Wednesday, 9 August 2017

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues 9 - "What Ships Are For"

Before they begin their two-part finale, the Star Trek Continues team present a stand-alone episode that embodies exactly what classic Star Trek was all about. "What Ships Are For" is a story with a strong, simple but effective moral message that would fit in perfectly in Trek's classic run, although it has a particular resonance with today's concerns.

The episode is set on and around Hyalinus, a misshapen asteroid that is inhabited by a sophisticated race of people who are slowly making their way out into the wider universe. When Kirk and co. beam to the surface in order to make official contact with the Hyalini, they find a monochrome world, completely leached of colour. It's a great visual hook, and particularly striking in contrast to the rainbow colours of the series as a whole. It becomes clear that Hyalinus is bathed in solar radiation that prevents the eyes' cone cells from functioning, so that no one on the surface can see colour. It's a bit of a question then why the Hyalini evolved cones in the first place, although it's said that the radiation has been increasing over the last few centuries so presumably once they functioned normally. The increasing radiation is also causing a sickness to appear among the population.

Kirk takes an inhabitant of the planet back to the Enterprise - the youngest and prettiest, obviously - and introduces her to the world of colour. It becomes clear that there is another species in the system, the Abicians, who are considered backward, savage immigrants and refugees, violently kept away from Hyalinus. However, it becomes clear that there are thousands of Abicians living on the planet, fully integrated. Should the Federation help counteract the radiation and allow the people of the planet to see in colour again, they will be able to see the aliens living among them, with potentially violent consequences.

It's a pretty obvious metaphor for racism and xenophobia, but I enjoy episodes with a strong, in-your-face moral sometimes. Just like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," this episode knocks you on the head with how ridiculous it is to judge people based on the colour of their skin, but being obvious about it doesn't make it any less true or important. A little more subtle is the pro-refugee message, pushing the message that a nation cannot thrive by shielding it from outsiders, something that both the US and the UK could learn to accept. There's a fine line that points out that compassion can exist alongside fear and pride, another thing we could stand to learn.

It's a decent script, written by Kipleigh Brown, who also plays Lt. Smith (who surprisingly barely features in the episode). The are some elements, particularly the interplay between Kirk, Spock and Bones, which don't flow very well and feel forced in. The main cast, though, improve in their roles all the time, with Vic Mignogna now giving an almost perfect reenactment of Shatner's Kirk. There are good turns by Elizabeth Maxwell as young alien Sekara and Anne Lockhart as her foster mother Thaius. Lockhart is another actor who is best known for a major sci fi role, in this case Sheba in the original Battlestar Galactica. The big draw here though is John de Lancie, making a powerful guest appearance as Galisti, ruler of Hyalinus. It's a welcome surprise that he isn't playing Q, but an entirely new character, one who has some excellent confrontation with Kirk. He's undeniably a highlight of the episode.

Although there are elements in the episode that call back to the series as a whole, "What Ships Are For" plays down it's connections to the Trek mythology. There's a mention of yet another two Constitution-class ships being lost from service, which is presumably going to tie into the finale and the Enterprise's part in the revamp of Starfleet. There's another moment which ties into the Motion Picture, which signifies the end point of Star Trek Continues, and also provided a laugh: the crew get their first glimpse of the beige pyjamas that pass as uniforms in that movie, and promptly declare that they'll never be seen dead in them. It's a fun little nod to the movie, and also ties into the overall episode with its tale of drabness and lost colour. The only other element I picked up that tied into the mythology was that the Enterprise's next mission is to Daran 5, which would be a follow-up to the events of the third season episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky."

Beyond these gentle nods, though, this a fun, effective episode that stands proudly on its own two feet.

"What Ships Are For" can be watched here.

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