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3 Sci-Fi Ships Perfect for Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve!  To celebrate the holiday season, we take a look at the three sci-fi ships most suited to live in during the festive season!

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1. Deep Space Nine (ST: DS9)

Okay, so it might not be a ship, but where better to spend your Christmas!  Imagine the Promenade lined up with decorations, festive shops and a warm gingerbread coffee (with some Kanar, of course!) at Quark’s!

Those dark corridors could quickly look quite cosy with some multicoloured LED lighting!

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2. Serenity (Firefly)

I’d imagine Serenity could be quite festive once Kaylee had time to get everything set up!  A homely ship, with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide presents and decorate, park on a snowy, forest planet and enjoy the 25th December.

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3. Destiny (Stargate Universe)

She may not look like much, but I’m talking more about the ship before it became deserted and broken.

With an arboretum and Ancient technology, you could create a nice wintery forest for the season and camp out there!  With the beautiful backdrop of the ship travelling between star systems overhead, it’s hard to picture a more tranquil and festive scene!

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Retro Review: Far Beyond The Stars

Original Airdate: February 11, 1998.

I’ve recently had the time to enjoy some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reruns on SyFy here in the UK.  At present, they’re working their way through Season Six, probably my favourite season of any of the Star Trek shows.

Today, I noticed that Far Beyond The Stars was on.  I quickly announced that my housemate’s television plans for the evening were cancelled: we’d be watching this episode.

I remembered it fondly, and having not watched it for about ten years, I was curious to see how it had aged.

Splendidly is the answer.

It remains a fine hour of science fiction, and of Star Trek, and ranks up there with the best.  A challenging and thought-provoking look at racial struggle in mid-20th Century United States, all through the lens of hope that Star Trek offers.

Not only does it excel in its handling of the subject matter, it also excels as a piece of storytelling.  It’s fair to say that it is magnificently written with superb pacing.  The hour flies past, and I picked up on several parallels I missed when I was younger.  For instance, Sisko’s dreams of Benny Russell reflect the challenges he himself goes through.  He speaks to his father at the beginning of the episode of how every time he feels he’s achieved a victory, something happens that knocks him back to the start.  So too with Benny, as his glimpses of hope are shattered by circumstances outside his control.  And with the main villain of Deep Space Nine, the Dominion, being predominantly present far away in the Gamma Quadrant – an ominous distant danger represented by the limited forces they have in the Alpha Quadrant (Dukat, Weyoun et al) – in his dream the owner of the magazine, who is never depicted on screen, has the power to quash Benny’s hopes through his mouthpiece of the magazine editor, played by Rene Auberjonois.

All the while, it’s topped off by an acting tour-de-force from Avery Brooks, whose breakdown after failing to break through the shackles of racial prejudices is a simply mesmerising showcase of ability.  Not bad for the man who also directed the episode.

I’m quite certain more in-depth reviews than this exist.  However, I caught this episode in passing this evening, and it truly deserves an revisit.

It’s fantastic.  It’s challenging.  It’s possibly the best episode of Deep Space Nine there is.

And there are some pretty splendid episodes of Deep Space Nine out there.

So, while we’re at it, have your say: is it the best episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?

Is Far Beyond The Stars the best episode of Deep Space Nine?

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Who is your favourite Deep Space Nine character?

I was watching clips of Deep Space Nine the other day, and it struck me what a brilliant array of supporting characters the show had accompanying strong leads.

So I figured I’d ask the world who their favourite character was!  Personally, I have a hell of a lot of time for Weyoun.  Jeffrey Combs performances were simply brilliant.  It’s between him and Garak.  I guess I have a thing for Machiavellian characters…

What is your favourite Deep Space Nine character?

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7 Great Morally Dubious Characters of Sci-Fi TV

Topless Robot have uploaded their 7 Great Morally Dubious Characters of Sci-Fi TV.

Quite how they can put Nerus from SG-1, and Todd from Atlantis in ahead of Robert Carlyle’s Nicholas Rush from Stargate: Universe is beyond me.  And where is Earth: Final Conflict‘s Ronald Sandoval of Season One?  The Machiavellian agent driven purely to serve the Taelons, but whose love for his wife is never truly eradicated.  Or is it?

It’s not a bad list, and characters such as Q, Baltar and Garak certainly deserve their place.

Who would you put in there?

Star Trek: Voyager’s Enduring Popularity?

What is it about Star Trek: Voyager that inspires so many casual Star Trek fans to declare it to be the “Best Star Trek show!”?  It had its moments, certainly, but can Voyager’s finest hours even begin to compare to some of those of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?  Does Voyager have an episode en par with, say, In The Pale Moonlight?  I dare say, no.  And I think the reasons why Voyager’s popularity is perhaps to surprisingly enduring lie – unfortunately – relatively close to Jeri Ryan’s chest.

Star Trek: Voyager had a few firsts.  It was, obviously, the first Star Trek incarnation to be led by a female captain.  It was also the first to feature a regular cast member in a catsuit, in the form of Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine.   And ask any passer-by what they think of when they think Star Trek: Voyager, one of Captain Janeway or Seven of Nine will usually spring to mind first (followed some time later by a mention of “Oh, and that Doctor dude”).  Voyager’s increased recognition of sexuality certainly matched its outlook.  It was a definite departure rather than continuation from the format of its immediate predecessor.  Deep Space Nine had brought us dark, deep angst; Voyager provided a lighter show, free of the burdensome story-arcs that had weighed heavily upon DS9’s later seasons.  It was, in a word, more fun: more accessible to the average Joe.  And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Voyager.  Some of the moments, dialogue and scenes were extremely memorable.  But Voyager can never be viewed in the same league as Deep Space Nine.

The Avery Brooks-led cast of Deep Space Nine provided a much, much finer ensemble.  A strong collection of talented actors, DS9 had characters with multi-dimensional facets and tremendous depth.  Voyager’s cast essentially formed a triumvirate in the later years: a Janeway/Seven/Doctor tripod which gave the show its backbone.  The rest of the senior staff were relegated to little footnotes in the memory of the show.  And name a memorable Voyager villain…  I can’t really think of one either.  There’s no Dukat, Weyoun or Damar to fall back on: no insidious Founders.  Instead we have an over-reliance on a tired concept in the Borg, and some ‘cool’ new CGI aliens in Species 8472.  The only truly memorable villain unique to Voyager was Anorax, in ‘Year of Hell’.  Why?  Because he has depth: an element of human tragedy that makes his character both driven and empathetic, as well as relentless – hallmarks of a classic villain.  He does also stand testament to the fact that Voyager had its moments.

And Seven of Nine’s struggles to find her humanity certainly had strong moments in the pursuit of the truth about her parents, and Janeway’s motherly approach to her education.  But too often Voyager fell back upon the over-sensualised sexuality that drove its later years.  Seven dating.  Seven kissing.  Seven’s lusting.  The list goes on.  These were subjects that I don’t altogether abhor being presented, I merely found the manner in which they were so juvenile.  They were approached with comedy in mind – light-hearted entertainment which concealed the sensitive education which could be gleaned from such stories in Deep Space Nine.

For even in terms of humanity, Deep Space Nine surely blows Voyager out of the water.  The contrasting marriages of Worf/Dax, Keiko/O’Brien, Rom/Leeta handled a myriad of issues, all sensitively, and were hardly bereft of comedy.  But they were realisitic.  O’Brien’s moaning to Bashir about Keiko’s attitudes etc. provided optimistic lessons on how marriage can work.  There was no marriage on Voyager.  There was early Neelix/Kes undertones, but Kes was thrown out the window by Season 4.  If the shows were relationships, Deep Space Nine would be a tempestuous, complex marriage whilst Voyager enjoyed a one night stand.

Frivolous terms in which to examine the shows, perhaps, but meaningful nonetheless.  For Deep Space Nine used its approach to communicate a depth of thought Voyager – for me – never achieved.   The Ben Sisko/Jake Sisko familial relationship was heart-warming and realistic.  Odo’s feelings of isolation on the station were, for me, conveyed far more realistically than Neelix or Kes’s similar situation. 

Alas, television changes.  Today, Deep Space Nine would be shown on HBO.  Voyager, on the CW.   UPN – the network airing Voyager back in the day – used the show as their flagship.  They steered their network image very much away from sensitive drama towards a more open, accessible youth demographic.  Jeri Ryan’s casting was a testament to that (for the record, I do quite admire Jeri Ryan’s acting ability, I merely hold great cynicism towards the motivation behind her casting). 

Thus, Deep Space Nine was designed intentionally to achieve something very different from Voyager.  Neither show failed, for they achieved what they tried to be.  Deep Space Nine, living in the shadow of The Next Generation, and then Voyager in many ways, was always given the creative freedom to be more adventurous dramatically.  Voyager was the show that was designed to bring in the ratings.  UPN believed this could be achieved by subtle and not-so-subtle actioning-up of the show, coupled with greater sex appeal.  Voyager, therefore, achieved what it set out to do: running a full seven years.

So when someone declares Voyager to be the best show, I suppose it very much depends what you’re looking for in your Star Trek.  Am I being a dramatic pedant – a televisual snob looking down about the degenerate, illiterate working classes of today?  Perhaps.  I have strong opinions about why I prefer DS9 to Voyager, and perhaps they are overly cynical.  But there is substance behind my allegations, and I for one, when watching Trek, watch it to be challenged, not turned on.

Stunning though Seven’s figure may have been, Sisko’s monologue from ‘In The Pale Moonlight’, or Dukat’s meltdown in ‘Sacrifice of Angels’ will stay with me for the rest of my life.  They will carry lessons Voyager never conveyed.  I feel simultaneously proud and humbled to have learned the lessons Deep Space Nine taught – to have fed from the minds and talents of so many gifted people.  Voyager – I enjoyed.  I was happy to be entertained.

I guess I’d rather be humbled, than laugh at Seven and the Doctor swapping personalities for an hour. 

Each to their own.

Fortune Favours the Bold

Deep Space Nine SmallThe following was written by myself for the Sci-Fi Studios Magazine. Please give the magazine a look, if you have the time. Otherwise, simply enjoy the article.

Deep Space Nine is one of the most critically acclaimed Trek incarnations. There, I’ve said it. Sure, The Original Series and The Next Generation undoubtedly hold special places in the hearts of a great many fans, but to those citizens of the world who aren’t Star Trek fans (or perhaps not even sci-fi fans), Deep Space Nine is very highly thought of. Being a fan, unfortunately, doesn’t grant you that godly power of critical acclaim. TV Guide stated that it would be remembered as the finest of all the Star Trek shows.

So why do some feel it faltered? Certainly, it isn’t the most popular in the Trek fandom, and is often overlooked by networks both in the US and abroad when it comes to repeats; it’s like a shameful relative that the others try to sweep under the rug.

Perhaps foremostly, DS9 broke the established Trek tradition in an almost endless list of ways: The first black Captain; the first Trek set on a station and not a starship; the first Trek to break away from the standalone episodes format and the introduction of complex story arcs. The show was notorious for its huge repertoire of supporting guest characters, as well as strong acting from many stars, notably the likes of Avery Brooks, Armin Shimerman and regular guest Jeffery Combs (a Trek fandom favorite). The show was notably darker than previous incarnations with bloody wars and main characters that were flawed (not the perfect humans emphasized by Gene Roddenberry.) Many hold Deep Space Nine to have the finest characters and indeed, cast, of any of the Star Trek shows.

DS9 not only refused to hide darker topics, it embraced them. The show was set after decades of repressive war and occupation of a devoutly religious society. It tackled politics and the human condition in ways that previous Star Trek shows had been too terrified to touch. It tackled controversial issues head on; combating racism, homophobia, colonialism and religious prejudice while crafting them all into a continuous, complex and developing story. The plots were advanced; the details intricate; the messages profound.

A story held on an immobile space station found scope for an immense diversity of ideas and characters; and that is where the true skill of Deep Space Nine’s writers comes into the light. They crafted such wonderful characters and stories, and they were no one-trick-wonder. Since then, members of the DS9 writing staff have either created or written for the new Battlestar Galactica, The 4400, The Dresden Files, Andromeda, The Twilight Zone, Medium, The Dead Zone and Wildfire. That is an impressive record.

All sounding good so far, so what went wrong? Before finding an answer to this popular sci-fi conundrum, did it actually fail? According to a press release, DS9 was the top syndicated television show in the USA in the demographics of adults 18-49 and 25-54 throughout its entire run. [1]

It wasn’t a show that “crashed and burned” in any particular way. The television industry was less competitive back then, especially on cable. DS9 held its ratings sufficiently to the point where it ended its own storylines naturally; there was no forced cancellation.

Deep Space Nine also had its fair share of awards. That list doesn’t look much like a failure.

However, given the nature of the show’s plotlines, it was very difficult to jump into the show at any given point and simply understand the plot and basic functions of the characters. This, coupled with the fact that it was not as popular as previous incarnations with Star Trek fans, the show was probably of limited rerun value to television networks and their stations since the show would have to be aired in its entirety to be successful. That’s over 150 episodes. Why air those when you could run big movies in its slot and pull in a far greater crowd that would not have been required to have watched the last 40 weeks of programming?

That is perhaps one of the main reasons the show failed — not because of quality, but because of type. There are few would argue that DS9 did what it did very well. It was dramatically powerful, magnificently produced, and the visual effects were far beyond its time. Yet to a wide number of people, it just didn’t have the appeal of the previous Trek series.

The setting of the dark space station was found by some to be dull, depressing, uninspiring; exactly what the original series set out not to be. Why watch a show that you simply don’t enjoy? Well, you don’t, according to the ratings records. While not being a total failure, the show did not enjoy the usual Star Trek success, and in the long run, drained the franchise of vital viewers.

In the long run, this seems to have created some resentment amongst Trek fans. DS9 is seen as the beginning of the demise of Star Trek. DS9 is unique in this sense, because it is easy to see at the same time how great the quality of the show was, and how this directly contributed to its downfall. The complex story arcs were not for Star Trek’s casual viewers; the dark issues and storylines were abhorred by many of those who felt these were simply not what Star Trek was about and many found themselves unable to become immersed in the complex plot arcs. Does that make it a failure?

It’s difficult to judge, overall. It would be like adding apples and oranges; you can’t end up with one or the other, you always have both. There were many ways in which Deep Space Nine, in true Star Trek fashion, portrayed many new issues, destroyed social taboos and stereotypes. And yet in so many ways, the show diverged so far from Star Trek’s safe, established stomping ground. Whether or not the show can be enjoyed and appreciated, is very much up to the individual viewer, and how much time they are willing to invest in the show. Invest that time and approach with an open mind; and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Chris McQuillan

1. Newswire, April 7 1999.