From it’s very inception, Star Trek: Picard has gone where no Star Trek has gone before. Gone are the days of a Starfleet crew on a voyage of discovery, and instead the series is more akin to any other serial drama you might see on TV, but which happens to be set within the Trek universe. As its name would suggest, Picard is centred on a singular character rather than a whole crew, and while it does focus on those around him as well, it does so to further his story as much as their own.
And with a new breed of series comes a new breed of tie-in. Although, like those of Discovery before it, ‘The Last Best Hope’ was written specifically in collaboration with the show’s writers, this is the first to be written for a Trek series with such a singular narrative. While in some ways this focus has been a breath of fresh air for Trek on TV, in the medium of the tie-in novel this takes some getting used to.
Like Starfleet, transmedia works best when it is out there exploring the fringes of what we know. In their long and varied history Star Trek novels have adapted onscreen adventures, given us brand new ones, and continued the lives of characters we love when they no longer graced our screens (something which Picard may retcon, but can never replace); even Discovery‘s novels gave us the backstories of its characters in a variety of original novels with varying links to established canon. Not so with Picard.
Yes, we are given the story of the events which set the scene for Picard, but by accompanying a show with such a narrow scope, ‘LBH’ is less an original novel in the vein of ‘The Way To The Stars’ or even ‘Drastic Measures’ (which also tells the story of pre-established events), but more about simply getting us from A to B.
Its fair to say that the novel’s biggest drawbacks are those which link it to the series itself (or at least what we have seen of it so far). Here we also get enough of a glimpse of B-4 to illustrate Data’s loss, but which also leaves other questions unanswered. If Nemesis isn’t being ignored, then where are the Remans? Likewise why did no-one suggest the use of holograms instead of developing synths? While it’s obvious and understandable that certain elements have been ommited for the sake of the narrative, for a show so deeply invested in what has come before it seems odd that it has either forgotten, or does not care, about so much of the Lore.
But while the premise itself may be constrictive, author Una McCormack has taken the novel and undeniably added her own unique, and engaging stamp on this new corner of the Star Trek universe.
As always, her prose is fantastic and the way in which she is able to set each scene through the descriptions she uses is second to none. Having been (rightfully) entrusted with the redevelopment of Cardassia after the events of Deep Space Nine, here McCormack brings those skills to the fate of Romulus in a way that no one else could do justice. The duplicity of the Tal Shiar is at the same time both unthinkable and entirely believable, whilst McCormack herself slips in what has to be a reference to Salisbury Cathedral in a way that would surely make Garak proud.
She also goes above and beyond the general standard of the central Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations concept, and while on-screen Trek may only just be catching up to the novels’ decades worth of LGBT representation, here McCormack specifically addresses the use of “visual tagging for sign users” alongside universal translators during the symposium as well.
And this is where the novel beats the series (so far at least), in that even if the narrative is tied, it still stretches out and explores in anyway it can. Using the veil of sci-fi as “a human way of telling certain truths”, McCormack has also written a novel which expertly captures the current climate of #fakenews and deniers in a way which would be entertaining were it not so applicable: the Tal Shiar’s handling of Nokrim Vritet is essentially just as blunt, but no more more forceful or less effective than today’s media headlines. Had it not happened just two months ago, you could have sworn this book was written in direct response to the recent UK election as much as the atmosphere of Brexit Britain and Trump’s America in general.
But it is also this relatability through which McCormack tells a story about the collective culture and individuality of the race that Picard is trying to save. Despite the inclusion of Starfleet’s top brass and even the Federation Council, it is through the eyes of the more down to Earth Vritet and Amal Safadi that we discover the truths (and untruths) about the galactic politics between the Federation and Romulan Empire, and yet despite being burdened with exposition they never come across as anything less than the most fully rounded and relatable characters.
Likewise Koli Jocan brilliantly shouldering the weight that takes its toll on the whole crew, and alongside others such as Olivia Quest, McCormack has given us brand new characters which will leave the series somewhat lacking without their presence, while the introduction of Elnor and the Qowat Milat teases even more to look forward to.
Meanwhile those we have already seen on-screen may not be instantly recognisable at first, but complete their respective journeys impeccably. Agnes Jurati is brought into the story in a way which is sweet but never too flowery, and while it would have been nice to have seen more of Raffi’s family dynamic perhaps, her story is told with an emotional core we can only hope the series lives up to.
In many ways, ‘The Last Best Hope’ is a novel which depicts the mission to evacuate Nine Hundred Million Romulans in the only way it could ever be depicted: while the commitment of so much to a single objective may not be to everyone’s liking, the way it’s handled is exemplary. Like Jean-Luc Picard, Una McCormack has given it everything she can, and filled it with heart.
When Doctor Who ended with nothing so much as a hastily added speech about how much of the universe was left to explore back in 1989, questions were left unanswered about the fate of the Doctor and his companion, Ace. Naturally our favourite Time Lord regenerated back onto our TV screens, once in 1996 and then again more permanently in 2005, but the continuing adventures of Ace were relegated to the realms of the transmedia tie-ins, such as comic strips, novels, and audio adventures.
I say relegated, these are media which often fail to get the acknowledgement they deserve, not least for the fact that had they not kept the flame alive during the Wilderness Years, Doctor Who itself may never have returned to our screens, at least not in such the successful way which we have come to know and love.
And it is in these media that the fate of Ace was given its full potential, so much so that it all ended up a bit too wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey with the not officially canonical adventures going on to overlap and contradict each other. While most saw Ace continue to travel with the Doctor, some eventually saw her leave to return to what was left of her life on Earth, while others saw her attend and add her own distinctiveness to the Time Lord Academy itself, which was the planned outcome had the TV series continued. Needless to say head-canon is a big thing in determining what did and didn’t happen to Ace. Even the Big Finish audio range, which has featured Ace in continuing adventures, tales of the Time War, and even one appearance in their series based on Doctor Who spin-off Class, hasn’t been above the tried and tested Amnesia/Memory Wipe trope to try and accommodate such a changing rostra of possible, and contradicted outcomes.
Unambiguously returning to the role which has been at the hearts of the biggest mystery within the Doctor Who universe however, with “At Childhood’s End” Sophie Aldred has given us perhaps the closest we’ll get to the definitive answer. The closest we had ever been given to an “official” answer to Ace’s fate came in a single fleeting reference from former companion and spin-off helmer Sarah-Jane Smith, who once mentioned a Dorothy who was heading up the philanthropic organisation A Charitable Earth. As far as references that leave some wiggle room for future extrapolation go, this one was fairly conclusive, although Aldred was quoted as only believing this would be the case if the organisation was nothing more than a front for Doctor Who’s long standing protectors of the Earth, UNIT.
The idea of this charity is something which was expanded on in the trailer for the Season 26 Blu-Ray Boxset, known as ‘Ace Returns!’, which saw her wait for the Doctor finally come to an end with a familiar looking umbrella handle knocking on the door. Although, as always, the fact it’s a trailer and not an “official” adventure once more muddies the canonical waters.
Regardless of which, this is where “At Childhood’s End” enters the pantheon of Doctor Who storytelling. Picking up where The Sarah-Jane Adventures left off, the novel sees an older and wiser, but still just as determined, Dorothy as the CEO of an organisation with one purpose which is to help those in need. Any idea of it being a front for UNIT is just as mothballed as the organisation itself within the new TV continuity, although even this is handled in a way which shows such a believably accurate portrayal of a character who we first saw over 30 years ago.
What entails is a story so much more than the sum of its parts, one which succinctly weaves together not just Ace’s departure from, but also the origins of her travels with her Professor, a belated reunion with a Doctor who’s now at twice their incarnations since Ace last saw her, all tied together in an original adventure for the incumbent Team TARDIS.
The main part of the action takes place on, or around, modern day Earth. When lost and homeless children are going missing from the streets of London, including Perivale no less, there’s obviously no coincidence when an alien ship is discovered in orbit around the moon. Naturally Dorothy is one to investigate, with help from a former astronaut boyfriend, and something of her own companion which is (almost a little too) more convenient than the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.
Though the book does start off a little rough with the prose itself a little clunky, its conviction in name dropping all the different areas of Ace’s journey through London may as well have just been transcribing a Sat Nav, but these missteps are soon left behind. The fact that the book itself seamlessly switches from referring to Dorothy as Ace along with the other characters is just one way which shows you how nothing can stop the story from letting you go once it’s Time Stormed you in on its wild ride.
The narrative itself is more than worthy of the TV episodes it is supplementing, while the written word allows for the perfect depiction of alien races that could never be sufficiently realised on screen. The characterisations of the current Doctor and companions are spot on, though it’s Yaz who shines as she ponders the effects that travelling with the Doctor has on her own life as much as Ace’s.
The main narrative is also intercut with flashbacks to what we eventually discover is Ace’s final adventure during her TARDIS heydays, and the reason for her split with the Doctor. Something the publication of the novel promised to touch on, this is just the beginning of answering the question of what happened next, and which does touch on all the various outcomes that we have seen over the past thirty years. Aldred herself stated that “I thought it’d be really good to explore how that could be, and, without giving it away, I hope we’ve done that” and it’s safe to say that she, along with co-writers Stephen Cole and Mike Tucker, have succeeded spectacularly.
With the main narrative linking into the events of the final TV serial “Survival”, the flashbacks carry them on thematically with the Doctor’s manipulations of Ace and her destiny finally coming to a head. While the specific dating of these as taking place in 1990 may not leave much room for the continuing adventures as told by Big Finish, etc, the revelations we find on the Astingir planet leave no other stone unturned.
The events that lead up to Ace leaving the Doctor are a natural extension to the direction their relationship was taking before the series was cancelled, and in book designed to answer all the possibilities, the fateful line of “Professor, this is the day we say goodbye” is perhaps the only conclusion that could ever have been reached. But even when this particular question has finally been answered, everything else, all the possibilities of exactly where and when that goodbye took place are still out there somewhere.
While the events of the novel naturally contradict some previously defined specifics, this is nothing which shouldn’t be expected considering the not-officially-canon-continuity of the character stretching back three decades, but it’s the way in which it keeps the doors open to so many of the wider brush strokes of Ace’s intervening years which is where its genius lies.
At the end of her time with her Professor we see Ace herself see all the possible futures that lay ahead of her. Much like the fate of the Wraiths she saw what the outcome of all the possible futures would be, that the ultimate outcome of anything but peace was just more and more fighting, but would this apply to an individual as much as it would to an entire race?
And that’s the thing with timey-wimey science fiction like Doctor Who, the fact that there is no definitive answer is perhaps the only definitive answer there can ever be.
Which future did Ace decide? Could all of them happen anyway? Does her past even matter if she’s still got future adventures to look forward to?
The only answer that matters, is the one that we decide for ourselves.
Just like Judgement Day itself, it seems that no matter what gets in its way nothing can stop new incarnations of the Terminator franchise from being unleashed onto the world. Unlike the previous three feature films however, original creator James Cameron chose to keep up with the Connors himself this time round, taking on the mantles of producer, writer, and creative consultant to keep a closer eye on things. Apparently he learnt his lesson after having previously showered Terminator Genisys with applause all the way until critics and audiences perhaps more wisely decided not to.
But while picking up the pieces from where he left off after 1991’s T2: Judgement Day may be one thing, right from the start Terminator: Dark Fate shows that piecing them back together in the same way isn’t quite what you’d expect. In a film where the old and the new collide it isn’t long before the new takes over, albeit in a very familiar way. The arrival of time travellers in a Terminator film is hardly something to be called “exposition” anymore, although at least this time round the build up to the all too recognisable concept is given a welcomed sense of added tension for those who didn’t grow up with previous instalments. Likewise the fall from Grace and acrobatic swiftness of the travellers themselves let you immediately know who’s who, and the film doesn’t let off from there.
Like being chased by a Terminator itself, naturally the first set piece isn’t far behind the arrivals and it’s immediately obvious that even though Dark Fate may have ignored more previous films than it follows in terms of narrative, it still has to take note of Genisys, Salvation, and even Rise of the Machines, in terms of escalation. Initially it seems as though they just went too much bang for their buck and didn’t even bother hiding the ‘just another cash in’ attempt, likewise there’s not much more you can do with John Connor after becoming a Terminator himself, and it does take a while for Dark Fate‘s bold new direction to pay off.
Given time though, once the adrenaline has worn off the film’s true colours do begin to shine through. Linda Hamilton returns as an older and wiser – albeit scarred – Sarah Connor just like an old friend, in much the same way that John Connor being portrayed once more by Edward Furlong immediately makes you wonder why you accepted any others.
It also takes a while for the full impact of this latest Terminator’s presence as a new threat for a new era to be fully realised, although this is something which Dark Fate shows no attempt at trying to hide as the film progresses. Perhaps the only time the film pulls less punches than its connection between a Terminator’s watchful eye and that of an airborne drone is its portrayal of US/Mexican relations.
But while this may be a Terminator headed in a new direction through a present that is all too familiar, it is also one which is heading for the same destination as its predecessors. “Cyberdyne” and “Skynet” may have been stopped, but the future which replaces them is identical in all but name and so Dark Fate wisely takes this as read and focuses on the characters it has forged instead. And while fresher faces may be given their fair share of chances to shine, like everything else its all about the past as much as the future.
It’s no spoiler to say that Arnie’s role becomes obvious as soon as it’s signposted long before he makes his appearance, although like so much else within the film’s 2hr 8min runtime, this is played for its emotional impact on its characters, knowing as it does that trying to surprise its audience is often the other side of pointless. Meanwhile Sarah can’t help but see herself in Dani (Natalia Reyes), this new future’s chosen target, a similarity which allows herself to be a greater mentor than human+ saviour Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and continues the role of protector that is the hand she was dealt after the events of Cameron’s 1984 original.
The adoption of Dani and Grace into the Connor family unit continues the Terminator tradition of saving the world as a by-product of saving the ones you love, and the fact that this time it is done so by a group in which white men are the minority and older women kick just as much ass as their younger counterparts also takes deliberate aim at the path that modern Hollywood and and the current political climate has been taking as much as the technological one.
As its title would suggest, the concept of fate – or at least the idea that there is none but that which we make for ourselves – is also one which runs throughout the film. Something which it handles with not much subtlety, but remarkably well for a narrative which relies on predeterminism for its very existence.
Even for a formulaic series Dark Fate stands out as much as a remake as a sequel, but like 2009’s Star Trek is at least able to use its time travel standings to simultaneously continue the very same story it’s retelling. As part three of this franchise’s latest (and hopefully final) attempt at a cohesive cinematic narrative beyond Judgement Day, Terminator: Dark Fate is one that brings together ideas from the past and projects them towards the future. And there’s no time like the present.
This week I was finally able to book tickets to go and see one of my favourite stand up comedians, Sara Pascoe. To help explain how much I’m looking forward to seeing her live as part of her LadsLadsLads tour in November, I’ll be spending four months over the summer backpacking coast to coast across Canada, and still can’t wait.
Although hers will be the fourth live stand-up tour I will have been to after Ross Noble, Jon Richardson, and Jasper Carrott, I figured I’d put down in words why I’m looking forward to Sara Pascoe in particular.
Firstly, while she herself questions the notion of being labelled a “female comedian”, her gender is still relevant. The comedy circuit may not be unique in being a male dominated field, but with shows such as Mock the Week and Would I Lie To You often featuring a 6 to 1 male/female ratio, it is certainly one with a wider discrepancy than most.
Although Sara is not the only woman to have done so, the act of taking her place amongst the best in an arena which prioritizes men above women even more so than many others, to say nothing of the obstacles and even harassment that her male peers don’t face, shows what she has striven through, and is something that should be recognised (as it should for all women in male dominated industries).
As someone whose geographical location also limits the number of comedians I am able to go and see live, and who considers smashing the patriarchy from the inside as “fighting the good fight”, more than just being able to support a “female comedian” the fact I will be able to redress my own still otherwise skewed ratio is also something which gives this particular show an edge over the others.
In addition to this is the fact that as well as (perhaps in spite of) this, she has also strived to improve working conditions for up and coming comedians, and worked towards forming a union with the aim of helping those lower down the ladder of success for whom not being paid/unable to work through no fault of their own may have much greater consequences. A little known fact, but something which should give her more respect than she may otherwise receive.
As is perhaps unsurprising the content of her stand up routines themselves also played a large part in why I booked tickets for her latest tour. As a stand up comedian she has appeared in several TV shows including three stints on Live at the Apollo, and throughout these her routines have often made jokes that deal with gender, feminism, and ideas surrounding body image.
Her sets brim with satirical ideas that engage people well beyond just laughing at the funnies. Not only does this make her material more memorable, but also elevates it (at least according to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s definition) from entertainment into an art form which challenges people’s worldviews. She may not have been the first to discuss women’s magazines, but her ‘solution’ of having Page 3 adopt a jury duty style nomination system adds to conversations and debates surrounding the objectification of women which continues outside the comedy arena.
Although I have nothing against the observational comedy which sees the likes of Peter Kay making mass audiences laugh merely at everyday situations, to me it is those such as Pascoe who can add intelligence and more substance to their humour, and by doing so make the most of comedy’s potential, of which I am a particular fan.
More than just during her satirical routines however, she has also utilised this intelligence during her appearances on shows such as The Last Leg, and is something which is exemplified by her latest project, The Modern Monkey. A series of half-hour routines/lectures, it examines how evolutionary psychology explains modern behaviour in terms of what was necessary for our simian ancestors’ survival. It is series such as these which live up to the founding principles of the BBC itself and are produced “to educate, inform and entertain”; in essence, the sole reason for paying a TV licence even though it was made for the radio.
With each episode she examines a different concept (murder, jealousy, territory, and charity) by explaining her obviously thorough research using examples from her own life. Something which continues on from her book, Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, in which she not only makes hardcore science relatable, but which also includes the kind of searing honesty that makes it her most personal work.
More than just being the work of a sole author than a member of a panel, Animal delves into Pascoe’s own experiences of topics covering a wide spectrum of sex and relationships, including evolution (both biological and psychological), body image, and consent. Again, Pascoe is far from the first to have done this, but Animal stands out above the others from the best ever answer to the question ‘What is normal?’ – “a concept formed by averages but it changes with education and tolerance” – to the controversial topic of abortion which she discusses unashamedly via her own pregnancy as a teenager.
Throughout her comedy, regardless of medium, she infuses her work with honesty I can’t help by envy, is knowledgable enough to examine ideas with authority yet modest enough to never be condescending, but above all is passionate in her beliefs that makes her audience not just hear, but really listen to what she has to say. The fact that many of these are opinions and ideas I either already agree with or am fascinated to learn more about is just the cherry on top.
As if it doesn’t need mentioning, this blog post is also just a summary of some of her work, and which doesn’t even touch on her acting career which includes the celebrated Twenty Twelve & W1A and the obscure The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, to her stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
In essence, Sara Pascoe represents the polar opposite of (and solution to) that which I most dislike about the current entertainment industry, so-called “reality” TV. As much as we all need entertaining when we relax/veg out, you can still do this while appreciating something that talented creators have crafted and laboured over, rather than an ever-increasing number of clone series idolising those who have achieved next to nothing in terms of earning their right to be famous, and/or talent competitions which exploit contestants solely for their own gain and spit them back out again when they’re no longer profitable.
Throughout her career, whether as a stand up comedian, author, actor, or even playwright, Sara Pascoe proves there are better ways that Essex girls can be than the only one modern entertainment presents us with.
After years of waiting season one of Star Trek: Discovery has finally been broadcast (or rather made available to stream) in its entirety. The first Star Trek adventures to hit the small screen since the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, fans were excited not just to see Trek back where it belongs but also to how it would have evolved after its absence, especially in the wake of the likes of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica.
The result was a series which was full of action, drama, suspense, even a little humour, and to quote Cadet Sylvia Tilly was just “so fucking cool”. As with the best of Trek before it Discovery also dealt with important and contemporary humanitarian themes, in this case the rise and consequences of nationalism. Something which is obviously designed to resonate with the current climate of Trump and Brexit, yet was metaphorical enough to be subtle in its comparisons.
At its heart it was also a very human(oid) story which put the emphasis on characters above all else. A choice I can only applaud it for and was at the heart of its success, but which also came with its own complications. Although it is hardly the first season of any show to take its time finding its feet, this is just one way in which the series suffered from its over reliance on misdirection.
The series’ delight in its playing with the audience’s expectations began right from the very beginning when the title of the first episode ‘The Vulcan Hello’ was announced. Ostensibly referring to the celebrated greeting which has transcended its way into pop-culture lexicon, “Live Long and Prosper”, but it in fact translates to what is essentially “go in all guns blazing”, the polar opposite of a race so peaceful they’ve adopted vegetarianism as one of their commandments.
Although this is one example of many which worked by taking something so established into an unexpected direction and fitting in with the narrative of the episode, others were not as succesful. In fact there are several which aren’t simply because they fall into the category of just being one too many.
When used correctly, misdirection can be one of the most powerful tools in a creative arsenal, something superbly exemplified by Metal Gear Solid 2. One the most highly anticipated games ever when it was released on the Playstation 2 back in 2001, the advertising campaign focused on two main elements. The first was that of the gameplay, and how the technology had progressed even since the release of the original Metal Gear Solid in 1998. Three years and an updated console later and an impressive nine minute cinematic trailer teased the literally game changing ways in which characters interacted with elements such as rain and shadows, and could shoot even the smallest of elements, including individual light bulbs to hamper the enemies’ vision.
The second was of course the main character of Solid Snake. The protagonist of the games predecessor, Snake was a military veteran who, thanks to being a clone of another veteran, was quite literally born to undertake this kind of stealthy yet action-oriented mission. Having already established the importance emphasised on narrative as much as gameplay in the first game, this series (which now comprises five main, and countless spin-off titles) is one which has created an entire world with complex characters, of which Snake is an integral part.
When players finally had their hands on MGS2 however, after completing the short opening chapter they were dumbfounded when they discovered that the majority of the game took place in a completely different environment and were now controlling a brand new never seen before character, the naive rookie known as Raiden. Not only had the advertising campaign been almost exclusively taken from this initial chapter, but the nine minute trailer actually conveys its entire narrative (Snake infiltrates a tanker which is also boarded by a special ops team betrayed by Revolver Ocelot who destroys said tanker in the process of stealing the Metal Gear) to the point that if you’ve seen it you wouldn’t actually need to play this opening in order to understand the whole/main story.
Despite everything the game had done in terms of its technological and world-building leaps, this instantaneous almost 180 degree flip is still one of the games most defining moments. Gamers expectations were completely cast aside as they had to reimmerse themselves in what the series creator Hideo Kojima later revealed to be a more thorough examination of Solid Snake by forcing the player to view him (he continued to appear occasionally throughout as a non-playable character) from a different perspective. The rug had well and truly been swept out from under them, and everything from here on in was completely new.
Obviously times have changed since this trailer was given away as a magazine freebie on VHS and this level of secrecy would be virtually impossible in the current age of social media and spoiler alerts, but even taking this into consideration the fact that Discovery went through so many minor changes during its run resulted in a drawn out period of confusion and continued adjustment so that even several episodes in the viewer is still not fully up to speed with what is happening.
The series began with the unconventional ‘The Vulcan Hello’/’Battle at the Binary Stars’ which were more of a two-part prologue than pilot. Like MGS2 it was from these episodes which the bulk of the trailer footage had come from, even though keen fans would already be aware that despite Discovery continuing in the tradition of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise and take place on a ship (or station) bearing the same name as the series, these first two episodes focused on the USS Shenzhou instead.
By knowing that the Shenzhou would not be what is often refered to as the “hero ship” of the series, the fact it was abandoned by the end of ‘Battle’ came as no surprise. The death of T’Kuvma however, someone billed beforehand as a Klingon leader, would have his own comic miniseries – written in conjunction with the writers of the TV series itself – and even instigated the events of an interstellar war, was unexpected.
(Again, this is something comparable to MGS2 in that T’Kuvma and his ideals are discussed from an outside perspective, but are done so all too infrequently.)
So in addition to the series’ main character having been sentenced to life imprisonment, by the start of the ironically titled ‘Context Is For Kings’ rather than a big single change the audience know they are yet to be introduced to the majority of the regular cast whilst at the same time now trying to figure out how much of what they had essentiality been ‘promised’ from the advertising campaign would still feature.
Prior to its initial broadcast, the build up promised that the show would be set during the war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire which was alluded to in The Original Series, and even included distributing cast announcements and promotional material relating to the Klingons, such as T’Kuvma, as much as those to the latest crew of Starfleet’s finest. Watching through the series itself however, and it becomes obvious there is a difference between Discovery being ‘set’ in, and ‘about’ The Klingon war.
Somewhat surprisingly in this day and age of almost exclusively serialised storytelling, the pilot and finale episodes of Discovery may revolve around the instigation and ending of the war to bookend the season, but by weaving a tale in which the Discovery characters will change and grow through their experiences of love and loss however, for the majority of its run the Klingon war is little more than a McGuffin.
Ash Tyler’s true identity as the Klingon Voq was predicted long before its ‘shock’ plot twist reveal, although where many would have expected the sleeper agent to play a significant role in major galactic events (something which had previously been seen with Arne Darvin in both TOS and DS9), instead the repercussions of his true existence only served to affect the crew of the Discovery; namely his murder of Dr. Hugh Culber, and in his relationship with Michael Burnham.
As mentioned before, this is a choice I admire and respect, but is also something which they could/should have made more of rather than sharing its screentime alongside the reveal of ‘Captain’ Lorca’s true origins which may not have been as predictable, but like the entire mirror universe arc was only linked to the rest of the season thematically, and its inclusion added to Discovery‘s restlessness.
Had this particular twist have waited until season two it would not only have had a bigger impact by receiving the full attention it deserved, but also by playing the long game Lorca would have had time to become more of an established character. In addition many saw the seeds in earlier episodes as Trek casting its spotlight on the serious issues surrounding the consequences of war such as PTSD, which also caused disappointment when it became obvious they were sewn for nothing more serious than yet another narrative curveball.
All of which make up for a season of science fiction television which takes far too long to find its feet before suffering from an overambitious desire of filling its episodes with too much too fast. Much like Dollhouse it’s almost as though the second half of the season was made in certain knowledge it would be cancelled immediately, with more than one episode setting up the next reveal before it’s finished exploring (or even completely ignoring) the repercussions of last.
Although each of the individual arcs which run throughout the season all make for fascinating viewing, hopefully so many different threads each vying for the title of biggest misdirection is a lesson Star Trek: Discovery can learn from in later seasons.
Spoken over a starscape of a sun, planet, and two bodies floating towards us, thus begins the latest episode of that classic 60’s sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Expanding on it’s Star Trek allusion however, it goes on to explain that space is “Final, because it wants to kill us.”
Also echoing 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wallace & Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers, “Oxygen” sees the Doctor taking new companion Bill on her first trip to outerspace as opposed to another planet, answering a distress call coming from a mining station owned by Ganymede Systems. With Nardole in tow, they find themselves in yet another life or death situation – only her fifth episode and yet Bill has already learned all she needs to know about the Doctor’s reactions to imminent death – and one which is broadcast at time which couldn’t be more apt.
For me, season 10 has come as a pleasant surprise. After what I considered to be a dreadful Superman rehash in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, “The Pilot” offered a glimmer of hope that maybe all wasn’t lost before Steven Moffat’s overdue handing over of the showrunner reins. Despite news of his own decision to leave the show which prompted speculation of his replacement, for the first time Peter Capaldi felt like the established Doctor rather than just the new Doctor who had only recently taken over from his predecessor.
As much as I have admired his performance as the 12th Doctor, I feel as though he has been let down by too many episodes which didn’t give him enough to make the most of his time in the role. Yes there have been some stand out moments, the Doctor’s “sit down and talk” speech is an absolute highlight of Doctor Who as a whole, but these have by far been the exception rather than the rule.
Bill’s questioning of everything from the Doctor’s Tardis to his morality is a welcome addition from a more than worthy new companion and has lead to some of the season’s most comical, and also most dramatic moments. The inclusion of Nardole as the Doctor’s very own Jiminy Cricket also adds to the show, albeit at the expense of Matt Lucas who – like Catherine Tate before him – plays a character with a great concept almost exactly the same as every other character throughout his career.
Although I must admit I have been iplayering them rather than making a Saturday night appointment like previous years, even Lucas and the small blip that was the second half of “Knock Knock” haven’t stopped season 10 from being a collection of great episodes.
“Oxygen” is no different, and perhaps the best to date. Far from the only time Doctor Who has placed emphasis on compassion, respect, and the value of a human (or alien) life, it is perhaps the most pertinent. In the run up to the UK’s general election, it is also perhaps the most widely reaching anti-Conservative party political broadcast of all time.
The episode is written as an unashamed morality play against the excesses of capitalism, depicting a futuristic dystopian vision where even the air we breathe is considered a commodity to be marketed: making the whole metric/imperial argument somewhat redundant, units of distance on a map are shown in average breaths.
While most dystopian futures are written as an allegory for contemporary societies, “Oxygen” has the unfortunate honour of being broadcast at a time when the targets of its metaphors are in fact already reality. The inevitable point of the episode when the Doctor realises the true nature of the threat comes when, faced with imminent death quite literally by the trappings of capitalism, Bill comments on the absurdity of being “fined for dying”.
Rather than the fully automated space suits killing their occupants due to being hacked as initially believed (another remarkable quirk of timing in regards to the recent cyber attacks on the NHS), it readily becomes apparent that their current threat, not to mention the previous cause of death for 36 miners, is in fact a conscious decision made by the corporation that considers workers who aren’t meeting work quotas as a waste of resources.
It would seem that the present here and now is as much an ideal setting for “the endpoint of capitalism, a bottom line where human life has no value at all” as any imagined far future.
Even were this not the case over here, the fact that “Oxygen” was written before businessman Donald Trump’s US election victory but broadcast after his repeal of Obamacare is equally as alarming. Something which considers pregnancy and even domestic violence as pre-existing conditions which insurers all to often refuse to cover, surely even writer Jamie Mathieson cannot deny that the future always comes upon us quicker than we realise.
Having saved the lives of two survivors however, the Doctor drops them off at their “Head Office”, afterwards informing Bill that “six months later, corporate dominance in space is history, and that about wraps it for capitalists … then the human race finds a whole new mistake”: with the benefit of hindsight, something which could also be taken as an analogy for Labour’s constant infighting hardly making them a perfect choice for government either.
But whether it’s from space miners facing the ultimate redundancy, or an impassioned plea based on real life experience entitled “This is how the Tory disability assessments are killing people“, if we take one thing from “Oxygen” regardless of when it is set or even when it was written then it’s surely the Doctor’s thoughts on answering a distress call:
“The universe shows its true face when it asks for help, we show ours by how we respond.”
Something for the UK to think about on the 8th June….
The latest Star Trek novel to be released is the much antcipated Control, by David Mack. It continues Dr. Julian Bashir’s arc of taking down the United Federation of Planets’ ruthless, self appointed, and self professed “protection” service, Section 31, which began back in Deep Space Nine‘s sixth season.
As with the best of Trek, Control is a story that is as much about our present as it is the future, and is highly influenced by today’s ever pervasive atmosphere of surveillance, hacking, and Snooper’s Charters. At Section 31’s centre is the titular Control; no doubt a nod to Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but the enigmatic leader of 31’s name also comes as a prophetic warning.
Here is an artificial intelligence that is as much a calculating dictator as it is the basic operating system of the entire Federation: making decisions on behalf of the ‘inferior’ citizens it protects, it does so by crunching the astronomical numbers gleaned from starship sensors, to an individual’s replicator habits. As any half decent Vulcan would applaud, it deems that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but it is doubtful there are any who would consider the few as completely expendable in a fashion as merciless as Control.
Through frequent flashbacks to the 22nd Century we are given the backstory of a relatively simple computer code designed to recognise potential threats (via the means of the unchecked surveillance which we in the 21st are becoming alarmingly aware) and inform law enforcement as appropriate. On one hand it is certainly an interesting concept, and the fact that it spans every single piece of technology of an entire interstellar superpower is fully warranted in order to fully grasp the analogy of interlinked handheld and camera/microphone equipped computers that are literally lining the pockets of our own civilisation.
As an independent piece of science fiction (it’s not like something so accurate can be described as speculative fiction) it would have been a fascinating thriller. In fact for all it’s derivation from its source material, 2004’s i, Robot was at least a blockbuster with some similarly interesting philosophy behind it. But Control isn’t an independent piece of science fiction.
It’s an official piece of Star Trek fiction. And that’s where the problem lies…
Author David Mack has been writing Star Trek prose for well over fifteen years, having previously co-written the screenplay and story for the DS9 episodes Starship Down and It’s Only A Paper Moon respectively. Novel-wise he is perhaps best known for Star Trek: Destiny, a centuries spanning epic in which the Borg learns that resistence is far from futile and their reign of terror is finally brought to end, albeit not without a fight.
On a more personal note, Mack has also written some of my favourite Trek novels, including the previous Bashir/Section 31 adventure Zero Sum Game, and the destruction of the USS Bombay within the pages of Star Trek: Vanguard‘s Harbinger is one of the most touching events I’ve read in any book, Star Trek or otherwise.
Thanks to its far reaching consequences, Destiny heralded a new era for Star Trek novels and showed that the post televisual relaunch had well and truly set its own course in the stories it would tell, and praise was rightfully lauded everywhere in its general direction.
His next trilogy, the Next Generation specific Cold Equations also ended on a high after the Enterprise crew had literally saved the entire galaxy. Despite so much hanging in the balance, the tale wove together established Trek lore from both screen and page to ensure that it remained entirely believable throughout.
Other novels have increasingly extended his reach in terms of the interstellar stakes, and as impressive as his writing is however, the riskier road leads not just to greater profit, but also greater losses when things don’t pan out.
Mack’s 2011 novel Rise Like Lions follows on from his previous novella-turned-novel The Sorrows of Empire (which I will admit I haven’t read because there are SO MANY Star Trek novels it’s impossible to read them all), and sees the races of Star Trek‘s mirror universe unite into the Galactic Commonwealth. Something perhaps not so surprising, given that it effectively mirrors the way in which Destiny sees the standard alpha and beta quadrant powers suffer unheard of misfortunes. That said, it is a change which is so sweeping that the mirror universe becomes all but unrecognisable from it’s onscreen adventures; humanity has gone from a plucky rebellion to being handed technology the Federation would almost deem all but impossible to the point where it strains credibility, and breaks all suspension of disbelief, in the process.
As I mentioned, I haven’t read its predecessor which no doubt fills in many gaps, but surely any novel should be able to work solely on its own merits? It does have to be said that Mack’s Disavowed, of which Control is an immediate sequel and which also combines his mirror universe narrative with those of Bashir/Section 31, makes great use of the changes that had been introduced, but without suffering the consequences of the almost Deus ex Machina transformation itself.
Somewhere between The Body Electric and Rise Like Lions then, Mack has shown that he is more than capable of handling such extreme narratives, just not with a 100% success rate. With Control however, Mack has managed to combine making such high stakes and revelations believable and entertaining, whilst simultaneously extolling the most jarring feature of any Star Trek novel (that I have read) in that it comes completely at odds with what Star Trek is, and undermines the entire basis of arguably entertainment’s most loved, enduring, and optimistic mythology.
50-something years ago, Gene Roddenberry dreamed of a future where humankind had put its petty differences aside. Poverty, racism, and sexism, (and had paramount not intervened, homophobia) were a thing of the past, and Earth’s only adversaries came from outside it’s orbit rather than within. In fact Roddenberry’s vision was so utopian that his insistence that conflicts between crew members simply wouldn’t happen often lead to accusations that his series were too boring, and lacked significant dramatic tension.
Although Star Trek‘s longevity owes much to the outside influence of a host of other writers and producers, each merely put their own spin on the core optimism that is at Star Trek‘s heart. DS9 was only concieved after Roddenberry’s death, and despite making humanity a little less perfect – in part by throwing Section 31 into the mix – than he had initially intended, it showed that the light still shines the brightest in the dark.
In fact some of the best stories can be defined by Picard’s quote that “we work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” by placing the emphasis on the actual work that is needed to achieve humanity’s potential, rather than merely presenting it as a done deal.
Flying right in the face of this established notion however, Control retcons the forming of the entire Federation, even that of a united Earth government, by uncovering the “truth” that humanity’s destiny was in fact shaped by Bashir’s ultimate nemesis and Section 31 founder: an all seeing and all watching computer code. In this version of the future, humanity was steered towards a better world rather than having the strength, willpower, and compassion to build it themselves.
It certainly raises some interesting questions about the nature of democracy and free will, but in a way which just doesn’t fit with its surroundings. I’ll admit that it would be a stretch to say that (narratively at least) the entirety of Star Trek is therefore built on a lie, but not by much.
Control isn’t the first Trek story of any medium to question the cooperative/assimilation expansive nature of the Federation, and Control’s belief that the Borg would have eventually ruled over Earth and its allies if it had introduced itself via means of seduction rather than conquering is one of the book’s most thought provoking notions. But others who take part in that debate, such as last year’s Star Trek Beyond, at least do so in terms of a humanity that overcame its own problems before finding different ones amongst the stars.
Gene Roddenberry once described Star Trek as “an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
We can always wonder how much better off (in the short term) we ourselves could have been with a sentient computer safeguarding our best interests during Brexit and Trump’s comparable elections, but that would have been taking the easy way out.
Think of a weekend away to celebrate and examine the works of Joss Whedon, the genius who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who wrote & directed Marvel’s Avengers (Assemble) and Age of Ultron, and you’d be forgiven for thinking about a convention. That was the reaction I had from several people when telling them I would be attending EuroSlayage, but it instead was something rather different (and I would argue a whole lot more) than this.
Organised by the Whedon Studies Association, the seventh biennial Slayage was an academic conference; an oppurtunity for teachers, scholars, and researchers to come together to present and discuss ideas from across a wide range of the Whedonverses, or to utilise ideas and characters present in them as an example of wider arguments.
Although primarily a gathering of those active within academia itself, there were also a number of passionate fans of Whedon’s work who had attended essentially for their own enjoyment. Having studied for both a Bachelor and Master of Arts in the realm of Film and Television Studies, although having finished the latter four years ago, I was somewhere between the two.
Regardless of background however, it seems as though talking with friends, family, and colleagues, was met with the same kind of misunderstanding. “You’re studying Buffy?” is a question often posed to academics by those from other disciplines, whereas “you’re studying Buffy?” is one posed by those outside of academia. Thus EuroSlayage was made up of fans and academics (although I argue that both labels would apply to all at the conference, regardless) who not only recognise the value of studying such topics, but who were also delighted to be in the company of those who understand the struggle of dealing with others who consider it ‘just’ a TV show. There was even one presentation which dealt specifically with this issue.
As this was my first Slayage (primarily as it was the first to be held outside of North America, and as such much attention was paid to Whedon’s use of Englishisms), and my first academic conference at all, I was told on several occasions that it was not to be taken as an example of academic conferences in general. My first thought upon hearing this was to feel sorry for the rest of academia…
Having booked my train to the wrong station (I was so excited about securing my place at the event in Kingston that I failed to notice I was actually staying in the neighbouring London borough of Surbiton), my Slayage began by turning up to register at the Knight’s Park Campus, followed by taking my travelling backpack to the Seething Wells halls on what can only be described as an urban hike (it is a rather big backpack), and then the journey back again.
I arrived at the wine reception shindig to see a room full of people all chatting away as if they had known each other for years, and at this point realised that many of them indeed had, and that I had no idea as to how I would join in. Luckily I arrived just before the welcome by WSA President Stacey Abbot, and Associate Professor at Kingston University Simon Brown. As much as I enjoyed their introduction, I have to say nothing was as welcome as the whole sea of hands raised at the question of “who here is attending their first Slayage”. I was far from alone.
And far less alone that I originally thought, as people soon came up to me to introduce themselves, thankfully negating the fact doing this for myself is not one of my strong points. Although I didn’t recognise any faces, I have to admit that there was a great thrill at having Rhonda Wilcox, the author of Why Buffy Matters, a seminal Buffy textbook, say hello and that she recognised my name. Admittedly just from the list of those registered to attend, but still.
This was matched by having a short but sweet conversation with a lovely lady taking photos, about whether she wanted us to pose or if she would prefer us to act natural. She then introduced herself as Mary Alice Money, someone who Wilcox often quotes and defers to in her book, essentially becoming analogous to a grand sire of mine in terms of Buffy studies. Whoever came up with the idea of never meeting your idols because you’ll only be disappointed obviously never attended a Slayage.
This was also another situation in which geeky T-shirts should never be underestimated, as they made a great ice breaker for many more than just myself. After the formal event ended, this lead to going to dinner with two women I had never met before, from entirely different countries to my own, but who I was chatting with as though I had known for years.
The next morning the conference began in earnest, with three full days (9am – 7pm) of talks, presentations, and four flights of stairs to get to them. I personally couldn’t have asked for a better start, with a keynote speech about fan reactions to the endings of TV series, and the ways in which those series continue, something which I find particularly interesting. After this came something completely different, but which I was equally looking forward to.
Although Joss Whedon is undoubtedly the current writer/producer/director whose work has the most analytical scholarship about his works, the first talk of the day (or at least my first, the nature of parallel sessions meaning I couldn’t attend them all) was entitled “Images of Tea in the Whedonverse“, something I had never begun to consider before, and was curious as to what I would learn.
In fact it turns out that tea is a perfect example of how even something that a first seems like the most inconsequential element will have many layers of meaning that you only realise after they have been explained to you, but which you can’t unsee afterwards. As well as conforming to English stereotypes, tea – of the British/European variety – was used to highlight the idea of the friendship group; both Wesley’s tea set and Fred’s mug being the first and most obvious possessions seen to be packed away after their respective leavings of the core group in Angel.
Chinese tea meanwhile, and the rituals surrounding it, is also often used as a representation of invitations, particularly those of an intimate or sexual nature. Upon watching Firefly when I returned home I noticed that the introduction of companion (read: courtesan) Inara saw her entertaining a client – both in the physical and ‘smile and nod’ sense – only to be insulted by an insinuation of cheating him of both time and money. With the mood obviously ruined, her reaction is to discard the tea set she had been carrying for seemingly no other reason that to discard it. As I said, cannot be unseen.
There was so much on offer to take in, and as much as I can only congratulate the organisers for the entire weekend, I cannot blame those who chose not to attend every session, particularly those directly before or after their own presentations. While it was impossible to attend every single panel due to them running parallel with each other, all those I did attend were fascinating, although perhaps last thing on a second full day wasn’t the best time slot for an examination of Buddhist philosophical concepts about self/no self regardless of any relation to Dollhouse? It’s fair to say that wasn’t when my mind was at its sharpest, but then I highly doubt I would have understood it all anyway. Perhaps at least this way I have a reasonable excuse?
Luckily the first day was followed by an evening meal which, presumably like other conferences, allowed the attendees to continue meeting new people and continue many discussions. There was also a raffle in which a number of text books were given away as prizes, of which I myself was a lucky winner, and now that my brain has been given a rest I can actually sit down and read. There was also a handing out of lyric sheets for the Buffy Sing-a-long, although I have been lead to believe this is not a standard occurrence at other conferences. As I mentioned before, the rest of academia has my sympathies.
In fact the only downside to such an evening was following a group who were walking back to what myself and one of many newly made friends originally thought was where we were staying, but who turn into the car park of a B&B and say good night. I can only thank them for not minding us tagging along in the first place, add London to the list of cities in which I’ve gotten lost, and figure that hey, part of the reason I attended Slayage was to learn, right? And what better way to learn than from your mistakes?
But whilst I wholeheartedly endorse this type of behaviour (by which I mean the merriment, although getting lost can have its merits), it is important to note that the conference wasn’t one to shy away from the more serious topics either.
Several presenters at Slayage raised many valid points which often came to the same conclusion about how Buffy, and pop-culture in general, help frame society’s values. One talk focused on how ideas of/reactions to abortion and sterility have been represented in the Whedon’s works, and the now infamous attempted rape scene in “Seeing Red” was mentioned several times in relation to notions of ‘masculinity’, as well as actual audience reactions to the very real world concepts of consent and abusive relationships. These also lead to discussions as to why other attempted rapes (as seen in “The Pack”), and telefantastical rape analogies (“Tabula Rasa”) were often overlooked. Ideas which were summed up expertly at one of the last talks of the entire conference, in which “The Wish” in particular was examined in terms of upholding and continuing the trend of victim blaming.
Likewise, two other talks as part of the same panel were the start of an audience debate in terms of attitudes towards of the deaths of women of colour. Although each talk was looking at the death of a particular slayer as examinations of the vampires who kill them rather than the slayers themselves, the point was rightly raised that at the very least in terms of how arguments are phrased, more awareness needs to be highlighted in terms of both gender (slayers are always female), and race (Kendra and Nikki are both black).
Discussions such as these raised the quality of Slayage as not only are they those which have to be had, but despite the obvious passion with which people were making their argument, they were also done so professionally and in a constructive manner. “Xander’s a dick!” is another point which was brought up with regards to a central male character who is often considered to be the heart of Buffy‘s Scooby Gang (see “Primeval”/”Restless” in particular), but whose other actions throughout the series also include slut-shaming the female lead.
That’s not to say that the entire conference was dominated by such seriousness, as analysis of the varying ways post-coital “morning after” scenes depict specific relationships elicited the giggles you can’t help but expect from such a topic. This is to say nothing of the way in which a room of fully grown academics reacted to the image of Anya eating chocolate whilst unashamedly staring at Spike’s masculine (à la Bruce Lee) body. More than this though, the friendly nature of the conference as a whole meant that presentations were given in a relaxed and even jovial atmosphere.
All of which added up to something one of the earliest professors of my BA once said; subjects like Film and TV aren’t easier than any other, we just have more fun while we’re studying them. Something I can attest to personally as I thoroughly enjoyed my own studies, and attended Slayage having still followed the work of the WSA throughout the four years since I was last within academia. Going back to study for a PhD is also something I have always considered as a possibility for the future.
Despite being hectic at times, and with far more to take in (not to mention write down by hand) than anything else I’ve experienced in such a long time, Slayage has left me with that bittersweet feeling of being sad that it is now over and I have to go on living in the real world once more (apparently it’s the hardest thing), but also glad at having experienced something which, either despite or because of current events, chose to “live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be”.
Rather appropriately for a weekend which celebrated new life and resurrection, with the release of not one but three new series, this Easter saw something of a comeback for Gerry Anderson. Unlike his resurgence in the early nineties which came courtesy of his classics being given repeat broadcasts (Space Precinct notwithstanding), this years is more impressive for the fact that the series being released are all original(ish) productions, and that this is all happening posthumously.
Having been diagnosed with dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s disease, Anderson sadly passed away on Boxing Day 2012. Never one for retirement however, he continued to create and develop new ideas for as long as he was physically and mentally able, even dictating them to others after the ability to read and write had left him.
The last project he was working on was also the first to have been released, when last Thursday saw Black Horizon become available to the general public. With plenty of notes and outlines left behind, Gerry’s younger son Jamie Anderson recruited the services of author M.G. Harris and brought Gemini Force One to the attention of crowdfunding site Kickstarter; the result of which was raising over £33,000 to bring this this new idea to life.
Looking at the fantastical concept of Thunderbirds, Anderson delved deeper into the idea of how such a rescue organisation could conceivably be created and operate. These range from basic ideas that include bland uniforms specifically designed to blend in to any situation, to their secret underwater base (Gemini Force One itself) being hidden from view by revolutionary lightbending technology.
The release of Black Horizon, the first in a planned trilogy of novels, is also something that I personally have a number of connections with. Firstly, as one of the 614 backers, I can say that I helped GF1 became the reality it is today; something confirmed by the fact that my name is printed in black and white in the book itself.
Having received my kickstarter copy of the book last year, I was also able to write a review for it at WhatCulture before its general release. As I guess is often the case when you write a favourable piece about something people have spent so much time and energy on, both Jamie and M.G. shared my review on social media. Gratifying enough on its own, but the fact that this review is also being quoted on the book’s page at Amazon is something that I have to admit I’m also rather chuffed with. (The review itself, along with a more in-depth description of GF1 can be found here.)
In the week since its release, extra deleted chapters have also been made available, and can be downloaded from the official website, geminiforce1.com.
The second, and much more anticipated release, was Thunderbirds Are Go, a new TV series which combines traditional model making techniques with computer generated characters. Although obviously based on the most famous series created by Anderson (alongside his then wife Sylvia), this incarnation is a joint production between ITV Studios, Pukeko Pictures, and Weta Workshops. Officially announced by Gerry Anderson himself back in 2011, just how much he was involved in the production of the series is hard to say; presumably very little but, unlike the 2004 Hollywood effort, we can be assured that Thunderbirds Are Go at least had his blessing.
Jamie has also been involved of sorts, acting again as Anderson’s successor/figurehead when doing interviews to promote the series. These have included The One Show, but perhaps the most interesting was on Sky News where the interviewer that seemed to imply the series was created solely to make use of tax loopholes.
Rather than sing its praises indiscriminately however, he has been promoting it in terms of celebrating its classic origins, allowing the new footage to speak for itself. One way in which he did make his opinions about the new series well-known however, was by writing a piece published by the Telegraph, about how CGI can never replace strings.
Although Jamie may be siding with those of earlier generations, it has to be said that Anderson Sr. himself wasn’t dismissive of the CGI revolution’s ability to update his series’ visuals, as the last to be produced before his death, 2005’s New Captain Scarlet, was produced in full CGI “Hypermarionation”.
Eagerly scouring pictures and information that was released in the run up to the show’s broadcast, it was with great curiosity that I watched Reggie Yates’ preview documentary Thunderbirds Are Go: No Strings Attached. Despite the reassurance of not just the names of those involved (from actor David Graham returning to the role of Parker, and a script by David Baddiel), but the passion of those involved, my fears about CGI and modernisation weren’t quenched.
So it was that not having been convinced by the clips of what I had seen, but still with an open mind, I sat down and watched the pilot episode, “Ring Of Fire.” CGI aside, the main changes have come from the show’s narrative, the most obvious being the fact that dad Jeff Tracy is now missing. Several allusions are made to a mysterious crash in which he disappeared, explaining his absence but also adding a sense of mystery that will presumably be a recurring arc over the run of the series. ‘Tin Tin’ has also been given a more prominent role, as well as the new name of Kayo, presumably so as not to upset anyone associated with the latest adventures of Herge’s finest, given her now more involved and adventurous role.
And in the end, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. It is hardly perfect as the CGI and practical models don’t always mesh well, particularly during the heavy action sequences, and it is not something that will ever replace (although I highly doubt this was the intention) or surpass (you’d have to ask them) the original series. That said, it was something which appealed to me as both someone who cannot help but pick apart and analyse TV, and as a fan of Anderson’s previous work. Of all the things that they did get right, luckily the iconic Thunderbird lauch sequences, complete with bending trees, was one of them, and brought the biggest smile to my face.
Following on from these was also the release of a new Terrahawks box set from Big Finish, a series of 8 audio episodes, one of which can be downloaded for free. Admittedly a series of which I initially knew less than Big Finish itself (a company established to continue Doctor Who after the original TV was cancelled, and which has since expanded to produce material for other sci-fi series including Stargate and Blake’s 7).
Something obviously aimed at an existing audience rather than a new one, the medium of audio adventures seems something at odds with the rest of Anderson’s back catalogue, given that his name has become synonymous with brightly coloured vehicles and giant explosions. Whilst even the written word of Gemini Force One can describe the detailed visuals, audio Terrahawks doesn’t actually seem that out-of-place, and is probably the most suited to this new (for Anderson) medium. Populated by characters with caricatured accents, these new adventures make the most of what audio has to offer; the sound of spring like motions rather than footsteps is a great way to establish the robotic nature of the series, and never has the idea of a room being so silent been so cleverly (and funnily) portrayed). The fact that Jamie was involved in terms of both writing and directing episodes also adds the desired amount of authenticity.
Despite the vastly different media, and varying degrees of publicity, all three of the latest Gerry Anderson projects may not have been met with universal praise (I guess you can’t please everybody), but at least with a favourable response that bodes well for the fact this is still just the beginning.
Black Horizon is the first in a trilogy, Thunderbirds Are Go has already been confirmed for a second season, and the current Terrahawks box set is merely volume 1. Add to this that there is even more on the way (Jamie’s latest kickstarter project, Firestorm, was funded back in November), stand by for action indeed!!!
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, 31st January 2015
Although it has constantly been changing throughout its numerous television and cinematic instalments, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek brought with it the biggest reinvention of all. Having cast fresh faces as the well-loved characters helming the U.S.S. Enterprise, the film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness are currently reinvigorating the cinematic experience with fully orchestral screenings.
With two performances over one weekend, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are the latest, and first Australian musicians to bring this international concert tour to their home city. Saying it’s more than a normal screening may sound obvious, and at the same time it was less than a normal orchestral performance. Halfway between the two, it wasn’t entirely either.
A valuble asset in creating the desired reaction from the audience, music is too often overlooked but would be conspicuous by its absence. Highlighting the moments of action, drama, and tension in Star Trek, it is also highly emotional in places; never more so than the pre-credits destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin. Despite the intensity of George Kirk’s sacrifice being unmatched throughout the rest of the film, Michael Giacchino’s accompaniment score serves as a great introduction, and the opening title was ushered in with well-earned rapturous applause.
Being played in front you the music was naturally given more prominence than in a standard cinema, but the fact that more emphasis, or even lighting, wasn’t placed on the orchestra themselves was a missed opportunity. As much as it was a film screening rather than regular concert it was still disappointing that so much of your attention was drawn to the screen by design in the first place.
A lack of programme was also highly noticeable. Not only did this deny the fans a souvenir of such an infrequent event, but it also hinders the individual orchestra members from gaining the recognition they deserve (although information on the performers can be found on the MSO’s website).
Not that the orchestra weren’t given their time in the spotlight by the end, as the lights were raised once the action had finished and the end credits were overseen by their rendition of Alexander Courage’s iconic TV theme, and Giacchino’s finishing suite. An encore of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture/Next Generation theme was also a welcome surprise for the audience.
An audience which, not surprisingly, was largely made up of avid Trek fans, several clad in Starfleet uniforms of varying eras, but it was also rather mixed. There were those who dressed smartly and presumably came to see the Orchestra’s latest concert, but as a bastion of geek culture in general, Star Trek also attracted those wearing T-shirts from Alien to Game of Thrones. Even a Captain Jack Harkness was in attendance.
As an award-winning Hollywood composer Giacchino has worked frequently with Abrams, and has also composed the score the for several Pixar features and shorts, including The Incredibles, and Up. It is not surprising a film with his score was chosen for Live In Concert screenings, and the film itself was treated well; even the intermission was well placed within the film’s narrative, allowing breathing room for the impact of Vulcan’s destruction to sink in.
Orchestral performances of well-loved films is something that should occur more often, and will do if the ‘coming soon’ teaser is anything to go by. Just the dates of a future performance might not be much to go on, but being given in the style of a certain DeLorean’s dashboard display garnered a huge cheer.