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

Monday, September 26, 2005

Gods 1x02 - 'Say Bye to Me'

WRITTEN BY: Emma Platt
PREMIERE DATE: 14/08/2005
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://www.mzp-tv.co.uk/godsepisodes.html

After the drastic changes in her life, death, resurrection, becoming a Goddess, Jayne is struggling to accept her destiny. Matters are complicated further when the Elder Keepers instruct Benjamin to allow tough Gaynor, and her cocky young God protege Leo, to share his training warehouse, along with un-mentored young Goddess April Clay. And also there's just the other small matter of Jayne unexpectedly attending her own funeral......

A great deal of follow up episodes to a pilot end up coming off as extensions to it's predecessor, especially if the concept and characters are too large and too many to introduce in one fifty-minute teleplay. At times, this extension can work and provide a follow-up that actually eclipses the pilot (see Somewhere Inbetween). At other times it can end up creating a second episode that comes across as quite weak, with a great deal of elements that should have been provided in the opener, whether at fifty or a hundred pages. Unfortunately, this is the case with Gods.

This episode is one still thrashing out the opening details, and consequently it seems far too reminiscent of the pilot. There are too many instances of the Gods being told about things coming up for them, and it gets frustratingly repetitive. It can be expected of the pilot, but the next episode should take the story somewhere. And while it can be argued this episode fully introduces the rest of the main cast and has Jayne dealing with her situation through attending her own funeral, there is a surprising amount of in-action in this episode. Very little actually happens, and for my money there is absolutely nothing here that couldn't have been incorporated into a slightly longer pilot.

Another problem is that the characters, save Benjamin, are very rapidly becoming irritating and tiresome. Now, I understand that the show is about teenagers essentially coming to terms with losing their friends and families to serve a greater good (a theme we are bludgeoned with in this episode, frankly), but right now the Gods are childish and unsympathetic brats. I don't like the fact i'm finding it difficult to warm to the protagonist, Jayne. I think it's perhaps at times she's just a bit too caustic, spikey, and any potentially meaningful scenes that could have given depth to her character are destroyed by a one-liner or a visual gag. A perfect instance is her in the church listening to her brother's eulogy, a touching moment written well, until her arm suddenly bursts into flame. Sure, it's a neat way of demonstrating the manifestation of her powers, but it totally ruins the scene. While I can forgive the fact Leo is unlikeable, as he's clearly meant to be that way, there's no excuse for not liking Jayne. This needs to change.

My other main gripe has to be the plot, or lackthereof as is the case. As I said before, very little actually happens. The pilot should have established all these characters and began episode two with much more of a threat to all of them. All through this episode, the characters talk about the impending arrival of bad guys, the so-called Dark Gods, but it's only in the final moments do we get any glimpse of these. It's a nice way of ending the episode, but by then the frustration I had with it overcame any desire for the ending to do what it should have: leave me wanting more. While creator Emma Platt is clearly making an attempt to establish characters before rushing into plot, and is to be commended for that, the balance isn't quite right here.

When I reviewed the pilot, I said I hadn't made my mind up about Gods. While this review would indicate I have, and it's to the negative, the truth is I still haven't. There were elements I liked: Benjamin is a nicely-written character, and the moment he confesses he gave up his family to pursue his belief that Jayne would enter his life, is a highlight; the teaser is well-written, nicely linking Jayne's frustration at learning of a past she doesn't want to know with the relateable frustrations of school as a teenager; and the moment at the end on the roof where the Keepers explain what's at stake is a good scene. However, the narrative right now just isn't grabbing me. Everything is just a bit too repetitive and bland right now, the characters rejects from the Buffyverse, and the concept doesn't have enough layers to grab me. It's a very simplistic show right now. Sure, it's only just started, but other online shows have started with much more depth than this. I'll keep reading, but a big improvement is needed.

WRITING: 1/2
GRAMMAR: 0.5/2
FORMATTING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 0/2
DEPTH: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 4/10

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Star Trek: Avalon 1x01 - 'Who We Are'

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Legg
PREMIERE DATE: 19/09/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/avalon/episodes.shtml

Six months after the events of the mini-series, the Avalon is still running from the all-pervasive Cult, but Hatch is starting to grow pleased with his lot: he's getting used to the 45th century and indulging in a passionate relationship with Naomi, a beautiful young woman who also happens to be the future ruler of Torrina, a planet Zorin has had his crew working for. As Hatch recounts his whirlwind romance while Naomi joins the crew full-time, the Cult continue closing in and an incident involving the warp engines sparks suspicion that threatens Hatch's newfound happiness.....

I think the best way to describe this episode, officially the beginning of the first season of this unique online Trek project, would be with one word: odd. I mean, after such an epic, all-reaching, enormous mini-series serving as pretty much a massive pilot episode, this introduction to regular weekly bites of the Avalon universe is surprisingly low-key. Despite the themes of suspicion running through, what we have here is a love story at it's heart, pure and simple. It's an unexpected move for creator Josh Legg. Most people probably expected the season opener to pick up heavily on the things the mini-series left dangling, but in many ways it strives to do the opposite. The decision, in all honesty, is really a double-edged sword.

For a start, Legg can't help reintroducing us to the world of Avalon with a teaser that can't help but smack of trying to create shock value. It's, at times, an extremely graphic sex scene between Hatch and Naomi. At times it's tasteful, but others leaves very little to the imagination. I can't say I was shocked by the scenes, i'm reasonably a man of the world, but I couldn't help wonder if they were really necessary. It's like I said with the mini-series. At times, Avalon is trying just a little too hard to be different. I can't fault the concept of this, as new and exciting Trek is exactly what we want. My point is: does new and exciting Trek need graphic sex that doesn't really advance the plot or continual profanity that does little to endear the characters? My answer to that personally would be no, and it's this trend i'd like to see Avalon shake off.

Besides all of that, I didn't think this episode was too bad in general. Despite containing a romance at it's core (and, let's face it, we all hate Trek romances) the episode tries not to dwell too much on awkward or cheesy courting scenes that have filled up some of the worst episodes of Trek in all it's incarnations. Mainly because the romance between Hatch & Naomi is largely built on lust, not so much love. Hatch is more infatuated with her, and since the second half is taken up with revealing Naomi's hidden agenda, thankfully scenes don't drag on with dippy romance. The plot surrounding the love story is, at times, also suitably action-packed. Most of the supporting characters (save Adele, who only crops up once) get their moment to shine. A particular favourite scene involved Zorin, Siren & Isaac 'bartering' in their own unique way with a market trader. It was a scene that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Avalon.

Infact, I find myself questioning at this point exactly what the spirit of Avalon actually is. It's much more a western-in-space than it is Star Trek. Remove the alien races of Trek from the whole dynamic, and this could get away with being entirely it's own show. In some ways, that's a good thing, as it means this is completely unique Trek and we all want to see that. In others, I think it could turn fans off. This is a completely unrecognisable universe in almost every concievable way. I think that unless Avalon finds some way of linking this new universe into the Trek one we all know and love, it could find difficulty in establishing itself in the hearts and minds of the reader.

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

FINAL RATING: 6/10


Somewhere Inbetween 1x03 - 'The Art of Keeping Secrets'

WRITTEN BY: Lee. A. Chrimes
PREMIERE DATE: 20/11/2004
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://www.somewhere-inbetween.co.uk/sibepisodes1.html

Chris and Twist arrive in Washington DC on an expedition to find rare occult antiquities and auction house Bagwell & Stitchley. Twist can't help but contain her boredom at Chris' determination to find something of value at the auction, and becomes frustrated when he dislikes the idea of helping the local community stop a band of vampire muggers. It's only when the trail of those muggers leads back to the sinister Bagwell, and his assistant Travers, that Chris becomes interested and realises Bagwell is practicing the dark arts, the results of which could spell big trouble for Twist......

I must admit, I feared this third installment was going to be a major letdown after the excellence of the opening two episodes. Now the characters and atmosphere of the show has been set up, I expected a sudden shift in quality. I expected the gear to slack a little, for a lightweight filler to churn out before the major arcs are forwarded in new directions. The only way this lived up to that expectation is that it was more lightweight. And, thankfully, that made the quality dip far less dramatically than I prepared myself for. Infact, it barely dipped at all.

As ever, the characters of Chris and Twist play off each other wonderfully. None of that sparkling wit from Twist is gone, or the perfect counterbalance of seriousness Chris provides. The mismatched partnership is showing no signs of growing stale. Admittedly, it shouldn't be at only three episodes in, but lesser shows would already be repeating dialogue or making the character foibles irritating. In the hands of a less skilled writer, Twist could come across extremely childish, unfunny and stupid. Chrimes, however, manages to make her genuinely funny and lovable all at the same time. I'm already invested in these characters after only three installments, and usually it takes online projects such as these a lot longer to find the characters voices. For nailing this right from the outset, Somewhere Inbetween stands out from the crowd.

I say this ep was more lightweight. Well, there's no denying that. Not that the previous episodes were serious endeavours into the human soul, but this could be construed much more as a stand-alone storyline than the previous two, which touched on arc elements sure to be followed up later. The story here is extremely fun. The guest characters, be they villainous auction-house owner Bagwell, his charming assistant Travers, or the greasy guest house owner Bodie, all are well-evoked and add a richness to the narrative. They do manage to make up for the minor shortcoming of the episode, in that the story is pretty thin. Not altogether that much happens, but this is overshadowed by great character moments and some, as ever with Chrimes, excellently written set pieces.

Mind you, despite all the talk of standalones and lightness, this episode does manage to get across it's central theme pretty well, which deals with Chris' apathy. Twist can't get her head around Chris' general reluctance to help general people in need, without something to gain himself. It's obvious he used to be much more of that Robin Hood, romantic persona, but something changed. It's not made clear what, which makes us wonder. Obviously, Chris had some kind of experience in his chequered past that led him to change his attitude, focus more of finding his vampiric cure. It's only the presence of Twist, and her badgering at him, that makes him step away from this inaction and do something to stop Bagwell's protectors terrorising the local community. In many ways, Twist is now becoming his conscience. She's also picking up tricks from him, as she dispatches a few goons with aplomb at one point. Nice to see she's applying the practical skills Chris has been teaching her.

So, all in all, the series is maintaining it's quality. It's been a rollicking ride so far, excellently written with a genuine humour and excitement. Let's hope the quality of this opening trio can be sustained. Oh, and incidentally, to say the episode is entirely standalone is selling it a trifle short. After all, there's a lovely little ending I never expected, which sets the scene for trouble to come. Oooh!...

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

FINAL RATING: 7/10

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Star Trek: Star's End 1x01/1x02 - 'Ekuseni'

WRITTEN BY: Will Sjorensen
PREMIERE DATE: 29/07/2005
PRODUCED BY: Virtual Star Trek http://starsend.virtualstartrek.com/

2410. The years following the Dominion War have created a far more weary, security-conscious United Federation of Planets. In the remote Perseus Expanse, near a largely uncharted region of space, the residents of a colony on the picturesque Star's End are distancing themselves from Federation policies. The arrival of a new Starfleet officer to the staff ran by the enigmatic administrator Soren Kitano combines with the threat of a terrifying old enemy to the colony, and potentially the entire Federation, coupled with the resurgence of a mystery that has plagued Kitano for many years......

Well, I have to say, this is one of those concepts which is a very long time coming. I find it hard to believe that in the four decades since the inception of Star Trek that no-one has considered the possibilities of devising a series in that world revolving around one of it's many M-class planets. Infact, i'm sure many people have considered that concept, and written stories around it. Star's End, however, is the first one that i've found which has this concept at it's very core. This isn't a series about galactic exploration, set on a Starfleet ship, with an entirely Starfleet crew. It's as much about the planet of Star's End in many ways as it is about it's diverse characters. Right from the outset, it needs to be applauded for trying something different with the established Trek formula. Like the recently launched Avalon, this is a show striving to bring something original to the table, which given Trek's parlous state right now can only be a good thing.

But, is it any good? Well, this feature-length pilot does indeed show a great deal of promise and displays a great deal of avenues the narrative could proceed down. An attempt is made to give this show some distance from the other Trek shows, while still keeping it grounded roughly in the same era. This is achieved by setting it roughly 40 years after the TNG/DS9 era. Creator Will Sjorensen is consequently able to have his cake and eat it. We are still in a reasonably recognisable universe, but one in which a whole new set of characters, locations and races dominate. What helps is that the writers have crafted a whole backstory detailing the events between the last days of DS9 and the start of their show (visible on the excellent website) which help get past having too much clunky exposition having characters explaining to each other, for the readers benefit, events that they would undoubtedly already know well, a trap many other pilots for shows can't help but fall into. Mercilessly, this one avoids that problem.

Speaking of characters, the show enjoys quite a diverse mixture of races in it's central main cast, and tries it's best to avoid repeating past Trek glories in this regard. It successfully sets up numerous dynamics between these characters that can be continued throughout the series. By far the most interesting has to be that of (I hesistate to say protagonist, as the show is quite ensemble) Soren Kitano, the colony administrator (the boss, in other words) and his younger second in command Makenzie Jordan. Right from the beginning, the almost father/daughter quality to their relationship is in evidence and plays out nicely. It feels original, and could become one of the more memorable relationships in the Trek fanfic world if played out right. Another effort is made to give the show it's own identity through making a central character part of a brand-new species. Vallis, a young member of the Voloi, a race indigenous to the region Star's End sits in, instantly comes across as one of those characters in Trek who's unique perspective on the world is a rich vein for storylines and character develop. She is the Data of Star's End, unquestionably, and could prove to be a highlight of an interesting initial ensemble.

As I say, however, in many ways Sjorensen attempts to turn Star's End itself into as much a central character as the people themselves. He gives quite rich descriptions of the planet in many scenes and attempts to evoke such things as the indigenous wildlife in a prominent way (most memorably in the Jart creatures). In this he is successful. I find this a good move. It sets up the planet in many ways like the island serves in Lost. It's not just about the people living on a hunk of rock, it's about the hunk of rock with people living on it. Right from the outset, the impression is given that Star's End holds it's fair share of mysteries like the above Lost-island via the events of the opening scene which introduces Kitano, as he experiences the event that changes his life in several ways. It gives the storyline the potential for a fascinating arc in tying the sinister L'siari, a parasitic race intent on invading the Federation (nicely called back from the classic TNG episode 'Conspiracy') potentially with an ancient enigma involving the Progenitors, who may have seeded all genetic life in the galaxy (again a call back to TNG 'The Chase'). Sjorensen is a fan of TNG and it shows in these references, but it works. These are two elements that have long deserved to be followed up on, and hopefully Star's End will do them justice.

It's not perfect, no pilot ever is. A few times the grammar is a little off, and the biggest problem I can launch at it really is that it's a wee bit too long. A few pages could have been shaved off the length, and the narrative may have proceeded at more of a rollicking pace. It could at times be slow, sometimes almost fatally so, but tighter writing in future installments can clear that up. Lots of potential here, though. Plenty of questions dangled for us to get our teeth into, especially surrounding Kitano. I'm excited by the possibilities here and hopefully the show will only continue to grow.

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

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

Monday, September 19, 2005

Gods 1x01 - 'Pilot'

WRITTEN BY: Emma Platt & Lee. A. Chrimes
PREMIERE DATE: 07/08/2005
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://www.mzp-tv.co.uk/godsmain.html

After being savagely attacked at work, seventeen-year-old Jayne Woods wakes up to find herself dead. Approached by an enigmatic young man named Benjamin, she is told her soul is that of a Goddess, and he is the Keeper sworn to protect her. Jayne struggles to accept being plunged into a new world in which the supernatural is real, where she holds powers beyond her comprehension, and from which she will never be able to return.....

Every successful television phenomenon suffers from what could be termed the 'clone syndrome'. Fantastic, original ideas which are cannibalised from by new shows, rebadged with different names and faces while essentially being the same product. In some cases, this can lead to a success that equals and/or betters it's illustrious predecessor. I don't think anyone would argue that Babylon 5, at it's best, deserves to be held in the same regard as the best Star Trek has to offer. And then, inevitably, you get lacklustre copies. For every X-Files, you get a Dark Skies or Psi Factor. Which brings us neatly to Gods, which in almost every concievable way, is a repackaged Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The question is: are we talking here of a clone that deserves to be held in the same regard as it's primary inspiration, or deserves to sink at the earliest opportunity? With the greatest of honesty, based on this pilot, I haven't yet made my mind up.

What leaves me somewhat non-plussed about Gods is the fact it's in no way an original concept. Actually, no, the concept is original, it's the presentation that feels recycled from a particular, vampire-slaying show in particular. I mean, let's see: the protagonist is a sparky young female with a sharp, sarcastic wit; she finds herself with supernatural powers and has been 'called' to battle forces of evil intent on destroying the Earth; her family have no idea about the truth (admittedly because they think she's dead); and she is looked out for by a Keeper (read: Watcher), who studies ancient books and prophecies concerning the deities and their foes, part of a larger council of similiar protectors. Come on, all that's missing here is the ensemble of geeky/sarcastic friends who end up becoming entangled, sometimes unwittingly, in her adventures. A dynamic I could very well see added at some point in the future. From this pilot, the whole thing just seems like a case of ticking off the elements already seen numerous times before.

That's not to say this opening episode is inherently bad. Despite the misgivings I may have on the originality the style of the concept has been developed into, the writing and the characters themselves are indeed rather good. Jayne Woods makes an appealing protagonist and we do manage to capture the feelings she undergoes after such a life (or death) changing situation. The moment she returns to her family, only to find they can no longer see or hear her and think her dead, is particularly well done. It's the moment of realisation for her: she can't go back to that life, because for her it no longer exists. She may still be tethered to this sphere, but she now inhabits an entirely different plane of existence now where the supernatural is, in many ways, the mundane. And through her we do get a rich vein of humour that elevates the story. You can tell Lee Chrimes has a hand in this pilot. He imbues the relationship between Jayne & Benjamin with the same quality in some ways as that of Chris & Twist from his own show Somewhere Inbetween. In this case, simply, the roles are reversed, gender-wise.

The character of Benjamin himself is an interesting creation. It's perhaps a testament to Chrimes and series creator Emma Platt that the character comes across as much older than his tender years. He is the mentor to Jayne's clueless young woman, the man with the answers, and quite a fighting skill to boot. Admittedly, the writers don't instantly make him imbued with total and complete knowledge. He has those he reports into, Elder Keepers who clearly have more of an idea about the world Jayne now inhabits as he does. Infact a highlight scene is when we see two of these enigmatic elders, Barbara & Walter, when they visit Jayne. There's a sense of more to both of these than meets the eye and I sense they will crop up again. As regards Benjamin, however, the relationship between he & Jayne is nicely developed throughout. But it suffers from an element of repetition. It's understood this episode is about Jayne's introduction to her new world, but there are just too many instances of Benjamin asking her if she has any questions. At times, his comes across simply as a tool to allow the release of backstory exposition of the Gods world, and it feels a little hackneyed.

As is quite blindingly obvious, I am yet to make up my mind whether I like this show. It's reasonably well written, well formatted, grammar largely in the right place. But it feels somewhat repetitive and at times rather bland, almost simplistic. It does have some standout moments: the creatures Jayne & Benjamin fight are an interesting creation, deserved to be revisited; the introduction of two presumably recurring or regular characters, Gaynor and Leo, is well done and sets the scene nicely for the next installment. Thing is, it just didn't grab me like other shows have. It seems pretty raw right now, filled with acres of potential. But I think it should try and grow out of the angsty, teen Buffy-esque format it has begun with. Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming a bland copy of that illustrious series. And given the writing quality behind this show, and the potential of the characters, that would be a shame. Let's see if it improves.

WRITING: 1/2
GRAMMAR: 1/2
FORMATTING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 0.5/5
DEPTH: 0.5/5

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Somewhere Inbetween 1x02 - 'Part-Time Nemesis'

WRITTEN BY: Lee. A. Chrimes
PREMIERE DATE: 13/11/2004
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://www.somewhere-inbetween.co.uk/

Chris begins Twist's training in the arts he studied in an effort to gain her help in battling Malkuth, an old enemy with whom he has a complicated past, and a very special connection.....

It's often a struggle for many series to keep up the strength and consistency they display in their pilot episode. Pilots are usually strong, balancing character introductions with a large, exciting plot, and for many the successive few episodes are a little come down from that high. For me, the best series are the ones that take from the pilot and run with it, going in new directions. Two shows on TV that stand-out for me in doing this were Alias and The X-Files. Another, sadly not on TV, is Somewhere Inbetween.

The pilot was about setting the scene, introducing us to the backstories and the very different characters that make up Christopher Berkeley and Twist McFadden. Consequently, that came at the expense of a strong forward narrative, an exciting single plot that carries the characters forwards. In many ways this second episode could be considered an addendum to that pilot, as it delivers the narrative that, on reflection, perhaps could have been intertwined with the backstory building of the previous episode. What we get here is a rollercoaster ride of great character development, extremely well-written and exciting action scenes, and a strong comedic wit running through.

We begin with Chris following through on what he planned to do in the last moments of the pilot, train Twist with the skills in combat he himself has developed that have enabled him to survive the world he inhabits. Writer Lee Chrimes displays one hell of a talent for putting frenetic action sequences on the written page here, as the opening gym duel between Chris and Twist is quite electrifying. Writers should take a leaf out of his book with this. He really sets the scene visually without taking up too many pages. These scenes also serve to state the connection that Twist and Chris have that mirrors the one Chris had with Sanctus. In many ways, he is her savior, as Sanctus was his. Chris has too become the mentor. And opening the portal that brought Twist from her personal Hell has binded them, given Twist a similar power as Chris himself has. They are both 'something inbetween', and share a common destiny. This episode is all about strengthening that bond, the partnership between them, as well as identifying their common enemy.

That enemy reveals itself in the form of Malkuth, who was referenced in the previous episode as a powerful figure. Here, we are introduced to him in all his glory. A wonderful, pantomime villain, a near skeletal demon who wields quite the power base, not to mention a rich, sarcastic wit that puts him in the tradition of the best Buffy/Angel villains he is clearly modelled after. What makes him standout is his connection to Chris, revealed in a wonderful flashback moment as glimpsed by Twist. In having Malkuth's incarnation as he is now as a direct result of the affect Chris' powers had on him, is a great way of bonding the villain of the piece to the hero. It's also learned that in that moment, Malkuth gained a piece of Chris' soul, shedding light on one of the mysteries posed by the pilot. It only opens up more questions, however. In what way will this common bond affect Chris and Malkuth? Would it allow Malkuth to gain the power to turn Chris back into his servitude, as he was in the past? It leaves a great deal of interesting possibilities. Malkuth is an excellent villain that deserves to appear with recurring regularity.

The episode succeeds on so-many levels, apart from introducing a strong villain. The writing is razor-sharp, especially when it comes to Twist. Many of her lines are genuinely funny. At times, attempts at wit by non-professional writers in this form fall embarrasingly flat, but Twist is very well realised. Her sarcastic humour is a perfect counterbalance to Chris' more world-weary, professional sensibility. In the mould of the best partnerships, Twist is the foil to Chris, and her lines elevate this episode, and this series, to new heights. Coupled with this are genuinely well-written action-sequences, such as the aforementioned fight and the final battle. Chrimes already seems to have a real rhythm to writing this show, and a handle on his characters, which is rare so early in a show's development. It's obviously been well thought through beforehand, and it shows. If the series keeps up this level of strength, it will not fail to disappoint.

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

FINAL RATING: 9/10

Star Trek: Avalon - 'Shattered Heaven pts I to IV' (Mini-Series)

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Legg & Joe Burdette
PREMIERE DATE: Pt 1 - 18/4/2005 - Pt 2 - 26/5/2005 - Pt 3 - 17/7/2005 - Pt 4 - 4/9/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/avalon/index.shtml

2285. Thomas Hatch is a self-centered, slobbish cargo pilot. He has no career. No friends. And his beautiful girlfriend has just left him. He believes things can't get any worse, until a prank against him, combined with encountering a mysterious subspace phenomenon, throws Hatch into a strange, dark world where he is captured by the crew of the Avalon, a ship full of mercenaries led by strong Hirogen captain Zorin & the seductive Siren. While struggling to comprehend what has happened to him, Hatch soon discovers the Avalon crew are running from the Cult, a powerful force who are trying to convert the galaxy to their dogma, and comes to realise he isn't getting home any time soon......

In the last few years, I think every fan of science-fiction has probably asked themselves the simple question: what killed Star Trek? I mean, let's face it, the most successful TV franchise in history is dead in the water. After roughly a decade of weak concepts (Voyager),
lacklustre movies (Insurrection; Nemesis), and missed opportunities (Enterprise), Gene Roddenbery's opus has flatlined. The current Trek production team, with the possible exception of one Manny Coto, are old men fast out of ideas. And the unoriginality and refusal to take risks with the Trek concept, largely for fears of denting the lucrative cash cow the franchise delivers, has sunk Trek's future into a quagmire of uncertainty. It's only on the Net that Trek lives on right now. In the minds of fans unhindered by budgetary concerns, worries about syndication, or of jeopardising the loyalty of the brigade of fans out there who hate to see Roddenberry's vision altered in any way. Star Trek Avalon is one of a new wave of online produced shows daring to take Trek into new areas. And, by and large, in this case, it's a successful experiment.

Avalon is markedly different from any Trek concept before in numerous ways, but none more so perhaps than in it's main character. Thomas Hatch is absolutely nothing like Trek protagonists of old. He's not a Starfleet captain. He's not heroic. He's not respected. By most, he's not even liked. And in many ways, he's not even likeable. From when we first see him, breaking up with his beautiful, career-minded girlfriend Melanie in the teaser, Hatch comes across as a self-centered guy who's never really grown up. His refusal to accept responsibility, to better himself as most people in the Trek universe try to do it seems, has left him behind. Basically, his life is not worth much. In devising such a character, creators Legg & Burdette have basically screwed up the Trek rulebook and thrown it in the nearest waste paper basket. Trek as we've seen on the box would never have concieved of including such a character in it's cast, let alone as a protagonist. The nearest we've come is Quark, but even he deep down had some worth and dignity. Plus, he was a Ferengi, an alien. Hatch is all human, and his existence goes against everything Roddenberry tried to show humanity were three or four centuries from now. He's not enlightened or selfless. He's real, like many people of our time, and in many ways can be related to much easier than most other human Trek characters could be.

As I said before, however, he's in many ways unlikeable, not meant to be liked given his attitude (and his propensity for needless profanity). Legg and Burdette seem to make a conscious effort to repeat this in the rest of the main cast, once they are slowly introduced throughout the mini-series. Zorin, the imposing Hirogen captain of the Avalon, doesn't suffer fools gladly, meaning he pretty much hates Hatch from the get-go, and is in the best tradition of tough, aloof character. Admittedly, it'd be odd if a Hirogen was anything less; again, Siren, essentially the second in command, may be seductive but she's also cold with it; Isaac the doctor is often just plain rude. It's not that Trek in the past has had a multitude of characters with beaming smiles 24-7, but no cast has been as specifically set up as 'anti-heroes' as much as this one. Fact is, though, it works. Mainly for the fact the universe they inhabit is far from being a place that would inspire happiness and warmth, plus the creators make an effort to include more lightweight characters in the mix, such as Xindi cousins Azel & Shera and Ava, the sentient computer at the heart of Avalon, who create a good counterbalance. It's also refreshing to see the focus on a multitude of characters with darkness to them, exhibiting shades of grey that very few main characters in Trek have ever had.

The other main area where Avalon clearly shows it's difference and originality is in the world it creates. We begin in the late 23rd century, roughly the timeframe of the Original Series, but the world we see is not the one we know and love. From Hatch's perspective, the Federation is a snobbish hierarchy who have royally screwed him over. Even that era is seen through much more of a rough looking glass, from Hatch's position as a dreg of society. It's quite unique to see that era in this way, even if it is brief. However, it's when Hatch is throttled into the distant future of, what we later learn, to be 4427, that Legg and Burdette really go to town. The destiny of humanity & the Federation they paint is an extremely dark one. In an effort to raise a striking middle finger to Roddenberry and his somewhat naive, yet hopeful, vision of humanity's social and technological evolution, the creators completely wipe away all the progress humanity made from our time to the established Trek era. Not only humanity, they practically cause the extinction of all the races we know and love. In this universe, there are no devious Romulans, bull-headed Cardassians, logical Vulcans, violent yet heroic Klingons. And no Federation. This universe is a dark and fearful place, that felt quite reminiscent of the universe of the Dune novels in many ways. Enforced religion, in the form of the all-pervasive Cult (kind of like the Borg spliced with Jehovah's Witnesses), has now swept the galaxy. Their creation is another two-fingers to established Trek, which made an effort to remove any kind of religious presence from the evolution of humanity in the next few centuries. Humanity had turned to science, not theology. Legg and Burdette presumably recognise this as another piece of naivety in Roddenberry's world. Given the strong role religion plays in world events today, both as a force for good and indeed the driving force between a great deal of misguided bad, it's a disturbing parallel to find Trek's future contains the Cult, people who will use appalling violence and devastating to convert the universe to their way of thinking.

This four-part mini series has been a way of introducing the world of Avalon in quite an epic fashion, and on that note it succeeds. The story is suitably large and dynamic enough to sustain it's 300+ page length. All of the characters get their moment in the spotlight and are well-rendered, giving us interesting glimpses into their psyches that can be further explored. Mysteries, too, are posed. Exactly what caused Hatch to be thrown into the 45th century?; what is Isaac's connection to Adele?; who is the Prophet who the Cult worship?. These are just a few questions the reader is left wondering about by the time we finally reach the conclusion. This isn't to say this extended pilot is perfect, however. It does have weaknesses that need to be addressed.

For a start, at times, there's a feeling this is a show trying too hard to be different. Right from the very first scene, Legg and Burdette make an effort to give the writing a much more contemporary feel. Gone is the professional, technobabble laden speak of most Trek characters, and in comes a much more late 20th/early 21st century vernacular. I'm not sad to see the technobabble largely disappear, but this 'hip' dialogue sometimes seems forced. There's more profanity throughout this mini-series than probably in any of the previous Trek series combined, in some cases strong. It fits certain characters, yes, and it certainly gives the show a rougher and more grown-up feel, but at times it's unnecessary. Swearing only really works well if it's used sparingly, but at times it feels as though Hatch simply says 'shit' or 'fuck' for the sake of it. You don't need profanity to tell a good story, and Avalon could reign than in a bit, as well as the streetwise dialogue. It does make the show stand-out, but it could quickly grow tiresome. The other problem goes back to the characters: some are perhaps just too unlikeable. In every successful TV show, Trek or otherwise, there are likeable characters. The best shows get the balance between characters you can relate to and root for, and swines you hate but you love to see doing their bad thing. At times, Avalon's main characters can be so repulsive and vicious that it's hard to distinguish them from the real bad guys. This could be disconcerting for many a reader. Hopefully, in future installments, the writers will strive to give some of the characters just a little bit more humanity.

All in all, though, this mini-series displays a great deal of promise. It's well-written, with grammar and formatting largely in the right place, and has a style all it's own. It's entirely unique, unlike any Trek we've seen before, which is immensely attractive right now. It's perhaps telling if you stop and ask yourself something: would Avalon, in it's rough and ready style now, ever be successfully made into the next produced version of Trek for TV? I think for almost everyone, the answer would be a firm no. And that, quite frankly, can only be a good thing.

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

FINAL RATING: 6/10

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Hello one and all!

I'm Tony, otherwise known as the 'Blackster', and i've recently discovered the world of virtual television. Websites devoted to the production of new concepts, in screenplay format, that wouldn't look out of place on a TV screen. Some are good, some are bad. And occassionally, some are simply brilliant. But, however, very few of them are actually reviewed in detail as if they were being made by the camera.

That's where I come in.

I also recently discovered a terrific blog called 'Entil's Reviews', which feature regular, detailed reviews of established TV series, mainly of genre television, shows both cancelled and indeed still on the air. I intend to take Entil's cue and provide regular reviews of the virtual shows we probably won't be seeing on our digi-box any time soon. In some cases, that's a tragedy. Others, a blessing. In my humble opinion, i'll be telling you which is which.

Feel free to agree, disagree, or just plain heckle. More than that, though: enjoy. And embrace a new world of online TV series production.

Star Trek: Beyond What's Left Behind 1x01/1x02 - 'New Horizons'

WRITTEN BY: Jeremy Burnham, Andrew Swearingen & Tony Black
STORY BY: Jeremy Burnham & Adam Cornell
PREMIERE DATE: 16/09/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/bwlb/

Several months after the conclusion of Deep Space Nine, life has returned to normal. The war is over and new crewmembers are settling in. However, a civil war is brewing on the holocaust-ridden Cardassia. And when Benjamin Sisko returns from the Prophets unexpectedly, he claims he's been sent back to prevent it from happening. But can he? And will conflict on Cardassia threaten to once again throw the Alpha Quadrant into turmoil, especially with shadowy forces pulling the strings.....

Okay, before I begin this review, it's confession time. Yes, I am one of the writers listed on this pilot episode. But I need to make it clear that my contribution roughly makes up around 1% of the whole. My name was added to the script as a courtesy by series creator Jeremy Burnham, which I thank him greatly for. Consequently, I feel as though I can review the episode with a certain level of objectivity. I also should make it clear i'm the Co-Executive Producer of the show, but I intend to write objective reviews of each episode in the series, including those I myself write. I hope this avoids a conflict of interest, as I think this show deserves to be reviewed.

I'll start by giving a little background on the project itself. BWLB, as it's acronym delivers, came into being around March this year when Burnham started canvasing for writers to help develop a sequel series to arguably the most-consistently well produced and written Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine. I, along with several others, felt as though there was still a story to be told involving many of the characters on DS9 following the events of 'What You Leave Behind', the DS9 finale. The object of BWLB soon became to take many of these characters and storylines, but turn the show into a definative sequel, rather than simply DS9 Season Eight rebadged with a new name. The truth is, this pilot isn't entirely successful in meeting that remit.

The plot at the end of DS9 left many storylines both satisfying closed, but ripe for future development in new areas. The Dominion were beaten, but still existed. In many ways, the Gamma Quadrant had the potential to become a 24th century Germany. With the Dominion and it's Founders isolated and hit with reparations, the major allied powers of the Alpha Quadrant, the Federation/Klingons/Romulans, had the chance to divide up the area for themselves to keep the peace; Cardassia had been almost destroyed by an unimaginable final moment of Dominion evil with a holocaust that left 800 million dead. Would we see the effects this had on their once proud, strong people? Bajor, by contrast, was growing stronger and more prosperous through DS9's help, overcoming the occupation that has haunted their people for decades, though threatened by internal evil. Would we see them finally take steps to join the Federation, and would the riddle of the Prophets guarding them continue to play out, plus the battle against their malevolent counterparts, the Pah'Wraiths? All these questions lay open.

Similiarly, many of characters had similiar questions hanging over them. What had really become of Sisko? What would he learn with the Prophets? Would he return one day? And would he be the same man?; Odo had returned to his people to teach the ways of the solids and help them understand to prevent another war. Would he ever return to DS9, rekindle his relationship with Kira? Would he manage to change his people's outlook?; How would Kira fare without Odo in her life? Would she remain on DS9 in command or move on?; Worf and O'Brien both left for new careers, would we ever see them again? Would Bashir and Ezri marry, be happy ever after? Would Quark ever gain fame and fortune, or would he forever remain in the bar serving Morn? And how would supporting characters fare? Martok as Chancellor? Rom as the Grand Nagus? Garak back on Cardassia helping to rebuild his world?

The end of DS9 left so much waiting to be explored, and while this pilot takes certain elements and runs with him, it sadly wastes a great deal of opportunities. The first major event is the return of Sisko, which is handled in such a rushed and anti-climactic fashion, it's frankly laughable. An opportunity is missed to display the difference between science and faith concerning his disappearance. Starfleet never believed in Bajoran mysticism. They never saw him as the Emissary. They saw him as a Starfleet officer deifyed by a race who believed in the divinity of what they termed 'wormhole aliens'. They would have wanted answers over what happened to him, investigated his disappearance. There's no indication here that happened. The Bajorans, however, would have accepted it on faith. That the Emissary was born to save Bajor from darkness and then rejoined the Gods, the Prophets, who created him. We know in many ways the latter was true. It was suggested Sisko's life was created by the Prophets so he could ultimately battle the evil Pah'Wraith Kosst-Amojan after possessing Dukat. Plus, the reason for Sisko's return is largely underwhelming. The fact he was sent to save Cardassia from civil war is a nicely ironic touch, but the way it is handled is extremely poor.

Infact, the major criticism I have with this pilot is the dialogue itself. I can't really think of one established character who speaks or acts as they should do. Garak, in particular, is written extremely poorly & Bashir acts incredibly out of character. Sure, it could be argued he is indulging his penchant for espionage by assisting the machinations of Section-31 in their attempts to spark a Cardassian civil war, but would he really do this at the risk of the lives of crewmembers he's been through so much with? Is he really THAT stupid? No, he's simply poorly realised. And his storyline is miscalculated. When it comes to dialogue, a big problem is that too many characters talk too much. For a spy, Seth Maple is extremely long-winded. It's essentially for exposition purposes, yes, but Maple comes off as incredibly blustery and too talkative. There are better ways to get across his philosophy than multiple pages of ceaseless dialogue. While this script hasn't been made visually, the writers seem to forget the main maxim of scriptwriting: SHOW don't TELL. The mistake is repeated with another new character, Legate Toshan. It serves to take interesting characters and make them incredibly dull.

New characters are something that BWLB, however, doesn't do too badly on overall. There are several interesting new additions. A brand-new first officer, Starfleet Commander J. T. Lance. He comes across as a bit of an undisciplined jackass to be honest, but this only serves for greater character development in future installments. Why is he like that? Hopefully, we shall see. Then comes Lieutenant Commander Coro, a Xindi-Reptilian, the only one in Starfleet. It's nice to see a character of a race established after DS9 was produced, in Enterprise of course, crop up in the 24th century timeline. It gives the possibility of exploring more about how the Xindi have developed since the mid-22nd century. If Coro doesn't simply become a Worf clone, then he has potential. Speaking of potential, I feel the best realised new character here has to be Lieutenant Ashana, the new Andorian female security chief. She comes off as an icier, yet more coolly seductive version of Odo, especially in scenes with Quark. There's already a sparring repartee between them it would be nice to see develop in later episodes. We also have a new engineering Chief in the Bajoran Ja'Kel Hectar. He's also an interesting addition, but we'll get to him later. As stated before, new primary supporting characters Toshan & Maple are potentially interesting additions, but are let down here by poor writing. If they reappear, hopefully they'll be better served.

So, back to missed opportunities. Kasidy (irritatingly spelled Cassidy in the script) and the birth of her child by Sisko was always i'd imagine by fans to be a big event. The DS9 sequel books, however inconsistent they were, at least gave this event the magnitude it deserved. The baby of Sisko would surely be special in some way, given the revelation he has the Prophets in his lineage. Yet the birth is a strictly routine affair, halfway through. It's as if the writers compiled a checklist of interesting ideas left dangling and in their rush to concentrate on other plots, ticked them off one by one and decided to rush them all out as quickly as possible. Kasidy's delivery could have been so much more. Coupled with this is the fact most of the characters get short shrift in the appearance stakes. Apart from Bashir & Sisko, many of the others are just there for mostly (out of character) outbursts and exposition. There's no evidence of real character development, or that anything has changed since the DS9 finale.

And then there are the plotholes? For a start, as discussed, would Bashir just simply go along with Maple's plans without some real coertion? Would he risk seeing Cardassia plunged into civil war just so he could act the spy? And then would he simply be slapped on the wrist and left as chief medical officer on the most important starbase in the Quadrant, after abusing his position to create a mind-control drug? No. Would Sisko just simply be allowed to slip back into command of the Defiant like bugger all has happened after having been missing for months on end, with no concrete explanation of his whereabouts? Despite the calibre of his character, would Starfleet really allow this? No. These plot holes really make it difficult to swallow the story as a whole.

Despite the severe misgivings I have about this pilot, there are good points. The Worf and O'Brien cameo appearance is a nice touch; the idea of a drug that blocks Sisko's telepathic contact with the Prophets is an intriguing one; and the character arc of Ja'Kel has promise. It comes as a surprise to find him in league with Section-31, though he comes across as a little self-righteous and pompous in essentially spelling out the reasons he's helping to fuel chaos on Cardassia. If we stop being bludgeoned about how much he hates Cardassians & is still hung up on the occupation, Ja'Kel's character could turn out to be a highlight. Otherwise, his storyline will be just another recycled idea from the old DS9.

So, ultimately, is the opening episode of a new DS9 chapter what it could have been? No. Does it truly come across as anything other than a rebadged DS9 Season 8? Not really. Does it suffer from poor writing and a severe lack of editing, leading to a large number of grammatical mistakes? Yes. Though, does it contain any kind of promise for an improvement on it's lacklustre start? Certainly. BWLB deserves to be stuck with, even if only for the lack of Trek on TV, meaning these virtual fiction projects are the best we've got right now. Needs to improve wholesale, though.

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

FINAL RATING: 3/10

Somewhere Inbetween 1x01 - 'Introductions'

WRITTEN BY: Lee A Chrimes
PREMIERE DATE: 06/11/2004
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions http://monsterzero.proboards3.com/index.cgi

We enter the world of unwilling vampire Christopher Berkeley and his smart-mouthed vampiric partner Twist McFadden as they both recount their pasts involving guardian angels, vampiric cures and a trip to Hell itself......

On the MZP network, undoubtedly one of the most popular and active virtual TV production forums on the Net, there are few shows as talked about or as held in high regard as Somewhere Inbetween. What with MZP most likely set to take up the bulk of my forthcoming online reviews of virtual television, I felt what is considered to be the jewel in the site's crown to be the best place to start in my odyssey through the online world of creativity being developed by a wave of fertile minds.

I couldn't help but feel a trifle intimidated when it came to reviewing this pilot. It came with such a pedigree, I wondered if I would be able to add my voice to it's supporters with any real point. I feared I would become one of it's detractors if I didn't like what I read. I also couldn't help experience a little weariness in the fact it appeared to be just another show about a pair of wise-aleck, streetwise, quip ready vampires battling demons every week while wrangling with personal issues and growing pains. In truth, the show is many of these things. Thankfully, though, it's so much more.

Right from the opening moments of page one, we are thrown into the thick of the action and introduced to our male protagonist, Christopher Berkeley, who wades in with a charismatic manner and a Japanese katana sword to boot. It's instantly clear we are dealing with a tortured soul, a vampire of the night who isn't exactly delighted about who, or indeed what, he is. It's only instantly clear we are in the middle of a flashback, part of a story Chris is recounting to his, as yet unseen, partner Twist. Right from the get-go, it's clear she will be the quip-ready one in this relationship.

From then on, the pilot episodes splits essentially into two narratives. The first half covers Chris' backstory, the second that of Twist McFadden, the overall structure of the episode concerning a conversation between these two in which they are recounting their pasts to one another in an effort to make their present situation clear. In doing this, writer Lee Chrimes wastes no time in setting up certain fascinating characters and mysteries in these flashbacks he leaves us dangling with. And thankfully, the clarity of the episode doesn't suffer in this disjointed approach to the storytelling. Each narrative of Chris and Twist is easy to follow, and ultimately leaves you wanting more.

So, in the first half, we learn all about Chris. A bright young Englishman, born of the Midlands (a nod indeed to Chrimes' Brummie origins which I can appreciate, as I share them), who after a vicious attack one night by a vampiric scavenger is saved by his guardian angel in the form of the enigmatic Sanctus. He appears to believe Chris has a purpose, that he needed to be saved for a specific reason, which he doesn't elaborate on. It's possible this is because he doesn't know it himself, but it's clear Sanctus is one of those characters who knows a great deal. A born mentor. He transforms Chris into 'something inbetween', something more than either a human or vampire, something with a destiny. Though something that also needs blood to survive. It's when Chris recounts how he took the innocent life of a woman he knew in a savage manner to satisfy this primal bloodlust that the episode kicks up a gear. A rich vein of dark comedy runs throughout the episode, which helps prevent it becoming too po-faced, but this moment of darkness serves to highlight what the show can achieve. And makes it clear Chris is set-up as a traditional anti-hero, a heart of darkness operating in service of the greater good.

Other enigmas are served by Chris' backstory. Early on, we hear the name 'Malkuth', a reclusive powerful figure who Chris needs to satisfy his bloodlust without having to resort to the mindless savagery he regretted so much at the beginning. What hold does he have over Chris? Why is it said he owns a piece of his soul?. And other mysteries: who really is Sanctus, why was he watching Chris for years before 'saving him', what is the cure to vampirism he promises Chris exists and why does he think Chris is destined of a purpose? Does Chris have the white witch powers within him his mother did before her tragic death? Or does utilising them open a gateway to true evil? By how he came into contact with Twist, that could be the case.

Which brings us nicely to the yang to Chris' yin: Twist McFadden. An attractive young woman who literally drops through a vortex into Chris' life, filled with a primordial fear and anger based upon wherever she came from. Chris ultimately nurses her back to the Twist we come to know, the young, fiesty, smart-mouthed girl, but not one who hasn't suffered quite a traumatic past. Her backstory reveals a chance happening that leads to her enforced vampirism and years tooling round as the groupie of a biker gang, encouraged into killing mercilessly into satisfying her bloodlust, until that brings her very close to home. Once again, it's here the episode takes on a deeper component.

Twist was forced into the life of darkness and succumbed to it, until she was faced with having to kill her own mother and baby sibling to satisfy not only her hunger, but those who made her what she is. She turns away from it, revealing the humanity within, which ultimately leads to her banishment to Hell itself and an eternity it seems of turmoil. The episode is clearly out to display parallels: Chris and Twist have both experienced similar paths, and both are seeking redemption. Neither want to be what they are, hate what they've become. And when Chris' white magic portal somehow taps into Hell and drags Twist into his life, both realise they are imbued with purpose. Both seek the chance to start over and believe the vampirism cure is the key. This is the soul of their partnership, and this quest the soul of the series.

Ultimately, with this pilot, Chrimes manages to overcome many of the shortcomings pilots face: a weak plot, struggling to find the character's voices, etc. That's not to say it's not flawed: there IS no plot as such. No driving narrative exactly. The episode is made up of past events and consequently it hits a little on the nose that we're new to this world and Chris and Twist are new to each other. It really is all about introductions, and perhaps could have been a little more subtle about this fact; also, there are moments that feel recycled. The katana sword seems a little too Blade; the scene with Chris bringing the bird back to life is taken straight from The 4400; and the Hell portal is straight from Buffy. These moans aside, though, this is a remarkably assured pilot episode that leaves you anticipating more, and due to impressive grammar and (mostly) formatting, is quite a pleasure to read.

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

DEPTH: 1.5/2

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10