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Star Trek – The Mark of Gideon (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The Mark of Gideon is in many ways a direct counterpoint to Whom Gods Destroy.

Both The Mark of Gideon and Whom Gods Destroy have what might charitably be described as “major logic problems.” Both episodes were produced on a tiny budget, with those constraints bleeding through into almost every frame of the finished production. Both stories engage with the idea of utopianism as an essential ingredient in Star Trek storytelling. Both episodes are very much third season episodes, in terms of production and construction and storytelling.

Viewing screen on.

Viewing screen on.

However, Whom Gods Destroy manages to turn all of these elements into an ambitious mess. Although far from the strongest episode of the season, or even a half-decent episode of television, there is an endearing charm to Whom Gods Destroy that carries the episode far further than it should. In contrast, The Mark of Gideon is dead at arrival. It is an episode with a striking premise and set-up that has no idea where to go from that starting point and so meanders limply and lifelessly through forty-five minutes of television.

It also offers a pretty reprehensible vision of the franchise’s utopia.

This is an accurate representation of the third season's viewing figures.

This is an accurate representation of the third season’s viewing figures.

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Star Trek – That Which Survives (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Even the title feels morbid.

That Which Survives is sad and mournful. It is a story about returning, but wrong. It is the story of a dead world that by all accounts should not be, haunted by the image of a woman who has been dead for millennia. This spectre both is the original woman and is not; it is mechanical guardian that retains just enough of its subjects personality to be horrified by what it is doing. It is an unsettling premise, particularly for an episode that features Lee Meriwether menacing the crew with her arm outstretched while repeating “I am for you.”

The more, the Meriwether.

The more, the Meriwether.

However, Losira is not the only character who “comes back wrong” over the course of the episode. Over the course of That Which Survives, the crew of the Enterprise are thrown throw space and find themselves racing to rescue Captain Kirk. However, mysterious malfunctions begin to affect the script. Eventually, Spock deduces the cause. “The Enterprise was put through a molecular transporter and reassembled slightly out of phase.” In other words, the Enterprise was taken apart and put back together wrong.

This seems like as an apt a metaphor for the third season as any. Star Trek had been killed at the end of its second season, cancelled by NBC. The show was resurrected for a third season, although it did not return at full strength. Vital members of the production team departed the show. The budget was cut. An outside producer with no previous experience of working on the show was drafted. For many watching at home, there was a sense that the third season had changed. In some ways, Star Trek had come back wrong.

"At least we got in before the purple rain."

“At least we got in before the purple rain.”

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Star Trek – Is There in Truth No Beauty? (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The third season of Star Trek is very odd. It stands quite apart from the previous two seasons.

There are a lot of reasons for this; a new executive producer, the loss of veterans from the first two seasons, production limitations imposed by a slashed budget. Star Trek was never a lavish show, and it always faced production challenges, but those challenges were never more acute than during the third season. In a lot of cases, that oddness is not a good thing. And the Children Shall Lead and Spock’s Brain are very strange pieces of television, but not in a good way. They are clumsy, cheap, ill-judged and ill-advised.

Healthy green glow.

Healthy green glow.

At the same time, that strange vibe of the third season is not inherently bad. There are a number of episodes produced during the third season (particularly during this stretch of the third season) that feel weird and odd, but also refreshing and exciting. Episodes like Is There in Truth No Beauty?, The Empath and The Tholian Web have an eccentric and ethereal quality to them that feels quite removed from the first two seasons of the show. They are also three of the strongest episodes of the season, feeling adventurous and playful.

After all, for all that the third season is maligned, it is surprisingly influential. The third season of Star Trek contributes a great deal to the language and iconography of the franchise, perhaps as a result of the unusual constraints and production realities that inform it. Is There in Truth No Beauty? is an odd little tale, but it is also a clever and effective metaphor that explores grand ideas in the classic Star Trek tradition.

Jonesing for for some Diane Muldaur.

Jonesing for for some Diane Muldaur.

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Star Trek – The Paradise Syndrome (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

As with Elaan of Troyius, it feels like The Paradise Syndrome casts an awfully long shadow for such a simply awful episode.

Much like Elaan of Troyius before it, The Paradise Syndrome marks out what will become a particular subgenre of Star Trek episode. To be fair, Elaan of Troyius had a much greater influence; it demonstrated that the basic “Enterprise ferries diplomats” plot from Journey to Babel was something that could be repeated, throwing a healthy helping of “our hero falls for an alien princess” into the mix. In contrast, the basic template defined by The Paradise Syndrome is a lot more specific.

Going Native American.

Going Native American.

The Paradise Syndrome effectively posits a “what if…?”, wondering what might happen if Kirk gave up adventuring to settle down into a more mundane existence. It is an idea that Star Trek: The Next Generation would revisit to much greater effect in The Inner Light. It is also the basic template employed by Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II during the final season of Star Trek: Voyager. It is very rare to point to Voyager and argue that it executed an idea much better than the original Star Trek, but this is perhaps the exception that proves the rule.

The Paradise Syndrome is also (and unavoidably) a clumsy racist misfire of an episode.

"That'll teach me to hope that the next episode will be better."

“That’ll teach me to hope that the next episode will be better.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Augments (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise is obsessed with continuity.

More than any other season of Star Trek, the fourth season drips with references and nods towards the franchise’s rich history. Nothing is off limits. The fourth season explains how the Klingons lost their ridges, what happened to the Defiant, how the Federation came to be, the origins of the Earth-Romulan War. It features prominent guest appearances from Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis in roles explicitly tied to their part in the franchise. There are trips to Vulcan and the mirror universe, Romulus and Andoria.

Hitting rewind...

Hitting rewind…

This obsession with continuity is part of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it arguably serves to make the show more insular and introspective at a point when the franchise was on the cusp of collapse. These references could distract from storytelling and feel like indulgence for the sake of indulgence. On the other hand, it is not as if a broader audience was watching Enterprise at this point. Pandering to the fanbase makes sense when the fans are the only ones left. More than that, if the franchise is dying, it makes sense to have its life flash before its eyes.

However, what is most striking about the nostalgia running through the final season of Enterprise is the way that it feels almost ahead of its time. In the way that fourth season looks backwards, it seems to almost be looking forwards.

Obligatory sexy underwear fight, in case you forgot this is till airing on UPN.

Obligatory sexy underwear fight, in case you forgot this is till airing on UPN.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – First Flight (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.

First Flight is a prequel to a prequel.

First Flight unfolds before the events of Broken Bow, providing something of a belated origin story for Captain Jonathan Archer. The tail end of the second season feels like an odd place for such a story. The decision to air First Flight and Bounty as a double feature meant that First Flight premiered only a week before The Expanse, an episode that changed everything that fans thought they knew about Star Trek: Enterprise. Then again, perhaps this is the perfect place for an episode like this.

Ground Control to Commander Robinson... Ground Control to Commander Robinson...

Ground Control to Commander Robinson… Ground Control to Commander Robinson…

Much of the final stretch of the second season of Enterprise is introspective and reflective. The show seems aware that a big change is coming, and takes the opportunity of these last few episodes to look back on a classic model of Star Trek. Judgment puts Archer on trial; Cogenitor wonders whether old-fashioned Star Trek morality plays can still work in the twenty-first century; Regeneration finds the Borg lying among the (literal) wreckage of Star Trek: The Next Generation. First Flight opens with the death of Captain A.G. Robinson, a character we never met before.

More to the point, First Flight opens with the death of the man who was almost the captain of the Enterprise. On the cusp of a creative change in direction that effectively kills the show as it existed in the first two seasons, First Flight is pretty heavy on the symbolism.

... Take your protein pill and put your helmet on...

… Take your protein pill and put your helmet on…

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Star Trek – The Ultimate Computer (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 Ultimate Computer is the second classic produced by John Meredyth Lucas, following on from The Immunity Syndrome. (Although it is credited to him, Journey to Babel was actually overseen by Gene L. Coon.) Like The Immunity Syndrome before it, The Ultimate Computer is a bottle show, filmed on the show’s standing set. It features a relatively small guest cast, even trimming the number of extras appearing on the Enterprise sets.

It seems that these sorts of constraints and pressures brought out the best in Lucas. Lucas steps behind the camera on The Ultimate Computer, and helps to bring the show to life. Although he is using familiar sets, he often figures out ways to shoot them that feel original and fresh – no mean accomplishment two years into the show’s run. The guest cast that Lucas has assembled is superb – with William Marshall turning in one of the best one-shot guest appearances in the history of Star Trek.

Does not compute...

Does not compute…

However, what is most notable about The Ultimate Computer is the funereal atmosphere that haunts the episode. There is a solemn and reflective tone to the episode, particularly during the early tests of the M-5 computer. The Enterprise is dark, abandoned, empty. Kirk is reflective. As with Bread and Circuses at the end of Gene L. Coon’ tenure, Spock offers McCoy an olive branch. In many respects, The Ultimate Computer seems to hark forward to the film series, with Kirk wondering how he might define himself if he is not a starship captain.

Appropriately enough for a series staring down the barrel at cancellation, The Ultimate Computer would have made for a pretty great finalé.

"Dammit, I told you we should have used a surge protector..."

“Dammit, I told you we should have used a surge protector…”

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