13 August 2020

What Is It?! (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.18, "The Immunity Syndrome")

Star Trek today tends to have season-long arcs where the only way to fully understand the story is to watch each episode in order; something true of most science fiction and fantasy shows. In the 1960s, with video recorders not exactly a thing in households, people might end up missing an episode with no opportunity to see it again.

So, each episode is basically one story, wrapped up in around 50 minutes and rarely mentioned again.

Anyway, I'm digressing, onto discussing the episode.

****

On their way to Starbase 6 for a break, the crew of the Enterprise encounter some strange distortion. A Starfleet ship full of Vulcans goes dead, then an entire star system. NCC-1701 must investigate a zone of space darkness that is draining the very energy from the ship - and its crew.

The primary 'triangle' in TOS is Kirk-Spock-McCoy and their overall relationship is very well established by this point. Spock and McCoy insult each other's species as Spock basically says that humans see one death as a tragedy, but a million as a statistic.

(That quote is attributed to Stalin, but there is evidence of similar satirical sentiments being expressed back as far as 1759)

Kirk is weary in the literal and metaphorical sense, the whole grave situation weighing heavily on him. Sure, Shatner does his... famous pauses... but the actor plays Kirk as more than just a cliché. Nimony and Kelley also do very well.

Scotty, Uhura and Chekov also aren't bad. Their material is a fair bit weaker as they're merely serving as plot exposition. Sulu is again absent, his position taken by recurring character Kyle, who doesn't have much too.

The overall mystery is a very strong one, with each layer unwrapped pretty convincingly. Well as convincingly as you can get in a show like this. The solution is a pretty good one as well.

The Netflix version contains the remastered effects, which I'd imagine look much better than the original ones were (although they did win an Emmy); those would probably have taken me out of the episode slightly.

One thing this episode contains in abundance is 'Starship Acting' as the cast throw themselves around the bridge, not always in the same direction. You'd think that they'd invest in some actual harnesses in Starfleet. 

****

Conclusion

A highly enjoyable, self-contained episode with a strong overall plot. Classic Trek.

8/10

04 August 2020

Beirut explosion

The explosion tonight in Beirut's port appears to have been accidental in the not on purpose sense. It is however seeming to involve criminal negligence.

A lot of people have likely died in what was basically a small nuke going off; many people will have lost homes and livelihoods.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Lebanon tonight.

02 August 2020

Coronavirus #14 - Media problems

Can the media please stop with fevered speculation over every comment by a member of SAGE - which is a very big group? It's causing undue stress and anxiety.

We need a sober analysis of the facts (which aren't great as is), not rumour-mongering.

I fancy a game of Fizzbin (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.17, "A Piece of the Action")

I've seen this episode before, but I didn't really remember much about it. So, I'm coming into this slightly cold.

Making a Second Contact after picking up a radio report from a ship lost a hundred years, the Enterprise crew discover a world that has based its entire culture on a book about Chicago gangsters; which is causing major development issues. With the Prime Directive loophole in play, they now need to fix the issue without getting themselves killed.

***

The overall concept of an alien world being contaminated by some esoteric human culture is a fairly common trope in science fiction. This is the sort of episode that you can easily imagine turning up in The Orville - now I'm imagining Adrianne Palicki totting a Tommy Gun - or indeed Doctor Who.  While there's definitely a 'Planet of Hats' aspect about this whole episode - most of the hats are awesome - there isn't time in this episode to explore other aspects.

It's a very strong episode for the regulars, especially Spock, who realises that this is not a situation where logic is going to work and is logical enough to admit it. Kirk is also having a lot of fun when he goes into full-on 'gangster' mode.

There is a lot of great humour in this episode: Kirk's inability to operate an old-fashioned car effectively, confusion over slang and the whole scene where they get a kid to distract some goons; although the last of course has some risks for the kid. They didn't pay him either!

A highlight of the episode is the 'Fizzbin' scene, where Kirk creates a weird card game out of thin air as a means to distract two guards. This is being Star Trek, it became a real game in the canon, featuring in an episode of Deep Space Nine. I wouldn't mind playing it in real-life, but you'd need a computer to handle the rules...

Paramount's backlots get used very effectively here, although a back wall is rather obvious in one shot when seen in HD.

The guest characters are pretty good - with Anthony Caruso's Bela Okymx demonstrating particular charm - but not truly memorable.

Two minor drawbacks. The lack of any active female roles is one, but perhaps understandable for the time. There's Uhura, sure, but her role in this is very limited. Also, Kirk, Spock and McCoy get captured more frequently than Kim Bauer.

Now I'm thinking of Elisha Cuthbert in Starfleet uniform. Best to end it there.

Conclusion

Not perfect, but a highly enjoyable episode nonetheless. Definitely a classic.

9/10

31 July 2020

Coronavirus #13: Putting the brakes on in the UK

Cases are starting to rise in the UK again; that seems to be pretty unambiguous. The localised restrictions in the North West and slowing down some more reopening make sense, although the communication has been pretty haphazard to put it mildly.

It's become clear that we've probably reached the limit of where we can reopen with present levels of infection and we need to work on getting the levels of cases down again. This requires continuing clear public health campaigns from the government, cooperation from the public and patience from all of us.

We are not likely to get back to normal before Christmas.

11 July 2020

Coronavirus #12: Heading for the global peak

While new cases continue to come down across much of Europe, the virus is very much in full 'rage' in many major countries outside it.

Most notably the United States of America, where the woeful incompetence of Donald Trump is being shown up in a way much worse than hoped. There are those who feared he would spark a massive war with his approach, but to the most extent, he prefers to pick on small targets that can't fight back. Now he faces an enemy he can't tweet bully into submission. 200,000 American deaths out of all of this is a real possibility; all the economic loss of the first lockdowns has been for nothing as governors opened up too early, Trump supporters refuse to wear face masks and the virus remains downplayed by many Republicans.

India, unable to fully lock down in an economy where millions live hand to mouth and South Africa that is largely the same, are also facing large increases in cases, with their testing systems unable to keep up.

It's likely we will get a number of healthcare collapses in the next few weeks as systems even in developed countries like the United States are unable to cope with sheer numbers, bringing up overall death rates.

It will not be a nice time.

****

While only a small percentage of people are dying from this, a significant minority of around 10% seem to be developing longer-lasting health problems as a result of this virus and rehabilitation for them is going to be something that will be a major cost going forward.

This virus doesn't seem to be Ebola or the flu... if anything, it's seeming a lot like polio - most won't have serious problems, only a few will die, but a lot of people will be seriously messed up by this.

****
I continue to pray for those working to tackle this situation. I would suggest you do so to if you are a believer.

04 July 2020

This Earth Thing Called Kissing 2: Electric Choke Collaroo (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.16, "The Gamesters of Triskelion")

Other titles I considered include "Game of Weird Clothes" and "Whip It Good".

****

As they are about to beam down to a planetoid, Kirk, Uhura and Chekov are 'yoinked' out of the transporter bay and taken to a strange planet in a trinary system i.e. one with three suns, where they are captured by some bloke who looks a bit like Ming the Merciless. Their intended fate - to spend their lives as slaves fighting for the entertainment of unseen beings called ""Providers".

****

Written by a woman - a comparatively rare thing in science fiction television even today - this episode has a load of concepts that I am sure I've seen in other works, including control collars used to ensure discipline, an array of very weird costumes (William Ware Theiss clearly had a field day) and brain aliens.

Indeed this episode has been parodied in a number of other shows, including Futurama and South Park.

The overall story is frankly rather poor; there's no true impression of the size of the enslavement operation, the whole security of the operation is reliant on a single person (what if he's asleep?) and the resolution involves some rather lucky misses with spears.

The regulars are mostly pretty good with Scotty, McCoy and Spock getting some fine material on the Enterprise. The main issue is Kirk, who again loses his shirt (good thing they've got a replicator) and falls for an alien woman. His willingness to bet this entire shp is rather worrying...

Speaking of alien women, we have Angelique Pettyjohn as Shahna, a humanoid woman wearing a silver cutout leotard more appropriate for BDSM and with green hair. She has no concept of romance... and generally no concept of acting with her dialogue very clipped. Kirk kisses her... twice. Because he's Kirk and that's what Kirk does.

The other guest stars are also nearly all poor; with the same stilted acting and some more ridiculous costumes. One of the slaves tries to rape Uhura on the grounds that he has been "selected" for her. After she fights back, the whole thing is never mentioned again. Something true of a lot of sexual assault survivors even now.

At least we don't get a comedy ending. 

****

Conclusion

To be rather frank, I wouldn't pay 10 quatloos for this, let alone a hundred.

5/10

20 June 2020

Coronavirus #11: Two metres or not two metres?

The government is reviewing whether the two metre guidelines for social distancing can be reduced to one metre, something many hospitality businesses feel is necessary to for their survival as their capacity is severely constrained at two metres to the point of unprofitability.

The science around the distance ultimately goes back to the 1930s and is subject to a lot of caveats; coughing is more likely to spread the distance than talking for example. Time spent at the various distances is also important. In a way, it's rather like radioactive exposure; a little won't harm you, but a lot will.

However, it is a lot easier to get rid of viral droplets than radioactive substances; the former can be destroyed with just soap and water.

Ultimately, a lot of this will come down to hygiene; a lot of the mini-spikes have been around meat processing plants where a lot of people work in close quarters, some of them not exactly with full legal papers (so they will be reluctant to speak up about any issues) and where hygiene practices can be sketchy. It's a good thing that proper cooking kills the virus too.

I'd personally favour Germany's 1.5 metres with an increased emphasis on face masks; you could wear them while not eating in a restaurant of course i.e. while waiting for the bill.

But I'm not a scientist.