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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: Voyager – Blood Fever (Review)

Blood Fever is a strange and dysfunctional episode.

By this point in the third season, Star Trek: Voyager has abandoned any sincere attempt to develop or define its own identity. Instead, the series has committed itself to being the most generic Star Trek show imaginable. In many ways, this represents a disappointing betrayal of an interest premise and a fascinating cast of characters. In other ways, this allows the show to focus on telling archetypal Star Trek stories like Remember or Distant Origins or Living Witness, stories that deal with broad themes through science-fiction allegory.

Tunnels of love.

Tunnels of love.

In its strongest moments, Blood Fever feels like it wants to be that kind of classic Star Trek metaphorical exploration of contemporary society. In many ways, Blood Fever is an exploration of contemporary attitudes towards sex and sexuality, of the damage that can be wrought by sexual repression on levels both personal and societal. It is building upon the idea of pon’farr as introduced by Theodore Sturgeon (and refined by D.C. Fontana) in Amok Time, as the volcanic eruption of sexual desire following years of repression.

Unfortunately, Blood Fever lacks the courage of its convictions. The script feels like a victim of the same social mores that it seeks to critique, either unable or unwilling to talk about sex and sexuality in a manner that is suitably candid. As a result, Blood Fever ends up a muddled and ineffective piece of television that seems unwilling to call out its characters and which inevitably builds towards a tired rehash of an iconic Star Trek scene. Waiting seven seasons for this must be very unsatisfying.

Droning on.

Droning on.

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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 – Unspoken Truth 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.

Saavik is an interesting character, for several reasons. Most obviously, there’s the behind the scenes manoeuvrings involving the new character. Everything from her origin to the recasting of the role between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There’s the inclusion of a short scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the fact that the last time we see Saavik, she’s watching the reunited cast of the original Star Trek continue their galactic adventures.

There’s her complete absence from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and then the weird pseudo-return of the character in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, where the role that would become Valeris was originally considered for Saavik, before being cast with Kim Cattrall, an actress who had originally been considered to play Saavik. It’s interesting to consider the conceptual history of the character, given what she was supposed to represent upon her introduction in The Wrath of Khan.

Margaret Wander Bonanno does an excellent job exploring Saavik’s life in the wake of her decision to remain on Vulcan in The Voyage Home, with Unspoken Truth doing an excellent job playing with the character in the grand scheme of the shared Star Trek universe.

startrek-unspokentruth

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home

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.

Up until the release of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek in 2009, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the most successful of the Star Trek films. Indeed, it ranks alongside Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as the film which has most deeply dug itself into the popular consciousness. “I’m from Iowa; I only work in outer space” might not be as iconic a quote as “KHAAAAAAN!!!”, but a lot of people casually remember “the one with the whales.”

The fourth film in the series closes off an inter-connected trilogy of Star Trek films, wrapping up character development for the leads and tying up loose ends, but it’s also – somewhat paradoxically – the most accessible of the movies. If you’re looking for an introduction to Star Trek, it’s hard to think of a more welcoming entry than The Voyage Home. However, what’s really strangely charming about The Voyage Home is that it’s also probably the film truest to the franchise’s humanist values.

Ship off the starboard bow!

Ship off the starboard bow!

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