Tuesday, October 11, 2005

1x03 – ‘Empathic Advantage’

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Legg

PREMIERE DATE: 03/10/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/avalon/season1.shtml

With Siren reclusive after recent events and Zorin forced into his quarters with a nasty cold, Hatch sees his chance to play captain and very unofficially takes command of the Avalon. He decides to investigate a distress call from a nearby planet and the result sees the Avalon pick up a telepath named Chala, who Adele refuses to trust. It soon becomes apparent her senses are well-founded as Chala is revealed to have a hidden agenda……

In it’s large mini-series and first few episodes, what has made this show stand out from a great deal of other Trek fan-fiction out there is it’s unremitting darkness, displaying a universe full of cut-throat, cold-blooded mercenaries and unyielding religious zealots. However, underneath, a vein of very black comedy has punctuated and here that vein is, for want of a better term, sliced open to allow the comedy to overtake the darkness. That’s not to say we’ve suddenly jumped into an episode of Seinfeld, but this is certainly a more light-hearted, fluffier affair than previous episodes and consequently is a bit of a relief. As ever when trying to produce comic moments, the balance isn’t perfect but writer Joshua Legg has a damn good stab at it and comes out pretty much unscathed for the effort, which is commendable.

Right from the get-go, the tone is set for this episode through Zorin’s ailment. A Hirogen with a cold is a neat comic device, and Legg manages to put the leader through this without turning him into a snivelling wimp in the process. Zorin fights tooth and nail to cling onto his bridge, and it’s only the force of sheer common sense that leads him to give it up. Though it could be construed as a lack of trust on his part, the very fact he does eventually recede control to people other than Siren shows Zorin is beginning to trust the others. A mistake, probably, as when Hatch takes command do the troubles start. Though at times there’s a sense of it trying too hard to be funny, the interplay between Hatch, Azel. Shera and Adele as the first half sees them going off to answer the distress call is nicely done and it’s quite refreshing to concentrate on certain characters pushed more in the background in recent episodes.

It was a neat device to have these four characters heading down to the planet on an away mission, and Legg even comments in his prose descriptions between dialogue that it’s almost a reversal of the usual group who undertake the missions, which is clearly Zorin, Siren and Isaac. The idea is mined for comedy, and Legg is blatant about it, but for the most part it works. And the whole concept of essentially answering the distress call and going to help someone without reward is a nod back to your more straight-laced Star Trek series, and how Starfleet would have gone about things, which again is a complete opposite to the ethics of the Avalon universe. The days of selflessness are gone, and this too is a reversal. These parallels work nicely to enhance the script, and display how different the take of this episode is; another good thing is the small references to events recent passed. Many Trek series are very standalone and essentially ignore big events that effect the characters, but thankfully Avalon isn’t falling into that trap. There’s mention of Siren’s recovery from events of the previous episode (her complete absence from this episode making it practically impossible not to notice that), plus how the Cult are still bombing innocent worlds essentially because of Avalon’s actions. These things are brewing in the background, and Legg thankfully doesn’t lose sight of them.

As I say, though, this isn’t a perfect example of VS writing. It has it flaws, as with any series. Despite the fact that Chala is an interesting character and the concept of the Seers project initiated by the Cult is a good one (and in my opinion should be dealt with in a much more prominent way in future), the telepath doesn’t quite hold together as well as I’d hoped. It’s unfortunate that after an excellent, quite tense yet oddly comic introduction, plus some good interaction with the characters (such as her concise reading of Adele’s thoughts), Legg takes the quite obvious path of Chala being up to no good and working with a bunch of pirates. Though this is followed through essentially to show how Hatch has again messed up like he did with Naomi, and to piss off Zorin, it feels a bit like a cop out to avoid doing a more interesting narrative. Plus, we never really get an explanation of who the pirates are she was working with, posing as the Cult. Are they also Molia telepaths? And how did they get the resources to pose as a Cult vessel? This is skirted over. All of this also combines to make the climax somewhat flat, for me. The twist about Hatch being bait to draw out Chala’s motives is quite clever, but everything just seems to unravel too quickly and without a palpable sense of tension.

Having said that, while not quite on a par with the previous episode, this is still a sign of increasing improvement for Avalon. On the whole, the characters seem to gel much better here than possibly in any previous episode before. They’re all starting to display their own characteristics more, and this could be a sign that Legg is starting to get a better handle on the interplay between them, and the dialogue. A little less needless profanity in this episode, I feel, also goes a long way towards helping this. Not a bad effort overall, with a superbly funny closing moment that will always make me smile.

WRITING: 1.5/2
GRAMMAR: 1.5/ 2
FORMATTING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 7/10

Monday, October 10, 2005

It's the Blackster here, hello y'all!

I just thought, given the increasing popularity of the blog, that i'd make a comprehensive list of the virtual TV series that this blog is covering now and is going to cover in the near future. Can't put dates on when the reviews will arrive, but this is just to build a little anticipation about what's coming up.

CURRENT SHOWS:

Somewhere Inbetween - SEASON ONE (Monster Zero Productions)
Star Trek: Beyond What's Left Behind - SEASON ONE (TrekOnline)
Gods - SEASON ONE (Monster Zero Productions)
Star Trek: Avalon - SEASON ONE (TrekOnline)
Star Trek: Frontiers - SEASON ONE (Virtual Star Trek)
Star Trek: Star's End - SEASON ONE (Virtual Star Trek)
Star Trek: Exodus - SEASON ONE (Shaun Hamley)

UPCOMING SHOWS:

The High Life - SEASON ONE (Monster Zero Productions)
Star Trek: Endeavour - SEASON ONE (TrekOnline Affiliate)
Between the Walls - SEASON ONE (Monster Zero Productions)
Stargate: Horizon - SEASON ONE (Stargate Universe)

UPCOMING REVIEWS (in order of release):

Gods 1x04 - 'CHANGES' (Lee. A. Chrimes) (COMPLETE)
Star Trek: Beyond What's Left Behind 1x05 - 'DARK SIDE OF THE MOON' (Todd Foose) (COMPLETE)
Star Trek: Star's End 1x03 - 'UNDER' (J. Henrik Antonnen)
The High Life 1x01 - 'EXORDIUM' (Waylon Wyche)
Star Trek: Frontiers 1x03 - 'THE HIGHEST PASSION' (Joshua Maley)
Between the Walls 1x01 - 'PILOT' (Arcadio Reyes)
Star Trek: Avalon 1x03 - 'EMPATHIC ADVANTAGE' (Jeremy Burnham/Joshua Legg)

So, there you have it. That's what's coming up from the Blackster Blog over the next couple of week. I'd like to get an episode posted a day, but time committments can make this a tall order. Rest assured, though, what you see above is what you get and i'll at certain intervals do these 'upcoming' posts just to keep you readers tantalised.

Keep on reading and i'll keep on writing. :)

The Blackster.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Star Trek: Avalon 1x02 - 'A Change of Seasons'

WRITTEN BY: Joe Burdette
PREMIERE DATE: 26/09/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/avalon/

The Avalon reaches Novograd, a planet who's main city is ran by sinister crime baron Hakaru and his brother Junji, intending to sell of effects they retained from battling the Cult recently. Things don't go to plan, however, when Hakaru & Junji get wind that Zorin's crew are harbouring two Xindi they would love nothing more than to see dead, while Siren is targeted by the same perverted and powerful slave driver who kept her imprisoned for a large chunk of her life......

It's funny isn't it how much the rules of online series screenwriting can fluctuate over the course of time. It's standard practice in the real world in developing TV series that script pages equate to roughly one minute of screen time, and given that US, and in some cases British, TV drama have to suffer ad breaks, that means most episodes roughly come in at between 40-45 pages. The beauty of writing an online series is that these rules don't have to necessarily apply. Some series try to keep to these rules, and it can be a benefit, in making the episode a much taut and snappier read (Somewhere Inbetween being a good example of this). Many series, however, will write as many pages as they feel necessary to tell the story well. Avalon is one such series, and given that it contains perhaps more moments of prose than others to assist creating an atmosphere to the story, this is to be expected. A Change of Seasons runs to 84 pages, double the amount almost of several other series reviewed on this blog. The question is: do the means justify the length? On the evidence of this ep, the answer would be yes.

What we have here is pretty much a standalone story, with few references to the all pervasive Cult, or the mystery surrounding Hatch's fast-forward in time; or any other hanging questions the mini-series posed. Essentially, it's a character episode, mixed with a fair dollop of action along the way. And the character the narrative revolves around: Siren. Thus far, she's been presented as a seductive, lethal but quite cold individual, except perhaps around Zorin. Here, she's given the chance to shine. We learn a lot about her character throughout the course of this story. She is Deltan (a fact Hatch amusingly can't grasp because she isn't bald); she was a sex slave for 15 years; the deadly tentacles within her hands were meant to provide 'clients' sexual pleasure; and the name Siren was one her captor christened her. It's indicative that she cannot let go of the trauma surrounding her captivity in that she's retained this name, even though it makes sense since her real name is lost to her. All these details serve to enhance Siren's character, and once she's captured again, we see different sides to her. We see the sadness and fear behind her strength, and it prevents the story of her being kidnapped slipping into cliche. Writer Joe Burdette really succeeds in further fleshing out Siren's character here, and it's these elements that really elevate the episode.

It's fair to say that most of the characters, save perhaps Hatch and Adele, are given a fair whack equally to do here, but we also get further indications into Isaac here. Despite the fact he's previously come across as somewhat stalkerish in regards to Adele, it's clear he genuinely cares for her in a nice moment where he offers Adele a weapon to defend herself against the possibility of Avalon being invaded. The fact Adele also refuses is a nice look into her character, showing her rationale of leaving the Cult: she wants nothing to do with anymore bloodshed. The Isaac/Adele relationship is shaping up to be a highlight of this series. Also, by the end, there's indication that Isaac hasn't entirely gained Zorin's trust yet. He needs to check that Isaac didn't sell out the Xindi cousins to their enemy & this sets back a potential step forward in their relationship. Isaac is disappointed that Zorin still isn't sure of him. Zorin, too, throughout the episode, continues to shine. His presence commands leadership and we also see he's potentially willing to trade crewmembers to protect Siren. The cast is served so well that a concern I almost have is that Hatch, supposedly the protagonist, was somewhat redundant in the proceedings. He's around mainly for comic effect here, and while I don't expect every ep to be about him or feature him prominently, it might have been nice to see him a little more in the narrative here.

The length of the episode also serves to give the guest characters a good chance to establish themselves. Hakaru & Junji are suitably creepy and nasty pieces of work, and quite frankly their comeuppance is inspired. I just loved the final moment of this episode. It was a broad smile moment; equally, the unnamed slave captor, referred to as simply He or Him, is shown in all his glory. Making him an ugly, fat, unremarkable human man is also quite fitting. Keeping these women captive are his way of not only making money but retaining a power over the fairer sex he'd never attain through any other means. He's truly repulsive, and Siren's revenge on him has that feel of poetic justice about it. Following that is a quite excellent moment in which Siren releases the imprisoned slave girls, but they choose to remain in their cages. The evil of their captor has led them to fear any other life, and he's warped them to the degree they can't even imagine freedom. It's a disturbing moment that also elevates Avalon. The show has come across a little too flippant at times to the detriment of real drama, but this moment serves to show the depth the show is capable of if it tries.

All in all, then, i'd be inclined to say this is the most successful Avalon episode so far. As with all, it isn't perfect. There are slight grammar errors, the formatting in places could be better, and there's perhaps at times a little too much prose and description that drags the episode longer than it needed to be, but ultimately I can find few negatives. One thing I find really encouraging is that Burdette here has got much the better balance in using profanity than in the previous episodes. It's here quite significantly, still perhaps more than needed, but it works better for me than before. It felt included for effect previously, but here it flows better. Ultimately, let's hope the remainder of the series retains the quality evidenced here.

WRITING: 2/2
GRAMMAR: 1/2
FORMATTING: 1/2
STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 2/2

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Somewhere Inbetween 1x04 - 'As Seen on TV'

WRITTEN BY: Lee. A. Chrimes
PREMIERE DATE: 27/11/2004
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://www.somewhere-inbetween.co.uk/sibepisodes1.html

While Chris is more concerned with research, Twist wants to go autograph hunting at a film premiere while they stay in Orlando. It isn't long however when she is swamped in a whole heap of trouble concerning the police, a TV news crew, and a seemingly unstoppable assassin named Lambert summoned from the depths of Hell to drag Twist back to where Chris unwittingly rescued her from.....

Teasers can make or break an episode, a maxim that every writer and producer in TV, whether real or virtual, knows very well. If a teaser is poor, the reader may very well not bother reading the subsequent four acts. However, if a teaser is like the one in this fourth episode of Lee Chrimes arsekicking vampire show, you're guaranteed the reader is going to lap the remainder up with glee and a side order of relish. A terrifically written, exciting opening moment concerning Twist on the run from the ruthless Lambert opens up the story here. Throw in a slightly comic TV crew in the bargain, and you're onto a winner. So, does the episode live up to the excitement of it's opening? Yes, by and large.

The ending of the previous episode left us with the tantalising prospect of a demonic assassin being summoned from Hell to bring Twist back to that dark realm. Here, that thread is followed up on full force. The assassin in question is Lambert, and there is a definate whiff of Terminator about the guy (thankfully however without the cod-English, monosyllabic Austrian lilt). He could have turned into quite a comic caricature, given the lightness of the proceedings in general. Somewhere Inbetween really doesn't take itself very seriously at the best of times, a fact which goes in it's favour, but there are moments and points in this episode, as in the others, that eschew the tongue-in-cheek flavour. Lambert at times is one of these. In the early scenes, he says almost nothing and his relentlessness is sometimes rather chilling. Ultimately, however, Chrimes takes the very surprising path of giving Lambert a totally unexpected connection to Twist, his prey. It certainly gives his character, and the story around him, more depth. At that moment, he stops being a T-100 and becomes a human being. It's an interesting decision, and one that pays off, not to mention posing a few interesting questions: did Chris really bring Twist from Hell through luck, or was it more than that? Why is Twist so important? Is it Veshnaggi who wants to recover her, and was he using Bagwell and Lambert for his own ends? Plenty of threads to follow up on in the future.

The story unfolds, as it's predecessors have, at a rollicking pace. Chrimes trademarks are all there in evidence: the superb descriptive fight sequences (in particular the Twist/Lambert brawl at the film premiere); the sparkling repartee between Chris and Twist; plus the ability to infuse the comedy of the proceedings with moments of depth. The aforementioned development of Lambert is one such, but the most satisfying for me was the final moments between Chris and Twist. After some well-written exposition, there's a moment where we see the developing bond between these two mismatched souls, where Chris admits he'd fight to protect his partner. Sure, Chrimes chucks in a gag to prevent the scene ending too seriously, but the job is done. That growing bond is affirmed, and it only serves to further deepen these characters and their commitment to one another.

By the time we reach the excellent climax, (the scene where Chris draws his samurai sword slowly out in the shopping mall facing Lambert a truly thrilling, hairs on back of the neck moment), the story has reached a satisfying conclusion. My only real problems are the slight dip in grammar the episode suffers from, with the occassional error we haven't seen in previous outings, and the fact it maybe at times is just too lightweight. A minor gripe, however, and a personal preference. It takes nothing away from the consistent quality of the narrative, and yet another strong performance from this delightful series. On a par with the last episode without a doubt.

WRITING: 2/2
GRAMMAR: 1/2
FORMATTING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 7/10

Star Trek: Beyond What's Left Behind 1x04 - 'Common Enemy'

WRITTEN BY: Todd Foose
PREMIERE DATE: 02/10/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/bwlb/

Quark is delighted when his old Cardassian flame, Natima Lang, arrives on the station after spending several years as a Dominion prisoner of war. While once being a dissident, Natima is now a leading advocate of Cardassia's democratic future, but admits to Quark, as they begin to rekindle their former relationship, that her life may be in danger. Meanwhile, as the Vedek Assembly make plans to choose a new Kai, Ja'Kel's views on the Cardassians land him in trouble and potentially blind him to an assassination plot that could damage the newfound Bajoran/Cardassian peace......

Ah, finally. It's a relief when a show that had undoubtedly such a weak beginning it could have imploded right from the start, at last begins to show some quality. It's taken three episodes, but at last we're starting to hear these characters on the page. Far more than the previous two, you could imagine this episode on the television screen. Of course, it's not perfect, and improvements are still needed, but this is an Everest step up from the dire pilot and largely poor follow up episode. I knew from my involvement in the show's development that things would improve, and this backs up that sentiment.

This is the new era of DS9's first foray into the world of Bajoran politics. The events of the DS9 finale, of course, left a Kai shaped hole in Bajor's everyday life. It's reasonable enough to assume that in the months between that series and this, Winn's replacement would still not have been chosen. It's a good decision to have another election plotline for that position in the show, but only as long as the previous one isn't revisited. It appears to be set up here as a two horse race between the traditionialist Vedek Tunai and the young, open-minded Vedek Jana. Both are interesting characters with great potential, especially Jana. But what we don't want are more revelations about dark pasts collaborating with the Dominion or the Cardassians, as that would be treading old ground. There are other ways for the election race to be dealt with, and hopefully the show will deal with them. This isn't at the forefront here, but the seeds are well sown for later.

No, this episode hits dead on the B-plot of the previous episode: Ja'Kel's racial intolerance. We saw it evidenced in Tactics & Assumptions, but it was more in the background. Here, the story gives us the chance to see Ja'Kel full on. I've made no secret of my dislike for the way this character has been written in the past, or of his general attitude towards thing. I find it hard to believe Ja'Kel would still be as prejudiced after the war as he was before, especially having served on DS9. When he starts ranting about the 'spoonheads' at one point, I had to laugh when even Lance asked if he was still banging on about it. Mercifully, he's better written here, as writer Todd Foose has a better angle on all the characters generally. He's a better writer, simply, than those previously, and he knows how to inject Ja'Kel with far more subtlety than before. He's still outspoken at times, but that fits his character right now, and is central to the plot. Before, it was a device to bludgeon the racism message. Here, it's much more fluid. I'd hope that Foose is one of the writers to handle Ja'Kel's development in the future.

Another big plus point for this episode is giving Quark a significant role. He's barely registered more than a cameo in the opening three episodes, but here he gets dual star billing with Ja'Kel. It's a delightful move to bring back Natima Lang, the Cardassian dissident from DS9 S2's 'Profit and Loss'. The relationship between the two was an odd one, but it worked, and Foose picks right up on it here with perfection. He's done his homework on that previous episode, and knows how to write these characters. At times, the scenes between Quark and Natima fairly sparkle. The development of Natima entirely makes sense too, given the circumstances. She has shades of Garak, in being formerly disgraced and now fighting to rebuild her world against the odds. I also enjoyed her scenes with Jana, which also were excellently written. They did bring up one query, however. At one point, Jana informs Natima that a monastery on Bajor has been named after Tora Ziyal, a fact that also fuels Ja'Kel's anger. I can't help but wonder, however, if this is one call back to DS9 too many after the previous ep announcing the Bajoran flagship will be named after Damar. If BWLB is truly trying to establish itself as an independant entity, these callbacks, while fitting, could work against that ethic.

Ultimately, I can't say I had too much at all against this outing. It's well-paced, at times very well-written, with interesting supporting characters who add something to the plot. The ending, though a shade predictable, is also powerful. Jana's actions are perfectly fitting, and serve to underline what a powerful, influential woman she could be for Bajor. Infact, her actions highlight exactly why she should be the next Kai. I think what lets the episode down more than anything is the formatting and grammar. It clearly hasn't been edited (STILL no page breaks between acts), and the formatting at times comes across as erratic and odd, to the detriment of the episodes enjoyment. These gripes aside, this is a massive improvement for BWLB. It should have followed directly on from the pilot. My advice as a newbie? Skip T & A, and come here first.

WRITING: 1.5/2
GRAMMAR: 1/2
FORMATTING: 1/2
STYLE: 1/2
DEPTH: 1.5/2

FINAL RATING: 6/10

Monday, October 03, 2005

Star Trek: Exodus - 'New Day Rising'

WRITTEN BY: Shaun Hamley
PREMIERE DATE: 08/06/2005
PRODUCED BY: Artistic Hate http://exodus.artistichate.com/

On post-Dominion War Cardassia, Liam Hansen and Jil Orra are on the run. They are wanted people, but for what? Running from Cardassian forces, trying to escape their clutches, Liam calls in a favour from an old friend of his, Sherman, as the three of them embark on a journey to try and escape Cardassian space. Unfortunately for them, certain notorious and dangerous Cardassian figures will do everything in their power to stop them, sending a dangerous Klingon bounty hunter to hunt them down...

It seems to be chic somewhat these days for online Trek virtual series to take a darker route to what we've seen on the screen, both in TV and the movies. Every man and his dog are looking to create a slice of Roddenberry's opus in which the universe is going to hell in a handbasket and most of it's characters are already there, but few of them have approached this kind of world in quite the way that online Trek writing stalwart Shaun Hamley has in this feature-length beginning to what is turning out to be an occasional series of episodes quite unlike what we're used to from Star Trek. Does his approach work? On the whole, the answer would have to resoundingly be...yes.

Exodus is unique from the beginning in which we are thrown into the action and into the lives of our human male and female Cardassian protagonists (as mismatched a partnership on paper as you could find), Hansen and Jil. To begin with, we're clearly already halfway into a story here right from the get go. Hansen and Jil are running, fugitives on post-war Cardassia (evoked beautifully, incidentally), but for what? Truth is, that's never made clear, and the fact is, it doesn't really matter. Not to this narrative, anyway, maybe it will become important at a later date. This episode isn't about their past, it's about their future, and what follows is a fast-paced narrative which at it's heart is about these two characters escaping and making a new life for themselves. There's much more to it than that, of course, but that's it's core, and the framework to hang a story about honour, sacrifice and the moral choices that arise in trying to protect those you love. I suppose a big question the episode raises is: are the needs of the one more important than the needs of the many? Hamley refuses to insult our intelligence by giving us easy answers to this question, or the other moral ones the story raises. He leaves it up to us to decide, as every good writer should.

But, apart from featuring prominently a pair of married fugitives and having a streak of true morality in it's veins, how does this stand out from the other Trek fare out there, I hear you ask? Well, I suppose to begin with the biggest difference is that this story, not even for the briefest moment, features any trace of the Federation whatsoever. It's extremely rare you get any kind of Trek story that completely ignores Starfleet or it's governing body, and in many ways this is what makes Exodus refreshing. It's not a story about clashing empires, or boldly going here, there and everywhere, it's about people. Troubled fugitive couple Hansen & Orra; the former's selfless old friend Sherman, who gave up his comfortable life to help starving, desperate Cardassians after the holocaust on their world; bounty hunter Kytra, a woman struggling to retain her honour whilst fulfilling her less than honourable profession; and Tirok, the psychologically-damaged Romulan adrift in space for seven years, regressed into an animal state in many ways. It's about these characters, by no means a tight-knit, bluer than blue crew serving a greater good, struggling to survive against the odds and an overpowering force (in this case the Cardassians). And yet, despite all this, it still feels like Star Trek. I suppose it has that moral centre that the best Trek episodes have had, yet still governed by action, suspense and more than one surprise to throw the reader out of their comfort zone.

It's not perfect, though, very few stories of any kind are. The grammar is occassionally the victim of a lack of editing, though this is a sparse complaint. As with the formatting, it's mostly spot on; the story is extremely long, even by feature length standards, and perhaps certain moments could have been shortened or excised; plus the sudden introduction at the end of the Bajoran doctor, set up clearly as an important character, is a little rushed. He kind of comes out nowhere. The character of Mekor, too, seems a tad underdeveloped. Given the fact he is the son of the legendary Gul Dukat of DS9 fame, there are acres of potential for the character. He's given less to do here than he should, but this is possibly due to the fact the other main characters are being established; and my one other gripe is how the Cardassians are presented here. I had hoped that the events of the Dominion War might have begun changing their attitudes and approach in many ways, especially from a military stance. Here, though, they are the classic, ruthless, arrogant antagonists of old. I don't expect Hamley to have turned them into Betazoids overnight, but perhaps more indication of a changing attitude in their society might have been nice. Mind you, this can be forgiven through how well and three-dimension Jill is written, and how excellently evoked the ghetto atmosphere on impoverished Cardassia is portrayed.

As you can see, those are minor niggles from a piece I find very hard to criticise. What we have here is an intelligently written slice of Trek of the highest order. It's exciting, has excellent characterisation, true depth, and even leaves the door open for future installments, plus plenty of unanswered questions. An excellent beginning to a fascinating new virtual Trek experience.

WRITING: 2/2
GRAMMAR: 1.5/2
FORMATTING: 2/2
DEPTH: 2/2
STYLE: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Gods 1x03 - 'Hunted'

WRITTEN BY: Emma Platt
PREMIERE DATE: 21/08/2005
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://www.mzp-tv.co.uk/godsepisodes.html

Benjamin and Gaynor bring the three young Gods on a mission to take out Borgio, a powerful demonic creature, to test their powers. However, the night takes an unexpected turn when Jayne finds herself captured by the Bebocom, a weird sewer creature, while the others are targeted by a team of gahans who have been hired to kill the three young Gods before they can realise their potential......

The opening two episodes of this series left me, as previously observed in this blog, distinctly nonplussed. As a beginning, it failed to grab me as a concept. It felt repetitive, old hat, bland and somewhat cheesy. However, with the clear writing talent behind the show, I was confident and hopeful it could turn these weak beginnings into something positive. And it may have taken three episodes, but for the first time now, I finally can begin seeing that potential in Gods. For me, episode three is a real turn up in quality, and puts it's two predecessors in the shade.

An interesting set of supporting characters works in it's favour. The three gahans, creations I felt were a highlight of the weak pilot, are introduced in a comedic and off the wall teaser. They're presented much like bumbling Mafia goons in comedy movies, tough but ultimately dim, ineffectual baddies. You know that Cal, Louie, et al.. are doomed to failure, but it's fun seeing them get there. There are some lovely scenes with them toward the beginning especially, such as Louie infiltrating the warehouse, that work really well; similiarly, the Bebocom sewer creature is very strange and creepy, feeling somewhat original in the process. I'd quite like to see it again in some form.

Pacing is another element that is much improved from the opening episodes. In the first two, many scenes seemed to plod along somewhat, filled with exposition that was necessary but dragged the episodes down. A chief complaint was a lack of forward narrative in those episodes. Well, now the set-up is largely out the way, creator Emma Platt is able to exchange expository moments for a much pacier narrative. The entire story unfolds over the course of one night, and is all the better for it. There's a clear plot here, and the characters all seem to have something to do. This narrative also helps with the dialogue as well. Jayne is far more likeable in this episode, since she's served with better lines. It's snappier paced and written, and needs to keep up this tempo in future installments. With the set up gone, the opportunity is there.

I also thought the character development was here handled much better. As I say, Jayne became more likeable throughout. There are nice moments in which Gaynor and Benjamin clash over how to proceed when trouble arises in relation to their charges, a clash that i'd like to see expanded on later. There's tension between these two, and great opportunity for professional fireworks; Leo, too, for the first time, was presented as more than a one-dimensional caricature. Aside from a great bit of antipathy between he and Benjamin when partnered together, Leo shows he can be more than a jerk over his clear concern for Jayne when she's abducted. While his relationship with her is fiery, Leo clearly cares about her, and seeing this briefly is a nice touch; the biggest development, though, comes through the excellent moments in which Leo & April specifically tap into their powers. The scenes involving Leo unexpectedly releasing his thunder & April with the fire hydrant are a delight, and serve to give us a peek at the incredible potential these teenagers have. Opens plenty of doors.

Now, despite this improvement, there are still problems. The excellent pacing completely derails in the final act. We're back to the somewhat talky exposition, and a series of resolution scenes that go on far too long. It almost completely tanks the good that has come before, as does when we finally see Borgio. Yeah, the revelation he's about as scary as a potato is a neat twist and the denounement is quite funny, but the show is still trading good dramatic scenes for flippant comedy. I know the show is light-hearted, but it should be allowed some depth. Parts of this episode have that, but it needs to become more prevalent if Gods is to become an online series to remember. Steady improvement overall, though, hope it keeps doing so.

WRITING: 1/2
GRAMMAR: 1/2
FORMATTING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 1/2
DEPTH: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Star Trek: Beyond What's Left Behind 1x03 - 'Tactics and Assumptions'

WRITTEN BY: Andrew Swearingen
PREMIERE DATE: 28/09/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/bwlb/

An unidentified alien vessel emerges from the wormhole and attacks DS9, which the crew later realise was a cover for stealing cargo ship supplies. Kira orders Lance take the Defiant through the wormhole, find the bandit vessel, and recover the supplies. The mission, however, doesn't prove easy and forces Lance to question his ability to command. Meanwhile, on the station, troubled chief engineer Ja'Kel doesn't react well to Kira's announcement she is naming the flagship of a new fleet of Bajoran vessels after Damar, a the Cardassian hero......

So, after a very disappointing pilot episode that far from did justice to the potential for a continuation of the Deep Space Nine saga, does the follow up episode mark a sudden upturn in quality? Simply, the answer is yes, but not by much. In all honesty, it wouldn't be difficult to outperform the pilot, but to anyone not a fan of DS9 in particular, this episode would do very little to convince them Beyond What's Left Behind is an exciting new chapter to that critically acclaimed show. It's a start, however, of what i'm convinced...of what I know, being a senior member of the series staff, are much better things to come.

Okay, what's good about 'T & A', as it's become known in the BWLB production circles (forget it's sexual abbreviation connotations for a moment), and what's bad about it? Let's get the bad out of the way first, and move on from there. Let's get the first issue out of the way: presentation. From the point of view of a reader, it leaves a great deal to be desired. The spelling is largely accurate, as is the traditional screenplay format, but there is no visible sign of editing. Typos litter this episode like the plague, and distinctly undermine enjoyment of the reading experience. Another little annoyance is no page break between each act, something which plagued the pilot episode too. It simply looks unprofessional, especially when compared to a great deal of other online series out there. Now, I happen to know the lack of editing of both these scripts has been down to personal problems with the creator and his editor. And of course, for that, these errors can be forgiven. But if they continue plaguing each episode, it will turn people off in droves. Get the presentation right, and even a lacklustre written show will attain interest. Get it wrong, it can signal the death knell before a show has been given a chance to display what it's capable of. BWLB could fall into that trap if not careful.

These niggles aside, there were elements relating to story and character I felt were poorly handled by (first-time) writer Andrew Swearingen. Essentially, this was an episode that had enormous potential for tension. Making the centrepiece of action on the classically claustrophobic Defiant, in pursuit of a mysterious and dangerous alien ship, could have given us a taut cat & mouse thriller in the vein of a traditional submarine movie. It's been done before in Trek, most brilliantly in the second movie, but there would have been no harm seeing it again. Sadly, this chance is wasted. That tension isn't racked up nearly enough, and the fact the crew overcome the odds at the end through, essentially, blind dumb luck was a real cop out for me; there is also a series problem with the realisation of one character in particular during this episode: Coro. Now, sure, he's new and since he had little more than a cameo in the pilot, we don't know him yet. But would a Xindi tactical officer, taught for years on Vulcan, really tell his commanding officer to "shut up"? Or cry at the end for the aliens to "eat this you little scum"? Answer: no. He comes off sounding like a reject from a bad sci-fi B-movie, not a Starfleet officer. I hope not to see him speak like this again, as it doesn't fit his character; and nor do some of Ja'Kel's actions ring true to me here. We know more about him, given what we learned about him during the pilot, but I find it hard to believe any Bajoran who served on DS9 during the events of that show would still be so outright prejudiced to the Cardassians. Surely a man as educated as Ja'Kel would have outgrown this, as many Bajorans I think were starting to toward the end of DS9. Of course tension and resentment will still exist between these races, given their tragic history, but right now Ja'Kel's hostility seems somewhat forced to accomodate the Section-31 storyline that is rapidly becoming slightly irritating. Including Maple here, however briefly, was a mistake. He didn't need to be there.

However, despite these problems, there were elements about the episode I liked. I thought that featuring Lance as the main character, aside from Ja'Kel, to undergo character development was a wise move. Though perhaps we didn't quite see the intensity of Lance's conflict within himself over whether he had the ability to lead during the scenes on the Defiant as much as we should have, it did allow us at times to see Lance as more than the cocky, undisciplined prick he's so far been presented as; the subplot concerning Jake and the announcement of the new line of Bajoran ships was enjoyable. There was a tendency on DS9 to underuse Jake, with some episodes where he didn't even appear at all. Hopefully, this is being addressed on BWLB. It would be nice for Jake to play a larger role in this new saga, especially given the absence of his father. I also thought that naming the Bajoran flagship the Damar was entirely appropriate, and a nice nod to events of old, and at that growth in Bajoran attitudes I earlier mentioned. Talking of nods, there are blink and you miss them winks to creator Jeremy Burnham & affiliate online series Star Trek: Endeavour. Completely pointless, but enjoyable nonetheless. Ultimately, then, a fair effort but nowhere near the standard that this show has the potential to attain. Improvement still needed, but at least this is better than the pilot. Small mercies, eh?

WRITING: 0.5/2
GRAMMAR: 0.5/2
FORMATTING: 1/2
STYLE: 1/2
DEPTH: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 4/10

Greetings to all.

I just want to say a quick thank you for the praise i've received from numerous online folk at sites I visit daily over this blog. There seems to be an appetite for honest, unbiased VS reviews right now. I may just have tapped into something largely unexplored, without even realising. So, now I know people are reading, i'll try and post a review each day (real life commitments notwithstanding). And please comment if you like, either to agree or disagree. Thumbs up to Matt, for instance, for disagreeing with me about Gods 1x02. More of that please. (or you can agree, if you'd like :) )

Anyhow, I also plan from here on in to slightly change my scoring proceedure for the episodes I review. If time permits, I may modify my previous review scores to fit this method. I think the new way will be even more clearer and fairer. Hope you agree.

So, keep on reading folks, and i'll keep on writing. (I think I just found a motto...)

The Blackster.

Star Trek: Frontiers 1x01/1x02 - 'Faithfulness the Best Relation'

TELEPLAY BY: Matthew Whipple
STORY BY: Joshua Maley & Matthew Whipple
PREMIERE DATE: 07/05/2004
PRODUCED BY: Virtual Star Trek http://frontiers.virtualstartrek.com/

It is the 25th Century. And it is a time of great hope and uncertainty for the Alpha Quadrant. On the one hand, the historic Frontiers project, a Starfleet mission spearheaded by Captain Kyle Sito of the USS Enterprise, to establish a transwarp gateway to the neighbouring galaxy, is steaming ahead to launch. On the other, however, important worlds are seceding from a Federation they fear has grown soft and corrupt. And amidst this, Sito and his crew begin to uncover the existence of a dangerous group of people who are determined to see the Enterprise fail it's bold new mission before it's even begun......

Yes, I know what you're thinking, yet another Star Trek show being reviewed by yours truly in this blog. It almost seems as though the online-based Trek virtual world is subsuming this column, and I must admit that this show was not high on my list of priorities to review. After all, it's a well-established Trek virtual series (endorsed by the EpiGuide, no less) that has been running for well over a year now. So, what more could I say about it's beginnings that haven't already been said? Well, after consideration, perhaps all I can do is bring a fresh perspective to someone entirely new to this series. And, despite the fact it's far from perfect, I can safely say i'm glad I decided to take a look at this series.

Most of the other Trek series online that I have read since being indoctrinated into the world of virtual TV this year have in many ways been about reinventing Trek or continuing it's legacy, be it Star's End with it's planet setting; Avalon going for a classic Trek adventure-meets-western spin; or Beyond What's Left Behind picking up where DS9, arguably the greatest Trek series ever in terms of consistency and narrative, left off. Frontiers, however, is not of this mould. It pulls no punches about going for the epic, fan-pleasing premise. It's a Trek fan's wet dream in terms of concept. A whole new Enterprise preparing to explore a whole new galaxy. Roddenberry would be dancing in his grave, delighted. And I doubt Berman would turn his nose up at the idea, either. Of all, this is the online Trek series I can most imagine making it to the screen. Not because it's brilliantly executed or written, but because the concept simply is Star Trek, in it's purest form. For that, it's almost a refreshing delight. However, it also could run the risk of repetition and blandness, though based on this pilot, it may have greater depth than that.

As I said, the concept is suitably epic, but what about the pilot's storyline? Well, to be honest, it has very little of one until the last 20-30 pages. Don't get me wrong, there's an abundance of scene-setting and character introduction across the board here which in many instances works very well. By the conclusion, you do have a sense of many of the main characters, particularly Sito & Koth, which gives the narrative an extra layer. However, this is achieved by a great many long-winded conversations and far too little in the way of narrative. Everything here could have been condensed into sixty pages, and would have been far the better for it. In some ways, the scope is simply too epic for a beginning. For the first 15-20 pages, it's hard to work out who our protagonists are due to too many scenes set at the Federation Council or wherever debating Federation policy and through expository speeches giving us history to fill in the gaps from the TNG/DS9 era. For my money, despite a beautiful opening scene with Koth, the beginning is misjudged, as is the episodes propensity for too much moralising/sermonising and not enough narrative. It should have been much faster-paced.

That said, this allows some superb character development throughout. Kyle Sito is a fascinating creation as the new Enterprise captain. Creator Joshua Maley has crafted an entirely new species around him, the Spirans, who are ripe for further development. Sito undergoes an excellent arc here, and by the time we reach the thrilling conclusion, how he got to that point is clearly understood. The supporting cast are equally interesting. Peridonis, the female Jem'Hadar tactical officer, is a typical Trek indication of how former bitter enemies can become future allies. Her inclusion is a nod to Worf's creation for TNG. No one expected a Klingon to be in Starfleet, and it's the same with a Jem'Hadar, perhaps even more so given their genetically-engineered genesis. I also love the way she substitutes Captain/Commander for First/Second. A nice touch. Similarly, Rikkillis has great potential. His moments with Sito serve to underline a key theme to this pilot: racism. This episode is full of alien races hurling mistrust at one another mainly through the perpetration of stereotypes. I can see plenty of potential fireworks in the future between Sito & Rikkillis. The only character I think should be excised is Salea. She's meant as light relief, which this pilot needs, but isn't funny in the slightest. I hope in future installments this is toned down or handled by a writer with greater comic flair.

It's Koth, the Klingon Ambassador, who steals the show for me personally. He is a truly unique creation. I've never before known a Trek series to introduce Christianity in such a subtle yet powerful way. Normally I find the inclusion of human religion into science fiction to be an awkward effect, and Koth's belief in Christianity here could have been cheesy in the extreme, but it's handled here with real class. A Klingon who believes in Jesus is a fascinating concept, and it leads to a wonderful scene with Sito toward the end where they discuss their beliefs that is the highlight of the episode for me. This is before what I have to say is a superb ending filled with excitement, and a genuine surprise concerning one of the characters I never saw coming. Aiden Rahl & the Separatists are a goldmine of possibilities, and I for one want to see if they do have a connection to Section-31, which I surmised due to the Faust having a cloaking device. The closing moments also deal an interesting development that sets the scene for more looming darkness.

So, all in all, a strong beginning in many ways. The formatting is reasonably good, as is the grammar. The concept and characters are wonderful, but the writing needs to get much tighter. Tone down the sermonising from some of the characters and be a little more subtle about exposition (re: enough with the long-winded speeches and conversations). Also, there needs to be more plot. The last 30 pages of this pilot really bumped the mark up for me, as that's when it truly came to life. I want to see that life continue to sparkle.

WRITING: 1.5/5
GRAMMAR: 1/5
FORMATTING: 1.5/5
STYLE: 1.5/5
DEPTH: 1.5

FINAL RATING: 7/10