Saturday, 14 February 2015


5 parts (Doctor Who Monthly 90 - 94) July to November 1984
Writer: Steve Parkhouse, Artist: John Ridgway, Editor: Alan McKenzie
The 6th Doctor experiences a terrible nightmare that he's under the power of a powerful god-like being called "Voyager"... 

...who's enslaved him to a sailing ship that traverses storm-lashed seas to a literal edge of the world... 

He awakens... find that the TARDIS has landed at the South Pole. 

He  and his new companion Frobisher, the shape-changing Whifferdill (here taking the form of an Emperor penguin) soon see the ship from his dream in the waters below, iced over. 

Once aboard the forbidding ship, they discover a set of star charts... 

...but before they can make any sense of them, they're held at gunpoint by an old man... 

...who steals the charts and makes his escape in a flying machine that appears to be based on one of Leonardo da Vinci's designs! 

He heads for a lighthouse across the sea, the Doctor and Frobisher following by TARDIS... 

The TARDIS detects vast energy emanating from the lighthouse... 
...but before the Doctor can ascertain the specific source, he and Frobisher are confronted by a giant automaton with a living soul...
...that descends into the sea to a submerged spaceship.

Inside the lighthouse, the strange old thief escapes again, using surreal trickery... 

...but the Doctor eventually discovers that he is Astrolabus, the man long ago stole the Book of Old Time from Gallifrey. 

He claims to be a "real" Time Lord because it was his use of this stolen knowledge contributed to the discovery of time travel. 

Astrolabus, though, is pursued for his forbidden knowledge by the powerful Voyager, seemingly an avatar of Death...
Astrolabus makes a run for it again, tricking the Doctor into falling through time and space... land in the sea, where he almost drowns, but is rescued by Frobisher. 

The pair watch in amazement as the lighthouse, which was just the disguise for Astrolabus' getaway rocket all along, blasts off into time and space. 

But the adventure is not over - in Astrolabus' wake comes Voyager... make the Doctor's nightmare real.
He will haunt the Doctor until the Time-Lord returns to him the star charts that Astrolabus stole...  

...because while Astrolabus remains at large, the whole universe is in danger.

While The Shapeshifter made an instant impact, with Voyager, the 6th Doctor's comic strip era really arrives. Between Steve Parkhouse's densely surreal imagination tethered to the intricately detailed realism of John Ridgeway's art, there's one of the most cohesive visions for the strip at work here. 

Where The Tides of Time was an epic that spilled forth in a psychedelic cavalcade, a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Voyager is hewn of a darker substance, the more dread-bound, undertow-driven acid comedown of The Green Manalishi with the Two-Prong Crown
The wide open expanses of the universe are claustrophic inky depths, an inescapable and oppressive weight that means that even freewheeling silliness in Astrolabus' flourishes are no less sinister and threatening than the more overt torments of Voyager. 

I'm not usually so keen on characters, in the TV series or in strip, who have managed to pinch bits and bobs from Gallifrey with an ease that devalues the all-powerful nature of Time-Lord society, and side-stepping that with a quick "...from the dawn of time" is no more forgiveable.  

Here, though, perhaps because it's never quite clear whether or not Astrolabus is a Time-Lord or not - he seems to be lying or at least "from a certain point of view"-ing the majority of the time - and perhaps because of the dread-inducing presence afforded Voyager, both in script and appearance, it's a story that grips and intrigues. 
It might not actually be the colossus of repute however, or at least not on its' own, purely because the story doesn't really conclude here, but it's undeniably possessed of a maturity not seen previously in a Doctor Who strip, an absorbing dream-like quality, and is a page-turner that certainly leaves you heavily invested and looking forward to the next part of the journey. In that respect , it's rather inexplicably satisfying despite it's lack of conclusion! 

Grand without being pompous or portentous, it's definitely worthy of its place in the highest echelons of the Doctor Who strip, and offers not only atmosphere in absolute tonnes, but also a 6th Doctor we'd've been spoilt rotten by had he ever appeared on screen.


(N.B. This strip was originally published in black and white, but the snapshots presented here are from the sympathetically coloured reprints by IDW)

Coming Soon... The Curse of the Scarab

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