Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Why I love Doctor Who...

I love Doctor Who. Hardly an original statement but it’s true. There are so many reasons to love the show; the fantastic cast of characters, the vast engine of diverse storytelling, the multitude of locations, the great monsters, the performances, the music…so many reasons. But I think the reason why Doctor Who inches out my other favourites (Star Trek DS9, The West Wing, any number of BBC comedies) is its sheer balls. It’s ability to go one step further than any other show, to take an absurd idea and make it work or to take an absurd idea and make it flop in spectacular style. Doctor Who has more brio, more confidence than any other show on television and here are just a number of reasons why…

Hartnell’s stuff is where it all begins so this is where the ground rules are set and yet this is one of the most diverse and experimental periods in the shows history. Look at the basic ideas driving the series – a police box that travels through time and space – what other show would dare take something so profoundly absurd and make it work this well? The Web Planet pits a race of giant ants against a race of giant moths! The Daleks’ Masterplan is a 12 part epic that mixes alien planets, Earth in the future, Z Cars, a cricket match, a confrontation with Peter Butterworth, lots of Daleks and the death of two companions…there was no end to the ambition! Who else would attempt a studio bound western (The Gunfighters) and make it a hilariously funny singalong comedy? It doesn’t get any less mad with Troughton. Daleks glide through a Victorian house (Evil of the Daleks), Yetis menace the London Underground (The Web of Fear) and the Doctor leaps into a world of fiction, a world of giant toy soldiers, Gulliver and Rapunzel (The Mind Robber). Not only do these three stories pull off these blatantly insane concepts but they produce some stunning drama in the bargain. Go figure.

Who else but Doctor Who would take such a malleable concept and suddenly change the entire direction of their show and exile their main character to one planet? Or spend four episodes indulging in Star Trek style Mirror Mirror fascist duplicates of the regular characters and flesh them out into likable creations and then blow their world up and show their horrific deaths (Inferno?). Making the ultimate evil a representative of God (The Daemons)? Show the destruction of Atlantis just four years after it had already been depicted, somehow making it even more goofy than the first attempt (The Time Monster). Who else would dare to poke fun at themselves so hilariously than Carnival of Monsters with great lines such as ‘They’re great favourites with the children!’ when talking about the monsters. No other show would build an entire story around evacuating London due to a plague of dinosaurs popping into existence and fudge the special effects so spectacularly (Invasion of the Dinosaurs).

Doctor Who indulged in arcs long before it ever became famous to do so, seasons twelve and sixteen sees a 24 and 26 episode epic respectively. The Key to Time season brilliantly flaunts its premise in the first story and spends the next four stories quietly pretending to forget its quest story and wrapping up its contribution in a couple of minutes at the beginning (Androids of Tara) or end (The Stones of Blood) of each story! Who else but Doctor Who would spend three seasons so shamelessly pillaging from the horror genre, telling a pastiche of everything from Frankenstein (The Brain of Morbius) to Day of the Triffids (The Seeds of Doom) with a touch of The Manchurian Candidate (The Deadly Assassin) and Asimov (The Robots of Death) and somehow pulling them off better than the originals! Only Doctor Who would spend two hours setting up the main plot of a story and then have the Sonatarans storming Gallifrey at the end of episode four of The Invasion of Time. Or have an alien being push the creation of the human race on so he can have several Mona Lisa’s painted and make a fortune selling them secretly so he can make time travel equipment and head back in time and save his race and wipe out the human race in the bargain (City of Death)! No other show would have the audacity to write out a team as glorious as the fourth Doctor, Romana and K.9 and replace them with Peter Davison, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa…and increase its audience figures!

Imagine facing the daunting task of having to kill off the most annoying companion of all time…only Doctor Who would have him trapped on a cyber-enhanced spaceship heading towards prehistoric Earth and have him wipe out the dinosaurs (Earthshock)! Imagine attempting to visualise a Concorde landing in prehistoric Earth on the budget of a soap opera (Time-Flight)! Constantly innovating, season 20 introduced a homicidal companion trying to murder the Doctor as soon as his back is turned. What other show would wipe out its entire guest cast in a massacre that makes Reservoir Dogs look coy in comparison (Resurrection of the Daleks). What about the horror moments in season 22, the acid bath scene, Lytton having his hands crushed, the Doctor being pursued by a slavering cannibal through the Seville countryside, Davros having his hand shot off. No other show in such creative and reputable strive would produce Trial of a Timelord, a really bad, confused mess of a story that somehow, somehow manages to be utterly wonderful at the same time.

What other show could schedule something as deliriously embarrassing as Time and the Rani and not lose all of its audience? Who else would proudly display the Kandyman during its biggest audience crisis (The Happiness Patrol)? What other show could pull such a surprising rabbit out of their hat and produce such a wonderful last classic season, full of genuine character development and delicious horror? What about sending Paul McGann to the US get him to snog a woman and wander about looking for a plot for over an hour and somehow not make it suck (The TV Movie)?

Who else could humanise the ultimate villain and win over a whole new audience (Dalek)? Captain Jack Harkness was introduced as the first openly gay character in the show, somehow beating Star Trek to the idea despite that shows liberal consensus (The Empty Child). What about having an entire episode where your regulars only make a cameo (Love and Monsters). Or taking hold of a novel and committing it celluloid (Human Nature) with such passion? Telling a story with the twisted humour and scale of Utopia-Last of the Time Lords. Taking one of Britain’s most famous comedy actresses and getting her to emote heartbreakingly in the destruction of Pompeii. Producing the ultimate fanwank (The Stolen Earth) and making it the most exciting thing to ever hit our screens. Is there another show that could plunge so spectacularly into fairytale drama and indulge in such postmodern timey-wimeyness? Would they rip the soul of the Starship Enterprise, put it inside a foxy babe and tell a heartbreaking love story between her and the lead? I think not!

When the series is riding high with hot young likeable whippersnappers in the role, what other show would tear off in the other direction by casting a much older actor and give him some of the crabbiest characterisation the lead has ever had? Who else but Peter Capaldi could take such limitations and spin gold out of it? How do you bring to life a revived show that has been going for ten seasons and the audience is on the wane? Defy all expectations and cast a woman and dare to cut out all the timeywimeyness that has come to define the show and concentrate on the horrors of humanity. Rosa and Demons of the Punjab are stunning examples of why such an approach was worth taking.

What other show has such a rich and varied number of spin offs of such quality? The Big Finish range manages to produce authentic classic Doctor Who stories without images to an astonishing quality. How about taking the reviled 6th Doctor, teaming him up cuddly academic Evelyn Smythe and making him the most wonderful, colourful, charming Doctor ever. Letting Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford rip the piss out of their characters in the gloriously funny The One Doctor. The range produced The Chimes of Midnight which shows what a well written Paul McGann could have achieved and manages to be perhaps the most perfect Doctor Who story in the bargain. The series performs the quantum leap of having companion Charley Pollard abandoned by the 8th Doctor and rescued by the 6th, a truly naff concept pulled off with real verve and style. Big Finish gave us the Bernice Summerfield range, now in its tenth season with a wealth of fantastic stories to be proud of.

What other show could produce over 300 original novels, transcending the shows entertainment roots and producing something far more adult and wonderful. Timewyrm: Revelation takes us into the Doctor’s mind and shows how truly fucked up he is. Just War devastatingly has companion Bernice Summerfield tortured by the Nazi’s. Alien Bodies dares to kill off the Doctor and have him bury his own future corpse. With The Burning, the 8th Doctor range wiped away all the mistakes of the previous 3 years and transformed his character into something far more interesting, aggressive and hilarious. Adventuress on Henrietta Street tells its story in the style of a historical document. The Crooked World takes place in a world of cartoons and tells an astonishingly poignant coming of age story. The Tomorrow Windows pastiches Douglas Adams and manages to have more laughs per page than any Pratchett novel. Festival of Death tells its story backwards. Combat Rock nestles the 2nd Doctor into a story of blood soaked cannibals and makes him utterly authentic. The Indestructible Man steals from Gerry Anderson whilst telling a gripping war on terror story. And with the comics tell big, bold, epic stories with budgetless imagery and giving the eighth and ninth Doctors a wealth of new stories to enjoy.

And how about the spin offs on the telly? Who would have ever thought hiring Elisabeth Sladen to take on alien monsters with a bunch of pre-pubescents would have been the best thing ever? Who could have foreseen the series producing something as profound and heartbreaking as Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? What about Torchwood? After Russell T Davies’ mature and gripping Damaged Goods nobody guessed his take on adult Who would flop so spectacularly in its first year. And then in true Doctor Who style who saw it rising from the ashes and producing such a glorious, emotion fuelled epic in Children of the Earth?

What else but Doctor Who could do all of these things?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Project: Destiny written by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: 1999: Leaving her infant son behind, a young mother named Cassandra Schofield departs Bolton, seeking a better life amid the lights of London. 2004: Despite the best efforts of the time-travelling Doctor, 'Cassie' Schofield dies on Dartmoor, a vampirised victim of the sinister organisation called The Forge. 2021: All grown up, and a nurse at St Gart's Hospital, Thomas Hector Schofield – known as 'Hex' – meets, and becomes a companion to, that time-travelling Doctor… but remains unaware that his alien friend knew his mother, and watched her die. 1854: In the Crimean War, Hex takes a bullet, and is seriously injured. The Doctor promises to return him to St Gart's. 2025: Now. In a London ravaged by a deadly contagion… destiny awaits.

The Real McCoy: Why don’t these writers play to McCoy’s strengths? There have been over 120 main range releases now and a quarter of them have belonged to McCoy which is more than enough to judge where his strengths and weaknesses are and yet in stories such as The Dark Husband and Project Destiny (which by this point the character should have been perfected) they are still giving him the opportunity to drag a story down with hysterical dialogue, unconvincing angst and anger and lots of painful gurning (all of his low points). I remember speaking to a writer who had written for both the sixth and seventh Doctor’s and he admitted that they had deliberately given McCoy less sophisticated dialogue to say because they knew he wouldn’t be able to handle overly verbose scenes like Colin Baker could. If he could realise that than why don’t Scott and Wright do the same thing? My point is when the Doctor lacks any credibility what hope does the rest of the story have?

There are a few notes of agonised panic in the first episode where the Doctor’s concern for his friend feels very real before the hyperbole starts. When he realised who Hex was he wanted to take him with him to make things right. Why didn’t he then? And there has been ample opportunity to sit him down and have this conversation and the Doctor isn’t exactly one to shy away from awkward confrontations – so why has he waited until now to let Hex find out about his mother in the worse possible way? Frankly his overly secretive and manipulative ways have come back to bite him in the butt and he deserves everything he gets. Probably not the reaction the writers were looking for. There’s an odd growling to his voice when he is trying to comfort Helen when his lovely soft purr would have been more appropriate surely? As if Ace and Hex having constant pops at the Doctor aren’t enough, Lysandra and (naturally) Nimrod have issues with him as well! Its hard to consider the man a hero when his friends and his enemies all pulling his character to pieces. Brilliantly every time the Doctor see him he says ‘Nimrrrrod’ in a very dark burr. McCoy really goes to town when the Doctor succumbs to the virus but it sounds like he is straining a particularly nasty poo. The Doctor gets to show how clever he is by…talking telepathically with contaminants? Big woo.

Oh Wicked: Oh Ace, you are such a quandary to me. At times I think you are the best companion of all time (Ghost Light, Survival, the Settling, A Death in the Family) and at others you are the absolute worst bar none (Dragonfire, Battlefield, The Rapture, The Dark Husband). Unfortunately this is erring on the side of the latter with only a few tentative steps into the former…and after she was handled so deftly in the last trilogy too! Like McCoy, Sophie Aldred’s strengths are not histrionics and angsty dialogue (‘I didn’t know she was my muuuummm!’. ‘I don’t want anything to do with you!’) so what is the point of characterising her as such? Big Finish have learnt their lesson the hard way with this character that injecting some adult restraint into her is the best way to go (the mentor/pupil relationship with Hex in The Settling was the best we had ever seen of her on audio) and yet Project Destiny sees Ace at her most hysterical and unsophisticated since The Rapture. Its doubly annoying because I really thought we were getting somewhere with this character but as I have heard Aldred say herself recently in an interview there seems to be two schools of writers. One that still sees her character as the angst ridden child that is as volatile as her explosives and one that wants to develop her into something more refined. Fortunately Steven Hall is up next with a competent repair job for the character because as portrayed here this is not a companion I would want to pursue.

We open the story with Ace screaming her head off (‘Commmmee onnnnn!’) and the Doctor says ‘gently Ace…’ If only they had both listened to his advice. The Doctor and Ace gripe and shout at each other when she should just back the fuck away and let him save Hex’s life. Is she the younger or older version here because she seems to want to be both (leaping out of helicopters screaming ‘come one!’ smacks of the younger Ace whereas sitting by the Doctor’s bedside after he is shot reminds me of our new, improved Ace). Listen to how Sophie Aldred plays those bedside scenes though, she’s bloody screaming her head off again (‘How do you know what the Doctor wants? I bet your glad he’s in a coma! Got your revenge now!’) when a quieter approach would have been so much more effective. Seriously listen to the scene and play it over again in your head with her saying those lines with a quietly restrained anger. Its what makes the difference between melodrama and drama.

Sexy Scouse: Pity poor Philip Olivier who is a fantastic actor (and utterly lickable to boot) but is more often than not saddled with some pretty lame writing which fails to exploit his talents. I always hoped that one day they would deal with Cassie and Hex's relationship but I never in a million years thought it would be handled this badly. Olivier struggles with a script that tries to take the character on a complete 180 degree turn from the Doctor’s friend to a potential enemy but by doing so it guts the character of any realism (which has always been his raison d’etre) and esteem. He finds out some tragic news in Project Destiny and it would give anybody pause to consider their relationship with the Doctor but like so much of what is on offer in this story it is lacking any subtlety and so rather than talk this thing through he suddenly decides he hates the Doctor and Ace and his whole life with them has been a lie. None of it rings true after what they have been through together and frankly Hex sounds pathetic saying lines like ‘You know what Ace I can’t believe I used to like you!’ Its such awkward, unworkable reaction that lacks any believability that I was scratching my head at what I was hearing. I didn’t want them to be a happy family again at the end of the story because they have proven to be utterly dysfunctional in all the worse ways at the slightest provocation. It’s a shocking handling of one Big Finish’s best original companions and his actions in the climax where he attempts to bring his mother back to life with a drop of his own blood are the final nail in the coffin. By reserving the emotional fallout of the revelations about Hex's mother for A Death in the Family it guts this story of any drama and instead his reaction just becomes an appalling soap opera response – hysteria and storming out of rooms. Abysmal.

At least Hex questions the morality of them working for an organisation like the Forge. Having him caring so affectionately for the Doctor at the beginning of episode three has the unfortunate effect of making his complete change of heart come the end of the episode (pulling a gun on him!) seem even more unrealistic. Its such a radical shift in character in such a short space of time its hilarious and you might just get schizophrenic whiplash. He also shows a shocking naiveté to go from considering Nimrod and his organisation sinister to suddenly believing every word that he says (especially when it is exaggerated guff like ‘she was like the daughter I never had! I blame myself!’). If I were in Hex’s shoes I too would be angry and hurt but I certainly wouldn’t suddenly become an absolute emotional wreck in about three seconds – that sort of thing only happens in (bad) melodramas. He knows that the Doctor has been infected and yet accuses him of putting on a silly voice when it comes to having a conversation about his mother – has he suddenly become really stupid? Olivier sounds a little embarrassed himself during the scene in the Rabbit where he pretends it’s a normal Friday night drinking session. After his portrayal here I wasn’t that sad to see Hex leave at the end – again that probably isn’t the effect they were hoping for. I reckon Olivier must have been horrified when he read this script but then he did play a horny, hunky gay teacher in Hollyoaks in the City so I guess it isn’t the most ridiculous material he has ever played.

Naughty Nimrod: In his third story now, surely Steven Chance’s villain is deserving of his own little section? Although similarly lacking any subtlety like the regulars there is still a lot of charm about this silky voiced villain that shines through. It is a genuine relief when Nimrod turns up because finally there is a performer who is trying to underplay his role to bring some menace to the story. One of the few successful innovations that Project Destiny brings to the trilogy is Abberton having made the Forge a public organisation working for the people. I would have loved to have explored that some more. Spin Doctors can do anything these days and he has received a knighthood for his services to the people! Nimrod purring around Hex in the second episode is about as tense as this story gets. When Nimrod attacks the Doctor and explains how he was disgraced after his last appearance and that he had to build up the reputation of the Forge from scratch it was the one character beat that really worked for me. Unfortunately once Nimrod drops his deceptively caring persona he becomes another tedious pantomime villain with lines like ‘I will survive! I always survive!’ Such a waste.

Standout Performance: Stephen Chance is the only person who comes out of this story with his dignity intact. That’s some acting.

Great Ideas: The Doctor landing in London that is deathly quiet in the middle of the day has been exploited before (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Web of Fear & Invasion of the Dinosaurs) but its such an instantly gripping notion it doesn’t really matter. I don’t know if I mentioned this before but calling the Doctor ‘Lazarus’ because of his ability to come back from the dead is a touch of genius. I really like the idea of the Doctor paying for what he would go on to do in Project Lazarus. Wowza, the cliffhanger of a Time Lord in the vaults is more interesting than anything we have seen in this story and bodes well for A Death in the Family.

Audio Landscape: Guns cocking, a squeaking trolley, a chopper, sonic screwdriver, tracker, crashing down the hospital corridor, heart monitor, the voice modulation of the infected character is pretty scary, Helen going all gooey, helicopter blades rattling, Hex breaking into the rabbit, siren, heartbeat, the exploding building, rubble falling, car alarms sounding.

Musical Cues: As bombastic as the plot but it knows when to calm down.

Isn’t it Odd: The flashbacks to The Angel of Scutari are necessary at the beginning to get the audience up to speed with where Hex is at the beginning of this adventure but it has the adverse effect of being the best thing about the entire story. There’s a scene about nine minutes in where it sounds as though Ace is having strenuous sex and with no explanation for all I know that is exactly what she has stopped off to do in the middle of this emergency. Either it’s a little love note to Jon Pertwee’s mistake in The Green Death or its just another goof but the Doctor says ‘chitinous’ with a ‘shit’ rather than a ‘kite’ in episode one. Oddly Ingrid Oliver is more convincing as a robotic voice than she is as an actual character. I wasn’t sure why we were supposed to be interested in the transformed humans in this story because we aren’t asked to connect with it on an emotional level (unlike Twilight which gave us a tragic victim in Cassie). They talk about the science of changing into one of these monsters which is very boring and we go hunting for them (one bloke going ‘it hurts…it really hurts!’ doesn’t have the sympathy factor because we don’t know this fella from Adam) which lacks excitement but we are never asked to care about them so this plotline is utterly unengaging. I guess the saving grace is supposed to be when the Doctor transforms but with everybody slagging him off and an agonisingly bad performance from McCoy (channelling Unregenerate which had similar gurning and madness) that’s pretty hard to invest in as well. Why the hell shouldn’t Nimrod talk to Hex about his mother? If the Doctor wanted it done in a more appropriate way he should be such a manipulative git! What kind of an idiot uses himself as an incubator for a virus that has proven to be deadly? Has the Doctor gone insane? ‘We don’t have time for this!’ the Doctor screams about the discussion between him and Hex about Cassie…what the hell? Wasting such dramatic possibilities to concentrate on this throwaway contaminants plot? And then the scene where he explains that she is a vampire happens ‘off screen’! Ace shot the Doctor to make Hex realise what he was doing? I’m glad she’s not my friend! Hex just happens to chance upon somebody who once worked at the Forge, has heard about his mother and leaks the information that her remains are in the vault? They’re taking the piss surely? Nimrod is brought down because Lysandra changed one of the codes? How embarrassing for him. What’s even more embarrassing is the fact that she has a complete change of heart about the Doctor for no good reason – its as bad as Hex’s transformation the other and just inexplicable. The Doctor escapes the destructive climax…by beaming out. Hmm…

File Under Subtlety, Lack Of: This is one time where I am going to drone on so much about the overblown nature of a story that it definitely deserves its own section. The guard who recognises the police box because his granddad was a copper back in the 1960s make this blinding revelation and then gets forgotten about. Spare me the melodrama of the lesbian nurse whose lover was dragged from her home and who now forages about in the hospital like a rodent screaming like a harridan! I couldn’t make this stuff up! Ingrid Oliver’s screaming was when I popped my first painkiller (‘You liiieddd to me!’). ‘Get offfff him!’ ‘Ace noooooo!’ – more shouting! ‘Doctor the heart monitor!’ ‘Oh noooo! Heexxxx!’ is the end of episode one when the Nimrod reveal would have actually been effective. There is a scene which tries to show the story from Hex’s point of view as he wakes up but its just McCoy and Aldred shouting again so it has little effect. ‘Doctor you can rant and rave as much as you like!’ – he accepts that as an invitation. One of the victims turns out to be one of Hex’s old friends, Mark but that is promptly forgotten after one scene. ‘He was still huuuuuman!’ screams Ace during the hunt. Way to drive the point home. ‘Get oooouuutttttt! I’m infffffectttteeedddd!’ – that’s the end of episode two. ‘Why has Sir William sent me down here…he wanted me out of the way, didn’t he?’ – it comes to something when the characters have to spell out the obvious plot mechanics! ‘The hive miiind calls to meeee!’ – more McCoy magic. His choking acting has to be heard to be believed. ‘I win Doctor! I always win!’ – Nimrod’s character examination in a nutshell. ‘You can’t just leaveee him!’ screams Ace as Lysandra behaves heartlessly towards her own infected men. ‘In order to break me he has broken your heart!’ – now the script is trying go all poetic but it would take a subtler actor than McCoy to make that line work. To top off these hyperactive cliffhangers though episode three has to be the winner – Hex: ‘I said out of the way, Doctor!’ Ace: ‘Hex! Nooooooo!’ (GUNSHOT) The Doctor: ‘Arggghhhhh!’ I simply do not know what to say. If that wasn’t enough you get to hear the ‘Hex noooooo!’ scene three times! ‘Get off me Dracula!’ – Ace, naturally. ‘We’re going to dieeee!’ is a Doctor line! The Doctor’s godawful speech to Cassie would be soul destroying (McCoy strains every word and wrings them clean dry of any meaning) if it wasn’t so utterly hilarious with the vampiric growls inserted in! Check out the dialogue below.

Standout Scene: The result of all this dismal shouting is that Cassie is resurrected from the dead into a growling, savage vampire. How exactly? How does one drop of blood turn a pile of ashes into a person? The conclusion sees Hex trying to reach out to this slavering beast. Its cringeworthy in the extreme and I pity poor Philip Olivier having to try and make this embarrassing material come to life. ‘Mam its me Tommy!’ ‘GGWWWRRRRRRRRR!’ ‘Mam don’t you recognise me?’ ‘RWWWWOOOARR!’ Then the Doctor gets involved… ‘Look at the man he’s become!’ ‘RWWWWWOAAAARR!’ ‘You would have seen that if Nimrod hadn’t murdered you! Seen him take his first steps! Cleaned up his knee when he fell! Felt the pain of his first heartbreak and the joy of his first day as a nurse!’ ‘RWWWWOOOAAAARRRR!’ Lets pretend it never happened.

Result: I don’t understand the logic behind the idea that shouting equals drama because in my experience it has the reverse effect. Project: Destiny (in itself a pretentious title) has so much shouting in it you might just need a Paracetamol or two before the end of the story. Although this is a script with serious problems there is so much that might have been salvaged had director Ken Bentley asked everybody to tone down their performances by a half. When it comes to realising the story Bentley is on fire (and the score is bombastic and cinematic in all the best ways) but it feels as though he has completely lost track of the actors which plummets the adventure into a hysterical soap opera. As a trilogy it follows the same pattern as most (not all) sequel stories…they get worse as they go along. Twilight was so violent and in yer face and the tone was so unlike Doctor Who that it made a decent impression. Lazarus was more experimental and didn’t quite work but there were strong ideas and a heartbreaking breakdown for Evelyn to scrape a pass. Destiny lacks the shocks of the first story or the ingenuity of the second and instead relies on the anticipation of the Hex/Cassie revelation which doesn’t even come into play until the third episode. Then they go and fudge that spectacularly and refuse to deal with the fallout so all we’re left with is a tragic hammer horror conclusion (but not a good hammer horror conclusion) and an easy get out clause. It almost feels as though Project Destiny suffers because A Death in the Family leeches all the sensitive drama that should have taken place here. It’s a noisy, hysterical, shallow piece of melodrama that promised a great deal and delivered practically nothing. It breaks my heart to admit it but it would appear that the McCoy stories (despite the odd belter) are still the weakest of the range. Three points – Nimrod is pretty good, the sound effects are effective and the music should be heard in isolation. Everything else was the pits: 3/10

Friday, 24 February 2012

Simon Guerrier Interview Extra

Simon has done such sterling work with regards to the companion chronicles of late I thought it would be a nice idea to get his perspective on them so here are a few background details from the man himself...

Was it a challenge to bring Sara Kingdom back? Where did you begin to flesh out the backstory of a character that only appeared in seven episodes on TV? What were your ambitions with her character arc across Home Truths, The Drowned World and The Guardian of the Solar System? Of the three do you have a favourite?

The hardest bit about bringing Sara Kingdom back was that she'd been killed off. Producer David Richardson explained to me that this would scupper the usual structure of the Companion Chronicles – where a companion recalls a story from their time with the Doctor, while also letting us know what they've been up to since. I said, without really thinking about it, that Sara could tell a story that explained how she was telling the story, and David liked the sound of that. So I lucked in there.

Once I'd been commissioned, I rewatched the existing episodes of The Daleks' Masterplan and listened to the others, and made notes on Sara's character. She's a tough, professional soldier, a stronger version of Avengers girls Cathy Gale and Emma Peel. But we see a different side to her when she reveals to Steven that Bret Vyon – the man she killed – was her brother. So I hung my plays on that. When I was writing the second two plays, I needed to explore her character further. The Doctor challenges everything she's held sacred – the Space Security Service, the Guardian – so I wanted to explore that. She's always been in service to other people, so what does she actually want herself?

I think Guardian of the Solar System is my favourite of the three now – mostly due to the amazing performances and sound production. But I was really nervous about it when I handed it in, since the first two plays had gone down so well.

What is it about the first Doctor’s era that thrills the audience of the companion chronicles so completely? Peter Purves’ interpretation of the Doctor is spot on – how did you as a writer try and capture this era?

I think one big appeal of the First Doctor's era is that the 'rules' of Doctor Who hadn't been worked out yet, so it maybe took more risks and pulled more surprises. I also think it helps that the Doctor wasn't quite the hero he'd become: he's a strange, slightly devious figure, and the companions aren't always sure about him. That certainly helps in a Companion Chronicle.

To get the period right, I watched the episodes again but also thought about the production team of the time might have produced my story. So The Perpetual Bond is meant to feel like an episode of The Saint or The Avengers, and with The Cold Equations, I was thinking of the close, claustrophobic feel of the first few episodes of The Sensorites.

Did you find it interesting to write for the all male crew of the first Doctor, Steven and Oliver? Did knowing the fate of the character of Oliver from the off change who you would have written for him otherwise? Would you like to write more for him? How did you approach writing for a gay companion from the sixties?

Oliver was all David Richardson's idea, and I don't think it really struck me how different an all-male team was until we were in the studio. Yes, knowing Oliver's fate let me foreground some stuff, like Steven feeling he was on borrowed time. I read up on the Stock Exchange, and David recommended the Dirk Bogarde movie Victim. I based Oliver in Perpetual Bond on a young Bogarde. I also read up on gay rights in the 60s, including testimonies from gay men who were arrested. And I talked to some gay friends about their experiences.

I'd love to work with Tom Allen (who played Oliver) again. He has a small part in my short film, Cleaning Up, and we've met up a few times since. And if I can bring Sara Kingdom back as a house, more adventures with Oliver would be a cinch.

You have also written for Ace, Zara, Liz Shaw and Zoe in the companion chronicles range? Whose voice did you find easiest to capture and whose was the most difficult?

I created Zara, so her voice was probably the hardest to find – I had to invent it. David didn't think my Liz Shaw was quite right, so I rewrote that play while watching Inferno (a lot of my work involves rewatching DVDs). I think the easiest was probably Ace. I'd written for her in The Settling, but she's also got a very distinctive way of speaking.

The Memory Cheats was an extraordinary example of narrative deception. How did you begin to assemble such a story? Will you be writing the third story in the arc?

That brief was fun. David sent me the script of John Dorney's excellent Echoes of Grey and asked me what happened next. I wanted to write a Zoe story set in history – something the TV show never did. So I looked through my bookshelves for good historical settings, and found Col Bailey's Mission to Tashkent, which I'd read a few years back. Spy stories often revolve round the reliability of evidence and witnesses, which seemed a good match for Zoe's unreliable memories. I can't tell you what happens next in Zoe's story – but I do know. Wait and see.

How different is it to write a double length companion chronicle and did you find it easier with two narrators rather than one? Will we hear anymore from the team of Steven and & Sara?

I think the hardest thing with The Anachronauts was that I'd already written a trilogy each for the two characters, so needed to find something new to say about them. I got there by listening to the audiobook of The Daleks' Masterplan novelisations, which includes a fair bit about Steven and Sara's relationship. Then the difficult thing was that I lost 7,000 words of the script – getting on for half of it – when my back-up file was corrupted. Rewriting it was really arduous.

Otherwise, I approached the story as two separate but connected stories, so that Disc Two would feel very different. I decided to let each character lead alternate episodes, mostly so I could be sure I was dividing up the story fairly.

I hope there's more from Steven and Sara, but it probably won't be by me. Time for someone else to have a go!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Beyond the Ultimate Adventure written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: A thrilling adventure in Time and Space! The Doctor, Crystal and Jason have survived monsters, Madame Delilah and Mrs T, but then their former enemy Karl calls them back to the Bar Galactica. The mercenary has a cryptic message concerning Ultima Thule, where fabled treasure and a threat to the universe await... The journey requires entering another dimension, where old enemies – and a brand new adversary – lie in wait…

Softer Six: Should the Doctor be so prevalent in a companion chronicle? Some may say not but if having the Doctor around adds to a story then why shouldn’t that be the case? And I can hardly think of a single example when Colin Baker hasn’t brought something to a Big Finish audio. When he quotes Edgar Allen Poe the story enjoys its best moment – there is something ironic about the fact that the most haunting passage comes from Poe rather than Dicks. He refers to the Time Lords as a fussy bunch of old bureaucrats! The Doctor admits that it was his fault that the Daleks hit Bar Galactica and murdered Madame Delilah – not a smart move when you are surrounded by her closest associates at her funeral! When you are walking into a trap he feels that best thing to do is spring it and see what happens and hope that you live to learn from the experience. The Doctor is the only one who can fight off the fear generating device even though the presence can understand something of his memories. He understands that treasure comes at a price and you have to understand how to earn it before you help yourself.

Standout Performance: I’m not sure if I like the sharing of the narration in such a rapid succession of voices because I got really confused as to who was talking because everybody puts a different accent on the same character. Noel Sullivan’s dreadful French accent is ever present and he leaps into each scene narrating at warp factor ten and delivery some truly memorable (for all the wrong reasons) lines such as ‘foaming oooch that only a mercenary could swallow!’ Claire Huckle’s Karl impression has to be heard to be believed.

Uncle Terry’s Greatest Hits: I went into this story under the impression that it was going to be something like the audio version of his novels The Eight Doctors and Warmonger where he pillages his own stories and cobbles together something resembling a narrative out of them. Low and behold within a few seconds Jason is mentioning Metebelies 3 the famous blue planet of the Acteon Group! He even includes a summary of The Ultimate Adventure for any of you who might not have had the pleasure (and if not…shame on you! You have been denied the pleasures of ‘Follow You!’). Jason quotes the ‘Mrs T terrifies the Doctor’ line. If you have listened to The Ultimate Adventure you could happily skip the first five minutes of this story because it is nothing but an extended recap. Its not his work he’s plagiarising here but Uncle Terry has the barefaced cheek to verbally compared the Daleks to the Nazi’s as if nobody has made that parallel before. ‘Normally the TARDIS makes a sort of wheezing groaning sound…’ – how many times can you get away with that gag? ‘It makes you look like a Yeti!’ ‘It came in very handy in Tibet…’ Walking out of the TARDIS into the swirling mists of nothingness is ripped directly from The Mind Robber. Just when you think that something original might happen as they venture out of the TARDIS we get a replay of Crystal’s first night at Bar Galactica taken from The Ultimate Adventure! Plucking fears from peoples minds and using them as a weapon is the plot device that fuelled Frontier in Space. Vampires turn up again (Dicks wrote State of Decay that introduced them and then they made an appearance just like this Blood Harvest, The Eight Doctors and World Game) – yaaaawn. Any new tricks up your sleeves, Terry? Next to turn up is a Rutan who Terry introduced us to in Horror of Fang Rock and then had fun playing about with in Shakedown the New Adventure and the BBV film. ‘Another old enemy plucked from my mind!’ says the Doctor! Hah! The Raston Warrior Robot featured on The Five Doctors and then Terry dusted it down again for The Eight Doctors and World Game. Come on – this isn’t even trying to be original, is it? This is a copy of a copy! Even Edgar Allen Poe is pillaged by the end of the story with details of his poems brought to life. The ending where the Doctor basically leaves all the hard work to the Time Lords is a perfect representation of his bold decision at the end of The War Games except here it is lazy and trite. When Terrance recounts the story of Terry Nation writing his third Dalek script after Planet and Death and how he and Barry Letts amiably told him that it was a good piece of work except he had already sold to them twice already is very apt. Beyond the Ultimate Adventure has exactly the same problem – accept the ‘good piece of work’ bit.

Great Ideas: Its shows the massive gulf between Terrance Dicks’ old school techniques and somebody like Simon Guerrier’s more sophisticated ones when the narration of this story is literally Jason and Crystal filing an audio report to the Time Lords! Its so blatant and crude in its openness from the start you almost have to admire its gall.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, mercenaries shouting and screaming, lightning, applause, lasers firing, fighting a vampire, thrusting a stake into its heart, the Vampire and Rutan voices, the Raston Warrior Robot humming.

Musical Cues: What makes a good Doctor Who theme tune? Its strange how something with a matching set of notes can produce such an astonishing variety of different themes. From the mystery of the Hartnell tune to the screaming horror of the Tom Baker one, from the electric guitar of Davison’s and the spangly nightmare of McCoy’s, from the instrumental McGann movie theme to the marching band triumph of the Tennant one – it is a theme that has seen many musicians twist, distort and play about with. The Beyond the Ultimate Adventure one might just be the worst version we have ever heard…it fails to be catchy, enjoyable, provoking or tuneful. Its just sort of there. It’s the ‘putting up wallpaper’ of theme tunes. The music for this adventure is dark and mysterious and pretty atmospheric on the whole – it is doing the work entirely on its own and isn’t backed up at all by the functional, hotchpotch script.

Isn’t it Odd: Three servings of a ‘foaming hell brew’ – that’s the sort of subtlety you can come to expect from this tale! The first episode is unacceptably lacking in interest or incident and beyond a visit to the same locations in The Ultimate Adventure and meeting and discussing the same characters from the stage play nothing of any relevance happens. Being outside all of time and space might have been exciting if we didn’t do it every other week (The Mind Robber, Warriors’ Gate, Rise of the Cybermen…). The Doctor’s plan to ask the Idelon to release the TARDIS and allow him to work on the controls alone is so lacking in any ingenuity it baffles the mind that this scene could come to light. This is the only companion chronicle where I don’t include a section to say anything about the companions because there is nothing new to be said about such gormless unknowns.

Result: Whereas I went into The Fourth Wall with absolute confidence (John Dorney, Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson) I approached Beyond the Ultimate Adventure with real caution because its contributors have hardly produced the finest works under the Big Finish banner (Terrance has been practically ignored by brought Sarah Jane back with the desperately slow Comeback and Jason Haigh-Ellery directed The Rapture with no restraint at all). Judging by this story it would appear that Terrance Dicks has nothing new to bring to Doctor Who and he is writing the equivalent of one of his appearances at a Doctor Who convention where the same old anecdotes spill out over half an hour. Once you have heard them once its funny (the original TV stories – The Five Doctors, The War Games), twice and you start to look at your watch (many of Terry’s books plunder his creative backlog of stories from Timewyrm Exodus to World Game) but when he keeps showing up in the schedules with the same old clichés it goes beyond a nostalgia trip into something almost insulting to the fans who are expected to buy something this vacuous and undemanding just because it has Dicks’ name slapped on it. Coming after such stories as The Rocket Men, The Memory Cheats and The First Wave which took at look back at their respective eras and found something dazzlingly inventive and dramatic to say beyond what was on the screen this sort of copy and paste job is found especially wanting. If you were thinking about skipping this one it is probably the best idea – there is nothing original, imaginative or worth listening to in Beyond the Ultimate Adventure and its perhaps time for Dicks to put down his pen if this is the best he can come up with. Switch off your ability to hear dialogue and just listen to the music, that’s my best advice: 1/10

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Fourth Wall written by John Dorney and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Business is bad for intergalactic media mogul Augustus Scullop, whose Trans-Gal empire is on the rocks. But, having retreated to his own private planet, Transmission, Scullop is about to gamble his fortune on a new show, made with an entirely new technology. And the name of that show… is Laser. Back in the real world, far from the realms of small screen sci-fi fantasies about monsters and aliens, the Doctor is interested only in watching Test Match cricket… but finds himself drawn into Scullop’s world when his new travelling companion, Flip, is snatched from inside the TARDIS. So, while the Doctor uncovers the terrible secret of Trans-Gal’s new tech, Flip battles to survive in a barren wilderness ruled over by the indestructible Lord Krarn and his pig-like servants, the Warmongers. And the name of that wilderness… is ‘Stevenage.’

Softer Six: I’m not sure who gets to make the most scathing remarks about the nature of melodramatic television, the Doctor or John Dorney, but they’re both bloody funny and together make a great team. How unusual for the sixth Doctor to be so interested in a game of cricket. Its nice to see some remnants of his predecessor spilling over into his current incarnation. He’s not as involved in at as he once was but you never lose the taste for it. He finds some of his other iterations astonishingly irritating! He is astounded at how many of previous companions are pre-disposed to ambulation. Its really amusing to have the Doctor knocking the astonishing technological feats of Dr Shepherd because he either has equipment like it himself or his people have been using it for more sophisticated purposes for aeons! For a moment I wondered how the Doctor could possibly be so upset about a young lady he had only just become acquainted with but it didn’t take me long to recognise that he was mourning all the lost potential of their friendship and the great times they could have had together. It actually makes their relationship more fulfilling when Flip does return to his side because the thought of having lost her makes him more determined to keep her close. He had no idea how old she was and wanted to show her the universe and he admits with a heavy sigh that he got her killed. It’s a dreadful responsibility, the way he carries death around with him and he thinks it is only a matter of time before another of his friends is sacrificed to his happy go lucky existence. The Doctor knows that he isn’t dead because he failed to cancel the milk! I don’t know if this was another sly comment but the sixth Doctor allows the hopelessly melodramatic Jack Laser beat up the Porcians because of the spanner they have thrown in the works. The way he barely batters an eyelid (and actually suggests it should go ahead) to this is almost a statement about the sixth Doctor’s much criticised violent streak (‘and the Oscar for the biggest git goes to…’). The Doctor wants to reach inside the bubble dimension and create ludicrous weapons of their own – something as insane as a sonic screwdriver perhaps? He would like to remain intact when all this over with if its all the same to you. ‘Who really is a hero in this day and age?’ he asks – something that was asked of him during his television period. He intends to look after Flip.

Flippin’ Marvellous: Could we judge the sixth Doctor and Flip’s relationship on the basis of The Curse of Davros? Not at all – the very nature of that masterwork meant that they didn’t meet in the flesh (so to speak) until the end of the very last episode which leaves a lot riding on The Fourth Wall to get their new dynamic right. Flip has received a lukewarm reception and in a way I can understand that. She is a chirpy cockney girl with no life and if you met somebody like that in real life they might annoy the hell out of you. As people have suggested she is comparable to Rose Tyler in most respects except one – Rose isn’t played by Lisa Greenwood who imbues the character with a great deal of sweetness and charm that is extremely appealing. At least to me. It strikes me that you could stick anybody in the TARDIS with Colin Baker’s effervescent sixth Doctor and it would work (and that isn’t to criticise Flip in anyway saying that) and the early scenes of popcorn and cricket prove that these two will enjoy a relaxed relationship. Its basically the sixth Doctor and Peri without all the whinging.

She considers football and bunch of idiot millionaires playing kick around in the park and finds the Doctor’s insinuation that she might be interested in footie rather than cricket class prejudice! When she realises she can watch any event in history on the time and space Visualiser (what with this and The One Doctor it would appear the sixth Doctor is getting the most value out of this delightful device!) she asks if it even picks up black and white as though that is a medium from the ancient dawn of history! Flip has a point when she mentions that day one of her time in the TARDIS featured the Daleks, Napoleon and Davros – how could day two possibly top that? I love the way she takes the piss out of his over active vocabulary – she should be grateful she isn’t turning up in a Pip’n’Jane script! A great way to impress with the new companion is to pair her up with a screaming harridan to show how hard she is (it also worked a treat in Horror of Fang Rock). Speaking as somebody who has just taken a highly enjoyable trip to Edinburgh I howled Flip’s line about climbing all the hills. Fortunately Flip is on hand to point out the flaws in the villain’s florid threats (‘how will we be able to smell our putrefying corpses if we’re dead?’). She cannot bear a continuity error and points out that the villain knows Jansey’s name without ever being told it! Flip is savvy enough to figure out that this is a fictional environment, recognising that the alien henchmen of the villain are just making up a load of sounds and pretending it is a language! Flip’s return to the story in a moment of cliché reversal couldn’t have been more triumphant if they tried (‘you just saved the universe!’). Flip chooses to watch the Doctor’s truly melodramatic performance in LASER on the Visualiser – as an actor he is dreadfully hammy! Hahaha! The Doctor asks Flip to never take risks like that again and she refuses to change who he is but agrees to be careful.

Standout Performance: With a playful script that allows the actors to luxuriate into two very different roles (except for our heroes of course) this is a great chance to see what the cast is made of. Fortunately they are more than up to the task and the awkward silences between the cast members in the first episode (clearly appalled at what they have just brought to life!) gives way to far more sympathetic portrayals as their characters become self aware and realise their true potential. My hat goes off to Martin Hutson who pulls off with rare pathos the intergalactic super villain Lord Krarn who in a few spectacular moments goes from being the least convincing baddie to one of the most touching and well realised (‘Why didn’t you write me good? I could have been happy…’). He realises with some horror that he exists not as a person but as a cancer to destroy all life across the galaxy and that makes him one of the most chilling villains of all because he understands that. Howland being beaten and murdered by the character he portrayed is a shocking moment. When Krarn has killed his performer he then has to step into his shoes to convince the Doctor he is still his ally – the character portraying the actor? I’ve just gone boss eyed!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What? Like the Death Star?’ ‘The Death Star? Hopefully nothing so ominous!’ and ‘It looks like a quarry!’ ‘That doesn’t exactly narrow it down!’ – the only story I can think of with this much clever referential dialogue is Mindwarp.
‘How does killing everyone on Earth help you towards that anyway? I can’t work out how that is a logical step in the process?’ ‘Everyone must die at my hands!’ ‘Yeah but why? You must have a reason!’ ‘Because…because…oh SHUT UP!’ – We seriously needed Flip around to question the Master in the mid eighties!
‘So they’re totally indestructible in all circumstances unless they’re hit in the face by that gentleman?’
‘They’ve stolen our intellectual property! That look is copyright!’ – it’s the Nation Estate!
‘Death isn’t entertainment!’ is a scornful line where Krarn really becomes a person in his own right. ‘If you wanted mercy you should have written me more three dimensional!’
‘The more demented and all encompassing the better!’ ‘Such as?’ ‘Why don’t we go the whole hog if you’ll pardon the expression…an anti fiction but reality unaffecting bomb!’ ‘That’s ridiculous!’ ‘Thank you!’ and ‘I believe you ordered this on the internet? A fantasy nullifier!’ – the Doctor at his improvisational best!
‘Fiction has power, remember that.’

Great Ideas: Needless to say opening the story on such a media related note instantly reminded me of the Colin Baker era on television (Vengeance on Varos) and had me grinning. I love the idea of a television boosting a channels reputation so spectacularly because it reminds me of a certainly family sci-fi show that made a magnificent comeback in 2005. Squeezing through the gaps in reality at the precisely the same time they are being pulled apart…the sounds like a very nasty way to travel! I love the idea of the Doctor being able to track down Flip via the Visualiser, proof that it isn’t just a telly box with a few sparkling knobs on. Nobody enjoys taking a left turn at Delta Magna, it would appear, not just fanboys. I got the impression very early on that Flip was in some way involved with the television programme LASER without any indication to the case. Something about the nature of the story, the cover and blurb and the fourth wall breaking dialogue led me to believe that we would be watching the TV show ala Vengeance on Varos and commenting on the action. The entire backstory of the ‘game’ is comprehensively brought to Flip’s attention in about three verbose sentences. A reality generator converts electrical impulses into events, three dimensional shows materialising around the viewer. Rather wonderfully Flip can hear the exciting music (appalled as the dramatic stings punctuate every turn of events, Star Trek original series style!) that us being piped into the programme as the hero leaps in and rescues the heroine! To be fair Jack Laser is less macho a name than Jack Bauer from another similarly action packed, testosterone fuelled television programme. The characters within the story stick to the script but they have been programmed to improvise if a new element is added (like Flip) and the resulting drama makes for great television because nobody knows where the story is going. Isn’t it marvellous how the godawful flowery dialogue utilised by the villain can be traced back to the style used by one particular Doctor Who villain in stories such as The Kings’ Demons and The Mark of the Rani. What make me chuckle is how what is parodied here was taken deadly serious in the classic series (‘Finnito TARDIS! How’s that for style?’). Every time Flip asks for some more backstory to fill in the plot holes that hasn’t been in invented yet we are stuck with a speechless villain who makes terrible excuses (‘That’s not important now!’). The actors watch their performances back and comment wryly on how handsome they are, what they bring to the role and how menacing they manage to be. Who saw the twist of the characters leaving the programme and threatening those behind the scenes coming? There is something freakishly imaginative about a writer creating a race of monsters that are impossible to destroy and them leaking out into the real world! John Dorney has achieved the impossible – an invincible threat and he isn’t even to blame for the implausibility of that! The leading man leaping out of nowhere with ridiculous karate moves brings back many happy memories of Jon Pertwee going through a midlife crisis. Cue scenes of the actress arguing with her character that has entered reality wondering why she ever agreed to play her because she is such a vacuous stereotype! I’ve seen fictional characters questioning their veracity before (on television in Castrovalva and on audio in Legend of the Cybermen) but that doesn’t stop it being any less powerful. In fact it might be moreso here because these characters started out so one dimensional and Krarn seeing himself for the unsophisticated villain that he is manages to heartbreaking. Asking why he is the bad guy when the hero killed his wife rather made my heart leap out of my mouth. Scullop’s insane plan was to allow the characters to escape all along and blast Drexel and his corporation to dust – tearing down the fictional walls just to take revenge on his one time business partner! Howland was never very good at improvisation so when he has to try and get his evil horde to calm down he attempts to fool them by suggesting it is dress down Friday! Its great how they manage to formulate a plan to get one over on Krarn by utilising the oldest tricks in the book because that is exactly the sort of cliché he has been programmed to accept (and go ‘curses!’ naturally). Like some tatty old bit of set design the bomb simply has to be something tangible with a big button they can press. The idea that an actor improvising away from the script is hilarious – it reminds me of a Terrance Dicks tale about Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton working together in The Three Doctors (you can imagine Pertwee’s look of horror when his predecessor frequently ad libbed his lines!). Listening to John Dorney's remarks in the special features reveals further depths that even I hadn't considered - the commentary of an authors responsiblity to his characters. When he mentions the way some authors crassly massacre their characters (hi Eric Saward!) and disregard life (even fictional life) so violently it confirmed me rock solid suspicions that we were dealing with an extremely thoughtful writer. John is unwilling to murder his characters without a reason and even regrets it when he has to and so scenes such as Krarn killing his actor (Dorney has been an actor himself) take on a whole new dimension.

Porcian Power: I used to have a friend (we parted company because we couldn’t come to an agreement about the BBC Books novel The Crooked World – joke, although it was a bone of contention between us! The irony is that this story takes more than a little inspiration from that book) who hate overdone comedy elements in Doctor Who and in particular comedy aliens. Fortunately it is me and not him who is writing this review and I found the Porcians to be an utterly charming alien menace erring on the right side of parody to be effective within a story with these themes. The sad fact is that there are more truly inept monster races in Doctor Who than we care to admit (even some of the ‘big guns’ like the Cybermen qualify but they can be traced back as far as Voord, Zarbis and Monoids) but this is the first intentionally rubbish monster which means we can laugh with them rather than at them and that adds a whole new appeal to the Porcians. ‘The problem isn’t them invading planets! The problem is they aren’t very good at it!’ is a line that should have been said in Revenge of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis! They’ve been known to accidentally blow up their entire invasion fleet (Silver Nemesis again)! Imagine wiping out the majority of your species through one harebrained scheme after another in an incompetent attempt to conquer the galaxy? They are a species who aren’t a danger to the universe at large but to themselves! ‘Are you saying we all look that same? That’s a bit racist!’ For a honking great pig race I love the fact that their curse is ‘oh swill!’ They are so idiotic the only password they can think of is ‘password!’ Their space is an absolute shithole with decks smeared with muck! ‘You know how I deal with failiure!’ ‘A stern word and a request not to do it again?’ ‘That’s the one!’ The Doctor gets to show the Porcians the apotheosis of their ambition when the invincible nightmares escape LASER and asks them if they really want to reach that level of atrocity. They cannot answer. They are so ineffective that during a climactic moment Chimbley’s subordinate reveals himself to be his son by screaming ‘Dad!’

Audio Landscape: I cannot imagine bringing together three individuals with such skill in their fields than John Dorney, Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson. Needless to say, expectations were high. The story opens with all the shallowness and brashness of an intergalactic news broadcast, time/space Visualiser on the blink, popping corn, polite chatter, screaming alien winds, a scream in the distance, water running at the end of a tunnel, crackling fire, laser guns, jackbooted footsteps.

Musical Cues: I really enjoyed the two additional scores that come with this release because their separation is a moment of cleverness on the part of the director who specifically makes the point of one being a comment on the other. The first is the hopelessly overdramatic LASER music which punctuates the action from within the programme and has the feel of a Dudley Simpson score on acid and the second is a more stylish affair which adds atmosphere to the story when fiction bleeds out into reality. Comparing one to the other is almost a wily statement of the difference between the music of classic Who (which by demand had to be melodramatic) and the soundtracks of the audio adventures (which is reaching for the lofty ambition of a cinematic experience).

Standout Scene: The second cliffhanger is a fantastic moment when Flip dies within the scenario after teasing the villain she has slowly been pulling to pieces throughout the first two episodes. The way the story suddenly shifts a gear from comedy to drama is so tonally jarring its like being punched around the face and the compliancy I have been feeling gets snatched away with whiplash. A great cliffhanging moment.

Notes: With its metatextual dialogue, laugh out loud commentary on science fiction conventions and clever parodies The Fourth Wall has a lot in common with Steve Lyons’ novel The Time of Their Life. But whereas that was an over baked, horribly violent and unsubtle approach, John Dorney manages to infuse the right level of excitement and humour into this tale that gives it a bubbly, sparkling tone. It allows all the cleverness to float to the surface and dazzle without overwhelming you.

Result: John Dorney has written a superb sixth Doctor story which has a unique flavour and doesn’t so much break down the fourth wall but blow through it with dynamite and then stamps all over the debris so it can never be sealed up again. It’s a delirious mixture of clever observations, broad comedy, strikingly dramatic moments and laugh out loud reflective dialogue that begins deliberately predictably and then defies your expectations at every turn. I loved the commentary and inclusion of melodramatic plot devices (hysterical heroines, florid talking villains, karate wielding heroes and lack of motivation and backstory amongst them) that can be traced back to many points in the series because the observations don’t just serve to point out these absurdities but also smile affectionately at the gleefully silly moments Doctor Who has offered us over the years. The subversion of all of those cliches had me chuckling away at the ingenuity on display. Dorney introduces the Porcians who are the first deliberately duff alien race (as opposed to all the intentionally terrifying aliens that wound being duff!) and I hope this isn’t their only appearance in Doctor Who because they are hysterical and might just have you honking with laughter! Flip gets some fantastic dialogue in the first two episodes that really helps to sell her as a confident companion with a brain and by having the Doctor lose her so soon into their relationship I was convinced of the bond between them far more than I would have otherwise. There is more than a touch of Pleasantville about this (one of my favourite films) with the fictional characters coming to terms with their roles and as such evolving into real people and it tinges the comedy with tragedy and depth that makes it a far more remarkable tale. If William Gallagher can produce something magical with the Wirrn in the last of this trilogy it might just be the best threesome we’ve had in over a year because The Fourth Wall kept me smiling throughout with its fiendish ingenuity and riotous spoofing and coming so soon after The Curse of Davros which I also directed this praise at this is another story that could happily sit in season seventeen alongside City of Death. Quite brilliant: 10/10

Thursday, 16 February 2012

4 stone down! Get in!

My last boast I promise! But I'm so thrilled that I have managed to drop four stone and have gone from this...

to this in two months!

GET IN! Normal service will now be resumed...

Voyager - Season One

Caretaker written by Jeri Taylor & Micheal Piller and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Catapulted halfway across the galaxy by an alien Caretaker looking for a compatible species to continue its work, the crew of the USS Voyager begin their journey home…

Hepburn-a-Like: Have you ever watched the scenes on the first season DVD that show Guiniveve Bujold playing Janeway? She is impossibly stiff in the role and whilst there is an element of authority in her portrayal there is none of the warmth and class that Kate Mulgrew imbued Janeway with in her best moments. I find Mulgrew (until Jeri Ryan joined in series four) one of the shows strongest assets (although around that time she will have been so inconsistently written a lot of my good grace will have worn away) and her wonderful, gravel voiced characterisation makes even the dullest episode worth tuning in for (just). The love me/love my dog conversation between Kathryn and Mark is very sweet and strengthens the feeling of loss when she is thrown across the galaxy. Janeway’s decision to destroy the array and prevent their escape back to the Alpha Quadrant is a tough one and we do see it weighing heavily on her shoulders in later episodes but it’s a shame that this life changing decision doesn’t cause a fractious relationship between her and her crew. How ironic for a character who spends seven years lecturing the Prime Directive to so blatantly disregard its rules, changing the balance of power in this entire Quadrant. Frankly the Ocampa are so deadly dull I would have left them to their fate.

Tattoo: One of the blandest characters in all of Trek, I cannot think of a single episode that centres on this character that I have enjoyed (and some of them – Unforgettable, The Fight – are truly dreadful). Chakotay crashing the Marquis ship into the Kazon ship is just about the most interesting thing has character ever does and that’s in this first episode.

EMH: The Doctor makes an instant impact and it would have been a crime to have had him replaced. Oddly it is a holographic character that enjoys the most development in Voyager and his journey (and Robert Picardo’s interpretation of it) is a joy to watch. Interesting that Janeway unthinkingly ends the EMH in front of a roomful of people. Nobody treats him as a person in his own right yet, he is just a tool.

Brilliant B’lanna: After Mulgrew Roxan Dawson is my favourite performer in this show and when she isn’t being overwritten as a moody Klingon you will see some terrific performances over the shows run. Her character trait, struggling to control her bestial nature, is a clever one that always allows us to sympathise with her. The first season saw that hand being overplayed slightly but come series two she is easily the most watchable character. It’s a shame that her dismissal of Starfleet is forgotten as soon as she is given a decent enough position (there are a few digs but nothing as consistently succinct as Quark or Garak in DS9) and that her role as a terrorist wasn’t brought up in some grittier stories. B’lanna only made it into the second year of the Academy so when (and if) they make it home her honorary title of Chief Engineer may be stripped from her (although that is a discussion for another episode…).

Parisian Rogue: Why oh why didn’t they simply call the character Nicholas Locarno since he is played by the same actor from TNG’s First Duty and is in exactly the same situation he would have been in. Legalities be damned! Perhaps Pairs and Locarno are estranged twins who both have a rebellious side! It would have been a lovely touch of continuity between the two shows. Still the idea of Janeway breaking someone out of prison to help them with their mission to capture terrorists has an edge to it that I appreciate. The trouble with this show is the characterisation of the regulars actually devolves over its seven years. Tom Paris starts out as a boyish rogue with a chip on his shoulder but it only takes a year or two before he is a neutered Starfleet good boy with virtually no edge to him. Paris doesn’t mind if a hot chick is a hologram, he’s just out for a good time. His saving of Chakotay is an interesting plot thread that isn’t really explored in any depth (beyond a bluff plotline in series two).

Mr Vulcan: Tuvok gets a great introduction as a Federation spy infiltrating the Marquis. His is another character that gets rather stuck in the mud over the years. Tuvok immediately shows his disdain for Neelix in a painfully unfunny scene involving a half eaten banquet and a bath. It’s a relationship that would plague the series until its conclusion (well the episode before its conclusion) and prove that you can’t just stick two polar opposites together and do it like Spock & McCoy and Odo & Quark.

Spotted Dick: Poor Ethan Philips. He was never world’s best actor but he deserved far more than being lumbered with a character as irritating and unloved as Neelix for seven years. To give Piller & Ryan their due they do make an attempt in Caretaker to make the character cheeky and a bit irreverent but as soon as he is accepted into the crew at the end of this episode that’s it. He becomes a Starfleet drone, his character is literally disembowelled, no edge at all just the Prime Directive in their place. Such a shame because if DS9 had proven anything, it was that there was outstanding comic potential in an alien character like Neelix. When we first meet him he is literally a scavenging rat, scampering around inside a wrecked spaceship. He seems to be assembled from all the most annoying parts of other Star Trek aliens, except the hair…that is in a style disaster league all of its own. He tricks Janeway into taking him to Kes and holds a gang of violent Kazon hostage. It would be rare for him to show such initiative in the future.

Elfin Chick: Beaten and scarred and Neelix’s girlfriend, how much suffering can one woman take?

Forever Ensign: Astonishing that in seven years Harry Kim goes nowhere. Its like the character is stuck in stasis, always an eager young nobody who wants to grow up and advance his career but never quite making it up the next step of the ladder. Paris is promoted and demoted, hooks up with B’lanna and has a kid in the time that Harry Kim gets no development whatsoever. Take his first scene and his last scene in this series and he is exactly the same person doing exactly the same things. The first scene is supposed to show Kim as an inexperienced ensign being fleeced by Quark but what I really wanted was for Kim to be left behind and for Quark to leap on board. He’s so much more fun. Is there anything more annoying than a young man desperately eager to please? A brotherly connection seems instant between Paris and Kim but (and I know I keep comparing but get used to it because there will be a lot of this!) DS9’s O’Brien and Bashir is a better written and developed friendship and is frankly a whole lot more watchable.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mr Kim, at ease before you strain something.’
‘It’s a fine crew and I’ve got to get them home.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Do you always fly at women at warp speed, Mr Paris?’ ‘Only if they are in visual range.’ That is one bad chat up line.

The Good: A nice action packed opening but not a patch on the battle of Wolf 359 that opened DS9. Its great to see the Marquis storyline spilling out into three Star Trek shows, there is a definite feeling that they all exist within one universe each adding a little depth to the others. The station makes an appearance and the torch once again being passed between shows. Unfortunately 20 minutes into its pilot episode Voyager has its only notable development (aside from a crossover of female characters in season four) – the ship is kicked into another quadrant and the Doctor, First Officer and a random Betazoid (thank goodness, imagine if we had been stuck with another Troi?) are all murdered. So hurrah for Michael Piller for pushing the show into a gripping direction and playing about with our expectations in the pilot episode and boo hiss to Brannon Braga and Rick Berman for failing to progress the show beyond the second season. How satisfying to watch Harry Kim being skewered! I love all the tension on the bridge between Chakotay, Tuvok and Paris – this is the sort of thing DS9 thrives upon so why did Voyager fail to capitalise on it? The Ocampan underground city is impressively realised and like all Star trek premieres Voyager impresses with its sense of scale in its pilot.

The Bad: Unfortunately the first officer that Janeway already has looks like he has more balls in one episode than Chakotay managed to muster in seven years. A shame we had to do the switch. All three pilot episodes see the new crew having an encounter with a Godlike entity that changes their mission statement dramatically – whilst DS9 improved on the TNG attempt, VOY feels like it is taking a step backwards. I’m sure it has been said before but the design on Voyager looks uncannily like a toilet lid! Perhaps not the most dynamic of designs to kick start a new show with! The farmhouse sequences are certainly odd but I’m not convinced they are any more convincing than the courtroom scenes in Encounter at Farpoint. The Kazon’s look like cut price Klingons and whilst they are initially considered the new big bad of Star Trek they never really get out of their infancy (although their longing for Federation technology is a new angle worth exploring). The sequence on the staircase seems to go on forever and isn’t the most dynamic or visually appealing of set pieces.

Myth Building: The Caretakers are explorers from another galaxy and they had no idea that their technology would be so destructive to the Ocampan atmosphere. They could never repay the debt and so two of the Caretakers stayed behind to feed them energy and water. One of them is still out there somewhere…

Orchestra: I like the horror movie horns that kick in when the crew are surrounded by pitchfork wielding yokels. There’s an eerie whistling that plays over Harry and B’lanna waking up in the Ocampan laboratory.

Result: What strikes me immediately about Caretaker is the amount of promise it shows. You’ve got a strong female Captain, a crew consisting of terrorists, criminals, aliens and a holographic Doctor and the ship that is lost and alone in an unchartered area of space. Surely this is going to be the most gripping and fascinating Star Trek series yet? Caretaker boasts a huge scale and sets up its characters and the series ethos with some aplomb, only failing when it tries to tell a standard Star Trek plot of a benevolent Godlike entity dying. The first half is far more interesting than the second which peters off into some unengaging action and the introduction of a pretty disappointing new villainous species. However for its ambition and developments Voyager’s pilot should be commended and I only have one question after the creative and character building way the creators assemble this crew. What went wrong?: 8/10

Parallax written by Brannon Braga and directed by Kim Friedman

What’s it about: Our first temporal anomaly! And its written by Brannon Braga!

Hepburn-a-Like: I’m not sure if Janeway is a bit too officious to be likable as a representative for what Starfleet stands for at this point in the series. Whilst she makes some good points about the need for cohesion and loyalty on the ship she has hardly earned the right to expect it yet and without giving the Marquis members a chance to prove themselves it hardly seems fair to criticise them on past mistakes. Nice to see she got some balls (if you’ll pardon the phrase) and orders them to punch through the anomaly.

Tattoo: Chakotay chews out B’lanna for misbehaving and then informs her she will be Chief Engineer. As written this is a great scene but Robert Beltran doesn’t quite have the authority to pull it off convincingly.

Brilliant B’Elanna: I love Torres’ way of handling a difference of opinion – giving Carey a bloody nose! When she tells Janeway her problem at the Academy was a system that didn’t give her the chance to breathe I could have kissed her. Its great to see Janeway and Torres breaking ground and getting excited as they work through a mountain of technobabble together but surely there was a more exciting way to make this work than defeating an anomaly. It’s rather lovely to hear how many people supported Torres at the academy especially considering how much of a chip on her shoulder she has about it. B’Elanna is surprisingly magnanimous in her success at earning the Chief Engineer role, if it had been me who was spoken to so rudely by Carey I would have rubbed his nose in it.

EMH: He is made up of 200 memories and 47 individuals so if there’s anybody you want around in a medical crisis it’s the EMH. However his bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. Crusher would bore you to death, Bashir will try and shag you and the EMH will insult you – great choice of Doctors! They never thought the Doctor would be around long enough to warrant a name and it takes him seven years to think of one.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ll try not to break any of their noses.’

The Good: Tuvok mentions the Captain having the authority to put people on trial for misconduct which is an interesting angle to have to take when so far away from the nearest Federation court. Rumours of the Marquis being thrown in the brig and talk of mutiny…this is more like it! Talk of growing their own food and assigning crew members to certain jobs is very healthy, nice to see some thought going into their situation. There’s a fascinating conversation between Janeway and Chakotay about integrating the Marquis into the crew. The Marquis don’t have the training and haven’t earned the right to be in senior positions but they have the ability to get them out of tight spots whereas the Federation officers have worked their butts off to get where they are and might find it hard accepting orders from terrorists. Really interesting stuff and soon to be forgotten. Martha Hackett already stands out more than most of the crew as Seska. Torres tells Janeway that if she picks the wrong Voyager then they will have a long time to debate it. Imagine that? Just Janeway and Torres in a shuttlecraft exploring the Delta Quadrant! Jettisoning Chakotay, Neelix, Harry Kim and the flying toilet lid in one swoop! If only…

The Bad: Voyager doesn’t trust itself enough to give this episode over to the growing tension amongst the crew and so shoves in a technobabble strewn subplot that goes nowhere and chews up time that could be better spent exploring the characters some more. The Doctor turning into a dwarf and Harry Kim’s headaches are hardly the most gripping of side effects for the anomaly of the week. The singularity turns out to be a mirror through time – how dull. Our first encounter with another species after the pilot turns out to be…Voyager! In fact there are so many anomalies on this show I feel they should ranked so I give the mirror effect anomaly below average! B’lanna makes Chakotay’s name sound like a Chinese swear word (‘Chaakotai!’). What the hell is up with that horrible scene at the end with the midget Doctor standing on a chair? What was that all about anyway?

Result: Nice to see that the Marquis repatriation is given some consideration and it’s a relief that Parallax spends half of its running time focussing on Torres because the debut of the Voyager cliché, the temporal anomaly, is deathly dull. You’ve got a tale of two halves here that splits its time between character and technobabble with the former providing a great deal of interest (especially the Janeway/Chakotay scenes which were rarely better) and the latter nothing but painful scenes of nonsensical gobbledegook. Why Neelix and Kes make an appearance is unclear, its clearly a contractual necessity rather than a narrative one and exposes a flaw in Star trek that sees extraneous regular characters having to be shoehorned into episodes where they don’t belong. Parallax sees the show running on the spot storytelling wise but at least continues to explore its cast with some interest: 6/10

Time and Again written by David Kemper & Michael Piller and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Janeway and Paris travel back in time one day with the foreknowledge that a civilisation is about to fall…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway and Paris look like poster children for the GAP clothing store in their multi coloured clobber. Janeway gets smacked right in the face during the riot! Mulgrew tries so hard to give the material some gravity but the look and feel of the episode is working against her. When Janeway blabs out that she is a hostage potentially having the kid executed I was ready to leap in and kiss her!

Parisian Rogue: Time and Again exposes a problem with plot heavy Voyager episodes; they forget that the characters are supposed to have a personality. The most we discover about Paris in this episode is that he is trying to bed the Delaney sisters and that is in the teaser before the plot has begun. He takes a bullet for the kid which proves his character degeneration has already begun.

Forever Ensign: Would rather run a transdata diagnostic then help Paris chat up girls and doesn’t quite have the hang of exaggerating his prowess to wangle (geddit?) his way into their quarters! Its commendable that Kim is remaining faithful to his girlfriend but a little naïve that he thinks they will be getting home any time soon.

Elfin Chick: Kes suffers a terrifying telepathic vision of the planet burning. Jennifer Lien is quietly a very impressive performer and she often provides moments of striking emotion when we explore Kes’ Ocampan powers.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘ Our own rescue attempt! That’s what sets it off!’ – not only does that episode take the most predictable path but it feels the need to explain it to us as well.

The Good: ‘So, we’re looking at the end of the war’ – that’s a much more visual description of the searing of the planet than Janeway’s technobabble.

The Bad: The first alien civilisation Voyager meets since the pilot and it’s a bunch of humans with the only concession being that on the other side of the galaxy being they all wear different coloured bright clothes! That goofy little blond kid is more annoying than Alexander, Wesley Crusher and Naomi Wildman put together. His entire purpose is to irritate and accuse Janeway. I have absolutely no idea what B’lanna is talking about in engineering when mounting a technobabble fuelled escape plan. A planets surface blasted to death by war with pockets of time that offers windows into the past when it was thriving and foreknowledge that it is about to be destroyed tomorrow. That’s a pretty strong premise for a story so why is the execution so bland? The community is completely unmemorable and no attempt is made to make us care about their fate (compare and contrast with DS9’s Children of Time which has a similar ticking clock to decide as colony’s fate). The conclusion is inevitable, of course the Voyager crew is ultimately responsible for the disaster that befalls the planet because that is exactly how these sorts of episodes resolve themselves. Janeway needs to read about some of the old TNG episodes to see how these things wind up. The end of the episode proves that the whole thing never happened as far as the crew is concerned. If only.

Orchestra: The musician wakes up as we head towards the climax with some exciting stuff as Janeway heads off to stop the terrorist attack.

Result: I can imagine a much stronger version of Time and Again that sees Janeway and Paris trapped on a war torn planet of fascists, trying desperately to avert a disaster and avoid being executed themselves. The version we get sees them dressing up in gay clothing, hiding from a scrotum-clenchingly irritating kid and chatting amiably with colourless officials. Given the premise of the show it is potentially the blandest execution imaginable. The most interesting thing on offer is Kes who displays unusual supernatural powers which give the episode at least a few moments of interest. When TNG was bad in its first season it was at least entertainingly camp and when DS9 dropped the ball it was propped up by subplots – Time and Again is the first bad episode of Voyager and it proves that at its worst this show is simply forgettable and for me that is the worst kind of bad. Time and Again flaunts a great idea but does absolutely nothing with it. Pretty much the story of this series: 2/10

Phage written by Brannon Braga, Timothy Dehaas & Skye Dent and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Neelix is relieved of his lungs by a disease stricken species…

Hepburn-a-Like: It seems very right for Janeway to give over her private dining room to the crew to socialise in and have their food cooked for them. Nice to see the Captain being reckless to help a member of her crew. Mulgrew aces the scene where she confronts the Vidiians, initially shocked and angry and slowly growing to understand their plight to the point of holding back tears before once again unleashing her anger. She cuts to each emotion with absolute conviction.

Spotted Dick: His speciality is making something out of nothing and our reaction mirrors Janeway’s that Neelix could think up something this innovative. Whilst he is clearly a pain in Janeway’s butt she is already showing signs of warming towards him but then I suppose that can’t be helped when he has had his lungs ripped out. For 20 minutes or so I actually found myself sympathising with Neelix for the impossible situation he has found himself in but then he starts displaying what would consume any likeability his character may have ever possessed – his jealousy of Paris and Kes. Its unusual that they chose Neelix for this episode (it was probably because they thought the audience would fall in love with him from the outset) and it won’t be the last time that he tries to commit suicide before the series is over and disappointingly fails. The sequence where he hyperventilates and suffers a claustrophobic attack is quite uncomfortable to watch because it would be easy to imagine how stifling that situation would be.

Elfin Chick: Again the best moments of character belong to Kes who forcefully steps in and demands an explanation before the Doctor performs experimental surgery on Neelix. It’s odd because I was never really convinced by Kes’ unwavering loyalty towards Neelix (even though Jennifer Lien has a damn good stab at it) and yet when she finally gets around to dumping him I didn’t like her character at all. Kes beautifully affirms the Doctor’s very first step towards independence, telling him he will have to learn like the rest of them. She bravely donates a lung for Neelix because she wants to do something for him for once. By sticking Kes and the Doctor together you have two of the strongest characters on this show working together, it’s a promising new direction for both characters.

EMH: The Doctor’s plan to create a pair of holographic lungs is pretty inspired and proves he is able to innovate as well as act as the ships medic. Neelix asks the Doctor if he is programmed to sing and he throws him a dirty look. Maybe he kept this in the back of his mind because this suggestion would lead to some of the series best (Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy) and worst (Virtuoso) moments. There is no Doctor, no nurse and no counsellor on board and the EMH is trying to cope with the job of all three. By the end of the episode you can see he is starting to assert himself and that he might have found a friend amongst the crew.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He’s just one big hormone walking around the ship’ – whilst Neelix’s jealousy of Paris never really worked you can’t fault his summing up of his character!
‘So now I am left with the same choice you made. Whether to commit murder to save a life or to allow my own crewman to die while you breathe air through his lungs.’
‘Take a message to your people. If I ever encounter your kind again, I will do whatever is necessary to protect my people from this harvesting of yours. Any aggressive action against this ship or its crew will be met by the deadliest of force.’ – such was the intensity of Mulgrew’s performance I recoiled from the TV.

The Good: Winrich Kolbe is one of the most efficient Star Trek directors and with a scene as simple as Neelix exploring a darkened cavern he manages to provide more atmosphere and chills than anything we have seen from the series so far. Look at the sweeping camerawork as Neelix moves to Sickbay, this is the work of a gifted director. It was in this episode that I noticed what a visually appealing set Voyager’s sickbay is – it stands out because of the impressive lighting. Everything about heading into the crevice in the asteroid is a great idea from showing off Paris’ piloting expertise to the cute exchange between Janeway and Tuvok and visually it shows the series trying something a bit different. The chamber with the hundreds of Voyagers being reflected is far better than the similar scene in Parallax, looking for a needle in a haystack would be easier. The almost invisible use of Seska before she explodes into her own character arc is an astonishing amount of foresight for a series that never usually tries this sort of thing. There is a real Frankenstein’s monster feel to the Vidiian make up; their faces literally look like they have been patched together out different races.

Moment To Watch Out For: There is a startling visual when the phaser beam is reflected around the cavern.

Myth Building: A disease attacked the Vidiian over two millennia ago and has been consuming their bodies ever since. The disease adapts and resists all attempts to destroy it so these organ snatchers lure unsuspecting victims and strip them of their parts. It’s so remarkably grotesque I’m surprised a show like Voyager got away with it. Before the Phage consumed them the Vidiians were educators and explorers, a people whose greatest achievements were artistic.

Result: A huge round of applause to Voyager for creating so early in their run one of the most skin crawlingly nasty alien races any Trek show could boast. Everything about the Vidiians is well thought through from the chilling idea of them harvesting your organs to their macabre appearance (with an emphasis on cataracts, skin growths, tumours and greasy hair that is falling out – ugh!). They’re horrible and they would provide some of the best moments in the first two seasons. Phage is a very strong episode of Voyager that allows Kate Mulgrew to show us what she is made of as an actress and pleasingly gives some time over to the Doctor and Kes’ growing relationship. My one complaint would be that Neelix doesn’t make the most sympathetic of victims but there are more than enough compensations in the strong writing and atmospheric direction and even the odd special effect that left me nodding with assent. More like this please: 8/10

The Cloud written by Tom Szollosi & Michael Piller and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Voyager enters an anomaly. Copy and paste as many times as you like through the shows run…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway has always been comfortable with a distance between herself and a crew but trapped in the Delta Quadrant she is no longer allowed that luxury. Paris thinks that Captains don’t want to courtesy, they want respect. Janeway is clearly fishing for an invite to join them but rubbishy Starfleet protocol prevents either Kim or Paris from asking her. All she wants is a cup of coffee in the morning (something I can fully appreciate) and instead she gets a lecture from Neelix about setting an example to the crew and a cup of his unbelievably foul looking slop. Janeway’s flittery embarrassment at his compliments and sudden desperate leap out of the Mess Hall when she is presented with ‘better than coffee’ are two more priceless Kate Mulgrew moments. She’s really found her groove very quickly. Whilst I enjoy seeing the Captain and the First Officer discussing the well-being of the crew it’s odd that they should be whispering so publicly on the Bridge! Janeway rudely mutes the EMH on Bridge. Janeway knocks them out at the pool table in a nicely directed scene.

First Officer: Chakotay’s animal guide is a girl. His American Indian mythology has no place in Star Trek and fails to make his character any more interesting.

Spotted Dick: Neelix might not be the first person I would listen to when being hyper critical of Janeway’s decisions but his rant about her insane behaviour when faced with an anomaly does hold some weight. The first snog on the ship goes to Neelix and there is something very wrong with that! He appoints himself as morale officer aboard the ship which should be enough to convince half the crew to disembark at their next stop.

Forever Ensign: Only somebody as wet as Harry Kim could enjoy wearing an eye mask in bed because it reminds him of being inside his mothers womb! When asked if he wants a tipple at Sandrines Harry ‘the chump’ Kim asks for a cup of tea. Everything about this kid seems to be geared at reminding the audience that he is inexperienced and desperate to please. He always looks so pained every time somebody reprimands him – you want to tell him to grow a backbone, a pair of hairy ones and go and get laid.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There’s coffee in that nebula!’
‘Dismissed. That’s a Starfleet expression for get out.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I’ve never kissed anybody inside a nebula before…’

The Good: Of all the various holosuite programmes of the year Sandrines was by far the most atmospheric and enjoyable (but then nothing could be much worse than the hideous Hawaiian one or worse…Fair Haven!). B’Elanna tried to murder her animal guide so I’m guessing she thought as much of this nonsense as I do.

The Bad: Kim and Tuvok gossiping across the Bridge probably looked like a good idea on paper but lacks humour in its realisation. The scenes of the crew trying to break through the Cloud aren’t about anything – it’s just line after line of technobabble without a single drop of charm. The scene where Tom wakes Harry up is filmed like a horror murder scene and I have no idea why. Why are they so resistant to head out on location on this show? Rather than film a short scene on a beach instead we get Janeway clearly superimposed over one.

Anomalies: Since we will be encountering so many of these beasties throughout Voyager’s run I thought it would be fun to give them their own little section in the reviews! We spent a whole episode going through an anomaly in Parallax and now we spend an entire episode trying to escape from one! Shouldn’t these babies make the crew have crazy hallucinations of something, anything to make the experience more palatable? This nebulae is a life form that they have injured in escaping and oddly it takes Neelix to question whether that it is actually a good idea to help!

Foreboding: The Doctor jokes to Torres that if he had the ability to programme himself he would raise a family. To prove that an idea is never wasted on this show (even one like ‘lets do a WWF style smack down in space!’) this was followed up in Real Life. B’lanna calls Paris a pig which is all the sign you need that these two would end up in bed together one day.

Result: As a good example of how disposable the main plot of The Cloud is I left to make a cup of tea during the climax as the ship was buffered by electricity and didn’t miss a thing. You might have the feeling of déjà vu throughout this episode because it is pretty much Parallax II – an anomaly threatens the ship as crew get to know each other a little better. Some the character work is serviceable (usually any scene featuring Janeway) but other moments see characters failing to make an impression (Harry Kim needs to die and Chakotay shouldn’t be too far behind). Overall this is about as vanilla as Star Trek comes but at least it ends on a pleasing sentiment: 5/10

Eye of the Needle written by Jeri Taylor & Bill Dial and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: A wormhole offers hope that the crew could return home…

Hepburn-a-Like: Why is it when Janeway tries to comfort Harry Kim on the bridge it feels like a mother wiping dribble from her sons chin? It’s wonderful to see Janeway thinking outside of the box and offering the Doctor the same privileges as the rest of the crew. When she says the Doctor doesn’t have the luxury of thinking of himself as an EMH that sentiment extends to the rest of the crew. Odd to see the usually severe Janeway with flowing long hair and peach silky underwear! Watch as Mulgrew plays the scene in her quarters between Janeway and the Romulan so imploringly, its warmly played but with a touch of desperation. I have heard people dismiss Mulgrew’s performance in the past because she is a TV veteran and not a Shakespearean actor or from an impressive theatrical background but in all honesty she is one of the strongest actors in the Star Trek universe. I would happily squeeze Mulgrew into the arsenal of talent that fronts DS9 because she is far too good for a show like Voyager and I do feel they were lucky to have her. Nice to see that Mark and the dog haven’t been forgotten. Look at Janeway’s face when the Romulan is trying to transport through, its like she is willing him to materialise through a sheer strength of will.

EMH: Another step on the road to independence and with the very pleasing relationship between Kes and the Doctor growing ever more close. If I were the Doctor I would grab the nearest laser scalpel and accidentally take off one of the ears of the numbnuts who refuses to ask him a direct question. It is Kes’ firm insistence on treating the Doctor like an individual and not a hypospray that pushes him on the right path. Self aware, communicative and with the ability to learn, Kes makes some fascinating points to Janeway about the Doctor’s road to sentience. Picardo underplays the scene where Janeway offers the Doctor autonomous control of his activation and it is surprisingly touching – you can tell this is a man who has never been asked if there is anything that he wants and doesn’t quite no how to respond the offer.

Brilliant B’Elanna: She hasn’t seen her father since she was five and she thinks her mother is on the Klingon homeworld. Most of the B’Elanna’s family are the Marquis members on the ship so there is no one back in the Alpha Quadrant who is going to give a damn that she is alive.

Forever Ensign: Not content with sleeping with an eye mask because he likes to be reminded of being in his mothers womb we also learn that he also phoned home to his parents every week even when he was on training missions. I wonder what Freud would have to say about this incestuous longing from Harry? Plus it makes a lot of sense of his revelling in being the baby of the crew and molly coddled by Janeway. Harry looks like he has been punched in the gut when the possibility exists that the messages might not have made it to their families – the first moment I genuinely felt for him.

The Good: What’s this? Voyager making contact with the Alpha Quadrant so soon after they have found themselves adrift 70,000 light years away? I had forgotten that the creators had dealt with a near miss like this so early in the shows run and it is fascinating to see how the different members of the crew react to the idea of going home. Because there are a large amount of people who will be possibly imprisoned, made redundant or potentially dissected (B’lanna, Chakotay, Paris, the Doctor, Neelix), it serves to remind you of the promise this show had. Its nice to see them realising a fraction of it. The relationship between Janeway and the Romulan works because she can empathise with him – this wouldn’t have worked with Picard or Sisko. So many interesting questions are thrown in the air when the clever twist that the Romulan is from the past is revealed. Could they live out their lives for 20 years in the past before catching up with their lives? Would they be able to resist telling themselves of future events? Would the Romulans exploit this information about the future? What would happen to the Ocampans if the Federation is warned and Voyager was never thrown into the Delta Quadrant? Its not often a twist in this show would leave open so many fascinating possibilities. Despite the fact that the reset button is switched the show manages to advance by having the messages relayed to the crew’s families and a rare bond made between the Federation and the Romulans.

The Bad: Spinach juice with a touch of pear? Bleugh!

Moment To Watch Out For: The little kiss that Kes gives the Doctor when he tells her that he will be left behind when they transport to the Alpha Quadrant. A small but beautiful moment.

Anomaly of the Week: Apparently they are scanning constantly for anomalies to help them get home…but I think it’s just an excuse to plough the ship through them and see what chaos ensues. Paris suggests they officially name this anomaly the ‘Harry Kim Wormhole!’ to which our unlovable chump looks desperately proud.

Foreboding: I love the idea of an empty ship with only the Doctor left on board the ship and it would be actualised in the episodes One and Renaissance Man.

Result: It’s a good thing that the character work in this story is so strong because there is a mountain of technobabble to climb before you can reach the devastating conclusion. The fury of hope that is brewed with the possibility of returning home is extended to the viewer as is the sense of disappointment when the reality of the situation drives home. Its rare for Voyager to allow us this close to its regulars feelings and it is a potent and rare reminder of the extremes of their situation. The subplot of the Doctor’s growing independence continues to be the strongest running thread of the season and Robert Picardo has tapped into a rich seam of poignancy. Eye of the Needle is structured to offer the crew hope before delivering them a massive knife blow to the belly (and when they think that something good might have come from all this that is snatched away from them as well) and capture our sympathies and thanks to some strong writing and performances it works a treat. I was completely absorbed by this compelling drama and had it not been for the wealth of incomprehensible technobabble it may have scored full marks: 9/10

Ex Post Facto written by Evan Carlos Somers & Michael Piller and directed by Levar Burton

What’s it about: Paris is wrongfully accused of murder and forced to live out the crime from the point of view of the victim…

Parisian Rogue: Somehow this is an entire episode about Tom Paris where we don’t learn a single thing about his character except that he has an eye for the ladies which we discovered back in Caretaker. This episode also highlights that Robert Duncan McNeil isn’t an especially strong performer on the show. He cannot pull off sexy (its really cheesy) and he gurns ridiculously when trying to show he is in pain. Paris tells Tuvok that they are now friends but aside from one episode I don’t think they ever really talk again in seven seasons!

Forever Ensign: Naturally as soon as pretty lady is introduced Harry Kim doesn’t get a look in, he’s simply too dull for women to notice.

EMH: They really aren’t letting the audience forget about this thread running through the season and it is refreshing. The Doctor never even considered that he had a life let alone choose a name that would label him throughout it. He suggests it is impossible for a hologram to decide things autonomously of its programme.

Mr Vulcan: We learn that Tuvok is married and has been so for 67 years but he is so utterly dispassionate you never would have realised until he admitted it. I don’t know why mind melds are ever allowed to take place…they cause nothing but trouble! As he assembles all the suspects together we learn one thing about Tuvok – he’s no Hercule Poirot.

The Good: Ex Post Facto sports a fantastic premise at its heart, the idea that a punishment has been created wherein you will live out the crime you have committed through the victims eyes. If only the same amount of imagination could have been injected into the dialogue and plotting but the idea should still stand proud.

The Bad: So far we have met two humanoid races that exist on the other side of the galaxy – why is this show so unimaginative when it comes to exploring something a little more alien? Do we really need more humanoid species in Star Trek with desks and houses and dogs? Say what you will about Star Trek Enterprise (and I would happily say plenty that would rip it to shreds) at least they tried to explore some fresh new types of alien (especially in their strongest year - the Xindi season). What is up with that dog anyway…its like a hideous little rat! We find out ten minutes into the episode that ‘we are at war after all’ but there is absolutely no indication of that whatsoever in the atmosphere of this planet (even the matte painting, which looks oddly similar to Klystron from the last episode I watched – DS9’s Dax - shows a perfectly intact, pristine cityscape). The chemistry between the Ren and Nidell is non existent and makes for some awkward and unconvincing dinner scenes. Harry Kim was apparently interrogated for two days straight but there is no sign of a bruise or scars (compare to Kira’s interrogation in The Circle where we see her bloody and battered face). Ren makes for possibly the least effective femme fatale I have ever seen on television simply because she is trying far too hard to be a femme fatale! This sort of thing should just come naturally. I guess you could say because all the scenes featuring her are from recounts from Paris and Kim’s POV and that was how they imagined her to be…but that throws up an even bigger problem for this episode. With no attempts to differentiate between Paris and Kim’s versions of the story a huge opportunity is missed in the what could have been an intriguing use of the unreliable narrator. This is the second episode in a row where Chakotay contributes very little and turns up in a token scene. In sharp contrast with the powerful character twists that brought the episode Dax to a conclusion, Ex Post Facto ends with Tuvok pulling out the dullest plot mechanics possible (Paris is too short, the killer knew about Banean anatomy, secret data being passed to the enemy). I can’t believe they used the dog as a witness…

Teaser-tastic: A well directed but dreadfully performed teaser – take your pick which you would prefer. To see a director utilising atmospheric black and white photography is lovely and the POV shots make for a much more interesting angle than the usual point and shot execution of some Star Trek episodes. Unfortunately we see it three times throughout the episode which rather blunts its impact.

Result: With flashes of lightning, black and white photography, first person narration and a femme fatale, Ex Post Facto is trying desperately to revel in the genre of film noir. Unfortunately DS9’s Necessary Evil points and laughs at its attempts and masters the genre in a way that this episode merely flirts inadequately with it. Voyager splits its first season into episodes that deal with the ongoing story of the ships crew adapting to life in the Delta Quadrant and standard Star Trek plot devices and this is a particularly dreary example of the latter. Can you guess which of these formats will take centre stage as the series continues? Ex Post Facto is pleasantly directed by Levar Burton but he is merely dressing up an undemanding script and suggesting a level sophistication that simply isn’t present. Because there is a distinct lack of character development this is a plot heavy yawnathon that has very little fall back on when the plot fails to engage: 3/10

Emanations written by Brannon Braga and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Voyager encounters a race who believe they can force themselves into the afterlife…

Hepburn-a-Like: ‘Chakotay and Lieutenant Torres are aboard…but there’s no sign of Ensign Kim!’ informs Seska. Janeway goes down in my estimation when she has the perfect opportunity to say ‘quick lets get out of here before they bring him back!’ Red Dwarf style!

Forever Ensign: Kim is still wet behind the ears and thanks Chakotay for the opportunity to be able to speak his mind on the away mission. I really want to say something nice about this guy but he’s such a jobsworth he makes it difficult. Is it true (correct me if I’m wrong) that when considering a shake up in the series at the beginning of series four that both Kes and Kim were in the running for an axing but they kept Kim because he was in the top 50 of a ‘best looking guys on TV’ competition? Imagine a show fronted by four women as strong as Janeway, Kes, B’lanna and Seven? Imagine a show without Harry Kim? Makes you feel warm inside, doesn’t it? This episode deserves points for having the audacity and common sense to flirt with the idea of Kim’s death. It wont be the last time! You have to feel sorry for this species – Harry is their first glimpse into what lies beyond death. Personally I’d stop looking. He’s so frustrating a character – this was a great opportunity to get inside his head but if Emanations proves anything its that there is nothing there. When questioned he says it is not his place to judge and he has no opinion of what comes after this life – surely he cannot be as vacuous as he appears? The most we see of an opinion is his disrespectful criticisms for the guy who at least has the strength of his beliefs to see through his death. I have far more respect for that guy for his strength of will. Kim coming over claustrophobic in the coffin probably shouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is. The lad is ready to head back to the Bridge like a good puppy at the end of the episode and it takes Janeway to remind him that he has been dead and he might want to ponder on that for a day or two. What a chump.

The Good: Harry Kim knocking frantically from inside the coffin as they perform a funeral is one of the best scenes yet. Imagine waking up in the ‘afterlife’ to discover Janeway and the Doctor staring down at you like that – another quality moment. Destroying a whole faith and proving that the moment that you have geared your entire life towards is nothing but a lingering death decomposing on an asteroid – Voyager has rarely had a harder days work cut out for them. There’s a moment when one of the alien characters discusses with Harry that there are people who are depressed and unhappy who are eager to die and move onto the next life which really touched a nerve because I have met devoutly religious people who have said something as similarly terrifying as that. The creators really took their time with Seska and she turns up again here in a minor role to show her presence before later developments.

The Bad: Is it a bad sign that a show is this predictable? As soon as Chakotay asks Harry Kim to join them on the away mission you know the episode is going to be about him. Have they taken the rings of the moon directly from the title sequence? Can I take a moment to remind these people that they are trapped on the other side of the galaxy without friends or protection? They discover a new element emanating from the bodies of the dead and Chakotay wants to leave them in peace and Harry wants to take this opportunity for an anthropological study of an alien race – am I the only person who thinks they should still harvest the element from these corpses. Surely anything that would give them an advantage in the Delta Quadrant should be taken advantage of? Oh my gosh…am I Seska? Hang on…another humanoid species with a faith system similar to our own? Why not just call the Delta Quadrant the Alpha Quadrant and be done with it!

Moment To Watch Out For: Harry Kim looking thoughtful at the end of the episode, probably struggling to find a thought in that empty skull of his.

Teaser-tastic: Discovering a bunch of mummified corpses in a cave is well handled although the lingering reaction shots shot have been tighter close ups.

Result: With its discussions of faith and belief and scenes of bodies appearing decomposed on Voyager, Emanations is a more thoughtful than usual episode that marries intelligent discussion with some strong imagery. Unfortunately it is also an episode of missed opportunities since it fails to explore the beliefs of any of the crew (besides some duller than usual Chakotay respect for the dead) and focuses solely on the alien culture of the week. Its so frustrating that such a powerful subject matter kept at arms length from the regulars characters because I’m sure Janeway, B’lanna and even Neelix would have some interesting things to say on their religious beliefs. I do admire the writers for taking on such controversial subject matter but shake my head in despair that they aren’t willing to have the guts to explore its potential. Harry Kim almost gets left behind and almost dies – two reasons to get excited but ultimately disappointed. Oddly Voyager has no impact whatsoever on this civilisation and this civilisation has no impact on Voyager which kind of makes me wonder what the point of the episode was: 5/10

Prime Factors written by Michael Perricone & Greg Elliot and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Voyager is tempted to a planet that could half their journey home…

Hepburn-a-Like: Fantastic to see Janeway letting her hair down, getting into civvies and losing all track of time as she flirts outrageously with Labin. Its also nice to see Janeway on the other side of the argument when it comes to sharing technologies and for an episode to highlight the deficiencies in her decision to run the ship by Starfleet rules of conduct. When Seska suggests that Janeway’s obsession with the prime directive is hampering their chance to return home you cannot help but agree with her. When she agonises over whether her principles are enough to offer the crew to prove it was worth denying them access home I was thinking it didn’t make much of a difference the first time she was in this dilemma. The Captain’s restrained anger in the last scene is absolutely terrifying and she utters the words that are far more damaging than any insult – disappointment.

Forever Ensign: Harry Kim takes one of the Delaney sisters to Venice and falls into one of the canals. Not only a chump but also unfaithful to his girlfriend by acting like a twat. Nice. This series seems to forget its own character continuity on an episode by episode basis – wasn’t Kim just telling Paris a few episodes back that he was planning on staying faithful to his girlfriend? First chance he gets he heads off to another planet with a young Sakarian to a darkened forest to spend some time alone. Of all the characters they could have chosen to make a subversive deal with they choose Harry ‘I have a copy of the Prime Directive instead of a heart’ Kim.

Brilliant B’Elanna: Just two episodes back B’Elanna said that she had nothing to return to and that her family was the Marquis members on Voyager and now she is adamant that she wants to acquire this technology and make it back home. Do these writers confer at all? Its not surprising but it still feels very brave to have B’Elanna defy her orders so bold facedly in this episode and she clearly has a lot of explaining to do.

Mr Vulcan: When you think Tuvok has turned up to slap Seska’s wrist the episode fires its biggest surprise by revealing that he is the one to commit the covert exchange.

Sneaky Seska: More than just a random transporter operator now, Seska actively manipulates B’lanna into theorising on how the folding space technology works. There is every indication of her eventual defection in this episode where she openly talks about defying the ‘infatuated’ Janeway and taking the technology without permission. Seska might be morally bankrupt but she is far more attention-grabbing than rulebound dullards like Kim. As soon as they have gambled with the ship and almost destroy it Seska rather wonderfully tries to start covering up their involvement. She looks at Torres who will happily take the blame for what she has tried to do as though she is a stranger.

The Good: How lovely to meet a race who exist simply to be nice to people! The atmospheric sensor that sounds like a musical instrument should have been taken aboard Voyager – what a great invention! Folding space is an intriguing concept and offers hope once again to the crew of Voyager who could make it home with two hops across space. Given what comes later with Janeway refusing to share her technology with the residents of the Delta Quadrant because they might abuse it is fascinating to see her being told the same thing about a technology that could aid their journey home. The discussion of the prime directive and its limitations in the board room is vital – a sharing of strong opinions that really brings the show alive. Its all but forgotten from season three onwards. Chakotay mentions how many times the prime directive has been ignored in the past when people have felt strongly enough about it, Kim (naturally) thinks it’s a fabulous set of rules and Janeway ponders how cruel it is to be on the other side of the fence being refused because another culture has its own set of rules. A really interesting scene. I like all the grumblings below decks in Engineering where the Marquis and Federation officers can finally all agree on something – ignoring their orders and trying to figure out how to create the technology for themselves. The idea of the Voyager being the latest novelty for creating pleasure is another superb concept.

The Bad: Okay I will stop complaining about this soon but the Sikarians are not only humanoid but they are also human! The one feature to suggest that this is an alien race is some string in their hair. I was all ready to praise the director for the atmospheric windy forest glad sequence when I was struck with another terrible location backdrop with actors superimposed over it. The budget seriously wouldn’t have stretched to ten seconds of location footage? By offering the Sikarians stories for their technology, Janeway is still ignoring the Prime Directive and its rules of non interference. Stories are full of morals, ideas, concepts – by offering them a library of tales that range from subversive to suggestive you could alter their world considerably. Knowledge is the ultimate corrupter.

Moment to Watch Out For: How Tuvok’s insane decision is actually written in such a way that makes it understandable. ‘My logic was not in error but I was’ indeed.

Teaser-tastic: ‘We’re sending out a distress call’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because you are in distress!’ Not only unengaging but nonsensical!

Result: Its just shy of being the best written episode of the season but Prime Factors is by far the most interesting when it concerns the crews desire to return home. What starts off as bog standard shore leave soon becomes something much more involving – a moral dilemma for both Janeway and her crew that exposes just how engrossing these characters can be when denied something they want so badly. With real dissention in the ranks, strong opinions being fired publicly, the Seska subplot starting to emerge, a chance for Janeway to question herself and a stunning and surprising conclusion, I was very surprised at how much mileage this episode drove out of its relatively simple concept. They surely cannot have a carrot dangled in front of their faces every few episode otherwise Voyager will soon become extremely predictable but for the time being at least these gulps of hope that cause fractures in the crew are by far the most compelling episodes the show has to offer. Mulgrew is phenomenal in the last scene: 9/10

State of Flux written by Chris Abbott and directed by Robert Scheerer

What’s it about: Somebody has handed Federation technology to the Kazon and all fingers point to Seska…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway is deeply disturbed by the thought that somebody could have handed technology to the Kazon. Nice to see she is as strong as the rest of our flagship captains when it comes to intimidating the enemy. She doesn’t like threats, she doesn’t like bullies and she doesn’t like Cullah. And if he stands in her way she will respond with all the ‘unique technologies’ at her disposal. When Seska criticises Janeway’s techniques at the end I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the whole speech.

Tattoo: The first Chakotay episode and annoyingly its rather good but only because its nice to see he is every bit the gullible monkey I always thought him to be. Whilst it would go on to provide some good moments coming up it is pointless revealing that Seska and Chakotay have been lovers for some time where there has been no sign of that in the slightest. To drop that revelation into the episode where she betrays him means the twist really doesn’t have any impact. Only Chakotay could be so unbelievably dull to consider looting a few supplies to make mushroom soup a criminal conspiracy! How he ever made it as a Marquis terrorist is beyond me, he’s far too square to think outside the box. And when he has a hungry, horny Bajoran woman offering herself on a plate he is as stiff as a post (and not where it counts!). Chakotay’s refusal to believe that Seska had anything to do with this makes him look remarkably stupid. Even if it wasn’t glaringly obvious he should at least be suspicious of everybody and not just those he doesn’t have feelings for.

Slimy Seska: I love Seska. I think she should have deposed Janeway in a Marquis rebellion in series two and taken control of the ship. She would have thrown Neelix in the Brig and had him randomly tortured, put a collar on Chakotay and dragged him around the corridors like a dog and spent every episode insulting Harry Kim until he cried like a baby. Frankly whilst everybody else treats her like a criminal she is the only person on this godamn ship that seems real to me. For a start she has an opinion and she acts on it, she manipulates those around her into getting her own way and she happily slags off the ridiculously outdated (at least in the Delta Quadrant) values of the Federation. She’s basically the Quark of Voyager, not quite as amusing but just as insightful. And whereas the DS9 crew utilise and admire Quark (whilst insulting him of course) Seska is made to feel like an outsider because she has a mind of her own. The fact that she has hoodwinked Chakotay so completely and hidden her secret identity for so long makes me admire her even more! Like all good femme fatales she knows how to lay on the sympathy when suspicion is pointed at her and Martha Hackett really goes for it as Seska tells a story about a terrible disease and a compassionate Cardassian donor. Even when she is exposed Seska still manages to outsmart Chakotay and Tuvok by having an escape plan on standby. Seska shows up this bunch of monkeys for the chumps they are. She’ll be back and I can’t wait.

Spotted Dick: Rather wonderfully Neelix explains to Carey what would happen if he bit into the fruit found and oddly finishes his list of ailments by pointing at his penis! His comment that humans aren’t used to roughing it is valid and they better get used to it because its Leola root stew from now on! Bleaugh! Bloodworm tartare! Ugh!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You were working for her, Seska was working for them…was anyone on that ship working for me?’ – Chakotay realises that everybody has been treating him like a mug.
‘We are alone here at the mercy of any number of hostile aliens because of the incomprehensible decision of a Federation Captain. A Federation Captain who destroyed our only chance to get home. Federation rules, Federation nobility, Federation compassion! Do you understand if this had been a Cardassian ship we would be home now! We must begin to forge alliances, to survive we must have powerful friends! You’re a fool Captain. And you’re a fool to follow her’ – the best scene of the season.

The Good: I would much rather see a food fight between Seska and Neelix broken up by Tuvok and Kes than visit Chakotay in his quarters! What a macabre image the Kazon melted into the walls and floor are. Credit where it is due, the idea of a member of the crew working against their best interest and defying protocol is an extremely strong one that sees the writers thinking of ways to make the series more exciting. I love the paranoia that brews up on the ship surrounding who could be the traitor, rumours see everybody pointing the finger. When Carey is pulled in for questioning it starts to feel like something of a witch hunt and the very interesting questions arises that when a Federation and Marquis are both in line for the blame for the same crime who is the more obvious candidate? Great to see that something as mundane (at least to the Federation) as a food replicator causing such problems and wiping out an entire Kazon crew. Seska pointing the finger at herself to frame Carey is a moment of genius on her part.

The Bad: Unfortunately Seska is the obvious culprit given her behaviour in the last episode, her naked anti-Federation views plus the fact that she doesn’t get an onscreen credit in the titles proves she is expendable. Whilst I am pleased that she is to become such a fabulously insidious villainess in the next season imagine how much of a surprise it would have been had Carey been responsible? The design of the Kazon ships lacks menace – they look like cumbersome children’s toys and their make up is very similar to the Klingons with only added big eighties hair to make them standout! How bad is Tuvok at his job to allow Seska to meet with the Kazon, to beam over to the ship to destroy the console, to fake evidence and to get away at the end. At least he looks embarrassed by it at the end.

Moment to Watch For: Its great that this episode doesn’t rely on the reveal of Seska being a double agent (which is painfully obvious) and instead has a back up revelation that she is a Cardassian and was a spy infiltrating the Marquis which is far more interesting. And unexpected.

Teaser-tastic: Two things struck me straight away in the teaser. Firstly actual location work! No more of this superimposing people over fuzzy backdrops but a chance to get out in the fresh air and show some scale. Astonishing to think that we haven’t been outside since Time and Again. Secondly the Kazon make a welcome return if only to suggest that this series is going to have some kind of running continuity. They are still not the most thrilling of aliens but I appreciate the gesture.

Myth Building: The Kazon Nistrome sect is one of the most violent and deceptive.

Foreboding: You see I told you an idea never gets wasted on this show! Tuvok’s suggestion of another Starship winding up in the Delta Quadrant is picked up again at the end of season five when Voyager hooks up with the (frankly far more interesting) Equinox crew.

Result: I don’t want to beat around the bush but at this stage of the game in their individual runs Voyager has (by far) the most gripping running storyline. It wont even last to the end of the season when DS9 will pick its feet up and start sprinting ahead and never look back but it is worth mentioning because this show is often maligned (especially by me) but some of these early episodes really do exploit the drama of the idea at the heart of this series. With Prime Factors and State of Flux you have two back to back episodes that stir up the situation in the Delta Quadrant very nicely and expose that things aren’t quite as rosy below decks as Janeway would have us believe. The first half an hour throws all the accusations into the air before the brilliant last fifteen minutes sees Seska trying her damdest to prove that she is innocent. Chakotay might lose face (hardly a surprise) but Voyager gains a fantastic new villainess. Extremely well written: 9/10

Heroes and Demons written by Naren Shankar and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: The Doctor has his first experience outside of sickbay…

Hepburn-a-Like: My respect for this woman is starting nosedive. When told that Harry Kim is not aboard the ship her first command should be to get as far away from where they are as possible not to start a ship wide search! Nice that Janeway tries to spin that this is the Doctor’s first away mission when she needs something from him (when a few episodes back she had to be convinced that he had any rights whatsoever). There’s something pretty hot about the way Janeway gets excited about technobabble, don’t you think?

EMH: The first time the Doctor is forced to do something that is unfamiliar to him and he is naturally quite anxious (which in itself is a fresh emotion). Robert Picardo underplays the moment when the Doctor first touches bark and smells fresh air and it is all the more stirring. The Doctor’s amazing stories of his prowess (basically some pretty dull medical successes) whilst waving around the largest leg of meat I have ever seen made me chortle quite a bit. Its lovely to see the Doctor out of sickbay and having some fun and the writers should have found a way for him to leave sickbay long before they did. Whilst Kes has always shown a daughterly affection for the Doctor this is the first time somebody has outright flirted with him – and one of his own kind too!

Forever Ensign: Beowulf? Really Harry? Bashir dreams up a programme of being a jet setting babe magnet but our Mr Kim is perfectly happy to play hero of the savages. Even Janeway looks let down by his lack of imagination when Chakotay informs her of his holoprogramme.

The Good: For the second time this year Voyager flirts with the appealing idea of Harry being dead (although by only flirting with it we are always ultimately frustrated). That is one of the best forests Star Trek has produced within a studio, it is atmospherically moonlit, has sheets of mist and feels as though it is crawling with insects. Marjorie Monahan gives a hearty performance as Freya who would fit in just fine with the kick ass women on Voyager!

The Bad: ‘I’m not willing to except that Harry and the others are dead!’ comes from the mouth of bad boy Tom Paris and it feels remarkably out of character. I thought Paris and Chakotay hated each other (well they did in the pilot but we haven’t seen one sign of it since) and you would think he would be happy to hear that he is gone! Unferth has absolutely no purpose but to stand in the Doctor’s way, he’s a mere plot function rather than a character.

Moment to Watch Out For: Robert Picardo’s very sweet performance when Freya dies.

Teaser-tastic: Harry Kim has gone missing – yay!

Anomaly of the Week: You see, no good ever comes of exploring, beaming or even approaching these anomalies! This week a handful of photonic matter is playing havoc with the holodecks!

Orchestra: There is a pleasingly rousing score when the peasants start egging the Doctor on and he basks in his popularity.

Result: Twelve episodes is all it took for Voyager to pull out the holodeck gone awry cliché. I don’t know what to make of this episode because there was nothing offensively bad about it but aside from a few moments of depth from Robert Picardo it is completely unmemorable. Maybe the success or failiure of the holodeck episodes is a matter of personal taste because I have no interest in the period or mythology of Beowulf (odd because I don’t care for James Bond either and Our Man Bashir rocks) and as such my interest was waning from the beginning. It doesn’t help that we see the same events told twice, there is a dull technobabble subplot and the episode resorts to lousy gimmicks such as the Doctor losing his arm. To its credit there are some lovely sets, the musical score is more apparent than usual and it is fun to see the Doctor out and about having fun but these are aesthetic touches to an episode that lacks any kind of interest at its heart: 5/10

Cathexis written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Kim Friedman

What’s it about: Chakotay is pronounced brain dead…

Hepburn-a-Like: Clearly uptight Janeway likes a bit of mystery and romance in her life if her holodeck programme is anything to go by.

Tattoo: Interesting that an episode that puts Chakotay centre stage has more to say about his friends who care deeply about him, especially B’lanna who clearly paid more attention to his dull spiritual mumbo jumbo than he ever thought.

Elfin Alien: Kes’ telepathic sensations are getting stronger, she can sense Chakotay floating around the ship.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Captain its possible that something came back in the shuttlecraft with us’ – it took you twenty minutes of the episode to realise that?
‘Stun ‘er! She’s the alien!’ is a Tuvok line!
‘I don’t know…unless there are two aliens…’ – the intelligence of this crew is painful at times!
‘We’re hoping the Doctor will be able to successfully reintegrate Commander Chakotay’s consciousness…’ – if ever there was an argument against daft Star Trek endings that skip over logic and satisfaction simply to able to fly off to the next destination this would be a strong contender. Until Threshold comes along.

The Good: Carolyn Seymour is a fantastic actress and was worth a much stronger recurring role than a bit part holodeck character. One thing I did take from this episode was the inclusion of Durst who is going to have his face ripped off in the next piece – Star Trek has so many faceless character walking about it is easy to slip people in unnoticed before they become important (Seska is another good example, as is Neela from DS9’s Duet and In the Hands of the Prophets or Muniz in ‘Starship Down’ woo would go on to be killed in ‘The Ship’).

The Bad: Didn’t Voyager have its energy supplies depleted a few episodes back? Not only should they not be running the holodecks to conserve power but Janeway should lead by example by going without. The Ms Davenport in a spooky English mansion plot is (in my eyes) the third weakest of the series (I’m still dreading the day when I have to step into Fair Haven again! Begorah!) and it seems very wrong that they should spend such a large amount of money on the sets for these throwaway scenes when the alien cultures we have visited so far haven’t had half this attention lavished upon them. Seems like they have their priorities right somehow to focus all their energies on frivolities because that is all the show has to offer in later years. Oddly they start a narrative thread within the holodeck programme (‘Never go up to the fourth floor…’) which is never picked up again. I find it a little odd that Zimmerman programmed the Doctor with psycho-spiritual beliefs as an addition to all his strict medical facts. After both Tom Paris and B’lanna have been possessed to stop the ship from entering the nebula you might think that somebody would put two and two together and figure this is not a good idea. Cathexis tries to play out the Invasion of the Body Snatchers ‘who can we trust?’ atmosphere but its lost in an episode this forced (see DS9’s The Adversary for how this sort of thing should be done). What could have been a fun scene on the Bridge when the ‘alien’ pops from person to person to try and kill Tuvok is hampered by some stiff direction that lacks fluidity – it literally feels like lots of different scenes filmed and chopped together. Tuvok is such an unbelievably stiff character that when he is under the influence of an alien intelligence you cannot perceive any shift in Tim Russ’ performance whatsoever. Why is it when people are taken over by Chakotay that they suddenly have terribly robotic movements…unless this is a comment in his character? How on Earth does Chakotay think that by rearranging the stones on his medicine wheel that the crew would understand that that is a pointer to the cluster of stars they need to visit? Of course they do because this episode is so dreadfully strung together by unconvincing co-incidences.

Moment to Watch Out For: The very cool moment when Tuvok stuns everybody on the Bridge at once with his phaser!

Anomaly of the Week: They’re at it again! Tuvok and Chakotay discover a dark matter nebula but instead of going around the thing they start scanning away and all hell ensues!

Teaser-tastic: After Harry Kim’s near death last week and Chakotay brain-dead this week it’s a terrible tease to suggest we might be saying sayonara to Voyagers dullest characters only to pull back and have them okay again by the episodes conclusion.

Result: Technobabble City! Basically all of the characters spout scientific nonsense as though it is the most exquisite Shakespearean dialogue whilst a ghostly spectre floats around the ship. Worse Chakotay’s duller than a lecture on plumbing native American spiritual returns and bores me even more senseless. When the strongest moment in the entire episode comes from Neelix conspiratorially pointing the finger at every person who is acting even mildly out of character on the ship then you know you are in deep do-doos. Cathexis is powered by the most unconvincing of twists and incredible co-incidences which are only matched by the awesome stupidity of the crew who cannot figure out the simplest of plot markers! Chakotay makes a far more interesting mute disembodied spirit than a Starfleet Commander, maybe should have left him floating around the ship for the next seven seasons because I really don’t think we could tell the difference: 2/10

Faces written by Kenneth Biller and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: The Vidiians capture B’lanna and split her into two people; half Klingon and half human…

Brilliant B’Elanna: Its only when you see B’Elanna in full Klingon make up that you realise just how feminine and pretty darn sexy she is normally. I can see what Roxan Dawson is trying to do with the Klingon character but the butch and monotonous way she spits out the dialogue lacks conviction at first…it takes a few scenes for her to settle down. Far more intriguing is to see the human half of B’Elanna and not only because we get to enjoy Dawson out of make up (she is gorgeous). As the human B’Elanna Dawson is meek and nervous and lacking in confidence and you see just how much punch she gives the character usually. To have an episode that really drives home the conflicting sides of Torres’ race was a fantastic idea because it was a character thread the writers could exploit many times (right up until Lineage which is by far one of the highlights of season seven) and to have a regular with real insecurities is a massive plus. You sympathise with her far more than you ever do with somebody like Kim or Chakotay. Even when Seven of Nine came along and stole the limelight Torres was by far my favourite character on Voyager. She is trapped between feeling pride at her Klingon heritage and considering it a mutilation. When she was a child she did everything she could to disguise her forehead because her mother and her where the only Klingons where she grew up. Nobody ever said anything but they were different and her father left when she was five years old. She cried herself to sleep every night for a month – she decided he left because she looked like a Klingon. Its fascinating that is both cases B’Elanna shows amazing strength of character – as a Klingon she has surprising restraint in trying to manipulate Sulan and as a human she reveals some incredible bravery despite her fear. The scene where the two B’Elanna’s come face to face gave me goosebumps, it is a very important scene for both of them to see how much they need the other to be B’lanna. To be able to shout at her Klingon side and say her temper has gotten her in trouble so many times is very good therapy. As a human she is more at peace with herself than she has ever been and it’s a good feeling but she feels incomplete without her Klingon rage coursing through her. She needs to accept that she will have to spend the rest of her life fighting with herself.

Spotted Dick: It is so sweet to think of Neelix having a blast learning to make the native dishes of the entire crew but deciding to pep it up a bit when they are too bland! Its a very funny scene because the humour derives naturally from the characters with Tuvok initially thankful but then hyper critical because a time honoured recipe has been changed and Neelix desperately wanting to give people a touch of home but cannot help but put his own stamp on things. It would be lovely if the Neelix/Tuvok relationship was always this well written.

The Good: By having Brian Markinson play both Sulan and Durst all you need to do is adjust his makeup slightly to switch from one character to the other. He gives a strong performance as both characters. The Vidiians are back and as memorably grotesque as ever and we get to see the extent of their surgical skill, splitting B’Elanna into two distinct individuals. Its lovely that this blistered and scarred race wasn’t just included because the writers wanted to bring them back, there is an actual reason for their appearance and why they have kidnapped B’Elanna (they believe Klingons might be immune to the phage). The thought of the Vidiians keeping their prisoners in pens until they can be experimented on in organ processing is spine tingling. How nice to see another Talaxian. Durst is such a wonderful Frankenstein-esque character who is fully aware of hoe hideous he is but has feelings all the same. Rather than dress him as some mad villain the episode takes the much more interesting path of allowing us to sympathise with him. Even in the horrific sequence when he reveals his human face you understand why he did even if at the same time it is disgusting – its nice to feel conflicted over a moment that is so powerful.

The Bad: How is it that Doctors in the future are able to radically change your appearance so you are a different species with a head twice the size? We’ll see Kira as a Cardassian, Dax as a Bajoran (actually that one isn’t much of a stretch), Sisko, O’Brien and Odo as Klingons…and here Chakotay is a Vidiian with a big gross bloated head! It seems such a stretch that you can effortlessly change somebody’s face to such a degree and than put you all back together again afterwards with no perceivable differences. This all becomes something of a moot point when Janeway and Paris become a pair of copulating lizards in a later episode and the Doctor simply manages to evolve them back into human beings again! Chakotay’s looks are the one amiable thing about him.

Moment to Watch Out For: You would think that by their very nature that the Vidiians couldn’t get any creepier but Sulan lusting after the Klingon B’Elanna is truly frightening and his attempts to impress her by ripping off Durst’s face and grafting it onto his own is one of the most effective shocks Star Trek has ever offered. Its skin crawlingly horrible and re-affirms this race as the one to watch in this show.

Orchestra: The score really stresses the horror of the moment when Durst’s face has been slapped on top of Sulan’s.

Foreboding: There is a very gentle moment between Torres and Paris that suggests that there might be potential in this pairing.

Result: Three things give this episode a bunk up straight away; it’s a B’Elanna episode and those are usually always fairly decent, the Vidiians are back and they are by far Voyagers most successful alien race and there isn’t an anomaly to be seen which is a minor miracle for this show. Its great to have the Vidiians back and that there is something this ghoulish in the Delta Quadrant that makes the crew run away terrified when they see them. It’s a refreshing sense of danger that has been lacking in the show. Faces is an awesomely designed and lit story that has more mood in some scenes than entire seasons later on, the director has really gone for the gothic horror in space feel at it so refreshing to watch an episode that has lashes of atmosphere. Roxan Dawson is such a noteworthy performer and she gives the two halves of her personality very distinct personalities which are both just a breath away from the B’Elanna we recognise. There are a few skips in logic that hold the episode back but overall this is a memorably scary and thoughtful character piece: 8/10

Jetrel written by Jack Klein, Karen Klein & Kenneth Biller and directed by Kim Friedman

What’s it about: Neelix comes face to face with his worst nightmare…

Hepburn-a-Like: Not only is Kate Mulgrew generous enough to step back completely and let Ethan Philips take the limelight but she shows some amazing emotional restraint during her scenes with him. As they discuss the death of his family, she listen to his tales on the Bridge of the day the cloud rose and they discuss the variables involved in what Jetrel is trying to do you can see Janeway is deeply affected by these moments. Almost on the edge of tears. If you thought that having a female captain would in some way weaken the role think again, she is a tough bitch who simply provides striking moments of empathy when the show needs it.

Spotted Dick: In one way this episode makes me happy and in another it is devastating – it is the first episode where you can genuinely see Neelix’s worth as a dramatic character on this show and Ethan Philips gives an outstanding and emotional performance. Unfortunately it is also the only episode where Neelix shows any real worth as a character and its all downhill from here on (he’s relegated to chat show host, dancing goon, babysitter, etc). Still lets not concern ourselves with the future and concentrate on what is easily the best episode you will find to focus on our Talaxian of all trades. Wowza you know its got to be something big if it is going to shut Neelix up and force him to storm off the Bridge. Neelix used to live in a colony in Rynax which had warm days and balmy nights into the metreon cascade, a weapon of mass destruction. Those lovely days were turned into one endless frigid night. 300,000 were killed and Neelix was on Talax with the defence forces. The moment almost breaks down when Janeway asks about his family is heartbreakingly played by Philips, made all the more effective for its subtlety. Neelix tries desperately hard to stay chipper but his voice breaks and his feelings take over. He would rather die than let Jetrel ease his conscience but is made to realise the research could help other Talaxians which is more important than punishing him. His penchant for storytelling is used to insult Jetrel as though he is stabbing him with a rusty knife. Neelix went back to Rynax to look for survivors, a raging atmosphere of corpses and seared flesh and sat with a little girl as she slowly died over a few weeks. We learn that Neelix was a conscientious objector to the war and he never reported for duty despite having regaled Kes with tales of his heroism. He thinks of himself as a coward but during wartime punishment for refusing to fight is death so to stand up for what he believed in was very brave – but he feels nothing but shame. Neelix has lost his mother, father and his little brothers.

Elfin Alien: Its one of the few times I can actually buy into the Neelix/Kes romance especially in the sequence where she goes to his quarters to try and comfort him and he starts telling stories to protect her from his pain. Neelix never considered that he would be the one to die first because Ocampans have such short lives.

Sparkling Dialogue:Those are consequences, Dr Jetrel.’
‘Did you ever think than maybe your wife was right and you had become a monster?’
‘It took us a few moments to realise that Rynax was…gone. Of course the moon was still there we just couldn’t see it because of that metreon cloud.’
‘Who are you going to bring back?’ ‘The victims of Rynax…’
‘I forgive you’ – Neelix’s best ever line.

The Good: I was always under the impression that the Neelix/Tuvok relationship was one of the least satisfying and most annoying in the Trek universe but this is the second episode in a row where they share a great scene together. Plus its wonderful to see Sandrines again, it really was Voyager’s best holodeck spot. James Sloyan is always a fantastic draw and he imbues Jetrel with all the hunched regret and weariness that the character demands. Oddly as a mass murdering scientist he is far more likable than Odo’s father! You would imagine that such an obvious Oppenheimer homage would sink like a lead balloon into unsubtlety (especially with Neelix involved) but there are many disquietingly beautiful moments throughout the drama that handle the subject matter very delicately. Neelix asks Jetrel if he regrets what he did but he offers no apologies for his work merely sympathy that his creation had a far more devastating effect than he anticipated. He makes a distinction between him developing the weapon and the government deciding to use it and Neelix asks quietly if that helps him to sleep at night. He did it to know that it could be done because it is good to know how the world works. Jetrel lost his wife and children because they thought he had become a monster. Even a sequence as mundane as drifting into orbit around a planet is given huge emotional weight after the horrors with have been told about Talax and Neelix’s pained remembrance of how beautiful the world used to be. The episode cleverly convinces you that Jetrel is a sympathetic character before stabbing you in the gut with the realisation that he is using this research for something even more ghastly and then twisting the knife again with the choking revelation that he is trying to bring the dead that he murdered back to life. Like Eye of the Needle these subversions are very skilfully written and executed to really wind the viewer. Jetrel wants to prove that his research can be used to heal as well as kill and when he tried to convince his people to give this a try they exiled him as a Talaxian sympathiser. Such is the way in war. Seeing the transporter experiment working through Neelix’s eyes will take your breath away – its astonishingly emotional.

The Bad: In the space of a season Neelix has had his lungs ripped out and is told that he has a life threatening illness. Are they going to have to threaten his life every time for us to feel any empathy for this man? Janeway orders a complete about turn back to the Talaxian system which is to practically delete all the time they have made up in getting home so far!

Moment to Watch For: There will be a lot of dream sequences/hallucinations in this show but none of them as effective as Neelix’s nightmare in Sandrines with Kes walking up to him with a scarred and burnt flesh.

Myth Building: The Hakonians conquered Talax fifteen years ago.

Result: Too many miracles for one episode that I can hardly contain myself; no anomalies, a riveting central role from Neelix, a fantastic guest star, thoughtful subject matter, no tacked on action sequence…and none of the dull regulars even register (Harry, Chakotay). Jetrel is a superb episode of Voyager and exactly the sort of show you should make people watch when they suggest that this series cannot deliver. It’s a clear Hiroshima parody but like some of the best Trek the powerful subject matter is transferred to the 24th Century and made to have just as much impact there is it does in its historical context. James Sloyan and Ethan Philips deserve plaudits for their scenes together, by far the most potent drama this series has yet produced. Its not quite as flawless as Duet (of which it shares similar ambitions) because it is clearly trying to push your buttons in places but it is very, very well done and by far the best episode of the season: 9.5/10

Learning Curve written by Ronald Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Nazi Youth hits Voyager…

Hepburn-a-Like: For a split second I was cheering for Janeway when she suggested it wasn’t fair that they expect Starfleet behaviour from ex Marquis members who never went to the Academy…but then she suggests brainwashing them to the Starfleet way! Its no better than religious conversion! By gently tweaking a famous saying of Hitler’s we can see Janeway in a new dictatorial light: ‘My magnificent crew! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? What material! With them I can make the Delta Quadrant conform to Starfleet rules of conduct!’ Seig Heil! Heil Janeway! Oddly for a season finale Janeway hardly makes an appearance.

Tattoo: Wey-hey! An honest to God great Chakotay moment when he punches Dalby in the face! Unfortunately he was using this as an example of how the Marquis way is not the way to go whereas I was thinking it would make a far more interesting show! Chakotay could deck Harry Kim every time he has an opinion! Look at me – I’m rooting for this show to be like the crew in Living Witness!

Mr Vulcan: Tuvok needs to chill out a bit, he chastises a Marquis crew member for noticing that something needs fixing and getting on with it rather than going through all the usual tedious channels. I’m not surprised there wasn’t a mutiny if people have their wrist slapped for such unimportant things (the only significant problem this caused was deleting the brats from hell Janeway was talking to). I cannot imagine somebody who would convince me less that goody goody Starfleet rules of conduct are the way to go than stiff, humourless Tuvok. I think his robotic personality would frighten me away from it – turn Starfleet and you can be like me! He talks to the ex Marquis members like they are little kids that need to be brought into line. Unlike Tuvok B’lanna understands that to get these people to work you need to make it a challenge and not an order. The one moment of sympathy I had for Tuvok in this episode was when he was trying to catch a quiet couple of minutes with his own thoughts and Neelix comes bumbling over because clearly his services as morale officer are required. Fuck off Neelix! Tuvok trying to get in touch with his recruits is painful to watch, there is no point in trying to get touchy feely when you are standing there like a robot and not making eye contact! At least Tuvok breaks his own rules by saving Gerron so as Garak might say ‘there’s hope for you yet.’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘At least we went out with our phasers firing!’ says Henley of their failed Bridge simulation against the Romulans but of course that’s the wrong attitude.
‘No Mr Vulcan I’m saying that you are rigid and inflexible!’ – hahaha!
‘Get the cheese to sickbay!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We must function as one perfectly tuned unit!’ Seig Heil Tuvok! He should have quoted Hitler again: ‘Then our people will bloom and flourish. Our people will be able to put their geniality, their ability, their diligence and steadfastness into the works of peace and human culture. This is our desire. We hope for it and we believe in it!’
‘This is one time where retreat is not an option!’
‘If you can learn to bend the rules…I guess we can learn to follow them’ – that cheese gets everywhere, doesn’t it?

The Good: Dalby deserves a little credit for tampering with ships systems to increase a friends replicator rations! I was cheering when the four rebels walked out on Tuvok’s patronising sermon – these guys are happy to do their work but they don’t want to be lectured which I think is fair enough. Only the Doctor is smart enough to take the piss out of this crazy situation by treating the gel pack like a sick patient.

The Bad: I didn’t think the creators of Voyager could ever create children characters even more annoying than that goofy grass in Time and Again but astonishingly the two arrogant little swots in Janeway’s holodeck fantasy are just horrible. ‘Is your Latin a little rusty?’ I’ve always thought the idea of hurting children repugnant but in this case and in purely fictional terms it would be a blessing. They made such a big woo about the ship having bio-neural circuitry in Caretaker but it really hasn’t been relevant in the slightest until in this episode where they find the dullest imaginable way of brining it up – poisoned by Neelix’s stinky old cheese! Irritatingly nobody in a senior position says that Janeway’s idea to brainwash the crew is a bad idea – they seriously need Quark on this show! How embarrassing to parade these misfits right through the Mess Hall. Tuvok suggests that retreat is often the best option and that going out guns blazing is not – what on Earth would Kirk have to say about this? Probably that the 24th Century is deathly dull. Even worse…then the Nazi food squad start taking apart Neelix’s kitchen for other foreign contaminants! Most importantly of all…what is the point of getting to know these four characters if we never hear from any of them again?

Moment to Watch Out For: The horrid jog through the corridors – its like a Rocky montage with its bollocks cut off.

Fashion Statements: ‘Crewman Henley, your head band is certainly festive’ notes Tuvok before reminding her it is against Starfleet uniform dress code and like the good little Nazi asks her to take it of. God forbid that anybody shows any individuality on this ship.

Myth Building: Torres was broken with a position of responsibility, Chakotay was broken when Janeway gave him the eye…now they are trying to assimilate any person on the ship who opposes the Starfleet way! Its like some crazy cult brainwashing!

Result: TNG ends its first season with the return of the Romulans, DS9 with a blistering religious assassination attempt and Voyager…well Voyager ends its first run with some mouldy old cheese sabotaging the ship. I kid you not. There is only one thing that is more irritating than Picard flying through the galaxy trying to humanise everybody and that is Janeway’s attempt to crack everybody into submitting to the Starfleet way of living. Here we see Tuvok torturing, insulting, lecturing and eventually breaking his Marquis victims in order to get them to come around. Are you kidding me? Its like they are trying to iron out any tension that might exist in this show by showing that religious (or in this respect Starfleet) brainwashing techniques. Hilariously much of the worst part of this is the training exercises which are shown via a 1980s training montage complete with jolly music. I don’t understand why they climaxed the (overall reasonably attention grabbing) first season on such a hideous note – if they knew they were keeping four episodes back I would have re-jiggled the episode run and ended with the massively superior Jetrel. Nice to know that Nazism will be spread through the Delta Quadrant: 3/10