Sunday 29 November 2020

WHO REVIEW CATCH-UP: Stranded vol 1

The latest of Big Finish's Eighth Doctor boxed sets, Stranded is set to be another four-box series comprising sixteen linked stories which will play out over the next couple of years. I've let these slip over the last few years; Dark Eyes started very promisingly but carried on too long and lost focus, although it was enjoyable throughout, while Doom Coalition never really engaged for me. I haven't even looked at buying Ravenous, although the write-ups suggest some intriguing ideas. 

Stranded, though, intrigued me from the start. Putting the Doctor in a new, self-imposed exile on contemporary Earth is irresistible. Indeed, I'm surprised the television series hasn't tried it for a year to mix things up while saving costs. Expense isn't such an issue for Big Finish - setting a story on Skaro costs the same as setting it in Croydon - but the dramatic potential is promising, and it certainly makes for a new direction for the series. And let's be fair, Doctor Who audios could do with some new and interesting ideas lately. The series features the Doctor living with Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) and Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan), his now stalwart companions, in a converted house in London (amusingly converted to flats after his old companion Thomas Brewster sold it). The TARDIS, meanwhile, is just a police box, sitting on a street corner and turned into makeshift mini-library.

Of course, the Eighth Doctor's been here before, back in the BBC Books "Earth Arc." This is quite a different take on exile for him, though - the books had the Doctor living without his memories, spending over a century on Earth and very much alone. There are similarities, though - the Doctor searching for his old life (which he knew he was missing before, even if he couldn't remember it), feeling increasingly isolated, and occasionally almost crossing paths with other iterations of himself. This time there's no risk of him bumping into the Third Doctor during a previous exile, but the Twelfth Doctor's subsequent self-imposed exile is finishing around now. The Eighth Doctor's life was always marked by a complex timeline where past and future threatened to intercede.

Plus, it's 2020 now, and Big Finish are making a bold and deliberate move of support to the LGBT community by having a new companion who happens to be trans enter the scene, and engage in a same-sex relationship with an existing companion. This is good, important stuff, and I'm pleased we're seeing moves like this now, even though we're not quite there on TV (in spite of the attacks on "wokeness" the series is getting).


The big draw of this set, of course, was the inclusion of Tom Baker as the Curator. There's absolutely no ambiguity about his identity at all anymore - this is the Doctor, far in the future, although just how far is endlessly open to question. The Curator, it seems, spends much of his retirement tidying up after his earlier selves and keeping them out of trouble (shades of Merlin there).We meet Ron (David Shaw-Parker), who lives at the Doctor's house on Baker Street with his husband, and also happens to work at the local lost property office, run by an alien named Midge (Robert Portal). The Curator uses this as a sort of sorting office for the various bits of extraterrestrial bric-a-brac he and other travellers have left lying around. The Twelfth Doctor has given Midge a Pandora Bolt, a security device that instils fear and paranoia, which then comes into Ron's possession and affects those living in the house.

It's a slightly contrived set-up (like that's unusual in Doctor Who), but one that works very well as a way to introduce the various new characters that inhabit the Doctor's reduced world. In honesty, not much happens during the episode, but that's kind of the point. This is a mundane story - mundane as in worldly, rather than dull - concerned with the ordinary battles and relationships of everyday life. The Doctor, of course, is singularly inept in this area, so Liv and Helen are left to do much of the everyday work and engagement. There are a lot of characters introduced, just like it would be moving into a new flat in a busy house. Among the most notable is Robin (J.J. Davison), a teenaged boy who has just moved in with his dad and almost runs away. The Curator talks him out of it, and in time (over the course of the set) he develops a pleasant friendship with the Doctor. 

Some of the best moments are between Helen and the Curator - hilariously, Helen theorises that he's an incarnation of River Song - and naturally between Helen and Liv, who are both more suited at Earthly life than the Doctor and lost in time. (Helen being from the sixties and Liv from the far future.) The little oddities of early 21st century life are fun to view through their eyes, but there's the ongoing theme that people really aren't all that different whoever they are.


While she's introudced in the previous episode, Tania's main involvement in the story begins here. Played by Rebecca Root, she comes across as a very ordinary but perfectly charming woman, and there's the beginnings of something close between her and Liv almost straight away. While Liv and Helen integrate into the household, the Doctor continues to struggle with a mundane (in both senses) life, and his sanity is already suffering. When someone is violently attacked in a local park, the Doctor sets it upon himself to solve the crime and bring the assailant to justice, which does not put him in the good books of the police. The Doctor is depressed and desperate for some adventure in his life, but even when it comes to crime and "real" adventure, he is spectacularly unsuited to human life. It's a rare story where the Doctor has to face the limitations of his abilities. There's some real tragedy in this episode, not least when Liv is shot in an entirely pointless altercation. On the plus side, in hospital she and Tania finally ask each other out, and Liv - being from a more civilised century - is entirely unphased to learn that Tania is trans.


Respect to Big Finish for not thinking that merely making a character trans was enough to autmoatcially make her interesting. While Tania appears like quite an ordinary person, she has a secret life, as evident from the end of part one. Tania, it turns out, works for Torchwood, and has been placed at Baker Street to keep an eye on the Doctor. Torchwood are well-informed enough to realise that the Eighth Doctor is too early in his timeline to know about them, and equally that this means he must be protected or their own existence could be compromised. She's assisted by PC Andy (Tom Price) who fits perfectly into the set-up and adds a solid comedic element to the story. After two episodes mostly concerned with the everyday problems of life on Earth, the sci-fi side picks up here, with the mysterious Mr. Bird moving in and tinkering with their tellies to undertake shifty surveillance. It's solidly entertaining, but least effective of the set.


This final episode starts off with the joyfully mundane, as the Doctor wins a ton of cash on a quiz show (and, wonderfully, thinks he'll be allowed to go back and do it again next week) while Liv and Tania plan a romantic dinner date, to which the Doctor then invites himself and the entire household in an attempt to build the community. It's fun sitcom stuff that sees the Doctor finally settling in, so naturally it can't last. His presence on Earth for so long has led a group of aliens from his own personal future to track him down, who intend to take him out before he can influence their timeline and cause their ruin. This is, of course, paradox on top of paradox, and that's just the sort of thing the TARDIS needs to provide a burst of temporal energy to kick start its regeneration. So, an end to the exile is in sight - in three boxed sets time, of course. The sudden intrusion of alien assassins during a major dinner is fun,  and after the strained attempts to keep life "normal" in "Must-See TV" is effective, but the first two episodes, which were largely concerned with more realistic concerns, were stronger. "Divine Intervention," and the set as a whole, work, but I fear the promise of the original concept is already being lost. We shall see - it's certainly enough of a success to make me want to pick up Stranded 2.

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-7 - "Unification III"

This was the episode I was most excited about when the titles were announced. "Unification" and "Unification II" made up a major two-part episode of The Next Generation, bringing Spock into the series and beginning his (and by extension, Picard's) involvement in Romulan society and the beginnings of reunification between Vulcan and Romulus. It was almost inevitable that Vulcan and Romulus would be united in the far future, especially after Romulus itself was destroyed. I was also looking to the inevitable scene when Michael found out what her brother got up to after she left him, and the look of shock when she found out what a legend he was didn't disappoint. 

There's a few moments that take the biscuit when it comes to believability. With the knowledge that the Federation has lost most of its members, wouldn't Saru and Burnham have looked up the situation and seen who was still involved? Equally, I can't believe that no one thought to mention the SB-19 experiment and how Vulcan was convinced it was the cause of the Burn. I know that Starfleet have dismissed the idea, but surely it was worth pointing out to the woman who had made it her personal mission to solve the crisis? 

Still, accepting all this, I love some of the details. Of course, Saru and Burnham aren't aware that the Romulans and Vulcans are related, and still distrust the Romulans. I love that Burnham is convinced that the Romulans are the ones who forced the Vulcans to leave the Federation, when actually it was their idea. All of this ties back to TNG, where we first encountered not only the reunification movement but also Vulcan separatists. It's not all blatant stuff like a clip of Spock from "Reunification II" and Michael's mum turning up (more on that in a minute); all the elements of the episode act to tie disparate parts of the franchise together, in a remarkably fluid and non-fanwanky way.

The journey to Ni'Var, the planet formerly known as Vulcan, is an exciting prospect, so it's tremendously disappointing that we never set foot there and this is left as a bottle episode set on Discovery itself. We get to see different factions of Romulans, Vulcans, and Romulo-Vulcans (mixed race people, I guess) at the logical talk-off the t'kal-in-tet, but there's never a real sense of place. Bringing in the Qowat Milat, the truth-speaking ninja space nuns from Star Trek: Picard, is another nice touch. 

Again, it stretches belief when, not only are the Vulcans impressed that Burnham is there (how the hell do they even know who she is? I know she's the most important person in the galaxy but that was meant to be kept on the downlow), but her mum is now part of the Qowat Milat. It leads to a very nice scene where Mama Burnham uses her powers of absolute candour to put Michael on the spot and actually admit what's driving her these days, but it's still an absolutely ridiculous coincidence. Then again, adventure fiction is full of such contrivances.

The other major element of the episode is Tilly being made Acting First Officer, which is also absurd but works dramatically. Of course it has to be Tilly, who is the heart of the series and the crew. It's ridiculous in realistic terms, since she's the lowest ranking member of the crew, but then, we do know that Saru is a big fan of Captain Pike (he did promote Kirk to Acting First Officer in the other timeline, and that was straight from cadet). It's silly, but it works in terms of the series, although I would like it if Admiral Vance has a word or two with Saru. 

There has been some comment that, for all the talk of exploring a bold new future, there's been a lot of time spent on reworking the franchise's familiar elements. We've seen 32nd century Earth, Trill, the Andorians and Orions, and now the Vulcans and Romulans, so this is a fair criticism, but there's good reason to explore how the major elements of Star Trek's "present" have changed over the centuries. After this, we've only really got the Klingons to go as a major culture to explore (although there's mileage in the Ferengi, Cardassians, Borg and Dominion as well), but it's important to the overall story. Nonetheless, after 900 years, having a minor or completely unknown race in a major position of power would be more satisfying. 

Regardless, Vulcan's future is an essential part of the Star Trek story. As long as you can accept the absurd level of contrivance, this is a satisfying episode, even though very little actually happens in it. It fills in another vital element of the new future, with a powerful emotional story along the way.


The name Ni'Var is an astonishingly deep cut bit of fanlore. News to me but a really clever callback. It had previously been used as a Vulcan ship name on Enterprise as well. 

With this episode, the Romulans join the Vulcans as one of only two alien races to appear in every Star Trek series (unless you count Short Treks as a series, in which case the Romulans and Klingons are joint with a series each to go).

No one mentions the Romulan supernova, nor that Spock tried to stop it (and is presumably recorded as having died in the nova). Even on Picard no one mentioned Spock's involvement in the supernova crisis; presumably there's a rights issue regarding the material from the reboot films.

Why were the Vulcans experimenting with a dilithium replacement when the Romulans have been using quantum singularity technology for centuries?

If the t'kal-in-tet has been used since the time of Surak, that puts it at around 2800 years old.

There's a moment when Tilly points out space is three-dimensional. Characters in Trek seem to need reminding of this surprisingly often.

It's impossible to use a microscopically small time variance to triangulate events when dealing with astronomical distances. Time isn't constant, and over light years the variance could be enormous. But then, if we think along those lines, warp travel causes all kinds of problems of causality.

After the USS Nog two episodes ago, this week we hear of the USS Yelchin, named for the late Anton Yelchin. My emotions can only take so much.

Other starships mentioned include the USS Giacconi, presumably named for Riccardo Giacconi the astrophysicist, and the Gav'nor, which sounds likes a Klingon ship (or possibly cockney). 

Tuesday 24 November 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-6 - "Scavengers"

Season three approaches its halfway point and for the first time gives us an episode that doesn't really feel momentous, although it certainly has its significant moments. That's not to decry the episode; "Scavengers" is a solidly entertaining hour of space adventure and forwards the overall season story arc nicely. It's merely that after episodes where we 1) arrive in the far future; 2) reunite with the crew; 3) reach Earth; 4) visit Trill and explore brand new characters and 5) rejoin Starfleet, this is the first case of business-as-usual for the Discovery crew. However, business-as-usual for Burnham means disobedience, bordering on mutiny, so it's not uneventful.

Admiral Vance has accepted Discovery into the fold and Saru and co. have accepted the refit, although they're still somewhat distanced from the rest of the fleet. Three weeks doesn't seem long enough to refit the entire ship with 900 years worth of advancements, nor to train the crew up on everything they've missed. Still, it's all very swish. The USS Discovery NCC-1031-A, as it now stands, has been kitted out with everything from free-floating warp nacelles to programmable matter, and super-advanced badges which act as communicators, holographic tricorders and personal teleporters. It all screams "far future!" and I love it.

On the outer edge, though, life's still grim as hell, and Book is in irons on the planet Hunhau, part of the Emerald Chain. Burnham wants to go rescue him, especially as he was looking for a black box from one of the destroyed ships. The plan being that by collecting enough of these, they can triangulate the origin point of the Burn, which is a solid idea and it's hard to see why no one has thought of trying it at any point in the last 120 years.

Of course, Saru has other ideas. Discovery is now Starfleet's rapid response ship, thanks to the spore drive, and Vance has presented the crew with their own mission. So Burnham goes off against orders, because of course she does. I mean, she's not wrong (even Vance accepts that the intel was worth it, and chastises Saru for not coming to him) but she can't continually disobey direct orders and finally gets busted down because of it. Not that I imagine being science officer instead of First Officer will make much difference in the long run, but at least it's something. 

Out on Hunhau, Burnham and Georgiou (I don't know, she's probably bored) play as antique hunters looking for vintage tech (I laughed more than was sensible at the reference to self-sealing stem bolts, and still no one seems to know what they're for). Georgiou finally has some character beyond "EVIL" now, and she and Burnham make a solid double-act. Empress of the Galaxy is also having some serious flashbacks to traumatic events in the Mirror Universe (if that's not a tautology), which seemingly stem from whatever happened between her and Cronenberg. 

It's a packed actioner, with exploding heads, blaster fights against alien militiamen and death-defying escapes. It's hardly the deepest episode, but a good shoot-em-up goes a long way to keep things entertaining. Book remains one of the best things in this season - his presence was sorely missed during the last couple of episodes - and he has his own solid friendship with Ryn, an Andorian who's fallen out with the head of the Chain. I really enjoyed the poor, mutilated Andorian, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he made it through the episode. He could be an interesting addition to the ongoing cast, if he sticks around, and at the very least, I feel he's going to lead us towards a final confrontation with the Emerald Chain.

Of course, he chemistry between our two double-acts is nothing compared to that between Burnham and Book, who finally kiss... although it's actually not been all that long for us as viewers. It's a canny move; we get all the tension of a year-long "will-they/won't-they" without any of the boredom, as they go straight into "yes they will."

There's a charming subplot in which Stamets bonds with Adira, whose unique position is keeping her isolated from the rest of the Disconauts. It results in a fun three-way pseudo-conversation between the two of the them and the ghost of super-cutie Gray. It's refreshing to see Stamets just accept that Adira's dead boyfriend still talks to her, after all the weirdness he's experienced and his own boyfriend coming back from the dead. There's some fun chemistry between Rapp and del Bario too, and we could end up with an interesting friendship between the two geniuses.

A solid episode, if not a groundbreaking one, and there's nothing wrong with that.


Some fans have a weird problem with the addition of the "A" to Discovery's registration, something we've only seen used for successor ships before. It makes perfect sense, though. The ship is listed as destroyed, and its presence is a violation of the Temporal Accords, so labelling it as a new ship is a logical subterfuge. Or maybe they've just changed the registry system over the course of nine centuries.

Noah Averbach-Katz, who plays Ryn the Andorian, is Mary "Tilly" Wiseman's husband. He also runs a D&D group with Anthony Rapp, Emily Coutts, Blu del Bario and Ian Alexander, which is very cute.

There's a fun running gag where Linus the Saurian continually materialises in the wrong place. In fairness, it's not clear how anyone's supposed to instruct their personal transporters, since they don't give them verbal commands and there's no visible interface.

Book was heading to the Bajoran Exchange, hinting at a link between Bajor and the Emerald Chain. Then again, there's a Bajoran among the slaves on Hunhau, so relations can't be peachy keen between the two groups.

Monday 23 November 2020

The Very Best of Doctor Who

 It's November the 23rd, 2020. 57 years ago today, Doctor Who made it's first appearance on BBC1. You have to watch Doctor Who today, it’s the law. 

So it’s appropriate that today I have a new piece on Television Heaven, about that greatest of Doctor Who serial, City of Death

“Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”

Monday 16 November 2020

WHO REVIEW: Time Lord Victorious comics

The massive, multimedia crossover event Time Lord Victorious is already a bit of an overstretch for most of us fans. I'm torn between the excitement and intrigue of such an expansive storyline, and the money-grabbing enormity of it all. I never like the huge crossover events that Marvel an DC periodically do, where you have to buy three dozen comics to understand what's going on and it costs you a fortune. On the other hand, this is new ground for Doctor Who and it is my number one fandom, so the excitement is there. So I'm going to pick and choose and and where I can.

Some people are questioning why they're focusing on the Tenth Doctor and an event from his era of the series, and apart from the obvious popularity of the incarnation, there's the fact that the BBC can't make it appear, intentionally or otherwise, that any purchase is necessary to follow one of their broadcasts. So tying into the current series with the Thirteenth Doctor is a no-go. Even then, she's not entirely absent from the proceedings.

 DEFENDER OF THE DALEKS (Titan Comics: Time Lord Victorious)

The first of two comic strips opening the event is this, Titan's latest miniseries, released as two monthly issues. In it, the Tenth Doctor is pulled into a divergent timestream whereupon he is forced to aid the Daleks in their fight against a terrible power from the dawn of time. 

This is Jody Houser's story, following on from her work on the Thirteenth Doctor comics, where last we saw the Tenth Doctor involved in his own future (but I've not read that one yet). It's well-written enough, but for all the shouting about it, it's not all that much of an event. The Doctor reluctantly teaming up with the Daleks has been done before, and better, although at least the Dalek Prime Strategist, a new character, adds an air of sophistication. The Golden Emperor appears as well, harking back to the early "Dalek Chronicles" days of the tie-in comics. He's had a bit of an updated design but he's still iconic, and this sets up the Daleks! animated series nicely.

My main problem is the villains, the Hond. Although there's an interesting concept behind them - the sort of metaphysical idea that used to show up in the New Adventures days - design-wise they're just mud monsters, and that's really not all that interesting. Also, while I understand this crossover is designed to be expansive, we're already expecting another terrible threat from the Dark Times, the Kotturuh to threaten the universe. Do we need to introduce another? Still, there is a similarity with the Ancestor Cell, from the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel lie, which suggests the Hond as another potential identity of the Enemy. With Faction Paradox suddenly being mentioned in other prose stories lately, this might not be entirely trivial. 

Altogether, the adventure is fine, but underwhelming. Nice artwork by Roberta Ingranata.


Doctor Who Magazine jumps in on Time Lord Victorious with a three-part comic story featuring the Ninth Doctor. DWM has skipped the comic strip for a few months to save money - the impact of COVID on sales - and makes an event out of bringing it back. We haven't had a past Doctor comic in DWM since the nineties, I believe, and while it's back to business with the Thirteenth Doctor next month, this does make it rather stand out. Like Defender of the Daleks, this features a threat from the Dark Times, but this is something we know and expect. Nine and Rose find themselves back at the dawn of time in the middle of the Eternal Wars, when the Time Lords fought the Vampires. 

It's a clever way of having the Ninth Doctor meet the Time Lords - although according to this, it's so early in their history that it's before they were time travellers. They're the Space Lords of Gallifrey, led by an angry female general who we learn is an early incarnation of Rassilon. It seems that every Time Lord must have a new regeneration with a different ethnicity or gender these days - and I'm all for it. Better than all those endless old white blokes in big hats.

I'd had an idea to write about a Vampire ship years, ago, and never used it, but in my mind it was something organic and far more like a perverted form of TARDIS. I love what Scott Gray and John Ross have done though - flying castles and crypts! The vampires themselves are disappointingly traditional, with only a brief appearance of a Great Vampire storming through the black, but it works pretty well. I particularly like the use of Cucurbites - blood-drinking space weapons - that first appeared back in the Eighth Doctor comic "Tooth and Claw." (The story also reference the episode "Tooth and Claw," just to mix things up.)

It's a pretty solid adventure with some vampire tropes being exercised, but it's the glimpse of the ancient Gallifreyans that's the most interesting. 

Sunday 15 November 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-5 - "Die Trying"


It's surprising that Discovery's latest season has pushed ahead so quickly. I had fully expected a year of tracking down Starfleet and the Federation, yet here we are, at episode five and already we've met the Commander-in-Chief. You've got to wonder exactly what Saru and Burnham thought they were going to find when they got to Starfleet Command. Given free reign to fly around the galaxy on whatever mission they see fit, they seek out a command structure and then act all surprised when they're given orders. They even object to the Discovery being retrofit, which isn't a bad idea seeing that their technology is 900 years out of date.

The episode gets off to a gorgeous start as Discovery enters a sort of warp bubble in space, inside which is the new Starfleet Command and a gigantic shipyard. It's five minutes of pure fan-pleasing geekery, with the bridge crew geeking out just as much as the viewers. After four episodes on the fringes of society and on self-isolated planets (albeit with bits of hyper-advanced tech), it's pleasing to see the series embrace the futuristic in a big way. The new shipyard is an immense playground of starships both recognisably Starfleet and truly out there, up to and including a self-enclosed rainforest. There are plenty of references for fans, too, (more on them below).

Of course, we can't hang around looking at pretty ships forever, so on with the plot. Starfleet Command is just as futuristic as the outside would suggest, with artificial intelligences everywhere (including an umpteenth generation EMH) working alongside the organic officers. There's a fine line between making it impressively futuristic and recognisably Starfleet, and they get it pretty spot on here. Allegedly the civilian government of the Federation is here too, but we don't see any evidence of that. Starfleet and the Federation have often been presented as interchangeable and it's always uncomfortable when they are. More than ever it looks like the UFP is under military aegis here (seemingly backed up by a line from Saru), but that makes sense in an era where everything has been knocked back by a massive catastrophe.

Oded Fehr - so often a shifty villain - is very good as the C-in-C, Admiral Vance. Thankfully, the writers have avoided the cliched "badmiral" route and given us a commanding officer who isn't cuddly and trusting but isn't a villain either. Vance, although a bit of a dick when he's dealing with the Disconauts, is right not to trust them from the off, having only their word for their identity and origins. Amusingly, the super-secrecy around Discovery and the spore drive comes back to bite them, since there are no records whatsoever of their mission to the future and the ship is listed as destroyed. (Not that we should necessarily expect any records on them to have survived from over nine centuries earlier, however good the tech is.) 

The resulting debrief is one of the most entertaining parts of the episode, with each crewmember giving a rundown of their highly improbable adventures (Hugh's recount of his murder and Reno's whole so-what? approach being highlights). Surprisingly, though, it's Georgiou who turns out to have the most interesting part of this story. After owning the various holograms with some ingenious low-tech hacking, she finds herself face-to-face with a mysterious individual in big glasses who's played by none other than David ruddy Cronenberg. It's a wonderful sequence, with Cronenberg's character voicing the legitimate question of what the hell Georgiou is even doing here in the future on Discovery. We get no answers, beyond the already obvious "because of Michael," but it's worth it just to see the Emperor rattled. Cronenberg (I don't care what his character's name is, I'm inevitably going to call him Cronenberg anyway) reveals to her that the Empire fell (which, as DS9 viewers, we already knew) and that the two universes have drifted so far apart that no contact has been made between the two in five hundred years. It's hard to tell, but there's a hint that he's speaking from personal knowledge rather than reeling off historical data. It's very intriguing. It ends with Georgiou completely unsettled, possibly even controlled, although it's impossible to say for sure what's going on with her yet. (She's not wearing the big glasses, which poo-poo'd our theory that they were the controlling intelligence.)

Alongside all this is Burnham's mission to prove that a) Discovery and the Disconauts still have a place in Starfleet in 3189 and b) she's actually capable of showing respect to her seniors occasionally. Permitted to take Dsicovery on a voyage to find a cure to a prion plague that's killing a bunch of Kili refugees (a pleasantly retro grey-type alien), she's joined by Lt. Nhan and Dr. Culber on a mission to the USS Tikhov (now known forever as the USS Teacup because we weren't listening properly to begin with), an ancient seed bank now run by members of Nhan's own race, the Barzans. 32nd century officer Lt. Willa (Audrey Jackson) is along to keep an eye on things, coming round quickly to the Disco way of doing things and blatantly being set up as a new recurring character.

But there are a lot of characters now, and it's getting very heavy, so to make room, someone has to go... and they write out Nhan. Gorgeous, bad-ass, mysterious Nhan, after three episodes as a main character, gets dumped before we really get a chance to know her. Thankfully, this episode goes a long way to fleshing out her character, allowing Rachael Ancheril the chance to show off her acting chops a bit before she stays behind to look after the seed bank, but still, it seems a waste. She keeps mentioning Airiam, and that just drives home that the writers are doing the same thing: giving us a strong episode for a character we've been waiting to see more of before writing them out. At least Nhan can (and probably will) show up again.

Naturally, the Disconauts show this futuristic fleet the Starfleet way of doing things, with compassion, risk-taking and teamwork. It's cheesy but it works, and Discovery is assured of its place in the 32nd century (a quick retrofit might help though, guys - remember how your shields were knocked out in one shot a couple of episodes ago?) Saru gets a nice speech about the Renaissance (the artist he talks about, Giotto di Bondone, died in 1337, which amusingly makes him ten years closer to Discovery's own time than their new home). Plus, he knocks Burnham down for shooting her mouth off every chance she gets and seriously jeopardising their relationship with Starfleet, which is harsh but very, very fair. 

It's a good, solid episode, leaving us with two mysteries: the cause of the Burn, and the nature of this piece of music which has Burnham so bothered as it follows her around. It's quite Doctor Who-y. Hopefully they don't drag the mystery out too long...

Starship porn:

The shipyard includes starships with organic hulls and entirely projected holo-ships (please call one the Enlightenment - one of you guys must be a Red Dwarf fan). Among the ships we see are a new USS Constitution and the USS Voyager NCC-74656-J, which looks like an updated Intrepid-class design. Tilly says that makes it tenth generation, but is corrected to say it's eleventh, presumably having forgotten the original letter-less one, but I dispute that - most registration systems wouldn't include the letter I because it's easily mistaken for the number 1.

The best of all is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it USS Nog, a huge ship named for the first Ferengi in Starfleet, confirmed behind-the-scenes as an Eisenberg-class vessel, in honour of the late Aron Eisenberg. I could cry.

A tenner says we'll see a new USS Enterprise by the end of the season.

Future history: 

Vance points out that since the Federation spent the 30th century fighting to uphold the Temporal Accords, and that time travel is now outlawed, the Discovery crew's presence is a crime. Which just shows how futile and illogical it would be to outlaw time travel once it's been developed, since people will inevitably arrive from before it was banned.

Barzan joined the Federation in the 25th century; Kaminar at a point unknown. We don't know if they're still members in 3189. At its height, the UFP had 350 member worlds (up from around 150 in 2373, and speaking of full members, not the undoubtedly thousands of colonies). It's now down to thirty-eight.

The Burn is confirmed as having occurred 120 years previously, so c. 3069.

The Andorian-Orion alliance is called the Emrald Chain and is a major threat to the Federation. It's just annexed Sigma Draconis (home to three inhabited planets in the Trekverse and uncomfortably close to Earth at a mere nineteen light years away).

Crew roster:

Detmer's debrief shows she's in no shape to be on active duty yet she's still sent to pilot Discovery to the Tikhov and then straight out again on the new mission. Give the poor woman a week off.

Tal gets taken to Command with Saru and Burnham... and then completely disappears for the remainder of the episode.

Sunday 8 November 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-4 - "Forget Me Not"

Discovery continues to explore the far future of the Trek universe, seeing familiar worlds and races portrayed in new ways. At the same time, the core characters are not only expanding but becoming deeper, with some real and believable focus paid to their development and their relationships with each other. Although nothing as monumental as reaching Earth happens in this episode, it's easily as important as the previous three instalments to the ongoing story of the Starship Discovery and its mismatched crew.

First; the interplanetary stuf.. It's our first visit to the planet Trill since the third season DS9 episode "Equilibrium," and it's beautiful. We didn't see much more of it than the Caves of Mak'ala on DS9 - which look essentially the same, albeit bigger, more expensive and with some fairy lights up - but this time we get to see a truly stunning rendition of a green and pleasant alien world. This series is particularly stunning in its third season, and notably it looks like the Federation's main member planets have weathered leaving the union pretty well, whereas the far flung colonies have collapsed after having been abandoned. Which is pretty much what you'd expect, given that the colonies would be dependent on support from the homeworlds to function. Trill, like Earth, has become insular, although to begin with the Trill are far more welcoming than the Terran authorities. 

This doesn't last long, however, when the Trill elders discover that Adira, the new host to the Tal symbiont, is human. When the word "abomination" gets thrown around, trouble isn't far behind. Again, we've been having some debate in the household about how much of the trans allegory with the Trill was deliberate on DS9, but it's very clearly deliberate here, and while there's no clear parallel (the Trill are more species-ist than anything, so it's more a racism parallel) the choice of language is important. After all, the showrunners have made the conscious decision to feature two trans actors in the Trill storyline, and they'll both have heard this word applied to them, either directly or towards their community as a whole. 

Pretty big SPOILERS from hereon out, so proceed with caution if you haven't caught the episode yet.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-3 - "People of Earth"

A very enjoyable, straightforward episode, once you get over the strange way into the set-up. It's an interesting decision to leave Burnham out of the loop for a year and then catch up with her, giving her the job of filling in the crew on the exposition for the future history. I can't escape the feeling that there's a lot more fun to be had with Burnham's adventures as a 32nd century courier - her turning up saying "I've changed" is effective, but not half as effective as actually following her and seeing her change. Still, I suspect we'll get a few flashbacks still, and there's plenty of scope for quick adventures in future Short Treks installments. It's fun to see that she and Book have developed a strong relationship, but have spent the last year pretending they don't have a thing for each other. He won't be out of the picture long, we can be sure of that. 

So, we're off to Earth, surprisingly early in the season. This is actually very effective, with life on Earth not being the be all and end all of the series. This isn't Voyager, where getting home to Earth was the whole point (even for the third of the crew or so who weren't even from there). Earth turns out to be a false hope and the stopover, although allowing for some emotional scenes, is ultimately a brief one. There's more important stuff to do, more necessary places to go.

The crux of this being that the mission for this season is to save the Federation, whatever's left of it, and that is no longer synonymous with Earth. The mother planet has Brexited out of the UFP, turning in on itself and becoming xenophobic even to its own colonies. There's a wall around the Earth, and although this one's made of orbital battle satellites rather than bricks and barbed wire, it's hard not to see a parallel with the USA's position in the world. As a Brit, though, it plays more like the UK's increasingly inward-looking attitude and the rampant propaganda against our nearest neighbours. We've not got the stage where we'll shoot down refugee boats coming asking for help, but we are prepared to push them back out to sea, and the parallels are clear.

In practice, "People of Earth," for all its foundation-shattering isolation of the homeworld, is about as pure and old-fashioned an episode of Trek as we've had in a while. The original series was full of episodes where the Enterprise turned up at a world with a generations-long social problem, then sorted it out in fifty minutes. Many of the episodes had an alien world that reflected a real life contemporary social problem, magnified for the story. These tropes are both happening here, only this time, the strange new world in question is the Earth.

The revelation that the raider Wen is not an alien but a human in a fancy helmet is about the most obvious twist imaginable (I believe I actually said, "Ooh, a new alien! Oh no, it's just a bloke in a hat," as soon as he appeared onscreen), but it sets up a lot more of the future climate than it at first appears. We've already seen (probable) humans living distantly from the Earth, abandoned by their civilisation, and humans who work to uphold the ideals of the Federation. We know that sometime in the future, the "V'draysh" will be fighting against human factions. Having Earth turn its back on its colonies and end up in unknowing conflict with Titan is another example of how humanity is splintering in the far future. 

It's a strong episode for the characters, too. The more open Burnham is much better company than the pseudo-Vulcan, guilt-ridden version we've lived with so far, and Martin-Green really brings her to life. It's absolutely right that she immediately hands over the captaincy of Discovery to Saru - making him the first alien command lead for the franchise - but she almost immediately undermines him. However much she says she's changed, Burnham is just the same in this regard, going against the captain's wishes as soon as she thinks she knows better. At least it's consistent. Her plan to trick Wen into lowering his shields is a brilliant (albeit very risky) one, but did she not think it would work better if she let Saru know what was going on? 

Tilly is a joy in this episode, as ever, with her sibling-like relationship with Stamets holding together the fun scenes where new recruit Adira runs rings round them. It's interesting to hear Adira referred to as "she," when all publicity so far has indicated that they'd be non-binary like the actor playing them, Blu del Barrio. There's been some speculation about this, but Blu themself gave a fascinating interview on the subject here. The reveal that Adira is carrying a Trill symbiont, and is therefore the mysterious Admiral Tal the crew are looking for, adds a whole other level to their character. Adira could become one of the most complex characters we've ever had in terms of gender and identity. My partner and I have been rewatching DS9 lately and talking about Dax's character, wondering how much of the Trill's allegory for trans people was deliberate. It's good to see that, inarguably, Discovery's writers are using the concept to explore gender identity now. As for Adira themself, so far they're a bit inscrutable, but I enjoyed del Barrio's performance and look forward to getting to know the character better.

There's less focus on the rest of the cast this week, although even the lesser crewmen get their moment. It's good to see Detmer's response to the trauma of the journey through time hasn't been forgotten, even if Saru seems blind to how well some of his crew are coping. Even Georgiou is pretty good in this episode, toned down a bit from last week. Among the guest cast, Christopher Heyderdahl is sympathetic as the desperate Wen, while Phumzile Sitole is impressive as Captain Ndoye of the United Earth Defence Force. (Apparently Sitole was disillusioned with acting when she auditioned for the role, and thought it would be her last. Glad to read that it's been a positive experience for her and she plans to continue acting.)

Regarding the future Earth, some elements work, some don't. I love the idea of the crew gathering around the now-enormous tree they once sat under at the Academy. Notably the Golden Gate Bridge has been repaired in the centuries since the Breen attack. Having the United Earth Defence Force look so similar to Starfleet was perhaps a mistake, since they're supposed to be a breakaway from the Federation. That said, Starfleet originated with United Earth, predating the Federation, so perhaps they're holding onto the retro, 22nd century look. It still beggars belief that the spore drive is so utterly advanced that it's beyond anything in the 32nd century, but at least the rest of the technology is way beyond Discovery's: the UEDF can beam straight through the ship's shields, and knock them out with one torpedo. Still, it's pretty mad that a) the Earth's super-advanced long range sensors couldn't pick up that Wen's ships came from Titan, which in space terms is down the road and round the corner; and b) that Wen couldn't have just radio'd them. Also notable is that, although the Earth is now isolationist, they have no problem employing aliens in their ranks.

Far future quibbles aside, this was a very enjoyable episode that colours in some of the new world we've found ourselves in. Onto Trill.

Continuity spots:

The stardate is 865211.3, which is suitably far off from the 24th century shows.

Book and Burnham went to the Donatu system, and Burnham refers to Earth as being in a new quadrant, so while she didn't land at Terralysium, she did make it to the Beta Quadrant. She was certainly close enough to communicate with Terralysium.

We're starting to piece together the future history here, and Book's explanation previously was a bit broad. Around the 2950s the dilithium supplies began to dry up (overmining resources, another contemporary allegory). Experiments into alternatives weren't successful (did no one remember the Romulans' quantum singularity drives?) Sometime between the 3060s and 3080s, the Burn happened, in which all dilithium spontaneously became inert, causing every active warp drive to lose containment and detonate. Millions dead, Federation in tatters. Not long after that, about a century before 3189, Earth dropped out of the Federation, and the Federation and Starfleet headquarters were relocated. 

Some of this is hard to tie up with the super-duper advanced Federation of the 31st century briefly witnessed in Enterprise, but the dates are vague enough to make it work. In fact, while the ban on time travel kind of covers it, there's no reason to be certain that this is the same timeline we saw in Enterprise's future. Burnham and co. have already altered future history once by defeating Control, and the Temporal War saw multiple changes in history in Enterprise, so it's actually quite unlikely that this is exactly the same future Daniels came from.

Stamets confirms that they left from 2258, which means the end of Disco season two is set at the same time most of the 2009 Star Trek movie is set, in different timelines. 

Book has never been to Earth, even though his first name is Cleveland. (I was going to comment that my name's Daniel and I've never been in a lion's den, but then I remembered that I have.)

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