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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shadowplay (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Shadowplay is a great example of the kinds of things that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is beginning to do very well. While the main plot works very well (so well, in fact that Star Trek: Enterprise would borrow it – and Rene Auberjones – for their first season episode Oasis), it’s remarkable how much of Shadowplay is given over to the two character-development subplots unfolding back on the station. Indeed, Dax and Odo have effectively solved the mystery of the missing villagers by about two-thirds of the way into the episode.

The character-development stuff in Shadowplay is interesting because the two subplots are not written with resolutions in mind. Indeed, they don’t even kick off the respective character arcs. Kira and Bariel have been waiting to become a couple since The Siege at the latest. The last episode, Paradise hinted that Jake might not be cut out to be a Starfleet officer.

In short, what is interesting about Shadowplay is the fact that it’s really just demonstrating that the show has reached the point where it is doing the things that it does relatively well. Deep Space Nine has found its groove, that point in a show’s history when it seems like it’s relatively easy to produce an hour of television of reasonable quality.

A holo crowd...

A holo crowd…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Paradise (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

In a really weird way, this second half of the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine really has its finger on the pulse of the nineties. Whispers tapped into pre-millennial anxiety, the sort of paranoia that fed into shows like The X-Files and would play itself out through the show’s admittedly underdeveloped “Changeling” arc. In a few episodes, The Maquis will play with the old “freedom fighter/terrorist” debate in a way that was only really possible in an America completely at peace, post-Cold War but pre-9/11.

Paradise taps into some other anxieties. According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, writer Jim Trombetta was heavily influenced by the anti-technology philosophy of the Khmer Rouge, the infamous regime where even the stereotypical signs of learning and education (for example, wearing glasses) were justification for execution. However, whatever the inspiration, Paradise seems to tap into something decidedly more contemporary.

"This is my boom stick!"

“This is my boom stick!”

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Star Trek – Arena (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.

Arena is a fascinating piece of Star Trek, because it’s such an iconic and important piece of franchise history, despite the fact that it’s far from the best that the show has to offer. Indeed, the basic premise of the show is rather generic science-fiction B-movie stuff. Kirk is forced to compete against a lizard-like alien by some god-like beings to ensure the survival of his crew. The script, by producer Gene L. Coon, is credited to a story written by Fredric Brown. Despite its similarities to Brown’s short story of the same name, Arena also shares quite a few plot points with a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits, Fun & Games. None of this is to suggest that Coon was consciously channelling these sources when he wrote the teleplay, just to illustrate how generic the basic plot is.

However, despite (or perhaps because of) this rather straightforward and familiar set-up, Arena is a truly memorable episode of Star Trek. Like quite a few other episodes of the original Star Trek, the episode produced images and concepts that have resonated well outside Star Trek fandom, to the point where elements like the Gorn or Kirk’s highly dubious improvised weapon will be recognisable to people who have never actually seen the episode. However, the episode is also vitally important to the Star Trek franchise itself, as it offers a more thorough expansion and exploration of the back story that has been inconsistently hinted at throughout this first season. Arena is really the first episode to feature a fully-formed framework for the internal logic of the Star Trek universe, one that has informed half-a-century of the franchise.

Plus, you know, Kirk wrestles a lizard man.

Don't pretend you aren't loving every minute of this, Shatner!

Don’t pretend you aren’t loving every minute of this, Shatner!

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Too Short a Season (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.

Too Short a Season falls back on one of those classic Star Trek stand-bys, the story of a dangerously obsessed senior officer who proceeds to put the lives of the crew at risk in order to feed his own ego. I’ve always found it hilarious that Starfleet seems to have truly terrible psychological screening, or maybe they just kick the more unreliable officers upstairs. After all, while Admiral Jameson is clearly a sandwich short of a picnic, at least he’s out of the line of fire. Too Short a Season winds up seeming like quite a trite episode, despite the fact that some of the elements are arguably intriguing on their own. It feels a little too safe, a little too comfortable, and far too predictable for its own good.

A shady character...

A shady character…

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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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Non-Review Review: Red Riding – The Year of Our Lord 1980

Talk to someone else!

There is no one else, they’re all %$#!ing dead!

– BJ and Hunter

Red Riding: 1980 isn’t quite as strong as its direct predecessor. In fact, it’s probably the weakest of the films in the trilogy. There are quite a few reasons for this, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth watching. For all its flaws as part of a continuing narrative, Red Riding: 1980 is still a fascinating tale of police corruption, and arguably the movie of the trilogy that works best as a standalone feature. Or, at least, better than it does as one connected narrative. Red Riding: 1974 depends on Red Riding: 1983 for an ending, and Red Riding: 1983 depends on Red Riding: 1974 for a beginning. Red Riding: 1980 sits in the middle, and serves as something of an example of the type of endemic corruption that has taken root in this version of Yorkshire.

Hunter on the prowl…

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Untold Tales of Spider-Man by Kurt Busiek Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

I am of two minds about Kurt Busiek’s and Pat Olliffe’s celebrated Untold Tales of Spider-Man run. On the one hand, Busiek manages to affectionately evoke the spirit of those classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Spider-Man stories, without getting too bogged down in minor or confusing continuity. On the other hand, the stories feel somewhat trapped and confined by having to contort around the existing storylines. Naturally, for example, Busiek can’t resolve any plot threads he doesn’t keep exclusive to the book, and we all know how various situations unfold. It’s a strange cocktail, and it works slightly more often than it doesn’t work. It’s very much in the spirit of the author’s much-loved work on the Avengers, and there’s no denying the skill and love that went into crafting the issues collected here, but I find that I respect The Untold Tales of Spider-Man more than I love it.

They were on fire with this run…

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