Doctor Who Magazine‘s comic strip telling the story of the Fourteenth Doctor’s first adventure was an unprecedented move. Doctor Who: Liberation of the Daleks was told over 14 parts, the longest-running strip in the magazine’s history. That adventure has ended in this month’s issue, right in time for the Fourteenth Doctor’s episode debut in “The Star Beast“. Advertised as a ‘bridge’ between “The Power of the Doctor” and the 60th Specials, it sounds like essential reading! But just what happened? And, most importantly, does this first adventure for Fourteen set a high bar?
All that, and more, in this recap and review of probably the most important Doctor Who Magazine comic strip in decades! WARNING – Spoilers for the entire 14-part comic strip below.
The story follows the TARDIS landing in a hot tourist spot in the 24th Century, specifically in a Dalek Dome in 2323. Each zone inside this dome recreates a moment of the Daleks’ history. As an anniversary celebration, it allowed for all sorts of callbacks to some of the most iconic adventures in Doctor Who history. Picking up each of these easter eggs would have us here all day, but the main ones I picked were the Vulcan Factory from Power of the Daleks and Spiridon from Planet of the Daleks.
This is pretty nice, given that the Daleks don’t appear in the 60th Anniversary Specials. It feels like a massive celebration of all things Dalek. We’ve had a lot of Daleks onscreen over the past few years, so it’s nice that they’re acknowledged in an anniversary year. After former showrunner Chris Chibnall put out Dalek specials every year, it feels like we don’t need another episode anytime soon. The idea of a Dalek museum was also cool, with the Doctor being really critical of them turning the suffering the Daleks brought into a theme park.
The Daleks aren’t real as you’d expect from a glorified tourist trap. Their extermination beams don’t do anything, leaving the Doctor totally unscathed. However, these fake Daleks become aware of their programming and begin to fight back. It was hard to tell who was actually real sometimes, although it all mostly made sense by the end. However, starting it in the middle of a fake football final was an interesting decision, looking back it feels like it’s setting up a totally different story. Seeing how much the plot evolves over 14 parts is crazy.
The Dome was created by the dreams of 12 captured mutant Daleks. It grapples with the ethics of using something like the Daleks to sell holidays surprisingly nuancedly for a comic. The Doctor calls these Daleks ‘psychoplasmic’. They’re entirely real as far as the simulation is concerned but hold no bearing in the real world. When the first troop try and escape into the real world, they melt into a pile of paint. Their anatomic instability is a cool visual, and a great concept. It’s one that makes me very glad that this was a comic book, with the colours really pop off the page.
After the fake Daleks invade the real world thanks to manipulating the Doctor’s TARDIS, the story really unfolds. It also marks the halfway point in the story, which took quite a long time to really begin properly. However, the Daleks literally invading reality marks one of the most original Dalek stories we’ve ever had. Unfortunately, these identical and “impure” Daleks catch the ire of some real Daleks, kicking off a rather explosive war. It’s also here in the Dome that the Sonic Screwdriver is destroyed, creating some fun questions as to how this is going to be picked up onscreen.
The Doctor rarely needs to rely on the Daleks for help. It sets up a really nice dynamic between him and the Dalek Emperor. Seeing him get dragged around and still holding his ground gave us a lovely Doctor moment. It’s a great opportunity to get to know what the Fourteenth Doctor is like before he’s even appeared properly onscreen. Fourteen isn’t too dissimilar to Ten, still having a lot of that familiar rage and humour that a lot of us Whovians just love! Seeing him onscreen again is going to be such a treat.
Back to Skaro
An explosive battle leaves the Dome in a state of disrepair, and the Daleks’ “reality gate” to break into the universe is destroyed. The Doctor wins the day, and the Daleks are no more. However, one of the 12 captured Daleks survives, and it’s angry. However, the Doctor doesn’t think to stick around. Instead, he leaves his temporary companion, Georgette, a Dalek history buff, in charge of the situation. His walking off defiantly, even after she’s calling for his help, feels very reminiscent of the rage reserved for the Time Lord Victorious.
Even though this Doctor is very young, with this covering the first hour or so of his life, he still holds all the same powers he did before. He’s just as commanding as you remember the Tenth Doctor in the past. However, he’s clearly imbued with the memories and experiences of everything that came after, making him feel a little more human. The show would be fun if Fourteen’s written anything like this onscreen! Barnes perfectly captures the essence of David Tennant‘s Doctor, creating a standout Doctor Who comic. I could hardly think of a better strip to tide us over for 13 months.
The strip ends with the Doctor tricking the real Golden Dalek, with whom he’d formed a temporary alliance, out of the TARDIS. As he enters his next adventure, he discovers a problem with the TARDIS console. A trophy he received from the football game has, like the Daleks that broke into the real world, turned into a pile of paint. This messes with what the Doctor fears could be the Fast Return Switch, potentially dragging him back to Skaro. Interestingly, the Thirteenth Doctor’s TARDIS interior is still in use, creating some interesting questions about its inclusion in the 60th Anniversary.
Story: Alan Barnes
Art: Lee Sullivan
Colours: James Offredi
Lettering: Roger Langridge
Editor: Marcus Hearn
Daleks Created By: Terry Nation
So, that was everything that happened in Liberation of the Daleks! It was quite an ambitious and experimental story for a comic book. If you ask me, it was a great way to keep the idea of the Fourteenth Doctor alive during the long gap between episodes. It’s also a refreshing change of pace, with the show feeling more interconnected than ever. I hope this is a taste of what’s coming for the Whoniverse. It’s such an exciting time for the expanded media now, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!
From the ending, it looks like the Doctor might be returning to Skaro in the near future, thanks to the melted statue. It’s perfect timing, seemingly connected to the Children in Need skit. Very recently, a special charity skit was announced featuring David Tennant and Mawaan Rizwan. What happens in the scene is unknown, but promotional pictures featured a Dalek casing and some Kaled scientist uniforms. A return to Skaro’s is pretty much confirmed. How this scene segues into the specials remains to be seen, but we’re really excited!
Doctor Who will return on November 25th 2023, with “The Star Beast“, the first in three special episodes as the show’s 60th Anniversary headliner event. David Tennant returns as the 14th Doctor alongside Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Ncuti Gatwa’s first episode as the Fifteenth Doctor will air over the festive period, while his series 14 will debut in 2024 with Millie Gibson. Disney+ will be the exclusive home for new seasons of Doctor Who outside of the UK and Ireland.