First Published: May 2009
Panini UK released its first collection of Doctor Who strips featuring the Seventh Doctor, played on TV by Sylvester McCoy, in May 2009.
Here, creators who worked on those strips, edited by Richard Starkings (who was interviewed for the collection), remember their contribution to the Time Lord’s enduring comics mythos…
This is an extended version of material provided for the collection, including comments from Simon Furman and material cut for space reasons.
A Cold Day in Hell collects eleven Seventh Doctor comic strips, taking its name from the four-part Ice Warriors adventure written by Simon Furman, with art by John Ridgway, that pitted the Time Lord and his diminutive shape-changing companion Frobisher against the Ice Warriors.
Digitally re-mastered and collected for the first time, also featured in the collection are the Doctor’s encounter with the original Death’s Head in Crossroads to Time, the robot bounty hunter lifted from Transformers universe and sent on his way to his new home in the early Marvel US-styled title, Dragon’s Claws; and a special two-part story, Planet of the Dead, which featured every “classic” doctor.
All the early Seventh Doctor strips were edited by Richard Starkings, now better known, perhaps, as First Tiger of Comiccraft and as the creator of Elephantmen, who gathered a wide range of upcoming and established British comics talent to work on the Doctor Who strip at the time.
Strip by Strip: A Cold Day in Hell
Writer: Simon Furman Art: John Ridgway (Tim Perkins on inks, part)
A Cold Day in Hell opens in which the Doctor and Frobisher are heading for a holiday on the paradise planet A-Lux only to find it a snowy wasteland because Ice Warriors plan to turn it into a new Mars. Aided by the Dellyn heat vampire Olla, the Doctor manages to defeat the Ice Warriors and put things right. This was the last regular appearance for the shape-changing Frobisher, who had been stuck as a penguin for some time. He woudn’t return until Issue 329, in Where Nobody Knows Your Name, a story by Roger Langridge, in which it turns out he now runs a pub!
Writer Simon Furman was determined to have a TV villains the Ice Warriors in the story, which required clearance from (and payment to) creator Brian Hayles’ estate. “My first two Who strip stories had obeyed the unwritten directive ‘thou shalt not use established villains straight out of the gate,'” he recals, “but with my third story, the first to feature the Seventh Doctor in strip form, I felt a grade A Who villain was called for.
“I’d always loved the Ice Warriors, back from when I was a little kid (I caught the original Troughton Ice Warriors story when he was partnered with Victoria and Jamie and it blew my whatever-year-old mind), and the chance to do a new Ice Warriors story was simply too tasty to resist.”
Artist John Ridgway has mixed views on this tale and all his strips featured in the collection, as they came at a time when he ceased to be the regular artist on the Doctor Who comic strip, having drawn all the adventures featuring the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, including the oft-reprinted Voyager and stories by Grant Morrison.
“I seem to have done quite a few stories featuring the Seventh Doctor – yet not many at that time,” recalls John.
“I can’t say I was happy with Sylvester McCoy taking over from Colin. I’d met Colin at a small Doctor Who convention at Bath and had been very impressed by his enthusiasm for the part. It must have been a bitter blow for him after he had fought so hard to keep Doctor Who on TV. Also, Peri had been written out of the strip and replaced by a changeling girl. Added to that, Frobisher dropped out.
“I was working flat out at the time Hellblazer for DC and Tim Perkins was helping me out on Doctor Who by inking some of it (my way of working means it is practically as fast for me to ink my own work as it is to detail it in pencil so an inker can go over it). This, together with information that the magazine might be coming to an end, was resposible for me dropping out of drawing Doctor Who. I disliked drawing Hellblazer so much I also dropped out of that and started working with Jim Hudnall on The Agent, graphic novel for editor Carl Potts at Epic.
“At the time, I wasn’t sad to leave the book – it had changed and I suppose I don’t like change,” the Commando artist says. “It was good to come back to it later and do the odd story now and again.
“The good side of working on Doctor Who was that Tim and I have been friends ever since,” John reveals. “Tim didn’t seem to mind working over my rough pencils. The odd thing is, that when I did really detailed pencils (or so I thought) both Al Williamson and Alfredo Alcala complained that they weren’t detailed enough. Only Charlie Vess came back for more!”
Tim Perkins recalls feeling rather daunted by the opportunity to work with John, but his inks proved very popular with readers who voted him their favourite back in 1988. “Working on Doctor Whomeant working with John, who I had met previously and whose work I really admired, so it was daunting and I’m still not sure I was ready for it.
“John being the gentleman he is though was brilliant and lent his advice where it was needed and made me feel I was doing it right,” Tim continues. “I had a ball on the series and was pretty much left to ink it the way I saw fit.
“John basically draws with ink, with very sparse pencils, but everything is there, so even though he was pencilling more for me than he would for himself, there wasn’t as much on the pages as some of the other artists I had worked with at the time, which also meant there was more of me in the art.
“I think I can now do a good impersonation of a John Ridgway ink job, but back then it was just me inking like I would anything for anyone, I was learning such a lot. I remember being really pleased with the clouds in The World Shapers [a Colin Baker strip], as they weren’t there in the pencils. We became friends through the series and recently he said my graphic novel, Worlds End is the best work of my career. As far as I’m concerned from the words of the master that’s a compliment indeed.”
Cold Day in Hell is probably Simon Furman’s favourite Doctor Who story that he’s writtern to date, “and not just ’cause it’s that collection we’re discussing.
“I think it’s the only time I’ve used an established Whoalien/nemesis and I had a real blast. But close seconds are Salad Daze (which is collected in The World Shapers), Keepsake and Who’s That Girl, which appeared in Hulk comic (of all places). Maybe Panini will get around to collecting those some day.”
Where Are They Now?
• Simon Furman is well known as the creator of the original Death’s Head, Marvel’s robot bounty hunter, for his numerous contributions to the Transformers saga, and as author of the Transformers Ultimate Fan Guide. His writing career spans comics, animation and novellas and his online creation The Engine: Industrial Strength
• John Ridgway is currently working on Commando for DC Thomson “although there seem to be a lot of interruptions from Carlton Books (I’m working on a second set of Sherlock Holmes illustrations for them and last year I did a set of Conan and a set of Edgar Allen Poe illustrations).
“I’ve been colouring up Earthspace by Sydney Jordan with the hope of convincing Express Newspapers to let us get it done in full colour as a graphic album. I’m also colouring Nick Hazard by Ron Turner for Spaceship Away magazine – there are another two stories to do after the current one.
“I’m also adapting Fudge the Elf by Ken Reid to colour, and trying to find the time to do some work of my own using a mixture of cgi and drawn work!”
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Kev Hopgood (Pencils), Tim Perkins (Inks)
In this one part story, the Doctor is rather disturbed that new travelling companion is waiting on him hand and foot. Then, the TARDIS is caught in a tractor beam and Olla’s former master, Skaroux, boards the ship and it’s revealed Olla has been trying to escape him – along with most of his money. Bitterly disappointed by the revelation the Doctor hands Olla over to Skaroux on the condition that she gets a fair trial and travels on alone.
It was strip editor Richard Starkings laid the trail for Olla’s devious nature by adding a last minute “Now’s my chance” balloon to the final episode of Cold Day In Hell, foreshadowing the revelation that all was not it appeared.
“The one thing I wanted to avoid was a lame duck companion slowing the strip down,” he explains, “so we got rid of Olla and I asked writers to focus on characters in each story that could fill the companion role.” (That device is of course one recently employed in more recent Doctor Who TV Specials such as The Christmas Invasion and The Runaway Bride).
“I was quite disappointed we ditched Olla quite so quickly,” says Simon, who came up with the idea of the heat vampire. “I saw potential there, but clearly Richard Starkings (who was editing the strips at the time) didn’t. Shame. I thought she had a nice brutal edge to her that would have inevitably put her at odds with the Doctor.
“She was something of a story contrivance for Cold Day in Hell, I’ll admit,” he adds, “but nevertheless I saw potential to develop her above and beyond such beginnings. As things turned out, maybe her exit was for the best, as I’m not sure how some of the subsequent stories (Crossroads of Time, Keepsake) would have played out with Olla in tow. We shall never know!”
Where Are They Now?
• Kev Hopgood has numerous comic credits to his name including Iron Man for Marvel, Darkblade for Games Workshop and strips for 2000AD. He now specializes in children’s and editorial illustration.
• Tim Perkins currently works on Hot Wheels for Lucky Bag Comics but devotes much of his time to his creator-owned project Wizard’s Keep, a series of four fantasy graphic novels. His comics work includes strips for The Beano, Spider-Man, Judge Dredd and runs a Fantasy Art Unlimited Course in Blackburn.
The Crossroads of Time
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Geoff Senior
The Seventh Doctor has a brush with the original Death’s Head in the time vortex, at this point in his timeline all the more of a threat because he is a sixty-foot tool mechanoid bounty hunter! The Doctor accidentally shrinks Death’s Head down to a more manageable size through use of the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator and cons him into entering the TARDIS, where he then programs it to latch onto the nearest mechanical organism and sends Death’s Head through the vortex to eighty-second century Earth…
In part, this story was a means to bring the popular Death’s Head character, created by Simon Furman, out of Marvel UK’s Transformers comic and send him on his way to Marvel UK’s new US-sized title, Dragon’s Claws and, ultimately, his own fondly-remembered title.
“It was an enjoyable experience to ‘pit’ Death’s Head against the Doctor,” recalls artist Geoff Senior, “mainly because I didn’t expect it to happen! I never thought they would ever meet, so when they did I was pleasantly surprised.”
Geoff had no problems realizing a battle between the giant Death’s Head and the diminutive Doctor. “The scale didn’t really cause me a problem. It was something that may have troubled Simon more – he had the problem of figuring out a way to shrink DH down in size.
“Death’s Head was initially a ‘throw away’ character who proved too valuable to throw away,” Geoff notes. “It was important to find an excuse to reduce him in size, so that could interact with other more normal sized Marvel characters.”
“My particular memory of Crossroads in Time is of Lee Sullivan’s uncredited assistance to the story,” recalls Simon. “It wasn’t just about removing Death’s Head from Transformers, it was getting him into Dragon’s Claws #5 and thence into his own series. But to interact with Dragon et al, we had to get him down from Transformer size to human sized.
“I vaguely remembered some gadget of the Master’s that might fit the bill in plot terms, but couldn’t remember what it was called or what it looked like. Lee not only provided the name (Tissue Compression Eliminator) but also a sketch of the gizmo in question for artist Geoff Senior… free of charge! What a trooper!”
This would not be the last time Death’s Head encountered the Doctor: indeed, The Incomplete Death’s Head mini series revealed it was the Doctor who had been responsible for many of the robot’s mis-adventures in the first place! He – or rather, it – should never have crossed a Time Lord!
Where Are They Now?
• Geoff Senior continues to draw comics, including Transformers, but these days is better known as a visualising and storyboarding artist based in Soho, London. He provided the visuals for a Guinness TV campaign scheduled to launch in September 2009.
Claws of the Klathi
Writer: Mike Collins Art: Kev Hopgood and Dave Hine
Claws finds the TARDIS materialising in the smoggy streets of Victorian London, the Doctor soon plunged into an investigation that reveals there’s an alien spaceship in the Thames which needs a huge amount of pwer to escape the planet once repaired. Realizing the Klathi will also kill thousands of people when the Klathi re-energise their ship’s crystalline power source, he races to stop them, aided by the reptle boy, Caval and the scientist, Derridge. In the end it is the Kalthi’s own robot guardian, Batella, that proves the key to stopping the menace.
“I was going through one of my ‘more writer than artist’ phases,” recalls Mike Collins, “doing scripts for various licensed books and Future Shocks for 2000AD. I’d written one Who story before – Profits of Doom – which sowed the seeds for a major arc featuring the Sixth Doctor who unfortunately got ‘moved on’, so it never got completed.
“I was lured back to Doctor Who by Richard,” he continues, also admitting the commission, like many others, “may have been in a pub and may have involved Guinness. “I love Victoriana,” the artist-writer, who has since written modern-era Who for DWM, reveals. “Talons of Weng Chiang is one of my favourite ever Who stories, and I wanted to do something with that vibe.”
At the time the strip was written, little had been seen on screen of the Seventh Doctor. Did this present problems when it came to characterizing him?
“I liked the darker version of Sylvester’s Doctor, and wanted to play on the sarcastic, knowing figure – not the gurning boob he sometimes got written as,” Mike recalls. “Thinking about it, my earliest memories of McCoy was on [the children’s art show] Vision On goofing around – it always seemed a stretch for him to be The Doctor but when he got it right, it was wonderful. In the TV movie I really resented his ending – just as they had his character absolutely perfect he was gone!”
Mike did a huge amount of research before writing the strip, also providing artist Kev Hopgood with huge amounts of reference. “I studied Politics at college (after transferring from the joyless and draining Law degree I’d been following) and became enamoured of the 19th century and its machinations,” he explains. “My initial story was actually about an alien assassination attempt on D’Isreali at the Great Exhibition but it morphed and developed into something else, as these things do. I think Richard thought no one but me cared about long dead Prime Ministers – he may be right. It became a more personal tale and dealt with a lot of the crappy environment of early Victorian London, echoing a lot of what Disreali and Charles Dickens write about.”
Such was Mike’s attention to detail, it may come as no surprise to learn there really was an Osler’s Fountain. “Yes, there was a great fountain as I’ve described,” he laughs, “and a million other things I would have loved to have put in had I the room!
“As a kid I remember seeing a school’s TV show about the Great Exhibition and from that the music hall song about it is still stuck in my brain, even today. I can sing it when drunk but for your own sake, never ask me to.
“The New Lunar Society are an echo of the original group of scientist and inventors that used to meet in the late 18th century at Great Barr Hall, not far from where I grew up,” he reveals, “and at Matthew Boulton’s house in Birmingham. Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Joseph Preistley and other such heavy hitters would discuss and share ideas – kind of like a Justice League of America for scientists. At one point, I wanted to develop more around the group but the story shaped itself as they so often do.”
As for visual reference, Mike says he bombarded Kev with it. “I’d worked with Pat Mills on Slaine [for 2000AD] and developed an appreciation for the level of research he did and sent with his scripts. Whether Kev appreciated this or not I’m not sure! Osler’s Fountain is as he drew it. I also used David Lynch’s Elephant Man as a touchstone for the feel of the strip.”
Mike wasn’t the only person enthused by the strip’s Victorian setting. “I did do a load of research for that one, I was really fired up by Mike’s script,” says Kev Hopgood. “I’m really into Victoriana, too, which I think Richard knew from our time “working” in comics fanzines. It was great having Dave Hine ink my work on this job as well. Although he’s now gone more into writing, he’s one of the few inkers that I’ve been absolutely happy with,” Kev admits “It was a bit of a jolt to go onto the good Doctor after having drawn Zoids and Action Force.
“This strip was very different to my previous collaborations with Kev Hopgood,” recalls David Hine. “I was used to producing a slick brush line but this strip called for a very different style because of the Victorian setting. “This was shortly after Berni Wrightson’s illustrated Frankenstein had appeared: his illustrations recalled the pen-and-ink work of American illustrators like Joseph Clement Coll, John R. Neill and Franklin Booth. Intricate pen work that looked almost like etchings.
“Kev and I were both big fans of Wrightson and we set out to emulate that work. I ditched the brush, took up the pen and spent long days and nights finishing the job to deadline. It was a lot of work, but I think we achieved the look we were after and I remember that story going down very well with the readers.”
Claws of the Klathi even made it onto television. In an episode of Cilla Black’s Surprise, Surprise, co-presenter Bob Carolgees surprised a school boy fan of Marvel Comics, taking him to the Marvel UK offices, then in London, where they watched an artist work on the Doctor Who strip. The boy then drew his own Real Ghostbusters strip, which was published in the comic.
“I’ve got absolutely no memory of the being filmed for TV!” laughs Kev. “But heck, it was the eighties!”
Mike Collins has of course gone on to both write and draw modern Doctor Who. Are there any major differences in the strip creation process today?
“The first ‘New Who‘ story I wrote was Art Attack, after having only seen the first two episodes. I liked the breakneck speed of End of The World and tried to echo that. I think it’s fair to say that writing old Who, I always imagined What Robert Holmes Would Do – WWRHD? The new series was What Would Russell T Davies Do – get jokes, heart-stopping moments and grand vistas into 40 minutes, or in this case, 10 pages. That was a real challenge after the mannered, long-game approach of the old show. My Futurists strip was probably a mix of the two styles – told at a breakneck pace but with cliff-hangers!”
Where Are They Now?
• Storyboard artist, writer and artist Mike Collins continues to contribute to the Doctor Who mythos. He recently adapted Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for Classical Comiccs, which is to be followed by An Inspector Calls by J.B.Priestley. He is the first UK artist to produce a series of graphic novels for Norway with Gunnar Staalesen, featuring his celebrated private eye, Varg Veum.
• David Hine is currently writing Spider-Man Noir for Marvel, Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum for DC, FVZA – a vampire and zombie book for Radical and am collaborating on a creator-owned series with Shaky Kane. He’s also about to start writing and drawing an issue of Elephantmen.
Writer: Grant Morrison Art: Bryan Hitch
Culture Shock! finds the Doctor pondering his rootless life, wondering whether it’s time to hang up his umbrella for good, when he hears a telepathic cry for help from what appears to be a small mammal.
In fact the animal is only a host for a sentient cell culture, under attack from a virus. After the Doctor saves the culture its boundless gratitude proves ust what the Doctor needs to gear him up for further travels.
Grant Morrison, whose past Who strips included a Cybermen origin story, The World Shapers, may have gone on to better known comics such as The Invisibles, All-Star Superman and X-Men but he has always been a Doctor Who fan.
“These stories were very early on, when I was starting to work in comics,” Morrison told MTV in 2008, with the focus of Culture Shock – a living creature playing host to a microscopic universe all its own – pre-dating wider exploration of such themes in series such as The Invisibles. “It came up because I met John Ridgway through some other work, Liberators, on Warrior, so it was kind of through John, he suggested it,” Grant recalls of his time working on the Magazine.
“I was a big Doctor Who fan all my life, so it was a good fit… I absolutely enjoyed doing it, and I would love to do more Doctor Who.” Although not necessarily as a comic, “because I’ve done enough of it in the comics.”
Bryan Hitch, now well known for his stunning work on Marvel’s Utlimates book and more, would rather skate over his first ever Doctor Who strip, which he drew when he was just 17.
“I usually encourage people to burn my early work,” he pleads. Bryan has, of course, gone on to do design elements of early episodes of the “modern” Doctor Who show, including spaceship design, the updated Daleks, the Reapers of Paul Cornell’s much-praised episode Father’s Day – and the Slitheen.
Where Are They Now?
• Grant Morrison is today one of the best known Scottish comics writers worldwide, whose work includes All Star Superman, Doom Patrol, Animal Man and Final Crisis for DC Comics, the updated Dan Dare story for Revolver in the 1980s and, more recently, has written film scripts that include Sleepless Knights for Dreamworks, WE3 for New Line and Area 51 for Paramount.
• Bryan Hitch, whose Marvel UK credits also included Action Force and Mys-Tech Wars, went on to become the co-creator and artist of The Authority and The Ultimates, and currently works on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Bryan has never escaped Doctor Who: he has contributed design elements to early episodes of the “modern” Doctor Who series, including spaceship design, the updated Daleks and more.
Writer: Simon Furman Art: John Higgins
Mercenary space ship captain Keepsake picks up a distress signal from the planet Ryos and becomes a reluctant partner in the Doctor’s attempts to rescue the medic that sent the signal. Keepsake only responded to the call there because he thought that there might be something worth salvaging from any wrecks, but despite this, together they rescue the medic and the Doctor leaves Keepsake to return the medic home. Keepsake doesn’t complain, since the medic just happens to be a rather attractive and generously proportioned woman – although his pet vulture seems very jealous!
First published in Doctor Who Magazine 140, John Higgins also delivered a stunning painted cover for the issue.
Keepsake is a smashing story in which the Doctor rides roughshod over Keepsake’s personal agenda to save the aliens. Does writer Simon Furman remember if he wrote it with the Doctor knowing really that Keepsake was a mercenary or was the Doctor just oblivious?
“My personal feeling is that the Doctor is rarely oblivious,” feels Simon. “He just sometimes appears so. I was trying throughout these early stories to capture the essence of Sylvester’s Doctor, and I think I came closest with that one. Cold Day in Hell was written having never even seen Sylvester as the Seventh Doctor!”
“Ah the power of social drinking!” recalls artist John Higgins, creator of Razorjack and colourist on Watchmen, of this Doctor Who commission.
“Marvel UK at the time was a great place to go in to for freelancers as it was London based, for anyone who wanted a day out and an evening socializing. All the editors, freelancers and the production staff use to socialize regularly and being in comics on any level, it’s never just a job, we were all fans. So anytime we met for a drink after work we talked comics, characters and story ideas, Richard Starkings was always looking of ways to bring people in to Marvel who might add a different perspective to his line up of artists. I was more 2000AD at the time, so when Simon came up with this idea which he thought would suit my SF bent, we talked it through and there it was.”
John also delivered a stunning painted cover for the issue, which was also offered as a poster to encourage subscriptions. “I was known more for my painted work at that period of my career and had done a number of movie tie in illustrations for Starburst Movie Magazine, thanks to its editor, Alan McKenzie who first commissioned me for fully painted work.” (Alan is of course also a former Doctor Who Monthly editor).
“So I had a couple of portfolio pieces of work which showed I could paint good likenesses, in those day before Photoshop it was so important to get an artist who could paint the actors so they were at least recognizable.
“I remember talking to [magazine editor] John Freeman and asking for as much photo reference as I could get,” recalls Higgins: but, unexpectedly, his first interpretation did not meet with Sylvester McCoy’s approval and, rarely for the ever-helpful actor, he asked for his to be re-drawn. John was surprised by the reaction.
“I felt, overall it was one of my more successful covers at that time and John was happy with it too. Well, until he took it in to show Sylvester McCoy who apparently disliked my portrait of him, thinking it bore no close relationship to his own fair countenance.” If I had been dissatisfied with his likeness by my own critical appraisal of the cover as a whole, I probably would have been mortified for not pleasing the subject of the image.”
Capturing McCoy’s likeness was often an issue for the various artists who drew the strip, and an issue often raised by the Magazine’s readers.
“I’m breaking into a cold sweat as I think about it now,” says John, “about how little opportunity artists had back then to get reference for actors for cover depictions. There were no DVD’s in those days. If you were lucky maybe some bad magazine photographs but they were never much use.”
Equally embarrassed at causing a fuss, Sylvester McCoy helped John give the painting its final look by posing on scaffolding during recording for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy at Elstree.
“Being a lowly artist, I was not allowed on set but John was, so we did manage to get some relevant photo reference, not completely right for what I was attempting as it needed my direction to make it completely appropriate but I did appreciate Sylvester McCoy taking time out do what must have seemed slightly absurd,” John Higgins acknowledges. “But he is an actor and lives in a world of the absurd I suppose. I did finish the painting and I remember I was very happy with the end result, feeling I had got a dramatic cliff hanger image with a recognizable likeness of Sylvester McCoy.”
The experience didn’t put him off Doctor Who, but John has no desire to work on licensed comics today. “Every image can be improved,” he notes, “but I was judging it a success on a number of other aspect’s, which for me made it work. So the criticism of the likeness or lack of it, for one part didn’t put me off Doctor Who licensed comics. Other jobs I subsequently did for Marvel UK in those days did put me off licensed comics to this day.
“But as a freelancer I always have a price, get that right and I am all yours!”
Where Are They Now?
• John Higgins has just completed a new four-page comic strip for his collected magnum opus, Razorjack, which has been published by Com.x. “All I had wanted to do with Razorjack was to create my own world outside of what I had been commissioned to do all my professional life,” says John. “As much as I love working on Batman, Spider-Man or even Watchmen, it has always been as a gun for hire. But I had a story I wanted to tell, a story that no one else could tell, it was a John Higgins story. It is not profound, it won’t make you look at the world around you in a different way and it will never win the Nobel Prize for literature. It would be nice to be nominated.”
Planet of the Dead
Writer: John Freeman Artist: Lee Sullivan
Planet of the Dead, a two-part story featuring several past companions and the first seven doctors – in likeness, if not as the originals – was intended as an anniversary tribute to Doctor Who. “It also featured the Gwanzulum,” recalls John Freeman, who was also editor of Doctor Who Magazine at the time and was delighted to be asked to pen the story. “These were shape-changing aliens that were also slipped into several other Marvel titles in the same month, to see if readers noticed their “secret invasion!”
Working with Richard was valuable experience for the writer. “Richard devoured writing and comic art books and was, and is, a mine of information on the comics form,” he says. “He taught me how to edit my strips, shape them better. There was one instance on a Thundercats story I wrote, where economic circumstance force the cutting of a strip from 11 to five pages overnight and I argued it couldn’t be done. He did it with consummate ease — it was a very useful lesson!”
Lee Sullivan notes that Planet of the Dead was the first strip he’d drawn extensively featuring humans. “I’d only just done a couple of strips for Transformers, he notes. “In one of those I had drawn a likeness of Richard Branson and that proved to be a ‘career-moment’ because, as a result, when Richard Starkings was assigning Whoscripts to artists, he swapped mine to Planet from the one that (I think) Dougie Braithwaite ended up drawing. Suddenly I was having to deal with likenesses of all the ‘dead’ companions and all the Doctors, as well as being very aware of all the great artists I was following!
“It was a dream come true, though. I had followed Who in strip form since the first appearance of the Neville Main ‘Hartnell’ in TV Comic.
Of all the Doctors he had to visualize, the Seventh proved the most elusive to capture. ” I think everyone found him hard – his face has an infinite variety of expressions,” Lee says. “I find that I have to build a ‘virtual model’ of the character in my head, so that the drawings look consistent from panel to panel, but every photo of Sylvester shows a different face.”
The artist, today the longest-serving semi-regular Doctor Whocomic-strip artist across the widest range of titles and media, has since gone on to draw strips for the partwork-trading card title Battles in Time — which is just coming to the end of its current run. Is the comics crreation process any different today?
“It’s still script/ roughs/ pencils/ inks, but these days the pages are completed and tweaked in Photoshop before being e-mailed instead of posted,” says lee. “It’s good for resizing bits of anatomy – for example I sometimes find I’ve drawn a head too big by a fraction and if you have a good likeness, it’s lovely to be able to shrink it!”
Lee also worked on a proposed “comic strip Doctor”-only project for the BBC after his work on the Radio Times Doctor Who comic strip and we took the opportunity to ask him how that came about — and why it finally didn’t happen.
“Matt Bookman was my last editor on the Radio Times Eighth Doctor strip, and he put together a proposal for a science-fiction BBC magazine. It was initially called Sci-Files; subsequently Robot and would feature various BBC sf strips and articles. Doctor Who was one of them, and it featured a future Doctor (I think the last regeneration) with memory-loss, rediscovering himself and thereby introducing the format to readers who may not have been familiar with Who.
“I drew a double-page spread in full colour; Stephen Cole was the writer and Cybermen were the baddies – cloth-faced and running! Dummy issues were produced and tested with focus groups, but at that time both strips and Doctor Who were not considered cool by the youngsters they showed it to, and it was not commissioned.”
Where Are They Now?
• John Freeman is Managing Editor of Steam Industries and runs downthetubes. He is writing the SF comic Ex Astris which has featured in Spaceship Away.
• Probably the definitive Dalek artist, Lee Sullivan‘s credits also include Robocop, Transformers, Thunderbirds and more. He is, the longest-serving semi-regular Doctor Who comic-strip artist across the widest range of titles and media, spanning Doctor Who Magazine, a Virgin novel cover for Paul Cornell’s Love & War, the Eighth Doctor Radio Times strip written by Gary Russell, the ‘Robot’ N’th Doctor strip (unpublished), BBCi Webcast animation illustrations, Death Comes To Time CD box art, BBC Website illustrations for The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, the Doctor Who – Battles in Time strip, colouring on one episode of Doctor Who Adventures and ongoing ‘Flashback’ art for the part work Doctor Who DVD Files.
Echoes of the Mogor!
Writer: Dan Abnett Artist: John Ridgway
This strip marks the first appearance of Dan’s Foreign Hazard Duty, a futuristic version of UNIT, when the Doctor arrives in a deserted human survey base on the planet Mekrom: deserted, that is, apart from the presence of a single dead body. Finding a piece of crystal next to it, the Doctor picks it up, the warmth of his touch activating a holographic recording of the dead man describing his expedition’s discoveries. At that moment, a Foreign Hazard Duty team arrives in response to the expedition’s distress call, and after first thinking he may be a killer, assume the Doctor to be the team’s medical officer.
Although all of the evidence suggests that the planet’s former inhabitants, the warlike Mogor, are extinct, two FHD team members are seemingly attacked by one; however, when the Doctor studies their bodies, he finds that they in fact died of shock. He soon discovers the empathic crystal is in abundance on the planet and the “Mogor” are not real, but merely albeit dangerous echoes from the crystals.. When another Mogor attacks the FHD team, the Doctor dispels it by refusing to accept its reality.
Notable as the first appearance of Dan’s Foreign Hazard Duty, a futuristic version of UNIT, Dan Abnett confesses that although he is “ridiculously good” at archiving back issues of his work, his Doctor Who Magazine collection seems to have disappeared into an alternate dimension, and, like Alan Grant, writer of Invaders from Gantac, he has few memories of his story in this collection. “I hope it’s a good one, and not an ‘Ooh, did I really write this crap” one,” he opines.
“The funniest part of all is where working on DWM got me. I loved it, but I never expected to write for Doctor Who again. I tried to get a Virgin novel commission early on, and they didn’t even reply. I felt I was very much ‘not in the Who clique’ and had only been lucky enough to write for the good Doctor because I knew John Freeman and Richard. Then, suddenly, in the last few years, it all came back to haunt me. Gary Russell came to me for a couple of Big Finish adventures, which led to the likes of my Torchwood novel and audios, and the Martha novel, and the Tenth Doctor audios for the BBC etc., and that train of events only happened because Gary had remembered how much he’d liked my DWM strips and came looking for me.
“The FHD were envisaged as a future version of UNIT,” he confirms. “I can’t be sure, but I think that connection actually gets made somewhere. I intended it too, anyway. They’ve popped up from time to time in all sorts of places, not all of them Who stories.”
“The FHD was originally a very infantile piece of slang that was invented by my mates at college,” Dan reveals. “An FHD was a really good night out, because one got so drunk, one had a terrible hangover in the morning, otherwise known as a F****** Horrible Death. Obviously, for DWM purposes, I changed what it stood for!”
At one point an FHD US title was considered, along with a number of other stillborn projects, shelved after editorial changes instigated by Marvel Comics directors in America.
Where Are They Now?
• Dan Abnett writes for breakfast, dinner and tea. His prolific output include comics such as Sinister Dexter and Durham Red for 2000AD, Legion of Super-Heroes and other Legion titles for DC Comics (often co-written with Andy Lanning) and more, as well as Doctor Who and Torchwood audio adventures. He’s also written Doctor Who and Primeval novels. His Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 novels and graphic novels for Games Workshop’s Black Library now run to several dozen titles and have sold over 1,150,000 copies.
Writer: by Richard Alan (Richard Starkings) and John Carnell; art by Dougie Braithwaite & Dave Elliott
The Doctor arrives on the planet Tojana, on the only island which has not yet been swallowed by the incoming tides. The TARDIS is washed out to sea while the Doctor is trying to work out where he is, and he is then captured by the inhabitants of the island, who have accepted their fate and are engaged in a hedonistic final party. Life is now cheap, and the natives slaughter each other at the least provocation. The Doctor tries to convince them that life is still worth living, but eventually gives up on them in disgust and builds a raft for himself. The elderly “Worrier” accepts the Doctor’s arguments and joins him on the raft. As predicted, the tides rise and the island is covered by the sea, and only the Doctor and the Worrier survive. The Doctor finds the TARDIS floating nearby, and departs, leaving the Worrier to drift on the tide and greet the uncertain future with hope.
Richard Starkings used his pen name as script writer on this story, the “Alan Brothers” of Marvel UK often bemusing woud-be compilers of the company’s comics credits.
“‘Richard Alan’ was actually Richard Starkings alone,” explains John Tomlinson, who would work on later Doctor Who strips including The Betrothal of Sontar with Nick Abadzis in 2006, “for the simple reason that Alan is his middle name.
“For the record, the Alan brothers were me (Steve Alan, because anyone who was any good in comics at the time seemed to be called either Steve or Alan and I yearned to swipe some reflected glory), Mike Collins (Ford Alan, which is – and I have only Mike’s word for this – a Welsh saying mean good, or cool) and the aforementioned Richard Alan.
“So there you go – some Doctor Who trivia, albeit only of interest to the Alan brothers themselves and the desperately starved of entertainment!” John laughs. “Heppeh, heppeh days though.”
The strip is notable not just for two transposed pages in the second episode of the original printing, which completely confounded some readers (“I was mortified by the mistake,” recalls Magazine editor John Freeman), but also for the contribution of award-winning X-Men letterer Tom Orzechowski, who Starkings discovered was a Doctor Who fan when he met him in San Francisco in 1988, and asked him if he’d letter the strip.
The commission proved more than a little hair-raising as transatlantic comic-making was, back then, entirely reliant on couriers, not e-mail and electronic File Transfers like today. “Getting those pages in was hell!” Richard recalls.
Where Are They Now?
• Richard Starkings is now better known as First Tiger of digital lettering company Comiccraft and as the creator of Elephantmen.
• Doug Braithwaite‘s credits include 2000AD but who is best known for his work on Marvel Comics Punishercharacters, the 12-issue DC Comics title Justice and the Earth X stories Universe Xand Paradise X (with Alex Ross and Jim Krueger). He recently drew Secret Invasion: Thor for Marvel and a four issue run on DC Comics The Brave and the Bold with David Hine.
• Dave Elliott is publisher of Radical Comics whose titles include City of Dust, Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Caliber.
• John Tomlinson is currently biting the heads off chickens in a pit for cash. In his spare time he edits two part works and writes Spider-Man strips for Eaglemoss Publications.
Writers: John Carnell & Andy Lanning Art: Kev Hopgood, Dougie Braithwaite and Dave Elliott
The Sleeze Brothers and the Time Meddling Monk feature in this zany ‘jam’ strip featuring a plethora of Marvel UK talent at the time.
“I thought we may piss off a few hardcore Who fans,” says Sleeze Brothers co-creator John Carnell of the story, which saw the Doctor having to deal not just with the hapless detective duo El Ape and Dedabeat but the Time Meddling Monk, in adventure that features the SS TItanic and the 1908 Tunguska disaster. “But it seemed like a good laugh – the bungling Sleeze Brothers, getting caught up in an adventure and being none the wiser about their effects on space time. I think we pulled it off okay. It was great to work with the other artists, such as Dougie Braithwaite. I think the story sums up Marvel UK at the time — a melting pot of talented nut cases!”
While some readers still found the many attempts to capture Sylvester McCoy’s likeness lacking, Daniel Slater of Rotherham was kinder in a letter publisjed in Issue 149. “Congratulations on producing a rather ‘different’ comic strip in recent months,” he wrote. “With the humour rapidly disappearing from the tv series, it is a relief that it is kept where it belongs – in your comic strip. The two recent ones, Time and Tide and Follow That TARDIS were especially great. I particularly like the creation of The Sleeze Brothers and I hope we haven’t seen the last of them. The only thing it is lacking now is Frobisher.”
The Sleeze Brothers, co-created by John and Andy Lanning, also featured in their own comic as part of Marvel’s creator-owned Epic imprint.
Where Are They Now?
• John Carnell reports the Sleeze Brothers are making a comeback after twenty years in the off-world rim war penal colonies… “Richard Starkings, original commissioning editor, head honcho at Comicraft and all round good egg, is featuring an eight-page strip in a flip issue of his comic Elephantmen.
“I’m rewriting all the dialogue, Greg Right is re-colouring and Rich is relettering. We’re (myself and Andy Lanning) are also looking forward to creating some new stories for the comic an animated series in development with my production company Foof Productions.”
• Andy Lanningcontinues to write and ink comic books “of all shapes and sizes”. He is currently writing The Authority with co-author Andy Lanning, as part of the World’s End re-launch of the core Wildstorm titles.
by Alan Grant, pencils by Martin Griffiths, inks by Cam Smith
Trying to reach his his friend Bonjaxx’s birthday party on Maruthea, the Doctor arrives in London in 1992 – the entire planet under the subjugation of the hive-mind linked Gantac, who are rrounding up its entire population for questioning. The Doctor interrupts the capture of a homeless man, “Leapy” (so-called because of his flea infestation), and is captured by the aliens and taken to Hyde Park for interrogation where they demand to now the location of the fabulous treasure of Zantar Wrouth. The Doctor informs them that they’ve invaded the wrong planet. Leapy attempts to rescue the Doctor, just as Yaga, the over-mother of the Gantac species, arrives to take personal charge of the mission. The Doctor manages to explain to Yaga that Zantar Wrouth is an unflawed diamond the size of a planet, on the other side of the galaxy. Yaga decides to destroy Earth anyway to avenge his humiliation, but as he attempts to kill the Doctor, Leapy intervenes — and his fleas attach themselves to Yaga and begin feeding. Yaga assumes he’s being assaulted by invisible aliens and orders his guards to open fire, which they do without hesitation — killing Yaga, and thus themselves.
Invaders from Gantac marks the first time the Seventh Doctor mentions his friend Bonjaxx, who is having a birthday party on Maruthea. It takes him several years to get to it, finally arriving in Issue 172’s Party Animals, written by Gary Russell and drawn by Mike Collins.
“Although I know that I wrote a Doctor Who strip, I have absolutely no memory of doing it,” Alan Grant freely admits. “I quite like the sound of fleas as the saviours of the Earth, though!
“I don’t know if I’m alone among writers when I say, before I write any story, I have to make a conscious effort to dispel my previous work from my mind. If I don’t, I tend to get characters mixed up, or plagiarise my own plots. So almost all memory of Leapy and Doctor Who would have been driven from my brain by whatever I was working on the following day or week.
“Richard Starkings called and asked if I’d do a story for them,” he does recall. “I’ve never been much of a Doctor Who fan, not even as a child, so I can’t claim to have been fulfilling a long-held dream of working on the character. I’ve always had a policy of trying to broaden my story-base, so tend to say “yes” when people call with requests like this.
“Alex Trench was a character I used in a couple of Tharg’s Future Shocks for 2000AD; he was based on the ice-cream van driver in the village I hail from,” he reveals. “Presumably Leapy came from the same place… though I honestly don’t know.”
Invaders from Gantac remains Alan’s only official contribution to the Doctor Who mythos to date. “I don’t tend to write many licensed strips,” he explains, “mainly because of the hassles that are often involved with them: the character has to be exactly as laid down, and I’m not too good at following other people’s rules. John Wagner and I did Computer Warrior based on computer games for many years for Eagle, but the license holders more or less left us to our own devices. When we tried to do the same thing with various toy companies, we soon got sick of it and gave up, returning to stories and characters we created ourselves.
“If memory serves – which it often doesn’t – I don’t think I enjoyed myself very much on Doctor Who,” Grant reveals. “But in all honesty, I don’t know if that’s a genuine memory or something I just made up.
“In many ways not being able to remember is a blessing; at times like this, it can be a real hassle!”
Alan recently parodied Doctor Who in the first issue of his new humor comic, Wasted, but it won’t happen again. “I’ve tried to avoid parodies as far as possible,” he told DenofGeek. “In my opinion, a parody only works once – then you’re retelling the same joke over and over again.”
“I did enjoy working on Doctor Who, although shortly after being given the go ahead on the strip I had to move house which made me late on deadline, for the first issue anyway,” artist Martin Griffiths recalls. “I saw the artwork recently and it makes wish I could do it all over again – as I do on most strips I worked on in the 1980s!
“I’m not sure if I did capture Sylvester McCoy’s likeness,” he admits. ” I would not trace off from photographs – I would just have pictures of McCoy around me for reference. But I remember it was tricky trying to get it right!”
“It was always exciting to land a Who job, a welcome change from the more cartoon based stuff around at the time,” recalls inker Cam Smith. “Gantac was my first Who work, was early in my career and I’m certain I should have done a better job! Still, I remember it fondly, along with the several later Who strips I inked and/or pencilled. It will be like a trip in the TARDIS to see it reprinted!”
Where Are They Now?
• Alan Grant is publishing a new humour comic, Wasted. Alan continues to write for 2000AD, producing many popular storylines for those comics.
• Martin Griffiths, whose Marvel UK credits included many a Thundercats strip, is currently working on his own strips as well as doing storyboards and X-Men and Spider-Man DVD covers.
• Cam Smith is currently inking Bryan Hitch on Fantastic Four. He worked with penciller Gary Frank on Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk, and DC Comics Supergirl . His credits also include Action Comics, Green Lantern, Superman and X-Men.
• A second volume of Seventh Doctor is planned, but is unlikely to be scheduled for 2009. If (and when) it’s published, it’s intended that the stories will continue to be released in order (starting with Nemesis of the Daleks featuring Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer, co-written by John Tomlinson).
A third volume, featuring strips from the Storybooks, Hulk Comic and later issues of DWM may follow.
• Seventh Doctor Comic Strips (Wiki)
• The Doctor Who Reference Guide
This site attempts to fit every Doctor Who fiction in with the TV series. Useful synopses and credits for comic strips
• Once Upon A Time Lord: The Doctor Who Comic Strips (Alphabetical)