Saturday 23 December 2023

Doctor Who: The Christmas Specials

Available now is my overview of all thirteen Christmas specials from 2005 to 2017, featuring the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, each one rated for story strength and Christmassy-ness. A nice bit of nostalgic festive rewatching before Doctor Who returns to the Christmas Day schedules with the Fifteenth Doctor.

Read it now at Television Heaven.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

WHO REVIEW: 60th Anniversary Special 3 - "The Giggle"

The third of 2023's Doctor Who specials was always set to be a huge event. The official end of the programme's sixtieth anniversary specials, the return of a villain unseen on screen since its earliest days, the end of David Tennant's second turn as the star of the show, and the introduction of Ncuti Gatwa as the latest incarnation of the Doctor. It's a loud, colourful, gleefully expensive production, it's carefully designed to say “this is the big one.” It's also particularly difficult to review without spoiling the major events, so I'll approach it in two sections, saving the big revelations for the end.

The Giggle is a weird, packed, proudly camp episode, full of striking imagery and some excellent performances. Showrunner Russell T. Davies stakes out his revised vision for the series, giving us the first glimpses of the style of the new Doctor Who. It's worth, once you've watched the episode itself, playing it again with the in-vision commentary available on iPlayer, in which Davies, Tennant and producer Phil Collinson discuss the making of the special, with Davies in particular revealing his own creative process, early draft ideas and concepts that never made it to screen. Davies is vocal about his decision to embrace the more fantastic side of Doctor Who, with the upcoming Christmas special and subsequent season steering away from the science fiction side of things for the most part. It's not that this is new for Doctor Who, which has been firmly on the fantasy side of sci-fi since it began ( the two are really sides of the same genre, and not as different as people tend to think), but it's a statement of intent for the style and content of the adventures we'll see.

It makes perfect sense, then, to bring back the Toymaker as the big, returning villain for the special. Previously he appeared as the eponymous antagonist of the 1966 serial The Celestial Toymaker where he was played by Michael Gough (Batman Returns, The Avengers) and defeated by William Hartnell's original Doctor. The modern Toymaker is played by Neil Patrick Harris, a superstar coup for the show. Best known for How I Met Your Mother, A Series of Unfortunate Events or, for older viewers, as the lead character in Doogie Howser, MD, Harris previously worked with Davies in his seminal Channel 4 drama It's a Sin. Harris gives a magnetic performance that shifts from absurd and over-the-top to deeply sinister with ease.

The Toymaker is one of the few purely fantasy-based beings in Doctor Who, a godlike entity who obeys no rules other than those of the game. He can bend time, space and matter to his will with the slightest thought, and only his adherence to game rules prevents him from being completely unstoppable. His inclusion harks back to the programme's early days, an obvious move for an anniversary story, albeit a more obscure one than most of the villains and monsters who were retooled for the modern era. Three of the four episodes of The Celestial Toymaker are missing from the archives, and the remaining episode reveals as story that is frankly rather dull. (The upcoming animated remake may add some more life into it.)

There's also the distinct issue for a modern audience that the Toymaker's original appearance was racially problematic, with the Caucasian Gough dressed up in archaic Chinese Mandarin robes and putting on a stereotypical cod-Asian inscrutable character. Even the word “celestial” was questionable, meaning cosmic or heavenly in one sense, but also an old-fashioned and insulting word for the Chinese in another. (It's not the only such problem with the serial, which is the only one in Doctor Who's history to contain the N-word.)

Still, the basic concept of the Toymaker is one with huge potential as a villain, and so it was always possible to bring him back, shorn of the celestial baggage. Davies, of course, is fully aware of the issue, and is clever enough to, if not excuse it, then at least accept that it's there and deal with it. Harris's version puts on outrageous German and French accents as part of his manic performance (his rather proper English accent during the final confrontation being just as false, of course) and even makes a lazily racist comment to Charlie de Melo's (Coronation Street) character Charles Banerjee. There's no logical reason that a cosmic entity should appear as a white male human, with a tan verging on the Oompa-Loompa and given to offensive remarks and impersonations of other peoples. There's also no reason why not; it's simply another of the Toymaker's perverse games, presumably designed to antagonise his opponents. By the time it's done, the Doctor is even able to embrace the celestial epithet without the baggage.

Together, Davies and Harris transform the Toymaker into a truly frightening and entertaining villain, a puppetmaster on a grand scale who delivers a mixture of absurdity and surreal nightmare imagery. Whether it's Donna trapped in a room fighting dummies or his ludicrously over-the-top entrance to UNIT's new Avenger's Tower-inspired HQ, the Toymaker's scenes and his realm stick in the mind long after viewing. None of this is entirely original: killer puppets and creepy toyshops have a long history in horror, and the Toymaker's dance number to the Spice Girls is derivative of the Davies's own Last of the Time Lords. That was the Master dancing to the Scissor Sisters, back in 2007; combined with the Doctor's offer to play across the stars with the Toymaker, it comes across as part of a greatest hits package. (The Master must be turning in his tooth.) It would probably have stood out less if the scene hadn't been referenced as recently as last year's The Power of the Doctor (which, for the Doctor, was seemingly only a matter of days ago).

Yet, it's hard to find fault with that, when it's so much fun and especially considering that it's the big anniversary celebration. Of course there's going to be a bit of a greatest hits feel to things. Various characters refer directly to previous adventures, with the Toymaker getting under the Doctor's skin for his failings while simultaneously providing a handy catch-up for those who stopped watching when Tennant left the first time round, and the Doctor himself listing a seemingly arbitrary collection of elements from the full sixty years of this silliness. There are familiar faces too, of course, fewer than we might have expected given the occasion. Jemma Redgrave (Howard's End, Holby City) returns once more as UNIT head Kate Stewart, given far better material to work with than she's had since her introductory story (2012's The Power of Three). More surprising is the inclusion of Bonnie Langford (Just William, EastEnders) as Mel, former companion to the Sixth and Seventh Doctors (Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, respectively). Although her involvement in next year's series had already been announced, and she'd had a brief cameo in The Power of the Doctor, her appearance here was a lovely surprise. She didn't get much to do, but at least she didn't have to scream in key.

On reflection, it's funny how the sixtieth anniversary story tied into the dawn of television, while the BBC Centenary Special was the one that brought back a troop of old Doctors and companions. John Logie Baird's invention of the earliest television is the perfect subject for a Doctor Who story, with the genuinely sinister puppet Stooky Bill being just as unsettling in real life as he was here. John MacKay (Casualty, The Hollow Crown) gives a charming performance as the Baird, reprising his role from Davies's biographical drama Nolly. It was while researching that series that Davies first learned of Stooky Bill, which became the initial basis for this special.

It has to be said, though, that the various elements of this episode don't quite cohere. The idea of a creepy puppet insinuating itself into television works, the godlike puppeteer works, the disturbing concept of humanity being turned into a living comments section works. However, once the Toymaker meets the Doctor, the other elements virtually disappear, given only the briefest of mentions. All of this could tie together beautifully, but not enough time is spent on the earlier ideas to make them fit with the rest of the story. It's perhaps a result of the script starting as Stooky Bill's story, before Davies decided the puppet needed a puppeteer as the main villain, something which immediately suggests using the Toymaker. The grand villain's inclusion eclipses the rest, but it still hangs on there as a relic of an earlier draft. Still, cramming a story with too many ideas is not the worst sin, nor is it one unique to Davies (if anything, he's the showrunner whose work suffers from this the least).

All this leads to the most anticipated part of the episode: the regeneration. This is where it gets really spoiler-y, so if you've managed to avoid details so far and still want to watch it, I'd advise against reading further. 

Sunday 10 December 2023

REVIEW: The Marvels

Getting to the cinema is a challenge these days, but I finally got the chance to see The Marvels, a movie I had really been looking forward to. I was aware, of course, of the poor reception of the film, but based on the trailer I was honestly expecting a good time.

I wasn't wrong. The Marvels is, quite simply, great fun. It's not a groundbreaking or genre-defining instalment, and it's certainly not going to reinvent the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something which, if we're honest, is probably needed at this point. Moviegoers who are tired of the MCU or comicbook movies in general are not going to won round by this, but those who are simply looking for an entertaining adventure are in for a treat.

This movie was always going to have a hard time of it, purely because of the depressingly inevitable backlash from the more misogynistic side of fandom. Much like the She-Hulk series or 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, the actual quality of the film is completely irrelevant to such people. They were downvoting it on ratings sites as soon as it was announced, insisting that their problem wasn't the gender balance, but the writing and acting - before anyone had even seen it. For all the damage these quarters do to a movie's reputation before it even arrives, there's little point engaging with them.

However, women have to work twice as hard to get half as far in this world, and unless a film of this type is a phenomenal work of art, it will be largely written off if the cast if more female than male (or contains multiple people of colour, varied sexualities or gender expression - anything to which the label "woke" can be attached derisively). The Marvels is a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable superhero romp, easily as good as the majority of the MCU. 

The story is fairly by-the-numbers, with a maniacal villain perpetrating terrible cosmic crimes, who must be stopped at all costs. Some handy technobabble causes the three characters with light-based powers to become entangled, shifting places with each other when they use their abilities. The plot is primarily there to generate some exciting visuals and provide a reason for the three leads to be brought together so that they can bounce off each other, and this is where the film triumphs.

The stand-out star here is Iman Vellani, returning as Kamala Khan after her breakout series Ms. Marvel. It must be mind-boggling for Vellani, to have been propelled from fan to superstar in such a short time, but she undoubtedly deserves it. Her performance as Kamala is heartfelt, adorable, relatable and resolute. Seeing Kamala encounter her hero Captain Marvel is a blockbuster-scale version of one of us meeting the our favourite movie star, and Kamala's joy, mixed with fear of disappointing her hero, is brilliantly portrayed by Vellani. As the story progresses, she matures, stepping up as a hero while never losing her idealism.

She provides a great contrast to Brie Larson's Carol Danvers, who has been operating as Captain Marvel for thirty years at this point, in-universe. Thankfully, the film doesn't go down a "never meet your heroes" route of dragging Danvers down, but she is weighed down by responsibility and the mistakes she's made. The script is brave enough to show us that the first thing Danvers did was foul up massively, causing a chain reaction of events that devastated the Kree homeworld, while still maintaining her as a hero it's right to look up to. Larson's performance as Danvers has received some flack since her first appearance in Captain Marvel, but I don't get it. She's a powerful leading lady, and dominates events even as she is generous to her co-stars. 

This gives Teyonah Parris the tough job of being the third member of the team, neither the main lead nor the up-and-coming youngster. She does an amazing job in a tricky position, making Monica Rambeau the most down-to-earth and pragmatic member of the trio, but also the one we might look up to the most. With even less experience in using her powers than Kamala, Monica has the steepest learning curve of all, while grappling with far more complicated feelings for her Aunt Carol than Kamala's fannish worship. Having given a strong performance in WandaVision, Parris really steps up here and makes Monica a central figure of the film.

The supporting cast are all very good as well, with Samuel L. Jackson putting in a reliably entertaining and worldweary performance as Nick Fury (rather more engaging than the theoretically richer material in Secret Invasion). The script is wise enough to remember that Kamala's family are central to her story, and while it takes a bit of contrivance to keep the Khans in the middle of the action, it keeps things on a human level even when the weirder space stuff starts happening.

The weakest member of the cast is, surprisingly, Zawe Ashton as villainous Dar-Benn. She's not bad, by any means, but puts in an arch and hammy performance that, while fun, seems ill-judged for a character who has a genuine and understandable grievance with Danvers. It's one occasion when making the villain cartoonish was the wrong move for the story. It makes her treatment of the Skrulls too simplistically evil, when something cleverer could have been done. Still, it's good to see the Skrulls being used in a positive way in the story again, unlike the mixed messages of Secret Invasion which too heavily linked refugees with terrorists. A dignified performance by Gary Lewis, under a mountain of make-up, as the Skrull leader helps.

In spite of there being some serious themes here, the film is joyfully silly and over-the-top. Some critics have had problems with the film's tonal shifts, and it's a fair point, but I feel that these jumps are all part of the frenetic journey of the story. Suddenly stepping across genres into an impromptu Bollywood-esque musical number, or hingeing the climactic act on alien cats is a delirious way of keeping the story fresh and surprising. It does, however, need a stronger villain to ground the threat that drives the plot.

There are other elements that I loved. The effects are spectacular, combined with some absolutely stunning fight choreography (the best since Daredevil, I'd say), making the film into a visual feast. It's also consistently funny in a low-key, unforced way, more Spider-Man than Guardians of the Galaxy. In the comics, Monica was Captain Marvel before Carol got a chance, and has had various names including Photon, Spectrum and Pulsar, making Kamala's continual workshopping of her superhero identity a fun running gag. There are some fun cameos by other MCU stars, some expected, some not. Park Seo-Joon, who I understand is a big deal in Korea, stood out as the charismatic Prince of Aladna, and deserved more screentime.

While it's never going to top the polls of MCU movies, The Marvels is simply tremendously entertaining, and I can see it becoming a film that I will rewatch often simply because of how much fun it is. And, you know, it's a comicbook movie - isn't that really the point?

Extra spoiler-y bits after the cut

Tuesday 5 December 2023

WHO REVIEW: 60th Anniversary Special 2 - "Wild Blue Yonder"

The middle episode of Doctor Who’s three sixtieth anniversary specials is a deeply unsettling, inventive and unexpectedly slimmed-down story. The secrecy around its content led many fans to assume there would be some manner of exciting reveal or a character making a surprise return. Instead, the secrecy served to maintain the surprises of the story itself, giving us the one episode in which we had no idea what to truly expect. Understandably, some viewers were disappointed by this, although no event episode can ever quite live up to fan hopes and expectations. While the episode we got might not have felt much like a special, it was indeed something rather special.

What stands out about Wild Blue Yonder is just how little there is to it. Aside from the opening and closing scenes, the cast is comprised of only David Tennant and Catherine Tate, fulfilling two roles each, in an isolated location. Even the location is limited, being made up from a handful of claustrophobic sets and a vast central area that was rendered digitally. This allows for some freedom in creating uncanny effects, which, while deeply disquieting, are perhaps not used to their fullest extent. Still, this is an occasion where maybe less is more, and using the effects sparingly is the more effective way to create a new and alien environment. 

With the TARDIS still careering out of control, the Doctor and Donna are dropped into a huge, cavernous spacecraft. Naturally, the Doctor can’t resist wandering off in spite of the potential danger and Donna’s reluctance to leave the TARDIS. In this respect, at least, the episode perfectly evokes the history of the programme; the Doctor’s been behaving like that since the very beginning. (At least he didn’t fake the TARDIS’ damage; viewers of the revamped The Daleks in Colour will see how he used to play it.) The TARDIS dematerialises due to the HADS (the Hostile Action Displacement System, another callback), running away from whatever danger it has senses and leaving the travellers stranded.

The Doctor’s universe has been populated with so many forms of time and space travel by now that this is, potentially, not such a problem as it might first appear, but this situation is unusually dire. The ship is stranded at the very edge of the universe, beyond matter, light and energy, at the cusp of a dangerous nothingness. There’s simply no getting home, something which immediately horrifies Donna and even unsettles the Doctor. We’ve had occasional glimpses of the Doctor being up against the truly unknown, and his lack of knowledge is clearly both frightening and exhilarating for him. Donna, on the other hand, is faced with the possibility of never seeing her family again, leaving them to wait for her indefinitely. Still, the Doctor isn’t wrong when he points out that Donna took little convincing to go and explore, and she rapidly adjusts to the situation.

Tate is excellent as the older Donna. Over these two episodes so far, she’s been recognisably the same brash, no-nonsense London temp, but she also displays a maturity and level-headedness we’ve seen little of before. The same is true of the Doctor. Last week I said there was little to separate the Fourteenth Doctor from the Tenth in terms of Tennant’s performance, but this episode, with more time to spend simply in the characters’ company, allows both of them to show how they’ve changed. The new Doctor shares many of the mannerisms of his earlier self, but he’s more patient, more emotionally attentive, and humbler. He and Donna come across as genuine old friends here; happy in each other’s company, sharing humour, sniping at each other good-naturedly and occasionally coming to genuinely cross words, but dealing with it reasonably. It’s a world away from the clash of personalities way back in 2006.

Given the time spent in just the two leads’ company, and the amount of it used to simply talk and explore their feelings, we learn some interesting things about the Doctor. While the more reactionary are spinning around at the Doctor’s apparent attraction to men in this incarnation, the more interesting stuff comes as he opens up about his guilt over the damage done to the universe by the Flux. This, and the confirmation that the Doctor’s origins are ultimately unknown, refute the idea that Russell T. Davies would jettison the events of Chris Chibnall’s tenure, specifically the revelation of The Timeless Children and the universe-shattering events of Flux. That said, Davies delivers more revealing and real exploration of their effect on the Doctor in five minutes of dialogue than Chibnall did over a season’s worth of episodes.

Of course, much of the dialogue in the episode isn’t between the Doctor and Donna, but between them and their respective duplicates. The edge of the universe is home to some terrifying things, it seems, with no form or thought of their own, and desperate to have ours. The idea of a being that is slowly refining its appearance and responses until it’s a perfect copy of you isn’t entirely original, of course – it crops up in all manner of science fiction and fantasy settings – but remains chilling. Tennant and Tate are both brilliant as the copies of the Doctor and Donna, giving subtly different performances when we’re not meant to be certain of their identities, and becoming distressingly malicious when the cat’s out of the bag. 

The creatures’ warping forms skirt that thin line between frightening and ridiculous. It’s a safe level of body horror for family viewing – tea-time terror for tots – but it’s nonetheless uncanny enough to truly unsettle if it hits you the right way. (It certainly worked on me.) The physical effects, of grotesquely disproportionate limbs and so on, works better than the CGI elements, which unfortunately comes off as a little cheap looking. That is an unfortunate issue with the effects all round; this is clearly the cheap episode, and while the Disney money has obviously been spent well, BBC programming is never going to hold up against the quality of Disney’s own effects-heavy material.

Isn’t that, though, rather the point of Doctor Who? If there’s one thing this series has shown us over the years, is that there’s nothing wrong with ambition exceeding ability from time to time. Wild Blue Yonder crafted a story that focused almost entirely on two actors in a white corridor, and elevated it to a slice of existential horror that, albeit briefly, genuinely convinced us that the heroes might not both survive this one. Given that we know they’re both coming back next week, that’s no mean feat at all.

There are a few other elements on the alien ship, though. The little robot, which ties in so simply yet effectively to the plot, is a cure little critter, although the long-dead pilot of the ship, a simple yet effective and refreshingly non-humanlike creature, better fits the strange and unsettling nature of the story. The organic elements of the ship, which the Doctor, perfectly in character, insisted on tasting, were fun as well. It would be funny if it turns out they were poisonous after all, and that’s what leads him to regenerate next week.

In spite of the strength of the material in the main story, it’s the bookends that will provoke the most comment. The cliffhanger ending, which will lead us into the grand finale, is slim in itself, but will be remembered fondly as the last appearance of Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott. Cribbens, to whom the episode is dedicated, did his very last filming for this episode, which unfortunately had to be cut down due to his health. A brief reunion by necessity, it’s a joyful one, and it’s quite right that such a beloved figure make one last appearance, particularly since Cribbins has been with Doctor Who almost since the beginning (he played companion Tom in the feature film Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1966).

At the other end of the episode we had a very brief run-in with Isaac Newton, on the day of his fateful apple encounter. There’s already been a great deal of comment, not all of it civil, about the casting of Nathaniel Curtis as the young Newton. Most likely it was nothing more than Davies wanting to cast his It’s a Sin star in a brief role, but the incongruity of having an actor of colour play the historic English scientist has caused a stir. It’s hardly worth worrying about, for what amounts to a throwaway gag.

Or is it? The episode continued with the Doctor and Donna repeatedly substituting gravity for “mavity,” which at first just seems like them taking the mick… until you realise, of course, that they no chance to hear Newton get the word wrong in the first place. Is this, perhaps, a hint that they have made a genuine change to history? Given that the Doctor is also concerned with his introduction of superstition to the edge of space, it’s tempting to wonder if the seeds of something are being sown. There’s also the question of just why the TARDIS chose to play “Wild Blue Yonder” in the first place, other than to provide this episode with an opaque title. Was it simply a chance for Davies to address a pet peeve, and correct people on the nature (and the name) of the song? Or was the TARDIS playing a war song for a reason? While the episode appears to be very much self-contained, there could well be fallout yet to come.

Links and References: Very few. Davies removed a line in which the Doctor hinted at previous encounters with the edge of the universe, but even this gave little away. Davies noted that this serial has some similarities to Underworld, another story set at the edge of space and using (very primitive) virtual sets.

The Fourth Doctor previously mentioned dropping apples on Newton's head. Unless the TARDIS landed on top of him this time, he probably talking rubbish. The Fifth Doctor met Newton in the audio Circular Time, where he was played by the late, great David Warner. 

Saturday 2 December 2023

TREK REVIEW - Lower Decks 4-9 & 4-10

4-9 - "The Inner Fight" 

Getting back to these reviews to finish off the season after being sidelined by various sf anniversaries, and we have what might be the most satisfying finale for Lower Decks in terms of character work. The penultimate episode gives Mariner the focus she's needed all season, dumping her on a brutal planet and forcing her to confront the reasons behind her self-sabotage. It's indicative of the way the writing on this show has grwon, in that the character's motivation was initially presented as being nothing more complex than trying to avoid hard work while sticking it to her mum. Building on the gradual revelations about her background, Mariner's motivations make perfect sense, while incorporating some surprisingly deep Trek lore.

Lower Decks has been particularly heavily indebted to The Next Generation from the beginning, taking its name and basic concept from a seventh season episode. It feels right that Mariner's trauma calls back to this, with the unexpected, but perfectly plausible, revelation that she was friends with Sito Jaxa at the Academy. Sito's death during the episode "Lower Decks," was one of TNG's most powerful character deaths, even though it was entirely off screen. Hearing that her friend's commitment to the mission and her own advancement led to her, presumably brutal, death at the hands of her people's conquerors has weighted heavily on Mariner's mind for years (it's not entirely clear what year this season is set in, but it's no less than ten years since the event, possibly as much as fourteen). 

Piled on top of this is the added trauma of the Dominion War, which we already knew Mariner fought in. It's satisfying to see the ongoing Trek universe finally explore the fallout from the war, here and in Picard's last season. It makes sense that Starfleet has been recruiting hard and pushing promotion in order to build up ranks again following the losses of the war, and just as plausible that someone like Mariner would do everything she could to avoid being put in the position where she'd be giving orders that could result in her friends' and colleagues' deaths. It also ties in nicely to the series' occasional looks at Starfleet's clear status as a military organisation, even while it's desperate to paint itself as something else entirely.

While that's the main point of the episode, around it we get to have a lot of fun. We follow up on what happened to the crews of the alien ships that were attacked and stolen, finding them living as a rag-bag bunch of survivors on a dangerous planet. It's also about time Ma'ah (aka Mach, Magh, depending on your subtitles) arrived into the main narrative, and it's great that he and Mariner bond. As the most truly honourable of Klingons, he was the right person to force her to face up to her demons.

Meanwhile, the Cerritos crew are on the trail of Nick Locarno, as a potential target of the alien ship which is now seemingly targeting ex-Starfleet officers. New Axton is, of course, just Tatooine under a different name, but it's fun to have a bit of Star Wars in our Star Trek now and again, and the sheer number of familiar Trek aliens milling around the place made it feel like home. Of course, the reveal that Locarno was behind the whole thing ties it all together, setting up the finale beautifully.


  • It's not clear how old Mariner is. If she was at the Academy alongside Sito and Locarno, she's got to be at least thirty (again, it depends on exactly when this is set). In any case, she's presumably a fair bit older than her fellow Lower Deckers.
  • The best reference on New Axton is the alien Freeman mistakes for a puppet, who is of course based on the puppet version of Balok from TOS: "The Corbmite Maneouvre." Perhaps he's a member of the species the puppet was based on? Maybe he's even from the First Federation. (Or see the novel The Face of the Unknown.)
  • Other than Locarno, the ex-Starfleet officers on the watchlist include Seven of Nine, Beverly Crusher and Thomas Riker. We already knew the first two dropped out of Starfleet some time after Nemesis, but this is the first we've heard of Riker's duplicate since he was imprisoned by the Cardassians in DS9: "The Defiant." For all we knew before, he died in the war.

4-10 - "Old Friends, New Planets"

The whole season is brought together in the finale, tying up the storyline of the mysterious starship - the Nova One - and its crew of merry mutineers. It's far beyond time that Nick Locarno's story was followed up on; after all, he was meant to be on Voyager, but the showrunners bottled it and created Tom Paris, who's basically the same character but watered down.

I love the idea of someone expelled from Starfleet who then goes off the deep end, seeing themselves as the hard done by party. His fleet of ships, crewed by an autonomous collective of disenfranchised extraterrestrials is a great idea, even if their actual plan - to hole themselves up behind a forcefield for god knows how long - doesn't really make sense. But then, should it make sense? The fact that none of them have really thought this through is surely part of the point, and doesn't reduce the damage they can do in the mean time.

There are some lovely voice cameos in this epiosde. Of course, we knew Robert Duncan McNeill would be in it after last episode - with the characters naturally commenting on the likeness shared between his two characters - but it was a fun surprise to hear not only Wil Wheaton, but also Shannon Fill, returning to acting after some time to play Sito once again. The flashback to the Academy helped tie everything up, as well as showing us a version of Mariner who was more enthusiastic and greener aorund the gills than the one we know now.

The resolution to the problem took on all sorts of twists and turns, from the Mark Twain Manoeuvre to the trip to Orion. While I doubt we'll be missing Tendi for long, I hope there's at least some time in season five for the main characters to deal with her absence, and perhaps to see how she does sharing power with D'Erika on the homeworld. Bringing in T'Lyn as the fifth member of the team over the course of the season makes particular sense now, as she's poised to take Tendi's place as the science enthusiast, so it'll be interesting to see how things go when Tendi eventually comes back.

The inclusion of the Genesis Device was a bit of a surprise, although it was kind of telegraphed by the very Wrath of Khan-esque music and effects throughout the episode (the one departure from the TNG-fest this has been). If there are any complaints, it's that Maah and the other alien captains were left out of the loop, when it really felt like it should be part of the solution. Still, these are only half-hour episodes, and there's only so much they can do in the time. It's not like they're not ludicrously packed as it is.

So, altogether, a brilliant end to the season, once more shaking things up for the next round.


  • It's a bit mad that all Mariner needs to commandeer a ship is her mother's codes. Couldn't they have dropped a line in about her voice pattern or DNA being similar enough to fool the security system?
  • The USS Passaro is named for Fabio Passaro, a CGI artist on the franchise, who passed away last year.
New Ferengi Rules of Acquisition: 
  •     91: Your boss is only worth what he pays you.
  •     289: Shoot first, count profits later. 
There were only 285 rules in the TNG-DS9-VOY era of the 2370s, so there's clearly been some expansion in the last few years.