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Star Trek: Voyager – Riddles (Review)

Riddles is very much a stock episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Like Barge of the Dead and Alice before it, Riddles is a character-focused episode of the sixth season that largely retreads character dynamics that feel thorough explored by this point in the show’s run. One of the big issues with Voyager is that it never got past more than a single line of biography for many of its lead characters; Torres is angry, Paris is a restless rebel, Tuvok is logical, Kim is inexperienced. Indeed, in the case of Chakotay, the series even dropped that one-line character synopsis after Michael Piller departed and never bothered to draft a new one.

Stopping to smell the roses.

Riddles is a Tuvok-centric episode that brushes up against the fact that Voyager doesn’t really know (or care) that much about Tuvok beyond the existence of his pointy ears. Tuvok is a Vulcan, and so his stories tend to be about logic and the challenges that it presents. This is not a bad thing, with Tuvok’s repression and logic providing the basis for Meld and Gravity, two of the best episodes of Voyager ever produced. However, Riddles is somewhat underwhelming. It feels like the story has been done before. More than that, this feels like a particularly stock iteration of that story.

Riddles is not a bad episode of Voyager by any measure. It is also not an especially good episode of Voyager either. Instead, Riddles is a perfectly familiar episode of Voyager.

Putting the pieces together.

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The X-Files – Elegy (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The first two-thirds of Elegy count as the best episode of The X-Files that John Shiban has written at this point of his tenure on the writing staff. Elegy starts out as an episode that leans into Shiban’s strengths. It is a very traditional and old-fashioned horror story, the first tried-and-tested ghost story that The X-Files has told in a while. The idea of a haunted bowling alley is so wonderfully weird and so quintessentially American that it fits The X-Files perfectly. For its first thirty minutes, Elegy is funereal and sombre, haunting and enchanting.

Elegy is a story packed with potentially interesting concepts. It is overflowing with clever ideas and memorable images. Shiban is a writer who has a great deal of affection for classic horror, and that affection shines through into Elegy. There is a slow and sorrowful atmosphere to the early stretches of the episode. Transparent grey spectres are a staple of the horror genre, but they work very well in this context. The X-Files has been quite reluctant to handle traditional monsters, so there is something rather strange and affecting about seeing such a classic depiction here.

Here there be ghosts...

Here there be ghosts…

Then things go to hell. To be fair, the problems with the last fifteen of Elegy are very much suggested from the start; they are just pushed to the fore. It becomes quite clear that Elegy has no idea how to resolve a “haunted bowling alley” story, so the script hastily and clumsily transitions to an “abusive care home” plot. The first two thirds of Elegy are not that interested in the character of Harold Spuller beyond his use as a plot device; a fact that becomes quite apparent in how the final third callously disposes of him.

Elegy is an episode that brushes against greatness. Its best ideas rank with the highlights of the fourth season. Unfortunately, all of that is undercut by a truly terrible final act.

Blood on the mirror...

Blood on the mirror…

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Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night (Review)

There are some things I have not seen. That’s usually because I’ve chosen not to see them. Even my incredibly long life is too short for Les Misérables.

On paper, In the Forest of the Night should be a highlight of the season. Frank Cottrell-Boyce is quite a sizeable “get” for the show, one of the most significant guest writers to work on Doctor Who in quite some time. Cottrell-Boyce is on the same level as Richard Curtis or Neil Gaiman, as far as “special guest writers” go. Coupled with the fact that this is the first time that the Twelfth Doctor has wandered into the “fairy tale” aesthetic that defined his predecessor, In the Forest of the Night should be a classic waiting to happen.

However, In the Forest of the Night never quite comes together as well as it should. At its best, it riffs on concepts already very thoroughly and thoughtfully explored in Kill the Moon. At its worst, it feels ill-judged and an awkward fit for the characters in the show. In the Forest of the Night comes at the end of a highly successful stretch of late-season episodes all credited to writers working on Doctor Who for the first time; it is quite endearing that In the Forest of the Night is the only stumbling block; ironically arriving at the latest possible moment.

Tyger, Tyger...

Tyger, Tyger…

Still, there is some interesting material here. It is also a sly and affectionate homage to the work of William Blake. Blake was famed author, illustrator and poet. In the Forest of the Night takes its title from a line in Blake’s most famous poem Fearful Symmetry. There are points where the episode goes out of its way to reference that work. The Doctor makes a reference to the year of its most popular publication, assuring the assembled audience that “a tiny little bit of 1795 still alive inside of it.” There is a tiger; there is burning bright.

However, these allusions towards Blake ultimately lead In the Forest of the Night into some very questionable ideas. William Blake was haunted throughout his life by visions and hallucinations. He saw things that were not real, but which informed and inspired his work. In the Forest of the Night tries to borrow from this aspect of Blake’s life in its characterisation of Maebh, a young girl with visions. It is a story that falls right back on the rather clichéd narrative about how medicating people suffering with mental illness is in effect destroying what makes them special or unique.

... burning bright.

… burning bright.

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