By Rob McCow
What’s the story called?
Dreamers of Death
Doctor Who Monthly gave us this two-part story in issues 47 and 48, from December 1980 to January 1981. US Marvel Comic presented the strip in its run of ‘color’ reprints in issue 8, alongside The Collector. Dreamers of Death is one of the stories available in the Doctor Who: Dragon’s Claw graphic novel, published in 2004 by Panini Books.
The World Shapers
Writer – Steve Moore
Artist – Dave Gibbons
Editor – Paul Neary
Ex-Blackcastle schoolgirl Sharon spends this story following the Doctor around and asking questions (surprise, surprise). It’s even a more of a disappointment this time, because this is the story that waves goodbye to Sharon! Suspiciously, she falls in love with the first dark-skinned man she meets in outer space. Vernor Allen is a ‘Dreamer’ and Sharon asks to touch his Slinth when they first meet. Choice chat-up dialogue includes:
‘And are you going to be in this dream, Vernor?’
‘I’m afraid not... the Dreamer’s too busy controlling things…’
‘That’s a shame…’
I know I said ‘includes’, but I meant ‘comprises in its entirety’. Sharon and Vernor do make a lovely couple though.
K-9 saves the Doctor’s bacon twice in the second instalment. He is able to detect the Doctor’s pulse and breathing rates, so he knows that the Doctor is facing something awful in his dream. Later, he proves his worth by running a cable around the leg of an enormous gestalt devil beast, even though it leaves him with a flat battery. It’s all in a day’s work for everybody’s favourite robot dog. At the end of the story, K-9 gives Sharon the cold shoulder. Instead of being sad to see her leave, he seems in a rush to leave in the TARDIS. In the last frame he shows Sharon his shiny metal posterior rather than saying goodbye.
In ‘a timeless tale from spaceless space’, a young hero named Karith battles Kroads and Devil-birds to rescue his lissom lady. In reality though, Karith, his girlfriend and her parents have been sharing a dream created for them by a woman called Scylla who works for Dreams Deluxe.
The Doctor is surprised to land on Uniceptor IV, a farming world where he has some old friends. They see Scylla walking past and the furry garment on her shoulder growls at the Doctor!
The Doctor introduces Sharon to Garret Berrace and his wife, Camilla, with their daughter, Lyan. Lyan is the girl who was being courted by Karith in the dream. They tell the Doctor that everyone on the planet is now entertained by Professional Dreamers, who use the telepathic Slinth creatures to allow people to share Dream Stories. The Slinth are mink-like furry rodents. Scylla wears one on her shoulder and it was this Slinth that growled when the Doctor walked past. Garret invites the Doctor to join in the poetic Dreamscapes of Vernor Allen later that evening. Before Vernor arrives, Garret tells the Doctor that he has heard of an electrical accident that occurred during a dream, which resulted in the death of their friend Lord Veith and his Dreamer.
The Doctor, Sharon, Karith and Garret’s family enter their dream, ‘The First Landing on the Bliss-World of Ansillar’ and all seems to be going well. They arrive on the edge of a beautiful city and are greeted by a ceremonial procession. However, Garret spots the dead Lord Veith at the head of the procession! Suddenly, the angels turn to Devil Birds. They run back to their ship, but it explodes as they reach it. They find Vernor in a cage and his Slinth, Miki, has grown to enormous size, developing sharp fangs and claws. It grabs the Doctor and lifts him up to its enormous mouth.
The Dreamscape Slinth prepares to devour the Doctor, but outside in reality, K-9 senses the Doctor’s increased heart rate and severs the electronic connections, ending the dream for everyone. Everyone wakes up, groggily and Vernon says that he felt as if his mind was taken over – by Miki, his Slinth! The Slinth is bloated and slopes off. The general alarm siren alerts them to a vis-news report that people are starting to die during the Dreamings. The Doctor surmises that the Slinths are like psychic vampires and that they must have been waiting until they felt strong enough to make a mass attack. Suddenly, another vis-news report tells them of a giant unidentified creature destroying the city.
The Doctor, Vernor, Sharon and K-9 head off to investigate and find the town is being attacked by a giant devil, made up of hundreds of Slinths, acting with a single mind. Fear and terror are giving them a huge source of psychic energy. They are also absorbing energy from the city guard’s Thorsen-303’s. Kartih and Sharon rush off to find a projectile weapon to use against it, but the rifle that Sharon steals from the museum isn’t enough to stop it.
The Doctor notices that the creature soaks up electrical energy, but is steering clear of the river. The Doctor sends K-9 to wrap an electric cable around the creature’s leg, and then blasts it with water using a hose from the fire brigade. The cable shorts the Slinths out and causes the creature to break up. K-9’s batteries are also drained.
A couple of days later, the Doctor is preparing to leave, but Sharon says that she doesn’t want to go home to Blackcastle. Without the Slinths, Vernor will have to make a new life for himself and wants to start his new life with Sharon. The Doctor says his goodbyes and leaves her behind. (Sniff!)
The characterisation of the Doctor is as good as ever. With Season 18’s State of Decay on at the time though, the tone of the TV show was moving on from the Season 17 style wackiness that Dreamers of Death displays.
The climax of the story is far more Godzilla than Doctor Who, which means that a direct realisation on TV would have been hard to achieve. Personally, I think it would have been great to have a man in a Slinth suit trashing cardboard buildings in an episode of old-school Who. The bit where it breaks up into thousands of tiny beasts would be perfect fodder for the new series, but difficult to imagine on a 70’s budget. The only giant beast comparison from the time might be Kroll, the eponymous octopus* of The Power of Kroll.
Although some of the stuff on Uniceptor IV is a little dull, you can tell there’s a relish to the dream sequences. The opening page is very exciting, with Karith battling an army of armoured frogs and Magog-like pteranadons. The ceremonial procession that welcomes the Doctor and his friends during their Dream is similarly fantastic, especially when the head of the crowd is revealed to be the dead Lord Veith and everything turns nasty. The Slinths going from being cute to nasty is great, almost as good as the Meep revealing his evil side in Star Beast, but sufficiently different to be interesting.
The way Gibbons draws physiques is interesting. The men are muscular and slim, the women are stacked like champions, yet they are all somehow unattractive. In theory, older Sharon in a catsuit should be Doctor Who’s most outrageously attractive companion, but she seems very artificial to me. Like a bouncy castle.
End of The Line
With a small cast of friendly characters, this is a great ‘feel-good’ story. Uniceptor IV may be a Utopia, but the people aren’t too boring or soppy. The fact that they spend their dreams imagining bloody sword and sorcery fantasies gives them an edge. It’s one of those future predictions that has almost come true today, with hundreds of thousands of people addicted to World Of Warcraft and other online games.
The story hangs together well and the externalisation of the Dreaming threat into the Slinth gestalt gives the story a powerful change of direction. The Doctor’s eventual solution is neat and elegant too, using the resources of the city and his intelligence. And K-9, of course!
Poor Sharon! The treatment of Sharon has been unrivalled in its atrociousness. Not since the days of Dodo and Katarina have companions been so unceremoniously dumped. She started off as good as Rose, but ended up as rotten and unwanted as Kamelion. There was no exploration of how she felt to grow up all of a sudden; all it would have taken is a couple of lines. By the time of Dreamers of Death she shows no trace of the schoolgirl she was in Star Beast. Indeed, she shows no trace of any personality at all. It seems that this version of the comic strip Doctor just doesn’t work with a companion.
‘Dreamers of Death’ wins out through being great fun. A simple premise and loads of action makes it a memorable little story.
Follow That TARDIS!
The Doctor is on his way back to Uniceptor IV at the start of Star Beast II, on his way to Sharon’s wedding. At the end of Dreamers of Death, he mentions of the TARDIS that ‘If I set the controls for Uniceptor… it’ll probably put me in Blackcastle!’ True to form, this is exactly where Star Beast II takes place!
The Doctor wouldn’t have a contemporary human companion again until the arrival of Peri in 1985. It’s four years of bowling-ball-headed ninjas, shape-changers, medieval knights who are actually statues and Americans from alternative Earths. Wasn’t Turlough good enough for the comic?
Tom’s costume is in transition between the Season 17 and 18 varieties. Although he wears his grey jacket as in Destiny of the Daleks, he also has the shirt with the question marks on the collar, introduced in The Leisure Hive.
If K-9 is doused with water while he’s next to an electrical power cable, it’s likely to drain his batteries.
Issue 48 of DWM featured a star profile on Terrance Dicks, while issue 47 ran a feature on the Seeds of Death that includes a large photo of Ronald Leigh-Hunt alongside a small photo of an Ice Warrior.
*Eponymous octopus! Oooooo yes!!!