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Star Trek: Voyager – Tsunkatse (Review)

Tsunkatse is the crossover between Star Trek: Voyager and WWF that you didn’t know you needed. Mostly because you didn’t actually need it.

Tsunkatse is a delightfully bizarre piece of television, and perhaps the most cynical piece of Star Trek ever produced. That is saying something, considering that the franchise also includes Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, an episode that literalises William Shatner’s paranoid delusions about his fellow cast members. Separated from the episode by almost two decades, it is still hard to believe that Tsunkatse actually exists, even allowing for other “out there” premises for Voyager episodes like Threshold or Concerning Flight.

Somehow, the production team couldn’t secure Jean-Claude Van Damme as a guest star.

To be fair, Tsunkatse isn’t awful. It isn’t especially good either, but it never develops into the trainwreck suggested by the premise of making a Star Trek episode designed to cash-in on the popularity of wrestling. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but there is something to be said for the fact that Tsunkatse manages to be a truly memorable episode of Voyager based around a highly dubious premise, without ever collapsing into itself. Tsunkatse is better than it has any right to be, and that might just be enough.

Might.

Rock your world.

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New Podcast! Set the Tape Rewind – Episode 10

Thrilled to be invited to to guest on the latest episode of the new podcast from Set the Tape, discussing the week in popular culture with Owen Hughes and Steve Norman.

Set the Tape Rewind half-hour jump into the world of film, television and… well, everything else. This week, we’re discussing whether Avengers: Infinity War broke the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the mass cancellation of shows at Fox and NBC followed by the resurrection of Brooklyn 99, and our competing attitudes towards tie-in fiction. It was a huge pleasure to be invited on for a fun discussion.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

Star Trek: Voyager – Memorial (Review)

Memorial is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager doing a generic Star Trek story.

The episode has a very basic premise that allows for the construction of a science-fiction allegory, the kind of storytelling associated with the franchise dating back to early adventures like The Devil in the Dark or Errand of Mercy. Despite its unique premise and set-up, Voyager had largely embraced the archetypal mode of Star Trek storytelling in its third season. A lot of Voyager episodes feel very broad and very generic, and could easily be adapted for another series – whether inside or outside the franchise.

The real devil in the dark.
Spoiler: It’s us.

There any number of episodes that are not rooted in the specific premise of Voyager, that could easily have been reworked or reinvented for another crew at another point. The Chute was a harrowing story about the horrors of mass incarceration and its capacity to turn people into animals. Nemesis was a meditation on killology, in the way that militaries turn soldiers into killing machines. Scientific Method was a treatise on the horrors of animal testing. Random Thoughts was paranoia about “political correctness gone mad” translated into forty minutes of television.

Memorial belongs to a very specific subset of these episodes, something of a bridge between the more generic Star Trek storytelling to which Voyager aspires and a slightly more specific area of thematic interest. Voyager is a series very much engaged with the idea of memory and history, perhaps befitting the Star Trek series that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first century. Episodes like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness are all archetypal Star Trek stories, but they are built around ideas of particular interest to Voyager.

The past never remains buried.

As the title implies, Memorial belongs to that very specific subset of episodes. It is easy to imagine a version of Memorial starring James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko or Jonathan Beckett Archer. It is a generic Star Trek episode that could work with any crew, perhaps meaning something slightly different in each context. (On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it would be an “O’Brien must suffer!” episode. In fact, Hard Time is quite close.) However, it is an episode that engages overtly with ideas that are of great interest to Voyager.

Memorial is about the importance of memory and history, even in a world where time seems to have lost all meaning.

Standing watch over history.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Virtuoso (Review)

Virtuoso is an interesting companion piece to Blink of an Eye.

Blink of an Eye was in many ways an exploration and reflection of Star Trek as a multimedia franchise, looking at the way in which the franchise has touched and shaped contemporary culture in the thirty-odd years since its inception. As part of this, the episode touched on fandom in a variety of ways, whether the abstract fandom of those individuals inspired by the series to accomplish great things or the more specific fandom including merchandise. Blink of an Eye was very much an episode about loving Star Trek.

Music to our ears.

As a result, Virtuoso feels like a very strange choice to directly follow Blink of an Eye. The two episodes are not connected by plot, outside of the basic idea that the EMH might spend an extended period of time on an alien planet without access to Voyager. After all, Star Trek: Voyager had committed itself to producing standalone episodic storytelling. However, Virtuoso is also something of a metaphor for Star Trek fandom, a look at what it is to love a piece of popular entertainment and to eagerly embrace it.

Unfortunately, the proximity to Blink of an Eye does no favours for Virtuoso, emphasising the script’s weaknesses and tone-deafness. Virtuoso is an episode that feels very pointed and cynical in its portrayal of fandom, very broad and very unpleasant. It is a clumsy and muddled piece of television, on that struggles to hit the right notes.

Small pleasures.

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May the Fourth Be With You! 25% “Opening The X-Files” at McFarland Books, May 4-11!

Quick post to announce that my publisher McFarland Books are having a massive sale on their pop culture books to mark the week of May 4th. Using the coupon PopCulture25, readers can get a discount of one quarter off the retail price of a wide range of books covering film, television and pop culture. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to pick up a book, this is a good one.

I have a bit of a vested interest in the sale, given that McFarland published my book. Opening the X-Files offers a critical history of the original run of The X-Files, all the way from The Pilot through to I Want to Believe. I’m very proud of the book, and very grateful of the opportunity that McFarland gave me. And the reviews have been quite kind.

It has been described as “an informative and engrossing critical history of the series”, “one of the most confident, assured and enlightening reads on Chris Carter’s seminal show ever produced”, and “one of its essential texts.” To quote the great Jose Chung, I’m going to call those an unqualified rave!

You can visit the company’s website here. You can view all the books included in the offer here. You can order my book, Opening the X-Files, here.

All you need to need to do is just enter the code PopCulture25 when you reach the check-out. No muss, no fuss.

May the fourth be with you!

Star Trek: Voyager – Blink of an Eye (Review)

Blink of an Eye is perhaps the last truly great episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

There are good episodes that follow Blink of an Eye. There are solid comedy episodes like Renaissance Man. There are effective homage episodes like Author, Author. There are even well-constructed archetypal narratives that fit within the thematic framework of both the series and the franchise like Memorial. However, there isn’t a single episode as elegant as Blink of an Eye, a story which demonstrates the raw potential of Voyager as a narrative engine for telling these big and broad science-fiction narratives.

From the mountains of faith…

Indeed, it might even be possible to argue that Blink of an Eye is the last truly great episode of Berman era Star Trek.

There is a tendency to overlook Star Trek: Enterprise in discussions of the franchise’s history and legacy, no matter how quietly influential the prequel series has become in terms of Star Trek Beyond or Star Trek: Discovery. This does a disservice to the last series of the Berman era, particularly the final two seasons that grappled with the question of what it means to be Star Trek in the aftermath of 9/11. Nevertheless, the trauma of 9/11 exerted such a gravity that even the best episodes of Enterprise seemed to exist in its shadow; Judgment, Cogenitor, The Forgotten, Babel One, United.

… through the valley of fear…

Even outside of hyperbole, Blink of an Eye is a beautifully constructed piece of television that speaks to the appeal and the potential of Star Trek. It is a lyrical allegory, a very simple and straightforward idea that is constructed in such a way as to invite the audience to ask profound and meaningful questions about the nature of human existence. What is it like to watch a civilisation rise up? What ideals drive it? Towards what values and ideals might it strive? More than that, what is it like to sit outside of time and watch those beholden to time? These are fascinating and enlightening ideas.

Blink of an Eye was developed from a story by Voyager writer Michael Taylor, one of the most ambitious writers to ever work on the series. Taylor had contributed the stories that would develop into The Visitor and In the Pale Moonlight, demonstrating a willingness to think outside the box. On Voyager, Taylor’s ambitions were frequently tempered and his scripts often compromised. Both Once Upon a Time and The Fight were much more generic and mediocre pieces of television than the original premise. Blink of an Eye is a rare Taylor concept that doesn’t feel watered down.

…. But the river is wide
And it’s too hard to cross…

It helps that the teleplay for Blink of an Eye was written by Star Trek veteran Joe Menosky. Menosky had a long association with the franchise and a deep understanding of how it worked, having cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. More than any other writer, Menosky understood the idea of Star Trek as a mythic framework, an avenue for exploring stories and what they mean. This theme plays through Menosky’s work on the franchise; Darmok, Masks, Dramatis Personae, Muse.

Blink of an Eye feels like an episode perfectly callibrated to the strengths of Taylor and Menosky, a high-concept episode that is fundamentally about the Star Trek mythos.

We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams.

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New Podcast! Not Another X-Files Podcast Podcast #602 – “Drive”

I was delighted to be invited to join Carolyn and Vanessa for the latest episode of Not Another X-Files Podcast Podcast, discussing Mulder’s impromptu roadtrip.

The guys had just finished coverage of The Lone Gunmen and the eleventh season of The X-Files, so I joined them to talk about the second episode of the sixth season, Drive. Any long-time reader of the blog will know that Drive is probably my favourite episode of the sixth season, and probably the last of my top ten X-Files episodes chronologically speaking. (I’m still sleeping on Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster and The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.)

It was an absolute pleasure to do a guest slot with the guys, to talk about everything from the O.J. Simpson car chase to the American frontier to the amount of highway in California. You can check out the podcast here, and past episodes here. Or click the link below.