Isn’t it strange how one of the high points of Doctor Who on television was accompanied by the low point of the annual range. The Fourth Doctor annuals were really made to a very poor standard, and that applies to the artwork in particular but also the writing. The artwork for the Doctor is actually very accurate, but at no point in the 1979 annual does Leela ever look remotely like Leela. In fact, I don’t think there has been a single depiction of any Fourth Doctor companion that actually looked like any of them.
That’s not the only problem with the artwork. At times it seems like the artist didn’t actually bother to read the stories, because things like this happen:
“Sorry about that,” he said, “but you were almost hypnotised by that fat fiend down there.”
… accompanied by a picture of the slimmest looking “fat fiend” you have ever seen. Or this, from The Crocodiles from the Mist:
There were no teeth, just long strands of cartilage similar to a whale’s baleen
…accompanied of course by a picture of crocodiles. With teeth.
Then we have the artwork on page 29, which is this:
On a completely unrelated note, isn’t this a creepy movie:
So much for the artwork, but what about the stories themselves? Well, there are five of them this year, plus two truly awful comic strips. Let’s get the latter out of the way first. The opening information for The Power should tell you everything you need to know about that one:
The Power – a strange, unseen force that unites the three sentient life forms on the planet Shem. When Azu, supreme ruler of all Shem, died, he passed on the secret of the Power to his rightful heir, the Princess Azula…
So yes, absolutely every sci-fi cliché in the book right there. Emsone’s Castle at least earns points for being extraordinarily weird. “Dr Who” and Leela are on a “mission to discover the medicinal capabilities of a rare Zorkan mountain weed” (YAWN) when they are interrupted by a skeleton called Krass. Yes, a skeleton.
Krass explains how Emsone, a mystic from a neighbouring mountain, had invited him to his castle and then caused his flesh and clothing to disappear.
So that’ll be a fantasy story then, which is at least a bit more entertaining than The Power‘s lazy soulless sci-fi.
The first story in the annual is Famine on Planet X, which makes the mistake of assuming the reader will care about the famine on Planet X.
The Doctor’s first glimpse of Ogg startled him. He had seen many strange animals in his time, but the sight of this diminutive three-legged octopoid with massive horns seemed totally incongruous with the dry, orange, rock-strewn desert they were in.
Maybe the writer should have checked the meaning of “octopoid” in the dictionary. If there’s one thing that’s incongruous, it’s a three-legged one. Ogg is part of a race of people who are starving. The Doctor feeds them with melons and then finds a more longterm solution:
He took out three of the silver ovular-shaped seeds and spat on them. He counted up to twelve and then threw them towards an open space of desert close to where the octopoids were sheltering. Within a minute of their landing they began to sprout large, grey stalks. The stalks grew upward about two feet, split up and then began flowering. Dull red fruits swelled up near the middle of the flowers.
You might spot a couple of issues with that. Why didn’t Dr Who ever think to pop across to Africa with some of those seeds while he was exiled on Earth? And personally I would have counted to ten, not twelve. A little more slowly.
Next up is The Planet of Dust, in which the TARDIS picks up a distress signal and lands on a planet where the surface seems to be moving. The Doctor, Leela and the TARDIS get sucked down inside the planet where there is a hidden underground world, and a stranded alien astronaut who cannot get access to his buried ship. The Doctor offers to help.
“But, Doctor, you are too late. I have estimated that I have only six days left to live, and the transbreeding I had planned will take up four of those.”
Well, I suppose if you’ve only give six days to live, you might as well enjoy four of them “transbreeding”.
In Terror on Tantalogus, the Doctor and Leela arrive on Tantalogus, “somewhere in the region of Alpha Mosi in Galaxy 5”. But is this as good as Alpha Centauri, or Galaxy 4? It seems so. It’s a lovely summer’s day and the birds are singing. But wait a minute… “Tantalogus”. Maybe there’s a hint in that name that things aren’t quite as nice as they seem.
The Tantalogan brain, you must understand, needs constant nourishing.
And they nourish it in rather a creepy way. It’s actually a very good story, by far the best the annual has to offer.
The aforementioned Flashback, with the slimline “fat fiend” concerns a criminal taking over a weather control beacon to hold a planet to ransom, obviously taking lessons from the Cybermen. It’s pretty slow going. The Crocodiles in the Mist isn’t any better, basically an excuse to menace the Doctor and Leela with various creatures, until they discover a crashed ship leaking radiation and blow it up.
I’ll leave you with probably the most bizarre “feature” you will find in the whole annual range (with apologies for my photography skills): Guessing the Garzl. I’ve spent far too long looking at this page, and have come to the conclusion that no, I’m not missing something, and yes, it really is as pointless as it looks. I suppose we have to concede that there’s something a little bit wonderful about an annual that devotes a page to something as ridiculous as this. Just a little bit, mind you. RP