40th anniversary of Doctor Who Weekly celebrated in new audio adaptations of original strips

Two classic Doctor Who comics strips are released as audio adaptations by Big Finish next month, starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Rhianne Starbuck as companion Sharon.

Doctor Who: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume One

Adapted from the comic strips by Pat Mills and John Wagner, originally published 40 years ago in Doctor Who Weekly, The Comic Strips Adaptations Volume One will bring the fondly-remembered and often praised stories “The Iron Legion” and “Star Beast” to the 21st century!

First announced last year, the releases come in advance of the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who Magazine later this year. The first issue was released as Doctor Who Weekly, edited by Dez Skinn, on Thursday 11th October with a cover date of 17th October. Inside, the then comic-led title published by Marvel UK featured “The Iron Legion” strip credited to Pat Mills and John Wagner, with art by Dave Gibbons, along with other strip and features, all for the princely sum of 12p.

The opening page of "The Iron Legion" from Doctor Who Weekly Issue One, published in 1979

The opening page of “The Iron Legion” from Doctor Who Weekly Issue One, published in 1979

Doctor Who and the Iron Legion, adapted by Alan Barnes, opens in 1979. Led by the terrible General Ironicus, the mighty Iron Legion – robot veterans of the Eternal War – have come, seen and conquered the English village of Stockbridge.

Caught up in the mayhem, the Doctor pursues the Legion back through the great Dimension Duct to their place of origin – an alternative Earth where Rome never fell…
But can he survive the horrors of the gladiatorial Hyp-Arena long enough to uncover the terrifying secret at the heart of the Galactic Roman Empire?

Doctor Who and the Star Beast, also adapted by Alan Barnes is set in 1980s Yorkshire, where authorities have dismissed reports that an Unidentified Flying Object was seen plummeting towards the ground… moments before the explosion that destroyed the Blackcastle Steel Mills. After all, Blackcastle is the last place on Earth aliens would ever want to visit…

Local teenagers Sharon and Fudge know better. ’Cos they’ve found an actual space alien hiding in the allotments. He’s their alien. Their secret. And his name is… The Meep.

Doctor Who - Beep the Meep

Beep the Meep

He’s not the only alien in Blackcastle, though. His pursuers, the terrible Wrarth Warriors, are on his trail, along with their unwitting accomplice: The Doctor!

“These Fourth Doctor The Comic Strip Adaptations have a whole different feel to them,” says Nicholas Briggs, director of the Big Finish Fourth Doctor audio adventures, explains: It’s like they’re from a parallel universe vision of Doctor Who. Tom Baker spotted it straight away, emailing me the moment he’d read the ‘Iron Legion’, commenting that this was ‘a bit DIFFERENT’ – actually typing ‘different’ in capitals! But he rose manfully to the challenge and entered into the spirit of it all wonderfully. And that spirit is that they are, essentially, wackier.

“’The Star Beast’ has a slightly different feel. The alien monster craziness is contrasted sharply with a dash of kitchen sink drama and a touch of Grange Hill, which predated the TV series exploring more domestic settings. It’s interesting how the brilliant writers of these comics strips, Pat Mills and John Wagner, kind of anticipated this. Alan has a great love for Pat and John’s work, and he was absolutely the right fit to adapt these beautiful, bonkers adventures of an extra-eccentric Fourth Doctor.

“There’s a feeling of ‘we could do anything because there are no budget restrictions’ in the original comic strips, and our adaptor, Alan Barnes, has captured this perfectly. Crazy characters, extravagant action sequences. And Alistair Lock has done a superb job with his sound design and music.”

“A few people had asked about the Comic Strips coming back over the years,” Alan Barnes noted last year. “I was very keen. I was an original reader of Doctor Who Weekly and they’re utterly fantastic. ‘The Star Beast’ is so modern”.

Rhianne Starbuck and Tom Baker. Photo courtesy Big Finish

Rhianne Starbuck and Tom Baker. Photo courtesy Big Finish

Rhianne Starbuck plays Sharon alongside the Fourth Doctor in The Comic Strip Adaptations, who says of her character “she didn’t really have a father figure, she was sceptical about the Doctor at first, she had many trust issues. She’s even quite nasty and cold to him in the beginning, but in the end (spoiler alert) she ends up travelling with him…

“In terms of character she’s kind of my dream character to play, she’s very similar to my life story. I never had the father figure growing up, she’s northern, she’s mixed race, just like myself. And a really fun character to play.”

Recording the story with Tom back in 2017 – just to give you an idea of how far in advance Big Finish work – was a welcome release from daily life at the time, Rihanna reveals.

“at the time I had just moved into my new house, we were decorating and we had no heating. The plumber had abandoned us, and we had no heating and no hot water, so I was thrilled to escape for a few days! It’s one of the first voiceover works I’ve done, and everyone was so lovely. The cast were brilliant, Nick Briggs was amazing, and it was so much fun. We didn’t stop laughing – laughter all day long, even through the breaks. The atmosphere was electric.”

Neither Pat Mills or John Wagner were involved in the new versions.

Full details of the release, trailer and more here on the Big Finish web site

Doctor Who: The Iron Legion

Doctor Who: The Iron Legion – the comic strip collection

The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume One will be released in March 2019 as a five-disc CD box set for £23 or on download at £20 from Big Finish – or you can get it together with The Seventh Doctor The New Adventures Volume One at the bundle price of £45 on CD or £40 on Doctor Who: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume One 

Read an interview with Rhianne Starbuck here

Both “The Iron Legion” and “The Star Beast” comic strips feature in The Iron Legion, published by Panini in 2013

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.

Categories: Audio, British Comics, Doctor Who, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Other Worlds

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