Doctor Who MAGAZINE - A Ten Year History
There has always been a Doctor Who comic strip. It was first running in TV Comic, then in Countdown and then in TV Action. However, it wasn’t until 1979 that there was a whole magazine solely dedicated to Doctor Who.
Doctor Who Weekly was the brainchild of Dez Skinn who had joined Marvel Comics following a spree publishing the horror titles Monster Mag and The House of Hammer as well as starting up Starburst.
From the start, Skinn was determined that Marvel’s Doctor Who title would be a magazine and not a comic. The initial concept was to present a comic strip, together with articles and features on the Doctor, his companions, and the many aliens and monsters that he had encountered over his sixteen years on the television.
October 17th 1979 saw the publication of the very first issue, which had previously been announced to the Doctor Who fans gathered at the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s third annual convention in August. Tom Baker and a Dalek graced the cover and the contents included the first part of 'Doctor Who and the Iron Legion' by Mills and Wagner, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, an article on the Daleks, a reprint of an older comic strip adaptation of H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds, a couple of letters from the Doctor introducing the magazine and giving some hints about future issues, an article giving a general history of how Doctor Who began, leading into the first of the regular series of synopses which was to begin in issue two with ‘An Unearthly Child’. Other features included the first photo-file, predictably of the first Doctor, William Hartnell and yet another comic strip, this time featuring the Daleks and written by Steve Moore with artwork by Neary and Lloyd.
The first four issues had free transfers of the Doctor, prehistoric men and monsters, spacecraft and the TARDIS which could be rubbed down onto scenes provided on the inside covers of the first issue.
This format continued pretty much unchanged for the weekly issues, with mostly Tom Baker appearing on the cover (as he was the current Doctor). In issue 22, however, an experiment was tried with the series of synopses of the televised stories, and rather than being synopses, they were dramatised and made into short stories. This drew a small outcry from the readers and they were dropped altogether after a couple of issues in favour of totally fictional stories. Issue 26 was billed as a ‘new look’ issue, which basically consisted of a redesign of the contents page! Issue 28 saw the addition of the Gallifrey Guardian (which did not contain ‘real’ news but was mainly fictional with a single piece about TARGET books, it soon became a forum for authentic news however) and also the credited debut of the new editor Paul Neary, with Alan Mackenzie as features editor.
One of the things that Neary instigated was an artwork cover and from issue 30 until issue 36 this continued. However, popular demand brought the photographic covers back. The first interview-type article appeared in issue 29 as BBC Sound Effects supremo Dick Mills took us behind the scenes of the Radiophonic Workshop. This was closely followed by similar feature/interviews on visual effects and the new producer, John Nathan-Turner.
The story synopsis made a brief appearance again in issue 32 with a very abbreviated look at 'The Horns of Nimon' and didn’t begin appearing again on a regular basis until issue 42.
However, bigger moves were afoot and from issue number 44 the magazine went monthly, with an increased page count (from 28 to 36) and a rise in price (from 12 pence to 30 pence).
The new-look monthly magazine contained more articles and features which were increasingly, over the next few years, to take precedence over the comic strip material. Alan Mackenzie took over as editor from issue 49 and he encouraged the introduction of more textual and photographic material, bringing in Jeremy Bentham (who had been assisting on the magazine since its conception) to handle the writing chores.
Issue number 50 introduced the episode guide which was to detail all the televised adventures, giving dates and times of transmission, together with the episode endings. Also in number 50 was the first Matrix Data Bank, a feature which remains very popular to this day. Other issues were given over to covering the Hartnell years, Jon Pertwee’s era and the monsters and by issue number 61, the magazine had gained the distinction of winning the Eagle Award for best comic magazine.
Previews of the new Peter Davison stories were run, as well as centre-spread posters of the Doctor and his companions. Issue 63 saw the first of the regular interviews (with Christine Donougher, the then editor of TARGET books) and also reviews of the current stories.
As well as the regular features, Mackenzie also slipped in some fun items, and of those, two still generate letters to Marvel to this day. The two pieces in question are ‘The Phoenix Rises’ in issue 76, which tells of a supposed lost Hartnell story that has been found in the archives and then updated with new material to be released to fill the space left by the loss of ‘Shada’. As the filming date was given as April 1st 1983, you may have cottoned onto the fact that this was an April Fool - but many did not. The other feature appeared in issue 88, and was also an April Fool. Titled ‘Who’d Have Believed It’ and written by ‘JohnWakefield’ (the name of a character in ‘The Ambassadors of Death’) it tells of the discovery of the fourth episode of ‘The Tenth Planet’ and that story’s subsequent ‘colourisation’ for transmission in Canada. Sadly this too was completely fictional.
The shift in the content style of the magazine was brought about by Mackenzie and Bentham who tapped into what the fans and public alike had really been wanting from their Doctor Who magazine. Their success cannot really be denied as even today, many of the ideas and features remain in the magazine. Eventually Bentham moved on, his place taken by Richard Landen, and following Landen, more writers were brought in, most notably Gary Russell and Richard Marson. Between them, they were to handle most of the writing chores until yours truly took over the Matrix Data Bank from Gary, and the then editor, Sheila Cranna, began to bring in more writers to share out the workload. This trend has been continued and expanded upon by the current editor, John Freeman, such that of the original writers, only myself and Gary Russell still handle the regular columns (Matrix Data Bank and Off the Shelf respectively), with other writers handling the one-off articles and interviews. Indeed it is the contributions of the numerous writers that have helped to make Doctor Who Magazine what it is today.
Over the last ten years, Doctor Who Magazine has undergone a number of different facelifts, been handled by several editors, and has printed many hundreds of articles, photographs and interviews all connected with Doctor Who. It has always been an entertaining magazine, and a valuable source of reference. I feel sure that it will run for as long as the series runs, and perhaps even longer.
David J Howe