Tag Archives: Star Trek

Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 4

Too many parts of the tax series to link to the m all at the start of a post, so I’ll link Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 1, and the start of the politics series, in case you’re interested in catching up.

I was wrong. I was wrong. See, I can admit it.

I said yesterday, in Part 3, that I would wrap up the series today. Yesterday was a nice, short, self-contained concept. And when I had written it, I had already written out what was going to be today’s post. This post had three sets of musings, which weren’t very long in themselves, but the post I was going to post today would have been a bit long.

Fortunately, it’s going to be pretty easy to split them up. “Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby” will run finishing up on Monday, with Part 6. Unless something extra springs to mind.

So, today’s notion:

* “Render Unto Caesar” when not using sestertii.

If we accept the premise that Caesar’s coinage belonged to Caesar because it had Caesar’s image, and by extension that English currency belongs to the Bank of England because its name is stamped on the paper currency, and American currency belongs to the Federal Reserve for much the same reason, then that raises some interesting questions regarding things like barter and Bitcoin.

The tax system one is subject to, might require one to quantify the value of a non-monetary exchange (“payment in goods or services”) in currency, so that they can tax you on it.

One can argue that if you use their money, that they are a party in the transaction, and might have to say. Whose face is on the currency? Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

But is this not an overstep? Caesar has no part of this transaction, Caesar has no entitlement here.

Where these transactions relate to tax, it seems to be purely on the honor system. I suspect many such transactions have no paper trail.

Here’s an article related to Bitcoin and taxes. Looks hard to keep track of. A bit of a mess, really.

I did a post on property and ownership last week, and the entire tax series is related. Something that has been implicit so far, and will be starker tomorrow, is the basic question, “how much of what you own is someone else entitled to?”

You may believe that you are obliged to use or give what you have, to take care of other people. The quote from the property post about “the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes”, it is for you to give, not for them to demand. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one” is good to invoke when you’re the few or the one. When you’re Spock sacrificing yourself to save the ship and its crew. It is bad when the many invoke it to steamroll over the few. Like the classic analogy of democracy, “two wolves and a sheep voting for what to have for dinner”.

The Star Trek III inversion, “the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many” is good when Kirk and his crew risk everything to go save Spock. Any number of dictators, even elected officials, could highlight when it’s bad (what’s springing to mind is the new documentary “The Killing$ Of Tony Blair“).

How much of what is yours, is fair game for the government to take? Some think everything.

More on this tomorrow.

Christmas Traditions, Part 3

It’s funny how certain things just become associated with Christmas. Some perhaps more intentionally than others. Today I delve into some movies and TV shows that have been a part of Christmas for me and my families, and perhaps some things might be surprising.

For example, every Star Wars movie except The Force Awakens has been released in May. But Return Of The Jedi was shown on TV around Christmas for several years in a row when I was a child, so that was the one I saw most, and I still kind of associate with Christmas. The Force Awakens was released just a few days ago, around a week before Christmas, is that a movie that will keep a Christmas association for people?

Contrast that with Star Trek movies. I only saw the Next Generation and reboot movies in the cinema. First Contact and Insurrection were released in December in the UK, Generations in February (3 months after the USA, and the one with Trek’s only mention of Christmas), and Nemesis was Mid-December in the US, and really early January in the UK. I don’t think any of these are widely thought of as Christmas movies.

In addition to Return Of The Jedi, the 1982 animated short film The Snowman was another thing that seemed to be on every year. Not that we minded…

A few years later, and other things became Christmas staples on TV. The first three Wallace And Gromit movies.

And repeats were the order of the day, for a while: Morcambe and Wise. Then all manner of shows started doing Christmas specials. Watched Only Fools And Horses, of course. More recently, the Doctor Who specials, though nowadays we get those a bit later.

Here, we don’t have TV in the traditional way, it’s all streaming or discs these days. So we don’t have the same sort of habits of TV watching anyway, let alone similar traditions. Watching Love Actually has been a Christmastime tradition here (not necessarily on the Big Day). I think that’s been less of a thing the last couple of years because of the kids (though possibly general busyness contributes, too).

As I continue this series, casual reader, I ask you to contribute: what Christmas-related household traditions do you have/have you had? Please comment below.

New Sci-Fi Trailers

You know me, I like movies, and I like sci-fi. Oldest and I just got tickets for his taking me to see The Force Awakens, an obscure sci-fi film that’s coming up. A couple of nights ago, I saw a trailer for what presumably will be a summer blockbuster, a sequel to a movie that became a benchmark in film. And this morning, a trailer was released for some other franchise movie called “Beyond”.

Independence Day. The alien ships’ attacks on significant building and monuments caught the imaginations of moviegoers everywhere. And the cast – Will Smith, before Men In Black. Jeff Goldblum, after Jurassic Park. Bunch of other people you know, in major roles. Bunch of other people you know, in minor roles. Not sure where you’d place Brent Spiner, between those two categories. Adam Baldwin, before Firefly. Tim Kelleher (might not be really famous, but I like him).

And the effects (watch the special features, man) were really a breakthrough at the time. The lines may have been corny and catchy (“All right, you alien assholes!”), but it had more of a sense of fun than many other disaster movies, there’s good reason it’s popular.

So it’s actually pretty surprising it’s taken them so long to make a sequel. the Resurgence trailer has some images that echo scenes from the first movie. The UN convoy at the beginning is a bit reminiscent of all the cars and caravans turning up at Area 51. The swaggering pilots. The planes (wanna bet upgrading them with alien tech was a bad idea?). A scene reminiscent of the lab breakout in the original. The fire cloud surrounding the ship entering the atmosphere, of course. The wake of the alien ship destroying a satellite dish on what looks like the moon, as opposed to Armstrong’s footsteps being obliterated. Goldblum looking worried. Some people standing around looking to see what happens next (reminded me of the newsroom from the original).

So there’s a similar visual style, with the slight upgrade to a more recent camera style. Not enough dialogue to be able to tell if it’s as fun as the original. The original set a benchmark for so much action in a movie, and subsequent advances in CG made it possible for movies to do even more, it’s going to be hard for Resurgence to really set itself apart, in that area.

But it seems like a 20-year gap between movies would have given the makers a lot of time to think about how to follow up on the original. One hopes they spent the time well.

The other trailer, the one I caught this morning, was for a little movie called Star Trek: Beyond.

Beyond what? Well, the last movie was Into Darkness, so presumably this would be Beyond Darkness.

The writers were told not to make the movie too Star Trek-y, which seems like a dumbass direction to take for a Star Trek movie. I feel like I ought to have reservations about the director, known for some of the Fast & Furious movies. Having not seen any movies in that series, I don’t think I’m really qualified to pass judgment. He directed three episodes in the first season of Community, so we’ll say that’s a mark in his favour…

I really like the shot of someone getting out of the upright escape pod. Would suggest Kirk, it looks like he’s next to a pod int he next shot, but I’m not sure that one is upright. I like the “This is where the frontier pushes back” line. The shot at 1:11 of the Enterprise crew in a big, long, serpentine line, watched over by some armed guards.

you can’t judge a movie by its trailer, so the saying goes. The trailer tells you a bit about the idea of the movie (they go without the ship for a bunch of the movie, and there are bad guys), but not much at all about the “why”s. Bit of a “wait and see”. And I will wait, and I will see, just… a bit early to get excited about it.

Star Trek: Excelsior – Into Season 3

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a producer of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. James is a friend from a different context, so while I’d heard of his show, I didn’t insert it into my listening schedule until just recently, when he announced the show’s intention to get two stars from Trek’s Original Series for a Trek 50th Anniversary Special episode.

When I started the interview, I’d only listened to a couple of episodes, and when I finished, I’d only heard a couple more. Now, I’ve worked my way through Seasons 1 and 2, and have started Season 3. James recommends new listeners start with Season 4, and if you enjoy that, then to work backwards: the quality of the production improves over time, and if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you might as well point out which foot that is.

So, if you’re interested, go start sometime in Season 4, you’ll be ahead of me. Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve heard so far.

The first thing to note, is I’m more forgiving of a story’s flaws, if I’m enjoying the story. And also, being aware that they don’t recommend starting at the beginning, ignoring that recommendation means I’m more obliged to give the benefit of the doubt, or be more forgiving in general.

Starting with the less-than-stellar: Mr Heaney mentioned the script for the pilot episode, “…There You Are”, is terrible. The briefing room scene certainly is a bit awkward, making very unsubtle introductions to a bunch of characters, and the show’s general concept. Once the story got going, and as it progressed into Season 1, there was less of that sort of awkwardness.

I remember noticing at points in The Next Generation, sometimes a character would introduce themselves, pronouncing their name one way, and then other actors would pronounce the name differently – like the actors interpreted the pronunciation from the script separately, rather than the characters being in the same conversation. Early Excelsior has moments like this, and it feels worst when a non-regular character does it to a regular character, like they really should have listened to some of the show. When Season 3 hits, we have a character mispronouncing the captain’s name, but pretty soon we find out he’s doing it on purpose. Hopefully, this signals the start of a more concerted effort towards consistency in this area.

Have you ever come across a story where someone has a long, formal, needlessly complicated name, and people are obliged to use the whole thing all the time? I can think of a couple of examples, but one acknowledges the concept and the other one outright takes the mickey. In Angel, some characters travel to recurring character Lorne’s home dimension, and he repeatedly gets called (and it’s far too late to fact-check this) “Kreblorne-swath of the Deathwalk clan”. After a few times, one is begging the TV to knock it off. The other example is Veggie Tales’ Lord Of The Rings parody The Lord Of The Beans. Gandalf-equivalent is talking to the Ent-equivalents, and it’s all “Randalf, son of Mandalf, keeper of the flame of” I don’t remember, and the other guy is “Lord Falaminion Tereglith, Son of Therabil Elithimon”. They say each a few times. While not as bad as these, there are points in the first season when the Valandrian leaders get dangerously close to this territory.

Small tangent into Red Dwarf. I read the novels, I had the script books, I watched the TV show. Sometimes lines would get said in the show, not quite in line with how they were written. In the books especially, “Zero Gee” was established as a sport in that universe. In a script, there’s a list of VR sports programs Lister played, and Zero Gee was listed before kick-boxing. Comma between them in the script. In the show, Lister says “Zero-G kick-boxing”. In Psirens, Lister lost his memory, and on being prompted suggests that Rimmer is his best mate. Kryten, acting as his medic, suggests that Lister might not be well. Reading the script implies the line was supposed to be “you are sick”. In the show, it’s delivered more, “you are sick“. There have been moments like this, not very often but occasionally, in my listening to Excelsior, so far. I think that the main part of the problem is that the actors aren’t really bouncing off each other, each reads the lines separately, then sends them to the editor.

Moving on from the negative, I must say I’ve been enjoying the story. I think Season 2 was an improvement on Season 1, and the plus side of listening in this order is that there’s definitely progression: the Season 2 arc definitely follows from the Season 1 arc, and the Season 3 arc (so far, I’m in episode 5) follows on from both 1 and 2.

There’s lots of humour. The title for the Season 3 opener, “All Good Captains Have Admiral Problems”, serves as a good example. And the humour goes hand-in-hand with continuity. A good Trek geek has looked at the Star Trek Encyclopedia, and seen examples of signage on the Enterprise-D, which aren’t in focus in the show. so the set designers put silly things on them. “Wherever you go, there you are” is one, and in the Excelsior show, it’s on the ship’s dedication plaque. It’s referred to in the pilot’s title, “…There You Are”. And then it’s used to humorous effect somewhere in Season 1.

There are also strict continuity references: the Iconian Gateway being technology introduced in TNG, and brought back much later in DS9, and now Excelsior uses one. Many more, of course. Does feel like they’re playing in the same universe.

But there are also sly references as treats for a broader geekdom. Using a sonic screwdriver here, and the Sub-Etha waveband there. If I wasn’t enjoying the story, I think these things would be likely to bug me, but as I’m enjoying the story, my reaction is more Captain America “I get that reference!”.

I think that subtlety can be a hard thing to pull off in audio drama. This is due to a couple of factors: one has to compensate for the loss of nuances one might notice in a visual medium, and so naturally extra emphasis has to creep in. Also, audio is a format where listeners can do other things while imbibing your content. Someone listening while driving is more likely than someone listening and not doing anything else. In short, Malcolm Reynold wouldn’t work in audio drama, because he mumbles way too much (much as I love Firefly). So I might understand someone using the word “overacting”, but I don’t think it’s happening here, I think extra-acting has too happen because of the nature of the beast.

Casual listening was tricky in Season 2, because some voices were entirely in one ear or the other. Made it difficult listening with only one ear in. Haven’t noticed that being a problem in Season 3.

In Season 3, I’m noticing some British phrases being used by non-British characters. I had some “Did they really say that?” that’s gone to “yes, it’s still there”. It’s not spoiling the story, it’s more of an oddity I’m noticing. One could explain it as colloquialisms becoming popular in cultures other than the one in which they originated, an evolution of language (which there would be over nearly 400 years). Or, I suppose, one could let it bug one, or one could ignore it and enjoy the ride.

I look forward to see how the show continues to improve into Season 4.

I think from all that typing, I’m better in a position to conclude.

I like the show.
Because it cares about the source material. Because the stories are interesting and enjoyable, and really fit the universe in which they’re being played out. Because the show has a lot of character.

I said at the beginning of this post, that there are certain things that make up for shortcomings and rough edges. Excelsior is not without rough edges, but it has more than enough of the good stuff, that I’m glad I interrupted my horrendously long podcast queue to fit this show in now.

The Kickstarter is getting pretty close to $10,000, and if it gets to $11,000 by/on Sunday, then an existing backer has promised to up their pledge by 1,500 to get Chekov on the show (they’ve already reached the threshold to get Uhura on). They stand a good chance of doing it. I jumped into pledging still listening to Season 1. Give a Season 4 episode a bit of a listen, and see if you like it, too.

The Great Cinema Binge Of Yesteryear

There was a time in the early to mid-2000s, when I regularly went to the cinema. I’m not sure that I’ve ever mentioned this on the blog, but it’s one of those anecdotes that does tend to come up if I talk about going to the cinema for any length of time.

The cinema happened to be not-very-far-away as the train flies, and I had the afternoon free from work on Tuesday, the cheap day. Saw a bunch of Orange Film Board commercials during that time, probably the most interesting promos about how mobile phones can ruin the movie-watching experience.

I would tend to watch 3 movies in a row. I’d have to plan start times and end times, and have to factor in running time. It was fun.

There were, if I recall correctly, a little more than 20 screens in the cinema. Some were straightforwardly small, with an aisle dividing the two sets of seats. Some screens were pretty huge, with a bunch of seats in front of a railing, and the seats behind the railing tiering upwards.

It was in one of these huge screens that I watched Star Wars Episode III, I was towards the front of the cluster in front of the railing, which was far too close to the screen to comfortably see the action. It was an evening screening, fairly close to release day, and was one of the only seats left. Also in one of these giant screens, I saw The Aviator. Afternoon, not evening, that showing was not very full. I sat just behind the railing, which tended to be a good distance for watching movies. It was perfect for that movie, I was grabbing the railing when the plane was crashing down into that house.

In the smaller screens, I developed a sense of about how far back in the cinema I wanted to be (action movie, there was no point in sitting in the front half). There did tend to be a spot just off-center of the screen that tended to be a bit extra reflective, that could just be the angle of the projector and my angle of viewing, meeting in an unfortunate manner.

There were times when there were a bunch of things I wanted to watch, and I didn’t quite catch them all, and some points where less looked immediately interesting, but I’d give some a chance. And there was an interesting mix, some I was less sure about I ended up enjoying (White Noise springs to mind), some that I was more interested in seeing turned out to be a lot less good (Alexander, Troy, King Arthur).

In addition to the movies themselves, for a large chunk of this time there tended to be a bunch of promotional materials given away. My wall at one point was covered in movie posters, and I had a stack of postcards. These materials had all kind of dried up by the time I stopped. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the cinema the other day, to find a stack of posters for the film I was watching, in two designs. If it stops raining tomorrow, I can take the two Mockingjay Part 2 posters to the garage, and put them in the box with all the other film posters.

The chain did a nice promotion when Star Trek Nemesis came out: you could get preview tickets for that film, and you could also get tickets for The Wrath Of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country, and First Contact (the even-numbered films, AKA “the good ones”), all shown back-to-back on a Sunday.

Too right I took advantage of that one. Just a shame Nemesis sucked.

So anyway, that was a fun experience for a couple of years. And don’t tell anyone, but I think I still have the ticket stubs in a box somewhere, I could find out what I actually saw then.

The Man In The High Castle, Season 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the first couple of episodes of The Man In The High Castle, currently exclusive to Amazon Video. I wrote about that, at the time.

So we’ve just finished watching the whole series.

The show does not wrap up all the threads that it sets up, so there’s potential for a second season. Just did a search to see if I could find any information on a second season. IMDB trivia says that the showrunner got confirmation from Amazon that there would be a second season, before writing the finale, so he wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger if the show weren’t returning.

Some observations:

The season ends on the word “twist”. Literally.

Rufus Sewell’s character is introduced as a ruthless villain. Later on, we meet some people who are even worse. Prediction: his character will become less hard-line about certain things next season, which has the potential to make him more brutal in others. I don’t see him doing a complete about-face. If I’m wrong on that, he’ll stay as hard-line on the point I expect him to soften on, then that’ll make him intolerable in everything, then he’ll slowly crack.

Juliana. Her deferential mannerisms seem appropriate to the context which she’s grown up in. I’m not sure we see the same from any other significant character in the Pacific territory. She knows she doesn’t have the complete picture, and I think that this leads to indecisiveness and mind-changing, rather than setting a course and keeping to it.

After the first couple of episodes, I thought the show would be mostly Juliana and Joe in Canon City, was surprised it didn’t work out like that.

I really enjoyed the character of Trade Minister Tagomi. Looking the actor up on IMDB, it was interesting seeing that he was in Star Trek TNG (Mandarin Bailiff! Wooo!), Babylon 5, Alien Nation, and Stargate SG1. And a bunch of other things I’ve either seen or heard of. Getting towards the end of the series, I was still waiting for more explanation of his motivations. We get some, but I think Season 2 will shed a lot more light on this.

As this is my Sunday post, I’ll say that I looked at the Wikipedia page of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the guy who played the Trade Minister. There’s a paragraph towards the end of the Career section, which talks about his religious belief, which I found interesting.

The eponymous Man In The High Castle is mentioned a bunch at the beginning of the series, and Juliana and Joe seem to come close to meeting him in episode 4. The thought occurs, though, as I write this post, that we do happen to see a castle that’s geographically altitudinous, in which a male lives, who seems to be a bit of a film collector.

Rats, now I’m going to have to read the book, to see if it’s actually him, or if the title character is a…. mirror? counterpoint? reflection? Something along those lines.

A lot of what most of the characters do is reactionary, rather than being proactive. This leads to a bit of a settling-down somewhere in the second half, before things get a bit shook up again. I think even towards the end, when a bunch of characters get more active, there’s still a bunch of doing what they’re told, rather than forging their own path.

The creepy Edelweiss theme, kind of delicate over the dark brooding images of the credits, was given an interesting explanation by someone far smarter than I am (my wife): the song is associated with Germany (or, rather, Austria, though in our universe, the song was written for the film The Sound Of Music, rather than being traditional). But the arrangement here may be intended to suggest a Japanese musical style (America being divided between Germany and Japan in the show). The singer in real life is Swedish, that does not necessarily discount the idea.

In my previous post on The Man In The High Castle, I linked to an article that Wikipedia referenced, which was an examination of the Japanese-ness of the Japanese portion of America in the pilot. One of the things it pointed out was Hirohito Airport, where naming an airport after someone was not a Japanese thing to do. When Joe flies into an airport in the Pacific States later in the series, I noticed that it wasn’t named after anybody. Different airport? Retcon? I don’t know. And though, in the scenario, Japanese culture would become dominant in the areas they control, who’s to say there wouldn’t be any cultural bleed the other way? Perhaps using Americisms in some places, but with a Japanese edge, as a secondary, softer method of establishing cultural dominance.

Interesting show. I look forward to Season 2, and hope that the continuation feels organic. Obviously, with certain developments, it’s not going to be the same as Season 1, but it might be a bit of a balance to feel like the same show.

Interview: James Heaney of Star Trek: Excelsior, Part 2

Last night, I posted the first part of this interview with James Heaney, writer and producer of the Star Trek: Excelsior audio drama. Part 1 talked about the origins and development of the story, what makes a Star Trek show really Star Trek, TNG Borg as distinct from later Borg, and the show’s timeline. Here in Part 2, we continue discussion of the timeline, the Kickstarter to bring Uhura and Chekov to commandeer the show for the episode, and a brief diversion into the card game.

Please consider listening to the Excelsior audio drama (starting with Season 4), letting your Treknophile friends know about it, and contributing to the Kickstarter. I pledged towards it today (and no, I’m not just saying that), and look forward to reading some of the drafts that James talks about a bit further down.

So here we go, Part 2.

The Limey Frog (TLF): To what extent has the departure from the RPG changed the timeline?

James Heaney (JH): One plus was that the timeline did not really have to be revised as we gradually broke away from the RPG. The RPG relied, canonically, on comic-book time, in large part to keep our game clock synchronized with the Bravo Fleet overall clock. Every time we started a new mission, we would advance the clock to the current date, regardless of whether in-game time had actually passed. So, if we ended a mission on 22 January 2383 (in-game), but the out-of-character date was now 12 April 2007 (which meant the in-game fleet clock was now 12 April 2383), we would literally write a post saying, “Today’s in-game time is 12 April 2383. Yesterday was 22 January 2383. In-game, only one day has passed; February and March simply did not happen, and your characters do not find this in any way odd.”

For a roleplaying game operating within a larger fleet, this demi-coherent system made a lot of sense. (It also made it a rare and special treat when a character actually celebrated a birthday!) But it was a completely incoherent, inconsistent basis for an audio drama, especially one that depended so much on interconnected continuity. So, the dates and stardates from the RPG were all thrown out very early — one of our first divergences from the RPG canon.

This led to interesting consequences of its own. For example, the pilot episode takes place on 7 December 2382. The season three finale takes place at 0400 hours on 25 January 2383. Those episodes were released in 2007 and 2013, respectively. So we spent 6 years of real time telling a story that took place over just 6 weeks of in-universe time.

Since Season 4 is much more episodic, there’s been more room to let the timeline flow, and it’s gradually making up for some of that lost time.

TLF: I haven’t asked you about the story you’re Kickstarting, yet. You wanted to do something for the 50th Anniversary, could you say something about other ideas you had, and how you settled on the Uhura/Chekov story?

JH: I can’t talk too much about this, because one of the backer rewards gives backers access to all our old drafts for this episode.

About all I can say is this: we started out with a story that is completely unrecognizable as this story; it shared nothing with the current story besides the MacGuffin, included neither Chekov NOR Uhura, and the plot (such as it was) followed a completely different chain of events. We never actually threw out that story, but we incrementally changed each element of it across a series of aborted drafts and outlines until we finally got the product we have today.

And Nichelle and Walter may yet request further changes to the script we have (right now, I am informed, they’re both working on notes), so I can’t even say for certain that this transformative process has come to an end yet. It’s funny how you can start out thinking you’re building a submarine, then at the end discover you actually build a lunar lander.

TLF: And could you say something about making your characters take a back seat? Was it harder to write because of this, did it cause backstage tensions? Have your cast even seen the script?

JH: Even if they weren’t so awesome, from their perspective, this is still a big opportunity for them: they’re going to get to be “on-screen” with one or two (hopefully two!) legendary actors, in reduced but still prominent supporting roles. So they’re very happy to be involved in this, and to my knowledge they’re all completely embracing it. Several have seen the script; several others have not, and probably won’t until it is absolutely locked-in.

From a writing perspective, pushing the main cast to the back was the biggest breakthrough of the entire script process. Trying to treat Walter and Nichelle as mere guest stars didn’t give them enough of a spotlight, when they are really the primary attraction, and the people we are most celebrating on the 50th Anniversary. Every time the main cast showed up and made a major decision, it felt like they were distracting from the story the script actually wanted to be telling. There were too many cooks.

Think of the Doctor Who episode “Blink.” Consider the story that script is telling — about how empty Sally Sparrow’s life is (both metaphorically and, thanks to the angels, increasingly literally), and then how she manages to survive and start living again. For the vast majority of the episode, the Doctor and Martha exist only on a television screen, speaking what appears to be gibberish. Now imagine that the writers hadn’t pushed the main cast into the background of that episode. Could they have done it? Sure — the Doctor and Martha would have helped Sally solve the mystery of the angels, there would have been some fun running bits, a touch of timey-wimey… but the story wouldn’t have been about Sally Sparrow anymore. It’d be a Doctor-and-Martha story, and Sally Sparrow would lose most of her agency, becoming nothing more than Doctor Who Damsel in Distress #3247, and nobody would really remember “Blink” all that well today. Sally had to be the star, and that meant the other mains had to be sent somewhere where they couldn’t have much direct influence over events.

That was at least 100x truer here than in “Blink”, so the script just didn’t work until the main cast got pushed out of the spotlight.

TLF: It seems like you’re almost contractually obliged, at this point, to answer this question “TOS”, but what’s your favourite Trek series?

JH: I love them all, of course, and it’s very hard to pick a favorite.

If forced, I think I’d probably pick the last two seasons of ENTERPRISE — a vastly underrated show. (Understandably, because its first two seasons were barely better than the catastrophic TNG Season 1.)

TLF: Could you talk a bit about the process of contacting Nichols and Koenig, how all that went down?

JH: It was more straightforward than we expected. We wrote to an appearances agent they both share, the wonderful Zachary McGinnis of Galactic Productions, LLC. We explained what we were doing and why (which was tricky — “What’s an audio drama?”, etc.), we talked budget and time commitment, they quoted a fee, and we committed to making that fee. They spent a couple more weeks with the script to consider it — some of the most agonizing days of my life.

Then, last Wednesday, Zach sent me an email saying, “Both are in agreement to participate… let me know when the Kickstarter goes live.”

It helps that Zach is pretty wonderful. I can’t imagine this is netting him very much money, yet he has always made time for our project in his extremely busy schedule, and he has been friendly and accommodating throughout — despite the fact that I am deeply inexperienced in the ways of Hollywood, incredibly anxious, and occasionally an outright pest. I have spoken to a very few other agents in my life, but none has been as consistently supportive as Zach.

So, really, a simple process.

Making it run smoothly, though, even working with a great agent, involved an enormous amount of overhead on our side. Months of planning for a ton of contingencies. Months of whittling our budget down as low as it could go, and working out flexibility in the budget depending on the actors’ availability and preferences. Trapdoors for the script in case one or more actors couldn’t join the adventure. I had to do three timed readthroughs of the script to answer the question, “What is the absolute minimum amount of studio time we need to record each of these actors?” (Because time = money!)

And then lots of behind-the-scenes work figuring out, “Okay, how much money do we have on hand? How much money do we therefore need to ask for? How do we tier it — in the catastrophic event that we can pay for only one actor, who gets dropped? What rewards will we use? Caitlin, can you make this video? Cab you do it in the next six hours? How do we promote this Kickstarter? Do we need to release an episode with it? Jim, can you finish ‘Day at the Park’ six weeks early, on three days’ notice?” On and on and on and on. For months.

TLF: As we get to the end of this interview, I must ask a couple of questions about our shared hobby, the card game. As an aside to the readers, I’ll say that the game strives to give you the tools to do the kind of things you see in the shows (TOS to Enterprise) and the movies (The Motion Picture to Nemesis). Of course, that many tools can combine in some pretty crazy ways. Nuking whales from orbit is a legitimate (if little-used) strategy. I heard tell of a deck someone did for fun, that left Amanda Grayson (Spock’s mother) on Vulcan, to be destroyed by a Black Hole, recreating the story from the 2009 movie, but with cards from the other shows and movies.

If hearing about that kind of thing isn’t your kind of thing, skip the next couple of questions.

TLF: So, James, say something crazy you saw happen in a game of 1e.

JH: One time, I was playing a personnel battle deck. First and last time I’ve ever done that, in fact. I believe the deck was called “Civil Defense (Or: God Bless the Second Amendment)”, and the gimmick was DS9 Cardassians with Weapons Locker. The draw deck was 52 cards, of which 26 were Cardassian Disruptor Rifle.

This is not the crazy part.

In my game against Matt Hayes that day, Matt had an Original Series Federation solver deck all ready and raring to go. But he figured out very quickly what I was up to, and (noticing that I had no Ref deck) stopped playing any personnel. Instead, he just drew cards… every turn… for a long, long time. And I had no one to battle, so I just played more and more guns and gradually solved some missions.

Eventually, he decides it’s too dangerous to stay frozen like this, so he burns his Space-Time Portal and plays 17 personnel with his Starship Enterprise. (I can’t hit him with It’s Only A Game because, again, no Ref deck.) The whole megateam goes out and promptly solves a mission.

Next turn, my Cardassian Division of Punching arrives aboard the Stolen Attack Ship. We beam through his shields and initiate battle.

The crazy moment is the look on Matt’s face when I counted up all the disruptor rifles in that away team, then announced, “Okay, all my personnel are STRENGTH +36. How about yours?”

We captured or mortally wounded every single person on that ship. Including Ruk, which I’m rather proud of.

TLF: Hahaha, that’s something! Say something crazy you’re looking forward to trying in a game of 1e.

JH: I have a Reshape the Quadrant deck that seeds nothing but missions worth 45 points or more, including Diplomatic Conference (which it needs to solve). I would love to play it. Haven’t quite been able to make it gel, though.

TLF: Are there any questions which I haven’t asked, but you want to be asked?

JH: Nah, that was fun!

TLF: Thank you very much for your time, I had a lot of fun reading all your answers. All the best with the Kickstarter!

If you want to support the project, follow the link to the Kickstarter campaign. If you don’t, I’m sure he’ll still be happy if you followed the link and donated anyway, but no-one will put a phaser to your head and make you do it. If the project doesn’t meet the minimum goal, no money will be taken.

Interview: James Heaney of Star Trek: Excelsior, Part 1

Today’s post is Part One of an interview with James Heaney, of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. I know James from a message board about a game we both play. His sig lets us know about Excelsior, his main hobby, but he doesn’t push it a lot. I’d looked at the Excelsior website a couple of times. James and the Excelsior production has just put up a Kickstarter, trying to raise money so that they can get Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig into an episode celebrating Trek’s 50th Anniversary. This is what prompted me to start listening to Excelsior. I’m rather enjoying it, and I started with the part that they least recommend.

We explore all of the above in our conversation. Hope you enjoy!

The Limey Frog (TLF): How did your Starship Excelsior project come about? Who started throwing the idea around, and how did you get from there to recording with a cast?

James Heaney (JH): Way, way back in 2005, I stumbled into Star Trek: The Section 31 Files, which was one of the first fan audio series. Now, I had seen some fan films at that point, but this was 2005: fan films had a lot of problems back then. Even on the top shows, production values were low, with terrible CGI and questionable makeup, acting was very weak, and it generally took years to make episodes that would have been considered bad even in TOS’s third season. Section 31 was a revelation to me: because they were audio, they didn’t have to worry so much about production value: instead of making terrible CGI, they just told me the Nosferatu was being attacked by a battlecruiser of the Divine Celestial Imperium, invented a cool weapon sound effect, and let my own imagination fill in the blanks! Because they didn’t have to film all the actors together in one place, they weren’t bound by geography, and were able to get quality amateurs from anywhere in the world! And they could produce episodes as quickly as once a month, allowing Section 31 to develop complex serial storylines that most of the video series could never seriously attempt!

Audio drama, I decided then and there, was super-cool. But that was all for the moment.

Fast forward a bit. Now it’s 2007. A friend of mine and I had joined a roleplaying game in one of the larger Trek roleplaying federations, Bravo Fleet (they called it a “simm,” short for “simulation”). The simm was set aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior NCC-2000-C, and, for complicated reasons, they were part of a task force exploring the Delta Quadrant, and we played characters who had just joined the Excelsior crew on its way to starting a new mission. It was a fun game, but, partway into our first “mission” — a diplomatic trip to a matriarchal society called Valandria — the captain stopped posting, and generally disappeared from the Internet. Most of the crew went with her. The game very nearly fell apart.

My friend and I managed to play out the mission, but, by the end of it, we only had four people playing the game, and it’s really hard to play a good simm with fewer than six. So we started talking about recruitment. How do we get more people playing our game? We tried some of the traditional methods — forum posts and begging our friends and so forth — but it didn’t work. So one night, probably at, like, 3 AM, scraping the bottom of the barrel, I say to my X.O. (we’d been promoted to captain and first officer, respectively), “Hey, what if we made a fan film based on our adventures? People would tune in, probably a few hundred, and then we’d link to the game on the website, and some of them will join, and we’ll be the biggest ship in Bravo Fleet!”

To which my X.O. (rightly) answered, “How in God’s name will we make a fan film? We are all students, and we live thousands of miles apart.”

And then I asked him, “Have you ever heard of The Section 31 Files?”

Two days later, we had written the pilot script and published the absolute crappiest little audition site you’ve ever seen in your life. We were using a free Tripod webserver. It was atrocious.

The funniest part of all this: after, I don’t know, something like a quarter-million downloads of the audio drama, do you know how many new roleplayers we recruited from this? Three.

TLF: I’ve done what your site says I should not do under any circumstances: I started from the very beginning, “…There you Are”. At this point all your cast and crew are still learning how to do it, and I, as a listener, am trying to get straight all these new characters.

JH: Oh, don’t bother. Most of these characters will be dead or dying by the end of “Turns of Events.”

We always knew they were going to die, but we had some dumb ideas early on, like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be a dark twist if we introduced the audience to all 14 (or whatever) of these characters, made them care about them like we do, then killed them all six months from now?” It was a dark twist, and it does do a good job of announcing what kind of a show Excelsior is — we’re a show where anything can happen — but the execution was poor, and I think the end result was more confusing than anything else.

That’s one of the main reasons we tell people not to listen to the pilot, actually. There’s a, like, 15 minute mission briefing (which is embarrassingly overlong in itself), and the main purpose is to introduce all these different characters, and for about half of them that’s it. I still regret not telling the actors that their “starring” characters were marked for death.

So, seriously, don’t worry about it. The only thing that happens in the pilot that you sort of need to know about is Simon Westlake, the stowaway boy with the brain-rotting disease. He’s important later on. And some of the bits with Cortez are nice. Eleiece is a solid actress.

TLF: You know what, this kinda works for me. I’ve been known to start TV shows, and think that 2 characters were actually one character for a good chunk of the first season. This way, the overhead of learning a bunch of characters in one go is diminished, and the other half of the crew can get introduced more slowly, so it’ll be easier to keep them straight.

Tell me a little about what people have learned over the years of doing this, what changes you’ve made, and so on.

JH: When we started out, we were slaves to the roleplaying game. We figured, this show is a tool for recruitment to the RPG, therefore it should be an absolutely accurate reflection of the RPG. The pilot script is, word for word, almost an exact transcription of all the dialogue spoken in the RPG.

And the pilot script is terrible.

So, as Season 1 progressed, we became more and more willing to edit dialogue for the sake of a better radio show, but we still followed the RPG story exactly. In Season 2, we started to revise the overall flow of the story for the sake of a better drama, but still stuck to the major pivot points. At the end of Season 2, though, there was a really pivotal moment — a character departure — that I decided didn’t work, and, ultimately, we changed it, which radically broke with the RPG.

Ever since then, the audio drama has been its own show, looking to the RPG occasionally for inspiration, but otherwise piloting its own course based on its own needs. In my mind, that’s when the show got good, which is one reason why we recommend people start with Seasons 3 and 4.

There have been plenty of other changes behind the scenes as we’ve incrementally improved our process and our cast has grown, but I think that’s the most fundamental change: breaking the audio drama away from the RPG was just tremendous.

TLF: I’m not knocking your early efforts. I’m enjoying the story so far, which mitigates a lot. And though I think I read your “New listener page” before, I didn’t remember it when I bulk-downloaded all the episodes, and so I read the page again after I started from square one. That page acknowledges that things improved over the years, and recommends people start with newer storylines. That disclaimer mitigates a lot, too. But I’m patient (and possibly stubborn) and once I’ve started, I’ll generally continue through a series, see how people started and where they went after that.

JH: Well, thank you! For all its flaws, there is a lot of heart in that first season. The writers sort of included everyone in the RPG, desperately improvising, the cast was new and fresh and excited to be in a Star Trek show, and the behind-the-scenes crew was incredibly blessed with two very talented mixers who appeared out of thin air to help out (Garry Cobbum and Jim Smagata). We survived, we learned a lot, and I do think the story is, at its core, a good one. I’m always tempted to go back and do a George Lucas on it, redoing the whole season based on what we’ve learned since, but I think when you make art you have to let it stand on its own, and revising it might just kill a lot of what makes it lovable.

TLF: Visiting the site, I see the Excelsior name, and a Sovereign-class ship. I found this hard to look at, until I started “…There You Are”, and it explained about the ship being the Excelsior-C, and some background to the ship itself. Tell me some about the decisions around this setting.

JH: As you probably gathered by now, I didn’t pick the name. By the time I got there, the Excelsior-C had been running, off-and-on, as a Bravo Fleet simm for… oh, something like ten years before we took it over. (In the pilot episode, that stuff about “Grenn, Dhivael, Underwood, Riku” in the opening trailer — those are all former captains from the RPG.)

Truthfully, I thought it was a stupid fanwanky name at the time. I would have renamed the ship U.S.S. Visionary and made her a mid-sized cruiser, if we hadn’t been so married to following the RPG.

But, in retrospect, I was wrong. Star Trek is a series built on traditions, and on a particular formula. You can play with the formula — in fact, you have to play with the formula, in big ways, to stay fresh — but you also have to honor some of the key traditions, or you’re not making Star Trek anymore; you’re making Battlestar Galactica or Firefly or something that just happens to have Klingons in it.

Here’s a great example of this: Star Trek Aurora. Wonderful series. I adore Aurora. I binge-watched it this week, actually, just to unwind from the Kickstarter stress. Everyone should watch Aurora. But — and I hope I cause no offense to Tim Vining here — it’s not really Star Trek. Take Trek out of the title and make T’Ling slightly different — a member of some new “logical” race, or even just a very dour human — and it’s the same show, with the same feel.

The Excelsior name grounds Star Trek: Excelsior very firmly in the Trek tradition, setting the show aboard a top-of-the-line cruiser gives us most of the ingredients of the boldly-go formula, and setting it after Nemesis gives us the freedom to invent and explore in a way that we couldn’t if we were tied down to, say, the early 24th century. It makes us unmistakably, uneraseably Star Trek.

Now, as you’re going to discover, we are constantly looking for new ways to subvert the Trek formula — heck, our opening theme speech for Seasons 2 and 3 is a pretty massive subversion all by itself. But you can’t subvert the formula unless you’re deeply embedded in it first, and being set aboard the Excelsior-C puts us deep in the Trek tradition while allowing us the freedom to play around with it. We’re very lucky to be there.

TLF: I know you through playing the Star Trek Customizable Card Game, and honestly I remember more Trek trivia from that game than I do from watching the episodes themselves. When did you get into the cards, and have the cards helped influence the development of the show? Listening to “The Valandrian Expedition”, the first regular episode, we meet a society that made me think of both Matriarchal Society and Zaldan combined.

JH: I was given my first starter deck by a friend of my mother’s way back in 1995, and fell in love with the game right away. For a number of years in the mid-90s, my parents decided that Star Trek had gotten too racy, and forbade me to watch DS9 and Voyager, so, for quite some time, the CCG was my only connection to new Trek. I learned about the Cardassian/Dominion treaty, and the subsequent Dominion War, not by watching the show, but by opening up a pack of Dominion and reading the lore! Which, looking back, is an insane way to experience the Dominion War for the first time.

I stopped collecting shortly after Second Edition began, because my friends all stopped playing, and I just found the game too boring after a year or two of trying. But when I discovered the CC had relaunched First Edition, in about 2012, I fell in love all over again, and haven’t left since.

I can’t say I ever looked at two cards, combined them, and decided to do an episode based on them. (Although maybe I should try that!) But the cards have had such a profound influence on how I see the Trek universe, it’s hard to separate the two in my mind. For instance, the game’s idea that the Borg are fundamentally unbeatable, and the only reason they haven’t stomped you to death already is because they are playing an almost completely different, very alien game that frankly isn’t all that interested in your puny Klingon armada — that concept really captured the core of the Borg (the pre-First Contact “Q Who?” Borg especially, and yes I know that’s ironic), and stuck with me. It played a big role in shaping Season 3 of Excelsior, which goes to great lengths to re-establish that role for the Borg in Star Trek canon (after the depredations of Voyager): they’re not ants or zombies, and you can’t actually beat them, and they would wipe out out in ten minutes if they cared enough to try… but they aren’t even playing the same game you are, you puny Federation chumps, so you can survive as long as you don’t give them a reason to be interested in you.

Those Borg are scary, and I think I owe the card game a debt of gratitude for helping Excelsior envision them that way.

TLF: I saw on your Kickstarter pledge levels, that you have a timeline for the show worked out. Did you have this from the very beginning? How far back does it go, and how far into the future?

JH: No, I didn’t. And this caused problems. When you have a deeply interconnected, multi-season story with a bunch of moving parts taking place in different parts of the galaxy, it’s very, very important that you know when everything is happening relative to everything else… and I just plain didn’t have that, and inconsistencies started creeping in.

Fortunately, I started to notice the problems midway through the first season, and — with one exception in the pilot episode, plus two bigger exceptions we haven’t been forced to actually grapple with yet (because they deal with future events) — we were able to either reconcile or retcon away all those problems. Ever since then, every event with an associated date that is mentioned on the show has gone on the timeline, and stuff we’re planning to reveal later also goes on the timeline, all of it with source citations and relevant passages of dialogue so I know where the information is coming from (and how “set in stone” it is in case future retcons are required).

I honestly didn’t expect many/any backers at that level. I didn’t think there was all that much interest in an Excelsior timeline, especially when, for just a few dollars more, you can do things like invent your own character, which I just thought was super. But, in retrospect, that was stupid: how many copies has the Star Trek Chronology sold? So now I’m getting a little nervous about how much previously TOP SECRET information is going to leak out — but, hey, we’re committed now.

I plan to clean up the timeline a little bit before sending it out, because right now it’s full of shorthand that only I could understand, and that needs to be expanded for backers. But, in its current version, the timeline’s first entry is “~6000 B.C.” and the last entry is “2403 (Stardate 79283.2)”.

End of Part 1.

Tune in next time as discussion about the timeline continues, we talk more in depth of how the Kickstarter came together, and some brief chat about card-based shenanigans. Make sure to visit the Star Trek: Excelsior site, and give Season 4 a listen (with the side bonus of being ahead of me). And then head on over to the Kickstarter campaign, and give them all your money.

Part 2 now published.

DS9 Season 2, Part 3: Rules Of Acquisition

Deep Space Nine has quite a range, having episodes that are very light, and episodes that are quite dark. This contrast is significant, it allows for a broad painting of life which is, for want of a less pun-ny way to put it, quite lifelike. Sometimes, the contrast is starkened by light and dark being in the same episode.

Rules Of Acquisition” is rather firmly in the lighter side of things.

It starts with Dax playing Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi, in Quark’s bar, which is closed for the night. The game looks very complicated, there are constant bids going into the pot, there’s a set of cards on the table, each player has a hand of a different kind of cards, there’s also the rolling of dice. There are a couple of points where the game is held up by a player who takes a while to make a decision, or whose mind is elsewhere. It happens in games, though most people try not to be that person. I try to have my turn planned before it happens, though of course in many games the element of chance, or other players’ turns, can disrupt that planning.

Quark then gets a call from the Grand Nagus, in his second appearance on the show. Zek wants Quark to meet with some representatives from the Gamma Quadrant, and come to a significant deal, establishing the Ferengi a financial foothold in the new market.

Quark’s waiter, Pel, provides Quark a lot of helpful advice, leading Pel to become a significant assistant during the negotiations. Pel turns out to be a woman disguising herself as a man, Ferengi women not being allowed to go outside, wear clothes, make a profit, that sort of thing. The profit one may be the most significant, in a culture that worships profit.

The Dosi, the species Quark and Pel are trying to broker a deal with, are aggressive negotiators, and are reluctant to agree on the high amount of tulaberries that the Ferengi are demanding. Even intially, before Grand Nagus Zek tells Quark he’s to negotiate for tent imes the initial amount.

Pel intuits that Zek knows more than he’s letting on, and that the tulaberry deal isn’t what he really wants. Quark gets told that the Dosi can’t deliver the amount he’s asking, but he should try dealing with the Karemma.
“Who’s the Karemma?”
“An important power in the Dominion.”
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
“Let’s just say if you want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, you have to do business with the Dominion.”

This is our first mention of the Dominion, who become somewhat important later in the series.

I’m sure I shall say more about the Dosi, the Karemma, and the Dominion, when we’re introduced to the Karemma, I believe at the start of the next season.

The Dosi seem to be a bit violent, perhaps not quite so much as the Klingons, who head-butt each other for fun. Last season we saw Tosk, a kind of sentient pet species, and the race that hunted Tosk for sport. We also saw the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, two factions on a planet, that were always at war, and those that died got regenerated by nanotechnology. so the majority of species we’ve met in the quadrant, have a violent streak.

We’ve also seen the Wadi, who weren’t really violent, they were more interested in pleasure, particularly games. Wonder what they’d make of the Ktarians.

Considering what comes later, it’s interesting to contrast what comes earlier.

The Ferengi view of women is something that gets looked at a few times in DS9. When Jake and Nog went on a double-date, Nog expected his non-Ferengi date to chew his food for him, like a Ferengi woman would be expected to. In today’s episode, there’s scandal that a woman is out and about, wearing clothes. Quark and Zek reach a kind of stalemate, that either could ruin the other by revealing that they let a woman take such a big place in these important negotiations. And of course, next season we meet Quark’s mother, who also doesn’t adhere strictly to Ferengi law. And the attitude of pretty much any male Ferengi to any female at any time, perhaps paint even more of a picture than our exposure to Ferengi females.

“They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.”
“Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.”

One does rather wonder where these attitudes come from. A couple of the screen-mentioned Rules of Acquisition specifically concern females (#94: “Females and finances don’t mix.”, and #139: “Wives serve, brothers inherit.”, honorable mention to #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”), and quite a few others recommend exploiting family in general, and employees.

From what we see in the show, Rule #94 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Ishka and Pel both turn out to be smarter and better at business than most, if not all, of the other Ferengi we ever see ever. Perhaps the smart Ferengi male is one who disregards that rule, and lets his wife have her own income streams (under his name, to put off suspicion), or takes her advice on things sometimes.

But the Rules themselves must have reflected the culture in which they were produced, by Grand Nagus Gint, 10,000 years ago. Though there have been revisions and additions since then, so who knows how bad the original ones were. Not us, certainly, as the show never explores that. Rules are often set up for a reason, and to understand the rule, you have to understand the reason for the rule. And sometimes both reason and rule are stupid, sometimes the reason is understandable, but not good enough to establish a rule, and sometimes there’s a surprisingly good reason for a rule.

The Ferengi were originally intended to be an opposing race that would rival the Klingons in popularity. They didn’t really take off as that, from their first few episodes in TNG, and so they packed up heir bags, and headed into the land of comic relief. They had their taste for profit from their introduction, however.

The Rules of Acquisition made their debut in Season 5 of TNG, their only TNG appearance. Most of the rest are from DS9, the rest are from Voyager and Enterprise. The TNG reference is late enough that it may have been part of setting up for DS9, which started 9 months later.

I think those who established these facets of Ferengi lore in the TV shows, never really asked why the Ferengi were like this, and to be fair, I don’t think they ever really needed to. Like an anecdote I heard about Fawlty Towers, we don’t need to know why Basil and Sybil got married, or what they liked in each other back then, we just need to understand that they are married now, and to some extent they don’t really like each other any more.

But in real life, we do need to understand the reasons for things. A significant element of ’60s and ’70s culture was “free love”, which essentially meant unrestricted sex for everybody. To some extent, our media still portrays that as an ideal. But, as Austin Powers was confronted with when he reached the ’90s, there turned out to be reasons why everybody doesn’t just sleep with everybody else.

Western society now has a kind of schizophrenia, pushing sex, while also pushing the notion that you’re not owed sex by the object of your desire, who might not be that into you. Promising freedom from consequences of sex through abortion, while enforcing consequences for sex by hasty marriages or child support.

And all the while, it seems that every other cultural boundary is open for dismantling, every other taboo is ripe for mainstreaming. It’s like someone in a house, deciding he doesn’t need this wall or that one, and taking them out without any concern or knowledge that some of these walls might be load-bearing, and thus, rather important.

And yet at the same time, the majority of the laws being enacted are increasingly more restrictive.

Neither of these, of course, are new phenomena. The Roman Empire, as it got more decadent, also got more restictive. Communism, billed as levelling the playing field for everyone, tearing down social structures and creating its own.

Many consider certain traditional understandings of things, to be as silly as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I think only a tiny fraction of them have ever given any thought to the Why of things, not to try and understand it. Perhaps to ridicule it, but not to understand it.

But also many of those who adhere to the traditional understandings don’t have a firm grip on the Why, either. When the That has been common understanding for a long time, it’s easy to just accept. The realisation that suddenly there’s a whole lot of people not on the same page as you, tends to catch you unawares.

For an example, iconoclasm. (Warning: simplification for the sake of time) There was Christian art from the beginning (apparently the Roman catacombs have some good examples), and iconography was status quo for quite a long time. Then there was the rise of iconoclastic Islam, which started conquering Christian lands. Some leaders thought perhaps the Muslims were winning because there might be something wrong with icons, which opened up a second front of destruction. The iconodules were used to icons being the status quo, and knew the What, but now they were challenged to come up with a Why. And they did, there are writings (by St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite, for example), and the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

Dialogue and understanding between different groups and opinions, rarely seem to be actively encouraged. It’s hard to not think that this will be our downfall.

DS9 Season 2, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the opening 3-parter of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season. I thought it might be nice to keep making notes on the series as we go through it.

Last week, Star Trek night was truncated by catching up on Agents Of Shield first, so we got one episode in, this week we did similar, but got 2 DS9s in. So the episodes we have for review today are Invasive Procedures, Cardassians, and Melora.

In Invasive Procedures, an unjoined Trill called Verad (played by John Glover, known to many as Lionel Luthor in Smallville, but to me will always be Daniel Clamp from Gremlins 2), shows up on an evacuated DS9 to lay claim to the Dax symbiont. Taking the symbiont will leave its current host, the much-loved Jadzia, to die.

It’s interesting seeing a slug as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Verad researched a bunch of symbionts to see which would share his interests, but it’s not obvious that Verad himself has much to bring to the table. Or if, in fact, Dax really is his first choice. There’s a certain amount of opportunity that Dax presents: in the episode, the station with only a skeleton crew, but even without that, she’s often out in a runabout, so would be easy pickings. In any event, Verad is a bit like a boy who’s attracted to a girl, the girl doesn’t like him but he won’t take “no” for an answer. He probably thinks he’s a nice guy, but he’s not the kind of guy you want to have a crush on you.

At this point in the show, it is believed that only 1 in 1000 Trills is suitable for joining, later it is revealed that 50% of the population is suitable, there’s just a severe shortage of symbionts. With that information, the episode could be looked at a little differently: was he rejected because of biology, or perhaps because of personality?

Also, in the later episode “Facets”, Jadzia gets to meet all Dax’s former hosts, whose consciousnesses are temporarily transferred to her friends, so she can interact with them. Verad is left out of this party, with no explanations.

I enjoyed Glover’s performances, as the anxiety-ridden Verad, and the much more confident Verad Dax. I liked seeing Megan Gallagher, who would show  up as a different character in DS9’s Little Green Men, and also a Voyager episode. She’s more familiar to me as Catherine Black in Millennium, of which one day I will finish the first season and maybe see the rest. Possibly. Track record’s not great on that. Also, one of the Klingon mercenaries is played by Tim Russ, who would go on to play Tuvok in Voyager.

“Cardassians” is a title that could apply to quite a number of DS9 episodes. In the one it actually applies to, a Bajoran man shows up on the station with a Cardassian boy in tow. Garak, the Cardassian exile living on the station, greets them, the boy bites Garak’s hand.

A bunch of orphans were left on Bajor after the end of the occupation, orphans having no standing in Cardassian society. These were mostly adopted by Bajorans (though we do see some still unadopted), but the Bajoran hatred for the Cardassian invaders is infamous, so some of these Cardassian kids are brought up to hate Cardassians. Which is going to have some impact on their self-esteem.

This particular boy turns out to be the son of an influential civilian leader, and a large part of the situation seems to have been brought about by gul Dukat, who was soon to be investigated by him. The implication was that Dukat made sure the boy was accidentally-on-purpose left behind for later use as an ace-up-the-sleeve.

Some questions are left unasked and unanswered, but the details can be filed in pretty easily. How the boy came to the limelight, and how Dukat found out about the hand-biting incident almost as quickly as Sisko did.

There was a trader called Zolan, who brought the boy’s adoptive father to the station to try and get him a job. Got the feeling he’s one of Dukat’s agents, and was requested to seek the boy out a few months ago, in preparation for the embarrassment of Dukat’s political enemy. And then he was around when the incident happened, and later made some accusations while being questioned, before disappearing. He, therefore, seems to connect the dots.

The discussion about which father to live with, biological or adoptive, seems to have been set up, but then discussed off-screen. Not an easy choice to make. Kinda wish we could have seen some clever resolution that wasn’t entirely one or the other.

Lastly, there’s Melora. Interestingly, the character of Melora, someone from a low-gravity environment that finds “normal” gravity difficult, was originally conceived of as the station’s science officer, but was considered too difficult to pull off, so the Dax character was created instead. the design of the station really isn’t suitable for a wheelchair, and it was interesting to see the set adapted so she could get around.

I really liked Daphne Ashbrook’s acting in this one. Making everything seem like such an effort, and relaxing enough when she was carried that it looked like she really couldn’t move. And the juxtaposition in the script of the fiery, independent woman out to prove she doesn’t need help, and her sometimes being forced to accept help or work as part of a team instead of alone.

I think Melora was probably the weakest episode of the three, but I think that there was some really good stuff in there.

The Background Information section of the character’s Memory Alpha page also contains some interesting trivia.

After this episode, I had to show Oldest some of Daphne Ashbrook’s performance in Doctor Who. I think the Melora makeup made her look too different for him to recognise her. And I don’t think he was that impressed with the couple of scenes he saw. Don’t worry, kid, there are plenty of people who are unimpressed with the whole thing…

Next time: the Grand Nagus shows up, and we get our first hint of the Dominion, in Rules of Acquisition.