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Star Trek – Plato’s Stepchildren (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.

Another third season episode. Another iconic episode.

As with a lot of third season episodes, Plato’s Stepchildren is easily reduced to a selection of imagery and iconography. It is one of the episodes most likely to be cited as an “important” moment in the cultural evolution of Star Trek, full of clips that are likely to pop up on documentaries covering the history of television. Plato’s Stepchildren is an episode that has permeated popular culture, in large part due to a singular and memorable image that ultimately has very little to do with what the story is actually about.

"A kiss can be even deadlier, if you mean it."

“A kiss can be even deadlier, if you mean it.”

There is something frustrating about this. It feels inappropriate that Plato’s Stepchildren should have become such an important part of the history and the mythology of Star Trek. Not only is Plato’s Stepchildren offensive in ways that deliberately and brutally cut against the imagery that is so lauded, it is also a terrible piece of television in its own right. As with a lot of the third season of Star Trek, it seems like the mythology of the show is brushing up against the quality of the show itself.

Plato’s Stepchildren is memorable and important, but it is all boring and offensive. It encapsulates a lot of the third season, all in all.

"I can see you."

“I can see you.”

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Star Trek – I, Mudd (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.

I, Mudd is delightfully silly.

This is probably the broadest Star Trek comedy episode ever produced. It is very difficult to imagine any Star Trek ensemble outside the original cast pulling off an episode like this. While The Trouble With Tribbles is easily the show’s most iconic comedy episode (and the franchise’s, to boot), there is something rather plucky and endearing about I, Mudd. One of features of the later Star Trek spin-offs was a tendency to take themselves quite seriously. This isn’t a problem of itself, but it does make it impossible to do a show like I, Mudd.

Mudd in yer eye...

Mudd in yer eye…

As with other second-season episodes, there is a sense that the show is stretching its wings a bit. Catspaw was a clear attempt to do a horror story, and Wolf in the Fold was a slasher or occult film in Star Trek form. Episodes like Amok Time and Journey to Babel are very consciously building out the Star Trek universe. Episodes like I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles demonstrate that Star Trek can do comedy.

To be fair, it is perfectly reasonably to argue that shows like I, Mudd led the show to think that Spock’s Brain was a good idea. Still, I, Mudd is just so much fun – demonstrating the sense of goofy and theatrical fun that ran through so much of classic Star Trek.

"Stella, Stella... You're putting me through hell-a!"

“Stella, Stella… You’re putting me through hell-a!”

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Star Trek (IDW, 2009) #13 – The Red Shirt’s Tale (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 IDW monthly comic series that launched after the release of Star Trek is an interesting beast.

Writer Mike Johnson has been on board since the title launched in September 2011, lending the comic a sense of creative consistency. Much has been made of the involvement of Roberto Orci as “creative consultant” on the title, as if to imply that the comic might somehow be legitimised in relation to the blockbuster franchise that spawned it. Certainly, the series does not enjoy the same loose attitude towards contemporary continuity that characterised the DC comics series published during the mid-eighties.

Suit up!

Suit up!

At the same time, it is not as if IDW’s on-going Star Trek comic series can claim a closer relation to canon. After all, the events of the comic’s first arc were rendered explicitly non-canonical by a casual conversation between Pike and Kirk in the first twenty minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness. This is not a problem of course – any more than continuity issues were a problem for the mid-eighties DC series – but they do suggest that the series’ fixation on continuity is perhaps misplaced.

This weird fetishisation of “continuity” defined the first year or so of the title’s existence, with issues dedicated to essentially re-telling classic Star Trek stories using the new cast and crew. (Indeed, only one story from that year – Vulcan’s Vengeance – was not based on a classic episode.) The Red Shirt’s Tale serves as something of a half-way marker as the comic began to transition away from these sorts of continuity-heavy retellings, focusing a bit more on the new characters and the new world. The issue is a retelling of The Apple, but in a way that is more thoughtful and playful than a lot of what came before.

Colour-coded...

Colour-coded…

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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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My 12 for ’13: Star Trek Into Darkness & Fighting for the Future…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 6…

Star Trek Into Darkness won’t win any awards for scripting or plotting. It’s very hard to succinctly explain the various overlapping evil plans directed by the movie’s two competing villains – who knows what at which point, and how that makes sense in the context of their objectives. Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit of a hot mess when it comes to storytelling – an overly convoluted plot that spends far too much time homaging what come before, when it should be boldly going somewhere new.

And yet, despite that, there is an ambition to Star Trek Into Darkness, a willingness to embrace big ideas and questions about cynicism and optimism, about hope and fear, about the attitude that people adopt towards the future. At the most basic level, that’s what Star Trek is. Into Darkness doesn’t have the same space as a television show to delve into those questions, nor to offer the same degree of nuance.

However, it’s a willingness to ask them that is quite endearing.

startrekintodarkness21

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek (2009)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

Star Trek was not in a healthy place at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The last film, Star Trek: Nemesis, had been box office poison – partially due to the terrible script and direction, and partially due to the monumentally stupid decision of opening it during a winter season including The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day.

On television, things hadn’t been much brighter. Ratings had been in decline since Star Trek: Voyager hit the air, and Star Trek: Enterprise went through both a re-tool and a creative shift before becoming the first Star Trek television show since the eighties to be cancelled before running a full seven seasons. Even the most ardent Star Trek fan would have to concede that the franchise did not appear to have a bright future at that point in time.

And yet, against all odds and despite all the goodwill the franchise had lost, JJ Abrams and Paramount managed to reinject both an energy and a vitality into the film, producing one of the best blockbusters of the decade.

A commanding Enterprise....

A commanding Enterprise….

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek V – The Final Frontier

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is not a good movie. There’s really nothing that can be excavated from the film that might redeem it. It isn’t a misunderstood masterpiece. It isn’t an insightful diamond in the rough. It’s just a bad film, the one which forms the cornerstone of the “odd-numbered Star Trek films” curse. It’s indulgent, pretentious and narrow-minded. It tries to blend a world-weary cynicism with an ill-judged and mean-spirited sense of humour.

Despite being shorter than Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it feels remarkably longer. It feels like a rather halfhearted attempt to recapture the spirit of the television show – oblivious to the fact that the franchise has spent the past decade moving onwards. It confuses ponderous pretension for intelligent insight.

Feeling blue...

Feeling blue…

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