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New Escapist Column! On How “Star Trek: Picard” Offers “The Next Generation” a Glimpse Through “A Mirror, Darkly”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. We’re doing a series of recaps and reviews of Star Trek: Picard, which is streaming weekly on Paramount+. The second episode of the second season released this week, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

The second episode of the season is an interesting twist on a classic Star Trek trope. Star Trek: The Next Generation never really did a dark alternate universe story, comparable to something like Mirror, Mirror, Crossover, Living Witness or Twilight. It often seemed like The Next Generation was incapable of imagining the world any other way than the way that it was. As such, Penance offers something new for Jean-Luc Picard. Reflecting the gulf that exists in the more-than-a-quarter century between The Next Generation and Picard, the episode offers Picard a chance to look at a darker alternative future.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.


New Podcast! On “Filibuster #72” Talking “Star Trek: Discovery” with Lee Hutchinson

I had the pleasure making a guest appearance on Filibuster with the great Lee Hutchinson, who very kindly invited me on to talk about the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. It was a welcome invitation, as I’ve been writing reviews of the show by my schedule and other commitments mean that I haven’t always been able to keep up. So it was good to talk about the season as a whole; what I liked about it, what I didn’t, what I’d like to see more of going forward. Indeed, how much I’d like to see more going forward.

You can listen to the podcast directly at the Filibuster website, but you can also listen to it directly below.


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Resurrection (Review)

In many ways, Resurrection is the mirror universe story that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been trying to tell for the better part of three seasons.

It is the most obvious of parallel universes, the classic variant on the “there but for the grace of God…” story that science-fiction tackles so effectively. After all, both Mirror, Mirror and Crossover were episodes that used the mirror universe to posit alternate versions of the Federation and the Occupation. It makes sense that the next logical extension of this Star Trek high concept would be an episode focusing on alternate versions of specific characters. How different would a person be, if they were to be transposed to an entirely different context?

Mirrors of one another.

Mirrors of one another.

Deep Space Nine tried to touch on this with Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror, two mirror universe episodes that centred around the character of mirror!Jennifer Sisko. Through the Looking Glass allowed Benjamin Sisko to come face-to-face with his long-dead wife, while Shattered Mirror allowed Jake Sisko to spend some time with his deceased mother. Unfortunately, neither episode really lived up to that potential, hampered by weak performances from Felecia Bell and by the distraction of high camp.

Resurrection is very much the third attempt that this very basic story, and suffers a little bit from that sense of fatigue. However, the execution is substantially better this time around. While Philip Anglim is hardly the franchise’s strongest guest performer, he is a better actor than Bell. More than that, keeping the action anchored on the “real” Deep Space Nine stops the story from veering into high camp. It might be damning with faint praise, but Resurrection is probably Deep Space Nine‘s second best mirror universe episode.

Holy ex-boyfriend, Kira!

Holy ex-boyfriend, Kira!

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Terra Prime (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

It all began with Spock.

The character of Spock was the only character to survive the transition between the two Star Trek pilots produced in the sixties. Leonard Nimoy first appeared as science officer Spock in The Cage, opposite Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter. When the studio vetoed the original pilot, Gene Roddenberry was forced to jettison a lot of the cast and characters before setting to work on a second pilot. Spock survived serving (along with the sets and props) as a bridge between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

Spock is an iconic part of American culture. He is instantly recognisable in a way that very few elements of the franchise can claim to be. He lingers in the collective memory. Leonard Nimoy has repeatedly been favoured over William Shatner as an ambassador of the brand. Nimoy reprised the role of Spock opposite Patrick Stewart in Unification, Part I more than two whole years before Shatner would cross paths with Jean-Luc Picard as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. Nimoy appeared in a key role in Star Trek; Shatner declined a cameo.

Star Trek: Enterprise was never going to feature a guest appearance from Leonard Nimoy. However, Spock as clearly haunted the fourth season as the embodiment of the franchise spirit. The Vulcan-human hybrid at the centre of Demons and Terra Prime makes little sense in basic plot terms, Elizabeth serves as a harbinger that might summon Spock. And, in doing so, Elizabeth might yet summon the future. It began with Spock, it ends with Spock. At least for now.

Infinite diversity in finite combinations...

Infinite diversity in finite combinations…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are very strange pieces of television.

They represent the fifth- and fourth-to-last episodes (and third-to-last story) of Star Trek: Enterprise. They come towards the tail end of the Berman era as a whole, positioned right before Star Trek took a decade-long absence from television. With the fourth season rather consciously building towards integrating the series with the larger shared universe and trying to lay the foundation for the Federation, it would make sense for the final stretch of the season to channel its energy into that particular avenue.

A vigourous constitutional...

A vigourous constitutional…

However, rather than trying to tell a story essential to this particular show or to the franchise as a whole, the production team opted to construct a two-parter that would feature none of the show’s primary cast and which served as a prequel to an episode of television broadcast in October 1967 and a sequel to an episode of television broadcast in November 1968. The two-parter serves to wrap up plot threads that had been left dangling so long that nobody really cared about them any longer. Given how obsessive Star Trek fans are, that is impressive.

This puts Enterprise in the rather strange position where three of its final five episodes (or two of its final three stories) do not feature any of the primary cast, instead focusing on doppelgangers or holograms. Perhaps this is a reflection on the show’s attitude towards its place within the canon. Perhaps Enterprise fears that it will be a secret history, a forgotten story populated by spectres and echoes.

Engines of destiny.

Engines of destiny.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shattered Mirror (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.

Shattered Mirror and The Muse represent the nadir of the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

To be fair, it could be worse. Neither episode is Let He Who is Without Sin or Profit and Lace or The Emperor’s New Cloak. Neither is a good episode by any measure, and they certainly rank among the weakest episodes in the show’s seven year run. However, they are more misbegotten lumps of clay than spectacular disasters. Still, as critical defenses go, that is a fairly unconvincing effort. “It could be a lot worse” is hardly the most ringing of critical endorsements.

A close shave...

A close shave…

On the other hand, the fourth season of Deep Space Nine is a fairly spectacular piece of television when taken as a whole. There is a strong argument to be made for the fourth season as the most consistently entertaining season of Deep Space Nine, which stands it in good stead when placing it in the context of the franchise as a whole. The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is one of the best seasons that the franchise ever produced, right alongside the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, even the third season of The Next Generation had its weaker moments; The Price and Ménage à Troi come to mind. The realities and demands of television production mean that a perfect twenty-six episode season without any duds is an aspirational object rather than an achievable goal. The constant churn required to produce twenty-six forty-five minute blocks of television within nine or ten months means that not every episode is going to end up perfectly sculpted. Some will be great, some will be bland. Some will be bad.


Yanking his chain…

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Star Trek (IDW, 2009) #15-16 – Mirrored (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 mirror universe is a fun concept.

Over the run of the franchise, quite divorced from the context of Mirror, Mirror, the mirror universe itself is an excuse to go big; to indulge in hammy and silly behaviour. There’s no need to worry about putting the toys back in the box, or even the general philosophy of the franchise as a whole. Appropriately enough, it becomes a place where you can do almost anything you might imagine with no real consequences. Writers get to do big space opera stuff, actors get to munch on the scenery.

All hail the empire...

All hail the empire…

There is a reason that the most giddy and indulgent fan service from the already giddy and fan-service-filled fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise was the two-parter set in the mirror universe. Indeed, Mirrored arguably borrows more from In a Mirror, Darkly than it does from Mirror, Mirror. The entire two-part story is launched from a casual conjectural conversation between Scotty and McCoy – suggesting that this might just be some flight of fancy. Indeed, the story cuts to the mirror universe as Scotty asks McCoy about “the worst timeline [he] can imagine.”

Mirrored is a very silly, very disposable story. It combines the weird fascination with alternate universes that runs through IDW’s monthly Star Trek series with the fixation on the events of JJ Abrams’ franchise-launching reboot. The result does not rank with the best mirror universe stories ever told, feeling too indulgent for its own good.

A cutting retort...

A cutting retort…

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Star Trek: Mirror Universe – The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack (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.

There is a fairly significant lacuna in the internal chronology of the Star Trek universe, between the opening scene of Star Trek: Generations and Encounter at Farpoint. It is a fairly significant void that has only fleetingly been explored in various novels and comic books – most notably in Pocket Books’ intriguing Lost Era series. However, the lack of interest in this period is understandable. Not too much had changed between the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Starfleet was still Starfleet, the Enterprise was still a ship of exploration.

In contrast, much more happened between the last act of Mirror, Mirror and the teaser of Crossover. The Terran Empire had collapsed in on itself, replaced by a hostile alliance of Klingons and Cardassians. Humans were no longer masters of their domain, instead forced to exist as slaves or mercenaries or rebels. The universe of Mirror, Mirror had been brutal, but ordered; the world of Crossover was brutal and chaotic. Everything had changed in a rather fundamental way. An empire had died, the enemy had stormed the gates. Everything was wrong.

With The Sorrows of Empire, author David Mack begins a project to impose a clear structure on the mirror universe. Mack’s objective is essentially to stitch together a host of divergent (and perhaps even contradictory) continuity into a singular unifying narrative. The Sorrows of Empire was first published as a novella in the Glass Empires collection. However, his attempt to knit together the mirror universe as featured on the original show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise was quickly expanded into its own full-length novel.

Indeed, having tied those various threads together, Mack would then try to resolve them all, writing Rise Like Lions to help stitch The Soul Key into his tapestry while resolving a long-dangling piece of Star Trek continuity. The Sorrows of Empire is a fascinating read, and Herculean effort. Mack shares the same knack for blending continuity with narrative as writers like Keith R.A. DeCandido or Christopher L. Bennett. However, The Sorrow of Empires struggles to get around the fact that it is trying desperately to put together a jigsaw from mismatched pieces that were never meant to be combined.


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Star Trek – Mirror Images (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.

There has always been something rather strange about IDW’s Star Trek publishing line. How does the company decide what ideas got to print? What indicators do they look at in order to determine that one concept is worth exploration, but another is not? Basing the monthly on-going comic series around JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek universe makes a great deal of sense, as does commissioning D.C. Fontana to write Year Four – The Enterprise Experiment. However, there is a sense that a lot of their output comes from throwing darts at boards.

For example, comics based on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have been confined to miniseries or arcs of the on-going monthly series; this seems odd, given that the market buying comics books would have been at the perfect age to feel nostalgia for them. However, miniseries like Intelligence Gathering or Assimilation2 are given as much prominence as strange alternate universe stories as The Last Generation or Mirror Images.

Pained leadership...

Pained leadership…

It isn’t that The Last Generation or Mirror Images aren’t interesting, at least on paper. While the execution in both cases might leave a little to be desired, there are interesting stories to be told in the classic “what if…” comic book style. However, it is hard to believe that there is as much demand for the four-issue story of mirror!Kirk taking command of the I.S.S. Enterprise and killing mirror!Pike as there is to see Data or Odo or Picard again. Given the success that IDW has enjoyed resurrecting The X-Files, it would seem nineties nostalgia is out there.

There is an argument to be made that the classic crew is currently more popular and iconic than any of the spin-offs, largely thanks to the recent cinematic reboot. However, is there really so much demand for a story based around Christopher Pike that four issues of mirror!Pike scheming demand to published?

Only logical...

Only logical…

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