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.

Trekaday 052: Second Sight, Inheritance, Sanctuary, Parallels, Rivals, The Alternate, The Pegasus
Trekaday 054: Shadowplay, Masks, Playing God, Eye of the Beholder, Profit and Loss, Genesis, Blood Oath