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Harsh Realm – Inga Fossa (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Inga Fossa is a noteworthy episode of Harsh Realm for a number of reasons.

In production terms, it closes out the loose three-episode introduction to the series. The Pilot, Leviathan and Inga Fossa were all written by Chris Carter and served as an introduction to the world and rules of Harsh Realm. Perhaps owing to the relative complexity of the show’s premise, Carter takes a bit of time to lay out and establish the core ideas of the show. It isn’t until the end of Inga Fossa that characters like Thomas Hobbes and Sophie have reached the status quo that will carry them through the rest of the first season.

Game on...

Game on…

However, all of this is ultimately irrelevant. Inga Fossa will always be notable for being the final episode of Harsh Realm to air on Fox. Chris Carter’s new show was infamously cancelled after only three episodes were broadcast. The six episodes that had been produced before cancellation were quietly shuffled off Fox’s 1999 schedule; they eventually aired on FX in mid-2000, to little fanfare. The cancellation was a shocking development. The ratings were spectacularly terrible, but Harsh Realm had been intended to establish Carter as the network’s idea-generating machine.

Something was very wrong.

"You can't $@!# in here, this is the war room!"

“You can’t $@!# in here, this is the war room!”

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The X-Files – Travelers (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

For all that the fifth season of The X-Files is building towards a major summer movie release, the production team seem surprisingly relaxed about it.

The fifth season is as experimental and as loose as the show ever got. Patient X and The Red and the Black suggested that Chris Carter didn’t even feel beholden to the continuity of The X-Files: Fight the Future, introducing new characters and concepts to the mythology that could not possibly be inserted into the film at this late stage. Similarly, the show was willing to play around with special guest writers like Stephen King and William Gibson, film an entire episode in black and white, focus on relatively minor characters, and reveal two separate secret histories of the X-files.

What do you call a baby Fox?

What do you call a baby Fox?

Of course, some of these innovations were driven by necessity or large goals. Patient X and The Red and the Black represent the beginning of the end for this stage of the mythology. Stories like Unusual Suspects and Travelers focus on characters other than Mulder or Scully because David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were otherwise engaged. Nevertheless, there is a very relaxed vibe to the fifth season, as if the show is taking an extended moment to enjoy the peak of its popularity. As well it should.

Travelers is an episode that is far from essential in many respects. It is clunky in places, indulgent in others. It feels like the production teams are just happy to root through the old costuming wardrobe and prop departments, delighted to compose over-written monologues and stock characters. Travelers is light and fun, with its indulgence and its relative lack of substance making it more enjoyable than it would otherwise be.

He'll (Garret Dilla)hunt you down...

He’ll (Garret Dilla)hunt you down…

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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: The Next Generation – Blood and Fire by David Gerrold (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode Symbiosis.

The lead up to the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was full of potential. Gene Roddenberry was directly overseeing a Star Trek production for the first time since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. More than that, the producer had brought along quite a few of the talented production staff members who had helped to make the franchise so special in the first place. David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana, two of the best loved Star Trek writers of all time, would be working on the show.

Despite all that television had changed in the decades since the original Star Trek had been on the air, Roddenberry proudly boasted to fans that the franchise would continue to engage directly with the big issues of the day. After all, one of the most memorable aspects of the classic Star Trek was the show’s willingness to engage with big political issues. Even the most casual of pop culture fans remember the awkward metaphors for Vietnam or racism.

Unfortunately, The Next Generation really seemed to lack the nerve of its direct predecessor. This became quite clear early on, when veteran writer David Gerrold’s script for the proposed Blood and Fire was unceremoniously shelved, and quickly forgotten about.

tng-bloodandfire

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