Felt Trips: “Doctor Who” by Stephen Brotherstone

The Tides of Time, The Stockbridge Horror, The Shape Shifter, Voyager… to 1980s Doctor Who fans limiting themselves to merely following their favourite Time Lord’s adventures onscreen, these titles might have meant little. But for those of us whose childhood obsession was fuelled by the pocket money purchase of the seemingly immortal Doctor Who Magazine, they provided a wonderfully immersive alternate universe.

For these were the comic strips that lit up every issue, and – unconstrained by the limitations of TV and pre-CGI effects – they were a freewheeling riot of unfettered imagination. Where else could we find stories in which a malevolent demon from an adjacent dimension punched holes in the fabric of time and space, or where the Doctor was accompanied on his travels in the TARDIS by a medieval knight and a wisecracking penguin?

They certainly made a lasting impression on Stephen Brotherstone, co-writer of the exhaustive Scarred For Life books. Growing up on 1970s and ’80s Merseyside, Stephen graduated from apeing the cover illustrations of his beloved Target Books to creating his own impressively detailed take on the classic Peter Davison-era comic strip. Over to you, Stephen…

BAD CASE OF LOVING YOU (DOCTOR DOCTOR)

“My love affair with Doctor Who has always been an on again/off again romance. It all started one sunny afternoon in 1974 when, during a kickabout on Otterspool promenade, my dear old dad told me about a TV show he loved: all about the adventures of a time traveller with white hair and a flamboyant cape. I now realise that, with me having reached the grand old age of four, he figured I was mature enough to join him on the sofa. Never behind it, mind – it was pushed up tight against the wall. So we went home, and I was allowed to watch Episode 1 of Jon Pertwee’s swansong story, ‘Planet of the Spiders’. I was enthralled, I was excited, I acquired life-long arachnophobia. The seven day-long wait for the next episode felt like a lifetime. And five weeks later I witnessed Pertwee, a passing fling, transform himself into Tom Baker, my one true love.

Doctor Who, then, was the subject of my first, fluttering, ‘fan’ feelings. There were many more to come, of course: Star Trek, 2000 AD, Grange Hill, Blake’s 7, Hill Street Blues, The X-Files, Babylon 5… but Doctor Who, and Tom Baker in particular, consumed my young life. And, as someone who had been drawing ever since they were able to grasp a pencil, the show became an early muse. The TARDIS was a firm favourite, and this study seems to have been completed at around the time I first became aware of the importance of rulers. Check out those straight(ish) lines!

Hardcore Doctor Who historians and nit-pickers will be having conniptions at the many inaccuracies and incongruities in this picture. Wither the famous ‘Free for use of public’ sign, for a bleedin’ start? And what’s with the round doorknob? In my defence, I’m pretty sure I drew this from memory, which was no mean feat considering I was still learning to draw by copying everything in sight. And I had only just progressed from tracing everything in sight – still the best way to learn, kids! Anyway, that ‘Dalek’ font at the bottom looks cool. I must have absorbed from one of the 1970s Dalek annuals, so stick that up your jumper.

The Target Doctor Who novelisations were the closest thing to a prized VHS recording of our favourite stories. We could enjoy them again and again and again, and they became a fundamental element of any young fan’s bookshelf. We lived a few minutes away from Allerton Library – a lovely little building, and it’s still going strong today – and once a week my dad, a voracious reader, would drive us there. He would head off to browse the crime novels, while I hung a right into the children’s section, specifically the Doctor Who books. In this digital era of DVDs, blu-rays and streaming services, the entire (surviving) history of Doctor Who is available at the press of a button or the swipe of a screen. But, in the analogue days of yore, Marvel comic strip adaptations of blockbuster films, Alan Dean Foster novelisations, ‘Making Of’ books and even Action Transfers and sticker albums were things to treasure. Our only ways of clinging onto our memories of a film or a TV show that we loved until the hallowed moment when BBC or ITV finally got round to showing it again. And Target’s Doctor Who books were a godsend for me.

My initial encounters with the first and second Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, came via Target books. Despite their faces usually taking pride of place on the front covers, I had absolutely no way of knowing what their mannerisms were, how they acted, or even what they sounded like. Several books came with a handy page entitled ‘THE CHANGING FACE OF DOCTOR WHO’… ‘The cover illustration and others contained within this book portray the first DOCTOR WHO whose physical appearance was later transformed when he discarded his worn-out body in favour of a new one’. Yes, yes, yes, but what did he sound like? I would perform a feat of mental gymnastics when I read these early adventures, replacing Hartnell and Troughton in my mind’s eye with Tom Baker. I could see him interacting with Jamie and Zoe, and hear his deep, fruity tones shouting at early Cybermen.

I recently learned that I have a condition called hyperphantasia. When I read a book, I can see and hear it vividly, as though I’m watching a film. If I imagine biting into a juicy red apple then I can feel it, tasting every tangy, sweet mouthful. The only surprise when I learnt about this condition was my realisation that only a relatively small portion of the population experience it. Ever since I was little, I’d just figured that everybody could see and hear the story being played out like a movie whenever they read a book. This was a curse when it came to the gory bits in the pulpy horror novels I adored in the 1980s – I nearly threw up after reading a certain scene in The Wasp Factory, so vivid was the imagery in my mind. But my teenage self savoured every moment of any mucky bits, the randy Scouse git. And so, the likes of ‘The Web of Fear’ and ‘The Wheel in Space’ were mentally repurposed with Tom Baker front and centre.

And the front covers. Oh, the front covers! The gorgeous illustrations of the great Chris Achilleos adorned many a Target book. Usually a combination of Jack Kirby-style comic book stylings, crossed with his trademark stippled shading for the portraits of Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Baker, these illustrations blew my young mind. And one of my very favourites was Achilleos’s cover for the 1976 classic, ‘The Brain of Morbius’. Never one to back down from a challenge, the eight-year-old me decided to tackle this beautiful image with thick felt tips:

I think I made a very decent fist of it. I even had a go at the stippling effect with Morbius’ face and shirt. I still remember drawing this at my dad’s place of work. He was a photography technician at Liverpool Polytechnic, and I loved going into work with him during the school holidays. He would busy himself with work in his lab with Radio 4 on in the background while I read comics or annuals and drew like a boy possessed. This Achilleos attempt was done on thick waxy paper that bled like hell whenever my felt tips were so much as wafted in its general direction. But I think you get the gist.

Ah, the Cybermen! This drawing was, I think, referenced from the Doctor Who Monster Book, a 1975 tome that became an essential piece of kit for every fan. The Cybermen marching down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral – a genuinely iconic moment from the 1968 adventure ‘The Invasion’ – had me entranced. That perfect mixture of the otherworldly and the mundane. I mean, those steps could just as easily have belonged to Paddy’s Wigwam, the Scouse vernacular for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral… and that was almost impossibly exciting for my young self. And so I tried to capture my favourite Doctor Who monster in all its glory.

Here, it seems, I was becoming dimly aware of composition; the metal monster itself seemed vaguely lonely, so I added the energy beam shooting from its headpiece, collapsing some unseen building or roof. And, once again, I felt the need to label my drawing. This was a recurring theme – all of my early drawings were clearly tagged, as if I were some kind of tiny butterfly collector. This time it’s with a 1970s calculator font. Lovely.

Speaking of stippling and the Monster Book… these two elements combined to produce a drawing which, in hindsight, I’m immensely proud of…

Here, then, is Experimental Prototype Robot K1, better known as The Giant Robot. Professor Kettlewell’s creation remains a design classic for me, especially that beautiful Art Deco head. And so, nine-year-old me got to work getting its gorgeous likeness down on paper one evening. I still recall lying on my belly in front of the fire, drawing away while Name That Tune was on the telly, again experimenting with Chris Achilleos’ stippled shading technique. However, what had started as an immensely satisfying creative experience soon became a thing of utter tedium: I remember becoming so intensely bored by my own drawing that, in an act of creative sabotage that seems unthinkable and horrifying to me now, I decided to scribble all over it in a fit of frustration. Luckily my mum, sitting behind me and watching my creation take shape, saw what I was doing and, to put it mildly, hit the flipping roof. ‘This drawing is incredible,’ she told me, snatching it away before I could do any more damage. ‘Don’t you EVER do that again!’ The beginnings of my vandalism are still visible on the Robot’s belly, but I’m eternally grateful to mum for rescuing this frankly brilliant drawing… cherish this moment, it’s not often that I blow my own trumpet! They were always hugely supportive of my artistic side, were mum and dad. Bless.

And so we come to the piece de resistance of my Felt Trips entry. By this point, I was 12. Tom Baker had recently come to the end of his journey, falling to his death from the top of Jodrell Bank. In his place lay a pleasant, open-faced young man in Baker’s costume: the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.

And my first love affair with Doctor Who was over.

This is one of a string of abortive comic strips written and drawn by me. And it remains dear to my heart. I was having a tough time learning to love both the Fifth Doctor and the show’s new look. But the comic strips in Doctor Who Magazine were nothing less than sublime, and my affection simply transferred itself to a different medium.

The Fifth Doctor’s first comic strip outing, The Tides of Time, was written by one of UK comics’ unsung heroes, Steve Parkhouse, and drawn by the legendary Dave ‘Watchmen’ Gibbons. And it was everything I wanted the new Doctor Who to be. Epic, surreal, grandiose, bursting at the seams with mad ideas, and often very, very funny. Beginning a mere fortnight or so after Davison’s onscreen debut in January 1982, these comic strips were a huge influence on me.

Which is a roundabout way of saying: yes, I copied Dave Gibbons’ work left, right and centre. I also incorporated my favourite Cyberman design, from the early Paul Neary comic strip The Soul of a Cyberman. If I were Doctor Who‘s showrunner, then my first decision would be to incoproate those black shapes on the headpiece…

But never mind that, check out the plot! There’s an logic hole big enough to fly a Dalek saucer through, and it still tickles me pink. ‘Oh no, a Cyberman! I’m safe and sound in my indestructible and impregnable time machine. I’d better get out!’

My early comic strips were exercises in minimalism. Unless they used figures that I’d obviously copied from a comic, everything else was hands, extreme close-ups and silhouettes. Mind you, I’m fairly certain that Cyberman is drawn from memory, and it’s not bad at all. Well done, me.

Meanwhile, back onscreen…

I tried to carry on as best I could. I tried to give this new guy a chance, I really did. But it all seemed too serious, too joyless, too… different. And so, halfway through Peter Davison’s second series, I began to drift away. Where once Doctor Who was essential viewing, now I occasionally (and metaphorically) popped my head around the door to see what was happening, then popped it back out again. I returned properly for Colin Baker’s second and final series, after which Sylvester McCoy’s tenure managed to bring my love for the show back in full force. Just in time for its cancellation. Bugger.

Strangely, my Doctor Who obsession was never stronger than it was during the 90s and early 2000s, the so-called ‘Wilderness Years’. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. And I became deliriously excited by the show’s return in 2005 before bowing out again a couple of years later, having had a gutful of what a friend of mine called David Tennant’s ‘Timmy Mallet in space’ impression. Sorry, Tennant fans! But Matt Smith reeled me back in, big time, before Peter Capaldi’s gloriously grumpy Doctor had me glued to my set every Saturday. Then came his second series, with the sunglasses and the guitar-playing and a long run of weak stories and… I was out again, never (so far) to return. I’m sure Jodie Whittaker is perfectly brilliant, but at the moment Doctor Who is one of those things that remains in my rear view mirror, a distant speck.

Told you it was on again, off again. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Doctor Who it’s that, at some point in the future, when I’m least expecting it, that silly old show will say or do something to rekindle the flame.

Because your first love never truly goes away.”

The Scarred For Life books are available here:

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/stephen-brotherstone-dave-lawrence/scarred-for-life-volume-one/paperback/product-12qmgr65.html?page=1&pageSize=4

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/dave-lawrence-and-stephen-brotherstone/scarred-for-life-volume-two-television-in-the-1980s/paperback/product-288986.html?page=1&pageSize=4

Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.

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