Doctor Who: Evening’s Empire by Andrew Cartmel, Marc Platt, Dan Abnett and Scott Gray (graphic novel review)

January 10, 2017 | By | Reply More

‘The Cartmel Masterplan’ has always been one of the most intriguing ‘What If’s’ in the storied history of ‘Doctor Who’. As script editor of the show in the final three seasons of its original run, Andrew Cartmel brought a more nuanced approach to Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor. Hinting that he was more than ‘just a Time Lord’, seeds were sown to explore the Doctor’s past and examine his role as a manipulator on a galactic scale. This fresh approach was reflected in the stories with stories such as ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’, ‘Curse Of The Fenric’ and ‘Ghost Light’, still fondly remembered for their willingness to explore more adult territory. Sadly, the 1989 cancellation of the show meant that The Cartmel Plan would go no further on screen.

During the Doctor’s own Great Hiatus, both ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and the ‘Virgin New Adventures’ kept the Time Lord’s escapades going. ‘Doctor Who: Evening’s Empire’, a collection of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ comic strips from 1991 and 1992 shows how both mediums provided a hint of what could have been in store for the Seventh Doctor.

The centrepiece of the collection is Cartmel’s ‘Evening’s Empire’, am ambitious story of the Doctor investigating a mysterious find at the bottom of a Middleborough river. When it becomes apparent that Ace has disappeared, the Doctor finds himself heading towards a seemingly ordinary house where the truth of what happening will be uncovered.

There’s more than a touch of Alan Moore to proceedings with the story’s juxtaposition of a mundane, everyday world with the delights and terrors of galaxies beyond. There’s also an undercurrent of darkness woven through the story, an abused wife and a bullied soldier are all featured, as it explores fractured relationships between fantasy worlds and harsh reality. Throughout it all, the Doctor breezes through as something of a god-like figure, knowing mostly what’s going on, but finding little time to explain. He also displays the warmth that runs through all his incarnations and his distress at senseless loss of life is palpable.

The tension between realism and fantasy is also brought to the fore by Richard Piers Rayner’s art. Known for his work on the likes of ‘Hellblazer’, as well as original comic of ‘The Road To Perdition’, his style has touches of almost photo-realism. It works well with the entire tone of the story and is sometimes so realistic it becomes a tad disconcerting as it creates a unique and sometimes epic feel for the story as a whole.

Cartmel also offers up the story ‘Ravens’, a more mundane tale of the Doctor about gangs in the future and The Doctor’s attempts to right a wrong with the aid of a samurai. While the themes of the Doctor manipulating events is explored once again, his participation in a story replete with violence and condoning said violence seems a little out of place, but the story has a certain noir-ish style and manages to hold the attention.

Dan Abnett’s ‘The Grief’ sees the Doctor and Ace find themselves on a desolate planet and, as is usual for the Time Lord, are soon arrested for being intruders. This soon descends into a ship under siege tale with not only story parallels to ‘Aliens’ but with creatures so similar to the film, it’s a wonder that the estate of HR Giger doesn’t sue. It’s an entertaining if rather throwaway slice of action.

There are also a couple of fun little one-shot stories in the collection. Warwick Gray’s ‘Memorial’ is a testament to the Doctor’s grace in trying to protect other species while Cat Litter is a sometimes obtuse epilogue to the New Adventure story ‘Timewyrm: Cat’s Cradle’ that sees the TARDIS reconfigure itself. This is worth the price of admission alone for a beautiful two page ‘board game’ spread that is wonderfully realised. There’s a non-Doctor story with ‘Conflict Of Interests’, a story of human and Sontaran warfare and the text story ‘Living In The Past’, another brief but fun little tale.

The book comes with creator commentaries on the strips and ‘Evening’s Empire’, which includes tales of lost artwork, missing strips and unpublished material, comes in for the most fascinating analysis. The accounts of creating the work not only add some interesting background but also provide an interesting insight into 90s comic book culture in the UK.

This collection shows how many writers were beginning to explore the complexities of the Doctor’s character, some admittedly more successful than others. While current TARDIS incumbent Peter Capaldi proves that darkness and more adult material can work in the new era of the show, it’s fascinating to see it being explored as long ago as the 90s.

Laurence Boyce

December 2016

(pub: Marvel/Panini. 132 pages graphic novel paperback. Price: 13.99 (UK), $19.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-84653-728-8)

check out website: http://www.paninicomics.co.uk/web/guest/home

Category: Comics, Doctor Who

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About the Author ()

Laurence Boyce is a film journalist who likes Bond, Batman and Doctor Who (just to prove the things he enjoys things that don't just start with a 'B'). He is also a film programmer for various film festivals in the UK and abroad.

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