So here we have it, the infamous 1977 annual, the low point of the annual range. It puts you in a bad mood before you have even opened it up, towering over the other annuals and poking out from the shelf like the annual that ate all the pies. I mentioned last time that the art in the 1976 annual was extremely poor, but this one is something else. The frontispiece sets the tone, with a drawing of Tom Baker with his face as wrinkly as a prune, a random woman in pain who is probably supposed to be Sarah Jane, a drawing of Sergeant Benton, who doesn’t feature in any of the stories in the annual, and a severed hand with a bird perched on the thumb.
That’s not to say the annual is devoid of good artwork. Frustratingly, some of it is brilliant, as if the artist had good days and very, very bad days. On page 16, for example, there is an excellent drawing of Tom, but on page 15 another good likeness of the Doctor is accompanied by a drawing of Sarah that doesn’t look even remotely like her. In fact, the drawings of the companions never look anything like them, as per the 1976 annual. The further you get into the annual the worse the artwork gets, as if the artist was losing the will to live. By page 55 we are getting unfinished artwork, with sketchily drawn features of the Doctor next to a plain white rectangle. The worst of all is on page 67, where some artwork presumably went wrong so it has been obliterated with black paint and then partially covered by a white circle.
None of this would matter quite so much if the stories were good, but sadly they are awful as well. There are seven stories this time round, plus two comic strip adventures and twenty of the usual dull “features”. I won’t bother to describe the features, which are the same kinds of things as previous annuals, as usual based on the assumption that Doctor Who fans are all interested in nothing apart from astronomy.
The first story is War on Aquatica, which finds the Doctor travelling with Sarah Jane and bizarrely a new companion:
The Doctor’s colleague and friend, Professor Levi, a zoologist, botanist, astronomer, anthropologist and amateur space traveller was suffering from a bout of extreme disappointment.
I know how he feels. At a guess this annual would have been put together early 1976, so around the time when Season 13 was coming to an end. I suspect Levi might have been a last-minute rewrite to remove Harry from the first story, although he does appear elsewhere in the annual whereas Levi doesn’t. It must have seemed odd to children receiving this for Christmas 1976, in the split season break between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil (everyone forgets that was a split season!). Sarah was gone, but Harry was a distant memory from the point of view of a young child, and he appears in most of the stories in the annual. Perhaps Levi was an attempt to at least start the annual with a reasonably contemporary lineup. The story starts with the Doctor, Sarah and Levi imprisoned by the Medusians, but Sarah has a plan:
The idea was that, when the Medusian opened the door, Sarah would take the tray, the Doctor the de-electrifying gun, and the Professor bump the Medusian smartly on the nose – taking care to avoid the venomous snakes which covered his head in place of hair.
“Bumping” the Medusian does sound like a job for Harry, doesn’t it, in one of many hints that there is some kind of a rewrite going on here. You can also imagine how a line for Harry like “bump him one? Nothing would give me greater pleasure old girl” could have been hastily rewritten to this:
Bump-a ‘im one? He-he! Nothing-a would-a give me greater pleasure!
Yes, Professor Vittorio Levi is a walking, talking Italian cliché. He-a speaks-a like-a this-a. Or at least he does for the virtually no lines he has. When they escape they encounter Phyllos from Phyllosia, who is trying to avert a conflict with the Medusians, who have been stealing glyt from the Mattermonks of Matterdom (keep up) and the Lumidolphs from the Lumid Sea, training the Lumpidolphs to carry warheads. There’s only one thing for it – to seek an audience with King Chympanzo who has blue armpits and, more usefully, some pet Mongs who can be used to attack Medusia. So yeah, basically it’s that weird, and the Doctor being there ends up being pretty much irrelevant.
Next up is Cyclone Terror, which features just the Doctor and Sarah, who have “landed on the planet Zoto, in the galazy Zaurus, time year 4000”. The races that live there, of course, are the Zotons and the Zanons. Annual authors always did love the letter Z. A cyclone hits, one of many which are all coming from the same direction to ravage the land of the Zotons. Sarah and the Doctor investigate.
That machine,” explained the Doctor, “is a wind machine. That’s what’s responsible for the cyclones. The Zanons are trying to overcome the people of Zoto by weakening them, through fear and also through hunger, because their crops are being destroyed.”
So we have the Doctor getting involved in another civil war (he does that a lot throughout the annual), and dealing with a “wind machine” weapon, which sounds like a piece of television special effects equipment turned to evil use.
The Time Snatch is a real throwback, and feels incredibly out of date, with the Doctor working with a scientist at a UNIT base to investigate an alien crystal. He gets thrown into the past by a strange man with a time travel device who is being possessed by aliens who want to… well it’s not entirely clear what they are up to, even by the end of the story. It’s all a bit of a mess to be honest.
The first comic strip, and the better of the two (although that’s not saying much) is The Body Snatchers.
On his way to Mitra 13 for their bi-millennium meeting to discuss their moral progress, Dr Who is forced by a malfunction in the TARDIS to land on Axa, moon to the giant planet Torm…
So we’re back in the same kind of territory as several of the previous annual stories, with the Doctor as some kind of universal ambassador, poking his nose into the business of other planets. In fact, here he seems to be a universal moral guardian who carries out inspections, when he’s not working with scientists at UNIT. Never have we been further from the madman in a box. In a series of truly nightmarish drawings, the Doctor encounters some weird demonic creatures who caused the malfunction in the TARDIS. Why?
My name is Rascla, Doctor. The reason I brought you here is simple… I’m going to kill you!
The next story is The Eye-Spiders of Pergross, and Harry’s back! In a strange and not entirely welcome precursor to Timelash, the TARDIS goes out of control and Sarah and Harry strap themselves into their seats. Eventually they crash-land on a planet of spiders, and bizarrely decide to actually leave the TARDIS. There they encounter lots of plot exposition:
But this is the planet Pergross. And we are the Eye-Spiders; by name – the Shioheng. We spin webs as spiders do with the liquid in our rather-similar glands, and we feed mainly on golden helio-flies and blue-veined lepideptorix.
That quote gives a good flavour of how tedious this annual is, full of technobbable and paper-thin plots. In fact, most stories don’t have much happening beyond the Doctor and his companions ending up somewhere very strange, finding out about the creatures that live there, and then leaving. We’re also right back in the realms of aliens imagined as giant versions of creepy crawlies, not for the last time in the annual. As we have discovered on our journey through the annual range, it’s the ultimate Doctor Who annual cliché.
In Detour to Diamedes the TARDIS goes out of control (again) and lands in a tree on an alien planet. At least that’s something different! They have landed on the planet Diamedes, where they meet some “coppery-green creatures” called the Slodes.
They are very gentle, but rather slow-witted. As for those nasty grey lumps in the swamp, they are Carks, and I would advise you to keep well clear of them.
There the Doctor meets his old friend Zyphos, just like he met his old friend Xerxes in the previous story. In common with some of the previous annuals, we have here a series of adventures on planets the Doctor is familiar with, but we have never heard of.
The second and final comic strip adventure is Menace on Metalupiter, which sees the Doctor, Sarah and Harry encountering a cat-faced robot. Each page of artwork uses only one colour, and is all pretty hideous.
Double Trouble is another odd throwback, with the Doctor and Sarah returning to UNIT headquarters. This is the only story in the annual to feature the Brigadier. In probably the most enjoyable story of the annual, and the only one that has something approaching an interesting idea, the Doctor and Sarah have returned from the planet Dumok, and Sarah has come back wrong. It’s hardly original, but at least there is some semblance of a plot to this one.
Finally we have Secret of the Bald Planet, although I wasn’t aware that planets were generally hairy.
As the Doctor, Harry and Sarah stepped from the Tardis the first impression they had was of standing on a gigantic billiard ball.
Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, they descend into the interior of the slaphead planet, where they find giant earwigs who enter into machines called Rectulators every “sixteen seasons”, until one of them disappears in a strange game of musical chairs. But where do they go? What is this bizarre ritual all about? What is the secret of the different colour earwig shells? Does anyone care?
No, not really. I’ll leave you with that piece of artwork from page 67, in its full glory. Never mind, child of Christmas 1976. Better luck next year. RP