Archive for July, 2023

Trekaday #099: Relativity, Extreme Measures, Warhead, The Dogs of War, Equinox, What You Leave Behind

Posted on July 31st, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S05E24 Relativity (4 out of 5 stars). After flashing all the way back to December 2000 last time, we’re now flashing back to Voyager’s send off from space dock, and Janeway’s first time sitting in the captain’s chair – but before we hit the opening titles, there’s Seven of Nine in a blue Starfleet uniform, looking furtively over her shoulder. She’s looking for “temporal distortions”, because of course she is. Giving even one character access to a TARDIS which can take her anywhere in time and space is dangerous ground for a series predicated on our people being trapped years from home with no hope of rescue, but I’m prepared to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Second time around, and slightly less interestingly, Seven is sent back to Season 2, and one of Voyager’s battles with the Kazon. The central twist in which temporal meddler Braxton turns out to be the saboteur is just the kind of insane nonsense which this show does so well, but it doesn’t mean as much as it would have done if it had been a character we knew better (it doesn’t help matters that it’s a returning character played by a new actor).

I’m fairly sure there’s no such thing as “fractal calculus”.

DS9 S07E23 Extreme Measures (4 out of 5 stars). Kira and what’s left of Odo are back on the station, and their seeming goodbyes are rather touching. René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor are superb – never grandstanding, but totally believable, despite all the latex. This might be the most successful love story in the whole of the franchise. O’Brien and Bashir now break ranks and reveal to Sisko their plan to lure Section 31 to the station. And lo! There’s William Sadler doing his steepled-fingers-while-you-sleep routine. While there was good stuff in the last episode, it was dragged down by the bad. Here we have long-gestating storylines finally coalescing, and we’re putting our major characters at the centre of the action – both things we’ve been getting only very occasionally since Penumbra.

And because this is Deep Space Nine, solving his problem also means Bashir stepping over some ethical lines – using illegal Romulan mind-mashing gizmos to root around in Sloan’s consciousness to find the information he needs to save Odo. It’s rare indeed to see heroes of mainstream American television shows as the ones using torture to get what they want (Jack Bauer comes to mind). If anything, I could have done with a bit more handwringing from Siddig, who switches a bit too easily from “isn’t the irony horrific” to “oh goodie, a hard problem for me to get my teeth into.”

The hard problem involves O’Brien and Bashir walking through a dreamscape of Sloan’s memories (relocated to the station in a budget-saving move) and watching him give an account of himself to his imagined loved-ones and then setting guards on them. There being no shuttlecraft for them to talk on, they confess deep feelings while slumped injured against a wall. We’ve seen versions of this scene before, of course, but this has seven years of history behind it, and the extraordinary high stakes of the situation to bolster it.

While I appreciate the storytelling efficiency, having the miracle cure for the Changeling Pox reverse every symptom inside three seconds of the drug being administered is completely ridiculous, and very unwise for an episode which was playing games with plausible realities. And while I appreciate the novelty of an episode which actually told a complete story, the price we pay for that is that we learn nothing new about Weyoun, Damar, Dukat, Kai Winn, TFC, Martok, the Breen and everything else which was until recently being parcelled out over multiple episodes, and once again there’s literally nothing for Jake and Quark and next to nothing for Sisko, Kira, Dax and Worf.

Okay then – two episodes to go.

VOY S05E25 Warhead (2 out of 5 stars). Writers of nineties Trek grew up watching reruns of 1960s sitcoms and so when they want some domestic business-as-usual they reach for clichés like “I’ve forgotten my wife’s anniversary,” and thus a disposable Neelix/Paris scene kicks us off. Meanwhile Kim is learning that spatial anomalies, alien raiders, unexpected wormholes, temporal distortions and unexpected distress calls all tend to crop up only during Voyager’s “office hours” and never when the internal ship’s chronometer is set to between 0100 and 0600. Shouldering the burden of command is Harry Kim who leads the away mission comprising him, the Doctor and a nameless security officer whose costume doesn’t fit properly – no doubt because he won’t be needing it for very long.

Ensign Still Green After All These Years messes with an automated probe down on the planet which appears to have a human personality embedded in it, and has it beamed up to the ship without a second thought. Even after they discover it’s a weapon of mass destruction, they continue to treat it as an honoured guest and very nearly lose the ship when it arms itself and they aren’t able to beam it off. In a dispiriting re-run of Darkling, the intelligence takes over the Doctor. So, this is the usual Voyager gibberish science, but relies on everyone involved being as stupid as possible, and so both the adventure story and the philosophical musings are weak.

DS9 S07E24 The Dogs of War (3 out of 5 stars). Following last week’s refreshing devotion to a single strong plotline, this penultimate instalment hops from strand-to-strand with an almost ADHD-like frenzy. Bashir and Dax finally cement their relationship, with barely any shows left. The Defiant Mark II aka the USS Sao Paulo docks at the station and Sisko is given the big chair. Damar is adding further Cardassian troops to his anti-Dominion cause, but the Jem’Hadar is one step ahead and he, Garak and Kira end up trapped. Hilariously, Garak arranges to have them hidden by his old housekeeper. Odo finally learns the truth about his illness and he’s understandably peeved to think that his Federation friends are the ones who plotted the genocide of his people. Also – there are Ferengi on the station, remember, including sigh the Grand Nagus, who has chosen his replacement.

Some of these work better than others, some feel like the seven-year story is coming to an end, some of them feel like arbitrary busywork. Still no sign of Dukat and Winn, which is completely baffling, especially given that everyone is in this one, including two different Jeffrey Combs characters (who don’t meet each other). It plays rather like the last five seasons on shuffle, with scenes in wildly differing tones coming one after the other.

“Seskal” probably wasn’t the best choice of name for the doomed Cardassian as when Kira urgently hisses that word and urges him to beam them up, it sounds like she’s saying “Sisko”.

VOY S05E26 Equinox (3.5 out of 5 stars). It’s the end of the season. It’s another all-action, super-mega-crisis cold open, with a battered ship, helmed by people we’ve never met, forced to drop their shields and menaced by materialising Slimers from Ghostbusters. Turns out this is another Federation ship, the Equinox, and they’re only a handful of light years from Voyager’s position. Captain Ransom is known to Janeway and when they arrive, his ship is in one piece – just about – but there are very few survivors and they’re puzzled to say the least to be rescued by other humans (plus Seven and Neelix).

Director David Livingston shoots the wrecked ship with tons of atmosphere and style and it’s always a pleasure to see John Savage as Ransom. What’s puzzling is that Equinox was pulled into the Delta Quadrant after Voyager but didn’t know that another Federation ship was missing. Wouldn’t Voyager’s disappearance have been big news back home? Integrating two disparate crews sounds like it might be a fun plotline, but that was supposed to be the premise of this show, and it was flatly ignored as soon as possible, so I don’t have huge hopes for this aspect of the story. And I couldn’t care less about “BLT”’s old boyfriend (Lost’s Titus Welliver) coming back to needle Tom Paris. Chakotay’s new friend with engineering skills and PTSD is of more interest, but this all seems very sedate and talky after the blood-and-thunder opening.

A frequent trope of Star Trek in all its incarnations is that Starfleet is the best of the best, and very often, our central characters are exceptional even within this exceptional group (Kirk was the only one to bring his ship back intact after his five year mission for example). And likewise, Ransom turns out to be rather less successful at maintaining Federation ideals (and keeping his crew alive) this far from home. The mystery about what they’re really up to isn’t deathly dull, but the ramping down of energy through the middle is an issue, and makes this feel like a regular episode stretched out to double length rather than an epic tale which needs a full ninety minutes. If it weren’t for the twist with the Equinox’s EMH, this would struggle to stay in my mind until tomorrow, let alone three months.

Whenever anyone in a television drama says “I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” make a bet that they’re hiding something.

DS9 S07E25-26 What You Leave Behind (4.5 out of 5 stars). Here it is then – the culmination of the biggest, most complex story the Star Trek franchise has ever attempted. A very different problem to the one faced by All Good Things, five years ago. That needed to end a story designed never to end. This needs to definitively end a story which has been spread over 175 episodes. Commitment to serialisation has wavered over the last seven years, but every story since Penumbra has been part of this climactic arc, and it’s all been building to this.

Sad to say, judged by the standards of modern serialised TV, it’s been a bit of a mess. Early episodes tended to flit from scenario to scenario, barely inching the disparate plotlines along and this lent a disjointed and sluggish air to proceedings. Some developments were thrilling and moving – Kira’s role in the Cardassian rebellion, Odo’s near-fate at the hands of Section 31, the role of the Breen in the ongoing war – some continue to seem irrelevant – Winn’s acquisition of the Pah’Wraith Book of the Dead, Ezri and Bashir failing to get it on, who gets to be number one Klingon. And although Deep Space Nine is blessed with a tremendous bench of secondary and tertiary characters, it’s bizarre to see so little material for the series regulars: Quark has been very badly served, O’Brien just follows Bashir around, Dax has had little to do except to coach other people, Jake has been completely MIA, and even Sisko has been routinely sidelined, despite his unique position in both Federation and Bajoran societies.

But with ninety minutes to play with, and a war to win, hopefully everyone will be on their game. Last episode’s big revelation was Kasidy’s pregnancy, but we open on Bashir and Dax (who have enjoyed a big night it seems). Their pact to both come home alive is rather sweet. Not for the first time, the Defiant takes its place in a huge Federation-led armada, taking the fight to the retreating Dominion. Not for the first time, there’s plenty of time for meaningful conversations along the way (deadpan Worf is the best Worf).

While we’re waiting, there’s a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from the ongoing fracturing of the Dominion/Breen/Cardassian alliance, which we see both from their claustrophobic bunker and on the ground as Damar, Garak, Kira and Mrs Hudson plot to stay alive and ideally escape alive. And Kai Winn and Dukat finally emerge from their plot chrysalis and helpfully recap what they were up to half-a-dozen episodes ago before getting around to doing what they first discussed back in Penumbra – releasing the Pah’Wraiths.

When the action starts, it’s quite spectacular with both the CGI exterior shots and the shaky-camera, exploding console interiors looking very dramatic and convincing. Dominion suicide runs don’t seem to me to be playing fair, but it ramps the stakes up wonderfully, especially as Kira and her Cardassian allies are being captured at the same time – and TFC won’t waste time with elaborate scenarios which give them time to escape, she wants them executed immediately. But Weyoun’s decision to raze a Cardassian city to punish the rebels rebounds and first Cardassian soldiers save Kira, and then Cardassian ships turn on the Dominion. It’s a fast victory, but nevertheless a convincing one, built on threads established patiently – if not always engagingly – over many previous episodes.

Also visually impressive are the Bajoran Fire Caves, the flames of which seemingly restore Dukat’s sight as well as stripping Winn of her hypocrisy (and much of her clothing). Garak and Kira’s assault on the Dominion stronghold is more par for the course, but Andrew Robinson makes the most of the mini-arc he’s given, gleefully roaring “for Cardassia!” along with the other rebels before eliminating the last Weyoun clone.

In an act of pure spite, TFC refuses to give the order to surrender, caring more for taking Federation lives than sparing Jem’Hadar. Odo tries to talk her round and they’re able to link despite her pox. As Bajorans side with Cardassians, it’s Odo the outsider who finally brings peace – and who returns to the Gamma Quadrant in her place. The pain of his and Kira’s separation is testament to the detailed work put in by both actors, as well as some tremendous writing over the years, creating by far the most convincing love story in the franchise. (Bashir and O’Brien are in second place.)

And just as no journey from A to B ever happens during a commercial break on this show, we end the war with thirty minutes of episode left. Much of this is tying up loose character ends: Garak philosophising about what Cardassia was and will be, Worf becoming an ambassador, Kira and Odo saying goodbye, Bashir and O’Brien saying goodbye, Vic Fontaine singing goodbye. But the big loose end is those damned Pah’Wraiths who have apparently kept Winn dementedly monologuing on that cliff-edge for hours, if not days. Inexplicably, Sisko decides to join her at that exact moment – and again, no time seemingly passes while he leaves the Holosuite, charters a runabout, gets clearance to leave the station, sets course for Bajor, navigates into their orbit and beams himself down, where he finds a resurrected and reconstituted Dukat, still in moustache-twirling pantomime villain mode. Winn obediently switches sides at the last moment and space Jesus is, if not resurrected, then certainly given what feels like a less than permanent exit. Even Jake barely seems to register that his dad is missing, presumed dead, and Kasidy’s pregnancy is never even mentioned.

So, this isn’t flawless, and the Dukat/Winn subplot is the worst aspect, but there are weird ebbs and flows of momentum throughout, partly due to the fact that the preceeding episodes did so little to build up a head of steam. And yet, the whole is so much more than the some of its sometimes carelessly-assembled parts, and if the trippy psychobabble in the last act makes very little sense, it does at least centre the star of the show once more, something which we’ve had very little of lately.

Last episodes play by different rules. There’s no reset button, no plot armour and no guarantees of happy endings. If writers Beimler and Behr don’t take advantage of all of those opportunities, it’s hard to criticise them for it, when so much of what we do get is so engrossing, fulfilling and heartfelt. And Quark’s final line is pretty much perfect.

Last appearance of quite a lot of folks. Only Kira and Quark turn up (briefly) on Lower Decks and although Alexander Siddig was seen on Picard, he wasn’t playing the actual Bashir. Janeway and Seven are all over the animated spin-offs, and Kate Mulgrew even filmed a scene for Star Trek: Nemesis (although it was cut) but this series ends as it began – the obscure syndicated spin-off, albeit now in the shadow of the big network show instead of a similarly-syndicated older brother. So this is it for Sisko père et fils, Worf (on television), Dax, Bashir and O’Brien, as well as Dukat, Garak, Ross, Damar, Kasidy, Weyoun, Keiko, Nog, Martok, TFC, Winn and Vic Fontaine. Rom and assorted Ferengi we said goodbye to last time.

VOY S06E01 Equinox, Part II (3 out of 5 stars). Janeway and Chakotay are bonked by slimers but all they seem to do is knock them off their feet, and the end of the teaser is nothing more than “evil bad guy who was evilly bad last episode does evil bad thing shocker.” But these double act-outs at the begin of part two often do this kind of episode no favours so let’s not rush to judgement. Seven’s intransigence onboard the Equinox is a nice way to treat her character (and reminded me of Data vs the toy collector back on TNG) and in plot terms, the EMH switcheroo continues to deliver.

What’s puzzling and disappointing is Janeway’s guns-out, kill-the-SOBs, handling of the situation. The Janeway who expertly brokered the peace in In the Flesh wouldn’t tell Chakotay to stuff his order to start trusting the aliens they’re trying to make friends with. Instead we have the level-headed, compassionate Captain, driven by mainly curiosity suggesting open warfare to her Maquis rebel first officer who is urging caution, dialogue and knowing when to let something go. Sisko you could understand behaving like this. On his very worst day, just possibly Picard. Janeway? Nah. I get that the point is to push Janeway’s actions to the limits of her morality, but the ground wasn’t laid for this to play out in this way. And in the end, it’s Ransom who makes the moral choice, so Janeway is off the hook and her big debates with Chakotay are rendered moot.

Possibly the best part of the whole episode is the early shot of Janeway, marching down Voyager’s corridors, carrying a gun almost as big as she is, pausing only momentarily to glance at the fallen alien, and marching onward, aware of the horrors that her fellow humans have inflicted, equally aware that she has a job to do. The rest of the episode could have done with more of that kind of subtlety. I also appreciated the grace note of Ransom meeting his end from within his seaside fantasy.

Voyager Season 5 wrap-up

After the resurgence of confidence which Season 4 heralded, Season 5 is a bit of a step back. Seven is now just another crew member, so the thrill of watching her spiky Borg ways come into conflict with the warm fuzzy Federation is greatly reduced. But at the same time, thin characters like Kim, Paris and Neelix have remained drastically underdeveloped and once promising characters like Torres and Tuvok have stalled in their development.

Robert Beltran meanwhile seems to have given up almost completely. It’s hard to blame him, given the limited opportunities he’s been given, but whereas actors like Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, Marina Sirtis (eventually), Terry Farrell and Alexander Siddig gradually expanded what their characters were capable of, which in turn inspired the writers, Beltran doesn’t do much even when he’s given an actual plot function in a story (which isn’t often, but you don’t catch say Garrett Wang asleep at the wheel in the same way).

So, given that they’re by some measure the best characters, most of the stories tend to centre Captain Janeway, the Doctor and Seven of Nine, rather as TOS put Kirk, Spock and McCoy at the centre of all of the stories and included other members of the “regular cast” at random. You can do this of course, I don’t expect to see Uncle Arthur in every episode of Bewitched, but that’s not how this series was conceived, and it’s hard to see how we ended up here.

The best of this year’s stories have tended to be the ones which didn’t try and beat TNG at its high-minded-science-and-warm-family-feeling-game and which steered clear of DS9’s intense war-is-hell psycho drama. Voyager’s strongest suit turns out to be bonkers high-concept episodes which threaten to upend the very fabric of the show (but never do). Those can be thrilling while they’re on, but they don’t tend to linger in the mind, and the level of invention only has to falter for a second for me to notice that most of the characters are just lifeless puppets being pushed around by the plot.

Top episodes included the very strong season opener Night, the terrific Latent Image and the loopy Bride of Chaotica!. Weakest episodes included the dreadfully moppety Once Upon a Time, the dire The Fight and the ghastly and derivative Someone to Watch Over Me. The mid-season two parter worked very well, but the season-spanning double-episode less so.

Voyager now has the airwaves to itself, as DS9 has wrapped up and Enterprise hasn’t been thought of yet. For the first time since 1994 there’s only one Star Trek series in production. That’s freed-up Ronald D Moore to come over to this show. Rumour is, he took one look at Equinox, Part II and was like: “Guys, I’m out.”

DS9 wrap-up

There’s no question that DS9 sits very oddly in the Trek canon, and there’s no way that it could possibly have birthed a franchise on its own, or even that it would have carried the flame the way that TNG did, if TNG hadn’t come first.

As noted elsewhere, it tends to be overlooked as it always shared the airwaves with shows that had higher profiles, but DS9 exists in the shadows and in the grey areas. No other show of this era could have pulled off queasy, morally-compromised episodes like For the Uniform, In the Pale Moonlight, The Siege of AR-558 or The Ship, to say nothing of the magnificent Far Beyond the Stars. All of this pays of the promise which we saw way back in Season 1 with the extraordinary Duet.

Of course, this show also gave us dross like Profit and Lace and the concluding arc was something of a mess, but nobody can knock out 26 cast-iron classics every year, which makes the incredibly strong run from the end of Season 3 to the middle of Season 4 even more impressive. This is a show on which everything is working. Wobbly characters from the first season have bedded-in. Strong characters have become deeper and richer. And that incredible supporting cast is now fully-established.

This gave the show the freedom to experiment with form, tone and structure, and gave rise to potentially divisive, but undeniably ambitious, outings like Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Badda-Bing Badda-Bang, Little Green Men and Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places. The show which pushed the envelope with serialisation often did its very best work in these purely standalone episodes.

So DS9 ends up with a slightly higher overall average than TNG, 3.42 instead of 3.30, which I think largely reflects how quickly the new show got its act together. But no one season beats the amazing run of TNG Season 6, with its incredible 3.9 average. DS9’s best season was its fourth with 3.72 and its last season averaged a still very respectable 3.34.

What’s also slightly odd about DS9 in the context of the overall Star Trek universe is how much it changed and yet how little it influenced. Over seven years, we put the Federation through the kind of bloody conflict only previously glimpsed in horrific alternate universes, we introduced a major new threat made up of three different alien races (Founders, Vorta, Jem’Hadar), rearranged alliances throughout the Federation, eliminated the Maquis as a threat and added vast amounts of lore to the Bajorans, Cardassians, Trill and especially the Ferengi. But the show which continued after DS9 finished was Voyager, which was sealed off from all these changes by design. And the next show was set over 200 years in the past. So nobody else got to pick up these chess pieces from where Ira Steven Behr and company left them (on TV at least).

As noted, no main characters from this show have been re-used in the Kurtzman era, save a couple of very brief cameos, and DS9 never made it to the big screen either. There was an audience for Picard and Data – until suddenly there wasn’t – and although a spin-off movie gathering up some of the cheaper characters from across various series was considered, it never got the green light.

Voyager meanwhile, quite sensibly, isn’t trying to out-Deep Space Nine Deep Space Nine and instead is charting its own path. You can’t blame it for that, but I’ll miss the detailed character work, pointed ethical conundrums and refreshingly bleak outlook which you can only get here.

Trekaday #098: Juggernaut, The Changing Face of Evil, Someone to Watch Over Me, When It Rains…, 11:59, Tacking Into the Wind

Posted on July 24th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S05E21 Juggernaut (2.5 out of 5 stars). Unusually, we spend the whole of the teaser on another ship, belonging to Galactic pollutors the Malon. They are struggling with crew dynamics, hull integrity and the need to buy a birthday present – a feature of parenting which is apparently pan-universal. Voyager to the rescue but there are only two survivors. But their crippled and toxic vessel is still a danger to shipping requiring an away team to go and shut it down, which descends into a pretty standard-issue hunt-the-monster runaround. Meanwhile Torres seems to have regressed to a petulant 14-year-old version of the character, written by an inexperienced 16-year-old. All she does is chuck her toys out of the pram and then complain when a grown-up asks her nicely to pick them up. Roxann Dawson does what she can but even by Voyager’s low standards this isa pretty poor version of this-is-the-story-we-tell-with-this-character. By contrast, it’s amazing how far Ethan Phillips has come. Neelix who was once endlessly irritating comic relief is now able to modulate smoothly between enthusiasm, anxiety and even leadership when that’s required. Starfleet protocol when exploring a contaminated vessel appears to involve no masks, radiation suits or breathing apparatus and plenty of choking and spluttering. Seven is barely present which automatically costs this episode half a star, although I’ll give it back for the quiet emotion of Torres’s Sonic Shower of Exfoliating Trauma at the very end.

DS9 S07E20 The Changing Face of Evil (3.5 out of 5 stars). Following two episodes in which nobody seemed the least bit concerned that Dax and Worf were missing believed dead, O’Brien and Bashir greet them happily with tales of how nobody talked about anything else while they were gone. But the bigger news is that the Oculus Quest aliens have attacked Earth, and the race is on to discover their Kryptonite. Luckily, Damar is there, sowing seeds of dissent, Yojimbo-style. Dukat and Kai Winn remain in their holding pattern. They want access to a Bajorn Book of the Dead, but the pages are blank, so nothing happens. Solbor unmasks Dukat but Winn is too far gone, so she doesn’t alter course, and nothing happens. The pages of the book get filled in but – oops – no time for anything to happen now, it’s the end of the episode.

The Defiant takes on the Breen and – in the first sign that we’re actually moving to the climax – is summarily destroyed, leaving Sisko and his crew in escape pods. But when Damar acts agains the Founders, things really feel like they’re starting to ramp up – even though most of our main characters are stuck standing around and watching events unfold. I can barely even remember what Jake looks like and Odo, Kira and Quark get maybe three lines each, while all O’Brien and Bashir do is re-litigate the Battle of the Alamo. Even Sisko is just commenting from the sidelines. The only reason we see any more of the Worf and Dax is that in possibly the least convincing love affair in the franchise (and that’s a highly-contested prize), Ezri has decided that Julian Bashir is The One – the same Julian Bashir whose clumsy advances Jadzia spent two toe-curling seasons rebuffing. Nobody touches Sisko’s peppers.

VOY S05E22 Someone to Watch Over Me (2 out of 5 stars). Tom Paris is enjoying a candlelit dinner with Torres and babbling about cars as usual. Seven’s anthropological study of their “mating rituals” causes the Klingon to lose her gagh and she more or less tells her “you know, this means war”. Both the Doctor and the Captain suggest that she put herself at the centre of her research programme. Thankfully, this will not be inflicted on the rest of the crew, instead the Doctor borrows Tom’s Season 2 pool room Holodeck programme for a simulated “first contact”. This is all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff which we’ve seen versions of in the show’s past. Data had basically this exact plotline in Season 4 of TNG. Holodeck dry-runs give way to music lessons, at which point I began to question just which show I was watching. How much does your high concept science fiction adventure series have to be underrunning by before you resort to three different renditions of the same sappy song? Only Jeri Ryan’s hilariously underplayed look of horrified amusement at the Doctor’s antics kept me watching. Later, the Doctor takes off her glasses and tells her “Why, Miss Of Nine – you’re beautiful.” She dances with her chosen beta-male on their date and almost breaks his arm. I assume this is meant to be amusing, but it feels badly dated, it dumbs down a fascinating character, and it never makes me laugh – or even smile.  The twist – that the real story is the burgeoning relationship between the Borg and the Hologram – is clearly telegraphed, but actually that helps more than it hinders. True, it’s easy to see coming, but that also means that it seems less random and stupid when it finally arrives.

In what feels like a left-over TNG storyline grafted on to Voyager, Janeway has to get her dress uniform on to welcome a visiting alien delegation who have all kinds of mildly exotic preferences and rituals. The ambassador immediately breaks all the rules, gets wasted and Neelix has to scramble to conceal the fact from his boss as if this was an episode of Terry and June. He’s restored to health and then his boss says he wouldn’t have minded what he got up to anyway. Wa-wah. Janeway is shunted off to the alien ship with such haste that I wondered if she was directing (but, no, Robert McNeill is). Gossip travels faster than warp speed.

DS9 S07E21 When It Rains… (3.5 out of 5 stars). Thanks to the Founders’ novel military strategy of leaving alive as many witnesses as possible (especially those who feature in the show’s opening credits), the Federation now has plenty of intelligence regarding Breen weaponry, and O’Brien has found a possible weakness – at least where Klingon ships are concerned. One of my frustrations with this climactic arc has been how little our main characters are involved, and the pivotal Cardassian rebellion against the founders is a great example – it’s all about the relationship between Damar and Weyoun. These are fascinating characters, but they aren’t the ones I’m most invested in.

Having Kira (and Odo and Garak) despatched to go and teach Damar about guerrilla warfare then is a big improvement, putting a main titles character in the thick of the action, and Sisko is fully aware of the irony. Kira even puts on a Starfleet uniform for the first time. But Kira’s tutoring is incredibly basic – not quite on the Father Ted explaining the difference between cows that are small and cows that are far away, but close. Yes, Damar, mounting a resistance against the Cardassian-Dominion alliance will mean attacking Cardassians, since they are members of the Cardassian-Dominian alliance which is what you are resisting.

While not poring over a sample of Odo’s “goo”, Bashir is busy misunderstanding Ezri’s attitude towards him, which I guess counts as a plotline for a main titles character, but O’Brien and Quark are largely stuck as Someone For Bashir To Talk To, and Sisko just pops up to issue orders once in a while. Gowron is also here for the endgame, and even finds ten seconds to completely forgive Worf for everything and welcome him back into the Klingon fold. Who knew it would be so easy? Maybe least successfully, Dukat and Winn have yet another scene in which they do nothing but explain the status quo to each other, until finally Dukat has the good grace to let the Book of the Dead blind him, which feels like their plotline is finally staggering forward, even if it isn’t exactly clear yet what this means or how it will affect the other plot strands.

VOY S05E23 11:59 (2 out of 5 stars). Like the insufferable nerd that he is, Neelix is full of fascinating facts about the Millennium Gate and the Great Wall of China. Some of them are even true (reflective solar panels sound like the epitome of pointlessness). This gives way to Janeway reciting family history at him for presumably many minutes. Sadly, the story isn’t anything like as interesting as it needs to be to divert viewers who tuned in wanting bonkers space adventures, centred as it is on the old cliche of the one resident who won’t sell to Mega Corp Inc. In an unwelcome touch of nostalgia, the holdout doesn’t like computers, and the millennium eve obsession means that this was hopelessly dated within months of its transmission. Other members of the senior staff tell their own stories but they aren’t deemed interesting enough to be recreated. Parts of the story Janeway grew up knowing are contradicted by records in Voyager’s database but it’s hard to know why I should care.

DS9 S07E22 Tacking Into the Wind (3.5 out of 5 stars). The Kira Nerys School of Terrorist Resistance is in session, but she’s having to keep some of her pupils back after class. Despite their obstinate foolishness, the Cardassians are winning some small battles – even if that means doing Starfleet’s dirty work for them. But Odo has the pox (in fact he’s patient zero) and now Garak knows this as well – as does Kira, who didn’t need to be told. We check in with Bashir and O’Brien simply to reiterate what we were told last time (no recap at the beginning of the episode, and maybe this is why). In other words, all the characters who had a storyline at the end of the last episode remain in their holding patterns and all the characters who didn’t still don’t. Finally, Sisko brings Worf off the subs bench in an attempt to put the suicidally reckless Gowron back in his box, but at first it seems his role is just to give a stricken general a pep talk. He ends up taking a bit more of an active role, but quickly hands the conch of agency back to Martok.

Of more interest is Kira’s conflict with Rusot who believes that her reason for volunteering her services is to kill Cardassians, and whom Garak suggests Kira murder while she still breathes. But the deepest emotional story belongs to Damar, whose family have been wiped out by the Dominion. It’s a strong moment between him and Garak and Kira, even if, again, it comes at the expense of decent material for the supposed stars of the show. Jake is entirely absent, as he has been for most of this climactic arc, so is Quark, and Dax makes only a token appearance. The mission to nick the Breen weapon is tense and well-handled and gives the episode a strong ending, but it feels a bit as if this final epic arc could have lost a couple of instalments quite easily. Also MIA are Winn and Dukat, which is strange.

Trekaday #097: Course: Oblivion, The Fight, Think Tank, Penumbra, ’Til Death Do Us Part, Strange Bedfellows

Posted on July 18th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S05E18 Course: Oblivion (4.5 out of 5 stars). Chakotay and Janeway take the role of mater and pater familias, in a wedding patterned after Earth (ie 20th century American) traditions, as Paris and Torres tie the knot in their dress uniforms. I’m happy for them, even if they’ve never had a scene together as good as the one in which they first declared their love. They follow Keiko and Miles O’Brien and (briefly) Worf and Jadzia as married regulars on these shows. Not only that, their new Warp drive has the capability to get them home in just over two years – provided it doesn’t actually melt the ship, which is what looks like happening.

One episode after Kim’s hankypanky with an alien chick caused him to start literally glowing, being married to Tom Paris causes Torres’s skin to literally start crawling. Chakotay and Tuvok have to watch old episodes of Voyager to discover which past encounter messed up their ship (it was the incredibly silly Season 4 story Demon). Robert Duncan McNeill goes for broke when his new wife seemingly dies, but it’s hard to take her expiration terribly seriously, and – lo! – she is revealed as a duplicate. And in a huge swing even for this bonkers show, it turns out that this is a crew full of Demonplanet duplicates. Not unreasonably, Not Tom Paris figures all bets are off in the face of this news.

Not Chakotay figures that the only thing that will save them is returning to the Demon planet, but Not Janeway is hell-bent on getting back to Earth (who knows, maybe the real Voyager has already been destroyed?). Like alternate universe stories, this set-up gives us amazingly apocalyptic possibilities and Kate Mulgrew has a wonderful time playing a relentless captain who won’t let a little thing like fatal cell degradation stand between her and her goal. And Not Janeway’s reversal of her position is some of the finest acting we’ve seen on the show to date, although the make-up struggles in the final act – a rare failure for the Berman shows. Kim does pretty well as acting-captain, but no field promotion is forthcoming, of course.

VOY S05E19 The Fight (1 out of 5 stars). A bewildering teaser establishes that we are in “Chaotic Space” and that Chakotay is trying to communicate psychically with some resident Zagbars and is having a bad time. Of all “sports”, boxing is still going strong in the 24th century and it’s a Holodeck bout which brought him to sickbay in the first place. Why we are telling this story out of order is not immediately clear, but it’s often a writer’s solution to a plot which isn’t compelling when told chronologically. Worse, much of the content is “vision quest” inspired dream imagery, but the whole thing is relentlessly generic when it isn’t near-gibberish. This is at least as bad as recent plodders like The Disease, Thirty Days or Once Upon a Time, but I’m knocking it all the way down to one star because of the glorifying of boxing, notwithstanding the Doctor putting the case against. Even Ray Walston can’t save this one.

VOY S05E20 Think Tank (4 out of 5 stars). Tiresomely, Janeway has allowed herself to be distracted by an incredibly chunky looking puzzlebox that brings back unwelcome memories of Data’s finger puzzle and Wesley Crusher’s “Game”. Maybe that’s why she allows herself to be so easily cornered by alien bounty hunters. Jason Alexander smirks and smarms under one of Michael Westmore’s less elaborate makeups as galactic “problem-solver” Kurros who exacts high prices from his clientele. He materialises in the mess hall unbidden and unwanted and offers his services – and all he wants to get Voyager out of this jam is Seven of Nine. The cross and double-cross isn’t hard to see coming, but this is all put across with dash and energy, and Borg vs George Costanza is endlessly fascinating. Like many people, Kurros has a fish tank in the waiting room.

DS9 S07E17 Penumbra (3 out of 5 stars). Worf’s ship is reported destroyed by a Dominion patrol. Fearing the worst, and hearing Jadzia’s voice in her head, Dax breaks into Worf’s quarters and tortures herself with memories before taking a runabout and finding him herself. No-one else on the station seemed ready to say goodbye to him, so I wasn’t convinced he was gone. This is really just an excuse to stick Dax and Worf in a runabout together – a signature Deep Space Nine move. Before long, Ezri and Worf are abandoned on a jungle planet, much as Jadzia and Worf were towards the end of Season 6.

Over with Weyoun and TFC, there is still no cure for the sickness infecting The Great Link, and Damar’s trust in his allies is wavering. And Sisko is discovering that he can either be the Emissary of the Prophets, or marry Kasidy in front of a handful of close friends, but not both. We end with Worf and Dax prisoner, Dukat disguised as a Bajoran and Sisko discovering that his dead mom doesn’t approve of his girlfriend. This is a handful of unrelated bits-and-pieces, which is no doubt setting the table for some good stuff to come, but which isn’t all that satisfactory as an episode of television in itself.

DS9 S07E18 ’Til Death Do Us Part (3.5 out of 5 stars). The ultra-mysterious prophets having been reduced to Sisko’s quarrelsome step-parents, it might come as a relief to only have to deal with Kai Winn’s supercilious treachery. “The prophets have never spoken to me directly,” she laments, which the pah’Wraiths take as their cue to make her their instrument. Also picking up where we left them are Dukat and Damar, Weyoun and Dax and Worf. Although I think Worf carrying on with Ezri is rather ridiculous, Nicole de Boer flickers into life as she lists off her cell mates’ failed attempts at escape, criticises the prison catering and speculates about Breen grooming needs underneath their VR headsets.

Everyone moves one further square towards the endgame, but again this is a bit unsatisfactory as an episode. Why have Dax and Worf been shunted into their own sideplot? Why are Odo, O’Brien, Bashir and Quark very nearly MIA? Even Kira only gets a handful of bland lines. And am I supposed to be as interested in Sisko’s wedding plans as am I about the future of the Alpha Quadrant? Because I’m super-not. Half a star up on last week’s for a strong ending, finally colliding two of these disparate plot-lines.

DS9 S07E19 Strange Bedfellows (2.5 out of 5 stars). TFC grows ever more decrepit. It’s a nice touch that her scabies affect her “clothing” as well as her “skin” (because it’s all just shape-shifting after all). On meeting the Breen, she’s able to “pull herself together” which is a curious feature of the ever-more mysterious disease. On board the Breen ship, Worf and Dax briefly get the upper hand and manage to off Weyoun (but as Damar points out, they should have killed him instead, he can’t be replaced as easily). It also finally dawns on Kai Winn that the prophets who have brought her her guide are pah’Wraiths. Was that meant to be a surprise to us all? I just assumed they were the red-tinged incorporeal badguys from the beginning. Sadly, it doesn’t change anything. Dukat continues to manipulate her with distressing ease. It might raise the stakes (a bit) but it fatally undermines a once complex and fascinating character.

Speaking of which, Dax and Worf endlessly re-litigating their relationship doesn’t do much to keep my attention. If I have to hear one more time that Ezri is not Jadzia I’ll put my foot through the TV. And then, wildly improbably, Damar turns around, guns down his own guards and sets them free. The Cardassian leader feels like a helpless puppet, enslaved by the needs of the plot. Sure, Weyoun is being a dick to him, but this is just stupid. And we still have half the main titles cast given nothing to do.

Trekaday #096: Field of Fire, Bliss, Chimera, Dark Frontier, Badda-Bing Badda-Bang, The Disease, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges

Posted on July 12th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S07E13 Field of Fire (3 out of 5 stars). Starfleet’s latest hotshot flying ace is the toast of Quark’s, and flirting with Dax. “I wish they could have been here to see this,” he announces, holding a photo of his old Academy buddies, while the neon sign flickers into life above his head reading “I am about to die”. And lo, he is found shot to death in his quarters next morning. Odo is swiftly on the case, armed with his knowledge of Raymond Chandler novels, but Dax feels responsible, as the last person to see him alive. Her guilt-ridden dreams, in which the dead pilot blames her for his death and she looks down and sees literal bloody on her hands, are all pretty clichéd stuff, alas, shot in familiar this-is-a-dream ways. We learned in Equilibrium that a previous Dax was a murderer and Ezri now decides that it’s only be imaging talking to him that she will understand how a killer thinks. I’m still struggling to get to know Nicole de Boer’s take on Dax, and pairing her with this very standard-issue TV badguy doesn’t do much to bring the character into focus. The killer’s transporter-rifle is pretty cool, if a bit over-engineered. And Worf is back.

VOY S05E14 Bliss (3.5 out of 5 stars). Once-suspicious Janeway is full of sunny optimism when a wormhole leading directly to Earth shows up right in their path. The captain can’t wait to steer Voyager straight into its welcoming jaws, but Seven urges caution, especially when letters from home contain nothing but good news. Even more mysteriously, Janeway’s own log entries (as hacked into by Seven) reveal that she knew all along that it was bogus. Pretty soon, Voyager’s Jonah is swallowed by the mind-mashing whale and the script hits the beats you’d expect, with some finesse, but little innovation. Following his stay in the brig, Tom Paris is still an ensign, so there is some continuity from episode-to-episode even on this show. W Morgan Sheppard adds class as the doomed Qatai.

DS9 S07E14 Chimera (4 out of 5 stars). Returning to the station in a runabout, Odo and O’Brien encounter another Changeling – one of the hundred sent out to gather information. While not one of the founders, the new arrival has a rather sour attitude towards humanoids, and his conversations with Odo are fascinating. But it’s the way his feelings about solids and shapeshifters reflects off Kira and Odo which is the heart of this show. Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois both do superb work and the climax, in which Odo seemingly leaves with the new arrival, is stunning. Weirdly, the new Changeling is played by General Martok actor JG Hertzler.

VOY S05E15-16 Dark Frontier (4.5 out of 5 stars). So, by now Brannon Braga and Rick Berman had figured out what made Voyager work. Took them long enough. Quiet at the back. Where DS9 was going for grounded, character-driven stuff, Voyager needed to be taking big high-concepts and running with them. Seven of Nine was their breakout character. Ratings-grabbing feature-length episodes had helped build the profile of the show. And it never hurts to have the Borg involved. Thus – Dark Frontier, also known as Now That’s What I Call Star Trek: Voyager 1999.

Once again (as with The Killing Game), different directors worked on the first and second halves and this was designed to be chopped neatly into two halves for syndication, but once again it aired as a single two-hour special, so that’s how we’re treating it here. Adding to the fun is Susannah Thompson as the Borg Queen, making only her second appearance since First Contact (she’ll go on to be a big feature of Picard Season 2 where she’ll be played by Annie Wersching). Thompson is handily the least effective of the three, which isn’t to say she’s bad, she’s just a bit generic compared to the spectacular Alice Krige and the much-missed Wersching.

Janeway is planning to heist a warp coil from a nearby Borg sphere which scans reveal is “limping home”. To prepare for this, the Captain wants Seven to review her parents’ field notes, which they’ve had since Raven but Seven has never looked at them. This research is presented in that form of flashbacks to little Annika Hansen and her family, which is all a bit cloying. Practice runs on the Holodeck end in disaster when Holoborgs board the Holobridge – they’re twelve seconds over – and Seven has got the yips, which is concerning for Janeway. Seven is offered a delicious deal: come back to the collective and the Borg will spare Voyager. But her erratic behaviour means that Janeway wants to bench her, only relenting when Seven pleads to be reinstated. When they boost the gizmo, Seven announces that she’s staying behind and the other three barely escape in time. Janeway’s theft just became a rescue mission, at the behest of Naomi Wildman (and together with Little Annika that gives us a double dose of moppets this week, but neither is overly saccharine).

The guts of this story – in the less predictable, more powerfully emotional second half – is the battle for Seven’s soul onboard the Borg ship. Confronting Annika with her drone “Poppa” is a brilliantly grim moment, differentiating this from similar scenes with Data in the movie, and this sets up Voyager’s best recurring villain at least since Seska, and probably ever (it’s not a very hotly-contested title). No-one else gets anything much to do, which is a key reason why I can’t give this the full five stars, but it’s a lovely slice of Trek notwithstanding.

Janeway “always” fiddles with her comm badge which she’s about to drop a bombshell. Can’t say I’ve noticed.

DS9 S07E15 Badda-Bing Badda-Bang (4 out of 5 stars). I’ve observed already that DS9 staked out its ground as dealing with complex characters in richly detailed, highly-realistic situations, whereas over on Voyager you could expect something wilder, sillier and much broader. But DS9 also has its fair share of Ferengi-falling-over episodes and of course Vic Fontaine. The difference is that when Voyager goes for those ludicrous big swings, it plays them with a straight face. But DS9 plays its comedy episodes winking at the audience.

This time we’re on the Holosuite and that means something’s going wrong with it, natch. And these problems can’t be solved by unplugging it and plugging it back in again, natch natch. Instead, our flesh-and-blood characters have to play along with the story and do their de-bugging that way. In this case, mobsters have taken over Vic Fontaine’s casino and made it unnecessarily vulgar, which forces O’Brien and Bashir into immediate action.

Given that this intrusion was a part of the way the program was designed, what follows is essentially a televised escape room and so it should be very hard to get terribly invested. Once more, hologram characters can’t be backed up (even though in this same episode, O’Brien and Bashir talk about moving Vic into their Alamo program where he’d presumably be safe from anything which happened in Vegas) so they work their way through the puzzle designed by “Felix” with their usual easy camaraderie.

That this works at all is a huge testament to how strong this cast is, how careful the script is to keep us from asking too many tricky questions, and how much fun this all is. We don’t even bother with that old standby “the safety protocols are off”. It’s assumed that needing to restore Vic’s is high-stakes enough. Elsewhere, Sisko makes some excellent points about the dangers of fantasy depictions of the past, but his scene with Kasidy feels like a remnant of an earlier draft, written in a very different style from the freewheeling nonsense of the remaining forty-one minutes.

VOY S05E17 The Disease (2 out of 5 stars). Janeway has her sleeves rolled up and is preparing to jumpstart a Zagbar ship, while Kim has his trousers down and is preparing for a jump of his own. In this enlightened society, post-scarcity, post-want, embracing of multiple cultures, Kim still finds it necessary to hide his teenage knee-tremblers from his parents, I mean captain. Instead, he asks Seven for relationship advice for reasons which pass all understanding. When he starts lighting up like a horny Christmas tree, Seven marches him off to sickbay, refreshingly making it impossible for him to continue his feeble deception (but he won’t talk about chicks in front of another chick – this is guy talk). As usual, the patrician Federation sets an errant society to rights, and as usual, a love affair begins, deepens and ends all within forty-five minutes. Janeway notes that she wouldn’t read the rule book to Tom Paris, and this explains I suppose why all of this HR nonsense hasn’t ever come up before. The titular “disease” is Seven’s assessment of romantic love.

DS9 S07E16 Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (4 out of 5 stars). Section 31 has an assignment for Dr Bashir, and their theatrical flair extends to William Sadler’s Sloan sitting with steepled fingers in his bedroom for what might have been hours until he stirs and turns on the lights. Aligning themselves with Garak’s cynical outlook, they want the Doctor to use an upcoming conference as an opportunity to assess the Romulans, likely to be among the fittest of the victors when the Dominion War concludes. Sisko wants Bashir to go along with the plan, but for the purposes of finding out more about Section 31, which is a delightful set of wheels-within-wheels.

Once the conference is underway, Bashir’s best guess is that Sloan wants him to provide a diagnosis as cover for the assassination of a sabre-rattling Romulan, but it’s Starfleet’s Admiral Ross who ends up in sickbay – and Bashir who ends up drugged and tortured by the Romulans, along with Sloan, whom the Romulans believe made up this shit about there being a “Section 31”, and who is seemingly killed trying to escape. Alexander Siddig has never been better (until his hysterics at the end) and although it’s hard to take all of this double-dealing entirely seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed each successive rug-pull and revelation.

Adrienne Barbeau adds to the roster of impressive guest stars essaying ice-cold Romulans. Those white Insurrection dress uniforms show up again, looking just as sleek.


Trekaday #095: Counterpoint, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Prodigal Daughter, Latent Image, Bride of Chaotica!, The Emperor’s New Cloak, Gravity

Posted on July 5th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S05E10 Counterpoint (3.5 out of 5 stars). In what has apparently become a routine procedure, Voyager is submitting to an inspection by the Zagbars, smug bureaucrats who control this part of space. They are violently anti-telepath to the point where Janeway has to lie about Vulcans Tuvok and Vorik, as well as a couple of Betazoids, and she claims they are all dead. It transpires that, taking a leaf from Captain Scott’s book, they have been kept in the transporter pattern buffer, although there are some dicey moments when trying to bring them back. I wonder if Tuvok was moved to remember being Tuvix as the technology strained to rematerialise him.

As well as Voyager’s brain-bothering crew, there are also some fugitive Zoobles in the transporter suspension who are being persecuted by the Zagbars for their mind-reading capabilities. And there is extra cell damage every time they go in and out, which means they need to offload their refugee cargo as soon as possible as they can’t keep doing this. Complicating matters is the Zagbar inspector asking for asylum on Janeway’s ship. It’s hard to trust the smooth-talking ex-Inspector and he has learned to shield his thoughts against the skull-crackers. Destination for the Zoobles is a nearby wormhole, location uncertain and unpredictable, requiring the input of a pompous and easily-manipulatable wormhologist, underneath what looks like particularly uncomfortable makeup.

The parallel with Earthly refugees is plain to see, but it’s not quite clear what point the script is making beyond – here’s an idea: let’s have our heroes stick up for the underdog against the faceless authority figures. And it’s scarcely a surprise when the smooth-talking shifty liar turns out to have been lying to Janeway all along.

Neelix tells some moppets more stories about Flotter and Trevis, thankfully without a visit to the DayGlow Holodeck. If Janeway violated the Prime Directive by rescuing the telepaths, does that mean that the Zoobles are from a pre-Warp society? If so, this will have been a more than slightly bewildering experience for them. Voyager is down two more shuttles.

DS9 S07E10 It’s Only a Paper Moon (4 out of 5 stars). I should have known better. This series isn’t just unwilling to the reset button, it’s practically addicted to consequences. So, Nog losing a leg and needing a prosthetic is not just a gimmick to raise the stakes in a thrilling action sequence last time. It’s a real and painful reality for a fully-rounded character who is struggling to adjust not just to his new medical circumstances but how friends, colleagues, shipmates, professionals and holographic entertainers treat him. Callous doctors tell him that the pain is just in his head – but of course all pain is just in the head.

And speaking of things that were once just a gimmick, Vic Fontaine has a suite in the virtual hotel he entertains at – which presumably means that this Holosuite is now given over to running this program full-time. Nog moves in with him and they sit watching Jack Palance as Shane on a 1960s TV.

Just as this story in another medium might have involved Nog digging a ditch or bussing tables in a restaurant to learn the value of a hard day’s work, here Nog is put to work doing Vic’s books using a pencil and a ledger. But Ezri, not unreasonably, is concerned that hiding out in a pretend world might not be in Nog’s continuing best interests. My only concern with this heartfelt and charming episode is that – once again – I could have sworn that there was a war on, and too many episodes with no science fiction adventures, real jeopardy or proper high stakes will make me itchy. This is a series-best performance from Aron Eisenberg too.

DS9 S07E11 Prodigal Daughter (1.5 out of 5 stars). I wasn’t a huge fan of Honor Among Thieves, so I’ve no particular interest in Chief O’Brien tying up loose ends left from it. Nor am I fascinated in supplies of Gagh ordered by Jadzia and now being Ezri’s problem to dispose of (Worf is absent, one assumes dealing with the Son’a and the Ba’ku in the Briar Patch). Having Ezri meet up with her family, who keep talking about the person she used to be, and who don’t want to be psychoanalysed by her doesn’t help bring her into focus – given that her problem as a character is that she keeps talking about who she used to be and is a fairly useless counsellor. The rest of the episode largely rehashes the earlier Orion Syndicate story, so it was all I could do to keep watching this one.

VOY S05E11 Latent Image (4.5 out of 5 stars). After Neelix’s podcast, now the Doctor is starting an Instagram. My aversion to moppets remains, but Naomi is a very charming version of the type, and her Robert Picardo impression is spot-on. But it’s Harry Kim who provides the initial focus of the narrative. The Doc’s fancy-schmancy camera reveals evidence of recent neurosurgery which neither physician nor patient can remember having taken place. This is initially treated as an odd curio rather than a vital mystery in need of solving which contributes to a slightly business-as-usual feeling to the early portions of the episode. The mystery deepens though, when Seven attempts to help the Doctor run a diagnostic as they agreed – his memory of their conversation has been deleted.

Further digging reveals that great chunks of his memory have been erased, including everything to do with a particular ensign, a shuttle mission and a strange alien. This has obvious echoes of the TNG episode Clues (or Schisms with Riker’s insomnia), but the fact that the Doctor’s memories are being selectively erased right now gives the story added urgency. Even weirder, Janeway asks him to turn himself off while they investigate, but the sombre glances around the conference room suggest that there’s something they ain’t telling and the Doctor innovates a back-up of his program as a result of his own suspicions. Lo – it is Janeway who is monkeying with his memories, as the result of an unspecified “conflict” which took place eighteen months ago. Now, they have to lobotomise him again for his own good.

Seven, who wasn’t present last time around, throws herself on this ethical grenade and argues for the Doctor’s individuality and right to self-determination. Strong stuff for a primetime adventure show, and this show is at its best when Mulgrew and Ryan are going at each other, even if this doesn’t quite have the fireworks of some of their earlier confrontations.

The deleted events turn out to be the EMH having to choose between two critically injured patients and only saving one, which turns out to be something he can’t live with. Of course, this story only works because the physician who has to make the call is an artificial life form who can have his memories rewritten at will. But that also implies that a copy of his program could easily be made and two (or three or four or a dozen) EMHs could be operating simultaneously. That’s nit-picking though, and this story (and Robert Picardo) does a wonderful job of humanising what Janeway would have us believe is basically a talking microwave. The ending is satisfyingly messy and unresolved too – highly unusual for this series, and almost convincing me to bump this one up to the full five stars.

Why does the Doctor, who has perfect recall, need to take pictures to remember events?

VOY S05E12 Bride of Chaotica! (4 out of 5 stars). More monochrome Holodeck fun, riffing once more on the old Republic serials of the 1930s. This is Paris and Kim’s downtime. Playacting their way through a bonkers science fiction adventure seems like a busman’s holiday to me, but whatever you need to get through the day I guess. Their cos-play is interrupted by the appearance of a colourful wibbly thing hovering in the air, because – and stop me if you’ve heard this one – the Holodeck is malfunctioning.

Once more, the attention to detail in the fantasy sequences is impressive, with the energy weapons for example clearly modelled on the effects of the day, but given a slight 3D effect, and an ever-present melodramatic score runs underneath everything. “Souring the milk” (to quote Geordi La Forge), Torres explains that they have run aground on a subspace sandbar. Escape from the Holodeck is suspiciously easy for Paris and Kim who just transport out of there, but the program keeps running, and two GI looking dudes appear from out of the wibbly things. Rather delightfully, the visitors are keen to contact “other photonic life forms”, in other words, they’re more interested in the Holodeck characters and not at all in the organic crew. This misunderstanding reminds me of the equally delightful movie Galaxy Quest in which genuine aliens thought that a Star Trek style TV show was real life and hoped the crew of feckless actors would come to their rescue.

Because the GI dudes believe that Chaotica’s Army of Evil are real (and Paris and Kim are simulations), war has broken out on the Holodeck which can’t be shut down (for – reasons). To save the photonic aliens from their own poor decision-making and free the ship, Arachnia Queen of the Spider People will have to infiltrate the story, in the person of Captain Kathryn Janeway. Kate Mulgrew has an absolute blast and therefore so do I. It’s all a bit convoluted and it’s very, very silly, but damn I had a good time. Quite what the connection is between the visiting aliens, the inability to turn off the Holodeck, and the subspace sandbank is not ever made particularly clear.

Planet X looks just like the Mines of Mercury – sets were/are expensive. Voyager only has four working lavatories for a crew of 150 and lines are beginning to form.

DS9 S07E12 The Emperor’s New Cloak (1 out of 5 stars). Grand Nagus Zek is trapped in the Mirror Universe and it falls to Rom and Quark to mount a rescue (when Quark isn’t praying for some misfortune to befall Bashir before he can take his relationship with Ezri to the next level). Weirdly, it’s an un-joined Ezri Tigan who is despatched to bring Quark this news, and the price for the Nagus’s freedom: cloaking technology, which the Alliance seems to have forgotten it once possessed. Both Ferengi shenanigans and the Mirror Universe seem to me like overfished ponds at this stage, and I’ve no particular interest in seeing what happens if they get mashed together. It’s nice for Nicole de Boer that she gets to wear the Lilac Eyeshadow of Ultimate Evil at least once during her year on the show, but the rest of this is repetitive, sophomoric and dull. The cloaking device is invisible. Lol.

VOY S05E13 Gravity (4 out of 5 stars). Bratty flashback Tuvok verbally fences with a Vulcan master. It’s a strong scene, telling us more about his character than we’ve learned in the last two seasons, even if Joseph Ruskin is simply doing Vulcan Master 101. Later, on the planet Frank Herbert IV, a Voyager shuttle crash lands and Paris can’t communicate with the lone inhabitant he encounters. As well as our fairly human-looking Fremen, there are some other aliens with bumpier heads and – therefore! – nastier attitudes.

Paris and Tuvok seem like a pretty unpromising pairing. Just about alike enough to make a good team, not opposing enough to make for strong drama. The teaser tells me this will be a Tuvok story, but I can’t initially see anything likely to challenge him overmuch, not even the lack of a Babelfish. Elevating this somewhat is Lori Petty as the (now pigeon English-speaking) Noss. Tank Girl should have made her a huge star, but it wasn’t to be, but it’s always a pleasure to see her crop up in other shows.

The plot is that Tuvok fancies Tank Girl and worries it makes him less of a Vulcan to do so – which is potent, and Tim Russ sells it well. I’m just still annoyed by the simplistic pretty-young-woman-is-nice-and-pretty and horrible-monsters-are-ugly-and-aggressive. The time dilation storyline is a nice idea, but I know this show and I know they aren’t going to age up Paris and Tuvok by any meaningful amount and not reset it. But, remarkably, Tank Girl isn’t required to sacrifice herself so Tuvok can live, which adds a certain complexity to the ending, and I’m definitely grateful to dig into Tuvok’s character a bit more. I just wish the rest of the story had been de-cluttered a bit.