30 April 2012

B5 Review: The Gathering

The Gathering

G'Kar prosecutes Sinclair The Babylon 5 saga begins with this pilot movie set in the Earth Year 2257 where a huge space station, Babylon 5 located in neutral space awaits the arrival of ambassadors from the major governments, the last of these, a Vorlon named Kosh.

The Gathering has a huge task to accomplish in not only establishing the universe within which our characters exist (this isn't Star Trek after all!) but also having a storyline to keep viewers interested and wanting to come back and watch the series too.

As events unfold we are introduced to our main characters. Commander Sinclair who has a decorated past serving the Earth Alliance, now commands this space station but for how long once he is connected to an assassination attempt on the new Vorlon ambassador? Ambassador G'Kar of the Narn Regime is quite aggressive and seems he would do anything to throw Earth into war at the expense of Sinclair's reputation while Ambassador Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic is happy to lose credits in the casino and relive old stories from the glory days of his Republic. There is a strange connection as yet unexplored between Sinclair and Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari Federation while we get to know very little about Sinclair's crew except they're all not quite perfect with Garibaldi and Takashima's pasts coming up throughout the story and Dr Kyle trying a risky procedure to attempt to save the Vorlon Ambassador.

Without giving too much of the story away, there is a lot more going on and it opens up a decent amount of questions that I hadn't realised on my first viewing, but these would eventually be covered throughout the series.

No doubt for me as a 10 year old watching The Gathering for the first time in 1993, the special effects would have grabbed me and had me hooked. I remember I had the episode on VHS, recorded from the TV broadcast. The original, unfinished version with different scenes and soundtrack before Dad purchased the series on VHS and I then went and purchased the DVD's in the 2000's. Re-watching the Special Edition, 19 years later has helped me realise just how good the series was, with so many threads begun from this point.

This is my third visit to the Babylon 5 universe and this time my companion is my wife. Her initial reaction I would say is positive. She watched and paid attention to what was going on. She made connections with actors who had appeared in other things she had seen (Tamlyn Tomita from The Karate Kid II) and seemed impressed with some of the scenes (the Vorlon fleet arriving to take Sinclair to their homeworld). Hopefully the series will wow her as much as it did me. We will have to see.

The Gathering is a slow pilot but as I said above, it has so much to establish. In some ways I find it a shame that this is the only time we would see Laurel Takashima and Benjamin Kyle in the series. Ultimately replaced in the first episode of Season One. Don't get me wrong, I like Susan Ivanova and Stephen Franklin, but after reading on The Babylon 5 Project wiki and other sources the storyline that Takashima would have followed, it just makes me wonder how the series would have panned out if Tamlyn Tomita decided to stay on.

Without being tainted of what is to come in the series, I give The Gathering an overall rating of 6/10.

27 April 2012

And So It Begins... Watching Babylon 5 (for the third time)

Many of you will know me as a huge fan of Star Trek but what most probably wouldn't realise is that the sci-fi show that had the biggest influence over me through the 90's wasn't from the Star Trek universe at all. It was Babylon 5.

Babylon 5 Logo 

I remember the adverts for the new show about to air, showcasing the state-of-the-art special effects for the time. It was different. Scheduling on TV in Australia is a lottery at the best of times so I lost track very early in the first season - they even played that season out of order. The show was then sold to another network and put into a late time slot and it wasn't until mid-Season Three that I would revisit it and wonder what had I missed out on.

Season Three was a great season to come back to and fortunately I came back at the episode 'Exogenesis', meaning that the excitement was just beginning. As the story (I don't want to spoil too much) unfolded, I soon realised how great this show was. Unlike myself, my Dad had managed to stay across what was happening and helped fill in the blanks as episodes referred back to previous seasons and the story continued to develop to a climax and cliffhanger I couldn't believe. Note - I hadn't seen Star Trek TNG's 'The Best of Both Worlds' at this point, so my all time favourite cliffhanger came at the end of Babylon 5's episode 'Z'Ha'Dum'.

Eventually we purchased the VHS tapes and I became acquainted with the entire series filling in the gaps myself. Discovering what I had missed out on in Season's One and Two, all laying the foundations for what happened in Season's Three and Four.

Part of the appeal was obviously the special effects and the action packed battle scenes throughout the series. There was a lot of conflict between the alien races depicted in the show. I think the other appeal apart from ships going boom came from the relationships and interactions between the characters. There was a great realness about it and it depicted a believable future for the human race where things aren't as squeaky clean as shown in the 'other' sci-fi series.

The multi-story arc was a new concept at the time and the changing soundtrack from episode to episode was appreciated compared with the more predictable scores of Star Trek episodes of the same era.

I managed to watch through the entire series, movies and the spin-offs one more time when they were released on DVD in the 2000's and after moving to a new place with my fiance and now wife, I had planned to restart the adventure with her at my side.

Earlier in the week we fired up 'The Gathering' and so the adventure begins... again.

The Year is 2012.
The name of the place is Babylon 5.

18 April 2012

Trek Review: One of Our Planets is Missing & The Lorelei Signal

One of Our Planets is Missing

Enterprise encounters planet eating cloudThe Enterprise encounters a strange cosmic cloud that engulfs a planet on the fringe of Federation space. The crew intercept and try to find a way to stop it before it reaches Mantilles, the most remote inhabited planet in the Federation.

Kirk contacts Bob Wesley, seen in the TOS episode The Ultimate Computer and now governor of Mantilles to begin evacuation. We soon find out the cloud is a living creature and Spock is able to communicate with it via mind-meld. The cloud stops and returns to where it came from, sparing Mantilles.

This is another decent enough episode in the series. The animation works well to showcase the size and amazing environment within the cloud. Perhaps the communication with the cloud and convincing it to leave was too easy and the question must surely be where has it gone to and what is it 'consuming' on its way there?

We get to see some new areas of the ship, including the antimatter nacelles and Lt Arex, the three armed and tripedal navigation officer speaks for the first time.

Overall Rating: 6/10


The Lorelei Signal

Aged Spock and McCoy The Enterprise is investigating an area of space where ships have been disappearing for the past 150 years. The ship is probed and then receives a signal, which appears and sounds different to each crew member.

The male crew members are mostly affected by visions and a feel of being called somewhere while Uhura detects nothing. Kirk orders the ship to the Taurean system.

Upon arrival, the all male landing party is greeted by an all female compound. They entertain the landing party who eventually fall ill and wake to find themselves aging and with headbands attached.

Uhura, aboard Enterprise organises an all female security team with Nurse Chapel to determine what is happening. Uhura takes command of the ship when Scotty's state of mind is called into question and transport to the surface to help out the landing party.

Ultimately the men are saved and it is found that the planet drains and weakens the humanoid inhabitants, but the women were able to overcome this. Scotty is able to use the transporter to restore the landing party to their proper age.

A lot happens in this episode and while it is interesting, there might have been too much of it to fit in the shortened time span allocated. Using the transporter to save our landing party would become a trick used more and more often in later adventures and you would have to question the women on Taurus II, why lure more men to their planet when they could simply ask for help? Particularly as it is found that they can be relocated to a 'safer' planet and their bodies will adjust accordingly.

It was good though to see Uhura take command of the ship!

Overall Rating: 5/10

17 April 2012

Trek Review: Beyond the Farthest Star & Yesteryear

With this Trek Review we now head into the animated realm of the Original Series adventures following the Season Three finale Turnabout Intruder. It's hard to tell whether these episodes follow directly from that finale or if there is a gap in between. It hardly matters though as most of our crew are back with a familiar ship, familiar adventures and a new opening theme.

Beyond the Farthest Star

Obey Me!The Enterprise encounters an old and derelict alien ship whose crew appear to have died some time ago, yet something remains. A landing party discovers an old log entry from the ship's commander describing the crews choice to destroy the ship in order to prevent a malevolent entity from travelling to other worlds.

When the landing party returns to Enterprise, they inadvertently bring the entity back with them and it starts to take control of the ship.

Kirk bluffs the entity into believing the Enterprise will crash into a nearby planet and flees the ship, destined to loneliness as the Enterprise escapes.

The animated series starts with this interesting episode of a beautiful, old and derelict alien ship, a malevolent entity and Kirk outwitting it to save the ship. It's quickly evident that these episodes are a different character to the near hour-long live action episodes we have become used to. The pace feels much quicker, or that could merely be due to the halved air time. The Animated Series does allow for some exciting new vistas and sets though that could not have been realised with the budget constraints of the live show.

Overall Rating: 6/10

Yesteryear

Spock and Spock-SelekReturning from a journey through the Guardian of Forever, Kirk and Spock realise that history has changed somehow when none of the Enterprise crew recognise their Vulcan Science Officer.

Spock enters through the Guardian to save his younger self from dying during the kahs-wan maturity test.

Spock introduces himself as a cousin named Selek to his younger self, Sarek and Amanda after offering assistance when younger Spock is being harrassed by three other Vulcan children.

Younger Spock chooses to undergo the kahs-wan a month earlier than needed, in order to prove himself. He and his pet sehlat, I-chaya come under attack by a le-matya when Selek intervenes. However, I-chaya is mortally wounded. Younger Spock makes the logical decision to allow I-chaya to pass away without pain and so his life choice is made to follow his father's Vulcan ways.

Selek farewell's his family and Spock returns to the present to find the timeline restored.

This is a decent episode considering how short it is. We learn a lot about Spock's childhood and scenes from here would be echoed in Star Trek (2009) and references from this episode would become 'canon'. There's no surprise this episode fits into Star Trek so well as it was written by Original Series writer and story consultant D.C. Fontana.

An enjoyable episode, with my only criticism being the voice of the Guardian of Forever was nowhere near the booming 'epicness' of the original.

Overall Rating: 8/10

07 April 2012

Trek Review: The Cage

The Cage

Talosians on Talos IVThe year is 2254 and the Enterprise is under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. On their way to the Vega colony for treatment of injuries sustained in their recent encounter, they come across an old style distress call and divert course to the Talos star system to investigate.

On arrival, they come across the wreckage of an old Earth ship, the SS Columbia and several survivors, including a young woman named Vina. She manages to lure Pike away from the landing party to three awaiting aliens who render him unconscious and take him below ground through a concealed door in a rock.

Entrapped in a 'cage', the Talosian captors project images and scenarios into Pike's mind to see how he reacts. Eventually they offer Vina as a viable mate for him and depict scenarios designed to bring the two closer together. Pike's resolve to escape keeps him focussed but the projections from the Talosians keep delaying his progress.

Eventually, Pike realises that strong emotions can block the power the Talosians have over him and when they attempt to introduce two female Enterprise crew members as alternative mates, Pike is able to use their weapons to blast a way out of the cage.

The Talosians realise that humans are too aggressive for their purposes and concede their species will eventually die out. The Enterprise crew are free to go but Vina remains due to her true, deformed form from the Columbia crash.

Star Trek will forever be the series that was given a second chance. The Cage was the first pilot pitched to the executives and ultimately rejected for being 'too cerebral'. The second pilot, with a number of cast changes and a more action oriented story, Where No Man Has Gone Before eventually kicked off the series on its journey into the history books. Parts of The Cage would ultimately make up the bulk of the only Original Series two-parter, The Menagerie.

The Cage is a decent episode even with an unfamiliar crew. Even Spock is played out of character in this episode and it's hard to imagine the continuing adventures with these characters - I'm sure it would have been successful to a degree, but definitely Jeffrey Hunter's Pike is very different to William Shatner's Kirk. My only issue came with a bit of over-exposure to the episode when it was 'uncovered' in the mid-90's and suddenly it was being played everywhere by everyone - and not being the most action-packed episode, it became a bit tedious. I'm glad I've had a number of years between viewings, it allowed me to review the episode with a fresher mind again!

The remastered version brings the episode up to the standard introduced throughout what we have been exposed to in the three seasons of the Original series. I would have preferred this episode to precede the events of Season One, just for my own Trek-Geek chronological orderliness but nevermind. With the viewing of this episode, our journey through the live-action Original series is complete.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10