Archive for October, 2022

Trekaday 052: Second Sight, Inheritance, Sanctuary, Parallels, Rivals, The Alternate, The Pegasus

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

DS9 S02E09 Second Sight (3.5 out of 5 stars). Jake’s back! Cirroc Lofton’s actually really good here, I just don’t know what the purpose of the character is, or what makes him different from any other teenage American boy, let alone why he gets to be in the opening titles and Rom, Nog, Dukat and so on don’t. Grieving for Jake’s mother, Sisko starts a weirdly intense conversation with a random on the promenade – who proceeds to vanish into thin air.

Next morning, Sisko switches up his morning brew and Kira – who knows she’s in a science fiction show – gives it this whole “Who are you, and what have you done with Sisko?” but actually he just fancied a change, and he has his hands full with the latest in a series of Star Trek crackpot engineers. This one plans to jumpstart a star and is brimming with jovial confidence, whereupon up pops the commander’s imaginary friend again. I wonder if these two plot strands are connected? Lo! The mad scientist’s wife turns out to be Sisko’s dream girl. The interplay between Sisko and Dax here is fun, doing much to shore up their relationship, and the mad scientist is veteran American actor Richard Kiley, who knows how to fill a set with his ebullient personality.

It transpires that the two identical women are aspects of the same person: one is a sort of parasitical psychic projection of the other. This is all a bit too complicated to feel resonant in any interesting way, and is the kind of thing that could have easily happened on the Enterprise – and it’s been a while since I had that complaint. So, this is a serviceable bit of space-problem-solving but fairly thin compared to some earlier episodes, and all of the intrigue fogs up the Sisko-in-love strand which then is rushed through without the time it needs to really register.

Oddly, faced with a medical crisis, Dax proclaims that there’s nothing to be done and nobody even thinks to call actual doctor Julian Bashir. The crew of the ship carrying out the experiment are all in the old uniforms. Star Fleet really needs to invest in some remote-controlled shuttles.

TNG S07E10 Inheritance (3 out of 5 stars). The Enterprise is solving a planet’s tectonic problems from orbit – same day different shit. But one of the people they are working with is Dr Soong’s wife – Data’s mum. When Data was first constructed, he had to teach himself things like motor skills. Mysteriously, Dr and Mrs Soong then wiped his memory, which left him with these abilities intact. I think his interactions with Juliana are meant to play like an indulgent relative embarrassing a young man by discussing his youthful indiscretions with a new romantic interest, but it never really resonates. And obviously there is more to her story than it seems, or what will acts 3-5 consist of? But this is all rather talky and dull, despite the best efforts of charming Fionnula Flanagan and dependable Brent Spiner, who plays these scenes with his usual delicacy and precision. When the revelation comes – very late in the day – we get another version of the debate about personhood, but nothing that Philip K Dick hasn’t handled already handled with a good deal more grit and vinegar than this rather anodyne hour of television. Also, the more of these androids show up, the harder it is to believe that Dr Soong left no notes whatsoever which would allow other researchers to duplicate his work.

DS9 S02E10 Sanctuary (2.5 out of 5 stars). Kira has installed a Bajoran musician in Quark’s who sounds like he’s playing the Deep Space Nine theme, an in-joke on the level of the Indian flute player in Octopussy. That doesn’t get us off to a great start and – oh joy! – this is Berman-Trek examining gender roles again. To pad out an episode which clearly doesn’t have enough story, the matriarchal Skrreeans (who have stupid hair and stupider spelling) fox the universal translator for the first 15 minutes, after which they don’t and the issue never comes up again. Naturally, instead of the cold, desolate planet that the Federation has picked out for them, they want to settle on Bajor, and eventually a problem regarding where to home millions of refugees ends up with one joyriding kid who isn’t allowed to land. This episode is likely to be remembered as the one with Andrew Koenig (son of Walter) in it, or possibly the one where we started paying attention to these tricky-sounding “Dominion” coves, but it’s all a bit silly and overwrought and the gender politics is high school stuff, when it isn’t actually The Two Ronnies and “The Worm That Turned”. Elsewhere, Jake is getting it on with a Dabo girl. You go, Jake.

TNG S07E11 Parallels (3 out of 5 stars). Worf was triumphant at the bat’leth competition (although there were a few maimings). It’s his birthday and he is on his guard against “an unexpected social gathering”. Riker assures him that he hates surprise parties too – so of course he gets one. It’s very smug, and very silly, and I watched it all with a big grin on my face. Troi is going to be Alexander’s godmother, which makes her Worf’s step-sister and Lwaxana his step-mother. Michael Dorn is just great here, and this lovely scene does enough – barely – to set up what’s coming.

Pretty soon, Worf starts getting confused. We’ve seen quite a lot of these somebody returns from a mission and has issues with their perception of reality stories (Crusher in Remember Me, Riker in Frame of Mind, Data in Birthright, Troi every other episode). Sometimes these have even involved creepy cake, so this gets off to a weak, over-familiar start. This is also the beginning of the Worf/Troi pairing – one of the odder couplings in Star Trek, and for that matter television, history, and one which is swiftly forgotten as soon as Worf jumps ship for Deep Space Nine.

This would love to be Yesterday’s Enterprise (the budget can’t make the battle with the doomed alternate Enterprise really play) but it comes off as a crossword puzzle to be solved (with the judicious application of technobabble). It doesn’t mean anything. Yesterday’s Enterprise is about sacrifice and is a tribute to an actor who didn’t get her due (and the un-lampshaded appearance of Wil Wheaton here doesn’t count). Parallels is 45 minutes of professionally-made television that gets us one show nearer to the end of the series, with only the Worf/Troi scenes giving us anything more – and that relationship is nuts, as I’ve said. It’s fine while it’s on, has its share of surprises – “Geordi’s dead,” is a pretty good act-out – but doesn’t add anything new. There doesn’t seem to be a Klingon word for “jolly”.

DS9 S02E11 Rivals (1.5 out of 5 stars). Quark is basically a slightly more successful version of Space Arthur Daley, not that I imagine Michael Piller ever watched even a second of Minder, but that show worked by taking a ripe performance of a sitcom plot and giving it a bit of Thames TV drama production value. That could have worked here as well, but the sitcom plots needed to be a good deal more inventive and the guest cast a lot more on their toes. A conman needs to be smoothly convincing and charismatic, but Chris Sarandan – who I’ve seen be excellent in other things – looks stiff and awkward throughout. Elsewhere on the station, Bashir and O’Brien are playing space squash at which Bashir is an expert and O’Brien a beginner. Bashir trying to let O’Brien win doesn’t work, and so what we have here are Space Competitive Dads, a plotline which doesn’t fill out the doctor’s thin characterisation or allow Colm Meany to show his class. The two plots converge and the machine which produces statistical flukes puts me in mind of another sitcom, this time the long-running comedy show Red Dwarf which features a luck virus in one of its best episodes. That kind of silliness works there, and feels completely at odds with this show, making this awkward episode one of my least favourites in quite a while.

DS9 S02E12 The Alternate (3 out of 5 stars). There’s a risk inherent in setting up a character whose backstory is a mystery, because backstories are empathy-generation devices and if you make a character’s backstory mysterious, you make it harder to get to know them. The benefit is that you create a mystery to be unravelled, and you also keep your options open as the series progresses. It also makes a difference whether the backstory is a mystery to everyone or only to the audience. We didn’t know much about Worf at first, but gradually we pieced together how a Klingon came to be serving on bridge of the Federation’s flagship. Data’s backstory was a mystery to the characters as well as the audience, but again, the writing team on TNG did pull off a coherent explanation of how he came to be – just about.

This is the first time we’ve looked deeply into Odo’s history, much of which is not clear to him either. The vehicle for this is a reunion with his “dad”, James Sloyan as Dr Mora Pol, who mentored Odo when he was first discovered, but a lot of this is just fairly standard issue: uh-oh-we-brought-something-nasty-back-from-the-away-mission-and-now-it’s-trying-to-kill-us plotting, when actually it’s the relationship between Mora and Odo that’s of interest. When Odo seemingly goes rogue and has to be hunted down, that’s exciting, but I can’t help thinking that the point-of-view is off. We aren’t with Odo and don’t know what he’s going through – and he’s the one we care about. We’re with Dr Mora who we don’t know (don’t really trust) and don’t care about. There are other stumbles as well – Mora actually says “Dear god, what have I done?” at one point.

There’s also some stuff about Jake (hello Jake!) studying Klingon opera for homework. Sure. Whatever. And I’m struck by the revelation that Ferengi chop up their dead and sell the bits, which makes much more sense than the nonsense about death rituals which we were spun in TNG S06E22 Suspicions. Lastly, when the transporter was first mooted for Star Trek, several writers feared that being able to operate the device at will and be instantly whisked out of danger would make creating high-jeopardy plots almost impossible. Hence, the need to have a bloke operating the controls, who has to hear your request for transport over the radio, lock on to your co-ordinates and so on (not to mention all the episodes in which one or other of those things doesn’t work for some technobabblish reason or another). Here, Odo just announces “Computer, energise” and off they go. How long have they been able to do that, then?

TNG S07E12 The Pegasus (4.5 out of 5 stars). We open with “Captain Picard Day” and the beguiling sight and sound of Jonathan Frakes giving us his Patrick Stewart impersonation which is rather good fun. But this light-hearted opening is setting us up for a rather darker story which digs into who Commander Riker is, and – crucially – who he was when he served on the Pegasus under now-Admiral Pressman (Terry O’Quinn from off of Lost). There’s some lovely character work here, as Picard and Pressman share their command philosophies and we learn why Picard picked Riker as his number one, despite never having met him before he assumed command of the Enterprise in Encounter at Farpoint.

What all this builds to – slowly but not laboriously – is the revelation of just what the hell is the secret that Pressman is so desperate to conceal, that may still be on board his old ship. Hitchcock was never much interested in just what the thing was that the characters were pursuing, and his flippant term for it – MacGuffin – reflects that. But George Lucas recalls that finding a good MacGuffin for an Indiana Jones film was enormously difficult and without that, the whole project was in trouble. Here, I felt a certain anxiety, unable to remember just what it was that we had been closing in on all this time.

I needn’t have worried. Finding out that the Federation had signed a treaty agreeing not to develop cloaking technology, but that that’s just what was on the Pegasus, makes perfect sense and raises the stakes brilliantly. Now reassured that the details of the story are slotting into place, I can relax and enjoy the character work between Riker, Picard and Pressman, all of which works wonderfully well. Season Seven of TNG is not many people’s favourite, but, let’s be clear, this is no TOS Series Three. There are more duds this year, it’s true, but there are some gangbusters episodes and this is one of them. Not much to be seen from Geordi this episode – LeVar Burton he was taking his second turn behind the camera, following the excellent Second Chances.

So… what did I think of The Power of the Doctor?

Posted on October 23rd, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

Well, where to start with this one? Series 11 seemed to me to be characterised mainly by sluggish pacing, lots of walking, endless scenes of the baddies wanting nice chats with the Doctor instead of enacting their evil plans, and a general air of torpor. What was mildly refreshing was the insistence on having nothing from the Doctor’s past. Series 12 massively reversed course, giving us return appearances of the Master, the Cybermen, Captain Jack, and tying the continuity of the show into a five-dimensional-hyper-pretzel with alternate versions of the Doctor whose presence makes zero sense even once explained. And Floox doubled down on all of the above, only with a hefty dose of ADHD, just in case anyone was nodding off at the back. What was lacking throughout these stories was any meaningful character interactions. The over-full TARDIS crew generally just stood on the sidelines watching the adventure happen. Occasionally, guest characters would get something resembling an arc, but not often. There was a glimmer of something with a bit more depth and texture in Eve of the Daleks but not a single particle of that promise made it through to the incredibly poor Legend of the Sea Devils.

This one didn’t start well. We begin in the thick of the action with a ship of some kind under attack. Immediately, it’s all the usual problems. Action and visual whirr in place of story. Bland, functional dialogue. Hey look, Cybermen. ARE YOU HAPPY, FANS? The revelation that the “cargo” is a sweet little girl made me stop and take notice. Okay, I thought, the teaser might have been witless, leaden, epilepsy-inducing eye-candy, but that is a neat twist. I wonder who she is? I needn’t have bothered, we don’t ever find out. (Possibly she was some species of Timeless Child? I neither know nor care.) Dan is written out on the thinnest of pretexts. Why was he there at all? It’s a centenary special. Everyone is invited. Why is Yas written out at the end? What’s Graham doing in that volcano? Where’s Ryan? Well, do there always have to be reasons for things?

Chris Chibnall’s most divisive episode to date is almost certainly The Timeless Children. Among the many things this was criticised for were the fact that the Doctor spends much of the middle of the episode trapped in a limbo space talking to herself, the fact that the Master’s evil plan is to show her the PowerPoint Presentation of Doom, and the fact that a nice old man blows himself up so that she doesn’t have to sacrifice herself to wipe out the new generation of Cybermen. Well, in this episode, the Doctor spends much of the middle of the episode trapped in a limbo space talking to herself, the Master’s evil plan is to roll out the PR Campaign of Ultimate Evil, and in case you were worrying about that nice old man, turns out his death was completely pointless, because all those Cybermen he died to eliminate are absolutely fine.

Hey look, it’s Ace. ARE YOU HAPPY FANS?

Hey look, it’s Tegan. ARE YOU HAPPY FANS? ARE YOU??


Hey look, it’s Rasputin. For some reason.



I’m 50 years old. I remember all (well, most) of these faces from the first time around. Chris Chibnall is 52. He’s an old fan, writing for other old fans. Sadly for him, I hated it. What did the ten-year-olds make of it?

And apart from being a bad idea, this is also a colossal mess. Characters and villains and ideas come and go, like brightly coloured soup sloshing in and out of various tureens, but none of it goes anywhere or means anything. Ashad loses anything which made him interesting in any way and he’s now just another goon. Ace and Tegan stand around and comment from the sidelines, because that’s what companions do in this era of the show. The Master cos-plays as the Doctor, announces he’s going to trash the Doctor’s reputation (Way to raise the stakes! Trash her reputation! Tremble!) but never gets around to actually doing it. Lasers bounce off holograms, you know, the things that are famously insubstantial. There are missing paintings, but don’t worry about it, nothing comes of it. Vinder is here, for some reason. One Dalek betrays the rest. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s all part of the Master’s plan. Or maybe it isn’t. The Master needs an army of Daleks and Cybermen to stand around him while he whammies the Doctor because if they aren’t there, then, well, I dunno, but it wouldn’t look as COOL.

I was pretty frustrated at the way in which Flux, which went to great pains to remove the Doctor from the action, was resolved only by having multiple versions of the Doctor in different places, which felt like a massive cheat. Here again, the Doctor is comprehensively taken off the board, and then pops up again in multiple guises. The Peter/Janet and especially the Sylvester/Sophie scenes have a speck of something greater – this would love to be School Reunion with Lis and Ten, but it never comes close. The rest is just lights and noise and shouting. And the script not paying attention to itself. Thirteen comes back to life, Jo Martin fades away, announcing that the hologram AI has served its purpose. Until it suddenly pops up again in front of Tegan.

If you aren’t convinced that this was incompetently assembled by a writer whose MO is just to occupy characters with busywork because he’s only got enough plot for about twenty minutes, let’s look a bit more closely at what happens with Ace, Tegan and Kate. Kate summons Tegan and Ace and they all meet the Doctor. But they don’t go with her, so they don’t get a chance to influence the plot at all. They stay behind at UNIT and move upstairs when Cybermen invade a middle floor. Kate wants them to leave the building so Ace and Tegan go up to the roof. Tegan then decides she doesn’t want to leave, so she goes all the way back down again, returns to her original position with Kate, and they argue about this. Ace stays in place while many other scenes happen. Then she finally jumps off the roof with a parachute., something she could presumably have done from the middle floor if she’d opened a window. Cybermen shoot at her and damage the parachute, so now it’s the same as if she jumped off the roof without it. Yas (somehow!) foresees all this and positions the TARDIS underneath her, putting her back into the TARDIS which is where she needs to be – the same TARDIS she could have got into twenty minutes earlier.

Now Kate reveals that there is another way down to the basement and so Tegan – who has already gone up to the roof and back down again – now goes down to the basement, which is where she actually needs to be. Kate says “I’ll trade you my life for the lives of my troops,” does nothing to ensure the safety of her troops and just surrenders, and then Tegan makes it to the basement and does the thing with the thing. Ace (and Graham for some fucking reason) meanwhile has to destroy the Daleks with Nitro Nine so that when the Doctor freezes the volcanos from the TARDIS, they… she… it’s… no, I’ve no idea, sorry.

It’s all so convoluted, meaningless and messy. None of it clicks together, none of it reveals character, and much of it is blitheringly stupid: Tegan just letting go when Cybermen start shooting through the walls at her, and surviving just because. Kate and Tegan standing two feet in front of an enormous building which is being demolished behind them and not being crushed by tons of falling masonry. Fatal tissue compression that works in reverse. The Master dancing to pop music like he did in that other good episode that everybody liked. DID YOU LIKE IT WHEN YOU SAW IT AGAIN? DID YOU? DID YOU LIKE IT?

What I think is worth saying is that I was initally very struck by Sacha Dhawan’s Master and really felt like in Spyfall he put a very new spin on a very old character, even if the writing reverted him back to the John Simm version. But in later appearances, it got more and more tired, and what was once a tour-de-force performance became bland and predictable. Here, though, with no help from the script whatsoever, he works miracles. He’s unpredictable, sinister, operatic, charming, silly, savage, vulnerable and somehow knits all of that together into a consistent characterisation. The hosts of excellent podcast Flight Through Entirety have observed that in the classic series, the real threat that the Master poses is that he’ll be so charismatic and funny that he’ll steal the show from the Doctor. That idea is taken to its logical conclusion here, and while I won’t miss very much about this era, I do feel we were denied seeing this exceptional actor as the Doctor and he’s really the only reason this is worth watching at all.

Oh, and I did quite like “Tag, you’re it.” “Introducing David Tennant” I assume was Russell T Davies’s gag.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Trekaday 051: Cardassians, Phantasms, Melora, Dark Page, Rules of Acquisition, Attached, Necessary Evil, Force of Nature

Posted on October 21st, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S02E05 Cardassians (4.5 out of 5 stars). Garak is back!! And bitten on the hand by a Cardassian boy brought on board the station by his Bajoran adoptive father. Gul Dukat wants to use the incident to repatriate the abandoned kids – and we can only hope that Sisko figures out how adoption works a little faster than Picard. Other sources though say that the boy is mistreated by other Bajorans who see in him the face of the enemy.

It’s a good showing for Bashir, verbally fencing with Dukat, and even if we aren’t learning much about the character, Siddig, given something to play, seizes the opportunity and begins to shade in some of the Doctor’s idealistic impulsiveness. He’s never going to be the most complex character on the show, but if we get him up to, say Geordi’s level, I’ll be quite satisfied. Showing more layers, at first O’Brien is openly racist against Cardassians (recalling his attitude in The Wounded), but he and the tug-of-love boy Rugal bond over their dislike of Cardassian food. He’s also seen at one point, truculently playing on his phone, like a Zoomer.

Complicating everything is the arrival of Rugal’s biological father Kotan Pa’Dar, played by Robert Mandan with enough exaggeration to get through the latex, but enough subtlety to make the dilemma I dismissed so easily suddenly seem much more complicated. At the end of the episode, following some shockingly speedy detective work by Garak, Rugal is sent home to start a new life on Cardassia, against his stated wishes. Not what I would have done, but the episode does such a good job of showing the situation from all sides, that I can no longer condemn it outright. Maybe he will be happier among his own people, eventually.

Not much from Dax, Odo, Kira or Quark this week, but great to see a proper vehicle for Bashir and there’s good stuff for O’Brien, Keiko and Sisko and for the first time I’m watching TNG impatiently waiting for the episode to be over so I can get back to this show.

TNG S07E06 Phantasms (2 out of 5 stars). According to legend, chemist August Kekulé who had been working for months on determining the shape of the benzene molecule fell asleep in front of the fire place and in his dreams he saw a vision of a snake swallowing its own tail. When he awoke, he had solved the puzzle: unlike any other substance known to nineteenth century chemistry, benzene was ring-shaped. This may well have been what inspired Brannon Braga to return to the subject of Data’s dream program (from Birthright), because it doesn’t tell us anything new about Data, dreams or anything else.

Dream imagery is a rich seam for writers and directors but this is all pretty mundane stuff (and it’s easy to spot on Blu-ray that those burly miners are not allowing their heavy sledgehammers to even touch the flimsy Enterprise corridors) with maybe only the Gateau à la Troi sticking in the mind. Meanwhile, in a mild switcheroo, lovesick Geordi is himself being pursued by a spunky young ensign, on whom many minutes are expended, but absolutely nothing comes of this relationship.

Overall, this feels meandering and dull, locked into the comfortable domesticity of the Enterprise, all cat feeding rituals, jazz recitals and inconvenient banquets, and Picard’s rubbernecking around Data and Geordi’s repair works is slightly embarrassing – doubly surprising since Patrick Stewart directed this one.

DS9 S02E06 Melora (2.5 out of 5 stars). The space station plays host to a wheelchair-bound alien. Again, I have very little confidence that the series is going to have the slightest idea how to handle this. As soon as she’s mentioned, Bashir is fangirling like crazy (because this is the story we tell with this character). She’s played by Doctor Who’s Daphne Ashbrook (no of course they didn’t cast a disabled actor, don’t be ridiculous). Again, we have a low-key character-focused teaser, which doesn’t promise a lot of high-stakes jeopardy, and that’s pretty much what the episode delivers.

Attempting to raise the stakes mildly, we have Quark’s strand in which an old “friend” comes to call and gives the Ferengi plenty of notice that his life is in danger. But why doesn’t he just kill Quark if that’s what he wants? The Quark/Odo stuff is fine, but nothing we haven’t seen before.

Very little of this works. Bashir is sharking after Melora, because of course he is. It’s a tiny bit more subtle than it was in Season 1, but it’s still clumsy. Effects-wise, the flying stuff is pretty good for TV, but it doesn’t really make sense on a plot level: “This is astonishing!” cries Bashir who has spent his whole career in space. Melora’s condition is scientifically dubious as well and Bashir’s magic make-you-walk-again gizmo is months of patient research achieved in twenty minutes.

TNG S07E07 Dark Page (2 out of 5 stars). Lwaxana Troi has reinvented herself as a tutor for a group of telepathic aliens who have no concept of spoken language. Telepaths make Worf feel uneasy. Keep this mind as we briefly embark on a late bit of character development with this character in a few episodes’ time. Deanna Troi meanwhile is cos-playing as Mel and/or Kim and has attracted the attention of the alien delegate with the shit-eating grin whom her mother sees as ideal son-in-law material. Because – this is the story we tell with this character. But we do ring the changes by the second ad-break, as Mrs Troi starts becoming erratic even by her standards – snapping at Riker and refusing Crusher’s orders to rest. I find the aliens asking “What is this thing called love poetry?” furiously uninteresting and so the long, event-free scenes leading up to Lwaxana’s collapse are a bit of a slog. But then, when she does collapse, we’re denied Majel Barrett.

Eventually, it all turns out that Lwaxana has kept a family secret so hard that she’s broken her brain. None of this is especially compelling, and it’s hard to feel the impact of stories from the distant past of a tertiary character, especially when we know next week this will all have been forgotten. So, this is soapy at best, faintly ridiculous at worst, and the faces Norman Large pulls when he’s communicating telepathically are particularly silly. But we’ve had worse and sillier stories and Marina Sirtis gets another chance to show just how good she can be when’s she’s given even half-way decent material to work with. Coming straight after Phantasms, though, it seems even less interesting. Also, it’s the fucking dog again.

In a very early role, it’s possible to glimpse Kirsten Dunst under some of Michael Westmore’s foam latex. Last appearance of Majel Barrett as Lwaxana on TNG but she’ll crop up again on Deep Space Nine.

DS9 S02E07 Rules of Acquisition (3 out of 5 stars). A youth disguised as a boy is a venerable old plot device but that’s no doubt because it works. Here the Ferengi make-up aids the deception considerably, meaning that it’s just possible to watch this episode and not be ahead of the revelation, despite the fairly heavy-handed foreshadowing as Quark and Rom (but mainly Quark) drool over Dax. In more good news, Wallace Shawn is back as the Grand Nagus so the stage is set for one of the funny episodes of the “dark” incarnation of Star Trek. I don’t think I mentioned it last time, but Michael Westmore’s make-up here is tremendous, and the combination of Shawn’s weaselly performance and Westmore’s crenelated latex is very, very effective. On the other hand, the wine merchants from the Gamma Quadrant look more like kids at a face-painting party than a hitherto unknown alien race.

After a strong opening, Pel’s relationship with Quark is not really developed much more than if it had been a Brian Rix farce, all unconvincing lies, homosexual anxiety and close calls. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is frustrating and the script seems not to know whether Pel’s predicament or Quark’s business deal is more interesting – it’s Pel’s predicament, which makes it all the more disappointing that it’s handled so poorly. The showdown between Quark, Zek and Pel’s is more satisfying, but it’s a long time coming. We’re still in adventure-of-the-week territory so the episode ends with Quark, Pel, Zek and Rom all reset to their starting positions. Once again, Armin Shimerman demonstrates why he’s such an asset to this show, making even the silliest moments breathe and feel real.

Instead of Dabo, the game of choice this week is Tongo, which the writers do a good job of making sound like a real game – not a trivial task. First mention of the Dominion.

TNG S07E08 Attached (3.5 out of 5 stars). Picard and Crusher are discussing their upcoming mission to Kesprytt where the inhabitants are split into remainers and leavers. In response to this, the leavers (Prytts) kidnap the captain and the doctor and stick volume knobs on their necks which link their minds and won’t let them move too far away from each other. While Riker and the others try and track down the missing crew members with the (shifty) help of the Kes, Picard and Crusher attempt escape. So, we have one strand which is a fairly dull whodunnit with quite an obvious solution and another strand which is a telepathic version of The 39 Steps with psychic doohickies instead of handcuffs.

Gates McFadden is never better than when paired with Patrick Stewart and she’s terrific here. The concept of these two close friends, who might once have been something more, able to hear each other’s thoughts, is quite a beguiling one – although what their captors hoped to achieve by doing this is less clear. This is somewhat of a reprise of earlier episodes like The Arsenal of Freedom but we get some deeper insights into these two characters this time round. Especially where Beverly is concerned, it would have been nice to have this sooner – it could have been built on in fascinating ways. The depiction of the Kes and Prytt groups is better than many renderings of one-off alien races, although it’s clear from the off that it’s not as simple as “Kes nice, Prytt nasty”. And we get to go on location, which is always nice. But a seemingly important moment where the escaping captain and doctor are separated by a force field turns out to be completely irrelevant.

So, this is a slightly clumsy set-up, with a fairly rote and predictable b-plot, but some very impressive character stuff in the a-plot. The Prytt costumes are spectacularly silly, alas.

DS9 S02E08 Necessary Evil (4 out of 5 stars). The opening of this episode is so melodramatic and over-the-top that I initially assumed that we were in a Holosuite. The odd tonal shifts continue with Odo’s misanthropic personal log creating a further film noir feel. To be honest, most of the Quark/Rom/Odo stuff seemed pretty dull – until suddenly we were back on the station when the Cardassians were in charge and Odo was chatting to Gul Dukat. René Auberjonois is amazing here – headed bowed in humiliation and defeat, and Marc Alaimo modulates his smooth villainy as well, adopting a much more front-foot energy than when he’s playing at diplomat. Odo’s flashback murder investigation leads him to Kira, and this starts to get a bit too convoluted for its own good but Odo remains the MVP of this show and his scene at the end with Kira is tremendous. He even gets to do the Columbo “One more thing” trick. Someone should let Sisko know that his son is no longer on the station. We haven’t seen him except in the opening credits for most of the season so far.

TNG S07E09 Force of Nature (1.5 out of 5 stars). We begin with particularly soggy teaser, operating at a sitcom level without the discipline of having to make a studio audience laugh every 20 seconds. Geordi and Data fuck around with Spot the cat until thankfully Riker comes over the comm system and tells them to start doing their actual jobs. Although the rest of the episode moves away from feline shenanigans, what follows is no more interesting. Naren Shankar’s plea for ecological responsibility isn’t quite as horrifying as the “Black people are equally to blame for slavery” message of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield but it’s never especially interesting and it amounts to an instruction to future writers to make subsequent stories of space adventure less exciting. Luckily, everybody else basically ignores it.

Trekaday 050: The Homecoming, Liaisons, The Circle, Interface, The Siege, Gambit, Invasive Procedures

Posted on October 13th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S02E01 The Homecoming (4 out of 5 stars). The first episode of Season 2 basically picks up where Season 1 left off – the sets look the same, nobody has grown a beard or left the show, the uniforms are unchanged, the titles are identical and the Siskos’ father-son bonding is as generic as ever. Kira’s mission of mercy is kicked off by an earring turning up at Quark’s. As if to try and warm-up the tepid drama people keep portentously saying “I need to speak with you” or “There’s something you should see,” rather than just speaking their minds. It’s a television writer’s tic which would be better eliminated.

But as the episode unfolds, the drama does start to deepen. Last year, we heard about labour camps and Bajoran prisoners (in the excellent Duet). This time, we join Kira and O’Brien on a raid to one such in order to retrieve freedom fighter Nalas (played by Richard Beymer, familiar as Tony from West Side Story). In a delicious twist, when the prison camp is liberated, silver tongued Gul Ducat issues a smooth apology for its very existence. Continuing the high-class casting, here’s Nixon himself, Frank Langella (uncredited for some reason) as a Bajoran Minister. And complicating everything is a splinter group called The Circle who are carving their logo into the space station’s walls (and bartenders).

As noted, although there’s a general air of competence and confidence, there’s nothing here which suddenly makes this feel like a different show – until the very end. Suddenly, Kira’s out, and we end our first episode back on an explicitly unresolved note. A two-parter? At the beginning of the season? Spicy.

TNG S07E02 Liaisons (2.5 out of 5 stars). Worf and Picard greet this week’s visiting dignitaries, and the unreconstructed Klingon complains that his uniform looks like a dress. To be honest, it looks significantly less like a dress than the dress uniforms seen in earlier seasons, but in any case, I’m with Riker – Worf looks good in a dress. Troi and Riker are each given Iyaaran ambassadors to babysit. Troi, who constantly senses the feelings of those around her, has no idea that hers is not following her until she turns around. Riker’s meanwhile rejects him in favour of being a relentless dick to Worf until he delivers a beat-down. Meanwhile, Picard is re-enacting The Galileo Seven (or The Enemy) as his shuttlecraft crashes, seemingly killing the pilot and he’s stranded with a woman who claims to have been there for seven or so years. All this feels extremely fishy and not in a “what a fascinating mystery” way but more in “oh, come on, what’s the actual story?” way.

Sadly, the actually story is a) a riff on “what is this thing you call love, Captain?” and b) utterly implausible. The Iyaarans seem in all ways humanlike people who can communicate readily with our crew, but who lack any concepts of friendship, conflict or pleasure. But they display all of these in various subtle ways, because such deep components of personality cannot be deleted arbitrarily without affecting every other aspect of a person. So, this is irritating while it’s on and frustrating to look back on.

DS9 S02E02 The Circle (4 out of 5 stars). We pick up, as expected with “Last time on Deep Space Nine…” but this is followed not by “And now the conclusion…” but “And now the continuation…” Whuh? Are we not going to be done with this story in 45 minutes’ time? And the story continues to engross. Highlights include Odo recruiting Quark as his deputy and Sisko’s interaction with General Krim, when he doesn’t attempt to bargain with the information he has. Krim is played with smooth authority by Stephen Macht who was Roddenberry’s first choice for Captain Picard, fact-fans.

On Bajor, Kira (with a fringe) is building a water feature, but Vedek Bareill shows her the flashback box from the pilot, and suddenly she’s not sure if she wants to stay or go. But Sisko mounts a rescue mission which is as exciting as it is perfunctory and get her the hell out of there, before Frank Langella finishes torturing her – the make-up on Nana Visitor is shocking, but the wounds are easily mended by Bashir. That’s my only problem with this episode: it’s shooting for the moon and some of the revelations are shocking – the whole premise of the show is being called into question and there’s no sign of a major reset button – but several small things are being reset very quickly, so I’m still suspicious that the status quo might return in part three. I genuinely don’t know, though, I have no memory of these episodes whatsoever. Jake is still playing the “I really think you oughta come down, Dad,” game instead of just coming out and saying what he needs to say. Stop it.

Bruce Gray appears as “Admiral Chekote”. That’s a name we’ll hear again soon, although with a different spelling. Also – the Prime Directive applies. Does it? I thought it applied only to pre-Warp civilisations?

TNG S07E03 Interface (2.5 out of 5 stars). Geordi, with normal-looking eyes, is scrambling through a Jeffries Tube to pull a handle and put out a fire. This is apparently something which the Enterprise computer couldn’t manage on its own. Huh? Actually, he’s hooked up to a gizmo which allows him to pilot a Geordi-puppet into this dangerous environment. (Such a shame those Exocomps were so darned cussed.) The plan is to use the same system to rescue some stricken scientists whose ship is trapped in the atmosphere of a gas giant.

Meanwhile, Deep Space Three seems to be a much classier joint than DS9 as it’s playing host to Admiral Holt, who Zooms Picard to let him know that the ship with Geordi’s mum on board is missing. Dismissing everyone else telling him that missing = dead, Geordi carries on with his mission, but distressingly, finds only corpses. Bizarrely, when his puppet is caught in a fire, his real hands are burned – more scientific illiteracy, and defeating the point of the interface almost entirely. Geordi also implies that the probe doesn’t look like him, although that’s what we see. But in that case, how can he admire his reflection? This needed to be much more thoroughly worked-through and explained. Apparently the episode under-ran, and had to be padded at the last minute, but the sci-fi story feels like it’s been pared to the bone. The human story meanwhile feels disappointingly generic, although LeVar Burton is as good as ever.

Also, it’s a shame that Geordi is wrong about basically everything, even if that is a refreshing change, but after Picard’s credulous behaviour last week, it doesn’t say much for Star Fleet’s finest. Everything about the interface is complete nonsense. Presumably, Geordi burning his real hands is an attempt to give his mission some actual jeopardy. But in that case, the episode would probably have worked rather better if the real Geordi was really risking his real life – you know the way they do on every other episode.

DS9 S02E03 The Siege (4.5 out of 5 stars). Ah, so this is the conclusion. Okay. Evacuating the station feels very real, very significant, almost apocalyptic, but Sisko’s plan is delicious, and it’s great fun watching it unfurl. Like the best villains, Stephen Macht’s General Krim is one step ahead of our heroes and isn’t easily fooled. Meanwhile, Kira and Dax’s adventures in a beaten-up old shuttle are very enjoyable and do much to shore-up Dax’s character – her world-weary acceptance of the ludicrous risks she’s forced to take are new, but make sense of her long life.

In terms of plot, concepts and characterisation, this is probably another four. Nixon and Ratched are rather simple moustache-twirling villains, the Cardassians who are actually pulling the strings are never seen, Li Nalas’s death feels a bit perfunctory (although it helps that the victory comes at a price) and Kira’s PADD is the golden snitch of plot devices, resolving everything the moment it is presented to the right person on Bajor. But I’m going to bump it up by an extra half a star because overall the story has had an epic scope which feels very fresh and exciting, with great material for Kira, good stuff for Quark, Odo, Dax and Sisko and a much greater appreciation for the kind of political stories which this set-up lends itself too. The supporting cast are getting stronger all the time and the regulars are coming into focus. We just need to figure out what to do with this doctor, who hasn’t even risen to the level of this-is-the-story-we-do-with-this-character yet (although he has stopped turning into the Tex Avery wolf whenever Dax walks by, thank goodness). For the first time, the spin-off is doing better work than the parent show, which is flailing about a bit as it enters its seventh year.

Some of the Star Fleet staff during the early briefing scenes are wearing weird uniforms with the lilac undershirt visible around their necks, but no vees in the outer garment.

TNG S07E04 Gambit, Part I (4 out of 5 stars). This is brilliantly cheeky. The first part of a two-parter which plays like the second part of a two-parter. Picard is missing, Troi is undercover in a Star Wars-esque dive bar and the best cover story she can think of in a post-fiscal society is that she is owed money. She’s joined by Riker and Worf, and their only lead comes from a skeezy guy who looks rather like the James Cromwell character from Birthright, who is encouraged to talk when Crusher turns up packing a phaser. It doesn’t feel much like Star Trek (until Crusher starts spouting technobabble) but it certainly is fun. Naturally, I don’t believe for a second that Picard has been vapourised off-screen. The question is, how long do we have to wait for the appearance of the captain?

Not believing that Picard is dead makes it harder to take the big shouty Riker-Troi scene seriously. It’s a good rendering of both of their characters, but you know… c’mon. Data (as acting first officer) telling Riker that the captain’s place is on the bridge is rather a sweet moment – and he’s right. Riker is taken captive and so now Data is acting-acting captain. Picard’s reappearance (as “Galen”) is quite the moment. He turns up amongst the gang of pirates who have captured Riker, arguing for his immediate execution. As lead villain, Captain Arctus Baran (Richard Lynch) is a bit bland and one-note. This story is so committed to the pulp sci-fi adventure story that it even ends with a freeze-frame. Robin Curtis is one of the pirates, but doesn’t get much to do.

Admiral Chakotay Chekote is back – why the obsession with that surname? But the design of the Admirals’ uniforms have settled down at long last.

DS9 S02E04 Invasive Procedures (3.5 out of 5 stars). Following the epic three parter which saw the situation become so untenable that the whole station has to be evacuated, here we have an ordinary one-off episode in which… the whole station has to be evacuated. Quark, who last time found himself left behind because he couldn’t get his suitcase of latinum on board the shuttle, in a novel twist this time has stayed behind because he couldn’t get his suitcase of latinum on board the shuttle. Seriously?

While the station is on lockdown, O’Brien and Odo encounter Klingon and Trill raiders who are after Dax. Odo having been neutralized, Bashir is forced to remove Dax’s symbiont and implant it into Verad (played with nervy relish by John Glover). Terry Farrell, who seemed a little unsure in Season 1 has really found a groove now. With very little help from the scripts, she’s begun to create a completely rounded old-head-on-young-shoulders characterisation which is quite fascinating and which makes her frailty when she’s deprived of her symbiont all the more affecting. Alexander Siddig still doesn’t get much on the page and hasn’t found any depth to Bashir yet, alas.

It’s also fairly easy to see how this is going to go – Verad will eventually be made to put Dax back into Jadzia – but the journey is worthwhile and this is decent tense-hostage-situation stuff with hissable villains and noble heroes, but it’s a step back from the complexity and scope of the opening trilogy. Almost unrecognizable under Michael Westmore’s Klingon latex is Tim Russ, who we’ll be seeing more of (and seeing more of) quite soon now.

TNG S07E05 Gambit, Part II(4.5 out of 5 stars). This cliffhanger would love to be in the same league as Best of Both Worlds but it’s not even close and since it resolves by having both ships only pretend and then the baddies running away, we don’t carry a lot of momentum into the opening titles. In true Indiana Jones fashion, the artifact that Ba-ba-baran is searching for is an ancient weapon of unimaginable power. Romulan Tallera is actually Vulcan T’Paal and she’s determined not to let it fall into the wrong hands (she claims). Oh, that’s why they cast Robin Curtis! Got it.

The scene with acting-acting Captain Data tearing acting-acting first officer Worf off a strip is absolutely fascinating. I’ve been touched to see Worf’s devotion to Star Fleet throughout this series, and his loyalty to Picard in particular. Here, nobody is doing the job they’re used to and so of course the gears are grinding. In another show, this might lead to the kind of conflict which Riker and Picard are play-acting to stay alive. But here, the ghost of Roddenberry haunts the writers room, insisting that our people never have even the slightest disagreement. So this scene essentially boils down to Data saying “Don’t do that,” and Worf saying “Soz,” and nothing ever comes of it. But we know these characters so well and they’re played with such delicacy that not only does it feel completely true to the situation and the people, it actually feels almost seismic. Look how close we came to conflict! Actual conflict between the bridge crew! It’s beautifully done.

On the other hand, beaming both Picard and Riker back on to the Enterprise as a “boarding party” seems likely to lower the stakes, and all it would take is for someone to thoughtlessly say “Captain” on seeing Picard for the whole deception to collapse. So, I suppose as befits a space-faring tale of piratical derring-do, this is turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy-the-thrills stuff, and on its own terms, it works well, with a confident swagger that almost defies belief – and that goes double for that final satisfying but ridiculous switcheroo with Baran-flakes’ remote control torture device. The moralising at the end seems a bit out of step with the macho antics of the preceding 40 minutes, and doesn’t provide any real depth so this isn’t a five star masterpiece, but there’s tons of good four-star stuff here, and the Worf/Data scene is worth an extra half a star.

Trekaday 049: Second Chances, Dramatis Personae, Duet, Timescape, In the Hands of the Prophets, Descent

Posted on October 5th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S06E24 Second Chances (4.5 out of 5 stars). Eventually, I’m assured, Deep Space Nine is going to stop piddling around with visiting dignitaries and imaginary friends and get to grips with some proper, golden-age-of-television style serial storytelling, which will leave its reset switch-loving progenitor in the dust. Well, if that’s true, that day ain’t today because here’s an episode of The Next Generation which spits on the whole idea of a reset button. To be fair, the writing staff wanted to go even further and have Will Riker die and Thomas Riker take his place on the Enterprise. I can’t decide if that’s madness or genius, but as it is, I’m thrilled and astonished to see the hoary old transporter clone idea taken as far as this, and it’s a series-best performance from Jonathan Frakes to boot. The only real flaw is that after eight years of living an entirely solitary existence, Lt Riker should be completely bonkers, but he shrugs off almost a decade of isolation like a bad cold. Also, although it’s always nice to see it, the poker game is technically weak, with everybody under-raising and string-raising like crazy.

DS9 S01E18 Dramatis Personae (2.5 out of 5 stars). Both The Original Series and The Next Generation made the curious choice of having the crew we’d only just met start going bananas. Normally it would be ineffective to show a group we didn’t know very well acting out of character, because we don’t know what they’re like when they act in character. In fact, it works just fine, because when some of their deeper personality traits are revealed and they stop acting like their job descriptions, we see more of who they really are. Here, near the end of Season 1, DS9 tries the same trick, but this time everybody becomes the same sort of pantomime villain, so this doesn’t tell us anything about who they really are, is very silly in its presentation and still manages to feel like a hand-me-down. It’s just hard to get invested in either the intrigue or the fault-lines opening up between the characters when it’s so obvious that none of it is real. The cast has fun though and we’re getting to know the actors as much as their characters, so that helps.

DS9 S01E19 Duet (4.5 out of 5 stars). Right from the earliest episodes, Kira and Odo have been the most interesting characters in the regular cast. Quark is developing nicely but brings a lot of Ferengi baggage with him. Odo has had a couple of great moments but Kira’s best episode so far was mired in a lot of other over-familiar material. The main conflict here is certainly not novel – it’s a riff on Nazi war criminals trying to evade justice after World War Two, among other things – but it’s paying off one of the promises of the set-up and brings us excellent character actor Harris Yulin as the genial yet shifty Marritza who may or may not have served at the labour camp liberated by Kira some years ago. Nana Visitor is just superb here, playing all of the layers of her internal conflict, torn between her duty to Star Fleet, her personal loyalty to Sisko and her fiery need for Bajoran justice. It’s enough to make you glad Michelle Forbes said no. And she’s matched by Yulin who manages to make his early avuncular evasion and his later maniacal boasting equally convincing.

We also get Marc Alaimo back as Gul Dukat (where’s Garak, while I come to think of it?) trying to paint Kira as a “Bajoran hatemonger” in Sisko’s eyes. It’s all gripping, powerful stuff and (along with Progress) feels like the kind of story which is worth telling but which wouldn’t fit on TNG, because the way to do this on the Enterprise is to give the key conflict to a guest star, and we had enough of that in Seasons 1 and 2. Here, it’s one of our main characters who’s having to deal with uncertainty, justice, revenge and duty. Towards the end it all gets a bit convoluted and further clichés (like the villain having had plastic surgery to disguise his identity) fog the fascinating moral issues, but these flaws can’t eclipse the wonderful work done earlier in the story – and the very end is a final bracing shot of vinegar. Bravo.

TNG S06E25 Timescape (4.5 out of 5 stars). The cosy domesticity of the Enterprise continues as Riker struggles with feeding Data’s cat while he some of the other senior staff are on their way back from a works outing in a particular spacious shuttle (possibly Star Fleet’s version of a private jet). Something is happening with time – the inhabitants of the shuttle keep freezing in time, but never all four at once. Their shuttle starts turning into a sort of timey-wimey House That Jack Built and it’s all played with the sort of deadly earnest that this kind of material requires. They eventually come across the startling image of the Enterprise and a Romulan war bird frozen in space, and seemingly firing on each other.

It’s really nice to see that Troi is among the three crewmembers who are able to walk around Madame Roddenberry’s Waxwork Museum. Suddenly, putting her in a uniform has turned her from a perennial sexual harassment victim into a smart and capable officer and Marina Sirtis is ably rising to the challenge. She’s always been an appealing and charismatic performer. Here (and in Face of the Enemy) she shows she’s just as capable of carrying an episode as any other member of the regular cast, and probably always has been. Actors required to stand stock still on camera generally do a fine job (no Police Squad shenanigans here) and the blink from that pretending-to-be-frozen Romulan is a brilliant gag. The explanation, when it comes is pretty silly (and a riff on an idea at least as old as The Devil in the Dark) but the solution, although obvious (run time backwards and then forwards again) is extremely well-handled. Having the aliens just vanish in a puff of exposition is a bit of a cop-out, though, which costs this highly entertaining episode half a star.

DS9 S01E20 In the Hands of the Prophets (3.5 out of 5 stars). I’m not especially interested in Bajoran mysticism and I imagine I would respond to Vedek Winn pretty much the same way that Keiko O’Brien does. Viewing their debates as a third party, the script seems to be bending over backwards to make Keiko combative and Winn generous, but it is still Winn who wants to dictate what Keiko can and can’t teach whereas Keiko has no problem with Bajoran kids receiving religious instruction from Winn. Sisko’s position is nuanced but the debate doesn’t get under the skin the way that Kira vs Marritza did last time, despite a classy bit of casting for Winn (Oscar winner Louise Fletcher). O’Brien’s strand if anything is less interesting, with the badguy pretty much obvious from very early on. Once again though, we do get something more than an alien-of-the-week coming through the wormhole. This feels like a story this show could tell and TNG couldn’t. It’s just surprising that it’s taken this long for that to feel in any way routine.

TNG S06E26 Descent (4.5 out of 5 stars). We open on a fairly silly scene with Data playing cards with famous scientists (including Stephen Hawking playing himself) but I think the show has earned the right to a little self-indulgence by now. In fact, this whole episode could have played like self-indulgence, but it’s gathering threads from previous stories and refusing to “play the hits”. This is not The Even More Best Of Both Worlds, it’s something new, for the first time putting Data at the centre of a Borg story, and even putting Beverly Crusher in the big chair. Not everything works: Data’s exploration of his emotions feels pat and repetitive and Worf and Troi get very little to do, but we get to go on location, we disappear through trans-warp conduits (“That could be anything!” snarls Patrick Stewart on hearing LeVar Burton’s latest eruption of technobabble) and we even off a couple of red-shirts. Then, the big ending. Lore is that most valuable of things – a recurring villain whose surprise reappearance can’t be given away in the on-screen credits at the start of the episode (the very start of the episode – for this one time only, they appear during the teaser instead of after the main titles). This one’s for the fans, but where’s the harm in that? If they’d found a way for Denise Crosby (or even Diana Muldaur) to have appeared, who knows how many innocent viewers would have been wiped out in the ensuing explosive fangasm?

TNG S07E01 Descent, Part II (4.5 out of 5 stars). The conclusion is all pretty much nonsense – a great big, silly, swaggering, adventure story with moustache-twirling villains grandly explaining their evil plans, armies of anonymous drones who can be thrillingly bumped off and high-risk get-out-jail strategies which all succeed first time – but it’s tremendous fun. Crusher, addressed as “sir” throughout, acquits herself ably and McFadden proves herself the equal of Frakes or Burton when it comes to hammering out technobabble with an authoritative tone (she even remembers her metaphasic shield experiments from Suspicions). Riker and Worf make a fine team on their side-quest. Geordi, denied his VISOR, has to play third banana to Picard and Troi. Jonathan Del Arco is back too as Hugh, siding with the Federation against Lore, so fans have even another number on their bingo cards. And Brent Spiner makes playing scenes with himself look so completely natural, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have a secret identical twin hidden away – especially with that shot of Lore staring vacantly into camera while Data stands over his shoulder. Look, I wouldn’t want my thought-provoking science-fiction television drama turned into Where Space Eagles Dare every week, but – just as with Starship Mine – as an occasional change of pace, it’s absolutely fine, especially if it’s as well done as it is here. Ensign Tait, suddenly finding herself at tactical, has yet another variation of the Season 3 uniform, with a very clear dark seam running straight down the middle of the chest.

DS9 Season 1 Wrap-up

  • It’s striking to compare TNG Season 1 with these episodes. TNG was a colossal punt. Nobody had any idea if it would work, if it could be done, and if anyone would watch. DS9 began with a built-in, loyal audience, built up over five years and they could start telling stories within a detailed world which already existed. They did pretty well with the regular cast, in fact it’s probably the most accomplished team of actors to appear in any Star Trek pilot, with only Alexander Siddig and Cirroc Lofton looking at all uncertain by this stage (Terry Farrell seems relaxed but is getting very little to work with). But René Auberjonois, Colm Meany, Armin Shimerman and especially Nana Visitor are all doing wonderful work and Avery Brooks is at least providing a solid centre to anchor the others.
  • But it’s taken the new series more episodes to figure out how to tell stories in this setting. Early TNG tended to emphasise the wrong things, only belatedly figuring out that it was the regular characters who would keep the audience coming back for more. But plenty of early TNG stories are built on strong science-fiction ideas that make the most of the concept of a spaceship exploring the unknown. DS9 does a better job of setting up its core cast and has the benefit of a more diverse group of characters with more conflict to mine, but far too many episodes feel like TNG hand-me-downs and when that’s combined with the usual year one uncertainties, that makes a lot of the episodes feel less than thrilling.
  • We’ve kind of got used to the idea that these shows take a year or two to find their feet. But it’s not entirely clear why that should be. Very few long-running shows do their very best work in year one, it’s true, but TOS hit the ground running and the first years of shows like MASH, or LA Law or Frasier or ER while they might not be top-notch aren’t anything like as poor as the first years of TNG or DS9 (or Voyager if memory serves).
  • So, tales of DS9 being the high-water-mark of Berman-Trek have not so far been proven to be true, although there is bags of promise here. But we need more complexity, more serialisation and much, much less of Bashir and Quark objectifying Dax. Average score for DS9 Season 1 is a fairly poor 2.76, a bit worse than The Animated Series and about the same as TNG Season 2. Duet is hands-down the best episode of the season and Progress and In the Hands of the Prophets are both decent. Worst episodes include the silly Move Along Home, the idiotic Q-Less and the nonsensical The Storyteller.

TNG Season 6 Wrap-up

  • I knew that the peak of TNG was going to be somewhere between Season 3 and Season 6, but I actually thought it was most likely to be Season 4 or Season 5 – and, indeed early in Season 5 I thought it was going to be that run of stories for sure. Actually, the average scores for 3, 4 and 5 have all been very close to 3.5, but Season 6 has ticked over to a hugely impressive 3.9, beating Season 1 of TOS which started us off with a very strong 3.75.
  • And it’s not just the “big ticket” stories like Chain of Command, Ship in a Bottle or Descent which have done it. It’s less-heralded but equally excellent instalments like Timescape, Face of the Enemy, Frame of Mind and Second Chances as well as a general feeling that everyone in this cast is my friend and I enjoy spending time with them and watching them solve problems, whether they be of the space alien shooty bang bang kind, the other-worldly trolley problem variety or the what do I do when the nice girls don’t like me sort.
  • The only really duff episode this whole year was the very silly and slightly sleazy Aquiel and even that has a swing-for-the-fences moment (albeit one which is more likely to elicit guffaws than slack-jawed admiration). Apart from that, and the entirely redundant The Chase, nothing else got less than a 3, which is another way of saying I’d happily re-watch any of them.
  • I know we’re at the summit now and the only way is down, but – like I said – hanging out with this cast is a reward in itself and I know that the end of the journey (well, the television journey anyway) won’t disappoint.