Review: Star Trek #21 and Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Vol. 1

Reviewed by Derek Royal

On a recent episode of The Comics Alternative, one of our on-location shows at Lone Star Comics, we discussed various sci-fi comics and several that were tied to other media. This review is a not really a follow-up to that show, but it’s nonetheless one that springs from the same topic. Two recent publications, Star Trek #21 and Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Vol. 1, are not only based on successful television franchises, but books whose resonance is largely predicated on recent media events.

The latest issue of IDW’s Star Trek (written by Mike Johnson with art by Erfan Fajar) is notable because it’s the first following the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, and in many ways it picks up where the film leaves off. At the same time, this latest storyline is not solely reliant on the movie as exposition. In other words, fans of the series who haven’t seen the film would feel right at home transitioning from the narrative in issue #20 (another in a series of character backstories) into that of #21. This stands in stark contrast to the intended function of the recent four-issue miniseries, Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness, where, as the title suggests, the story was supposed to set up or at least supplement the StarTrek21events that occur in the summer movie. But, and as we discussed with the guys at Lone Star Comics, that miniseries fell far short of any prequel narrative activity. The main story in Countdown to Darkness was solid, in and of itself, but the only “setup” to the film came in the final page or two of the miniseries, and even then that coda (for that’s what it read as) added nothing to our understanding or appreciation of the film.

The connections between Into Darkness and the kick-off issue of the post-movie series are much more tangible. The Klingon empire is preparing to retaliate for the intrusion upon their territory from Kirk and company, Kirk learns that former Enterprise captain Robert April’s plans (the gist of Countdown to Darkness) were primarily a smokescreen for Admiral Marcus’s actions in Into Darkness, Marcus’s daughter Carol is now on Kirk’s Enterprise, and the crew is now officially on its five-year exploratory mission. Yet, although there is quite a bit of set up in this issue surrounding these connections to the movie — especially regarding the Klingons and the April-Marcus connection — the bulk of story surrounds Spock’s plok tow and his condition of pon farr. This leads Kirk to take a detour to New Vulcan, where the crew (especially Uhura) is surprised by one of Spock’s revelations. This issue concludes with another narrative setup to be played out over subsequent issues, this one involving the Romulans and Section 31(yet another link to what transpired in Into Darkness). This one issue is packed with dense narrative potential — quite a feat, especially given the fact that about every other storyline in the IDW series has tended to last no more than two issues — and it’s a successful attempt to build upon the events following the summer movie. Whereas Countdown to Darkness, while successful despite its afterthought of an ending, failed to really prepare us for the film, this latest issue of Star Trek creates a narrative bridge between the media that promises to provide payoff for future issues.

Another recent trans-media publication is the first volume of Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time (also published by IDW). Written by David and Scott Tipton (and with different artists for each separate story), this new trade collects the first four installments of a twelve-issue series DoctorWhoPrisonerscelebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. The concept for this miniseries is clever. Each issue features, or will feature, one of the eleven different Doctors, and do so in chronological order. (I assume that by issue #12, we’ll have the revelation of or some kind of reference to the upcoming twelfth Doctor, now that Matt Smith has announced his retirement from the series after this next half season.) So in this first collected trade paperback, the first four Doctors are showcased, along with some of their companions. Indeed, it’s the companions that provides the narrative cohesion among the various issues (or among the four chapters in the trade). Each installment of Prisoners of Time is more or less a separate story, a single adventure of that particular Doctor. These tales would be self-contained if it weren’t for what happens with the Doctor’s companions at the very end. No spoilers here, but know that what befalls the companions occurs on the final page of each issue/chapter. The reader soon discovers that these events are all linked and will become the glue binding all the Doctors’ tales, and all of the miniseries issues, together in some way. Already in issue #5 (which was just released, and will be the first part of the next volume), we’re beginning to see a master plan congealing.

I’m a big fan of Doctor Who, at least the Doctor as we get him in his more recent incarnations beginning with Christopher Eccleston in 2005. I want to go back and watch many of the previous Doctors in the earlier series, and someday I’ll get around to it. That being said, I’m not the best judge of what makes a good comics version of the First Doctor and his adventures, the Second Doctor and his, etc. In fact, my experience with the Doctor Who comics from IDW have been with these most recent manifestations (Tennant and Smith), not the Doctor Who Classics series where you’ll see graphic versions of these earlier Doctors. Still, I find Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Vol. 1 enjoyable, and while it is incomplete in and of itself, it succeeds as a setup of what’s to come in the miniseries. And of course its most notable feature is the collection (eventually) of all eleven Doctors into one story. This also supplements what we found in the recent season finale of the television series Doctor Who, where Clara is revealed to be a binding force that brings the various Doctors together on the small screen. And it makes you wonder what else the creators of Doctor Who have in store to celebrate the 50th anniversary…but something that we’ll have to wait until the fall to find out.

One final word on the Star Trek and Doctor Who comic-book series. One of the things I appreciate about both titles is how IDW is keeping the story momentum similar to that found in the television series. With both franchises, we find separate and episodic adventures that are self contained, but that are nonetheless a part of a growing narrative universe. It’s a rarity that a storyline in either television series is carried into more than two episodes. The same can be said of the comics. With few exceptions, every story in the Star Trek and Doctor Who comics is contained within two issues, and reading them in this way is akin to watching a weekly television series: you have a tight and cohesive story, and then you move on to the next adventure, yet at the same time knowing that the different adventures can be woven into a larger tapestry. Normally I’m not a big fan of comics that are adapted from television or film, but given the way that the creators of both the Doctor Who and Star Trek comics handle their respective licenses, these are series well worth reading.

Books and films discussed in this review:

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

Posted in Derek Royal, Film, Miniseries, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Television Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,