Sunday, February 26, 2017

Episode Review – Force of Nature (Next Generation, Season 7)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Data provides his insight on the Hekaras Corridor

Overview – The Enterprise is sent to find the missing the Fleming, a medical transport ship lost in the Hekaras corridor, an area of space surrounded by dangerous tetryon fields. As they investigate, they discover a sibling pair of Hekaran scientists who are disabling ships in the corridor, fearing that warp drive is damaging the fabric of space in their sector. Before long, and due to drastic measures taken by one of the scientists, the Enterprise is facing the consequences of a technology long thought to be safe.

The Hekaran Scientists have something to say.

Score: 2/10 – When I re-watched this episode I was a bit shocked as to how bad it was. Nothing seemed to work in this. The actors all appeared to be confused by the story, and sometimes it felt like they were just going through the motions so they could finish it and move on to something better. The story is not well constructed, meandering around without purpose or direction. There is even a distinct lack of a coherent B-story as we jump between Data training his cat and Geordi trying to outdo an old Academy rival for engine efficiency. I get that the writers wanted to do an episode that addressed environmental concerns, but this just seemed too forced. The list of things that just didn’t work could take a long time to accumulate, but let me leave it at this: there was a great deal of lost potential. Rumor has it that Geordi’s sister was originally supposed to visit and provide some comfort to the loss of their mother in an earlier episode, but it was dropped because they couldn’t get it to work right. Aside from some humorous moments about Data’s cat, the same solution could have worked for the entire story. I think the biggest issue here is that the writers painted the franchise into a corner with the Warp 5 speed limit solution. Eventually the whole speed limit thing was dropped, a half-hearted explanation about reconfiguring the warp engines was produced, and the idea was entirely forgotten.

Geordi is looking for Spot, thankfully without a phaser

Relevance - 1 point. The cursed speed limit was mentioned in a few other episodes, such as “The Pegasus” and “Eye of the Beholder”. Also, this is used as an explanation for the different design of the warp nacelles used on Voyager.

Spot's training begins.

Continuity - 0 points. Had to dock a point for story continuity in the fact that Data’s cat Spot had an unexpected sex change. I think this was setting us up for the importance of solving the issue in a future episode “Genesis”. I am docking the point for Universe continuity due to the fact that the whole warp speed restriction is largely forgotten by the time the series ends. As for character continuity, while there is some nice moments between Data and Geordi, and everyone does behave as one would expect them to, I found one thing in this episode that seemed out of place character wise. Troi is never on the bridge during the entire episode. Not when they are encountering the Ferengi or the Hekaran ship, not when they are trying to rescue the Fleming, not once. Her chair is empty during the entire episode, and that is very out of place.

Daimon Prak

Character Development – 0 points. There wasn’t much that pushed along any character. Just when they started to move things along with one character, they changed direction and focus. I felt that nobody really got any traction here.

The consequences of warp travel

Social Commentary – 1 point. Save the environment! OK, so that is a very relevant topic in all ages. The environment is important and should be protected. We need to realize that our actions and choices impact the Earth and its health, and its health is intimately interwoven with our own health. I get that, and my low ranking on this should not be in any way interpreted as a knock on environmentalism. The problem is in the delivery. The way the message was presented in this episode is weak, to put it mildly. It seems like the entire episode was written to get us to reduce our pollution or greenhouse gas emissions or something. It is not subtle, forced, and at times a bit over the top. If you want to see Star Trek tackle the environmental message is a very effective way, may I suggest you watch Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Data's training continues

Cool Stuff – 0 points. Nothing was cool about this episode. We didn’t get any great special effects, no intriguing characters, not even a look at the Fleming. Nothing.

What will happen if warp travel doesn't stop

Rank – Crewman (4 points). Well, as I have said before, every great show has its fair share of stinkers. Here’s one of them. Since the warp speed restriction is only touched on in a couple of later episodes, you can skip this one for now. Oh, and turn off the extra lights in your house, buy more efficient devices, and recycle.

Arguably the most interesting part of the episode

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Episode Review - Business as Usual (Deep Space Nine Season 5)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – Quark, suffering from the Ferengi business ban, is broke and desperate. When his cousin Gaila arrives with a business proposition to use Quark’s holosuites for selling weapons, Quark accepts. While at the start Quark is enjoying his success, he soon finds himself at odds with the respect of friends and his conscience. Meanwhile, O’Brien is trying to find a way to keep his infant son from crying when not being held.

Score: 7/10 – A solid Quark story with some great guest stars. Steven Berkoff is great as Hagath. Josh Pais finally brings to life Cousin Gaila with true Ferengi gusto. As far as the side story with Miles struggling to care for his infant son, it allows the rest of the crew not directly connected to the Quark storyline to have some screen time, yet it is not related to the main plotline in any way. While this is not a bad thing, necessarily, it comes across as little more than entertaining time filler. The one thing that was a little weak was the dream sequence that causes Quark to change his ways. While I have no problem with using the dream motif in a story, this one felt a bit stretched. For one, why would Quark be thinking about O’Brien and his baby? Likely he wouldn’t since Quark hadn’t seen O’Brien the whole episode. It felt more like the writers were trying to push the two stories together. Still, a fun episode that shows some great exploration of Quark’s character.

Relevance - 3 points. We finally meet Cousin Gaila, the man who was able to buy his own moon. We will see him again in the “Magnificient Ferengi”. The effects of Quark’s business ban with the Ferengi is the main reason for the events of this episode. Plus, with the side story of how to keep Yoshi O’Brien to sleep, we will see Worf’s aptitude with looking after the youngest member of the Chief’s family.

Continuity - 2 points. Storyline continuity gets a point as everything fits. Gaila fits the storyline that Quark had previously established. Universe continuity is also good. When Kira reveals that Haggath had sold weapons to the Bajoran resistance during the Occupation, it makes sense. As do the reactions of Sisko and Kira when they inform Odo that charges will not be filed against Quark, showing that while they do not like having to help bail out Quark, they make it perfectly clear that they will not overlook any further discretions. Character continuity was a little tricky for me this time around. As I mentioned earlier, Quark seemed to be bothered by the proposed death toll of a deal he was brokering and had a dream that saw those concerns personified. Unfortunately, among the personifications of those concerns were Jake Sisko and Miles O’Brien. Kira, Jadzia, and even Captain Sisko being in his dream made sense, as did many of his employees. Jake and Miles, however, didn’t have any interactions in this episode with Quark, so it doesn’t make much sense that he would be dreaming of them. So, I think I will have to dock them a point here.

Character Development – 2 points. Definitely a Quark powerhouse episode. Armin Shimmerman has stated that this episode is one that shows Quark as a very three-dimensional character. We see that he has a conscience, reaffirms that he is a people person at heart, but that when things are desperate he will rationalize his choice to deal in weapons. He does make the right choice in the end, but it costs him the repairs to the cargo bay that is damaged as a result of Quark’s plan. The side story gives us some nice Miles moments. As he struggles to care for his son who wails as soon as Miles puts him down, we see him trying to live his regular life. He’s at the bar playing darts and with him on his rounds, eventually getting some time off to care for him while his wife is away. The best is when Worf comes to speak to him and ends up holding Yoshi, resulting in the baby calming down and Miles being able to get some much needed sleep.

Social Commentary – 3 points. Ah, the guilty conscience. The realization that our actions have consequences. So often in our world we see leaders of government and industry make decisions and wash their hands of how those decisions affect the lives of the common man. Gun makers and tobacco dealers say they have no liability for the lives that their products cause. Governments use gambling as a way of increasing revenues while disavowing the costs associated with gambling addictions. Too often we stand and condemn those who make such choices, and yet when we ourselves become the decision makers, do we truly change the system? We sometimes elect leaders for their promise to be different, and we often get more of the same. Quark is in a desperate situation, which makes it easy for him to grab at the chance to get himself back on his feet, but when he starts to get his hands dirty, he finds himself doubting his choice. It does cost him something in the way of friendships (Dax) and respect (Sisko), but ultimately he realizes that his choices cannot excuse the loss of millions of lives. Of course, one can argue that the death toll had to reach the millions before he had the change of heart, but we can also ask ourselves if this is more an issue of determining the cost of one’s soul.

Cool Stuff – 1 point. I am going to give a point here for some of the cool weapon demos we see in the holosuite. Other than that, while this is a fun episode, there was nothing that was wowing me.

Rank – Captain (18 points). Nice to see Quark treated seriously for a change. Quite often his episodes and stories are used more as comic relief. This one shows some great depth to the character and makes a point.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Episode Review - Charlie X (Original Series, Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Charlie Evans

Overview – The Enterprise meets up with the ship Antares where they take upon them a young man named Charlie Evans. Charlie was the lone survivor of a crashed spaceship, and he had lived on the planet Thasus for most of his life, presumably alone. Charlie has trouble adapting to life aboard the Enterprise and soon starts to lash out. Kirk and his crew soon learn that Charlie has special powers, but lacks the maturity to use them well. In addition to destroying the Antares, whose captain tries to warn Kirk about, he takes away Uhura’s voice, makes various crew members and equipment disappear, and changes the ship’s Thanksgiving dinner from synthetic meatloaf to actual turkeys. Kirk and his crew find themselves at the mercy of Charlie’s moodiness and whims.

Charlie and his first love, Yeoman Rand

Score: 8/10 – Robert Walker, who plays Charlie Evans, puts on a tour de force in this episode. He nails it. The show in and of itself is just fine. Maybe not the strongest episode, but it is quite good. Kirk is quite good as he tries to be the mentor and father figure to Charlie. The ending is little cliché, but it makes sense.
Charlie uses his card tricks to win the hearts of the crew

Relevance - 1 point. This would be for the mention of the United Earth Space Probe Agency (UESPA) that would be mentioned again in the episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and several episodes of Enterprise.

Captain Ramart and his first officer Tom Nellis of the Antares

Continuity - 2 points. Character continuity scores a point here. I particularly enjoyed how Kirk handled himself with Charlie, acting as a surrogate father. Universe continuity is fine as well. Story continuity mostly works, but there is a little goof made. While Kirk is in the turbolift heading to the bridge to hear the Antares’ distress message, Kirk is wearing his standard gold command uniform. When he arrives on the bridge, however, he is wearing his green wraparound.

Kirk gets pushed to the limit with Charlie

Character Development – 2 points. We learn that Uhura sings and that Spock plays a Vulcan lyre. We see Janice Rand deal with the unwanted affection of lovestruck Charlie. Kirk likely gets the most development here as he takes on a more fatherly role towards Charlie. Not much more than that, but enough to score it a couple points.

Uhura's song about Spock, On the Starship Enterprise

Social Commentary – 2 points. Coming of age is a classic theme, which this show is for Charlie. While Charlie is having to adjust to life with humans, he just cannot seem to make the transition without causing major havoc for the Enterprise crew. Sometimes when a person is not raised in their native culture, it is almost impossible to fit back in. There is also the classic tale of “power corrupts” here, as the Thasians learn that by giving Charlie the powers that allowed him to survive, he became someone who would not be able to live with his own kind again.

Don't laugh at Charlie when he's mad

Cool Stuff – 3 points. A point has to be scored for getting to hear Nichelle Nichols sing. Her voice is as beautiful as her soul is. Also a point for the cool effects (circa 1966, of course). I also need to give a point for the knowledge that in the 23rd Century we still celebrate Thanksgiving. And if any of those didn’t hit the cool factor for you, then how about this: the galley chef, who is never seen but we hear his voice, was performed by Gene Roddenberry himself.

"I want to stay! STAY!"

Rank – Captain (18 points). A really good episode that tells a great story and has some great moments. The character of Charlie Evans is intriguing and superbly performed by Robert Walker. A classic episode that deserves a viewing.

Yet another spot with a shirtless Kirk

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Trip to Starfleet Academy

This past Thursday I was able to live out one of my childhood dreams. Currently at the Calgary Telus Spark science center they have a traveling exhibit. Star Trek: the Starfleet Academy Experience is running from now until June 4, 2017. The exhibit started in Ottawa, Ontario last year and was also in New York City. This is a CBS production meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. While many people have criticized CBS for their lack of celebration last year, but this exhibit is the perfect way to celebrate this beloved franchise. 

Upon entering the exhibit you are given a wrist band that allows you to participate in a variety of activities and training modules meant to simulate an academy experience. Over the next hour or so, you will be trying your hand at everything from planet evaluation, navigation, alien languages, phaser training, medicine, and command. Along the way you can see costumes and props that were used in the TV shows, plus several wall displays that provided information about the show, main characters, alien species, and other interesting bits of information.

First up on your experience is Starfleet Medical training. In addition to the multiple choice quiz (there was one in each section, which was typically several multiple choice questions that gauged your preferences and aptitudes plus a trivia question), you are trained in using a tricorder to scan a Klingon patient and determine his condition. The prop display consisted of various tricorders and hyposprays. 

Next, tactical. Here you could look at a variety of different phaser weapons and learn how they were supposed to work. The most popular part of this section was the hand-phaser training simulator. You were given a phaser and, arcade style, shoot at a bunch of targets. Different targets required different strategies. Here you also were able to see Worf's uniform (complete with bat'leth) and a Mark IV photon torpedo casing.

After this you move on to communications. In addition to learning the background of Uhura and Sato, you can look at the evolution of communicator and learn about various alien cultures. For fun you can take a selfie and alter your appearance to look like different Trek aliens. I went with an Andorian-Vulcan hybrid (Shran would be disgusted). The most entertaining part was a task involving your ability to repeat certain Klingon phrases. I scored 2 out of 3 on that. I blame missing the third sentence on the fact that the Klingon teacher had a thick Jamaican accent.

Science and engineering come next. You can scan through the various schematics of the different ships that we see in the television series. You are also shown some great scanning equipment, and you get to see some cool props, including Data's head from the episode "Time's Arrow". You can check out the uniforms of Chief O'Brien, Data, Dax, Tucker, and even Zefram Cochrane. The task given to you is to find a suitable planet for a shuttle crew that needs to make an emergency landing. It is relatively easy, but still fun. In the engineering section you get to use the fabled transporter. Yes, you get to be beamed up. It's quite something to see (and they give you a video of it at the end of your visit). 

Onto the navigation section. While you get some information of the different aspects of piloting a starship, you can also try your hand at the helm, so to speak. They have a simulation in which you need to set a course for a starship to navigate around various planets, asteroids, and alien fleets. You have three chances to get your ship to Deep Space Nine in the allotted time. I watched a few others and their attempts to get an idea of the best strategies and I still had some struggles. 

Finally, you arrive at the Command section, and you get to be on the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Well, at least a close approximation of it. The arrangement is a little different. Still, you get to sit at the helm or ops station, or stand at tactical as Worf did. You might even try making some planetary scans at one of the science stations. Of course, no trip to the bridge would be complete without the obligatory sitting in the captain's chair. Your task in this section is working the infamous Kobayashi Maru test. Your results in the no-win scenario measure your aggression, diplomacy, and compassion. Of course, your ship gets destroyed (still didn't figure out how to rewrite the code), but you are ranked on the number of crew members of the Kobayashi Maru you rescue. When you are done in this section, you have one last quiz to answer, and then you walk past the hall of captains as you exit the academy. As you enter the gift shop, you can obtain your results at a terminal. Here, you can see which area of the Academy program you are best suited for. I was told that I was best suited for Communications and Command. 

If you are in the Calgary area in the next few months, I strongly suggest you check out the exhibit. While it is a relatively simple experience, it is definitely entertaining for new and old fans alike, plus those who are a bit curious about the whole Star Trek phenomenon. I have yet to learn where the exhibit is headed next, but if it comes to your neighbourhood, you should avail yourself of the opportunity. I found that this was a childhood fantasy come to life. I was grateful for the experience.