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The Defenders – Royal Dragon (Review)

Royal Dragon might just be the best episode of The Defenders. It is also the smallest.

Royal Dragon is in many ways the runt of the litter. It is an episode relatively low on action beats, particularly given that it is sandwiched between the closing scenes of Worst Behaviour and the opening scenes of Take Shelter. It also has a relatively small primary cast. There is no sign of supporting players like Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, Trish Walker, or Claire Temple. The episode also confines most of the four heroes to one location for the bulk of the runtime, even if Jessica Jones gets to take a breather. It could easily be the “bottle” episode.

Hero shot.

Royal Dragon is also an episode that accomplishes relatively little in terms of plot momentum or forward movement. There are no major revelations in the episode, with a lot of the exposition covering information that the audience already knows from the other four shows. In some ways, Royal Dragon feels like a void at the centre of the season. It does not tangibly push the season forward. In many ways, the cliffhanger is arguably just a retread of the ending to Worst Behaviour; these four heroes, standing together against impossible odds.

At the same time, Royal Dragon luxuriates in this space and this emptiness. It is an episode that essentially locks its four leads together in a confined space for most of the runtime, which affords the writing staff the opportunity to have the characters slow down and process what has happened to them, to bounce off one another. Royal Dragon allows for the first extended interactions between various combinations of these four players.

A taste of teamwork.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Doctor’s Orders (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.

If Harbinger was a surprisingly experimental piece of Star Trek, then Doctor’s Orders is something far more conventional. If Harbinger was an attempt to do something relatively novel within the framework of Star Trek: Enterprise, then Doctor’s Orders offers the viewer something they’ve seen before.

This applies in a very literal sense. There are quite a few similarities between the plot of Doctor’s Orders and One. Both are effectively one-hander bottle shows focusing on a popular member of the cast, working from the premise that an anomaly of the week requires the rest of the crew to go into stasis. From that starting point, both episodes become studies of isolation and loneliness. Both character find themselves confronting hallucinations while dealing with a perceived threat to the ship.

Yes. Doctor's Orders was a very strange choice for Sweeps.

Yes. Doctor’s Orders was a very strange choice for Sweeps.

To be fair, this is neither the first nor the last time that the Star Trek franchise will feature a plot largely recycled from existing elements. With over seven hundred episodes in the can, there will inevitably be some overlap and similarities. However, Doctor’s Orders feels familiar in another more primal sort of way. One of the big tensions of third season is a need to balance the demands of a larger story arc with a twenty-odd episode season. There is a very odd equilibrium to be struck between the long-form story and episodic standalone adventures.

Doctor’s Orders is very much an old-school episodic Star Trek adventure that could exist quite apart from the demands of the third season as a whole. It is an example of the sorts of internal tensions at work on the show.

The sleep of the just...

The sleep of the just…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Harbinger (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.

It goes almost without saying that the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was an attempt to revitalise a franchise that had already been on television for a decade and half. It was an attempt to do something quite radical and dynamic with a television property that had become rather staid and conservative. Star Trek: The Next Generation had been perfectly calibrated for the late eighties and early nineties, but its approach towards storytelling was increasingly outdated after seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.

One of the recurring issues in the first season of Enterprise was the conflict between the established franchise structure and something more adventurous and exciting. So many of those first season episodes seemed laboriously paced and awkwardly arch; there was a sense of dull routine rather than exciting adventure. The show would occasionally try to deviated from the established template (to varying degrees of success) with stories like Dear Doctor, Shuttlepod One, and A Night in Sickbay, but narrative conservatism won out in the sophomore season.

"So... sweeps?"

“So… sweeps?”

In many ways, Harbinger plays as a return to those earlier experiments in story structure. It is an episode that is not driven by story. Although the strange alien discovered by the crew provides a suitably dramatic climax, most of Harbinger is built around established character dynamics. Trip and T’Pol begin working through the sexual tension that has existed between them since the start of the third season; Reed and Hayes do something similar in a very different fashion. In the meantime, the ship just cruises along en route to the third season’s next big plot beat.

Harbinger is not entirely successful in this regard. There is a sense that the franchise is still figuring out how to construct episodes that don’t conform to a rigid story structure, with the mysterious alien visitor serving as an effective crutch to help get around these problems. Still, it is an interesting experiment and an example of how the show is consciously trying to reinvent itself in a manner that is more than simply cosmetic.

Expanding his Sphere of influence...

Expanding his Sphere of influence…

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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (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.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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The X-Files – Nisei (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

The most interesting aspect of Nisei and 731 is the fact that there’s very little forward movement by the end of it.

The previous multi-part conspiracy episodes typically featured big hooks and shock revelations. Duane Barry and Ascension demonstrated that the government was officially responsible for alien abductions, to the point where they could arrange Scully’s abduction. Colony and End Game featured shape-shifting aliens and confirmation that Samantha Mulder was a big part of this. Anasazi, The Blessing Way and Paper Clip revealed that Mulder’s father was part of a conspiracy involving Second World War criminals working on American soil to create an alien-human hybrid.

The only way its getting off this planet is in a bodybag...

The only way its getting off this planet is in a bodybag…

Nisei and 731 don’t contain any truly seismic revelations. The biggest moments here – the reveal that Japanese war criminals have been experimenting on Americans with the assistance of the government, and that the bodies in the box car in Anasazi were probably originally human – all build on what Paper Clip already established. There’s nothing as significant as the reveal of the Bill Mulder’s complicity in the conspiracy from Paper Clip, or the first appearance of the Black Oil in Piper Maru.

Nisei and 731 really seem to be about taking stock of what has happened so far in the show – as close to a “breather” mythology episode as the show could manage at this point. Of course, this being The X-Files, this “breather” episode still moves a break-neck pace and climaxes with a death-defying leap on to a moving train. As you do.

The doctors are in...

The doctors are in…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Twisted (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.

It’s easy to see why the decision was made to bury Twisted as deep into the second season of Star Trek: Voyager as possible. The third of four episodes carried over from the end of the show’s first production year, it was the sixth episode of the show’s second broadcast season. Not only did it air behind the last episode produced as part of that first year, it also aired behind the first two episodes produced during the second season.

To be fair, Twisted isn’t a bad episode. It has a whole host of problems, but the most fundamental issue with Twisted is that it is incredibly dull. It’s the most pointless sort of story imaginable, where a bunch of weird stuff happens to our characters and there’s no way to save the day so they just sit around and wait patiently until it stops. While the script to Twisted is comprised of irritating moments, they don’t add up to anything substantial.

Twisted is very much the equivalent of forty-five minutes of Star Trek themed dead air.

"Why, hello there..."

“Why, hello there…”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds, Part II (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Best of Both Worlds, Part II was always going to feel like a bit of an anti-climax. After all, the show had spent so much time building up the Borg as this implacable and undefeatable adversary. In Q Who?, it had taken the interference of a god-like entity to allow the Enterprise a chance to escape their unstoppable foe. In The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the Enterprise had been able to run for a while – but the Borg eventually caught up with them and took what they wanted.

Since The Best of Both Worlds, Part II was never going to end with the Borg destroying Earth, and since Star Trek: The Next Generation was never going to be a show willing to exact a dramatic cost high enough to justify victory against such overwhelming odds, the resolution to the two-parter was never going to live up to the heightened drama and impossible stakes suggested by The Best of Both Worlds, Part I.

Still, the second part of the adventure is charming and exciting enough that it never completely falls apart. While the resolution to the crisis does seem a little trite and convenient, The Best of Both Worlds hangs together as the show’s best two-part adventure until at least Chain of Command in the sixth season.

A Number One fan?

A Number One fan?

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