One of the best things about the Doctor Who franchise is that even when the show’s off the air, there’s a constant wealth of new stories to explore. And oftentimes, these expanded universe stories go places the TV series can’t – experimental format-breaking stories, stories with such an epic scale that a BBC TV budget could never pull it off, or, as is the case with Titan Comics’ newest Doctor Who arc, Empire of the Wolf, a multi-Doctor story that combines elements of Classic and New Who together in a way that defies actor availability (or age). And that right there is what makes Empire of the Wolf so fun. It’s the kind of fast-paced multi-Doctor romp you’ve always wanted to see on TV but never thought you would. And that gimmick easily smoothes over some of the story’s weaker elements.
A Multi-Versal Romp
Written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Roberta Ingranata, Empire of the Wolf finds Rose Tyler pulled out of the alternate reality she lives in with the Metacrisis Doctor and back into the main Whoniverse. Only this time, something is weird. There’s another Rose – and she’s an empress. The Bad Wolf Empress, to be exact, bent on conquering worlds to “save” their citizens. It’s a paradox so big that multiple TARDISes are hot on its trail, bringing the Eighth and Eleventh Doctors into a bombastic, multi-Doctor bonanza that’s every bit as thrilling as you’d hope it would be. Multiverses are all the rage right now, so it’s fun to see Doctor Who, which has been flirting with its own multiverse for nearly two decades, joining in on the fun. And for fans of Rose, seeing her in such a new light is worth the price of entry alone.
Less of a Traditional Multi-Doctor Story, But Still Excellent
For many, the idea of a multi-Doctor adventure with the Eighth and Eleventh Doctors will be the bigger draw here. The two have never met on screen, so this is the perfect opportunity to bring these Doctors together. And in some ways, Empire of the Wolf delivers brilliantly on that front, really playing up the differences between the pre-Time War Eighth Doctor and the post-Time War Eleventh. But surprisingly, the two Doctors actually spend a fair amount of the story separated. Without venturing too far into spoilers, the two Doctors get paired off with the two different Roses – which, to be fair, is also a lot of fun. Especially since Eight has never met Rose and Eleven is all too familiar with how her story ended. But if you’re expecting Day of the Doctor-style shenanigans here, you should temper those expectations.
What you can expect is a portrayal of the Eighth and Eleventh Doctors that avoids caricature – an impressive feat given how short Empire of the Wolf is. Both Doctors are traveling on their own as the arc begins. And Houser explores their shared loneliness, their longing for adventure, and their weariness at their respective heartaches brilliantly and quite movingly. It’s a characterization that feels true to both Doctors – but one that also ties in with Rose’s arc. A woman once again lost in time and space (and a woman born out of a paradox), the two Roses are every bit as lost as the Doctors. Houser uses all of these characters’ losses to explore the idea of how we cope with such situations – in an exceedingly bonkers sci-fi way.
A Bit Too Short, Though
Where Empire of the Wolf falters some is in its brevity. Like most of Titan Comics’ recent Doctor Who comics, Empire of the Wolf is only four issues long – meaning there’s not a lot of time to really delve deep into the story’s ideas. Now, there are some positives here. Empire of the Wolf is captivating from start to finish, immediately hitting the ground running and never taking its foot off the gas until the story ends. But that comes at the cost of both character development and world-building. Avoiding spoilers, a character basically makes a complete 180 within the span of only a few pages. And very little time is spent explaining how the Bad Wolf Empress exists or who she is (outside of basically being Rose). And these definitely knock the story’s effectiveness down a few notches.
It’s difficult not to think of all the ways a five or six-issue arc could’ve expanded upon these ideas. But Houser makes the most of these four issues and finds some time for quieter, character-driven moments. Unfortunately, the whole arc just moves so quickly that there’s not enough time for it to slow down enough and reflect on its characters or its world as much as you might like. Still, Empire of the Wolf works far more often than it doesn’t. As usual, Houser perfectly captures the voices of the TV series’ characters, bringing them to life with such accuracy that it genuinely feels like you’re reading an unmade Doctor Who episode. And the story, itself, is a perfectly fun romp that hits the vast majority of the notes you want it to. It’s just also easy to see the moments that could’ve been expanded.
As for the artwork, it’s just as excellent. Roberta Ingranata’s artwork and Warnia K. Sahadewa’s colors perfectly balance screen accuracy with the needs of a comic book. Ingranata captures the essence of Paul McGann, Matt Smith, and Billie Piper’s physicalities and facial expressions, beautifully translating them into comic form. There’s never a moment where you don’t feel like you’re looking at the Eighth Doctor, Eleventh Doctor, or Rose Tyler. And the very retro sci-fi vibe she imbues the Bad Wolf Empress’s headquarters and spaceships with makes me even happier. Alongside Houser’s script, Ingranata’s artwork keeps the action moving at a brisk pace – but never so quickly that it’s hard to follow. And combined with Sahadewa’s eye-popping colors, every page of Empire of the Wolf is a delight to behold, filled with little pockets of sci-fi magic and boundless energy.
On the whole, Empire of the Wolf is a multi-Doctor story unlike many others. With the focus less on the multiple Doctors and more on the multiple Rose Tylers, it’s an exciting, character-driven, bombastic event. While the story’s shorter length prevents it from exploring its ideas as deeply as you might like, it’s still an endlessly captivating page-turner of a comic. As someone who’s never particularly thrilled for another Tenth Doctor/Rose Tyler story, this one is the exception to that rule. Plus, Houser’s depiction of the Eighth and Eleventh Doctors is particularly impressive. Plus, Ingranata’s artwork is always a sight to behold. If you’re looking for a good, solid Doctor Who story to tide you over until the 13th Doctor’s final episode, Empire of the Wolf is a great place to start.
Doctor Who: Empire of the Wolf is available now in paperback and digital formats from Titan Comics.
Disclaimer: A review copy of Doctor Who: Empire of the Wolf was provided by Titan Comics. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Despite a slightly-too-short page count, "Doctor Who: Empire of the Wolf" delivers a thrilling multi-Doctor extravaganza.
Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.