|Doctor Who copyright BBC TV. The Daleks|
copyright BBC TV & the Estate of Terry Nation
Doctor Who & the Daleks, Morecambe & Wise, Abbot & Costello, and, er... Fish & Chips... are name pairs that somehow seem to belong together. Don't ask me why - they just do. Never was that more true than in the good Doctor's case, as - if it hadn't been for the sensation created by the metal-cased mutants - Doctor Who's popularity probably wouldn't have survived for anywhere near as long as it has.
And I was there when it all started. I sometimes think that the '60s were the best-ever years in which a child could grow up. Just think of all the Gerry Anderson and Hanna-Barbera programmes that kids were privy to back then, to say nothing of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible, Batman and Star Trek. Were we lucky or what? And then there were the comics, chief amongst them TV Century 21, which, along with strips based on the afore-mentioned (and recently departed) Mr. Anderson's puppet programmes, also featured the dreaded and deadly despotic demons known as The Daleks!
The Daleks were everywhere; on mugs, badges, games, jigsaws, toys, models - you name the merchandise and the Scions of Skaro had lent their name and shape to it. Apparently, Christmas of 1964 was christened 'Dalek Christmas', so popular was the Louis Marx 'tricky action' (bump 'n' go) Dalek, as well as every other kind of plaything in which the mutated Kaleds' appellation and image could be cast.
The Doctor, along with his two grandchildren John and Gillian, appeared every week in TV Comic, published by Polystyle Publications. The grandkids (exclusive to the comic in place of Susan) had disappeared into limbo by the time the Doc had moved over to another comic in the Polystyle stable, Countdown (later to be retitled TV Action), in adventures aimed at slightly older readers than its predecessor. However, eventually the Time Lord and his first periodical were reunited (when TV Action fell victim to declining sales) and remained firm friends until Dez Skinn lured the Guardian from Gallifrey over to Marvel U.K. with the promise of his very own weekly publication.
I had occasionally read the Doctor's adventures in TV Comic around 1964-'65, but - truth to tell - they were nothing special and failed to exploit the 'unlimited budget' uniquely available to the comic strip medium. After all, whatever fantastic premise the writer can dream up can potentially be portrayed as realistically as anything the artist is capable of drawing, so the sky's the limit. Not in TV Comic's case, alas, but the full-colour Daleks strip on the back cover of TV Century 21 was something else entirely. Here, the incredible came to life, and the 104 episodes which ran for the first two years of the comic's span are still fondly remembered today by readers who devoured them at the time.
And, as I said, I was one of them. I still remember making my way to school some mornings as a mere six-year old boy, oblivious to everything around me as I lost myself in the photogravure pages that depicted the exploits of the metal-clad mutants bent on universal domination of all sentient life-forms. I'm not sure why, but I don't think I ever regarded the Daleks as the bad guys in these tales; I always took their side and wanted them to win. If I should ever find myself up in court someday, accused of some anti-social act, I'll be sure to blame the insidious influence of the good Doctor's diabolical adversaries for corrupting me. (I knew that Fredric Wertham's theories would come in handy some day.)
You can imagine my delight when, years later (as a professional lettering artist), I was invited to work on a few strips for Doctor Who Magazine, the first issue of which (in its weekly incarnation) I had purchased back in October of 1979. As it happened, one of the strips I lettered was published in an issue which also featured a full-colour reprint of a TV21 Daleks page, and it gave me a strange-but-welcome sense of reconnection to my childhood. By some odd quirk of fate, my name was appearing in a magazine which had pierced the veil of time and space and plucked a page from my past - a page that I particularly recalled reading on one of my trips to school nearly 27 years before. For a moment I was a kid again, wishing my life away until the next exciting chapter in the mysterious, white-haired stranger's Saturday evening adventures on BBC TV.
And that brings me to the Doctor himself. Doctor Who? Yes, that's right. Sure, it's an old 'joke', but it illustrates an important aspect of the character. the Doctor was originally an enigma; a mysterious stranger who nobody knew anything about. Who was he? Where did he come from? Was he good, bad, or simply amoral? No one was quite sure, and I have to be honest and say that I thought the Doctor was all the more interesting for this approach.
Anyway, as the 50th anniversary of the Doctor's '60s debut on television and in comics is celebrated, long may he reign - and may the dastardly (but loveable) Daleks never be far behind him.
As an added bonus, here's part one of the very first Doctor Who comic strip, featuring William Hartnell, ever published. Originally presented in black and white in TV Comic #674, dated November 14th 1964, and reprinted in colour in Doctor Who Classic Comics #2, dated January 6th 1993. The art is by Neville Main. Enjoy!