Archive for June, 2023

Trekaday #094: Star Trek Insurrection

Posted on June 28th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

NGM03 Insurrection (3 out of 5 stars). Michael Piller had saved Star Trek once. Could he save it again?

The “Creative Consultant” on DS9 and Voyager, who had turned the ship around back in 1989, was asked to write the screenplay for the third Next Generation film and nobody knew the show and the characters better than he did. His original pitch was a riff on Heart of Darkness and The Magnificent Seven with Picard as a lone figure, desperately defending a benighted group of settlers from a seemingly-invincible foe. As loving retold in his amazing (but unpublished) book on the subject, following endless fretting about what the studio wanted, what the studio thought fans wanted, what Patrick Stewart wanted, what Rick Berman thought Patrick Stewart wanted, what Brent Spiner wanted, what director Jonathan Frakes wanted, and finally what the studio wanted, again, we got… this.

It’s a curious film and one which keeps sliding off my brain. I watched it first on a plane – hardly ideal – and I kept falling asleep half way through and having to go back and find what I missed. When I finally had it on DVD and watched it all the way through, it still struck me as piecemeal and inconsistent. Not maddeningly sloppy the way that Generations is, but light years away from the focused thrill ride of First Contact. The usual criticism of Insurrection is that it feels like an overlong episode of the TV show, and reading Piller’s book, you can see how that happened. His huge movie-sized idea of a story was drawn back into the gravity well of the TV series. But most TNG two-parters have been hugely entertaining, so if Insurrection is just a 100 minute episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, well I can think of a lot worse things to watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Let’s give it a spin.

The opening is very unusual for a Star Trek film – all bucolic calm and cheerful domesticity. Star Trek films tend to open with death and destruction (Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan) or catching up with the gang (Search for Spock, Voyage Home, Generations). The calm-before-the-storm is a perfectly fine way to start a story, but not a particularly interesting one. Nor is the revelation that this community is being covertly studied all that shocking or surprising, being familiar from TV episodes like Who Watches the Watchers, while Data-goes-rogue-in-a-pre-Warp-society is a re-run of Thine Own Self. Even the “Briar Patch” is just the nebula from Wrath of Khan with a new name. Part of the problem is that the B’aku society is so blandly generic. TNG figured out what a pre-Warp civilisation in the 24th century would look and feel like and has stuck to it, even though this is going to the backdrop for this whole movie. Even Michael Westmore hasn’t been inspired to give them three noses or six ears or whatever.

Another problem with this opening is that it’s all played from the point of view of people we haven’t met, don’t know and don’t care about. So this feels simultaneously low-stakes and confusing. But, anyway – Data blows the gaff on whatever this is, for as-yet unknown reasons, and reveals himself while beating up and revealing his comrades. Darn it, if only the Federation had some kind of magical technology that could “lock on” to him and instantly “transport” him out of there. Oh well. One for the boffins to keep working on, I expect.

Now we catch up with the gang, but the supposedly amusing hijinks of Picard’s diplomatic quickstepping feel like the plot is losing momentum, not gaining it, for all the script’s hurried enthusiasm to make this veteran crew feel like first-year cadets who are complete beginners at this kind of ambassadorial function. And now it turns out that the Enterprise is two days away from the plot (and the flagship of the fleet is not equipped to enter the region in any case, although the unspecified properties of the “Briar Patch” are never particularly relevant as it turns out).

Adding a bit of class is F Murray Abraham as Ru’afo, who also gets some nifty makeup effects, but who is bossing Admiral Dougherty around (Anthony Zerbe, familiar from the James Bond film Licence to Kill, and he weirdly gets the same death scene there as here) like he’s the Federation and Starfleet are his soldiers. Adding-the-backstory-on-the-hoof can make for propulsive storytelling, but it can also lead to bewilderment, as here. Who are these people? What are they doing? And why – other than the still-inexplicable involvement of Data – should I care?

Inside and out, the Enterprise has never looked better, with the bridge striking a nice balance between the beige comfort of the TV version and the shadowy gloom of Generations. But the whole set up is unnecessarily confusing, laboriously moving our people into place instead of having them there from the beginning, telling the story from odd viewpoints, rarely getting me terribly invested in what is happening, and Patrick Stewart hamming out HMS Pinafore doesn’t help matters much.

The next phase of the story kind of undoes a lot of what was set-up over the previous half-hour. The society which must not know of the existence of the Federation turns out to be post-Warp not pre-Warp after all. Data is put back in his box. The fact that it took the Enterprise two days to arrive was never relevant – it could have been an hour and things would have turned out just the same. And once the decoy village was built, there seems little purpose in continuing to wander around in secret, calling into question the continuing need for the “duck blind” at all. Rather than be present and see what happened to cause Data’s malfunction, we have to learn about it after the fact, when we already know the outcome. And what we discover is yet another lift from a TV episode, this time Homeward with its Holodeck simulation of familiar surroundings. (And it’s surprising to say the least to discover that the computer on this super-secret installation will obey voice commands from literally anyone. Still, I’d find Patrick Stewart’s commands hard to ignore too.)

When it finally comes to light, the MacGuffin turns out to be that the planet is an orbiting fountain of youth, thanks to some exotic “metaphasic radiation” – which like most radiation affects the cells in the bodies of adults differently than it affects the cells in the bodies of children (“Don’t ask me to explain it,” growls Admiral Badguy). Given that this is a series which gave us a 137-year-old McCoy in its pilot episode, it’s an odd thing to choose as the fulcrum of the rest of the plot. Anyway, rather than work with the inhabitants, and send scientists to study the radiation, the Federation in its wisdom has decided to partner with Galactic “thugs” the So’na and take control of the planet in total secrecy. This undermines Star Trek’s traditional sunny optimism for no very good reason, but now at least – nearly half-way through the film – we understand who the badguys are, what they’re trying to do, and what we need to do to stop them. This is all that remains of Michael Piller’s original pitch: Picard standing against the Federation to protect the 600 inhabitants of the village.

It all comes down to Picard’s captain’s yacht vs Salieri and the rest of his flat-faced gang. I’m just not sure I want the Federation to be the badguys in my Star Trek film – and if that is what I’m going to get, I’d like the stakes to be a bit higher than the fate of one small collection of twee adobe huts. The revelation that the So’na and the Ba’ku are the same species likewise is only of conceptual interest – it never hits with any emotional resonance, because we don’t know these people. They can tell us that they recognise each other, but I don’t feel anything. Similarly, a small collection of subplots listlessly orbit the main story without feeding into it in any meaningful way (Data and the moppet, Picard’s banal love story, Troi and Riker getting it on), and then they are all unceremoniously discarded for that whizz-bang ending. Only LeVar Burton’s little speech about sunsets has any real power.

Everything looks great, with very decent computer effects, dramatic camerawork and lighting from Frakes and cinematographer Matthew F Leonetti. Patrick Stewart and especially Brent Spiner are excellent (with the rest getting a little more screen time than is typical, but still no real input into the plot – unless Riker getting a shave counts as character development), but after the great success of First Contact, this is a major disappointment, and the silly jokes which plague the script don’t help, from Data’s assessment of Riker’s smooth jaw, to his use as a flotation device, to Worf’s irrelevant puberty, to the “toning” experienced by Crusher and Troi. Three stars reflects both the fact that this is a slick, well-produced product with strong performances and also how much I enjoy seeing the rest of the crew rally around the Captain, even if the justification is both weak and slightly sour. The most effective material in the whole film is probably the space battle in the Briar Patch. It’s in no way new, goodness knows we’ve seen space battles before, but it has an energy and a desperation which the rest of the film sorely lacks – especially, the ersatz Death Star ending with its laborious countdown and endless flitting between ships (and where the bright blue windows make it look as if the effects team forget to put the stars in). Using the Holoship trick against Ru’afo is cute too.

There are a handful of brief mentions of the Dominion, but this doesn’t feel at all as if the Federation is at war. Once again Worf is onboard the Enterprise for no adequately explained reason. He reports late to the bridge (presumably because he was never formally transferred to this ship and so was never rostered). The title was one of about a dozen which were considered. Why “Insurrection” was chosen is something of a mystery, as no insurrection (violent uprising against a ruling power) is ever depicted.

How long will it take the Enterprise to get everyone home without their warp core, bearing in mind it took them two days to get there at presumably maximum warp?

Trekaday #093: The Siege of AR-558, Timeless, Covenant, Infinite Regress, Nothing Human, Thirty Days

Posted on June 27th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S07E08 The Siege of AR-558 (4.5 out of 5 stars). God help me, I’m even getting to enjoy Vic Fontaine’s appearances. That doesn’t extend to Rom’s mangling of old standards, and for a moment there when Vic was talking about hiring a comic I feared Joe Piscopo was going to make a return appearance. Speaking of Ferengi, Quark is onboard the Defiant, having been sent on a fact-finding mission to the front lines by Zek.

Sisko beams down at the head of the away team with supplies for some pretty desperate and demoralised Federation troops, defending a captured Dominion communications array. Even by the usual gloomy standards of this show, the tales of the remaining soldiers are pretty grim, but never melodramatic. Of particular note is Bill Mumy as engineer Kellin. A veteran of both Lost in Space and Babylon 5, he jumped at the chance to do a part with no prosthetic makeup, having suffered for years as Minbari ambassador Lennier.

I don’t really buy Quark’s reason for being there, but his take on humans is always fascinating, and Nog has his own perspective as a Starfleet officer. Sisko takes charge of what remains of the battalion but they’re quickly outwitted by the Jem’Hadar who use holograms to pinpoint the enemy position without risking their own lives. Behr and Beimler’s typically tough script piles on the suspense and sacrifice but keeps the focus where it should be: on the attitudes, choices, fears and beliefs of the characters, not on meaningless action and Boy’s Own heroics. And yes, sure, this is something of a collection of doughty war-is-hell cliches but they’re cliches because they work and they feel fresh reflected through these very specific and familiar characters.

The exception is New Formula Dax who still isn’t clicking. Every time she’s on screen, she simply repeats the same lines about not being Jadzia or Curzon or Tobin. Let’s find out who Ezri is – and soon because there aren’t all that many episodes left. Her momentary qualm about using the enemy’s weapons against them is something, but I need more.

VOY S05E06 Timeless (4 out of 5 stars). Voyager’s 100th episode and the title is a bit of a warning. Voyager’s predilection for time travel shenanigans often ends up with stories that descend into meaningless gibberish. That said, some of the episodes of this show that I have enjoyed the most have been the ones that have taken really big swings, so let’s at least give this one a chance. Exploring on a desolate, snowy planet (decently realised in the studio), two fur-clad figures uncover the frozen form of a certain USS Voyager, which as attention-grabbing teasers go, certainly does the business.

Seeing these familiar corridors iced-over as Chakotay and Kim (for it is they) explore is atmospheric and creepy. They gradually coax the ship back into life while crawling past the frozen bodies of fallen comrades – including Janeway. But it’s Seven of Nine they’re really after (natch) and the Doctor. They are – dramatic pause – here to change history.

That history starts with the christening of the quantum slipstream drive, which Torres and her team have been developing and which should get them home. But Paris is anxious that they’ve built a lemon – his simulations show that the journey will end with them skipping out of the slipstream and destroying the ship. Quite why no-one else has come to the same conclusion is not clear. The solution is to have a shuttle ride ahead of Voyager but the piloting will be extremely difficult. Thus, it has to be Starfleet’s best pilot, Tom Paris who… takes a back seat while Jr Ensign Kim is given the task of steering the life-saving craft on his own.

Back in the main timeline, it turns out that Paris and Kim made it home fifteen years ago and have been looking for Voyager ever since – Kim blaming himself for consigning his ship and all its crew to this frozen grave. The Doctor is put to work hacking up Seven’s corpse for parts, one of which they will use to send a message back in time. The character work here is supposed to be between Chakotay and his new squeeze Tessa Ormond, who agrees to go ahead with the plan, even if it means erasing their relationship. As usual, this would work better with almost anyone other than Chakotay, but it still works, and works very well indeed, on a science fiction adventure level.

Director LeVar Burton gives himself a cameo, pursuing the renegade Chakotay and Kim. Drunk Seven is absolutely delightful.

DS9 S07E09 Covenant (3.5 out of 5 stars). Life onboard DS9 seems rather relaxed considering the conflict raging nearby. So relaxed that an old friend of Kira’s has come to call, but the gee-gaw he’s brought her as a gift turns out to be a transponder which takes her to Empok Nor, at the behest of the Pah-wraith sect led by none other than Gul Dukat, whose descent into demented one-note villainy continues unabated, although Marc Alaimo’s class still shines through. Kira’s old teacher attempts to prove that their death-cult is benign, which is arguably more interesting than tying her to the railway tracks, but makes the early going a little light on drama, except for some insults hurled at the Cardassian.

Maddeningly, when she manages to finagle a gun and point it at Dukat, his disciples form a Bajoran shield in front of him – Dukat odiously whispering “Now do you see how much they love me,” as she lies defeated on the floor. In rather a soapy turn, when a Bajoran acolyte gives birth, the infant looks Cardassian, which Dukat explains away as a Pah-wraith miracle. Apparently there’s no ultrasound in the 24th century.

More miracles follow as Dukat stages an airlock malfunction and the mother almost asphyxiates – but Kira gets to her just in time. It’s a curious treatment of religion. Most stories along these lines present the charismatic cult-leader as one making up stories to tell his followers to build his personal power, often at the expense of his followers. So it is here, but the difference is that we know the Pah-wraiths are real, and so we know that at least some of what Dukat claims is true. However, there are a lot of moving parts here and it strains credulity slightly that Dukat, who must have suspected that the child was his, would wait until the birth was about to occur before summoning Kira to watch what happened next. Anyway, Dukat starts doling out the Cardassian Kool-aid, but he does at least arrange for Kira to go home first. And her method to unmask his villainy is satisfyingly clever.

VOY S05E07 Infinite Regress (4.5 out of 5 stars). Bad dreams. Borg bad dreams. In a new, bright blue, spandex bodysuit, Seven stalks the corridors like a feral predator, scattering fruit and veg from the mess hall in her wake. It’s a wordless teaser and very effective. Next morning, they come across remnants of a Borg cube, which they elect to navigate around. The youngest member of the crew, in the appealing person of Scarlett Pomers, introduced in the dreadful Once Upon A Time, looks like she’s going to be a part of the regular cast. Pairing her with Seven is more promising than with Neelix (Seven makes most things in this show better) but my general opposition to moppets remains.

Suddenly, Seven becomes childish and playful. This is just Jeri Ryan acting “normal” but like Spock laughing in This Side of Paradise, it’s weirdly shocking and transgressive in context. The mask which comes back down when she returns to her usual self is a remarkable piece of acting – almost as good as when Christopher Reeve shifts from Clark Kent to Superman just by altering how he holds himself. Nifty effects here too, when Jeri Ryan sees her Klingon reflection in one of Voyager’s shiny consoles.

The cause of all this is a bit of Borg tech which has latched on to Seven, and – for somewhat spurious reasons – she needs to beam it onboard and deactivate it rather than moving away from it, disconnecting from it, or just blowing it up. It’s quite a nifty bit of design work which towers over the cast in rather a dramatic way. And it’s suffering from Borg flu – an anti-technology virus which is eating away at it.

This isn’t really about anything and we get the usual torrent of technobabble from ridiculous looking guest aliens. But making it Tuvok who has to pull Seven back is a great choice, and makes the solution about people and feelings rather than blinking devices and exotic fictional particles. I could have done without the simultaneous space battle which feels like a distraction, and makes Tuvok’s actions less central. However, this is really all about the Jeri Ryan Variety Hour – and she’s absolutely amazing: funny, shocking, surprising and even touching as Seven finds the confusion in her mind more than she can bear. Oddly, the Doctor announces that her mental pattern has been irretrievably lost as we go into an act break, but it just comes back when convenient, without further ceremony.

VOY S05E08 Nothing Human (2.5 out of 5 stars). In rather a cliché sequence, the Doctor is boring the com badges off everyone with his self aggrandising slide show. An energy wave in space aggressively beams a podcast at them. Rather than unsubscribing, Janeway follows the ion trail back to its source where they find an injured creature which latches on to Torres and fuses with her body. The sight of the five foot latex woodlouse clinging on to Roxann Dawson’s prone form is penny dreadful stuff. Rather than downloading the necessary information into his database, the Doctor and Kim waste endless time constructing a Cardassian consultant on the Holodeck, which is a pretty feeble excuse for adding a popular Alpha Quadrant species to the episode.

However, as they battle to save Torres’s life, it becomes apparent that their new holographic guest is a war criminal and the data they are relying on is the product of horrific Mengele-style experiments. So, this is a Deep Space Nine plot about ethical grey areas, no-win situations and general misery; but dressed up in bonkers Voyager clothes in which the lines between hologram, person, history book and empirical results are cheerfully blurred in a jumble of technobabble. And the bonkers hologram nonsense undercuts all of the impassioned emoting which would mean so much more if the real man was actually present. On the other hand, Paris and Torres’s relationship feels a bit realer here than it has for some time.

I also share the Doctor’s incredulity. If what Moset did is common knowledge to the point where a random Bajoran knows his bleak history in detail, then there would surely be at least some mention of these facts in official Federation databanks.

VOY S05E09 Thirty Days (2 out of 5 stars). The problem with this being such a concept-forward, characters-later show is that it makes everything else seem thin. Sticking Tom Paris in the brig is a fine idea, but Voyager isn’t concerned about the welfare of prisoners, so it’s thirty days in solitary, which is tantamount to torture. And while I’d hope that we’d see a little more of the rebellious cocksure character we met in the pilot, this set-up suggests further neutering more than anything else. He gets busted down to Ensign too, so there is some rank-mobility on this ship, but that doesn’t mean Harry Kim should get his hopes up. It turns out to be the kind of solitary confinement which comes with hot-and-cold running visitors, notably Neelix who brings him his rations and a Dictaphone, the Doctor who regularly checks up on him, Kim who gives him a cuddle when he has nightmares, and so on.

Opening with Paris’s incarceration is partly an excuse to tell the story backwards, another kind of conceptual flourish which has the same problem of adding cleverness in the hope that we won’t feel the absence of texture and emotional complexity. But a bad story doesn’t become a good one when you tell it out of order. And the story we flash back to is pretty dull, with easily-achieved escapes from death, tiresome planetary surveys, and mundane alien gewgaws.

We finally meet the much-heralded Delaney sisters, cos-playing as evil villains in Harry and Tom’s Captain Proton serial. Torres’s idea of a “dinner date” is to meet in her quarters at seven in the morning.

Trekaday #092: Chrysalis, Extreme Risk, Treachery Faith, and the Great River, In the Flesh, Once More Unto the Breach, Once Upon a Time

Posted on June 21st, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S07E05 Chrysalis (2 out of 5 stars). In something of a regressive move, once socially-awkward Dr Julian Bashir who found it hard to make friends, who developed into a much more confident, likeable self-aware character, begins this show acting awkwardly in social situations and finding it hard to make friends. The bad-tempered admiral who summons him to sickbay at 3:00am turns out to be one of the four McMurphys who told Starfleet to surrender to the Dominion last year. Now they want Bashir’s help to treat silent Sarina who is nearly catatonic. Sisko, for whom rules are very often little more than vague guidelines, gives him a slightly hypocritical tongue-lashing about how many rules his friends have broken.

Like a sports movie (see last episode) the contours of these pushing-the-frontiers-of-medical-science stories are pretty easy to track: the intractable problem, the pain of failure, the sudden breakthrough, the glow of optimism, the unforeseen side-effects, oops we’re back where we started, and gosh maybe we should never have tried to play god. And to be fair, this doesn’t stick rigidly to that outline, but nor does it develop it in a very exciting way.

The delight that the other three mutants take in being reunited with her is suitably heart-warming (although the barber shop segment does go on a bit – Miles, I sympathise). But we spend altogether too long with Sarina just enjoying her new life and nothing else very interesting happening – good or bad. And then the twist is that Bashir and Sarina fall for each other, which means splitting up the gang of odd-balls so they can live together unethically ever after. Even on this All Consequences All The Time show, I find it hard to believe that Bashir and Sarina will be standing side-by-side come the end of the Dominion War in twenty or so episodes’ time. So, I still think the dead hand of the reset button will visit itself upon this story very shortly (regardless of the good doctor’s assertion that he isn’t going to give up on her, ever).

And, lo, it swiftly comes to pass, leaving me unmoved, a little bored, and feeling that the potential of these four returning characters has been somewhat squandered. I’m just pleased that Sarina got to leave the station still able to communicate, once free of Bashir’s overwhelming charisma.

VOY S05E03 Extreme Risk (2 out of 5 stars). Thrill-seeking B’Elanna Torres is doing some kind of HALO jump on an alien planet – which turns out to be nothing more than a Holodeck adventure. One could pick holes in both Holodeck technology and voice communication on these shows for a long time, but it did strike me that the Voyager computer needs extremely fine situational awareness to tell the difference between “Hologram computer in this simulation, disengage the safety protocols of the imaginary shuttle,” and “Actual computer running this simulation, disengage the safety protocols on the actual Holodeck.” My Alexa can’t tell the different between my “bar lights” and my “mirror lights” half the time.

And you’d think being on this ship would be excitement enough given all the local skirmishes, time holes, scavenging invaders, spatial anomalies and whatnot which they regularly encounter. But looking at the early running of this episode, I can see her point. We’ve sent out a probe. Okay, sure. The badguys from a few stories ago want it. Fine. We’ve hidden it in a gas giant. Snore. Anyway, cometh the hour, cometh Voyager’s new super-duper shuttlecraft the Delta Flyer. This is an all-hands-on-deck project (where “all hands” means “everyone with their name in the main titles”) but the ship’s chief engineer acts super checked out all the time and yet nobody, not even her boyfriend, calls her on her bratty behaviour for seemingly forever. At one point, she becomes so distressed and irrational that she decides gossiping with Neelix is the only solution.

When her self-destructive behaviour comes to light, Janeway is not so much therapist and friend as unfeeling supervisor and intolerant parent, reading her diary without her permission (and getting others to do the same). Chakotay’s version of tough love is more successful (because clinical depression can generally be cured with a quick chat) and we get back to fending off our bizarrely aggressive neighbours who are hoping to win the Nifty New Shuttle Race. The actual solution to her case of Universumsschmerz turns out to be working longer hours – the American Dream writ large. Any episode giving Roxann Dawson more to do is fine by me, but this feels thin and patronising, and the race to recover the probe doesn’t excite me at all.

Talaxians also present food on silver platters, it seems. Or Neelix picks up idioms very quickly.

DS9 S07E06 Treachery, Faith, and the Great River (4 out of 5 stars). Turns out that there are some advantages to having a Changeling as a boyfriend. The scene of Odo rubbing Kira’s back makes me think things about their sex life that I can’t unthink. Yikes. He’s next summoned to meet a high-ranking Cardassian who turns out to be a defecting Weyoun. Naturally, I don’t trust this story for a second, and equally naturally neither does Weyoun. Love may have softened him (if you see what I mean) but it hasn’t stopped him from being cautious.

You’ll remember that the Vorta are a clone race, thus here the versatile Jeffrey Combs plays two Weyouns (six and seven – five died in a transporter accident). And now, Damar and Seven are faced with a terrible decision. Allow Six to defect and tell the Federation everything he knows, or destroy the runabout with him and Odo on it and murder what to the Vorta is a god.

Salome Jens returns as TFC and Seven has to start hastily covering his tracks. But TFC is also suffering from a debilitating and fatal sickness, which manifests itself as dry cracks across her face and hands. This malady is affecting the whole of the Great Link – every Changeling except Odo. Six’s vision is for Odo to assume the leadership of the Dominion when he becomes the last surviving Changeling. This is marvellous stuff: complex, specific, engaging and detailed, and played by two magnificent actors.

In a tedious Nog/O’Brien sub-plot, the Ferengi teaches the Chief the subtle art of queue-jumping and deal-making. I can’t tell you how much I didn’t want this stupid B-plot to be part of this otherwise excellent episode.

VOY S05E04 In the Flesh (5 out of 5 stars). In what we presume to be a flashback, we open with Chakotay snooping around Federation headquarters on Earth (everyone in the old uniforms). I wonder if he’ll bump into Nicholas Locarno? He does bump into Ray Walston’s Boothby the gardener. Trust Voyager to kick us off with more questions than answers. We don’t have to wait too long before some clarity emerges. This isn’t a flashback at all, it’s an alien training camp – a delicious concept.

They’re able to bundle one of the imposters onto Voyager, but he offs himself under interrogation. He’s acting so hard, the zipper on his uniform is visible. The Doctor unmasks him, and it turns out they’re the Gigertrons. Ever the canny operator, Janeway gently probes Chakotay to make sure he is who he says he is. She ends up having the entire crew screened. Latest stats give us a total ship’s complement of 128 (including the Doctor). That’s down quite a few from the 155 we had in The 37s.

Creeping around undercover is always good fun and Chakotay’s attempts to fit in/sow seeds of distrust/get his end away are suitably tense – and even if we do stray into “Commander, what is this thing the humans call love?” territory, well that adds a welcome touch of nostalgia. And it’s good thing that this is tightly plotted and well worked out because it centres Chakotay, who continues to bring nothing special to the party. This is balanced out by the ethical debates between Seven and Janeway, which although becoming familiar by now have yet to become routine or predictable. The “School Reunion” Cold War parable is brilliantly handled, and it just feels so Star Trek, so pure. The great exciting climax of the episode is a furious fire-fight avoided. Plus, the spokesperson for the Telephone Number Species is Ray Walston. That pushes this one over the top, even with Kim and Torres both largely MIA.

Chakotay’s holographic imaging device is even larger than a 1990s Polaroid camera. It’s impossible ever to accurately predict the future, but it does surprise me that designers imagined that a voice-controlled two-way radio could fit into an object about the size of an elaborate cuff-link but that a camera would be about as bulky as a loaf of bread. See also – they had the idea of iPads but couldn’t conceive that data could be sent from one device to another, so people hand over physical tablets instead of sending an email, and nobody has their own personal PADD.

There’s a long story behind Chakotay’s tattoo. See Season 1 for why he doesn’t tell it.

DS9 S07E07 Once More Unto the Breach (3 out of 5 stars). Oddly, the presence of a real war on their doorstep has not dimmed O’Brien and Bashir’s enthusiasm for re-enacting famous battles – although Worf seems to think that Davy Crockett is a legendary figure who may not have existed. And this is a Worf episode, alongside a returning John Colicos as fellow Klingon Kor, who frets that there’s no place in this violent universe for a tired old warrior. Hoping to die with honour, he wants a posting on the front line. Oddly, General Martok has no interested in sending a bewildered old captain out on one of his ships to pilot it to its destruction and so he tells Worf to get lost.

This is a combination of two things I tend not to like. Lots of Klingon honour rituals, and lots of telling stories about places we’ve never been and people we’ve never met. Regardless of the General’s wishes, Worf finds a ship for the old man, who is catching up with Dax, in whom he brings out some of the old Jadzia swagger. Quite why this has to be Martok’s ship isn’t at all clear – to me or to Martok’s fussy aide-de-camp.

In the heat of the battle, Kor rapidly gets confused, imagining that he is fighting the Federation, and Worf comes to regret putting him in that position. Even Martok feels sorry for him. Naturally, he comes good in the end, and he has the opportunity to blow himself up for a purpose, instead of because he’s forgotten which button is which. This whole episode felt like it was running on rails, despite the best efforts of the cast – guest, recurring and regular.

Kira tries out her therapy style on Dax. I like it. I think it would work for me.

VOY S05E05 Once Upon a Time (1.5 out of 5 stars). The teaser establishes Ensign Wildman battling with a recalcitrant Delta Flyer on an away mission with Paris and Tuvok – and her daughter, little Naomi, having “fun” in a maddeningly chirpy Holodeck program, all day-glo costumes and trite life lessons. I can’t help but think that these two strands are going to be braided together in some ghastly way. Initially this just takes the form of Neelix distracting Naomi while her mum is facing dangers unknown. Out of contact with Voyager, the Flyer crash-lands and Wildman is critically injured, but Naomi and Neelix are still pottering around the ship and burning up Holodeck power. Naomi’s fun and games with Neelix are of zero interest, the Holodeck story is of less than zero interest and the grown-up story only gets about 15 minutes of screen time, and feels over-familiar at best.

Trekaday #091: Image in the Sand, Shadows and Symbols, Afterimage, Night, Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Drone

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

DS9 S07E01 Image in the Sand (3.5 out of 5 stars). In some ways, it’s convenient that it was Terry Farrell who quit. Probably only Odo and Worf were genuinely irreplaceable. Losing Sisko would have been tough, but Kira could have stepped up to run the station. We could have got a new doctor, Rom could have taken over the bar, O’Brien and Kira we could have worked around. Obviously, Deep Space Nine works without Worf, but his connection back to 1987 is difficult to replace. And having a Changeling on the station was obviously needed for the final stages of the Dominion War to have personal as well as Galactic stakes.

But the nifty thing about Dax is that, just as Curzon gave way to Jadzia, so Jadzia can give way to Ezri, and we can have a whole new angle on this interesting bit of science fiction biology. It’s just a shame that it curtails the Worf/Jadzia relationship so decisively. Nicole de Boer doesn’t appear until the episode’s end (which seems tactful) so we’ll discuss her next time.

In the inter-season gap, various things have changed. Major Kira is now Colonel Kira, and she has a new all-business hairdo. She’s in charge of the station in Sisko’s continuing absence (and she calls Admiral Ross “Bill” now). The invasion of Cardassia has ground to a halt (according to Worf, who is drowning his sorrows in Vic Fontaine songs). Sisko is back on Earth, seeing visions of a woman’s face peeking out of some sand dunes, and she turns out to be a figure from his dad’s past.

It’s a slow-burn, this episode, rather reminiscent of TNG’s excellent Family, all people talking miserably in rooms, rather than the epic space battles we were treated to at the end of the last season. It’s almost a relief when a creepy guy in a red hood slices Sisko’s belly open. But the rich characters make a check-in episode like this worthwhile, even if it doesn’t start us off with a bang.

DS9 S07E02 Shadows and Symbols (4 out of 5 stars). There’s no “Part II” caption, but this continues nearly seamlessly from where Image in the Sand left off, and here’s where we meet Ezri for the first time, learn her backstory and start deciding whether we like her or not. Well, she’s no Terry Farrell, but the producers have clearly decided to head in a very different direction. If Jadzia was an old head on young shoulders, Ezri is a blur of personalities, still coming to terms with fundamental facts about her biology, with none of the support that was offered to her predecessors. She turns to Sisko for help, and you can see immediately how much it helps him to have someone to help. So, off they go together, to seek the Wizard. I’m less impressed when she starts barfing on the runabout. It would be a shame to replace one of the most capable, experienced members of the team with a little girl character who’s nervous about everything and space in particular.

Quark volunteers to join Worf’s mission to get Jadzia into Sto’Vo’Cor. I confess I don’t entirely understand how this works, or if – as mentioned by other characters – whether Klingon Valhalla is going to be Jadzia’s idea of a good time. How does Worf risking his life guarantee someone else’s place in the afterlife? Of more interest to me is Kira negotiating to get those Romulan weapons off Bajor’s moon, even if it means setting up a blockade.

Dax is right, Sisko is getting stranger. And in a quite brilliant flourish, his story is partly told through the eyes of his 1950s alter-ego Benny Russell. This is very fine stuff, expertly melding mysticism, character drama, science fiction adventure and meta fiction in a very complex way – and the crosscutting between this and Kira’s brinkmanship adds tension to both strands. Only the Klingon story thread is a let-down, and even that has a strong ending. However, it can’t be denied that the chief function of this episode is to undo much of the exciting developments from the end of last year, which gives me a queasy feeling. Are we going to start yo-yo-ing back and forth instead of forging on to new situations? Meanwhile: “Worf, we have to talk.” Er, yes.

DS9 S07E03 Afterimage (3 out of 5 stars). Weird times for Ensign Ezri Dax who walks around the station, and even examines the Bajoran wormhole doom box where Jadzia met her end, and has clear memories of all these places despite never having been there before. As Kira says, it’s a lot to get used to. She also claims she isn’t staying on the station. We’ll see about that. When Worf appears over her shoulder at Quark’s, the Ferengi comments drily “I bet the two of you have a lot to talk about,” which is pretty soggy scriptwriting, as that’s almost exactly what Ezri said right to his face last episode. The Klingon’s initial fury at seeing Ezri is a powerful evocation of grief but risks making the proud Klingon seem petulant and immature.

Garak is being kept far too busy by Starfleet Intelligence to make silly costumes for O’Brien and Bashir. He’s also more tetchy than usual and eventually he suffers from a claustrophobic attack and – lo! – Ezri Dax is a counsellor-in-training and Sisko thinks she might be just what Garak needs. I still struggle to connect Nicole de Boer’s lisping lost-little-girl performance to the assured swagger which Terry Farrell brought to Jadzia. She’s appealing enough as a performer, but definitely a downgrade in terms of capability and, I fear, story possibilities. Her attempt to counsel Garak out of his claustrophobia by sharing stories about her space-sickness at first only ends up with Garak feeling claustrophobic and her feeling space-sick.

Of all people, it’s Julian Bashir who forms the strongest bond with the newly-promoted Lt Ezri Dax, who – somewhat inevitably – ends up as station counsellor. And that’s the job of this episode, which it does smoothly but rather unsurprisingly.

VOY S05E01 Night (4.5 out of 5 stars). The Republic serial opening with Kim as Flash Gordon and Paris as King of the Rocketmen (aka Captain Proton) is a supremely confident way to kick off the episode, and the series (as is the Doctor’s colourful intrusion into their monochrome fantasy). It’s certainly more fun that that dreary pool hall, the tiresome luau, or the only fitfully interesting Florentine workshop. In the real world, Voyager is trudging through eerily empty space with no stars, planets or ships to be seen. Another concept which feels both very Star Trek and uniquely Voyager, which is all to the good.

Taking the tedium of the featureless stretch hardest is Janeway, who has retired to her quarters, seemingly forever, leaving Chakotay to run the ship with his usual bland efficiency. Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s script likewise keeps Kate Mulgrew off screen for much of the early running as crew morale continues to plummet. When we do catch up with Janeway, she’s mired in introspection and self-doubt, re-living the decision she took in The Caretaker which put two crews in this dire situation.

When a sudden power drain hits the ship, just before the third act break, it’s almost a disappointment. But it’s on theme, as the featureless blackness of space earlier seen through the windows gives way to familiar rooms and corridors shrouded in darkness. And hiding in the darkness is an intruder of some kind. So this does end up as yet more Zagbars vs Zoobles, but it forces Janeway to confront the benefits and drawbacks of her leadership style in a “Captain my Captain” scene which teeters on the brink of cheese, but just – and I do mean just – manages to avoid toppling over. Overall, this is a very imaginative and effective season opener, Voyager setting out its stall as the flagship series, on the big network, and unencumbered by years of necessary continuity.

DS9 S07E04 Take Me Out to the Holosuite (3.5 out of 5 stars) Sisko greets the visiting Vulcan coldly. After waving their medals at each other, the rivals decide to settle their differences via a Holographic baseball game. I don’t share Ron Moore’s enthusiasm for the most American of sports, but I do like Sisko cutting corners, treating rules as guidelines and acting from the gut (just as much as I like seeing Picard following the book, finding loopholes instead of ignoring inconvenient statutes and articulating detailed reasons for his actions). It possibly hasn’t occurred to the grinning station commander as he beams at his senior staff that there isn’t one American human among them, but the Irishman, Anglo-Indian, Bajoran, Klingon, Trill and Ferengi agree to give it a try and begin studying up. It’s complex stuff, full of confusing and unfamiliar terminology. Thank goodness they aren’t playing cricket.

It’s nice seeing Ezri included as part of the crew without issue. Sure, it’s quick, but there are only so many episodes left and we spent much of the last two (and almost all of the last one) dealing with the fact that she was here and Jadzia wasn’t. If she’s going to be an outsider for much longer, it’s going to get repetitive. But the antics of watching the mismatched crew struggle to achieve any kind of competence, together with rum-te-tum music from David Bell to tell us how amusing it all is, does test my patience over this kind of length. I know sports movies and I know how they go. This one is fine, and it’s nice to see our characters as a gang of friends, but it’s not really what I’m here for.

After one brief establishing shot, Sisko elects to have the computer delete the holographic (and expensive) spectators for most of the rest of the match.

VOY S05E02 Drone (4 out of 5 stars). The Doctor and Seven of Nine are working together on a stellar surveying mission. Seven doesn’t understand why the Doctor is included and neither do I. It all goes tits-up and an emergency beam-out is required, which damages (and Borg-ifys) the Doctor’s mobile emitter. This is the kind of junk science which I have come to actively look forward to from this show. Maybe it’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome, but the drawback with a Serious Science Fiction Series like Deep Space Nine is that every so often, I catch myself looking at the absurdity of all these actors furiously emoting away in these ridiculous rubber heads and then the gravitas they’re going for just seems stupid. The beauty of Voyager is that it’s ridiculous all the time, by design.

Torres is trying to diagnose the emitter (when the Doctor isn’t hassling her for updates) and it Borgifys a passing red-shirt. This is a very nifty use of the creatures, as its shiny tendrils spread out through the science lab, like fronds of an alien man eating plant (see Doctor Who’s “The Seeds of Doom”, or for that matter Little Shop of Horrors).

The tendrils become a nursery and the nursery becomes an incubator and the product is a beefy Borg drone, which Janeway wants to keep around. Alas it summons other Borg, which leads to a lot of snooty-bang-bang action, followed by the Reset Button of Inevitable Tragedy. We’ve been here before of course, not just with Hugh Borg but also Data’s daughter, the broken changeling which Odo tried to nurse back to health and so on. But even if it’s easy to see the scaffolding, there is power here, not least because the performances of J Paul Boehmer as “One” and especially Jeri Ryan are so spectacular. Strong start for Season 5. Just in case you were confused, Drone is the episode with One in it and One is the episode I gave five stars to. Speaking of things being confusing, Torres gives the order to Paris “All stop. Keep our distance.”

Trekaday #090: Profit and Lace, One, Time’s Orphan, Hope and Fear, The Sound of Her Voice, Tears of the Prophets

Posted on June 9th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S06E23 Profit and Lace (1 out of 5 stars). The title is a giveaway. This is going to be a comedy Quark episode, probably involving Brunt, Moogie and – if his schedule permits – Wallace Shawn. There are worse ways to spend an hour, but this is also an ocean which I think might have been overfished. We start with a libidinous Quark sleazing over his waitstaff, in another scene which feels like it’s dated very badly. And you ain’t seen nothing yet in that regard…

Luckily Vizzini’s diary could accommodate this filming, so we do get the Grand Nagus in this episode, as a surprising women’s libber allowing women on Ferenginar to wear clothes. This has led to a financial meltdown and now it’s up to Quark and chums to retake the planet. I can’t tell you how little invested I am in this storyline, and when Quark is forced to dress up as a female to take his mother’s place, it’s all I can do to keep watching. Even Henry Gibson can’t save this one. Poor Alexander Siddig had to direct in what I can only assume was the result of a very foolish wager on his behalf.

VOY S04E25 One (5 out of 5 stars). The Doctor tries to teach Seven how to make small talk – a perennial obsession among this crop of twenty-something mainly men who presumably are still trying to figure out how to talk to girls at parties. Having her bark questions at holograms of Kim and Torres and then not wait for the answer makes her seem far dumber than is necessary. Of more interest is the Giant Spooky Nebula which makes the bridge crew start keeling over and groaning in pain as soon as the ship ventures inside. Not just pain – horrible burns. “He’s dead,” announces Seven turning one poor sap over. “I could bring him back to life, as you know, but screw that guy.”

This is a knotty science fiction problem to be sure, but the Doctor’s solution creates far more problems than it solves: he wants to put everyone into stasis until they get through, with himself and Seven steering the ship. But, half a mo, if the ship can be steered by one hologram and one ex-Borg, then what do they need with all these other people? And if they had 150 stasis booths sitting idle, then why wasn’t this an option from day one? Sixty years of intergalactic travel will be far easier to stand if you’re in suspended animation. But again, why does a ship like Voyager have all of these stasis booths? And why have they never been used before now?

This calls to mind any number of other science fiction stories, including Ripley’s missing years in Aliens, or the misbegotten but not uninteresting Passengers. I’m fascinated to see whether the story will be: Janeway is brought round and uh-oh, look at what went down while you were snoozing; or the Doctor and Seven fly the ship on their own for a month and learn a thing or two. I’m hoping for the former, and I know this show like the big swings, but I’m kind of expecting the latter.

And lo, we get Seven’s daily routine, where she seems perfectly comfortable in her isolation, but discovers Paris keeled over in the turbolift – having suffered no ill effects. Wait, what? Isn’t the whole point of this procedure that nobody can be conscious without suffering from horrible burns? Rather than investigating this mystery, the Doctor suggests that Seven joins him on the Holodeck to continue her work on social skills – and when she declines, he makes it an order. But it doesn’t help her mental state in any way at all…

This is a mite frustrating. When it’s good, it’s very good – the middle third is brilliantly tense and exciting, the last third is a wonderful interrogation of Seven’s character, and we get the ship beaten up, which I always appreciate. But it’s hard to ignore the absurd contortions which the script goes through to get us to this point, which is why it’s hard for me to give it the full five stars. But the final moral dilemma is such a fantastic showcase of drama, plotting, acting, directing (writer Kenneth Biller at the helm) and character development, I’m going to overlook all of the bumpy plotting at the beginning, and am pleased to finally award five stars to Star Trek: Voyager.

Jeri Ryan is an amazing asset to this show. Much of this is thin and unconvincing on the page, but she’s such a talented performer, wrapping this part as tightly around her persona as her silly costume is wrapped around her frame, and Robert Picardo is always watchable, even if the Doctor isn’t as interesting as he was when he was still learning how to be a person. Again, his program can’t be, or isn’t being, backed up.

DS9 S06E24 Time’s Orphan (3 out of 5 stars). Hey, everyone. Keiko exists – and so does Molly who’s looking forward to going on a space picnic. The title of this one, plus the opening shots, kind of gives the premise away: some subset of Miles, Keiko, Molly and Kirayoshi will fall into a time hole and a moral dilemma will ensue. This kind of thing can work: see Children of Time for a wonderful example, but especially against the background of the Dominion War, it feels off-the-peg. And the script wastes no time in dropping Molly (natch) into a puddle of nineties computer graphics goo even before the opening titles.

Sending a strong signal that this is going to be the-gang-works-to-solve-a-science-problem story rather than O’Brien-must-suffer, the parents of the missing child are all business, with only the Chief’s frustrated cry of “bollocks” betraying any emotion at all. Even Keiko takes hours to show any worry or concern. When the, now teenage and feral, Molly is plucked back out of the temporal ooze, it is a strong moment, but despite what everyone says as they tend to her medical needs, I can’t help feeling that a reset button is in Girl Tarzan’s future.

It’s greatly to the credit of this show that we take our time rehabilitating her (when we aren’t cutting away to Worf playing Mr Mom with Yoshi) but the price we pay for that is that, again, Molly’s parents seem perfectly content with losing their child as long as they can imagine that she might be happy where she is. No wonder that the episode quickly finds a way to have its tragic sacrifice and eat its status quo too.

VOY S04E26 Hope and Fear (4.5 out of 5 stars). Intriguing but implausible – Seven’s assessment of her defeat at the hands of Janeway at some poorly-defined Holodeck sport. I continue to find these two characters, and Seven in particular, absolutely fascinating. Just imagine what this show might have been like with Seven on board from the beginning – maybe with the Borg as the reason for their being stranded in the Delta Quadrant instead of the boring Caretaker and his tedious array.

When the episode proper starts, Janeway is still burning the midnight gel packs to try and decode the communication from Starfleet which they received in Message in a Bottle. And in a third strand, unusual for a show which usually favours strong high concept episode premises, Neelix has made a linguistically-blessed friend and brought him on board the ship, and – aha! – maybe he can crack the code (when he isn’t slavering over Seven of Nine). Underneath all that latex is Ray Wise from off of Twin Peaks and RoboCop.

The message guides them to a Starfleet vessel, suggesting a way home. I love the design of the bridge on the USS Dauntless. It’s rare to see such care and attention to detail for a one-episode set (even though it’s the end of the season, this isn’t the first part of a two-parter). Nice model too (digital I expect). It comes equipped with a quantum slipstream drive – and a rather frisky autopilot which threatens to send home only the three-person away team.

This is all good stuff, but if you aren’t feeling like Charlie Brown kicking the football by now, then I don’t know which show you’ve been watching. Thankfully, Janeway’s suspicions are up too which helps me feel a bit less of a sucker. The prospect of returning the ship to Earth strikes different characters in different ways. But the one who we get the strongest reaction from is also the strongest character – Seven, who tells Janeway flat out that she doesn’t want to be like her and won’t be coming on the last leg of the journey. It’s a compelling scene, given time to breathe, and brought to life by two performers at the absolute peak of their powers.

And there’s a savagely ironic twist coming, because once they uncover their Brainbox friend’s deception, he attempts to kidnap Janeway and Seven and drop them off in the middle of Borg space – the very Borg space which Janeway safeguarded in Scorpion and the very Borg space to which Seven was contemplating returning to. The rest of the crew blandly attempt a rescue in ways which don’t force any of them to confront any awkward truths about themselves, but Seven and Janeway’s material is worth the price of admission alone.

DS9 S06E25 The Sound of Her Voice (3.5 out of 5 stars). With all the time spent recently on Pah-wraith possession, Ferengi cross-dressing, school plays, and toppling through time holes, you might have been forgiven for forgetting that the Alpha Quadrant is riven by war and that Deep Space Nine is a station of major strategic importance. The Defiant picks up a distress call from a stranded Starfleet officer, but they’re six days away. This is the DS9 MO of conversations-on-the-journey taken to its logical conclusion, as the whole episode is just Sisko and crew trying to reach poor doomed Lisa Cusack in time (when Quark and Odo aren’t indulging in would-be amusing “hijinks” of course).

Weirdly, I have clear memories of a chilling episode of Steven Moffat’s Press Gang, based on a similar premise. Spike is buried in a building collapse, and is able to talk to a girl similarly buried. She sounds close, so he’s optimistic then when he’s saved, she will be okay too. But horribly, it turns out that her voice was making its way to him through a long pipe and she is quite out of reach of the rescue team. “It’s a pity you’re late guys. You missed one hell of a nice girl,” he tells the paramedics, having heard her expire. (S02E02 “The Rest of My Life”, 22 March 1990.)

Lisa’s chipper demeanour again signals that she’s not long for this world, but her other purpose is to bounce off our regulars and give each of them a chance to explore their own attitudes to life, love, the war and duty. It’s not pulse-pounding excitement but it’s absorbing character stuff of the kind that only this show can do. When they arrive at the planet, the latest in a long line of exotic radiations makes beaming impossible, so a shuttlepod is called-for. The crash-site is impressively rendered but at first there’s no sign of cheerful Lisa. Until there is – a long-dead skeleton. They’re three-years late and the exotic radiation messed with time – a detail which oddly didn’t come to light during any of their lengthy chats. They bury her on the station, apparently without contacting any of their family. An odd episode, tonally very uncertain, but with strong material especially for Bashir, so often under-served on this show.

We’re heading to the end of the season, so Jake and Kasidy show up, although there’s no sign of the other key supporting cast members: Garak, Martok, Weyoun, Dukat, Winn, Nog or Rom.

DS9 S06E26 Tears of the Prophets (3.5 out of 5 stars). A Bajorn festival of thanks has taken place despite the war and Odo is getting a tongue-lashing from Kira because he arrested a Vedek, like a ninny. Sisko is getting a commendation (the “Christopher Pike Medal of Honor”). It all feels positively valedictory, but the war is far from over, and Sisko has been chosen to lead an offensive (finally), and mount an attack on the Dominion shipyards and munitions factories.

Definitely making this feel like a party is the list of names in the opening credits. Even Vic Fontaine is in this one. And Dax keeps talking happily about the future, but I’ve known what’s coming for some time (although I didn’t know the details). But at the top of the episode it’s Sisko that Dukat has in his sights and the Wormhole Aliens aka the Prophets. And those same Prophets sound like they are warning the Captain not to leave Deep Space Nine, on the eve of the planned attack.

That might have been good advice as Dukat manages to summon a pah-wraith from an old Bajoran geegaw and when Dax prays to the Prophets on the station, Dukat appears and cuts her down with a blast of orange pixels. It’s virtually a Tasha Yar end to a great character. It adds to the apocalyptic nature of the episode, but it doesn’t have any meaning or poetry to it. I’ll talk more about Terry Farrell’s exit in my season round-up. More notable for this episode is the fact that Dukat’s actions have sealed the wormhole.

Some nifty space battles ensue with the Klingon attack wing crippled by Jem’Hadar suicide runs, while the Cardassians race to get their fancy new defense grid up-and-running. It doesn’t survive for long either. The Federation/Klingon/Romulan victory is thus short-lived and sour. The Dominion is crippled, cut off from home and on the run. But Bajor is cut off from the Prophets (as is Sisko) and Jadzia Dax is dead.

There’s something vaguely synthetic about this episode. It feels bolted together, rather than emerging organically from the story threads that were already present. The attack on Cardassia, the easily-destroyed weapons platform, the sudden return of Dukat, the seeming end of the wormhole and the death of Dax all feel jarring and ill-fitting. Maybe that reflects the fact that deaths (especially in war) do come unexpectedly, but that fact alone doesn’t make this a television masterpiece. There’s lots of good stuff here, but it’s a shame that more care wasn’t taken over the fit and finish.

Peldor joi to you too.

Deep Space Nine Season 6 wrap-up

  • We end another season with a loss. Last year ended with losing the station. This year we lose the wormhole and Jadzia. She does at least get a goodbye with Worf, which is suitably heartbreaking. And Sisko leaves, taking his baseball.
  • Mid-run cast changes we’ve come to expect. Season 3 of TNG saw the return of Dr Crusher, and Wesley was phased out during Season 5. Deep Space Nine added Worf to its regular cast in Season 4, and Voyager also swapped Kes for Seven in its fourth year. But a cast change in the final season is unhelpful, removing a cast member with years of history and introducing a new one who will barely have time to establish themselves. And it does seem as if letting Terry Farrell leave was a goof. Not as big a goof as the similar situation which J Michael Straczynski found himself in with the final year of Babylon 5, as here there was actually time to write her out, whereas Claudia Christian just wasn’t there at the start of the final season, despite the enormity of what she’d gone through in the previous episode.
  • Why did she leave? Farrell was keen to accept the offer to star opposite Ted Danson on Becker and was convinced that a deal could be struck which would allow her to appear on both shows – probably by not appearing on every episode of Deep Space Nine’s final season. Deep Space Nine’s producers seemingly were incensed that anyone on their show would ever want to appear on anyone else’s show ever and insisted that Farrell was either in or she was out – her standard six-year contract having come to an end.
  • This was surprisingly bumpy. After a stellar run of episodes at the end of last year and the start of this one, during which I thought this was a show that could do no wrong, suddenly it turned into a very inconsistent viewing experience. Almost as soon as the gang was back on the station, it seemed as if a duff episode was every bit as likely as a classic for the ages. The Magnificent Ferengi aired next to Waltz. In the Pale Moonlight was followed by His Way. And the least said about Profit and Lace the better. Maybe Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who left at the end of Season 5, was the secret sauce that really made the show sing.
  • However, this was still the year that gave us Rocks and Shoals, Inquisition and the amazing Far Beyond the Stars, and any show which can give us that and In the Pale Moonlight in the same year must be doing something right.

Voyager Season 4 wrap-up

  • This is still not a show with the warm family feel of TNG, nor the commitment to gritty detail and long form storytelling of DS9. It’s frequently very silly, has at least three regular characters that are barely more than placeholders, and squanders promising story ideas with depressing regularity. And yet, there is something a bit more ineffably Star Trek-y about this show, which I don’t see in DS9, whether it’s in All Pain All The Time mode or operating in its Goofy To The Max style.
  • That TOS optimism and spirit of adventure has been preserved in this show, but it was so faltering in its early years that it wasn’t always possible to see it. Now, with a crew reshuffle and an all-time great addition to the cast, it’s gained a new confidence and even when it’s a swing and a miss, it’s still entertaining, which is more than I can say for those Ferengi-falling-over episodes which blight DS9.
  • Because, not only did we – finally! – get our first five star episodes in the atmospheric and claustrophobic One, this season also saw a year of Voyager shows get a higher average score than the simultaneous year of Deep Space Nine shows. That makes sense – Voyager is finding its feet as the older show is running out of gas – but it stilld surprised me. The numbers are very close, mind you. This year of Voyager shows averages 3.54 stars, compared to 3.31 for Deep Space Nine Season 6.
  • But this year belongs to Jeri Ryan and Seven of Nine. She’s an absolute super-star and the character she’s been given to play is endlessly fascinating. The franchise would be a far poorer place without her.
  • Meanwhile, Torres has had next to nothing all year, with even her romance with Paris providing very little. Tim Russ is always watchable as Tuvok but has not progressed at all as a character. Neelix has had a couple of good shows, and is otherwise generally kept in the background. Chakotay and Kim continue to be barely even personalities and even the Doctor has hit the ceiling of his development. For better or worse, this is the Janeway and Seven show now. Everyone else is along for the ride.

Trekaday #089: The Omega Directive, His Way, Unforgettable, The Reckoning, Living Witness, Valiant, Demon

Posted on June 3rd, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S04E21 The Omega Directive (3.5 out of 5 stars). Ensign Kim has been playing Vulcan Kerplunk all night only for Seven to take his moment of triumph away from him. Speaking of having things taken away, a mysterious force takes away bridge controls and weirdly Janeway seems to know exactly what’s going on, but she isn’t telling. I’m not a fan of this device, which allows our heroes to have information which is withheld from us. True it makes it easier to surprise and confound the viewer, but that comes at the cost of emotional engagement. I’ve no idea what’s in Janeway’s head, so how can I empathise? Not surprising for a show which has consistently prioritised high concept plotting over character depth, but still disappointing.

Anyway, Janeway has come face to face with some bad secret thing called The Omega Phenomenon, evidently something Starfleet knows about and cares enough about to have a whole directive named after it. Keeping a secret from the audience like this also raises the stakes on what the hell it is. Tell me straight away and I’ll be happy to see where you’re going. Tease me for twenty minutes and you’d better have one terrific narrative rabbit to pull out of your hat.

With a 70 year journey ahead of them, you might expect the captain to relax these sorts of rules in favour of getting valuable input from everyone on board, but at first, she, and terrorist leader Chakotay are doing this one strictly by-the-book. Eventually, sanity prevails and Chakotay prevails upon the Captain to brief the senior staff. (Seven already knows since the Borg assimilated various Starfleet captains.) What it amounts to is more unobtanium – a “perfect” molecule which destroyed huge numbers of Borg who attempted to harness and tame it. Now large amounts have been detected and Janeway’s standing orders are to destroy it before it wrecks subspace, rendering Warp travel impossible.

This is suitably apocalyptic stuff, but after the Chakotay/Janeway scene, none of feels like it affects our characters very deeply. Our heroes just stride around exchanging exposition until eventually the science threat is neutralised. Even the showdown, between Seven who wants to tame the stuff and Janeway who wants to exterminate it, feels drily academic.

DS9 S06E20 His Way (2 out of 5 stars). One of the more remarkable things about Deep Space Nine, as compared to its nineties stablemates, is that it manages to be simultaneously the most subtle, complex and dark of all the shows, and the goofiest. This instalment introduces us to holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine, who is approximately 25% Sinatra, 25% Tony Bennett and 50% cheese. And Odo, of all people, is mysteriously taken with him and decides to as him for lessons in seduction. James Darren has fun with the part but it’s a weird narrative cul-de-sac for the series to pursue, especially this late in the overall arc, and especially especially after the huge turning point we witnessed last week.

The Odo/Kira relationship, which was once so potent, and which was then summarily dismissed during an off-camera conversation, probably can’t be resuscitated at this point, and it feels a bit desperate and a bit “oh god, how many more episodes before the end of the season?’ for the writers to attempt to disinter it. Worf prefers Klingon opera, and I think I do too. Nana Visitor as “Lola Chrystal” crooning the old standard “Fever” is quite a treat but overall this has none of the loopy energy of bonkers Holosuite episodes like Our Man Bashir and little of the detailed character work of the best Odo/Kira stuff from Seasons 3 and 4. Changeling Odo from the 24th century includes references in his dialogue like “Nanook of the North” and “Romeo”. This is always going to be an issue in shows like this, but it stands out particularly when characters go wandering around in recreations of early 1960s Las Vegas.

VOY S04E22 Unforgettable (2 out of 5 stars). As usual, a Voyager episode comes down to a one-line pitch. In this case, it’s “Some chick shows up claiming to be Chakotay’s ex-girlfriend.” To which my reactions, in quick succession, are 1. Huh? And 2. Why’d it have to be Chakotay? The Doctor diagnoses her with a “tibular” fracture, which I’m guessing was either meant to be “fibular” or “tibia” (both bones in the lower leg). Anyway, our guest is none than Virginia Madsen, already famous for Candyman. She offers the vaguest of half-explanations in support of her urgent plea for asylum onboard Voyager, which Janeway mysteriously acquiesces to, telling Chakotay to babysit her. She claims that her race is instantly forgettable due to a pheromone which monkeys with memories – and that this also works on systems like Tricorders. Thus, there will be no records of her previous visit, in the minds of the crew or the ship’s computer. This makes absolutely no sense on any level, and I can only assume will be revealed as a deception of some kind. Alas, it seems to be the genuine premise for the episode.

I almost can’t be bothered to go through all the ways in which this is incoherent, but one might remember the TNG episode Clues in which a deliberate attempt to erase everyone’s memories left countless trails, inconsistencies and loose ends, and yet here we’re expect to believe that this happens seamlessly and automatically, based on the single word “pheromones”. Well, I don’t buy it, and I don’t buy the romance either – Madsen does what she can but Robert Beltran is just as stiffly limited as ever, and so this never even threatens to catch fire. He’s particularly unimpressive when negotiating with Madsen’s captor who wipes her memory creating what’s meant to be an ironic reversal.

Garak himself directs this one, with some nifty low-angled point-of-view shots as Ms Memory first introduces herself from her prone position in sickbay. No Torres this week (or next week), as Roxann Dawson is busy giving birth.

DS9 S06E21 The Reckoning (3.5 out of 5 stars). The Dominion have control of Betazed and now have eyes on Vulcan, but the Romulans have forced them back from Benzar. Despite the fact that, as Dax tartly points out – there is a war on, Kira, Jake and “The Emissary” are going digging through old Bajoran pottery instead of defending the Alpha Quadrant. Finding a slab seemingly addressed to him, Sisko takes it back to the station for analysis. This attracts the attention of Kai Winn, who wants to see his manager.

When translated, the inscription on the tablet seems to spell doom for deep space nine and it’s fun to see this news pinging off some of the other regulars, all of whom have different reactions to the very idea of religious prophecy. Meanwhile, to add verisimilitude to these prognostications, the wormhole seems to have a bad case of gas. Confoundingly unable to cope with the pressure, Sisko ends up smashing the thing and releasing colourful vapour-spirit-whatsits, of which no trace can subsequently be found. This is not uninteresting, and the verbal fencing between Bajor’s twin religious leaders is engrossing, but it feels a bit like a series of scenes hunting for a story.

When that story finally turns up, it turns out to be one of those damned pah-wraiths from the extremely silly episode The Assignment. Now instead of Keiko O’Brien, the evil force takes over Kira and Sisko’s first thought is to evacuate the station, rather than prevent the war of the gods taking place – seeing this as payback for the prophets’ help with the Dominion fleet. But it’s Kira in the blue corner and, darn it, Jake in the red corner, and they stand firing pixels at each other from their tummies.

Despite Terry Farrell, Avery Brooks and Louise Fletcher’s best efforts, it’s hard to take this seriously, and it never really feels as if the station is under threat. It’s one of those stories in which things happen because it feels like drama, rather than unfolding naturally or because people are sensibly pursuing their goals. And I simply don’t buy Kai Winn’s actions at the end, prioritising Jake’s life over the will of gods she professes such unwavering belief in. The cast is so good though, they manage to put all of this over with class, as uneven as it is. It’s also our first sight of Kira and Odo as a couple, and they’re very sweet.

VOY S04E23 Living Witness (3.5 out of 5 stars). Voyager loves a big swing, and here’s black-gloved black-shirted Captain Janeway, stroking her black goatee beard and salivating over the thought of serving up a beat-down to some nearby trouble-makers. She’s siding with the Zagbars against the Zoobles, but when she suggests toppling the Zooble leader by infecting the population, even the Zagbarian leader has cause to hesitate. Alas, this exotic riff on our familiar characters turns out to be a distorted view of ancient history from the defeated Zoobles (see also Worst Case Scenario for another version of the same idea). Little changes add to the fun, like Kate Mulgrew pronouncing Chakotay with a different cadence or Neelix being on the bridge. And Jeri Ryan, back in her old cossie and leading an army of drones is all kinds of awesome. Only the Captain’s ill-fitting wig lets the side down.

As fun as this is though, it’s hard to get too invested since we know none of it is real. Luckily, one of the Zagbars is at the museum, making trouble, and demanding to know where the Zoobles are getting their information. The aggressive Zagbar keeps saying things like “some of my best friends are Zoobles” like the worst kind of white supremacist who’ll takes his kids out of school during Black History Month. Trouble is, we know that the arrogant racist is factually correct here, so what exactly is the message of this episode? And why should I care whether or not Voyager’s story is accurately told hundreds of years hence? That said, Robert Picardo is better than ever, especially when he volunteers to be decompiled in order to bring the fighting to an end. What’s too clever by half is that the recreation is itself a recreation, showing how the two cultures found common ground. Please.

It’s also a bit ick that the evil Chakotay has more facial tattoos. It’s a version of disfigurement = evil, as seen in so many James Bond films. And yeah, I know the point is that the Zoobles are distorting history, but this was made for a 1998 audience and the effect it was intended to create was: look at this guy, you know he’s a wrong ‘un. Ugh. This time it seems as if the Doctor’s program can be backed up. It also seems as if he can go anywhere he likes without his mobile emitter. Huh. Tim Russ directs and has fun as the slyly sadistic version of Tuvok in the Zoobles’ simulation, and he finds a pretty amazing location for the museum. The Zoobles killed three of Voyager’s engineering crew, but presumably Seven of Nine found a spare moment to resurrect them, as she did Neelix.

DS9 S06E22 Valiant (3 out of 5 stars). Quark lusting after Dax rather puts me in mind of the early years of this show in which the dynamic between the Trill and Bashir resembled something out of On the Buses or Carry On Trekking. Meanwhile Jake is hoping to get an exclusive with the Grand Nagus and has lied to Nog to try and get it. Victims of a surprise Jem’Hadar attack, they’re rescued by the second Defiant-class ship in Starfleet – the USS Valiant, with a crew of Red Squad cadets. Nog is made chief engineer on this ship of children and Jake goes moon-eyed over a moon-dwelling officer – and he’s raked over the coals by the equally pint-sized senior staff for distracting her when she’s on duty.

What’s happening on this ship and with these officers is all fairly standard-issue – we have to turn off the safeties to fix the warp core, we’re all super-dedicated to the mission, the captain is working too hard and popping pills. It’s supposed to be given a bit of extra spin because the crew are all inexperienced cadets given field promotions. Trouble is, they’re being played by inexperienced actors, and so the whole thing feels a little more “school play” than is ideal. But as they gear up for their suicide mission, the tension builds quite nicely and it’s cool to see the Federation and the war from another perspective. Ultimately though, the loss of the Valiant is too inevitable to be shocking and the improbable survival of Jake and Nog prevents it from having much in the way of tragic power.

VOY S04E24 Demon (1 out of 5 stars). Voyager is low on deuterium. Things are so dire that everyone is in hunker-down survival mode, but not so dire that Tom Paris can’t stop witlessly ragging on Harry Kim. I can only assume this is the result of the Doctor’s Bridge Banter 101 course. The only nearby source is a nearby “demon class” planet, so hazardous to life that it would be suicide to even go into orbit around it. You know what, that’s a premise I can get behind. I always appreciate stories which portray the ship as a barely-holding-together lifeboat and this is a simply-stated, high-jeopardy concept which only this series could tackle.

Early experiments beaming deuterium from the planet to the ship nearly nobble the whole ship and do blow up the transporter room (it gets better). Since a probe would be incinerated in the upper atmosphere, Harry suggests that he go down in a specially-shielded shuttle and spacesuit. Adding those same shields to the unmanned probe doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone. Or, now we can back up the Doctor, why not send him?

When Harry and Tom fail to report back, things take a turn for the ridiculous as Janeway decides that she doesn’t have enough eggs in her hell-basket, so she lands the entire ship on the lava planet of certain horrifying death. Torres sends out repair teams and Chakotay and Seven head up the search party (so, in other words, the story is the same if they take a second shuttle down, like any sensible captain would have ordered). In the middle of what should be an appallingly tense Das Boot-style situation, with a crippled ship stuck on a lava world, we lurch clumsily into a “comedy” scene of Neelix musically persecuting the Doctor while camping out in sickbay. This feels like pages from two different scripts have been interleaved.

Eventually, the rescue party comes across Tom and Harry, sans survival suits. Essentially, the planet of certain death becomes less and less treacherous as the episode wears on, which doesn’t do much to build the stakes. Even comms starts working after a while. Adding to the problems, the byplay between Tuvok, Kim and Paris doesn’t convince at all and I don’t buy this Harry-grows-a-pair storyline for one second, but Garrett Wang takes his moment and good for him. The problem (or one of them) is that there’s evidently no-one in the Voyager writers room who can do gags, and it’s especially noticeable when the dialogue makes a whole big thing out of which one of these two is the funnier.

What we’re left with is a barely serviceable survival-against-the-odds tale, which takes an absurd detour into another storyline altogether in which the planet is a giant 3D printer, bent on duplicating the crew. After a promising start, this ends up as complete gibberish, alas.