13 May 2021

Another round of violence in the Middle East

Hamas needs to stop its rocket attacks permanently. There is no self-defence justification for them whatsoever.

Israel needs to stop further settlement building in the West Bank and should frankly let those families faced with eviction stay.

Both sides should not do things they shouldn't be doing just because of the actions of others and those who seek to excuse terrorism need to examine their moral compasses.

08 May 2021

VE Day 76

On this day, I can think of little more appropriate to do than to quote a well-known poem from 1914.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Let us work together to build a better world and show that we truly remember them.

05 May 2021

So, that happened (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.23, "The Omega Glory")

There are times when I wonder what drugs the writers were using when they came up with a particular episode. Considering that this is the 1960s we're talking about here, when dropping acid was all the rage, you can certainly get some strange ideas.

But I am struggling to find a suitable drug to explain this one, which was penned by Roddenberry himself.

****

Approaching another planet, the Enterprise finds an abandoned Starfleet vessel. Beaming onboard, they find that the crew have gone... turned into piles of crystals. Warned by the last log entry from the medical officer, they beam down to the planet... discovering the ship's Captain and what may be a fountain of youth.

As well as a war between two civilisations that the Captain is interfering with.

****

This episode was initially planned for the first season, but ordered shelved by NBC as they thought the script was too weak. Roddenberry eventually produced it for the second over their objections.

Some of the initial concepts are OK; the crazy captain, the immunisation effect of a planet, a post-end of civilisation world and the possibility of a fountain of youth. But then things start falling apart pretty quickly.

The regulars get some good material to start off with; Spock is in particular fine form during this episode. Sulu returns after a pretty long absence and is useful here.

Unfortunately, the guest cast let the side down badly; the natives are pretty much poor to a man and the two women in the episode are scantily-clad sex objects with very little dialogue. Alison Bechdel would not be impressed.

We also get multiple Kirk-Fu fights; while very much a part of TOS, it gets more than a bit ridiculous here.

What ultimately massively derails the episode is the revelation that the US Constitution and the Stars and Stripes are objects of worship. Quite how that managed to occur is never adequately explained and the episode truly jumps the shark when Kirk's recitation of the preamble to the former manages to win the way. He does make some good points about how the rights in the US Constitution need to be for everyone, something too often ignored by America's leaders - even its slave-owning Founding Fathers - but the sheer veneration that a human document is held up to here is ridiculous; and sadly, alarmingly mirrored in reality in some parts of that country's politics today.

(Shatner for his part, basically stopped caring at this point and went full ham)

Also, where did they get a copy of the Book of Haggai from the Old Testament?

Finally, while Star Trek often tries to be anti-racist, it doesn't always succeed and in some cases fails quite massively. A quote from Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future is worth repeating here:

Like the Federation, the Comms have full command of the English language (although they speak with a homogenized 'Asian' accent). The beginning of the episode thus shows that those with white skin can be uncivilized savages and those with yellow skin can be civilized and rational […] This would be counter to the hegemonic representation of Asians in the United States media; that diverse collective of peoples are consistently constructed in film and television as a menacing 'yellow horde'." Bernardi goes on to say: "'The Omega Glory' is not, however, a counter-hegemonic episode. In fact, the episode not only reveals an unwillingness to be critical of the hegemony of racist representations, but also systematically participates in the stereotyping of Asians. As the story progresses, the Yangs are constructed as noble savages; their cause to annihilate the Comms is established as justified. The Comms, on the other hand, are constructed as brutal and oppressive; their drive to suppress the Yangs is established as totalitarian. This more hegemonic articulation of race is made evident when Kirk and Spock realize the extent to which the Yangs and Comms parallel Earth's civilizations. In this light, the Yangs are no longer savages, but noble warriors fighting for a just and honorable cause. They want to regain the land they lost in a war with the Asiatics. (pp. 57-58)

I think that's a good place to conclude.

****

Conclusion

The general view of this episode is that it's one of the worst episodes of the series. They're generally quite right.

3/10

17 April 2021

Prince Philip 1921-2021

I've just watched the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, which I am glad to see that was tailored very much to his wishes and was done very well. I am sure that he will be very pleased with that.

It was also nice to see William and Harry talking together after the service. Perhaps that will lead to better things.

Rest in Peace, Your Royal Highness. You have been a great servant to his country and to the LORD.

15 April 2021

Coronavirus #29: Exiting Lockdown 3

Had my first proper haircut since December today and next week I am taking a train into work for some stuff that I really can't deal with at home. I am particularly looking forward to eating in a restaurant again.

We're in a lot better place now with our vaccine rollout; while there are still concerns about the variants, none of them currently truly beats the vaccine. We need to be vigilant, but we can be confident - at present - that we are slowly coming out of this.

07 April 2021

Coronavirus #28: Vaccine passports

I would support a limited use of vaccine passports while Covid-19 is still a significant thing in this country - which it currently. Definitely for foreign travel and big events, but not for pubs and shops. I also don't think it is really that discriminatory considering that we will all be getting vaccinated in the next few months.

I also see that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab won't be recommended for under 30s going forward; the risk of the blood clots for that group is higher than being hospitalised for Covid-19. Which makes sense. Now we need more carrots to encourage people to get vaccinated - I would personally eliminate testing requirements for those with both doses.

Still hoping to go abroad this year, but Europe does need to hurry up with its jabbing...

06 April 2021

Show Me More Of This Earth Thing Called Kissing 3: The Drinking Contest (Review: Star Trek 2.22, "By Any Other Name")

Among the many accolades awarded to the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 must be the one of "most hijacked ship in Starfleet" and today, we have another example of that occurring. We also have yet another example of Captain Kirk using the power of lurve to win the day.

I hope Picard isn't like this in TNG.

****

We're straight into the action here with a teaser seeing the main three along with two red shirts - well, a red dress in one case - beaming down to a flowery planet after receiving a distress call. We can go into full meme mode here:

IT'S A TRAP!

A bunch of aliens-in-human-form from the Andromeda Galaxy use a belt-mounted paralysis field generator to freeze the landing part in place. Their goal - to use the Enterprise to return to their galaxy, something that will take 300 years even with their modifications, then come back with an invasion fleet. This of course is something that Kirk cannot allow, but dealing with these people will be more difficult than just a prison break out. When they try that, Red Dress and Red Shirt get turned into plaster cuboctahedrons. The alien leader crushes one of them, killing Red Dress, while Red Shirt (who is also black) is turned back to normal.

So, they need another plan.

****

The title of this episode indicates where we are going here. After another plan fails and they cross the energy barrier around the edge of the Milky Way (first I've heard of that one), they realise that their captors have taken human bodies... but are not used to human sensory inputs.

Thus, we get a massive distraction operation. There are two lady aliens, both dressed in backless outfits more appropriate for Love Island and Kirk decides to basically seduce one by repeated kissing on the lips. This one is massively trope-y and arguably the weakest part of the episode, because it has been done at least twice before.

Spock plays 3D chess, McCoy gives an alien stimulant injections... and Scotty, in a manner that goes into Scottish stereotyping (although to be fair, heavy drinking isn't limited to that culture), engages one in a spot of binge drinking with the aim to put him under the table. This last is actually the funniest part of the episode, but all the regulars bar Sulu (who again isn't in it) get good material.

The aliens, except for the sexy female, are well played and they pose a real threat, making the way the situation is dealt with more satisfying.

Eventually, Kirk manages to drive the alien leader into a jealous rage and after some more Kirk-fu, persuades him of the need for a peaceful solution.

There's a lot of standard Trek tropes here, but this episode - which was extensively redrafted from the original darker concept - uses most of them well. Most of them.

****

Conclusion

While not the most original episode by a long chalk, this is largely well done, fairly tense and pretty enjoyable.

8/10

02 April 2021

Easter 2021

I must admit that coming up with angles on Easter is difficult; sermons and preaching are not my strong suit. The Lord has given me other talents and I am hopefully using them for his glory.

So, I will happily use someone else's work to showcase the meaning of Easter:

(This video will be removed after Easter, so watch it while you can)

This was a dramatic human story that touched the lives of not only those present, but countless billions afterwards. Jesus' death and resurrection has shaped our world, arguably for the better. I definitely feel that I am a better person because of my Christian faith and I hope my example shines through to others in the way I conduct my life.

Perhaps you want to give it a try? You won't lose anything and you may gain a great deal.

Happy Easter to you all.

26 March 2021

Coronavirus #27: The variants

The UK's case rate appears to be levelling off, with an increase in cases among schoolchildren offsetting falls in the wider population as the vaccine rollout continues, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than previously.

There is a concern about variants that might "escape" the vaccine and so render us back to square one. At the moment, these concerns appear to be somewhat overblown. While some variants do seem to be less impacted by the vaccine, none of them seem to be completely successful in escaping it to the point they are causing hospital admissions among the vaccinated.

This doesn't mean we should throw caution to the wind and we need to remain vigilant, but frightening people unnecessarily is something that the media in particular should not be doing. I somehow doubt they'll stop though, sadly.

23 March 2021

Space Mission: Impossible (Review: Star Trek 2.21, "Patterns of Force")

I'd like to start this post by extending a belated Happy Birthday to William Shatner, who turned 90 yesterday. 

****

Mike Godwin didn't come up with his famous 'law' until 1990, but a variant of it as that as any science fiction franchise continues, the chances of a discussion or comparison to the Nazis increases. It only took Doctor Who two stories - the Daleks are very much a Nazi metaphor - and now we have a very explicit Star Trek comparison, symbology and all.

Indeed, this episode was not aired in Germany until 1996; there is no ban on the use of Nazi symbols in television and film for dramatic purposes, but the German networks just chose not to broadcast it - it was after all only 23 years in the past and a felt bit too early for the subject to be covered in light entertainment.

****

Heading towards the planet Ekos to pick up a cultural ambassador who was one of Kirk's instructors at the Academy (he knows a lot of people, our Captain does), the Enterprise gets shot at by a nuclear missile. This is successfully dealt with and it is clear that something has gone badly wrong with Ekos, even more so after Kirk and Spock beam down to discover the place is basically Nazi Germany, with a plan to exterminate another race in the same system.

****

This doesn't exactly win any awards for subtlety. You've got a Nazi government planning a Final Solution against a planet called Zeon, whose people in the planet have names like Isak and Abrom. It's also worth pointing out that Shatner and Nimoy are/were Jewish - wearing SS uniforms is an interesting experience for anyone, but I'd imagine it is more so if you're a member of that particular people. As indeed is Walter Koenig who plays Chekov - his family fled Lithuania because of antisemitism.

The Ekosians are costumed in uniforms literally pulled out of the Paramount wardrobe department (they made a lot of war films) and generally with mis-matched insignia. Indeed, this episode was filmed in Paramount's offices with the corridors redecorated.

Kirk and Spock end up getting captured, losing their shirts and getting whipped with some unconvincing looking injuries; I suppose that the network wouldn't have allowed more realistic whipping. We do get a rather funny scene where Spock has to stand on Kirk's injured back to create a laser using a lightbulb... it's a pretty ridiculous scene in general, but I'm glad they thought of that detail. The leads all get good material.

The main characters then end up working with the resistance to infiltrate the Chancellery to get at the former ambassador who has now become another Hitler, although his deputy is now pretty much running the show. The overall reveal of his motivations for doing this is a bit unconvincing in the light of further historical analysis of Nazi Germany - it wasn't as efficient as thought - and to be honest, could have been written better. I get a feeling that this whole episode is a bit rushed - indeed it was trimmed in the edit - with key bits skipped over. Brevity is not always the soul of wit.

Where the episode does work is in the whole espionage/skulduggery department; I am very much reminded of 1960s Mission: Impossible, which of course Leonard Nimoy was in. Moles, infiltrating an enemy headquarters in purloined uniform and getting past the guards through sheer bluster, is the classic bread and butter of these sorts of stories - I generally enjoy them a lot. The climax is pure Mission: Impossible; the IMF would rarely kill their targets directly, but getting them to shoot each other was perfectly fine.

The episode ends in a rather perfunctory manner and it's left assumed that the hatred engineered against the Zeon people will magically go away. History tells us that really isn't the case.

****
Conclusion

Distinctly average and perhaps too unsubtle. This might have worked a lot better as a two-parter too.

5/10

08 March 2021

Did Someone Order Ham? (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.20 "Return to Tomorrow")

The original form of Sargon (Photo by Сергей Орловский on Unsplash)

It's been a while since I've done one of these - I was watching Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery, which has very much grown the beard or (rather the braids) with a major step up in quality. Then, following its release on Amazon Prime, I watched the excellent Star Trek: Lower Decks animated series. Beckett Marinier would be great to see in the actual flesh.

So, now it's time to go back to 'Those Old Scientists' or the 2260s...

****

The Enterprise is, for a change, actually going somewhere where no man has gone before, when they encounter an M-class planet that has been dead for half a million years (quite how Spock figures that out so quickly from space is unclear). Or so it seems. Another space entity hijacks the ship - they should really get better firewalls - and gets the crew to beam down to a deep cave where the three survivors of their race are now energy contained in glowing spheres. They want to have bodies again and need to borrow some of the crew to make them, in return for giving them their technology.

****

Now Bill Shatner is known for chewing the scenery as Kirk. When another creature possesses him, it's an excuse to chew even more of it than usual, as Sargon, the leader of these three survivors, really appreciates a new body in 'excellent condition' - although this tale doesn't have Kirk's clothing get damaged this time. The use of 'booming audio' to distinguish the character is a fairly cheap device but it works.

Nimoy also gets a chance to ham it up good and proper as Henoch, another creature from the opposite side of a war that destroyed their civilisation. When it turns out Henoch has an ulterior motive, it's not really that surprising. Nimoy does a great job being evil.

The body swap lot isn't exactly a new one and you'd have thought that the Enterprise crew would be a bit wary about going into the whole deal - beware of Greeks bearing gifts and all that - but only McCoy really shows any questioning of the whole thing. "What's the catch?" is a question that should always be asked when anyone comes along with offers of superior technology - as many an ethnic group on this planet has found out to its cost. The twists and turns of the whole thing are OK, but nothing I've not seen before and arguably better.

The third survivor is Thalassa, Sargon's wife, who gets to use the body of a previously unseen female officer, who gets introduced with romantic music and of course ends up snogging Kirk. Not exactly the most feminist episode, that's for sure and a fairly major black mark for me.

The underground cave set with the balls is well done though, but you'd have thought they'd have added labels in some alien language.

The ending is straight up "deus ex machina", where some hitherto unrevealed power turns out to save the day and the reset button is duly pressed on the whole situation. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Conclusion

Giving a chance for more than one regular to chew the scenery, this is otherwise some very average Trek. It's been done before; it will be done again.

5/10


21 February 2021

Coronavirus #26 - PTSD

This is our 'world war' - the impact on this country in terms of death is worse than the Blitz was. A lot of people have had loved ones taken before their time and much of the rest of us have endured months of separation, along with continuing uncertainty.

We are all going to need a lot of help to recovery psychologically from all this. Physical help will also be needed for all those with "long Covid" when it's seriously long-term as opposed to a few months of smell and taste problems.

I seriously do not want another lockdown as long as I live.

14 February 2021

Coronavirus #25 - Ending restrictions

Many of us, after eleven months of restrictions on our daily lives due to this pandemic are getting impatient for an end to it all. I know I am; video meetings and home working have completely lost their appeal. Masks are unpleasant and rob people of their humanity; I appreciate their necessity and do wear one, but I can't say I like it.

Ultimately an end to restrictions should be governed by the science - and that's all the science. Not just epidemiology, but mental health, behavioural science and the economy. These necessary restrictions to protect the NHS and save lives should last as long as needed - and no longer.

We will likely not be able to eliminate Covid-19 entirely, so restrictions should be minimised once the most vulnerable are vaccinated. We should still keep a wary eye out for mutations, but the media should not inflate every mutation to being a vaccine beater when they almost certainly won't be. The newspapers have a lot to answer for their role in causing fear during this pandemic.

I look forward to this being a bad memory.

30 January 2021

'The Investigation'

I can highly recommend this excellent dramatization of the investigation into the murder of Kim Wall, available in full on iPlayer. In particular, not featuring the murderer at all, even by name, deprives him of the oxygen of publicity and puts the spotlight where it firmly belongs, Kim Wall herself.


It's well worth four and a half hours of your time; I would definitely want to see more of this.

27 January 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Today we remember the victims of all genocides. This includes the possible one against the Uighurs by China, where they are at least trying to destroy their culture and may be engaging in mass sterilisation. The international community needs to take action here.

Let us all work together for a world free of hate and prejudice.

17 January 2021

Donald Trump's last trump

In just under three days' time, Donald Trump will cease to be President of the United States, after a term of utter failure. He has been even worse than feared for the country, with his mishandling of the pandemic resulting in the worse mass death in the US in a single year since its creation.

And he topped it off with basically inciting an insurrection by refusing to accept that he had lost and claiming voter fraud with no actual evidence. His second impeachment is right and he should be investigated criminally in connection with this.

Good riddance.

12 January 2021

Coronavirus #24: Enter the vaccines

There are signs of us turning the tide in this pandemic; the recent data on numbers of new cases is suggesting that they are starting to drop and Tier 4/lockdown has been having an effect.

The reason that is arguably not having as much of an effect is that we're facing increasing non-compliance with restrictions from a significant minority of society, who are happily bending or outright breaking the rules. Some of this is down to outright exhaustion with all the rules that for many don't seem to make a huge amount of sense, arbitrary enforced and broken by the so-called great and good. For others, it's belief in dangerous conspiracy theories and misinformation, while others are just selfish.

Ultimately, the vaccine rollout is the best way of getting out of this situation; with around 2.5 million having had their first dose as of time of writing. We may well get a million jabs done this week and every one will help, especially if it does indeed stop transmission. We need to go even faster; three million a week should be our goal.

But we still have a difficult few weeks ahead of us - the NHS remains under great strain with around 35,000 hospitalised with Covid-19 and around 750 deaths a day.

So, people need to heed the restrictions and avoid unnecessary social contact, wear a mask etc. It will keep the numbers of people who get this before they can be vaccinated down and so save many more lives.


03 January 2021

Doctor Who: "Revolution of the Daleks"

It's been ten months since the last televised episode of Doctor Who and a lot has happened since then. In fact, the controversial "The Timeless Children" aired on 1 March, a few weeks before things got really bad Covid-wise.

This episode was in fact filmed with Series 12 before lockdown, which means that the large crowd scenes filmed were done when we didn't have to worry about that sort of thing... However, aside from the editing, this also means that it reflects the quality and experience of that Series.

(Some spoilers ahead)

The Daleks have been heavily used throughout the show's history, arguably overused and it's getting somewhat difficult to find new stories to tell with them... so, credit to Chris Chibnall for something involving humans exploiting Dalek technology. In fact, it might have been even better without any actual Daleks. The actual Daleks were a bit on the dumb side, but frankly they generally are these days.

The story itself is a decent one, holding my attention for 70 minutes, although it isn't one that I'd likely return to again and again. 

Jodie Whittaker does a great job as the Doctor, engaging in a subtle and nuanced performance with some nice quirks of humour, like using Harry Potter as a bedtime story to herself. She's got no plans to go after Series 13 - at present - and I am glad she is sticking around.

Yaz is underwritten here and with the departure of her two other companions, hopefully she will have more to do here. Mandeep Gill does her best with the limited material and acts as a great foil to Captain Jack.

Graham and Ryan get a good send-off, with the possibility of Big Finish audios being set up. Bradley Walsh was a brilliant addition to the TARDIS in particular and I wish Tosin Cole well in his future endeavours.

Captain Jack is always worth the price of admission and John Barrowman has the part down pat - it's very much him playing himself - with some great call backs to past adventures. In fact, the whole alien prison sequence was great and could have easily justified an episode in its own right.

Robertson... wasn't hugely keen on having him back in the first place and wouldn't be overly keen on having him back for a second time, but he was suitably slimy. Got to hang some good lampshades on things too.

The self-serving government minister... well in the light of some stuff that's been going on, that seems pretty plausible.

Conclusion

By no means a classic, but definitely an enjoyable festive episode. Shame we're only getting eight episodes this year because of the pandemic...

8/10

02 January 2021

Coronavirus #23 - Real pressure on the NHS

New records are now being recorded frequently for detected coronavirus cases in the UK and while we are possibly not at the real levels of infection that we had in the first wave, we are definitely heading that way. Even Tier 4 and the schools currently being closed - they should not go back at all on Monday - does not seem to be keeping R below one. A significant minority have stopped complying with the rules and the more infectious strain is making things harder.

The NHS is now under real pressure and it may well end up overloaded at least on a regional level. The only way we can reduce the hospitalisations and deaths now is to vaccinate as fast as possible.

01 January 2021

Welcome to 2021

Well, that was one horror show of a year. No firm plans for 2021, but when we can start freely travelling again, I may well be doing some bits on train types I haven't been on before.

Also, expect a Doctor Who review at some point this week. Might as well...

I just want this pandemic to end... I think everyone does.

Stay safe; don't become a victim before your vaccine.