5 Key Books for Your Star Trek Discovery

5 Key Books for Your Star Trek Discovery

There’s been lots of chatter about the production problems and delays affecting Star Trek: Discovery. But the latest series in the franchise is no different than its predecessors. What’s new is the existence of social media.

Star Trek productions have always been fraught with challenges to varying degrees over the past fifty years. Reading about the development and filming of the various series is part of the fun of being a fan. I discovered Star Trek more than 30 years ago when I was not even a teenager, and I’m still learning new things about the franchise.

Discovery is no doubt going to prompt new fans to investigate the series that began it all and the ones that followed it. There’s no shortage of books chronicling the voyages of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, but there are several that stand out in terms of detail and thoroughness that should be at the top of anyone’s list.

These Are The Voyages

Star Trek: These Are The Voyages
Marc Cushman’s These Are Voyages provides an incredibly balanced view of the original Star Trek while shattering many myths about the series.

In fact, there is a book for each of the original Star Trek’s three seasons for a total of nearly 2,000 pages. They are the best proof that Discovery is not unique when it comes to growing pains. Social media would have had a field day with the tumultuous production of the series in 1960s.

Authored by Marc Cushman, These Are The Voyages pull together detailed production documents, memos and interviews that actor Walter Koenig has described has the definitive story of the making of the original Star Trek. In provides an incredibly balanced view of the first incarnation while shattering many myths about the series.

For fans of classic Trek, These Are The Voyages are a must-read, and those interested in TV production would find them fascinating as well.

The Making of Star Trek

This book is often mentioned by fans and writers of later Trek series as being a treasure trove of information and insight. It’s hard to come by now, and for some reason I let myself part with my copy, but if you can find it, hold on to it. It’s considered the first of its kind in terms of Star Trek reference books thanks to the multiple points of view from a wide range of contributors, everyone from studio executives to fans.

Inside Star Trek: The Real Story

Inside Star Trek: The Real Story
Inside Star Trek: The Real Story debunks many of the myths that had arisen about Star Trek over the previous 30 years.

Written by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, both executives who worked on the series, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story is the first book I read that didn’t sanitize the making of the original series the way most official reference books published at the time.

It’s a fascinating book from two insiders that complements Cushman’s series and is full of production art and behind-the-scenes photographs, primarily from Justman’s personal collection. And like These Are the Voyages, the book also debunks many of the myths that had arisen about Star Trek over the previous 30 years.

Star Trek: The Fifty-Year Mission

The Fifty-Year Mission
The Fifty-Year Mission is described as an “oral history” of the Star Trek franchise.

Like These Are the Voyages, The Fifty-Year Mission is more than one book. Authors Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman split 50 years of Star Trek history in two. The first volume is dedicated to the original series through to its feature film era, and the second covers the subsequent series and the J.J. Abrams films.

Described as an “oral history” of the franchise, it pulls together decades of interviews by Gross and Altman, who as journalists wrote about Star Trek for more than 30 years for publications such as Starlog. It’s a no holds barred look at 50 years of the franchise from the many cast, crew and writers involved in its many incarnations.

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

When it comes to books that pull together everything about the Star Trek universe, there’s no better tome than Mike Okuda’s Star Trek Encyclopedia, updated and re-released for the franchise’s 50th year.

Make no mistake, this is an encyclopedia in the truest sense, split into two heavy hardbound volumes, assembled by someone who worked on four of the series and continues be a steward of Star Trek continuity, most recently with his wife Denise on the Star Trek: The Next Generation BluRay remastering and documentaries.

It’s not something you can carry to the beach with you, that’s for darn sure.

Star Trek Lives!
Star Trek Lives! Tells the story of how a canceled TV series became a cult classic in the 1970s

They are many more books that are well-worth reading. Allan Asherman’s Star Trek Compendium is a great companion while watching episodes of the original series. Larry Nemecek’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion does the same. Writer David Gerrold dives into the making of his well-loved “The Trouble with Tribbles,” in a single book, and takes a broader look at the original show with The World of Star Trek.

Star Trek Lives! tells the story of how a canceled TV series became a cult classic in the 1970s and the rise of Star Trek conventions, while many of the biographies and autobiographies of cast members over the years provide differing perspectives. The relatively recent Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History by Robert Greenberger is a great visual and chronological overview of the franchise.

Star Trek: Discovery will both enjoy and endure a great deal of scrutiny in real-time thanks to the Internet, but eventually it too will be the subject of many books that dive deeper into its production, and hopefully its longevity and success.

Under A Yellow Sun proves comic books’ literary value

The first publication to print my work was the Ottawa Citizen as part of its “High School Confidential” section. Nine of my articles were published from 1993 to 1994. Two decades after writing this review of a Superman graphic novel, I took a course on writing comic books.

To most of us, comic books are a medium best left to youngsters.

Since their creation, comics have been very much maligned — both as children’s entertainment and as a form of literature. It is only recently that comics have proven to be popular to an “adult” audience — although loyal readers will tell you that this has been the case for quite some time.

Under a Yellow Sun was a prestige graphic novel published by DC ComicsAs recently reported by Michael D’Acosta here in the Citizen, “adult” is not meant in a lewd sense. It merely describes a mature readership that wishes to read thought-provoking and complex stories in a comic book format. Examples of these comics are such titles from DC’s Vertigo line as Sandman and Shade, The Changing Man, and independent titles such as Madman Comics.

Of course, the majority of comic books are still Action/Adventure Super-Hero books, but there are also a few that fall in between. Superman has been at the forefront of the action titles for years, but interestingly enough, the Man of Steel recently appeared in a story that wasn’t just an “action/beat-the-villain” story.

Entitled Under A Yellow Sun, this prestige graphic novel from DC Comics is presented under the guise of a novel by Clark Kent, reporter with the Daily Planet. Clark is desperately trying to finish his second novel, which his agent expects to be completed in a week. The story line of the novel concerns an ex-marine named David Guthrie, a man so desperate for work that he unknowingly takes a job working for a crooked businessman manipulating the politics of a small South American country.

While Clark struggles to resolve his protagonist’s situation in the novel, he also faces difficult decisions on other fronts. As Superman, he has been doing his best to stop street gangs from terrorizing Metropolis. These street gangs have been discovered to be using some very sophisticated weaponry which can be traced to Lexcorp. Superman confronts Lex Luthor, but of course, Luthor feigns ignorance.

Under A Yellow Sun proves comic books' literary value
“Under A Yellow Sun proves comic books’ literary value” was published in the Ottawa Citizen in the summer of 1994

As Clark becomes increasingly frustrated with both fiction and reality, he begins to question the values he was brought up with. What follows are the parallel stories of Guthrie and Superman as each tries to win their battles without sinking to the level of the enemy.

Under A Yellow Sun should not be dismissed as just another super-hero comic aimed at kids. The story and the morality play presented contain universal concepts and values that can reach many people at different levels. It is the type of story that you can let your children read and hope they learn from. At the same time, the story can be enjoyed by an adult audience, and it will no doubt give them food for thought.

Under A Yellow Sun is a tale of significance, and it demonstrates that comic books are not always a corrupting influence on young people’s minds, and are in fact a legitimate form of literature.

Written by John Francis Moore with art by Eduardo Barreto, Kerry Gammill and Dennis Janke, Under A Yellow Sun is available at comics specialty shops for $8 from DC Comics.

Gary Hilson is entering first-year journalism at Algonquin College.

Fallen Angel: Why Season Four Fails [TV Review]

By Wednesday evening, there’s little on network television that’s of interest to me, so instead of watching the implausible Criminal Minds or the tired CSI, I turned to my TV on DVD shelf and started alphabetically.

When Angel debuted in the fall 1999 I was skeptical. Certainly, the character had run its course on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but I never thought David Boreanaz was all that great an actor or could carry his own show.

I was pleasantly surprised; in fact, I thought Angel’s first season was stronger than the concurrent fourth season of Buffy. Season two was also really strong and while season three started out rather well, it’s weaker than its predecessors for some of the same reasons that make Angel’s penultimate season the most disappointing, despite being ambitious.

Angel’s fourth season starts out promising, picking up several months after the third season ended, with Cordelia now a higher being and Angel locked in a box at the bottom of the ocean. With Lorne now in Vegas performing, Fred and Gunn hold the fort while keeping an eye on Angel’s son Connor. The season premiere is a solid start to the year, resolving cliff hangers and most importantly to me, kick-starting Wesley’s gradual return to the group. The next few episodes are all entertaining as standalone episodes too, while moving the year’s big arc along at the same time and giving each of our main characters their own stories.

But then we hit the seventh episode of season four, “Apocalypse, Nowish”, and that’s when things start to fall apart:

It’s all arc: From here on in, every episode is tied to this year’s big storyline, with the debut of the Beast, the revelation that Cordelia is not what she seems, and her subsequent pregnancy. The only real exception is episode 16 with the final onscreen appearance of Gwen Raiden, who enlists Gunn’s help on one of her heists.

It’s all dark: Angel is a dark series and the drama is based on our heroes enduring horrible ordeals, but the usual Whedonesque humor seems absent here and the one-liners that are written in to undercut the drama are weak for the most part.

Cordelia isn’t Cordelia: I didn’t think having Charisma Carpenter’s character move to Angel was a great idea when I first heard about it, but seasons one and two proved me wrong, and up until season three’s “Birthday” I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed her journey from selfish and shallow to hard-edged hero. But from there on in, it was apparent that the writers didn’t know what to do with her and season four essentially invalidates her journey into nothing more than a manipulation by unseen forces, which I think is insulting to the character and her fans. Cordelia spends the last five episodes of the season unconscious. It’s not until season five that we see a proper send off for Carpenter’s character.

It drags: The middle of the season is slow and full of filler. The scenes between Cordelia and Connor are tedious for the most part. I found myself fast-forwarding through a lot of episodes.

The return of Angelus: It was inevitable that Angel’s evil alter-ego would return and wreak havoc. Aside from flashbacks, he’s not been seen since season two of Buffy. However, the reasons for bringing him back are weak story-wise and for the most part, the episodes are rather dull until his showdown with Faith.

Connor: The problem with this character from the beginning is that he’s not really a character so much as a plot device (you could make the same argument for Dawn on Buffy). His birth and presence on the series as a baby slowed down season three. The biggest problem with Connor is that he’s not very bright, which sticks out like a sore thumb because characters in the Angel / Buffy universe all tend to be reasonably intelligent in their own way, even when they’re evil, such as the lawyers at Wolfram & Hart. Yes, Holtz had nearly 20 years to make Connor hate Angel and as a hormonal 18-year-old it makes sense that he might fall for Cordelia, but considering he was raised in a hell dimension, you’d think he be a little more cunning and not just a great fighter. He hates his father because he perceives Angel as evil, but by the end of the season he’s complicit in the deaths of many innocent people, whether it’s the virgin sacrificed by evil Cordy or the folks on Jasmine’s dinner plate. Speaking of which…

Jasmine: It’s not that the Jasmine storyline doesn’t work, but it also drags, and I’ve always got the feeling that it was tacked on because the original Big Bad storyline wasn’t long enough. The pace of the series does pick up again once she arrives but by this point the whole year has become rather tiring.

This my fourth full re-watch of the series since it was first run. When it aired, I defended Connor and various storylines to friends who were losing interest in the series, but this latest viewing made it impossible to ignore the faults in Angel’s fourth season.

It wasn’t all bad, however. The return of Faith was welcome. She fits in better with the greyness of the Angel universe compared to the black and white, good or evil world of Buffy. Seeing her paired with the now battle-hardened Wesley was a treat, considering their history together, and her final appearance in “Orpheus” was one the best episodes of the series. Meanwhile, Wesley is the most compelling character in the Buffy-verse. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t supposed to live very long after he was first introduced. Many of the non-arc episodes early in the year are well-paced and plotted and there are some good episodes following the debut of the Beast.

When Angel (and Buffy) really work well as a TV series, however, is when each episode stands by itself as a story, whether it’s part of a big arc or not. In this regard, season four of Angel fails and is the victim of its own ambition.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.


Farscape: Through the Looking Glass / A Bug’s Life [DVD Review]

Farscape: Through the Looking Glass / A Bug’s Life
DVD / ADV Films / November 2003

The ninth DVD in the Farscape series begins with a great standalone episode and finishes with an episode that opens the door on storylines that will resonate well into the third season of SF series.

In “Through the Looking Glass,” the passengers aboard Moya are hotly debating their next move – some want to leave the biomechanoid ship for fear that her pregnant condition may make her easier to capture by the Peacekeepers.

Crichton would like to stay, if only because the Uncharted Territories are where the worm holes are, while Aeryn is the only one who wishes to remain aboard Moya out of loyalty to the ship and her Pilot. The argument is cut short when Pilot interjects to say that Moya feels confident enough that she can starburst to put some distance between her and the Peacekeepers. Needless to say, starburst does not go as planned. In the aftermath, the crew discovers Rygel has disappeared. Setting off to look for him, Aeryn and D’Argo also disappear in a flash of light before the other’s very eyes. Crichton soon stumbles through inter-dimensional doors leading to four different Moyas. It turns out Moya is stuck in starburst — she didn’t have enough power to complete the journey. To top it off, there’s an alien entity roaming the corridors of all four Moyas, leaving large scratches in the hull. Crichton’s science background is put to the test here as he races to merge Moya back together and free her from starburst before time runs out.

“Through the Looking Glass” is at its heart a puzzle and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. As often is the case, it’s Crichton who clues in first and has to rally the crew to come up the solution.

There’s also some hilarious interplay between the characters, as well as some bonding in the peril – both proving why this series is a few steps beyond the average TV SF: the characters are the heart of the story.

“A Bug’s Life” for the most part is also a standalone story, but it sets events in motions that have immediate effect through the end of the first season and well into Farscape’s third year. When special commandos are forced by a fuel leak to come aboard the ship, they are deceived into believing that Moya is still under Peacekeeper control. They reveal to Aeryn and Crichton (acting as a Peacekeeper company) that they are on a mission to a secret base to deliver an unmarked crate. Curious about the crate’s contents, Rygel and Chiana are the first to discover an unseen enemy: a lethal virus living within a host body. Virtually undetectable, the virus plays a deadly jumping game as it changes host from Thonn to Chiana to Crichton.

No longer able to continue the ruse, Crichton et al must work with the commandos to recapture the virus. However, their efforts will have deadly consequences for at least one of Moya’s crew.

“A Bug’s Life” is the weaker episode on this disc, but is redeemed by an action-packed ending that has ramifications for years to come.

As for the extras, they’re pretty slim, although the video profile of Lani Tupu offers fascinating insight into the characters of Crais and Pilot. It’s just too bad that these profiles don’t have footage of the actors interacting off screen and between scenes.

“Through The Looking Glass” — 10/10
“A Bug’s Life” — 7/10
DVD Extras — 6/10

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Classic SF Series Foresees Reality TV [DVD Review]

The Doctor has promised Jo a holiday on Metebelis 3, but the TARDIS materializes not on the famous blue planet, but in the cargo hold of the SS Bernice, sailing to India in 1926. Despite all appearances, the Doctor insists that they are no longer on Earth, but Jo’s not convinced, at least not until a sea dinosaur attacks the ship…

One has to wonder if writer Robert Holmes was clairvoyant enough to see the dawn of reality television when he scripted Carnival of Monsters.

Even though it’s been 30 years since this Doctor Who adventure was conceived, it almost seems as though it was written as a commentary on the exploitation of people as entertainment.

In this 1973 four-parter, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) attempts to take his companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) to Metebelis 3 for a vacation, but instead the TARDIS finds itself on a sailing ship in 1926 on Earth. Of course, as it always happens in Doctor Who, nothing is as it seems, providing an entertaining adventure and some social commentary (albeit unintentional, perhaps) along the way.

“Haven’t you ever been to the zoo? Haven’t you ever kept goldfish in a bowl?” The Doctor asks Jo when he realizes they’ve got trapped in a “minascope” run by the traveling entertainer Vorg.

The Doctor, of course, is outraged that he and other creatures have been pulled from their native environment, miniaturized and obliviously held captive for the entertainment of others.

Carnival of Monsters is constrained by the technology of the era, but it’s still a lot of fun. The guest cast, including Ian Marter (who would go on to play Harry Sullivan) and Michael Wisher (the original Davros), all give fine performances, and the creativity despite the constraints put into the overall production is evident in every scene.

The Doctor Who DVD releases are always chock full of extras, and Carnival of Monsters is no different. The release includes a commentary by Katy Manning and director/producer Barry Letts, both of whom have very vivid and fond memories of the production.

There are also extended, deleted and alternate scenes as well as behind-the-scenes footage with the only disappointments being there are no introductions to provide context.

One particularly good extra feature is the explanation of CSO – color separation overlay – which was no doubt the precursor to blue screen (now green screen) technology now employed by special effects houses such as Industrial Light & Magic.

Ultimately, Carnival of Monsters endures because of its universal themes. Beyond the reality TV parallels, there is also a hint of anti-corporate sentiment, something echoed daily in Dilbert strips and found in the conversations of the alien Minorian officials:

“The latest thinking is that the latest outbreak of violence of the functionaries is caused through lack of amusement.”

“More anti-productive legislation.”

“Where will it end?”

This review originally appeared in the online publications Sci Fi Dimensions and Outpost Gallifrey. Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

McAfee VirusScan Professional 7.0 [Portfolio]

Despite one or two niggling annoyances, McAfee’s VirusScan Professional looks as though it’s the comprehensive tool for keeping your PC secure.

Installation initially appeared to be quick and smooth, until discovering it needed to download 20 minutes worth of upgrade patches (this is a typical installation using a broadband connection).

Designed to work on Windows 98 and up with 32 MB of RAM on a 100 MHz processor, I tested VirusScan Professional on Windows 2000 with more than twice the minimum horsepower. While running in the background there was no visible slowing of system performance; however, opening the software’s control panel was slow.

File scanning is quick, though, thanks in part to a feature called File Scan Caching: the software makes sure processing power is not wasted looking at previously scanned and unchanged files.

VirusScan Professional 7.0 has a browser-like interface, with back, forward, and home buttons — pretty much unchanged from version 6.0.

A notable change from its predecessor is a tool allowing you to schedule scans of individual folders, particularly ones that change frequently, such as My Documents.

But VirusScan Professional 7.0 is much more than just an anti-virus tool. It also includes a personal firewall — essential for those users with an always-on Internet connection, as well the ability to protect a PC during PDA synchronization and to permanently remove private files.

It also boasts instant updating of virus definitions — which most users have probably come to expect from any anti-virus software — but has the annoying habit of issuing a daily alert that an update is available and sending you to a Web page with no instructions on what to do next, despite that fact that the automatic update feature was enabled.

Aside from minor quibbles, McAfee VirusScan Professional 7.0 is a very complete solution for protecting PCs against viruses and other nasty bugs — the only drawback might be that it’s too much for the average user; power users will have no problem.

Estimated street price is $72.

Originally published in Computer Dealer News, March 21, 2003, Vol. 19 No. 4

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One [DVD Review]

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One
DVD / Paramount / March 2002

Regardless of what you thought of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s rookie season, it can’t be denied that it had a lasting influence on the genre television for years to come. One could even say it revived science fiction on television, paving the way not only for its spinoffs, but for ground breaking series such as Babylon 5 and Farscape, and forgettable flotsum such as Lexx and Starhunter.

Yes, season one of TNG, now available on DVD as a box set, was pretty uneven, but there are a few gems among what is clearly the series’ weakest season.

Encounter At Farpoint: The two-hour premiere hammers us over the head with the message that humans are still savages – a typical Roddenberry story – but it capably introduces the new cast and crew. And, while “humanity on trial” plotline is derivative of the original Star Trek, John de Lance as Q is will prove to be entertaining throughout the show’s even-year run.

The Naked Now: An obvious original Trek ripoff, (The Naked Now), the crew’s enounter with a virus that acts on the brain like alcohol does lead to some character revelations and some funny moments, but it’s an ultimately forgettable episode.

Code of Honor: Probably the first hint of TNG’s true potential as Natasha Yar because the unwitting participant in a fight to the death.

Haven: It was just a matter of time before Majel Barrett-Roddenberry showed up in what would be a recurring role as Counselor Troi’s mother. This episode is a weak attempt at developing the past between Deanna and Will Riker. A few funny moments, but overall forgettable.

Where No One Has Gone Before: High marks for this one; great story and character development, and one of the rare episodes that treats Wesley’s precosiousness properly. An early highlight of the season.

The Last Outpost: We finally get to see the Ferengi, and while the makeup work is outstanding, they’re neither frightening nor foretell the potential of the race as finally shown in Deep Space Nine as great sources of comedy. And there’s that whole “humanity on trial” theme raising its pesky head again.

Lonely Among Us: Farfetched but fun. Data plays Sherlock Holmes for the first time, there’s a mystery to be solved and some cool aliens. Oh yeah, Deanna Troi’s cleavage is particularly cleavy.

Justice: Ouch. A misguided attempt to illustrate how Picard would handle the prime directive. Lots of pretty barely dressed humanoids, but a rather juvenile approach to sex. Palease!

The Battle: The Ferengi are a little more cunning this around, and we get a peak into Picard’s pass. An above average episode and holds up rather well.

Hide and Q: A fun, fast paced episode. John de Lance shines as Q, but it’s painfully clear that Denise Crosby needs acting lessons. And where’s Deanna Troi?

Too Short A Season: A great dramatic episode with action to boot, but an early sign that Yar’s days were numbered. She’s the security officer but doesn’t get any lines in an episode about terrorists taking hostages until almost the final act. Hellooooo?

The Big Goodbye: The first major holodeck story and deserved of its Peabody award, but the whole Wesley saves ship schtick is getting obvious.

Datalore: Proof that Brent Spiner is da man and that Data is more than a Spock clone. A few plot holes don’t overshadow the overall enjoyment of this episode, which begs for a sequel and does eventually get one.

Angel One: The only thing that kept me watching this one was the hope the Romulans would reappear and they don’t. Big blandfest this one.

11001001: Possibly the best ep of the season, and smart use of the holodeck. The beginning of a solid run of episodes.

When The Bough Breaks: A good commentary on how we’re screwing up our environment back on Earth.

Home Soil: Neat story idea, a few thrills, but once again we’re told humans are savages and the guest cast barely phone in their performances.

Coming of Age: Two parallel storylines do a nice job of teaching some life lessons that aren’t unique to Star Trek.

Heart of Glory: We all knew Worf kicks ass and he finally gets to show it. A first step in developing Klingon culture, this episode raises the bar.

Arsenal of Freedom: Yet another example of how Star Trek can entertain and inform at the same time, this time making a solid comment on the arms race.

Symbiosis: This time the commentary’s on drug addiction, and it’s done dramatically and cleverly, except for Yar’s just say no to drugs speech to Wesley. Die already!

Skin of Evil: And so she does. Killing off a regular character always makes for good entertainment, and overall this episode works quite well.

We’ll Always Have Paris: Cool time-travel idea gets muddled by melodrama.

Conspiracy: If humans had been at the heart of the conspiracy, it would have been the best episode of the season. Unfortunately the great setup is ruined by the introduction of aliens and gory ending bordering on hokey.

The Neutral Zone: A lot going on here, but it never really gels. The Romulans come back, and the hint of a bigger threat remains to the end. A shaky end to the season.

You see, there were some gems to be found here and there. As for the extras, they’re almost non-existent. Most of it comprises of recompiled footage from previously-aired specials, and there’s no real insight offered into any aspect of the series.

Episodes: 6/10
Extras: 3/10

Normal Again [TV Review]

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot more complex than the title of the show suggests, and after six years, the heroine of this series has collected a lot of baggage, emotional and otherwise.

No wonder she’s hallucinating.

But while many of us create fantasies to deal with stress in our day to day lives, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been living in a fantasy world with some harsh realities – a soul mate who can’t be with her for fear of losing his soul and becoming an evil demon; the death of her mother at the hands of an aneurism, not monsters she can fight; and a destiny that will see her never have a normal life because she’s The Chosen One and lives on a hellmouth.

Or could she have a normal life? And what is normal?

In “Normal Again,” a run-in with a demon has Buffy jumping from two frames of mind thanks to the creature’s nasty venom. In her hallucination, she’s in a mental institution, and she’s been there for six years. Her parents are still together, and Buffy’s having a moment of lucidity, according to the Doctor. There is a chance, he says, that she could make a full recovery from her multi-layered schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, Buffy’s in and out and her friends take it upon themselves to capture the demon in question and harness the antidote. All in all, it turns out to be a simple task, even if Willow can’t make use of magic do cook up the cure.

The question is, does Buffy really want to get well?

Her moments of lucidity at the institution are becoming more prolonged, and in Sunnydale, Buffy dumps the antidote in the garbage, and no one’s the wiser.

The Doctor tells Buffy that she must take apart the traps that keep her in imaginary world. Those traps are her friends, which she thinks are sacred, says the Doctor, but she must give them up.

Buffy wants to be healthy, she tells her parents. What does she have to do?

Back in Sunnydale, Buffy is systematically dealing with Willow, Xander and her sister Dawn. She captures and assembles them in the basement with the nasty monster that started this mental roller coaster in the first place.

At this point, all bets are off – Buffy’s parents are encouraging her to shut down her imaginary world, and that means setting the demon loose on her friends, who are still tied up. Buffy’s almost catatonic as the monster pummels them.

In the institution, it’s clear Buffy’s struggling to destroy her life in Sunnydale, despite the desperate pleas of her friends, and by now, it starts to become conceivable that Buffy’s life for the past six years could very well be a sham, but as the episode counts down to its closing moments, Tara rushes in and turns the tide in favour of the Sunnydale Scooby gang.

It’s also enough to snap Buffy back to reality and kick some demon ass, albeit after a tearful goodbye to her parents at the institution. All’s well that ends well, right?


As much as Buffy has chosen to stay in Sunnydale and admitted to her friends that she did not take the antidote, it’s unclear why she made the choice she did.

Did Buffy choose Sunnydale because she knew it was reality? Or is she giving into the fantasy? Was she willing to believe that the institution would better than her life as the Slayer?

The final scene of the episode does nothing to clarify this, and one could dismiss it as being hoaky, or take it for a telling sign of things to come. Utlimately, Buffy’s life is one big irony: While many of us yearn to live in a world of black and white where heroes triumph over villains, there’s part of her that would rather deal with the cold hard reality of medicinal drugs and rubber walls at the institution, even if it means giving up the wonderful things in her dangerous world, including her friends.

Given the ambiguity of the ending of “Normal Again,” one could wonder if anyone really has a solid grip on reality, or just thinks they do.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Doctor Who: The Robots of Death [DVD Review]

DVD / BBC Video / November 2000

“The Robots of Death” is a perfect example of how ageless Doctor Who is when it’s done well.

Originally aired in the late 70s, this four-part story featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as his traveling companion Leela still holds up well when you take a hard look at the story, even if the sets and costumes look rather dated.

The Doctor and Leela arrive on Storm Mine 4, a “sandminer” trawling a desert planet for rare and value minerals. The miner is staffed by a skeleton crew of humans and a complement of robots that handle the mundane day-to-day chores.

When a member of the crew is murdered, no one believes it possible that a robot could have committed the crime – they have numerous fail-safes to prevent it – but of course the Doctor and his companion are immediately suspected of the crime.

What follows is a murder mystery as more crewmembers turn up dead, but also a complex tale that intelligently wonders how people will truly deal with artificial beings, especially when it’s impossible to judge what a robot might be thinking without the benefit of facial expressions and body language.

The supporting cast gives able performances, and the characters are reasonably well-developed. In fact, some are not what they originally appear to be, which adds to the who-dunnit story.

Tom Baker is really on his game as the Doctor, and Louise Jameson as Leela comes across as both simple as her savage upbringing dictates but intelligent at the same time – often plot points are explained through her questions to the Doctor about what’s going on.

As for the DVD extras, they’re average at best. The commentary by writer Chris Boucher and producer Philip Hinchcliffe provides an occasional interesting tidbit, but most of it doesn’t directly relate to the action on the screen and the mind quickly wanders.

Some of the features, such as the alternate beginning of episode one, studio plans and even photo galleries would be much more interesting with some description or commentary.

Overall, as Doctor Who stories go, Robots of Death is one of the best examples of how the series is still relevant in large part due to great storytelling.

Originally published on Outpost Gallifrey

Farscape: Durka Returns / A Human Reaction [DVD Review]

Farscape: Durka Returns / A Human Reaction
DVD / ADV Films / November 2001

With Space: The Imagination Station and other Canadian stations taking their merry old time rolling out new episodes of Farscape (the third season has aired in the UK, while Canada has only seen the first half of season one in most markets), it makes more sense to shell out the money for the DVDs from ADV Films.

Farscape really gets its groove on with the eighth DVD in the series featuring the episodes “Durka Returns” and “A Human Reaction.”

The first episode is notable for introducing the character of Chiana, played by Gigi Edgley, as well as delving into Rygel’s past. Moya’s pregnancy is having an adverse effect on her systems, and she comes out of starburst just time to collide with an unidentified vessel. Moya is unharmed, but Pilot insists on bringing the damaged vessel aboard.

The first passenger to emerge from the craft is immediately recognized by Rygel as Durka, once captain of the Peacekeeper command carrier Zelbinion, and the administrator of his torture and suffering cycles ago. The man confirms that he is Durka, and it’s John that must hold the enraged Hynerian at bay. However, Durka is not the man he used to be, according to Salis, a Nebari. His brain has been altered over the years – about 100 cycles. For all intents in purposes, Durka has been neutered, but Rygel is not convinced.

There’s a third passenger about the Nebari vessel – another gray-skinned Nebari named Chiana. She’s actually a prisoner, and Durka requests a cell to place her until another Nebari ship meets them. But is Chiana really a hardened criminal or just a mischief-maker? By the end of the episode, it’s still unclear, but she doesn’t stay a prisoner very long. Between her instinct for self-preservation and Rygel’s thirst for revenge, things get out of control very quickly and it’s just a matter of time before Durka shows his true colours.,br>

“Durka Returns” is a fairly strong episode, giving most of the characters some screen time and doing a fine job of introducing a recurring character. “A Human Reaction” is also very entertaining, but one could argue that it’s doomed to be disappointing because of the basic story premise. John, obviously getting rather restless aboard Moya, is recording another message to his father when he’s alerted by Pilot of a phenomenon the Leviathan hasn’t seen since John’s arrival ­ a wormhole! A wormhole that leads to a planet that is without a doubt Earth.

After a few strained and tearful good-byes, John sets out in his module and manages to crash land in Australia. However, he’s not given a warm welcome home ­ commandos quickly arrive and imprison him. The military is suspicious of John and his motives. The presence of the nano-translators in his body doesn’t help his case. But John wants answers too, and he’s not cooperating. He finally gets an ally when his father Jack (played Kent McCord, last seen in the pilot) turns up and uses his own test to verify that John is his son. John gets to stretch his legs out, but even then, Jack assures him, he’s being watched.

Turns out the wormhole the swept John to his life aboard Moya never disappeared ­ at least not at Earth’s end, putting the planet on high alert. John promises he’ll tell all about his adventures, but the base is put on higher alert by the arrival of Moya’s transport pod, carrying Rygel, Aeryn and D’Argo. They claim they were just checking out the edge of the wormhole, not intending to follow John.

Regardless, the military won’t take John’s word for that the aliens pose no harm, and soon one is dead and another taken away to another military installation. At this point, it’s pretty clear that John isn’t really home. The fun lies in how John figures out the puzzle before him.

However, this is the kind of the story that can’t really deliver the satisfying ending the beginning demands, but its still reasonably good. If anything, the major disappointment has more to do with the production values of the closing scene.

“A Human Reaction” is an emotionally packed, entertaining episode of Farscape, and does a deft job of demonstrating what the show’s mandate is all about: John Crichton’s quest to get home. It also illustrates how John has changed – he has new loyalties and friendships.

Overall, these two episodes are the beginnings of Farscape’s direction in later episodes, both in terms of story and quality.

As for the DVD extras, there isn’t a whole lot: the previews are for non-Farscape products from ADV. The only real highlight would be the interview with Gigi Edgley out of makeup, but even then there’s no behind the scenes footage of her interacting with co-stars and crew. It is important to note that these episodes are longer than the ones broadcast in North America by about five minutes.

“Durka Returns” – 7/10
“A Human Reaction” – 7/10
DVD Extras – 5/10