Archive for October, 2023

Trekaday #115: The Catwalk, Dawn, Stigma, Cease Fire, Future Tense

Posted on October 30th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

ENT S02E12 The Catwalk (3.5 out of 5 stars). An actual problem for the crew to solve (instead of a morbid fantasy or silly sex dream). A deadly wavefront is approaching and as they can’t outrun it, the crew needs to shelter in the ship’s nacelles. I note that “can’t outrun it” means that this “wavefront” is approaching at something like 350 times the speed of light. Hell of a wavefront. As usual, the only people tasked with solving the problem are the seven whose names are in the opening titles (Travis is on latrine duty). Mike Vejar creates some nicely claustrophobic images as the ship is shut down, but the people in trouble are just their jobs, as usual – when Starfleet’s finest aren’t bitching and whining about the food like little kids.

ENT S02E13 Dawn (3 out of 5 stars). On paper, Archer makes a decent fist of building an alliance with today’s lumpy-faced aggressor who’s trying to get these damned kids off his lawn. But I can’t help thinking than a little of Picard or Janeway’s charm would have gone a long way. Bakula, so effortlessly easygoing in Quantum Leap, seems to imagine that being a captain means always being angry and plays even this scene as if he’s giving his opposite number a telling-off. Trip makes a better job of making a new friend on his first day at big school, despite the fact that it seems as if other spacefaring species can’t make or don’t want universal translators. If you liked Darmok (or The Enemy – or Arena!), you’ll hate this.

ENT S02E14 Stigma (3.5 out of 5 stars). Mind-melds it seems are not merely out of fashion on Vulcan, as we learned in Fusion, but actually spread disease, and T’Pol is a sufferer – again as a result of events in Fusion. Far from applying logic to the situation and realising that increasing the sum of knowledge about a disease, how so ever transmitted, can only be of benefit, they act like blinkered and prejudiced humans in what I assume is meant to be an AIDS metaphor. As usual, it’s John Billingsley and Jolene Blalock’s sensitive playing that makes this work at all – I’m furiously uninterested in the subplot with Phlox’s second wife flirting with Trip. Once more, Trip’s choice of movies is resolutely 20th century. Bakula is still stuck in angry headmaster mode. Travis and Malcolm are both virtually MIA.

ENT S02E15 Cease Fire (3 out of 5 stars). More ret-conning of the Star Trek’s most celebrated alien species. This show is so keen to create friction between humans and their more experienced galactic tour guides that the curious and enlightened Vulcans – who brokered risky peace deals with both Romulans and Klingons in past iterations of the show – are now presented as obsessively secretive, warlike, suspicious, bigoted, prideful and petty. The one thing they are never portrayed as is logical (T’Pol aside). One could be forgiven for thinking that Berman and Braga had never actually watched Star Trek. Once again, the Andorians come off as far more reasonable and pleasant. The once subtle and complex P’Jem storyline is now all colouring inside the lines, and repetitive combat sequences, sad to say. And once again Jolene Blalock is the MVP of the episode, while Travis, Malcolm and Hoshi get almost nothing to do and Trip only gets to complain. This episode even manages to waste Suzie Plakson!

ENT S02E16 Future Tense (3.5 out of 5 stars). In a galaxy awash with humanoid-looking aliens, it takes T’Pol a few seconds’ visual inspection to conclude that the Norman Bates’s mother-looking dude on the derelict craft that the Enterprise happens upon is definitively human. Is she a walking tricorder now? (She’s also wrong, as Phlox later determines.) In any case, the Acne lads want the ship back so this is a Temporal Cold War story. Those often feel higher-stakes and have an energy that other episodes lack, but it can also feel like our characters are making a guest appearance on someone else’s show. This time, the focus is mainly kept on the Enterprise, which suddenly finds itself the prettiest girl at the party, thanks to the contents of launch bay two. This is much more exciting stuff than we’re used to, with some great race-against-time/thrilling-escape-from-death material, but nothing that our crew tries has any effect, so once again, they’re reduced to helpless patsies and a promising story turns out not to have an ending.

The commitment to including only seven crew members in any operation becomes actively ludicrous here. Needing to solve an engineering problem, Chief Engineer Tucker selects the ship’s Chief Tactical Officer to assist him, resulting in no tactical officer on the bridge in a combat situation during which it’s up to communications officer Hoshi trying to lock alien meddlers out of the computer system. Later when Malcolm wants help monkeying with a torpedo, it’s the motherfucking Captain who lends a hand. Where’s the rest of the crew??

Trekaday #114: Star Trek Nemesis

Posted on October 25th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

Star Trek: Nemesis (1.5 out of 5 stars). Insurrection was a disappointment at the box office. There are various numbers floating around the internet but the budget would have been somewhere in the region of $60m. A $117m worldwide gross meant that it might just have scraped into the black, but would probably show as profitable overall once it came out on DVD. A long way from the big money First Contact had made. Unwilling to continue with the same team, Paramount went looking for fresh blood. In as writer was John Logan, then best known for Any Given Sunday and especially the multi-Oscar-winning Gladiator. In as director came Stuart Baird, whose CV in the main chair was pretty thin, but who had worked as editor and second unit director on same acknowledged classics including the original 1978 Superman. He had also never seen a single episode of the show. Well, you could say the same about Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer and Wrath of Khan had turned out pretty well. And besides, John Logan was a fan (maybe too much of a fan…?), Rick Berman was still there, overseeing things, Brent Spiner had contributed some story ideas, so we were probably in good hands. And I remember the advance word on this one being really thrilling. Berman had missed his chance to put out a new science fiction movie in the iconic year 2001, but surely the extra twelve months would guarantee success.

The movie we got is… poor.

All the usual problems are there – it’s the Picard and Data show with five other guys just sort of hanging around the place (including Worf, whose return to the Enterprise is never explained). Afraid of being stodgy and slow-moving like The Motion Picture, it’s full of irrelevant “action beats” which are meant to attract the Die Hard or James Bond audience, but it can’t be just a simple chase movie, so we have a plot which ties itself in knots with doppelgängers of both leading men for entirely different reasons, countdowns to certain doom, and so many things which we’ve seen done better in prior movies – Data’s sacrifice is a reprise of the death of Spock in Khan, finding his head recalls adventures with Mark Twain from the telly show, his having a brother is obviously familiar, Picard goes through old photos like he did in Generations, the Bassin Rift is another version of the Briar Patch (or the Badlands, or the nebula from Khan), and the whole climax is a rip off of the end of Star Trek II, with a much less interesting villain, except when it feels like the end of the previous film, with Picard alone on board the enemy ship trying to stop it from doing the thing. That’s the drawback of hiring people who don’t know Star Trek. They don’t know when they’re falling into well-worn grooves.

Once again, we start with the telly cast in their white togs, enjoying some downtime – in this case celebrating Will and Deanna’s wedding. Neither of them actually gets a line – in fact only Data and Picard speak at all in the first half of the scene. Whoopi Goldberg shows up, and contributes nothing of meaning – the point of the second half of the scene is apparently to hear Brent Spiner singing. Yay. Wil Wheaton filmed a cameo as Wesley Crusher, but it ended up cut. He’s not the only one getting short shrift. Troi and Crusher are in the pre-mission briefing and never speak. In fact, Beverley Crusher gets 11 lines in the whole movie – barely more than Admiral Janeway who appears on a viewscreen and sends the Captain Picard off to meet the main plot.

Remember Jean-Luc Picard – the cultured and curious diplomat who led his crew thoughtfully and compassionately through high-minded adventures for seven years? You can still see him if you squint at the bewildered family man in Generations, the traumatised soldier in First Contact, or the lonely romantic in Insurrection. Here, he’s been replaced entirely by a juvenile thrill-seeker who likes fast cars and gadgets, makes dick jokes to publicly humiliate his bridge officers, and whose idea of respecting the Prime Directive is strafing the locals from the back of his 4×4. Picard is such a lynch-pin of the show that you undermine him at your peril, and there’s almost nothing of him left here. Much of Brent Spiner’s time meanwhile is spent pulling faces and doing silly voices as “B4”. Hope you like that because (along with Picard’s dick jokes) that’s your lot as far as humour goes in this movie.

This all looks good, with decent CG spaceships, strong make-up (mainly, Dina Meyer’s sallow complexion seems to stop at her jawline) and a pounding Jerry Goldsmith score, but the new bridge has a cramped and awkward feel with the first officer’s chair miles away from the captain, and the helm and ops stations hemming in the officers in question. And the character of Shinzon pretty much dooms the whole sorry affair. Tom Hardy has never been worse, and the notion that he was cloned from Picard proves completely irrelevant (people keep telling Picard they’re not the same), and would have been even if Hardy had been able to do a better job (or if they’d got Patrick Stewart to play both roles).

His early scenes negotiating with Picard go nowhere. We know he’s the bad guy because we saw the opening scenes of the slaughter of the Romulan senate. And Picard seemingly does too, because he doesn’t do anything Shinzon wants him to. Good thing too. Then he’d be a dummy as well as reckless and coarse. Compare this to Star Trek VI, where a Starfleet captain sets aside his personal feelings in order to broker a risky peace with the Klingons. Here, a lying Romulan fails to convince a rigid Starfleet captain to attempt a lasting truce with the Romulans. Who comes out of that looking good? And does Shinzon think that dream-raping Troi (another familiar and deeply ick image from the TV show) will increase his stock with Picard? If not, why the hell’s he doing it?

How is the Enterprise able to detect a form of radiation thought impossible? Why does Shinzon invite Picard to tea, let him return to his ship and then transport him back to exactly where he was against his will? In fact, why does any of this happen, because after ten minutes, Picard escapes and gets back to the Enterprise. Why does Shinzon refer to B4 as “bait” when Picard’s trip to Romulus was ordered by Starfleet and has nothing to do with their recent discovery of bits of android? In fact, what does Shinzon want, full stop? How does blowing up the Enterprise with Picard on it help him get the blood he needs to survive? And what does any of that have to do with the coup he organised?

I liked this one even less than Star Trek V. William Shatner’s attempt is a mess, and very very dumb in places, but it feels like Star Trek. This one feels like a straight-to-DVD knock off, in which characters run down space corridors firing guns with both hands. When it tries to be exciting, it’s deeply silly, and when it tries to be dark, it’s just sour – a very far cry from the franchise’s trademark optimism about the future. Brent Spiner’s performance (when he stops playing B4 like a Looney Tunes character) is pretty much the only thing worth watching.

Fans stayed away in droves. It’s the only Star Trek movie not to make a profit, reviews from the mainstream media were unkind, and fans lambasted its lack of understanding of what had made the TV show work. It killed off the adventures of this crew on the big screen. Most of them were never seen in any further Star Trek stories until Star Trek Picard began in 2020 (and the big reunion in 2023). And Star Trek wasn’t seen in cinemas again until JJ Abrams reinvented Kirk and Spock in 2009. You can see why I didn’t want Volume I to end here. Even Stuart Baird never directed another movie.

Trekaday #113: The Seventh, The Communicator, Singularity, Vanishing Point, Precious Cargo

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

ENT S02E07 The Seventh (3.5 out of 5 stars). T’Pol is running a secret Vulcan mission and she’s taking Travis seeing as he hasn’t more than about six lines in the last four episodes (rather than say a trained security officer). Wisely, she adds Archer to the gang, freeing up Travis to do what he’s best equipped for – mutely following the other two around. Their pursuit of and verbal fencing with Bruce Davison’s Menos is exciting enough, and the backstory is intriguing – but back in orbit, the general lack of maturity and professionalism extends to acting-captain Trip abusing Archer’s privileges, while proving himself incapable of committing to even the most trivial of decisions. “How very Vulcan,” comments Archer when presented with T’Pol’s completely illogical orders based on irrelevant notions of honour, without which the plot doesn’t work.

ENT S02E08 The Communicator (3 out of 5 stars). Given that the mid-second season of a new show isn’t going to have five years of rich backstory to fall back on, and given that this show in particular is oriented mainly around fairly low-stakes adventure-of-the-week stuff, this is the kind of simple-seeming problem which should suit it perfectly, even if the plot is kicked off yet again by one of Starfleet’s finest being a total doofus. And it largely does work, as a straightforward get-captured-and-escape story. It’s just a shame that it’s a communicator that’s been left behind. Shouldn’t a communicator of all damn things be particularly easy to track down? It’s the thing they use to pinpoint people’s locations before beaming them up for pity’s sake. How can they possibly not be able to find it? Plus, they’ve used the transporter in less dire situations than this before, and this seems like it would have been a great time to give it another go. In fact, why not just beam the communicator back?

ENT S02E09 Singularity (2 out of 5 stars). After a run of very soggy teasers, this one opens with the crew unconscious except for T’Pol whose mission log is near-apocalyptic, fearing that neither crew nor ship will survive much longer. When we flash back, Archer’s fretting about his chair, Hoshi’s cooking up a storm, Travis has an ouchie. It’s all pretty trivial stuff. The gag is that these minor fixations gradually become full-blown obsessions. It’s a sitcom style plot, but the explanation is a giant space wibbly thing rather than the characters’ own natures. Or in other words, it’s The Naked Time again, only with poorer pacing. Are we supposed not to see the disaster coming? Even though this is a story being told in flashback…

ENT S02E10 Vanishing Point (1 out of 5 stars) This is another of those plugging-a-hole-in-Star-Trek’s-history stories, exploring how the transporter went from dangerous and experimental technology to routine part of Starfleet kit. But focusing on Hoshi means that we’re seeing the character we know is disappointingly unsuited to space exploration being unsettled by something we’ve already come to know as reliable (except when it isn’t). So, it sends her character into reverse, but we already know how the story ends. We’re also stuck with nobody-believes-the-person-to-whom-weird-things-are-happening, which TNG had ditched by Season 3, noting that it serves only to slow down the (achingly familiar) plot. And what’s the resolution? It was all a dream. Give me strength…

ENT S02E11 Precious Cargo (0.5 out of 5 stars). For some reason, something about the opening shots of Travis playing the harmonica as the ship glides through space puts me in mind of an advert, maybe for a credit card. Anyway, as usual, that’s all the drama you get in the teaser to hook you into the programme. Who could resist the lure? Speaking of which, the cargo which two bumpy-faced males are carrying turns out to be a smooth-skinned and very foxy chick in suspended animation. Shades of TNG’s The Perfect Mate (it’s the same species) and this is just as ick, if not more so. Just as dull as Vanishing Point, but that didn’t make me want to throw up in my own mouth, hence the score. I’m not alone. John Billingsley gives this episode the credit for turning off the faltering audience for good, which will end up sounding the death knell for this show and Star Trek on television for twelve years. Aliens on this show have baths, eat the same food as humans, and give their height and weight in SI units, but the universal translator gives up entirely when faced with the word “car”. Go figure.

Trekaday #112: Carbon Creek, Minefield, Dead Stop, A Night In Sickbay, Marauders

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

ENT S02E02 Carbon Creek (4 out of 5 stars). From Broken Bow to Carbon Creek (maybe Diamond Ditch was planned to be next). Relations between the Vulcan and human crew continue to improve – to the extent that T’Pol is willing to show them some of her family snapshots. Alas, inserting Vulcans into the 1950s isn’t half as much fun as Ferengi on an airforce base, and since this is just an old anecdote, it doesn’t do anything to advance the story of Archer and Enterprise. But as T‘Mir (who shares her great-granddaughter’s oddly rounded eyebrows) spends more time amongst humans – for months rather than days or hours – it becomes deeply engrossing. The dates don’t quite work (Velcro was patented two years before Sputnik) but the Vulcan’s name does pay tribute to the real inventor.

ENT S02E03 Minefield (4 out of 5 stars). Once again, an attempt is made to make Malcolm Reed’s lack of any defining characteristics (apart from “British” and “always looking like he’s just sucked on a lemon”) a feature. The trouble is, we have T’Pol, so this just looks like laziness. Luckily, it isn’t long before a dirty great hole is blasted in Enterprise’s saucer section – a shocking image, but one which doesn’t mean as much as maybe the producers hoped, simply because we’ve spent barely thirty episodes with the NX-01. And, lo, there are no fatalities which seems surprising given the scale of the damage. The plot of this one is barely any more than its title – the ship has to make its way through a minefield – but this kind of lean, high stakes storytelling is a good use of this inexperienced crew and the set pieces work well. It makes absolutely no difference whether Malcolm watches football or not, I still want him to defuse that bomb successfully, even if the climax is the usual unscientific gibberish. Also – Romulans!

ENT S02E04 Dead Stop (3.5 out of 5 stars). With a rare nod to serialisation, Enterprise still has a chunk taken out of its saucer and repairs are going slowly, and so Archer sends out a distress call. Malcolm also still has a chunk taken out of his leg and Phlox’s treatment regime tests even his stiff upper lip. A Tellarite floating garage in space welcomes them in, with passive-aggressive attention to detail, but without the personal touch. Archer, T’Pol and Trip agree a price for the repairs, play with the station’s replicator and generally hang out. Again, as so often with this show, it’s relaxed to the point of tedium. And when Trip and Reed go sneaking around and Archer has to tear them off a strip, it’s pretty feeble and unconvincing. Naturally, the benevolent automated pit stop has darker secrets. It even manages to kill Travis (not really). But Archer and T’Pol seem happy to liberate their one crewmember and incinerate all of the other victims, which is less than ideal. As usual on a starship with a crew of nearly a hundred, all of the things of interest happen to the same seven people. I can’t believe nobody on the production team ever noticed how silly that was. Also silly – Hoshi wanting to pay her last respects to Travis during his autopsy (as opposed to say at his funeral).

ENT S02E05 A Night In Sickbay (2 out of 5 stars). We’re back to the mutual-lathering-in-our-scanties scene which is not made any more interesting with the addition of Porthos the dog, whose plight does little to make this teaser any kind of attention-grabber. And from the expert statesmanship of Captain’s past, we’re now faced with Archer’s impatient and petty brattishness in the face of one failed negotiation. Once again, there’s a balance to be struck between wanting this exploration to feel raw and dangerous, and wanting our team to be able and admirable – and once again, in this episode, they come off like putzes. Phlox calling “Freudian slips” “Pillarian slips” is rather neat – and presumably a nod to Michael Pillar.

ENT S02E06 Marauders (3 out of 5 stars). With plasma injectors back up and running, Archer’s now in search of fuel, and is given the brush off by a bunch of very human looking miners wearing t-shirts and jeans. It just feels like no-one’s really trying any more. On which subject, deuterium is treated as a precious substance which has to be carefully mined and refined. In fact, it’s an isotope of hydrogen which can be electrolysed out of ordinary water. Why pick that name for your unobtainium if you don’t know what it is or how abundant it might be? Klingons show up and start demanding deuterium with menaces and these are very generic thugs with little of their TNG texture and dimension. After a suitable pause for agonised indecision, our team sends all seven of them packing, and for no very good reason, they agree not to come back.

Trekaday #111: Detained, Vox Sola, Fallen Hero, Desert Crossing, Two Days and Two Nights, Shockwave

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

ENT S01E21 Detained (3 out of 5 stars). Waking up in an alien prison is a fairly familiar opening, and I guess it makes sense for Travis to follow in the footsteps of O’Brien, Paris and no doubt others. Adding slightly more interest is the fact that their fellow prisoners are the time-travelling Acne Squad (and that Archer is with him). Once again, Travis is a perfect personality vacuum, and this might have been Montgomery’s last chance to stamp his authority on the role. In a pretty funny piece of stunt casting, it’s none other than Scott Bakula’s old buddy Dean Stockwell as the camp commandant. He doesn’t look like he’s in any way happy to be there, which is pretty disappointing. He underplays to the point of torpor. The episode does at least have some substance to it, but the message swamps the story after a while. Travis spells it out in case anyone was dozing at the back.

ENT S01E22 Vox Sola (4.5 out of 5 stars). More etiquette and translator shenanigans as a bunch of visiting aliens storm off, but while doing so, they allow some digital goo to pixel its way into the airlock – a 22nd century version of that TNG staple, the glowing cursor which roams the ship causing havoc. It quickly starts absorbing various humans into its revolting appendages. Adding to everyone’s problem, T’Pol is being a dick to Hoshi about her language skills – which turn out to be key to solving the problem. As ever, the answer in Star Trek is to understand and communicate, rather than triumph through superior firepower. As director, Roxann Dawson brings considerable Nostromo-esque atmospher to proceedings and Schuyler sister Renee Elise Goldsberry makes a huge impression as the Ensign who discovers her buddy has been enveloped by alien goo. I’d trade her for Malcolm or Travis in a heartbeat – maybe even Trip. The aliens who are shocked at public displays of eating is a brave stab at an unfamiliar culture, but other parts of the franchise has taught us that breaking bread as a form of social bonding is literally universal. Very likely, the Zagbars would know they were outliers. Travis is right – Wages of Fear is a masterpiece.

ENT S01E23 Fallen Hero (4 out of 5 stars). T’Pol wants to know whether the crew has been getting their end away (and she’s far more forthcoming about pon farr than either Spock or Tuvok, for whom this was an intensely personal aspect of their physiology, never to be discussed with anyone). She suggests a Club 18-30 holiday on Risa in order to prevent the crew from getting, as Archer unfortunately puts it, “sloppy”. Alas, Enterprise is required to ferry an erratic Vulcan ambassador off a nearby planet. Fionnula Flanagan is terrific as V’Lar, who confounds everyone’s expectations from T’Pol down, and this is a great episode for the science officer. “Vulcans don’t have heroes.” Yeah, right. Her secret ends up as a bit talky and dry, but it’s great to see a story rooted in character and emotion, even if it is a bit low stakes. That’s two strong episodes in a row. Maybe this new show is finding a groove.

ENT S01E24 Desert Crossing (3.5 out of 5 stars). Operation Get Some resumes, briefly, before once again the galaxy puts a terrorist between Enterprise and Risa. Seemingly friendly Zobral invites Archer and Tucker to join him for a sojourn in the desert. Zobral is played by Clancy Brown who generally only plays scumbags and villains. Surprise! Zobral turns out to be a scumbag and a villain – or at the very least a freedom fighter who wants Archer to do for his people what he did for the Suliban a few episodes ago. Pairing Archer and Tucker, two very similar characters who generally get on, and who agree on most things, doesn’t lead to much in the way of interest. This is a fundamental problem with the design of this show. The trek across the desert can’t ever be as strong as Odo and Quark’s flog up the mountain, and it’s not clear to me how nobody involved noticed this.

ENT S01E25 Two Days and Two Nights (2 out of 5 stars). Finally, Enterprise makes it to Risa, and Archer was in the half of the crew who won the lottery to be allowed shore leave – along with Hoshi, Trip, Travis and Malcolm. Amazing how being in the opening titles gets you all the breaks. One wonders what Phlox did wrong. And once again, it turns absolutely forever for anything resembling drama to show up. Almost the first half of the episode is like being slowly shown someone’s holiday snaps. When the drama does start, it’s all vacation misadventure cliches with no specificity of either incident or reaction (but with an unhelpful dose of homophobia). Travis’s story is too boring for us to witness it, so he has to come back to the ship and tell everyone about it instead. One whole star for John Billingsley’s hilariously hungover Dr Phlox.

ENT S01E26 Shockwave, Part I (2.5 out of 5 stars). Lest we forget, the first episode of Enterprise aired barely two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. It was a weird time to be launching an American television series which focused on optimism, openness and the importance of treating strangers as friends we haven’t made yet. Given the all-American, largely white, back-to-basics cast, the gravitational pull of US foreign policy on the writers room would have been mighty. And lo, the series finale opens with a disaster which costs the lives of over 3000 people and threatens to start a war. It’s a slightly nauseating start to the episode. Take the colossal loss of life seriously, and the fact that Enterprise is being mothballed seems trivial. Take it lightly and nothing really matters, does it? Sounds like a job for the rest button. And lo, Archer finds himself sent back in time to before his mission began for a do-over. Now armed with secret information from the past/future/whenever, Archer can ride the good ship Wish Fulfilment Fantasy to reveal the badguys and blow them all to bits. Hurrah. But it’s the end of the season, so things aren’t quite that straightforward. In fact, nothing about this muddled episode is straightforward, which is a shame as I think they’re going for good old-fashioned cops-and-robbers adventure stuff, but the mystery surrounding the Suliban, the Temporal Cold War and the accident, starts to become confusion, which is fatal for engagement, no matter how many Acne Lads are dropping from the ceiling. Trip boggles at the thought of a matriarchal society. Sigh.

ENT S02E01 Shockwave, Part II (3.5 out of 5 stars). To be fair to Shockwave, it’s a pretty nifty cliffhanger. Daniels brings Archer forward in time to discover that by so doing, he’s prevented himself from bringing them back. It’s a bit conceptual, but I do like a seemingly insoluable problem. The one useful thing they have at hand is a library full of paper books, which is a lovely symbol of knowledge and advancement and enlightenment. Daniels mourns the loss of a memorial to the Federation, a topic which can’t help but pique Archer’s curiosity. Watching the team come together on Enterprise to try and outwit the Suliban has some interest (although it’s hilarious that Trip only thinks to try and contact those members of the crew who are in the opening titles – why didn’t the production team just have a smaller ship with a crew of seven for crissake…) but I’m disappointed to see that “space legs” Hoshi has regressed to grumbling about having to do anything which doesn’t involve translation. And we could definitely do without her losing her top on the way through the crawlspace. John Fleck is a strong villain, and having him beat up Malcolm is good way of making us hate him. But the grafted-on Temporal Cold War makes less sense every time it comes up and I grow fearful that the Enterprise crew are going to be bystanders and not participants. It’s not at clear how Trip was able to fake a reactor breach in a way which would be convincing enough the fool the Suliban, and yet which could be fixed in a matter of only seconds.

Season 1 wrap-up

  • Deep Space Nine was a potentially poor idea (it’s like Star Trek, but they don’t go anywhere) which was often brilliantly executed. Voyager was a muddle of both good and bad ideas none of which anybody really wanted to commit to. Enterprise is a decent idea, hobbled by some weak casting choices, but spending time at the birth of the Federation is often fascinating.
  • This is a smaller regular cast than we’re used to. TNG eventually thinned down to seven, but we had a sizeable supporting cast by that time – Chief O’Brien, Nurse Ogawa, Reg Barclay, Admiral Necheyev, Ro Laren, Guinan. DS9 started with nine and had an enormous supporting cast. Voyager maintained nine regulars, just swapping Kes for Seven, and often gave the impression that this ship was run by those nine and another hundred-odd people who just walked around the corridors holding PADDs all day. Here we have only seven, and they do seem to do absolutely everything. It’s understandable, given how episodic television works, but it does seem slightly absurd at times.
  • That would be less of a problem if the characters were stronger. Scott Bakula’s led a TV show before, and at least looks comfortable, which is more than can be said for Dominic Keating who permanently looks as if he might be about to throw up, and Anthony Montgomery who has been given even less to do than Garrett Wang. Jolene Blalock as T’Pol is the undeniable MVP of the show, but if the plan was to recreate the TOS holy trinity, then one leg of the stool is missing, as Conner Trinneer’s Trip Tucker is far too similar to Archer, and the few ways in which he’s different only make me dislike him.
  • Two able performers in John Billingsley and Linda Park round out the cast. Billingsley is never less than watchable, and he manages that delicate trick of turning a page of backstory into an actual character. Hoshi Sato is defined mainly by her lack of suitability and enthusiasm for space exploration, which is a thoroughly retrograde step, and I don’t trust this show to nurture her character and give us the moment of triumph we’re being conditioned to look forward to.
  • There’s also an uncertainty as to what the story engine for this series is. Are we filling in the gaps in pre-Federation history, are we more interested in the Temporal Cold War, or is this just TOS with less good phasers and an unreliable transporter? That said, some individual stories have been very good, with personal favourites including the excellent The Andorian Incident, and its follow-up The Shadows of P’Jem and the very creepy Vox Sola.
  • Enterprise’s average score for Season 1 is 2.88 which is about the same as the early seasons of the other Berman shows, but nosing ahead of each of them, with the exception of Deep Space Nine Season 2. So, there is promise here, but we need to get the adventure back, and get the pace of the storytelling back up.

Trekaday #110: Dear Doctor, Sleeping Dogs, Shadows of P’Jem, Shuttlepod One, Fusion, Rogue Planet, Acquisition, Oasis

Posted on October 7th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

ENT S01E13 Dear Doctor (3.5 out of 5 stars). Michael Piller figured out the trick way back in Season 3 of TNG. Not a startling innovation – the curious thing is that previous show runners hadn’t thought of it themselves. Build up your regular characters by giving them episodes which focus on them – and yet a dozen episodes into the new show and pretty much all we’ve had is Archer, and a bit of Trip and T’Pol. So, it’s a bit of a relief to have a Phlox-phocused episode, especially as John Billingsley is one of the most able cast members. The window into the Doctor’s life onboard the ship is genuinely fascinating.

However, off the ship we find ourselves in the midst of a signature Star Trek social commentary allegory, since the plague planet consists of a master class and a slave race. And the problem can’t be solved without Archer staying behind and/or giving them warp drive generations early. Phlox’s concern is that curing the plague will upset the natural development of the planet and he is unwilling to meddle. Archer, understandably, can’t face leaving them to their grisly fate. Until suddenly he invents the prime directive and leaves them to their grisly fate. It’s a weird switcheroo, which isn’t really earned and means that a promising episode ends on a sour note.

As usual, nobody has email (invented 1971) or devices which can receive messages. Phlox’s voice mails have to be physically brought to him on a giant fluorescent SD card. Similarly, the ship shows only the kinds of movies which the writers would have grown up seeing on American TV.

ENT S01E14 Sleeping Dogs (4 out of 5 stars). Another aimless start to an episode – Hoshi’s target practice, Malcolm’s sniffles, Travis’s insomnia, none of these give the early part of the story any momentum. Hoshi also announces that she has found her space legs, which might stop her whining, but also removes the only thing which made her in any way unique. However, once the mission gets underway, the balance between expertise and jeopardy is struck rather better than of late. Malcolm and Hoshi are inexperienced but they aren’t dummies, and it’s slightly surprising to me that it’s taken half a year to find that balance ever with anyone other than Archer (and him not consistently). Taking away the transporter also raises the stakes considerably when the Klingons nick the shuttlepod, stranding the boarding party. And there are some nice character notes for T’Pol, indulging her human comrades for the sake of the mission and out of genuine friendship.

“Your own solar system has four gas giants,” observes T’Pol, despite the fact that Uranus and Neptune were identified as being entirely different in composition long before this episode aired, leaving only Jupiter and Saturn. Second outing for ersatz tractor beam The Grappler which looks far too Inspector Gadget for my liking.

ENT S01E15 Shadows of P’Jem (4.5 out of 5 stars). Archer and T’Pol’s actions in The Andorian Incident have consequences, which in itself is gratifying. And T’Pol’s recall to Vulcan plays differently than, for example, Kira being transferred off Deep Space Nine – partly because T’Pol’s under-reaction is so affecting. Given that on paper, she’s little more than Spock crossed with Seven, Jolene Blalock consistently manages to bring very impressive depth and subtlety to the part. That’s just as well, as the limp screwball comedy-esque scene in which they are manacled together and have a heart-to-heart while in constant close physical contact would test any actor’s abilities. The rest manages to build on the show (and the franchise’s) past without requiring a new viewer to do a lot of homework to understand what’s going on. The writers are so pleased to have come up with “insomnia” as the motivation for Shran’s change of heart that they have him explain it two or three times. I wasn’t so enamoured.

ENT S01E16 Shuttlepod One (3 out of 5 stars). In what passes for wit, Trip and Malcolm swap fairly rote Brits-vs-Americans banter in between exchanging exposition as their titular shuttlepod drifts past what appears to be the wreckage of Enterprise. After a lot of rather flat, gossipy teasers, it’s nice to have a bit of excitement for once. Yet after “Faith of the Heart”, Archer and Hoshi rapidly establish that it was little more than a fender-bender, which means that we’re watching our heroes expend a lot of energy to solve a problem which we know doesn’t exist. But it does generate some friction between two regulars which is a rarity for human characters.

We’ve seen this device before, and better, in episodes like The Tholian Web, where everyone on the ship thought that Kirk was dead and was coping with his absence. But Trip and Malcolm seeing a couple of bits of deck plating (and no bodies) and haring off into deep space in the hope of finding who knows what doesn’t have anything like the same power, especially not when no-one on the Enterprise is the least bit concerned. And I really could have done without Malcolm’s Vulcan-flavoured sex dreams. (I gather Dominic Keating envisaged the character as gay, so it comes as no surprise to see Rick Berman stamping out any hint of that here.). Archer meanwhile doesn’t seem to know anyone on his ship whose name isn’t in the opening titles. Hair and nails don’t keep growing after you die. Trip should fail his honours biology course.

ENT S01E17 Fusion (1 out of 5 stars). A gang of feckless Vulcans needs their ship repaired, and they come off as horny teenage boys, marvelling that a third (a whole third!) of Enterprise’s crew are female and that they don’t wait seven years for mating. Even given that these are essentially the Golgafrinchan B Ark collection, the state of their technology and the ability of the Enterprise crew to fix it for them doesn’t really reflect the centuries headstart which Vulcans have over humans. They also seem incapable of doing basic research into a society which their home planet has formed a long alliance with. Even T’Pol seems clueless about basic facts regarding her own biology and psychology. Her experiment with not meditating strikes me as almost as silly as Guy Crawford never looking under his eyepatch. Second T’Pol sex dream in two episodes, which is two too many. Weirdly, this episode establishes mind-melds as a Vulcan ability which has been largely forgotten – T’Pol has never heard of it – which is very hard to reconcile with its depiction elsewhere in the canon.

ENT S01E18 Rogue Planet (2.5 out of 5 stars). Rogue planets are those which aren’t orbiting a star. Quite how this one sustains life without the warm rays of a sun stopping it from freezing solid isn’t clear, but pretty soon, the landing party is ooh-ing and ah-ing over various bugs and creepy-crawlies. But another humanoid group has beaten them to it and pretty soon everyone is eating round the campfire, and seeing mysterious figures in the darkness. This turns out to be a manifestation of the hunters’ quarry, changing form after reading Archer’s thoughts. There’s some interest in both perspectives, but in the absence of a Prime Directive (whether self-imposed or not) Archer decides that the shapeshifters’ perspective is the most valuable and seeks to define them. Experienced director Alan Kroeker creates some nice effects with the hunters’ goggles, glowing red in the darkness, but it’s hard to know what all this is supposed to be about or why we should care.

ENT S01E19 Acquisition (1.5 out of 5 stars). One problem with setting the new series before any of the others, is you have to ignore all of the alien races which later crews encountered for the first time. That even includes the Romulans, and it definitely includes the Ferengi who were unknown to Picard’s crew. But, just as Voyager couldn’t resist guest appearances by Jonathan Frakes, Dwight Schultz, Romulans and for that matter Ferengi, here comes Enterprise helping itself to a fan favourite alien. We don’t even get subtitles for the opening scene which shows them buzzing our heroes without being detected. Trek favourites Ethan Phillips and Jeffrey Combs are among those donning the big rubber ears. Archer’s manipulation of the thieves is fairly rote but amusing enough at first. But the script never develops this in any interesting ways, and the repeated refrain of “the women” (used as bargaining chips) grates enormously.

ENT S01E20 Oasis (2 out of 5 stars). Star Trek’s flexible format means that, as long ago as Season 1 of TOS the production team discovered that it can be a courtroom drama, a tense siege, a morality play – a recent episode of Strange New Worlds was a full-fledged musical (even the thought of which had some particularly rigid fans clutching their pearls in despair). Enterprise was a goofy comedy last week, so having a go at a haunted house story this week seems fine, except that this script is nothing but cliches, which is disappointing. And while it’s nice that somebody on the team seems to have remembered that Travis exists, he’s still not given anything interesting to do or say. After about ten minutes of creeping around in the dark, suddenly the conceit is abandoned and we meet a far more typical gang of shifty colonists, including one Rene Auberjonois. Despite T’Pol’s acid-tongued warnings, Trip can’t help but try and chat up the pixie-cut young engineer who stops him from making a fatal blunder. Once again, Star Trek’s view of sex and relationships seems to be stuck at high school level. When Trip isn’t arranging to meet her behind the bike sheds, she and the others are whispering in low tones about the secret which it’s manifestly obvious they are keeping from the Enterprise crew. Annie Wersching will be back as the third Borg Queen in Star Trek: Picard Season 2 before her untimely death aged just 45. Convergent evolution ensures that all intelligent species look humanoid, but dogs are known only to Earth, apparently.