Sunday, October 13, 2019

40 Years of DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE!

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. Forty 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. 

The publication 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 84 page all-colour Doctor Who Magazine. The latest issue will be published this Thursday and will be a celebratory special. More on that in another post soon!  

Today it's a sophisticated magazine with in-depth features and interviews and it still features a comics strip starring the contemporary Doctor. In essence it's still the same mag that Dez Skinn edited 40 years ago. I may have been skeptical about it when I heard the news in 1979 but Marvel's decision to publish was right, - four 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. I'm very proud these days to be one of its regular contributors!

(The above is a revised article of the one I wrote for the magazine's 30th anniversary.) 

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I was in London the other night for a party celebrating DWM's 40th anniversary. Here's a photo of original editor Dez Skinn and current editor Marcus Hearn with the tasty cake! 



3 comments:

Peter Gray said...

Happy Birthday mag!

Really hope your comic strips will be in a book one day...glad you've got a whole page!

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Peter! Yes, I hope they can be collected one day!

Little Peanut said...

Wow... I recall the day the comic was launched as if it were yesterday. I still have Issues 1-50 somewhere in the garage, I wonder in what state ! Myke

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