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Monday, September 24, 2012

Doctor Who: The Comic Strip Companion

The latest Doctor Who tie-in – unofficial and unauthorized – from Telos Publishing is the story of the first fifteen years of The Doctor's appearance in comic strip form. The strip made its debut in TV Comic in November 1964, drawn by Neville Main, the strip replacing "Fireball XL5" but owing more to to the earlier (1953-60) science fiction yarn featuring the alien "Red Ray – Space Raynger" and his two Earth-born companions, Philip and Anne.

Doctor Who was given two young companions rather than the adult companions he had on the TV show. The desire to have children in the strip was a request of Arthur Thorn of TV Comic, to give the readers of the comic somebody to relate to ... or perhaps simply to save a little money as the paper was already paying the BBC for the rights and William Hartnell for using his likeness. Using the two companions and other characters and creations from the TV series would have incurred more fees and a great deal of additional negotiation.

Such are the revelations to be found in The Comic Strip Companion by Paul Scoones. Scoones has dug out some remarkable stories from the BBC's archives and reveals the inner workings of how the BBC helped shape the scripts. To take just the first few appearances of The Doctor in TV Comic: the original draft of the first story featured the Daleks; giant insects had to be removed from the second story because a similar notion was being developed for the TV series; a storyline was approved for the third story but was never used; and objections were raised by TV Comic when it was learned that not only could they not use the Daleks, but that the Daleks were to appear in a rival paper.

I find this kind of detail endlessly fascinating – and this from someone who wasn't really exposed to the TV Comic Doctor until episodes were reprinted in Doctor Who Classic Comics in the early 1990s.

Wearing my bibliographers hat, it is great to discover that vague attributions for writers  like David Motton and Roger Noel Cook have been nailed down – Motton writing stories in 1965 and Cook taking over in 1966 and continuing to write the scripts until 1970 when Alan Fennell took over. I'm not convinced that Tom Tully was one of the writers in 1965-66, as posited by Scoones (p.79):
Roger Noel Cook recalls that he took over writing the Doctor Who strip from "... a freelance scriptwriter called Tom – I can't for the life of me remember his last name. Tom was a good friend of Arthur Thorn's, in his late '60s."

Well, Tully had only just begun his career as a scriptwriter around 1960 and was certainly not in his sixties. "When Tom retired, editor Dick Millington decided that Cook should take over writing the strip." Tully certainly didn't retire and was still writing Roy of the Rovers into the 1990s.

Instead, the writer would seem to have been born in the 1890s and was a regular at TV Comic during the era of editor Arthur "Mike" Thorn in the 1950s and 1960s. Tom isn't that common a name and the only other scriptwriter who immediately springs to mind is Tom Vincent, who wrote scripts and stories for Girl, but I know nothing about him beyond the name. I'm not saying that it is Tom Vincent who wrote those scripts ... I'm just saying Tully wasn't the only Tom in comics at that time.

But this is a minor, minuscule point in a magnificently researched volume. 600 pages of solid factual material relating to not only TV Comic, but also the Dalek strips in TV Century 21, the Doctor Who Annuals from World Distributors and the various Dalek Books.

The Comic Strip Companion. The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics: 1964-1979 by Paul Scoones. Telos Publishing ISBN 978-1845830700, 30 September 2012, 608pp, £16.99 [£16.14 from Amazon]

8 comments:

Mike W said...

Dr Who Classic Comics was an excellent idea which ended suddenly after 29 issues and one Special which contained a complete story which for reasons explained in the Special only had its first episode in Dr Who Magazine - which has just celebrated its 450th issue and its 33rd year! Presumably the 2nd volume of the book you've reviewed, Steve, will follow the history of the Dr Who comic strip from 1979 when Dr Who Magazine (or Weekly in those days) first appeared.
How it managed to keep going when there was no TV Dr Who for 16 years is a publishing mystery/success - just one TV Movie in 1996. Apart from the Classic Comics issues, there was also a Dr Who poster magazine which ran for a few issues. They were all the rage for a while & 2000AD issued a few. I remember an excellent one on Slaine.
The 14th Dr Who graphic novel The Child of Time is due to be published on 13 November 2012. A second one featuring the 7th Doctor is due to be published next year when the programme celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Steve said...

Hi Mike,

Yes, I'm guessing that there will be a second volume published next year to tie-in with the anniversary. The strips started in 1964, a year after the TV show, so they'll also be celebrating their 50th anniversary shortly. Who is now one of the longest-running strips in the UK with an almost uninterrupted run.

Mike W said...

For accuracy,I should have put 27 (twenty seven) issues of Classic Comics plus the Special.
Steve - the Dr Who strip must have appeared in more publications than any other comparable strip. It even appeared in the Radio Times after the TV Movie and there were hopes that it would appear in a national daily newspaper but this never materialised. Of course syndicated strips such as Garfield and Peanuts appear I imagine in hundreds of national and local papers and magazines.

Paul Scoones said...

Thank you for the lovely comments about my book.

I agree with the observation about Tom Tully. Since the book went to print I've established that the "Tom' of Roger Noel Cook's recollection was actually one Thomas Woodman.

This and several other corrections are detailed in an 'Errata & Addenda' page I've set up on my blog: http://paulscoones.blogspot.co.nz/p/comic-strip-companion-errata-addenda.html

Steve said...

Hi Paul,

Nice to see my supposition was correct. I think Thomas Woodman was a regular text story writer for D. C. Thomson in the 1930s, also writing for Red Letter and various Pearsons magazines. He was the brother of another Thomson writer, George Woodman.

I'll see if I can dig out a date of death for him.

Paul Scoones said...

Thanks Steve. Anything you can dig up on Thomas Woodman would be useful for the Errata & Addenda page. Email me at the Gmail address on my blog.

Paul Scoones said...

Regarding a second volume, yes there will be one, but not for a while yet. I've only recently started work on it. The book will of course pick up where the first one left off, in late 1979 with the arrival of Marvel UK's Doctor Who Weekly.

Steve said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the news. I'll see what I can find on Thomas Woodman.