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Non-Review Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is messy and unfocused, but also beautiful and wonderful.

It is wonderful in a very literal sense. A Wrinkle in Time is best enjoyed with a sense of childlike wonder, allowing the succession of beautiful and striking images wash over the audience. Director Ava DuVernay strives for a childlike sense of wonder, adopting a very heightened and exaggerated aesthetic. A Wrinkle in Time is filled with impossible and uncanny images that seem to have sprung from a rich and vivid imagination. This sense sense of wonder often has little to do with momentum, DuVernay finding a way to make actors standing in field of wheat seem enchanting.

Here comes the science.

However, A Wrinkle in Time suffers a little bit when it tries to force these images to cohere into a singular linear narrative. The plot of A Wrinkle in Time is an archetypal children’s adventure story, about a group of children crossing impossible distances and facing impossible odds in order to reunite a broken family. However, A Wrinkle in Time follows the familiar beats and rhythms without ever suggesting a central thesis or point. The issue is not that A Wrinkle in Time is a family film without ideas. It often feels like A Wrinkle in Time has too many ideas.

A Wrinkle in Time works better from moment to moment than it does as a single story. At is best, A Wrinkle in Time feels like an album of striking and evocative images paired with clever and provocative themes. However, these elements never quite line up as smoothly as they should.

It all balances out.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy (Review)

With Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, Star Trek: Voyager is back to business as usual.

The first episode produced after the departure of Ronald D. Moore, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is in many ways an archetypal Voyager story. Equinox, Part II was the second part of a season-bridging two-parter; Survival Instinct was a dark fable about consequences and trauma that was the last script credited to on the franchise’s most beloved writers; Barge of the Dead was a surreal and ambiguous adventure into the Klingon afterlife. As such, it is strange that an episode that opens with a playful operatic number about Tuvok’s pon farr should mark a return to normality.

“My Delta Quadrant TripAdvisor review is going to be scathing!”

Nevertheless, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is a very neat standalone episode with a clear beginning, middle and end. It is built around the character of the EMH, leaning into actor Robert Picardo’s comedic chops. It is very much in keeping with Voyager‘s recurring fascination with the notion of fractured reality as expressed in Projections or Deadlock or Retrospect, and also in using a technologically-derived character to literalise the process of a psychological breakdown as in Darkling, Infinite Regress or Latent Image.

Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy story has its own themes and ideas, and everything is neatly resolved by the closing credits. It is a reminder that the serialisation that defined Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would remain the exception, rather than the rule, that it would not be inherited by its surviving sibling. Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy could almost be watched at any point in the show’s run, although the involvement of Seven of Nine would suggest the final four seasons. Nevertheless, the episode never feels particularly tethered to this moment or this season.

Fantasy figure.

However, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is also an example of how this approach can work. Voyager received (and deserves) a lot of criticism for failing to evolve with the times, for allowing the Star Trek franchise to fall behind the curve of contemporary television science fiction. However, the series was occasionally capable of demonstrating the merits of standalone episodes, the appeal of being able to transition from one self-contained story to another twenty-six times in the course of a season.

Of course, the issue was that a lot of Voyager episodes were bland and forgettable. However, every once in a while the series would produce a self-contained episode that demonstrated the appeal of this narrative model; Remember, Distant Origin, Concerning Flight, Living WitnessSomeone to Watch Over Me. Appropriately enough, coming after another turbulent period in the history of the show, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is another fine example of this capacity to construct satisfying and engaging stand-alone narratives.

Painting a pretty picture.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Innocence (Review)

This February and March, 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.

One of the remarkable things about the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager is the way that they seem to hark back to the aesthetic of classic Star Trek.

There is a palpable goofiness to some of the ideas in the second season that feels very much in keeping with the mood and tone of the classic sixties series. There’s a surprising amount of high-concept science-fiction allegory running through the first two seasons of the show, with the writer playing with concepts not too far removed from the space!Romans of Bread and Circuses or the half-black half-white allegories of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. There are points where Voyager seems to drift away from literalism and wander into sci-fi wackiness.

Kids these days...

Kids these days…

There were elements of this to be found in the first season, with Caretaker awkwardly literalising the franchise’s wild west metaphor by having Janeway’s first planetfall occur on a desert world with a primitive aggressive population. The Kazon and the Vidiians seemed like they escaped from pulpy science-fiction serials, with the show even going so far as to present the Vidiians as body horror space nazis in episodes like Phage and Faces. This is to say nothing of the Cold War paranoia of Cathexis or the primary colour atomic anxiety of Time and Again.

However, this tendency really kicked into high gear during the second season, with the crews’ dreams conspiring to kill them in Persistence of Vision, Chakotay meeting his people’s space!gods (er… “sky spirits”) in Tattoo, Voyager embroiling itself in a “robotic war” in Prototype and Paris “evolving” into a salamander in Threshold. There was a sense that the show was embracing the sort of high-concept sci-fi weirdness that Star Trek: The Next Generation had spent so much of its run trying to avoid, and had only really embraced in its final years.

Bennet, we hardly knew ye.

Bennet, we hardly knew ye.

That is particularly apparent in this stretch of episodes towards the end of the second season. Innocence has a species that ages backwards, enjoying a simple allegory without getting too caught up in the internal logic of the situation. The Thaw is arguably a much greater visual tribute to the style and tone of the original Star Trek than Flashback could ever claim to be. Tuvix is a classic transporter accident story, reversing The Enemy Within. These pulpy elements of Voyager would never quite go away, but they would never be as pronounced as they were in the first two years.

Innocence is a weird and goofy little story that works best as a modern fairy tale. It is arguably proof that the Star Trek franchise probably works better as metaphorical allegory than straight-up science-fiction.

Eye see...

Eye see…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Our Man Bashir (Review)

This February and March, 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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Our Man Bashir is an underrated masterpiece.

It is possibly the best holodeck (or holosuite) episode in the history of the franchise; only Ship in a Bottle can really compete. A lot of this is down to the production value of the episode; Our Man Bashir looks and sounds beautiful, a delightfully detailed throwback to its source material. The production team on the Star Trek franchise seldom get enough credit for their skill at realising alien worlds and cultures from scratch, but their beautiful evocation of sixties design is breathtaking. Our Man Bashir is a clear forerunner to Trials and Tribble-ations, less than a year away.

"The name's Bashir, Julian Bashir..."

“The name’s Bashir, Julian Bashir…”

However, there is more to it than that. Like Little Green Men, Our Man Bashir succeeds as a (relatively) light-hearted run-around that never loses track of its characters. The first three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine struggled with the character of Julian Bashir; audience members could wait entire seasons for a good Bashir episode. With the fourth season, three come along at once. Our Man Bashir might look light and fluffy – and it largely is – but it never loses sight of its core character dynamics in the midst of all the fun unfolding around them.

More than that, Our Man Bashir plays into the broader themes and strengths of the fourth season. The climax of the episode feels like Deep Space Nine is ruminating on its new-found place dictating the direction of the Star Trek canon. Bashir’s decision to “save the day by destroying the world” feels oddly prophetic. The fifth season of the show would find the writers destroying some of the most fundamental rules of the franchise in an effort to keep things vital.

Got some bottle...

Got some bottle…

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The X-Files (Topps) #37 – The Face of Extinction (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Suspension of disbelief is a curiously fickle thing.

It is a concept that generates considerable debate in its function and application. After all, the normal mode of fiction generally accepts that fiction is… well, fictional. There is no real belief to shatter, because there is an innate understanding between artist and audience that a work of art should be interpreted as a representation of reality rather than a piece of reality. Even in the case of “true stories”, audiences will willingly and readily accept alterations and adjustments designed to streamline the story in question.

Ramming speed...

Ramming speed…

After all, the concept of “suspension of disbelief” is quite firmly disengaged from the concept of reality. The old cliché about “truth being stranger than fiction” illustrates the distinction. The real world (and the stories of the people who inhabit it) are full of coincidences and contrivances that audiences would consider to be lazy writing or poor construction if they appeared in a work of fiction. Nevertheless, while “suspension of disbelief” might be more complex than its three-word nature would suggest, it is a useful philosophy.

What “breaks” a work of fiction? At what point does the artist – whether intentionally or otherwise – push the audience out of the story? What causes a double take to occur or a quizzical eyebrow to raise? What story developments prompt angry sighs or bitter grumbling? There is no hard and fast answer. The line will always be arbitrary, varying from audience member to audience member. Everybody has different expectations when it comes to art, and so that threshold is distinct for every person.

"Don't worry, Scully! Stay right there... I'm going to get my camera."

“Don’t worry, Scully! Stay right there… I’m going to get my camera.”

Sometimes people can agree on where the line falls on a certain work, but everybody has their limits. There are some people who embrace perceived absurdities or inconsistencies or incongruities in their stories; there are some people who simple do not consider those absurdities or inconsistencies or incongruities to exist at all. One of the great things about The X-Files as a television show is the sense of adventure and excitement that the premise generates. It is highly flexible, allowing for almost anything.

At the same time, it seems quite clear that writer John Rozum and artist Alex Saviuk find themselves charging head-first towards that highly arbitrary and high flexible boundary with The Face of Extinction, a story about a secret race of intelligent goat people who have lived alongside human civilisation for millennia and who also (conveniently) speak perfect English. It is a rather absurd concept, and one that seems at odds with the relatively grounded style of the first five seasons of The X-Files.

Beastly.

Beastly.

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Doctor Who: Last Christmas (Review)

There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.

Last Christmas is perhaps the most Moffat-esque Christmas Special of the Moffat era.

As such, it is an episode that will inevitably provoke a strong reaction, playing as it does to the writer’s strengths and interests in Doctor Who. As a show, Doctor Who has a long history of crashing genres into one another. One of the most endearing aspects of the show is the way that it can be a completely different show from week to week. One week, it is a western; the next, it is a horror film. One episode is a period adventure; another is a science-fiction comedy. Doctor Who is a show about a mad man in a box who crashes into random stories.

doctorwho-lastchristmas4

Last Christmas is quite overt about this. When Shona wakes up towards the end of the episode, we are treated to a glimpse of her “to do” list for Christmas Day, which happens to feature a variety of clear influences on the episode. Strangely, she plans to open her Christmas Day binge with a double-bill of Alien and The Thing From Another World, before taking a breather and returning for Miracle on 34th Street – you really do need a bit of space before properly digesting the truly heavy stuff. (She’s also marathoning the Hugo-winning Game of Thrones.)

Last Christmas is a story that is incredibly (and almost cheekily) aware of its own fictionality. As with so much of Moffat’s Doctor Who, it is a story about stories. And dreams, which are really the same thing. “Time travel is always possible in dreams,” the Doctor observes, to borrow a quote from The Name of the Doctor. Dreams and stories.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hollow Pursuits (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.

Hollow Pursuits is another demonstration of just how far Star Trek: The Next Generation has come in its third season. It’s a show comfortable enough with its cast and setting that it’s willing to look at the Enterprise from a completely fresh angle – to examine what it must be like to work on the Enterprise in the shadow of Geordi and Riker and Picard, getting none of the glory and making none of the decisions.

Hollow Pursuits is the first time we’ve really seen a dysfunctional member of the Enterprise crew, with Dwight Schultze showing up as Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Reginald Barclay. Barclay is a character unlike any the franchise had produced to date, and Schultze is incredibly charming in the role. It’s no wonder that he went on to become one of the franchise’s most loved guest stars, recurring several times over the course of The Next Generation, popping up in Star Trek: First Contact and even visiting Star Trek: Voyager a few times.

Straight to the point...

Straight to the point…

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