Monday, 3 August 2020

TNG – The Wounded

Plot – A Federation Officer (literally the pride of the service) committing a terrorist act in Cardassian space? Sometimes TNG races to a really punchy premise in its pre-title sequences that not only promise a great episode ahead but would have to be the work of true incompetents to get it wrong. I was longing for this kind of episode; one that deals with racism head on and from the human point of view. Long have I lamented that certain human characters express disturbing racist views (McCoy, Archer, O’Brien) in this supposedly xenophobia free Utopia and for TNG to tackle that head on in all its ugliness is a definite tick in its favour.

Character – How interesting to see Worf spreading anti-Cardassian feeling on the Bridge. Once he transfers to DS9 that feeling is still very much there, especially in his dealings with Garak. It’s not until the two of them are trapped in an impossible situation together that he starts to find some common ground with the species.

You can see why people might have developed an issue with Keiko when she tries to force feed her husband fish food for breakfast (mind you the muck he rakes up for her later in the episode looks even worse). What I love about this couple is not only are they the longest running relationship across the entirety of Star Trek and not used as some kind of grandstanding romance to get bums on seats but instead used as a peek into domestic life on a Starship/Station, but they are also a convincing mixed race couple where that is never brought into the equation in a derogatory way. The two of them having a nice breakfast in their quarters and being interrupted by a torpedo hitting the ship gives a pleasingly fresh view of how normal life can be disrupted on the Enterprise.

The look that Troi gives O’Brien when the Cardassians arrive speaks volumes. She’s astonished at such a feeling of hate from one race to another. And check out the venom O’Brien throws at the Cardassian in the turbolift when he asks him to share a drink with him in Ten Forward. O’Brien is the perfect character to funnel this episode through because he is such a nice everyday bloke that is so well respected…and so to see this unpleasant side of his character emerge not only gives him a great deal of substance but it impacts all the more because I do like him as a character. Condemning racism is easy, it’s abhorrent. Condemning racism when it is coming from an otherwise nice bloke is far more uncomfortable. Maybe he has a good reason to be how he is, that still doesn’t make the censure of an entire species acceptable. I love how the Cardassians are made to look ugly and unpleasant and yet the two Officers that converse with O’Brien are very pleasant company. It makes his outright rejection of them much more interesting. How fascinating that O’Brien observes that other people still have a hatred of Cardassians, when he is really talking about himself. He doesn’t hate Cardassians, he hates what the Cardassians have turned him into. That is possibly the most interesting route the episode could have taken. Self-loathing and how it manifests.

Picard is the ultimate diplomat in a crisis situation here; calm, collected, respectful and intelligent. This is the Captain Picard of legend. When confronted with Maxwell and his paranoid delusions, Picard is firm with a man he respects greatly. He has to bring him in to answer for his crimes and that is exactly what he is going to do.

Great Dialogue: ‘It smells musty in here. Like a bureaucrats office’ – Maxwell condemns Picard’s inaction and political chains.
‘Take this message to your leaders, Gul Macet. We’ll be watching…’ I actually stopped breathing after Picard made his threat.

Performance – There’s not one performance that is off here. The cast all do stellar work.

Production – Plenty of adjustments are made to the Cardassians in the following years once the franchise decided that they were going to be one of the big hitters in the Quadrant. Whilst I am far more accustomed to the bulkier uniform and realistic make up job, I do like how they are introduced here. The bizarre bondage gear around the Legate’s head is pretty creepy and the reptilian aspect of their nature is empathised dramatically. I’m not sure about the uniforms here, though. They are far too simple. Thankfully it is Marc Alaimo inside the costume and he is as impressive as ever.

You might think that watching a couple of blips having a space fight on a screen is a money saving exercise (saves paying out for expensive effects) but the scene concentrates on Picard and Macet’s reactions, which is where the drama lies.

Best moment – Colm Meaney telling the story of O’Brien’s experiences on Setlik III. My heart was in my mouth the whole time.

The ending is like an emotional punch in the gut. TNG had moments like this that come out of nowhere and really got under your skin. They really surprise because this was a show that liked to play it safe for a fair amount of its run. Two old war veterans sit in the tatters of Maxwell’s career and sing a song to respect the dead, honour their history and accept Maxwell’s defeat. We only spend a few scenes with Maxwell and the feels I felt for him here are greater than I do for many of the regular cast on this show.

Worst moment –
It’s a shame that the Cardassians do appear to be up to no good in this episode because it guts the piece of its point. That you cannot condemn an entire species for their past. What’s more DS9 proves Maxwell right, eventually the Federation is at war with the Cardassians and they should have done well to fear them even at this early stage.

I wish they hadn’t done that – Troi states that because the Cardassians are an ally to the Federation that they have to be trusted. What a naive point of view. They have to be respected, certainly politically, but there are a wealth of episodes that see them behaving in a truly insidious and politically devious way in both TNG and DS9.

A reason to watch this episode again – Whilst it has pretentions of exploring a much larger political game, The Wounded comes down to one man facing his prejudice and realising that he isn’t quite as perfect as society would like him to be. This is the emergence of O’Brien as a major player in the Star Trek universe and a character that would continue to be our eyes and ears for over a decade of stories to come. It’s fascination because the usual pattern is for the characters with extreme views on this show to be dealt with and punished in one episode. This is much more complicated than that and the fact that O’Brien can be seen going through such a struggle and to come out of it a much more rounded character suggests that the crew of the Enterprise is entering a period of more sophisticated characterisation (adding Ro to the roster is another positive step). Not everybody is perfect in Roddenberry’s universe and that is a bold and brilliant statement to make. Colm Meaney rarely gets the sort of recognition he deserves but in 14 seasons of Star Trek he never gave a less than exemplary performance and in episodes like this one that give him some truly juicy material to play, he nails it perfectly. This is one episode that holds up extremely well today and is more important to watch than ever. If only a contingent of society that hates without reason could be as self-reflective as O’Brien.

****1/2 out of *****

Clue for next episode: 

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

New podcast episode! The Nimon Be Praised! Discuss The Woman Who Fell to Earth!

Join Jack & Joe as they broach the potentially controversial subject of the Chibnall/Whittaker era of the show. An episode we both enjoy, it gives us the chance to delve into the positives and the negatives of the era even if we have a very different opinion of the era as a whole. Was it finally time for a female Doctor? Is three companions too many? Was it time to return to simpler, character focussed Doctor Who? And was the shift from Capaldi to Whittaker the biggest tonal shift the show has ever taken? All this and much more as we take on one of the most divisive eras in modern Who...

Available on Spotify, Google Podcasts and all reputable podcast platforms...

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Nimon at War! New podcast: A Good Man Goes to War!

Nimon at War! Join Jack & Joe in their most combative episode yet, as they take opposing sides on the series six mid season finale A Good Man Goes to War. Is this a responsible criticism of the Doctor...or does Matt Smith simply not have the gravitas to pull off what is being asked of him? Are the characters written with a pleasant lightness of touch...or does nobody come across with any authenticity?And does the series deserve applause for attempting a season arc this structured...or is the whole piece fatally flawed? All this and discussion of the shows production, character assassination and potentially the sickest moment in all of Doctor Who. Hop on board as The Nimon Be Praised! tackle a Steven Moffat spectacular.

Available on Spotify, Google Podcasts and all good reputable podcast platforms! Simply click on the link above.

Monday, 20 July 2020

ENT – The Breach

Plot – This episode deals with prejudice and racism in a very subtle way, which seems to be the way of Enterprise but for once it works in the shows favour. By boiling down the conflict between two races to two well characterised people in a room we get up close and personal to the beleifs that both sides share and start to see them try and discover some common ground. This is not revelatory material, but it is thoughtful. I especially liked the ending that didn’t see a huge coming together of two species who have put their feelings aside but instead goes for the tentative first steps of two races sharing a space together. It offers hope for the future that both sides would consent to travel together, without stating that any kind of reconciliation would be easy.

Character – Good God, Travis Mayweather has a skill that is put to good use in this episode. Someone get these writers an exec producer credit as they have the ability to recognise that this show has a crew outside of the triumvirate of Archer, T’Pol and Trip. As the three men of the crew head off on a rescue mission you can see absolutely what they were trying to do with Enterprise. It’s a bit like what was happening with Stargate Universe, a chance to focus on the more human side of the Trekverse. Here we have the lads out to impress each other with their physical prowess. The trouble is these need to be hugely likable characters to make this sort of thing work. With Trip I would say they succeeded. Reed I cannot stand for a multitude of reasons (just go and watch Shuttlepod One and come back to me). Mayweather I barely register. Put them together like this and you have the better character (Trip) bringing something out of the lesser one (Mayweather) but unfortunately the reverse is also true. Proximity to Mayweather means that Trip is pretty dull. He needs a vivid character to bounce off to really come alive. The sad fact is that when you remove the alien presence from a Trek show (Enterprise only has Phlox as a true alien presence, T’Pol is like a moony teenager) it lacks the interest of the other shows. You may as well be watching a show set on Terra Firma.

Performance - Any episode that focuses on Phlox is automatically in the upper end of the Enterprise scale because it affords the show the chance to show off the dazzling acting talents of John Billingsley. There’s a terrific scene where Phlox refuses to treat his patient because the man refuses Denobulan help and his ethics state that he cannot save somebody against their will and Archer, ever the angry pragmatist, orders Phlox to do so and he refuses. It’s not exactly revolutionary Trek material but it is nicely written and played and shows that Phlox is a man of his word. Phlox is given some fine characterisation here, losing his temper when the racism directed at him reaches boiling point but revealing that he has taught his own children to respect all cultures, despite the past and the education his family gave him.

Production – Robert Duncan McNeill has turned out to be a very proficient director and one who has spread his wings far beyond Star Trek. His four Voyager episodes were outstandingly brought to life and I am not surprised that he took his talents on to Enterprise. His work is flashy and full of memorable camera tricks, but he often gets some sterling work out of the actors too (Mulgrew in Sacred Ground, Jeri Ryan in Body and Soul…and those are the two of his weaker episodes). It doesn’t surprise me that he was offered a chance to direct an episode of Discovery.

Every Trek series needs to have a rock-climbing sequence, it appears. Blood Fever springs to mind as a notable example but DS9 is not immune either. The sequence is fairly ponderous until one of them slips and then it is one of the best action sequences this show has ever pulled out. They slip and slide down that rock face for what feels like an eternity and I wondered just how long McNeill could keep it going from. When Mayweather stops their descent with his foot all I could think was damn, that is going to hurt.

Best moment – I couldn’t see how anything could top the glorious scene at the beginning where Phlox reveals a Tribble amongst his menagerie and then promptly and savagely feeds it to one of his reptiles with a smile on his face. That’s a stellar use of continuity there.

Trip, dirty and sweaty. Oh my.

Worst moment – Of course it is Mayweather who is the first to be put out of action. Heaven forbid he got the spot light for long.

A reason to watch this episode again – Voyager did it better with Jetrel (two bitter enemies forced together and trying to find common ground) but this is still an above average Enterprise episode, primarily because it gives the focus to Phlox, who is always worth watching. Trek likes throwing in these ethical dilemmas and forcing its characters to face difficult choices (DS9 was especially adept at it but TNG and Voyager both had their fair share of successes too) and a man refusing treatment because of a conflict 300 years in the past is a juicy example. What shines from this story is what a rich character Phlox is, and what an incredible actor John Billingsley is and how the show is lucky to have both of them. He would be featured in stronger episodes (the subplot is desperately average) but the better scenes here shine bright because such a rich, marbled character is in the spotlight.

***1/2 out of *****

Clue for the next review: 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

New podcast episode: The Nimon be Praised! Discuss The Chase!

We come not to bury The Chase, but to celebrate it! 

Join Jack & Joe as they brave the sunny plains of Aridius, discover the truth about the Marie Celeste, step into the collective fears of humanity and witness all out robot war on Mechanus. The Chase has come in for a lot of flack over the years and we build a surprisingly positive case for the story, whilst generously acknowledging its faults. Does this story feature the ultimate Doctor Who ball sac monster? Should Morton Dill have skipped into the TARDIS instead of Steven? And we might have a very solid idea why these particular Daleks are so thick. All this and we say goodbye to Ian and Barbara in another exciting instalment of The Nimon Be Praised!

Available on Spotify, Anchor, Google Podcasts and many more platforms....simply click on the link above. 

Monday, 13 July 2020

VOY – Alliances

Plot – I think there is something of a misconception about early Voyager that I would like to dispel here, as far as I can see. Not all of the content of the first three seasons was rot and Seven of Nine was not the only reason that Voyager deserved any attention. She’s a great character that gave the show a new character focus for a few years but this show already had a ready-made, engaging cast who were perfectly capable of bringing decently written tales to life. Not only that but even though the Kazon have gone down in history as a bit of a misfire, that’s not to say that all the episodes that feature them are appalling. For the record I find Caretaker, State of Flux, Manuveres, Alliances and Basics Part One to all be terrific episodes. Yes, the Kazon do often come across as cut-price Klingons but there was a real effort made to make the stories that feature them into some kind of narrative (it was the only time this really happened on Voyager over a sustained period) and at their best it upped the action content of the show, which made for fun viewing. Alliances is over halfway through the second season of Voyager (a season that has an unfair reputation in my book) and is probably the most competent portrayal of the Kazon (it dares to make them victims rather than villains) and the most interesting step in Voyager’s journey through their narrative.

The episode opens on Voyager under Kazon attack, with manic activity, potential technological disaster and death. It’s certainly an episode that grabs you by the throat from the off.

The negotiations between the Federation and the Kazon were never going to get off the ground because Janeway walks into them with a look of disgust on her face and Cullah was always going to ask for more than he can get.

Character – Fascinating to see the Federation/Maquis debate rear its ugly head in this episode because by this point it felt as though those differences had been long forgotten. I applaud the Janeway/Chakotay conversation at the beginning of the episode with Chakotay suggesting they need more Maquis stance (using their wits, taking a more aggressive stance) and Janeway clinging onto her Federation principles (that of friendship, exploration and diplomacy). One of those approaches is failing the crew at the moment and I’m not surprised that they are vocal about it. I really like the idea of dissent amongst the crew like this because it adds a great deal of suspense to the idea of Voyager’s sustainability in the Delta Quadrant. If they are tearing themselves apart internally then how on earth are they going to deal with threats externally?

Janeway deserves a lot of kudos for daring to consider an alliance. If I were Seska I would be seething with rage because that is exactly what she was suggesting in season one. Chakotay outright asks Janeway is she is doing the best thing for the sake of her crew and she looks physically struck by the suggestion, hence seeking an alliance with a race that might bring stability to the quadrant.

The Janeway/Tuvok scenes were the bedrock of the early seasons and I really missed this relationship when the show essentially became the Janeway and Seven show. The warmth and humour that exists between them is palpable and rather than using him to sit each cast member in front of a candle and meditate, he dishes out some very pertinent advice about the current situation. Lucky, he had an orchid that was going through the same situation as the ship, otherwise he wouldn’t have a Trek-appropriate metaphor to hand.

At this point Voyager is gaining a large number of secondary characters that don’t get a huge amount of focus (like a whole episode) but help to flesh out the Ship. Michael Jonas, Hogan, the Irish engineer whose name I have forgotten. It means for episodes like this there are people who can voice opinions who aren’t complete nobodies. Here Hogan is the loudest anti-Janeway mouthpiece and Jonas begins his traitorous communications with Seska. I like Voyager when there is stuff bubbling below decks like this.

The Kazon scenes might be a bit of a bore (even though Cullah does chew the scenery very well) if it weren’t for Seska, who makes them terrifically watchable. She manipulates Cullah in such a forceful way, using her guile and her sexuality as a weapon.

Great Dialogue: ‘I don’t think we can afford to keep doing business as usual…’ Chakotay throws some cold water in Janeway’s face.

Production – Very, very rarely did Voyager venture into particularly exotic climes (that was something that Enterprise did surprisingly often) and so a trip to a seedy bar with whacko lighting and a sexy dancer is about as far as they are willing to push it. I’ll take what I can get.

Best moment – It’s very clever how this episode explores both the possibility of Janeway forming and alliance with the Kazon and then their more likable enemies. It goes some way to tricking you into thinking that the latter will be the better option before the awesome twist moment when Janeway realises she has been tricked into bringing all the leaders of the Kazon together by the Trabe to massacre them. Voyager went for the action jugular like this far more in its latter years but this has real impact because it is entirely unexpected. I like how Seska instructs Cullah to use the negotiations to execute the Trabe once and for all because that is what we are looking out for. When the complete opposite happens, I was slack jawed. It leaves an already violent situation in even more disarray.

Worst moment – It’s very odd that we haven’t heard from the Trabe before given their important place in Kazon history.

The final scene rankles because Janeway decides that because this alliance hasn’t worked out that she was right all along and that no alliance will be possible. The ideals of the Federation are paramount and no argument will be allowed. Seek Heil. Even Jeri Taylor regrets putting these words into her mouth.

I wish they hadn’t done that – This is the last time we get any real exploration of the potentially awesome conflict at the heart of this crew. This feels like Jeri Taylor’s attempt to put it to bed once and for all. That’s squandering a wealth of dramatic possibilities. DS9 made better use of the Maquis threat in its Eddington trilogy and that is wrong because the tools were there for Voyager to use throughout its entire run.

A reason to watch this episode again – One of my favourite Jeri Taylor penned Voyager episodes…and it’s a Kazon episode too! There is far more substance here than you have been led to believe by the naysayers, it is a dense episode with a lot of interesting discussion, development and even a shocking twist at the climax. The character work is razor sharp too, with some pertinent questions being asked about Janeway’s command decisions and approach, some lovely scenes with Chakotay and Tuvok and promising arc developments that suggest this show is venturing into serialisation. There’s no real right or wrong here, which is a grey area that DS9 likes to pay about in and it feels pleasingly unusual for Voyager to venture there. It comes back to the central premise of a ship alone and under threat and a crew that are scared and vulnerable. My biggest regret is that this did not lead to any further developments down the line – the ideas of an alliance are touted here and go spectacularly wrong and it is never brought up again. But without this episode then none of these huge ideas would have been brought up at all and that would have been a crime. This is Voyager playing politics and doing it rather well. Only Janeway’s speech at the end mars.

****1/2 out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: 

Friday, 10 July 2020

New podcast! The Nimon Be Praised Episodes 1-5!

The Nimon Be Praised! has now released five episodes and they are available across seven platforms for you to enjoy. Jack & Joe (that's me) have plumbed the from the highs of The Ribos Operation to the lows of Underworld and taken in our guilty pleasures, the character of Ace and the first half of series one along the way. Join us for the fun. Ideal listening if you are on the move, or simply seek to take an hour or two out and listen to two huge fans of the show discuss it in their own inimitable way. You can check out the synopses of the individual episodes below.

Anchor - The Nimon Be Praised
Spotify - The Nimon Be Praised
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RSS - The Nimon Be Praised

The Nimon Be Praised! discuss The Ribos Operation

In their debut episode, Jack and Joe tackle the opening story of series sixteen. Discussion of Robert Holmes, the season arc, the production, the double acts and shine much light on why they love this story.

The Nimon Be Praised! discuss Underworld

Jack & Joe bring all their deductive powers to the fore and study the 1977 story Underworld to try find some positives to say! In this episode we are interrupted by the postman, discuss whether the enjoyment of special effects spoils or enhances our experience of watching Doctor Who, try and come to the conclusion of whether watching Underworld adds enjoyment to our week and figure who would play certain characters if this was a New Series episode today! You might think it is impossible to spend two hours talking about Underworld...but never underestimate The Nimon Be Praised!

The Nimon Be Praised! discuss Ace 

This week Jack and Joe tackle the apparently unstoppable companion known as Ace. Was she the secret weapon of the Sylvester McCoy era on television? Did anyone like this actually exist in the eighties? Should she have been locked up as a modern day vandal? Just how many stories HAS she featured in? And do her books and audios count? All this and more fabulous Nimon quotes, Joe battling with his phone alarm and Jack using his finest charm to consider how he would get on on a date with Ace. The Nimon Be Praised! is back!

The Nimon Be Praised! discuss Their Guilty Pleasures 

It's time for Jack & Joe to confess their sins and reveal their Doctor Who guilty pleasures. Much laughter ensues as they attempt to convince one another that Time and the Rani, The Girl Who Died, Planet of the Daleks and The Husbands of River Song are all deliriously enjoyable. Which story is the campest? Does one feature a Doctor Who can make you believe in any scenario? Why is everything in a Jamie Mathieson story so rubbish? And would Husbands have been a good place for Steven Moffat to step off? All this and much, much more. We had a riot recording this episode...we hope you all enjoy it. There are a few moments (just moments) where the time lagged but it shouldn't affect your enjoyment.

The Nimon Be Praised! discuss The Russell T. Davies era 0.5 

Join Jack & Joe as they take a waltz through the Russell T. Davies era. Well, that was the idea. Instead we only got halfway through season one AND singularly failed to remember The Long Game (which we will come back to). It’s an era with plenty to unpick and we will be come back to it in half season segments. Was Rose the ultimate audience identification character? Is The Unquiet Dead quite unmemorable in retrospect? And are the Slitheen the secret weapon of series one? All this is and much much more as we both learn that when talking about Doctor Who, we can’t do things by halves.