Star Trek: Frontier Academy – Part 1

This is part of a collaborative effort to produce a piece of Star Trek fiction that looks forward, rather than backward. Future installments will follow as they are written.


Five years after the end of the Dominion War, Starfleet sent six ships into the Wormhole. They emerged into the Gamma Quadrant, travelling thousands of lightyears in a heartbeat, but that was only the beginning of their journey.

Their destination was a region of space far beyond even the Dominion’s reach: a group of star systems filled with habitable planets. This journey, under the speed of their own warp engines, took them years, and took them further from home than anyone had ever been before.

The colony ship U.S.S. Eleanor Dare reached orbit of the first and only stop on its journey: Zhenxun. Like Earth in many respects, and different in many more, this planet would be a new home, a new start for those aboard the Eleanor Dare.

Life was hard for a while. The comfort and convenience of life aboard a starship gave way to hard work, environmental challenges and a need for a new way of thinking. The task now was not of exploration or discovery, but of expansion and development.

Buildings were slowly assembled, power grids and generators connected together, and the colony of Maathai began to grow, quite literally. Without Federation building codes and regulations, Maathai’s architects experimented with organically grown structures of living metal and polymer. Strong, tall shelters emerged from bare rock, swaying with the wind and healing themselves when harmed.

After only a decade Maathai was a flourishing city, with thousands making the long journey across the Gamma Quadrant to settle there, as well as on the other planets around Zhenxun. It was the dawn of a new age – the Federation was now an intragalactic organisation, with frontiers across every spiral of the galaxy.

“Sixty years later, and here we are,” Johnson finished, “Maathai is now the jewel of the Gamma Quadrant. A centre for trade, production, and, yes, for learning.” He left an image of the city rotating on the holoprojector. “Still months from Earth and Vulcan and Andoria and Tellar, but still very much a part of the Federation.”

Aisha raised her hand. “Is it true they all have gills, sir?”

Johnson raised an eyebrow. “Gills? No, no I don’t believe any of them have gills. At least, not gills that they didn’t already start with. Yes, Aisha?”

“Why don’t we have organic ships and houses, like them?”

He shrugged. “We never needed them. Alpha Quadrant shipyards build good, strong ships the old fashioned way, and we get by just fine. Yes, Aisha?”

“How did the water turn into acid?”

“Well,” Johnson answered, running a hand through his hair, “the lakes and oceans aren’t actually acid, they just contain an unusual polymer-like secretion from much of the submarine life, and it causes irritation and blistering to most types of skin. In fact, it’s slightly alkali. Yes, Ai- Oh, Nawisah, you have a question?”

Nawisah lowered her arm. “How did the colonists prevent radical alteration to the environment into which they were settling? Wouldn’t their very presence produce unpredictable results and inhibit the natural evolution of indigenous species?”

Nawisah, as always, was keen to maintain her image. Her uniform was still smooth and its seams stiff. Her hair was tied back and her eyes were still buzzing from a caffeine rush.

Coffee was one of the few things she’d learned about during her month in San Francisco, and was a habit she’d brought with her through the wormhole and all the way here, to just a few hours out from Zhenxun. Her mother hated her drinking it, which was part of – hell, probably most of – the appeal. And now, she was glad of the extra alertness. She wanted to learn as much as possible about Maathai and Zhenxun, because she was determined not to be caught out by a hamlet full of mutants and deviants.

Aisha, the younger girl, looked at Nawisah with adoring eyes. Between Federation envoys, Vulcan missionaries, Bajoran pilgrims, Klingon hunters and Romulan “surveyors”, there wasn’t much room aboard the Nicholls for children, and whilst Nawisah hardly considered her a peer, she felt sorry for Aisha, stuck for months on a cramped starship with no other kids and no idea of what her future held in store for her.

Nawisah herself was a little uncertain of her own future. It was easy enough for her parents to tell her that the campus at Maathai was the equal of the real Academy, but when they had graduated from San Francisco Maathai didn’t even have a recruitment office. Nawisah wanted to wander the same halls that her heroes had wandered. She wanted to sit in the same lecture theatres that had hosted legends like Norah Satie and Tryla Scott and Admiral Saavik.

So, despite being separated by ten years, Nawisah and Aisha had been united by their frustrations, and now took turns torturing Lieutenant Johnson, the on-board anthropologist who was eagerly trying to prepare them for their new home. Aisha would bombard the young man with a barrage of simplistic questions, before Nawisah would precisely fire off an in-depth query of layered complexity, and they would watch his face twist as his brain struggled to change gears.

But, in the best traditions of Starfleet, he never ran out of patience. Or enthusiasm. And as much as Nawisah respected him for that, skewering him like this was one of the few enjoyable pastimes she and Aisha could share.

As Johnson stammered his way towards an answer, hitting buzzwords like “ecological footprint” and “sympathetic terraforming” along the way, he was saved by the chime of the ship’s comm system.

“Attention all decks, we are about to slow to impulse. Landing parties Alpha through Delta, please assemble in your designated transporter bays and prepare for disembarkation.”

Aisha rushed to the window, and Nawisah followed close behind her. They would be rendezvousing with the Tereshkova, a Margulis-class cruiser, built in the Gamma Quadrant and, therefore, built organically. Nawisah had seen diagrams of the organic ships, but had been told that they didn’t compare with the real thing.

Johnson struggled to see out the window from behind them as the Nicholls dropped out of warp. After a few moments, Nav spotted the other vessel and pointed it out to Aisha, who gasped with excitement.

The Tereshkova looked conventional from a distance. Decently proportioned saucer and engineering sections, nacelles in all the right places. But as she drew closer, her distinctions became more apparent. She was smooth, entirely smooth. There wasn’t a straight edge on her, and as far as Nav could tell there wasn’t a single joint or attachment point either. Every part of her structure just flowed into the other; there weren’t even any hull panels, just a featureless metallic skin, dotted with windows and the occasional sensor cluster.

But it was the colour that really made her stand out. She was pearlescent, every colour in the spectrum reflecting off her hull. She was like a mirage, or something out of a dream, and Nawisah’s mind was rushing to figure out what kind of engineering techniques had produced such a finish.

The call went out again for the first four landing parties to assemble. Nawisah was in the sixth group, so she had a little time yet. She and Aisha sat huddled together, staring out at an unfamiliar starscape and a ship as alien as it was beautiful.


On to Part 2

Star Trek: Quotidian – “Muses of our Fates”

What follows is the third part of my Star Trek fan-fiction following the unadventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Quotidian. The stories speak for themselves, so I’ll offer no further introduction.

The first part, “An Unavoidable Encounter”, can be found here.

The second installment, “Dignified Relations”, can be found here.


Security Chief’s Log, stardate 43539.1,

I’m just a few minutes away from docking with the U.S.S. Quotidian, to start as her new Security Chief. I will admit that I have not yet quelled my doubts about accepting the position – I still haven’t been told why Captain Miller chose me for the role, despite lacking any prior experience in Security or Tactical and only being a Junior-grade Lieutenant who’s spent most of my time since the academy on Earth.

But I would be a fool to pass up an opportunity like this.


Lieutenant Tailor followed Lt. Commander Sarr into the captain’s ready-room. She had been told her tour of the ship could wait, and in any case she was excited to meet her new commanding officer.

Captain Miller was tall – very tall. She was stood by a floor-to-ceiling window, looking out at the stars, and cut an impressive figure. Tailor was reminded of paintings of historical naval officers, for Miller was all cheekbones and jawline and steely gaze.

“Lieutenant Tailor has arrived, captain,” Sarr said.

The captain moved over to Tailor and shook her hand. “Welcome aboard, Lieutenant. It’s a pleasure to have you join us.”

“The pleasure, and the privilege, is all mine, captain,” Tailor said. “It’s an honour to be here, and to be offered this opportunity.”

Miller seemed nonplussed. “You make it sound like you’re not going to accept, Lieutenant, which would make this a terrible waste of a journey.” She moved to behind her desk and took a seat. “Sit down, please,” she asked, gesturing to the seats in front of her desk.

Tailor and Sarr both sat, and Tailor answered the captain’s query. “It’s not that I won’t accept, captain, but I have to ask, why? Why me? I’m Starfleet’s Creative Arts attaché to the Globe Theatre Company, I haven’t been through any tactical training since I left the Academy three years ago.”

Miller clasped her hands in front of her. “It’s an unusual appointment, I’ll grant you, given your field. But I believe a starship can only function at its best with a crew drawn from many different professional backgrounds.” She glanced at her Second Officer. “For what it’s worth, Commander Sarr here agrees with you. I want you to change her mind.”

Tailor had already weighed Sarr up as being a frosty character at best. She was brusque nearly to the point of rudeness, a trait common with a lot of Bajorans who had escaped the Cardassian occupation. She didn’t respond to Miller’s comment, she just met her gaze with an incredibly neutral look on her face.

Tailor tried to ignore the muted tension in the room. “Captain, I’ll gladly try to change her mind, but how?”

Miller passed a PADD across the desk. “With this.”

Tailor took the PADD and scrolled through the text on it. She looked back to Miller in confusion. “Are these lines from a play?”

Miller smiled. “Not exactly.” She leaned back in her chair. “Tailor, are you aware of our current mission?”

“To transport industrial replicators to the Alesto system?”

“Correct,” Miller said. “And it takes us through a… problematic region of space. I need you to understand what’s on that PADD and act upon it when the time comes. We’ll be setting off in the next thirty minutes, and I want you on the bridge for the whole journey. Once we’ve completed the mission, I’ll let you decide for certain if you want to join the crew as Chief of Security. Until then, your orders are to do exactly as instructed.”

Tailor nodded slowly. “That’s very clear, captain, thank you. But it raises more questions than it answers.”

Miller stood up, straightened her uniform. “It does, I’m aware. Save them for now, and I’ll explain everything later. Until then, attend your post. Dismissed.”


Three hours into their journey, the helm officer announced that the Quotidian had just entered the Jereso Nebula, and Tailor noticed that the entire bridge seemed to… “tighten” with apprehension. All except the ship’s executive officer, the striking Commander Aufrecard, who remained silent, stationary and, apparently, two dimensional. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to Commander Aufregend, the Hero of the Kiken Cluster, whose classic good looks had graced many an Earth newsfeed following his daring rescue of the Atreidan Royal Family, and subsequent engagement to Princess Kel’Kerrax.

Captain Miller ordered the helm to maintain their course and speed. Tailor noted that Lieutenant Commander Sarr, sat at the Ops Station, seemed to operate as the ship’s actual executive officer, despite being listed as second mate on the crew manifest. Which made sense, Tailor thought, when she regarded Commander Aufrecard.

Without warning, the ship rocked, and Tailor could hear the warp engines shut down. Sarr called a red alert, and orders and reports began flying about the bridge, although everyone acted with practiced purpose, as though they had done this all before, or even rehearsed it.

The lights suddenly went out, even all the LCARS displays. Only the viewscreen remained active, its images of the swirling nebula clouds casting a dim, ghostly light over the bridge.

The crew remained silent. Captain Miller spoke clearly, “maintain your posts, everyone. And stand ready.”

A blinding point of light appeared between the viewscreen and the helm and ops stations. Out of it stepped a bizarre figure – a hugely muscled, bare-chested man, equal in height to Captain Miller, but twice as broad, with a rectangular jaw and with a gold chain hanging around his neck. Tailor rather thought he looked like an old plastic action figure, or one of the superheroes of old stories, proportioned in such extremes.

The light faded, and the systems displays came back on. Miller was pinching the bridge of her nose. The new figure was glancing around with a smirk on his face, legs akimbo, in a classic power pose. Miller addressed him directly. “Alfa, I see you have returned. I’ve told you before, we want nothing to do with the Omega Collective. Leave us in peace.”

Alfa tossed his head and laughed. “Captain Miller! I’m so glad you have returned to my little corner of the universe with your gentle and lovely demeanour! Have you reconsidered my offer, pray?”

Miller’s eyes narrowed. “I would have, but I couldn’t find a more definite way of saying ‘never’ so my previous answer stands. I will not be joining you as your… spouse.”

“Such a shame! And there’s no way I could convince you?” He laughed again. “Maybe the beautiful Keela here might accept?” he suggested, staring at Commander Sarr. She stared back at him, grinding her teeth.

Miller stood up, straight-backed. “What is it, Alfa? I assume you didn’t hold us here just to make everyone feel uncomfortable?”

He turned. “Captain Miller, Alexandra, if I really were holding you, I’m sure you would feel differently. Alas, I am merely here to remind you of your place in this universe. Humanity has come far with its technological advancements, but it is we, the Omega Collective, and others like us, who wield true power over life and death. Your fate is in our hands, and it would be remiss of me to let you forget it. Mayhap I should arrange some kind of lesson for you all, maybe a game! Yes! We could have a game, in which I will teach you that now matter how ingenious you think you are, you still have a long way to go before becoming masters of the galaxy.”

“I have no time for games, Alfa. We know our place well enough, thank you. Now leave. Your presence here is a danger to the safety of this ship, one that I’ll not permit to continue.”

Tailor was watching the exchange with her mouth agape. She had read reports of Starfleet encounters with god-like beings, but experiencing one directly was a different matter.

Alfa responded with irritation. “It is not your place to permit or prohibit anything, frail human! The Collective are the true masters of this realm, and your decision to once again pass through our hallowed tournament fields of the Jereso Nebula force me to teach you that lesson again!”

Miller clenched her fists. She turned her head slightly towards Tailor, and repeated her earlier statement. “I already told you, Alfa, your presence here is a threat, and one that I will not permit to continue.”

Tailor blinked, recognising her cue. She stormed down the side of the bridge in protest. “Captain, this intruder must be dealt with!” She drew her phaser and pointed it at Alfa, doing her best to keep her hand from shaking.

Alfa looked furious. “You dare threaten me, child?” He reached out his hand, and Tailor sank to her knees, screaming. She dropped the phaser, pressing her hands to her head, crying out in agony. Her body convulsed and writhed, until she fell limp to the floor. The bridge crew looked on, stunned, at her limp body.

Alfa lowered his hand and looked around, triumphant. “Do you see the cost of insolence? The price of hubris? Ants cannot challenge Gods and live, Captain Miller!”

Doctor Wainwright rushed from a turbolift to Tailor’s side and checked her vitals. She looked up at the captain, aghast. “She’s dead, Alex.”

Miller’s eyes fell. “Why, Alfa? She was no threat to you. Why did she have to die?”

Alfa puffed out his chest. “She’s of no import, but her fate was necessary so that you may all learn an important lesson.” He surveyed the forlorn faces of the officers around him, then sighed. “It doesn’t look as though any of you are in a very playful mood today. We shall postpone our little game, I think you all understand now what needs to be understood.”

Miller squared her shoulders. “Get off my bridge, Alfa, and leave us alone.”

He bowed expressively. “As you wish, my love, as you wish. I shall leave you to your more primitive, simple existence.” He vanished with a flash, but his disembodied voice echoed through the bridge. “At least, until next time, Captain Miller.”

Miller sat down in her chair and gave the order to resume their course. Nobody else moved – Wainwright remained next to Tailor for the next half hour.

Once they were clear of the Jereso Nebula, Wainwright stood up, as did Miller, and they both helped Tailor to her feet. “Comfy, Tailor?” the captain asked.

Tailor stretched. “Not particularly.”

Miller smiled. “Beggars can’t be choosers. Thank you, doctor.”

Wainwright gave a reserved, Vulcan nod and left the bridge. Tailor looked around. “What now, captain?”

“Now? Now, we continue to Alesto, and deliver those replicators on time. Meanwhile, you and Commander Sarr can join me in my ready room, for debriefing.”

As she followed the captain, Tailor got a few approving nods from other officers. Despite not really knowing what had happened, she still felt proud, though she couldn’t exactly explain why.


Miller moved straight to the replicator. “Coffee?”

Sarr shook her head, but Tailor requested a herbal tea. Once they were all sat, Tailor couldn’t hold herself any longer. “Captain, with respect, what the hell was that back there”

Miller took a sip of her coffee before answering. “Two years ago, on another mission to this sector, that entity you just saw, Alfa, stopped us dead in our tracks and subjected us to a series of games and pantomimes under the guise of gaining my hand in marriage in return for letting us pass freely. There were deaths, or would have been, but fortunately we were able to devise a countermeasure.”

Sarr stepped in. “The phased inhibitor field neutralises his powers. We switch it on when he arrives and he can’t do anything to harm us.”

“Well, why not just leave it on and stop him from interfering at all?” Tailor asked.

“He’s a trouble-maker,” Miller answered. “You saw him back there, all about power and assertion. The inhibitor field stops him manifesting his powers in their current form – if he realises he can’t actually use them, he may try something different. He genuinely is quite powerful. The second time we encountered him we managed to talk our way out, but only just.”

Tailor nodded. “Hence the deception.”

“Hence you,” Miller said, gesturing towards Tailor.

“I know you have the inhibitor field, but it sounds to me like I really could have been killed,” Tailor said. “I mean, I’m a Starfleet officer first and an actor second, but even still.”

Miller shook her head. “We monitor the field and Alfa closely – if there was any doubt, I wouldn’t have given you the cue,” she said. “Regardless, you performed excellently, I was genuinely concerned for a moment that he really was getting to you.”

“Thank you, captain. So, what now? What do we do on our way back? I can’t die twice.”

Miller shrugged. “It’s possible he will ignore us on the way back, he has a… limited attention span. But just in case, can I assume that your theatrical training has prepared you for wearing a wig?”

Tailor’s eyes widened. “A wig? Don’t you think he’ll see through that? Isn’t he an all-powerful being?”

“He tends to see the world in terms of blonde, brunette, redhead,” Sarr said, in her subdued tone. “He’s a total shitwit.”

“Language, commander!” Miller warned.

“Apologies.” Sarr turned to Tailor. “I meant a total shitbird,” she clarified.

Tailor snorted, and Miller ignored them both. “So, Tailor, what do you say? Willing to stick with us for a while?”

Tailor pondered for a few moments, clasping her mug tightly in both hands, whilst Miller finished hers. Eventually, Tailor looked up. “Alright, captain, I will consider it, but I need to know something first.”

“What?”

“Well, your first officer is a cardboard cut-out. When I first arrived, I’m sure I saw a sophisticated and likely unique android in the corridor-”

“Robot.” Sarr interjected.

“Well, she looked like an android.”

“Robot,” Sarr repeated, “totally unremarkable.”

“Android, robot, whatever. I also just had to act my way out of an encounter with a space god which seems like a big deal but you treat as an annoyance, and then I come face to face with your chief medical officer who happens to be a renowned peddler of smut.”

“Erotic romance,” Sarr interjected, again.

Tailor turned to her. “I’m an actor, a playwright and a founding member of the Jupiter Literary Association; it’s smut.”

“What’s your question, lieutenant?” Miller asked.

Tailor put her mug down. “What the hell kind of ship is this, captain? With respect?”

Miller didn’t answer right away, but stood and moved to look out of her window. She took a breath. “This is an ordinary Starfleet ship, lieutenant, full of extraordinary people, all of whom have far too many vital things to do to be able to spend time getting into trouble. We don’t care about pushing boundaries; we care about getting where we need to be on time. We care about efficiency, and effectiveness, and safety, and we care about getting done the things that need to be done so we can spend time doing the things that we need to do.”

She turned around. “Did you know that there isn’t a single manual task on this ship that’s done more than once a week? Our chief engineer is an expert in automation – anything that’s repeatable, we do it with computers and machines. Everyone on this ship works for, probably, forty hours a month. That’s actual work, you understand, ticking boxes, filing reports, attending meetings. The rest of the time, they do what they want to do. Most of us love what we do anyway, so we just do more of it, just the more interesting bits. Others branch out – our stellar cartographer is currently apprenticing in hydroponics, for example. Others still just use the extra time for their hobbies, like Doctor Wainwright and her Vulcan smut.”

She moved round to the front of the desk and leaned back on it, facing Tailor. “So, here’s the deal. We don’t really need a chief of security, we have algorithms to sort out shift rotas and training sessions and targeting parameters. What we need is someone who can be convincing in different situations, who can put on a good show to help us get out of trouble when we need to. The rest of the time is yours. If you really want to be chief of security, then Keela and I will help you learn how, and by the end you’ll be the best tactical officer in the fleet. Or you can focus on something else. So long as you’re ready to step up and be creative when we need you to be creative, you get to use the conveniences of being aboard a starship to your own personal advantage.”

Captain Miller held out her hand. “Well?”

Tailor took another few moments. Then she took Miller’s hand and shook it firmly. “I think I would be a fool to pass up an opportunity like this, captain.”


Following a tour of the ship, Tailor was led back to her new quarters by Sarr. At the door, Sarr paused.

“The captain probably made this sound like a pleasure cruise,” she said. “And it is a great ship to be part of. But you need to realise, we may not chase frontiers or seek out new civilisations, but those industrial replicators we delivered today are going to form the backbone of Alesto’s future economy. We transport professors to technical conferences, and carry out customs inspections, and we never, ever save the galaxy. Starfleet’s mission is to bring the Federation to those who need its ideals, but our mission is to keep the Federation in the business of Paradise. And it’s really damn important.”

“I appreciate that,” Tailor said. “And I appreciate the chance you’ve given me. I won’t let you down.”

Sarr began walking away. “It’s not me you’ll be letting down,” she said.

Tailor stepped up to her door, which slid open, revealing a modest lodging. It was undecorated and spartan – she got the impression it was a blank canvas.

Just before she entered, Lieutenant Mendacia, the so-called robot, walked past her. Tailor nodded to her. “Good afternoon.”

Mendacia nodded back, her movements awkward and mechanical. She wasn’t aware that Tailor could spot a performance from the genuine article. “Good after-noon, lieu-tenant,” she replied in synthesised tones. “Whirr. Whirr. Whirr. Whirr.”

Star Trek: Quotidian – “Dignified Relations”

What follows is the first part of my Star Trek fan-fiction following the unadventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Quotidian. The stories speak for themselves, so I’ll offer no further introduction.

However, I do want to point out that this story was originally written on the 1st December, 2016, and has only just been published here. I point this out because the first segment includes a minor plot with someone being held up due to overly thorough medical tests, which is also a plot in the ninth episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. So I just wanted to make it clear that I had the idea first, and am therefore presumably qualified to write for big-budget sci-fi shows. My job application is pending.

The first part, “An Unavoidable Encounter”, can be found here.

The third story, “Muses of our Fates”, can be found here.


Captain’s Log, stardate 42976.1.

Whilst on a routine sensor sweep we have picked up a strange energy burst coming from the Periculum system. Despite its surprising similarity to some forms of interstellar communication, our sensors indicate that it is nothing more than the gravity-lensed emissions of a distant neutron star. Consequently I have convened the senior staff to confirm, resolutely, that it is indeed the gravity-lensed emissions of a neutron star, and absolutely not any form of communication from some strange, new, potentially dangerous lifeform.


“Counsellor N’rz, where does that leave us?”

N’rz’s mottled green head faintly glowed in pulses as he thought carefully. “Captain, Starfleet regulations require us to investigate any unrecognised sign of life in the likelihood that first contact could be established. Given that we’ve calculated -”

“And can show our calculations,” Lieutenant Baker added.

“- and can show, indeed, that there is no likelihood of this even being a signal from an intelligent life form, and subsequently absolutely no feasible scenario in which we might make contact with a new species, we are not bound by regulation to take any action.”

Miller nodded. “Ideal.” She turned to the rest of the officers. “Okay, that’s been settled then. Thank you all for your insight, you’re dis-”

Commander Aufregend, first officer, a tall, lean human with swept-back blonde hair and chiseled features, strode into the room with purpose. “Captain! I’m sorry I’m late, Doctor Wainwright insisted on carrying out a full physical, said it was vital to confirm that I hadn’t been subjected to unsafe levels of neutrino radiation. She was incredibly thorough, I thought I would be in there for the whole day!”

Miller’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, indeed, I… had thought that too. I will, ah, discuss it with Wainwright. We were just finishing up here, nothing with which to concern yourself.”

Aufregend looked around. “This looks like a staff meeting, is this… Wait, is this to do with the supposed neutron star emissions?”

“No, of course – well, yes, actually, but we’ve just confirmed, there’s barely a point-two -”

“Point-one,” Baker corrected.

Miller continued. “Yes, point-one percent chance of it being anything other than a Neutron star, whose emissions are being gravitationally… lensed… Commander, what are you doing?”

Aufregend had taken a PADD from Lieutenant Baker and was furiously tapping away on it, running complex calculations and algorithms. “Captain, this is incredible. Apologies, Lieutenant, I respect your position as head of Science, but your basic assumptions didn’t take into account the recursive feedback theorems of Doctor Enochlesi’s work on transphasic communication patterns…”

Miller’s eyes settled on Baker with the intensity of a proton beam. The Lieutenant kept his own eyes firmly pointed at some presumably fascinating distant star out of the window at the opposite end of the conference room.

Aufregend was still going. “… By running it through a fourth-order integration function, I’ve isolated a key repeating waveform. Captain, this is some sort of interplexing beacon! I’m afraid I can’t accurately identify its message, I would have to recalibrate the Universal Translator, but the origin point is barely three parsecs away! Would you like me to set a course?”

Miller stood, straightened her tunic and quickly shook her head at Commander Sarr, who was slowly releasing her phaser from its belt clip. The captain cleared her throat, then walked swiftly out of the conference room.


Captain’s Log, stardate 43125.8.

It has been three weeks since my former mentor, Admiral Taylor, urgently reassigned Commander Aufregend to the Muthir system, to help negotiate an historic peace treaty between twelve warring factions locked in a bitter conflict. The ship’s new executive officer is settling in well, however. In the meantime, we are about to start a new mission – conveying a Federation diplomat to an interstellar conference on replicator legislation.


The form of the ambassador materialised on the transporter pad, along with that of his aide. Both were Isilduns – tall, flat-chested, with lilac-tinted skin and prominent cheek protrusions.

As the whine of the transporter faded and the materialisation completed the captain stepped forward, pristinely turned out in her dress uniform. “Ambassador, I’m Captain Miller, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Quotidian. I’d like to welcome you aboard, and to express our pleasure to be escorting you to the conference on Naukarasaha.”

The ambassador bowed deeply. “Captain! I am Bitxia, of Isildu. This is my assistant, Laguntzaile. We are both honoured to have you as our escort. Is this your staff?” Bitxia gestured at the line of senior officers at the captain’s side.

Miller nodded, then introduced each officer in turn. “Ambassador, this is Commander Sarr from the planet Bajor, my head of operations.” Sarr lowered her head respectfully. “Chief Shmeh, head of engineering, from the Beij Cluster. Lieutenant Baker, science officer, from Earth -”

“Mars, captain.”

“Apologies Baker, of course, Mars. This is our chief medical officer Doctor Wainwright, of Vulcan.”

Bitxia regarded the vulcan carefully. “Forgive me, but ‘Wainwright’ doesn’t seem like much of a Vulcan name.”

“There is nothing to forgive, ambassador,” Wainwright explained in her careful elocution. “I was fostered by humans until early adolescence. It seemed important to them that I retain their name into adulthood.”

Bitxia nodded thoughtfully, and Miller continued. “This is Lieutenant Smith, my tactical officer. He’s too modest to admit it, but Smith has a tremendous dedication to duty, you’ve been killed, what, eight times protecting the ship?”

Smith was bashful. “Eight, captain, yes.”

The ambassador sounded astonished. “You have, ah, died. Eight times? Tell me, do you have any insight into the afterlife?”

“Not really, ambassador. I’m never there for very long.”

Miller gestured to the final member of her command crew. “And this is Counsellor N’rz, of the planet Causidicus.”

“Counsellor? Why would you need a counsellor as part of your staff, captain?” Bitxia’s face was stricken with confusion.

Miller cleared her throat. “Well, ambassador, Causidicans possess near-flawless recollection powers. On Earth, we would call it ‘eidetic memory’. It makes them incredibly effective legal consultants.”

“Legal… you mean he’s a legal counsellor?”

“Correct, ambassador,” N’rz said. “I advise the captain in all matters of Stafleet regulation, Federation law, interstellar law and foreign treaties.”

“Specifically,” Miller added, “N’rz allows me to ensure that at all times I am adhering very precisely to my responsibilities.”

“I… I see. I wouldn’t have thought that would often be, ah, be much of an issue.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised at the number of times I find myself unable to respond to dangerous situations due to some obscure law or regulation. Aboard this ship, we take legal matters very seriously, ambassador.” The senior staff were all nodding in agreement. “Now that you’ve met all of my officers – my first officer is currently on the bridge, apologies for his absence – I’d like to offer you a tour of the ship. Shmeh, maybe you could show the ambassador engineering first?”


Shmeh stood at the head of the MSD table with his engineering staff gathered around. Bitxia watched as a tardy junior lieutenant hurried into place. Shmeh began the meeting. “Alright, let’s get this started. Jones, general systems update.”

“News on the transporter, chief. We’ve identified a fault in the secondary heisenberg bypass circuit – it seems that a power surge in the buffer coupling could shut the materialisation array down altogether, completely preventing beaming.”

Shmeh looked thoughtful, stroking his bifurcated chin. “And the fix?”

Jones glanced sidelong at Bitxia before continuing. “We believe a phased molecular weld of the circuit’s quantum fixture should do it, but we’re following Spock’s Axiom, sir.”

“‘Spock’s Axiom’, chief?” Bitxia asked.

Shmeh’s cloudy yellow eyes turned to the ambassador. “Indeed. Starships are incredibly complex machines, with near-unfathomable interactions between seemingly unrelated systems. As such, in this engineering room we follow Spock’s Axiom: ‘Once we eliminate all other possibilities, whatever answer remains must be the truth.’ As such, we’ll systematically examine each system, run tests on them all one by one, and make sure they’re not the root cause of the problem. Then we can implement the fix and resolve the issue.”

Bitxia’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But that sounds like it could take an awfully long time, chief. Surely this molecular weld could be done now?”

Shmeh leaned back in horror. “Fix it now? Do you have any idea of how dangerous a notion that is? We could cause all manner of unforeseen complications.”

“But if you don’t apply the fix, your entire transporter system could shut down!” Bitxia pressed the point. “You’d be unable to beam anywhere!”

“Indeed, we could be left unable to beam down an away team into a hazardous environment,” Shmeh agreed, “or participate in a rescue operation at a catastrophic disaster site. Indeed, the transporters could fail at any given, and extremely untimely, moment, and we’d be left unable to beam aboard any kind of experimental technology or mysterious lifeform. But we can’t risk causing a destructive chain reaction by just applying molecular welds on a whim, ambassador. Modern-day engineering has much more in common with advanced applied science than with the iron mongers of a former age.” Shmeh addressed Jones again. “Lieutenant, in line with the Axiom, start with the material repurposing processor on deck twelve, and proceed from there. We’ll find the cause eventually.”

Bitxia remained nonplussed. “Chief Shmeh, how, in any capacity, might a transporter fault be related to a sewage processor?”

Shmeh stared at the ambassador. “Sadly, we’ve run out of time, and that concludes the tour of engineering. Ambassador, if you would follow Ensign Roberts here, he will guide you to sickbay for the next part of the tour.”

The ensign took Bitxia by the arm and began leading him out of main engineering. Bitxia turned his head to protest. “No, but, chief, I have additional questions!”

Shmeh turned to a status display, unfazed.


Bitxia sat in the CMO’s office opposite Doctor Wainwright, with her neatly trimmed short hair and loose blue labcoat. Wainwright was listing the ship’s inventory of advanced medical equipment, careful not to leave out even the smallest, most insignificant item. Bitxia’s posture was gradually relaxing as he moved closer towards unconsciousness. He noticed a small picture on the wall, what looked to be an illustrated book cover.

“Doctor, I’m sorry to break your flow, but what is that?”

Wainwright turned to look at the picture and raised an eyebrow. “That, ambassador, is the cover from my twelfth work of fiction, ‘Shadows of Vrentys’, one of the most widely read novels in modern Vulcan literature. I keep it as a reminder of my accomplishments as a writer.”

“Twelfth? How many books have you written?”

“Twenty-two novels in the last four years, all pieces of fiction in the style of ancient Vulcan epics, generally acting as analogies of various aspects of modern Vulcan society.”

“I thought you were raised by humans?”

“Correct, although only for the first few years of my life. As I grew, my emotional responses became increasingly problematic and it was decided that the best course of action was for me to be schooled on Vulcan, to learn the skills I would need to master my emotions.”

“And was it on Vulcan that you discovered your talent for writing?”

“Sadly, Ambassador, many conservative Vulcan literary critics would argue that I am indeed still yet to discover any talent for writing.”

It took Bitxia a moment to parse what he had just heard. “Doctor, did, did you just make a joke?”

Wainwright smiled. “I grew up around humans, ambassador, and consequently I possess an insight into humour that is rare amongst Vulcans.”

“Do you ever laugh? At jokes? At humourous scenarios?”

Wainwright pondered the question for a moment. “It is more closely related to an academic insight. Similarly to music or art, I am able to appreciate the structure and style of a well-crafted joke without being induced to an emotional reaction.”

Bitxia seemed to understand, but something else concerned him. “You said twenty-two novels, in four years? How do you find the time? Surely you must be busy as the ship’s surgeon?”

“In actuality, I find my occupation here relatively peaceable. We have the lowest medical incident rate of any vessel in Starfleet – this really is the safest ship in the fleet. As such, I have surplus time which I may devote to my writing.”

“And Captain Miller accepts this?”

“The captain actively encourages it. As long as her crew are healthy and well, she has little concern for ‘keeping me busy’. Indeed, she has allowed me to host several author talks aboard the Quotidian, inviting some of my readers to meet me in person. She’s very supportive in that regard.”

The main door to sickbay opened, and a metallic-skinned human figure strode in, wearing a blue Science uniform. “Doctor, I’ve finished my analysis of the cellular fluid samples, I’m confident that -” The silver-eyed figure looked at the ambassador and fell silent.

Bitxia was astonished. “Doctor, I had no idea you had an android aboard! I thought there was only one android in all of Starfleet! In the whole galaxy, in fact!”

Wainwright chose her words carefully. “Ambassador, this is Mendacia, our… robotic servant. She could be considered a rudimentary automaton.”

Mendacia stood rigidly straight. “Affirmative. Ambassador. I’m A. Primitive. Robot.” she said, in stilted, synthetic tones.

Bitxia studied the machine carefully. “She didn’t sound like that a second ago.”

Mendacia paused for a moment. “I Was Merely. Playing. A Recording. From Another. Crew. Member.”

“If she’s just a machine, why is she wearing a uniform?”

Wainwright maintained her Vulcan composure. “That could have been a decision made to aid interaction with other – I mean to say, ‘living’, crew members.”

“Affirmative.”

“And the rank pips?”

“I Must Return. To My Other Duties. Good. Bye. Ambassador.” Mendacia turned away stiffly and walked out of the room with an awkward, mechanical gait. “Whir. Whir. Whir.”

Bitxia’s mouth hung open. “Was she just saying ‘whir, whir, whir’?”

Wainwright remained silent.

“Doctor, you do realise the scientific and cultural significance of another sentient android, one that is a member of Starfleet, no less?”

“I am sure such a scenario would indeed be noteworthy to scientists across the Federation and beyond. But as I said, it is important to note that Mendacia is nothing but a mindless machine.”

“She was using contractions.”

“A well-programmed mindless machine, ambassador.”

Bitxia leant towards Wainwright and stared intently. “Doctor, as a Vulcan, you’re unable to lie to me, correct? And so if I ask you a direct question, you must answer with the truth, correct?”

Wainwright raised an eyebrow.

Bitxia continued. “Doctor, was that a sentient android?”

“Was what a sentient android?”

“The being that was just in this room!”

“Which being?”

“Mendacia!” Violet veins in the ambassador’s neck were beginning to pulse.

“What about Mendacia?”

“Is Mendacia an android?”

“Well, yes, of course, as a robot designed to resemble a human being, she exactly matches that definition.” Wainwright’s tone was as flat and calm as ever.

“And is she sentient?”

“Is who sentient?”

“Mendacia!”

“What about Mendacia?”

“Is she SENTIENT?” Bitxia roared. “IS MENDACIA SENTIENT? IT’S A SIMPLE QUESTION, DOCTOR!”

Wainwright leant back in her chair and steepled her fingers. “In actuality, ambassador, the question of sentience is rather a complex and difficult subject to -” She was interrupted by Bitxia crying out in frustration before leaping to his feet and storming out of the room.

“THIS ENTIRE SHIP IS INSANE!” he shouted as he stomped into the corridor.


“Captain Miller!” Bitxia announced as he entered the bridge. “I must demand an explanation for the actions of your staff!”

“Not now, ambassador,” Miller said from her seat in the centre of the bridge, “we’re currently a little busy.”

“Captain,” Lieutenant Smith called, “response from the Lenibus, Captain Hebetes says that they’re having issues with their main inversion coil, and will be unable to assist.”

“And there’re no other ships in range?”

“Confirmed, captain, it’s just us.”

Miller frowned. “Very well, duty calls. Set course for the Ligneolae Navem, maximum warp. Red Alert! Raise shields and prepare for combat.”

Bitxia was suddenly worried. “Captain, what’s going on?”

“Distress call, ambassador, large passenger liner under attack from Orion pirates. We’re the only vessel in range to respond. Engage!”

The Quotidian lept to warp speed, stars whipping by as streaks of white light. Lieutenant Baker was at the science station, monitoring the sensors. “Captain,” he said, “the Orion vessel appears to be Dreadnought configuration. They have use outgunned by, let’s see, approximately three-hundred-and-seventy percent.”

“Damn.” Miller bit dowm on the knuckle of her left index finger, pondering the situation. “This calls for extreme measures. Sarr, ready a probe.”

Bitxia gasped. “Captain! They have us completely outmatched! We have no chance of winning that fight! What good will a probe do us?”

Miller kept her eyes forward on the main viewer. “Ambassador, we are bound by our duty to protect the passengers aboard that transport. And it’s doubtful we can defeat the Orions, but there are, ah, always possibilities.”

“But you’re taking us to our deaths!”

“Ambassador, you are beginning to interfere with the operation of this vessel,” Miller stated flatly.

Commander Sarr turned steadily in her chair to face the ambassador, with a very Pointed Look. She mouthed something silently at him – the universal translator was no help, but they all seemed to be very short words. Bitxia was suddenly quiet.

“Sarr,” Miller said, “just ready a probe.”

“Aye captain.” Sarr sounded resolute and unaffected by the impending danger. “Are we implementing the Pandora Protocol?”

Miller turned to her second-in-command, a handsome officer with swept-back blonde hair, stood to her right with a straight back, broad shoulders, folded arms. “Objections, number one?”

The commander stared unwaveringly at the main viewer, silent and stern.

Miller nodded. “Outstanding. Bridge to engineering, we’ll be-”

“Captain,” Bitxia interjected, “your first officer, he’s… He’s two-dimensional.”

Miller looked again at the silent, unblinking form beside her. “That’s, ah, inaccurate, ambassador, he’s at least three or four millimetres thick.”

“But, he’s not even… he’s made of -”

Miller looked Bitxia straight in the eye. “Ambassador, Commander Aufrecard is an outstanding officer with a flawless record. His physical characteristics have no bearing on his ability to fulfil the role of executive officer.”

Bitxia looked at the unmoving commander, then at Miller, and back and forth between the two of them, before silently sitting down on the floor with his back against the wall.

Miller continued. “Bridge to engineering. Shmeh, Commander Sarr is preparing a probe for deployment. Please use Lieutenant Baker’s Periculum telemetry to set up Pandora Protocol two-six-three, and inform Sarr when it’s ready.”

Shmeh acknowledged. The red lights of the alert system continued to pulse whilst the warp engines thrummed in the background. Bitxia watched the crew frenziedly prepare for battle, immobilised in equal measure by anxiety over the coming conflict and by sheer confusion at all he had witnessed that day.

Lieutenant Smith addressed the captain again from his post at tactical. “Ten seconds to arrival. Shields and weapon systems ready, captain.”

Sarr finished a last few calculations on her console. “Probe ready, captain. Minimum safe distance, three hundred kilometres.”

“Understood,” Miller said. “Stand by for launch. All hands, prepare for combat!”

The ship dropped out of warp in front of the ugly bulk of an Orion cruiser. The pirate vessel’s crude, broad structure dwarfed the sleek curves of the Quotidian, but the Federation ship squared up to the beast nonetheless.

Bitxia watched with eyes as empty as the first officer’s as the Orion ship on the main viewer turned to face them. The bridge crew were busy giving instructions over the comms and coordinating their teams throughout the ship. Miller’s voice cut through the chatter. “Distance to target?”

Smith answered promptly. “Four-hundred-eighty kilometres, sir; they have locked weapons and are ignoring our hails. The Navem is at three-fifty kilometres from the target.”

“Damn,” Miller cursed again. “We’ll have to risk it. Launch probe, commander.”

“Probe away,” Sarr said, tapping a few buttons. The sound of the probe launching was a short, high-pitched whistle. On screen, the small projectile sped towards the pirates unerringly.

“The enemy ship is about to fire, captain,” Smith said.

Miller gripped her seat tightly. “All hands, brace for impact!”

The ship rocked violently as the Orion disruptors struck the deflectors. Sparks flew from a few consoles as the shield projectors overloaded. Commander Aufrecard fell forwards face-first onto the floor and lay there as motionless as ever. Bitxia carefully crept forwards and lifted the commander upright again, leaning him against the tactical console as he had been before.

Miller looked around as the rocking subsided. “Damage report!”

“Shields holding,” Sarr answered. “No damage sustained as yet.”

“Time to probe activation?”

“Six seconds, captain.” Sarr looked up at the main viewer, her lips moving silently as she counted down. “… Now!”

Nothing happened. For an age it seemed like nothing was happening. The Orion cruiser still pointed towards them, its guns just seconds away from another volley. Then, without warning, the pirate vessel fell away backwards, as though launching to warp. It disappeared into the distance with an orange flash, and was gone.

“Report?” Miller hesitantly asked.

Baker studied his scopes carefully. “They appear to be gone, captain, as exp-” He glanced at Bitxia. “Ah, as unexpected as that may be.”

Miller nodded. “Good. We will assume that they mistook our probe for a powerful new weapon and chose to turn tail and flee. Counsellor?”

N’rz was sat to her left, and seemed as collected and calm as all the other officers, in spite of the battle moments ago. “That is a perfectly sensible assumption, captain, and offers sufficient explanation for the enemy ship’s departure. No further investigation would be required of us in a matter such as this.”

Miller stood. “Very well. Damn good job, all of you. Sarr, dispatch repair crews to the Ligneolae Navem and offer them any other assistance they require, but the priority is to have them up to warp speed and well on their way within the hour.” Sarr began working straight away. “Miller to sickbay, Doctor Wainwright, there could be people hurt over there, can you spare anyone?”

“I can spare myself, captain,” Wainwright answered, “I’ll join the repair crews in the transporter room.”

The officers around the bridge worked at their consoles, busy but unhurried. Bitxia looked around at what now seemed like a very day-to-day scene of normality. For him, the terrifying combat less than a minute ago was still very fresh in his mind. He pushed himself to his feet, clenched his fists to steady the shake of his hands, and addressed the captain directly. “You, Captain Miller, I – I need you to tell me the truth. I’m a Federation ambassador, your Starfleet oath means you have to tell me the truth.”

“He’s incorrect, captain,” N’rz stated, “no such regulation exists.”

Bitxia was barely preventing his speech from stammering. “Y-You cannot lie to me about what just happened!”

“Incorrect again, captain, you can lie to him about any subject.”

Bitxia glared phaser beams at N’rz, who returned his gaze impassively. Miller regarded Bitxia for a moment, then turned to the science station. “Baker? Your analysis? For the benefit of the ambassador.”

Baker screwed his face up, as though considering the situation in some depth. “I suppose,” he began, tentatively, “it’s possible that there exists, in some interstitial area of subspace, some powerful faction or species, capable of pulling objects of varying characteristics – ships, for instance – into subspace itself. Possible, but highly improbable, of course.”

Bitxia stared at Baker in confusion and disbelief.

“But were that the case,” Baker continued,  “it stands to reason that such a species might, ah, pick up the ships of  realspace species, based on those ships emitting some specific signal or waveform. Perhaps inadvertently so, for instance when conducting an Alpha-Level subspace sensor sweep.” He stared calmly at Bitxia, as if ready for whatever challenge may be presented.

Bitxia’s stammer was now well out of control. “H- h- how…”

“How would such a species communicate with realspace?” Baker prompted. “Well, I dare say it would be unfamiliar to us. Probably some kind of transphasic communication. Maybe a repeating transphasic waveform, or even an interplexing beacon. Of course, such a phenomenon would hardly look like any form of message we would recognise – it would most likely resemble the emissions of a neutron star or some other stellar body, potentially focused around a powerful gravity well.”

“Wh- Why… Just, why?”

“Why pull ships into subspace? Impossible to answer without being subjected to the process itself. Of course, it would be an act of great carelessness to trigger such an event with a starship. It would be much more sensible to perform scans with an external device, such as a probe. That way, when any unusual event did occur, it would occur to the probe itself, and could be observed from a safe distance, and the relevant conclusions made from the observable data.” Baker looked at Miller. “This is all highly, highly unlikely, captain, extremely hypothetical. The far more realistic interpretation is that the Orion vessel simply departed the battle out of sheer fright.” He leant back in his chair, looking rather pleased with himself.

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Miller said. “Naturally, ambassador, the discovery of an intelligent species based entirely in subspace would be the discovery of the century, and would of course warrant further investigation. Sadly, Baker’s hypothesis has as much grounding in reality as those novels of Wainwright’s, and as such we have no cause to investigate the matter further.” She looked around. “Can someone get me a coffee, please?”

Throughout this all, the executive officer had remained silent and stationary, staring without blinking directly ahead, handsome and confident. Bitxia looked at him now, and let his shoulders drop and his arms hang loose, the opposite in every way to the commander’s resolute, heroic posture. “I… I don’t understand any of this,” he admitted, his voice hollow.

Miller shrugged. “We couldn’t abandon three hundred souls to pirates and slavers. We couldn’t defeat the pirates in combat.” A yeoman moved to her side and offered her a cup of strong-smelling black coffee, which the captain accepted. She took a sip. “So, we… changed the conditions of the engagement. All it takes is a little original thinking.” She turned to the yeoman. “Could you get a cup for the ambassador as well, please?”


Aboard the shuttle to Starbase 362, the venue for the conference, Bitxia and his aide, Laguntzaile, sat in silence. Laguntzaile was intently reading from a PADD in his hand, fully enraptured by the text on the small screen. Bitxia just stared out the window at the stars beyond. His voice lacked texture, almost as though he was speaking from behind a closed door, as he asked his aide, “How was your time aboard the Quotidian?”

Laguntzaile barely dragged his eyes from the PADD. “Oh, fascinating! The battle was scary, of course, but I met several of the crew members, saw some of the amazing technology they have aboard. I always enjoy my time aboard Starfleet vessels. And yours, sir?”

It took Bitxia a few moments to respond in his empty voice. “I met a robot, Laguntzaile. I met a robot, and I met a Vulcan author, and I even learned about starship repair and maintenance.” He sighed. “My husband was talking about the lakehouse again, you know, before we left. I think he’s right, it’s getting time we settled down for the quiet life.”

Laguntzaile pondered. “I think you’ve earned it, sir. You’ve had a long career, you deserve a decent retirement.” Bitxia didn’t respond, but kept staring at the stars. Laguntzaile read for a few more moments before restarting the conversation. “That Vulcan author you mentioned, she gave me a copy of one of her books. It’s really rather fascinating! Very beautifully written. Though, the characters all spend a lot of time, ah, mating. In quite some detail. I feel that if they spent less time in bed and more time dealing with their problems, the book would be a lot shorter.” He looked at the ambassador. “Did you get a chance to read any of her work, sir?”

The shuttle cruised on towards the station. Behind it, the Quotidian turned about and headed out of the system. As she finished her turn her engines flared brightly, and she disappeared into the distance with a blinding white flash. In another system far away, the Ligneolae Navem pulled into dock to drop off its shaken passengers and begin its repairs.

No one ever heard from the Orion ship or its crew.

Star Trek: Quotidian – “The Unavoidable Encounter”

What follows is the first part of my Star Trek fan-fiction following the unadventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Quotidian. The stories speak for themselves, so I’ll offer no further introduction.

The second installment, “Dignified Relations”, can be found here.

The third story, “Muses of our Fates”, can be found here.


U.S.S. Quotidian, Captain’s Log, Stardate 41153.7

We are engaged in a routine survey mission, cataloguing instances of carbon-rich asteroids in the Cortix system. All operations are proceeding smoothly, with no incidents of any kind to report whatsoever.


“Captain, we’re receiving a text-based communication from the Lenibus. Seems to be quite a short message.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.” Captain Miller turned her chair to face her head of operations, Commander Sarr. “Ops, can you confirm the latest report that the Lenibus sent to headquaters?”

Sarr, which was an old Bajoran name meaning “clerk”, scanned through a list of entries on the console in front of her. “Five hours ago, captain. Just an update on position and status, nothing out of the ordinary reported.”

Miller looked around nervously. “A short message? Okay, read it out.”

The communications officer looked perplexed as he scanned the message. “It just says, ‘Bagsie Not It.’ Is that a code?”

“Bagsie not…” Miller stroked her chin, then lept out of her chair. “Damn! Science, quick, shut down the -”

The science console chirped in alarm. Lieutenant Baker, the science officer, rolled his eyes.

“- sensor alerts.” The captain sank back into her chair with all the gravity of a neutron star. “I take it the computer logged that already?” Baker nodded, and Miller’s head slumped. “Out with it, then.”

“First off captain, allow me to apologise for my sluggish reactions. Secondly, there seems to be a…” He sighed expressively. “There seems to be some kind of gravitic energy burst emanating from the nearby Admodum system, eight lightyears away.”

Miller brought up a navigational chart on her armrest display. “Are there any other ships in the sector?”

Sarr responded. “One, captain.”

Miller’s eyes narrowed. “It’s the Lenibus, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so, captain.”

Miller cursed the other ship’s captain. Then she stood up, straightened her back. “Bridge to engineering, this is the captain. Chief, we’ve encountered a spatial anomaly eight lightyears away.”

Chief Shmeh was on the other end of the line. “Shmeh here, sir. Eight lightyears, understood.” The line went quiet for a few moments. Miller scratched the back of her head idly, whilst Sarr and Baker exchanged hopeful glances. Suddenly, the sound of the ship’s reactors fell away to nothing, leaving the bridge eerily quiet. Shmeh’s voice rang out not long after. “Captain, we’ve just completely lost warp field integrity. The whole system just went dead. I am unable to ascertain how or why.”

Miller nodded her head. “How quickly can you restore warp engines, Shmeh?”

“Well, captain, as I don’t understand the cause of the problem, I can only recommend a level ten diagnostic on all power and propulsion systems before I attempt any repairs, or else risk making matters worse.”

“How long will that take?”

“At least ten hours, sir.” Shmeh paused for a moment. “To reach a minimum standard of safety. Captain.”

“In that case, we’d better make it a Level twenty diagnostic. And run it on all ship functions, just in case whatever issue this is starts affecting life support, navigation or even the holodecks.” Miller looked around and addressed the bridge in general. “You can’t be too careful.”

The other officers nodded their assent, then turned back to their stations. Sarr whispered her appreciation to the Prophets, but cursed in old Bajoran when she looked down at her console. “Captain Miller! The anomaly, it just started accelerating toward us, at warp speed! Estimated time to intercept, ninety-six seconds, captain!”

Miller thumped her armrest. “Damn it! Okay, think fast people – Baker, is it definitely headed for us? Is it possible that it just started moving in this direction randomly?”

Baker pressed his eyes to the sensor scope. “Negative, captain, it looks like it’s making a beeline straight for the Quotidian. It’s possible that it’s responding to our background subspace radio emissions. If we were to shut down all onboard power sources, except minimal life support, it’s possible it would be unable to detect us, as long as it doesn’t pass into visual range.”

“Understood. Commander Sarr, make it happen. Bridge to engineering – Shmeh, we need to shut down everything except life support, and even then we can run it on minimal, we’ll just breathe like yogis if we have to. If we’re lucky, whatever this thing is will pass us by and we can contin-”

The ship shook violently, rocked from side to side. Damage alerts flooded in from all decks. Sarr clung to her console. “Some kind of energy field, captain, pinning us in place! It’s beyond anything I’ve seen before, our scopes can barely measure it. Trying to compensate.”

The shaking subsided as the inertial dampeners took effect. Miller glanced around in alarm. “Tell me there’s a way out of-”

“MORTAL LIFE FORMS.” A booming voice filled every molecule of atmosphere within the ship. “I AM VIRRIDITTAR THE ELEVENTH, HIGH EMISSARY OF THE GLORIOUS STAR EMPIRE OF VIDUMET. I BRING WITH ME AN OFFER, AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUR ENTIRE RACE.”

Miller, slumped in the captain’s chair, tipped her head back and pinched the bridge of her nose, inhaling deeply. “On screen.”

The main viewer changed from a pleasingly soft gradient of greys to the external view, and the vibrant, garish form of an enormous ancient warrior floating in space, shimmering and blindingly bright, clad in nought but a face-concealing helmet and wielding a huge, kilometres-long spear.

“Based on these readings, I believe it’s a psychic projection, captain,” Baker volunteered, “an image created to aid communication. Although that doesn’t explain the loincloth.”

“MORTAL LIFE FORMS, WILL YOU ANSWER MY CALL?” the warrior boomed. “MY PEOPLE SEEK A DISCOURSE WITH YOUR SPECIES, TO SHARE OUR WONDROUS TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS. YOUR LEADER, YOUR SO-CALLED CAPTAIN, HAS BEEN CHOSEN AS YOUR AMBASSADOR. SHE MUST ADDRESS THE HIEROPHANTS OF VIDUMET, THE EXALTED HEIRS OF THE ROYAL BLOODLINE OF KARSIS, HOLDERS OF THE KEYS OF-”

VirridIttar continued for some time, listing the many titles of his leaders. Captain Miller didn’t move once throughout, but sat motionless, her head still tipped back. A junior lieutenant at the weapons station had his head in his hands, whilst Commander Sarr was forcefully tapping the side of her console with her fingertips and grinding her teeth.

“- THRICE-REMOVED, AND OVERSEERS OF THE SACRED BATHHOUSE. BUT BEFORE SHE IS PERMITTED TO KNEEL BEFORE THESE NOBLE GODS, SHE MUST FIRST PASS A SERIES OF DEADLY CHALLENGES, TO ENSURE THAT SHE IS WORTHY. ONCE YOU START THE TESTS, YOU MUST COMPLETE THEM. SHOULD YOU FAIL, YOUR LIFE, AND THE LIVES OF ALL THOSE ABOARD YOUR VESSEL, SHALL BE FORFEIT. THESE CHALLENGES SHALL PUT TO THE TEST YOUR COURAGE, YOUR RESOLVE, YOUR-”

Miller now had her hand on her forehead, slowly pushing her fingers back through her hair. Baker had started a conversation with the ensign sat behind him, asking about her dissertation at the academy. Sarr was now picking at a loose thread in the upholstery of her seat.

“- AND YOUR GASTRIC FORTITUDE. HOWEVER, THE MERCY OF THE HIEROPHANTS IS GREAT, AND THEY OFFER YOU NOW THIS CHANCE ESCAPE NEAR-CERTAIN FAILURE AND SUBSEQUENT ETERNAL TORMENT,” Miller perked up, eyes wide. “BY SACRIFICING ONE OF YOUR OWN LOYAL FOLLOWERS.” The iridescent hoplite fell silent, anticipation heavy in the air.

Miller held the warrior’s gaze. “Just one?” Then she began tapping words into a written message on her armrest display.

Virridittar’s voice boomed once again throughout the ship. “AH, YES, JUST ONE. BUT TO DO SO WOULD BE TO DENY YOURSELF ACCESS TO ALL THE UNIVERSE’S KNOWLEDGE, TO DENY YOURSELF ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGIES AND WEAPONS BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS. CURES TO EVERY DISEASE, PROTECTION FOR ALL, AN END TO SUFFERING, AND EVEN IMMORTALITY ITSELF. ALL OF THESE GIFTS YOU COULD SHARE WITH YOUR-”

Miller turned to the weapons station. “Lieutenant Smith?”

Smith looked up. “Was tired of living anyway, captain.”

Miller nodded. “Outstanding.” She drew her phaser, pointed it at Smith and vaporised him. As the glowing particulate remains of Smith faded away, she turned back to the viewscreen. “I believe we’re now free to go?”

It took a moment for Virridittar to respond. “I – EH, YOU, YOU JUST KILLED HIM.”

Miller nodded. “That gets me out of the tests, correct? And out of the audience with your leaders?”

“OF COURSE IT – THAT WAS THE TEST. YOU JUST – THE TEST WAS TO SEE IF YOU WERE WILLING TO RISK YOUR LIFE TO – YOU JUST KILLED HIM.” Virridittar’s form began to sparkle a little less, and began to slowly shrink down to a more moderate size. “YOU DIDN’T EVEN, LIKE, THINK ABOUT IT.”

The envoy’s form was becoming less martial, the helmet morphing into a more elegant circlet and revealing a beautiful, if somewhat aghast, alien face. “We were offering you UNLIMITED power, we offered you IMMORTALITY, and all you had to do… I mean, it’s normally hours of deliberation, then they decide to risk it for the good of… Or they try to decide who to sacrifice, then we reveal… But you… You just killed him.”

Virridittar’s humanoid form was now fading entirely, revealing a small and incredibly advanced alien vessel just a few hundred metres from the Quotidian’s bow. The voice was faint and getting quieter. “Just… just killed him. Unlimited power. Killed him.”

The Quotidian shuddered as the energy field surrounding it dissipated. Miller and her bridge officers watched as the alien ship turned away and began moving off, accelerating quickly. For a moment, it seemed as though there was one last, resonating sigh as the ship vanished into the distance.

Miller counted to ten. “Baker, is that thing turning back at all?”

“It’s already left our scopes, captain. No sign of it for five sectors.”

The captain let out a breath. “Bridge to transporter room; Smith, did they grab you?”

Smith sounded relaxed. “Got me right on time, captain. No damage done.”

Miller smiled. Smith was a consummate professional for such a young officer. “Okay, get yourself back to the bridge, via holodeck three, you earned it. Engineering, Chief Shmeh, switch the damn engines back on. Commander Sarr, make a note in the log – first contact with the… whatever they were called. Unable to establish communication, possible failure in the universal translator.”

“Aye, captain, I’ll have comms look into the issue as soon as possible, but it could take weeks.” She punched a few commands into her console. “Would you like me to plot a course for the next asteroid cluster?”

“I think we better had, we were making record time. After that, we can start logging the base rate of neutrino emission from the -”

The whine of the transporter filled the room as the anxious form of the first officer, Commander Aufregend, materialised next to Miller. He looked around wide-eyed, phaser in hand. “Captain! Are you okay? Is the ship safe? Do you need me to secure the area?”

“That won’t be necessary, number one, the, ah, spatial anomaly has departed.”

“Spatial anomaly? I heard the voice captain – immortality! Unlimited power! If you would like, I could take a shuttle and a science team! By recalibrating the navigational array we could track the molecular disturbance in the subspace field and follow it back to its source. Once we’ve determined its origin, we could -”

Miller waved her hands. “That won’t be necessary, Typhon, really, the situation has been resolved.”

“But – oh. So quickly? I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner, but the door to my quarters jammed again. I tried to gain access to the jeffries tube like last time, but it was somehow filled with plasma. Luckily, I was able to reroute the comms circuit and hook up with one of the shuttles, managed to reprogram its remote access algorithm so I could use the on-board site-to-site transporter and get myself here. That makes the third time my door has jammed during a crisis, do you think it might be an issue with the EPS conduits? Maybe if we remodulate the ship’s internal -”

Baker tapped something on his console and a high-pitched alarm sounded. He cried out, “Commander, there’s a plasma fire on G-deck! In the entomology lab! We need someone to put it out before it engulfs the ship!”

Aufregend spun on his heels. “Plasma fire? Entomology? The insects!” He sprinted to the turbolift.

“Stop by engineering once you’ve dealt with it,” Miller called after him. “Ask Shmeh to fortify the security access on the shuttles, if you would.”

Aufregend disappeared behind the turbolift doors. “We need to try something different next time, he’s catching onto the door thing,” Sarr said, not looking up from her console.

“Agreed,” Miller said. “Maybe some kind of coolant leak in the adjoining corridor. Run up some scenarios, let me know how you get on. Anything else?”

The stand-in tactical officer cleared his throat. “We’re getting a distress call, captain, from the Lequ system.”

Miller sat firmly in her chair. “Are we the only ship in range?”

“No, captain.”

Miller smiled. “Fantastic.”

A Win For Diversity: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Brings Us Trek’s First Passive-Aggressive Bully of a Captain

I don’t know how to start this review. I don’t know whether to address the crypto-racial misogyny, or the tragically off-kilter characterisation of half the cast, or the abject lack of any sense or logic to key scenes, or… Or…

Look, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is hot fucking garbage. That’s my conclusion. Four episodes in, and it’s garbage. And don’t come at me with all of that bullshit about “but nobody liked the first seasons of TNG or DS9!” because this isn’t the ’80s. ‘Discovery’ isn’t a cobbled-together series made under a tight budget and with limited competition – it’s a well-funded, pre-planned narrative that stands among dozens of other well-crafted sci-fi shows with strong first seasons – and in any case, the very fact that previous Trek shows have started so badly ought to have served as a lesson to the makers of ‘Discovery’, not a free pass for their incompetence.

Forgiving ‘Discovery’ its mediocrity because of the performance of its predecessors is like forgiving the Trump administration’s corruption because of Nixon. Let’s put it another way: if only twelve months ago a major mobile phone company released a new handset with a battery that occasionally exploded, you’d expect them to have addressed that issue by the time they released the next one.

In short: the next person who defends ‘Discovery’ by reminding me about ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is going to get a hand-drawn erotic cartoon of Neelix mailed to them, special fucking delivery.

burnhamtardigrade
Fine, she’s pretty, I’ll give her that. She’s also very gradually redeeming herself with some solid technobabble and a bit of moral outrage, so there’s that.

Anyway, the latest episode, the elegantly titled ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry’ (I think they wanted to sound poetic) is full of so many issues that recalling and describing them all is going to cause me some mental anguish. So first off, let’s get the stuff that I liked out of the way:


Ways In Which It Did Not Totally Ruin My Evening

  • I liked Burnham’s very Trekky approach to the Large-igrade. Classic “let’s learn more” sciency stuff, all very lovely.
  • We get to see Georgiou again, and it’s actually pretty lovely. She gets a nice send-off – or would have, were it not for the whole “her being eaten” thing.
  • Saru is still a highlight, though is drifting worryingly close to being just another oblivious or enabling patsy.
  • The fungal engineer, Stavros, really leveled up for me in this episode. Admittedly, he reached Level 1 from Level 0, but that’s still an improvement.
  • Tilly has mother issues, because of course Tilly has mother issues.
  • We see a female admiral. She even gets a name. And less personality than a pair of googly eyes sellotaped to an IKEA lampshade.
  • It’s pretty.
  • The actors are competent.
  • That’s it.

Ways In Which It Ruined My Evening Entirely

Right, down to the nitty gritty. This is going to take a while.

Let’s start with the simple stuff.


They Can’t Even Build Their Fucking Ship Properly

Okay, the ship is the star of the show. Like it or not, the Discovery is what the show is named after, it’s where 90% of the show takes place, and it’s a pretty fucking important component of the narrative. Joss Whedon described the Serenity as “the tenth character”, and so much thought and consideration went into that ship’s layout, they actually built it as a full set (split over two levels) based on in-depth design documents.

Trek itself has a long-standing history of this. Indeed, the Discovery is herself based on old concept art of a new Enterprise for the unmade ‘Star Trek: Planet of the Titans’, the initial plans for an ‘Original Series’ movie prior to ‘The Motion Picture’ and V’ger.

And of course, most Trek ships have little design flaws and inconsistencies. Hell, there are enormous works of research and extrapolation dedicated just to figuring out big the fucking shuttles were. (And if you don’t immediately understand why someone would want to read the entirety of that last link, then well done! You’ve just figured out why I’m still single.)

Minor inconsistencies are one thing, but HOW THE FUCK does a show’s creative staff fuck up SO BADLY that they CAN’T EVEN BUILD A SINGLE FUCKING SET CONSISTENTLY. Not sure what I’m on about? Have a look at these crude screencaps:

interiorcollage.png

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Good question.

See the blue rectangle, just to the left-of-centre in the final panel? That’s an external window, looking out into space. Now, scroll back up to the top of the collage. Do you see what I’m seeing? That’s right, it’s a FUCKING CORRIDOR leading from the left to the right. Which is straight past that window.

So what, right? Because that window may well be looking out onto the ship’s hull, right? Because it’s not as though this room’s location WAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED IN THE LAST MOMENTS OF THE PREVIOUS FUCKING EPISODE, RIGHT?

exteriorcollage.png

Oh. Oh dear.

For reference, here’s the layout of Lorca’s Evil Laboratory, which I put together with the most expensive and advanced architectural software:

evillablayout.png

And, just in case that’s not clear enough, let me explain it verbally:

The creators of this show are idiots.

I know you’re thinking “this is just a tiny detail, Jon, why do you care?” But it’s not like these are two different sets. It’s not like they had to move between studios due to size constraints and overlooked something minor in the translation. This is THE SAME FUCKING SET. They walk from one room into the other, and yet NOBODY apparently spotted the fact that the layout of the second-most important location on the show made no fucking sense.

And the rest of the room is gorgeously detailed! I mean, I hate that it’s an EVIL LABORATORY full of ACTUAL SKULLS AND TORTURE DEVICES, but it’s clearly been lovingly put together by the set designers. Except for the placement of a massive window, through which many shots of the room are filmed, and which is situated in direct contradiction to the corridor literally three feet away.

Jesus wept.


Lorca Is A Basic Bully / Baddie And The Worst Captain Yet Seen On Star Trek

So, Captain Lorca. Captain Lorca. Captain. Loooorrrrcccaaaaaaa.

Captain Lorca.

Okay, Jason Isaacs is a handsome young man, let’s get that out of the way. He’s also a solid actor, and reasonably charismatic. Cool. Good.

Captain Lorca is a stupid, inconsiderate, bullying arsehole who berates his crew and relies on emotional blackmail to further his desire to wage a pointless war.

I could pretty much leave it there, but let’s carry on.

bridge
A picture of a man who has no idea of what to do with his hands.

The first thing we see of Lorca is him running a battle simulation with his crew. For some reason, he decided not to include his FIRST FUCKING OFFICER, Lt. Saru, because Saru looks all surprised when he walks onto the bridge. When the simulation is over, Lorca offers his bridge officers nothing but criticism, assuring them that the only chance they have of improving is due to the fact that this was literally the worst they could possibly have achieved. Okay, it’s war, fine, he needs to get these people up to standard so they don’t all die. Fine.

Then, he takes Burnham down into his EVIL LABORATORY which is FULL OF WEAPONS AND SKELETONS and introduces her to the Large-igrade. He tells her that he wants to know how it’s so good at killing Klingons and that she, as an anthropologist, is going to help him find out. Apparently, it isn’t obvious to him that this large, strong, fast and visibly armoured creature might be good at killing everything. Y’know, the way bears aren’t dangerous because they can run forty kilometers an hour and weigh up to 600 kilos, but rather because they harbour some cleverly hidden, biological secret that has eluded our understanding for millennia.

Hey, dickhead, IT’S BIG AND IT’S STRONG, do you really need Starfleet’s literal smartest human being to figure that out for you?

Anyway, he takes a break from berating his crew to eat fortune cookies and stare at a map in his ready room. Here, a holographic admiral delivers a message to him that Starfleet’s primary fuel production facility is under attack, and that there’s only six hours before it’s destroyed. And the nearest ship is eighty-four hours away at warp speed. Hey, good thing this isn’t a strategic location or anything, otherwise you might be inclined to keep a few more ships on standby in the vicinity.

So, Lorca lies to the Admiral about his ships’ capabilities, telling her sure, there’s no problem, leaping half-way across the galaxy with an experimental and knowingly unreliable form of propulsion will have zero, ZERO, unforeseen problems. This is because Lorca is the classic bully – horrendous to those less powerful than he is, obsequious to those with any amount of power over him.

At this point, he pushes his chief fungus engineer, Stavros, to activate the Event Horizon drive, fire up the gellar field and set course for the besieged refinery. Stavros (Davros?) counters that this is a stupid idea, as they literally have no idea of how to make their Bullshit Engine work reliably over that kind of distance, and they could all end up like the crew of the Glenn, i.e. as Walls’ Ice Cream’s next promotional variant of the Twister. Lorca counters back with the tried-and-tested “Well have you tried go fucking yourself, neeeerrrrd?” and walks off, triumphant.

In a surprise to literally no one except Lorca himself, the ship exits the Fungal Webway in the corona of a fucking star, and due to absolutely zero input from Lorca beyond a few cliches (“Collision is not an option! Get us the hell out of dodge! Beam me up, Scotty!”) manages to escape before the crew are all subjected to horrible fiery deaths. In the process, Santos gets his fucking face caved in, and really quite painfully at that:

stavrosnose.png
“Hey, heard you bumped your noggin, how’re you OH JESUS FUCK WHAT THE SHIT HAPPENED TO YOU.”

For this, he gets a nice bit of motivation by our illustrious leader, who walks into the brightly-lit sickbay (and yes, they mention his sight problems again this episode, and once again ignore them) and immediately starts haranguing the engineer for his inability to do something which was considered theoretically impossible mere months ago. Even the Glenn, which Lorca describes as Discovery‘s “more advanced” sister ship, was incapable of safely doing what they just attempted, and yet Lorca is happy to rip shreds out of the one man left alive in the galaxy who understands the theory for not being able to achieve, and I’ll repeat myself here, the impossible.

So, when Stannis tells Lorca that he didn’t sign on for military service and that he’s a scientist, not a soldier, Lorca tells him to fuck off. He actually just tells him to leave the ship. He doesn’t appeal to his conscience, he doesn’t bring up the desperation of the war, the millions of lives that might be lost. He just tells him to leave, and then makes a half-hearted attempt to appeal to the engineer’s ego by comparing him to past pioneers (and Elon Musk, in a desperate bid to appear current).

Lorca then – and I can’t believe this actually happens – but he then, in one piece of dialogue, goes from stroking Stavros’ ego to then belittling him for having one. Like, this is the actual quote, word-for-word, from the subtitles:

“How do you wanna be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert? A selfish little man, who put the survival of his own ego before the lives of others?”

Just, I don’t… Fuck! I mean, I could do a whole fucking article about nothing more than this one paragraph of dialogue, there’s so much wrong with it. Nevermind the inherent contradiction, just remember that Stavros’ chief objection to performing the long-range jump is to AVOID THE TORTUROUS DEATHS OF HIS SHIPMATES. He’s not objecting because there’s a risk he’ll look foolish, he’s objecting because there’s a risk he and the rest of the crew will be turned inside out, cooked alive or who the fuck knows what!

THIS, this fucking line right here, establishes everything wrong with Lorca. He doesn’t lead through encouragement or inspiration, he belittles and undermines. He doesn’t seek the best in people, he just makes them feel shitty until they feel too demoralised to object. And that’s what happens – Stavros doesn’t see the benefit of what they’re doing, he just walks out of sickbay because he hasn’t got a choice and he can’t be bothered arguing. This is the height of shitty characterisation, and highlights all the ways ‘Discovery’ is going wrong.

Okay, let’s move on, before I burst a blood vessel.

STAVROS.jpg
“Maybe after this shitshow I’ll be able to get a gig in that ‘Firefly’ cover band.”

As Stavros storms out, Lorca decides to play the recording of the dying miners across the ship, without any announcement or anything. But it’s not as though the crew are unwilling to go save the colonists. It’s not like they all want to play it safe. In fact, most of them have nothing to do with the fungus engine whatsoever, but Lorca decides that playing them recordings of screaming, dying humans being bombed by Klingons is exactly the sort of thing to keep morale up and keep them focused on the task of not being mutilated by some kind of experimental engine malfunction.

Some bullshit sciency stuff happens with Burnham, Stavros and Tilly, they figure out how to make the improbability drive work using the Large-igrade (I’m going to keep calling it that until it catches on) and now, Lorca has a plan. I say “plan”, but that really dirties the word.

Lorca’s Big Idea is to jump into orbit of the besieged mining colony, squander any element of surprise, let his ship get beaten to within an inch of its life, and then jump out again after dropping some explosive barrels. That’s it. For some reason, he even refuses to fire on the attackers after annihilating three of them instantly, in case he accidentally gains anything approaching a tactical advantage, and instead puts all of his faith in an unreliable technology under the control of a wild animal which has already willingly murdered two of his crew.

Burnham has somehow convinced him that the Large-igrade isn’t just a big sack of pure hate, so maybe it won’t try to kill them all, but what if it’s just unreliable? What if, due to its lack of linguistic capability, it jumps them to the wrong place, or at the wrong time? What if it just dies, or the device stops working, or any one of a million things that can go wrong? Why take that risk three FUCKING times when he could instead jump in once, and put his faith in guns? The same guns which instantly destroy three Klingon Birds of Prey when the Discovery first jumps in?

Further, what would happen if he didn’t destroy all of the Klingon ships? He lets Discovery‘s shields drop to near-zero before he jumps out. So what happens if he jumps back in and there’s two Klingon ships left alive that just immediately start blasting his dick off? Could he really not come up with a better plan than this?

saru.jpg
“I tried taking notes, but every time you open your mouth all I hear is circus music.”

Y’know, if this was Saru, a science officer roped into a war he didn’t want, now trying his best to win battles without dying, I’d understand his agitation and his anxiety and his stupid tactics, but Lorca is CONSTANTLY GOING ON about the fact he’s a warrior. He studies war, he even reveals that his EVIL LABORATORY is actually a WAR LABORATORY where he studies WAR any time he’s not stood behind an empty table in his ready room eating fortune cookies.

I’m going to try to bring my criticism of Lorca to a close at this point, because there are eleven more episodes of this fucking show, and I feel like I’m already repeating myself frequently enough. But honest to goodness, he must be the worst series regular to enter a Trek show since… since fucking Neelix. There is nothing inspirational, aspirational, or even anything interesting about Lorca. He’s an arrogant, stupid bully and I am dreading having to spend the remainder of the series with him. If he was merely repugnant, I could at least love hating him, like Joffrey Baratheon. But Lorca’s worse – he’s also boring, and that I just can’t forgive.


Women of Colour Pay For Their Representation With Horrible, Violent Deaths

Okay, this is going to be controversial with some of you, but fuck it, let’s get stuck in.

I am really, really, really, really concerned about ‘Discovery’s treatment of non-white women. Of the four to whom we’ve been introduced, who have been named and had more than expository dialogue, two have been violently murdered, one of whom was literally eaten after her death, and the other two are convicted criminals.

In order, we meet Captain Georgiou, played by the Malaysian Michelle Yeoh, who really ought to have been the main character. She gets murdered in her second episode, to serve as character development for the show’s lead, Burnham. Georgious is stabbed, graphically, through the chest, and her bloody corpse is abandoned on the Klingon ship. We find out in this episode that the starving Klingons then ate her corpse. This, too, serves purely as character development for the Klingon leader, whose aide describes in detail him eating the flesh from her “smooth skull”, and how he smiled as he feasted.

Then we have the show’s lead, Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, a black American woman. She does some typical leading-character stuff, most of it stupid. She then gets imprisoned for mutiny. Now, she’s the lead character and “hero” of the show, so this isn’t too bad. But she is also granted redemption by a middle-aged white guy, which… yeah.

burnhamgeorgiou.jpg
Please, Georgiou, come back to us. We need you. We miss you.

Then we meet ‘Psycho’, played by Grace Lynn Kung, an Asian Canadian woman. Psycho is apparently a violent offender, and the only thing we really know for sure about her is that she’s a prisoner and convicted criminal. She gets a few lines before she gets put back on the space-bus and launched out of the story again.

Then we meet Commander Landry, played by Rekha Sharma, another Canadian woman, of North Indian descent. She’s aggressive, bigoted, impatient and violent, and that’s all fine, but she is also a complete fucking idiot and gets herself mauled by a violent water bear in her second episode. The last we see of her is as a mauled, lacerated corpse on a biobed, before her death is used as character development for… well, for the fucking water bear, as it happens. I mean, it could’ve been any random crewmember, but whatever.

So, look, it’s great that we’ve got a black woman as the lead character. It’s also great that we have two high-ranking officers played by women of colour (WoC) in a mainstream show. And it’s still a bit worrying that they have such a high propensity for getting fucked over and violently dispatched. Of the deaths of named characters, we have the following:

  • Danby Connor, who loses his shit in the brig before being blown into space.
  • Admiral Brett Anderson, who gets his ship rammed to death during the same battle.
  • T’Kuvma, the Klingon spiritual leader who gets shot by Burnham.
  • Captain Philippa Georgiou, Burnham’s mentor, who gets stabbed and eaten.
  • Kowski, the security guy who gets no lines but does get eaten by the Large-igrade.
  • Commander Landry, the security chief who gets mauled by the Large-igrade.

Okay, so there’s six deaths there, three of them white guys. And in fairness, whilst the WoC on that list make up half of the named WoC on the show, the white guys on that list also make up half of the (so far) named white guys on the show. So, cold hard numbers, it seems objectively balanced.

But… I still get an icky feeling. And I know, unequivocally, that there’s no conscious desire by the creators to do horrible things to the non-white women on their show. But put in the context of the historical representation that women of colour have had in films and television, and… it’s just a bit icky.

Look, I’m out of my depth here, I’ll admit, and there are many people vastly more capable of exploring this topic than me, so I’ll leave it here. All I can really add is that I’ll be keeping an eye on how this progresses. The helm officer of the Discovery is also a black woman, but so far she’s unnamed and has had only expository dialogue. If she gets a little more to do, then this might just be me having representational jitters. If she gets infested with space maggots or something equally grim, then the situation starts to look a little less… progressive.


Context Is For Kings, But Not For ‘Discovery’

This is somewhat related to my rant about Lorca, above, but there’s a real issue with the presentation of the massive war at the heart of the show’s narrative: the fact that it isn’t presented. At all.

lorcadesk.jpg
“There’s two things I hate: chairs, bright lights and cowardice. No, wait, there are three things I hate: chairs, bright lights, cowardice and common sense. Shit. There are FOUR things I hate…”

We are constantly reminded of the fact that the war exists. We know it’s there. And that is all we get. And this is unforgivable when it’s the motivation of the second-most important character on the show. Lorca is a warrior, he wages war, as he reminds us, every other line of dialogue. And desire to win the war is seemingly the factor behind all of his decisions.

So why do we know so little about it? When Lorca is briefed about the mining colony, he speaks with the admiral for a good couple of minutes. He even mentions that if they lose their main fuel production facility, they’ll lose the war. Well, no shit, that’s not particularly surprising. But that’s all the exposition we get. And I’ve already covered this in my previous review, but we don’t find out if Starfleet is being pushed back, or if they’re advancing into Klingon space, or even if it’s all just one big meat grinder being fought to a standstill in the middle.

And the key thing here is that I don’t care about the war. I’m not particularly interested in what’s happening all along the front lines – what does interest me is the effect it has on our characters. But with no context, it has no discernible effect.

Take Stavros. Stamos. Stanos? The engineer who looks like a budget Alan Tudyk. He doesn’t want to be a soldier. He and his research have been roped into this war effort against his wishes. That’s fine, that’s an acceptable bit of motivation for a character. But knowing more about the bigger picture would inform his character even more. Is he against it because it’s a pointless war with no endgame? Is he a pacifist, against violence despite the fact that his species faces annihilation? Does he feel bad about helping Starfleet out when it’s already got a decisive advantage over the Klingons?

What about Tilly, the fresh-faced cadet? How’s this affecting her? Is she worried about being killed before she ever graduates? Is she anxious about her career as a theoretical engineer being replaced with combat training and endless repair and maintenance of weapons systems?

battle
The most we’ve seen of the war to date. And this was before it even started.

Is Saru worried about the war reaching his home planet, filled with a fear-driven population? As a career scientist, is he concerned, as Stavros is, about the increased and permanent militarisation of Starfleet, which used to be an exploratory organisation?

None of these have to be in-depth discussions that take valuable time away from the literal cannibalisation of female role models. But just a few throwaway comments would really help build the world and set the tone. Even just setting the stakes for the ship and crew itself – if the Discovery is destroyed, is that a definitive loss for Starfleet? Is the fungus drive a last-ditch attempt that represents their best chance at victory? Or is this a side-project that could prove useful long-term, but for now is entirely incidental to the war effort?

It’s incredibly frustrating to have a show that ostensibly entirely character-driven, and yet does nothing to shape the world that the characters inhabit. ‘Battlestar’ (the modern version) set the premise up immediately. It was entirely character-based, but we knew from the off what the scenario was – that we were following the last fifty thousand humans in the universe, and that every loss of life was a permanent detriment to the species’ chances at survival.

We’re two episodes into the “war arc”, six months after the war first started, and yet we still know nothing about it. What are the demands on either side? The Klingons got duped into this war – what do they want out of it? Kol explains that as soon as the war is over, the Klingon houses will divide again – if so, what goal has united them? Do they just want to wipe out the Federation? Do they want to vassalise it? Have I simply been playing too much ‘Stellaris’? We still don’t know.

In the last episode, this absence of information could have been down to Burnham’s limited perspective, the fact that she, as a prisoner, would be naturally excluded from most conversations. But in this episode, we see things from multiple perspectives – Lorca being briefed by an Admiral, repeated interactions between Lorca and Stavros, and plenty of scenes with the Klingons. Still no insight into the galaxy-spanning conflict that’s allegedly at the heart of the story.

And again, this isn’t about telling the story of the war – it’s about framing our characters. It’s about giving them the context they need to come alive, rather than exist in a vacuum and just do stuff because the plot demands it. And yet the show’s creators insist on remaining evasive on the whole topic of the war. It’s all very peculiar.


The Klingons Take Two Steps Back

In the pilot episodes, we got exposed to some surface-level detail of the revised Klingon culture. We heard more about their religious beliefs, the division within their society (or at least the fact that it was, apparently divided) and they got some nice new costumes and foreheads.

femgon
“WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS???” “Khaleesi, ah, you are wearing them.”

And it seems that’s as much as we’ll be getting. In the fourth episode, we get to see Klingons at their most desperate, starving to death aboard their crippled flagship. Their leader, the albino one, refuses to take the equipment they need from the Shenzhou, as it’s the ship that defeated them and led to his spiritual leader’s death.

Anyway, another Klingon leader shows up, which convinces the Albino to go and actually get the spare spark plugs they need from the Shenzhou. When he gets back, all of his crew have turned coat on him, joining with the other leader who had the foresight to bring them food.

That’s right, Klingons have the same view on loyalty as cats.

Which is fine, hunger is a perfectly acceptable motivation for switching sides. And, although it undermines to some extent the religious angle set up previously, it also does a lot to “humanise” the Klingons – we understand that they have a breaking point.

What I don’t understand is why the Albino is so unwilling to continue with T’Kuvma’s “spiritual path” or whatever. Given the trouble to which he went to start the war, I can only assume that taking part in that war, or at the very least not starving to death whilst it raged, was also a significant part of T’Kuvma’s intentions. Specifically, I’m confident that T’Kuvma would not have wished his ancestral ship, enshrined with those who had died for the cause, to rot away in empty space.

The Albino states that he won’t salvage the Shenzhou out of respect for T’Kuvma, which I can sort-of accept, but it just seems so at odds with everything you might expect them to actually believe in. As the Albino’s second-in-command points out, he was happy to eat the captain of the Shenzhou, just to survive. Surely taking part in the holy war that T’Kuvma started would be more respectful to his memory than allowing his war to fail for the sake of a spare alternator cap, or whatever it was that they needed.

And, indeed, the Albino says himself that he “swore to keep [T’Kuvma’s] fire lit… to resist assimilation.” I can sort-of see how using Federation technology to fix an heirloom vessel could be distasteful, but it’s not as though it’s a permanent modification – they can salvage the Shenzhou, make a single warp jump and then replace all the dirty Starfleet bits later. Religious and cultural zealotry is one thing, but this is like allowing a church to collapse because you won’t temporarily prop up a wall with a wooden beam taken from a mosque.

Like, obviously I’m not a Klingon, I don’t understand the intricacies of their society and the interactions between their traditions. The problem is I’m worried that the writers don’t, either, and they should because they’re the ones creating the Klingon culture.

The ambiguity is acceptable in a complex culture like this, but it warrants further exploration, which we don’t seem to get. That being said, there’s a promise of the Albino visiting “The Matriarchs” (groan) as he strives to regain his position as spiritual leader, which could be interesting, and I’m really hoping it’s not some weird, vaguely sexist abstraction that contains very little substance. If there’s some fucking prophesy, I’m picking up my shit and I’m leaving for good.

One final thing on these Klingon segments – they aren’t half boring. It took me ages to put my finger on it, but it wasn’t until a friend pointed out the issues. Here is a perfectly average screencap of a normal Klingon scene:

klingons.png
I feel like all Klingon pornography features lines like “Now I come with humility.”

What you have here is a really nice, really expensive set, with some really cool, really expensive prostheses and makeup, with dialogue subtitled from carefully developed alien language – all of which is great. You also have a load of actors who, due to the expensive and extensive prostheses, and the gruff language which has to be subtitled, are incapable of fully practicing their craft.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they’re all doing the best they can. But that isn’t very much, due to the physical limitations. To make matters worse, the Klingon arc is arguably the more theatrical of the two narratives, dealing as it does with ancient houses, divided empires and spiritual awakenings. And yet despite all of these themes, every Klingon scene ends up being a series of words on the screen whilst people in monster masks make guttural sounds at the camera.

In the first review I wrote of this series, I compared this new show to ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’, as many of the themes are similar. And I’m going to do so again, because in ‘The Undiscovered Country’, during the iconic trial scene, we again get to see Klingons in their native environment, speaking in the Klingon language. Except, although the scene starts off in Klingon, it takes a moment to show us that it’s being translated for the benefit of the defendants, at which point it switches to English so that Christopher Plummer can get back to Acting, darling.

I suppose the difference is that the creators of ‘The Undiscovered Country’ gave the audience the benefit of the doubt. They assumed, correctly, that most people would be able to surmise that the Klingons were still speaking Klingon, and even if they didn’t, it hardly matters in the context of the show.

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He’s got blood streaked on his face, do you think he might be a baddie?

The creators of ‘Discovery’, on the other hand, are presumably wracked with anxiety over their audience forgetting that the people with big bulgy knobbly heads and weird-coloured skin and quadruple nostrils are aliens, should they for a moment communicate in anything but their correct, completely fictional language. Meanwhile, the actual audience is just left bored and feeling a bit sorry for all of the young actors whose careers will in no way be advanced by their participation in this calamity.


 

Other Fucking Annoying Stuff

  • “Who saved us?” asks the little girl, in the most terribly delivered line so far, contributing to nothing except my continued ill health.
  • Why would you create a type of parcel that beeps annoyingly until it’s opened? What if you just didn’t have time, but had to carry it with you? What if you wanted to wait for someone else, because you wanted to open it with them? Why create a passive aggressive piece of luggage? What the fuck is the point except to act as a prompt for a fictional character?
  • And the fucking telescope. It’s confirmed as the same one that was on the Shenzhou. So, did someone bring it with them when they all jumped on escape pods? They chose to get the telescope in case a mutineer decided they needed it for character development, but left the unencrypted crew manifests and the vital and likely confidential power generation technology? What else did they leave behind? What other weird and pointless stuff did they take with them? Or did someone see Georgiou’s will, realise they needed the telescope, and so went back to the derelict Shenzhou whilst still in the vicinity of Klingon ships, and again, left sensitive information behind? Like, in the same fucking room? Who the fuck wrote this garbage?
  • Commander Landry was a shithead for the duration of her presence on the show, but she also gets killed off pretty quickly, which would be good were it not for the representational issues already mentioned, which leaves me confused about my feelings, which leaves me even more angry.

Right, I’m actually done. I’ve written over five-and-a-half thousand words on a forty-minute slice of boiled shit that doesn’t warrant two minutes of attention. Also I’m tired. Tired of Trek being shit. Tired of the contempt that fills every frame of this show. Tired of the self-loathing seeping out of every facet of its existence.

Catch you next week.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Needs To Sort Its Shit Out

I want to pitch you a story idea. Don’t worry, it’ll only take a moment.


A veteran captain of an old ship finds herself at the edge of friendly territory, staring down the gunports of the mysterious vessel of a former enemy. Her young first officer betrays her, instigates mutiny and fires on the alien vessel. Reinforcements appear on both sides, and suddenly the captain is stuck in the middle of a cataclysmic battle. Now she has to fight – for survival, for peace, and for answers.


That’s the show we almost had. That we could’ve had. All of the elements were there, but Star Trek: Discovery instead swaps the perspectives and we get this:


A young officer finds herself and her captain staring down the gunports of the mysterious vessel of a race of aliens who murdered her parents. She speaks to her pacifist mentor, who tells her that pre-emptive bloodshed worked this one time, so she pleads with her captain to open fire without provocation. Her captain refuses, so the young officer assaults her captain, attempts to take over the ship and fire on the aliens herself. She fails, the aliens attack anyway and without reason, her captain ends up subsequently murdered and the young officer maintains throughout that she was “doing the right thing,” even as she gets convicted of FUCKING MUTINY in a court-room that actually manages to be more sinister than that of the evil alien race she so badly wants to murder.


Look, it’s a fucking mess. As I write this, ‘Discovery’ is only two episodes old, and all the usual caveats are being bandied around:

  • But it’s only the pilot episodes! All the other Trek shows had rubbish pilots!
  • But it’s a series-long narrative! Nothing ever gets resolved in the first episode!
  • But it’s Star Trek, back on TV! Give it a chance!

Like ‘Into Darkness’ before it, the more I think about ‘Discovery’s first two episodes, the angrier I get, so let’s start with the big issues and work our way down.


In A Real-World Age of Racial Tension, Star Trek Comes Down On The Side Of The Racists

This is the thing that really bothered me. A few years back, there was a great movie about an old soldier coming to terms with his inherent bigotry, having to help to broker peace with a violent, hostile faction that had caused him great personal loss.

It was called ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’.

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Evidence exists that Star Trek used to be good, though debate still rages among historians about when that was and how long it lasted.

In it, the protagonist, a character called ‘James Kirk’, is caught up in an assassination plot, where the leader of a race of hostile aliens called ‘Klingons’ is killed whilst trying to start peace negotiations. It was the Klingons who had previously murdered James’ son just a few years earlier.

James doesn’t trust the Klingons, and he never will. He’s never been able to forgive them, for the death of his son. And yet throughout it all he remains committed to the peace process. As an officer of ‘Starfleet’, an organisation dedicated to protection, peace and, most importantly, exploration, he never betrays his oath to preserve life and prevent war. In the space of about a hundred minutes of screen time, he comes face-to-face with his own deep-seated bigotry, but with the help of his friends his tolerance and his trust win through.

Basically, at the beginning of the film, James thinks the Klingons are up to no good, as do a lot of heavily prejudiced people around him. And it turns out that a few of the Klingons ARE up to no good – but so are many Starfleet officers. We find out that even the most bloody of adversaries are equally capable of evil – and equally capable of peaceful intentions.

Now, let’s look at ‘Star Trek: The Rediscovered Bigotry’:

The “protagonist”, a character called ‘Michael Burnham’, is a career officer in the same Starfleet as James. She was raised by a race of aliens called ‘Vulcans’ – vegetarian, meditative, spiritual pacifists. Specifically, she was raised and mentored by their chief diplomat, who, in James’ time, would help to broker peace between Starfleet and the Klingons. Michael’s parents were killed twenty years ago when she was a child, during a Klingon raid of her colony.

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The new contender, seeking to take from Jon Snow the Crown of Bad Decisions.

Michael doesn’t trust the Klingons. She knows that they only practice war and violence. And so, when she’s confronted with one of their ships, she talks to her meditative, pacifist diplomat foster-father and asks him what to do. He tells her that two centuries previously, the Vulcans brokered peace with the Klingons by pre-emptively attacking Klingon ships on sight, until the Klingons grew wary enough to sue for peace.

So, Michael implores her captain to pre-emptively destroy the Klingon vessel.

Michael is a human, which means that in the two centuries since the Vulcans and Klingons made peace, her own species went from the brink of nuclear annihilation to planetary unification, eradicated economic scarcity, formed a socialist technological utopia which spans hundreds of star systems, and is now one of the most influential species in the galaxy.

Knowing all of this, and having been through the Vulcan education system of unwavering rationality and logic, and being an established “xeno-anthropologist”, Michael concludes that Klingon culture could not possibly have changed in those two centuries, and that therefore whatever tactics worked back then must still be entirely applicable now. She reaches this conclusion strongly enough to betray her own captain, and friend, of seven years, and tries to commit mass murder, even knowing that a fleet of Klingon vessels is likely only moments from arriving.

Now, the problem here isn’t that Michael jumped to stupid conclusions, or took stupid actions, or acted entirely in contradiction to the anthropological background established for her character in the same fucking episodes. Well, okay, they are all problems, but no worse than the problems that plague many other TV shows. The problem is that Michael is proven right.

Because as she predicts, the Klingons attack. Without provocation, without reason. We see the Klingons as they make their decision to attack, and it all boils down to one religious weirdo and known outcast telling them that they, y’know, totally should attack, because, like, have you seen those Starfleet guys? They want to talk! To Klingons! Who does that? Villains, that’s who.

Which means that the Klingons are, apparently, exactly as bloodthirsty and aggressive as Michael believes. That’s the actual truth. We even see other Starfleet officers calling Michael out on her racist bullshit – and they are proven to be wrong.

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He seems like an interesting character, I sure can’t wait to see how he develops in future episodes. I can really see him becoming a Gul Dukat-esque enduring and long-standing villain.

In ‘The Undiscovered Country’, in roughly the same amount of screen time as ‘Discovery’s opening two episodes, we are shown that the Klingons are a functioning society – martial, certainly, even aggressive – yet still capable of pragmatism, and philosophy, and contemplation. They may turn to warfare more readily than the Vulcans, or even the Humans, but they, as a nation, don’t just commit to random acts of violence without reason. They do things with purpose.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of people really pleased with the “cultural development” that the Klingons received in ‘Discovery’, and in fairness, it is nice to see them get some fancy new costumes and a more cohesive aesthetic and for them to reveal a bit of their religious side. But all of that is surface detail – it doesn’t particularly inform their decision to just start a war because some bloke told them to.

And, not to get too on the nose about things, but I’m concerned about a Star Trek franchise that uses, as its main antagonists, a bunch of overly-religious, dark-skinned foreigners who commit “terror attacks”, as the show calls them.

Y’know, it wasn’t so long ago that ‘The Next Generation’ put a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise, specifically to point out that different species, races and cultures can all co-operate because they all share so much in common.

If ‘Discovery’ changes tack a little, or reveals more of the Klingon culture to explain their apparent total lack of hesitation when it comes to starting galaxy-wide wars, then I will feel a lot better about things. But if it doesn’t, this is going to feel like a huge step backwards in terms of cultural and racial sensitivity.

Oh, and we should probably mention the fact that the dark-skinned leader of the Klingons gets killed, and replaced with a white-skinned dude. And the fact that a Malaysian captain who is also a woman is killed off to be replaced with a middle-aged white dude. Get your shit together, Star Trek.


Two Full-Length Pilot Episodes Barely Manage To Set Up A Single Plot Point

Broadly speaking, you’ve got a few different formats for TV shows these days. You can go entirely episodic – such as the original ‘Star Trek’, and ‘The Next Generation’ after it. Each episode is an instalment in its own right, a self-contained story with little, if any, continuity between episodes and series. Or you can go for a more modern, entirely series-driven narrative, like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Orphan Black’, where story arcs are rarely concluded within a single episode and instead each week offers a segment of a continuing plotline.

If those are two ends of a spectrum, then you’ve also got everything in the middle, exemplified by the latter series of ‘Deep Space Nine’, and also ‘Babylon 5’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Arrested Development’, ‘iZombie’, and many others, where you get an over-arching series narrative, delivered in episodic “chunks” (and sometimes scattered in between non-arc episodes, as in ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Firefly’).

Whichever format a series falls into ends up defining the structure of each episode, and particularly the structure of its pilot episode. Pilot episodes, as the very first introduction to hopefully a long-running series, have two objectives – to lay out the premise of the show, and to get the audience back the following week. Now, the premise of the show includes its tone, its story, its settings, but also its characters and their relationships with one another.

A great example of a good pilot episode is that of ‘Firefly’, the episode itself titled ‘Serenity’ (confusingly, the same name as the follow-up movie after the show’s cancellation). This pilot is ninety minutes long, and introduces us to all of the most important elements of the show itself. It introduces all nine characters (as well as the tenth, the ship itself), it shows us their roles and responsibilities, it shows a good chunk of the universe they travel in, and the kind of stakes they’re up against. The use of energy-dense food as the plot-central cargo highlights the kind of survivalist tone that will dominate the rest of the series, through ‘War Stories’ and ‘Out of Gas’, whilst the criminal shenanigans set the mood for future heists in ‘The Train Job’, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Trash’. And finally the peculiar arrival of Simon and River Tam, and their significance to the antagonistic and oppressive Alliance, prepares the foundation for a longer-running, series-length mystery.

firefly_primary.jpg
In a far-away star system, with spaceships and hover sleds and holograms, mankind is yet to improve upon the lever-action shotgun when it comes to projectile weapons.

Like ‘Firely’, the (combined) pilot of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lasts around ninety minutes. But that’s where the similarities end, sadly. It introduces six main characters – two of whom will be dead by the pilot’s end, and one of the ones left alive speaks a total of about eight lines. The titular ship itself, the Discovery, doesn’t even make an appearance outside of the title credits. Two factions are introduced, but despite war breaking out between them they receive no exposition – we get no indication of their relative strength, or their advantages or disadvantages, or even their size. Is Starfleet an armada of thousands of ships in this time period? Are the Klingons a quadrant-spanning empire or do they only occupy a small corner of the galaxy? What exactly are the stakes in this conflict? What do the Klingons count as a victory?

Michael has allegedly been a crew member under Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) for seven years, along with Lieutenant Saru, but they still deliver basic exposition about themselves to one another as though they’ve just met. Of course, this is for the audience’s benefit, but it contradicts the stated facts about their relationships. We don’t meet anyone else from Starfleet – a small handful of crew members get a couple of functional, information-delivering lines (plus one particular bit of jarringly anachronistic ‘banter’) and we meet an annoying but broadly sensible admiral who lasts for two minutes before getting terminally pancaked.

A lot of people have been comparing ‘Discovery’s pilots to previous Trek pilots. This is a somewhat flawed approach – ‘Discovery’ isn’t competing with thirty-year-old sci-fi shows produced on low budgets, it’s competing with the mind-bogglingly huge catalog of contemporary and expensive shows on offer across multiple viewing platforms. But let’s compare it to old Trek anyway – just for fun, eh?

‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ was the second pilot for The Original Series. Like ‘Discovery’, it only introduced a handful of main characters, and like ‘Discovery’, two of them would be dead by the end. But it was also forty-five minutes long, and presented a self-contained story with a beginning, middle and end. At least three characters had arcs of their own, where they learned something new about themselves, and about the galaxy they inhabited. There never was an over-arcing plot to The Original Series, and so we don’t get much world-building. But this was also fifty-one years and two days before ‘Discovery’s release.

The Next Generation was introduced with ‘Encounter At Farpoint’, a two-part pilot, like Discovery’s, and about equivalent in length. In it, we meet ten main characters (and a couple more who would become much more significant later on (plus an old but familiar face)), and we see how they each deal with difficult and dangerous situations. We learn about their personal histories, their past and present relationships. We learn in near-excruciating detal about the ship on which the show would be set for the next seven years – we see its capabilities and a whole host of new technologies. And, again, we get a fully resolved story in that time, and arcs for many of the characters, and we even get a smidgen of world-building with the introduction of the Q Continuum. Now, ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is not necessarily an enjoyable piece of television, but it does its bit as a pilot episode.

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The only reason that chair hasn’t been gnawed upon is because technically it’s “furniture” and not “scenery”.

Half-way through Next Generation’s run, we got a spin-off show, ‘Deep Space Nine’. This show opens with ‘Emissary’ (not ‘The Emissary, that’s an episode of Next Gen, do keep up). ‘Emissary’ uses ninety minutes to present a large, ensemble cast and deliver their backstories, which would inform the development of their relationships, friendships and rivalries over seven seasons. We get to explore the station, meet its inhabitants, learn about its position and its importance. We’re introduced to the series’ long-running antagonists, the Cardassians, and their leader, Gul Dukat, as well as the spiritual-mystical-bullshit plot about The Wormhole Prophets that would keep resurfacing throughout the rest of the show. We learn about the Bajorans, some aspects of their culture and their religion, and their recent history of oppression by the Cardassians, and the political fallout that followed their emancipation. Oh, and alongside all of that world-building we also get a fully resolved story with multiple character arcs. And, like ‘Farpoint’, ‘Emissary’ isn’t DS9’s best installment – but again, it sets up the show that we’d end up loving.

‘Caretaker’ is a shakey start to a shakey show. Star Trek: Voyager was not my favourite part of the Star Trek franchise, but its pilot episode, again, did a solid job of introducing another seven-season-long piece of Trek history. It’s ninety minutes, again. We see the ship, we meet two different crews who later merge. We get a fully-resolved story. We also get some good groundwork on the show’s over-arcing premise – that they’re stranded, decades from home, with limited resources and little hope of seeing their families again. We learn about some of the first season’s recurring antagonists, the Kazon, and we get some world-building for the Delta Quadrant, the area of space in which the show is set.

After ‘Voyager’, there was ‘Enterprise’. I will be honest, I hated ‘Enterprise’, and providing a breakdown of its pilot would require me to watch it again, which I’m just not prepared to do. But I do remember a few details – ninety minutes long, ship, crew, long-running antagonists, fully-resolved story, etc. etc. Something about Klingons. Oh, and it did its best to introduce the era’s technology level – set many, many years before The Original Series, it was necessary to regress the technology somewhat, which I think it managed to do.

Anyway, the point is that it is possible to do a good pilot within ninety minutes. There is more than enough time to introduce a sizable cast, to start a long-running narrative, and to tell a story – and if you don’t believe me, I’ve presented my findings in the below table:

pilotstable

As you can see, the data speaks for itself.


Starfleet Is Apparently Now A Sinister Shadow Government

Okay, this probably seems minor to most of you but it really pissed me off. Why was Burnham’s court martial so fucking shady? We’ve seen Starfleet courtrooms before – they’re well-lit and full of people wearing pyjamas. They look like this:

TOSCourtMartial.jpg

Or this:

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Or maybe this:

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And sometimes this:

tng_firstduty

And this:

ds9_rulesengagement_049

Hopefully by now I’ve made myself clear.

And yet, because ‘Discovery’ is pretty much entirely style-over-substance, Burnham’s court martial is conducted in the dark, with three adjudicators who are all apparently from the race of aliens who can only be perceived as silhouettes. For, reference, here’s an image of a Klingon courtroom. You may have heard of the Klingons, they’re the fucking antagonists of the whole fucking show.

undiscovered_trial

And Michael Burnham doesn’t even get her own defense attorney, meaning trials in Starfleet are now less fair than trials in the Klingon Empire. Wasn’t Starfleet meant to represent the pinnacle of human social advancement? Isn’t the Federation dedicated entirely to the fair and just treatment of all of its citizens? Christ, ‘Starship Troopers’ was a dystopian satire with trials that lasted seconds and resulted in executions, and even in that universe you could see the judges’ faces.

Portraying Starfleet’s courtrooms in such a sinister fashion implies that Burnham was unfairly sentenced, but it’s worth bearing in mind that she did attack her captain, attempt mutiny and do everything she could to start interstellar fucking war. What’s the point that the director’s trying to make, exactly?

Starfleet and the Federation should be aspirational – they should represent a brighter, better path for humanity. Deep Space Nine’s “Section 31” was controversial among fans precisely because it was such a cynical element in what was always meant to be a shiny, optimistic vision of the future. Don’t get me wrong, I liked “Section 31”, and the idea that maintaining Utopia won’t always be easy, and that there will always be someone trying to corrupt paradise from within. But ‘Discovery’ presents that as the accepted norm.

Also, whilst I’m on the subject of minor things that normal people don’t care about, why does the science console on the Shenzhou (Captain Georgiou’s ship) display only two pieces of rudimentary information at a time? Every random screen in Star Trek was always covered in data, with navigational charts, crew rosters and details of diplomatic missions to Alderaan. But now, apparently the science console, y’know, the nexus of all the data collected by every sensor and scanner on the ship and which requires a seasoned officer with multiple degrees in various disciplines to use, presents two numbers at a time, in 3000-point font size. Seriously, fuck this show.


Okay, Fine, There Is Some Good Stuff If I’m Being Completely Honest And Unreasonably Generous

There are some moderately positive elements to Star Trek: Discovery. By which I mean there were occasional moments that didn’t leave me furious.

Burnham using ethical theory to convince the computer into releasing her from icy, vacuumy death in the brig was my favourite moment. It had a classic Star Trek feel, and brought back memories of Kirk talking super-machines to death on a regular basis. It’s a shame that Burnham wasted this good faith by being an unrepentant bigot and warmonger the rest of the time.

The cold open, in which Georgiou and Burnham traipse across a desert planet to save a primitive species from dying of thirst, was also great. It immediately confirmed Georgiou as a resourceful, charismatic leader, and was a nice reminder of the humanitarian exploration that used to be the focus of the franchise. Y’know, before Damon Lindelof turned up and made it all about torpedoes and violence.

georgiou.jpg
*wistful sigh*

Captain Georgiou in general was wonderful, and as mentioned at the start of this post, should really have been the main character. She seemed like a good old fashioned Starfleet officer – ethical, curious, determined and capable. Christ, do you remember being able to look up to the characters on Star Trek? When Picard would give a speech that actually convinced you of the virtue of morality? When Kirk was a thoughtful, sensitive soul and not a horny teenager who liked shouting? When starting a war represented the worst-case scenario, and not the desired outcome of the show’s main character? Crude Reviews remembers.

Lieutenant Saru was snarky and charming in a pathetic fashion. I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with a species whose racial trait is “fucking terrified”, but it makes about a thousand times more sense than whatever the fuck the Ocampans were meant to be, so I’ll gladly see where it leads.

I appreciated the decision to have Georgiou and Burnham wear some actual fucking protective equipment when knowingly going into a fight. For too long, Trek characters have willingly thrown themselves into dangerous situations wearing, at the very best, a fairly thick whoollen tunic.


There Are Always Possibilities

Obviously, I’m unhappy about ‘Discovery’s opening gambit. “Unhappy” is the wrong word, actually – it makes me uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with the shift towards “dark” and “gritty” Star Trek. It’s all very well trying to fit Star Trek into the modern trend of violent, depressing, series-long narratives, but there surely must still be some scope for a little bit of positivity?

discovery-klingon2
Commander Blue-Eyes Angry-Face, who apparently has reached skill level 100 in Smithing.

I’ll be sticking with ‘Discovery’. Despite the disappointments of its pilot episodes, it has left itself plenty of room to do some interesting stuff. The Dominion War was a chance for DS9 to explore humanity’s ability to cling to its values whilst fighting for its survival. ‘Discovery’ could do something similar, and that might be excellent.

That said, with confirmations that ‘Discovery’ will bring back both Harry ‘Sex Trafficker’ Mudd and the Mirror Universe, and with only a fifteen-episode season (including these two pilot episodes), I worry that the greater likelihood will be that the show becomes an endless series of callbacks to what has boldly gone before, interspersed with violence and violations of orders and some contrived excuse for another fucking holodeck episode.

What really, really worries me is that Burnham will never have that “Oh, shit!” moment. By the end of the pilot episodes, she remains convinced that she tried to do the right thing. There’s no “maybe I goofed” feeling coming from her – she seems to still think everyone around her is blind to the realities of the situation. And the show has proven her right: if she had been able to fire upon and destroy the Klingon ship when she tried to, she may have averted the subsequent battle. And that, for me, is a terrible lesson for Star Trek to try to teach. I always thought Star Trek was about finding alternatives to violence, about finding commonality and shared values, but it seems that now we’re on a darker path.

If I’m proven wrong, I will be glad.

The Daily Philistine – January 5th – Marc Chagall and Jocelyn Pook

Picture of the Day – Marc Chagall’s ‘Adam and Eve Expelled From Paradise’

marcchagallexpulsionfromparadise

I first saw this piece whilst on a backpacking tour of all the most beautiful churches of France. I stopped off for a quick snack, a niçoise salad and a 1956 Domaine de Familongue Rosé, the best that Nice had to offer, when I glanced through the open shutters of a nearby window and spotted-

HA! Just kidding, I’ve never been to France. This is the painting Spock has in his quarters in ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’. It’s a reminder to him that things end. For me, I just like the vibrant colours.

Yup. That’s all I have to say about that.

EDIT: A friend and former colleague (and talented artist himself), Dave, had this to say about Chagall:

Favourite painter.
American Windows is my favourite. As an artist Chagall was always a painter until his 80’s when by chance he accepted a commission and went into stained glass. These works became some of his most influential and challenged the convention of traditional stained glass. This taught me that an artist is never too old to change and that an artist “should” change if that’s what is necessary. That no matter your age you can still challenge conventions. This literally made me believe that I will never be too old to create beautiful things.

You can find some of Dave’s own work here – he’s an actual talented creative person, unlike me, and has done some amazing pieces of art. I hate him.


Music of the Day – Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Blow the Wind / Pie Jesu’

Spotify Link: Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Blow the Wind / Pie Jesu’

My parents had loads of those compilation albums when I was a child. ‘Classical Chillout’, ‘Mystic Moods’, ‘Chillout Moods’, lots of chillouts and moodiness. This peculiar mash-up of an old Northumbrian folk song and Christian refrain is strange, haunting and beautiful – just like my sex life. It takes me back to afternoons spent in a rainy conservatory in Cheshire, surrounded by cats and a big dog and a wood-burning stove. It’s great.

Oh, and would you look at that? The Youtube clip is from a ‘Pure Moods’ compilation album!

Crude Fiction: Formal Complaints aboard the Enterprise

I’ve been re-watching a lot of Trek recently, and y’know what? It’s fantastic, it really is. ‘Deep Space Nine’ is as awesome as ever, and ‘The Next Generation’ is just wonderful.

One trend I noticed, though, in Next Gen’s later seasons, was Riker’s increasing tendency towards “Trickster God” status. As such, I decided to follow through on that, with a skit on one of my favourite pieces of internet comedy. Okay, two of my favourite pieces of internet comedy. Enjoy.


Number One,

I’ve had a series of complaints sent to me regarding your conduct over the last few weeks. If the stories inside these letters are true, then I think we need to have a discussion about acceptable behaviour aboard a starship, however I thought it only fair that you be given the chance to review the complaints yourself so you may give me your own interpretation of what happened.

Regards,

Picard.


Dear Captain,

As you may be aware, a few days ago I attempted to simulate the gaining of body weight, a common experience for humans of my age. The crew and other officers were very supportive, particularly Doctor Crusher, who helped me to accurately capture the built-up subcutaneous bulk necessary for an authentic representation.

Sadly, there was one exception to this supportiveness, which was Commander Riker. I found it highly inappropriate of him to follow me around the corridors with his trombone, playing what can only be described as a series of ‘sad notes’ as I walked to my various destinations.

Though I had expressed a desire to also be subjected to the ‘ribbing’ that many overweight individuals suffer in some primitive societies, I feel that Commander Riker’s elaborate efforts were particularly over-the-top and unrealistic by most standards. Especially his reassignment of Engineering Team Four-B to reconstruct the entrance to my quarters, such that I was unable to fit through the doorway without considerable difficulty.

I am yet to raise the issue with Commander Riker, and would appreciate any advice you could offer on confronting him in a constructive and friendly manner. Although I have since returned to my normal weight and size, I feel his actions may have had a hurtful effect on other members of the crew who are themselves naturally of a larger size.

Kind regards,

Data.


Jean-Luc,

Will’s been bothering me again. The other day he came into sickbay with another Parrises Squares injury, which is pretty normal. After I patched him up, he started asking questions about chemical compounds – things like the best way to replicate methylamine, tropane alkaloids and ergotamine. When I asked him why he wanted to know, he just said “don’t worry about it.” A few days later, he came in and just straight-up asked how to make to “the good stuff, you know, the real hard shit.” Again, I asked him what it was for, but he just told me to stop worrying and then left again.

Jean-Luc, if he wants to know more about chemical preparations I don’t mind him asking, but I would just feel a lot better if I knew why. Would you have a word with him, make sure he’s not doing something ill-advised?

Beverly.


I received this one a couple of days afterwards, Number One, and I certainly hope the two aren’t related:


Captain I love this ship everything is so shiny and I love how fast it goes and how all the stars shoot past like little fairies and I love the seats everything is so comfy and how the jeffries tubes are like ants nests and I love how your head looks like an ice moon but I hope you aren’t sleeping with my mother but if you were I’d be your dad no wait you’d be my dad and then we could go fishing together and you could teach me how to make wine that tasted like warp speed I love you love from Wesley.


Captain Picard,

I must strongly protest at the actions of Commander Riker over the past few weeks. On my birthday, shortly after my return from the Bat’leth tournament on Forcas III, I explained to Commander Riker my distaste for “surprise parties.” Counsellor Troi confirmed that she had persuaded him not to host one for me, for which I was most grateful.

However, since then Commander Riker has hosted no less than twenty-three surprise parties for me, all within the space of a month. They were mostly held in my personal quarters in a gross violation of my privacy, however he has also held four in Ten Forward, three at my Mok’bara classes and one at a briefing of my security staff.

This is completely unacceptable, and I must insist that you make him stop! I have repeatedly asked him to cease these childish events, and each time he has promised that he would, only to later tell me that he thought “it would be more of a surprise if I thought he had stopped.”

I have even requested a more secure locking mechanism on my quarters, but I did not realise that Commander Riker was a member of the Accommodation Administration Committee – and I did not like the way he was smiling at me as the committee chair offered to install security-coded maglocks on my door.

Please have this infantile display brought to an end at once!

Yours respectfully,

Lieutenant Commander Worf.


Captain,

Thank you for your congratulations on my recent promotion. It will take me some time to adjust to the increased responsibility, especially whilst maintaining my responsibilities as ship’s counsellor, but I look forward to the challenge.

I need to talk to you about the application process, though. Will was assessing me, as you know, and as you also probably know I struggled with one of the later parts of the test, the “engineering test.” It took me some time, and some repeated attempts, to figure out that it was necessary for me to sacrifice one life to save many. I am grateful to Will for taking me through it and helping me succeed, but some of his behaviour during the test was just troubling.

After I figured out that I had to send Geordi to his death, Will said there was a second part to the test. It seemed like more of the same – this time, a security problem, with hostages. The thing is, it turned out that the solution was once again to order Geordi to his death. I thought maybe that was a coincidence, but then in part three there was another simulation, even more elaborate, which required me to sacrifice Geordi again. We got to part five, with an incredibly contrived scenario which somehow required me to stab Geordi to death with a micro-optic drill before I decided enough was enough.

When I confronted Will about it, he said he was surprised I made it as far as part three, never mind part five, and then said I must have “some serious issues.” I told him he had taken things too far but he just laughed and told me that I needed to speak to a psychiatrist – I hope you appreciate why I didn’t find that funny.

Captain, Will and I go back a long time but this was too much, and I’m worried he’ll do the same thing to other officers – I don’t think Data would cope well with that kind of “test”, and I’m certain Geordi would object.

Please let me know if you need any more information.

Troi.


Sir,

I don’t know how, but somehow Commander Riker has managed to change all of the access codes on all of the transporter consoles again, this time to “stupidpaddy123”. I know it was Riker because last week he invited me as guest of honour to “Interstellar Scotland Day” in Ten Forward, and introduced me as “the ship’s resident walking stereotype, Paddy O’Toolbag”. I told him I was Irish and he told me to stop boring everyone and just play a tune on the haggis, and when I told him I wouldn’t he started playing ‘God Save The Queen’ on his trombone and then asked why I wasn’t singing along.

Regardless of the offensiveness of his remarks, he shouldn’t be messing around with security codes on any ship system, it’s a security issue and it makes life harder for me and my colleagues.

I’d also appreciate it if you could have him apologise for reprogramming my replicator to only produce boiled potatoes regardless of what I order. It must have taken him weeks to manually reconfigure every recipe in the databanks.

All the best,

Chief of the Potato People.


Sir,

That last message was meant to be signed off with “Chief O’Brien”, but he’s messing with my auto-correct now, too. Could you have a word?

All the best,

Chief Curly O’Curlycurls.


Number One, I hope you see why these reports are so troubling. Speaking of events in Ten Forward, I was less than pleased with your antics last week. I was quite excited to attend the First Annual Frontier Archaeology Symposium, so you’ll understand my disappointment to walk in to find myself at “Johnny Luke’s Head Polishing Masterclass”. Although I am impressed at how many of the crew and senior officers you managed to convince to wear bald caps.

Please see me at 0900 tomorrow, and please make sure you’ve had a good hard think about what it is you’d like to say for yourself.

Picard out.

‘Star Trek: Beyond’ Exceeds Expectations By Not Being Shit

So, ‘Star Trek: Beyond’, the film that was almost suffocated at birth by the Jovian-magnitude mediocrity of its own marketing campaign, which consisted of a trailer that was more damaging to public mental health than an outbreak of airborne CJD, followed by a cringe-worthy apology by Simon Pegg that made you just want to wrap him up in a duvet and give him hot food and clean clothes.

First of all: forget about the motorbike. It’s not that big a part of the film, and it’s used in a relatively sensible, creative and, dare I say it, “Star Trekky” fashion. It doesn’t just make vroom-vroom and shoot the pew-pews and it’s far less offensive than, for instance, the “Argo” of ‘Nemesis’ fame.

Speaking of “Star Trekkiness”, ‘Beyond’ is the “Star Trekkiest” Star Trek film since ‘Insurrection’. Sadly, ‘Insurrection’ was also a big smelly puddle of wankscrement, so I’ll go as far as to say that ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ is the Star Trekkiest Non-Wank Star Trek Film since ‘Undiscovered Country’ or ‘First Contact’ – take your pick based on preference. I know ‘Generations’ was pretty Star Trekky, but it was Star Trekky in a bad way, a kind of non-sciencey stupid-space-magic Doctor-Who kind of a way, so I prefer to just ignore it.

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‘Beyond’ manages to present a vision of the future that’s actually optimistic, with advanced technology and peaceful coexistence and openly gay people, rather than the vision of the future from ‘Into Darkness’ which was actually just a vision of 1950’s America but somehow with more hatred of women. ‘Beyond’ features female admirals, female character development and even women wearing clothes and not removing them – it’s as though the future will actually be egalitarian, rather than a crypto-fascist state run by middle-aged white men who pat themselves on the back for being “enlightened”.

Speaking of ‘Into Darkness’ and how much it ruins everything, ‘Beyond’ now fully enshrines the proud tradition of enabling fans to simply ignore the shittiest parts of the Star Trek franchise. Just as ‘The Final Frontier’ can be completely omitted when watching the original films in order, so too can ‘Into Darkness’, because nothing that happens in it is referenced or even relevant to the events of ‘Beyond’. No discussion of Kirk’s functional immortality, Carole “Attractive-And-Screams-A-Lot” Marcus, or the fact that Starfleet is made up entirely of munitions-grade arseholes. The only thing you now need to watch from ‘Into Darkness’ is the first ten minutes and twelve seconds, which should cover the excellent opening scene right up to the point that the “Star Trek” title appears, and right before the stupid “Into Darkness” subtitle fades in stupidly below it. Ten minutes, twelve seconds – I timed it.

Indeed, ‘Beyond’ feels very much like an apology to the fans for the capital crimes that ‘Into Darkness’ committed against the franchise. Hell, ‘Beyond’ actually styles itself as the spiritual successor to ‘Wrath of Khan’, the very same film that ‘Into Darkness’ tried and epically, fucking catastrophically failed to emulate.

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All of the characters are back doing what they should be. Kirk now feels like a capable leader rather than a dribbling idiot. Spock is back to being a resolute source of rationality, rather than an unstable sociopath with a history of violence. Scotty is more than just comic relief, Chekov is a valuable all-rounder, McCoy acts as a capable Second Officer and shows off his medical capabilities without resorting to dangerous, non-consensual and completely sporadic experimentation on living subjects. Hell, Sulu is the actual fucking pilot this time, rather than a cardboard cut-out that Kirk places in the captain’s chair whenever he needs a cigarette break. And they even gave Uhura stuff to do that wasn’t completely stupid and pointless.

To go further, I’m going to have to get specific, and specific about spoilers. If you want to avoid the spoilers, come back here after you’ve seen the film…


Is It Actually Any Good?

The first thing that stands out in ‘Beyond’ is Simon Pegg’s influence. The script is filled with self-awareness, geeky references to the franchise and enjoyable dialogue. It’s refreshing and is pretty much exactly what was needed to cleanse the palette of the knuckle-dragging blockheadedness of the previous installment.

The second thing that stands out is that ‘Beyond’ is very much a sequel to the 2009 reboot film. As mentioned earlier, there is absolutely no fucking reason to even consider ‘Into Darkness’ a Trek film anymore. The themes of ‘Beyond’ tie in directly to the themes established in 2009 – specifically, Kirk’s absent father and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld.

‘Beyond’ parallels elements of ‘Wrath of Khan’ pretty wonderfully, setting up Kirk’s journey during a quiet birthday celebration with McCoy. Kirk starts this film lost, almost depressed, unsure of his purpose, living in the shadow of his dead father – where in WoK the older Kirk was living in the shadow of his own reputation and old age. The set-up mirrors the classic film in exactly the right way, toasting “perfect eyesight and good hair” – a Simon-Peggian nod to the same scene in Khan, where McCoy gifts a pair of spectacles to a hairpieced Shatner.

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This little scene exemplifies the real strength of ‘Beyond’, which is the characters. Throughout the film, we see the cast being proactive, tenacious, solving their problems with ingenuity and co-operation, and they all feel like an actual team working together. When the crew was faced with catastrophe in ‘Into Darkness’, they waddled around the sets flailing their arms like Kermit the Frog before solving their issues with punching, explosions and violence. ‘Beyond’ still has plenty of action but it’s always framed around a desire to save others from danger and prevent disaster, rather than brutally murdering the latest bad guy of the week. Gone are scenes such as Spock hitting someone with a rusty piece of metal like a drunk football hooligan on fucking mephedrone, or Uhura manically ranting about her relationship issues during a firefight like the worst Hollywood female stereotypes.

On the subject of relationships, this film manages to get them right by not really showing any. Uhura and Spock continue their troubled relationship predominantly off-screen and in a mostly sensible fashion that actually makes them both seem fairly normal, and there’s no other silliness to do with romance throughout. I was worried that the ‘Jaylah’ character would end up being a standard love interest for Kirk, but they avoid that misstep successfully throughout.

And on the subject of missteps, you’ve always got to be careful when it comes to blowing up the Enterprise, but ‘Beyond’ arguably has the best Enterprise-demolition scene of the franchise. Compared to ‘Search for Spock’, in which the ship goes down mostly as an afterthought, and ‘Generations’, where she mostly gets done in by idiocy and a pair of cartoon villains, the demise of the flagship in ‘Beyond’ manages to be painful, almost wrenching, as she is slowly torn apart by a vicious swarm of enemy vessels. It’s an emotionally significant sequence for both the characters and the audience, and it’s really a shame that it was revealed in the trailers, as I feel it would’ve had even more impact on me if I hadn’t known it was coming.

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The film is filled with traditional Trek solutions to problems – even, yes, the bit where the Beastie Boys save the day. The crew pulling technobabble out of their arses to beat an otherwise-unbeatable villain is precisely the most Star Trek thing you can put in a film besides rubber ears and nacelles. Of course, in the older series they’d have used bloody Bizet or Da Ponte or some other pretentious fucking sequence of vowels instead of a New York hardcore punk band, but ‘Sabotage’ actually works well in the sequence, especially for a younger audience.

Indeed, when bullshit technobabble is employed throughout the film, it always results in at least some exciting visuals, and that was not always the case in other Star Trek productions, where a made-up problem would be solved with some made-up “science” resulting in some dweeb in pyjamas tapping a few glowy buttons and then suddenly the peril is gone. Looking at you, ‘Voyager’, you sloppy monument to mediocrity.

The final element that I really liked in ‘Beyond’ is Spock’s storyline. Reflecting Kirk’s lack of direction, Spock faces a choice between two destinies, incompatible with one another. It’s mostly a side-plot, but it acts as a very touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy, and uses the presence of the old Spock from the previous timeline exactly the way it should – to inform the character of the new Spock, and frame his development and his arc.

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The most positive thing I can say about the film is that it was enjoyable. It wasn’t offensive, I don’t feel, to existing fans, and it was generally lively and exciting enough to simply be good fun. Of course, the same could be said of ‘Into Darkness’, that suppurating open wound on the franchise, but ‘Into Darkness’ mixed its stupid storylines with a hubristic attempt to invoke ‘Wrath of Khan’ and a toxic obnoxiousness that left a bad taste in the throat. But ‘Beyond’ seems genuinely to be a good film, and certainly the best of the ‘Reboot’ timeline films so far.


Nah, But Seriously, It Was Crap, Wasn’t It?

Well, no, not really. I mean, okay, there are some crap bits, it’s a Star Trek film, that’s congenital, like my obesity. But there’s no major fuck-ups that I picked up on.

But let’s get picky, eh?

First off, the special effects are pretty much spectacular, except for the odd moment where they suddenly look shit. Almost like they ran out of time and money, so contracted specific shots out to a cadre of six-year-olds equipped with Microsoft Paint. And I hate to call a Star Trek production out on its visuals, I really do, but ‘First Contact’ got it pretty much bang-spot-on twenty years ago, and it’s only ‘Insurrection’ that has dropped the ball since then.

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Secondly, whilst I must laud the inclusion of women in this film, Uhura basically gets the sexy lampshade treatment. She’s fairly pro-active, but in a very inconsequential way, and primarily serves as an exposition device. I feel for the writers on this one, because they gave Uhura three qualities in the first film: Being Attractive, Being A Language Nerd, and Being Spock’s Girlfriend. The first one is always active, like my liver, but the second one only has so many applications. As communications officer, even the original Uhura was a relatively minor part of things, because… I mean, she only pipes up when they’re being hailed and then returns to her slumber. And as for being Spock’s girlfriend, well, that’s pretty much the definition of a “shitty female role”, especially when the filmmakers intentionally dodge the draft on romantic subplots.

The weakest part of the film as a whole, for me, was the villain. He was suitably threatening, but he is essentially a ‘Nero-clone’ – an angry villain intent on destruction, but with minimal motivation at first, elevated to “tenuous” motivation following some forced exposition. Idris Elba does a fantastic job, obviously, and the character manages to mirror Kirk’s arc throughout the film, adequately crystallising his personal dilemma. But Captain Skull or whatever the fuck he calls himself is no fucking Khan. He’s no fucking V’Ger probe.

And, actually, that’s kind of fine. Weak villains are almost a staple of the series, and the focus is and always should be on the obstacles they present to the crew. This is best exemplified by ‘The Voyage Home’, where there isn’t even a sentient villain, or by ‘Darmok’, where the villain is LANGUAGE ITSELF. These stories are about “people overcoming”, and ‘Beyond’ certainly captures the essence of that.


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So, if you haven’t seen ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ yet, you really should. If nothing else, if this film does well they may end up making more like it, rather than spray-shitting a load of Star Trek references onto a rejected ‘Die Hard’ sequel script like they did with ‘Into Darkness’.

Just bear in mind that it’s extraodinarily silly. I mean, Star Trek has always been silly, but the special effects these days really amp up the silliness to the point that there’s no way of getting past it. I enjoy the ridiculousness of it all, though – it’s almost refreshing, in an era of cinema where Superman is a violent murderer and Robin Hood is a boring arsehole. Embrace the silly. Revel in it. Because the closest you’re going to a quality silly film will be the next surreal fantasy that Tim Burton cookie-cutters out of Depp and Bonham-Carter.

A Numerical Review of Women in Movies

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I know some women – I’m even friends with a few – and I wanted to join in the celebration. Sadly, I was left at a loss of what to contribute. What could a white middle-class male between the ages of 25 and 40 add to a discussion about women’s role in the world?

Well, given that I spend my working time as a business analyst, and my spare time ranting about movies, I decided to combine those two dominant facets of my personality into a numerical analysis of women in film. It’s neither exhaustive, nor is it particularly robust, but hopefully it will offer some insight. Or not. I don’t care. You don’t like it, do your own fucking spreadsheet.

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ANYWAY, I carefully and deliberately constructed a very rudimentary spreadsheet covering a few key variables of women’s roles and actions in films, and populated it with the films with which I, personally, was most familiar. I have filled in scores for these films based on my own memory – this means some of the numbers in there *may* be out by a small amount, where I have missed something small or where my memory has failed me, but I’m about 95% sure on most of them. If I had the time, I’d re-watch these films again, but I don’t. Blow me.

The sample size is relatively small, hence I’ve chosen not to go into too much analytical detail for this one at present. Instead, I will present a link to the file download below, followed by some exploration of the variables themselves. The file itself was created in Microsoft Excel, and that is probably the best tool for viewing and adjusting it.

Here we have it:

The Crude Reviews Femindex

That’s right, it’s called “The Femindex”, get over it.

I attempted to keep it as objective as possible – things that either are, or are not. For instance, “Female characters who have strong character development” is a tough one to quantify, as opinions are so varying on what constitutes strong character development. But “Female with flaws unrelated to sex and reproduction” is much easier to measure.

What I’d really like to see with this is other people adding their own favourite (and least favourite) films to this document, and seeing how much we can grow it by. Then we can really do some in-depth analysis. However, for now, hopefully it will prove to be at least a little interesting, and offer some food for thought in the wake of International Women’s Day.


 

jessica chastain

1 – The Femindex Score

Each film gets a score, based on the criteria it meets and how frequently it meets them – more or less. However, a low score does not represent a particularly misogynistic point of view, and neither does a high score represent a great feminist achievement. ‘The Hunt For Red October’, for instance, scores just as well as ‘Immortals’, largely because there are only two female speaking roles in the Cold War naval thriller – just as you might expect of a film set almost exclusively in military environments during the 1980’s. ‘Red October’ isn’t particularly hateful of women – they just don’t feature because of the authentic setting.

In general, though, those films which do score highly do so for good reasons – they generally feature a number of female speaking roles, and those roles manage to interact with one another and meaningfully affect the plot in a number of ways. Those films with low scores are generally male-focused and don’t have much to offer in the way of inspiration for modern-day women.

To account for varying tastes in what’s good and what’s bad, I’ve added a weighting system. Very simply, along the top of the sheet is a multiplier for each criterion which changes its significance. If you’re so inclined, I absolutely encourage you to mess around with this, see how it affects certain films. If nudity doesn’t bother you, set it to “0”. If you think female authority figures need more credit, you can double or even triple their significance.


ALL YOU NEED IS KILL

2 – Inclusion

The most obvious metrics are the easiest to determine. Namely:

  • How many women are in the top two names of the cast list?
  • How many female antagonists are there?
  • How many women speak more than a single line?

These are the very basics of inclusion – if you want to see women doing interesting things in a film, there have to actually be some first. The stipulation that they must utter more than a single line is an attempt to avoid extras, women who are there merely to scream, be in peril, and so on.

In terms of top billings, I have based this on either the end credits, the film’s poster, or worst case, IMDB’s order of cast listing. Hence, ‘The 13th Warrior’ gets a point, because Diane Venora was apparently the second-billed cast member. I can’t argue with the facts.

Note, I have given ‘Jurassic Park’ a point for female antagonists because the dinosaurs are all girls.


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3 – Interaction

The Bechdel Test is already a popular measure of female inclusion in movies – and is famously a very, very low bar by which to set the standard for “inclusion”. The Bechdel Test has three very simple criteria, criteria which I have adjusted to suit my own interpretation. The three criteria in my own analysis are:

  1. At least two speaking female characters interact in a conversation that does not include men.
  2. The conversation does not discuss a male character in a romantic or sexual way.
  3. The conversation does not discuss any male character from this film / universe.

I have chosen these criteria for a number of reasons. Firstly, by having three different scoring criteria, a Bechdel-friendly conversation scores very highly. Secondly, I am comfortable giving a point away even if a male character is discussed, because I want to see more scenes where women discuss how to defeat the villain or save their friend – and in this regard, I don’t care what the gender of the villain or the friend is.

The third criteria is a modification of the standard Bechdel rule of discussing “something besides a man,” mostly to give a bit of credit to ‘Iron Man 3’. In the film, Rebecca Hall talks to Gwyneth Paltrow, comparing her own situation to that of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The fact is, it would be very difficult for women to discuss history and science and exploration without referring to men at all as, sadly, most of our our history revolves around the actions of men. Since I think more women in movies should be having conversations just like this one, I personally find it acceptable for a deep discussion between women to feature the actions and words of historical figures who happen to be men.


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4 – Influence

‘Gravity’ is an unusual film, in which a female protagonist actually makes very little impact on her surroundings. In her role as a victim, we are essentially watching things happen to her, as opposed to her deciding to do much herself.

As such, my measure of “Change in Plot due to Female Action” is a score out of 5, and is arguably the most subjective of the metrics in this little exercise. I have tried to stick to a basic rule: the score is equal to the number of decisions that a female character makes, that subsequently change the direction of the story – and that number is then divided by two.

In a film like ‘Alien’ or ‘Into the Woods’, where almost the entire plot is pushed forwards by women at one point or another, I have assigned a flat ‘5’ as the score – since actually measuring this would be an exercise in tedium.

It should be noted that actions taken by women under duress – i.e., where they had no say in the matter, or actions taken because of women, don’t count. Just because the plot of ‘Star Wars’ revolves around rescuing Princess Leia, doesn’t mean she gets any credit for getting herself captured. She does get credit, however, for hiding the plans in R2-D2, for lying about the location of the Rebel Base, and for blowing a hole in a garbage chute and facilitating an escape from an unwinnable situation.

Similarly, the plot-relevant actions actually have to have an impact. ‘Uhura’ speaks Klingon in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ so she could avoid the away team’s slaughter by the Klingons – but all she manages to do is get herself choked, and the entire scene has literally zero impact on the film’s story. The same goes for Carol Marcus – if you were to remove her from the film entirely, nothing would have changed in terms of the narrative, so ‘Into Darkness’ gets nada.


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CAT

5 – Significance

Women might feature in a film, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-represented. As such, I have awarded points for women carrying out any of the following:

  • Combatant – namely, participating in a fight in which their own efforts are meaningful and threatening to their enemies, and they themselves are threatened by their enemies. Lamping an unsuspecting thug round the head with a bust of Adolf Hitler doesn’t count, but getting stuck into the fight “along with the men” does. 1 point for each woman who takes part in at least one fight in this manner. Note that this is NOT just a record of violence against women – they may get hurt or killed, but they need to be part of the fight, not victims of it.
  • Authority Figure – specifically, a point for each woman who gives instructions, and those instructions are heeded – not necessarily followed – by those around her. Can include women who act as mentors or sources of advice and guidance, but is focused on leadership. ‘Starship Troopers’ nails this one.
  • Positive Replacement – Actually inspired by ‘Starship Troopers’, in which crusty old white man Sky Marshall Dienes suffers a humiliating defeat, and is subsequently replaced by the commanding presence of Sky Marshall Tehat Maru. It happens twice more in the movie, in fact. It is essentially the replacement of one character in a significant role – male or female – with a female character – and the replacement is portrayed as mostly positive, or is made based on that woman’s abilities and qualifications rather than the fact there’s nobody else to do it.
  • Technical Role – a great suggestion by a very creative friend of mine, James. At its most basic level, a point for each woman with a job or duty that requires expertise in a particular field. ‘The Hangover’ gets a point for having a female police officer, whilst ‘Aliens’ runs rampant, featuring the qualified loader-operator Ripley alongside a female pilot, a female board member, a female medic and a trained female heavy weapons officer. Professors, technicians and doctors all count – secretaries and house wives do not.
  • Top Performer – Surprisingly rare given how easy it is to achieve. Points awarded for each woman who is “top of her class”, such as ‘Star Trek IV’s Valeris, or “the best and the brightest”, such as Mako Mori in ‘Pacific Rim’.

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6 – Characterisation

A tough one, this, especially if you want to stay objective. As such, I broke it down as simply as I could:

Flaws unrelated to sex and fertility – Too many female roles are “rounded” with character flaws and insecurities that are defined by some issue to do with their fertility (looking at you, ‘Prometheus’) or their sexuality (Inara and Kayleigh in ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’). Points are scored for this criterion for each woman who has some kind of personal issue that isn’t vagina-related, and as such I’m also excluding motherhood and romance from this one.

Character “flaws” for men in movies include things like alcoholism, parental abandonment, arrogance, inferiority, a desperate need for validation by their peers. Women need similarly varied problems – hence Ripley scores a point in ‘Alien’ for basically being pretty fucking ruthless when it comes to ship-board security. ‘Prometheus’ also manages to score a point for Vickers, who has some major insecurities from her relationship with her father and is generally a bit of a douchebag – if a very sensible one.

The other criteria for characterisation is for women who initiate or push for sexual or romantic contact. I’ve begrudgingly given ‘Deadpool’ a point, as it seems that it’s Morena Baccarrin’s character who wants to kick things off with Ryan Reynolds. And, because it’s the Prophetess in ‘Immortals’ who seduces Theseus, I am forced to give another begrudging point away.

Sexual confidence and assertiveness is really important – too many girls and young women are taught to wait for the boys to get things started, and having female characters who are capable of being proactive in relationships is definitely a good thing.


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7 – Negative Points

I mostly want to celebrate the positives and highlight where films have gotten things right, but I must also point out a few of the worse examples of women in films. The following criteria grant Negative points each time a film meets them:

  • Swooning – a woman passing out or collapsing when confronted with something unpleasant or threatening. It’s unrealistic, trite and pointless – and thankfully absent from the films I’ve so far included in the analysis.
  • “Mrs Pacman Effect” – This was an excellent suggestion by my friend Emma, and is mostly restricted to cartoons in which female characters are shown to be female by their long eyelashes, lipstick and blusher. I actually docked ‘The Phantom Menace’ for this one, due to Queen Amidala’s absurd get-up. No other Naboo citizen appears like this, and I’m quite confident that “King Aladima” would not have been presented in the same way.
  • Sex Work – a point docked for each female Stripper or Prostitute that appears. There may be some contention as to whether or not stripping counts as “sex work”, but I’ve included it. I do not wish to shame or denigrate in any way women who are sex workers, but I do wish to point out how frequently these roles for women appear in movies, compared to the very small percentage of the real-world population that actually do engage in these occupations. In ‘Independence Day’, half of the adult female speaking roles are strippers – and that’s statistically significant, I feel.
  • Female-only Nudity – doesn’t matter how artistic it is, or how much it counts as a metaphor, I have docked points for each scene in which a woman appears more naked than any of the men around her – or in which she is naked with nobody else around her. Although I would dearly love to slam both of the Abrams Trek movies for their gratuitous underwear scenes, I am counting nudity as Nipples, Arses and Pubes / Genitalia, because those things are objectively measurable. I am making no distinction between female nipples and male nipples. ‘Starship Troopers’ gets a clean pass, because no women appear naked when not accompanied by similarly naked men – meanwhile ‘Prince of Thieves’ actually scores negatively, because the only nudity we see is Kevin Costner, and there is absolutely no way that could be considered exploitative of anyone except the audience. And the camera operators.
  • Sexual Assault – regardless of the gender of the assaulter or the victim. I’m not trying to suggest that sexual assault should never be portrayed in films – indeed, it’s a powerful issue worthy of appropriate discussion and exploration – but too many women already suffer from sexual assault on a daily basis without having to see it in a film, so I have decided to dock two points for every instance of it as a blanket rule. I have also included threats of sexual assault – the fact that the threat of rape might be used to coerce or bully someone is really not much less distasteful to me than the act itself.

 

zoe

So, there you have it – a fairly comprehensive breakdown of the criteria by which I have judged each film.

Later in the week, I will be following this post with an analysis of the stats I’ve collected. But for now, I’d like to simply present the format, and hope that you have some fun messing around with it. Maybe you’ll find a film that scores surprisingly highly? Maybe a film you thought was very representative scores very poorly. Either way – let me know! I’d love to add to this index and get an actual, useful tool out of it.