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Doctor Who – Knock, Knock (Review)

“That’s what they’re called, Driads?”

“That’s what I’m calling them, yes.”

“You’ve gone crazy.”

“Well, I can’t just call them lice, can I?”

Performance is a bit wooden.

Knock Knock is a solid, if unexceptional, episode of Doctor Who. It occasionally feels more like a grab bag of idea welded together, more than a single cohesive story.

Knock Knock is essentially three very different episodes sutured together in a decidedly haphazard fashion. Knock Knock is, in quick succession: an episode focusing on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS, an old-school haunted house adventure, an intense familial psychodrama with a powerhouse guest performance. There is a strong sense that Knock Knock would work better if it chose to be any two of those three episodes, but that it simply cannot hold itself together trying to satisfy all three masters.

Dial it back, there.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager pitching itself as generic Star Trek.

This is a story that is not unique or particular to this crew. In fact, the story could easily be adapted to service characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: Enterprise. In some respects, Nemesis might even work better if Robert Beltran were swapped out for Jonathan Frakes or Colm Meaney or Connor Trinneer. There is very little in the script that relies on the particularities of this show or the nuances of its characters.

The Rifleman...

The Rifleman…

While this lack of a distinct identity is a problem for Voyager as a television series, it does lead to some great episodes. Many of the best episodes of Voyager could easily be ported to or from any of the other shows. It was an approach that really came to the fore during the third season, when Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga made a conscious choice to steer the show away from its focus on a crew stranded far from home and towards a more generic Star Trek sensibility.

At its best, this leads to very strong allegorical storytelling. Episodes like Remember and Distant Origin are very much archetypal Star Trek episodes, extended science-fiction metaphors with a strong moral core that evoke the Star Trek beloved by so many of its fans. Nemesis is very much an episode constructed in that tradition, a metaphorical exploration of the dehumanisation of soldiers through combat training and conditioning. It is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of social commentary and a superb piece of Star Trek.

A hard shoot.

A hard shoot.

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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) #6-8 – Endgames (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

With Endgames, it all comes to an end.

The grand epic story that writer Joe Harris had built across thirty-five issues of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 comes to a close with this three-part story. Given that the default length of a mythology-heavy story in Season 10 was five issues, Endgames cannot help but feel somewhat truncated. However, there has always been a sense that Season 11 is winding down rather than ratcheting up.

Alien nation.

Alien nation.

In some ways, Endgames suffers from being overly ambitious. Harris reintroduced the faceless rebels into his mythology with My Name is Gibson and The X-Files Christmas Special 2015, but they feel like they crowd out what is otherwise a straightforward confrontation with Mulder and Scully squaring off against Gibson Praise. It is in some ways disappointing that all of Gibson’s plans build to a handful of trucks in the desert.

And, yet, in spite of that, there is something oddly charming about Endgames. The three-parter might be a compromised twist on the ending that Joe Harris originally envisaged for his massive epic, but it is still an ending.

Full circle.

Full circle.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Little Green Men (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Little Green Men might just be the best Ferengi episode from the seven-year run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It helps that the episode is very clearly a passion project for writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine had a deep and abiding affection for classic cinema. Michael Piller might have tried to steer the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager back to classic western storytelling tropes, while Rick Berman and Brannon Braga might have promised that Star Trek: Enterprise would be a “back to basics” reimagining of the show, but Deep Space Nine was a show that adored old-school Hollywood.

Quark's Family Vacation...

Quark’s Family Vacation…

This was reflected in a number of ways. In Past Tense, Part II, B.C. planned to escape to Tasmania because Errol Flynn was born there. There was also the fact that Ira Steven Behr could never resist the lure of a good homage to classic cinema – even when it was not the best of ideas. Meridian was written as an attempt to adapt Brigadoon to the Star Trek universe; Fascination was based on the 1935 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s DreamRules of Acquisition was basically YentlProfit and Loss was Casablanca.

It seemed almost inevitable that at some stage the cast and crew of Deep Space Nine would find themselves colliding with classic Hollywood.

"Well, it's not a saucer..."

“Well, it’s not a saucer…”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Council (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

From a technical standpoint, The Council is the third last episode of the third season. From an arc-based standpoint, the third season Xindi arc is not completely resolved until the events of Home three episodes into the fourth season. However, there is an argument to be made that The Council represents the logical conclusion of the third season arc. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour provide a suitably bombastic resolution to the year-long story, but The Council is the story that really resolves the central conflict driving the season.

After twenty-one episodes of moral ambiguity and ethical compromise, The Council exists to assure viewers that Star Trek: Enterprise has not forgotten the optimistic humanism that has guided the franchise. The Council confirms what most even-handed fans had probably deduced from The Expanse and what had been rendered explicit in The Shipment. The third season was never about getting away from the core utopian values associated with the Star Trek franchise; instead, it was about an attempt to get back to those hopeful ideals.

"I told you not to interrupt me when I'm working on my tan!"

“I told you not to interrupt me when I’m working on my tan!”

As the name implies, The Council is a rather talky script; it is certainly the most talky script between this point and the end of the third season. The episode’s plot finds Archer making his case to the Xindi Council, appealing for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. Archer puts aside his anger and his thirst for retribution, in the hope of finding common ground that might accommodate both sides without resort to warfare or attempted genocide. Naturally, Archer is not entirely successful; the season needs an action climax. However, he is close enough.

Much like The Forgotten, it turns out that The Council is a script about moving beyond grief and hatred towards reconciliation and understanding. It affirms that the third season of Enterprise is (and was always) following a very traditional Star Trek arc.

"Et tu, Dolim?"

“Et tu, Dolim?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Extinction (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, The Xindi and Anomaly opened the third season as if it were the first season of a new show. In particular, Anomaly built consciously and cleverly off of Fight or Flight and Strange New World in providing a solid foundation for the year ahead. The comparison works quite well. By that logic, Extinction and Rajiin serve as Unexpected and Terra Nova. They are two of the weakest episodes of the season, harmed by their close proximity to the start of the year. Anybody wanting to reach Twilight or Damage has to get through Extinction and Rajiin.

In many respects, this early lag in the third season demonstrates just how inexperienced the creative team were at long-form serialised storytelling. The only arc comparable to the Xindi arc in the entire Star Trek franchise is the Dominion War arc on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There, the writers were clever enough to launch the new status quo with an unheralded six-episode interconnected story. The Dominion War had its share of duds, but the opening salvo was magnificently confident.

Archer's not feeling himself lately...

Archer’s not feeling himself lately…

In contrast, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise suffers out of the gate. The Xindi and Anomaly do good work setting up plot points and character beats that will be of use later in the season, but there is no real sense that the writing staff has any idea what that use might be at this point of the season. Two episodes into the third season, the show is already back to fairly formulaic adventures that stand quite cleanly alone. It is not too difficult to imagine Extinction or Rajiin as episodes in any other season – albeit with some slight tinkering.

However, this is only part of the problem. Long-form storytelling need not become a burden. There is a great deal of value to be had in drifting away from a serialised story arc to tell a quality standalone tale. Unfortunately, Extinction is not a quality standalone tale. In fact, it is one of the worst episodes of Enterprise ever produced. Airing it as the third episode of a bold new season feels like a poor choice.

"C'mon, wouldn't you like to go back to being a torturing and almost genocidal human?"

“C’mon, wouldn’t you like to go back to being a torturing and almost genocidal human?”

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The X-Files – Biogenesis (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

‘When Alexan­der saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to con­quer.’ Ben­e­fits of a clas­si­cal education.

– Hans Gruber, Die Hard

In hindsight, “ending” the mythology with a two-parter in the middle of the season was always a risky proposition.

Airing Two Fathers and One Son during February Sweeps was a logical decision. Ending the mythology that had been running through the show for five-and-a-half seasons was certain to grab the attention of casual viewers, reeling them in to boast up ratings. The X-Files had always aired mythology two-parters during Sweeps, putting them forward as examples of the best that the series could do and cementing the show’s claim to be “blockbuster television.” Choosing to wrap up the mythology during February Sweeps was just an extension of that approach.

Look what just washed up...

Look what just washed up…

And it worked. Two Fathers earned the second highest Nielsen score of the sixth season, landing just behind The Rain King. Two Fathers was the last time that The X-Files would rate so highly. As such, the decision to “close off” the mythology in the middle of the season was a very shrewd decision. However, it did raise questions about what the show would do at the very end of season. After all, The X-Files liked to bookend its seasons with mythology episodes, counting on a mythology cliffhanger to carry viewers across the long gap between seasons.

How do you tell a mythology story when you’ve just worked so hard to tidy it all away?

Behind the curtain...

Behind the curtain…

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The X-Files – Dreamland I (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

It occasionally seems like the sixth season of The X-Files is having something approaching a midlife crisis.

It has gone through a fairly massive change in routine and lifestyle; the show recently pulled up sticks and moved to Los Angeles. It has gotten a lot more ostentatious; it looks to be spending a lot more money than it was before, and it is hanging around with a whole new caliber of guest star. It has reinvented itself completely; no longer the brooding and atmospheric show it once was, it is now downright goofy and silly. Old acquaintances would be forgiven if they had trouble recognising the show. And it’s perfectly understandable.

Back to back...

Back to back…

This is the sixth season. Dreamland I is the one-hundred-and-twenty-first episode of The X-Files. The show is well past what Chris Carter had originally planned, and well past just about any measure of success. Most shows are lucky to reach a sixth season, let alone come into the sixth season off the back of a summer film and with a great deal of security about the future. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter were all committed through to the end of the seventh season. There was even talk of a sequel to The X-Files: Fight the Future being released in 2000.

Dreamland I and Dreamland II just externalise that midlife crisis, using the classic “freaky friday” body swap set up putting Fox Mulder in a dead-end job with a family that hates him as Morris Fletcher tries to help the FBI agent grow up just a little bit.

"Yep. It's a little... out there."

“Yep. It’s a little… out there.”

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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #6 – Space (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

If the jump to Ice suggested that the Season One line would only be covering the “highlights” of the first season of The X-Files, then the decision to immediately follow with an adaptation of Space puts paid to that theory.

Ice is generally regarded as one of the strongest stories of the first season. It is moody and atmospheric, tense and claustrophobic. It shines a light on the characterisation of Mulder and Scully, while also offering a particularly memorable (and unsettling) monster of the week. In contrast, Space is generally regarded as one of the weakest stories of the first season. It is clumsy and muddled, slow and dreary. The episode’s direction is bland and the special effects are woeful. On paper, it is probably the least likely choice for a Season One adaptation.

Face the future...

Face the future…

However, Space ultimately lends itself to a comic book adaptation. The story finds itself well-suited by the transition from live action footage to comic book page. there are a number of different reasons for this, but the truth is that the story is simply better suited to this format. That applies to the technical limitations imposed on film, but also to the storytelling conventions associated with comic books as opposed to live action television. It is a startling result, and arguably the biggest success of the entire Season One line.

Although it is a qualified accomplishment at best, Space is the first Season One comic that manages to surpass its source material.

Is there life on Mars?

Is there life on Mars?

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The X-Files – The Red and the Black (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

“Before the exploration of space, of the moon and the planets, man hailed that the heavens were the home and province of powerful gods who controlled not just the vast firmament, but the earthly fate of man himself and that the pantheon of powerful, warring deities, was the cause and reason for the human condition, for the past and the future, and for which great monuments would be created on earth as in heaven. But in time man replaced these gods with new gods and new religions that provided no more certain or greater answers than those worshipped by his Greek or Roman or Egyptian ancestors. And while we’ve chosen now our monolithic and benevolent gods and found our certainties in science, believers all, we wait for a sign, a revelation. Our eyes turn skyward ready to accept the truly incredible to find our destiny written in the stars.”

Lift me up...

Lift me up…

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