It’s a Classic: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – “Yesterday’s Enterprise”

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

“Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name…Enterprise”

Recurring guest star Whoopi Goldberg, a key component in the success of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (image credit: ViacomCBS).

Year:  1990

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Denise Crosby, Christopher McDonald, Tricia O’Neil, Whoopi Goldberg

Director:  David Carson / written by:  Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore (from a story by Trent Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell) / series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

What’s it about?

The forbearer to the current U.S.S. Enterprise is brought 22 years into the future via a temporal rift and changes the flow of history, creating an alternate timeline where the Federation is close to defeat in a war against the Klingon Empire…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Ask any Star Trek fan about their favourite episodes and it’s likely that many would include “Yesterday’s Enterprise” on their list – there’s no argument that it’s not just an outstanding instalment of Star Trek: The Next Generation but a gripping piece of science fiction drama in its own right.  From a story by Tent Christopher Ganino and Eric A. Stillwell, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” sees Captain Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise ‘D’ confronted with the preceding Enterprise ‘C’ which appears in the present, causing devastating changes to the timeline with the United Federation of Planets on the losing side in a war with the Klingon Empire.  With history recording that the Enterprise C disappeared during a battle to save a Klingon outpost from destruction by Romulan warships and Guinan sensing that something is not right, Picard and his crew believe that their only hope is for the previous Enterprise to return to its own time where the selfless sacrifice of the ship and its crew, seen by the Klingons as an honourable act, could avert a terrible conflict.

A thrilling and engaging story, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is also iconic for facilitating a guest return for Denise Crosby as Lt. Tasha Yar, who was killed back in “Skin of Evil” in the first season of The Next Generation.  The teleplay’s writers include Ira Steven Behr, future writer and showrunner of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Ronald D. Moore, who would go on to co-write feature films Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact (and subsequently develop the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series) and their presence is heavily felt with a strong focus on characterisation and statements of morality, qualities that lift “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (and for that matter, any great Star Trek episode) above its core SF concept.  It’s through the darker and more hopeless scenario of a deadly and costly war that we appreciate the altruistic values of the Federation as we know it and that the brave acts of a few can benefit the many.

Denise Crosby returns as Tasha Yar in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, also featuring Christopher McDonald as Lt. Castillo (image credit: ViacomCBS).

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” boasts a reliably strong performance from Patrick Stewart, at this point in the series he is fully invested and committed to the role of Captain Picard and gets to add a subtle shade of grit to his character who in the altered timeline is a military commander as opposed to an explorer and diplomat.  The regular supporting cast all play smaller but significant parts with Brent Spiner’s Data being a particular standout, but it’s arguably the guest stars who really enhance “Yesterday’s Enterprise”.  Denise Crosby’s return is a welcome one and she is provided with meaningful material, Christopher McDonald delivers a likeable performance as Enterprise C helmsman Lt. Castillo (and sharing great chemistry with Crosby, essential for the romantic bond that develops between their characters) and Tricia O’Neil brings authority to the role of the Enterprise C’s captain, Rachel Garrett.  Yet, it’s Whoopi Goldberg who shines the most – her appearances as the mysterious and noble Guinan always add significantly to any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation but her portrayal in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is particularly impressive with a passionate and layered performance.  Goldberg’s scene with Stewart’s Picard in which she pleads that the Enterprise is not supposed to be a ship of war, but a ship of peace is especially poignant and really captures the heart and soul of Star Trek.

David Carson’s direction is skilled and attentive, his staging of scenes and positioning of the actors together with the use of various angles and close-ups draw the viewer further into the drama.  Carson is also adept at cranking up the pace as he executes tense and energetic action scenes and it’s no surprise that Carson (whose first credit for Star Trek: The Next Generation was “The Enemy”, from earlier in the third season) would be called on again to helm further Star Trek episodes, including the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and also The Next Generation’s first big screen outing, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations.

As exciting as it is emotionally impactful, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is yet another example of Star Trek at its best and an exemplary piece of storytelling that continues to resonate over thirty years later.

Standout moment

Learning from Guinan that she died a senseless death in the original timeline, Tasha Yar confronts a conflicted Captain Picard with a request to transfer to the Enterprise C and face a potentially more gallant fate…

Geek fact!

Tricia O’Neil would return to Star Trek again with guest roles as a Klingon scientist in sixth season TNG outing “Suspicions” and as a Cardassian military observer in the DS9 episode “Defiant”.

If you like this then check out…

Star Trek: Voyager – “Timeless” : fifteen years after the loss of the U.S.S. Voyager during a daring attempt to return home, former officer Harry Kim plans to alter history and prevent the disaster from ever occurring.

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

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’

The Enterprise crew battle to save a cosmic paradise in the ninth ‘Star Trek’ feature film…

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Patrick Stewart and Donna Murphy in ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ (imaged credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1998

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Directed by:  Jonathan Frakes / written by:  Michael Piller (story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the loyal crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise disobey Starfleet orders to protect the B’aku, whose homeworld produces rejuvenating effects which a race called the S’ona plan to exploit…

Retrospective/review

The success of Star Trek: First Contact was surely a tough act to follow and although 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection would not prove to be as good, the result would be an enjoyable, if inferior, big screen instalment of Star Trek.  With Jonathan Frakes back in the director’s chair, the screenplay for Insurrection would be tackled by former Star Trek: The Next Generation head writer (and co-creator of television spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager) Michael Piller, who had helped to guide that series to greater creative success and penned various standout episodes including the beloved two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds”.  From a story by himself and producer Rick Berman, Piller’s script provides a very Star Trek-like narrative that deals with moral themes and ethical quandaries traditional of the franchise and the types of character-driven stories that Piller favoured.  As the title implies, Star Trek: Insurrection see Captain Picard and his crew defy orders to protect the population of the planet Ba’ku, the rings of which produces a rejuvenating radiation (making the world a sort of galactic fountain of youth) which Starfleet and the Federation, in partnership with a race called the Son’a – who are trying to preserve their lives via genetic manipulation and cosmetic surgeries – seek to harvest and share for the benefit of the many.

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F. Murray Abraham as Ru’afo – the main villain of ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ (Image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Picard learns from his superior, Admiral Dougherty (Licence to Kill’s Anthony Zerbe), that the 600-something population of Ba’ku are not indigenous to the planet – a fact that the Federation cites as justification for its actions, which the Son’a (lead by F. Murray Abraham’s Ru’afo) have manipulated to their advantage – and that the process of collecting the ring’s particles will render the world uninhabitable.  Yet the Ba’ku people are a peaceful group and Picard feels that to forcefully relocate them is a betrayal of everything he believes in and the core values upon which the Federation was founded, for which he is prepared to risk his career…and possibly his life.

Insurrection may seem, for better or worse, more like an extended episode of The Next Generation (albeit on a larger scale and with a much higher budget) and fails to match the overall excellence of First Contact but it’s still an entertaining watch with a good dose of drama, action and humour.  Jonathan Frakes once again directs with skill and a knowledge and appreciation for the history of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its characters.  As Commander Riker, Frakes is afforded a larger and slightly more significant role than in First Contact (notwithstanding him shaving off his beard) – the youthful effect of the Ba’ku radiation leading to a rekindling of romance between Riker and Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and the plot leading to Riker’s command of the Enterprise in its battle with the Son’a as Picard and his team fight to protect the Ba’ku on the ground.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart (who is also credited as ‘Associate Producer’) is great in the film, with another strong portrayal as Picard and Insurrection provides him with a romantic interest in the form of Donna Murphy’s Ba’ku villager, Anij.  Brent Spiner, again, proves solid support as Data and his befriending of one of the young Ba’ku (Artim, played by Michael Welch, who would go on to appear in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes) is a highlight.  The rest of the TNG cast also get their moments, Michael Dorn’s Worf once more joining his former crewmates for their latest adventure – the B’aku radiation hilariously causing “aggressive tendencies” as it triggers the hormonal effects of Klingon adolescence – and blind Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) finds his eyesight temporarily restored.  As Doctor Beverly Crusher, Gates McMadden has less to do but does share some fun and humorous scenes with Patrick Stewart, Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner.  Leading the threat against the Enterprise crew is Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) who is superb as the Son’a leader, Ru’afo, with a hefty and maniacal performance providing a worthy antagonist for Patrick Stewart’s Picard to face.

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The U.S.S. Enterprise plays her part in helping to save paradise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The narrative may flow more like an episode of TNG and not necessarily fulfil the grander high-stakes ambitions of a feature film, but at the heart of Insurrection is a Roddenberry-esque morality tale and the script contains a few neat twists and turns, including the true motivations of the Son’a rising from their surprising history with the Ba’ku.  There are also a number of decent action sequences, the standouts including the Son’a attack on the Ba’ku village, the battle in space as Son’a vessels pursue the Enterprise and the climactic confrontation between Picard and Ru’afo aboard the Son’a collector ship.  The film is blessed with Matthew Leoneti’s beautiful cinematography, wonderfully captured from the Californian landscapes doubling for the Ba’ku planet.  Jerry Goldsmith earns kudos for producing another excellent music score that draws on his previous Star Trek themes whilst creating new cues fitting of Insurrection’s story.

So, there are certainly positives in favour of Star Trek: Insurrection and although it doesn’t raise the bar for the Star Trek film series and may seem a little underwhelming when placed alongside First Contact, it still makes for entertaining viewing with solid cast performances, direction and neat action set pieces.

Geek fact! 

Star Trek: Insurrection was the first Star Trek feature to move completely away from model effects work, utilising CGI for all its exterior spaceship sequences.

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

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ – Season 1

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

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Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) embarks on a new mission in ‘Star Trek: Picard’ (image credit: CBS Viacom).

Warning! Contains some spoilers

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Harry Treadaway, Evan Evagora, Peyton List, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan

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

What’s it about?

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

Recently completing its ten-episode run (via CBS All Access/Amazon Prime), the first season of Star Trek: Picard is an enjoyable beginning for the newest addition to the expanding Star Trek television universe.  From the creators of Star Trek: Discovery, Picard adds additional pedigree to its creative staff in the form of Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay), serving as co-creator/showrunner and who writes/co-writes a number of episodes throughout the season.  The series boasts the same impressive production values seen in Discovery, with near-feature film quality visuals and special effects complemented by some striking cinematography.  Headlined by lead star/executive producer Sir Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: Picard sees the celebrated actor return to the beloved role of Jean-Luc Picard after an eighteen-year absence (last appearing on the big screen in 2002’s Star Trek Nemesis), with a clear enthusiasm and investment in the material.  In the established traditions of Star Trek, Picard provides a mirror for current events weaving commentary on issues ranging from Brexit to global political turmoil and social segregation into its narrative, whilst also delving into the often mined but always intriguing concept of artificial intelligence.

Star Trek: Picard picks up two decades after the events of Star Trek Nemesis and the destruction of the Romulan homeworld in the wake of a catastrophic supernova.  Having resigned from Starfleet following their withdrawal from the Romulan relocation effort, implemented after a deadly revolt by the synthetic workforce brought online to increase the production of rescue ships, a dejected and morose Jean-Luc Picard has retreated to the family vineyard in France, embittered by the failure of the once cherished and noble values of Starfleet and the Federation which he long fought to protect.  Haunted by dreams of his late comrade and friend Lieutenant Commander Data (the ever-excellent Brent Spiner), the Enterprise’s former android crewman, Picard is lost and without purpose until one day, he encounters a young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones).  Hunted by Romulan assassins and drawn to Picard by hidden memories, we soon discover that Dahj is an advanced type of android created by Doctor Bruce Maddox (John Ales – portraying the character originally played by Brian Brophy in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”) based on Data’s positronic neurons – essentially Data’s ‘daughter’.  Picard is unable to save Dahj but learning that she has a twin, Soji, unaware that she is in fact an android and working aboard a Romulan-captured Borg vessel known as ‘the Artifact’ to help rehabilitate the individuals assimilated by the Borg and now disconnected from the Collective.  Refused help by Starfleet, Picard gathers a crew of his own aboard a ship called La Sirena and sets out on a mission to reach Soji as a conspiracy by a secret Romulan order – the Zhat Vash – to eradicate all synthetic life before it threatens organics (prophesied by ‘the Admonition’), unfolds.

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The superb Jeri Ryan returns as Seven of Nine (image credit: CBS Viacom).

Assembled aboard the La Sirena (following a trilogy of opening chapters, all skilfully directed by executive producer Hanelle M. Culpepper), the main players are an eclectic – and flawed – bunch.  Joining Picard is the washed-out, hard-drinking Raffi Musiker (a conflicted yet maternal Michelle Hurd), his right-hand woman during the Romulan evacuation crisis who was subsequently forced out of Starfleet, robotics expert Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) who joins the mission to search for Maddox – and whose troubled journey becomes a highlight, with a wonderfully quirky and nuanced performance by Alison Pill – and Elnor (Evan Evagora), a childlike but dutiful young Romulan warrior Picard once befriended and mentored as a boy.  Commanding La Sirena is the roguish cigar chomping Cristobal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), who is a nifty blend of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, with his own reasons for abandoning Starfleet and aided by a number of Emergency Holographic programs, each with their own specific purpose (medical, helm, navigation, engineering…even psychiatric!) and personalities to suit.  The main threat is provided effectively by Gotham’s Peyton List who plays Narissa, a Zhat Vash operative who is devilish and formidable, but also given some credible motivations.  List’s character is supported by her brother, Narek (Harry Treadaway), assigned to become close to and manipulate Soji – who is believed to be ‘the Destroyer’ who will bring about the annihilation of organic life – and Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), the sinister Romulan/Vulcan spy at the head of Starfleet security.

Picard’s voyage also facilitates the return of some old faces.  Aside from Brent Spiner’s Data, there’s an emotional reunion with former Enterprise colleagues Will Riker and Deanna Troi (in the Chabon co-written episode “Nepenthe” which is a standout of the season, featuring wonderful performances by Jonathan Frakes – who also directs a number of episodes – and Marina Sirtis), appearances from Hugh, the former Borg introduced in TNG (a now de-Borgified and sorely underutilised Jonathan Del Arco) and popular Star Trek: Voyager character and other ex-Borg, Seven of Nine (the superb Jeri Ryan).  Seven (rejecting her real name of Annika Hansen) is in something of a dark place in Picard, the tragic loss of her young protégé Icheb (sadly, original Voyager actor Manu Intiraymi is recast for a startlingly brutal flashback sequence) leading her to join a group of galactic mercenaries.  Jeri Ryan is well-served by the writers and excels in a performance that evolves Seven and takes her in an unexpected direction, allowing for more depth and complexity and she is a significant asset to the series.  What works especially well about the inclusion of legacy Star Trek characters in Picard is that they each play a part in the story and are not simply incorporated to provide fan service, which could have all too easily been the case.

As the show’s lead actor and focal point, Patrick Stewart is given a lot to play with and delivers a generally robust, passionate – and at times touching – portrayal of the 94-year old Picard.  There’s a slight shaky quality to Stewart’s performance – understandable, given his age – but it goes without saying that the mere presence of Jean-Luc Picard, a character that fans have longed to see return to the screen, is reassuring.  The revelation that Picard is beginning to experience symptoms of a terminal neurological condition (undoubtedly the Alzheimers-esque ‘Irumodic Syndrome’ depicted in the alternate future of the TNG series finale, “All Good Things”) adds a bittersweet touch and there’s an element of PTSD as Picard has to once again deal with his traumatic history with the Borg – which naturally provides some neat moments between Patrick Stewart and Jeri Ryan as the series examines the plight of the innocent victims (referred to as ‘Ex-B’s’) who had their individuality stripped away by the Borg.  The relationship between Picard and Elnor is quite sweet and the interplay between Stewart and Isa Briones is also memorable and especially well-portrayed as Picard helps Soji come to terms with, and embrace, her true nature.

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Picard seeks the help of some old friends (image credit: CBS Viacom).

As the season unfolds, there are various twist and turns – often genuinely surprising and even shocking (none of which will be divulged here for the sake of those not yet caught up) and the story reaches a climax with a two-part finale (“Et in Arcadia Ego“) in which Picard and his cohorts find their journey reaches Coppelius, a planet Dr. Maddox withdrew to continue his work following the synth ban and now populated by androids.  Trying desperately to prevent the galactic cataclysm foretold by the Admonition and from Soji playing a role in the event, Picard soon finds himself piloting the La Sirena and heading off a fleet of Romulan warships.  It’s a suitably epic confrontation and leads to an emotional and poignant denouement which establishes a new status quo for Picard, some satisfying closure for the TNG era and the promise of exciting new adventures to come.

Picard isn’t perfect, despite some of the talent behind the scenes the plotting can be a little haphazard and the writing is sometimes a bit clunky and contrived.  Some of the narrative elements – such as the afore-mentioned synthetic revolt and subsequent ban on artificial life – are not afforded enough focus, likewise there are character backstories left underdeveloped, such as Raffi’s strained relationship with her son.  It makes IDW’s Star Trek: Picard – Countdown comic book mini-series and Una McCormack’s novel Star Trek: Picard – The Last Best Hope recommended reading as they flesh out much of what is missing on screen in that regard.  It’s also worth mentioning that unlike The Next Generation, Picard – like a lot of modern genre TV productions – carries a mature viewer rating and fulfils it with instances of bloody violence and a jarring overuse of profanity.  Whilst Picard was never intended (nor should it be) as merely a reprisal of TNG, perhaps it’s a missed opportunity to not have the series be accessible to a broader age range given its heritage.

Grumbles and nit-picks aside, Picard remains entertaining and each episode is at the very least (ahem) engaging with plenty of drama, action and numerous Easter eggs for fans to feast on.  The series may have benefited from tighter and more consistent pacing, especially in the earlier instalments and maybe even an increased episode count to better cater for the various sub-plots and character developments, but there are often glimmers of greatness that assures potential for the already confirmed second season.  It’s hard to recommend Picard to the uninitiated as it is steeped deeply in the lore and history of what has gone before, requiring a certain amount of affection for the viewer to become properly committed.  In the end, Star Trek: Picard isn’t bound to please everyone – much like we’ve seen with Star Trek: Discovery – but on the whole it’s a well-produced and worthy new entry in the Star Trek canon with an intriguing story that’s elevated by the return, and resurgence, of Jean-Luc Picard and whets the appetite for the further voyages of a science fiction legend.

The bottom line:  A solid if sometimes flawed first season, Star Trek: Picard is non-the-less enjoyable and enhanced by the triumphant return of Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard.

All episodes of Star Trek: Picard season one are available to stream via CBS All Access in the U.S. or internationally on Amazon Prime.

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

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – “Caretaker”

Looking back at the premiere of the fourth live action ‘Star Trek’ series…

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The cast of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – lead by Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway (image credit: Paramount/CBS Viacom).

Year:  1995

Starring:  Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, Ethan Phillips, Jennifer Lien, Basil Langton, Gavan O’Herlihy

Series created by:  Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (story by Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor) / directed by:  Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about?

Transported across the galaxy whilst in search of a missing Maquis ship, Captain Kathryn Janeway and the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager encounter a powerful alien being known as the Caretaker…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation leaving the air in 1994 and the Paramount television studio wanting another Star Trek series to both accompany Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and launch the new United Paramount Television Network (UPN), January 1995 saw Star Trek: Voyager begin its seven year run with the double-length premiere titled “Caretaker”.  The series itself created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller (co-creators of Deep Space Nine) and Jeri Taylor (a writer and producer on The Next Generation), “Caretaker” is an enjoyable introduction to the third live action Star Trek spin-off.

In “Caretaker”, Starfleet dispatches the U.S.S. Voyager (docked at Deep Space 9, providing a neat crossover with the wider shared Star Trek universe and including a cameo for Armin Shimerman’s Ferengi barkeep, Quark), under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway (the first female lead for a Star Trek series, played by Kate Mulgrew – rapidly cast to replace French actress Genevieve Bujold, who departed during the first days of filming), to search for a missing vessel belonging to the Maquis (a group of freedom fighters protesting an undesirable treaty with the militaristic Cardassians and considered as outlaws by the Federation – previously established in episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) which vanished without a trace in a volatile area of space known as the Badlands.  The mission is of importance as Janeway’s Vulcan security and tactical officer, Tuvok (Tim Russ – who had previously appeared in guest roles on TNG, DS9 and the film Star Trek Generations), was placed amongst the Maquis crew to gather intelligence.  To assist, Janeway enlists the help of an observer familiar with the Maquis – disgraced former Starfleet helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill – Cadet Nick Locarno in the TNG episode “The First Duty“), sentenced to a New Zealand penal colony after being caught during his first Maquis operation.  There’s some ill-feeling towards Paris by members of the Voyager’s crew but he soon finds a friend in the form of the newly assigned academy graduate, Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang).

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The Intrepid-class U.S.S. Voyager (image credit: Paramount/CBS Viacom).

Entering the Badlands, Voyager encounters a strange phenomenon and finds itself engulfed in an energy wave.  The ship damaged and a number of its crew dead, Janeway soon discovers that the vessel has been transported 70,000 light years across the galaxy to a region known as the Delta Quadrant and in the vicinity of the missing Maquis ship and a massive space station belonging to a powerful life-form known as the ‘Caretaker’.  Appearing as an old man, the Caretaker (portrayed by guest star Basil Langton) is dying and has brought Voyager and the Maquis vessel to him in order to find compatible DNA to create a replacement to continue his work as guardian of a race known as the ‘Ocampa’.  As events unfold, the Starfleet and Maquis crews find they must work together in order to locate missing crewmembers (one of whom is Harry Kim) and face-off against the threat of the ‘Kazon’, barbaric factions of Klingon-esque aliens (and recurring baddies throughout the first two seasons of Voyager – lead here by Gavan O’Herlihy’s Maje Jaben) who will stop at nothing to seize technology that will allow them to assert dominance.  It leads to a difficult choice for Janeway, one that will protect the Ocampa but will leave Voyager stranded in the Delta Quadrant.

Through the course of the episode, “Caretaker” puts in place the rest of the varied main characters of Voyager:  Janeway appoints the leader of the Maquis, the tough but reasonable Chakotay (Robert Beltran) – of American Indian descent – as her first officer, Chakotay’s hot-headed half-Klingon/half-human engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson) is subsequently assigned as Voyager’s chief engineer, the ship’s holographic Doctor (a wonderfully acerbic Robert Picardo) – the Emergency Medical Holographic programme (or EMH) – is the only choice to replace the deceased chief medical officer and joining the journey back to Federation space is alien guide and cook (later ‘morale officer’), the quirky and resourceful Neelix (Ethan Phillips) and his beloved, Kes (Jennifer Lien).  Tuvok of course returns to his post and Tom Paris is redeemed when Janeway entrusts him as the ship’s new helm officer.  As Janeway, Kate Mulgrew is magnificent – melding her own intellectual and maternal qualities with shades of the no-nonsense leadership of William Shatner’s Kirk and the curiosity and diplomacy of Patrick Stewart’s Picard.

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Gavan O’Herlihy as the Kazon leader, Maje Jaben (image credit: Paramount/CBS Viacom).

“Caretaker” also sets up the general concept for Voyager that’s a sort of inversion of Star Trek: The Next Generation ­ (and, with some inaccuracy, labelling the series as Star Trek’s version of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space) with the U.S.S. Voyager – revolutionary for its ‘bio-neural’ circuitry and featuring those cool pivoting warp engines – exploring space inward from the outer reaches of the galaxy as it heads along a seventy-plus year course towards Earth.  The integration of Maquis into the Starfleet crew creates an element of tension that’s dealt with during the first season but is, for the most part, quickly abandoned.  On one hand it’s a missed opportunity, possibly a victim of the episodic story of the week style of television at the time which DS9 would increasingly eschew to great creative advantage.  On the flip side, it allows the writers to focus on having the crew establish a familial bond, setting aside their differences and working together as a team in the spirit of the more holistic outlook favoured by original Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.  It was also likely a response to the at-the-time divisive reception to the darker Deep Space Nine, which, ironically, is now one of the most popular iterations of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Voyager could be a little formulaic, especially in comparison to the more daring storytelling of Deep Space Nine and often seen as an inferior clone of The Next Generation, perhaps making it the weakest of the Rick Berman-produced Star Trek series (opinion amongst fandom of course varies).  Non-the-less there’s still plenty to appreciate with another solid central cast (and an undeniably strong lead in Kate Mulgrew) and numerous standout episodes.  It’s possible that if the series were made today it would have benefited from the more sophisticated and serialised nature of contemporary TV but as it stands, Voyager – boasting a memorable Emmy-award winning main theme from composer Jerry Goldmsith – is certainly an enjoyable if sometimes uninspired series and “Caretaker” is an engaging start to the adventures of the U.S.S. Voyager and her crew.

Geek fact!

Scenes shot for “Caretaker” featuring Genevieve Bujold as Captain Janeway were included amongst the extra features for the Star Trek: Voyager season one DVD set.

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

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).

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).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – “Endgame”

Looking back at the finale of the fourth live action ‘Star Trek’ series…

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The U.S.S. Voyager and her crew battle the Borg once more in the finale of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ (credit: CBS).

Year:  2001

Starring:  Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Dawson, Jeri Ryan, Alice Krige, Dwight Schultz, Richard Herd

Series created by:  Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty (story by Rick Berman, Kenneth Biller & Brannon Braga) / directed by:  Allan Kroeker

What’s it about?

A decade after the starship Voyager’s return to Earth from the Delta Quadrant, an older and haunted Admiral Janeway discovers the means to travel into the past and bring her former ship and crew home before any losses are endured…

Retrospective/review

Launching in 1995, Star Trek: Voyager seemed to have hit its creative peak in its fourth and fifth seasons and although there are still some decent episodes in the show’s final two seasons they’re outnumbered by less memorable and more average stories in comparison to those earlier years.  “Endgame”, the feature length series finale, whilst not as impactful as the conclusion of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, is still an entertaining and fitting finish to the fourth live action Star Trek series.  It opens as Earth celebrates the tenth anniversary of the U.S.S. Voyager’s return after being stranded in the Milky Way’s distant ‘Delta Quadrant’ (the ship transported there by a powerful alien being in the series premiere, “Caretaker”) for 23 years and a sombre and reflective Admiral Kathryn Janeway, haunted by the loss of crewmembers during the journey home as well as the subsequent death of her trusted right hand, Chakotay, as well as Seven of Nine, together with the failing mental health of Tuvok – as a result of a Vulcan neurological disease – discovers the means to travel back in time and bring the starship safely home.

The first half of “Endgame” neatly jumps between the future and the present before Admiral Janeway arrives to aid her younger self – Captain Janeway – and the Voyager crew in battling Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic adversary, the Borg and utilising their wormhole network to travel back to Earth years earlier and without those losses the elder Janeway would later have to endure.  Once the groundwork is done, “Endgame” builds up the drama and action but not without losing focus on its characters.

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The superb Kate Mulgrew as both Admiral and Captain Janeway (credit: CBS).

The cast performances are solid and each of Voyager’s principal troupe are permitted to stretch themselves a little with most given the opportunity to play the older versions of their characters (minus Robert Beltran’s Chakotay and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine whose romance, although set-up in previous episodes still feels like an odd match), the most notable being Tuvok whose degrading mental state allows the talented Tim Russ to expand his portrayal of his otherwise stoic (by the very nature of a Vulcan, a race committed to controlling and repressing their emotions) and disciplined character.  Kate Mulgrew is, as ever, a superb lead and excels with the rich material she is given, bringing a slightly tortured and embittered quality to her portrayal of Admiral Janeway.  Unfortunately, given his character’s exit two episodes earlier in “Homestead” Ethan Phillips is only able to feature in a brief cameo as Neelix, but at least he could be a part of Voyager’s send-off in some capacity.  Dwight Schultz makes a welcome return as Barclay, his previous appearances in the series (and the character’s role in Earth finally establishing communication with Voyager in season six) making him a part of the Voyager family and a pleasing addition to the finale.

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Alice Krige returns as the Borg Queen (credit: CBS).

The Borg where a chilling and formidable enemy in the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the effect had become somewhat diminished with their more regular appearances on Voyager.  This feels rectified in “Endgame” thanks in no small part to the return of Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, a role the actress had originated in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact and was previously played by Susanna Thompson in previous Voyager episodes “Dark Frontier” and “Unimatrix Zero”.  Thompson was great in those stories but Krige brings a real sense of gravitas and a sultry menace to the character that elevates the threat of the Borg.  It also helps that Kate Mulgrew brings her talent fully to bear in her scenes with Krige when the more seasoned Admiral Janeway is confronted face-to-face with the Borg Queen.  Those tightly written and directed sequences contribute significantly to the climax of “Endgame”, the tension notching up as Janeway (both Admiral and Captain) and the crew of Voyager execute their plan to return to Earth and deal a crippling blow to the Borg Collective.

The closing scenes of “Endgame” are quite touching, the arrival of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres’ daughter just in time for Voyager’s return helping to provide a heartfelt farewell to Star Trek: Voyager, a series that perhaps ran too long but non-the-less yielded some good episodes and always made more enjoyable by its central cast.

Geek fact!

Veteran Star Trek guest star Vaughn Armstrong, who previously played a Romulan in the classic Voyager episode “Eye of the Needle” returns for “Endgame” as the Klingon, Korath.  Armstrong would go on to portray Admiral Forest, a recurring role on prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ – “Broken Bow”

Sixteen years before ‘Discovery’, there was another ‘Star Trek’ prequel…

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The crew of first ‘Star Trek’ prequel ‘Enterprise’.

Starring:  Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, John Billinglsey, Anthony Montgomery, Linda Park, John Fleck, Vaughn Armstrong, Gary Graham, Tommy Lister Jr

Series created by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga / Episode directed by:  James L. Conway / 2001

What’s the episode about?

On a mission to return an injured Klingon to his homeworld, the starship Enterprise and her crew are thrust into conflict with an alien race known as the Suliban…

Retrospective

Airing back in September 2001, “Broken Bow” is the feature-length premiere of the fifth live-action Star Trek television series, Enterprise (sans the ‘Star Trek’ prefix, which would be added from the show’s third season).  Created by Rick Berman, the franchise’s head producer (and its guardian following the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991) together with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager writer/producer Brannon Braga, Enterprise is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series set over a century prior to the voyages of Captain Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise and a decade before the formation of the galactic coalition known as the United Federation of Planets.

With “Broken Bow”, the story of Enterprise begins in 2151, almost a century after Earth’s first contact with the Vulcans (as seen in the 1996 feature film Star Trek: First Contact) at a time when the human race has recovered from the devastation of World War III and set their sights on the stars.  With the assistance and guidance of the Vulcan High Command, Earth has begun developing newer and faster starships, the latest of which is the Enterprise NX-01 – the first Starfleet vessel to incorporate the revolutionary Warp 5 engine that will allow humans to head out into deep space on a mission of peaceful exploration and contact with alien races.

“Broken Bow” opens with the crash landing of a Klingon on Earth, being pursued by mysterious alien soldiers from a race called the Suliban.  Wounded during the pursuit, despite the objections of the Vulcan High Command, Starfleet decides to launch Enterprise on a mission to Qo’nos, the Klingon homeworld, and return the injured Klingon – named Klaang (Tommy Lister Jr) – to his people.  It’s not exactly plain sailing however and when the Suliban capture Klaang mid-voyage, the crew of Enterprise are thrust into danger as they set out to locate and rescue the Klingon from his captors.

“Broken Bow” unfolds at a steady pace, its earlier sections taking time to introduce the main characters and the general setting of Enterprise, notching things up once the NX-01 embarks on her maiden voyage.  As the plot progresses we learn that the Suliban aggressors are a cabal of genetically enhanced soldiers, receiving orders from a mysterious benefactor (James Horan), communicating with them from the future and are fighting a ‘Temporal Cold War’ in which various competing factions are attempting to manipulate the timeline in their favour.  Here, the Suliban are planning to incite a Klingon civil war, evidence of which Klaang has obtained and which the Suliban are desperate to recover.

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The wonderfully designed Enterprise NX-01, ready to launch into deep space…

With a desire to return to more character-driven stories, Berman and Braga ensured that they populated Enterprise with engaging characters.  Always their first choice for the lead, Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula is Captain Jonathan Archer, whose father, Henry, designed the Warp 5 engine.  Bakula brings a grounded, believable quality to the role and the flashbacks to Archer’s childhood are a neat addition that bring dimension to the character as we see how his relationship with his father drives his determination as an explorer and pioneer.  The rest of the principal cast comprises Jolene Blalock as Sub-Commander T’Pol, a Vulcan Science Officer posted to Enterprise at the insistence of the High Command, Connor Trinneer as spirited Chief Engineer Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III, Dominic Keating as Armoury Officer – and dutiful Englishman – Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Anthony Montgomery as Helmsman Ensign Travis Mayweather, a ‘space boomer’ born and raised on an Earth cargo ship and Communications Officer and gifted linguist Ensign Hoshi Sato.  Completing the crew’s complement are Archer’s pet Beagle, Porthos and the ‘Denobulan’ Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Phlox played with a wonderfully quirky charm by John Billingsley.  The central threat of the Suliban is headed up by the nefarious Silik, played John Fleck (no stranger to Star Trek, having previously guest starred in episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager).  Silik, the Suliban Cabal and the theme of the Temporal Cold War would be revisited throughout the four season run of Enterprise and would prove a compelling and intriguing storytelling component for the series.

Overall, the script for “Broken Bow” is decent, the direction (by experienced Trek director James L. Conway) solid and the cast and their respective characters are instantly likeable.  The Emmy Award winning visual effects are also excellent and hold up well today.  “Broken Bow” boasts numerous exciting action sequences, from the opening cornfield chase to the Suliban’s infiltration of Enterprise and the escape of Archer and his landing party from Rigel X through to the battle within the atmosphere of a gas giant and the climactic face-off between Archer and Silik onboard the Suliban’s ‘Helix’ base.

The show’s production design, by Herman Zimmerman (another Star Trek veteran, having worked on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as well as several of the feature films) is another strong component, the interior of the NX-class Enterprise given a cramped, submarine-esque layout with a nifty combination of LCD screen technology and physical, switch based control systems that gives the show a slightly retro-futuristic look that acknowledges the advancement of modern technology whilst retaining its place within the Star Trek timeline.  Along with the costume design (the flight-suit style crew uniforms a highlight), props and the ever impressive make-up by Michael Westmore and his team, Enterprise remains as visually appealing as it was over fifteen years ago.

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The Suliban: another example of make-up maestro Michael Westmore’s talents.

Having Enterprise take place before the original Star Trek allows the series to present some fresh takes on the familiar.  The Vulcans of the 22nd Century are not quite as noble as they are in the other Star Trek series and tend to have a condescending attitude towards humans (believing they are not yet ready to join the interstellar community), adding an element of conflict to the show.  Similarly, humans are more fallible making the characters more relatable whilst still injecting them with the drive to learn and improve in accordance with Gene Roddenberry’s positive vision for humankind’s future.  Another notable departure concerns the iconic Star Trek technologies, most of which here are in their infancy or don’t yet exist – the universal translator can be unreliable, there are no shields, phasers are called ‘phase pistols’ and the transporter has only just been approved for bio-transport and reluctantly used by the crew as a last resort.

It’s known that Paramount were nervous about producing a Star Trek prequel series, perhaps fearing that audiences had become accustomed to and seemingly favoured the 24th Century setting of previous spin-offs The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  In fact, the studio were even more hesitant about Berman and Braga’s initial concept for Enterprise, where they envisioned a predominantly Earth-based first season examining political and social concerns surrounding the construction and eventual launch of Enterprise and humanity’s first voyage into deep space.

“Broken Bow” is comfortably the strongest premiere of the Berman-era Star Trek series and although Enterprise would struggle with dwindling viewership and gradual loss of interest in the franchise at that point (which sparked the show’s edgier direction in season 3) it’s still an enjoyable, underappreciated chapter in the Star Trek story.

Geek fact!  “Broken Bow” features a cameo from James Cromwell as Warp Drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, reprising his role from Star Trek: First Contact.

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

How was Star Trek’s long awaited return to television?

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‘Star Trek’ goes boldly once more in CBS series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Warning!  Contains major spoilers for season one of Star Trek: Discovery

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh.

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

What’s it about?

As war rages between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, disgraced officer Michael Burnham is assigned to the U.S.S. Discovery, enlisted by her Captain to aid him in ending the conflict by all means…

In review

Launched last September, Star Trek: Discovery saw Gene Roddenberry’s beloved science fiction franchise return to television screens for the first time since the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.  Received with trepidation from some fans but generating a generally positive critical response, season one of Star Trek: Discovery is arguably the strongest debut of a Star Trek series since 1966.

Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman (both of whom have previous history with the franchise) Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250’s – ten years prior to the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock et al and the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Original Series (and a century after previous prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise).  Given the advancement in real world technology, special effects in television and film and the tastes and preferences of audiences in 2017 there is naturally a certain degree of reimagining and modernisation in the look and feel of the series that, aided by a lavish budget afforded by it being produced for U.S. streaming service CBS All Access (and rolled out internationally via Netflix) provide Discovery with a feature film quality from the exemplary set, costume and make-up design to its stunning visual effects and beautiful cinematography this is a Star Trek series that truly blurs the line between television and film.

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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ boasts another solid ‘Star Trek’ cast.

Just as Star Trek: The Next Generation was a Star Trek for the 80’s and 90’s, Discovery is a Star Trek for the 2010’s where television dramas have become more complex and viewers more demanding.  Taking a long-form approach now common place for a TV series, the fifteen episode first season of Star Trek: Discovery forms one continuous story arc, commencing with the two-part premiere “The Vulcan Hello”/”Battle at the Binary Stars” which introduces Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), First Officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and whose crewmates include the Kelpien Science Officer Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones).  In a refreshing departure from previous Trek series this premiere serves as a prologue to Discovery, the majority of its recurring cast and the titular U.S.S. Discovery herself not making their debut until the show’s third episode, in which Burnham commits mutiny, that despite believing she is acting in the interests of Starfleet and the principles of the Federation, leads to war with classic Trek adversaries the Klingons (sporting a radical and controversial new look that takes some adjustment to but ultimately gives the race a more elaborately alien appearance).

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A controversial new look for the Klingons.

Thus, the main narrative core of this first season becomes one about redemption as Burnham (who we learn was orphaned in a Klingon attack and subsequently raised by Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek – played by Gotham’s James Frain) re-examines her values and strives to regain hope and her place in the universe.  This marks another departure from the other iterations of Star Trek in that the series is focused mainly on a character other than a Starfleet captain.

The premiere concludes with Burnham being stripped of her commission and sentenced to prison for her actions but in episode three (“Context is for Kings”) finds herself assigned as a ‘specialist’ to the U.S.S. Discovery, Starfleet’s most advanced vessel incorporating an experimental star-drive that allows the ship to tap into a universe-spanning, interdimensional ‘mycelial’ spore network and jump instantaneously to any given point in space.  The ship is captained by the mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), an uncompromising commander prepared to do all that is necessary to win the war, with Lt. Saru serving as his first officer and a crew including Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who becomes the spore-drive’s ‘navigator/operator’ and is also Star Trek’s first openly gay regular character, his partner Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), an awkward but optimistic Starfleet cadet whose burgeoning friendship with Burnham helps to define both characters.

What’s immediately clear is that Discovery is a somewhat darker take on Gene Roddenberry’s baby, but in a manner that simply allows the writers, in true Roddenberry fashion, to examine the human condition and discuss the social and political issues of the day, coupling it with compelling character drama…those optimistic ideals of Star Trek are still there and peppered throughout the series as it becomes more and more ‘Trek-like’.  There may be aspects that some fans will nitpick about, but Discovery has to be approached with an open mind and it’s commendable that the writers have managed to strike a decent balance between catering to hardcore Trekkies and engaging new viewers who may never have seen Star Trek before.

Star Trek: Discovery boasts a superb cast with well-defined characters who grow and develop in leaps and bounds during the course of the season.  Sonequa Martin-Green is the reliable lead and Burnham’s journey is an interesting one, a human raised as a Vulcan who we see slowly regain her human heritage and deal with the mistakes she has made.  Doug Jones is a huge highlight as Saru, proving once again how adept he is at conveying raw emotion through heavy prosthetics, Jason Isaacs is gripping as the devious, sometimes brutal Lorca, Anthony Rapp infuses Lt. Stamets with a pleasing dose of Bones-esque irascibility and Mary Wiseman projects Tilly with the right mix of nervous energy and general likeability.  Joining the crew in “Choose Your Pain“ is Security Chief Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) which is also one of two episodes to feature another original Star Trek character: intergalactic conman Harry Mudd, played with verve by The Office’s Rainn Wilson who returns in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad“, a rather excellent time-loop romp in the vein of TNG classic “Cause and Effect”.  Much like Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, there’s an initial element of conflict between the various characters but as the series begins to take shape the relationships gradually start to settle and by the season finale there’s that definite sense of family we’ve had with other Star Trek crews beginning to blossom.

It’s fair to say that Discovery’s Klingon arc isn’t always consistently prominent (although recurring guest star Mary Chieffo plays an important role as L’Rell) but the backdrop of war gives the writers the opportunity to tackle various moral and ethical issues and dropping more character-driven episodes into the mix – -including Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer’s superb Saru-centric episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum“ – helps the cast to really start hitting their groove.

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The incomparable Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru.

Following a mid-season break, Star Trek: Discovery’s six-episode ‘second chapter’ saw the U.S.S. Discovery transported to Star Trek’s Mirror Universe (first featured in fan-favourite TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror”), ruled by the evil Terran Empire.  It’s an arc that sees the series kick things up a notch and numerous threads come together, culminating in revelations concerning two of Discovery’s crew – not only do we learn that Lorca is in fact his Mirror Universe counterpart but also that Tyler is actually Voq, the albino-skinned Klingon from the series premiere, a sleeper agent surgically altered and conditioned to appear human.  These twists, whilst more anticipated than unexpected (the seeds quite clearly planted) lead to dramatic consequences – not in the least for Burnham who had begun a romantic relationship with Tyler.  Shazad Latif handles the ensuing struggle between Tyler’s two identities with aplomb and the shifting dynamic between Burnham and Tyler is beautifully played.

Similarly, Jason Isaacs is able to let loose with uninhibited villainy as Mirror Lorca – right through to his blazing demise.  The same can be said of Empress Georgiou, with a returning Michelle Yeoh in delightfully devilish form, whose uneasy alliance with Burnham becomes a key aspect of the final episodes of the season.

Both the Mirror Universe and Klingon War arcs are wrapped up pretty quickly in the final two episodes of season one, not quite the intense earth-shattering finale some viewers may have anticipated but leaves the viewer with hope as Burnham, her status as a Starfleet officer restored, gives an emotional and poignant address about the true virtues of Starfleet and the Federation as entities of peace, understanding and exploration.  Saving its biggest punch for last, the finale (titled “Will You Take My Hand?”) closes as Discovery, en route to Vulcan to pick up her new captain, encounters another Starfleet vessel…the U.S.S. Enterprise!  This certainly opens up a galaxy of possibilities for season two of Star Trek: Discovery, a series that has shown good potential in its first season and can surely only get better? As Picard once said, “the sky’s the limit…”.

The bottom line:  A promising start to the newest Star Trek series, season one of Star Trek: Discovery boasts a solid cast and decent writing, that, coupled with strong production values has much to offer fans and new viewers alike.

All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season one (as well as post-show companion series After Trek) are currently available to stream via Netflix (worldwide) and CBS All Access (U.S. only).

All images belong: CBS, used for illustrative purposes only.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – “Encounter at Farpoint”

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An all-new Starship Enterprise for a new ‘Star Trek’ venture…

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, John de Lancie, Michael Bell

Series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

Written by:  D.C. Fontana & Gene Roddenberry / Episode directed by:  Corey Allen / 1987

What’s the episode about?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise find themselves placed on trial by a powerful alien entity and must prove that humanity is no longer a savage race as they attempt to solve the mysteries of the enigmatic Farpoint Station…

Retrospective

It’s hard to believe that Star Trek’s second –and highly successful – foray into television is now thirty years old.  Whilst the original voyages of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise are arguably Star Trek at its purist and best, for many it was Star Trek: The Next Generation that was their gateway drug to a vast science fiction universe and a worldwide phenomenon that endures today.

With the popularity of the original Star Trek cast’s big screen adventures (which hit fever pitch with the release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986) a new series made for an easy sell – albeit a risky one when the concept meant introducing a whole new set of characters and an all-new Enterprise and their adventures in the 24th Century, almost 80 years after the times of Kirk and his crew.

Paramount television felt it was worth a shot and enlisted Gene Roddenberry to create this new iteration – Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Assembling some familiar faces in his production and writing staff including Star Trek producer Robert Justman and writers Dorothy ‘D.C.’ Fontana (who also served as head writer on the vastly underrated animated series) and David Gerrold (mastermind of fan favourite episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”), Roddenberry set out to perfect his vision of the future.

Originally intended as a single hour story, written by Fontana, “Encounter at Farpoint” was expanded into a two-hour premiere at the insistence of Paramount and the reticence of Gene Roddenberry who would add a framing plot to the overall story – coupling Fontana’s Farpoint Station mystery – where every visitor’s needs and requirements are miraculously and inexplicably catered for – with the Enterprise’s encounter with an all-powerful alien entity known as the ‘Q’.  With impressive special effects (that hold up well today in the series’ fully remastered Blu-ray release) and production design the result is, though not a fair reflection of how good The Next Generation would ultimately become, remains entertaining and enjoyable despite some of its hokey execution.

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Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) faces the charges of ‘Q’ (John de Lancie).

In its premiere, the characters fans would eventually come to know and love are not fully formed and the actors not immediately in the ‘groove’.  Despite this and the odd piece of cheesy or clunky dialogue, the cast of The Next Generation turn in respectable performances.  Patrick Stewart is a strong lead albeit the Captain Picard here is a little different from the Picard we see later on, being a more distant and irascible version of the character who happens to have no patience with children (the Enterprise ‘D’ compliment including crewmembers’ families).  Stewart receives solid support from Jonathan Frakes as First Officer – aka ‘Number One’ – Commander William T. Riker as well as the rest of the Enterprise crew, most notably Brent Spiner’s Lt. Commander Data, a Starfleet android who yearns to be human – the Pinocchio analogy aptly drawn on by Riker during their first meeting.

The crew is rounded out by Security Chief Lt. Tasha Yar (played by Denise Crosby, granddaughter of Bing and who would depart the series before the end of the first season), blind crewman Lt. Geordi La Forge (Roots’ LeVar Burton), Chief Medical Officer Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) together with her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton, of Stand By Me fame), Ship’s Counsellor and old flame of Riker, the empathic ‘Betazoid’ Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and significantly – Klingon officer Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn), his race now at peace with the Federation.

As for the main antagonist, John de Lancie is quite simply superb as ‘Q’ and so well received that he would go on to reprise the role in several more episodes of The Next Generation in addition to appearances in future Trek spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  Much like Picard, the Q of “Encounter at Farpoint” is quite different from the lighter, more comical version of the character we would see in later seasons and this earlier take on Q is much darker, more malevolent and a credible threat to the Enterprise and her crew which drives the high stakes drama, his ‘trial’ of humanity and their handling of the great mysteries of Farpoint facilitating the morality play aspect of the narrative which Star Trek fans had become accustomed to.

Not forgetting its roots, a highlight of “Encounter at Farpoint” is a cameo from DeForest Kelley as the elderly (human life expectancy greatly increased by the 24th Century), even more cantankerous Admiral McCoy in a wonderful little sequence between McCoy and Data that hands over the baton from one generation to the other and is a real treat for fans.

Beyond “Encounter at Farpoint”, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a little shaky and uncertain but things began to improve in its sophomore year (which saw the introduction of iconic villains the Borg) and further refined with changes to the writing staff in the third season which saw the series become more character focused, Star Trek’s return to television would prove to be a huge success and The Next Generation would run for seven seasons (a total of 178 episodes) and spawn four feature films.  Along the way it would gain Whoopi Goldberg as a recurring guest star, pick up numerous Emmy Awards (as well as being nominated for several more – including Outstanding Drama Series in 1994) and launch a golden age of small screen science fiction.  Star Trek: The Next Generation demonstrated that the appeal and durability of the franchise was strong and is a series that continues to be loved all these years later.

Geek fact!  Riker and Troi were based on officers Decker and Ilia, characters who were to be part of the aborted 1970s Star Trek: Phase II series.  They would eventually be portrayed by Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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The cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ as they were in 1987.