Archive for March, 2023

Trekaday #079: Coda, For the Uniform, Blood Fever, In Purgatory’s Shadow, Unity, By Inferno’s Light, Darkling

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

VOY S03E15 Coda (3.5 out of 5 stars). Neelix now appears to be the official ship party planner – and, indeed it’s hard to see how they can possibly make it back to the Alpha Quadrant without his valuable services. Yet again, the script is its own worst critic. Janeway quips to Chakotay “There must be some talent you have that people would enjoy.” I dunno, nearly sixty episodes in and I’m still waiting.

At first, this seems to be that old standby, two characters trapped in a lift, only instead of a lift it’s a shuttle craft, and rather than being two characters who have hugely conflicting world views, we have Janeway and Chakotay, who have been in basically this exact situation before (in Resolutions) and found the experience quite relaxing and enjoyable. Chakotay’s character was essentially gelded in the pilot and Robert Beltran has done nothing to fill out the thin scripts he’s been handed. He has to say “Don’t you die on me now,” early in this one, poor guy, and then he tells Janeway “You went into shock,” which is a medical emergency caused by massive blood loss, unlikely to be cured by a bit of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Not only is the set-up the same as in Resolutions, it’s the same bad guys too – the lung-stealing Vidians. Janeway thought Voyager had gone beyond their space. Me too, Kathryn. But because this is Voyager, there has to be a time loop to add to the fun. So, back on Voyager, Janeway is diagnosed with a dose of phage and she’s the only one who remembers the Groundhog Days in the shuttle. As the disease progresses, the Doctor suggests putting her down like a wounded animal. And then – she’s back in the damned shuttle again. And this time has to watch Chakotay try and fail to save her after the crash landing. A ghostly presence onboard the ship, she’s now joined by her late father, wearing another eccentric admiral’s uniform. He tells her that this is death and she is a ghost. Tuvok and Kes spend three days trying to contact her with Vulcan spiritualism but it doesn’t work.

This is many things, but one thing it is isn’t is original. It’s a batty mix of Mix of Resolutions, Cause and Effect, The Tholian Web, The Next Phase, Future Imperfect and probably others besides. But the final moments have a little power – who could fail to enjoy Kate Mulgrew hissing “Go back to hell. Coward.” – and the resolution is I suppose hard to guess, but part of the reason for that is that this is such a mess.

DS9 S05E13 For the Uniform (4.5 out of 5 stars). Sisko is searching for turncoat officer Michael Eddington, last seen hightailing out of Deep Space Nine in the similarly-titled For the Cause – and finds him very rapidly. Their conversation spells out the debate with clarity and drama. Who’s to blame? The Federation for giving away planets to Cardassia in the name of peace, or the Maquis for keeping futile hope alive that those displaced will get to go home?

The Chief has a new kind of holographic Zoom call which he’s keen to play with. Since it just requires the other actor to stand on the set, rather than being inserted into a viewscreen, it’s probably a cheaper effect for the production team (although it’s only seen in one other episode). Eddington cripples the Defiant and tells Sisko not to make this personal. He also leaves them alive because the Maquis aren’t killers. He’s another nuanced villain and I can tell Kenneth Marshall loves delivering these speeches which Peter Allan Fields has written for him.

Starfleet brings in another captain to take over the hunt for him. Sisko takes this as well as you might expect. Worse is to come, as Mr “I am not a killer” detonates a nerve agent targeted at Cardassians over one of the planets the Federation gave them. The Defiant has been barely patched together but it’s the closest ship to Eddington so Ahab Javert Sisko takes it out and gets on his trail. Eddington forces Sisko to choose between pursuing him and rescuing a stricken transport evacuating Cardassians from the next planet he poisons.

Since Eddington sees himself the hero of his own romantic melodrama, Sisko obediently adopts the role of villain, poisoning a Maquis-occupied planet for all humanoid life before Eddington can threaten the next Cardassian colony. It’s not a bluff and it forces Eddington into a noble surrender. This is a truly fascinating dissection of the traditional roles of hero and villain as well as an examination of the political forces at work in this universe and the passions and motivations of these characters in particular. Only the crippling of the Defiant fails to pay off in any meaningful way – once they’ve got it off the station, it’s the same tough little ship it’s always been, just with Nog doing his Lt Tawny Madison bit.

Eddington doesn’t even need to give orders to a computer to beam out. He just pushes a button on a little doohickey and away he goes.

VOY S03E16 Blood Fever (3 out of 5 stars). Another episode, another stash of Unobtanium. To mine it, B’Elanna is working with that Vulcan ensign who’s been hanging around lately and naturally, his next action is to propose marriage and then he goes all incel when she turns him down. This is due to pon farr, which we first encounter in the epic Original Series story Amok Time. Basically, emotionless Vulcans come into heat every seven or so years, and need to bone or they lose all control. It seems to me as if that’s what Gene made the Holodeck for, but the Doctor is all “Let’s start with a micro-cellular scan.” In the end, he sees sense and creates a blow-up holodoll to help cool the crewman’s blood.

Paris, Neelix and Torres go spelunking and have no time for archaeology. Their very old climbing technology fails and B’Elanna wigs out before setting off on her own. I can’t help but wonder if Vorik’s and Torres’s mental aberrations are connected and lo! it transpires that Vorik has created a mental bond with the chief engineer and given her a dose of second-hand pon farr. He didn’t know that his brief skirmish with her could have this effect. Maybe his mommy and daddy didn’t tell him about the birds and the bees.

So this is all the product of supposedly smart people making dumb decisions, in some cases born from a lack of understanding of their own basic biology. And the stuff with Paris and B’Elanna trapped in the cave is drenched in adventure clichés, but god damn it if Roxann Dawson doesn’t do it again and triumph over very thin material to draw me in whether I like it or not.

The choice of Vorik to go through this is an odd one. We have a Vulcan onboard who could be used to tell this story, and – even more than TNGVoyager tends to stick to the seven members of the regular cast to tell its stories. We’ve almost never seen anyone other than Janeway, Chakotay, Kim, Paris and Tuvok on the bridge and new cast members tend not to stick around very long before being killed off or unmasked as a traitor, a lesson the show presumably learned from the movies. Thus, when Vorik and B’Elanna re-enact the trial-by-combat part of Amok Time, we know one of them can die, which I guess raises the stakes, but it’s not half as exciting, or as rooted in character dynamics, as Spock having to kill Kirk. In the end, the fight just ends and everyone is okay again. The awkwardness at the end between Torres and Paris is kinda fun though. Plus – the Borg!

DS9 S05E14 In Purgatory’s Shadow (5 out of 5 stars). The station picks up coded Cardassian signals emanating from the Gamma Quadrant, and so Sisko sends for Garak who blithely tells them that it is nothing to get excited about before hightailing it off-station in a runabout. The message is actually a distress call from Garak’s old mentor Enabram Tain and when Bashir finds out what he’s up to, he dobs him in and so it’s Worf that Sisko despatches to look after the duplicitous tailor. This occasions a mild domestic between Worf and Dax in which Dax refuses to wish him a good death in battle, and Worf frets that she might lose the Klingon operas she’s borrowing.

Worf and Garak are a new combo for the regulation mis-matched paid on a runabout signature Deep Space Nine scene, while Dukat attempts to control his daughter’s friendship circle by picking a fight with Kira. This kind of scene can easily come off as soapy, but we have so much history with these characters and the actors are so strong that it plays very well.

Maybe not surprisingly, it looks as if Garak’s incursion into the Gamma Quadrant has poked the hornet’s nest. The inhabitants of the runabout are captured by the Jem’Hadar, where Worf discovers General Martok (who was unmasked as a Changeling in the season opener) and Garak discovers Tain, who is dying. More surprisingly, they find Dr Bashir! The old uniform is a handy way of dating his capture (some time before Rapture). This is a fabulous twist, impossible to see coming and it emphasises the insidious nature of the Dominion threat. (Apparently, due to episodes being filmed out of order, Alexander Siddig almost never had to “play” imposter Bashir, he just played Bashir, and then read this script and discovered what had been happening.)

Garak, who blithely espoused the importance of lying to Worf now pleads with Tain to be truthful and acknowledge that they are father and son. His father’s dying wish is for Garak to escape and avenge his death. It’s an amazing scene and Paul Dooley makes the most of his exit. Sisko determines that collapsing the wormhole is his only option, and O’Brien and Dax get to work, aware that if they succeed then Garak and Worf will be trapped on the other side of the galaxy. The attempt fails, no doubt thanks to sabotage on the part of Changeling Bashir. Dominion ships pour through – to be continued…

Michael Westmore must have been letting the trainees have a go. Pink skin shows through around the eyes on both Andrew Robinson and Marc Alaimo. Melanie Smith takes over as Ziyal, Dukat’s half-Romulan daughter.

VOY S03E17 Unity (4.5 out of 5 stars). What do you do with an ailing Star Trek show? Drop the Borg on it. It worked for TNG and if mid-way through the third year seems late in the day, then consider that Berman needed to “protect” the First Contact movie which also featured the Borg. You don’t put on UPN for free what you hope people will pay $10 to see in theatres.

Once again, Voyager encounters a human colony by sheer chance. (They’re also exploring the Netrik Expanse, which I was pretty sure would be behind them by now.) Despite sending a distress signal, the stranded kidnappees don’t want to be taken home, but they do want a hand fending off their enemies. Naturally, this is all a pack of lies, and Chakotay’s new friend is actually an ex-Borg. Not only that, they want to treat his injuries by linking him to the Borg hive mind. The treatment has a side-effect, namely he starts to fall in love with his rescuer.

Voyager meanwhile discovers a dormant Borg cube and Janeway is thrilled at the opportunity to board it and discover a vital weakness which could help either the Federation or her own ship, should there be more Borg on the way home (spoilers…). What they discover is a long-dead vessel, littered with corpses, which raises the unnerving possibility that something even nastier has done for the most powerful foe that the Federation has so far encountered.

The away team retrieves a specimen from the Borg and the Doctor examines it – accidentally bringing it back to life in the process, and now there’s a chance that those Borg corpses have become active Borg drones. Whoopsie. Oddly, if the Doctor reports this nasty turn of events to the Captain, it happens off-screen, and she’s more focused on finding the missing shuttle.

Chakotay having to risk surrendering his individuality to become part of the Borg Collective is a marvellous bit of plotting. The fact that it’s Chakotay robs it of a bit of specificity but the dilemma is strong and clear regardless. This works so well that now, Borg Blonde wants to re-link all the survivors and end the fighting by making them all part of a Borg-style hive mind. Since this means reactivating the Borg cube, that’s a big no from Janeway. But it’s too late. Chakotay has been compromised and he takes his shuttle over to the dormant cube.

This is certainly the strongest slice of pure adventure plotting we’ve had so far. It can’t touch the depth of characterisation of Meld but it’s also far more exciting than pretty much anything we’ve had since the show began, making good use of what we know about the Borg and finding new insights, wrinkles and details. This being Voyager, Chakotay shrugs off this deeply personal invasion like it was nothing, so we’re still waiting for our first five-star masterpiece, but this will do until it comes along.

In a rare display of blatant red-shirting, Chakotay brings Ensign Kaplan from Future’s End with him on his excursion and she’s cut down at the first opportunity. For anyone keeping score, we’re down one more shuttle and one more ensign. Torres refers to an “enormous electro-mechanical discharge” which was presumably meant to be “electromagnetic”.

DS9 S05E15 By Inferno’s Light (5 out of 5 stars). The last episode ended with everything going to hell. Amazingly, the teaser ups the ante even more with the revelation that the Cardassians are joining forces with the Dominion. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Sisko was tracking down ex-Federation officers and protecting Cardassian colonists. Now Dukat wastes no time in smugly telling Major Kira that they’re no longer on the same side. His urgent insistence that Ziyal join him on his home world makes much more sense now. His parting shot is to prevent Garak from being released along with the other Cardassian prisoners. Bashir stuffs him in a claustrophobic wall void to fix a communications array which causes him some anxiety, and eventually sends him nuts.

On the station, the attempt to collapse the wormhole has only made it more robust. Faux-Bashir suggests a new round of blood screening to try and find the saboteur. Gowron and Sisko are able to secure a new partnership between the Klingon Empire and the Federation without anyone else in the chain of command needing to sign it off. But Changeling Bashir is still up to no good.

Dukat meanwhile has his sights set on the station and offers Sisko a deal since he owes the Captain his life (several times over). Sisko naturally refuses and we end up with Klingons and Romulans joining forces with the Federation to take on the combined might of the Cardassians and the Dominion. With Worf being ritually pummelled for the edification of the Jem’Hadar troops, and Garak’s subterfuge on the brink of discovery, it looks bleak for the Gamma Quadrant contingent, until suddenly, the interrogators are vaporised by a surprise Mandalorian Breen agent.

Changeling Bashir now takes a runabout into the Bajoran sun – using it as a bomb to destroy the entire system, fleet and station. But not the Dominion fleet, which was never really there. This is an amazing crescendo – and we’ve half a season still to go.

VOY S03E18 Darkling (2 out of 5 stars). Janeway is bargaining for a map and has to listen to a gasbag telling tall tales in return. But it’s Kes who falls under the spell of one of the locals, and it – gasp – starts interfering with her work. She explains to Janeway that, darn it, Voyager just isn’t exciting enough for her. I mean, as a viewer, I don’t disagree but she’s had her share of excitement while on board. Kes has always been a frustrating character. I can sense Robert Duncan McNeill, and even Garrett Wang struggling to get out from underneath the featureless individuals they’ve been given to play, but Jennifer Lien – so impressive in Warlord – can’t find anything much to do with the bland innocent benevolence of this character. This storyline feels like it’s preparing her exit, and that probably makes sense if the only interesting thing the writers can do with her is have her be entirely taken over by a different personality.

The other plot is even sillier, as the Doctor imagines that what his bedside manner lacks is something a bit rapier, courtesy of Lord Byron. This results in an Evil Doctor who goes around sticking people’s hands in fires. The usually excellent Robert Picardo makes something of a meal of the “Hyde” Doctor. Maybe he should fight himself in a junkyard until he feels better. As it is, a simple transport is all it takes to bring him back to his senses, for… reasons.

Trekaday #078: The Ascent, The Q and the Grey, Macrocosm, Rapture, The Darkness and the Light, Fair Trade, Alter Ego, The Begotten

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

DS9 S05E09 The Ascent (4 out of 5 stars). Jake is moving in with a returning Nog on the other side of the station, while Odo is simultaneously escorting Quark to face a Federation grand jury, giving rise to a signature DS9 two-people-in-a-runabout sequence involving Quark’s prediliction for card games and Odo’s dubious taste in literature. They are nearly at their destination when a (very small) bomb cripples their ship, including knocking out the replicator which leaves them stranded on a remote planet with minimal food rations and only one survival suit. There’s some lovely location work as the mismatched pair haul their salvaged transmitter up the side of a mountain (although it’s striking how every habitable planet in the galaxy looks Californian).

This is very serviceable Legolas and Gimli style stuff, if a bit contrived, with the quarrelsome pair gradually establishing common ground as they struggle to survive, and Auberjonois and Shimerman are at the peak of their powers. It’s quite bleak when they come to blows and tumble down the slopes, breaking Odo’s leg in the process. And while intellectually I know they aren’t going to kill off two hugely popular characters in the middle of the fifth series, I can’t see a way out of their predicament, which is thrilling.

Back on the station, Jake discovers that his roommate is a new Nog, up at 0430 to hit the gym, cleaning their living quarters (just on the odd and even-numbered days), showing no interest in Dom-jot or Holosuites. He also tidies up Jake’s spelling and grammar. Even Rom barely recognizes him. So, while the (ex) Changeling and the Ferengi bartender are re-enacting The Lords of the Rings, the human and the Ferengi cadet are re-enacting The Odd Couple. It’s a weird blend but both halves of the story are strong even if they’re playing by very different rules.

VOY S03E11 The Q and the Grey (3.5 out of 5 stars). Voyager gets the chance to witness a supernova, setting records for the closest observation of such a thing by a Federation vessel. An exhausted Janeway returns to her quarters to discover that Q has come calling and expects the Captain to bear his children. His determination to seduce her extends to pumping Neelix for information, conjuring up returning guest stars like Suzie Plakson and he even feigns sincerity at one point. De Lancie and Mulgrew are a potent combination and this is something new, if not completely unheralded, for the Q character.

Having to play another Q is a tricky ask. Neither Corbin Bernsen nor Gerrit Graham seemed like they genuinely were cut from the same cloth as De Lancie but Plakson manages it very ably. Of less interest is Janeway’s abduction to the Q Continuum which appears to be cos-playing as the American Civil War. That’s a version of the “chaos and upheaval” which the Q are experiencing due to Janeway’s actions regarding Quinn in Death Wish (and explains the supernovae as well).

As with many dreamscape stories, the stuff in the continuum feels somewhat inconsequential and synthetic. The shipboard plot-line is more urgent and compelling but drenched in technobabble. However, Plakson, De Lancie and Fargo’s Harve Presnell keep the bubbles in the champagne and I liked the moment when Q began pleading for the life of his beloved “Kathy”. How come Q never hit on Picard or Sisko though?

VOY S03E12 Macrocosm (4 out of 5 stars). Neelix is having to apologise for the conduct of his hysterical captain to some particularly exotic looking rubber-faces. But when they return, Voyager seems to be adrift in space. After really an awful lot of the two of them wandering around what seems to be a deserted ship, Neelix vanishes into a puddle of sputum while Janeway’s back is turned. Eventually she discovers the Doctor who explains what’s been happening in flashback (during which the tension rather ebbs away).

Commando Janeway is quite a sight (it’s hard to imagine Genevieve Bujold pulling this off) and Alexander Singer shoots the familiar sets with a bit of bravado and dash. Yet again, however, I find that if I imagine any two other Voyager characters placed in the same situation, the story barely changes. There is pleasure to be had in seeing smart people work together to solve problems, but that’s not entirely how we got here and I’m unclear why that’s all we’re getting now.

Still, if what we’re being offered is cheerfully ridiculous action-adventure hijinks, then this is a pretty good example of the type. The mystery is compelling, the solution is unexpected, the stakes feel high and Mulgrew is excellent, if a little more shoot-first-seek-out-new-life-and-new-civilizations-later than my ideal Starfleet captain. I guess this is a Deep Space Nine three but a Voyager four – although the last-minute inclusion of the touchy aliens from the teaser trying to blow up the ship struck me as quite unnecessary and almost cost this one half a star.

For some reason, the Doctor’s program can’t be, or isn’t being, backed-up.

DS9 S05E10 Rapture (3 out of 5 stars). With no explanation, everyone’s in new togs. Well, I say new – they’re the same as the ones that the Enterprise crew (including Worf) were all wearing in First Contact, with grey, quilted shoulders and the division colours relegated to the undershirt, and a striking band on the cuff – maybe my favourite part. It’s another step on the journey away from the tsunami of Technicolor that is The Original Series but the added texture is very helpful, or would be if we had HD restorations of this footage (they look great in the movies). Stranded in the Delta Quadrant, Janeway’s crew doesn’t get wind of Starfleet’s new fashion choices. The change is never mentioned in dialogue and the visiting admiral is still a riot in red.

In the main plot, rather like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters, Sisko starts seeing mysterious shapes in his food and this sends him off on a vision quest in Quark’s Holosuites and then a quest to find Bajoran Atlantis, which he does in five minutes flat. At the same time, Bajor is being admitted to the Federation, and Kassidy Yates is returning from jail, so a great many of my least favorite things are coalescing in one story. On the other hand, we get a return visit from Kai Winn for the first time in ages. Her nuanced villainy is always fascinating, and it’s fun that she ends up as Sisko spiritual guide.

I’ve been getting more and more invested in Sisko, and more and more used to Avery Brooks’s performance style – or he’s been getting better and better. But all the talk of prophecy, visions and messiahs generally leaves me cold, and it seems obvious from the jump that the Captain will be cured of his doomsaying before the episode’s end.

DS9 S05E11 The Darkness and the Light (2.5 out of 5 stars). Like the opening of a spy film, members of Kira’s old resistance cell are being bumped off in a variety of novel ways. Alas Kira’s too pregnant to go and investigate in person, so she sends Dax and Worf, who only come back with a corpse. The remaining survivors save her the trouble and they sneak on to the station, before being offed in turn. Eventually Kira is taken and tied to the railway tracks while her tormentor strokes his waxed moustache. Compared to nuanced villains like Kai Winn and Gul Dukat, Silaran Prin with his disfigured features and his penny-dreadful posturing is pretty one note and boring, so while it’s nice to finally have an episode built around Nana Visitor again, the slow build-up gives way to a lot of hysterical clichés at the end.

VOY S03E13 Fair Trade (2 out of 5 stars). Now we’re out of Talaxian/Kazon space (thank goodness), Neelix’s value as a guide is more open to question, so he’s on a tour of the regular cast trying to find something useful to do. But this teaser just ends with him giving the name of the purple splodge which the ship is approaching, as if supplying a label is in any way helpful. Pointing it out on a star chart before they smacked into it might have been a better use of his local knowledge, which – as noted – I thought had run out by now.

Anyway, unwilling to go around it (because this is a get-home-as-soon-as-possible episode rather than a let’s-stop-and-explore-this-for-as-long-as-we-feel-like episode), Voyager stops on the brink of the Splodge of Purple to pick up supplies and the stage is set for a thrilling round of trade negotiations. Also on the station is another Talaxian, Neelix’s old friend Wixiban. Once again, Voyager’s straight line route from the Caretaker to the Federation is littered with familiar faces. Far from being happy to see him, Neelix is (sigh) furiously jealous that Wix might be of more value to Janeway than he is. Luckily, Wix turns out to be pushing pills and willing to kill fellow drug dealers (albeit in self-defence). When the killing becomes a murder enquiry, Neelix has to decide whether to dob in his friend or keep his mouth shut. It’s all a bit predictable, pedestrian and lifeless, and Neelix’s predicament is like something out of a cautionary tale for teens.

Voyager shuttles have that fancy computer beam-out tech too.

VOY S03E14 Alter Ego (1 out of 5 stars). That enormous Splodge of Purple which was far too big to go around now seems to be comfortably in the rear-view mirror so either it’s very, very wide and flat, or a long time has passed since last episode. Meanwhile we have a new, more filigree splodge on the viewscreen, which everyone gets super-excited by – except Tuvok who’d rather be playing Kerplunk. Kim decides that Tuvok’s way is the way and he recruits the Vulcan to squash his emotions, because – fuck me – he’s in love with a hologram.

Neelix’s pleasure planet program has taken over from the Pool Hall of Tedium as the go-to time off destination for the crew and the object of Kim’s affections is a fairly bland nineties TV show hottie. As Kim barely has a personality, I suppose it makes sense that his dream girl wouldn’t have one either. Even Tuvok finds their encounter formulaic and he’s in the story.

When Holoblondie switches her attention to Tuvok, I despair even more. How can Tuvok of all people not see her as the bundle of people-pleasing subroutines that she evidently is? He’s got a wife and kids back in the Alpha Quadrant and these take ages to finally come up. When Tuvok tries to delete her, she goes all Moriarty. This has happened before but it seems that nobody has learned from the Enterprise-D and put in safeguards. Trivial, second-hand and often profoundly stupid, Voyager can do far better than this. It’s a particular waste of Tim Russ’s talents and he does much to prop up the ending, but the script is unsalvageable. Robert Picardo directs, poor guy.

DS9 S05E12 The Begotten (3 out of 5 stars). Quark sells Odo a baby changeling in a bottle and he ends up playing wet-nurse. This is the same week that Kira is finally having Keiko’s baby, so everyone is getting used to new arrivals. Also, Shakaar exists and is dropping by to hold his girlfriend’s hand – and so is Dr Mora, the Bajoran who reared Odo. Odo tells him to back off, but he insists on staying to “observe” (which actually means interfering).

René Auberjonois is terrific here, as he always is. This character is a perfect example of the difference between personality and backstory. Being a Changeling is one element of the character, but the writing and performance layer in far more besides. The actual storyline is a bit talky and plotless, though. Kira’s labour stalls and has to be restarted too. The tug-of-love stuff between O’Brien and Shakaar is all very silly and feels like synthetic conflict. In fact, you could say the same about the presence of Mora. Odo celebrating his success with a very suspicious Quark is a much stronger scene. Quark has never seen Odo like this and neither have we. Of course, because this is Deep Space Nine, Odo can’t stay happy and so while Keiko cradles her baby, Odo’s “child” doesn’t make it. However, it manages to merge with Odo as it dies, returning his shape-shifting abilities, which seems like a low-key way to discard a very big story thread which has not ended up going anywhere very interesting. The final scene between Odo and Kira is lovely, however, with no hint of the adolescent longing that Odo was once burdened with. Now they’re just two old friends, sharing a little sadness together.

Solid Odo is a hypochondriac with bad posture.

Trekaday #077: First Contact

Posted on March 16th, 2023 in Culture | Comments Off on Trekaday #077: First Contact

NGM02 First Contact (4.5 out of 5 stars). Despite the fact that the first movie had been given something of a critical kicking, essentially the same team was reassembled to make the second one. Generations had made money, after all, so Paramount was happy to leave them to it. Rick Berman continued as executive producer, Brannon Braga and Ronald D Moore wrote the script, Herman Zimmerman designed the sets, but proper movie composer Jerry Goldsmith returned for his first Star Trek gig since writing the theme for Voyager, and – borrowing a page from Wrath of Khan‘s book – the Enterprise‘s first officer became the film’s director. With several Star Trek television episodes to his name, this was Jonathan Frakes’s debut as a movie director and it’s pretty impressive, as we’ll see.

Whereas that first TNG film laboriously set up the old crew, Kirk’s death, the new crew on their silly Holodeck sailing ship and so on, this film wastes no time in sketching in the Borg threat and Picard’s relationship to them. 1982 cinema-goers were either expected to remember who Khan was or not to care, but that won’t work here. When we come out of the Captain’s assimilation nightmare, we see the new Starfleet uniforms, debuting here a few weeks before they were first seen on TV in Rapture. I much prefer these to the jumpsuits we’ve had for the last few years, and they have a bit of extra texture which suits the big screen. It’s not the only change. Geordi has bionic eyes now, and we’re onboard the Enterprise-E, which has a much more angular, less graceful profile than the TV version and which fills the widescreen frame more effectively.

While plundering the most highly-regarded film entry in the series, the second TNG film also consults the most profitable film entry in the series and recognises that the story can’t really start until the crew goes back in time. It’s half an hour into Star Trek IV before Kirk’s crew begins their slingshot manoeuvre. It’s less than ten minutes into this film before the Borg cube is taking lumps out of the Defiant and less than two minutes after that before the Borg are seemingly defeated. The Enterprise enters the timewarp fourteen minutes into a movie that’s substantially less than two hours long. That’s some efficient storytelling.

This isn’t rushed though. That care taken to educate new viewers as to Picard’s history with the Borg extends to Data’s quest to be human as well. He’s subtly set-up as superhuman when he leaps fifty feet into the rocket silo and withstands a hail of bullets from Lily’s gun. The contrast when he cradles the injured human flesh which the Borg Queen has given him is very striking.

With three very shiny guest-stars – Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell and Alice Krige – it’s perhaps no surprise that many of the regular cast are under-utilised. The narrative splits into three main components, one for each guest star: Data captured by the Borg Queen, Picard fighting the Borg on the Enterprise and Riker trying to make sure that Zefram Cochrane’s first Warp flight happens as the history books say it did. That helps keep everybody engaged, but Crusher gets almost exactly zero, Geordi is only along for the ride and Troi just gets her comedy drunk moment. Worf gets a nifty action scene on the saucer, with new boy “Hawk” there as backup, but this brutish Klingon in a Starfleet uniform bears scant resemblance to the complex, isolated character who has recently embarked on a relationship with a Trill. And putting Hawk in that sequence is a double-edged sword. He’s much more killable than Worf or Geordi, which raises the stakes, but we care about him much less than we do about Worf or Geordi.

Overall, this is vastly better than Generations in almost every department. Although efficient to the point of breathlessness, the story makes perfect sense on its own slightly ludicrous terms, it’s full of engaging sequences and the stakes feel real. Data’s subplot with his emotion chip and the Borg Queen is perfectly on-theme instead of being grafted on and then discarded as it was in Generations (and Alice Krige gets possibly the best entrance of any character in the whole of the franchise). As director, Jonathan Frakes shoots it all with vigour and clarity, making excellent use of the widescreen frame and keeping the cast engaged. And we even get a guest appearance from Robert Picardo as the Doctor (plus Reg Barclay and Ethan Phillips from Voyager, if you look closely). There are good jokes too (“Borg? Sounds Swedish…”) and I’ll forgive them “You’re astronauts? On some kind of… Star Trek?”

But as good a time as I had watching this again, and I had a grand old time, this can’t quite reach as high as Wrath of Khan, even as it helps itself to that Herman Melville iconography once again. The worst you can say about Wrath is that it’s a little smug at times, but the grandly operatic tragedy of the climax washes that almost completely away. First Contact is a faultlessly constructed piece of action adventure storytelling, with suitable breaks for character beats and comedy moments, some appropriate garment-rending and glass-breaking for Patrick Stewart, and it’s a story which celebrates Star Trek itself. So, every box is ticked. But it doesn’t have anything to say beyond the world of the television series which birthed it. The equivalent scene to Spock’s death here is the arrival of the Vulcans at the end, which might bring a lump to the throat, but which looks only inwards. And the victory the crew achieves comes at zero cost – unless you count Lt Hawk, and, I mean c’mon.

These are minor quibbles though and look, if we got another one of these every two years, I’d be very happy indeed.

Trekaday #076: Future’s End, Let He Who Is Without Sin…, Things Past, Warlord

Posted on March 15th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S03E08 Future’s End, Part I ([3.5 out of 5 stars). Janeway’s new lockdown hobby is tennis. She’s discovering that she’s pretty bad at it, when yet again a Federation ship appears in their path – it’s a ship from the future determined to destroy Voyager now to prevent it from detonating Earth’s solar system 500 years from now. This is pretty much the usual Voyager timey-wimey nonsense, but the stakes are higher than usual by quite some way. For viewers watching in 1996, this would have been the second time travel Star Trek episode in three days. In the usual budget and research-saving measure, the crew from the future are in the time and place that the show was being made in, which makes this feel more like an episode of Law and Order or ER than Star Trek.

Sniffing around nineties LA, they discover that the captain who tried to shoot them down has been stuck there for three decades and has gone nuts in the interim. They also encounter Sarah Silverman’s spunky young radio astronomer who has picked up Voyager from orbit. It’s also perfectly jolly temporal-procedural stuff, but as usual our crew are strictly professional. Compare this to say, Past Tense (let alone The City on the Edge of Forever) and you can see the lack of ambition on show here. But this is complex, exciting, funny when it wants to be (mainly, the soap opera material is shopworn and irrelevant) and it ends with a cracking cliffhanger. I’ll take that.

It’s worth noting that Past Tense (and The Trouble with Tribbles) are both put-things-back-as-they-were stories, whereas this is a slightly weird combination of Red Queen’s Race (the 20th century computer boom is part of established history) and the Predestination Paradox so sneered-at in Tribble-ations (the computer boom of the 20th century creates Starfleet in the future, who sends the time ship which crashes in 1967, creating the computer boom – and so on).

Why the hell does Junior Ensign Kim have the conn? Lt Torres is surely a better bet, and there must be other bridge officers who aren’t in the opening titles.

DS9 S05E07 Let He Who Is Without Sin… (2 out of 5 stars). Morn is bringing an ensign flowers, the old softie. And there’s love in the air. Worf and Dax are taking shore leave on Risa, accompanied – whether they want it or not – by Bashir and Leeta, and Quark too.

Former Miss America Vanessa Williams appears as Arandis who made sure that Curzon Dax died happy. While scowling at his bathing shorts, Worf receives a visit from a Make The Federation Great Again asshole who wants to shut the whole planet down. Alas, Worf swaps his shiny trunks for a tinfoil hat and falls down a puritanical conspiracy theory rabbit hole. Monte Markham lacks the loopy charisma which this kind of part really needs – he comes across as an earnest local government type rather than a firebrand orator.

This divides Worf and Dax and he tells her a sad, in fact murderous, story about his childhood, growing up with human children. I think it’s supposed to give us an insight into their relationship, but the context makes the whole thing feel like a 1970s sitcom with ultra-masculine jealous dad getting all worked up by what he sees as his out-of-control wife. Having got this story off his chest, Worf does an obedient about-face and even manages not to turn round and murder Fullerton when he gets slapped.

Bashir’s subplot in which he ritually breaks up with Leeta is mired in unspoken puritanism of its own, in which the mere idea of an open relationship is seen as utterly absurd, if not profoundly immoral. Seen by the writers as well as many of the characters.

Indoor hoverball is just wrong.

VOY S03E09 Future’s End, Part II (4 out of 5 stars). After last week’s splendid cliffhanger with Ed Begley Jr gleefully chewing the scenery as he claimed “home field advantage” the teaser of Part II is pretty low-key and squanders a lot of momentum – it’s mainly admin and breakfast orders. But Sarah Silverman enlivens all of the scenes she’s in and her charm and chutzpah is endlessly watchable. There was some talk of her being a regular character and you can see why. Begley makes a great villain too, with enough understanding of 29th century tech to be a credible threat to our 24th century crew, but not so much that his defeat requires enormous amounts of luck or stupidity, and director Cliff Bole does what he can to keep things moving on a TV budget.

Briefly shunted off to a side plot, Chakotay and Torres are in a shuttle. Their memories of being at the Academy only serve to illustrate what a dull, bookish, flat character Maquis rebel Chakotay is, and how much more interesting his Klingon friend can be. They end up crash-landing and being held hostage by a couple of rednecks, but this is really just busywork.

I can just about swallow Begley having holo-emitters in his study, given his plundering of the time-ship’s tech. But given that the Doctor is program being run by Voyager’s computer, why does taking his combadge off him prevent him from contacting the Voyager computer and thus the ship’s comm systems? When Begley wants to bring him along, he clips a doohickey to his holographic arm, which seems like the tail wagging the dog to me. Brief mention is made of his catastrophic memory loss in The Swarm.

“Tell your new friends to come out or he dies,” says Bentley, gesturing at the Doctor. She doesn’t and the issue never comes up again, which undermines what should have been a much more suspenseful sequence. But lapses like this are occasional, and most of the time, this is a good strong, well-plotted episode. It’s decent Star Trek, but it could have come from any version of the show. It has nothing to do with Voyager’s unique predicament. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have a story that works which doesn’t feel specific to the Delta Quadrant, than a story rooted in the premise of the show that doesn’t hang together. But is it too greedy to want the, er, best of both worlds?

Janeway’s new hairdo is a modest improvement. Let’s hope she keeps it.

DS9 S05E08 Things Past (4 out of 5 stars). Is this actually a time-travel franchise? This is our fourth time-travel story in five episodes – and we have First Contact rapidly heading our way. Odo, Dax, Sisko and – hurrah – Garak are found slumped unconscious in a runabout on their way back to the station. They quickly find themselves mentally transported back to the time of the Cardassian occupation.

This is a very odd form of time travel. Not only have they travelled only in their minds, the other inhabitants of Terok Nor see them as Bajorans and they are wearing Bajoran clothes. When dream Garak gets punched in the face, his body lying in Bashir’s sickbay starts bleeding. And worse is to come – Odo recognizes that the identities they’re living as are three people who were (falsely) executed for the attempted assassination of Gul Dukat.

There’s a delicious ghostly atmosphere to this one, with Odo seeing familiar figures in the crowd, hallucinating bloody hands and so on, Garak seeing things from a whole new perspective, Dax becoming Dukat’s new “friend”. That adds a nice extra dimension to this unusual tale, which expertly blends science fiction mystery with DS9’s trademark politicking and double-dealing, as well as delving into Odo’s complicated relationship with the Founders, the Bajorans and the truth.

Because Odo knew what was happening all (or at least most) of the time, and because this is essentially a re-run of past indiscretions, it’s worthwhile for what it tells us about Odo, but it doesn’t push the story on in any meaningful way, and what it tells us about Odo is a minor variation on much we knew already. It’s well-handled though, Rene Auberjonois is as good as ever, and it’s nice to see that somebody has remembered that Nana Visitor is still on the payroll.

Kurtwood Smith (Boddicker in RoboCop) appears as Thrax, the Cardassian (or is he?).

VOY S03E10 Warlord (3 out of 5 stars). Neelix is getting feedback on his Holodeck recreation of his favorite Talaxian holiday spot, and Paris and Kim can’t wait to screw it up for him. He frowns at all their changes before breaking into a huge grin in what I assume is meant to be a “funny bit”. And that’s it, that’s all we get before the titles. It’s handily one of the weakest, least inspiring teasers I’ve seen so far, and I’ve now seen well over 400 episodes of Star Trek.

Voyager comes to the rescue of a stricken ship, beaming its three occupants to sickbay, moments before the craft explodes. Two of them make, one does not. Kes becomes close with the survivors and Neelix reverts to his petty, jealous Season 1 characterization. But he has reason to be suspicious because when the Zagbarian High Commissioner beams on board, Kes phasers everyone in sight and beams off with the other two survivors. Credit where it’s due, Jennifer Lien is pretty great as badass Kes, who has of course been taken over by the dead guy’s katra.

We’re twice told that Kes has been essentially murdered through this process and she won’t be coming back. Hands up who believes that any such thing is possible onboard the USS Reset Button?

This all turns into a race against time to prevent Warlord Kes from getting what she wants – but why should we care about the petty squabbles on this never-before-seen world? This was an error which TNG kept making in the early days, but they quickly figured out that stories about our people were more interesting. Jennifer Lien is absolutely having the time of her life here, and that helps, but it would have be so much more interesting if she had been taking over Voyager and behaving like this towards Janeway, Tuvok and the rest. Frankly, the best ending I could hope for would be to make Evil Warlord Kes a recurring villain for the rest of the season. Given that we don’t look like we’re ever going to get anything of DS9’s depth and subtlety on this show, having great big operatic villains is far preferable to hearing the crew blandly recite technobabble at each other.

Trekaday #075: Remember, Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, …Nor the Battle to the Strong, The Assignment, Sacred Ground, Trials and Tribble-ations

Posted on March 10th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S03E06 Remember (3.5 out of 5 stars). Janeway is running a taxi service for a bunch of people with latticework hairdos, who have paid for the ride in technobabble, and who seem to have a liking for Harry Kim (I guess it’s nice that someone does). But even though she sends Kim and his new girlfriend off for some alone time, it’s B’Elanna who starts having One Of Those Dreams – so much so that she oversleeps. So, it seems B’Elanna is the Troi of Voyager, upon whom weird sex dreams, psychic intrusions and romantic trauma will be heaped. Can’t wait.

Unlike Picard (or Riker – or Sisko), Chakotay allows himself to be brushed off by the chief engineer’s insistence that everything is fine. Everyone’s in mufti for Neelix’s celebration of their guests’ culture, and pretty soon one of the older gentlemen is cracking on to the Captain and invading her thoughts. Again, nobody sees that anything is amiss, which is pretty frustrating plotting. Meanwhile B’Elanna’s sex dreams have turned into bad soap opera.

What’s also frustrating is how hard Roxann Dawson sells all this. She’s required to play all kinds of nonsensical scenes and she delivers every mouthful of gibberish and every predictable jump-scare with complete commitment and effortless naturalism. She’s rapidly becoming my favourite actor on the show – but when will she get some better material to work with?

Finally, a third of the way through the episode, it dawns on the first officer that the engineer’s loopy fantasies and the presence on board of a race of telepaths might possibly be connected. Part of the problem is that the main plot feels like it’s running on rails. But we also have to deal with the fact that the dream/memories which are haunting B’Elanna are horrifyingly dull and clichéd – and the punchline is the same as The Inner Light. That’s a Star Trek episode you invoke at your peril.

And then, unexpectedly, the last act does contain a refreshing squeeze of vinegar. The doomed love story is actually a tale of genocide. With the scant information we have, it’s hard to tell if this was justified at all, but it was, you know, genocide, so probably disproportionate at best, even if the non-conformists were a genuine threat to the safety and stability of the community (which they probably weren’t). But telling this story at one remove robs it of power, making us wait to the end doesn’t help and the only reason any of this works at all, is because Roxann Dawson is so amazing.

Speaking of memories, you remember how the Doctor had his mind wiped a couple of episodes ago? He seems fine now.

DS9 S05E03 Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places (4 out of 5 stars). Worf is thunderstruck by the ravishing beauty of the Klingon woman Grilka, whom Quark had reason to marry in the largely successful episode The House of Quark. Now Quark seeks to help her again by doing some light bookkeeping. Hoping to impress the foxy Grilka, Worf picks a fight with Morn and switches his usual human prune juice for more traditional blood wine. But Worf’s dishonour (yawn) prevents Grilka from expressing any interest in his as a mate. (He also seems to have forgotten about K’Ehleyr when he asserts that he has never persued a Klingon woman romantically.)

But Quark still holds a candle for Grilka and is fretting about what he’s supposed to say to her during their private dinner, but he ends up having to fight for her love. This sets the stage for a Cyrano de Bergerac-style routine where Worf is able to puppeteer Quark like something out of Ratatouille. Even by the standards of Deep Space Nine “comedy” episodes, this is pretty fluffy and trivial and I understand that it’s some people’s favourite and some people can’t stand it. I appreciated the Worf/Quark double act – each set of traditions shines a clear light on the other, making it seem both amusing and convincing. And that helps get us past the usual Star Trek sex and romance blind spot. Plus, Michael Dorn, Armin Shimerman, Terry Farrell and Mary Kay Adams are all doing wonderful work. It ends with Dax and Worf’s sparring taking on a rather more intimate quality (to Bashir’s intense disquiet). It certainly makes more sense than Worf and Troi.

In the B-plot, medical ethics expert Dr Bashir is listening at keyholes (with rather less success than Quark, whose Ferengi physiognomy gives him a distinct advantage), but O’Brien claims that his domestic arrangements, which involve helping Kira out of the bath and giving her massages (all while Keiko watches) present no problems. Odo knows better, of course – it’s clear that becoming a solid hasn’t made him any less perceptive (or any less of a dick).

DS9 S05E04 …Nor the Battle to the Strong (4 out of 5 stars). It’s a standard move for this show to stick a mis-matched pair in a runabout and have them encounter a crisis, distress call or spatial anomaly. Jake Sisko and Julian Bashir are a novel combo though, and while Bashir is given the usual not-quite-funny-enough self-involved babbling, Jake’s wry impatience rings true – Cirroc Lofton is maturing very nicely as an actor, and beginning to develop some layers to his Generic Teen characterisation.

In true DS9 style, when they answer the distress call, the boy journalist who was eagerly looking forward to swapping the Doctor’s dry academia for something with a bit more human interest, now finds himself scrubbing up, helping out, wrist deep in guts and watching people die. None of this is especially new or insightful, but it’s new to Jake and that helps give it meaning for us.

Particularly giving Jake the heebie-jeebies is a young man who seemingly phasered himself in the foot to get away from the front line. Then, on a mission to get a back-up generator from the Paramount backlot, Jake and Bashir come under fire and Jake finds himself in a version of All Quiet on the Klingon Front, clambering over corpses of Federation and Klingons alike and trying to tend to a wounded man. Because this is Deep Space Nine, the poor bastard dies in front of him. It’s tough stuff, but not particularly novel or arresting.

Back on the station, poor Odo is still forgetting to remember that he isn’t a changeling anymore (rather like the Kakapo parrot of New Zealand which has seemingly forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly). While I do vaguely remember that Odo regains his shapeshifting powers at some point, I’m impressed at how long they’re keeping him in this form.

DS9 S05E05 The Assignment (3.5 out of 5 stars). Suddenly, Deep Space Nine remembers that it’s a Star Trek show and this feels like something right out of The Original Series, except that there weren’t any family relationships on the 1960s Enterprise. Having Keiko’s body taken over by a malevolent alien to manipulate her husband is pure pulp science fiction, which makes zero sense – O’Brien even asks why the entity didn’t take him over instead, but they get distracted before she can answer. But the show leans into the bonkers plotting and Colm Meaney plays it with a sort of Frank Drebin earnestness, which works brilliantly against Rosalind Chao’s delicious scenery-chewing. It’s all a load of nonsense, so I can’t give it five stars, or even four, but it’s tremendously enjoyable.

VOY S03E07 Sacred Ground (2 out of 5 stars). Plan a) is put on hold yet again as Janeway decides that what this crew needs more than anything is some shore leave. Naturally, this means that one or more of our regulars is going to be infected by a disease / sent back in time / accused of a crime / blasted by some pixels / eaten by a dinosaur shortly before the opening titles. It’s option four and worse than that, it’s Kes (but don’t worry, she’s unconscious for most of the episode).

The particular pixels which blasted her turn out to be part of a religious relic, which means Janeway is in talking-to-the-magistrate mode (something which she seems to do a great deal of on this show). The set-up here makes frighteningly little sense. The Zagbars welcome the crew and allow them to roam around the caves barely supervised. Kes blunders into a dangerous temple and is zapped and the Zagbars don’t even say “Oh, yeah. We probably should have warned you about The Temple Of Certain Death, not one of our most popular tourist traps.”

The solution turns out to be making Janeway solve a kind of Crystal Maze style puzzle journey, accompanied by a very chipper spiritual advisor, and this cliched cave-of-traps sequence takes up the bulk of this rather uninteresting instalment. There’s an opportunity to use this process to dig into Janeway a little more, but what little we find out isn’t all that interesting, and we keep cutting away from her so that Robert Picardo can recite more technobabble. Even Michael Westmore can’t be bothered with this one, as the Zagbars just have a token bit of putty on the bridge of the nose.

It’s all solved by some science-isn’t-real, just-have-to-believe, use-the-Force-Luke bullshit which is about as far away from Star Trek in general and Janeway in particular as it’s possible to get. None of this is to take away from Kate Mulgrew who is perhaps better than she’s ever been here. Both of the two stars above are for her. Spending four days being ritually tortured isn’t my idea of shore leave. Given that they have unlimited use of the Holodeck, which will operate just fine while they make tracks to the Alpha Quadrant at Warp Eight, that might be a better use of available resources.

Robert Duncan McNeill directs, so this is the usual hazing procedure – giving the season’s worst scripts to the actors who want to direct to see if they leave licking their wounds or if they do the best they can and come back for more. McNeill now works primarily as a director, so it didn’t work in this case.

DS9 S05E06 Trials and Tribble-ations (5 out of 5 stars). Sisko is confronted in his office by a pair of internet nitpickers who hate predestination paradoxes (and jokes). The story he tells them is one of the more absurd things ever to have happened to this particular crew but it’s deliriously entertaining, even coming from someone who wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of The Trouble with Tribbles. On a pretty thin pretext, we all have to go back in time, disguise ourselves as Kirk’s shipmates and sneak about putting history back the way it was, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part II.

For some reason, I have scarcely any memory of most DS9 stories except this one, and once watching TOS, I recognized a scene, not because I’d seen that story before, but because it gets repurposed for this story (which includes footage not just from Tribbles but also from Mirror Mirror).

This is full of good jokes (“We do not discuss it with outsiders”), warmly poking fun at the old series, while never mocking or belittling it. Plus, we get to see Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the old Enterprise – inside and out. It’s a brilliant coup, and very hard to do with the resources available to a TV show in the 1996. Just like the original episode, it’s a very smart blend of gags, engaging story and just enough stakes to not let it feel pointless, but never enough to spoil the prevailing party mood. Voyager’s celebration of thirty years of Trek (broadcast a bit closer to the right day) was fun I suppose. This is glorious. The only fault I can find is – yet again, there’s nothing of interest for Kira to do.

Trekaday #074: Flashback, The Chute, The Swarm, Apocalypse Rising, False Profits, The Ship

Posted on March 4th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S03E02 Flashback (4 out of 5 stars). AKA: The One With Sulu In It, although maddeningly George Takei’s name appears on-screen way before his face. A blue thing – which is either a cloud of handy fuel, a gaseous anomaly or a nebula depending on which page of the script you’re reading – contains this week’s supply of unobtainium. This is rapidly forgotten about when Tuvok starts going all wibbly.

It transpires that Tuvok has tried so hard to forget his inability to save a child that he’s broken his brain. The cure is a mind-meld with Janeway – the closet thing he has to family onboard Voyager. On this fairly thin pretext, we’re taken to a vision of the Excelsior, captained by Hikaru Sulu and with Yeoman Commander Janice Rand at comms, and everyone in movie-era uniforms, specifically Star Trek VI because this is Sulu’s trip past the exploding Klingon moon which kicks off the détente which leads to Worf serving onboard Picard’s Enterprise. We also get return appearances by Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Ansara as Kang and even Jeremy Roberts as Valtane (who also dies here, even though he’s seen alive and well at the end of the movie). Otherwise, the recreation of the 1991 movie is incredibly good – to the point where I thought some of it was movie footage resized to fit the TV aspect ratio, but none of it is, except some model shots.

Janeway having to dress up as Commander Rand inside Tuvok’s memory in order to avoid detection and therefore breaking her brain is completely ludicrous, but – just in case you hadn’t figured it out – this is the thirtieth anniversary celebration episode, so you really shouldn’t push too hard on any of these details. Ultimately nothing that Janeway or Tuvok does has any real impact. Tuvok had a brain virus and the Doctor irradiated it to death which Tuvok and Janeway were playing dress-up in his memories. But – it’s Janeway vs Sulu on the bridge of the Excelsior so shut up. Janeway is all pissy that Tuvok brought Sulu a cup of tea eighty years ago and has never done the same for her, which is pretty funny. I’m pretty sure she’s joking.

VOY S03E03 The Chute (2 out of 5 stars). After the loose-end-tying of Basics, Part II and the celebratory hijinks of Flashback we’re back with business-as-usual Voyager but it’s the two least interesting characters stuck in one of the most shopworn plot premises which is also one of the ones which makes the least sense given Voyager’s mission. Not for the first time, then, we’re going to interact with another planet’s justice system and no doubt find that it’s far more brutal and uncaring than ours – see also Rules of Enagement, Tribunal, Hard Time, Ex Post Facto and so on. Here we skip the excuse as to why Voyager thought this particular planet was definitely worth slowing down for, and plunge straight into penal servitude with Paris and Kim who are brawling, scrapping for food and reciting exposition at each other. Janeway’s brinkmanship with the Zagbarian ambassador is a decent showing for her, but nothing we haven’t seen before with Kirk or Picard or Sisko. As usual, in the prison Paris and Kim could be any two guys. Paris takes a knife to the belly, but it never seems particularly life-threatening, and Voyager finds the real culprits after about twenty minutes of interviewing a few likely suspects (helped by the fact that when found, they confess instantaneously).

VOY S03E04 The Swarm (4 out of 5 stars). Paris and Torres are bonding in a cramped shuttle when they are suddenly boarded and shot by unintelligible aliens, but only stunned. Despite this show of mercy, Neelix is full of tales of terror regarding the inhabitants of this region. Going around would add 15 months to the journey, something which stop-and-smell-the-flowers Janeway will not countenance. Back on board Voyager, the Doctor is becoming forgetful, to the point where Kes has to talk him through the procedure which Paris needs. Torres points out that she can turn him off and on again, but he’ll lose everything he’s gained over the last two years – despite which the Doctor thinks she should get on with it. Bizarrely, Torres wants to run tests on a holographic recreation of Jupiter Station where he was first developed. As silly as this sounds, it comes with a holographic recreation of Herman Zimmerman, who first developed the program, giving Robert Picardo the joyful chance to play scenes with himself. And doctors make rotten patients. Voyager sneaking past alien defences is pretty rote stuff but establishing that the EMH’s experiences over the past two years have turned him from a mechanism into a unique individual is key, and Robert Picardo is better than ever as the irascible Zimmerman, the childlike amnesiac Doctor and finally back (or is he?) as his pompous, opera-humming self. Sadly the technobabble solution doesn’t really make any sense, treating software as bone marrow and seemingly unaware of any differences.

DS9 S05E01 Apocalypse Rising (4 out of 5 stars). Perhaps inevitably, Starfleet elects to send none other than Benjamin Sisko to try and unmask Chancellor Gowron. Equally inevitably, but of rather more interest, is Odo’s challenge facing up to being a “solid”, which he’s doing by getting drunk and melancholy in Quark’s bar. Not unreasonably, Sisko wants his security officer with him, no matter how protean he is or isn’t. And since Gowron is unlikely to submit to a blood test, they have a doohickey which will reveal his true nature – but as a prototype, it’s beset with design flaws. Thus, Gul Dukat is recruited to smuggle Sisko, O’Brien, Odo (disguised as Klingons) plus Worf into Klingon space, and it’s tons of fun. Sisko rapidly gets the hang of his new identity, but O’Brien and Odo are both struggling, and they need to do more homework before they try and ambush Gowron at the Klingon school prize-giving. The twist that it’s the Chancellor’s second in command who’s really the changeling is not only a lovely extra wrinkle, it also retrospectively makes more sense of the Founders’ actions at the end of the last episode. The inter-season gap hasn’t given Kira enough time to have Keiko’s baby, so she’s still stuck squabbling on the sidelines, alas.

VOY S03E05 False Profits (2 out of 5 stars). Yet again, a straight line path from an arbitrary point in the Delta Quadrant leads Voyager to a planet with some odd connection to home – this time a Bronze Age society which appears to have acquired Federation-style replicator technology. So, this is a variation on the going-back-to-see-what-happened-after-we-made-first-contact story, with a dose of I-think-I’ve-found-a-way-home-wait-no-never-mind, thanks to the presence of a handy wormhole – the same one featured in The Price from TNG Season 3, with Dan Shor returning as Arridor, now joined by Leslie Jordan as Kol. Yes, the first contact in this case was made by that pair of Ferengi, who are still here, spreading their Gordon-Gecko-esque credo of capitalism, with Rules of Acquisition style catchphrases like “Exploitation begins at home.” This is a puzzle for Janeway, who’s commitment to the Prime Directive has varied somewhat over these episodes. Do you attempt to reverse the damage done by the invaders, or do you leave well enough alone? Janeway reasons that the Ferengi are only there because of negotiations conducted by the Federation and so now she has carte blanche – yet she allows herself to be swayed by their flim-flam, which is very hard to take. Further silliness follows wherein Neelix (who has never heard of Ferengi) is chosen to impersonate the Grand Proxy, then the Holy Pilgrim, and none of it feels terribly significant or interesting or at all worth interrupting the journey home for. The sight of bikini-clad mute women with veils over their faces on a television show made in 1996 is kind of horrifying, regardless of the justification.

DS9 S05E02 The Ship (4.5 out of 5 stars). O’Brien and crewman Muniz (seen a couple of previous episodes) are fishing around for rocks when a Jem’Hadar warship falls out of the sky at them, which turns out to be littered with corpses. Every time Muniz makes a good suggestion, O’Brien tells him that he maybe won’t be shitcanned, which I think is meant to be “bonding” or “banter” or somesuch. Naturally, he’s the first one to be hit when more Jem’Hadar land, looking for their lost motor, which leads to the team holed up inside the crashed ship as the Jem’Hadar negotiate for the return of their property. But what exactly is it that they want?

Kaitlin Hopkins as Vorta Kilana is very striking, claiming that this is her first mission and making all kinds of veiled threats while continuing to maintain her coquettish demeanour. She’s well-matched with Sisko’s bull-headed stubbornness – he’s definitely the least flexible of the five captains. Equally striking is the conflict between Worf and O’Brien regarding the fate of the stricken Muniz, where the Klingon advocates letting him prepare for death and the human wants to keep him fighting. Of course, he doesn’t make it (this is Deep Space Nine after all), but this is no casual redshirt zapping. This hurts. It almost plays like a doomed love story, when Muniz switches from calling O’Brien “sir” (which he doesn’t like) to “Jefe” to “Papa”. What really elevates this whole story, though, is the fact that as the siege intensifies, everybody starts being dickish – even Dax! – and only Sisko can bark them back into some kind of professionalism. This breakdown of social norms isn’t because of any kind of anomaly, virus or mind-parasite. It’s just due to the fact that they’re in dead trouble and they aren’t perfect. Nor is the narrative wrapped up in a neat bow. Nobody got what they wanted and now even more people have died. Episode 100 and we show no sign of slowing down.