Archive for September, 2023

Trekaday #109: Terra Nova, The Andorian Incident, Breaking the Ice, Civilization, Fortunate Son, Cold Front, Silent Enemy

Posted on September 29th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

ENT S01E06 Terra Nova (3.5 out of 5 stars). Earth’s first extra-solar colony planet cut itself off from home within a few years – as Archer’s opening info-dump explains. Given that nothing in this scene reveals character, I wonder why we didn’t see it in flashback, other than budgetary considerations (or the seeming commitment that this series has to telling stories in as slow-moving and dull way as possible). It’s also a strange place for the Enterprise to visit, given that they would presumably have had to U-turn to reach it. Down on the surface, things improve considerably. The cave set looks impressive and the inhabitants hiding in the crevices are nicely creepy (although their Aboriginal-like presentation is a bit ick). And we get to see Archer and T’Pol working smoothly as a team for once. But taking off and blithely leaving Malcolm behind is totally and utterly wrong. That’s the behaviour you give to the cowardly and deceitful captain who is shown up by our awesomely capable and compassionate heroes. And it achieves nothing, because the next thing Archer does is to go right back down there and carry on where he left off. The pidgin English of the colonists is pretty rote, but there are some resonant moments in the details of their story, albeit still no character development for any of the regulars.

ENT S01E07 The Andorian Incident (4 out of 5 stars). Fussbudget T’Pol reluctantly agrees to the Enterprise visiting a Vulcan spiritual retreat to discover that the inhabitants are spending a month in silent contemplation. T’Pol instantly knows something is up, but Trip continues to prove his uselessness but ignoring her concerns in favour of making fatuous jokes. It transpires that the Andorians (who’d have guessed?) are holding the Vulcans hostage. Rather upsettingly, the blue-hued aliens refer to humans as “pink skins”. One wonders whether Anthony Montgomery was on-set that day. That aside, this is far better than the previous episodes, with enough plot for forty-five minutes, a chance for Malcolm to shine in the captain’s chair, a credible threat and a superb guest performance from the always reliable Jeffrey Combs. And there’s strong – if not wildly original – thematic material about pacifism, militarism and how to deal peacefully with aggressors. The final twist is important too, putting T’Pol on the side of the humans, condemning her own people for their deceitful conduct. It’s the first time we get any hint in this series as to why it’s the humans who end up as the lynchpin of the Federation, and not the more technologically advanced, more experienced Vulcans, and it’s a great showing for both Scott Bakula and Jolene Blalock.

ENT S01E08 Breaking the Ice (2.5 out of 5 stars). The title refers to a comet, ho ho, which Archer names after himself, and which oddly is both super-gigantic-enormous and hitherto undetected. More has been learned about comets since this episode was broadcast, so I guess we have to give the writers a pass when it comes to the scientific gibberish on display. T’Pol’s tug-of-loyalty continues as Archer wants to know why the Vulcans have suddenly shown up, and why they’re happy to sit and watch as Travis and Malcolm attempt to go comet-spelunking. This gives rise to the title’s other meaning, Archer trying to get to know the Vulcans a little better, ho ho. All of the posturing between the two groups makes little sense in the light of the previous episode. I can only assume this was meant to be shown first.

Trip is the one who discovers that T’Pol is being summoned home to take go through with her arranged marriage. They spend a long time conversing on the subject but it doesn’t amount to all that much, and it’s called off as soon as Travis twists his ankle. The Vulcans like to portray the humans as arrogant and inexperienced, and Archer’s initial refusal to ask Captain Vanik for help doesn’t do much to undercut this. It’s a pretty poor showing from all concerned. A cloying and protracted sequence in which Archer answers student questions from a high school in Ireland seems to have been inserted simply to pad out the running time, as it goes on for well over five minutes, which is pretty shocking, and is yet another opportunity for Trip to get worked up about all the wrong things.

ENT S01E09 Civilization (3 out of 5 stars). The crew are giggling like giddy schoolchildren at the prospect of a nearby “Minshara” (M-class) planet complete with 500 million life signs. And here’s where T’Pol starts explaining what will turn into the Prime Directive. This is a good example of the space Enterprise seemed purpose-built to occupy. For years we’ve been watching transporters, warp drives, phasers, tractor beams and so on. Here’s the chance to see where and how some of these things originated. As noted, The Andorian Incident is successful largely because it’s the beginning of a human-centred Federation. But, for example, the transporter simply works or it doesn’t depending on the needs of the plot. Here, Captain push-random-buttons-first-ask-questions-later Archer is determined to gather information on this primitive society by sending a disguised landing party rather than, as T’Pol suggests, watching them from orbit. And that’s the flip side of this Star Trek: The Early Years concept. We’ve seen this exercise before, but performed by a more competent, more able crew. There isn’t the same pleasure in seeing goofballs stumble through it, especially when the characters are still so thinly drawn. But the main plot revolves around Archer and Trip discovering and “Evil Leaper” in the form of Wade Williams as “Garos” whose nefarious activities I find far less interesting than the prospect of the Enterprise crew figuring out how to and whether to make first contact. And sure, Archer having to snog his way out of an awkward moment when the Universal Translator goes on the fritz is funny enough, but things like that and the transporter are storytelling devices first. Having to faff about with shuttlepods and dictionaries kills the pacing.

For the second time in three episodes, the plot turns on Archer’s discovery of a vast underground technological array which has no business being where it is. And we end with no better protocols for interacting with pre-warp societies.

ENT S01E10 Fortunate Son (3.5 out of 5 stars). Father/son sports bonding is one of those eternal things which decades of technological advancement and space exploration just can’t stamp out, as once again the ability of early 2000s writers to imagine a new kind of society just ends up recreating 1960s American sitcoms. This ersatz family are under attack from Nausicans and Enterprise has to U-turn to come to their rescue – only to be told that they aren’t needed after all. In a minor variation of the situation in The Andorian Incident, the human crew has a Nausican prisoner they don’t want the Enterprise to know about. As ever, there’s plenty of time for casual chatting, the story is in absolutely no hurry to get here. Travis was born on a similar freighter but this is factual backstory, not characterisation and knowing this information doesn’t help us or Anthony Montgomery to get more of a handle on him (although Montgomery makes a fair job of Travis’s big speech). The rest of the team are as hapless as ever, letting this haulage crew run rings around them, but there are exciting sequences in between all the tepid chatting, and some of them even involve the people we care about.

ENT S01E11 Cold Front (4 out of 5 stars). Those spotty-faced time travellers from Broken Bow are back. Unconnected to this, creepy crewman Daniels extracts some exposition from Archer, which is at least a distraction from the exchange of cliches occurring on the bridge. A squad of religious acolytes come from dinner, so we’re off to the usual relaxed, conversational start. Travis’s thirty seconds in the captain’s chair makes him seem like a goofy teenager instead of a junior officer. Trip assuming that his visitors don’t know what a warp drive is makes him seem like a patronising jerk. The crewman Daniels reveal is a real missed opportunity. We could have had almost a dozen episodes getting used to his presence before he explained who he really was. The wrinkle that the time cop’s quarry is the person who secretly saved the ship is interesting, but T’Pol’s scepticism is dull and serves only to slow the plot down (although Archer’s wonder at Daniels’s planetarium light show is bizarre to say the least). When Acne-head gives his own side of the story, it becomes genuinely hard to know who is on whose side, and while this has nothing to do with the story of the first wave of space adventurers from Earth, or the game of plugging holes in Star Trek’s early history, it is more tense and exciting than a great many recent episodes. But amid all the intrigue, the climactic fight in the cargo bay is very confusingly and unconvincingly shot, as if director Robert Duncan McNeill didn’t have all the coverage he needed.

ENT S01E12 Silent Enemy (1.5 out of 5 stars). Archer has determined that Enterprise needs a weapons upgrade and so he wants to take her back to the shop. A ship shows up and then goes away again. Hoshi talks to Malcolm’s sister. Even by the slightly aimless standard of these episodes this is unbelievably pointless and sluggish. Finally, halfway through, the ship is attacked and boarded, but then they go away again and we’re back to squabbling about maintenance procedures and lunch preferences. Eventually Malcolm fires his big gun, and everybody is happy. It’s a bizarrely vacuous 45 minutes which barely qualifies as a story. And it seems if, to the writers, British people are as bizarre as Klingons or Denobulans. Certainly, Malcolm’s parents behave like no human beings I’ve ever encountered.

Trekaday #108: Broken Bow, Fight or Flight, Strange New World, Unexpected

Posted on September 22nd, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

ENT S01E01-02 Broken Bow (3 out of 5 stars). Voyager had been a risk. All of those political factions, familiar aliens, established guest stars and popular locations would be jettisoned in favour of a single ship, exploring the unknown. There would be no missions from Starfleet and nowhere to go home and refuel if life got too tough. It worked – just about. The new show didn’t really do what UPN needed it to do, and the viewing figures were nowhere near those for TNG, but it did better than DS9 and it had its fans. Maybe the mistake had been to try and launch a new show while the old one was still on the air? If so, Paramount wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

But watching Enterprise now, it seems as if the creative team was at pains to take only the most piddling of risks (removing the words “Star Trek” from the name, having a song for the opening titles instead of a purely instrumental piece) but elsewhere the mantra was: play it safe. Berman and Braga wanted to take the whole first year to get Captain Archer into space. Paramount insisted that the crew had to be exploring Strange New Worlds as soon as possible. Past captains had tried to put distance between them and Kirk. Jonathan Archer is just Kirk in different pyjamas. TNG, DS9 and Voyager had made stars of then-unknowns Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks and Kate Mulgrew. Enterprise chose Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula. DS9 in particular pushed the envelope in terms of representation. The main crew of the NX-01 are white male humans. Of the two aliens, one is yet another Vulcan and the only two people of colour are also the two most junior people in the opening titles. This is a boy ship full of boy people going out into the galaxy to kick some alien butt. Hoo-yeah. And if it looks bad now, wait till we get to Season 3. Yikes.

Picking up where First Contact left off, we quickly establish via some father-son Airfix painting that Vulcans and humans are working together on interstellar travel, but the the Vulcans are hitting the brakes, not the gas. Following which, a crashed ship gives us bumpy-forehead Klingon, some shapeshifting dudes and an human wanting them to get out of his backyard. It’s a bit of a jumble. Poor old Scott Bakula doesn’t even make it into the teaser of his own show.

Let’s run down the main cast. As noted, Jonathan Archer is pretty much Diet Coke Kirk. He is charming, friendly, and he’s got a dog. The kind of captain you’d want to have a beer with. T’Pol (who spends much of her opening scene mute) is pretty much a 50/50 blend of Spock and Seven of Nine – or if you prefer, she’s yet another incarnation of Majel Barrett’s original Number One from The Cage. But Jolene Blalock immediately understands that a little dry humour goes a long way and it’s clear what the producers saw in her. Rounding the central triumvirate is Bland White Guy number two, Connor Trinneer as Trip Tucker who starts out, as so many characters do, as just a position. We’re light years away from Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The second tier starts with John Billingsley as Phlox, who is another blend of existing characters, in this case the Doctor and Neelix. His cry of “Optimism, Captain” put me weirdly in mind of the Thermians from Galaxy Quest.

And then there’s Bland White Guy number three, Dominic Keating as Malcolm Reed, who thankfully doesn’t sound American because he looks almost identical to Tucker. The two junior crewmembers are Linda Park as Hoshi Sato and Anthony Montgomery as Travis Mayweather. Mayweather is basically Harry Kim Redux, only if memory serves, he gets even less to do. Hoshi is the one genuinely original character in the entire regular cast. Instead of having automatic translation whenever it’s needed, a linguistics expert is needed to figure out what these aliens are saying. And the novelty comes from the fact the she’s a scaredy-cat who hates space flight. That makes a change from the usual ubermenschen but it’s pretty regressive when the only two women are an ice maiden and a frightened little girl. Park is a very appealing performer, which makes it even more of a shame that’s she’s saddled with this characterisation.

The NX-01, whose CG exterior looks very nice in the new widescreen frame, is dispatched to ferry a wounded Klingon back to Qo’nos, which sets up the chief conflict between buccaneering Archer and stay-in-your-lane T’Pol. It’s a major step forward for Earth’s burgeoning fleet of starships, and they get a send off from none other than James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane reciting a paraphrased version of William Shatner’s opening narration. It’s meant to tug at all sorts of nostalgic heartstrings, but it comes across as a bit flat, a bit rote, a hasty sketch of a magical moment rather than a truly earned sequence of genuine emotional power.

Complicating matters are the Suliban who invade and make off with the ailing Klingon. When our crew pursue him, they fetch up on a supposedly exotic planet but in fact it’s just another riff on the Star Wars dive bar, with yet more male chauvinism, as near naked alien chicks writhe for the entertainment of male patrons, and a foxy Suliban chick can only confirm Archer’s trustworthiness by making out with him. it’s a marvel she doesn’t say “tell me about his human activity you call kissing.” Later James Conway’s camera perves all over T’Pal’s curves as she and Trip slather decontamination gel over each other’s bodies, which is a pretty poor way of “keeping the dads watching”.

However, among all of these disappointing choices, there is interesting stuff her. Archer may be a bland Kirk-clone but Bakula’s personal charisma is capable of a lot of heavy lifting, and Jolene Blalock is the show’s early MVP, both because of the detailed performance and because the human/Vulcan conflict is something genuinely new and interesting. Although she does have very human looking eyebrows. Plus, this opening double-length episode doesn’t attempt too much, so the characters do get the chance to breathe. True, that exposes how thin some of them are, but it gives especially Hoshi a chance to establish something beyond which station on the bridge is home. And the setting is novel, with no Federation, no replicators, transporters which aren’t rated for live cargo, and much else besides. It remains to be seen whether these limitations will raise the stakes, or cut off avenues of storytelling.

The only thing which fogs the issue is the Temporal Cold War subplot. Having been told they were not allowed to spend the majority of the first season getting the ship into space, Brannon Braga fretted that the show needed another element, and grafted this on from a non-Star Trek project which was at a nascent stage. It fits poorly with the rest of the material and feels like a distraction. The top brass on Earth are given the names Forrest, Leonard and Williams – as in DeForrest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. There’s also a Vulcan named “Tos”.

ENT S01E03 Fight or Flight (2 out of 5 stars). Linguist Hoshi Sato is moonlighting as an exobiologist, fretting over the future of an alien slug. Contributing to the low-key feel, Archer is fretting also, this time about a mysterious noise from under the deck, like he’s your grandad who claims the plumbing is stopping him from sleeping. And Hoshi is also having trouble sleeping because she’s on the wrong side of the ship. We’re a long way from the luxury of the NCC 1701-D (or even Voyager) which is refreshing, but these trivial concerns also just aren’t all that interesting. And travelling at under Warp 4, space seems very cold and empty.

Finally, the tedium is interrupted when a small probe shows up and T’Pol tries super hard to get Archer to leave it alone. But the excitement doesn’t build, because there’s an awful lot of getting-ready admin and further Hoshi-fretting to contend with first. Eventually they get on board and discover fifteen alien bodies being drained of fluid which is quite a striking image to say the least. Fooling nobody, Archer warps away leaving the corpses and the mystery behind. And having burned a good ten minutes of screen time, we eventually start a post-mortem. TNG would have got us to this point in the teaser.

ENT S01E04 Strange New World (1 out of 5 stars). T’Pol wants to spend a week scanning a new planet from orbit, but Archer insists on sending a crewed shuttlepod. I think we’re supposed to see him as gung-ho hero, and her as an overly cautious fusspot. Actually I see him as a patronising jerk, and the episode comprehensively proves her right and him wrong. Either way, it’s another soggy teaser, focusing on a pair of anonymous red-shirts (although both survive the episode). Shortly, Starfleet’s finest prove themselves incapable of dealing with a camping trip interrupted by thunderstorm and a scorpion, as if this episode of Star Trek was in fact a pilot for a Stand By Me television spin-off. Eventually it all goes a bit Naked Time, but for that trick to work, we’d need Archer in the Cave of Hallucinations, and for the psychic shenanigans to be more than this generic paranoia.

ENT S01E05 Unexpected (2 out of 5 stars). Trying to pull off zero gravity water on an early 2000s TV budget is either very ambitious or very stupid depending on who you ask. But, again, we’ve replaced a wish-fulfilment dream of excellence with a bunch of screw-ups who can’t even manage something as simple as having a shower without literally falling on their arse. I also don’t like T’Pol refusing to try blueberry pancakes. Sure, it’s a relatable shorthand for her alien/fussbudget/spectrum persona, but Spock was more driven by curiosity and I can’t account for why T’Pol is so fearful in comparison. When they make contact with their hitchhiker, the translator takes a moment to kick in. It should be fun seeing a less advanced crew but the danger is we’ll just end up seeing them solve the same problems each week, so it takes longer to get to the story.

Giving Trip Riker’s job of participating in the officer exchange programme is a good idea on paper, and my hope is that I will find out something a bit more impressive about him, given that last week his very poor showing consistent mainly of panicking and wetting himself. Alas, this time, he keeps calling and asking Daddy if he can come home from camp, even though he’s only just got there. Once again, this problem is solved in just a few minutes, and so the story never gathers momentum. Instead of piling complication upon complication, we just encounter a trivial issue, rapidly solve it, and then plod on to the next plot point. It’s more like a dull computer game than a science-fiction adventure. And the novelty of seeing alien environments can be assumed to have worn off the audience who has been watching them every week since 1987, which again means when the characters go “Golly gee whizz” it makes me think less of them and not more of the setting. The feeling of slovenly pacing is increased when Trip and Malcolm spend most of the next scene reminding us what happened earlier in the episode.

More scientific illiteracy. These very human-looking aliens whose body chemistry must therefore be almost identical to ours, are not familiar with water, which is fundamental to organic life of almost any kind. Despite this colossal gulf in their physiologies, Trip ends up impregnated by the foxy alien chick who very nearly asks “What is this thing you humans call love?” Say what you like about Voyager, but they would have had Harry Kim up the duff by the first ad-break. Maybe before the opening titles.

Trekaday #107: Natural Law, Homestead, Renaissance Man, Endgame

Posted on September 18th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S07E22 Natural Law (1.5 out of 5 stars). Chakotay and Seven beam off a doomed shuttle and are trapped on a forest planet beneath an impenetrable barrier, where they find a primitive culture making blankets and smashing com-badges. In a virtual re-run of a scene in Q2, Tom Paris is pulled over by the space fuzz for piloting infractions. And mysteriously, Seven and Chakotay are trying to get back for a conference, further reinforcing that life in the Delta Quadrant has become just like home. This feels rather like three different episodes have been put in a blender and the result is that none of them really work. The noble savage strand is by far my least favourite, but they’re all pretty bad.

VOY S07E23 Homestead (3 out of 5 stars). Neelix is throwing a party when Voyager comes across life signs – Talaxian life signs. The Delta Flyer goes to investigate and crashes, whereupon Neelix discovers that around 500 of his people are living in a hollowed-out asteroid, being victimised by a bunch of ghost-faced miners. If it weren’t that one side looks like Neelix, this would be yet another Zagbars vs Zoobles conflict. As it is, the fact that this is Zagbars vs Talaxian only helps a little bit. This all looks very much as if they might be going to write Neelix out here – there are only three episodes to go, after all. Neelix and Tuvok bury the hatchet (which given the events of Tuvix – recounted excitedly by Naomi in this episode!! – really shouldn’t be necessary) in rather a sweet scene. Surely, on the great ship reset button, nothing ever really changes…? But no, we won’t get to see Neelix sign up to Starfleet. He’s staying behind and Voyager is going on without him.

VOY S07E24 Renaissance Man (3.5 out of 5 stars). Once more, the unknown environment of the Delta Quadrant provides plenty of opportunities for itinerant captains and holograms to attend symposiums and deliver papers. Janeway has done a deal with the oligarchs who control this region of space. In return for not dismantling the ship, they will be allowed to settle on a nearby planet. Quite why we have to learn about this second hand isn’t clear. It sounds like it would have been quite a dramatic and exciting scene. But lo! The Captain is behaving very oddly, because she’s not the Captain. She’s the Doctor and he’s obeying the orders of a pair of Sontarans who have Janeway held prisoner. (And presumably these all-powerful oligarchs who presented us with such an extraordinarily intractable problem are just made-up, which is a pretty rotten bait-and-switch.) As strong as they are, Mulgrew and Dawson aren’t quite in Jeri Ryan’s league when it comes to impersonating Robert Picardo impersonating them. On the other hand, the Doctor hiding himself in a sea of a hundred identical decoys is a marvellous visual. His over-the-top goodbye is nothing short of embarrassing, however. Vulcan crewmember Vorik appears for the final time and manages not to get himself executed, which I suppose is something.

VOY S07E25-26 Endgame (4.5 out of 5 stars). What does spending seven years lost in deep space do to you? How might your friends, family, loved ones and colleagues react when you return home? What does it feel like to be welcomed back like a hero, when you know your success was earned with the lives of at least some of your fellow crewmembers? As usual, Voyager isn’t interested in any of those things. Which is a shame, because I super am. But the tug-of-love between deep character drama and the perceived need to stop people switching away from UPN ends up where it so often does on Voyager – in a bonkers high concept time travel pretzel logic fever dream of a story which aims to throw so many ideas at the viewer so quickly, that you stop questioning whether any of this means anything and you just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s ten years after Voyager’s return to Earth, thirty-three years after they left. A lot’s happened in the sixteen years of travel that we missed. In the main, the old-age makeup is convincing and the actors do a good job of playing their more mature selves. Most are happy enough, but Tuvok has gone nuts, Seven is MIA, and Chakotay is dead and buried.

Back in our main timeline, it’s nearly B’Elanna Baby Day (but not quite), and Seven and Chakotay’s teamwork on the planet of the noble savages (as well as her turning him into a holographic sex doll) has matured into an actual relationship. After a great deal of not very necessary feeling busywork, into this cosy domesticity comes crashing sixty-something Admiral Janeway, and she’s cranky. Overhearing their sparring is the Borg Queen, looking rather more gaunt than when we last saw her, but now portrayed by Alice Krige who originated the role and who gives it a bit of extra sizzle compared to Susannah Thompson. After what seems like an awful lot of preparing, talking, talking about preparing, walking around with PADDs and general faff, it’s finally time to return to the Borg-infested nebula and try going home the short way round. Using future anti-Borg tech, Captain Janeway takes out two fully-operational cubes, slaughtering who knows how many drones. But she does draw the line at nipping through a trans-Warp conduit and it’s only here that the real Janeway on Janeway conflict begins. True to form, the Captain wants to destroy the conduit instead of using it to get home. They’re both well aware that this is a reprise of the debate in Caretaker, and the script hangs a series of lanterns on it. Embarrassingly, Garrett Wong has to say “It’s not about the destination, but about the journey,” as if he really, really means it.

Admiral Janeway seems to be motivated by the need to save Seven more than anything else. Shame she didn’t take her armoured TARDIS back in time just a few weeks earlier so she could save poor old Joe Carey, but you know, screw that guy. She briefly becomes as much the antagonist as the Borg, going behind Voyager’s back to ensure they get home whether they want to or not. And it all ends in a demented climax full of neurolithic pathogens, worm holes, destabilised conduit shielding, auto-dismemberment and much else besides. But this is a send-off party more than anything else, and everyone is invited: Barclay, Neelix (via Zoom call with Seven), the Borg Queen – but not Kes, of course, don’t be silly. And Mulgrew plays her dual role brilliantly, her older self coming back into alignment with the idealism of her younger self being one of the highlights of the show, reaffirming for absolutely the last time that, yes, she was right to destroy the array.

The Doctor, who spent much of the last episode impersonating Janeway, regrets that a therapeutic visit from Janeway won’t be possible to soothe an agitated Tuvok.

Voyager Season 7 wrap-up

It’s hard to know what to say about Voyager’s seven year run that I haven’t said dozens of times already. The cardboard characters let the side down again and again and again, with the result that this is the Janeway/Seven/Doctor show almost as much as TOS was the Kirk/Spock/McCoy show. Jeri Ryan and Robert Picardo are the only cast members who managed the dual trick of being supremely able actors who also inspired the writers. Unlike, say, Tim Russ and Roxann Dawson who almost never inspired the writers, no matter how good they were, and definitely unlike Robert Beltran who seemingly stopped trying somewhere in Season 2.

And yet, there is good stuff here, and good stuff in this final season. The Workforce two-parter was a good use of the whole ensemble, with a very beguiling mystery in the first part, Body and Soul was an absolutely hilarious showcase for Jeri Ryan and Shattered was one for the fans, revisiting past glories and failures to great effect. But just as you have to make the deal with TOS that you get one female character with depth per year, and an awful lot of cardboard rocks and crummy monster costumes, you have to make the deal with Voyager that you aren’t going to get deep character work, season-spanning arcs, or delicate emotional stories, and instead look forward to the next bonkers high concept premise which threatens to turn the whole show on its head.

In some ways, the episodes I liked least were the ones which threatened to revisit the premise of the show, because it kept reminding me that the idea of a two warring crews desperately trying to crawl home in a barely holding-together lifeboat would have been so much more interesting than this leisurely cruise through Zagbars vs Zoobles conflicts which we actually got. But, despite all of the problems I’ve articulated, I genuinely did enjoy hanging out with this crew for 170-odd episodes, and I’ll miss the sheer ambition that was often on display here.

Voyager’s final season averages 3.06. The show peaked in Season 4 with 3.54, which is about as good as TNG Seasons 3-5, but not quite as good as the same period in DS9. That said, I’d put especially Season 4 next to pretty much any other year of Berman-Trek and expect it at the very least not to disgrace itself. The overall overage for Voyager is about the same: 3.08.

Right, five down and one to go.

Trekaday #106: Workforce, Human Error, Q2, Author Author, Friendship One

Posted on September 14th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S07E16 Workforce (4 out of 5 stars). We’re on location, augmented with some pretty seamless CG additions, as Janeway and a bunch of aliens run around some kind of industrial centre. The structure reminds me of Gambit from TNG – the first part of a two parter which feels like the second part, starting as it does in an unfamiliar situation. Especially as Seven (introducing herself as Annika Hansen) doesn’t appear to recognise her captain. Also present – Tuvok, Torres and Paris. It’s almost a third of the way into the episode before we see a Starfleet uniform (Tuvok, who experiences a flashback when being innoculated against exotic radiation).

When business-as-usual Voyager asserts itself, it’s fairly superior fare with good stuff from the Emergency Command Hologram, butting heads with Forever An Ensign Kim, and a rescue mission with Chakotay and Neelix teaming up. But the best material is down on the planet, with a more thoroughly worked out than usual alien society, a strong role for Tuvok and an unusually effective love story for Janeway. And it all builds to – oh! A cliffhanger. This one wasn’t broadcast as a two-hour event episode, but nor did it announce itself as Part I in the opening titles.

VOY S07E17 Workforce, Part II (3.5 out of 5 stars). The mystery box structure of the first part is very beguiling and the pay-off for that is that a great deal of the second part is just plot admin. Once again, centring Chakotay means that there’s a hollow centre where character development should be. Robert Beltran doesn’t completely sleepwalk through this one, but the character is a lost cause by now. By far the strongest strand is the Janeway love story and that’s very surprising given the franchise’s track record with sex and romance. Neelix rehabilitating Torres is also rather sweet. In fact, this is one of the few stories which treats the regular cast as a true ensemble, which is worth an extra star. Once again, though, the remaining anonymous members of Voyager’s crew are never seen or spoken of.

VOY S07E18 Human Error (2.5 out of 5 stars). With no explanation, Seven presents herself with no implants at all, and – finally! – requests a proper uniform and some quarters. This turns out to be a Holodeck program, but when given the chance to practice the same skills in person, she declines. And then changes her mind. And then she turns up in uniform, being shown round her new quarters by Neelix (another simulation). This feels as if they shot alternate pages from two different drafts of the same script. It is a huge pleasure to see Jeri Ryan in uniform, whether it’s holographic or not. It turns out that Seven’s remaining implants will break her brain if she experiences too much character development, so don’t worry, nothing much changes because of this experience. This week, Holodeck programs are capable of providing costumes for participants, whereas previously we’ve seen people get changed before entering.

VOY S07E19 Q2 (3.5 out of 5 stars). John de Lancie’s final visit to Berman-Trek (he never showed up on Enterprise) and once again, some other poor actor has to live up to his brio and charisma. Q Jr has a small advantage when it comes to playing Q’s off-spring as the actor is de Lancie’s own son Keegan de Lancie, although this turned out to be the last of his acting roles and he’s still a poor substitute for his old dad. Suzie Plakson’s character from The Q and the Gray is referred to but never seen, alas. In something of a re-run of the TNG episode Deja Q, the newest Q is stripped of his powers and stuck on board Voyager to be housebroken by Janeway. So none of this particularly new, but it’s lively enough and the journey from obnoxious brat to earnest hard worker whose Daddy loves him is well worked out, if a little saccharine, with Icheb and Jr making a fun pairing. Minus half-a-star because the writing staff can’t conceive of an all powerful cosmic being who is anything other than resolutely hetero. The Q judges at the end wear versions of de Lancie’s judge outfit from Farpoint which is a nice touch.

VOY S07E20 Author, Author (1 out of 5 stars). With only half-a-dozen episodes to go, we’re back in the Alpha Quadrant as Voyager attempts Operation Watson, which turns out to be a real-time Zoom call. The Doctor uses this feat of engineering to talk to his publisher, which seems like a low-stakes way of handling a seismic alteration in the lifestyles of the crew. Tom Paris is the first one to subject himself to the Doctor’s choose your own adventure, which presents unflattering depictions of the crew. We’ve gone from a desperate struggle for survival to the pampered crew fretting about their reputations. And we’ve seen better and funnier ersatz-versions-of-the-crew stories in the past. Meanwhile this is just a panto version of The Measure of a Man and who wants that? The letters from home are largely cliches as well. Maybe that’s why there’s no uproar when the limited time available is given over to this re-hashed trial procedure. The final shot is unbelievably stupid too.

VOY S07E21 Friendship One (4 out of 5 stars). Regular calls home are now just an ordinary part of life, further making the desperate circumstances of the lost crew more and more comfortable. It doesn’t last. On their second official mission from Starfleet (the first being to track down the missing Maquis ship), USS Voyager meets Voyager 6 in all but name, a probe sent from Earth hundreds of years ago, which has fetched up on a nearby planet, once inhabited but now seemingly desolate and blanketed in deadly radiation. In fact, it was the probe itself whose technology was the catalyst for a deadly war, which together with some of Michael Westmore’s most disgusting latex makes for a bracingly grim edition. As usual our people are never anything more than their job descriptions. We learn more about the planet-dwellers’ relationships and personalities than we do about anyone in a Starfleet uniform. Speaking of which, in a blatant display of redshirting, briefly featured Lt Joe Carey joins the away team and is the only casualty.

Trekaday #105: Nightingale, Flesh and Blood, Shattered, Lineage, Repentance, Prophecy, The Void

Posted on September 8th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S07E08 Nightingale (2 out of 5 stars). A very impressive effects shot of Voyager beached on a rocky planet opens this episode which for once treats the titular ship as a lifeboat and not as a pleasure cruiser. Meanwhile, Kim inserts himself into the middle of a local skirmish and struggles to help a stricken ship where the only survivors are clueless passengers. He proceeds to demonstrate comprehensively why he has never been promoted, until Seven – Seven! – gives him a lesson in people management. Ron Glass, now better known as Book in Firefly, is the main guest star on the friendly side – who notably have much less prosthetic makeup than the badguys. Oh, god, and the remaining Borg teen wants the Doctor explain why nice girls don’t like him. Give me strength.

VOY S07E09-10 Flesh and Blood (3 out of 5 stars). This is the last of the Voyager mid-season “event” double-length episodes, and it focuses on the Hirogen who have so far gone through three of the four standard stages of Star Trek antagonistic alien races. They were introduced spouting typical pulp sci-Fi cliches, they began to develop a bit more specificity and interest, they were neutered when we started to understand them and empathise with them, but they haven’t yet turned into a fully distinguishable array of characters, rather they’re still being pressed out of the same rather rigid template. Also, they were once defined by their enormous height, towering over their co-stars in a very impressive way, but it seems those were exceptions to the usual rule, as this lot seem positively stumpy (and very easily killable).

On board an apparently lifeless Hirogen vessel, Chakotay’s away team discovers what seems like an arboreal environment, strewn with Hirogen bodies and Alpha Quadrant weapons. In what’s pretty much a re-run of In the Flesh from Season 5, we’re on a Starfleet inspired training facility. The not uninteresting twist is that their holographic prey seized the means of projection and turned on their fleshy overlords. It’s just a shame that – in a bumper-sized episode – we have to hear about this second-hand instead of watching it unravel. Like Geordi and Moriarty, the Hirogen made the mistake of asking the Holodeck to create a worthy adversary. And while we’re ticking off things we’ve seen in past episodes, the Hologram squad kidnap the Doctor before hightailing it out of the system.

There’s some hand-waving in the direction or moral complexity here, with holograms presented as a subjugated slave race, but nothing we haven’t seen before and treated with more nuance. Of more interest is the fact that Janeway’s hard nosed attitude towards the photonics aggressors pits her against the Doctor who switches sides in the face of her intransigence. Quite what compassionate, science-minded Janeway is doing automatically siding with fleshy Hirogens against insubstantial holograms is anyone’s guess. It’s a far cry from Picard’s passionate defence of Data’s personhood in Measure of a Man.

Because it’s a bumper two-part episode, Voyager, which is usually presented as completely outclassing everything else in the quadrant, is left crippled at the halfway point, and the downtrodden prey-turned hunters add Torres to their collection of prisoners. But this doesn’t turn into a particularly life-threatening race-against-time requiring desperate measures to resolve an impossible situation. Rather it just feels as if our people are arbitrarily involved in a local skirmish. For organics read Zagbars and for holograms read Zoobles.

Meanwhile the fact that this all started with the Hirogen becomes less and less relevant as time goes on. Even the fact that the antagonists are holograms seems to get forgotten about ultimately. The chief badguy assumes that all holograms are self-aware when in fact these are exceptional cases – and remember when the Doctor’s mobile emitter was a precious and poorly-understood piece of technology and without it, he couldn’t leave sickbay? Now these beings made of light and forcefields seem to be able to go anywhere they like, whenever they like, with only a cursor nod in the direction of holo-emitters.

VOY S07E11 Shattered (4 out of 5 stars). A visual effect zaps the ship and Chakotay suddenly looks like he’s done twenty years of sunbathing always facing the same way (he gets better). The Doctor has never even heard of a mobile emitter, suggesting we’ve gone back in time, and when he reaches the bridge, Chakotay is arrested by a Janeway who’s never met him before. Even more delightfully, engineering is in a time zone when Seska is in command of the ship (for which I’m awarding an extra half a star). Putting Chakotay at the centre of this story makes sense – it would be pointless to see different versions of his character since he doesn’t have one – but it does mean that once again this is a spangly bauble with a hollow centre. There’s good stuff for Janeway, but the structure of the story means that any character development she gets will have to be reset before the credits roll. Also, the details don’t make sense. Chakotay is the only one who can pass from one time zone to another, but in that case why do non-inoculated people disappear when they pass through the boundaries? Surely they should be unaffected. And it’s awfully convenient that every one of the 37 different segments seems to contain different crewmembers. Plus, Chakotay seems to have entirely forgotten about the Temporal Prime Directive as his method for solving the problem seems to be to tell everybody absolutely everything he knows, unprompted. The scene with grown-up Icheb and Naomi is rather sweet, but the extra mention of the contraband cider is butter on bacon. As if the one memory which Icheb carried with him for 17 years would be the exact thing which happened minutes before the temporal accident. C’mon now.

VOY S07E12 Lineage (2 out of 5 stars). Torres’s uncharacteristic sunny optimism is undone when it’s discovered that she is pregnant. “Let’s keep this to ourselves,” she suggests, heedless of the fact that Icheb, Seven, Tom and the Doctor already know, which means the whole ship does. The Doctor is able to use DNA analysis to create a 3D model of their baby. It doesn’t sounds like this is a standard technique, but if it isn’t then the Emergency Medical Hologram has created in mere seconds a brand new procedure which countless parents-to-be would benefit from, which hardly seems credible. In a clumsy metaphor for racial self-hatred, Torres is shocked that her offspring will have forehead ridges and begins a self-administered personal eugenics programme. On the one hand, it’s refreshing that the personal story isn’t diluted by any spatial anomalies, marauding aliens or time travel shenanigans. But on the other, any of those might have been more fun, as this doesn’t really work either as social commentary or character drama.

VOY S07E13 Repentance (1 out of 5 stars). The injured occupants of the stricken ship which Voyager encounters turn out to be convicted murderers under guard, and the all the action teaser turns out to be scene-setter for handwringing ethics class based on the fact that the prisoners are due to be executed when they get back home. Torres, who last week was so scarred by her childhood experiences of racism that she mind-raped the Doctor in order to advance her own personal eugenics programme, is sceptical when told by Neelix that the persecuted underclass of the society they’re visiting might be getting a raw deal. The Doctor and Seven determine that they keep getting arrested because congenital brain defects make them violent psychopaths, which is a pretty shocking detail to include in this kind of allegory. Only Jeri Ryan makes this at all watchable.

VOY S07E14 Prophecy (2 out of 5 stars). The title makes me think this is going to be some species of Red Queen’s Race time travel story but this turns out to be – of all things – a Klingon mythology story. Once again, Voyager’s straight line path from the Caretaker’s array to Federation space turns out to include all sorts of craft with special connections to this particular crew. In this case, it’s a generational Klingon ship which hasn’t heard that the Federation and the Klingon Empire are allies now (mostly). Once you get past this absurdity, the scene is set for a potentially interesting culture clash, reminiscent of Riker’s officer-swap, but instead we have to deal with a lot of nonsense about how Torres’s baby is actually a hither-to-unmentioned Klingon-space-Jesus-foretold. The motivation of the chief Klingon is impossible to determine. He goes from “I believe in these scrolls so much I’m willing to blow up my entire ship, on which I was born, and my parents before me,” to not ten minutes later saying “Who knows who wrote these scrolls or what they mean. Could be nothing. Let’s make up whatever we feel like.”

VOY S07E15 The Void (2 out of 5 stars). Trapped in a mysterious void, Voyager is raided by piratical ships which beam food and fuel off without permission. They’re essentially stuck in space quicksand, competing for resources with 150 other equally desperate crews. This is very much a “competent team solves made-up problem” story, but the details of the problem are well worked out and it’s nice that “making friends” is as much a part of the solution as “decompensating the phase inverter” or whatever. Jonathan del Arco (Hugh Borg) does well as the mute Fantone and director Mike Vejar has fun turning the lights down.

Trekaday #104: Imperfection, Drive, Repression, Critical Care, Inside Man, Body and Soul

Posted on September 1st, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S07E02 Imperfection (4 out of 5 stars). We’re saying goodbye to some of the Borgettes, but weirdly not all of them. This nevertheless causes Seven to start weeping, even as she’s preparing to start letting out their alcoves on AirBnB. The remaining mini-Borg wants to embark on a career in Starfleet, but Seven’s glitches are getting worse and now she is rejected by her own alcove and so is unable to regenerate. Only a new cortical node will cure her and Janeway elects to go scavenging in a Borg debris field, putting up only a token resistance when Tuvok, Paris and Chakotay insist on coming with her. The treasure hunt for Seven’s replacement watch-spring isn’t really the point of course. It’s Seven’s angry wounded pride at being publicly laid low, and her refusal to let Icheb (or anyone) risk his life to save hers. Once again Jeri Ryan does exceptional work, but Icheb’s strand is a little contrived and more than a little soapy, and Janeway presumably tosses a coin before she decides whether to order people to submit to medical treatment against their wishes or not. Nifty effects work as the node is plucked out of and slotted into Seven’s forehead right on camera. Brannon Braga steps down as showrunner to work on Enterprise and his place his taken by Kenneth Biller.

VOY S07E03 Drive (2.5 out of 5 stars). In an act of magnificently reckless stupidity, even by his standards, Tom Paris elects to “test” the rebuilt Delta Flyer by entering into an asteroid steeple chase with a passing rando. Hot rodding turns to the rescue of a distressed damsel in the form of Cyia Batten’s perky Irina, and then Paris arguing passionately that the very best use of Voyager’s resources right now would be for him to participate in friendly race with more randos. This kind of “let’s make the best of being stuck out here decades from home,” I frequently find hard to take, and when we combine “oh what larks, we get to play the go-fast game,” with the seventies sitcom plot of “don’t tell my wife I’m off to the races” it all feels relentlessly trivial, and appears to hinge on Paris annoying Torres back into his arms. McNeill is fine, and Dawson does much to ground this gossamer silliness, but I’m not really invested in the outcome of the race or the relationship, which made this one a bit of a slog. Evidently this was intended to follow Imperfection, which makes no issue of the Delta Flyer having been recently rebuilt and in which Paris is already seen wearing his wedding ring.

VOY S07E04 Repression (3.5 out of 5 stars). I’m glad Torres is there to point out the absurdity of Paris creating a perfect 3D replica of 1950s movie house which showed stereoscopic movies requiring red/green cardboard glasses. But what’s even sillier is that this is the 1990s writers being nostalgic for their parents’ generation. Tom Paris is being nostalgic for a time well over 400 years in the past, rather as if you or I were spending all of our free time in a recreation of the court of King Henry VIII. Once the bodies start dropping, this becomes more creepy and more interesting, with experienced director Winrich Kolbe finding some interesting angles and moody lighting. As if anyone cared, it’s the ex-Maquis crewmembers who are being targeted. Tim Russ is spectacularly good (and even Garrett Wang gets a good scene), but none of these characters have had any real development for years, and the split crew plotline feels grafted on from another show entirely. Wasn’t it just last week that everyone onboard ship was all “Voyager! Starfleet! Ra-ra-ra!” That having been said, the final act drips with atmosphere and Manchurian Candidate style-intrigue, and I’d probably rather have a bad idea well executed than a great idea thrown away.

VOY S07E05 Critical Care (2.5 out of 5 stars). This week’s Space Arthur Daley is trying to flog Voyager’s EMH to Benny Stulwicz from LA Law. He’s stuck in the middle of some kind of ghastly bureaucratic field hospital and his medical ethics compel him to muck in when wounded start arriving. Since the Doctor’s program can’t be backed up or copied (for… reasons) the Doctor left on board the ship is a useless knock-off – so pathetic that one wonders why the miscreant bothered at all. The notion of a society where the rich have better care is scarcely new, and while it’s always nice to see Star Trek getting political, this is preachy and obvious stuff. But centring the Doctor rarely hurts. As well as Larry Drake, this features familiar faces in the form of 24’s Gregory Itzin, Jim O’Heir from Parks and Recreation and the familiar tones of William Daniels from Knight Rider.

VOY S07E06 Inside Man (4 out of 5 stars). It’s our annual visit from the Alpha Quadrant and this time it’s a hologram of Barclay transmitted to Voyager. He promises to have the ship home in a matter of days and while it would be amazing to think that the series is going to spend the last eighteen or so episodes dealing with Voyager’s crew re-integrating into Federation society, who are we kidding? This is yet another we’ve-found-a-way-whoops-half-a-mo-no-we-haven’t-soz story. Still, that’s no reason to write it off and it’s always a pleasure to see Dwight Schultz, amusingly playing an idealised version of Barclay, exactly what he would have designed for himself. The contrast is made clear when we cut back to Richard McGonagle (and Marina Sirtis) and see the real Reg wondering whether his swaggering avatar made it or not. This makes it fairly clear that the advice given by, let’s call him Alpha-Reg, isn’t entirely on the level but it’s still fun waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Ferengi turn out to be behind it all, but they’re TNG Season 2 Ferengi, not DS9 Season 6 Ferengi. The fake-out at the end is too confusing to be truly successful, and it’s frustrating that Voyager’s crew is left in the dark about “Barclay”’s motives.

VOY S07E07 Body and Soul (4.5 out of 5 stars). One of my absolute favourite things in movies and TV shows is seeing the regular cast impersonate each other. I just get such a kick out of it, I’m not sure why. We previously had an episode seemingly written just so that Jeri Ryan could show off her versatility (wonderful, loved it). Here, the Doctor has to animate Seven’s body in order to evade anti-photonics forces. This is preposterous stuff, which is even more scientifically illiterate than usual, and with more than a whiff of Red Dwarf (specifically the episode ‘Bodyswap’) but the upshot is completely delightful, and I’m utterly won over. Seven and Captain Ranek raiding the replicator is absolutely hilarious. There’s even a little anti-slavery parable stirred in (as well as a dash of homophobia, sad to say). Also, Tuvok is going through pon-farr and sweats and jitters his way through his shift on the bridge for some reason.