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Star Trek: Voyager – Blood Fever (Review)

Blood Fever is a strange and dysfunctional episode.

By this point in the third season, Star Trek: Voyager has abandoned any sincere attempt to develop or define its own identity. Instead, the series has committed itself to being the most generic Star Trek show imaginable. In many ways, this represents a disappointing betrayal of an interest premise and a fascinating cast of characters. In other ways, this allows the show to focus on telling archetypal Star Trek stories like Remember or Distant Origins or Living Witness, stories that deal with broad themes through science-fiction allegory.

Tunnels of love.

Tunnels of love.

In its strongest moments, Blood Fever feels like it wants to be that kind of classic Star Trek metaphorical exploration of contemporary society. In many ways, Blood Fever is an exploration of contemporary attitudes towards sex and sexuality, of the damage that can be wrought by sexual repression on levels both personal and societal. It is building upon the idea of pon’farr as introduced by Theodore Sturgeon (and refined by D.C. Fontana) in Amok Time, as the volcanic eruption of sexual desire following years of repression.

Unfortunately, Blood Fever lacks the courage of its convictions. The script feels like a victim of the same social mores that it seeks to critique, either unable or unwilling to talk about sex and sexuality in a manner that is suitably candid. As a result, Blood Fever ends up a muddled and ineffective piece of television that seems unwilling to call out its characters and which inevitably builds towards a tired rehash of an iconic Star Trek scene. Waiting seven seasons for this must be very unsatisfying.

Droning on.

Droning on.

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Star Trek – Amok Time (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Amok Time was the fifth show produced for the second season of Star Trek, but was the first show to air. This isn’t unusual. The production and broadcast order of various Star Trek episodes have not necessarily matched up. On shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this was usually due to production delays or changes on specific episodes. On Star Trek: Voyager, the first and second seasons produced episodes that would not be aired until the other side of summer.

However, on the original Star Trek, the production and broadcast order of the episodes is radically different. For example, Friday’s Child was the third episode of the second season produced, but the eleventh broadcast. This makes watching the show in production order on blu ray a delightfully frustrating experience. The first five episodes produced for the second season are split across three different discs.

Good wholesome family fun...

Good wholesome family fun…

Sometimes the changes in production order were purely practical. For example, The Man Trap was the first episode of Star Trek to air because it happened to be the most suitable of the episodes that had been produced to that point. The broadcast order of the first season introduced all manner of production and continuity glitches, with uniforms and cast changing seemingly randomly. Still, The Man Trap was felt to be, effectively, the least bad option to introduce new audiences to Star Trek.

Amok Time, the second season premiere, was an entirely different kettle of fish. This was easily the strongest of the three Star Trek season premieres, and there’s a sense that the production team knew this going into the episode. Designed to ruthlessly capitalise on the popularity and success surrounding the character of Spock, the episode was very clearly intended to put the show’s best foot forward for audiences returning to watch the second season. The result is one of the best episodes the franchise ever produced.

Spock remains as sharp as ever...

Spock remains as sharp as ever…

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Star Trek – Spock’s World by Diane Duane (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspect of Star Trek tie-in media during the eighties was the sense of freedom enjoyed by those working on the line.

One of the more infamous examples concerned DC’s attempts to publish a monthly comic during the release cycle of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The three films tended to build off one another, forming a tight continuity, but that did not stop the comic book company from trying to build off the ending of each of the films, leading to a variety of weird continuity hijinks. Spock left to work on a Vulcan ship; Kirk took command of the Excelsior; a Klingon joined the crew.

Writers working on the tie-in novels enjoyed a similar amount of freedom. By the time that Spock’s World was published in 1989, Diane Duane had been able to firmly establish her own supporting cast of characters in her various tie-in novels. Spock’s World includes appearances from Duane regulars like K’s’t’lk and Harb Tanzer, introduced in The Wounded Sky; even Lia Burke from My Enemy, My Ally puts in an appearance. It really feels like Duane has carved out her own space within the larger Star Trek universe.

However, perhaps that freedom finds its strongest expression in the fact that Duane was able to map an entire cultural and social history unto the planet Vulcan. Spock’s World reads almost like a biography of a fictional planet – charting the history of Vulcan from the planet’s earliest days through to the twenty-third century. It is a delightfully bold and intriguing Star Trek book, one utterly unlike any other tie-in ever published.

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Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror #1 – Fragile Glass (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

One of the benefits and the curses of tie-in material is the ability to connect the dots – to tie together two parts of continuity separated by time and space, filling in the blanks in some character or plot arc. Often, this feels extraneous at best. In order for the televised stories to work, there must be enough information conveyed effectively to the audience so they can make their own leaps. Trying to plug imaginary and unnecessary holes is seldom satisfying.

On the other hand, there are occasionally gaps that are worth exploring. These are gaps that have been explained on the show, but which are still large enough that creators can fit their own interesting stories between them. The divide between Mirror, Mirror and Crossover is one such gap, as we go from the original Star Trek‘s version of the mirror universe to the very different iteration seen on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Tom DeFalco’s Fragile Glass attempts to sketch in some of the details around this gap. While it’s not entirely satisfying as either a missing link or a story in its own right, it does offer some nice pulpy fun and gets considerable mileage out of the “Spock vs. Kirk” premise.

I am not Spock...

I am not Spock…

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) Annual #1 – All Those Years Ago…

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

It’s weird to think that the original cast of Star Trek didn’t get a proper on-screen origin story until JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009. The show produced two pilots – The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before – and even the pilot episode that wound up airing was broadcast as the third episode of the first season. Given the realities of sixties television, it’s probably not too surprising. Rather famously, Gilligan’s Island scrapped its origin story pilot, reworking some of the footage (along with re-shot footage) into a later episode – deciding to skip the story of how everybody got here and just get to the meat of the story.

And you can understand why this approach worked with the original Star Trek. Structurally, the series was a product of its time, largely episodic. Sure, there were recurring alien races and even a few recurring guest stars outside the senior staff, but there was a sense you could jumble the viewing order of most of the episodes up and not notice anything strange.

At the same time, the lack of an origin leaves a vacuum. After all, each of the four following spin-offs opened with a two-hour special about putting the crew together to take their place on the final frontier. In hindsight, having had years to grow old with these characters and watch their friendships (and personalities) deepen and broaden, it occurs to us that we never really say them come together for the first time.

All Those Years Ago... isn’t nearly as elaborate or as sophisticated as Vonda M. McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure, but it does hint at a growing curiosity about how the team came to work together.

Second star on the right...

Second star on the right…

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Star Trek Special #1 (1994) – The Needs of the One (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

In many ways, the Star Trek movies feature more character development and exploration for the cast than the entire three seasons of the television show. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home are true ensemble pieces, but there’s also more of a sense that this is a family rather than a bunch of people who just hang out together. I’d argue that the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation remain the tightest ensemble that the franchise has ever produced, but the first six movies portray the crew of the original Enterprise as a bunch of people who have been to hell and back together.

Michael Collins’ The Needs of the One represents a bit of an interlude between The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, taking place during the crew’s three month “Vulcan exile.” While Collins’ script suffers from its inability to decide whether it’s a Spock-centric character drama or a day-in-the-life of the renegade crew, it’s a fascinating story situated in a lacuna of the movies’ chronology. It cements the idea that Spock has been radically altered over the course of the film series, and that his character arc spans the first four films.

Indeed, Collins’ opening sequence tying together his failure to achieve Kolinahr in Star Trek: The Motion Picture with his decision to once again rejoin the crew in The Voyage Home.

When all Kirk asked for was a tall ship, he probably should have been more specific...

When all Kirk asked for was a tall ship, he probably should have been more specific…

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Star Trek – The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison/Cordwainer Bird (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

The City on the Edge of Forever had a troubled history, not that you’d know it based on what appeared on screen. Like quite a few classic Star Trek episodes (The Enemy Within, The Doomsday Machine, Amok Time), it was developed from a script written by a giant of science-fiction. Harlan Ellison is a respected author with a considerable reputation. However, the version of The City on the Edge of Forever which eventually made it to screen at the end of the show’s first season is radically different from the version Ellison original wrote. “It’s not the vision I had,” Ellison quotes at the start of the paperback edition of his original screenplay, released in 1996.

The book is a fantastic read, and well worth a look for anybody with any interest in Star Trek or Ellison, or even good science-fiction or the craft of television writing. Reading the various drafts, there’s no denying that it is a phenomenal script, as good as the script that eventually went into production. At the same time, it’s also quite clear that it would not have made for as classic a Star Trek episode.

Into the vortex...

Into the vortex…

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