Out now in the UK from Panini is the latest ‘archive’ Doctor Who comic collection, Evening’s Empire – a book special for me, not just because it features some of the last Seventh Doctor comic strips I edited for Doctor Who Magazine back in the early 1990s, but because artist Richard Piers Rayner has drawn seven new pages for the title strip for the volume.
Wrapped in a smashing cover by David Roach, the bulk of the book is taken up by “Evening’s Empire”, a strip that as I relate in my commentary for the collection, almost became the DWM equivalent of TV’s infamous Shada. Delayed for numerous reasons Richard himself recounts, the story, written by Doctor Who TV series script editor Andrew Cartmel (currently co-writing the Rivers of London comics for Titan), centres on the Seventh Doctor’s investigation, with UNIT, into a series of kidnappings in Middlesbrough. Ace is abducted and soon discovers the identity of the threat…
Only one episode of “Evening’s Empire” appeared in DWM itself, the rest published in a Special, in colour, edited by Gary Russell after the decision was taken to not abandon the story completely. Series editors Tom Spilsbury and Scott Gray took the decision to feature the strip as originally commissioned, in black and white. Because some of the art for original pages couldn’t be found, this new collection includes seven all-new pages, drawn by Richard – and lovely pages they are, too!
This volume features some of the last Doctor Who comic stories I edited and in addition to “Evening’s Empire” also sees the first professional comics work of Scott Gray (a creator instrumental in shaping Doctor Who comics for many years now (and writing some of the best of them), whose story, “Memorial”, drawn by John Ridgway and lettered by Kid Robson, remains a personal favourite; and the comics debut of TV script writer Marc Platt, John Ridgway providing art for the wonderfully quirky “Cat Litter”, lettered (as are many of this volume’s strips) by Caroline Steeden.
The full strip line up is as follows:
• Evening’s Empire written by Andrew Cartmel, drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, ink assistance by Vincent Danks, lettered by Caroline Steeden
First published in Doctor Who Magazine 180 (Part One) (Cover Date: November 1991) and the Doctor Who Autumn Holiday Special 1993 (Cover Date: August 1993, coloured by Paul Vyse)
Crammed with astonishing art by Richard, this story has some quite dark undertones, the Doctor acting rather like the chess player that we saw on TV most obviously in The Curse of Fenric, moving characters into position – and danger – while seeking an endgame. Like all chess games, it’s a strategy not without loss.
Of the three Who strips Andrew wrote on my watch, for all the delays getting it published, this story most closely captured the Seventh Doctor’s TV persona he and the show’s writers had been building before the show was taken off air by the BBC.
• The Grief written by Dan Abnett, pencilled by Vincent Danks, inked by Adolfo Buylla (Part One), Robin Riggs (Parts 2 and 3), lettered by Caroline Steeden
First published in Doctor Who Magazine 185 – 187 (Cover Dates: April 1992 – June 1992)
Clearly taking a leaf from Andrew Cartmel’s scripts for “Evening’s Empire” (even if the readers hadn’t seen that story), I’d obviously directed Dan Abnett to follow that lead, as he and Ace battle an Alien-like monster, recreated using advanced technology by curious humans on a devastated world. There’s a nice mix of a Second Doctor-type story and the Seventh’s enigmatic approach to dealing with a threat in this, a story that was inker Robin Riggs first work for Marvel UK.
Thinking about it now, I suspect that if “Evening’s Empire” had run as planned, “The Grief” would probably not have followed immediately after it: it’s also pretty downbeat, and I’d probably have dropped in a lighter one-part story between the two.
Around this time I was discussing several ideas with creators such as Ben Aaronovitch (who first pitched Transit as comic strip before it became a novel), Michael Bonner and Tony Luke (a “Sargasso Sea in Space” inspired storyline). There was no shortage of pitches, for both strips and text stories.
• Ravens written by Andrew Cartmel, pencilled by Brian Williamson, inked by Cam Smith, lettered by Caroline Steeden
First published: Doctor Who Magazine 188 – 190 (Cover dates: July 1992 – September 1992)
This was the first story where we tried to work with Doctor Who novel publisher Virgin, after meeting with the editor Peter Darvill-Evans and trying to cross promote what were then the only new Doctor Who adventures. The most obvious part of this was bringing Bernice Summerfield, created by Paul Cornell and first visualised by Lee Sullivan, aboard the TARDIS.
I recall DWM readers pretty much hating the dark tone of this story, and, again, it’s the Doctor treating people like chess pieces, one move ahead but not necessarily to anyone’s advantage (perhaps not even his). Brian Wiliamson’s art on this suits it perfectly. I went with “Ravens” in part because I was enjoying working with Andrew Cartmel, but also to push the envelope in terms of what we could do on the strip, which got away with things you probably could never could on TV (Paradise Towers, for example, has a scene involving threatening toasting forks that was, I’m told ordered to be excised from future TV screenings).
• Memorial written by Warwick Gray, drawn by John Ridgway, lettered by Kid Robson
First published: Doctor Who Magazine Issue 191 (Cover date: October 1992)
As Warwick relates in his comments on this story in the collection’s commentary, this was not the first pitch he made to DWM but it was the one I liked the most – and I still do. It’s no surprise that Warwick – now Scott Gray – has played such an enormous part in the shaping of the Doctor Who comic strip down the years, because as far as I’m concerned he’s a writer who just “gets” Doctor Who, and there are few people who do.
John Ridgway’s work is exquisite on this story, and it’s the kind of upbeat one parter, just like “Cat Litter” which follows it, that I’m sure readers were hoping for after “Ravens”.
• Cat Litter written by Marc Platt, drawn by John Ridgway, lettered by Caroline Steeden
First published: Doctor Who Magazine Issue 192
This strip from Marc Platt (writer of TV’s Ghost Light) is great fun and John Ridgway is the perfect choice as artist, again asked to deliver the kind of quirky layouts and storytelling that he delivered on a number of Steve Parkhouse-penned Sixth Doctor stories. You can’t go wrong with messing about in the TARDIS (well, hardly ever), and this is a wonderful story, dovetailed in part with what had been going on in the Doctor Who New Adventures.
This collection includes the text story “Teenage Kicks“, written by Andrew Lane and illustrated by Cam Smith (the story which originally introduced Ace to DWM in Issue 162 and prompted actor Sophie Aldred to climb one of the dinosaur statues at Crystal Palace for the cover of the same issue, photographed by Steve Cook). Plus you get the originated one-off Doctorless tale about a Foreign Hazard Duty team battling Sontarans, “Conflict of Interests“, written by Dan Abnett, drawn by Richard Whitaker and lettered by Caroline Steeden.
This ran in Issue 183 and reminds me that I have Richard’s promotional art for his earlier strip for DWM 179, “A Glitch in Time” (initially called “Open Season”), which was sent to Diamond to promote DWM in Previews. I don’t think I’ve featured it on downthetubes before, so here it is…
This collection doesn’t include reprints of the strips I ran in DWM to ensure there was at least some comics material in the Magazine in the absence of “Evening’s Empire”. For the record, these were the Doctorless strip “Fires Down Below” from Issue 64, written by John Peel, drawn by John Stokes; and “Spider God“, written by (the now, sadly, late) Steve Moore, drawn by Dave Gibbons, first published in Issue 52.
These were, of course, two personal favourites from the DWM archives, but the third reprint, “Business as Usual”, run in Issue 184 when the first episode of “The Grief” was delayed in its delivery thanks to UK Customs on its way to us from Spain from inker Adolfo Buylla, was in part chosen thanks to David Lloyd telling me he had the original art. Written by Alan Moore, this Auton tale – first published in Issues 40 – 43 of Doctor Who Weekly – is a terrific story, in part re-lettered for the reprint.
As an added bonus, this collection also includes commentary about the strips, from myself, Andrew Cartmel, Richard Piers Rayner, Dan Abnett, Scott Gray and Marc Platt, as well as snapshots of the original “Evening’s Empire” pages Richard has redrawn.
Overall, I’m delighted with the way this collection’s come together. Richard’s new pages are icing on the cake, and I’m a bit gob smacked by all the nice things some of the creators have said about me in their commentary items. Thanks guys!
Still to come in terms of Seventh Doctor strips I edited: the Dalek story “Metamorphosis” which ran in the 1993 Doctor Who Year Book, the Sontaran story “Pureblood”, drawn by the late Colin Andrew, and “Emperor of the Daleks”, written by Paul Cornell and Lee Sullivan. You can’t say I didn’t go out as Doctor Who comic strip editor on a whimper!
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.