Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 21, 2008)
For the next in Paramount’s Star Trek “Fan Collective” compilation packages, we get the second one that spans all five series: Alternate Realities. Each disc in this five-platter set spotlights one of the different branches of the Trek tree. Like prior releases, fans voted to select most of the episodes, but they’re not alone. On each disc, we find one program chosen by the series’ captains themselves.
Star Trek Fan Collective: Alternate Realities includes 20 episodes, with things pretty evenly spread among the five series. For these shows, I’ll offer the usual episode synopses and thoughts. I wrote most of the plot overviews myself, but if you see quotes involved, then the material came from tv.com – thanks to them for their good work.
DVD One - “Mirror Universe”:
Mirror, Mirror (The Original Series). This episode offers a fun concept: the alternate universe. After they unsuccessfully attempt to convince the inhabitants of a peaceful planet to sell them some minerals, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura are sent to an alternate existence through a teleporter mishap. Although they’re on the Enterprise, it ain’t their Enterprise. Here they belong to “the Empire”, a cruel and vicious union that sounds a lot like another Empire featured in some moderately popular films of the late Seventies and early Eighties.
In their reality, the main villain wears no black life-support mask. Instead, he’s one James T. Kirk. The episode shows our good crew as they attempt to stay alive in this cutthroat society and eventually find a way home.
The science here is dodgier than in most Trek episodes, but if you go with the conceits presented, it’s all good fun. Some of the better shows offer unusual depictions of Trek participants, and that’s the case here. Frankly, I wish they’d shown more shots of the Nasty Kirk and company aboard Good Enterprise, but “Mirror” is still a solidly enjoyable episode. If nothing else, it’s worth a look just to see Spock in a goatee.
Part I didn’t get: when the Good and Bad crews switched universes, they also swapped clothes. This makes no sense; nothing else about the four officers changed. I understand that this had to happen as a plot point; otherwise the different garb would have instantly given away their identities. However, I still thought it was inconsistent and nonsensical. Granted, I suppose one shouldn’t argue logic when one discusses a show about alternate universes, but even so, internal consistency is important.
Crossover (Deep Space 9): When they return from a mission to the Gamma Quadrant, Bashir and Kira experience a weird fluctuation. After they emerge from the wormhole, they find themselves in an alternate reality with an alternate Kira in charge of the station and lots of other alternate factors at work. Terrans are lowest on the food chain here, so Bashir gets sent to ore mine. The two Kiras get to know each other as well and we discover some interesting details about this different world.
Trek adores its alternate reality episodes, so we’ve seen this territory surveyed in the past. However, “Crossover” manages to give the subject a clever slant, especially in the way it connects to an episode of classic Trek. “Crossover” provides a slick and stimulating program.
Through the Looking Glass (DS9): O’Brien takes Sisko prisoner at the beginning of the show. However, this doesn’t last long, as the Commander wrests control from the Chief after they transport to a parallel universe experienced in Season Two’s “Crossover”. Their Sisko’s dead, so they need a replacement to finish a mission. This plays on his emotions, as in this universe, his deceased wife Jennifer is still alive. He agrees to the assignment to make sure she doesn’t die again.
”Crossover” seemed clever and lively, but “Glass” lacks the same spirit. Part of that stems occurs because “Glass” goes to the well too soon; only one season later is too quickly to return to the same alternate universe. The moments between Sisko and Jennifer also lack the emotional heft they require. While I usually prefer action to sentiment, this should have been an exception, but the show instead opts for brawn over heart.
Shattered Mirror (DS9): Sisko reconnects to the alternate universe occasionally seen in prior episodes. Jake becomes shocked when his mom Jennifer (Felecia M. Bell) pops up in his dad’s quarters. Understandably, this connection with a reasonable facsimile of his dead mother messes with Jake’s mind. He and Jennifer apparently high tail it back to her universe, and Sisko heads out with accomplices to find them. It turns out everything was a ruse to lure Sisko over to help the rebellion.
The alternate universe episodes are usually interesting, and “Mirror” has its moments. However, it doesn’t offer much to develop the prior stories, and it lacks much emotional impact. One might expect Jake’s apparent reunion with his long-lost mother to provoke more feelings than just banal cheerfulness.
DVD Two - “Mirror Universe”:
In a Mirror, Darkly (Enterprise): “In the mirror universe, Commander Archer mutinies against Captain Forrest in order to capture a future Earth ship found in Tholian space.”
For my thoughts on this show, head to Part II.
In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II: “In the mirror universe, Archer commandeers the 23rd-century Defiant from the Tholians and uses it in a nefarious power grab.”
We’ve seen plenty of alternate worlds in Trek, but “Mirror” manages to stand on its own. I really like the opening shot, and the altered credits are awfully cool. I like the intersection of the Enterprise and TOS worlds, and we get lots of fun and excitement. Add to that unusually sexy looks at Hoshi and T’Pol and these are good programs.
DVD Two - “Parallel Dimensions”:
The Alternative Factor (TOS): Judging by the fact that it was shot twentieth but not shown until very late in the season, I'd take that as a sign that the show's producers knew that this wasn't much of an episode. It's a completely uninspired mess, really, from the bland title all the way through the muddled story and forced philosophizing of its conclusion, this one's quite forgettable.
The plot really is what kills this episode, as it's far too complicated. That doesn't mean it's deep or intellectual and my tiny brain couldn't handle it; it simply means that the story doesn't get told effectively and the result is a botched mess. There's some potential to the tale of alternative universes, but the execution kills it by making the entire affair thoroughly confusing. I suppose this one might work better upon subsequent viewings, but probably not.
Parallels (The Next Generation): Worf encounters some funky memory problems. He returns from a Klingon battle competition that he won. The crew throws a surprise birthday party for him, and Worf starts to experience some dizziness. After this, he finds that his memories seem to deceive. He forgets orders from superiors and finds that he recalls things that others don’t get. This occurs as the ship enters the Argus Array, which has ceased to relay data for the third time this year.
Gee, you don’t suppose that the problems with the Array will somehow connect to Worf’s perceptual concerns? Things get trippier and trippier as the episode progresses. Much of “Parallels” seems a bit flat and predictable, but the third act offers some cool – if gimmicky – moments. Those allow it to become a somewhat above-average episode.
DVD Three - “Twisted Realities”:
The Enemy Within (TOS): All of the spice we need comes from Shatner. He hams up a storm as yet another odd alien force splits him into two separate beings; one good and one evil. This episode is surprisingly philosophical and actually presages some parts of Star Trek V as Kirk and company consider what parts of a personality are truly essential.
And it's a lot of fun, too! Unfortunately, special effects technology wasn't sufficiently advanced to let us view the sight of Kirk kicking truly his own ass - that'd have to wait until Star Trek VI - but I still enjoyed watching him literally grapple with his bad side. The episode can be cheesy, but it's nonetheless very enjoyable.
Turnabout Intruder (TOS): This show formally concluded the series' three-year run with more of a whimper than a bang. Though not a bad episode, "Intruder" was far from the best the show had to offer.
At the start of the show, Kirk falls for a trap set by Dr. Coleman and the mentally ill Dr. Lester. Kirk had a fling with Lester back at the Starfleet Academy, but she got booted due to her instability. She still feels bitter about that experience and resents men because she can't enter the same ranks of Starfleet advanced personnel. Of course, she especially dislikes Kirk, since he represents the best of the best within the world she can't enter.
Anyway, as part of this trap, Kirk and Lester swap bodies. She takes over his form and plans to kill her old body with Kirk in it. This goes awry, so she has to take Kirk back on board the Enterprise. While there, the fake captain performs a slew of inappropriate and atypical actions, which stirs suspicion from Spock. Trapped in the female body, Kirk has to find a way to convince others of what's happened and eventually restore his mind to his manly form.
Though clearly a silly episode, "Intruder" had some potential due to the intriguing theme. However, some poor acting and surprisingly non-progressive attitudes made it less than terrific. In regard to the former, Smith actually did a pretty nice job as Kirk in Lester's body. She brought positive authority to the role and seemed convincing. Honestly, in some ways she appeared superior to Shatner, as she lacked his emotive tendencies.
On the other hand, Shatner's turn as Lester in Kirk's body could not have been more absurd. He strongly played up the stereotypically female aspects of the role and made it a tremendously camp experience. Shatner's wispy and eccentric performance made it difficult to believe that so few suspected anything was up with the captain.
As I mentioned, the show treated women in a particularly stereotypical manner that I didn't expect given the series' generally forward-looking attitudes. Granted, Trek did better in that regard when it came to different races; the program never could figure out what it thought of women. Still, the bitter and psychotic Dr. Lester seemed like a poor representation of the female attitude, and this element hurt the show.
Frame of Mind (TNG): Riker takes the lead role in a play of that name. He also receives an assignment to venture to Tilonus IV, a planet experiencing a state of anarchy. A Federation research team got stuck there when the government collapsed, and Riker will go undercover on his own to retrieve them. However, on the way he starts to suffer from hallucinations and seems to turn into the character from “Frame of Mind”, which leads him to question his own sanity.
Trek often delves into this kind of reality vs. fantasy show, but “Frame” seems better than most. It really gets pretty trippy at times, as all the various layers of truth and fiction intertwine. Overall, “Frame” appears involving and it provides a cool mystery.
Shattered (Voyager): "After Voyager passes near a spatial rift, Chakotay is injured in Engineering, leaving his body in a state of temporal flux. After receiving treatment in sickbay, he inadvertently gains the ability to pass through rifts in time that are scattered throughout the ship, enabling him to walk into different stages of Voyager's history over the past seven years."
An episode in which a Trek crew flops from one reality or time period to another’s not anything new, but “Shattered” gives the theme a nice twist. Chakotay and Janeway zip around from one period to another with such random abandon that the program moves swiftly and turns into a lively and creative show.
DVD Four - “Alternate Lives”
Yesterday’s Enterprise (TNG): We find the Enterprise present at some sort of mysterious time displacement. This moderately alters reality. This Starfleet is at war, and Tasha Yar rematerializes from the dead. Uniforms and ship architecture seem mildly different as well, though the changes aren’t extreme. Guinan senses that things are strangely wrong, but Picard can’t grasp the concept.
Of greater immediate concern, this bizarro Enterprise encounters the titular older vessel, the Enterprise-C. Picard deals with its chief, Captain Garrett and tries to sort out the facts of the matter. He discovers that they could send back the Enterprise-C to their original time, but this would ensure the destruction of the ship and the death of its crew.
Time travel stories always offer a tricky set of issues, and “Enterprise” caused some of the same confusions and concerns. Nonetheless, it handled those topics fairly well and offered an entertaining look at an alternate universe. The return of Yar made it especially interesting, since we knew she existed only in this setting. The program remained reasonably intriguing from start to finish and seemed like a solid episode.
The Inner Light (TNG): A mysterious probe approaches the Enterprise. It sends a beam inside the ship that apparently only affects Picard. He passes out, and when he awakes, he finds himself on a strange planet in the hands of a woman who refers to him as “Kamin”. Her name’s Eline, and she’s supposedly his wife. Picard/Kamin roams that landscape as he tries to discover where he resides and how he can get back to the Enterprise, even as the years seemingly pass. Meanwhile back on the ranch, we see that Picard remains unconscious, and the crew tries to figure out how to disconnect him from the probe and bring him back to reality.
When we see episodes that deal with Picard and an alternate reality, they usually find him in a domestic situation that forces him to examine the life he could have lived. “Light” offers a watchable but somewhat bland example of that genre. I do enjoy this kind of “alternate reality” material, and this show seems different from the others as it displays many years of Picard’s second life. Unfortunately, the probe’s purpose becomes obvious too early, which renders the show a little toothless. Overall, “Light” appears decent but unspectacular.
The Visitor (DS9). The program uses an unusual structure, as we meet an aged Jake Sisko. We learn that he turned into a success writer who penned only two works. We also find out that his father apparently died when he was 18. The show then displays when happened during a scientific mission on which Jake accompanied Ben. Things go wrong, and we see Ben killed right before our eyes. We then watch as Jake tries to deal with the death of his dad. However, it turns out Ben didn’t die at all; instead, he went into some sort of temporal displacement, and he eventually reappears on DS9 after more than a year. However, he soon vanishes again, and the show traces Jake’s life and his dad’s periodic resurfacing.
An entertaining fantasy, “Visitor” loses some points because it never rises above that level. Since it takes place in the future, it deals with a reality that doesn’t exist in the show and – due to some events that occur – never will. “The Visitor” offers some moving moments and seems interesting overall, but it feels like something of a disappointment after the drama of “Warrior”.
Before and After (Voyager): “Kes begins traveling backwards through time from the moment of her death. With each shift, she comes closer to a solution but she also grows months and years younger at a time.”
We’ve seen many episodes that deal with alternate or possible futures. However, “After” seems different in that some parts of it just might stick. For one, Kes finally has a decent haircut, and while she returns to the correct place and time, she maintains memories, which means the possibility of a lasting impact to her experiences. The show doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s fun to watch.
DVD Five - “Alternate Lives”
Timeless (Voyager): “Voyager uses new quantum slipstream technology in an attempt to get home, but a miscalculation causes the ship to crash into an ice planet. Fifteen years later, the sole survivors, Chakotay and Kim, steal the Delta Flyer in an attempt to send a message back in time and avert the disaster, however, Captain Geordi LaForge is determined to stop them at all costs.”
”Timeless” suffers from the fact we know everything we see will be undone by its end. It’s not like we really think that Kim and Chakotay won’t fix things and get the ship back to life in the past. Despite the show’s fantasy component, it manages to present a reasonable amount of fun.
Course: Oblivion (Voyager): “After Paris and Torres tie the knot, the ship and its crew start to disintegrate on the molecular level.”
That synopsis doesn’t divulge the episode’s secret: it doesn’t involve the real crew of the Voyager. I’ll leave the rest a secret, but suffice it to say that this show falls into the category of “alternate reality”. These programs are like exhibition baseball: fun on their own but somewhat dissatisfying since they don’t really count.
E² (Enterprise): “Before the crew attempt to enter the subspace corridor that will help them get to the Xindi Council chamber, they suddenly encounter an NX class ship. Surprisingly this NX class ship is really Enterprise and is controlled by the crew's descendants. Lorian - Trip and T'Pol's son - and Karyn - Archer's great granddaughter - explain that Enterprise did enter the subspace corridor, but something went wrong and the crew were sent over a hundred years back in time. Trying to make sure history doesn't repeat itself and that the mission succeeds, Lorian has a plan to increase the ship's warp speed. However, T'Pol's older counterpart thinks his plan will cause Enterprise to be destroyed instead and that entering the subspace corridor can still work if certain modifications to the ship are made. When Archer decides the corridor is the best option, Lorian makes a difficult decision.”
Shows related to time travel are tricky due to the many potential plot holes. That’s one problem with this one, as there are parts of it that cause head scratching. That said, it’s an interesting view of an alternate reality and an enjoyable program.
Twilight (Enterprise): “With no idea what has happened, Archer discovers that he is living on a planet with T'Pol and that twelve years have passed. T'Pol explains that an anomaly caused Archer to be infected with strange parasites, preventing him from retaining memories beyond that point. Archer was relieved of command and the mission continued, but the crew ultimately failed and Earth was destroyed. Now Phlox has a cure for the captain's condition and stumbled upon a way to retroactively undo the last twelve years, but they'll have to hurry as the Xindi are coming to wipe out what's left of humanity.”
This episode bears a startling resemblance to the movie 50 First Dates. I’m not sure if one influenced the other, but the coincidence is startling. This kind of program is always problematic; we know that the events won’t “stick”. It’s generally interesting, though I don’t like its conclusion at all.