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Star Trek: Voyager – Mortal Coil (Review)

In its own weird way, Mortal Coil effectively amounts to a Star Trek: Voyager Christmas Special.

It unfolds in the lead up to the Talaxian festival of Prixin, which Neelix describes as “the Talaxian celebration of family. We observe it every year on Voyager.” Bringing friends and family together on an annual basis with ritualised food preparation and salutations, it serves as analogous to Thanksgiving or Christmas. Indeed, this sort of thinly-disguised Christmas celebration is a science-fiction stable. Perhaps “Life Day” from Star Wars Holiday Special is the most obvious example. To solidify this Yuletide sensibility, Mortal Coil aired the week before Christmas.

Choking on his Borgophobia.

They just keep killing Neelix.

There is something decidedly wry about the one and only Star Trek Christmas Special. (And no, the Christmas Party in Dagger of the Mind doesn’t really count.) This is after all an episode in which a regular character loses his faith in the existence of an afterlife and attempts to commit suicide in a transporter room. It is a strange choice for a seasonal story. In some ways, it feels very much like a Bryan Fuller script, a subversion of the traditional Christmas narrative. After all, Fuller has talked about Hannibal as an exploration of heterosexual male friendship.

Mortal Coil is a fascinating episode, albeit one that feels decidedly clumsy in its execution. The episode hesitates and wavers on what it wants to say, offering a wishy-washy conclusion to a very powerful premise. Still, Mortal Coil is intriguing for its oddness.

I met a man who wasn't there.

I met a man who wasn’t there.

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Non-Review Review: The Farthest

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

The Farthest is a fascinating documentary looking at the history and the legacy of the “Voyager” space programme.

Assembling a panel of experts from both inside and outside the development process, director Emer Reynolds crafts a captivating examination of mankind’s first journey beyond the boundaries of the solar system and into the untested void. The Farthest is a romantic tribute to the idea of space exploration, to the wonders that it holds and the inquiries that it inspires. It is a documentary that looks to the stars and wonders, as interested in what mankind is putting out there as it is in what wonders lie in wait.

thefarthest

The Farthest is bookended by a number of beautiful shots from Reynolds. The camera stares upwards at the sky as it pans slowly across a number of different locations. The sky can be narrowly glimpsed between the branches of tall trees. The audience’s eye is channeled upwards through the framework of a steel pylon. Occasionally, the sky is clear and blue. Sometimes there are faint signs of human activity, with planes charting the sky at a much more manageable scale than the craft at the centre of the documentary’s narrative.

There is something very striking and very beautiful in these opening and close shots, something that captures the sensation of looking up into the wild blue (or black) yonder and wondering what is out there or what might be staring back. The Farthest feels like romantic ode to the majesty of space, and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

thefarthest1

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Star Trek: Voyager – Year of Hell, Part II (Review)

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II might just be the most representative episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Taken together, these episodes perfectly embody the restrictions placed upon the third Star Trek spin-off. They are a boldly ambitious story of a ship that finds itself in hostile territory surrounded by a hostile force with superior firepower, all while playing into the recurring themes and fascinations of the wider series. However, they are also a two-parter that wraps up with an incredibly convenient resolution that handily resets the status quo in a manner that allows the ship (and the series) to avoid any lasting consequences from this blockbuster story.

The hole in things.

The hole in things.

The result is one of the most thrilling and engaging stories of Voyager‘s seven-season run, among the most satisfying of the series’ impressive “blockbuster” two-parters. However, its sense of scale and scope exists very much in contrast to the episodes around it, a truly epic story that leaves no lasting mark. An audience member skipping from Scientific Method to Random Thoughts would be completely oblivious of the episode. For an episode of such weight, great care is taken to ensure that its passage causes no disturbance.

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II do an excellent job capturing the essence of Voyager.

Annorax-ed with guilt.

Annorax-ed with guilt.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Year of Hell, Part I (Review)

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II might just be the perfect episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Taken together, these episodes perfectly demonstrate the raw potential and strength of the third Star Trek spin-off. They are a boldly ambitious story of a ship that finds itself in hostile territory surrounded by a hostile force with superior firepower, all while playing into the recurring themes and fascinations of the wider series. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II are effectively a story that finds history itself under threat, while emphasising Brannon Braga’s interpretation of Janeway by setting her against a similarly obsessive opponent.

Things fall apart.

Things fall apart.

The result is one of the most thrilling and engaging stories of Voyager‘s seven-season run, among the most satisfying of the series’ impressive “blockbuster” two-parters. Although the show is still being broadcast in the standard nineties 4:3 aspect ratio, it feels like a widescreen story. Part of that is due to the fact that the two-parter unfolds over three quarters of an entire year, part of that is the expanded room for storytelling, part of that is the fact that history itself hangs in the balance, part of that is the fact that Voyager itself feels at stake.

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II do an excellent job capturing the essence of Voyager.

The Voyager cast Christmas party took a heavier toll than usual.

The Voyager cast Christmas party took a heavier toll than usual.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager pitching itself as generic Star Trek.

This is a story that is not unique or particular to this crew. In fact, the story could easily be adapted to service characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: Enterprise. In some respects, Nemesis might even work better if Robert Beltran were swapped out for Jonathan Frakes or Colm Meaney or Connor Trinneer. There is very little in the script that relies on the particularities of this show or the nuances of its characters.

The Rifleman...

The Rifleman…

While this lack of a distinct identity is a problem for Voyager as a television series, it does lead to some great episodes. Many of the best episodes of Voyager could easily be ported to or from any of the other shows. It was an approach that really came to the fore during the third season, when Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga made a conscious choice to steer the show away from its focus on a crew stranded far from home and towards a more generic Star Trek sensibility.

At its best, this leads to very strong allegorical storytelling. Episodes like Remember and Distant Origin are very much archetypal Star Trek episodes, extended science-fiction metaphors with a strong moral core that evoke the Star Trek beloved by so many of its fans. Nemesis is very much an episode constructed in that tradition, a metaphorical exploration of the dehumanisation of soldiers through combat training and conditioning. It is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of social commentary and a superb piece of Star Trek.

A hard shoot.

A hard shoot.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Day of Honour (Review)

Day of Honour is a reminder that, while Brannon Braga is clearly the heir apparent, Jeri Taylor is still the showrunner on Star Trek: Voyager.

Day of Honour is noticeably and recognisably a Jeri Taylor episode, particularly following so sharply from Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II, and The Gift. This is a script that plays very firmly to Jeri Taylor’s idea of Star Trek, including an emphasis on the development of interpersonal relationships and also a very traditional perspective on how the franchise is supposed work. Day of Honour is a very conservative episode following the bombast of the three very ambitious stories bridging the third and fourth seasons.

"Don't worry, Janeway will never miss it."

“Don’t worry, Janeway will never miss it.”

In some ways, this is undoubtedly a good thing. Jeri Taylor is clearly more interested in developing relationships between the characters than Brannon Braga. Taylor was a very old-school television writer and producer, but her best material on Voyager suggested a genuine interest in the cast and the characters. Resolutions is an episode consciously rooted in the romantic tension between Chakotay and Janeway. Coda is a very clear elaboration on Taylor’s interpretation of Janeway.

Taylor even drafted biographies for the crew in the form of Mosaic and Pathways, suggesting a deeper interest in the characters’ inner lives than any other writer on staff. In some ways, Day of Honour is an extension of this approach. It is the culmination of Taylor’s attempts to push Paris and Torres together in third season episodes like The Swarm, Blood Fever and Displaced. That relationship became one of the nicer dynamics on Voyager, and would never have happened under the oversight of either Michael Piller or Brannon Braga.

Adrift.

Adrift.

However, there are also very serious problems with Day of Honour. In keeping with the tone of Voyager during Taylor’s tenure, it is a very conservative piece of television both in terms of style and politics. After The Gift worked so hard to generate tension between Seven of Nine and the Voyager crew, Day of Honour casually brushes that aside. And it deals with an interesting story about the legacy of Seven’s relationship to the Borg in the most trite manner possible, the plot hinging on a techno-babble solution to ensure there is no actual conflict.

More than that, Day of Honour is incredibly reactionary in its portrayal of the Caatati, a refugee race who were rendered homeless by the Borg Collective. These dispossessed aliens are presented as greed and underhanded, ready to exploit the charity of our heroes and to betray them at the first opportunity. It is an extension of the xenophobic panic of Displaced, a tale about how our privileged heroes should react with paranoia and mistrust to those who arrive by accident or in distress. It is a rather uncomfortable Star Trek theme.

Means of transport.

Means of transport.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Gift (Review)

The Gift belongs to a very particular subgenre of Star Trek episodes.

It is an episode that fits comfortably alongside the other second stories of the other fourth seasons, alongside Family on Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Visitor on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Home on Star Trek: Enterprise. It is a relatively quiet and contemplative piece, more rooted in character than plot. In fact, very little of note happens during the episode, even as it is positioned at an important point in the larger run of Star Trek: Voyager following Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II.

Things come to a head.

Things come to a head.

As with FamilyThe Visitor and HomeThe Gift is a breather episode following a more epic adventure. As with Family and Home, The Gift is explicitly about working through the consequences of earlier episodes. Family allowed Jean-Luc Picard to work through the trauma of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, while Home provided an opportunity for Jonathan Archer to make sense of everything that happened between The Expanse and Zero Hour. (Let’s not worry too much about Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II.)

The Gift is an episode of contrasts, driven by the demands of the series rather than its own distinct plot. It is very heavily serialised, playing almost as the third part of Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II; much like Family played as the third part of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. However, there is something very cynical in the use of serialisation in The Gift, as the episode rather transparently exists to transition away from where the show was at the end of Scorpion, Part II towards a more sustainable status quo.

Kes of death to an established character.

Kes of death to an established character.

The Gift is also a tale of arrivals and departures. It is an episode about introducing Seven of Nine to the cast of Voyager, establishing her character arc and setting up her journey across the rest of the series building on her separation from the Borg Collective in Scorpion, Part II. At the same time, it is an episode about the departure of Jennifer Lien from Voyager, bidding farewell to Kes as a result of her exposure to “Fluidic Space” in Scorpion, Part II. There is something quite poetic in that set-up.

However, The Gift is just as much an episode of extremes in terms of quality. The story focusing on Janeway and Seven of Nine is rivetting and compelling, but the thread focusing on Kes plays almost as an afterthought. More than that, the episode’s final act plays as a gigantic cop out, another example of Voyager retreating from some of the bolder ideas in its core concept. The result is a curate’s egg of an episode, a reminder of Voyager‘s discarded potential.

Breakout character.

Breakout character.

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