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Star Trek: Voyager – Relativity (Review)

Relativity is perhaps the most Star Trek: Voyager episode that ever Star Trek: Voyaged.

Of course, there are better episodes of Voyager. Of course, there are episodes of Voyager that more effectively showcase the cast and the premise. Of course, there are episodes of Voyager that do a lot of things that Relativity does, only better. However, there is a sense the episode’s crushing mediocrity is a large part of what makes it so indicative of the show as a whole. Those other stronger episodes stand out from the crowd, and rank among some of the best episodes that Voyager ever produced. In contrast, Relativity is just kinda… there.

Ship of the line.

Relativity clearly belongs to the familiar Voyager subgenre of “timey wimey” action adventures that include epics like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II and Timeless. In fact, the subgenre could be extended to include The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, even if no literal time travel takes place. Relativity also borrows from the “let’s blow Voyager up!” school of plotting that includes Deadlock and Course: Oblivion. The episode also leans on the “reset” button that has been in integral part of Voyager dating back to Time and Again.

There is a sense that Relativity is a heady cocktail of Voyager storytelling tropes, a reiteration of many stock storytelling elements that have been employed in a variety of important and notable episodes earlier in the run. However, these episodes count among the finest example of Voyager‘s blockbuster storytelling. Relativity is most notable for taking all of these bombastic larger-than-life elements and finding a way to integrate them into a rather lifeless and stale piece of television. In this sense, Relativity is a quintessential Voyager episode.

Keeping those balls in the air.

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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: Deep Space Nine – Time’s Orphan (Review)

In some ways, Time’s Orphan provides a companion piece to Profit and Lace.

A recurring theme of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been the suggestion that the series has reached the limits of what is possible within the context of a nineties Star Trek series, that it has really done just about everything that it is possible for a mid-nineties genre television show to do within the confines of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. After the fourth and fifth seasons crashed through boundaries, the sixth discovers new limits on the horizon.

This will not end well.

In some ways, Profit and Lace marks the end of the line for Deep Space Nine‘s Ferengi-centric episodes. It suggests that the production team have done just about everything that they can do within that framework, and that the ideas remaining are somewhat underwhelming. Time’s Orphan does something similar with the annual (or even biannual) “O’Brien must suffer!” stories. The production team have inflicted almost every horror imaginable on Chief Miles Edward O’Brien, and Time’s Orphan represents just about the last idea left.

Time’s Orphan is nowhere near as bad as Profit and Lace, although it taps into the same core problem. The writers on Deep Space Nine have taken a given story thread about as far as they can take it, which means that there is very little left to do within an established framework. Time’s Orphan manages a few moments of genuine emotion, but it also feels strained and tired. Time has caught up with the production team.

Scarred to death.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Future’s End, Part II (Review)

In a very real way, the Rick Berman era of Star Trek ends with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II marks the point at which Star Trek: Voyager stops moving forward. It is the point at which the show decides that it has accomplished just about everything that it could ever want to accomplish, and that it has crystalised into its final form. There are some changes still to come, with the introduction of Jeri Ryan in Scorpion, Part II and the departure of Jeri Taylor following Hope and Fear, but (by and large) the show has pretty much figured out the kinds of stories that it wants to tell and the ways in which it wants to tell those stories.

More like a hole-o deck character...

More like a hole-o deck character…

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II feels like an appropriate place at which to draw that line in the sand. It is the two-parter that really introduces the concept of big blockbuster storytelling to Voyager, and which restructures the series as a mechanism through which generic Star Trek stories might be told. The template for the remaining three-and-a-half seasons can be found in this episode, from the “everything is back to normal” ending through to the idea of giving Janeway a a singular action-movie antagonist against which she might define herself.

The two-parter seems to freeze Voyager in amber, and set its storytelling sensibilities in stone. There will be no more experimentation, no more evolution. This is how things are to be from this point onwards. Appropriately enough, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II mark the future’s end.

Tom and Tuvok's Bogus Journey...

Tom and Tuvok’s Bogus Journey…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Future’s End, Part I (Review)

In a very real way, the third season of Star Trek: Voyager begins with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

After all, the episode airs directly after Sacred Ground. Although mixed into the broadcast order with a bunch of episodes that had been produced during the third season, Sacred Ground was the last episode of the second season production block to be broadcast. (Basics, Part II had been the last episode to be produced.) Sacred Ground was the last episode of Voyager to be tied to producer Michael Piller, who had been working on the franchise since the start of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is some sense of symmetry there.

Tuvok and roll.

Tuvok and roll.

Sacred Ground feels like an appropriate place to draw a line under the first two seasons of Voyager, to suggest that the earlier incarnation of the show is finished and that a new era is beginning. After all, Sacred Ground was really the last gasp of the New Age mysticism that Michael Piller had tried to infuse into Voyager through episodes like The Cloud or Tattoo. (Piller would return to that New Age fascination with Star Trek: Insurrection.) Sacred Ground even featured something of a rebirth of Captain Kathryn Janeway.

However, if Sacred Ground represents the end of the second season, what about the start of the third season? What makes Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II such an effective new beginning?

Feels like going home.

Feels like going home.

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Star Trek – All Our Yesterdays (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.

It is almost as though the Star Trek franchise doesn’t want to end.

For a fifty-year-old franchise, Star Trek has a hilarious near-miss ratio when it comes to offering satisfying conclusions. There are exceptions, of course. The franchise seems quite good at closing smaller chapters while the rest of the property rattles on. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the best place to leave the cast of the original show. The final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might have been rocky, but What You Leave Behind bid an emotional farewell to the cast and crew. Beyond that? The franchise struggles.

A cold reception.

A cold reception.

It often seems like the ideal closing instalment is buried one or two stories shy of the actual ending. All Good Things… would have been a great place to leave the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, particularly since Star Trek: Nemesis wound up being such a damp squib of a conclusion. Demons and Terra Prime provided a satisfying conclusion to the final two years of Star Trek: Enterprise, only for These Are the Voyages… to air as the final episode of the franchise for well over a decade.

This is something that the franchise inherited from the original show. Star Trek was remarkably terrible at choosing a high (or even an appropriate) note on which to end. Although some of this can be down to the fact that sixties television seasons did not build to a finale in the way that modern television does, the three seasons of Star Trek all end in disappointing fashions. The City on the Edge of Forever would have been a great close to a first season that built incredible momentum across its run. Instead, the year ended on Operation — Annihilate!

Snow escape.

Snow escape.

This was a bigger issue during the second season, when it was entirely possible that Star Trek would be cancelled. Ending on a strong note was imperative. Instead, Gene Roddenberry chose to give over the last broadcast and production slot of the season to Assignment: Earth, a thinly-disguised (and ultimately underwhelming) pilot for a series that never got off the ground. Even in terms of production, the penultimate episode of the season was Roddenberry’s vile passion project, The Omega Glory. (The Ultimate Computer would have made a much better ending.)

So it is with the third season. The last episode of the third season is an infamous disaster, Turnabout Intruder ranking as one of the very worst episodes of Star Trek ever produced. Even the misguided and mean-spirited cynicism of These Are the Voyages… has nothing on the rank sexism of Turnabout Intruder. It was an ignominious episode upon which to draw down the curtain, to wrap up three years and seventy-nine episodes of storytelling. It is hard to tell whether the episode is more or less awful than The Omega Glory or Assignment: Earth, but it is in contention.

Dying free(ze)...

Dying free(ze)…

This is all the more frustrating because a perfectly good alternative rests right along side it. All Our Yesterdays is a flawed and imperfect episode in some key ways, like many of the third season episodes around it. It is a story that flows on dream logic rather than rational plotting, relying on a bizarre fairy tale version of time travel and falling back on some of Fred Freiberger’s best-loved tropes. It is also a tough sell as a “final” episode, given that the series had not been cancelled by the point that the episode entered production, and it does not offer too much in the way of closure.

And yet. All Our Yesterdays feels like the culmination of the morose themes that have been building through the third season, all the dead worlds and the ghost stories and the doomed romances. It is a story about escaping to the past when there seems to be no future. It is populated by barren wastelands and death sentences, about the literal end of the world and survival beyond that point. It is a quiet and withdrawn affair, morbid and reflective more than heightened or action driven. It is a story about death, which feels entirely appropriate at this interval.

How BiZara...

How BiZara…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Little Green Men (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Little Green Men might just be the best Ferengi episode from the seven-year run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It helps that the episode is very clearly a passion project for writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine had a deep and abiding affection for classic cinema. Michael Piller might have tried to steer the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager back to classic western storytelling tropes, while Rick Berman and Brannon Braga might have promised that Star Trek: Enterprise would be a “back to basics” reimagining of the show, but Deep Space Nine was a show that adored old-school Hollywood.

Quark's Family Vacation...

Quark’s Family Vacation…

This was reflected in a number of ways. In Past Tense, Part II, B.C. planned to escape to Tasmania because Errol Flynn was born there. There was also the fact that Ira Steven Behr could never resist the lure of a good homage to classic cinema – even when it was not the best of ideas. Meridian was written as an attempt to adapt Brigadoon to the Star Trek universe; Fascination was based on the 1935 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s DreamRules of Acquisition was basically YentlProfit and Loss was Casablanca.

It seemed almost inevitable that at some stage the cast and crew of Deep Space Nine would find themselves colliding with classic Hollywood.

"Well, it's not a saucer..."

“Well, it’s not a saucer…”

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