Friday, 7 April 2017

Retreading the Shadow? Star Trek Continues Unveils Episode Eight

The USS Defiant returns courtesy of writer Judy Burns in the eighth episode from Star Trek Continues. Beware there WILL be SPOILERS.

A sequel of sorts to the classic third season Star Trek episode The Tholian Web which i discussed only a week or so ago, Still Treads the Shadow starts off with a big question and a potential contradiction against a certain Enterprise two-parter but resolves that dilemma fairly quickly although it will make you think of a few other similar instances.

Y'see the immediate challenge with the story is that it does parallel at least a couple of existing Star Trek episodes, namely The Next Generation's Second Chances and to a minor extent Time Squared from the show's evolutionary second season.  Not to dwell too much on the story and save the enjoyment for your viewing but Still Treads the Shadow brings the crew of the Enterprise into contact with a Kirk who believes that he was abandoned when the Defiant phased out into another dimension. Suffice to say that's not precisely what occurred and leaves the universe with a second Kirk. Time has passed somewhat more quickly for the new arrival who is aged around 80 and has spent a good proportion of time - a good proportion of 300 years - in stasis. What transpires is that the Defiant computer has become sentient, gained the name of Tiberius and sought out a way to get Kirk home.

This Defiant is one that has undergone a severe number of modifications over the time it's been gone from the Prime Universe including the ability to hit Warp 15 and is intrinsically linked to two black holes which provide an additional danger to the USS Enterprise as we come to experience.

There's more than a little hint of 2001: A Space Odyssey in here as well as we experience a Kirk two way between the computer that was his only friend and company for decades and then a three-way James T fest as things begin to unravel. The friendship with the Defiant computer is not too far from the crumbling connection between Bowman and HAL in the classic sci-fi movie even down to the nature of their final meetings and the monotone rumble of Tiberius' voice. I dare you not to think about Daisy when the computer speaks or wonder about pod bay doors.

Mignogna is absolutely front and centre here playing Kirk in triplicate as both the older and younger versions plus putting in duty as the voice of the Defiant computer aka Tiberius.  In fact it's such a strong Kirk episode that while everyone gets their moments to play and their catch of dialogue they are all very much playing second fiddle to the lead actor.  That in no way is meant to be derogatory to the rest of the cast but the very nature of the script relies on Mignogna's strength as an actor to carry it off and carry it through to the end. He drives every interaction and every scene because of Kirk's prominence in the story which is, ironically exactly the opposite of The Tholian Web where Kirk is absent for the majority of the episode. 

Spock is almost completely relegated to a science role and the rest of the cast - Chekov, Sulu and Uhura especially - are left with little to do except man their stations and relate events taking place off-screen. For recurring cast Kipleigh Brown and Cat Roberts they get minimal screen-time but again good to see them returning for another round of Continues

McCoy fairs decently once again although Chuck Huber does seem to be summoning up his deepest inner DeForest a little more than usual in this story and it might just slip into hammy territory. I can let it slide because Huber's southern doctor is such a great take on the original and here he does play a strong part of the story.     

Michelle Specht's McKennah actually does some counselling this time allowing her to play off the on-screen-all-the-time Mignogna who doesn't even seem to take a breath. Specht gets to be involved with arguably the best scene of the show as we see the older, wearier version of Kirk open up about his experience on the Defiant and its effects on him; the pain of taking four months to remove all the bodies of the dead crew for instance. 

Cleverly the end of this scene flips onto the younger Kirk and allows McKennah a moment to make him realise what needs to be done to help his older, lonely self before allowing the two Kirk's the chance to talk. Here Mignogna delivers a sterling speech (as the older Kirk) about how his view on his role as a captain has changed. For me this is absolutely the pinnacle of the story as he changes into a truly tragic character now lost in the place he knew so well. 

It's the older Kirk's relationship with the guest starring Rekha Sharma (best known for her time on Battlestar Galactica as one of the "Final Five") that acts as one of the focal points for Still Treads the Shadow but not as much as the Kirk/Kirk/Tiberius triumvirate.

Sharma isn't as prominent as other guest stars of recent episodes (Gigi Edgley or Clare Kramer for example), more gelling into the cast and acting within that circle rather than being a stand-out character around which the story is etched. I believe this is a better way of handling the episode in that the true stars remain the established cast themselves without too much being overblown about the guest. Rekha Sharma is more than capable in the role but I did feel that the relationships with the two Kirk's was not explored as much as they could have been. It almost felt as though they were skated over and not looked into deeply enough, indeed it's a good way through the episode before we really understand the connection between the captain and the scientist.

The parallels between the Kirk/Avi Samara and Kirk/Tiberius relationships are interesting to watch as we see a lost friend versing a jealous companion who has conditioned the older captain for many years. It's a distinct case of examining what has been forced upon Kirk versus a friendship that was lost over time. 

Still Treads the Shadow is, for all intents and purposes, a solid episode of Star Trek Continues from start to finish. The plot is sound, the acting is faultless and the CG is perfect but the problem is that for the most part it's horribly unoriginal.

Not only do the repetition of plotlines from other Star Trek episodes nag at me but I even felt there was even a blatant link across to 90's sci-fi flick Event Horizon with note of multiple realities and the whole black hole as a power source spin. I half-expected that the Defiant had been to Hell and back with all the black hole action that was going on at one point and that might even have improved the episode.

I can't fault Continues for effort - not one bit - but I was expecting more than this considering the quality of their run to date and the fact that this comes from the pen of a classic Star Trek writer in Judy Burns. I really really want to love this story because of it's links to The Tholian Web but the niggles get the better of me every time. Round that off with the knowledge that older Kirk won't survive the episode - something which you can pretty much guess from the word "go" and you can see where I was left needing. Of course you could say that it's the journey to the sacrificial point which is what the episode is really about and I wouldn't argue with you but having him sacrifice himself and save the life of Avi was all just too cliched at the end. Likewise the reviewing of the captain's logs from the aging Kirk on the lost Defiant. I'd have thought a lot of those inner conflicts would have been dealt with in the first year or so not over such a long period of time but hey, dramatic effect an' all...

Still Treads the Shadow may well be my least favourite of the Continues episodes to date purely because of the "seen it before" factor. I love this show because it's kept The Original Series alive (god knows how under the new guidelines) but yet I just couldn't get excited here. I really was disappointed that such great promise gave out so little twist and vibrancy that I've come to love from the diverse range of stories that the show has explored thus far. With only a few episodes guaranteed (nine through eleven) I hope that the remaining few are more original and thought-provoking than this.

What did you think to Still Treads the Shadow? Good episode or an average offering?

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