Star Trek: Discovery, TV, Writing

TV Review: STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Season 3)

Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is both a step forward and, in many ways, a step back for the new era of the Star Trek franchise.

Buoyed by the ending of a second season that sent the crew of the Discovery far past the point of any canonical Star Trek story to date, the possibilities were endless. It could throw off the shackles of nostalgia, of existing trapped within the fan fiction canon of the 1960s, and truly emerge into something new. Incoming showrunner Michelle Paradise, under the stewardship of our modern day Rick Berman, Alex Kurtzman, chooses to throw the U.S.S. Discovery into a world of uncertainty: a post-cataclysmic, disordered galaxy with the reduced United Federation of Planets, an imperious crime syndicate in heavy control, and a central mystery for the crew to solve. Discovery builds on Star Trek: Picard’s notion of a shattered world order, a universe of futuristic certainties rent asunder by cosmic events, poor governance, and the rise of conspiratorial and sinister entities. Like much Star Trek before it, the seeming fall of the Federation as we knew it tracks with the steady collapse of the United States as the bedrock of post-war geopolitical order in the 21st century.

This allows Paradise and her team of writers to present Discovery as the kind of anachronism Star Trek itself, to some degree, now is. Michael Burnham leads her crew into this unknown future where she is greeted in almost hallowed terms by the first Starfleet officer she meets, who suggests the “hope” of a unified Federation, separated through travel and communications by the mysterious ‘Burn’ event a century ago, is her (and her crew, but more specifically her). It is as close to prophecy without venturing down the awkward road Picard trod on those lines, but Discovery the ship ends up serving as an avatar of righteousness and goodness from the distant past, from the “golden age of science” as a future character at one point puts it. In a world filled with Federation officers used to reactive, insular actions, Burnham and the Discovery arrive with a hopeful joie de vivre about the universe which, surprise surprise, challenges the status quo in a way no other crew had done in a hundred years. Discovery serves as Star Trek’s own attempt to provide light amidst ominous darkness.

The problem ends up lying with a mixture of repetitive elements, unoriginal storylines, at points poor writing and a chronic over-reliance on a main character who is lionised, even almost canonised, to the point of a climactic moment that is not just unearned, but also truly, when you think about it, absurd. Continue reading “TV Review: STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Season 3)”

Star Trek: Lower Decks, TV, Writing

TV Review: STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS (Season 1)

Conventional wisdom, ever since the very first Star Trek series in the 1960s, suggests that new shows take three seasons to find themselves. Lower Decks is now the first new Star Trek show to bust that myth.
The Next Generation only stopped trying to be The Original Series, and levered itself into the 1990s under Michael Piller while balancing a measured tone with space bound escapism, after two profoundly awkward seasons that have dated far more readily than the 1960s show. Deep Space Nine emerged from a staid chrysalis two seasons in once Ira Steven Behr engaged serialised storytelling alongside pulp adventure. Voyager, by its third year, tried to combine ongoing story arcs with recurring villains and a more consistent balance of episodes. Enterprise galvanised itself under Manny Coto after two lacklustre seasons, even if it was too little too late despite widespread and exciting changes. We will soon know if Discovery, under Michelle Paradise, has pulled the same trick – but the omens look good.

What do all of these examples have in common? By and large, a strong creative force at the helm at the point these shows found their feet. Voyager’s best years were arguably when Brannon Braga was heavily trying to shape the series, even if it lacks the same powerful creative as DS9 or ENT. Mike McMahan is that force but, and here’s the difference, he’s been around since day one. Lower Decks is very much his baby, to a degree previously unheard of in Star Trek. We might need to track back to Lower Decks’ chief inspiration, The Next Generation, to find a show which was so deeply tethered from the beginning to series creator Gene Roddenberry, and even then its success is attributable to many different cooks stirring the broth. Lower Decks is McMahan’s vision and you feel that from the very beginning.
There is little doubt the resulting show is an acquired taste but this sojourn into sweet-natured comedy is hugely faithful to Star Trek lore, imbued with a love of the subject matter, and hits the ground running without the identity crisis every Star Trek series that has preceded it faced.
Continue reading “TV Review: STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS (Season 1)”

Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt XI – ‘Live Long and Prosper’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Given how powerfully The Wrath of Khan ends, it is easy to miss the beauty in it, certainly in terms of how perfectly it caps off a character journey for Admiral James T. Kirk that we’ve witnessed almost from minute one. It may be Spock who dies in The Wrath of Khan, but the film unquestionably throughout is about Kirk.

It is also hard to overestimate how much of a shock Spock’s death might have been at the time. Characters like Spock didn’t die. You didn’t kill off someone like Leonard Nimoy. Star Trek had emerged from an era of largely safe, colourful, now even kitsch television in which America reflected its aspirational virtues for the post-war future in the 1960’s in heroes. Kirk. Bruce Wayne. Jim Phelps. Cinema had James Bond or Matt Helm. Morally flawed or compromised at times they might have been, but they were designed to save us from the hopeless devastation a generation had lived through. Star Trek’s heroes would fight battles, defeat foes, explore new worlds, but they would always at the end finish on TV with a little joke or the acknowledgement that they’ll be back next week for another adventure.

Even The Motion Picture, which tones down the colour and comedy of The Original Series to depict a post-Watergate, late-1970’s cooler vision of Starfleet’s future, saw Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise—with Spock having regained his purpose as a Starfleet officer—warp away toward a sequel. The human adventure, after all, was just beginning. Nicholas Meyer’s sequel is an incredibly humanistic film but it acknowledges that with humanity, with hope, has to come the balance of pain, and of sacrifice. While Kirk’s arc of spiritual rebirth has a resolutely Christian bent, Spock giving his life to save the Enterprise makes him the Christ figure who saves the crew from Khan’s defeated Devil. Kirk’s first best destiny is to lead, is to find his way back to himself, and to do that he must lose someone he takes for granted for much of The Wrath of Khan. His anchor. His best friend.

To even contemplate such a remarkable ending to a story like this proves just how special The Wrath of Khan is. That ending of Avengers: Endgame? It wouldn’t exist without what The Wrath of Khan dared to try.

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt XI – ‘Live Long and Prosper’”
Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt III – ‘Something We Can Transplant’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Star Trek and God have an interesting relationship. For a show revolving around scientific discovery and set in the cosmos, the franchise frequently returns to Biblical allegory and religious mystery. The Wrath of Khan is no exception, even for an ostensibly secular film.

How else can the Genesis Project be defined than the product of a God complex? The scientists of space station Regula 1, as directed by Dr. Carol Marcus, are well aware of how powerful the Genesis device is. “We are dealing with something that could be perverted into a dreadful weapon” agonises her son and fellow scientist, David, in the wake of being contacted by the U.S.S. Reliant as they scout out test sites for the project. These are scientists tethered to the Federation but not driven by Starfleet’s rhetoric who appreciate they have the power to create or destroy life, and David seems positively terrified that Starfleet itself could be inviolate, could corrupt their science. “Every time we have dealings with Starfleet, I get nervous…”. It would be hard to imagine Gene Roddenberry’s pure vision of humanity’s future space navy containing any suggestions they could warp the power of God.

Nicholas Meyer, in his humanistic and flawed version of the 23rd century, is far less convinced of Starfleet’s purity. He has lived through the horror of Vietnam just a decade before his take on Star Trek’s future, having witnessed progressive democracies almost destroyed by ideological fear, not to mention raised in the shadow of Hiroshima and the work of Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist whose noble actions led to a century-defining blight on American history. The Regula scientists react in horror at Reliant’s Captain Terrell openly wondering if the life signs detected on Ceti Alpha VI (or what they think to be Ceti Alpha VI) can be transplanted. ”It might only be a particle of preanimate matter”. The Federation already have powers over matter and space that would have been considered God-like to earlier humanity and Carol Marcus chafes at his casual lack of humility in the face of such power.

Little do any of them realise that on the surface of the planet lies an expression of corrupted humanity, a sundered ‘God’ resting in his own personal Dante’s inferno.

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt III – ‘Something We Can Transplant’”
Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Very early on, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan positions itself as a film not just about life and death, but also about age.

We like to think of Captain James T. Kirk as one of the iconic heroic figures of 20th century media. Gene Roddenberry envisaged Star Trek as a Western in space, a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, and for the second film director Nicholas Meyer thought a lot about Horatio Hornblower, from the mid-20th century novels by C. S. Forester. The younger Kirk was a space cowboy, an honourable sharpshooter riding his starship steed across the galaxy with his trusty crew, encountering life forms, putting out fires, starting a few unintentionally, and finding a girl in almost every port. Meyer reconfigures Kirk in middle-age as the swaggering commander in chief, the seasoned voyager whose cowboy days are long over. “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor” he tells Leonard McCoy, after all.

Yet this elder Kirk is restless and Meyer conveys this from the beginning. Following the disastrous Kobayashi Maru, Kirk’s trusty, unlikely best friend, the equally seasoned and middle-aged Spock, presents his commander with a birthday present – Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic A Tale of Two Cities, in a beautiful, historic hardback edition. Kirk reads the legendary opening lines: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times… message, Spock?”. Kirk understands that his friend gives everything deliberate and naturally, as a Vulcan, logical thought, so guesses Spock would not have passed this book onto him on such a key day arbitrarily. “None that I’m conscious of” Spock replies coyly, but we don’t believe either. Kirk is intelligent and well read enough to be aware Spock detects in him a melancholy, a sorrow, which the Kobayashi Maru—a reminder of his youthful brio—serves to simply underscore.

Captain Kirk is gone. Admiral Kirk endures. Yet what is left when the cowboy hangs up his boots?

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’”
Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt I – ‘A No-Win Scenario’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

In many senses, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the second coming of the Star Trek franchise.

While 1979 had given us The Motion Picture, a film which has improved like a fine wine with age, The Wrath of Khan imposed a framework and iconic visual structure which defined Gene Roddenberry’s creation across the subsequent films of the 1980’s and into The Next Generation sequel TV series and spin-offs over the next two decades. The Wrath of Khan, under the guiding hand of Nicholas Meyer, rediscovered a humanity within Star Trek that the elegant but stale The Motion Picture struggled to recapture, existing at the end of a depressed 70’s where the optimism and colour of the original 1960’s show had been ripped from the American psyche.

That film removed certain key principles of Star Trek’s original mission statement. Time had passed and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise were, to a degree, diffused. James T. Kirk had been promoted. Spock had left Starfleet. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy grew a beard and went through a failed marriage. The ship even had a new Captain in the young, handsome yet naive Willard Decker. Come the end of The Motion Picture, the crew were reunited and, as the film promised, ‘the human adventure is just beginning…’, but what would that voyage look like? The world of the 1980’s was a far different one from that of 1969, when the Original Series of Star Trek was initially cancelled after three seasons.

The Motion Picture proved it could never entirely return to where it began.

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt I – ‘A No-Win Scenario’”
Essays, Star Trek: Picard, TV

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & STAR TREK’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

Continue reading “Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & STAR TREK’s Nostalgic Future”
Essays, TV

Nostalgia & STAR TREK: PICARD, DISCOVERY and the Future

Nostalgia seems to be a double edged sword right now in Hollywood. What on the surface appears to be a comforting guaranteed winner in terms of audience satisfaction and cinematic box office is becoming something of a poisoned creative chalice.

The lacklustre critical (if not box-office) responses to pictures such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Ocean’s Eight, sequels to long-standing, well-regarded franchises; or Lucasfilm’s decision to put a hold on more A Star Wars Story anthology movies after the tepid box office (by Star Wars terms) of Solo, seemingly putting immediately paid to rumoured Boba Fett & Obi-Wan Kenobi-centric films. There is a nostalgia blowback in progress, the ripple effect of which we are only beginning to understand. Is this a ripple effect that, like the Nexus in Generations, threatens to engulf the future of the Star Trek franchise?

In a year soaked with controversy when it comes to working practices in American television, Star Trek has unfortunately not escaped the taint of disappointing choices. Star Trek: Discovery showrunners Gretchen Berg & Aaron Harberts were dismissed from the series due to reputed abusive behaviour toward their staff, a move which coincided with their temporary replacement Alex Kurtzman inking a massive deal with CBS Television Studios to produce movie and TV projects under his production banner, Secret Hideout, which includes taking over showrunning duties for the remainder of Discovery’s Season 2 (currently filming) and developing brand new Star Trek projects for CBS All Access’ pay-per-view service. Kurtzman has been involved with Discovery since the beginning, since Bryan Fuller’s brief establishment of Trek’s long-awaited return to TV, so his appointment as the new man in charge makes, on paper, a world of sense.

Interest has nonetheless turned towards what ‘new’ Star Trek projects Kurtzman might oversee, with fans enormously curious about reports that Kurtzman may be working with Sir Patrick Stewart on bringing back The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard to front one of these forthcoming series. This follows in the wake of Stewart, in recent months, making noises that he would be interested in reprising the role of Picard, which he last played in 2003’s underwhelming Next Generation cinematic send off Star Trek: Nemesis. While at this stage largely industry and tabloid rumour, one that almost seems too good to be true for many Trek fans, it nonetheless opens up a big topic for debate.

If Kurtzman really is thinking of reviving the character of Picard, and bringing Stewart back into the fold, is Trek looking back as a means of moving forward?

Continue reading “Nostalgia & STAR TREK: PICARD, DISCOVERY and the Future”
Season Reviews, TV

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Season 1, Part 2): Reflections on the Journey

Star Trek: Discovery has enjoyed a fascinating first season, both in the context of its place in the television landscape and the historic Trek franchise as a whole.

For a start, it was a season of two halves, both shaped by different creatives with different aesthetics. Bryan Fuller’s original influence you can feel in the opening arc regarding the revered Klingon extremist T’Kuvma and how his death makes him a religious martyr, triggers civil infighting and launches a ‘crusade’ against the Federation who killed him. The parallels to modern religious fundamentalist terrorism are as potent an allegory as we’ve ever seen in Star Trek, with old series hand Fuller aware for any new show to work (especially one designed to relaunch the franchise on television), it would need to hold true to the precepts of what people loved about Star Trek: the fact it always reflected where we are as a modern 20th or 21st century society.

Those reflections became even more pointed following the mid-season break, as the combined stamp of Alex Kurtzman & Akiva Goldsman, plus key writers Gretchen Berg & Aaron Harbarts moved further into focus. The reflection became literal as the Discovery and her crew were thrown into the legendary Mirror Universe, a dark, inverse reflection of the Federation and humanity’s ‘future history’ first seen on The Original Series, and later continued on Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. For the most extended spell in the MU the franchise has ever given us, we are placed between the Terran Empire seen in ENT’s ‘In a Mirror, Darkly’ and TOS’ ‘Mirror, Mirror’, and the writers give themselves the freedom to explore this universe in much greater detail and tie together the majority of story and character arcs rumbling across the season, in the context of visiting this alternate universe.

What telling an extended story in the Mirror Universe affords the writers is the opportunity to make a pointed commentary and comparison with current global politics and social change. Many fans and commentators have made the point that given our current path as a species, our future is more likely to be the despotic, warlike, totalitarian Empire than the progressive, peaceful Federation – it’s not exactly a subtle point of analysis. What in TOS was a pulpy science-fiction concept designed to allow the main cast to play villainous versions of themselves, has now become far more of a genuine point of dramatic allegory.

Continue reading “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Season 1, Part 2): Reflections on the Journey”
Film, Reviews

Film Retrospective: STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

In many respects, Star Trek: The Motion Picture signifies the purest, truest form of what Star Trek is.

How often have you asked that question, as a fan or not – what is Star Trek? The answer may be different when considering the movies over the last, almost forty years, and the fifty-year history of the multiple television shows. It’s a question we are asking once again now with new TV series Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s an answer different to a great many people.

Is it about our exploration of the universe? It is about our innate humanity and how it relates to the future, to technology, or to our place in the cosmos? Is it about comradeship, friendship, or the bond of a crew in the face of the unknown? Or is it, as the mantra from Spock over the opening titles of the iconic 1960’s series states, about strange new worlds, and boldly going where no man has gone before? 

I can only tell you what Star Trek means to me, and how The Motion Picture embodies many of the above questions in the answers it delivers.

Continue reading “Film Retrospective: STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)”