Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Star Trek: Voyager – Repression (Review)

There is something almost obligatory about Repression, as if the production team have arrived at the point in every season where they are obligated to do a Tuvok-centric story but without any particularly strong ideas for that Tuvok-centric story. It is there because Tim Russ is a credited lead and Tuvok is part of the ensemble, and because there is a twenty-six episode season order to fill. It is not there because any writer thought that there was a story that needed to be told with Tuvok, some part of his psyche that needed to be illuminated.

The seventh season is populated with episodes like this, stories built around particularly characters in the most archetypal of fashions. Star Trek: Voyager is frequently criticised for recycling premises from other Star Trek series, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the show is less often criticised for simply repeating itself. The supporting characters on Voyager don’t really have arcs, often simply having a handful of stories that the series dutifully cycles through on rotation.

“Another fine mess(hall) you’ve gotten us into, Tuvok…”

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a marathon of character-centric episodes would reveal the slow and gradual evolution of the cast. Julian Bashir changes and evolves over his time on the series, from the generic any-character-will-do narratives of The Passenger and Melora into the weirder and more awkward Distant Voices through to his emergence as a distinctive person in Hippocratic Oath, Our Man Bashir and The Quickening. Bashir is not the same character in What You Leave Behind that he was in Emissary, and watching a chain of episodes based around Bashir would explain and explore that growth.

In contrast, a character-centric marathon on Voyager would be a much more frustrating experience, as the characters inevitably go through the same motion and repeat the same plots. This is particularly true in the seventh season episodes, where the obligatory character-focused episodes underscore how little these characters have actually and fundamentally changed since the first season. In Nightingale, Harry Kim is still insecure and lacking in experience. In Lineage and Prophecy, B’Elanna Torres is once again wrestling with her Klingon heritage. In Drive, Tom Paris is once again the careless flyboy who learns about responsibility.

“The more things don’t change…”

At the same time, Tuvok has always represented a very particular challenge for the writers, in that he doesn’t even really have an archetypal story in the same way that Torres or Kim or Paris does. Tuvok doesn’t have a “lesson” that he needs to learn over and over again, or a default factory setting that he can fall back to in order to learn that lesson. At least at the end of Extreme Risk or Juggernaut, Torres had learned that she should not let her more destructive impulses guide her actions, even if she would forget it and learn again. This allows for a character arc that can be repeated and reiterated. In contrast, Tuvok was generally well-adjusted and well-balanced.

As a result, stories featuring Tuvok tend to take something away from him and watch him struggle to return to normality. As a Vulcan, Tuvok is often stripped of his Vulcan reserve and forced to recover it. The results can be interesting and compelling, with Meld and Gravity ranking among the best episodes that Voyager ever produced. However, these episodes can also feel very trite and formulaic, often reducing Tuvok to a passenger in stories nominally focused on him: he drives a lot of the plot in Random Thoughts, but Torres in the focal character; Riddles is about something that happens to Tuvok, but focuses on Neelix.

Looking at things from a new perspective.

Repression is notably the show’s last Tuvok-centric story. It is also perhaps the most archetypal. As with episodes like Nightingale or Lineage, it is a collection of familiar tropes for a supporting cast member trotted out one last time before the show crosses the finish line. Repression is an episode that has clearly been assembled from a variety of earlier episodes focused on Tuvok, right down to plot points and individual scenes or costume choices; it is Random Thoughts meets Meld, with an extended final-act homage to Worst Case Scenario. All of which reduces Tuvok to a passenger in his own story.

This is a shame, as Repression works about as well as any episode built around its core premise has any right to it. Like Drive before it, there’s a certain pulpy thrill to its core premise that fits comfortably within the heightened retro sci-fi surroundings of Voyager. The story of a detective who is investigating himself, spreading subversive ideas through telepathic assault, Repression is a patently absurd bit of television which feels very much of a piece with earlier stories like Cathexis or Macrocosm or Darkling or In the Flesh. It works much better as a trashy late-night B-movie than as a character-centric narrative.

There’ll be Meld to pay for this.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Field of Fire (Review)

Field of Fire is an oddly nineties piece of television.

All television shows are inevitably a product of their time. This was particularly true of the twenty-odd-episode-a-season shows produced during the twentieth century, subject to the brutal churn of a weekly production schedule. The production team needed scripts, which meant that the writers needed ideas. Inevitably, those ideas were drawn from the wider culture around them. As a result, television is often an interesting lens through which culture might be examined, a projection of how a given society sees (or perhaps wishes to see) itself.

The noblest aim.

Star Trek: Enterprise was inescapably a product of the War on Terror, caught in the gravity of the attacks upon the World Trade Centre. Star Trek: Voyager was undeniably a child of the nineties, driven largely be a sense of listless anxiety in the shadow the millennium. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could never be entirely removed from its cultural context, it still stood apart. The writers tended to draw their themes from history, rather than from current affairs, creating a Star Trek show that seemed to exist beyond its cultural moment.

Of course, there are exceptions. Field of Fire is that most nineties of television episodes, the serial killer psychological thriller.

Highly illogical.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Gravity (Review)

Gravity is a powerful story, all the more effective for its relative simplicity.

Tuvok has been one of the most overlooked and ignored regular cast members on Star Trek: Voyager. The later seasons tend to neglect Harry Kim and Chakotay, but they had been given considerable focus in the earlier years of the show. Chakotay had been a major focus in The Cloud, State of Flux, Cathexis, Initiations, Tattoo, Manoeuvres and Basics, Part I. Kim had taken centre stage in Emanations, Prime Factors, Non Sequitur and The Thaw. In contrast, Tuvok remained relatively anonymous, more of a supporting player than a narrative focal point.

Vulcan on a ledge.

In hindsight, this appears a rather strange choice. Tuvok is the first full-blooded Vulcan character to appear as a regular on a Star Trek show. Spock is easily the most iconic character in the franchise, to the point that he would be the torchbearer for the JJ Abrams reboot and his family still haunts Star Trek: Discovery. As such, having a fully Vulcan character should have led to all manner of interesting stories. After all, Tuvok was introduced in Caretaker as a spy working undercover in the Maquis. There should have been a lot of material to mine in the set-up.

However, for most of the run of Voyager, Tuvok seemed cast in a supporting role. He was the investigator in episodes where the crew were falsely accused, as Paris was in Ex Post Facto or Torres was in Random Thoughts. He was a reliable sounding board for other characters, as with Kes in Cold Fire or Neelix in Rise or Seven of Nine in The Raven. He was even effectively employed as a mind-controlled monster in episodes like Cathexis and Repression. Tellingly, most of the handful of episodes focusing on Tuvok focus on events where he is not himself; Tuvix, Riddles.

Vulcan love slave.

This is a shame, as there is a lot of fertile ground to explore within Vulcan psychology. Logic is never as clean or simple as Spock made it sound. Existence is full of logical contradictions and inconsistencies. The two best Tuvok-centric episodes of Voyager tend to focus on these inconsistencies. Meld is an episode in which Tuvok asks questions for which there can be no answer, and in which his insistence that the universe is an ordered and logical structure pushes him to some very dark places. Gravity explores the long-standing myth that Vulcans are emotionless.

Gravity is a surprisingly influential episode of Voyager, an episode that explores the implications of an idea which the larger Star Trek franchise had taken for granted for more than thirty years. It is an episode that feels unique in the larger context of Voyager, one build as much around character as action. It is story about love and repression, one rooted very much in who Tuvok is. It might just be one of the best Vulcan-centric stories in the franchise.

Tuvok lightens up.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Blood Fever (Review)

Blood Fever is a strange and dysfunctional episode.

By this point in the third season, Star Trek: Voyager has abandoned any sincere attempt to develop or define its own identity. Instead, the series has committed itself to being the most generic Star Trek show imaginable. In many ways, this represents a disappointing betrayal of an interest premise and a fascinating cast of characters. In other ways, this allows the show to focus on telling archetypal Star Trek stories like Remember or Distant Origins or Living Witness, stories that deal with broad themes through science-fiction allegory.

Tunnels of love.

Tunnels of love.

In its strongest moments, Blood Fever feels like it wants to be that kind of classic Star Trek metaphorical exploration of contemporary society. In many ways, Blood Fever is an exploration of contemporary attitudes towards sex and sexuality, of the damage that can be wrought by sexual repression on levels both personal and societal. It is building upon the idea of pon’farr as introduced by Theodore Sturgeon (and refined by D.C. Fontana) in Amok Time, as the volcanic eruption of sexual desire following years of repression.

Unfortunately, Blood Fever lacks the courage of its convictions. The script feels like a victim of the same social mores that it seeks to critique, either unable or unwilling to talk about sex and sexuality in a manner that is suitably candid. As a result, Blood Fever ends up a muddled and ineffective piece of television that seems unwilling to call out its characters and which inevitably builds towards a tired rehash of an iconic Star Trek scene. Waiting seven seasons for this must be very unsatisfying.

Droning on.

Droning on.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Enterprise – Awakening (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.

9/11 forever changed the world.

In doing so, it also changed popular culture. As part of that, it also changed Star Trek. When it comes to discussing the way that the franchise was shaped and moulded by 9/11, there are a number of easy points upon which to focus. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise quite blatantly positions itself as an allegory for those terrorist attacks, with Archer directly responding to a terror attack upon Earth and seeking to hold those responsible to account. Star Trek Into Darkness evokes those attacks both in its imagery and its conspiracy theory subtext.

Fallout warning.

Fallout warning.

However, the influence is much stronger than any of that. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek touched on the themes of trauma and loss that inform a lot of post-9/11 culture by making both Kirk and Spock survivors of horrific and unprovoked destruction. Similarly, the cosmology of Enterprise had been shaped and defined by those attacks since at least Shadows of P’Jem, reflected in the hostile and paranoid universe suggested in episodes like The SeventhCease Fire and The Crossing or the destruction of the timeline in Shockwave, Part I and Shockwave, Part II.

The fourth season is no less shaped by the War on Terror than the third season had been, even if that influence is less overt. The chaotic asymmetrical warfare of Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II evoke the political quagmire of foreign intervention in the twenty-first century. Home explores responses to traumas both personal and cultural. However the Kir’Shara trilogy is most overt in its War on Terror imagery, paralleling Archer’s journey into the desert following a terror attack with the looming spectre of war.

Have we reached peak Vulcan?

Have we reached peak Vulcan?

Continue reading

Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forge (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.

The Kir’Shara trilogy is the strongest three-parter of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s fourth season. It could legitimately be argued that the Kir’Shara trilogy is the strongest story of the entire season and one of the strongest stories of the show’s four-season run.

There are a lot of reasons why this is the case. The Kir’Shara trilogy makes great use of the franchise’s continuity and history, without getting too tied down into references for the sake of references. Indeed, there is a valid argument to be made that the trilogy represents the most overt rewriting of continuity across the fourth season, an ironic touch for a season so committed to continuity. The story does excellent work the show’s under-utilised supporting cast. The adventure actually merits three episodes, the story never dragging or wandering off on tangents.

Under a not quite blood red sky...

Under a not quite blood red sky…

However, a large part of why this trilogy of episodes works better than the Borderland trilogy or the United trilogy is a simple piece of structuring. The Kir’Shara trilogy has a very clear and linear three-act structure, with each of the three episodes fitting comfortably together while doing their bit to advance and escalate the plot. There are no strange structural detours like the siege in Cold Station 12 or the visit to Andoria in The Aenar. Each of these three episodes is recognisable part of a singular larger story that builds to a crescendo.

The Forge does an excellent job setting up the arc, Awakening does an excellent job raising the stakes, and Kir’Shara does an excellent job tying it all together. The result is a satisfying two-hour television movie broadcast in three forty-minute chunks.

Mapping out an adventure...

Mapping out an adventure…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Enterprise – Home (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.

If Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II represented a transition between Brannon Braga and Manny Coto, then Home marks the point at which Manny Coto assumes full control of Star Trek: Enterprise.

As befits a season so steeped in Star Trek nostalgia, Home fits a familiar template. Each of three live action spin-offs took a brief timeout after an epic fourth season opener to tell a smaller character-driven story about the response to life-altering trauma. Jean-Luc Picard processed the trauma of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II through the quieter moments of Family. Jake Sisko confronted the loss of his father in The Visitor. Even Seven of Nine faced her disconnection from the Borg Collective in The Gift.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Home is clearly intended to allow the characters (and the show) to work through the issues generated by the epic third season arc, while also dutifully setting up plot threads that will play out across the rest of the season. Home might be a stand-alone episode in many ways, but it does serve to dovetail the third and fourth seasons of the show, working through character points that are hanging over from the show’s third year while also helping to establish elements that will become more important in the season ahead.

Home works rather well as a connecting structure, even if it lacks the raw emotional power of something like Family or The Visitor. It is well worth taking the time to focus upon (and flesh out) this cast. The biggest problem with Home is that so many of these characters feel underdeveloped, particularly compared to the casts of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is hard for those characters to carry an entire episode when they haven’t been properly developed.

"Go climb a rock!"

“Go climb a rock!”

Continue reading