Wednesday 25 October 2023

TREK REVIEW - Lower Decks 4-6 - 4-8

4-6 - "Parth Ferengi's Heart Place"

A highlight of the season so far, the sixth episode takes us back to Ferenginar, a planet we used to visit quite regularly on Deep Space 9 but haven't seen since. Surprisingly, for a series so involved in Trek lore, Lower Decks hasn't spent a great deal of time moving the Trek universe forward, generally leaving this kind of thing to the live action shows. We've previously had a DS9 follow-up episode with 3-6, "Hear All, Trust Nothing" (perhaps episode six could become an annual DS9 tribute) but all that really told us about the post-Nemesis era is that some limited negotiations have started with Dominion members.

"Parth Ferengi's Heart Place" (love that title) on the other hand takes a big step forward by showing us the Ferengi Alliance's application to join the United Federation of Planets, a huge deal and one that would have been unthinkable when the Ferengi were first introduced. Under the rule of Grand Nagus Rom, though, things are different. (Plus, Discovery suggests that the Ferengi join sometime before the 32nd century, albeit nothing more concrete than that.)

Like "Hear All," we have a favourite Bajoran and Ferengi return, with Chase Masterson and Max Grodenchik once again voicing Leeta and Rom, now the first couple of the Alliance. (Like Armin Shimerman in that earlier episode, Grodenchik sounds quite different, likely partly due to age but mostly due to not having to perform lines with a mouth full of jagged false teeth.) I loved Rom's characterisation in this episode: he's the moderate Ferengi, of course, but he's still a Ferengi, and his commitment to not merely get a good deal for Ferenginar, but ensure that his culture is respected by the Federation is perfect.

On Ferenginar itself, Tendi and Rutherford up the will-they-won't-they stakes when they have to play a happy couple, and while I was disappointed they didn't finally get together, at least they were forced to face their attraction to each other, even if they're both doing their best to ignore or deny it. Surely we'll see them in a clinch by the end of the season? This is silly but beautifully realised comedy work, and while it's a sitcom cliche to have two characters have to fake being romantically involved, the added layer of jeopardy makes it work. Of course faking a relationship to get a special discount package would be a crime on Ferenginar.

There's a lot going on in this episode. Boimler's addiction to Ferengi TV is the smallest part of the story, but works pretty well, while Mariner is finally facing up to her self-destructive tendencies. It's good to see her character slowly moving forward. Nice to see her buddy Quimp again, who previously appeared in "Envoys," only the second episode of the series. Fun though these storylines are, they're C-plots, and it's the Rom/Leeta/Freeman and Tendi/Rutherford plots that make the episode work.

Fun bits and callbacks:

  • We last visited Ferenginar on DS9 5.20, "Ferengi Love Songs," 27 years ago in real life and about ten years earlier in-universe. 
  • The Ferengi viewscreen logo is suspiciously siilar to the Paramount logo.
  • We have a new Rule of Acquisition: No. 8 - "Small print leads to large risk."
  • The episode's title is a reference to the brilliant Garth Marenghi's Dark Place, and might be the best title this series has ever given us.
  • Quark's Federation Experience Bar & Grill is basically the Star Trek Experience in the late 90s to 00s. 
  • If the Ferengi really did have to ensure Kronos' accession to the Federation, they'd be waiting around 150 years based on the glimpse of events we saw on Enterprise (albeit from a future that now won't come about).
  • Gay space dog!
  • Quote of the week: "We also need someone to act as a couple. And since the Cerritos is statistically the horniest and least romantically committed crew in Starfleet, we have no married officers aboard."

4-7 - "A Few Badgeys More"

After a delve into the post-DS9 universe and its sundry Ferengi references, Lower Decks embraces its own growing mythology with an episode that brings together and pretty much shuts down some long-running plotlines. Having Badgey resurface in deep space, at exactly the same time as Peanut Hamper and Agimus leave their confinement at the Daystrom Institute is a bit of a coincidence, but at least the show is big enough to lampshade that. The episode as a whole is a good poke at the proliferatio of evil AIs as villains throughout modern Trek; not that the franchise has ever been free of them, but frankly, you can hardly move for killer computers lately. The fact that Starfleet has a special prison just for mad computers, and that it's chock to burst with them, is hilarious.

As silly as this episode is, it's actually a strong story about moving past animosity and finding another path. Badgey's evolution to the next phase of existence might be a bit on the nose, but the fact that it comes about partly due to Rutherford accepting his responsibility as the hologram's creator is overdue. It's good to see Peanut Hamper get to be more than a raving villain, since there was really not a lot left to do with that storyline, and while Agimus took a little longer, he got there in the end. We were overdue some Agimus time, which, criminally, remains the only role for Jeffrey Combs in modern Trek.

Having the Drookmani salvage Badgey is a nice touch, adding to the feel of this episode embracing Lower Decks itself rather than Trek as a whole, but it was nice to see the Bynars back too. Finally we get some answers about the msyterious ship that has taken out Romulans, Klingons, Ferengi and Cardassians before attacking the Bynars, and while the episode naturally blew my Peanut Hamper as Big Bad theory out the water, it does pose an intriguing question. Who stands to gain by making it look like they're destroying ships when they're actually stealing them?

Fun bits and callbacks:
  • Badgey's short-lived takeover of the Federation includes Deep Space 9 and T'Lyn's old ship, the VCF Sh'Val.
  • Will we ever get a proper explanation for the mysterious cosmic koala?
  • Peanut Hamper goes home to the orbital station above Tyrus 7-A, where the exocomps were created in TNG "The Quality of Life."
  • Going back even further, this is the first proper appearance of the Bynars since the first season TNG episode "11001001" over 35 years ago.
  • Orion beaches don't have sand, they have pebbles, just like proper beaches.

4-8 - "Caves"

Ah, this one was a little treat, wasn't it? I love the idea of basing an entire episode around the franchise's over-reliance on cave-based stories, even lampshading the fact that from the 80s through to the 00s Paramount used one very fake-looking cave set over and over and over. It's even funnier that what we have here is basically a clip-and-bottle episode, the sort of thing that a series wheels out when they've spent all the budget earlier in the season, only with entirely new material based on an animated series, just perversely unnecessary. 

Giving us a quickfire round of smaller stories is a good way of providing the Lower Decks style of busy episode without overegging it; each story is done and dusted nice and simply, then onto the next. While the individual stories are slight, they all come together to show us how the Lower Deckers have begun t develop and move on with their careers, while reinforcing that, just because they don't have as much time for each other now, they're still the best of Starfleet buds. Aw.

Just to make sure we don't get too smooshy, there's plenty of weird and gruesome stuff here (the poor ensign's leg falling off after healing misshapenly really was nasty), making it the most Rick and Morty-esque episode for a while, but without the unrelenting nihilism.

This episode gives us a nice breather before the the climactic events we're promised for the final two instalments, so it's nice to just kick back and listen to our guys tell stories to some sentient moss. 

Fun bits and callbacks:
  • The Vendorians were created for the Animated Series episode "The Survivor," way back in 1973. It's a bit weird that Boimler didn't believe in them, considering he met one in his second episode (the aforementioned "Envoys").
  • Planets visited: Boimler's story occurs on Kyron 4, Rutherford got impregnated on Balkus 9, and Mariner led Delta Shift on the planet Gish. The framing story takes place on Grottonus.
  • Tendi's story takes place right after the very first episode of Lower Decks, "Second Contact."
  • While Levy is an obvious (and deserving) pisstake of online conspiracy idiots, given the number of conspiracies actually happening in and around Starfleet you can't feel too angry with the guy.
  • The idea that the Vendorians faked the subspace damage caused by high warp (revealed in the late TNG episode "Force of Nature"), but given how quickly this was forgotten about, it's a fair assumption that it was faked.

Thursday 19 October 2023

WHO REVIEW: Once and Future 5 & 6

So, you may notice that I haven't reviewed the 3rd and 4th instalments of Big Finish's Once and Future anniversary series. This is because I haven't bought or listened to them. Release 3, A Genius for War, sees the Doctor shift into his seventh self, played by Sylvester McCoy, to face Davros at the height of the Time War. While that sounds like it might be a strong story, the Seventh Doctor vs. Davros and the Daleks again is just.. old hat. We've seen it before. So it didn't pique my interest.

Still, it sounds an awful lot more interesting than release 4, Two's Company. The Sixth Doctor, the Two (an earlier version of the Eleven), Lady Christina, Harry Sullivan and Jackie Tyler? Why? Whatever led anyone to put that random selection of characters together? Particularly Jackie, who seemed to be in almost every BF release in August. I assume Camille Coduri was at a loose end when these were recorded, and is presumably cheap.

So I may well have missed a couple of important points, but that's where the TARDIS Wiki, for all its eccentricity, is your friend. The important question answered: yes, the Doctor's clothes are regenerating (or degenerating) along with him, and in release 5, The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50, we learn that even his screwdriver is changing with him. This story also reveals that the Doctor's degeneration is able to shift him into future incarnations, which is how Stephen Noonan's teeth-grating impersonation of the First Doctor is able to suddenly turn into David Tennant, as what I assume is the Tenth Doctor (but with all the Tennant Doctors running around, who knows?)

Given that to make the story work the Doctor's memory is shifting backwards and forwards, giving them knowledge seemingly at random, you've got to wonder why they didn't just set this series in the show's "present," instead of the Time War.

Anyway, Planetoid 50 is good fun. The Paternoster Gang are always good value, and it makes sense for them to be running around the invasion from The War of the Worlds, even if this isn't really London (it's not even Woking). I liked Hannah Genesius as the Doctor's one-off companion, the beautifully named Jessamy Moore. But the real draw of this episode is the inclusion of Missy, giving us the opportunity for Michelle Gomez to play against Tennant. They absolutely fizz together, with the gobbiest Doctor up against a version of the Master even more glib and self-obsessed than he is. 

It seems that the Master is suffering from the same degeneration issue as the Doctor (presumably they're actually in their Yana incarnation? I'm not sure anymore), and while Missy and the Doctor part company, it's not long before they're reunited in release six, Time Lord Immemorial. This episode sees the Doctor and the Master's unending frenemyship linked to an chaotic event that threatens the entire universe. So, the stakes are getting a lot higher.

The real draw here, though, and the reason I wasn't going to miss this release, is the team-up between Christopher Eccleston and David Warner as the Ninth and Unbound Doctors. The very last appearance of Warner for Big Finish, and, I believe, his last performance before he died last year, it's a significant moment, and having the Manc Doctors together is a treat. Yet, it's actually rather a sad listening experience. Warner is clearly unwell, his voice so altered he's almost unrecognisable at times, making this a very bittersweet experience.

Plus, we get our first chance to see the Ninth Doctor go up against the Master... and they decided they'd degenerate into the Lumiat. This is a bit of a bizarre choice, giving us the good version of the Master rather than the Doctor's archenemy for this historic event, but Gina McKee's incarnation actually works very well against Nine. (Eccleston, McKee and Warner have experience working together, and it comes across.) The Lumiat remains just as obsessed with the Doctor as when she was the Master, and her desperate need to get the mission done before she shifts back to a hostile incarnation adds something new to the story.

Solid as always is Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, again, rather randomly included but providing a welcome dose of sanity to the proceedings. An odd choice is the hiring of Robert Powell as the eponymous Time Lord Immemorial; he's another acting legend, but his voice is modulated to the point he could be anyone. The cast is uniformly strong though, giving weight to some occasionally shonky dialogue.

All that's left now is for the Doctor to find The Union in the seventh release, where Paul McGann will once more take the lead alongside every Doctor BF can get their hands on, and finally discover what's actually going on in this peculiar series.

Notes: Strax reveals that he is familiar with the Eleventh, Twelft and Thirteenth Doctors ("A cheery 'boy' with yellow hair").

When the Ninth Doctor and Unbound Doctor find themselves face-to-face, they both assume the other is the future incarnation, before very quickly realising that they're from alternative universes. Makes you wonder why the conversation didn't go that way between Thirteen and the Fugutive.

For Liv, this is set before the Ninth Doctor Adventures adventure Hidden Depths: Flatpack, as she doesn't recognise the Doctor in his Eccleston incarnation. For the Paternoster Gang, I couldn't hazard a guess.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Please speak up against the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza

I am urging my readers to speak up about the ongoing, indiscriminate and entirely disproportionate bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force in retaliation to the Hamas attacks on 7th October. 

The ongoing attacks by the IDF are what is known as collective punishment, an action which is considered internationally to be a war crime.

Opposing these attacks does not mean that you support Hamas or its terrorist attacks; nor that you are in any way anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli or against the civilian population of the State of Israel.

I implore you to speak to your elected representative in your own state. As a British national, I have emailed a letter to my local MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle. A template for a letter to your MP can be found here. You can send your letter through the form on the site, or email or indeed post it your MP directly. There are other templates available, and for people in other countries, there will be similar templates and methods of contacting your local representative in order that they raise the issue with your national government. 

I would encourage you to personalise the letter as much as you can while maintaining the factual basis and message, in order that it is considered thoroughly; multiple identical letters are more likely to be ignored.