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Star Trek – Bread and Circuses (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Bread and Circuses is not subtle. Then again, that is the point.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Bread and Circuses, the fourteenth episode produced for the second season, but the last to air. There’s the idea of a world dominated by “a twentieth century Rome”, a rogue captain, a Prime Directive dilemma and a scathing indictment of modern television. Not only is it one of the last episodes with a “produced by Gene L. Coon” credit, it is also an episode co-written by Roddenberry and Coon. It is also the episode of Star Trek that endorses Christianity most explicitly and heavily.

"Wait, we're only getting it in black and white?"

“Wait, we’re only getting it in black and white?”

Bread and Circuses is a bold and audacious piece of television, full of venom and righteous anger, rich in satire and cynicism. It’s a plot so ridiculously over-stuffed with good ideas that viewers are liable to forgive the show’s somewhat cop-out ending where Kirk and his away team beam back to the Enterprise and continue on their merry way as though little has actually happened. Bread and Circuses feels like it uses every minute of its fifty-minute runtime wisely, balancing character with world-building.

It is probably a little bit too messy and disjointed to be labelled a dyed-in-the-wool classic, particularly when compared to the shows produced around it. Nevertheless, it is a decidedly ambitious piece of work, and one that demonstrates what Star Trek could do when it sets its mind to something.

When in Rome...

When in Rome…

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Star Trek – The Trouble With Tribbles (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

This is a classic.

The Trouble With Tribbles is an episode that can make a legitimate claim to being the best episode of Star Trek, if not the best episode of the entire franchise. It is a genuine classic in countless ways, perfectly embodying so much of what makes Star Trek classic and iconic and loved. David Gerrold’s script, polished by Gene Coon, is easily the best comedy episode that the franchise has ever produced, but never at the expense of the show’s credibility. The Trouble With Tribbles may be silly, but it is also very clever and insightful.

Nobody knows the Tribbles I've seen...

Nobody knows the Tribbles I’ve seen…

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Star Trek – The Apple (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s amazing how iconic Star Trek could be, even when it was terrible. There’s something quite ironic about how much of the franchise’s truly memorable iconography is rooted in some of the show’s weakest episodes. The Apple is one of the most iconic and memorable Star Trek episodes, featuring a giant evil dragon head sculpture, David Soul in orange body paint, lots of speechifying from Kirk, and a strong atheistic message with Kirk casting himself as Satan in the Garden of Eden.

It is also just terrible.

"VAAAAAAAL!!!"

“VAAAAAAAL!!!”

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #43-45 – The Return of the Serpent! (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the benefits of a franchise as old and as diverse as Star Trek is the opportunity it provides for introspection and reflection. Star Trek has existed for almost fifty years. In those fifty years, the franchise has been written by a lot of different people at a lot of different points in time. As such, it makes sense that viewpoints shift and core principles are questioned. One of the more intriguing aspects of watching Star Trek grow older is watching the franchise question some of its earlier decisions and opinions.

The Return of the Serpent plays very much as a criticism of The Apple, a three-issue storyline dedicated to exploring just how wrong Kirk was to impose his own attitudes and beliefs upon the people of Gamma Trianguli VI. In some ways it can be see as both a spiritual successor to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and a precursor to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Crossover, in that it is a story based significantly around critiquing a moral judgement made by James Tiberius Kirk and endorsed by the show.

Shocking twists!

Shocking twists!

The Return of the Serpent is an interesting story, because it consciously problematicises a story from the original Star Trek television show. It is essentially a story about how Kirk made a terrible decision that cost countless lives. This criticism is voiced more explicitly that the criticism of Kirk in The Wrath of Khan and half-a-decade before Crossover would make it to air. This is a very bold and brave tie-in from DC comics. It is hard to imagine a story like The Return of the Serpent being published during Richard Arnold’s tenure overseeing Star Trek tie-ins.

That said, Mike Carlin’s script is not without its own problems. For all that it challenges a decision that Kirk made during the original run of the series, the ending rather consciously avoids the implications of that decision. The Return of the Serpent seems to assume that Kirk can just reverse the damage he has caused by flicking a switch – by going back and repairing the original mistake. For all that The Return of the Serpent cleverly interrogates Kirk’s decisions and motivations, it is undermined by a rather clean and convenient resolution.

Into the belly of the beast...

Into the belly of the beast…

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Star Trek – The Changeling (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Changeling, an episode so good that they made it twice.

Sarcasm aside, The Changeling is mostly interesting for reasons outside the episode itself. It is the first contribution from John Meredyth Lucas, who would become the show’s producer towards the end of the season. Lucas took over from Gene L. Coon and is notable for being the first production staff member on Star Trek to direct an episode from his own script, with Elaan of Troyius in the show’s troubled third season. The Changeling arguably had an even bigger influence on the franchise, serving as a template for the first feature film.

Probing problems...

Probing problems…

Okay, “template” may be a slight exaggeration. However, you can definitely feel the influence of The Changeling on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, that may simply be because the script to The Changeling hits quite heavily on some of Gene Roddenberry’s pet themes. It has a villainous robot outwitted by emotional humans, Kirk besting a god-like entity, and larger philosophical questions about religion and theology.

Even outside of the themes that resonate specifically with Roddenberry, The Changeling hits on a variety of other classic Star Trek tropes – from a threat leaving nothing but dead star systems in its wake through to an abundance of dead red shirts. There’s an argument to be made that The Changeling is one of the most archetypal Star Trek episode. If you were to bake a Star Trek episode from a stock list of ingredients, it would look a lot like this. For better or worse.

Melding metal...

Melding metal…

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Star Trek – New Visions #3: Cry Vengeance (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

These Are the Voyages… aired in May 2005. Star Trek has been off the air for almost a decade; longer in the eyes of certain fans who have their own earlier cut-off dates. Although JJ Abrams brought Star Trek back to the big screen, it is not quite the same. It is not simply that – as Ronald D. Moore has arguedStar Trek feels more at home on the small screen. There is also a sense that there is a dearth of “new” stories in the Star Trek universe. One two-hour movie ever three years does not cut it, after all.

A whole cottage industry has developed around trying to sate Star Trek fans – to deliver the new episodes that it seems so many fans so desperately want. There are month comic books set within the continuity of the recent movies. There are novels that unfold in a loosely serialised format building off the end of the various twenty-fourth century shows. There are numerous fan projects churning out their own new Star Trek stories, whether featuring the original characters or a novel twist on the franchise.

Shaking things up a bit...

Shaking things up a bit…

This desire for new Star Trek is understandable. Given the rate at which the franchise was produced during the nineties, it is hard to imagine living in a world where new Star Trek arrives by drip-feed. In a way, John Byrne’s New Visions series is the most candid attempt to cater to this impulse among Star Trek fans. Using a wealth of images from the original Star Trek series, some photoshop skills, and years of experience writing comic books, John Byrne is literally able to stitch together new stories from the eighty classic Star Trek shows.

It is a bizarre blend of storytelling and cannibalism that serves as a fairly cynical metaphor for a particular approach to tie-in Star Trek material.

"Use your indoor voice..."

“Use your indoor voice…”

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Star Trek – Spock’s World by Diane Duane (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspect of Star Trek tie-in media during the eighties was the sense of freedom enjoyed by those working on the line.

One of the more infamous examples concerned DC’s attempts to publish a monthly comic during the release cycle of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The three films tended to build off one another, forming a tight continuity, but that did not stop the comic book company from trying to build off the ending of each of the films, leading to a variety of weird continuity hijinks. Spock left to work on a Vulcan ship; Kirk took command of the Excelsior; a Klingon joined the crew.

Writers working on the tie-in novels enjoyed a similar amount of freedom. By the time that Spock’s World was published in 1989, Diane Duane had been able to firmly establish her own supporting cast of characters in her various tie-in novels. Spock’s World includes appearances from Duane regulars like K’s’t’lk and Harb Tanzer, introduced in The Wounded Sky; even Lia Burke from My Enemy, My Ally puts in an appearance. It really feels like Duane has carved out her own space within the larger Star Trek universe.

However, perhaps that freedom finds its strongest expression in the fact that Duane was able to map an entire cultural and social history unto the planet Vulcan. Spock’s World reads almost like a biography of a fictional planet – charting the history of Vulcan from the planet’s earliest days through to the twenty-third century. It is a delightfully bold and intriguing Star Trek book, one utterly unlike any other tie-in ever published.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Sarek (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.

Sarek is a rather wonderful episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a celebration of the franchise’s history, but without being overwhelmed by the weight of continuity. It’s also a heart-breaking story about an old man coming to terms with his mortality, assessing the legacy that he leaves behind and the future he had hoped to shape. The beauty of Sarek, then, is the way that the episode ties these two threads together – offering a rather touching metaphorical exploration of Gene Roddenberry’s own influence on the franchise and his own deteriorating health.

Back to the future...

Back to the future…

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