When the BBC decided to order a special Christmas episode of Doctor Who every year, it created a problem for the production team, as there was no extra time in their schedule. Their answer was to film two episodes back-to-back, but since David Tennant can’t be in two places at once, that effectively means that one episode a year has to get by without the Doctor for most of its running time. This year’s almost-Doctorless Doctor Who episode, Blink, airs on BBC1 on Saturday.
Completely Doctorless stories set in the worlds of Doctor Who have been around in comic strips for a while. Mostly, they have been about the Daleks, as you might expect. The first appeared in The Dalek Book of 1964, which told of the Daleks’ assault on our solar system in preparation for their invasion of Earth. The Dalek Book was in the hard-backed Annual format, and credited as written by David Whitaker and Terry Nation, though it is likely that Whitaker, Doctor Who’s first script editor and author of much of its early ancillary fiction, did most of the work.
Together with one of the artists on The Dalek Book, Richard Jennings, Whitaker went on to produce The Daleks comic strip in TV Century 21, the only feature in that comic not based on a Gerry Anderson TV series. The TV21 strip, later drawn by Eric Eden and most memorably by Ron Turner, took the Daleks from their creation to their discovery of the Earth. You can see a sample here.
The success of The Dalek Book led to two sequels over the next two years. During that time, Terry Nation tried to pitch a Dalek TV series, without the Doctor, to US networks. Among the human heroes he intended to feature was a character from the Doctor Who story now commonly known as “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, Special Space Security (or Space Security Service – it varied) Agent Sara Kingdom, even though she had actually been killed at the end of that story. The TV series pitch came to nothing, but it was used as the background for The Dalek Outer Space Book of 1966. As a result, Sara Kingdom became the first Doctor Who supporting character to feature in her own solo comic strip, in which even the Daleks did not appear.
After a long lull, four more Dalek annuals appeared in the 1970s, though only two of them featured new comic strips, none very notable. But at the end of that decade, Marvel UK launched Doctor Who Weekly. At first, the new comic magazine was strip-heavy, featuring a new Doctor Who strip, a reprint of old Marvel Comics stories that the editors felt were a reasonable fit (starting with an adaptation of The War of the Worlds), and a second new strip at the back, which featured elements of Doctor Who other than the Doctor himself.
Naturally, the Daleks kicked this series off. But they were soon followed by Cybermen, Sontarans, Ice Warriors, K9, UNIT and many others. The stories drew on a range of British talents yet to be poached by US comics, including Steve Dillon, David Lloyd and Paul Neary. At first, the stories were all written by Steve Moore, but later others took a hand. Alan Moore wrote a sequence of stories about the Time Lords, fighting a war that had yet to break out, in which he introduced his super-team, the Special Executive. Since they later turned up in Captain Britain, that may mean that there’s a Gallifrey in the Marvel Universe.
One story written by John Peel (not the famous DJ), about the Celestial Toymaker, featured some particularly memorable art by Mick McMahon.
These back-up strips continued after the Weekly went monthly, but became less frequent, and in 1982 they stopped altogether: the magazine’s budget was under pressure, comics pages were more expensive than prose, and the lead Doctor Who strip was the priority.
In the 1990s, there were a couple of notable Doctorless strips in Doctor Who Magazine. In 1995, they ran a continuation of the Daleks strip from TV21, written by John Lawrence with art once again by Ron Turner. Sadly, Turner’s death brought that to an end. A Cybermen strip written by Alan Barnes and drawn by Adrian Salmon also ran for a short while, and then the magazine reverted once again to the single lead strip.
As I type this, there is more Doctorless Doctor Who spin-off fiction around than ever before. There are two TV series, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. There are Torchwood novels. BBC Children’s Books has put out a series of slim hardbacks about various elements of Doctor Who - one on Rose, one on Cybermen, one on the Sycorax and so on – and each features an appropriate short story. Big Finish produces authorised audio plays about the Daleks, and Sarah Jane, and Romana and Leela’s political adventures on Gallifrey, among others.
There are also more authorised Doctor Who comic strips than ever, in Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Adventures and Doctor Who: Battles in Time. But there are no Doctorless Doctor Who spin-off strips. Which is as much a pity as it is a paradox.
The Daleks “Invasion of the Daleks”, written by David Whitaker, art by Richard Jennings, The Dalek Book, Panther Books/Souvenir Press, 1964
Sara Kingdom, Space Security Agent, written by Brad Ashton ,art by one of John Woods, Leslie Waller or Art Sansom, from The Dalek Outer Space Book, Souvenir Press/Panther Books, 1966
“4-D War”, written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, Doctor Who: A Marvel Monthly issue 51, April 1981
“The Greatest Gamble”, written by John Peel, art by Mike McMahon, Doctor Who: A Marvel Monthly issue 56, September 1981