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Star Trek: Voyager – Ashes to Ashes (Review)

Death is inevitable and inescapable. It comes to all in time.

Death provides a sense of closure. It marks an end of a journey. It establishes a boundary that might serve as an outline of a life. Death is the high price of living, the unavoidable reckoning that waits beyond the mortal veil. Death is the final frontier, one which all cross in time. Death is the undiscovered country, from which none have returned and about which all must wonder. Sometimes death comes quickly, sometimes it lurks and stalks its prey, sometimes it is even embrace. Nevertheless, death always comes.

The sad ballad of Lyndsay Ballard.

By the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, the Star Trek franchise was acutely aware of its own mortality and the unavoidable nature of its own death. Ratings were in decline, and there was no reprieve in sight. The fans were growing increasingly angry with the franchise’s output, and the press was eager to turn on the grand old man of television science fiction. Ronald D. Moore had been forced to quit the franchise, and Brannon Braga would later confess that this was the point at which all of his creative energy had been exhausted.

This mortality hangs over the sixth season of Voyager. The fifth season had repeatedly fixated on the idea of Voyager as a series trapped in time, an inevitability: the thwarted suicide attempts of Janeway in Night and of Torres in Extreme Risk; the frozen ship and crew in Timeless; the multiple copies of Seven of Nine and Janeway in Relativity; the decaying and collapsing imitations in Course: Oblivion, barely registering as a blip on the “real” crew’s radar; the rejection of millennial anxiety in 11:59; even the crew’s broken counterparts in Equinox, Part I.

Mortal clay.

In contrast, the sixth season returns time and again to the idea of death and decay: the ruined empire in Dragon’s Teeth; the underworld in Barge of the Dead; the ghost story in The Haunting of Deck Twelve; the floating tomb in One Small Step; the memories of a massacre in Memorial; the dead Borg Cube in Collective; the vengeful death throes of the returning Kes in Fury; the EMH’s visit to an aging and frail relative in Life Line; the Borg heads on spikes in Unimatrix Zero, Part I. This is to say nothing of the funereal tone of Blink of an Eye.

Ashes to Ashes is perhaps the most literal articulation of this recurring theme and preoccupation, the episode that most strongly and overtly explores the sixth season’s fascination with death and decay. The episode centres on a one-time guest star, a deceased member of the crew who has been resurrected by an alien species and seeks to return to the land of the living. Inevitably, she discovers that this is not possible. Death cannot be outwitted or evaded. It always catches up.

Whose episode is it anyway?

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Strange New World (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.

Strange New World is the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to come from a writing team other than Brannon Braga and Rick Berman. Berman and Braga would dominate the writing credits for the first season. Even when the final teleplay was credited to another writer or writing team, there was often a “story by” credit given to Berman and Braga. Braga himself has conceded that he essentially re-wrote all of the episodes of the first season.

Still, Strange New World is credited to the writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong. Both had worked on Star Trek: Voyager before migrated to Star Trek: Enterprise along with André Bormanis. Sussman had pitched the story for Meld and worked on a number of solo stories and scripts before teaming with Strong on the seventh and final season of the show. The two would remain a writing team for the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, hitting their stride with some of the strongest episodes of the troubled second season.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

Strange New World is an interesting début for the pair. On the hand, it is a story that celebrates the unique place of Star Trek: Enterprise in the Star Trek pantheon. It’s a story about how great it must be to set foot on an alien planet, and how wondrous it must be to breath air from outside our atmosphere. With its emphasis on shuttlepods and primitive transporters, it does remain relatively true to the prequel premise of Enterprise.

On the other hand, Strange New World is a very familiar Star Trek template. Indeed, it’s a very familiar first season template. It’s the episode where the crew of the ship are exposed to some strange outside force that makes them all act out of character. It’s something of a Star Trek standard. The original Star Trek had The Naked Time and Star Trek: The Next Generation had The Naked Now, while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had both Babel and Dramatis Personae. In many ways, Strange New World feels like a familiar old story.

Strange yellow daisy fields forever...

Strange yellow daisy fields forever…

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Star Trek – By Any Other Name (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.

By Any Other Name is very much a stock episode of Star Trek. It hits on all manner of familiar themes and ideas. It’s a story about powerful aliens who seem to overpower the crew, only to be outmanoeuvred themselves. It is about the Enterprise literally going where no human has gone before. It is about how humans are undeniably and incomparably special – about how becoming human opens up the aliens to a world of sense and experience.

However, By Any Other Name never really has anything particularly insightful to say about any of this stuff. The script to the episode is a mess, despite the best efforts of D.C. Fontana to develop the character beats. For a show based around such core Star Trek concepts and storytelling devices, By Any Other Name is surprisingly all over the place, with a wildly dissonant tone and a sense that the script was desperately padded in order to extend it out to the requisite fifty minutes.

"No dice, Captain..."

“No dice, Captain…”

By Any Other Name is not a terrible episode of Star Trek, but it’s not a particularly good one either. It is just “there.” In many ways, it feels like an example of an episode designed to fill a gap in twenty-odd-episodes-a-year schedule. After all, the last eight episodes of the season were pushed into production at short notice when NBC opted to pick up the show for the rest of the season during the production of The Gamesters of Triskelion. It makes sense that the episodes in this final stretch of the third season are somewhat rough.

By Any Other Name is a familiar Star Trek plot with a somewhat bloated script and a sense that the show is just trying to eat up minutes between here and the end of the season.

"It appears the rock knows as little as we do, sir..."

“It appears the rock knows as little as we do, sir…”

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Star Trek – Obsession (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 Star Trek franchise really does like Moby Dick, doesn’t it?

The show had done its first appropriation of Herman Melville’s iconic story of obsession and revenge earlier in the second season with The Doomsday Machine. In that episode, Commodore Decker sought to avenge the loss of his crew upon an unstoppable planet-killing machine. However, the basic formula quickly worked its way into the franchise’s blood. Obsession casts Kirk in the role of Ahab, albeit with a radically different ending and tone. After all, it is very cast Ahab as the heroic lead of a weekly television show.

"It's behind you!"

“It’s behind you!”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would return to Moby Dick for inspiration. Khan would even paraphrase from the book, without a hint of self-awareness or irony. After that point, it seemed like the franchise was more interested in mimicking the themes of The Wrath of Khan , which inevitably meant carrying over the themes of Moby Dick as well. Nevertheless, Star Trek: Voyager did its own variant of Moby Dick in Bliss and Star Trek: First Contact would reference the book directly.

Obsession is a competent if unspectacular episode, one that suffers from the fact that it has been done better and more compellingly in recent memory. However, given all the changes taking place behind the scenes, Obsession flows surprisingly well.

It really sucks to be a red shirt, eh?

It really sucks to be a red shirt, eh?

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