Comics Sigh. Month three and the great Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who crossover continues to disappoint. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of twenty-two pages with roughly five panels a page which is tiny in comparison to the narrative real estate available to the BBC Books novelists I’m reading at the moment (half way through The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, yes, indeed). But despite the gorgeous splash page that heralds this issue with its impressionistic vista of the Enterprise dwarfed by a joint Borg/Cyberman armada everything just feels a bit … oh I don’t know ... boring? Spoilers ahead, as usual.
As with the previous two issues it’s an "episode" of two halves, or rather two quarters and a half. The two quarters are the 24th century sections that top and tail the instalment in which the Enterprise crew and the Doctor discover the alliance we readers already found about in the prologue, quickly get out of dodge, mask themselves in the old stand-by of a nebula and then find that mysteriously both the ship’s computer and the Doctor’s big brain have a record of an earlier mission of the original Enterprise under Kirk in which they encountered the Cybermen, explaining the cover.
In other words, after just a couple of pages together, the main players in this grand narrative are already being sidelined to make way for a comic within a comic with a whole bunch of new characters on a different, if connected mission. This doesn’t feel like a well-structured story. It feels like teasing. It feels like the writers have decided they want to do some cool things and are now scrabbling around look for a plot. It’s also repetitious. Within a couple of frames in the last issue we knew the Doctor was making new memories and now we have a whole flashback to prove the point.
The other half of the issue is that much heralded flashback and as ever it commits the crime of wasting the cover. I mean look at that cover! Kirk surrounded by Cybermen, screaming as he's crushed to death, the Fourth Doctor and Spock dashing to his rescue. Wouldn’t you want to start the flashback at that moment or at least close to it and move on from there? The Time Lord and that Enterprise crew already well acquainted and we’re watching the end of a mission ala Rose, picking up exposition as we go along.
Instead, we’re greeted with a fairly pedestrian four pages of rote classic Trek, of Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scott investigating a mysteriously uncommunicative archaeological dig, bumping into the Fourth Doctor as they try to open a door, the inevitable cyber-invasion, some shenanigans with a sonic screwdriver then this Doctor nips off and err, that’s it. There’s a funny moment when Spock chemically deconstructs a jelly baby, but the Fourth Doctor seems more like a Kraal android than the real thing and it’s all so disappointingly by the numbers.
The most interesting thing about this section is the artwork which in contrast with J.K. Woodward's painterly boards are rendered in a more standard comics line drawing style reminiscent of Trek's animated series. Apparently the artists here originally worked on IDW's Star Trek: Year Four series which has its own metatexual interest and their rendering of the Cybermen in cool blue works well, their Tom an apparent homage to Dave Gibbons (forever reprinted by IDW). If only the script was up to the task.
Gaah. Like I said, it could be that I’m expecting too much, but I’m concurrently reading IDW’s film spin-off series which after a couple of stuttery issues which essentially retold some classic episodes with just a few changes now has a definite spring to it, with colourful dialogue and zingy pacing that, thanks in large part to the epic characterisation of Simon Pegg’s rendition of Scotty actually feels more in the spirit of Doctor Who despite being Star Trek through and through. This month they’re doing tribbles and the final pages of mayhem are hilarious.
This just, it sits there. Perhaps it's the characters, perhaps there are too many characters. Once again Rory and Amy barely make an appearance and indeed they’re vaguely scribbled into the back of the Enterprise bridge on one frame of the second page before the flashback. There’s more of them afterwards but they’re still just sort of standing around, they’re not vital presences. Unless as Allyn agrees, Rory really is assimilated later on, the writers are going to have to work some to convince me this all wouldn’t be working just as well without them.
Perhaps it’s the expected syndrome of being a Who more than a Trek fan and wanting the Doctor to be the definitive protagonist. At this point, A Matter of Time’s Berlinghoff Rasmussen had more narrative agency. Perhaps next issue it’ll switch about again and we’ll see the important encounter set-up in the cliffhanger from his point of view, he’ll take charge of the story. But to be honest it’ll just be good if something actually happens. Because we’re three issues in and we’ve barely had enough proper narrative to fit a typical instalment from Doctor Who Magazine.