Doctor Who has a lengthy history in comic strips dating all the way back to the 1960’s. The Thirteenth Doctor currently has her own comic book series. But the majority of Doctor Who comic tales have been told in the pages of Doctor Who Weekly and now Doctor Who Magazine. Now two particularly memorable comic strips have been adapted by Big Finish for audio.
With any long running franchise, there comes a time when it begins to expand its horizons and embrace other mediums. For sci-fi franchises comics and graphic novels have been a great showcase of what a mind can conjure. In the pages of a comic book the story can be widely accessible, the action told with just a handful of expertly crafted panels. Doctor Who’s comic history is nearly as long as it’s association with books and novelisations, beginning in the 1960’s with TV Comic and later jumping onto Countdown/TV Action. Stories told through comic strips were then found in the pages of Doctor Who Weekly starting in 1979. After a regeneration or two it continues to this day as Doctor Who Magazine, with the comic strip never falling from its pages.
To celebrate not only Big Finish’s 20th anniversary with Doctor Who, but the 40th anniversary of comic’s inception in the magazine, comes something very special. Two full cast four-part stories based on some of those first tales to grace the pages of the world’s longest running spin-off magazine. Do they transition between the mediums gracefully? Or is this a trip between dimensions that should never have happened?
DOCTOR WHO and the IRON LEGION
Where better to start than the beginning? DWM’s first ever comic story. Arriving in the picturesque town of Stockbridge, The Doctor comes across a rather bizarre sight. Robot Romans. With tanks. And a cybernetic, bird-headed General. As the Doctor pokes his nose in an alternate dimension is discovered, with a Rome that never fell, expanding and conquering galaxies! But a dark secret lies at the heart of the new empire, and it’s up to the Doctor to find and stop the empire’s dark masters before both universes are devoured…
This is just about as Doctor Who as you can get, unhindered by the constraints of a TV series. Robot Romans, dimension hopping aliens aplenty. From the bipedal kind to gigantic gelatinous globs. Plus a Doctor so authentic, you’d swear they stole Tom Baker for a day just so they could get him to write his own dialogue. Pat Mills and John Wagner’s original material feels not only like Doctor Who but proper mad pulp sci-fi.
Alan Barnes’ contributions in transferring the story from the printed page to the headphones add much without taking away anything of what made Mills and Wagner’s tale so brilliantly bonkers in the first place. Add in a wide range of performances from all involved in the cast, along with another faultless and grin-inducing performance from Tom Baker, and you have a story that’s not only faithfully lifted from the page, but done so with immaculate precision…
DOCTOR WHO and the STAR BEAST
It would be wrong to have a Comic Adaptations set without having the debut of DWM’s most infamous original villain! In the town of Blackcastle, many swear they saw a UFO last night. Schoolkids Sharon and Fudge learn that it was indeed a UFO. They come across the pilot, an adorable little fuzzball called a Meep. But the vengeful Wrarth Warriors are also on the Meep’s trail and things go from mad to insane when the Doctor arrives on the scene. Can the Doctor and Sharon save the day in time? Or will they discover an even greater terror than they could have imagined?
Following the big sci-fi Roman invasion we now go to a simpler, but twistier, wild goose chase on Earth. And every last bit of it is marvellous! Mills and Wagner’s original treatment hit all the right notes of comedy, tension, excitement and the terrifying. In the adapting hands of Alan Barnes, every one of those feelings is engorged to ten times their size. It truly feels like the maddest of mad romps and is a pure blast to listen to. An exemplary cast is showcased with Tom Baker’s unflappable talents joined by Rhianne Starbuck as Sharon, Ben Hunter, David Schall, Sian Reeves and even Angela Rippon making it all feel absolutely authentic.
The highlights are the brilliant Chris Walker-Thomson, who succeeds in getting a laugh with every role he has, and Bethan Dixon Bate as Beep. Taking over from Toby Longworth was quite a task, but Bethan is brilliant as the manic fuzzball.
PLEASE LET THERE BE MORE BEEP AT BIG FINISH!
Lost in Adaptation?
As with the process of bringing books to TV and film, the process of bringing comics to audio presents its own unique set of challenges. A challenge that Alan Barnes grandly accepted. What bigger challenge can you have than to adapt an eight part comic strip that can be read in fifteen minutes, into a two hour play? Well, not only did Barnes take on the task, but excelled with it. From a mix of new characters, expanded scenes, fresh context and more twisty twists than a twister, Barnes’ additions not only pace it perfectly for audio, but makes the worlds feel more authentic.
Now on audio, one crucial element of the originals is absent; Dave Gibbons’ utterly captivating artwork. Even in black and white, the colours and energy scream from the page. But Barnes’ adaptations, and authentic descriptions and scene settings have done Gibbons’ work proud. No doubt if someone looked at the original comic, after hearing these audios, they’ll think to themselves “That’s exactly how I imagined it!”
Having been requested for so long, left in the oven for nearly three years since the first recording, and now finally with us, it’s safe to say that these have become a must listen for any Doctor Who fan. Mills and Wagner’s original stories coupled with Barnes’ skilful adapting, are paired with an incredible cast and expert directing from Nicholas Briggs. With Jamie Anderson on Producer duties and some astounding sound design and music from Alistair Lock, The Comic Strip Adaptations are the perfect continuation for Big Finish’s year long celebration. The fact that this is Volume One hopefully means that more sets are not that far behind…
(WHAT DO WE WANT?! FROBISHER!! WHEN DO WE WANT HIM?! NOW!!)
Doctor Who and the Iron Legion adapted by Alan Barnes
1979 AD! Led by the terrible General Ironicus, the mighty Iron Legion – robot veterans of the Eternal War – have come, seen and conquered the English village of Stockbridge!
Caught up in the mayhem, the Doctor pursues the Legion back through the great Dimension Duct to their place of origin – an alternative Earth where Rome never fell…
But can he survive the horrors of the gladiatorial Hyp-Arena long enough to uncover the terrifying secret at the heart of the Galactic Roman Empire?
Doctor Who and the Star Beast adapted by Alan Barnes
1980 AD! In Yorkshire, the authorities have dismissed reports that an Unidentified Flying Object was seen plummeting towards the ground… moments before the explosion that destroyed the Blackcastle Steel Mills. After all, Blackcastle is the last place on Earth aliens would ever want to visit…
Local teenagers Sharon and Fudge know better. ’Cos they’ve found an actual space alien hiding in the allotments. He’s their alien. Their secret. And his name is… The Meep.
He’s not the only alien in Blackcastle, though. His pursuers, the terrible Wrarth Warriors, are on his trail, along with their unwitting accomplice: The Doctor!
From the comic strips written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, with art by Dave Gibbons.
Written By: Alan Barnes.
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs.
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Rhianne Starbuck (Sharon), Brian Protheroe (General Ironicus / Milkman), Christine Kavanagh (Juno / Magog), Joseph Kloska (Morris / Centurion), Toby Longworth (Vesuvius / Grubb / Overseer), Luke Franks (Adolphus Caesar), Alistair Lock (Babiyon), Steve Hansell (Doug / Barbarius / Alien Guard), Esther Hall (Viv / Commentator), Ben Hunter (Fudge / UNIT Corporal), Bethan Dixon Bate (The Meep / Wrarth Surgeon), Angela Rippon (Newsreader), David Schaal (Inspector Zogroth / Bus Driver), Chris Walker-Thomson (Sergeant Zreeg / Councillor / UNIT Lieutenant), Sian Reeves (Mrs Higgins). Other parts played by members of the cast.