Or, put it another way, the Doctor Who reprint wars!
In mid-October 1979 the first ever Marvel UK Doctor Who strip was published in Doctor Who Weekly #1!
Of course, card-carrying fan that I am, I was there to not only buy it, (I think my dad bought it for me actually) but to also dutifully keep the free transfers in unused mint condition for the next 30 years. Man that's some long-lasting sellotape on that cover…
Just look at it - it's even protected the section of the photo underneath from the ravages of time!
A week later I got issue #2, but a week after that some other kid (or adult probably) beat me to it, so I stopped collecting them. I don't collect incomplete things.
Recently however, I borrowed issues #3 and #4 off of Herschel to finally read, and I have to say that… heyyy, waitaminute. You… don't suppose that… he was the one who all those years ago…
… nahh. That way lies madness.
It matters not in any case. His issue #3 erroneously came with issue #2's transfers! In your rubber nose, Klown-Face!
Anyhew, despite typos, these first four issues were a great launch for a comic-series that, like its transfers, has lasted right up to the present day (current monthly issue is #421), without ever having to merge with Spider-Man Weekly. After all, sooner or later, every Marvel UK comic merged with Spider-Man Weekly.
Fig. 1: This never happened.
Anyway, inside these first four issues of Doctor Who Weekly, as well as backgrounds for the transfers, letters from the Doctor, articles about the series and a 'Crazy Caption' contest, there were no less than three continuing Who-related comic strips.
The Return Of The Daleks (script: Steve Moore, art: Paul Neary & David Lloyd) features the unexpected return of the Daleks at the end of issue #1, a scenario entirely in-keeping with so many TV stories.
Tales From The TARDIS featuring War Of The Worlds (script: Chris Claremont, art: Yong Montano & Dino Castrillo, story: H G Wells) has a somewhat looser connection. It's obviously a serial originally intended to see print elsewhere, but thanks to a single panel introduction by the fourth Doctor each week, all the following narration appears to be a continuation of his storytelling. This is a smart idea that sadly backfires as soon as episode two drops into the first person, and the Doctor is forced to forever explain that he was actually told this story by his fair-haired buddy George.
I guess that 'George' would be short for 'Herbert George Wells' - his friend in the TV story Timelash then. Except that he had dark hair. Well, I'm sure it all got explained later.
The lead strip in these four issues however was the first four parts of Doctor Who And The Iron Legion. (writers: Pat Mills & John Wagner, artist: Dave Gibbons, editor: Dez Skinn)
Continuing through to issue #8, the Doctor lands on a version of present-day Earth where Rome never fell, and falls foul of modern and alien technology in the hands of the almighty Roman empire…
Unlike so many spin-offs, the whole story accurately captures the spirit of the original TV show, having been based upon a rejected pitch for it, and then expanded thanks to the enormous freedom offered by the comic medium. How optimistically do you think the TV series might have portrayed a giant man-eating slug, let alone the thousands of Roman spectators behind it?
That's the start to episode three above, but here's the really clever thing: a year later the strips were collected and reprinted by Marvel US, in Marvel Premiere Featuring Doctor Who #57, when the above panel(s) looked like this:
Yes, in anticipation of a US reprinting, the strip's UK creators had actually laid-out, drawn and inked the whole thing in the full-length American comicbook format, yet also included three strategically-placed cliffhangers for the shorter British episodes. Now that's time-management even the Doctor would be proud of!
As well as the commissioning of a special cover by Walt Simonson (Frank Miller did the one for the second half of the story the following month!), the most obvious mutation in this second printing was the addition of colours, or more accurately 'colors'. These were supplied by Alpha Flight's Andy Yanchus, who would occasionally exercise some time-management of his own by leaving the odd element in monochrome for effect.
Again some of this seemed to have been anticipated at the earlier layouts stage. In Britain, page three had featured a shopkeeper getting shot dead, with black and white baked bean tins exploding open in front of him. In America of course they were all coloured gory red…
Elsewhere in Marvel Premiere #57 was a two-page text history of Doctor Who by Mary Jo Duffy (who a year later would write the highly Doctor Who-ish Power Man And Iron Fist #79), and full-page pictures of "The Tardis and K-9", "The Daleks", "The Doctor's Most Fearsome Foes!" and, heh heh, "The Five Doctors".
That last one is quite charming, partly because three years later there would be a TV episode by that name, and partly because the picture features the (then) four doctors in a rare moment of unity with a portrait of Peter Cushing as the movie Doctor, but mostly because their faces all look so… well… like contented children.
Anyway, these US reprints had the desired effect, and kick-started a regular stateside Doctor Who comic, for which Marvel US by now had a nice back-catalogue of UK material waiting.
Five years later Marvel UK took Doctor Who And The Iron Legion back again, to give most of the story a fresh UK outing with the benefit of all that colour, as well as a brand new cover by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins.
Sadly, although the strip had originally been created for UK audiences, the Marvel UK editors of the day still changed some stuff from the US copy. In other words, they adapted their own work.
Here's a panel from part four's first printing back in Doctor Who Weekly #4:
Here it is in its second printing in the US:
Those thin panels under the windows have got lost in some lazy blue colouring. Finally, here it is upon its third printing back in the UK again:
This seems to be an attempt to save some of the dialogue from the cut opening splash page to episode five.
The back-up K-9 strip K-9's Finest Hour (by Moore, Neary and Yanchus again) is from Doctor Who Weekly #12, as also reprinted in Marvel Premiere #58.
Other pages are filled-up with biographies of Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons, a pin-up of "Davros And The Daleks!" in black, white and blue (that's so Marvel UK), and full-colour photographic ones of "The Leisure Hive" and the sixth Doctor with Peri.
This last one is a really really nice shot of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, in character on the set of The Two Doctors, sincerely looking like they're enjoying themselves. (okay, so maybe that makes them look out-of-character)
2004 saw Panini Books collecting the lead strips from Doctor Who Weekly #1-16 and #19-38 into a huge monochrome graphic novel, with yet another cover by Gibbons, this time coloured by Adrian Salmon. (also gratefully borrowed recently from Herschel)
This volume (available here) is confusingly also entitled Doctor Who - The Iron Legion, although it actually contains Doctor Who And The Iron Legion, City Of The Damned, Doctor Who And The Star Beast, Doctor Who And The Dogs Of Doom and Doctor Who And The Time Witch. These are all similarly by Wagner, Mills and Gibbons, except for the final story which was written by Steve Moore.
Every single one of these strips is a classic, and perfectly in the vein of the imaginative and fun TV show. I think Panini were wise to return to the original black-and-white realisation, because Dave Gibbons' artwork looks much more vivid when it's not swamped in colours.
There are two things that disappoint about this immaculate reprinting though:
1. These are the original Doctor Who Weekly plates, complete with recaps replacing parts of Gibbons' artwork. Surely this was a golden opportunity to finally give his full pencils and inks an airing in black-and-white?
2. Dez Skinn and Paul Neary's 8-page Timeslip from #17-18 is omitted. I'm sure there's a good reason, but when it's even advertised as coming next at the bottom of page 75, well, it's really conspicuous by its absence.
Next, in December 2005, the retrospective Doctor Who Magazine #350 celebrated the title's 25th anniversary by including a free reprint of the whole of its fondly-remembered first issue, which consequently gave part one of Iron Legion yet another publication. The only element that I could find changed in this edition was a minor, and wholly understandable, alteration to the indicia underneath the first page.
Oh, and no long-life sellotape on the cover. (no transfers)
Another two years on, and 2007 saw IDW Publishing reprinting The Iron Legion in Doctor Who Classics #1 and 2.
Sadly, they not only once again sourced the strips from the abridged original Doctor Who Weekly shorts, but curiously had them all recoloured by Charlie Kirchoff. I don't know the reason for those decisions, (I don't have copies of them), but on the surface the apparent lack of familiarity with the product doesn't instil much confidence in the collection. There were also fine new covers by Joe Corroney.
This series was clearly a big hit though, evidenced yesterday by, wait for it, the collecting of this REPRINT series into an omnibus edition!
Wow - that's SEVEN times that Doctor Who Weekly #1 has been printed now!
Despite it being yet another airing of the abridged versions, this really looks to be the best collection of early Marvel Who strips yet. It prints everything that Panini's collection did, and much more! Even Skinn and Neary's Time Slip has been re-inserted where it comes. In fact, the full contents page lists the following:
1. Doctor Who and the Iron Legion
2. City of the Damned
3. Time Slip
4. Doctor Who and the Star Beast
5. Doctor Who and the Dogs of Doom
6. Doctor Who and the Time Witch
7. Dragon's Claw (by Moore and Gibbons)
8. The Collector (by Moore and Gibbons)
9. Dreamer of Death (by Moore and Gibbons)
10. Changes (writer: Grant Morrison, art: John Ridgway)
11. Culture Shock (writer: Grant Morrison: art: Bryan Hitch)
12. The World Shapers (writer: Grant Morrison, art: John Ridgway and Tim Perkins)
13. The Life Bringer (writer: Steve Moore, art: Dave Gibbons)
14. War of the Words (writer: Steve Moore, art: Dave Gibbons)
15. Spider-God (writer: Steve Moore, art: Dave Gibbons)
16. The Deal (writer: Steve Parkhouse, art: Dave Gibbons)
17. End of the Line (writer: Steve Parkhouse, art: Dave Gibbons)
18. The Free-Fall Warriors (writer: Steve Parkhouse, art: Dave Gibbons)
(no, I don't have a copy of this either, though I gather there's one for sale here)
Humm, seven publications in 31 years. That works out at roughly one every four to five years.
So, on that analysis, maybe by 2015 there'll be a proper high-quality release of the full original artwork, without all those recaps getting in the way of the pictures?
Whatever happens, I suspect that we haven't seen the end of Doctor Who and the Iron Legion yet...