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Star Trek: Enterprise – Future Tense (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.

The Temporal Cold War arguably works better as a metaphor than a plot.

There is something quite compelling about the imagery of Star Trek‘s past and future doing battle within the confines of a troubled prequel, of outside forces meddling in a narrative, of the characters caught in the grip of forces they cannot understand. To expect the Temporal Cold War to make sense is to miss the point; to expect clear resolution is foolhardy. Instead of serving as a strong narrative thread running through Star Trek: Enterprise, it serves as a visual manifestation of the troubles haunting the show. It also serves as a very effective story backdrop.

Let's do the time warp again...

Let’s do the time warp again…

Future Tense has a pretty straightforward story. Archer and his crew discover a piece of floating space debris. They bring it aboard, discovering it is not what it appears to be. The Suliban show up, claiming salvage rights. The Tholians arrive, demanding the same. A chase ensues, as Archer tries to outrun the two alien species desperate to get their hands on the technology. Future Tense is a classic chase narrative, as multiple parties fight over what Hitchcock described as a “macguffin.” Little is revealed, nothing is proven, everything is resolved so neatly that it seems divine intervention is at work. Maybe it is.

And yest, despite – or perhaps because – of this narrative simplicity, Future Tense stands as a highlight of the troubled second season. Future Tense leaves almost every question about the Temporal Cold War unanswered, but it is a tight and efficient action adventure. Like Cold Front before it, it recognises that the Temporal Cold War is a story as much as a backdrop. The fact that it is mysterious and nonsensical and arbitrary make it all the more compelling. After all, that is how it must appear to Archer.

Alien bodies...

Alien bodies…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Cold Front (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 January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is customary, these days, for television shows to map out their mythologies years in advance. Depending on when you ask him, executive producer Bryan Fuller boasts of having a six- or seven-year plan for Hannibal, despite the fact that the show spends each cancellation period on the bubble line for NBC. Indeed, the move away from the standard television pilot format means that shows are encouraged to have long-form plots and arcs mapped out.

However, that isn’t always the case. The X-Files was very much made up as it went along, with little real thought put into how the show’s sprawling alien mythology hung together beyond the immediate future. Even heavily serialised shows like Lost or 24 were plotted as they went along, with plans radically changing as the show evolved. Unlike film, where you (mostly) need a finished story before you start filming, television is a medium where you don’t really need an ending in mind as you begin telling the story.

There's a lot on the (time) line...

There’s a lot on the (time) line…

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Star Trek: Enterprise introduced the idea of the “Temporal Cold War” without any real idea of how the story was meant to develop or conclude. Although structured as something of a serialised arc among a (mostly) episodic couple of seasons, the Temporal Cold War is something that makes very little sense in the context of the show. Even years after the fact, the Temporal Cold War is a mystery, with Brannon Braga casually dropping the reveal that, well… Archer did it.

Of course, that plot development doesn’t make a lot of sense… but that’s par for the course. It is very hard to tie the various Enterprise time travel episodes together into a logical and cohesive narrative. Cold Front doesn’t even bother to answer questions immediately relevant to its own narrative, let alone hint at logical future developments for the series’ recurring time-travel plot line. It’s a story that seldom makes sense within individual episodes, let alone when they are strung together.

In space, all warriors are (temporal) cold warriors...

In space, all warriors are (temporal) cold warriors…

And yet, despite that, Cold Front is a pretty great episode. Part of that is down to the Temporal Cold War plot line, with Cold Front introducing a welcome sense of ambiguity to the conflict and selling the idea that Archer has wandered into something much larger than he can comprehend. On an otherwise quiet mission, Enterprise finds itself embroiled in a conflict between two forces that Archer does not fully understand, as if the ship and its crew have found themselves engaged on one front of a war in heaven.

However, Cold Front works just as well with the elements that exist outside the Temporal Cold War. As with Breaking the Ice, the episode plays like a regular day on board the Enterprise, as Archer and his crew find themselves welcoming religious pilgrims on board and making friendly first contact as they gather to watch some beautiful interstellar phenomenon. It’s an episode that draws attention to the quiet wonder and majesty of deep space exploration, elegantly and effectively.

Hang on in there...

Hang on in there…

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Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (Review)

It’s okay, Barnable, don’t worry. I have got a plan. Off you pop.

[beat]

I haven’t got a plan, but people love it when I say that.

Doctor, what are you going to do?

I don’t know. Talk very fast. Hope something good happens. Take the credit. That’s generally how it works.

– the Doctor and Clara discuss standard operating procedure

An epic struggle for universal peace lasting centuries on a back water world; a conflict spanning generations; the potential to re-spark the Time War; the possibility of burning the turkey. The epic and intimate co-mingle in The Time of the Doctor.

In many respects, The Time of the Doctor serves as an effective counterpoint to The End of Time. Even the title seems to allude towards the Tenth Doctor’s final episode, as if to suggest that “time” is a thing that passes naturally rather than ending brutally. “I don’t want to go,” the Tenth Doctor pleaded in his final moments, a line that Moffat gently tried to re-write at the end of The Day of the Doctor. The Eleventh Doctor is more even-handed. “But you, you are the Doctor,” Clara assures him. “Yep, and I always will be,” he replies. “But times change, and so must I.”

This is when the magic happens...

This is when the magic happens…

(In fact, Moffat has a bit of gentle fun at the expense of The End of Time. Whereas the Tenth Doctor reluctantly sacrificed himself to save Wilf, the Eleventh Doctor quite selfless spends his entire life defending the town of Christmas on the planet of Trenzalore. Discussing the fake regeneration at the climax of The Stolen Earth, the Eleventh Doctor quips, I had vanity issues at the time.” He could easily be hinting at the hubris that built up towards the Tennant and Davies era’s swansong.)

In contrast, The Time of the Doctor was relatively low key. Well, as low key as an episode featuring all of the Doctor’s classic adversaries laying siege to one planet across hundreds of years as the threat of a reignited Time War looms large in the horizon. Still, as wonderful as that epic scale might be, The Time of the Doctor feels like a spiritual companion to Moffat’s other Christmas episodes – the story of the loneliest man in the universe saving Christmas (the town and the holiday), on an intimate scale that just happens to be epic; “the man who stayed for Christmas.”

What's cooking?

What’s cooking?

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (Review)

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

– Clara sums up the Moffat era in a nutshell

The Day of the Doctor was a suitable anniversary celebration for Doctor Who, feeling like Moffat had borrowed more from The Three Doctors than The Five Doctors in piecing it together, allowing for multi-Doctor interaction grafted over a fairly generic Pertwee-era alien invasion tale. (“Not now!” the Eleventh Doctor protests as the multi-Doctor tale intrudes on his paintings mystery. “I’m busy!”) In terms of scale and spectacle, The Day of the Doctor falls a little bit short. While it looks lavish and clearly had more than a little bit of money thrown at it, the episode lacks a strong central narrative thread.

Instead, it serves as a meditation on who the Doctor is and what that means in the grand scheme of things – looking at the tapestry of his life and character, and trying to reconcile everything that the show was and ever could be. It’s the story of the War Doctor in the Time War, of the death of the classic show and the birth of the new, suggesting that the rift left by the cancellation can finally be healed, that the bridge can be crossed and that wounds might finally be closed.

Well, most of them, anyway.

doctorwho-thedayofthedoctor11

The Three Doctors…

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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Two Doctors originally aired in 1985.

That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air.

– welcome to the Colin Baker era

The Two Doctors is an oddity. It’s the only story of the Nathan Turner era that runs over two hours, unless you choose to count The Trial of a Time Lord as a single story. It’s also the only “multi Doctor” story that wasn’t filmed on one of the show’s significant anniversaries. (Time Crash was, after all, filmed in the show’s forty-fifth year.) It’s also notable for the fact that it completely eschews the charmingly impish portrayal of the Second Doctor that fans have come to know and love over the course of reunion stories like The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.

Indeed, The Two Doctors is almost the exact opposite of the show that you would expect it to be. The low opinion in which fans seem to hold the serial confirms that writer Robert Holmes has delivered a story that is markedly different from what those waiting for a team-up between Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton would have been expecting. Far from a nostalgia-packed love-in, The Two Doctors is written with Holmes’ trademark cynicism. This time the writer is directing that cynicism towards the show itself.

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

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Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Terror of the Zygons originally aired in 1975.

Right, let’s see what other damage we can do. Anybody know what this is?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

You tell us.

I will. It’s a self-destructor, and it works like this.

– the Doctor demonstrates to the Duke and Lamont that you don’t ask a question without knowing the answer

Terror of the Zygons is a strange beast. Tom Baker’s first season was bookended by two relics from the Jon Pertwee era. Robot was essentially a Pertwee-era invasion story where the only real difference was Tom Baker’s larger-than-life performance; Revenge of the Cybermen had been commissioned by Barry Letts and felt more like a Pertwee-era space story than anything Hinchcliffe and Holmes would produce.

In contrast, Terror of the Zygons is very definitely an episode of Doctor Who produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and script edited by Robert Holmes. It kicks off one of the show’s strongest seasons, and plays into many of the recurring themes of the era. There are fallen gods and body horror and a sense of the Doctor as a bohemian who won’t be bound by society’s rule. And yet, at the same time, there’s also a sense that Terror of the Zygons is derived from the same basic structure of Pertwee-era invasion story.

In short, Terror of the Zygons feels like it straddles two very different eras of the show, and provides an opportunity for the show to very definitely transform from one form into another.

Let Zygons be Zygons...

Let Zygons be Zygons…

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Doctor Who: Night of the Doctor (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Night of the Doctor originally aired in 2013.

I’m a Doctor. But probably not the one you’re expecting.

– isn’t that the truth?

Paul McGann. The “sort of” Doctor; the version of the character that is highly contested by fan and casual viewer alike. With only a single televised story to his credit, produced and filmed in America, McGann was always a controversial part of Doctor Who lore. Before his face appeared in a notebook in Human Nature, there was even debate about whether or not the movie “counted” in the grand pantheon of Doctor Who.

Ironically, McGann’s Doctor has gone on to have one of the most prolific lives of any Doctor. He has appeared in Big Finish audios, webcasts and even a series of audio plays broadcast on BBC radio. McGann has had an impressive volume of output, even without counting the tie-in novels and comics featuring his character, made without his input. The state of limbo in which the character seemed to hover seemed monumentally unfair, a quirk of fate that was the result of powers far beyond those of McGann himself.

So The Night of the Doctor is a pleasant surprise, conferring the ultimate legitimacy upon Paul McGann’s interpretation of the character, effectively confirming the Eighth Doctor as the version who held the flame for the classic series, and whose regeneration marks a turning point for the show.

He really eights himself...

He really eights himself…

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