IDW has recently made a name for themselves by crafting crossovers between the various licensed properties that they produce. Infestation was the first of these crossovers where an invasion of interdimensional zombies does battle with G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, and the Transformers, effectively making the crossover the dream of every child of the ’80s. The second Infestation series takes place within the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers.
Sure, neither series is Shakespeare’s Hamlet (they may not even have the subtext of a Curious George book), but there is something undeniably sublime about great ’80s franchises sharing in the same story. No disrespect intended, but these are the kinds of stories that a child might come up with when playing with his or her toys; lots of explosions and battles with characters that everyone loves.
So, if Infestation is meant to appeal to the child in all of us, then Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation2 is designed to appeal to the older fanboy in us all; that fanboy that lives inside of all of us who is always asking the question “What if?”
It’s been my understanding that the Doctor has never crossed over into other fiction despite that his the premise of Doctor Who easily makes any and all crossovers easily plausible. The most prevalent theme in Doctor Who seems to be the protagonist’s “deus ex machina” capabilities.
The TARDIS is an invincible time machine / space ship that allows for the Doctor to instantly be able to speak and understand all languages from all time periods. A sonic screwdriver acts as a universal tool able to do nearly anything. Psychic paper allows for people to see whatever explanation the Doctor needs them to see. It is a television show built to be able to do anything and tell any kind of story. Still, despite the fantastic nature of the plots, the series emphasizes logic and reason along with temperance, forgiveness, and kindness above all qualities when the Doctor solves his problems.
Meanwhile, Star Trek: The Next Generation features plots that are relatively tame by comparison. Like Doctor Who, the crew of the Enterprise encounter all sorts of strange beings from all across the cosmos, and they must use their logic to solve many disputes, but the crew are always under the formality of protocol while the Doctor has a certain air of improvisation to his plans.
The stark contrast between the way these two science fiction juggernauts use logic to solve fantastic problems is the central premise behind the first two issues of the series. The Doctor (along with his companions Amy and Rory) are introduced in ancient Egypt as they are being chased through the streets on chariots. They approach the palace and reveal that the pharaoh’s vizier is actually an alien that has escaped from a crystal of some sort.
As of issue 4 in the series, this scene has nothing to do with the overall plot, but the introduction is quintessential New Who; the Doctor and his companions run from something and the stop an evil alien. Emphasis on the running.
Meanwhile, the second issue is quintessential Star Trek: The Next Generation, as the crew of the Enterprise investigate a trade agreement between the Federation and a race of amphibian humanoids. It has some connection to the overall plot, as their trade agreement is necessary for the Federation’s defense against the Borg, but it’s not the most exciting stuff ever. But then again, maybe Star Trek never really was.
Finally, in the latter half of the second issue, the Doctor meets with the crew of the Enterprise. However, their interactions never seem to rise above the premises they are based around. It’s as if writers Scott and David Tipton (along with Tony Lee) just can’t seem to get past the “Wouldn’t it be cool if X happened?” premise that everything is based upon.
Since the Doctor has joined forces with the crew of the Enterprise, it only stands to reason that the threat they would face would be the Borg and the Cybermen. One of the most chilling images has to be the Cyber Controller has been assimilated into the Borg, but beyond this image and the invasion of a Federation world from their combined might, the threat of the Borg and the Cybermen just isn’t all that menacing. After all, the Doctor was able to defeat not only an incredible army of Cybermen, but also an army of Daleks at the same time! It shouldn’t be difficult for the Doctor to handle both the Cybermen and the Borg on his own, therefore, the Enterprise crew seems superfluous or even a nuisance in some ways.
A further problem with the Borg and Cybermen alliance is in their personalities themselves. On Star Trek, the Borg are among the most terrifying and wonderful threats that the franchise has to offer. Meanwhile, on Doctor Who, the Cybermen are portrayed as one note characters whose story potential has been completely tapped out. And since the Borg and the Cybermen are similar in their methodology and their mission, it seems to imply that the worst villains on Doctor Who are the best villains on Star Trek.
So while the villains may fail under the “Wouldn’t it be cool?” premise, there are still many other moments that were crafted with this question in mind.
In a conversation at the beginning of the second issue, Geordi suggests to Data that some of his software is outdated and that he should consider an upgrade to which Data refuses based upon philosophical reservations. Data ponders, “If I start replacing my components with improved ones, where would that process end?” While this is certainly a philosophical musing that could easily be explored, given the union of the Cybermen and the Borg threat, it has yet to be expanded upon within the series.
Issue 3 features a rather lengthy flashback sequence where Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty team up with the fourth incarnation of the Doctor (the one played by Tom Baker) in battling the Cybermen. The art shifts to a style that evokes the feelings of the Star Trek: The Animated Series, but it’s just another moment that is cool in theory but missing something in execution.
Finally, issue 4 features a conversation between the Doctor and Guinan. Given that both characters are incredibly old, it is a set-up for a potentially amazing encounter that never rises above a dialogue where both characters poke at the mystery of how the Doctor could remember the Star Trek universe and yet not know it at all. Their conversation is vague and does very little to move the plot forward.
Granted, perhaps my expectations are a little high for a comic that has been crafted to cash in on the fandom of the two most important franchises in the history of science fiction. Yet even though I have been able to clearly identify the problems that I have with the series so far (the story is a letdown and the art is inconsistent at best), I can’t help but find myself wanting to finish the series even though I know that I’ll be disappointed. To knowingly dislike something and then to be unbelievably drawn to it is a unique problem that comic fans have, and I believe there is an important lesson to be learned from my problem about the fundamental nature of comic books in general.
Right now, we are living in what I’ve decided to term the “New Renaissance” of comics. I hope that I’m not out of line in determining the shift in the paradigm to be one year ago with the introduction of DC’s New 52. The high-profile relaunch was commercially successful and allowed for DC to follow up with Before Watchmen (granted, Before Watchmen was planned in advance of the New 52, but the high-profile relaunch was essential in gaining the press necessary to launch Before Watchmen even further into the stratosphere). And while Before Watchmen is still going on and it’s unclear the actual impact it will have on the market right now, it has become abundantly clear the immediate impact it has had creatively.
Some fans complained that DC had run out of ideas and that the money and effort spent on Before Watchmen should have been placed into launching creator-owned books that would be the next Watchmen, and professionals responded that fans should show their displeasure by supporting creator-owned books. After all, Brian Azzarello’s Spaceman wasn’t selling particularly well, but his Before Watchmen: Rorschach was sure to top the charts. If fans really wanted creator owned books, then they needed to ACTUALLY BUY THEM. But because fans have flocked to their trusted franchises instead of supporting creator-owned books, publishers have responded by going with what works.
The first issue of Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation2 debuted on the Diamond sales chart in June at 121 with 20,940 copies sold. Meanwhile, issue 23 of Cullen Bunn’s absolutely perfect western horror comic The Sixth Gun was at 304 with 3,204 copies sold. Of course, everyone has heard of Star Trek and Doctor Who, and few have heard of The Sixth Gun, so based upon the logic of brand recognition alone, it would be impossible for the sales of an unknown property to outsell the two biggest franchises in sci-fi history.
Fans complain that major franchises don’t try anything new, but fans are just as guilty by not wanting to pick up new things. If you’re not careful, the New Renaissance is going to pass you by, and you’ll miss out on some really incredible comics.