The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Living In A Box

Another blast from the archives. This time, an article from the Doctor Who Magazine special The Complete Seventh Doctor; a guide to his appearances in comic strips. As there were quite a lot of them, and I only had 5000 words, I decided to concentrate on the different writers’ approaches, rather than doing a story-by-story synopsis/review. Even so, a lot to cram in!

Many of the stories mentioned here can be found in the A Cold Day in Hell and Nemesis of the Daleks graphic novels.

The Seventh Doctor in Comics

The natural medium for the seventh Doctor was comics. In many ways, the seventh Doctor on television was envisioned as a comic strip character. Script editor Andrew Cartmel was influenced by the work of Alan Moore, recommending his Halo Jones graphic novel to the series’ writers, and his inscrutable, amoral and manipulative re-imagining of the Doctor was inspired by contemporary developments in comics; from Dark Knight Returns and V for Vendetta. The seventh Doctor was a force of nature, a player of masquerades and a speaker in riddles.

The narrative style of the later Sylvester McCoy television stories also shows a comics influence, where there is a greater emphasis on effect, on textual ambiguity, and where the stories are not based around plots but themes and vignettes. The comics tradition assumes a literate, dedicated readership that is prepared to repeatedly re-connect with the text and draw out its meanings. One can see this approach in stories like Ghost Light and The Curse of Fenric. Watching them on television, it is tempting to envision them as graphic novels, as a series of dark-shaded frames with the Doctor brooding in the shadows. Similarly, dialogue in comics is necessarily over-egged, full of pith and puns, and can make the naturalistic conventions of television seem ingenuous by comparison.

So how did the seventh Doctor fare in his natural medium? Certainly the strips are the most overlooked of the seventh Doctor’s media – and it must be admitted that this era encompassed echoing depths as well as majestic peaks – but they are also the media that afford us the clearest insight into what Cartmel was attempting in the latter years of the television show. They are also the most accessible, economical and widely-read continuation of the seventh Doctor’s off-screen adventures – indeed, for some years, they were the only continuation - and their significance has been underestimated as their innovations informed much of what would follow in the books.

His first story, A Cold Day In Hell, was more of last hurrah of the previous regime and featured the touching departure of companion Frobisher and the temporary departure of artist John Ridgway. The story follows the traditional rebels-against-alien-invaders formula as the inhabitants of pleasure planet A-Lux defy the climate-cooling machinations of the Ice Warriors. The unknown-quantity seventh Doctor is carefully off-staged as the story focuses on Frobisher’s efforts to organise a rebellion, only for the Doctor to then render his labours redundant. Strikingly, the story pre-empts elements of Season 24 – a travelogue on the scanner, someone being killed by an icy palm on the cheek, and a denouement where the villain liquefies as a window unexpectedly opens. 

Season 24 was characterised by uncertainty of tone, and this uncertainty carried over to Doctor Who Magazine and its strip. As Richard Starkings took over editorship of the strip, there seemed to be doubt over what the function of the strip was, who was reading it and – in particular – how old they were. This rudderlessness led to the strip pitching towards a more juvenile readership and defaulting to brief, self-contained stories – the intention being, presumably, to appeal to fresh readers. Unfortunately this alienated the current readership and appeared egregiously childish in the context of the magazine. The strip’s problems were compounded by a whirlwind turnaround of writers and artists, causing a marked variability in quality and style. In addition, the strips under Starkings’ tenure seem to lack Doctor Who’s idiosyncrasies, the Doctor being treated as merely another Marvel stable-boy.

Redemption! marks the departure of hilariously forgettable companion Olla the Heat Vampire and the arrival of the near-ubiquitous exclamation mark in the title. After Ridgway’s meticulous etchings, its artwork appears horribly perfunctory. Claws of the Klathi is redeemed by its Victorian setting of freak shows, the Great Exhibition and killer robots in the mist. It would be nice to say something positive about Culture Shock!, as it is the work of comics legend Grant Morrison and future series designer Brian Hitch, but the likenesses are shabby and the story a vapid throwaway, with the ‘twist’ being that events are related from a cell culture’s point of view. Worst of all, though, is the adolescent and misogynist Keepsake, in which the Doctor sets up the eponymous space-bum with a fabulously buxom girlfriend.

The Crossroads of Time and Follow That TARDIS! are both attempts to showcase new Marvel creations Death’s Head and The Sleeze Brothers respectively. They are not altogether successful because it isn’t made clear that these characters will be continuing in their own magazines, and because what makes a good Death’s Head or Sleeze Brothers strip isn’t necessarily what makes good Doctor Who. That said, Follow That TARDIS! is enjoyable for its pace and irreverence – the Sleeze Brothers hi-jack the TARDIS to pursue the Meddling Monk’s time-travelling Portaloo and en chase, they cause the Tunguska incident, the sinking of the Titanic and the Bermuda triangle.

Written to commemorate the series’ 25th anniversary, the raison d’etre  of Planet of the Dead is essentially an excuse to include a frame featuring all seven Doctors. In this story, the Doctor discovers an underground city on the planet Adeki where he encounters Adric, Peri, Jamie, Sara, Katarina and Frobisher. They turn out to be Huankulum, shape-changing critters that take the form of the dead. They then adopt the forms of the Doctor’s past regenerations, only for the Doctor to realise the truth when the ‘fourth Doctor’ advocates an act of violence. It’s a feelgood strip, and what makes it feel particularly good are the high quality likenesses courtesy of Lee Sullivan, the artist who would make the greatest contribution to the seventh Doctor strips.

Echoes of the Mogor sees another significant debut, that of writer Dan Abnett. Hugely enjoyable if hugely derivative, it owes great deal to the film Aliens – even down to the characters’ names; Cameron, O’Bannon and Scott. These survival-suited marines are members of Foreign Hazard Duty, sent to investigate deaths on a colony. It’s all dark corridors and hi-tech, courtesy of a thank-goodness-he’s-back Ridgway. The Mogor happily transpire to be ‘echoes’ that have been terrifying people to death.

A loose ‘arc’ was introduced to the strips at this time, as each story began with the Doctor endeavouring to reach Maruthea for Bonjaxx’s birthday party. First, though, the Doctor had to visit the planet Tojana for Time and Tide, a disappointing tale of lizard creatures partying before their extinction. The author’s intention to deliver an upbeat moral is undermined firstly by the conclusion, which implies that one of the lizard creatures will be forced to breed with its offspring in order to propagate the species, and secondly because the story is so uninspiring it isn’t even noticeable that the pages have been printed in the wrong order.

In the late Autumn of 1989, a second seam of seventh Doctor adventures opened up in the pages of The Incredible Hulk Presents…. The comic was intended for a younger readership than that of Doctor Who Magazine and, running at no more than 5 pages, its strips were often daft, simplistic and cartoony, but had occasional moments of charm.

The first of these adventures is Once in a Lifetime, in which the Doctor is hounded by Miff, a tabloid journalist. Having despatched Miff to a time after his newspaper has folded, the Doctor defeats the Hunger from the Ends of Time, another outing for Foreign Hazard Duty in another Aliens-inspired Abnett tale of an insect infestation on the planet Catalog. Next up is War World!, where the Doctor ends an android war, and Technical Hitch, where he repairs Admiral Vayle’s virtual reality system. There’s more virtual reality in A Switch in Time! when the TARDIS materialises inside a television set, then The Sentinel! finds the Doctor facing the sinister Seneschal and inadvertently giving him the secret of the Time Lords. The Enlightenment of Ly-Chee the Wise features, oddly, a seventh Doctor who practices Venusian Aikido and eats jelly babies. He shares a joke with the eponymous Ly-Chee and teaches him that there’s more to life than enlightenment. Slimmer! then takes the Doctor to Weight-A-Way, the health club at the edge of the galaxy, where the vast Gromongous – ‘Call me “Slim!”’ - has polished off all the guests. The Gromongous then becomes so fat it passes the point of gravitational collapse and forms a black hole. With Nineveh!, the strip takes a turn for the bleak, as the Doctor lands in a TARDIS graveyard – ‘Where Gallifreyans go to die!’. Most delightful of all, though, is the gem that is Who’s That Girl?, in which a female Doctor – replete with scarf - arrives at a peace conference on the planet Okul. It turns out she is a hired killer, impersonating the real Doctor whom she has clamped to the console.

In a similarly daft vein, Time Bomb sees the seventh Doctor adopting an appropriate new career – a jester in an end-of-the-pier panto. This strip, a cameo in Death’s Head magazine, has the psychotic robot being hired by Dogbolter – the capitalist frog of DWM strips passim – to kill our hero. However, Dogbolter has betrayed him by booby-trapping his time-travel back-pack. The back-pack is returned to Dogbolter, killing him in the ensuing explosion, and the Doctor drops Death’s Head off atop the Fantastic Four building. This strip, which sees the return of writer Steve Parkhouse, is huge fun. And for those of you still keeping track of this web of continuity, in a previous adventure Death’s Head had also bumped into Keepsake, the space-bum with the fabulously buxom girlfriend.

Far less auspicious was Invaders from Gantac!, sadly back in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. The Doctor returns to Earth in 1993, only to find that the London has been invaded by the Gantac, a race of officious aliens with bones through their noses. The Gantac are controlled by the blobby Great Yaga, who has invaded the wrong planet in its quest for the ‘Zanta Wroth’. The Doctor convinces Yaga of his error by phoning up his mate Captain Nekro, before Yaga is killed by fleas care of Leapy the tramp. That this is the work of Judge Dredd luminary Alan Grant surely proves the adage that anyone can have an off-day.

As the Doctor dematerialised from the nation’s TV screens in 1989, the strip improved dramatically. This was due to the transferral of editorship to John Freeman, who had a clearer understanding of the tastes of the magazine’s readership and who wanted the strip to become a stimulating and viable continuation of the Doctor’s TV adventures. The main changes he instigated were to use a more illustrious troupe of illustrators - Sullivan, Ridgway, Collins and Ranson - and to accrue of a crew of Who-sympathetic writers. The stories were also placed firmly in the Doctor Who firmament, with returning monsters and companions. Most importantly of all, there was a concerted effort to reproduce the feel of the TV show and to characterise the seventh Doctor with authentic idiomatic dialogue. At last, the ‘comic strip Doctor’ would realise his potential.

Although edited by his predecessor, Nemesis of the Daleks sounds the opening fanfare of the Freeman era. This poll-winning story is distinguished by Sullivan’s jaw-dropping artwork, as each episode revels in awesome full-page reveals of space stations and Dalek hordes. The story included the long-awaited return of Abslom Daak, nemesis of every lousy, stinking Dalek in the galaxy and former star of the Doctor Who Weekly b-strip. Daak’s ship has crashed on the planet Hell, his fellow Star Tigers expiring in the impact. As he is taken on board the Daleks’ Death Wheel, Daak goes Ogron-excrement crazy with his chainsaw and destroys the central reactor.

Train Fight is memorable mainly for its inclusion of Sarah Jane - beautifully characterised and photo-referenced – and its meticulous depictions of Routemaster buses. The story is best remembered for its bittersweet reunion between the Doctor and Sarah rather than its pedestrian plot about the Kalik kidnapping humans for food.

Unfortunately one of the early strips under Freeman’s editorship proved less than edifying due to factors beyond his control. This was Doctor Conkerer!, a half-baked left-over from the Hulk comic and five pages of patronising whimsy about the Doctor inventing the game of conkers. Even allowing for the fact that it is intended for infants, it is utterly ghastly. The following month there wasn’t even a comic strip – at the time DWM was experimenting with text stories, with Ace joining the Doctor in Andy Lane’s Living in the Past, followed by Paul Cornell’s first published Doctor Who prose, Teenage Kicks.

As well as bringing in new writers, Freeman himself contributed with A Glitch in Time. Unfortunately its highly-stylised artwork doesn’t work, and the story is a retread of the what-if-someone-went-back-and-killed-the-first-mammal cliché. More promising is Terror from the Deep, a strip intended for newspaper syndication based on the suggestions of the audience at a fan convention. As a result, the story is very wish-listy - UNIT fighting the Daleks in the newly-constructed Channel Tunnel.

Party Animals sees the Doctor finally arriving at Maruthea for Bonjaxx’s birthday party. The story is celebratory in nature, incorporating cameos from the worlds of Doctor Who, Marvel and cult TV, and makes an amusing Doctor Who version of Where’s Wally?, the reader scanning the crowd for familiar faces – where else can you find Bart Simpson sharing a drink with a Klingon, Beep the Meep and Sapphire and Steel. The story also features a future Doctor resembling actor Nick Briggs. The Nick Briggs Doctor would later return, to much consternation, in Wormwood.

Freeman also offered the writers of the TV series the opportunity to contribute to the script. Ben Aaronovitch’s submitted idea was rejected, and later became the controversial New Adventure Transit, whilst Marc Platt’s strip, Cat Litter, is neat but inconsequential – it entails Ace running through the TARDIS as it undergoes re-jigging. Amusingly, the story includes a spread that resembles snakes and ladders, recalling the stranger sections of the sixth Doctor’s Voyager. 

On the whole, though, Freeman stuck to a core group of four writers – Abnett, Gray, Cornell and Cartmel. Abnett’s magnum opus is The Mark of Mandragora, an epic adventure enjoying two ‘preludes’; Darkness Falling - which explains why the Brigadier won’t appear - and Distractions - which prepares the ground for a return of the Mandragora at the end of the 20th century. What makes this poll-topping story so gratifying are the twists Abnett works into the storyline – particularly the moment when the Doctor and Ace are running through the dark corridors of the TARDIS, turn a corner and are confronted by UNIT soldiers. The UNIT soldiers are investigating a factory of the drug Mandrake or ‘M’ that is located in the basement of the Falling Star nightclub. The resolution is also exceptional – the Doctor is defeated by the gorgeously malevolent Stranks and it is only the intervention of the TARDIS that saves the day. This notion of challenging the idea that the Doctor must always win would later reoccur in the New Adventures. Finally, this story introduces the character of Captain Muriel Frost, who would return in later strips, the audio adventure The Fires of Vulcan and elsewhere...

Abnett’s next adventure, The Grief, sees a return of his Aliens obsession. This time the marines are members of CHEX instead of FHD, but that is all that has changed. They are investigating the planet Sorsha which houses a superweapon known as ‘The Grief’ - a Lom warrior, which then slaughters the CHEX team. Whilst pleasingly gruesome, the story also leaves the Doctor doing nothing but spout exposition as his plan slots into place – another New Adventures trope. Also, Vincent Danks’ artwork is unsatisfactory – the story cries out for the steel and grit of Ridgway.

Pureblood, the first strip to feature New Adventures companion Bernice Summerfield, is pure space opera. Another poll-winner, the strip opens with the destruction of the Sontaran home planet. The Sontarans transfer their ‘race bank’ to the Pandora Spindle research station, only to find the villainous Rutan phosphorescing in the wings. The Rutan have allied themselves with ‘Pureblood’ Sontarans – pre-cloning versions of the species. The Doctor shows the ‘Pureblood’ the error of their ways, and, in keeping with the New Adventures feel, we learn that this was all part of his scheme to ‘push time along the right lines.’

Cuckoo marks something of a departure for Abnett as it features no gun-toting soldiers. Instead, it is a contemplative if wordy tale about Mary Wesley, a fossil-hunter who has discovered the remains of an alien creature. Little does she realise that another of the aliens has come to retrieve those remains… Cuckoo is distinguished by its gorgeous Ridgway artwork and its unexpected ending – rather than defeat the alien Surcoth, the Doctor just gives it what it wants.

New Zealand writer Warwick Gray would later become one of the leading lights of the eighth Doctor strip.  His first story, Memorial, is sophisticated and moving. The Doctor and Ace visit a war memorial, where they meet a soldier who has been used as a repository for the life-essence of the otherwise-extinct Telphin race. Flashback is equally ingenious, though the Doctor and Benny do little in the story but watch a holo-simulation recording of a spat on Gallifrey between the first Doctor (‘Thete’) and the Time Lord ‘Magnus’, probably intended to be the War Chief. Younger & Wiser is even less eventful, amounting to little more than the Doctor and Benny having a chat about turning off a computer.

Final Genesis, on the other hand, is a very significant strip, albeit for the wrong reasons. Warwick’s parallel-universe-where-the-Silurians-won story shares many similarities with Jim Mortimer’s parallel-universe-where-the-Silurians-won New Adventure Bloodheat. As both adventures extrapolate from the same source, it seems to be an unfortunate case of ‘great minds thinking alike’ and, given these similarities, it becomes hard to reconcile both adventures as occurring within the same ‘continuity’. Nevertheless Final Genesis has much to commend it, including the return of Colonel Frost and a marvellous villain in Mortakk, intent on creating freakish Silurian/human hybrids using his mutation gas.

Uninvited Guest was the last seventh Doctor strip to be printed in DWM until Ground Zero (also written by Warwick Gray, now writing under the name Scott Gray). Uninvited Guest is a conscious step away from New Adventures continuity, as the Doctor is now travelling sans Benny and Ace. It is another thought-provoking one-parter, the Doctor gatecrashing an Eternals’ dinner party to bring an end to their games.

Freeman’s greatest discovery, though, must be Paul Cornell. It is interesting to note that whilst Cornell is regarded of as one of the groundbreakers of the New Adventures, his first professionally published Doctor Who work was in the strip with Stairway to Heaven, a brief tale woven around an original sci-fi conceit – the TARDIS landing inside a world that turns out to be a sculpture.

Reading Seaside Rendezvous one can only conclude that the DWM office were the victims of a cruel hoax, with someone submitting an atrocious story under Cornell’s name in order to destroy his reputation. The story – such as it is – concerns Ace being menaced by an Ogri on Blackpool beach.  The Chameleon Factor acts as a prelude to the New Adventures – and contains one of their early weaknesses, being over-concerned with continuity. The same criticism can be levelled at Metamorphosis, in which the Daleks mutate a spaceship’s cargo of embryos into Dalek/human hybrids. The Doctor also ‘mutates’ and develops a telepathic link with the embryos, instructing them to self-destruct.

Emperor of the Daleks is simply superb. Again, the story contains a mind-boggling glut of continuity references, as the story works as a sequel to Nemesis of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks and Planet of the Daleks whilst also anticipating Remembrance of the Daleks. It is the equivalent of a young boy being given the keys to a toyshop and running about playing with all the toys – but, to extend the analogy, it’s also the equivalent of the young boy then putting all the toys back into their boxes in a far better state than he had found them.

The story opens with the sixth Doctor and Peri removing Davros to a secret location. We then see Doctor and Benny returning to Hell, bumping into Abslom Daak and his Star Tigers (who are not dead after all). However, they are not on Hell, but Skaro – it has all been a Dalek trap! The Daleks want the Doctor to take them to Davros. He complies, leading them to the planet Spiridon where Davros has re-awakened an army of four million Daleks and declared himself emperor. As a Dalek civil war rages, makes sure that Davros – now deprived of a body thanks to Abslom Daak - knows where to find the Hand of Omega.

This story is the last of Freeman’s editorship and serves as a fitting grand finale. In addition to Cornell’s inspired story-telling, what really makes it outstanding is the artwork. Striving to top Nemesis of the Daleks Sullivan creates stunning vistas of dramatic space battles. Unforgettably, one instalment ends with a full-colour double-page cliff-hanger spread of Davros and his Dalek army.

Cornell’s final story Time and Time Again is also in colour, to commemorative the show’s 30th anniversary. It’s a harmless wallow in nostalgia, with the seventh Doctor collecting segments of the Key to Time disguised as nick-knacks from his predecessors’ adventures.

Undoubtedly the most important writer of the strips was Andrew Cartmel. His strips are particularly fascinating because they afford an undiluted insight into his vision for the TV show. Whereas Cartmel’s Doctor Who novels are considerably removed from the TV show, his strips are grounded in its characters and situations.

His first strip is Fellow Travellers and, following Doctor Conkerer!, the upswing in quality is vertiginous. The story – the first to include Ace – is a shadowy, claustrophobic tale of alien possession. It demonstrates a precocious mastery of the medium, with pages clear of dialogue and others full of the multiple-entendres of stories such as Ghost Light. This story takes place within a mansion where the occupants – three female generations of the same family – are terrorised by ‘Hitchers’. First their cat is possessed and then, horrifyingly, the grandmother.

The story also recalls the atmosphere of Sapphire & Steel, thanks to the breath-taking artwork of Arthur Ranson. The likenesses, whilst conspicuously photo-referenced, are the best the strip has ever witnessed. Also of note is that the story introduces the idea of the Doctor owning a country house – a concept that Cartmel would develop in the New Adventures. The only flaw with Fellow Travellers is the intrusive inclusion of an anti-racism message. One criticism of Cartmel’s tenure as script editor is that the moralising is more explicit than implicit, and certainly the anti-racism in Fellow Travellers feels shoehorned.

Thankfully less didactic is The Good Soldier, an inventive story with snappy artwork from Mike Collins. The Doctor and Ace arrive at a Nevada gas station in 1954 where some soldiers are anticipating an alien visitation. The station is transported via shuttle to the Cybermen’s mothership. Escaping, the Doctor hotwires Ace’s brain to the shuttle’s controls and she causes the mothership to explode.

Again, The Good Soldier contains elements of Cartmel’s era on TV. Ace speaks in wisecracks and gives everyone a nickname. The plot includes aliens wiring a human into their computer to give it an ‘illogical’ component, a concept familiar to viewers of Remembrance of the Daleks. The Doctor’s plan requires his companion to be placed in the line of danger – with the unfortunate effect of making his ‘manipulative’ tactics appear cowardly. This device would become a mainstay of the New Adventures, which commenced during this story’s run.

Cartmel’s next story was Evening’s Empire, or rather, it wasn’t. The opening instalment appeared, only to be followed by reprints for the next four months. In DWM editorial Freeman would ‘hmm’ and ‘haa’ and mutter that ‘we’ve checked the post and it still hasn’t arrived.’ The completed strip wouldn’t arrive for another two years, eventually materialising in a Classic Comics special.

The finished strip, though, is worth the wait, and, as an extrapolation of TV show, it is peerless. As the Doctor investigates a crashed World War II plane, Ace is drugged and becomes a concubine in an adolescent boy’s fantasy kingdom. Fortunately for her, the Doctor punctures the boy’s dreams by introducing the one thing he fears – his bigoted, Bible-bashing mother. Along the way, we meet the gorgeous Captain Frost and, in true Doctor Who tradition, some UNIT soldiers shoot at things to no avail. Special mention must also be made for the artwork, which is spectacular, if occasionally based on inappropriate photo-references.

Again, though, the strip’s integrity is undermined by the writer using it as a soapbox. One of the subtexts of the show’s final year is the belittlement of Christians and their beliefs and the espousal of ‘alternative’ New Age philosophies. This attitude would continue in Cartmel’s New Adventures and seems inconsistent with his advocacy of tolerance.

Cartmel’s final strip, Ravens, is set at some point during his novel Warhead. This accounts for Ace’s absence from the strip – and the Doctor’s absence from the novel. This strip has ‘magic’ occurring without rationalisation – something that had generally not been part of Doctor Who before Cartmel’s tenure. The plot – in which the Doctor transports a Japanese warrior into the present to slay some thugs – not only presents the Doctor as a coward but also contains insufficient incident for the story’s three episodes. Instead, the characters sit around watching snowflakes and considering patterns. It is confusing and dull, and makes one wonder how much understanding the writer had of the series’ ethos.

As Gary Russell took over editorship of the strip, it was becoming clear that it would no longer be practical to attempt to tie-in with the New Adventures. Firstly, the long lead-in times had led to inevitable clashes – Final Genesis, and also Abslom Daak being alive in the strip and dead in the novel Deceit. Secondly, the novels would shortly be introducing two new companions who would alienate those not up-to-speed. Thirdly, and most importantly, the chances of the series recommencing with Sylvester McCoy were slim, so DWM had shifted its focus to providing equal coverage to all incarnations. There was a feeling that it was time for the other Doctors to have a turn in the strip – something the books were also doing by introducing the Missing Adventures. However, this meant that for the first time since 1964 – give or take some months between publications and the Evening’s Empire hiatus – there would not be an ongoing Doctor Who comic strip.

The only seventh Doctor strips published during this time were Younger & Wiser and Gareth Roberts’ Plastic Millennium. Plastic Millennium is notable for providing a debut for artist Martin Geraghty, who would later draw the bulk of the eighth Doctor strips, and for being the only strip to feature companion Mel. She and the Doctor are attending a New Year’s Eve party being held by Alisha Hammerson – an auton. During this perverse recreation of Season 24 we learn that the Doctor hates excessive use of semi-colons but is less fastidious about the correct spelling of ‘millennium’. Roberts would later pen The Last Word, an affectionate but bull’s-eye-accurate parody of the New Adventures – a needlessly convoluted story involving eighties pop music, skirmishing Chelonians and a virtual-reality climax where the Doctor disposes of the Timewyrm through the power of  deus ex machina.

The seventh Doctor’s final strip adventure, Ground Zero, is notorious for contradicting the New Adventures by killing off Ace, arousing a negative reaction amongst book aficionados. However, one can understand editor Gary Gillatt’s reasons for wanting to make a clear break with the books. Firstly, he wanted the strip to be seen as legitimate in its own right and not subservient to another range. Secondly, polls were indicating that DWM readers had become disaffected with the books. Thirdly, the New Adventures would soon be out-of-print so there was little point in the strip continuing to kowtow to them. Fourthly, the symbiosis between the strip and the novels had always been one-way – it was not as if the books had ever recognised any developments in the strip. And fifthly, the strip had already distanced itself from the books with Uninvited Guest.

However, killing off Ace was sensationalistic and served only to alienate book fans and please no-one. Viewed in retrospect it was a mistake, particularly as Ground Zero is stunning without any need for gimmickry.

Ground Zero reunites Peri, Sarah and Susan, who have been kidnapped by the Threshold, a sinister race composed of Letratone. They are agents of the Lorri, giant beetles that feed on fear and loathing. They plan to destroy the Jungian collective unconsciousness and thus bring about pandemonium. Ace and the Doctor arrive at the Notting Hill Carnival, only for Ace to be transported to the Lorri’s nightmarish kingdom. The Doctor follows but is too late to prevent Ace blowing up one of the Lorri – and herself with it. The Doctor then allows the Lorri to feed on his ranger, causing them to explode.

It is satisfying that the seventh Doctor goes out with a bang – Ground Zero is up there with Evening’s Empire, The Mark of  Mandragora and Emperor of the Daleks. In those stories, and others, the character’s potential was realised. Re-reading these strips, it seems that the seventh Doctor was most effective in the ambitious, complex, grand-scale adventures that would have been impossible to achieve in the TV medium, - where the ‘comic strip’ elements of his persona occasionally detracted from his credibility. But most of all, what is impressive about these strips is the writing. Abnett, Cornell, Gray all prove themselves to be superior to many of the TV writers, displaying a rich understanding of both the show’s formula, whilst Cartmel demonstrates again, and again, how his vision for the show could have worked. Because, in strips like Fellow Travellers, you can see how great the TV show could have been.