Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Now available - BATMAN: World's Greatest Detective - The Lynx of Mbacke

Very excited about this one!

The first episode of my unofficial Batman radioplay is now available from CP Studios!

Written with the help of Mr James P. Quick and Mr Scott Harris for their series "World's Greatest Detective," part one of "The Lynx of Mbacke" stars Terry Cooper as Bruce Wayne and Jessica Mathews as Selina Kyle!

It's bats and cats time!

And it's right here for free!

Monday, 18 February 2019



The big event in this episode is Jessica Szohr joining the cast as Lt. Talla Keyali, the new security chief on the Orville. At first I was concerned that she was going to be a literal replacement for Alara - they're both Xelayan, after all, and fill the same role. However (as this episode and the following two prove), Keyali is a very different person to Alara. She's older, more mature, considerably more confident and with a very wry sense of humour.

However, Keyali's involvement in the story is fairly limited this episode, which centres mainly on Kelly and Bortus. An unusual pairing, who it turns out have the same birthday. The episode kicks off with an enthusiastic first contact, where we really get the sense that these are the moments the crew lives for. Refreshingly, there's no Prime Directive on display here - the Regorians called and the Union answered. (Aside from being a philosophical difference, it's a practical attitude - the Union don't want the Krill or other hostile species making contact with new races first.) Unfortunately, at a welcome dinner in the Regorian capital, Kelly and Bortus reveal it's their birthday. They are immediately locked up as dangerous, regressive "Giliacs," born under a negative star sign.

It's an effective take down of the belief in astrology. When the sciences began, astrology and astronomy were one and the same, but over the centuries astronomy has persisted as a way of observing the universe while astrology has continued only as an absurd superstition. The eventual, logical culmination of astrology would be dictating people's station in life depending on the day they were born. You probably wouldn't have whole star signs as second-class citizens, but if you genuinely believed someone's life could be predicted from the position of the stars when they were born, wouldn't you have unnecessary Caesarians to prevent babies being born on "bad" dates?

We don't really get to see another side to the Regorian religion than the extremism, though. It would have been a bit fairer to show some kind of positive side to it, beyond the repression and prison camps. I can't really argue with the point that religion can hold a society back - astrology is ridiculous, but not much more than any other supernatural belief system - but previous episodes have presented a much more even-handed view of faith-based regimes. Also, for an episode about science-versus-superstition, the episode makes no scientific sense whatsoever.

Planets visited: Regor 2 in system Gamma Velorum, a real star about 300 light years away. Yes, it does also go by the name Regor, but this is an unofficial name that was coined as a joke by Gus Grissom (for his fellow astronaut Roger Chafee). Even glossing over their using an Earth name for their system, seems very weird the Regorians call their planet by a number - we don't go around calling Earth Sol 3.

New aliens: Just the Regorians, but we also hear about the fiercely matriarchal Janisi of the Izar system.

The Trek link: The episode is directed by Robert Duncan McNeill, aka Tom Paris and frequent director on Voyager.

Awesome cameo: Ted Danson appears as Admiral Perry.


An absolute joy of an episode that left a huge smile on my face. The concept is old and hoary: the robot character tries to learn about love, becoming a story stand-in for emotionally-limited males who need to learn how to express themselves romantically. It's not going to win any awards for originality, but it's such a pleasure to watch, I can't say I mind at all.

A romance has been brewing between Isaac and Claire since last season, after they were stranded on a planet together and they've spent more and more time around each other, with Isaac becoming a stand-in father figure for her boys. Isaac isn't an expressive character - although Mark Jackson manages to put a surprising amount of personality into his deadpan delivery - and he doesn't even have an actual face. Yet it's understandable that Claire would begin to develop some feelings for him, given the place he's taken in her life. Can Isaac be said to have those feelings himself, though, or is it all just a way to learn about another aspect of human behaviour? Isaac himself would say the latter, but it turns out that maybe it's the former.

Really, for all the sci-fi trappings, this episode is made by the wonderful performances of Mark Jackson and Penny Johnson Jerald. Jackson is finally able to show his face, in simulator scenes where Isaac is given a human form to better allow him to interact with Claire, and experience what she experiences. PJJ is hugely likeable and believable in this episode; I think Claire is a far more interesting and realistic character than freighter captain Kasidy Yates on DS9 ever was. The two actors display some real chemistry. It's a hugely romantic episode, especially the gorgeous climactic scene on the bridge.

Planets visited: none, it's a bottle show.

Music: This episode's running musical piece is "Singing in the Rain," including a spectacular orchestral performance in the ship's theatre. Better than all that Enterprise jazz.

Mustachio: I think the 'tache rather suits Bortus.

Perfect timing: This episode aired on Valentine's Day in the UK.


The episode that hit on Valentines in the States, however, is all about break-ups and doomed love, and is a far more sombre and dramatic affair. In fact, there's hardly any comedy in this episode - it's an episode given over to some serious sci-fi drama, and genuinely works on this level. I'd go as far to say that, dramatically speaking, this is the best episode of The Orville so far. 

Cassius and Kelly split up, in a very mature, no nonsense way, although he embarrasses himself a little in trying to win her back. The main plot, though, involves Keyali and one-off character Locar, a Moclan star engineer. Dropped off by a Moclan cruiser (which looks absolutely amazing) in order to upgrade the deflector shields and engage in war games to test them out, Locar turns out to be Bortus's ex-boyfriend. There's a wonderfully awkward scene where he joins Bortus and his family for dinner - basically a bunch of hyper-male autistic gay men sitting around trying to make small talk. Locar, however, is attracted to Keyali (who wouldn't be?) who begins to show an attraction back.

This is just an amazing thread for the episode to follow. We've already learnt that the Moclans are not actually all-male, but that the rare females (such as Bortus and Klyden's child) are forcibly transitioned or exiled. Now we learnt hat heterosexual attraction (which would equate with attraction to aliens or exiled women) is entirely forbidden, and that "straight" Moclans face life in prison if they admit their orientation. It's an incredibly effective inversion of so many terrestrial cultures' attitudes to homosexuality, and highlights how ridiculous those attitudes are. But all the more impressive are the responses of the characters to it. Locar is ashamed of what he is, but accepts he cannot live a lie anymore. Klyden is, as shown before, strongly conservative in his views (all the more interesting given that he was born female) and condems Locar. Keyali is righteously angry at Moclan culture, and Klyden in particular, fighting to defend him from the accusation of killing Locar but never accepting Klyden's viewpoint at all. Bortus quietly finds himself questioning his society's belief system, and reveals he knew about Locar's orientation but never reported it out of loyalty and love for him. Out of all of them, I understand Leyali's feelings the most - that's probably what I'd be like - but Bortus is the most mature. 

Kevin Daniels is very good as Locar, giving a very sympathetic performance in spite of how reserved he has to play it, while Jessica Szohr is just brilliant, really getting the chance to show what she can do. The episode continues the running thread of the Orville crew wondering just how far the Union's relationship with the Moclans can last, given how at odds their beliefs are. It's a much more nuanced take on cultural differences than in The Next Generation, which generally leant on the side of accepting culture's differences unquestioningly. There are some things which are simply wrong, whatever your culture says, but others things may seem wrong because of cultural bias, and it's hard to tell the difference.

Planets visited: Moclus, briefly.

New aliens/awesome cameo: Katrudians are gigantic sentient potted flowers. Cassius sends one to Kelly's room to speak on his behalf - voiced by Bruce ruddy Willis, no less!

Music: There's a repeated use of Glenn Miller's version of "The White Cliffs of Dover." It's beautiful, but I still prefer Vera Lynn's.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-5 - "Saints of Imperfection"

The last time I saw this much sentient fungus onscreen, it was on the Super Mario Bros. movie. Discovery's fifth episode seems to finish the "setting up the pieces" part of the season, with two separate story strands that come together to provide a complete set of characters and concepts to be going along with. Of the two threads, though, one works much better than the other.

BIG SPOILERS from here on out, if you've managed to avoid them so far, somehow.

The first strand sees Mike and Pike finally gain on Spock's shuttle, and forcefully bring it aboard. It looks like we're finally going to get to meet Discovery's version of Spock as the shuttle doors open... and then bloody Georgiou steps out. Michelle Yeoh spends all of her screentime chewing at the scenery and wallowing in heavy handed serpent metaphors. As much as Yeoh is clearly enjoying the chance to play a hammy villain, I'm just not convinced by her in this role, and I find myself missing the noble, original version of Georgiou more and more. There's nothing wrong with an over-the-top villain like the Terran Empress, but she seems to belong to a different show completely. Georgiou drops the bombshell that she is working for Section 31 and has been tasked with finding Spock.

When section 31 was introduced in DS9, it was a shadowy secret society that answered to no one and didn't officially exist. Here, it's a recognisable division of Starfleet Intelligence, murky but not invisible. They have their own uniforms and instantly recognisable black badges (which are actually combadges, a neat touch that puts the Section's technology far ahead of general Starfleet). Not only that, but it seems everyone in Section 31 knows either Pike or Mike. The captain of the Section 31 ship, Leland, knows Pike from years ago, and he sends Ash Tyler to be his agent on the Discovery. At this rate, we'll find out that Michael's birth mother is actually alive and heading the organisation. Fortunately, Alan van Sprang is a class act as Leland, and his dialogues with Pike make for some of the strongest moments in the episode.

The more successful of the two strands sees Michael and Culber on a mission to the parallel plane of existence that comprises the mycelial network, to rescue Tilly, who has been beamed there by May the Mushroom. To manage this, they power up the spore drive again and submerge one side of the Discovery in the extradimensional space. Anson Mount's performance as the thoroughly incredulous Pike sells a lot of this episode, as he does some excellent Captain's chair acting while questioning the sanity of Stamets's plan. Anthony Rapp is really excellent in these scenes as well, although the moment where he sees Tyler, the man who killed his boyfriend, is not afforded the time or focus it deserves.

The best parts of the episode are those set in the network itself. It's not often we see a truly alien environment in Star Trek, and the mycelial dimension is a visual extravaganza. A plane of glowing fungal organisms, toxic red trees and firefly-like intelligent spores, it's unlike anything we've seen before. Tilly's initial reaction to being broken down to her component molecules in a fungal cocoon and beamed into another universe is a perfectly understandable panic attack, and she lashes out at May. Mary Wiseman is on top form this episode, never going too over-the-top as she sometimes does. Her relationship with May moves from fear to acceptance to friendship a little too quickly, but it works. You do have to wonder why May didn't just ask for help in the first place, though. Still, the mission through the partially submerged Discovery in search of a "monster" is a wonderfully spooky sequence.

It's not too long before we find the "monster," and, in a none-too-surprising revelation, it turns out to be Hugh Culber. He's alive but not terribly well, having been reconstituted in the mycelial realm and managing to survive there for months, in spite of being deadly to May's people. The JahSepp - the little floating spore people - have been trying to eat him and turn Hugh back into organic building bricks, and understandably he's been trying to defend himself. Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp recapture their chemistry from the first season, and there are some really beautiful moments where they rebond and try to convince May to beam Hugh back to reality.

It's an unusual episode which, in spite of the risks to the ship, ends with fewer people dead than it started with. The half of the episode that deals with the rescue mission to the Mushroom Kingdom works better than the Section 31 stuff, being far more ambitious, creative and overall better-acted, even though it's more outlandish. It ties together well, though, with Leland and his ship helping rescue the Discovery, and with Michael's struggle to deal with the return of both Georgiou and Tyler, and the potential loss of Tilly, providing an emotional core. Bridges are built between Section 31 and the Discovery crew, with even Georgiou showing a moment of apparent altruism, but it's a fragile truce that is bound to come tumbling down when they finally find Spock.

BabelColour colours it all

The Evening Standard has run a feature on the colourisation work of Stuart Humphryes aka BabelColour. There's a slideshow showing examples of his work on historical images, from wartime London to 19th century Egypt, and figures from Abraham Lincoln to William Hartnell.

You can view the entire sequence here.

Monday, 11 February 2019

WHO REVIEW: Unbound: Adventures in Time and Space

Way back in 2003, Big Finish released a special series of Doctor Who audios name Doctor Who Unbound. It was a classic Elseworlds-type series, asking "What if?" of various points in Doctor Who lore and casting new actors in the role of the Doctor. Of course, the Unbound series wasn't the first time Doctor Who dabbled in the realms of possibility; alternative takes on the Doctor and his adventures have existed since Peter Cushing built a TARDIS in his garden in Dr. Who and the Daleks.

This new fanthology - available in physical and electronic forms for a very limited time only - sees a host of authors explore the strange possibilities of Doctor Who, asking not only "What if?" but also "Why not?" "You what?" and "Whatever next?" With all proceeds going to the Against Malaria Foundation, Unbound flaunts its unofficial, unauthorised nature to do things that would never happen in a licensed product.

Unbound features all manner of Doctors - old, young, noble, villainous, black, white. A couple are vampires and quite a few are female. Some are previously existing "other" Doctors, lifted from the many strange sidesteps the franchise has taken before. Paul Driscoll's "The Curator, The Journalist, and The Pearly Doctor" features two characters who are just destined to meet, and one who's entirely imaginary. Jacob Black takes on Lance Parkin at his own game and produces a follow-up to an array of Gallifreyan lore, as a sequel to The Tides of Time from the DWM comic and a prequel to the great The Infinity Doctors which strikes an almost mythic tone. Jake J. Johnson's story "The Interposition of Gervaise and Emma" is, unless I'm quite mistaken, a crossover between Telos's Time Hunter series and BBV's Dominie audios, a wonderfully obscure pairing. Peter Cushing Doctors turn up more than once, but never quite how you'd expect. "The Planet Collectors" by Nathan Mullins is a lovely adventure that ties in unexpectedly with the main continuity, while Richard Gurl's "The Crater Gas Element" features a completely different Cushing Doctor in a clever crossover.

Some look at paths the series could, or almost did, take, like Kara Dennison's entertaining "Thief of Hearts" which imagines how the TV Movie might have continued into new adventures if a punky Peter Capaldi had been cast instead of Paul McGann. Others see familiar Doctors in worlds that changed on a single decision or unexpected turn out to events. Janine Rivers imagines a different direction for the Doctor and Rose in "Victorious," while Arthur Lockridge imagines a mirror universe version of series ten in "Virtue."

There are horror stories, like Christopher Swain-Tran's unsettling "Under Her Watchful Eye," and "Shadow in the Blood," a New Adventure by Alec Kopecz. Niki Haringsma and Jim Mortimore create a remarkable graphic adventure, before Haringsma takes on the Unbound audio Exile and proves that something genuinely fascinating could have been done with that absolute trainwreck. In fact, the Arabella Weir Doctor isn't the only comedy-styled Doctor from sketches past who appears, and for that matter, not the only one we find drunk in a bar. It adds a touch of repetitiveness, but it's quite irresistible to think that when the Doctor's life becomes a parody they invariably end up drowning their sorrows.

The Master appears almost as often as the Doctor, their stories always intertwined. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the stories that feature the Master take a romantic slant, albeit in a weird, inhuman way. "The Master of Her Fate," by Elizabeth A. Allen amazingly reimagines the Shalka Doctor, the android Master and Alison Cheney as a functioning D/s triad, while "Everything Was Beautiful" by NataLunaSans sees the Doctor and the Master in a truly touching story that meditates on psychological healing and the nightmare of anxiety (my favourite story in the book, as it happens). 

Some of the most interesting stories see the Doctor more as a concept than an individual, hingeing on the fascinating idea that anyone might be or could become the Doctor. Stories such as Charles Whitt's "Stardust in Your Eyes," Owen McBrearty's "Inheritance" and the bookending story "Cold Comfort" by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett are some of the most uplifting in the collection.

Some of the stories are moving; some are ingenious meditations on what Doctor Who could be; others are simply good, solid adventures where our hero wears a face we haven't seen before. I haven't even come close to describing all of them (and no disrespect to any authors whose work I haven't mentioned by name, this is collection is just full to bursting). 

Doctor Who fans should grab it while they still can.

You can purchase Unbound: Adventures in Time and Space until the 15th of February here.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

REVIEW: The Wider Earth

I'm very late to get on the bandwagon with this one. The Wider Earth began showing in October and was intended to continue only until the end of the year, but thankfully has been extended to the 24th of February, meaning that there will be both time to take the kids in half term, and for it to commemorate Darwin's birthday on Tuesday the 12th.

For my own birthday (two weeks early, in fact, but busy lives these days), my lovely lady Suzanne took me to see the play. Written by David Morton, who co-founded the Dead Puppet Society that realises the production, the play is held in the Natural History Museum, and appropriate venue if ever there was one, in a gallery-turned-theatre for this short run. A small but remarkable rotating set holds the production, swivelling between the wilds of nature and the confines of civilisation in front of a panoramic screen which shows graphics, maps and captions. We were sat very near the front, where the screen is somewhat obscured by the set but with a fantastic view of the actors and puppetry.

Bradley Foster plays the young Charles Darwin, in a story which takes him from the end of his college days, through the HMS Beagle's five-year mission and back to England. Darwin is so often visualised as a venerable old man, full of beard, that it's easy to forget that he was only twenty-two when he set out on his voyage on the Beagle. Foster plays him with youthful enthusiasm and wonder, a little twee at times but always charming. The rest of the cast fulfil multiple roles. For instance the elder statesmen of the show, Ian Houghton and Andrew Bridgmont; the former plays Darwin's father and Christian missionary Richard Matthews, and the latter plays three roles, of Darwin's teacher Prof. Henslow, his friend, the physicist and astronomer John Herschel, and a sailor on the Beagle. As well as this, the cast beyond Foster also work as puppeteers, animating the remarkable contraptions that form the animals of the play, from marine iguana to giant tortoises to the ancient Glyptodon. The use of puppets to recreate animals from Tierra del Fuego to Galapagos to Australia is the most remarkable part of the production (even though a side effect of using the main cast is that it sometimes looks like Darwin's crewmates are playing an elaborate prank on him).

The script is heavy in the exposition but performed with enough enthusiasm that it works and never bores. While Darwin is given enormous credit for changing the face of science, the play makes it clear he did not act alone, building on the observations and theories of Charles Lyall and other naturalists. There's also some social commentary to the play, touching not only on the expected spiritual debate but the then-contemporary debates of slavery and "civilising" the other peoples of the world. It's wrapped up in the adventures and crises of the Beagle's voyage, eventful and powerful in itself - the story of Captain Robert FitzRoy (Jack Parry-Jones) is a fascinating tale in itself, and he was only four years older than Darwin.

The best part, though, was seeing kids enraptured by everything that was happening in front of them. A captivating production.

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-4 - "An Obol for Charon"

One of the best episodes of Discovery so far, "An Obol for Charon" works as both a standalone episode in classic Trek style and as a chapter in the ongoing story of Discovery season two, filled with wonderful sci-fi ideas and packing some serious emotional punch.

The episode starts with the Enterprise's mysterious Number One beaming onto the Discovery to meet Pike. Played by Rebecca "Mystique" Romijn, taking on the part originally played by Majel Barrett in "The Cage" back in 1965 (not that it was broadcast until years later). Although Romijn's appearance is little more than a cameo, included purely so she can drop in some info on Spock's whereabouts, she puts her own stamp on the character. She's very different to Barrett's Number One, who was so stoic and restrained that fans have speculated she was a robot. The new Number One is hardly ebullient, she's got a bit more fun and personality to her than we saw before, but as with Pike, we're a few years on from "The Cage" and she may have let her hair down. In any case, we only see her interact with Pike, whom by now she knows very well. I hope we get to see a lot more of her further down the line.

The search for Spock continues, with Number One handing over the path of his shuttle and the Discovery in hot pursuit. This adds some urgency to the proceedings, and Michael's concern for her brother, along with the recoil from her meeting with Amanda last week, is a major element of the episode. Unlike some of the previous installments, though, Spock's absence isn't given so much screentime as before and doesn't twist the narrative out of shape.

No, most of this episode is given over to two sci-fi heavy storylines which see the crew deal with some mind-bending alien life forms. In pursuit of Spock, the Discovery is entrapped by a gigantic sphere of organic matter and energy, kilometres across and 100,000 years old. It immediately bombards the ship with a computer virus that sends the universal translator haywire. The UT going offline is a story that a couple of us have been wondering about for a while. It wouldn't make a lot of difference on TOS or Enterprise, where everyone seems to speak English, but imagine the chaos if everyone was untranslated on DS9? This isn't quite the same thing - the UT seems to be stuck on random, with Michael speaking Klingon, Detmer speaking Arabic and other such things - but it has a similar effect, with no one able to understand each other.

Thankfully, Saru speaks 94 languages and is able to rejig the computer long enough to get the bridge crew talking again. I kind of wish this had lasted longer - you really could get a whole episode out of the communication problems - but the focus on Saru is needed. Poor old Saru is very sick indeed, and it's not a cold as he first thinks. He has reached a stage of life that exists to prepare him to become prey to the Ba'ul, the predator race that farms the Kelpiens on his homeworld. The condition is debilitating and terminal, but Saru is tough enough and committed enough to keep working with Michael to save the ship. Saru's had some great moments in this season so far, but no real focus on the character, so to have a storyline revolve around him is overdue.

Between then, Michael and Saru realise that the alien entity is not attacking the ship, but is trying desperately to communicate with them. Not only that, but it's doing so because it's dying, and Saru's natural empathy for other beings has triggered his movement into his own terminal life stage. This is classic Trek, with a being that initially seems to be a threat turning out to actually have a motive that is not only peaceful, but surprisingly human. Once they manage to convince Pike to drop the shields, the alien downloads all its accumulated knowledge into the computer and bounces the ship away to safety. Saru, however, isn't out of the woods, and in a powerfully emotional scene, asks Michael to help him die. It honestly looked like he was going to kick it here, and that the vaunted trip to Kaminar would be for his funeral. Thankfully, he pulls through, with his threat ganglia falling away and seemingly pushing him into a new phase of his life, one not dominated by fear.

Meanwhile, in engineering, Stamets and Tilly are busy trying to contain the blobby alien fungus that's the former extracted from the latter. It's a weird critter, at some points thrashing around like an angry spook and at others looking like the Discovery effects team have resorted to the old "man-in-a-binbag" school of creature design. The attack to the ship's systems lets it loose so that it is able to latch back onto Tilly in an attempt to take her over again. Tig Notaro's character Jet Reno, the crabbiest member of Starfleet since Pulaski got out the wrong side of the bed, drops in just before the room is sealed off. There's some tremendous banter between Jet and Stamets, who have opposing views of science and progress but who make a remarkable team when they have to work together to save Tilly. I like that Jet thinks the spore drive is just as ridiculous as it really is.

Once they manage to communicate with Mushroom May, through Tilly by way of some last minute trepanation (they should have called him Spengler), Stamets finally realises that the Discovery's jumps through the mycelial network are killing the alien intelligences that live there. Clearly, this will finally give us a good reason to say goodbye to the spore drive forever, and no more hopping thousands of light years across the galaxy in two minutes. Before that, though, the alien engulfs Tilly in a genuinely unsettling moment, cocooning her in its fungal web. Although Stamets and Jett manage to get her out, the Mushroom May doses them and Tilly is absorbed back in, seemingly vanishing. Into mushroom space, I guess.

There's some wonderfully weird ideas in this episode, but it's the personal moments that make it work so well. I love the relationships that have grown between Saru and Michael, Tilly and Stamets, and Michael and Tilly (although this last one is, by necessity, given less time in this episode). Saru and Michael have gone from rivals to friends to family, and Michael's tearful goodbye at Saru's deathbed is heartbreaking. Just as moving is the quiet, sad rendition of "Space Oddity" that Tilly and Stamets share, when he asks her favourite song to distract her as he prepares to operate on her. It should be a gruesome moment but it manages to be really touching. It's the mix of emotional performance and sci-fi strangeness that makes this episode work so well.

Various bits I like: 

Pike telling Number One to rip the holo-emitters out and go back to viewscreens because the holograms cause too many problems. I guess the rest of Starfleet will follow suit in the next few years.

Linus the Saurian getting some lines about his sucky cold. Linus would comfortably fit into The Orville with just a change of uniform. His gripe about the universal translator is a deft way of reminding the viewer of its importance as well.

So many questions remain about the Kelpiens. Did they evolve this way, or did the Ba'ul engineer them? Who created the religion that holds them to the belief that they are biologically destined to be prey? If they're not eaten, do they simply come out the other side like Saru, or has he developed in a new direction since he's joined Starfleet and developed away from Kelpien society?

The sphere dumps 100,000 years worth of data into the Discovery computers, including information of all the civilisations it has encountered. We get one little snatch about "the war between the Quaternary Star Systems and the Roquarri Imperium," which tells us virtually nothing, but sounds cool. Pike suggests it will take Starfleet years to sort through the data. I wonder if all those ancient civilisations we hear about in TNG are gleaned from this data.

I'm kind of digging Lt. Nhan, who's now transferred to Disovery properly.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019


I've been enjoying the second season of The Orville so much, I've decided to start doing quick episode reviews (perhaps I could try Captain's Blogs of these one day - would anyone fancy those?) After an uneven first season that eventually settled down to a pretty decent show, season two has built on these episodes and really come into its own. The Orville has carved a place for itself as both an ersatz old-fashioned Star Trek and a modern take on the genre that mixes sitcom silliness and serious sci-fi.

2-1) JA'LOJA 

This was originally meant to air a bit later in the season, but I'm guessing it was bumped up to the season opener to reflect "Amok Time," which opened the second season of Star Trek. To be honest, the parody of "Amok Time" only works as far as the framing story, but is pretty brilliant. Lt. Cmdr. Bortus has to return to Moclus to take his annual urination, a major ritual to which all this family and friends are invited. We learned that Moclans only wee'd once a year in the first season as a daft joke, but the idea of it being a significant cultural moment is both ridiculous and actually completely believable. I mean, we pin absurd significance on all sorts of biological functions as humans.

The ja'loja of the title is just the excuse to get everyone uptight about looking for a date for the big day. Instead, we have a series of subplots that follow each of the crew as they journey to Moclus, in the best sitcom tradition. The best subplot is Claire's angry parenting routine, as she finds out her eldest is supposedly the bad influence on a right little shit in his class. It provides some wonderful moments between her and Isaac, which forwards their developing relationship. The episode also serves to introduce Mercer's new love interest, stellar cartographer Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus). It's a fun episode that fits the sitcom style more than the sci-fi, but that's no bad thing, and it serves its purpose well as a reintroduction to the main characters. 

Planets visited: Moclus
New aliens: Olix, the Orville bartender, is an iguana-like creature played by Seinfeld's Jason Alexander.


Another victim of reshuffling, this was meant to be broadcast last year, then it was kept over to be the second season opener, and then bumped along again. I can understand that the creators might have a difficult time getting the network to show this one. This one focuses fully on Bortus and his relationship with Klyden, as he resists the "sexual event" with his husband and instead gets it on with holographic Moclans in the Orville's equivalent of the holodeck. 

This is, frankly, a brilliant concept, and exactly the sort of thing this show can do that Trek would never get away with. We've had holo-addiction episodes before (generally with poor old Reg Barclay), but they never made the leap to their real-life equivalent. With porn addiction becoming a serious cause for concern in modern society, making an episode about it, and how much worse it will become as technology becomes more immersive, is a timely idea. This really works, thanks to some strong performances by Peter Macon (Bortus) and Chad Coleman (Klyden), who manage to remain as stoically Moclan as ever but fill it with some real emotion. I love that Bortus's isolation from Klyden is a result of their opposition of what to do with their daughter in season one's "About a Girl." There's some real social commentary going on here and it's a brave move for a silly show to treat it so seriously. There's also some good questions raised about just how far we should accept cultural differences when allowing what seems to us to be unethical behaviour.

Plus, I have nothing but love for this series making a race of Klingon-Vulcan hybrids and making them all big, black gay men. It's just designed to piss off the conservative Trek fans.

Planets visited: Nyxia, a planet about to be roasted by its sun, providing Bortus with his hero moment.
New aliens: Unk, a huge alien ballbag who comes from a species known for making the best pornography in the galaxy. He's actually a really impressive animatronic creature.

2-3) HOME 

And so Halston Sage leaves the series as Lt. Alara Kitan returns to her home planet of Xelaya. Alara's been one of my favourite characters since the series started and that's mostly down to how incredibly likeable Sage has made her. Alara is one of the most capable members of the crew and yet she has suffered from a lack of confidence and self-belief throughout her time on the Orville, and it was obvious since their first brief appearance in season one that her family was responsible for a lot of this. It makes perfect sense that someone from a high-gravity planet would suffer from muscular atrophy if they lived in an Earth-normal environment - after all, this is exactly what happens to humans when living in space for long periods - but it's harder to swallow that a ship with artificial gravity doesn't already have something in place for her. But no matter - this is a contrivance to both force Alara to go home and spend time with her family and to show that even without her superhuman strength she is a remarkable security officer. 

The sudden lurch to thriller territory is unexpected, with the two Xelayans victimising the Kitans in their own home becoming surprisingly violent. I love that they're wreaking their revenge because they and their son are staunch anti-vaxxers and Alara's father discredited him. More up-to-the-minute social commentary from The Orville. I'm not so keen on the B-plot of the temporary security officer joining the crew and grossing everyone out, but it does supply some comedy in a pretty serious episode. 

Goodbye Alara, I shall miss your smile.

Planets visited: Xelaya
New aliens: Lt. Tharl - voiced unmistakably by Patrick Warburton - is an elephantine humanoid whose trunk is an external secondary oesophagus. 
Trek links: The Trekkiest of episodes here, with Robert Picardo returning as Alara's father Ildis Kitan and John Billingsley appearing as the villainous Cambis Borin. It's the two Doctors! Molly Hagan (Alara's mother Drenala) also appeared on DS9 as Eris.


The moment Janel Tyler joined the crew, the missus declared she was a baddie. After all, the last woman to take an interest in Mercer was a time-travelling villainess from the 29th century. The minutes the Krill ships appeared on their little holiday jaunt, she announced Janel was a Krill in disguise. In fact, Suz pretty much predicted every beat in the episode, which wears its Trek influences on its sleeve more than most. The general plot of having Mercer and the unmasked Teleya working together for survival on the planet is an old idea, and has been done in Trek several times, although the mountain climb to rescue calls back to the DS9 episode "The Ascent" more than any. Janel turning out to be a surgically-altered Krill is pretty much a dead lift from Tyler's story in Star Trek: Discovery - they even have the same surname! Meanwhile, the B-plot of Gordon taking his command training has been done before with Troi on TNG, and he stole ideas from "The Corbomite Maneuver" and "Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy" in the simulation.

It's probably the weakest episode of the season so far, although it's enlivened by some decent performances from all the leads. It's good to have a follow-up to the episode "Krill" and Mercer's actions there, and it's easy to sympathise with both him and Teleya's stances. I enjoyed the Gordon subplot more, though, and it's good to see Scott Grimes get to play more than a lovable jerk. Cmdr. Grayson's heaping praise on him sounded false considering their character history, but given that Adrienne Palicki and Scott Grimes announced their engagement as it went to broadcast, we'll let them off because it's cute.

Planets visited: some nameless desert world.

New aliens: The Chak'tal, bat-faced enemies of the Krill.

Trek links: This episode was written by Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis, long-time Trek creators, so it's not surprising it feels very like a standard Trek episode.

Musical cues: I much prefer the use of popular 20th century songs to Trek's usual reliance on classical music and interminably average jazz.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-3 - "Point of Light"

After an episode that proved Discovery can do classic Trek episodes in a modern style, episode three goes back to the elements that dominated season one, for better or worse. There's a lot going on in this episode, which pushes forward the Spock-centred arc, brings back the Klingons, develops Tilly's story and kicks off the Section 31 storyline. It's a busy set of stories to manage over fifty minutes, and this stops the episode getting slow or boring, but the episode doesn't ever really gel.

As with the season opener, Spock's absence acts like a black hole, deforming the story around it. Mia Kirshner appears as Amanda Grayson, Spock and Michael's mother, and she's great in the role now she's been given something a bit more interesting to do with it. Amanda's never been defined as anything more than Spock's mother and Sarek's wife, and while her character is still defined entirely in her relation to others, at least she gets to be spontaneous and proactive now. She's pretty badass here, actually, stealing Sarek's ship and Spock's medical data and going on an unauthorised voyage to meet Michael and Pike in the hopes of tracking her son down.

Still, long scenes of Michael and Amanda talking about Spock just draw attention to how much more interesting this would be if we finally got to see him. Supposedly he's gone mad and killed three doctors, something that everyone finds impossible to believe, although we've also seen Spock go mad with rage and nearly kill Kirk in the 2009 movie, which was written by showrunner Alex Kurtzman. So it's entirely possible that the mystery of the Red Angel – visions which have seemingly been driving Spock to distraction since his childhood, in perhaps the series' biggest retcon so far – really has made Spock violently unhinged. Or alternatively, it's all a big crock. But so far, all this talking about Spock just seems to be holding the story back; imagine if The Seach for Spock had taken two hours to get to Genesis and then Kirk discovered Spock had already left.

Michael and Amanda's respective relationships with Spock are laid out in detail, with both of them blaming themselves for his emotional problems, but it's all very hard to swallow. It mostly serves just to set them against each other, so that now it's Sarek who seems to be the most emotionally available person for Michael, which is a weird reversal. Michael is very much the central character still, with her relationships to both Tilly and Ash Tyler enabling their stories. Tilly has her own mysterious vision to contend with, a storyline that thankfully completes it run in this episode, because frankly, Bahia Watson's character May makes Tilly seem quiet and together. It's easy to believe that May's constant haunting would drive Tilly to distraction, and she's not exactly the most stable person to begin with. I'm a bit concerned about the state of mental healthcare in the 23rd century; we saw some grim asylums in the original series and now we have both Spock and Tilly treated like freaks because they're dealing with mental health problems. May, as suspected, turns out to be a fungus from another dimension, and that this was the obvious explanation just shows how weird this show can get when it wants to be. It turns out Mushroom May wants to talk to Stamets, who she thinks is the captain, but he builds a contraption to Ghostbuster it out of her. The resulting hovering blob has a definite Slimer vibe to it, and presumably now it's in captivity Stamets will be trying to use it to get Hugh back.

On Kronos, Tyler is rocking a hipster beard and a man bun, proving early 21st century shit fashion is still going strong in 240 years time. Meanwhile, L'Rell has had some work done. I'm really not sure about the re-redesign of the Klingons. I realise that a lot of fans didn't like the new look Klingons, but at least the designers were trying something different. I'd rather they just stuck with it, rather than going for this halfway house version. L'Rell's features are significantly softened, allowing a lot more of Mary Chieffo to come through, but otherwise the Klingons look more or less the same as before except with hair. I don't buy for a second the idea that they'd all shaved their hair off for wartime – the Klingons are pretty much always at war and have never gone bald en masse before – and while the addition of wigs and beards shows that without the baldness they're really not all that different to their TNG-style cousins, it still doesn't really work visually.

Frankly, I've always found Klingon politics among the more boring elements of Star Trek, and while it was mostly handled pretty well in season one of Disco, I could have lived without going back to Kronos for a Game of Throne-esque mix of infighting and soap opera. It's a nice touch casting Kenneth Mitchell as the father of his previous character Kol, but it's otherwise the same nonsense as before, just with, thankfully, less Klingonese with subtitles. It's understandable that most of the Council wouldn't trust L'Rell with a human by her side, after basically having been positioned as leader by Starfleet, and that they'd plot against her, but a secret baby contrived to exist just in time to act as a weakness to be exploited is lazy writing.

Still, hats off to some impressively gruesome moments here, not least L'Rell holding up the severed heads of her lover and son. There just aren't enough baby's heads in Star Trek usually. Of course, there's no chance for even a moment that they aren't faked – if Section 31 can't knock up a bit of baby's head in an afternoon, what are they for – but it's an effectively unpleasant way of furthering L'Rell's ascent to power.

Oh yes, Section 31. They're another element of Trek that I've grown rather sick of. They were extremely effective when introduced in Deep Space Nine, less so in the final episode of Enterprise and poorly utilised in Star Trek Into Darkness. Now they seem to be, not a covert operation existing on the fringes of Starfleet, but a recognisable black ops group with their own badges, ships and swooshy capes. I realise that Evil Georgiou is being set up for her own miniseries with Section 31, and while Michelle Yeoh has a very cool moment storming in to save L'Rell and Tyler for her own ends, I don't relish the prospect of a whole arc with this lot.


“Point of Light” refers to the system of Boreth, where Tyler takes his albino child at the end of the episode. Back in the TNG episode “Rightful Heir,” we learned that the first Klingon emperor Kahless pointed to the star Boreth and said his followers should look for him on “that point of light.” Centuries later, the most devout Klingons founded a monastery there.

Looking at old Klingon lore, a tenner says Tyler's still-nameless albino son grows up to become the Klingon villain the Albino, who still has a problem with Kol's House of Kor when he shows up in the DS9 episode “Blood Oath.” If they're the same character, by the time he reaches forty this kid is going to be a known criminal plaguing the Empire.

The novel Desperate Hours saw Michael and Spock meet a couple of years before this, and had much more realistic sibling rivalry as the source of their problems. This episode pretty much wipes it out of continuity though.