If you’ve ever found yourself worried that the 90’s Star Trek: The Next Generation staff writers ripped off the notion for the Borg from the Cybermen in Doctor Who, stop worrying because it’s probably true.
This is actually okay as TNG did the Cybermen better and more nuanced and terrifying than the Borg, partly because the name “Borg” is a little scary, whereas “Cybermen” sounds just as silly in 2012 as it must have sounded in 1966.
Either way, the idea of cyborgs like the Borg and Cybermen is a widespread trope of science fiction. But what’s interesting about the current IDW Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover is it might be accidentally showing how much more organic Doctor Who‘s characters are contrasted with some of the more robotic characters of TNG. And that’s counting the actual robots.
Spoilers for IDW’s Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #3
For two issues, Assimilation2 has been a slow burn of a crossover. So far, the story has taken place almost entirely in the Star Trek universe and we’ve learned the Cybermen have teamed up with the Borg. Asking “why” isn’t really as important to the plot as much as “and how?” In the previous issue, we learned the Doctor was starting to remember things he never actually did, indicating that he, Amy, and Rory have actually crossed over from another dimension. Beyond that, the crew of the Enterprise-D have actually accepted the Doctor’s presence fairly quickly, owning primarily to the fact that he accidentally arrived in the middle of an invasion. A lot of this has seemed like set-up so far, and while issue #3 also feels like it’s setting something up, it does take an unexpected and satisfying turn.
In order to evade the combined fleets of the Borg and the Cybermen, the Enterprise runs to the nearest nebula in Wrath of Khan “sauce for the goose” fashion. Shortly after settling in, Data does a Google image search for Cybermen and comes up with an old record from Kirk’s Enterprise, which then causes the Doctor and the comic book to go into full flashback mode.
Zap! It’s the 23rd century and Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty are taking a shuttlecraft to Federation outpost on a planet called Arrilla III. The folks at this planet have been out of touch, so the Enterprise has decided to stop by and see what the deal is. Kirk and Scotty are immediately put off by how weird and emotionless the Federation staff seems to be and worry that something is up. Out of nowhere the Doctor appears, though this is Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, rocking the floppy hat and scarf. Assuming he’s the outpost’s medical Doctor, Kirk, Bones, Spock and Scotty team up with the Doctor to figure out the mystery of the weirdos acting really boring and lame. Turns out the Cybermen are there! Phasers are useless and the Cybermen are closing in until the Doctor asks Kirk if he has any gold on him. Kirk says the flippy part of the communicators are made of gold and whammo, the Doctor manages to incapacitate the Cybermen. Everything calms down on Arrilla III, but the Doctor takes off to the TARDIS before Kirk and co. can thank him.
Back in the 24th century, Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor is reeling from this new memory he’s just received and explains to Picard, Data and Riker that he is the same man from the 23rd century record. Riker asks, “That would make you more than a hundred years old?” to which the Doctor cutely replies, “Don’t be ridiculous commander, I’m nowhere near 100.” Satisfied they’ve evaded the bad guys, Picard takes the Doctor down to Ten Forward because he thinks this strange visitor in the bow tie should probably meet Guinan .
Review and analysis:
One of the covers of this issue depicts Captain Kirk being man-handled by a Cyberman while the Fourth Doctor and Spock look on. The cover also shows Kirk’s belly button, because the Cyberman’s super-wrestling hold is messing up his too-short uniform tunic. I like this because its reminiscent of all the minor wardrobe malfunctions on the classic Star Trek.
It’also a weird metaphor for how much more exciting the classic Star Trek characters seem than the people on The Next Generation. What I mean is Kirk, Spock, Bones and everyone from the old show have some blood running through their veins. Their stories are active, their decisions are active and they themselves are exciting people. And the characters from contemporary Doctor Who are the same! We understand their motivations, they seem like real people, and they’re passionate and exciting.
This nifty and lovely IDW comic book crossover has unwittingly revealed a flaw of Star Trek: The Next Generation: most of the characters are stale, boring and lack any real passion. (Please don’t tell me Worf has passion just because he’s a Klingon.) In comparison to someone like Rory, no one from the Enterprise-D crew has demonstrated levels of sacrifice on par with guarding the Pandorica for centuries. In fact, the most passionate character in TNG is Picard, which becomes painfully obvious when you have a vibrant and colorful character like the Doctor around.
Doctor Who is a lot about running and adventure. Seeing Matt Smith’s iteration of the intrepid Time Lord on the bridge of this particular Enterprise reminds you that a good chunk of TNG involved a bunch of people standing, or worse, sitting around talking. In this way a TNG/Doctor Who crossover is actually a pretty weird mishmash of styles, and as pleasant as it is, one could actually see the Doctor having a laugh with Trip Tucker from Enterprise before forging a friendship with Geordie LaForge. This isn’t to say Enterprise is a better show than TNG, because it isn’t, simply that you felt like Trip really cared about his work and was passionate, which isn’t the case with Geordi. I suppose you could say the TNG characters are more realistic, but they are certainly less dramatic than Doctor Who characters or 1960s Star Trek characters.
The Doctor is sexy, insofar as there is something electrically charged about the character which makes him or than just a science fiction hero. Kirk is like that. So is Rory. And to an extent, Picard is too. But the slick sexiness of the Doctor quickly makes cardboard characters like Riker and Worf look like the jokers that they are. This isn’t to say I don’t love The Next Generation or nearly ALL versions of Star Trek; it’s just that I have to call these things like I see them. Stuck in some kind of weird polite ’90s thing, The Next Generation was so pious in its tone that its characters sometimes didn’t feel relatable. And even though I’ve only been with the Ponds and this Doctor for a few years — and they’re not even close to being my favorite TARDIS crew — I still feel like I know them better than I know or care about Beverly Crusher or Will Riker.
This isn’t a gripe at all with writers Tipton, Tipton and Lee, just a weird side effect that I couldn’t seem to shake. All in all, this issue was my favorite so far because the story doesn’t seem like it’s shaping up to being a big battle, but instead unraveling the mystery of how this happened in the first place. The fact that we got a Fourth Doctor flashback was also very satisfying and felt perfectly in place with the rest of the story. Aesthetically the blending of ’60s Star Trek with ’60s Doctor Who also feels less weird than 1990s Star Trek meeting 2012 Doctor Who. And though a part of me wished the whole crossover could take place in that classic era, the larger mythology of this series is the real treat being given to fans here, and at this point, I can’t imagine it being written any other way.
The series is officially not predictable and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Will Guinan be revealed to be a Time Lord? How cool would that be?
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com.