Tony’s getting hot under the collar.
There’s more than a touch of Zombie Apocalypse about the latest story for the Twelfth Doctor and Clara. The invasion of the Hyperions – walking cranky suns who we’ve encountered before – left many, many people not so much people, more piles of ash, and when we left the Doctor and Clara at the end of the last issue, they were discovering that the ash piles had a worrying habit of coming back to life and attacking, as though jealous of those who still had control of their atoms.
Naturally enough, Clara had found herself a fireman who wasn’t averse to swinging his axe in times of crisis, while the Doctor had found himself a doctor with a gun, which would seem to be the acme of uselessness, or at least professional self-contradiction.
This issue kicks off with some solid sonic action to dispel the advance of the burning zombie hordes, a gorgeously rendered showdown with one of the cranky suns themselves (looking in this issue like what would happen if the Beast and a Pyrovile loved each other very much), and a trip into the sewers (when in doubt in Doctor Who, always go into the sewers, it’s like the Mafia going to the mattresses) before things take a turn towards the backstory, and things we pretty much already know. Clara’s Fireman, Sam, recounts the events of the day the Hyperions arrived – much of which we saw in issue #12, then from the sewers we arrive in the Tube station at King’s Cross and St Pancras, where Kate Stewart has made her subterranean base of operations, such as it is. There’s a riff with the Doctor assuming command of the planet – harking back to the events of Dark Water and Death In Heaven, and then another backstory sequence, the Doctor telling us the story of the Hyperions, which we’ve heard in previous issues too, though here there’s much more detail and the artwork that accompanies the potted history of Hyperios is far, far superior to what we’ve seen of their empire before.
But after all this backward-looking, we’re ready for a good dose of story advancement, and Robbie Morrison is seldom one to disappoint – we get to spend some time with the Hyperions on their own, showing their mentality and mindset, especially as one of them goes supernova, the ultimate, explosive end of their lives, and we get to see what their invasion looks like on the ground – there’s a distinct hint of the Dalek Invasion of Earth about the set-up here, only with some properly powerful firewalls. Yes, really, firewalls, behind which a human slave workforce are being worked to starvation and death. Did we mention the whole Dalek Invasion of Earth thing?
What’s especially interesting is what happens when Clara touches one of the slaves. Essentially it sets off an alarm that brings the guards swooping in – swooping because they fly, looking like Hell’s own angels, and peculiarly, where the Hyperions we’ve met so far have been bulky chaps, these guards have a distinctly female aspect. It’s a concept that’s rarely been seen in invaders before, both binary genders uniting to enslave a lesser species, and if we’re honest it’s a distinctly peculiar idea for this particular invader, being, as the Doctor describes them, living suns, and therefore presumably having a reproductive cycle more dependent on thermonuclear processes than sunny fun-times. But it’s a heck of a development to the story and we look forward to issue #14 and to finding out how an invasion already entrenched in the Earth can be defeated – going back to the Dalek example it took a major league effort and a targeted resistance. How do you defeat the successful invasion of the living suns when Earth’s military is defeated, its population decimated and its own ghosts now work for the enemy?
The obvious answer would seem to be to overfeed that enemy – they achieve the point of supernova on their own eventually, but how you accelerate that process with the Earth in the state it’s in will presumably be the business of the next two issues.
The artwork in this issue, by Daniel Indro, with Slamet Mujiono on colourist duty, is an interesting fusion – the city of London scenes remind us of the war comics of the 70s and 80s, impressionistic, sketchy lines building ragged definitions of reality, which feel entirely right for a city covered in dust which can become touch-burning zombies at a moment’s notice. The Hyperions themselves feel like they fit with this tone, muscle and flame seeming indistinguishable in bodies that are mostly made of jagged lines. But Indro’s careful to impose some firmer lines of artistic discipline for calmer, more well-ordered environments – his Tardis scenes are far more precise, as are for the most part his sewer and Tube scenes. It’s a stylistic choice that draws distinct lines between the worlds of the two forces in the coming battle, the chaos of the raging Hyperions and the relative order of everyone not consumed with the fiery rage inherent in being a living sun in its supernova stage. Indro’s character work is especially strong, except when it comes to Kate Stewart who, if she didn’t introduce herself, could be practically any blonde in a Tube station.
So – is issue #13 one to buy? Yes, because it’s Robbie Morrison for a start, and he’s rarely a writer to put a foot wrong. It delivers a hardcore science-fiction villain with a creepy army of burning dust-soldiers, for the Walking Dead fans to get their ya-yas from, and it’s fascinating to see how far Morrison can stack the deck against humanity and the Doctor, and still pull off a satisfactory ending in two issues’ time. Plus, Indro and Mujiono bring the thing not to life – while the characterisations are good, the impressionistic style never allows for geeks to entirely immerse themselves in the reality of the world – but to comic-book Armageddon, which is almost as good. Is there too much retrospective and going over ground we’ve already covered here? Probably – even if you’re new to the Hyperions, the day of the invasion was covered in the previous issue and didn’t really need re-capping here. But as a fusion of hardcore sci-fi and horror-fantasy, The Hyperion Empire is a thing of ragged beauty, both to look at and to contemplate.
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