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New Podcast! The Sanctuary – “A Private Little Vietnam”

I was flattered to be asked by the wonderful Tony Black to help him launch a new Star Trek podcast. The Sanctuary hopes to be a look at the politics and the social commentary of the larger Star Trek franchise, and will feature Tony and a host of guests looking at how the franchise examines a big issue.

As a pilot, Tony suggested that we might discuss how the original Star Trek series looked at the Vietnam War. It’s an interesting discussion, because it’s a very complex and evolving conversation that takes place across the run of the show, between various creative voices within the show. This is interesting, because the show itself unfolded against a backdrop of shifting public opinion on the topic, which means that it’s not as simple as a “pro” or “anti” position.

Anyway, it was a huge honour to be invited on to help launch the show, and I hope you enjoy it. You can subscribe to the show here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

 

New Podcast! Make It So – Re:Discovery, Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 (“The Vulcan Hello” & “Battle at the Binary Stars”)

The first season of Star Trek: Picard has wrapped, and so Make It So: A Star Trek Universe Podcast has turned its gaze backwards, looking at the start of the Kurtzman and Goldman era of Star Trek. I was flattered to be invited to join the wonderful Kurt North to discuss The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, the two-part premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.

I’m generally quite fond of the first season of Discovery, although I think it comes a little off the rails towards the end of the season. However, I unequivocally think that The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars comprise the best first episode of any Star Trek series. They are a bold statement of purpose, largely serving as a eulogy for the Berman era of the franchise, typified by Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. Instead, these two episodes offer an immediate and distinct vision of what modern Star Trek might look like. There’s an incredible and infectious confidence at play, including a conscious effort to update the trappings and sensibilities of the franchise for a new era of television.

Anyway, it was a huge honour to be invited on, and I hope you enjoy. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! On “Star Trek: Picard” and Parental Failure…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday evening. Given that Star Trek: Picard just wrapped up its first season, I had some thoughts expanding on my discussion of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II on Make It So.

The first season of Picard is undeniably messy and awkward. The pacing is a little off in places, and it pulls several of its most powerful punches. However, at the heart of the series is a story that simmers through a lot of contemporary pop culture, from Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker to Bad Boys for Life, the idea of a failed parent trying to redeem themselves through their child. It’s a fascinating inversion of the Campbellian archetype embodied by Star Wars, the quintessential story about a son come to terms with his relationship to his father. Stories like Picard invert that dynamic, and look at the responsibilities that parents owe to their children to provide them with a better world.

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

New Escapist Column! On how “Star Trek” has Always Been more about Our Present than Our Future

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening, looking at the launch of Star Trek: Picard last week.

One of the minor controversies around Picard has concerned the series’ more cynical and world-weary tone, particularly in contrast to the optimism and enthusiasm of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, the mythology around Star Trek tends to over-emphasise the franchise’s optimistic outlook, ignoring the extent to which the shows are better reflections of the present than reflections of the future. They offer snapshots of moments in time, rather than a roadmap to a better future. In that regard, Picard is very much a snapshot of this moment in time, grappling with the legacy of The Next Generation.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Franchise Revanchism in “Star Wars”, “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday, looking at one of the more interesting (and frustrating) trends in modern franchise storytelling.

New ideas in existing franchises have always been controversial. After all, fans were taken aback by the changes made to existing properties in films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. So the controversy around things like the first season of Star Trek: Discovery or Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi are nothing new. What is new, however, is the way in which these properties now seem to be swayed by fan anxieties, retreating from bold ideas into the safety of familiarity. This leads an emptiness, and runs the risk of letting these properties stagnate.

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

New Podcast! Primitive Culture #74 – Star Trek: Voyager as a Nineties Time Capsule

Over the Christmas Break, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the wonderful Duncan Barrett and talking about Star Trek: Voyager. Duncan is a historian, and I’ve actually quoted some of his work on the blog in the past. He hosts Primitive Culture, a show wherein the hosts discuss certain historical-related items of interest in the Star Trek canon.

Duncan noticed that I had recently finished a massive rewatch of Voyager, leading me to write around 750,000 words on the show’s seven seasons. With the twenty-fifth anniversary of Voyager coming up, he suggested that it might be fun to talk about the third live-action Star Trek spin-off in a bit of depth, looking at the series as a snapshot of a particular cultural moment. More than any of its sibling series, Voyager perfectly encapsulated the American experience of the nineties, tapping into the decade’s sensibilities and its anxieties.

The result was a fun (and involved) discussion, and you can listen to it below or directly via Primitive Culture‘s homepage on trek.fm.

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New Podcast! Standard Orbit #297 – “Inverted Commas”

I was thrilled to be invited to join the great Zach Moore on Standard Orbit, a Star Trek: The Original Series podcast hosted over at Trek FM. I appeared on the show the year before last to discuss the third season of the series, and returned last year to delve into the second season, and so it makes sense that I should be back to discuss the first season.

This is an interesting one, in large part because I don’t necessarily have a strong take or controversial opinion on the first season of the original Star Trek. I think it’s a remarkable season of television, one of the best in the franchise and that it’s an embarrassment of riches in places. So we talk about the order in which we watch the series, the way in which it builds, the sense in which the show was constantly revising and reinventing itself between episodes before emerging towards the end of the year as the Star Trek that most fans know and love. There’s nothing too controversial here, aside from two people sharing their love for a great piece of television. Which is perfect Christmas fodder.

Zach was, as ever, a very gracious host. I had great fun discussing it. You can hear the full discussion below or visit the episode page here.

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René Auberjonois

René Auberjonois passed away at the weekend.

Auberjonois was a tremendously prolific and talented performer. Indeed, one of the most striking things about his passing has been the sheer diversity among his fans. It seems like everybody has a different memory of Auberjonois, a different role with which they associate him. Some people remember him from M*A*S*H, some people remember him from Benson, others associate him with cult roles like King Kong. However, it seems like everybody remembered Auberjonois in one form or another.

I have a long and deep attachment to Auberjonois. He was an accomplished voice actor, and I knew him well from various cartoons that I would have watched as a child and even beyond that; Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid, Flanagan in Cats Don’t Dance, his vocal turns in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the part that I most associate with Auberjonois is his work as Constable Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is a performance with which I grew up and to which I have frequently returned.

It is a performance which has seemed richer every time that I have watched, a fantastic demonstration of the actor’s talent.

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 7, Episode 16 (“Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges”)

I was thrilled to be asked back to join The Pensky Podcast to for one last conversation about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I joined Wes and Clay as their coverage of the seventh season winds down, as the pair prepare to jump into the so-called “Final Chapter.”

I got to talk about Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, which is one of my favourite Deep Space Nine episodes ever produced. Arma Enim Silent Leges is the last episode to air before the multipart closing epic that launches with Penumbra, and feels like as worthy a capstone to Deep Space Nine as its companion piece Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. It’s an exploration of moral compromise and realpolitick, but also about the practicalities of planning for a postwar status quo. It is a clever, ambitious and effective episode of Deep Space Nine, a thoughtful exploration of the show’s core themes.

We also had a lot of fun saying the title out loud multiple times.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 7 (Review)

The seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager is not the worst season of Star Trek ever. It isn’t even the worst season of this particular show.

It contains nothing as spectacularly ill-judged and tone-deaf as Alliances or Tattoo. None of its central characters are as insufferable as those presented in Parturition. There is nothing here quite as soul-crushingly boring as Twisted. Indeed, the seventh season of Voyager is a mostly competent season of television. Producer Brannon Braga had turned his attention to the launch of Star Trek: Enterprise, leaving the day-to-day running of the series to veteran Kenneth Biller. Biller approached that role as one of simple maintenance. He kept the trains running on time.

The result is that the seventh season of Voyager features no spectacular embarrassments. In its own way, this is an accomplishment for a Star Trek series. After all, final seasons tend to be filled with the kinds of episodes that reflect a production team desperately clutching for story ideas, leaving them open to mockery from a fandom with fixed ideas of what Star Trek should be. Final seasons tend to be home to misfires like Spock’s Brain, … And the Children Shall Lead, Interface, Dark PageForce of Nature, Journey’s End, Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak.

The seventh season of Voyager largely avoids those sorts of embarrassments. Even episodes that threaten to tip over into high camp, like Drive or Repression, maintain an even keel. The seventh season of Voyager is much more consistent than the seventh seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There is a neatness to it, a stability. It feels like “business as usual” for the series in a way that those other final seasons did not. Episodes like Imperfection or Human Error could easily have come from any of the three prior seasons.

Of course, this is a double-edged compliment. As much as the seventh season of Voyager is more stable and more consistent than other final seasons, it is also much more modest. The final season of The Next Generation was incredibly inconsistent, but it was still playful and ambitious, resulting in gonzo delights like Masks or Parallels. The final season of Deep Space Nine might have sagged in the middle, but it still pushed the boundaries franchise, engaging in biting criticisms in Chimera and attempting to wrap up with a sprawling ten-part series finale.

The seventh season of Voyager is not the worst season of Star Trek ever. it is, however, one of the dullest.

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