Saturday, 4 March 2023

The Rise and Fall of Disco?

Once touted by Alex Kurtzman (no less) as the series that would run and run and run, the news that Discovery's fifth season would be its last was almost certainly unexpected.

As the first of the new era of Star Trek series, Discovery paved the way for the return of the franchise after 12 years away from TV. Looking back, it took a long time getting to that point with frantic universe building and repeated delays holding it up for almost a year. Remember when Bryan Fuller was exec producer or it was touted as an anthology series...?

Certainly the reaction to its impending end have been mixed from elation down to true heartfelt disappointment but this could also be a telling sign of things to come.

The recent merger of Paramount with Showtime has cot a few dollars and the need for streaming services to start making money in these more challenging economical times has become evermore a priority.

While fans have been lapping up the first few episodes of Picard's turnaround third (and final) season, the news on what would be following it has been conspicuously absent. Fans had assumed that Discovery's fifth season would be coming almost immediately afterwards given that it's the only show to have received any form of trailer aside from Picard in the last few months.

That suggests that Burnham and co would have been coming next however their final mission is now pencilled in for 2024. When that show ends it means that (as of now) there will be two animated series and only one live action show in production unless Section 31 or the long gestating Academy show are picked up.  Point to note of course is that both the well-received Strange New Worlds and Section 31 are born straight from Discovery itself.

More than likely, in my mind, we'll be seeing Section 31 but I'm fine being proved wrong. Who knows, with the popularity of Picard's third season we could end up with a show on the Titan, Stargazer or - nothing.

But why Discovery and why so close to the end of Picard? Well, as we started by saying, reviews from the off have been mixed. Seasons one and two sought to carve a new corner in the well-trodden "prequel" era just before TOS before making the huge 1000 year jump forward at the beginning of season three. The change in era wasn't totally successful with some of the design work coming under fire (detached nacelles for one) proving divisive. Then there was Burnham's constant emotional turmoil, the story of the Burn that didn't really pan out into the big event fans expected or wanted and a fourth season that was hugely impacted by COVID. Even from the start the controversy of Burnham's adoptive parentage and the ship's spore drive sent fandom into spins that were only just avoided with the time jump.

Maybe it's naturally run out of steam but of all the shows in existence at the moment both animated and live action, Discovery often falls at the bottom of the popularity polls. In a sense the show was the pioneer for this new age and looking at what came after it, the spin off Strange New Worlds, later Picard and the two exemplary animated shows have surpassed it in terms of storytelling, visuals and without question characterisation.

For me Discovery feels like a bit of a dinosaur in comparison, I loved the first two seasons and like the warp engines, felt a bit detached and disappointed with three and four. The little heart that was there seemed to be there was washed away and the show became somewhat generic and tired. The Ten-C were an interesting concept as was their method of communication and for a brief spark this was the most Star Trek thing the series had done. 

But one thing that Discovery repeatedly infuriated fans over was its inability to explore its cast. Relying on season-long arcs, the show focused on a core batch of two or three characters with the secondary crew barely getting anything to say or do for weeks on end. Maybe they didn't need to and were always meant to be in that background position much as was intended with the TOS co-stars. Yet fans seem to have yearned for the character depth of DS9 or TNG but were sadly disappointed. Burnham, Saru, Georgiou, Stamets and Tilly were all well served during their time on board but the format just hasn't helped bring any depth to a multitude of interesting co-stars who deserved more than a fleeting moment of the limelight. Imagine what could have become of characters such as Detmer had Discovery taken a more episodic outlook.

What Discovery did manage was to tackle the issues  of today pretty head on and that again left the fan base mixed although I would say wholeheartedly it was the right thing to do. I believe the series will be remembered for its championing of LGBQT individuals, gender and the woke movements of the 2010/2020s in a very open manner.

 Now it has one last opportunity to go out in style and who knows if the next 12 months will see rewrites and reshoots to provide the show with a fitting finale.

After all, if it wasn't for Discovery and its initial success there would be no new Star Trek. Had it failed we would have had one maybe two seasons and that would have been it. But now there's talk of more shows, more movies and a life that the franchise hasn't experienced since the 1990s. Love it or hate it, Discovery did indeed make a difference.

Even if it characters don't sit quite as highly in my estimations as Picard, Sisko or the EMH, Discovery has done what it felt was right and made a case that Star Trek could live again and do something different. Whether that different was to everyone's tastes is a discussion that will outlive the show by many, many years.

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Monday, 30 January 2023

Annie Wersching 1977 - 2023

Seemingly out of the blue, the Star Trek Universe has lost one of its most recent additions to the family.

Perhaps as widely recognised for her roles in 24 and Bosch, Annie Wersching may well remain as one of fandom's best parts of Picard's second season. But at the age of just 45, the actress has sadly lost her battle with cancer.

As the third and most recent incarnation of the Borg Queen, Wersching was a key element of the story with her social media feeds full of shots from her time on Picard. Indeed, Wersching was becoming something of a staple of conventions in 2022 however her online activity seems to have slowed in August of last year. Indeed, it seems that she kept her diagnosis - confirmed in 2020 - very private. Already there is a GoFundMe campaign which has raised $135,000 to help support her three children following Annie's death.

Breaking out thanks to her role as Agent Renee Walker in the groundbreaking 24, Wersching had an active onscreen career as well as voice acting in the game The Last of Us which has recently been converted into a series in itself.

Fans of Star Trek may not remember that Wersching actually first appeared in Enterprise back in it's first season episode Oasis alongside the late Rene Auberjonois.

Some Kind of Star Trek offers its condolences to her family at this sad time. 

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Prodigy: Strong Return

What seems like years have passed since the mid-season break for Nickelodeon’s impressive Star Trek: Prodigy leaving us wondering what lay ahead for the youthful crew and how the real Kathryn Janeway would affect proceedings.

It's return hasn’t disappointed. At time of writing we’re hitting the midway point of the second half of season one (episode 15 in shorthand) with each week just adding a little more spice to this young child of the Star Trek Universe.

Just to recap, the crew seemed to have defeated the Diviner and made good their escape aboard the USS Protostar however it came to pass in the final seconds that the real Admiral Janeway and the USS Dauntless were hot on their heels. Problem is that the Protostar is carrying a weapon from the future which could destroy Starfleet if it so much as communicates with any element of the organisation.

This was borne out in the mid-season premiere, Asylum in which the starship docked with a distant Starfleet communications outpost and met with its sole operator, the Denobulan Barniss Frex. Revealing Murf’s race in the process (and almost off nonchalantly)  it opened up the mystery of what species Dal is and showed the destructive power of the Protostar’s terrible secret which cannot be removed. Offering the first real contact with Starfleet it expectedly doesn't go to plan.

If you thought the opener was a powerful move, its successor in Let Sleeping Borg Lie, topped out with the return of the Borg. But wait, instead of First Contact/Voyager Borg, Prodigy chose to go full-on retro and chose to take the cybernetic collective back to their TNG days albeit that little more stylish. It’s an episode that definitely stakes a claim that Prodigy isn’t a kids series for the most part with a big call back that would require at least some knowledge of the franchise to ‘get’. There’s even phaser modulation, reference to specific pieces of Borg tech and a visually gorgeous cube packed into the episode. 

Actually let's justify that even further. The Borg haven't felt this menacing since First Contact. They are malevolent, unstoppable once more and ooze the menace that has been missing from them for nearly thirty years. Let Sleeping Borg Lie takes the crew deep into a Cube in search of a vinculum (previously referenced in VGR) but turns into a nightmare as Zero links with the Collective and near turns into a Drone. This is potentially Prodigy's most bleak instalment, driving the show to its darkest limits and trusting that fans of all ages will follow the nods to the past. It's actually a good thing to see the Borg once again raised to the level of a truly threatening opponent right where they should be.

Following on, All the World's a Stage is a strong episode to highlight the Prime Directive (non-interference) while also providing an unexpected sequel to TOS. Star Trek has mocked itself before through most of Lower Decks and notably VGR's Live Fast and Prosper and this episode combines that with the storytelling aspect of the latter's Muse. It even nods towards the times Starfleet inadvertently influenced civilisations such as the Iotians from A Piece of the Action

As with the Borg-focused previous episode, the intrinsic links to the show's history are key to the understanding of the plot. Prodigy seems to be stepping firmly out of "just a kids show" and into the mainstream of the franchise with its choice to embrace near six decades of lore. My only concern is that while it is a clear chance to promote all the great elements from Star Trek's far and wide corners, the fan friendly nods might end up alienating the younger generation who were the original target audience. That said you can't ignore how good it feels to have such a rich history to mine, explore and expand upon just as we see here.

In All the World's... Starflight has inspired the Enderprizians way of life for a century. While the eventual reveal of the real Gallows is a tip to The Motion Picture's V'Gr, it's still an effective story that would be accessible to new fans. It gives a glimpse of the franchise's past and therefore a little temptation to find out more while also giving long-term fans something of a payoff that they might not have been expecting. Earlier in the season we'd seen Dal tackle command choices by recreating the bridge of the Enterprise-D replete with assorted crew from the franchise and now we have the appearance of the classic Enterprise bridge both as a stage performance and also to assist the Enderprizians when they are aboard the Protostar

But there's also real development for the characters here. Ok, so the Diviner's return and amnesia drives the story, we are starting to see each of the main crew come into their own. Dal has a mystery to solve alongside his evolution as a would-be captain. Gwyn has become more trusting as the series has gone on. Ruk isn't a third wheel to most of the stories and Zero is proving to be even more enigmatic than before. 

But the two standouts at this stage have to be Jankom Pog (whom I really didn't like at the beginning) who is helping viewers to expand their understanding of Tellarites (cleverly mirrored with the Dauntless' medical officer) and has shown himself to be an adept engineer. Then there's Murf. His species now revealed, the cute blue blob has started to evolve, opening up a whole heap of new possibilities as yet untouched by Star Trek and all borne from one single reference in a first season TNG episode. Not bad at all. His evolution into some sort of super-agile defender of the crew is amazing and gets played slightly comedically which can seem out of place in the show's more high-intensity sequences.

Four episodes in to this half-season and Crossroads actually felt like the right time for Admiral Janeway to come face to face with the young runaway crew of the Protostar. She has her questions as to what's happened to Captain Chakotay (and his crew?) but the point that Dal wouldn't reveal what was going on did feel as though it was the first real misstep of the show. 

Why not just explain what was going on and save the subsequent (but cool to see) chase between the two Starfleet ships? It makes for a great action-filled story that combines space combat with neat snow-bound racing with added Thadiun Okona yet it does feel oddly convoluted and a bit like banging your head on a wall.

With that issue still in the back of my head, Masquerade did further the Dal/genetics plot as well as the continued pursuit by the Dauntless and the appearance of the Romulans. It feels as though this was the episode of the season where the most elements were crammed in to the half-hour run time. Fortunately (but rather abruptly) Okona leaves and that does alleviate some of the focus. That's odd in itself since there's a lot made at the opening of the episode around his speedy integration with the Protostar's crew.

Unboxing some of Dal's recessive genes makes for a different take on his character and one that does have lasting effects beyond Masquerade. Sometimes that's a good thing with Prodigy and at other points it does make him look like a spoiled child however that in turn does allow for a good breadth of character exploration.

Escaping the Romulans intact is one thing and Preludes provides something of a respite before hitting the final run of four episodes. What's great here is that viewers get to see some of the character background and references played out which have been sprinkled in across the course of the season - and there have been a fair few. Jankom's pre-Federation sleeper ship for one, Zero's capture for another, Rok-Tahk's familiarity with Nutra-goop a third; they're all dipped into with more clarity. This could have been a filler yet wisely chooses to expand the understanding of the cast in a way that greatly benefits the show, not that audiences won't already have a level of attachment.

While all this is going on aboard the Protostar there's still the ongoing narrative surrounding the revitalised but amnesic Diviner aboard the Dauntless. Janeway's crew is a little more generic but her first officer and doctor do receive at least decent screentime to act as her support. The main focus though does tend to be on Janeway and Ensign Ascensia. The junior officer does have a lot to offer as you head into the final run of episodes and is far more integral to the show than we might have anticipated back in Asylum but again if you watch it back there are small hints right from her introduction that there is more to be revealed. 

Potentially the most disappointing episode of the season could have been Ghost in the Machine. As a kids show it's a solid move to introduce a holodeck-breaks episode while also a brave step to head into heavily charted territory. Certainly there are hints of TNG's Emergence with the holodeck seeming to bear surreptitious messages in the sequence of programs. Of course there is an endgame to it all which leads into Mindwalk

As with the holodeck dangers, body swapping is an oft-used trope especially in Trek with it only recently utilised in the excellent Spock Amok with particular aplomb. Here it does help to further the overall arc and give Kate Mulgrew some new and different material to work on as Dal in Janeway's body. As a vocal performance she absolutely hits the mark and that has to be in part thanks to some sparky dialogue and the work of the animators to envisage just what it could be like. As said, it does really focus the attention onto the final two part episode.

Sharing it's name with the recently released Prodigy game, Supernova has two very distinct parts to it. The first 30 chew out the dangers of the Living Construct buried aboard the Protostar and the second with the aftermath. Why does this work? Because the show actually takes time to deal with the results of the (SPOILER) devastation caused by the Construct and what to do with the Protostar crew. Again I don't want to screw over anyone who hasn't seen it yet but this is one of the most emotional, intense conclusions to a season that Star Trek has produced for a good few years. The characters really are fully rounded and for once a finale doesn't just round it all off nicely and reset. There are consequences here, there is fallout and it is a fitting way to round off season one.

As a season this is one of the finest pieces in the Kurtzman jigsaw and totally, utterly, jaw-droppingly unexpected. For years I've dreamed of a Star Trek series that each week I've wanted to come back to over and over to find out what happens next and Prodigy delivered. Great characters, cool ship, great villain and a great, respectful nod to Voyager and the franchise. A grade Trek that's for kids... wink wink.

What's been your take on Prodigy? Favourite moment or character?

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Tuesday, 3 January 2023

30 Years of DS9

A wormhole, a religious society and a space station might not have seemed the most obvious route to take when Star Trek was looking for a new direction in the early 90’s.

Three decades later and seven full series on, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine remains the only show to have chosen a stable location for its base of operations week in, week out. 

Taking a decidedly different stance from TOS and the simultaneously on air TNG, DS9 revolutionised the franchise with many of its choices from day one. Utilising a reclaimed Cardassian mining station, having the lead only ranked as a commander and have the main cast include several non-Starfleet personnel are just a sprinkling of the offerings in Emissary

Amazingly - and with five series (one more than the Berman era of '87 to '03), the Kurtzman take on Star Trek has yet to try something similar. Ok, Discovery went with a non-captain lead (initially) and both it and Picard attempted season long arcs with varying levels of success. Discovery has mixed up the cast, spun a curveball with its 32nd Century jump but yet not one of the five have decided to set up roots in one place.

Story arcs nowadays are nothing new but in 1995 when DS9 really kicked the Dominion War into touch it was a landmark for Star Trek if nothing else. Thirty years on and its legacy has only grown in stature. Now rated as potentially one of the best if not THE best Star Trek series, DS9 might have boldly stayed put for seven years but it allowed for a healthy ballast of secondary characters, recurring and ongoing stories and possibly the biggest galaxy building exercise in franchise history. The show developed backgrounds of both the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants with the latter still remaining largely untouched by the new era of shows. 

Aside from Enterprise it also remains largely untapped in 2023. Enterprise remains almost outcast but DS9 is conspicuous by the demands of fans for answers to the show, nods to what happened after What You Leave Behind and more. Recently Lower Decks has opened up passage to the station for its third season Hear All, Trust Nothing which returned both Nana Visitor and Armin Shimerman to voice their roles of Kira and Quark but there was still no word of what had occurred in the time since Sisko's disappearance.

Amazing to think that back in 1993 it started off with one of Star Trek's best pilot episodes only to descend into an "alien of the week" show seemingly trying to be the swansong-approaching TNG but in one place. To quote from another space station based show around the same time, it was the last best hope... it failed.

DS9 could never be TNG and that's where those first 20 episodes tend to fail. What it did do was illustrate that the galaxy wasn't as goddamn perfect as viewers were led to believe from aboard the Enterprise-D and that outside the Federation it wasn't all kisses and hugs galore. There was tension, there were differences out there on the frontier and while Voyager caved to internal demands, effectively neutering the Maquis, DS9 retained a healthy mix of personnel and believably all the way through. It never shied away from character changes and consciously embraced them. Sisko went badass, Bashir was briefly a Changeling and then revealed as an augment - and that's just two of the multiple characters. 

Looking back at that first season thirty years on, it's not that bad. Rose-tinted glasses are in play perhaps if you're not a super-fan of the Kurtzman shows, but even the weaker episodes are more memorable than some of Discovery's third and fourth season offerings. Move Along Home, The Storyteller and If Wishes Were Horses all seemed rather flat in '93 yet their presence in the franchise still echoes strong today. If nothing else they entertain, the characters are decently written even if the circumstances are bats-arse crackers. At its worst (allamaraine!) there seems a much greater depth and resonance to the plots than we see today. Admittedly no-one does ask what the Wadi are up to but hey, we can hope?!

But it wasn't all cheese back then (no Voyager pun intended). Season one memorably brought about the oft copied but never bettered Duet, Tosk and ended with the arrival of Vedek Winn and the true beginning of the show's Bajoran political and religious arc.

There was a tendency to over-rely on canon characters early on with the Duras sisters, Q, Vash and of course Picard all turned in before episode eight but that seemed to be dealt with rapidly. Q would never go back thankfully and bug Janeway for the next few years, Generations saw off the Duras sisters and it would take until Blood Oath in the late stages of season two before any other classic characters would wisely be brought back. 

Titillated during the first season and prominently in the opener, Emissary, the Bajoran arc seemed bungled to a degree before Winn and Vedek Bareil came aboard. Season two's opening trilogy of Homecoming, The Circle and The Siege showed the first real signs of life and potential rather than just that "alien of the week" approach that weighed down it's preceding year. But again, with some tweaks and thought, the Bajoran arc with its Pah Wraiths, orbs, vedeks and more would grow with the show. Initially it also provided a key way of showing the series could step outside the TNG-style framework and be unique since TNG never dared cover religion in such detail. It was a becoming a show that realised it could breathe on its own and tell its own stories without having to rely on its soon-to-finish sister series.

Breathe it did with the arrival of the Dominion and that first volley of phaser fire from the USS Defiant in The Search, Part I. A season later Worf jumped ship in the "Dorn to DS9" twist that was The Way of the Warrior and the show truly hit its stride. I could wax on for hours about the brilliance of seasons five and six; For the Uniform, Children of TimeCall to Arms, Sacrifice of Angels, Far Beyond the Stars and unashamedly the franchise rocking In the Pale Moonlight are just a mere fraction of the demonstrations of both writing and acting talent this show would produce between 1993 and 1999. 

DS9 is, in my opinion, unchallenged in its greatness and ability to say it is the best of all the Star Trek series right from day one. Was it better after Ira Steven Behr took full control and was allowed to just do what he wanted because the focus was on the UPN jewel Voyager? Absolutely and it's all the better for it. 

DS9 is not without its faults and many of those are in its first 46 episodes but it learns, adapts and grows in ways which none of the current shows in the stable have even shown a glimmer of achieving. In their defence, two of these shows are animated, one is ending after three seasons and one has only completed a season but nothing says EPIC in the way that DS9 said it or rather screamed it for several years.

Maybe it's therefore a good thing that we have stayed clear of a starbase, space station or colony so far in this era of the franchise. DS9 has left such a lasting impression that it may well have become the untouchable child, the one series that people just don't want to mess up. It had a start, a middle and an end and was fairly concrete in its 

At present the nearest we may get to seeing such a "single location" show is through the much rumoured Academy series or maybe the much delayed Section 31 show. So the wait for something, anything, that might be a follow up to this phenomenal part of the franchise is ongoing. One day, yes, there will be a show that treads a similar path but I think we'll have some time to wait before that becomes a reality. For now it's best to grab the box set and start that journey one more time.

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Ten Years On

On December 5th 2012 I posted up the first piece to SKoST and wondered where it was going to go.

A decade on and I'm probably no nearer answering that question than I was then. The Star Trek landscape has drastically changed. In those ten years we've seen the arrival of two movies and the relaunch of the franchise on TV. Amazing to think how little material we had to work with back then in comparison to now!

It's been that cliched Long Road with all sorts of twists and turns on the way. A ton of reviews (RIP Eaglemoss), interviews, previews, opinions and more that I can't quite remember across the (to date) 988 articles I've posted. Some were "ok", some were experiments that will never be repeated again and there have been some in there which are genuinely very memorable for a host of reasons. So I thought back to the pieces that I loved putting together, ones that I loved writing or just thought were fun to attempt. Definitely not a list of "The Best" but ones where there's a bit of a story behind them.

In no particular's a selection from the years!!!

5. Disaster

The one that started it all and I kept reposting for a few years. The original concept for this blog was to review each and every episode of Star Trek from the point I'd hit back in December 2012. For a few weeks I managed to pull it off with a couple more articles on season five of TNG but then I thought I could do more than just retread ground that everyone else had been doing for years. While nowhere near my favourite piece, it's still got a special place as being the first that was published on here. Bizarre fact, I haven't watched Disaster since that review!

4. Eaglemoss Preview   

For as long as I was writing there seemed to be Eaglemoss. A ship, an object, a terrible bust, another ship, a space station, a badge... something. As we know now it's all over and done ad probably on a shelf in your local Home Bargains or B&M in the UK. Back in the day I hounded Eaglemoss relentlessly for weeks about doing something in regards to the collection in its early days and small and insignificant as it seems now I was granted the chance to preview their first special - Deep Space Nine.

I have no idea why they let me do it but I was the first site to show any pictures of the model and was used as Eaglemoss' unveiling of the special. I felt incredibly honoured at the time to be allowed to do it and little did we know what that journey would be like back in 2013! The XL and the Attack Wing version are probably better results but this one is a model that I recall very well thanks to the access I was given.

3. The Toskars

For the love of Christ. Back In The Day I made the unwise choice to try and do a podcast and it utterly fell apart. It proved to be too much work even though there were some points where my jaw hit the floor during recordings.  I realised I write, I don't produce audio material and this  short-lived series (thanks to Tiff and Ian for joining in with the chaos) was a laugh if nothing else. I've learned since just to guest on podcasts and have no involvement in editing and the like! Why the Toskars? Because of ALL the things that I've attempted over the years this is the article/piece that I still get asked about - will you do another one?

Well, considering that several times during the recording of it I had a near complete breakdown I said "No" many times and very firmly. But...dammit... with the tenth anniversary approaching I reached out to Simon from The Engage Podcast and suggested (read "gave no option") to a Toskars episode. It's been recorded, got Tiff back for it along with the TEP gents, it exists and you'll be able to hear it soon. 

Si - hats off to you, you've taken a lot of time over it and I've been a pain in the ass but it was 100% worth the time. Loads of fun and it felt right to do now. Thanks to all involved with making it happen. Emotional - shall we do it again in 2027?!

2. Fansets

While Eaglemoss sapped the cash from my wallet in one direction, along came Fansets. Why would I pick these guys? Because - and I only found this out in the last year from Lew at Fansets - I was the first site to review their first batch of Star Trek pins. I was fairly shocked considering the appeal of their products and just how much the business has grown since that first review

Over the years I've continued to collect and I absolutely owe Lew Halboth some page space because it's been too long. I've loved receiving those packages from the US (whatever the travel costs!) and the quality has always been excellent as has the customer service. Reviewing them has been a lot of fun and with a few new bits I guarantee I'll be back talking about some of their pins in the next few weeks - some older, some recent but all incredible. 

1. Aron Eisenberg

I've been blessed to talk to several Star Trek alumni over the years in no small part to the generosity of venues (Wil Ross and David Limburg my thanks as always) to let me grab some time with their guests - and the guests themselves for putting up with a round of questions. I fanboyed way, way too much with JG Hertzler, had photography lessons from Robert Picardo and discussed classic literature with Natalia Nogulich (that one should have been 30 mins but ended up at 90!)

But of all of them, the one I remember most fondly is the time I got the nod to chat to Aron at First Contact Day in 2016. He said hi and we wandered down a corridor into a meeting room where there was another one of the crew having lunch. I dropped my phone on the table and hit record. The next hour was amazing. We just talked, went into some Trek territory and more. It was a true emotional rollercoaster and while all the interviews are a blessing, I came out of this one just blown away by the kindness, openness and just all round friendliness of Aron Eisenberg. As we closed it up, the guy eating his lunch was still in the room. He looked up and said; "Wow. That was an incredible interview."

I still have the original audio for it and haven't listened to it for a long time but I may just have to now. While I was probably over exuberant with my thanks I still don't think I did him justice and his passing was a very saddening moment for me. I'm ridiculously thankful that I got the chance to talk to him.

0. YOU

To every single person who has written something, read something, chatted in the comments, message boards, Facebook, Twitter... wherever - thank you. Even to the guy who once asked me to have an argument and include facts with references  - you've all been a big part of this last decade and I've made a whole host of new friends across the years. I would name you all but I know I'll miss someone out so I'll just say THANK YOU. Without the input, the badgering, the laughs, the occasional moment of being pissed off and jacking it all in, you've made it all worthwhile and a great trip this far. Is this the end? Is this where I close the book and move on? Absolutely not. I did start the year in a very strange place mentally but things have certainly changed and I'm, inexplicably, still here. 

More to come. I guarantee it.

Thank you all


Lower Decks: Season Three Overview

With a cliffhanger to resolve, the third season of Lower Decks had a lot to answer when it returned just ten weeks ago.

Filled with the usual array of Easter eggs, knowing nods to fandom and general insanity at times, the first Star Trek animated series since 1973 has taken one big change of direction in comparison to its live action predecessors and so far it still seem to be paying off.

Season three has geographically continued to go where many starships have been before but with a much more expansive take on the crew of the Cerritos.

This season has been marked with mixed reviews. Some fans have suggested it's not hit the comedic mark of the previous two seasons and the wrapping up of the cliffhanger story was, admittedly, pretty sharp and perhaps not as fully realised as it could have been.

But the year has unquestionably delivered even if it did take a few weeks to really get going. Over the first few episodes the plotlines were somehow pedestrian, leaving fans more interested in the background details and those winks to the camera that have packed Lower Decks to the brim each week. 

Opening with Grounded, the show packs in a nod to Picard's vineyards, Sisko's restaurant and a trip to Bozeman all in aid of restoring Captain Freeman to the bridge of the Cerritos. While all those shenanigans are ultimately pointless, it does allow for the return of James Cromwell to voice Zephram Cochrane, a few bars of Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet Ride and the Phoenix. 

Reflections, the halfway point of the season was where everything really kicked into gear. We'd experienced crew fantasies, the quartet facing off against a team of support ensigns from another ship and Mariner facing up to Cmdr Ransom but none of these really offered development of the show beyond it's more comedic remit.

Placing Boimler and Mariner on the recruitment stand for Starfleet was the first real spark of genius with the pair heading off numerous franchise references and quite on-the-mark comments about the organisation, ultimately with Brad Boimler going ape s**t after trying to keep Mariner calm for the whole episode. In fact it's a very strong double-A story as it also manages to ramp up the backstory of Ensign Rutherford and his bionic implant. 

You can't help but scream "FINALLY!" at the TV when it all comes out just what he was doing before receiving the upgrade as well as opening up some more questions for the show to answer as it moves steadily forward. More than a couple of great fan service moments in here that aren't DS9 related but it does feel as though, once again, the station is upstaged by another of its televisual relatives.

The subsequent trip to Deep Space Nine in  Hear All, Trust Nothing was the next step up, bringing back actors Nana Visitor and Armin Shimerman to voice Kira and Quark. This was the first time since the return of the franchise thanks to Discovery that the station had been revisited and it felt like too long. Fans have been clammering for this to happen for a while and they weren't to be disappointed. Returning to several key locations around the station, 

Then A Mathematically Perfect Redemption took the show and spun it right around. Bringing back the wayward Peanut Hamper from season one was not expected yet it worked a treat. Exploring the Exo-Comp's journey following her desertion from Starfleet, it starts to look like she might be on a more straight and narrow path but - well - it's never that clean cut with Lower Decks which means we'll probably see her again in the future along with a new accomplice if the final moments of the episode are to indicate anything.

Equally long awaited is the sequel to Crisis Point, the Cerritos' answer to the movies of the Star Trek franchise. Including some of the season - and the series' most cutting jokes about the whole framework of the fictional universe(s), Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus manages to tap into The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier to take some unrealised concepts and groan-worthy tropes as part of what is an ultimately very satisfying story. Paradoxus is a treat not just for the swooping Sovereign Class shots but for more character development around Boimler and Mariner. With the former's transporter twin apparently killed, Bradward takes up a "spiritual" journey within the movie sphere while Tendi rises to command of the main "film" plotline. Do we even need to mention the Sulu (George Takei) cameo at the end which is "even better" than Captain Kirk? Wow, that line really kicked where it hurt!

While we're here actually, this is Tendi's biggest episode of the season. Her part in most of the season has to be the answer to any of the problems and while Hear All, Trust Nothing delved (again, at last) into her Orion heritage, Crisis Point 2 does more for her than any other instalment this time round. If I recall we were promised that this season would see the character differently paired to open them up. While that's true of Boimler here, Mariner perhaps more in episodes nine and ten and Rutherford in Hear All, Trust Nothing, Tendi is shown progressing onto the Science Officer training programme but seems oddly relegated to a more background role except for this story. 

Episodes nine and ten do work out as a double-header. Starship fans will be going crazy for the AI Texas Class which is introduced here. With a reporter observing the routine of the Cerritos, Captain Freeman finds her crew under intense scrutiny to prove their worth with the results spilling over from Trusted Sources into the season finale The Stars at Night

The latter's "Second Contact Race" is a bit far-fetched but it leads into some decent drama and action that will tick a few boxes for any fan and add some excitement and tension that's been absent for some of the year. In fact it's only when it all kicks off towards the back end of Trusted Sources that you realise how much quieter season three has been compared to one and two.

The Stars at Night does leave the season nicely wrapped and cliff-hanger free with some of the major threads of the show's third outing satisfyingly concluded. Yet there are strands from before the finale which still remain untied. On a rewatch these will become more obvious especially in light of what was closed down in the finale. Lower Decks has a lot more mileage to give and although season three was mixed with a slow start it did hit the mark by the halfway point, truly delivering on its satirical element and action quota by the closing credits of episode ten.

Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Kirstie Alley 1951 - 2022

2022 seems to be gaining a reputation as a most unforgiving year with news of another notable individual passing almost daily.

Already this year Star Trek alumni Nichelle Nichols and Louise Fletcher have headed to the Great Beyond now to be accompanied by Cheers star Kirstie Alley.

While the Boston bar-set TV series remains as the focal point of her career, her first movie appearance strikes more than a chord with Trek fans. Travel back 40 years to 1982 and you would find Alley donning the ears of Vulcan Saavik for The Wrath of Khan.

If ever there was a Star Trek movie to be associated with, it has to be this one. Still a classic today and just as incredible to watch on the billionth view, Star Trek II gave Alley a significant role in the production. Filling in at Navigation (since Chekov was off on the Reliant getting things put in his ear), Saavik was the young fresh face of the crew appearing in all the key scenes of the production including the eventful mission to Regula One and the Genesis cave. Saavik and Alley are in the command chair in scene one, her presence in the film is monumental as audiences would have been wondering who this new face was and why they were captaining the Enterprise. It is an unforgettably strong arrival for a character who is the first to be seen taking on the infamous Kobayashi Maru (although you didn't know that the first time through!)

Saavik wasn't a one-hit posting as she would return in Star Trek III but notoriously this would see Robin Curtis take on the role. Curtis would then make a fleeting appearance in The Voyage Home with Saavik choosing to remain on Vulcan. Stories abound that money was at the centre of the non-return for Alley however of the two I would say that her performance is the stronger.

Supposedly half-Romulan, Saavik is just about as by-the-book as you can get and adds in a touch of emotion that is both wryly and sadly displayed at times during the story. In contrast, Curtis' take on the character is far more stoic and logical in a parallel to Spock which does ultimately work based around the content of the third movie.

Is it just down to the fact that The Wrath of Khan is such a notable Star Trek film that Alley's Saavik is so widely well regarded? Are the reasons for her absence from Star Trek III also so well publicised that it has made an indelible mark on the franchise's history? Perhaps. How Alley would have taken the character had she reprised the role may well have been different in interpretation to Curtis although to understand the character beyond the screen it's well worth diving into the novelisations of II, III and IV.

Even with that "forced" recasting, Alley's arrival in Star Trek history is one oft discussed and is just one element of what makes The Wrath of Khan so seminal to fans. Indeed, her appearance marks one of the great guest/one-shot roles in the whole of the franchise, so much so we remember it to this day and is being widely noted as part of articles being written about her passing today.

Saavik remains a fan favourite whether it's in Curtis' hands or Alley's but it can be for certain that had the future Cheers star not taken that role then it would not continue to resonate to this day. For many, Saavik IS Kirstie Alley, a legacy on Star Trek that stretches to 40 years and beyond.