“Star Trek: DS9” – Series Pilot (“Emissary”)

It was a bold move for creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller to branch off from TNG (still airing on primetime TV when their new show- DS9- began in early 1993). This pilot is considered to be a very strong start to the sci-fi series, which is known (and loved) for its focus on characters, rather than the alien of the week and techno-babble. The show starts out w/ a bang- literally- as Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks- the first African-American main lead on a Star Trek show) loses his wife, Jennifer (Felicia M. Bell), when his starship is attacked by the Borg at Wolf 359. This attack was led by Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) when he was captured and turned into Locutus; this is another unexpected move by the creators. The survivors of the attack, incl. Sisko and his 12 y.o. son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), abandon the ship in escape pods.

About a year later, we see the father and son headed to Deep Space Nine, a space station (built by the Cardassians) in the Alpha Quadrant near the newly-liberated planet- Bajor. Sisko and Picard have a (very tense) meeting, where Sisko admits that he may not want this job; these are yet more bold moves for the show. Many drew comparisons between Bajorans and the Jewish people (particularly the atrocities they faced under Nazis during WWII); there are several writers and producers of Jewish heritage on the show. The Cardassian occupation of Bajor (which lasted 50 years) can also be compared to England and colonial India. When Sisko arrives, he meets engineer, Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney), who served on the USS Enterprise in TNG. Picard and O’Brien (who served as transporter chief) have a touching goodbye before the Enterprise flies off.

The station (formerly named Terok Nor) is under Federation control; it could be compared to a frontier town in a TV Western (as some reviewers have commented). It’s in ruins and merchants are preparing to leave. We meet the bar owner, Quark (veteran actor Armin Shimerman), who is Ferengi- a race of aliens primarily concerned with profit. The Bajoran commander, Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor- who hails from a dance/theater background), is a former freedom fighter (“terrorist”) who isn’t a fan of the Federation. Chief of Security, Odo (veteran theater/TV actor Rene Auberjonois), is a Shapeshifter (one of a kind perhaps) who worked to keep the peace (for some years under the Cardassians). Unlike most TV lawmen, Odo doesn’t carry a weapon (phaser), and bans them from the promenade. Kira and Odo trust each other implicitly. Sisko is happy to be reunited w/ “old” friend Dax, who is a Trill- an alien race who live many lives inside different hosts. Jadzia (Terry Farrell) is the young science officer who is Dax’s current host. Right on her heels is the station’s wide-eyed doctor, Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig, who is English w/ Anglo and Arab heritage). On his maternal side, Siddig is the nephew of veteran actor Malcolm McDowell (the villain in the TNG movie- Generations). When Bashir sees the sick bay, he comments re: “practicing real frontier medicine.” As a kid, it was very exciting to see an actor of Muslim heritage on such a big TV show! A professor/media critic I follow (Zaki Hasan) said this was the same for his young sons, who are watching DS9 in recent years.

Bajor is not yet a part of the Federation (which Picard explained); it is also beautiful w/ many natural resources. Kira noted that there are several factions now at odds (though they worked together to remove the Cardassians). When Sisko beams down to the planet to meet Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola), one of the most revered religious leaders, she declares that his destiny is to be “emissary” to the Bajoran people. Unlike most TV shows, DS9 doesn’t shy away from religion, or the fact that it plays a big role in the lives of many (humans and aliens). Kai Opaka takes Sisko down to a secret underground cave, and reveals an orb (one of several which traveled to Bajor years ago). When Sisko touches this orb, he is instantly transported (“where no one has gone before”)! There is much more to the story (in the second part of the pilot), so check it out on Amazon Prime.

We see that not all the cast are part of Starfleet, so don’t all wear the same type of uniforms. The makeup for Odo had not yet been perfected, so he looks quite different in S1 than in the rest of the series. The ensemble cast is introduced rather smoothly in this pilot; each character gets a moment to show their personality. There is a mix of young newcomer actors and theater veterans (who provide gravitas). O’Brien is the the “Everyman” character that we know somewhat from TNG; he will get much more to do in DS9. The warm father-son relationship (rare for ST) will grown and develop over the series; Jake is not one of those TV kids who disappears. Brooks insisted on this element to the producers, as he felt there weren’t enough positive role models of black fathers/families in the media.

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)

Well, that’s it. We gave it our best shot, it wasn’t good, and it will never happen again. -William Shatner’s first thoughts on viewing this movie

[1] Everything is very straight-faced and sincere. To introduce someone to Star Trek with this film would be a bad idea.

[2] The Enterprise is much more of a physical ship traveling in space, and less of a device to facilitate storytelling.

[3] ...most of the film has the crew standing on the bridge, gazing out in awed-wonderment at all the expensive, and impressive, special effects…

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

I learned that this movie is often derided as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. So, what’s good about this movie!? The original TOS actors, particularly Nimoy, do the best w/ what they get (which is not much good dialogue). We don’t see much of their chemistry or friendship; everyone seems cold and distant. If you love TOS and/or grew up w/ it in the ’60s or saw reruns in ’70s, then this isn’t a total waste of time. If you’re not much of a fan, then go ahead to the second film (which is great). They basically pretend like this one never happened- LOL! There is a fun scene where Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is sporting a full beard and (very ’70s) casual outfit w/ chunky gold necklace. Also, Gene Roddenberry loved the (now iconic) main theme from the musical score, which he reused for Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). Below this review is the scene which I thought was done very well.

The original script was written by Roddenberry and titled “The God Thing” though it was rejected by Paramount executives b/c of the storyline in which the Enterprise crew meet God. Many other story ideas were considered: preventing JFK’s assassination, becoming the Greek Titans, and trying to prevent a black hole from swallowing the galaxy. The popularity of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) had a big impact on the story, pacing, and marketing of TMP. Many sci-fi fans (incl. writers) viewed Star Wars as fantasy and fluff. Roddenberry always saw Star Trek as a more serious endeavor. The story was pushed toward more complex ideas; the decision was made to have no battle scenes (which hurt the movie). The early promos for newspaper ads had as the line “There is no comparison.”

Orson Welles narrated trailers for this film- a voice familiar to classic film fans! Director Robert Wise was also the editor on Citizen Kane (1941); he also reedited and reshot The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Welles held a grudge against Wise b/c of the latter work; he probably recorded the trailers b/c he needed money. Wise (who was unfamiliar w/ Star Trek) was convinced to take on the directing job by his wife Millicent (a huge fan of TOS). She also convinced Wise to campaign for Leonard Nimoy’s return. Nimoy agreed to do the film only after Paramount agreed to a settlement of his lawsuit for allowing his TV series likeness to be used by advertisers. Wise (best known for West Side Story and The Sound of Music) is sadly not in his element here; his directing style contributes to its slow pace.

The producers and cast were worried about their appearances after being away from TOS for 10 yrs. In the later movies, the aging of the crew became part of the story. The cast hated the uniforms (as did viewers). One of the cast’s conditions for returning for a sequel was to have new uniforms. It was understood in the script, but not said outright, that Cmdr. Will Decker (Stephen Collins- who also didn’t watch TOS) was the son of Commodore Matthew Decker from The Doomsday Machine. Persis Khambatta (who played Lt. Ilia) was a model from India; she had her head shaved for the role. She has very little to do, though it is rare to see a Hollywood newcomer/woman of color at that time in such a big production. The abandoned TV series (Phase II) was to have three new main characters. Paramount was concerned that Shatner might ask for too much money (if the series was extended). Decker was created, so that once Kirk had to be written out, he could take on the new lead role. Will Riker and Deanna Troi on TNG were later incarnations of Decker and Ilia.

As many have pointed out before, Klingons continue to be the one-note baddies; they were not developed until TNG. The Klingon words spoken by the Klingon captain were invented by James Doohan (Cmdr. Scott). Linguist Marc Okrand later devised grammar and syntax rules for the language, along w/ more vocabulary words in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), and wrote a Klingon dictionary. Doohan also devised the Vulcan words heard during Spock’s Kolinahr ceremony. The scenes were first shot in English, but when it was decided to use Vulcan, Doohan wrote lines (to fit the existing lip movements).

“Star Trek: TNG” – S3, E15 (“Yesterday’s Enterprise”)

This is one of the top-rated (also fan fave) eps of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG); I’ve seen it 3x over the years. At the 50th anniversary Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in August 2016, fans voted this the 5th best ep of the franchise. It’s well-written (despite having 6 different writers- incl. a young Ronald D. Moore), tense (w/ great music and innovative direction), thrilling, and includes an element that Star Trek doesn’t usually do well (romance). Our heroes on the Enterprise-D see a “temporal rift” opening in space, which Data (Brent Spiner) thinks could be unstable. Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) is alive in this alternate timeline where the Federation is in a 20+ yr. war w/ the Klingons! Lt. Worf- being a Klingon- is not there; Michael Dorn had a fun scene in the opening of the ep w/ Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). This is the ep where he gets introduced to “warrior” drink (prune juice)- LOL!

Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Cmdr. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) don’t like each other. I esp. liked the (dark) lighting used on the bridge. The uniforms are a bit different (militaristic); the crew wears silver belts on their hips (which holds phasers). We hear “battle alert” followed by a “condition” (either yellow or red). Unlike the Captain’s log and Stardates, Picard records a Military log using “combat dates.” This is the first time Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) is seen wearing a Starfleet uniform.

The world we know changed when the Enterprise-C traveled 22 yrs. in the future commanded by (a lady boss) Capt. Garrett (Tricia O’Neil). The actress does a terrific job; many fans noted that she paved the way for Capt. Janeway on Voyager. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) tells her to rest longer in sick bay, but she’s a tough cookie (insisting that her crew needs her). I esp. liked the scene w/ Garrett and Picard on her ship’s bridge; he lowers his voice at one point to admit that the war is going worse than commonly known. O’Neil later played a Klingon in TNG (Suspicions) and a Cardassian in DS9 (Defiant).

Lt. Castillo (Christopher McDonald), the helmsman under Garrett, is wowed by the tech, incl. modern weaponry. He learns much from Tasha as they spend the day together; they start to develop feelings for each other. As some viewers noted, their relationship happens naturally (unlike what you’d expect from episodic TV). I learned that McDonald was one of the top actors vying for the role of Riker- no wonder he fits in so well in this episode! The costumes worn by the crew of the Enterprise-C may look familiar to movie fans; these are similar to designs on Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (which I watched recently).

Guinan knows something is wrong, though she can’t explain exactly what to Picard (who gets rather mad at her). After seeing Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in TOS as a young girl (and getting very inspired), Goldberg vowed that she’d be part of the Star Trek world someday. Tasha notices that Guinan is acting weird around her; it’s b/c they were never meant to know each other. In time, Picard realizes that the Enterprise-C must return to its own time/place to restore the original timeline. They would (most likely) die defending a Klingon outpost against the Romulans, but could prevent a war.

We brought Denise Crosby back to kill off Tasha Yar a second time. It was a great opportunity to send the character off in a big heroic sacrifice because nobody was really happy with the way she left the series in the first season. Nobody on the show really liked it, the fans didn’t like it, I’m not sure even she really liked it. So “Yesterday’s Enterprise” was a chance to kill her right. -Ron Moore