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Star Trek: Voyager – Lifesigns (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.

Lifesigns is a fascinating piece of television.

In hindsight, it seems a shame that the production team decided to focus on the Kazon during the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. The Kazon are perhaps the most unfortunate and misguided recurring alien species to appear across the entire Star Trek franchise, never quite afforded the redemption that turned the Klingons and Ferengi from two-dimensional caricatures into fully-formed and well-realised species. The Kazon were a misguided creation in Caretaker; they remained so in Basics, Part II. Shattered offers no redemption.

The face of the frenemy...

The face of the frenemy…

In contrast, the Vidiians are much more interesting. To be fair, it is possible that the Vidiians are so interesting precisely because they are underused; their appearances tend to be motivated by the demands of individual episodes rather than by some grand desire to create an iconic Star Trek species. At the same time, it is perhaps too much to suggest that the Vidiians are fully-formed or multi-faceted; the show never offers them the same opportunity for development afforded to species like the Kazon or the Borg or the Hirogen.

Despite all this, Lifesigns demonstrates the Vidiians can be used in an interesting and creative way. Even as the episode dedicates considerable space to demonstrating that Kazon are a much less interesting new species.

Starin' at the stars...

Starin’ at the stars…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stigma (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s been a long road.

Continuing the effort in Dawn to refocus Star Trek: Enterprise on franchise core values, Stigma offers a good old-fashioned allegory episode. It is a script clearly designed to stand alongside earlier iconic Star Trek shows like A Taste of ArmageddonErrand of MercyLet That Be Your Last BattlefieldToo Short a SeasonThe High GroundHalf a LifeEthics, The Outcast, Rejoined and Distant Origin. This is a big and important episode, dealing with big and important themes. In this case, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and (whisper it) homosexuality.

It's just not in the show's DNA at this point...

It’s just not in the show’s DNA at this point…

Of course, it arrives well over a decade too late. Writer David Gerrold had pitched his own allegory about HIV/AIDS and homosexuality with Blood and Fire during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The script was a little clunky, but – rather than rework it – the producers decided to shut it down completely. During that show’s third season, David Livingston was on hand to stop the show from providing the franchise’s first glimpse of a homosexual couple in The Offspring. What queer content made it into Star Trek seemed somewhat haphazard.

The decision to allow Lal to chose her own gender in The Offspring is remarkable, because it goes almost unremarked. Dax’s deduction that Pel has a crush on Quark in Rules of Acquisition comes before Pel reveals that she is a female passing herself off as male. The sincerity of The Outcast was somewhat undermined by the decision to cast a female performer in the role of genderless alien who is attracted to Riker. The good work of Rejoined is undercut by the crassness of Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak.

Meditating on a contemporary issue...

Meditating on a contemporary issue…

There was a time when an episode like Stigma would have seemed cutting edge and provocative. Broadcast during the first (or even the second) season of The Next Generation, the episode would have challenged a number of the underlying public assumptions about the spread of HIV/AIDS and attacked a very real (and very frank) homophobic policy from the government. The biggest problem with Stigma is that it features Captain Jonathan Archer instead of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Of course, this suggests a very tangible issue with Enterprise at this stage of its life-cycle. It still feels like a show stuck in the past. This is still Star Trek as it was being produced in 1989, despite the fact that it is now 2003. It is a problem that has haunted Enterprise since the broadcast of Fight or Flight, but one which is really emphasised not only by the plotting of Stigma, but also in its political targets.

"You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed..."

“You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed…”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Faces (Review)

This 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.

One of the more interesting aspects of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager is just how much of a throwback the show seems to be. In many ways, the show seems anchored in a very fifties mindset. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has embraced multiculturalism and the wake of the Cold War, the first season of Star Trek: Voyager seems to be dealing with anxieties carried over from the end of the Second World War.

Caretaker reconnected with the “Wild West in outer space” mentality of the classic Star Trek. Episodes like Time and Again and Jetrel are concerned with the splitting of the atom. Cathexis played out a decidedly Cold War paranoia thriller. Good old-fashioned technological espionage – like the leaking of nuclear secrets – was at the heart of State of Flux. There’s a sense that Voyager may have been a piece of fifties Americana that had the misfortune to arrive forty years too late.

Faces is perhaps the most obvious example of this. Splitting a bi-racial character into two halves as part of a science experiment, evoking classic monster movies, and even the decision to define the Vidiians as stand-ins for the Nazis, all give the episode a delightfully pulpy feel. This is Voyager doing a cheesy fifties b-movie. And doing it quite well at that.

He has you now, his pretty!

He has you now, his pretty!

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Star Trek: Voyager – Phage (Review)

This 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.

Phage is far from perfect. It is very far from perfect. However, there’s something rather endearing about this cheesy B-movie throwback written by Brannon Braga from a pitch by Timothy DeHass and first draft by Skye Dent. The Vidiians are probably the most memorably and effective aliens from the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, feeling like they could have wandered into the show from some trashy late-night horror movie on another channel.

There’s a pulpy quality to the episode that makes it more enjoyable than many of the surrounding Voyager episodes, albeit one undermined by some of the more awkward resonances in the script.

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth...

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth…

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Non-Review Review: AntiViral

AntiViral is a dirty film. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It’s unnerving. It’s not for the squeamish. And I mean that in a good way. It’s a fairly disturbing exploration of the public’s (and the media’s) relationship to celebrity, and the lengths to which people will go in order to insert themselves into the life of their idol or role model. It’s a vicious and sometimes unsettling look at what our attitude towards those people says about us as a society, imagining a world that sadly isn’t too far from the world as we know it. I think that might be the most disturbing facet of AntiViral. It’s not too far from where we are now.

What a vial trade…

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