"my universal Merlin theory"

Comics After what amounted to an issue long prologue, the second instalment of Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, has another half issue of prologue before the TARDIS team bump into the Enterprise crew and although the result is a bit of an improvement, many the narrative leakages I predicted last time are already beginning to leave stains all over J.K. Woodward’s still gorgeous artwork. It’s becoming very apparent that given the material available, two franchises filled collectively with nearly a hundred years of mythology this isn’t necessarily turning into the finest hour for either of them.  Spoilers begin here.  This review assumes you've already read the comic.

The Tipton’s script begins by given the Star Trek the same treatment as Doctor Who last month, offering the reader a prototypical TNG story of Riker, Data and Worf visiting a Starfleet mining operation uncovering important stuff for rebuilding a fleet still depleted by Wolf 359 (oh, the foreshadowing) working within a set of unbelievably specific conditions agreed with an amphibious population whose design is uncomfortably similar to the fish people from The Underwater Menace. After some astonishingly boring exposition of the kind which can be TNG's stock in trade, disaster strikes and it's quickly agreed that Starfleet should have been paying more attention to its mining colony.

The character work in here is pretty good. There’s a useful conversation at the top in which Geordi finally asks Data why he hasn’t upgraded his technology which shifts through some expected philosophical areas (though I can’t help feeling the television series would have actually mentioned Theseus’ paradox because Patrick Stewart would have asked for it to be put in) and there’s some excellent sickbay cameos on page ten. Then, like issue one, story requirements take hold and the cast are quickly shunted into the holodeck as it becomes apparent we’ve been watching the Trek side of the first issue.

My criticism of this approach still stands. Unless both of these explanatory prologue sections actually become relevant to the story, neither is specifically required. Doctor Who fans probably don’t need to be told what a ST: TNG story looks like because during the wilderness years, along with Babylon 5, it’s what most of us were watching. Similarly there can’t be many Trek fans who don’t at least have a passing notion of Doctor Who. The holodeck opening is nice idea and would have been just enough before we’re scooted into the adventure and what we really want to see, the mating of these two classic franchises.

Indeed perhaps the holodeck material could have been stretched out across a whole issue, the Doctor mixed up in a Dixon Hill mystery coming ever closer to the Riker and the rest but forever missing them ala Partners in Crime or even working with some of them entirely unaware that they’re real beings within a virtual environment. Unfortunately as Allyn Gibson predicted in his review of the first issue that’s all dispensed with in a few, admittedly fun pages. The final image of the TARDIS sitting in the holodeck grid is as bracing as we anticipated. Structurally it would have been the perfect end of an issue. But it’s not over yet.

Finally though we’re into what we’d all be hoping for, the Doctor vs. Riker etc and with credit to the Tippets for all the structural issues, the characters do sound exactly as they should and more importantly the different characterisation styles of the different franchises contrast nicely. Unlike the precision of Trek, the Doctor’s words spill out of him as he excitedly comments on everything (like an early Data perhaps) and his companions seem amazingly British up against the prosaic Americanisms of the earlier series; I don’t remember anyone saying “Hi” or “Hullo” in the 24th century at least not in this way.

Of course, we’re also now into the uncertain territory of whose adventure this is. It’s trying to have it both ways, the Doctor reacting to his new locale in the way the Doctor always reacts to his new locale whilst simultaneously the Enterprise crew are trying to come to terms with these intruders. Often we’re watching a room full of protagonists and at this point it's Amy and Rory who’re worst off, sometimes wordlessly swanning around the edges of the frame, only now and then speaking up. Unless they get they’re own storylines later they’re rendered superfluous in a way which wouldn’t happen in a story told from their POV.

While we're on the topic I'm wondering if a better strategy might even have been to publish to different comics simultaneously, each telling the same story from the Doctor's POV and the Enterprise crew's POV, in other words what we've been given in this opening issue but carefully plotted around each other.  Marvel have used similar strategies before, notably way back during Secret Wars II when an Avengers annual and a Fantastic Four annual which otherwise seemed entirely unconnected suddenly came together at the climax in which the same layouts were rendered by different artists.

There’s an interesting moment when the Doctor recognises Worf, or at least recognises he’s a Klingon. Along with his bang-on insights into Data, it seems for a moment that we’ll be reminded that Star Trek is a known television series in the Doctor Who universe with loads of spin-off references but also lately in the television series, notably in The Empty Child and Closing Time (see this Wikia entry) (and this one) with the TARDIS team realising that the fictional universe actually exists in this alternate reality with all the metafictional implications that has. Unfortunately in skipping time tracks, the Doctor, Rory and Amy have entirely forgotten Star Trek exists.

Instead we have the intriguing notion that the Doctor’s gaining memories, remembering events which never happened to him, including knowledge of Klingons which leads into that cover which has already been released of Tom Baker’s Doctor meeting Kirk and Spock. Of all the ideas in the book that’s the one which is going to keep me reading; perhaps at some point he’s going to forget the version of his life in the Whoniverse and it’ll be substituted for a millennia of travels in the Trekverse, Roddenberryverse, whatever it’s called. In some ways, I wish we were simply getting a spin-off series version of that, with the Doctor pitching up on Romulus or Bajor.

Another quick sidebar and it's probably too early for this since it's entirely irrelevant, but I've just realised that the Q is the reflection in Star Trek of my universal Merlin theory in which a large chunk of fantastical fiction takes place in a multiverse in which magical Merlin-like figures sit at the centre reflected in different ways across them, the various Merlins in various interpretations of the Camelot myth, Doctor Strange, Prospero, Gandalf, the Doctor (who is also Merlin of course) and in the Trekverse the Q continuum.  Perhaps it'll be revealed down the line that the Time Lords and Qs really are cosmologically connected in some way and the Doctor's unconsciously tapping into that power.

Anyway back to the slating.  Where was I?  Right ... all of which isn’t to say that the many frames with the Doctor and Picard in them don’t make me tingly, especially the final scenes in which the two of them (standing on a starship) finally bump into the armada of Borg cubes and Cyberman ships even if once again the comic doesn’t have a cover which reflects the story neither of the two cyborg actually appearing within the pages. It’s almost as though they’re running a whole issue behind. The alternative covers featured inside aren’t much better. One of them teasingly features the Enterprise crew in the TARDIS. That doesn’t happen either. At least is hasn’t happened yet.

I know, pick, pick, pick. It’s just that we’re at issue two of eight and the main story hasn’t really started yet, most of what we’ve had so far lacks the epic quality the title suggests and there are few character beats which couldn’t be guessed even before the issue hit the printers. Most of this feels like a contractual obligation rather than the work of some people with a strong story they’re desperate to tell and although, and again I’ll repeat that although the moment when Deanna Troi empathically scans the Doctor has me squeeing like the professional teenager I am, I wish we hadn’t had to wade through so many pages of other stuff to get that far.

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