Archive for May, 2022

Trekaday 027: The Final Frontier

Posted on May 29th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (2 out of 5 stars)

Star Trek IV was a smash and Nimoy had created the story and directed the film. Trying to be a good friend, he diplomatically pointed out to a devastated William Shatner, whose ego was self-destructing, that the “favoured nations” clause in their contracts could be interpreted to mean that for each film Nimoy directed, Shatner could direct one too. With carte blanche from a happy studio sitting on a pile of Star Trek cash from the last three movies, Shatner set to work on The Final Frontier.

Unlike The Voyage Home, the Star Trek movie for people who didn’t like Star Trek, this was going to be for the fans. And unlike the last two installments, which had established the seven regulars as a gang of friends who work together to solve mutual problems, this film was going to go right back to the television series and focus on Kirk, Spock and McCoy, with odd bits and pieces for whichever other actors were hanging around. And although all of this was conceived in the shadow of the increasingly successful and well-regarded new show, no heed at all was paid to what was happening on Monday nights in syndication (apart from the re-use of some Enterprise corridor sets).

What was Shatner’s big idea? The one that Roddenberry had been dicking about with for ages, the Enterprise meeting God. Give us strength.

What’s good about this? Well, as director, Shatner’s shot-making isn’t half bad. Compared to the rather ordinary-looking Star Trek IV, the opening scenes on Nimbus III are splendid, and the Secret Pain scenes are very stylishly mounted. In fact, given the material the director has been handed, there aren’t any really serious mis-steps in the production, apart from a few ropey-looking effects. Then again, not all the casting comes off. They wanted Sean Connery to play Sybok, and the actor they got has nothing of his magisterial charisma. David Warner is fun but will be iconic next time round. As noted, almost none of the “second tier” regulars get much – and sometimes when they do, I rather wish they hadn’t, as more often than not they’re being demeaned, undermined or used for cheap gags. The Motion Picture theme (now much more associated with TNG) is back and in general Jerry Goldsmith’s music is pretty good, and Nimoy and Kelley are as fine as ever – in fact this is probably the best cinematic outing for McCoy.

But the rest of it? Structurally it’s a mess with tedious early scenes on Nimbus III and in Yosemite that go nowhere, it grinds to a halt in the middle with the fascinating but ultimately barely-relevant Face Your Pain segment, and the money runs out at the end so we conclude with a whimper rather than a bang. Far too many ideas are overfamiliar from previous outings and Shatner is so keen to rewrite the Kirk-is-old-now narrative established three movies ago that he shoots himself clambering up a sheer face of the aptly-named El Capitan. Lol. He doesn’t realise the gravity of his situation. Rofl.

Choppily edited, indifferently acted and tonally uncertain, with comedy beats that elicit more cringing than laughter, this muddle of a film staggers from mis-conceived scene to mis-conceived scene in ways that make me miss the sluggish but consistent Motion Picture. If it weren’t for the success of TNG I doubt there would have been a Star Trek VI, especially given that Shatner’s film barely made its money back. Reportedly, the director’s preferred two-hour cut was shorn of 15 minutes by studio suits and producer Harve Bennett, although time is still found for an interminable rendition of “Row Row Row Your Boat” round the old camp fire. Those scenes of “secret pain” are great (in writing, filming and acting) but they play as if ten minutes of a much better movie has been edited into the second act of this one. Those ten minutes earn both of the two stars I’m giving this very uninteresting film.

Trekaday 026: Time Squared, The Icarus Factor, Pen Pals, Q Who, Samaritan Snare, Up the Long Ladder

Posted on May 28th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S02E13 Time Squared (3.5 out of 5 stars) opens with a fairly uninspiring comedy Riker-cooks-dinner scene. Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy that it was the poker game that took off. What follows is a very engrossing mystery for the most part. One of the Enterprise’s own shuttlecraft is drifting in space, and inside it is an unconscious Captain Picard. Science fiction and fantasy shows love doing doubles of the regular cast (we saw a duplicate of every classic Doctor Who until the seventh). TOS already gave us two Kirks on more than one occasion. Here Patrick Stewart gets a glimpse of his own future, which means he is forced to constantly second-guess himself. The results are often fascinating, if you can overlook the gobbledegook science. To be clear, plenty of TNG stories are resolved with technobabble, but it’s rare that so much of the plot rests on so much sciencey-sounding nonsense that doesn’t actually mean anything. He’s from the future so everything runs backwards? Okay, then. It’s also a shame that Picard-from-the-future is unconscious for so much of the episode. Picard phasering his other self (to death?) to stop the cycle is a baller move, but feels more like Rick and Morty nihilism than TNG optimism. Compare the treatment of future Picard here with the treatment of Thomas Riker in Season 6. How far we (will) have come…

TNG S02E14 The Icarus Factor (2.5 out of 5 stars). The Enterprise has failed its MOT and so a stop at Starbase Montgomery is called-for. This is somewhat of a ruse on Picard’s part to install Riker as Captain of his own ship, the Aries. We’ve been here before but this does feel more like character development and less like this-is-the-story-which-we-tell-every-week-with-this-character. His scenes with Picard are great and harking back to Encounter at Farpoint helps, but the presence of Riker’s father (a very stiff and awkward Mitchell Ryan) plays like a daytime soap rather than a prime time adventure series and the fact that he’s also an old friend of Pulaski’s strains credulity more than a bit. Also, as usual, I find delving into Klingon rituals a bore and the technobabble down in engineering never becomes more than a way to pass the time. Eventually Riker works out his daddy issues with some Tron cos-play and decides – shocker – to stay on board the Enterprise.

TNG S02E15 Pen Pals (2 out of 5 stars). Yay, it’s a Wesley episode. He’s being packed off to run a planetary mineral survey and fretting about every aspect of it. It’s not a bad way to examine what makes a strong or a weak commander, but the stakes are so low that it comes off more like a corporate training video and less like a thrilling science-fiction adventure story for the most part. Meanwhile, and bizarrely, fiercely loyal and rule-following Data has been secretly breaking the Prime Directive. This leads to yet more philosophical navel-gazing – all highly thoughtful and educational stuff but not very dramatic or engaging. I think the moral lesson is that the lives of cute children you’ve spoken to are more valuable than entire civilizations you’ve never met. And mind-rape is always just dandy, as usual.

TNG S02E16 Q Who (4.5 out of 5 stars) is a landmark episode in the series, setting up the most enduring foe this crew will see – a foe still going strong in Star Trek: Picard over thirty years later. To Doctor Who fans the Borg look a little like upmarket Cybermen and their insectoid origins show through (they were originally going to be behind all the insane goings-on in Conspiracy) not in their appearance but in their behaviour, which gives them a little extra colour. There are some pacing problems here to be sure – early on it seems as if a spilled cup of hot chocolate is going to be super-important, which it never is – but the main threat when it appears is absolutely terrifying. Does the ending work? Too many recent episodes have had the problem simply sort itself out in the last five minutes, and you could say the same here. Would we really have respected a Captain who didn’t briefly abase himself to save his ship? Are we supposed to think that Kirk wouldn’t have done that? C’mon. But it is a strong moment, Stewart sells the hell out of it, and the promise of more Borg in the now much-nearer future makes this feel like what it is – a delicious curtain-raiser which promises even more scary treats to come. Plus we have Guinan doing witch-fingers at Q. Lovely.

TNG S02E17 Samaritan Snare (2 out of 5 stars). Yay it’s a Wesley episode. He’s off to take more exams, meanwhile Pulaski is bullying Picard into getting an NHS pacemaker, but he wants to go for Starbase BUPA, which is a fairly thin pretext on which to put both Ensign and Captain into the same shuttlecraft. No sooner have they gone than Riker receives a distress signal from a B-plot. The Pakleds, who become brilliantly funny thirty years later in Lower Decks, are dreadfully annoying here, and the rum-tee-tum music to tell us how amusing they are is ghastly. For once, Troi has some useful information to impart, but everyone flat-out ignores her. Meanwhile the father/son bonding between Wes and Jean-Luc is seldom more than grating, although track is laid here for a wonderful future episode – Tapestry in Season 6. As ever, the problem with these early TNG outings is rarely the ideas, and almost always the execution. Ensign Hot Chocolate shows up again, briefly. The plan was to make her another recurring character but it didn’t work out.

Also – look, none of this is really the point but the dreadfully soggy end-of-teaser line establishes that the Enterprise is haring off a long way away from where Picard is getting his chest sliced open, and it takes the shuttlecraft hours to get to the starbase. But when Picard’s surgery goes awry and – wouldntchaknowit? – the only person qualified to save his life is Pulaski, she simply materialises over him like she’s a character in the last season of Game of Thrones. Why bother establishing that the starbase is a long way away, and you’re putting even more distance between you and it, if you’re not only never going to use that in a dramatic way, you’re actually going to ignore it the moment it becomes inconvenient? Was anybody reading these scripts before they were shot?

TNG S02E18 Up the Long Ladder (1 out of 5 stars) Worf has gas, which is reason enough for the incidental music to start going bananas. An ancient distress signal reaches the Enterprise and it turns out that Worf’s flatulence is actually measles, so combative Pulaski has to lie to the captain to spare his blushes. Data regresses to the clumsy character of Season 1 who doesn’t know when to stop offering synonyms. None of this has any narrative drive and none of the characters are really registering. Watching Worf and Pulaski drink tea is not interesting to me in itself and it’s doubly pointless when I know that Pulaski has less than half-a-dozen episodes left. Just when I thought this episode couldn’t get any worse, Riker finds himself on the planet of the Oirish Pig Farmers in scenes that could possibly qualify as hate crimes if shown in Dublin. The previous episode featured potentially strong ideas, executed poorly. This is misconceived from beginning to end. I very nearly abandoned the whole project watching Barrie Ingham channeling Red Skelton while sampling Klingon booze. There’s also a planet of clones (Clones? Clones!) because all the best episodes include three unrelated plot strands. I have a long list of other problems but I can’t be bothered to type them up.

Trekaday 025: Unnatural Selection, A Matter of Honor, The Measure of a Man, The Dauphin, Contagion, The Royale

Posted on May 22nd, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

TNG S02E07 Unnatural Selection (2 out of 5 stars). It’s an odd way to establish the credentials of your new character – have her go up against Picard and have her proved wrong at every possible turn, endangering the ship and needing rescuing herself, but that’s what they’ve gone with here. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s the double-whammy of the old mysterious-disease-which-ages-you-to-death trope resolved by the back-up-insurance-in-the-transporter solution. The science here is even more hand-wavy than usual. The thinking seems to be that since your DNA doesn’t alter for your entire life, it can be used to screen-out pathogens – but in this case it can also reset you to how you were before the disease aged you… even though your DNA doesn’t alter for your entire life. A pattern stored in the transporter’s memory banks could do that, although you would be returned to the exact mental state you were in when that pattern was stored. Oh, and other than establishing Pulaski as stubborn, dumb and ornery, there are no good character beats here either.

TNG S02E08 A Matter of Honor (4 out of 5 stars). All these Benzites look the same to Wesley. Because this version of Star Fleet is basically an elite liberal mid-Western university campus, an officer exchange Programme has been initiated and Picard wonders if Riker would like to serve as a Klingon first officer. Worf assures him that “many things will be different” and that starts with lunch (gagh is always best when served live). The interplay between the Benzite, Worf and Picard is first rate; for practically the first time, these characters start to feel truly lived-in and real. And when Riker is on the Klingon ship it feels different than it would be with, say, Geordi. That was harder to say in Season 1. The hull-fungus storyline is slightly dreary but it’s the far-too-easy-resolution which hurts this otherwise excellent episode (a persistent failing in this era). There is no Discovery-style dedication to subtitles here, so it is explicit that the Klingons are speaking Riker’s language, not the other way round.

TNG S02E09 Measure of a Man (5 out of 5 stars). This fondly-remembered episode starts with the first Enterprise poker game. Continuing the strong character work of the previous outing, here the opening scene is not about aliens with bumpy foreheads, space anomalies, plague-ridden outposts or treaty negotiations. It’s about the guys we hang out with every week – and why we hang out with them. It’s before the poker boom of the early 2000s, so the crew are playing five card stud (until Pulaski gets them to play something even more ridiculous). An old flame of Picard’s shows up and the TOS ahoy-there’s-a-woman-in-shot soaring strings take us into the opening titles. Neither of these scenes are what this excellent episode is really about though. It’s a dissection of Data’s personhood, and as if that wasn’t interesting enough, as a matter of duty, it’s Riker who has to mount the case for the prosecution. Make his argument too weak and he’ll be court-martialed. Win the case and Data is disassembled. Wow. Since you can’t have the Borg threatening to exterminate the entire Federation every week, here’s how you deliver a really high stakes story on a reasonable budget, just using the materials at hand. Fantastic stuff. More absurd admiral’s uniforms this week, although not quite as nuts as in Conspiracy (but then is anything quite as nuts as Conspiracy?).

TNG S02E10 The Dauphin (3 out of 5 stars). Yay, it’s a Wesley episode. Worse, it’s a Wesley in love episode. Sex and romance is major blind spot for TNG and so this is not a promising combination. Whereas the previous two episodes provided great character moments for Riker, Picard, Data – and even Pulaski – this regresses back to soapy clichés involving characters we don’t know and their tiresome treaty negotiations, but this wobbly story-of-the-week is resting on firmer foundations now. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the costumes. If the story were better, the silly monster suit would be easier to forgive (see Devil in the Dark). Here it makes a weak story seem ridiculous.

TNG S02E11 Contagion (3.5 out of 5 stars). Why is Picard – Picard! – cracking gags and having to be put in his place by another, more serious, captain? Even if this one is in the grip of a demented quest to find a mythical lost civilisation. Moments later, the entire Galaxy-class ship has exploded killing everyone on board. Karma is a bitch, Jean-Luc. This is the first proper Romulan episode in quite a long time – following their brief tease at the end of Season 1. Carolyn Seymour is a bit of a treat, playing Taris, recalling the nameless Romulan commander in The Enterprise Incident. But why isn’t she given more to do? The idea that the Yamato blowing itself up could be a “design flaw” is a little hard to swallow, and so is Picard inheriting his late friend’s crackpot mission. If you can get past the casual slaughter at the beginning and how dumb everyone is being in the face of overwhelming clues as to the source of the problem, then there is some fun to be had here. The all-powerful Enterprise falling to bits is a good way of cutting our sometimes-smug heroes down to size and this is a defining episode for Berman-Romulans, even given their brief screen-time. It’s nifty too that the Iconian computer virus makes Data uniquely vulnerable, when usually he has near-magical plot-resolving powers. Picard orders “tea, Earl Grey, hot,” for the first time.

TNG S02E12 The Royale (2 out of 5 stars) opens with an eye-catching teaser (as well as indicating that Fermat’s Last Theorem is still unsolved in the 24th century – in fact, Andrew Wiles cracked it six years after this episode aired) but when the away team beams over, things take a turn for the goofy. This episode was written by staff member Tracy Tormé (although he ended up taking his name off it) but if you’d told me it was a discarded episode from the TOS days, I would have gone “oh, yeah, that makes sense.” Making sense is not something at the top of the agenda of this story, alas, and the regulars seem to have reverted back to their stiff, all-business, Season 1 incarnations. All of this feels lazy, from the inaccurate analysis of blackjack to the lifting of “It was a dark and stormy night,” as shorthand for bad novel-writing. Taking the piss out of a poorly-written story is a bold move, if you’re eighteen months in and still struggling to find your feet as much as this show is.

Trekaday 024: The Child, Where Silence Has Lease, Elementary Dear Data, The Outrageous Okona, Loud as a Whisper, The Schizoid Man

Posted on May 16th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S02E01 The Child (2 out of 5 stars). To begin with, this does start to resemble the show we know and love. Geordi and Worf are in the right colour uniform and in the right positions – Worf at tactical and doubling as head of security, Geordi in engineering – and even O’Brien is back manning the transporter. Ten Forward exists and Guinan is behind the bar. Riker has his beard. Worf’s makeup appliance no longer looks like an ill-fitting beanie hat. But Crusher is gone, victim of a mysterious antipathy on the part of show-runner Maurice Hurley, whose power struggle with Rick Berman continues, exacerbated by the absence of an ailing Gene Roddenberry, who still gets an executive producer credit, but will hardly be around from now on. In her place is Diana Muldaur, who was supposed to be warmly crusty like Dr McCoy, but who ends up coming across as cold and never seems to click with the rest of the crew. She also doesn’t get her name in the opening credits, for reasons which don’t seem well known.

Meanwhile, the writers strike nearly killed the show off for good, but in an act of desperation, Hurley started thumbing through scripts which had been completed for Star Trek Phase II, and – realising that Ilia = Troi, Xon = Data and Decker = Riker – pulled this Ilia-centric story off the pile. It does not get the new season off to a good start. With ten or so minutes taken up with shuffling Enterprise crew-members around, and justifying why on earth Wesley is still here, there isn’t time to adequately deal with many, or indeed any, of the consequences of the counselor’s violation, impregnation, parenthood and grief. Marina Sirtis, never the strongest link in the TNG chain, is helpless in the face of such thinly-written material and nothing the supporting cast can do will resuce this one. Still, nice to see Whoopi Goldberg, even if Guinan’s presence renders Troi even more redundant than she was already.

TNG S02E02 Where Silence Has Lease (2 out of 5 stars). Another one of those entirely meaningless Star Trek episode names which as far as I can tell has nothing whatever to do with the plot. Worf and Riker are on an away-mission which seems to involve battling some half-Gorn half-Armadillo, half-Skeletor creatures. No, it’s a Holodeck callisthenics exercise which Worf looks like he’s getting a little too involved in. It’s pretty thin as teasers go. This script is credited to Jack B Sowards, who contributed much to the screenplay of Wrath of Khan, including the Kobayashi Maru. When it finally gets going, this episode sees the Enterprise trapped inside a featureless black void, in which a Romulan Warbird suddenly de-cloaks. This proves to be the first of a series of illusions conjured by Charlie X Trelane Apollo Q Nagilum, who puts Riker and Worf onto the bridge of The Starship That Jack Built, bumps off a literal red-shirt and then threatens to exterminate half the people on board. As engagingly mysterious as this sometimes is, it isn’t terribly interesting or dramatic. Even blowing up the Enterprise is merely an opportunity for a calm and reasonable conversation about ethics and Nagilum’s Mogwai face looks stupid.

TNG S02E03 Elementary, Dear Data (4 out of 5 stars). Geordi turns out to have an interest in old sailing ships. Bet that’ll prove to be one of his defining characteristics. JK, his personality is of course that he’s Data’s Best Friend. This is a wonderful episode for Brent Spiner and Data, as well as an amazing dissection of what the Holodeck is and how it works. And sure, it’s a retread of The Big Goodbye, but it’s better in every department – Data is a better choice than Picard, Doyle is a better choice than Chandler, and the details regarding Moriarty’s transition from avatar to antagonist to new life form are very well worked out. Even the fact that he basically just gives himself up at the end is a kind of a strength, although not very exciting. The only other problem is the amount of time we’re expected to wait before things start turning nasty, but Spiner makes the most of the fun-and-games which precede the main plot. This is very good stuff, if still not quite great.

TNG S02E04 The Outrageous Okona (1.5 out of 5 stars). What TNG will eventually become is a potent combination of thrilling adventure, strong character-driven plots and thought-provoking sci-fi concepts. For our second Data-centric episode in a row, we effectively get the workplace sitcom version of the show, featuring Diet Coke Han Solo Captain Okona, cracking on to a young Teri Hatcher, and then a truly ghastly sequence in which Data is coached in stand-up comedy. At no point does this ever become what you might call a story, After last week’s near-triumph, this is a huge disappointment, in which “outrageous” turns out to be an ambition rather than a description. Even Picard describes the tiresome plot as “this ancient morality play we’ve been dragged into.”

TNG S02E05 Loud as a Whisper (2 out of 5 stars). Another episode, another pair of squabbling planets, and another very soggy teaser – Picard and co beam down to the planet and are confronted by the terrifying sight of… an empty room. “Space, the final frontier…” TOS treated blindness with a great deal of delicacy and intrigue. Here TNG has a crack at deafness, backed up by telepathy. It’s all very well-meaning, earnest and thoughtful, but it’s deathly dull and we don’t even get the horror of Joe Piscopo to break up the tedium, although that could also be considered a blessing. The deaths of Riva’s “chorus” certainly stick in the mind, even if little else about this slack episode is likely to.

TNG S02E06 The Schizoid Man (2.5 out of 5 stars). The only Star Trek episode I can think of which shares its name with an episode of The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan faced a duplicate version of himself. Patrick Stewart faces Data carrying an old scientist’s katra. Before this, Data is mainly reduced to reeling off lists of synonyms when asked if he understands what a concept means, and failing to comprehend ordinary idioms. Data’s best-kept secret is his off-button, which he casually reveals to Morgan Sheppard’s “grandpa”. There’s no danger that will end badly, is there? Are we supposed not to guess what has happened, or is it supposed to be dramatic irony? Regardless, it just makes the crew look dumb. Still, at least something happens in this episode, which is a modest improvement. First appearance of Suzie Plakson, here as Vulcan Dr Selar. She will later play a Klingon, a Q and an Andorian. With four Data stories in a row (one shared with Troi) it’s clear now that he’s the second lead in this show. But this is a pretty rotten string of episodes.

Trekaday 023: Coming of Age, Heart of Glory, The Arsenal of Freedom, Symbiosis, Skin of Evil, We’ll Always Have Paris, Conspiracy, The Neutral Zone

Posted on May 10th, 2022 in Culture | 2 Comments »

TNG S01E19 Coming of Age (2 out of 5 stars). Yay, it’s a Wesley episode. Nice of them to pair him with one of the worst young actors I’ve ever seen on American television to make him look good. Acting Ensign Crusher doesn’t have a com badge and so has to respond to his mom’s shipwide call by touching a panel on the wall, like Kirk and Spock. Admiral Gregory Quinn sports yet another bizarre admiral’s uniform, which always look to me like swatches of black and red material and gold trim stitched together in the dark. He and sidekick Remmick get introduced to Tasha Yar, but she doesn’t get a line in response, natch. Remmick spends his time onboard pointing out plot holes in previous episodes to every member of the regular cast (except Tasha Yar, natch). Remmick would be excellent at #trekaday. He’s such an obvious bad guy it’s almost comical. Debut of the Riker Maneuvre, and other seeds are sown here for a future arc which will get killed off during the turmoil of Season 2, so this all feels like bits and pieces of a bigger story, rather than a coherent hour of television in its own right. There’s a nice Worf scene on the Holodeck though. Speaking of which…

TNG S01E20 Heart of Glory (3.5 out of 5 stars). RIKER: I’ll prepare an away team. PICARD: Lt Yar, you stay at your post. YAR: Aye sir. And fuck you. TNG’s delve into Klingon mythology starts here, which will persuade Michael Dorn to stick around and give rise to many fan-favorite episodes. I’m not so interested in Klingons and generally find their posturing and honour codes furiously uninteresting, but that’s on me. Arguably, it’s this episode, more than any other in this season (save the pilot), which points the way forward for the show. That said, I do have further quibbles besides my personal lack of interest in the Klingons. The 24th century hasn’t come up with helmet cams yet. As soon as you recognise this, it’s infuriating that the captain has to keep asking the away team what they can see. Great emphasis is placed on the fact that Geordi can detect androids at a glance. This useful trait is never referred to again in any subsequent episode or movie (in a later episode he reveals he can detect liars too, but this also never comes up again). Apparently the Klingon here is gibberish as the script was thrown together in two days and there wasn’t time to get it translated by Marc Okrand who had developed the official Klingon language during production of Star Trek III. Pacing issues here too, it takes forever to find the Klingon survivors on the wrecked freighter and start the actual plot.

TNG S01E21 The Arsenal of Freedom (3.5 out of 5 stars). As well as doing much to establish the Picard/Crusher will-they-won’t they, there’s another character thread here – Riker rejecting a ship of his own – but delivered with the standard Season 1 lack of grace and subtlety. Here’s Vincent Schiavelli classing up the joint, but stuck delivering heavy-handed satire such as “Peace Through Superior Firepower”. It’s a bit of a soggy teaser too, smashing into the opening titles off the back of a conversation about away team logistics. Before long, we’re on a particularly unconvincing Planet Sound Stage, with a chromakey blue sky and plenty of hopeful dry ice. In fact, this feels a lot like TOS, with the captain beaming down to a planet where a previous ship has vanished and Riker finding an AI imposter. “My ship is the Lollipop. It’s a good ship.” Ha! At the bottom of that pit, with Beverly and Jean-Luc, there’s a grace and feeling for character which is frankly astonishing, but when we’re not with Picard, this often feels disjointed and uncertain. Another new chief engineer shows up, who looks about 12, but Geordi puts him in his place. Virtually Troi’s entire contribution is concerned looks at Geordi, but there’s a sense of family and teamwork here that was talked about in Coming of Age but wasn’t felt. Picard’s last line to Geordi is just great.

TNG S01E22 Symbiosis (2 out of 5 stars). Hey look, it’s Khan’s second in command and Kirk’s son as a feckless junkie freighter captain and one of his passengers. There’s almost nothing that Star Trek hates more than hippy druggies – see The Way to Eden for more of this – but I’m rarely diverted by the Enterprise playing crèche to squabbling aliens and it’s another opportunity for the implacable moral superiority of the Federation to be on full display, as well as another demonstration of the ship’s lazy attitude towards pathogen screening for unexpected visitors. Denise Crosby’s last filmed episode, so presumably she DGAF about that ghastly Just Say No Speech to Wesley. Watch for her waving goodbye to the audience in the back of one shot. In HD, the much-vaunted felicium is clearly red lentils.

TNG S01E23 Skin of Evil (1.5 out of 5 stars). Denise Crosby wanted out. She could see that the bridge was top-heavy. She was turning down other work to say “Hailing frequencies open Captain,” once every other episode. Roddenberry and Paramount could have held her to her contract, but they had no wish to keep her at her post against her will. That created an incredible opportunity. Among all the things that pop culture mocked TOS for, the one that was hardest to fix was bumping off red-shirts. If you don’t bump off anyone, that lowers the stakes. But you can’t have a member of the regular cast beam down and get bumped off without resetting it later (which also lowers the stakes). Until now. Evidently, the temptation was irresistible – she gets just 11 lines of dialogue before she bites the sound stage dust. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s about as much as she’s had in the last half-dozen episodes put together. But as clever and daring as this device looks on paper, on TV it’s a sour moment in a clumsy and borderline-ridiculous, episode which doesn’t earn any of its hoped-for tragedy at the end as the crew gather at the Windows 95 Desktop of Perpetual Remembrance. Even in death, Tasha Yar gets sidelined, and the effects work is cheap-looking and lousy too. Denise Crosby will be back – all too briefly – in far better episodes of what will have become a far better show. A new chief engineer is in place – who would have failed Wesley’s Star Fleet Academy exam as he sets a matter-antimatter ratio of 25:1.

TNG S01E24 We’ll Always Have Paris (1 out of 5 stars). Time eddies. A distress call. An old friend of the captain’s. Once again, TNG is playing the hits – and there’s no mention of Tasha Yar, natch. On Troi’s orders, Picard relives some backstory on the Holodeck in a tediously sentimental episode which wallows in secondhand nostalgia as Picard leers over a barely legal blonde in a top which isn’t so much low-cut as hardly there. “Enough of this self-indulgence,” growls Patrick Stewart. Quite. The science-fiction time loop stuff is more interesting, but only just. Data uses a brilliant piece of deduction to work out which of the three versions of him needs to take the required action. Alas, we are never told what this piece of thinking might have been. Denise Crosby’s name is the opening credits for this and the remaining episodes of Season 1. Dammit.

TNG S01E25 Conspiracy (3 out of 5 stars). Here we pick up the crumbs scattered in Coming of Age but over just two episodes, this doesn’t feel real or earned – another example of the show at this stage either not knowing what to do with good ideas, or not yet having the confidence to execute them with any real force. This would love to be Invasion of the Bodysnatchers or The Parallax View (or David Cronenberg) but the world doesn’t feel lived in. The climax should be a shockingly transgressive end to the season, calling back numerous details from past episodes. Actually, it’s a little too hasty and a lot too ridiculous to feel like it really matters. It’s not at all clear how Riker’s deception fooled the other slug creatures, there’s no sense of a bigger organization behind all this (Federation or alien slugs) and Picard and Riker phasering an intelligent adversary to gory death is just about as wrong as can be. Still, it’s a step up from soggy oil monsters and mooning over lost loves, it is at least exciting, and we haven’t seen much from Wesley for ages. Geordi tries to teach Data about jokes which is pretty ghastly.

TNG S01E26 The Neutral Zone (3.5 out of 5 stars) Oh, wait, that wasn’t the season finale? Okay, I guess. In what feels like a do-over of Space Seed, the Enterprise happens across an ancient craft onboard which there are people in suspended animation. Talking about the fad for cryonics in the late twentieth century, Beverly Crusher marvels that “People used fear death – it terrified them.” Uh-huh. Luckily, she’s found a cure not just for their terminal conditions but for death itself. They wake up and see Worf and promptly faint, and a music cue tells us how funny this is. Actually this strand does a decent job of using the 24th century to satirise the 1980s. Meanwhile, no-one has seen the Romulans in years and the Enterprise is flogging across space for a reunion, which is the subject of endless speculation about what they might do, say and want. Actually, despite all my snark, both plots have something to recommend them but – not for the first time – the cross-cutting is unhelpful. “You’re feeling profoundly sad,” intuits Troi, staring into the face of a woman with tears running down her face.

Stray thoughts (Season One)

  • Wow, that was rough. The characters are thin, the pacing frequently off, and the dramatic situations often weak. But there’s also a confidence about the world-building and the look of the show. All the decisions they couldn’t get away from turn out great. All the things that are easy to fix will be. But it will take time.
  • There’s a lack of familiar names in the credits. It seems as if this was the wrong team for the job. Maurice Hurley, Hans Beimler, Tracy Tormé, even DC Fontana and god-bless-him Gene Roddenberry couldn’t make this work entirely – but let’s not forget how close they got to the goal line.
  • In the second half of the season, Data and Worf begin to come into focus, but the episodes which highlight them look like trial runs for better-remembered stories to come. Dr Crusher and Deanna Troi are routinely sidelined. Strong performers like Crosby and Burton are given little or nothing to do – it’s amazing Crosby was the only one to quit (Michael Dorn came close).
  • It’s hardly a new insight, but Patrick Stewart often bears the entire weight of the whole operation on his classically-trained shoulders. He’s exceptional, a truly unexpected and bold piece of casting which pays repeated dividends.
  • Stand-out episodes are few but Where No One Has Gone Before, The Battle and Home Soil are decent, and if you like Klingons you’ll probably like Heart of Glory more than I do. But Code of Honor, Angel One, We’ll Always Have Paris and Skin of Evil are among the lousiest episodes in the franchise. Average rating for Season One: 2.68, about the same as TOS Season Three.
  • Right, they got away with it. Ratings were strong, fans were happy. Star Trek was back. The question now is – where next?

Trekaday 022: Haven, The Big Goodbye, Datalore, Angel One, 11001001, Too Short a Season, When the Bough Breaks, Home Soil

Posted on May 2nd, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

TNG S01E11 Haven (2 out of 5 stars). Troi’s mother sends the Enterprise a message via a Time Lord who accepted Borusa’s gift of immortality. I think this is the first episode to centre on a character who isn’t Picard or Riker. Majel Barrett, who has been heard throughout the show as the ship’s computer, is here in person as Lwaxana Troi, but this episode sadly continues the new show’s seaside postcard obsession with nudity, from the scantily-clad inhabitants of Rubicun III to the Ferengi’s dismay at seeing clothed females (have they traded with no other sexually dimorphic species?) to now naked Betazoid wedding customs. There’s a glimpse into a fascinating alien culture here, but it can barely peek through the tired girl-of-my-dreams plot which never rises above the level of daytime soap opera.

TNG S01E12 The Big Goodbye (2.5 out of 5 stars). The presence of the Holodeck makes this kind of story much easier. TOS required all sorts of implausible justifications in order to stick the crew into the middle of a Damon Runyon tale. The single word “Holodeck” is all that’s necessary to put Picard into a sub-Raymond Chandler story. As with much of the science in this show, it’s basically magic. The holographic lipstick remains on Picard’s face when he leaves, which is hard to rationalise. What’s also hard to understand is how Picard is so bowled over by technology we saw in the pilot – and in The Animated Series, set decades earlier. The bigger problem though is that none of this is particularly interesting, and nor is Picard’s diplomatic tongue-twister challenge. Elevating things slightly is Brent Spiner, who finally gets to put Data through his paces. But there will be much better Data vs the Holodeck stories in the future. And disappointingly, Picard opts to bring along a red-shirted historian who naturally is the first to bite the dust when things go south. Wesley saves the ship count = 4.

TNG S01E13 Datalore (3.5 out of 5 stars). Data practising sneezing is very silly but once Lore is revealed, this becomes an excellent showcase for Brent Spiner’s talents as well as those of the effects team (maybe except the fake Brent Spiner head). And if the doppelgänger story mainly goes through familiar beats, well those are fun beats which have become familiar for a reason. That Data’s origins were so mysterious before this episode is cool – and early episodes have barely hinted at this backstory so whether or not it was in the show bible I don’t know. It does raise some awkward questions about how this machine of unknown provenance was allowed to progress through Star Fleet academy and given a senior position on board the Federation flagship. What lets this one down is that nobody believes “the boy” Wesley, a dull trope this series is usually excellent at avoiding. Chief Engineer Argyle makes a return appearance. Roddenberry gets his final on-screen writing credit. Wesley saves this ship count = 5.

TNG S01E14 Angel One (1.5 out of 5 stars) is set on a planet which is oddly similar to mid-twentieth century Earth, because of course it is. Computing a journey time which takes around half a year down to the last second is a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person would say. Speaking of which, here we have the planet of the mega-bitches which is a misogynist’s version of what a feminist might write. This might not be quite as bad as Code of Honor, and the cast are more comfortable here than there, but it’s pretty dreadful, with yet another virus serving as the all-purpose extra-bit-of-plot-generator. This one has a particularly novel mode of transmission which almost completely foxes Dr Crusher – it’s airborne. Geordi saying “make it so” when he has the con makes me want to slap him. We’ve gone from the stiff, all-business crew of the early episodes to having them behave like giggling teenagers. Another stupidly precise countdown is in place by the end of the episode – 48 minutes to develop an “inoculant” against the disease. Any other show would have been cancelled by this point.

TNG S01E15 11001001 (3 out of 5 stars) The gag of slathering young women in makeup and then dubbing over deep voices is literally the oldest trick in the Star Trek book, going as it does all the way back to the pilot episode. Originally planned to run prior to The Big Goodbye, and explain the Holodeck malfunction, this episode was moved to later in the season and the actions of the Bynars retro-fitted to be a repair job instead. This doesn’t explain why Wesley crusher and friend were allowed onto the known-to-be-dangerously-malfunctioning Holodeck to chuck snowballs at each other in the last episode. Essentially, this story attempts to ring mystery and suspense out of the question of whether the weirdly secretive aliens monkeying around with the Enterprise have the ship and its crew’s best interests at heart or not. Spoiler – they don’t. With Data now established as the shows MVP, Geordi begins slipping into his role as Data’s Best Friend. This is explored here in the form of Data daubing paint onto some glass. Riker’s jazz obsession starts here too. And his holo-sex doll looks weirdly like Kate Mulgrew. I sound like I’m slagging this episode, which probably is just due to the fact that it’s late and I’m tired. It doesn’t do a whole lot wrong, but it just isn’t all that interesting. Wesley saves the ship count = 6.

TNG S01E16 Too Short a Season (2 out of 5 stars). Clayton Rohner was barely 30 when he shot this tired retread of the age/rejuvenate to death plot, and he fools exactly no-one as the 85-year-old Admiral Jameson. The whole plot device of his and the Governor’s past bad blood similarly failed to engage me, feeling like a lot of talk about people I didn’t know doing things I didn’t understand. It seems to me as if no lessons were learned at all from Kirk’s actions in A Private Little War and, again the script is its own best critic, as when Governor Karnas exclaims “This story you are telling me is unbelievable,” all I can do is nod in agreement.

TNG S01E17 When the Bough Breaks (2 out of 5 stars). There are kids on board the Enterprise – remember? The Enterprise follows a trail to Space Atlantis and discovers a race of vastly advanced beings who haven’t figured out sunglasses. Riker, Crusher and Troi are the chosen three. Jerry Hardin is the chief Aldean (who will have a more significant role in a later two-parter). Bizarrely, they believe that importing children will help them to solve their reproductive crisis – which as far as I can see it won’t. It will give them children to nurture (for a few years) and then what? Breed humans from the human children? Why not ask for young, sexually mature adults in that case? But won’t that result in humans supplanting the Aldeans? And what’s this “humans are unusually attached to their offspring” nonsense? Looking after children is an evolutionary necessity. Luckily for all concerned, the Aldeans give Wesley access to their central computer in case he needs to escape.

TNG S01E18 Home Soil (4 out of 5 stars) relates to terraforming, a lengthy process involving industrial lasers. Evidently the Genesis device was a technological dead end (surprising given how well it worked, for the most part). Troi, watching a very nervy and defensive General Gogol on the view screen: “He’s concealing something.” Yar beams down to the planet (yay!) and gets a single line, finishing someone else’s sentence to supply factual information to boost the status of another regular cast member. This may be the exact moment Denise Crosby decided to quit. The brief exterior shot of the terraforming station looks a bit Thunderbirds. When a laser drill goes berserk, Riker is sure to turn off the power first, and only then get emergency medical aid to the injured man. That the laser blasts stopped when the cries of distress stopped is a nifty clue that this was not a simple malfunction, and Data vs the laser drill is a cool showcase for his unique talents. There’s a swagger to Patrick Stewart’s performance here. He really is the MVP of this series, making poor episodes watchable and elevating good ones to near greatness. “Ugly bags of mostly water,” is a classic line, but Data’s Wikipedia entry is off – humans are nearer to 60% water than 90%.