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Star Trek: Voyager – Blink of an Eye (Review)

Blink of an Eye is perhaps the last truly great episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

There are good episodes that follow Blink of an Eye. There are solid comedy episodes like Renaissance Man. There are effective homage episodes like Author, Author. There are even well-constructed archetypal narratives that fit within the thematic framework of both the series and the franchise like Memorial. However, there isn’t a single episode as elegant as Blink of an Eye, a story which demonstrates the raw potential of Voyager as a narrative engine for telling these big and broad science-fiction narratives.

From the mountains of faith…

Indeed, it might even be possible to argue that Blink of an Eye is the last truly great episode of Berman era Star Trek.

There is a tendency to overlook Star Trek: Enterprise in discussions of the franchise’s history and legacy, no matter how quietly influential the prequel series has become in terms of Star Trek Beyond or Star Trek: Discovery. This does a disservice to the last series of the Berman era, particularly the final two seasons that grappled with the question of what it means to be Star Trek in the aftermath of 9/11. Nevertheless, the trauma of 9/11 exerted such a gravity that even the best episodes of Enterprise seemed to exist in its shadow; Judgment, Cogenitor, The Forgotten, Babel One, United.

… through the valley of fear…

Even outside of hyperbole, Blink of an Eye is a beautifully constructed piece of television that speaks to the appeal and the potential of Star Trek. It is a lyrical allegory, a very simple and straightforward idea that is constructed in such a way as to invite the audience to ask profound and meaningful questions about the nature of human existence. What is it like to watch a civilisation rise up? What ideals drive it? Towards what values and ideals might it strive? More than that, what is it like to sit outside of time and watch those beholden to time? These are fascinating and enlightening ideas.

Blink of an Eye was developed from a story by Voyager writer Michael Taylor, one of the most ambitious writers to ever work on the series. Taylor had contributed the stories that would develop into The Visitor and In the Pale Moonlight, demonstrating a willingness to think outside the box. On Voyager, Taylor’s ambitions were frequently tempered and his scripts often compromised. Both Once Upon a Time and The Fight were much more generic and mediocre pieces of television than the original premise. Blink of an Eye is a rare Taylor concept that doesn’t feel watered down.

…. But the river is wide
And it’s too hard to cross…

It helps that the teleplay for Blink of an Eye was written by Star Trek veteran Joe Menosky. Menosky had a long association with the franchise and a deep understanding of how it worked, having cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. More than any other writer, Menosky understood the idea of Star Trek as a mythic framework, an avenue for exploring stories and what they mean. This theme plays through Menosky’s work on the franchise; Darmok, Masks, Dramatis Personae, Muse.

Blink of an Eye feels like an episode perfectly callibrated to the strengths of Taylor and Menosky, a high-concept episode that is fundamentally about the Star Trek mythos.

We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Pathfinder (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has always had an awkward relationship with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always the rebellious middle-child, prone to make bold and defiant gestures like blowing up a surrogate of the Enterprise in The Jem’Hadar, bringing Jonathan Frakes back to play Riker’s evil transporter duplicate in Defiant, and have former Enterprise crew member Chief Miles Edward O’Brien praise Sisko as the best captain in the fleet in The Adversary. It was a television series that was dedicated to defining its own unique identity, and at least some of that identity was defined in opposition to its direct predecessor.

Taking his Neelix.

In contrast, Voyager always felt a little more desperate, a little too eager to assert its connection to The Next Generation and to insist upon itself as a spiritual successor to that beloved (and incredibly successful) series. Despite the fact that Voyager was set primarily in the Delta Quadrant, the series never missed an opportunity to crossover with The Next Generation. Barclay appeared as a hologram in Projections, Riker was summoned across the universe in Death Wish, LaForge was rendered a captain in the future presented in Timeless.

This is to say nothing of the minor crossovers taken at every available opportunity; the use of Q and the Borg Queen among the relatively small number of recurring guest stars, the original plan to build 11:59 around Guinan, the decision to produce the dire False Profits as a sequel to the dire The Price. Repeatedly over the show’s run, Voyager feels very much like a young child digging through its elder sibling’s wardrobe for something that might possible be claimed as a hand-me-down. It is depressing, particularly considering the raw potential that was baked into the premise of Voyager.

Course correction.

Pathfinder is perhaps the apex of this approach. It is effectively a stealth episode of The Next Generation, packaged and released under the Voyager brand. The primary plot of Pathfinder focuses on two characters from The Next Generation sitting around and talking about how great Voyager is, with one of those characters even escaping into a holographic fantasy of life on board the ship to help him think. In many ways, Pathfinder could be seen to prefigure These Are the Voyages…, the catastrophic finale to Star Trek: Enterprise that borrowed the same template and somehow pushed it even further.

There is a smell of desperation about Pathfinder. Whatever the plot of the episode might suggest, Voyager feels more lost than ever.

The Last Generation.

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New Podcast! On “Filibuster #72” Talking “Star Trek: Discovery” with Lee Hutchinson

I had the pleasure making a guest appearance on Filibuster with the great Lee Hutchinson, who very kindly invited me on to talk about the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. It was a welcome invitation, as I’ve been writing reviews of the show by my schedule and other commitments mean that I haven’t always been able to keep up. So it was good to talk about the season as a whole; what I liked about it, what I didn’t, what I’d like to see more of going forward. Indeed, how much I’d like to see more going forward.

You can listen to the podcast directly at the Filibuster website, but you can also listen to it directly below.

 

Star Trek: Voyager – Dragon’s Teeth (Review)

In many ways Dragon’s Teeth demonstrates the chaos that marked the start of the sixth season.

On paper, Dragon’s Teeth looks to be a big blockbuster episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It has top-notch production, a large guest cast, an impressive special effects set-up, a new alien menace, and an emphasis on momentum ahead of character or theme. Just looking at Dragon’s Teeth, it has the look and feel of an “event” story. It seems like an episode with a bold statement of purpose, from the opening teaser that suggests an epic scope by unfolding in the distant past of an alien world through to the ominous closing line that promises that Dragon’s Teeth is just the beginning.

Let sleeping dragons lie…

It seems like the sixth season’s answer to earlier mid-season two-parters like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, or Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. It even broadcasts in roughly the same stretch of the season as Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II or Timeless. It is an early November episode, intended to help boost ratings during Sweeps.

However, what is most striking about Dragon’s Teeth is how much it feels like a non-event. The episode has all the markers of a big event story, from the promise of a shortcut home to the sight of the ship landing on a planet surface, but the story is actually incredibly generic. Dragon’s Teeth is not necessarily bad, it is simply competent. There is a strange sense watching Dragon’s Teeth that a phenomenal amount of effort has gone into ensuring that the episode works, rather than trying to make it excel.

Sweet dreams.

Of course, this makes a certain amount of sense. Dragon’s Teeth aired almost a third of the way through the season, but it was produced earlier. In terms of broadcast, it fell between Riddles and One Small Step. In terms of production, it came between Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy and Alice. As such, it was produced in the midst of the chaos following the sudden departure of Ronald D. Moore and the reinstatement of Kenneth Biller. More than that, it was the first episode of the season to be written by Brannon Braga since that behind the scenes shake-up. As a result, it makes sense it should feel “off.”

Dragon’s Teeth is an episode that spends so much of its energy trying to remain upright that it never manages to take flight.

Oh, mummy.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy (Review)

With Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, Star Trek: Voyager is back to business as usual.

The first episode produced after the departure of Ronald D. Moore, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is in many ways an archetypal Voyager story. Equinox, Part II was the second part of a season-bridging two-parter; Survival Instinct was a dark fable about consequences and trauma that was the last script credited to on the franchise’s most beloved writers; Barge of the Dead was a surreal and ambiguous adventure into the Klingon afterlife. As such, it is strange that an episode that opens with a playful operatic number about Tuvok’s pon farr should mark a return to normality.

“My Delta Quadrant TripAdvisor review is going to be scathing!”

Nevertheless, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is a very neat standalone episode with a clear beginning, middle and end. It is built around the character of the EMH, leaning into actor Robert Picardo’s comedic chops. It is very much in keeping with Voyager‘s recurring fascination with the notion of fractured reality as expressed in Projections or Deadlock or Retrospect, and also in using a technologically-derived character to literalise the process of a psychological breakdown as in Darkling, Infinite Regress or Latent Image.

Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy story has its own themes and ideas, and everything is neatly resolved by the closing credits. It is a reminder that the serialisation that defined Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would remain the exception, rather than the rule, that it would not be inherited by its surviving sibling. Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy could almost be watched at any point in the show’s run, although the involvement of Seven of Nine would suggest the final four seasons. Nevertheless, the episode never feels particularly tethered to this moment or this season.

Fantasy figure.

However, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is also an example of how this approach can work. Voyager received (and deserves) a lot of criticism for failing to evolve with the times, for allowing the Star Trek franchise to fall behind the curve of contemporary television science fiction. However, the series was occasionally capable of demonstrating the merits of standalone episodes, the appeal of being able to transition from one self-contained story to another twenty-six times in the course of a season.

Of course, the issue was that a lot of Voyager episodes were bland and forgettable. However, every once in a while the series would produce a self-contained episode that demonstrated the appeal of this narrative model; Remember, Distant Origin, Concerning Flight, Living WitnessSomeone to Watch Over Me. Appropriately enough, coming after another turbulent period in the history of the show, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is another fine example of this capacity to construct satisfying and engaging stand-alone narratives.

Painting a pretty picture.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Barge of the Dead (Review)

There is some small symmetry in Barge of the Dead.

When Bryan Fuller first pitched to Star Trek, he pitched to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The first idea that he sold was The Darkness and the Light, which felt like something approaching a gothic serial killer horror about a deformed killer stalking his victims using the franchise’s hyper-advanced technology. That original idea was heavily re-written by franchise veteran Ronald D. Moore, who also brought a more substantial thematic weight to the story by focusing on themes of violence and retribution.

Barging in.

In contrast, Barge of the Dead is the last television story that Ronald D. Moore would pitch for the franchise, coming at the very end of his time on Star Trek: Voyager. The episode has its roots in an earlier pitch by the writer, the original idea for Soldiers of the Empire. However, Moore would depart the franchise before he could finish work on Barge of the Dead, and so the writing of the script fell to Bryan Fuller. Much like Moore had subtly shifted the emphasis of The Darkness and the Light to his own thematic interests, Fuller embraces his own sensibilities in reworking Barge of the Dead.

Moore had re-written Fuller’s last story, and Fuller would re-write Moore’s last story. There is some sense of poetry in this.

Tom’s idea of a romantic evening certainly needed some work.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Survival Instinct (Review)

Survival Instinct marks the beginning and the end of Ronald D. Moore’s involvement with Star Trek: Voyager.

Moore had been one of the most influential writers on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Moore had famously been drafted into the Star Trek franchise with no outside experience; The Bonding was based upon a speculative script that he wrote, and he had been invited to join the staff when The Defector proved that he was not a one-script wonder. Moore had inspired producer Michael Piller to open the franchise to speculative scripts, a decision which led to the recruitment of writers like Bryan Fuller and Rene Echevarria.

Drone warfare.

Moore had consistently pushed the envelope in terms of what Star Trek could be. Several of Moore’s scripts feel like trailblazers, expanding the storytelling language of an established science-fiction franchise; the Klingon-centric script for Sins of the Father, the quieter character drama of Family, the epic scale of Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. Paired with Ira Steven Behr on Deep Space Nine, Moore really pushed the boundaries of what Star Trek could be; Soldiers of the Empire looked at life on a Klingon ship, In the Pale Moonlight stretched (and maybe broke) Star Trek morality.

All of the other writers on Deep Space Nine chose to bow out gracefully with What You Leave Behind, to part ways with the franchise having provided their own unique take on the Star Trek mythos. However, Moore was convinced to migrate across from Deep Space Nine to Voyager. There are any number of reasons why Moore might have chosen to stay when writers like Behr and Echevarria chose to take their exit; Moore was the longest continuous-serving writer on the Star Trek franchise to that point. In terms of second-generation Star Trek, only Rick Berman could have claimed to have a deeper impression.

Armed and dangerous.

Moore arrived on the sixth season of Voyager and immediately looked to make his mark. Like Brannon Braga, Moore had always been an extremely productive Star Trek writer. He was typically credited on six or seven scripts in a season of The Next Generation and Voyager, while also scripting Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. Although not credited on the script, Moore was actively involved in the back-and-forth over the script to Equinox, Part II. He scripted the second episode, Survival Instinct. He was working on the story to third, Barge of the Dead.

And then the unthinkable happened. Like so much of Voyager, Moore’s arrival proved to be something of a false dawn. In early July 1999, Ronald D. Moore left Star Trek. This was within a month of the broadcast of What You Leave Behind, and nearly three months before the premier of the sixth season of Voyager. Even before Moore and Braga elaborated upon the particulars of what had happened, it was clear that something had gone disastrously wrong.

What We Left Behind.

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