Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, issue #6.

Comics I really have to stop reading this on buses. On page ten, the Doctor realises why he’s not been on top of exactly what the Cyberman had been up to, a point which hitherto seemed to be as the result of poor characterisation. He says, “They may well be right about that. They’ve masked their steps so well that I have been all along a step behind them.” “THAT’S NOT EVEN ENGLISH.” I peeled in frustration which provoked the three rows of passengers in front of me to turn around and glare. I spent the rest of the journey with the nagging sensation that they thought I was being racist.

But I wasn’t. That isn’t English. It’s Jedi. If Qui-Gon Jinn or Yoda had said that line it would have seemed perfectly reasonable. But not the Doctor. The Time Lords might have equivalence in the Whoniverse (just as the Q have in the Trekverse), but at least their sentences have a recognisable structure. The Doctor goes on to say, “… and the Cybermen with the full resources of the Borg collective may well be insurmountable.” Which is presumably missing a comma or two. But I still could never imagine Matt Smith being saddled with all those concurrent syllables.

It’s probably unfair to dedicate two paragraphs to a single line of dialogue in twenty odd pages of them, but it was also equally unfair to take what should have been an amazing idea and so consistently fail to do it any justice. We’re at issue six now and finally some plot elements are coming the fore, but the execution’s so ham-fisted in places it makes Torchwood’s Miracle Day look like The Wire, an analogy which I’ll admit makes little to no comparative sense, but after five previous reviews which roughly say the same thing, I’m running out of ideas.

To be fair, this issue opens with a fair amount of intensity. The collective Enterprise and TARDIS crews sneakily meet a Borg faction on some barren planetoid and for the next eight pages, the two groups work through their trust issues. The thrust is that the Cybermen have taken control of the collective and these breakaways are making contact with the humans because they have ingenuity on their side, or some such. The impression seems to be that the Borg will help the humans because if the Cybermen take over there’ll be nothing left to assimilate.

Amy and Rory have no reason to be there. The Doctor mainly snipes from the sidelines apart from the bizarre moment when Riker, realising that one of the Borg used to be a friend and Captain of a Starship loses his tempter and does some pointing, which despite the fact this is a friend and Captain of a Starship seems a bit out of character. Given the tenseness of the negotiations, in the television series he’s more likely to keep it to himself then moan to Troi about it in that episode’s subplot. Worf also has a temper tantrum, but that seems entirely in character.

They beam back up to the ship and in a four page scene in which it seems as though they’ve left Amy and Rory on the planet because they don’t even appear in their usual spot on the fringes of a frame, the Borg ambassador finally explains the reasons for their schism with the Cybermen and once again we’re thrust into another hallmark of this series, the tell not show. There are a couple of illustrative frames, but there’s nothing here which wouldn’t have been more interestingly demonstrated by one of the characters (Rory) being captured and watching it happen from the inside.

There isn’t much if anything in here which hasn’t already appeared in the deductive exposition scene between the Doctor and Guinan in the previous issues. What is new is that they agree a strategy to fight the Cybermen by redeveloping the Enterprise’s weapons and shields to fight their co-opted Borg technology. Oh and the Doctor suggesting that one way to combat the Cybermen is their vulnerability to gold. Problem. In the Cybermen in the revived television series, the ones being portrayed in this comic don’t have a vulnerability to gold.

Well, ok, ish. The Cybermen in the alternative universe don’t. It’s been developed out of them by their designer Lumic. Now, it’s possible the writers have decided to ignore that and produce their own mythology, on the assumption that these aren’t the same ones, despite their universe jumping tendencies but as is the hallmark of this series that the Who mythology side of things never quite feels right so I wouldn’t be too surprised if they’ve simply assumed that the new Cybermen are just as vulnerable as the old kind despite them not having the open breastplate of certain doom.

Either way, the gold thing becomes a major story point and for another four pages we're transported back to Naia VII which was the scene of the most boring Star Trek: The Next Generation story which isn’t Imaginary Friend way back in issue two, where as luck would have it there's an abundance of the stuff, far more than the Enterprise’s replicators are capable of producing. Apparently. We’re back into conversations about embargos and a slightly bizarre two frames which are all about how quickly the Dai-Ais will turn up.

That whole procedure takes a page. There’s no particular reason why Seelos, the fish man couldn’t have been there when the crew arrive and it would certainly have meant the moment when they spring the “we want all your gold” strategy on them would have happened soon. Perhaps there’s an element of conscious pacing at play here, but it just feels as though each of these pages could have been more usefully served giving Amy and Rory or anyone else on the ship something to do like having been captured to create a sense of jeopardy.

The Doctor does finally get some big speeches and to be fair to the writers they do at least sound Doctorish as he utilises some reverse psychology to engineer a planet’s financial collapse. There doesn’t appear to be much reason for this, however. There have to be other planets in the alpha quadrant with tons of gold, their equivalent of Volga. But then it’s not entirely clarified as to why the Enterprise can’t itself produce all of this gold. I seem to remember my copy of the old Okuda technical manual suggesting that the ship has unlimited resources in that way.

Then, abruptly we’re into the next bit of story in which the Doctor and co finally get around to doing some physical time travelling and we’re into the most enjoyable part of the book, with the Time Lord and his pals in the console room on their way somewhere. Amy and Rory have whole lines of dialogue offering surprise that he didn’t invite their new allies along and even lied about the reason being that they’re crossing their own time streams, which he explains in a bit of foreshadowing was so that he could save them from having to witness a tragedy again.

For the first time in ages they all sound like their televisual counterparts and the story has some forward motion. We’re reading a Doctor Who story again and again we’re faced with seeing what might have been if the writers had decided to stick to one narrative agent. I’ll repeat this again: the clever approach to this crossover would have been for it all to have been told from the Doctor’s POV, with him and his companions travelling about the Trekverse. I’m biased but there are just too many characters dashing around here for the writers to cope with.

They land on a Borg ship. They explore. The influence is the investigatory scenes in Trek’s Q Who, the disinterested Borg when their Enterprise crew first met their nemesis and actually did something altruistic (ie, Doctorish) in revealing their existence. The reader’s in the classic position of his companions of not knowing how to cope with the surroundings and well, there’s contentment from this reader, even if there’s also a nagging sense that we’re watching scenes which should have happened months ago, perhaps even the first month which had, what is still up until now, that entirely pointless Doctor Who story.

But the problem is there’s no sense of mystery as to what the Doctor’s doing their because it was explained earlier in the issue and repeated by Riker before he took off. We should be surprised when we realise the Doctor’s landing in the midst of Wolf 359, but instead the tension is in him being discovered by Locutus which then makes a nonsense of earlier scenes because it was established in Best of Both Worlds that Picard remembers everything of when he was the leader of the Borg, every murderous decision. It’s why he needs the episode Family to get over it.

All of which explains what my nagging problem with the whole series has been, apart from the whole series. It’s that the writers feel as though they need to explain everything. Issues spent introducing formats, pages full of repeated exposition and plans made and explained. In films and television, especially in Doctor Who, such plans are always best left undescribed at least in methodology terms, to unfold gradually, the viewer/reader forever intrigued as to how our heroes will pull off, whatever it is they’re pulling off. Not here. These writers have decided that tension dissipation is the key.

One final word on the artwork, which once again is a mix of useful portraits and impressionistic splodges and marionettes which look nothing like they’re supposed to. When Riker’s angry he turns into Noel Edmunds. Amy mostly looks like Dr Crusher. There’s a bizarre frame on the Borg ship when the Doctor’s chin becomes longer than Dick Spanner, P.I. from Channel 4’s old magazine show Network 7 and has much the same skin colour (everything’s grey on the Borg ship). The cover for the next issue does look exciting though. The TARDIS spinning through a space battle. Ooh.

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