Saturday, September 17, 2005

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

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
STYLE: 0.5/2
DEPTH: 0.5/2



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