Ian Berriman recalls his salad days with Doctor Who Weekly.
There’s only one magazine I own a complete run of: Doctor Who Weekly, all 43 issues lovingly assembled via eBay for considerably more than the 12p cover price. A quick sniff of their browning pages is all it takes to transport me back to childhood. Launched by Dez Skinn, the genius behind House Of Hammer and the original incarnation of Starburst, Doctor Who Weekly first hit newsagents in October 1979. It wasn’t perfect. Reprinting old Marvel adaptations of HG Wells stories was a bit of a swizz, and I could have done without the regular page of “fascinating facts” like how long it takes to boil an ostrich egg. But in three areas it was a triumph.
Firstly, the lead strip, created by the likes of Dave Gibbons, Pat Mills and John Wagner. It had a sense of scale unachievable on TV, with say, futuristic tanks rolling through English villages or giant monsters attacking Daleks. Yet it was grounded too. I particularly love “The Star Beast”. Kicking off in the fictional Blackcastle, it introduces Who’s first black, female companion – Sharon, a Grange Hill-like schoolgirl – and is set in a workaday northern industrial town reality. In one scene the Doctor escapes by hopping on a double-decker bus! Just as good were the Doctor-free, monster-focused backup strips. A playground for characters like Abslom Daak – a bestubbled, bandolier-bedecked bruiser who sliced Daleks in half with his “chainsword” – they inhabited a fascinatingly darker, bleaker universe. An image of an evilly leering Auton, half its face melted off, is scorched into my psyche. That particular strip was penned by a chap called Alan Moore. But perhaps most exciting was the feature content, overseen by Doctor Who Appreciation Society maven Jeremy Bentham. Here, for the first time, you could read synopses of black-and-white TV adventures like “The Sensorites” – which I believed I’d never have the slightest chance of seeing, and were therefore steeped in awe-inspiring mystery. After issue 43, the Weekly emerged from its chrysalis as a Monthly. That later evolved again into Doctor Who Magazine, which this month celebrates its 500th edition. It’s a remarkable achievement, and we take our hat off to all the editors, designers and writers who’ve kept the flame burning through the decades.