Posted: October 14, 2016 in Book reviews

By Dean Koontz


It’s the near future and a group of scientists in the arctic have an audacious plan to help ease world hunger by breaking off glaciers to be towed southwards to help irrigate farmland. A group of scientists led by Harry Carpenter and his wife Rita have just finished planting sixty explosive charges deep in the ice, designed to shatter the glacier and create an iceberg. Unfortunately an earthquake creates an underwater tsunami that breaks the part of the glacier they’re on free.

Cast adrift, with limited supplies and fuel, it seems likely they’ll freeze to death before help can arrive, except they probably won’t get the chance because the explosives are due to go off at midnight. When out of nowhere the chance of salvation appears they think they might have a chance, but they haven’t reckoned on one of their number being a psychopath who’ll stop at nothing to fulfil his own twisted agenda…


I’ve been a fan of Koontz’s work for a long time. I think he’s a great, if flawed author. He usually comes up with fantastic plots that can run out of steam, and great characters who often wind up reminding you of other Koontz characters (they’re damaged because of some trauma in their past but they find hope in the love of a good man/woman etc.). For all his flaws he is a good writer, and a Koontz novel I haven’t read before is always something to nab when I see one going cheap.

Not that Icebound is new, in fact it’s forty years old now, originally having been published in 1976 under the title Prison of Ice. Koontz reedited it to make it more current and it was rereleased in 1995, so it’s been knocking around for a while.

The first thing to say is that it isn’t your classic Koontz, there’s no supernatural, or apparently supernatural, or otherwise fantastical force at work, instead this is a relatively straightforward thriller, and if it feels a little like an Alistair MacLean novel there’s a very good reason for that, in his notes at the end Koontz explains that he wrote it as a homage to the MacLean style of thriller.

It’s not a terrible book, but it rarely soars. The setup is interesting, and Koontz evokes the environment of the ice shelf upon which our helpless heroes (plus heroine) are marooned well. The would be rescuers are an engaging bunch, in many ways more interesting than the scientists, and it would be intriguing to see how they were originally played in the 1976 novel given the world was a very different place.

Where the book falls down is in the central mystery of who the would-be-killer is, and why he’s so determined to murder one of his fellows. For a mystery like that to work you need interesting characters and plenty of red herrings, but Koontz fails on both parts. Aside from characters who aren’t even on the ice shelf everyone is a thinly drawn caricature. So one of the group is an older Frenchman, one of them is young scion of a thinly veiled Kennedy’esque political dynasty, one is Chinese, one is a towering black man, one of them is Rita’s ex and one is a laid back bodybuilder, yet despite this it’s hard to tell them apart, and Koontz pretty much ignores the need for red herrings, which means when the psycho is finally revealed my initial thought was pretty much, meh.

Koontz’s prose means it isn’t a chore to read, and it’s got an intriguing set up, but in the end the book, and in particular its characters, left me feeling rather cold.

Blood Father

Posted: October 12, 2016 in Film reviews

Directed by Jean-François Richet. Starring Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty and William H Macy.


People were undecided about the Terminator 2 remake

John Link (Gibson) is an ex-con who’s trying to go straight. After nine years in prison he’s managed to stay sober for two years with the help of his sponsor, Kirby (Macy). He’s living in a rundown trailer park earning a living as a tattoo artist. Everything is going fine until he receives a call from his daughter Lydia (Moriarty). Lydia ran away from home when she was fourteen and Link hasn’t seen her since. Now Lydia is in trouble, she’s just shot her drug dealer boyfriend and the cartel want her dead, with nowhere else to turn only her estranged father can help her.

Can Link keep his daughter safe, even if it risks him winding up back in prison, and will Lydia reconnect with her father, or is she just using him as a means to an end? And just why are the cartel so interested in vengeance?


There’s a very straight-to-video feel about Blood Father, which isn’t necessarily a negative, this is a pure B-movie and it knows it. Still it’s sobering (sorry) to remember a time when Gibson was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, not to mention a noted director, but, much like his character John Link, Gibson has battled his demons and one can only hope has won. Now he seems to be rebuilding his career one film at a time, still one can’t imagine he would have made Blood Father 20 years ago.

Which isn’t to say this is a bad film, it’s just a bit average. The story is fairly generic and the film doesn’t really go anywhere you wouldn’t expect a film like this to go, which is kind of the point of a B-movie, but still it left me wanting more. There are a few decent action scenes, but on the whole I felt a little cheated in the gun battle/fistfight stakes. What raises this above mediocre is the cast. Macy has always been great and he have a wonderful chemistry with Gibson, it’s just a shame he isn’t in the film more. As Lydia Moriarty makes her irritating enough to annoy us, but just the right side of redeemable that we don’t really want to see her horribly murdered, and she’s allowed to mellow as the film progresses thankfully. As one of Link’s former associates Michael Parks does that wild eyed quiet menace he’s done so often for Tarantino, less impressive is Diego Luna as the bad guy, who isn’t given any character beyond being a low rent Vincent Cassel.

It’s Gibson who holds the film together though, and Gibson whose presence lifts mundane material to something that approaches (even if it never quite reaches) above average. I recall watching Expendables 3 and noting that, much as I love Arnie and co, it’s obvious how much better actors Gibson and Harrison Ford were, and Gibson is again on good form here. His broken father has echoes of his real life issues, yet Link is still the kind of character you want to root for. He handles the action with aplomb, and still has a great delivery for the more comedic lines. And he plays haunted exceptionally well, especially when he’s trying to sober his daughter up and stop her making the same mistakes as him.

The plot’s wafer thin, and as a result the film tends to meander at times, and the big gun battle you always imagine you’re on the cusp of seeing sadly never arrives. At times it’s very sharp and funny, but too often the film treads water to the extent that even its sparse run time seems a little too long.

Not necessarily one to avoid, but not something likely to end up in your DVD collection either, but if nothing else it proves that Mel Gibson is still a force to be reckoned with.

The Magnificent Seven

Posted: October 5, 2016 in Film reviews

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.


“I told you none of the shops would be open on Sunday!”


In the late 19th Century the mining town of Rose Creek is being menaced by evil industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who’s trying to bully the townsfolk into selling their land for a pittance so he can make a fortune. After an outbreak of violence from Bogue’s men leaves several townsfolk dead the widow of one of the victims, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) rides out to find help.

In a nearby town they encounter a warrant officer/bounty hunter named Sam Chisholm (Washington). Emma begs for his help but Chisholm declines, until he learns of Bogue’s involvement. Realising he’ll need men to help he recruits smart mouthed gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt) to his cause. Soon they’re joined by infamous Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawk) and his knife wielding associate Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Chisholm recruits Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) with a promise never to come after him, and they also take on mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). The final member of the seven is a renegade Comanche brave named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

The seven gunfighters ride into Rose Creek and easily despatch the men Bogue left in charge, but Chisholm knows this first battle was only a skirmish. Bogue will be coming, and he’ll be bringing an army with him. Can Chisholm and his men beat the odds, and even if they do how many of the Magnificent Seven will be left alive to tell the tale?


And so we get another Hollywood remake, although in fairness it’s hard to be too offended given the 1960 original was itself a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Still it seemed an odd film to remake, if only because westerns seem a trifle old (ten gallon) hat these days, and it has to be said right off the bat that the 2016 remake is a very old fashioned film.

But that’s note remotely a bad thing.

The film reunites Washington and Hawke with their Training Day director Fuqua, albeit this time the two actors aren’t out to kill each other. Washington leads the line well, and for a man who’s now over sixty (yes he really is) he handles the action scenes just as well as the quieter more emotional beats. If he has less fun with the role that’s less to do with his ability as an actor and more to do with having to play the nobler, more stoic leader, a role he excels in. By contrast Hawke gets to throw everything but the kitchen sink at his confederate sharpshooter, a man with a reputation he may no longer be able to live up to, but his role is more than just tics and “yee haws!” and it’s amazing to consider that he’s over fifteen year’s Washington’s junior because he convincingly plays a contemporary.

As Faraday Pratt completes the big name triumvirate at the heart of the Seven, and he’s a lot of fun to watch, but…his character is quite like his character in Jurassic World, and a lot like Star Lord too, and as engaging as he is it would be nice to see if he has another string to his bow beyond smart mouthed and cocky. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of movie stars have thrived on playing essentially the same character, but I hope there’s more to come from him.

The rest of the seven by necessity get less to do, although in fairness each of them gets their moment in the sun, oft times more than one. D’Onofrio in particular gives a peculiarly engaging turn as the mountain man who appears to have spent rather too long on his own in the wilderness. Kudos as well to Lee for making as much as he does from a character that could have just been a.n.other Japanese marital artist. Our Mexican outlaw and Native American team members fare less well sadly. It is difficult when you’ve got seven characters, and in fairness as a men on a mission kind of film these guys are more engaging than the flipping Suicide Squad were. It’s just a shame that, given they’re a much more diverse Seven than the original, there isn’t more nuance to their characters.


“ma’am, could you not shoot that tree, one of my best friends is a tree.”

But this isn’t a film for nuance. Take Bennett’s plucky gal with a gun or Sarsgaard’s moustache twirling villain, who’ll shoot a henchman just so you know he’s the bad guy. Both are very good though, Bennett handles her action scenes well, it’s just a little distracting how much she looks like Jennifer Lawrence however. As Bogue Sarsgaard doesn’t get much grey, but he does at least imbue his character with wonderful sense of arrogance.


So yeah, pretty much everyone in the film is, to a greater or lesser extent, something of a cliché, but this did not dent my enjoyment one bit, if anything it might well have enhanced it. Don’t get me wrong, I like nuance, like shades of grey and stories and characters that aren’t just black and white, but oh my sometimes it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch an old fashioned tale or white hats and black hats, and that’s what this is.

Fuqua has never quite equalled Training Day, but he’s a solid director, especially of action, and the shootouts and battle scenes here are nicely done, not so frantic you can’t see what’s going on but still visceral and exhilarating. My only quibble would be that during the climactic battle one of the Seven seems to go missing only to turn up again later, but that’s a minor quibble given the sheer number of characters. Fuqua also makes excellent use of the landscape and the film’s quite beautiful in places.

I need to mention the music as well, which caught me off guard because I saw James Horner’s name at the start. This was the last film he scored before he passed away, in fact he hadn’t completed it and it had to be finalised by Simon Franglen, it’s a nice tribute to hear some familiar riffs again. There’s hints of Titanic, and whilst it never goes full on 1960, echoes of the classic theme are there for all to hear.

It’s a little too long, a little clichéd (to say the least) and it’s arguable whether it actually adds anything to the original other than providing more diversity, but it’s so well put together and the cast are so engaging that this doesn’t matter nearly as much as it might have with another film. And it has to be said that the film did surprise me in one respect, because if you’d ask me to name who’d live and who’d die before the film started I’d have got it wrong.

It might be a film that ends up forgotten, but while I was watching it I was heartily enjoying it, and at the end of the day that’s the very least one should ask of a film.

Not quite magnificent, but not far off it.


Blair Witch

Posted: September 30, 2016 in Film reviews, horror

Directed by Adam Wingard. Starring James Allen McCune and Callie Hernandez.


This time she was determined to get photos of the teddy bears’ picnic.

Even though it’s been 20 years since his sister Heather disappeared in the woods near to Burkittsville, James Donahue (McCune) hasn’t given up hope that she might one day be found. When he finds video footage online that seems to show Heather inside a dilapidated house in the woods he persuades his friends Peter and Ashley (Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) along with film student Lisa Arlington (Hernandez) to accompany him to Burkittsville. There they meet up with Lane (Wes Robinson) who is the man who found the video and posted it online. Lane agrees to show them where he found the tape, but only if he and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry) can tag along.

The six travel into the woods, taking with them all manner of modern technology, including GPS trackers, walky-talkies and even a drone. After their first night camping out they awake to find a multitude of stick figures hung around their campsite. When it becomes apparent that someone might be playing a prank on them the group decide to head back to their cars, but despite several hours walking in a straight line they find themselves back where they started.

Soon they will experience the wrath of the entity that lives deep in the lonely woods, the eponymous Blair Witch, and all the modern technology in the world might not be enough to save them.



The Blair Witch is so scary she’ll turn your hair purple!

Blair Witch is a sequel that came out of nowhere. It’s working title was The Woods, a deception designed to obfuscate its true nature as a sequel/reboot of the 1999 original, The Blair Witch Project, a film which, though it wasn’t the first such film, kick-started the found footage genre that continues to this day.

I’ve always been a big fan of the original film, though I’ve never seen the somewhat derided sequel, but I was wary of a direct sequel set twenty years after the original, especially when it transpired that it might be something of a re-tread of the original.

The first thing to say about Blair Witch is that, odd as it may seem, the film this most reminds me of is the Force Awakens, insofar as it is a sequel that follows many story beats of the original, with similar things happening to new characters. The similarity ends there for whilst The Force Awakens is magnificent, Blair Witch is nowhere near as good—which isn’t to say it’s bad.

The biggest difference between this and The Blair Witch Project is in its production. The 1999 original was pure guerrilla filmmaking, with Myrick and Sanchez sending three unsuspecting young actors into the woods with only a vague script and then proceeding to genuinely scare the shit out of them. There is a visceral, realistic edge to The Blair Witch Project which the sequel lacks. Blair Witch is far slicker, it’s clearly scripted rather than improvised and this ensures a better quality of performance from the actors. This means it loses the raw brilliance of the original, but the flipside is that Blair Witch feels more coherent.

For saying that the film steers so closely to the original, it’s testament to the production that it works as well as it does. It relies on many elements of the original; a sense of dread, an unseen threat, lots of running through the trees in the dark being chased by something…in fact there’s little the film does that is very different, though when it does deviate from the original’s path through the woods this leads to several of its best moments. There’s some gruesome body horror that unfortunately doesn’t lead to any real payoff, some nicely claustrophobic scenes that are again let down by the lack of a punchline, but there’s a moment perhaps two thirds of the way through that is truly original and one hell of a shock. The real shame is that there isn’t more of this.

The original film was notable for its expanded universe; webpages and books that told us more about the Blair Witch, about Elly Kedward and Coffin Rock and Rustin Parr, and Blair Witch builds upon what has been told before (though there is some nice moments when Lane explains that there are other theories out there and that what we took for fact might just be conjecture). The film almost makes more of the fact, only alluded to in the original, that those haunted by the Blair Witch can find themselves out of temporal sync, and at times the film veers close to becoming a time travel movie (and it has to be said a good one at that).

From my perspective a film that doesn’t show much tends to keep my attention focused, because I’m constantly trying to spot something in the background, but be warned, if you suffer from motion sickness this might not always be an easy watch.

The performances are decent enough, and though it relies on too many jump scares there is a genuine creepiness to it. The opening fifteen minutes are awful, but once the group make it to the woods the film gets a lot better. The incredibly deranged reappearances of one character are a trifle too hammy, and the finale inside Rustin Parr’s house starts well, segues into a nice roller coaster scare ride, but then goes on too long and ends up slightly tedious.

It’s scary, but nowhere near as scary as The Blair Witch Project, and it offers very little that’s new, but as found footage horror films go it’s actually quite good, and it takes care not to trample on what made the original great. If you go down to the woods today you might not find a big surprise, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be disappointed with what you do find.


The gang had a horrible feeling that this wasn’t Glastonbury…


Posted: September 23, 2016 in Book reviews

By Renée Knight



Documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft finds a book titled The Perfect Stranger on her bedside table and though she can’t remember how she acquired it she starts reading it. All too soon she realises that she is the subject of the book, renamed as ‘Charlotte’. The novel is a fictionalised account of events that happened 20 years ago after her husband Robert had to come home early from a family holiday, leaving Catherine alone in Spain with their 5 year old son Nicholas. What happened in those few days in Spain is a secret Catherine has told no one in the last twenty years, but now the book proves just the start of a campaign by retired teacher Stephen Brigstocke who is determined that Catherine should pay for what happened back then. As her life begins to fall apart can Catherine save herself from the deadly fate that befalls her literary counterpart Charlotte, or will Stephen get the revenge he feels he is owed?


I picked this up because it had an interesting premise. What would happen if you began reading a book and quickly realised that it was about you, and in particular about a dark secret from your past? I wasn’t seduced by the “It’s the new Gone Girl!” label on the cover (mainly because I’ve never read GG, only seen the film) but that should have given me some warning. As a rule of thumb books that tell you how brilliant they are on the front cover rarely are, especially when they compare themselves to something else.

My first problem with the book is that it took me a little while to get into it. The narrative shifts between Catherine and Stephen’s perspective, only Catherine is in the 3rd person and Stephen is in the first person. I’m not sure why this was done, except to provide a contrast between the two points of view, and perhaps because whilst Stephen thinks he knows what happened in Spain, only Catherine would know for sure.

The book also shifts in time, between 2013 and 1993, and it took a little while to acclimatise myself to the shifting perspectives and times. I persevered and the book did become more engaging, and Knight’s prose and structure did hook me somewhat, against my better judgement. I wouldn’t quite call it a page turner, but it did prove a quick read because I wanted to find out what was going on.

The trouble is that what’s going on is pretty flimsy and hangs on a multitude of contrivances, and like a bad sitcom plot everything could be resolved pretty quickly if characters just sat down and talked to one another. I can understand Catherine’s reluctance on one level to dig up a traumatic event, but when a man seems hell bent on ruining your life and possibly even killing you and your son, surely it’s time to bite the bullet. Other characters just believe second hand testimony as if it was gospel, which is especially vexing when late on a certain character seems to have held doubts all along.

I’m sure the author would claim that it’s all about guilt and secrets, and how you get to a point where you can’t reveal what really happened because of the hurt you’ll cause, but in the end it feels like a house of cards, and every narrative trick the author uses seems really obvious in hindsight.

It doesn’t help that not one character is remotely empathetic. Sure towards the end you begin to feel for both Catherine and Stephen, but up to this point neither is that likable, nor is Catherine’s husband or their layabout son. None of them ever felt ‘real’, even Catherine’s job as a filmmaker seems flimsy, like the author just googled the job and then barely took any notes. This is bizarre given Knight herself was a documentary filmmaker for many years.

It’s not terrible, and it isn’t like Knight is a bad writer, I just wish her characters had been warmer and her plot a little meatier. As it is this is an ok book that you can’t help feeling was sold on the basis of an intriguing elevator pitch, but which never quite lives up to its billing.




Bridget Jones’s Baby

Posted: September 22, 2016 in Film reviews

Directed by Sharon Maguire. Starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey.


You won’t believe what the cast of Bridget Jones’s Diary look like now!!

On the cusp of her 43rd birthday Bridget finds herself single and childless, a fact her mother chooses to remind her of. At the funeral service for Daniel Cleaver (no Hugh Grant this time I’m afraid) she sees her ex, Mark Darcy (Firth) and his wife. None of her friends is able to help celebrate her birthday, so she spends the evening alone. At least her career is going well, she’s now a television producer and has become friends with her news anchor Miranda (Sarah Solemani).


Miranda encourages her to go away for the weekend with her, and Bridget accepts. She’s expecting a classy mini break but Miranda whisks her off to a music festival in the middle of nowhere. Wearing completely the wrong outfit Bridget falls flat on her face in the mud, but is rescued by a handsome stranger, Jack Qwant (Dempsey). Later a somewhat inebriated Bridget accidentally wanders into Jack’s Yurt and the two have sex (as you do!).

Several days later she attends the christening of her friend Jude’s (Shirley Henderson) baby where she meets Mark once more. Mark confesses that he and his wife are getting a divorce, and he and Bridget have sex (as you do!)

Flash forward several weeks and Bridget discovers she’s pregnant. Unable to get a DNA test done whilst she’s pregnant Bridget resolves to involve both potential fathers in her pregnancy, only without telling either man about the other! In this she is helped by her OB/GYN Dr Rawlings (Emma Thompson who also co-wrote the script along with Helen Fielding and Dan Mazar).

Can Bridget keep up the deception? Will she keep her job in the face of a ruthless new boss, and will she find true love with either Mark or Jack, and just which one is the father anyway?


A lot’s happened since we last ventured into the world of Bridget Jones. Zellweger took a six year break from acting and returned looking somewhat different, Firth won an Oscar and became a Kingsman, and Helen Fielding wrote a third Bridget book where she killed Mark Darcy off!

With all this in mind, not to mention a 12 year gap since Edge of Reason, I had to wonder whether the old magic could still work.

Well the answer is, I’m very pleased to say, yes it can, albeit with some caveats. As before the beating heart of the film remains Zellweger, who once again makes you forget she’s actually from Texas and convinces as a middle class English girl from the Home Counties, albeit a somewhat romanticised Home Counties. She imbues the character with such genuine warmth that it’s nigh on impossible not to love Bridget, no matter how rubbish she is, though it’s fair to say she isn’t quite the disaster area she once was, but in her mid-40s she’s still not quite got the hang of this adult business: One empathises! Bridget isn’t perfect. She wears the wrong thing, she does the wrong thing, and quite often she says the wrong thing, and despite the somewhat romanticised world she inhabits this continues to make Bridget Jones one of the more realistic movie heroines. It pains me to say it but I’ve never had a James Bond moment, I have had plenty of Bridget Jones’ moments however! Zellweger might look a little different (and whether it’s surgery or just aging who cares) but she’s still the same old Bridge.

The presence of Firth’s uptight Mark Darcy is also of vital import. The film survives quite well without Hugh Grant but it’s hard to imagine it would have been any good without Mark, and yet again Firth proves what a fantastic actor he is, because it takes a lot of talent to imbue such an apparently cold character with so much warmth, but yet again Firth does it, providing a master class in subtlety. Just watch the joy when he discovers he’s going to be a dad, and the pain when he realises it might not be his baby. I don’t know what Fielding thought she was doing killing him off but I’m very glad the film series at least is taking a different path.

As the third corner of the triangle Dempsey tries his best, but whilst Jack is a nicer guy, and a far better potential suitor, than Daniel Cleaver ever was, he lacks Grant’s caddish charm. Of the rest of the cast pretty much everyone from the previous films is back, though their roles are a tad limited—still it’s nice to see Shirley Henderson, James Callis and Sally Phillips again; I just wish we’d seen more of them, and the same applies to Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s mum and dad, though Jones does have her moments.

Thompson isn’t in the film much, but the benefit of being one of the writers is that you can give yourself the best lines, and her wily doctor is quite amusing. The standout for me though is Solemani as Bridget’s new BFF. She has good comic timing and a nice line in physical comedy and it’s a shame that she’s increasingly side-lined as the film goes alone.

Plot wise it’s safe to say this is a film that treads familiar ground, and rarely does anything especially unexpected (although there’s a nice double bluff at one stage that did catch me off guard) but that’s not really what you want from this kind of film, you want a warm, familiar, comfortable blanket of a film, and on this level the film succeeds. Contrivances abound but, again, if you ignore these and just go with it the film’s a lot more enjoyable.

The script feels dated. Setting aside the elephant in the room (woman in successful job but only man and baby can make her truly happy) a lot of the jokes riff on things that would have been funnier a year or two ago; social media/cat videos/ hipster beards, and even the Ed Sheerin cameo seems like it would have worked better a couple of years ago. I guess the film had been in development for some time but it’s a shame it couldn’t feel a little more 2016 and a little less 2014!

But still it’s funny, I laughed all the way through and there’s some physical comedy involving a revolving door near the end that’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

This film is warm, funny, loveable and ever so slightly clumsy, much like Bridget herself. I do hope this is the last one though, Bridget deserves to have her happy ending and sail off into the movie sunset.


“I’m just saying, if you wince it does look a little like Hugh Grant.”

Fifty Years Ago Today…

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Star Trek


Fifty years ago today NBC aired the first episode of Star Trek. It wasn’t the first episode made, not by a long chalk, Gene Roddenberry had made ‘The Cage’ a pilot featuring Captain Christopher Pike rather than Captain James T Kirk (or is it James R Kirk?) over the winter of 1964/65, but it was famously rejected by NBC for being too cerebral and the episode in its original form didn’t air until the late 1980s (although substantial parts of it were used in the season 1 two-parter The Menagerie).


Too cerebral? I think NBC were just bighead’ist!

By the time NBC authorised a second pilot Pike (actor Jeffrey Hunter) had jumped ship and the only character to survive from the first pilot was Leonard Nimoy’s Mr Spock (Majel Barrett would return, but as nurse Chapel rather than Number One). The new captain was William Shatner’s James Tiberius Kirk (though no one knew that’s what the T stood for for a long time!).

Oddly this second pilot—the wonderful Where No Man Has Gone Before— wasn’t aired on 8th September 1966. Instead the first episode anyone outside of the production team saw was The Man Trap, with  Where No Man Has Gone Before airing a couple of weeks later. The Man Trap is, in fairness, best described as a run of the mill episode of Trek, though it does have a few advantages over the second pilot. Firstly the crew are in the uniforms they’ll wear for the entire three season run, more importantly The Man Trap features Deforest Kelley’s Dr McCoy, and even though the triumvirate of Kirk/Spock/McCoy probably wasn’t quite planned at this stage (initially only Shatner and Nimoy got top billing) it’s clear from the off that McCoy will be an important character-heck the episode revolves around him.


“Gimmie some salt, baby!”

This tale of an alien creature impersonating McCoy’s lost love also sets the tone for plenty of Trek episodes to come; the barren frontier world, long dead civilisations where threat still lurks, alien creatures beyond comprehension, the expendability of redshirts (ok technically none of the expendable crewmen were in red but metaphorically speaking they’re redshirts!) …and it also provides a handy lesson; if your ex comes back on the scene complaining about a lack of salt in his/her diet, RUN!


Damn it, Janice, stop leading on the salt vampire with your sexy condiments!

Opinions on that first episode were mixed, but I doubt even the most fervent supporter of the show would have thought that, fifty years later, we’d have just seen our 13th Star Trek film at the cinema (Star Trek Beyond) and that we’d be preparing for the arrival of our sixth Star Trek series (Star Trek Discovery, though in fairness it’s the seventh series if you count the animated series).

This is the third big 50th in the last few years. First Bond, then Dr Who and now Trek. As with 007 and Who I was not around at the beginning, but when the BBC began showing Star Trek in the 1970s I was immediately and irrevocably hooked. Some shows from my youth are, in hindsight, a trifle naff but some are still magnificent. Star Trek, along with Blakes 7, falls into the latter category. I could list the naff ones but, oh for the sake of argument let’s just say I’m looking at you Buck Rogers in the 25th Century!

When The Next Generation was announced I had trepidation. A new Star Trek? A Klingon on the bridge? I needn’t have worried and I loved Next Gen (though time has not, I fear, always been kind to it.) Initially I was wary of Deep Space Nine but it rewarded my patience, whilst with Voyager I experienced the opposite reaction, and when Enterprise came along I think I, like many other Trekkies/Trekkers, was somewhat tired and jaded. It was time for a rest.

When in 2009 the movie series was rebooted I was initially horrified at the recasting of Kirk, Spock et al, but I quickly grew to love the new versions of my old favourites (especially Karl Urban’s exceptional take on Bones). And now, fifty years after The Man Trap aired, we’re just a few months away from a new series; Discovery.

But what makes Trek so enduring? In part it’s the notion of a future that hasn’t fallen into dystopian chaos—the 23rd and 24th Centuries are no Hunger Games, instead Trek is one of the few sci-fi franchises that manages to be hopeful about humanity. Beyond this though Trek has the kind of broad storytelling canvas that many storytellers can only dream of. Trek can be thoughtful and cerebral (don’t tell NBC!) but it can also be gritty and action orientated. It can be funny, moving, romantic and, let’s be honest here, downright camp and cheesy. Perhaps only Dr Who comes close in having that expansive kind of pallete. I’ll always love Star Wars, but however great it is the franchise rarely deals with big ideas or with anything controversial in the way Trek has.


I think they’re trying to tell us something but it may be too subtle to figure out…

Yes the show could be clunky and heavy handed at times, but this was a show that put a woman, and a black woman at that, on the bridge of a starship and mentioned her ethnicity precisely once in three seasons (said mention coming courtesy of an alien representation of Abraham Lincoln.) An Asian man was at the helm, it had an alien science officer, and at the height of the Cold War a Russian! Later series would feature an African American captain, a woman in the centre seat and, yes, women in catsuits, but don’t hold that against it.

Fifty years on Trek still has stories to tell, and as you may have noticed I have a new category on my blog dedicated the Star Trek, so expect a fair few blogs in the coming months, along the lines of ones I’ve done for Bond. I plan to rank the shows, rank the captains and, if I find the time, rank the films.

These are the continuing voyages of the Star Trek franchise, its ongoing mission to go where no one has gone before…


Oh my God! I only just realised that I picked a Next Gen pic that didn’t feature Beverly Crusher! For shame, Starkey, for shame!