The 1968 Annual
|Authors||Kevin McGarry, J.L. Morrissey, J.H. Pavey, M. Broadley, J.W. Elliott and Colin Newstead|
|Illustrators||Walter Howarth, David Brian, Susan Aspey and Peter Limbert|
|Starring the second Doctor, Ben and Polly.|
A Review by Finn Clark 26/1/04
That's more like it! After the drug-crazed delirium of the second Hartnell Annual, Troughton's era gets a solid start from World Distributors. Some of the short stories are perfectly good, while the book as a whole settles on a format which would last through to the eighties. The Hartnell annuals were short story collections and little more, but this is an eclectic collection of fiction, comic strips, features, games and puzzles. Something for everyone, you might say.
It's surprisingly faithful to the TV show. Unlike its predecessors, this year's annual also stars Dr Who's companions, in this case Ben and Polly. (Nope, no Jamie.) There's even a two-page feature giving us a character run-down of the new Dr. Who and his friends, including a few publicity photos. Though bizarrely he's still never referred to as the Doctor, only Dr. Who or the doctor.
Six writers are credited on the contents page (as "Stories and features by") and it's a dead cert that the fiction-writing duties were shared. The stories here are a mismatched bunch. Some of them are rather impressive hard SF, giving us sense-of-wonder awe along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke in When Starlight Grows Cold and a hard-edged, sinister Phil K. Dick-inspired piece in The Dream Masters, a story so good they ripped it off twice the following year. World Without Night, the only seven-page comic strip in any Doctor Who annual, outright plagiarises an Isaac Asimov short story.
But on the downside we get rubbish like The Sour Note (a sneeze of a story) and Only a Matter of Time. The latter actually has some worthwhile stuff going on, but dear God - the regulars! Both stories have long dialogue-filled TARDIS scenes with characterisation to make you ill. Troughton is Hartnell to his fingertips, sounding rather aggressive and calling Ben "my boy", except that he loves to leer. I feel dirty all over now. Meanwhile Ben expresses himself with, "I'm young! I need to shake a leg and go, man, go!" Later, when he finds himself on H.M.S. Victory, he becomes a drooling fanboy:
"Lord Nelson," repeated Ben, almost fainting. "Oh, sir, take us to him at once. Please, sir, please, let us see the Admiral."I can only presume he's hoping to interpose himself for "Kiss me, Hardy."
The annual ends with two historicals, H.M.S. TARDIS and The King of Golden Death, which should be praiseworthy except that they're crap. The stories are little more than history lessons on the battle of Trafalgar and Ancient Egypt, with the flimsiest imaginable excuses for a plot. H.M.S. TARDIS gives us the startling spectacle of Dr. Who trying to change history and save Nelson (!), while The King of Golden Death has Ben pretending to be Tutankhamen and frightening off some grave-robbers.
However I liked much of this collection. Planet of Bones is so very very nice that it's sinister even before the evil shit goes down. When Starlight Grows Cold is the kind of thing Jim Mortimore would have appreciated. And then The Word of Asiries (the only companionless story in the collection) and The Dream Masters are solid SF with attention-grabbing openings and some brutal bits, the latter being particularly impressive.
(Mind you the second comic strip, The Tests of Trefus, is garbage. The art is horrible, the duotone colouring is ugly and the writing is appalling, though I grudgingly give it points for the audacity of creating a society whose racism is based on hair colour.)
However there's more to the 1968 annual than its fiction. The space-based features are staggering, giving us the nitty-gritty on NASA in amazing detail. This was the late sixties, the time of the space race. America was busting a gut to land a man on the moon (they did it in 1969) and here we even get loving biographies of Galileo and Yuri Gagarin. This stuff is astonishing. They even have a map of the moon! Could you have identified the Torrid Gulf, the Sea of Fecundity and the Mountains of Sleep? No, me neither. This book knows that its readers are desperate for detailed space data and doesn't fob them off with the usual kiddie articles. Though it's amusing to note that "there should be an Earth colony on the Moon before the year 2000".
Overall, this is a well-produced book. It's packed with interesting articles, pays closer attention to the TV show than its predecessors and even has some decent fiction alongside the crap. The stories are blatantly by different writers with wildly different styles, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Quite impressive.