Observant readers will notice that the last annual we looked at was dated 1971 and this one is 1973, but we haven’t actually missed one out. Doctor Who was not deemed a successful enough series to warrant an annual for the missing year, but luckily it was only one year before the range was re-started. Whether work was ever started on a 1972 annual or not I don’t know, but some of the stories in this annual do feel like they might be recycled from unused storylines.
Having said that, we can’t judge much from a feeling of being stuck in a rut, when we look at the annual range. The 60s annuals never got beyond being odd Cushing/Web Planet mashups, and astonishingly we have still not moved past that entirely. It’s not just all the referring to the Doctor as Dr Who (which is, after all, what it says on the end credits), but the insistence on pitting the Doctor against giant insects. Again.
But let’s look at what this annual has to offer, in a logical order, rather than jumping ahead. There are seven stories, plus lots of all the usual boring factual articles. Those are a bit more varied this time round, encompassing flags, history, dinosaurs and Wonders of the World, plus the obligatory spacey stuff.
Before we look at the seven stories, a quick mention as to the quality of the annual in general. We are on a downward spiral here, which will reach its nadir for the 1977 annual. Pertwee isn’t drawn too badly, but Jo is unrecognisable throughout, and hardly looks like the same person from one page to another. For War in the Abyss, she seems to have morphed into Maureen Robinson from Lost in Space. The frontispiece sets the tone, a bizarre piece of artwork featuring normal Doctor, super-skinny Doctor, and Doctor-who-ate-all-the-pies. The eye-catching cover art of the 60s annuals has now given way to a bland photograph. No wonder Pertwee seems to be yawning on the cover.
You just scrolled back up the page to look at the cover again, didn’t you.
So how about the stories. Well, in the world of Doctor Who annuals, Season Seven refuses to roll over and die. Dark Intruders channels The Ambassadors of Death, with astronauts who were sent to Mars coming back wrong. Luckily, UNIT and the Doctor are inexplicably on the scene for the return of the astronauts to Earth, despite no prior indication that anything alien was going to be involved. But then the TV series always treated UNIT as generic soldiers as well, when it was convenient. Although being obviously derivative, this story does have the advantage of a gloriously creepy idea, with aliens infecting humans and controlling them by means of a kind of dust that gets inside the body.
For both War in the Abyss and Hunt to the Death we are firmly in Silurians territory. The former is about a robotic race that has been living inside the Earth for a long time, and has no interest in humans beyond being a bit miffed that we are nicking all their oil. The annual writers aren’t having any of that shades of grey moralising from The Silurians, and the Doctor merrily solves the problem by setting off some dynamite to activate a dormant volcano. It seems like there shouldn’t have been another way, after all.
In Hunt to the Death we are on the Yorkshire moors, with Dr Who and Jo encountering a potholer who takes them underground, where something is lurking:
When at last it stood swaying on its dozen spidery legs, it was like a gigantic, nightmarish, praying mantis.
Yes, it’s yet another giant insect to defeat.
Apart from Jo, the only major concession to any Doctor Who post-1970 is Doorway Into Nowhere, that features the Master. He has been busy kidnapping one of the Doctor’s best friends (who we have never heard of before), and is going to use the man’s scientific knowledge to open up a gateway to a parallel universe. He offers the Doctor a date:
“I offer you joint domination of an entire solar system,” laughed the Master, “and you throw it back into my teeth. You and I, Doctor, are both innocent victims of the Time Lords, who exiled us both to Earth, instead of our true realm, the boundless Universe. I have found a way, and I offer it to you, to escape from the edict of the Time Lords.”
There are a few problems with that. The retcon of exiling the Master to Earth as well is a bit odd, and the Master needing the intelligence of a 1970s human to achieve his plans is hard to believe, but never mind. At least there aren’t any giant insects. But, with the idea of travelling to a parallel universe, the spectre of Season Seven continues to hang over the annual, even when the Master pops up in a story.
In The Claw, we find out something new about the Doctor. He farts in his sleep.
Jo Grant leaned forward in the rear seat of the Army staff car. “Anyone mind if I let the window down?” she asked politely.
There was no reply from Dr Who. He appeared to be snoozing in a corner of the car, with his cloak drawn up around his face.
Best to keep the nose covered at times like that. The aliens in this story seem to have wind problems as well. A giant crab claw (yes, another one of those) looms out of a strange sea mist, and the Doctor has a theory:
The only question in my mind is – was it really sea-mist, or some sort of emanation?
Never has a more polite term been used for flatulence. In a rare twist that rips off something other than Season Seven, it turns out to be a fake alien. So yes, Colony in Space, in other words.
Saucer of Fate goes all Spearhead on us, with a small, metal, saucer like object crashing to Earth. And when I say small, we’re talking Nestene sphere kind of small. Finally we have The Phaser Aliens. With the writers obviously bored with riffing on the same four stories over and over again for the second annual in a row, they end the 1973 annual with a story about invisible aliens invading. The Doctor, having happily wiped out an underground race earlier in the annual, goes all xenophobic here:
They never seem to have killed or hurt anyone in all the weeks they’ve been on Earth. But one cannot permit your world to be invaded. Diamonds I have no use for, but your Earth must be kept inviolate. I’m going in to let these creatures know they are trespassing…
When the Doctor manages to photograph them with some special equipment, they apparently look a bit like eggs. It’s a good job he didn’t have a frying pan handy. RP