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Star Trek: Voyager – 11:59 (Review)

The thing about experiments is that they don’t always work, but that doesn’t mean they should never be attempted.

Much like Someone to Watch Over Me, 11:59 represents a new departure for Star Trek: Voyager. It is an episode unlike any other episode in the run of series, unfolding primarily on early twenty-first (or, as one character wryly points out, maybe late twentieth) century Earth. As with Someone to Watch Over Me, there is a sense that 11:59‘s closest spiritual companion is an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are any number of superficial similarities between 11:59 and Far Beyond the Stars, another time-travel-to-close-to-modern-day-Earth-episode-without-the-time-travel.

Countdown.

Sadly, the experiment does not quite work out. Someone to Watch Over Me is one of the most charming episodes in the seven-season run of Voyager, while 11:59 is more than a little dull. Far Beyond the Stars is one of the most powerful and evocative episodes of Star Trek ever produced, while 11:59 is a competent piece of television that is almost immediately dated. For all that 11:59 represents a bold departure for Voyager, there is a sense that the episode has very little to actually say. It exists, but it never seems to exist for a particular reason. 11:59 is a frustrating piece of television.

However, none of this matters too much. Voyager has been such a safe and conservative show that any creative risk feels worthwhile, that any departure from the established template feels worth of celebration on those terms alone. 11:59 is an unsuccessful experiment, but it is an experiment nonetheless. For a series as risk-adverse as Voyager, that is remarkable.

“Time’s up.”

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – Insurrection

“I think I’m having a mid-life crisis,” Riker tells Troi at one point in Star Trek: Insurrection, and it might be the most telling line in the film.

Insurrection is many things, perhaps too many things. However, it primarily feels like a meditation on what it means to grow old, focusing on the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That first live-action Star Trek spin-off had revived the franchise as an on-going cultural concern, even launching a feature film franchise including Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, and spawning its own spin-offs including Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

A fist full of Data.

However, by the time that Insurrection arrived, The Next Generation was looking quite old. The Next Generation had launched more than a decade earlier, and had been off the air for almost five years. Although it had been a pop cultural behemoth, even its children (or its younger siblings) were starting to look a little long in the tooth. Deep Space Nine was in its final season, and Voyager was closer to its end than to its beginning. There was a creeping sense of fatigue and exhaustion.

In theory, this positions Insurrection quite well. After all, the original feature film franchise really came into its own when the characters found themselves forced to confront their own mortality. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan breathed new life into the franchise as it forced Kirk to come to terms with his old age, while Star Trek III: The Search for Spock indulged the sense of grown-ups behaving badly in a story that forced Kirk to throw aside his ship and his career in service of an old friend.

Picard’s hairpiece was fooling nobody.

Stories about age and mortality resonate, and so Insurrection has a fairly solid foundation from which to build. There is just one sizable problem. The cast and crew of The Next Generation have no intention of growing old, of wrestling with mortality, of confronting their age. Insurrection is fundamentally a story about rejecting this maturity and this sense of age, of refusing to accept that time takes its toll and denying that old age is best faced with solemn dignity and reflection.

Insurrection is a story about mamboing against the dying of the light.

A familiar dance.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Zero Hour (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.

There was a very real chance that Zero Hour might have been the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to air.

In fact, it was entirely possible that Zero Hour‘s distinctive (and downright provocative) closing shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi might have been the last shot of Star Trek to air on television for quite some time.

Time is running out...

Time is running out…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stratagem (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.

With Stratagem, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise gets its head back in the game.

The recent stretch of third season episodes seemed to lose sight of what made this such an intriguing premise. Although Rick Berman had conceded that there was an escape hatch in place in case the Xindi arc could not sustain a full season of television, it was increasingly clear that the third season of Enterprise would be a single extended arc exploring Archer’s attempts to find the source of a deadly threat against mankind. It was a bold experiment for a show that had been quite rigidly episodic to this point. At least in theory.

Archer's on candid camera...

Archer’s on candid camera…

In practice, the third season of Enterprise seemed to flounder a little bit once it got past the initial burst of speed powering it into the third season. All of a sudden, the crew found themselves involved in a number of increasingly stand-alone adventures with superficial ties to the larger arc. Episodes like Extinction and Chosen Realm could easily have been produced and broadcast during the show’s first two seasons, with minor alterations. Exile and North Star were only loosely connected to the season’s plot. Carpenter Street was a time travel episode.

Proving Ground had suggested that the show was ready to re-focus its attention on the matter at hand and get back to the imminent threat posed by the Xindi. At the same time, the episode was also keen to stress its episodic nature – most notably in its role as the show’s annual check-in with the Andorians. Stratagem is very much its own self-contained story, but it is a lot more confident about how it fits in the larger scheme of things, and where it fits in the broader arc of the season.

Engineering a convincing set-up...

Engineering a convincing set-up…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Cold Front (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.

It is customary, these days, for television shows to map out their mythologies years in advance. Depending on when you ask him, executive producer Bryan Fuller boasts of having a six- or seven-year plan for Hannibal, despite the fact that the show spends each cancellation period on the bubble line for NBC. Indeed, the move away from the standard television pilot format means that shows are encouraged to have long-form plots and arcs mapped out.

However, that isn’t always the case. The X-Files was very much made up as it went along, with little real thought put into how the show’s sprawling alien mythology hung together beyond the immediate future. Even heavily serialised shows like Lost or 24 were plotted as they went along, with plans radically changing as the show evolved. Unlike film, where you (mostly) need a finished story before you start filming, television is a medium where you don’t really need an ending in mind as you begin telling the story.

There's a lot on the (time) line...

There’s a lot on the (time) line…

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Star Trek: Enterprise introduced the idea of the “Temporal Cold War” without any real idea of how the story was meant to develop or conclude. Although structured as something of a serialised arc among a (mostly) episodic couple of seasons, the Temporal Cold War is something that makes very little sense in the context of the show. Even years after the fact, the Temporal Cold War is a mystery, with Brannon Braga casually dropping the reveal that, well… Archer did it.

Of course, that plot development doesn’t make a lot of sense… but that’s par for the course. It is very hard to tie the various Enterprise time travel episodes together into a logical and cohesive narrative. Cold Front doesn’t even bother to answer questions immediately relevant to its own narrative, let alone hint at logical future developments for the series’ recurring time-travel plot line. It’s a story that seldom makes sense within individual episodes, let alone when they are strung together.

In space, all warriors are (temporal) cold warriors...

In space, all warriors are (temporal) cold warriors…

And yet, despite that, Cold Front is a pretty great episode. Part of that is down to the Temporal Cold War plot line, with Cold Front introducing a welcome sense of ambiguity to the conflict and selling the idea that Archer has wandered into something much larger than he can comprehend. On an otherwise quiet mission, Enterprise finds itself embroiled in a conflict between two forces that Archer does not fully understand, as if the ship and its crew have found themselves engaged on one front of a war in heaven.

However, Cold Front works just as well with the elements that exist outside the Temporal Cold War. As with Breaking the Ice, the episode plays like a regular day on board the Enterprise, as Archer and his crew find themselves welcoming religious pilgrims on board and making friendly first contact as they gather to watch some beautiful interstellar phenomenon. It’s an episode that draws attention to the quiet wonder and majesty of deep space exploration, elegantly and effectively.

Hang on in there...

Hang on in there…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Level of Necessity (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.

Coming hot on the heels of Who Monitors the Birds?, Level of Necessity was almost destined to be a little disappointing. Who Monitors the Birds? is perhaps the quintessential episode of Space: Above and Beyond, encapsulating the show’s core themes and utilising its world in a clever and constructive manner. In contrast, Level of Necessity seems almost rote. It is an episode that might have been written for any other nineties science-fiction show.

There are some nice ideas here, but Level of Necessity feels far too generic. In fact, it seems like the episode is centred around Damphousse not because the story makes any more sense for her than it does for any other character, but because she is the only character who has yet to occupy the centre of a story. Thomas J. Wright directs quite well, and Richard Kind makes for a solid guest star. However, Level of Necessity suffers from the fact that it could be an episode of any other show.

Stars in his eyes...

Stars in his eyes…

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The X-Files – Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (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.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is a masterpiece.

It is one of the best episodes that The X-Files ever produced. It is the only episode of The X-Files to win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. It was the first episode to take home an Emmy for a performance on the show, with Peter Boyle winning the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. It was Boyle’s only Emmy win of ten nominations. It was the only episode of The X-Files to air on the 13th October, a symbolically important date for Carter (“1013”). It was also Friday the 13th.

No bones about it...

No bones about it…

As part of the recent resurgence in interest in The X-Files, the story has enjoyed even more focus. It was one of three episodes voted by fans to air as part of the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival in 2013 as part of the series’ twentieth anniversary celebrations. Chris Carter himself chose it to represent The X-Files at the Austin Film Festival in 2012. It is very frequently ranked among the best the show ever produced.

And all of that praise is very well earned.

Crystal clear...

Crystal clear…

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