26 September 2011

Trek Review: Star Trek The Original Series, Season 2

Just like I did with Season One, I figured I'd do a summary of Star Trek's Season Two. Sometimes, the second season has more pressure to deliver as it follows up the character building that happens in the first season. For Star Trek, Season Two got off to a decent enough start with Amok Time, Who Mourns for Adonais?, The Changeling and Mirror, Mirror.

Enterprise faces off against the Planet Killer

Some things that stood out from Season Two were the introduction of Ensign Pavel Chekov as the Enterprise's navigator. Throughout much of the first half of the season he was constantly suggesting that everything was invented or created in Russia which started to become annoying. Thankfully that stopped. Another recurring theme was the amount of 'parallel Earth' planets the crew visited - whether by natural evolution or outside tampering.

Spock and T'Pring

A number of standout episodes include Amok Time and Journey to Babel for establishing more about the Vulcan people and their culture, Mirror, Mirror which establishes the mirror universe which is revisited in later series and The Trouble With Tribbles which is one of the most fun episodes of the show and makes way for a very well done crossover with the Deep Space Nine crew in the future.

Kirk buried in Tribbles

Episodes like Metamorphosis introduced us to Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of Warp Drive while The Ultimate Computer shows us Dr Richard Daystrom who is already famous and has a research division named after him in the 24th Century!

My fond memories of the action packed episodes The Doomsday Machine and The Ultimate Computer were upheld with our re-watch. A surprising episode with a bit of space battle action was also The Deadly Years.

With three fewer episodes than the first season, Season Two scores an average of 6.27/10 per episode, slightly lower than Season One's average of 6.52/10. The second season suffered from low scoring episodes such as I, Mudd (scoring 4/10) and several episodes scoring 5 and 5.5's.

Kirk and Spock offering a piece of the action

It's interesting to note that there was no guarantee of Star Trek's future beyond the second season with ratings beginning to fall towards the end. Many of the later episodes of Season Two scored low from my own reviews as well.

In any case, we know there's a third and final live action season of Star Trek to cover. It will be interesting to see how these episodes rate as we'll be starting off with the infamously bad episode, Spock's Brain which I have heard so much about!

The blu-ray remaster continues to impress, with only a few episodes showing some blurring and fuzziness. As noted in the review of the episode, Amok Time featured some very impressive new scenes of the planet Vulcan and the new effects for planets and the Enterprise are welcomed throughout. The discs are packed with many easter eggs and featurettes again including more interviews and insight into what the actors are up to in more recent times like Leonard Nimoy's fascination with photography and we learn about Nichelle Nichols' singing career.

25 September 2011

Trek Review: Bread and Circuses & Assignment: Earth

The final two episodes of Star Trek's second season have arrived.

Bread and Circuses

McCoy fights in gladiator styled gamesThe Enterprise discovers the wreckage of an old merchant vessel, the SS Beagle near planet 892-IV. The ship was captained by R.M. Merrick, a friend of Kirk's who aims to look for him and his 47 crew on the planet surface. The planet below is almost identical to Earth in size, mass and make up while the culture is broadcasting gladiator-type fights over television.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are beamed down in a remote area away from cities and civilisation but are soon found by a group of runaway slaves calling themselves the 'Children of the Sun' who are evading capture themselves. With one of the slaves, Flavius, the trio head for the city to locate Merikus, First Citizen of Rome, deemed to be the same person as R.M. Merrick.

After Police capture, the landing party meet Merikus, who introduces them to Claudius Marcus, the Proconsul of the Empire. He knows who they are and where they come from and forced the Beagle crew to integrate into the society or fight in the televised gladiatorial games for the entertainment of those on 892-IV. Kirk is given the same choice with Spock, McCoy and the 400+ crew on the Enterprise.

McCoy and Spock are entered into a fight which Kirk watches but does not succumb to Marcus' demands. Spock wins against his attacker, but fouls when he assists McCoy in his fight. Kirk is eventually sentenced to death by execution, a transmission which the Enterprise intercepts. Scotty in command of the Enterprise disrupts the city's power systems which gives Kirk and crew enough time to attempt escape. With Merrick's help, they beam up - although Merrick is killed.

You really have to wonder if there can be so many parallel Earth's out there where the planet's are virtually the same, the inhabitants are just like us and events follow such a similar course. There's certainly been many examples of it this season, though this episode provides an interesting example of looking at the Roman Empire if it still existed with technological advancement into our 20th century. Seeing McCoy in a fight was interesting and learning some statistics of our violent past (or future) from Spock also opens up a little more history to how we get to the 23rd century.

Thankfully, Merrick does the right thing in the end to save Kirk, Spock and McCoy allowing them to beam back to the Enterprise and continue on their merry way.

Overall Rating: 6/10

Assignment: Earth

Gary Seven & Isis tamper with a US RocketThe Enterprise has travelled back to Earth in 1968 to observe some events in history. Interestingly, the ship is rocked as it disrupts a highly powerful transporter beam originating from thousands of lightyears away. Noting that Earth doesn't have that technology in the 20th Century, the beam is intercepted and a man, Gary Seven and his black cat, Isis materialise on the transporter pad.

Seven informs Kirk that he has been to another planet and was beaming there when intercepted by the Enterprise and asks to be sent to Earth to continue his mission of high importance, but Kirk has trouble trusting him. Seven attempts to escape but is stopped when Kirk stuns him with a phaser.

Analysing the day in history, it's determined that the United States would be launching an orbital weapons platform into orbit to challenge other powers of the Earth for supremacy and balance. Seven escapes from the brig and beams to the surface before Kirk is able to intervene.

On Earth, Seven attempts to locate two agents who have gone missing, he soon finds they were killed in a car accident on their way to the rocket launch site. Realising their mission was to disable the rocket in an attempt to stop Earth from experiencing the same fate as another planet who went through a similar arms race with (probably) catastrophic consequences.

Seven is able to get himself to the rocket and start disabling it when he is brought back prematurely by his secretary. Kirk and Spock intervene and the rocket is launched on schedule, without being properly disabled. Kirk and Spock must trust Seven to do his job by destroying the rocket at the last second to make it appear an accident.

Everything plays out as it should in the end and the Enterprise continues on her way - presumably, back to the 23rd century.

An interesting episode, a bit different from the norm and the reason appears to be that due to falling ratings, Star Trek's assured future wasn't guaranteed at the point when this episode was written. As such, Gene Roddenberry put this together to be the pilot for a spin-off series that would follow Gary Seven's adventures. Nothing became of it however as Star Trek would return for a third season.

The idea behind the episode was a good one, but ultimately it didn't feel as Trek as it could have been - this is possibly another result of it being aimed as the pilot for a new series. Intertwining an episode among events from 1968. There's a whole list of coincidences in a lot of Spock's readouts of events that would occur on the day the Enterprise was observing Earth actually did happen. It's interesting (and I'm thankful) to note that time-travel missions were never made routine again after this episode in Star Trek. I'd prefer to think that time-travel was too dangerous and other episodes and movies have shown the effects of those and contaminating the timeline of Trek since.

I believe this is the second time in the series we've visited Earth and on both occasions it was Earth of the 20th century!

Overall Rating: 5.5/10

That wraps up the second season. I'll post a brief summary of my thoughts on this run of 24 episodes shortly.

17 September 2011

Trek Review: The Ultimate Computer

Getting down to the end of Season Two now with an episode I remember as being another of my favourites from the series - I think it was the whole space battle thing.

The Ultimate Computer

Federation starships approach for a Wargames exerciseThe Enterprise is summoned to a space station without explanation until arrival. Commodore Bob Wesley, commanding the Lexington informs Kirk that the Enterprise will be a test ship for a new computer system, the M-5 Multitronic Unit, designed by Dr Richard Daystrom. Many of the crew disembark the Enterprise as they aren't needed due to M-5 being able to automate all of the ship's systems.

After some really basic tests dealing with the navigation systems there would be a wargames exercise with other Federation ships. M-5 performs the navigation tasks well and responds to a surprise attack from two starship's including the Excalibur. The ships flee from their surprise attack, but M-5 tracks a slow moving vessel, an automated cargo ship named Woden. Though posing no threat, the M-5 pursues and destroys the Woden before resuming course. None of the bridge crew were able to disable the M-5 before the attack.

M-5 has protected itself in engineering, making disabling the computer at the source impossible. An engineering ensign is killed when M-5 makes a direct power connection to the warp engines. The crew are unable to do anything and cannot communicate with the approaching Federation starships for the wargames exercise.

Wesley hails M-5, informing it that the exercise is a drill and that weapons should be on reduced power. M-5 acknowledges but attacks first with weapons at full power, destroying the Excalibur. M-5 continues firing on the other ships with the Lexington taking casualties and the Potemkin and Hood retreating.

Kirk appeals to M-5 and eventually convinces the computer that in attempting to protect itself it has committed murder. M-5 does not believe this until it scans the destroyed starship Excalibur and finds no lifesigns. In response, the M-5 shuts itself down, effectively killing itself for the act of murder.

Kirk orders the Enterprise shields dropped and weapons disarmed as Commodore Wesley approaches in the Lexington with orders from Starfleet to destroy them. Seeing the ship is a sitting duck, Wesley calls off his attack.

This episode takes a stand against the continued influence of computers in our lives. We see Kirk on many occasions looking lost and against losing his job to a computer. Ultimately we learn that the M-5 is unable to make decisions or courses of action that a human, or any other sentient life form would be able to and arguments for this are brought up throughout the episode from McCoy and Spock.

The remastered episode introduces some new sequences for the Space Station, the cargo ship and the wargames exercise.

Still a good episode in my eye, mainly for the space action involved but the light hearted ending, common in this era of science fiction really takes away from any impact that probably should have been felt with the loss of approximately 500 officers, including all of those aboard the Excalibur and some of those aboard the Lexington.

Dr Richard Daystrom is seen as a bit of a mad man in this episode, driven by his passion to create something far greater than he's already been acknowledged for. McCoy touches on this in the episode as well and we learn in future series that a scientific branch is named in his honour, The Daystrom Institute, circa 24th Century.

Overall Rating: 8/10

12 September 2011

Sci-Fi Review: Space Above & Beyond, Second Half

Continuing from my review of the first 12 episodes of the sci-fi series Space: Above and Beyond, this entry will look at the final 12 episodes of the show that lasted a single, but worthwhile season.

Space: Above and BeyondIn the second half of the series, each episode is given an opening monologue, spoken by Colonel T.C. McQueen, explaining the story so far and why Earth is at war in space. The second last episode has an additional monologue from Captain Vansen about the origins of life.

One thing notable in this half of the series is the story arc of Nathan West searching for his lost love, Kylen goes quiet. West appears much more focused on his role as a marine, along with the others of the 58th. It definitely feels like we're past all (or most) of the character development episodes and the series begins to make some strides and progress with the main story arcs started in the first half.

There is less emphasis on any political and Aero-Tech storylines now, but the Silicates re-emerge in the episode 'Pearly' where Paul Wang nearly betrays the 58th to save his honour from an earlier encounter in the series.

Space: Above and Beyond appears to be like an early version of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. The episodes 'Never No More' and 'The Angriest Angel' are very similar to the BSG episode 'Scar' where there is a single enemy fighter out there picking off our people and instilling fear in our forces. It takes a determined fighter pilot to finally finish the enemy off in a one-on-one dogfight. The very way Space... is shot and some of the battle tactics and other elements also resemble episodes and the grittiness that made the new Battlestar Galactica such a success.

Damphousse had a story dedicated to her where it was believed she had some sort of psychic powers. I wonder if this story arc would have been picked up if the series had continued - though the finale might not have allowed that. There was also a very short time where Wang and Damphousse found they had feelings for each other, but these were never revisited.

A lot of time passes in the second half of the series, particularly in the episode 'Sugar Dirt' where the 58th and other squadrons are left to fend for themselves for over two months on a planet defending an airstrip while the Saratoga and other Earth ships departed for an operation at another, more strategically important planet.

The series ends with the two parter 'And If They Lay Us Down To Rest...' and '...Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best' where the 58th are patrolling a Chig moon for an Earth assault and come upon a single alien being. Not sure if he's the last of his kind, they tell him to leave before Earth forces arrive. Shortly after, a Chig envoy approaches the Earth fleet to discuss peace talks, however, it turns out the envoy is the same alien the 58th met on the moon's surface. The war is far from over when peace talks break down and many of the negotiators, including commanding officers of several Earth ships and Colonel McQueen are seriously injured.

In a firefight to retrieve prisoners of war from the Chigs (under agreement in the terms of the peace talks) the 58th are sent out. However, Vansen and Damphousse are separated from their ship when the cockpit is blasted off into a planet's atmosphere. Damphousse is unconscious and Vansen hopes to survive de-orbit while West, Hawkes and Wang look after the POW's. Taking more damage, Wang ends up trapped in the cargo pod and ejects from the ship, drawing the Chigs away with a manual laser cannon. West and Hawkes rescue the POW's and return to the Saratoga as Wang is killed when a destroyed Chig fighter collides with his pod.

For West, the story arc of tracking down the real Kylen comes to an end here as she is among the POW's. He briefly gets to see her before she is transported back to Earth. In the final moments, no retrieval team appears to be sent after Vansen and Damphousse, West and Hawkes see McQueen before he is taken away for medical treatment and they mourn the loss of their comrades. The series ends.

My last impressions are good. I really enjoyed watching the series. All I can remember from its original run on television was the pilot episode. I guess it would then have been pushed back to some late night time slot and I forgot all about it. Had it lasted longer, I might've caught a glimpse of it later, as happened for me with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5. I'll admit, the reason I watched the series now was that it was a single season run of 24 episodes, something manageable and not too time wasting if I didn't like it. But I did like it, I think the series had potential and the finale has left me wondering how things would have been picked up if a second season had come around. According to the Wikipedia entry, this is how the producers chose to end the show and while Wang's death appears conclusive, did Vansen and/or Damphousse survive? What will happen to McQueen?

With the show dead for 15 years now, these questions will probably never be answered. I'm not sure if the show had the fan base to be picked up some time in the future for some sort of re-imagining or reboot. It probably doesn't need it in any case. It's fine as it is. Apparently it was released on DVD in the US market. I'd probably get a copy if it came out here.

For any sci-fi fan, give it a watch and see what you think :)

For me, I'll continue watching Star Trek The (remastered) Original Series and continue watching Dark Skies in place of Space...

11 September 2011

Trek Review: By Any Other Name & The Omega Glory

By Any Other Name

Rojan and Kelinda, from another galaxyThe Enterprise is responding to a distress call from a planet. Kirk and the landing party find two people on the surface who demand that Kirk surrender the Enterprise to them and with the use of a paralysis device incapacitating the landing party, demonstrates their superiority in the situation.

The two are identified as Rojan and Kelinda and are travellers from the Kelvan Empire of the neighbouring but distant Andromeda Galaxy. They were looking for a new home as radiation levels in their galaxy will make it uninhabitable. Rojan's ship was destroyed while crossing our galaxy's galactic barrier. They intend to use the Enterprise with modifications to her engines to report back to Andromeda of the suitability of planets in the Milky Way for conquering and colonising.

In another demonstration of Kelvan superiority and disciplinary action against Kirk's attempt to escape capture, two personnel (red shirts) from the landing party are turned into small inanimate objects. Rojan crushes one with his hand, killing Yeoman Thompson while he returns Security Officer Shea to life.

Kirk attempts to reason with Rojan, informing that the Federation could come to a peaceful agreement, but Rojan is adament that the Kelvan way is to conquer and rule - a fate the Federation would eventually face when the Kelvan people come.

The Enterprise is taken over by Rojan, Kelinda and their other crew members. Rojan deems that except for Scott, McCoy, Spock and Kirk, the rest of the crew are unnecessary and would use up supplies needed by his crew in the long voyage ahead. Spock and Scott can't stop the paralyser's each of the Kelvan's have, so rig the ship to explode as they cross the galactic barrier on Kirk's order. Kirk can't bring himself to do so and the ship continues toward Andromeda.

Their only hope lies with playing on the Kelvan's new-found bodies. They have transformed into humanoids so they can operate the Enterprise more effectively. Their true forms being too cumbersome. Kirk and crew soon realise that the Kelvan's are not used to sensations and emotions that come with being human and play this to their advantage. Scotty gets one Kelvan drunk, Spock and Kirk work to make Rojan jealous while Kirk introduces Kelinda to the idea of love (as Kirk does so well!) while McCoy works on another Kelvan by injecting him with stimulants after suggesting he may be ill.

In the end, a duel between Kirk and Rojan breaks out once Rojan's jealousy reaches a head. Kirk finally is able to reason with him and convince Rojan a peaceful solution can be found. The Enterprise turns around and heads home.

This was a good episode, there were certainly some interesting moments and some humours ones, particularly with Scott and his drinking buddy. However, I can't help but think that the Kelvan's were extremely short sighted with their wanting to acquire a ship to head back to Andromeda to report on their findings. That and the fact the Andromeda galaxy will still be inhabitable for many, many years just seems a little too pre-emptive. The Kelvan Empire might die out way before then!

We also see Kirk strike a woman again in this episode. He punched Lady Gaga in 'The Gamesters of Triskellion' and this time he karate chops Kelinda in the neck, despite many episodes ago telling Charlie "there's no right way to hit a woman" in the episode 'Charlie-X'.

Overall Rating: 6/10

The Omega Glory

Capt Tracey and WuArriving at the planet Omega IV, the Enterprise discovers a derelict sistership in orbit, the Exeter. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Lt Galloway beam over to the ship to investigate and find the entire crew reduced to crystals. McCoy determines each crew member has had all of the water removed from their bodies and a medical log from the ship's doctor reveals it is the result of a virus and that immunity can be found on the planet's surface.

Beaming down, the landing party discover the Exeter's commanding officer, Captain Ronald Tracey. Tracey explains there is a natural immunity offered by the planet environment. Kirk and crew soon find he is in league with a group of people known as the Kohms, who are engaged in a war against savages known as the Yangs. They also find that Tracey has been supplying the Kohms with Federation weapons in their struggle, breaking the Prime Directive.

Tracey tells Kirk he was only wanting to survive and that the Kohms have lived extremely long life-spans, suggesting he has stumbled upon a fountain-of-youth. He wishes to do more research with the equipment aboard the Enterprise but the Yangs must be held at bay. Tracey asks for more phasers to help but Kirk refuses, at which point Tracey has Kirk and Spock locked up, with a Yang leader recently captured.

McCoy is able to discover that the immunity of the inhabitants and the virus that killed the Exeter crew are results of biological warfare. The longer someone remains on the planet, the stronger their immunity becomes, had the Exeter crew stayed on the planet for a few more hours, they would likely have survived. This also means Tracey's fountain-of-youth doesn't exist, what he has witnessed is natural evolution of the inhabitants on the planet.

In a Yang attack, they take over the city and capture Kirk, Tracey and the others. It is found the Yangs and Kohms represent another parallel of Earth's culture. The Yang's being Yankees (or Americans) and the Kohms representing Communists. They went to war with the Kohms winning and the Yang's fighting to regain their land ever since. Their battle standard represents and old and battered flag of the 'stars and stripes' from the United States of America.

Kirk is able to remind them of their routes by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, referred to as the 'holy words' by the Yangs. After a man-to-man fight with Tracey, which Kirk wins and Sulu and a security team beam down, Yang leader Cloud William believes Kirk to be God's servant and they are free to go.

Another message relayed in this episode that might still apply today but would have probably had deeper meaning at the time of its release. Aside from the political message we see another deranged Starfleet commander going after something that doesn't exist and going against Kirk. We don't really know what became of the Exeter after the Enterprise found her as she doesn't appear in any other shots later in the episode.

The episode also suggests that Spock has telepathic abilities when he suggests that the female Yang, Sirah bring him a communicator. Memory Alpha says this is reminiscent of an early concept that Spock had special powers over women.

It's another parallel Earth development episode and it makes you wonder how these cultures can develop the way they do - even to the fact that the Yangs have a United States flag and their Pledge of Allegiance. I would probably suggest this would be contamination from a previous Earth visit to their planet, but it's not confirmed or denied in the episode either way.

Overall Rating: 5.5/10

The 'Amok Time' fight music makes another come back, the themes are good, the story's okay but the repeat use of parallel cultures to ours is getting a bit played out at this point. With three episodes left for the second season it will be interesting to see how it goes and what the overall impression of Season Two is when we're done...

07 September 2011

Trek Review: Return to Tomorrow & Patterns of Force

Return to Tomorrow

Return to Tomorrow The Enterprise is investigating strange readings and comes upon a destroyed M-class planet. The crew are then addressed by a male voice who invites them down beneath the planet surface to save Earth from facing a similar fate to the planet they are orbiting.

The voice identifies himself as Sargon and determines that Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Lt Cmdr Mulhall will beam down in a landing party.

Over a hundred miles beneath the planet surface, the landing party discover Sargon as a ball of energy. Sargon transfers into Kirk's body, with Kirk's consciousness placed in the original sphere. Sargon/Kirk introduces the landing party to two other spheres with other entities inside them and asks that Spock and Mulhall become hosts along with Kirk.

Sargon's intent is to use Kirk, Spock and Mulhall temporarily with the help of Scott aboard the Enterprise to construct android robot bodies for Sargon's people to exist in more permanently.

Spock's entity, Henoch was a nemesis of Sargon from the past and sets about attempting to kill Kirk with Sargon's consciousness in his body. Sargon is ultimately able to outwit Henoch in the end, with the help of his beloved wife, Thalassa. Sargon and Thalassa no longer need bodies once Henoch is outwitted and they send themselves into oblivion forever.

This episode was well done and included an interesting storyline, another opportunity for Spock to behave and act quite differently from the norm and the first of many appearances for actress Diana Muldaur in Star Trek.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Patterns of Force

Kirk and Spock attempt to go undetected on the planet EkosThe Enterprise arrives at planet Ekos to pick up a Federation cultural observer. Near the planet, the ship is attacked by a primitive weapon the planet's inhabitants aren't supposed to be capable of developing.

On the surface, Kirk and Spock discover a culture almost identical to Nazi Germany including motor vehicles, uniforms, salutes and their hatred of neighbouring planet Zeon.

Very much like our own history, this episode plays out with Kirk and Spock attempting to evade capture, only to be captured. The observer, John Gill turns out to be the Fuhrer of Ekos and explains he was trying to introduce the efficiency of the Nazi system without letting it get to sadism, however his deputy, Melakon began drugging Gill in order to take over.

Kirk revives Gill long enough for him to call off a devastating attack on Zeon and name Melakon a traitor. Melakon shoots Gill and is in turn killed. The resulting government proclaiming it intends to start living as the fuhrer originally had intended and to offer a new way of life for both Ekosians and Zeons.

This episode presents another opportunity for our crew to experience Earth's past without actually using time travel as the catalyst. The other example was the episode 'A Piece of the Action' where a planet had emulated Chicago's Mobsters, now we have Nazi Germany. As fun as it was seeing Spock attempt to hide his ears underneath his SS helmet, this episode didn't really capture my interest - instead it was beating me over the head with the message it seemed to be relaying about the negativity of the Nazi regime. Did they need this reminder in the 1960's, certainly not something that applies in 2011!

Overall Rating: 5/10