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Deep Space Nine at 25 – The Most Humanist of (Star) Treks

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise. but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people.

– Benjamin Sisko, The Maquis, Part II

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is contentious.

Writer Ronald D. Moore has talked about the franchise as the bastard stepchild of the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Marina Sirtis has described it as little more than a hotel in space and not worthy of the franchise name. While the show was still on the air, Majel Barrett Roddenberry took the time to write a public letter denounced the show and its perceived connection to her husband’s legacy. This argument rages on-line even today, as fans argue about the series’ legacy and its place in the broader canon.

The charges against Deep Space Nine are clear. It is generally regarded as the most cynical of Star Trek spin-off shows, the series most likely to question and interrogate the underlying assumptions of the Star Trek universe. Deep Space Nine was the series that introduced and developed the Maquis, terrorists who splintered off from Starfleet. Deep Space Nine introduced the concept of Section 31, and the idea that Starfleet might be dangerous if left to its own devices. Deep Space Nine devoted its final two seasons to a war arc, a rejection of Roddenberry’s utopia.

However, these arguments are all based upon awkward presuppositions that reveal a lot about the assumptions of Star Trek fandom, and which tend to miss the forest for the trees. Deep Space Nine is a deeply humanist and optimistic piece of television, one has a great deal of faith in its cast and in people. As wary as Deep Space Nine might be about institutions and authority, Deep Space Nine fundamentally believes that people are good and that it is possible to peacefully coexist. The show simply acknowledges that this takes work, but believes it can happen.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Far Beyond the Stars (Review)

I am black, I have spent time in a mental hospital, and much of my adult life, for both sexual and social reasons, has been passed on society’s margins. My attraction to them as subject matter for fiction, however, is not so much the desire to write autobiography, but the far more parochial desire to set matters straight where, if only one takes the evidence of the written word, all would seem confusion.

– Samuel Delany, The Straits of Messina

Keep dreaming.

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My 12 for ’14: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The world has always seemed like it was on the cusp of something – like there was a powder keg ready to errupt. The infamous “doomsday clock” has never been further than seventeen minutes from midnight, and – outside of that brief moment of post-Cold War euphoria – mankind has always been living within a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of existence as we know it. Nuclear weapons. Global warming. Biological warfare. Economic collapse. All possible world-enders.

The new millennium has been dominated by the threats of terrorism and of global warming, unconventional opponents that can difficult to engage. However, 2014 brought its own particular brand of uncertainties and discomforts. In February, a revolution in the Ukraine sparked a political crisis in Europe, pushing Russia to loggerheads with Europe and the United States. Since August, Ferguson has been simmering away, the imagery of the protests burnt into the collective unconscious. The Syrian Civil War has faded from the front pages.


The word “revolution” seemed to simmer away in the background, with certain young activists actively travelling to Ferguson in search of their own revolution. Writing in Time magazine, Darlena Cunha compared the trouble in Ferguson to the civil unrest which gave rise to the American Revolution. Demonstrating no shortage of self-importance, actor and comedian Russell Brand published his own manifesto – helpfully titled Revolution – in whish he pledged to lead a global revolution.

“The revolution can not be boring,” Brand advised readers. They seldom are. Revolutions are typically bloody, brutal, violent, horrific. There is a reason that wars of independence tend to be followed by civil wars and internal strife. Although the idea of revolution holds a romantic allure, history demonstrates that revolutions seldom help those most in need of assistance. “Meet the new boss,” the Who teased on Won’t Get Fooled Again, “same as the old boss.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a harrowing and compelling exploration of revolutionary bloodshed.

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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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Non-Review Review: Interstellar

Interestingly, Christopher Nolan seems to have generated a reputation as a rather detached director. Common wisdom around Nolan’s films suggest that the film-maker is perhaps too cold and clinical in his approach to the material; that his films lack warmth or humour. This reputation is probably a result of the director’s fascination with non-linear storytelling. After all, The Dark Knight is his only straight-arrow-from-beginning-to-end film.

Probably also due to the narrative contortions and distortions of films like Memento or The Prestige, Nolan is generally presented as a film-maker who constructs visual puzzle-boxes. His films are frequently treated as riddles to be solved. Consider the discussion of narrative “plot holes” in The Dark Knight Rises that fixates on how Bruce Wayne got around back to Gotham, or the discussion on the mechanics of the final shot of Inception. This approaches to his work tend to divorce the viewer from his films.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Interstellar will likely be Nolan’s most polarising film to date, replacing The Prestige or The Dark Knight Rises. The film offers an extended two-and-a-half hour rebuttal to accusations that Nolan is detached or distant. Much has been made about the attention to detail on Interstellar. The physics on the movie were so exact and precise that physicist Kip Thorne actually made theoretical advances while working on the film.

However, at the same time, one character posits love as a force more powerful than gravity or time. Interstellar might be precise and meticulous, but it is not a film that lacks for an emotional core; it is not a movie that lacks for warmth. Interstellar feels like a conscious attempt to cast off the image of a cynical and cold film-maker.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Past Tense, Part I (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s weird to think that Past Tense aired at the very end of the period where Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the only Star Trek on television. The two parts were broadcast in early January 1995, after the release of Star Trek: Generations but before the broadcast of Caretaker, the pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

In a way, these are the most “Star Trek”-y episodes of the third season of Deep Space Nine. Embracing the franchise’s utopianism and optimism, the two episodes are even structured as a gigantic homage to The City on the Edge of Forever. Unlike the somewhat cynical and jaded run of episodes leading into them, Past Tense seems to exist as an episode that could draw fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation into Deep Space Nine.

Panic in the streets...

Panic in the streets…

It would have made sense to position the episodes earlier in the season, where they might have done a better job of attracting casual Star Trek viewers jonesing for a fix after The Next Generation went off the air. Unconnected to the serialised long-form plot of Deep Space Nine, engaging with important social issues of contemporary society and playing with familiar Star Trek tropes like time travel, it’s hard to imagine an episode of the third season of Deep Space Nine better suited to reeling in viewers.

As it stands, though, Past Tense aired at the last possible moment where Deep Space Nine could truly claim to be “the only Star Trek on television”, making the two-parter feel more like a footnote than a crescendo. It’s a shame, as Past Tense remains a vastly underrated instalment of the show’s third season.

Arresting drama...

Arresting drama…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Search, Part II (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a way, The Search feels almost like a parody of the classic Star Trek season-bridging cliffhanger. It is a story told under the same title, but with both halves of the story feeling distinct enough to stand on their own two feet. Written by two different writers and directed by two different directors, it very much feels like two very different stories linked primarily by an efficient cliffhanger.

It’s not radically dissimilar to the two-parters from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Redemption and Descent come to mind, two-part adventures that very much feel like two different stories melded together rather than one single over-arching story. This disjointedness makes a great deal of sense, given the standard operating procedure when it came to Star Trek cliffhangers, as established by Michael Piller with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I. The logic is simple: write part one; go away for a few months; return and try to write part two.

Of course, The Search very clearly isn’t a season-bridging cliffhanger. It’s a season-opening two-parter. And it’s so cleverly and consciously structured as two very different episodes that it can’t help but feel like a sly nod at the inevitable outcome of that approach to writing – playfully self-aware of how disjointed the whole experience feels as a single story.

A whole new Vorta problem...

A whole new Vorta problem…

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Doctor Who: The Five 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 Five Doctors originally aired in 1983.

There was one chap we tried to get hold of. What was his name? Used to be your scientific advisor.

Oh, the Doctor.

Yes that’s right.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

– Crichton and the Brigadier get into the spirit of things

The Five Doctors is a big anniversary celebration for the franchise, reuniting all five… er, four… er, three of the actors to play the lead role and one guy in a dodgy wig. Written by Terrance Dicks, The Five Doctors is 100 minutes of pure celebration, without too much in the way of depth or drama or development. It’s a beautifully packaged “greatest hits” collection for the franchise, to the point where the generally nostalgic atmosphere of the rest of the twentieth season (pairing up the Doctor with foes from his twenty-year history) can’t help but feel a little a little shallow in comparison.

Producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward tended to fixate a bit too heavily on the show’s history and its continuity, with stories often becoming oppressively burdened with in-jokes and references to events that took place decades ago. In contrast, Dicks is able to craft a healthy slice of nostalgia that remains accessible and enjoyable, giving everybody their moment in the sun.

Well, everybody but the Cybermen.

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen...

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen…

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Doctor Who: The Last of the Time Lords (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 Last of the Time Lords originally aired in 2007.

I just need you to listen.

No, it’s my turn. Revenge!

– the Doctor and the Master

I like quite a lot of The Last of the Time Lords. I think, for example, that Russell T. Davies does an exceptional job creating a version of the Master that manages to remain true to the character’s pantomime roots, while also seeming a credible threat and dark mirror to the Doctor. I also think that Martha’s character arc has a fairly logic and fluid conclusion. On the other hand, there’s a great deal about the resolution to The Last of the Time Lords that feels a bit rushed, a bit convenient, a bit tidy.

I’m quite fond of Davies’ writing style, but I’ll concede that he tends to favour theme and character over plot and structure. The Last of the Time Lords does an excellent job illustrating this, providing a bunch of fascinating thematic and character-based moments, but positioning them in a plot that doesn’t really work.

You know, for once I actually feel sorry for the Master...

You know, for once I actually feel sorry for the Master…

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Doctor Who: Utopia (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.

Utopia originally aired in 2007.

Ooo, new voice. Hello, hello. Hello. Anyway, why don’t we stop and have a nice little chat while I tell you all my plans and you can work out a way to stop me, I don’t think.

Hold on. I know that voice.

I’m asking you really properly. Just stop. Just think!

Use my name.

Master. I’m sorry.


– the Master, Martha and the Doctor welcome a new old face back

It’s very hard to talk about Utopia without seguing into talking about The Sound of Drums or The Last of the Time Lords. Certainly the third season finalé is the most ambitious of Russell T. Davies’ end-of-season adventures. It’s a three-part adventure, the equivalent to one of those classic gigantic six-part serials. If you accept that logic, it breaks down neatly into the old two-parter-and-four-parter format that the writers used to use to prevent an extended story from dragging too much.

Utopia, of course, serves the function of the two-parter in this classic structure – the smaller chunk of the episode with its own plot points and characters and settings, but with very definite connections to the rest of the adventure. However, I’d argue that Utopia is a lot more successful than either of the two episodes following, and a lot of that stems from the fact that it devotes a considerable amount of time to quietly setting up plot points and characters that will pay off down the line.

It’s also a powerful subversion of the fundamental ethos of Doctor Who, which makes it particularly effective as we head into two episodes where the Master hijacks not only the TARDIS but the show itself.

No time like the end of the universe...

No time like the end of the universe…

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