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Star Trek: Enterprise – E² (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.

Conventional wisdom treats as a bump in the road between The Forgotten and The Council, an episode that could easily be skipped on a marathon rewatch of the season. The argument suggests that the episode ultimately provides little meaningful information and advances the season’s over-arching plot by inches. The most critical of fans will consider an episode that saps the momentum out of the final run of the third season, preventing a clear home run between Azati Prime and Zero Hour.

This is certainly true from a plot-driven perspective. It would be easy enough to trim from the twenty-four episode season order without anybody batting an eyelid. At least Shran gets to make a cameo appearance in Zero Hour, while Lorian fades into discontinuity and non-existence. Like so many time travel stories, the final act of conveniently erases itself from existence. This just reinforces the sense that nothing that happened actually mattered in the grand scheme of things.

It's like looking in a mirror...

It’s like looking in a mirror…

This is another example of the complications that tend to come with serialised storytelling. The conventional way of telling a long-form story is to drive it via plot – to have a clear path along which the characters might advance with a number of clear markers along the way. In the case of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the launch of the Xindi weapon is an obvious marker; it is a plot point which the show must address before the end of the season. As such, the show’s serialisation is typically measured by whether it moves the crew in relation to that plot point.

doesn’t move the crew appreciably closer to that plot point. There is a miniature hurdle for the crew to overcome (getting into the subspace corridor to make the meeting with Degra), but it is very clearly just window-dressing on a plot that is very clearly more interested in the time-travel dynamics of having the Enterprise crew meet their descendants. The same narrative ground could have been covered by having Degra accompany Archer to the Xindi Council at the end of The Forgotten.

He's all ears...

He’s all ears…

However, plot is not the only thing important to long-form storytelling. Theme and character are just as important, as The Forgotten demonstrated. The biggest problem with is that it is a plot-driven episode of television that advances the season’s thematic and character arcs, but with a story that is disconnected from the season as a whole. Which is a shame, because the thematic and character dynamics are fascinating. This is the perfect point at which to confront Archer with the idea of legacy and consequence; to ask what kind of future might lie ahead.

As with a lot of the scripts for the third season, feels like a meditation on Enterprise‘s relationship with the rest of the franchise and where it stands at this point in its run.

"Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this."

“Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Damage (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.

The stock comparison for Damage is In the Pale Moonlight.

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, both are Star Trek episodes that hinge on a series of morally questionable decisions made by the lead actor in a moment of sheer desperation. In In the Pale Moonlight, Benjamin Sisko starts a chain of events that builds towards the assassination of a Romulan Senator to trick the Romulans into joining the war effort. In Damage, Jonathan Archer resorts to piracy in order to obtain the parts necessary to make a meeting with Degra in order to plead against the use of the Xindi weapon.

A met a man who wasn't there...

A met a man who wasn’t there…

There are some notable differences, of course. In purely practical plotting terms, Sisko dominates the narrative of In the Pale Moonlight; the entire story is related directly by Sisko to the audience in the form of a personal log. In contrast, Damage is split between the demands of Archer’s own arc in the episode and various other continuity elements; the episode needs to get Archer back to his ship and devote a considerable amount of time to T’Pol’s addiction. As a result, it lacks the keen focus that made In the Pale Moonlight so compelling.

At the same time, there is something much more direct about Damage. Sisko is quite detached from the horrors of In the Pale Moonlight, with the audience insulated from his choices through the use of a framing device and Sisko himself insulated through his use of Garak to conduct all the unpalatable actions. In contrast, Archer makes a point to bloody his own hands over the course of Damage. He doesn’t have somebody else to make the decision for him; he leads the boarding party himself.

Everything comes apart...

Everything comes apart…

It is a very bold an unsettling choice, a culmination of a character arc that has been pushing Archer towards this sort of horrific choice since Anomaly. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise has not been entirely consistent when it comes to its character arcs, working better in broad strokes than in fine detail. Nevertheless, Damage represents a very clear commitment to the promise of the third season of Enterprise; an interrogation of the franchise’s core values in an increasingly morally ambiguous world.

Damage is a deeply uncomfortable and unsettling episode of Star Trek, but it is arguably a necessary one. It is, in many ways, a criticism of the moral absolutism that informs a lot of discussion about terrible situations, suggesting that reality is often a lot more complicated than people might hope it would be.

Drowning his sorrows...

Drowning his sorrows…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Fortunate Son (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.

Fortunate Son is a solid premise ruined by an overly simplistic execution.

One of the more interesting aspects of Star Trek: Enterprise is a chance to return to the pioneering spirit of the original Star Trek. It’s an excuse to imagine what the early years of humanity’s exploration of space must have looked like. More than any other spin-off except Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this show lends itself to world-building and expansion. What does space look like before the Federation was established? How was it regulated before a gigantic conglomeration of space-faring races decided to impose their own laws and rules upon the spaceways?

Well, that sucked the air out of the room...

Well, that sucked the air out of the room…

Broken Bow made a big deal about how the Enterprise was the first human ship capable of travelling at warp five. In essence, it is the beginning of the Star Trek franchise as fans know it. The speed that engine brings and the distance the ship can cover serve as a gateway to the wider Star Trek universe. So, logically, if Enterprise is the first step in that direction, the ship must be emerging into a universe that looks radically different – a culture that is very distinct from that depicted on the other Star Trek spin-offs. With slower engines, fewer ships, less known about the universe, this should be an entirely different world.

Fortunate Son touches on this idea a little bit, throwing Archer into conflict with the crew of a long-haul space freighter over intergalactic piracy. The problem with the episode is that it feels very much like Archer is arguing from a position grounded in the Star Trek franchise as it is yet to develop, rather than the current status quo. In his debates with Ryan, Archer gets to be right for two contrived reasons: Ryan is written as an idiot; and Archer’s philosophy applies to the status quo of over five hundred other episodes.

Beaten to the punch...

Beaten to the punch…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Vengeance 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 Vengeance Factor is an ambitious little episode that never quite manages to follow through on its potential. Something of a Riker-centric romance to compliment the Troi-centric romance in The Price, the episode is an exploration of vengeance and generational strife – the cost of feuds that last decades, even centuries. It’s a story where Yuta’s thirst for revenge keeps her young, and one that opens with Crusher tracking the acts of piracy back to the Gatherers using a blood stain on a shard of metal. Subtle, it is not.

However, there’s something almost endearing about The Vengeance Factor, from its very eighties leather Mad Max reject space pirates through to the way that channels the optimism of Star Trek quite well. Although the ending is unbelievably forced, at least it is striking and effective. Far from perfect, and not among the high points of this third season, The Vengeance Factor still marks a sharp improvement from The Price.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Pirate Planet originally aired in 1978. It was the second part of The Key to Time saga.

Excuse me, are you sure this planet’s meant to be here?

– The Doctor

I have to admit, I admire The Pirate Planet for its lofty aim. Douglas Adams’ script is vast and impressive and epic, incorporating and number of brilliant high concept ideas, traditional science-fiction story-telling devices, and healthy sense of humour into one Doctor Who story. Unfortunately, the production is restricted both by the technical limitations of the time, but also by the sense that there’s simply too much going on over the course of this four-episode adventure. Still, it’s as bold, fun and imaginative as any Doctor Whostory, and showcases the series at its most ambitious. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Pulling a fast one...

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Who Puts Anti-Piracy Warnings on Legitimate DVDs?

Something just occurred to me while I was working through my Family Guy DVDs over the weekend. I was just learning to hate the damn piracy advertisements – you know the ones, with the “You wouldn’t steal a… [insert noun here]” ones – and I wondered what the hell are these things doing on a DVD I paid good money for. I forked out money over the counter for these bad boys, why do I have to sit through these painful little snippets every damn time I put them in the player? You can’t even skip them on some DVDs! Seriously, what’s the point of having an anti-piracy advertisement on a legitimate DVD? “We know you won’t do it, but in case you were thinking about it…” or “we know you care enough about the industry to buy a legitimate copy, but here’s a lecture anyway…”? It’s like lecturing about truancy at a school meeting or handing out condoms to elderly couples. It’s redundant and it’s annoying. Surely money would be better spent advertising on the web or on television or outside in media where people you buy pirate media are likely to actually see it, rather than simply irritating those of us buying originals.

I’m sorry, that just really ticks me off.