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Why “Threshold” is not the worst, but is in fact the best Star Trek Episode

Transwarp_humans

Threshold” is the most notorious episode of Voyager, possibly of all of Star Trek television. Its writers have called it a “royal steaming stinker.” There have been arguments about whether or not it is canon. At best its been called “that silly warp 10 episode.” Over the years I’ve been one of those voices who have piled on this episode, but much like my newfound appreciation for Star Trek V, I now believe that “Threshold” is not only canon, but is in fact the best episode of any Star Trek series*.

Quick recap of the plot. Paris breaks warp 10, is everywhere at once in the universe, turns into a lizard, abducts the captain, has babies with the captain, then is restored to humanity by the doctor who shoots him full of anti-protons to eliminate the bad DNA while keeping the good. Janeway makes a crack about possibly initiating the mating. The end.

To get where I’m coming from you have to consider the two Star Treks. There’s what we think Star Trek is, and there’s the actual show. In an EHG canon pitch for the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” Adam Grosswirth said that Star Trek manages to be “both good and so bad it’s good at the same time.” I think that’s dead on. Star Trek does raise some interesting social and scientific commentary, even the original series, but it’s also pretty silly. It’s okay to like Star Trek for both those reasons. It’s why I insist on watching TOS episodes with the original special effects instead of the remastered.The silliness is part of the charm, and this episode is no different.

“Threshold” is funny

For starters, I forgot how funny the Doctor is in this episode. There’s a dry wit and delivery to everything he says, which is good since we spend a lot of time in sickbay.

Some examples (all quotes are from Memory Alpha):

Janeway: “Can you wake him?”
Doctor: “I don’t see why not. WAKE UP LIEUTENANT!'”

Doctor: “What did he ingest?”
Torres: “Just a cup of Neelix’s coffee.”
Doctor: “It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”

Paris: “I lost my virginity in that room. Seventeen. Parents were away for the weekend.”
Doctor: “I’ll note that in your medical file.”

Even Tuvok gets in on the fun. Upon finding lizard Janeway and Paris, Chakotay is more than a little flummoxed, but Tuvok displays his trademark Vulcan calm:

Chakotay: “I’m picking up traces of Human DNA… it’s them. Although, I have to admit, I’m not sure which one is the captain.”
Tuvok: “The female, obviously.”

Chakotay: “I don’t know how I’m going to enter this into the log.”
Tuvok: “I look forward to reading it.”

“Threshold” is award-winning

Did you know this episode won an Emmy? It beat DS9’s “The Visitor” for “Outstanding Makeup for a Series.” That should make it worthy of some serious consideration, right? I mean, it takes a lot of work to make pulling out your own tongue believable.

I was going to add a picture but I still like you guys more than that.

The premise is sound

I know a lot of people have argued that the original series went faster than warp 10 on many occasions, but it was established by Gene Roddenberry sometime toward the beginning of TNG (though not before “Where No One Has Gone Before” apparently) that warp 10 is the top barrier. It has something to do with different scales of measurement between the two warp drive numbering systems, but truthfully it’s because TOS threw those numbers out pretty willy-nilly and TNG decided to be a little more consistent.

This is the first of several engineering project episodes for Paris and it really establishes him not only as a good helmsman but as a test pilot as well, in the tradition of Chuck Yeager and Zefram Cochrane. There’s even a reference to Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier breaking flight (he had close the cockpit door with a broom handle because of two broken ribs). Paris is almost scrubbed from the flight because of health concerns, but insists on flying anyway. Working on stuff like this is what brought us the Delta Flyer a few years later. It takes him from being just one of the vaguely handsome people on the bridge and makes him interesting, and it establishes his working and personal relationship with Torres early on.

That warp 10 would have some unforeseen physiological effects is pretty consistent with the way Star Trek handles these sorts of technological advances. The exact direction is weird to be sure, but no more weird than the virus that devolved everybody on TNG and made Worf into some kind of werewolf-snake thing.

And Voyager could have gotten home using this technology. The doctor did develop a treatment. Two people recovered from it. If they’d known the weird evolution thing was coming they could have flown at warp 10, gotten treatment, and been home in time to avoid the Borg. Sure maybe one or two would have stayed lizards but that’s a small price to pay.

Star Trek is pretty weird

So leaving TOS out of it let’s take the show that a lot of people think is the best trek, TNG. You remember that episode with the flying space pirogi?

GalaxysChild

Or how about eating Deanna Troi cake?

Deanna_Troi_cake

And okay let’s pick on TOS a little. A dog is an alien?

SpaceDog

Lizard’s looking pretty good now, right?

Threshold is high-concept

Though most of these beats were removed from the script, “Threshold” does challenge some assumptions about human evolution. Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, assume that a higher form of life means something either basically human, or maybe pure energy. This episode actually flips the script, saying that we might have a deeper understanding of the universe as a simpler form of life. Sure it looks pretty alien to us now, but in a few million years who knows?

This is actually an interesting idea, and one that Star Trek or some other show could do more to tackle. At the very least it seems logical to assume that we won’t fully understand the benefits of our next stage of evolution as a species until we encounter them, and we might not know where the human race is really going. That’s an exciting notion.

Why “Threshold” is the best

So if I haven’t convinced you that “Threshold” is the best or even a good episode of Star Trek, try this on for size.

The evolved form of humanity might be “The Doctor”

When Paris is revived from an initial brush with death, he has two hearts. As we know, another Doctor whose name we do not know also has two hearts, and can go anywhere in time or space. Tom Paris just brought Tardis technology to Voyager, and without the annoying grinding sound.

What

Have a pleasant weekend.

*Somehow I managed to finish this without various internal organs trying to leap up and beat my brain to death. Weirdly, I leave this at least convinced it’s not the worst episode of Star Trek. I mean there was that other Voyager episode with the giant flying bacteria. Bleagh.

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Ben’s guide to too much Star Trek Comics goodness

HumbleStarTrekBundle

IDW and Humble Bundle have teamed up to deliver 50 Star Trek Trade Paperbacks for the 50th anniversary. Whether you’re a casual fan, or an avid collector like me, there’s a little something for everyone. Humble Bundle works on tiered payment system, some comics for $1, some for $8, some for $15, and even greater bonuses for $25. It can be a little difficult with a bundle this size to really know what’s worth your hard-earned money. That’s where my years of collecting Star Trek comics are here to help.

Should I spend $1?

The Good

Both the TNG collections here are pretty good stories. Ghosts is a classic TNG tale with a little of the supernatural thrown-in. Hive shows a world in which the Borg are finally victorious, and details a rebellion led by Locutus to change the past using post-Voyager 7 of 9. Countdown serves as a nice bridge between the old and the new, filling in some of the background before the first Abrahms Star Trek movie (and firmly establishing Data’s resurrection after Nemesis). It also sets up Nero as a relate-able and complex villain, more so even than the movie.

The 3 Classics volumes are just that, some of the best work that came out of the DC Wildstorm era of Star Trek comics. I covered one of the stories in the second collection a few weeks ago. The three volumes are a mix of Voyager and TNG tales. Voyager’s Avalon Rising in Volume 3 is an unexpected treat. The Gorn story isn’t my favorite, but the artwork is beautiful.

The Bad

Ever wonder what the first comics page of Star Trek looked like? Probably not what you’d expect:

PlanetOfNoReturn

The Gold Key collections are sometimes beautifully drawn, but lack an understanding of Star Trek technology, how the characters act, or Starfleet values. Issue 1 ends with a mass genocide of an entire planet encouraged by Spock. These comics do sometimes fall into “so bad it’s good” but not often.

DS9 Fools Gold isn’t much better. It’s set between seasons 3 and 4 of the show, but lacks any tie-in to the larger mythology of the show. Sisko (and many others) look comically angry at many points, and the story meanders and retreads to a bland conclusion. Nicely drawn, but little there.

Star Trek Ongoing Volumes 1 – 3 are largely retreads of classic TOS episodes with the new cast. Often it’s a direct retelling of the episode with maybe one minor detail changed. Outcomes are occasionally different, but few of these tales rise above the source material. And the two issue per story format feels at times too short and too long.

The Meh

The Movie Adaption is okay. The artwork is typical of the brothers Tipton of whom I’m not a big fan. The 6 issue format gives the story room to breathe, but nothing is really added.

Countdown to Darkness doesn’t live up to the previous Countdown series. It’s a depiction of the Mudd incident (which would be more appropriately named the April incident, but whatever), which basically explains how the crew got that one weird ship the flew during Into Darkness. Not bad, but not great.

Bottom-line: Spend the $1 if you like trek. There’s definitely something for you at this level (the Classics if nothing else). And it can be fun to make fun of just how bad the Gold Key stuff is.

Should I spend $8?

The Good

The Classics series continue with the first TNG comics series and the finale arc of the first DC TOS series. The TNG series is a mixed bag, but does feature the only Christmas Star Trek episode I’ve ever read. It also portrays a human Q long before the series did. The “Who Killed Captain Kirk?” story is Peter David at his prime. It’s funny, well-drawn, there’s a wedding, a trip through hell, what more could you want?

The Archives line is similar to Classics, but covers more of the DC run. I’ve written about volumes 1+2 before (as part of my hidden Amazon Star Trek Comic gems). The quality in the Humble Bundle coloring is better than the Amazon transfer. The 3rd collection is two Gary Seven stories, the excellent Peacemaker, and the so-so Convergence arc (in case you wanted to know more about the aliens from TNG: Time’s Arrow).

Star Trek Ongoing Volumes 4-6 tell more original and character-driven stories. We get individual stories on Uhura, Chekov + Sulu, Bones and, Scotty that provide some background on how these characters came to Starfleet. We get a neat tale from a redshirt’s perspective (loosely based on The Apple). We learn more about Keenser, Scotty’s littlest assistant. More personal and less epic, and much better than the first three volumes.

The Bad

Nero is terrible. It completely undoes the good work by Countdown. It has V’Ger, and Nero stuck in Rura Penthe for 20 years. Enough said.

The Meh

New Visions is a great idea. They’re photo-novel episodes of Star Trek, made with a combination of CG sets, and stills from the original series. Some of the stories are quite inventive, but the art is lacking. And given Byrne’s excellent artwork on other Star Trek tales, I always find myself wanting him to have drawn these rather than photoshop.

The Gold Key stories get better. The Enterprise Mutiny is actually a pretty good tale.

Spock Reflections goes back over significant moments in Spock’s life, as he makes the decision to go to Romulus. It’s another brothers Tipton tale, and kind of melancholy, but better than some of their other work.

Bottom-line: IDW steps up its game on Ongoing, there’s a ton of the best of DC here, and New Visions is entertaining if not perfect. Plus this is the level where you’ll probably be getting New Visions Vol. 2, Ongoing 7-9 (which includes a fabulous Q arc) and Doctor Who crossover vol. 1. $8 is probably a good investment.

Should I spend $15?

The Good

The two Year Four volumes are great, particularly The Enterprise Experiment which features the return of the female Romulan from The Enterprise Incident and is written by DC Fontana. Assignment Earth tells lost tales of Gary Seven by John Byrne at the top of his game.

The Bad

I’ve written before about Harlan Ellison needing an editor. This version of City on the Edge of Forever is definitely not better than the original. Artfully done, yes, but badly structured.

The WTF?

So yeah, crossovers. Star Trek with Doctor Who, Green Lantern, Legion of Super Heroes, and Planet of the Apes.

The Doctor Who cross isn’t as good as you’d think. They make Picard kind of petulant, and frankly the Doctor having to convince Picard of the right thing to do rings wrong for me. There’s a nice bit with Doctor 4 and the TOS crew, and the artwork is great but otherwise this is long and kind of less then I thought it would be.

The Green Lantern arc is … weird. Want to see which crew-members get which rings? Want to see General Chang from Star Trek VI? Then this is the book for you… I guess?

Haven’t read Legion of Super-Heroes, but the cover art is cool.

Planet of the Apes is an equally weird premise, but think of this. What would it be like if Shatner and Heston acted in a scene together? That might make this worth-while.

New Visions Vol. 3 is really okay, but we do see TOS encounter the Borg which I think is almost as stupid as when Enterprise did it. And is that Scott Adsit from 30 Rock in the last story? Yes it is.

ScottAdsit

Bottom-line: $15 dollars is a lot of money. The Ongoing volumes are good, but not as good as 4-9. Year Four is great, but these cross-overs are kinda painful. Why IDW doesn’t cross Star Trek with another property it owns like Ghostbusters, TMNT, Back to the Future, or Galaxy Quest I’ll never know. There are still gems here, but maybe only for hard-core fans. And if you like Green Lantern? Hey man, you do you.

Should I spend $25?

Ask your mom.

Seriously, I’m not sure if this story will appear later in a less expensive cheaper form. If you’re willing to spend $15, then it’s only another $10 to get this one-of-a-kind artifact, but I think most of you will be just happy with $8. Or going outside if you’re weird like that.

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Snap Judgment: YA Da Vinci Code

Apparently Dan Brown’s popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, is being adapted into a YA friendly version. According to Publisher’s Weekly the book will be abridged and will have content more appropriate to a teen audience, while maintaining the original plot.

Now I’ll start this brief rant by saying that I have never read The Da Vinci Code and have no particular judgment as to its quality one way or another. It is a very popular book which means that it might also be a good book. My quibble is with abridgments and “audience appropriate” books.

For children I kind of get these sorts of books. Series like the Illustrated Classics series, or abridgments of classic old works like Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers give children a general sense of the story without having to deal with some of the archaic language. I am someone who grew up with Wishbone after all. Children’s versions are a good way to teach children that old stories can be just as entertaining as newer material. But even in elementary school we were reading original versions of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Sherlock Holmes mysteries and all sorts of other books.

One of the weird anachronisms of Peanuts that somehow survived to the most recent film was having a character read War & Peace. The age of those kids isn’t firmly specified, but we’re talking an 8-10 year old reading a book with over 1000 pages. These jokes started early on in the strip’s life, and it makes me wonder if kids in the fifties and sixties were held to a higher standard than kids of today. Then again, Schulz had characters often giving Snoopy chocolate, so he’s not a perfect guide. But I think the basic idea holds up, kids are capable of dealing with the original and are more mature than we might give them credit for.

The_Peanuts_Movie-_War_and_Peace

And we’re talking about YA which is aimed at an older audience (and is in fact read by many adults). A lot of YA content deals with violence and post-apocalyptic worlds, so my suspicion is that the only edits for content in The Da Vinci Code have to do with some of the weird sex stuff. I’ll admit that’s a guess, but I bet I’m right. The only abridgment I “enjoyed” in high-school was Les Miserables, and only because it meant that I didn’t have to slog through the full text of a book literally titled “The Miserable.” Most high-school students don’t like to be talked down to, they like to be treated like adults.

The YA version of the Code is being written to inspire young people to an interest in history, but I wonder why Brown (or his publisher) assumes that such an interest can’t be inspired by reading the actual book? I could equally understand taking on a new project, targeted at a YA audience that hits on many of the same themes, but has a unique storyline more “appropriate” to its audience. But instead, he’s rewriting a book he wrote over 13 years ago. One wonders why.

Honestly, I think the YA book is just an attempt to cash in one more time on the brand and I doubt the book brings anything new to the table. I’m sure it will sell, and that people will read it. But if my hypothetical child is interested in The Da Vinci Code, or books like it, I think I’ll stick to the original. Or War & Peace, that’ll keep the kid busy for a while 🙂

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What I watched while I was sick

What I thought was just bad allergies on Friday turned into a full-blown head-cold throughout the weekend and even into Monday. Yay, 3-day weekend spent barely being able to move off the couch. Woohoo!

Seriously, there needs to be a sarcasm font.

I’m a comfort food kind of a guy when it comes to sick TV. For me that’s episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Buffy (with some Angel and an odd 30 Rock and Excel Saga thrown in for flavor).

You can tell I was sick by the fact that my TNG watching mainly focused on Season 1 and 2 episodes, which my wife mistook for TOS episodes from the other room. No blame there. Also, there’s really no justified time to be watching Excel Saga even in small doses.

I don’t tend to consume new things when sick, but I did pick one off the back-burner to try, and it was by the far the best way to distract myself from being miserable: BBC’s Luther staring Idris Elba.

luther-season-3-poster

Pros:

  • Morally ambiguous main character. “Does dirty things but isn’t a dirty cop.”
  • Opening theme by Massive Attack, title sequence kind of reminds me of Jessica Jones.
  • Female foil equal parts antagonist and ally.
  • Crime procedural focused more on psychological elements rather than CSI’ing everything. We’re not trying to figure out who did the crime (we’re usually shown this pretty early). We’re waiting for our characters to find the baddie and figure out how they’ll ultimately take them down.
  • Wonderfully shot from the first scene. Mixes old and modern London.
  • Series long arcs particularly in the first series with great payoff and confrontations.
  • Characters experience some growth and change between series, particularly DS Ripley.

Cons:

  • Seriously! Only 16 episodes for 4 series! We’ve watched 12 of the 14 on Netflix and will probably buy the remaining two from Amazon. Pay Idris whatever he wants and make more!
  • Not really a con, but I do think I liked the six separate case structure of the first series as opposed to the two 2-part episodes in Series 2 and 3. Might feel different if there were 6 episodes (three stories) in series 2-3 (more in the Inspector Lewis model).

One other thing we noticed is that the show doesn’t always have the positive outcomes that American shows always do. In America, if we see both the abduction and later scenes with the character still alive in captivity, we know the detective is going to get to them in time. Don’t assume the same thing for Luther. The show doesn’t operate in a fantasy world, even though some fantastical things happen.

I know this has been out there for a while, but if you have a Netflix account and have never seen it, you really should try it out. We were hooked by the first few episodes.

Here’s to getting through the day then collapsing back on the couch.

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