Friday, 27 April 2007

Tune In! Turn On! Exterminate!

For this week’s Doctor Who-related post, I had planned to bodge together a brief history of the Daleks in comics. But the fine fellows at Altered Vistas have already done that – and a much more thorough job than I could have managed, too. They also have a history of Cybermen in comics.

The greatest of all these comic strips was, without a doubt, The Daleks from TV21. The strip was written by David Whitaker, who was the first script editor for the Doctor Who TV series – a much more important post then than now. As a freelance, he wrote two of the best Dalek TV serials ever for Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, and a whole wodge of ancillary fiction, including the novelisations Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Crusaders, the stage play Curse of the Daleks and The Dalek Book.

In the comic strip, Whitaker and his artistic collaborators, Richard Jennings, Eric Eden and Ron Turner, traced the history of the Daleks from their original war with the Thals, which mutated them from small blue smurf-like humanoids into nasty green blobs in armour, through to their discovery of the Earth. Along the way, they delineated a richer and more detailed Dalek society than anything we ever saw on screen – and they did it in just a page a week.

As a boy, I preferred Richard Jennings’ artwork, because his Daleks were more faithful to the appearance of those on TV, and such things mattered a lot to me then. Now I am swept away by Ron Turner’s dynamic layouts, lush colours and smooth chromed finish.

Turner was a veteran comic strip and cover artist. There is a splendid gallery of his book and magazine covers here.

By the mid-1960s, Whitaker and Turner were both middle-aged, and must have been as bemused as any by developments in popular culture. But they did the sensible thing and built it into their comic strip. Obviously, Daleks couldn’t grow their hair, smoke dope or listen to rock music. But flower power? Now, that was a possibility.

One day, the Dalek Emperor is giving orders for a new construction project when the unthinkable happens – a Dalek questions him.

Unsure of which Dalek questioned the order, the Emperor has their “rest-compartments” searched (and I just love the idea that Daleks have bedrooms, don’t you?).

But the rogue Dalek has been gathering followers as well as flowers.

He tries to stage a coup.

But his support literally wilts away.

So there you have it: a culturally relevant political thriller, all done in four pages. And it carries a point that is relevant to the 2007 TV series of Doctor Who. At the end of last week’s episode, we saw the Daleks apparently abandon their age-old mission of racial domination. But as Whitaker and Turner remind us, it doesn’t matter what Daleks are trying to achieve, if they remain devious, murderous conformists. If the means are bad enough, the ends are irrelevant.

The Daleks by David Whitaker (story) and Ron Turner (art), TV Century 21, 1966, reprinted in The Dalek Chronicles, Marvel Comics UK, 1994

1 comment:

spleenal said...

I love it, a hippy dalek!
Somebody tell the writers of the new series, maybe he survived and could become the doctors new companion?
It couldn't be any worse than Bonny Langford.