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Star Trek: Enterprise – Terra Prime (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

It all began with Spock.

The character of Spock was the only character to survive the transition between the two Star Trek pilots produced in the sixties. Leonard Nimoy first appeared as science officer Spock in The Cage, opposite Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter. When the studio vetoed the original pilot, Gene Roddenberry was forced to jettison a lot of the cast and characters before setting to work on a second pilot. Spock survived serving (along with the sets and props) as a bridge between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

Spock is an iconic part of American culture. He is instantly recognisable in a way that very few elements of the franchise can claim to be. He lingers in the collective memory. Leonard Nimoy has repeatedly been favoured over William Shatner as an ambassador of the brand. Nimoy reprised the role of Spock opposite Patrick Stewart in Unification, Part I more than two whole years before Shatner would cross paths with Jean-Luc Picard as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. Nimoy appeared in a key role in Star Trek; Shatner declined a cameo.

Star Trek: Enterprise was never going to feature a guest appearance from Leonard Nimoy. However, Spock as clearly haunted the fourth season as the embodiment of the franchise spirit. The Vulcan-human hybrid at the centre of Demons and Terra Prime makes little sense in basic plot terms, Elizabeth serves as a harbinger that might summon Spock. And, in doing so, Elizabeth might yet summon the future. It began with Spock, it ends with Spock. At least for now.

Infinite diversity in finite combinations...

Infinite diversity in finite combinations…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are an indulgence.

That goes almost without saying, this indulgence standing as one of the most searing critiques of the two-parter. After all, Star Trek: Enterprise had only five episodes left at this point in its run. One of those episodes would be given over to Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to bring in Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis as a way to allow Star Trek: The Next Generation to put a cap on the eighteen years of the Berman era. Devoting two of the remaining four episodes to the mirror universe was a choice that left the show open to criticism.

Archer's cosplay went down a treat.

Archer’s cosplay went down a treat.

After all, it is not as if the audience at home was crying out for more mirror universe episodes. Even hardcore Star Trek fans were still recovering from the trauma of The Emperor’s New Cloak, the seventh season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that had the audacity to combine a mirror universe episode with a Ferengi episode. Discounting the somewhat divisive (and mirror universe free) Resurrection, the last time that a mirror universe episode really worked had been Crossover, which had been broadcast before Star Trek: Voyager was on the air.

So In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are both episodes that feel excessive and gratuitous. And, for all their flaws, that is a huge part of the charm.

Gorn again.

Gorn again.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Divergence (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Given the general directions and interests of the fourth season, an episode like Divergence was inevitable.

Before Affliction and Divergence aired, the subject of “Klingon foreheads” was of great interest to a fandom that had noted the change in Klingon make-up between the broadcast of The Time Trap in November 1973 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979. In the years following the debut of the “forehead ridges” during the introductory sequence of The Motion Picture, the ridges became a source of curiousity and fascination for the fandom.

Things come to a forehead...

Things come to a forehead…

This curiousity was stoked by the franchise itself, most notably Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Perhaps owing to the show’s engagement with its franchise roots, the production team teased out the dilemma on a number of occasions. Three classic Klingons – Kor, Koloth and Kang – actually gained ridges between their appearances on the original Star Trek and their reappearance in Blood Oath. Encountering flat-headed Klingons during Trials and Tribble-ations, the crew pushed Worf for an explanation. “We do not discuss it with outsiders,” he responded.

Given that the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise has been so fixated upon issues of continuity and history, it seems like it was only a matter of time before one of the season’s multi-episode arcs would be devoted to explaining what had originally been a quirk of make-up design and had evolved into one of the franchise’s most fun (and admittedly trivial) riddles.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Time Squared (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.

Time Squared is an intriguing little episode, if not entirely satisfying. Like The Royale before it, it features the Enterprise stumbling across a phenomenon that it can’t explain. Also like The Royale, the episode presents an existential horror to the crew. Time Squared is significantly stronger as a character piece, forcing Picard to confront a potential future version of himself that he can’t reconcile with his own expectations and self-image. Unfortunately, the open-ended mystery of the episode lacks the bizarre charm of the unresolved questions dangling at the end of The Royale.

"I never noticed before, but the Captain has pretty spectacular bone structure..."

“I never noticed before, but the Captain has pretty spectacular bone structure…”

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Star Trek – The Menagerie, Part I (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

Ah, clip shows. The bane of modern television. Okay, I’m being a bit harsh. After all, home media is a relatively recent invention. Up until the past couple of decades, it seemed that most people would only catch their television shows on… well, television. The audience was generally thought to be somewhat transient, the realities of scheduling and life making it highly unlikely that everybody would see everything. Indeed, most fans of old television shows found themselves at the mercy of fickle network schedules. Particularly for long-running shows, it was reasonable to assume that a significant portion of your audience might not be intimately familiar with the show.

Of course, the emergence of DVD box sets and on-line streaming have radically changed the way that television operates. Most obviously, there has been a massive a swing towards serialisation in the past few years, overlapping with the expansion of home media. While it’s tough to imagine a show like The Wire or Game of Thrones working in the early nineties, the fact that people can record and download and own their television shows means that producers can get away with assuming that everybody has seen everything.

What I’m getting at here  is that there was a time when clip shows were an understandable, maybe even desirable, part of the network television landscape. They could bring new viewers up to speed, or allow old viewers to celebrate the favourite parts of the show that they would otherwise never see again. Indeed, The Menagerie, the only two-part episode of the classic Star Trek, has a better excuse than most. The clip sections of this adventure are taken from the 1964 pilot, The Cage. Not only was this footage two years old when The Menagerie was broadcast, it had also never been aired.

Spock the difference...

Spock the difference…

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Star Trek – Crew by John Byrne (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

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

Majel Barrett Roddenberry was the first lady of the Star Trek franchise, in more ways than one. She was married to Gene Roddenberry and remained a part of the franchise after his death. She guest starred on the shows occasionally, continued to lend her voice to the computers and offered the occasional interview to the press. Although her actual influence on the television shows was relatively minimal (and she was occasionally prone to protesting various plot developments including the Dominion War on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), she did remain involved in Star Trek until she passed away in 2008.

However, she was also involved from the start. She had the recurring role of Christine Chapel throughout the original television show, and appeared in the unaired pilot, The Cage, as Christopher Pike’s first officer. Identified only as “Number One”, this almost made her the literal “first lady” of Star Trek. I’m surprised that Number One hasn’t been used more often as a character, with her appearances in tie-ins generally restricted to her time on board Pike’s Enterprise.

John Byrne’s miniseries might have the title Crew, and feature supporting roles for Christopher Pike and Mister Spock, but it is very much the story of Number One. Published a year after her death, and dedicated to her memory, Crew feels like a fitting farewell to the actress responsible for one of the franchise’s earliest and most intriguing supporting characters.

Fate protects fools, little children... and ships named Enterprise.

Fate protects fools, little children… and ships named Enterprise.

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Star Trek – Where No Man Has Gone Before (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

In a way, there’s a very clear divide between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before. It’s clearer than the strange new actor sitting in the middle of the Bridge or the fact that Spock is suddenly a lot less casual. In a way, each is perfectly positioned in popular consciousness. The Cage was produced in late 1964, but wouldn’t be shown on television until 1988, after spending years touring the fan circuit. It remains a strange bit of Star Trek history, sitting simultaneously outside any of the five television shows, and simultaneously a completely inexorable part of the franchise’s evolution. It’s where it all began, but not where the first Star Trek began.

In contrast, Where No Man Has Gone Before feels more like the pilot episode of Star Trek. Sure, the fashion changes a bit in the episodes to come, the entire cast has yet to be assembled, but this is recognisably the same ship and the same show as The Corbomite Manoeuvre or The Man Trap. It’s more than the actors filling roles, the consistent characterisation of Spock or the fact that it actually aired on television in September 1966. This is what the next three years of Star Trek will be like. It’s an aesthetic or an approach to storytelling that is markedly different to the way that The Cage tackled many of the same themes and ideas.

While The Cage laid down many of the philosophical underpinnings of the broader Star Trek universe – including the classic show – it is also a lot less physical and visceral than the classic Star Trek. Indeed, The Cage featured the Captain of the Enterprise reasoning with an advanced bunch of god-like aliens, appealing to human virtues. The action sequences felt a bit extraneous. In contrast, Where No Man Has Gone Before sees the Captain of the Enterprise punching a god-like being repeatedly in the face while hitting on the same themes.

I think that’s perhaps the most dynamic difference between not only The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before, but between Star Trek and its spin-offs.

All the old familiar faces...

All the old familiar faces…

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