Doctor Who Comics: 50 Years in 50 Minutes

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As part of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 John Freeman (Doctor Who Magazine editor 1990-92) hosted a panel on the history of Doctor Who comics. On the panel were Mike Collins (key artist on DWM, The Only Good Dalek, The Dalek Project, IDW); Scott Gray (DWM comic strip writer); Adrian Salmon (artist for DWM); Nick Abadzis (writer for Titan’s Tenth Doctor series) and Robbie Morrison (writer for Titan’s Twelfth Doctor series).

Sporting an Abslom Daak T-shirt, John Freeman took us through a slideshow presentation of examples of comic pages titled 50 Years in 50 Minutes. It featured all the Doctors; from the First Doctor with grandchildren John and Gillian, right up to the dawn of the Twelfth Doctors adventures. Along the way we took in the Dalek strips and the Nick Brigg’s incarnation from DWM‘s strip.

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The Klepton Parasites (TV Comic, 1964-65)

Freeman explained, “In the early days they could afford to pay for the likeness of the Doctor, but actually paying for the likeness of the companions as well would have stretched budgets I imagine; which is why we didn’t do it very often in the Marvel UK days.”

John Freeman had polled fans on Facebook for their memories of Doctor Who comics. We saw examples of the early Doctors, including an alternative regeneration story for the Second Doctor, and comic strip creations like Shayde, Stockbridge, Beep the Meep and Frobisher.

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Doctor Who and the Iron Legion (Doctor Who Weekly, 1979)

Freeman: “Quite obviously back in 1979 if you remember, if you’ve seen, the Doctor Whos from that period you can pretty much guarantee that they would never have been able to have an entire legion of robots crossing the screen.”

Scott Gray: “There’s always that sense of trying to do the Doctor Who movie in comics; do something that has got a budget of ninety million pounds.”

Mike Collins: “The brief is ‘what Cardiff can’t afford.'”

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Mike Collins: “I’ve found now with Capaldi that when I draw him badly it looks like Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls.

Scott Gray gave some insight into the approval process that the actors have for their comic counterparts: “This happens every time there’s a new Doctor or a new companion. The artist who’s drawing the first story has to a whole series of audition drawings of the person, and generally speaking they get the thumbs up straight away… Peter Capaldi did actually ask for some changes. Very minor changes to the shape of his nose. He wanted a slightly more beaky nose.”

Mike Collins talked about the ‘the nightmare of Eccleston’: “I’d come off doing work for Marvel and DC in America so I was drawing lots of heroic, square-jawed people. I’d done Star Trek and various licensed stuff and I thought it was going to be really easy, because it was Doctor Who. And I get photographs of this guy through and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I can do something with that face. I can make him look really good.’ He rejected everything I did. And it took us a while to find out the problem was I was drawing him too heroically.  He thinks he looks like Plug from The Bash Street Kids.”

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John Freeman on the Seventh Doctors story A Cold Day in Hell and Nemesis of the Daleks: “I got the Ice Warriors in for a princely sum of £40 an issue. Because I discovered they were cheap. Much cheaper than the Daleks. If you feature a TV monster you’ve actually got to pay for their appearance.”

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A Cold Day in Hell (Doctor who Magazine, 1987-88)

“We brought back Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer… Created by Steve Moore at [founding editor of Doctor Who Weekly] Dez Skinn’s direction, who wanted Conan in space. Steve Moore wanted something a bit more ethereal as it turned out. But they reached a compromise and we probably went a bit more on the side Conan in space.”

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Nemesis of the Daleks (Doctor Who Magazine, 1989)

In the Seventh Doctor story Ground Zero, companion Ace is killed. Freeman asked Scott Gray what the reaction was to this event: “There was some anger that we actually dared to do this… It was a real kind-of drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘From now on we go our own way really, we’re not going to be tied down to anyone else’s continuity.’ It wasn’t something I set out to do, that story, it wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to write a story where Ace dies!’ It was a natural, organic thing as the story progressed, that we realised that Ace would never leave the Doctor. It just didn’t seem possible that in the context of the story Ace would end up going, ‘Well, goodbye.” We knew she wasn’t obviously going to be in the TV Movie with Paul McGann, and this was setting that up. And we discussed various things, like we discussed the possibility of maybe badly injuring her. And then maybe the Doctor keeps her frozen in stasis in a tube or something, and then he’s trying to find a way to cure her. Something like that to write her out. And I kept coming back to the idea that that’s all the Doctor would be doing after that. He wasn’t going to forget about her. Paul McGann would just be spending all his adventures trying to find a way to save Ace.”

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Ground Zero (Doctor Who Magazine, 1996)

 The Tenth Doctor’s first comic in DWM is The Betrothal of Sontar (Doctor Who Magazine, 2006).

Collins: “The nice thing about the Sontaran story that Nick [Abadzis] wrote is that at that point the BBC weren’t going to do the Sontarans, which is why we got to play with them. And then after that it was like, ‘Oh, they’re quite nice.’ They came back on telly then.”

Abadzis: “Maybe we inspired BBC Wales to bring them back.”

Collins: “The Shakespeare story we did in the comic then sort of got adapted as The Shakespeare Code on TV, written by Gareth [Roberts] again; and The Lodger story we did was completely adapted as an episode. The BBC does read these things.”

Abadzis: “There’s definitely an idea that the DWM comic strip is a kernel of ideas for some stuff that ends up on the TV series.”

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The Betrothal of Sontar (Doctor Who Magazine, 2006)

Bringing us right up to date, Nick Abadzis talked about writing the Tenth Doctor Titan comics which have recently started: “We had to invent a new companion for the Doctor, because this officially, in terms of continuity, takes place after Donna Noble leaves the TARDIS. So we got to invent a new companion… We decided to make her American, because these comics are largely aimed, as much as any comic can be aimed at a market, they’re American-style comics. So we decided to make her an American companion because there hadn’t been one since Peri Brown. But because she’s in New York, and New York’s one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the world, we thought we’d jazz it up a bit and make her a Mexican-American. So that’s how Gabby Gonzalez comes on board the TARDIS.”

DWM’s first Eleventh Doctor comic was Supernature (Doctor Who Magazine, 2010). Mike Collins says of the first page: “The reason that page is so detailed is ‘cos I bottled doing Matt’s face. I kept adding and adding to the background so I wouldn’t have to draw his face. I filled every inch with foliage, and then I thought, ‘OK, now I have to do it.'”

Gray on The Eye of Torment: “The problem we had in terms of the publication of the first Peter Capaldi story was that we were coming out about two days before the first episode. Obviously the first episode, Deep Breath, is all about Clara getting to grips with this new Doctor, and adjusting to him and being very shocked by him and taken aback. So, we were coming out with a story two days beforehand. We couldn’t really jump the gun and have them in an adventure, bouncing off each other right at the start. Because it would just be weird. Because we’d be jumping the queue in a sense and being out before the TV show, I don’t think the guys in Cardiff would really be very happy about that. So what we came up with as a solution to that was to basically just hold back on the Doctor for that first chapter.”

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The Eye of Torment (Doctor Who Magazine, 2014)

Robbie Morrison has written the first Twelfth Doctor story for Titan, Terrorformer:

“I hadn’t actually read any of the scripts or seen any of the TV episodes. So I just had to jump in and think, ‘Well, I’ll make him a grumpy Scotsman. Grumpy Scotsman are kind of my speciality.”

“I could have went to read [the scripts] in a top secret office in London if I could be bothered jumping on a train and sitting in a windowless office reading scripts. I just kind of thought, ‘Well, let’s just wing it.’ I’ve seen Peter Capaldi in stuff before. I just thought, ‘Why don’t I try and write it as the way I would like to see Peter Capaldi?'”

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The Eye of Torment (Titan Comics, 2014)

As the panel wrapped up we learned from Robbie Morrison that the Twelfth Doctor will be facing the Weeping Angels in the First World War and that Mike Collins both story-boarded his first Doctor Who TV episode with that evening’s Flatline, and will be both writing and drawing an upcoming DWM strip.

The venue for the panel was the beautiful Carnegie Library in Kendal. The day before this BBC Radio Cumbria phoned. They were doing a piece on favourites Doctor Who monsters. The DJ asked me if fans were divided over whether Daleks or Cybermen were best. The very idea that Doctor Who fans could be divided!

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He also said that the actual BBC TARDIS prop had been delivered to the library. I’m going to stick my neck out and say he was wrong.

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Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Vol.1

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 Titan Comics 1st Printing

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Vol.1

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