possible to imagine some of the Doctor’s strip adventures, such as those with Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane Smith and Leela, taking place in gaps between on-screen serials. Elsewhere however the strip is very much at odds with its television counterpart and perhaps is best viewed as a parallel-world version of Doctor Who. In this alternate reality the Doctor initially travels not with Susan but with two other grandchildren, John and Gillian. The Quarks are not obedient robotic servants of the Dominators but a marauding race of vengeful invaders. The Doctor does not change his appearance when he begins his exile but instead enjoys a long break living on Earth before the Time Lords catch up with him. Subsequently, rather than base himself at UNIT headquarters, he spends much of his time on Earth residing in a countryside cottage.
I was first inspired to investigate and document this relatively overlooked aspect of Doctor Who when I unexpectedly rediscovered some of the same strip stories from TV Comic that I had previously enjoyed as a boy 30 years earlier. It occurred to me, as I looked through these comics, that I must have first encountered the fourth Doctor not on television but rather in the pages of TV Comic.
When I was about eight years old, I used to visit the same shop each week to spend my pocket money on the latest issue of TV Comic. The exploits of the Pink Panther, Tom and Jerry and the crew of the Enterprise in the pages of this inexpensive magazine appealed as much as the Doctor’s adventures. My relatively short-lived encounter with TV Comicwas when it was going through its ‘Mighty’ phase; the issues deceptively appeared from the cover to be much the same size as any other comic, but opened up into dauntingly large newspaper-sized pages. I recall having to smooth the sheets of inky newsprint flat on my bedroom floor in order to read the strips.
It was within these over-sized pages that I first saw Tom Baker’s Doctor in action. To put this in context, I grew up in New Zealand where, due to sea-freight shipping delays, each issue of TV Comic arrived a few months later than the date printed on the cover. Even so, the Doctor Who strip still appeared with considerably more haste than its television counterpart. Tom Baker’s debut story, ‘Robot’, was first viewed by New Zealandaudiences more than three years after it screened in Britain. Although I no longer have any recollection of this, I must have been baffled to read a comic strip featuring a Doctor who looked nothing like Jon Pertwee! In any case, when the fourth Doctor finally arrived on television (in February 1978) he cannot have been entirely unfamiliar, as I must have recognised him from the strip.
This experience has probably seeded my long-held affection for the comics and accounts in part for why I regard them as such an important and relevant aspect of the whole mythology of Doctor Who.
From The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Whoin Comics: 1964–1979 © Paul Scoones. First published in the UK in 2012 by Telos Publishing Ltd. Reproduced with permission.