Strange Comic Books: Doctor Who “Junkyard Demon”

As a comic book fan who also loves Doctor Who, in the last few years I’ve been spoilt for choices.   Here in the States, IDW has published a slew of Doctor Who comics featuring both new material and reprinting the British comic strips from the 1980s and 90s (I’m quite sad that their license expired at the end of 2013).  In addition, trade paperbacks from the UK have regularly made their way to comic shops here in North America.

Back in the mid-1980s, circumstances weren’t quite so positive.  If you were lucky, you might find the occasional issue of Doctor Who Magazine, which featured an eight page comic strip, at a comic shop.  I managed to snag three random issues during my youth.  By the time 1990 rolled around, I was finally frequenting a store that was willing to order the Magazine for me each month.  But until that point, the majority of the Doctor Who strips I read were those that Marvel Comics reprinted.

Doctor Who 13 cover

Marvel first began running the strips from Doctor Who Weekly (later Doctor Who Monthly, and then Magazine) in their anthology title Marvel Premiere in four issues that came out in late 1980.  Then, from 1984 to 1986, Marvel had an ongoing Doctor Who comic that lasted 23 issues, continuing the reprints of the British strips.  Dave Gibbons, the artist on many of the comic serials featuring the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, contributed some really great brand-new covers for those US issues.  Long before I picked up a copy of Watchmen, that’s how I discovered his work.

To tell the truth, the Doctor Who comic strips were often very strange.  Unencumbered by the shoestring budget of the television show, the writers & artists created an assortment of strange monsters and bizarre alien worlds.  Beep the Meep, the adorably cute but ruthlessly homicidal extraterrestrial tyrant, certainly epitomizes the weirdness that readers would find in those stories.  Many of the creators who worked on the Doctor Who strip were also regular contributors to the sci-fi anthology title 2000 AD, and they brought along their accompanying satirical, darkly humorous sensibilities.

All that said, one of the most unusual Doctor Who comic book stories is probably “Junkyard Demon,” which originally ran in Doctor Who Monthly #58-59 in 1981, and was reprinted in Doctor Who #13 in 1985.  It was written by Steve Parkhouse, who had become the strip’s writer a few stories earlier, imbuing it with a grim, sardonic atmosphere.  The artwork was by Mike McMahon & Adolfo Buylla, and it was an absolute 180 degrees away from the clean, realistic style of Gibbons.

Doctor Who 13 pg 5

The TARDIS is snatched up mid-flight by the immense salvage ship Drifter, which is manned by the eccentric, oddball trio of Flotsam, Jetsam, and Dutch (keep in mind this was three decades before the television episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”).  The robot Dutch tries to open the TARDIS doors with a drill, in the process awakening the Fourth Doctor from his meditation.  Although initially annoyed at having been mistaken for scrap by the strange group, the Doctor quickly remembers that he needs a non-variable oscillator to repair the hot chocolate machine in the TARDIS.  Flotsam starts searching through her scrap for the part, in the process unearthing a Cyberman.  The Doctor understandably reacts in alarm and hurls a wrench at it, before realizing the cyborg is deactivated.  At this point Jetsam informs the Doctor that he’s planning to reprogram it as a mechanical butler!  A relieved Doctor brews up some hot chocolate for himself, Flotsam, and Jetsam.  However, they are then attacked by the Cyberman, which has now awakened.

“Junkyard Demon” is enjoyably offbeat, and I’d rather not give away the rest of Steve Parkhouse’s insanely clever story.  You can read the entire 16 page tale on Mike McMahon’s blog, where it is presented in the original black & white.  My thanks to the talented Simon Frasier (who himself worked on Doctor Who, illustrating the first issue of the Prisoners of Time) for posting a link to this on Facebook last month.

McMahon & Buylla’s artwork on this story is definitely striking.  I’m trying to remember exactly what my nine year old self made of it when I read this back in 1985.  Obviously I immediately noticed how completely different it was from Gibbons’ regular work.  As I recall, even though I thought it was strange, I did like it.  McMahon’s depiction of Tom Baker is, in one respect, a caricature.  Yet at one glance it is immediately identifiable as the Fourth Doctor.  It’s certainly not photo-realistic, but it is a fantastic encapsulation of Baker’s eccentric, bohemian persona.  That’s especially apparent in the intense, wide-eyed gaze McMahon gives the Doctor.

Doctor Who 13 pg 9

I also loved the fact that the Cybermen in “Junkyard Demon” are similar to the original version seen in “The Tenth Planet.”  If you look closely, these Cybermen have physical characteristics from both their debut story and their second appearance in “The Moonbase.”  The Cybermen in “The Moonbase” were part of a group who had departed from Mondas a number of years before its destruction.  The ones we see in “Junkyard Demon” can be considered the transitional stage between their “patchwork creature” beginnings (to quote fellow blogger Paul Bowler), and the more functional, streamlined figures in subsequent television stories.  I don’t know if it was Parkhouse or McMahon’s decision to use early-model Cybermen, but it certainly made this story even more distinctive.

McMahon was definitely a good choice to pencil this story.  The US cover drawn in 1985 by Gibbons is perfectly fine, and I certainly do not want to disparage his immense talent.  But looking at McMahon’s depiction of the Cybermen within, they seem much more textured and organic, with a creepy, unsettling quality not present in Gibbons’ somewhat sleeker, robotic rendition.  McMahon brings across the notion of something once human, the product of spare-part surgery.

Actually, given that this whole story is about junk and refuse, a future of used, second-hand technology, McMahon’s style is perfect.  Years later, when I had the opportunity to see his work on various Judge Dredd stories for 2000 AD, I had that same feeling.  In those tales, McMahon definitely succeeded in creating a tangible atmosphere, bringing to life the post-apocalyptic dystopian metropolis of Mega City One.

Junkyard Demon II page 1

“Junkyard Demon” is apparently something of a fan favorite among both readers and creators who later went on to work on the comic strip.  Fifteen years later, writer Alan Barnes and artist Adrian Salmon created a sequel, which appeared in the 1996 Doctor Who YearbookYou can read the eight-page “Junkyard Demon II” on the Cybermantra blog.  I think Barnes and Salmon did a good job capturing the spirit of the original story, while also crafting a tale that also works well on its own.

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5 thoughts on “Strange Comic Books: Doctor Who “Junkyard Demon”

  1. Very cool. I’ve never seen these before. have you been following the series of extras on the comics on the Doctor Who DVD releases, called ‘Stripped for Action’? Dave Gibbons discusses his work in the fifth doctor one, on the Black Orchid DVD.

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      • That’s the only one I haven’t seen actually because I’m still suffering the trauma of the Twin Dilemma from the first time around. Funnily enough, the sixth doctor was one of the best ones in the comics, with Frobisher a particular favourite. I remember they even gave some mini-comics out free with bags of crisps, although I can’t remember exactly which ones.

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  2. Brilliant, Junkyard Demon is on of my favourite Dr Who comic strips, its really good and the art is excellent. I always thought this story would’ve made a great TV episode, and the Cyberman looks really creepy as well.

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