Saturday, December 31, 2011


**** (4 stars out of 5)

Riker is called away from some holo-projected girl-on-girl harp action for the creepiest wedding gift I've ever seen. It's Armin Shimmerman's spray-painted face on a box! The horrendous thing craps bonding jewels for the imminent arranged marriage of Deanna Troi and Wyatt Miller. Troi backs away from it in tears and I know exactly how she feels. Yeeurgh!

(This is why I didn't send my fiancee one when we got married.)

I like "Haven". Uhura never got a story to herself! It's an important and genuine effort at making this an ensemble cast, not just supporting players in the Captain's adventures. It's overwrought romance, but it's got plenty of humor and that helps.

And Lwaxana is wonderful. Benefit to being the wife of the boss- you get the good parts! Mama Troi swoops in and runs the show. Unrelenting, vocal honesty is a Betazoid trait it seems, no matter who is embarrassed.

Before the horrible unwanted marriage can take place, a horrible unwanted plague ship from Tarella shows up. All the Tarellians were thought dead by disease or their scared neighbours the Alcyones. Today's Alien Tip: don't sneeze near an armed Alcyone.

"Unlike SOME people. I am in growth. " Eccentric Lwaxana has a pet thingummy with leaves, her towering mute manservant Mr. Homn rings a gong while she eats, and her traditional wedding ceremony will be All Nude to celebrate the act of love. Even though Lwaxana married one, she has a charming disdain for humans. In a lesser personage, I'd call it bigotry. But mostly she just enjoys messing with Wyatt's snooty mum. Deanna throws a small tantrum and storms out.

Data hovers over the wedding guests, observing. "Could you please continue the petty bickering? I find it most intriguing."

When she isn't calling him Bill, Deanna calls Riker 'Imzadi'. This means 'my beloved'. For her, even marrying Wyatt won't change that. But Riker's panties, as my wife put it, are in a bunch.

The only way to tell the plague ship people are SAD is the violin music. Maybe if one of them coughed once or something? Wyatt skips out for his lifelong dream girl the stricken Ariana. For such a sick person, she sure has Emmy-winning hair. And if Wyatt wasn't such a drip, I'd miss him.

Now for a chorus of Beyonce's hit 'All The Single Empaths'. Trish tells me if Riker likes it, he shoulda putta ring on it!

Hide and Q

*** (3 stars out of 5)
"Hide and Q" is here, and here's John de Lancie being better than the material (especially the title!) as usual.

Rushing to save the colonists of Sigma III from an explosion, the crew is caught up by Q again and made to battle pig-monsters with phaser-muskets.

Tasha is emotionally tormented by Q's threat to turn her to nothingness if the others refuse to play his reindeer games.

Picard's defiant speech to Q is a personal favourite:
"Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he might say with irony I say with conviction. 'What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason. How infinite in faculty. In form, in moving how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel. In apprehension how like a god!'"

And Picard believes that is the path humanity is on. He figures the Q are afraid of the eventual competition.

It's undercut only slightly by how inept Worf is made to look in action in the next scene. Worf rushes out of hiding and presents his right flank for easy phasering had Riker actually been the enemy. 'A warrior's reaction," says the Klingon. 'You came out of nowhere!" Geordi praises the Klingon. Uh, right. That didn't look like a tactical misjudgement at all.

Q grants Riker the ultimate cheat code: Q power. Riker ends the game when Worf and Wesley are run through. I remember the visceral terror of those stab wounds- it was 1987 but I wasn't accustomed to such things. Well done, all.

Picard feels Riker will be corrupted by the power (perhaps he's seen 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' or at least heard the tale of Gary Mitchell), and gets Will to agree not to chalk up this particular Q.

Geordi's super-vision and Data's super-strength are not enough to save a little girl smashed by rubble. I won't say it's worse for Riker than the mom, but Riker's dilemma is beyond the human norm. I remain invested in these people and their choices.

Riker tries to give his friends their wishes: Wesley becomes ten years older (and incidentally buff). Data refuses to participate- he doesn't want the illusion of humanity: 'This above all, to thine own self be true". Geordi is given eyesight and a glimpse of the grotty planet Sigma III and the much-more appealing Yar. Except..."I don't like who I'd have to thank." Worf receives the gift that keeps on giving: a snarling Klingon strumpet. Still no.

Rejected by all, Q is summoned back to the continuum, apparently in deep doo-doo for failing to recruit. Some of Roddenberry's pro-human, anti-god stance comes through in this story. So, for a little added blasphemy: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

And happy 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Battle

*** (3 stars out of 5)
Bok, Daimon Bok. Hardly a dashing English superspy, despite the teeth. Instead, he's a Ferengi so deceptive that even though Ferengi minds are unreadable Troi senses his malicious intent (oops).

Nine years ago, Bok's son attacked Picard's ship Stargazer without explanation or preamble. Picard saved his crew with a desperate trick of warp speed and light, destroying the Ferengi and losing his ship. Now Bok has brought Stargazer back OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF HIS HEART and the clearly falsified logs implicate Picard as the aggressor.

Wesley's Acting Ensign uniform- I just realized that rainbow is the three division colours! Indicating, I suppose, that Wes has not yet specialized in command (red), operations (yellow), or science (blue). Or, as the writers overzealously seem to be trying to tell us, young Crusher is unreasonably good at everything ever always! Today he beats Troi and Dr. Crusher to their answers about Picard's brain scan, and comes across kind of arrogant. His britches seem very, very small.

I remember how wonderful a future where a doctor rarely encountered headaches and common colds sounded! I suffered quite vicious headaches for most of my teens, thankfully much less after that. Probably not due to Ferengi, though...

Bok has blown his life savings to buy a pair of Basketballs of Mental Fuckery. Hallucinating, Picard re-enacts the Battle of Maxia, but with the Enterprise as his target. Data devises a defence, catching the Captain's antique vessel in the tractor beam. Riker jars Picard back to his senses so he might phaser the thought-maker.

"The Battle" has good effects and fine performances. The Ferengi come across better, well, more menacing, and did I mention effects? Pretty cool.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


** (2 stars out of 5)
Every rose has its Whorley Thorne, writer of "Justice".

Welcome to Rubicun III, planet of the skimpies known as the Edo, friendly as can be but not real great with the explaining. These aliens are quick to give the thorn to any who tread on the roses.

If that sounded dirty, blame the boundaries and fabrics being stretched today.

"Sounds wonderful for the children, " says Dr. Crusher, seconds before we are told the locals "make love at the drop of a hat." "Any hat."

Picard looks around at his hatless crew, perhaps wondering if they will 'avoid temptation'. No such luck.

'Nice planet.' says Worf. Although he later tells Riker that human women are too fragile for Klingon-style sex, he apparently enjoys his welcoming Edo hug.

They're huggers. Huggers and joggers.

"When in Rome,' muses jogging Riker. 'Where, sir?"

Worf's never heard of Rome? I know he's no Data, but the guy went to the Academy, right? On Earth? The cafeteria never had replicated spaghetti?

Picard asks Geordi to look at a strange object directly out a window with his awe-inspiring VISOR. I'm dubious now: if the VISOR is better than sensors why didn't they make sensors out of VISORS? Does La Forge running to another room and reporting back with 'yup, looks weird' actually help? Worse yet, how did he spot the object in front of the ship from the aft-facing lounge?

An angry globule of fairy lights gloms onto Data's head for information exchange. The object, like others before and since, is the local god.

The Edo have a randomized punishment zone with death for any infraction. This has eliminated crime. (Unless male camel-toe is considered a crime?)

Wesley falls on some plants in a Bento Box, and is about to be immediately killed by lethal injection. His ignorance is not something the pants-free penitents account for when passing judgement. Nor is his devotion to honesty: it's not Captain Kirk's Starfleet of bluffs and fizzbins for my boy Wes. "The Wesley-Boy" does not lie. Wil Wheaton's review of the whole affair is self-deprecating but hilarious.

Mr. Wheaton's previous review for 'Lonely Among Us' brings up a convention panel at the time to 'solve the Wesley problem'. Something clearly was not working out if the CREATORS hate what they made WHILE THEY WERE MAKING IT.

So I'll weigh in: at Wesley's age I was a scrupulous mama's boy, good at school, awkward at everything else, all sexual urges zealously suppressed to my later chagrin.

The writing in this season was not always top-notch, but hating Wes would've been hating myself. And sometimes I did, but if being Wesley was a crime, it was also my punishment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lonely Among Us

** (2 stars out of 5)
In the words of The Doctor from 'Doctor Who': "I used to have so much mercy."

For the boy I was, tiger and reptile masks artfully achieved are sufficient. Who needs a coherent story? Worse than that, for the man I am, to find out "Lonely Among Us" is credited to D.C. Fontana, my favorite original series writer? It's not very good.

It's a bunch of nonsense about an energy being that got caught in the Enterprise's front mounted cow-catcher or something and then jumps from possessed character to possessed character until it beams back to its home cloud- taking the Captain with it forever!!!

Forever is measured in minutes- the Captain is magically restored with no memory of these events. (Mercifully.)

Along the way, the confused being causes the first on-screen crewman death of the series: Assistant Engineer Singh (no relation to the genetically engineered dictator, probably).

Meanwhile, Data reads Sherlock Holmes and discovers an RPG alter ego to amuse himself and a pipe to irritate others.

Speaking of odd props, Dr. Crusher wears a hat never seen before or since, let alone explained. I guess it's some sort of a tricorder hat, but I used to call it a Specimen Collection Helmet because I am gross.

Also meanwhile, that delightful Irish guy from the pilot has a hard time stopping the Antican and Selay delegates from eating each other in the halls at night.

Cat-Men Vs. Snake-Men- just add magical swords and it's Thundercats, only without the thoughtful dignity of Thundercats.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where No One Has Gone Before

*** (3 stars out of 5)
Specialist Kosinski has improved the warp engines on starships Fearless and Ajax. Now this arrogant, gibberish spouting goober wants to do the same on the ol' NCC-1701-D. Riker and Data believe his 'improvements' are nonsense, but orders is orders.

Kosinski's alien assistant with the unpronounceable name (Eric Manook? Menyuk? Something like that.) is from Tau Alpha C (distant but a good fraternity) has a mind so alien Counselor Troi can't even sense his presence. (She does have mind-reading powers, right? Check her resume again...)

MacDougall isn't the only chief engineer, it seems. Today we have Mr. Argyle. Exactly how many vaguely Scottish engineers does it take to equal one Scotty, anyway?

Hanging around engineering being a nerd finally gets Wesley Crusher noticed. Noticed by the overlooked alien boffin who is distracted at the wrong moment and goes all see-through and wibbly wobbly.

The Enterprise is hurled first 300 years travel from home, then when Kosinski tries to reverse "his" action, they are whisked into a cloudy blue spot with streams of invisible dice zipping by. "Where No One Has Gone Before". Maybe it's God's Back Porch.

Wherever it is, it's got cats. Worf boyhood spiky pig (a targ), and Yar's more conventional kitty from her unconventional sewer of a home colony. Everything anyone thinks is made manifest. This is not the place to fiddle around- unless you want fiddles.

Picard even takes tea with his dead Maman. He didn't get his English accent from her, no ziree.

Kosinski's assistant is 'a traveller' from another place or time, or both, and he privately urges Picard to encourage Wes without interfering. The Crusher boy is a rare and special space/time/thought savant. He must not be told. (It doesn't make acne any easier, I assure you.)

Picard orders the entire crew to focus their love and good wishes on The Traveller, and the energy provides their return home (with enough goodwill left over to resurrect Tinkerbell and bake me a pie.)

For his exemplary work, Picard grants Wes the rank of Acting Ensign and the finer reward of more studying! (An unexpected bonus is the bile and hatred of thousands of jealous geeks.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Last Outpost

** (2 stars out of 5)

In the Delphi Ardu system, Enterprise makes Starfleet's first close contact with the Ferengi (apart from rumours) to the satisfaction of very few.

Data uses the contraction "this shouldn't be" and as they will later tell us, that should not be. I again bring up the slip of the tongue: Data doesn't use contractions, but he DOES screw up.

Counselor Troi can't sense Ferengi thoughts. Data likens them to Riker's Yankee forbears, sailing the galaxy in search of mercantile and territorial opportunity. Displaying the worst traits of capitalism. And the worst teeth this side of UK VII.

Despite his command uniform, La Forge plays Chief Engineer here with great enthusiasm.

"He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight," says Riker, quoting Sun Tzu.

"Merde," says Picard later, quoting a lot of people. The universal translator couldn't have rendered THAT one on eighties TV!

One of the strengths of Picard's command style is his expressed interest in everyone's opinion. Unless it's THE BOY. Somehow Wesley is THE BOY now. Did he earn this disdain when he saved all your damn lives?

Stuck fast in space and losing power, thinking the Ferengi have trapped them, Picard speaks too vaguely of terms for Enterprise's surrender. When Daimon Tarr surrenders instead, Picard realizes nobody has the upper hand. Both are trapped. The Ferengi offer to give back the stolen energy converter and throw in the lives of their second officers. Picard would settle for a muffin gift basket. Or fire nine warning torpedoes and wait a day.

Delphi Ardu was "The Last Outpost" of the mighty Tkon Empire, extinct for 600,000 years, but once capable of moving stars.

Tarr's idea of "a science team" makes me wonder about him. Plasma whips, fur togas, and an insidious bite attack. 'PYGMY CRETINS!' growls Worf.

Letec and his cronies steal Riker's gold communicator badge. They'd heard "hu-mons" force their females to wear clothing, and now Yar has proven it. "Sickening!" Wearing clothes invites others to unclothe them- the depth of perversion! You gotta love Ferengi logic...

The Ferengi explain humans to recently awakened Tkon Portal 63. "You see, they are demented. Their values are insane. You cannot believe the business opportunities they have destroyed!"

Portal 63, however, is more impressed by Riker's courage than by Ferengi posturing.

Portal's not the only one: the capering antics of the first three Ferengi failed to make them into a threatening new enemy race, but as comic foils they're not going anywhere!

Riker might put it best: "We can hardly hate what we once were."

Code of Honor

* (1 star out of 5)

Oh, how I dislike it.

Ligon II, misogynist Arabian Nights role-playing planet, has a "Code of Honor" that boils down to being self-important lady-dominating jerks in turbans. They have a vaccine that can't be replicated so our crew has to pussyfoot around what jerky jerks the Ligonians are.

Lt. Natasha Yar, EVEN THOUGH SHE IS A WOMAN, is Chief of Security, and better at it than Lutan's man Hanar.

Yar impresses Lutan by teaching aikido with a hologram that makes a 'whoosh' sound every move it makes. For extra ninja-ness!

Therefore, smitten and avaricious Lutan grabs Yar when he beams away.

The crew's hamstrung response is really half-assed. Fire nine torpedos above the kidnapper's head. Demand answers, Receive none. WAIT A DAY?!? Beverly talks Picard into letting Wes sit on the bridge. Data gives a lecture on how French is an obscure language to JEAN-LUC PICARD. God knows what's happening to Yar while you're all dithering.

It turns out she's fine. Despite strained attempts at politeness, Lutan isn't giving Yar back and wants to make her his 'First One'. His current First One, Yareena, takes umbrage and makes challenge.

I find it dubious in the face of what we heard from Yar last episode that she is either tempted or flattered by these shenanigans. I would expect her to find Lutan's extreme forcefulness to be unattractive.

Besides, I hear once you go pasty white- you never go elsewhere at night!

I DO like the one scene where Data talks to La Forge while Geordi shaves with a Future Razor that does not touch his face. Partly because I love that gizmo, and partly because of the cool razor. Ba-dum-bum!

Data starts in on a joke, and Geordi bolts for the door. Data's scripted unintentional slip of the tongue 'includling the kiddlies' interests me. He is a precision instrument, but not infallible. As ever, it is imperfection that makes him so loveable.

Yar and Yareena fight with poisoned gloves in an electrified ring. Yar kills Yareena, abruptly beaming her up so Dr. Crusher can save her.

Much is made of the gulf between Federation and Ligonian technology, but the turbaned ones have orbital stations, Starfleet-compatible visual communications, and OH YEAH... transporters. The only gulf is OH YEAH... basic human rights.

Good fight sequence, I'm sure, but it'll never be close to a favorite of mine.

The Naked Now

*** (3 stars out of 5)


A century after the PSI 2000 virus struck Kirk's Enterprise with diminished inhibitions, it strikes Picard's Enterprise with some broad strokes character insight as well.

"The Naked Now" starts with science ship Tsiolkovsky throwing one of those wild starfruit and shower-in-your-clothes parties that ends in 80 people dead. (It was the eighties.)

Transporter was set to full decontamination, but the intoxication got loose.

Lt. Geordi La Forge wanders around feeling hot and melancholy, but thankfully he doesn't reach for the butterknives.

He infects Wesley Crusher, boy genius. Wes has built himself a handheld tractor/repulsor beam and made recordings of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's intercom orders. He is manifestly as unfamiliar with girls as I was for many, many years.

Geordi infects Lt. Yar, too, while begging her to help him see. Or barring that, get off. Both requests- denied.

Yar gets Troi intoxicated while rifling through her closets. Fashion advice from Troi sounds like a fine idea, except the new bun and grey duds seem like a severe step away from sexy. Or maybe 'severe grey shrink' is better than 'frizzy hair cheerleader shrink'. I'm not the final arbiter of such things. I just liked the 'Farpoint' uniform with the short skirt better. Just sayin'.

Wesley channels Kevin Riley and seizes control of Engineering to demand desserts for all.

(No girlfriends are forthcoming.)

Lt. Cmndr. MacDougall, the Chief Engineer is A) a woman with Scotty's job B) adept with a sonic 'driver C) a Time Lord? Hint: not C.

Yar tells Data something of her shitty upbringing: abandoned at age 5, she learned to survive and avoid the rape gangs until her escape at 15. Horrible stuff, kids. I have to admit that phrase went over my head at the time, since I knew nothin' about nothin'.

The intervening years have apparently given Yar the ability to style her hair while drunk. And some interest in Data's abilities: he's "fully functional" and "programmed in multiple techniques, a broad variety of pleasuring".

So she jumps his duranium bones.

Troi is so drunk she calls Riker "Bill" for the only time ever. Thank God.

It's not fair- Geordi has never seen a rainbow. Not even a reading rainbow.

The star is collapsing, and so is Data. I've never decided: is he intoxicated or so desperate to fit in that he's pretending?

Beverly Crusher seems intimately familiar with alcohol intoxication, and tries to be familiar with the Captain as well. Bev and Jean-Luc make a great drunk comedy team even minutes from fiery death.

Wesley's repulser beam throws the derelict Tsiolkovsy into the star fragment and buys them moments to live. It may be because everyone's drunk that this seems so innovative: repulsion was a function that beam had a century ago.

Speaking of repulsion, Yar tells Data 'it never happened'. Scorch! Pow!

"I think we shall end up with a fine crew- if we avoid temptation."

Whenever and wherever kissing and butt-wiggling breaks out, leave it to Picard to wet that blanket.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Encounter At Farpoint

*** (3 stars out of 5)

"Sounds like a fairly dull place," opines the Irish Conn Officer. And O'Brien's not far wrong.

The technical glories of "Encounter At Farpoint" and the effective introduction to my pretend friends and family for the next seven years sometimes make up for a multitude of sins.

Are humans a grievously savage child-race who must submit to the powerfully advanced but apparently sadistic Q?

Answer to be determined in a court of 2079's post-atomic horror that looks like Tim Burton's Sunday School. More cowbell!

Is the verdict in any doubt? These people are handsome, well-spoken, clever, polite, brave, resourceful and all of that. They are heroes, and more importantly, they are MY heroes.

What I noticed this time is that I connect with them best in this story when they show weakness and frailty.

Of course Captain Picard is compassionate and kind- but he can also be a stern, stiff ogre that women and children jump into turbolifts to avoid. He even has to make a point with his new first officer:

"Keep me from making an ass of myself with children. Since a Captain needs an image of geniality, you're to see that's what I project."

Commander Riker is immediately charming and friendly- but he screwed things up with 'Miss Right' when she came along back in the day on Betazed.

The half-Betazoid Lt. Commander Troi and the widow Dr. Crusher make an interesting contrast: career professionals, both healers. But where Crusher seems unhealthily cut off with grief, Troi feels so deeply that she gushes aloud even other people's emotions.

Crusher's son Wesley is eager & smart- but as awkward as any fourteen year old. Wes talks up his dad's corpse to a total stranger and he's still the luckiest kid orbiting Earth.

Security Chief Yar is strong & righteous with demons in her past and a hero-worship of everything Starfleet. A blazing temper gets her in trouble. She makes the Klingon guy look sedate.

Mr. Worf's courage is undercut by his inexperience- to the point that he nearly shoots the viewscreen when the enemy appears.

Technology has given a gift to Mr. La Forge that comes at a price. The blind man can see, and the headaches come free.

Speaking of technology, the sapient android Mr. Data is brilliant and virtually indestructible- with a desperate longing to be human. It's clear he knows envy and loneliness already, if only he recognized them as emotions.

Human Prejudice isn't dead, but it's on life-support. Riker frankly owns up to the idea that he's not comfortable working with a machine- then sets about making a friend.

Finally, there's the Admiral. Human frailty and human strength wrapped in one dog-ugly sweater. OF COURSE IT'S BONES! 137 years old. Bones is about all that's left. And it's as true today as it was then: McCoy is AWESOME.

Groppler Zorn is something of a Scooby-Doo villain. Yee, doggy, he caught hisself a matter transmuting space-jellyfish! Picard orders an illegal kidnapping of Zorn in an effort to prove he's not savage. The truth comes out, Farpoint Station goes home with its jellyfish boyfriend, Humans: 1, Q:0.

Picard orders Farpoint Station be rebuilt. For my money, it'll be two bricks propping up a plank. And it will take 14 years.

STAR TREK IV: The Voyage Home

***** (5 stars out of 5)
If there was a six star rating, I might have to give it to "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home".

In 1986, this was the first Star Trek movie I got to see in the movie theatre. Oh, to be ten again and seeing it for the first time. I've seen it so much on home video I can virtually recite it.

Writers Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and company did all right by me. After a somewhat passionless start and two powerfully emotional but grim tales, it is refreshing to cap it off with an adventure romp. Humor is so welcome- most of it centered around our crew in a primitive time: 1986.

A gigantic black cigar with a tiny volleyball for an eye is powering down everything it encounters, including USS Saratoga and her female captain. (Suck it, Janice Lester.)

Ionizing the atmosphere, vaporizing the ocean, winterizing all pets, the probe is trying to get ahold of a humpback whale. They haven't been returning its calls. They've been extinct since the 21st Century, when humans had plenty of time in between killing each other to finish off sea creatures, too.

Slingshot around the sun in a Klingon rustbucket to the halycon days of yore, Reganomics, and Flocks of Seagulls.

Kirk trades his 1883 spectacles for bus fare and our fish out of water go after some mammals out of water. Spock's mind meld with the whales George & Gracie is successful, now all they have to do is break into a nuclear vessel to steal some photons, and convince a local scientist to help them steal her humpbacks over a pizza. They don't use money in Kirk's time anymore, or Kirk is just avoiding the cheque for two beers and a pizza to go. Gillian follows him home to his invisible ship and is whisked away.

Some guys have crushes on their teachers. I crushed on Dr. Gillian Taylor, Cetacean Biologist. Clever, funny, kind-hearted, helpful, and lucky enough to end up in the future. I must say Catherine Hicks is funderful.

They get home slightly before they left. Since the engines on the Bounty are thumping like a disco, they follow the sound advice of the rock band Diesel and dump it in the bay.

(When Kirk swims into the cargo deck to free the whales I have held my breath along with him more than once. More than five times. In fact, I can't remember how many times... or my middle name. I think I need to stop holding my breath.)

Whatever the whale sings to the probe, it saved the world. Maybe it sang 'I Hate You' by
Associate Producer, musician, and punk on the bus Kirk Thatcher. Maybe not.

See you 'round the galaxy.

STAR TREK III: The Search For Spock

**** (4 stars out of 5)

"STAR TREK III: The Search For Spock" by Harve Bennett is just really very good. Go watch it now. I'll wait. Good, huh? How 'bout that James Horner score? Brilliant, right?

There's a space coffin in the rhubarb fields awaiting our discovery once more...

Klingon femme fatale Valkris is killed by her love, Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) for the Genesis Information. Mr. Lloyd is, as always, remarkable. He shows the new face of the Klingon Empire. Shoot first, shoot later, pet your reptile dog, plot genocide, stab a pacifist scientist, and shoot s'more.

Commander Janice Rand or her red-headed identical cousin shakes her head from the Spacedock lounge as Enterprise limps home. Starfleet isn't going to fix it, either: too old, too busted. And the ship's worn out, too.

Bones seems to have gone mad with grief over Spock until Sarek arrives with one of those pieces of vital information Vulcans never tell anyone until the last minute or later. Vulcan souls can be transferred using mind melds. These "katras" are entrusted to one's family, closest friend, or in this case, closest loud-mouthed frenemy. McCoy's arrested trying to illegally charter a ride back to Khan Town from Mos Eisley, by Lando Calrissian of Federation Security.

And, two for the price of one, not only is Spock's katra alive, his body has been revived in a freak result of the runaway creationism experiment on the Genesis Planet. The Genesis Planet doesn't just play Peter Gabriel songs, it brings good things to life! Also it turns microbes into wiggling pasta pockets, and wiggling pasta pockets into hideous spiky snakes. David Marcus has cheated just like his dad: his Genesis effect uses unpredictable protomatter. Now there's some kinda high-speed out-of-control evolution running rampant. If there's a worse sign for the environment than giant snow-capped cactuses I don't know what it is.

Starfleet's hurry-up-and-wait approach isn't good enough. Kirk's defiance is splendid here: "The word is no... I am therefore going anyway."

Our heroes steal their old beater and throw a monkey wrench into the new Excelsior sent to chase them.

These people are lucky we've only seen them in their work clothes. 2280's fashion sense is INSANE. Chekov's pink suit and dickey might be the worst offender.

Miguel Ferrer (Excelsior navigator) and John Laroquette (Klingon stooge) have fun cameos.

Saavik, David, and baby Spock are stranded when Kruge blows up their science vessel. Stranded on a rapidly aging world with a rapidly aging Vulcan male...

Saavik says it is Vulcan males who suffer pon farr- is she implying females don't? Either way, she apparently saves her regenerating mentor's life in that special way that Vulcan girls save Vulcan boys age 14, 21, 28, 35, 42... and so on. Hot finger-kisses and tasteful cut-scenes!

In the morning after, however, we see demographics in action, Klingon-style. Who gets an honor blade in the heart? Will it be
A) Spock?
B) Cute Vulcan Lieutenant?
C) New Guy with that New Kirk smell?

Poor David.

And in the battle that follows, poor Enterprise. Well, Kruge & his krew gets theirs in the end, don't you worry.

The gossamer-robed lady priests of Vulcan's Mt. Seleya look on impassively while T'Lar achieves a re-fusion never before performed except in legend: after a perilous night of chanting, Spock's got his marbles back in his marble bag.

"But at what cost?" grateful on the inside but logical on the outside Sarek asks of Kirk. "Your ship, your son..."

"If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul."

Like the cartoon says- you won't cry... unless you believe in the power of friendship.

STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan

***** (5 stars out of 5)
Up to this point, I watched 'Star Trek' on my Uncle Cliff's beta tapes or on Saturday morning TV.

"STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan" and its sequel I saw for the first time on VHS in the basement of a school friend's birthday party. Probably in the winter of 1985-86. I was that 9 year old you probably heard shrieking when Ceti eels crawled in Chekov's ear...


Seriously, that is some good old fashioned nightmare fuel. A leech that squelches into your head and saps your free will until it grows big enough to drive you crazy. Granted, Chekov lucks out, but the tortured death of Paul Winfield's Captain Terrel is still hard for me to watch to this day. And that's only for starters on the itinerary of Rage-Fueled Global Dictator of the year 1994-1996 inclusive Khan Noonien Singh.

Out for vengeance after 15 years on the crap hole Ceti Alpha V whence Jim Kirk exiled him, Khan steals starship Reliant. The genetically engineered superman chases down Kirk's old flame: the blonde lab technician Carol (Bibi Besch) Marcus and her blonde lab technician son David. Dave's an anti-Starfleet pacifist but he's got his father's hot Iowa blood. (I'm trying to tell you he's Kirk's son. I was only surprised he's not half-green.)

Harve Bennett & Jack Sowards bring the writing to a new level while director Nicholas Meyer gets the best out of everybody. Great lines never stop in this movie:

"Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young."

"Beware Romulans bearing gifts."

"Get it back before you really do grow old."

"I had a wee bout, but Dr. McCoy pulled me through." "A wee bout of what?" "Shore leave."

Kirk's got a kid, Scotty's got a gung-ho engineer nephew, and Spock's even got a protege- a volatile lady Vulcan Lt. Saavik. But Reliant pulls up too quietly alongside this boatload of children...
They start to speculate that the comm system has failed. But as my wife pointed out, the KHAN system still works!

Scotty's sister's youngest son Peter Preston dies bravely at his post. Scotty openly weeps for the boy. Pete's the human face on many, many exploded trainees today.

Bombastic spacefaring music and state of the art 1982 mind-blowing effects break out. Kirk cheats death repeatedly just like he cheated on his Kobiyashi Maru test at the Academy. Who will gain the power of the Marcus's Genesis project to bring life from lifelessness? And who will lose everything?

If you only ever see one Star Trek movie... what is wrong with you? But millions agree it should be this one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

STAR TREK The Motion Picture

*** (3 stars out of 5)
"STAR TREK The Motion Picture" is many things. Artful, technically interesting, beautifully scored, and the first major financial success that made the whole franchise possible.

And when my wife told me she needed a nap, I answered "Have I got a movie for you."

In a film about the battle between the emotionless machine and the soul of humanity, the humans only glimmer through now and then. They're so flat it was a lucky thing V'Ger is a satellite dish on a foil-wrapped box nestled in a field of geometric shapes within a series of enormous metal sphincters wrapped in a particle cloud that sounds like an electric guitar. Otherwise it might have out-performed them.

But I raised my star rating a little this time through. After all, I've recently seen 'The Alternative Factor'. This is a pretty movie with stunning sound and that goes a long way.

Plot? Getting the band back together to intercept a machine that turns everything in its path into data storage on its quest to find God.

Admiral Kirk is a bit of an Admiral Jerk here: stepping on the cream of some young guy to get his newly seat-belted chair back. 'Phase II schmase schmoo! Nobody replaces Captain Kirk.' he might as well have shouted.

Poor Decker comes out seeming like the bigger man, able to put his ego aside and repeatedly save the day until saving the Earth itself by bonding to a robot girl with the soul of his dead bald alien lover. As you do.

McCoy and Spock drop the hippy hair and get back in the Starfleet groove. We get a look at hundreds of crew at once, with handfuls of intriguing new aliens thrown in the mix. The Klingons are now ribbed for our pleasure. Speaking of pleasure, the hairless denizens of Delta IV are into that: in fact, they're into everything- but for your safety they're sworn to celibacy.

Most of these people don't need to swear that oath... celibacy will come free with the pastel body-stockings.

I was too lazy to look it up, but the surly guy on the left with the high forehead and gold eyes probably has a story. A surly, slouchy story.

The Enterprise gets a face lift, too. The ship redesign even includes a splash guard for the transporter operator. Which I find deeply disturbing. But not as disturbing as learning it's necessary!

Janice Rand is the Transporter Chief when equipment failure turns science officer Sonak and a female Vice-Admiral inside out. It happens mercifully fast, but they have enough time to make some horrifying digitized screams. All the more hollow a 'thud' falls on the joke shortly afterward when McCoy arrives and everyone thinks 'what a silly old coot' and 'scramble our molecules, indeed'. WE JUST SAW IT DO THAT! What the hell are you smiling about?

It's one of many occasions when the fate of the Earth is in the hands of a lone starship, and this one can't even go to warp without tripping over its intermix shoelaces and falling down a wormhole. Plus, it's designed to lose phasers if the engine fails.

Because nobody will ever need to fight back when they can't move.

In the category 'love conquers all' is Weirdest Couple 2273: Cmndr. Willard Decker and Lt. Ilia the Dead-Deltan-Slash-Robot-Probe. Decker's dad only threw himself into a planet-killing robot's maw.

Whatever happens to Will and his plus one in the higher dimensions I hope the sex is good.

The Cage

***** (5 stars out of 5)
I don't just give my top rating to the first 'Star Trek' ever made, first seen in its entirety by the public (well, fans anyway) at conventions in the 1970's. I also give that rating to guest blog poster Renaissance Dork, a local luminary. Oh, here he is now:

I need to establish, right from the beginning, that I love Star Trek. I love Kirk, Spock, McCoy and all the rest. I love the acres of camp, the rubber aliens and the rare moments of sincere pathos that shone through it all. I really, really love Star Trek: The Original Series.

But I'd trade it all to see what would have come from the original pilot, “The Cage”.

For those that aren't in the know, “The Cage” was the first pilot that Gene Roddenberry presented to NBC in 1965. Here is a quick synopsis:

Capt. Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) and the crew of the USS Enterprise travel through the far reaches of space. When they receive a distress signal from the distant planet Talos IV, they proceed to investigate. What they find are the survivors of a Federation expedition that disappeared 18 years earlier. Most of the survivors are now quite elderly except for one, the beautiful Vina (Susan Oliver), who they claim was born at the time of the crash. It's all an illusion, however, and the planet's super-intelligent inhabitants take the Captain prisoner. While the ship's First Officer, Number One (played by Majel Barrett. Yes, that one), and the Science Officer, Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy. Yes, that one), try to locate and rescue their commander, Pike is alternately subjected to temptation and torture for reasons that his captors will not explain to him. Eventually Pike wins free from his captors, who have decided that humans are just too much trouble to keep in captivity.

After reading that synopsis you might think to yourself, “Hey, that story sounds familiar!” And if you watched ST:TOS you will have seen bits of “The Cage”; it was used as testimony footage in the court-martial scenes in “The Menagerie” two-part episode. Because of a time crunch they had only one week to shoot two episodes. Since they already had one “in the can”, as it were, problem solved! But I digress...

NBC execs didn't think much of this weird sci-fi pilot, and rejected it. Why? First off, they weren't a fan of Majel Barrett's character, Number One. Depending on who you ask, they either didn't think a female authority figure would fly with 1965 audiences, or they didn't think much of Barrett's acting ability. Second, the execs didn't like the character of Mr. Spock; apparently the pointy eared alien freaked them out a bit, and they didn't see how audiences could possibly warm up to him. And the third big reason: Captain Pike was really depressing! How depressing? One of Pike's first scenes is him drinking and commiserating with the ship's doctor (nope, not McCoy, the first doctor on the Enterprise was Dr. Phillip Boyce, played by John Hoyt). Here's one of Pike's lines from that scene:

I'm tired of being responsible for 203 lives, and... I'm tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn't, and who's going on the landing party and who doesn't... and who lives... and who dies.

Cheery, isn't he? Now, there were some other reasons the NBC execs weren't thrilled by the first pilot. But coupled with those three main objections “The Cage” was rejected and Roddenberry was asked to write a second pilot. Which as we all know is “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, which led to the series we all know today.

And which I really, really love, okay? But I can't help thinking what the series would have become if that first pilot had aired. Because deep down in my soul, when I think no one is looking, I think “The Cage” is the better pilot. Okay, settle down and let me explain.

First, a female First Officer was a pretty ballsy move for 1965. And if you watch that episode, you'll notice that Majel Barrett is pretty much playing the character that will become Mr. Spock later on. She is cold, logical and has a forthright and commanding presence. She and Spock should get along great, right? Except Nimoy's first run at Spock is not the logical Vulcan we all know. The “first” Spock is much more emotional, even volatile, because Nimoy's first pass at the character was inspired by the name of Spock's race, the Vulcans (vulcan, where we get volcano. And volcanoes are fiery, get it?). So here is the set-up for what would later become the Spock/McCoy dynamic in TOS, except we leave out the “Dammit, Spock!” moments. And heck, we haven't even added in the gender tension yet, which would have blown the minds of mid-sixties viewers.

Second, I think Pike is a much more interesting character than Kirk. Wait, let me finish! Pike, as presented in the pilot, has demons. In contrast to Kirk's energy and bravado, Pike is tired and beat down. Obviously bad things have happened to Pike, and he is feeling the weight of his position and responsibility. He is the captain of a starship, a job that any sci-fi nerd would sell their left-frontal lobe to have, and he isn't sure if he even wants to keep doing it. Compare that to Kirk; yes, throughout the series we see glimpses that the Captain's chair is a sometimes uncomfortable place for Kirk. But he never fundamentally questions his desire to be there, even when awful things happen to him that should raise that question. And while Kirk is a compelling character in his own way, there is nothing about him that I want to learn. Pike on the other hand, yeesh! His past is so bad that in one of the first scenes in the show he escapes from the bridge to get drunk! Right from the start I need to know Pike's story, and I'm willing to wait through an entire series to get it.

Third, and this is where I tie one and two together, I think that bridge dynamic would have been more interesting. You have Pike, the haunted and reluctant captain. Add Number One, the First Officer who is obviously more commanding than the captain, and a woman to boot. Mix in liberal amounts of the volatile Mr. Spock, who is likely to grate on Pike's every nerve and have to be reigned in often by Number One. The possibilities of that dynamic excite me, and while I will never knock the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triangle, I think the Pike/Spock/Number One triangle (occasionally sprinkled with some Dr. Boyce) would have led to more conflict and been more consistently interesting.

Heck, forget the triangle, let's just look at tensions between Pike and Number One. The most obvious one is gender tension, because as has previously been pointed out a female officer on television in 1965, even on a sci-fi program, would have been mind-blowing. And Roddenberry knew that, setting it up even in the pilot episode. Here is the exchange when a new female crew member comes onto the bridge:

Number One: [Pike has just been thrown off-balance by his new yeoman] She's replacing your former yeoman, sir. Captain Christopher Pike: Oh, she does a good job; it's just that I can't get used to having a woman on the bridge. [Number One gives him a sharp look] Captain Christopher Pike: No offense, Lieutenant; you're different, of course.

Those three lines set the ground-work for episodes upon episodes of stories!. It opens up the chance to examine traditional gender roles, to look at how we perceive women in the workplace, in the military, what women are expected to sacrifice for a career opposed to what men must sacrifice...the list goes on. Never mind the effect having a strong female character on television in 1965 would have had on other shows written at the same time. Maybe it would have done nothing, but maybe it would have pushed other strong female characters into the foreground on television. Sadly, we can't know.

I could go on, draw parallels and comparisons, extol the virtues of a series that never was. But really, it's all conjecture. The fact is, “The Cage” was not the series pilot, and Star Trek became the series we know and love because of the adventures of a hot-blooded captain, his crusty ship's doctor and a certain logical Vulcan First Officer. And I'm not saying that ST:TOS wasn't any fun, because it was. We wouldn't still be talking about if it wasn't, right?

But if you get the chance, check out “The Cage” again. And take a second to imagine what could have been. I think you'll be pleased with what you see...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Counter-Clock Incident

*** (3 stars out of 5)

"The Counter-Clock Incident" is a wonderful story- if you don't like stories that make sense.
Federation-Ambassador-at-large for the past 20 years, Commodore Robert April was the first Captain of the Enterprise. He's reached mandatory retirement age: 75.

He reminisces about the days of old: overseeing the assembly of the ship at the San Francisco Naval Yards. Back when hand lasers cost a credit and you could cane a Tellarite across the shinbone for talking out of turn.

April's wife Sarah designed many of the medical tools Bones uses today. Is she buttering her own bread a little? "First medical officer aboard a ship equipped with warp drive"? Really? There's been warp drive for two centuries! Nobody brought a doctor along before?

Sarah April has a Capella IV flower, with a lifespan of a few hours. Kind of a grisly corsage, but o.k., it helps the plot along.

Returning to the Beta Niobe supernova the ship tries to catch a backwards-talking woman speeding 26 warp factors over the limit, but are dragged along...

...into a reverse cosmos with black stars in a white void, where time moves backward.

The star Amphion, previously dead, came to life here, and their guide Karla Five escorts them to her world, Arret. See, it's Terra backwards! Karla's son Karl Four is a sprightly old man, and her father Karl Six is a senile infant.

"Most logical" says Spock. I completely disagree. If Karl Four and Karla Five are getting younger and younger at the same rate, she will "reverse die" (in our reality, be born) before him. How is he supposed to reverse die without his mother? And how can Karla's father un-father her in a couple of decades if he's already on his first legs? It's not "most logical", it's insane.

Think about it for a second: you can be "reverse born" anywhere- hospital bed, operating table, the mouth of a Capellan power cat. But, all things being equal, you're going to "reverse die" inside your parents like everybody else. Ergo: parents can't be younger than their children, even here. Right? I think?

Oh, that's neither here nor there. Spock's logic is obviously working backwards here, too.

Adorable Mr. Sulu gets too young to remember how to drive. Kid Spock and Muppet Baby Arex were the oldest and second oldest crew on the bridge, manning the controls as renewed Robert April gave the orders taking them back home.

Starfleet says they're going to rethink that mandatory retirement age, which, as it turns out, will be lucrative for the movie franchise.

"It gave all of us a second life." says Sarah, in the final line of the series. Even though they squandered it by resetting themselves with the transporter. I shudder when the cure for the crew's case of youth is the transporter, but only because I don't like mixing my magic. A second life, indeed, just as this cartoon did for 'Star Trek'. A second life in a second decade.

It was a good series and we're long overdue for another Trek Toon, methinks. Just, please... not 'Star Trek Babies'.

Next up, a little time-reversal of our own. Tomorrow: a trip back to 2254 with Star Trek's first pilot. The one that didn't sell. "The Cage"- a five star episode with a five star guest reviewer.

How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth

** (2 stars out of 5)
An advanced probe approached the Federation homeworlds, took a scan, did a little jig and exploded. So Enterprise went looking for its maker.

A ceramic vessel cloaked as a dragon encases them in a force globe.

Dawson Walking Bear at the helm is a Comanche, and he recognized their foe as Kukulkan the winged serpent god from the legends of the Mayans and Aztecs. If he hadn't, apparently they all would have been destroyed out of hand. Either an endorsement for getting a good education or a reminder that space chariot gods are a-holes.

Walking Bear, McCoy, Scotty, and Kirk are beamed into a Mayan-esque city and activate a pyramid machine by turning four serpent-head statues. It's nothing like as entertaining as a rejected level for PS3's "Uncharted".

Kukulkan returns and makes loud, irrelevant pronouncements. He's half snake, half buzzard. He's Snuzzard! One of Disney's least popular Wuzzles.

Kooky lives alone with his pets. Unlike warrior humans, his animals have been rendered peaceful, even the notoriously nasty Capellan power cat.

Spock and Arex do something shiny with science to free the ship.

Kirk and Bones free the power cat and happy kitty becomes zappy kitty!

It seems Kukulkan was also "the Toltec's Quetzalcoatl, the Chinese dragon, and all the rest" Does Kirk mean the Professor and Mary Ann? Who is "and all the rest"?

The humans leave in peace, but without any vast knowledge. "The price was just too high."

What price? Did I miss Snuzzard putting a price on anything? I heard loneliness, a desire to enforce pacifism on four pacifists, great age, and unjustified blame. Is this god senile or did he trap the script in a force globe?

"How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth it is to have a thankless child", said King Lear, apparently. Kukulkan thought of humans as ungrateful kids, but I have to ask: what the hell did he ever do for them? We're smart enough to design our own pyramids, and horrible enough to work each other to death building them, thank you very much.

Even that much-vaunted calendar of his is about to expire. We'll just buy another one. It's not the end of the world or anything.