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The Comic Connection

By Warwick Gray (writing as Ricky W. Argaw)

In a long-running series such as Doctor Who, ideas for stories must inevitably be drawn from a wide range of sources. Over the years Doctor Who has presented tales inspired by Agatha Christie murder mysteries, Hammer Horror films and even Buddhist ideology. In recent times the series has mined story elements from a somewhat different source: modern-day comic books.


The Mekon from Dan Dare
(art: Keith Watson)

A certain comic book style made its presence felt in Seasons 24 to 26, but Doctor Who had been influenced by comics decades before. The trend goes back at least as far as The Tenth Planet, the story that introduced the Cybermen. The co-creator of the Cybermen, Kit Pedler, was a fan of the British boys weekly comic Eagle, and in particular its showcase strip Dan Dare. Frank Hampson's highly imaginative science fiction strip related tales such as The Red Moon Mystery, in which a planet travelled independently in space, attacking other worlds when it located them. Dan Dare and his companions would repeatedly face the Mekon, an evil genius with a huge brain but a stunted body. The Mekon's servants were an army of giant warriors called the Treens. The Treens were ruthless, emotionless creatures, and Pedler freely admitted that they were one of the chief inspirations for the Cybermen. There would also appear to be a direct parallel between the planetoid in The Red Moon Mystery and Mondas in The Tenth Planet. The Dan Dare connection continued in other Cyber-stories - when The Tomb of the Cybermen was being prepared, the original conception of the Cybercontroller was based on the Mekon - a small creature with a large head, floating on a disc. The idea was discarded as it proved too difficult to realise. It's interesting to note, however, that Andrew Cartmel and Mike Collins recently revived the concept of a small Cybercontroller in the DWM comic strip story The Good Soldier.


A revised origin
for Swamp Thing
(art: Bissette/Totleben)

When Andrew Cartmel came on the scene as script editor for the series, the show's style altered significantly. Cartmel was a follower of some of the more sophisticated adventure comics that were being published in the mid-80s, and he admired in particular the work of British comics writer Alan Moore. Cartmel even asked Moore (who had no television experience) to write for the series, but the project fell through. Even so, several of Moore's innovations in comics began to appear in Doctor Who.

One of Moore's techniques was a form of revisionist writing. His stories would sometimes redefine or even completely alter the events of previous tales. When he took over as scripter on the DC comic Swamp Thing, Moore's first story totally rewrote the character's origin, explaining that everything the reader knew about the character was a lie. He did much the same thing in the British superhero strip Marvelman. Revisionist stories are practically unheard of in television, but two examples have occurred recently in Doctor Who. In Remembrance of the Daleks the events of An Unearthly Child are, if not contradicted, at least interpreted differently. We discover the real reason why the Doctor was at large in 1963 London, and why he had to leave so quickly when the TARDIS was discovered. In The Curse of Fenric the revelation of Fenric rewrites not one but two stories: Dragonfire, with Ace's arrival on Iceworld turning out to be part of Fenric's plan, and Silver Nemesis in which Lady Peinforte (who appeared to be the major villain of the piece), is revealed to be merely one of Fenric's pawns.

In an overall sense there has also been a certain amount of revisionist writing concerning the Doctor himself - the viewer has been given several strong hints that the Doctor is far more than just another Time Lord, and that perhaps everything we think we know about the character's past is not the truth at all. It's certainly been an effective way of injecting a sense of mystery back into the series.


V and Evey from V for Vendetta
(art: David Lloyd)

The relationship between the Doctor and Ace was one of the strongest aspects of Seasons 25 and 26. It was a multi-faceted partnership - at times they were like equal partners, at other times like teacher/student. There was also a macabre element to the pairing - occasionally the Doctor would be clearly manipulating Ace, pushing her into situations that terrified her. The theory seemed to be that if the Doctor presented Ace with her deepest fears, she would gain a sense of inner strength when she overcame them. There is a good possibility that the Doctor/Ace relationship was influenced by the Alan Moore/David Lloyd comic series V for Vendetta. Set in a fascist future England, V for Vendetta is the story of a young girl named Evey Hammond. Evey is saved one night from being murdered by government thugs by a bizarre figure known only as 'V'. Dressed in a strange Guy Fawkes-style outfit (complete with a grinning face-mask), V's true identity remains a mystery throughout the series, but he shelters Evey and begins to educate her. The relationship is an ambiguous one, however. Just as Ace could rarely get a straight answer out of the Doctor, many of Evey's questions are met with only cryptic answers from V. He is playing an elaborate game with her - thrusting her into nightmarish situations to see if she can cope. Evey survives the various tests V arranges for her, and becomes a much stronger, more capable person as a result. The maturing of Evey strongly parallels the growth of Ace's character.

Another parallel is apparent when the central theme of V for Vendetta is examined. The basis of the story is anarchy vs. fascism. Sylvester McCoy described the Seventh Doctor as somewhat of an anarchist, someone with little time for authority figures of any kind. Fascism plays a role in Remembrance of the Daleks and Ghost Light, and the anarchist leanings of the Doctor are never more obvious than in The Happiness Patrol, in which the Doctor happily dismantles Helen A's regime.


Edsel from Mage
(art: Matt Wagner)

Evey Hammond may not have been the only comic book character to have had an influence on Ace. A parallel figure of a different kind is visible in Matt Wagner's comic series Mage. The series related the story of Kevin Matchstick, a man who turns out (much to his own surprise) to be the reincarnation of King Arthur. Aiding him in the adventure is a magician called Mirth (in reality Merlin) and a young black girl named 'Edsel'. There are many similarities between Ace and Edsel - they're the same age, both are fiercely independent, and both prefer nicknames to their real names. Edsel's favourite weapon is a baseball bat, an object Ace has been known to wield herself. At one point in the story Mirth magically supercharges Edsel's bat so that she can use it against the villains of the piece. The Doctor (who is also Merlin, remember) does exactly the same thing to Ace's bat in Remembrance of the Daleks. Towards the end of Mage, Edsel is revealed to be the reincarnation of the Lady of the Lake - the bearer of Excalibur. Ace plays the same role briefly in Battlefield.


Merlin has always been a popular character in comics. He and the entire Arthurian mythos have been used repeatedly in the medium in a variety of ways. A good example is the Mike W. Barr/Brian Bolland series Camelot 3000. This 12-issue series in some ways foreshadows Battlefield, with futuristic knights armed with laser guns as well as swords fighting Morgan Le Fay in the far future.

Merlin in Captain Britain
(art: Alan Davis)

In the Alan Moore/Alan Davis superhero series Captain Britain we see an intriguing version of Merlin, one that suggests, if not an influence on Doctor Who, then at least an interesting parallel. The Merlin in Captain Britain is an independent figure, not strongly connected with King Arthur and the rest of the traditional legend. He is portrayed as a subtle, devious thinker, playing a game of chess with his daughter. The game, as in The Curse of Fenric, has far-reaching, cosmic implications. Merlin dies at the end of the story, and as the mourners gather, some confusion arises concerning his appearance. Merlin has long silver hair and is quite youthful-looking in the story, but Captain Britain remembers him from a previous encounter as an old man with white hair and a beard. Captain UK remembers him as a man with red hair... Merlin's daughter answers simply, "My father, like his father before him, had many names and many faces. Let his secrets die with him."

The fast-paced style of the McCoy era did in some ways reflect a comic book approach, and has been criticized in some quarters because of this. It's important to remember, however, that no television series has ever more closely resembled a comic book in structure than Doctor Who. As with adventure comics, the stories are told in a serialised format with cliff-hanger endings. Over the years a rogues gallery of villains has been assembled, and as with any long-running superhero series, the most popular of them return again and again. Despite his changes in appearance, the Doctor has remained fairly consistent and steadfast in his attitudes and methods, much like a comic book hero. There's really no escaping it - comics are in Doctor Who's blood!

This item appeared in TSV 26 (December 1991).

Reprinted in: TSV: The Best of Issues 21-26