TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ – Season 2

The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery embark on a new mission with the help of one of Starfleet’s finest…

Warning! Contains SPOILERS

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Anson Mount joins Sonequa Martin-Green in season two of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Anson Mount, Wilson Cruz, Shazad Latif, Michelle Yeoh, James Frain, Tig Notaro

Series created by:  Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Placing Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in command, Starfleet orders the U.S.S. Discovery to investigate a mysterious and dangerous cosmic phenomenon…

In review

Star Trek: Discovery’s now concluded fourteen-episode second season is proof that the series has a bright future.  Season one may have had its detractors and provoked controversy amongst sections of the Star Trek fan community but those who may have neglected continuing with the series are missing out.

Season two of Discovery took the series in a slightly more hopeful direction in comparison to its darker war-focused (and although the Klingon war is over, they still have a role to play) first season but not without sacrificing the more mature and morally complex approach to the characters and storytelling we saw in the previous season.  Once again presenting viewers with a serialised season-long story arc, season two of Discovery deals with the appearance of the mysterious ‘Red Angel’ – an apparent saviour trying to prevent the destruction of sentient life across the universe.  Accompanied by cosmic red bursts of devastating energy, the Red Angel enigma initiates an emergency mission by Starfleet, who place Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in temporary command of Discovery who together with Commander Michael Burnham, Saru, Tilly, Stamets and the rest of the crew face the challenge of unravelling the mystery and securing the survival of everything and everyone they hold dear.

The Red Angel narrative proved to be an intriguing one, precipitating a central debate of science vs faith and with numerous teases and twists keeping viewers on their toes – the final reveal of the Red Angel’s identity (more on that later) a surprising one and subverting expectations and speculation.  As with the first season there are a number of other subplots interwoven throughout, the result of which at times threatens to convolute the main storyline but manage to unravel by the end of the season.  The addition of Captain Pike is one of the season’s most successful components, played wonderfully by Anson Mount (the only positive element of Marvel’s dreadful Inhumans series) who brings an assuring quality of leadership and humanity to the role.  It also helps that the character is serviced well in the writing as Pike is given a satisfying arc, with a bittersweet touch of the sombre as it deals with the gallant Starfleet captain’s eventual fate in the original series of Star Trek (as seen in classic two-parter “The Menagerie”) courtesy of some ‘time crystals’ – a convenient albeit necessary plot device that plays it’s part in the overall seasonal arc.

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The Mysterious ‘Red Angel’.

Discovery season two also sees the inclusion of the fan-favourite shadow organisation known as Section 31, except unlike how they are depicted in Deep Space Nine (which takes place a century after Discovery) they are an acknowledged, functioning black-ops division of Starfleet.  A point of confusion for long term Trek fans, perhaps, but it seems likely that this will be explored further and reconciled next season and/or in the Section 31 spin-off series which is currently in development but as it stands, the organisation has a significant presence that facilitates conflict with the regular Discovery group without disrupting the camaraderie between them.

Dealing with the pointy-eared elephant in the room, Discovery introduced us to a younger version of Spock with Ethan Peck tackling the role originally played by Leonard Nimoy and portrayed by Zachary Quinto in the J.J. Abrams film series.  After several weeks of baiting the viewer, Peck made his debut in episode six, entitled “Light and Shadows“.  Peck’s introduction is unexpected, presenting a mumbling, near catatonic Spock whose contact with the Red Angel has left him mentally frazzled.  The situation results in the delightful surprise of a visit to Talos IV (the setting of original Star Trek pilot “The Cage” – read the retrospective here) where Burnham enlists the help of the telepathic Talosians in restoring Spock’s faculties in “If Memory Serves” – one of the season’s standout episodes.  It’s from hereon we get a sense of Peck’s performance and whilst no-one could ever truly compare to Leonard Nimoy, he does a solid job of encapsulating those intricate elements of the character we know and love.  The writers of Discovery also, maybe to the chagrin of some, add new layers to Spock as we get glimpses of a less than perfect childhood where we learn of his struggles with a form of dyslexia.  It’s actually a very interesting addition to the history of the character and expands the decades old mythology of Star Trek in a way that doesn’t trample on what has gone before but only deepens it.

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Ethan Peck as Lt. Spock.

The characters of Discovery continued to grow during the season as do the relationships between the various crewmembers.  The inclusion of Spock, of course, provides an exploration of the bond – and disconnect – between Burnham and her adoptive brother and both Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck share some great moments.  Martin-Green has certainly come into her own this season with consistently strong performances, bolstered by the efforts of the show’s writers.  Not only does Burnham have to grapple with her relationships with Spock, Tyler and the Mirror Universe Georgiou – both now Section 31 operatives (under the command of Alan Van Sprang‘s Captain Leland) – but also the revelations of her past, principally her parent’s involvement with the clandestine organisation.  This triggers season two’s biggest and cleverly executed narrative flip (those wishing to avoid major spoilers should skip to the next paragraph now) which occurs in the aptly titled “The Red Angel“.  It’s here that we learn of the identity of the Red Angel: Michael Burnham’s mother (played by The Wire’s Sonja Sohn), long thought dead but in fact jumping through time as she attempts to prevent the decimation of all life in the Federation by the acts of an evolved A.I. known as ‘Control’.  This sets-up the conflict of the latter end of the season as the crew of Discovery fight to stop Control from unleashing universal devastation.  Again, the plot does tend to become tangled at times with so much crammed into the narrative, particularly in the final stretch of episodes but it’s a small criticism and something that can be applied to a lot of other contemporary series (think Westworld).

Doug Jones and Mary Wiseman – Commander Saru and Ensign Tilly respectively – continue to be standouts and get their share of screen time, with Saru returning to his home (following up on the Short Trek instalment “The Brightest Star”) as he and his people find themselves facing up to the predatory race overruling their existence and being unshackled from their fears as a prey species and Tilly wrestling with her spore-induced connection to the mycelial network via visions of her old childhood friend, May.  The Tilly/May subplot does perhaps go on longer than necessary, but it does tie into the welcome, if not wholly unexpected, return of Wilson Cruz’s Hugh Culber, ‘reborn’ courtesy of the mycelial realm which leads to some interesting soul searching and identity crisis.  This also affords Anthony Rapp the opportunity to further flesh out his character as Stamets’ reunion with Culber isn’t what he expects and causes him to reassess his future aboard Discovery.  The only black sheep in the casting is Tig Notaro’s engineer, Jett Reno, whose inclusion felt out of place with sporadic appearances and no substantial development, although their may be future potential for the character.

What is great about season two of Discovery is alongside the growth of the principal players, the writers take effort to give small but key roles to the ancillary characters (some of whom you would’ve been previously hard pressed to recall by name) with the likes of con officer Detmer (Emily Coutts) and navigator Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo – who gets to join an away mission in the excellent “New Eden”, one of the season’s most ‘Trek-like’ episodes) feeling more integrated than they were during season one.  More pivotal though is Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) in the Jonathan Frakes directed “Project Daedulus“, written by Michelle Paradise (wisely appointed as co-showrunner with Alex Kurtzman for season three).  Discovery’s cyborg officer had felt like a missed opportunity, yet this is undone in a single episode that boasts solid scripting and powerful acting from not only Hannah Cheesman but the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman and much of the rest of the cast.  It all adds to the increasing sense of family amongst the crew, something which has always been key to the success and appeal of any Star Trek series and will hopefully continue to be nurtured in subsequent seasons.

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Starships Enterprise and Discovery unite to save the universe.

Discovery’s second season came to a dramatic and energetic conclusion with the gripping two-part finale “Such Sweet Sorrow” (fan-pleasing ties to the original Star Trek further enhanced by the sight of the beautifully realised Enterprise bridge, given a respectful 21st Century makeover to fit in with Discovery’s more modern design aesthetics) where there’s an additional twist to the identity of the Red Angel and the revelation of what exactly those cosmic red bursts are, culminating in a rousing and epic final battle with Control (now merged with the body of Leland in a manner that’s slyly reminiscent of Borg assimilation) and a game-changing set-up for season three that seeks to not only chart new territory for Discovery but also reconcile its place in canon, a task that’s somewhat messy and impossible to neatly sync-up given the five decades of continuity established beyond the original series.

In terms of the production, Star Trek: Discovery continues to present the viewer with feature film quality visuals and cinematic direction (especially when in the hands of either Jonathan Frakes or Olatunde Osunsanmi) that enhances the writing and together with the excellent cast performances results in a superb sophomore outing for the series.

The bottom line:  Star Trek: Discovery season two is an exciting, if occasionally jumbled, outing for the newest Star Trek crew that boasts decent writing, strong cast performances and quality production values.

All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season are now available to stream via CBS All Access in the U.S. and via Netflix internationally (Canadian viewers can watch it via the Crave TV service).

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

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Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ (2009)

In 2009, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise made a bold return to the big screen…

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The cast of J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ (c. Paramount Pictures).

Year:  2009

Starring:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / written by:  Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

What’s it about?

A young James Kirk and Mr. Spock meet for the first time aboard the newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise where they soon find themselves tasked with saving the universe from a vengeful out-of-time Romulan…

Retrospective/review

With the underwhelming box office and tepid critical reception of Star Trek Nemesis in 2002 and the cancellation of television series Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 due to declining ratings a creative refresh of the Star Trek franchise was needed in order to rekindle fan interest and bring in a whole new audience that would help carry Gene Roddenberry’s creation into the future.

Whilst Star Trek would remain dormant on the small screen until the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, it’s theatrical voyages would recommence just four years after the conclusion of Enterprise.  Enlisting J.J. Abrams (together with his Bad Robot production company) to produce, direct and help craft the story – with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (co-creator and executive producer of Discovery) – Paramount Pictures commissioned Star Trek for the big screen.

Released in May of 2009, received to favourable reviews and a healthy worldwide box office of around $385 million (a fairly respectable figure at a time when $1 billion grossers were few and far between and comparable to Marvel’s Iron Man), Star Trek would prove to be a rollicking action adventure that, although favouring popcorn spectacle and Star Wars-style visual grandeur over the deeper philosophical explorations of previous iterations, excels in its characters and engaging story.  In order to be free from the burden of decades of continuity whilst still tying into the established universe, Star Trek would employ the popular time travel trope by bringing Leonard Nimoy’s (gifting the project with true Trek royalty) Spock back in time in an event that would create an alternate reality – now referred to as the Kelvin timeline – allowing a new series of Star Trek films to forge their own creative path.

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Eric Bana as Nero (c. Paramount Pictures).

Star Trek opens with the arrival of the Romulan ship Narada, thrust back in time after the destruction of the Romulan homeworld in the wake of a catastrophic supernova, which Ambassador Spock and the Vulcan High Command pledged, and fail, to avert.  The Narada, under the command of the embittered Nero, is discovered by the U.S.S. Kelvin which is subsequently attacked and its captain killed – leaving Lt. George Kirk (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) in command.  The Kelvin’s crew, including Kirk’s wife (played by Jennifer Morrison) – about to give birth to their son, are evacuated as Kirk sacrifices his life to save others.  Jumping forward several years we meet a young trouble-making James Kirk and an equally troubled Spock, struggling to reconcile his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage.  Little do both know that destiny awaits (which for Kirk includes the captain’s chair of a certain starship), events drawing them together as the fate of both their worlds hang in the balance.

Finding new actors to inhabit the roles of the beloved original series crew was undoubtedly a daunting task and fortunately, the casting of Star Trek is exceptional.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are perfect choices for the roles of Kirk and Spock, respectively, both actors bringing respectful and recognisable performances to classic characters whilst making it their own and their chemistry helps drive the core narrative.  Likewise, Karl Urban is a revelation as the cantankerous but loyal Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy – the final component in the celebrated Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika that was such an important part of the original series.  There are equally strong turns from Zoe Saldana as Communications Officer Uhura, John Cho as Helmsman Sulu, the late Anton Yelchin as the incredibly eager Ensign Chekov and Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter in Star Trek’s original pilot episode, “The Cage” and by Anson Mount on Star Trek: Discovery) is also a highlight, particularly in his relationship with Pine’s Kirk as he inspires the bright but directionless young rebel by daring him to be better and enlist in Starfleet.  Playing the part of the villainous Nero is Eric Bana, who had previously starred in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  He’s not necessarily the most complex of antagonists but Bana gives it his all, delivering a decent measure of menace.

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A slick redesign for the U.S.S. Enterprise (c. Paramount Pictures).

The design of Star Trek is exemplary, from the Academy Award winning make-up, costumes and props (both nifty updates from the original series) to the lavish, brightly lit sets by Scott Chambliss and the sleek redesign of the Enterprise herself, providing viewers with a pleasing new look which respectfully adheres to the overall configuration conceived by Matt Jeffries.  Whilst there’s a comforting sense of the familiar, Star Trek also takes some creative risks – primarily the destruction of Vulcan by Nero and his cohorts in retribution for the failure to save Romulus from its own obliteration in the future.  It’s a shocking and dramatic sequence that establishes the highest of stakes to unite the Enterprise crew and allows for a more emotionally vulnerable depiction of Quinto’s Spock.

As director, J.J. Abrams (who made his feature film debut in 2006 with Mission: Impossible III) brings energy and enthusiasm to Star Trek, keeping the viewer invested whether it’s in his execution of action and visual splendour or the tight and attentive focus in the quieter, more intimate character moments.  A good film is always enhanced by a great musical score and composer Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is a memorable one, exciting, emotional and wonderfully intertwining cues from Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme with fresh themes to take the new big screen franchise forward.

Star Trek may have been divisive so far as the fanbase is concerned but there are those that enjoyed it for what it was, a polished and highly entertaining rejuvenation of an ageing franchise that opened up the universe to a whole new audience which is something that shouldn’t be undervalued.

Geek fact!

The story of Star Trek was fleshed out via tie-in comic books from IDW Publishing (and overseen by co-screenwriter Roberto Orci) with prequel titles Star Trek: Countdown and Star Trek: Nero adding a lot of insightful detail and background to the narrative of the 2009 film.

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

Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ – “The Cage”

Where the voyages of ‘Star Trek’ truly began…

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Jeffrey Hunter leads the cast of “The Cage” as Captain Christopher Pike.

Year: 1964

Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, John Hoyt, Susan Oliver

Series created by: Gene Rodenberry

Written by: Gene Rodenberry / episode directed by: Robert Butler

What’s it about?

Searching for survivors of the S.S. Colombia on the unexplored planet Talos IV, the crew of the Earth space ship Enterprise are thrown into crisis when their captain, Christopher Pike, is captured and imprisoned by a race of powerful telepaths…

Retrospective/review

As any Star Trek fan more than likely knows, the voyages of the starship Enterprise didn’t actually begin with Captain Kirk. Whilst the series would launch with the airing of “The Man Trap” in September of 1966, viewers at the time were unaware that two years previously another version of Star Trek had been produced – and canned. Screened at conventions during the 1970s but unaired until the 1980s and now widely seen thanks to decades of home video releases (greatly enhanced by its beautiful 21st Century high definition remaster with new CGI effects), “The Cage” is a fascinating glimpse into the genesis of Star Trek.

Springing from his ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ concept, Star Trek married Gene Roddenberry’s love of science fiction and adventure with the frustrations of television censorship to create a vehicle for telling serious, adult (eschewing the campier comic book approach of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space) stories about humanity, exploration, discovery and tackle social and political issues without the interference of network executives. Realising that science fiction fans would recognise the deeper themes offered by Star Trek and the television suits would in most instances not, it would be the perfect passion project for Roddenberry and a means to explore compelling and thought-provoking ideas.

In “The Cage” the U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, traces a distress signal to the unexplored Talos star system, a region where the S.S. Colombia reportedly disappeared eighteen years prior. Arriving at Talos IV, Pike and a landing party discover survivors of the Colombia expedition, including the beautiful Vina. Quickly learning that the survivor’s camp is a fake, it’s too late for the Enterprise party to prevent Pike’s capture by the Talosians. Forced underground when the surface was decimated by war and having developed powerful telepathic abilities in the succeeding centuries, the Talosians imprison Pike with Vina – the only true Colombia survivor – subjecting them to various illusionary scenarios, for their captors’ own satisfaction and in the hope that the pair will become close and produce offspring to add to the Talosian ‘zoo’.

A notable actor with roles in big screen features including the John Wayne-fronted Western The Searchers and as Jesus Christ in King of Kings, Jeffrey Hunter is an assuring lead and, as written by Roddenberry, brings a complex and layered performance to the role of Captain Pike – a resourceful and capable commander suffering a crisis of conscience and loss of direction and desire for responsibility following his most recent mission which saw members of his crew injured and even killed.

 

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The late, great Leonard Nimoy as a very different Mr. Spock.

 

Joining Hunter is Leonard Nimoy as a far more ebullient and emotive Mr. Spock, the only character who would make the transition to the series where the concept of the emotionally repressed and logic-driven Vulcan race would be defined, Majel Barrett as Pike’s unnamed first officer – referred to only as “Number One” (Barrett would later become Mrs. Roddenberry and join the Star Trek cast as Enterprise nurse, Christine Chapel), a skilled and intelligent women in a position of authority which was uncommon in television and film at the time, John Hoyt (previously seen in the George Pal science fiction cult classic When Worlds Collide) as Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Philip Boyce and Peter Duryea as ship’s helmsman Jose Tyler and Laurel Goodwin as Yeoman Colt – whose characters are both unnamed onscreen. Guest starring as Vina is the excellent Susan Oliver and Meg Wyllie as the Talosian ‘Keeper’ with dialogue redubbed by Malachi Thone, the vocal pitch adjusted to give the Talosian race a mysterious androgynous quality.

Gene Roddenberry’s narrative is exciting, dramatic and filled with intelligent SF ideas but it’s in character that he excels – he provides Pike with a richness of depth and humanity and his scenes with Oliver’s Vina provide pathos and emotional investment (and offering food for thought as the theme of slavery is examined), which complements the science fiction aspects of the story and the morality play elements. Roddenberry backs this up with some great dialogue that verges on the poetic, best exemplified by the ‘doctor, bartender’ exchange between Boyce and Pike (played superbly by Jeffrey Hunter and John Hoyt) in which the doctor shares a martini with his conflicted captain and reminds him that “a man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away”.

The production values are impressive and hold up extremely well, whilst the Enterprise sets are drabber and more muted in terms of colour (likewise, the crew uniforms, which would be re-designed once the first season of Star Trek proceeded) they are largely the same, minus subtle changes, to how they would appear in the series. Props such as the communicator and laser pistol (the forbearer of the phaser) are highly detailed and believable, functional devices. The subterranean caverns of the Talosian community are sparse but effective, the make-up design of the Talosians themselves is exemplary, their large, bulbous craniums given life with throbbing veins indicating the use of their advanced mental abilities.

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One of CBS Digital’s new CGI effects sequences for the remastered edition of “The Cage”.

Although the Enterprise model effects work is somewhat primitive and experimental in comparison to the series proper, Matt Jeffries’ design remains iconic and the substituted CGI effects for the remastered edition of “The Cage” render this point moot and increase the enjoyment of the story greatly. Equally legendary is Alexander Courage’s theme music (so celebrated that Courage’s cues are incorporated into Jeff Russo’s theme for the latest Star Trek series, Discovery), identifiable to even those who may not be fans of Star Trek. Beyond the main theme, Courage’s score for “The Cage” is quite magnificent – conveying all the action, emotion and mystery of Gene Roddenberry’s script.

“The Cage” would run over schedule and over budget and ultimately be rejected by the NBC television network for being “too cerebral” but enough potential was seen in Gene Roddenberry’s creation to commission a second pilot leading to the more action-driven (but actually, still fairly intelligent) “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (read the retrospective here) with the incomparable William Shatner taking over the lead as Captain James T. Kirk. The rest is of course history but there should always be an appreciation for “The Cage” and its role in the birth of a cultural phenomenon.

Geek fact!

Footage from “The Cage” would later be incorporated into “The Menagerie”, the original Star Trek’s only two-part story which guest stars Malachi Throne as Commodore Mendez.

All images included herein remain the property of the respective copyright owners and are used for illustrative and commentative purposes only.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

The original Star Trek cast bow out as they face a battle for peace… 

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‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’: a satisfying conclusion to the voyages of the original crew.

Year:  1991

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrall

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer / Written by:  Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn (Story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal)

What’s it about?

When the Klingon Chancellor is assassinated enroute to peace talks on Earth, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are accused of the crime leaving Spock and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to uncover the true culprits…

Retrospective

With the lukewarm reception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (read the retrospective here), Star Trek’s future on the big screen seemed to be in doubt.  Yet, with the franchise’s 25th anniversary approaching, Paramount Pictures decided that the original cast deserved one more adventure before relinquishing the silver screen to their younger (and by this point, less costly) successors on the increasingly popular spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Determined to deliver a classic and rewarding finale for the original crew (albeit William Shatner, James Doohan and Walter Koenig would cameo in Star Trek Generations) and one that would be equally redeeming for the audience, Paramount enlisted Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer to help shape Star Trek VI, both having been involved in the more successful and more popular entries in the series – Nimoy as director of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Meyer as director (and uncredited writer) of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and co-writer of The Voyage Home.  With Harve Bennett feeling jaded by the troubled production of Star Trek V and disagreements with Paramount over the direction of Star Trek VI (the concept for a prequel featuring a new cast as younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al being rejected by the studio) he would decide to depart the franchise leaving Ralph Winter in place as the film’s head producer.

The creative matchup of Nimoy (receiving executive producer and story credits) and Meyer would prove to be a strong and vital component to Star Trek VI, both looking to do what they felt the franchise did best – tell a compelling story that explores the human condition and discusses the issues of the day in an entertaining and engaging manner.  With the social and political climate of the 1990s being shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the climax of the Cold War, Nimoy felt that this would make for a suitable and relevant topic of discussion for a good Star Trek story, one that would once again feature the original crew’s greatest adversaries: the Klingons.  Given that the Klingons were conceived by Star Trek writer/producer Gene L. Coon as a stand-in for the Russians and to provide conflict allegorical of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, their role in the story would be a natural and logical fit.  From this central concept, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a title lifted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) was born.  Working from Nimoy’s premise, Meyer would craft the film’s screenplay with co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, providing a dark, yet ultimately optimistic tale infused with all the fun, humour and excitement audiences had come to expect from a Star Trek film.

Star Trek VI opens with the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis, the Klingon Empire’s key source of energy (an event likened by Nimoy as a galactic version of the Chernobyl incident), leading to a call for peace with the United Federation of Planets.  Three months from retirement, Kirk and his crew are ordered to rendezvous with the Klingon Chancellor’s delegation and escort them to Earth to open negotiations, but when the Chancellor is assassinated, Kirk and McCoy are put on trial for plotting Gorkon’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  What follows is a thrilling ‘whodunit’ which sees Spock and the crew of the Enterprise in a race against time to uncover the perpetrators and rescue their comrades before peace talks falter and all-out war becomes certain.

Heading up the guest cast are David Warner (who had appeared as St. John Talbot in The Final Frontier and as a time-travelling Jack the Ripper in Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut, Time After Time) as the “Lincoln-esque” Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, Christopher Plummer as his villainous chief of staff, the Shakespeare-spouting General Chang, Rosana Desoto as Gorkon’s daughter (and successor) Azetbur and a post-Mannequin, pre-Sex in the City Kim Catrall as the Enterprise’s new Vulcan helmsman, Valeris.  Reprising their roles from The Voyage Home are Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright, John Schuck as the Klingon Ambassador and Mark Lenard as Vulcan Ambassador and Spock’s father, Sarek.

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Christopher Plummer as General Chang.

With a screenplay laced with strong dialogue and characterisation, Nicholas Meyer draws out fine performances from the principal and guest actors alike ensuring that each of the core Star Trek characters get their moment in the spotlight, especially George Takei who relishes the advancement of the loyal Mr. Sulu to Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior.  Christopher Plummer makes for a great villain, excessive and passionate quotations of Shakespeare only adding to his increasing malevolence.  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are once again on top form with Shatner and Kelley in particular sharing some memorable scenes together during their trial and subsequent sentence to the penal mining asteroid, Rura Penthe.

It’s reported that Gene Roddenberry (whose health was in serious decline) had concerns about The Undiscovered Country, specifically the prejudice and bigotry displayed by the Enterprise crew and the more militaristic approach to Starfleet, conflicting with the more altruistic vision he had for Star Trek and its characters.  These are certainly valid points but can largely be forgiven when taken in the context of the film’s story and the history of the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire and those aforementioned parallels to America and Russia.

Climaxing with a tense and exciting finale featuring an explosive space battle between the Enterprise, Excelsior and a prototype Klingon vessel and a desperate race to prevent the assassination of the Federation President (played by Robocop’s Kurtwood Smith), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a fitting conclusion to the original cast’s tenure and a satisfying celebration of the franchise that remains one of its most enjoyable big screen instalments.

Geek fact!

Star Trek VI includes a cameo from one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars of the 1990s – and Star Trek fan – Christian Slater.

What are your memories of Star Trek VI? Share your thoughts below!

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Once more unto the breach: the original cast of ‘Star Trek’ assembled for their final adventure…

TV Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ – “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Gary Lockwood, Sally Kellerman, James Doohan, George Takei, Paul Fix, Paul Carr

Series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

Written by:  Samuel A. Peeples / Episode directed by:  James Goldstone / 1966

What’s the episode about?

Attempting to cross an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy, the U.S.S. Enterprise is severely damaged and a strange phenomenon causes two crewmembers with high ESP ratings to develop god-like abilities…

Review/retrospective

In 1964, Gene Roddenberry produced a pilot for a science fiction series called Star Trek.  Titled “The Cage” and featuring Jeffrey Hunter in the lead role as Captain Christopher Pike, it was ultimately rejected by executives at television network NBC who felt it was ‘too cerebral’.  However, they saw potential in the premise of Star Trek and in an unprecedented move (and reportedly under the persuasion of Lucille Ball, star of I Love Lucy and co-owner of production studio, Desilu), commissioned a second pilot.

Written by Samuel A. Peeples, who had previously worked on series such as Wanted: Dead or Alive and Burke’s Law, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” would take an imaginative science fiction concept, in this case extra sensory perception (ESP) and explore the moral consequences of individuals being imbued with god-like powers that, on the wrong side of human ego, could prove corruptive and dangerous.  Ironically, still a cerebral idea but one that would incorporate some measure of action and excitement to satisfy the demands of TV bosses, all too aware of the popularity of western and detective series where audiences had come to expect a bare knuckle fist fight or two.  Peeples’ script works extremely well and whilst later episodes of Star Trek are better examples of those morality plays that would become a significant part of the series’ DNA, it gives the audience a science fiction story that’s treated intelligently, laced with personal and ethical conflict as well as that aforementioned element of action and adventure.

The only surviving cast member from “The Cage” is Leonard Nimoy, who returns as a far less emotional and much more intellectual Mr. Spock.  At this point, the character is a work in progress as Nimoy seeks to find the right level of cold logic and define the subtle nuances of the Spock viewers would come to know.  No easy task given the changes in the character’s portrayal from the original pilot and a few quirks aside, Nimoy does a commendable job of laying the groundwork for the infamous Vulcan science officer.

Replacing Jeffrey Hunter is Canadian actor William Shatner as Captain James (no “T” just yet) Kirk and in contrast to Nimoy’s Spock, Shatner hits the ground running and is very much the familiar starship captain from the get-go with a passionate and driven performance as Kirk is torn between the responsibilities to ship and crew and his friendship with Gary Mitchell, who Spock warns is becoming an increasing danger as his latent powers grow.

Mitchell is played by Gary Lockwood, star of Roddenberry’s short-lived military drama The Lieutenant (and would go on to appear in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey) who shares good chemistry with Shatner and fellow guest star Sally Kellerman (later earning an Oscar nomination for M*A*S*H), in the role of Dr. Elizabeth Dehner – another strong female character in the vein of Majel Barrett’s ‘Number One’ in “The Cage” – who’s high ESP rating would also lead to the awakening of omnipotence.  Whilst Mitchell reaches the ‘point of no return’ (Lockwood’s performance becoming more and more menacing), it’s Dehner who begins to question these new abilities and their corruptive influence over the more rational sides of human nature.

Missing from the familiar ensemble of Star Trek’s first season are Nichelle Nichols’ communications officer Lt. Uhura and DeForest Kelley’s chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (a role temporarily filled here by Paul Fix’s Dr. Piper) and whilst James Doohan is in place as chief engineer Scott, George Takei’s Sulu is absent from the Enterprise helm instead forming part of the ship’s scientific group.

Strangely, NBC decided to commence airing Star Trek with “The Man Trap” on 8th September 1966 with “Where No Man Has Gone Before” going out on 22nd September.  Given noticeable differences in casting and even some of the set design and costumes (with the slightly more drab crew uniforms being recycled from “The Cage”), this must have been jarring for even the least attentive of viewers at the time?  In the end, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” succeeds as a rough template for Star Trek, where it demonstrates the indomitable nature of the human spirit against the backdrop of an entertaining and imaginative SF story.

Geek fact!  Samuel A. Peeples would also pen the first episode of the Star Trek animated series, “Beyond the Farthest Star”.

Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) attempt to restrain and increasingly dangerous Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) in Star Trek's second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before".

Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) attempt to restrain an increasingly dangerous and exponentionally powerful Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) in Star Trek’s second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

Quick Review: ‘For the Love of Spock’

Featuring:  Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy, William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Nicholas Meyer, J.J. Abrams, Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg.

Directed by:  Adam Nimoy

What’s it about?

A documentary charting the life and career of actor Leonard Nimoy and the character of Mr. Spock…

In review

Declared as the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever, Adam Nimoy’s celebration of his father Leonard’s career and most significantly the creation of the iconic Star Trek character, Mr. Spock, arrives just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary.  Enlisting the thoughts and opinions of family, friends, colleagues and fans (celebrity and none), For the Love of Spock is affectionate, funny (including some brief pondering of that hilarious and infamous Kirk/Spock ‘slash fiction’ with Leonard’s Star Trek co-star George Takei), candid and even, in moments, a little tear-jerking.

Via the guidance of Adam Nimoy, For the Love of Spock digs deep to explore the man behind Spock and how he ultimately created and refined the character who is beloved by millions all over the world.  Incorporating archive footage of Leonard (who passed away last year) and newly recorded interviews with the likes of fellow Star Trek stars William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig along with the principle cast of the reboot film series, directors Nicholas Meyer and J.J. Abrams, scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons and Leonard’s daughter, Julie the documentary is insightful in its dissection of the cultural impact of Spock and why a fictional character would mean so much to so many (its perhaps J.J. Abrams who encapsulates it so perfectly as he talks about the outsider in all of us).

For the Love of Spock is also a very personal endeavour for Adam Nimoy as he discusses, quite honestly, the often strained relationship he had with his father and the effect that fame had on the young Nimoy family.  It’s to the benefit of the project that Nimoy is open about this and is not reticent to attribute how issues in his own life contributed to the schism between father and son and is ultimately triumphant in celebrating their reconciliation in the years before Leonard’s death.

Technically, For the Love of Spock is well-structured and deftly assembled with clips from the original Star Trek series and spin-off films interspersed neatly between the various interview segments and archive footage – including a treasure trove of family home movies.  There’s not a great deal that’s new for die-hard Star Trek fans but ultimately, Adam Nimoy delivers an unmissable celebration of a man and his legacy.

The bottom line:  For the Love of Spock is a fitting tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy that’s lovingly crafted and an essential insight into an important cultural icon.

For the Love of Spock is available to download/stream now via iTunes, Amazon and a host of other video on demand platforms.

Man and icon: Adam Nimoy's 'For the Love of Spock' is a fitting tribute to his father and the legacy of Mr. Spock.

Man and icon: Adam Nimoy’s ‘For the Love of Spock’ is a fitting tribute to his father and the legacy of Mr. Spock.

R.I.P. Harve Bennett

This week sadly saw the loss of another member of the Star Trek family, this time producer/writer Harve Bennett who began his association with the franchise as a Producer on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Already a veteran television producer with credits including Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Bennett was brought into the Star Trek fold by Paramount Pictures, unimpressed with Gene Rodenberry’s troubled production of the over-budget (yet financially successful) Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Unfamiliar with Star Trek at this point, Bennett viewed all 79 episodes of the original series and it was “Space Seed” that he singled out as a springboard for the next Star Trek feature film.

With Director Nicholas Meyer, Bennett sought a fresh approach to the world of Star Trek that would reinvigorate the franchise yet oddly bring it closer to the spirit of the original series.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be a resounding success and Bennett would go on to produce sequels Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (which he also wrote), the massively successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (co-writing the screenplay with Nicholas Meyer) and the William Shatner helmed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – where he made an onscreen cameo as a Starfleet Admiral.

Whilst some elements of Bennett’s reinterpretation of Star Trek are still divisive (the more militaristic depiction of Starfleet for example), he brought the heart and soul of the series to the fore and much like J.J. Abrams some years later realised that it was the characters that were much beloved and drove the stories.  It’s also ironic that Bennett had originally pitched an idea for Star Trek VI which would have featured a new cast portraying the younger Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al at Starfleet Academy.

Harve Bennett’s contribution to the Star Trek franchise was more than significant and ensured its longevity both on the big screen and on television (Star Trek: The Next Generation would not have been possible without the success of The Voyage Home) where it has evolved and reinvented itself for almost fifty years and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Harve Bennett died 4th March 2015 aged 84.

You can read the GBUK Classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here.

Producer Harve Bennett oversaw the production of four of the original 'Star Trek' feature films including 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' which saw the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy.

Producer Harve Bennett oversaw the production of four of the original ‘Star Trek’ feature films including ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ which saw the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy.