Madman in a Box


Last night, surely the only place to be was in front of the BBC’s giddy Doctor Who Live for the announcement of the Twelfth Doctor. I have to say I was very surprised: I’d read the internet rumours but was surprised to find they were right. Some of the speculation had seemed wild to me- Idris Elba sounded highly unlikely. While I was hoping for a black or Asian actor, like Richard Ayoade or Riz Ahmed, I was actually expecting Andrew Scott, Sherlock‘s Moriarty.

I had dismissed the casting of a woman – an idea I find pointless and irrelevant at present,  although I did support it in the late 90s, when Daniela Nardini was associated with the part in the tabloid press. I was also surprised at the casting of an actor of Capaldi’s experience- then of course, I remembered Christopher Eccleston, Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, who had all been selected for revivals of the series.

So I’m very excited- I hope the scripts improve in quality but it’s very encouraging to have a Doctor who is older than me again and one who, like me, formerly performed with Strathclyde Theatre Group.

So, fittingly, today’s gala 150th ‘optikon post reviews the most recent tabloid sized comic in my collection: Doctor Who Dave Gibbons Treasury Edition from August 2012. I was completely oblivious to its existence until this year. This collection, from IDW, brings together the first couple of months of Dr. Who Weekly strips from 1979 by Mills, Wagner and Gibbons.


Oddly, the cover image refers to the 1981 story Junkyard Demon from Doctor Who Monthly: it doesn’t appear in this Treasury.

The Iron Legion is the first of two seven-episode strips, which were coloured and reprinted in the early 80s in the US Marvel Premiere comic. It begins with the invasion of a sleepy English town ( very Avengersland) by robotic Roman Legionaries. A shopkeeper is killed in an explosion of baked bean cans: this image is both comic and violent and heralds a very different sensibility to Tom Baker’s whimsical adventures in TV Comic only months earlier.


The Doctor encounters the sinister raptor-robot Ironicus; is thrown to the slug-like Ectoslime in the arena ( where, wittily, he goes through his “memory files”- “Abominable Snowmen, Autons, Axos…”); finally becoming an air- galley slave.

Of course, the Doctor initiates a rebellion with the aid of a stammering robot, Vesuvius and Morris, a cyborg gladiator. The former recalls Tin of the Metal Men, while the latter reminds me of Artie from Harlem Heroes.  The Gods of the Roman Empire, the bat-like Malevilus, feed on humans very like the Mahars from At the Earth’s Core.

Not only does the strip evoke the tv show’s jackdaw approach to popular culture, it also accurately captures Tom Baker’s character voice as well as his likeness: ” Until the end of eternity, you’ll rule a kingdom beyond all kingdoms, Magog! For now, you’re the emperor of the empty dimension! Lord of Nothing!” I can clearly hear Tom taking those lines from a sonorous mutter to an angry hiss.

As a satire of sword and sandal epics, with 1950s sci-fi imagery thrown in, The Galactic Roman Empire is a fascinating setting; it surprises me that it’s never been revisisted in comics, prose or on tv.

City of the Damned aka City of the Cursed in the USA is 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 viewed through the 2000AD prism. The inhabitants of the planet Zom are ruled by a Brains Trust (literally humanoids with giant, exposed brains) who enforce a emotionless autocracy.


The Doctor falls in with ZEPO, a rebel movement of Pythonesque characters who have each adopted an emotion to keep it alive. These include Angry, Very Angry, Humble, Nervous and Half Daft. When Big Hate unleashes the rapacious Barabara Blood Bugs, the “perfect society” has to re-adopt the “evils” of emotion. The story ends with the entire populace modelling itself slavishly on the Doctor. This outcome is both inevitable and somewhat sinister: it’s very much in the vein of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide.

The muted colours are very effective in this collection, the point where the ethos of 2000 AD ( then two years old,) meets the Dr. Who strip. Tharg’s Future Shocks saw satirical and anarchic British humour mixed with dystopian visions of the future, drawn largely from 1970s US cinema. The outlandish worlds of the strip fit the tone of Seasons 16 and 17 with their Oxbridge absurdity and sci-fi settings: only two late 70s Who adventures had contemporary Earth settings- one in a pagan Mummerset Home Counties and the other, an ITC action series version of Paris.

Doctor Who Weekly was also the starting point for Russell T. Davies’ vision of Who: the “bitchy trampoline” Cassandra, the flatulent Slitheen and the leech-like Jagrafess all feel like they could have been drawn by Dave Gibbons.

This is a lovely edition and a reminder of when the strip was not only informed by the tv series (which was not always the case, as in the 5th Doctor’s time -or the Sixth,when it was better) but by the zeitgeist.

Coming soon: Superman Super-Spectacular, 1975

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


One comment on “Madman in a Box

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I meant to look at these new volumes, but I’ve got the stories several times over, from the original U.K. versions, to the first U.S. Marvel Premiere editions, to the U.S. monthly mags – do I really need any more? I think Id rather see them in Marvel Omnibus or Masterworks volumes.

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