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Star Trek: Voyager – Barge of the Dead (Review)

There is some small symmetry in Barge of the Dead.

When Bryan Fuller first pitched to Star Trek, he pitched to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The first idea that he sold was The Darkness and the Light, which felt like something approaching a gothic serial killer horror about a deformed killer stalking his victims using the franchise’s hyper-advanced technology. That original idea was heavily re-written by franchise veteran Ronald D. Moore, who also brought a more substantial thematic weight to the story by focusing on themes of violence and retribution.

Barging in.

In contrast, Barge of the Dead is the last television story that Ronald D. Moore would pitch for the franchise, coming at the very end of his time on Star Trek: Voyager. The episode has its roots in an earlier pitch by the writer, the original idea for Soldiers of the Empire. However, Moore would depart the franchise before he could finish work on Barge of the Dead, and so the writing of the script fell to Bryan Fuller. Much like Moore had subtly shifted the emphasis of The Darkness and the Light to his own thematic interests, Fuller embraces his own sensibilities in reworking Barge of the Dead.

Moore had re-written Fuller’s last story, and Fuller would re-write Moore’s last story. There is some sense of poetry in this.

Tom’s idea of a romantic evening certainly needed some work.

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Deep Space Nine at 25 – The Most Multicultural of (Star) Treks

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the first (and perhaps only) multicultural Star Trek.

Ironically, Deep Space Nine is often derided by traditionalist fans for eschewing core Star Trek principles. Deep Space Nine was the first (and only) Star Trek series to unfold on a space station rather than a space ship, boldly sitting rather than boldly going. More than that, Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series to embroil the Federation in an active war, notwithstanding the Klingon or Romulan Cold Wars nor the Cardassian Wars that retroactively took place during the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, in a very real and substantial way, Deep Space Nine was also the Star Trek series that hewed most closely to the humanist principles of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. It could reasonably be argued that Deep Space Nine simply made an effort to interrogate and to explore premises that Roddenberry never properly considered. At its core, Star Trek had always been about embracing the unknown with open arms and about learning that what was different was not always scary or monstrous. Deep Space Nine embraced that.

Deep Space Nine was not a series about a bunch of explorers looking “to boldly go” in any literal sense, but about a bunch of characters struggling to fundamentally understand “new life forms and new civilisations.” More than the other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine was about embracing other cultures and values, about recognising that differences could enrich as much as divide, and that there was no single “right” way build a better world. Deep Space Nine is an ode to humanism and compassion, embodying many of the virtues other Star Trek shows nod towards.

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Star Trek: Discovery – The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry (Review)

The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry represents another attempt to reconcile one of the central tensions of Star Trek: Discovery, the conflict that exists between the expectations of a Star Trek series and the demands of a piece of prestige television. It frequently feels like there is a tug of war between these two competing impulses within the series, and the production team are trying desperately to find the right balance between these two very different storytelling models.

Much like Context is for Kings, the basic story at the heart of The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry is quintessential Star Trek plotting. The contours of the plot will be recognisable to any viewer with even a passing familiarity with the narrative structures and templates of the larger Star Trek franchise. At the same time, a lot of the episode’s finer details are more recognisable as the hallmarks of contemporary prestige television. The result is a piece of television that tells a very simplistic Star Trek in a manner that feels somewhat dissonant.

Hanging out with the Kol kids.

There is an awkwardness to The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry, a sense that the creative team are still working out the proverbial kinks. Much like the engineering and science staff on the Discovery itself, the production team are creating something new and exciting, but something without a clear precedent or blueprint. Discovery often struggles to properly mix its constituent elements, some of its narrative choices feeling clumsy and others struggling to mesh with the story being told.

At the same time, like Context is for Kings before it, The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry is an episode that exists primarily to reassure viewers that Discovery is still fundamentally Star Trek, no matter the production design or the prestige trappings. However, Discovery is investing so much time in proving that it is Star Trek, that it is still searching for its own clear voice.

Resting uneasy.

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Star Trek: Discovery – Battle at the Binary Stars (Review)

In some ways, Star Trek: Discovery will always be overshadowed by what might have been.

It is not the first Star Trek series to face this particular hurdle. Both Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise spent the majority of their runs in competition with phantom versions of themselves. Voyager was supposed to be a show about two rival crews, one a bunch of explorers and the other a group of terrorists, forced to work together when stranded alone on the other side of the galaxy. Enterprise was supposed to be a show about the building of the familiar Star Trek universe, a tale about how mankind got “from there to here”, to quote the theme music.

The great Star Trek Beyond.

Both series struggled to live up to that premise. Voyager abandoned any question of compromise and culture clash in Parallax, the very second episode of the series. For the rest of the show’s seven seasons, Captain Kathryn Janeway oversaw a fairly typical Starfleet crew on a fairly typical Star Trek mission, with rare nods to the original premise in episodes like Learning Curve, Alliances, Worst Case Scenario, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. Similarly, most of the first two seasons of Enterprise were stock Star Trek, even if the third and fourth seasons were a bit more ambitious.

In contrast, Discovery is competing against a slightly different shadow self. That shadow self appears in the opening credits of the show week after week, in the “created by” credit assigned to Bryan Fuller. Fuller departed early in the creative process of Discovery following disagreements with CBS, to the point that he identifies his most meaningful contributions to Discovery as Captain Philippa Georgiou and Commander Michael Burnham, one of whom is dead by the end of Battle at the Binary Stars.

No Khan do.

Indeed, Bryan Fuller’s contributions to Discovery really end with these two episodes. Fuller is credited on the script for The Vulcan Hello, along with producer Akiva Goldsman. Fuller is also credited with the story to Battle at the Binary Stars, even though the teleplay was written by replacement showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts. In some ways, then, it feels strangely appropriate that The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars serve as something of a self-contained prologue setting up the thirteen episodes that will follow.

The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars mark the end of Bryan Fuller’s short-lived Star Trek.

Empirical research.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Once More Unto the Breach (Review)

Once More Unto the Breach bids a fond farewell to Kor, the Star Trek franchise’s original Klingon.

To be fair, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had never been particularly shy about killing off recurring characters, with Enabran Tain dying in In Purgatory’s Shadow, Michael Eddington expiring in Blaze of Glory, and Tora Ziyal being murdered in Sacrifice of Angels. Contractual negotiations had guaranteed the death of Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets. Certainly, Kor was not a major player in the larger fabric of the show when compared to these figures, having only previously appeared in Blood Oath and The Sword of Kahless.

The return of a Kor character.

However, there is a certain gravity to the character owing to the fact that he could trace his appearance all the way back to Errand of Mercy in the very first season of the franchise. Kor was very much the first Klingon, even if he was neither the first Klingon to appear on screen nor the first Klingon to truly resemble the modern template. Kor was a part of the franchise’s history, part of its context. John Colicos had a fairly significant impact on popular culture, but has particularly important to Star Trek.

There would be bigger deaths over the course of the seventh season. Actors who had been with the franchise for years would go out in a blaze of glory. Recurring guest stars would see their stories come to an end. Some of those endings would be happy, whereas others would be more ignoble. Nevertheless, there is a something powerful about the passing of Kor in Once More Unto the Breach. It feels very much like an ending.

No Country for Old Klingons.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 6 (Review)

The sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine seems to brush up against the limits of what the show could do.

To be fair, Deep Space Nine spent most of its fourth and fifth seasons smashing through the arbitrary boundaries imposed upon what a Star Trek show could and could not do. Overseen by executive producer Ira Steven Behr, the writing staff very consciously and very vigourously pushed past the limitations imposed by the so-called “Roddenberry Box” and the style of television overseen by franchise leader Rick Berman. The storytelling became more complex, serialisation crept in, the music became more noticeable, conflict became more evident.

This all built to a climax in the second half of the fifth season, a series of interlinked stories that stretched from In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light through to Call to Arms. Diplomatic tensions rose, character arcs became clear. Then, at the very end of the season, the unthinkable happened. The Federation went to war with the Dominion. More than that, the Federation started a war with Dominion. It was a bold creative choice, one that chipped away at so many of the assumptions underlying the utopian future of Star Trek.

The sixth season faces a number of serious problems. Most obviously, the fourth and fifth seasons had pushed so far that there was only so much ground left to cover. The sixth season explored that ground thoroughly. There is an argument to be made that the arc that opens with Call to Arms and continues through the first six episodes of the sixth season ranks as the single most ambitious stretch of the Rick Berman era. Episodes like Far Beyond the Stars, Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight pushed the franchise well outside its comfort zone.

At the same time, there was a clear sense that the production team was butting up against the limits of the form, that they had pushed Deep Space Nine almost as far as it was possible to push a nineties Star Trek show, and so the season lacked the same sense of forward momentum as the fourth and fifth seasons had. Many creative decisions in the sixth season feel like the result of creative compromise, whether the sense that the writers had told all the big stories that they wanted to tell or because they had to bow in some way to the conventions of television storytelling.

The result is a frustrating season of television. The sixth season of Deep Space Nine features some of the best Star Trek episodes in the fifty-year history of the franchise. However, it also contains a lot of thwarted ambitions. For every barrier that the sixth season smashes through, it brushes up against another. It is a reminder of just how far Deep Space Nine had pushed the franchise during its run. In some ways, it felt like the sixth season of Deep Space Nine was not so much brushing up against the limits of Star Trek as against the limits of nineties television.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Soldiers of the Empire (Review)

Soldiers of the Empire is a very effective illustration of just how far Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was willing to push the Star Trek franchise.

It is an episode that unfolds primarily on a Klingon Bird of Prey. This is nothing new. After all, Star Trek: The Next Generation produced A Matter of Honour in its second season, assigning Riker to serve on a Klingon ship as part of an exchange programme. However, that episode was told primary from a human perspective, the story centring on Riker adjusting and adapting to an alien culture before saving the day. When Worf joined the Klingon fleet in Redemption, Part II, the story kept cutting back to life on the Enterprise in his absence.

"Mahk-cha!"

“Mahk-cha!”

In contrast, Soldiers of the Empire is primarily focused upon the Klingon cast and the Klingon crew. Worf and Dax join the IKS Rotarran to support General Martok in his first command since escaping the Dominion prison camp at the end of By Inferno’s Light, but they are very much bystanders. Although Worf and Dax provide vital narrative functions in introducing the audience to Klingon customs and cultures, the narrative arc of the show belongs to Martok and the crew of the Rotarran. This is not a story about Worf and Dax, this is a story about Martok.

The result is an episode that really pushes the limits of the storytelling possibilities on Deep Space Nine, a reminder that the production team remain as ambitious as ever in the show’s fifth season. Soldiers of the Empire suffers from a few minor plotting issues, but it is exciting and compelling in a way that captures the very best of Deep Space Nine.

A sharp stabbing pain.

A sharp stabbing pain.

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