Give me a new magazine and I’ll spend as much time studying the design and layout as I will reading the content… In particular I find logos and branding to be fascinating. I’m aware that it’s a niche interest, but we live in a market-driven world and branding is key to marketing.
For a company to change a brand or radically alter a logo is a big deal, and often a huge risk because a common logo or brand can become a key part of the society in which it appears. Piccadilly Circus in London and Times Square in Manhattan would be a lot harder to recognise without their giant illuminated billboards. Similarly, when we hear the phrase “breakfast cereal” I’m guessing that the first brand conjured up for most of us in Ireland and the UK is Kellogg’s.
Brands and logos can easily become shortcuts for the sort of products they’re selling: one of my former work colleagues routinely described any non-alcoholic carbonated drink as “Coke”, and used “Tayto” to mean any kind of fried potato- or corn-based snack-food. (Tayto is a brand of potato crisp — or chip, if you want to be all American about it — that’s so common here in Ireland it’s pretty much synonymous with the product.)
The name “Hoover” is so entwined with vacuum cleaners that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that even Mr James Dyson himself says, “Blinkin’ flip, I keep forgetting to hoover the carpet. I’ll write myself a reminder on a post-it… Hmm. I can’t find my biro, but there’s a sharpie on top of the xerox machine next to the box of kleenex.” We’re so used to everyone using certain brand-names as nouns that it can be a little jarring when someone uses the “wrong” brand name: there’s an early episode of the revived Hawaii 5-0 TV show in which one character needs information and is told by a colleague to “Bing it” and everyone watching the show suddenly scoffed, “Hah! Nobody ever says that!” (If you don’t get that: Bing is an internet search engine similar to Google — at the time, Microsoft, owners of Bing, were sponsoring Hawaii 5-0.)
Likewise, we’re often so accustomed to specific logos that it can be unsettling to see a logo’s style being used for something else, as in the example on the right which I created a few years ago solely to illustrate this very point. At first glance our brain tells us it’s Superman, but if we linger a little we’ll see that it’s referring to something else entirely.
In the comics world, logos and branding are just as important as they are for any other product or service. Logos have to be eye-catching and instantly recognisable — especially given that they will often change colour from issue to issue — so that the consumers can spot their comics on a crowded shelf. So if a company changes a logo or a title, that’s not a trivial thing. It’s not something they would do on a whim. It’s done to catch the attention of a new audience, or to let an existing audience know that something important has changed, even if (as is sometimes the case) the only real change is the logo itself.
Today, let’s look at how Marvel UK’s Doctor Who title started as a weekly comic, rebranded itself first as a monthly, and then as a magazine. It was launched in October 1979 and is still going strong today — it holds the Guinness World Record for “Longest Running Magazine Based on a Television Series”, though it’s been through a lot of regenerations.
One strong and reliable constant, however, is the ongoing Doctor Who strip. Initially, it was backed-up with other strips, some original, some reprints from Marvel’s archive. Notably, the reprint of Marvel’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is presented as one of the Doctor’s “Tales from the Tardis”, thus effectively linking the Doctor Who, Planet of the Apes and Marvel Comics universes, if you kinda squint at it a bit while simultaneously taking a lot of liberties…
The magazine is rightly credited for playing a major role in keeping the flag flying during the long periods when the show was off the air and it often felt like the BBC just didn’t know what to do with the franchise other than occasionally poke fun at it for comic relief or for Comic Relief.
A proper in-depth exploration of the history of the magazine would take way too long and is better left to people more qualified, so my approach here is to focus on the logos. That might seem trivial but I believe that a product’s logo is effectively its face: that’s how it presents itself to the world. So there.
#1 (17 Oct 1979) to #43 (7 Aug 1980) — 43 issues
Launched under the title of Doctor Who Weekly, the first issue contains a cracking new Doctor Who strip, plus assorted features and back-up strips. The comic’s logo is based on that used by the TV show from 1973 to 1980. Not unexpectedly, Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor dominates the covers for this incarnation, most of which are photos (there’s a seven-issue run of comic-art covers from #30 to #36, but they must not have been popular because the next non-photo cover is #107, five-and-a-half years later). Price is 12p per issue.
#44 (Sep 1980) to #45 (Oct 1980) — 2 issues
Now monthly, thus the comic has had the “Weekly” stripped from the title. This truncated version of the logo only lasts for two issues. (The cover price has jumped from 12p to 30p: I know that the page-count also increased, but I don’t think it was by a commensurate 150%.)
#46 (Nov 1980) to #49 (Feb 1981) — 4 issues
The logo gets a complete overhaul to match that of the TV show’s new season. This one doesn’t stick around for too long either before it receives a tweak… Still 30p per issue.
#50 (Mar 1981) to #60 (Jan 1982) — 11 issues
And here it is: the logo is now wrapped in its own neat little box. During this run the price increases to 35p with issue #53, then 40p with issue #57.
#61 (Feb 1982) to #79 (Aug 1983) — 19 issues
Shortly after Peter Davison’s first proper outing as the fifth Doctor, the magazine’s title changes again, this time to Doctor Who Monthly. (In case the fans forget that it’s now monthly, start buying it every week and become outraged to discover that three out of about every four issues are strangely familiar.) The cover of #61 boasts “Now Better Than Ever!” — it also costs now 45p. It increases to 50p with issue #73, then 60p with #76.
#80 (Sep 1983) to #84 (Jan 1984) — 5 issues
The little “Monthly” tag is now tucked nicely inside the little box: it no longer looks like an afterthought. We’ve also got a banner spreading right across the cover, a handy place to store the date, issue number and price. The price remains 60p during this short run.
#85 (Feb 1984) to #91 (Aug 1984) — 7 issues
With another new Doctor on the way (Colin Baker), it’s time for another title-change: The Official Doctor Who Magazine. (History is a little fuzzy on how many unofficial Doctor Who magazines were out there competing for shelf-space.) The 60p price is still holding on!
#92 (Sep 1984) to #98 (Mar 1985) — 7 issues
Well, the cover-spanning banner has gone. It was probably taking up too much space (and time). With issue #93 the price rises again, but not by much: it’s now 65p.
#99 (Apr 1985) to #106 (Nov 1985) — 8 issues
Hmm. “Unofficial” has been dropped from the title. This could mean that the mag lost its official status, or that all the unofficial rivals had been scared out of existence. The price starts at 65p, jumps to £1 for the 100th issue (which also features a one-off variation on the logo), then drops back to 75p with issue #101. This won’t be last time we see this trick!
#107 (Dec 1985) to #129 (Sep 1987) — 23 issues
Uh-oh! The title erosion continues — now the “The” has gone! And it never comes back. The publication is now called Doctor Who Magazine and it shall remain so unto the very end of time itself or until they change it, whichever comes first. Over the two years of this run the price jumps from 75p to 85p with issue #115, then to £1 from #125 (#114, #120 and #127 are special issues with extra colour pages and appropriately higher prices of £1, £1.10 and £1.25 respectively).
#130 (Oct 1987) to #134 (Mar 1988) — 5 issues
Sylvester McCoy debuts as the seventh Doctor, triggering another logo-change on TV. The mag’s logo changes to match. The price is a constant £1 for this run.
#135 (Apr 1988) to #169 (Jan 1991) — 35 issues
Not entirely sure of the point of this change to the logo, but I quite like it. During this run, the show’s twenty-sixth season came to an end. The long, cold absence of Doctor Who on television had begun. The cover-prices for this run are: £1.25 (from issue #139), £1.50 (from #154), £2.25 (#167 — special issue), and £1.95 (from #168).
#170 (20 Feb 1991) to #278 (2 Jun 1999) — 109 issues
Now published every four weeks rather than monthly, this reversion to the publication’s first logo is a reflection of the mag’s focus slightly shifting away from the now-dormant TV show, even though it was during this run that Doctor Who returned to TV in the form of the Paul McGann movie. Also during this run, Panini Comics took over publication, though the Marvel logo stuck around on the cover until #285 (December 15, 1999). This is a long run, so brace yourself, folks: here comes the list of cover-prices: £1.95 from #170, £2.25 from #180, £2.50 from #191, £2.75 from #217, £2.95 from #235, £3 from #248, and finally £3.20 from #272.
#279 (30 Jun 1999) to #325 (8 Jan 2003) — 47 issues
Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon. Three years late, in fact. Finally, the magazine’s logo has been changed to match that of the 1996 TV movie. From #307 (August 22, 2001) the Panini logo appears on the cover. The price during this run begins at £3.20, increasing to £3.30 from #289, then to £3.40 from #306.
#326 (5 Feb 2003) to #351 (1 Jan 2005) — 26 issues
A slight variation here: though at first glance it looks almost identical (except for the “Magazine” part) the logo has been completely re-rendered. Looks good, too! The £3.40 cover price remains unchanged for this run.
#352 (2 Feb 2005) to #389 (1 Jan 2008) — 38 issues
The long, dark, doctorless void between 1989 and 1996 turned out to be a practice run for the longer, darker, doctorlesser void between 1996 and 2005 — but when the show did finally return, the magazine was given a very nice and appropriate overhaul. From #375 the publication frequency was dropped back to monthly. The cover price jumps by 59p to £3.99 at the start of this run, but remains constant.
#390 (Feb 2008) to #416 (1 Jan 2010) — 27 issues
Back to every-four-weekly from #392! Sales must have been strong — and no wonder: the show was rocketing along with David Tennant in the lead role that he was surely born to play. The price increased from £3.99 to £4.99 with issue #416.
#417 (3 Feb 2010) to #449 (28 Jun 2012) — 33 issues
Another new Doctor on TV, another appropriate revamp for the magazine. Matt Smith in the title role now. Cover prices: £4.99 for issue #417, but it magically drops to £4.20 with the very next issue. As mentioned above, this is actually a sneaky but not uncommon marketing ploy: bump up the price for a “special” issue, then drop it again… but it doesn’t always drop back quite as far as it leaps. The same thing happens again with #429: it rises to £4.99, but with #430 it drops to £4.50, though #436, #440 and #442 cost £4.99.
#450 (26 Jul 2012) to #476 (Sep 2014) — 27 issues
We’re back to a monthly schedule again from #472, and for some reason the DW Tardis part of the logo has been nudged over to the side. Shame! Prices start at £4.50. #455 costs £4.99, but it drops again to £4.75 for the next issue. #467 — a bumper issue celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary — costs £7.99 (but it’s worth it!). It drops by a quid next issue to £5.99, then by another to £4.99 for #469. No price on the covers for issue #474 and #475, but we’re still on £4.99 for #476.
#477 (Oct 2014) to #522 (Mar 2018) — 46 issues
Peter Capaldi is the new Doc, so that means a new logo for the mag. Though it’s not been changed much. It looks a little bland without the Tardis-shaped DW. As mentioned above, the cover for #500 mimics the cover of #1 — very nice! The first of this run, #477, costs £5.99 but that appears to be another one-off (how many one-offs can you have before it becomes a trend?) because we’re back to £4.99 from #478. We jump up to £5.99 again for #491, back to £4.99 for #492. £5.99 for #494, back to £4.99 for #495. All these ups and downs are making me sea-sick. #500 doesn’t have a cover-price, but we’re back up to £5.99 for #501 and #502, then down to £4.99 for #503, up to £5.99 for #505 and that seems to be the “standard” price now, finally.
#523 (Apr 2018) to #533 (Jan 2019) — 11 issues to date
The current logo, again changed to reflect the show’s new style as Jodi Whittaker comes on board as the Doctor. With this run, the cover-price so far has remained steady at £5.99.
So what’s been today’s lesson, then? Um… Hard to say, really. There might not be a lesson. (Perhaps that’s the lesson: not everything has to have a lesson.) If we had access to the magazines’ sales figures it’d be fascinating to see how the peaks and troughs match up (or don’t) with the logo changes.
Your unasked questions answered:
- “Which logo has appeared most often?”
That’s the 1991-1999 revamped version of the very first logo, with a grand total of 109 issues, more than double its closest rival (the very next logo) with 47.
- “If I’d bought every issue when it came out, how much would I have spent?”
Not counting bus-fares or bribes to the border patrol guards, you’d have spent £1507.73 in British UK Sterling money.
- “How many times has the issue number matched the number of pennies required to buy that issue?”
Seven times: #12, #100, #340, #399, #420, #450, #499
- “Hey, why didn’t you call this article ‘Logopolis’? You know, after the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who serial?”
Because it might be a tad confusing — readers might think the article is about that serial. However, I’m planning some more articles along the same lines so don’t be surprised if that name shows up.
- “Which is your favourite Doctor?”
No, Who is my favourite Doctor.
Because I’m helpful (and only mildly horribly addicted to processing trivial data), here’s a convenient though glaringly pointless time-line of the magazine’s logos so you can see how long each one lasted in relation to the others. I’ve added the Doctors, too, for context.
Lucky you: I even sneakily snuck a sneaky graph of the cover prices in there (I have the data, so I might as well use it). The £1507.73 you’d have spent buying all the issues might seem like a lot, but that breaks down to an average of only £38.66 per year, which is not bad at all for a regular and reliable dose of top-quality entertainment.