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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – By Inferno’s Light (Review)

In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light represent a fantastic accomplishment for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The two-parter demonstrates the care and skill that went into characterisation on the show. The later Star Trek series often struggled to define their core ensembles as effectively as this series defined its secondary players. Star Trek: Voyager often reduced its characters to cogs within a plot-driven machine, capable of whatever a given plot required from them at a given moment. The same was true of Star Trek: Enterprise, which spent most of its first two years slotting cookie-cutter characters into very conventional narratives.

"I, for one, welcome our new Dominion overlords."

“I, for one, welcome our new Dominion overlords.”

In contrast to Voyager and Enterprise, the bulk of plotting on Deep Space Nine seemed to flow from the characters themselves rather than forcing the characters to conform to the demands of the plot. All the big storytelling decisions on Deep Space Nine are rooted in the agency of the characters in question, to the point that the fate of the entire Alpha Quadrant seems to hinge upon the fragility of Gul Dukat’s ego. It is a very clever (and very ahead of its time) approach to plotting a science-fiction series, just one reason that Deep Space Nine has aged so well.

As a result, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light are both rooted in what the audience already knows about the characters populating Deep Space Nine. All the decisions that are taken feel very much in character, and in keeping with what the audience knows about these individuals. This only serves to make it all the more impressive that the two-parter so radically revises the show’s status quo.

Leave a light on.

Leave a light on.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Horizon (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Horizon takes us backwards.

Early in the episode, the Enterprise is redirected to investigate a strange interstellar phenomenon. “This system’s almost thirty light years behind us,” Mayweather observes. Archer responds, “Admiral Forrest assures me it’s only a temporary detour.” This is largely what Horizon feels like, a journey back to the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Horizon is a deathly dull episode, but it would be more tolerable had it aired early in the first season. At least it is not as offensive as Unexpected or Terra Nova.

"A Travis episode? I'll be right there!"

“A Travis episode? I’ll be right there!”

There is something particularly regressive about Horizon, as if the episode is a relic of the show that Enterprise used to be. It focuses on human space exploration outside of Starfleet, as promised in episodes like Terra Nova or Fortunate Son. It gives the audience another glimpse into “boomer” life and even opens with Mayweather relaxing in “the sweet spot”, the first time that the audience has seen that location since Broken Bow. Even the plot feels like a retread of first season episodes – a strange hybrid of Fortunate Son and Silent Enemy.

The character beats are no better. Horizon struggles to construct a credible character-driven story for Mayweather. Unable to figure anything out, the show decides to saddle him with the same character arc that Hoshi repeated in episodes like Fight or Flight, Sleeping Dogs or Vox Sola. The problems are compounded by the script’s lack of trust in Anthony Montegomery to carry the himself, leading to an extended (and dull) first act and a padded (and dull) subplot. If Judgment made a sterling defense of Enterprise, Horizon is a damning argument for the prosecution.

Freight stuff...

Freight stuff…

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Millennium – The Judge (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The Judge feels very much like an episode that might have worked better later in the first season of Millennium. It deals with pretty big ideas and themes at the heart of the show, but in ways that feel almost clumsy and haphazard. Millennium is still a show that is finding its way, and The Judge pokes and prods at ideas close to the heart of the series as a whole. The episode feels rather clumsy, as though the show hasn’t reached a point where it really has a handle on itself, let alone the sorts of hefty existential questions suggested by The Judge.

At its core, The Judge is fascinated with issues of moral authority and justice – in particular, it asks questions about whether such authority can exist outside (or even inside) the mechanism of the state. Given that Millennium is the story about a man working with a private group to the potential collapse of civil order on the eve of the millennium, The Judge feels like it would be the perfect opportunity to broach questions about the Millennium Group and the work that they do. After all, the Millennium Group and the supporting cast have been haunting the narrative since The Pilot.

Judge not...

Judge not…

While these tough questions hover at the very edge of the episode, it never seems like The Judge addresses them. Then again, The Judge is the fourth episode of the first season of a new show. Millennium is still young. The Judge is written by Ted Mann; it is the first episode of Millennium that is not written by a veteran of The X-Files, by somebody who isn’t Chris Carter or hasn’t experience working within Chris Carter’s world. It is, perhaps, too much to expect it to have a handle on all of that. And The Judge deserves a great deal of credit for marking out areas that the show may want to explore as it grows and develops.

At the same time, while it has some interesting big ideas and a great cast, The Judge feels little clumsy and awkward in its execution. It avoids a lot of the interesting implications of what it says, and it features a rather convenient and contrived final act that seems to exist solely so Frank Black can move on to doing other stuff in the next installment. The Judge is a misfire, but it is an intriguing and interesting misfire. It is precisely the sort of episode that you might expect at this stage in the season.

You've got male (body parts)!

You’ve got male (body parts)!

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Star Trek – Journey to Babel (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.

Journey to Babel is pretty influential, as episodes of Star Trek go. It is an episode that really cements idea of the Federation that came to be at the heart of the franchise, suggesting that the organisation really is a diverse intergalactic alliance of diverse alien species, rather than a union between Earth and Vulcan. More than that, the episode suggests that the individual members of the Federation might not exist in perfect harmony with one another, but may each operate with their own agenda and motivations.

However, what is really remarkable about Journey to Babel is how much of this unfolds in the background. All this world-building and -embellishing is very much a secondary concern for writer D.C. Fontana. Despite its scale and its scope, Journey to Babel is a decidedly personal story about a family in crisis. It works remarkably well, offering viewers a bit more insight into Spock as a character and where he came from.

Party on, Gav...

Party on, Gav…

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Star Trek – Amok Time (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.

Amok Time was the fifth show produced for the second season of Star Trek, but was the first show to air. This isn’t unusual. The production and broadcast order of various Star Trek episodes have not necessarily matched up. On shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this was usually due to production delays or changes on specific episodes. On Star Trek: Voyager, the first and second seasons produced episodes that would not be aired until the other side of summer.

However, on the original Star Trek, the production and broadcast order of the episodes is radically different. For example, Friday’s Child was the third episode of the second season produced, but the eleventh broadcast. This makes watching the show in production order on blu ray a delightfully frustrating experience. The first five episodes produced for the second season are split across three different discs.

Good wholesome family fun...

Good wholesome family fun…

Sometimes the changes in production order were purely practical. For example, The Man Trap was the first episode of Star Trek to air because it happened to be the most suitable of the episodes that had been produced to that point. The broadcast order of the first season introduced all manner of production and continuity glitches, with uniforms and cast changing seemingly randomly. Still, The Man Trap was felt to be, effectively, the least bad option to introduce new audiences to Star Trek.

Amok Time, the second season premiere, was an entirely different kettle of fish. This was easily the strongest of the three Star Trek season premieres, and there’s a sense that the production team knew this going into the episode. Designed to ruthlessly capitalise on the popularity and success surrounding the character of Spock, the episode was very clearly intended to put the show’s best foot forward for audiences returning to watch the second season. The result is one of the best episodes the franchise ever produced.

Spock remains as sharp as ever...

Spock remains as sharp as ever…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Explorers (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.

Explorers is a wonderful piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an episode produced by a show entirely comfortable with itself. Indeed, the entire point of Explorers seems to be stressing just how comfortable Deep Space Nine has become in its own skin. It’s a leisurely and relaxed celebration of what makes the show unique in the Star Trek franchise, wallowing in the things that make Deep Space Nine the show that it is.

With a smart script by René Echevarria adapted from a solid premise by Hilary J. Bader, Explorers is an episode that never feels like it has anything to prove. And that’s the charm of it all.

Open to new cultures...

Open to new cultures…

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