Friday, October 16, 2009

30 Year flashback: Doctor Who Weekly No.1


At the 1979 British comic convention in Birmingham's Metropole Hotel there was a buzz going around that Marvel UK were about to launch a brand new comic exclusively for the British market. Expectations were high, and on a panel that weekend Dez Skinn, then editor at Marvel UK, announced that the title was to feature... Doctor Who.

Personally my initial reaction was disappointment. As a (then) 20 year old I was going through my "Doctor Who is for kids" phase, - although I was still buying about 25 Marvel comics every month which kind of deflated that air of maturity. However, the news was that Dave Gibbons would be drawing the strip and I liked his work from 2000AD so when Doctor Who Weekly No.1 hit the stands on October 11th 1979 I gave it a go...

...and thought it was brilliant. From the outset Dave's artwork on part one of The Iron Legion was powerful and fantastically drawn, and the fact it was written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, my two favourite 2000AD scriptwriters, was equally pleasing. Doctor Who had previously suffered a roller coaster life in comics. Between the strips in TV Comic (mostly so-so, some dire) to Countdown/TV Action (all excellent) and back to TV Comic again (nosediving to comic strip hell) Marvel UK needed to raise the bar, which they certainly achieved. Thirty years on I still think the splash page is one of the most dynamic openings I've seen for a first issue of a British comic...


The lead strip only took up five pages in the 32 page weekly but the pace was fast and, it has to be said, more dramatically satisfying than the tv show was at the time.


The first issue had a fairly modest free gift; a small assortment of rub-down transfers that could be applied to the full-colour "panoramas" on the inside covers. (Interior colour! This was Marvel UK pushing the boat out, - but just for this launch issue.) The artwork on the transfers and the panoramas was also by Dave Gibbons...



The weekly included two other comic strips. One was the start of a reprint of a War of the Worlds adaptation from Marvel Classic Comics No.14. For the weekly, the Fourth Doctor's head was pasted onto page one as a narrator and the heading Tales from the Tardis added.

The final strip in the comic was another all-new British production; The Return of The Daleks, a four pager written by Steve Moore and drawn by David Lloyd...


The rest of the comic was taken up with short articles on the tv show. Mainly introductory for this first issue, the features explained the background story of The Doctor and the Daleks. There was also the first of a "Photo-File" series of pages with data on the actors from the show. William Hartnell was this issue's subject, and the first issue was dedicated to his memory.


All in all, a very solid publication and a great start to the comic. One thing that stands out today is that although these early issues were aimed at children, Doctor Who Weekly didn't dumb down to its readers. That's something that unfortunately can't be said for its modern-day equivalent Doctor Who Adventures. One cannot argue against DWA's success (regularly outselling other comics) but surely it would still sell on its name even if it wasn't quite so "young"? Or has the age of literacy declined so much between generations that short blurbs on photographs are now preferable to articles, and cut-out masks are more popular than fact-files?

Doctor Who Weekly has survived the years of course, maturing with its readership. It became Doctor Who Monthly less than a year into its run and still thrives today as the 68 page all-colour Doctor Who Magazine. (Issue 414 of which was published yesterday.) Today it's a sophisticated magazine with in-depth features and interviews and its comic strip is now ten pages in length, but in essence it's still the same mag that Dez Skinn edited 30 years ago. I may have been skeptical about it when I heard the news in 1979 but Marvel's decision to publish was right, - three decades later it's still with us and, along with 2000AD and Viz, is the only other comic launched in the 1970s to have survived the years!


8 comments:

jon haward said...

wow is it really 30yrs!! i can still remember being a teen buying that issue and loving it , my brother Jim still buys it and enjoys it.
i bought the collected reprint books by panini and the art Dave drew for Dr Who still looks great even after all these years.thanks for the flashback Lew :-)

Rob Davis said...

Remember buying this, loved Dave Gibbons' Who art and 30 years later I had his job. Actually there's been a few good artists who have worked on the strip and the very latest is Paul Grist whose 3 part strip starts in the current issue 414.
The Panini collections are a great way to reread the Who strips - Gibbons' work is in Iron Legion, Dragon's Claw and Tides of Time (The stuff in Tides of Time is particularly good). And the best comic art ever in a Who strip by Mick McMahon is also in Dragon's Claw. The latest Panini collection is Widow's Curse featuring work from a whole host of great British comic folk and er... me.
Regarding Doctor Who Adventures (and yes I work for them too) I think it's worth pointing out that it 'probably' has a much younger readership. Kids in their teens were buying DWW can't imagine many teenagers being seen dead buying DWA.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks for the comment Rob. Enjoyed your work in DMM the other month.

As for DWA... yes it's probably aimed at a slightly younger reader than DWW was, but it still seems to be TOO young. Not the strip so much, but the rest of the mag. If my generation could handle TV21 (which came out when I was five) I'm sure today's kids should be able to handle something more substantial than "articles" which have an arrow pointing to an alien going "Ooh, scary!" etc.

And DWA calls competitions "Wins". Are words of more than one syllable not in their remit? ;-)

Rob Davis said...

You enjoyed my work in DMM? Doctor Moo Magazine? Time traveling cow? It could work.... ;-)

I agree with your feelings about DWA, my instinct would be to give a bit more substance, but the kiddies do love it. Worth pointing out that, as with most comics/mags for kids these days, it's a gift with a free magazine rather than the other way round.

Michael Martin said...

Is it just me or does the bit that says "Fantastic first issue" have the word "Fantastic" looking like the logo of the old comic of the same name, which reprinted Marvel stuff? Probably nothing XD

Dave Mullen said...

I fondly remember early DWW issues in our schools 'comic bin' back in the early 80s and i completely disagree with the idea it wasn't for kids unlike the current DWA - i've looked at DWA and frankly it's full of nothing! It's binliner material.
Any comic like that is only as good as its content and as a kid i kept most of my comics for years, whether it was my Transformers or Scream runs, as the story and art were just so compelling they stood up to reading time and again.

DWA seems to be deliberatly aimed at a now cliche MTV generation who are supposed to have no ability for retention or possess a simple curiosity about the series and frankly it's more kindly described as a scrapbook than a worthy comic magazine....

Who's going to remember DWA for anything other than it's wonderful free gifts?

Lew Stringer said...

I don't think anyone said the original DWW wasn't for kids Dave, - just that it wasn't as young in tone as DWA is. DWW appealed to children and teenagers, but DWA can only appeal to young kids. This is deliberate because children tend to give up on comics earlier than they used to.

Matt Cruse said...

I loved the early days of Doctor Who Weekly, especially the main and backup comic strips. Some people here might be able to give me some assistance. I've managed to identify the original stories reprinted as "Doctor Who's Time Tales" apart from the last one in issue #43 (involving a time machine). I've scoured the net with the available info but can't find anything. If anyone knows the title of this story and where it was first published I'd be very grateful!

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