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
STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 1/2


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.


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)


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.

STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 2/2


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.

STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 1/2


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
STYLE: 1/2
DEPTH: 1.5/2


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.

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