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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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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: Enterprise – Vanishing Point (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Vanishing Point continues the “remix” formula that we’ve come to expect from the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. In particular, Vanishing Point is a rather heady Star Trek: The Next Generation cocktail. It has shades of Remember Me, Realm of Fear, The Next Phase and even The Inner Light – with a healthy dose of Brannon Braga’s questions about the nature of reality. All of these elements blend together to form Vanishing Point, an episode that feels overly familiar and rote despite an intriguing set-up.

It is a shame that it doesn’t work better. Vanishing Point brings us back to the idea that Archer and his crew are pioneers in space exploration. The teaser reminds us that the crew of the Enterprise still don’t take the transporter for granted – that it is still something of a mystery to them, despite the audience’s familiarity with the device. Vanishing Point feels like the first time that Enterprise has emphasised this sense of novelty and inexperience since the first season.

Reflections...

Reflections…

However, the episode feels like something of a disappointment. The entire story turns out to be a gimmick and a twist. There is nothing wrong with this sort of storytelling. After all, the franchise has played these sorts of games before. Indeed, some of Braga’s best scripts – Frame of Mind and Projections come to mind – touch on similar ideas with similar twists. The problem with Vanishing Point is that these twists seem a bit too loose or too disconnected to properly resonate.

Vanishing Point feels like the rough sketch of a good episode doodled quickly on the back of a napkin, a collection of connective clauses all designed to keep the story ticking for forty-five minutes before ending on a fairly stock twist. There is a great deal of potential here, but Vanishing Point never quite delivers on it.

Trip Tucker: Space Tourist...

Trip Tucker: Space Tourist…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Singularity (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek: The Next Generation casts a pretty long shadow.

Singularity aired over eight years after All Good Things… and it still feels like an attempt to re-capture the mood and atmosphere of that second-generation Star Trek spin-off. Singularity feels like it might have made for a passable seventh-season instalment of The Next Generation, airing somewhere between Phantasms, Masks and Genesis. You would probably only have to tweak Singularity ever-so-slightly for that earlier cast.

"Hai!"

“Hai!”

Of course, this fixation on The Next Generation is not unique to the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. After all, Star Trek: Voyager spent a significant portion of its run trying to re-capture the magic associated with The Next Generation. There were lots of generic aliens- and anomalies-of-the week. The second season of Enterprise is just interesting in this regard because it is really the last gasp of this sort of nostalgic storytelling on so wide a scale.

It would not be easy. It would take the box office failure of Star Trek: Nemesis, a change of management at UPN, falling ratings and the threat of cancellation. Nevertheless, Enterprise would eventually manage to exorcise the ghost of The Next Generation. In the meantime, Singularity offers a reminder of just how closely Enterprise was hewing to The Next Generation.

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Second Skin (Review)

The 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.

Second Skin continues the identity and reality themes running through the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Search revealed that the Dominion is led by shape-changing aliens who can impersonate anybody, after our heroes spend an episode in a virtual reality. House of Quark stemmed from lies Quark told about himself, only to discover that Klingon culture is not what it claims to be. Equilibrium revealed that Dax held secrets even from herself, having a whole other life. Second Skin confronts Kira with the idea that she may be everything she hates.

The theme will continue in the episodes ahead. The Abandoned is a rather cynical meditation on the nature-against-nurture debate. Civil Defense involves the Deep Space Nine crew discovering that the station itself is not as safe as they like to think. Meridian involves a subplot about Kira’s right to control her own body. Defiant is built around a crisis of identity for a doppelganger. Past Tense features Sisko stepping into the identity of a historical figure. And so it continues. Things are not what they appear to be; the truths we take for granted are not true.

Rewatching this first block of Deep Space Nine‘s third season, it’s amazing how cynical the show could be.

Face of the enemy...

Face of the enemy…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Family (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

He’s still out there. Dreaming about starships and adventures. It’s getting late.

Yes. But let him dream.

– Robert and Marie try to figure out what all this “Star Trek” milarky is about

Starry, starry night...

Starry, starry night…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Ron Jones Project & The Best of Both Worlds OST (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

In 1991, The Best of Both Worlds got a CD soundtrack release. It was incomplete, running just under forty-seven minutes. (Five minutes music would be included on The Ron Jones Project and 2013 would see a release of a more complete two CD set running fifty-five minutes.) However, this was the first soundtrack album released for Star Trek: The Next Generation since Dennis McCarthy’s score to Encounter at Farpoint in 1988.

The music for The Best of Both Worlds is iconic. In the Regeneration documentary included with the blu ray release of the episode, Seth McFarlane jokes about hiring Ron Jones on the strength of that closing sting. The impressive orchestral score to The Best of Both Worlds remains one of the most instantly recognisable soundtracks in the Star Trek canon. And yet it was written by a composer who was on his way out the door.

Of the twelve discs in The Ron Jones Project soundtrack collection covering the episodes scored by Jones, only three include scores for episodes that aired after the second part of The Best of Both Worlds. (And the third-to-last disc only features one episode from the fourth season.) So, what happened?

tng-ronjones12

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