The Doctor Who annuals continue their slow decline with this offering, featuring endless boring lucky dips from the children’s encyclopedia. There are six short stories and two comic strips. The annuals always did feel out of step with the television series, but they are now archaic with their sea monsters and schlock sci-fi aliens, and everyone’s insistence on calling the Doctor “Dr Who”.
Never was the gap between the creation of the annual and its publication more noticeable, with the Doctor Earthbound pretty much for the whole book, working either with UNIT or some other military organisation, and the Master showing up in the first three stories, all of which are depressingly derivative of either the previous annuals or the television series.
The first story is Listen – the Stars! As is the unimaginative starting point for most stories in any of the Pertwee annuals, the Doctor is in the company of somebody doing some scientific research. A cleaning lady knocks a switch and hears an alien voice in her head:
I am Zex. I am of the System gger. Who are you?
That should set your expectations for the rest of the annual: aliens that love the less-frequented letters of the alphabet and get quirky with capitalisation. She is being observed by the Master from his TARDIS, who immediately contacts Zex:
Zex. This is the Master. Listen to me. This Planet is called Earth. A rich Planet. You would help me conquer it?
I wonder if that’s how he made all his alliances, basically by asking somebody on a date. Hey Nestene, this is the Master. Want to go get a bite to eat, and take over the world? The cleaning lady’s body is taken over by Zex, who amusingly uses her mop as an energy weapon. The Doctor saves the day by building a gadget out of an egg cup and a fork which spins around on the top. Ring any bells? Of all the scenes in Doctor Who, they had to emulate that.
The Master is up to more mischief in Out of the Green Mist. Once again, some science goes wrong and the Master steps in to try to take advantage. The spirit of Season Seven still lingers over the annual range like a bad smell:
It seems that with that uncanny luck which seems to follow me round, by one chance in millions I had achieved a point in this Space/Time world which, at that instant, happened to coincide with similar conditions in this other alien universe existing invisibly, side by side with ours.
So it’s a parallel universe, but this one is occupied by a green cloud with a whispering voice. Matters are complicated when the Master shows up dressed in the Brigadier’s uniform, having listened in again.
Think of the infinite opportunities offered to me and my plans with this marvel. You mentioned infinite universes and infinite dimensions… my mind absolutely drools, Doctor.
Completing the Master trilogy is the first comic strip, The Time Thief, in which the Master has hypnotised an alien race called the Ekayprians into obeying him, assembling an army, while the Doctor tries to dodge the Ekayprians’ sea monster. Are you starting to see what I mean when I say this is derivative?
The Master disappears from the annual as abruptly as he disappeared sadly from the Pertwee era, but the Doctor is still firmly stuck in the UNIT era. In The Fathom Trap a plane carrying a general to a UNIT conference has vanished over the sea. Jo and Dr Who go on an undersea search, using the Pisces, a “nippy little submersible”. Finding the wreck of the plane they also find “serpentoids” called the Kluss, the most unintentionally amusing aliens in the annual. Think sea snakes but with neat haircuts, very feminine eyelashes and not-so-feminine moustaches. Firmly still in Season Seven mode, it all turns out to be a big misunderstanding, and the Doctor brokers a peace and helps them out.
The second of the two comic strips is Menace of the Molags, which mashes up Season Seven themes with The Daemons. If the creators of this strip never saw that story it’s an extraordinary coincidence. It actually starts very 21st Century Who, with a UFO turning up over London and similar scenes shown in New York, Paris and Moscow. Inside the UFOs are aliens who have arrived to help fight the Molags (basically dinosaurs that come from seeds) as they have done periodically. They just happen to look almost exactly like Azal, although they are peaceful.
We have become part of your myths and these are not easily forgotten.
In Talons of Terror the Doctor continues to take Jo Grant on a Greatest Hits of Season Seven, this time driving through a remote part of Yorkshire to get to a conference, when Bessie is attacked by a “Thing”. We are back in familiar annual territory: think of an earth creature and make it bigger and scarier.
His fleeting impression was that of a bulbous head with a single eye that glowed green like a cat’s eye in the lengthening twilight shadows. The lower part of the head was taken up by a huge beak, cruelly curved like a hawk’s.
We are back under the sea for Old Father Saturn, which seems at first like it is going to be about yet another giant version of an Earth creature, “something like a colossal crab, or lobster, a creature from a grotesque nightmare”. It turns out to be an inventively-shaped ship that has been dormant under the sea for millennia (ring any bells?) When the aliens emerge, they breathe the atmosphere and drop dead, which illustrates the level of thought that generally goes into the Doctor’s defeat of his enemies in the annual range. In the next story, Galactic Gangster, he defeats the baddie with a punch to the jaw, although it is an 8 or 9 feet tall alien skinhead.
Imagine if the television series had been like this. An alien race shows up, takes off their helmets, and drops dead. An alien invader shows up, the Doctor punches him, job done. Will the annual range ever stop rewriting Season Seven stories with Dr Who and the Master? Perhaps we’ll find out when we look at the next annual in the range. My mind is drooling already. RP