Wednesday 7 September 2016

Where No Fan Has Gone Before #1

All my life, I've been a Star Wars fan. By "fan", I mean I quote the movies once a day, read almost all of the old "Expanded Universe" novels and a fair selection of the comics. I have GM'd a Star Wars RPG campaign, regularly play X-Wing, Armada and Imperial Assault, dig the hell out of the new movies, TV shows, books and comics. My Star Wars DVDs are covered in autographs I've collected, and I have a 7" long Star Wars tattoo. Star Wars is my thing. Always has been, and always will be.

I say this not to toot my own horn, proclaiming myself to be Best Fan: The Biggest Fan In All The Galaxy, but just as a bit of background. I'm also pretty into Middle-Earth and Marvel, but Star Wars is my Number One.

I've never gotten into Star Trek. I know that it's supposedly the big "rival" to The Wars, but we all know that that's not really the case. I've seen all the movies, and have probably caught a few episodes of the TV show as a kid (there's one where Kirk fights a Bossk looking monster called a "Gorn", I remember liking that one), but so long ago that I don't really remember them. I know the names of the crew of the original series, most of The Next Generation, and could probably name the captains for the others (Sisko, Janeway and...Bakula?). However, I am, for all intents and purposes, a Star Trek noob.

In the past I'd made throwaway gags of the Fanboys kind about Trekkies/Trekkers, but as I approached my mid-thirties I realised that I should probably actually have a proper go of this Trek thing. So, here is my ongoing mission: to view, consume and report back on Star Trek...the whole shebang.

I mean, how long can that take, right?

530+ hours, you say?

Spoiler Warning: I'll be doing my best to keep major plot points spoiler-free, but I am kind of reviewing these, so some details may be revealed. I may refer to earlier episodes/movies in the series with the assumption that you have seen them. In Star Wars terms, if I was reviewing Return of the Jedi, I wouldn't include spoilers for Return of the Jedi, but it could (and probably would) be written with the assumption you'd seen The Empire Strikes Back.

The Man Trap

So, my first proper voyage unto the frontier of finality...

The Man Trap is actually a pretty good intro to the series. The Enterprise rocks up at a planet named M-113 to provide medical exams for a Professor Crater and his wife Nancy, who operate a research station there. Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy and Redshirt #1 transport to the surface as Kirk teases McCoy because he was totally knocking off the Professor's wife about ten years previously. When the lads from the Enterprise arrive at the research station, each of them sees Nancy differently: McCoy as she was when he first met her, Kirk as she should look accounting for her age, and Redshirt #1 as a totally different hot woman.

Kirk sends the spaced-out and easily hypnotised Redshirt #1 outside...but when Nancy goes out to fetch her husband, she beckons Redshirt #1 to follow her.

When Professor Crater arrives, he gets more than a little cantankerous, informing the crew that all they need is salt tablets. Before Dr McCoy can finish his medical tests, however, they hear a scream from outside. They find Redshirt #1 dead, with red ring-like mottling on his face and a plant root visible in his mouth...Nancy tells them that she was unable to stop Redshirt #1 from tasting the plant.

Back on board the Enterprise, Spock analyses the plant. He confirms that it is poisonous, but the mottling is not a symptom. McCoy conducts a medical exam, and together with Spock determines that Darnell died after all the salt was drained from his body.

Now obviously, all suspicions are directed at Nancy, who is - frankly - shady as fuck; but the Professor himself hasn't been all that friendly towards a crew who seem to be going to a lot of lengths to help him. I mean, there's an outpost in space - fine. It's manned only by one professor and his wife on the entire planet - not so fine, but I'm sure I can bear with it. The Federation sends an entire spaceship to go and give him a free medical check up, and they send down the Captain, the head doctor and...oh, I don't know...Ensign Geoff, because fuck it. All I'm saying is that Professor Crater (because the writer was looking for a spacey-planety name I assume) could do with not being the biggest entitled bitch this side of the Tumblr Nebula.

The rest of the story follows - to be honest - exactly what I was expecting Star Trek to be like. Beam down to a planet, bit of mystery solving, ruckus in a quarry, kill the monster. I was rather whelmed by the experience. I suppose I must have been hoping I would either be blown away or completely put off by the very first episode. There were lots of things I liked: the mystery did develop very well, the pacing was very good and...despite all the knockings Shatner's gotten over the years...I actually thought he was a pretty good actor in this - as was everyone, to be honest. My first proper experience of Star Trek is "not bad". Well...I guess a series tends to take a few episodes to get going, so let's see what's up next...

The Man Trap - Grade: C+

Charlie X

This episode starts with the Enterprise meeting the Antares (another ship, I think...maybe a space station...this is never clarified) to take charge of Charlie Evans, sole survivor of a transport ship that crashed on the planet Thasus. For fourteen years, Charlie grew up there alone, stranded in the wreckage, learning how to talk from the ship's computer systems which remained intact, which is obviously totally normal and hasn't made him a sociopath in any way.

He is to be transported to his nearest relatives on the colony Alpha V, because after the last episode where the entire ship was tasked with treating one fucking doctor, this time the ship which I can only assume would be consuming a truly massive amount of fuel is playing taxi for a single slightly bonkers teenager. I don't know who's in charge of the resource management at the Federation, but they need their head examined.

The crew members of the Antares are full of nothing by praise for Charlie, but seem pleased to have him removed from their ship. After the transfer, they bid the Enterprise an unusually hasty goodbye and depart.

Charlie undergoes a medical examination by Dr. McCoy. He tells the doctor the crew of the Antares didn't like him very much, and that all he wants is for people to like him.

When the Antares gets nearly out of sensor range, it transmits a warning message to the Enterprise, but the message gets cut off before it can give the warning. Shortly after, Spock reports back that the Antares has exploded.

Charlie very rapidly goes full-bell-end developing a bit of a pervy infatuation with Yeoman Janice Rand. He presents her with a bottle of perfume, which turns out to be her favorite scent, which is - obviously - a bit weird. She agrees to meet him in the rec room later, which is where things start to go south.

I really liked this episode. Charlie is a truly great character, as you're constantly torn between sympathising with him, because he's very good at reminding you what it was like to be a teenager...and yet in the next second you can find yourself hating him, because he's very good at reminding you what you used to be like as a teenager. The actor playing him (Robert Walker Jr) is simply superb.

There are some pacing problems, and a really weird bit in the cantina where Uhura and Spock have a bit of a jam on a weird lyre thing and some free-form shanties, because reasons; so it's not exactly perfect.

Contrary to how The Man Trap made me feel, I felt Charlie X was very different to what I was expecting from Star Trek. It was a much smarter, more thought-provoking kind of sci-fi, which moral dilemmas and tough character decisions throughout. And that ending? Wow. Really tugged at my emotions, that did. It would be truly unfair to dismiss Charlie as a bad guy considering what made him who he was; but even though he may not have been a bad guy, he was still a monster.

Charlie X - Grade: A-

Want to share thoughts on this episodes? Tell me what to look forward to? Want me to cover some of the books, audiodramas, comics or anything? Hit me up on Twitter @realbradhb, and I promise to get back to you.

Brad Harmer-Barnes is a contributor to various gaming publications, as well the editor of Suppressing Fire. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter @realbradhb

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