Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Oscar Nominations 2024

Posted on February 10th, 2024 in At the cinema, Culture | No Comments »

Have just discovered this languishing in my drafts folder. Apologies for the inconvenience.

The Oscar nominations are out and once again, we have ten Best Picture nominees. I have already seen a triumphant eight of these, and will be trying to mop up some of the International and Documentary features in the next few weeks. Here are the runners and riders.

American Fiction is one of the two I haven’t seen, but the trailer is very appealing (although you’d be forgiven for overlooking Sterling K Brown who is glimpsed only briefly, but who notches up a Best Supporting Actor nomination). Full review to follow.

Anatomy of a Fall. Terrific slab of Euro-intrigue which remakes the courtroom drama in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible, blessed with a remarkable tri-lingual script and a tremendous central performance from Sandra Hüller. Full review here.

Barbie. Thrillingly bonkers Mattel tie-in, which subverts the very play logic which it shockingly embraces to deliver a simplistic but deeply heartfelt feminism-for-beginners message. I briefly wondered if it might gather enough momentum to be a real contender for Best Picture, but with only eight nominations and nothing for Greta Gerwig as director or Margot Robbie as leading actress, I think we can write it off from this contest at least.

The Holdovers. Very Oscar-friendly, but probably not extraordinary enough to win. Full review here.

Killers of the Flower Moon. Scorsese demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his touch, blending the intimate with the epic, but I would have preferred a more focused two-hour version or a more exploratory six-hour mini-series which would have given more of a voice to the Osage people. Full review here.

Maestro. Despite all of the effort poured in by Bradley Cooper and the wealth of talent he has surrounded himself with, I kept waiting for the story to kick in. This feels like it’s run out of gas already.

Oppenheimer. Clear front-runner, with the most important story to tell, the biggest cultural footprint (possibly with the exception of Barbie) and it made a ton of money to boot.

Past Lives. Beautifully observed, painstakingly assembled, and far more original than its premise would suggest. Doesn’t have much of a chance at the big prize.

Poor Things. Lanthimos’s horny fairy tale horror has the potential to pull off a major upset, and I wouldn’t be mad at it for doing so, despite my reservations about the film. Full review here.

The Zone of Interest. The other one I haven’t seen but advance word is very strong.

In other categories, Best Director looks nailed on for Nolan, regardless of who wins Best Picture. The omission of Greta Gerwig is appalling but somehow not surprising. Nice to see Justine Triet there though. Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor also look set to go Oppenheimer‘s way. Best Actress is a straight fight between Emma Stone and Lily Gladstone. Best Supporting Actress looks more open with probably Emily Blunt the least likely to succeed, but a case could be made for any of the others. Original Screenplay looks like a two horse race between Anatomy of a Fall and The Holdovers. Adapted Screenplay is Nolan’s to lose.

Poor Things

Posted on January 8th, 2024 in Culture | No Comments »

Yorgos Lanthimos follows up his smash hit The Favourite with this bizarro riff on Frankenstein, from the 1992 novel by Alasdair Gray. We’re introduced to childlike Bella Baxter through the eyes of earnest young medical student Max McCandless, but before he accepts her ersatz-father’s offer to marry Bella, she’s spirited away by rakish Duncan Wedderburn. As usual, Lanthimos adheres to the motto “too weird is never weird enough”, so Willem Dafoe is caked in geometrically-crenelated latex as the hideously benevolent “God”, Kathryn Hunter makes a memorable cameo festooned with tattoos, Bella’s home is surrounded by a bizarre menagerie of cut-and-shut barnyard animals, and various seemingly random shots are given an extreme fish-eye lens treatment.

This is also one of those movies where everyone’s doing a voice. American Ramy Yussef manages to let his stiff English accent imbue the character with a naïve earnestness which works well. Dafoe’s Scottish accent seems to ebb-and-flow, but he’s such a bonkers creation that this is a minor concern. The biggest issue by far is with Mark Ruffalo, who probably would have seemed miscast if he had been allowed to use his own accent, but he’s so far away from the caddish Wedderburn to begin with that the strangulated and inconsistent dialect only compounds the problem. Presumably Jason Isaacs was too busy pretending to be Cary Grant?

But the movie belongs to Emma Stone, who not only fully integrates a flawless cut-glass accent into her performance, but flings herself into the infantile aspects of the role, and precisely tracks Bella’s evolution from feral force of nature, to wilful sex maniac, to bleeding heart handwringing liberal, to effortlessly compassionate master of her own destiny. It’s a stunningly ego-less performance, and Stone’s bad luck that she’s likely up against Lily Gladstone at this year’s Oscars.

What’s it all about though? Well, somewhere under the wacky camera angles, ripe performances, storybook production design and discordant score, there’s a parable about childhood, feminism, socialism and the nature of romantic love. But if this a feminist empowerment film (written by a dude, directed by a dude, based on a novel by a dude), it’s one of those feminist empowerment films in which empowerment is achieved largely by the shedding of clothing. If you’ve ever had cause to wonder what Emma Stone’s nipples look like – wonder no longer. And yet, for all the odd choices, eccentric casting and dodgy accents, there are images and ideas and sequences here which will stay with me. I preferred this to The Lobster, which for all its bracingly flat oddness ran out of ideas in the last third, but it’s not as viscerally engaging as The Favourite, which also has the very fact that it’s about royalty and ruling to give it a bit more thematic ballast.

So… what did I think of The Church on Ruby Road?

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

Frustratingly, but very deliberately, Russell holds the new Doctor back a good long while. Knowing that this could be many viewers’ first episode of Doctor Who, and having successfully cut ties with so much of the show’s baggage, we begin – as we did in 2005 – with an ordinary young woman whose life is about to become extraordinary, and we see the Doctor through her eyes.

Like the Auton invasion in Rose, this is a relatively simple problem for the Doctor to solve, and a relatively easy monster to despatch. Unlike Rose, which needed to promise the old fans in the audience that this was the same old show while simultaneously recruiting a whole new legion of devotees, Ruby Road was determined to present things we’d never seen before – a Doctor who raves, who cries freely, who celebrates family, who comments that he was adopted. And a Doctor who fights baby-eating foot-stomping goblins in their great big sky ship.

Silly? Yeah. But you have to be wilfully stupid to assume that this was some kind of accident. Arguably, these four shows together have had it as their mission statement to show in the shortest possible time the sheer breadth of the show’s possibilities, from near-literal comic book adventure, to claustrophobic psychological horror, to wild exuberant fantasy, to now storybook villainy which owes more to The Brothers Grimm than Terry Nation or Robert Holmes.

What makes this work, more than anything, is the stunning pairing of Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa. I’ve not seen more than ten minutes of Sex Education, and I’ve never watched Coronation Street, so as far as I’m concerned, they are Ruby Sunday and the Doctor, and I can barely remember a double debut as confident (possibly Matt Smith and Karen Gillan) and while this is explicitly designed as a “jumping-on” point that confidence extends to lots of little teases for future storylines, adding to the pile of little clues from the other three specials. I even didn’t mind Davina McCall.

But there are a few problems. Returning director Mark Tonderai’s shot assembly is somewhat haphazard in places, with the Doctor’s big hero jump composed of three different mismatching shots optimistically but unconvincingly cut together as quickly as possible; I never had any sense of the geography on board the goblin ship, and it isn’t even clear what’s happening in the big spire-through-the-belly climax on first watching. The Sunday’s flat also appears to be bigger on the inside, as Ruby comes to the end of the corridor, turns left to go through her front door, and then turns right into the expansive kitchen, which would seem to me to put her outside the building.

There are also some pacing problems, to do with a big effects scene involving the Goblin King inside the flat which was cut at the eleventh hour – thus, also, the odd 55-minute running time. The result is that the air goes out of the balloon following the rescue of baby Lulubelle and there’s too much standing and talking. However, the second half of that standing-and-talking is what this whole episode is really about. With a nod to A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, the Doctor – and we – get to see what Carla’s life would be like without Ruby. And it’s a cold, hard, bleak, cynical existence, without joy or warmth or love – Michelle Greenidge is astonishing here. And it reduces the Doctor to tears. Wow. Just wow.

Those pacing and directing problems, plus the fact that it’s such a trivial problem mean I can’t give this more than four stars, but I’m tremendously optimistic for the future, and this is a wonderful introduction to an incredible TARDIS team.

4 out of 5 stars

Trekaday: Final ratings from 1966 to 2005

Posted on December 26th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

This is every episode I watched ordered by star rating. Episodes with the same star rating can be assumed to be equally good.

5 out of 5 stars
  • TNG S07E25 All Good Things…
  • TOS S02E01 Amok Time
  • TOS S01E14 Balance of Terror
  • TNG S03E26 The Best of Both Worlds
  • TNG S04E01 The Best of Both Worlds, Part II
  • DS9 S05E15 By Inferno’s Light
  • TNG S05E18 Cause and Effect
  • TNG S06E11 Chain of Command, Part II
  • TOS S01E28 The City on the Edge of Forever
  • DS9 S02E23 Crossover
  • TOS S01E25 The Devil in the Dark
  • TNG S06E14 Face of the Enemy
  • TNG S04E02 Family
  • DS9 S06E13 Far Beyond the Stars
  • ENT S03E20 The Forgotten
  • TNG S05E23 I Borg
  • ENT S04E19 In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II
  • DS9 S05E14 In Purgatory’s Shadow
  • VOY S05E04 In the Flesh
  • DS9 S06E19 In the Pale Moonlight
  • TNG S05E25 The Inner Light
  • TNG S02E09 The Measure of a Man
  • VOY S04E25 One
  • DS9 S04E10 Our Man Bashir
  • TNG S06E04 Relics
  • DS9 S06E06 Sacrifice of Angels
  • TNG S03E23 Sarek
  • TNG S06E12 Ship in a Bottle
  • TOS S01E22 Space Seed
  • TNG S06E18 Starship Mine
  • TNG S06E15 Tapestry
  • TOS S01E24 This Side of Paradise
  • DS9 S05E06 Trials and Tribble-ations
  • TNG S05E08 Unification II
  • DS9 S04E03 The Visitor
  • DS9 S04E01-2 The Way of the Warrior
  • TOS MOS02 The Wrath of Khan
  • TNG S03E15 Yesterday’s Enterprise
4.5 out of 5 stars
  • DS9 S03E26 The Adversary
  • TOS S01E18 Arena
  • ENT S03E18 Azati Prime
  • TNG S06E16 Birthright, Part I
  • VOY S07E07 Body and Soul
  • DS9 S02E05 Cardassians
  • TNG S06E10 Chain of Command, Part I
  • DS9 S05E22 Children of Time
  • ENT S03E12 Chosen Realm
  • DS9 S03E07 Civil Defense
  • ENT S04E05 Cold Station 12
  • TNG S05E14 Conundrum
  • TOS S01E10 The Corbomite Maneuver
  • VOY S05E18 Course: Oblivion
  • ENT S03E19 Damage
  • VOY S05E15-16 Dark Frontier
  • VOY S04E03 Day of Honor
  • TNG S03E10 The Defector
  • TNG S06E26 Descent
  • TNG S07E01 Descent, Part II
  • TOS S02E06 The Doomsday Machine
  • DS9 S01E19 Duet
  • TNG S02E20 The Emissary
  • DS9 S05E24 Empok Nor
  • VOY S07E25-26 Endgame
  • TNG S05E03 Ensign Ro
  • TNG S04E15 First Contact
  • TNG MNG02 First Contact
  • DS9 S05E13 For the Uniform
  • TNG S06E21 Frame of Mind
  • TNG S04E08 Future Imperfect
  • TNG S07E05 Gambit, Part II
  • VOY S04E02 The Gift
  • TNG S04E22 Half a Life
  • DS9 S04E19 Hard Time
  • DS9 S04E04 Hippocratic Oath
  • VOY S04E26 Hope and Fear
  • DS9 S03E03 The House of Quark
  • TOS S02E18 The Immunity Syndrome
  • ENT S03E05 Impulse
  • VOY S05E07 Infinite Regress
  • TOS S03E05 Is There in Truth No Beauty?
  • DS9 S02E26 The Jem’Hadar
  • VOY S04E18-19 The Killing Game
  • VOY S05E11 Latent Image
  • VOY S06E24 Life Line
  • DS9 S04E08 Little Green Men
  • DS9 S02E20 The Maquis, Part I
  • VOY S02E16 Meld
  • TNG S04E24 The Mind’s Eye
  • TOS S02E04 Mirror, Mirror
  • VOY S04E12 Mortal Coil
  • TNG S03E22 The Most Toys
  • TOS S01E04 The Naked Time
  • VOY S05E01 Night
  • TNG S04E19 The Nth Degree
  • TNG S07E12 The Pegasus
  • TNG S07E24 Preemptive Strike
  • VOY S04E16 Prey
  • ENT S03E13 Proving Ground
  • TNG S02E16 Q Who
  • ENT S02E23 Regeneration
  • TNG S04E05 Remember Me
  • DS9 S06E02 Rocks and Shoals
  • VOY S04E01 Scorpion, Part II
  • TNG S06E24 Second Chances
  • DS9 S03E05 Second Skin
  • ENT S01E15 Shadows of P’Jem
  • DS9 S05E02 The Ship
  • DS9 S02E03 The Siege
  • DS9 S07E08 The Siege of AR-558
  • TAS S01E14 The Slaver Weapon
  • DS9 S04E07 Starship Down
  • VOY S06E02 Survival Instinct
  • ENT S04E21 Terra Prime
  • DS9 S05E19 Ties of Blood and Water
  • TNG S06E25 Timescape
  • DS9 S04E23 To the Death
  • ENT S03E08 Twilight
  • TOS S02E24 The Ultimate Computer
  • ENT S04E13 United
  • VOY S03E17 Unity
  • ENT S01E22 Vox Sola
  • DS9 S06E11 Waltz
  • DS9 S07E25-26 What You Leave Behind
  • DS9 S02E22 The Wire
  • VOY S04E08 Year of Hell
4 out of 5 stars
  • VOY S02E01 The 37’s
  • TOS S03E23 All Our Yesterdays
  • ENT S01E07 The Andorian Incident
  • DS9 S05E01 Apocalypse Rising
  • DS9 S02E13 Armageddon Game
  • DS9 S05E09 The Ascent
  • ENT S04E06 The Augments
  • DS9 S07E15 Badda-Bing Badda-Bang
  • VOY S06E03 Barge of the Dead
  • TNG S01E09 The Battle
  • DS9 S06E04 Behind the Lines
  • TAS S01E01 Beyond the Farthest Star
  • TNG S06E17 Birthright, Part II
  • VOY S06E12 Blink of an Eye
  • ENT S04E04 Borderland
  • VOY S05E12 Bride of Chaotica!
  • TNG S04E03 Brothers
  • TOS S02E22 By Any Other Name
  • DS9 S05E26 Call to Arms
  • TNG S03E19 Captain’s Holiday
  • ENT S02E02 Carbon Creek
  • VOY S06E19 Child’s Play
  • DS9 S07E14 Chimera
  • DS9 S02E02 The Circle
  • ENT S01E11 Cold Front
  • DS9 S04E13 Crossfire
  • TOS S01E09 Dagger of the Mind
  • TNG S05E02 Darmok
  • TNG S04E11 Data’s Day
  • DS9 S03E09 Defiant
  • TNG S03E13 Déjà Q
  • DS9 S03E21 The Die is Cast
  • VOY S02E17 Dreadnought
  • VOY S05E02 Drone
  • TNG S02E03 Elementary, Dear Data
  • TNG S03E07 The Enemy
  • TOS S01E05 The Enemy Within
  • TNG S03E02 The Ensigns of Command
  • TOS S03E02 The Enterprise Incident
  • DS9 S07E23 Extreme Measures
  • ENT S01E23 Fallen Hero
  • DS9 S03E23 Family Business
  • DS9 S06E05 Favor the Bold
  • TNG S06E08 A Fistful of Datas
  • VOY S03E02 Flashback
  • VOY S07E09 Flesh and Blood
  • DS9 S04E22 For the Cause
  • VOY S07E21 Friendship One
  • VOY S03E09 Future’s End, Part II
  • TOS S01E16 The Galileo Seven
  • TNG S07E04 Gambit, Part I
  • VOY S05E13 Gravity
  • DS9 S03E14 Heart of Stone
  • TNG S05E11 Hero Worship
  • TNG S03E21 Hollow Pursuits
  • TNG S01E18 Home Soil
  • DS9 S02E01 The Homecoming
  • DS9 S04E11 Homefront
  • TAS S02E05 How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
  • TNG S04E18 Identity Crisis
  • VOY S07E02 Imperfection
  • ENT S04E18 In a Mirror, Darkly
  • DS9 S04E05 Indiscretion
  • TAS S01E07 The Infinite Vulcan
  • DS9 S06E18 Inquisition
  • VOY S07E06 Inside Man
  • DS9 S07E16 Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges
  • DS9 S07E10 It’s Only a Paper Moon
  • TOS S02E10 Journey to Babel
  • ENT S02E19 Judgment
  • ENT S04E09 Kir’Shara
  • VOY S01E16 Learning Curve
  • DS9 S05E03 Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places
  • TNG S07E15 Lower Decks
  • VOY S03E12 Macrocosm
  • TAS S01E08 The Magicks of Megas-tu
  • TOS S01E01 The Man Trap
  • VOY S02E11 Maneuvers
  • DS9 S02E21 The Maquis, Part II
  • TNG S02E08 A Matter of Honor
  • VOY S06E14 Memorial
  • VOY S04E14 Message in a Bottle
  • ENT S02E03 Minefield
  • DS9 S02E08 Necessary Evil
  • TNG S05E10 New Ground
  • TNG S05E24 The Next Phase
  • ENT S03E09 North Star
  • DS9 S05E04 …Nor the Battle to the Strong
  • ENT S04E11 Observer Effect
  • TOS S02E13 Obsession
  • VOY S06E08 One Small Step
  • DS9 S04E12 Paradise Lost
  • DS9 S03E11 Past Tense, Part I
  • DS9 S02E18 Profit and Loss
  • VOY S04E06 The Raven
  • DS9 S04E06 Rejoined
  • VOY S05E24 Relativity
  • TOS S01E21 The Return of the Archons
  • DS9 S04E14 Return to Grace
  • TOS S02E20 Return to Tomorrow
  • VOY S04E05 Revulsion
  • TNG S06E05 Schisms
  • VOY S03E26 Scorpion
  • DS9 S03E01 The Search, Part I
  • DS9 S07E02 Shadows and Symbols
  • VOY S07E11 Shattered
  • ENT S03E07 The Shipment
  • TNG S05E04 Silicon Avatar
  • ENT S03E10 Similitude
  • ENT S01E14 Sleeping Dogs
  • DS9 S05E21 Soldiers of the Empire
  • ENT S03E14 Stratagem
  • VOY S03E04 The Swarm
  • TOS S01E23 A Taste of Armageddon
  • DS9 S06E26 Tears of the Prophets
  • DS9 S05E08 Things Past
  • VOY S05E20 Think Tank
  • TOS S03E09 The Tholian Web
  • DS9 S06E01 A Time to Stand
  • VOY S05E06 Timeless
  • TNG S05E26 Time’s Arrow
  • VOY S06E04 Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy
  • TOS S01E19 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
  • DS9 S07E06 Treachery, Faith, and the Great River
  • DS9 S02E25 Tribunal
  • TOS S02E15 The Trouble With Tribbles
  • TOS MOS06 The Undiscovered Country
  • TNG S05E07 Unification I
  • VOY S06E26 Unimatrix Zero
  • TOS MOS04 The Voyage Home
  • TNG S01E06 Where No One Has Gone Before
  • TNG S03E04 Who Watches the Watchers
  • VOY S07E16 Workforce
  • VOY S03E25 Worst Case Scenario
  • TNG S04E12 The Wounded
  • VOY S04E09 Year of Hell, Part II
3.5 out of 5 stars
  • DS9 S03E06 The Abandoned
  • ENT S04E14 The Aenar
  • TAS S02E04 Albatross
  • TNG S03E18 Allegiance
  • TNG S01E21 The Arsenal of Freedom
  • VOY S06E18 Ashes to Ashes
  • DS9 S05E05 The Assignment
  • TNG S07E08 Attached
  • ENT S04E08 Awakening
  • ENT S04E12 Babel One
  • VOY S02E26 Basics, Part I
  • VOY S03E21 Before and After
  • DS9 S05E23 Blaze of Glory
  • VOY S05E14 Bliss
  • TNG S03E05 The Bonding
  • DS9 S04E26 Broken Link
  • DS9 S01E06 Captive Pursuit
  • ENT S02E12 The Catwalk
  • DS9 S06E16 Change of Heart
  • TOS S02E03 The Changeling
  • DS9 S07E20 The Changing Face of Evil
  • TNG S04E14 Clues
  • VOY S03E15 Coda
  • VOY S04E11 Concerning Flight
  • TNG S02E11 Contagion
  • ENT S03E23 Countdown
  • VOY S05E10 Counterpoint
  • DS9 S07E09 Covenant
  • TNG S01E13 Datalore
  • DS9 S01E08 Dax
  • TOS S03E07 Day of the Dove
  • ENT S02E04 Dead Stop
  • VOY S02E21 Deadlock
  • ENT S01E13 Dear Doctor
  • ENT S04E20 Demons
  • ENT S01E24 Desert Crossing
  • DS9 S03E15 Destiny
  • TNG S05E05 Disaster
  • VOY S03E24 Displaced
  • DS9 S05E16 Doctor Bashir, I Presume?
  • VOY S05E26 Equinox
  • TOS S01E26 Errand of Mercy
  • TNG S03E01 Evolution
  • VOY S01E07 Eye of the Needle
  • DS9 S03E25 Facets
  • ENT S02E24 First Flight
  • ENT S01E10 Fortunate Son
  • ENT S02E16 Future Tense
  • VOY S03E08 Future’s End, Part I
  • VOY S06E20 Good Shepherd
  • VOY S06E25 The Haunting of Deck Twelve
  • TNG S01E20 Heart of Glory
  • ENT S04E03 Home
  • TNG S07E13 Homeward
  • TNG S03E11 The Hunted
  • DS9 S07E01 Image in the Sand
  • DS9 S03E20 Improbable Cause
  • DS9 S01E20 In the Hands of the Prophets
  • DS9 S02E04 Invasive Procedures
  • VOY S01E15 Jetrel
  • TNG S06E19 Lessons
  • DS9 S03E13 Life Support
  • VOY S06E21 Live Fast and Prosper
  • VOY S04E23 Living Witness
  • TNG S01E07 Lonely Among Us
  • TNG S04E10 The Loss
  • TNG S05E09 A Matter of Time
  • TNG S03E24 Ménage à Troi
  • TOS S02E09 Metamorphosis
  • TOS S01E08 Miri
  • TOS S01E06 Mudd’s Women
  • DS9 S01E11 The Nagus
  • TNG S01E03 The Naked Now
  • TNG S01E26 The Neutral Zone
  • TNG S04E17 Night Terrors
  • VOY S04E21 The Omega Directive
  • TAS S01E03 One of Our Planets is Missing
  • TOS S01E29 Operation: Annihilate!
  • TOS S03E03 The Paradise Syndrome
  • VOY S02E07 Parturition
  • DS9 S03E12 Past Tense, Part II
  • VOY S06E10 Pathfinder
  • TNG S02E21 Peak Performance
  • TOS S02E17 A Piece of the Action
  • TAS S02E01 The Pirates of Orion
  • DS9 S02E17 Playing God
  • TNG S05E15 Power Play
  • VOY S01E10 Prime Factors
  • DS9 S01E15 Progress
  • VOY S03E11 The Q and the Grey
  • VOY S07E19 Q2
  • VOY S04E10 Random Thoughts
  • TNG S06E02 Realm of Fear
  • DS9 S06E21 The Reckoning
  • TNG S05E01 Redemption II
  • VOY S03E06 Remember
  • VOY S07E24 Renaissance Man
  • VOY S07E04 Repression
  • VOY S02E12 Resistance
  • TNG S04E07 Reunion
  • VOY S06E06 Riddles
  • VOY S03E19 Rise
  • DS9 S04E18 Rules of Engagement
  • TOS MOS03 The Search for Spock
  • DS9 S03E02 The Search, Part II
  • DS9 S02E09 Second Sight
  • ENT S02E07 The Seventh
  • DS9 S02E16 Shadowplay
  • ENT S02E01 Shockwave, Part II
  • TNG S03E17 Sins of the Father
  • DS9 S06E25 The Sound of Her Voice
  • DS9 S06E09 Statistical Probabilities
  • ENT S02E14 Stigma
  • TAS S01E06 The Survivor
  • DS9 S07E22 Tacking Into the Wind
  • DS9 S07E04 Take Me Out to the Holosuite
  • ENT S01E06 Terra Nova
  • TAS S01E11 The Terratin Incident
  • ENT S04E22 These Are the Voyages…
  • DS9 S07E18 ’Til Death Do Us Part
  • TNG S07E16 Thine Own Self
  • DS9 S03E19 Through the Looking Glass
  • VOY S01E04 Time and Again
  • TNG S02E13 Time Squared
  • TNG S06E01 Time’s Arrow, Part II
  • TNG S03E20 Tin Man
  • TNG S06E06 True Q
  • VOY S02E24 Tuvix
  • VOY S07E01 Unimatrix Zero, Part II
  • DS9 S01E12 Vortex
  • VOY S04E13 Waking Moments
  • DS9 S07E21 When It Rains…
  • TOS S01E03 Where No Man Has Gone Before
  • DS9 S02E14 Whispers
  • TOS S03E14 Whom Gods Destroy
  • TOS S03E11 Wink of an Eye
  • VOY S07E17 Workforce, Part II
  • TAS S01E02 Yesteryear
  • ENT S03E24 Zero Hour
3 out of 5 stars
  • TNG S01E15 11001001
  • DS9 S04E17 Accession
  • DS9 S07E03 Afterimage
  • DS9 S02E12 The Alternate
  • ENT S03E02 Anomaly
  • DS9 S01E05 Babel
  • VOY S03E01 Basics, Part II
  • DS9 S05E12 The Begotten
  • TAS S02E02 Bem
  • VOY S03E16 Blood Fever
  • TNG S03E06 Booby Trap
  • ENT S02E21 The Breach
  • TOS S02E25 Bread and Circuses
  • ENT S01E01-02 Broken Bow
  • ENT S03E11 Carpenter Street
  • VOY S01E13 Cathexis
  • ENT S02E15 Cease Fire
  • TOS S01E02 Charlie X
  • ENT S01E09 Civilization
  • TOS S03E21 The Cloud Minders
  • VOY S02E10 Cold Fire
  • DS9 S02E24 The Collaborator
  • VOY S06E16 Collective
  • ENT S02E08 The Communicator
  • TNG S01E25 Conspiracy
  • ENT S03E22 The Council
  • TOS S01E20 Court Martial
  • ENT S04E10 Daedalus
  • TNG S02E10 The Dauphin
  • ENT S02E13 Dawn
  • TOS S02E12 The Deadly Years
  • VOY S02E18 Death Wish
  • ENT S01E21 Detained
  • DS9 S07E24 The Dogs of War
  • VOY S02E04 Elogium
  • TNG S07E23 Emergence
  • DS9 S01E01-2 Emissary
  • TNG S01E01-2 Encounter at Farpoint
  • DS9 S03E04 Equilibrium
  • VOY S06E01 Equinox, Part II
  • TNG S05E16 Ethics
  • ENT S02E26 The Expanse
  • DS9 S03E22 Explorers
  • TAS S01E15 The Eye of the Beholder
  • VOY S01E14 Faces
  • DS9 S07E13 Field of Fire
  • TNG S04E09 Final Mission
  • ENT S04E07 The Forge
  • DS9 S01E17 The Forsaken
  • TNG S04E16 Galaxy’s Child
  • TNG  MNG01 Generations
  • TNG S03E12 The High Ground
  • VOY S07E23 Homestead
  • VOY S04E15 Hunters
  • TNG S07E10 Inheritance
  • TNG MNG03 Insurrection
  • TNG S01E08 Justice
  • ENT S02E06 Marauders
  • TNG S07E17 Masks
  • TNG S03E14 A Matter of Perspective
  • TOS S01E11 The Menagerie, Part I
  • TOS S01E12 The Menagerie, Part II
  • TOS MOS01 The Motion Picture
  • DS9 S07E07 Once More Unto the Breach
  • DS9 S06E14 One Little Ship
  • DS9 S02E15 Paradise
  • VOY S01E03 Parallax
  • TNG S07E11 Parallels
  • DS9 S01E03 Past Prologue
  • DS9 S07E17 Penumbra
  • TNG S06E09 The Quality of Life
  • DS9 S04E24 The Quickening
  • DS9 S05E10 Rapture
  • TNG S06E07 Rascals
  • TNG S04E26 Redemption
  • TNG S06E23 Rightful Heir
  • DS9 S02E07 Rules of Acquisition
  • DS9 S04E20 Shattered Mirror
  • TOS S01E15 Shore Leave
  • ENT S01E16 Shuttlepod One
  • DS9 S06E03 Sons and Daughters
  • TOS S03E06 Spectre of the Gun
  • TOS S01E17 The Squire of Gothos
  • VOY S01E11 State of Flux
  • TNG S06E22 Suspicions
  • TOS S03E17 That Which Survives
  • DS9 S06E24 Time’s Orphan
  • TOS S03E24 Turnabout Intruder
  • DS9 S06E22 Valiant
  • VOY S07E15 The Void
  • VOY S06E09 The Voyager Conspiracy
  • VOY S03E10 Warlord
  • TOS S03E20 The Way to Eden
  • DS9 S06E17 Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night
2.5 out of 5 stars
  • DS9 S04E16 Bar Association
  • TNG S01E12 The Big Goodbye
  • DS9 S02E19 Blood Oath
  • TNG S07E22 Bloodlines
  • ENT S01E08 Breaking the Ice
  • DS9 S05E18 Business as Usual
  • TNG S06E20 The Chase
  • TOS S01E13 The Conscience of the King
  • TNG S05E20 Cost of Living
  • TAS S02E06 The Counter-Clock Incident
  • VOY S07E05 Critical Care
  • ENT S02E18 The Crossing
  • DS9 S05E11 The Darkness and the Light
  • VOY S03E23 Distant Origin
  • ENT S03E16 Doctor’s Orders
  • DS9 S01E18 Dramatis Personae
  • VOY S07E03 Drive
  • TNG S04E21 The Drumhead
  • TOS S03E12 The Empath
  • ENT S03E06 Exile
  • TNG S05E19 The First Duty
  • TOS S02E11 Friday’s Child
  • VOY S06E23 Fury
  • ENT S03E17 Hatchery
  • VOY S01E12 Heroes and Demons
  • VOY S07E18 Human Error
  • TNG S02E14 The Icarus Factor
  • VOY S02E02 Initiations
  • VOY S02E22 Innocence
  • TNG S07E03 Interface
  • VOY S02E20 Investigations
  • TAS S01E16 The Jihad
  • VOY S05E21 Juggernaut
  • TNG S01E05 The Last Outpost
  • TNG S04E06 Legacy
  • TNG S07E02 Liaisons
  • DS9 S01E04 A Man Alone
  • TOS S03E16 The Mark of Gideon
  • DS9 S02E06 Melora
  • TAS S01E05 More Tribbles, More Troubles
  • VOY S04E04 Nemesis
  • VOY S05E08 Nothing Human
  • ENT S01E20 Oasis
  • TNG S03E16 The Offspring
  • TNG S05E17 The Outcast
  • VOY S02E08 Persistence of Vision
  • VOY S02E03 Projections
  • DS9 S03E16 Prophet Motive
  • VOY S02E13 Prototype
  • ENT S01E18 Rogue Planet
  • DS9 S02E10 Sanctuary
  • TNG S02E06 The Schizoid Man
  • VOY S04E07 Scientific Method
  • DS9 S03E24 Shakaar
  • ENT S01E26 Shockwave
  • DS9 S05E17 A Simple Investigation
  • DS9 S04E15 Sons of Mogh
  • DS9 S07E19 Strange Bedfellows
  • TNG S04E04 Suddenly Human
  • TNG S03E03 The Survivors
  • DS9 S04E09 The Sword of Kahless
  • DS9 S03E17 Visionary
  • TOS S01E07 What Are Little Girls Made Of?
  • TOS S02E02 Who Mourns for Adonais?
  • DS9 S06E07 You are Cordially Invited…
2 out of 5 stars
  • VOY S05E23 11:59
  • TOS S01E27 The Alternative Factor
  • TAS S01E13 The Ambergris Element
  • TNG S06E13 Aquiel
  • DS9 S01E13 Battle Lines
  • DS9 S04E25 Body Parts
  • ENT S02E17 Canamar
  • VOY S01E01-2 Caretaker
  • TNG S02E01 The Child
  • DS9 S07E05 Chrysalis
  • VOY S03E03 The Chute
  • VOY S01E06 The Cloud
  • ENT S02E22 Cogenitor
  • TNG S01E19 Coming of Age
  • TNG S07E07 Dark Page
  • VOY S03E18 Darkling
  • TNG S04E13 Devil’s Due
  • VOY S05E17 The Disease
  • DS9 S03E18 Distant Voices
  • VOY S06E07 Dragon’s Teeth
  • ENT S03E21 E²
  • TOS S03E13 Elaan of Troyius
  • VOY S01E09 Emanations
  • VOY S05E03 Extreme Risk
  • TNG S07E18 Eye of the Beholder
  • VOY S03E13 Fair Trade
  • VOY S03E05 False Profits
  • DS9 S05E20 Ferengi Love Songs
  • ENT S01E03 Fight or Flight
  • TOS MOS05 The Final Frontier
  • TNG S07E21 Firstborn
  • TOS S03E08 For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
  • TNG S05E06 The Game
  • TOS S02E16 The Gamesters of Triskelion
  • TNG S01E11 Haven
  • TNG S01E10 Hide and Q
  • DS9 S06E20 His Way
  • ENT S02E20 Horizon
  • TNG S04E23 The Host
  • TOS S02E08 I, Mudd
  • TNG S05E22 Imaginary Friend
  • DS9 S05E25 In the Cards
  • TNG S04E25 In Theory
  • TNG S07E20 Journey’s End
  • DS9 S05E07 Let He Who Is Without Sin…
  • TOS S03E18 The Lights of Zetar
  • VOY S07E12 Lineage
  • TAS S01E04 The Lorelei Signal
  • TNG S02E05 Loud as a Whisper
  • DS9 S06E10 The Magnificent Ferengi
  • TNG S06E03 Man of the People
  • TNG S05E13 The Masterpiece Society
  • DS9 S04E21 The Muse
  • VOY S06E22 Muse
  • ENT S02E05 A Night In Sickbay
  • VOY S07E08 Nightingale
  • VOY S02E05 Non Sequitur
  • TAS S01E09 Once Upon a Planet
  • DS9 S01E09 The Passenger
  • TOS S02E21 Patterns of Force
  • TNG S02E15 Pen Pals
  • TNG S05E21 The Perfect Mate
  • VOY S01E05 Phage
  • TNG S07E06 Phantasms
  • TOS S03E10 Plato’s Stepchildren
  • TNG S03E08 The Price
  • TOS S02E19 A Private Little War
  • VOY S07E14 Prophecy
  • DS9 S01E07 Q-Less
  • TNG S04E20 Qpid
  • VOY S02E25 Resolutions
  • DS9 S06E08 Resurrection
  • TNG S02E12 The Royale
  • VOY S03E07 Sacred Ground
  • TNG S02E17 Samaritan Snare
  • TOS S03E22 The Savage Curtain
  • ENT S02E09 Singularity
  • VOY S05E22 Someone to Watch Over Me
  • ENT S04E01 Storm Front
  • TNG S01E22 Symbiosis
  • VOY S05E09 Thirty Days
  • VOY S02E15 Threshold
  • TAS S01E12 The Time Trap
  • TNG S01E16 Too Short a Season
  • TNG S03E25 Transfigurations
  • VOY S02E06 Twisted
  • ENT S01E25 Two Days and Two Nights
  • ENT S01E05 Unexpected
  • VOY S04E22 Unforgettable
  • TNG S02E07 Unnatural Selection
  • TNG S03E09 The Vengeance Factor
  • VOY S06E13 Virtuoso
  • VOY S04E20 Vis à Vis
  • VOY S05E25 Warhead
  • TNG S01E17 When the Bough Breaks
  • TNG S02E02 Where Silence Has Lease
  • DS9 S06E12 Who Mourns for Morn?
  • ENT S03E01 The Xindi
1.5 out of 5 stars
  • ENT S01E19 Acquisition
  • ENT S04E15 Affliction
  • VOY S06E05 Alice
  • VOY S02E14 Alliances
  • TOS S03E04 And the Children Shall Lead
  • TNG S01E14 Angel One
  • TOS S02E05 The Apple
  • ENT S02E25 Bounty
  • ENT S04E16 Divergence
  • VOY S06E11 Fair Haven
  • TNG S07E09 Force of Nature
  • TNG S07E19 Genesis
  • ENT S03E15 Harbinger
  • DS9 S06E15 Honor Among Thieves
  • DS9 S01E16 If Wishes Were Horses
  • TNG S02E19 Manhunt
  • VOY S07E22 Natural Law
  • TNG MNG04 Nemesis
  • TOS S02E23 The Omega Glory
  • VOY S05E05 Once Upon a Time
  • TNG S02E04 The Outrageous Okona
  • DS9 S07E11 Prodigal Daughter
  • TOS S03E19 Requiem for Methuselah
  • DS9 S02E11 Rivals
  • ENT S01E12 Silent Enemy
  • TNG S01E23 Skin of Evil
  • ENT S04E02 Storm Front, Part II
  • DS9 S01E14 The Storyteller
  • VOY S02E23 The Thaw
  • VOY S06E15 Tsunkatse
  • TNG S05E12 Violations
  • TOS S02E14 Wolf in the Fold
1 out of 5 stars
  • VOY S03E14 Alter Ego
  • VOY S07E20 Author, Author
  • ENT S04E17 Bound
  • TOS S02E07 Catspaw
  • TNG S01E04 Code of Honor
  • VOY S04E24 Demon
  • DS9 S07E12 The Emperor’s New Cloak
  • VOY S01E08 Ex Post Facto
  • ENT S03E03 Extinction
  • DS9 S03E10 Fascination
  • VOY S03E20 Favorite Son
  • VOY S05E19 The Fight
  • ENT S01E17 Fusion
  • TOS S03E15 Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
  • VOY S02E19 Lifesigns
  • DS9 S03E08 Meridian
  • DS9 S01E10 Move Along Home
  • TAS S01E10 Mudd’s Passion
  • TAS S02E03 The Practical Joker
  • DS9 S06E23 Profit and Lace
  • ENT S03E04 Rajiin
  • VOY S03E22 Real Life
  • VOY S07E13 Repentance
  • VOY S04E17 Retrospect
  • VOY S06E17 Spirit Folk
  • ENT S01E04 Strange New World
  • TNG S07E14 Sub Rosa
  • VOY S02E09 Tattoo
  • TNG S02E18 Up the Long Ladder
  • ENT S02E10 Vanishing Point
  • TNG S01E24 We’ll Always Have Paris
0.5 out of 5 stars
  • ENT S02E11 Precious Cargo
  • TOS S03E01 Spock’s Brain

No rating

  • TOS S02E26 Assignment: Earth
  • TNG S02E22 Shades of Gray

Trekaday #125: In a Mirror Darkly, Demons, Terra Prime, These Are the Voyages

Posted on December 25th, 2023 in Culture | 1 Comment »

ENT S04E18 In a Mirror, Darkly (4 out of 5 stars). As noted, this is the show which is, or was supposed to, get us from First Contact to The Cage. As such, opening with clips of the Vulcans landing and greeting Zefram Cochrane – a mix of movie footage and newly shot material – makes sense. But lo! This time, Cochrane shoots the Vulcan and the humans nick his ship, which takes us into titles glorifying war and weaponry (and sparing us “Faith of the Heart”). Every previous Mirror Universe story (which have included some five star bangers) has shown us the darker side of the Federation from the point of view of our usual goody-two-shoes characters. This time we’re just here.

Vaughan Armstrong is back as Captain Forrest, with Archer as his ambitious XO and the stage is set for a ton of malicious, moustache twirling, dark hair dye, navel-baring fun. That begins, alas, with Hoshi sexualised and disempowered, reduced to nothing more than Forrest’s floozy. Mirror Universe Kira was a bad ass. Mirror Universe Hoshi is just a piece of ass. And T’Pol just looks ridiculous in a Starfleet uniform cut under the boobs and down past the hipbone.

Mirror Universe Archer is considerably more interesting than his familiar Big Boy Scout incarnation. His seemingly self-appointed secret mission involves a trip into Tholian space, and fans of TOS should recognise that name. Having taken care of Forrest, Archer begins his rule by assembling a team of people whose names he knows. T’Pol becomes his first officer, Travis becomes his personal bodyguard, Hoshi puts on a uniform (or most of one). Once again, torture is shown to be a successful method of interrogation, which all available evidence indicates that it absolutely isn’t, but everything here is so amoral and ridiculous that it’s hard to take even that too seriously.

ENT S04E19 In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II (5 out of 5 stars). The ship from the – shall we call it Cis-Universe? – is not just shorn of its goatee beard, it’s from Kirk’s time, which means we get even more fun times, as our regular characters get to run around on a recreated 1960s Enterprise set (technically, this is the Defiant). The commitment to the bit is what really sells this, with another dose of that Ain’t War Grand title sequence, the ruthlessness of the Terran Empire forces and the destruction of the NX-01. Once his stolen motor is under their control, Archer has no problem wiping out the Tholians and any web which they might care to erect.

And the nostalgia continues with Archer wearing Kirk’s wraparound green jersey (followed by everyone else getting in on the TOS-play fun), learning about the Federation and drinking Romulan ale. There’s a bellicose Gorn on the loose and we even hear Majel Barrett’s computer voice again. And while I’m not the least bit sold on evil Hoshi as a character, it’s a joy to see Linda Park allowed to spread her wings for the first time since… well ever. Anthony Montgomery only gets to point a gun and glower, of course.

It’s hard to know who to root for, as power-crazed Archer tries to return to Earth at the command of the overpowered NCC-1764, planning on making himself God Emperor King, only to have the Tholians start picking off members of the crew. But again, that’s why these alternate universe stories are so enjoyable: everything is up for grabs. If I was tempted not to give this one five stars, that reticence evaporated when Scott Bakula lolled Kirk-like in the captain’s chair. Bravo.

ENT S04E20 Demons (3.5 out of 5 stars). RoboCop, in a very contemporary looking suit and tie, examines a Vulcan child in an incubator, which is the latest in a series of nothingburger teasers. Enterprise gotta Enterprise I suppose (the old theme is back, too, of course). But it seems as if such costumes are just what the well-dressed psychopath is wearing in 2155. The child is the timey-wimey offspring of Trip and T’Pol and somehow its presence is going to threaten the formation of the Federation.

Prime Minister Will Ferrell knows that xenophobia is still rife on Earth, following the Xindi attacks and tries to tell Archer not to be so naive as to rely on something as silly as faith of the heart. Wise words. And after 95 episodes, it’s finally time for Travis to get a storyline which doesn’t involve his immediate family. His subplot, in which an incredibly foxy ex-girlfriend throws herself bodily at him, has nothing to do with the main plot of course, but it’s nice to see Anthony Montgomery doing something other than saying “Aye sir”. I don’t entirely trust this young reporter, and I certainly don’t appreciate the many minutes of screen time she occupies with her tedious goo-goo eyes. Without that, this episode has much to recommend it, but – as is often the case with part ones – this is all build-up and no pay-off.

The hidden Star Trek metaphor of Magellan-era exploration is briefly surfaced once more, where it is blithely assumed that “orbiting” is equivalent to “nearby” and that because the Moon orbits the Earth and Mars is the next planet out from the Sun, that the Moon and Mars must always be nearby. Alas, orbital dynamics are a bit more complicated than the relative positions of say, Spain and the Cape of Good Hope.

ENT S04E21 Terra Prime (4.5 out of 5 stars). What’s particularly exciting about this is that although it looks like a thrilling race against time adventure, it’s really a battle for the hearts and minds of humanity. Have you ever heard anything more Star Trek? RoboCop makes a splendid villain, in the grand tradition of smooth-talking psychopaths who have spent years devising their evil plan and who will stop at nothing to pull it off. And he seems to believe his own poisonous rhetoric, which gives him the terrifying single-mindedness of a true zealot. It’s strong stuff. Thankfully his super-powerful death ray focused on Enterprise seems to pass straight through it with little effect.

Unconvinced by Will Ferrell’s plan to blow to hell the superpowerful comet-redirecting array next to the occupied Martian colony, Archer plans a stealthier infiltration mission. Meanwhile, Travis’s tedious girlfriend is so desperate to ensure that no-one onboard learns her identity that she is forced to reveal her identity to… wait, run that by me one more time… As ever, all of the plot dealing with Gannet Brooks (which is her actual character name and not a silly nickname I’ve given her) is incredibly boring and silly, but there’s much less of it this time, which is good as the rest of this is excellent. Tense, well-paced, and heartfelt, with very decent character stuff for Trip and T’Pol, and even a few crumbs for Malcolm and Hoshi.

And this doesn’t tie everything up with a bow either. Trip and T’Pol lose their child. The inhabitants of Earth won’t all decide overnight that aliens are their friends. And Archer still only knows the names of six of his crew. But we’ve got past the latest stone in the road, and sometimes that’s enough.

This is also – in almost all ways that make sense – the last episode of Enterprise, its slightly truncated episode orders for Seasons 3 and 4 reducing the total number to less than the 100 normally thought to be the minimum for a syndication deal. That seems like an unnecessary kick in the groin delivered by Paramount to the team which earned them so much money over the years. But Brannon Braga (who’s still hanging around) and Rick Berman nevertheless felt like they needed to say goodbye not just to this show but to the franchise they’d built which started back in 1987. So there’s one more instalment left over…

ENT S04E22 These Are the Voyages… (3.5 out of 5 stars). It does look like an episode of Enterprise to begin with. It’s not even clear that considerable time is supposed to have passed since Terra Prime. But almost immediately, Riker freezes the program and strides off the Holodeck. Wow.

This kind of framing story isn’t brand new for the franchise. One thinks of Living Witness from Voyager, for example, or even In the Pale Moonlight. The recreation of the Enterprise D, barely two episodes after the recreation of (in all but name) the original Enterprise, is pretty faultless – as you might expect. And it effectively enables the last few seasons of the cancelled show to be summarised in forty minutes, finally getting us to the creation of the Federation.

What’s confounding is that for the most part, this is simply an episode of Enterprise, with the usual mix of fan servicing, thrilling escapes from death, old friends reunited and thin characterisation. Quite what we gain by having a 24th century director’s commentary over these scenes is very far from clear. Simply having Frakes and Sirtis hanging around doesn’t make this feel like the summation of the whole 18-year journey, any more than a “Six Years Later” caption would have done.

So, on the one hand, this doesn’t play like the extra episode of TNG which is its reputation. On the other hand, Riker and Troi add very little, except a vague buzz of nostalgia, but I do understand Braga and especially Berman’s desire – from a personal point of view if nothing else – to sum up the entire era. And I don’t buy the bitter comments to the effect that this one story retroactively turns the previous 97 episodes into Riker’s holodeck fantasy. That’s not how TV works.

I would say that all the talk of how irreplaceable Trip is rather gives the game away regarding his fate, except that it’s made absolutely explicit that he’s going to die very early on. Bumping him off seems like a pretty sour way to add a hit of extra emotion to proceedings, and his death seems pretty pointless in the context of the overall narrative. That’s a far bigger problem than making 20% of this instalment a mild ret-con of The Pegasus (a sort Rikercrantz and Guildentroi Are Dead). Really, if we’d been allowed to hear Archer’s much-vaunted speech, this would probably be better liked. But then again, maybe the speech we imagine is better than any speech Bakula could have given – and he gave us a version of it at the end of last week’s episode anyhow. So we go out with a mash-up of the opening monologue instead. I’ll take that.

On this occasion, Riker and Troi’s costumes are holographic, unlike all those scenes in Voyager and TNG where people summoned hastily back to the bridge turn up in unlikely garments.

Season 4 wrap-up

  • Right, that’s it. That’s all she wrote. With UPN imploding, Enterprise is the victim of corporate mismanagement and quietly expires, echoing the fate of TOS as it is moved to a new timeslot and then cancelled on the pretext of low ratings, following which the franchise dies with it for countless years. There would be no more new Star Trek of any kind until the first JJ Abrams film in 2009 and no more Star Trek on television until 2017.
  • And, of course, it’s cancelled just when it was getting interesting. The one trick which Rick Berman never seemed to master was getting consistently entertaining episodes in year one. There’s good stuff in Season 3, but the season arc storyline hampers the narrative as often as it helps, and the fact that only T’Pol and Phlox can be relied upon to show any interiority is a persistent problem. Season 4 is better and the two and three-parters help enormously. It’s amazing to think that this was primarily a budget consideration; with less money to spend on each show, new sets needed to be amortised over multiple episodes to spread the cost.
  • That said, looking at the numbers, Season 4 comes in just a shade under Season 3, 3.32 compared to 3.37, but take out the dreadful Klingon Ridgegate two-parter and the ghastly Orion Slaver episode and things would look much healthier. Enterprise as a whole averages 3.09, virtually a dead heat with Voyager, but both some way behind everything except The Animated Series.
  • Another reason why Season 4 doesn’t score more highly is that T’Pol is underserved for much of it. And it’s not like Hoshi and Travis finally get some meaty storylines, because they get ignored almost as much as they have been for the previous three years. It’s just that this becomes the Archer and Trip and The Shiny Guest Stars show. Come back Michael Piller (or Ira Steven Behr).
  • For all that, I did have a good time with Enterprise, on the whole. It’s still Star Trek after all, and I’m immensely struck by the crestfallen and apologetic tone of the special features on all four seasons of the Blu-ray release. Maybe if it had run the approved seven seasons, then even if Star Trek had still gone off the air, the creators would be able to look back on it with more pride. As it is, the documentaries are just hours and hours of Brannon Braga saying sorry. It’s profoundly weird.
  • Also profoundly weird – I’m out of Star Trek. I have no immediate plans to continue this exercise beyond 2005. I dislike the JJ Abrams films and there’s no opportunity to put any other series into any kind of context, given that the show which kicked off the next phase of the franchise, Discovery, is still running as of this writing. So, instead, as this mission has concluded as planned on Christmas Day 2023, I am going to open some presents, drink some champagne and consider what life looks like without Kirk, Spock, Picard, Data, Sisko, Kira, Janeway, Seven, Archer and T’Pol to keep me company any more.
  • Thank you for reading. Live long and prosper.

Trekaday #124: Babel One, United, The Aenar, Affliction, Divergence, Bound

Posted on December 20th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

ENT S04E12 Babel One (3.5 out of 5 stars). The Andorians in general and Shran in particular are the hidden MVPs of this show. Between the off-brand Vulcans, the conveniently quarrelsome Xindi and the played-out Klingons, the “blue-skins”‘s blend of warlike aggression and compassionate nobility is absolutely fascinating. Less so is the “species which communicates via arguing” which ret-conning feels a little like writerly desperation at the crunch point of a long season. And in true TOS/TNG style, Enterprise is being used as a taxi service for this week’s crop of touchy ambassadors instead of continuing with its mission of exploration.

Doing sequels to TOS episodes is weird choice for a show set before any other Star Trek series, but less weird than bringing in TNG staples like Ferengi and Borg, and as Zagbars vs Zoobles stories go, this isn’t bad and it does help that we’ve seen both aliens before (although in the case of the Tellarites not for decades). But the concept of “the aliens who insult you to show respect” really doesn’t work when you’re trying to tell a story in which diplomatic relations break down, because the Tellarites sound exactly the same when Archer’s welcoming them on board as they do when they accuse Shran of trying to get them all killed. Somebody didn’t think this through. We’re also back in Voyager-land, where Enterprise is under attack and nearly destroyed – and then in the next scene, everything is running smoothly again, and they’re charging along at top speed. And we’re back in multi-part story land, tying up loose ends from TOS’s Balance of Terror. It’s a strong ending too, earning a last minute extra half-star.

After last week’s episode in which Hoshi got plenty of lines when she wasn’t in control of her own body, here we she gets a big scene shouting at Archer in which she was only pretending. I mean, I guess it’s progress but… “Vulcans are expert liars!” claims Shran, not without reason, but it’s not exactly what they’re known for in every other series. I don’t think injecting pure oxygen into those air tanks is going to go well for Malcolm and Trip. I can only assume that science consultant and co-writer of this episode Andre Bormanis turned two pages at once.

Last episode to air before Paramount announced that there would be no Season 5. The party’s over and all that’s left is the clearing up.

ENT S04E13 United (4.5 out of 5 stars). So this is why Kirk’s crew had never seen a Romulan before, despite the Federation having fought a war with them – remote controlled ships. Neat. And it’s a great escalation for Trip and Malcolm whose last hope was getting to the bridge where presumably life support would be in full effect. Tracking down the hologram-disguised Romulan ships requires a huge fleet to create a sensor web, and thus Archer must assemble a coalition of squabbling species with Enterprise issuing the commands. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect a prequel series to have been doing from the beginning but it’s no less welcome for its late arrival.

This is quite a busy episode, but all the strands work well. Trip and Malcolm’s trial of traps inside the Romulan drone is tense and unpredictable; Archer’s grouchy diplomacy strikes a good balance between Bakula’s two chief modes of impatient headmaster and jovial baseball coach; Shran’s subplot with poor doomed Talas is genuinely affecting; and the big political plot has tremendous scope and impact. We could have used something for T’Pol to do, but that seems like quibbling when the overall quality is so high.

Archer’s dual with Shran isn’t set up with quite the seamless logic of Kirk’s famous battle with Spock but it’s a great way of making the bigger story personal and keeping the focus on our leading players, and not on the Zagbars and Zoobles. This doesn’t have the deep character work of the very best of Star Trek, but it’s otherwise pretty faultless, with a confidence which is extremely gratifying.

ENT S04E14 The Aenar (3.5 out of 5 stars). Wrapping up many of the big plotlines last time gave a satisfying end to the previous episode but means we don’t carry much momentum into this one. The visit to the Andorian homeworld is worthwhile however, being a genuinely alien environment as well as just a change of scene. But it’s Shran who comes a cropper on the ice and not newcomer Archer. The slower pace creates a bit of room for some nice Trip/T’Pol scenes which is welcome, but it’s hard not to feel that this is just a bit dull, compared to part two which combined Thrilling Escapes From Death with an opportunity for Archer to build the Star Trek legend.

Slicing an antenna in half is enough to render Shran incapable of defending himself, thus ending the dual last week, but he happily goes on the mission with Archer, seemingly unaffected. Maybe that’s why he slips on the ice. He shrugs off being impaled through the thigh as well.

ENT S04E15 Affliction (1.5 out of 5 stars). Columbia is setting sail and Trip is going with her to avoid having to see officially unmarried T’Pol every day (although he denies that’s the reason). I’m not sure this is the for the good of the show. T’Pol seems to have concluded her arc prematurely and while the stories in this season are far more engaging than before, T’Pol – who was such a highlight of episodes past – for the most part has just become Tuvok. She delivers exposition in a slightly sarcastic tone and lets other people have the big emotional journeys. If she and Trip had to deal with their complicated feelings for each other, I’d be more interested in both of them. Luckily he’s still popping up in her white cyclorama meditation dreamscapes. The new chief engineer is never introduced to us, or Archer. Do you know, I’m not altogether convinced that Trip’s never coming back.

Speaking of things I am and am not interested in, we’ve just had a three-part story in which the Romulans turned out to be pulling the strings – Romulans with a rather different make-up job than those who appeared in TOS. But nobody thought to mention this fact, because it’s clearly irrelevant. And yet, here we are with bumpy-foreheaded Klingons so concerned with some of them not having bumpy foreheads that they’ve kidnapped Dr Phlox and made him try and figure out what’s going on. That’s pretty much the definition of letting the foam latex tail wag the targ. I’m also pretty uninterested in whatever Malcolm is creeping around doing. Maybe I’d have looked upon this subplot with more generosity if I wasn’t so distracted throwing things at the TV screen as poor John Schuck has to dole out this pointless nonsense.

Far from embracing a glorious death, the Klingon in the opening scene protests “My death sentence was commuted!” It’s nearly as bizarre as those madly illogical Vulcans. Seth McFarlane is back for another brief appearance. In Phlox’s absence, another medical officer takes over. Archer doesn’t talk to her, because he doesn’t know her name.

ENT S04E16 Divergence (1.5 out of 5 stars). Director David Barrett brings us out of the titles with a bonkers CGI whip-zoom through both Enterprise and Columbia to really hammer home just how thrilling this all is. It would love to be a huge exciting chase like the movie Speed, which is clearly where they got the idea of “if we go below Warp 5 we all die”. But it just feels like people in silly costumes standing around studios hanging on to ropes. None of it has any reality or verisimilitude, and it all just feels like busywork because the story of How the Klingons Lost Their Ridges turns out not be worth a movie’s worth of broadcast TV after all. It also seems like there should be someone on Enterprise who can do Trip’s job when he isn’t there. Didn’t they learn that lesson in Similitude?

Phlox’s method for determining the likely effect of various compounds appears to be akin to playing hypospray Russian Roulette. Apart from Malcolm, who is given a new personality in order to make this week’s plot work, characterisation has become something which only happens on other shows. This is all theatrical actors glowering meaningless exposition at each other while melodramatic music thunders away in the background. It’s what Star Trek looks like to people who don’t watch Star Trek. Only John Billingsley emerges with any dignity at all. Actually, Ada Maris isn’t bad as Captain Hernandez. Where’s her spin-off?

ENT S04E17 Bound (1 out of 5 stars). We have a nascent Federation, so now let’s start building some Starbases. And who could wait to see the Orions again after the Augments trilogy? After all, this show’s always had great luck with slave girl stories. It will take Lower Decks to really make a good stab of the Orion Syndicate, because here we’re right back to trafficking scantily-clad young women like a science fiction version of The Benny Hill Show, complete with senior Starfleet officers watching the floor show with their eyes bugging out of their heads like the Tex Avery cartoon wolf. Travis too behaves as if he’s never seen a woman before when they come on board. Meanwhile, Trip is in a plot superposition of states, both with his love life and his professional life, neither in a relationship with T’Pol nor not, neither chief engineer on Enterprise, nor not. This had better be going somewhere, because at the moment it’s orbiting a story but not actually landing on it. The rest of this is just a The Naked Time yet again, but in bikinis. Yawn.

Trekaday #123: The Forge, Awakening, Kir’Shara, Daedalus, Observer Effect

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

ENT S04E07 The Forge (3 out of 5 stars). Finally, Manny Coto remembers that the original pitch for Enterprise was “Let’s see how we got from First Contact to The Original Series” and Admiral Forest is hoping that the Vulcans will finally be ready to begin joint missions with humans. Of all the things I had heard about Enterprise (and vaguely remembered from watching it at the time) nobody seems to be talking about the hatchet job that this series did on the Vulcan character. Once again, they are portrayed here as fearful, paranoid, deceitful, proud and petty, but there is some softening and Gary Graham manages to do something other than sneer. Bumping off Admiral Forest is a big move – he’s been a supporting player on the show since Broken Bow and was played by Vaughan Armstrong who first appeared in Star Trek back in 1988.

The strongest early episodes of Enterprise were the ones dealing with the Vulcan/Andorian conflict and so I am delighted to hear their name spoken, but in fact it’s splinter group the Syrannites who are in the frame. This emotional faction appears to have no connection to those we met in Season 1’s Fusion. Lot of splinter groups floating around Vulcan at this time, huh? Adding to the soapy feel, T’Pol’s husband turns up and reveals that her mum is one of these Syrannites too, all of which strains credulity a bit, but I’m nevertheless grateful that the emphasis is on one of our regulars and not a guest character. (Malcolm and Travis are kept busy with a largely irrelevant I’ve-stood-on-a-mine sequence after which is not seen again. Hoshi is MIA as usual.)

The titular Forge is one of the best-looking alien worlds we’ve yet seen and the pairing of T’Pol and Archer is often worthwhile, but there’s yet more thrilling-escape-from-death busywork to be done before they actually start uncovering the mystery (or learning more about each other, I’m good either way). And that’s because this is another unheralded multi-part story. Yet more mind-meld ret-conning. This time it’s still vaguely unsavoury but any random Vulcan can do it, if the need is sufficiently urgent. Also, the notion of a katra (which saved Spock’s life) seems to be a wacky fringe belief.

ENT S04E08 Awakening (3.5 out of 5 stars). One of the problems of prequels is that it’s so easy for the audience to be ahead of the characters. That’s not necessarily a problem. Dramatic irony is just as useful and legitimate a storytelling device as surprise. But when I’m already feeling as if I could have done better than my leading characters given half a chance, it doesn’t help that I know all about preserving a Vulcan’s essence by transferring their katra to another, and Archer and T’Pol are both clueless. Of rather more interest is Ambassador Soval’s transition from supercilious parent-figure to concerned ally, and the rapprochement between T’Pol and her mum. As usual, when we do get crumbs of character development, they are with the supporting characters, but pairing T’Les with her daughter and Soval with Trip helps enormously.

Director Roxann Dawson does well with Archer’s visions as well, making what could have been a rote wisdom-from-hallucinations scene into something a bit more personal and powerful. And there’s a sense here too that these paranoid and vindictive Vulcans needed human contact (and Archer in particular) to become the dignified and compassionate people we’ve known since 1966. I find it hard to believe that this was the plan from the beginning, and I would have rather seen dignified and compassionate Vulcans from the beginning – Vulcans who actually were logical instead of simply using the word “logic” as a stick to beat lesser races with. But we are where we are, and this isn’t a bad fix, especially as again it makes clear that humans were a vital part of the Federation puzzle. We also aren’t done with this story yet – it’s a second consecutive three-parter. Gotta love the ambition suddenly on display here. Helmsman Travis gets one brief scene where he tells Chief Engineer Trip about the engineering fix he’s pulled off. Hoshi is almost entirely absent (as is Phlox).

ENT S04E09 Kir’Shara (4 out of 5 stars). The “blue-skins” are back! Shadows of P’Jem has proven to be a remarkably influential episode. This early triumph of the first season pointed a clear way forward for the show which was sadly often ignored, but the thread which starts there and ends here is probably what I will remember Enterprise for most. It’s also nice to see Trip stepping up in Archer’s absence. This gun-toting good old boy might make a decent officer yet.

But this is really about the continuing political double-dealing between the Vulcans and Andorians, with great work from both Gary Graham and Jeffrey Combs, who really sell the (still rather distasteful) torture scene. And it’s about how the Vulcans and the humans finally manage to bring out the best in each other, which is all rather sweet.

Manny Coto’s apology tour for the past three seasons continues as the nonsense about T’Pol’s mind-meld disease is ret-conned away. All he needs to do now is turn Malcolm, Hoshi and Travis into actual characters and he truly will have achieved the impossible. That last twist is basically nonsense though, and costs this episode half a star. Vulcan divorces are remarkably quick and easy. All it takes is for the husband to say “laters”. Whether the wife has the same power is not clear.

ENT S04E10 Daedalus (3 out of 5 stars). The title is a giveaway of course. Daedalus was the father of Icarus whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun. This hopeful aerial pioneer is Dr Emory Erickson, inventor of the transporter, which in four short seasons has gone from unreliable and experimental death-trap, to only-to-be-used-in-emergencies-but-probably-fine, to routine mode of travel for people and cargo alike. As usual the title sequence is just shoved in between routine scenes of calm domesticity. We’re a long way away from the punchy teasers of past franchises.

Erickson, the crackpot inventor in a wheelchair, feels like a bit of a trope. Even today, breakthroughs tend to come from whole teams of researchers working together, not one mad genius whose broken body allows the mind to soar. But Cobbs makes him charming and reasonable, and having one character stand in for an idea or a point of view makes for better drama than an army of anonymous drones all working away. However, after a strong run of serialised episodes, this stand-alone story feels thin, and the drama unfolds with few surprises or innovations. I’d have been delighted by this in Season 1 or 2, but by now the show can do much better than this.

ENT S04E11 Observer Effect (4 out of 5 stars). Super-powerful aliens appear to have taken over Malcom and Travis. It’s hard to spot this at first as Dominic Keating is playing it as Evadne Hinge whereas Anthony Montgomery is just playing Travis. Having what’s essentially a director’s commentary from inside the episode is a novel wrinkle, which adds some useful dramatic irony, but Travis’s alien observer is so poor at his job that (not for the first time on this show) he makes the rest of the regulars look like dummies for not immediately going “Something is badly wrong, put this guy in the brig until we figure out what’s up.” In fact, in general it does seem like rigging up little cameras would be a better MO for super-powerful aliens who want to spy on humans, rather than inhabiting the bodies of two of the crew.

Even more surprises – Hoshi gets some lines, and she and Trip end up coughing and puking in quarantine. Trip is astonished to hear Hoshi’s tales of being chucked out of the Academy, and no wonder as they all flatly contradict everything we’ve learned about her so far. There’s a line between revealing layers and just writing a brand new character, and this feels like it’s way over that line.

So, this is yet another riff on Q putting humans on trial, but while the plot machinery of the crew infected with a deadly virus is fairly routine, this is a good excuse to shut two characters in a small room together, and the perspective of the “Observers” adds a nifty extra layer. I especially like how they pass from person to person with no distracting visual effects. The moment of eye contact between Malcolm and Travis on the bridge when they are repossessed is deliciously creepy.

How a silicon-based virus interacts with carbon-based cellular machinery is not clear.

So… what did I think of… wait, what?

Posted on December 10th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

Well, that was unexpected!

The first forty-odd minutes of this, I unequivocally loved. The creepy opening with Neil Patrick Harris, born to play the Toymaker, connecting the sixtieth anniversary of the show to the birth of television itself via a spooky-ass puppet doll. The glimpses of the same Toymaker pirouetting as Camden (and we learn, the world) disintegrates under the weight of endless what-about-ism. UNIT’s Avengers-style HQ featuring the return of Melanie Bush. The (no doubt shortly to be revealed as evil) Zovirax or whatever the hell making little blinking upper arm doo-dads to keep everybody sane. A quick flash of a very much not-sane Lethbridge Stewart. The chase through the cave of traps, with Donna beating a puppet to death, because fuck that puppet, that’s why. And most gloriously of all, the Toymaker’s “Spicy” re-entry into the story.

And RTD’s commitment to this-is-all-one-big-story continues with shout outs to Mavic Chen, Sarah Jane Smith and more besides, and the Toymaker recapping the non-RTD years and totting up the fatalities (which did feel a bit like the returning showrunner marking the homework of the last two showrunners). Well that’s all right then!

Lasering the Tennant Doctor through the tummy is certainly an arresting way of bringing about a regeneration, but a lot of what followed really didn’t make a whole lot of sense and – if you’ll pardon the expression – I could feel the writer’s hands pulling the strings to make the story work. There’s nothing here I’m fundamentally opposed to. I’m not here celebrating MY RIGHT TO BE RIGHT ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WRITE. Sure, let the Doctor split in two if he wants. Sure, let the old Doctor retire and eat curry in a garden if he wants. Sure, let’s despatch the most powerful villain we’ve ever seen with a game of catch – bathos is kind of the point. But are these all necessarily changes for the better? Would something less daring, more predictable, more running on rails actually have been more satisfying? I dunno. Maybe.

Is the Toymaker’s presence connected with the double Doctoring? Not clear. Russell’s stated reason for this bi-generation is that he was fed up of regenerations being tragedies, being sacrifices. But if victories are too easily-won, they cost nothing. And it was odd that the Toymaker’s plan to face a different Doctor having backfired, the fact that it was two against one in the game of catch at the end didn’t seem to factor in. The Toymaker just fumbled his last catch because he did. And if we are to believe that Ten/Fourteen’s Lonely God has finally tired of all the running, shouldn’t that have been layered in just a little more?

But my biggest problem with all of this is that, having decided to strip out the pain of losing a Doctor, having decided to have the Toymaker easily defeated, having decided to let the retiring Doctor have his TARDIS and eat his curry too, there isn’t a lot to be invested in at the end of the story. The climax comes at the 47-minute mark. The rest is just calm, pleasant, measured story admin. Still at least the angry fans who know what an anniversary special looks like and want only that got the multi-Doctor narrative they had been furiously clamouring for.

Reading that back, it all sounds rather harsh, and actually that wasn’t my experience of watching this at all. Those first 46 minutes are staggeringly good, with “Spice Up Your Life” possibly being my favourite sequence since the Osgood Boxes. And the remaining 15 minutes aren’t bad exactly, they’re just odd, and oddly dramatically inert. But you can’t say that about Ncuti Gatwa’s first few minutes on-screen. He blazes onto the set, full of fire and energy and gusto. Not for him a whole episode wandering around the TARDIS impersonating his predecessors, or sleeping through an invasion in his dressing gown, or going bonkers and strangling passing American botany students. The new Doctor arrives fully formed, and oh honey, I can’t wait for Christmas.

4 out of 5 stars

Trekaday #122: Storm Front, Home, Borderland, Cold Station 12, The Augments

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

ENT S04E01 Storm Front (2 out of 5 stars). Oh joy. Nazis. Apart from the fact that our people deserved a win, this feels like a massively stupid and irrelevant twist to suddenly impose upon a series which had haltingly, falteringly, started to figure out what it was for and how it worked. Anyway, maybe now T’Pol will accept that time travel is possible. Enterprise is still being infiltrated by the Acne Squad, who are presumably responsible, so this doesn’t feel much like the start of a whole new version of the show, more like still trying to make bits of the old show work and feel important. New showrunner Manny Coto takes over from here, but clearly had little choice but to do the dopey time travel story he’d been handed by Brannon Braga on his way out the door. He does at least try and write out Daniels, but 45 minutes isn’t enough to unravel all of this, so we’ll have more of the same next time. Ropey plotting here too as Trip and Travis beam down and get captured, essentially swapping places with Archer who escapes capture and beams back on board the ship. That’s not storytelling, it’s just busywork.

Time Magazine referred to “World War II” as early as 1939 so it’s hard to see why Alicia hasn’t heard the phrase before. First episode of Star Trek shot on digital cameras, and it looks absolutely fantastic, I’ll give it that.

ENT S04E02 Storm Front, Part II (1.5 out of 5 stars). Some nifty compositing shows Hitler in Times Square and sailing past the Statue of Liberty, which is at least an arresting set of images, possibly proving that their might be a few dregs left at the bottom of the Star Trek vs The Nazis barrel. But British character actors doing Allo Allo accents while declaiming at people in rubber heads is still a pretty ludicrous sight, no matter the justification. Meanwhile, Archer attempts to make Alicia feel at home by listing his ship’s casualties at her, which is a pretty weird seduction ploy to say the least. Golden Brooks is a very appealing presence though, and once again gets more and more interesting things to do than many of the regular cast. Silik had formed the idea that Earth people were some kind of hippy peaceniks. Enterprise kicking some Xindi ass set him straight. Trip and Archer, who used up some screen time swapping places last episode, use up more screen time swapping back again this time. I don’t think Manny Coto’s heart was in this one. Still at least the Temporal Cold War is done and dusted now – and all it took was blowing up one not very large building. Who knew it could be so easy?

ENT S04E03 Home (3.5 out of 5 stars). There’s a parade for the heroes who saved Earth (or seven of them at any rate). Archer knows that twenty-seven people didn’t make it back, but can’t name any of them, natch. We do find time to check in with most of the seven people that apparently did all the actual work. T’Pol is bringing Trip home to meet her mum (science fiction royalty Joanna Cassidy from off of Blade Runner). These Vulcans are still the same touchy, catty, neurotic, paranoid nut-jobs that they have been since Season 1. They fulfil obligations because it makes their parents feel good rather than for any other reason. They preferentially respond to certain “influential” members of their society, rather than judging each person’s arguments on its own merits. Why has Star Trek’s longest established culture suddenly become so hard to write for?

Phlox is disembarking with his private menagerie and hoping not to be the victim of a hate crime, despite Malcolm’s warnings. Presumably Hoshi and Travis have loved ones who are waiting for them too, but, you know, screw those guys. And Archer is helping his old girlfriend with the fit-out of Columbia, and re-opening the debate about whether Starfleet is a military outfit or not. He also has to explain some of his less than ideal ethical choices to a typically acidulous Vulcan tribunal (which feels a bit like the new showrunner marking the old showrunner’s homework). Archer again demonstrates his childish short temper and general unsuitability for the role he’s been given. Some things never change, apparently. Malcolm and Travis waste little time before getting into a bar-fight too.

It’s nice to have some focus on (some of) the characters, and although it’s clumsy, I appreciate the attempt to show what effect the Xindi attack has had on Earth (or on belligerent America males, at any rate). But this isn’t anything like as good as TNG’s Family (which it is obviously cribbed from) and some plotlines are left frustratingly unresolved or underdeveloped. T’Pol gets all the best stuff as usual, and having her go through with marrying her unsuitable boyfriend is a bold note on which to end the episode. Now can we go back to discovering strange new worlds?

While Archer was gone, another World War Three epic swept all the awards.

ENT S04E04 Borderland (4 out of 5 stars). For a show whose very raison d’etre would appear to be connecting Berman-Trek to The Original Series, this final roll of the dice seems to be going back to the TNG well instead, with some very nineties looking Klingons and a guest appearance by none other than Brent Spiner, playing a nutty ancestor of Data’s daddy. In a riff on The Silence of the Lambs, crazy criminal scientist Arik Soong is the only one who can catch the augmented superhumans currently on the loose. Quite why this is Archer and Enterprise’s business is anyone’s guess, as is why Archer in uniform is giving the mission briefing to his six trusted bridge crew all of whom are in civvies. (T’Pol later appears in a skintight purple version of the uniform which cannot be Starfleet standard issue. Why the hell can’t they dress her like the others?)

It used to be the case that Archer’s mission represented humanity’s first few faltering steps outside the solar system. But now Soong, who has been in prison for years, seems to know everything about Klingons, Orion Slave Traders (who are at least part of Kirk’s series) and much else besides, of which Archer is entirely ignorant. That puts Scott Bakula back in tetchy headmaster mode, but this plays off Spiner’s casual insouciance rather well, and having T’Pol and various redshirts kidnapped and sold as slaves is a nice high-stakes twist. I’ve commented before that this is by far the most useless and ill-suited bridge crew we’ve seen, but god, the redshirts are even worse. Only one is featured, T’Pol literally doesn’t know his name and when she finds him, he’s basically wetting himself with fear. Not exactly the right stuff. And just when I was thinking “there’s a lot here to wrap up and not much time left” – it’s to be continued. But at least there aren’t any space Nazis. And there are boy slaves this time, which I guess is some kind of progress (even if the girl slaves are still in silver bikinis). One of the Augments saying “I’m going to attack you,” and still getting the drop on Archer is just the right side of ridiculous. They’re great villains, but they need to stop arguing among themselves (shades of the Xindi).

ENT S04E05 Cold Station 12 (4.5 out of 5 stars). This is all presumably supposed to tie into the Eugenics Wars / anti-genetic engineering stuff which began in Space Seed and which was a turning point for Dr Bashir’s character in Deep Space Nine (and which played out again in Picard many years later). I don’t really know how much sense any of this makes, but if what I’m being offered is Brent Spiner as a seemingly-benevolent father figure at the head of a race of aggressive superhumans who are hell-bent on the destruction of everything we hold dear, then I’m pretty happy. The Augments are suitably creepy and Aryan and there are some nice nods to sixties NBC looking technology in the set dressing.

Naturally, the superhumans reject the gimpy one who didn’t turn out so awesome, and it’s nice that “Smike” refuses to betray the siblings who turned their backs on him, at least at first. And the prospect of power-mad Soong unleashing an army of genetically-superior murder-brats is a suitably compelling one. About the only thing which this exciting space adventure has in common with the previous three or so years is that Hoshi and Travis have nothing to do. Best scene – Soong vs Richard Riehle’s Dr Lucas vs his own conscience. Cracking stuff.

ENT S04E06 The Augments (4 out of 5 stars). Part three of, I assume, three. This has been fairly thick-eared adventure stuff for the most part, with a shiny guest star executing his evil plan, the heroic captain being square-jawed and heroic, and the brave crew doing whichever job needs doing efficiently and anonymously. But within those limitations, it’s very effective and Archer’s thrilling escape from death is pretty wild stuff. My only qualm is that once again, it will be the villains squabbling among themselves which will prove to be their undoing, more than any brilliant tactical innovations on the parts of our heroes.

I think the hope of the creative team was that the eugenics theme and the vacillation of Brent Spiner’s character would provide some conceptual or emotional ballast, but neither does all that much to anchor this breezy trilogy, which kind of comes down whether our orange glowing ball of pixels will overtake their green glowing ball of pixels. What’s really missing is that Star Trek sense of wonder and optimism, to say nothing of family. We do get a nice scene between T’Pol and Trip (reviewing the former’s choice at the end of Home), but this is still The Captain Jonathan Archer Show and he’s just not all that interesting. However, the renewed sense of confidence is undeniable.

References to Khan, Botany Bay and the Briar Patch feel like slightly pointless Easter Eggs rather than a new stitch in the great Star Trek quilt of history, but I don’t object to them (maybe the Briar Patch just a little).

Trekaday #121: Damage, The Forgotten, E², The Council, Countdown, Zero Hour

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

ENT S03E19 Damage (4.5 out of 5 stars). After 700-odd episodes in which the lead characters of the various Star Trek series showed us what we could be if we listened to the better angels of our nature, someone on the Enterprise writing staff seems to be continually saying “This time, what if our lead characters were all doofuses instead?” No-one has escaped this brush so far, whether it’s no-space-legs Hoshi, waste-of-space-Travis, let-them-die Phlox, I-work-alone-Malcolm, three-genders-I-don’t-think-so Trip or shoot-first-ask-questions-later-or-never Archer. The sole exception has been T’Pol, so now’s the ideal time to have her freeze up on the bridge, the first time she’s given official command of the ship. Great. And yes, I can tell they’re setting up a bigger story arc for her, but I still prefer my Star Trek cast to set goals for me to aspire to, rather than to leave me thinking “Honestly, I could do better on a bad day.”

When the attack is called off, she gives a better account of herself, assessing the damage, triaging the repair works and keeping order, but it’s still a relief to see Archer returned home (and not brought before the council as requested). And honestly, I feel bad about dunking on the characters here, because it’s show-level problem and in this story, when their backs are against the walls, they all a) come through and b) gain some much-needed dimension – even Hoshi (not Travis of course, don’t be ridiculous). The promise of being cut off from Earth and Starfleet really starts to pay off here, and there are more tough choices coming for Archer, and further trials for T’Pol. I don’t like the idea of weakening her in this way, but it couldn’t happen at a worse time, and that’s a lovely complication. She’s essentially getting hooked on emotions, which is a fascinating version of the Vulcan persona.

Archer’s decision to nick an innocent ship’s warp coil in order to save his own sorry skin is a ghastly one, but at least it’s given some moral context by T’Pol and Trip who point out what a huge jerk he’s being. Strong stuff, but as noted I’d still rather have my optimistic science-fiction fables centred on a captain who’s less of a jerk.

ENT S03E20 The Forgotten (5 out of 5 stars). Year of hell indeed. Enterprise is still all kinds of screwed up and it looks like it’s staying that way for now at least. That’s a commitment to consequences and making things matter which is brand new for this show at least. Connor Trinneer is really good here, making Trip’s exhaustion, determination and emotional disengagement believable and effecting. His bitterness towards the Xindi is further evidence of his unsuitability for the role of first officer, but it’s quite understandable. Archer’s sour inspirational speech is stirring stuff too, but the smash into the new jangly guitar-pop version of the theme has almost never been more jarring.

Degra was behind Archer’s return to Enterprise, which does make some kind of sense, but really we should have had the explanation last time. Now, finally, we start to develop the Star Trek version of this story. Intrinsic enemies who learn to understand each other and find common cause. Trying to forge a new alliance, Bakula falls back on his disappointed headmaster style of acting, when something rather more warm and compassionate might have worked better. It’s a false note in an otherwise strong episode.

And this is a very strong episode. It isn’t a headline-grabber, it doesn’t represent a major left turn in the season arc plot, there aren’t any old favourites making return appearances. But pretty much everything works, from T’Pol’s attack of the yips, to Trip’s visitation from his dead comrade, to the Xindi’s understandable skepticism regarding the wild tales told by these crazy humans, and their eventual decision to turn on their own. I doubt this is a true fan-favourite, but as the Xindi arc really starts to pay off properly, I’m delighted to finally be able to dish out five stars, not least because here all of the characters sound and behave like people, instead of plot contrivances. Of course, there’s nothing for Travis or Hoshi to do, but let’s not ask for miracles, eh?

Star Trek celebrity super-fan Seth McFarlane shows up in a tiny role. A dozen or so year’s later, he’d get his own science fiction series The Orville on the air, which many have interpreted as a love letter to the franchise in general and The Next Generation in particular. It takes a while to find a consistent tone, but I really enjoyed it.

Archer wishes he could thank the eighteen crewmen who were lost, but he can’t alas (because he doesn’t know their names). Accordingly, Trip has to write the letters of condolences.

ENT S03E21 E² (2 out of 5 stars). Despite all of the recent episodes starting with “Previously on Enterprise…” the commitment to serialisation is still a bit half-assed. Basically there’s enough arc-plot for a modern ten episode season, but there are twenty-four transmission slots that need filling, so when Degra says to Archer “See you in three days” he means “See you after the next batch of filler episodes.” And the early sight of Jolene Blalock under half a ton of Michael Westmore’s most crinkly latex is an early clue that this time out from the season-spanning narrative will be – oh goody – a time travel story.

In fact, it’s not that long until we see Randy Oglesby again, but all he and the other Xindi gents do is to rehash information from earlier episodes. Once more, the all-powerful aggressors are rendered impotent by their own silly quarrels. But quickly, Archer’s ship is warned off by another Enterprise, which was sent back in time over 100 years. T’Pol, who refused to believe in time travel for years, became the expert, asserting that travel back through the anomaly was not possible, and so the ship became a generational vessel, waiting for the chance to stop the Xindi attack.

Rather than the usual rules, as stressed by Daniels and his ilk, which involve not altering the past, the descendants of the original crew can’t wait to tell everyone on board who married whom, who was horribly killed and when, and how everything turned out. It’s meant to shine a light on their different personalities, but it only comes off as silly. Then the twist is that T’Pol’s creepy son is going to do to Archer what Archer did to the Illyrians in Damage – nick his engine and leave him stranded, but this is rapidly abandoned. It feels like no-one is really sure what this was supposed to be about. Honestly, you could skip this one and you’d lose nothing.

Women only make up a third of the crew on Enterprise. Why?

ENT S03E22 The Council (3 out of 5 stars). Archer thinks he’s found a way into the spheres and Degra is keen to see whatever they can find. Accordingly, Malcolm recruits one of his hated MACOs to accompany him. I wonder why he didn’t ask Travis or Trip? Meanwhile the almost-all-male rapidly-becoming-more-reasonable Xindi council is being pressured by the all-female Guardians who appear to have been taking fashion lessons from the Borg Queen.

So, the big showdown is approaching, and I’ve been tracking the progress of this multi-episode storyline from its initial we-will-enact-our-bloody-revenge beginnings to a more compassionate and, well, Star Trek version in which those who claimed so many lives on Earth will yet become allies. The price we pay for that is a transition from exciting space battles to people in rubber masks talking in rooms. The challenge now is to make us care about who they are and what they’re saying. That would normally come from how well we know the regular characters, but, you know…

The combination of this story arc and Randy Oglesby’s sensitive portrayal actually means that Degra’s character has been pretty well defined, but Archer’s morality has ebbed and flowed according to the demands of the plots of different episodes, T’Pol has become little more than a medical case history, and Trip hasn’t been given anything important to do so far, so this is going to be hard to pull off.

The early going isn’t promising with the Insectoids being relentlessly belligerent with zero nuance, and Hoshi just there to translate (“I’m doing it… I’m repeating the computer…”). The action-adventure quotient meanwhile is up to T’Pol, Malcolm and Lt Deadmeat, who are attempting to penetrate a sphere. (Travis stays behind in the shuttle because of course he does.)

Ultimately, this does the job it is intended to do, all the pieces move one step further down the chessboard, but the grace and detail and feeling for character in The Forgotten has been… well, unremembered.

ENT S03E23 Countdown (3.5 out of 5 stars). With Archer face-to-face with his enemies, it now just becomes about stopping them from squabbling with each other long enough to get them to listen. Alas for him, and for us, Degra has left us, which means Archer has lost an ally and we’ve lost a character with genuine dimension. Instead the Insectoids have kidnapped Hoshi and expect her to fire the weapon for them. T’Pol seems to be taking this harder than anyone and has to apologise to Commander Tucker – whom she calls “Trip”! – for her outburst, and then ask him for help. That’s the stuff. She almost smiles when he tells her “I’m all ears”.

And now finally the monolithic Xindi Insectoids start to become suspicious of their creepy time-travelling advisors, even as they’re pumping Hoshi full of space sodium pentothal and putting her to work for them. This is getting close to being the kind of vast space opera which Star Trek has occasionally flirted with, but never really landed on. It’s more fun than all the endless recapping of the same information in different rooms which has dogged the last few episodes, but – T’Pol and Trip aside – the character stuff is generally restricted to more of that tedious Malcolm vs the MACOs stuff, about which I really struggle to care, even when Big Chief MACO nobly bites the dust saving Hoshi.

Nobody seems to miss Degra. He’s barely even mentioned.

ENT S03E24 Zero Hour (3.5 out of 5 stars). As is so often the case, when an aggressive alien race builds a complex interlocking web of deadly devices, it is sufficient to destroy only one and the rest fall like dominoes. Why aggressive alien races build their complex interlocking webs of deadly devices this way isn’t clear, but it sure is convenient that they do. Thus, Archer and company need only knock out one sphere in order to permanently neutralise the Changelings (sorry, Guardians).

Some awkward dialogue papers over various cracks in the plotting regarding how close the Xindi can get to Earth, how fast they can fire the weapon and so on. Recall that the original weapon was deployed almost instantly. It does rather seem as if all of this time was taken to produce a second weapon that isn’t anything like as effective. But, as if protecting his home planet from imminent annihilation wasn’t motivation enough, time travelling Daniels finds it necessary to show Archer the future of the United Federation of Planets in order to make sure that he knows how gosh-darned important he is. This feels like a last desperate attempt to prove that the Temporal Cold War was part of this story all along – but if so it fails, since Archer tells Daniels to get knotted and then does just what he was going to do anyway.

But if the plotting is ropey, those little strands of character work are paying off. There’s a genuine feeling of doom hanging over proceedings, and a lovely scene between Phlox and T’Pol about preparing for the worst. (Her attacks of the vapours seem to be in the past now.) Even Hoshi starts to feel like more of a person and less of a plot function. It’s clear that Linda Park deserved much better than she got in this series. I wish I could say the same for Anthony Montgomery, but it’s impossible to say either way on the basis of the four purely functional lines he gets each episode.

This is basically good solid, four-star stuff, but I have to knock off half a star for that dopey ending, which I fear is going to tie up the early episodes of next season getting it reset.

This was one hell of a bumpy road, making it blatantly obvious that the Xindi threat was being rethought from episode to episode. We did get some sharper character work than we’ve had in a while, and a handful of really excellent instalments, but the attempt to tell one story over 24 episodes was often botched, and might have levelled the ship but it still isn’t soaring. Maybe this uncertain series needs reinventing yet again. Nice hero shot of Archer running away from the ’sploding Xindi weapon.

Season 3 wrap-up

  • Everything about this season feels like hard work. Nothing flows, nothing expands naturally to fill story vacuums. The overall arc advances in fits-and-starts and it’s often hard to connect the different strands into a coherent whole. Compare this to DS9 in its pomp, when narrative ideas cascaded from one episode to the next in a completely organic fashion.
  • And I’m banging the same drum over and over again but the crew are almost always either useless (Malcolm, Trip), anonymous (Hoshi) or both (Travis). Only Phlox and T’Pol really work as characters, although Scott Bakula often manages to get by on sheer leading man starpower. I say “the crew” but apart from the new intake of cannon-fodder, essentially none of the other people on board the ship gets as much as a single line of dialogue. But then again, often neither does Travis.
  • And yet, in the second half of the season, and after some truly execrable episodes early on, we finally got something which felt real, and true, and like it mattered. The little trilogy of Azati Prime, Damage and The Forgotten is absolutely excellent stuff, with the last of those earning the full five stars for the first time since Voyager’s In the Flesh.
  • This contributes to a pretty decent season average of 3.37 which is about the same as DS9 Season 3 and better than any season of Voyager except its excellent Season 4. So Enterprise still has some work to do, but it’s not out for the count just yet.
  • That is, unless you’re the numbers people at UPN. Voyager’s finale had been watched by 8.8 million viewers, and Broken Bow had pulled in over 12 million, but that was already down to 5.2 million by the end of Season 1 and only 3.9 million for the end of Season 3, of whom only 2.9 million came back for the first episode Season 4. This is a show that’s running on borrowed time.