[Apologies for delay: life stuff. I’ll get to the other episodes eventually]
The running thread of Dr M’Benga’s sick daughter, and his efforts to cure her, has been just that – a running thread. It’s come up in a couple of episodes, it’s been absent from a couple of episodes, but it’s been used to deepen our understanding of M’Benga and give Babs Olusanmokun the chance to act his socks off. Both of which have very much been achieved. Back in the sixth episode, the deeply unsatisfying “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach”, M’Benga is able to get access to some advanced medical information which very much implied that his research would be ongoing. That episode didn’t give him a cure, but it gave him a path.
Let’s get the most obvious things out of the way first. Yes, as with the previous episodes of this series there is little here that could be called original. Yes, as with the previous episodes of this series, there’s a focus on a single character while giving the rest of the crew enough to do. Yes, as with previous episodes of this series, the question is whether the redux of familiar ingredients is enough to justify the existence of this episode. So… does it?
The whole “ban on genetic engineering” thing in the Federation has always seemed a bit… unthought out. Not in-universe, but metatextually. The logic of it is, “well, Khan was a super-evil dude, so maybe we shouldn’t do that.” And, fair enough, you can see the sense there, and for that being presented as the reason to avoid it. But also… to the point where other species can’t even be allowed in to the Federation? That seems a bit spurious — something which has been done for plot reasons rather than because anyone has sat down and gone, “well, do we really think the Federation would actually respond in this manner?”
One of the most impressive things about Nichelle Nichols — among a great list of impressive things about Nichelle Nichols — is how she managed to do a huge amount with generally very little screen time. One of the the reasons that Uhura works as an actual character is because of what she invested in the role. She always went way above and beyond what what actually on the page, and in doing so brought her to life. Uhura developed into an easy-to-like character who had her own strengths and abilities far, far away from snide, ignorant jokes about how the only woman on the bridge of the original Enterprise was apparently a receptionist.
Star Trek is back for a 3rd 21st century show. But can Strange New Worlds succeed where Discovery and Picard have struggled? Welcome to an episode-by-episode review.
Star Trek, in all its various forms, has never really been away since The Motion Picture dragged the once-cancelled original TV from the syndication doldrums to the bright cinematic uplands of the silver screen. A series of six ridiculously successful movies (well, ridiculously success for a middlingly-liked but cancelled TV show at any rate) gave birth to The Next Generation. Then Deep Space Nine. Then Voyager. Then Enterprise. Alongside all that, there were the four Next Generation movies – noticeably less successful at the box-office than their TOS counterparts but keeping the flame alive nonetheless. Enterprise, ignominiously-if-deservedly cancelled in 2005, seemed to mark the end of one particular strand of the franchise, yet just four years of no-Star Trek lie between it at the show returning to the big screen with the sharp, expensive and alternative-timeline shenanigans of the 2009 movie. That’s spawned two further movies – with a third on the way – but in a very real sense Star Trek‘s home has always been the small screen, not the silver one. Anyway, you get the point – four years between Trek projects is nothing. Even if the gap between Enterprise and the franchie’s big return to television, Discovery, is twelve years they have not, in any meaningful sense, been twelve Star Trek free years.
Picard is back for a second season of time-travel, trauma and Q. But can Season Two correct the flaws of Season One while also juggling the Borg?
One of the immense frustrations of Picard‘s first season was just how much good will the show had going into it, and just how much of that good will was completely wasted on go-nowhere plots, a bunch of who-dat side characters that never really cohered into anything, and wasting Patrick Stewart in a series named after his character but which only occasionally gave him anything to actually do. The conclusion to that season, especially, was simply dreadful, with Picard apparently becoming a robot but for no good reason, and the series going out of its way to point out its own irrelevancy. Everyone flew off into the sunset at the end of the season, a crew together for plot expediency rather than any other reason, and speculation inevitably mounted as to whether Season Two would have the ability to course-correct in any meaningful way and address the issues that Season One so glaringly failed to.
Star Trek films are, in the end, a strange breed. Born from the ashes of the Phase II project, The Motion Picture attempted to shift the adventures of the Enterprise from the small screen to the big one, but t’s worth reminding ourselves how unusual it was in 1979 for a TV series – a cancelled TV series no less – to make the transition to cinema. Star Wars, of course, is partly to blame / be held responsible (delete as applicable) for this since Paramount wanted a slice of the box office pie and had a handy space-based franchise just sitting there. But back in the beige, chilly days of the 1970’s this wasn’t a Thing That Happened. The likes of Kojak and Colombo might get a TV movie here and there but that absolutely was not the same thing. Now we live in an era where TV shows transitioning to big screen adventures can happen to almost any intellectual property, from The Addams Family (twice so far) to Mission: Impossible, from The Twilight Zone to Miami Vice. A dash of nostalgia here, a sprig of brand recognition inserted into the carcass of memory there and off we go.
Can the third Abramsverse Star Trek movie find something better to do than resurrect an old bad guy? Yes!
Third time’s a charm? After the standard-action-fare of the 2009 movie and the misguided attempt to use Khan in Into Darkness, can Beyond find a successful balance?
Pre-Existing Prejudices: It’s the most recent of the three Abramsverse movies which means that there’s not a lot of scope for historical distance. But as with the other two Abramsverse movies I had generally warm feelings towards it on its release and I’ve watched a couple of times since. I like Idris Elba a lot but don’t remember him making a vast impression, and of course it’s hard to view Anton Yelchin’s performance objectively since his death. Neither a stand-out classic nor a total failure, I remember this as fine. We shall see if that’s still true…
Khan II: Space Boogaloo. But can Into Darkness do anything to expand on the original?
If the 2009 Star Trek achieved anything it was finding an excellent cast to continue the adventures of the old crew in new times. But now the crew has been established, can Into Darkness find a way forward for them?
Pre-Existing Prejudices: All together now: KKKkhhhhaaaaannnnnn! Yes, it’s the most notorious of the three Abramsverse movies, and probably the most controversial. There are accusations of whitewashing, with Ricardo Montalban’s charismatic take being replaced by This Year’s Thing, Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s sexism, with the gratuitous Carol-Marcus-in-underwear scene. There’s the… well, actually is it plagiarism of The Wrath Of Khan? Not really I guess, since it’s an intentional reinterpretation of those events. Eh, anyway, it’s that movie.
The Next Generation have become the former generation as Nemesis signalled the end of the line for that iteration of the show. But what’s this? We’re going back to TOS with a new cast for the old crew? Well, Ok then…
Pre-Existing Prejudices: It’s the first of three (so far) Abrmbsverse Star Trek movies where we return to the era of TOS with a new cast and a new timeline. I remember vividly seeing this in 2009 and having largely positive reactions to it, with some moments working very well (the TOS theme on a massive cinema sound system!) and some not so much. I’ve seen it a couple of times since but this will be the first time I’ve sat down to actually analyse it rather than simply sticking it on. For what it’s worth, when I first saw this in the cinema with my other half, his reaction was, “that’s the best Star Trek movie I’ve ever seen in the cinema”. The one he saw previous to that was Insurrection…