Star Trek: The Original Series – season three (1968-69)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Original Series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* Spectre of the Gun. With viewing figures unimpressive, NBC actually axed Star Trek after its second season. Then, at least in part due to an organised letter-writing campaign by fans, it was given another year – but on a smaller budget and in a less favourable time slot. Creator Gene Roddenberry also stepped away from the production. So season three has long had a crummy reputation, not least because of its lack of ambition. (In 24 episodes, they filmed on location just once.) The lack of money is evident in several episodes, but the one that sidesteps the problem the best is Spectre of the Gun, a brilliant take on the classic Hollywood Western. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) find themselves in an alien reconstruction of the Arizona town of Tombstone in October 1881. The Enterprise crew realise they’re the Clantons. The Earps are nearby and the scene is set for the Gunfight at the OK Corral… As they had to shoot this episode on a soundstage, and save cash, the production team decided to go surreal. The sets contain deliberately missing walls; the barriers between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are blurred; the sky is a vivid, bold red. It’s a brilliant effect, both heightening and supporting the script.

Honourable mentions:
* The Enterprise Incident. A tremendous espionage plot as Kirk and Spock are captured by a female Romulan officer (a watchable turn from guest star Joanna Linville), who then starts to fall for Mr Spock. There are plenty of twists and a spy-story structure.
* The Paradise Syndrome. An intensely odd episode, this. Kirk suffers from amnesia as he’s left behind on a planet populated by Native American types. He falls in love, marries, and grows sideburns in the months it takes for his colleagues to return and pick him up. (Downside: the near-constant incidental music gets irritating, and you also need to excuse a fair amount of naive 1960s racism.)
* Is There in Truth No Beauty? Ultimately a rather silly episode with some naff attitudes, but it contains a good guest appearance from Diane Muldaur (later a regular in Star Trek: The Next Generation) and a nicely disguised plot twist.
* Day of the Dove. A claustrophobic episode that sees the crew trapped on the Enterprise with a group of Klingons and an alien force that exaggerates negative and aggressive tendencies. The end is rather risible, though, as humans and Klingons alike down weapons, call a truce and burst into fake hearty laughter to outfox the alien entity.
* For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Merits a place on this list just for its amazing, poetic title! It’s an engaging enough story about Dr McCoy falling terminally ill (spoiler: he gets better) and having a romance.
* Wink of an Eye. It’s an intriguing concept for a sci-fi episode (aliens move at a vastly higher speed, so are imperceptible to humans), but the season’s budget restrictions mean it’s another episode that’s dragged out by scenes on familiar sets.
* Whom Gods Destroy. By this point, we’re past the point of boredom with the powerful-yet-loopy-villain cliché, but this episode at least has a fun guest star (Batgirl Yvonne Craig), lots of doppelganger scenes (cue William Shatner acting opposite his body double) and a general air of oddness.
* Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Some rather hamfisted satire of race relations is made enjoyable by interesting guest characters (including one played by Frank Gorshin) and a tense sequence as Kirk threatens to destroy the Enterprise unless its control is returned to him.
* The Mark of Gideon. The meat of the story is a bit rancid – something about an arrogant race on an overpopulated planet – but Kirk being conned into thinking he’s on an abandoned Enterprise works well. (Spoiler: it’s actually a Truman Show-style recreation.) There are some surreal images and a strong subplot for Spock, who gets to act as both diplomat and detective.
* The Savage Curtain. A fun one, as Kirk meets his hero Abraham Lincoln (sort of). It gets a big eggy as the show a) rolls out another ‘war is bad’ metaphor, and b) yet again refuses to leave the soundstage for exterior scenes. But it’s enjoyable tosh.
* All Our Yesterdays. An enjoyable, if convoluted, concept episode. Visiting a strange library on an empty planet, Kirk is accidentally sent back in history – to a time similar to the earth’s 17th century. Spock and McCoy, meanwhile, are sent back even further and end up trapped in a harsh Ice Age wilderness. Being 5,000 years in the past begins to affect Spock’s psychology (somehow) and he becomes emotional…
* Turnabout Intruder. Star Trek’s final episode is one of its more ludicrous. A woman swaps bodies with Kirk, Freaky Friday-style. While playing the nefarious Dr Janice Lester masquerading as Kirk, Shatner overeggs it something rotten, but the gimmick plot works and it keeps the interest (which is more than can be said for many season-three episodes!).

Worst episode:
* The Way to Eden. Hippies. Hippies singing songs. Eugh.

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Star Trek: The Original Series – season two (1967-68)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Original Series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season two…

Best episode:
The Trouble with Tribbles. A terrific comedy episode, full of wit and class. Behind the scenes, there were worries the show was going too far into self-parody with this story, but there was no need for concern. The big hitters among Star Trek’s cast – William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock) and DeForest Kelley (Dr McCoy) – were all capable comic actors, able to play funny scenes without undercutting the premise. (Thirty years later, spin-off show Deep Space Nine produced a tribute episode in which that show’s characters travel back in time and interact with the events of The Trouble with Tribbles. It’s an absolute marvel.)

Honorable mentions:
* The Changeling. It seems old-fashioned now, as many Stark Trek ideas do (because they’ve been copied so often), but this is a generally engaging episode about a computer that’s out to destroy all non-perfect life. Our heroes must, essentially, out-logic it to death. The less said the better, however, about the subplot where Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) has her memory wiped so must learn to read again!
* Mirror, Mirror. A fantastic, foot-to-the-throat thriller based on an imaginative idea: the Enterprises crosses into a parallel dimension where they meet their fascistic, sadistic and cynical counterparts (which obviously gives the regular cast a chance to have some fun). The concept has since been rehashed several times in other Star Trek series, but here it still feels fresh and very dangerous.
* The Doomsday Machine. A passable episode with a Moby Dick metaphor. (Rather than a whale, it’s a giant planet-killing entity from another dimension.)
* Catspaw. Another story about an all-powerful figure toying with lesser beings, which Star Trek was very keen on, but this episode has gothic trappings and fun guest characters. It perhaps loses its impact as it becomes more campy and hokey, especially when Kirk and Spock are menaced by a giant cat (ie, a normal cat filmed in such a way that we only see its enormous shadow).
* I, Mudd. Roger C Carmel returns as guest character Harry, who is now king of his own planet populated by androids, and is again an enjoyable presence. The episode contains the now-hoary idea that robots can be turned loopy if you confuse them.
Journey to Babel. There’s some good, meaty drama for Spock as we encounter his parents for the first time. His Vulcan father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), needs a blood transfusion but, with Kirk incapacitated, Spock feels his duty is to command the Enterprise rather than give blood. He should logically stay at his post.
The Deadly Years. A decent one. The key members of the crew are affected by a virus and begin to age artificially, which leads to Kirk having to be relieved of command when his memory starts to fail him. (This is one of several episodes that highlight the stupidity of sending a starship’s captain, first officer and chief medical officer on missions together!)
* Obsession. A simplistic plot, on which an engaging character drama about Kirk’s guilt for a long-ago catastrophe is hung.
* Wolf in the Fold. The famed Scotty-as-Jack-the-Ripper episode. It’s perhaps not as good as its reputation suggests (there are too many scenes of computers explaining the plot) but it whips up to a maniacal climax.
* A Piece of the Action. Near enough a comedy, but played and directed with a light touch. Not for the first time in Star Trek’s run, it’s a let’s-use-the-backlot episode: standing sets are used for an alien planet that has modelled its whole society on Al Capone-era gangsters. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy revel in the gangster idiom and are great at playing their respective characters’ differing reactions to the situation.
* Patterns of Force. Another episode where the Enterprise stumbles across an alien world that’s oddly similar to an era of Earth history (which allows the production to save some money by shooting of pre-existing sets). This time, Kirk and co go looking for a long-missing Starfleet officer and find him as the leader of an ersatz Nazi Party. It’s a gripping episode with something to say and some surprise turns.
* The Ultimate Computer. Kirk feels threatened when an ‘AI captain’ is roadtested on the Enterprise. Not the best, but it contains a wistful scene where Kirk romantically ponders the golden era of sail (quoting John Masefield’s poem Sea-Fever: ‘And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by’). Co-stars Blacula himself, William Marshall.
* Bread and Circuses. *Yet again*, the Enterprise discovers an alien culture modelled on a period of Earth history. This time: Ancient Rome, though an Ancient Rome where people have technology and guns. It’s clunky at times but generally enjoyable and contains – gleefully – a satire of the television industry when we see behind the scenes at the gladiator contests. Also, Spock and McCoy share a lovely heart-to-heart scene.
* Assignment: Earth. Not the most nuanced or fluid piece of television you’ll ever see, but interesting for its minor place in Star Trek history. A back-door pilot for a spin-off show that never happened, this episode spends a lot of time seeding the potential new characters, such as the enigmatic Gary Seven, his secretary, his intelligent cat and his idiosyncratic computer.

Worst episode:
The Apple. A boring, naff episode about the crew wandering around a soundstage jungle set and encountering hippies who don’t know what love or sex are.

Star Trek: The Original Series – season one (1966-67)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the original Star Trek TV series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season one…

Best episode:
Balance of Terror. The debut of the militaristic Romulans in Star Trek is a terrific episode that plays like a submarine movie. The Starship Enterprise stalks a Romulan ship in the Neutral Zone between the two empires’ territories and the story is tense and exciting. There are also subplots and an interesting villain and telling character moments. Superb.

Honorable mentions:
The Naked Time. A fun, early episode that sees the regular crew go a bit loopy after being affected by a virus. It’s well paced and has good stuff for both Sulu (George Takei), who gets some gleeful scenes where he fences topless, and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who struggles with his human/Vulcanian psychology.
* The Enemy Within. The central concept has become a sci-fi cliché – due to a transporter accident, an evil doppelgänger of Captain Kirk is let loose on the Enterprise – but it’s very well done here. William Shatner hams it up as the evil Kirk and there’s a ticking-clock element to the plot thanks to some crewmen stranded on a desolate planet below.
* Mudd’s Women. It’s not exactly ‘woke’, being a story about a charlatan selling women to miners, but Roger C Carmel is very entertaining as the lead guest character: the flamboyant and verbose Harcourt Fenton Mudd.
* Miri. The first really great episode. (Balance of Terror wasn’t broadcast until after this one.) A set of enigmas is set up – a planet that looks identical to Earth, a society that seems to be stuck in the 1930s, no adults anywhere to be seen – then a plot with a countdown is kicked into gear. There’s good drama along the way and it’s well directed too. The subtext of the story is that, after puberty, people do ‘bad things’.
* The Menagerie (Parts I & II). An ingenious way to save some production budget by reusing footage from Star Trek’s then-unbroadcast pilot episode, The Cage, as a flashback story. The wraparound scenes have mystery and intrigue because Spock is acting so out of character.
* The Conscience of the King. An effective – if thoroughly prediactable – drama about an actor who may be a mass murderer in hiding. There are plenty of Shakespearean parallels and quotations, such as the title.
* Shore Leave. The regular characters spend some time on a planet but start to hallucinate and undergo personality changes. Fun and surreal, if lightweight.
* The Galileo Seven. A superb showcase for both Mr Spock – the show’s most fascinating character – and the actor who played him. The story sees Spock, Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelly), Scotty (James Doohan) and others stranded on a planet with no way of contacting the Enterprise. There’s a monster nearby, deaths within the group, and dissention in the ranks…
* Tomorrow is Yesterday. A fun time-travel story (Star Trek’s first ever) sees the Enterprise end up above 1960s America and encountering an Air Force test pilot. The script has a good sense of humour.
* Space Seed. An entertaining episode about a megomaniac from the 1990s coming out of suspended animation. (The second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, is a direct sequel.)
* A Taste of Armageddon. A society is killing its own people as part of a deal with its enemy, rather than the two states launching actual attacks. A decent story about the futility of war.
* This Side of Paradise. A good episode for Spock, who’s pacified by a weird spore and then has a romance. (It’s kind of a druggie/hippie metaphor, I guess.) The only way Kirk can shake him out of his ennui is by provoking an emotional response.
* Errand of Mercy. Kirk and Spock are stranded on a planet under Klingon occupation. Engaging stuff. (This is the Klingons’ first appearance in Star Trek.)
* The City on the Edge of Forever. It’s contrived, and needs a lot of sci-fi set-up, but this is a brilliant time-travel tragedy with a good guest performance from Joan Collins. When a disturbed Dr McCoy is flung back into 20th-century America, Kirk and Spock must give chase. There’s lots of future-men-out-of-water stuff as the two men adapt to a more basic lifestyle, then the tragic ending really packs a punch.

Worst episode:
The Squire of Gothos. It’s become such a cliché in science fiction: a capricious, arrogant, sociopathic god-like figure toys with people because he’s bored. And as well as being boring and irritating, this example gets its history wrong and has a dreadful deus ex machina ending.

Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The USS Enterprise is destroyed during a rescue mission gone wrong, leaving its crew stranded on a planet with a man intent on revenge…

For the first time in a Star Trek film, the famous mission-statement narration is provided by more than one character. The seven chief crewmembers get a bit each: “Space, the final frontier [Kirk]. These are the voyage of the starship [Spock] Enterprise. Its continuing mission [Scotty]: to explore strange new worlds [McCoy]; to seek out new life [Sulu] and new civilisations [Chekov]; to boldly go where no one has gone before [Uhura].”

Regulars: Three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission of exploration, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling restless. So much so, in fact, that he considers applying for a vice-admiral’s position. But there’s at least one last mission to complete when the Enterprise heads off to rescue people stranded in a nebula. It’s actually a trap, and the ship is destroyed when it crashes on a planet called Altamid. The crew is then split into fractured groups – Kirk, for example, is paired with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and they rumble a traitor in the camp… Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) has been shaken by the news that his older self – the elderly Spock who travelled back in time two films ago – has died. After the crash, Spock and Dr McCoy (Karl Urban) form an odd-couple double act whose bickering hides a deep respect. Spock is injured and tells Bones that he wants to leave the Enterprise crew to continue Old Spock’s work in rebuilding the Vulcan race… Scotty gets a lot of screen time, is the focus of a vital subplot, has plenty of comedy moments, is the only crewmember specifically named in Kirk’s introductory voiceover, and forms a touching relationship with the film’s major non-villain guest star. Completely coincidentally, actor Simon Pegg co-wrote the script… Uhura (Zoe Saldana) splits up with boyfriend Spock, while Sulu (John Cho) is revealed to be in a same-sex relationship – both are captured by bad guy Krall, but manage to send a distress signal and work out the villain’s plan.

Guests: Sofia Boutella plays the spunky Jaylah, an alien scavenger who’s been living on Altamid. She’s a big success – it’s a likeable performance and Jaylah is confident and strong but not boringly flawless. (Her name is a pun on Jennifer Lawrence, the actress used by the writers as a model for the character.) The main bad guy is initially presented as an alien called Krall, then revealed to be a mutated human who was once Starfleet officer Captain Edison – he’s played by Idris Elba with good physical presence and attitude. Lydia Wilson plays Kalara, one of Krall’s agents who pretends to be a victim. All her dialogue has to be translated by a machine so we hear her native language and English at the same time.

Best bits:
* The cold open: a comedic mini-mission showing Kirk negotiating with some aliens. There’s a good gag when we realise they’re only dog-sized.
* The early montage telling us that ennui has gripped Kirk, who’s bored after 966 days in deep space. “Things have started to feel a little episodic,” he says. Geddit? Like a TV show!
* The Escher-like architecture of Yorktown, a planet-sized space station with unusual gravity patterns.
* Spock learns that Ambassador Spock has died: a touching way to acknowledge the death of actor Leonard Nimoy.
* Kirk and Spock both say they have something they need to talk about… but that it’ll wait till later. They know how movie scripts work!
* The Enterprise is attacked by thousands of tiny spacecraft that act like a swarm, causing huge damage. It’s the start of a long, exciting and well-staged action run that’s full of character and plotting. The Enterprise crashes and is practically destroyed (as it was in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek: Generations – ie, we lose an Enterprise in roughly a quarter of these films).
* “Abandon ship, Mr Sulu.”
* Scotty’s escape pod comes to rest on the edge of a cliff.
* Krall can speak English!
* Spock and McCoy’s bickering: “Cut the horseshit!” “Doctor, I fail to see how excrement of any kind bears relevance on our situation.” Bones then pulls the old trick of asking a distracting question just before painfully cauterising Spock’s wound.
* Scotty finds a communicator, but the flip bit flops off when he tries to use it.
* Jaylah’s neat trick of generating holograms of herself during a fight with bad guys.
* The revelation that Jaylah’s ‘house’ is an age-old Starfleet ship, the USS Franklin.
* Krall takes… life power or essence or something from Federation prisoners. A process that hurts them. A lot.
* Spock and Bones movingly discuss Old Spock’s death. The conversation ends with Spock laughing; Bones assumes he’s delirious.
* We briefly see a 100-year-old video of the Franklin crew. Wonder if that’ll be important later…
* Spock and Bones are surrounded by bad guys. “Well, at least I won’t die alone,” says Bones – just as, behind him, Spock is being beamed to safety.
* The reveal of where Kirk hid the MacGuffin.
* Kirk on a motorbike, which just happened to be lying around on the Franklin.
* Kirk jumping through the air *whilst being beamed* so he can grab Jaylar’s hand.
* Spock begins a long, detailed explanation of his plan. “Skip to the end,” interrupts Kirk. The joke is a deliberate quotation from Spaced, the superior Channel 4 sitcom Simon Pegg co-wrote and starred in.
* The crew need to jam the swarm’s communications, so decide on a loud, distracting UHF signal. Scotty knows just the thing: Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. (As well as meaning a kickass song is in the movie, it’s also a callback to the 2009 film.)
* Turns out that video is important: Uhura watches the whole thing and realises Krall was once a Federation captain. We then see his century-old logs, where he helpfully fills in backstory and descends into madness.
* Spock goes through Old Spock’s possessions. We see a photograph of the Enterprise crew in middle age: it’s a publicity snap from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, so features the original actors. As well as a bit of meta fun, it’s also a nice reminder that this series is an alternate timeline, not a remake.
* The final shot: a ‘speeded-up’ CGI image of the Enterprise being rebuilt.

TV tie-in: A month before this film’s release, Anton Yechin died at the age of 27. Producer JJ Abrams soon confirmed that the actor’s character won’t be recast, so it seems Star Trek Beyond marks the last appearance of Pavel Chekov. He was first introduced in the original TV series, in a second-season episode called Amok Time, and was played for 27 years by Walter Koenig… In Amok Time, Spock must return to Vulcan – it’s the franchise’s first ever visit there – to take part in a bizarre mating ritual.

Review: It doesn’t exactly start with a bang. The first 64 seconds of this movie consist of a plethora of production-company logos, then there’s no big action beat to kick things off. But once the plot gears up there’s a huge amount to enjoy. Unlike the first two films in this timeline, Star Trek Beyond is a one-off, self-contained story, and the result is confident, polished and very enjoyable. It was a worry when, after those first two reboot movies, director JJ Abrams ducked out in favour of making Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Thankfully, replacement Justin Lin hits the ground running. He’d spent the previous few years making crass-but-fun Fast & Furious sequels, and as you’d expect from that CV this film’s stunts, chases and fights are well staged and thrilling. But there’s also plenty of soul and subtext. The regular characters retain their easy chemistry and are fun to hang out with, while the storytelling is very impressive. You can sense the layers of the onion being peeled back at pleasingly paced intervals – the villain ends up being much more interesting than we first assume; Kalara’s story has a couple of fake turns before we find out the truth; and plenty of ideas and plot points are set up then paid off in interesting ways. A good example is Spock giving Uhura a necklace. At first it’s solely a character beat, a way of dramatising that he still cares about her. Later the jewellery’s material allows him to track her down, so has a plot function… then comedy is generated from the other characters’ reaction to Spock’s ability to stalk his ex-girlfriend. That’s smart, economic movie writing, doing a lot in a short time. Maybe only the action climax disappoints a bit. It’s based on some gravity-based exposition that just comes off as nonsense, while the odd decision is made not to have Krall de-evolve back to normal. If you’ve cast Idris Elba, a handsome and charismatic man, wouldn’t you want to free him of all his prosthetics for the final showdown?

Eight incomprehensible cosmic anomalies that could wipe us out in an instant out of 10.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season seven (1993/94)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of the final season …

Best episode:
* All Good Things… Picard’s consciousness leaps about in time… Superb. I can’t immediately think of a more enjoyable series finale. There’s a big plot hole in the MacGuffin, but it really doesn’t matter.

Honourable mentions:
* Gambit, Part I. The rest of the Enterprise crew believe Picard has been killed… Don’t worry, he’s on this mercenary ship over here pretending to be a bad guy.
* Gambit, Part II – Ditto.
* Inheritance. The woman who is, in effect, Data’s ‘mum’ shows up… Fionnula Flanagan guest stars.
* Parallels. Worf is the only crewmember to notice that reality keeps changing… A surreal little episode.
* The Pegasus. Riker’s former captain investigates when an old mission comes back to haunt them both… A tremendously structured drama with conflicting viewpoints, mysteries and twists. Excellent.
* Homeward. Worf’s brother surreptitiously beams a group of people into a holodeck simulation of their dying world… One of numerous (ie, too many) episodes this season with a story based on a regular’s family member, but still enjoyable.
* Lower Decks. Various subplots about junior officers are woven together… A nice POV exercise. (A slight shame, though, that it’s still about *officers*. Surely the Enterprise has janitors and dock workers and IT gremlins – why not show us their lives?)
* Thine Own Self. Data loses his memory on a medieval planet while Troi tries to become a commander… It’s a shame the two halves of the episode are unconnected – and that Troi gets a promotion in a couple of days because she asks for one – but it’s broadly enjoyable.
* Bloodlines. A Ferenghi threatens to kill a son Picard didn’t know he had… Another tremendous example of how good Patrick Stewart was in this show.

Worst episode:
* Liasons. Picard is stranded on a hostile planet while strange ambassadors cause ructions on the Enterprise… Not only are both halves of the story really boring, but it ends with an alien character actually saying he wanted to learn about this earth custom called love. (This was a disappointing season generally, with numerous dull-as-dishwater episodes – Masks, Firstborn, Genesis…)

Conclusion:
* It’s been fascinating to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation again. I hadn’t seen most of the episodes since BBC2 screened them in the early 90s, and on the whole the show held up really well. It can be guilty of many things – naffness, tweeness, parochialism, a patronising attitude, naivety, the use of deus ex machina, unrealistic happy endings, abrupt endings, lack of conflict, a sense of white-man-to-the-rescue, repetition of ideas, technobabble (so much technobabble, especially once creator Gene Roddenberry had died), character stories with no plots, plots with no heart, old-fashioned attitudes to sex and marriage, and a tiresome reliance on resetting the status quo at the end of every episode. But it’s also packed full of great ideas, built on optimism, and has a likeable and charming regular cast. (Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner were consistently impressive.) Now… Do I have the time to give Deep Space Nine another go?

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season six (1992/93)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season six…

Best episode:
* Starship Mine. Picard must combat terrorists who have taken control of the Enterprise… It’s the Next Generation does Die Hard. Comedy, suspense and drama go hand-in-hand. It’s not especially Star Treky (not being ‘about’ anything), but very entertaining.

Honourable mentions:
* Time’s Arrow, Part II. Data’s colleagues travel to 1893 to locate him… Very enjoyable follow-up to last season’s finale.
* Relics. Long-missing Captain Montgomery Scott is found trapped inside a transporter buffer… SCOTTY!
* True Q. A young woman seems to have godlike powers, so Q arrives to help her… It’s always fun whenever Q shows up.
* A Fistful of Datas. Worf and his son, Alexander, take part in a holodeck Western programme, but things go wrong… Very entertaining and often funny. It revels in its Old West conventions. The first Worf-based episode to really succeed (all the others are so po-faced).
* Chain of Command, Part I. The Enterprise gets a new captain… The start of a fine two-part story. Ronny Cox guest stars and shakes up the cosy Enterprise family.
* Chain of Command, Part II. A captured Picard is interrogated by a Cardassian officer… Anything with David Warner in it is going to be worth seeing.
* Ship in a Bottle. A sentient hologram of Professor Moriarty escapes from the holodeck… Amazing episode with an audacious plot development.
* Tapesty. When Picard is ‘killed’, Q lets him relive a key moment from his youth… Let’s face it, if it’s about Picard it’s going to be a good one.
* Frame of Mind. While rehearsing a play about being imprisoned, Riker suddenly finds himself in the same situation as his character… A trippy story in which we don’t know what’s real and what’s not.
* Second Chances. A transporter malfunction results in a duplicate Will Riker… The kind of idea Star Trek does so well – taking a silly sci-fi concept and turning it into a fascinating character story.
* Timescape. Picard, Troi, Data and La Forge find the Enterprise frozen in time… Another science-fiction gimmick, but enjoyable stuff.

Worst episode:
* Aquiel – in which Geordie falls for a murder suspect – is boring, twee, and it ends very abruptly. Characters also have to act stupidly for the plot to work.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season five (1991/92)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season five…

Best episode:
* Conundrum. The crew of the Enterprise lose their memories after being scanned by an alien… A fun, gimmicky episode where our characters have to rediscover everything afresh. The regulars are having a ball playing with expectations and there’s some good humour too.

Honourable mentions:
* Ensign Ro. A disgraced Starfleet officer joins the Enterprise crew… Another no-easy-answers story about terrorists, and a good debut for a new semi-regular character.
* Silicon Avatar. A mysterious space creature that has killed millions returns… There’s a fine guest performance from Ellen Geer in this story about the crystalline entity from season one.
* Unification I. Picard and Data go undercover in Romulan territory to find a famous Vulcan ambassador… SPOCK!
* Unification II. MORE SPOCK!
* A Matter of Time. A man called Berlinghoff Rasmussen arrives and claims to be an academic time-traveller from the future… Matt Frewer plays Rasmussen and is a lot of fun.
* Hero Worship. A young boy latches onto Data as a new father figure… A sweet episode.
* Violations. There’s a delegation on the Enterprise, and one of them mentally abuses crewmembers… A nasty story about a rape metaphor with some trippy dream-like sequences.
* Power Play. Data, Troi and O’Brien get possessed and take control of the ship… An enjoyable enough go at a hoary old concept.
* Cause and Effect. Unbeknownst to the crew, the Enterprise becomes trapped in a time loop… Gimmicky and full of holes, but still very entertaining and well staged.
* The First Duty. At Starfleet Academy, Wesley Crusher is involved in a colleague’s death… A talky but enjoyable episode – a courtroom drama.
* I, Borg. An individual Borg is captured and the crew decide to use him as a weapon… A decent examination of moral issues.
* The Next Phase. Everyone thinks Geordie and Ro have been killed… An enjoyable sci-fi idea, though it’s a shame the solution is so rooted in meaningless science terminology.
* The Inner Light. Picard is unconscious for 20 minutes but in that time experiences decades’ worth of life on an alien planet… Very touching. An excellent performance from Patrick Stewart, as always.
* Time’s Arrow. After finding Data’s head buried on Earth, the android travels back in time to San Francisco in the 19th century… Tremendous. A foot-to-the-floor time-travel romp with comedy, Samuel Clemens and a terrific turn from Brent Spiner.

WORST:
* Redemption II. Picard visits the Klingon homeworld to oversee a new leader’s coronation… A horrendously boring exercise in fanwank. The hoops the storytelling jumps through in order to justify Denise Crosby’s return to the show are risible.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season four (1990/91)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season four…

Best episode:
* First Contact. Riker is injured while undercover on an alien world… A great concept, done entirely from the alien characters’ point of view – it’s their story, really, and our characters are the guests. The whole episode is really well directed, has a funny cameo from Cheers star Bebe Neuwirth, and there’s good character stuff all round (no one’s an idiot and the alien culture feels textured and believable). Maybe my favourite episode of the whole series, in fact.

Honourable mentions:
* The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. The conclusion of last season’s cliffhanger… Not in the same league as the first part – you get the sense they’d written themselves into a corner – but still entertaining.
* Family. Suffering from the after-effects of his Borg conversion, Picard goes home to France… A lovely change of pace: a quiet character episode with no sci-fi gubbins. Sadly, the episode keeps cutting back to subplots on the Enterprise featuring Worf and Wesley – it’s a shame, as these strands are nothing special.
* Brothers. Data hijacks the Enterprise! As this series goes along, the frequency with which Data goes loopy does get tiresome (how is he still third in command of the fleet flagship?!), but Brent Spiner plays three characters here and does it very well.
* Remember Me. Crusher starts to notice that crewmembers are vanishing, but no one else remembers them… A fun and intriguing sci-fi concept. It also pulls off a neat twist when we later switch to another POV.
* Legacy. During a civil war on an alien world, the crew meet the sister of their fallen colleague Tasha… This has a meaner, tougher tone than most episodes.
* Future Imperfect. Riker is knocked out cold and when he wakes up 16 years have passed… Another terrific gimmick episode, but pulled off with style. There’s a good double bluff going on too.
* Data’s Day. Various goings-on are seen through Data’s eyes… A pleasing exercise in style, and another fine Data episode.
* Qpid. When Q tries to play matchmaker for Picard, the regulars end up in a Robin Hood fantasy… Basically an excuse to get the characters in silly costumes and playing out clichés, but hugely entertaining.
* Half a Life. Lwaxana Troi falls in love with a man whose culture says he must commit suicide at a certain age… David Ogden Stiers guests stars in a lovely and measured story about euthanasia. Majel Barrett gets a chance to round out the comic-relief Lwaxana too.
* The Mind’s Eye. Geordie is kidnapped and brainwashed… A pastiche of Manchurian Candidate.
* In Theory. When a crewmember falls for him, Data takes his first steps into the world of romance… The first episode directed by Patrick Stewart is enjoyable enough.

Worst episode:
* There are quite a few that are more boring – The Loss, Night Terrors, The Drumhead, the finale – but Devil’s Due fails by being a rehash of concepts we’ve already had. It features a Q-type character, a courtroom drama, one of crew having to argue against another… All things the show has done before and better.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season three (1989/90)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* The Best of Both Worlds. The Borg invade Federation space and then capture and convert Captain Picard… There’s a wonderful sense of epic scale and dread to this one. It’s Star Trek as an action-horror movie. The end-of-season cliffhanger feels enormous.

Honourable mentions:
* The Survivors. The crew find two people living on an otherwise-barren planet… A nice, kooky character story with a good twist.
* Who Watches the Watchers? The Enterprise officers are secretly observing a race of aliens, but then the aliens become aware of their presence… A precursor of Star Trek: Insurrection, but this does the same concept with more flair and interest.
* The Enemy. Geordie gets trapped with a Romulan on a dangerous planet… A Defiant Ones-style story. There’s also a moral-dilemma B-plot for Worf, who refuses to help a dying Romulan.
* The Defector. A Romulan asks for sanctuary and says he has vital information… An episode with some politics behind it.
* The High Ground. Crusher in taken hostage by terrorists… A very un-Star Trek episode, which makes it all the more enjoyable. It’s a story about big, complex issues that weaves moral issues in with character stuff. There are no easy answers.
* Deja Q. Q is stripped of his powers… A nice bit of comedy.
* A Matter of Perspective. Riker is accused of murder, and during his trial we see different versions of what happened… It’s forced in places, perhaps, but is still an interesting way of telling a story.
* Yesterday’s Enterprise. In an alternative reality the crew encounter an Enterprise from the past, then realise they have a chance to improve the future… Famously enjoyable, and very timey-wimey. Tasha Yar’s back after leaving the show two years earlier and gets a proper send-off this time.
* The Offspring. Data builds himself an android daughter… A delightful episode with real heart to it.
* Allegiance. Picard is replaced by a duplicate by some aliens who are studying humans… Patrick Stewart is *amazing* at putting in just the right amount of off-kilter stuff into his performance as the other Picard. Without going OTT, he seems oddly different.
* Captain’s Holiday. Picard is on vacation, but soon gets involved with an archaeologist… Another good change of pace, and another episode that benefits from not feeling very Star Trek-like. We see Picard off on his own, off-duty and getting caught up in a heist movie. There’s some romance too.
* Tin Man. A scientist comes aboard to study a strange organism found near a planet… It features a good guest turn from Harry Groener, later of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
* Hollow Pursuits. A crewman called Reg Barclay struggles with life aboard the Enterprise… The first appearance of Barclay, a character with *issues* – which is oddly rare in Star Trek!
* The Most Toys. Data is captured and placed in a museum of rare artefacts… Worth watching for a cracking guest performance by Saul Rubinek (later of Warehouse 13, in which Brent Spiner guested for a season, thereby reuniting this episode’s chief cast).
* Ménage à Troi. The Ferengi kidnap Troi, her mother and Riker… Funny as anything. A hoot.

Worst episode:
* The Price. Some negotiations take place on the Enterprise… Sooooo boring.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season two (1988/89)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season two…

Best episode:
* The Measure of a Man. A Starfleet officer wants to carry out experiments on Data, who he claims has no rights as an individual… A weighty character story with a great moral dilemma that has reason on both sides. The courtroom drama is excellent and there are wonderful performances from Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner.

Honourable mentions:
* Elementary, Dear Data. While Data and Geordie are playing a Sherlock Holmes roleplaying game, a hologramatic character becomes sentient… Terrific fun, with the Sherlock pastiche mined for all its worth.
* The Outrageous Okuna. The crew rescue a freelance captain, but the local planet has a problem with him… This is refreshingly based on a character who seems a bit more modern than the 24th-century characters. Okuna is a Han Solo type, basically, so more earthy and louche than our regulars. (Teri Hatcher cameos as a transporter chief.)
* The Schizoid Man. We meet the scientist who claims to be Data’s grandfather, and he takes over Data’s body… Basically, it seems that if they made the episode about Data they couldn’t go wrong. Another good one.
* A Matter of Honor. As part of an exchange, Riker serves as the first officer on a Klingon ship, which of course brings him up against the Enterprise… It’s a fun idea, and is part of a process to make the initially po-faced Riker more rounded.
* Time Squared. A Picard from a few hours into the future shows up… A small-scale step into the time-travel genre. An effective little episode.
* Q Who. The Enterprise encounters a previously unknown race of androids… Q returns and we get the first appearance of the Borg. It’s pacey, urgent and gripping.
* Up The Long Ladder. Two colonies who have not had contact with the outside world are in danger… Clichés abound, especially in the Irishness of the guest characters, but there’s fun and humour too.
* The Emissary. When a ship containing hibernating Klingons is found, a negotiator is sent to help deal with it… There’s a good guest role for Suzie Plakson as the half-Klingon/half-human K’Ehleyr.

Worst episode:
* Shades of Gray. Riker is injured and relives previous adventures as he’s treated… Once you twig it’s going to be a clips show, any tension falls out of it. The episode is cheap, tatty, unimaginative and rushed. They never did another clips show.