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It's My Party and I'll Die If I Want To

How two Kiwis got to arrange the Doctor's 35th birthday bash

By Scott Gray

“All I want is a story with all eight Doctors and every monster from the TV series. Oh, and a double-page spread showing them all.”

Those were the words Doctor Who Magazine editor Gary Gillatt casually floated across the desk to me one overcast Tunbridge Wells morning in August 1998. Issue 272 was fast approaching; the edition that would commemorate Doctor Who's 35th anniversary. Of course, a special comic strip story had to be produced to celebrate the event. I was enthusiastic at first, but gradually Gary's words began to penetrate my thick-as-walrus-hide noggin. All the Doctors? Every monster? And a double-page spread, however beautifully illustrated, meant only one thing: an eight-page tale would be effectively reduced to six pages of story. As the countless background characters in the strip tend to say when they get killed: “AAAIIIEEE!!!”

With the premise so huge and the space so limited, a comedic tale seemed to be the only sensible route to take. But how to stage it? Not exactly flooded with inspiration, I asked around the office for ideas. Fellow editor David Leach had a fun notion: the monsters could be holding an awards ceremony, with Davros as host. We could look back on the series' history with various amusing flashbacks (“And the Most Unconvincing Quarry-as-Alien-Planet Award goes to...”). The idea had definite potential, but I didn't just want to take cheap pot-shots at the TV show's limited resources. Too easy, too obvious, and not really in the spirit of DWM. The mag's always laughed along with the Doctor, not at him. Besides, I was keen that this story be a proper adventure. A lighthearted one, sure, but I wanted the Doctors to be in genuine danger, relying on their collective wit, charm and eccentricity to see them through.

The other big question that arose was who would illustrate the thing? Resident artist Martin Geraghty was just winding up a marathon stint with the back-to-back adventures The Final Chapter and Wormwood. He needed (and deserved) a break. But if not him, then who...?

For those not in the know, Roger Langridge is a fellow New Zealander who's been living in England for several years, making his way in the often turbulent world of British and American comics. His tremendous talent has drawn critical acclaim from across the world, and he's worked for all of the major comics publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. Roger really has it all sewn up - brilliant sense of composition, great figurework, a meticulous inking style, wonderful lettering and an eye for detail all-too rare in most young comic artists. And, like most of the truly talented cartoonists I've encountered, he's a genuinely nice bloke to boot.

I'd been working with Roger for a few weeks on a special project, a children's comic that would also hopefully appeal to adults (similar in tone to Tintin or Asterix). Despite this, it hadn't occurred to me that Roger would be the perfect illustrator for this cheery Doctor Who romp (remember that walrus-hide noggin?). One morning I happened to show Gary a few of Roger's sketches from the children's comic, which included some caricatures of famous faces. Gary immediately suggested Roger as the artist for the anniversary story. Yes, there are days when I just walk around with the palm of my hand permanently glued to my forehead...

Roger was glad to accept the job, despite not being a great follower of Doctor Who. His only experience drawing any Who monsters was producing Happy the Dalek, Salvador Dalek and Carrington the Cyberman, all supporting characters in the Knuckles the Nun strip he did back in his Auckland days with writer Cornelius Stone (yes, the same man who helped unearth The Lion - see how this all ties together, gang?!).

Great. We had an artist, and I could now start imagining how scenes and characters might look with Roger drawing them. This was a tremendous advantage; when producing a script, comics writers aren't always aware which artist will be assigned to it. Comics history is littered with stories from mismatched writers and artists working at cross-purposes. However, I had read most of Roger's comics work, and was well aware of his strengths as a storyteller. This was going to be easy!

Yeah, right...

I was still faced with this nightmare brief - how to fit in all of the Doctors comfortably, give them all something interesting to do, and wrap it up in eight pages? I was faced with two dilemmas (they were probably twins): 1) The Doctor doesn't really work too well as a character without some form of companion to bounce off against; and 2) How could I give them eight separate scenes in such a short space of time?

Bringing in past companions on top of everyone else seemed to be total insanity. Eight sequences were far too many. But slowly, my near-impenetrable cranium received a notion that solved both problems simultaneously. Waitaminute! There are eight Doctors now! An even number! I could pair them off with each other! Suddenly I only had four sequences to play with, and each Doctor had the perfect foil: one of his past/future selves. Begone, crass dilemmas!

Once that little breakthrough was made, the rest of the story easily fell into place. I wanted Paul McGann and William Hartnell together as the ‘bookends’ of the regenerations. The flamboyant Jon Pertwee and the understated Peter Davison would clash well, while Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy could probably find a similar wavelength. Colin Baker and Pat Troughton back together again would be amusing too. The image of the Doctors as candles on a giant cake arrived early, which in turn suggested the title - Happy Deathday was on the way!

I chose the three main generic Doctor Who locations for their battles: the deserted space station, the alien quarry and modern-day London. As this was also a gentle jibe at anniversary stories, I threw in the Raston Warrior Robot's cousin and set the Davison/Pertwee bit back in Albert Square, the setting of Dimensions in Time.

Sadly, the double-page spread became a casualty of spatial economics. At least we still got to do a full-page ‘football stadium’ shot!

The Beige Guardian was based on one of Roger and my favourite TV characters: David Hyde-Pierce's brilliant creation, Niles Crane, from Frasier. Giving comic characters a clear ‘voice’ is always useful for dialogue purposes, and Roger caught Mr Hyde-Pierce's visage dead-on.

We assembled a truckload of reference material for Roger, culled from old DWMs and videos. Roger wasn't an EastEnders fan either, so we had to dig out reference for that too! As Roger's sketches of the Doctors came in, it was clear that he'd have no trouble providing strong likenesses for them all, with no compromise needed for his own style.

It's customary for the artist to produce basic ‘roughs’ of comics pages before he begins to draw the real thing. This enables the editor to get a good idea of what the finished work will look like, and gives him the opportunity to ask for changes. When Roger's roughs came through the fax, my immediate response was, “Why don't we just print these?!” He'd really gone to town with the illustrations, and had even lettered the full script onto the pages.

Happy Deathday turned out to be the readers' favourite comic story of the year, as judged in the annual DWM poll. As any good performance deserves an encore, I'm chuffed to announce that Roger will be returning in issue 283, which just so happens to be another anniversary edition for DWM, celebrating 20 years of its publication! Alan Barnes is writing this one (I can't hog all the fun, just 99% of it!), and it once again promises to be a not-too-serious tale as the Doctor and Izzy face the might of one of the Time Lord's deadliest foes...Watch for it!

Changes: Page 1

Page One: (Panels 3, 5 & 6) Some of the Doctors' one-word descriptions were changed (I wanted them to suggest the typical Target Books descriptions).

Changes: Page 2

Page Two: More space was given over to the monsters, and the cake was reduced. As McGann is the current Doctor, he was shifted to a more prominent position in the centre of the page.

Changes: Page 3

Page Three: The Beige Guardian got a clearer establishing shot in Panel 1. Roger mistakenly stuck in Alpha Centauri and a Fomasi (a couple of the Doctor's allies) in Panel 4, so they got cut. (Roger's note on the rough: ‘Can't find “Vervoid” and am not sure what a “Wirrrn” is - is it that big insect?’)

Changes: Page 4

Page Four: We pulled further back in Panel 7 to get a good look at the Queen Vic pub.

Changes: Page 5

Page Five: Panel 6 was changed to a reaction shot of the doomed baddies.

Changes: Page 6

Page Six: The Doctor's dialogue was altered in Panel 5. I was under the impression that Dot Cotton was the only character in EastEnders that smoked, and wanted to point out the absurdity of that notion. Gary and Alan (both huge fans of the soap) reminded me of Terry and Irene, and set me straight...

Also note Panel 1's line: ‘I could do that too, you know - I just don't want to.’ That comes from a NZ sci-fi fan James Benson. We'd watch a guy on TV doing a triple somersault, and James would go, ‘I can do that, I just don't want to.’ (from ‘Shades of Gray‘, an interview with Scott Gray, published in Reverse the Polarity 8).

Changes: Page 7

Page Seven: The Guardian's position was shifted in Panel 3 so he'd have his back to Hartnell and McGann, making their escape slightly more credible

Changes: Page 6

Page Eight: A different angle was used in Panel 8, centering on the games cartridges. “The Chalk Pit of Slough” and “Measles to the Daleks” in the final version were Roger's additions. And yes, the Time/Space Visualiser appearing in the final panel was a deliberate in-joke aimed solely at Kiwi fans. And Paul never even commented on it..!

Online Extras

Happy Deathday - The Roughs
Scott Gray and Roger Langridge very kindly provided TSV with the set of original roughs for Happy Deathday. There was only enough space to print selected panels in TSV 58, so the complete roughs appear here for the first time, with Roger's post-it notes still attached. Compare these pages with the final, printed version, which appeared in DWM 272, later reprinted in The Glorious Dead graphic novel published by Panini Books.
Rough Draft Page 1 Rough Draft Page 2 Rough Draft Page 3 Rough Draft Page 4
Rough Draft Page 5 Rough Draft Page 6 Rough Draft Page 7 Rough Draft Page 8

Happy Deathday - The Doctors
Roger Langridge's character sketches for each of the eight Doctors. Roger notes: “The character sketches in boxes weren't used (some of them were harder to get right than others), but I thought they might prove interesting anyway. (I still think my original Tom Baker, which Marvel rejected, is the better one!)”. Scott Gray says of the Colin Baker sketches: “I have to dispute Roger's comments regarding Colin Baker - if anything it was the other way 'round!”
Doctors 1-3 Doctors 4-6 Doctors 7 & 8

This item appeared in TSV 58 (September 1999).