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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 9:36am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

If there's one thing I've learned from studying the process of writing ongoing series, it's that cute and clever bits must be used very sparingly, or should at least be done in such a way so that they're really subtle.

A professional writer should be allowed to have fun with the work, yes, but the integrity of the story and characters--and internal logic--have to be the priority.

With a prequel like ENTERPRISE, they really needed to stop and think about how things would work in the "real" world of the series, instead of trying to cross every "T" and dot every "I". For example, "The Augments" features an exchange of dialogue in which Soong describes how he's nicknamed a region of space (which would "later" be mentioned in DS9 and INSURRECTION) "the Briar Patch". This exchange serves absolutely no purpose for the plot or characters. It's simply a bit of continuity which is designed to reveal the origin of the name. And a waste of about 15 seconds of screentime.

Screentime is precious, and every single line of dialogue needs to serve a purpose. Look at the last line of the episode, where Soong muses about how he probably won't finish his work with cybernetics, and that it could take "a generation or two" of his descendants to perfect it. Pretend you don't know that it's a joke referring to Data and TNG. Pretend that ENTERPRISE is the first and only STAR TREK series. This moment seems out of place and pointless if you don't already know that it's a chronological call-forward to an earlier TV series. A lot of prequels (and sequels, for that matter) tend to coast along and get a pass based on the audience's familiarity with the source material. 

I'm convinced that both NuTREK and THE FORCE AWAKENS are, at the end of the day, rather ho-hum, by-the-numbers sci-fi films, but were elevated to massive success and acclaim because of their careful exploitation of characters, actors, and tropes from the source material. Strip those elements away, and I don't think either of those films would have much left to prop them up.

I think that a good prequel story needs to be writen as if it's the first and only iteration of a story. The question to ask is, "Does this story work as a completely standalone entity, with nothing being dependent upon the viewer's knowledge of the source material in order for them to fully enjoy it?". 

Once you lock down a legitimately good story, then you can go back and sparingly pepper in some fun references. All too often, though, it seems that prequels (and sequels) are conceived for the sole purpose of reverse-engineering and/or expanding upon existing lore. I haven't gotten there, yet, but upcoming is the three-part arc which exists solely to explain why the Klingons had smooth foreheads in TOS. So, clearly, the question being asked in the Writers' Room was, "How can we plug this continuity hole?", rather than, "How can we tell a good Klingon story?". The end result is navel-gazing.



Edited by Greg Kirkman on 18 February 2017 at 9:38am
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 11:34am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

I find the result to be something worse than mere navel-gazing. Bad stories begin to collapse atop one another and dogpile into something truly awful.

Not to spoil too much, but the Enterprise explanation for the Klingons' mutation is entirely dependent upon Enterprise's own "Augments" storyline. Thus, a question posed by fans since 1979 when Mark Lenard first appeared onscreen isn't simply explained away in a tedious, convoluted fashion a quarter of a century later, it explained in such a way that the writers positioned themselves to say, "Now if you want to understand what's happening in our explanation story, you must go back and review what we did in this exciting three-part adventure earlier this year! Because, really, Trek isn't Trek if we're not at the heart and center of it!"

The Tom and Mary Bierbaum/Keith Giffen LSH was all about this. In order to understand this month's issue, you didn't simply have to be painstakingly familiar with Legion Lore and know every-single-character's nonsensical civilian name, who they were before the Five-Year-Gap, and what was done with them previously (Go back and read the story of Lightning Lad's death, everyone! We have SUCH a killer twist on that one for you!! Unless you're a fan and you already know about this theory that's been kicking around fandom since 1974 that we're about to make canon... In which case, it won't be a surprise at all.). You also had to be deeply entrenched in THEIR reinterpretations of those events and follow every issue of the Post-Gap series to catch all of those references... Because, really, the story is just about what we're doing now. We are the Legion, and while we can't write three sentences in a row without calling back to our forebears, their work is really unimportant compared to what we're doing now...

It isn't simply fannish ennui. It's fannish ennui that enobles and makes the currently appointed Keepers of the Flame the real and most important part of the story, so be sure to keep up with every little thing we do, folks, because I promise you, what we're up to is just as important as what came before and you won't be able to tell what's going on if you don't!

Of course, what they're up to is easily dismissed, ala' Enterprise's Augments and Genetically Altered Would-Be Klingon Supermen because the solutions aren't in any sense organic and the stories being told are beholden to too many masters. A well-told story, conceived on its own and presented to the public without all the callbacks, homages, and self-referential self-celebration, can stand on its own. These rickety, oh-so-important to the continuity hodgepodges collapse as they're being told.

Navel-gazing, yes, but also tediously dependent upon lousy writing (much done by the authors themselves) appending itself to what was once good writing. "Why wouldn't you want to know about our Augments and Dr. Soong story in order to get the full gist of the 1979 Klingon question?" the authors seem to ask. "It's just as good, right?"

No. It really isn't.

But it does have to be referenced by fans from now on whenever the bumpy-headed Klingons question comes up. And that makes you special.


Edited by Brian Hague on 18 February 2017 at 11:40am
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John Byrne
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 12:36pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

Larry Niven gave us the solution to the Klingon Problem long before it existed. In Niven's novel RINGWORLD, the Kzin "ambassador," Speaker to Animals, revealed that after the first Man/Kzinti War his people, having been thoroughly beaten, took to praying to Earth gods while wearing masks made of human skin.

How hard is it to imagine that the Klingons, having suffered defeat in their first encounters with humans, used transporter technology to don more human "masks" in order to lull us into a false sense of security?

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 3:29pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Not to spoil too much, but the Enterprise explanation for the Klingons' mutation is entirely dependent upon Enterprise's own "Augments" storyline. Thus, a question posed by fans since 1979 when Mark Lenard first appeared onscreen isn't simply explained away in a tedious, convoluted fashion a quarter of a century later, it explained in such a way that the writers positioned themselves to say, "Now if you want to understand what's happening in our explanation story, you must go back and review what we did in this exciting three-part adventure earlier this year! Because, really, Trek isn't Trek if we're not at the heart and center of it!"
++++++++

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but it's okay, since I did catch those episodes way back when they aired. 

DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations" took the right approach, I think. When asked for an explanation, Worf simply says, "We do not discuss it with outsiders". The writing staff tried to come up with something (A viral mutation? Genetic engineering?), but it all seemed too navel-gaze-y. So, they made it into a fun little joke, and then left it alone.

Flash-forward to ENTERPRISE, and we get a three-episode arc which reveals it to have been a viral mutation and generic engineering. Sigh.

Some things are better left alone! Considering TOS' fast and loose approach to continuity, the Klingon makeup change shouldn't necessarily have become a burning question which "needed" to be answered.

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 7:56pm | IP Logged | 5 post reply

I agree. I was content to simply believe the Klingon Empire was, y'know, an Empire, made up of a number of different planets, cultures, and races. But of course, if there's a can of peaches sitting out somewhere, there has to be someone to... well, never mind...

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 8:11pm | IP Logged | 6 post reply

I think all of this puts into sharp relief just how brilliant people like the Genes (Roddenberry and Coon) and George Lucas were in their ability to create stories and characters which resonated so deeply with people. 

Unfortunately, with STAR TREK, many of the people who followed in TOS' footsteps smugly tried to reinvent the wheel, and create a New and Better STAR TREK. And, so far, at least, the Disney STAR WARS films seem quite comfortable with either rehashing familiar material, and/or filling in every single nook and cranny in-between the existing films, rather than doing brand-new stories which just happen to be set in the same universe.

I maintain that the STAR TREK series format is quite possibly the single most flexible storytelling platform in television history. You can go anywhere and do anything. The fact that the franchise has essentially cannibalized itself is very much a betrayal of that premise, and shows a distinct lack of originality and creative drive.

I very much wonder what DISCOVERY is going to be all about. More prequel-y strip-mining of characters and concepts from TOS, with filler to string all of the cameos and Easter Eggs together, perhaps? I'm sure it's no coincidence that many of ENTERPRISE's most notable episodes are the ones which reference or foreshadow familiar elements from previous iterations of the franchise. In terms of establishing its own distinct voice and identity (yet while still feeling like part of the bigger whole), it kinda failed miserably.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 8:44pm | IP Logged | 7 post reply

I'll admit I have zero interest in DISCOVERY. Even less than the brief twinge I felt for ENTERPRISE.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 9:25pm | IP Logged | 8 post reply

Yeah, my own interest level has been plummeting quickly. The preview imagery looks like a reimagining of TREK, not a prequel set a decade prior to TOS. If they really wanted to do a proper TOS prequel, then they would. Instead, as with ENTERPRISE, we'll probably be seeing something that tries to work around the TOS canon, instead of embracing it.
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Joe Boster
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 9:27pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

I really want to say thank you , Greg for embarking on the great ENT re-watch. It gave me a chance to do the same thing. You give a good unbiased reviews and I enjoy the commitment To write a few lines about each episode. I know such a task is beyond me. 

I do think I prefer boring to Fanwank, tho. The compulsion to fill every mystery and gap with thick cheap plaster really bothered me. A sad waste of a talented cast for certain. I would have liked to see a season 5. But I'll just watch CSI New Orleans instead. 


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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 18 February 2017 at 9:41pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

I want to say thank you , Greg for embarking on the great ENT re-watch. It gave me a chance to do the same thing. You give a good unbiased reviews and I enjoy the commitment To write a few lines about each episode. I know such a task is beyond me. 
+++++++

Well, if you go back, you'll see I've skipped writing about a bunch of episodes. I'm just making notes on the ones I find notable. I may very well end up doing the same for the other three series, as long as Heroes & Icons keeps them in rotation for a good while to come.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 19 February 2017 at 9:08am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

It just hit me (slow brain!) that DISCOVERY being set "roughly a decade" before TOS plants it squarely in the Pike Period -- which means everything we have seen so far points to a further eradication of all things TOS.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 19 February 2017 at 11:13am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

That's what I mean. When they first announced the time-period, I said to myself, "Okay! This better look reasonably close to the first pilot!". But, as can be seen in the teaser imagery, the technology, uniforms, etc. look look like nothing from that era. They're far more Abrams-esque.

As I noted in the DISCOVERY thread, it could be done correctly, and in a way that isn't cheesy. Just a few tweaks, the use of modern construction materials, and suitable lighting and camerawork. ENTERPRISE's own "In a Mirror, Darkly..." proved that it could be done. And it would be even easier with a series set in the more monochrome "Cage" era, where they could sidestep those bright 1960s colors that TOS is mocked for.

I'll give ENTERPRISE some credit for going with a more monochrome, more submarine-ish look to the sets, although I don't think they took it quite far enough. The idea of the uniforms being sort of a cross between modern NASA and the TNG era look (instead of TOS, unfortunately) was also a reasonably good movie. The problem, as I've noted again and again is that it all looks too much like a prequel to the spin-offs, instead of the original.
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Joe Boster
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Posted: 19 February 2017 at 4:36pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

I thought I had read somewhere that DISCOVERYhas been moved to JJ verse?

" I don't think they took it quite far enough" that sounds like everything that Rick Berman Touches. 
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 19 February 2017 at 5:46pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

Looks like it's still set in the "Prime" timeline.
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Marten van Wier
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Posted: 19 February 2017 at 8:49pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

I hope honestly that the writers will not come up with some excuses why the technology on the Discovery looks more advanced (if it turns out that way) than on other Starfleet vessels, making them resemble starships from the Original Series.

In the Enterprise book series that followed up the series after it was cancelled the writers introduced the idea in the Romulan War books that the Romulans could remote hack and control Earth's starfleet ships and those of its allies (that alone I already find questionable even if it is rather ridiculous that alien computer systems are so compatible in the Star Trek universe), with as a result that Starfleet's starship designers on purpose made Starfleet vessels so retro so that they could not be hacked again.

In one Enterprise book there was even a computer using bio neural gel or something similar, but because the plot device using it failed the research and development was postponed apparently for almost two centuries.

This is one of the reasons why I stopped reading Star Trek books, what used to be fun theories on certain open questions in Star Trek is now just trying to make up all kinds of excuses why things are why they are.

Oh, and Archer remembered the Borg or at least "the cyborgs whose technology was found on Earth" which he considered a future threat to the Federation yet conveniently never left any recorded information about.

I am starting to think that a lot of Star Trek book writers are as terrible as the episode writers.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 19 February 2017 at 10:26pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

In the Enterprise book series that followed up the series after it was cancelled the writers introduced the idea in the Romulan War books that the Romulans could remote hack and control Earth's starfleet ships and those of its allies (that alone I already find questionable even if it is rather ridiculous that alien computer systems are so compatible in the Star Trek universe), with as a result that Starfleet's starship designers on purpose made Starfleet vessels so retro so that they could not be hacked again.
+++++++++

This is jaw-droppingly stupid. Get back with me when a TOS book explains why all of the ships which came after TOS look clunky and far less futuristic than the original Enterprise (the real original, that is).
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 20 February 2017 at 12:28am | IP Logged | 17 post reply

..."The Forge".


And here we have the first episode written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who are avowed TOS fans. This particular arc was clearly intended to right the ship in terms of ENTERPRISE's treatment of the Vulcans, by showing that the teaching of Surak had been corrupted.

This episode is dripping with Vulcan lore established in TOS. On the one hand, all of the references feel a wee bit fanfic-y, right down to Surak's Katra being "Remembered" into Archer. On the other hand, this episode features a solid mystery and some good world-building (...or is that "world restoring"?), and I wasn't at all bored. Unfortunately, Vaughn Armstrong's Admiral Forest was killed off in this one, which is a bummer, since I like the actor and the character.

Digging this arc so far, despite its fannishness. 
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John Byrne
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Posted: 20 February 2017 at 7:01am | IP Logged | 18 post reply

Get back with me when a TOS book explains why all of the ships which came after TOS look clunky and far less futuristic than the original Enterprise (the real original, that is).

••

Sadly, we all know the real world reason for that, and it come down to two words: STAR WARS.*

This is one of the reasons I have no interest in DISCOVERY. That slice-of-pizza ship design, so obviously Roddenberry's attempt to have his own star destroyer… Well, that's not exactly what we'd call innovation, is it?

______________________

* We cannot ignore the impact of SPACE ODYSSEY, either. That film's guts-on-the-outisde approach to spaceship design was clearly a huge influence on George Lucas.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 21 February 2017 at 1:05am | IP Logged | 19 post reply

..."Awakening".

A rather filler-y middle chapter to the Vulcan arc. We see a young T'Pau, which is interesting, since T'Pol was original going to be T'Pau, back when ENTERPRISE was being developed. 
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Joe Boster
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Posted: 21 February 2017 at 12:09pm | IP Logged | 20 post reply

A rather filler-y middle chapter to the Vulcan arc. We see a young T'Pau, which is interesting, since T'Pol was original going to be T'Pau, back when ENTERPRISE was being developed. 
++

This is pretty much all of season 4 to me. 3 part arcs that should have been 2. At least in better Xndi there was a sense of urgency. To put it in comic book terms. Writing for the trade. 

I was playing a Star Trek and the chat room made it seem like the biggest problem with ENT was Scott Bakula!
"Main reason: Scott Bakula is terrible, at everything. His very existence as an actor is a travesty."

This seems absurd! 

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