The opening story of the second Panini Doctor Who Magazine graphic novel gives the book its title and is one of the more odd entries in Steve Moore’s run of Doctor Who comics. Dragon’s Claw is a story that spans seven issues, but of varying page lengths due to what was happening behind the scenes at Doctor Who Weekly. The year is 1980 and Doctor Who Weekly has been running successfully since October 17, 1979, releasing one issue per week. The comic strip was successful under Mills and Wagner due to their stories coming from pitches sent to the production office as potential serials, while Steve Moore’s run had been wholly original work. Giving original work to a four page comic book in a serialized story is difficult and due to a drop in sales of the magazine the decision was made in September 1980 to switch from a weekly schedule to a monthly schedule. This brought with it a higher price, but nearly double the page count dedicated to the comic strips and an 8 page increase in the length of the magazine overall. This increase in page count midway through the story makes it feel as if Moore took the concluding four issues and pasted them together quickly, as there are moments halfway through the final two parts which feel like they are meant to be cliffhangers. It creates an odd pacing for the story as each part usually builds to a cliffhanger, not a weird halfway point and then resolves that point to an actual cliffhanger.
Dragon’s Claw itself allows Steve Moore to partake in much of his love for China and its ancient history, sending the Doctor and Sharon to an ancient Chinese Buddhist monastery where strange events are occurring. The first issue of the story is spent in a village which is under siege by pirates introducing the group of monks as holy men who come to the villagers’ rescue, but also causing violent chaos in their wake. It is this mystery as why monks who usually only fight in self defense would become violent throughout the course of this story. The Doctor, Sharon, and K9 only arrive in the final few panels of the first issue where they are captured. This style is markedly different from the earlier comics of Mills and Wagner with a late arrival of the TARDIS team emulating the types of stories which had begun airing on television at the time. Luckily, unlike the darker version of the Doctor from Season 18, Moore characterizes the Doctor in a manner much similar to his earlier persona during the Graham Williams era which is fitting for a comic strip. Moore also keeps the focus squarely on the Doctor once he arrives which with the shorter page count of the first five issues of the story is an asset. The TARDIS team become the point of view characters for the lengthy story with the twists coming to the reader when the characters discover them.
The story plays out for the first five issues like a standard Doctor Who story with the Doctor, Sharon, and K9 being captured and escaping, until they eventually discover what’s behind this story. Dragon’s Claw is most famous for bringing the Sontarans right into the Doctor Who comics. Moore actually uses the Sontarans to better effect than television appearances like The Invasion of Time: they are warmongers and are using their time in Ancient China so they can gain a tactical advantage in their war. There is a large piece of quartz which can be used to power their spaceships and they are using hypnosis to convince the monks to kill the emperor on a specific command. Overall their plan is reminiscent of Linx’s efforts to get his spaceship working in The Time Warrior, but Moore does elevate the story by using the setting and culture to great effect. Dave Gibbons’ artwork as always is excellent and the detail in designing the Sontarans as actual clones is a nice touch. Dragon’s Claw is a story whose biggest flaw was due to conditions outs of the creators’ control, but even with that considered it causes some structural issues which are difficult to annoy. It brings down what could have been an all out classic. 8/10.