We are at the end of a fascinating journey, looking at each and every one of the original run of Doctor Who annuals. The range started off in the 60s as gloriously bizarre affairs, descending into thrown-together messes in the late 70s. Finally with the 80s annuals we seem to have reached a point where the standard was improving, the characterisation of the Doctor and companion (Peri in this instance) were spot on for the first time in a while, and the stories were all entertaining efforts. How ironic that one of the best efforts in the whole range should turn out to be the last.
Five of the stories in this annual were written by John White, with whom we have an interview here. He was a young fan of Doctor Who, who was lucky enough and talented enough to have his story submissions accepted by World International Publishing, and the whole annual is an interesting experiment in what would happen if Doctor Who was made by the fans. Of course, Doctor Who on television really did get made by fans eventually, from 2005 onwards, so this is quite a fascinating glimpse into the future. The best way I can sum it up is a merging of greatest hits from the series’ past with new ideas that are years ahead of their time.
The first story is The Fellowship of Quan, which is one of John White’s. Immediately the influence of the Target books range on the author is obvious:
The dark tunnel resonated with a wheezing, groaning sound.
It is a very traditional Master story, with the Master manipulating people (aliens on this occasion) into becoming his followers, waking a powerful sleeping being and then going up against the Doctor in a debate when the sleeper awakes. It’s very reminiscent of The Daemons, but transplanted to an alien planet.
Things get back down to Earth in Time Wake, set in London, 1986. The Doctor is following the traces of a time machine, that extend between 1720 and 1986. Their investigations take them down into the sewers. There they find a secret base, with facsimiles every British PM preserved in a glass tube.
“It’s weird, like someone collected them, the way you might collect butterflies.”
The androids have been created by an alien from a crashed spaceship, who wants to replace all the Prime Ministers so they will “allocate more money towards research”, move society along quicker, create intergalactic vessels by 1986 and then he can nick one and hightail it out of there. So White here is basically doing a greatest hits of Doctor Who: take the sewers from Invasion/Attack, add facsimiles from Terror of the Autons, mix in Scaroth’s plan from City of Death, stir and serve.
In Interface the Tardis arrives in the courtyard of an alien castle, which is all very atmospherically described and illustrated. There they find a note left by the Time Lords, who directed them there to sort out a “bottleneck” in the space/time vortex. Not a lot happens in this one, beyond the Doctor and Peri observing a confusing mashup of time periods and then fixing it. But it’s told in a compelling style so it doesn’t really matter.
Next up is the only “feature” in the annual (unless you count the full-page photos of Colin Baker), an interview with make up designer Dora Nieradzik. No, me neither. She discusses her interpretations of script instructions, such as the following from Revelation of the Daleks:
The mutant is humanoid in shape and is dressed in rags. His face is grotesquely distorted as though his skin has been melted. Large globs of flesh seem to have bubbled, then set before the features have had time to completely dissolve. His hands are the same.
Good old Eric Saward, understanding exactly what’s necessary there in order to get Doctor Who cancelled.
Beauty and the Beast feels a lot like a First Doctor story, with a Doctor who simply visits a society, observes, imparts a moral lesson and then goes. It’s almost a Hartnell historical story transplanted to a future setting. The Doctor and Peri land on a planet where the inhabitants resemble angels.
Their faces were delicate and glacial, aristocratic and noble, their hair pure silver and shining like a waterfall, their eyes the colour of emeralds. They wore flowing garments that shimmered in a million colours and swirled about their slender forms.
But the Doctor has an important message for Peri:
“Just remember, Peri, that just because you’ve got a beautiful face, it doesn’t mean you have a beautiful mind to go with it. As the old earth saying goes, handsome is as handsome does.”
It turns out there are “savages” outside the city walls, and the beautiful society is in fact built on slave labour. The Doctor finds out all about it, tut tuts at the situation, and then leaves. It’s oddly like reading half of a story.
In Retribution, another of John White’s, the Doctor and Peri land in Oldy Worldy London and meet a scientist who has discovered an alien casket. But what has happened to its occupant? It’s a story that packs a lot into a short space, with the Doctor heading back and forth to an alien spaceship in the Tardis, and facing off against giant insects. Yes we’ve got to the end of the original annual range, and we’ve still got some of those.
The next two stories are the ones that really interested me, as they seem so ahead of their time, almost predicting the shape of Doctor Who’s return in 2005. In Davarrk’s Experiment, White’s final story in the annual, a cherub statue comes to life outside an apparently deserted house. You could perhaps point to The Daemons as inspiration, but this is far more Blink than Bok:
A fist smashed through the small opaque window in the front door, and a grey, pitted arm reached down to open the lock door. The cherub and some larger statues entered the hall.
Finally, we have The Radio Waves, with more than a hint of The Christmas Invasion:
On the main commuter roads, engines were switched off and car doors opened. Drivers emerged from their vehicles with dazed expressions on their faces; they never glanced at one another, but seemed to move as one person away from their cars and down the road towards the centre of the city.
Somebody has been hypnotizing people using a radio broadcast. Now who could that possibly be?
It’s funny, isn’t it, how Doctor Who’s darkest times, heading off into the wilderness, have so often inspired the greatest creativity and the way forward for the series. The dying days of the annual range have been no exception to that rule. RP