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Star Trek: Enterprise – These Are The Voyages… (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

1994 was peak Star Trek.

Of course, the particulars are open to debate. There are credible arguments that could be made for the following year, when Paramount considered broadcasting Caretaker to be just about the only statement that UPN needed to make on it opening night. There are even plausible arguments that could be made about the year after that, when the franchise officially celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a beloved movie, two anniversary episodes and a whole host of affection press coverage.

"So, I've been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good."

“So, I’ve been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good.”

Nevertheless, it all seems to come down to 1994. That was the year that Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end. It was the only season of Star Trek overseen by Rick Berman to by nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. It was the point at which the original Star Trek cast were retired, with William Shatner officially passing the torch to Patrick Stewart before a bridge fell on him in Star Trek: Generations. At the same time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in its second season. Star Trek: Voyager was ready to launch.

More importantly, that season of television represented the turning point for the franchise’s ratings. While The Next Generation actually experienced its highest viewing figures during its fourth and fifth seasons, the end of The Next Generation with its seventh season signaled a gradual erosion of the franchise’s viewing base. There are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with quality and more to do with the realities of network television, but this simple fact helps to solidify the feeling that the final season of The Next Generation was something of a golden age.

An Enterprising couple.

An Enterprising couple.

It could legitimately be argued that the Berman era was haunted by the spectre of 1994 for the longest of times. Ironically enough for a show set on a space station, Deep Space Nine managed to chart its own course only to end up isolated from the franchise around it. While Deep Space Nine would end up an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, the seven seasons of Voyager and the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise would find the franchise trapped within a phantom version of 1994 that seemed to last forever.

Enterprise finally escaped the long cold shadow of The Next Generation with the broadcast of The Expanse at the end of its second season. The final two seasons of Enterprise would find the show experimenting and innovating with new narrative forms and new approaches to the franchise. The third season of Enterprise finally allowed Brannon Braga to follow through on his original pitch for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The fourth season largely eschewed episodic plotting for multi-episode arcs excavating the canon.

"C'mon, you didn't think they'd let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?"

“C’mon, you didn’t think they’d let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?”

Perhaps that is why These Are the Voyages… is so shocking, beyond the myriad of minor complaints. These Are the Voyages… takes the franchise right back to 1994 as if the evolutionary leaps of the prior two seasons never took place. The episode invites the audience to wonder whether it might all be a dream, a fantasy playing out on the holodeck to help Riker pass the time. After all, the episode does not close in the twenty-second century with the decommissioning of Enterprise; the episode closes with Riker and Troi right back in 1994.

That is the true heartbreaking tragedy of These Are the Voyages… No matter how far the Berman era might come, it can never escape 1994.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek – The Final Reflection by John M. Ford (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 Final Reflection was written in 1984. Development on Star Trek: The Next Generation would only be announced in 1986. Sure, there were a bunch of successful movies being produced, but these only amounted to a couple of hours of Star Trek once every few years. And, even then, the movies were aimed at a much broader audience, without the same development and continuity that a television show could offer. Not that Star Trek ever really had that tight a sense of continuity, of course, but it must have seemed unlikely that things could ever go back to the way they had been. Certainly, in 1984, nobody could have anticipated the eighteen-straight years of Star Trek running from Encounter at Farpoint to These Are the Voyages.

As a result, fans had to look to other avenues to expand and develop the rich Star Trek universe. The novels were one such avenue, although they developed slowly. Mission to Horatius had been published while the show was on the air, but it was very clearly aimed at a younger audience. Spock Must Die! would be published in 1970. However, the spin-off fiction developed relatively slowly. Star Trek had yet to become a massive franchise with tie-in multimedia commercial opportunities.

Perhaps because the Star Trek novels had not quite turned into a massive franchising opportunity, and they weren’t under the same level of publicity or scrutiny that they would be in the years to come, writer John M. Ford was able to do something quietly revolutionary with his first Star Trek novel, The Final Reflection. He was able to venture away from our core cast of iconic characters and instead develop the Klingon Empire.

More than that, though, he was able to paint the Klingons as the good guys.

tos-thefinalreflection5

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outrageous Okona (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season (and a tiny bit of the second), episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, I’m not sure if you can call two solid episodes in succession a “streak” or a “roll”, but Where Silence Has Lease and Elementary, Dear Data were two hours of television that demonstrated how far the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation had come since its rocky first season. However, it appears that the two very good episodes in a row did not represent a sudden change in direction and did not assure consistency. The Outrageous Okona is a bad episode, by just about any measure. It’s not necessarily as offensive as Angel One or Code of Honour, but it is quite painful to watch.

Unlike a lot of the bungled “message” shows in the first season that contained misjudged ideas or offensive elements, The Outrageous Okona is merely a terribly written and unfunny mess of an episode that simply gnaws at the viewer.

He works best Solo...

He works best Solo…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 1 (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, the video and sound quality on the blu ray are excellent. I feel the need to state that here, first, before I delve into the season as a whole. I jumped on board the recent high-definition re-release of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the work done here by the production team is astounding. As I trawled through every episode from Encounter at Farpoint to The Neutral Zone, I was amazed and impressed at how much care had gone into restoring and renewing the show for high-definition. I can’t imagine how painstaking the work was – re-editing the original film stock, remastering old effects, remixing the sound. The team have made a believer out of me, and I am on board for pretty much any restored Star Trek boxset that CBS sees fit to release. (I can’t wait to see Deep Space Nine updated.)

I think it’s important to acknowledge the work that went into producing a set that looks and sounds fantastic. It made returning to the show a joy, even when I was (frequently) reminded of just how rocky that first season was.

tng-arsenaloffreedom4

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Skin of Evil (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Skin of Evil is a mess of an episode. It’s a whole bunch of concepts thrown together, and executed in the most ridiculous and banal manner possible. There’s a lot of the disparate elements of Skin of Evil that could easily work if handled properly. Most notably, the idea of a character dying in the line of duty rather than as a hero is a fascinating one, and the eponymous monster could be an interesting twist on the “god-like beings” we seem to stumble across once every couple of weeks in the Star Trek universe. However, Skin of Evil winds up feeling the one thing it should be impossible for an episode like this to be. Despite all the different stuff happening involving all the different characters: it’s boring.

A slick operator...

A slick operator…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hide & Q (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

I have a confession to make. I quite like the first half of Hide & Q. Don’t get me wrong, the ending of the episode ruins any goodwill that sequence built up, and the opening section of the story isn’t exactly amazing – it’s just crafted more competently than any episode since Where No One Has Gone Before. I think part of the reason I enjoyed that first half of Hide & Q so much more than most of the recent episodes is because it accomplishes something that Star Trek: The Next Generation has been trying to do since The Naked Now, and with much more success. It manages to channel the original Star Trek.

Okay, the first half wouldn’t make an exceptional episode of the original Star Trek. It wouldn’t even make a great episode of the original Star Trek. It would, however, make a somewhat passable episode of the original Star Trek. Which is, sadly, more than enough to put it quite ahead of most of the other episodes in this first season so far.

Caught in the net…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Encounter at Farpoint (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is very hard to believe that it has been a quarter of a century since Star Trek: The Next Generation first appeared on our screens. It is actually quite nice that Paramount and CBS are using the opportunity to give the series a bit of a visual overhaul, going back to the original films and special effects and updating them for high definition. This is not the same approach adopted by George Lucas with his remastering of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Instead, the aim of these high definition re-releases is to bring what was already there up to modern standards, rather than to retroactively re-do the special effects. The project is being overseen by the wonderful Mike and Denise Okuda, and Mike has argued that this restoration is a very bold endeavour, suggesting, “it’s the largest – as far as we know – the largest project of its kind that has ever been attempted.”

And I am proud to support it. In a large way, my interest in this high definition release is in large part grounded in recognition of the scale of the work involved. Because, let’s face it, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is a solid contender for the worst year of Star Trek ever produced for television.

“Let’s see what’s out there…”

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