Saturday, 31 March 2007

Doctor Who: The Comics of Doom

Doctor Who returns to BBC1 tonight, for the third series since the programme was revived, the twenty-ninth in total.

If that number impresses, so does the longevity of the official comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine (formerly Doctor Who Monthly, and before that Doctor Who Weekly), which will notch up 28 consecutive years of publication this October. That’s on top of the almost 15-year run of Doctor Who comic strips in various Polystyle Publications titles (TV Comic, Countdown and TV Action), starting in 1964, and the sporadic appearance over the last 40-odd years of comic strips in annuals published by World Distributors, Marvel, Panini and the BBC.

There are currently three official Doctor Who comic strips running – in Panini’s Doctor Who Magazine, in the BBC’s own Doctor Who Adventures and in GE Fabbri’s Doctor Who Battles In Time, a magazine tied-in to the collectable card game.

All three strips have responded to the exuberant tone of the new TV series by throwing in as much wackiness as possible. But they have tended to neglect the accompanying darkness and horror. Doctor Who is probably the most joyful programme on television, but it achieves that by starkly contrasting its embrace of life with what is possibly the highest body count of any TV series ever. And perhaps the merely dead are better off than those who have been possessed, chopped up to repair spaceships, or “upgraded” into Cybermen.

The strip in Doctor Who Magazine tends to have rather stolid artwork, usually by Mike Collins, but most recently by Martin Geraghty. This is perhaps unsurprising. The strip takes up only 10 pages in a 68 page magazine sold more to fans of Doctor Who than to fans of comic strips. They are likely to value fidelity to the surface appearance of the programme above any attempt to use expressive techniques to try to capture its tone.

Doctor Who Adventures is aimed at younger children. John Ross’s art, like that in many modern children’s comics, is clear, bright, uncluttered and unshaded. It is much more lively than the art in Doctor Who Magazine, but, like the scripts, it aims only to capture the light of Doctor Who, not the shade.

I haven’t seen much of Doctor Who Battles in Time. The short cartoon strips seem to aim at a similar tone to those in Doctor Who Adventures, but the ones I have seen are less accomplished. No penciller is credited for the current story.

There’s no reason why at least some of these strips shouldn’t continue for years to come. There’s no sign of a Torchwood strip, and we’ll have to see what happens to The Sarah Jane Adventures. In the meantime, a little more adventurousness in the Doctor Who comics wouldn’t come amiss.

Panels (from top):

Doctor Who “The Warkeeper’s Crown” Part Three, by Alan Barnes (story), Martin Geraghty (pencils), David A Roach (inks), James Offredi (colours), Roger Langridge (lettering), Hickman & Gray (editors), Doctor Who Magazine issue 380, Panini, 28 March 2007

Doctor Who “The Snag Finders” Part One, by Trevor Baxendale (script), John Ross (art), Alan Craddock (colours) and Paul Vyse (letters), Doctor Who Adventures issue 26, BBC, 29 March – 14 April 2007

Doctor Who “Beneath The Skin”, written by Steve Cole, inks by Lee Sullivan, colours by Alan Craddock (no penciller, letterer or editor credited), Doctor Who Battles In Time issue 12, GE Fabbri, 2007

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