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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – One Little Ship (Review)

“It was the sixth season, so why not do it?” observes Ira Behr, providing all the rationale the writing staff needed. “How many series can do a salute to Land of the Giants, to The Incredible Shrinking Man?” he demands. “We had to do this show! We owed it to all the schlock science fiction that had come before us. If we hadn’t done it, it would have been a crime – a creative crime, and, dare I say, a crime against humanity itself. And it just became clear to me, you know? Maybe the tumour moved a silly centimeter in my brain. But we just had to do it. And that was that.”

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion

Isolinear jungle.

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Star Trek – The Cloud Minders (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The Cloud Minders is another reminder of the third season’s unique ability to produce memorable Star Trek.

There is something about the third season of Star Trek that draws fandom’s imagination to it. The general consensus is that the season is a disappointment filled with lacklustre episodes, questionable characterisation and crippling cutbacks. Nevertheless, the third season is also the source of a lot of the franchise’s core iconography like the Klingon D7 cruiser introduced in Elaan of Troyius or the IDIC in Is There in Truth No Beauty? That is to say nothing of the little curiosities sprinkled across the season.

Above all else.

Above all else.

Garth of Izar and Axanar are one such example, tied to the clumsy and awkward Whom Gods Destroy. Nevertheless, the concept of the “Battle of Axanar” was enough to launch a high-profile fan film that would become a flashpoint for twenty-first century fan productions. Indeed, there has even been speculation that Garth of Izar might be the commanding officer (although not the protagonist) in Bryan Fuller’s Star Trek: Discovery. This is not bad for concepts tied to an episode of which nobody seems particularly fond.

The same is arguably true of The Cloud Minders. It is a very clumsy and flawed piece of television, with a number of sizable script-related issues. However, it also has a number of very memorable visuals and ideas that have allowed it to take on an oversized place in the cultural memory of Star Trek.

Clouded judgement...

Clouded judgement…

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The X-Files – Synchrony (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Time travel is one of the great science-fiction tropes.

Although magical or metaphorical time travel has long been a part of literary tradition, pseudo-scientific or pseudo-rational versions of science-fiction really took root towards the end of the nineteenth century. Although H.G. Wells blazed a trail with The Time Machine, Edward Page Mitchell actually beat him to the punch – he published the short-story The Clock That Went Backward fourteen years before Wells wrote The Time Machine. Nevertheless, time travel quickly caught on as a literary device.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

There are films, television show, novels, comics and songs all playing with the idea of moving through time. Although there is considerable debate about the feasibility of actually travelling backwards through time, time travel serves as a wonderful narrative device. It opens up all sorts of possibilities for structure and style; it provides some pretty heavy themes; it opens up a myriad of settings and possibility. It is no surprise that there have been so many variations and permutations based upon the idea of going backwards in time.

Indeed, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before The X-Files got around to telling its own time travel story. Synchrony was as inevitable as the decision to close the episode with a clumsy hint toward predetermination.

Ghosts of future self...

Ghosts of future self…

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Star Trek – The Gamesters of Triskelion (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 Gamesters of Triskelion is not a great episode of Star Trek. Although filmed after Obsession, even if the production order lists it before that episode, The Gamesters of Triskelion feels like we’re watching producer John Meredyth Lucas finding his feet. It’s an episode that feels light and looks relatively cheap, formed from a collection of clichés that would already be familiar to Star Trek fans or fans of pulp science-fiction.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about The Gamesters of Triskelion is that it has a decidedly pulpy charm to it. The entire episode looks like it was lifted from the cover to some trashy paperback, and the plot is recycled from stock science-fiction concepts and themes. While this isn’t enough to sustain an entire fifty minutes of television, it does allow the episode to feel a little distinctive and memorable… if not necessarily in a good way.

Shat happens...

Shat happens…

It is amazing how much of the franchise’s memorable iconography and imagery comes from weaker episodes of the classic Star Trek. It’s a testament to the show’s production design team, that could always find a way to make Star Trek look impressive, even on a tight budget and a short schedule. There’s also something enduring about the bizarre images that Star Trek could throw up on screen, even when the scripts were lacking; from space!Lincoln in The Savage Curtain to half-black/half-white racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

Of course, there are episodes that are both great and iconic at at the same time, like Mirror, Mirror. Still, rewatching the show, it is hard to believe just how much of the popular perception of Star Trek comes from episodes that are of… questionable quality. After all, The Gamesters of Triskelion seems to have made an impression. It seems to be a go-to reference for Matt Groening’s television shows.

Throwing a bit of stick about...

Throwing a bit of stick about…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Who Monitors the Birds? (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Who Monitors the Birds? is a phenomenal piece of television.

Space: Above and Beyond is a show that only ran one season, languishing on Sunday nights before Fox decided to just scrap the idea of consistently scheduling it and just bounced it around the network timetable. It was not a breakout hit. It did not inspire a revival or resurrection in the way that other science-fiction properties have done. It has a very devoted and strong cult following, but its name is more likely to evoke a vague remembrance than anything more concrete.

spaceaboveandbeyond-whomonitorsthebirds13

And yet, despite that, Space: Above and Beyond was still a massively influential piece of television. Despite the fact that it was structured as a throwback to classic war movies, it was also a very progressive piece of television. The influence of Space: Above and Beyond can be keenly felt on Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, even though the show seldom gets any real credit for that influence. In some respects, Space: Above and Beyond was well ahead of its time.

Who Monitors the Birds? is put together with incredible skill and confidence. It is an episode that holds up fantastically, and which serves as a demonstration of the series’ lost potential.

spaceaboveandbeyond-whomonitorsthebirds3

 

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Space: Above and Beyond – The Farthest Man From Home (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Due to network anxiety about the investment in Space: Above and Beyond, The Pilot had a very clear three-act structure building to a very explicit resolution. Not only did The Pilot figure the beginning of the war with the aliens, it also featured a crucial moral-boosting victory. It ended with the squad fully-formed and ready for action. It packed a lot of stuff in, and worked quite well as its own self-contained story; even if it left a host of broad narrative threads for the rest of the series to follow.

The Farthest Man From Home is pretty solid as far as first standalone episodes go. Free from the constraints of having to work as a potential movie-of-the-week, The Farthest Man From Home is free to do a little development and foreshadowing, but doesn’t have to wrap up everything in a neat bow by the time that the closing credits role. It’s also spared a lot of the exposition that made The Pilot feel so heavy – Hawkes’ status as an InVitro is fleetingly mentioned, and the Silicates don’t come up.

It's a wasteland out there...

It’s a wasteland out there…

Instead, The Farthest Man From Home is free to focus on the story that it wants to tell, and in marking out narrative space  for the development of both the larger war arc and West’s own personal journey. The Farthest Man From Home is a rather loose episode, but it’s loose in a way that makes sense for a second episode. It eases the audience into the world of Space: Above and Beyond a lot more fluidly than The Pilot did.

That said, there’s still an awkwardness here as Morgan and Wong struggle to figure out what the show is about and the form that it will eventually take. Examined in hindsight, while The Farthest Man From Home establishes a lot of important stuff for the show, it is also clearly a work in progress for the series – an early iteration of a show that would grow and change over the course of its first season. This is perhaps the second draft of Space: Above and Beyond, a solid base to build on for what lies ahead.

Tag it and move on...

Tag it and move on…

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Roy Thomas & Neal Adams’ X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Roy Thomas and Neal Adams (with the odd fill-in here and there) brought the first era of the X-Men to a close. At the end of their run, editor Martin Goodman would cancel the title due to low sales, only to bring it back as a reprint magazine a few months later. The title would continue as a reprint magazine until the publisher decided to resurrect it with Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s Giant-Sized X-Men and Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s subsequent revival of the original magazine.

The last stretch of issues on this initial run is fascinating. While it lacks the raw energy and sense of direction of Claremont’s early work on the title, it’s easy to argue that Thomas and Adams helped to pave the way for their successors. Thomas and Adams’ X-Men lacks focus and vision, but it does have its own quirky style. The duo would introduce and tease all sorts of ideas that would remain with the X-Men after the cancellation and into the revival.

Suit up...

Suit up…

It may be too much to credit Thomas and Adams with saving or redeeming the franchise – although, apparently sales were increasing during their run- but their influence on the creators that followed is obvious. There are a number of clever ideas and premises that were effectively introduced by the duo, which would become almost expected from an X-Men comic book. Even if it seemed like Thomas and Adams were really just making it up on the fly, their work fits quite comfortably with what would follow.

It may not have been enough to save the mutants at that moment in time, but one could argue that it did provide Claremont with a solid base to build from.

They certainly do...

They certainly do…

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