Archive for November, 2022

Trekaday 057: Tribunal, The Jem’Hadar, The Search

Posted on November 26th, 2022 in Culture, Uncategorized | No Comments »

DS9 S02E25 Tribunal (4 out of 5 stars). O’Brien is off on his hols, and good thing too – he seems to have bodyswapped with Dr Bashir, or at least he’s been taking how-to-be-annoying lessons from him. A chance meeting with an old friend on his way out the airlock leads to him being framed for gun running.

As I’ve observed before, the benefit of a flexible format is that you can take a story with a familiar shape and feed it through the meat-grinder of your setting and your people and hopefully get something unique. Here it’s the courtroom drama, and more than that it’s the innocent-falsely-accused flavour of courtroom drama. Deep Space Nine has always had a nuanced take on the Cardassians, with characters like Garak and Dukat showing the shades of grey in their black hearts, but they’re still the series’ main “heavies’ (at least for now), so it’s intriguing to see their idea of a fair trial, especially when we remember Gul Madred’s treatment of Picard.

As there, so here – O’Brien is stripped naked, given drugs and Cardassians clip off any bits of him they like the look of. (Other fans have noted that most seasons contain one or two episodes in the sub-genre of O’Brien Must Suffer, and this is one such.) The verdict of course, has already been determined, and his execution has been scheduled. The purpose of the trial is merely to establish how the crime was committed. The plot runs on rails from this point on, but there’s loads of fun to be had in the ripe guest performances, Colm Meaney’s impassioned ranting, the Kafka-esque Cardassian jurisprudence and the frantic scrambling of his friends on the station.

The Enterprise gets a name check. Avery Brooks is behind the camera for this one. He wasn’t going to make Gates McFadden’s mistake and wait until Season 7.

DS9 S02E26 The Jem’Hadar (4.5 out of 5 stars). Jake exists. And he’s doing generic kid thing number five – a science project for school. He twists his old man’s arm and scores a trip to the Gamma Quadrant, with Quark and Nog along for the ride. It’s kind of a low-stakes and domestic way to kick-off a season finale and it quickly morphs into generic kid thing number six – the family camping trip.

As well as being an outsider in a way that no regular cast member of any previous Star Trek series was, Quark is also unique thus far in being deployed principally for comic relief. Early attempts to give him dramatic material foundered – who can forget his absurd hysterics in Move Along Home? But Armin Shimerman is such a skilled performer that given an even half-decent script he can make it sing, and there are layers to this avaricious creature which keep revealing themselves. It does help though, that when his purpose is to be amusing, he reliably is – such as here, where he declares himself allergic to nature and starts putting aluminium sunblock on his ears.

This is all just softening us up, however, as the true threat, for most of the rest of the series, is coming – and they’re named in the title. The Jem’Hadar don’t quite have the charisma of the Borg, or the complexity of the Cardassians, but they’re going to prove to be quite intractable foes. Before then, please enjoy this backstory.

Having detained Sisko, Quark and a Dominion woman called Eris, the Jem’Hadar saunter on to the station, willies waving, and pretty soon Starfleet’s all in a paddy. Since the first episode, the fabled wormhole has been little more than a hyperspace bypass to novel races, who one hopes will bring interesting plots with them. Now, we turn a major corner as it turns out that a far more deadly enemy is lurking there – one that doesn’t take kindly to strangers.

Jake and Nog’s adventures on the runabout are little but busywork, but Sisko and Quark end up making quite a formidable team – and it’s nice to see a galaxy-class ship and my preferred uniforms once more. But Captain Keogh on the Odyssey struggles to hold his own once Jem’Hadar forces close in. Really, it isn’t since the Borg that we’ve seen anything close to this kind of existential threat to the Federation and our guys. In fact, this is essentially Q Who but without John de Lancie – establishing a major new threat and not resolving it. The difference is that on TNG, the Odyssey would never have been taken out by a suicide run as it was retreating.

DS9 S03E01 The Search, Part I (4 out of 5 stars). After a little over three months off the air, but without the prior episode ending “To be continued…” we’re back with quite a detailed recap. This is called “Part I” but really it’s part two of The Jem’Hadar trilogy. However, things have happened while we’ve been away. Sisko’s gone and got a new motor, Dax is doing her hair like Betty Grable and I think finally the coloured uniform tops have been given a bit of starch so they aren’t flopping about in that aggravating fashion.

The news is grim. Seven simulations give the station two hours to hold off the Jem’Hadar once they start coming through the wormhole. The Defiant was supposed to be the solution to the Borg threat – a new fighting-class runabout, so snazzy it even gets into the opening titles. Starfleet is building warships, with – pointedly – no families and no science labs on board. All available space is used for weapons, which means that the damn thing doesn’t work properly. But Benjamin “Take the Fight to Them” Sisko has a sabre and he’s going to rattle it. The new warp-powered H-bomb even has a cloaking device, courtesy of visiting Romulan T’Rul, played by Martha Hackett who we will see again in another role in Voyager.

And as this is the “all change” episode, Odo is being stood down. He now has to report to Starfleet’s Lt Eddington, which leads to his resignation. Kira, knowing that he’s contracted for six seaons, tries to reinvent him as a diplomat. And Sisko is trying to do the same with Quark, who suggests his brother instead, since “Rom only has a son to think about, I have a business.” Hah!

The other change is that, after two years, Sisko has finally unpacked his stuff. Once again, Jake doesn’t get anything resembling an actual storyline of his own, but having Sisko discuss his personal life with his offspring is more believable than him discussing it with the crew, even Dax, and more elegant than having him growl his way through a voice-over or give himself a pep talk in the mirror.

Off we go then, to try and bring about peace through superior firepower. It doesn’t work, but nor do we see much of the action. The Defiant is presumed destroyed and we discover that Odo and Kira have escaped in a shuttlecraft. After a tense and thrillingly doom-laden episode, this feels like a bit of a cheat, but the final scene with Odo gives us our proper cliffhanger into the next episode. He’s home.

DS9 S03E02 The Search, Part II (3.5 out of 5 stars). We’ve been given hints about Odo’s origins, but – rather like Data – some of his past is unknown even to him. René Auberjonois is superbly good here, creating a genuinely touching portrait of a lost man trying to find his way home. However, some of the information given in past episodes is contradicted here: Odo based his human form on the Bajoran who found him, Dr Mora. But all of the other Changelings greet him in a version of the same form. This is an acceptable visual shorthand, of course, but it feels sloppy. (Let’s not stop and explain it though, I’d prefer to accept the ret-con and move on.)

Oddly, Kira seems more concerned that Odo observe social niceties with the other Changelings that she does about the high probability that Sisko, Bashir and the rest are floating like cinders in space and she’ll never see them again. We quickly establish that they’re fine and have made it back to the station, so we can stop worrying, but I don’t think Kira should.

And, my things move quickly back on the station. The Dominion start creating a formal alliance with the Federation and the Cardassians, but they insist on being a dick to the Romulans. When Sisko – a Starfleet commander who is able to summon a motherfucking admiral to a very brief face-to-face meeting! – can’t talk his superiors round, he sets off on a mission to collapse the wormhole, which mission involves and costs the life of poor old Garak, who thinks the Dominion will be dangerous friends.

As the manic pace builds, and the small inconsistencies build up, eventually it’s a mild relief to be told: it was only a dream, as unsatisfying as that is. The real revelation here is that the Founders, the Changelings, the Dominion and the Jem’Hadar are all aspects of the same group. In other words, the implacable foe waiting on the other side of the wormhole is Odo’s kith and kin. That promises much for the future, but for now, it’s hard not to feel cheated by the rugpull at the end of the episode.

The new-style com-badge (designed for Generations) turns up here, and for the rest of the run.

Season 2 Wrap-up

  • A big jump in quality from Season 1. As we might expect, the characters are stronger, the actors are more comfortable, the writing is surer. But more than that, the true personality of the show is coming through. This is going to be about long arcs, dealing with consequences, and an end to the comfortable complacency that we sometimes saw on TNG.
  • To make that work, the darkness is going to need to be balanced with some fun. Too much O’Brien Must Suffer and The Dominion Kills Everybody and we’re going to be wrung out. That doesn’t mean I want more episodes like Leprechauns on the Station or Deadly Space Monopoly
  • The Dominion is going to shape the next several years of the show. One fair question would be – did we need to wait two years to get here? After all, TNG had already spent five years creating the 24th century. But even though Season 1 in particular was a rough ride, the big strength of this show is the secondary/tertiary cast, so the time taken to establish characters like Kai Winn, Gul Dukat, Gul Evek and especially Elim Garak is time very well spent.
  • Average score for Season 2 is a very impressive 3.62, nudging ahead of TNG Seasons 3-5, but not quite exceeding TNG Season 6 or TOS Season 1 – still the high-water-marks for the franchise in my view.

Trekaday 056: Crossover, Preemptive Strike, The Collaborator, All Good Things…

Posted on November 22nd, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S02E23 Crossover (5 out of 5 stars). Bashir is continuing his mission to annoy everyone on the station into being his friend, and today it’s poor Kira’s turn to listen to him prattle on about music, do drama school breathing exercises and mansplain English idioms. Suddenly everything goes skew-whiff and they find themselves in the Mirror Universe.

I have two things to say about the Mirror Universe. The first thing is that it makes no sense whatsoever. The Mirror Universe with the precise and limited differences from the one we knew which we say in TOS would have given rise to a far more divergent one than the one we get here. Certainly none of the Earth people we’re familiar with would ever have been born. However, that’s a very dull thing to worry about. The fun of a mirror universe is seeing our regular characters all with goatees and eyepatches.

The other thing to say is that – especially in a post-Discovery landscape – it’s slightly amazing that we never travelled to the Mirror Universe in TNG and that we almost got to the end of Season 2 of DS9 before we saw it again. Anyway, now it’s here and it’s glorious. Nana Visitor slinks over to her other self in a uniform that’s painted on and sinks her teeth into the scenery. She gets to lay out the plot, which connects directly to Kirk’s adventures in Mirror Mirror. Spock’s mission of peace led to an alliance of Cardassians, Bajorans and Klingons taking over this part of the galaxy and subjugating the humans. The delicious twist here is that Mirror Kira is a pacifist (at least by the standards of this world) and Our Kira hopes to learn her warlike ways. Nana Visitor does a wonderful job of sustaining the scenes with herself and the video effects are top-notch, as is the wonderfully gory death of Mirror Odo at Bashir’s enthusiastic hands.

Mirror O’Brien tries to jump universes too, and with memories of Thomas Riker, I wondered if he might succeed. Actually it’s Mirror Sisko who turns out to hold the key to their return, and he promises to look after Mirror O’Brien. This is a brilliant continuation of what TOS began, a wonderful showcase for the cast, and if I know DS9, it’s the beginning, not the end.

Those Mirror Universe Klingon goons have auto-transporters too.

TNG S07E24 Preemptive Strike (4.5 out of 5 stars). The issue of the Cardassian Demilitarised Zone continues and – hey! – Ro Laren didn’t decide to stay as a child. She’s back in the fully-adult person of Michelle Forbes and it’s a treat to see her again – at the absolute last minute. Federation ships are firing at a Cardassian ship. This is essentially TNG cos-playing as DS9 – a feeling strengthened not only by all the Cardassians, including Gul Evek, but also the presence of Forbes, who was offered DS9 and turned it down. TNG’s identity asserts itself more thoroughly as Picard drinks tea with Admiral Nechayev. While chronicling the early years of TNG, I amused myself considerably noting the wild variations in uniforms which Starfleet’s top brass turned up in. Now, things have settled down and we have not just one uniform, but one Admiral. Natalija Nogulich took one TV job once and it turned into a three-year association with the franchise. It’s also nice to see elements of their relationship developing from episode-to-episode. This of course is all a set up for Voyager (to the extent that Voyager will remember about the Maquis from its second episode onwards) but we weren’t to know that in 1994.

The solution is to have Ro Laren infiltrate the Maquis. As a Bajoran in Starfleet, she’s conflicted about helping the Federation to help the Cardassians. It’s deep, nuanced material, and that she does it out of personal loyalty to Picard is very satisfying. What follows is about the warmest, most humane depiction of a terrorist gang fighting dirty to bring down a dominant power that you’ll see this side of Star Wars. It’s hard to know what outcome I want, and that’s exciting. The stakes really are more about Ro Laren’s soul and less about the Maquis-Federation-Cardassian conflict. It’s thrilling stuff, and the ending is grim perfection. Really the only thing which hurts this is that I know we aren’t going to see how the story continues from here: Michelle Forbes never returned to the franchise.

DS9 S02E24 The Collaborator (3 out of 5 stars). It’s Vedek Bareil’s turn to look into the Flashback Box of Dutch Angled Dream Imagery and he sees a vision of his hanged body cut down by Major Kira. During some post-coital exposition, it transpires that Bareil is in the running to be the new Bajoran Kai and that Kira has a vote, even though if he wins, she’ll see a lot less of him.

Smarming around the station is the deliciously malevolent Louise Fletcher as Vedek Winn. She doesn’t seem certain of the difference between “infer” and “imply” so you know she’s a wrong-un. Pretty soon, she’s buttering up Sisko and seems mysteriously open to Bajor joining to the Federation – if that’s the will of the prophets. A public appearance of the two of them would not be appropriate until the vote for Kai is concluded, of course, since Winn is Bareil’s chief competition.

Elsewhere, a Bajoran collaborator turns up on the station and is promptly arrested by Odo. Kubus Oak wants to end his exile and return to Bajor, which Kira denies but which is approved by Winn. This is pretty dense politicking and it needs to tap into our core characters and their relationships more than it does early on, if it’s to be truly engaging. Too much of this is people with latex heads telling stories about people we’ve never met with silly names. We never saw the Kendra Massacre which everyone is referring to, so we have to take the characters’ word for it that it matters.

Winn’s plan is to use Kubus’s testimony to smear Bareil and take the Kai-ship for herself, and she recruits Kira to find out the truth about who was responsible for what. One problem is that this one is all Kira, Odo and then tertiary characters like Winn and Bareil. I appreciate the depth of DS9’s bench of characters, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to check in with the regular cast once in a while. There are fleeting scenes with Quark and O’Brien, but there’s next to nothing for Dax or Bashir or even Sisko. Jake is still MIA, of course.

The best episodes of DS9 use the ever-present political situation to examine our characters and put them under unique pressures, but without sacrificing strong adventure storytelling. This isn’t one of the worst episodes by any means, but a lot of it feels like “Last time on Deep Space Nine” rather than a story unfolding in front of us right now. Because this is Deep Space Nine, Winn – who’d certainly twirl a moustache if she had one – is the one who comes out on top. It is the will of the prophets. I just hope next time they will us a more exciting story.

TNG S07E25 All Good Things… (5 out of 5 stars). On paper, this is one is absolutely insane. Picard in three time zones, one of which is the world of Encounter at Farpoint. O’Brien is back. Yar is back. Q is back. (Only Wil Wheaton doesn’t make the party.) There’s a Federation ship with an odd number of warp nacelles, and the initial creation of life on Earth hangs in the balance. Nothing about this should work, and if attempted at any other point in the show’s history it would likely be an awkward near-miss at best and a colossal dumpster fire at worst. But final episodes play by different rules, and watched knowing it’s the finale, I can’t help but immediately surrender and allow myself to be intoxicated by its nostalgic charms.

There’s masses of plot to get through, even in 90 minutes, so we skip the first time jump and just have a panicky Picard asking Troi what date it is and who’s the president. As he’s explaining what’s been happening, he is translated to a French vineyard, years in the future and a middle-aged Geordi with bionic eyes is reminiscing about all that technobabble he used to spout. (He’s married to Leah Brahms which is just a little ick.) Other episodes, like Parallels and the very similar Future Imperfect, have given us glimpses of our characters in different times or different versions of now. Once we see Geordi, we’re eager to know what has happened – or will have happened – to the rest of the cast too. And once we see Tasha (who is still chief of security, Jean-Luc), we’re eager to know who else will turn up from the show’s past.

Everyone gets their moment to shine: Data is reclining in cat-riddled leather armchairs at Cambridge, Crusher is doing medical research on board her own ship, Riker comes riding to the rescue and Worf is governor of a Klingon colony – and everyone gets back into their old togs and hairdos for the pre-Farpoint scenes. Only Troi is mysteriously absent from the future, having died off-screen. Jonathan Frakes makes a clean-shaven appearance in the past thanks to some old footage. How fortuitous that he was down on Farpoint Station! His is the only old-aged make-up not to be convincing. For some reason, he looks like a 14-year-old playing Methuselah in the school play.

The reason for all these shenanigans? It’s not a very good one: the trial of humanity begun by Q never ended. That basically means the writers, using Q as their instrument, can take us anywhere and anywhen they wish. Of particular note is Brent Spiner’s pitch-perfect impersonation of Brent Spiner c. 1987. Easier to miss is his more relaxed rendition of Data in the future, complete with occasional contractions. He truly is a remarkable actor.

Quite apart from the fact that, by design, the three timelines don’t affect each other, this is so self-evidently a birthday party in televisual form that the biggest plot hole (the three identical ships firing tachyon pulses are two Enterprises and one Pasteur) is simply a wildly uninteresting concern. Of far more interest is watching Patrick Stewart in the old uniform look out at a bridge crew who have no idea what this new bald captain is all about and asking them to take a leap of faith. It’s wonderful stuff, delivered with such delicacy and lightness by an absolutely world-class performer. Almost anyone else would have taken the opportunity to grandstand. Stewart knows that he doesn’t need to push. It’s all there, waiting for him. Bravo.

It concludes with a scene almost unparalleled in its sappy sentimentality. Picard joins the poker game. Very likely deliberately, Picard’s acceptance by the rest of the crew, albeit late in the day, mirrors Stewart’s early conflicts with his fellow actors. He saw them as horsing around and being unprofessional. They saw him as a stiff-assed theatre actor who took himself far too seriously. They changed him much more than he changed them. The poker game was also the last scene shot for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen this episode something like six times and I still had a lump in my throat.

We aren’t saying goodbye to this crew completely, but this is the last television episode with them as the regular cast (although everyone will make guest appearances in Picard), it’s the last appearance in the franchise of Denise Crosby, the last appearance of Commander Tomalak, and it’s the last time Patrick Stewart says “Space, the final frontier.” So, let’s raise a glass, and send them on their way. The sky’s the limit, indeed.

TNG Wrap-up

  • Seasons 1 and 2 of TNG flailed around, trying to discover how to make the Enterprise-D Then it flew. And Season 6 was – to my surprise – my favourite by some margin. Season 7 isn’t chaotic in the same way as those early seasons. It feels tired, more than anything. Too many episodes were half-assed remixes of overly-familiar elements. There was almost nothing new in Firstborn, or Inheritance or Emergence.
  • That doesn’t mean it didn’t sometimes swing for the fences, but too many of those big swings were epic failures like Sub Rosa or Force of Nature. Sometimes I was able to laugh along with these more outré episodes, as with Masks; sometimes I wasn’t, as with Genesis. The big early two-parter showed that the sometimes solemn and definitely-not-goofy-like-TOS-was nineties show could be fun and silly too, but the rest of the season couldn’t sustain the momentum.
  • Unlike many shows that go on for a series too long, TNG did manage to keep its cast together. The deep affection we have for this crew after seven years and 170-odd episodes counts for a lot, and episodes which lean into this like Attached, The Pegasus and Parallels are the best, although there are no five-star masterpieces this year – until the very end.
  • Troi continued to grow into her role both as an officer, and a character on the show who can do more than intone “I sense evasion, Captain.” But while Crusher got her best episode in years, she also got her worst, and her character development stopped years ago. Poor LeVar Burton, one of the strongest actors in the cast judging by the pilot, got next to nothing, and his big episode this year is a complete turkey.
  • Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn all continue to do great work, whether leading episodes or playing support and after all this time Patrick Stewart still gives the impression that he loves turning up to work every day.
  • Average score for Season 7 is 3.00, comfortably ahead of Seasons 1 and 2 but clearly bested by Seasons 3-6. The overall average for TNG is 3.30, just nudging ahead of TOS with 3.23.

Trekaday 055: Journey’s End, The Maquis, Firstborn, Bloodlines, The Wire, Emergence

Posted on November 18th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S07E20 Journey’s End (2 out of 5 stars). The Enterprise picks up “a member of the family”, Cadet Wesley Crusher who’s in his own quarters now. Wil Wheaton has matured into a fine actor by this stage, and his chemistry with Gates McFadden is clear to see. He also gets some nice scenes with Geordi who’s been MIA lately. Meanwhile, Picard is fretting over a meeting with Admiral Nechayev, planning to sweet talk her with tea and canapés. It works. She’s there to discuss the new border with the Cardassians, the establishment of which requires that a colony of “North American Indians” be moved from the planet they settled. “There are some disturbing historical parallels here,” intones Picard, spelling it out for those snoozing at the back.

So, we have Picard forced to be a dick to indigenous people while at the same time, teenage Wesley slouches around engineering, being a dick to Geordi, snapping at his mother and so on. Eventually, he is forcibly meditated by the Native Americans, but it only make him more of a dick and he inflames the situation on the planet. About half the running time of this episode is people explaining to other people (all of whom know this already) that it would be better not to have to move the colonists. Moody teen Wes then quits Starfleet, on instructions from his hallucinatory dad. Just as everything on the surface goes to shit, Wesley is reunited with The Traveller from Season 1 and vanishes in puff of narrative convenience.

The Native American storyline is a dreadful idea, implemented without grace. Wesley’s storyline is a better idea, awkwardly bolted on to the other strand, which only drags it down. The best thing about this episode is Richard Poe as Gul Evek. We’ll be seeing him again.

DS9 S02E20 The Maquis, Part I (4.5 out of 5 stars). Well, here’s something that would have caused the Great Bird to choke on his millet – terrorists in Star Fleet uniforms blowing up innocent Cardassians. It’s a strong opening to an episode with a title which means more now than it would have done in 1994. The Maquis are going to feature in DS9 and TNG and (sort-of) become important for the premise of Voyager. It’s also the first part of a two-parter, this time acknowledged as such on-screen, as opposed to the trilogy which opened the season. As befits such a key episode, all of the top brass get their names on the “story by” credit.

Meanwhile Felix Leiter Cal Hudson (in the old uniform) pays a call. In something which helps this all to feel like one big universe, he’s overseeing the demilitarised zone established over on TNG last week, and dealing with the same colonists that Picard tangled with. But Felix thinks the Federation gave away too much territory to the Cardassians. Also making a welcome return appearance is Gul Dukat, as smoothly evasive as ever, hiding in the shadows while professing to be Sisko’s friend. This kind of double-dealing and subtle politicking is rapidly becoming my favourite thing about this series, and one of the things that I can’t readily get on sunny, optimistic TNG. Cardassians and Federation colonists are scrapping (the budget only allows us to the see the ships as icons on a scanner screen) to Dukat’s evident frustration. There’s a real sense through the middle of this episode of a diplomatic solution falling apart. There were flickers of this in Journey’s End but it was swamped by that patronising Indigenous Americans stuff, and the grafted-on Wesley Crusher storyline.

Quark meanwhile is forging a meaningful business relationship with a Vulcan gunrunner, further adding to the general atmosphere of distrust, unease and peace balanced on a knife-edge. And when Sisko gets back to the station, he finds a fiery Major Kira waiting for him. This is amazing stuff, where everyone has a point of view, where we care about the characters and the relationships, where it isn’t even clear what the right thing to do might be. Bashir wants to know if Sisko is prepared to fire on Starfleet vessels. Sisko doesn’t respond. Wow.

There are 285 Ferengi Rules of Aquisition. Cardassians are famous for their photographic memories. Gul Dukat has seven children.

TNG S07E21 Firstborn (2 out of 5 stars). TNG did a lot for the Klingons, transforming them from generic badguys into a fascinating culture with a clear identity (as late as Star Trek III, the Klingons and Romulans were thought to be basically interchangeable). But as noted, I’ve never found their beliefs, rituals, honour codes and principles all that interesting, despite the consistently excellent performance of Michael Dorn. Here, he starts off rehearsing a big speech, as if he’s a lawyer going over a big closing argument. Alexander has “allowed himself to be distracted by foolishness” (and water balloons). Naturally, Worf wants him to become a warrior. Alexander couldn’t want anything much less. I’m with Alexander.

The Enterprise makes a special detour to Maranga IV where we’re forced to watch Worf and Alexander participate in a dreadful musical theatre display, twirling bat’leths like they’re in a particularly bad interpretive dance show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It goes on seemingly forever and it sets the tone for the rest of this episode which I rather struggled to get to the end of. It’s not actively incompetent in any, I just don’t care about what happens next. And given my affection for these characters, that’s rather surprising. Even mention of the Pakleds doesn’t divert me.

Eventually it turns out that the weird creepy Klingon guy who’s taking such an interest in Alexander is Alexander-from-the-future. Given that the last time we delved into Klingon lore, we were faced with someone claiming to be K’ahless who was instantly denounced by Worf as an imposter, I was fully expecting the rousing climax of this story to follow a similar line. Instead Worf just tells this vision of his future “Smell ya later,” and goes back to playing with his definitely real son. It’s all very odd, and oddly flat.

Possibly with an eye on the upcoming TNG movie, the Duras Sisters pay us a return visit. And continuing the close interlocking of the two shows (this week on DS9, they’re dealing with the mess Picard left them last week on TNG) Quark also puts in an appearance on the Enterprise view screen.

A huckster tries to take Alexander’s money for the chance to see a holy relic. Do Klingons have money even though they’re part of the post-money Federation?

DS9 S02E21 The Maquis, Part II (4 out of 5 stars). And of course, it’s Felix who’s the traitor – pretty much following the Star Trek movie rules – which makes Sisko even more conflicted. His uniform’s been feeling a little tight lately, but nobody wants peace more than the Maquis. Sisko isn’t convinced, and so because Felix is a sensible insurrectionist, he phasers all three Starfleet snoopers to death on the spot. Roll credits.

When we rejoin the action, it becomes apparent that murderous, death-procuring Felix is actually an old softie, because Sisko, Kira and Bashir just stroll back on to the station as if nothing had happened. That’s a remarkably sloppy start to the second part of what was such a fantastic opener. Continuing the cross-fertilisation between this show and TNG, Admiral Nechayev is on the station, looking askance at Odo, and letting slip that she knows all about the Maquis and their blood-soaked ways.

“It’s easy to be a saint in paradise,” observes Sisko, “but the Maquis do not live in paradise.” It’s a strong speech – on the nose, sure, but clear-eyed and passionate. In a fascinating twist, Sisko now comes riding to the rescue of Gul Dukat, even when John Schuck’s Legate Parn tries to throw him under the bus. When we check in with the Cardassian politician, the Vulcan Maquis is trying to mind-rape him – without success. Marc Alaimo is superb here, managing that excellent trick of gnawing on the scenery without sacrificing subtlety. In my enthusiasm for seeing as much of Andrew Robinson as possible, I’d quite forgotten this amazing addition to the wider world of the show. In barely forty episodes, this show has made Federation space feel vastly more familiar, richer, more complicated.

This is a fine episode, apart from that stumble at the beginning. It’s got great material for Quark, Odo and Kira and series-best stuff for Sisko, and while it resolves its main conflicts, it leaves us in a far more complicated situation than we were two weeks ago. Even Felix leaves to Maquis another day (although that’s the last we see of Bernie Casey).

Vulcans are a species that appreciate good ears.

TNG S07E22 Bloodlines (2.5 out of 5 stars). An enraged Ferengi holograms his way onto the bridge, swearing revenge. And if that wasn’t soap opera enough for you – he’s planning to murder the son Picard never knew he had! But daytime soaps never had actors of the quality of Patrick Stewart, who finds the emotional core of this clichéd nonsense, and – with able support from Jonathan Frakes – he makes me believe every word of it.

Strong performances can only help a slack script so much, however, and the threat to the life of Picard fils seems very theoretical for most of the episode. Safe on the Enterprise, he and the Captain share stories, wander about, chat to other crew members. It’s all very relaxed and stress-free – not really what I want when I turn on my TV space adventure show. Even Picard seems impatient for the plot to kick in, growling “Why doesn’t he do something?” The lad collapses at one point but he recovers during the ad break, so don’t worry.

The warmly-crusty-old-dad-reaches-out-to-tearaway-son dynamic is more after-school special than anything else. Will this define Picard’s attitude to family from now on? I doubt it. There’s only three episodes of the entire series to go. One extra half star for the bald gag. This is the same DaiMon Bok who tangled with Picard in The Battle from way back in Season 1, but he was played by a different actor. Perhaps “Bok” is a code name passed from Ferengi to Ferengi? Also – where the hell is Geordi? He’s been MIA since Interface, lucky to get six bland lines per episode. He’s the Tasha Yar of Season 7, and here like there, it’s a waste of a fine actor.

DS9 S02E22 The Wire (4.5 out of 5 stars). More Garak action, and he’s in need of medical attention, which he declines to accept from his best bud Bashir. They’ve been having weekly lunches for a year now. Eventually he collapses and Bashir discovers a doohickey in his head. The Obsidian Order is taking an interest in the situation – even the Romulan Tal Shiar can’t compete with them for intelligence gathering. His skull whoosit makes him immune to torture by flooding his system with endorphins (nasty) and before he lets Bashir help him, Garak insists on filling in some of his back story. Surprise, surprise, he isn’t just a simple tailor. This is beautifully played by both actors, Alexander Siddig keeps getting better, and Andrew Robinson is superb. I also appreciate that there’s no music over this conversation, just the low hum of the space station. The words are enough.

One individual helping another through withdrawal isn’t terribly new, but previous attempts to tackle drug use in this franchise have been simplistic and naive. This feels real, specific and it’s harrowing stuff. Peeling back the layers of a secretive character like this is always a risk – often mysteries are far more interesting than answers – but the revelations are so shocking, the emotional arc so well charted, and the reset button so delicately deployed, that not only do we not feel that that we’ve learned more than we wanted, we can’t even be sure by the end that we learned anything at all. “They’re all true, especially the lies.”

What’s missing is an equivalent arc for Bashir, who remains the principled, Star Fleet officer, prioritising patient care, that he’s always been. Also worth mentioning is the other guest star – Andrew Robinson is almost matched by the excellent Paul Dooley as the retired head of the Obsidian Order, who has his own line in avuncular psychopathy.

The story in the classic Cardassian novel The Neverending Sacrifice gets a little redundant after a while – but, ugh, that’s the point, you philistine. Bashir gets to say “I’m a doctor, not a botanist.”

TNG S07E23 Emergence (3 out of 5 stars). The Jean-Luc Picard School of Melodramatic Stage Acting is once again in session on the Holodeck. Data is grappling with Prospero, and then suddenly the Orient Express bearing down on them at full speed. Further glitches follow and next time they investigate the Holodeck, the crew finds a bizarre collage of seven different programs following a kind of dream logic in which elements of the fantasy have real world analogues. Based on very little, they eventually deduce that the ship’s computer is becoming sentient – something it must have been very close to already given its sophistication and language abilities. We also get a bit of location filming, which is always nice. But this feels tired, rehashing dream logic, Holodeck fantasy and the-nature-of-personhood material from older episodes, and shedding no new light on very familiar characters. Among other silliness, it seemingly never occurs to Troi to take even one step away from the building which is collapsing in her face. And Geordi continues to get nothing whatever to do. “Something weird is going on,” he deduces after 25 minutes of everything being completely batshit crazy.

Trekaday 054: Shadowplay, Masks, Playing God, Eye of the Beholder, Profit and Loss, Genesis, Blood Oath

Posted on November 11th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S02E16 Shadowplay (3.5 out of 5 stars). Even at this stage, over halfway through Season 2, DS9 is still largely stuck telling stories in which Star Fleet types in a runabout go through the wormhole and find the planet of the Zagbars or those in which a delegation of Zoobles turns up on the station, bringing a plot with them. Or in other words, stories in which an away team beams down from the Enterprise to a strange planet, or those in which a bunch of people in foam latex beam on board the Enterprise. I thought the whole point of this frontier town set-up was that we would be telling different kinds of stories, stories in which we can’t warp away from situations at the end of the episode. That hasn’t been reliably the case so far.

It’s Dax’s turn for a field trip through the wormhole. Odo doesn’t understand the point of gossip (or romantic coupling). Even after seven lifetimes, Dax can’t conceive of anyone other than a woman fancying Odo who isn’t even humanoid, let alone male. Once they beam down, Odo and Dax end up tangling with, of all people, Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind in The Producers), underplaying by his standards but still giving much more of a sitcom performance than anyone on this show since Wallace Shawn. The mystery they’re there to solve only takes about 20 minutes of airtime, and doesn’t need any more than that. It turns out that the huge machine giving off strange readings and the odd disappearances are – would you believe it? – related. The rest is all standard-issue Blade Runner can-a-machine-feel stuff.

Hey, everyone, Jake is on the station! And at 15 he’s in need of a job (something which everyone needs in a post-scarcity economy). In three episodes we’ve gone from his grades are excellent but he needs some advice from O’Brien, to he’s failing his exams and needs tutoring from O’Brien, to he knows nothing about engineering so it’s silly to suggest that he be apprenticed to O’Brien. I’m not saying the writers aren’t particularly interested in Jake as a character, but it does seem as if not everyone is paying very close attention. Cirroc Lofton’s inexperience is still showing, but Colm Meaney makes him look good, like all really fine actors can do.

In a third strand, Vedek Bareil from the opening three-parter is on the station. This I do like – filling out the universe of the show by creating a deeper bench of recurring characters, and not letting us forget about past conflicts, hard-won victories, or unresolved grudges. His scenes with Kira are – again – not very rich in drama, but I do appreciate the detailed character work. This is a sit-back-and-let-it-happen episode, rather than an oh-no-what’s-going-to-happen one, but that’s okay once in a while, and this cast is really growing on me now. Shame that Dax was just along for the ride, otherwise this might have tipped over into four-star territory.

Garak is referred to but does not appear. Odo has himself beamed up by computer once more. He doesn’t even stand up to do it.

TNG S07E17 Masks (3 out of 5 stars). Troi introduces kids to expressionism, but struggles to persuade Data to create something abstract. The rogue comet similarly looks nothing like an actual comet but is a very nice piece of visual effects work that does conjure comet-like feelings. Perhaps inevitably, it puts the whammy on the Enterprise. Pretty soon, Troi’s quarters, Data’s sculptures and the main computer all go Aztec-y.

Well now, look, this is all very silly, but I kind of have to let them have this one, I think. We’re in the back end of what everyone knows is going to be the last season. I had a go at Parallels for being a run-of-the-mill episode full of things we’d seen before, which just got us one episode closer to the end of the run. You can’t say that of Masks, which, sure, is the usual uh-oh-there’s-something-oogie-on-the-ship template but which looks like nothing we’ve seen in the previous 160-odd episodes.

Brent Spiner, a flamboyant actor forced to underplay for seven years, goes for broke here, progressively adorned with more and more Mayan-ish symbols, lolling on the warp core, prostrating himself before Troi, and babbling about “Moussaka”. As absurd and nonsensical as this is, everyone (except Spiner) plays it admirably straight, and the production design backs up the energy of his (over) acting with more and more ziggurats, foliage, livestock, hieroglyphs and tchotchkes. Hardly a classic, but I’d rather watch this than something which was just dull like, say Phantasms, and it still feels like Star Trek, in the way that the truly ghastly Sub Rosa didn’t. But the show better not try this too often.

DS9 S02E17 Playing God (3.5 out of 5 stars). A potential new Trill host is on the station, anxiously babbling exposition at Bashir, and trembling in anticipation of meeting feared mentor Dax, who is renowned for rejecting hopefuls from the programme. As is so often the case, at this stage, at any rate, the script doesn’t serve anyone other than Quark with any particularly characterful dialogue in the rather low-key teaser, but Terry Farrell is really growing on me now, and is managing to imbue even these bland lines with a charmingly world-weary swagger. Given that her character is basically a one-line description of her species, that’s quite an achievement. Geoffrey Blake as Arjin is rather stiffer, and it’s hard to tell to what extent that’s deliberate.

On a sightseeing tour of the Gamma Quadrant, Dax and her charge bring back some “subspace seaweed” which they then forget about while having an awkward lunch. In this B-plot the seaweed turns out to be a “proto-universe” which is a fairly ridiculous idea, that doesn’t really create the kind of scientific wonder or fascinating moral dilemma that I assume was hoped-for. This is only required to create a means by which Arjin can show Dax what he’s made of, and you can see the rivets where the two stories have been hammered together. That A-plot is really good though, and makes a much better job of using the unique symbiotic properties of the Trill to tell a good story about this Trill, her baggage, and her issues.

The C-plot deals with, of all things, voles infesting the station. Even when centred on O’Brien and Kira (and who doesn’t want to see more of Nana Visitor and Colm Meaney?) this doesn’t generate much in the way of interest.

TNG S07E18 Eye of the Beholder (2 out of 5 stars). We open in the middle of an emergency, and you know it’s serious because the camerawork is all Dutch angles and tilt-down shots. The perpetrator is a spoon-faced Lieutenant experiencing a personal crisis. To my profound surprise (not least because Worf surely could have phaser-stunned him) he leaps into the plasma discharge and is vapourised. Hell of a teaser.

Worf and Troi are given the task of sifting through the dead Kwan’s personal effects to try and recreate his last few days. Odd pairing you say? Keep watching… Troi investigates and gets weird ghost-echoes of a Bad Thing That Happened when the Enterprise was first constructed. Crusher has a drug which will make the echoes easier for her to bear, but for some unfathomable reason, this will take an entire working day to replicate.

Meanwhile, Troi – who we have seen time and again going through crew evaluations with Riker – has to pore over ship’s records to track down Lt Pierce, played by Mark Rolston, who played nothing but scumbags during the 1990s. Back in Troi’s quarters, there’s another 30-minute delay – which gives them just time to start making out. Yes – with only about half a dozen eps to go before the end of the series, television’s least likely couple is finally making it official. Worf even makes her breakfast – the big softie.

Their “union” is seemingly upended when, immediately after a private meeting with Lt Mysteriously Telepath Scumbag, Troi believes she sees Worf getting it on with another woman. Having phasered him to death, it takes only a few words of encouragement from Mr Creepy for her to trot off to the all-purpose suicide gantry of doom. Or in other words, it was all a dream.

For the second (possibly the last?) time, the Enterprise is given permission to break the eco-speed limit. Yawn.

DS9 S02E18 Profit and Loss (4 out of 5 stars). One of the things you can do with an ensemble cast is pick one of them and push them through a familiar plot, in the hope that the combination of two known quantities will result in something fresh. On that basis, how does “Quark’s old Cardassian girlfriend drops by” sound as a pitch? That’s the A-plot for this episode in which a trio of Cardassians run aground at the station and Sisko promises to get them on their way as soon as possible, but not before one of them belts the Ferengi bartender around the chops, saying “I told you never to speak to me again.” This is Mary Crosby, Denise’s aunt, as Natima.

Much more excitingly – Garak is back! I remember this series fondly not least for the deep bench of secondary and tertiary characters, which we haven’t seen all that much of in these first two years, but any time Andrew Robinson is on screen, I am a happy viewer. Even better, this isn’t one of those two-or-three-plots-potter-along-in-parallel episodes of DS9. Garak’s input into the agendas and safety of the visiting trio is crucial and his multi-layered conversation with Quark is fascinating and beautifully played by both actors.

It does seem weird to see Quark declaring his love for Natima, apparently with all sincerity, but we’ve seen enough of this character to know that there’s more to him than a simple desire for latinum, and Armin Shimerman is such an excellent performer that this all works beautifully. What I’m less enamoured of is the Casablanca pastiche which gets in the way more than it adds. It’s the details of this conflict and these characters that I’m here for. Luckily, they’re both very strong.

TNG S07E19 Genesis (1.5 out of 5 stars). Has anyone in this franchise ever had a worse treatment than Gates McFadden? Among a seriously top-heavy cast introduced at the beginning of the first season, she doesn’t do noticeably worse than, say, Jonathan Frakes or Marina Sirtis. She gets more to do than Michael Dorn and she’s often paired up with series star Patrick Stewart, which seems like it should help. Then, she misses the second season entirely, due to some kind of personal beef on the part of one of the producers, so while Worf, Riker and especially Data are really starting to be established, her place has been taken by some other doctor. When she comes back, she’s playing catch up, and by the time the show hits its stride, we’ve learned far more about all the other regulars, and when stories do centre her character, they generally mis-use her. The only really good Crusher episodes are the excellent Remember Me and the flawed but fascinating Attached. McFadden is never less than watchable, but not even command responsibilities can give the character any more depth, unlike with Troi who really flowers in the last two seasons. And then, what do they give her as a goodbye present? This absolute dog of a script to direct.

At first, things seem promising, with a return visit from Dwight Schultz as Barclay, who’s been Googling his symptoms instead of going straight to sickbay. But after some fairly rote and uninteresting domesticity, we get stuck into yet another a-whoosit-on-board-makes-the-crew-go-nutso story but one which doesn’t tell us anything interesting about who these characters are – although I’m sure the cast will have been pleased that all those animal studies classes at drama school are finally paying off. Weirdly, even though McFadden is directing, the script initially goes to some lengths to write-out Picard and Data, rather than Crusher (she does get written-out eventually). That’s another reason to find this a less compelling episode, missing as it is the show’s two MVPs for much of the run-time. Like Masks, this is complete nonsense from beginning to end. Unlike Masks, it appears to have absolutely no idea how ridiculous it is, and coming so soon after Masks, it feels even more repetitive. The direction in the final spooky sections is pretty good, it’s just a shame that the main story is so over-familiar, the premise so silly, and the solution so unconvincingly easy.

DS9 S02E19 Blood Oath (2.5 out of 5 stars). Three Original Series Klingons swing by the station with the new bumpy-forehead makeup (“we do not speak of it”). Turns out that they palled around with Curzon Dax, eighty-odd years ago. Now they’re back to wreak revenge on “The Albino”. Trouble is, this all rests on events and relationships established off-screen and generations in the past, so all we have to connect us to the present is Terry Farrell and she isn’t given a whole hell of a lot to work with here. She gets a nice scene with Nana Visitor which explores their different takes on the nasty business of killing. But we awkwardly cut away from that to the sight of a jovial Klingon cackling in Quarks. That’s this episode all over. It grapples with some big themes but it doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with them. It just hopes that the barely-recognisable sight of three actors from The Old Show will be enough. It isn’t really.

Trekaday 053: Homeward, Armageddon Game, Sub Rosa, Whispers, Lower Decks, Paradise, Thine Own Self

Posted on November 4th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S07E13 Homeward (3.5 out of 5 stars). Worf’s turn to have an old face from the past show up unexpectedly, and the second time in three episodes for the Klingon security chief to be the focus. He’s given a swift surgical makeover to pass as a native of the planet Boraal II and finds his brother, played by Paul Sorvino, equally doing his best to fit in. The moral dilemma here is that this pre-Warp society is facing space annihilation and the Prime Directive won’t allow the Enterprise to help. This seems a fairly clear-cut case of “hang the regulations and roll up your sleeves,” which makes the subsequent handwringing and eyebrow furrowing feel a bit synthetic. It’s also hard to sympathise with the captain who has clearly made the wrong call, and the resulting escapade involving a Mission Impossible-style deception on the Holodeck is more than a little ludicrous. What makes this work at all is the detailed playing of the family relationship by Paul Sorvino and Michael Dorn. If you’re going to enjoy this one, it’s vital to focus on that, and think about just exactly how the Holodeck works and what it’s doing as little as possible. “I’m not here to work out the issues of our childhood,” Sorvino growls at one point. Wanna bet, mate? Also – Penny Johnson (Gerald).

DS9 S02E13 Armageddon Game (4 out of 5 stars). We’re pairing Bashir and O’Brien again, in the hope that some kind of Legolas and Gimli-style rapprochement can be achieved, or at least we’ll start to shade in a few more details in especially the doctor’s character. Putting them in a life-or-death situation works rather better than having them playing space squash, even if that’s quite a well-worn trope. In other well-worn-trope news, the Zagbars and the Zoobles have buried the hatchet but need Federation help to destroy their stock of biological weapons. These one-time-only alien cultures are always tricky to pull off, and the details are barely sketched in here, which is why is a relief that the majority of the run-time is spent with characters we do know and do care about.

There’s also some nifty plotting here. It’s hard to be terribly caught up in anyone’s grief when we know that our heroes are alive and well, but it’s cool that’s Keiko who spots the clue which leads to the deception being uncovered, and very cool that the supposed clue was not a clue at all and she just doesn’t know her husband as well as she thinks she does. This episode is really only worth a 3.5 but I bumped it up a whole extra half star because I liked that detail so much. The rest of it is competent, well-played by Siddig and Meany especially, and slightly prone to cliché (“Tell my wife…” “You’ll tell her yourself.” And “It’s been an honour serving with you.”) but the stakes are well ramped up, Sisko’s trick with the runabout at the end is fun and there’s some decent Dax material. Solid, if unremarkable stuff.

TNG S07E14 Sub Rosa (1 out of 5 stars). I didn’t really remember much about this one, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I had the faint memory that it’s supposed to be really, really shit. We open at a funeral, reasonably well mocked-up in the studio, with Crusher in her dress blues intoning about departed grandmothers, apparently a purveyor of medicinal teas, whatever they may be. Someone walks past her. SMASH TO TITLES.

This planet is cos-playing as Scotland. Picard notes that it feels like the Highlands, and his host tells him that’s because the corner stones of the buildings were brought from Edinburgh, 150 miles away from the Scottish Highlands. The casting of Shay Duffin also suggests that the producers think that the Highlands are in Ireland. Come back James Doohan, all is forgiven.

Duffin’s haggis-chewing performance relates to dire warnings regarding the lighting of a candle in her grandmother’s house, while Geordi and Data in orbit try to make sure it doesn’t rain tomorrow. But what exercises Dr Crusher is not the old man violently ranting at her, but her centenarian grandmother’s bedroom antics with her toy boy, Ronin. And before long, she’s asleep in bed while her nightie is tugged off her shoulder with fishing wire. Far from being alarmed at the intrusion, Beverly couldn’t be more delighted at this molestation. This all seems to be new territory for her. One wonders how Wes was ever conceived.

Poor Gates McFadden, so good in the recent Attached, is helpless in the face of this nonsense, gasping and contorting as the sexy spectre spooks her, yo-yo-ing back and forth between terror and lovesick girlish glee from scene-to-scene, with no explanation. It all builds to Nana Crusher’s zombie corpse coming back to life and zapping Geordi and Data, as if things couldn’t get any sillier. Jonathan Frakes was behind the camera for this one, but Orson Welles couldn’t have saved it.

DS9 S02E14 Whispers (3.5 out of 5 stars). In an unusual framing sequence, O’Brien, alone on a shuttle, needs to set the record straight about the last 52 hours – a very exact figure, following which he muses “I’m trying to remember the first time I noticed things were wrong…” Keiko and Mollie are being off with him over breakfast. He’s been researching a people called the Paradas (who have an emotion-related odour) but when he gets back, Sisko keeps giving him busywork to do. Convinced that he’s the victim of an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-style conspiracy, O’Brien ends up fighting his way out, and it’s always fun to watch this kind of human-vs-the-automated-systems adventures.

A bit like The Alternate, this is partly an exercise in playing the story from the wrong, or at least an unusual, perspective – but here it works rather better because we’re with O’Brien and we know and care about him. As with those silly M Night Shyamalan films though, it means we’re denied access to the agonising decision-making process that led to letting the deception play out. But as a way of ringing the changes in a 45 minute TV episode, it’s a worthwhile experiment and a fun mystery as it unfolds. It also works better in the gritty DS9 context than it would in the optimistic TNG environment. You wouldn’t believe for a second that Picard or Geordi or Troi had actually turned to the dark side – but Sisko or Odo or Quark? Sure.

TNG S07E15 Lower Decks (4 out of 5 stars). Michael Piller’s insight was that this show wasn’t the adventures of Captain Picard, and some other guys. It was an ensemble and it would be by making the best possible use of that ensemble that they would make TNG work. Centring an episode on tertiary characters could be seen as an extension of that same philosophy, or as a needless risk. But if you can’t take a risk half through your final season, when can you? And it worked gangbusters with Ro Laren (and O’Brien, but that was a long time ago now).

Thus, this is the Enterprise from the point of view of four junior crew members. Hedging their bets a little, one of these is Nurse Ogawa, who’s been part of the furniture for years now. Another is Sito whom we met in The First Duty, and Picard helpfully has her recap the events of that episode. It also helps that the other two are basically Baby Will Riker and What If Spock But Impulsive. There’s also Barman Ben who plays for as many teams as he possibly can. Some of this is cool – it’s more fun than frustrating to be only getting glimpses of what would be the A-plot of any other episode. Other elements are less compelling – I absolutely couldn’t give a shit about Ogawa’s love life. And we often get to see our main cast from another perspective which is always interesting.

The every-useful poker game gets picked up and redeployed here, and paralleled with the senior staff’s game, in a nifty cross-cutting sequence. Everybody keeps splashing the pot, and string raising, as usual, but it’s fascinating that this action adventure space series wants to spend 15 minutes on people discussing their personal relationships and career prospects and even more amazing that it works! Less successful is the double-beat of first Worf and then Picard using fairly thin deception on Sito to teach her to stand up for herself. It’s laborious and predictable and it feels smug. On the other hand, the mission she’s sent on is very exciting, and well-worked-out, especially given the short amount of time available, and – oh, that ending!

On Bajor, they don’t say “a fly on the wall” but they do have spiders. The boys are wearing the variant uniform with the visible seam down the front.

DS9 S02E15 Paradise (3 out of 5 stars). Another O’Brien episode. Jake will be up to his elbows in thorium grease. Last week, his grades were stellar. Now he needs tutoring to get out of the bottom third. O’Brien and Sisko are surveying the Gamma Quadrant and find a nice-looking planet. But when they beam down, none of their gadgets are working. I note that they’ve arrived in a runabout of which they were the only occupants, so beaming back again is going to be an automated process. Okay, so that’s a thing in Star Trek now. How come I never noticed this before? “Joseph” recognises the Star Fleet uniforms. He and his mates have been living in a technology-free utopia for ten years. This is a real throwback to TOS episodes such as the similarly-named The Paradise Syndrome from Season 3, complete with anti-technology sentiment.

The problem here is a tricky one. It’s basically planetary quicksand. Anyone beams down will find it impossible to communicate with anyone in orbit. How can they get off the surface if they can’t send a signal? It turns out of course that as well as being Luddite farmers, the isolated group of farmers are also vicious disciplinarians whose punishment for trivial crimes is being shut up in a River Kwai style cage. That combined with the one-dimensional zealotry of Gail Strickland’s Alixus makes this episode a good deal less nuanced than it thinks it is. Sisko and O’Brien just stiffly glower their way through this. Kira and Dax on the rescue runabout are rather more fun, but this is pretty thin stuff all round. There’s also something rather sinister about O’Brien saying “I can do it so it won’t hurt at all” before concussing poor Joseph.

TNG S07E16 Thine Own Self (3.5 out of 5 stars). Crusher is taking her turn on the bridge and the Enterprise is picking up Troi, who wants to know about the doctor’s command qualifications, and is thinking about taking the exam herself. Meanwhile, on the planet below, Data – who was meant to have no contact with the inhabitants – staggers into the main square, breathing hard and with his hair mussed. It’s quite a striking sight. The local doctor diagnoses him as an “ice man” and as Data has lost his memory, he can’t correct her. Troi meanwhile blows up the Enterprise on the Holodeck and Riker gives her some tough command love. I find I’m not vastly invested in either of these plotlines. I have little doubt that Data will find his way home, and I trust that the B-plot won’t be about what a massive loser Troi is. Maybe part of my lack of engagement is due to the near-total absence of Picard (Patrick Stewart was in London doing a play). It’s certainly not bad, it’s just a bit lifeless. Brent Spiner is as good as ever, and the makeup effects when half his face is sliced off are pretty great – although, does Star Fleet have the technology to repair him, given Dr Soong left no notes? After some pretty decent science, Data’s anti-radiation compound is a magic potion which works at any dosage, large or small, with no risk of side-effects.