Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

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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!