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Star Trek: Voyager – Timeless (Review)

The one hundredth episode of any television show should be a cause for celebration.

After all, one hundred episodes exists at a number of interesting points in the life of a show. It tends to arrive late in the fourth season or early in the fifth season of a twenty-odd-episode-a-season series, meaning that any television show making it to that point has amassed some cultural cache. By that stage, most of the original contracts are expiring (or close to expiring) and so there is at least some sense as to how secure the future is. One hundred episodes also marks the series as viable for syndication; one hundred episodes airing five days a week can fill substantial airtime.

Ice to see you again.

To be fair, the other Star Trek series tended to mark the occasion with some low-key celebrations. The one hundredth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was Redemption, Part I, which was primarily notable for reasons behind the camera; both a set visit from Ronald Reagan and the end of the fourth season that had so frustratingly eluded the original series. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marked both its one hundredth hour (The Ship) and its one hundredth episode (… Nor the Battle to the Strong) as “business as usual.”

However, Star Trek: Voyager turns its one hundredth episode into an epic event. It is the perfect distillation of the “Voyager as blockbuster Star Trek” aesthetic championed by Brannon Braga: a truly jaw-dropping computer-generated action scene, with Voyager crashing on the surface of an ice world; a high-stakes time-travel plot, with a killer hook; a guest appearance from a beloved Next Generation actor. Timeless is an incredibly ambitious piece of television that practically screams “this is a very special occasion!” to the audience at the top of its lungs.

LaForging ahead.

And, yet, for all of that, there is something decidedly funereal about the episode. The episode opens with the memorable shot of the eponymous starship buried under the ice on some forgotten and unnamed world. The crew are long dead, but the ship itself remains preserved and trapped in amber. While Timeless might eventually end with future!Kim changing the timeline and shaving ten years off the journey, the episode’s most iconic images are destructive: Voyager crashing and bouncing, the familiar sets encased in ice.

This is not a birthday party, it is a wake.

Seven and the EMH never saw eye-to-eye.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Year of Hell, Part II (Review)

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II might just be the most representative episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Taken together, these episodes perfectly embody the restrictions placed upon the third Star Trek spin-off. They are a boldly ambitious story of a ship that finds itself in hostile territory surrounded by a hostile force with superior firepower, all while playing into the recurring themes and fascinations of the wider series. However, they are also a two-parter that wraps up with an incredibly convenient resolution that handily resets the status quo in a manner that allows the ship (and the series) to avoid any lasting consequences from this blockbuster story.

The hole in things.

The hole in things.

The result is one of the most thrilling and engaging stories of Voyager‘s seven-season run, among the most satisfying of the series’ impressive “blockbuster” two-parters. However, its sense of scale and scope exists very much in contrast to the episodes around it, a truly epic story that leaves no lasting mark. An audience member skipping from Scientific Method to Random Thoughts would be completely oblivious of the episode. For an episode of such weight, great care is taken to ensure that its passage causes no disturbance.

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II do an excellent job capturing the essence of Voyager.

Annorax-ed with guilt.

Annorax-ed with guilt.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Tuvix (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Tuvix is a controversial piece of Star Trek.

The episode tends to polarise fandom. In particular, the climax of the episode seems to divide fans firmly down the middle. When the fan site Trek Today marked the end of Star Trek: Voyager by staging a mock “Court Martial of Captain Kathryn Janeway”, it was argued that the events of Tuvix should have been included as evidence against her. It is no surprise that the episode generated such a strong response. Discussing the production of the episode, Tom Wright reflected, “The truth is that the higher ups of Star Trek knew that this would cause some controversy.”

"Neevok was never gonna cut it."

“Neevok was never gonna cut it.”

Of course it generates some controversy. This is the episode where Janeway elects to murder one crew member in order to resurrect two lost crew members. This is a story about how the title character is convenient for about forty-five minutes of screentime, only for the crew to quickly dispose of him as soon as the end credits beacon. Tuvix never really makes a convincing moral case for why the eponymous character has to die, beyond the fact that it conveniently resets the status quo.

Then again, perhaps that is reason enough.

Two for the price of one...

Two for the price of one…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Deadlock (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

In some ways, Deadlock is Star Trek: Voyager‘s original sin.

Of course, Deadlock is good. It is really good. It is a well-constructed piece of television that moves with an incredible momentum; it gathers speed and builds towards a suitably epic finalé. In many ways, Deadlock is one of the strongest episodes from the first two seasons of Voyager. There is a credible argument to be made that Deadlock belongs on any list of “best Voyager episodes ever”, thanks to the potent combination of Brannon Braga’s high-concept script and David Livingston’s dynamic direction.

Janeway²...

Janeway²…

At the same time, it is hard not to look at Deadlock in retrospect and see the shape of things to come. It is, perhaps, the ultimate “reset” button episode; it provides a clear template for later “blow up Voyager and kill Janeway” episodes like Year of Hell or Timeless. The trick works very well once; it loses any real impact when it is repeated several times over the course of the show’s run. More than that, the episode feels somewhat generic. Due to the nature of the high-concept premise, there is little room for detail specific to Voyager.

It seems that the end of the second season set the course for the next five years of Voyager. The production team had tried to tell an experimental story specific to Voyager with Investigations, only to fail spectacularly; it would be the last time that the show attempted anything so bold. In contrast, the production team managed to construct a fantastic episode around a generic premise in Deadlock, perhaps indicating that the future of the show lay in that direction. It is easy to see why that production team opted for safe and generic ahead of ambitious and experimental.

Ghost stories...

Ghost stories…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Cold Fire (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Cold Fire is an episode that exemplifies the feeling that second season’s treading water.

Cold Fire opens with a somewhat unconventional recap of Caretaker. Unlike most “previously on…” sections of Star Trek: Voyager (or the Star Trek franchise as a whole), this block is narrated by Majel Barrett in-character as the ship’s computer. It becomes clear that Cold Fire is interested in following up on the dangling threads left by Caretaker, with the crew of Voyager encountering the female mate alluded to in Janeway’s conversations with the eponymous Nacene character from Caretaker.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

This should be a big deal. After all, the Caretaker is the character responsible for plucking Voyager and the Val Jean out of the Alpha Quadrant and depositing them on the other side of the galaxy. Finding another being with a similar amount of power presents a very real and tangible opportunity for Janeway to get her crew home. If the Caretaker could pull them all the way across the Milky Way, then it stands to reason that Suspiria could send them all the way back. Cold Fire presents a potential end to Voyager’s journey.

Unfortunately, Cold Fire never really does anything with that storytelling angle. Even when Janeway comes face-to-face with Suspiria at the climax of the episode, she never asks the powerful entity to send her crew home. So Cold Fire feels like an episode that spends forty-five minutes walking in circles, accomplishing little of note.

"It's probably just the inertial dampeners acting up..."

“It’s probably just the inertial dampeners acting up…”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Visitor (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

To my father, who is coming home.

Daddy's home...

Daddy’s home…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Twilight (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.

Twilight is a fascinating piece of Star Trek.

There are some significant flaws with the episode, particularly in how it treats T’Pol as a character and the eagerness with which it grabs at the famed “reset button.” However, despite these problems, Twilight is pretty much perfectly positioned. Eight episodes into the third season, the new status quo has been established. The ground rules have been laid down. Over the past seven episodes, fans have been given a sense of how the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is supposed to work.

Keep your shirt on, Archer...

Keep your shirt on, Archer…

However, there is a palpable sense of unease about the larger arc – a question of how Star Trek can tell a story like the Xindi arc while remaining true to itself. The Shipment was an awkward attempt to impose a traditional Star Trek moral structure upon the season. North Star and Similitude are very much traditional Star Trek morality tales set against the backdrop of the larger arc. Like many of the stronger shows towards the tail end of the second season, these episodes seem to ask how you can apply old Star Trek standards to the twenty-first century.

Twilight is an episode about what happens if the Xindi arc goes wrong. Obviously, this is a story about what happens if Archer cannot save Earth from the Xindi, documenting the slow death of mankind as they are hunted through the cosmos. However, on an external level, Twilight is a story about what happens if Star Trek bungles this big grasp at relevance. It is no coincidence that the debilitating impairment that Archer develops involves his long-term memory. If the franchise forgets itself, all is lost.

Everything dies...

Everything dies…

Twilight is not just the story about the death of Earth or the death of humanity. It is a story about the death of Star Trek. Two years earlier, the franchise had seemed almost invincible; the idea of there not being any Star Trek on the air after the end of Star Trek: Voyager seemed almost absurd. However, by the time that the show had reached the third season, its existence was very much in peril. Twilight is a story about how horrible and apocalyptic the future might be; how Star Trek might find itself hobbled and then destroyed.

As its name implies, Twilight is a lament for the franchise; perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that the show was nothing more than a dead man walking at this point. The result is a surprisingly moving piece of television, a thoughtful and considerate examination of just how much is on the line for the franchise as well as the characters.

Waking dream...

Waking dream…

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The X-Files – Dreamland I (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

It occasionally seems like the sixth season of The X-Files is having something approaching a midlife crisis.

It has gone through a fairly massive change in routine and lifestyle; the show recently pulled up sticks and moved to Los Angeles. It has gotten a lot more ostentatious; it looks to be spending a lot more money than it was before, and it is hanging around with a whole new caliber of guest star. It has reinvented itself completely; no longer the brooding and atmospheric show it once was, it is now downright goofy and silly. Old acquaintances would be forgiven if they had trouble recognising the show. And it’s perfectly understandable.

Back to back...

Back to back…

This is the sixth season. Dreamland I is the one-hundred-and-twenty-first episode of The X-Files. The show is well past what Chris Carter had originally planned, and well past just about any measure of success. Most shows are lucky to reach a sixth season, let alone come into the sixth season off the back of a summer film and with a great deal of security about the future. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter were all committed through to the end of the seventh season. There was even talk of a sequel to The X-Files: Fight the Future being released in 2000.

Dreamland I and Dreamland II just externalise that midlife crisis, using the classic “freaky friday” body swap set up putting Fox Mulder in a dead-end job with a family that hates him as Morris Fletcher tries to help the FBI agent grow up just a little bit.

"Yep. It's a little... out there."

“Yep. It’s a little… out there.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Non Sequitur (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.

Non Sequitur is a Brannon Braga script touching on familiar Brannon Braga concepts – big ideas like time and space and reality and existence. Harry Kim wakes up to find himself in bed with his girlfriend, Libby. The two are living in San Francisco on Earth. Ensign Harry Kim never served on Voyager, instead working in Starfleet Engineering on Earth. Unable to explain what has happened, Kim finds himself struggling to cope with the situation.

Luckily, in true Star Trek: Voyager fashion, everything is conveniently reset at the end of the episode.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Heroes and Demons (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.

In many ways, Heroes and Demons is a watershed moment for Star Trek: Voyager. The two previous episodes, Prime Factors and State of Flux, may have been far from perfect, but they did at least hint at a direction for the show. They suggested that maybe Voyager might be interested in engaging in some of the big philosophical questions raised by the crew’s unique situation. Stranded seventy thousand light-years from home, the ship was cut off from the Federation. It was isolated and alone. That meant that tough choices at least had to be debated.

While neither Prime Factors nor State of Flux made for particularly exciting television, they were episodes that felt specific to Voyager in a way that a lot of the first season really doesn’t. Unfortunately, Heroes and Demons represents a step backwards. Far from telling a story specific to Star Trek: Voyager, this feels like a script that could easily have been recycled from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Can the Doctor hack it?

Can the Doctor hack it?

It’s written by veteran Next Generation writer Naren Shankar, who had also served on the staff of Deep Space Nine. He wrote Heroes and Demons as a freelancer, pitching the idea very early in the development cycle. Perhaps what is most remarkable is how little of Shankar’s script was adapted or edited from that first draft. In fact he described it to The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine as “the best experience I’ve ever had as a writer, in terms of writing something as a first draft and then seeing those exact words on screen.”

There’s a sense that Heroes and Demons is a fun story that could have really worked in any context, and doesn’t fit particularly well into the mould of Voyager‘s first season. This should be the year where Voyager is trying to find its own voice, rather than simply imitating that of its older siblings.

Only mostly armless...

Only mostly armless…

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