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New Podcast! Standard Orbit #196 – “Star Trek Origins: Season 3”

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.

Zach very kindly asked me on to talk about an aspect of the original Star Trek that I thought was overlooked, so I suggested the rather unlikely shadow that the third season of Star Trek casts over the rest of the Star Trek franchise. These episodes have developed a reputation as the worst episodes of the original run, coming at a point when the production team was exhausted, the budget had been cut, and the series was in its death throes. With all of that in mind, it is interesting how many core attributes of the Star Trek franchise can be traced back to these twenty-four (relatively) unloved episodes.

Kirk as a lothario, Klingons as honourable, the Federation as a utopia, the Romulans and the Klingons as entities that have lives outside of the Federation.

Zach was, as ever, a very gracious host. You can hear the full discussion below or visit the episode page here.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 7 (Review)

The seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a remarkable accomplishment.

The seventh season is not perfect by any measure. Taken as a whole, it lacks the consistency that made the fifth season one of the best twenty-odd-episode seasons of television ever produced, particularly in a dire mid-season run of episodes that includes Prodigal Daughter, Field of Fire and The Emperor’s New Cloak. The fifth season (and even the sixth) never hit a run of three consecutive episodes that drag that hard. Similarly, there are moments when the production trips over itself during its epic run of ten closing episodes.

Similarly, it lacks the sheer quantity of all-time great episodes that made the sixth season so exciting and compelling, like that opening six-episode arc or Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight. However, the seventh season does quite well for itself; episodes like Treachery, Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Chimera, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges and Tacking Into the Wind are massively underrated and count among the best episode that the franchise ever produced.

However, the seventh season has a very clear sense of direction and purpose. After all seven years is a long time on television. By the time that the other Star Trek series hit that mark, there was a sense of exhaustion creeping in around the edges. The final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation often felt aimless and meandering, the production team waiting to transition to feature films. The final season of Star Trek: Voyager felt similarly worn out, a faded photocopy of an approach that had worked on the previous three seasons.

In sharp contrast, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine knows roughly where it is going. From the opening scenes of Image in the Sand, the production team are cognisant of the fact that the curtain will be coming down at the end of the season. As a result, the seventh season is written with an ending in mind. The writers might not have known that ending from the outset, and were still working on it even during the sprawling final arc at the end of the year, but they knew that it existed and was waiting twenty-six episodes in the future.

As a result, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine has a very strong sense of identity and compelling sense of urgency. These attributes distinguish the season the final years of The Next Generation and Voyager, but also mark it out as one of Deep Space Nine‘s (and the franchise’s) strongest years.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – What You Leave Behind (Review)

Ending a television series is always a daunting proposition, even with ten episodes allocated to that purpose.

There are very few “perfect” television finales, very few final episodes that perfectly encapsulate everything that made a television series great. Indeed, many popular television series end with underwhelming finales. Some are even retroactively tarnished by this legacy; The Finale for SeinfeldDaybreak for Battlestar GalacticaThe End for Lost. To its credit, the Star Trek franchise arguably has one perfect finale with All Good Things…, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A touching conclusion…

It might have been greedy to ask for two such perfect finales, especially in such close proximity to one another. What You Leave Behind is not a perfect finale by any measure. It is clumsy in places, it makes bad choices in others. The audience can feel the budgetary constraints on the production team at certain points, and the time constraints on the writing team at others. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does not end with a “perfect” two-part episode. It ends in a messy fashion.

Still, even if What You Leave Behind is not a perfect television finale, it is a good one. What You Leave Behind doesn’t do everything that it could do, but it does everything that it needs to. While clumsiness and awkwardness hold the episode back from perfection, they exist in such a way as to add to its charm. What You Leave Behind captures the spirit of Deep Space Nine, in its successes and its failures. What You Leave Behind is a finale that speaks to the core essence of its show, to its best and its worst selves in the same breath.

The big goodbye.

The result is a finale that feels satisfying and earned, despite its narrative miscalculations. What You Leave Behind is true to Deep Space Nine, and focuses primarily on trying to pay off seven years of character threads and two years of story. Its gravest mistakes are inherited, the result of decisions made more than a year earlier in episodes like Waltz or The Reckoning that were allowed to fester and grow over the following thirty-odd episodes. Even in its failures, What You Leave Behind is trying to do right by its story.

There is a large gulf in quality between All Good Things… and What You Leave Behind. However, that gap is smaller than the space that separates What You Leave Behind from Turnabout Intruder, Endgame or These Are the Voyages… For all its issues, there is something heartbreaking in What You Leave Behind. There is a sense that this is truly the end of the line, that things have changed and the world keeps right on spinning.

We all need a little space…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 5 (Review)

It is hard to discern a central arc or purpose to the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

There are certainly recurring preoccupations and ideas simmering through the twenty-six episodes of the fifth season, reflecting the interests of the creative team. Indeed, many of these themes culminate in Equinox, Part I, the fifth season finale. However, there is never a sense that any of these ideas are being assembled in service of anything, never a sense of what exactly the production team want to say about these themes or where they want to go with these concepts.

The fifth season of Voyager feels rather listless. This may be due to a combination of factors. Most obviously, the fourth season of Voyager was arguably the show’s best season, one marked by a sense of purpose and forward momentum. Thanks to the introduction of Seven of Nine and the miniature arc focusing on the Hirogen, along with the clever bookending of Scorpion, Part II with Hope and Fear, there was a sense that the fourth season of Voyager had ended in a different place than it began.

The big issue with the fifth season of Voyager is that it feels like the series is running in place.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Dogs of War (Review)

The Dogs of War is the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

As such, it has lots of important things to be doing. The episode’s primary function is to streamline the ongoing narratives so that they might all neatly feed into What You Leave Behind. The goal of any penultimate episode is to set up the shot so that the finale might punt the ball into the goal, in a manner that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Given that The Dogs of War is arriving towards the end of a seven-season series, a two-year war story, and a ten-episode closing arc, that is a lot of setting up to be done.

The best is Yates to come.

There is a lot of work to be done on paper. The plot thread focusing on the Pah-Wraiths has been dangling since When It Rains…, the Federation has not reengaged with the Breen since the disastrous encounter at the end of The Changeling Face of Evil, and Bajor hasn’t even mentioned the possibility of joining the Federation since Rapture or In the Cards. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense of The Dogs of War to focus on getting Bashir and Dax together while Quark thinks he is about to be Nagus as Damar is forced to hide in a cellar.

However, there is something inherently charming about how The Dogs of War chooses to prioritise threads over story beats that might seem more relevant or important, to dedicate a sizable chunk of the penultimate episode of Deep Space Nine to tying up a clumsy “will they?”/“won’t they?” romance and telling one last Ferengi story. The Dogs of War is an episode that speaks to what Deep Space Nine was, both in terms is esoteric plotting and its skewed-but-optimistic outlook. There might be better ways to wind down a series, but this is very Deep Space Nine.

Love in a turbolift.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Equinox, Part I (Review)

Equinox, Part I works better than it should.

Equinox, Part I is sustained by three important factors. The most obvious is the premise itself. Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II tell a story that is baked into the DNA of Star Trek: Voyager, and it is surprising that it took the production team five years to tell it. Secondly, Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II have the luxury of a fantastic supporting cast with John Savage and Titus Welliver playing the two most senior officers on the eponymous ship. The third factor is a sense of momentum, with Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II moving at a tremendous pace.

A Captain’s Ransom.

These three factors compensate for a lot of potential flaws. Equinox, Part I is an episode of television that spends forty-five minutes consciously building towards its cliffhanger. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Many of the best Star Trek cliffhangers, especially season finales, are structured as relentless build-up. The Best of Both Worlds, Part I builds to Picard’s assimilation and Riker’s command. Call to Arms builds to the Dominion retaking the station and war being declared. Equinox, Part I builds to the reveal of what Rudolph Ransom did.

Equinox, Part I is an episode that works as sheer and unrelenting build-up.

Too many captains.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Extreme Measures (Review)

Extreme Measures is the closest thing to a standalone story within this epic ten-part conclusion to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

All of the other episodes carry over plot threads and subplots that either develop existing narratives or set-up future twists. This is true even of the more self-contained chapters: When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind are something of a two-parter in the middle of the arc, but they pick up in the wake of The Changing Face of Evil; although The Dogs of War has a self-contained subplot focusing on the Ferengi, it deals with baggage from Extreme Measures while setting up What You Leave Behind.

“Well, Miles. If you think it’ll make the episode go easier.”

In contrast, Extreme Measures is practically a bottle show. With the exception of a short one-scene appearance from Garak, Extreme Measures is devoid of the recurring guest stars that populate this final run of episodes. Although Damar and Martok are mentioned, neither Casey Biggs nor J.G. Hertzler appear. Perhaps glad of a week off before his double duty on The Dogs of War, Jeffrey Combs is entirely absent. There is no guest appearance from Louise Fletcher, Marc Alaimo, James Darren, Barry Jenner or Salome Jens.

Indeed, Extreme Measures is very precisely focused on the single story that it wants to tell. Most episodes in this final stretch of the final season have at least two or three plots running through them: Penumbra focuses on the loss of Worf, on Sisko’s retirement plans, on Damar’s growing unease; When It Rains… features the plotting of Dukat and Winn, the development of Damar’s rebellion, and the threat to the Alliance posed by Gowron; The Dogs of War witnesses Ferengi succession, the plan for the invasion of Cardassia, the implosion of Damar’s rebellion.

Journey to the Centre of Sloan’s Mind.

There is so much happening across these ten episodes that it feels strange that Extreme Measures can effectively call a timeout on these recurring plot threads. There are references to the Breen weapon and the Cardassian rebellion, to the ascension of Chancellor Martok and to Bashir’s lingering attraction to Ezri. However, Extreme Measures is an episode without a b-plot or a c-plot. The episode is driven entirely by its primary narrative, the story of how Julian Bashir and Miles O’Brien embark on one last adventure together.

There is something surreal, and almost endearing, about the fact that Deep Space Nine feels comfortable taking time out from its most ambitious experiment with serialisation to make the journey to the centre of Sloan’s mind.

“Julian, are you sure you haven’t been watching too much Star Trek: Voyager?”

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