Hyperios Rises, says Tony Fyler.
After the spider-creepy one-shot of issue #11, it’s time to settle in for a four-part saga with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, from the reliable team of writer Robbie Morrison and artist Daniel Indro, this time with colourist Slamet Mujiono bringing the adventure to life. As if conscious of the time and space they have available, The Hyperion Empire, Part 1, delivers a crisply devastating five-page pre-credit sequence that pays a degree of homage both to great ensemble Who of the last ten years – there’s a particularly Waters of Mars vibe here as we join the crew of the International Space Station in the near future – and to recent arty space disaster movies like Gravity. The crew are highly characterized, and we feel we’d be more than able to spend an adventure with them, but no – they only appear in the pre-credits.
They’re there basically to signal us of an impending disaster as it…erm…impends. From space, after the credits page, we cut to the quiet calm of Lake Windermere in England – families, tourists, guys out ‘fishing’ (universal code for drinking and talking nonsense). There’s a bit of a Jaws vibe about what happens next, except instead of Jaws, the movie of this scene would probably have to be titled Enormous Creepy Fireball. As this is a modern, Twelfth Doctor tale, who else would you expect to be sending rescue to the stricken citizens of Windermere but Kate Stewart. That… well, that goes less well than might be expected.
From this moment on, the artistic tone from Indro and Mujiono changes noticeably, from crisp and precise to the more impressionistic, muddy, dusty renderings of old-fashioned war comics. To be fair, there’s quite a lot of warfare to deliver, as UNIT takes on an unnamed metallic piece of gittery that fell to Earth in a fireball. There are gracenotes here of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds: the alien meteorite in its crater, the attempt at a military resistance to its presence, the spectacular badness of how that goes.
But if Morrison borrows or reinterprets from some classic and some modern sources this far into the story, what happens once the Doctor and Clara arrive is pretty much all Morrison. They arrive in a dead London (OK, one more War of the Worlds touch, fine), that has the dangerous feel of the London from The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
But the only similarity between that story and this is one of atmosphere and silence. Exploring the city and venturing to Westminster Abbey, our two heroes each wander away while lecturing the other not to wander off, and Clara is first to find life-threatening peril, in the form of an axe-wielding fireman, though the Doctor’s not far behind, coming across a gun-toting medical student who looks not unlike the guy from the cover of Mad magazine. The nature of the real threat though only becomes apparent when both Clara and the Doctor have pretty much dispensed with the weapon-wielding men they encounter, and when we discover what it is, it’s genuinely shocking, both in the sense of ‘who comes up with this stuff?’ – Morrison - and in the way it’s rendered – Indro and Mujiono. The revelation leads us to if not exactly a cliff-hanger then a moment of ghastly realisation and horror that will have you booking issue #13 the minute you’re done with this one. The fireball was one thing, but it’s almost become so much a part of pop culture disaster movies that we take it in our stride.
We don’t take the threat at the end of this issue in our stride.
Yes, there’s a sense in which it too references a familiar genre-trope, but there’s a very important difference here, in terms of why London was so silent as the Doctor and Clara walked through it. It was silent for the same reason you tiptoe through a bear’s nest or a wolf’s lair. If the first half of the issue borrows from films like Gravity and War of the Worlds, there’s a sense in which the structure of the second half borrows particularly from the likes of Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Day of the Triffids. The sense of a post-catastrophe city with something entirely new to worry about is palpable, but when you find out what it is, we can practically guarantee you won’t have seen it coming.
That’s the point of Titan employing writers of Morrison’s calibre on the Who comic-book range of course – he has 51 years of on-screen stories and 15 years of Big Finish audio to compete with in terms of delivering stories. And here, he welds the familiar and the genuinely new and scary together to tell the beginnings of a new story. That’s ultimately the point – this feels like it could have the makings of a four-part story in and of itself, but the rise of The Hyperion Empire sounds like a bigger story still, of which this is merely act one.
As act ones go, it’s ridiculously good. The tonal shift in the artwork feel distinctly deliberate, and actually aids the storytelling – the shift from the precision of the International Space Station and the happy-go-luckiness of Windermere to sudden desolation and warfare, and then to a ruined, burned and ashen city means the artistic gear-change is necessary and effective, and everything after the army arrive in Windermere has that dusty, greyed out feel of combat and ash.
Buy this one because it’s the start of a new four-part saga, because the atmosphere it delivers is redolent of some the best Who of the past, and because Robbie Morrison does something extraordinary, delivering a scary new threat and yet giving the story plenty of room to grow and expand beyond this first part. Get it because it’s extra Capaldi and Coleman, expanding their on-screen adventures with missing chapters, and, through the excellence of Morrison, Indro and Mujiono, delivering a sense of atmosphere, creeping threat and sudden peril that wouldn’t be out of place in the Series 9 line-up.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk