For Doctor Who fans, there was that awful interregnum from 1989 to 2005 when, apart from that one night in 1996 when Paul McGann took up the mantle, it appeared as though their hero had dematerialised forever. With no prospect in sight of him coming back, it was left to his followers to make up their own entertainment.
For some, it was an opportunity to cut their teeth in putting together audio and video adventures, featuring characters from the show which were not owned by the BBC, as well as several actors out of the programme being cast in different roles than the ones for which they were chiefly known, with the name recognition being enough of a draw. Yetis, Autons, Zygons and Sontarans all got further outings, as well as old companions like Sarah Jane Smith, Elizabeth Shaw, Victoria Waterfield and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
Over the years, this cottage industry has led to a number of people involved in the productions going on to find work in the media, and in some cases on Doctor Who after the show returned. Even though the Doctor has now been back on our screens for a decade and a half, unofficial spin-offs are still being made, skirting around the thorny copyright issues by continuing to use properties from the show which belong to their creators, rather than to Auntie Beeb, and managing to capitalise on their connection to the Time Lord.
Cutaway Comics – the latest creatives to take a spin around the fringes of the Whoniverse – are launching a new range of publications, featuring concepts and characters which have been in the show, beginning with Lytton. Based around the intergalactic mercenary Gustave Lytton – who joined forces with two of the Doctor’s biggest foes in 1984’s ‘Resurrection Of The Daleks’, and the following year’s story ’Attack Of The Cybermen’ – this brand new comic mini-series has not only brought him back, but also his creator, Eric Saward.
It was Saward who was the programme’s script editor during the turbulent period when it was placed on hiatus in 1985 for 18 months, in order for it to be retooled after BBC1 Controller Michael Grade felt the show had become too humourless and violent. During his time on the show, he made the pace of the stories much quicker, but he courted some controversy as, in some of the scripts that he wrote, the body count was as high as some Hollywood action flicks, such as The Terminator, for example.
Lytton was played on screen by Maurice Colbourne, who was best known to TV viewers as John Kline in the Birmingham-based gritty – and increasingly offbeat and format-breaking – 1970s BBC drama series Gangsters, and latterly as the lead in Howards’ Way, before his untimely death in 1989. Given a new medium to play with, Saward takes us back in time, to a period before Lytton had first crossed paths with the Doctor, showing us the mean streets of Soho in 1975, where Lytton is running a West End jazz club, plus tangling with the criminal underworld.
The story actually opens up with a short preamble in Saigon, 1968, setting up Lytton’s relationship with Wilson, who is his right-hand man by the time we join the action underway in the mid-‘70s. The art and colouring by Barry Renshaw does a great job in capturing the marked contrast between a rather washed-out, sun-bleached South Vietnamese streetscape and the murky, neon-soaked environs presented by the Old Compton Street setting when things jump forward and the tale gets underway properly.
Renshaw – who has brought characters like Judge Dredd to life, as well as working with properties from The X-Files to Star Trek – manages to capture Colbourne’s likeness, with its distinctive hard-nosed visage. He also does a good job in bringing to life Saward’s vision of Lytton’s world, complete with brutal and bloody violence, glamorous dames, murky side streets and alleyways, gangsters, and extraterrestrial technology. The whole vibe and atmosphere that Renshaw creates is redolent with a Sin City feel.
The comic’s subject matter is aimed at a far more adult and mature audience than Doctor Who – like Torchwood – and seeks to explore the darker recesses of human nature, using the prism of the decidedly otherworldly Lytton. Saward has placed him into a world of divided and uncertain loyalties, giving Lytton his own fiefdom which is constantly under the scrutiny of those gangland villains carving up the city and always looking for new territory to make part of their patch. It does all very much bring to mind Gangsters, which surely must be a deliberate choice on Saward’s part.
In these modern, multimedia times of bonus content and special features aplenty, the awfully nice Cutaway Comics people have put together a special DVD for anyone buying the comic directly though their website. As well as having Saward doing an introduction to the series, we also have a video commentary by Saward and Renshaw (which gives some spoilers, so you would be best advised to watch this after reading the first issue); in addition, there are audio commentaries for Doctor Who: ‘The Caves Of Androzani’, and episode 1 of Gangsters, plus trailers for We Apologise For The Inconvenience by Mark Griffiths.
This opening chapter of Lytton shows great promise, not only for the remainder of the comic’s run, but also for the rest of the titles on Cutaway’s slate, probing some more of those parts of Doctor Who’s 50+ years’ worth of continuity which are far less well-trodden. It certainly is heartening that a brand new independent imprint should be entering the market, and hopefully they will get the support which they richly deserve for a long run.
Lytton #1 is available now from Cutaway Comics.