Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #1, IDW Publishing.
By Sam Hurwitt
As I said in my recent write-up of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four, I can’t afford to buy single issues of comic books anymore, and haven’t been able to for a long time. But I had to make an exception for Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2. I’ve always been a sucker for crossovers between different franchises, ever since I watched King Kong vs. Godzilla and read Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man as a kid—or, better yet, the mind-boggling Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk.
They certainly haven’t all been winners, but I have a continuing fascination with officially sanctioned crossovers (as opposed to fan-fiction, which I’ve never developed a taste for), whether it’s Robocop Versus the Terminator, Freddy vs. Jason, or Archie Meets the Punisher.
On top of that, these are two particular franchises that I’m head-over-heels in love with. I loved the original Star Trek when I was growing up, and I later grew to love The Next Generation and especially Deep Space Nine. (I discovered them through daily reruns a little while after TNG had finished, actually, because it originally aired during an 11-year period when I’d stopped watching television entirely.)
Even though I hung out almost entirely with sci-fi and fantasy nerds all through high school, I somehow managed never to see Doctor Who until my wife turned me on to the new series a couple of years ago. I instantly fell in love with the adventures of the Doctor as played by Christopher Eccleston, then when David Tennant took over I loved it even more. I was initially dubious of the new Doctor, played by Matt Smith, but he quickly won me over, and his current traveling companions, Amy and Rory, are possibly my favorites ever. As restarted in 2005, the series skillfully avoided leaning on past continuity so much that a new viewer (such as myself) had any prerequisites for enjoyment, and yet even a complete neophyte such as I could tell that some if not most of these old foes that the Doctor was encountering were in fact races that had been seen before in the old series, and it made me want to go back to the beginning just so I’d get all the sly in-jokes and easter eggs. As I said before, it was by no means necessary, but what can I say? I was hooked. I’ve been going through the old series very slowly, and am now up to somewhere in the late 1970s.
Doctor Who is TV’s longest-running sci-fi series, having started in 1963 and run off and on ever since (continuously through 1989 and again since 2005, with a 1996 TV movie in between). The series touched upon an ingenious device early on whereby the Doctor (he’s never called anything but “the Doctor”) periodically regenerates a new body with a slightly different personality and sartorial tastes, allowing the series to continue indefinitely as actors come and go. The Doctor cycles through traveling companions even more frequently, although he almost always has at least one assistant that he’s picked up on his travels through time and space. Oh, didn’t I mention? That’s what he does. He’s a Time Lord, which in his case involves a lot of popping around from one era to another willy-nilly in his ship, the TARDIS, which looks just like an old London police box (something like a blue, solid phone booth).
Star Trek, of course, is no newcomer either, as the original series launched in 1966. Even with all the spin-off series and feature films, there’s less of it than Doctor Who, but it’s certainly the grand old man of American sci-fi franchises, just as Doctor Who is to the British.
Launching this past week, this comic-book miniseries is not only the first official crossover between the two venerable sci-fi series. Amazingly enough, it’s also the first significant crossover Doctor Who has ever had, its own spinoff series like Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures notwithstanding. That’s particularly surprising because the Doctor’s story engine—going anywhere he pleases in time and space, even to alternate universes on occasion—is particularly well-suited to crossovers.
Star Trek, for its part, has occasionally crossed over in comics, such as a bizarre multi-part adventure with two different teams of Marvel Comics’ X-Men and two different crews of the USS Enterprise, and most recently in a miniseries teaming Kirk’s original 23rd-century Enterprise crew with DC Comics’ 31st-century superhero team, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Still, as comic-book crossovers go, this is easily among the most momentous.
Both Star Trek and Doctor Who have had comic-book series for decades. Since the first Gold Key Comics series in 1967, the license for Star Trek comics has bounced around to Marvel to DC, to Malibu, back to Marvel, to DC’s Wildstorm imprint, to Tokyopop, and finally to IDW Publishing. IDW specializes in licensed properties: 30 Days of Night, Godzilla, Dick Tracy, Angel, CSI, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, Transformers, 24, Underworld, True Blood…and, hey, look at that, Doctor Who! The good Doctor’s adventures have been running in comic form also since the 1960s, primarily in the UK, and truth to tell, while I’ve heard great things about them I’ve never read them.
In any case, IDW somehow managed to take advantage of the two licenses to combine them into this particular miniseries, which I’m sure must be more complicated that it sounds, or else it would have happened sooner. (Marvel had a ton of licensed series in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Trek and Who, but they didn’t go around wandering into each other’s universes.)
The series is written by comics historian Scott Tipton, author of the excellent Comics 101 blog, and his brother David Tipton, along with Tony Lee. Los Bros Tipton have written a bunch of Star Trek comics for IDW since 2007, and Lee writes the company’s Doctor Who series, so between the three of them they obviously know both franchises well.
The photorealistic art by J.K. Woodward should be pleasing to people who get frustrated when characters in comic books based on TV or movies don’t look sufficiently like the actors who played them, because here the characters look very much as if they’ve been skillfully digitally manipulated from stills or screen captures. Whether the art is painted or computer-spawned or some combination of the two, it works awfully well, and Woodward uses a shadowy palette that helps create a sense of mystery from the beginning. Some of the aliens and extras look stiffer and shakier, but he does a fine job with the principals.
Assimilation2 brings the current 11th Doctor, as played on telly by Matt Smith, into contact with the Next Generation crew headed by Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. As the title of the crossover implies, the villains of the piece are Star Trek’s voraciously assimilating cyborg race, the Borg, teamed with Doctor Who’s Cybermen on which they were almost certainly based. The shared M.O. between the Borg, which debuted in TNG in 1989, and the Cybermen, who first bedeviled the Doctor in 1966, is too conspicuous to be a coincidence. Although the two look nothing like, both obsessively absorb any humanoid life forms they encounter into their cybernetic army and hive mind.
The first issue starts with a combined force of the Borg and Cybermen invading Delta IV, which hardcore Trekkers might recognize as the home planet of the hot bald lady from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with various Vulcan and Andorian Starfleet officers seen hanging around. Whatever’s behind the Borg-Cybermen alliance is yet to be discovered; at the moment they’re simply a unified force that’s only half-familiar to the denizens of the Star Trek universe.
I have to admit to practically humming with excitement at seeing the Borg and Cybermen together, because I absolutely adore the Borg, despite some diminishing returns as they became overused on Star Trek: Voyager, and I love Cybermen even more, second only to the unbeatable Daleks.
The joy continues as we cut to….ancient Egypt! There the Doctor, Amy and Rory are on one of their adventures, and honestly, it scarcely matters what they’re up to. That’s because they’re quickly whisked away to…1940s San Francisco! And from there, well, a 1103-year-old Time Lord and a young Scottish married couple walk into a bar, where they find a pale, fedora-wearing android and a smiling gent with a beard and a rakish (or possibly Frakesish) grin.
What the deuce is going on here? What does it all mean? Well, that remains to be seen in subsequent issues, which at some point will involve an encounter between Captain Kirk and the fan-favorite Fourth Doctor played by Tom Baker in the 1970s. If there’s anything that can possibly make me more excited about this project than I already am, it’s that. Those two would be fantastic together.
We don’t get much of a glimpse of the Next Generation gang in this issue, but the Tiptons already have a lot of experience writing them (and the original series and Deep Space Nine crews to boot), so we can have faith that they know what they’re doing with them. This issue shows a great sense of the playful spirit of the Doctor Who series, particularly the impish nature of the Doctor, and it makes me even more eager to see what happens when the two traveling parties meet than I was when I first heard about the series. First-timers may be flummoxed, but for fans already steeped in these worlds, this thing is like geek nirvana.
It’s altogether likely that the series will be collected in a trade paperback—assuming the rights don’t suddenly implode, but IDW’s probably worked all that out in advance—and that would surely be the most economical option. But for something like this, something that I didn’t even know I was hungry for, just this once I don’t mind shelling out the $3.99 an issue. Just don’t expect me to make a habit of it.