Bear Alley Books, out now (click here to order)
A complete guide to the quintessential 1970s TV tie-in…
If you’re a Doctor Who fan of a certain generation (that’s the generation that was born around the time Doctor Who started in 1963 or a couple of years either way), chances are you’re going to look at this book and a very large number of memories are going to begin to surface. For me, the illustration of the cover of a holiday special showing Thunderbird 1 in the hands (claws?) of some giant aquatic creature on page 195 has triggered some very specific recollections – some good, some bad, but all things I’ve not thought about in years.
Steve Holland’s excellent guide isn’t just a dull set of facts and figures about who wrote what strip when (although that information is there in a well laid out set of indices); it’s a history of these comics, relating the biographies of the creators, and the genesis of the magazines. Copiously illustrated with strips from the magazines – albeit sadly all in black and white and occasionally losing some dialogue into the gutter of the margin – it recreates the pictorial versions of the series, giving backgrounds on the shows and their prior history in comics form. Many of the Gerry Anderson shows apart from UFO didn’t last that long in Countdown and were of varying quality and there were a few continuations from the TV21 days, with Zero X and Lady Penelope getting their own strips. The titular strip Countdown itself I had long forgotten, but it’s given pride of place here, with a rundown of the story, and plenty of the art, which used spaceships from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The transformation of Countdown into TV Action (caused by a lack of space shows to cover) is covered in equal detail, as more non-SF material began to appear throughout the magazine, and the various stages in its decline charted – right the way to the end of Polystyle Publications.
With the exception of the Who material, most of these strips haven’t been seen for forty years or more, and they alone justify the price of the book. Coupled with Holland’s sympathetic, well-researched but never dry text, it makes for an excellent record of a long gone golden age. Where’s Professor Whitaker when you need him so you can go back and make a complete collection?
Verdict: A wonderful trip down memory lane. Recommended. 9/10 (If the strips were in colour, it would have been 10!)