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Star Trek: Enterprise – Chosen Realm (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.

Chosen Realm is Manny Coto’s second script for Star Trek: Enterprise.

His script for Similitude marked Coto as something of an old-fashioned Star Trek writer. It was clear that Coto harboured a great deal of affection for the source material, and Similitude was structured in the style of a classic Star Trek morality play. It was a story about the circumstances in which “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.” There is a reason that Star Trek fans are so very fond of Similitude, particularly given its position in the middle of a rather polarising and provocative season.

Archer encounter an enemy with faith of the heart...

Archer encounter an enemy with faith of the heart…

However, it was not entirely clear just how traditional Manny Coto was in his approach to Star Trek until the broadcast of Chosen Realm. If Similitude felt like a classic Star Trek morality play, then Chosen Realm literally was a classic Star Trek morality play. A commentary on religious fanaticism and zealotry, Chosen Realm was very much an update of the iconic Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Coto is quite explicit about this, rather blatantly borrowing the emotive (and poignant) ending from that episode.

Although it aired in the much-maligned third season, and has no shortage of its own problems, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is an instantly recognisable Star Trek allegory. Casual fans – and even those with a passing familiarity with the franchise – remember “the one with the aliens who are half-black and half-white who are racist against the aliens who are half-white and half-black.” It is not a subtle or nuanced allegory, but it doesn’t really need to be. It is not as if the sort of blatant racism against which the Civil Rights movement fought was a grey area.

"I think I've seen this before..."

“I think I’ve seen this before…”

Unfortunately, Chosen Realm chooses to apply this simplistic metaphor to a complicated issue. In keeping with the War on Terror metaphor running through the third season, Chosen Realm explicitly ties religion into the larger arc. Archer finds his ship hijacked by a bunch of religious suicide bombers actively intent on turning Enterprise into a weapon that can be deployed against those who believe differently than they do. This is a very classic Star Trek morality tale – the “religion is bad” theme dating back to Who Mourns For Adonais? or The Apple.

Religion is undoubtedly an element of the War on Terror, but it is not the only issue or an issue that exists in isolation. Islamic extremism (as Chosen Realm never seems particularly interested in the trope of Christian extremism) is rooted in more than simply faith. There are political and economic factors at play that are just as vital to understanding why things happen in the way that they happen. Chosen Realm is uninterested in any of this, structuring itself as Richard Dawkins rant in science-fiction form.

What was that about politics or religion?

What was that about politics or religion?

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The X-Files – The Unnatural (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.

Let me get this straight: a free-spirited alien fell in love with baseball and ran away from the other non-fun-having aliens and made himself black, because that would prevent him from getting to the majors where his unspeakable secret might be discovered by an intrusive press and public and you’re also implying that…

You certainly have a knack for turning chicken salad into chicken spit.

– Fox Mulder and Arthur Dales discuss the merits of The Unnatural

Swing and a hit...

Swing and a hit…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Breach (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspects of a heightened franchise like Star Trek is the way that invites particular members of staff to define their own voices. On most of the Star Trek shows, it is easy to distinguish the work of particular writers from one another. Ronald D. Moore likes militarism and world-building; Brannon Braga likes time travel and classic science-fiction. There are clear voices that can be distinguished from the choir on each of the shows, for better or for worse.

Although it enjoyed a considerably shorter run than the other Star Trek spin-offs, Star Trek: Enterprise is no exception.  The Breach is a script credited to writers Chris Black and John Shiban. The two had collaborated unofficially on Canamar, a script credited to Shiban alone. The two would work together again on First Flight towards the end of the season. It is certainly a partnership that had considerable potential, if not for Shiban’s departure at the end of the season.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

In many respects, The Breach feels like the product of those two voices. Xenophobia is a major theme of The Breach – as it was in Shiban’s other scripts for the season like Minefield, Dawn or Canamar. Like their last collaboration on Canamar and their future collaboration on First Flight, it seems The Breach presents a more balanced version of Archer than episodes like The Crossing or Horizon. This is a version of Archer who feels compelled to do the right thing, but without the same oppressive self-righteousness that drives his more awkward moments.

However, it seems like Chris Black provides The Breach with its very traditional and old-fashioned Star Trek aesthetic. A veteran of genre television with an understanding of the narrative conventions associated with the franchise, Black understands how Star Trek storytelling is supposed to work. The Breach is perhaps a little too formulaic and traditional in its storytelling, but it does demonstrate that – despite its best efforts – The Crossing had not completely buried a certain optimistic strain of Star Trek ethics.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Judgment (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Judgment is the first episode of Star Trek to do something interesting with the Klingons since Tacking Into the Wind, almost four years earlier.

After all, it never seemed like Star Trek: Enterprise had any real idea what to do with the Klingons. The show had made use of Klingons in Broken Bow, Unexpected, Sleeping Dogs and Marauders – but none of these episodes seemed particularly interested in telling a story about Klingons. Enterprise seemed primarily interested in the Klingons as a connection to the franchise’s long and distinguished history. After all, Klingons are almost as iconic a part of Star Trek as Spock; working a few bumpy-headed warriors into your script was a nice way of acknowledging the Star Trek legacy.

Trial of the twenty-second century...

Trial of the twenty-second century…

Certainly, Enterprise was not interested in committing to the same Klingon world-building in which Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had revelled. There are a lot of reasons for this. Over ten seasons, writer Ronald D. Moore had probably said just about everything that needed to be said about the Klingons; trying to say something new or interesting without his input was certainly daunting. More than that, Enterprise had committed itself quite firmly to episodic storytelling in its first two years; even the Andorians and Vulcans were still barely developed.

So David A. Goodman’s script for Judgment is ambitious, particularly in light of the spectacular failure of his (heavily re-written) work on Precious Cargo. Constructing an episode that might easily be misread as a rehash of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a pretty bold choice, particularly given the problems that the show had endured while trying to construct an homage to Elaan of Troyius and The Perfect Mate. On paper, Judgment is an assignment that could easily explode spectacularly. It might not be as crazy a gambit as A Night in Sickbay, but it is a story with lofty objectives.

The court has spoken.

The court has spoken.

With so much of the second season feeling like it is running on auto-pilot, the energy and enthusiasm of Judgment is infectious. Singularity, Vanishing Point, Canamar and The Crossing felt like they were constructed using blueprints of what a Star Trek episode should look like. It is refreshing to watch an episode of Enterprise that seems genuinely excited to playing with these particular toys. In that sense, Judgment sets the mood for the final stretch of the season – despite duds like Horizon and Bounty, the final run of episodes feels like a band playing an encore for a show on the cusp of monumental change.

Although not facing the same threat of cancellation that loomed at the end of the third and fourth seasons, the second season of Enterprise feels like the last gasp of a particular model of Star Trek production, one no longer as viable as it once had been. Starting with Judgment, the show seems to acknowledge that things are going to have to change dramatically and soon; however, there is a clear attempt to bid this particular iteration of Star Trek a fond farewell. As such, any and all references to The Undiscovered Country feel entirely appropriate.

“Don’t wait for the translation! Answer me now!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stigma (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s been a long road.

Continuing the effort in Dawn to refocus Star Trek: Enterprise on franchise core values, Stigma offers a good old-fashioned allegory episode. It is a script clearly designed to stand alongside earlier iconic Star Trek shows like A Taste of ArmageddonErrand of MercyLet That Be Your Last BattlefieldToo Short a SeasonThe High GroundHalf a LifeEthics, The Outcast, Rejoined and Distant Origin. This is a big and important episode, dealing with big and important themes. In this case, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and (whisper it) homosexuality.

It's just not in the show's DNA at this point...

It’s just not in the show’s DNA at this point…

Of course, it arrives well over a decade too late. Writer David Gerrold had pitched his own allegory about HIV/AIDS and homosexuality with Blood and Fire during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The script was a little clunky, but – rather than rework it – the producers decided to shut it down completely. During that show’s third season, David Livingston was on hand to stop the show from providing the franchise’s first glimpse of a homosexual couple in The Offspring. What queer content made it into Star Trek seemed somewhat haphazard.

The decision to allow Lal to chose her own gender in The Offspring is remarkable, because it goes almost unremarked. Dax’s deduction that Pel has a crush on Quark in Rules of Acquisition comes before Pel reveals that she is a female passing herself off as male. The sincerity of The Outcast was somewhat undermined by the decision to cast a female performer in the role of genderless alien who is attracted to Riker. The good work of Rejoined is undercut by the crassness of Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak.

Meditating on a contemporary issue...

Meditating on a contemporary issue…

There was a time when an episode like Stigma would have seemed cutting edge and provocative. Broadcast during the first (or even the second) season of The Next Generation, the episode would have challenged a number of the underlying public assumptions about the spread of HIV/AIDS and attacked a very real (and very frank) homophobic policy from the government. The biggest problem with Stigma is that it features Captain Jonathan Archer instead of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Of course, this suggests a very tangible issue with Enterprise at this stage of its life-cycle. It still feels like a show stuck in the past. This is still Star Trek as it was being produced in 1989, despite the fact that it is now 2003. It is a problem that has haunted Enterprise since the broadcast of Fight or Flight, but one which is really emphasised not only by the plotting of Stigma, but also in its political targets.

"You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed..."

“You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed…”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Detained (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 January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Detained is well-meaning, if a little clumsy and awkward.

It is a rather conscious effort to do a “message show” in the grand tradition of the Star Trek franchise, using the show’s science-fiction premise to offer a commentary on current events. Detained is very clearly structured as a response to the 9/11 attacks, even if Archer only explicitly references the internment of Japanese Americans at Manzanar. Detained is full of interesting ideas, and its heart is in the right place, but the execution feels decidedly rushed and haphazard. Detained works much better as a two-line moral than it does as a forty-five minute episode of television.

You can't call him Al...

You can’t call him Al…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Phage (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Phage is far from perfect. It is very far from perfect. However, there’s something rather endearing about this cheesy B-movie throwback written by Brannon Braga from a pitch by Timothy DeHass and first draft by Skye Dent. The Vidiians are probably the most memorably and effective aliens from the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, feeling like they could have wandered into the show from some trashy late-night horror movie on another channel.

There’s a pulpy quality to the episode that makes it more enjoyable than many of the surrounding Voyager episodes, albeit one undermined by some of the more awkward resonances in the script.

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth...

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth…

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