Last time on Comics Corner, we talked about the early days of Marvel UK’s Doctor Who comics. In this instalment, we’re going to take a look at some later comics with connections to some of the stories we’ve discussed on Pledge Break — and see what one short decade has done to the strip!
When last we left the strip in the early 1980s, we saw that it was very much in line with the aesthetic of 1980s (well, late 1970s-early 1980s) U.K. science-fiction adventure comics; in fact, many of these Steve-Parkhouse-written stories had only a limited narrative role for the Doctor. They were wild, over-the-top tales without a lot of obvious connection to the programme. Personally, I rather like them, but I gather they are divisive overall.
But by the early 1990s, the situation was rather different. The show was no longer on the air, and the magazine was very much for the faithful. People who’d worked on the show, such as Andrew Cartmel, were writing for the comic as well, and they seem to have seen the strip as a way to continue the programme by other means. And that meant continuity. Paul Cornell says he tried to “bring continuity references (too many) to a comic strip that had rather shied away from them.” And he’s not kidding; one Cornell-penned story from this era is basically nothing but an extended continuity reference intended to answer the question “what happened to the First Doctor’s ring,” a question to which the only possibly answer can be “who cares?” Mind you, we mentioned the ring in our episode about The Time Meddler, so clearly the answer to that is … us. But seriously, check out that appearance of Sutekh in the panel above. That is 100% of what he does in the story; he just pops up, gives the fans a warm fuzzy feeling of seeing him, and vanishes as though he were never there, which strictly speaking he wasn’t.
I think the most notable example of this is the multi-part “The Mark of Mandragora,” a story written by well-known Warhammer 40,000 novelist and comic writer Dan Abnett and illustrated by Lee Sullivan with inks by Mark Farmer, which is absolutely jam-packed with continuity. It features the reappearance of the secondary control room and implies that Morgaine’s arrival on earth in Battlefield was arranged by an outside force — specifically, the Mandragora Helix from The Masque of Mandragora. Which is running a swanky nightclub in grubby-urban-future Britain and is opposed by the new, cool U.N.I.T, also last seen in Battlefield. Eventually the Helix becomes a big gribbly monster.
It even features a cameo by the Malevilus, a villain from the classic comics story “The Iron Legion.”
So this is real deep-dive stuff, only for the hardcore fans. Who else is buying DWM after the show’s actually been cancelled, after all? But, charmingly, the comics still feel the need to footnote the acronym U.N.I.T.
I suppose ten years is a long time, but it really is remarkable how the comics have changed — from rollicking (if rather cynical and violent) sci-fi adventures for the kind of kids who would be reading 2000AD to reference-dense “new adventures” for the diehards. It’s very much in line with the transition we see in so many other areas from mass-market popular entertainment to a “cult” property.