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Star Trek: Voyager – Mortal Coil (Review)

In its own weird way, Mortal Coil effectively amounts to a Star Trek: Voyager Christmas Special.

It unfolds in the lead up to the Talaxian festival of Prixin, which Neelix describes as “the Talaxian celebration of family. We observe it every year on Voyager.” Bringing friends and family together on an annual basis with ritualised food preparation and salutations, it serves as analogous to Thanksgiving or Christmas. Indeed, this sort of thinly-disguised Christmas celebration is a science-fiction stable. Perhaps “Life Day” from Star Wars Holiday Special is the most obvious example. To solidify this Yuletide sensibility, Mortal Coil aired the week before Christmas.

Choking on his Borgophobia.

They just keep killing Neelix.

There is something decidedly wry about the one and only Star Trek Christmas Special. (And no, the Christmas Party in Dagger of the Mind doesn’t really count.) This is after all an episode in which a regular character loses his faith in the existence of an afterlife and attempts to commit suicide in a transporter room. It is a strange choice for a seasonal story. In some ways, it feels very much like a Bryan Fuller script, a subversion of the traditional Christmas narrative. After all, Fuller has talked about Hannibal as an exploration of heterosexual male friendship. Just one with murder and cannibalism thrown in.

Mortal Coil is a fascinating episode, albeit one that feels decidedly clumsy in its execution. The episode hesitates and wavers on what it wants to say, offering a wishy-washy conclusion to a very powerful premise. Still, Mortal Coil is intriguing for its oddness.

I met a man who wasn't there.

I met a man who wasn’t there.

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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 – 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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Star Trek – The Apple (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.

It’s amazing how iconic Star Trek could be, even when it was terrible. There’s something quite ironic about how much of the franchise’s truly memorable iconography is rooted in some of the show’s weakest episodes. The Apple is one of the most iconic and memorable Star Trek episodes, featuring a giant evil dragon head sculpture, David Soul in orange body paint, lots of speechifying from Kirk, and a strong atheistic message with Kirk casting himself as Satan in the Garden of Eden.

It is also just terrible.

"VAAAAAAAL!!!"

“VAAAAAAAL!!!”

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Star Trek – Who Mourns For Adonais? (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.

In many respects, Who Mourns for Adonais? is a formative episode for Star Trek as a franchise. It’s a show that really informs a lot of the franchise that would follow, even beyond the confines of the original television show. It’s an episode that represents the first clear articulation of a strand of thought that has been bubbling away through the first season of Star Trek and into the second, exploring the religious side of the Star Trek universe and mankind’s place in the cosmos.

The episode is iconic and memorable. It is packed with images that are familiar to even the most casual of fans. “Kirk confronts a Greek god in deep space!” is a catchy premise. “A giant hand grabs the Enterprise and threatens to crush the ship!” is the type of delightfully insane visual that ranks with “Captain Kirk as a Nazi!” or “space Lincoln!” when it comes to Star Trek visuals that stick with people outside the context of the show itself. Coupled with the distillation of those themes, this is a “big” episode.

"Jack, I'm flying!"

“Jack, I’m flying!”

Unfortunately, Who Mourns for Adonais? is also a deeply troubling episode. It has problems heaped upon problems. Some of those problems are inherited from the general aesthetic of the show, and are not specific to this episode. However, some of those problems are explicitly articulated here. Who Mourns for Adonais? is an episode that embodies quite a few of the very serious problems that run through the original Star Trek and haunt the franchise for quite some time.

The fact that these problems come baked into an iconic and memorable episode is disappointing.

"Oh, your gods..."

“Oh, your gods…”

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Non-Review Review: Shadowlands

Shadowlands is, at its core, a very typical “weepy” romantic drama. However, it’s an exceptionally well-executed example of the genre, one that demonstrates a rather uncanny understanding about the complexities of love and loss that help it stand out from a lot of its fellow films. A superbly powerful central performance from Anthony Hopkins certainly doesn’t hurt, and Richard Attenborough’s elegant, yet unintrusive, direction allows the story to flow without ever feeling too emotionally manipulative. It’s an intelligent and well-constructed exploration of a tragic love affair, one that feels distinctly human in its approach to its subjects and themes.

Does Hopkins deliver a superb performance? You can bank on it…

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