Doctor Who: Emperor Of The Daleks by Paul Cornell, Dan Abnett and Scott Gray (graphic novel review).

This collection of Seventh Doctor comicstrips from the pages of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ is centred around an epic Dalek story which sees the return of Davros and a cavalcade of continuity from both the TV show as well it’s expanded universe. Written at the time the show was in the midst of its hiatus, the comicstrips are tied into the continuity of the ‘New Adventures’ series of books which may leave those not au fait with the world slightly confused about some of the characterisation, such as Ace now being an bum-kicking solider instead of a slightly naïve teenager. Yet it also gives the authors the chance to indulge in some complex and dark stories.

First up is ‘Pureblood’, Dan Abnett’s stab at a Sontaran story. The Doctor and companion Professor Bernice ‘Benny’ Summerfield find themselves on a space station which has been invaded by a squadron of Sontarans, who are fleeing after their homeworld has been destroyed. The station crew and the Time Lord find themselves in the middle of a battle between the potato-headed warriors and their old enemies, the Rutans. Can The Doctor stop everyone being killed? There are elements of the ‘base under siege’ trope so beloved of the Second Doctor era whilst there are also smatterings of ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’. It makes for a fine old romp that delves into the mythology of the Sontarans whilst also providing some action.

Next up is ‘Flashback’, in which the Seventh Doctor leads Benny through a holographic recounting of an incident with his first incarnation on Gallifrey. Resplendent in Time Lord robes, the First Doctor becomes involved with an experiment run by the mysterious Magnus. When he tries to stop Magnus from making a huge mistake, the friendship between the two is soon irrevocably broken. This one shot is obviously meant to hint at how the Doctor and the Master became such bitter enemies and, while it’s a bit at odds with the canon of the show, particularly in the way in which the Doctor is shown to be so readily sharing his past with others, it does work as a fun delve into Gallifrey past. The art by John Ridgway is as accomplished as always, flirting with elements of photo realism, making it a very elegant looking affair.

We move onto the centrepiece of the collection, ‘Emperor Of The Daleks’. This is a slam bang, all-action affair as the Doctor finds himself at the centre of a civil war between Davros and the Daleks. He finds himself trying to play all sides off one another in order to achieve his aims. But when one Absolom Daak, the ruthless Dalek Killer who became a mainstay in the comic strips in the 80s, comes into play, the rules get changed once again. Paul Cornell’s story emphasises action, with numerous space battles giving artist Lee Sullivan, whose bold comicbook style suits the story perfectly, a chance to portray a myriad of Daleks, including the fan favourite Special Weapons Dalek. The story itself immerses itself in the continuity of the show, with the likes of ‘Planet Of The Daleks’ and ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’ invoked, not to mention invoking the history of the Daleks in the comic strips. It all rollocks along tremendously and it’s fun to see the Seventh Doctor portrayed in his ‘arch manipulator’ mode. The story comes with a coda, ‘Up Above The Gods’, more history referencing there, in which the Sixth Doctor, acting almost as the Seventh Doctor’s ‘fixer’, finds himself trying to convince Davros to turn to good. We all know how that will turn out.

‘Final Genesis’ has the Seventh Doctor shift to another universe as he discovers an Earth in which Silurians and humans live side-by-side. While it feels a bit similar to other stories in the collection, it’s another non-stop action adventure piece that plays with elements of the era of the Third Doctor.

Written as a celebration of ‘Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary, Paul Cornell’s ‘Time And Time Again’ sees the Doctor and his companions having to retrieve pieces of the ‘Key To Time’ from his past selves. This is an exercise in utter continuity porn and, while it’s all a bit throwaway and rushed and also now at odds with the established canon of the TV show, there is a tremendous sense of fun throughout and it’s hard to begrudge.

Things slow down for ‘Cuckoo’ in which the Doctor must try and stop an eminent female scientist revealing her discovery lest it cause ructions across the timestream. John Ridgway’s art is very atmospheric as there’s sense of the tangible to the 1800s seaside cottage in which the story is set, all isolation, dark mists and a sense of the foreboding. When more overtly SF elements are introduced to the story, it still works well and this is a fine dabble into both SF and gender politics.

Overtly influenced by ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’, the final story, ‘Uninvited Guest’, sees the Doctor gatecrash a party hosted by arrogant Eternals. There, he becomes a most distinct party-pooper. This one shot is a clever and somewhat dour way to end of the collection, showcasing the dark nature of the Doctor as it has elements of the end of Tenth Doctor episode ‘The Family Of Blood’ and the fact that no-one is safe from his wrath.

As always, the collection comes with notes from the writers of the stories which are refreshingly candid almost 25 years after since the stories were first written. While the continuity here might prove a bit too heavy for those solely weaned on the TV show, there will be enough familiarity and action here to make this an enjoyable collection for fans of the Time Lord.

Laurence Boyce

September 2017

(pub: Marvel/Panini. 180 page softcover. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84653-807-0)

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