The comic strip has been a key component of Doctor Who Magazine since 1979, & the Fourth Doctor holds the honour of having been the first incarnation of the Time Lord to feature within its pages!
Part One of Doctor Who & The Iron Legion was published on October 17 of that year, adapted from an unused television submission for Season Seventeen by writers Pat Mills & John Wagner. The story is set in a parallel universe in which the Roman Empire never fell! Here's a quick synopsis:
A robot legionnaire attacks a small English town of the 1970s. Tracing them to their origin, the Doctor arrives on another Earth in which the Roman Empire conquered the galaxy with their Iron Legion of robots commanded by General Ironicus, a servant of what he calls the Gods.Mills & Wagner had been working in the world of comics as a team since meeting while both in the employ of DC Thomson, best known for The Beano & its brother The Dandy. Becoming freelancers by 1971, just five years later Pat created 2000AD with Wagner bringing Judge Dredd to the table. So how did the pair come to work on Doctor Who?
Escaping from the general and from the Ectoslime, in the arena where the boy emperor, Adolphus Caesar and his mother Juno watch, the Doctor is enslaved on board a ship travelling home. Joining forces with escapee Morris and Vesuvius(one of the oldest robots left), the Doctor discovers the Gods of Rome are the evil Malevilus- five winged demonic creatures who feed off death. The Doctor awakens the Bestiarus, unsuccessfully genetically engineered soldiers kept in storage to create maximum disruption in the city.
Magog, Adolphus's "mother", is unhappy to see the Doctor. She ultimately kills the general. As Magog changes shape to kill the Doctor, the whole of Rome watches on vidscreens and they revolt. Returning the Doctor to the TARDIS. Magog is tricked into being expelled from the craft into an empty dimension. She vows to return. The other Malevilus are attacked by the Bestiarus in their temple, a spaceship which explodes and kills them all. The citizens make Vesuvius the new emperor and the Doctor suggests a boarding school for Adolphus.
Dave Gibbons, an artist who had departed 2000AD in the late Seventies to work on the still- young Doctor Who Magazine ( then called Doctor Who Weekly) recommended them as potential writers for the Doctor's adventures in comic form. Consider this from 2000AD.com, in an appraisal of the Fourth Doctor's time as a comic book star:
"There had been comic strip adventures based on the long-running BBC-TV series Doctor Who almost since its inception, and other publishers had been telling the character's adventures for years in the pages of such titles as TV Comic and Countdown.
It wasn't until Marvel got the rights to make a weekly tie-in comic and set 2000 AD's Pat Mills, John Wagner and Dave Gibbons to work on the character in 1979 that the comic became an icon in its own right."
They actually only wrote four stories together, The Iron Legion being followed by City Of The Damned, The Star Beast & The Dogs Of Doom. Following these were The Time Witch, Dragon's Claw, The Collector, Dreamers Of Death, The Life Bringer, War Of The Words, Spider Gods, The Deal, The End Of The Line, The Free-Fall Warrior, Junkyard Demon & The Neutron Knights. The Iron Legion was subsequently included as the title story of Panini's Volume One of Fourth Doctor comics, with Dragon's Claw onwards collected into Volume Two.
And what were the Doctor's first words in a comic speech bubble? "I must stock up with provisions. I haven't had a thing to eat since I took off from Zaggar-Six!".
Dave Gibbons, the man who drew that first adventure, has always been passionate about his art. He has “vivid memories of the prefects at my school going through my desk and confiscating comics and burning them” for starters! But he's always defended comics against those who see comics as a form of ''low culture'':
"There has been this notion that comics are very low culture. I’ve never believed that at all. The idea of telling stories or imparting information with a combination of words and pictures is a fairly universal thing, geographically and historically. I loved comics from the age of three or four. I learned to read before I went to school so I could see what was going on and they inculcated in me a lifelong love of reading."They're good for children, too, says the man known as ' Gibbo'!
"They are very accessible. I think children naturally gravitate to their particular mix of brief words and exciting, interesting pictures. They can do everything from spin yarns of derring do to things which are very educational in the sense of history and science - virtually everything,” he said. “What we have to do is show what is out there, not just the Beano and Dandy and Batman stuff, but to show the range of the medium."Only fitting, then, that he was appointed the country's first Comics Laureate by Comics Literacy Awareness! As part of which he said he would “do all that I can to promote the acceptance of comics in schools. It’s vitally important not only for the pupils but for the industry too''.
Tribute was paid to him in The Love Invasion, written by the team of Gareth Roberts & Clayton Hickman with art by Mike Collins, the first comic outing for the Ninth Doctor. Set in 1966, the newly-regenerated Doctor & Rose Tyler find themselves in 1966- & there's something a bit fishy about the Lend A Hand organisation! There's a nice cameo for Ben Jackson & Polly Wright which reveals what happened for them after they left the TARDIS crew at the end of The Faceless Ones. So where does Dave fit in?
Look closely at the scooter the Doctor rides around London for part of The Love Invasion ( featured in the Cruel Sea graphic novel anthology of all the Ninth's comic appearances, alongside Art Attack, The Cruel Sea, Mr Nobody, A Groatsworth Of Wit & What I Did On My Christmas Holidays By Sally Sparrow) and you'll notice that its a ' Gibbo' that the mod-ish man in the leather jacket commandeers. A nice bridge between eras, we're sure you'll agree!