Panini have just reprinted one of Marvel’s best Doctor Who comics. It’s a cracker - and with so much that is right about it, the serial is also the one where everything went wrong!
Back in 1991, Doctor Who had been off-air for two years, Virgin’s New Adventures novel were an ersatz replacement and Marvel’s Doctor Who Magazine kept the flame burning with comic adventures of the Seventh Doctor.
The DWM crew upped the ante in October that year, issue 180 featured the first installment of a graphic epic Evening’s Empire. Written by Andrew Cartmel, who as Script Editor had injected a sense of mystery back into the tv show, it enjoyed sharp visuals drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, who made Hellblazer and Doctor Fate sparkle. As an opening salvo, it was a nice little teaser that showed a besieged UNIT team, trapped in a fantasy world, lacking faith in their alien ally. We had a macabre recovery of the remains of a German pilot from a Middlesbrough river, psychic interrogation and Ace being drugged senseless by a young chap who is clearly up to no good.
Then nothing. Several issues of reprints followed. In the background DWM Editor John Freeman was fighting fire as artwork vanished into the Royal Mail ether. Rayner recalls receiving a parcel returned-to-sender with pages gouged and damaged beyond use. The reprints eventually gave way to material by other creators.
Evening’s Empire did eventually get an airing in a holiday special edition of Doctor Who Classic Comics (the title usually specialised in reprints of Doctor Who material from the Polystyle weeklies, TV Comic, Countdown, and TV Action).
The completed material was revised to form a single story and coloured (although this is that weird period where colour started sneaking back into British comics but nobody seemed sure of how it should be done anymore).
With Vertigo Comics in their prime, I always reckoned that if Evening’s Empire had been released with a Dave McKean cover it would have sold by the truck load. The new Panini collection doesn’t do that, but it does subject the strip to some further revisions. In the absence of original artwork, Rayner has redrawn some sections, sumptuous brushwork replacing the original line work.
(If I can find my copy of the Holiday Special I will try to compare the “Original” with the “Director’s Cut”.) Rereading it now, there seems to be a touch of The Empty Child to Cartmel’s solution - or should that be the other way round?
Other material in the new collection is a little mixed. It includes Cartmel’s Ravens, which caused some controversy at the time with The Doctor’s vengeful strategy, and a solo Ace adventure with John Ridgway providing a delightfully surreal romp through the TARDIS interior.
There is also an editorial section where the creators discus the background to the creation of the collected strips. One little Easter egg, Rayner reveals that he snuck The Doctor onto the cover of Doctor Fate issue 38. I don’t suppose Panini would be able to conjour up that Doctor Who-Doctor Strange team up after all these years?