Sunday, 23 August 2015

Evening's Empire

Part One only originally published in B&W November 1991 (DWM 180)
Complete colour version published August 1993 (Autumn Holiday Special 1993)
Writer: Andrew Cartmel, Art: Richard Piers Rayner, Colour: Paul Vyse, Editor: John Freeman

On a distant planet with twin suns... 

...UNIT forces under Colonel Muriel Frost are fighting a losing battle...

...against the warriors of a decidely human-looking Empire.

We rewind to find out how they got there and find ourselves on Earth, with Ace undertaking the seeming banal task of checking property records in Middlesborough.

The Doctor is down by the canal...

...where UNIT are dredging for a German fighter plane shot down in the war.

Muriel Frost recovers the body of the pilot...

...whilst elsewhere Ace is falling prey to Alex Evening.

When she awakes she's not in Middlesborough any more.

Back on Earth, the Doctor builds an interface machine so Muriel and the dead pilot can have a word.

Communing with the dead pilot's mind...

...Frost is able to confirm the Doctor's suspicions: his fighter plane crashed after a collision with an alien spacecraft. 

In her strange prison Ace baulks at her captor's prefered outfit for her and makes a run for it...

...only to find that escape is not possible from this surreal realm.

When the Doctor tries to retrace Ace's steps, Alex arouses his suspicions...

...and he follows him home.

Here he realizes the truth about Alex Evening. 

Having found the space craft from the crash, Alex has been able to fashion a fantasy world...

...where he deposits abducted women that are forced to humiliate themselves by his imaginary slaves.

The Doctor is able to travel to Evening's Empire in the TARDIS, bringing UNIT with him...

...which is where we came in, and as the battle continues, UNIT are overcome by a representation of Alex's deepest rooted fear - a giant flying Bible, a monstrous creation based on the one with which his mother used to beat him.

The Doctor has a trump card, though - the arrival in his fantasy world of his own mother.

Her presence shatters the illusion...

...dooming Alex to a coma-like state.

Their work done, Ace and the Doctor leave to release the spacecraft far away from Earth.

Evening’s Empire is often described as the Shada of the DWM strip, but that's not strictly accurate. What you have to imagine is more like BBC1 broadcasting the first episode of a story, following it with a "Five Faces of Doctor Who" style repeat season and then just going straight into The Leisure Hive without ever mentioning it again, only to broadcast it 2 years later as a tarted up omnibus edition...
Of course, that's just the story's troubled road to publication. What of the fabled beast itself? 
Evening's Empire is a Doctor Who story very much of its' time. The story's one and only contemporaneously published part came forth in 1991, the advent of the New Adventures, which picked up very much where the TV series left off, with a mission statement to tell tales "too broad and deep" for television. Down the years this has, perhaps unkindly, been taken as shorthand for "doing some swears and mentioning bodily fluids with a faux 'titter-ye-not' protestation of justified use", and in truth newcomers to those early novels are likely to find the style turgid in the extreme - tales too slow and dull for television, in fact.
The novel series went on to become much more polished, accomplished and experimental, eventually justifying its' tag line, though for some tastes they may have strayed too far from the show that spawned it, and become unrecognisable as Doctor Who. 
Evening's Empire hails from the early part of that era though, when the 7th Doctor and Ace were engaged in colder, harder tales extrapolating from the denser, more theme-driven stories of season 26. 
Hence we have a gritty realism in the real world setting of Middlesborough planning offices and canals that could easily have been depicted on television juxtaposed with a budget busting fantasy world of Conan-like gladiators and a then-not-at-all-old-hat Cyberspace seance.
There's a particularly seedy and brutal undertow of oppression, bullying and misogyny that runs through the treatment of key characters that's much darker than anything in TV Who, from the playground bullying that's scarred Corporal Ives... the astonishing moment when Colonel Frost - possibly under some residual influence of her technological mind-meld with the luftwaffe pilot - considers shooting her boyfriend during a bout of emotional cruelty... Alex Evening's fear and loathing of his puritanical mother's literal bible-bashing.

Evening himself is a loathsomely real and repugnant character,a much more visceral take on sci-fi fans than the likes of Adric and Whizz Kid, far more of a dark mirror to fandom; one grounded in those seedier oft-unspoken or unacknowledged realities, a troll pre-dating widespread internet use, whose blinkered worldview is entirely driven by angry entitlement to exploitation. 
As a result Evening is quite nondescript and ineffectual, but in truth this real-world impotence is perfectly correct. Too subtle a monster perhaps, but unfortunately too weak a villain as a result.
With the luxury of hindsight, this character is a particularly impressive and prescient creation from series producer Andrew Cartmel, though, and credit where it's due there. You do have to remember that this was written and the first part published not too long after the likes of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's The Killing Joke (and also the same year as Miller's first Sin City story) works lionized but later commonly viewed as problematic in their brutality and particularly their depiction and treatment of female characters. It's easy, therefore, to see Evening himself as a product of contemporaneous ethics in comic-book authorship... 
The aliens of the piece, the Q'Dhite are also a nothing bit of fluff, a device rather than charcaters per se. We don't really learn too much about them other than the power with which they imbue Alex Evening and his twisted fantasies.
While there's plenty of depth in character and an uncomfortable ride around some dark truths of human nature that are nonetheless a satisfying study, the plot (such as it is) is very slight.
Sylvester McCoy's 7th Doctor and Sophie Aldred's Ace are both very faithfully written and depicted, however much of the art relies heavily on photo-referencing, to an extent that hurts the strip overall, the poses used being both too familiar and more often than not wildly unsuitable for the frame.
It also seems a shame that, considering how thematically strong the writer's depiction of Evening is, the art is often seemingly fighting the intent by having Colonel Muriel Frost in a series of bizarrely pouty and sexualized poses. 
That's by no means uncommon in comics of course, certainly not in this era, but what we get here is far more soft porn Jean Grey than UNIT officer, more Sin City than Halo Jones.
In particular, are we really supposed to believe that using the Doctor's mind-interface machine requires her to dress up as some sort of fetish model? Let's just thank our lucky stars it wasn't the Doctor himself using the machine.
Faring better on the character front is proto-Osgood Corporal Ives, a downtrodden team-member suffering dreadful low-esteem after a lifetime of bullying. She idolises Frost, and with tragic irony covets her 'perfect' relationship, and when she finally gets to show her true worth, she's cut down, killed by Evening's bible-monster.
The Doctor fares much better than Ace in terms of story involvement, though she does get the opportunity to stand up and be counted in offering resistance to Evening.

It's a story with a pleasing and earned denouement...
...which to be fair does make it stand out amongst more average strips, but ultimately, mostly because it's hamstrung by artwork that is infuriatingly high quality yet almost without fail ill-fitting, but in truth also due to a rather slight plot, it turns out a so-so strip that (through no fault of its' own), wasn't really worth the wait, and could never really have been so. An interesting and thoughtful read, if not a truly entertaining one. 

Coming Soon... Timeslip


  1. well it must have entertained you, you gave it 7 out of 10!

    at least i know what happens in it now ... love your analogy of the 1st ep going out then skipping straight into a repeat season *lol

  2. Ha, true. I think it'd be fair to say I "appreciate" more than "enjoy" it.