It’s 26th June 2010, and the Big Bang is about to happen. The TARDIS is about to be destroyed and the universe is going to be rebooted to ensure the future can exist. But not only that. Something else exciting slipped through the cracks in time during that period that we’ve since forgotten about: the circulation of Doctor Who Adventures magazine was on the up, and by some margin too.
In publishing, you are very unlikely to see an increase in circulation when you remove or replace one of the most popular elements of your product: that can be a design style, an A-list columnist, a printing size (broadsheet is not a cost-efficient way to work), or something integral to the subject matter of the publication itself. In fact, you usually see your readership and advertising revenue drop big time.
In DWA’s case, it lost the major selling point of David Tennant’s portrayal of the Tenth Doctor at the end of 2009. And if you cast your mind back to the late 2000s, Doctor Who memorabilia was at levels that have not been seen in anyway near the same quantity since.
This was, of course, at a time when the ratio of available iPads (and equivalent gizmos) to children was not really a consideration in marketing, and a weekly magazine aimed at school-age kids was a genuinely successful method of brand exposure.
DWA’s circulation unsurprisingly took a hit during 2009 when there were just four television stories (yes, we’re including Dreamland), sinking from a reported and very respectable figure of 150,000 to under 45,000 within a year. And there were fears that the picture wouldn’t get any better when the Tenth Doctor disappeared from screens entirely.
But Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Eleventh Doctor in Series 5, from his first seconds in the role in the closing moments of The End of Time, resonated with audiences. And unlike some of the series that have succeeded it, it was marketed well too.
The time between Smith’s first scene, and his last in series finale, The Big Bang, fitted into a single circulation window for the Audit Bureau of Circulations. While he was on TV, DWA readership jumped up to 53,559, a massive 20% increase on the previous figure. Earning back an audience is seen less often than finding a new one, so chances are, the increase in numbers came from brand new viewers of the show – and the power of hearsay on school playgrounds.
It only got better, as the momentum continued after Series 5 concluded. From July to December, DWA circulation grew even further to 56,648 (+5.8%). The figures decreased as expected – but remained steady – in 2011, then started to decline rapidly again as the show’s broadcasting format was broken up, digital entertainment became more prevalent, and the UK started to spend more on activities besides reading as a double recession started to ease up and the 2012 Olympics brought a feel-good atmosphere that didn’t have to be fulfilled by tales of fiction.
So what of the adventures the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond went on during that final golden moment for the magazine before it got taken by one of the cracks in the universe (and several years of declining readership)?
The very first magazine comic strip featuring the new Doctor coincided with the rebranding of the show and Series 5 opener, The Eleventh Hour, in April, with the Tenth Doctor and Scottish student Heather McCrimmon (who may or may not have been related to Jamie) holding the mantle until then.
Attack of the Space Leeches kicked things off over two issues, with part one avoiding any appearance of the Doctor himself as he had yet to make his TV debut. The lead actors perhaps weren’t immediately drawn to a life-like degree, but the visual acting of Smith’s Doctor was caught on the page and that continued through future stories… although his dialogue did often come down to ‘Geronimo!’ and having an over-reliance on quick-fix gadgets such as the sonic screwdriver while Amy provided the brains to resolve the plot.
Highlights of this run of stories includes bodyswapping tale About Face, just after The Vampires of Venice had been on TV; historical UK rail travel adventure Track Attack; the return of an old DWA villain in Money Troubles; Attack of the Gatebots! (at which point the art quality was really picking up); and the odd traditional school-based Pencil Pusher.
Back issues of DWA can now only really be found on eBay or local libraries, and believe me when I say I spent 100s of hours of my childhood doing just that. I rarely actually made an online purchase, given I would have been spending others’ money, but while working abroad last summer, I struck unbelievable gold.
I was cycling to Belgium for my day job (long story), and I was staying with a colleague in Brussels for two nights. I have had a life-long interest in Tintin, and so my friend took me to some local comic shops so I could get a taste of the Belgian culture for strip-based stories. In one of the second-hand shops, and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, was a paper-wrapped haul of DWA issues ranging from its creation in 2006 to issues up to the show’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013.
There was no way I could take these magazines with me as I continued my journey to the east of Belgium, so I spent a bargain €30 (from memory, it was paid for in cash) and left them at my colleague’s apartment for several days. On my return trip, I was taking the Eurostar back to England, so I collected the comics, then had some thrilling reading on the train ‘home’.
Do you have any memories of reading Doctor Who Adventures? Do you miss it, the magazine having ended unceremoniously in the past couple of years? Let us know in the comments below.