Monday, January 8, 2018

Star Trek odds & sods

Seasons 1 & 2 of the '70s animated series, season 3 of the '60s original, season 4 of Enterprise and some misc.

Beam me up, Scot-key:

Vulcan story
G.M. superhumans story

Romulan story
Klingon story
Godlike aliens story

Alternate universe story
Time travel story

Ten great Star Trek episodes and a pretty good film

If you're not already a fan, committing to watch any of the Star Trek series from beginning to end is a big undertaking and not particularly wise. It's fine for a child with no extracurricular obligations watching on a weekly basis, but if you're a busy adult with a career, family and plenty of other worthwhile or entertaining diversions competing for your attention, you shouldn't be forced to wade through the dodgy spandex years of The Next Generation or pretty much the entirety of Voyager waiting patiently for the good stuff to show up.

So here are some chronological recommendations off the top of my head where Star Trek got it right. By which I think I mean the cerebral or ideological tales more than the action-oriented, character-centric or comedy ones (which could be great too). There are some episodes I like more, especially from Deep Space Nine, but that's more a case of them being good DS9 episodes rather than the general overture with vague criteria I'm going for here. I think I've covered myself.

The Cage (TOS 0x00)

The first Star Trek ever made was deemed not good enough for TV. Moderate revisions were required to placate the suits, leaving us with the more colourful, sexier, double-fist-punching version we're used to.

I've always thought that was a shame, because this more downbeat, grey and sinister incarnation of the series has appealed to me ever since I bought the video in primary school and watched it more often than any of the proper ones.

If this pilot had been picked up for a series, Jeffrey Hunter's tragic death in a car accident just a few years later would have put the future of the franchise in doubt by losing its lead. But in that alternate universe where Jeffrey Hunter's life trajectory was substantially changed, he never would have been in that car in the first place. Has all this sci-fi taught you nothing?

The Devil in the Dark (TOS 1x25)

'The Cage' may be my preferred version of TOS, but I have a lot of love for the ramshackle, all-over-the-place first season too, before the series found its feet and got repetitive the following year.

This is one of many early classics that tends to be overlooked. It's probably as close to horror as the series got (outside of a laughable Halloween episode) and bludgeons us over the head with a timeless, simplistic moral like Star Trek did best. Though I haven't seen it in years, so there's a possibility it's rubbish.

The City on the Edge of Forever (TOS 1x28)

Harlan Ellison's original story was butchered for the better, leaving us with one of the most approachable episodes for normal people who could learn a thing or two about the devastating ripples than can unexpectedly result from acts of compassion.

This heaviness, magnified by the Great Depression setting, is balanced by some amusing mild racism and fish-out-of-water comedy that paved the way for the fun-but-flimsy Star Trek IV a couple of decades down the line.

Who Watches the Watchers (TNG 3x04)

The Next Generation abruptly hit its stride in its third season, which has such an impressive hit rate that you could ignore what I said about not watching these series in order and just start from here and see if you like it.

This episode is the franchise's most outspoken atheist statement this side of the 60s, which probably gets it disproportionate love and disdain in equal measure. That's presumably what I'm doing right now. But it's the most effective demonstration of that oft-discussed Prime Directive of non-interference thing.

Elements of this one were blended with a couple of other TNG episodes to make the disappointing Insurrection film in '98.

Yesterday's Enterprise (TNG 3x15)

It's surprising that TNG always resisted revisiting that mirror universe where Spock had a beard and everyone else is a homicidal maniac, especially as some of the later spin-offs ran it into the ground. Instead, they made their own dark alternate universe story that justified and gave impact to the darkness.

It may not be original, but it's a big deal for fans, filling in a missing chunk of the lore and featuring a surprise character return. Season three also had that Borg episode that influenced TV cliffhangers forever, but that feels more like it belongs on a specific TNG list.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

It's not the best film in the series. That honour usually goes to Wrath of Khan, though the flawed Search for Spock has always had a special place in my heart (it's mainly all those new models).

What I really like about Undiscovered Country is that it's the ultimate example of that classic Trek trope: a transparent allegory of specific current affairs, but set in space in the future, with the collapsing Klingon Empire substituting for the USSR and an exploding moon standing in for Chernobyl. It also builds a more satisfying bridge between the end of the original era and the TNG era than the mediocre Star Trek: Generations attempted a few years later.

It's not pure Gene Roddenberry Star Trek by any means, since he was reportedly displeased with what he saw of it before his death. If you want undiluted Roddenberry on the big screen, that would be the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which I love in a way, but can't recommend in good conscience unless you're in the mood for a really elaborate two-hour symphonic music video with some dull dialogue scenes in-between. Sometimes I really am.

The Inner Light (TNG 5x25)

I didn't include this at first, the same way I didn't include other excellent but specifically Picard-based episodes like 'Tapestry.' It also has more of the false-nostalgic feeling of a surreal Twilight Zone episode, to the point that I find it a bit annoying how they keep contractually cutting back to the Enterprise's lavish hotel interior to break the mood. We know Picard's rustic visions are an illusion, you don't need to patronise us and take us out of the story. Let the rest of the cast take the week off.

Anyway, the reason I justify including it as Star Trek at its best is that, as well as being faithful to the new worlds and new civilisations mission statement, it follows through on some of those formative scenes from 'The Cage' that saw the despondent Captain Pike similarly yearning for the simple life. DS9's 'Hard Time' is the black mirror to this story, which characteristically denies Chief O'Brien any positive takeaways from his own ordeal. It even features the same actress.

All Good Things... (TNG 7x25)

If you'd been watching The Next Generation since the start, this must have been a relief. Not only a strong feature-length story to go out on (which would turn out to be much better than any of the subsequent films), but also a very satisfying finale to the long-running series.

We literally go back to the start with Back to the Future Part II-style timeline crossing, jumbled up Slaughterhouse-Five-style with glimpses of a possible future where some characters live happily ever after and others noticeably don't.

It might be my favourite TNG of them all, and you don't need all 176 previous episodes under your belt to get the most out of it.

Trials and Tribble-ations (DS9 5x06)

The grim, complex and physically stationary Deep Space Nine has always been my favourite Star Trek series, but since it obstinately tried to be the anti-Star Trek series most of the time, it's not such easy pickings for a vanilla list like this one. This 30th anniversary episode isn't even close to being one of my favourite DS9 episodes, but as a self-indulgent celebration of the franchise and legacy, it can't be beat.

The joyless Enterprise prequel would later waste a two-parter placating tedious fans with a canon explanation for why Klingons didn't look like Klingons on low-budget 1960s TV; DS9 preferred to troll those fans by dismissing it with a quick gag. Voyager did its own thing for the occasion, which was well-intended but disappointing. Voyager in a nutshell.

Far Beyond the Stars (DS9 6x13)

Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series to have a non-white lead, a significant out-of-universe point but nothing worthy of commenting on in the enlightened 24th century, where it only seems to be homosexuals who are denied representation (DS9's earlier 'Rejoined' is the only worthwhile statement the franchise made in that field in the 20th century).

It took an out-of-body visitation to 1950s New York for Avery Brooks' skin colour to affect how his character was perceived and treated. Setting the story introspectively in the world of sci-fi publishing (albeit a decade before Star Trek's multiracial cast showed up on TV) makes it even more poignant and satisfyingly metafictional if you like that sort of thing.

Blink of an Eye (VOY 6x12)

There are other episodes from the better series I could talk about, but I'll save a seat for the generally sub-par Voyager to be kind (I'm just not that familiar with Enterprise, but what I've seen didn't impress me much). Even if this episode's suspiciously fascinating plot was supposedly ripped off from a novel I haven't read.

It's been a long time since I watched any Voyager (I'd stopped watching out of ennui before I caught this one the first time around), but I remember 'Distant Origin' being another decent one with Creationism and Galileo parallels and 'Living Witness' being another of those dark doppelgänger stories done in an interesting way.

Star Trek: The Original Series

It's the 50th anniversary of Star Trek! (Note: Well, it was at the time). But compelled as I am to celebrate the occasion, I didn't feel like going through all those early episodes again.

Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of love for the first season - those confused early episodes especially - and the theoretically superior but repetitive second season is mostly great too, but I've overwatched the best ones. Since I voyaged through the animated adventures a couple of years ago, the only strange, new world left is the show's oft-maligned third season, which has always evaded my nostalgic rewatching through a mix of hazy memories polluted by received opinion.

Were there really only two good episodes in the batch? Was the cast really cruelly sidelined as it morphed into The Shatner Show? Did they really pass off flashing lights as alien entities as often as I remember? I'm looking forward to finding out either way.

Spectre of the Gun (3x01) ***

As it was the first TOS episode I'd sat down and watched for a good few years, I can tell I enjoyed this first episode a lot more than I would have done if I'd watched it 56th in sequence (I've always liked production order over broadcast order for TOS; deal with it). But even through the absence, it's clear things have settled into a formula, if not a rut.

You've got your triumvirate of Kirk being hostile and double-fist-punching people while Spock and Bones work on a scientific solution and bicker. Scotty gets unprofessionally drunk and Chekov sets a precedent for Wesley Crusher as he gets distracted by a make-believe prostitute and dies. He got better, unfortunately.

Being a child of The Next Generation, it was a hoot to see Kirk recklessly disregard the stern and reasonable warning not to intrude on an alien system. I'd hoped he might learn something from Spock's philosophical solution to conflict, but even by the end of the episode he still seems inordinately amused by his ancestors' barbarism. A good thing Q didn't run into this one, humanity's trial would have had a swift outcome.

What I especially liked about this episode is how it turns the low budget to its advantage. The incomplete set reminded me of the cardboard cutout frontier town in The Prisoner, and I didn't even mind that the characterisation of the Earps and Doc Holliday doesn't gel with more authentic accounts I've read, since this was all pulled from Kirk's unconscious anyway. If this is 'bad Star Trek,' I've got nothing to worry about in the voyages ahead. Except maybe 'Plato's Stepchildren.' And all those flashing light ones.
"You are outside. You are disease. The disease must be destroyed" - Melkotian

Elaan of Troyius (3x02) **

If you thought the series had left uncomfortable sexism behind in early stumbler 'Mudd's Women'... then you clearly haven't been paying much attention over the past couple of seasons. As noble as Gene Roddenberry's vision was, sexual politics was never Star Trek's strong point. But this is the first episode since that aforementioned goalpost to really bring back the sexist spirit, and you don't have to peer too deeply beneath its scanty sci-fi facade to find it a wee bit racist too.

The one saving grace of this story of magic tears and lazy literary allusions is that it introduced the Klingon ship model, which would have only ever been the yellow blur glimpsed in previous episodes had the series not been un-cancelled before this. I'm coming to see why that may not have been such a wise move after all.
"Captain, that ancient Earth custom called 'spanking'... what is it?" - Elaan

The Paradise Syndrome (3x03) ***

This is the better of the two stories in a row in which Kirk educates a brown "savage" woman in the ways of white supremacy, but it still has its problems. Would it have killed them to use actors who had any Native American blood in them? And did they have to turn into a frenzied, pregnant-woman-stoning mob at the end?

If you can get over all that, and ignore the gaping plot holes, there's still a lot to like about this episode, which is undoubtedly one of the most memorable of the year. Kirk confronting his daydream of a simple life and Spock struggling with command decisions may not be on the Wrath of Khan level of introspection, but at least this is actually about those characters.

Even if you're not into the story, just relax and enjoy the great music and location shooting, something that's going to be in short supply in the claustrophobic adventures ahead.
"I AM KIROK!" - James Kirk

The Enterprise Incident (3x04) ***

Even after enjoyably wasting so much of my youth absorbed in 'Trek reference materials, I can still be surprised - like when I realised this is only the second (of two) appearances by the Romulans in the classic series. Without this, would they have gained their infamy as the series' second most important baddies? Or just been another of those seemingly powerful one-time adversaries we weirdly never heard from again, like the Gorn or the First Federation?

The Next Generation cemented the Romulans' reputation as contemptible sneaks, but here it's the Enterprise crew - under secret orders from Starfleet - that take that biscuit. To the point that you really have to suspend your in-universe disbelief to enjoy this tale of 007-level subterfuge and near-hanky-panky. They satiated Shatner's ego by making him the action hero of the piece, but it's Spock's duplicity that's most striking.

When I watched these as a kid, I no doubt scoffed at the cheapness of re-using the Klingon ship model and sticking together various recognisable props from earlier episodes to make the cloaking device, but now this thriftiness adds to the charm for me. Cheap Star Trek is adorable, but only when the script is good enough to excuse it.
"Military secrets are the most fleeting of all. I hope that you and I exchanged something more permanent" - Spock

And the Children Shall Lead (3x05) *

And the infamous third season awfulness begins. Though to be fair, this isn't much worse than early annoying-brats stinker 'Miri,' as I remember it. It's just lacking the sense of actual peril.

Viewers with non-encyclopaedic knowledge of the series would be forgiven for mistaking this one for all manner of earlier and subsequent episodes due to all the recycled ideas, and even us nerds are likely to get it mixed up. To clarify, this is the one where the elite Enterprise crew are all taken down one by one by a small group of kids. Apart from Kirk, whose love for his ship or whatever sees him through as usual, but only after a sensationally hammy breakdown.

The triumphant conclusion sees the bereaved children being forced to confront their pain and crying while Kirk relaxes back into his captain's chair and grins. I really hope this is the worst they've got in store for me.
"Without followers, evil cannot spread" - Spock

Spock's Brain (3x06) **

Gene Coon's pseudonymous, infamous B-movie in no way deserves its reputation as "the worst episode of Star Trek," unless you have no sense of humour at all and actually consider it a bigger waste of your time than 'And the Children Shall Lead' (to take the most recent, but also probably best example).

This highly quotable episode has delighted audiences for generations with its ludicrous premise, preposterous medical science and godawful guest characters, and if you're in the mood for some light-hearted ribbing rather than adulation, it's one of the best to introduce to someone who's never watched the show before... as long as you defend its reputation by following up immediately with 'City on the Edge of Forever' or something.

If you're looking for points in its favour, you don't have to look far. It's the best episode in a while for Bones, Kirk keeps it together for a change as Shatner resists hamming up his grief, and since we all care about Spock, the danger is real, however moronic the script may be. There's also a nice-looking ice planet (from orbit, at least) and the usual phaser fire and scantily-clad women fans would expect. There's even a surprising twist, as a bunch of redshirts beam down and none of them die!

It's not a good episode, I'm not insane, but it's the most fun I've had this season so far.
- "You are a disembodied brain."
- "Fascinating" - Spock and McCoy

Is There in Truth No Beauty? (3x07) **

With a poncy title like that, you know you're in for more laboured classical/Shakespearean allusions and a story exploring timeless philosophical themes, only slightly distracted by the compulsory action plot of a madman chucking the Enterprise out of the galaxy and Spock getting willingly possessed in order to save them.

As corny as it is, I do enjoy it when they put a spacey spin on mythology, in this case the Medusans whose appearance is so ugly/beautiful (depending how enlightened and/or blind you are) that they'll drive you insane. It's a bit confusing that they had a completely unrelated character named "Gorgan" two episodes previously, they could have saved it for this one. Especially since "Kollos" is very similar to the names Koloth and Kodos they've already used in the series.

The Medusans are the first in what I remember (hopefully wrongly) to be a long line of alien entities rendered as flashing lights for reasons of budget and/or imagination limitations. Speaking of being cheap, they re-use the Galactic Barrier for its third appearance in the series, only this time it's supposed to represent something else, unless the crew just forgot they'd been there twice.

This one seems to be noteworthy for expanding on Vulcan philosophy with the IDIC thing, but supposedly Gene Roddenberry just wanted to sell badges. Kirk's aggressive flirtation distraction prevents this from reaching the middling heights of a distinctly average episode.
"He's dead, Jim" - Leonard "Bones" McCoy

The Empath (3x08) **

I've defended season three's restricted budget before, when set designers and prop makers found creative ways to scrimp, but when your main set is a black soundstage, you're in trouble. Then there's the Vians, who are like a cross between the Talosians and the (later) Ferengi but mostly resemble the type of drab, robed alien scientists that popped up occasionally on The Twilight Zone.

'The Cage' has always been one of my favourite episodes, but this feels like a less intelligent, more excessively sadistic dilution. Trapped inside a forcefield, Kirk can't cheat the Kobayashi Maru this time as we're supposed to will on the innocent guest character to sacrifice her life for McCoy's, but only after watching her suffer first. That's right, bitch, do it for Bones.

The BBC shouldn't have banned it, but they had a point.
"I'm a doctor, not a coal miner" - Leonard "Bones" McCoy

The Tholian Web (3x09) *****

There are no signs of fatigue or a shoestring budget in this late classic, which features the best special effects of the series and was presumably ruined with a CGI remastering like the rest. The idiots.

I was always intrigued by the Tholians, but having only seen this episode once or twice before, I'm always surprised that they gave them those stupid voices that make them a little less intimidating. I always forget this is such a Kirk-lite episode too, which gives us some of the best Spock/McCoy bonding on the show, the tension heightened by crazy space sickness.

The crew even get new spacesuits, which were a long time coming. So what if the Defiant is yet another Constitution-class ship, so they can reuse the regular sets and don't have to build a new model? Season two did that all the time too. That was one unlucky starship class.
"He was a hero in every sense of the word, yet his life was sacrificed for nothing" - Leonard "Bones" McCoy

For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (3x10) ***

I thought Shatner was supposed to be dominating proceedings these days? This time it's DeForest Kelley who gets the girl, even if McCoy needs to be terminally diagnosed to do it (and promptly forgets about her when he gets better).

There are certain repetitive story elements here, such as Kirk taking on a faltering computer god and breaking the Prime Directive for the sake of life and liberty, but the setting aboard an ancient, generational asteroid ship inspired me as a kid. I didn't know it had been done before.
"Learn what it means to be our enemy before you learn what it means to be our friend" - The Oracle

Day of the Dove (3x11) **

The Klingons are back, and so are the lame special effects. Would they have resorted to a glowing light entity if this had been made in season two? They might have at least put more effort into making the planet set look less identical to every single other one this year than just changing the hue of the "sky."

This lampshaded tale of overcoming bigotry and xenophobia would have been less problematic if the Klingons weren't all gratuitously blacked up. It also would have been more effective if they'd played up existing insecurities rather than inventing imaginary dead siblings to avenge, but that would have meant confessing to imperfections in these characters and that would only lead us down the slippery slope of good characterisation.
"Captain’s log, stardate: armageddon" - James T. Kirk

Plato's Stepchildren (3x12) *

Further proof that there's worse Star Trek out there than 'Spock's Brain,' I can only assume it's goodwill towards the progressive (albeit forced) kiss that means people forgive such dire scenes as Kirk and Spock's singalong, Kirk whinnying like a horsie as he carries a little person on his back, and general bad human puppet acting all-round.

Last time they threw together Ancient Greek sets, there was a decent ancient astronaut explanation behind it. This time, the justification for columns and togas is as lazy and contemptible as the rest of it. But for all that, it's probably still not as bad as that one with the kids.
"#Ahh-ah-ah-ah, bitter dregs" - Spock

Wink of an Eye (3x13) ***

A middling episode in any other year, this has always stood out as a highlight of season three for featuring a by-now uncharacteristically thought-provoking sci-fi concept. Even if it's nicked from H. G. Wells. And even if it does admittedly fall back on the B-movie trope of seductive alien women needing your Earth spermatozoons.

It irritated me that they re-used that distinctive matte painting for the planet, until I remembered that the later series do that all the time too.
"I found it... an accelerating experience" - Spock does a pun

That Which Survives (3x14) **

This isn't such a bad episode, but at one point, I decided this was probably the most forgettable episode, which now means I primarily remember it for being unmemorable.

There's the usual powerful alien computer peril, but it's all very slow. Spock's alien irritability seemed to be dialled up too, which can be blamed on either the writer or the half-Vulcanian waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

If I'd seen this as a small child, I probably would have been scared by the creepy disappearing witch, so it has that in its favour. And I appreciate the effort of constructing a practical earthquake set, however unintentionally shaky the result.
"The occipital area of my head seems to have impacted with the chair" - Spock

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (3x15) ***

One of Star Trek's most famous metaphors, the eternal hatred between the two-tone Bele and Lokai is a brilliantly basic allegory and the one stroke of artistic genius in an episode otherwise plagued by budget limitations.

If this had been produced back in the first season, when Gene Coon's idea was first raised and scrapped, it could have been one of the best of the whole series. Unfortunately this is the back half of the final year, which means reusing stock footage of the Galileo as a different shuttle and pretending we can't read the license plate, and the ultimate insult of making Bele's ship pointlessly invisible. They're not even trying any more.

Speaking of not trying, Kirk clearly never changed the Enterprise's default self-destruct code and he won't bother at any other point in her life either.
"Change is the essential process of all existence" - Spock

Whom Gods Destroy (3x16) **

Another episode that's a whole lot better if you haven't already seen the better episodes it rips off, this does at least add another memorable adversary to the TOS roster in the form of Garth of Izar, even if its depiction of his insanity is less than helpful.

It's always nice to see the Andorians, Tellarities and Orions, but reprising old ideas is all this episode does, from its overwhelming debt to 'Dagger of the Mind' through multiple stories with multiple Kirks all the way back to the sexy dancing from 'The Cage.' Marta's brutal extermination is another example of season three's nasty streak too, which is worse than I ever gave it credit for.
"I am master of the universe, and I must claim my domain" - Garth of Izar

The Mark of Gideon (3x17) ***

A compelling mystery, eerie imagery and a worthy social issue should rightfully add up to a classic episode, but sadly, season three's reverse Midas touch strikes again.

Like Bele's invisible ship a couple of treks ago, the deserted, pointlessly intricate duplicate Enterprise is a necessity of budget cuts that doesn't make much sense at all. But at least Kirk doesn't get the blonde fatale killed this time.
"We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis" - Spock

The Lights of Zetar (3x18) *

Another contender for Worst Episode Ever, the lack of annoying kids and unconventional use of Scotty as a love interest keep it from the top/bottom pedestal.

It would have been preferable if he wasn't so damned patronising to the lieutenant, and if Mira didn't have an Electra complex going on, but this episode's main crime is the culmination of one of my least favourite season three themes: flashing lights being passed off as a legitimate new life/new civilisation.
"I'd rather die than hurt you. I'd rather die!" - Mira Romaine

The Cloud Minders (3x19) **

The series' least subtle social allegory this side of Charon, this is another episode that's best left to nostalgic memories of the cloud city and Droxine's inappropriate space bikini.

Actually sitting through the social upheaval and the real-time countdown to another outbreak of generic off-screen space plague is a bit trying, but the worst sin is how out of character Spock is.
"Extreme feminine beauty is always disturbing, madam" - Spock

The Way to Eden (3x20) *

Just when you're lulled into thinking the third season is merely weak and stilted rather than downright cack, the show makes an embarrassing attempt to tap into the zeitgeist by featuring space hippies.

I think this is the first time I've seen this infamous episode, and it's as bad as its reputation suggests. But even with all the singing, bizarrely reversed shots, an out-of-character Chekov and gratuitous Tholian ship reuse, it's probably only my second worst of all time (after 'And the Children Shall Lead'), since amid all its unwise decisions, they at least had the sense to make outcast icon Spock sympathetic to the cause.

Makes you wonder why anyone thought it would be a good idea to remake this story as Star Trek V. We saw how well that turned out.
"Many myths are based on truth, captain" - Spock

Requiem for Methuselah (3x21) ***

I have a soft spot for this lament to immortal loneliness, even if it's up there with the series' least progressive as far as self-destructively emotional dames are concerned. This late in season three, even an average episode deserves appreciation.

Since the story's so small and self-contained, it doesn't rub up against distracting budget cuts either. The reuse of Star Trek's first ever matte painting to depict an entirely different planet ought to annoy me, as someone who's more attached to 'The Cage' than any "proper" episode, but it's such a nice painting that I'll let it pass. Anyway, it's not on the same level as the '80s and '90s series repeatedly passing off Angel One as different places.

The dramatic set-up of yet another space plague is getting really old now, maybe a sign that Kirk needs to tone down his enthusiasm in first contact situations. His instant, inappropriate horniness strays into self-parody here, but it's saved by the ending that reveals just how lonely and unsatisfied he is. This might be the closest thing to character development we've had since Edith Keeler, and in the twilight of the series it makes a nice segue into the films, as does Spock's dubious memory meddling.
"Stay out of this, we're fighting over a woman" - James T. Kirk

The Savage Curtain (3x22) *

Another episode I'd never actually bothered to watch, despite knowing its importance for universe-building. Unfortunately, the parade of historical (and future-historical) luminaries is a very brief window between the Abraham Lincoln silliness and lots of pointless brawling for the edification of rock monsters, with an anti-violence message that even kids would find patronising.

It's sort of like a rubbish 'Arena,' but with Abraham Lincoln silliness.
"In our century, we've learned not to fear words" - Uhura

All Our Yesterdays (3x23) ****

Nearing the end of my odyssey through the most maligned year of "classic" Trek, I'm disappointed but not surprised to see that consensus and childhood memories were right after all. It's only 'The Tholian Web' and 'All Our Yesterdays' that are properly good, the rest is average to embarrassing.

But let's not dwell on the negatives when our penultimate voyage is fairly fine. It's not their best time travel episode ('City...'), but it puts an interesting biological spin on the theme. Sarpedion's apocalypse remedy of depositing future refugees all throughout history is delightfully impractical, surely causing more trouble than it averts, and all the silly A-Z terminology of Mr. Atoz, his Atavachron, Zarabeth and Zor Khan is Star Trek at its cutest (to say nothing of Mariette Hartley, who might win in the babe stakes).

It's an especially good episode for Spock, which have been sorely lacking this year, and by this point the producers know exactly how to keep Shatner satiated and give his co-stars a chance: keeping him busy with a swordfight and literally locking him up so Nimoy gets to love and lose this time. Why they didn't go out on this one?
- "We're in a wilderness of arctic characteristics."
- "He means it's cold" - Spock and McCoy

Turnabout Intruder (3x24) **

Gene Roddenberry's famously progressive, aspirational series comes to a shockingly sexist end in a story penned by the man himself. Though saying that, it's hardly a departure from the norm, considering one of the first lines of the 1964 pilot was Captain Pike expressing his discomfort at having women on the bridge.

But he also gave us a negress, a Japanese, a Rusky and a pointed-eared hobgoblin working in harmony with regular Americans, so let's concentrate on the positives.

Fans of Spock and good sci-fi had their finale last week. This is more a last-day-of-term celebration of Shatner as Kirk gets in touch with his feminine side.
"It's better to be dead than to live alone in the body of a woman" - Janice Lester

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Yeah, this actually exists. It might even have been the first Trek I saw, though if it was it didn't make much of an impression. There's plenty to poke fun at about the animated adventures of Kirk and ko, which is the only way I'm going to get through all 22 poorly animated episodes, but first some of the positives:

  • They brought back the entire original cast from the live action series. That's pretty impressive, when they could have just got James Doohan to do bad impersonations of them all. Well, Chekov's been replaced by a ridiculous three-armed navigator, but no one's going to miss Chekov.
  • They brought back a lot of the original writers, plus some other exciting writers from the sci-fi genre, who did their very third best to write scripts that could get kids interested in tedious space adventure.
  • That's it. It was more Star Trek in the 10-year void between the series and the films, that still counts for something.

The animation by the notoriously lazy Filmation is terrible. You shouldn't be aware that you're actually watching someone swap back and forth between two cells of Kirk's mouth over an image that otherwise remains unchanged for 10 seconds, but that's how most of the series pans out.

Still, at least the backgrounds are nice sometimes.

Beyond the Farthest Star (1x01) **

In this opening episode penned by Samuel Peeples, there's a gigantic living spaceship that would have been visualised with a fuzzy parallelogram on the viewscreen in the live action series, but the freedom of the medium means we can get up close and explore.

The script drew me in at first - I'm a sucker for an extinct ancient civilisation - but by the end we're dealing with glowing energy clouds hijacking the ship again, and you start to recall why the series got cancelled in the first place.
"Obey me! Obey me!" - Glowing energy cloud

Yesteryear (1x02) ****

It'll all be downhill from here. For a long time, it seemed this was the only episode of the animated series that even came close to being accepted as canon by the encyclopaedias and other reference works that impressed me with their shiny covers and out-of-date insights as a kid before the internet rendered them obsolete. It's actually a good story, written by one of the original Trek's best writers Dorothy Fontana, that revisits both the popular Guardian of Forever time portal and the popular planet Vulcan, exploring some of Spock's backstory as he goes back in time to save the life of his young self.

Spock intervening in his own history is a trend that's continued up to the most recent J.J. Abrams films, so it has precedent. It would have been fun if the elderly Vulcan healer had turned out to be another Spock from later in his timeline who had to come back and save himself again again. That kid's always getting into trouble.

Instead, child viewers get an interesting introduction to time paradoxes and even euthanasia as Spock chooses to let his pet die after it gets poisoned. I didn't expect that. The fact that we actually get to see the giant teddy bear with six-inch fangs referenced as a joke in Fontana's earlier episode 'Journey to Babel' is some very nice adherence to canon that I get the feeling won't be the norm for this series as they start to phone it in. But so far, I have to say it's really not as bad as I expected. (That's not saying a lot).
"Captain, I have come to the conclusion that this is not a game" - Spock

One of Our Planets Is Missing (1x03) **

There's a gargantuan space cloud destroying everything in its path and the Enterprise is the only vessel in the area. It's the basic set-up to most of the feature films, but ends up being more of a re-hash of that episode from the 60s series with a giant space amoeba as the ship gets eaten and they have to fight their way out while moralising about their duty to preserve strange new life.

There's an awful lot of technobabble in this, as well as patronising lectures from McCoy on the subject of the digestive system that are forgivable when you remember this is a kid's show. But if I have to keep making allowances for that, what would I have left to complain about? The animation hasn't got any less lazy.

Kirk orders the self-destruct for the second time this series so far (we're on episode three) and Lieutenant Arex gets his first lines, revealing that he sounds as stupid as he looks. They should have just stuck in a silent Chekov. My imagination wandered to the actors having to read this lousy script in the recording booth on several occasions.
"It is like a huge bull grazing here and there in the pasture of the universe" - Spock

The Lorelei Signal (1x04) *

When an episode repeatedly reminds you of 'Spock's Brain,' famously one of the worst episodes in the original Star Trek series, you're not likely on to a winner. The good thing about this episode is that it gives Uhura something to do, which was a rarity for that character even when she wasn't just a drawing, and because Filmation's budget evidently doesn't extend to guest voice actors, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett provide a multitude of voices for the sexy space women that aren't fooling anyone.

Kirk, Spock and Bones get old fast again, which was also done in an earlier episode, and by beaming their... souls...? into their physical patterns stored in the transporter, they seem to have discovered immortality. No one makes a fuss about that.

The episode foreshadows similarly shallow and borderline sexist episodes of The Next Generation and Voyager that also went with a 'planet of the women' gimmick. This one might be slightly less painful than those, because at least it's only 20 minutes long. But it's still terrible.
"First time I ever admired a body function" - Leonard McCoy

More Tribbles, More Troubles (1x05) ***

After D.C. Fontana's 'Yesteryear,' here comes an even more blatant sequel by returning writer David Gerrold, whose 'The Trouble With Tribbles' is admired as one of the best episodes of the original series, or at least the most fun. This one's quite fun to watch too, and has some genuinely amusing dialogue as Kirk deals with an irritating passenger, absurdly expanding tribbles and an imminent Klingon attack that never really feels threatening, but it's mostly let down by being exactly the same episode as its predecessor.

What are the chances that the Enterprise would run into the same characters and situations as before when transporting a similar type of grain? Stanley Adams returns as Cyrano Jones, in an unnecessary but welcome cameo, but William Campbell conspicuously doesn't return as Koloth. I would have thought he'd be glad of the work.

I saw this as a kid before I'd seen Tribbles in their earlier and subsequent appearances, and was confused when the live action versions weren't pink. The frequent pink glitches in these episodes are apparently thanks to animation director Hal Sutherland being hilariously colour blind over that part of the spectrum, which is a nice fact and demonstrates an impressive lack of quality control for an Emmy award-winning series in a major television franchise.
"Don't do that again" - Koloth

The Survivor (1x06) **

Everyone apart from Spock fawns over the renowned Carter Winston when he mysteriously shows up after being missing for five years. The mystery is soon resolved when Winston reveals himself to be a shape-shifting jellyfish-like thing that Spock clarifies with clunky exposition even for him:
"A Vandorian, Doctor. Their planet is quarantined and very few people ever do see them. Their ability to rearrange their molecular structure into anything with the same general size and mass and their practice of deceit as a way of life puts them off limits."
That means we get the Two Kirks scenario for about the seventh time, before the alien's turned good by the power or love or something. The Romulans show up for a while, but they're not very interesting either. Furry fetish icon M'Ress appears for the first time too, further demonstrating the creators' embrace of the animated medium's limitless possibilities for exotic species, but it'll take a while before I can get used to a cat on the bridge. She isn't sexy, you absolute freaks.

The Infinite Vulcan (1x07) **

Walter 'Chekov' Koenig was invited to write an episode, maybe as way of apology for not asking him back to reprise his character and replacing him with a three-armed, stupid-looking alien. For some reason he obliged, and we got an episode about intelligent plants (good concept, poorly executed) and a giant Spock (not such a good concept).

There are some surprising allusions to previous episodes that may have come from Koenig, if he'd really been paying attention, or from Roddenberry's various deputies polishing this turd until it was acceptable for transmission. There are references to the Eugenics Wars that produced popular villain Khan, a brief history of the establishment of the Federation and its wars with the Romulans, Klingons and as-yet-unseen Kzinti, and they even remember Sulu was established as a hobby botanist back in his first episode, before the series stopped giving these secondary characters lives or lines.

Filmation's cost-cutting animation practices reach their nadir here, with the re-use of the same side profile for Bones and Sulu, extreme close-ups of faces during dialogue to save the few minutes it would take to animate lip movements and endless repetition of the same animation for sequentially swooping bats. They even switch off the lights for a while so they literally don't have to draw anything!

I at least have to give the writers credit for continuing to take advantage of animation to present set pieces that would have looked even worse if attempted in the live action show. That said, it's probably not a coincidence that 'Yesteryear' was both the best and most normal-looking episode of the series.
"Spock's death is meaningless if it is only to create a giant version of himself" - James T. Kirk

The Magicks of Megas-Tu (1x08) **

Another episode that uses the cartoon medium to its fullest in presenting strange, new worlds stranger than the live action show was capable on a limited budget, this still would have been a lot more impressive if handled by any studio other than Filmation, whose stinginess results in a lot of looping effects.

In a plot that looks forward to the terrible cinematic outing Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the Enteprise travels to the centre of the galaxy in search of creation, but instead of finding an alien posing as God they find a mischievous imp who was apparently the inspiration for Satan back when he fooled around with primitive Earthlings.

I guess it was probably bold for the show to present the devil in a positive light... was it? I don't really care. I thought this was going to be the japes of another cosmic trickster in the style of Trelane or Q, but it was all just so Kirk could prove humans are no longer barbarians. So pretty much what they did with Q then. My favourite part was when George Takei provided the voice for one of the Megans, as if we wouldn't notice this re-use of the most distinctive voice in all of Star Trek.
"At least I have the good sense to be scared" - Leonard McCoy

Once Upon a Planet (1x09) **

These aren't really intended as critical reviews or advice about which episodes of series to seek out or avoid, I'm just keeping track of how each instalment makes me feel. So while I could not in good conscience recommend watching this pointless retread of 'Shore Leave' from the live action series, it was quite nostalgic and fun in its simplicity.

What's more, while glaring continuity errors can sometimes be a reason to severely downgrade an episode by taking you out of the action, here the sight of Sulu miraculously appearing on the bridge when he's supposed to be fighting a dragon down on the planet, because Filmation's animators are too bloody lazy to do their jobs, actually works in the episode's favour.

So don't feel too much bitterness to this unnecessary retread of an old story with a robot rebellion plot tacked on. Appreciate that Uhura, Sulu and Scotty get as much to do as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, enjoy Spock getting swiped at by a giant cat's paw (again) and stop imagining what M'Ress would look like out of uniform. SHE IS A CAT.
"There is no shame in serving others when one does it of his own free will" - Uhura

Mudd's Passion (1x10) ***

We're still in sequel territory, but like the earlier Tribble episode, this return of conman Harry Mudd (who already had one sequel within the original series) gets away with it by being quite enjoyable. This is one of the few episodes I could imagine translating to live action without too many changes, the notable exception being the battling rock monsters at the end. They would have done it with floating light beings or something.

After Uhura was allowed to do more than open hailing frequencies last time, here Nurse Chapel gets in on the action, initially duped by the established felon but regaining her dignity when she shoots and karate chops him. The Chapel/Spock relationship is dealt with again (this isn't the timeline where's he's into Uhura) and Spock's emotionless veneer is let down for about the twelve-thousandth time thanks to Mudd's love potion that turns out not to be a fraud after all.

Roger C. Carmel returns to voice Mudd, giving the episode extra credibility, but the plot itself is pretty predictable. Almost as if it's specifically written for a child audience or something. I know. As the crew regain their composure after a drug-induced bout of infatuation, there's a definite hint that something might have gone on between Scotty and M'Ress. I didn't know he had it in him.
"That is an outstandingly stupid idea" - Spock

The Terratin Incident (1x11) *

Paul Schneider is another returning writer who gave us such classics in the original series as the tense introduction of the Romulans in 'Balance of Terror' and the juvenile superbeing Trelane who launched a thousand godlike pranksters in 'The Squire of Gothos.' What does he offer for the cartoon audience? A shrinking episode.

The gradual shrinking does result in a nice scene where Scotty's engineering staff bands together to haul the transporter controls with a pulley system, but apart from that they don't do anything new with the concept, and obviously everyone turns back to normal by the end courtesy of the endlessly versatile transporter.

The one line of dialogue I did enjoy was Spock's explanation that their uniforms are made from organic materials, which is why they were shrinking along with their wearers and everyone wasn't going around nude. I'm glad they at least addressed that. As for the issue of how their lungs still work... to paraphrase William Shatner, it's just a children's spin-off of a TV show, dammit.
"There have been no Earth colonists 1/16 of an inch tall" - James T. Kirk

The Time Trap (1x12) ***

This is a more interesting episode, taking another basic, overdone concept - the Bermuda Triangle in space - but actually making it entertaining, unlike that time they all shrank for no reason.

It's nice to see a myriad of alien ships and races trapped together and getting along - including glimpses of a Gorn and Tellarite that wouldn't show up again until Enterprise almost 30 years later - and what might be the first ever on-screen depiction of a Starfleet ship class that's different from the Enterprise, before we got all those lovely models in the film series.

Don't worry though, the producers still make a few stupid mistakes to keep it entertaining in that direction, from Kirk's opening log apparently recorded on "stardate 52.2" (stardates have traditionally been more towards the "5276.4" end of the scale) to another attempt to use George Takei's voice for a character other than Sulu as if we wouldn't notice. Next to that, the reuse of Koloth's visuals from episode five to depict a new character almost passes without mention.
"Home, with all its faults, is where we prefer to be" - James T. Kirk

The Ambergris Element (1x13) **

Kirk and Spock mutate into aquatic creatures that can only live in water. SPOILER ALERT: They get better.

I generally enjoyed underwater adventures as a kid, from Sharky & George to those underwater levels on Sonic the Hedgehog games, but this episode really feels its length and more as our heroes swim around and have tedious discussions with xenophobic merpeople.

Still, the bits where they were attacked by a sea monster were fun.
"I can't command a ship from inside an aquarium" - James T. Kirk

The Slaver Weapon (1x14) ****

This is the most surprising entry in a series that's already given us a 50-foot Spock and Kirk turning into a fish. Written by up-and-coming writer Larry Niven, the practice of borrowing serious sci-fi writers to pen these daft space adventures pays off once again with a very intriguing tale that's a lot better than most of the live action episodes were, even accounting for Filmation's reliably shoddy realisations of Niven's ambitious concepts.

Apparently the story is lifted wholesale from one of Niven's short stories, with the ancient Slavers and the Kzinti adversaries sharing canon with his books and the Trek universe. It's obvious that a lot more thought has gone into their backstory than the Aquans or whatever they were called in the previous episode, even down to rank/class designations and the Kzintis' singular customs. Meanwhile, Niven's good guys are replaced by Spock, Uhura and Sulu in a welcome break from the typical Kirk-Spock-McCoy trio. Shatner isn't even in this one, and he isn't missed. In fact, they should have tried it more often.

This story doesn't pander to the young audience, even featuring deaths and destruction on a massive scale, and it's really a great high-concept science fiction story if you're able to see past the sub-Scooby art. I liked it even more than the consensus favourite 'Yesteryear,' it almost makes sitting through the rest of these episodes worth it.
"You are meat for our tables" - Chuft Captain

The Eye of the Beholder (1x15) ***

Most of the time, these episodes impress me at first with their pleasant planet scenery and intriguing plot set-up before bitterly disappointing me by the end. This was the opposite case, as I wasn't enthralled by Kirk, Spock and McCoy's wandering across repetitive landscapes fighting repetitive beasties (those bloody screeching pterodactyls are back for the third time) but things get more interesting when they realise they're being kept in a zoo by the supposedly 'primitive' slug-like beings that turn out to possess colossal intelligence.

Don't judge a book by its cover, kids. Don't enslave other sentient beings, kids. The messages are heavy-handed even by Star Trek's standards, but I think a child-friendly version of the show should be like that. I wouldn't expect sterling sci-fi like 'The Slaver Weapon' every week, so this is a decent alternative.

I'm hoping these insights encouraged kids to start questioning other aspects of the episode that weren't addressed, like how these awkward slug beasts managed to build all of this in the first place, and why they would bother constructing architecture that seems designed for bipedal beings. It was funny when Bones got trapped under a dinosaur too.
"It isn't every day a dinosaur falls on you" - McCoy

The Jihad (1x16) ***

Closing the first season very enjoyably, this is the most traditional adventure story so far and really suits the animated format. Like 'The Slaver Weapon' before it, it doesn't feel much like a Star Trek story at all, and more like Kirk and Spock have been dumped into a different script through simple find-and-replace, but that's not a bad thing. Actually, with its premise of putting together a crack team of specialists it's more like an exotic instalment of Mission: Impossible.

These specialists are satisfyingly alien, including a cowardly lizard/bug, a non-cowardly lizard, a big bird and a warrior woman who's suitably human to be presented as a romantic interest for Kirk, though this time the attraction is entirely one-sided. That's one aspect of the live action series they really haven't explored in this child-friendly spin-off!

Maybe because it's the end of the year, Filmation isn't quite as stingy with the animation budget this time, and we get plenty of running and driving around, pushing boulders off cliffs, technical wizardry and even an exciting zero-gravity fight at the end. But then you hear that over-familiar piercing screech and those goddamn pterodactyls appear again again again again.
"I tell ya true, I find you an attractive man" - Lara

The Pirates of Orion (2x01) *

Kirk and krew return for a truncated outing of six further episodes that seem to have been largely scraped from the reject bin of the first season. This story was apparently written by a high school student and junior Trekkie, but to his credit only the latter trait shows through in the prevalence of unnecessary back references.

On a routine diplomatic mission, Spock gets sick and is going to die! Luckily, a cure conveniently exists in a nearby system that's on its way to the Enterprise... but then Orion pirates attack and steal it! Kirk manages to negotiate a truce with the Orions... but then one reveals his villainous plan to blow them all up with his dilithium backpack! The transporter saves the day again and Spock lives for a few more years before dying and getting resurrected again.

The introduction of Orion pirates (or re-introduction? It's been a long time since I watched the original series) sticks some barbs on Gene Roddenberry's utopian future, and that's always welcome. That's about the only positive thing I took from this episode, which doesn't even pronounce 'Orion' correctly. Everyone knows how to pronounce that - someone must have actually gone in to the recording session and expressly told the cast, incorrectly, that it's "Oray-un."

There's also an overlong static shot of the Orion captain disclosing his nefarious plan to his first officer and we're back to McCoy's racist baiting of Spock at the end, polished off with a hearty laugh at the Vulcan's expense. In short, some of the worst elements of the animated series meet the lowest points of the live action show. At least there are only five left.
"Blasted Vulcan, why couldn't you have red blood like any normal human?" - Leonard McCoy

Bem (2x02) ***

This is one of the few episodes I'd actually seen before, I have a fond memory of catching it one morning in the school holidays and mercilessly mocking it with my brothers. We were probably too harsh, though my tolerance for these shoddy Filmation productions has doubtless been raised after watching 18 of the things in a row.

It's better than most actually, written by the reliable David 'The Tribble Guy' Gerrold, and takes the series back to its classic concept of exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations. One of these strange new life forms is Ambassador Bem, who's an endearing nuisance and a constant irritant to Kirk, getting the landing party into all sorts of scrapes with the primitive native lizard people.

Then they introduce another bloody godlike being out of nowhere, which Kirk has to convince to let them go free. There's a strong anti-colonial message, and it helps that the godlike being is voiced by Nichelle Nichols, but this unfortunately ends up becoming a very run-of-the-mill TOS episode done with cheap drawings. Its most curious and enduring legacy is that it finally answers the question of what that 'T' in Kirk's name stands for. It's sillier than you imagined.
"There are times, Mister Spock, when I think I should have been a librarian" - James Tiberius Kirk

The Practical Joker (2x03) **

This is the sort of episode you might have reasonably expected to characterise the animated series - the Enterprise recklessly wandering around space with a 'what could possibly go wrong?' attitude, getting surprised by Romulans who were hiding behind a rock (!) and then escaping through a weird energy cloud that makes the ship temporarily 'alive' and hell-bent on making fools of everyone on board. Nothing about it makes much sense, it was written for children.

Spock's leap in logic that the Enterprise itself is the source of the nuisance antics on board is ridiculous. I'm not a qualified science officer, but even I would have gone for the weird energy cloud having something to do with it. It's always the weird energy clouds. And they reverse its effects by flying through it again, because how could that not work?

They've spoiled me with a few decent episodes, otherwise I'd let all this go and just write off the series like I used to. Unfortunately, the series as a whole has been, annoyingly, almost good.
"The Enterprise is suffering the electronic equivalent of a nervous breakdown" - Spock

Albatross (2x04) **

This is the most boring episode for a long time. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a rejected proposal from the live action series, as I really can't imagine kids being into this exploration of medical ethics and subterfuge. They prefer watching Kirk and Spock running from dragons and fighting bird men in zero gravity. To be honest, so do I.

It's a rare episode centred on McCoy at least, though he spends most of it locked behind a forcefield feeling sorry for himself. At least he's not trapped under a dinosaur this time. Meanwhile, the crew turns different colours because that's an easier way to animate a weird space disease than having to draw lesions and stuff.
"Captain, you're... blue" - Spock

How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth (2x05) **

I've got a soft spot for the wacky ancient astronaut theories of Erich von Däniken and his brethren, which I enjoy being consigned to the realm of science fiction where they belong. This tale of the Enterprise bumping into the literal Kukulkan that inspired the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs and a bunch of other ancient Earth civilisations is almost a beat-for-beat retread of the time the Enterprise bumped into the literal Apollo, and I enjoy the ham-handed approach in both as Kirk shouts at the needy gods that humanity no longer has a need for.

As for the actual plot, that's less good. Kirk, Bones, Scotty and Walking Bear - you know, that Native American helsman who's never been seen before and coincidentally fills in for Sulu on the day the Enterprise encounters a god from his people's legends - have to deal with some simplistic 'riddles' aboard Kukulkan's ship and the god turns out to be a complete dick. Then they end on a Shakespeare quote, because kids love that stuff. There's a half-decent episode in there somewhere.
"We don't need you any more" - Kirk

The Counter-Clock Incident (2x06) **

The grand finale to this short-lived series has the same oblivious lack of pomp and ceremony as that rubbish episode that arbitrarily closed the original series. Maybe they were hoping to get more or maybe the truncated season was sign enough that it was time to move on. I'll second that - the live action premises they started developing shortly after would lead directly into the film series by the end of the decade, they didn't need to waste more time with doodles.

The episode is as simple and silly as most from this series, as the Enterprise is pulled into an 'antimatter' universe where some stuff is opposite but other stuff is conveniently the same. So people speak backwards and grow younger rapidly, space is white and the Enterprise flies across the screen from right to left, but the characters aren't printed as negatives and they still breathe oxygen and stuff. I'm nitpicking, but it's the end of this generally below-par series and there's still some steam to let off.

The inclusion of the Enterprise's semi-canonical first captain before Kirk and Pike, Robert April, is a very nice touch. The brief scenes with baby Kirk and crew are less endearing, as is the miraculous transporter cure being employed YET AGAIN, but at least those scenes offer a chilling glimpse of what might have been if they'd gone with a 'Star Trek Babies' concept for the cartoon. I would NOT have sat through 22 episodes of that.

Who am I kidding?
"I'm sure Captain Kirk has other problems besides your flower, dear" - Robert April

Star Trek: Enterprise

Parting ways with 'Trek after the mighty DS9 ended, I never clicked with the prequel series. I struggled through a few mediocre first-season episodes at the time before giving up, then a few years back I subjected myself to the entirety of the third season, to see whether the show really had what it takes to pull off a dark, season-long arc. It was just okay.

When I occasionally read defences of Enterprise, the emphasis is always on the glory of its premature final season, which is often credited by fans as being not only the high point of the series, but also one of the greatest years in all of Trek. Considering the exact three episodes I've personally seen from this year are among the most offensive in all of Trek, I'm highly sceptical of this claim... but wouldn't it be amazing if it were true? Three down, 19 more chances to prove itself.

So without further ado, let's jump back in to that bizarre season-ending cliffhanger and see what's up with those space Nazis. Are you sure this isn't going to be terrible?

Storm Front (4x01) **

That's four to none against, it's not looking good. I thought the Temporal Cold War arc was a pretty good idea initially, since the potential of upsetting the established future lore was the only realistic jeopardy this series had beyond the lives of the immediate characters, but it never lived up to that potential. I figured the series finale would involve Archer and his crew heroically wiping themselves out of history to save the future, solving all the continuity issues the prequel had caused in the process and basically rendering it worthless. It still would have been a less insulting finale than 'These Are the Voyages...', but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is just another redundant time travel episode like we've seen so many times before, and yet another excuse to have fun with Nazis - something that TOS and Voyager already did similarly literally, not accounting for multiple Swastika-free allegories. It brings nothing new to the table, and after many years away I can't say I was excited to get reacquainted with any of these characters. When Phlox showed up, I may even have sighed.
"Americans are good at making movies. They're not so good at fighting" - Nazi Officer

Storm Front, Part II (4x02) **

I wonder if anyone really enjoyed that two-parter? It serves the purpose of clumsily and abruptly tying up the messy Temporal Cold War before it could become as nonsensical as the X-Files mythology, but beyond that it's just an annoying postponement of the homecoming scene that rightfully should have ended the previous year.

Can this season start living up to its reputation now, please?
"You've proven a worthy opponent, captain. I would have preferred to die fighting you, but I suppose I can settle for this" - Silik

Home (4x03) ***

ENT's answer to TNG's 'Family' is a lot less light-hearted, but explores its captain's post-traumatic doubts just as effectively. The resurgence of xenophobia on Earth is also an interesting turn that helps set this prequel apart from the more familiar flawed paradise presented in latter centuries, and it was immensely satisfying after all these years of behind-the-scenes refits to see construction workers actually putting a starship together.

Less successful is the action on Vulcan, which might be down to me never having grown to care about any of these characters in my infrequent bouts of viewing. Though it's also down to those CGI backdrops. Enterprise's budget cuts are painfully visible.
"Things have changed since Enterprise left spacedock. You'll spend a lot of your time boldly going into battle" - Jonathan Archer

Borderland (4x04) ****

Enterprise is fulfilling its duty as a prequel well - not only with the return of species and concepts from The Original Series, but also with the return of actors from the sequels.

Most notable among these is Brent Spiner, of course, playing an ancestor of Data's creator that answers an in-universe question most of us hadn't seriously considered: isn't it a bit weird that "Noonian Soong" sounds so much like "Noonien Singh?" Clearly, the adulation of augments didn't end with Arik, even if by the 24th century his descendants had moved on to less controversial fields.

A prequel to 'Space Seed' was similarly unnecessary but enjoyable nonetheless. The only prequel we really need to see there is the Eugenics Wars themselves, but however you try to rehabilitate their questionable continuity, it's still distant history by the time of Enterprise, so an action-packed romp with Junior Khans is the best we can hope for.

More worthwhile was finally getting to see the Orions again, and connecting the Orion Syndicate that frequently appeared in DS9 (sans actual Orions) back to the species itself. A shame the slave woman didn't do a dance, but you can't have everything.

You know, I think I finally get Enterprise. As their polished ship prepared to depart for another mission, I felt the pioneering spirit. Now to see if I can start caring about the actual people involved.
"Mankind is something to be surpassed" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Cold Station 12 (4x05) ***

Did this need to be a three-parter? I'm all for giving stories the room they need to breathe, but this is mostly location-hopping filler between the introduction and the inevitable bloody resolution.

It may be a 21st century show, but Enterprise still falls back on blindingly obvious character arcs, and there's no doubting how this is going to go down. At least there's a nice asteroid battle.

Having watched TOS season three recently, the non-augmented Augment may be a nod to Alexander. As for the reappearance of the infamous flashing red tubes, has that become a self-referential gag now or just another cheap re-use? I can be optimistic.
"Whenever a group of people start believing they're better than everyone else, the results are always the same" - Jonathan Archer

The Augments (4x06) ***

They don't take the homage all the way and have a battle in a nebula - at this point, it might look more like they're doing Nemesis - but they still sneak in some familiar imagery.

The punchline moment where Soong realises his destiny is to create artificial life in "a generation or two" is so, so corny that it's actually enjoyable. As for the Briar Patch/Klach D'kel Bracht connection, that's some slightly less necessary dot-connecting that it probably wasn't worth wasting dialogue on, but I suppose there are those of us that love it.
- "How long can we sustain warp five?"
- "As long as the captain wants it. Or until we blow up, whichever comes first" - Soong and Tucker

The Forge (4x07) **

We take a more substantial trip to Vulcan this time, but while this three-parter will turn out to be pretty decent and notable overall, this first part kind of annoyed me.

I'm not a fan of prequels in general, but I appreciate when Enterprise does that well. Laying the foundations and overcoming the roadblocks to the inevitable future is all well and good, but in this one, prolific expanded universe scribes the Reeves-Stevenses are more concerned with shoving in as many familiar Vulcan things as possible. T'Pau! Surak! IDIC! Sehlats! Katras! Mount Selaya! Spock's trivia questions! TOS was the best! So why aren't I watching that?

These terrorist crises are also getting a bit repetitive, and it only took them four episodes to find a convenient get-out for T'Pol's marriage.
"Vulcans can lie and cheat with the best of them" - Jonathan Archer

Awakening (4x08) ***

It is satisfying seeing Vulcans being smug and superior among themselves for a change. I can't remember much about how Soval behaved in the early seasons, but if he was as annoying as your standard Vulcan politician, his defrosting character arc is up there with the best in Trek.

I'm also grateful that they clear up the whole katra business a little by stating that most Vulcans consider it a myth. That's always bugged me. Then again, by having Archer impress T'Pau, there's a new potential continuity issue of why she's such a xenophobic bitch by the time she runs into Kirk and McCoy, but a lot can happen in a century.
"The culture you've come to know isn't the one I helped to create" - Surak

Kir'Shara (4x09) ****

This three-parter earns its length by bringing in the Andorians for the action-packed third act. Jeffrey Combs is always great, and the prospect of seeing more of Shran has made me consider watching the early seasons for the first time. Hopefully he'll be back again before the end.

Archer and Enterprise's pivotal interference in Vulcan affairs adds to the reasons it's weird that they were never mentioned in the future, but every time the status quo shifts and there's a real sense of the Federation getting closer, it feels like this series is doing its job.

And then they throw in a Romulan at the end, something I knew Enterprise planned to get around to eventually, but didn't think it had the chance to. I'm late to the party, but it's a bit of a shame the series was cancelled, hey?
"It's time for Earth to stand on its own" - T'Pau

Daedalus (4x10) *

Oh dear, that wasn't very excellent was it? The light-hearted opening was a welcome change of pace, but all too soon it falls back on tropes like the mad scientist and sub-Alien survival horror done poorly.

Getting to meet the inventor of the transporter might have been nice if they'd done it well. In deperate prequel terms, fans can rejoice at the return of delta-ray skin deformity (yay?) and a parallel to Richard Daystrom that'll make you wish you were watching that episode instead.
"Don't fail" - Henry Archer's fatherly advice

Observer Effect (4x11) ***

A finer vintage of bottle show than the last one, this is basically another spin on the godlike aliens story that could have fitted just as neatly into TNG or Voyager, but that's sort of the point of the show after all.

The reveal that it's the Organians behind it should have been more exciting, but it comes so late in the episode that it's just a reference for the sake of it. Better than calling them the 'Tazarites' or something. The mystery is intriguing while it lasts, and after that, in the true 'Trek tradition, we get to see the crew showing off how heroic they are and impressing their self-appointed betters.

I admit it, the 2-D chess was a bit of a disappointment. Not even a 2.5-D interval?
"Someone always dies" - Organian

Babel One (4x12) ****

Another direct TOS prequel, this one at least does serve to clear up some long-standing, important background rather than shoehorning in out-of-character Organians for no reason (for example). That background being just why brash upstart humans went on to become so dominant in the Federation - the answer being, they're the only ones who aren't out for the others' porcine, blue or green blood.

Like 'Journey to Babel,' the diplomacy is predictably derailed by a third fourth? fifth party, but this time it's those conventionally sneaky Romulans in yet more scenes that are initially exciting but then give way to disappointment when you remember the series was officially cancelled around this point and an inevitable Earth-Romulan war season just got aborted.

And it is a shame, considering that after spending so long on less-than-iconic new foes and needlessly cryptic future adversaries, the series finally feels like it's heading in the right direction. Even if that isn't a direction that has any chance of winning over casual fans. This is Star Trek written by Star Trek fans for Star Trek fans, and I do prefer it to J. J. Abrams Star Trek, but not as much as I want to.
"Do you think we're moving too fast?" - Jonathan Archer

United (4x13) ***

Those recent single-part stories have helped put these bloated trilogies in perspective. It is a good direction for the series, as even sagging middle installments like this get to spend/waste time on entertaining fluff like Archer and Shran's sub-kal-if-fee battle and Tucker and Reed playing Romulan Crystal Maze for their lives.

As satisfying as it is to see the Federation coming together (even if the oncoming cancellation dulls the optimism), it's disappointing that they feel the need to keep re-using old plot elements like the cloaked ship detection grid. I suppose after 700-plus episodes there really are no new frontiers left.
"Perhaps future ships will be named after our vessels, especially if we do something historic together" - Shran

The Aenar (4x14) ***

It turns out the Romulan attempt at destabilising these old adversaries actually brought them closer together. Who could have predicted that right from the beginning of part one?

Anyway, that story's all over and done with now, as the Tellarites sod off (maybe they couldn't be bothered with the make-up) and we head to Andoria (it's not called 'Andor' any more?) to get a good, long look at it. The ice caverns and underground cities are all very nice, but did they really need to introduce Andorian Remans? Especially in a story that already features Remans and reminds me about that film. You've got four decades of Trek to borrow from, don't go to Nemesis.

Since it's part three, there's the customary big shoot-out finale set against the touching reunion of psychic siblings we're not given time to care about and the latest development in the uninspiring Tucker/T'Pol romance. I can't wait to see how this pans out. Please get it over with quickly so we can get back to exploring.
"As far as I know, there are no species in the galaxy that have mastered the art of mixing romance and vocation" - Phlox

Affliction (4x15) **

We're on a single-digit countdown to the end of televised 'Trek for a decade or so, but let's waste some of that precious time explaining why Klingons didn't have bumpy foreheads in TOS, even though we already know the reason and your in-universe solution inevitably creates new problems. On the bright side, at least it's only a two-parter this time.

This wouldn't be too big a deal if the story was worth it, but it's just another shooty Klingon one. Phlox is kidnapped, Trip's been transferred and Reed's put in the brig, but if I don't care about any of these characters by now, it's just not going to happen.
"When I asked you to bring me a subject for dissection, I assumed he'd already be dead" - Phlox

Divergence (4x16) **

Trip's manual debugging of Enterprise is pretty cool, but the spectacle of him climbing between two warping ships is up there with the dumbest sights in the franchise. Cancellation seems more reasonable today.

Now that you've explained the Klingon foreheads to no-one's real satisfaction, I hope you're going to address Romulan ridges and the 23rd century's retro tech and sexism before we reach the end. No point opening that unnecessary box if you're not going to follow through.
"The captain and I have had a slight misunderstanding" - Malcolm Reed

Bound (4x17) **

This was looking to be quite the appalling 'Mudd's Women' homage for a long time (of all the episodes to pay tribute to) until a last-minute turnaround allows them to have their titillating cake and eat it.

Canonically explaining the intoxicating Orion effect that dates back to Star Trek's original pilot as being down to simple pheromones is a bit of a Klingon forehead, and the twist that it's the men who are really subservient to the women doesn't really make any sense when you apply it even to episodes earlier this season.

But for all its massive flaws, I did quite enjoy this episode. I like the idea of space still being this dangerous place where you're likely to run into pirates at every turn. Still, I can't help but feel that the background detail of establishing the first Starbase would have made for a much more interesting A-story.
"Creatures such as these come with troubles of their own. Women are the same throughout the galaxy, aren't they?" - Harrad-Sar

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I (4x18) ***

This two-parter was one of the few Enterprises I bothered to watch the first time around, since even a recovering, disillusioned Trekkie couldn't resist that bait. I thought it was ridiculous.

This time around I was a lot more tolerant of its absurdity - the performances are over-the-top and hammy and the Mirror Universe concept is as nonsensical as ever, but if you switch off your brain and let your critical faculties take the evening off, it's quite a lot of fun.

Really, it's surprising they waited this long to reprise 'Mirror, Mirror' considering the multiple other direct prequels they've done this year. It may have had something to do with Deep Space Nine already doing it to death in one of that series' less satisfying arcs.

It's ultimately the 'Tholian Web' sequel that's more interesting though, not least the titillation of stomping around on the recreated bridge of the Enterprise (I mean the Defiant (not that one)). I was less fond of the CGI Tholians and their 100-years-earlier-but-somehow-more-advanced web, and that fun opening is hard to take seriously since it's so obvious they couldn't afford to get James Cromwell back, but this isn't the embarrassment I remembered.

And while the revamped theme is obviously better than the usual theme song (not that that's much of a challenge), I still think they should have gone with a death metal cover version.
"Will you kindly die?" - Phlox

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II (4x19) ****

The classic creature parade continues as they throw in a Gorn for good measure. It may not look especially convincing, but at least it puts up a fight.

I wouldn't go as far as calling a Mirror Universe episode "smart," but this does a good job of setting up the Terran Empire we'd see in 'Mirror, Mirror' while foreshadowing its downfall in Deep Space Nine. Once again they have their sexist cake and eat it by making Hoshi a conniving slut for most of the two-parter before revealing her as a strong, independent woman at the end, so I guess that's nice, and there's a new spin on the gimmick of our universe's heroes looking down on the dystopia by having an exaggerated ghost Archer looming over his counterpart's shoulder.

But it's the little details that really work. I enjoyed the continuation of the Vulcan goatee most of all, and giving us detailed Wikipedia entries for characters whose future histories we'd never see is a gift that's appreciated. This might be the best Enterprise episode after all... which kind of suggests the series was taking the wrong approach all along, doesn't it?
"Great men are not peacemakers. Great men are conquerors" - Jonathan Archer

Demons (4x20) ***

After the farcical darkness of the last two-parter, 'Trek gets depressingly pertinent again in this more sombre story of xenophobia. It feels uncomfortably like it's commenting on the world today, but of course, things have always been pretty terrible, and will apparently continue to be that way for at least the next century and a half.

But being decidedly more mature doesn't make this the better episode, and even some satisfying casting choices of people who are better known from other things (Peter Weller's at the head of the pack) doesn't make these characters' actions and motivations any less predictable. It just makes the regulars look like idiots when they don't cotton on straight away.

Less TOS fan service this time, but Colonel Green is canonised and they mention Coridan, which I always thought was from 'Wars.
"I have no intention of using this weapon again, provided that every single non-human on this planet leaves immediately" - John Paxton

Terra Prime (4x21) ***

We skip the padded middle third and head straight to the action-packed finale. It's alright, but overall, this season hasn't been the overlooked gem of second wave Trek that I was promised. Probably better than Voyager, at least.

Archer's stirring speech makes a fitting finale to the series, even if other elements of resolution are cruelly convenient. It's nice to get a brief tour of Mars, and the sentimental nod to Carl Sagan was well-judged. Speaking of good judgement...
"A final frontier begins in this hall. Let's explore it together" - Jonathan Archer

These Are the Voyages... (4x22) *

For fuck's sake.
"Here's to the next generation" - Jonathan Archer


Chaos on the Bridge ***

William Shatner choosing to make a documentary about The Next Generation is a slightly unbelievable idea. We at least see him conducting some interviews and speaking to camera, so there's more input here than in those novels he "co-wrote" with the Reeves-Stevenses.

But this isn't about Shatner, it's about the troubled beginnings of TNG, and the cast and crew are commendably frank about the flaws of those early seasons and of its creator. It's not quite warts and all - there's not a whiff of sexual harassment, and Wil Wheaton's absence is surprising, as you can't have a comprehensive discussion about the failings of early TNG without discussing Wesley.

But it's enjoyable to have some of the myths and optimistic assumptions stripped down. Growing up, I considered Deep Space Nine to be the underappreciated underdog, but the TNG cast didn't even have toilets.
"Holy cats" - William Shatner

Prelude to Axanar **

You can't rate fan films on their effort and enthusiasm alone, or they'd all be hailed as masterpieces. Convincing struggling Star Trek alumni to take part also isn't a big deal any more, and loyal service to the continuity is a given.

What Alec Peters and Christian Gossett did with their elaborate fundraising promo was to inject some actual quality into the mix. At least, that seems to be the consensus. Me, I'm not especially excited about War Trek any more, so I don't think I would have sat through the feature-length follow-up if they'd even been legally allowed to proceed.

Let them make their movies, you bastards. Maybe the next one won't be so much like watching someone play a video game.
"They called me Queen Bitch Whore of the Federation'" - Captain Sonya Alexander

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