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Star Trek: Discovery – Context is for Kings (Review)

Perhaps what is most surprising about Context is for Kings is just how conventional it is.

The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars were very much atypical episodes of Star Trek, an opening two-parter designed to demonstrate a lot of how Star Trek: Discovery would be different from the earlier series in the franchise. The two-parter introduced a new captain and a new ship, only to kill the captain and destroy the ship at the climax of the story. The primary character ended these opening two episodes as a disgraced mutineer, sentenced to life in prison.

In darkness dwells.

Although the two-parter was traditional in some respects, its structure was consciously designed to subvert a lot of the expectations of previous pilot episodes. Typically, Star Trek pilots find a new crew coming together in a way that sets the tone for the following series. In contrast, The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars joined the Shenzhou at the end of its seven-year mission, and reduced it to floating wreckage. It was a subversive (if not entirely unpredictable) narrative decision, a clear attempt to contextualise Discovery as a modern television series.

All of this means, of course, that Context is for Kings finds itself cast in the role of a conventional Star Trek pilot. In many ways, Context is for Kings is clearly intended as reassurance that Discovery is still fundamentally Star Trek, in spite of the tweaks and alterations that have been made to the framework of the series.

Seeding the future.

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The X-Files – Field Trip (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Field Trip works well as the penultimate episode of the sixth season.

It returns to a lot of big ideas threaded through the sixth season, particularly as they relate to endings and mortality. It also pushes the bond between Mulder and Scully to the fore; it feels like something of a spiritual successor to both Bad Blood and Folie á Deux in its portrayal of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, charting a rough arc in how Mulder and Scully come to see themselves and each other. Even beyond all that, it contains another surrogate romantic relationship for Mulder and Scully, this time in Wallace and Angela Schiff.

A lot to digest...

A lot to digest…

More to the point, Field Trip seems to hit on the core anxieties at the heart of the sixth season. It is a meditation on the show’s success and the status quo that has to be so careful maintained to keep the show from tipping over. As with TriangleDreamland IDreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and Monday, our heroes find themselves trapped in something of a weird alternate reality. The climax of Field Trip hinges on both Mulder and Scully deducing that their world operates according to the logic of a television show.

However, Field Trip is perhaps most intriguing in the way that it proposes two separate endings to The X-Files. The humongous fungus at the heart of Field Trip offers both Mulder and Scully a conclusion to their six-year journey, an opportunity for closure and satisfaction. In doing so, Field Trip suggests that it is the central tension at the heart of The X-Files that keeps the show young. There is no way to end the show without absolutely and definitively declaring that one of the characters is right and the other is wrong.

Down the rabbit hole...

Down the rabbit hole…

As such, the endings seem mutually exclusive. Field Trip suggests that endings designed to satisfy Mulder and Scully and mutually exclusive and irreconcilable – recalling the implication in Bad Blood that both Mulder and Scully filter the same events through different lenses. However, Field Trip is rather more optimistic in its assessment of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. While it might not be able to provide an ending to the show that satisfies both, Field Trip suggests that the duo have reconciled themselves to each other.

Whereas Bad Blood seemed to state that Mulder and Scully would never share the same perspective, Field Trip suggests that both characters have evolved and matured to the point where they can see the world through the eyes of the other. Bad Blood featured the two characters positing wildly different accounts of the same event, but Field Trip only resolves when Mulder and Scully come to share each other’s perspective. It feels entirely appropriate to close out the sixth season suggesting a new harmony between the two leads.

It's a dirty job...

It’s a dirty job…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Vox Sola (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 January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Vox Sola is a rather sedate late-season instalment of Star Trek: Enterprise. Largely designed as a bottle show, Vox Sola has a rake of interesting ideas, but doesn’t offer any particularly insightful exploration. The alien creature of the week is unique and distinctive, but the episode constructed around it feels rather lacklustre. There’s a sense of late-season fatigue at work here, with Vox Sola feeling rather like a more low-key variation on the strange-space-phenomena-of-the-week story template that Star Trek: Voyager would use routinely.

"It's alive!"

“It’s alive!”

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Mike W. Barr and Gordon Purcell’s Run on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Malibu Comics) (Review/Retrospective)

The 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.

The nineties comic book market was an interesting place. It enjoyed a huge boost due to the rise of speculation and collectors. The industry was massively successful in the early years of the decade, fuelled by high-profile artists, hype, and events. The industry imploded in on itself in the middle and towards the end of the decade, but it looked surprisingly profitable in the early years. Against that backdrop, Malibu Comics emerged.

Malibu had become the publisher of record for Image Comics in 1992. Image had been founded by a number of popular artists who had departed Marvel to set up their own shop and found their own company. Malibu distributed their comics for about a year, which gave Malibu access to a larger distribution platform. Although Image soon grew strong enough to publish its own comics, there was a point where Malibu had surpassed industry veteran DC Comics in the market place.

"Think of it—five months ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here."

“Think of it—five months ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here.”

Against this backdrop, Malibu secured the rights to publish comic books based on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Up until this point, DC comics had been publishing comics based on the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount’s decision to award the Deep Space Nine license to Malibu effectively split the comic book license up. DC Comics continued to publish comics based around the first two Star Trek shows, while Malibu had exclusive rights to the characters and world of Deep Space Nine.

As such, the decision to recruit writer Mike W. Barr and artist Gordon Purcell to write the first six issues of the comic was a pretty big deal. Barr and Purcell were incredibly associated with Star Trek comic books. The duo had done popular work on the movie-era comics, and had demonstrated an obvious and abiding affection for the franchise. Assigning these two creators to work on Deep Space Nine was a very clear message. Malibu were taking this license very seriously, indeed.

Triptych...

Triptych…

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The X-Files – Firewalker (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Firewalker is a perfectly solid episode of The X-Files.

The problem is that Firewalker needs to be so much more than “solid.” It’s the first show of the season that has Mulder and Scully working together on an X-file. Nine episodes into the season, the show has finally put the two characters together and dropped them into a regular episodic adventure plot. Scully is back. There is no Cigarette-Smoking Man, no Skinner, no Krycek. The show had waited more than two months to get back to the familiar formula, so there was a palpable sense of anticipation.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

To be fair to Firewalker, there’s a lot to like here. It’s a nice paranoia thriller, one that could easily serve as a text book example of a stand-alone X-Files episode. As you might expect from a script by Howard Gordon, Firewalker is also a nice character study for Mulder. It has a phenomenal guest cast – featuring actors like Bradley Whitford, Leland Orser and Shawnee Smith. On paper, Firewalker is a great episode of The X-Files. Divorced from context, it holds up rather well.

Unfortunately, Firewalker can’t be divorced from context. The episode has quite a few glaring problems. It seems a little disappointing that the first episode after Gillian Anderson’s return to full-time work on the show is a character study of Mulder. The plot is just a little too archetypal, feeling like a retread of Ice from the first season. The episode tries to get back to business as usual without bother to unpack everything that has happened since The Erlenmeyer Flask.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

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