28 November 2016

The Shippy, Shippy Shake (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.6, "The Doomsday Machine")

That's no moon...
I watched this episode on my Samsung tablet and even with the smaller screen size, the high detail of the remastered effects, including the title sequence is clear to see. For this Hugo-nominated episode is entirely space bound and it needed 105 remastered shots as compared to the normal 20 to 30.

The Enterprise discovers the wreck of its sister ship, the USS Constellation, victim to a giant robotic vessel that eats entire planets for breakfast. There is only one survivor of the Constellation and he's gone a bit mad, which is going to make dealing with this thing a bit harder.

This episode apparently owes a considerable amount to the classic novel Moby Dick, although  having never read it, I didn't spot it. At any rate, dealing with a mass killing entity that can't be reasoned with - although there isn't exactly an attempt to try - is a classic staple of science-fiction and horror. We've even got a blonde lady in a short dress...

The Captain of Constellation (incidentally there was a real US carrier of that name in service at the time - it would remain in commission until 2003, seeing action in the invasion of Iraq that year) is one Commodore Matt Decker, an "all ahead full and [expletive deleted] the torpedoes" officer who is determined to avenge the death of his crew by destroying the Planet Killer, acting rather recklessly indeed. He's clearly someone who is dire need of a sedative and some serious counselling; yet ends up making things worse. William Windom (himself a Second World War veteran) patterned his portrayal on Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny and if we're being honest, occasionally overdoes it. In particular, one scene sees facial expressions that remind me of 'gurning' from Doctor Who.

No Uhura or Chekov in this one, but everyone else is great. Spock may take a while to act, but when does he's highly effective. Kirk is willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good and there is a genuinely tense scene near the end when he comes rather close indeed to doing just that. You know he's going to survive, but they really run it close... although there is a rather flexible definition of '30 seconds'.
The spaceship action is very intense, with lots of phaser action (no photon torpedoes?) sweeping turns and a considerable amount of the old 'Star Trek shake', with at one point characters jiggling in their chairs to simulate turbulence. This does get a bit silly at some points. It's worth noting this was written as a 'bottle episode' to maximise the use of existing sets to save costs; a common device for TV shows in general, but when done right capable of producing some cracking good stories. This is most certainly done right.

It's worth noting that there are a number of references to the hydrogen bomb (which was possessed by the US, UK, France and China at this point in time) in the context of that being a doomsday device. Certainly the development of a fusion powered nuke was pretty controversial partly due to fears that if you built one large enough or had enough of them you could destroy the world or at least cover it in a globally lethal level of fallout - see Doctor Strangelove for an example. Six years prior to this episode airing, the USSR had tested a 50 megaton bomb that, being the biggest nuke test of all time, had managed to break windows in Norway, however it was far too large to be practical for military use and much of the energy was 'wasted' by going out into open space. Today, no-one really makes the A-Bomb/H-Bomb distinction in popular culture.

Now I've gone on about these a lot, but I really must say that while the final scene was good, it didn't need Kirk cracking a smile at the end of it. That seemed tonally very off.


Occasional overacting aside, this is a rollicking space adventure with times of high tension.


26 November 2016

Ron Glass 1945-2016

We're losing a lot of famous people this year, but this one is going to be a particular blow.


I'm a fan of Firefly and while all the crew were of course great, Book acted as the ship's conscience. Without Glass' performance, he would have been a far weaker character.


Rest in Peace.



23 November 2016

53 years of Doctor Who

Today marks 53 years since the legendary time travel show first aired. While this has been a relatively quiet year due to the lack of a full series, the franchise remains very active indeed especially with the new spinoff.

Long may it continue.

Happy anniversary.

19 November 2016

Show me more of this Earth thing called kissing... (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.5, "The Apple")

Spray it with flowers...

Red Dwarf, that superb science fiction comedy show, has naturally had a pop or two at Star Trek over the years.

I can't help wonder if this is one of the episodes that influenced them...


While exploring a planet that reminds them of the Garden of Eden, which is just outside Moscow according to Chekov (although I think that's a joke on his part), one of Kirk's crew is killed by a poison thorn shooting flower. Unable to beam back up, they discover this isn't really paradise after all.


This is very much a Trek-by-the-numbers episode. Explore unusual planet, meet strange and unusual people who are being subjected by an unusual force, defeat said force, then go home, rinse and repeat. Apart from what seems to me a metaphor about 'rugged individualism' versus state provision - a common theme in American political discourse - there is very little original overall in the plot. It's also got a couple of rather big plot holes - most notably how the Enterprise is able to conduct an orbital phaser bombardment after 'frying nearly all its systems'.

However, what keeps this episode from being dull is the fact that is it very, very camp. Some of the highlights:
  • No less than four redshirts dying, all in different ways - including when one steps on an exploding rock. That appears to have seriously injured the stuntman doing it; this show seems to like abusing its actors.
  • A planet blatantly mocked up in a studio with a red sky... but with stock footage of thunder clouds in a blue sky.
  • A red-skinned alien species who have no idea about physical romance (leading to some awkward questions) and wear what are basically bath towels for clothing. Oh and the blokes wear giant white toupees.
  • A fight scene involving these creatures and a high kicking lady in a red mini-dress that must have required careful editing to avoid showing anyone's 'Florida' (TM Carrie Fisher, discussing that slave-girl outfit from Return of the Jedi). At any rate, it looks ridiculous.
  • Alien food that is essentially spray painted fruit.
  • Chekov deciding to take a break mid-mission to snog his new girlfriend, who we will likely never see again.
  • An alien machine represented by a cave entrance shaped like a dragon head.
We get a very angst-ridden Kirk in this episode who feels guilt over the deaths of his men, some earnest discussions over whether the Prime Directive applies and some great one liners all round.

We even get two 'comedy endings'; although only the second is actually any good.


This is a very kitsch episode of Star Trek and arguably very stereotypical of the show. While flawed in a good number of parts and with particularly dodgy effects, it's still an enjoyable 50 minutes, even if not exactly for the right reasons.


13 November 2016

US Election: Some final thoughts

While I am still planning to take a break from politics, I feel the need to note down some final thoughts on this very strange week, as well as make some other comments elsewhere:

  • The capacity of experts to engage in group think and collective delusion is amazing. Experts thought Iraq had WMDs, failed to see the collapse of the Soviet Union coming in the way it did and that there was no way the US would elect Donald Trump.
  • There is a considerable nostalgia among 'baby boomers', for the 1950s and 1960s i.e. their childhood. Hence the popularity of shows like Call the Midwife. The same applies for Generation X with shows like Stranger Things and The Americans. Generation Y or the Millennials have yet to develop a nostalgia, but they will do.
  • There exists a considerable disconnect between white rural and suburban people with the democratic system - Trump did best in those areas.
  • There also exists a considerable disconnect between urban African-Americans and the system; there were major turnout drops in those areas. It cost Clinton Michigan, Pennsylvania and made Virginia much closer than it should have been.
  • Clinton was probably the wrong choice for candidate, but Bernie Sanders had other issues. If the Rust Belt isn't going to vote for a white woman from New York, they are sure as eggs is eggs not going to vote for an atheist from Vermont.
  • I personally think that the best candidate for the Democrats in 2020 is going to be a Southern or Mid West Governor or Senator. Every New Englander they've nominated since Kennedy has lost.
  • I am genuinely curious about when Trump supporters think America stopped being great and am going to ask about this.
  • This article is well worth reading.
  • Focus is now going to move onto France and stopping Marine Le Pen from winning there. France uses the 'Second Ballot' system so she will have to win a majority in the second round to get her hands on the French nuclear codes. No fascist even won a majority of votes - even Hitler didn't - but we need to not be complacent.

11 November 2016

A break from politics

This year has been a pretty awful one all round. We have seen votes where you can tell a pack of lies and still win, mass movement of refugees as the Middle East continues to be ravaged by war, a continuing decline in social morals... the list goes on.

I'm planning to take a break from active discussion of politics until at least the start of next year, maybe longer. I don't see any real chance of meaningful positive change for this planet at the moment, not with humanity like it is.

Only God can help us now. I suggest you pray for him to change the hearts of the world's nastiest predators, because that's what we are. Cobras don't use social media to spread hate.

Jesus will come back at some point, but we won't know until it happens and as the Book of Revelation makes clear, there will be more pain first.

Take care of yourself and stay safe. This is going to be a very difficult time in human history.

10 November 2016

On liberal hand-wringing and 'ignoring whites'

Since Trump won I have seen quite a few comments from both left and right that his victory is due to a smug liberal elite ignoring the concerns of poor white people.

I would like to see some actual evidence that it has happened. For one thing the 'elite' is not homogeneous.

Also many of the problems facing the working class are due to the actions of conservative governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

We run the risk of starting to believe the lies put out by the right wing press about us. Yes some of us are out of touch but not all of us.

Also from my own personal experience, prejudice and ignorance are still rife in all sectors of society.

In the US, a black man remains more likely to go to prison than get a degree. When prosecutors try to bring charges against police officers who kill or attack people, it is often white dominated juries that acquit them.

Yet black people can be racist too. Some view the 'white man' as some homogeneous evil to be avoided. We are 22 years away from a black on black genocide in Rwanda.

We need to focus on people who have been left behind by globalisation but we cannot do that by pandering to bigotry.

There are seven billion people on this planet, many worse off than the poorest Westerners.

This is a global problem and it needs a global solution.

09 November 2016

Further thoughts on Trump

Everyone got this one wrong because they tried to apply logic to an election which didn't have any.

Also my view of humanity in general is a good deal dimmer.

Further election thoughts

* Trump won this election because of racism pure and simple. A significant proportion of white people in the US are bigots consciously or without realising it.
* The United States of America has zero claim left to moral leadership when that many voters vote for a man like that.
* Clinton failed to inspire people like Obama managed to.

President Trump

Well, that was a turn up for the books. It seems the pollsters and pundits got something very wrong somewhere.

Some thoughts already based on the results and the CNN exit poll:
* Nate Silver must be feeling very pleased with himself right now; he was the only one who really saw the possibility of this coming.
* Trump actually did *better* among Latino and African American voters than Romney did. That defies logic to me.
* He also won a majority of the Christian vote.
* In retrospect, Clinton was the wrong candidate for the Democrats; although I doubt Bernie Saunders would have been any better.
* No-one was really expecting Pennsylvania to go for the Republicans.
* Trump's victory was down to angry white men. That is a declining demographic in the US.
* Donald Trump is about to encounter some very hard political realities; 'draining the swamp' will be harder than he thinks.
* Obamacare is dead, Roe vs. Wade will probably fall as well.
* The border wall will probably never be completed; certainly not in four years.

Well, this is capping off what has been a pretty bad year for this planet. That said, things are unlikely to turn out as bad as some have feared.

It will be bad, but I think the US will survive.

05 November 2016

US Election 2016 predictions

Here goes, with the distinct (but not that big really) possibility I may be completely wrong:

* Clinton wins the popular vote by 3-4 points, but scores below 50%. She gets around 300 electoral votes.
* Trump gets under Mitt Romney's 2012 vote total.
* Clinton wins Florida, Nevada, Colorado. Trump wins Ohio and New Hampshire, but it doesn't matter.
* The Senate goes for the Democrats, the House stays Republican.
* Marijuana is legalised in at least one US state.
* The current FBI director does not stay in his job past the end of January 2017.
* Trump will not make a concession speech; Mike Pence may well do it for him.

04 November 2016

Cliché City via Beards, Scars and Crop Tops (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.4, "Mirror, Mirror")

Here to make this post better...
So, I'm watching Westworld at the moment and must admit to finding it a bit confusing at times. The show is created by Jonathan Nolan, who also created the now concluded Person of Interest. So, I find myself thinking that what Westworld needs is a gun toting Amy Acker... Because Joss Whedon's favourite actor (have you seen how many of his works she's been in?!) makes nearly anything better.

Indeed, I thought at the early part of this episode that the only thing stopping this episode from getting a ten was the lack of Amy Acker... and she hadn't even been born in 1967, so they had a good reason, allowing me to give it maximum marks... That wasn't quite the case at the end of this.

After diplomatic negotiations to obtain dilithium crystals from a peace-loving planet go badly, Kirk and his landing party, made up of McCoy, Uhura and Scotty, beam back to the Enterprise... during an ion storm.

This ion storm results in them not going to their intended destination, but to a rather different universe in which the Federation is instead an Empire with a generally ruthless approach to obtaining resources. As well as a command structure in which promotion is attained by assassination...

Kirk and his team must make their way back to their own universe before time runs out or someone kills them. Also, their evil counterparts have ended up in their own universe...


It's fair to say that has been a highly influential episode of the show; the 'Mirror Universe' appeared in no less than five episodes of Deep Space Nine and one of Enterprise. Mirror Universe uniforms are a purchasable costume choice in Star Trek Online, also featuring in three missions there. AJJE used to have a Mirror Universe-set sim itself as well...

This Mirror Universe - inspired by episode writer Jerome Bixby's own 1954 short story - has also been the source of much homage (Doctor Who did it in "Inferno" way back in 1970, Fringe made a major arc of it and Buffy naturally had a go as well) and much parody; when you're the subject of a skit on Mystery Science Theater 3000, you know you've made it. The list of these references is very long...

One particular element that is much parodied is Mirror Spock's goatee - there is even a band called Spock's Beard. Having a beard be a sign that you're a bad guy (rarely a bad girl) is a long standing trope of the genre going back into the 16th century; Satan has long been depicted with facial hair. That said, this version of Spock actually proves to be one of the nicer characters on the ISS Enterprise. Less forgiveable, however, is having the sexual deviant Mirror Sulu have a massive scar down his face.

Another common plot device is that when characters turn evil, they wear less clothing, especially if they're a red-headed female Canadian with a body that can pull off a cropped green camisole/print shorts combo. The landing party not only swap places with their counterparts... they also end up in their clothing. Scotty and McCoy, being not exactly sex symbols by conventional definition, just wear their regular uniforms with different badges. Kirk, as leading man, ends up in a sleveless top showing off his muscles... and Uhura wears a midriff baring outfit. To cap the latter off, she later does the whole 'sexy distraction' shtick on Mirror Sulu.

All that said, the Mirror Universe is a very interesting place - although I wouldn't want to live there - with plot elements that would inspire many works. Particularly notable is the 'agonizer', used to punish wayward crew with pain. In its hand-held form, it rather prefigures Root's favourite weapon, the Taser, which hadn't even started development at this point!

(Have I mentioned that I'd really like Acker to make an appearance in Star Trek: Discovery?)

This episode is a tour de force for all the regulars; many of whom get to play against their regular types. 'Our' Kirk is brilliant - realising very quickly that he is going to act different enough to avoid suspicion while still trying to save a planet from destruction by his counterparts. However, McCoy is also great, deciding to save Mirror Spock from death in the climax despite the fact it would put him in peril.

Mirror Kirk also has a mistress, a female officer we've never seen before... and who Prime Kirk (sounds like a brand of beef that) doesn't recognise, although he does snog her. It turns out in the (actually fairly good) final scene that she's a freshly assigned officer arrived a week before... shouldn't the Captain meet his new officers on day one?


Star Trek can be accused of cliché in many cases when in fact it wrote them. Unfortunately in this case, there are some pretty unoriginal plot devices in this episode.

However, that does not detract from what is a very good tale and one that continues to have a major influence.

Just a pity it couldn't have a gun toting Amy Acker in it.