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New Escapist Column! On How “Strange New Worlds” Walks Away From Omelas…

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

Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach is basically the most obvious sort of disaster that Strange New Worlds could blindly stumble into. It is an adaptation of a classic Ursula Le Guin story, but it is filter through the show’s uncanny valley of Star Trek storytelling as what might be best described as “a Prime Directive episode”, albeit such an episode written by a writer operating on the unspoken assumption that the Prime Directive was an unequivocal and unimpeachable good. The result is a horrifyingly cynical episode of television about how hard but necessary it is for innocent children to suffer as our characters look on.

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

Star Trek: Voyager – Flesh and Blood, Part I (Review)

In its seventh season, Star Trek: Voyager gets nostalgic.

It happens naturally when long-running shows begin the process of wrapping up. It is inevitable that the production team will look back with affection and sincerity towards the early years of their shared adventures. The seventh season of Star Trek: The Next Generation made a conscious effort to tie up loose ends and to handle long-dangling plot threats. Daimon Bok made a surprise return in Bloodlines, seven years after his first appearance in The Battle. In fact, All Good Things… even sent Picard back in time to relive the events of Encounter at Farpoint.

Going off the grid.

That nostalgia simmers and bubbles through Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. The two-parter is openly nostalgic, consciously harking back to the middle seasons of the show. Both parts were aired in a single evening, recalling the broadcast of The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II or Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. More to the point, the two-parter brought back the Hirogen for their first appearance since the fourth season, acknowledging that they were perhaps Voyager‘s most successful recurring alien menace.

Unfortunately, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II are a flawed recreation of the past. They are a fake, a simulation, an illusion. They are crafted from a fading memory of the show’s short-lived glory years, and rooted in a number of fundamental misunderstandings about what exactly worked when Voyager was at its best. The result is deeply unsatisfying and frustrating.

They were never really here.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Omega Directive (Review)

The Omega Directive plays like Star Trek: Voyager is trying to push itself.

It is an episode which finds Janeway acting secretively and unilaterally, casually brushing aside the Prime Directive in service of some hidden agenda. This is a very big deal. On the original Star Trek, it frequently seemed like the Prime Directive was something for Kirk to outwit. However, since Star Trek: The Next Generation, the franchise has taken the rule to have a lot more moral weight. Even more precisely, since Caretaker, Janeway has emphasised that it is not her place to intervene directly in the affairs of alien civilisations.

The be-all and end-all.

So there sound be something very shocking about Janeway keeping secrets from her crew and forsaking the moral principle that had been the cornerstone of her first few years in command. Given how conventional Voyager has been, how carefully the show has pitched itself as the most archetypal of Star Trek shows, this should be a pretty big deal. What would get Janeway to consciously (and even enthusiastically) cross those lines? How far would she go? What else is she concealing from the people around her? It should be a powerhouse episode of television.

However, The Omega Directive falls flat. Part of the problem is timing, with The Omega Directive sandwiched between Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight in terms of the overall franchise chronology. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had been transgressing and subverting franchise norms for years at this point. The Omega Directive feels like something relatively small-scale, juxtaposed against the activities of Section 31 or Sisko’s complicity in murder. The Omega Directive thinks that it is playing in the same league, but it is not even the same sport.

An explosive new development.

More than that, there is a clumsiness to The Omega Directive. The episode touches on a number of interesting ideas, but the story’s thematic weight is quite consciously removed from the core premise. The Omega Directive works best as a weird episode touching on Borg spirituality, and on the question of the Collective’s motivations, but the episode invests so much energy in the black-ops norm-shattering framing device that these elements do not feel like satisfying pay-off. The core themes of The Omega Directive feel like they belong in another episode.

The Omega Directive is a wasted opportunity, its underwhelming subversive trappings distracting from what might have been a compelling meditation on faith and belief.

That healthy blue glow.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Observer Effect (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.

Much as with Daedalus, there is a weirdly mournful tone to Observer Effect.

The basic plot of the episode follows two Organian characters hopping from body to body while watching Archer and his crew confront a deadly virus that infected Trip and Hoshi during a routine planetary investigation. The closing line of the teaser even features organian!Reed promising “somebody always dies.” Sure enough, that turns out to be true. Both Trip and Hoshi “die” over the course of the episode, while Archer himself is sentenced to certain death. These deaths are ultimately reversed, but they set a tone for the episode.

Trip gets it in the neck.

Trip gets it in the neck.

Observer Effect seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that Star Trek: Enterprise is effectively dead in the water, that the show is now limping towards the end of the fourth season where it might be retired permanently. Two weeks after Observer Effect aired, UPN would announce that Enterprise was cancelled. There would be no last-minute reprieve for the show. Although Observer Effect had been written months before the decision was made, the production team knew that the writing was on the wall.

However, what is most interesting about Observer Effect is not so much the fascination with the inevitable death of Enterprise, but the episode’s fascination with those watching (and commentating upon) the spectacle from the sidelines.

They like to watch.

They like to watch.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Communicator (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.

One of the biggest problems with positioning Star Trek: Enterprise as a prequel is that the original Star Trek was very much a product of its time. It is very difficult to line-up a television show broadcast in the early years of the twenty-first century with a series that was produced towards the end of the sixties. It is a completely different world, and so the show itself must inevitably be completely different.

This reflects itself in the production design of Enterprise. One of the more frequent fan complaints about the series concerns the design of the new ship. After all, it doesn’t look like anything Matt Jefferies would design. If anything, it looks like the missing link between a modern submarine and the Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. All the pastels and mood lighting have been replaced with functional grey and buttresses. Kirk’s Enterprise and Archer’s Enterprise speak to two different aesthetics.

"What we've got here is failure to communicate..."

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…”

Of course, it is possible to land a little closer to the classic design as Scott Chambliss demonstrated with his work on JJ Abrams’ reboot. Then again, this only reinforces the point. The general mood and tone of design when Star Trek hit cinema screens in 2009 was markedly different from the mood and tone of design when Broken Bow first aired in 2001. It just so happened that one was more compatible with Jefferies’ original vision than the other. (And even then, Chambliss’ update is markedly different.)

However, while the design of the ship itself is a handy indicator of just how difficult it is to line up a show produced in the first decade of a new millennium to a show produced before man walked on the moon, there are more substantial cultural and social differences at play. The Communicator is another second season Star Trek mash-up, this time taking the ending of A Piece of the Action and offering a perfect example of how Enterprise could never be an entirely comfortable companion to classic Star Trek.

"Westmore's not gonna like this..."

“Westmore’s not gonna like this…”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shadows of P’Jem (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.

Shadows of P’Jem is a wonderful episode. It is, in many respects, the first true post-9/11 episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, and it is a surprisingly thoughtful one at that.

In many respects, Enterprise has already established itself as Star Trek for the George W. Bush era. Archer is the franchise’s first white American male lead character since Kirk, and his contempt for politics and thirst for action mirrors the popular image of George W. Bush – a dynamic man with no time for questions or hesitation. Even little touches – like the fact that officers drink beer rather than champagne, or the anti-intellectual contempt that Archer and Trip feel towards Vulcans – suggest a Star Trek show that is very much in line with Bush’s America.

Shadows on Coridan...

Shadows on Coridan…

However, Shadows of P’Jem was among the first episodes written after the events of 9/11, and it’s an episode that seems quite thoughtful and introspective. The franchise has often used the Federation as a stand-in for American values and ideals. Shadows of P’Jem twists this idea on its head, offering the future Federation members as stand-ins for various facets of American foreign policy.

Shadows of P’Jem is a considerate and reflective look at what Walter Nugent termed “the habits of empire”, a look at the cost and consequences of imperialism in a post-colonial age, and how those issues tend to fester.

A night in sickbay...

A night in sickbay…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Dear Doctor (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.

Dear Doctor is certainly the most ambitious episode from the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, and also the most controversial.

The show’s first true “Prime Directive” episode, the show wrestles with the moral implications of “playing god”, attempting to justify the inevitable development of “Starfleet General Order Number One”, the rule prohibiting interference in the development of “less advanced” species. As such, there is almost an impossible amount of weight bearing down on Dear Doctor, as the show tries to explore the moral conundrums that result from contact with a less technologically advanced species.



Dear Doctor is an episode that is deeply problematic. Indeed, it was a show that was so controversial and so divisive that UPN itself insisted on a change to the episode’s ending. It’s an episode that tends to provoke strong reactions, from both defenders and detractors. It inspires passion. It is not uncommon to find people who will rank the episode among the very best of Enterprise and the very worst of Enterprise.

While the show’s internal logic and conclusions are quite unsettling, Dear Doctor is a provocative and challenging hour of television. It is decidedly more ambitious than any of the episodes surrounding it, even other experimental shows like Breaking the Ice or Shuttlepod One. While it might not be the best episode of the first season, it is certainly the most breathakingly ambitious and engaging. And that must count for something.

There's trouble in its DNA...

There’s trouble in its DNA…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Civilisation (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.

After Breaking the Ice hinted at what Star Trek: Enterprise might become, Civilisation is an episode that nudges the show right back into its comfort zone. It’s an episode of Star Trek that feels like it could have been produced for Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager, with only a minimum amount of change to the script. However, what is strangest about Civilisation is the way that it feels like a rather direct throwback to the very classic Star Trek show, serving as a tale about our hot-blooded captain fighting evil imperialist adversaries and seducing sexy alien space babes.

Of course, there’s a sense that this sense of regression is exactly what the show is aspiring towards. After all, Archer was advertised as “Captain Kirk’s childhood hero”, and it makes sense for the show to play with the classic Star Trek tropes that are regarded so affectionately by popular culture. Unfortunately, Civilisation lacks the spark and wit necessary to make such a pulpy homage work, instead feeling too much like a dull retread.

David Ickes was right!

David Icke was right!

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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (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.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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Star Trek: Voyager – State of Flux (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Prime Factors and State of Flux form something of a duology in the middle of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager. The two episodes might be far from perfect, but they seem to be the closest that the first season of Voyager comes to outlining its vision and ambitions. Taken together, they offer a demonstration that life in the Delta Quadrant might be significantly more complicated than life in the Alpha Quadrant – that everything might not be as it appears to be, that Voyager might not be the perfect Federation vessel.

While both episodes are flawed, they do demonstrate a willingness to take advantage of the basic premise of Voyager to tell stories that simply wouldn’t be possible on Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In that respect, they stand apart from surrounding stories like Ex Post Facto or Heroes and Demons, both of which feel like re-worked stories from an aborted eighth season of The Next Generation. These are adventurous and ambitious episodes. They lack the skill necessary to completely realise that vision; but that skill could come in time.

Unfortunately, these two episodes wind up feeling like exceptions – a flash of what might have been, rather than what would be.

Kazon development has hit a wall...

Kazon development has hit a wall…

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