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Since Doctor Who’s return in 2005, the special Christmas Day episode has established itself as a major festive treat, a heavily-promoted, much-anticipated highpoint of the television schedules. This contrasts with the past. Across its original 26 year run (1963-89), Who was only broadcast on December 25th once (an uncharacteristically comic episode in 1965). More usually, Christmas meant an interruption to the programme as the television schedules were disrupted for seasonal fare. For example, State of Decay, the fourth story of the 1980/81 season finished on the 13th December, and the next episode wasn’t shown until January 3rd.
So, back in the seventies or eighties, if you wanted new Doctor Who on Christmas Day, you had to turn to the man with the reindeer and the big sack – the BBC certainly wouldn’t be delivering. You could have asked Santa for one of the novelisations of the programme which were published by Target Books. No doubt some fans did, but these were within pocket money price range, so many fans brought them as they came out. A bigger, more expensive treat – something you might need to request as a present – was The Dr Who Annual (which was spelt like that until the 1980 annual, even though the programme has never used the contracted form “dr.”).
What you might find inside the covers of that publication varied across the years. In the William Hartnell annuals, the Doctor travels alone. The stories are all text-based and extend over 10 or 12 pages. A decade later, they’d be half that long. If you want to make a case for cultural dumbing down, the evolution of The Dr Who Annual is just the evidence you need.
The Patrick Troughton annuals are an odd mix. There are monster stories, high concept SF (‘World without Night’ concerns an advanced civilization on a planet which, having three suns, has never known darkness nor the need to develop artificial lighting. The TARDIS crew are helpless to stop the people destroying themselves in panic during a lunar eclipse) and a strange philosophical/religious story in which the Doctor’s encounter with a light that ‘no human’ (sic) can bear leaves him ‘sobbing miserably’. The Pertwee annuals, by contrast, go some way to accurately reflecting what the programme was like.
Which era of the annual you favour is probably tied to the age you were at the time of purchase. Being born in 1967, I myself have a particular love/hate relationship with the annuals of the mid-seventies. I was old enough to read them myself and young enough not to reject them out of hand. And, my, they are the strangest of the bunch…
We’re into Tom baker’s ‘doctorate’ now, and the annuals in which he appears were largely illustrated – and later written – by Paul Crompton, an in-house artist at publisher World Distributors. Crompton’s figurework is solid, though his faces of companions Sarah and Harry are so poor, I’m inclined to guess there were legal complications over performers’ likenesses. His Baker is better, often because it’s copied from well-circulated BBC publicity photographs. Outside of the likenesses, though, was the matter of his compositions, his tendency for collage, for things to merge into one, and a taste for skulls and bone. Here’s just a couple of images which resonated with me particularly as a child.
A piece this brief can’t do justice to the complete insanity of the 1977 Dr Who Annual, but the cover’s striking; a decent picture of Baker, a man with a moustache to the right (seemingly Harry Sullivan, who never wore a ‘tache in the series, but frequently did in Crompton’s pictures); to the left is a smeary image of a man with a spear, and above him a large face which I’ve seen interpreted by some as a skull, though it’s never struck me like that.
From the comic strip inside entitled ‘The Body Snatcher’ (above). I was fascinated by the vibrant colours Crompton used in this strip. The figure who dominates the right hand side is the villain, Rascla. His head is a skull and another demon-figure crouches at his feet. The massive bone at his feet appears to extend from the back of his throne. In the strip, Rascla, takes mental possession of the Doctor, and he must fight to be free. Across the annuals, telepathy or mental manipulation are not infrequent, and were often the catalyst for some of Crompton’s strangest work – as if the extreme mental discomfort were somehow justification for the odd style. ■
Miles Booy is the author of Love and Monsters: The “Doctor Who” Experience, 1979 to the Present.
The top image shows Sarah (you did recognize her, right?) experiencing the horrors of ‘The Psychic Jungle’ from the 1976 annual.