One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Charlie X’

Poor Charles Evans. Stranded on a planet of inter-dimensional aliens since the age of 3, Charlie had no one to teach him the finer social graces. The result is a self-centered teenager with the ability to bend the entire world to his will, kinda like Justin Bieber on psychic steroids. ‘Charlie X’ isn’t one of my favorite episodes of classic Star Trek, but I was surprised how difficult it was to select the one perfect shot. By this time in its production, Star Trek’s visual style had started to be defined. Blocking, lighting and pacing were starting to come together and the result makes ‘Charlie X’ more visually cohesive as a result.

I chose this single shot for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the gorgeous background that frames Charlie’s face, but also because it perfectly illustrates what the episode is all about. The lone teenager, flush with power and hormones, desperate for acceptance, daring Kirk to push him. Charlie gives off a creepy vibe throughout the story and this shot visualizes it to a tee.

Next time we go ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before‘.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Man Trap’

This episode of classic Star Trek always creeped me out as a kid, and with good reason. An alien creature who can assume the appearance of anyone, roaming the halls of the Enterprise in search of its next victim. The original series’ ‘The Man Trap’ oozes with mystery and horror and saves the best bit until the very end when the Nancy Crater, otherwise known as the Salt Vampire, reveals herself to the crew and the audience. Our perfect shot takes place just prior to that bizarre ending as Nancy has tossed Spock aside like a rag doll and has Captain Kirk firmly in her hypnotic gaze.

I always found it a bit of a stretch that Professor Crater could survive for almost two years alone on M-113 with Nancy and not get the salt sucked right out of him. Given how many crew members end up dead, you’d think her appetite was almost insatiable. Then again I guess it’s kinda like fasting for weeks, once you’re surrounded by food after having gone so long with so little, you kinda want to put your big pants on and sail right on into salt-town.

Next up is one of my least-favorite Star Trek episodes – ‘Charlie X‘. This should be interesting. :-/

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Cage’

My good friend Dave Caolo has started something neat over on his Tumblr blog. He’s posting a definitive single frame or “shot” from each of episode of the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone and I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool. So cool in fact that Dave has inspired me to do the same with one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Star Trek: The Original Series. I’ll try to post one shot a day (although I’m pretty sure that won’t really happen) until I get through the entire three seasons. What I promise I will try and do is pick the most iconic, gorgeous and definitive shots from each of the 79 episodes of Star Trek and give a brief description of why I picked them.

Why Star Trek? Simply put, the show changed my life. It captured my imagination as a boy and never let go. Each week I journeyed to strange new worlds and in the process I became life-long friends with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. It inspired me to do well in school, be tolerant of people’s differences and dream big. So where do we begin? Why, at the beginning of course! Our first entry is from the Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. Considered “Too cerebral” by the network suits at NBC back in the day, “The Cage” didn’t originally air as the first episode of Trek, but was later re-cut into the first season, two-parter The Menagerie.

Our perfect shot is quintessential Star Trek, the sinister Talosian alien keeps a watchful eye over Captain Pike and the captured crash victim, Vina. I considered a shot of Vina herself as the iconic green Orion slave girl to represent ‘The Cage’ but the Talosian with his alien costume, throbbing cranium and classic Trek back-lighting won the honor. I can already tell it’s going to be difficult to pick a single frame to represent each episode of classic Star Trek, but at least it gives me an excuse to watch them all yet again in glorious HD. I hope you enjoy this series of posts, I think it’s going to be fun. Next up – ‘The Man Trap‘!

All hands! Fasten seat belts!

This page may take a few moments to load, but if you’re a Star Trek fan like I am, it’s worth it. Some geeks recently trained their image stabilization software towards the decks of the Starship Enterprise with hilarious results. These animated GIF’s show what the director and crew saw while filming these scenes for the various incarnations of Star Trek.

The original series used the shakey cam all the time so it’s really fun to see just how these shots were choreographed. I’m struck by the sheer number of people who were apparently on the bridge at the time of this impact. I love the blocking ballet that George Takei as Sulu has to do here to not only get out of his chair, but somehow hit the floor without breaking his neck. Well done, George, well done!

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Meanwhile on the set of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise takes a hit and once again no one is wearing seat belts. DeForrest Kelly is in his usual position for bridge scenes (above and behind the Captain) and once again he goes flying on cue, but this time to the right. It is me or is Kirstie Alley kinda phoning it in here as Savvik? So much fun!

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Fast forward to S7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episode Force of Nature. I could watch this stabilized clip on a loop for days. I love how everyone’s doing their own little stylized dance to convey the rocking of the Enterprise. Jonathan Frakes clutches his chair and appears to simultaneously steady himself AND rock the chair convincingly for the camera. The Hekaran scientist with Worf on the 2nd level struggles to hold on while the ensign in the back lurches, helping to complete the illusion. Oh, and Patrick Stewart may be the only person I know who can make shaking for the camera actually look cool. Okay, maybe not.

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I love this hilarious gif of Next Generation’s Brent Spiner as Data pilots the Enterprise through a particularly violent jolt. You can imagine the crew member standing just off camera waiting to give his chair and console a good WHACK! when the director calls action. I wonder how many takes this took to get through without Brent cracking up.

StableData

This last GIF is from the Original Series but it’s almost 5mb, so if you want to take a gander, click here. Classic TOS fun!

The Worf of Starfleet

I love this fan trailer for The Worf of Starfleet for a couple reasons. First, it’s just well made. It makes Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation look totally bad-ass. Second, it highlights how badly Next Generation wants to be shown in widescreen. Seeing the TV show formatted like this makes it 1000x more epic. It’s a shame the new blu ray discs of Next Generation are still formatted 4:3 for the small screen, but that’s not their fault. Next generation really was before its time. In the meantime, you can never have enough honor. Enjoy!

(hat tip @davidcaolo for the link)

Fine Art from the Future

File this one away for that Star Trek fan in your life who has everything. Artist Charity Wood has launched a new website called Bye Bye, Robot which aims to bring officially licensed Star Trek prints to a living room near you. These beautiful, hand-signed and numbered fine art prints are bold, campy and bring the best of the Original Star Trek Series to vibrant life. Via a press release at StarTrek.com, Wood promises these pieces are just the first in a series that will eventually depict imagery from TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what Wood eventually plans to offer. I’d give my last Tribble for a fine art print of The Defiant from Deep Space Nine, but honestly, what Trek fan wouldn’t want a giant Gorn portrait hanging in their ready room? Make it so!

Nimoy Beams Up to ‘Big Bang’

If you’re a fan of Star Trek and CBS’s geeky comedy The Big Bang Theory, then this is the stardate you’ve waited for. Sources at TVLine.com report the March 29th episode of Big Bang will include a long-sought guest appearance by none other than Star Trek’s own Leonard Nimoy.

Fans of Big Bang well know just how obsessed Jim Parson’s character, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, is with both Spock and the actor who plays him. Other Trek vets such as Wil Weaton, LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner have all made appearances on the hit comedy, but Nimoy is the vulcan we’ve all been waiting for.

Even though Nimoy will only be heard and not seen, this has to be a huge coup for Bill Prady and the rest of the cast of The Big Bang Theory. I can’t wait to see how they work Nimoy into the story and hope it will eventually lead to more guest appearances. After all, it’s only logical.

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All I ask is a tall ship…

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been lucky enough to beta test the new MMO, Star Trek Online from Cryptic Studios. The game is set to launch in early February and at least for this Star Trek fan, it’s a winner. Playing around in Gene Roddenberry’s universe has given me a new appreciation for the art direction of designers such as Matt Jeffries and Michael Okuda. Designing anything is challenging, but designing interiors, user interfaces and uniforms of things that have yet to be must be especially difficult.

Most beloved of all the designs of Star Trek is perhaps the bridge of the Starship Enterprise itself. The bridge is the command center of the ship and is often the focus of action on both the big and small screens. Jeffries’ original utilitarian layout eventually gave way to more modern looking interiors, but the basic design (center command chair, flanking support positions) has withstood the test of time. The bridge is such an integral part of Star Trek that due to popular demand, the developers of Star Trek Online recently announced they were implementing them for individual ships within the game. Virtual captains told Cryptic they wanted their “big chair” and the game designers responded in kind.

All of this got me thinking about which starship bridge I liked the best. The answer has to be that of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. To many Trek fans this bridge seemed more like a hotel lobby than a high-tech command center, but I always admired its sleek curves, high-tech surfaces and muted colors. The original TV design was modified slightly for Star Trek Generations (seen here) to accommodate new science/tactical stations, giving the set a more cinematic feel.

Designed by Andrew Probert, the bridge of the Enterprise-D was the ultimate set for the weekly TV series. The layout was big enough to allow the actors room to move around comfortably as well as give characters space for private conversations, tucked away from prying ears. The raised back level provided an elevated platform that made Worf look even more imposing while offering Geordi and Data stations where they could work out solutions to the problem of the week. The set also introduced flanking seats to those of the Captain’s something that Star Trek Voyager would also adopt.

In contrast to The Next Generation’s warm earth tones, the bridge of the U.S.S. Voyager presented TV viewers with the cool grays and electric blues so often associated with science fiction. Created by production designer Richard D. James and illustrator Rick Sternbach, the interior design of the bridge of Voyager introduced subtle under lighting techniques that contributed to the “deep space feel” of the show. This design also reduced the traditional two-man con and navigator positions to a single console, putting emphasis on Captain Janeway.

I love the look of these two sets because they put the focus on the characters and their actions rather than the technology all around them. Some production designers tend to get out of hand with their creations and let the look of the set overpower its inhabitants. Voyager’s and Next Gen’s bridges are awesome examples of futuristic interior design precisely because they don’t go overboard. Compare these simple designs to the complex bridges of the Enterprise-E or the franchise reboot and you’ll see Star Trek art direction run amuck. Overlapping lines, textures and lens flares get in the way of the action and detract from the audience’s ability to focus on the characters.

Designing anything, even a fictional universe is an art form. More so when a large part of that universe’s appeal centers around details. Through the years, those entrusted with designing the bridges of Starfleet have evolved and molded it again and again. These talented artists have put their stamp on Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of the future and given Trek fans a place they could easily call home. Star Trek Online will soon give players a chance to roam the bridges of some of the most beloved starships in Star Trek history, all from the comfort of their computers. So until we can all afford to build a bridge in our basement, a virtual one has to be the next best thing.

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My Top 10 Sci-Fi / Fantasy Shows

The writers over at IO9 recently put together a mega-post of their top 100 sci-fi and fantasy shows of all time. While I agree with many of their selections, the top 10 left something to be desired. They say if you want to build a better mouse trap you had better do it yourself so I’m only too proud to present you with my list. Here is my definitive collection of my 10 all-time favorite science fiction and fantasy television shows. Some of these may very well be your favorites too so I encourage you read on and then post your personal list in the comments below. Engage!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains both minor and major spoilers for the TV shows discussed. If you don’t want to know key plot points, then you should skip the series you’ve not watched. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

• • •

Xena: Warrior Princess

1995 – 2001

When Xena: Warrior Princess first hit the scene in 1995 it seemed like little more than a cheesy ode to the likes of Conan the Barbarian. But as the story lines and the characters evolved, Xena quickly amassed a large fan following. The on-screen chemistry between Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle was undeniable and the writers took advantage of it whenever possible. The “close” relationship between the lead characters became a rallying cry for gay and lesbian fans of the series and helped boost Xena beyond mere comic book camp. No matter what outlandish villain the duo faced, their strengthening love and loyalty for each other always felt real. Add in some serious amounts of action, on-location cinematography and the show’s ability not to take itself too seriously and you have a fantasy adventure that lands Xena in my number 10 spot.

Favorite episodes:

A Day in the Life
The Bitter Suite
A Comedy of Eros

• • •

Mystery Science Theater 3000

1988 – 1999

“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts… LA LA LA then repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should maybe just relax!” Fans of MST3K have no doubt that it’s one of the best television shows ever to grace the airwaves. Granted the science fiction aspect of Mystery Science Theater was simply a vehicle for heckling old cheesy movies, but the hook worked. Each week we’d tune in to see the latest invention exchange followed inevitably by the stinker movie that Joel or Mike & the Bots would be forced to endure.

MST3K always played to the intelligence of its audience and threw out obscure references that only the most hard-core geeks would find funny. I am proud to say I was one of those geeks and so the show never failed to please. Japanese monster movies were always a sure fire winner, but so were the plethora of public service films that MST3K loved to roast. Who can forget A Date with Your Family? Salad needs more butter, mother!

Favorite episodes:

Invasion U.S.A.
Space Travelers
Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues

• • •

Doctor Who

1963 – Present

Doctor Who holds the distinction of being the longest running science fiction show on television. The British born sensation has been a favorite of mine since I first started watching the series in the Tom Baker years. Through the decades the writers behind Doctor Who have managed to keep audiences coming back for more thanks to the cleverest plot device in sci-fi history – regeneration.

When the character of the Doctor “dies”, his body regenerates into a new form, conveniently played by a new actor. So even though the infamous Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans may be retreads, how the Doctor deals with them constantly feels fresh. Add in an ever evolving set of traveling companions played by a wide range of actors and you have a creation loved by fans around the world.

Doctor Who occasionally flirts with “monster of the week” syndrome, but more often the writing, acting and stories all form a cohesive whole that is the stuff of science fiction legend.

Favorite episodes:

Bad Wolf
School Reunion
Blink

• • •

Farscape

1999 – 2003

Although Farscape held obvious similarities to an earlier sci-fi favorite, Buck Rogers, it was ultimately the show’s attention to detail, snappy writing and marvelous aliens that made it such an endearing series. Conceived by Rockne S. O’Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment, Farscape went out of its way to create characters and aliens the likes of which, no audience had seen before. From the living space ship Moya and her admirable companion, Pilot to the gorgeous blue-skinned Zhaan, Farscape bucked Star Trek’s trend of portraying aliens as humans with “bumpy noses”. The incredible special effects were indeed awesome, but it was frequently the complex relationship and sexual tension between the lead characters of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun that made Farscape one of the greats.

When it was suddenly and unexpectedly cancelled by Sci-Fi Channel CEO Bonnie Hammer in 2003, fans like myself were devastated. Luckily Farscape has survived in various forms beyond its cancellation and continues to be a source for stunningly original story lines and strong female characters.

Favorite episodes:

Crackers Don’t Matter
Out of Their Minds
Revenging Angel

• • •

Futurama

1999 – 2004

If ever there was a television show created by geeks for geeks, Futurama would be it. Futurama was penned by Matt Groening of “The Simpsons” fame and developed for TV by Groening and David X. Cohen. Both men have a huge admiration for science fiction in film and TV and every episode oozes with reverence for those that came before it. Futurama also boasts some of the most versatile voice actors ever to hit the small screen such as Billy West and Lauren Tom. The original animated series is among my all time favorites to watch over and over with quotable lines of dialog and characters that often leave me in stitches. The show is also notable for its frequent celebrity guest appearances such as Al Gore, Stephen Hawking and almost the entire cast of the original Star Trek.

Comedy Central recently announced it is bringing Futurama back from the great beyond with an entire run of all-new episodes. As far as this geek is concerned, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of animated aliens, robots and disaffected starship captains. Oh my, yes!

Favorite episodes:

Love’s Labours Lost in Space
Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch
Parasites Lost

• • •

Star Trek: The Next Generation

1987 – 1994

In the late 80’s Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, finally managed to launch his sequel to the original Star Trek. As Gene penned an update to the Trek universe, he cleverly kept the best parts of the original (the struggle to understand humanity, exploration of the unknown, loyalty & morality) and jettisoned the rest. Roddenberry also knew he didn’t want retreads of Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy or Mr. Spock, but he did want characters that were just as strong and vibrant.

Instead of a youthful man of action, Roddenberry invented Picard, a captain based as much in exploration and intelligence as Kirk was in machismo. The character of Spock was reinvented into that of the android Data, played masterfully by Brent Spiner who should have easily won an Emmy for his work on Next Gen. The design of the Enterprise, the crew’s gadgets and even the look of the bad guys radically changed. While the resulting effort was impressive (especially for Trekkers), the show stumbled for the first two years.

The Next Generation started to hit its stride with the Emmy Award winning season three cliff hanger “The Best of Both Worlds” and really didn’t look back for the rest of its seven year run. By any measure the acting, special effects and stories behind Next Gen were always top notch. Unfortunately the show was saddled by the very element that gave it life – syndication. Since the show’s time slots varied from market to market, producers frowned on having multiple episode story arcs that audiences would have to keep track of from week to week. Instead Paramount pushed Roddenberry for compartmentalized plots that didn’t require continuity or audience loyalty. While Next Gen did occasionally dabble in long-term story development, it wasn’t until its successor, Deep Space Nine came of age, that writers were able to take advantage of season long arcs. The need for Star Trek: The Next Generation to fit neatly into 45 minute stories is what keeps it from being higher on my list of favorites. Everything else about TNG earns the show my number 5 spot.

Favorite episodes:

The Best of Both Worlds Pt 1 & 2
Yesterday’s Enterprise
Data’s Day

• • •

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

1997 – 2003

To say that Joss Weadon, creator of shows like Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse has a rabid fan base would be an epic and geeky understatement. Weadon’s fictional universes are intricate, compelling and crafted with cauldrons full of love. Such was the case with Buffy the Vampire Slayer which began life as the TV reboot of the failed movie of the same name. Starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, Joss later admitted none of the film’s characters were what he had envisioned.

What Joss created with the help of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the rest of the WB’s Buffy cast were stories and characters that quickly became a cult hit. Teenagers all over the country easily identified and thrived on the every day problems of these high school students who just happened to live on the Hellmouth. As the show progressed, the relationships that Weadon built between Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and the rest gave the Buffyverse a strange sense of familiarity even in the face of utter fantasy and chaos. Like Xena, Buffy was one of the first weekly TV shows to portray a strong, gay main character, that of Willow Rosenburg which reflected America’s growing comfort with such issues being portrayed on national television. Other controversial topics tackled on Buffy included drug addiction, school shootings and even rape, all cleverly framed and discussed within the guise of a fantasy setting.

Those who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer will often cite it as one of their very favorite shows. Sadly, there are scores of people who won’t go near it simply because they judge the book of Buffy by its cover. To these people I say – give the Slayer a chance. The show was smarter, more poignant and often more entertaining than any police, medical or legal drama it aired against during its entire six year run. Yes, it’s that good.

Favorite episodes:

Hush
Once More With Feeling
Tabula Rasa

• • •

Star Trek (Original)

1966 – 1969

IO9 listed the original Star Trek as their number one scifi show of all time and I can certainly understand why. Back in 1967 audiences had never seen anything like it. The show as dreamt up by Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future where man had learned to put aside his differences and work together in harmony. The crew of the Starship Enterprise was populated with every facet of the human race and even one very special Vulcan. Lead by the courageous Captain Kirk, Star Trek boldy went where no man had gone before and set the pattern for a billion dollar science fiction franchise in the process.

Many people have tried to articulate what made Star Trek so popular. Some have theorized that at a time when social and political turmoil was at its height, Star Trek’s positive outlook for the future gave audiences something hopeful to grab onto. But for many kids like myself growing up in the 70’s and seeing Star Trek in syndication, it was always about the relationship between the three friends – Kirk, Spock and McCoy, that made Star Trek such a childhood favorite. As a kid I could never stand the episodes where Kirk and Spock, either via alien influence or shared misunderstanding, were pitted against each other. My favorites were always the stories that allowed Kirk and Spock to team up and solve problems, be they alien, moral or spiritual, together.

By any of today’s television standards, the original Star Trek seems quaint. The show’s effects have been remastered, and the acting is often over the top, but the appeal of the characters and the strength of the underlying stories are undeniable. If they weren’t, Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty and company would never have evolved to become the pop culture icons they are today. The show gave all of its fans hope for the future, inspired generations of youngsters to become doctors, scientists and engineers and preached concepts of tolerance and diversity. Not bad for what Gene Roddenberry once pitched to NBC simply as “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Favorite episodes:

The Ultimate Computer
City on the Edge of Forever
The Doomsday Machine

• • •

Battlestar Galactica (New)

2003 – 2009

If Ron Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had remained as strong throughout its entire run as it was in its first two seasons, the show would have easily been my number one choice. When it aired in 2003, BSG was met with a firestorm of criticism from fans of the original series for everything from cylons looking like humans to Boomer and Starbuck’s portrayal by women. Moore wisely ignored the critics and forged ahead with his gritty vision to bring us the story of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies at the hands of the merciless robot Cylons.

The show immediately delved into political and sociological intrigue as it gave us some of the most realistic characters ever to be written for a science fiction series. From the honorable Adama who struggles to lead his fleet to Earth, and Laura Roslin, the school teacher who has the weight of humanity thrust upon her, to the heroic Starbuck and conniving Gaius Baltar, Galactica is replete with classic archetypes. The show moved at lightening pace and wove themes of religion, genocide, sexuality and redemption with the skill of a master tailor.

The failure of Battlestar Galactica is one that often hits series riding high on a wave of popularity – it failed to adequately plan for its final destination. As the third and fourth season progressed, it seemed clear that Moore didn’t have a clear plan about where he wanted to take his characters. The show spent years building up questions fans were dying to have answered in solid, satisfying ways. Instead the audience had to deal with multiple “plot dumps” as well as characters like Starbuck and Cavil morphing to become shadows of their former selves. The writers concentrated story lines around discovering “The Final Five” and gradually turned the dreaded cylons into humanity’s tenuous allies.

Battlestar Galactica was at its best when action was high, characters were true to themselves and humanity’s survival was hanging by a thread. There were enough of these moments to push BSG all the way up to my second favorite sci-fi show of all time. If the final season of Galactica had been even 1/4 as strong as the first, I dare say it might have gone down as one of television’s best dramas. Instead it stands as an impressive example of how a talented writer can rework a strong, original concept and turn it into a compelling, epic story for our generation.

Favorite episodes:

33
The Hand of God
Exodus Pt 1 & 2

• • •

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

1993 – 1999

So here we are at my favorite sci-fi and fantasy show. Deep Space Nine holds this special place in my geeky heart for many reasons, some of which I’ve written about before both here and at the Sci-Fi Cast. Putting aside the top notch acting from Avery Brooks, Andrew Robinson, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman and the rest, Deep Space Nine dared to do things other scifi series, especially Star Trek, didn’t.

Also, unlike Battlestar Galactica which started out hitting on all cylinders, it took several years for DS9 to find its footing. Although looking back now, you never would have realized this because DS9 was an immediate hit with fans and critics alike. The show was nominated for Emmy Awards every year of its run in makeup, cinematography, art direction, special effects, hairstyling, music (direction and composition), and costumes. In 1999 Deep Space Nine was rated the #1 syndicated show in America. The cast was even featured on the cover of TV Guide a total of ten times during it’s seven year run. Not bad for a show that constantly struggled to emerge from the shadow of the Next Generation. Despite its success, looking back on the series now it is easy to spot how the writers struggled to find voices for Odo, Quark and even Sisko at the show’s outset. It wasn’t until Ron Moore joined the production in season three as a supervising producer that the show’s direction started to solidify.

From the show’s conception the writers had dared to mix a volatile topic like religion into the heart of Deep Space Nine. But as the seasons progressed, Sisko’s struggle to reconcile his position as a Starfleet captain with that of Bajor’s most important religious figure, the Emissary of the Prophets, provided the fuel for propelling his character forward. The continuing theme of the occupation of Bajor by the Cardassians not only gave the actors solid material, but it also stayed true to Roddenberry’s vision of Trek’s “mini morality plays”. The chemistry between DS9 duos Kira & Dukat and Garack & Bashir were a delight to behold week after week and kept the audience wanting more. Deep Space Nine also allowed Star Trek fans to get a peek at married life through the union of Worf and Dax, a highlight of seasons 5 & 6.

Finally, as Deep Space Nine’s run neared completion, the ever-worsening threat of the war with The Dominion proved to be a spring board for story after incredible story. It provided the ammunition the writers needed to to push the envelope with multiple episode arcs and skillfully allowed for the construction of dramatic plot points over the final four seasons. Unlike BSG which went out with a whimper, Deep Space Nine’s final season was a roller coaster ride peppered with humor, awesome character development and satisfying, emotional resolutions to long established plot points and questions.

Deep Space Nine is my favorite sci-fi show because it took all the best parts of Star Trek and combined them with all the best parts of a yet-to-be-written BSG. It wove these aspects together with incredible acting, masterful special effects, skillful storytelling and a respect for its audience. I’ve watched all seven seasons of DS9 at least five times and it keeps getting better every time I revisit it. The same cannot be said for Next Generation, the original Star Trek or even Battlestar Galactica and that’s why Sisko and company is at the top of my TV heap.

Favorite episodes:

In the Pale Moonlight
The Sacrifice of Angels
Trials and Tribulations

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One Fan’s Perspective on Star Trek

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for J.J. Abrams’ new film Star Trek. I mean really, really big spoilers. If you don’t want to know about things that might ruin your enjoyment of this movie, then you really should stop reading now and go somewhere else.

So much has been said and written about the new Star Trek film from J.J. Abrams that it seems to make little sense to write my own thoughts up. But seeing as Star Trek has been such a big part of my life ever since I was a little boy, and given that I’ve often written about Trek in the past, I figured what the heck.

Overwhelming consensus seems to be that the film is “Great!”, “Fantastic!” and “Fabulous!” Of all the guys from work that I went to see the movie with, I think I was the only one who came out of the theater not jazzed. I think Corey might have had some reservations too, but overall he was very excited about it. Did I like it? Yes I did. Did I love it? No I didn’t, at least not yet.

The Good

There are tons of things in the new film that I liked and others I even loved. In no particular order they include:

The cast: Every actor in the film did a wonderful job of translating their character for a new generation. I especially enjoyed Quinto and Pine as Spock and Kirk, but also thought Simon Pegg as Scotty was wonderful and was surprised by the turns put in by the actors behind Checkov, Sulu and Uhura.

The twists: I had seen so much of the movie in the commercials and trailers leading up to its debut that I thought I knew what was going to happen. I was surprised and delighted therefore when Kirk wasn’t the one under Uhura’s bed, but was under her Orion roommate’s instead. Same goes for the scene with Kirk sitting in the Captain’s chair with his black shirt where Spock tells him to “Get out of the chair.” It was wonderful and went against what I thought was going to happen going in.

Spock rejecting the Vulcan Science Academy: Loved this scene to death. Quinto played it to a perfect Spock “T” when he asked the elders about his “disadvantage” and basically told them to go to hell. If you had put Nimoy in that scene instead, it wouldn’t have played any differently. Brilliant stuff.

The action: It was quite a roller coaster romp from start to finish and had great pacing. The time seemed to fly by while we were in the theatre which is always a good sign.

Uhura & Spock: I thought the scenes with Uhura and Spock becoming close would bother me, but they didn’t at all. They were played very well by both actors and Abrams’ direction here was wonderful. I can’t wait to see where this goes in the sequel.

The Meh

• The music: Totally didn’t live up to Star Trek standards. The main theme (which Louie pointed out was used in almost every track of the film) seemed like it *wanted* to be Star Trek, but was just slightly off. I kept expecting to hear the familiar Next Gen theme at points in the movie, but didn’t.

• Engineering: Being the die-hard Trekkie I am, I didn’t really appreciate the way Engineering looked more like a chemical plant from 24 than the heart of the flagship of the Federation.

Enterprise in Iowa: Sorry, but the Enterprise was never built on the ground. It just wasn’t and the entire ship was never intended to land either. If Roddenberry was around today he would have told J.J. this small fact to his face. A totally unnecessary and pointless scene that would have at least been semi-credible if it had taken place in San Francisco instead of Iowa.

The Bad

Abrams’ wanting to have it both ways: The studio promised us that this wasn’t “Your father’s Star Trek” and made a big deal about how everything was different. In reality, the only things that were different were the things Abrams wanted changed. There were so many TOS classic references that when they were thrown in, they seemed oddly out of place. More than a few of them seemed gratuitous. If you’re going to promote the film as all new Trek, have the space balls to see it through to the end.

The Kobayashi Maru: As a huge fan, this was the scene I was looking forward to the most. I had run this classic tale of how Kirk beat the no-win scenario in my head dozens of times. I had always imagined it that Kirk reprogrammed the simulation just enough to make it seem like the rescue was plausible through heroic actions or sheer guile. What we got instead was a smug, overly-cocky Kirk eating an apple while everyone around him is astounded to find that the simulation has been reprogrammed. The most throughly unsatisfying bit in the entire movie.

The destruction of Vulcan & death of Spock’s Mom: Listen, I get that this probably only matters to geeks like myself, but it does. The destruction of Vulcan negates HUGE portions of Star Trek history and cannon. Sure, this is an “alternate reality”, and it was probably necessary for several of the plot points, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. You know how you felt when Lucas made Greedo shoot first? The loss of Vulcan is like that for me.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think of Star Trek. Everyone seems to love it and have hailed it as a wonderful re-boot of the series. To be honest, I’d rather have new Star Trek movies than not, so I can live with the parts I didn’t like, at least for now. I think by the time the inevitable sequel comes I’ll have come to terms with the disappointing parts of Star Trek and learned to see only the good stuff. After all, there is a great deal in the new film to like especially since I don’t enjoy being called a dickhead.

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Star Trek Boldy Goes Blu Ray

In their seemingly never-ending mission to get fans to buy more stuff, Paramount will soon be releasing a new blu ray box set aimed right at Trekkers. Although the ‘Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy’ does not contain Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as the name would seem to suggest, it does contain re-mastered versions of The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home in glorious HD.

According to Amazon.com the box set will be released May 12th, will retail around $50 and come complete with loads of extras. A quick glance at the product specs reveal commentary by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nicholas Meyer, Ronald Moore (of BSG fame) and many others as well as stacks of shorts, trailers and other goodies. It’s difficult to say if these new high-def versions are worth enough to replace any older copies you may have on DVD, but I suspect that given the amount of bang for the buck Paramount’s packing, updating your collection just might be the logical thing to do.

Hat tip to @Talosman for this post.

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Bare Bones Trek: TOS

After my recent Ode to an Outpost piece about Deep Space Nine, I had several readers tweet me asking for an “essentials” guide to the series. Basically it would be all the episodes of the DS9 that I would recommend to a newbie so they could become familiar with the show, watch very best parts and leave the questionable bits behind.

I actually think this is a great idea, kind of like the iTunes essentials playlists that Apple puts together for a particular genre of music. Given the fact that my friend Louie is attempting to familarize himself with Star Trek before the big movie hits next spring, I thought it best to start with Star Trek: The Original Series. If things go well, I’ll write similar guides for other Trek series, including DS9.

What follows are my bare bones suggestions for anyone who has never watched the Original Series. They are the absolute minimum a Trek newbie should watch to get a sense for the show and its characters. Of course, as with anything, your milage may vary so let me know if you found this post helpful. Thanks!

Season One

Balance of Terror

Although the episode is a bit clunky due to the fact that it’s one of the earliest scripts, it’s a must watch for any Trek newbie. The story introduces the Romulans to the Star Trek universe and defines their place in future stories. It also highlights Leonard Nimoy’s early emotional portrayal as Spock, something that quickly changes.

Space Seed

One of the best episodes of the entire series, it lays out the foundation for the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Kahn. Filled with great drama and even a few action scenes thrown in for good measure, Space Seed helps define the history of Star Trek’s future.

Devil in the Dark

A classic haunted house tale that is the first time Kirk and Spock start to develop the friendship that carries them through the next 40 years. The episode is filled with mystery and suspense and features some nice interplay between Nimoy and Shatner. Devil in the Dark is also the first time McCoy utters his famous tag line “I’m a doctor not a…” in this case, “bricklayer”. Classic!

City on the Edge of Forever

Regarded by many Star Trek fans to be the very best episode of the Original Series, City on the Edge of Forever is a powerful love story that gives Shatner the rare chance to under-act. It also strengthens the bond between Kirk & Spock, while serving as a wonderful example of how to write an effective time travel story. Definitely a must see.

Season Two

Amok Time

Amok Time gives us a small glimpse into the history of Spock’s home planet, its culture and more. The story revolves around the “big three” – Kirk, Spock & McCoy and features a number of great scenes between the lead actors. Aspects of Vulcan revealed in Amok Time pop up in numerous places throughout all of Star Trek.

The Doomsday Machine

Not a whole lot of character development here, but that’s okay. The Doomsday Machine is one of my all-time favorite episodes and is basically an action/suspense story in space. The writers cleverly put Spock & McCoy in the middle of the action, and at each other’s throats which always makes for the best episodes.

Journey to Babel

If any new fan is looking to understand the character of Spock as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy and created by Gene Roddenberry, then Journey to Babel is your best guide. The story introduces his human mother, Amanda, and his Vulcan father, Sarek as murder breaks out aboard the Starship Enterprise. The episode features terrific character development and gives fans an understanding of the future events of The Next Generation as well as Star Trek III, IV & V.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Although this episode doesn’t contain the strongest story, or the best acting, it is a rare funny episode of Star Trek. This, plus the fact that if you get asked about Tribbles by a Star Trek fan, and you’re not familiar with them, you’re libel to get some nasty looks. It is also necessary viewing for appreciating the brilliant Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribulations. Trust me on this one.

The Ultimate Computer

Many episodes of Star Trek toss out the name “Daystrom” in reference to the character portrayed by William Marshall from The Ultimate Computer. Daystrom is the Star Trek equivalent of Albert Einstein, and the story showcased here reveals where the character originated. It also serves as a wonderful example of how Kirk’s love of the Enterprise effects his decision making, here and in the movies.


Season Three

Requiem for Methuselah

One of the best episodes from the third season, Requiem once again gives the big three the chance to develop their character’s relationships as they attempt to solve the eternal riddle of the mysterious Mr. Flint. The final scene in this episode serves as a sign post to understanding Spock’s ongoing relationship with Kirk, both as First Officer to Captain as well as one friend to another.

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Ode To An Outpost

SPOILER WARNING: If you’ve not watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, then you’ll want to beware because there are spoilers ahead (some minor, some major). Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

Ask any Star Trek fan which series is their favorite and they’re likely to tell you Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like the original series, Next Generation was created by Gene Roddenberry and was full of imaginative stories, strong characters and top notch production values. Given all this, it’s no wonder TNG forms the bedrock of the modern Star Trek franchise. But from the futuristic utopia that was Roddenberry’s Next Gen universe, sprung the series I’ve come to regard as my favorite – Deep Space Nine. Considered by many to be the “troubled middle child”, caught between Next Generation and Voyager, Deep Space Nine never received the critical praise or audience numbers it deserved.

Thanks to my friend Corey and his DS9 DVD collection, I’ve been watching Deep Space Nine from season 1 for the better part of a year. Like most TV shows, DS9 started out rocky. Episodes devoted to the “problem of the week” along with actors and directors who were unsure of the character’s motivations led to some wild over-acting and sloppy story lines early on. But unlike Next Generation which peaked in season 4 & 5 and Voyager which was barely exciting for much of its run, Deep Space Nine only got better the longer it ran.

Despite being born in the shadow of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine quickly found its footing and by season 3 all pistons were firing. Producers had introduced the Starship Defiant to take our heroes on missions of exploration and adventure away from the station. A new, deadly enemy called The Dominion, with a dark and complex backstory was introduced that would lay the ground work for some of the best story lines in seasons 6 & 7. Strong relationships formed between major characters like Odo & Kira and Worf & Dax. Writers like Ron Moore of modern Battlestar Galactica fame, pushed studio heads to allow multi-episode story arcs, something that was frowned upon for a weekly series that needed to stand alone in syndication.

Like many fans, I could probably fill a book with all of the aspects of the show that I love. I won’t go into that level of detail but I did want to share some of my favorite parts. In no particular order, here are just some of the things I appreciate whenever I watch Deep Space Nine:

• Sisko, The Emissary – Not only did Deep Space Nine tackle a tough and controversial subject like religion, but it boldly wove it into the fabric of the DS9 universe. Making Sisko not only a heroic Starship Captain, but also a religious icon was a stroke of genious on the creator’s parts. Watching him evolve from a bitter man who lost his wife at the hands of the Borg, to become the most beloved person of the Bjorian faith was both satisfying and unexpected.

• The Ferengi – Hats off to DS9’s writers as well as the actors who played all of the Ferengi. They took two-dimensional characters driven purely by profit and injected serious helpings of loyalty, family and much needed comedy into the Ferengi lore. DS9 did for the Ferengi, what Next Generation did for the Klingons, move them beyond simple charactatures and into the realm of “real people”. I especially love Rom’s devotion to Quark despite his brother’s often less-than-stellar treatment of him. Ferengi episodes were always winners in my book.

• Worf & Dax – Simply put, one of the best reasons to watch the show. Worf had always been a favorite on Next Generation, and with Deep Space Nine, the character was given a chance to grow beyond battles and bat’leths. Their devotion to each other along with their ability to overcome seemingly impossible differences put smiles on fan’s faces. The wedding episode “You Are Cordially Invited” was a series highlight and gave us a peek inside Klingon culture no fan will soon forget. When Dax died at the end of season 6, it left a huge hole, not only in Worf’s heart, but in ours too.

• Vic Fontaine – During the original run of DS9, I positively hated Vic Fontaine episodes. The holographic night club singer, played so cooly by real-life crooner James Darren, often got in the way of stories about the Dominion or the Prophets or something else of fan interest. But as the years have passed, I realized just how great Vic was and how his stories were necessary diversions from the weight of heavier plot lines. The Vic Fontaine episodes “His Way” and “Bada Bing, Bada Bang” are now among my all-time favorites.

• Bashir & O’Brian – Every Trek series nurtures key relationships between characters and Deep Space Nine was no different. The growing bond between Miles O’Brian and Julian Bashir was a delight to watch unfold. It formed the basis of many solid stories and grounded the two characters in a reality that all of us could relate to. On their own, I can’t say I really liked Bashir or O’Brian, but their chemistry together was undeniable.

• In The Pale Moonlight – Without a doubt, my favorite episode of Deep Space Nine, it highlights the incredible acting skills of Avery Brooks and Andrew J. Robinson. The story takes several twists and turns and shows just how committed Captain Sisko is to winning the war with the Dominion. It should have won an Emmy for writing, but like all of Star Trek when it comes to winning important awards, it’s overlooked. Pity that.

• Jeffrey Combs – A skilled character actor, Combs brought flair and depth to any number of characters he played on DS9. My personal favorite had to be the conniving yet obsequious Weyhoun. Comb’s delicious exchanges with Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat were a feast for Trek fans everywhere as was his ability to portray a villain you loved to hate. Combs’ talent was also evident as one of the bright spots in the bottomless pit that was UPN’s Enterprise. His portrayal of the Andorian Captain, Shran, actually kept me tuning in long past the point of no return.

• Morn – Always seen but never heard, the ever-present patron of Quark’s Bar started as bit part but quickly became a fan favorite. Just knowing Morn was sitting at the bar week after week gave fans like myself an in-joke that only other Niners could appreciate, and for that, we loved him to death.

All of these things, and more, made Deep Space Nine one of the best dramas on television for the seven seasons it was on TV. Near the end, the show lost much of its staff to the creative leech that was Star Trek: Voyager. Paramount’s efforts to launch the now defunct UPN network meant less money, less promotion and poor time slots that ultimately forced DS9 to end its run in 1999.

Unfortunately, unlike TNG’s crew or even Voyager’s, Trek fans have never been blessed with an appearance of any DS9 character in a single Trek film or subsequent series. In 1999’s mediocre Star Trek: Insurrection, we learned that the newly returned Janeway had been promoted to Vice Admiral. In 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, long time TNG characters Riker and Troi were finally married. Will we ever learn the fate of Captain Sisko or discover what became of Odo, the Great Link and the Dominion? What of Rom’s efforts to bring change to the Ferengi Alliance as Grand Nagus?

In death, as in life, Deep Space Nine remains the black sheep of the Trek family. Someday perhaps Niners will be lucky enough to have Paramount revisit the fates of Captiain Sisko, Colonel Kira, Quark and the rest. In the meantime Deep Space Nine will continue to be this fan’s very favorite Star Trek series and perhaps one of my favorite shows of all time. Thank the Prophets for DVDs.

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Geeky Pastimes

Sometimes you have to take a break from the big stuff and just enjoy the little things in life. For me, one of the things that gives me pleasure is spotting flubs in television and movies. Called continuity errors, they are gaffes made by the filmmakers that are antithetical to the story or the staging. Today I spotted one such error in one of my all-time favorite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Take Me Out To the Holosuite.

In the episode, the crew of Deep Space Nine is challenged to an old-fashion baseball game by a group of smug Vulcans. Captain Sisko spends two weeks getting his fellow crew members up-to-snuff on the Great American Pastime. At one point we see Colonel Kira coming off the field and her jersey reads “Kira”. But a little later in the episode, her jersey magically changes to read “Nerys” (her birth name) and remains this way for the rest of the episode.

Like any die-hard Trekkie (yes, I’m a Trekkie, not a Trekker) I’m more interested in why this costuming error occurred in the first place. All the other Niners with surnames and birth names have their surname embroidered on their DS9 baseball jersey. Captain Sisko’s is “B. Sisko” as opposed to “J.Sisko” which we see on Jake’s back. Doctor Bashir’s is simply “Bashir” as you would expect. But in the Star Trek universe, Bajorans traditionally list their family name first, then their birth name (like Asian cultures). So although Kira’s character is called “Kira Nerys“, Nerys is really her first name and Kira is her family name.

Given this, which jersey in the episode is the wrong one? It seems to me that the character should indeed be wearing the “Kira” jersey, and not “Nerys” that she wears for the majority of the game. Then again, they are in an informal setting and so she might have opted to use Nerys among friends. Memory Beta, one of the numerous Trek Wikis simply says “In a costuming error, Kira’s uniform says “Kira” early in the game, and “Nerys” later.” but it doesn’t explain which is which.

Strangely enough, this is the kind of question that geeks like myself can spend all day debating, so if you’re a Star Trek fan, I’d love to know which name you think should be on Kira’s uniform. And if you happen to think this entire post was a waste of time, I know some friendly folks that are dying to meet you.

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Spock Don’t Know Jack

Just prior to the launch of the iPhone, I posted a quote from my favorite Vulcan, which seemed to portend the mindset of those who decided to partake in the gadgety goodness. Having owned my piece of the future for one month and ten days, I am here to tell you that when it comes to the iPhone, Spock, thankfully, don’t know jack.

My purchase of the iPhone has lived up to all of the advanced hype and then some. Sure some will say that I’m just a fan boy caught in the expansive reality distortion field radiating from my phone. But those who know me will tell you that despite my love for Apple, if I’m not satisfied with a purchase, I don’t have a problem saying so. Years ago I got the royal screw from my favorite fruit company when I bought the infamous Apple IIvx, which was supplanted just 4 months later by the Centris line of Macs. I’ve never let Apple off the hook for that one, even to this day.

Thankfully, the iPhone is light years away from my IIvx experience in every way imaginable. Here are just some of the ways the iPhone lives up to the hype:

The User Interface – Once you hold it in your hand, touch the controls, scroll photos, and pinch a website larger or smaller, you’ll wonder why cell phones have never done this before. The user interface is quite possibly the best single thing about the iPhone. It’s elegant, snappy, clear & thoughtful.

Mobile Safari – Sure it quits sometimes, but it more than makes up for this shortcoming by being the single best answer to the internet on mobile devices. Enlarging text, clarity of page renders and great bookmark management all add up to a real winner.

YouTube In Your Pants – Being able to search and view YouTube videos at will, any place and any time is freakin’ fantastic. Once the entire catalog is converted to H264, I don’t think I’ll ever watch funny cat movies on my Wii ever again.

All the Little Things – The use of Helvetica throughout the UI, the gorgeous hi-res screen, how easy it is to make a phone call, visual voice mail, and yes, even the battery life are all great on the iPhone. They all add up to an experience that makes me want to take it with me where ever I go. The same cannot be said of my old Sprint phone.

It can’t all be a love-fest can it? No, sadly there are a few things that are not as good as they could be. They include (in order) AT&T, a missing official SDK, AT&T, finger and ear prints, no games, and did I mention AT&T? It’s not surprising that the weakest part of the iPhone is the part out of Apple’s control, namely the spotty network coverage and poor customer service of AT&T. With the news today of multiple methods to unlock the iPhone from the shackles of you-know-who, I suspect there will be some very happy potential customers who will now take the plunge.

The first question people always ask when they spy me with my iPhone is “How do you like it?”. My answer is always the same – “It’s just fantastic, I love it!” It’s the first time in my life I think I’ve ever spoken ill of Mr. Spock. See what you’ve done to me Steve!

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Spock’s iPhone Wisdom

I’m a firm believer that all things in life eventually lead back to Star Trek. So with all of the hype leading up to tomorrow’s launch of the iPhone, and given some people’s frenzic state of mind regarding the gadget, I’m reminded of this wonderful Original Series quote from everyone’s favorite vulcan:

“After a time, you may find that having, is not so pleasing a thing after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” – Spock, Amok Time

I’m sure that the iPhone will live up to the hype, and the gadget-lust is more than well deserved, but there is something to be said for wanting something so bad that it makes you dizzy. Spock is right on the money on this one, just try to keep that in mind while you wait in line. 🙂

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