Archive for the ‘Star Trek’ Category

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With the announcement that Michelle Yeoh is going to play a recurring part in the new Trek series, Discovery, it got me thinking. Yeoh was, of course, a Bond girl, starring as Wai Lin opposite Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies, so I started to wonder who else counts as both a Bond and a Trek alumni?  The below isn’t intended to be a definitive list, but these were the ones that immediately sprang to mind. Feel free to add any I’ve missed in the comments!

**Warning there are a few spoilers for Bond and Trek here**

Of course, Yeoh might have been the main Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, but she wasn’t the only one because starring as the doomed Paris Carver was Terri Hatcher, best known for Lois and Clark and Desperate Housewives but, earlier in her career, someone who popped up in the dreadful second season Next Gen episode The Outrageous Okona.

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As most everyone knows Paris Carver comes to a sticky end courtesy of Dr “I could shoot you from Stuttgart” Kaufman, a wonderful turn from talented character actor Vincent Schiavelli (also seen in Ghost, The X-Files and a ton of other stuff). Before he was a villainous doctor with a side-line in celebrity overdoses, however, he was an automated salesman in the The Arsenal of Freedom, a season one episode of TNG.

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Of course, neither Yeoh or Hatcher were the first Bond girls to have done Trek, because Goldeneye’s thigh-squeezingly good henchwoman Xenia Onatopp, Famke Janssen, also did Next Gen, playing an alien who romances Jean Luc Picard in what was only the former model’s second acting role; season five’s Perfect Mate.

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Clockwise from top left: With Connery, hunting Scaramanga, in prosthetics and finally showing up in the holosuite!

When it comes to who’s done the most Bond and Trek, the clear winner must be Marc Lawrence, renowned character actor who played a lot of Mafia gangster roles. He starred in both Diamonds are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun on the Bond side of things, and in Trek he featured in the Next Generation 3rd season episode The Vengeance Factor, plus the hugely enjoyable DS9 7th season  episode Badda Bing Badda Ba as, you guessed it, a gangster!

 

 

The award for ‘ouch that’s a coincidence’ goes to another renowned character actor, Anthony Zerbe. He starred in Star Trek Insurrection in 1998 as Admiral Dougherty who comes to a sticky end courtesy of a face stretching machine, which is interesting given that almost a decade earlier in Licence to Kill he played Milton Krest who was killed in a decompression tank, a process that saw his face stretching yet again! Talk about typecasting!

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John Rhys-Davies (best known for the Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones franchises) played charming Russian General Pushkin who, despite being KGB was an ally of 007 in 1987’s The Living Daylights. Flash forward ten years and he had a recurring role in Star Trek Voyager as a holographic recreation of Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Of course, not all Russian generals Bond encounters are so friendly. In 1983’s Octopussy General Orlov, played by the irascible Steven Berkoff, wanted to start World War Three. He went on to appear in the Deep Space Nine 5th season episode Business as Usual as a duplicitous arms dealer.orl

Like I said this isn’t supposed to be a definitive list, and I’ll be amazed if there weren’t others, but what’s clear is that Michelle Yeoh isn’t remotely the first person to cross the aisle between these two venerable franchises.

Of course we’ve never had a Bond himself do Trek, but you never know, if Daniel Craig hangs up his PPK and Tom Hardy gets the job this could change!

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Star Trek and The Perils of Prequels

Posted: October 27, 2016 in Star Trek
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When Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 many thought that was the end of Trek. Even when the films were revived in 2009 it still seemed unlikely Trek would ever return to television. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when a new Trek series was announced. When it was further announced that the showrunner would be Bryan Fuller who, as well as working on DS9 and Voyager, had recently given us the sadly cancelled, yet impeccably magnificent, Hannibal, people got excited. The arrival onto the creative team of Nicholas (The Wrath of Khan) Meyer was just icing on the cake.

What no one knew was when this show would be set. Would it take us back to the 24th Century, would it feature a 31st Century time ship, would it be another prequel, or would it fill in the gap between The Undiscovered Country and Next Gen? People also wondered if it would be set in the Prime timeline, or the alternate one Abrams used to reboot the films.

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That ship’s kinda funny looking

Finally some information emerged. The show will be called Discovery, it’ll be set in the Prime universe, and we’ve been given a rough glimpse of the ship. It was at this point that fandom’s excitement wavered. Discovery as a name is fine (a trifle on the nose sure, but hardly a deal breaker) but opinions on the ship itself weren’t positive. It looked old, and a little clunky.

It’s clearly based on 1970s’ design from Bond legend Ken Adam and artist Ralph McQuarrie yet people still argued that it might not be a prequel; it could be an old ship pressed back into service after some future collapse of the Federation, or even one designed to look retro by nostalgic 26th Century designers…

Occam’s razor held true. The most obvious conclusion was that this was going to be a prequel, and lo and behold we learned Discovery’s going to predate TOS by ten years.

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The original Number One, before she quit command to go into nursing!

We still don’t know much more. To date no casting announcements have been made. We know the lead character won’t be the Discovery’s captain, but rather its first officer, she doesn’t have a name yet but will be referred to as Number One (a homage to Majel Barret’s character in The Cage), and we’ve been told that the series will be connected with the Original Series episode Balance of Terror, but we know not how.

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Fuller has written some great stuff, but let’s never forget he wrote Spirit Folk, where Harry Kim kissed a cow!

Originally the show was due to premiere in January 2017, but that air date was pushed back to May, and just today it’s been announced that Fuller, due to his heavy schedule working on an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and something called Amazing stories, is stepping down as showrunner, though he will stay on as Executive Producer. Only time will tell what impact this will have on the show, but already you can see why fans might worry.

I’m not in a position to comment on the impact of Fuller stepping back, but one thing I think I can wax lyrical about is this: if we’re getting another prequel then Discovery needs to avoid many of the pitfalls Enterprise stumbled blindly into.

Prequels are big business. For franchises that may have reached a conclusion they’re seen as a way to keep the series going by delving into past events. You have a built in audience in a way something completely new doesn’t. The highest profile recent examples were the Star Wars prequels (Interestingly Enterprise was conceived shortly after The Phantom Menace, and both feature a shadowy holographic figure manipulating events behind the scenes—and people say Berman and Braga had run out of ideas…) but we can see this in other franchises as well. Look at the X-Men, or how much effort went into turning The Hobbit into a fully-fledged prequel for the Lord of the Rings.

TV in particular loves prequels. So in the US there’s Caprica and Better Call Saul, whilst in the UK we get Endeavour, featuring young Morse, and Rock and Chips, the Only Fools and Horses prequel. You can see the lure. Who doesn’t want to see a character’s formative years? The trouble is that prequels come with inherent problems.

Most obvious is the fact that we know what’s going to happen, unless you go for the option of creating a new timeline of course. Before Enterprise we’d had four series and nine films. The franchise had a lot of canon. We knew that Balance of Terror was the first time humans saw Romulans, that The Last Outpost was the first time the Federation met the Ferengi, and that Q-Who was the first encounter with the Borg.

Trouble is Enterprise wanted to use these familiar staples. People love the Ferengi, so we’ll be ok if they turn up but no one finds out their species! Same with the Borg, people love the Borg, we just won’t have anyone call them Borg and it’ll be fine.

The trouble is this awkward workaround falls apart if you give it much thought. I can just about buy that the Enterprise D’s database wouldn’t flag “big ears, ultra-capitalistic- sounds familiar!” but the notion that a race of cybernetic vampires wouldn’t ring a whole host of alarm bells is another matter. Now I know there’s been some retrofitting to suggest that the events of Enterprise’s Borg episode were what led Seven of Nine’s parents to go Borg hunting in the first place but that just highlights the problem. To get the Borg into a prequel you have to do a lot of retrofitting.

Enterprise hamstrung itself in other ways; they wanted a ship named Enterprise and a Vulcan first officer, which is fine until someone pointed out that NCC-1701 was the first starship Enterprise and that Spock was the first Vulcan in Starfleet. It’s ok, we’re pre-Federation here, came the response. Yet another clunky workaround.

And don’t get me started on the whole “Meet Captain Kirk’s childhood hero” malarkey. What, this is a show about Abraham Lincoln?

In many ways Enterprise made a rod for its own back by trying too hard to reference existing storylines, then handling them badly; e.g. trying to explain Klingon ridges. Rather than try and chart its own course it too often tried, and failed, to link in with what we knew had happened/would happen.

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Theoretically the show should look like this, but it probably won’t.

Another problem is in the look of the show. Now personally I think TOS looks pretty darn iconic (if anything TNG looks more dated) but it’s a look that would be hard to convincingly replicate now. If you’re making a Morse prequel that’s easy, we know what the 1960s looked like, and whatever your views on Lucas’ prequels, it’s easy to explain everything looking shinier because we can rationalise that everything goes to shit after Palpatine’s take-over.

Creating a future that’s supposed to predate TOS (especially by 100 years) is trickier. So NX-01 ended up looking a little too modern, and technology that was supposed to look archaic compared to what was to follow seemed to work the same way. Phase pistols were only supposed to have two settings but within a few episodes were being used to cut and weld like they were 24th Century phasers. And then there were the uniforms. The NASA/Right Stuff vibe wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the bland jumpsuits just made the crew look like janitors.

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Janitors in space!!!

Of course many of Enterprise’s problems weren’t down to it being a prequel. TV Trek had been going nonstop since 1987 and there was more than a hint of franchise fatigue; on the part of both creators and the consumers. Characters in Enterprise were poorly sketched, it was perhaps the least diverse Trek show, featured wince inducing attempts at being sexy (decontaminant gel anyone?) and then there’s the theme tune…

Setting aside the prequel setting, Discovery already has a few advantages over Enterprise. Trek’s been off TV for over a decade, so when it returns it should seem fresh, and Discovery is being produced by people who haven’t been using all their best Trek ideas up for the last 13 years. It also has the benefit of a 13 episode season, unlike previous Treks that had to try and come up with 24+episodes a year, and the story will be serialised rather than being episodic, so it’ll be more Westworld than Voyager, and the fact that it’ll be streamed via a subscription service could give the show scope to deal with more adult topics, as well as allowing more latitude when it comes to language and violence. It seems highly likely Number One will be played by a non-white actress, and Fuller has already made it clear there’s likely to be an LGBT character so the show should feel the most diverse Trek since DS9.

I’m sure there will be missteps. However much attention to detail there is the technology on show is bound to look more advanced than the Original Series’, and I’ll be amazed if they never play fast and loose with established history, but what’s important are the characters and the writing. If they get those right, and if the show feels like Trek (even if it’s a very different kind of Trek) then myriad sins can, and will, be forgiven. Weaknesses in characterisation, as well as plots that too often felt rehashed from other Treks, just prompted people to look more closely at the detail of Enterprise. If Discovery has engaging characters and interesting stories to tell, then it’ll be a lot easier to let it slide when the ship visits Kwaplaxx-Major ten years too early or Ensign Schmidt’s computer makes Spock’s look like a ZX81…

Whatever we get I know this, I’m really rather excited to be boldly going once more!

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Fifty Years Ago Today…

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Star Trek
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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).

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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.

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“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!

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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.

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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…

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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!

Star Trek Beyond

Posted: July 29, 2016 in Film reviews, Star Trek
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Directed by Justin Lin. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Idris Elba.

 

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To not watch this film would be illogical

 

The USS Enterprise is three years into its five year mission under the command of Captain Kirk (Pine) and several members of the crew are on the verge of making big decisions about their futures. Kirk is struggling to find meaning in their continuing voyages, and has applied for a Vice Admiral position at the huge Yorktown star base, suggesting Spock be given command of the Enterprise. Meanwhile Spock (Quinto) is considering leaving Starfleet to re-join the remains of his race on New Vulcan, a decision given added impetus by the news that his older self from the other timeline (i.e. original Spock as played by the late Leonard Nimoy) has died.

Before either man can quit the Enterprise, a badly damaged spaceship exits a nearby nebula and makes it to Yorktown. The sole occupant is an alien woman who advises that her crew is stranded on a desolate planet inside the nebula. The nebula is largely unexplored and long range communications won’t work, but Kirk readily agrees to take the Enterprise in on a rescue mission.

When they arrive at the planet however they find it’s a trap and the ship is attacked by a swarm of attack ships led by an alien named Krall (Elba). As the Enterprise is torn apart Krall and his soldiers board it looking for an ancient artefact that Kirk acquired on a recent mission. Kirk ensures Krall doesn’t get it, but by this point the Enterprise is in pieces, and Kirk orders an evacuation.

Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) escape in a life pod, whist other members of the crew escape in a variety of novel ways. Once down on the planet Kirk and Chekov head for the remains of Enterprise’s saucer section. Meanwhile Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) have been taken captive by Krall. Spock meanwhile is teamed up with Dr McCoy (Urban) and bickering ensures. Scotty (Simon Pegg) has run into an alien scavenger named Jaylah (Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella) who may be able to help.

With no ship, and with Krall in possession of a deadly alien weapon, can Kirk and his crew stop him before he enacts a terrible revenge on the Federation?

 

For a while it looked like 2016, Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, might pass without any new Trek, and whilst Bryan Fuller’s Star Trek: Discovery won’t air until the New Year between it and Star Trek Beyond it’s good to know that Trek’s far from dead.

As with many creators and franchises out there I’ve had a somewhat fractious relationship with JJ Abrams’ take on Trek. When the reboot was originally announced I was horrified, but then I saw Star Trek in 2009 and loved it. And having re-watched it just last week I can confirm that I still love it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still clunky in places, still annoys me at times, but when it hits the mark (as it so often does) its magnificent and is one of the best Trek films. Sadly the same can’t be said of its follow-up Into Darkness which not only shamelessly miscast Cumberbatch as Khan, but then went on to hide the fact he was Khan, resulting in a dramatic reveal midway through the film which meant nothing to Kirk and co and was only there for the fans (see also Blofeld in Spectre). Suffice to say that trying to remake The Wrath of Khan is never a good idea (See Star Trek Nemesis for further details).

When the first trailer for Beyond came out I was underwhelmed. Lots of explosions and not much else. The snippet of hope was a scene between Spock and McCoy that I hoped better represented the film as a whole, and thank goodness it did!

Because I liked this, I liked it a lot. In fact I loved it and I sat there grinning most of the way through in a way I haven’t done since maybe Deadpool and definitely The Force Awakens.

It would be wrong to suggest the plot isn’t flawed. It steers a little close to Star Trek Insurrection at times, there are a lot of similarities, though to be fair it tells a similar(ish) story better than Insurrection.

As with even Into Darkness the cast help make it a great film. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than these three playing the lead three roles (well aside from William Shatner, Leonard   Nimoy and DeForest Kelly obviously!) It was obvious long before Star Trek that Quinto was a shoe in to make a good Spock, but having never seen Pine before in anything he was very much an unknown quantity. Thankfully he has been great from the start, successfully marrying the better aspects of Shatner’s performance to create a Kirk who is at once something of a maverick, yet also the kind of commander people would walk into hell for. However great these two are it’s Urban, yet again, who steals the show, as a friend said to me, of the three you can tell he has really studied DeForest Kelly to given a nuanced performance that stays just the right side of parody.

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Damn it I’m a doctor not an action hero!

 

McCoy gets most of the best lines, and most of them are at Spock’s expense. The decision to split the group into different groups is, on the whole, a good one. Whilst we get less of the Kirk/Spock friendship it’s good to see the classic Spock/McCoy banter and bickering, and Urban and Quinto play it to perfection.

The loss of Yelchin is all the more tragic given his young age, but having been somewhat overlooked in the previous two films there’s some minor comfort in Chekov getting a lot more to do here, and he makes a good foil for Kirk.  

Pegg has often felt like the odd man out for me, at times his Scotty doesn’t convince, but credit where credit’s due he throws himself into the role with a brio that covers a multitude of sins (plus he gets bonus points for having helped write the film.) he also has a nice interplay with Boutella who, in a fairly short time, ingratiates herself with the crew—whether she will return is anyone’s guess but I’d be happy to see her return.

Saldana and Cho probably get the short end of the stick and the least to do, although even they get their moments, no mean feat with an ensemble like this.

That leaves Elba as Krall and to be honest much as I love Idris Elba, initially I thought he was a weak antagonist, a powerful actor submerged under too much latex, but as the film went on he got better (there is a reason for this but I won’t say any more) He’s not the best Trek villain ever, but he’s far from the worst.

Fast and Furious director Lin injects a lot of energy into the film. It careens along at pace, yet he isn’t afraid to slow things down to inject some humour or emotion. This isn’t just some mindless action film, it has the Original Series deeply ingrained in its DNA and probably feels more like a Star Trek film then the previous two films. That doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s better than Star Trek 09, but it is more consistent. This is a crew comfortable in their roles in a story where the day is not saved by phasers but by different people from different cultures working together, showing humanity at its best, and its worst.

Also a word for composer Michael Giacchino who yet again does a great job, and the reboot Trek theme is still really cool

It’s funny, it’s exciting, it looks gorgeous and, best of all, it feels like Star Trek, and as I’ve heard said elsewhere, the real shame is that I’d kind of love to see this group in another story next week, sadly we’ll have to wait a few years.

I may be biased by virtue of being a huge Trekkie, but I loved this, so ignore the Spaced quote Pegg slipped into the script, don’t skip to the end, sit back and enjoy the ride!

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In your face Shatner, you never got a funky command jacket!