The five Doctor Who annuals published during the 60s were all written along similar lines, a kind of mashup between The Web Planet and the Cushing movies. By the time we got to the Troughton era, this was already feeling weirdly out-of-place. Here at last we move on to something resembling more closely the contemporary television series, but there are still some odd holdovers from the previous annuals. The Doctor is still referred to as “Dr. Who” throughout:
The Brigadier nodded. If only, he fumed, Dr. Who were here.
The aliens still have names that hail from the tail end of the alphabet, sci-fi schlock names like Zoltans and Zelds. And the writers can’t resist the occasional giant insect, this time grasshoppers in Caverns of Horror. Oh, and at the end of the annual the writers obviously must have run out of ideas, so just threw in a rewrite of one of the previous stories. Take a look at this quote from A Universe Called Fred:
You know of outer space? Well, this gadget is for communication with inner space. That is, with probable worlds of sub-atomic size, worlds as small as electrons…
And sure enough, the Doctor visits a strange sub-atomic world of “inner space”, just like he did in Atoms Infinite, a story from the second Troughton annual.
The format has been tweaked a bit for this annual. There are still a huge number of boring lists of facts, which I suppose were mildly interesting for kids in those dark pre-Wikipedia days. But there are no comic strips, and fewer stories. So there are just 8 pieces of fiction in total in an annual of over 70 pages, allowing for longer-form short story telling. This is useful, because by the time of Troughton’s final annual we really had got into a rut of the Doctor getting into danger and then escaping, which was all that could really be done within the word count. The stories here have rather more fleshed-out plots, often taking place over more than one location.
With only one Pertwee series to base this on, the stories are extremely reminiscent of the first four Pertwee stories. The Mind Extractors is very Spearhead, starting the annual with the Doctor absent for most of the story, and as for the aliens, does this remind you of anything?
Uncontrollably Liz panicked. It was a face, unmistakably, yet surely no human one. For it was without the solidity of natural growth. Rather more as though liquid flesh had been poured into a mould.
Obviously bored with re-running the same adventures over and over again, the Doctor gets personal with the Brig:
“Now,” said the Brigadier, when they were seated in the old vehicle, “tell me everything that happened.”
“Your parts failed…”
Then the story takes a turn towards Ambassadors of Death, with Russian cosmonauts taken to hospital with amnesia, and a mystery fifth cosmonaut in a crew of four. Soldiers from Zolta continues the space exploration theme, with a Mars landing “bug” destroyed by aliens, who then act friendly and offer to help the human race. In an interesting reversal of The Silurians, the Brigadier thinks the best of them but the Doctor is suspicious. The illustration of the Zoltans is unintentionally hilarious. It’s impossible to look at it and not see a couple of Cybermen with no faces, half a cyber helmet each with one handle. It has to be seen to be believed.
Just like in The Silurians, the Doctor ends up kidnapped underground in The Ghouls of Grestonspey, where he gets very angry (“No one did this to him.“) and then meets his captor:
For this was a true man, dressed in silvery coveralls. A huge, powerful man with an air of supreme authority.
Well, I suppose it takes a “true man” to wear silver coveralls. Further on in the annual, Dr. Who is under the ground again, for Caverns of Horror, where (if the illustration is to be believed) he seems to be exploring a giant stone carving of his angry head. Maybe the Ghoul of Grestonspey carved it. This is our obligatory giant insect story, and it has an unusual effect on the Doctor:
Sobbing and gibbering he went on, his laser burning a pathway through those hordes of giant nightmares until he won his way to the rock-slide again. He plunged through and saw the torches, the gasmasks and the radiation suits of the soldiers. He fell sobbing into the arms of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
You would have thought Dr. Who would have been used to giant insects by now, after five annuals of them. In another reversal of The Silurians, the Doctor decides that the planet is not for sharing:
You know, Liz, I have always regarded all life as sacred. An insect I would hate to tread upon by accident. But those things… ugh! There is no room in the world for mankind and them.
Also going down the route of “Ew” Creepy monster!” is The Dark Planet, which goes big with body horror. The Doctor and Liz witness a car crash, and find an alien slug on the body of one of the victims. There is actually a strong theme to the whole annual of aliens invading on the small scale, sneaking under the radar to attack the human race. Invaders Invisible goes with alien possession, but with the aliens unseen, so we are back in Ambassadors territory, whereas Caught in the Web is our Inferno homage, with a scientist who doesn’t know when to stop running experiments and being guarded by UNIT. Again, the threat is about something small posing a major risk.
“It’s Dr. Rossi… And he’s repeating the experiment with the planet-dust,” he said…
“The fool!” The exclamation was jerked from Dr. Who. “He doesn’t know the dangers…”
It feels like the annual range has started to grow up at last, but its past is still pulling it back. This is a much more sophisticated read than the first five annuals, but that does mean that some of the fun has gone. Those first five were just so gloriously weird. But there are only so many stories you can write about Dr. Who and the giant insects. RP