24 January 2012

Trek Review: The Mark of Gideon, That Which Survives & The Lights of Zetar

The Mark of Gideon

Overpopulation on Planet GideonKirk finds himself on an almost empty Enterprise and tries to find out what has become of his crew.

The Enterprise is at planet Gideon, a candidate for Federation membership as it is reported to be a paradise and free of disease. However, a sensor jamming shield is in place and the Gideon Council have asked the crew not to scan their planet surface. Providing coordinates for Kirk's beam down directly to the council chambers. However, Kirk does not materialise there forcing a diplomatic standoff between Spock and crew against Hodin and the Gideon Council.

It is later discovered that the coordinates provided were wrong and Kirk was in fact beamed elsewhere - a duplicate Enterprise, where he meets a girl wandering the ship as well, named Odona.

As events unfold, Kirk learns that Odona's planet is filled to the brim with people, while here, on the duplicate Enterprise she feels free. Odona's planet ultimately is Gideon and once she begins feeling ill, her father, Hodin appears. The Gideon deceived Kirk in order to infect the population with mortal illness, Kirk being the donor.

Kirk refuses and Spock, who defies orders to beam down to Gideon, is able to assist in bringing Kirk and Odona back to the Enterprise where Odona is treated and cured.

This episode covers the issue of overpopulation. Made worse that planet Gideon has no disease and the people don't believe in birth control. The council went to extraordinary lengths here. How they were able to gain access to the plans for the Enterprise in order to create a convincing replica of the ship is unknown. No doubt they had the resources and people to construct it, but it's a very elaborate thing to have done. The episode also touches on diplomatic red tape and different departments within the Federation and Starfleet not wanting to cooperate or assist a starship so far away. It was interesting noting Spock's own 'frustration' at negotiating with Hodin and this eventually leads to Spock acting against orders.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

That Which Survives

LosiraInvestigating an extraordinary planet, Enterprise crew members are seeing the image of a beautiful woman whose touch will kill them.

Kirk, Spock, Sulu and geologist D'Amato beam to the planet's surface as the transporter chief is killed. The landing party are then unable to contact the Enterprise and experience an earthquake. Simultaneously, the Enterprise is sent 990.7 light years away in an instant.

The landing party are stranded and cannot locate the Enterprise in orbit. On a search for food, D'Amato encounters the woman and is killed. Light years away, the Enterprise crew are working to return to the planet when an engineer is also killed - but is able to alert Scotty to the woman's presence.

Heading towards the planet at maximum Warp (8), the engines begin racing out of control - having been sabotaged. Spock and Scotty work to stop the engines from destroying the ship in the nick of time while Kirk, McCoy and Sulu face off against three versions of the woman named Losira. Spock and a landing party are able to beam down in time and destroy a central computer controlling the woman's image.

It turns out the planet was an outpost for the Kalandan's, a race that was wiped out by a disease with Losira being the last survivor. She programmed the computer to defend against other lifeforms. Taking her image, the computer destroyed anything it came into contact with but had one flaw, it replicated Losira's personality and could regret killing life forms.

This episode deals with the mystery of a planet that shouldn't exist and a strange woman who kills on touch. The Enterprise breaks all the speed records by travelling at Warp 13, but I'd assume this is before the recalibrated warp scale of the 24th century Star Trek's comes into effect.

Overall Rating: 7/10

The Lights of Zetar

Dead Technicians at Memory AlphaThe Enterprise is transferring Lt Mira Romaine, a woman Scotty has become romantically involved with, to Memory Alpha, the Federation's central library when it encounters a strange energy storm. Intercepting it en-route to Memory Alpha, the storm penetrates the ship's shields.

Crew members all feel as though they have been attacked in some way, but Lt Romaine seems most affected, collapsing on the bridge. Meanwhile, the storm resumes course for Memory Alpha and engulfs the entire planetoid. Mira is somehow aware of the attack and sees the Memory Alpha staff dead in a vision. When the Enterprise arrives, most of the staff are found dead, except one woman who appears consumed by coloured energy and dies as the energy leaves.

Kirk orders pursuit of the cloud and fires phasers as a warning shot at first and then directly into the phenomenon, which injures Lt Romaine. Somehow the storm and Mira have become connected. The storm enters the ship and appears to the crew as coloured lights. The lights take over Lt Romaine and identifies themselves as energy beings from the dead planet Zetar. They take claim to Lt Romaine's body but Scotty refuses. McCoy puts Romaine's body into a pressurisation chamber and activates it, eradicating the Zetar.

The ideas in this episode are interesting and the only visual reference of Memory Alpha occurs here. However, the episode seems to lack any pace, and while it was nice to see Scotty have a girl for a change, his infatuation and neglect of his duties as a result seemed out of character and annoying as a viewer, and for Kirk it would seem.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

22 January 2012

Trek Review: Whom Gods Destroy & Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Whom Gods Destroy

Garth and MartaKirk and Spock arrive at the Elba II asylum and meet Dr Cory, governor of the penal colony. The colony has recently taken a new inmate, Garth of Izar who was a famed Fleet Captain of Starfleet prior to going insane. His exploits are required reading at Starfleet Academy.

It is soon revealed that Garth has learned how to morph himself into any other form and he was portraying Dr Cory when he met Kirk and Spock. Garth's plan is to take over the Enterprise and leave the penal colony to take revenge against his former crewmembers. In an attempt to beam up to the ship while portraying Kirk, Garth is stopped when he is unable to reply to Scotty's transport code word.

Garth attempts to get the code sign from Kirk, who refuses. At a dinner feast he tortures Dr Cory in one of the colony's rehabilitation chairs which has been modified to cause pain. Garth tries many times to get the code and even kills one of his 'own', Marta with an explosive device.

One last struggle takes place in the transporter room of Elba II. Garth has morphed into a Kirk lookalike and Spock must determine the correct Kirk. Following a fight and Spock determining the correct Kirk, a security detail from the Enterprise beams down to restore order in the colony.

Sadly, this episode feels like a direct copy of the Season One episode 'Dagger of the Mind'. Right down to the chair (which was reused from that episode) that causes pain (alters the mind or whatever). It makes you wonder why the Federation continues to have these outposts and colonies with minimal staff entrusted with their upkeep and monitoring. Thankfully, Dr Cory survives this episode.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Bele and LokaiOn their way to a decontamination mission, the Enterprise encounters a stolen shuttlecraft from Starbase 4. Bringing the shuttle aboard, they find an interesting alien who is black on his left side and white on the right. He identifies himself as Lokai from Cheron and Kirk informs him that he'll be returned to Starbase 4 to face charges of theft of the shuttlecraft.

Continuing on their decontamination mission, a small and invisible ship nearly collides with the Enterprise, disintegrates and transports its pilot, Commissioner Bele to the bridge. Bele's skin colours are reversed from Lokai's and he asks to apprehend Lokai as he has been in pursuit of him for over 50,000 years!

Bele and Lokai's people possess some interesting powers and Bele is able to commandeer the ship and turn it towards Cheron. Kirk and crew activate the auto-destruct sequence to stop Bele. He relents for a time, before he sabotages the system and takes the ship to Cheron. Upon arrival, they find the planet devoid of any life and cities in complete ruin. It would appear the population has mutually annihilated itself. Enraged, both Bele and Lokai fight each other and eventually chase each other down to the dead planets surface - the last two members of their race.

An interesting episode that isn't so subtle about the message it's trying to portray. The racial prejudice between Bele and Lokai may seem trivial to our eyes, but it drove a planet to complete destruction. Some interesting camera techniques are used with facial close ups during the auto destruct activation and quick zooming when Red Alert is called across the ship.

One of the most memorable episodes of The Original Series and about to receive the highest rating of Season 3 so far: Overall Rating 7.5/10

15 January 2012

Trek Review: The Empath & Elaan of Troyius

It's been a little while since I've written up a Trek Review, what with the wedding, honeymoon, Christmas and New Year all 'getting in the way', I've not had much of a chance. The truth is that I watched the first of these two episodes prior to all those events occurring!

Anyway, here we are, continuing my reviews of science fiction. I expect we'll finish up the Original Series, at least the TV episodes early in the year as we're already passing the half way point of Season Three...

The Empath

GemThe Enterprise is sent to retrieve a scientific crew on a planet whose sun is about to go nova. Upon arrival, they find the research station deserted.

Soon enough, the landing party of Kirk, Spock and McCoy find themselves deep underground where they find a woman who appears to be unable to communicate. McCoy decides to call her Gem.

Shortly after, two other aliens, identifying themselves as Vians appear. They have been conducting experiments and the landing party soon find the two science researchers on display in a laboratory as specimens. Gem also appears to have the ability to heal others through touch as demonstrated with a cut to Kirk's forehead.

Kirk and McCoy are submitted to similar experiments at the hands of the Vians. When McCoy is found on the verge of death, it is revealed the Vians wanted to see if Gem would sacrifice herself to save another. This would then prove her species was worthy of saving.

Kirk is able to reason with the Vians who have lost their way and forgotten the importance of their mission. They heal McCoy and leave with Gem.

This is one of the episodes where it's clear that there was little to no money left for the series regarding production value. Almost the entire episode is shot in a black/dark room. While I understand the story, its slow pace doesn't make for entertaining viewing and the Vians are purely despicable in their actions and carelessness towards Gem and their victims.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Elaan of Troyius

ElaanThe Enterprise is on an important mission to transport Elaan, Dohlman of Elas to an arranged marriage on Troyius.

The marriage is designed to bring two planets together in peace. Troyius Ambassador Petri is aboard ship to assist in teaching Elaan more 'civilised' manners.

Things don't go so well, with Elaan used to complete obedience from everyone around her. She is instantly disappointed with the quarters supplied for her and attempts to kill Petri. Kirk tries to reason with her using a different tactic to Petri but Elaan is eventually able to exert control over the Captain when he wipes away her tears which have a biochemical reaction with any male who comes into contact with them.

Meanwhile, one of Elaan's guards attempts to sabotage the ship and Spock discovers they are being shadowed by what ends up being a Klingon cruiser.

A more entertaining episode with a somewhat convenient conclusion to events, we get to see some cultural diversity and a bit more of the diplomatic side of the Federation. Kirk gets in to bed with another woman and Scotty continues to prove he's a miracle worker while the Klingon's harass the Enterprise once more. It's all here!

Overall Rating: 7/10

06 January 2012

The Best of 2011

It seems there's not much I'll experience these days without making some attempt to review and rate it. Movies are easy and restaurants are places we've been rating amongst friends for some time now. At the end of 2010 I started 'awarding' items from throughout the year such as concerts, movies and shows, so I thought I'd do the same for 2011...

Best Life Event: Our wedding - December
Runner-up: My first new car purchase - March

2011 was a bit sparse on major events as it was all leading up to one major event at the end of the year. Filled with planning and putting everything together for that special day, our wedding quite easily takes the top award for the year. 2011 saw us share three other weddings among friends (well, two actually) starting with Kate and William's globally televised Royal Wedding. In June we witnessed Eleonor's eldest brother and his bride, Megan get married at Watson's Bay and in October, two months before our special day we attended Jess & Eugene's wedding at the Chinese Gardens.

With very little going on, I did buy myself a new car as a sort of birthday present - and that's not something to be sneezed at, but it just doesn't compare to a wedding!

Best Holiday: Matamanoa Island Resort, Fiji - December
Runner-up: Canberra, ACT - April

Using the same excuses as above, we just didn't have time to travel as much as we have been known to in the past (see 2008!) so again it's easy to see that from the two holidays we did take, our wonderful honeymoon to Fiji would win here. Fully funded as a gift from my parents we were treated to fantastic weather, beautiful people and an amazing time that felt just like a honeymoon should. I'll get around to covering it in a bit more detail on this blog some time soon :)

In contrast, during the cold of Autumn we took a drive to Canberra over the Anzac weekend but still managed to have a good time catching up with an old friend whilst down there and revisiting landmarks and sites I hadn't seen since I was a primary school boy!

Best Restaurant: Brazilian Restaurant Churrascaria, Concord
Runners-up: Steel, Sydney & Il Piatto - Horsley Park

2012 will be the third year of recorded restaurant reviews and the benchmark continues to be raised. 2011 added three restaurants to the list scoring 9 out of a total 10 points, the most impressive of any year while 2010 still remains the only year to feature a restaurant score an elusive 9.5 in my eyes. Funny enough, 2010 also managed to score the lowest rating for a restaurant, a dismal and forgettable 1, while 2011's lowest score was 4.5.

The top accolade goes to the surprising Brazilian Churrascaria in Concord scoring 9/10. It was by chance we even visited this place on a whim with friends but the stars aligned as we were able to park, grab a table and put our taste-buds through such an amazing experience. Every new meat that came to our table was perfection and only bettered by the next sampling that would come to our plates. Definitely recommend checking this place out! Even without Brazilian dancers to introduce a party atmosphere, the party was in your mouth!

Early in the year Eleonor and I visited Steel Bar and Grill and were very impressed with this unique looking restaurant in the north Sydney CBD. It lives up to its name with Steel making up the interior decor, service was fantastic and the food was brilliant making Steel well deserving of a 9/10.

Finalising the podium is iL Piatto from Horsley Park. I took a chance on visiting this place from a work colleague and it become one of few restaurants we visited twice during 2011. The first visit was a surprise with excellent service and food on offer. Our friends were amply impressed giving it high praise and it's score of 9/10. The second visit wasn't as highly acclaimed, but due to the initial review and the problems in our second visit not being the direct fault of the staff or the venue, the 9 remains in place :)

Best Movie: The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn 4.5/5
Runners-up: X-Men: First Class 4/5, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 4/5
Special mentions: Super 8 4/5, Transformers: Dark of the Moon 4/5

There were no 5's in 2011 and I had to wait until the end of the year to find a movie that would break out of the 4's. I highly anticipated the release of Tintin from earlier in the year when I first heard about it. Of course, Australia received the film in cinemas much later than the rest of the world as well, but Tintin wins for this year with a great adventure story shot in amazing motion-captured 3D that betters Avatar (in my opinion) and remains true to the original comics and animated series.

A surprise for the year was X-Men: First Class. I originally watched this movie with Dad, intending to see Super 8 but we somehow were given the wrong tickets. First Class was an entertaining and action packed movie. I never saw Wolverine but never heard a good review about it. The origin story in First Class was well done and I was impressed by the soundtrack too.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol scored 4/5 for being a decent action movie continuing the franchise and showing off amazing sights from Moscow, Dubai and Mumbai. Those in charge of James Bond should take note, this is how you make a movie!

Super 8 was a decent movie (scoring 4/5) that copped some flack about its ending but didn't disappoint me, and finally, Transformers: Dark of the Moon made it with a score of 4/5 for tying up the Transformers saga in the best installment since the original.

Best Concert: Disturbed, Asylum Tour
Runners-up: Gotye & Arrebato Ensemble

I had thought we only saw one concert in the year but I had forgotten about the shows at the Opera House that included Gotye and Arrebato Ensemble.

Disturbed wins purely based on production value and size, they performed the only concert in a large venue this year but Gotye was wonderfully surprising for a group/person I hadn't heard much about prior and is only now becoming more popular due to radio play. Arrebato Ensemble fall into a similar category and put on a decent show of latin music - we even enquired about having them play at our wedding!

Best Album Release: Evanescence, Self Titled
Runners-up: Alter Bridge - III, Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra
Special mentions: Pink Floyd - Discovery Set, Rammstein - Made in Germany

This was a difficult segment with so many of my favourite bands releasing albums after a long time off the scene. Limp Bizkit did a great job with Gold Cobra, bringing back their old sound and hitting hard with great riffs and questionnable lyrics. Alter Bridge released their amazing album III to follow up from Blackbird with a revived sound and more awesome riffs. The award goes to Evanescence though - Amy Lee fronts a band that has gone through a massive transformation since their last release and even with this new sound apparent, the new album is still recognisable as Evanescence.

It would be unfair to rate all 14 of Pink Floyd's album releases against those three above but I can't go without mentioning their Discovery Box set that came out in 2011, their entire catalogue re-released with new packaging and a must buy for me as a fan of their newer music, this set allowed me to appreciate their full range of music and become the envy of my Dad who had a few holes in his own Floyd collection :P

Similarly it would be unfair to rate Rammstein's Made in Germany release which includes one new song, 'Mein Land' and remixes of their popular songs, but I will make sure to mention (and possibly review) their Super Deluxe Edition once it arrives for this crazy Rammstein fan :P

02 January 2012

2011: The Year of the Wedding

2012 is well under way, I go back to work tomorrow for the first time since November. That old feeling that time is going too fast remains and it could be because 2011 was such a busy year and such an important one. How was 2011 now that I can look back on it?

The most significant event of the year involved our wedding which was held on a (fortunately) day that was clear of rain and too much heat. While our investigations and information gathering had begun at the end of 2010, we really had to get everything ready in 2011 - we had no choice! The final 6 months leading up to our special day were the most frantic of the year's worth of planning. We became well aware we were running out of weekends and days to get everything done. I might aim to blog about the adventure that involves planning a wedding at some point down the track!

Aside from ours in December, 2011 saw the wedding of Kate & Prince William, my now in-law's Megan and Henry and uni friends of Eleonor's, Jess & Eugene.

My aging (but still favourably looked upon) Ford Cougar was replaced in March after much debate over whether I could keep her and the ongoing maintenance/surprise costs when things went wrong. Where there's one saving there's another debt though and purchasing my new Ford Focus XR5 Turbo means I'm back to paying a loan for the ownership of a car. Thankfully though there's been no surprise failure or breakage that I've had to take her into the dealership for.

My aviation interests saw a further decline in my diecast model collection which will continue into 2012 to hopefully (and finally) get it down to a specific criteria. I spent a fair bit of time at Sydney Airport in 2011 for spotting occasions and acquired a new Canon 600D DSLR at the end of the year for improved photos. My YouTube channel, AbraxasVideo grew to 102 videos by the end of 2011 with many more to come. My chronological upload order means I'm uploading content from late 2008 at the moment. Three years behind!

Musically, I continued playing guitar and impressed myself with learning songs from Pink Floyd and Metallica. We only attended one concert this year, by Disturbed. A fun and high-energy show as always, 2012 already has two concerts lined up in February.

After a few quiet years following motorsports I am now definitely a Formula 1 fan - a supporter of Team Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes. They had a good year in 2011, although one driver definitely had a better year than the other, both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are great characters on and off the track. With the Australian Grand Prix falling on my birthday 'weekend' in 2012 we're all set with flights and accommodation to see, hear and feel the F1's roar around the Melbourne Albert Park circuit - can't wait!

Even with the busy planning through 2011 we managed to get away over the Easter break to our nation's capital, Canberra. We ran the new car in and caught up with an old friend while down there exploring the sights. I hadn't been to Canberra since I was in primary school in 1994 so it was worthwhile. Our second holiday of 2011 came in the form of our honeymoon to Matamanoa Island in Fiji - a beautiful location we'd recommend to anyone.

For my sci-fi interests I finished watching the series Space: Above and Beyond and we have managed to watch through the original Thunderbird's series and most of the Original Star Trek. My interest and review of these shows has contributed to 2011 receiving the most blog entries here, a total of 55 compared to the next best years; 2007 and 2010 both on 21 entries. I aim to continue with similar frequency in 2012 - hopefully these words aren't falling on deaf ears.

2012 should be an interesting year. Much lies ahead and it will be interesting to see how it all goes.

All the best and thanks to my regular readers!

See you out there :)