US publisher IDW is currently publishing early Doctor Who stories from the Seventh Doctor era and the latest issue, on sale now in the US, features a rather special anniversary story by none other than myself and the wonderfully talented Lee Sullivan.
First published in Doctor Who Magazine in 1988, ‘Planet of the Dead’ (not to be confused with the more recent Who TV movie) was commissioned by then Doctor Who strip editor Richard (Elephantmen) Starkings to mark the 25th anniversary of the show. As my first Doctor Who story, you can imagine a tale featuring all the Doctors was something of a challenge, but thanks to Richard’s editing and Lee’s smashing art it turned out well, I think, and proved popular with readers.
Now coloured by Charlie Kirchoff, the story features alongside another great tale, ‘Keepsake’ by Simon Furman and John Higgins.
I’m pretty sure that this new edition is the first time my name has ever appeared on the cover of a US comic, so I’m pretty chuffed to be up there with such illustrious company.
‘Planet of the Dead’ was a two-part story featuring several past companions and the first seven doctors – in likeness, if not as the originals – and was intended as an anniversary tribute. The monsters of the piece were the Gwanzulum – shape-changing aliens that were also slipped into several other Marvel titles in the same month, to see if readers noticed their secret invasion.
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, who also drew illustrations for a text story, ‘Scream of the Silent’, for the Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Special at around the same time, recalls 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 Who scripts to artists, he swapped mine to ‘Planet’ from ‘Time and Tide’, which 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.”
IDW’s Doctor Who Comic Classics aren’t officially distributed in the UK, but IDW told us earlier in the year that the digital edition will be available here, so look out for it when it’s launched. ‘Planet of the Dead’ was, of course, also published in black and white by Panini, in their collection of early Seventh Doctor strips, A Cold Day in Hell.
They’ve done a great job on this Classics collection. I just wish more people in the UK could see it!
• IDW Comics is at: www.idwpublishing.com
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. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 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.