Archive for November, 2023

Trekaday #120: Proving Ground, Stratagem, Harbinger, Doctor’s Orders, Hatchery, Azati Prime

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

ENT S03E13 Proving Ground (4.5 out of 5 stars). Andorians are now searching the once-deadly-now-merely-a-bit-wibbly Expanse for any sign of the (sigh) “pink-skins”. And the Xindi Rotary Club is ready to test its new prototype weapon – not on Earth, the way they did the last one, but on an uninhabited planet instead for… reasons. Shran is almost too eager to help out the Earth ship with their repairs and it’s all Malcolm can do not to chuck their Lt Talas out the airlock.

The politicking is nifty, and the amazing Jeffrey Combs continues to add layers to what could have been a much more simplistic character. The arc-plotting continues to be soggy, if not actually nonsensical, but the story-of-the-week stuff is really good here, managing to deliver a series of rug-pulls that continue to surprise, make sense and not just be frustrating. The push-pull between Shran and Archer is very real. As usual, this is the Archer and T’Pol show with Shran and Talas getting more lines than several regulars, but that’s just what we’ve come to expect by now.

Archer is back to a close shave, but Jolene Blalock’s real eyebrows can clearly be seen growing back under her pointed ones. That and the bare-bones Andorian bridge set (which feels awfully Lost in Space) contribute to a tiny nagging feeling of “will this do?” but there’s plenty to enjoy elsewhere – and even some nice character stuff for Malcolm.

ENT S03E14 Stratagem (4 out of 5 stars). Cover-of-a-comic-book time as Archer and Xindi Quartermaster Degra have escaped together after three years in an Insectoid prison. Something about this whole set-up gives me Mission: Impossible vibes – and yes, that’s exactly what it turns out to be, a glorified flight simulator in which the Enterprise crew hopes their prisoner will spill his guts. But even if the reveal isn’t much of a surprise, it is nice – and very Star Trek – to have mortal enemies have to work together and learn to empathise with each other just a little, even if it is only pretend. This seems a far better method of interrogation than those airlock shenanigans from a couple of episodes ago, and Randy Oglesby is good value as Degra. Once he figures out the deception, the air goes out of the balloon somewhat, and it’s also true that the once terrifying and unknowable Xindi here deteriorate further into a bunch of squabbling dummies who are constantly outwitted and outmanoeuvred, by outsiders and by each other. But overall, this is good solid stuff and it’s nice to see Phlox again, he’s been AWOL for several episodes now. Second (and last) script for future Picard showrunner Terry Matalas and it’s another impressive piece of work, setting us up for the Xindi endgame at last.

ENT S03E15 Harbinger (1.5 out of 5 stars). Watching Royal Navy brat Malcolm Reed bellyache pointlessly about having to work with the militaristic MACOs makes me long for Roddenberry’s no-conflict-on-the-bridge rules. And that sets the tone for a dull, unfocused and sour episode, which sees the return of a lot of Enterprise’s bad habits, after a run of very strong stories. Once again, Trip is written as a horny teen rather than an experienced officer, and Malcolm like a playground bully. Once again, Archer uses painful torture to extract information from a prisoner. About half the run time is devoted to massage sessions with scantily-clad women. And I guess it’s now officially too late for me to keep saying “Stop trying to make Trip and T’Pol happen,” pon-farr or no pon-farr.

ENT S03E16 Doctor’s Orders (2.5 out of 5 stars). You can’t make a dull story captivating by telling it out of order, but that doesn’t stop hopeful writers from trying to conceal weaknesses by shuffling up the sequence of events to create fake mystery where none intrinsically exists. It’s becoming a go-to move for this show, and when it’s used to underline a deception as in Stratagem, it can be very effective, but more often than not, it’s used as here, to create an artificially strong opening to a flabby script. Phlox lying in bed, doomscrolling and talking to Porthos, is an image which has become far more potent with the passing years. Overall, I preferred this story when Voyager did it and it was called One. There it was about digging into just who Seven of Nine is. Here it’s the Doc going nuts because that’s more interesting than him not (just about). The big scene between Phlox and T’Pol earns this an extra half star, as the two best actors in the show give it everything they’ve got. I almost took it off again for the very silly closing twist, but if you didn’t see it coming, that’s your good fortune and my bad luck.

ENT S03E17 Hatchery (2.5 out of 5 stars). This is all good solid Star Trek stock. Our crew of intrepid explorers, led by the brave captain, goes prowling around in some moderately convincing caves, somebody (probably the brave captain) gets whammied by some belligerent local biology – and then we go out of our way to protect the aggressors. With a show that’s struggling to find its identity as this one is, it’s downright reassuring when familiar story shapes start to reassert themselves. Saving the insectoid nest requires fixing their technology and as usual the ship’s chief engineer recruits the tactical officer and helmsman to help him with this engineering problem (as he doesn’t know the names of any of the other engineers on board). When it comes to Malcolm vs MACOs vs Trip, instead of being able to see everyone’s point of view, the way you can in good drama, I find everyone equally childish and stupid, which is disappointing to say the least. But the most disappointing aspect of this episode by far is the revelation that Archer’s moral decision to protect the Xindi eggs was the product not of his own enlightened ethics but instead being zapped in the opening minutes. So – he only fought to save all those innocent lives because alien venom was eating his brain? My hero! Nice to see T’Pol in uniform again. And as usual the sharpshooting, militaristic MACOs are all bested by the science officer and her pals.

ENT S03E18 Azati Prime (4.5 out of 5 stars). At long last we arrive at the Xindi Gentlemen’s Golf Club where, as luck would have it, the superweapon is ready to be deployed. This is all procedural problem-solving stuff, but the stakes feel incredibly high and the problems genuinely epic. This little ship, years from home is going to try and save the world. And there are ethical conundrums too. Archer is forced to destroy an entire Xindi facility to give Travis and Trip a chance as they try and sneak through the detection grid on their reconnaissance mission. That leads to a Star Wars style bomb run to take out the superweapon, which Archer insists on flying himself, whereupon bloody Daniels shows up with more stories from the future. The frequently dumb Xindi storyline and the faintly irrelevant Temporal Cold War storyline here get braided together, and remarkably the combination manages to somewhat strengthen both, when it could equally have fatally weakened either or both. The trouble is that again we have gung-ho, shoot first, kill-the-bugs Archer who has to be talked out of his murderous ways by T’Pol (her “I don’t want you to die,” is lovely). But in his absence, even Trip of all people manages to step up, giving T’Pol unwanted but accurate leadership advice. Her snarling at him when he attempts to stop her from going after the Captain is genuinely shocking.

It’s only when kidnapped that Archer attempts a diplomatic solution using the information he learned in Stratagem, and the further byplay between Bakula and Randy Oglesby is just as engaging as it was then. And we end on pretty much the best cliffhanger since The Best of Both Worlds. With just a touch more of that open-hearted Star Trek optimism, this would be a five-star show, but I can’t overlook Archer’s kill-or-be-killed philosophy, which – as the Xindi point out – he only abandons when it is no longer viable, and not for any more noble reason. Xindi prisoner protocols seemingly do not included searching captured combatants. These Xindi are crazy.

So… what did I think of The Star Beast?

Posted on November 26th, 2023 in Culture | 1 Comment »

(Spoiler free – ish, but watch the episode first.)

Generally when I’m writing these reviews I like to start the process with some sort of thesis mind – especially if I’m intending on writing anything more than about a paragraph. As I’m watching – whether it’s a film, TV episode or anything else – I’m turning over different angles in my mind. What does this amount to? How does it develop what came before? Where does it point to? I don’t really know where to start with The Star Beast. I don’t have a thesis, or a list of discussion points, or any real way into taking my reaction and turning it into a piece of writing. I’m just grinning.

This is the show which roared back into delirious life in 2005, now revved up once again for 2023, having learned every lesson it’s possible to learn along the way, including the most important one of all – don’t be afraid to take some risks. It’s a giddy confection, taking inspiration from a well-remembered 1980s comic strip, connecting it to the Doctor’s past and boldly setting out for what looks to be a frankly incredible future.

The conclusion of Donna’s story in Journey’s End was, in its way, perfect, but it was also ghastly, and the awful tragedy of the Doctor having to not just witness but enact the erasure of something as coruscatingly brilliant as the Doctordonna was heartbreaking. It was clear in The End of Time that this was an itch which Davies still wanted to scratch, and when Catherine Tate and David Tennant made it clear that they were up for a reunion, he seized the chance. That means that this episode had a lot to accomplish. It had to re-establish David Tennant as the Doctor, catch up new viewers with events which were broadcast back in 2008 (before some younger viewers were even born), establish what Donna’s life had been like during those 15 years, resolve the issue of the meta-crisis Doctor so that Donna could go on more adventures – oh and do Beep the Meep.

But unlike some of those eighties adventures with their “shopping lists” of criteria (Planet of Fire, The Five Doctors) this never felt over-stuffed, over-hurried, box-ticking or rote. It unfolded beautifully and like a true genius, Davies spotted one repeated word from his earlier script and stirred it back in here in a blindly fresh context which brought a gasp to my breath and a lump to my throat. Everyone’s on top of their game here – Tennant and Tate are superb of course, but the entire cast is faultless from the zappified soldiers to “Dame” Miriam Margolyes on Meep voice duty. And the production is exemplary, with Murray Gold’s music lending huge grandeur and scale to the thing once more.

Quibbles? Sure. The opening titles are very brief and rather anonymous and having Donna and Rose be able (and willing!) to simply let the meta-crisis go seems like a bit of a cop-out. But if I was tempted to knock off even half a star for those tiny indiscretions, then it immediately goes back on for that incredible TARDIS interior which has instantly vaulted to the top of my list of favourites time machine sets. It’s absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to see it again.

So, returning Russell’s game plan becomes a bit clearer now. Firstly, make sure that the show isn’t just the show but have it surrounded by a whole galaxy… a Doc-uverse… a Whotopia (we’ll workshop that) of other content, from in front of the camera and behind the scenes, from the show’s past, from its future and – in the case of the Da-glo Daleks story (don’t worry, I loved that too) – both combined. Second, celebrate the sixtieth using a favourite modern Doctor returning for a victory lap, taking the pressure off the new boy. Thirdly, we’re back on Saturdays, we’re back to rollicking adventure stories, and we’re back on Christmas Day baby.

I’ve scarcely ever enjoyed an hour of TV more. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit down and watch the whole thing again. And then listen to the official podcast. And watch the behind-the-scenes YouTube clips. Life is good. Welcome back, Doctor. I’ve missed you.

5 out of 5 stars

Pre-Oscars 2024

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

Killers of the Flower Moon

It’s awards season, and first up is Martin Scorsese’s epic Killers of the Flower Moon, bringing his two favourite actors together in front of his lens for the first time. This bum-numbing narrative probably could have been told at even greater length as a mini-series (the director falls back on a radio programme to deal with the aftermath, and gives himself a brief cameo) but which never bored me for a second. Clearly, this is a story made by white people and told from the point of view of white people, but as its purpose is to centre the selfish and cruel decisions made by those white people, I think this is legitimate, even if I’m left with a feeling that there was a whole other, less familiar, version of this story which I didn’t get, even at this length.

As usual, Scorsese doesn’t either judge his characters or manipulate the facts in order to generate a fake catharsis. Without giving too much away, I kept hoping for a moment of moral clarity from DiCaprio’s dim-witted Ernest, but in fact he just continues to be buffeted by the demands of people around him and his own shortsightedness. In other hands (or on another day) that might render the whole exercise slightly pointless, but the fact that this is a true story, the strength of the playing (Lily Gladstone is amazing), and the director’s expert marshalling of time and place and space combine to create an engrossing experience, which hugely benefits from the big screen experience.

How to Have Sex

Molly Manning Walker’s feature debut would lose less watched at home, but watched at the Curzon Soho, the more tense moments feel a little less escapable. This is a tricky exercise in tone. Too much hijinks and not enough pain and it might come across as trite and superficial. But turn the screw too far and we’re into soap melodrama, undercutting the blazing authenticity of the acting and filming. Walker, who also writes, finds this thin line with unerring accuracy and although Mia McKenna-Bruce is attracting all of the acting plaudits, the whole ensemble of terrifyingly young actors is faultless and the whole experience brilliantly grubby, joyful, horrifying, intoxicating, disturbing and life-affirming. While it’s unlikely to feature on anything like as many Oscar ballots as Flower Moon, a couple of nominations for, say, screenplay and one or two of the actors would be jokes.

Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner arrives on these shores and represents a fascinating Euro-riff on the familiar US/UK courtroom drama, with a couple of neat twists. Chief among these is the fact that the continental legal process (which I can only assume is represented at least vaguely accurately here) is rather unlike the combative system we’re used to. Sandra Hüller is deliciously hard-to-read as the widow of the dead man and her last argument with her late husband, shared with the jury courtesy of a slightly ludicrous contrivance, is mesmerising stuff. Maybe because of the snowy Alpine setting (but not only because of that) this reminded me of the amazing and influential Force Majeure and while I don’t expect this to be followed with an American remake and a stage version at the Donmar Warehouse, it is  still compelling, engrossingly ambiguous stuff and I can understand entirely how it won.

The Eternals

And certainly unlikely to trouble Oscar voters much, the latest offering to fall off the Marvel production line does ask a considerable amount of viewers who are expected to simply know who all these various characters are (at minimum you need to have watched Infinity War, Endgame, Ms Marvel, WandaVision, Captain Marvel, Secret Invasion and ideally Hawkeye and Iron Man) but which gets by on the colossal charm of Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani, to say nothing of a very silly and very effective pantomime villain turn from Zawe Ashton. The other string to its bow is the near Rick and Morty commitment to bonkers space opera as we zip from orbiting space station to Skrull ghetto to Planet Jai-Ho where everybody communicates in the medium of song. But what’s really bonkers about this is that it’s the biggest box office success ever for a movie directed by a Black woman, and still a commercial failure which will end up losing Disney tens of millions of dollars. That’s your problem, right there.

Trekaday #119: The Shipment, Twilight, North Star, Similitude, Carpenter Street, Chosen Realm

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

ENT S03E07 The Shipment (4 out of 5 stars). The Xindi have a new weapon to test (funny, that first one seemed pretty damned efficient to me) and it will be ready in a matter of “weeks”, so Archer had better hope his new intel is kosher. Because our crew is finally turning up on the Xindi’s doorstep and making off with a suspicious alien thermos flask from some Planet of the Apes-style squabbling scientists.

I don’t really get the Xindi. Over on Deep Space Nine, the complex overlapping and intersecting beliefs, approaches, loyalties and rivalries between the Founders, the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar made the Dominion fascinating opponents. But as far as I can tell the Xindi are just generic baddies who happen to have five different makeup jobs. So what? And remember, we’re introduced to them by means of a massive weapon delivered to Earth which claims seven million lives in less than a minute. That means they’re nearby, single-minded and ready to go. Exactly one episode later, they are debating among themselves, skulking on the other side of the galaxy and still building their super weapon. Both things can’t be true at once.

But in Archer’s refusal to destroy the weapons complex and start a war, we get a glimmer of what Star Trek used to be about. Peaceful solutions. Curiosity about other cultures and species. Diplomacy over aggression. And the different styles of the different Xindi do begin, slowly, to mean something. We still get plenty of “Let’s Kick Some Alien Ass” together with “Headmaster Archer Will See You After School” but there are some welcome shades of grey here. Doorbells that go “bing-bong” are a universal constant apparently.

ENT S03E08 Twilight (4.5 out of 5 stars). We haven’t had very many cover-of-a-comic-book teasers in Enterprise so far, but here’s Archer, confined to quarters by “Captain” T’Pol, arriving just in time to see the now fully-operational Xindi super weapon unconvincingly reducing Earth to molten slag. One or other of these concepts on its own might have worked better. As it is, we know that none of this is real, so we just waiting to find out if it’s a hallucination, simulation, bad dream or video game (the effects look pretty video game-y). T’Pol looks great in uniform and it’s a mystery to me why Archer doesn’t just give her a field commission now she’s no longer part of the Vulcan High Command and he’s out of contact with Starfleet.

Anyway, it’s always fun to enjoy these counter-factual narratives and it lets us do things like bump off Travis (hard to imagine he’ll be much missed), put some talc in Scott Bakula’s hair, reduce the galactic population of humans to a rump of some 6000. All good stuff, but the question is not “what will happen next?” It’s “how will this be undone”. It’s a forty-minute deleted scene, and yet it’s never less than entertaining while it’s on, and even moving when Phlox gently probes the extent of T’Pol’s love for the shadow of her former captain, who is essentially a victim of space-Alzheimer’s.

“The helm’s not responding,” reports Travis. “Alter course,” suggests Malcolm, obliviously. This somehow solves the problem. Once-logical Vulcans now make catty comments about other people’s fashion choices.

ENT S03E09 North Star (4 out of 5 stars). We’re in a western setting, and a rough one at that, with lynchings and pauper’s burials. Trip and T’Pol have to barter for horses, while Archer asks questions in a local tavern. For American television shows, summoning up the old west comes as easily as corsets and bonnets for the BBC, and the production values here are top notch, with a desaturated colour grade adding to the atmosphere. These good ol’ boys are celebrating their victory over the “skags” in what seems like an unnecessarily sadistic manner, and before long, we get a riff on the famous Jack Palance “Pick up the gun” routine from Shane. It takes a while before we discover why this conflict between aliens and primitive humans is any of Enterprise’s business but the drama is well maintained even if the mystery is more annoying than engaging. Fundamentally, this is a reversion to type: our crew lands on a planet, finds a wrong and rights it. It has nothing to do with the Xindi or the Temporal Cold War, or any other ongoing story strand, but it’s good solid stuff, even if our regulars are just names once more.

ENT S03E10 Similitude (3.5 out of 5 stars). Enter Manny Coto who gets sole screenwriting credit on this episode and who will have a very big role to play as this series continues. Someone has carked it. And because it’s one of the six people that Archer could reliably pick out of a police lineup, there’s a whole big funeral and everything (MACOs and redshirts are expected to make their own arrangements). In what’s becoming quite a frequent trope of Enterprise, we flash back two weeks to a pre-rigor morris Trip Tucker who is giving T’Pol a foot massage (he’s the foot fuckin’ master). When the warp core goes kablooey, we’re off the Dr Phlox’s Medical Ethics Wonder Emporium, where the latest cure for mild cases of death involves growing a twin Trip and harvesting its brain. One can imagine Rick and Morty having gleeful fun with such an idea, but here it’s all hand-wringing and brow-furrowing, but this doesn’t at least make sense, and mean something, and the barnacles on Enterprise’s hull make for a nice ticking clock. Speaking of which, the fifteen-day lifespan essentially solves the moral conundrum, unlike the very similar situation in Cogenitor. The irony that it’s the same Trip who “freed” Charles now benefits from his own walking, talking dish of the day, although this goes unremarked upon. Alas, the twist ending is rather too easy to see coming and there isn’t really enough story for 45 minutes, but we’re an awfully long way from drivel like Rajiin.

You can tell things are serious early on, because Archer hasn’t shaved for a couple of days.

ENT S03E11 Carpenter Street (3 out of 5 stars). This isn’t so much a cover-of-a-comic-book opening as an is-this-even-the-right-show opening, but the horrid theme tune is there to reassure us. That aside, for the first eight or so minutes, our optimistic science fiction series about exploring strange new worlds is replaced by a seedy, contemporary and entirely Earthbound story of kidnapping incapacitated sex workers. It’s all a bit grim. Maybe not surprisingly given this opening, time travelling Crewman Daniels is the one of the main guest stars, who despatches Archer and a sceptical T’Pol back to 21st century Detroit to put right what once went wrong and soon they’re stealing cars, robbing ATMs and generally blending in pretty well. But tracking down three vampiric Xindi is never all that interesting and Archer is back to his brutalising Jack Bauer-esque ways, more’s the pity.

ENT S03E12 Chosen Realm (4.5 out of 5 stars). Enterprise’s latest passengers see the hazardous anomalies as the breath of the creator, but who have other things on their mind than simple devotion and prayer. In fact, this 9/11 parable has taken a left turn into hijacking and suicide bombing. This is pretty tasteless, but if you can overlook the real world parables, it’s good exciting space adventure stuff. Enterprise gets another hole blown in its side, and we’re going to be facing the same problem that we saw on Voyager pretty soon – once the ship starts taking real damage, you either have to pretend that it didn’t, or pretend that it’s just as easy to repair way out here as it would be at home, or have your super-duper-hero vessel getting increasingly feeble as the season progresses. There are actually some big advantages to option #3 but somehow I don’t think that’s where we’re headed. Nice to see the religious nutjobs giving Archer a hard time about his Jack Bauer shenanigans a few episodes back. Quite right too, nutjobs. Archer’s feint with the transporter is pretty nifty, and is given a little extra fillip when you consider that the wonky thing might very well kill him. And how about that nasty squeeze of vinegar at the end. This is very, very strong stuff.

Trekaday #118: The Xindi, Anomaly, Extinction, Rajiin, Impulse, Exile

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

ENT S03E01 The Xindi (2 out of 5 stars). The season-long arc kicks off with “Last time on Enterprise” setting us up for the epic story to come. The crew of the NX-01 are coming to kick some alien ass. The episode proper starts with a council of bugs and fish, so if you were wondering who sent the initial probe (whose sole purpose seems to be to alert humans to the fact that an ill-prepared enemy has us in their sights and give us time to get our act together) you aren’t kept in suspense for more than five seconds.

When the titles start, that dreadful theme song has been augmented with more percussion and I think maybe tambourines and now sounds significantly worse, which the appearance of the words “Star” and “Trek” does little to alleviate (at least on my DVD copy, for broadcast they turned up a few episodes later). Further changes are in the offing. Enterprise has had a new command centre retrofitted, which the Captain and Malcolm helpfully remind each other about. And Jolene Blalock’s naturally arching eyebrows have finally been made to look like every other Vulcan. And rather than have her rolling around in her undies, this episode simply goes for broke and has her topless.

Plodding around the galaxy asking if any dive bars have heard of these “Xindi” of which you speak seems like a lot of shoe leather to accomplish very little. The invincible, unstoppable, unknowable threat we faced at the beginning of The Expanse is now being written more like someone’s disreputable brother-in-law who skipped down after burning down his car wash. Meanwhile Trip is suffering from generic nightmares in a misguided quest to add depth to his character and specificity to the disaster. There are finally some more characters on the ship, notably Steven Culp and Daniel Dae Kim. But since these are soldiers, they are almost all required to be American male humans. These new space marines get to rescue Archer and Trip, further undermining the qualities of our screw-up regulars – not that any of them are particularly well-serviced. T’Pol and Phlox get a couple of scenes each. Hoshi gets to do her Henry Higgins act. Was Travis in this episode at all? I don’t remember.

The Xindi arc was a last roll of the dice by producers. Enterprise had debuted to something like 12 million viewers. By the end of Season 2, it was down to 4 million. Everything was riding on ordinary Americans flocking back for this episode, but they continued to stay away in droves. The death knell of the show was sounded right here.

ENT S03E02 Anomaly (3 out of 5 stars). So we’ve been promised that this terrifying “Expanse” is going to prove highly problematic for the ship – and indeed in the last episode we saw some crates in the cargo bay jumping around – but like the Briar Patch, or the nebula in Wrath of Khan, or the whatever it was called in Nemesis, this is just about making our super-duper futuristic ship and crew have to slow down and solve trivial problems while they plod towards the main plot. And as if revealing that the terrifying super weapon which claimed 7 million lives on earth was just a trial run, with the rest of the Armada still being painstakingly assembled countless light-years away, hadn’t sapped enough suspense from the scenario, now we put quicksand between our heroes and their goal because that buys us another episode. I’m not here for it.

Having given up on character development for the main seven, we are returning to the space marines in hope of finding some engaging personalities. At least Archer knows the names of more than six other people on board I suppose. Someone else who seems impatient to get to the main plot is Archer himself, barely blinking at the sight of his ship being turned into gelatinous rubber. He makes a quick stop off to examine some alien corpses, and then is all like: full-steam ahead, we’ll patch up the ship on the hoof.

Still, if you can forget about the season arc, and you can tolerate the usual junk science, this is at least exciting, with boarding parties, alien corpses, floating coffee cups and plenty of running and shooting from all concerned. and exploring the death star which they find upon following the ion trails of the departing pirate ships does have some of the majesty and wonder which I associate with some of the stronger parts of this franchise. What I don’t associate with Star Trek is the 24-style torture deployed by Archer, which is hateful.

Funny kind of spatial anomaly which seems to preferentially affect foodstuffs and their containers.

ENT S03E03 Extinction (1 out of 5 stars). Taking a leaf out of Steve McQueen’s book, Trip attempts to seduce midriff-baring T’Pol with soft fruit. This kind of happy ending male fantasy wish fulfilment is toe-curlingly obvious and possibly my least favourite aspect of what’s a pretty soggy episode. Stop trying to make Trip and T’Pol happen! If this is cringe, what happens next is absolutely mortifying as the landing party goes all Mike Westmore noses and scary grunting. It’s all utterly derivative and violently uninteresting.

ENT S03E04 Rajiin (1 out of 5 stars). Who’s playing Star Trek trope bingo? Over the last few episodes you’ve been able to check off Zagbars vs Zoobles, space porn, spatial anomalies which look weird but leave no lasting damage, the crew transformed into monsters and Earth under attack. Anyway, this episode is centred on a beautiful slave woman on the run. Somebody must have a line by now? If not, then here’s another dose of bartering for information with nefarious alien traders for you. Even the arc plot is botched here. The terrifying probe which tore up Earth in The Expanse has been retired in favour of a bio-weapon which is still under development. Great, I was beginning to worry that they had more than one of those probes. Guess I’ll just relax. One star for using “exotic” Earth spices as currency, or this would have been my first zero.

“Season Three is where it gets good” is something that fans of Berman-Trek hear and say a lot. Well, it hasn’t held up for Enterprise so far. This has been about the poorest run of episodes I can remember, making me nostalgic for rubbish like If Wishes Were Horses or Too Short a Season. More than anything, I get the sense that nobody on the writing team has any real idea what to do with the Expanse, the threat to Earth or the Xindi, the details of all of which seem to shift from episode-to-episode. Brannon Braga fired the entire writing staff at the end of the first season, but it didn’t seem to help. No-one seems to understand how to put together a multi-episode narrative. Where’s Ira Steven Behr? Where’s Ron Moore? Where’s Michael Piller?

ENT S03E05 Impulse (4.5 out of 5 stars). Teasers on this show seem to fall into two categories – calm people having ordinary conversations for longer than would seem necessary, or incredibly brief snatches of chaos and hysteria. This is the latter, seeming more like “this week on Mission Impossible” than the traditional curtain raisers, and features T’Pol having an attack of the screaming ab-dabs which requires her to be physically restrained. It seems a day earlier, Trip planned to screen a Bob Hope / Bing Crosby picture. Maybe that’s the cause.

Of rather more interest is the distress call from a Vulcan ship. Vulcans, you’ll remember, were full of ghastly tales about the hideous nature of the Expanse, exactly none of which have been bourn out by Enterprise’s experience so far. Archer takes a shuttlepod to investigate while Travis (hey Travis) tries to land on an asteroid to mine it for unobtanium. Old hand David Livingston does lovely work behind the camera, making the distressed Vulcan ship genuinely creepy, even before the survivors turn out all to be murderously nuts. Luckily, Archer thought to bring along one of those space marines for protection, even if he’s the first one to be seriously injured.

Once again, the main characters are just a bunch of guys trying to solve a problem. It scarcely matters who they are, or what beliefs they hold – except that one of them is T’Pol. And it’s not just that she’s Vulcan and therefore subject to the same Expanse hoo-doo that nobbled the existing crew, it’s that we can see how hard she’s trying to conceal her mounting anxiety for the sake of the mission, her professionalism and her silly Vulcan pride. When she loses it, it’s terribly affecting, and Jolene Blalock is even more amazing than she’s been previously. Combined with the strong thriller plotting, strong direction and atmospheric lighting, it makes for a thankfully very impressive episode, with a very disturbing unresolved ending.

First script credit for Terry Matalas, who returned to show-run the widely-acclaimed Star Trek Picard in 2022. When Trip, Travis, Malcolm, T’Pol and the Captain leave the bridge, all their stations are unmanned. Hoshi’s there on her own!

ENT S03E06 Exile (2.5 out of 5 stars). It’s our Hoshi episode for this year, and because this is Enterprise, that means we open with her walking about her quarters in her scanties, and because this is Star Trek, she’s being menaced by a mysterious male voice in her head. At this point I’m just praying the episode doesn’t go full Sub Rosa. The hilariously named “Tarquin” (presumably his alien telepathic buddies are called Jules and Sebastian), promises he has all sorts of handy-dandy info about the Xindi, but he’ll only work to generate it (huh?) if Hoshi sticks around to brighten the place up. She agrees, and he proceeds to invade her privacy, creep around her, bully her, and she still refuses to fall in love with him, the silly cow. Sigh. I guess this is the story we tell with female regulars. Welcome to the club, Hoshi. Beverley Crusher, Deanna Troi, Kira Nerys, B’Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine are here to show you the ropes (in fact one of them directed this episode). And poor old Maury Sterling has so much prosthetic gubbins in and around his mouth he sounds like he’s saying his lines while undergoing a dental exam. Half a star extra because the Expanse actually has some teeth this week. Even fake hallucination Archer only knows the names of six other crew members.

Trekaday #117: Cogenitor, Regeneration, First Flight, Bounty, The Expanse

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

ENT S02E22 Cogenitor (2 out of 5 stars). Archer meets that sitcom stock character, the more able version of himself, whose ship can get closer to astral phenomena, who has fancier sensors and who smoothly invites himself to dinner. Hanging a lantern on how undramatic these teasers are, Trip comments that nobody seems to be charging weapons. Deliciously, this benevolent counterpart is played by Tomalak himself, Andreas Katsulas – it’s been too long – and pretty soon, Enterprise is crawling with smooth-talking guests, with their liberal ideals, their photographic memories and their third sex, which gives the episode its title.

Nothing seems to baffle Trip more than this feature of their biology (and – despite observing that two sexes is the universal norm – nothing baffles the guests more than Trip’s bafflement). He refuses to let Phlox explain what’s going on, but then starts asking everyone else on board to help him understand. I’m more used to, and greatly prefer the enlightened crews of the Enterprise-D or Voyager who don’t tend to sit in judgment (or who at least earnestly debate the ethics first). Trip’s very twentieth century confusion is unimpressive, and of course it comes back to: in a few hours, the crew spots and tries to solve a systemic injustice which has existed for countless generations. “I’d expect this from a first year recruit,” comments Archer, once everything has gone to hell, and it’s hard to disagree. After years of watching a highly admirable crew work together to solve complex problems, it’s simply not as engaging to watch a supposedly likeable screw-up flail around clumsily and then face no consequences for his clodhopping actions. Whether we agree with Travis’s choices or not (and Archer’s fairly baffling decision to refuse asylum) this is poor storytelling, lacking the moral dimension it’s groping for. But it’s nice to see an alien culture which feels like it makes sense, and the final squeeze of vinegar helps a little (although it also makes for a grimly neat and tidy ending). Malcolm’s storyline doesn’t end, it’s simply abandoned. Travis and Hoshi are both MIA and we only see T’Pol lying about her age and organising a film show.

ENT S02E23 Regeneration (4.5 out of 5 stars). Having helped itself to the Ferengi, which were clearly first encountered by the Enterprise-D, Enterprise now helps itself to the Borg, which were even more clearly first encountered by the Enterprise-D. I’m not 100% sure what “sweeps” are, but I suspect they were happening around the time this aired. The scene in which the drones wake up and assimilate the hapless scientists is predictable, sure, but it’s well-mounted by director David Livingston and it’s more exciting than a lot of things which happen early on in Enterprise episodes. And I appreciate the patience of a story which spends this long on setting all this up, without needing to cut back to people with their names in the main titles.

Once we do get to Archer, T’Pol and so on, we essentially get a cover version of Q Who, only this time the Borg are mysterious only to the characters and not to us. This show is so keen to portray the crew as different from the 24th century characters that it keeps erring on the side of showing them as doofuses. Having them clueless in the face of antagonists we know so well does not help correct this tendency – so it’s gratifying when Archer realises that he’s dealing with some serious shit and takes unusually brutal but effective action. Having Phlox infected with nanoprobes is a great turn, and what much of the rest of the episode is focused on. His dispassionate assessment of his own mortal plight is rather touching and Billingsley shows again why he’s such an asset to this serious (Jolene Blalock has been rather underused lately).

As much as this tries to tie in with First Contact, it can’t be easily squared with other televised Borg stories, which calls into question the very idea of a prequel series, plugging gaps in the lore. But I’d much rather have a really exciting, well-told adventure that didn’t mesh perfectly with existing continuity than a box-ticking exercise which was dramatically inert.

ENT S02E24 First Flight (3.5 out of 5 stars). Here’s some speculative cutting-edge science which hasn’t dated too badly. Dark matter is almost certainly a thing, and still a mysterious one, which makes it a good topic for an story. Alas, rather in the vein of Carbon Creek, the bulk of this episode isn’t about bombarding an exotic nebula with made-up particles, but in the manner of Deep Space Nine, a long shuttle journey is used as a pretext for Archer to reminisce about an old friend who has just died unexpectedly. Once again, the supporting cast isn’t simply in the background, they’re completely absent, as this episode is laser-focused on whether or not Archer has the, er, “right stuff”.

It’s impossible to wring much tension or suspense about much of what happens because of the flashback structure, so this is going be highly dependent on how interesting the details are and how richly realised the characters are. Sadly, this is mainly people reciting technobabble at each other or spelling out the subtext for the hard of feeling. That said the Mission Control/experimental flight/pushing the engineering limits is a pretty solid premise, working as well here as it does in Apollo 13, or the opening of Top Gun Maverick, to pick just two examples. The pilot error/lousy engine debate in the bar degenerates into fisticuffs, further cementing Archer’s position as the least enlightened captain the franchise has ever centred.

Maybe not surprisingly, it’s the framing story – where we don’t know the ending – which is most successful, as once again Jolene Blalock shows her immense class, gently probing Archer for more details as her understanding and appreciation of his efforts slowly grows. Remember that Berman and Braga’s concept for Season 1 of Enterprise was basically going to be twenty-six episodes of this. Might have been more effective in that context.

ENT S02E25 Bounty (1.5 out of 5 stars). A particularly sixties looking alien teddy bear makes off with Archer and MVP T’Pol is stuck in quarantine (and in her scanties) after an away mission. It seems he is still wanted by the Klingons after the events of Judgment and there’s a price on his head. His bonding with his captor is all pretty routine but Jordan Lund manages to carve out something like a character under all that latex and fur, even if the ending can be seen coming from a light year away.

The combination of tactile gel application (seriously, have they never heard of showers in the twenty-second century?) and T’Pol’s premature Pon Farr makes the usually fairly pervy decon scenes look like the something out of the Red Shoe Diaries, and although played perfectly by Blalock and Billingsley, the shooting makes it clear that this is another laughable attempt to “keep the dads watching”, something which no previous series ever worried about (much). Roxann Dawson handles the tense pursuit of an escaping T’Pol rather better. But T’Pol’s absence from the bridge doesn’t affect the main plot at all, so it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the only point of this plotline was to have Blalock writhing around half-dressed. It’s also very weird that T’Pol claims never to have been through Pon Farr before. It’s supposed to happen every seven years. Has she been an adult for less time than that? Surely not. Archer’s oral skills would leave Houdini reeling.

ENT S02E26 The Expanse (3 out of 5 stars). If you can overlook the crummy video game-style effects, this dialogue-free teaser does have some impact, depicting as it does a weird alien ship which carves a metres-wide swathe of destruction across populated areas of planet Earth. Wow. After the titles we’re back to the pursuit of Archer by the Klingons which feels rather like letting the air out of the balloon. And there’s a feeling that the production team doesn’t trust either of these potentially massive plotlines, because now, only about five minutes into the episode, the Suliban are back and have abducted Archer.

After a set-to with the Klingons and an awful lot of rather arid debating, Archer is allowed to use the info from the future and is despatched to the Delphic Expanse in pursuit of the death-dealing Xindi. T’Pol has to decide whether to stay onboard, and helpfully Phlox is there to spell out the nature of her dilemma, just in case we can’t figure it out for ourselves. Archer doesn’t even bother to pick out a new science officer – partly because he doesn’t know the name of anybody else on board, partly because he (and I) know she isn’t really going to be dropped off on Vulcan. Trip’s thick-eared bloodlust is yet another stain on what’s rapidly becoming my least favourite regular character in the franchise. And this one doesn’t end, it just stops. To be continued… Archer on the bridge in a cardi is not a good look for him.

Enterprise S2 overview

  • Season 2 doesn’t feel like a massive improvement over Season 1 and this is reflected in the scores. A very similar average of 2.87 with still no 5 star classics, and plenty of “will this do?” episodes hovering around three stars, plus or minus one half.
  • Jolene Blalock as T’Pol is revelatory, far more than another Seven of Nine or Number One, and her relationship with Archer is the backbone of this show. But Scott Bakula seems stuck playing the Captain as a pissed off headmaster, and who can blame him, with this crew full of dopey screw-ups to contend with.
  • That’s really Trip and Malcolm I’m talking about. Phlox is good at his job (and Billingsley at his) but Hoshi and Travis have barely been in this season, and when the scripts refuse to recognise the existence of any member of the crew who isn’t in the opening titles, not even giving them a chance to show us what they can do is pretty unforgiveable.
  • I could also do without the retconning of the Vulcans. The noble, compassionate, logical and dignified characters of TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager have been replaced by a snotty gang of precious and blinkered school bullies who are full of pride, jealousy, snobbery, secrecy, prejudice, treachery and various other toxic emotions. And a series which is filling in the past really ought to be taking more care over things like the use of mind melds.
  • Maybe part of the problem is that Berman and Braga are writing So Many Scripts. A full 14 out of 26 shows this year have their names on them, and for seven they are the sole credited writers. For a franchise used to spreading the load, that’s putting a lot of pressure in a small space.
  • And Enterprise still isn’t sure what show it’s trying to be. Does it want to be Star Trek But Nobody’s Got Their Act Together? Does it want to be Here’s A Hole In Future History Plugged For You? Would it be better off being Time Travel Adventures In The Future? Nobody seems to know, and to be honest, none of these are great ideas for shows. Star Trek in the mid-twenty-second-century could work, but you need to back off from the idea that everyone before Kirk’s time was a dope for that to work.
  • The best shows this year just concentrated on strong adventure plotting, where we don’t notice how thin the characters are and where we aren’t being distracted by either Star Trek’s own past or it’s newly-imagined Temporal Cold War future. In episodes like Minefield, Regeneration or even Marauders we can just enjoy the Thrilling Escapes From Death and go along for the ride. But even that displays a lack of ambition which is very surprising after the massive serialisation of DS9 and the bonkers big swings of Voyager.
  • So maybe it’s not surprising that this episode is being used to upset the status quo. Maybe in Season 3, Enterprise will finally grow the beard.

Trekaday #116: Canamar, The Crossing, Judgment, Horizon, The Breach

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

ENT S02E17 Canamar (2 out of 5 stars). Archer and Tucker are held prisoner by a bunch of pirates whose make-up design makes them look oddly New Romantic. Being the victims of someone else’s penal system is hardly a new idea (we saw it as recently as Detained, at the end of the last season). Whereas it might be interesting to see how Spock, Picard, Kira, Seven or even – at a push – T’Pol might react to this situation, here it’s just two guys exchanging problem-solving technobabble.

ENT S02E18 The Crossing (2.5 out of 5 stars). Enterprise is swallowed by a rather video game-looking maw and pretty soon the crew’s bodies are being tried on like cheap suits by the glowing balls of light which inhabit the giant ship. It’s a strong sci-fi concept but being prematurely released from the belly of the whale threatens to crater the stakes, and the situation asks rather more of the regular cast than is ideal, even before Archer’s murderous solution to the problem. And even non-corporeal entities have T’Pol sex dreams it seems.

ENT S02E19 Judgment (4 out of 5 stars). Archer is standing trial. Again. Seriously, didn’t we just do this? A couple of times in fact. This is a Klingon court (patterned after the one in Star Trek VI) which adds some interest, and old hand JG Hertzler is here, back in the forehead ridges and Fu Manchu facial hair, bringing unexpected depth to his aged defence counsel. Enterprise doesn’t seem to be exploring far-flung galaxies this week, which has been a major plot point recently, so one wonders how long it took them to get back to familiar space and why they needed to. The trial is seemingly conducted in English even though they threaten Archer with removal if he doesn’t keep quiet.

ENT S02E20 Horizon (2.5 out of 5 stars). Attempting to prove that nothing and no-one is beyond salvation, this is a Travis episode. The one thing we know about him is that he grew up on one of those freighters we saw in Fortunate Son, and so that’s what we return to. Why add layers when you can always include repetition? Anthony Montgomery does a decent job here, but he’s only given a situation to play, there’s nothing individual or surprising here, no grit in the oyster. In a show known for its limp teasers, this one is a piece of tissue paper that’s been left out in the rain. And the Frankenstein subplot suggests that nobody on the writing staff has ever read the book.

ENT S02E21 The Breach (3 out of 5 stars). Travis is an expert caver – as you would expect from a young man born and brought up on a space freighter (why add layers when you can always include random bullshit?). There being no other people onboard with similar experience, the young ensign has to teach Malcolm and Trip how to do it. Don’t worry, he’ll be invalided out of the story in short order. In a more interesting strand, Phlox has to convince an ancient enemy of the Denobulans to allow him to operate, and John Billingsley does wonderful work here, exploring his personal conflict and the long political enmity between the two cultures.