Tuesday, 31 December 2019

DS9 – A Time to Stand

Plot – DS9 was always willing to push the boat out when it came to serialisation (it started way back in series one and two where In the Hands of the Prophets – The Siege charted Bajor’s tricky first steps in political independence) but it was with the debut of season six that it truly embraced the idea with a six episode arc to kick start the season. It was probably the highlight of the entire show (although there is an argument to be made for the final ten episodes too) and was certainly the point where it was at its most confident and the characters and storylines were firing on all cylinders. There is a much needed ‘previously on Deep Space Nine’ at the beginning of A Time Stand but it does a such a superb job of getting everybody up to speed and ready to explore this new Dominion occupied station that I would say that you could easily tackle the episode without it. The teaser is almost eight minutes long, fatalistic, and quickly lets the audience know that things are going very badly indeed for the Federation.

The climax of season five ended with a huge fleet building momentum and heading off to kick the Dominions butt and season six opens with shot of Federation ships limping out of battle, battered and damaged, after six months of slaughter. Suddenly we are in new territory. It goes without saying that at this point DS9 is serialised but it can still throw in some surprises like the return of the Jem H’adar ship that they acquired at the beginning of season five.

The cliff-hanger to A Time To Stand promises much more serialisation to come. It closes on a terrific action sequence that leaves our heroes stranded behind the lines in an enemy ship. And that’s avoiding the sticky point that the crew have become terrorists and are striking at the heart of their enemy. DS9 is breaking all the rules now and is all the better for it.

Character – There’s a glorious sequence that seems to suggest that Garak and Bashir are going to be the new Bones and Spock. Bashir discusses the loses in the war dispassionately and Garak calls him out on it. To one it is cold hard facts, to the other it is a matter of their lives. Bashir’s genetically enhanced background really yielded fascinating results for Bashir. Plus, he’s got his hair slicked back and his sleeves rolled up…when did Bashir get so cool?

DS9’s extended guest cast is the shows bread and butter and so many of the best examples appear in this episode (Garak, Dukat, Weyoun, Martok) that I was helpless to resist. The trio of Weyoun, Dukat and Damar on the station is especially rewarding because this is three men who all consider themselves to be important and all treat each other as though they are the one in charge. Power struggles are so much fun; Weyoun defers to the Founders but treats Dukat and Damar like they are dust beneath his feet, Dukat relies on Damar and treats Weyoun like an annoying Uncle who has been left to look after them, Damar respects Dukat but treats everybody else (especially Kira) as though they are living embodiment of everything that is repugnant.

Dukat is drunk on power and loving having his position back on Terek Nor. This is peak Dukat; full of himself and in a situation where he can stroke his ego with every line of dialogue. He’s back in Command of his old haunt, he’s cosying up to the woman who loathes him and there is nothing she can do about it and he is on the verge of conquering the entire Alpha Quadrant for his people. He’s the hero of his own story, despite how loathsome he behaves and Alaimo captures that euphoric sense of supremacy so charismatically. You want to hate this guy for everything he represents and yet it is a performance with such magnetism that you can’t help but love spending time with him anyway.

Listen to the banter between Dax, Bashir, O’Brien and Nog on the Jem H’adar ship. It really doesn’t get much better than that, people. These are characters who have fully matured and work in any combination firing off great dialogue.

Performance – He doesn’t get a lot to do in this episode but has anybody else noticed how JG Hertzler lights up the room whenever he appears in a scene? It’s a great talent and for a guy who doesn’t really enjoy Klingon culture all that much it is a wonderful reason for me to engage with those scenes. His charisma is terrifying.

Sisko being removed from the Defiant is an unusual turn of events because generally the second half of an end of season cliff-hanger is devoted to returning the show to the status quo and not shifting things out of alignment even more. Even better is him having to explain to his dad that he left Jake on the station in the hands of a vicious, bloodthirsty enemy. Joe Sisko kicks ass and any scene between him and his son is instant gold. I don’t doubt for a single second that these two are related. Listen to Joseph Sisko’s confusion about why there isn’t enough space amongst the stars for everybody to just leave each other alone. It’s hardly a radical point but it is a very relevant one.

Production – Having so many scenes amongst the Federation characters taking place at either a space station or on the Defiant I am left with the inescapable conclusion that the décor of Federation stations and ships is decidedly dull and I much prefer the greasier, harsher and more atmospheric aesthetic of a Cardassian architecture on DS9.

Why does the CGI look more impressive on DS9 than it does on Enterprise (which came afterwards?). I feel that this was the point where the show could really experiment with how ambitious they could make their effects work and they went hell for leather to prove they can pull off some very dynamic space action sequences. I am not for one second suggesting that the effects work on Voyager and Enterprise should be mocked because they are frequently excellent, it just doesn’t feel as ambitious or as assured with what it is trying to achieve. DS9 went to all-out war and for the first time we are seeing enormous fleets in action in an explosive manner.

Best moment – Some of my favourite Quark moments come when he is given the chance to break out of the Ferengi mould and say something profound about the human condition. For such a treacherous lowlife, he is possibly the most honest character on the station when it comes to his opinion. He puts an interesting spin on the way the Occupation of the station is playing out, suggesting that things could be an awful lot worse than they are (as they were during the previous Occupation). It’s enough to make both Kira and Odo sit up and acknowledge that he has a point.

The scene between Kira and Dukat in his office is very unpleasant (in the most gripping way imaginable) viewing. It’s the sort of scene that highlights the places this show was prepared to go compared to some of the others. Dukat behaves in a loathsome way, and essentially tells Kira that if she fucks him he will make her life very easy. When she recoils from his advances he tells her he is willing to wait, leaving the threat of sexual harassment to come hanging in the air. Kira’s face says it all. She would rather die. She would rather he died. You know this is going to explode at some point and the anticipation this scene generates is delicious.

A reason to watch this episode again – A Time to Stand is where TNG was in Yesterday’s Enterprise, but in order for that show to embrace war and conflict it had to trip into an alternative universe. This time it’s for real and it’s an ugly situation. You’d think the show heading down such a fatalistic path would be agonising viewing but it’s razor sharp; full of juicy characterisation, fine dialogue and plenty of unusual situations that characters on Star Trek don’t get to face. There is a confidence to the show at this point that is unmistakable. It knows it has fully matured and is delivering powerhouse material and yet refuses to become complacent, still pushing the boundaries. This is essentially half an hour of character material with an action sequence bolted on the end and I can tell you what is the more formidable part of the episode. A Time to Stand isn’t anywhere near the best episode in this seven-episode run (I’d put Call To Arms, Rocks and Shoals and the two final episodes above this) and it is still absolutely riveting television – Trek at its most muscular, and dynamic and bursting with character.

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

Clue to tomorrow's episode:

ENT – Canamar

Plot – I can perhaps see the problem that a lot of people had with the first two seasons of Enterprise when the pre-credits sequence of this episode features a pan across an empty shuttlepod and the shock revelation that Captain Archer has been kidnapped. Again. I figure he must hold the record for most number of kidnappings. Everybody wants a piece of his ass.

I always find it interesting when a writer I recognise as having made a sizable contribution to another show I have enjoyed (and reviewed) shows up in another franchise. John Shiban was the meat and potatoes writer of The X-Files, capable of producing an excellent script when paired up with another writer and a competent (but rarely spectacular) one when he goes solo. It’s clear from Canamar that he’s no better and no worse on Enterprise; this has drive for action and darker elements of his usual scripts with little of the sparkle and colour that might have made it palatable. He’s happy to show you the true grit on the prison ship; prisoners being tortured, fed slop and given permission to beat one another up. But watching this unfold lacks any of the personality that might have made proceedings a little less functional. It plays out exactly as you would imagine. Voyager’s The Chute might not be the best hour of television you will ever see but it does exactly the same thing (putting two male crewmembers in a dangerous prison environment) and pulls off a whopper of a twist and a homo-erotic subtext that generates some interest.

Character – I’ve figured out another problem with Enterprise that might have stalled people’s enjoyment or why they turned off in droves. The creators make a huge assumption that people will feel drawn to this crew just because they are the regulars on a Star Trek show. There’s not a great deal of effort being put in to make these people warm and witty and wonderful. They are utterly stone faced most of the time, completely professional and pretty much deathly dull because of it. I want to hear them bantering, cracking jokes or sparking off one another in conflict. Anything but the vanilla monotony of gravel-faced professionalism. It’s like being on a ship full of middle management. Say what you will about the regulars on TOS, TNG, DS9 or VOY; they were colourful, vivid and enjoyable to spend time with.

The most predictable path a prison episode could go down is for two guys who have been mistaken for criminals winding up on a prison ship and through a series events find themselves free, working together and sharing their stories of being wrongfully imprisoned and realising they are both nice guys. Oh yes, it went there. When did Star Trek become this predictable? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Archer was forced to work with a genuine criminal and forced to question whether he likes the guy or not?

Performance – Here is an opportunity for Scott Bakula to play a smuggler and have some fun pretending to be a bad guy. Does he take this opportunity? No, he plays his alter ego with all the cheery demeanour and charm as he does Captain Archer. With absolutely none whatsoever. A baffling missed opportunity.

Production – The alien that sits next to Trip on the prisoner ship is quite simply the most repulsive looking species we have every encountered in Star Trek. His forehead is covered in giant pustules that look as though they are about to explode at any minute. All (and I mean ALL) of the personality is given to this character, who never shuts up and is burdened with so many personality quirks that you cannot help but fear the writer and director are compensating for the lack of character elsewhere. This is the only comedy in the episode, and it’s painful.

A handsome score by Brian Taylor, who only contributed one more (the similarly memorable Regeneration). A shame because there are moments here where he manages to convince me that something much more exciting is going on.

Best moment – The last ten minutes sees this contained episode opening out into spectacular violence and action. Mayweather gets to fire a gun, which is the most useful thing I have seen him do. Kroeker finally feels comfortable bringing this episode to life and cuts between some slick CGI and hand to hand combat.

Worst moment – The episode ducks out of making Archer responsible for any deaths when venting plasma and igniting it would more than likely destroy the ships that are pursuing them. It’s a pretty gutless move on the writers part who should have been taking more risks in this direction. When Koruda decides to murder all the fellow prisoners to mask their escape the script is never invested in whether Archer can go through with that or not, simply in how quickly he can change his mind and find another way. It is always ducking the dramatic opportunities.

I wish they hadn’t done that – I swear that Hoshi and Mayweather are just there to make up the numbers. I wish that somebody had capitalised on how little they are given focus by having them turn out to be Section 31 spies who are designed to blend into the background.

A reason to watch this episode again – Typical John Shiban; it gets all the basic elements right (an intriguing scenario, an opportunity for some directional flourishes) but lacks the essential spark that brings a piece of television to life. In this case it is insightful character work or having anything to say. Both lacking and both much needed. What you have is an episode that looks great (Allan Kroeker is no slouch) but drags from plot point to plot point functionally but never entertainingly. I think below average is the standard for early Enterprise and this doesn’t disappoint.

** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: 

Monday, 30 December 2019

TNG – The Last Outpost

Plot – The long-awaited chance to make contact with a Ferengi vessel. This is another one of those little details that Trek rewrites later because this is certainly not the point where the Federation first makes contact with the Ferengi, they have clearly been a presence in the Quadrant for a long time. It also highlights how much work there was to be done in the world of TNG if they thought that the Ferengi were going to be the new big bad. I’m guessing the idea was to make them this series Klingons but this episode single-handedly destroys that notion by making them such idiotic, one-dimensional savages. Could it have had worked had the writers/director/actors managed to make them a formidable force in The Last Outpost? Why not, it worked with the Borg in Q Who? But it was going to take much more than an electric whip to make these bumpy headed, spiky teethed, big eared aliens a threat to the Federation. Whoever gave the direction for the Ferengis to behave like ‘crazed gerbils’ (according to Armin Shimmerman) needs shooting because it dispels any menace that this race might have elicited. There might be some insane person out there that thinks that this is the best depiction of the Ferengi…but that person would not be me. The scenes of them gyrating in front of the Enterprise crew in a way that I think is meant to be threatening baffled me.

Character – Data: ‘Captain, this shouldn’t be.’ Riker: ‘They know they’ve got us in deep trouble.’ Data: ‘I doubt they wear red, white and blue or look anything like Uncle Sam.’ Geordi: ‘We come back fighting! Whoo-wee!’ Picard: ‘Merde.’ Ferengi: ‘Your alien image again shock us!’ Data: ‘Nothing to write home about.’ Worf: ‘Pygmy cretins!’ Tasha: ‘Paws off, Ferengi!’ Crusher: ‘Not a moment too soon, Jean.’

Either this script was run through a machine that put together random sentences for the characters to say or it was written by somebody who completely fails to understand who these characters are and how they have been presented, even at this early stage. Geordi comes across as a black rapper on da Bridge with his hipster dialogue, Data makes more emotional statements than an android should, Riker is portrayed as a big, butch hero who is all brawn and no brain. The story goes that this script was tampered with before it reached the actors and the writers original dialogue was ‘tweaked.’ It can’t have been any worse than what the script became and I would be intrigued to see where it began. Watch as Data reaches a functional impasse and gets frustrated and emotional over his dilemma – the writers clearly haven’t decided upon the level of emotion he is allowed to display at this point.

Why does Captain Picard sound so nasal in season one? It is the strangest of phenomenon’s because it is dropped completely between seasons two and three where Patrick Stewart can be seen to be physically relaxing into the role. It’s a bizarre uptight, bureaucratic affectation that I find very distracting. It is the voice of a man who thinks, at this stage, that all this is a little above him.

Production – It’s the strangest directorial choice of communication with the Ferengi vessel with a shocking close up on the Ferengi with Picard silhouetted in the background. It would have been very amusing if at the end of the episode the Ferengi stated ‘Oh goodness, I was sitting too close to the camera.’

It might not be the sophisticated matte paintings that Trek would later deploy but I appreciated the efforts the director went to to suggest that this was a vast, compromising landscape on the planet. Add in some lightning, smoke effects and a camera that roves between the rocks on the physical set and you have a planet’s surface that is clearly studio based but pleasingly inhospitable.

The fight between the landing party and the Ferengi literally has to be seen to be believed. The little trolls attempt to bite them like crazy little savages and watching Worf wrestle with one made me laugh until my sides hurt.

Best moment – The electric whips. Frankly everybody deserved a good zap before the end.

Worst moment – The first 20 minutes of The Last Outpost might be the most balls achingly dull material I have been forced to sit through yet in this marathon. The trouble is I know exactly who the Ferengi are and what their real impact will have on Star Trek and so the rewatchability of this episode is hampered by that. Not only that but 20 minutes of two stationary ships in a stand off with no dialogue between the two is simply not riveting television. It’s the Enterprise crew making a ton of guesses about a foe they know nothing about. When the story heads to the planet I wouldn’t say the quality rises, but it is at least visually much more interesting. Everybody dashes off the Bridge so quickly as if they are so excited to simply being doing something.

I wish they hadn’t done that – Do you imagine that Picard will ever live down the fact that he surrendered to a Ferengi vessel?

It’s supposed to be extremely cold on the Enterprise but nobody bothered to have steam coming from anybody’s mouths or frost on the sets. It’s just a bunch of actors in a perfectly warm room pretending that it is freezing. When the Enterprise is released from the Guardian’s grip it looks like everybody is waking up from a light nap.

The conclusion that The Last Outpost seems to draw is summed up in the chat between Riker and the Guardian. ‘We are superior to the Ferengi in every way. Goodbye. Hahahaha.’ Loathsome.

A reason to watch this episode again – Destroying the idea that any Star Trek is good Star Trek, The Last Outpost is an appalling script (in terms of plot, character and dialogue), paceless, unsatisfactory (in that it promises a new foe for the series and it fails to deliver) and climaxes on a painful sentiment. The sad truth is this isn’t the weakest episode of the first season (that probably goes to Code of Honor) but it is certainly the sort of standard you could gauge the other Trek series’ worst offerings against, because I don’t think DS9, Voyager or the others ever delivered anything as cack-handed as this production. Everything that is wrong with this episode can be summed up with this exchange between Picard and Crusher talking about Wesley: ‘He has a right to meet death awake’ ‘Is that a male perspective?’ Just hideous. With its powerful godlike being, silly aliens and studio planetary backdrop this is perhaps the most TOS like episode of TNG…but without any of the wit, fun and colourful characters that come with the Original Series. This was so bad I had to come away from it three times just to finish it. It even ends on a terrible joke.

½ out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: 

Sunday, 29 December 2019

VOY – Fair Trade

Plot – Neelix becomes an unwitting narcotics dealer. I would have paid any money for that pitch.

‘I believe this is a region of space known as the Nekrit Expanse…’ And with that line and an ominous sting of music Voyager feels as though it is heading into an exciting region of space. One of the things that this show has in its favour is the ability to capture that TOS feeling of the exploration of the unknown and that anything is possible. That was lost in TNG (when it started to flesh out the Alpha Quadrant) and DS9 (to its huge advantage as it tackled serialisation) but Voyager still has the aptitude to treat us to the unfamiliar in its own unique way. It didn’t live up to that premise nearly enough but when it did it captured that feeling of suspense about the strange and mysterious very well.

What’s fantastic about this episode is how it gives Neelix a solid reason to get into all of the trouble that he is in. It really bugs me when characters behave in unusual ways without motivation but his desperate need to prove himself to Janeway (entirely believable) forces him down a path that gets more dangerous at every turn. It comes to a point where there is no going back without exposing himself and so he has to plough on and hope that the information he gets will salvage his reputation at the end of all this. I especially enjoyed the moment where he says ‘goodbye’ to the Voyager crew without them even knowing and heads off to do something incredibly dangerous that will sacrifice his place on the crew. I didn’t know I could feel this sorry for the guy. Neelix has made some bad calls in this episode, but he’s smart enough to see a way out of the drugs deal if he is risky enough.

Character – I know I’m supposed to like Neelix. And often when Trek is desperate to make you like somebody it tries too hard and falls way short of the mark. Think Naomi Wildman, think Wesley Crusher, think Leeta. Actually, I rather like Leeta but I know people who find her a bit much. Neelix is so quirky and happy go lucky that he becomes too saccharine too quickly. Not only that he has this insidious passive aggressive streak that flashes at really ugly moments, an uncomfortable relationship with a three-year-old and a barely hidden jealous side that is never a pretty emotion to experience. All this is done behind a goofy smile and some ridiculous make up. The fact that Ethan Phillips manages to salvage the odd moment and an all too infrequent episode by adding some of his own charm and charisma to the part is something of a minor miracle. This is probably the best Neelix episode in the entire run (his leaving episode is the only other serious contender) and the one where I find him at his most sympathetic. There’s nothing more painful than feeling obsolete and we’ve finally reached the point in the Voyager’s crews journey home where his knowledge has run out and he feels that he will no longer be needed.

Performance – Wixiban is a lovely character and charismatically brought to life by James Nardini and I completely bought his relationship with Neelix. It’s affectionate but cagey because of their previous lives as scavengers. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more of this rakishly charming rogue. He’s certainly far more instantly likable than Neelix ever was.

Production – Efforts are made to make the space station feel alien and exotic in a way that Star Trek rarely does. The lighting comes right down and automatically the atmosphere shoots way up. It’s bustling, full of unusual looking aliens and it feels a little dirtier and more sinister than your usual Voyager location. I wish they were visiting places this seedy all the time.

Best moment – When Neelix and Tom Paris share a moment about dishonesty and how it catches up with you. Neelix is in over his head at this point and Tom Paris has been there and has words of wisdom that might help. It’s a lovely character moment that delves right to the core of both of them.

This an episode with a double climax and they are both effective; Neelix confronting the narcotics dealers is both tense and exciting (especially when the plasma ignites and threatens to take everybody down) and a character one where Janeway gives him a dressing down in a way only she can. With pinpoint accurate disappointment. Mulgrew and Phillips both do impressive work here and for a second I was as convinced that Neelix was going to be tossed off the Ship as he was.

I wish they hadn’t done that – What the hell happened to Vorik? He was pretty well established in season three and I rather liked him because he was such an awkward doofus. But as ever with these things (can anyone say the strays from the Equinox crew) they get lost in the decks of Voyager never to be seen again. I believe he turned up in the penultimate episode of Voyager, but they could have done so much more with this character.

A reason to watch this episode again – The rarest of things – Voyager is giving Ethan Phillips a chance to really act his socks off with some challenging material. He rises to the occasion brilliantly in an episode that characterises Neelix very well (you wait and see how many times I don’t say that) and reveals some real potential in the character. Not only that it ventures into darker moral territory for this show, a creepy new location and suggests exciting things for the future. Season three of Voyager is one of my least favourites in Trek’s entire run and Fair Trade is a gripping anomaly in that year.

**** out of *****

Clue to tomorrow's episode:

Saturday, 28 December 2019

ENT – Cease Fire

Plot – ‘Only a Vulcan could call a hundred years of oppression a compromise…’ There is definitely something worth tapping into when it comes to Archer and his crew involving themselves in the political affairs of other species. Freshly gracing the stars with their presence, humanity is making quite a name for itself amongst other races to a point where their fairness and expert handling of politics is being promoted. It’s a great angle for the show to take long term, and some of this shows best episodes sees the crew involving themselves in the affairs of races that we know very well. The suspense isn’t what will happen now, but what will happen in the future. The fate of the shape of the Quadrant that we know and love. 

Character – ‘The Vulcan High Command doesn’t like me very much…and frankly the feeling is mutual…’ I can remember when I decided to stop watching Enterprise and save my television viewing time for a show that angered me less. It was quite early in season one when Archer’s distaste for Vulcans and Klingons simply did not marry up with how I felt a Starfleet Captain should behave. Frankly I felt that it spilled over into outright racism and it was something that he was not being pulled back on. I remember when Sisko was posted to DS9 and had figure out how to live with fiery Bajorans, cheating Ferengis and grumpy shapeshifters, a job he managed to do whilst respecting them and treating them all by their own codes of conduct. He never had that look of utter disdain and that sour tone to his voice that Archer has when dealing with races he doesn’t care for. It really bothered me and it’s here in spades in this episode, especially in the scene where he first meets Soval again. I don’t want to not like my Captain in any Star Trek show. I don’t mind not liking actions that they take (that happens all the time with Picard and Janeway) but I want to intrinsically like who they are. With Archer and his barely disguised xenophobia, I find that very difficult. It’s clear that there is some way to go before creating the United Federation of Planets.

Performance – Jeffrey Combs. What is there to say? He’s committed to every role he plays and actively manages to lift the reputation of one Trek show (Enterprise) and add a great deal of colour and charm to another (DS9) by his mere presence. He’s crucial on this show; providing a character who is great fun to watch and yet one you can take very seriously (doubly impressive given his absurd appearance) and whose appearances means that certain episodes are automatically worth a watch. Indispensable.

Production – I find it desperately sweet that the creators of Enterprise have remained loyal to the Andorian design despite the fact that it is miles away from the sophistication that we would come to expect from a show that is being made in the early 2000s. The only concession that they make to latter day animatronics is the twitching antennae on top of their heads which, if I’m honest, makes them look even more amusing. Not to mention a little rude. Bravo for nostalgia.

The whole production is extremely capable and on any level of television critique looks a million dollars. There are detailed sets, a realistic shuttle crash, firefights. However, no matter how much money you throw at a piece it is nothing if the director isn’t adding that extra spark to make the whole thing ignite. It’s competently done but never dynamic or exciting or any other word you might think of to describe the audience on the edge of their seats desperate to see what happens next. It’s more standard Trek firefight number 245. Remember The Siege of AR-558? Now that was a firefight that got the pulse racing.

Best moment – Archer being beaten up by a female Andorian. It’s the most fun you can have with this piece.

Worst moment – Enterprise has four seasons of varying quality (mixed is probably the kindest word I could find) but did it ever really recover from the choice of that song as the theme tune? It’s like stuffing Colin Baker (who played the sixth Doctor Who) into that coat. The show never quite leapt over that hurdle nor escaped the embarrassment of it for the entirety of his tenure. This show will always have that song as its theme song, and it is probably the moment that Berman era Trek jumped the shark.

The biggest surprise this episode could have delivered was that Shran was responsible for bringing down the shuttle and igniting the political situation. The least surprising thing they could have done was to make it his female aide who is questioning his decisions throughout. I’ll let you guess which route they went down.

I wish they hadn’t done that – I’ve watched six episodes of Enterprise now in this marathon watch and I have yet to see Hoshi (whose name I remember but that’s all I remember) and the pilot dude (whose name completely alludes me and he’s supposed to be a regular cast member) do anything significant. What is the point of these people? Trip wanders around the Bridge at one point and talks to both them and they both look extremely bored as if they recognise just how little they are getting to do too.

A reason to watch this episode again – Well it has Shran and some pleasing sentiments towards the end but Cease Fire has too much to it that really dislike about early Enterprise; dreary talk, flat action and a lack of atmosphere and suspense. I enjoy the idea of Archer involving himself in the affairs of other races but he comes with so much prejudice that any goodwill I might have built up for him is dispelled immediately. I actively disliked him throughout this story and how they managed to make Scott Bakula this disagreeable baffles me. This is a pretty dull episode in a pretty dull period of Trek (remember Enterprise comes in the wake of seasons six and seven of Voyager) and it is clear that a shakeup is urgently required.

** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: 

Star Trek: Out of the Box

Capsule (or sometimes in depth) reviews of the Star Trek episodes from TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT, selected randomly by my partner...

VOY - Unity: ****1/2 out of *****
ENT - Future Tense: **1/2 out of *****
TOS - The Savage Curtain: *1/2 out of *****
VOY - Q2: **1/2 out of *****
TNG - Pre-emptive Strike: *** out of *****
DS9 - Til Death Do Us Part: **** out of *****
TOS - Metamorphosis: *** out of *****
DS9 - The Maquis Part One: ****1/2 out of *****
DS9 - Treachery, Faith and the Great River: ****1/2 out of *****
ENT - The Communicator: **/12 out of *****
TOS - Shore Leave: **** out of *****
VOY - Elogium: * out of *****
DS9 - Tears of the Prophets: **** out of *****
TNG - Where No Man Has Gone Before: ***1/2 out of *****
VOY - Bride of Chaotica: **** out of *****
ENT - Bounty: *1/2 out of *****
DS9 - Time's Orphan: ***1/2 out of *****
TOS - By Any Other Name: **** out of *****
TNG - Unnantural Selection: *** out of *****
ENT - Affliction: **** out of *****
VOY - The Disease: *1/2 out of *****
DS9 - You Are Cordially Invited: **** out of *****
TOS - Let This Be Your Last Battlefield: *** out of *****
VOY - The Void: *** out of *****
TNG - Symbiosis: ** out of *****
DS9 - One Little Ship: **** out of *****
TOS - The Doomsday Machine: ***** out of *****
ENT - Cease Fire ** out of *****
VOY - Fair Trade **** out of *****
TNG - The Last Outpost 1/2 out of *****
ENT - Canamar ** out of *****
DS9 - A Time to Stand: ****1/2 out *****
VOY - Prime Factors: ****1/2 out of *****
TNG - The Game: ***1/2 out of *****
ENT - Harbinger: ** out of *****
TOS - And the Children Shall Lead: 1/2 out of *****
DS9 - The Magnificent Ferengi: **** out of *****
VOY - Prototype: *** out of *****
TNG - Firstborn: ** out of *****
ENT - Rogue Planet: ** out of *****
VOY - Resolutions: ***1/2 out of *****
DS9 - The Emperor's New Cloak: **1/2 out of *****
VOY - The 37s: **1/2 out of *****
TOS - The Devil in Dark: ***** out of *****
DS9 - For the Uniform ***** out of *****
TNG -The Icarus Factor ***1/2 out of *****
VOY - Memorial **** out of *****
ENT - Home **** out of *****
DS9 - Past Tense Part I ****1/2 out of *****
TOS - Journey to Babel **** out of *****
VOY - Hope and Fear ** out of *****
ENT - Zero Hour ***1/2 out of *****
TNG - Dark Page **1/2 out of *****
VOY - Live Fast and Prosper **1/2 out of *****
DS9 - Wrongs Darker than Death or Night **** out of *****
ENT - Observer Effect ***1/2 out of *****
TOS - For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky *** out of *****
DS9 - Broken Link **** out of *****
VOY - Deadlock ****1/2 out of *****
TNG - Final Mission **1/2 out of *****
ENT - First Flight **** out of ****
TNG - Genesis 1/2 out of *****
DS9 - The Nagus ****1/2 out of *****
VOY - Collective *1/2 out of *****
ENT - Dead Stop ****1/2 out of *****
TNG - Tin Man ***1/2 out of *****
VOY - Dragon's Teeth **** out of *****
TOS - Obsession ****1/2 out of ***** 
DS9 - Rejoined ****1/2 out of *****
VOY - State of Flux ****1/2 out of *****
ENT - Stigma *1/2 out of *****
TNG - Time's Arrow *** out of *****
VOY - Barge of the Dead ****1/2 out of *****

TOS – The Doomsday Machine

Plot – The Doomsday Machine refuses to start small and immediately raises the stakes with the Enterprise discovering the destruction of an entire solar system. That’s huge. Imagine an episode starting and it was our solar system that had be brushed aside? Straight away we know that whatever did this, it is a force to be reckoned with. I’m not the sort of person that gets moved by the destruction of technology but the Constellation floating adrift in space, beaten, is a powerful image. We automatically know that whatever this thing is, it can take on a Starship and win.

‘A robot weapon that purposely destroys entire solar systems?’ is a premise that most science fiction shows would kill for and Star Trek got there first. The Moby Dick homage is a familiar one in science fiction but it’s superbly handled here, mostly because the ‘whale’ is such a powerful opponent and ‘Ahab’ has a rock-solid reason to want to pursue and kill it.

Character – It’s one of those rare episodes that shows everybody from the main cast that it features (because Uhura and Chekov are a no show) at their finest. Spock gets the best scenes, as usual, using logic and regulations to relieve command from Decker and humbly relinquishing that when he is outmanoeuvred. He’s very respectful of Decker, whilst keeping one eye on his behaviour at all times and responding adroitly. Kirk is the ultimate risk taker, the stray bullet that shouldn’t hit its mark but always seems to. Every move he makes to bring down the machine is countered by the beast until he is forced to make an unpredictable and bold move that almost costs him his life. He got that reputation for a reason, you know. Scotty gets to show off his technical expertise and is seen working under real pressure and constantly thinking up answers and McCoy gets all the best one liners, brilliantly standing up for Spock when Decker takes control of the Bridge.

Performance – He might have been the second choice for the role but there is no sign of that in William Windom’s damaged performance as Commodore Decker. Unhinged Starfleet Officers are tenapenny across the franchise but Windom is given a powerful reason to be obsessed with taking down the Doomsday Machine and he inhabits the role with absolute conviction. I simply couldn’t tell how far he was willing to go with the character, and I love that kind of dangerous performance (it’s the reason I adore Avery Brooks as Sisko so much). He’s a genuinely unpredictable character, driven by a script that affords him some great dramatic opportunities both as a villain and a sympathetic hero.

When Spock is relieved of duty, Leonard Nimoy is the height of calm collectiveness. Every line he delivers in that scene is perfect. Where Khan proved to be the standout foe for Kirk, I feel Decker is the most perfect counterpoint to Spock because his emotions are completely out of control.

Production – It is very easy to mock the music that accompanies the Original Series but I am one of those crazy people that thinks the louder and more present the music is, the more enjoyable it is. The score for this episode is in no way subtle or ambient; it’s bombastic, dramatic and extremely memorable. I know I am going to humming the Doomsday Machine theme for the next couple of weeks every time something dramatic happens in my life (and people will look at me in a very strange way). This is a deliriously enjoyable score, one of the best.

I watch all of the Original Series episodes in HD with the spanking new special effects and whilst I am the last person to judge a programme on the quality of its effects (I’m a Doctor Who fan first and foremost) I think they have done an exceptional job of enhancing these episodes and making them more appealing to a less forgiving audience. The Doomsday Machine is a tremendous example of the stunning FX work they have achieved and everything from the debris bouncing off the hull of the Enterprise to the fiery jaws of the Doomsday Machine (and the awesome scarring on its sides).

I am often very impressed with Marc Daniels direction on this show. He moves the camera creatively, selects moody lighting and brings some very intense performances from the cast that make his episodes some of the best of the Original Series. You can happily watch this piece and admire its production techniques, even given the leaps and bounds that we have made since then.

That’s a great fight in the corridors of the Enterprise because Decker has already proven himself to be a wild character, and now he’s tipped over into somebody feral and out of control.

Best moment – The unveiling of the machine itself. I’ve had 15 minutes of build-up studying the psychological and physical ramifications of contact with this thing and so I was already suitably tense when it finally made its presence felt.

The sequence of Decker piloting the shuttlecraft straight down the throat of the Doomsday Machine is ridiculously intense. The music builds and builds and builds and at every point I thought that was as far they would go it continually ratcheted up a notch. It’s one of the most shocking deaths in the whole of Trek, stunningly directed.

The climax with Kirk piloting the Constellation into the machine on self-destruct and not being able to bean away to the Enterprise remains one of the most nail-biting and exciting sequences Trek ever pulled off. It’s edited perfectly to get you hiding behind a cushion.

A reason to watch this episode again – A purely dramatic episode of TOS with very little of the light relief that the show is so famous for, The Doomsday Machine is a standout episode of Star Trek and one that raises the stakes constantly throughout the episode until you are gasping for air at the climax. It’s powerfully intense and at times uncomfortable viewing and the latter half makes you question if Kirk and crew will be able to think their way out of this one. This is one of the very episodes that makes the idea of trekking through the stars a terrifying one.

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

Clue to tomorrow's episode:

Friday, 27 December 2019

DS9 – One Little Ship

Plot – Sisko basically admits in the pre-titles sequence that this is going to be a break from the Dominion war arc and your regular Star Trek weird science episode instead. Unfortunately, the Jem H’adar have other things in mind and decide to crash the party anyway, and high jinks ensue. The look on Sisko’s face when they attack is pure ‘why won’t you fuckers just let us have a normal Star Trek episode!’

Character – ‘I do not see what is so humorous about being small’ ‘Neither do I’ Poor Nog, subject to tiny man jokes.

‘Is it my imagination or did the kid just cover for him?’

‘Are you telling me I’m going to be this bloody tall for the rest of my life?’ – I could quote dialogue from this episode until the cows come home.

Shrinking a runabout to the size of a coffee cup is one thing, but as I seem to keep saying the characters on this show are so well defined by this point that there are gorgeous little moments between them all throughout. Especially the three stuck on the runabout, the dialogue between them is packed with gems (‘Oh I’m sorry, that was very small of me.’). The final exchange between Odo and Quark is beautifully done. It’s sparkling moments like that that really sell this show.

What a well-oiled machine the DS9 crew is by now. Watch as Dax explains what everybody is doing to fool the Jem H’adar and how they can help. Everybody is running rings around them and there is no need for anyone to explain to anyone else what they need to be doing. They just know.

Production – How cute are all of the scenes featuring the little runabout? It’s a shame that they couldn’t utilise this somehow in the future because this would be a brilliant surveillance tool. Regardless, the shots of the tiny ship nudging out of conduits and sneaking around rooms made me want to reach into the screen and stroke it like a dog. They save the best for last however with the absurd but quite brilliant sequence of the runabout flying at a Jem H’adar and letting rip a tiny torpedo right in his chest!

The giant isolinear rod set is impressive to behold, but is perhaps about as imaginative as Star Trek is prepared to go in a Fantastic Voyage homage. I used to this that this was a lack of creativity but in Star Trek terms this is the equivalent of being inside the belly of the beast.

Best moment – I love the fact that Kira bursts into laughter at the absurdity of the premise about five seconds into the episode, and Sisko joins her. Everybody knows this is just about the most ridiculous idea DS9 could be playing about with right now (except perhaps Quark turning into a woman) and everybody is going to make it as fun as possible.

I wish they hadn’t done that – The factions of Jem H’adar warring with each other. This is a race that has always been defined by their loyalty to the Founders and their hatred of the Vorta who feed their addiction of white. There has never (well, rarely) been dissention in the ranks. They have always been a powerful unit, a frightening fighting force. But here they are portrayed as a bunch of bitchy, sniping cheerleaders who are all about one-upmanship and proving they are the better fighter. It’s an odd take, and one that could only work within the confines of this episode where we need the Jem H’adar to be stupid enough to be defeated by a tiny runabout. It’s an anomaly because I like how the crew get the better of them and how Sisko uses their tension to his advantage but for one episode only it does weaken the Jem H’adar’s image. They don’t really regain that strength until Valiant where they murder a whole bunch of irritating cadets and The Siege of AR-558 where they are a truly formidable force again.

What does work, however, is the instincts of the Gammas who have the wisdom and knowledge of ‘age’ to be able to tell that Sisko is up to no good. Whereas the arrogant, prideful Alphas think they are too shrewd to be tricked. The arrogance of youth.

A reason to watch this episode again – This is a hybrid between one of those really goofy TOS episodes and a truly hard-hitting episode of DS9. Pulling between the two shouldn’t work but somewhere along the line the writers and actors decided to go for the fun jugular and the result is a really entertaining piece. Or put it another way this is essentially a Voyager episode with the added benefit of the DS9 crew and the Dominion influence. Whatever, it is an enjoyable ride with a truly daft premise and a delightful action scene where the tiny runabout starts letting off mini torpedoes into the chest of a Jem H’adar.

**** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: 

Thursday, 26 December 2019

TNG – Symbosis

Plot – The Enterprise hooks up with a bunch of aliens who are high as a kite. Could this be The Way to Eden, the Sequel?

Two cultures, one addicted to a substance by the other. The Onarans provide the others with the necessities of life, and the provide them with the necessities of living. An exploited race, commercially and medically, is a fascinating idea and one I would have liked to have seen explored with so much more depth than this episode is willing to. Early TNG has the pretension of being an in depth science fiction drama but you only have to compare how ham fistedly they deal with issues here and later in their run to see where the worth of this shows lies.

Picard and Crusher seemingly make up the Onarans past without a scrap of evidence, piecing together the plot without any real facts. It would be like Poirot starting a sum up with ‘I have no evidence to support this accusation but based on what I’ve seen and how I think it probably went down…’

The Prime Directive isn’t a series of rules that dictate a Starfleet Officers life. It is a series of dramatic rules that complicate plots needlessly and forces the characters to behave in morally reprehensible ways. Picard allowing this exploitation to continue to salvage his career conscience by completely dismissing a people in a perilous situation that isn’t going to get any better is just about the most heinous act he commits in seven years of TNG. There is no autonomous thought, he is a bureaucratic robot simply obeying the rules. No matter how many people have to suffer because of it. He’s essentially saying that if you want to stop suffering, sort it out yourselves, which is the least satisfying and most officious route the episode could have taken. ‘Let’s just get the hell out of here’ he says after bestowing his moral judgement on an entire race. I really struggled with this ending.

Character – Riker suggests that he has never seen eruptions of this size before, which I find hard to believe.

Listen to Riker and Yar talking about the electrical charge weapon. They just don’t sound like normal people. The dialogue is far too mannered and the performances stilted. This crew had a long way to go before they gelled into something more relaxed and natural.

Performance – Some great, twitchy performances from the guest actors. They sell the addiction plot far more convincingly than the writing.

This is a good juncture for me to bring up Gates McFadden, who hasn’t really featured much in the TNG episodes I have reviewed so far. Here’s my beef…I don’t think she is a particularly good actress. Often the material seems to trip her up. She has a penchant for staring vacantly out of the screen as if waiting for a pertinent thought to occur, talking like somebody who is just discovering language for the first time or alternatively exploding with emotion all over the screen. I think she gels well with the cast and bounces well off of certain actors (Stewart, Frakes and Wheaton in particular) but there are pitifully few Beverley Crusher episodes that I can recommend. She’s just sort of there, part of the wallpaper. It’s a shame because she is often written as a very competent Doctor. I just wish they had chosen a more dexterous actor to bring the part to life. Perhaps a classically trained actor could ignite the passion that Crusher’s indignation requires at the climax of this episode but McFadden really isn’t up to the task. I was patently aware of an actress struggling to find the moral righteousness that is required. Controversial as it might be, I think Diana Muldaur is a far superior actress and Pulaski a more interesting character. She would have brought some real spice to this scenario.

God bless Jonathan Frakes who has to act ‘electrocuted’ for a couple of minutes. It might be his finest performance in all of Trek.

Production – They try and suggest in these early episodes that this is a very busy ship. Later seasons focus far more on the regular characters to the exclusion of practically the rest of the crew but the opening few seconds of this story suggest a bustling atmosphere on every part of the Enterprise, from Engineering to the corridors to the Bridge.

Okay I’m just going to say this and get it out of the way. I fancy the ass off of Wesley Crusher, or Wil Wheaton specifically. It is something I was fighting in my teenage years and it is still something I find difficult to come to terms with now. It’s particularly distracting because at the same time I also loathe his characterisation for the most part and want to stove his head in with a mallet every time he vomits up the terrible dialogue he is frequently given.

The guest quarters on the Enterprise at this point are the height of eighties glam. Hideous patterned walls, comfy leather chairs and outrageous floral displays. You simply cannot disguise the era that something is made.

Best moment – I love the electric shocks these people emit from their hands. That’s something pretty unique in Trek and makes me wish we had seen more of. Trek ultimately heads in a ‘shoot em up’ direction with phasers and torpedoes being the weapons of choice. I would have liked to have seen more imaginative methods of inflicting pain (ala the Ferengi pain whips from the same season).

Watch out for Denise Crosby waving at the camera in her last filmed shot on TNG. It’s a very odd move and within the context of the episode looks very bizarre.

Worst moment – ‘Captain, the level of tension on the Ship is mounting’ No shit, Deanna, we’re approaching a sun. Later after it has been spelled out by both the events that have happened and by Riker who witnessed it, Troi mentions the survivors are more interested in the cargo than the people who have died. Seriously, what is the point of this woman? To re-affirm the patently obvious?

I wish they hadn’t done that – The opening 15 minutes are a painful sequence trying to rescue the people who are about to die on the freighter. ‘Number One, I don’t understand these people’ says Picard at one point. I didn’t understand why they were going to such lengths to save such a technically incompetent bunch. Honestly this sequence feels like it stretches on for an eternity. I wandered off to make coffee and returned and they were still struggling to transport them off and raising their eyes to heavens when I returned.

It takes Beverly Crusher 30 minutes of this episode to discover the truth about the drug being an addictive substance rather than a survival medicine. It has been signposted for half an hour and so when the camera rushes at her during her realisation I was ready to shake her for missing the obvious.

‘You have to understand drugs can make you feel good’ You might die inside as Tasha Yar (of all people) lectures Wesley Crusher on the evils of drug addiction. This is Playschool narcotics, written to warn a pre-school audience of the evils of drugs. Part of me wanted the story to take a turn where Wesley becomes addicted and spends the next two seasons trying to break that addiction. He could turn up in lots of scenes offering sexual favours and money to the crew in order to get his fix.

A reason to watch this episode again – This is halfway towards being a decent episode. It’s trying to juggle a sophisticated theme (drug addiction) and it just doesn’t have the chops to pull it off in as complex a manner as it deserves. A shame because both the performances and the direction are pretty good and convince that the situation on this world is both exploitative and hellish. Unfortunately, it all has to start with the script, a polished production and worthy acting can only add gloss. If the writing underneath is childish, repetitive and unresolved you are fighting a losing battle. With lines like ‘everyone on their planet is a drug addict!’ you can see the level of subtlety on display here. Some scenes hit the mark; others bomb spectacularly. That sums up season one of TNG very well.

** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode:

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

VOY – The Void

Plot – Voyager is thrust into a dangerous region of space where allies and enemies are afoot and Janeway is forced to make alliances and try hold onto their principles in order to survive. Are they taking the piss? Is this supposed to be a gentle reminder of this shows original mission or a chance, after seven years or to look back and criticise the approach that the creators did not take. Either way it does feel like a finger in the eye to those of us that stuck with the show for seven years hoping for it to live up to its potential and failing to do so. Why would you remind your audience so shamelessly of all the things you failed to do with the show? ‘Morality won’t keep your life support systems running’ should have been the creed of this show.

Having the Voyager crew enjoying a luxurious ala carte meal made by Seven’s fair hands is perhaps the most screaming example of the route that Voyager did take, and why things needed to change, even if it was just for one episode. All the food is thrown dramatically to floor as if to say this isn’t how it should be in a (supposedly) rough region of space. I appreciated the gag of Paris and Torres having a romantic meal of Neelix’s disgusting left overs in the dark but it demonstrates how this episode refuses to go to murky places. This is cute, but the crew should be desperate and starving, on the edge of survival. Voyager can’t quite abandon its love of luxury.

A dark region of space? Again? Voyager has a bizarre ability of being able to find these dark spots on their course. At least they highlight the beauty of the ship.

On its own terms, the Void is an intriguing premise and a chance to show off some new alien races and show how Voyager copes in a new political climate. I would have really appreciated this taking place over an entire season, that would have really given us the chance to get under the skin of these new species.

Seeing the Vaudauur and the Malon again is fun, and this could have been a menagerie of old Delta Quadrant species. The more I think about that, the more I like the idea.

The episode has to skip to a jolly montage in the last five minutes because the closing credits are coming and there a still about ten hurdles to leap before they escape the Void.

‘It was almost like being in a Federation again…’ Lost opportunities are so frustrating!

Character – This is one of those episodes where Neelix should get the focus, because surviving in an area of space where you have to scavenge for supplies and make uneasy allies is exactly the sort of like he used to lead. Sensibly, his experience should be leant upon now.

The episode is determined to prove that Janeway sticking to her principles is the right thing to do and that by clinging on to what makes them human (or otherwise) they will be able to survive in this region of space. It’s a laudable re-instatement of the Rodenberry vision. It’s also deathly dull in dramatic terms because whilst The Void flirts with the idea of forcing Janeway to make some unethical decisions, I never had any doubt that she would always be on the side of right and be rewarded for that. It’s the antithesis of something like In the Pale Moonlight and what made that so fascinating and suspenseful. There, Sisko was backed into a corner and betrayed everything he claimed to stand for to get what he wanted. Here, Janeway stands up for her morals and the episode refuses to punish her for it. Which makes it rather anaemic. ‘I’ve become convinced we’ve got to stick to our principles, not abandon them’ ‘Should the crew be ready to die for those principles?’ ‘If the alternative means becoming thieves and killers ourselves, yes.’ Oh Janeway, you’re commendable. You also gut the story of drama.

I did like how everybody questioned Janeway’s approach, that at least showed some sense. And Janeway herself even doubts herself at times. There’s a terrific moment between her and Seven where they berate each other on their kind acts to the various people they have met. They’re both illogical, and they have found common ground in that regard.

Production – Fantome and his race are an attempt to do something a little different with aliens on Trek (they can only communicate through musical pads) but the look of them is typically bland. Humanoids in body stockings? Is this TOS? It’s the performance that sells Fantome, and the crew’s reaction to him. Robert Picardo is worth his weight in gold in that regard.

Best moment – The thing I used to despise about this episode is the thing I really enjoy now. Fantome and his crazy musical conversation. It’s silly and out there, cheap and cheerful, and just about the only unique thing on display here. They should have kept these quirky aliens as part of the crew and developed a whole language!

Worst moment – The second the episode is about to get dirty and see Voyager in a fight for its life…and a new ally appears, fires on the ship attacking and guts all the tension.

I wish they hadn’t done that – ‘We have a sophisticated Starship…’ Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if this episode had made Voyager the least sophisticated ship in the Void and therefore Janeway would have to rely on her wits alone, rather than her torpedo tubes. There is one moment where Voyager attempts to leave the Void and is pulled back in like a nasty pill being spat out and it would have been fun to have seen more of that kind of assault.

A reason to watch this episode again – How funny to feature an episode that sums up Voyager’s wasted potential so well. This is a well written, well-acted, well produced piece of television which is hampered by a refusal of the show to take any real risks. It’s Voyager’s premise in a microcosm, and it should have taken place over a string of episodes that allow us to see the crew struggling, forced into corners, scavenging for supplies and trading their morals for survival. Instead it promotes the Prime Directive to a fault, skips over developments for the sake of a single episode in this region space and resets everything at the climax. Voyager’s curse in a nutshell. I liked this, but I wanted to love it. I’m torn between appreciating that Janeway survives here simply by being kind and being irritated that the episode never achieved orbit because of it.

*** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode:

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

TOS - Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Plot – How to boil down racism as a concept to its simplest exploration, by having such a black and white (hoho) approach to the subject. The makeup is so distracting because it constantly reminds us that there are no real grey areas to this story. It’s one creed against another for no other reason than the fact that they are different.

‘I’ve led revolutionaries, not criminals!’ That’s a fine line to distinguish.

The conclusion that this episode reaches is that hate leads to destruction and that letting go of that is the only way to salvage the situation. Gee, thanks Star Trek.

Character – Kirk is obtuse, accusatory and bullish with the guy who appropriated the shuttlecraft (Lokai). This is not the work of a diplomat but of a man who is looking for a fight. Once he is entrenched in the political games of two races at war, Kirk has all the diplomacy of an iron mallet. It’s certainly not his finest characterisation, he seems to want to exacerbate the situation with his anger. He says ‘I offer you hospitality’ in the same way other people say ‘we’ll be watching you, asshole.’

Why does the Enterprise computer sound like a panicked housewife?

Performance – It’s proof that good actors are worth their weight in gold as Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio deliver very sincere performances that go some way to selling this conflict and the bizarre way these aliens look. Given how they look that is no small feat.

Leonard Nimoy wanders through this episode as if all of this rather above him. Which of course it is so I can’t criticise him for that.

Production – It’s astonishing how well the new FX shots match the episode to which they are inserted in. It’s because the execution of shots isn’t to improve upon the original designs but to make the ‘model work’ more fluid, dynamic and visually clear. So, shots like the shuttlecraft coming in to land are effective because the shuttlecraft gives a little wobble, even when rendered in CGI.

I’m told that TOS had run out of money a bit during the third season and some of the directional flourishes, like zooming in and out of the red alert light, prove that to be the case.

The jumpsuits of the aliens are by far the most revealing within the franchise. These poor actors have no choice but to throw away their modesty and reveal all.

Featuring the standing sets only and very few expensive additions (and some very cheap make up), this is definitely a budget saver. There are some attempts to shoot the sets in an unusual, imaginative way but at times it was rather off-putting. All the close ups on people’s eyes made me howl with laughter. It’s trying so hard to be dramatic in a sequence with no dramatic worth I had to laugh.

Best moment – The scene that is shot entirely from Spock’s point of view looking through a crack in a door at Lokai giving a speech in the mess is beautifully done. The director is really trying to jazz up what is a very pedestrian episode. His efforts should not be ignored.

I also enjoyed the moment when Bele points out the obvious aesthetic differences between himself and Lokai. It’s not subtle by any means but the shocked reaction of Kirk and Spock that they should hate each other over something so fundamentally stupid as their opposing skin colour says something about the absurdity of racism that no amount of ham fisted dialogue ever could.

Worst moment – I’m not sure the destruct sequence achieves anything in plot terms but to pad out the episode, and provide some arresting close ups of the regulars as they send the Ship on a spiral of destruction.

I wish they hadn’t done that – ‘Blood is blood, Mr Spock. Even when it’s green like yours’ – McCoy’s casual racism continues to infect the series.

‘You’re dead you half white!’ ‘I’ll take you with me you half black!’

A reason to watch this episode again – I want to dislike this episode because it lacks the imagination and intelligence of the best of Trek. However, for a bottle show it is doing some interesting things visually and has some very nice performances throughout, particularly from the guest stars. Kirk is at his least tolerable here and his idea of diplomacy has to be seen to be believed. It’s not a great piece of television but I found it diverting despite myself. Ultimately this is all words and very little action but it’s inventively staged talk if nothing else. The best thing about this episode is its glib climax where the two warring factions beam down to their world to continue their fight thus allowing the Enterprise to go on its merry way. I was sure they would be corrupted by the happy go lucky ideals of the Federation and learnt to live in peace. Real life doesn’t work that way and sometimes, unfortunately, hate prevails.

*** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode:

Monday, 23 December 2019

DS9 – You Are Cordially Invited

Plot – ‘For now at least the war seems very far away’ – thankfully that doesn’t last for long given the show has opted to commit to a war footing for the rest of its run but I can completely understand why after seven episodes of intense conflict that they might want to chill out for an episode and have some laughs. It was a pretty sensible move to remind viewers that DS9 can still be a lot of fun.

Remember when DS9 kick started and none of us were sure that we wanted to hang out on this battered bicycle wheel with a bunch of characters who don’t get on? Contrast that with the opening of this episode where essentially the same thing has happened; all the same characters have been brought together again for business as usual. Except the buzz in the air is celebratory, amiable and addictive. We’ve come a long, long way in six years. Even characters such a Kira and Martok are in on the fun, characters with tension built into the fabric of their core. This is a quirky comedy episode but it is rooted in character and loaded with development for so many central characters whilst successfully resetting the show. The characters are so vivid now that development is practically self-perpetuating.

Four days at a Klingon bachelor party. This could have gone one of two ways; pain or pleasure. Unfortunately for Bashir and O’Brien it is an intense mix of both.

I love the way that Ronald D. Moore corrects a mistake that he made many years earlier by side-lining women in Klingon society and suggesting that they have no real place or status. He manages to edit that to suggest that whilst the men are all over the posturing and politics and fighting, the women are in charge at home, ruling the domestic side of Klingon culture with an iron fist. Let the boys scream and shout and murder each other, they need to get that out of their systems because when they get home they are whipped.

Character – Alexander is not ever going to be one of the great Star Trek characters. He was more irritating than an itchy genital rash on TNG because he brought more tweeness out of that show in spades and whilst grown up on DS9 he’s more tolerable, I can see why he was limited to a few episodes. How much mileage is there with a chronic accident prone who stares off to camera every time he does something stupid?

Dax and Worf have proven to be a surprise success in a relationship despite all the odds being against them. Ultimately the chemistry between Michael Dorn and Terry Farrell was so fantastic (I think you’d be hard pressed to find more chemistry between two actors on Star Trek) that it broke through all the cultural differences, mood swings and obsession over detail (those last two are all Worf).

Jadzia is both respectful and a little bit cheeky when it comes to dealing with Sirella. She’s happy to show her due deference (as Klingon culture demands) but when it comes to the history of Sirella’s family she refuses to kow-tow to the fiction that has been presented as fact and opts instead to tell the truth. I hear belting your mother in law around the face is not the best way to get on her good terms. ‘You must go to Sirella and beg her for forgiveness’ ‘I don’t beg’ is one Jadzia’s best ever lines.

Sirella is a total bitch but fortunately I’m rather keen on strong matriarchal women on television. I think Martok admiring her for her bad attitude makes all the difference. If there was nobody championing her then I think she would be a far less enjoyable character. Dax is such a presence that having two such strong women in the same room was always going to lead to fireworks. Worf is utterly emasculated in Sirella’s presence, which made me howl. She doesn’t like Worf, which seems a very sensible stance to take. She spells out the xenophobia at the heart of the Klingon Empire in one very powerful moment when she tells Jadzia that as an outsider she will never be accepted within the family. It’s bold to shove racism in our faces quite as naked as this.

Imagine Ezri having to go through this?

Performance – The Sisko/Dax scenes are a highlight of the show at this point and that’s entirely down to six years of evolving chemistry between Brooks and Farrell. Listen to the way he says ‘and you are in love with him, aren’t you?’ I love this guy, he’s in love with being alive.

Production – A party in Star Trek that isn’t a bunch of diplomats standing around in formal wear being incredibly polite to each other (even DS9 isn’t immune to those)? It’s a sequence with energy, laughter, crazy dancing, half naked men, insane music and pirouetting flames. Finally, Star Trek has learnt to let its hair down properly and show people cutting loose in a realistic manner. Honestly, Dax wouldn’t have it in any other way. The Nog dance is particularly noteworthy for its sheer improvised lunacy. Morn ending up splayed on the floor pissed and limping his way out first thing in the morning still holding a glass brightens my day considerably.

Best moment – O’Brien and Bashir suspended over hot coals egging each other on to murder Worf is delightful on so many levels. These two blossomed as a pair of bachelors in love ages ago (even if O’Brien isn’t a bachelor at all) but here they are taken to a new level, suffering at the hands of killjoy Worf when they thought they were going to be indulging in some quality drinking and cavorting.

The wedding ceremony is surprisingly atmospheric and exotic. The story is a typically dark Klingon fairytale but the little touches (the drums, the flames, the eye watering dress, the fight at the end) make it a truly memorable ceremony. It’s easily my favourite marriage in Trek.

Worst moment – Apparently nobody was happy with how the Kira/Odo conflict was resolved (off screen in a cupboard) from Nana Vistor to Rene Auberjonois to Ira Steven Behr. I on the other hand think it was deftly done to avoid an agonising episode of make-up scenes where Kira and Odo learn how to trust one another again. I’m sure DS9 could write the hell out of that premise and it would have been a good episode, but to risk 45 minutes of psychobabble (in an agonising twist Troi turns up to counsel them through their problems) is not something I do lightly.

I wish they hadn’t done that – The dramatic lynchpin of this episode is Jadzia having the nerve to apologise to Sirella and for some bizarre reason that scene is omitted.

A reason to watch this episode again – Fluffy DS9 in series six is still quality television, even though I’m sure there are people out there who would much prefer their Trek to be taken a lot more seriously. This is essentially a series of witty vignettes where we pry into the downtime of the DS9 crew as they prepare for Worf and Dax’s wedding. It’s silly and fun and almost entirely rooted in character. Joyfully the best moment is saved for the last few seconds. Gorgeous moments abound; Martok’s love of his terrifying wife, Bashir and O’Brien desperate need for food, Sisko ticking off Jadzia for being such so stubborn, Nog’s crazy dance, the reveal of the dress. The plot is mired in clichés, but the character work is all excellent which has always been DS9’s greatest weapon.

**** out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

VOY- The Disease

Plot – The sex disease episode - every series of Trek has one and this Voyager’s especially egregious example. Why do they all feel the need to try and titillate like this and to create false drama out of something so awkward. Trek is a pretty circumcised show in reality, for all its handsome men and pretty women and the manifest of one-shot romance stories. And when they try and think outside the box like this and do an episode about STDs (which could be potentially very interesting) they always, without exception, suck. Voyager gets one thing right in that it wastes a Harry Kim episode on this nonsense hence it is killing two birds with one stone (TNG and DS9 exposed their entire crews in this sort of farce and the results were nobody came of especially well) but honestly that is about all it does do well. 

‘Frankly we’re had a rough time in the Delta Quadrant ourselves…’ When was that exactly? Ship looks the same, crew looks the same, show looks the same.

‘And what we did earlier… I don’t think Starfleet even has a regulation for that!’ Kirk wrote the rulebook on sex with other species, I’m sure there must be a rulebook about somewhere.

How awkward to have characters investigating unusual acts on Voyager that turn out to be Harry Kim’s sex capers.

Ultimately the Varo are one of the dullest alien races that we have encountered on Star Trek, failing to ignite any interest. Everything is so by the numbers, right down to their rigid protocol and monotonous rebel faction.

Character – As soon as Harry Kim is bonking the life out of somebody and turning a ghostly shade of white you know that something particularly painful is about to go down. Harry is being portrayed as somebody button shirted who wants to break the rules and have some fun but his natural instinct is to obey orders. The truth is we’re nearly at the shows sixth season and Harry hasn’t evolved at all from the pilot. He’s still just as green, just as vanilla, just as safe a character as he always was. Look at somebody like Nog on DS9 who from the first episode to the sixth season goes on an incredible journey and you can see how that show was nurturing even its secondary characters whilst Voyager was entirely neglecting certain members of its main cast. Janeway asks if Harry is willing to risk his career over Tal but given he has seen no career progression in six years I can see why he’s not exactly frightened to jeopardise it.

Janeway, mucky faced, sleeves rolled up, acting the engineer. She’s very well characterised here, getting down and dirty and helping a culture to get on their feet. The way she chews Harry out feels both professional and personal and I like how Chakotay questions which is the dominant factor.

Do Tom Paris and Harry Kim pass the Reverse Bechdel Test? I swear they are only ever talking about women when they are together. Either his relationship with B’lanna, or who they are trying to conquer in the early seasons (Kes, the Delaney sisters).

Performance – I have to give Wang some kudos, he is at least trying to make this pale romance feel like something significant for Harry. The point where he is brought to task by Janeway is a bit of a sticking point though, since Wang genuinely looks like he is going to cry.

Production – The opening shot is both praiseworthy (the CGI is impressively scaled and imaginatively executed) and groan worthy (it’s the best moment in the episode). It’s all downhill from there. The Varo ship breaking into separate pods is quite the spectacle. The score is stirring and it feels like an impactful moment.

Best moment – Harry Kim having an illicit late-night sex Skype call. Speaking as somebody who indulged once or twice, I can fully empathise in the private pleasure of this.

At least they didn’t go down the route of Tal seducing Harry to get something she wants. Their feelings are genuine, even if their romance is dreary.

‘Have you ever been in love, Captain?’ ‘Your point?’ is the best exchange. Janeway has no time for the hideous idealistic excesses of this episode either.

I love the Janeway/Harry fight that spills over onto the Bridge because it highlights what a strong character she is (she lets him talk but also threatens him quite firmly) and what a petulant little sap Harry is when he doesn’t get his own way. The mother/son dynamic between these two has never been more pronounced.

Worst moment – ‘From the moment we first met. It was like touching an open plasma relay’ Something Star Wars and Star Trek has in common, hideous romantic dialogue that makes you want to crawl into a hole and die. ‘You’re glowing’ from Seven is supposed to be a witty line but it misses the mark completely. ‘It’s an old story. Boy meets girl from the wrong side of the galaxy…boy loses girl’ – yeah that’s the epic love story across the ages alright. ‘You’re beautiful when you’re scanning…’

Harry having to tell the Doctor he has an STD. Just excruciating.

In the last scene Harry suggests that he has changed in the last five years and Janeway agrees. But there’s no proof of this anywhere in the previous five seasons of the show.

I wish they hadn’t done that – I’m all for promoting imaginative depictions of alien species but my word…did they have to suggest that the Varo are so perplexing when it comes to their reproductive systems and sexual acts. I had all sorts walking through my mind from the possibility of them being a hermaphrodite species to all kinds of depraved sexual acts.

A reason to watch this episode again – Everybody is characterised quite authentically here and there are cute moments scattered about but the premise, the plot, the execution and the resolution are all so vanilla for a piece that is trying to push the envelope that I simply cannot endorse this. There’s nothing worse than a show that is trying to be sexy and failing or trying to be risky and falling on its face. The trouble is Harry is a terrible bore and he’ll always be a terrible bore and trying to suggest otherwise is a waste of time. The A story is a struggle and the B story is interminable. Side by side you have an episode that crashes and burns very early and never recovers.

*1/2 out of *****

Clue for tomorrow's episode: