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?

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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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season one (1987/88)

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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 one…

Best episode:
* The Neutral Zone. Three humans are awoken from decades-long hibernation, while the Enterprise is sent on a mission to the Neutral Zone… Unlike a lot of the opening season, this episode doesn’t suffer from being too linear. Far too many stories have no subplots or differing points of view, so can get relentless. This one, however, has two strands that click together at the end and some fun characters from Earth’s past who contrast nicely with the more straitlaced regulars.

Honorable mentions:
* Encounter at Farpoint. Jean-Luc Picard takes command of the USS Enterprise, but is soon put on trial by a godlike alien called Q… The pilot episode of Next Gen is a decent enough start. It introduces the core characters in groups, rather than throwing them all into the mix together, which gives them turns in the spotlight. The main plot might be on the dull side, but the courtroom stuff is fun and well staged.
* The Naked Now. The crew are affected by a virus that causes lots of odd behaviour… Entertaining, and it focuses on regular characters that are still new to us. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves; Patrick Stewart is especially funny.
* Where No One Has Gone Before. A new engine set-up sends the ship a vast distance across the universe… A good old-fashioned Star Trek-y story, full of wonder for the strangeness of space. The Traveler is a fun character, and Wesley gets a chance to shine.
* Justice. Wesley Crusher inadvertently commits a minor crime on a planet with a no-tolerance policy and is sentenced to death… Not bad, though the planet it takes place on is very Aryan. An interesting moral dilemma is played out, even if it the plot ends abruptly.
* The Battle. An encounter with some Ferengi results in Picard reliving a traumatic episode from his past… A decent episode for the captain with an entertaining plot.
* Haven. An arranged marriage for Deana Troi is imminent… Lightweight but enjoyable, this sees the first appearance of semi-regular Lwaxana Troi.
* The Big Goodbye. Picard gets stuck in a 1940s holodeck fantasy… An good bit of nonsense that revels in the film-noir idiom.
* Datalore. The crew encounter Data’s ‘brother’ Lore… One of a number of fine episodes that focus on Data.
* Symbiosis. The Enterprise rescue the crew of a freighter, but it generates an ethical dilemma… There’s a nice twist to the expected story, but we do also get a preachy scene about drug addiction.

Worst episode:
* The Arsenal of Freedom – in which an automated weapon system causes all manor of problems – is awful, dreary and looks cheap. The subplot of Geordie having to take control of the Enterprise, because everyone else is indisposed, is quite fun.

My 10 favourite TV performances

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A while ago, my mate Robert Dick mooted assembling a list of his 10 favourite TV performances. It got me thinking, so here’s mine. What are your favourites?

* Peter Falk (Columbo in Columbo)

* Martin Freeman (Tim Canterbury in The Office)

* Tamsin Greig (Alice Chenery in Love Soup)

* Allison Janney (CJ Cregg in The West Wing)

* David Jason (Del Boy Trotter in Only Fools and Horses)

* Shelley Long (Diane Chambers in Cheers)

* James Marsters (Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

* Bob Peck (Ronald Craven in Edge of Darkness)

* Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing in Friends)

* David Suchet (Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s Poirot)

Narrowing it down to 10 was tough. I didn’t have room for Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation), Bradley Whitford (Danny Tripp in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), John Cleese (Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers), Terry O’Quinn (John Locke in Lost), Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe in Cheers), John Thaw (Morse in Inspector Morse), Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie’s Poirot), Jason Alexander (George Costanza in Seinfeld), Dexter Fletcher (Spike Thompson in Press Gang) and others that have slipped my mind.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002, Stuart Baird)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Soon after discovering a disassembled android who looks exactly like Data, the crew of the Enterprise are sent on a diplomatic mission to Romulus, where it’s Captain Picard’s turn to meet his double…

Regulars: The crew are gathered at the beginning for the wedding of Riker and Troi – their rekindled romance in the last film has moved on, it seems. Picard is the best man and gives a heartfelt speech. He’s been itching to use the Enterprise’s new toy, a 4×4 buggy called the Argo, so tries it out when he, Data and Worf have to search a planet. After meeting Shinzon – the new Romulan leader, who was cloned from Picard’s DNA – he’s haunted by doubts and has a nature/nurture debate with himself. After marrying, the plan for Riker and Troi is to join a new crew on the USS Titan; Riker has been promoted to captain. During the film, they have sex – but Troi’s mind is affected by the bad guys and she imagines Shinzon on top of her. She equates what happened to her to rape – but in a terribly tacky moment, Picard simply asks her to endure more assaults for his own benefit. Seeing how Riker’s been reassigned, Data is the Enterprise’s new first officer. He meets android B4, who is essentially Data’s prototype (both characters are played by Brent Spiner). At the film’s end, he sacrifices himself to save the crew. Worf gets a headache at the wedding, thanks to Romulan ale, and doesn’t like the idea of stripping off for the Betazoid half of the marriage ceremony. Geordie tinkers about with B4 and gets lots of technobabble dialogue. Crusher tells Data that he has nicer eyes than B4 (“Doctor, they are identical,” he says) and also does the blood test to confirm who Shinzon is. Her son, Wesley, appears in a Star Trek movie for the first time – he’s at the wedding, but gets neither dialogue nor a close-up. Guinan’s also there and gets one line.

Guests: Alan Dale – on a mission to appear in everything ever made – plays the Romulan president assassinated in the opening scene. Kate Mulgrew has a cameo as Star Trek: Voyager’s Katherine Janeway, who’s now an admiral. The main villain, Shinzon, is played by future movie star Tom Hardy – he’s a clone of Picard, but their physical resemblance seems to boil down to both being bald. (Hardy also plays Picard in a way: we see him in a photo of a young Jean-Luc.) Dina Meyer is Romulan Donatra and an unrecognisable Ron Perlman plays Shinzon’s viceroy.

Best bits:

* The impressive opening shot: a CGI decent from outer space, into a planet’s atmosphere and down towards the Romulan senate building.

* The creepy way the Romulan hierarchy are desiccated.

* Geordie asking Guinan if she’s ever thought of marrying again. “No,” she says. “Twenty-three was my limit.”

* “You have the bridge, Mr Troi.”

* The Argo – an unusually visceral form of transport for Star Trek.

* The washed-out cinematography used for the surface of Kolarus III.

* The hand bursting out of the sand and attaching itself to Worf’s leg. He steps back and pulls a robotic arm out of the ground.

* Picard, Worf and Data finding the robot’s head, which looks just like Data, and it opening its eyes.

* The Argo leaping off a cliff and into the bay of a waiting shuttlecraft.

* There are some very neatly done shots where we see Data and B4 at the same time.

* The twist that Data has been impersonating B4. (“Move, puny human animal,” he says a moment later when he and Picard walk past some bad guys. Picard gives a note on the roleplay: “A little less florid, Data.”)

* The Enterprise’s bridge being damaged and a crewmember being sucked out into space.

* The Enterprise ramming Shinzon’s ship, the Scimitar.

* The nicely underplayed moment of understanding between Data and Geordie just before…

* …Data runs through a hole in the Enterprise’s hull and propel himself across space to the Scimitar.

TV tie-in: The creator of both Data and B4, Noonian Soong, appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Brothers. Brent Spiner played Soong in old-age make-up, and also reprised the role of Data’s brother, Lore. If Soong’s wife had been around, presumably it would have been Spiner in a wig and a dress. It’s entertaining stuff.

Review: Nemesis has a very good ‘cold open’. The first scene sees the Romulan senate being attacked, and it’s well staged and intriguing. But it’s all down hill after that. After the smug wedding scene, we get a confused and leaden plot capped by a large amount of dreary action. For the fourth time in four Next Generation movies, Data plays a significant role, which is fair enough given how popular he was in the TV show. (There’s a ‘story by’ credit for Brent Spiner.) But the fact that many of us often forget that such a key character is killed off in this film is very telling. It’s just not very memorable cinema. A big problem is Tom Hardy’s tiresome bad guy, Shinzon. His introduction into the story should ratchet up the tension, but instead the energy seems to constantly seep out of the film. It’s also difficult to see the emotional connection: aside from being a bit spooked by seeing his doppelgänger, why should Picard treat this man as anything other than a thug? Attempts are made to mirror the two characters, and to contrast them with the film’s other ‘double’ plotline (Data and B4), but it’s all a bit perfunctory. The film was directed by Stuart Baird, who has edited many enjoyable movies (The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2, The Last Boy Scout, Casino Royale, Skyfall) – but any sense of interesting storytelling abandoned him here.

Four cognitive and communication subroutines out of 10.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Jonathan Frakes)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Federation is observing an oblivious alien race called the Ba’ku. But after the operation is revealed, dangerous secrets are also uncovered…

Regulars: Picard is hosting a diplomatic dinner on the Enterprise when the crisis kicks off. He tracks down a malfunctioning Data and sings Gilbert & Sullivan in an attempt to reboot him. When affected by the Ba’ku planet’s Fountain-of-Youth-like energy, he dances a little jig to some mamba music – that’s enough to make him realise something is wrong. When ordered to leave the system, he chooses to disobey orders and – in a neat dramatisation of his decision – removes the captain’s pips from his collar. Riker and Troi try to do the background research on the Ba’ku situation, but can’t stop flirting. She kisses him with a beard for the first time (he’s the one with the beard), then they share a hot tub while she shaves it off for him. Her TV-show romance with Worf has seemingly petered out at some point. Maybe it ended when he left the Enterprise crew – he was a regular in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by this point, so we get a knowingly arch moment when Picard bumps into Worf and asks, “What are you doing here?” Because it’s not important, Worf’s explanation is essentially rhubarb dialogue underneath a more important discussion. The Ba’ku influence means Worf later oversleeps and gets acne. Data, meanwhile, initiates the plot when he behaves erratically after being attacked on Ba’ku; Geordie’s optic nerves regenerate, allowing him to see naturally for the first time in his life; and Crusher identifies the invigorating effects the crew are experiencing (but doesn’t seem all that concerned about them – great work, Doc!).

Guests: F Murray Abraham is the lead bad guy, a member of the Son’a race called Ru’afo (what’s with all these apostrophes?!). Donna Murphy plays Ba’ku woman Anji, while Anthony Zerbe appears as villainous Federation admiral Matthew Dougherty. Apparently, Armin Shimerman filmed a cameo as his Deep Space Nine character, Quark, but it was cut from the finished film.

Best bits:

* The reveal of the duck blind.

* Data going loopy while wearing an invisibility suit – the subsequent fight is seen only through certain sections of the duck blind’s window, then Data takes off his helmet so his head (and only his head) is visible to the natives.

* Geordie briefing Picard on the situation while Picard is wearing a silly ceremonial headdress given to him by an ambassador.

* Ru’afo having his skin stapled into place.

* Worf’s shake of the head when Picard suggests he sings to Data.

* Data walking into the lake and along its bottom.

* The reveal of the holo-ship.

* When Picard goes rogue, the other six regulars turn up and insist on joining his mutiny. (Most have changed into Ba’ku clothing, but Riker and Geordie are still in their uniforms. *Completely coincidentally*, they’re the two Picard asks to stay behind on the Enterprise.)

* Troi and Crusher discussing their boobs.

* Admiral Dougherty having his skin forcibly expanded – a scene oddly similar to how Anthony Zerbe was killed off in Licence to Kill.

* The Son’a being unwittingly transported aboard the holo-ship – a cute idea, which is well seeded earlier in the story. (If anything, it’s a shame they work out what’s happened so quickly.)

* “The Son’a crew would like to negotiate a ceasefire,” says Worf, who’s aboard their ship. “It may have something to do with the fact we have three minutes of air left.”

TV tie-in: The movie shares a basic setup and a general tone with a 1989 episode of The Next Generation called Who Watches the Watchers. It’s altogether a tighter, more focused and more interesting experience. Riker and Troi have to go undercover with the Mintakans, a Bronze Age-level society, after the Federation team observing them from a hidden bunker are accidentally revealed and the natives believe Picard is a god. (It guest stars Kathryn Leigh Scott from my mates Joe and Davy‘s Dark Shadows audio series.)

Review: A simplistic story about pacifist hippies and power-hungry authority doesn’t exactly make for cutting-edge drama, and this twee plot is stretched to fill out 100 minutes. Just in case you don’t get the analogy on display, Picard refers to previous ‘forced relocations’ from Earth’s history, then does a Moses impression and leads the Ba’ku on a cross-country hike to safety. That countryside, by the way, is clearly not far from Los Angeles. The majority of Star Trek filming locations are in California, of course – but the first six films felt ambitious and inventive and gave us deserts, cities, tundra, mountains, forests… With the Next Generation team, however, it seems there’s a lack of ambition in that department. And that’s emblematic of the whole movie. It’s often said that Insurrection feels like a two-part TV story cut together and put on the big screen – there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but it actually does those double-length episodes a disservice. Most were more engaging than this humdrummery.

Five British Tars out of 10.