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
Trekaday #094: Star Trek Insurrection