Archive for February, 2010

Trekathon 123: Home Soil (TNG)

February 23rd, 2010

There was a germ of a good episode in here somewhere, but it kinda got lost somewhere in the fourth or fifth long, talky, scene.

It’s great to be exploring brave new worlds, discovering strange and beautiful alien species. But honestly, could we spend a little bit less of the time in the conference room?

123 down, 614 to go.

Trekathon 122: When the Bough Breaks (TNG)

February 23rd, 2010

Gene Roddenberry did have some great ideas. But kids and families on a starship? This is a warship in more danger week to week than the average Navy ship in our day. And it’s not like it takes a long time to get home – people jet around this corner of the galaxy pretty frequently. It’s a bad idea, that lends itself to silly plots.

And, to prove the point, this week it’s super-powerful aliens who happen to like kidnapping children.1

So, I’m pretty much going to hate this episode unless it does something remarkable. And while there’s a slight creepy vibe to the early scenes with the kidnapped children, it rings really false – there would be a lot more noise, crying, tantrums.

The rest runs pretty predictably down the rails. Everyone is pissed off, but they find a solution that makes everyone happy and keeps the kids on the Enterprise.

122 down, 615 to go.

  1. I do hope the risk register didn’t have this one on it, or some Federation Minister is going to have to resign. 

Trekathon 121: Too Short a Season (TNG)

February 22nd, 2010

There was a while there when I didn’t think this episode would ever end. Egads it dragged on.

And I’m still not really sure what the point was. Seeking youth is bad? Concealing things is bad? Arming terrorists is bad? Breaking the prime directive is bad? All we get through the episode is the crew (under) reacting to whatever the Admiral is doing, and his complicated backstory with the planet they’re sent to. But nobody cares – we’ve never heard of this guy before, no one on the crew has any personal connection to him. He shows up, becomes younger, dies.


121 down, 616 to go.

Trekathon 120: 11001001 (TNG)

February 22nd, 2010

Yay! TNG’s first self destruct sequence.1

This episode takes a while to get going, but the ‘slice of life’ thing is quite entertaining, and helps to draw the characters out.

But once it gets going it really is fantastic. We haven’t really seen Riker and Picard working together like this before, and it’s great. The aliens are quite silly, but the plot works in spite of this.

I think it’s pretty clear at this point that the real problem of Season One is the writing. When the writing is on, the cast make it work. But mostly the writers have been producing bad material, which no one can do anything with.

120 down, 617 to go.

  1. Seriously, does anything in real life have self destruct mechanisms? 

Trekathon 119: Angel One (TNG)

February 22nd, 2010

It was pretty subtle, so you may have missed the message of the episode: “sexism is bad”.

When the B-plot about everyone on board the Enterprise getting the sniffles is the better half, it’s a pretty bad sign. But this episode is didactic, literal, sexist (even though it’s complaining about sexism). It’s a pretty strong contender for the worst episode I’ve seen.

The one great moment: La Forge is given command for the first time, and says “Make it so”. Lovely acting.

119 down, 618 to go.

Trekathon 118: Datalore (TNG)

February 22nd, 2010

There is nothing I hate more in TV than the idiot plot. You know the one, the plot that relies entirely and solely on the characters beings idiots and not doing something obvious. It annoys me in sitcoms, so it’s especially annoying when it happens in a supposedly ‘intelligent’ show such as Star Trek. The entire episode rests on the crew of the Enterprise being just too stupid to know what to do when there’s an identical twin around. It’s especially annoying as one of the pleasant surprises of The Original Series was how rarely this plot got used.

It’s a pity, really, as it undermines what otherwise works quite well. The ‘evil twin’ is a well tested plot device, and Brent Spiner makes it work very well. And the first 20 minutes or so is pretty good. But as soon as Lore starts to impersonate Data everything is on a sharp downward slope. And things had just started to pick up as well…

For some reason I was particularly struck with the music in this episode. It seemed richer than usual. For instance, the Blade Runner undertones in the scenes of discovering and assembling Lore, and the music accompanying the exploration of the base. It’s one of the regular composers, so maybe I was just noticing it more this time.

118 down, 619 to go.

Trekathon 117: The Big Goodbye (TNG)

February 22nd, 2010

At long last, the inaugural Holodeck malfunction.

The Holodeck is just such a magnificent concept though. Without the malfunctions it wouldn’t make for good television. But while watching the start of the episode I was struck by the idea of playing Mass Effect 2 in a Holodeck, and that’s enough to make me want to jump into cryogenic suspension until the 24th century.

Picard clearly has the same joy with the Holodeck. The scene with him in the briefing room at the start of the episode explaining why he enjoyed the Holodeck so much is beautiful in its dorkiness.

The regular crew also have a lot of fun with their ‘wow, this is the 20th century’ tricks – Picard lighting a cigarette, Crusher using a compact, the grins as someone pulls a gun. Oh, and Data’s terrible accent.

The first episode which is clearly, in an unqualified sense, a good episode. At long last.

117 down, 620 to go.

Trekathon Special #1: Mass Effect 2

February 21st, 2010

Star Trek is a very influential show, and so I’ll be looking at a few other TV show episodes, movies and games inspired by Star Trek as part of the Trekathon.

First up is Mass Effect 2. The best Star Trek game ever made (even though it’s not a Star Trek game).1

In fact, Mass Effect 2 might be one of the best games ever made. It succeeds on every level: gameplay, plot, acting, graphics, sound.

Personally, I think that the plot and characters are the main thing that keeps me coming back. Mass Effect 2 is incredibly selfish, having more strong well define characters in one game that you normally see in a year of releases. As I played I found myself becoming very attached to the characters I recruited for my crew. And that makes the ‘suicide mission’ dynamic of the game, where any character can die in the final act, one of the tensest gaming experiences I’ve ever had. This is’t a case of a mistake causing you to lose a life, it’s a case where a mistake causes a friend you’ve been playing the game with for hours to die.

It’s also the best sequel ever. I finished Mass Effect 1 recently, and the links between the games are deep and complex. Many of the decisions that you made in Mass Effect 1 have some sequel or another here. Other games have tried to do this, but this is the first time it’s been successful.

But finally, Mass Effect 2 is the first the real role playing game. Plenty of games before have aped the mechanics of role playing games. But this is the first time when playing a game that I found myself trying to put myself into the mindset and position of my character in order to make decisions. And the game gives you enough freedom that you feel that you really are making choices, rather than being railroaded down the game developer’s chosen path.

I wish I had the time right now to start playing the game again, just to try and go in another direction and build another character.

  1. OK, quite a few people say that it’s Star Wars, not Star Trek. To respond, I’d say: it’s set in our future, not ‘a long time ago’, it involves a small set of discrete identifiable alien species, and you have a focus on your ship and crew rather than any mystic religion. Sounds like Star Trek to me. 

Trekathon 116: Haven (TNG)

February 21st, 2010

Picard sums this one up perfectly in the last minute of the episode: “I was not amused”. Neither was I.

Another obvious attempt at ‘the funny’ falls flat on its face. I’m sure that there are some who would find Lwaxana funny, but to me this just felt like a bad episodes of Desperate Starship Wives.

Still, for the first time my problem with this episode is more with what they were trying to do rather than with the delivery. The acting, writing and directing are really starting to settle down.

116 down, 621 to go.

Trekathon 115: Hide and Q (TNG)

February 20th, 2010

The good episode of this performance is the Q versus Picard dynamic. Both actors do a fantastic job.

But the writing is pretty clumsy, and undermines everything else in this episode. The long scene at the end of the episode, for instance, where Riker tries to provide gifts which are all turned down, just goes on far too long. OK, we get it – they don’t want the gifts. That could have been done much quicker, without the baseball like approach to the point. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Blossom’ that were more subtle about the moral at the end.

However, the recent trend towards signs of hope continues. The actors are starting to settle down into the characters that they’re playing, and despite the best efforts of the writers those characters are starting to grow.

115 down, 622 to go.