Having briefly explored what makes up film character personas in this article here, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature which looks at memorable film characters. So, with Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) in the cinema, I wanted to look at one of the greatest character narrative arcs ever in my opinion. When I say character arc, I am talking of the transformation of a character throughout a film or films. Because for me, the arc of Sarah Connor is absolutely brilliant.
I haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as for me, the Terminator franchise is a spent force narratively speaking. I’m sure it’s a great spectacle, but I am more interested in speaking about James Cameron’s first two genre masterpieces. I am specifically intrigued by Sarah Connor movement from timid waitress to hardcore rebel fighter. Thus, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke’s turns as the character are ignored here.
The genius of James Cameron’s original filmThe Terminator (1984) is how it is both simple and complex at the same time. It takes time travel tropes, which while very familiar today, were extremely fresh and exciting back in the 1980s. Mashing up ideas from literary science fiction, Star Trek , The Twilight Zoneand films likeWestworld (1973), Cameron gave us one of the greatest bad guys and heroines ever committed to film. Plus, he did it all on a $7 million budget!!
At the heart of the sci-fi, war and thriller genres is an intriguing character study and even a love story. The Terminator (1984) introduces Sarah Connor as a waitress who is having a bad day. It’s about to get worse. She has been murdered and it’s on TV. Well, it’s not her, but someone with the same name as her. Very quickly she is confronted by a man from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), claiming she is the mother of the person who will be a future saviour. How do you process THAT?!? Mind blown!!
Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor then find themselves pursued by a futuristic cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), hell bent on her destruction. Here she learns more and more about the future and how machines will take control, but her son, John, will lead the resistance. Thus, over the course of the film, as Sarah learns about her fate, the audience learns too. Sarah begins as a conduit and passive, before transforming slowly into an aggressive and battle-hardened fighter.
When the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), come around we meet a whole different kind of Sarah Connor. She has transformed into a muscular and angry revolutionary. Not surprisingly, her narratives about future robots and the apocalypse find her sectioned. But, we know she is telling the truth. Moreover, due to her toughness, guile and resourcefulness, she is now very capable. No four walls will hold Sarah Connor.
Finally, Linda Hamilton’s performance must be praised too. In the first film she is a small character, quiet, likeable and lacking confidence. Over the course of the two films her physical, mental and emotional transformation is very impressively rendered. Cameron’s writing and Hamilton’s commitment to the role make Sarah Connor a highly memorable film character for me.
I am still perplexed how the Netflix business model works, however, the amount of viewing I get for my subscription fee is quite incredible. In the last month or so I have squeezed even more value out of it too.
Having caught up with some Amazon, Netflix and Sky television shows of late, I realised I had missed a number of film releases on Netflix. I have since rectified that by watching loads of them in an unofficial Netflix Film Festival.
So, here are some quick-fire reviews of newer film releases, ones I missed on initial cinema release and some re-watches too. All are marked out of eleven and organised in order of enjoyment.
BLACK 47 (2018)
Excellent chase thriller set in Ireland during the famine of the 1840s. Like Rambo meets Irish historical drama, it was both gritty and compelling throughout. Mark: 8 out of 11
This excellent urban comedy-drama impresses with humour, poetry and adroit social commentary. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal excel as friends trying to steer clear of the law – Mark: 8 out of 11
This quarter-life crisis drama meets monster movie is tonally uneven, but full of fantastic ideas. Anne Hathaway is great as the party person trying to get her shit together! Mark: 9 out of 11
EL CAMINO (2019)
Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesse Pinkmon (Aaron Paul) after Breaking Bad finished? I didn’t. But this neo-Western fills in the gaps in an entertaining and solid fashion. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE GUILTY (2018)
Danish thriller findsan emergency call handler (Jacob Cedergren), striving to save a woman’s life. Tense, claustrophobic and full of twists, it’s low budget but high in suspense. Mark: 9 out of 11
Starring the affable Mark Duplass and the brilliant Ray Romano, this low-key story of friendship is both funny and moving in equal measures. Mark: 8.5 out of 11
AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018)
Pretentious, elegant and beautifully told story of the last days of Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) Mark: 7 out of 11
BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE (2019)
Sporadically hilarious talk show parody, with Zach Galifianakis asking dumb questions to a host of celebrities. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I AM MOTHER (2019)
Almost brilliant science fiction film, full of great concepts and visuals. It’s let down by a very confusing ending. Mark: 7 out of 11
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)
Very effective mixture of sci-fi and B-movie thriller genres, finds Boyd Holbrook’s cop chasing a serial killer. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Interesting portrait of a dysfunctional 1960s U.S. family. The acting is great but the story rarely catches fire. Mark: 7 out of 11
NOT TOO BAD!
Love, disaster and survival set on a yacht – Mark: 6 out of 11
A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (2018)
Amusing look at the history of satirical magazine, National Lampoon – Mark: 6.5 out of 11
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
Hit and miss historical satire about the war in Afghanistan. Mark: 6 out of 11
HUNTER KILLER (2018)
Efficient Cold War B-movie with dodgy plotting, but decent action set-pieces – Mark: 6 out of 11
KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)
Interesting but undramatic profile of a journalist who uncovers a US Government conspiracy. Mark: 6 out of 11
MURDER MYSTERY (2019)
The cast get a luxury holiday as the audience get a frothy and silly Agatha Christie knock-off! Mark: 6 out of 11
Entertaining and tense, race-against-time thriller which finds a mother with an unenviable dilemma. Mark: 6.5 out of 11
THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT (2018)
Sam Elliott excels in this weird, slow-moving drama, which in no way lives up to the fantastic title. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019)
Great cast and worthy narrative cannot save this political thriller from falling short by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
Samuel L. Jackson acting talent cannot quite save another reboot of the classic 1970’s private investigator. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)
Gross out puppet comedy which is horrific in every way! Mark: 2 out of 11
IN THE TALL GRASS (2019)
Decent horror story, ultimately gets lost in the weeds! Mark: 4 out of 11
Two narratives fail to gel in this 1950’s set misfire! Mark: 4 out of 11
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.
Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**
“MAKE IT SO. . .”
So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.
Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.
Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.
Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.
Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.
In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.
My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.
THE FAMILY UNIT
Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.
To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.
Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.
THE REST IS HISTORY. . .
Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.
THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12
The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.
DATALORE – EPISODE 13
I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.
HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20
Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.
THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21
War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.
SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22
Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.
CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25
A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.
DOCTOR WHO – REVIEW – THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS (2018)
Directed by: Jamie Childs
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Phyllis Logan, Mark Addy, Percelle Ascott, Samuel Oatley, Jan Le
Produced by: Alex Mercer
Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Music composer: Segun Akinola
Notwithstanding the New Year’s Day special coming on the first day of 2019, season 11 of Doctor Who came to an end with an episode which was certainly a big improvement on the last two episodes. As a whole this season has been very hit-and-miss and despite the lofty title, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, promised much but just about delivered more hit than miss. Arguably, it was a pretty simple narrative of return and retribution as the Doctor and companions came face-to-face with an old adversary.
Firstly, I must say it was a gorgeously shot with the craggy locations of the planet contrasting impressively with the futuristic spacecraft and alien technology. On the whole the series has, despite some very dodgy CGI in a couple of episodes been lovely to look at. Likewise the guest stars in many of the episodes have been very good and in The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos seasoned character actors Mark Addy and Phyllis Logan bring resonance to the drama.
Answering a legion of distress signals brings the Doctor and the Tardis crew to Ranskoor Av Kolos circa year 5425. There they find aplanet ravaged by conflict and an amnesiac soldier Paltraki (Addy) who has lost his mind and crew. Soon the Doctor comes face to face with an ancient race called ‘The Ux’; an all-powerful duo able to build worlds with their minds.Basically they are like a telepathic Minecraft player but dealing with complex chemical and physical reality rather than computers.
More dramatically, however, is the nemesis of the piece. Having dispatched the ‘Predator’-like villain – from the very first episode of this series – the Tzim-Sha into dimensional space they find him now wreaking havoc on Ranskoor Av Kolos. He exploits The Ux’s incredible power and religious naivety to create a weapon of mass destruction and terrorize the galaxy. But who will stop him we ask? The Doctor of course! Well, with revenge on his mind (for the death of his wife, Grace) Graham has a moral choice of killing Tzim-Sha/Tim Shaw or being the better man. It’s this emotional conflict which gives the episode its’ most interesting aspect. Indeed, once again Bradley Walsh gets the most to work with out of the companions.
Overall, Chris Chibnall’s writing has been criticized on social media by irritated fans, however, I don’t actually think the concepts and general writing of the show are as bad as people say. What I think has been flawed is the rewriting and development of many of the scripts. I actually think ten singular episodes are probably too many, and like some of Capaldi’s episodes, they set-up excellent dramatic situations but had rushed endings. I believe they should go for say five stories (over ten episodes) at maximum and develop the characters more so we feel for them and the stories have a chance to breathe. Lastly, I think Jodie Whittaker has been excellent carrying the show but I never liked her costume and the direction of the Doctor as a breathless, wacky primary teacher sort did not gel with me. But as Sunday entertainment goes The Battle ofRanskoor Av Kolos, and the series as a whole was enjoyable, if slightly underwhelming television.
Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson
Music by: Jed Palmer
Cinematography: Stefan Duscio
Edited by: Andy Canny
For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.
I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.
Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.
STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!
I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.
ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX
Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA
Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (
Mark: 6 out of 11)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.
(Mark: 6 out of 11)
CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX
Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX
This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX
This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.
(Mark: 4 out of 11)
HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX
Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!
In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE
The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX
Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA
An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX
Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX
Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.
Having written extensively about my love of Star Trek (The Original Series) in this article HERE – I have over the last few months completed the viewing of the second season.
My mission was to boldly watch every Star Trek episode ever made and report back with the findings. The second season, as a whole, compares favourably to the first in terms of writing and performance and concepts. One could say that season 2 drops slightly in quality toward the end. This could be explained by the uber-producer Gene L. Coon leaving as the day-to-day showrunner, plus Gene Roddenberry was less hands-on too. Nonetheless, while the ratings continued to dip, the consistency of dramatic, comedic and science fiction or fantasy on show was in my view of an excellent quality. One notes that certain repetitions of format had obviously come to the fore in the format. I mean we still get Spock, Kirk, Bones and the rest of the crew fighting a slew of alien life forms or mad computers, yet such genre familiarity is also part of the major appeal.
With the budget (still sizable for its day) of each episode being lowered and NBC moving the second season to a later time slot on an unfavourable day the ratings suffered somewhat. So much so the show came perilously close to being cancelled. However, a core of Star Trek and science fiction fans protested physically and in writing to the studio and eventually they relented and gave the crew of the Starship Enterprise a third, and alas, final frontier season.
With regards to Season 2, there were some excellent episodes and I noted a move toward more comedic tones. Here are SIX episodes which captured my imagination in terms of narrative, drama and humour.
AMOK TIME – Episode 1
This classic episode is the only one of the Original Series to feature scenes on the planet Vulcan. It also is the first time the Vulcan hand salute is shown. It further marks the first appearance of the phrase which accompanies the Vulcan hand salute, “Live long and prosper.” The story finds Spock with a form of Vulcan heat and it demands he finds a mate to marry. Cue some wonderful acting from Leonard Nimoy and classic hand-to-hand combat between Spock and Kirk. The exploration of Vulcan culture adds a depth to Spock’s characterisation and this adds texture to an already fascinating character.
MIRROR MIRROR – Episode 4
The episode involves a transporter malfunction that swaps Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. It’s a wonderfully nifty sci-fi concept and has the cast stretching their acting chops playing nefarious versions of themselves with gleeful abandon. Moreover, the Trek theme of duality of psyche and split personalities is explored in a very entertaining fashion. When I first saw this it reminded me of the Red Dwarf episode ‘Parallel Universe’; but of course sci-fi is full of doubles, parallel and mirrored narratives within the genre.
THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE – Episode 6
This very cinematic episode is an absolute storming drama with echoes of Moby Dick and Jaws (1975) in space, as the crew of the Enterprise are caught within the path of a gigantic monstrous machine dubbed ‘the Planet Killer’! All throughout the stakes are incredibly high because if they do not stop it whole galaxies could be destroyed. The episode is intense and nail-biting with Shatner absolutely nailing his performance, while guest actor William Windom brings an impressive mania to his role as Commodore Decker.
METAMORPHOSIS– Episode 9
This is a wonderful episode for a number of reasons. Firstly, the photography by Jerry Finnerman was absolutely beautifully lit with warm hues, ambience and glow. The lighting compliments the gentle nature of the story which finds the Starfleet trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy pulled down to a planet by a mysterious alien force called “The Companion.” There they find a missing Starfleet scientist Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett) and discover he has not aged at all; but the price is he cannot escape “The Companion”. The drama plays out gently and is assured in its thematic exploration of loneliness, romance and the curative powers of love.
JOURNEY TO BABEL – Episode 10
This multi-layered episode finds us meeting Spock’s parents for the first time as the Enterprise ferries an array of Ambassadors within the United Federations to the Babel conference. Throw into the mix Spock’s dispute with his father and a murderer on board attempting to derail an important mining contract between the planets, and you get a mature work of political science fiction writing. The screenplay from Star Trek stalwart DC Fontana is full of great dialogue and a suspenseful murder mystery. Having already appeared in Season 1, as a Romulan Starship Captain, Mark Lenard as Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek is the stand-out guest star.
THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES – Episode 15
Aside from a wonderfully alliterative and fun title, The Trouble with Tribbles is often cited as one of the most entertaining and humorous Star Trek episodes ever. The episode was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation at the 1968 Hugo Awards, with the award instead going to The City on the Edge of Forever. Tribbles are of course, hamster-like-rodents which mate like rabbits and through sheer mass cause havoc on the Enterprise. Shatner is on top comedic form as Captain Kirk, dealing with the furry pests and a raft of Klingons sharing an uneasy truce; that is until a right-royal bar-fight breaks out in this laugh-out-loud fifteenth entry of the season.