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Star Trek: Voyager – Someone to Watch Over Me (Review)

Someone to Watch Over Me is a decidedly atypical episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The episode’s subplot, focusing on Neelix and a disorderly alien ambassador, harks back to the old diplomacy subplots of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the crews would be asked to ferry ambassadors around only for terrible things to happen. There are any number of examples of that story template across the two earliest incarnations of the show; Journey to BabelElaan of Troyius, Is There in Truth No Beauty?Lonely Among UsLoud as a Whisper, SarekThe PriceMan of the PeopleData’s DayViolationsLiaisons.

The EMH rose to the occasion.

To be fair, Voyager has done a couple of these episodes before. There are a number of episodes in which the ship acts as a diplomatic courier shipping aliens from one destination to another or welcoming on board representatives of an alien culture; the subplot of Innocence comes to mind, as does the set-up of Remember. However, by and large, these diplomacy-driven subplots are a lot less frequent on Voyager than they were on the original Star Trek or The Next Generation. As such, the Neelix subplot feels very much like a throwback.

However, the primary plot of Someone to Watch Over Me feels very much like an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an intimate romantic character study about an attraction between two individuals. Someone to Watch Over Me is very much an archetypal love story, one without the flavour of adventure or stakes defines other Star Trek romances like Captain’s Holiday or Counterpoint or Gravity. This is a low-stakes interpersonal attraction, very much in the style of Looking for Par’Mach In All the Wrong Places, His Way or Chrysalis.

A snap decision.

In fact, the basic plot of Someone to Watch Over Me is so archetypal that it can be traced back to number of classical inspirations. This is nothing new. The Star Trek franchise has long borrowed inspiration from various classics; Favourite Son and Bliss owe a great deal to The Odyssey and Moby Dick, for example. However, the choice of influences on Someone to Watch Over Me feels more like Deep Space Nine than Voyager; it draws from Pygmalion and its various adaptations, along with the early eighties comedy My Favourite Year.

The result is a decidedly strange blend of classic Star Trek storytelling that feels fresh and exciting in the context of Voyager. In many ways, Juggernaut was a showcase of Voyager‘s preference for blockbuster plot-driven storytelling. However, Someone to Watch Over Me is something much more compelling and intriguing. Someone to Watch Over Me is a character-driven episode of Voyager, and a very impressive and engaging one at that.

Putting the “ass” in ambassador.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Juggernaut (Review)

Juggernaut is not a great episode of television.

The episode has any number of key problems. Most obviously, the episode illustrates how little the character of B’Elanna Torres has actually grown since Parallax, without even pausing to acknowledge everything that has happened in between in episodes like Extreme Risk. More than that, the episode’s core themes are undermined by an incredibly cynical conclusion that might work in the context of a larger character arc, but which doesn’t work when rooted in the series’ episodic approach to storytelling.

Calm under pressure.

However, in spite of all these fundamental flaws that hobble Juggernaut as a piece of television narrative, there is quite a lot to like here. This is very pointed a big “action” story told in blockbuster mode, evoking episodes like Timeless. It is all about broad strokes, ticking clocks and epic stakes. Juggernaut is fundamentally a runaway train story crossed with The Phantom of the Opera, which is almost perfectly within the show’s comfort zone. More than that, Juggernaut actually figures out how to do something vaguely interesting with the Malon before they disappear.

Juggernaut is a highly enjoyable episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Here there be monsters…

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Fight (Review)

“No, make them stop!”

The Fight is a disaster. To be fair, it’s not the worst episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It is not as overtly racist as second season offerings like Tattoo or Alliances, even if there is still something deeply uncomfortable about the way in which the show approaches Chakotay’s Native American heritage as a gateway to pseudo-mysticism. It is neither as xenophobic as Displaced nor as misogynist as Retrospect, although its approach to mental health is… questionable. Mostly, though, it is just a bad episode of television, not a spectacularly awful one.

Don’t worry. Jason Alexander will be here next week, if you can make it until then.

The problems with The Fight are somewhat typical of Voyager. It is an episode that decides to invent a new character trait in a regular character in order to justify the plot, revealing a lot of details about Chakotay that had never been suggested before and which will never be mentioned again. It is also overly reliant on techno-babble, with dialogue referencing nonsense like a “trimetric fracture” and a “paralateral rentrillic trajectory.” There is a pointless framing sequence designed to extend the runtime. There is nothing insightful about the characters or their world.

However, the biggest issue with The Fight is how it squanders a potentially compelling idea. Like Once Upon a Time before it, it is a great example of Voyager trying to write around a risk idea and effectively writing anything interesting out of the finished product.

Chaos and them.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Killing Game, Part II (Review)

In some ways, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feel like a perfect companion piece to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Building upon the high-concept large-scale template established by Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes established a blockbuster template for Star Trek: Voyager going forward. They solidified Brannon Braga’s vision for the series, and effectively laid out a blueprint for his widescreen spectacle-driven reimagining of the final three seasons. Like Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II before them, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are blockbuster Star Trek.

Time’s up.

Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had produced any number of two-part episodes over the course of their runs. In fact, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II had helped to cement the two-part story as impressive tool in the franchise’s storytelling arsenal. On both VHS and blu ray, these two-part stories were constantly repackaged as mini-movies; Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II, Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II, Chain of Command, Part I and Chain of Command, Part II.

However, Voyager represented a very clear evolution in the way that the production team approached these stories. Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II were the exception that proved the rule, the last holdover of the Michael Piller era. Largely driven by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky, the later Voyager two-parters took on a decidedly more blockbuster sensibility. They could easily be packaged as mini feature films, and might even work better in those formats than as two standalone narratives. They were bigger and bolder than earlier two-parters had been.

Holo promises.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II provided the model for these big “event” two-parters. Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II applied to the Borg in order to offer an even bigger bang for their buck. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II took the ship and crew to their limit to tell a story set over an entire year. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II pushed the idea even further, with UPN opting to show both parts of the story on the same night as something like a television movie. It was a big deal.

Deep Space Nine had broadcast The Way of the Warrior as a television movie, but it was a season premiere and effectively a second (or even third) pilot. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II comprised a high-concept mid-season two parter. They were arguably a stock Voyager episode, only bigger. In the years ahead, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II would follow the same pattern. So would Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II established a trend.

Super evil alien space Nazi.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Favour the Bold (Review)

With Favour the Bold, the writers begin winding down the ambitious six-episode arc that opens the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Indeed, Favour the Bold plays almost like the first part of a two-parter nestled at the end of the sprawling six-episode arc that opens the sixth season. At the end of the teaser, Sisko unveils his ambitious plan to Dax, boasting, “We’re going to retake Deep Space Nine.” It is the story that very clearly moves the arc that began with Call to Arms towards its conclusion, manoeuvring the series back towards the familiar status quo in which Captain Benjamin Sisko commands a lone Federation outpost near the distant planet of Bajor.

Point man.

Point man.

Favour the Bold is very much about lining up everything for the climax of the arc, moving the pieces into place so that that the dominoes can begin falling as early as possible in Sacrifice of Angels. However, the episode benefits from the fact that a lot of the heavy-lifting has already been done by this point in the arc. Behind the Lines already had Odo betray Kira, Rom get arrested and Damar figure out how best to dismantle those pesky self-replicating mines. That is already a lot of the table-setting for the arc’s epic conclusion, before Favour the Bold even begins.

As such, Favour the Bold has the luxury of beginning with a lot of its work already done and ending at the point where the action truly commences. The result is a surprisingly relaxed penultimate episode for this ambitious arc, one with the freedom to indulge in smaller character-driven scenes and the space in which to breathe.

They just need some space.

They just need some space.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – For the Cause (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

For the Cause essentially refocuses the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, rallying the season’s strength as the finalé approaches.

After a bunch of lackluster episodes, from Rules of Engagement through to Shattered Mirror and The Muse, the show finds its voice once again. For the Cause is not just a great episode of television, it is an episode uniquely tailored to this particular show. For the Cause would not work on any of the other for Star Trek shows, so precisely is it calibrated to what makes Deep Space Nine unique. It is a story about trust and betrayal, but also one that chips away at the romance of Starfleet and the Federation.

Pinning his colours to the mast...

Pinning his colours to the mast…

What is particularly interesting about the stretch of episodes running from here through to Broken Link is the sense that Deep Space Nine is getting back to basics. The fourth season is somewhat overshadowed by the addition of Worf to the cast and the emphasis placed on the Klingons in The Way of the Warrior. Although the production team do a great job working within the studio mandate, this shift in focus has meant that many more traditional elements of Deep Space Nine have been shunted into the background.

The final stretch of the fourth season finds the show returning to ideas that were threaded through earlier seasons and were shifted slightly out of focus with the return of the Klingons. For the Cause brings the Maquis back to the fore. To the Death, The Quickening and Broken Link focus on the Dominion threat. Body Parts returns to Ferengi politics. To be fair, the Maquis were the only element that totally faded from view over the fourth season, so it makes sense to return to them first.

A stunning betrayal...

A stunning betrayal…

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Doctor Who: Face the Raven (Review)

“She enjoyed that way too much.”

“Tell me about it.”

– Clara Oswald, RIP (for now)

Of course a season of two-parters would end with a three-parter.

That said, it seems quite clear that Face the Raven is the first part of a three-parter in the same way that Utopia was the first part of a three-parter; it is largely a standalone story that exists to manoeuvre the various characters to the point where the season finalé can actually begin. In a way, Face the Raven even marks its own “return of a classic series element”, albeit in a much more subdued manner than Utopia. It seems quite clear exactly who Ashidlr is dealing with, and it seems to be a pretty big deal.

Quoth the raven...

Quoth the raven…

There is quite a lot of narrative shuffling taking place here, to the point that Face the Raven feels very much like a premise rather than a self-contained story. The episode was allegedly cobbled together at reasonably short notice when Mark Gatiss could not extend Sleep No More into a two-parter keeping with the rest of the season. Given all the demands imposed on the script, it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that Sarah Dollard was handed what is traditionally known as a “nightmare brief.”

In light of all of the obligations imposed on it, it is surprising that Face the Raven works at all. It is even more impressive that it works downright splendidly.

... nevermore...

… nevermore…

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