Category Archives: TV reviews

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E6

A reassuringly solid and mushroom-free episode.

Relationships between mentors and mentees are at the heart of this episode, as we see Captain Lorca bond with his new security officer Ash – whose only fault seems to be lying about the number of hologram Klingons he killed to make the captain look good – and Tilly announce that he considers Michael her mentor. Then, of course, there’s the relationship that’s arguably at the heart of the whole series: the one between Sarek and Michael.

The pre-credits sequence expertly sets these three duos up, a (hopefully) intentional laugh coming from Michael and Tilly’s running gear being emblazoned with the word ‘DISCO’, which, in the 23rd Century, everyone just takes to be the beginning of the word ‘Discovery’. And, while Ash and Lorca blasts computer-simulated foes, Sarek faces real danger: a suicide bomber from the murderous Logic Extreme faction, Vulcans who believe their species to be superior and the Federation of Planets a “failed experiment”.

Beaming the bomber outside the ship, Sarek survives, but the explosion still cripples his ship and severely injures him. Dying, his subconscious mind reaches out to Michael – the two sharing consciousness ever since he performed a mind-meld on her to save her life. That it was Vulcan extremists who bombed the learning centre on Vulcan in an attempt to kill the young Michael is just one revelation. The other comes as a shock to Michael as well as the audience: that Sarek was forced to choose whether to send Michael or his half-human son Spock – hooray for this fan service – to the Vulcan Expeditionary Academy and chose Spock. When Sarek told his would-be assassin that “in times of crisis, ignorance can be beneficial” he could also have been talking about Michael; does knowing this unpalatable truth harm or heal her relationship with Sarek?

With Sarek rescued and recuperating on board Discovery, Michael’s heartfelt vow that she and her “father” will have “this conversation one day” seems one the show’s writers intend to keep. For this and many reasons, Sarek is a most welcome addition to Discovery’s crew.

Elsewhere, while Michael boosted Cadet Tilly’s confidence by insisting she join the mission, Lorca did the same with Ash; as expected, both newcomers excelled themselves with a typically Trek ability to follow orders, but not blindly. Failing to follow orders is also Captain Lorca’s greatest failing. Well, that and lying during his psyche test and almost shooting his friend and lover, Admiral Cornwell, with a phaser. Her capture at the hands of the Klingons, and Lorca’s sudden reluctance to mount a daring rescue, puzzles Saru and has viewers wondering about his motives. As Cornwell intends to relieve Lorca of his command, is the Captain willing to sacrifice her life to keep his job?

Damn, and just when Michael has come round to thinking of Lorca as a mentor, telling him she considers it an “honour” to serve under him. How long is that going to last? And, with Michael and Ash perhaps showing the first sign of romantic feelings (or at least a solid, flirty friendship), will Lorca’s two biggest fans both have to deal with the monster he may be becoming?

As good as last episode, with the added benefit of being suitable for children (a touch of throat-slashing notwithstanding), Discovery needs to maintain this level of quality – and mention the magic mushrooms as little as possible – having Stamet’s say “groovy” was a low point – if disgruntled fans are going to be wooed back.

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E5

Uncharacteristic F-bombs mar what would otherwise be a solid episode.

We open with Michael’s nightmare in which she subconsciously realises something perhaps she and all the other Star Fleet scientists, brought up since birth with the Prime Directive, might have been expected to suspect: the tardigrade is sentient and feels pain. This spanner in the works of the Federation’s secret weapon is one focus of the episode, while the other allows us to see Captain Lorca in action.  Captured pre-credits, he’s imprisoned by Klingons with two personifications of of his own  nature: the pragmatic survivor Harcourt ‘Harry’ Mudd (Rainn Wilson; The Office’s Dwight with a beard but similarly poor social skills) and idealist Star Fleet rating Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif).

The Klingon regime is their own version of The Weakest Link, in which two of the prosoners simgle out which one of them is to be beaten each day.  Of course, while manipulative Harry doesn’t have a scratch on him, Lorca won’t play that game and her and Ash use some teamwork – it comes over as subtly as He-Man’s end of episode chats to camera – to escape. It’s fun but all a little too easy, though it does set up two villains for a return visit; as well as Mudd we have sadistic Klingon commander Dennas (Clare McConnell) who will presumably wish to continue her creepy and abusive relationship with Ash. “Ugh,” grunts Lorca upon hearing of her intimacy with Ash, “humans don’t even have the requisite number of organs for Klingons.” Too. Much. Information.

Which is a criticism that can perhaps be levelled at Discovery. While some Trekkies are going into meltdown over the show (and I’m not just talking about the bigots who’ve objected to the ‘lack’ of white characters – one can only imagine the torrent of bile they’ll spew upon learning of Stamet’s sexuality) over the continuity problems Discovery poses, they do have a point that the use of use of pan-dimensional mushrooms as a plot device is pretty darn silly. It’s not quite a midichlorian-level narrative offence but it comes close.

Space mushies aside, Discovery remains a solid and gripping show, with the dynamic between the characters its primary strength. Michael and Saru’s relationship continues along its uneasy path, and seeing the Kelpien officer in the captain’s chair was quietly captivating. Ash promises to be a welcome addition to the crew – a straightforward space hero in the Kirk mould – and Stamet’s mental and physical wellbeing after he injected himself with tardigrade DNA is a storyline that will, we hope, bring some of the mind-bending pseudo-science babbling that is a much-loved hallmark of Trek.

One more complaint: Trek has always been a show that kids can watch along with adults, a la Doctor Who or Lost In Space. The violence, though bloodier than previous series, hasn’t quite yet crossed the line but, with the use of the F-bomb, Discovery has no vanished behind a curtain marked ‘adults only’. It is this that is Discovery’s real misstep and one they would do well to rectify.

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E4

A little unremarkable compared to the previous three, but a solid episode nevertheless.

It’s a sign of a good series that Discovery, even in its fourth episode, succeeds in wrong-footing its audience while still keeping us gripped.  That said, the violent death of Security Chief Landry feels like the squandering of a character with a lot of potential – “It’s amazing how much I hate Vulcan proverbs” is just one of many great sardonic lines she’s been given.  That is, of course, if this really is the end of the road for her and the other dead characters.

But, for those of us who assumed the monster was some sort of Alien-style bio-weapon, it was pleasing that we were as wrong as Captain Lorca. That it turned out to be the missing component in the mushroom-powered propulsion system (yeah, when you say it out loud it does sound pretty lame) was a neat twist. There are parallels of course, between the tardigrade creature and Michael, as she warned Lorca that she wasn’t the person he believed her to be. Regardless, both she and the creature enable the Discovery to materialise above the mining colony and, though they saved many Federation citizens, dozens of Klingons are killed. Whichever way Michael cuts it, she’s a formidable addition to Lorca’s crew which he denigrates as “the tip of the spear – a science vessel full of wide-eyed explorers.”

Time is spent this episode on the Klingon disciples of T’Kuvma, particularly his anointed torchbearer Voq. We see that the 24 houses aren’t quite as united as the prophecy would have us believe, as Voq is betrayed by Moklai clan leader Kol (Kenneth Mitchell). He’s saved from death by L’Rell (Michelle Chieffo) who, in an earlier scene, partook in the Klingon version of flirting. Voq grunting, “Shall we uncouple” (talking about the dilithium generator they were removing from the crippled starship Shenzou, of course) was a rare moment of humour. That the renegade couple, a Klingon Bonnie and Clyde, have a clear objective – to win the war against the Federation single-handedly – is a deft piece of plotting; all-out galaxy-wide war is all well and good for a backdrop but we need stories that revolve around individual characters.

That an inordinate amount of Discovery’s characters are already dead, as well as a lot of people in Michael’s past, does suggest that time-travel is going to play a part in future episodes. It may also come to explain why Michael’s infamy as a mutineer seems at odds with Star Trek canon – some fans are frothing at the mouth over the fact Spock, in Original Series episode Turnabout Intruder, makes the observation that there has never been a mutiny in Star Fleet history. You’d think he’d perhaps add, “Uh, apart from my adopted sister…” Could it be that Michael is going to get to go back and undo some of the worst moments in her life?

All in all, a solid episode and, compared to the preceding three, relatively unremarkable. But it’s still a gripping step along the road of what is fast turning out to be the best Star Trek series since The Next Generation found its feet in its third season. That not all Trekkies agree goes without saying – especially those with froth around their mouths…

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E03

Another nigh-on flawless episode kicks us into the story proper with faces old and new, and a scary, scary monster.

After hitting the ground running with last week’s near-perfect two-parter, Star Trek: Discovery wastes no time in delivering the goods. Pre-credits, we’re told it’s six months after the Battle of the Binary Stars plunged the Federation into total war with the Klingon Empire and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is on board a prison shuttle. One of her fellow cons says 8,000 people were killed at the battle. “Eight thousand and eighty-six,” corrects Michael, both with Vulcan pedantry and the very-human sorrow born of immense guilt. Again, we’re reminded, that Michael is a product of both races.

But Star Trek: Discovery isn’t all about feelings, it’s about exciting action. Cue an electricity-munching lifeform that kills the pilot and wrecks the shuttle’s nav system. They are, Michael coolly says, going to drift until either the air runs out or they freeze to death. While her fellow prisoners panic and struggle, Michael sits, calm and still – clearly death would be a sweet release. And then – we’re still not even at the credits, remember? – it happens. A starship glides into view, tractor-beam twinkling: the USS NCC103 Discovery.

The rest of the episode is, technically set-up for the rest of the series, though hidden inside a brilliantly structured and well-written story.  Deciding to open with last week’s backstory eps was a stroke of genius, as there’s so much mystery on board the Discovery that having to discover why the war had broken out, not to mention Michael’s childhood, would have been too much.

As it is, Michael is the audience’s eyes and ears as we’re taken into this new and sinister star ship; “Have you even seen a black Star Fleet badge?” asks one of the prisoners – this is clearly a Black site, Federation-style. We meet Head of Security Landry (Rekha Sharma) who snarls, “We’re unloading all kinds of garbage today – even Star Fleet’s  first mutineer.” Though she’s a brooding and largely silent presence for much of the rest of the ep, she establishes herself as a brilliant character and one we’re no doubt going to love butting heads with Michael.

There are familiar faces, too, including a fleeting glimpse of Keyla (Emily Coutts), now sporting a brain implant, and Saru (Doug Jones). Most definitely fulfilling the Spock/Data role on Discovery, he’s a wonderful creation; placid, polite but pathologically pessimistic, he’s like a lanky, alien-version Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh. His relationship with Michael is already complex. While he considers her “the smartest Star Fleet officer” he’s ever known, now that he’s Number 1, he intends “to do a better job of protecting my captain than you did yours.”

Three more new characters complete the roster of discovery’s central cast, and all are fantastic in very different ways. Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is Michael’s well-meaning but hyper-nervous cabin-mate,  while Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is an arrogant scientist who openly hates having to focus his talents on the war effort, and also quickly becomes jealous of Michael’s superior intellect. How he’ll feel that she’s joining the crew we are yet to see – but chances are he won’t exactly be breaking out the party poppers.

And last, but – oh, boy – not least, is Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs). As different from Kirk, Picard, Janeway or the other guy, he’s the embodiment of his times: in six months Star Fleet has gone from “we never shoot first” to creating bio-weapons that, as Michael points out, are against the “Geneva Protocols of 1928 and 2155”. Lorca shrugs. This is war and he’s “been given the discretion to fight this war any way I see fit”. Which, of course, includes making Michael a member of his crew.

In amongst all this character-work, the writers also manage to fit in a brilliant thrill-ride as Michael joins the away team to board the stricken USS Glen. Yes, it’s reminiscent of Alien and, more recently, one of the major plotlines on The Expanse, but Discovery really owns it. It’s scary and, with the twisted and malformed bodies of the Glen’s crew, quite possibly the most horrific scenes Trek has ever seen. Have there been any complaints yet?

Michael’s recitation of Alice In Wonderland was a wonderful and surreal touch during her tense scramble through the ship’s conduits, given extra pathos by the revelation that her foster mother used to read it to her. That she was given a name – Amanda – surely means she’s going to play a part in future episodes.

So, another nigh-on flawless episode, and one which kicks us into the story proper. The new propulsion system is intriguing – if it can transport us in the blink of an eye to spy on distant worlds, can it also flash us back in time? Will Michael find herself face-to-face with her dead parents? Big, big questions that are somewhat put on the backburner by the fact that Captain Lorca has the hideous bio-weapon monster beamed on board his ship. That surely can’t end well. And Kirk thought he had trouble with tribbles…

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek – Discovery – S01E1 & S0102

Pitch perfect: this is TV trek that’s every bit as good – and maybe better – than JJ Abrahm’s feature film reboot.

Set phasers for goosebumps as Discovery’s cold open sees would-be Klingon prophet T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) giving a chilling declaration – in subtitled Klingon for extra Trekkie titillation – to his followers. His intention is, evoking ancient Klingon messiah-god Khaless, is to unite the 24 warring Klingon houses and declare war on the ever-encroaching Federation. His battle-cry ,“Remain Klingon”, some have noted is similar to a certain President’s insular cry of America First.

From there we travel to a distant desert world where our lead Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green – excellent; she’ll be a show-in come awards season) and Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) do what all Star Trek crews do in pre-credit sequences: nonchalantly save an alien civilisation from extinction in a manner that is both exciting but pleasingly swift. Dialogue is snappy, the production values first-rate and the cast all pitch-perfect. Better yet, the quality doesn’t waver – this is TV trek that’s every bit as good – and maybe better – than JJ Abrahm’s feature film reboot.

The clue to the show’s apparent success (we’re going on the first two episodes here) can be found in the credit sequence. Though undoubtedly modern and stylish, it’s chock-full of classic Trek iconography. Similarly the music, which occasionally recalls the menace of the Daredevil theme, is liberally sprinkled with musical motifs from the classic series’ scores. This approach continues into the show proper, as sound effects first heard in the 1960s bleep and whoosh on the soundscape, and the spaceships and uniforms all look like those on the original show. Only better.

Set a decade prior to the starship Enterprise’s five year mission, the narrative of Discovery is kicked off by the Federation’s first encounter with the Klingons in a century (events which included those seen on the franchise’s last TV outing in 2005, Enterprise). Detailing those events is hard without committing spoiler crime, but suffice to say the action of this two-part opener takes place close to an accretion belt (where new planets are slowly formed, science fans) around a binary star system. We also spend some time, via flashback, seeing how Michael came to serve under Captain Georgiou seven years previously.

Michael is an outstandingly well-drawn character, and the fact she’s subtly steeped in Trek canon only adds to that strength. In the most basic way, she’s a mix of Kirk and Spock. Born human, she’s orphaned by Klingons (Kirk’s son, famously, was killed by Klingons) and adopted by Spock’s father, Sarek (James Frain, best known as the evil Theo Galavan in Gotham), and raised to be ultra-logical. She thus embodies the show’s age-old examination of logic versus emotion and, by the end of the second episode, she makes a decision that is, in a way, based on both at once. She wants to save her friends and believes doing so is “more important than Star Fleet’s principals”.

As well as the strong central characters, the two-parter is powered by a ticking-clock narrative that barely lets up. It’s never less than thrilling and, it has to be said, much more violent – whether hand-to-hand fighting or in a fantastic epic space battle – than most of Trek has ever been. Then again – there is a war on. Or is there? I guess we’ll find out.

Better than any Trekkie could have hoped for, Discovery is also accessible to casual viewers. Its storylining is so brilliantly tight, and the plot hurtles in truly unexpected directions, that most people will be desperate to beam down to Episode 3 as soon as humanly – or Vulcanly – possible.

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here.