Aug 23, 2016

Star Trek Phase IV

The Animated Series
This is the final blog post in a series (start here) celebrating 50 years of Star Trek. Previously, I've commented on about 40 episodes from the original 1960s Star Trek. Here I will provide comments on 10 episodes from post-1960s Star Trek shows.

I never saw any of Star Trek: The Animated Series. The only Star Trek movie that tickled my fancy was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came along I made sure to watch the pilot episode.
The Next Generation
Trek 41. I can understand that due to network meddling, 'Encounter at Farpoint' had to be padded and bloated to fill a two hour time slot. However, didn't they learn anything from previous movies where people fell asleep during endless views of star ship exteriors? If so, why the drawn out saucer separation?

Deja Q
And I was horrified by the battle of bombast and self-righteousness between Q and Picard. Was their mission to boldly go where no Star Trek fan wants to go? I was so distracted by the idiotic trial that I never made it to the end of the pilot episode. In fact, it was not until the show was eventually in re-runs that I gave ST:NG's 'Encounter at Farpoint' a second chance and I finally got to see the ending and the glowing alien space creatures.

Eventually, I came to appreciate some of the fun that could be had with the Q. Still, my preference would have been that they find a way to better account for the Q Continuum rather than the cobbled together bits of nonsense that accumulated during all the Q episodes of the series.

Trek 42. When I heard that Stephen Hawking was going to make an appearance on Star Trek, I ended my self-imposed embargo on watching ST:NG. When I watched 'Descent' I was appalled by Lore and the Borg.

Data's positronic brain
After many years of despising endless Klingon and Romulan squabbles, ST:NG went out and made things worse with the Borg. I have almost no interest in fictional politics inside a science fiction story and I out-grew military science fiction by the time I was 13 years old.

For a television show that includes a character with a positronic brain, my expectation was that ST:NG could have shown more respect for the legacy of Isaac Asimov. Asimov grew up wanting to write stories with a thoughtful approach to robots.

Guinan must position Yar in order to save the Federation
Of course, "thoughtful" is not a word that we associate with Hollywood which is an alternate universe that seems destined to just give us more and more of the murderous, clanking robots like those populating the stories that poor Asimov had read as a child and that he grew to dislike for their bland sameness.

Trek 43. I'm a huge fan of time travel stories, so 'Yesterday's Enterprise' might seem a good match for  my interests.

I really like the idea that Guinan has a connection to the "Nexus" that provides her with awareness that the timeline has been changed upon the arrival of the Enterprise C.

Scotty on the Enterprise D
I still don't know what to make of the "rifts in space-time" that magically pop up in so many stories set in the Star Trek fictional universe. When the deadline is fast approaching for completion of the next episode, I guess you need to be able to whip out some lame plot device such as a rift in space-time.

Trek 44. As a fan of the original Star Trek, I was excited to see 'Relics' and the return of Montgomery Scott. Despite the annoying on again-off again behavior of the abandoned Dyson Sphere and all the mopping around by Scotty this episode was tolerable.

The idea of having Scotty "preserved" in a transporter device makes sense. What does not make sense is why this "trick" was not routinely used to store humans or even make multiple copies of humans.

The return of the flute.
Trek 45. 'The Inner Light' is great science fiction, a fine story that seemed a perfect fit for Patrick Stewart. 'The Inner Light' is usually compared to "The City on the Edge of Forever", but I think a better match is the original tribbles episode.

Sometimes everything comes together in a magical way for an episode of a television series. And then attempts are made to re-capture that magic in subsequent episodes.

visiting Deep Space Station K7
Trek 46. That's Star TREK. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an oxymoronic distortion of the Star Trek concept. They should have called it 'No Trek'. 'Trials and Tribble-ations' was a masterful visitation to the original series by some of the DS9 characters.

First Contact
Trek 47. 'Carbon Creek' had fun with a science fiction plot device: the idea that alien visitors to Earth in the past have provided Earth with certain technological advances.

In this case, the idea is that Vulcan visitors to Earth in the 1950s provided velcro to Earthlings.

Trans-dimensional photonic lifeforms
battle Captain Proton!
Trek 48. 'Bride of Chaotica!' makes the point that holodeck programs are more interesting than the "lives of adventure' led by characters in Star Trek.

However, many of the holodeck episodes that tried to blur the boundary between reality and virtual reality failed to work as science fiction. In the case of "Bride of Chaotica', the silly premise was played out at the expense of having a coherent "future science" back story. Don't ask questions, just go along for the ride... and be thankful that you are not being forced to endure yet another hour of some excruciatingly slow ride across the galaxy.

Wesley creates nanorobotic life
Trek 49. The  ST:NG episode 'Evolution' should have been called 'Wesley Hears a Who'. As part of a science project, Wesley has managed to give nanites the ability to evolve. Soon these experimental nanites escape and begin disrupting the function of the Enterprise.

Lucky for all, during a one hour episode, the nanites evolve into civilized beings who can transmigrate into Data and negotiate their release from the Enterprise onto a suitable planet.

Trek 50. 'What You Leave Behind' I suppose there are probably better episodes that could be selected to represent the Founders.

Female Changeling
"Changelings were at least partially composed of morphogenic enzymes, the molecules responsible for their shapeshifting ability."

It would be silly to imagine that Rick Berman, Michael Piller or anyone associated with Deep Space Nine ever gave any thought to what it means to be a liquid organism. Life is completely about structure, and no liquid retains a structure.

Wagon Train to the stars
The Changelings could have been given a meaningful nanotechnology backstory, but Deep Space Nine was only marginally science fiction. From the very start, writers of Star Trek episodes were told to use a futuristic setting, but the stories were to be character-driven, not technology-driven.  Stories had to fit the conventional television "action-adventure" rules that applied to other settings such as the Western or a police detective drama.

Ferengi rule of acquisition 217: once you have
some tribbles, you can never give them back.
Given these constraints, it was probably inevitable that Star Trek would become mired in endless imaginary wars and fantasy politics.

Was there ever anything more futile than the "Dominion War" and all the imaginary religion mumbo jumbo of Deep Space Nine? How Gene Roddenberry would have hated to see Star Trek dragged down by dreary tales of religious fanaticism.

Lucky for viewers, the tedium could be temporarily forgotten by slipping into Quark's bar.

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Aug 21, 2016

To Badly Go...

The Alternative Factor
This is my third blog post in a series celebrating 50 years of Star Trek. In this post, I comment on selected (mostly Season Three) episodes of the original 1960s Star Trek series.

I was amused to discover that there had been a vote by Star Trek fans to identify the least popular Star Trek television episodes. As a Star Trek fan who likes to complain about the shortcomings of Star Trek, I'll join in with the spirit of that "10 worst" list for the rest of this blog post. I've previously made a list with 10 of my favorite episodes.

Trek 31. 'The Alternative Factor' was a Season Two episode. Previously, when I went through all of the Season Two episodes and picked out some of them for comment, I skipped right over 'The Alternative Factor'. I have a general dislike for all of the "parallel universe" episodes of Star Trek.

2001 seconds of boredom
As a child, I despised this episode for the seemingly endless hand-to-hand combat scenes in which the anti-Lazarus and Lazarus struggled against each other in psychedelic colors. I have the same sort of revulsion for those fight scenes in 'The Alternative Factor' as I have for the silly light show near the end of Stanley Kubrick's painfully paced 2001.

A warrior's semi-private boob nuzzling
Hair splitting 101. Which of the two Star Trek episodes that were written by Don Ingalls do I like the least? 'A Private Little War' (see Trek 27.5) was mired in 1960s geopolitical nonsense while 'The Alternative Factor' can be taken as a recursive science fiction commentary on the idiocy of most parallel universe plots in Sci Fi. In hope of a tie breaker, I'm allowing the remnants of my 12-year-old self to register their vote. 'A Private Little War' had the benefit of more boob nuzzling and fuzzy faux fur halter tops. Final decision: still too close to call. Check back during the 100 year Star Trek celebration in 2066.

instant learning
Trek 32. I'm a sucker for a good mystery story in a Sci Fi setting. Is 'Spock's Brain' a good mystery? Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for even a bad mystery in a Sci Fi setting. It would take a twisted nonscientific mind to come up with the idea of space aliens intent on stealing Spock's brain. Still, this episode had redeeming aspects...

How to select a nice brain.
No Sci Fi script seems complete without a multi-pronged learning machine that you can strap to your head for a quick download of the latest medical procedures. And what Sci Fi saga is complete without well-proportioned aliens in flashy purple miniskirts? Particularly when they say cute things like, "Brain? Brain? What is brain?"

Marj Dusay died in 2009.

Kirk and Miramanee
Trek 33. One of the time-honored traditions among science fiction story writers is the creation of distant imaginary worlds where the author might enjoy living. In the case of Jack Vance, I suspect that Araminta Station on the planet Cadwal is such an imaginary paradise.

For Spock, there was the planet Sharpeidon where he could live happily with Zarabeth. Similarly, in 'The Paradise Syndrome', for Kirk there was Miramanee, a curvaceous alien living inside an asteroid that was being used as a generation ship.

Margaret Armen died in 2003. Sabrina Scharf became a state senator in California.

Trek 34.  'And the Children Shall Lead' was recently voted by fans as being one of the 10 least favorite episodes of Star Trek. The ghostly greenish Gorgan was one of the more bizarre characters in Star Trek. Maybe the message from Trek fans to evil aliens is "keep you non-corporeal hands off our children!" Melvin Belli died in 1996.

McCoy's asteroid girl
Trek 34.5 'Day of the Dove' had another annoying "energy being".

Trek 34.9 McCoy's hollow asteroid saga.

Tina, Janice and Charlie
Puzzler. Among 'And the Children Shall Lead', 'Charlie X" and 'Miri' which was my least favorite? For my 12 year-old self, Tina Lawton and Janice Rand were redeeming factors for 'Charlie X'. 'Miri' had Janice along for the ride, and although she was not having much fun, at least she was not turned into a lizard. I seem to agree with the other voters: 'And the Children Shall Lead' ranks very low on my personal list of enjoyable Star Trek episodes.

dealing with Medusans
Trek 35. 'Is There in Truth No Beauty?' was always hard for me to swallow. I could not accept that looking upon the Medusans would cause insanity and why would a red-tinted visor protect people? Also, why was the Enterprise suddenly unable to find its way home? Ya, it was in the script.

Specter of a Sci Fi Western
Trek 36. 'Spectre of the Gun' has a special place in my heart. It is not a good place.

Some of my earliest memories are watching other people watch Westerns on T.V. By the time I was six years old, I did not want to ever see another Western.

This episode was tedious, with an effort by the Enterprise crew to make "knockout gas", but in the end they realize that they are in some kind of virtual reality where nothing (including their gas) is real.
Fast woman: able to side-step a phaser beam and run Kirk ragged.
Kirk grabs a quickie
Trek 37. 'Wink of an Eye' provided proof that Kirk liked fast women. Sadly, after discovering "hyper-acceleration", the amnesia of the Federation sets in and this amazing technology was apparently forgotten.

Kathie Browne died in 2003.

Spock's jam session
Trek 38.  'The Way to Eden' was a suitable way to wind down both Star Trek and the 1960s.

If there is an award for anachronism, this episode is a contender. When Jack Vance wanted to create a fictional variation on the 1960s, he imagined a culture where free-love hippy types were the norm and a revolution of young people went in the opposite direction towards hard work and neat appearance. If only the rushed Star Trek crew could have been half that creative.

Trek 39. David Gerrold had a hand in writing 'The Cloud Minders'. The pampered Droxine eventually learns that she must leave behind her comfortable home in the cloud city Stratos of planet Merak II. On the planet below, the hard-working Troglytes mine the valuable mineral zenite under harsh conditions. This story is even more meaningful today as the "top 1%" of Earthlings continues to expand its grip on our planet's wealth.

alien mind transfer device
Trek 40. The final episode of Star Trek was 'Turnabout Intruder. This episode is one of three original series episodes that was recently voted as being among the most disliked by fans.

From a technical standpoint, we can ask: what would be involved in the transfer of minds to and from a human body? Mind transfer is a plot device that was used in 'Wolf in the Fold', 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?', 'Return to Tomorrow' and 'Turnabout Intruder'.

telepathy is useful
Among these four mind transfer episodes, the least convincing from a technical perspective was 'Wolf in the Fold' where there seemed to be little more than an evil spirit that could magically migrate into human bodies or even the main computer of the Enterprise. In 'Metamorphosis' the mind of the 'Companion' could also magically transfer itself into a human body. I would not rank 'Turnabout Intruder' as being among the very worst episodes of Star Trek, but with a telepathic Mr. Spock around, and Dr. Janice Lester's odd behavior on display, it is painful to spend a whole hour watching and waiting for Kirk to regain control of his body.
Assignment: Earth
This blog post (above) is the third in a series celebrating the first 50 years of the Star Trek era.
 Other posts in the series:
1) season 1 episodes
2) season 2 episodes
Also: Star Trek: Galactic Core (fan fiction)
10 fun Star Trek episodes
Next: Star Trek Phase IV
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