Marvel Comics is an American comic book publisher which has published Doctor Who comic books, magazines and graphic novels, both in the United States and in Britain. Marvel's connection with Doctor Who began in 1979, when the BBC transferred the license to print Doctor Who comics from Polystyle to Marvel's British imprint, Marvel UK.
Though Marvel UK initially enjoyed exclusive rights to Doctor Who in comics form, their rights have gradually contracted since 1996, when the Eighth Doctor debuted in a series of strips that ran in Radio Times. Since the second series of the BBC Wales production, they have been one of several companies to enjoy publishing rights to the comics adventures of the Tenth Doctor. Nevertheless, their strip in Doctor Who Magazine is generally considered by most fans to be the "main" Doctor Who comic strip, with other comics, like those found in the BBC-produced Doctor Who Adventures, construed as "niche" comics for a specific audience.
At the height of their influence, Marvel UK began to publish directly in the US market during the mid-1990s. Though they enjoyed initial success, they soon found themselves up against the wall of the general downturn in the US comics industry that decade. Having committed much of their resources to success in America, they were quickly reduced to a company that mainly reprinted Marvel US comics in Britain. By the turn of the 21st century, almost the only original work they were still doing was in Doctor Who and the Transformers. Badly cash-strapped, they were saved from extinction by the intervention of Panini Comics, a European publisher who had the Marvel reprint license for the continent. Panini's acquisition of Marvel UK had the net effect of Marvel Europe extending its territory to encompass the United Kingdom. Hence, from one perspective, the BBC's license to print Doctor Who comics and news didn't change hands, so much as the British license to print Marvel Comics. In other words, Marvel UK still technically exists as of 2008, with its licenses intact, but they are now owned by Panini, which also owns Marvel Europe. For this reason, it's within Panini's rights to now reprint a Doctor Who comic from a 1985 issue of Doctor Who Magazine, whereas special permission must be sought for Panini to reprint something from the Polystyle era.
Doctor Who Magazine
Initially Marvel UK exercised the BBC's license in Doctor Who Weekly, a publication that was a fairly even mix between comics and Doctor Who news. In the very earliest days of that magazine, it served not only as a location for a regular comic strip featuring the then-current Doctor, but also for a variety of other sequential art. These non-Doctor stories included some tales that were set in the Whoniverse, but featured original characters, along with irregular reprints of material from The Dalek Chronicles.
It also featured 1970s Marvel adaptations of classic science fiction stories, and reprints from American Marvel Comics published from the of the 1950s and 1960s. For these stories, tenuous connection was established to the Fourth Doctor in that he appeared in the first and last panels as a sort of "Greek chorus-cum-narrator". Consequently some major American Marvel artists like Jack Kirby, Chris Claremont and Steve Ditko have credits in DWM.
Over the years, the title of the publication, its page count, and its target audience changed. Whereas it had started with a significant number of pages devoted to a variety of comic strips, it gradually became more of a news and reviews magazine with a single comic strip featuring the Doctor. It began as a child-oriented magazine and gradually became more interested in attempting to be something closer to a journalistic exercise that happened to have some comic content. Its name changed over the years until finally settling on Doctor Who Magazine, by which it is most commonly known today.
Doctor Who Special
Soon after the launch of Doctor Who Weekly, Marvel UK also began publication of a seasonal, sister publication initially called Doctor Who Special. It was a biannual publication, which in many ways was like an American comics "annual". Although it could be purchased separately from the main magazine, it was also a subscriber bonus. Like DWM, it began as primarily a repository of fiction and gradually became heavily oriented towards non-fiction, journalistic articles. These specials became increasingly thematic as the run continued. Whereas reprinted comics were common early on, later issues featured exclusively original comic material, or, in one case, the complete reprinting of TV Century 21's The Dalek Chronicles. It was a significant source of comic material featuring past Doctors and companions. In fact, a number of different companions, whose TV runs had been previously ignored by both Marvel and Polystyle, made their first comic appearances in DWS, including: Vicki, Steven, Benny, and Mel. Others, such as Romana I had their first Marvel treatment in the pages of DWS, rather than the parent publication.
Confusion over the title is both common and understandable in fandom. Later issues which place the word Magazine on the cover, suggest that one possible title for the publication is Doctor Who Magazine Special. Also, the common inclusion of these issues with subscriptions of DWM force some to include that it's not really a separate title from DWM. In fact, though, no issue of the run has the word "Magazine" in the indicia title. And it was called Doctor Who Special for at least its first five issues. Thereafter, the publication dropped its legal promise to be "published twice yearly", and was technically published as a series of one-shots bearing the name of the season. In effect, Doctor Who Special morphed into Doctor Who Summer Special and Doctor Who Winter Special, along with the odd unique special, like the Doctor Who 30th Anniversary Special or Dalek Chronicles - A Doctor Who Summer Special'.
Practically, the need for these specials was eclipsed somewhat by Marvel's decision in 1990 to switch DWM from a monthly to a 4-weekly publication. This increased the annual output of DWM itself to 13 issues. Marvel would go on publishing the specials, however, for a few more years, eventually stopping them altogether after Marvel UK faltered in the US market in 1996.
Doctor Who Yearbook
The Marvel Company also briefly produced another series, called the Doctor Who Yearbook, from 1992-1996. Sometimes considered "annuals", they are perhaps most accurately thought of as hardbound issues of Doctor Who Special. Whereas a true British "annual" is a collection of prose and comics stories featuring the then-current stars of a property — it marks that year in television, film, or sport — the Yearbook appeared at a time when Doctor Who was firmly off the air. Thus it became a retrospective look at the program as a whole, and featured a variety of different companions and Doctors. Like Doctor Who Specials, it occasionally reprinted material from Doctor Who Magazine, but was largely used to feature new stories. Its comics featured Marvel's first non-parodic attempt at Ian and Barbara, along with the first Marvel usage of Jo, Leela and Nyssa,
Doctor Who Classic Comics
Marvel UK was briefly involved in a project to reprint material not generally available to Doctor Who fans in the 1990s. In a series that lasted less than 30 issues, Doctor Who Magazine's resident comic experts attempted to reprint important stories from both the Polystyle and Marvel UK runs'. Where necessary, they also colourised stories that had originally been in black and white. The magazine ended long before it had gotten anywhere close to being a comprehensive collection of the Polystyle era, but it nevertheless offered the only taste of that time that most fans had experienced.
The publication also had significant text articles which gave details as to the names and artists that worked on every known Doctor Who comic adventure. Because of this, it is today still considered the de facto definitive guide to early Doctor Who comics. Many reference websites, including the Doctor Who Reference Guide, use this Marvel UK title as their primary reference for the comics of the first seven Doctors. Though in many ways just a reprinting of the "Stripped for Action" column that had begun appearing in DWM a couple of years before, DWCC offered expanded coverage of the subject.
Graphic Novels and One-Offs
Marvel also occasionally printed some single-issue Doctor Who comics, marketed as "graphic novels". Of these, only The Age of Chaos was both wholly graphic and a single, novel-length story. The others — Abslom Daak - Dalek Killer and Voyager — would be considered by North Americans to be trade paperbacks or "collected editions".
Marvel UK's parent company, Marvel Comics, had some minor involvement with Doctor Who during the height of US Doctor Who fandom in the 1980s, consisting of colourised reprints of DWM comic strips, beginning with a Fourth Doctor story arc that appeared as part of an anthology series entitled Marvel Premiere. This was followed by a monthly comic in 1984 entitled, simply, Doctor Who which featured additional DWM reprints featuring the Fourth and, later, Fifth Doctor. About two-dozen issues were published. Marvel also issued a North American edition of the Sixth Doctor DWM story arc, Voyager in an omnibus graphic novel edition. Marvel US created no significant original Doctor Who material, other than covers, pinups, and the odd prose feature in the Doctor Who comic.
In addition to the above, Marvel US also distributed Doctor Who Magazine along with the UK reprint title Doctor Who Classic Comics, the Doctor Who Yearbook, and the Who-related title, Death's Head, before Panini took over the license. From 2007 to 2013, another US publisher, IDW, issued new reprints of the DWM stories previously issued by Marvel US in Marvel Premiere and Doctor Who.
The Doctor and the Marvel Universe
Over time, Marvel UK began publishing a number of original stories featuring a variety of mainstream Marvel US characters, such as the Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. Eventually, these British versions of mainstream Marvel characters, combined with a few characters that were wholly original to Marvel UK, began to create a continuity that diverged somewhat from the mainstream American Marvel Universe. Thus, comic observers began to posit the notion of a "Marvel UK Universe". The Doctor Who comic strips came to be viewed as a part of that universe, and, indeed, a number of characters that originated in Doctor Who Weekly and its successor titles crossed over into other titles within the Marvel UK Universe. Even the Doctor, in his Seventh persona, could be said to be a part of the Marvel UK universe. Indeed, because of subsequent appearances of Marvel UK characters in the mainstream Marvel US Universe — in particular Death's Head — it is possible to consider the Doctor a minor part of the Marvel Universe, generally. The specific part of the Marvel megaverse that the Doctor possibly inhabits is called Earth-5556.
- ↑ "Is Earth 8162 A.D. Marvel universe or Doctor universe?" at The Appendix to the Handbok of the Marvel Universe
- ↑ A history of Earth-5556