It’s a Classic: ‘Star Trek’ – “The City on the Edge of Forever”

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

“A question.  Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question”

Star Trek - City a

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) encounter the mysterious ‘Guardian of Forever’ (image credit: ViacomCBS).

Year:  1967

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Joan Collins

Director:  Joseph Pevney / written by:  Harlan Ellison / series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

What’s it about?

Captain Kirk and Science Officer Spock travel back in time in pursuit of a delirious Doctor McCoy, crazed by an accidental overdose of a powerful drug, in order to prevent disastrous changes in the timeline…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Once aptly described by film critic Scott Mantz as the Citizen Kane of Star Trek”, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is a firm fan favourite and irrefutably one of the finest ever Star Trek episodes.  From a story written by the late science fiction author and television writer Harlan Ellison, “The City on the Edge of Forever” received significant, uncredited rewrites from Star Trek writer/producer Gene L. Coon, story editor D.C. Fontana and finally, series creator Gene Roddenberry in order to temper some of Ellison’s more radical ideas that didn’t align with the altruistic nature of the series and behaviour of its characters (drug-dealing Enterprise crewmembers would clearly be out of place) and other elements that the show’s budget simply couldn’t allow.  Thankfully, the result is nothing less than an unforgettable masterpiece of imaginative and dramatic SF-TV.  The episode rightfully earned the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Episodic Drama on Television as well as the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

“The City on the Edge of Forever” opens as the U.S.S. Enterprise arrives at an unexplored planet to investigate the source of mysterious ‘time ripples’.  The ship is rocked, causing helmsman Sulu (George Takei) to be injured and whilst being treated, Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) accidentally injects himself with a dangerous overdose of a drug which renders him paranoid and maniacal.  Pursuing McCoy to the planet below, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his landing party discover ancient ruins and a strange, sentient stone structure – a gateway through time that calls itself the ‘Guardian of Forever’.  As the Guardian demonstrates its ability, the deranged McCoy leaps through the gateway.  Following McCoy to a point before his arrival, Kirk and his loyal Vulcan first officer, Mr. Spock (the always superb Leonard Nimoy) find themselves in depression-era New York and eventually in the 21st Street Mission, run by the pacifist Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins).  Accessing historical records from his tricorder device, Spock soon discovers that McCoy has somehow caused an unfolding change in events – whereas Edith Keeler had originally died in an accident, she now survives and her campaign for peace would lead to a delay in the United States’ entry into the Second World War, allowing the victory of Nazi Germany – creating a ripple effect of unfathomable consequences.  As they await McCoy’s arrival through the time stream, Spock informs his captain that in order to save the future, Keeler must die…but Kirk finds he has fallen in love with her.

Star Trek - City b

Kirk faces a moral dilemma as he falls for Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) in “The City on the Edge of Forever” (image credit: ViacomCBS).

It’s a great story and a standout episode for William Shatner, whose passionate performance is remarkably effective and bittersweet.  Despite the more dramatic aspects of the story, there are some terrific comic moments in the second act – Kirk and Spock being caught ‘acquiring’ 20th Century clothing by a patrolling police officer leads to a hilarious scene in which Kirk attempts to explain the alien Spock’s appearance, one of many moments in the episode that demonstrates the magnificent interplay and rapport between Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.  Shatner also shares wonderful chemistry with guest star Joan Collins, who is charming as Edith Keeler, a woman beyond her time who dreams of a hopeful future for all of humanity – a future that the gallant Captain Kirk knows to be true.  It gives “The City on the Edge of Forever” an evocative philosophical angle to accompany the story’s grand science fiction aspects and solid characterisation.  “The City on the Edge of Forever” is also, undoubtedly, a strong outing for co-stars Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley – who puts in a particularly memorable turn as the crazed drug-afflicted McCoy, whom Keeler nurses back to health – and a highlight of the friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy which is both embraced and put to the test as Kirk faces perhaps his greatest and most personal moral dilemma.

The climactic moments of “The City on the Edge of Forever” are agonising (all the more dramatic thanks to some tense direction by Joseph Pevney) given there is only one inevitable outcome and provides an unusually sombre, yet poignant, ending for an episode of Star Trek.  It all creates a must-see classic which represents the Star Trek franchise at its absolute best.

Standout moment (spoilers)

Discovering that McCoy has arrived and is healthy, Kirk rushes across the street to greet his friend – as Edith steps into the road, unaware that a fast-moving truck is approaching…

Geek fact!

Harlan Ellison’s original script for “The City on the Edge of Forever” would later be adapted into comic book form as a mini-series from IDW Publishing, released in 2014.

If you like this then check out…

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Yesterday’s Enterprise” : Captain Jean-Luc Picard faces a difficult decision when the appearance of the Enterprise ‘C’ through a time vortex adversely alters history.

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

It’s a Classic: ‘The Twilight Zone’ – “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

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

“There’s a man out there!”

Twilight Zone - Nightmare at 20000 Feet a

William Shatner provides a wonderfully anxious performance in the classic ‘Twilight Zone’ outing “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (image credit: CBS Viacom).

Year:  1963

Starring:  William Shatner, Christine White, Ed Kemmer, Asa Maynor, Nick Cravat (introduction/narration by Rod Serling)

Written by:  Richard Matheson / directed by:  Richard Donner / series created by:  Rod Serling

What’s it about?

A man, flying home having just recovered from a breakdown is convinced he can see someone or something on the wing of the aeroplane…

In review:  why it’s a classic

One of the greatest and most popular episodes of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is amongst the best not to be written by series creator Rod Serling.  Penned by noted science fiction writer Richard Matheson (author of I Am Legend and a regular contributor to The Twilight Zone, having previously written memorable episodes such as “Third from the Sun”, “The Invaders” and “Steel”) – adapted from his 1961 story Alone by Night – and helmed by future Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” features a pre-Star Trek William Shatner (who also starred in another Matheson scripted story for The Twilight Zone: the excellent 1960 episode “Nick of Time”) as Robert Wilson, a man flying back home on a stormy night with his wife (played by Christine White) after recovering from a nervous breakdown.  During the flight, as his wife sleeps, Wilson observes something outside the window – a strange figure on the wing of the plane that subsequently disappears.  As the figure – a gremlin-like creature – reappears, only to jump away before anyone else can see it, Wilson is convinced it is causing damage to the aircraft and desperately tries to convince his wife and the flight crew what he’s witnessed is real – but nobody believes him.

Twilight Zone - Nightmare at 20000 Feet b

The gremlin creature (Nick Cravat), given a suitably creepy facial make-up design by William Tuttle (image credit: CBS Viacom).

Richard Matheson provides a suitably mysterious and tense script that’s enhanced greatly by an increasingly anxious performance from William Shatner.  The tight close-ups and low angle shots employed by Richard Donner’s direction add to the sense of unease and help capture the exasperation and nervousness of Shatner’s reactions, you truly believe this is a man on edge, having already suffered through his own emotional issues and thrust unwittingly into a fantastic scenario that he faces alone – a common but always enjoyable theme in Matheson’s writing.  The general look of the ’gremlin’ may now appear a little dated with the plump and fluffy boiler suit costume, yet the monstrous make-up design by William Tuttle is still very effective and with the strange animal-like movements by actor Nick Cravat makes it appropriately creepy.

Whilst the fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone is generally considered as its weakest (and even then, it yielded some firm fan favourites), “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is rightly praised and beloved.  It’s the one that even the most casual of pop culture observers recognises, affectionately parodied on The Simpsons and remade twice (a third time if you count the 2002 radio drama adaptation with Smallville’s John Schneider) – firstly for a segment of 1983’s The Twilight Zone:  The Movie (starring John Lithgow and directed by Mad Max’s George Miller) and more recently as an episode of the Jordan Peele-fronted revival of the series, the retitled story “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”.

Although “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” doesn’t feature a traditional rug-pulling twist that more often than not would conclude an edition of The Twilight Zone, it does leave the viewer with an unsettling final shot as the episode fades out with Rod Serling’s wonderfully lyrical closing narration to an all-time classic outing for the celebrated science fiction/fantasy anthology series.

Standout moment

As his flight home weathers a raging storm, Bob Wilson looks out of the window and between flashes of lightning is convinced he can see someone moving about on the wing…

Geek fact!

Richard Matheson would go on to write for the first season of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, scripting the iconic 1966 episode “The Enemy Within”.

If you like this then check out:

The Twilight Zone – “Nick of Time” : William Shatner makes his first TZ appearance in another classic instalment written by Richard Matheson in which a pair of newlyweds find their fates controlled by an ominous fortune telling machine.

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

Flashback: ‘Star Trek Generations’

It’s 25 years since the cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ transitioned to the big screen…

ST Gen a

Captains Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Kirk (William Shatner) unite to save the galaxy in ‘Star Trek Generations’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1994

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, William Shatner, James Doohan, Walter Koenig

Directed by:  David Carson / written by:  Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga (story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must stop an obsessive and dangerous scientist from causing the deaths of millions as he searches for a way to return to a mysterious extra-dimensional realm…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation completing it’s highly successful seven year run on television and the original Star Trek crew’s big screen voyages concluded with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country it was time for the torch to be passed.  Production on a seventh Star Trek film, in which the newer Star Trek cast would make their silver screen debut, commenced almost immediately after work had wrapped on The Next Generation’s series finale with Star Trek Generations releasing in cinemas in the fall of 1994.

An enjoyable and fun science fiction adventure, Star Trek Generations facilitates a meeting between William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard whilst also incorporating smaller cameo roles for two other classic Trek characters – Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Engineer Montgomery Scott, a.k.a. “Scotty” (James Doohan).  The story begins in the 23rd Century as Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour aboard the newly commissioned successor to Kirk’s ship, the Enterprise-B.  Her maiden voyage is interrupted by an incoming distress call from the Lakul – a transport ship ferrying El-Aurian refugees to Earth, amongst them future Enterprise bartender, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).  Discovering that the Lakul is tangled in a mysterious energy ribbon with destructive tendrils threatening to tear it apart, the Enterprise (under the command of Captain John Harriman, played by Alan Ruck) risks all to save the refugees – including Captain Kirk, seemingly lost when the Enterprise’s hull is breached.

Flashing forward 78 years to the 24th Century, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D investigate the attack of a deep space observatory.  Recovering the only survivor, the El-Aurian scientist, Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell, star of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Picard soon learns that Soran, along with Guinan, whose race has a life span many times greater than humans, were rescued during the Lakul incident and that the energy ribbon encountered by the Enterprise-B is a recurring phenomenon known as the Nexus, a gateway to an extra-dimensional realm were one’s fantasies and dreams are realised and time has no meaning.  Soran, in cohorts with the Klingon Duras sisters Lursa and B’etor (Barbara March and Gwyneth Walsh, respectively, reprising their villainous roles from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), in exchange for providing them with a powerful new weapon, plans to draw the Nexus to him by destroying stars and threatening the lives of millions.  With the stakes set high, Picard is soon confronted with Soran on the planet Veridian III before being swept into the Nexus, leading to an encounter with a legendary Starfleet captain once thought dead…James T. Kirk, offering Picard his only hope of stopping Soran.

ST Gen b

Malcolm McDowell as Soran (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Although they may have felt encumbered by a laundry list of requirements for the film (the essential ingredient being a Kirk/Picard team-up), screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga – who also wrote the TNG series finale (the feature length “All Good Things”) took their knowledge and experience as former writers on The Next Generation to construct an entertaining narrative that gets the job done, providing some decent character moments together with an imaginative and action-packed science fiction story, under the capable direction of David Carson, himself no stranger to the franchise having helmed fan-favourite TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series premiere.  Generations also boasts a music score from veteran TNG and Deep Space Nine composer Dennis McCarthy, particularly effective during Picard’s scenes in the Nexus where the music has an appropriately wondrous, mystical quality to it.

Focusing on the acting performances and characterisation, there’s a lot for fans to appreciate.  Beyond the obvious delight of having Kirk and Picard onscreen together, both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are given a reasonable amount to chew on.  Stewart’s Picard suffers the tragic accidental deaths of his brother and nephew (his scenes with Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan are also a highlight, as they always where in TNG) before his later experience in the Nexus which presents the noble starship captain with the dream of an idyllic family life at Christmas time and a renewed sense of faith as he unites with Captain Kirk to save the day.  Despite only appearing in the opening and closing acts of Generations, Wiiliam Shatner is still given enough time to prove his worth as his meeting with Picard invokes a realisation that the fantasy the Nexus offers just can’t compare with the reality of risking all for the greater good.  The horse-riding scenes also allow Shatner to combine his real-life enthusiasm for the equestrian with his defining and most iconic screen role.

James Doohan and Walter Koenig are a pleasing addition to the opening of Generations and along with Kirk, a comforting sight, yet although William Shatner is afforded a larger role, this is still very much a Star Trek: The Next Generation film – with Brent Spiner’s Data particularly well-served as the Enterprise’s android experiments with emotions allowing him to experience a range of feelings and human concepts, from humour and joy to fear and regret.  The always excellent Spiner rises to the occasion with ease and its unsurprising that Data becomes such a key player in the subsequent Star Trek films.  As the central villain, Malcom McDowell delivers a decent measure of threat, Soran’s desire to revisit the Nexus driven by the yearning to see his dead wife and children.  It’s something touched upon but sadly not fully explored but does however provide the character with some depth and the script furnishes McDowell with some memorable lines, such as “they say time is the fire in which we burn” which has something of a literary and philosophical quality to it.

Of course, the biggest surprises of Generations (spoilers…) are the heroic – but highly controversial – death of Kirk (reshot after test audiences were underwhelmed with the original scene, in which Soran simply shoots Kirk in the back), truly marking the end of an era and the destruction of the Enterprise-D to make way for a new and more big screen friendly U.S.S. Enterprise for the sequels.  Both elements help to supply Generations with a suitably tense and gripping finale and an emotional farewell to a beloved character.  Whilst Star Trek Generations is not on the same level as perennial favourites Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it’s still a fitting first big screen outing for the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation which would lead to the superior and popular sequel, Star Trek: First Contact.

Geek fact! 

It was originally intended that Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley would reprise the roles of Spock and Doctor McCoy in Generations in place of the Chekov and Scotty cameos, but both actors declined feeling that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a more satisfactory finale for their characters.

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

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

2019 marks four decades since Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Star Trek’ was relaunched on the silver screen…

Star Trek TMP a

Bob Peak’s wonderful poster art for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1979

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Directed by:  Robert Wise / written by:  Harold Livingston (story by Alan Dean Foster)

What’s it about?

As a mysterious and hostile force advances towards Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk is reunited with his former crew as he takes command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to intercept the intruder…

Retrospective/review

Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this December, Star Trek: The Motion Picture may not be as popular as its 1982 sequel – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – but its place and importance in the history of the franchise shouldn’t be overlooked.  Originally conceived as a pilot for a new Star Trek television series, the production would evolve into a big budget feature film in the wake of the success of Star Wars – although Star Trek: The Motion Picture would take more of a high-concept science fiction approach similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Produced by Gene Roddenberry (who would write the film’s interesting but slightly bizarre novelisation) and skilfully directed by The Day the Earth Stood Still’s Robert Wise with a story, credited to noted SF author Alan Dean Foster, that echoes elements of classic Star Trek episode “The Changeling”, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is presented on a visual scale that could only have been dreamt of back in the days of the original series.  The film opens as Klingon (the iconic Trek race given a more alien-like makeover for the big screen) warships commence an attack on an approaching force – an expansive and powerful cloud of energy which soon neutralises the aggressors.  As the cloud proceeds on a heading for Earth, an unfulfilled and desk-bound Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) convinces his superiors to place him in command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a desperate mission to intercept and establish contact with the intruder.

Believing the benefit of his experience and leadership will provide the best chance of success, Kirk initially finds himself troubled by an unfamiliarity with the refitted Enterprise and in conflict with her would be captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins), whose situation is complicated further by the posting of his old flame, Ilia (the late Persis Khambatta, in her introductory film role) as ship’s navigator (Walter Koenig’s Chekov now occupying the post of security chief).

Star Trek TMP b

Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Dealing with engine troubles and a near fatal wormhole encounter before rendezvousing with science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) along the way, the stakes are raised as the Enterprise intercepts the approaching danger – traversing the energy cloud to discover a colossus alien vessel at its centre.  As Ilia is replaced by an android duplicate serving as a representative of the alien ship, Kirk learns that the intruder is ‘V’Ger’, a life-form on a journey to find and ‘join’ with its creator.  It all leads to a startling finale in which (spoilers follow…) Kirk and his crew face V’Ger, which they are astonished to discover is the lost 20th Century NASA probe, Voyager VI – repaired by an unknown machine race and sent on a return voyage to its point of origin where it can complete its programme of “learning all that is learnable” and providing all the information it has amassed to the creator.  Having gained sentience on its journey, V’Ger has reached the limits of its understanding and must evolve by joining with its creator…and one amongst the Enterprise crew volunteers to do so.

The film is commonly criticised for its slow pace (detractors unfairly labelling it as ‘The Slow Motion Picture’) and whilst this may be true, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is best viewed for what it is – a cerebral cinematic experience that reunites an iconic and beloved set of characters, unfolding steadily and subjecting the viewer to some striking visuals as it presents intriguing and intelligent science fiction ideas.  Despite the more conceptual and visually driven story, the cast are all reliably great – especially the central trio: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, representing, respectively, the celebrated troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  As the main star, Shatner is provided with some decent material as the ever-passionate Kirk wrestles with his regret at accepting promotion and his yearning to return to command of a starship.  Likewise, Nimoy gets to once again grapple with Spock’s conflicted half human/half Vulcan nature, his sensing of V’Ger and an inability to attain ‘Kholinahr’, the Vulcan ritual of complete emotional purging, driving his desire to re-join the Enterprise crew and seek out the mysterious invader.  DeForest Kelley’s Doctor McCoy is once again the cantankerous yet valued conscience and moral centre.

Star Trek TMP c

The glorious refitted U.S.S. Enterprise, designed by Andrew Probert (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The production design and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture are reasonably impressive considering their age.  The redesigned Enterprise is simply beautiful, brought to life by the superb model work.  The sets are sparse but have an appropriately futuristic feel to them as do the crew uniforms which are a fitting evolution of those in the original series in comparison to the more military-based attire of the sequels.  In terms of the effects, led by 2001’s Douglas Trumbull and Star Wars’ John Dykstra, they remain a key element, the mesmerising sequence of the Enterprise’s penetration of the cloud, the jaw dropping ‘V’Ger flyover’ scenes and Spock’s ‘spacewalk’ being the most obvious highlights – in addition to the wonderfully executed launch of the Enterprise, of course.  Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar nominated score is one of the composer’s best and an inseparable accompaniment to the story and visuals, capturing the romance and majesty of space in the 23rd Century, the grandeur of the Enterprise, the eerie mystery of the enigmatic force that threatens humanity and the wonders of the unknown.

It’s no secret that the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was troubled by last minute script re-writes, increasing costs (its budget inflating to a then eye-watering $46 million, making it the most expensive feature film at that time) and a tight schedule to meet its 7th December 1979 release date, leaving director Robert Wise with no time to produce a final cut and unsatisfied with the film in its theatrical form.  Much of this was remedied with the 2001 DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition, a superior edit of the film with Wise reinstating some of the more character-orientated scenes missing from the theatrical version whilst trimming down some of the longer and more superfluous moments, a fresh sound mix and new CGI effects to enhance and embellish the existing visuals.  Unlike the Star Wars Special Editions, the changes made were to benefit what Wise felt was an unfinished film and, largely, choices that would have been made in 1979 had the production been permitted the extra time and resources required.

Despite receiving a critical drubbing Star Trek: The Motion Picture would prove a box office success, paving the way for several sequels and an eventual television rebirth of the franchise.  Whilst Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered to be closer to the overall spirit of the original Star Trek series with a deeper focus on the characters and emphasis on morality play elements (whilst injecting a larger measure of action and excitement), Star Trek: The Motion Picture is perhaps more cinematic and – especially in its Director’s Edition form – an enjoyable and underrated first big screen adventure for Kirk, Spock and company that’s deserving of a revisit and perhaps a reappraisal as it reminds us that “The Human Adventure is Just Beginning”…

Read the classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here

Geek fact!

Mark Lenard, who portrayed Spock’s father in the original Star Trek series appears as a Klingon commander in the epic opening scenes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Series Premiere

The beloved science fiction franchise returns, boldly, to the small screen…

‘Star Trek’ makes a much awaited return to television in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones, Chris Obi, James Frain

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

Written by:  Bryan Fuller & Akiva Goldsman (“The Vulcan Hello”) and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts (“Battle at the Binary Stars”) / Episodes directed by:  David Samel (“The Vulcan Hello”) and Adam Kane (“Battle at the Binary Stars”)

What’s it about?

Investigating an object of unknown origin, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Shenzhou are thrown into a direct confrontation with old adversary, the Klingons.

Episodes review

51 years after the debut of its original series, Star Trek returns to the small screen after an absence of twelve years, following the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise – which left the air back in May 2005.  Produced by CBS for their All Access streaming service and rolled out worldwide courtesy of Netflix, Star Trek: Discovery is a lavish and promising addition to the Star Trek universe that feels fresh yet comfortingly familiar for long term fans of the franchise.  Created by Trek veterans Bryan Fuller (writer/co-producer on Star Trek: Voyager) and Alex Kurtzman (co-writer and co-producer of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness), the series takes place ten years prior to the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.

Serving as a prologue to the rest of the show’s fifteen-episode first season (the majority of the principal cast and the U.S.S. Discovery herself being absent until episode three), the two-part premiere gets things off to an engaging and intriguing start as we’re introduced to Discovery’s lead character, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) as she serves as First Officer on board the U.S.S. Shenzhou, commanded by Captain Phillipa Georgiou (martial arts legend Michelle Yeoh) who quickly find themselves thrust into a tense confrontation with a rogue Klingon faction that places the Federation on the precipice of war.  Burnham’s back story is revealed via a series of flashbacks as we follow her from being orphaned as a child to being raised on Vulcan by ambassador-in-waiting and father of Spock, Sarek (Gotham’s James Frain) and her eventual assignment to the Shenzhou.

What’s clear from the outset is that the creators of Discovery have set about establishing something that manages to strike a delicate balance between producing a series that will not only appeal to fans but draw in a whole new generation of viewers.  After 51 years and some 700+ hours of television, engineering a fresh take on an old favourite is no easy task, yet Discovery achieves this quite successfully.  The first major departure is the decision to not have the series focus on the ship’s captain and proves a welcome one with Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) turning in a decent performance and demonstrating plenty of potential as a strong and capable lead.  There’s also the heavily serialised nature of the story, whilst a construct employed in previous spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Enterprise it’s utilised to a more intricate degree here in accordance with co-creator Bryan Fuller’s intentions for the storyline to unfold episode by episode like the chapters of a novel.

Sonequa Martin-Green makes for a promising lead in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Michelle Yeoh provides another strong female presence as Georgiou and there’s a wonderfully nuanced relationship between herself and Burnham (affectionately referred to as “Number One” in a nod to Majel Barrett’s character in original Trek pilot “The Cage”), the former bringing an almost maternal quality to her ‘role’ as mentor to the younger officer.  Martin-Green also has some great interplay with Doug Jones’ Lt. Saru, the Kelpien science officer who has a fun sibling-like rivalry with Burnham.  Much like he did in Hellboy and Falling Skies, Jones is once again a master at conveying subtle strokes of humanity through the prosthetics and alien characteristics.  James Frain evokes the requisite measure of wise intellect and cold logic in the role of Sarek (originally portrayed so unforgettably by the late Mark Lenard) and similarly to Yeoh, there’s a paternal element to his dynamic with Martin-Green’s character.

The Klingon threat is spearheaded by T’Kuvma, with Chris Obi infusing the part with the right amount of that familiar warrior instinct, although the redesign of the Klingons themselves is likely to be the most controversial aspect of Discovery.  They’re radically quite different and take some getting used to, yet the make-up and costume design is certainly impressive and gives the iconic race an appearance that’s more alien whilst retaining the overall Klingon ‘feel’ with an adherence to their principles of honour and glory in battle.  What’s interesting here is that the Klingon Empire has fractured into numerous disparate ‘houses’ which T’Kuvma seeks to unite and lead, fanatically, into war against the Federation in the name of Kahless – the forefather of Klingon society itself.  It’s handled in a manner that’s not quite as black-and-white as that sounds and there’s a definite sense that the writers are seeking to add dimension to the conflict by offering a deeper insight into the Klingon’s motivations.

The Klingons are given a new look for this new iteration of the long-running franchise.

Visually, CBS have spurred no expense with feature film quality effects, make-up and set design fully on display.  Perhaps wisely, given the level of the production, the producers have leaned towards a look more reminiscent of the alternate universe established on the big screen by J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.  As classic and iconic as the look of the original series is, a direct translation wouldn’t hold up to viewers in 2017 and it only increases the scope and cinematic quality of Discovery.

Star Trek is heralded for its ability to delve into the human condition and comment on the issues of the day and in this era of social and political concerns and the rising threat of terrorism and religious extremism, Discovery is no different and deftly weaves these themes throughout.  This is what Gene Roddenberry and the writers of the original Star Trek always intended, coupled with rich characters and a vision of a hopeful, inclusive future for humanity – even in times of conflict – and there’s great potential for Star Trek: Discovery to continue that tradition.

The bottom line:  Star Trek makes a confident return to television with a visually dazzling premiere, bolstered by a promising lead and the potential to explore real-world topics in an engaging and entertaining manner.

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (as well as post-show discussion After Trek) can be seen weekly via subscription services Netflix (worldwide) and CBS All Access (U.S. only).

What did you think of the ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ premiere? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

Flashback: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

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

ST TUC 1

‘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.

ST TUC 2

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!

ST TUC 3

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. Leonard Nimoy

Words truly escaped me when the news broke yesterday of the death of Leonard Nimoy, best known for his portrayal of the iconic character of Mr. Spock in the equally iconic science fiction television series, Star Trek.

Having been a Star Trek fan for the majority of my geeky existence (so far) I cannot express how saddened I felt upon hearing the news, it felt like losing a friend – not someone I knew personally or had even met, yet, someone who was always strangely part of my life.  Nimoy’s contribution to Star Trek (and film and television in general) cannot be understated, his nuanced and introspective portrayal of Spock always captivating and effective in conveying the character’s struggles to reconcile the emotional and logical parts of his half human/half Vulcan heritage.  Nimoy shared great onscreen chemistry with co-star William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, a friendship that would filter into their personal lives with the two becoming close friends during and beyond their Star Trek years.

Aside from his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series (as well as guest starring in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “Unification”), Nimoy would go on to direct big screen voyages Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well as serve as an executive producer on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country where he also worked with director Nicholas Meyer on the film’s story.

Outside of Star Trek, Nimoy appeared in numerous other films and television series including a two year stint as ‘Paris’, the enigmatic master of disguise and deception on Mission: Impossible, a memorable guest role as a murderous surgeon in Columbo, both the 1960s and 1990s versions of The Outer Limits and even parodied himself in The Simpsons.  He would also go on to direct the smash hit 1980s comedy Three Men and a Baby.  He was also a writer having penned memoirs I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock and a talented photographer – there was even a singing career, perhaps not his finest hour, yet he managed to release seven albums!  Nimoy’s final onscreen appearances as an actor were guest roles in Fringe and the 2009 big screen Star Trek reboot and its 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.

Although Star Trek brought Nimoy fame and fortune it did lead to some personal troubles with the actor enduring a struggle with alcohol which he sought as a release, allowing him to ‘break away’ from the often cold and emotionless Mr. Spock.  He also smoked heavily and despite quitting over twenty years ago Nimoy was last year diagnosed with obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition related to smoking and which ultimately lead to his death.

Leonard Nimoy died on Friday 27th February 2015, aged 83.  Those closing scenes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan have become all the more poignant and emotional and made a legendary screen actor truly unforgettable…

Leonard Nimoy found fame in the iconic role of Mr. Spock in 'Star Trek' - a character loved by millions all over the globe.

Leonard Nimoy found fame in the iconic role of Mr. Spock in ‘Star Trek’ – a character loved by millions all over the globe.