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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Image in the Sand" (***) and "Shadows and Symbols" (***)
by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler
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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine It's been a long wait, but the season premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has finally aired, and a two-part episode gets the final season of this great series off to a good start. My local affiliate decided to air these programs in the ever-popular 3 A.M. Friday morning time slot, but I set my alarm so I could blip out the commercials. Crazy? Yes. But it's been a long time since I've done something crazy for Star Trek and it felt good. Not that I will soon forgive my local station for their scheduling decision.

Behr and Beimler have, together and separately, written a large number of Star Trek episodes, starting off on The Next Generation. I have sometimes found their work too silly, probably because they have done a few too many funny Ferengi stories. But, they have also worked on fine episodes and they have to be counted as major shapers of modern Star Trek, if not quite in the same league with Roland D. Moore and Brannon Braga. (Incidentally, while checking out Moore and Braga in the GEOS database, I noticed that, while the two collaborated on several Next Generation episodes and on the first two Next Generation movies, Moore has only written for DS9, never for Voyager, while Braga has only written for Voyager, never for DS9. I wonder to what extent their influence explains the different "feel" of the two series.)

The season opener of Deep Space Nine follows three separate stories, which come together somewhat at the end of the second part. First, we have Ben Sisko and his family in New Orleans, where they are joined by the new Dax incarnation, Ezri Dax, just in time for her to accompany them to the planet Tyree. Second, we have Worf, Julian, Miles, and Quark leaving on a dangerous mission to insure that the spirit of Jadzia is allowed into Sto-vo-kor, the Klingon Valhalla, where the spirits of the dead fight all day and party all night. Third, we have Major Kira and Odo holding down the fort at Deep Space Nine, trying to deal with their dubious allies, the Romulans.

Nicole deBoer, the new regular, plays Ezri Dax as cute. How much you like her will depend entirely on your tolerance for cute. I like her just fine.

There are some brief but spectacular CGI special effects, some plot twists that I will not reveal here, and excellent acting, especially on the part of the actresses playing Kira and the new Romulan commander. Their portrayal of their relationship is subtle and convincing.

I had a few problems, especially in part one, with the idea that Star Fleet during war time allows its personnel to travel freely and decide their own duty assignments. But then, we are frequently told that Star Fleet is not a military organization but more like an interstellar diplomatic corps -- an interstellar diplomatic corps armed with phasers and photon torpedoes.

I am sorry that this is the last season of Deep Space Nine. It probably makes good sense to have just one Star Trek on television at a time instead of two, but if one of them had to go...

Well, we can look forward to what I predict will be a powerful season with a strong continuing story line. And I expect that future movies will have a mix of characters from all of the different Star Trek series, which will delight the fans and give Paramount a bargaining chip to keep any one star from demanding too much money. I won't regret that. Star Trek has always owed much more to the writers than the actors.

Star Trek, "City on the Edge of Forever" (****)
I was delighted to hear that the Sci-Fi Channel has restored the original music to the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever" (****). A cheaper, much inferior score was used on the reruns, and on the Columbia House video version. Now if only the Sci-Fi Channel could be talked out of that annoying transparent Saturn in the lower right hand corner of every frame...but that will never happen. In fact, the channel logos are getting more intrusive, not less. UPN now flashes its logo in bright red at inappropriate and distracting moments. Which brings us to UPN's Star Trek: Voyager...

Star Trek: Voyager, "Night" (**)
by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky

Star Trek: Voyager While you and I have been watching reruns, the starship Voyager has spent months crossing a vast empty space in the Gamma Quadrant which they call The Void. For this season premier, two of Star Trek's best writers fail to overcome lackluster directing, routine acting, and disappointing special effects.

There are two stories here. The first, which occupies roughly the first third of the show, has the Voyager crew coping with cabin fever. The second is about conflict with aliens in The Void.

There are a number of memorable moments. I like Harry Kim's clarinet playing. Tom Paris's holodeck pastiche of the old Flash Gordon serials is a hoot. Who knew the holodeck could be programmed to show everything in black and white? With captain and crew cracking up all around him, the Vulcan Tuvok shows appropriately subtle signs that he is feeling the pressure, too. I've always thought the character Tuvok should be the center of more stories. Voyager has been in the Gamma Quadrant for five years; he's got to experience "pon far" soon. There are a few brief but memorable visuals: the moment the lights fail and dimly seen spaceships surround Voyager, a huge alien image on a viewscreen dwarfing Janeway in the foreground, the painting in the final scene. The nasty alien character is well played, and has some good lines.

But, it never comes together into the riveting story it could have been, and I wonder once again why Voyager lags so far behind Deep Space Nine. Is UPN holding them back, keeping them from taking chances, nixing the experimental techniques that so often make DS9 exciting filmmaking? Or is it just that the whole "lost in space" plot was ill-conceived from the start?

The problems begin almost at once, with the comedy of the Flash Gordon serial at odds with what should be a tense situation, when the captain isolates herself from the crew. It would have intensified the mood if Paris had relapsed into some of the problems he had earlier in the series instead of playing harmless games. Only Nelix conveys any sense that the situation is desperate, instead of merely boring. Did someone behind the scenes say, "No, Starfleet officers never really crack up. Tone it down. Keep everyone a hero." If so, it would explain why Menosky, one of Trek's edgier writers, does not write these characters closer to that edge.

The next big problem comes when the lights go out. This is a major dramatic moment, but all of the holodeck play acting earlier in the show make it inevitable that the viewer will wonder if this is a hoax, some crewmember's idea of a way to relieve the boredom. It's real, but by the time the viewer knows for sure that it's real, a lot of the tension has drained out of what could have been a very exciting scene.

Then there are major plot holes in the second storyline. Science fiction isn't just about ideas. It is about following up on those ideas. How can aliens live in a vast starless void? Where did they come from? Why do they stay here? Questions that are never asked, much less answered.

And we are expected to believe that one interstellar garbage scow can dump enough pollution to fill up a void so vast that it will take Voyager two years to cross at maximum warp. I don't buy that for a minute.

Finally, the climax, which should have been a special effects feast, is a famine. Somebody needs to tell Hollywood that those transparent pink cotton candy explosions that we see so often in movies and on television do not work.

Have I been too hard on Voyager? It is still better than any of this season's new so-called "sci-fi" shows, which wouldn't know an original idea if it bit them. But Voyager could have been so much better, with a little more thought and a little more grit.

Copyright © 1998 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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