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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shadows of P’Jem (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.

Shadows of P’Jem is a wonderful episode. It is, in many respects, the first true post-9/11 episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, and it is a surprisingly thoughtful one at that.

In many respects, Enterprise has already established itself as Star Trek for the George W. Bush era. Archer is the franchise’s first white American male lead character since Kirk, and his contempt for politics and thirst for action mirrors the popular image of George W. Bush – a dynamic man with no time for questions or hesitation. Even little touches – like the fact that officers drink beer rather than champagne, or the anti-intellectual contempt that Archer and Trip feel towards Vulcans – suggest a Star Trek show that is very much in line with Bush’s America.

Shadows on Coridan...

Shadows on Coridan…

However, Shadows of P’Jem was among the first episodes written after the events of 9/11, and it’s an episode that seems quite thoughtful and introspective. The franchise has often used the Federation as a stand-in for American values and ideals. Shadows of P’Jem twists this idea on its head, offering the future Federation members as stand-ins for various facets of American foreign policy.

Shadows of P’Jem is a considerate and reflective look at what Walter Nugent termed “the habits of empire”, a look at the cost and consequences of imperialism in a post-colonial age, and how those issues tend to fester.

A night in sickbay...

A night in sickbay…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Terra Nova (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.

Terra Nova is a rather unfortunate fifth episode for Star Trek: Enterprise. The show is in its first season, so there are bound to be mistakes and missteps along the way. However, Unexpected and Terra Nova provide a one-two punch of unfortunate back-to-back episodes, shows that aren’t just the result of an uncertain creative time stumbling while trying to find their groove. Like Unexpected directly before it, Terra Nova is an episode that is toxic from the ground up.

It is, in short, precisely the kind of story that you don’t want to tell about mankind’s first adventures into the cosmos. While the episode very much evokes the mood and style of classic Star Trek, it also inherits all the franchise’s worst colonial impulses. This is an episode that belongs alongside the more ill-judged entries in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, like The Last Outpost or Lonely Among Us.

He's got faith, faith of the heart...

He’s got faith, faith of the heart…

Terra Nova takes a fascinating starting point – something very intrinsically tied to the premise of Enterprise – and twists it into a show about our human protagonists dealing with silly off-world people. Those silly off-world people happen to be humans, who need to be reminded of their humanity, in such a way that our protagonists can feel proud and superior about how advanced and sophisticated they are. Those silly humans who have “gone native” could really learn a lot from our super-advanced heroes.

Terra Nova feels like an episode that sets Star Trek back fourteen years, proof that some of the worst aspects of Roddenberry’s vision of the franchise have endured surprisingly well.

On yer bike, Reed...

On yer bike, Reed…

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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (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.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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Star Trek – A Piece of the Action (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.

A Piece of the Action is the last script credited to Gene L. Coon.

Of course, Coon would write two episodes for (and contributed two more stories to) the show’s troubled final season under the alias Lee Cronin. However, A Piece of the Action could be seen as the last hurrah for Gene L. Coon’s vision of Star Trek. The writer and producer had helped to shape and define many of the ideas that Star Trek fans take for granted. A lot of the core Star Trek ideas that have permeated into popular culture – the Federation, the Klingons – originated with Coon.

Dey call his Boss Koik...

Dey call him Boss Koik…

While Coon is often overlooked when it comes to crediting those responsible for creating Star Trek as fans have come to know it, history has tended to gloss over his wry subversive streak. In many ways, Coon could be said to be the godfather of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Had he not passed away at the tragically young age of forty-nine, Coon might have been coaxed back to write a first season episode of Deep Space Nine alongside Dorothy Fontana. Coon was, after all, the first Star Trek writer to shrewdly and knowingly problematicise the Federation.

So it feels appropriate that the last Star Trek script credited to Coon should have Kirk proposes the Federation as an intergalactic racket.

Top gun...

Top gun…

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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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Non-Review Review: Night at the Museum III – Secret of the Tomb

Night at the Museum III: Secret of the Tomb is fairly inoffensive family fare. It largely sets out to do what it wants to do – providing a sense of closure to the hits series while encouraging its all-star cast to have a bit of family-friendly fun together. The movie is hardly the most compelling adventure; it never manages to generate substantial stakes, it introduces a convenient third-act villain as the plot demands, it is frequently distracted by individual set pieces. At the same time, it feels like the movie largely hits the targets that it sets for itself.

Knight at the Museum...

Knight at the Museum…

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Star Trek – Mirror, Mirror (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.

Mirror, Mirror is rightfully iconic.

It is a Star Trek episode that spawned sequels on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and a prequel on Star Trek: Enterprise. It codified the whole idea of a “mirror universe” in popular culture, to the point where audiences readily accept the idea of an entire world populated with evil (and possibly sexy) counterparts to our characters. Shows as diverse as Doctor Who and South Park have played with the concept. Indeed, “evil alternate universe doppelganger has a goatee” is a recognisable trope.

... And that was the last time Koenig tried to upstage Shatner...

… And that was the last time Koenig tried to upstage Shatner…

There is a strange irony to all this. The mirror universe is an absurd concept for a number of reasons, and that absurdity is only heightened when it becomes more and more iconic. Turning the idea into a recognisable television cliché inevitably simplifies it. Although Mirror, Mirror is very camp – in the same way that a lot of classic Star Trek is camp – it is a story that has a lot of interesting and clever things to say. These tend to get sanded off through imitation and repetition. (For example, despite wearing the “evil goatee”, mirror!Spock is “a man of integrity.”)

And yet, behind the striking iconic production design and the admittedly absurd premise, Mirror, Mirror ranks as one of the best and most insightful scripts of classic Star Trek. It represents a cautionary tale and critical examination of some of the show’s core tendencies.

Bringing the pain...

Bringing the pain…

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Star Trek – The Apple (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.

It’s amazing how iconic Star Trek could be, even when it was terrible. There’s something quite ironic about how much of the franchise’s truly memorable iconography is rooted in some of the show’s weakest episodes. The Apple is one of the most iconic and memorable Star Trek episodes, featuring a giant evil dragon head sculpture, David Soul in orange body paint, lots of speechifying from Kirk, and a strong atheistic message with Kirk casting himself as Satan in the Garden of Eden.

It is also just terrible.

"VAAAAAAAL!!!"

“VAAAAAAAL!!!”

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #43-45 – The Return of the Serpent! (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.

One of the benefits of a franchise as old and as diverse as Star Trek is the opportunity it provides for introspection and reflection. Star Trek has existed for almost fifty years. In those fifty years, the franchise has been written by a lot of different people at a lot of different points in time. As such, it makes sense that viewpoints shift and core principles are questioned. One of the more intriguing aspects of watching Star Trek grow older is watching the franchise question some of its earlier decisions and opinions.

The Return of the Serpent plays very much as a criticism of The Apple, a three-issue storyline dedicated to exploring just how wrong Kirk was to impose his own attitudes and beliefs upon the people of Gamma Trianguli VI. In some ways it can be see as both a spiritual successor to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and a precursor to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Crossover, in that it is a story based significantly around critiquing a moral judgement made by James Tiberius Kirk and endorsed by the show.

Shocking twists!

Shocking twists!

The Return of the Serpent is an interesting story, because it consciously problematicises a story from the original Star Trek television show. It is essentially a story about how Kirk made a terrible decision that cost countless lives. This criticism is voiced more explicitly that the criticism of Kirk in The Wrath of Khan and half-a-decade before Crossover would make it to air. This is a very bold and brave tie-in from DC comics. It is hard to imagine a story like The Return of the Serpent being published during Richard Arnold’s tenure overseeing Star Trek tie-ins.

That said, Mike Carlin’s script is not without its own problems. For all that it challenges a decision that Kirk made during the original run of the series, the ending rather consciously avoids the implications of that decision. The Return of the Serpent seems to assume that Kirk can just reverse the damage he has caused by flicking a switch – by going back and repairing the original mistake. For all that The Return of the Serpent cleverly interrogates Kirk’s decisions and motivations, it is undermined by a rather clean and convenient resolution.

Into the belly of the beast...

Into the belly of the beast…

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Star Trek – Friday’s Child (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.

Errand of Mercy was a highlight of the first season. A wry script from producer Gene L. Coon introduced the Klingons as an antagonist for the Federation. Made up to look like space!Mongols, the Klingon Empire was presented as an imperial force hell-bent on expanding its sphere of influence. In case the parallels were a little too subtle, they were locked in a Cold War with the Federation. As such, they were the perfect stand-ins for Communist aggressors trying to undermine American foreign policy.

Of course, Errand of Mercy was brutally cynical in its depiction of the Federation. The episode suggested quite heavily that the Federation was just as imperialist and adversarial as the Klingons. They might couch their foreign policy in friendly language and polite overtures, but their end goals are quite similar. Smaller political entities are nothing but pieces shuffled around a board in a deadly game of chess. Errand of Mercy was not flattering in its portrayal of Kirk, presenting him as little more than a warmonger.

"Damn dirty Klingon!"

“Damn dirty Klingon!”

Errand of Mercy was a massive success. It remains a fan favourite to this day. In some respects, that is due to the introduction of the Klingons, but it is also an exceptional hour of scripted science fiction. So it makes sense that the show would return to the Klingons when it was renewed for a second season. Friday’s Child was the third episode produced during the second season, and returns to quite a few themes hit on by Errand of Mercy. Those themes would recur.

Friday’s Child demonstrates the obvious risks of an episode like Errand of Mercy. It’s an episode that essentially takes the “Klingons as space!Communists” seriously.

We come in peace...

We come in peace…

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