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Graphic Novel Review
The Doctor and Clara are back for two stunning new trips through the Vortex! On a jaunt back to 1845, the pair discover a horrifying secret hidden in a stately home! Then, the malevolent Hyperions – a race of sentient suns who scorched the universe until the Time Lords brought their reign of terror to an end – return to purge the solar system of all life, and the Doctor is pulled into an epic war for the future of all humankind! Writers Robbie Morrison (Drowntown, Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante) and George Mann (Newbury & Hobbes, The Eighth Doctor) join artists Daniel Indro (Sherlock Holmes), Mariano Laclaustra (Dark Horse Presents), and Ronilson Freire (Green Hornet), to test the Twelfth Doctor and Clara with their most deadly comics adventures yet…!
This graphic novel collects issues #11-15 of Titan’s Twelfth Doctor comic. Disappointingly, it does not include the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con short entitled Selfie, as advance publicity had indicated. However, there’s still plenty of goodness to enjoy…
“Charlotte! You mustn’t say such things... And we should consider turning back for the house. This mist is settling – and the best of the light will soon be gone…” The Doctor and Clara are eager for a change of scenery, but their next destination proves to be a shocking change of pace. They find themselves in the midst of a chilling Gothic mystery when the TARDIS materialises on the misty moors of Derbyshire, 1845, and an unusual case of a dreaming sickness plagues the guests at Lord Marlborough’s mansion…
I must admit that I had my doubts about Mariano Laclaustra handling the art chores for the opening single-part story, Unearthly Things, on his own. During his collaborations with Dave Taylor and Brian Williamson earlier in this series, I had found Laclaustra’s pages to be the weakest.
However, his work on this episode is remarkably good, being rich in fine line detail and with a real sense of depth and scale. It’s not quite a solo effort, because inking assistance is provided by Fernando Centurion and Nelson Pereira, but it helps enormously that the strip has been produced in a consistent style throughout, whereas in previous collaborations it was possible to see the join. One downside is that sometimes it is difficult to tell the guest character of Charlotte (who accompanies the Doctor for much of the story) from Clara, as facially the two look quite similar.
Writer George Mann was flexing his comic-writing muscles in this adventure, prior to launching Titan’s Eighth Doctor series. He does a good job of characterising the sardonic Twelfth Doctor and the sassy Clara, with the latter’s capacity for self-sacrifice (which would prove to be her downfall in Series 9) much in evidence.
There are signs of the writer struggling to squeeze his narrative into a single issue – there are some rather abrupt changes of scene, in particular between the fourth and fifth pages, as we fast-forward to bedtime. Nevertheless, this is an effectively creepy tale. When Lord Marlborough insists that his party will go ahead, in spite of recent incidents, you just know there’s going to be trouble! It’s a threat that will unsettle arachnophobes, and there’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.
“They do not come in peace.” It took everything the Doctor had to defeat a single Hyperion – a mad and ancient living star that had been sealed away for millennia by the Time Lords. Now, burning with fury forged in the heart of stars, armed with technology beyond human comprehension, and composed of a fleet of unstoppable warships, the Hyperions have returned – and, worse, they have come to our solar system. How can the Doctor and Clara hope to stop the might of the Hyperion Empire from consuming Earth…?
The remainder of this volume is taken up by the four-part storyline The Hyperion Empire. This is where we came in, for this tale sees the return of not only the writer Robbie Morrison but also the monsters he introduced at the beginning of the Twelfth Doctor series: the fiery Hyperions.
As with the first time a monster returned to the television series more than fifty years ago, in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the writer increases the threat level by having the invaders turn their attention towards our planet. Indeed, by the time the Doctor and Clara arrive, following some astonishing scenes of destruction (without giving anything anyway, I couldn’t believe what got blown up in the opening scene), London is already an ash-strewn ruin. As in the aforementioned 1964 serial, the Doctor and his companion find survivors hiding underground and the invaders use mind-controlled humans as a slave labour force. However, the artist seems to forget to illustrate the neural usurper device to which the Doctor refers and which Clara appears to remove from one worker. Whereas the Daleks wanted to harness the Earth as a giant spaceship, the Hyperions intend to drain the energy of our sun in order to prolong their own existence.
Who better to depict the devastated war zone than Daniel Indro, who previously took us to the First World War during the Tenth Doctor strip The Weeping Angels of Mons? Panicking victims, exploding aircraft and dusty ruins are his forte. Capturing the likeness of the Twelfth Doctor proves more elusive (at one point he appears more like Dennis Chinnery than Peter Capaldi), while the returning Kate Stewart of UNIT doesn’t look much like Jemma Redgrave, the actress who plays her on screen.
The Hyperion Empire takes place after the 2014 Christmas special, but before Series 9. The presence of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and references by Clara to the death of Danny Pink confirm the post-Last Christmas placement, as does the increasingly dark tone of the narrative. Tying in well with Clara’s characterisation during Series 9, a fireman (called Sam!) remarks upon how the companion seems to relish the perilous situations in which she finds herself: “You enjoy it, don’t you? Time machines and aliens chasing you all over the place. I mean, I risk my life, it’s my job, but you enjoy it, the danger, the thrill…” She explains that, “Life’s short. For most of us. I learned that not long ago. You never know what’s round the corner, so grab every chance at life you can.” It may be that, following the death of her boyfriend, Clara has developed a subconscious death wish, a desire to join him in the afterlife.
Meanwhile, The Hyperions have got a whole lot scarier since their debut appearance. As depicted by Dave Taylor, their bloated six-pointed forms had been ever so slightly comical. The new-look Hyperions realised by Daniel Indro have a more humanoid physique, with a touch of Marvel’s Ghost Rider to their flaming skeletal heads. An explanatory spread which recaps the creatures’ history (and briefly shows their previous form) suggests that they may be entering a new stage in their evolution towards supernova.
The menace of these sentient suns is compounded by the gruesome images that abound in this story. As the Hyperions’ smouldering victims – the Scorched – return to life to threaten our heroes, at times the comic reads more like The Walking Dead than Doctor Who. With burning corpses aplenty, this is not a comic for little kiddies, but it’s a great one for a grown-up Who fan like me.
Other victims of the Hyperions become Fusion Angels, transmogrified and conditioned to carry out their will, as we discover when the Doctor manages to restore the human consciousness of one such unfortunate. It has to be said that this new ally is strangely unabashed about the fact that she is practically naked, clad only in flickering flames, her clothes having been burned away as soon as she was ignited – but then I suppose your priorities change when you discover that you’re the female equivalent of the Human Torch.
The quality of the artwork takes a dive during the penultimate part of the tale, though I don’t think this is due to a lack of ability on the part of stand-in artist Ronilson Freire, who has produced superior work for Dynamite’s The Green Hornet and Justice Inc: The Avenger series. Ordinarily, Freire’s style is a good match for that of Daniel Indro (indeed, Freire similarly took over from Indro on The Green Hornet), but here his work looks decidedly scratchy and rushed. He’s good at the fiery and smoky bits, though – which is fortunate given the storyline.
The conclusion proves to be rather predictable, sadly. The Doctor baffles and defeats his enemies using an array of convenient deus ex machina technology, as has too often been the case in recent television series. Less reminiscent of the screen version of Who, but very obviously signposted, is the permanent demise of a major character.
Though it comes off the boil slightly towards the end, this graphic novel is still smokin’.