Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, issue #5.

Comics Sigh. Of all the crimes committed by Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2 against actor likenesses in tie-in comics across the past few months nothing quite prepared me for seeing this on page eleven of issue five:

Yes, that’s supposed to be Rory. Reading the issue on the bus home this afternoon, on turning the page I swore. Out loud. The person I was sitting next to gave a peculiar look and I had to put my hand over whoever that’s supposed to be so I could get through page ten without the distraction. How does that happen? Was a picture of Daniel Radcliffe accidentally mixed in with guide photographs the artist was working from and he couldn’t tell the difference?

Just for some balance, some of the art in here’s pretty good this week. The close-ups in general do look more like their television counterparts, especially Guinan, the Doctor and Amy (oddly - she's had an even worst deal that Rory up until now). Some of the lighting effects in particular are lovely. But as soon as we’re into the comic art equivalent of a mid-shot or master, either Picard gains massive black eyebrows and Barbara Cartland’s eye shadow or Riker’s being played by one of the Gibb brothers.

As ever such inconsistencies are also reflected in the script. This is a better issue than the previous four but to an extent that’s like saying the Immortal Sins episode of Torchwood’s Miracle Day (the one with the flashback) is the best of that series. The inherent structural problems remain and while these twenty-two pages has something like a goal orientated story, the chance of it having any great significance across the rest of the series is slim because none of these issues really does.

The main thrust of the issue is about the Doctor convincing Picard to talk to the Borg which suggests that he’s somewhat being privileged with narrative agency in the odd numbered instalments, though issue three barely counts since it's mainly a flashback and arguably Kirk was in charge. It’s not much of a story but at least it feels like a clear direction of travel rather than the start/stop approach of previous instalments.

If there’s a problem, it’s that over two thirds of the issue happens in the Captain’s ready room. Such production behaviour is understandable in network television were budgets are tight but its simply bizarre that in a comic book we should get endless two shots and over the shoulders when there’s practically an infinite budget available. Idiom wise, it’s perfect, of course and probably why #5 feels superior to previous editions. But it’s also pretty frustrating.

Anyway, so we’re back after last month’s cliffhanger with the Doctor suggesting they talk to the Borg, Picard wondering if the Cybermen are all that bad and the massed constituencies of the two franchises wondering why they’re even having this conversation. We’re quickly and pretty accurately ushered into that ready room and before long in the midst of a long expository scene in which the Doctor and Guinan explain their antagonist’s plan without much in the way of evidence.

This is a conversation which takes just over nine pages, nearly half the issue. In the middle the writers spend three pages in what they think is the voice of Guinan offering a synopsis of the Best of Both Worlds for the none of us, including Who fans, haven’t seen the key text of The Next Generation which is visually arresting but outside of television where this might have taken seconds comes across as time consuming and superfluous.

Much like the previous Guinan monologue in the last issue we’re not gifted new information, indeed there’s a lot of explaining of who the Borg and Cybermen actually are, how they must have seen each other as “kindred spirits” but fell out when they realised that the Trekverse wasn’t big enough for the both of them. It’s difficult to see who all of this is aimed at and again this is half an issues worth of material that was adequately inferred over a couple of frames last month.

When Guinan does make a key supposition that the Cybermen are attempting to convert the Borg collective for themselves we reminded again that the writers seemed to have forgotten the medium they’re writing. They can afford to show us this and yet its rendered through an admittedly lovely portrait of Whoopi Goldberg. Allowing our imaginations to do the work is fine on television, but comics are an inherently visual medium and we know already that the artists are ok with spaceships.  Show don't tell.  Please.

By the close of the conversation because he doesn’t need to be for the issue to have a point, Picard’s still not convinced and continues the ship’s course back to Earth. We’re now at page ten and we haven’t left the bridge. It’s probably an unfair comparison but by page eight of this month’s Angel & Faith, Willow’s thrown a mountain at the Whedonverse’s equivalent of the Balrog. I don’t read a lot of comics but even taking pacing into account that seems like a lot of comic spent in one room.

New room. Oh it’s sickbay and Harry Potter’s swapping remarks about the advanced medical technology. Rory has exactly two speeches here and neither of them have anything to do with the main story unless in a couple of issues he’ll be utilising his nursing skills and neither of them sound like anything Rory would even say. Since he hasn’t been assimilated yet, that seems like the only option left for giving him something to do.

Finally Amy has something to do. In a conversation which as Allyn identifies “is reminiscent of her conversation with Kazran in “A Christmas Carol” and Lorna Bucket in “A Good Man Goes to War”, Pond explains why the Doctor’s a brilliant planet saver. The characterisation of Amy’s surprisingly good in these three pages and just briefly Karen Gillan’s even on the page rather than a non-descript red head.

However brief, it’s charming and also has reminds us of what could have been and should have been earlier. It’s not about exposition, it’s not even about telling us information we already know. It’s about character and though we aren’t entirely convinced why Picard wouldn’t yet have been more curious about the blue box on the holodeck, does fairly naturally lead in to the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

When Picard steps onto the TARDIS he does and says everything you’d expect him to and so does the Doctor. But for once there’s a magic which has otherwise been lacking and that continues as the Doctor takes the Captain into the future, Pyramids of Mars style to show him the devastation which would be the result of the Cybermen being given a foothold.

The time mechanics of these types of scenes have never really convinced me. Time ebbs and flows but typically in Doctor Who, unless the Doctor specifically goes out of his way to change events once he’s witnessed them, they can’t be. It’s why he doesn’t whisk Rose back a year in Aliens in London and why the intricate storytelling in Blink just about fits together.

Except here they both are looking at the future pretty close up, the Doctor even makes a point of saying that it’s real. Which means that as in Pyramids, he’s showing Picard something he hopes will be changed by their intervention in the past when really if it had already been changed it should reflect that. My head hurts. Either way it’s a rare occasion when the writers and artists make full use of the comic book format.

Oddly, The Doctor shows Picard the results in both the Trek and Who universes which suggests that the Cybermen can slip easily between the two and mores to the point the Doctor can too which doesn’t make much sense given how he was supposed to be visiting this universe by mistake and the difficulties the TARDIS has in traversing such divides in the Tenth Doctor years.  Unless we're supposed to assume the two universes are merging like the Doctor's memories but at the close the Time Lord refers to "each galaxy, each universe" which suggests they're still supposed to be separate.  The writing's simply not clear enough.

After which Picard’s finally convinced to talk to the Borg and there’s a trailer of the next cover image of the Doctor shaking one by the hand and we’re another issue closer to the end. About the only flaw, as Allyn also suggests, is that the Cybermen simply haven’t ever been this powerful. In between the gold and the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s always been able to vanquish them pretty easily.

Which is all fine.  Except in story terms this whole issue's bunk. By now, on television, the Doctor would have been in the TARDIS and landed in the middle of the Borg collective, force field on for safety, having a conversation. He doesn’t need Picard or the Enterprise crew and as the close of the episode explains the TARDIS is in full working order and there’s been nothing stopping him using it, not even a couple of security guards.

Perhaps he imagines the Enterprise will go some way to explaining why he has all of the new memories (something which isn’t touched on this month) but that’s not established in the text. Because of all the pointless exposition in the ready room, there’s no time given for the Doctor to have much of a conversation with his companions. Has he even said yet exactly why he’s still on the Enterprise?

But the main overall problem at this stage is that there’s no sense of personal threat. There’s the galactic problems with the cyber-divorse and the close of the issue ramps up that tension. And I know the Doctor doesn’t generally need it, he’ll get along with saving anyone or anything. But the writers haven’t taken any opportunity to ramp up the tension.

None of the usual stand-bys have been employed. No one’s been captured for example, and Rory being assimilated would have been the expected example, or the Doctor which would have been more interesting and dangerous. The Doctor and his companions haven’t been isolated from the TARDIS or the crew haven’t lost the Enterprise. There a definite lack of jeopardy.

Thinking on, maybe the problem is that the underlying story is too huge.  Maybe the writers would have been well to have told a much smaller story, perhaps with the Doctor his companions and the crew of the Enterprise both isolated from their ships on some planet with a bunch of issues worth of suspicion before they decide to work together, in other words a base under siege story.

Or the Doctor and his companions losing their TARDIS and having to covertly become part of the Enterprise crew during a space battle with all the fun of the Doctor in a Starfleet uniform, Rory in sickbay and Amy waitressing in Ten Forward or exploring the family parts of the decks.  That's another problem.  We have a Doctor who's great with children on a starship filled with families and he hasn't met any of them.

But like I’ve said before, perhaps I’m expecting too much of what’s now a hundred and ten pages and I should just enjoy seeing the Doctor and his companions walking around the Enterprise saying stuff. Except none of it is fulfilling the promise of the original preview covers and although we’ve no real idea of what’s happening next, it doesn’t seem to be due to clever storytelling and more to do with the writers not knowing what kind of story they’re trying to tell.

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