With the exception of the traditionally disregarded Underwater Attack, drawn by Eric Kincaid, which filled four undistinguished weeks between the end of the reprints of Prisoners of Space and the start of the reprints of The Man from Nowhere, the shortest Dan Dare story of them all is The Evil One, which ran a mere nine weeks.
Even then, it’s a bit of an embarrassment. Its basic idea – that an advanced alien fleet, known as the ‘Galactics’, pursues a renegade to Earth, threatening to destroy the planet if the malefactor is not handed over, and Earth having no idea who or where he is – is sound, but any merit the story has is swamped by placing the villain’s lair in a fun-fair on Blackpool Promenade.
And of course the innocent funfair owner is a mate of Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, and it’s a bloody good job he is and all, because in a story this short, if Digby hadn’t helijetted to Blackpool to pay a visit, Spacefleet would never have found the Evil One – a renegade Earth scientist by the name of von Malus – in anything like enough time to save the day.
Actually, there’s a little bit more to the story than this, albeit not much. Von Malus doesn’t arrive in Blackpool until about three weeks in and, after capturing Digby and his old pal, Charlie Barker, appears to them as a fifteen foot tall giant, boasting of how he’ll go on indefinitely and can’t be caught, and how he’s suffered slights and criticism. Motton cleverly does not overtly link this to Dan discovering that in real life von Malus is a dwarf.
However, the ending is decidedly offkey. The Galactics are settling in to bomb Charlie’s funfair when they are drawn off by von Malus’s escape pod shooting into space and fetching up in the Asteroid Belt. In fact, it contains Dan, and is a diversionary tactic (a strange one if it deprives von Malus of his boasted escape route), but it also takes him out of the picture at the crucial moment.
Digby thinking his Colonel is dead, goes hunting in the wreckage for revenge, but has to be rescued by Dan when he gets back, and it’s Dan who tells us that von Malus is dead, killed by a collapsing ceiling very offstage and afterthoughtish.
The only other thing worth mentioning is something Keith Watson would do throughout this period: Dan has to speak to his boss, the Controller and, though he’s not named and not allowed under the ‘no recurring characters’ rule, Watson draws Sir Hubert.
And there’s a nice moment where Dan insists on placing himself in danger, replacing von Malus’s hostages, refusing to count himself as a Spacefleet Colonel as being more important than someone else. Motton places these words in Sir Hubert’s mouth: “There goes a brave man. He has planned and ordered his own death to save the lives and homes of others.” Even in the weakest stories…