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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Icarus Factor (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.

The Icarus Factor is a character-driven story. At least, it wants to be a character-driven story. The problem is that Star Trek: The Next Generation hasn’t reached the point where it can really do character-driven storytelling with a measure of consistence. (The fact that Picard confronting his future failures in Time Squared worked was more down to Patrick Stewart than the episode’s script.)

The Icarus Factor is a story focusing on Riker as a character, and it suffers from the fact that Riker hasn’t really been well-defined to date. We’re repeatedly told that he’s ambitious and career-driven, but most his on-screen characterisation has fluctuated between reckless, jerkish and horny. So The Icarus Factor tries to compensate by giving Riker the most generic back story possible for a lead male character on a television show.

This is the story of Riker’s daddy issues.

Somehow, this image just sums up Riker as a character...

Somehow, this image just sums up Riker as a character…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tribunal (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Tribunal is probably the weakest episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in quite some time, hampered by the fact that it never seems too ambitious and the fact that the episode ends because we’re three minutes away from the closing credits rather than because it feels like the story has been told. Tribunal is hardly the deepest or most sophisticated episode of the show’s second season, spending most of its time riffing on Kafka and Orwell, but it’s still solidly entertaining – a rare example of black comedy on Star Trek that works surprisingly well.

I suspect the biggest problem with Tribunal is where it’s placed. The second season of Deep Space Nine has been hitting it out of the park since around Blood Oath, giving us the strongest run of episodes we’d see until the start of the fourth season. Indeed, had the show found its groove a little bit earlier, the second season of Deep Space Nine could have been on par with the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as “that season the show found its groove.”

However, it remains an impressive run of episodes, a rallying of the show in the last third of the season, showing just what Deep Space Nine was capable of. Most of the episodes in that run felt very different from anything done on The Next Generation and most offered some major insight into how the world of Deep Space Nine works as distinct from the rest of the franchise.

A broad cast of characters...

A broad cast of characters…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Playing God (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Playing God is – structurally – quite similar to Shadowplay. The episode follows the same basic format. We have three plots running concurrently. One of these plots is a science-fiction plot while the other two are centred around character development. What’s interesting about Playing God is that the script essentially changes the priority of these plot threads. In Shadowplay, the central plot concerned the science-fiction mystery in the Gamma Quadrant, while here the ethical quandary is pushed firmly to the background. (Much to the chagrin of writer Jim Trombetta.)

Instead, Playing God brings the character plotline to the front, giving us the first Dax-centric episode firmly based around Jadzia rather than the symbiote inside of her.

Quark smells a rat... er... I mean vole...

Quark smells a rat… er… I mean vole…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Man Alone (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

To be fair to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it’s clear that the show’s heart is in the right place. After all, a Star Trek television show isn’t quite the gambit that it was in 1987. The producers expect that the series will be going for quite some time. After all, the regulars signed six-year contracts, one of the reasons that the show managed to make it to its penultimate season without losing a primary cast member.

As such, a lot of the early episodes of Deep Space Nine seem prudent – they effectively amount to good housekeeping. While Star Trek: The Next Generation got its cast together and couldn’t wait to start telling bold Star Trek stories, you can see that Deep Space Nine is laying a lot of groundwork. The ensemble doesn’t gel instantly. Episodes are devoted to little more than set-up for something that will pay off over the coming year. A vast supporting cast is systematically established.

This is world-building, and it’s world-building to a purpose, even if Deep Space Nine doesn’t seem to really know what that purpose is yet. So it’s quite hard to fault these early episodes, even if they feel more like set-up for delayed pay-off.

The writing's on the wall for Odo...

The writing’s on the wall for Odo…

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