You may know about K9 and Kamelion – but have you heard of Frobisher the penguin, the shape-shifting detective from the planet Xenon, and companion to the Sixth and Seventh Doctors?
Not every Doctor Who fan knows about Frobisher. In a way, this is understandable; he never made an appearance in the main TV series, and began life in Doctor Who Magazine in a comic strip called ‘The Shape Shifter’ by Steve Parkhouse, which was printed in 1984 – only a few weeks after the Sixth Doctor’s debut in ‘The Twin Dilemma.’
In the adventure, Frobisher is working under a pseudonym – Avan Tarkclu – and is attempting to infiltrate the TARDIS and claim the bounty that has been put on the Doctor’s head by the evil Josiah Dogbolter. However, Tarkclu quickly develops a liking for the Time Lord and helps him to defeat the villainous Dogbolter. After this, he decides to stick around as the Doctor’s companion and takes the name Frobisher to please his new friend, as he thinks it sounds more “British!”
As a result, he ends up travelling with the Doctor for some time, and crops up in numerous comic strip adventures. But working out where Frobisher’s stories fit into the main Doctor Who timeline can be a bit of a challenge, although it’s possible that his adventures happen (mostly) between Season 22 and Season 23, as one of them features the Sixth Doctor’s other companion Peri, who’s living and working in New York. This is 1985’s ‘Kane’s Story,’ and sees the Doctor, Peri and Frobisher join forces against the wicked Skeletoids, who are hell bent on conquering the universe.
But Frobisher isn’t a permanent resident during the Sixth Doctor’s era and leaves the TARDIS several times, only to return in subsequent stories. For example, he makes a return appearance in 1994’s graphic novel ‘The Age of Chaos,’ in which he and the Doctor visit the grandchildren of Peri and King Yrcanos – indicating that this adventure takes place after Season 23 (in which Peri and Yrcanos get married.)
And perhaps more interestingly, ‘The Age of Chaos’ was written by none other than the Sixth Doctor Colin Baker himself, marking the first time in Doctor Who history that one of the Doctors had written for the show. Previously, Tom Baker had attempted to pen a movie script with Ian Marter titled Doctor Who meets Scratchman (which was later adapted into the novel ‘Scratchman’ in 2019) and the Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith famously penned his own mini adventures about the Doctor’s travels with Albert Einstein, although these have never been published.
In any case, Colin Baker is certainly the only Doctor to have written for Frobisher, and ‘The Age of Chaos’ was the first and only time that Marvel printed a single, original and novel-length Doctor Who comic.
In the adventure, the Sixth Doctor arrives on the planet Krontep to visit Peri’s grandchildren, but he soon finds himself in the midst of a civil war between her grandsons Artios and Euthys. He enlists Frobisher to help him stop the tensions from escalating, and they soon learn that an alien race known as the Nahrung are behind the problems on Krontep. These are shapeless creatures who feed on the pain and suffering of others, and they even attempt to take over the Doctor – only to be defeated when he stops one of his hearts, and kills them.
But Frobisher’s adventures have not been contained to comics. He made an appearance in the 1998 novel ‘Mission: Impractical,’ and indeed he is the main companion in this story, which sees the Sixth Doctor reunite with Sabalom Glitz to take on the villainous Ogrons.
Frobisher then made his audio debut in Big Finish’s ‘The Holy Terror’ in 2000, in which he and the Sixth Doctor became embroiled in a power struggle at a mysterious castle. Voiced by Robert Jezek, he made a return appearance in 2002’s ‘The Maltese Penguin,’ in which he amusingly shape-shifted into the Sixth Doctor to avoid detection.
But, chronologically-speaking, Frobisher made his final regular appearance in the 1987 comic strip ‘A Cold Day in Hell,’ in which he and the Seventh Doctor took on the Doctor’s old enemies the Ice Warriors. He decided to leave as he felt somewhat surplus to requirements, and didn’t want to cramp the Time Lord’s style. At the same time, Frobisher wasn’t convinced that he was cut-out for a life of saving the universe, and decided that he was much better at saving cats.
Frobisher does, however, abandon his cat-saving business in favour of marrying a bird-like humanoid called Caralla, and opening a bar called Bish’s. This is shown in the Eighth Doctor comic strip ‘Where Nobody Knows Your Name’ from 2003, where the Doctor goes to Bish’s bar to drown his sorrows after the sudden loss of his companion. Frobisher doesn’t recognise his old friend, but he is able to provide some much-needed emotional support amid the Time Lord’s grief.
As for what the future hold for Frobisher, it’s hard to say. Certainly, there are many more stories that could be told about his travels with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, be it in comic strips or in Big Finish productions.
But would Frobisher ever make an appearance in the current TV series alongside the current Doctor Jodie Whittaker? It’s unlikely, given that the majority of viewers won’t know who he was, and the BBC might not be too keen on having a fully CGI companion, (unless they hired a real penguin, or kept Frobisher in a permanently shape-shifted form…)
Would you like Frobisher to make a return to the world of Doctor Who? And what’s your favourite adventure featuring the Doctor’s penguin friend? Let me know in the comments below.
Seventh Doctor jumper – order now from the Lovarzi shop!