One of the great tragedies of Doctor Who’s long history is the unfulfilled promise of the Eighth Doctor, that mayfly incarnation who graced our screens for one glorious night back in May 1996, and then promptly vanished, alongside the show itself. Although it came back nine years later for what was its triumphant revival, a whole new Doctor was at the controls of the TARDIS.
It was only for the programme’s 50th anniversary that we got to see another glimpse of Paul McGann’s ‘Byronic Man’, with Steven Moffat managing to fill a conspicuous gap, and show the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration into Sir John Hurt’s War Doctor. While only fleeting, it temporarily scratched a fan itch by giving one more outing for McGann, along with technically making him the longest-serving Time Lord, as he only relinquished the role – on television, at least – after 17 years.
In other media, however, the Eighth Doctor lived on, both before and after his eventual on-screen demise. Big Finish managed to persuade McGann to reprise his role for a series of audio adventures, which continue to this day. As well as novels published by both Virgin Publishing and BBC Books, the Eighth Doctor’s travels also continued in comics, with a short run in the Radio Times, as well as the official magazine published by Panini, and now lives on in artwork form thanks to Titan Comics.
The Eighth Doctor’s debut fell somewhat awkwardly in that interregnum between the end of ‘classic’ and the beginning of ‘nu’ Who, inadvertently bridging the gap between the two eras. McGann’s incarnation had all the Victoriana trappings which you might have expected from the series of old, but he also felt daringly modern, unafraid to talk about boyfriends and relationships in a rather matter-of-fact way, and kissing his companion, which was unlike the somewhat more chaste and asexual Time Lords of old.
Given that Rose Tyler was to be the great love of (one of) the Doctor’s lives, pairing the Eighth Doctor up with her seems an explosive mix, as she has to make sure their relationship (in his future) remains a secret from him to avoid all kinds of potential paradoxes. Doctor Who: Empire Of The Wolf sees Rose faced with quite the dilemma, as she not only has to try not to give too much away to a past Doctor, but also face up to a future one who already knows how things turned out, in the form of the Eleventh, who – within his chronology – has faced a recent loss, leaving him fragile and vulnerable.
Writer Jody Houser will have quite the task ahead of her with trying to juggle not just two disparate Doctors, but also two rather different Roses as well, one of whom was born out of a defunct timeline as seen in a previous comic book adventure. As complex or convoluted as this may sound, it still seems a whole lot more straightforward than the huge collection of different elements which were tossed into the mix by Chris Chibnall in Doctor Who: Flux; given Houser’s comparatively higher success rate, she also looks far more likely to pull it all together and make a more cohesive resolution.
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The appeal of having two Doctors who have as yet to meet up either on screen or in audio form is a strong lure, and while it has so far only been relatively brief and with some standard inter-Doctor bickering going on, hopefully we will get to see some unique interplay in future issues between the two very contrasting personas. If nothing else, Empire Of The Wolf is so far demonstrating all the lost potential of Paul McGann’s turn as the character, which makes this quite the melancholy and wistful experience.
Doctor Who: Empire Of The Wolf #2 is out now from Titan Comics.