From TV Comic #674-683
A Review by Finn Clark 18/12/04
Was this the first official Doctor Who story not broadcast on television? Less than a year after An Unearthly Child hit our screens, TV Comic had started its Doctor Who strip. The Klepton Parasites is an important tale, relatively speaking... it introduced John, Gillian and the Kleptons in TV Comic's longest Who story for many years to come. It's twenty pages long (a record not broken until The Celluloid Midas in Countdown with Jon Pertwee) and lasted ten episodes (a record that would be equalled but not broken until the Tom Baker era!).
TV Comic doesn't have a good reputation and The Klepton Parasites is admittedly a story you've got to meet halfway. Its story is simplistic, its dialogue can be laughable and its artwork looks crude. (I'm no great fan of the colourised version in Classic Comics issue two, but it's probably better-looking than the black-and-white original.) However a sympathetic reread will reveal positives in all three of those areas.
The dialogue is the most obvious problem, suffering from a severe case of exposition:
"Help! Help! They're picking us up like toys!"However once the plot's under way, the exposition is no longer necessary and the dialogue becomes perfectly acceptable. Not quite Tom Stoppard, but certainly not risible either. What's more, a comics historian would look more kindly on this story than a Who fan... in 1964, realistic dialogue simply wasn't done in comics. Check out the trade paperbacks of Neal Adams's groundbreaking Batman stories from circa 1970: Red Water Crimson Death, The Frightened City, The Demon Awakes and more. It's like the Adam West TV series, but worse!
"Run for your lives! These creepers are growing at a fantastic speed!"
By the standards of a kiddie strip that pre-dates Alan Moore and Frank Miller, The Klepton Parasites is actually rather well dialogued. The Doctor (sorry, Dr Who) won't win any prizes for characterisation, but he's recognisably Hartnell and significantly better-written than TV Comic's versions of Troughton and Pertwee under Roger Noel Cook.
Apart from anything else, we see Dr Who to be startlingly fallible. Admittedly this could be just the writer goofing up on the details, but this story's Dr Who often makes confident and demonstrably wrong statements.
What's more, this is Doctor Who that actually feels Whoish. In later years, TV Comic would give Dr Who dialogue like, "Die hideous creature die!" but it's noticeable that our heroes don't shoot any Kleptons even during their jailbreak. (Instead they just punch the "ugly customers" in the face or knock them on the head.) No killing! That's always nice to see. Admittedly Dr Who blows up the Kleptons' underwater base at the end, but it's possible that a few Kleptons got away. Apart from anything else, they later returned for a sequel... Prisoner of the Kleptons, in the 1966 TV Comic Annual.
No one knows who wrote these early stories, but I've always suspected that the artist was also the writer. Neville Main's Hartnell stories weren't without sophistication, while Bill Mevin's run on the strip was beautifully painted but dumber than a crushed rock. But no matter who wrote this story, they did a reasonable job.
As for the artwork... it's simple but easy to follow, with clean lines. Dr Who looks quite good, especially given Neville Main's slightly potato-faced people. He's characterful. There's also attention to detail... the Kleptons have an underwater city and so they look slightly aquatic, with fins on their heads and snorkel-like noses. Their battleglobes also look quite menacing in the end-of-episode cliffhanger.
There's something weird about the Kleptons' dialogue balloons in the first episode. This soon disappears never to return, but it's another indication that Neville Main is trying things.
Of course this story introduces John and Gillian, those neglected companions who've appeared to date alongside three Doctors in 62 stories and 483 pages. It's interesting to note that despite calling Dr Who their grandfather, they don't know what he looks like or even that he lives in a police box. It's also not stated that John and Gillian are brother and sister... for all we know from this story, they're cousins or not even related by blood at all. They don't get much personality, but we learn that John is a good shot with a rock and a bit on the violent side. (He even looks like a bit of a bruiser.)
Random observation: the TARDIS dematerialises with "a sudden rush of wind" as it goes into a spin. The Amazing Rotating TARDIS would be a consistent feature of Neville Main's run on the strip.
The Kleptons have returned a number of times since. I've already mentioned Prisoner of the Kleptons, but they can also be glimpsed in Placebo Effect. Curiously Gary Russell portrays the Kleptons as being obsessed with the Thains even though "everyone knows" they died out ten thousand years ago. Placebo Effect is set in 3999, only ONE thousand years after The Klepton Parasites. There's a story somewhere in that.
Oddest, however, is the Games Workshop game of the late seventies and early eighties. Maybe it's another coincidence, but that has Kleptons too. They even look vaguely similar to the TV Comic versions (with snout-like noses and fins growing from the sides of their heads), despite now being dressed in gigantic bulging capes like a beetle's wings. I'll quote the game's Item File... "KLEPTON: Even if you do not attack these habitual thieves, they nevertheless steal a Key Part from you as you leave their zone. Another player takes one of your Key Parts at random, if it is blank or identical to one the Kleptons are already guarding, he replaces it and draws another until he has drawn one that the Kleptons will guard. This is then placed in their zone."
There. Don't you feel better for knowing that?
Overall, better than you've been led to believe. I can't pretend that The Klepton Parasites isn't childish and lowbrow, but compared with much of TV Comic's subsequent output it's a class act. Admittedly it's less unintentionally amusing than it might be, but it's more enjoyable than some DWM comic strips I could mention. Thanks to its length, this is quite a substantial story with enough room for an actual plot. I've read worse... and what's more, I've read worse published this year. Unfairly neglected.