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Writing the Doctor Who Magazine Comic Strip Memorial

By Warwick Gray

I've always loved comics. As a youngster they were my number-one source of entertainment, with television, movies and books coming much lower down on the totem-pole. By about age eight I had cottoned on to the fact that real human beings actually created these nifty doses of fantasy, and so I began to write and draw my own. They were mostly super-hero strips, but I can also recall producing Star Trek and Space: 1999 stories. Strangely enough, despite my long-time love of the show, I never had a go at a Doctor Who comic.

Around fifteen years later I was still involved in producing comics (some bad habits are impossible to break, thankfully), and was also sending cartoons and art to then-TSV editor Andrew Poulsen. The idea of producing a complete Doctor Who comic story appealed to me, so I came up with The Resurrection Test, which saw print in Timestreams issue 1. Hidden behind the spaceships and Nitro-9 tossing was a satirical view of the French presence in the South Pacific, joyfully experimenting with their nuclear tests as far away from their own country as possible; Ace's attitude to the Mettadrins (an almost-anagram of 'Mitterand'), echoed my own to our Gallic cousins.

I tried submitting the story to John Freeman, who was at the time the editor of Marvel UK's Doctor Who Magazine. John responded with the most encouraging rejection letter I've ever received, packed with helpful points on tightening up my story-telling techniques and economizing on dialogue. He also sent me a copy of the DWM submissions guidelines and invited me to try again in the future.

A few months later the DWM comic strip went through a significant change in direction. DWM 164-166 presented the Andrew Cartmel/Arthur Ranson tale Fellow Travellers, the first comic story to accurately reflect the style and tone of the TV series. I was excited by the new approach - it was as if the Doctor and Ace had simply strolled off the edge of the screen at the end of Survival and had simply moved over into the comics to continue their adventures. I attempted something along similar lines with The Dreaming Book (printed in TSV 23), which dropped a few hints concerning some former identities the Doctor had held.

The response to this was highly favourable - I still have a letter Paul Scoones sent me, praising it to the moon! John Freeman's reaction was also good - he wrote and asked me to submit a story which moved in a similar direction. After a false start with a tale set in a Manchester nightclub, I came up with Memorial.

The first draft didn't differ greatly from the finished piece. The two major changes John wanted were the addition of a dream sequence at the start of the story and a greater emphasis on Simon Galway. In the initial version Galway was simply an onlooker and the Telphin Spirit had actually been placed inside the war memorial. John wanted Galway as the host-vessel of the Spirit, which had me slapping my forehead and groaning, "Of course! Why didn't I think of that..."

Comic book scripts are generally laid out in a similar fashion to a television or movie screenplay. Each panel is described separately, with a summary of the action and all the dialogue, captions and sound-effects mapped out for the artist to interpret.

There are however as many differences between comics and film as there are parallels. Comics are a static medium - they present a narrative in a series of still images. On screen the McCoy Doctor was an extremely animated figure, constantly gesticulating and running about. This doesn't translate too well into comics, so the Doctor there is a more laid-back, quieter figure. Even so, it's become clear that the essential atmosphere of Doctor Who can be faithfully reflected in comics.

I had no idea who would be illustrating Memorial while I was working on it. My all-time favourite Doctor Who artist is definitely John Ridgway, one of the finest talents to ever come out of British comics - certainly in the same league as names like Frank Bellamy and Frank Hampson. I was imagining John Ridgway visuals as I wrote the panel descriptions, but I never dreamed he would end up as the artist. I was completely overwhelmed when I got to see the finished art - I sat in the Marvel offices, stunned! John had taken a quiet little story about three people talking on top of a hill and turned it into one of the most visually arresting pieces that DWM had published in quite some time. He brought a tremendous sense of power to the story, but there was also a great deal of subtlety in the art as well - compare my description of panel 4 on page 5 with John's rendering. Instead of Galway looking "wide-eyed and shocked", he's clearly tensed, steeling himself for the revival of the lost memory. A far more difficult expression to capture, quite beyond the abilities of most comic artists in fact, but John pulls it off with ease. Magic!

Thankfully, Memorial wasn't a one-off event. Other stories are on the way, the first being Flashback, recently published in the DWM Winter Special (1992). There's more to come in 1993 as well. It's been a genuine kick to contribute in some small way to the on-going Doctor Who mythos. With or without the TV series, the Doctor's adventures look set to continue for a long time to come in the realm of comics...

The following two pages [Reproduced below] feature Warwick's typewritten script for page 5 of Memorial, complete with the editor's handwritten amendments, and the completed comic strip page, as it appeared in Doctor Who Magazine issue 191.

[John Ridgway's promotional art] [Page Five of script] [Page Five of script (continued)] [Completed page]

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).