Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Stoke Me a Kipper"

“Stoke Me a Kipper” is Chris Barrie’s kinda sorta send off. He will make another appearance this season, though not as the real Rimmer, so for all intents and purposes, this is the end of the character. At least until the eighth series, when barrie decided the lighter demands of the seventh series were enough for him to recharge his batteries and resume the role. The after the fact revelation the episode is not really barrie’s swan song does not detract from the episode. It is one of the best in the series.

I mentioned yesterday the production values of series seven have greatly increased over the past. The improvements are more noticeable in this episode than the previous. It begins with a james bond style action sequence in which Ace Rimmer is charged with rescuing a kidnapped princess from the Nazis. He has to jump from an exploding plane while wrestling with, then gliding on an alligator, steal a descending Nazi’s parachute, survive a fall into a shed, dispose of the firing squad about to execute the princess, and escape on a motorcycle, all in style. It is absolutely hilarious the ease at which he does it all.

Not to be outdone, in our dimension, Lister is playing a virtual reality game in which he must defeat a king’s best night in a jousting contest in order to spend the night with his queen. Stealing Brian Cox’s women..that takes some backbone. Or cheat codes, which Lister uses to shrink the knight down to midget size and defeat him. His ’reward” is interrupted by the arrival of ace in our dimension.

He has come to see Rimmer, who obviously is not thrilled to be reminded of all that he good be. Ace reveals only to him tht he is dying because of a mortal wound he suffered rescuing the princess. He is not the original Ace Rimmer, but another in a long line. Each time one nears death, he recruit’s a Rimmer from another dimension to replace him. This Ace wants Rimmer to replace him. Rimmer, of course, refuses.

Ace recruits Lister in order to convince Rimmerhange his mind. Using reverse psychology to mock the very idea Rmmer could be Ace, Lister wounds his pride enough for Rimmer to give training a go. He fails miserably at a virtual reality training exercise to the point he wants to quit, but upon leaving, he confronts and defeats the knight from Lster’s program. It is actually Lister in disguise as part of a ruse he has with ace to build up Rimmer’s confidence.

The ruse works well enough for Rimmer to go along with a plan to claim the now deceased Ace is really him murdered by the knight. “ace’ defeated the knight in revenge for the murder. Only Lister knows the truth, and in a rare act of true friendship, hides the truth through “Rrimmer’s” funeral, even saying a few good things about him, before sending the new ace off to save the universe.

We are certainly not left with the notion Rimmer is going to set the woods on fire as the newest Ace, but I think it is a fitting send off regardless. Rimmer still has all his bad qualities in abundance, but he has still stepped up when absolutely necessary. Being Ace is everything he has said he ever wanted to be in life, and it is a nice touch to see lister cast aside his distaste for Rimmer personally in order to nudge him towards the opportunity to finally have everything he has wanted in life.

After the two opening sequences with ace and Lister respectively, the laughs are sparse, but it really does not matter. The point of ‘Stoke Me Another Kipper” is to give Rimmer closure, and it does that well with a rare instance of Lister showing true friendship for him. Sparse is not to say there are not some funny moments as the episode moves along, either, but it is not the comedy that makes the episode one of the best of the series. It is a great episode even knowing that Barrie will return as Rimmer for another series.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Battlestar Galactica--"Lost Planet of the Gods, Part II"

I have mixed emotions regarding “Lost Planet of the Gods, Part II.” It does its job, which is to point the fleet in the diection of Earth, and it overall plot id far less implausible than an all female group of shuttle pilots becoming ace fighter jockey’s in a matter of hours, but there are aspects of the episode which are pitifully contrived. One has to weigh t he good with the bad.

Adama takes the fleet into the void with the admonition every ship must stay within visual range of the Galactica so as to not get lost. His decision is based solely on ancient holy text regarding a bright star appearing to lead the inhabitants of Kobol to the other side of the void and, eventually, Earth. No one expresses anything more than the slightest hint of skepticism over his decision in spite of the pitch black void being next to impossible to navigate.

When a blip appears on the radar and seems to be folowing the fleet, Apollo opts to take a patrol out himself to check it out. Serena insists upon serving as his wing man. Before he can straighten her out, Starbuck steals Apollo’s Viper and spares them both the trouble as a wedding gift. The blips turn out to be the Cylon raiders Baltar had ordered to capture a viper pilot. Starbuck is eventually captured and brought aboard a hidden Base Star.

Starbuck’s capture leads to the first of two issues I have with the episode. He is very much in character by stealing Apollo’s viper and hotdogging it alone. I like when he strikes a match off a cylon in order to light his cigar with it. The guy has a cool irreverence that he will keep until the end. The problem is everyone else’s reraction. Outside of Apollo, who fears starbuck is dead, no one else cares--not even Athena! No patrols are launched. No search parties. Nothing. Adama does not have the same determination to ‘get his men back” the 2004 Adama does, and it is disappointing. This will not be the last case of Adama ready to forgo a lost pilot. He will not go after Apollo a few episodes from now until Tight yanks him in that direction because he is too afraid of the appearance of favoritism. This is a weakness of command that reflects poorly on the character.

What maybe even worse is Serena. She demands, here and now, to be married. Forget Starbuck, forget the Viper pilots incapacitated by virus, and the possibly hopeless search for a star that might guide them out of the void they just entered thanks to a religion to which only Adama appears to zealously adhere. If you like, put a ring on it, Apollo. Now! The ceremony goes on without Starbuck, or anyone much caring that he is not there, until the star appears after Apollo and Serena are officially married.

The star leads to Kobol, a planet with pyramids, a sphinx, and the tomb of a pharoah. No Stargate, though. Bummer. If you had not yet received confirmation the people of Kobol colonized ancient Egypt, have no fear. Adama, Apollo, and serana, spend the better part of two acts wandering around while inspecting all the sights. Which makes sense, really. These look like some really expensive sets and america was going King Tut crazy back in 1978.

Getting back to Starbuck, because someone has to, he is confronted by Baltar, who informs him that nothing bad will happen to him. He is actually going to be released as a gesture of good will towards a true peace with the Cylons. Baltar comes across as enigmatic here. To Lucifer, he assures that he is lulling Adama into a false sense of security with a peace offering in order to capture the fleet. But when he travels to Kobol to confront Adama himself, he brings news the Cylon have spread their forces out too wide looking for the fleet. The homeworld is practically undefended and so could be taken easily if the fleet approached under the uise of making peace, but attacked instead. Baltar claims he does not want to work with the Cylons, but he has to go along in order to stay alive. Is Baltar really riding the tiger, so to speak? I am inclined to think not, because he does not believe Earth exists, so hooking up with the fleet is not in his best interests. His bread is still buttered on the Cylon side.

Speaking of, they attack, so there is another space battle with the Viper Babe Brigade and the wobbly kneed, still sick male pilots. They manage to route the Cylons, anyway, which begins to cast doubt on just how formidable these killer robots are. If you do not have doubts yet, note what comes next--one of them shots serena in the back, mortally wounding here. This is my second issue with the episode. Come on--shooting a woman in the back? That is a cheap shot. Circumstantially speaking, it truly is. The rest of the Cylons have retreated, so it is an act of revenge which does not reflect well on the Cylons as honorable villains. One wonders why the humans are so willing to listen to their peace overtures repeatedly considering how prone the Cylons are to deceptive and cowardly acts of violence.

Srena dies on Galactica after saying goodbye to Apollo and her son and assuring Boxey Apollo will always be there to take care of him. It becomes clear the only reason the wedding was rushed was for the sake of drama. It stings more for Apollo to be a widower and single father after having been married a couple dys at the most. It is kind of contrived, particularly considering the whole Starbuck is missing plot point has to be dialed down to the point it feels like no one even cares he is gone.

The two problems I have with “Lost Planet of the Gods, Part II” are significant, but not enough to ruin the episode. It does the job of pointing the fleet towards the direction of Earth while establishing solidifying characterizations that will last the duration. Save for the reaction to bad things happening to Starbuck. His friends and colleagues will actually care about such things in the future.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Tikka to Ride"

I am going to throw this in here. There are two versions of many seventh series episodes because some ran long. The broadcast versions are edited down to the usual 28-30 minutes. The extended versions run as much as 45 minutes. As I err on the side of creator intent, I will be reviewing the extended versions. If I talk about a scene you do not remember, it is because you have seen the broadcast version.

“Tikka to Ride” is the premiere episode of the seventh series. There has been a four year gap between seasons for various reasons, but the most significant was Craig Charles’ imprisonment on charges of sexual assault, for which he was eventually cleared. In the interim, Chris Barrie made it known his desires to quit the show. Co-creator Rob grant did quit the show in order to pursue other projects. Doug Naylor, Grant’s co-creating partner, was faced with the option of ending Red Dwarf or putting together two, eight episode series to bring the episode total up to enough for syndication. He opted for the latter.

The results are certainly not what we have come to know as Red Dwarf. Naylor hooked up with several different writing partners during the season with more experience in sitcoms than science fiction. Therefore, several episodes fall well into standard sitcom fare. Chris Barrie agreed to star in four episodes only, so the Rimmer character was sorely missed in half the episodes. It was not all bad, however. The production values were increased. Later on in the series, Chloe Arnett will be added to the cast as Kristine Kockansky to up the hot women quotient to…one. She never comfortably replaced Barrie, but she found her niche. The bottom line is Red Dwarf has jumped the shark. The bright spots were fewer and farther between until the end.

“Tikka to Ride” resolves the cliffhanger in unfortunate fashion. Lister explains the original Dwarfers returned to life because when their future selves destroyed Starbug killing all hands aboard, they ceased to be because their pst selves were now gone. So the original timeline was destroyed. Keep this in mind when reading about the plot resolution.

One thing that did not return to normal was the food supply. All the Indian food was destroyed and not recovered, hence the title--“tikka” is an Indian marinade spice. Lister says the Dwarfers should use the time drive to go back to an Indian take out place and order a large supply of curry. Kryten advises him against the idea under the rationale of not causing any causality problems. That night, lister sneaks into where kryten is recharging and replaces his head with one that lacks an ethical subroutine. That way, he can convince Kryten to change his mind about using the time drive.

The Dwarfers use the time drive to travel to Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963. In what is the only really funny bit of the episode, the Dwarfers inadvertently prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK in three slapstick attempts. They subsequently have to escape two years into the future in order to escape from the authorities. They discover this 1965 is far worse because JFK lived. He was caught having an affair with a mob boss’ mistress and removed from office. J. Edgar Hoover became president, but he is secretly working for the mob because they have photos of him at a transvestite orgy. The soviet union has built missile bases in Cuba, so Americans have abandoned every major city. Lister’s actions have brought the world to the brink of annihilation in the middle of the 20th century.

The dwarfers camp out in the deserted dallas that night to plan their next move. Kryten prepares them what they believe is chicken, but it is actually a dead guy lying in the streets kryten cooked for them. Without his ethical subroutine, he saw no problem with it. I think cannibalism jokes qualify as slumming it. They decide to go back in time and convince Oswald to move to another floor so he will not run into them this time. Unfortunately, being on a higher floor causes him to miss JFK. They are going to have to kill him another way. To make things right, Lister travels to see JFK in 1965 on his way to prison. He explains to the disgraced president how his legacy would be changed if he died in Dallas. He agrees he would rather have a short life, but be remembered well, than live out his days as a criminal on a doomed world. He shoots and kills his past self from behind the grassy knoll.

Remember is said the cliffhanger resolution was a mistake? Here is why. When the future Dwarfers killed their past selves, they could no longer exist, so the original time line was restored. Under that rationale, the 1965 JFK would prevent himself from killing the 1963 JFK because he would cease to have ever existed once 1963 JFK was dead. The assassination should not be permanently successful., yet it restores everything back to normal. I could excuse the contradiction as one of those inconsistent issues you have to overlook in time travel stories, but it is impossible to do that when the contradiction is between two major plot points in the same episode! Maybe if ’Tikka to Ride” was more amusing.

The episode ends with Lister lamenting he never asked JFK to recommend an Indian take out place, which show he has not learned a thing and earns him a severe beating from the other Dwarfers. Kick him one for me, because “Tikka to Ride” is a bad episode. The bit with Oswald being knocked out the window--twice--and climbing precariously on the edge to get a shot at JFK is the only funny thing in the episode. The cannibalism gag--a word I use deliberately--was the lowest of the low. It looks like the main cast was phoning this one in. The actors playing Oswald and JFK do their best to save it, but their best is not good enough.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Battlestar Galactica--"Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I"

“Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I” begins a two part, epic episode which sets in motion the journey to Earth. In one of the few times I will give props to the original series over the 2004, the story was drawn out over nine episodes which crossed two seasons. One had to have much patience to follow it all the way through. The faster pace presented here is much more effective, as it gives the fleet a purpose right off the bat.

An undisclosed amount od time has passed since the end of the pilot. Apollo and Serena have bonded to the point they have decided to marry. Boxey considers Apollo to be his stepfather already. As the kid is sitting close to Adama at the dinner at which the engagement is announced, I assume he has accepted Adama as his grandfather, too. The whole group is close knit. Starbuck and Athena are at dinner, too. If nothing else, the opening scene combined with the desperate situation to come sets the tone of the series. It is a mix as much normalcy as possible interrupted by the near completion of mankind’s genocide. Come to think, that is not a whole lot different than real life, is it?

The next day, Starbuck and Apollo are sent out on patrol. Starbuck is bummed because this is the last time they will both be devil may care bachlors. They are assigned to search an optional route for the fleet to take. An earlier patrol, consisting of Boomer and Jolly, have gone ahead to check out another route. They are all in a hurry to get back for the surprise bachelor party for Apollo. Boomer and Jolly discover a Cylon outpost. Starbuck and Apollo nearly get lost in a starless void that seems endless.

Trouble arises when Boomer and jolly contract a virus while investigating the outpost on foot. This decision is the most implausible of the episode. It exists solely to get the two contagiously ill so they can infect the other pilots, sans starbuck and Apollo, at the party. What good is an outpost if two Viper pilots can land nearby undetected? There really should be a more plausible way for the two to scope the outpost out rather than landing and hoofing it. Oh, well. You have to have a catalyst for the plot. This is it.

The only pilots who do not contract the virus are Starbuck and Apollo, so the fleet remains undefended. The doctor claims the only way he can cure the virus is to visit the outpost to discover the virus’ source. The only way to successfully do that is for a Viper squadron to destroy the outpost. Knowing the virus will kill the pilots otherwise, Adama orders the shuttle pilots into quick training to fly the mission.

I have mixed feelings about this turn of events. On the one hand, it shows how desperate times call for desperate measures. It is one thing to ferry supplies from one ship to another on a daily basis. It is something else to go on a search and destroy mission against murderous robots after only one training session. That is drama. Having every one of the shuttle pilots recruited to fly vipers be a hot girl in a tan body suit with black padding that looks suspiciously like a two piece bathing suit is just gratuitous eye candy for the males in the audience. But seriously, all women? There are no male shuttle pilots?

I will concede the matter does not wind up bikinis and bombs. Serena has secretly been training as a shuttle pilot, so she is called up into viper training. Apollo thinks if he takes the women to attack the outpost, they are alll going to be killed. Adama offers him the option of keeping Serena off the mission, but he refuses. No matter how bleak the chances of survival are, Apollo refuses to play favorites. They all gotta go. This attitude is why I described Apollo yesterday as a reluctant warrior. He seems like the kind of person who would rather be doing something, but obligations drag him into a fight. He is the independent sort who will question any risky orders, then carry them out anyway even if it means the death of everyone under his commandl. The character traits are more prominent in the Lee Adama version of Apollo, but they are evident in the original, too. It will eventually be a fateful decision for Apollo.

Of course, the women do well. They destroy the outpost and successfully dogfight cyon Raiders with no casualties. I could have done without the “Let’s go, girls,” which sounded like a bunch of drag queens were going to take off their heels and chase after the cylons with their purses swinging violently but whatever works. Can you picture the Sex in the City girls flying Vipers? That is pretty much what we got here. Score one for girl power. With no nails chipped, either.

There are two other running elements I have not addressed yet. One is an altered version of the epilogue from yesterday’s episode in which balter is placed in command of a Base Star with orders to destroy the fleet. He gets an assistant, Lucifer, who is the robed lipstick tube with a blinking lights head voiced by Jonathan Harris. At this point, Lucifer has not developed the simmering contempt for Baltar he will eventually operate under, but you still get the hint this is not the assignment Lucifer was hoping for. Two, the void has religious significance, so Adama has no fear of sending the fleet into it even though navigation will be next to impossible. The reason why it is a good idea will be revealed in part two.

I have poked fun at some of the more implausible elements of “Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I,” but it is a good start to the series. As I mentioned above, it strikes the balance between the good times and bad times of the fleet. We also see the characters already fitting into their roles, particularly the strategic dueling between adama and baltar, something we did not see in the pilot. Originally, baltar was to have been beheaded by the Imperious Leader, so his function as the main protagonist is a change for the series. The religious themes are introduced, too, as the void is part of an ancient prophecy regarding the mythical Konol.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Out of Time"

“Out of Time” is the final episode of the lackluster sixth series. Unfortunately, the finale does not improve the series standing very much, although the cliffhanger is an interesting one. It had to sustain fans for far longer than expected. Various issues, not the least of which was craig Charles’ imprisonment on charges of sexual assault, for which he was eventually cleared, prevented the series from returning to the air for four years.

The Dwarfers have lost all trace of Red Dwarf, and morale is dangerously low. Rimmer appoints himself morale officer, but his plan of getting problems off his chest by attacking everyone else’s annoying habits falls flat. At least we now know there is a morale officer worse than Neelix. Starbug winds up traveling into a minefield of unreality pockets. There is no way to avoid the field, so they have to go through and just deal with the alternate reality scenarios they face. Among them: Lister is really a mechanoid, cat is wiped from existence, and they all become animals.

Beyond the field, they discover a time drive which will allow them to travel through time. They try it out in the hopes of making it to earth in the 15th century, but they wind up in the same spot they are in now, but in the 15th century. Without faster than light speed, there is nothing to it but the novelty. When they travel back to their present time, they encounter another Starbug. it is from even fifteen years in the future and requesting help.

Meeting their future selves is out of the question, so Kryten plans to communicate with them, offer whatever assistance they need, and then erase his memory. They need parts from the time drive, so Kryten arranges for them to come over to the present time Starbug with the dwarfers hidden away. Their future selves are freakishly obnoxious jerks who have been using the time drive to travel back to various eras and take advantage of the finer things, like dining with Louis XIV while his people starve and playing canasta with Hitler. Thry need parts from the present to keep the good times rolling.

While future Rimmer, cat, and Krten have only gotten old and fat, Lister has become a brain in a jar. Knowing something bad happens to him, but not knowing what, lister sneaks a peek. He learns what he and the other Dwarfers become. They refuse to allow them to take the time drive parts. The future Starbug attack the present one in order to take the time drive by force. All are killed except Rimmer, who decides to destroy the time drive in a rare selflessly brave act. Present Starbug is destroyed in the explosion. To be continued…

Maybe it is because I have higher expectations for a series finale, but ’out of time” falls flat. There are not many laughs to be had. Rimmer insults everyone. Kryten asserts himself when he believes Lister is an inferior mechanoid model. The various unrealities are supposed to be amusing by their very nature, not because anything is done with them, which nothing is. The Dwarfers’ future counterparts are not all that funny. Why did rimmer grow fat and bold in fifteen years when we saw him look unaged after six hundred years in the previous episode/ normally, I would overlook such a discrepancy for the sake of the joke, but the joke is not funny, so I really cannot. The cliffhanger is the only aspect of “Out of Time” that makes me want to see more.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Battlestar Galactica--"Saga of a Star World"

We have not covered anything from the Disco Era yet in these daily science fiction reviews, so why not start at the top? This is the top, folks. No matter how big a crush you had on Lindsey Wagner, The Bionic Woman is no where near as good as you remember. Neither is Battlestar Galactica, but we will deal with that one episode at a time.

A couple personal points before we begin. One, this is the first time I have watched the series since it used to flip flop the eight o’clock hour with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in the early days of the Sci Fi Channel eighteen or so years ago. The show was a childhood favorite back when it used to rerun on, I think, WGN out of Chicago. But do not hold me to that. We are talking twenty-five years ago in that regard. The point is, I think I remember Battlestar Galactica as far better than it actually is. Two, I doubt I can resist comparing the original series to the 2004-2009 version. I will not hold anything against the original, as that would not be fair, but the subject is bound to come up considering how much the latter series followed the original in its story arc. Fans have strong feelings towards one or the other, so bear with me through it.

The show had a rough beginning. Originally conceived by Glen A. Larsen in the late ’60’s as Adama’s Ark--I will let that sink in--no network would provide financial backing. The success of Star Wars compelled ABC, a young network still struggling to find a big hit, to finance a three hour premiere movie with an option for two addition two hour movies. The three hour pilot was enough of a hit for ABC to take the show to full series instead. This season order in spite of the pilot being interrupted by the announcement of the Camp David Accords signing, which delayed the final part for an hour, and a lawsuit filed by 20th Century Fox charging 34 counts of copyright infringement on Star Wars concepts. I cannot say much about the peace in the Middle east interruption, but the similarities between Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars are glaring.

(Universal, which owned Battlestar Galactica, counterclaimed Star Wars had lifted elements from its properties like the 1972 movie Silent Running and the 1930’s Buck Rogers movie serials. 20th Century Fox’s original suit was dismissed, but remanded for trial by the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals in 1983. I cannot find a trace of further proceedings, so I assume there was a financial settlement between the parties.)

All that is fine, but what about the pilot itself? I can tell you that I had planned to split the pilot into the three episodes it runs as in syndication to review on separate days, but I had forgotten a major point--it is two hours worth of story stretched gruel thin into three. I suspect Americans got the raw end of the deal. There was a 125 minute cut released to theaters in Canada, Europe, and Japan that cut out much of the filler from the 148 minute pilot which aired on ABC. I am reviewing said 148 minute behemoth. When it comes down to it, the first hour and the final thirty minutes make a good movie. The interim drags a lot in between some nifty special effects shots for the time period.

When the pilot begins, Apollo and his younger brother Zack, played by maybe you remember him teen idol Rick Springfield, are going out on a more routine than usual patrol in their Vipers. Their home, the Twelve Colonies, are on the verge of signing a peace treaty after a thousand year long war with the Cylons, a race of xenophobic robots the peace conference is a ruse. Count Baltar, a wealthy mining magnate, has secretly colluded with the cylons to pretend peace is at hand, then allow the Cylons to destroy the colonies in exchange for setting up baltar as a fly by night dictator.

Apollo and Zack stumble across Cylon fuel tankers hidden in preparation for the assault. They are ambushed on their way back to warn the fleet. Zack sacrifices himself in order to allow Apollo a chance to escape. Their father, Commander Adama is aware something is up, but his request to send fighters out for a look is rebuffed by Ray Milland at the urging of Balter, who warns such an act might jeopardize the peace. Then Baltar slinks away. (Wait…Rick Springfield and Ray Milland? Weird, but true.) Because of Baltar’s meddling, the fleet is unable to defend the colonies.

What ensues is quite impressive on a television budget with ’70’s era special effects. Vipers are destroyed, Battlestars are destroyed, and the attack on Caprica’s capitol city are depicted in all its glory. It is a lot of the old fashioned matte paintings and fake star fields, but surprisingly enough, scenes hold up well. It is even more impressive when you consider the attack lasts 35 minutes of screen time. I think the way the attack is presented is even more intense than the 2004 miniseries. I am curious why that is--budget reasons, I assume--because several scenes from the 2004 miniseries are directly lifted from the original.

The pilot begins to drag in the second hour. After adama has gathered together a fleet with as many survivors as could be saved, he announces the plan to seek out Earth. It is not as dramatic as when 2004 Adama does so, because Earth is not considered a myth in the original series as in the 2004 version. I cannot help but feel something lacking. The remainder of the hour involves an exploration of the survivors’ suffering while the cluless leadership, who do not appear stung by baltar’s betrayal in the slightest, whoop it up in luxury. This stuff drags on far too long. It is interrupted periodically by Apollo bonding with Serena, played by in her prime Jane Seymour, and her son, Boxey, while Starbuck hooks up with a former high priestess, go go dancer or hooker, I never quite figured out what Cassiopeia, is supposed to be. Either way, she has a heart of gold, doncha know.

There is only one easy to reach planet the fleet can reach in order to resupply, but Adama thinks that is a trap. He wants to take a longer journey to another, though that will mean some of the weakest of the survivors may starve to death. There is another rout rough a minefield which would also lead to salvation. Apollo, thinking adama is eaten up by guilt over Zack’s death and Baltar;s betrayal, is unwisely avoiding better options, so he colunteers himself and a couple other pilots to undetake the dangerous mission to clear the minefield so the fleet can take that route.

Now we get some boring, but expensive special effects shots of shooting mines. Woo hoo! When it is all said and done, the planet to which they first arrive is a mining colony underneath the surface--owned by baltar, of course--and a swinging disco on the surface. In case you did not realize this was 1978, of course. The story picks back up again here. This set up is a Cylon trap, of course. Adama knows it even in his brooding over being overruled about not wanting to go there. Everyone is having a royally good time and wants to stay on disco world. The Council of Twelve want to give up all the fleet’s weapons as a sign of good faith to the Cylons, whom they assume will leave them alone once they are no longer a threat. But that is exactly what the Cylons want. They plan to disarm the humans, then hand them over to the carnivorous aliens who live in the mines below.

There are laser fights and space battles galore as everyone comes to realize they should follow Adama’s wisdom in the future--or about fourteen episodes, whichever comes first. Imperious leader, so named for obvious copyright reasons, spares Baltar’s life for his failure and gives him another chance--take a Cylon fleet and hunt down the Galactica.

The most apt thing I can say is “Saga of a Star World” would have been much better if the second hour had been cut altogether. The purpose of displaying all the misery of the survivors versus the selfish decadence and foolish decisions of the leadership is to show us why the people would be so willing to settle on disco world, but I think less is more in that regard. I am sorry, but pretty Hollywood extras cannot play guant starvation as well as my imagination can. Otherwise, the pilot is a top notch mix of human drama and special effects. There are already hints of characterizations to come. Adama, burdened by guilt, is overly cautious about every move. Apollo is not a reluctant warrior who feels obligated to fight. Starbuck uses a flippant, rebellious attitude to mask his emmotions about the devastation so overwhelming, he cannot handle it. Not to beat a dead horse, but if those elements had been the focus of a two hour pilot, “Sagas of a Star World.” what it is, though, is a fine start to the series.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Rimmerworld"

“Rimmerworld’ is easily the worst episode of the already lackluster sixth series. Once again, you can chalk much of its failures on the rushed production schedule. The episode utilizes sets and an actress from “Gunmen of the Apocalypse,” so significant portions had to be filmed simultaneously. The shooting schedule left little time to polish the script, so it is bare bones, particularly whern it comes to laughs. As a result, “Rimmerworld’ is the very definition of filler.

A flaw in rimmer’s holographic program has made him susceptible to nervous disorders at the same time, because supplies are running low, Lister decides it is necessary to go back to the Simulants’ ship from a couple episodes back and raid it for supplies. For the record, this proves Red Dwarf, a low budget, British sitcom, had more respect for continuity than did big budget, American network series Star Trek: Voyager. the Dwarfers use a handheld transportation device in order to travel to the ship and swipe supplies. Unfortunately, the female Simulant survived the initial attack and confronts them. The Simulant causes the ship to explode, sacrificing herself to kill the Dwarfers.

Before she can do that, Rimmer utilizes an escape pod,. The other Dwarfers use the teleportation device, but wind up several weeks in the past. Keep this in mind. It sets up the only joke in the episode. Yes, the only. They return to the present time to discover rimmer’s life pod is programmed to seek out the nearest inhabitable planet. The nearest happens to be on the other side of a wormhole. There will be a time differential between the Dwarfers and Rimmer. It will only take a few hours for them to get to him, but it will be six hundred years for him.

On the planet, rimmer uses a convenient terraforming device to turn a desert world into a lush forest. Using his own DNA, even though it has been a past plot point that he does not have any, he attempts to create a mate. The effort results only in a clone of himself, so he tries repeatedly to get it right. By the time the Dwarfers get there, the entire planet is run by Rimmer clones in what resembles a low rent ancient Rome. They are captured, sentenced to death, and thrown into a dungeon with the real Rimmer, who, thanks to his nervous condition, has worn his stress balls down to marbles.

He was overthrown after 43 years by his people because, since they have all his bad traits, they are greedy, conniving, and backstabbing people. Those qualities are considered virtuous on Rimmerworld. Lister plans overly daring and complicated escape doomed to failure when Kryten suggests they use the handheld teleported instead. They do, but wind up in another timeframe with themselves. Assuming this is the past, Lister taunts the other Rimmer about his impending 600 year imprisonment, only to discover this is the future and they are all more concerned about the horrible thing that just happened to him.

The ending is the only obvious joke in the episode. It is completely barren of any original laughs. Even the running gag of Rimmer memorizing the space Corp Directory, but missing the numbers so that what he actually recommends in a given situation is absurd, is not quite as funny the fifteenth time he does it. I went a good ten or fifteen minutes in this one without so much as cracking a smile. The novelty of a planet full of Rimmers does not carry the day as much as I believe was intended. What is the point of the nervous condition, anyway? Kryten uses it as an excuse for Rimmer using the escape pod to save himself while leaving the others behind, but that sort of thing would not be out of character for him on the best of days. Was that thrown in just to do the stress balls worn into marbles after six centuries deal? If so, it demonstrates more than anything how bad “Rimmerworld” is.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Emohawk: Polymorph II"

“Emohawk: Polymorph II” manages to cram three sequels into one. The Polymorph was popular. So was Ace Rimmer and Duane Dibbley. So why not put all three in a single episode? Note I used the word ‘crammed” and you will have a good idea why not. The episode is so packed, the main elements are only part of the story for the final few minutes.

Starbug comes under attack by a Space Corps Police ship because the Dwarfers have been stealing supplies from derelict ships, which is a capital offense. They escape certain death, but the damage suffered causes Starbug to crash on a GELF moon. Automatic repair systems will fix everything but the oxygen generator. The GELF generally are not friendly, but Kryten suggests they try trading with them for an oxygen generator.

The GELF turn out to be more cooperative than expected. They will trade for their oxygen generator, but in return, the tribal chief wants Lister to marry his monstrous daughter. Lister has no intentions of doing so. The Dwarfers concoct a plan to go through with the wedding, then come back to rescue Lister at night when everyone is asleep. Lister reluctantly agrees, but when his new bride wants to consummate the marriage, he joins the Dwarfers in running off right then. The chief, angry at the betrayal, sends his emohawk after them.

The emohawk sneaks on board Starbug. It attacks Cat, draining out all his grace, thereby turning him into Duane Dibbley. It also attacks Rimmer, absorbing out his bitterness to make him Ace Rimmer. When the two cannot find the emohawk, ace decides to play hero and open the airlock to suck out all the air. Both he and Duane will die, but the emohawk will be a goner, too. Kryten and Lister intervene and convince him to hunt the emohawk in a more conventional manner. They succeed due to Duane‘s screw up. Cat and rimmer can be returned to normal, but ace requests to stick around a while. Okay.

The set up for the heart of the story takes forever. Literally three-fourths of the episode is the Space Corps Police chase, the crash, and the whole wedding bit. If you have ever seen a goofy sitcom featuring a shotgun wedding to an ugly girl, you could write all the jokes yourself. A Gilligan’s Island episode came to my mind immediately. There was not much time left for the return of alternate characters or for anything fun with the emohawk. The thrill of seeing them return is supposed to sustain the episode. It does not.

Which is not to say the episode is bad. It is entertaining, but not the classic it was obviously intended to be. Fewer elements from previous episodes should have been put in. a good episode good have been built around Duane, ace, or the emohawk individually, but with all three, there is not enough space for each to shine. Fan favorites though they may be, they were wasted here.

There is one big question remaining, too. I can see why Kryten and Lister would want to change cat back from Duane, but why do any of them want Rimmer back, including Rimmer himself? They do not like him. Rimmer certainly hates himself, and Ace is everything he wants to be. He would be far more useful to the Dwarfers, too. There is no good reason to change Ace back to Rimmer other than to re-establish the status quo. The ending should have been something different, like the two reverted back to themselves after the emohawk died instead of being given the choice to change.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Gunmen of the Apocalypse"

“Gunmen of the Apocalypse” is the only stand out episode of the sixth series, but it would be considered the best installment of just about any series. It is good enough to have won an international Emmy award, and not for a technical category like special effects or hairstyling, but the real deal. It is a creative and fun episode.

Starbug inadvertently crosses into the territory of rogue Simulants, a race of artificial beings built to be super soldiers in a war that never came. They are xenophobic, particularly regarding humans, so Starbug goes into silent running mode while looking for an escape route. They are discovered by Simulants anyway. Lister tries to fool them by using the upside down chin with an eye on it to make them believe there are no humans on board, but it does not work.

The Simultants decide the Dwarfers are so pathetic, they knock them out, then upgrade Starbug’s weapons so killing them will at least be some kind of sport. At Cat’s suggestion, the Dwarfers sneak attack the Simultant ship and cripple it. In revenge, the Simultants transmit a virus to infect Starbug. Kryten absorbs the virus thinking he can internally cure it, but it turns out to get the beest of him.

Kryten’s struggle with battling the virus is visualized as a parody of Rio Bravo. Kryten is the drunken lawman who must face down a gang of outlaws. In this case, the outlaws are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death, War, Famine, and Joe Pesci. Wanna bet either Rob Grant, doug Naylor, or both are fans of George Carlin? Kryten cannot get his act together enough to face them. Therefore, the virus is going to kill him before sundown.

The Dwarfers decide to use a virtual reality system Lister discovered recently on a derelict ship to offer Kryten their aid. Lister has become obsessed with playing the virtual reality system, though he is not playing the games as intended so much asd using female characters for sex. The Dwarfers choose a wild west game in which their characters have special abilities. Rimmer is a fist fighting expert, Cat is a trick shoot gunmen, and Lister is a skilled knife thrower. They enter Kryten’s subconscious to help him.

The dwarfers have a enormously good time playing with their new skills to the point they get overconfident about confronting the four horsemen. Death, the leader of the Four Horsemen, eliminates their special skills just before the others attack. The Dwarfers panic when they realize they are not touch any longer. Picture The Three Amigos realizing El Guapo and his gang are not actors, and you have got the scene down to a tee. The Dwarfers manage to escape, leaving kryten alone. But he has had enough time to discover a way to fight off the virus and so defeats the four horsemen. With the day saved, Starbug rides off into the sunset with an western-twinged acoustic guitar rendition of the closing theme song playing. The special version of the theme is cool touch.

There are three interesting points of notye beyond the International Emmy award. One, the head of arts and Culture at the Bbc read the script and nixed the idea, saying it would be too expensive to film. By the time word came down to the Red Dwarf production staff, the episode had already been filmed--under budget. Three, Patrick Stewart was flipping channels one night when he came acroos this episode. He had never heard of Red Dwarf and was not aware it was a send up of science fiction. He thought ’gunmen of the Apocalypse” was so similar to “A Fist Full of Datas,” the first TNGf he directed, that he considered legal action. However, he quickly realized what the show was and now considers it a brilliant satire of science fiction.

“Gunmen of the Apocalypse” certainly is brilliant. It is certainly not original. Elements are not only lifted directly from famous westerns, but Red Dwarf has used the themes of virtual reality and the dangers of exploring a character’s subconscious mind several times in the past. Nevertheless, it is still one of my favorite episodes. There are a lot of laughs and the actors are clearly enjoying themselves clowning around in cowboy get ups. The guest cast, Britons all, faking western drawls is a bit annoying, but the irritation is not enough to fret over.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Legion"

“Legion” is such an odd episode. It is very much indicative of the rushed production schedule, with reliance on gross out and slapstick humor, but it features an alien villain who is an incredibly disturbing monstrosity. Put the Three stooges in Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” with a dash of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to get some idea of what “Legion” is all about. Any way you care to visualize that cannot be half as disturbing as this episode.

Food supplies are running short on Starbug as the Dwarfers are falling behind in their pursuit of Red Dwarf. To make matters even worse, Starbug comes under attack by a strange object which morphs into a spherical cage similar to what Q used to trap the Enterprise during TNG’s run. Deliberate homage? Probably. The sphere brings them to a research station which appears abandoned. The place is full of much needed supplies, however, so the Dwarfers decide to help themselves.

The facility turns out to not be empty. The caretaker emerges, introducing himself as Legion. The name should have tipped our heroes off to a potential problem, but legion converts rimmer to solid form and painlessly removes Lister’s appendix, so they are all cool with him, particularly when he invites them to dinner.

Legion is cultured and very handy, so Rimmer schemes to convince Legion to go with them. The Dwarfers agree to put on airs and pretend to be far more erudite than they are to convince Legion to join them. Once they are too far away from the facility for him to return, they can go back to being themselves. Unfortunately, they cannot help but be themselves at dinner. They make a mess of using gravity utensils while eating. But it does not matter. Legion is holding them prisoner now, so there is no reason to impress him. He cannot exist without their minds being near him.

The Dwarfers go along with being held captive initially because Legion fulfills their every fantasy. The thought of forever losing their freedom eventually gets to them, so they plot an escape. Legion reveals his true self at the news. He is a Gestalt entity, meaning he exists only by taking on the personalities of those around him. He possess the complete minds of all four Dwarfers, for better and worse, as demonstrated by inflicting pain upon them by injuring himself. Kryten gets them out of this mess by knocking the other Dwarfers unconscious, then taking advantage of Legion’s owning only his subordinate mechanoid mind to allow them to escape. Once back on Starbug with an enhanced engine, they are back on their way.

“Legion” does not feature my kind of humor. Red Dwarf typically does not rely on gross out humor and slapstick to carry an episode, but here it does to average effect. Lister unknowingly eats a cooked rat when the meat runs out on Starbug. Kryten argues it is all right, since the rat was cornfed. Cat mistakes Lister’s toenail clippings for peanut shells. The entire Dinner scene, which is the heart of the episode, involves chewed food flying about because of misused gravity utensils. I will admit a few gags--I used the word deliberately--are funny, but overall the humor is too juvenile. The cartoon violence of kryten knocking out the other Dwarfers is funnier, particularly the increased effort it takes to incapacitate Rimmer’s new, tougher body. Still, I long for something more clever.

But I have to mention “Legion” is the episode with the famous light bulb joke. If you are unfamiliar, it involves Rimmer demanding Starbug go to blue alert, which is heightened, when the sphere is stalking them. Kryten protests the necessity, but complies. When an attack by the sphere is imminent, Rimmer orders red alert. Kryten asks if he is certain that is necessary because it would mean changing the light bulb. This joke is considered one of the funniest moments of the show’s run. While the absurdity of it did make me laugh the first time I saw it, the big fuss over it is lost on me. Take from the joke what you will.

I do not mind telling you Legion himself gives me the heebie jeebies. Part of it is the oxygen hose covering his mouth. I still have a phobia regarding the dizzying, floating sensation I experienced as a young child the first time I was given ether before surgery. I am better about it these days, but I still associate having my face covered with feeling disoriented and losing control. I do not care to see anyone else’s face covered with an oxygen mask, either. Another issue is his demeanor. He is very subdued and polite right up until he unleashes his rage by injuring himself. He stabs himself viciously in his hand secure with the knowledge the Dwarfers will feel the pain, not him. It is played for laughs--he threatens to stick a knife in his crotch next--but disturbingly played. The finale aspect of legion that gets me is when he takes off his face plate to reveal a tortured combination of all four Dwarfers’ faces. Yikes.

All, so “Legion” goes to the extremes of childish humor and sheer terror. Does that make it a good episode? It is more of a train wreck, really. You have to see the mess of it in order to believe it. I am going to award “Legion” three stars because, good or not, it has an emotional impact. There is something to be said for that. Legion even quotes the “I am called Legion, for I am many” Scripture. You do not see that often on the generally critical of religion Red Dwarf.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Psirens"

The sixth series is a divisive one for Red Dwarf fans. You either find the shift in direction refreshing, or you think the show has jumped the shark. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor decided to shake things up by taking Red Dwarf itself out of the picture, so the series takes place entirely on Starbug. the series utilizes a story arc for the first time. It leads up to a cliffhanger ending. Fans can debate whether those are good elements. What is not debatable is the negative effect the BBC mandated rushed production scheduled resulted in a series of diminished quality. The jokes are weaker, five out of six episodes involve Kryten nearly sacrificing himself to save the day, and the same science fiction clich├ęs the show used to skewer are not relied upon to further the plot. All in all, the sixth series coasts along for all but one episode.

The episode begins two hundred years in the future as Lister awakens from hibernation. The cat is also hibernating. Rimmer has been deactivated all this time. Only Kryten has remained awakened. He explains that Red Dwarf was stolen while they were off on a mission in Starbug. Because of Starbug’s slower speed, Kryten placed the other Dwarfers in stasis for the unknown period of time it would take to find Red dwarf by following its vapor trail. Kryten has now found a shortcut through an asteroid field that will allow them to head the thieves off at the pass, so he awakens them.

Unfortunately, the asteroid belt is the home of the Psirens, an alien race which poses as one’s fondest desire, then sucks the brain out of the hapless victim. They discover a message written in blood from the last victim warning them of the danger. The psirens make three efforts to lure the Dwarfers. First, they appeal to Cat for sex. Second, they pretend to be ambushed by an unknown enemy to convince Lister to help. Finally, they pretend to be a meteorite headed for the ship. None of these ruses work. Odd, considering our heroes.

Another asteroid comes hurtling towards Starbug. Rimmer is convinced it is another illusion, so he ignores it. It is, however, real. It hits Starbug, causing it to crash land on a Psiren asteroid. When Lister goes outside to pull the landing gear out of some rocks, he is seduced by a Psiren posing as the only woman of his dreams not named Kochansky. After a scuffle with another psiren posing as Kryten, both the real Lister and a psiren posing as him enter Starbug. The Dwarfers identify the psiren when it plays the guitar like a rock god. The psiren slinks off wounded and compels Kryten to throw himself into a the garbage compactor before eventually being crushed by kryten’s new box form falling on top of it. With the psiren dead, Starbug continues after Red Dwarf

“Psirens” does not do much more than introduce the series story arc of hunting the stolen Red Dwarf. The psirens are a direct parody of Aliens right down to the characters awakening from years of hibernation. The psirens look and act nearly identical to GELF, so there is jo much original about them. The laughs are few and far between, but the episode is not bad. It is just underwhelming, particularly for a premiere installment.

I have to note some changes to the characters. Cat has developed more feline qualities. His sense of smell, for one, is now being utilized in situations. Kryten’s program has been altered so that he can now lie, but he announces that he is entering dishonest mode before doing so. His aversion to killing also appears to be gone, though he takes the psiren’s life with Tom and Jerry style violence for comedic effect.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Back to Reality"

“Back to Reality” is often cited as the best episode of Red Dwarf. While there are a couple other contenders for the title, I cannot argue with the overall assessment. The episode is original, insightful, and creatively presents an exciting, far to expensive to be filmed action sequence that is considered one of the funniest moments of the show’s run. Of course, this is the first appearance of Duane Dibbley, Cat’s dorky alter ego.

The episode begins with the Dwarfers on an undersea salvage operation to the SSS Esperanto. They discover the crew of the ship committed mass suicide. While resurfacing in Starbug, the ship is attacked and subsequently destroyed by a sea monster. The Dwarfers awaken to discover none of their experiences over the last four years were real. They have been playing a virtual reality game called Red Dwarf According to the game technician, who steals the scene with his geeky demeanor, they have been playing very badly, too. They missed out on revelations that rimmer is an undercover agent, Lister, the ultimate atheist, is the catalyst for the second big bang, etc. The four of them actually earned the lowest score ever for the game.

They go into a waiting room while their memories return. Each is hopefull their true lives are better than the game version, but looking at Duane Dibbley, cat’s buck-toothed, no style true self, they are not optimistic. It turns out Kryten is a cop, Rimmer is a bum who got all the breaks he says would have turned his life around, and Lister is head of a Gestapo in a fascist state. Outise the arcade, the four are confronted by a relative of one of Lister’s victims. Kryten shoots and kills the guy in order to save Lister, and they hop in a car to escape.

It is at this point we realize for certain the Dwarfers are hallucinating. We see they are on Red Dwarf sitting on boxes pretending to be in a car. They act out being pursued by authorities with motorcycles with rocket launchers and helicopters. They finally have to abandon the “car” and hoof it. When they make it to a remote alley, Kryten decides he cannot live with himself after killing a person, no matter the justification. Lister cannot live with his job as a secret police head who has murdered thousands of people. Rimmer is distraught he no longer has anyone to blame his failures on. Cat’s sense of style, the only thing he ever had, is gone. They all decide to kill themselves along with kryten. They put their heads together so one bullet will do the job, but they are saved by Holly when she induces Kryten to destract the sea monster.

The creature, called a despair squid, did not destroy the ship, but instead induced hallucinations designed to compel those infected to commit suicide. The despair suid struck at the one aspect of each Dwarfer’s personality that gives him a reason for living. Take it away, and they all decided to kill themselves within the span of a few minutes. Holly gets to play the hero after being relegated to a secondary character this season. Good thing, too. We will not see holly again until series seven. Even then, Hattie hayride will not reprise the role.

“Back to Reality” packs a lot of stuff into a very short period of time, but does it all well. The episode has fewer laughs than usual, but that is appropriate due to the subject matter. The improvisation of the car chase is enough to save just about any episode. It is a bonus for all already entertaining installment. Red Dwarf is going to milk themes from “Back to Reality” for all they are worth. Duane Dibbley will return in a future episode. A despair squid Cat smuggled on board with the intention of eating it later will be the catalyst for the series revival in 2009.

One line in particular stands out for me. Rimmer is tracking the despair squid on SONAR as it approaches Starbug. He does not know what it is, but comments that it is the size of New Mexico. Viewers of a British sitcom can visualize the American state of New Mexico? Odds are, most Americans could not do that. The reverse would certainly never happen. Can you imagine a character on How I Met your Mother comparing something to the size of Essex? Imagine how well that would work. I will concede Red Dwarf is a cult hit in the United States more so than many other BBC offerings. Tha joke may have been for Americans, though I imagine they overestimated our general grasp of geography.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Demons and Angels"

“Demons and Angels’ is the weakest installment of the fifth season. Its biggest problem is unoriginality. The comedy relies on a variation of ’s old staple, the transporter accident, which split’s the Dwarfers into alternate versions of themselves. The comedy is based largely on the antics of their alternate selves. The theme has not only been done before and better, the very next episode does it again in the best version of the theme Red Dwarf ever does. So the episode is also a victim of bad timing.

The episode begins with kryten and Lister working on the Triplicator, a device which duplicates any object twice over. Unfortunately, it does not work as planned. The Triplicator split’s the original object into one completely good item and one completely bad while keeping the original intact. Lister attempts to reverse the process, but winds up creating two versions of Red Dwarf. One is completely good, the other rotten to the core. The Dwarfers have to visit both in order to retrieve halves of the Triplicator to restore the original Red Dwarf

The good Dwarfers are virtuous monks who are sickeningly pacifist and clueless in the face of any evil. They are not all that amusing, though the interpretive dance is a fine effort. The bad Dwarfers are more interesting. Lister is an evil cowby. Rimmer is a BDSM freak. Cat is feral. Kryten is a Frankenstein’s monster type. One might assume this is a look into their respective psyches. I get the impression the caricatures are meant to be solely for laughs. They capture the real Lister and force him to attack the Dwarfers like a zombie.

All that sums up “Demons and Angels” well. There are a few good one-liners here and there, but the episode relies on gross out humor more than usual. It is meant to emphasize the decaying aspect of the bad ship, but I am not into that sort of thing even on the rare occassions it makes sense. I have to hold it against ’Demons and angels’ as much as its tired plot device.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Endgame"

Dear merciful Lord in heaven, you were with me as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death known as VOY, just as you had promised. Now we have reached the end! Its reign of mediocrity reigned seven years upon the Earth, and I extended it nearly six more months. I beg the forgiveness of all.

In all seriousness, we have reached the final episode of VOY. The best way to describe “Endgame” is that it is exactly what you would expect from this show; Janeway is on a reckless, self-righteous crusade in which she cares naught for the consequences, the poorly written plot makes little sense, and there is no satisfying sense of closure for the characters. But it is the finale episode, so why improve thing now?

There are two things that strike me regarding the production aspect of “Endgame.”

One, the plot is essentially lifted from TNG’s finale “All Good Things..,” though with diminished effect. Star Trek has had so much success with time travel and alternate reality stories that it is almost obligatory for ‘special’ episodes to be about them. Whether there is a good idea to be mined for the concept is irrelevant. “Endgame” does not hold up under even the most basic of scrutiny regarding the dynamics of Star trek time travel. The writers shrugged, said, ‘let’s call it a time travel story,” and put no thought in it beyond that.

Which leads to the second point--’Endgame” feels like it was one story re-edited into another. True confession--this is only the second time I have watched “Endgame.” the only other was its original airing over ten years ago. I felt much more like the episode was re-edited to make it work more then than I do now that I am looking at it with a critic’s eye. Nevertheless, some things do seem odd. At one point, Tuvok of the future is suffering from dementia, but his incoherent babbling implies he is aware two timelines are converging as though that will have disastrous consequences. Literally, there is the hint that Adm. Janeway is going to destroy the universe with her time traveling shenanigans. The entire first episode hints of those consequences. Even Capt. Janeway, once her future counterpart arrives, warns of such consequences. Then the matter is completely dropped for part two. The plot then becomes a matter of dealing a crippling blow to the borg while returning to the alpha Quadrant simultaneously.

What happened? The simplest explanation is what I did not realize at the time. Rick berman and Brannon Braga wrote the first half, then handed the rest off to Kenneth Biller. How often does that happen/ does one writer script half a movie, then run off to do other things while some other guy finishes the rest? I am certain the three of these gentlemen had an overall plan of some sort, but the final result feels haphazard and disjointed.

All this analysis does not make much sense without a summary, no? The episode begins 23 years in the future when an embittered Janewat, who managed to get Voyager home 16 years ago, is so burdened with guilt over the cost in lives, she secretly devises a plan to go back in time to deliver advanced technology to protect Voyager from the Borg . In the “present,” Voyager has discovered a nebula housing one of six Borg transwarp conduits they use to travel anywhere in the galaxy nearly instaneously. They do not know that yet. They believe it is a series of womholes. Nevertheless, Capt. Janeway is not going to risk exploring the area for a route to the Alpha Quadrant due to the 47 Borg cubes bebopping around. Adm. Janeway shows up with special shields from the future which are Borg resistant so the ship can be protected while it uses the transwarp bhub for a way home.

Adm. Janeway is exactly what you would expect. She is lying to her younger self about what is in the nebula because she knows Capt. Janeway will want to destroy the transwarp hub Rther than use it to get home. Her motivations are selfish and shortsighted. In the sixteen remaining years in the Delta Quardrant, she will lose over twenty members of her crew, but what pushes her over the edge is losing seven and Chakotay, with Tuvok falling prey to a metal disorder which could have been cured by a mind meld from another Vulcan. She wants to alter the future for selfish reasons, but chooses a time to intervene which would only save those closest to her. Everyone on Voyager who has been killed in the last seven years can stay dead as far as she is concerned. This woman is the hero of the story.

As assumed, once Capt. Janeway learns the nebula is a transwarp hub and not a series of wormholes, she wants to destroy it instead of using it to get home. The two janeways devise a plan to have their cake and eat it, too, but only after captain janeway learns the fates of Chakotay, Seven, and Tuvok. Even capt. Janeway puts the lives of her friends above everyone else. It must be a lovely experience to serve under her in obscurity knowing full well she is ready to sacrifice you at any moment for her own, personal crusade. Long stort short--the shields work, Voyager opens a rift right in front of Earth to get home, and Adm. Janeway sacrifices herself in order to destroy the transwarp hub. The end.

Literally. That is it. There is no price to be paid for the journey home. No drama, either. What little effort is made to be dramatic is so forced as to be laughable. Seven and Chakotay out of the blue begin a romance. Thirty minutes of screen time later, it is over because seven learns about the future. Do they wind up together anyway? Beats me. Who cares? Are the maquis considered traitors and prosecuted? I doubt it, but who cares? Does took get treated in time for his disease? Presumably, but who knows? Tom and Torres have their kid. She is the one who arranges for janeway to acquire the means to travel back in time. So there is that.

I cannot overlook the biggest problem--there is a Grandfather Paradox. If Adm. Janeway travels back in time to alter the future, then the future in which she traveled from will no longer exist if she is successful in altering the past. Therefore, she will never exist to travel back in time in the first place. There is no starting point. She has created a casaul loop that anyone with even minimal experience with science fiction can see as a huge illogical error. Come on, guys. If you are going to do a time travel story, as least avoid the most basic error.

So the series sputters to an abrupt end without much thought or emotion. Appropraite, considering how the rest of the series played out. ‘Endgame” has a lot of flaws It looks as though it was thrown together with no thought whatsoever. The actors largely phoned their roles in. you could almost sense the relief in them the show is over. Truth be told, I feel that way, too. The episode is worth watching for what little sense of closure it offers, but it is average overall.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

There you have it, folks. Every episode of VOY reviewed, as requested. I hope it was good for you. I am going to go purge myself of the bad vibes. I leave you with one final note--Janeway is crazy:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Quarantine"

“Quarantine” is another of my all time favorite Red Dwarf episodes. I am not alone in this. Chris Barrie’s portrayal of Rimmer’s slow descent into madness is both hilarious and frightening simultaneously. His hand puppet, Mr. Flibble. The two combine to make the episode a classic

The Dwarfers respond to a distress call sent by a Dr. Hildegard Langstrom. They cannot believe their good fortune to have a brilliant doctor like her join the crew. The catch is she is now a hologram, so Rimmer will have to be shut off in favor of her. Rimmer refuses, but kryten quotes Space Corps Directory at him to prove he has no choice. Rimmer angrily insists there is no Space Corps Directory.. Kryten is making these regulations up just to bust his chops. Kryten has Holly produce a copy for him to peruse while they rescue Langstrom.

When they arrive at her laboratory, they discover she has gone completely insane because of a holovirus. She tries to kill Lister, Kryten, and cat, but dies herself before succeeding. Kryten says it is not a total loss. They can take her research into viruses with them. She discovered that there are two kinds of viruses, good and bad. The bad make you sick, but the good increase your luck, sexual appeal, etc. Lister swipes a vial of the luck virus for future use.

Good thing, too. Rimmer has spent his time reading the Space Corpse Directory and now plans to use it by the letter to terrrize the three. At first, he quarantines them for three months with no personal space and nothing stimulating to do. The plan is for the three of them, who are always in solidarity against him, to turn on each other. They do. For a guy who expressed contempt for John Paul Sarte to his face, Rimmer respects that Hell is other people.

The matter is further complicated when it becomes clear Rimmer has contracted the same holovirus that kill Langstrom. You can see from the above photo how that works out. Rimmer threatens to kill the dwarfers by depriving them of oxygen, but they use the luck virus to escape and eventually come up with a miraculous way of curing rimmer. Of course, the episode ends with him in quarantine and at their mercy.

“Quarantine” is hilarious. What more can I say? It hits all the marks. The science fiction elements are there. The comedy is funny without descending into cheap, sitcom laughs. Chris Barrie in particular plays his role well. In any other series, this would be the best of the lot. But that honor goes to Tuesday’s episode. Still, no shortchanging “Quarantine.” it is great.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Renaissance Man"

The first thing I have to say about "Renaissance Man" is to question why it is the penultimate episode of the series. Perhaps the powers that be decided a shallow, pointless romp would be the best breather for the audience before a slam bang, highly emotional finale. Then I realize that cannot be it, because the finale is one of the most confusing Star Trek messes ever put on screen. The only thing I can figure is that none of the VOY production staff care anymore, so they just told Robert Picardo to run with the most basic plot they could devise.

Here it is: two ex-members of the Hierarchy, who are at least 5,000 light years ahead of where they ought to be, kidnap Janeway while she and the Doctor are on an away mission. They hold her hostage, forcing the doctor to steal Voyager’s warp core in exchange for her release. The Doctor pulls the caper by pretending to be various members of the crew. The ruse is used for predictable comedic effect, of course. He exaggerates mannerisms and gets caught in situations like kissing tom while posing as torres. Comedy gold. Except for the latter bit, which they have already done once before this season. The Doctor does some matrix-style wall climbing and kung fu moves while evading security in his escape with the warp core. Practically every show/movie did some variation of this back in the early ’00’s. I always thought it was unnecessarily silly. This time is no exception.

The conclusion is a fire fight and ship to ship battle to rescue Janeway, the doctor, and the warp core. Nothing more, nothing less.

I do find the very ending amusing. The Doctor’s program is destabilizing under the weight of new data the Hierarchy programmed. He thinks he is going to die, even as seven and Torres work diligently to save him. Fearing the end, he takes his last moments for true confessions. He tells Tuvok he egged Neelix on just to annoy him. He apologizes to Harry for insulting his musical talent behind his back. He confesses his love for seven, and admits how hard it is not to peek at her naked body during medical exams. The best, though, is that he has been keeping a file of Janeway’s most questionable decisions since being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. The list is bound to be the largest data file in the ship’s computer. He wants her to delete it. Without reading, of course.

I think this was a missed opportunity. His program is recovered at the last minute, so he winds up humiliated at his true confessions. Had he actually been lost, however, it would have added a sense of urgency to Voyager’s situation. Such a loss would have made "Renaissance Man’ a more poignant not to last installment. The Doctor is not a big player in the finale, anyway. Playing the Doctor’s plight for solely for laughs is a mistake.

It may sound as though I do not like "Renaissance Man,” which is not true. It is decent episode, but there is not much to it beyond offering Picardo one last chance to ham it up. The biggest issue I have with it is where it came in the order of episodes. There has not been any build up to the VOY finale. Considering the series was supposed to have a find our way home story arc, should it not build up to that point for the finale?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Terroform"

"Terroform” is one of those unusual Britcom episodes which is more popular in the United states than the United Kingdom. Why this is so is a mystery. Perhaps it is because the story delves into the warped mind of Rimmer. Americans are far more obsessed with pop-psychology than the rest of the world. I am just throwing my two pennies in with that one. I honestly have no clue what the deal is. As far as I am concerned, the episode is visually interesting because of the production design, but otherwise weak. Then again, I am not into pop psychology. Dr. Phil grossly violates professional ethics on a daily basis with his show, and books like The Purpose Driven Life are good for kindle and little else.

The episode begins with Kryten severely damaged after some sort of accident on a desolate moon. This begins a long sequence in which he jury rigs a spider-like mini-robot to return to Red Dwarf for help. Lister mistakes the robot for a real tarantula. He is so terrified, he cannot speak, so he and cat carry on a conversation via a computer keyboard directly in front of them. Hopefully, these laughs are enough to sustain you for the duration.

After rescuing and repairing Kryten, the Dwarfers discover rimmer is trapped somewhere on a psymoon, which is an artificial moon that transforms based on the emotions of whoever is on whoever claims the moon at the time. Rimmer planted a flag in the name of the space corps, so he is it. The moon is a twisted place, marked by tombstones with all the best qualities Rimmer ought to have on the banks of the river Styx. Rimmer himself is chained, oiled up by beautiful women, and left to be sacrificed to a hideous monster which represents his self-loathing.

Long story short, the only way to save themselves is for the Dwarfers to make Rimmer feel loved, so they compliment and then give him a forced group hug. The result is all of Rimmer’s best qualities rise out of their graves to battle his worst qualities. Visually, it is a bunch of pink Musketeers crossing swords with Jawas. The Dwarfers escape when the good traits win. Rimmer asks if they meant all the good things they said about him. They did not.

“Terroform’ is certainly not one of the best episodes of Red Dwarf, but it is worth watching for the atmosphere. Rimmer has one twisted, pitiful little mind. I can imagine what I might inadvertently do to a psymoon myself. It is not pretty. After the first ten minutes or so, there is not much left as far as laughs go. The episode descends into typical sitcom fare. Still, it is a neat idea. The story just runs quickly out of steam.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Homestead"

I have not been the biggest Neelix fan over the course of these reviews. The character has never been the breakout star of the show he was intended to be. More often than not, he has turned out to be either a buffoon or a jerk, neither of which the respective episodes in which he was intended him to be. Neelix was a frequent victim of poor writing. Only a scant few gems revolved around him. I am not certain I count “Homestead” among them, but I do not dislike it.

A party Neelix has thrown for First Contact Day is interrupted by long range scans that indicate a settlement of Talaxians in an asteroid belt ahead. Naturally, no effort is made to establish how a large group of Talaxians are 40,000 light years from their home planet. All it would take is a throwaway line or two to say wormhole or another one of those Caretakers, but the episode preserves the mystery or more likely just does not care. So forget the improbability of Talaxians out this far and go with the flow.

Neelix rushes out to meet these Talaxians. They are a group of pacifists who do not want to deal with outsiders. They are also facing eviction from a species who claim the asteroid belt for mining. What you have here is the typical plot--Neelix feels a connection with his people, particularly for a widow and her don, but they will not fight for their home because of their pacifist beliefs. Neelix eventually convinces them to protect their home regardless--fat too easily for the sake of where neelix needs to be by the end of the episode, if you ask me. He decides to stay and serve a leadership role with them.

“home stead” is very much an A to B to C episode. Events do not flow naturally. They happen because we need Neelix to find a new place to be before the end of the episode. Thererfore, he falls in love, easily convinces the pacifists to fight their enemies, realizes they can be his family while Voyager is just a job, and to push him in the direction of staying, Janeway appoints him Federation Ambassador to the delta Quadrant. So there is closure for Neelix, one step at a time, and all wrapped up in a bow. I will admit his actual departure is touching, particularly when Tuvok finally demonstrates his respect for him. I only wish the rest of the crew got a decent send off. But that is a gripe for Monday.

“Homestead’ is also the final appearance of Naomi Wildman. Scarlett Pomers would go on to be institutionalized for bulimia and star on Reba. Take your pick which is more tragic.

“Homestead” is not bad, but it is nothing special, either. The best way to describe it is the path to the emotionally moving ending is terribly contrived. I personally find it amusing the lesson of where would pacifists be if there were no people fighting on their behalf is not even addressed. When it comes down to it, the Talaxians let neelix play Rambo, then allow him to assume a leadership position because he defeated their enemies. I would not call that cowardice, but it is wishy washy and hypocritical to bow to whomever currently holds the power, especially when they used violence to earn it. But, hey--VOY has terrible writing, so how well thought out can you expect stories to be?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Red Dwarf--"The Inquisitor"

“The Inquisitor” is one of my all time favorite episodes of Red Dwarf. It is shorter on laughs than usual, although it makes up for like of quantity by quality, because it plays up the science fiction elements. “The Inquisitor” solidifies the show’s change from a sitcom with a science fiction setting to a science fiction comedy.

The Inquisitor is a mechaniod who, at the end of time, realized there is no afterlife, so the only point in living is to appreciate life itself by making worthwhile contributions. The Inquisitor built a time machine in order to trvael though history judging the lives of people and wiping out from history those who wasted their lives in order to be replaced by someone who would lead a better life. Now he has set his sights on the Dwarfers. They have reason to worry, no?

The Inquisitor judges each one of them in turn. Rimmer admits he is nothing, but considering what he has had to work with, what else could he be? Cat is vain and shallow. Kryten gets into an existential argument over how he, as a mechaniod with pre-programming, cannot be judged. Lister blows the Inquisitor’s accusations off. In the end, the inquisitor buys Rimmer’s argument and lets Cat live because they have both done the best they could with what they had on hand. Kryten and Lister are sentenced to be erased because neither have lived up to their full potential.

A time traveling Kryten rescues them after they have been removed from time, but before they are eliminated. The rest of the episode is a fun romp as the inquisitor chases them through Red Dwarf while they try to figure a way out of this mess. Rimmer and cat no longer know them, but wind up allies anyway before being killed by the Inquisitor. Lister and Kryten finally trick the Inquisitor into using the gauntlet in which he wipes people out of existence on himself, restoring everyone he has ever erased back to life in their respective time periods.

As I said, “The Inquisitor” is short on laughs, but big on awesomeness. The episode has a great combination of character driven elements, because we delve into the Dwarfers’ psyches, and plot driven, as the whole concept of the Inquisitor is quite cool. It is definitely a highlight of the show’s run.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Natural Law"

The only way to describe “Natural Law” is Chakotay and Seven film a National Geographic special. There is virtually no content to be found other than Chakotay indulging his anthropological inclinations while Seven learns primitives, even without the benefit of advanced technology in their lives, can be fascinating. But what is the point? There is literally no story.

Voyager is in orbit around a planet that is hosting some techno babble science conference Seven wants to attend. Chakotay is traveling with her in a shuttle. He insists on taking time to enjoy the scenery. In the middle of playing tourist, the shuttle hits an invisible barrier. Seven uses convenient borg know how in order to slide through the barrier safely, but the shuttle crashes. She and Chakotay are soon taken in by a tribe of natives called the Ventu as they look for a way to escape.

I sat they, but it is pretty much just Seven. She is eager to look for scattered parts of the shuttle with which she can build a homing beacon. Chakotay spends his time learning to communicate with the Ventu. By spending time, I mean four acts. Literally the entire episode is about Chakotay’s appreciation for the Ventu and Seven ’s coming around to his way of thinking even as she successfully removes the barrier so they can get the heck out of there.

The barrier was placed there centuries ago by an unknown alien race who were upset the dominant inhabitants, Ledosians, were constantly warring with the Ventu. (irony alert: these unknown aliens were eventually assimilated by the borg, according to took’s scan of the technology. They should have worried more about the preservation of their own culture, no?) with the barrier down, the Ledosians enter Ventu territory with the promise of improving their lives with technology, medicine, and education. Thus we are presented with the moral dilemma--should the barrier go back up or stay down?

Interestingly enough, the issue is not much delved into. Chakotay naturally wants the barrier up to preserve the Ventu way of life. Seven thinks the Ventu could benefit from modern civilization,. But has developed the romantic notion of the noble savage. There is no debate about the issue then. The barrier goes back up because the status quo has worked well so far. If you did not know raising the barrier was the only moral thing to do, the Ledosians attack Voyager to let you know they are definitely the bad guys.

The above description does not do justice to how hackneyed “Natural Law” is. The Ventu are your idealistic progressive view of the noble savage. They are completely virtuous, possess no weapons, and are vegetarians. Chakotay freaks out twice over the contamination of their culture. The first time is when the men begin painting tattoos on their foreheads to look like him and the women strap pieces of metal over their left eyes like Seven. It is an allegory for Western culture assimilating the peaceful, superior natives with our evil ways, particularly with Christianity. The Ventu never worship Chakotay or Seven, but the cautionary element is there. The second time is when seven suggests asking the natives to help drag a large piece of the shuttle. Chakotay considers that enslavement, but reluctantly goes along with it. Far, far too heavy-handed. In the end, there is no debate--leave the Ventu alone to do their thing. It is not so much the Ledosians want to build hotels and oil rigs in their habitat, either, even though they are willing to fight Voyager over the right to enter the barrier. Providing any advancements from Ledosian culture is a bad, bad thing.

There is a B-story, played mostly for laughs, in which Tom gets a speeding ticket and has to take a driver’s education course. The instructor considers him an awful pilot even though when know he is the best around. He proves it in the end by beaming out the anthropological team and escaping with them before the barrier rematerializes. The story is frivolous, but ultimately dovetails well with the main story.

‘natural Law” is not particularly bad. The problem is the lack of story elements and moral debate. The episode’s purpose is to make us appreciate the Ventu way of life, fanciful view of primitive culture that it is, so that we never question they need to be protected from the evils of modernity. If you buy that line of thinking, “Natural Law” is a great morality play. If, like me, you are skeptical advancing culture is a bad thing , then the episode is heavy-handed preaching. Take your pick how you view it.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Holoship"

"Holoship" is the fifth series premiere. As a whole, the fifth series is very uneven. It features three of my favorite episodes of the show’s run and three largely forgettable installments. A 50/50 ratio of good to bad is not all that great when a series is a scant six episodes. "Holoship" is, unfortunately, one of the mediocre episodes. Why it was chosen as the premiere is beyond me.

The story establishes its theme with the Dwarfers watching a sappy romantic movie while traveling in Starbug. The film is about a guy who sacrifices his chance at his dream career for the woman he loves. Only Rimmer is unmoved by the gesture. He cannot see why any reasonable person would sacrifice their dreams for a woman. Naturally, he is going to be placed in the same situation.

Starbug encounters a holoship, a Space Corps ship that is a hologram and manned by holograms. On board, rimmer can touch objects, eat, and have sex, which is a requirement at least twice a day. The catch is the sex has to e meaningless. Rimmer has sleeps with Kane, the beautiful officer who has been showing him around. He immediately declares he wants to join the crew. In order to do so, he and a crewmember closest to his talents must compete in a test. The one with the highest score wins.

Rimmer convinces Kryten to help him cheat by illegally grafting the intelligence of two dead Red Dwarf crewmembers unto his mind. He begins racing through the test when the mind graft fails. Since there is no way to rapair the graft, he decides to forfeit. He confesses to kane what he has done and tells her he only did so because the holoship provided his only chance to ever be an officer. Kane urges him to go back and finish the test. He does, only to learn his opponent forfeited, making him the winner by default. When he discovers his opponent was Kane, who resigned so he could have his life’s wish, he quits so she can have her job back. Turns out, the sex was not meaningless for her. She fell in love with him. Rimmer hates himself for giving up his dream in the name of a love her can never have.

“Holoship” is short on laughs. After lister and a hologram have a one-upsmanship insult battle, there is not much left to sustain the episode beyond Chris Barrie playing an ultra-nerdy version of rimmer after the mind graft. The rest of the episode features the usual theme--Rimmer is a revolting loser who never catches a break. This time, he sabotages himself rather than wait for fate to kick him in the rear end. “Holoship’ is watchable, but nothing special. Kane is pretty hot, though. I can see why Rimmer went for her.

Rating: *** (out of 5)