Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wild Child: World Enough and Time


From the outset, “World Enough and Time” seems immediately reminiscent of a great deal of previous Star Trek stories. It's a mishmash hybrid of a thing built out of bits of “Time's Orphan”, “Joanna”, “The Inner Light” and, well, the last episode, actually. Also The Tempest, but that at least seems intentional.

If I sound a bit cynical here it's because I kinda am. It's hard for me to get inspired to write about this kind of story, because so much if it goes over ground I've already looked at. The Romulans are doing some shady things, tricking the Enterprise into crossing the Neutral Zone so they can test a new temporal gravity wave weapon (I think), which backfires and blows up their fleet. Caught in the residual messiness, Kirk sends Sulu and Romulan linguistics expert Doctor Lisa Chandris over to the wreckage in a shuttlecraft to get some data Spock and Scotty will need to plan a warp course out of the trap. Stuff happens, the shuttle is lost and Sulu and Chandris need to be beamed back, but the transporter goes wrong (of course) and they wind up being time-shifted to a planet in another dimension such that when Sulu beams aboard, he's thirty years older (so George Takei can follow Walter Koenig's lead and get to reprise his role) and has a daughter from an entirely separate life he lived for what for the Enterprise crew was only thirty seconds. The young lady's name is Alana, she charms everyone with her disarming and inquisitive nature, and naturally, she and Kirk fall in love, causing tension not only with Sulu, but when Spock reveals her being is bound to the temporal field, and breaking free will render her fate uncertain.

It's not that any of this is especially bad-To the contrary, the script is as well-written as anything else the show has done so far, as one would perhaps expect considering the writer. Marc Scott Zicree is a veteran science fiction and TV writer, as well as a historian, perhaps best known for his comprehensive 1982 book The Twilight Zone Companion. Some of his more notable TV credits include Babylon 5, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Get Along Gang, Liberty's Kids, The Real Ghostbusters and, of the most interest to us, the TV version of William Shatner's TekWar series, “First Contact” (the episode, not the movie) for Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Far Beyond the Stars”, the episode I consider to be likely the pinnacle of Star Trek's Dominion War era (really, only one other story gives it any sort of competition as far as I'm concerned). Zicree is also a regular on Coast to Coast AM and one of my favourite guests, with a captivating conversational tone and a genuine and intoxicating passion for science fiction and writing.

And in spite of its overt familiarity, Zicree and co-writer Michael Reaves have come up with a script that manages to tell a story that's perfectly solid, valid and fitting for 2007. Much of the Tempest overtones (Alana is obviously, and explicitly, Miranda, though she fancies herself Ariel, and Takei!Sulu is likewise Prospero) and a great deal of the plot's drive comes from at once trying to get back to Star Trek as the characters are all in some sense separated from it (The Sulus spent thirty years away and never thought they'd see the Enterprise again, and the Enterprise itself is once again trapped in a sort of negative space unable to travel). Thus, Star Trek becomes a way for us to expand our horizons to wider and more wondrous possibilities. The reoccurring key phrase is “the whole universe lies before you”, and it's visiting the Enterprise bridge that allows Miranda/Alana to finally live her life to the fullest. One one level then, “World Enough and Time” can be seen as Marc Zicree's response to D.C. Fontana's question in “To Serve All My Days”: Was it worth it? Yes it was, because it made us better people by opening our minds to possibilities.

(Something could also be made about the difference between this version of events and the one in “The Inner Light”: That story was about gifting Picard with new memories, while this one is about, ultimately, stripping them from Sulu, though Spock helps out at the last minute with a Mind Meld. Picard gets to take his experiences on Kataan with him and is allowed to grow from them, but Sulu isn't, implicitly giving us two conflicting messages about the compatibility of Star Trek's world with the mundane.)

“World Enough and Time” also picks up on a theme Star Trek Phase II really hasn't dealt with extensively since “Come What May”: The role of Star Trek fandom. Both Alana and Doctor Chandris seem in some sense coded as metaphorical fans, but I'm less satisfied with the way they're handled here then I was with Onabi. Chandris comes on erratic, neurotic and awkward (though endearingly so: Lia Johnson makes a very memorable performance out of *extremely* limited material) and immediately gets all starry-eyed over Sulu's cool competence. Not that she gets much of a chance to be anything else, as she is very clearly only there to give Sulu someone to start a family with and then promptly die (seriously, this is a massive plot hole: In the climax, Scotty re-jiggers the transporter to retrieve young Sulu, but it's never explained why he can't do the same for Chandris. She was supposed to have died on the planet ten years after Alana's birth, not on the Romulan derelict, so there's literally no reason why she couldn't be brought back as well).

Alana isn't a whole lot better. Though she makes a wonderful Miranda archetype and Christina Moses is a show-stealer, as a stand-in for fandom she doesn't really work. She's always standing on the outside with childlike innocence and earnestness, asking very pointed questions about Kirk and Spock's characters and life in Star Trek. Though this story is ostensibly about her, she comes across as very much a supporting character, existing primarily to provoke important character moments in Kirk, Spock and Sulu. This is something of a massive step backward from our favourite omnipotent fangirl goddess, and showcases a very different attitude towards the relationship between Star Trek and its fans, in particular those fans who might want to create their own Star Treks: By this reading, Zicree and Reaves would be coding fangirls as the cleric class of fandom, there to bring about change by asking for concessions and provide support for the real creators, bringing in age-old patriarchal assumptions about the role of women in not just genre fiction, but all forms of storytelling and everyday life.

This is another episode I really don't want to be as down on as I think I'm coming across as. I obviously like Zicree a lot and the Star Trek Phase II team is as passionate and dedicated here as they always are. Production-wise this is hitting new heights for the show: The VFX are now completely indistinguishable from actual televised Star Trek and the actors are across the board heartfelt and likable to watch (Takei is mostly showboating and lacks the sheer emotional power of Koenig's guest spot, but he's good at this and makes the part work). Also, this series continues to accrue blessings from Star Trek alums, with not only George Takei, but Grace Lee Whitney and even Majel Barrett making an appearance (the latter in what I think may actually be one of her last roles). “World Enough and Time” is perfectly serviceable, and while there's no way it can be better than “The Inner Light”, or even, really, “To Serve All My Days” if I'm being honest, I'd definitely say it's preferable to “Time's Orphan”.

But the problem remains, for a show that's spent three years doing “profound”, “provocative” and “transformative”, suddenly going to “serviceable” doesn't quite cut it. Sadly, “World Enough and Time” feels too much like a science fiction story, and we're coming off of an era where doing generic science fiction damn near killed Star Trek. This is almost a paint-by-numbers blueprint for how to do “emotional Star Trek”, and for the first time, it feel like Star Trek Phase II might be spinning its wheels.

2 comments:

  1. When I watched this for the first time last year I did really enjoy it - and I now realise I was watching it through the lens of seeing it as a re-creation of the Original show - and in that context it worked. But since watching it again in line with this blog post, I found that it did not work as well for me, and I was disappointed that the Phase II were looking backwards more than looking forwards with this episode.

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