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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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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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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 2, Episode 26 (“Anasazi”)

Just a quick link to my final guest appearance of the season over on The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black.

Providing symmetry to my guest appearances over the year, I had the pleasure of an extended conversation with Tony about Anasazi. It was great to be invited back, given that I’d had the good fortune to cover Little Green Men with Tony at the start of the season. We got to talk about all sorts of fun things, from skirting the line with new age clichés to apocalyptic anxieties to how you never throw down against Walter Skinner. I will be working with Tony on a secret project in the future, which I’ll talk about as soon as I get back from the bathroom. Check it out the episode here, or click the link below.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Night (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager typically bridged its seasons with epic two-parters, a sprawling single narrative told over two forty-five minute episodes separated by the three-month summer hiatus. In fact, it was somewhat striking when the production team chose to end the fourth season with Hope and Fear, a standalone episode with a very definite conclusion. However, it becomes even more ironic once the fifth season opens with Night. Rather than one story split over two episodes, Night feels like two narratives compressed into a single chunk of television.

Of these two narratives, one is definitely more interesting than the other. The first half of Night essentially focuses on the ship and crew as they venture through an empty (and starless) section of space known as “the Void.” No light can get in. Nothing seems to live in there. There are no anomalies to investigate. “Anything to report?” Tuvok asks Kim. Kim responds, “Not even a stray electron.” It is so dull that even Tom classifies the detection of “a sudden increase in theta radiation” as “excitement.”

Starless, starless night.

This is an interesting approach to storytelling, particularly for a show so focused on plot. More than any other series in the franchise, Voyager runs on plot beats. Stories tend to progress from one revelation and escalation to the next, affording little room for character development or exploration. As such, the first half of Night seems like a very ambitious piece of work, an introspective character-driven drama where there are no plot beats to distract from character. It is a very brave and compelling set-up.

Of course, Night somewhat fumbles the ball in this first half. The thread is never explored as thoroughly as it might be, the character never allowed to properly express themselves. There is far too much emphasis on the holodeck, and the ship’s ability to simulate comforts and illusions even in this most depressing of surroundings. However, compared to the way that Voyager usually tells stories, the first half of Night is refreshing. Ironically, it is genuinely exciting, because it feels like the writers are pushing outside their comfort zone.

A darker side of Janeway.

Unfortunately, it cannot last. Night can only resist the comfort of plot for so long. Eighteen minutes into the hour, the second plot kicks into gear. It is a much more conventional Voyager episode, particularly for these later seasons. There is a broadly drawn piece of social commentary that ties into the both Voyager‘s New Age sensibilities and its attitude towards the Delta Quadrant as a whole. There are new aliens introduced, that will become recurring foils. It is all very standard, and all very rushed. The second half of Night makes up for those missed plot beats.

The result is an episode that is deeply frustrating, a game of two halves were each horribly undercuts the other.

A black-and-white issue.

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Doctor Who: Empress of Mars (Review)

Empress of Mars might be the last script that Mark Gatiss writes for Doctor Who for a long time.

Chris Chibnell has expressed an interest in putting together an American-style “writers’ room” upon taking over the series. It is entirely possible that Gatiss might continue to write for the show, to the point that he has expressed optimism at the possibility. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Chibnell would have a different dynamic with Gatiss than the other showrunners; Gatiss was the first writer to write for the revival other than Russell T. Davies, and co-created Sherlock with Steven Moffat.

Forget a Hard Brexit or a Soft Brexit.
Mars wants a Cold Brexit.

Gatiss has been a fixture of Doctor Who, dating back even beyond the start of the revival. Like Davies and Moffat, Gatiss wrote extensively for the property during the interregnum between Survival and Rose. Since the series returned to television screens, Gatiss has been a regular contributor. He has written for eight of the ten television seasons to air since the show was revived in 2005. He has written for every season overseen by Steven Moffat, making him unique among the stable of  Doctor Who recurring writers. As such, Empress of Mars represents the end of an era.

Empress of Mars might just be the best script that Mark Gatiss has ever written for Doctor Who.

For Queen and Planet.

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