Essays, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the USS Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

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Essays, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Voyager

Nostalgia & Star Trek: Picard, Discovery and the Future

Nostalgia seems to be a double edged sword right now in Hollywood. What on the surface appears to be a comforting guaranteed winner in terms of audience satisfaction and cinematic box office is becoming something of a poisoned creative chalice. The lacklustre critical (if not box-office) responses to pictures such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Ocean’s Eight, sequels to long-standing, well-regarded franchises; or Lucasfilm’s decision to put a hold on more A Star Wars Story anthology movies after the tepid box office (by Star Wars terms) of Solo, seemingly putting immediately paid to rumoured Boba Fett & Obi-Wan Kenobi-centric films. There is a nostalgia blowback in progress, the ripple effect of which we are only beginning to understand.

Is this a ripple effect that, like the Nexus in Generations, threatens to engulf the future of the Star Trek franchise?

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Alias

Alias (Series Overview + Reviews)

Alias arrived at a fascinating point when it came to television. The year was 2001 and a lot was changing in the ether around it. JJ Abrams, at this point best known as the writer of Harrison Ford weepie Regarding Henry, Michael Bay blockbuster Armageddon and show-runner of late 90’s teen hit drama Felicity, was nowhere near the producing and directing Hollywood totem he would become. His production house, Bad Robot, had not yet become the nascent Amblin of its generation. And, just nineteen days before the pilot, ‘Truth Be Told’, aired… 9/11 happened.

Abrams’ spy series already had some interesting cache behind it. Alias was a show that emerged on ABC with the intention of riding into the 21st century with a fresh storytelling model. The most successful and important TV shows of the 1990’s had almost all built their success on an episodic, network model of storytelling; 22-26 episode seasons with plenty of stand-alone stories which would serve the show well in syndication. In everything from Quantum Leap through to The X-Files, show-runners moving from the 1980’s into more of a Golden Age of television, in which some of the most key writers in both TV and cinema of the next few decades would emerge, had cleaved to the way it had been done for years.

Not Alias.

It would immediately strive for an aesthetic which would tap into a deep reservoir of retro-futurism, both aesthetically and in terms of production. Abrams and his staff came out of the gate leaning heavily into the kind of serialisation most shows in the 1990’s just didn’t do, bar a few trend-setting exception we’ll return to. The concept was both high and complex – female super-spy Sydney Bristow would find herself learning the covert CIA branch she had been working for, SD-6, was in truth the arm of a worldwide crime syndicate, and would work as a double-agent to bring down the enemy from within. Episodes would end on a cliffhanger every week and fold into each other. A surfeit of character and narrative mysteries would propel Syd’s journey along, not to mention a curious central, underlying occult and arcane mythology which tipped the show away from action-thriller and more toward science-fiction.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Strike’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 600,000 years ago.

The conclusion of Greg Cox’s three-part exploration of the Q Continuum brings proceedings to a natural and understandable close, as Q manages to win the day over the evil entity 0 (aka Nil) and save reality as we know it. ‘Q-Strike’, thankfully, despite being the longest of the three books, also comes off as the breeziest read of the trilogy.

‘Q-Zone’ spent a significant amount of the page count establishing the central relationship between Q and Nil, which very much reflected an abusive friendship or destructive father/son dynamic; Nil presented himself as a cool, dangerous and exciting role model, but in short order proved thanks to his devastating destruction of the Tkon Empire, when they dared to challenge his omnipotence, that he was little more than a self-aggrandising bully who simply wanted to treat mortals in the universe as his play things. The Q we have seen across The Next Generation and later in Voyager has always been considered to be the ultimate omnipotent trickster, but he never overstepped the boundaries into outright genocide. What ‘Q-Strike’ does is play the line between making Q much more *human* in terms of his character and give him certain shades of grey on his moral compass.

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Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Voyager – ‘The Escape’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 446 million years ago.

‘The Escape’ is proof that Star Trek: Voyager was prepared to boldly go in no small measure right away when it came to the tie-in novelisations which regularly accompanied the television shows on screen across the 1980’s, 90’s and 00’s. Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch, existing stalwarts of the Star Trek novel scene, throw the crew in the first Voyager tie-in novel right into an ambitious storyline which would make the Department of Temporal Investigations’ heads explode.

Voyager may have been a proxy for The Next Generation in many instances across its seven year shelf life but the approach the series took to time travel was right out of The Original Series playbook. In the 1960’s, it felt as though Captain Kirk and crew were zipping back through time every five minutes for some kind of adventure, and many of the show’s most memorable episodes involve the Enterprise travelling through time as well as space, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’.

Despite being made three decades later, with the more advanced narrative sensibilities that came with the 90’s, Voyager often seems defined by the show’s use of time-travel. Captain Janeway’s crew found themselves in different time zones far more than Captain’s Picard, Sisko or Archer in their respective shows, while Discovery to date has only dealt with it via a Groundhog Day-style time-loop episode.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Zone’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 1 billion years ago.

The middle part of any trilogy can be tricky, and Greg Cox’s ‘Q-Zone’ suffers from such pacing and momentum issues as he continues weaving the interesting backstory of Q, the all-powerful being who has tormented Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D crew from The Next Generation pilot onwards. If ‘Q-Space’ established the problem and the stakes, ‘Q-Zone’ adds the context we need to understand what not just Picard and his crew, but the entire universe, are facing.

Star Trek has a fascinating relationship with God, and or Gods. It doesn’t really know what to do with them. The Original Series often made them strange, meddlesome or simply annoying. The Next Generation held a firmly atheist, rigid orthodox view that there was no Almighty, and indeed Q was the perfect example of that; he was the culmination of the message Gene Roddenberry wanted to convey all along, that he might be fascinated by God, but he doesn’t really believe anyone all-powerful is all-knowing, given how frequently Q ends up proving he’s little more than an omnipotent trickster. Deep Space Nine, perhaps because it was more egalitarian in how it developed a galaxy of species, built its whole mythology around the Prophets and a belief in more than just scientific ‘wormhole aliens’. Subsequent series, on the whole, tended to avoid the thorny subject altogether.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Strange New Worlds II – ‘Reciprocity’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 4 billion years ago.

One of the gems of the extended Star Trek book universe, Strange New Worlds was a ten-volume strong series of anthology stories set across Star Trek continuity, across many of its shows and ongoing book spin-off series, based on a competition in which lucky, amateur Star Trek writers could get one of their short stories published. It finished in 2007 but was revived once more in 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebrations, and one would hope the anthology might reappear once again in some format.

‘Reciprocity’, written by Brad Curry, is a good example of why Strange New Worlds is the closest Star Trek will ever come to publishing fan fiction. This comparison is not meant remotely as a slight; while fan fiction is something of a dirty word, there is some tremendous work being done by fan writers online, in places as varied as Ad Astra and the old faithful FanFiction.Net, which keeps the Trek flame burning in the growing absence of tie-in content, and with the advent of Discovery this trend is likely to not disappear in a hurry. Strange New Worlds often took short-story, fan concept which linked into established Trek continuity with an understanding and grace that only die-hard Trek fans could provide. Not all of the stories worked, some naturally showing up the lack of experience of the writers, but all of them felt personal and underpinned with Star Trek lore.

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