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Star Trek: Voyager – Resistance (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Resistance is a very episodic instalment of Star Trek: Voyager.

It begins with the ship facing a convenient plot-generating fuel-shortage, the type of problem that the ship had encountered near the start of Phage or The Cloud or Tattoo. It is the kind of problem that was not mentioned in previous episodes, and which will never be presented as a potentially recurring problem. In fact, Resistance is the only episode of Voyager (or Star Trek) where the word “Tellerium” is mentioned. Many of the stock criticisms of Voyager apply here.

Fifty shades of Joel Grey...

Fifty shades of Joel Grey…

At the same time, Resistance is proof that the episodic model is not entirely without merit. For all that modern television has tended towards serialisation and arcs and long-form storytelling, there is nothing inherently wrong with a good old-fashioned done-in-one adventure. On a purely cosmetic level, Resistance is the typical Voyager episode; it relies on contrivance, it features a host of guest characters who will never appear (or be mentioned) again, it has no lasting impact. And yet it works better than any episode to this point in the second season.

As easy as it is to get distracted by arguments about serialised and episodic storytelling, or about arcs and standalones, the truth is that Voyager‘s problems are at once more simple and more complex than that. The grand irony of the second season is that it is the only season of Voyager to attempt a storytelling arc, but that storytelling arc is pretty universally derided as one of the worst things that the show ever did. (It isn’t really, but it’s still pretty bad.) The truth is that it doesn’t matter how Voyager chose to tell its stories, as long as it told them well.

Mellon head...

Mellon head…

Resistance is a fairly standard episode of Voyager, but it is elevated in the telling. The story seems unlikely to rank among anybody’s favourite Voyager episodes, but it is an efficient and effective character study with a solid script and a great central performance. The production team were able to recruit Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey as the primary guest star, lending the story an incredible level of pathos. Lisa Klink also makes quite an impression with her debut teleplay, providing a story that is careful to give most of the cast something to do.

The result is proof that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a largely episodic approach to Star Trek storytelling, as long as the material is up to scratch.

"This is knife reunion, no?"

“This is knife reunion, no?”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #47-50 – The Worst of Both Worlds (Review)

This November and December, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

The Worst of Both Worlds, as the name implies, is an excuse to revisit one of the pivotal moments of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Go on, guess which one!) Unfortunately, it’s not quite up to the task – a failing down to both to the scripts from Michael Jan Friedman and the artwork from Peter Krause. It winds up feeling like an interesting idea, given a rather lackluster execution, working best as a study of the impact that the show’s third season cliffhanger had on the franchise.

A time warp...

A time warp…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC, 1989) Annual #1 – The Gift (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films.

You can see why DC comics jumped at the chance to publish The Gift. After all, a comic about Q written by the actor playing Q is a hell of a hook. The publisher had already done something similar, with actor Walter Koenig providing a script for the nineteenth issue of DC’s first Star Trek comic book series. At the same time that The Gift was published, George Takei collaborated with Peter David on a Star Trek annual story, So Near the Touch.

John deLancie isn’t a bad storyteller. Indeed, his published tie-in novel – I, Q written with Peter David – is quite enjoyable. However, The Gift is just an absolute mess of a story, with a couple of interesting high concepts buried beneath two horrible clichés tied together to create a rather unfortunate narrative. The Gift is a disappointment on just about every level.

Cue Q!

Cue Q!

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #19 – The Lesson (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

One of the biggest problems that the writing staff had on Star Trek: The Next Generation was the insistence that the show was episodic. Themes and characters were rarely carried from week to week. Occasionally, a plot point or character might recur, but the bulk of the show was intentionally designed to be readily accessible in just about any order imaginable. In the era of HBO and “televisual novels”, this approach seems quite quaint, but it was very much the reality of late eighties and early nineties television.

However, there were no such restrictions on comic book story telling. Far from downplaying continuity and long-term plotting, mainstream American comics pride themselves on their serialised nature. It’s quite common for characters to suddenly reappear after absences of considerable time, and for writers to make callbacks to events that occurred decades ago. Publishing twelve issues a year, typically from the same author, The Next Generation comic book did afford the opportunity for a slightly different type of storytelling.

All set...

All set…

And, to be fair, that was one of the strengths of Michael Jan Friedman’s approach to The Next Generation comic book. He was fond of focusing on supporting characters, or giving page space to characterisation, or even basking in the show’s continuity in a way that wasn’t possible on television. Sure, Friedman could occasionally get a little obsessive in his continuity references, and could occasionally have difficulty tying everything into a cohesive story, but this was one way the author capitalised on the shift in the medium.

The Lesson is a single-issue story that is all the more intriguing for essentially existing as a series of character moments, with little in the way of an over-arching plot. The writing is a little clumsy and on-the-nose, with the comic earnestly offering its readers a rather ham-fisted message of the week, but it’s notable for the way that Friedman seems to bask in the freedom afforded to him by virtue of the fact that he’s writing a comic book (rather than an episode) of The Next Generation.

They've really bonded...

They’ve really bonded…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC) Annual #3 – The Broken Moon (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode Conspiracy.

If you were to construct a list of the most niggling unresolved plot threads in the history of the Star Trek franchise, “what was up with those things from Conspiracy?” would likely rank up there alongside “so, did Bajor ever join the Federation?” Funnily enough, author S.D. Perry would tie those two dangling plot points up in her Deep Space Nine relaunch book, Unity.

However, several other writers have tried to figure out what exactly was going on with those mind-controlling parasites who appeared at the end of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and were never heard from again. According to Ronald D. Moore on Inside the Writers’ Room on the third Next Generation blu ray box set, various writers for the show tried to revisit the idea, but Roddenberry hated that episode so much nothing was ever developed.

The Broken Moon, the third annual for DC’s Next Generation comic book series, offers its own take on the mind-controlling parasites. While writer Michael Jan Friedman wisely avoids revealing too much about these creatures, the story suffers because it never figures out anything interesting to do with them.

It always bugged me...

It always bugged me…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #1-2 – Return to Raimon/Murder, Most Foul (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

DC Comics’ limited six-issue tie-in to the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation might have made an interesting read, but it was a success for the company. It was such a success that the company decided to launch an on-going monthly series tying into Star Trek: The Next Generation. It launched in October 1989, just as the show’s third season was starting on television. It continued throughout the show’s run, wrapping up eighty issues later in February 1996, when Marvel bought the license.

For the bulk of its run, The Next Generation was written by Michael Jan Friedman. Barring a couple of fill-ins scattered across the six-and-a-half year run, Friedman churned out monthly stories with remarkable consistency. Indeed, DC’s second volume of Next Generation would be the most consistent comic book tie-in published during any of the spin-off shows, with the licence for the franchise bouncing around Marvel, Malibu, Wildstorm and IDW in the late nineties and early years of the twenty-first century.

There’s something strangely appropriate about publishing Return to Raimon in tandem with the launch of The Next Generation‘s third season. The third season of The Next Generation is generally regarded as the point where the show really came of age, and the season that laid the foundation for that entire generation of Star Trek spin-offs. It was the point at which the vision of Star Trek proposed by The Next Generation finally came into its own, so it seems fitting that it’s also the point at which one of the franchise’s most consistent and long-running tie-ins begins.

New worlds...

New worlds…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #59-61 – Children of Chaos/Mother of Madness/Brothers in Darkness (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode The Battle.

Continuity is a funny thing. Star Trek: The Next Generation would develop its own internal continuity as it went along. The  episodes featuring the Klingons and the Romulans (and the Borg) all fit together in a somewhat logical and progressive pattern, even if the show lacked the clear story arc structure of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While the show did offer background information on the members of the Enterprise crew, it never felt particularly beholden to them.

Picard’s time commanding the Stargazer was one of the earliest parts of his history to be established, in the first season episode The Battle. Picard’s tenure on the ship is alluded to several times over the course of the series, and there’s a sense that it was a formative experience for the commander. While it’s never stated outright, it’s suggested that the death of Jack Crusher and the loss of the Stargazer may have turned him into the somewhat aloof and distant superior we met in Encounter at Farpoint.

The slingshot manoeuvre...

The slingshot manoeuvre…

And yet, despite that, The Next Generation never delves too deeply into Picard’s past. There’s the occasional reference to his time serving on the Stargazer, or a reminder of his complicated relationship with Wesley and Beverly Crusher, but The Next Generation is a television show that seems to move forwards. Even the events that happen to Picard in the context of the show – his abduction by the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds or his alternate life in The Inner Light – don’t seem to have affected Picard too much.

So it seems appropriate that this bit of future history should become fodder for the comic books and tie-in materials, delving mroe deeply into the history of The Next Generation than was possible (or even desired) on screen.

Stargazing...

Stargazing…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Reunion by Michael Jan Friedman (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode The Battle.

The Star Trek expanded universe is so large and so expansive that it has its own particular phases of history, its own important and divisive figures, its own grand context for things. With the announcement of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late eighties, the focus of expanded universe shifted a bit. Ever since the original Star Trek had gone off the air, novelists like John Ford, Vonda McIntyre, Diane Carey and Diane Duane had been free to carve out their own little corners of the shared universe.

There was a sense that the novels existed to expand the Star Trek universe outwards, with certain authors even developing their own recurring casts and delving into the history and culture of various fictional races in a way that simply wasn’t possible as part of a television episode or feature film. In the late eighties, this changed rather dramatically, with Richard Arnold becoming something of a “gate-keeper” of the expanded universe.

Although Diane Carey would write the first Next Generation tie-in novel, Ghost Ship, this represented something of a changing of the guard. The focus of the novels became a bit different, and the authors driving the line began to change. Michael Jan Friedman’s first published Star Trek novel was Double, Double in April 1989. Since than, he has written more than thirty different Star Trek tie-in novels, a few short stories and ninety-one issues (including annuals and specials) of the nineties Next Generation tie-in comic.

In terms of influence in the Star Trek expanded universe of the nineties, Michael Jan Friedman is a defining figure.

tng-reunion

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC) Annual #2 – Thin Ice (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Riker is a character caught between a rock and a hard place. According to the series bible, Riker was imagined as one of the “dual lead characters” for the show and clearly envisioned as an impulsive and brilliant Kirk to Picard’s more rational and stoic Spock. However, it didn’t quite work out that way, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the writing on the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation tended to be a bit more sterile and bland, so Riker was never really allowed to step too far out of Picard’s shadow.

Instead, we got lots of characters talking about how ambitious Riker was, without seeing it for ourselves. It’s implied that Riker’s career led him to separate from Troi, something Peter David ran with in Imzadi. Everybody is constantly telling everybody else how Riker desperately wants to be a starship commander. And yet, when it come to the actual characterisation of Riker on the show, none of this shines through.

Due to the constraints imposed on the early years, interpersonal conflict was impossible in early Next Generation scripts, putting Riker in a paradoxical position as a character. We’re repeatedly told how ambitious and career-orientated he is, but none of that shines through.

Dead space...

Dead space…

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Star Trek – Music of the Spheres by Margaret Wander Bonanno (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.

Music of the Spheres is something of a legend in Star Trek circles. It’s not quite a ghost story, spoken of in hushed whispers. Indeed, author Margaret Wander Bonanno has made the manuscript available to interested fans via her website, and has used it to raise money for a variety of worth causes. She’s documented the difficult story of how her original novel warped in Probe in a wonderfully wry and insightful essay, offering a glimpse at the inner workings of Pocket Book and Paramount towards the end of the eighties.

It’s a rare peek behind the curtain, with Music of the Spheres serving as a compelling vehicle to explore just what was going on inside Star Trek licensing in the late eighties and early nineties.

startrek-voyagehome8

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