TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ – Series Premiere

A science fiction legend returns in the newest ‘Star Trek’ spin-off…

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A 24th Century hero returns: Sir Patrick Stewart stars in ‘Star Trek: Picard’ (image credit: CBS).

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Alison Pill, Harry Tredaway, Brent Spiner

Series created by:  Kirsten Beyer, Michael Chabon, Akiva Goldsmen & Alex Kurtzman (Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Episode directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper / written by:  Akiva Goldsmen & James Duff (story by Akiva Goldsmen, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, Alex Kurtzman & James Duff)

What’s it about?

“Remembrance” : as the end of the 24th Century approaches, on the anniversary of the devastating destruction of the planet Romulus, retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is confronted by a mysterious young woman on the run, as a new adventure beckons…

In review

The much-awaited return of a Star Trek legend is finally here with the launch of the new CBS series Star Trek: Picard – from the makers of Star Trek: Discovery (joined by novelist Michael Chabon as showrunner) – with a promising and tantalising first episode.  As it very well should be, Picard is quite a different animal from Star Trek: The Next Generation – that show is and ever will be a classic, landmark piece of television, but times have changed and so has the nature of small screen entertainment and as with Discovery, the Star Trek franchise evolves.  As expected, it’s a lavish and sophisticated production with feature film quality visuals and some beautiful photography (presenting various locales) and the longform storytelling style we’re now accustomed to.

For Picard, Sir Patrick Stewart reprises his most iconic and forever beloved role as Jean-Luc Picard – former captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise (both ‘D’ and ‘E’) and retired Starfleet Admiral, following the catastrophic Romulan supernova (deftly tying into the events of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) which resulted in the destruction of the Romulan homeworld and the scattering of its people across space.  Embittered by the poor response to the crises by the Federation and Starfleet, organisations whose values he has fought to protect, Picard has withdrawn to a quiet and uneventful life at the family vineyard of Chateau Picard in France.  It’s been more than two decades since Picard’s last mission aboard the Enterprise and, now over 90 years old (accompanied by his dog – affectionately named Number One), he finds himself haunted by nightmares of his old friend, the late android Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) and frustrated by the erosion of the ideals he cherished as a Starfleet captain.  However, the appearance of a young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones), on the run and desperate for help, thrusts the noble once Admiral Picard back into action.  Who is Dahj and why does she have hidden memories of Picard?  These questions and more are presented as a new adventure begins for Jean-Luc Picard in “Remembrance”.

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Picard (Patrick Stewart) is confronted by the mysterious Dahj (Isa Briones) in the premiere of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ (image credit: CBS).

At 79, Patrick Stewart has clearly aged – somewhat gracefully – and although he may at first appear a little shaky, it’s soon comforting to see Picard back onscreen.  Almost twenty years after he last played the role (on the big screen in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis), Stewart – mindful of his standout performance alongside Hugh Jackman in Logan – brings his talent effortlessly to the fore.  There’s an element of melancholy to his portrayal in Picard which befits the story and the mature character-focused approach the series seems to be aiming for, yet as the plot of “Remembrance” unfolds, those familiar traits of conviction and altruism start coming passionately to life once more.

Aside from the obvious joy of Patrick Stewart’s return to Star Trek, it’s also a delight to see the excellent Brent Spiner guest star and equally pleasing that his role, which could have easily been incorporated simply as fan service, has great importance to the story and lovingly celebrates the character of Data and his benevolent nature.  Isa Briones delivers a likeable and believable portrayal as the scared and desperate Dahj, with the writers serving the part with a good deal of mystery.  A visit to the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa introduces us to Alison Pill’s Dr. Jurati, a cybernetics expert left with little do after a ban on synthetic lifeforms following an apparent android revolt, creating some interesting and fun scenes with Picard.  Apart from the closing reveal of Harry Treadaway’s Narek that’s most of the recurring cast, with regulars Michelle Hurd, Evan Evagora and Santiago Cabrera to follow.  Also, whilst absent from this episode, there are still guest appearance from Patrick Stewart’s fellow TNG co-stars Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis to look forward to in future instalments, as well as Jonathan Del Arco (the former Borg drone, Hugh) and Star Trek: Voyager’s Jeri Ryan.

Picard brings with it a whole sense of history and strokes of nostalgia, with plenty of Easter eggs for fans to enjoy.  It’s difficult to say at this point if casual viewers will be able to latch onto the series and become invested but there’s enough exposition in the premiere to help bring new fans into the fold.  It’s important to remember that this is merely the first chapter in a ten-episode saga and “Remembrance” serves as a reintroduction to the character of Picard, establishing the world and times in which he now lives and providing the initial set-up for the serialised season-long arc.  To this end, “Remembrance” does a good job of balancing the disparate elements and with a whole heap of intrigue and action, whets the appetite for more…make it so.

The bottom line:  Jean-Luc Picard is back and Sir Patrick Stewart is on top form as Star Trek: Picard gets off to a promising and enjoyable start.

New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are released Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and available to stream in the U.K. and internationally every Friday via Amazon Prime.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Have You Read… ‘Iron Man: Extremis’?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out…

Iron Man Extremis

Art by Adi Granov (image credit: Marvel Comics).

Written by:  Warren Ellis / art by:  Adi Granov

What’s it about?

Tony Stark faces a new and deadly threat as he dons his Iron Man armour to stop a biologically enhanced terrorist from destroying the U.S. government…

In review

Originally published as the first six-issue storyline for Marvel Comics’ 2005 relaunch of The Invincible Iron Man (recently re-issued in a new hardcover edition as part of the comic book publisher’s ‘Marvel Select’ line), Iron Man: Extremis is a benchmark in modern Iron Man comics.  Extremis can be read as a self-contained, standalone story without the need for any familiarity with the decades-long history of Iron Man.  With a sharp and exciting script, British comic book writer Warren Ellis (The Authority) crafts an intelligent science fiction bio-tech thriller with an intriguing, thought provoking concept at its core complemented by solid characterisation, a touch of horror and blockbuster action – brought to life by artist Adi Granov’s unique visuals.

Extremis is a story that’s conscious of the war on terror and the technological explosion of the early 21st Century.  It sees an experimental biological enhancile known as ‘Extremis’ fall into the hands of domestic terrorists who test it on one of their number – a dangerous and radical low-life named Mallen.  Utilising deadly superhuman powers bestowed upon him by Extremis, including enhanced healing and strength together with the ability to unleash searing blasts of flames, Mallen wreaks havok as he sets about his anti-U.S. government agenda.  Maya Hansen, an old acquaintance of Tony Stark and one of the creators of Extremis enlists the help of the Stark Industries CEO in stopping the terror but a brutal confrontation with Mallen ends with the Iron Man armour being severely damaged and Tony Stark critically injured.  The only hope of Stark making a quick recovery and being able to match Mallen leads to him risking the use of Extremis on himself.

The Extremis process itself, the ability to essentially unlock and manipulate the human body’s (essentially hack its ‘operating system’) repair centre is a fascinating idea and Ellis explores it in a philosophical and also ethical manner as its military applications, and the risks thereof, are debated.  It also presents an evolution for Tony Stark/Iron Man as the marriage between the two is deepened to the biological level, increasing the powers and abilities of the Iron Man armour and its user – providing a new and exciting modern status-quo for the enduring Marvel character.

This is pre-MCU Iron Man and those only familiar with Robert Downey Jr’s more light-hearted and quippy portrayal of Tony Stark (which is enjoyable in itself) may be surprised to find that this version of the character is quite different.  In keeping with previous interpretations in the comics, the Tony Stark in Extremis is a billionaire philanthropist (the ‘playboy’ aspect isn’t really on display here), a genius almost constantly thinking of the next innovation who is somewhat insular and broody yet well-intentioned – driven to ensure that his company moves away from its past identity as a weapons manufacturer – despite grappling with personal demons, finding a true sense of purpose and self-worth when he dons his revolutionary Iron Man armour – the world at large unaware that Stark himself is the Iron Avenger.  Despite some of the more troubled elements of the main character, Warren Ellis injects a smattering of humour where it’s appropriate and Stark isn’t without some charm but it’s generally a darker and more mature realisation in-line with earlier iterations of Iron Man whilst being resonant in a post 9/11 world.

Warren Ellis deftly weaves an updated but faithful recounting of the Stark/Iron Man origin story into the narrative via a media interview and flashbacks – modernising it by transposing the setting from during the Vietnam War to the conflict against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (much like we saw on film in 2008’s Iron Man), where Stark, gravely injured by one of his own weapons is captured by Afghan terrorists and with the help of fellow captive, Doctor Ho Yinsen builds his first Iron Man suit as a means to both keep him alive and fight his way to an escape.

The digital art by the Bosnian-American illustrator Adi Granov is excellent, some may find it unusual or an acquired taste with its computer-generated look, but it produces clean and realistic visuals that are somewhat filmic with its muted colouring.  There are several striking single page spreads, boldly presenting the Iron Man suit in all its glory and the action is equally impressive – especially in the origin story flashbacks.  Granov also proves himself adept at the flourishes of horror in Ellis’s script with the startling and gross Extremis transformations.

The “Extremis” storyline would later form part of the plot for Marvel Studios’ 2013 big screen smash Iron Man Three but the comic book source by Messrs. Ellis and Granov is more like a Christopher Nolan film or a HBO production of Iron Man and is all the more attractive for it, making for a highly recommended read.

Geek fact!

Adi Granov helped to design the Iron Man and Iron Monger armours for Marvel Studios’ Iron Man as well as providing key-frame illustrations for the film.

Iron Man: Extremis is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #86

A new era dawns for the Dark Knight…

Batman #86

Cover art by Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki & Tomeu Morey (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  James Tynion IV / pencils by:  Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March (epilogue) / inks by:  Danny Miki / colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Their Dark Designs” Part 1 : in the aftermath of Bane’s decimation, Bruce Wayne plans to help Gotham City rebuild but a new threat builds as his continuing mission as Batman brings him into a confrontation with the lethal assassin, and old foe, Deathstroke…

In review

Following Tom King’s epic (but divisive in some areas of fandom) near four-year run on DC’s leading title, former Detective Comics writer James Tynion IV is handed the keys to Wayne Manor (after a brief prologue that featured in #85) as he takes over the reins on Batman with penciller Tony S. Daniel with issue #86 – an ideal jumping on point for lapsed and new readers alike.

Batman #86 picks up in the wake of “City of Bane”, Tom King’s final arc on the comic which concluded in the previous issue.  It’s not necessary to have followed that story as James Tynion IV takes care to cover the essentials neatly and without an overload of convoluted exposition.  In the aftermath of Bane’s rule over Gotham City, a reflective Bruce Wayne begins picking up the pieces as he continues his war on crime as the Batman.  The difference this time is that Bruce sees an opportunity to not only help rebuild Gotham but to reform it as well, something that he feels can be achieved by both Bruce Wayne and Batman – with a little help from Selina Kyle and Lucius Fox.  However, it isn’t going to be easy and a confrontation with Deathstroke leads to a new threat for Gotham and its protector.

Tynion hits the ground running with his first full issue, it may lack the more poetic and existential quality that Tom King brought to the book, favouring a more action-orientated approach, but nor does it reinvent the wheel and there’s certainly a philosophical element to the story as Bruce Wayne contemplates the future of Batman and the possibility that if his plans for Gotham succeed there’ll no longer be a need for him.  Tynion carved a standout run on Detective Comics at the inset of DC’s Rebirth initiative and continues to demonstrate his talents at world-building and writing character, although, naturally he ensures that Bruce/Batman (whereas his work on Detective Comics was generally more focused on the extended Bat-family) are front and centre whilst providing significant roles for both Selina (their renewed romance no doubt to be given greater attention in Tom King’s forthcoming Batman/Catwoman maxi-series) and Lucius – who has some fun interactions with Batman as a formidable new addition to the Dark Knight’s arsenal is teased.

Tony S. Daniel returns to the pages of Batman as a regular artist after sporadic collaborations during Tom King’s run.  A veteran Batman artist and writer himself, Daniel provides bold and dynamic visuals – complemented by Danny Miki’s inks and Tomeu Morey’s colours – that are an ideal match for Tynion’s writing and make the duo a great pairing.  Daniel maintains the grand and cinematic scope expected of the premiere Bat-book and is especially effective in rendering the pacey action scenes, the energetic and brutal encounter with Deathstroke being the obvious highlight.

A promising start, Batman #86 closes with a short epilogue that continues building on the threads of that inaugural mini chapter in #85, with Guillem March on the art.  March’s work is in a pleasingly not-too-dissimilar style to Tony Daniel and there’s a further sense of continuity and consistency thanks to Tomeu Morey once again providing colours.

The bottom line:  James Tynion IV, joined by pencillers Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March, delivers a solid and engaging beginning as a new and promising run on DC’s Batman commences.

Batman #86 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – “The Best of Both Worlds”

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Resistance is futile”

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Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) capture and assimilation by the Borg leads to a chilling cliffhanger in “The Best of Both Worlds” (image credit: CBS).

Year:  1990

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Elizabeth Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg

Director:  Cliff Bole / written by:  Michael Piller / series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

What’s it about?

Investigating the annihilation of a Federation colony, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise are soon faced with the unstoppable threat of the cybernetic race known as the Borg…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Considered as not just one of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finest stories but top-tier Trek in general, “The Best of Both Worlds” is a gripping, well-written and superbly executed event in the popular Star Trek television sequel.  TNG’s first two-part episode and its first season cliffhanger, “The Best of Both Worlds” closes out the show’s third season and opens its fourth and features the return of cybernetic nasties the Borg – introduced in season two’s “Q Who?”.

Written by Michael Piller – whose tenure as head writer helped to improve the creativity of The Next Generation – and directed by Cliff Bole, “The Best of Both Worlds” sees the Enterprise tasked with investigating the destruction of a Federation colony, all evidence pointing to the Borg as those responsible.  Soon confronted with a Borg ship, events take a turn for the worst when Captain Picard is captured by the Borg and transformed into one of them – leaving first officer Commander Riker in command.  The Enterprise’s engines damaged, preventing it from pursuing the Borg vessel as it heads for Earth, Riker and the rest of the crew must find a way to stop the Borg at all costs – even at the loss of their former captain.

At this point the Borg are a relentless and unstoppable force – a superior foe whose only desire is to consume the technology of other worlds and ‘assimilate’ (i.e. transform) their population into cybernetically enhanced drones who operate as a collective consciousness.  The very notion of one’s individuality being stripped away is what makes the Borg such a chilling enemy and Piller ensures that those elements are accentuated.  The decision to have Picard captured and assimilated by the Borg (the difference being that he is given the designation ‘Locutus’ and his own voice as a representative of the Borg, allowing Patrick Stewart to interact with his cast mates), thus deprived of his free will and responsibility for his own actions, is a genius stroke that establishes high stakes and at the time with no guarantee of his rescue (rumoured contract negotiations with Stewart placing his future in doubt) kept things surprising and unpredictable – not in the least since all of Picard’s knowledge and experience are used by the Borg to deadly advantage as they plough through and decimate Starfleet’s defences.

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Guest star Elizabeth Dennehy with Jonathan Frakes in “The Best of Both Worlds” (image credit: CBS).

The cast are all – unsurprisingly – brilliant with each of the principals having their place in the story as Piller continues his efforts to have a more character driven focus for the series.  Patrick Stewart is the obvious standout (his ‘Borgified’ persona affording him fresh acting challenges) and Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan continues to be a soulful presence but this is also a great outing for Jonathan Frakes who rightly gets his time in the spotlight as Riker, grappling with uncertainty about the progression of his career, takes command of the Enterprise during the crew’s darkest hour.  Guest star Elizabeth Dennehy (daughter of Brian) adds a lot to the mix as Starfleet’s Borg expert, Lt. Commander Shelby – a young, resourceful and driven officer whose assignment to the Enterprise initially provides conflict as her over-eagerness and professional competitiveness causes headaches for Riker, but ultimately proves an important ally and gradually earns the respect of the Enterprise’s new captain.

Whilst not necessarily as energetic and flashy as a lot of modern television (which isn’t actually always a good thing), there is still a lot of action and excitement in “The Best of Both Worlds” – most significantly the Enterprise’s first confrontation with the Borg vessel in part one, the subsequent chase (the Starfleet ship seeking refuge inside a nebula building a sense of foreboding) and Picard’s abduction a highlight.  Part two also has its share with Riker’s plan to rescue Picard and Worf (Michael Dorn) and Data’s (Brent Spiner) infiltration of the Borg ship the highpoint.  The final resolution of the Borg crises is simple but effective and the tension remains tight as the story reaches its climax.

Mention should also be made of Ron Jones’ score for “The Best of Both Worlds”, atmospheric, thrilling and emotional it’s some of the composer’s best work on Star Trek: The Next Generation and an essential component in any classic piece of SF TV.  Ranked by TV Guide as one of its all-time top 100 television episodes and nominated for five Emmy Awards, “The Best of Both Worlds” is a high mark in the Star Trek franchise and ensured its continued popularity throughout the 1990s.

Standout moment

With Captain Picard captured and assimilated into the Borg Collective and the fate of all life in the Federation at stake, Commander Riker has no choice but to order firing the Enterprise’s modified deflector in the hope of destroying the Borg vessel…

Geek fact!

George Murdock, who plays Admiral Hanson also appeared in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as the malevolent ‘God’ entity.

If you like this then check out…

Star Trek: Voyager – “Endgame” : the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager are faced with the Borg in the feature-length finale to the fourth live-action Star Trek television series (read the retrospective here).