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Star Trek – Whom Gods Destroy (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.

Whom Gods Destroy is a mess.

In a lot of ways, Whom Gods Destroy is shoddy and lazy. In many ways, the episode plays like a collection of familiar Star Trek elements blended together to pad out forty-odd minutes of television with no regard for internal logic or plotting and with minimal regard for the characters caught in the middle of it all. There are very few ideas in Whom Gods Destroy that have not been done before, and done better. The episode is not only a rehash of familiar concepts, but it is an exercise in diminishing returns.

Dance with destiny.

Dance with destiny.

This is to say nothing of the chaos unfolding behind the scenes during the production of the episode. It seemed only appropriate that Kirk’s latest mission would take him to what is effectively a gothic asylum in outer space, because it seemed more and more that Star Trek was turning into a madhouse. Veteran staffers were leaving the show in droves, while tensions were mounting on the set, and Fred Freiberger was struggling to keep the budget under control. More than that, there was a clear sense that the series was over, and this was the end of the line.

Whom Gods Destroy really sounds like a disaster. It is certainly not a good episode of television. However, this is the third season. Whom Gods Destroy is interesting enough that it works much better than the season’s weaker episodes. It is elevated by a manic energy that goes some way towards covering for the more illogical elements of the plot, and three central performances that play into the high camp of the premise. Whom Gods Destroy is far from classic Star Trek, but it is much better than it has any right to be.

Absolute madness.

Absolute madness.

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Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away today.

Nimoy is an interesting figure. He is an actor and director with a long a prolific career, who seldom wanted for steady work. He did a lot of quality work in front of (and behind) the camera. Nimoy was a series regular on the sixties version of Mission: Impossible, taking over from Martin Landau. He played a major role in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland. He also directed both Three Men and a Baby. He worked quite regularly and quite frequently. His body stretches over half a century.

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However, all of this work (and it is great work) is inevitably overshadowed by a single role. To an entire generation of people – not just fans, not even just casual television viewers – Leonard Nimoy was Spock. With his pointed ears, memorable catchphrases and iconic Vulcan salute, Nimoy was enigmatic half-human half-Vulcan who served as the first officer of the USS Enterprise. His work spans the franchise, from the unbroadcast original pilot (The Cage) to the most recent JJ Abrams feature (Star Trek Into Darkness).

This was the conflict at the heart of Nimoy, the extremely professional performer who worked pretty consistently throughout his life and the one role that he turned into a screen icon across television and film. Nimoy was a complex character. He famously published an autobiography declaring I Am Not Spock, only to follow it up with I Am Spock. It is a credit to the actor’s complexity and nuance that both could seem to be true in the same instant.

tos-amoktime12

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Star Trek – The Doomsday Machine (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 Doomsday Machine is another Star Trek classic.

Much like Amok Time directly before it, The Doomsday Machine is a piece of Star Trek that works both as powerful drama and clever allegory. It is an episode that has had a tremendous influence on the franchise. The “planet killer” has become a staple of Star Trek tie-in fiction, and even the franchise itself has kept the episode’s legacy alive, with the son of Commodore Decker originally planned as a regular in Star Trek: Phase II and eventually appearing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

All hands on Decker...

All hands on Decker…

The Doomsday Machine is at once a beautifully tragic character study and a potent cautionary tale for the atomic age. The episode the first example of “Star Trek does Moby Dick”, a story template that would become popular enough to sustain another episode in the same season, quite a few later Star Trek episodes across the franchise and no fewer than two of the franchise’s trips to the big screen. In many ways, The Doomsday Machine sets the template for Star Trek engaging with classic literature, building off The Conscience of a King.

It’s also beautifully produced, right down to the creature that Spinrad himself described as “a windsock dipped in cement.”

A commandeering presence...

A commandeering presence…

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – Generations

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

There are lots of problems with Star Trek: Generations. It feels too much like a two-parter from the television show. It tries to fit in a laundry list of demands from the studio. It wastes Malcolm McDowell. It decides that the only part of the original series deserving a send-off is James T. Kirk, and then pushes him off-screen for an hour before dragging him back into the movie to kill him off in the most ironic and anti-climactic manner possible.

Yet, despite these considerable flaws, Generations also has a lot to recommend it. Although the script occasionally feels a little overcooked, the themes concerning mortality lend it a serious amount of weight. Director David Carson demonstrates that he can work wonders on a tiny budget. Cinematographer John A. Alonzo finds a way to shoot familiar sets in a way that makes them look incredibly beautiful. None of these strengths can fully compensate for the very fundamental flaws with the seventh Star Trek cinematic outing, but they do mitigate them somewhat.

Generations isn’t a great Star Trek film, and it isn’t even the best odd-numbered Star Trek film, but it is far from an unmitigated disaster. Well, except for the way it treats Kirk.

Riding the wave...

Riding the wave…

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Star Trek – Cast No Shadow by James Swallow (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

Valeris is a fascinating character who gets a bit lost in the scope of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Given the film’s focus on bidding a fond farewell to the iconic crew of the Enterprise, it’s understandable that the newest addition to the crew should get pushed aside. It’s even more notable because Valeris is clearly a stand-in for the character of Saavik, another of Spock’s young female Vulcan protegés, making her not only a newer character, but a substitute for a newer character.

One of the most interesting things about Star Trek tie-in fiction is the scope afforded by the gigantic shared universe. Across the dozen movies and the seven-hundred episodes of television, there are countless supporting characters and concepts thrown out. Due to plotting necessities and the demands of particular stories, some of these ideas are never truly fleshed out. The sheer volume of tie-in material means that writers do get a chance to develop and expand upon these character which might otherwise be forgotten.

Writing a novel centred on Valeris is a very bold idea, but one which acknowledges just how intriguing the concept of Kim Cattrall’s Vulcan traitor is, despite the fact the film treats her as a minor character at best.

castnoshadow

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek V – The Final Frontier

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is not a good movie. There’s really nothing that can be excavated from the film that might redeem it. It isn’t a misunderstood masterpiece. It isn’t an insightful diamond in the rough. It’s just a bad film, the one which forms the cornerstone of the “odd-numbered Star Trek films” curse. It’s indulgent, pretentious and narrow-minded. It tries to blend a world-weary cynicism with an ill-judged and mean-spirited sense of humour.

Despite being shorter than Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it feels remarkably longer. It feels like a rather halfhearted attempt to recapture the spirit of the television show – oblivious to the fact that the franchise has spent the past decade moving onwards. It confuses ponderous pretension for intelligent insight.

Feeling blue...

Feeling blue…

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

Up until the release of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek in 2009, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the most successful of the Star Trek films. Indeed, it ranks alongside Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as the film which has most deeply dug itself into the popular consciousness. “I’m from Iowa; I only work in outer space” might not be as iconic a quote as “KHAAAAAAN!!!”, but a lot of people casually remember “the one with the whales.”

The fourth film in the series closes off an inter-connected trilogy of Star Trek films, wrapping up character development for the leads and tying up loose ends, but it’s also – somewhat paradoxically – the most accessible of the movies. If you’re looking for an introduction to Star Trek, it’s hard to think of a more welcoming entry than The Voyage Home. However, what’s really strangely charming about The Voyage Home is that it’s also probably the film truest to the franchise’s humanist values.

Ship off the starboard bow!

Ship off the starboard bow!

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