Tuesday, 27 October 2020

TNG – The Price

Plot – The Price features the first stable wormhole known to exist that could lead to the fabled Gamma Quadrant. You know, that sounds awfully familiar. In the end it turns out to be a passage to the Delta Quadrant, which is even further away. That sounds familiar too. 

As a day in the life of the Enterprise, this is certainly a busy one. Visiting negotiators bidding against one another, a potential new wormhole for the Federation to explore and a romance for Troi.

Character – In what has to be her most relatable scene in the entire series, we open this episode with Troi having an argument with the computer over providing her with a real chocolate sundae, exasperated by the thought of letters from her mother and a ‘now what?’ when Picard summons her. There’s none of this superior, holier than thou Troi here. She feels like a real person going about her day to day. I wish all writers had seen fit to write her this way. When Picard tells her to throw on ‘any old thing’ and come to the reception you start to get the impression of what it is like to be a female member of this crew. Mind you it says something about how women are written for on this show when this, the rarest of things (a Counsellor Troi episode), is automatically a romance of the week. It just so happens to be one of the better examples of that genre of Trek episodes, but the point stands that shouldn’t be all Troi is useful for. In a wonderful moment that made me smile, Ral tells Troi ‘don’t do Counsellor Troi’ when she starts to probe him psychologically. This episode deserves its stars just for that one observation but anyone who regularly reads these reviews will know that I cannot bear how she pokes her way into peoples lives without them asking her to. It’s marvellous how she is trying to break out of her comfort zone in this episode and relax into this affair she is having. Troi confronts Ral with her feelings about how he hides he is an empath and uses it as an advantage at the negotiation table, and he manages to effectively show her that is exactly what she does for Picard when she is sitting by his side on the Bridge.

Performance – Matt McCoy is one of those trusted character actors that pops into most shows doing the rounds during this time and has a pretty impressive and prolific resume. He gives a confident performance as Ral and that needed to be the case. We have to believe that this man can assuredly manipulate his competitors. As soon as we meet him with those piercing eyes and a woman on his arm it is clear he is going to be trouble of the very best kind. I love the scene he has with Commander Riker, managing to prick at his career and point out (in the snarkiest of ways) that he is only second in command of the ship. Interestingly that is something that will be followed up at the end of the season. He’s not even above using his relationship with Deanna to distract Riker at the negotiation table…and you still don’t quite hate him. He’s just doing his job.

Great Dialogue – ‘At the negotiation table, it can be fatal to have a heart.’

Production – As ever with seasons three and four, take a good look at the lightning and listen to the music. One is atmospheric and a little subdued and the other is bold and beautiful. Both would be watered down considerably come the fifth season (so many episodes that year are lit in the blandest way possible and that is where the wallpaper Rick Berman inspired music kicks in) but there is a distinctive visual flair to the episodes at this point that see TNG at its height in production terms.

Best moment – Whilst I could do without the shots of Troi’s oily feet, I thought the scenes of Troi and Ral in bed together were actually very well done. So many Trek romances fail because they are so sanitised and PG-13 but these two wind up oiling each other up, kissing provocatively and teasing each other playfully. It feels very natural, like two real people genuinely enjoying each other’s company. That’s very rare (compare it to something like DS9’s Meridian and you’ll see what I mean).

I’m very disturbed by the full body leotards that they squeeze Sirtis and McFadden into but how wonderful is it to see this show giving its female character time in the limelight to have some girl talk. Whilst they fail the Bechdel test horribly, these scenes are still very sweet and watchable and really well written. ‘Who needs rational when your toes curl up?’

Worst moment – This is one of the better examples of the Ferengi in TNG and they are still overwritten and overplayed. You have to wonder how their reputation to acquire profit is earned when they seem to blunder their way through all negotiations with little tact or finesse.

I wish they hadn’t done that – You could almost say that Ral violates Troi by walking into her office and manhandling her but she seems perfectly complicit in the act and seems to thoroughly enjoy having her hair messed around with. I don’t know if I have ever empathised with Troi more than I do with this episode.

A reason to watch this episode again – I really like this and it is another example of the confidence of the third season because if this had been aired in the first two years of TNG you know it would have been fairly dismal. Troi is never better in the entire show and if she was characterised with this much honesty and sensuality throughout the run, there’s a possibility that she might have been one of my favourites. Marina Sirtis seems to enjoy the chance to be in the spotlight and seems visibly more relaxed than she has ever been before. I find her relationship with Ral very believable because there is nothing sensitive about it. It’s an instant attraction, provocative and charged and the two of them dive into it consensually. Even better, when Troi gets on her high horse, Ral manages to throw many of her criticisms of how he conducts himself back at her in some very winning scenes. I found myself nodding along to so much of this episode. The wormhole plot lacks tension or drama, so that end of the episode is severe lacking but I would take an underwhelming plot in favour of this much exceptional character work any day of the week. It’s a shame that an enjoyable TNG episode should encourage such a dismal Voyager one as the weakest element of The Price winds up being followed up in False Profits.

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

Saturday, 24 October 2020

TOS – The Apple


Plot – For the first third of The Apple the dangers that come aren’t particularly compelling and they come at a snail’s pace. The flowers of death, the fact they cannot beam off the planet, the man who is following them…these things play out in a very slow manner. What those early scenes needs is long shots and location work to try and sell it as a real world with deadly dangers. Instead we get the usual studio set with plastic flowers and not enough plants to make it feel like a jungle planet. It feels artificial, and so does the danger. We’ve waiting for the point where Kirk takes down the computer and makes a speech about the independence of the slaves, with a dreadful joke about love. Ultimately it feels like the entire exercise has been for the express purpose of making a joke about Spock looking satanic, as that was the reason why an exec didn’t want his character to appear on the show. It really wasn’t worth the bother.

Character – Chekov attempts to get close to the only female member of the landing party when Kirk breaks them up and says that is not why they have beamed down to paradise. I would punch the air at his observation if it wasn’t for that fact that that is exactly what Kirk gets up to every other week.

I thought it was very funny that Kirk should try and rouse Spock with the reminder ‘do you know how much time Starfleet has invested in you?’ It’s strange how Kirk falls to pieces over the death of one of his officers that we have never heard of before. Surely it is the Captain’s job to make these tough decisions and should people fall in the line of duty (as they inevitably do under Kirk) then he knows they walked into any situation understanding the risk. It takes Spock to snap him out of it and remind him that nobody has ever stated that Starfleet duty is particularly safe. Kirk seems to think that his men are dead because he let himself get distracted by the smell of flowers…or something. Kirk would go on to lose many more men before the end of three series and he wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. By the time he is threatening to get rid of Scotty if he doesn’t get the warp engines working, you have to conclude that there is something seriously off about him this week. After he makes his wrap up speech to the indigenous population at the end of the episode, I wish McCoy had mentioned that he was really out of character on this little jaunt. Oh, and how he has seemed to have forgotten about the men who have died.

Your standard Spock/McCoy philosophical battle ensues but I have seen it done far more effectively elsewhere. The best thing about this argument is the performances. Nimoy and Kelly make such an engaging pair when they are squaring off against each other.

Great Dialogue – ‘Would you mind being careful where you throw your rocks, Mr Spock?’

Terrible Dialogue – ‘If you can’t get those warp engines fixed…you’re fired!’ Poor Mr Scott, stuck between his defunct and damaged engines and facing career oblivion. I wouldn’t say this is Kirk’s best day for employee morale.

Production – They have made a valiant effort to provide the episode with the Eden that everybody seems to think this planet is. I don’t know if I would have gone for the blood red sky that gives the planet an oppressive feel. The giant snake head of Vaal is impressive (it is carved out of rock with smoke bellowing from its eyes) but it is also where a lot of the money of this episode has been spent and so it is obviously over exposed.

Worst moment – Surely that is record time for a redshirt to meet his demise? Two minutes in one of them explores the foliage on this world and is pierced by the pollen. When Kirk sends two nobodies called Mallory and Marple ahead but tells them to be careful he is basically sending them down the mine like canaries. I would have requested a sojourn back to the ship immediately.

Vaal is the worst computer that TOS ever featured because it doesn’t even have any kind of personality. It doesn’t speak or have a chance to get its point of view across, it merely has meek inhabitants of this world do its speaking.

I wish they hadn’t done that – It is irritating that the only observations that the Yeoman can make are about how frightening the situation is and questions about sex. Like those are the only things that would concern a female officer in Starfleet. This is salvaged slightly by the scene where she beats the crap out of several of the primitives.

The sequence of the two primitives watching Chekov and the Yeoman kissing and deciding they would like a bit of that feels really off kilter. I’m not sure who these scenes are aimed at or whether we are supposed to be titillated or disturbed. Watching aliens learn how to make love isn’t my idea of entertainment and we certainly aren’t invested enough in these characters to care about their relationships with each other.

A reason to watch this episode again – This might be an episode that would work for kids with the landing party beaming down to a jungle planet and the redshirts (everybody should know there is going to be a massacre because so many of them accompany Kirk) being bumped off in a variety of ways. Exploding rocks, plants that spit deadly pollen, lightning that strikes you down…it looks like Max Ehrlich had great fun trying to think up really silly ways to murder this bunch. As an adult it is very slow and unconvincing, taking an age to get to the point. Any excitement is purely superficial and by the end we are dealing with another enraged supercomputer with too many processors missing. How many times can TOS wheel out that old trope? An infinite amount by all accounts. The shifts in tone are quite alarming too. It takes a confident show to skip from horror planet to dining with primitives to philosophical debate hour. The trouble is these all feel like different episodes lumped together. It’s pretty jarring. It’s packed with TOS clichés and none of them are handled in a particularly clever way. When the red painted primitives start prostrating in front of a computer dressed up like a snake God you might find yourself looking over your shoulder and hoping nobody comes in and sees what you are watching. It’s one of those 60s episodes where I was watching the clock.

*1/2 out of *****

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

VOY – Repentance


Plot – You can’t accuse Repentance of not getting to the point straight away. It is an episode that hits the ground running with the story already well within progress, a ship about to be destroyed, its crew beamed aboard Voyager and a Seven of Nine attacked in sickbay. I wish more Voyager episodes had this kind of succinctness. 

The premise of Voyager being the temporary prison to a number of convicted prisoners that are due to be executed is a strong one, and one where you can immediately see the chance to indulge in the kind of moral debate that Star Trek excels at. Janeway is discomforted by the idea of taking eight men to their deaths but (as ever) sticks by the Prime Directive. Seven is objective about the situation (she doesn’t understand why they would save the life of somebody who is going to be executed) and the Doctor finds the murder of criminals to be barbaric. The ‘favour the victims’ justice system that allows the family of the man murdered to choose what happens to the perpetrator of the crime is barbaric. How could they walk away with anything but a death sentence?

Character – Good grief, an episode that gives Neelix something to do that isn’t perving over his underage girlfriend or forcing the crew to indulge in their culture. This is an ideal use of this character who used to be a bit of a rogue in the past and probably saw the inside of a prison cell or two himself. He’s empathetic and sweet, refusing to accept that somebody is simply good or evil. He knows that there is a story for each of these prisoners and he takes the time to talk to them and try and find out what it is. I really like the scene at the climax where Neelix realises that he has been had and confronts the man he thought he was trying to help. Neelix stops short of saying he is disgusted but it is written all over his face. His empathy was exploited.

Performance – Jeff Kober often plays these disreputable types in television shows and he does a fine job of bringing an element of ambiguity to Iko who often comes across as a psychopath but the episode takes the time to peel away layers and find that things are far more complicated than that. He makes the transition from cold killer to repentant victim swiftly and believably. It must be the kind of acting gig that most actors cry out for, one that really allows them to show their range.

FJ Rio (who has already played a very memorable role on DS9 as Muniz) has a harder job because he is a playing the victim of an unfair legal system. I really liked how he refused to play the part in an obvious way. This is a man who has been hardered by prison life, even if he was innocent and he still seems quite distrustful.

Production – The cells that they create to house the prisoners on Voyager are surprisingly cramped and ugly. It genuinely feels like a prison and the scenes that take place there are harshly lit and unpleasant to look at. For Voyager this is a huge step in a new direction because this show often likes to look pretty and stylish. I could have done with a lot more of this kind of thing – think The Chute.

Best moment – I love it when Janeway gets angry. There’s always fireworks to be had and I don’t think Kate Mulgrew has given a performance quite this passionate for some time.

The conversation between Neelix, Torres and Paris in the mess hall is far more subtle that you might think. Neelix has been investigating the felonious situation and is convinced that the Bantakans are being unfairly mistreated by a system that is convinced they are all criminals. It’s Torres and Paris’ reactions that compel me, because they are happy to believe in the word of law and to accept the ‘truth’ of the situation. As long as it doesn’t affect them, they are happy to overlook the fact that man have been unlawfully convicted. They’re us. It’s easy to judge from afar and dismiss the fate of men that the law has decided are criminals. Using Neelix as an advocate for justice is quite frankly the best use of him in years.

Worst moment – The unfortunate action sequence. That’s Voyager not trusting its audience to watch an issue show and be engaged with the ideas and performance alone. This isn’t an episode of Prison Break, it’s Star Trek.

I wish they hadn’t done that – The nanoprobes are once again being used a s a catch-all plot device. It might be an interesting avenue if it hasn’t been used ad nauseum before.

There’s an interesting angle that this episode takes at the 11th hour regarding Seven fighting for Iko because she is trying make amends for the crimes that she committed as a Borg. It’s beautifully played and well written but it adds another element to the mix of this episode and it is one too many. If that was what this episode was supposed to be about then they should have found a way to explore it much sooner. Personally, I would have given this episode over to Neelix and his investigations and as a exploration of his past, because Seven has been explored to death at this point. Like I said this isn’t bad material (quite the opposite) but it is a very obvious route to go down.

A reason to watch this episode again – It’s a shame that Repentance doesn’t get more attention because it is exactly the sort of episode I would have liked Voyager to have done more of during its run time. A powerful little story featuring Trek morality, and one that allows us to look at the journey home in a completely different way (turning the ship into a prison for prisoners on death row). How interesting would it have been if this had taken place during season four or five and the prisoners had been forced to stay on the ship for the rest of the shows run? The direction and design are surprisingly brutal for Voyager but that doesn’t surprise me with Mike Vejar at the helm. I’m not sure that Repentance is especially likable (which is probably why most people have chosen to forget about it) but it is thoughtful and it has some interesting things to say about capital punishment. Pleasingly it doesn’t force an opinion down the viewers throat, it presents all of the characters and the situation they are in, shows us the different crews’ reactions and then asks you to decide for yourself. I’ve heard the complaint that because this episode puts its premise through a fantasy lens (of course it does, it’s sci-fi) that it guts the situation of reality but you could aim that at pretty much any Star Trek episode (does Far Beyond the Stars becomes any less powerful when it is revealed that it is merely a false vision delivered to Sisko from the Prophets?). The subject matter is dark enough and the morality is ambiguous that this could have been a DS9 episode and I cannot think of a higher compliment. Excellent scenes for Neelix, Seven and Janeway.

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

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Nimon Be Praised! (Plus One) Discuss The TV Movie (and The Caves of Androzani!)

Two new podcasts this week and one with an exciting new guest star - the creator of our memorable and striking artwork, Kayla! 

Jack & Joe are back! This week they are discussing an undisputed classic...or perhaps they are about to dispute that? Is Nicola Bryant a little too good in the role of the sexually targeted victim? Is this the best directed Doctor Who story? Are there any redeemable characters here? And should this be going out at teatime? All this and a trailer for the next four episodes...featuring guest stars!

Join Jack, Joe and special guest star Kayla (creator of the podcast artwork) as they head to San Fransisco 1999 for the start of Paul McGann’s prolific reign as the Doctor. Just who was the most vital minor character? How camp can Eric Roberts go? Is this a movie or a pilot? All this and so much more laughter and high jinks.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

ENT - Shockwave Part II

Plot – If your standard Trek involves time travel, action on a spaceship, future history and a philosophical speech from the Captain then Shockwave Part II ticks all of the boxes. The trouble is all of those things have been done better elsewhere. For time travel, check out Relativity or Trials and Tribble-ations. For ship bound action watch The Killing Game or Basics. And I’m sure we’ve all got out favourite moments when a Captain makes a speech and I’m willing to bet that not many would cite this episode as theirs (prove me wrong). Shockwave Part I dared to suggest a huge shake up for this show; real consequences to their adventuring and the possibility that their work would end in the destruction of humanity. Shockwave Part II undoes all of that and allows them to go on their merry way as if none of it ever happened. Definitely standard Berman Trek. 

Character – There’s a great moment in the cold open where all the emotional men are getting ready to attack the Suliban, T’Pol calmly orders all of their preparations cancelled because there are 30 armed vessels targeting their warp core. She doesn’t have all the answers but she is coolly in control of the situation whereas her fellow officers are ready to fight and get killed. I shouldn’t take every moment of positive female representation and compare it to the archaic treatment of women in 60s Trek (or even late 80s Trek) but the truth is these scenes simply would not take place on TOS and that is something to be celebrated. Perhaps Kirk would learn something if Uhura asserted herself every now and again. I don’t think T’Pol is the most progressive female character in Trek (for me that would come down to Kira or Dax) but the fact that her authority is without question means that Trek is absolutely where it needs to be when it comes to a fair and balanced representation of the genders…

…and then Hoshi loses her shirt crawling through the bowels of Enterprise and ends up in Reed’s quarters flashing her chest. And then there is a scene where T’Pol is screaming ‘no!’ and requires Trip and Reed to save her. Oh man it was going so well.

Do we ever find out who Daniels is? He seems to be a character that pops up in all the wrong moments to deliver mysterious exposition (does that even make sense?) or a suspenseful portent of the future but when it comes down to the nuts of bolts of who he is as a person, I am at a complete loss. The performance is fine, but the context of where he is really from, who he represents and the life that he leads away from all these temporal shenanigans is absent. As such I find it hard to care about him, given he is a plot device rather than a living, breathing person.

Performance – I can’t get behind Archer at the climax because whilst he is explaining the virtues of humanity to the Vulcans, Bakula comes across as being utterly smug and superior. The trouble is so do the Vulcans. It’s a smug-off.

Production – Kudos to the impressive shots of Archer and Daniels heading into the ruined library on the devastated Earth. It’s not quite perfect - because Archer looks like he has been superimposed onto a cartoon when they head inside – but it is an ambitious attempt to add some real scope to the production.

Best moment – Archer, standing in a library in the far future, with books that could tell him all about the future of the Quadrant that he helped to set up.

T’Pol standing up for humanity at the climax. The one positive development to come out of the first season.

Worst moment – The faux tension that is ramped up between Starfleet HQ and the Vulcans because of Archer’s disappearance and the Enterprise’s failure to return home. The assumption is made that T’Pol has been kidnapped, which is so ridiculous and unlikely and seems put in just to cause diplomatic tension. These scenes lack the sort of dynamism and vivid characters that are needed to bring them alive. The actors are giving it their best but it just feels like hot air and empty words. The conclusion of this episode that sees the Vulcan’s continue their vendetta against Enterprise and their wish for it to be recalled, showing that nothing has been achieved and that there is still this interminable tension to be resolved. Honestly, the human/Vulcan rivalry on this show is the one thing that really turns me off from it. It brings out the worst in the human characters and it makes the Vulcans look petty and argumentative for the sake of it. It is lose/lose. ‘You’re pathetic!’ yells Trip at Sauval, which should have earned him a court martial.

I wish they hadn’t done that – The Suliban were never going to be the greatest threat to the Trek universe but it is here where their fate as an ineffectual villainous race is cemented when they outnumber Enterprise 30 to 1 and yet despite their numbers on the ship still manage to be tricked and defeated.

A reason to watch this episode again – So you watched Enterprise series and weren’t particularly impressed…or you were very impressed (although the general reaction does seem to have been the former) and now we have arrived at season two where the show has a chance to show deliver a more focussed, confident version of itself. TOS did it with Amok Time. TNG had The Child, which whilst having a terrible plot added some stylish new elements to TNG that helped push it in the right direction. DS9 scored a massive hit with the political thriller The Homecoming. VOY (of course) disappointed with the dreary episode The 37s but you can see that the writers are trying to do something bold (land the ship and ask the crew if they want to stay on this planet). How does Enterprise fare in the second season opener stakes? They should have started by getting rid of that dreadful theme song, which was universally loathed. Perhaps that was a sign that the producers were going to dig their heels in and suggest that their way of making this show was going to stick. Good for them, it is their show, but it has gone down in history that the first two years of Enterprise are basically the franchise with its feet stuck in cement. All the other shows attempted to grow and learn from their initial mistakes in season two and all of them (even Voyager) succeeded. Enterprise is happy to deliver more of the same. Shockwave Part Two is…okay. That’s what the show seems to be aiming for at this point. Okay. The politics on show aren’t remotely believable, but the special effects are imaginative. The regulars aren’t setting the show on fire, but the temporal jiggery pokery is intriguing. The Suliban are a dreadfully dull race, but there’s some action that perked up my attention. There’s something daring-do about watching the crew of Enterprise coming together to take over the ship, although it does feel (almost beat for beat) like similar episodes of TNG and VOY (with Berman and Braga in the hot seat that is hardly a surprise). It’s nice to know they can pull it together (the crew) when necessary. Shockwave Part I promised to be about something and to have consequences for the future, Shockwave Part II is essentially about putting all the toys back in the box neatly until they need to be brought out again, albeit with a few hints about the Federation and Archer’s role in that. It’s stock Trek, well executed but lacking true ambition. There’s plenty of action but very little of substance and absolutely no satisfying answers.

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

Thursday, 15 October 2020

DS9 – Way of the Warrior

Plot – There’s a very witty opening to Way of the Warrior that sees the promise of the season three cliffhanger fulfilled and changeling infiltrator loose on the station being hunted down by the DS9 crew.  It’s dynamically shot, acted and scored (I especially love the POV shots of dashing through corridors that most Trek shows excel at) and convinces you that their incursion into the Gamma Quadrant has caused them far more trouble than they ever suspected it would. Which leads to the brilliant, witty moment when Odo emerges as the changeling in question and O’Brien dashes up to him and shouts ‘bang, you’re dead.’ The cleverest moment is when they actually use their phaser rifles to sweep a room, convincing you that this really is an attack. Odo has something to say about that once the drill is over. Season four gets off to a smart, exciting and best of all funny start. And you can count on Quark to try and make a profit out of a practice invasion of the station.

There’s a very subtle moment where Kassidy asks Sisko what the maintenance crews are doing in the docking ring and he fobs her off with some excuse. The emphasis is on him lying, but the shrewd detail is that Kassidy is actually asking because of her secret side-line that will be revealed later in this season. Also, we don’t find out for another year but this Martok is a changeling and he cleverly convinces us that he is the real Martok but immediately slitting open his hand and exposing blood. They are insidious, these changelings.

As soon as the Klingon Bird Of Preys emerge from cloak all around the station it is clear that this is not going to be your typical DS9 adventure. Whilst the production value on this show has never been lacking, it has specialised (to this point) in mostly smaller, intimate character tales (often excellent). Suddenly we’re splashing a lot of money about and juggling entire empires and talking about the fate of the entire Alpha Quadrant. That’s something that TNG did a lot too but now there is the effort and the money to show it. Frankly I am surprised that peace between the Federation and the Klingons has lasted this long. The Federation is all diplomacy and niceties and the Klingons are as delicate as a pipe to the head. With a changeling whispering in Gowron’s ear throughout, this episode shows the dramatic steps the Klingons are willing to take to ensure the ‘safety’ of the Alpha Quadrant. When they want the De’Tapa council members you have no doubt that their plan is to execute them. What’s so fascinating is that the very thing they are trying to prevent (the changelings infiltrating the political apex of a Quadrant power) is what has led them to this conflict. And I really like the fact that we aren’t privy to that fact until season fives Apocalypse Rising.

Way of the Warrior is essentially a season long delay from what the writers originally had planned. Homefront/Paradise Lost was originally supposed to be at the end of season three with the Dominion having a stronger presence in the season during the fourth year. The men in black from Paramount put a spanner in the works and demanded Worf be added to the cast and so a Klingon themed year was put in place instead. This might be one of the few times when a Paramount edict has a positive creative choice on a series because whilst this is a diversion from the central Dominion arc, they have their grubby fingers all over this season but in a very sly way. They are entirely manipulating the Klingons into war with the Federation and attempting to weaken both so that when they come through the wormhole in force they will put up no opposition. This means the Dominion invasion doesn’t hit until season five, and leaves the final two years of the show to explore that conflict. It gives the series real structure. And all because of Michael Dorn and his pasty head.

If there was ever a scene that would convince you that this was a soft reboot (not that there is anything soft about this episode) then the revised, more stylish title sequence and music are the answer. It’s a far more up tempo theme to go with the increased exhilaration of the new season and the added detail of the maintenance crew flying towards the upper pylon in space suits thrills me every time I see it. I think the real difference between this sequence and the old one is that it feels like a hub of activity here, like they are the heart of the system. The old titles stressed that this was a lonely outpost in the middle of nowhere (I rather liked that approach too; it ties into the western theme).

It's probably not worth mentioning to Sisko that he went to war with the Klingons to save Dukat’s life in a few years from now. Definitely don’t do it in the last scene of Tears from the Prophets.

Character – It feels like everybody has stepped into season four with the enormous confidence of a show that has been running for over 75 episodes now and know that they have delivered some fantastic work. This is where that chemistry of performance really clicks into place permanently and everybody is fully formed and ready for action. It’s a terrific second pilot for DS9 in that respect, one where it feels each character is subtly re-introduced (alongside Worf who is introduced to the series) and the relationships are celebrated. Add Worf to the mix and there a completely new ingredient to the mix which ensures things don’t get too easy and likable. Who would ever want this show to get quite that relaxed? It would just be another TNG then.

O’Brien and Bashir are absolutely the best of friends now and their banter is divine. Garak and Odo are enjoying dinner together after the traumatic events of The Die is Cast. Kira and Dax are chilling out in the holosuites together. Quark and Worf get off on the wrong foot immediately, which leads to some marvellous scenes down the line. Kira punches Lancelot in his Keep because he was making sexual advances towards her. Dax undresses Worf with her eyes on their first meeting and when they go one on one in a fighting programme and Worf says it would not be a fair match, Dax responds ‘I’ll go easy on you.’ Worf and Odo get off to a spiky start and things always stay that way, that’s their friendship but you can tell they have enormous respect for each other too. The whole sequence of Sisko asking Garak to take his measurements whilst talking to his crew about the Klingons intentions to assassinate the De’Tapa Council. Bashir shows his teeth when insisting on a blood screening for Garak. There’s stunning things happening with this cast of characters. It’s a real portmanteau of talent (both in writing and performance).

Worf enters the series and one of the first things out of his mouth in a solemn tone is ‘I’m no longer sure I belong in this uniform.’ I bet he’s great fun at a party. In truth he brings a great deal to the show once he settles in, and the show brings great things out of him. It’s a good place for him to step on board with the Enterprise recently destroyed in Generations and having nowhere to hang his Bat’leth up. At this point he is a sweet, honourable man who lives by the rules and is a fine product of Picard’s command. By the end of DS9 he will have married, assassinated the head of Klingon Empire, been menaced by a Tribble and fallen under far too many tables drunk with O’Brien. That’s the influence of Sisko’s command. Worf is offered the chance to rejoin the Klingons on their mad rampage of the Quadrant and he understandably refuses but it is essentially his last chance to make good with his people and the point where all ties are effectively cut. We later discover that Worf is intimidated by Sisko, which makes every scene with him a gem. Sisko has effectively got him by the balls for four years.

Does any episode of Star Trek automatically improve with the appearance of Dukat and Garak? One a slimy, politically strident war criminal, the other a plain, simple assassin…I mean tailor. In their individual scenes they are captivating, but once they are put together when the Klingons invade the station make my heart sing with joy. Characters are rarely this exciting and fun in Star Trek: ‘I find this hand to hand combat really quite distasteful!’ ‘I suppose you prefer the simplicity of an interrogation chamber?’ ‘You have to admit, it’s much more civilised!’ You can add JG Heztler to that list of incredible secondary characters on this show; his debut as Martok (or is it?) shine like Taballian diamonds. Anyone who can chew the scene so wonderfully through those teeth gets my vote. Okay, let’s also include Robert O’Reilly and his mad staring Ohica eyes as Gowron.

Performance – Avery Brooks has shaved off his hair finally and looks positively radiant at the head of the series; dazzling us all with his diplomatic skill, his romantic prowess and his effortless friendships with his crew. He’s dazzlingly charismatic here, when he smiles at Kassidy Yates (how refreshing that a Captain is allowed to have a relationship) I go weak at the knees.

Great Dialogue – ‘Actually I’m not sure Constable Odo has a mother’ and ‘Well let me guess…you’re either lost or desperately searching for a new tailor.’ Why does Garak always get all the best lines? He has his list of injuries inflicted by the Klingons read out and replies ‘Ah, but I got off several cutting remarks that no doubt did serious damage to their egos.’‘Nice hat.’‘It’s vile!’ ‘I know, it’s so bubbly and cloying and happy’ ‘Just like the Federation’ ‘But you know what’s really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it’ ‘It’s insidious’ ‘Just like the Federation’ – One of the best scenes in all of Star Trek. I could quote the whole thing here. For the record, I agree with every word they say.‘If the Klingons try to get through these doors, I’ll be ready for them’ “Dear Quark, I used parts of your disruptor to fix the replicators. Will return them soon, Rom” ‘I will kill him!’ ‘With what?’

Production – It’s fascinating to read that James L. Conway was on the possible list for directing First Contact and so wanted to go all out on this episode to prove that he could do it. Exactly like Jonathan Frakes did on Past Tense Part II. We’re lucky on DS9, with all these directors trying to prove their cinematic capability, the series benefitted from a massive step up in quality as far as direction was concerned. Suddenly we’re making mini movies every other week as the rest of the directing pool pull their socks up and try and keep up.

Best moment – Every time the Defiant opens fire I get a bit hot under the collar. When the station reveals its weapons and starts lobbing torpedoes at the Klingon fleet, I’m practically cumming. The POV shots of the torpedoes tearing through the Klingon hulls…I’m just going to go away for a minute. As far as Trek is concerned, this is action porn. It’s energetic, chaotic, surprisingly beautiful in parts and startlingly well directed. The scene that transitions from the man being shot with a disrupter bolt and falling down to the lower level of the Promenade to the action on that level is stunning.

Worst moment – I used to hate the scene where Dax and Kira are forced into bikins in the holosuite because I felt that it spoilt their image as strong, military women. That was me being young and naïve and completely accepting gender stereotypes (that you have to be overtly masculine or feminine rather than exploring both) and now I rather like this scene because it sees Kira trying to relax and have fun with Dax and the pair of them forge a stronger friendship. It is spoilt by Kira being a sourpuss but it is a lovely moment of growth between them. I really like the fact that Kira apologises and tries to get in the spirit of things. Season one Kira wouldn’t have even stepped inside a holosuite.

There’s one moment that doesn’t quite hit the mark – when they discover the wreckage of the ships attacked by the Klingons. It’s attempting to hit the same beat as a similar scene in The Best of Both Worlds Part II but doesn’t quite make it.

I wish they hadn’t done that – Whilst there is nothing subtle about Quark’s make up job, this is probably the least convincing of all of his masks. It’s the make-up, it feels a little overdone. And as much as I hate to lump the beautiful Nana Visitor into the same section as Ferengi aesthetics, this is my least favourite look of hers too. She’s still gorgeous, but they have shussed up her hair to make it look like she’s about to appear in a shampoo commercial and poured her into a slinky leotard. It looks like they are trying to sex her up and make her more mumsie at the same time. Pretty much every new look she gets after this season is a huge improvement.

A reason to watch this episode again – Deep Space Nine: The Movie but about a million times better than that probably would have been. This is a hugely ambitious retooling of the show to break into the homes of the mainstream Trek audience including all out war with the Klingons, bringing Worf on board the station, highlighting fan favourites Garak and Dukat, outstanding special effects and what appears to be a seismic shift in the Alpha Quadrant. The only reason to not watch this episode is if you don’t want to watch fantastic telly…and you lot can go hide in a corner and play Jacks. There’s a confidence to this production that DS9 probably hasn’t earned when it comes to its reception but it has definitely has earned when it comes to the work they have produced previous to this season. The characters have been stewing for three years, well explored and the foundations of the series have been laid out and all are ready to be elevated with a little more money and ton of extra self-assurance. The result is a blindingly entertaining piece of television. I don’t even like the Klingons particularly (although the Klingon episodes were probably the best of TNG) but watching them get their knickers in a twist under the thrall of a Dominion in their ranks is just too delicious. The entire cast is on fire here but with special mention to Avery Brooks who has suddenly burst into life in a dangerous way. He’s an actor I can never take my eyes off because I never know where he is going to take his performance or how far he will dare to go but in Way of the Warrior he is pitch perfect throughout. Find me a performance by Shatner, Stewart or Mulgrew more romantic and passionate as Brooks here. He’s always been the most human of the Captain’s and that’s why I love him. Huge kudos to director James L. Conway, who is convinced he is shooting a movie and the final fifteen minutes is non-stop action. I’ve watched back that sequence of photons, phasers, hand to hand and witticisms more times than I care to remember. This is television gold as far as I am concerned.

***** out of *****

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

TNG – The Perfect Mate

Plot – I don’t like the idea of any woman being treated as a slave to a man’s desires, but this episode delves into the concept with a fair amount of depth to make the concept worth exploring. The interesting thing is how TNG approaches this idea (with Picard falling for Kamala but resisting the idea that she should be built to please him) compared to how TOS would have handled the concept (which would have been for Kamala to be an avatar to Captain Kirk’s every sexual desire until she is no longer needed). The fact that there is even discussion over the ethics of what Kamala represents shows how far TNG has come in terms of gender representation.

Character – ‘Escort our Ferengi guests to quarters…not too close to mine’ says Riker at the beginning of the episode, outwardly racist towards another species in public. It’s strange how DS9 is known to be the wild child of the Star Trek universe and yet when it comes to overt casual racism I think TNG is far more guilty. Maybe it is highlighted more shockingly because most of the time this crew heads around the galaxy claiming to be culturally superior. Really, Picard should have chewed him out for this but instead he seems to participate in it too. His face when Kamala comes out of the egg is something akin to lechery, too. I struggle with this character sometimes. Perhaps because I’m cannot empathise with his Alpha male tendencies. Why would anybody give a woman who has been designed to please men to Riker to look after? The second they are alone and she makes a beeline for him he is snogging her face off. Surely when this woman has been promised as a diplomatic gift to somebody it is dangerous to play about with her beforehand? Riker’s brains are in his pants most of the time so I’m sure ambassadorial courtesy never even came to mind. ‘I make it a policy to never open another mans gift’ he says, after he has let her stimulate him for some time.

Picard’s struggle to remain professional and not give into his feelings for Kamala is very well played by Patrick Stewart (as you would expect). In some ways I wish Picard would throw caution to the wind and take his chances – it would have been fascinating to watch the Captain have a romance for the last two seasons of the show (it worked wonders for Sisko). There isn’t much suspense when you know that Picard is devoted to his work and would never sacrifice that for a relationship. But watching the conflict reveals new shades of his character.

Performance – I realise that it might not exactly be the highlight of anyone’s career to play a transporter attendant but is there any reason why the woman manning that post in the cold open sounds like she is struggling to stay awake?

Framke Jansen has a difficult role to play in that she needs to shed her skin several times throughout the episode and play different versions of herself depending on who she is talking to. I thought the differences to her performance when she was talking to Riker and Picard weren’t particular pronounced by once she entered Ten Forward and started flirting with the rowdy guys propping up the bar I could see the character was in very safe hands. It’s an impressive turn for a single episode.

Hilarious Dialogue – ‘How can you deliver her like a courier into a life of prostitution?’ comes from Dr Bev! I think this entire scene, whilst interesting from a conceptual standpoint, gives Beverley dialogue that is far too on the nose and over the top (‘That slave trader you call an Ambassador!’). The argument loses its wind when your spokesperson for liberation is indulging in hyperbole.

Production – There’s an astonishing moment that could only come from an episode of science fiction where Picard, Geordi and visiting representative of the week walk the corridors of the Enterprise and into the holodeck and into a completely new environment. I know this is simply a matter of putting the two sets next to each other with the holodeck doors in between but it still has a wonderfully disorienting effect to go from one vastly technological environment to a far more natural and sedate one. Bravo.

I wish they hadn’t done that – To expose how TNG and DS9 treated the Ferengi differently you only have to look at this episode. And I won’t take any of the flubber about DS9 coming after TNG because there was a point where the two shows were running concurrently and this episode comes four years after their original appearance in TNG. They should have learnt from their own mistakes by this point and be attempting to give the species some level of depth and sophistication instead of continuing to treat them like one dimensional cartoon characters. The fact that Max Grodenchik played Rom in DS9, a genuinely awesome character who saw incredible growth over seven years (at one point he actually saves the Alpha Quadrant from being invaded by the Dominion at one point) and also plays one of the Ferengi in this episode (an excitable, unmemorable little worm who is only out for profit) is very telling. The first ten minutes are tainted by the Ferengi and their ridiculous antics.

A reason to watch this episode again – A very strange episode that made me feel pleased (that gender representation is being given a more balanced view on TNG), awkward (Riker’s behaviour in particular), uncomfortable (Beverley’s weird tirade in the middle of the episode that makes some pertinent points, really badly) and irritated (the Ferengi). It’s a middling TNG effort because it doesn’t quite feel like it knows what it is trying to say. Picard makes a bid to let this ‘slave’ roam free on the ship but immediately changes his mind when the Ambassador’s claims that she would be disruptive are accurate. The trouble with these romances of the week is that unless the couple has incredible chemistry (think Dax and Lenara in Rejoined) or the episode has something powerful to say (again Rejoined) then they wind up feeling quite disposable. The best parts of this episode – and often the best part of any TNG episode – centre on Picard, his loneliness and need for company, and how torn he is between finding Kamala agreeable company and resisting her because of what she is. It’s a sleeper episode and with a little more focus and drive it might have been a knockout. It is sensitively performed by the two leads, but the extraneous and distracting material surrounding them gets in the way.

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

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