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The Star Beast: Comparing the Comic Original to the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Special

This year’s loft churn, always inspired by putting the Christmas decorations away, turned up the collected volumes of comic strips from Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly (particularly, the volume The Iron Legion, graphic novel released in 2004). Here was a perfect opportunity to re-visit The Star Beast, the original, after seeing Russell T Davies’ adaptation in November 2023.

I am aware that The Star Beast was reprinted for Doctor Who Magazine #598, but it was a joy to re-discover all the Fourth Doctor stories over two volumes (The Iron Legion and Dragon’s Claw). Plus – whispers – I haven’t bought DWM for years!

I have fond memories of those early Doctor Who comic strips; clearly aimed at a more junior audience – especially during the Weekly era – but still with an adult epic intent. There was a definite shift when the magazine became monthly: just look at the difference in tone from The Iron Legion to the ultra-violent The End of the Line. However, The Star Beast sits in that cosier era that still reflected the Graham Williams tenure, where comedy featured heavily, but the action-adventure and scale was at a level that the 1980 television version could only dream of. It’s worth a mention that The Star Beast was published during Tom Baker’s penultimate season in 1980; John Nathan-Turner had yet to transform the show into its flashier look for the (then) new decade of the eighties.

Spoilers abound…

The plot of the original – written by Pat Mills and John Wagner – shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw The Star Beast re-make: an alien spaceship crashes into a steel-works in the fictional town of Blackcastle where a couple of school children, Fudge Higgins and Sharon Davies (although Sharon’s surname isn’t mentioned), find an injured Beep the Meep in a shed whom they decide to help and take to Fudge’s house (because it was closest).

Presently, another alien race, the Wrarth Warriors, appears with intent to hunt down and kill the Meep. Sharon, Fudge, and the Doctor try to defend Beep, but they soon discover that the Meep has evil intentions and that the Wrarth are a sort of galactic police force (much like the Judoon) who are attempting to track down every Meep; a race that has wreaked havoc across the universe.

However, realising too late, the Doctor fails to stop the Meep getting back to his spaceship. Beep kills several UNIT troops and then, using black sun radiation from the ship’s drive unit, takes over the remaining soldiers and gets the steel-workers to effect repairs to damage caused during the original crash.

The Doctor, Sharon, and the Wrarth attempt to stop Beep launching the ship as its star-drive, using a black sun, will tear a hole in space and time. Unfortunately, they fail and Beep takes off…

From that précis, it’s quite apparent that RTD used the original story to drape his Doctor/Donna/Rose tale over, but there are some distinct differences between the original (Star Beast ’80) and the adaptation (Star Beast ’23)…

The Doctor

The most obvious difference is that Star Beast ’23 is updated to feature David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor.

The original was a Fourth Doctor story, resplendent in signature scarf, long coat, and buccaneer boots. The perfect tableau for expressive artwork: flailing coat and scarf in the action sequences to install a feeling of movement, urgency or danger. This is something where comic books have an advantage over live action: the exaggerated posturing (see also: Spider-Man, Batman… you get the idea).

The Companions

The Doctor, in Star Beast ’23, is playing second fiddle to companions Donna and Rose (who are both also transplanting Sharon). It’s Donna and Rose’s story, great swathes of screentime given over to them, with a bit about the Meep linking it together.

In contrast, Star Beast ’80 is a solid action-adventure tale with nothing to distract from the entertainment, with loads of comedy thrown in for good measure. Character development isn’t entirely missing; Fudge Higgins is more immature than Sharon; Sharon’s maturity being rewarded when she is taken aboard the TARDIS at the end of the story. Although it is Fudge’s sci-fi comics fuelled imagination that leads them to Beep in the first place; Sharon dismissing the Meep’s blood trail as paint.

There is one thing that greatly differs from Doctor Who storytelling of old is that nowadays the Doctor and companions spend too much time telling each other how wonderful they all are. I believe the social media term is ‘stroking’. Sharon, on the other hand, is taken over by the Meep’s black-sun radiation and tries to kill the Doctor.

Oh… and K9’s head is nearly knocked off by the Wrarth; a good excuse to leave the robot dog in the TARDIS, especially as the Doctor’s bodged repair leaves K9 behaving as a cat!

Beep the Meep

The one consistency between the two versions is the Meep: cute, cuddly, and drawing sympathy at the beginning, only to reveal an evil nature and intent.

It is a bit of a shame that in either version, the Beep couldn’t be returned to the peace-loving creature that the Meep race once was. Could the adverse effect of the black sun be reversed? That’s up to the writers, but where Star Beast ’80 shows the destruction and misery the Meep spread, Star Beast ’23 has a Wrarth Warrior simply telling the audience the Meep’s tragic history.

The Wrarth Warriors

The Wrarth Warriors get killed off very quickly in Star Beast ’23, but originally the Wrarth were an integral part of apprehending the Meep.

It was a shame they were all killed off so early on in the remake. But then, Star Beast ’23 was all about Donna and Rose saving the day; the Wrarths had to go.

Although, in Star Beast ’80 Beep does kill one of the original three Wrarth, who arrive on Earth, leaving the double act of Sargent Zogroth and Constable Zreeg.

However, at the end of the tale, the Wrarth simply arrest the Meep and promise he is to get a fair trial, but during the first and second instalments, there are portrayed as quite murderous and more akin to Geiger’s Alien. And at no point do the Wrarth do battle with UNIT.

Although they do manage to gain access to and stowaway in the TARDIS to get to Earth from their own ship. That was impressive!

The Politics

The blatant identity-political lectures that were present in Star Beast ’23 have been discussed at length already elsewhere, but is it fair to say that politics were completely missing from the original?

Well, no… Long before Mickey and Martha, Sharon goes on to become the first black companion at the end of the story. This could be considered political as Sharon was introduced at a time when racist groups like the National Front were very active in the UK and black characters didn’t appear in British comics very often at all. But in storytelling terms, it was done without a fanfare. Sharon and Fudge were simply introduced as a couple of working-class school kids and best friends.

The Finale

There are several changes to the finale causing the re-make to be a different beast (no pun intended). In Star Beast ’80, Beep does indeed launch his ship, but because the Doctor had weakened the star-drive, the Meep doesn’t get very far. The Wrath mother ship is able to intercept the Meep’s ship and, with a bit of help from Sharon, Beep is arrested. Sharon then joins the Doctor as his new companion — end of story.

But in RTD’s version, the Meep doesn’t get to launch the star-ship, having been foiled by Doctor, Donna, and Rose, and more Wrarth Warriors turn up to take the Meep away. End of story? No… remember I said that this was about Donna and Rose and we had a ‘male presenting’ Doctor to humiliate.

But Which Is Better?

After all that, which version do I prefer?

Should it be a surprise that it’s – easily – The Star Beast from 1980.

Star Beast ’23 was entertaining enough but, compared to the original, it just came with too much baggage; too much in the way of messaging; a new story overlaid on the original which arguably relegated it; most of us knew the Meep plot twist anyway; and there were too many characters to cram in.

What Star Beast ’80 gave us was a rip-roaring adventure without the baggage and a definite sense of fun.

Re-reading Star Beast ’80 today, there is no doubt a touch of nostalgia is present from a more innocent time in my life, where old(er) age and cynicism hadn’t tainted my outlook yet. However, it’s also from a time when storytelling was the most important: basic good vs evil, albeit having that notion turned on its head halfway through the story.

Also, bear in mind that getting the story from Doctor Who Weekly meant that us readers didn’t know Meep the Beep was evil until the fourth instalment. Yes, the instalments were short – Doctor Who Weekly wasn’t a huge tome – but this meant that there were several cliffhangers. Some were pretty decent too: Sharon at the Doctor’s throat falling from a gantry, for example.

But there is so much more going on which was jettisoned for the re-make:

  • After accidentally landing on Wrarth’s ship, the Doctor is captured by the Warriors and they surgically plant a bomb inside the Doctor’s stomach. They believed the Doctor to be Beep’s accomplice and want to use the Doctor to blow Beep up.
  • Instead of the escaping through the loft of Donna’s house, the Doctor, Beep, and Sharon escape from the Wrarth on a number 5A bus. “Is he house-trained?” asks the bus conductor, much to the Meep’s disgust, who has to be on a lead; or in this case the end of the Doctor’s scarf.
  • After the assault on Mrs Higgin’s kitchen (Mrs Higgins being Fudge’s mum), she ends up serving afternoon tea to the Doctor, the Wrarth, and Fudge.
  • The TARDIS console room gets crowded with the survivors from the steel mill and the Doctor has to elbow his way to the console.

But there are a few problems with the narrative: the main one for me is Fudge. The original Fudge had a lot more to do than anyone in the watered-down Fudge of Star Beast ’23, but I always felt it a bit of a shame that Sharon never says goodbye to her bestie. Fudge, and his mum, just disappear from the story after the tea party. Even fourteen-year-old me noticed that one!

At the end of the fifth episode, the Meep does engage the star ship’s star drive and we see Blackcastle sucked into a black hole. But in the following instalment, this hadn’t happened; it’s only the steel mill that gets destroyed, hence the Doctor having to rescue the UNIT troops and the steel workers.

There is also the issue that, although they are not mentioned, Sharon’s family never see her again. She leaves with the Doctor at the end of the tale, in a later story, ages from a schoolgirl to a young woman thanks to a timey-wimey thing (during The Time Witch) and then falls in love and stays with Vernor, a man on the planet Uniceptor IV, saying “I’ve nothing to go back to Blackcastle for” (Dreamers of Death). Really? Your mum and dad? Family? Fudge?

Okay, these issues don’t really matter as they are probably all proceeded by the conversation of whether the comic book stories are canon or not. But these tales are presented to purely entertain; print media allowing epic adventures written with wide-eyed imagination with escapism and entertainment being the driving force. Something that I wish that modern television Who would remember a bit more.

To Wrap Up…

The Star Beast as a story probably gets the accolade for the most adaptations (as opposed to releases): Doctor Who Weekly comic strip (1980), Big Finish audio version (2019), BBC/Disney+ version (2023), and the Target novel (2023).

It’s also just occurred to me that Star Beast ’80 was published by Marvel UK; over 40 years later, Disney are involved in making Star Beast ’23, who also now own Marvel. In a (very) roundabout way, Marvel made The Star Beast twice.

For me, The Star Beast will always be the comic strip drawn in beautiful detail by Dave Gibbons and his version of the Fourth Doctor. The definitive comic strip Fourth Doctor, that is.


I met Dave Gibbons once at a small comic-mart appearance in Brixton sometime in 1980. I would have been about fourteen years old and I was looking at a display where Gibbons was standing near me drawing one of his characters, on a transparency, which was being projected onto the wall via an overhead projector.

I remember him turning to me and saying, “Oh sorry! I thought you were someone else.”

Colin Burden

The Star Beast: Comparing the Comic Original to the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Special

by Colin Burden time to read: 9 min
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