When this edition of Doctor Who Magazine hit newsstands I hadn’t even watched a single episode yet! It wouldn’t be long before I was a fan though and today I most certainly am, but I’ll get to that at the end of this post when I point out something in the news column of the issue. That’s not why we’re here though. We’re here for the comic strip inside starring a certain Freelance Peace-Keeping Agent, yes?
The last anyone saw of Death’s Head was when he disappeared through an exploding time portal in the pages of Transformers #151. While we saw the others he shoved through the portal survive, the implication was clear that he was missing rather than dead and readers eagerly awaited a surprise return at some point. That inevitable return was only two months later, but what was even more surprising was where it happened: in a different publication.
Written by Simon Furman and drawn by Geoff Senior with letters by Zed and edited by Richard Starkings, The Crossroads of Time was a one-off eight-page strip in #135 of DWM (which is at #588 at the time of writing). The magazine was a very different publication back then, with 36 pages and only the covers and middle four in colour (as opposed to the 84 full-colour pages it has today, complete with regular Lew Stringer Daft Dimension strip), but just like the best of the black and white stories in later issues of Transformers, I think this really highlights Geoff’s inks and gorgeous details, some of which are very funny.
The opening page sets things up straight after The Legacy of Unicron, with Death’s Head still travelling through space and time and crashing into the TARDIS. Soon both he and the Doctor (their seventh television incarnation, portrayed by Sylvester McCoy) find themselves on a random, barren planet along with a Time Warden, an impartial arbitrator. The warden weighs up the situation by taking one look at Death’s Head and decides they’ll have to come to an agreement without him.
Ever the opportunist, Death’s Head gives the Doctor a choice between bargaining or dying, and asks if he has anything to trade. Realising jelly babies aren’t going to cut it the Doctor realises he has one of the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminators. This is a device his evil counterpart would use to shrink people down into tiny little toy solder-esque versions of themselves, effectively killing them.
It was actually seen in one of the more recent series when my own personal favourite Doc, Jodie Whittaker’s take on the character, went up against Sacha Dhawan’s highly memorable Master. In it he used the compressor to kill quite a few people in a particularly nasty fashion. Indeed, back in our strip the Doctor acknowledges it’s a horrible device but that “desperate situations call for desperate measures”. But upon firing it at Death’s Head, the fact he’s already so huge by comparison has an unexpected result.
Despite wracking his body with pain, instead of shrinking him to minuscule size its power only brings him down to the same size as the Doctor. While it’s not a large image of Death’s Head’s face, you can clearly see his shock even from the side angle. After being a Transformer-sized mechanoid who could strike fear into his targets just by being there I find his face here so funny! The Doctor’s reaction is also meant to be funny, but I find it rather out of character.
Yes, he was obviously in danger but he hadn’t even really tried to talk himself out of the situation at hand before turning to a device he hoped would “eliminate” Death’s Head? That sounds more like something a Dalek would do. Even when I started watching Doctor Who with season 25 it was clear he didn’t go around simply killing the villains when he first bumped into them. This story was set during McCoy’s first year as the Doctor when he was still very much a slapstick, comedy version of the character but with some elements of Colin Baker’s previous, darker incarnation thrown in, so I think this is just a joke comment rather than anything else.
The following season (my first) he was a mysterious, thoughtful Doctor, often initialising the stories rather than reacting to some evil doer. I absolutely loved that portrayal, so reading this from the year before feels strange to me. But hey, I should’ve started watching it earlier! There’s a fast-paced chase to add some action, culminating in the Doctor finally getting an idea as to how he can turn the situation around and he calls out to Death’s Head that he has a trade to make.
I love that moment! It perfectly demonstrates the character of Death’s Head, his being so disappointed he can no longer kill the Doctor because business always comes first. I’m sure I can look forward to a lot more of this humour in his own comic.
But what does the Doctor have that could possibly be of any use in a trade? Obviously, the TARDIS! We know he’ll have no intention of honouring this trade and anyone who has seen the show in recent years can probably predict what happens next. First of all though, it’s a bit of a thrill for this fan of both characters to have Death’s Head get that enjoyable moment usually reserved for new companions, when they get to see the interior of the phone box for the first time.
The Doctor successfully bluffs his foe into his own fate by quickly running through some technobabble by means of instructions on how to time travel (remember, Death’s Head wasn’t a time traveller, he’d used others’ tech to do so in Transfomers), before pretending to leave it in the hands of its new owner. Death’s Head stops him, convinced if he did as instructed it would turn out to be a trap, and tells him they’ll travel together for the first trip. Of course, this is what the Doctor planned all along and he sets the controls for Earth in the year 8162, concentrating the time circuits on the mechanoid, who dematerialises accompanied by the text of that famous sound effect.
Why did the Doctor choose Earth to send a dangerous bounty hunter to? (…Ouch!! Sorry! Freelance Peace-Keeping Agent!…) He’s spent most of his life trying to save us daft humans and the strip even ends with him telling us our home is his favourite planet. Oh well, it’s still been a fun strip even if it’s left me a bit confused with our hero’s actions at times. But most importantly it’s set things up perfectly for Death’s Head’s monthly and that was its purpose in the end.
So he’s now ready to interact with all manner of human characters and by the looks of the advert in the introductory post he even gets a human sidekick. In fact, I think I can just about remember him. I’ll find out in November I guess. I do know from seeing images of the covers over the years that he meets quite a few of Marvel’s superheroes along the way, so it’ll be interesting to see those interactions, what with his single-mindedness and dark sense of humour. (Kind of makes me think of Deadpool actually.)
Before I round things up I wanted to show you that news story which stood out to me.
The story Remembrance of the Daleks was my first encounter with the series. It was a brilliant introduction! Made to mark the 25th anniversary of the Daleks I’d never seen anything like it and I was a fan straight away. This issue breaks the news of the new season’s opening story and it really took me back to that evening sitting in front of the portable TV in my bedroom when I decided on a whim to tune in. There are other points of interest in the magazine too.
It’s edited by Shiela Cranna who was the launch editor of Transformers and friend of the blog John Freeman is the designer and gets plenty of praise on the letters page. Elsewhere on those pages there’s evidence nothing changes though, with some readers complaining others who like the new Doctor and the current show runner “aren’t true fans”. (Sigh.) It’s like Twitter before Twitter. There’s also a mention of a new Holywood movie which as we know would eventually become the 1996 TV movie pilot. I always find it interesting to read old magazines like this when I know how things developed afterwards.
But anyway, back to the main subject at (detachable) hand.
Things may be all set for a brand new monthly comic starring one of the greatest comics creations of all time (in my opinion) but we’ve a while to wait, what with the first issue’s release date being 5th November. That TARDIS would come in handy. But actually, we haven’t got quite that long to wait, and this is where I break the news of the next real time read through to come to the OiNK Blog. Death’s Head would pop up in one more Marvel UK comic before his starring role, namely Dragon’s Claws, also created by Simon and Geoff.
For now, don’t forget there’s an introductory post showing highlights from Death’s Head’s stories in Transformers and links to all of the Instagram posts from that multi-year read through too, along with more details about his creation and some insights from the comic’s editor Richard Starkings who very kindly contributed. The Dragon’s Claws will join the blog on Sunday 14th May 2023, #5 featuring Death’s Head will be reviewed on Sunday 17th September and then his own debut issue will be here on Sunday 5th November. I think it’s going to be a good year, yes?