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Star Trek: Voyager – Extreme Risk (Review)

Extreme Risk is another example of Star Trek: Voyager squandering an intriguing premise.

Hunters introduced a number of new and intriguing ideas to Voyager. Suddenly, Janeway was no longer in a long-term relationship with Mark, which made it possible for her to consider romantic entanglements in the Delta Quadrant. Suddenly Starfleet was aware that Voyager was still in one piece, rather than missing in action. These creative choices opened up new storytelling possibilities, paving the way for episodes like Counterpoint or Pathfinder.

Diving right in.

However, the most interesting revelation in Hunters was that the Maquis had been destroyed while Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant. This was not a surprise to Star Trek fans who had been watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, given that this development had been covered in Blaze of Glory. However, it should have been a big deal to the characters on Voyager. Chakotay and Torres were members of the Maquis. Tuvok had been a spy working for Starfleet in the Maquis. Even Paris had spent some time in the organisation. This news should have been a big deal.

Extreme Risk feels like an interesting development of this idea, albeit one that has been greatly delayed. How would the Maquis crew members react to the news that most of their friends were dead and that the rest were in Federation custody? Voyager has never been a show particularly engaged with long-term consequences, but there is an interesting story to be told there. Extreme Risk tells one such story, suggesting that the new plunged Torres into a depression that led her to self-harm. It is certainly an intriguing and compelling story hook.

Building a better future.

However, Extreme Risk fumbles the delivery in a number of ways. It makes the standard Voyager mistake of assuming that character-driven plots still have to have a compelling action-adventure element to them, and so provides a very generic subplot about a probe that has been lost in the atmosphere of a gas giant and the resulting “old-fashioned space race” that results, including the construction of a new ship. As a result, the plotting of the episode feels very trite, offering Torres a very convenient clear-cut redemption arc at the climax.

That said, the biggest problem with Extreme Risk is much more basic than the awkward juggling of primary and secondary plots. As with Night before it, Extreme Risk demonstrates that the rigidly episodic structure of Voyager is woefully ill-equipped to tell a profound (and sincere) story about the struggles of living with clinical depression.

She knows kung fu.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Chrysalis (Review)

Chrysalis is an intriguing episode, even if it is not entirely successful.

In many ways, Chrysalis is a great example of a final season episode. It is essentially a story about how a character has grown and evolved over the run of the series, driven by his reflections on the lives of those around him. The teaser of Chrysalis sets the scene, as Julian Bashir comes to terms with the fact that virtually everybody on the station has moved on in their lives, while he remains standing in place. It is an episode about getting older, a tale about a man watching his friends move past him. It is a story about what it feels like to be alone, surrounded by everybody.

Window into his soul…

Of course, Chrysalis is more than that, for better and for worse. It is an episode that feels like a return to classic Bashir stories, the kind of tales that writers would construct around Bashir when they had no idea what they wanted to do with the character. Melora is the most obvious example, with Bashir becoming involved with a patient for a romance-of-the-week. Tellingly, the writers originally conceived Second Sight as a romance featuring Bashir, before shifting the focus to Bashir. (Even The Passenger is technically a “Bashir gets overly intimate with a patient” story.)

However, the beauty in Chrysalis is the way in which René Echevarria approaches what would have been a stock Bashir brief from earlier in the run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Most obviously, Chrysalis is more invested in Bashir as a character, imbuing him with a sense of agency and a believable psychology rather than slotting him into a stock role. More than that, Chrysalis is a story willing to let its character beats become its dramatic beats. It is a story about how alone Bashir is, and is content to be that story. There is no need for a last-act action beat, like the hijacking in Melora.

Out of her shell.

At the same time, Chrysalis suffers from a problem that haunts many of Deep Space Nine‘s romance episodes, even the good ones. Chrysalis is a story far too invested in its male character, to the point that it obscures its female lead. To be fair, Chrysalis handles this with a great deal more skill than episodes like His Way, to the point that Bashir’s inability to look beyond himself becomes a key plot point in the final act. However, there is still a sense that Chrysalis never invests Sarina with the necessary agency and never calls out Bashir as strongly as it needs to.

Still, in spite of this (fairly sizable) flaw, Chrysalis is a surprisingly sweet piece of television and one of the more affecting one-off romances across the fifty-year history of Star Trek.

Living together in harmony.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Take Me Out to the Holosuite (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is populated by losers.

There are exceptions to this blanket statement, of course. By some measures, the crew of this fringe outpost are quite distinguished. Benjamin Sisko is the Emissary of the Prophets and is a decorated combat veteran. Worf served as Chief of Security on the Federation flagship. Julian Bashir has been genetically engineered to make him stronger and faster than the average human. The Dax symbiont was heavily involved in the negotiation of the peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.

A whole different ball game.

However, even these examples of success and prestige are somewhat tempered. Sisko arrived on this backwater outpost as a man considering resigning. Worf is a terrible father and a widower. Bashir spent most of his life hiding his abilities, to the point that he has been forced to pretend to be less than he was; although he is now “out”, his genetic engineering has arguably served to further marginalise him within Starfleet. The Dax symbiont is now joined to Ezri Tegan, a young woman who had never planned to be a host.

In the larger context of the Star Trek universe, Deep Space Nine feels like the island of misfit toys. Odo was found drifting alone through the void; when he finally found his people, he discovered that they were monstrous fascists; when he killed one of his own people, he was forced into exile. Quark is stuck managing a bar that can barely turn a profit, watching others get ahead. Garak was forced into exile by his own father, and is now a traitor to his own people. Martok lost his eye in a Dominion prison camp.

Playing games.

This is in marked contrast to the characters who usually populate the franchise. JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek essentially makes a point to feature at least one sequence demonstrating how each crew member is the top of their given field. Star Trek: The Next Generation was set in one of the most professional working environments in television history. Star Trek: Voyager might have been populated by rebels and scientists, but they still trounced the Borg on a regular basis. Star Trek: Enterprise was a crew of the best and the brightest.

There are a lot of things to love about Take Me Out to the Holosuite, and one of them is the fact that it understands that Deep Space Nine is populated by losers. Take Me Out to the Holosuite also understands that this is part of what makes Deep Space Nine so winning.

Game on.

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Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (Review)

“I think we’ve lost her, Doctor.”

“No. No, no, no, no. We just don’t know where she is. Not the same thing at all.”

Caesar the day.

The Eaters of Light is notable as the first episode of the revival Doctor Who to be written by a writer who worked on the classic series.

Of course, Russell T. Davies populated his relaunch with veterans of the interregnum, of the period between the cancellation of the classic show and the debut of the revival. Mark Gatiss had written books and audio plays. Steven Moffat had scripted The Curse of Fatal Death. Paul Cornell had overseen his own stillborn reboot in Scream of the Shalka. Rob Shearman had written for Big Finish. So it was not as if the series had ever completely abandoned its history and roots.

Torchbearer.

Indeed, over the course of the return, various landmark events occurred. The Autons were the first villains to reappear, appearing in Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Autons and Rose. William Thomas became the first actor to appear in both the classic series and the revival, scoring guest appearances in Remembrance of the Daleks and Boom Town. Graeme Harper was the first director to work on both iterations, directing The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks, before becoming a go-to director during the Davies era.

In some ways, The Eaters of Light offers another such landmark in the evolution of the series. Rona Munro becomes the first writer to work on both the classic series and the revival.

Stones of blood.

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The 250, Episode #15 – 2001: A Space Odyssey (#90)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At the dawn of man, a strange observer appears to witness the instant at which mankind comes into existence. Millennia later, the object appears again, beckoning mankind out towards Jupiter, beyond the infinite.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 90th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Drone (Review)

Drone is a solid episode, one elevated by two central performances.

In many respects, Drone is a standard Star Trek: Voyager episode. It is something of an archetypal Star Trek story, an exploration of the human condition in which the regular characters must bestow upon a naive and inexperienced alien what it means to be human. There are countless examples in the canon, from Picard’s relationship with Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation to more specific examples like the relationship between Data and Lal in The Offspring. However, Drone has a more direct antecedent, with One evoking Hugh from I, Borg.

The view is always greener on the other side…

Drone is also very heavily plot-driven, although it is decidedly cleaner and leaner in execution than many Voyager episodes. Compared to the other Star Trek series, Voyager can often feel like a list of plot developments arranged to pad out forty-five minutes of television. This approach to storytelling can often seem quite frantic, with episodes like Worst Case Scenario, Waking Moments, Demon or Night effectively switching plot in the middle of the episode to keep it going. Drone is a much more linear story, much tighter in its construction and its flow.

The result is an effective piece of television, one strongly anchored in the two central performances of J. Paul Boehmer and Jeri Ryan.

“Was he going on to you about the alcoves?”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Afterimage (Review)

Afterimage is a necessary episode, in part because Ezri Dax is a necessary character.

Adding a new character to a show in the middle of its run is always a challenge. The addition of Seven of Nine to Star Trek: Voyager had generated considerable tension, both around what the show wanted to be and in terms of the cast working on the series. It can be difficult to strike a balance, to figure out how much attention to devote to this new arrival, to give them some focus without stealing focus from the surrounding cast. It is a tightrope for the writers to walk, one compounded by the relative novelty of this late addition, the new toy in the writers’ toy box.

Make it sew.

This problem is compounded when the new addition arrives at the start of the final season. In any final season, space is at a premium. The production team are racing towards the finish line, trying to service all the dangling plot threads and complete all the important plot arcs. Every beat is important, every story vital. Final seasons are about providing closure, about wrapping things up. Introducing a new character in the midst of all that is a daunting responsibility, a challenge with very high stakes.

The writers at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were working at something of a disadvantage and to a deadline. However, they did have some handicaps. Most notably, the production team had already successfully integrated a new character into the ensemble, when Worf joined the cast in The Way of the Warrior. More than that, there was some luxury in the fact that Ezri Dax would not be an entirely new character. She would be a logical extension of the premise that was built in Jadzia Dax. She was at least partially familiar, and her concept had been properly seeded.

On airlock down.

Still, introducing Ezri Dax into the final season of Deep Space Nine would prove difficult. The production team would often struggle to strike a balance between writing stories that extended (and concluded) the arcs of other major characters while also writing episodes that introduced and established the character of Ezri. It could often seem like Ezri’s journey was just beginning, right as everybody else’s was coming to a close. The final season of a seven-year show is seldom the perfect place for a new beginning.

As such, Afterimage is more an episode driven by necessity than by desire, a story that has to be told because of factors that were outside the control of the production team. The result is solid, if not exceptional. It is an episode that works best at establishing a new character and new dynamics, suffering just a little bit from clumsy storytelling in the process.

Holo pleasures.

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