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Star Trek: Discovery – Choose Your Pain (Review)

Choose Your Pain is perhaps the most traditional episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date, at least in terms of basic structure.

One of the central tensions of Discovery has been trying to figure out exactly how much to modernise the standard Star Trek storytelling template, the basic model of storytelling that has been in play through Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. These shows were produced over an eighteen-year period running from the second half of the eighties through to the turn of the millennium. However, a lot has happened in the twelve years since These Are the Voyages…

Avenging angel Gabriel.

Quite simply, television has changed phenomenally over the past decade. A number of these changes are obvious even in the way that Discovery is produced. After all, Discovery is the first Star Trek show to premiere on a streaming service. However, Discovery also conforms to other expectations of contemporary television. Discovery is much more tightly serialised than The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Discovery is also the shortest season of Star Trek ever produced.

There is a sense that times are changing, and that Discovery is attempting to provide an early twenty-first century update to a thirty-year-old template. After all, no other Star Trek series opened its first season with a two-episode prologue before introducing its core setting and premise. No other Star Trek series feature as many extended sequences with characters speaking subtitled Klingon. No other Star Trek series has featured swear words like “piss”, “sh!t” or “f$@k.” These are all new frontiers for televised Star Trek.

An echo chamber.

At the same time, Discovery has proven itself remarkably conservative in other respects. Although the show is very clearly serialised, the production team have worked hard to ensure that each individual episode has its own plot with its own structure and its own agenda. Unlike other streaming dramas, the episodes of Discovery are clear and distinct from one another, each serving as a bullet point in the overall arc of the season. Similarly, Discovery has made a point to use standard Star Trek narratives imbued with standard Star Trek morals built in.

For all the noise being made in certain quarters of the internet that Discovery is not really a Star Trek series, Choose Your Pain is the most conservative and old-fashioned episode of the series to date. Choose Your Pain is an episode that could easily have worked as part of Deep Space Nine or Enterprise, preserving the structure and rhythm with only a few minor tweaks along the way. Ironically, the episode’s biggest issue is that it feels just a little bit too much like classic Star Trek.

Here’s Mudd in your eye.

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #39-40 – The Return of Mudd (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.

By its nature, Star Trek had very few recurring guest stars – outside of recurring extras and the supporting senior staff.

Star Trek was a prime-time science-fiction show in the sixties. As such, it was strongly episodic. More than that, it was a show that included its stated goal – “to explore strange new worlds” – in a narration over the opening credits. As such, the show did not tend to bring back too many recurring characters. Gene L. Coon had tried to introduce a recurring foil for Kirk in the second season, but Robert Justman had vetoed the reappearance of Kor in A Private Little War and Coon would depart before he could follow through on plans to make Koloth a recurring adversary.

Our man Mudd...

Our man Mudd…

Of course, this has not stopped Star Trek fans from seizing on various one-shot characters from the three seasons of the original Star Trek. Despite only appearing in Errand of Mercy, Kor has become a frequently recurring character in the Star Trek mythos. Gary Seven has spun off from Assignment: Earth into a string of novels and comics. Christopher Pike only appeared with Kirk in one single story, but there is a huge amount of literature dedicated to him. Still, this means that the elements which do recur are given a bit more weight.

Klingons, Romulans and Vulcans are a vital part of the Star Trek mythos. Khan Noonien Singh only appeared in Space Seed and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but his memory haunts the franchise to the point where he was revived for Star Trek Into Darkness. Harry Mudd has the distinction of being the only non-crewmember to recur within the original run of eighty episodes. So it is no surprise that Harry Mudd has become one of the most frequently recurring guest stars in the history of the franchise.

Kirk meets quirky...

Kirk meets quirky…

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Star Trek (Gold Key) #61 – Operation Con Game (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.

The Gold Key comics came a long way, in the end.

The early issues were full of errors and contradictions – feeling like Star Trek as described across a crowded bar, the broad strokes present but the details never synching up. Those early comics – much like James Blish’s novelisations – suggest a missing link between Star Trek and fifties science-fiction. The earliest issues offered a glimpse of Star Trek through a prism. However, the comics grew more professional (and more familiar with their source material) as they went along.

Beam me down, Scotty...

Beam me down, Scotty…

Indeed, the series attracted a number of notable writers and artists, including Len Wein. Wein would go on to write for the franchise when DC procured the license in the mid-eighties. More than that, it was clear that the writers and artists had begun to watch the show. There were none of the early mistakes that come from working with publicity materials and without context. Although the earliest issue of the comics achieved infamy among Star Trek fans, the book ran for over a decade – stumbling a bit close to traditional Star Trek values as it went along, even if it never quite abandoned its more absurd tendencies.

Operation Con Game is the last issue of Star Trek published by Gold Key, and serves as an example of how far the comics have come.

Disrupting that thought...

Disrupting that thought…

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Star Trek – I, Mudd (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.

I, Mudd is delightfully silly.

This is probably the broadest Star Trek comedy episode ever produced. It is very difficult to imagine any Star Trek ensemble outside the original cast pulling off an episode like this. While The Trouble With Tribbles is easily the show’s most iconic comedy episode (and the franchise’s, to boot), there is something rather plucky and endearing about I, Mudd. One of features of the later Star Trek spin-offs was a tendency to take themselves quite seriously. This isn’t a problem of itself, but it does make it impossible to do a show like I, Mudd.

Mudd in yer eye...

Mudd in yer eye…

As with other second-season episodes, there is a sense that the show is stretching its wings a bit. Catspaw was a clear attempt to do a horror story, and Wolf in the Fold was a slasher or occult film in Star Trek form. Episodes like Amok Time and Journey to Babel are very consciously building out the Star Trek universe. Episodes like I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles demonstrate that Star Trek can do comedy.

To be fair, it is perfectly reasonably to argue that shows like I, Mudd led the show to think that Spock’s Brain was a good idea. Still, I, Mudd is just so much fun – demonstrating the sense of goofy and theatrical fun that ran through so much of classic Star Trek.

"Stella, Stella... You're putting me through hell-a!"

“Stella, Stella… You’re putting me through hell-a!”

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Star Trek – The 25th Anniversary (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released quite close to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek. With Star Trek: The Next Generation at the height of its popularity, the franchise was able to mark the occasion with a variety of celebrations. There were comic books and prose books celebrating the occasion. Both Spock and Scotty appeared on The Next Generation around the time of the anniversary.

Perhaps the most obvious example was the release of Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary by Interplay. While it was not the first video game to be based on the Star Trek franchise, it was the first high profile release. It set the tone for commercial Star Trek video games, remaining one of the best-selling Star Trek video games ever produced. It paved the way for everything from Bridge Commander to A Final Unity to Elite Force.

Ship shape...

Ship shape…

Released across multiple platforms and featuring seven episodic adventures structured like episodes of the classic television show, The 25th Anniversary set a dramatic and effective precedent for Star Trek video gaming. The CD-ROM edition of the game took things even further, featuring voice recordings of the show’s primary cast to help lend a sense of continuity and credibility to events. The 25th Anniversary is littered with easter eggs and in-jokes, and it’s constructed with the utmost love and affection.

However, perhaps what is most interesting about The 25th Anniversary is the way that it plays into all these established Star Trek clichés and tropes, but with a rather sophisticated outlook. It’s a wonderful example of how the original Star Trek show never stopped reinventing itself, only really reaching a truly idealised form long after it had been off the air.

Beam me up, Kyle!

Beam me up, Kyle!

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rivals (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.

Rivals doesn’t work. However, while the second season has produced a string of noble failures, Rivals fails for a very simple reason. It’s a comedy episode without any comedy. It’s a guest-star focused episode which centres on a hopelessly miscast Chris Sarandon. Sarandon is an Oscar-nominated actor, and he should be something of a casting coup for the show. This second season has already featured Louise Fletcher, Frank Langella and John Glover – so it seems fair to acknowledge that the casting people were on a bit of a roll.

However, due to a reheated script and Sarandon’s lack of interest or engagement, Rivals winds up feeling stale. There is potential here, but it’s squandered as the writers forget the first rule of a good comedy episode. They forgot to bring the laughs.

I feel a similar way...

I feel a similar way…

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Star Trek – Mudd’s Women (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.

I think it’s fair to say that Star Trek had some gender issues. I say that as a fan of the show, and as a person with an immense fondness for the ensemble. It’s tempting to write off those sexist moments and decisions as attitudes that were socially acceptable at the time. After all, the sixties are almost half a lifetime away at this point. However, that doesn’t account for the fact that many of the same gender issues plagued Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late eighties, which lost two of its three female leads in its first season, and opened its second year by subjecting the remaining female lead to The Child.

Even disregarding that, though, there comes a point where even the time when a work was produced can’t excuse certain attitudes or approaches. Star Trek doesn’t feature too many strong female characters, relegating recurring female characters like Uhura and Janice Rand to the background. This is dodgy enough, but the show’s problems with gender become a lot more obvious when a show throws sexuality into focus. Mudd’s Women is such a show. It famously introduced one of the few recurring non-crewmember characters, and it plays into the “Star Trek as space western” theme, but it is also very sexist. Very, very sexist.

Mudd-ying the waters...

Mudd-ying the waters…

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