The amount of stories was reduced again for the 1981 Doctor Who Annual, with just one comic strip and five short stories. However, the child of 1980 had no reason to feel hard-done-by, because the stories are actually all of a longer format, which works well (and had been tried before for one of the Pertwee annuals), plus the comic strips in recent annuals had been awful, so losing one of those was probably a good thing. Once again, the quality of the artwork is good for the Doctor and unrecognisable for the companion, in this instance the second incarnation of Romana. Here she is in the comic strip:
…and to accompany one of the short stories:
Not very Lalla, is it (with apologies as usual for my photography skills). Luckily, what is lacking in the artwork is more than made up for in the stories themselves, because this annual captures the relationship between the Doctor and the companion exceptionally well, for the first time since… well, ever really, in the annual range. The following quote is from the first story in the annual, Colony of Death, and illustrates how well their voices have been captured in print:
Romana drew her head out from underneath one of the banks of instruments, looking perturbed.
“I’m worried about this omni-directional impulse stabiliser Doctor.”
The Doctor peered into the maze of circuitry.
“The omni-directional… oh well, I shouldn’t bother too much about that, Romana. Just talk to it nicely,” he announced, authoritatively.
And look at this example:
“What are you doing, Doctor?”
Note the emboldened “are” to emphasis Romana’s intonation. Doesn’t that just capture Lalla Ward’s delivery of her lines perfectly?
Colony of Death is set in the future, and reflects contemporary concerns about the pace of technological change, with “so much electronic noise cramming the air waves that they’ve overloaded”, and people sitting in “plasti-seats”. It’s actually something of a theme of the whole annual: nature = good, technology = bad.
The Doctor, Romana and K9 land on the planet Paradise, inside a dome, and have some difficult explaining to do as to how they suddenly appeared there, without gaining entrance. It turns out Paradise is a scam to lure colonists and use them as overworked and underfed miners. The anarchist Doctor starts a mutiny, which takes only a couple of paragraphs, so the story has a lot of world building (which is very good), but the writer seems to lose patience with the actual plot towards the end, or just run out of word count. It seems to be a common problem with the annual stories over the years.
Awareness of what has gone before on television also seems to have been an issue for annual writers, and here there are two examples of stories that tread very similar ground to television stories. Alien Mind Games is firmly in The Three Doctors territory, with the Tardis plunged into an “apparently endless cloud of anti-matter”. There they meet a superbeing known as the ONE, who has the appearance of three floating pyramids.
“This is not DEATH, nor is it SPACE, Doctor. This is my domain, the world of ANTI-SPACE, the reverse, the mirror image of your UNIVERSE. Here, we are LORDS OF ALL, Doctor, we are the ONE.”
In my favourite passage of the whole annual, the Doctor deals with the situation by brewing up some tea, and he has a special device to do that:
I built a mini-Tardis to brew my tea in. I simply pop the tray in, press the button, and whatever is on the tray advances into the future five minutes. And voila! Instant, freshly brewed tea. Quite ingenious, don’t you think?
But the ONE has some bad news for him:
You forget, DOCTOR. This universe is the REVERSE of yours. You sent your TEA five minutes into the PAST, before even the thought of making tea existed in your mind.
Apparently anti-matter aliens talk in CAPITAL LETTERS a lot.
Also treading on the toes of a television story is the comic strip Every Dog Has His Day, which concerns a planet that is being adapted for colonisation, with robots doing the work, until they turn on the humans.
Robots of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your extension leads!
The Doctor quotes Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. This is an annual that is culturally aware, and it’s really the first time that happens in the range. Other examples can be found in Sweet Flower of Uthe, which is self-aware in its similarity to Alice in Wonderland (only as far as getting the Doctor involved in the story), but best of all is A Midsummer Nightmare, which contains this lovely little in-joke nod to the script editor of Doctor Who at the time these stories were being written:
“Oh, you mean that comedy by William Wotsisname,” said Romana, without showing much enthusiasm. “We passed that over in favour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, a much more useful play, and much funnier too.”
Other than that. the story is a fairly run-of-the-mill tale of aliens exploiting human superstitions.
The Voton Terror starts in an unpromising manner:
“I’ve always wanted to see how the Vandelanian ambassador managed to persuade the Council to limit the research into sub-microscopic life-forms,” the Doctor was saying as they walked along.
We haven’t. It’s actually more interesting than it sounds, because the Vandelanians are sub-microscopic life-forms themselves, and they “viewed such research as an invasion of personal privacy.” Presumbly they got fed up with nosey, perverted scientists looking at them through microscopes while they were talking a shower. The Doctor gets involved in a big debate in a conference room, which isn’t exactly scintillating stuff, but in a major shock development it appears from the artwork that somebody has trapped the Cookie Monster in a jar:
Skaroth appears to be poking his nose in too. Well, his eye, anyway:
The final story in the annual is Sweet Flower of Uthe, pronounced “youth”, apparently. Uthe 3 is a beautiful planet, but underground the Doctor and Romana discover a group of people who don’t realise there’s no war on the surface any more:
“The surface is a barren, dead landscape, devoid of all life. Nothing natural could survive the Rad-Plague.”
Luckily the Doctor is carrying a Chekhov’s flower, which he picked earlier. Job done.
A quick note for collectors, to wrap this up. There was a misprint version of this annual, with the date left off the spine. When I was a teenage Doctor Who obsessive, I collected both versions, but they are otherwise identical. The misprint version isn’t hugely rare.
Now can somebody please let that Cookie Monster out of his jar? RP