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Star Trek: Voyager – Body and Soul (Review)

Body and Soul is the old science-fiction staple, the body swap episode.

There are any number of iconic examples of the genre, even within the larger Star Trek franchise. Although the original series was populated with duplicates and doppelgängers and surrogates and clones in episodes like The Enemy Within, Mirror, Mirror, Whom Gods Destroy and even What Are Little Girls Made Of?Turnabout Intruder might be the most straightforward example. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock featured sequences in which McCoy was channelling Spock. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had all the cast take on the personalities of Dax’s past hosts in Facets.

Insert your cheesecake jokes here.

Often, these sorts of stories exist to showcase the dramatic range of key performers and to offer a little variety to the weekly routine of playing the same character for years and years on end. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Brent Spiner would occasionally find himself tasked with playing Data’s “brother” Lore or his “father” Noonien Soong in episodes like Datalore, Family, Descent, Part I, Descent, Part II and Inheritance. The cast on Deep Space Nine would play their mirror counterparts in stories like Crossover, Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror.

Even Star Trek: Voyager has done its own body swap and possession narratives before, like with Tuvok in Cathexis or with Paris in Vis à Vis. However, the success of these sorts of episodes largely rests in the execution, in the question of whether it is worth watching a familiar actor playing an unfamiliar role for forty-five minutes. This is a tough challenge, and many episodes falter trying to hit that mark. Body and Soul has a lot of very fundamental issues with it, but it at least has the common sense to ask one of the cast’s best actors to impersonate another of the cast’s best actors.

“Next week is a Kim episode?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Exile (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

If Impulse was Star Trek doing contemporary horror, then Exile is Star Trek doing gothic horror.

It is quite impressive how committed Exile is to its gothic horror trappings. Tarquin doesn’t just live alone in exile and project flattering images of himself; he lives in an honest-to-goodness gothic mansion lit by candles, where he dabbles in the occult while wearing what is a highly stylised dressing gown and between tending to the graves of his beloved(s). Exile does not skimp on its pulpy trappings. Like a lot of the early third season episodes, Exile would make for a satisfying dime-store paperback sci-fi novel; several images from the story would make a suitable cover.

It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night…

That said, it is quite difficult to pull off gothic science-fiction. The original Star Trek pulled it off on a number of occasions – most obviously with The Squire of Gothos. The later spin-offs have struggled getting the right balance of po-faced seriousness with heightened absurdity. Star Trek: The Next Generation attempted Sub Rosa in its final season, while Star Trek: Voyager had some early experiments with Janeway’s gothic horror fantasy. Neither could be deemed a resounding success, and Exile stumbles a bit in the execution.

There are a number of leaps that the plot doesn’t quite articulate as well as it might. It is hard to believe that Archer would leave Hoshi alone with Tarquin, even with a phase pistol tucked under her pillow. The revelation of Tarquin’s powers should terrify the crew; having the ability to alter another person’s perception across lightyears is utterly unlike anything these exploreres have seen before. However, everybody seems to accept it at face value so that the plot can move along at a reasonable rate.

Somebody has a fixation...

Somebody has a fixation…

The way that Exile ties back into the larger arc is somewhat clumsy, right down to the convenient segue into The Shipment that comes in the final scene. In many ways, the structure of Exile recalls that of Extinction, an effectively stand-alone story that contains a very trite nods to the larger Xindi arc without any substantive connection. Despite the vital exposition that Tarquin provides in his final scene (and the subplot involving the spheres), Exile feels rather unnecessary in the larger scheme of things.

And yet, despite all that, Exile has something quite interesting to say. Written by Phyllis Strong, directed by Roxann Dawson and starring Linda Park, Exile is a very rare episode of Enterprise. It is a story with a very clear (and somewhat prescient) feminist subtext that has some very astute observations to make about certain facets of what might be deemed “nerd culture.” Specifically, male nerd culture.

He sees you when you're sleeping...

He sees you when you’re sleeping…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Bounty (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Just when it seemed like Star Trek: Enterprise was on a roll, it produces Bounty.

To be fair to writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong, and showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, Bounty has all the makings of a network-mandated episodes. It is easy to see the stock plot elements manufactured from a checklist provided by the network. T’Pol in her underwear! Space battles! Klingons! The script also demonstrates a clear reluctance about some of these elements, as uncomfortable to be making Bounty as the viewers are to be watching it.

An enlightening experience?

An enlightening experience?

It is perhaps telling that Bounty was buried as the second half of a “double feature” with First Flight on initial broadcast. Not a feature-length adventure or a two-part episode, the scheduling of Bounty seems a little conspicuous, as if everyone involved is trying to get it out of the way as quickly and quietly as possible. Viewers watching UPN on 14th May 2003 would have tuned in for First Flight as usual. If they were lucky, they simply tuned out afterwards and returned to watch The Expanse a week later.

It is a much smoother transition from First Flight to The Expanse, but that does little to justify Bounty. The last stretch of the second season has generally done a good job of bidding farewell to a particular style of Star Trek. However, Bounty is an episode the embodies the worst tendencies of Enterprise. Sadly, those tendencies that may not actually be going anywhere.

"You're gonna sit there, and like it."

“You’re gonna sit there, and like it.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Regeneration (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It seems like a bit of an understatement to describe Regeneration as highly controversial.

The blu ray release of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise includes two commentaries for the episode, a sure sign that there is a lot to talk about. On a track recorded in 2005, writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong describe the episode as “infamous.” On a track recorded in 2013, John Billingsley describes how certain segments of fandom considered it a “jumping the shark” moment for the show. That last statement illustrates one of the perverse qualities of Star Trek fandom; one would assume that the viewers turned off by Regeneration would have already tuned out with Acquisition.

We are Borg.

We are Borg.

After all, the decision to bring back the Ferengi in Acquisition is hard to explain. Nobody was clamouring for more Ferengi episodes after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had gone off the air. Outside of Deep Space Nine, the most enduring impression of the Ferengi was that they had begun their life as “villains that didn’t quite work” and bad quickly been transformed into “comic relief that didn’t quite work.” As such, it is hard to account for the decision to bend continuity in order to introduce the Ferengi into the first season of a prequel show designed to escape the baggage of the larger Star Trek franchise.

On the other hand, it made a great deal of sense to bring back the Borg. After all, the Borg were one of the few Star Trek aliens created after 1969 to make a genuine impression on popular culture. The Borg will never be as iconic as Klingons or Vulcans, but they will always be more iconic than Cardassians or Bajorans. They were also stars of the best-loved Star Trek movie starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg are a big deal; there is a reason that Star Trek: Voyager ran them into the ground.

"Assimilate this!"

“Assimilate this!”

It is no wonder that the Borg are frequently cited in discussions around the future of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Asked if the creative team would consider bringing the Borg to the rebooted twenty-third century, Roberto Orci answered, “I think we would think about it.” Damon Lindelof was even blunter in his assessment, “You can’t talk about Trek and not talk about the Borg.” While they have undoubtedly been over-exposed and over-used since they first appeared in Q Who?, the Borg are the most distinctive and most successful addition to the Star Trek mythos outside the classic show.

While common sense and experience seemed to weigh against bringing back the Ferengi in Acquisition, it seems that continuity is the only thing holding the Borg back from making an appearance on Enterprise. That said, Sussman and Strong find a clever way around that issue, by remembering the suggestion in Broken Bow that Enterprise is as much a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact as a prequel to the rest of the Star Trek universe.

"Oh no, Cap'n, they've discovered the mood lightin' settin'."

“Oh no, Cap’n, they’ve discovered the mood lightin’ settin’.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Future Tense (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Temporal Cold War arguably works better as a metaphor than a plot.

There is something quite compelling about the imagery of Star Trek‘s past and future doing battle within the confines of a troubled prequel, of outside forces meddling in a narrative, of the characters caught in the grip of forces they cannot understand. To expect the Temporal Cold War to make sense is to miss the point; to expect clear resolution is foolhardy. Instead of serving as a strong narrative thread running through Star Trek: Enterprise, it serves as a visual manifestation of the troubles haunting the show. It also serves as a very effective story backdrop.

Let's do the time warp again...

Let’s do the time warp again…

Future Tense has a pretty straightforward story. Archer and his crew discover a piece of floating space debris. They bring it aboard, discovering it is not what it appears to be. The Suliban show up, claiming salvage rights. The Tholians arrive, demanding the same. A chase ensues, as Archer tries to outrun the two alien species desperate to get their hands on the technology. Future Tense is a classic chase narrative, as multiple parties fight over what Hitchcock described as a “macguffin.” Little is revealed, nothing is proven, everything is resolved so neatly that it seems divine intervention is at work. Maybe it is.

And yest, despite – or perhaps because – of this narrative simplicity, Future Tense stands as a highlight of the troubled second season. Future Tense leaves almost every question about the Temporal Cold War unanswered, but it is a tight and efficient action adventure. Like Cold Front before it, it recognises that the Temporal Cold War is a story as much as a backdrop. The fact that it is mysterious and nonsensical and arbitrary make it all the more compelling. After all, that is how it must appear to Archer.

Alien bodies...

Alien bodies…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Dead Stop (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Dead Stop is an interesting beast.

One of the stronger episodes from the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise, Dead Stop follows on directly from the events of the previous episode without serving as a direct continuation. It is very rare to see this approach taken on Star Trek, and it’s the perfect example of the sort of episode-to-episode connections that were lacking during the show’s first two seasons. Dead Stop is not a direct follow-on to Minefield, but it is fascinated with the fallout from that episode.

A model ship...

A model ship…

And yet, despite this, Dead Stop is also based around one of the most generic premises imaginable – a sentient space station with a sinister agenda. With a few choice edits, the premise could easily be adapted for Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. Indeed, it’s not too difficult to imagine Kirk and Spock dealing with the rogue space station at some point during their five year mission. It is a story that could – in broad strokes – even work for a television anthology series.

The beauty of Dead Stop is the way that it blends these two conflicting elements together, to construct a show that feels like it showcases the best parts of Enterprise while working from a core story that could be told across the franchise.

Piecing it together...

Piecing it together…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Detained (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Detained is well-meaning, if a little clumsy and awkward.

It is a rather conscious effort to do a “message show” in the grand tradition of the Star Trek franchise, using the show’s science-fiction premise to offer a commentary on current events. Detained is very clearly structured as a response to the 9/11 attacks, even if Archer only explicitly references the internment of Japanese Americans at Manzanar. Detained is full of interesting ideas, and its heart is in the right place, but the execution feels decidedly rushed and haphazard. Detained works much better as a two-line moral than it does as a forty-five minute episode of television.

You can't call him Al...

You can’t call him Al…

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