Star Trek Saturdays #15

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #15!

292px-TOS_head

This week’s episode is “The Menagerie, Part 1” and it’s not only the first two-parter in Trek history, it’s also one hell of an episode, tense and intriguing from start to finish.

This is also, I feel incumbent to point out, the first episode–along with its 2nd part–written fully by series creator Gene Roddenberry. While he did come up with the stories for “Charlie X” and “Mudd’s Women,” this is the first episode where the screenplay is credited to him.

Our story opens with the Enterprise making a landing at Starbase 11 because, as Kirk explains to the officer who greets him, McCoy and Spock as they beam down, a subspace message was sent asking them to immediately divert there. However, the officer and the starbase’s commander, Commodore Mendez (Malachi Throne), inform them that the base sent no such message.

Kirk insists that Spock received the message from former Enterprise commander and current Fleet Captain Christopher Pike (Sean Kenney). Mendez tells them this is impossible and he explains to them that, during Pike’s routine inspection of a cadet vessel, one of the baffle plates–a part of the ship’s warp core–ruptured and Pike personally rescued the remaining crewmen. However, he suffered severe exposure to delta radiation and is now permanently confined to a specialized wheelchair. Mendez takes them to see Pike , who reveals himself in one of the most iconic images in sci-fi TV history.

Christopher Pike, The Menagerie

Pike cannot speak, but can send brain waves to his wheelchair, communicating with one beep for “Yes,” two beeps for “No.” Spock requests a moment alone with his former commander. When the rest leave, he tells Pike, “You know why I have come….I know it is treachery and it is mutiny, but I must do this.” Pike repeatedly beeps “No” to this, but Spock seems to not listen.

In Mendez’s office, Kirk tells him that the starbase did summon them, which Mendez emphatically denies. The record tapes show no such transmission and Mendez notes that Spock is the only one who heard this transmission. They argue for a while, with Mendez heavily suggesting that Spock fabricated the message while, down below, Spock infiltrates the computer banks of the starbase and manipulates the computer into ordering the Enterprise to leave orbit in an hour to an undisclosed location that Spock feeds to the ship’s computers and has them program coordinates to automatically.

Back in Mendez’s office, McCoy is called back aboard the Enterprise. Mendez then shows Kirk a top-secret report detailing what is known as General Order 7: “No vessel under any condition, emergency or otherwise, is to visit Talos IV.” The report, Mendez says, doesn’t even reveal why this is so, saying it’s only known to top fleet command and he shows Kirk that the only vessel to have ever visited the planet is the Enterprise…under the command of Christopher Pike and with Science Officer Spock.

Suddenly, Mendez and Kirk are alerted that Pike has disappeared from his room. Mendez contacts Starbase Operations for an explanation and is informed that the Enterprise is leaving orbit, refusing to respond to signals

On board, Spock informs the crew that Starfleet has sent them on a top secret mission, the location only known to the computers, and Kirk has been placed on medical rest, leaving him in command. McCoy enters the bridge, and Spock escorts him to a room containing Captain Pike; he plays him a tape of Kirk’s voice, saying McCoy is not to question Pike about anything and follow Spock completely. Pike continually blinks “No” during this. Suddenly, Spock is alerted to the fact that a shuttlecraft–containing Kirk and Mendez–is following them.

After the shuttle runs out of fuel and has only 2 hours of oxygen left, Spock orders the computer to bring the ship to a full stop and presents himself to McCoy for arrest. Kirk and Mendez beam on board and Kirk orders the ship to disengage. The computer informs Kirk, however, that it cannot; the computer controls are tied directly into the life support systems, so the ship cannot disengage until they reach Talos IV.

Kirk conveys a preliminary hearing, but Spock pleads guilty and requests a full court martial. As there are only two commanding officers present and three are needed for a court martial, Kirk refuses, but Mendez informs him that Pike is still part of the active duty roster because “We didn’t have the heart to retire him, Jim.

The court martial begins and Spock quickly convinces the court to display a video record of the Enterprise under Pike, 13 years ago, first encountering the planet of Talos IV (in events actually from the series’ first pilot, “The Cage” with Pike portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter). Kirk and Mendez claim the footage is not real, as records back then were not so meticulously filmed, but Pike, when asked, tells him that the events they’re seeing actually are what happened. And what the assembled officers see on the screen is strange indeed…

Oh man, this is a tense one. From the cold open, we’re presented with a mystery and, as Spock commits more and more subterfuge, it only gets deeper and deeper. The great thing about the episode using so much footage from “The Cage” is that it allows us to see just how different the world of the series originally was, and how it’s evolved since then. The uniforms, technology, heck, even the way transporters beam people down, are completely different and it’s remarkable to chart the progress made in the galaxy in only thirteen years according to canon. Roddenberry’s scripting makes the past and present events we see utterly gripping, and Marc Daniels’ direction (along with the footage from “The Cage” directed by Robert Butler) does a great job of bringing that across with tight, focused shots.

The performances from the central trio are great; we get to see Kirk being suspicious, McCoy being on edge (as well as deliver a short passionate speech about medical technology) and Spock being sneaky and manipulative, with Nimoy’s body language and facial expressions convey every ounce of his determination and desperation.

As Mendez, Throne is just as powerful a presence as Percy Rodriguez in “Court Martial,” conveying authority and sternness wonderfully. Of the two Captain Pikes, Hunter as the younger Pike is obviously more charismatic and appealing, Kenney, by simply sitting there under that scary makeup and staring, is just as affecting.

This is one tense hour of television, guys. Check this one out, or else have the ending spoiled next week.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

Advertisements

A Calendar of Tales by Neil Gaiman

Patronage is a funny concept. See, for much of the history of the arts, many creative people had to seek out the financial support of those in higher stations above them–like noblemen or merchants for instance–in order to finance their creative vision. The inevitable compromise for much of this is that the sort of person who’d sponsor, say, a play, would not want either their name, family name or position in society to be ridiculed. This started who-knows-how-many centuries ago and continued at least through the 19th century (Historians, correct me if I’m wrong).

In the 20th and 21st centuries, we haven’t really had things like that. I mean, there are things like endowments, awards like the Guggenheim and donations to things like public broadcasting, but that’s a bit different, I think.

The reason I’m mentioning all this is that Blackberry, as part of their “Keep Moving” campaign to promote their new Blackberry 10, has enlisted Neil Gaiman–creator of novels like Anansi Boys and American Gods and the Sandman series for Vertigo and also my favorite author of all time–to write stories using their new 10 phone coupled with Twitter, as Gaiman is a rather prolific tweeter.

What Gaiman decided to do was to write very short stories, one for each month of the year, by asking questions about the months on Twitter and writing his story based on the best response. The result, A Calendar of Tales, just went up for free on Blackberry’s website a few days ago and…it’s fan-freaking-tastic!!!

I mean, you’d expect stories of such short length and written for very commercial reasons to be phoned in and lame. But Gaiman didn’t do that; instead, he went ahead and created 12 different little vignettes ranging from a man and boy fighting monsters (January) and a tale of a djinn and a young woman (October) to a girl with the strangest pair of parents ever (June).

Part of why I love and value Gaiman’s writing so much is because he has such a distinct voice that carries you through everything and can make you believe anything. That is definitely the case here. Seeing as how the PDF of this is free, you have no excuse. Check this out.

Also, if you’re the artistic type, as that link says, they are currently soliciting illustrations, photos, etc. to accompany the stories. Feel free to do that, enjoy the stories and let me know what you think!

 

When Orson Met Clark

(DC Comics)

So I don’t know if I’ve talked about this a lot here-other than my Top 5 comics post-but I love Superman.

I know everyone says he’s corny, overpowered, irrelevant, or whatever you say, but I love him! I think its great that the character who invented the very concept of the superhero is also a character who does the right thing simply because its the right thing to do. I think that’s wonderful.

Because Superman has that quality of righteousness about him, I think that’s why many people became upset when DC announced in their solicitations for May that Orson Scott Card was going to write a story for the first two issues of the company’s new digital-first anthology series Adventures of Superman.

Now, Card’s written a lot of books but he’s best known for his Hugo and Nebula-winning novel Ender’s Game. He’s even written some comics before for Marvel’s Ultimate line. So why are people upset that an acclaimed, popular writer with comics experience is writing a Superman story?

Well, Card is, to put it bluntly, a homophobe. A conservative Mormon, Card sits on the board of directors for the infamous anti-equality organization, National Organization for Marriage. He’s also made past statements saying things like that there’s a link between homosexuality and pedophilia and if gay marriage is legalized, an armed upraising will be necessary. You can see why a lot of people are upset that he’s writing for the character some people have called “the Big Blue Boy Scout.”

Thinkpieces everywhere, from Comic Book Resources to NPR to the Guardian, have cropped up suggesting either Card should not be allowed to write the story, because of his values being incompatiable with Superman’s, or should be, given that freedom of ideas is one of the fundamental tenets of creativity. A petition on Allout.org begging DC to remove him has nearly 15,000 signatures, and several comic book retailers have said they won’t stock the issue when it is collected with another story and published in print in May. On his Facebook page, Martin Pasko, who wrote Superman comics in the 1970s, posted a long opinion on the issue in which he argued that both sides of this issue are equally right.

For their part, DC issued a press release stating that their creators are entitled to their personal views and that the company does not endorse them in any way. So what about me, you ask? Where do I stand?

Well, first let me explain some things. 1. I am pro-marriage equality. Over the past couple years, I realized that it just simply makes logical, ethical and moral sense. 2. The first gay person I ever knew in my sheltered Midwestern life was a comic shop owner.  I used to go into his shop every week and I always bought something no matter what. I remember over time, he told me the story of how him and his then-boyfriend once ran the store together, but when they broke up, he kept the business. This was around the time Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s revolutionary Batwoman stories in Detective Comics, which reimagined the side character as an ex-Army lesbian, was coming out and though we never talked about it, I could tell he loved comics just as much as I did and he really helped cement my tastes. When my first ever comic work was published online, I printed out a copy, gave it to him, and because he asked me to, I signed it. He helped me realize what comics can do and for that, I am grateful.

But I digress. Anyway, after reading many of these op-eds, contributing to the discussion on Martin Pasko’s Facebook page, and thinking it over, it was really Ty Templeton’s Bun Toon on the subject that drove it home for me.

I disagree with Card’s politics and his views enormously. His world is not the kind of world we live in now, hasn’t been for a long time, and hopefully will never be again. But just because I disagree with him doesn’t mean I’m not going to turn my back on a character that means something to me and to a whole lot of other people. I’ll be buying the stories. As someone who just recently got a smartphone and downloaded the DC Comics app right away, I’m excited by all the opportunities to bring comics to mobile devices. If this title sells well, there’ll be more stories by more creators.

Think about that: legions of good creators making Superman stories about whatever aspect of this rich character they want and doing it in a whole new medium. Just imagine the possibilities: heck, the other story slated to be published digitally and in print alongside Card’s (which is cowritten by Aaron Johnston and illustrated by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, incidentally) is by Jeff Parker, one of my favorite comic writers, and Chris Samnee, who drew that really damn awesome Superman picture up there. Who am I to punish these talented writers and artists because of one person’s views?

So I’m going to buy this, simply, because I think Superman transcends anything we can attach to him. Heck, as originally written by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman was a die-hard New Deal reformist and that center-left progressive stance is more or less encoded into his DNA. Add to the fact that there is no way on Earth that DC would let Card use their most popular character to spread his hate and intolerance and really, there isn’t much to complain about. So while I respect and understand the wishes of those who plan to boycott these issues, I’ll be buying them.

Because, in the end, I love Superman and one man and his noxious views can never change that.

Star Trek Saturdays #14

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #14!

292px-TOS_head

This week’s episode is “Court Martial” and while it starts out like the sort of story you’d expect from a title like that, it also combines some fast-paced adventure into the mix.

The story starts off with Kirk explaining in the Captain’s Log that they’ve just survived going through a severe ion storm that’s left one crewman–Lt. Benjamin Finney, records officer and estranged friend of Kirk’s–dead and they are on Starbase 11 for repairs. The commander of the base, Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez), calls Kirk into his office and demands to know precisely how Finney died.

Kirk tells him that, during the ion storm, Finney was in the ship’s ion pod taking some sensor readings and, when the Enterprise went to red alert, was told to get out of the pod by Kirk. But it became too late, and Kirk had to eject the ion pod, killing Finney in the process.

Spock then beams down into Stone’s office with the Enterprise computer’s records of the events Kirk talked about and Stone asks Kirk if he’s sure that he jettisoned the pod after signalling red alert. Kirk says he is, but Stone looks at the records, which say that Kirk ejected the pod before calling red alert, making him culpable for Finney’s murder. He confines Kirk to the base and schedules an inquiry to see if a court martial should be held.

Inside the officer’s club at the starbase,  Kirk and McCoy meet several of Kirk’s graduating class from Starfleet Academy. Kirk realizes that they think he killed Finney and he leaves. Right after he does, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall) enters and introduces herself to McCoy as a old friend of Kirk’s. “All my old friends look like doctors,” McCoy says in one of my favorite lines from this episode. “All of his look like you.”

   (Shaw, left, and Stone)

Back at the inquiry in Stone’s office, Kirk explains that he and Finney became friends because he taught at the Academy when Kirk was a midshipman and that Finney even named his daughter Jame after Kirk. Years later, they both served aboard the USS Republic; when Kirk succeeded Finney on one shift, he noticed that Finney had left a circuit open to the atomic matter piles that could have easily blown up the ship; he closed the switch and reported Finney, who was reprimanded and sent to the bottom of the promotion list; Kirk says that Finney always blamed him for never getting command of his own ship.

Kirk then explains that he sent Finney into the ion pod as it was his turn just before the ship entered the storm. On the edge of it, Finney checked in as Kirk issued a yellow alert.  As the pressure of the storm began rising, Kirk signaled red alert, which warned Finney to get out of the pod before it had to be ejected. Stone reminds Kirk that the computer’s logs show the pod being ejected before the red alert, which Kirk simply can’t explain. Stone suggests that maybe Kirk has been worn down by the stress and time of his command and offers to give him a ground assignment. Kirk refuses and insists that the records are lying; Stone then tells Kirk that a general court marital will convene at the starbase to determine his fate.

Back in the officer’s club, Kirk meets up with Shaw, who is a lawyer with Starfleet. He asks her to represent her, but she says she’s busy with another case and recommends  Samuel T. Cogley. She also tells him that he shouldn’t take the case so lightly because the prosecution will argue “Kirk v. Computer,” a stance Kirk stands to lose. When asked how she knows so much about the case, she tells Kirk that she is the prosecution.

Kirk returns to his room only to find that Cogley (Elisha Cook, Jr.) has already set up camp by surrounding himself with a ton of law books. Cogley says he has all these books because that’s where the law is found and not inside of computer banks.

(Cogley)

At the court martial, Shaw questions Spock, the personnel officer of the Enterprise and McCoy about computers, Kirk and Finney’s history and any possible resentment Finney might have harbored respectively, but Cogley declines to cross-examine any of them. He then calls Kirk to the stand and asks him if he’s sure that he told Finney to leave the pod before going to red alert. Kirk says so and that he would do it again because above all else, he cares for his ship.

Shaw then plays video footage from the incident showing Kirk pressing the eject button before the red alert, deliberately, it appears. “But that’s not the way it happened!” Kirk insists. And all this intrigue has gotten Spock thinking just what might have happened to the computer…

WOW; that was the longest plot summary I’ve written here yet and there’s a reason for that; usually, when I describe the plot of the episode, I try to do it without spoiling events as much as possible. But here, I had to explain so much to get to that point because this is one very complicated story.

And to me, that’s a good thing. The courtroom elements of this rank right up there with any good crime procedural and, although I’ve never watched it, the fact that this also has undertones of a military organization (which Starfleet is, in one respect) makes me wonder if this is what the best episodes of that old CBS drama JAG are like.

Now like I said, this starts off as a nice courtroom drama and what sells it are the new characters we see here. Rodriguez is a deft commanding presence, Marshall is great at subtly suggesting a past history between Shaw and Kirk and Cook Jr. (a character actor who, according to Memory Alpha, popped up in everything from The Maltese Falcon to Bonanza to Blacula) is best of all as the quirky, endearing Cogley, who has a great monologue about the rights of man in an age of machines.

Overall, this is a nice, complex episode that stands as a nice example of both court drama and fun space adventure. Recommended.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

 

Apologies, explanations and catchup

WOW, have I REALLY not posted for 2+ weeks? I am so terribly sorry about that, folks. You see, in addition to having all the craziness and stress that comes with the start of a new semester of college, something else happened:

I got sick.

And when I get sick–as I always do around this time of the year–I get REALLY sick. I mean, we’re talking coughing, sneezing, mucus, the works. There was one day when, with no explanation, I found myself barely able to move and stayed in my room all day.

And that really sucked because not only did I miss class and work, that was the day my beloved Community came back.

Yes, last week was one of the best weeks to be a nerd–Nostalgia Critic, Community and Gravity Falls all came back and I was sick for ALL of that. Man, that was infuriating.

So, in brief, here are some bullet points about stuff of interest that happened during my absence from the Internet:

  • The new Nostalgia Critic is great; Doug Walker has finally given his character a theme song, a title card, is using the cast of his cancelled project Demo Reel and is still doing the job of Internet nerd comedy better than anyone. Go watch him take down The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Trust me; you’ll be glad.
  • We are now two episodes into Community‘s long delayed fourth season and I’ve been impressed. Obviously, because there’s only 13 episodes, some emotional arcs are a bit rushed and compressed but it’s still funny. To me, that’s enough. Both episodes are now on Hulu.
  • Gravity Falls came back from its months-long hiatus and it’s still as weird and funny as it was when I wrote about it for you. Go hunt it out. I would link you to a review but The A.V. Club stopped covering it apparently…
  • The Internet is up in arms over Orson Scott Card–Ender’s Game author and noted homophone–writing stories for a new digital Superman comic. I might have to come back to this later…
  • Speaking of Superman, I finally saw the movie adaptation of one of my favorite things, Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, recently. Is it as heartfelt and amazing as the series? Of course not, but it’s dang good in its own right. Check it out.

Speaking of adaptations, I’m going to be a part of a panel on them at Taylor University’s Making Literature Conference on February 28!!!! I’m presenting on the Sherlock Holmes character of Irene Adler and how two different TV versions of her sole appearance in Doyle’s canon interpret her when compared with the original story. Full details are here. If you or anyone you know will be in Indiana that day, stop by! And hey, this just might spur me to finish my Summer of Sherlock series…

Well, that’s all for now, I think! Glad to be back and I’ll see you in this space tomorrow for Star Trek Saturday!

 

“Insert your joke about lens flare/smoke monsters here”

I don’t even think I need to put a link to this news, since the entire Internet pretty much collectively has blown up about it. But, just in case you didn’t know, Disney announced last week, with rumors leaking on Thursday and their confirmation on Saturday, that the director chosen to bring Michael Arndt’s script for Star Wars: Episode VII to the screen is none other than…J.J. Abrams.

Now, while a lot of respectable and smart people have made their fears and frustration known about this, I’m actually really excited.

Why? Well, because I think Abrams has that same sort of visual flair that early Lucas had and because…and this is really important…he’s a Star Wars fan. BIG TIME!

Even though Abrams’ biggest box office success as a director is undoubtedly his 2009 reboot of Star Trek (which, among other things, kept the brand alive and helped introduce ME to it), he went into the project as having been a Star Wars kid in addition to having only a general knowledge of the franchise. Ultimately, that general sense of the iconography, along with a script that proved Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman can actually write (when they’re not working with Michael Bay), is what helped make the film a success with mainstream audiences.

Now, Abrams as a filmmaker has really only made one original movie: 2011’s Super 8. But that film tells you everything you need to know about where he comes from; the main character, a kid named Joe with a love of making movies, monsters and special effects is undoubtedly drawn from Abrams.

And y’know what? I bet you anything that, if he could without everyone breathing down his neck and cursing his name all the time, George Lucas could have made that movie too. heck, he probably even WAS that kid too!

And for all of you joking about smoke monsters and polar bears or whatever, y’all need to remember something; Abrams is directing but not writing. He’s working off of a treatment and future script by Michael Arndt, an Oscar-winning screenwriter who, in his screenwriting workshops, uses A New Hope as the example of a perfect screenplay. Whatever Arndt has written, it must be powerful, because his story is what helped make the Disney/Lucasfilm deal happen.

Episode VII hits theaters in 2015. I’ll be there and so will probably a lot of you. Till then, may the Force be with you.