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Friday, 10 November 2017 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Iron Legion (Credit: Panini UK)

Written by Pat Mills,‎ John Wagner,‎ Steve Moore
‎ Illustrator Dave Gibbons
Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD
First Published (22 Jan. 2013

It’s difficult to imagine the impact The Iron Legion must have had on readers when it was originally serialised in the pages of the first eight issues ofDoctor Who Weekly. The world of Doctor Who comics had, up until this point, certainly been something of a mixed bag. The TV Comic adventures of the first and second doctors have become notorious in their own right (a particular panel of the Second Doctor shooting a giant spider with a laser gun whilst screaming ‘Die hideous monster! Die!’). Despite reaching a high point in Pertwee’s run, the strips had once again dipped in quality at the start of Tom Bakers reign. At points the strips even relied on reprints with Jon Pertwee given ridiculous hair in an attempt to resemble Tom Baker. Enter Editor Dez Skinn, who having come off the back of the successful Hammer Halls of Horror movie magazine, has grand ideas for a Doctor Who Weekly. When the comic was eventually launched he turned to two of the brightest upcoming names in the British industry at that time, 2000ad creator and stalwart Pat Mills and Judge Dredd creator John Wagner. Skinn didn't stop there, he also carried over 2000ad artist Dave Gibbons. The resultant story has quite rightly, become one of the classics of the early years of DWM along with The Star Beast and Junkyard Demon.

Immediately, Iron Legion stands out for the expansive nature of its story. Arriving in a small English village, the Fourth Doctor is quickly transported to a parallel Earth when the Roman Empire never ended and has now conquered the Galaxy with an army of robots. Featuring a robot General shaped like an eagle, hideous demon creatures known as the Malevilus, the brave cyborg slave Morris and of course Vesuvius, Historian and oldest surviving Robot of the alternative Rome, the story cannot be criticised for lack of imagination. Mills and Wagner really let themselves go wild and whilst certainly endowing the script with a flavour of 2000ad, with its bizarre off the wall characters and insane city-scapes, manage to keep true to the spirit of Doctor Who. The Fourth Doctor, whilst perhaps a little more active and energetic than his television counterpart still has the trademark wit and humour that Tom Baker brought to the role. Certainly, the concept of a Roman Empire that never fell, conquering its way across the universe is something you can imagine making an ideal two-parter. Here it’s given eight episodes but never outstays its welcome as Wagner and Mills explore all aspects of the world they have created. Whilst, the TV Comic/Action/Countdown stories had their epic story-lines (Sub-Zero springs to mind as one of the most successful of these), they pale in comparison to the sheer scale demonstrated here. Not only that but Wagner and Mills also give the story an emotional depth unseen up to this point, particularly in the character of Morris.

Their writing is equally matched by the superb work of artist Dave Gibbons. Gibbons contributed to the pages of DWM several times after this and really took the concept of the programme and brought superb and unrestrained visuals to it. His likeness of Tom Baker is pretty good, despite a few wobbly moments, but given the insane backgrounds he’s placed against, one can hardly begrudge him this. Admittedly as Doctor Who fans I think we’re used to small English villages and bases with five or six characters and so the sheer craziness on display can take a moment to adjust to. However if you let yourself just enjoy the sheer imagination on display, Gibbons artwork really is incredible and one of the main reasons why I revisit The Iron Legion time after time.

If you’ve yet to delve into the History of DWM, then Iron Legion is an ideal starting point. It’s available in an affordable paperback from Panini and contains a number of other early DWM strips, including favorites The Dogs of Doom and the aforementioned The Star Beast. Now…when are we going to see a rematch with Malvelius?