TV Review: Star Trek: Picard, 'Remembrance'

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not seen the first episode of Star Trek: Picard (entitled ‘Remembrance’) or any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the subsequent movies is hereby warned that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

It’s been eighteen years since Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard bowed out of our lives in the disappointing movie Star Trek: Nemesis. Now he’s back in a much anticipated brand new show, Star Trek: Picard, chronicling later life of the now former captain of the USS Enterprise.

As regular readers of this site and it’s related social media accounts may know, I haven’t been overly impressed with recent additions to the Star Trek franchise. It all started to go wrong with Star Trek: Enterprise and it was a bit of a downward spiral from there, but I had much higher hopes for Picard. We’re only one episode in but so far, I have loved, loved, loved it.

Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart), now a retired admiral, is living in relative seclusion at his family vineyard with his dog, Number One, and a couple of Romulan refugees who work for him and also act as his only real confidants. He is now retired from Starfleet and has become jaded and embittered towards the organisation he once served and perhaps even towards the Federation as a whole for their failure to learn the lessons from history. His tired old zeal is awakened, however, when he is a approached by a frightened young woman called Dahj (Isa Briones), who begs him for help and who may well be the offspring of his deceased friend and colleague, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), who continues to haunt Picard’s dreams twenty years after his death. As much as I loved Data in The Next Generation, and am generally not a huge fan of dream sequences, I am glad to see that he has so far only appeared as a dream and nothing more. There’s nothing spoils a good story more than sucking the permanence out of death by contriving some lame excuse to resurrect a dead character.

This show accomplishes something in a single episode which Discovery has, in my opinion, failed to accomplished throughout its entire run: create continuity between the original story we all know and love and still create a well written brand new story. Star Trek: Picard begins with Jean-Luc very much at the end of his previous character arc and at the beginning of a new one, having lost much of his zest for life only to now be given an urgent and deeply personal reason to reawaken it. In spite of this, Picard has lost none of his sense of righteousness or his passion for history, as we see when he becomes angered by the TV journalist’s questions about why he left Starfleet. The first episode was also full of little Easter eggs and other references to The Next Generation which fans of the show couldn’t fail to appreciate, such as the ‘Captain Picard Day’ banner (TNG: ‘The Pegasus’), Picard’s Dixon Hill fedora and, best of all, the singularly beautiful opening sequence with Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ playing over a starscape moments before the Enterprise D appears.

If I was forced to say something critical (and I must confess, I find it difficult to say anything truly bad about this episode, but I’ll give it a go), I would say that some of the other characters besides Picard, and perhaps Dahj to a lesser extent, seemed rather under cooked by comparison, especially the two Romulans who live with Picard. That’s not a criticism of the acting, but it feels a bit like Picard and Dahj were the only characters who were written with any real depth; clear motives, clear goals, obvious demons and things that matter to them. I am, of course, very conscious that it was only the first episode and first episodes of brand new shows take time to heat up so I’ll reserve any further judgement on that point until the series is finished.

All in all, a very encouraging beginning to a show which I was anticipating with both hope and fear. I am counting down the seconds until the next episode, partly because of the cliffhanger ending but mostly just because it was the best offering I’ve seen from the Star Trek franchise in a long, long time.

My rating: ūüĖĖūüĖĖūüĖĖūüĖĖūüĖĖ


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I‚Äôm still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it‚Äôs books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you‚Äôve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you‚Äôre interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Writing Non-Human Characters #3: Robots

Well, it’s week three on my impromptu series of posts on creating non-human characters for your stories. We’ve already done animals¬†and aliens,¬†so this week, I want to focus on creating robots.¬†Now I don’t want to waste too much time getting bogged down on the technical differences between robots, androids, cyborgs and so on, so for the sake of this post, I’m using the word ‘robot’ simply as an umbrella term for any kind of mechanical or artificial person. Suffice it to say there are important differences between robots, androids and cyborgs and you would be well advised to understand them before attempting to create one for your story.

If you’ve been keeping up to date on the last few posts, you will have noticed a common theme running through them: the idea of anthropomorphising (that is, giving human traits to)¬†your non-human characters¬†to to make them more relatable to your audience. However, as we have also seen,¬†the extent to which you anthropomorphise your character and how you go about anthropomorphising your character will vary greatly depending on the kind of character you’re trying to create and what their purpose is in your story.

One of the first things to consider in creating your robotic character is a bit of the history of the character and the history of robotics for your fictional world in general. Of course, backstory is important in all character building, but for robots there are a few other important questions you will need to answer first. For example (and this is by no means an exhaustive list):

  • Are robots commonplace¬†in this society or are they a new invention?
  • What is the function of robots in this society (e.g., slaves, free and equal citizens, problem-solving machines, childrens’ toys, etc)?
  • Are robots in general/your robot in particular built with fail-safes, such as Asimov’s¬†Three Laws of Robotics? If not, how are they kept from running amok? Indeed,¬†are¬†they under control? Many stories about robots revolve around this very theme.

Depending on your answer to these and similar questions, you may want to make your robot characters seem very human or very mechanical. However, if you’ve got any intention of making your robot a main¬†character in your story, you will probably want to give them¬†at least some human traits to make them relatable to your entirely human audience.¬†This is a fairly absolute rule for all non-human characters (as we’ve seen in previous weeks), so you should consider giving your robot some or all of the following:

  • The ability to think, learn and reason independently. You’ll have a hard time creating a full-blown independent¬†character without this.
  • Self-awareness and consciousness of its surroundings. Again, I think it would be exceptionally difficult (though not impossible) to create a proper robotic character without this human¬†quality.
  • Emotions, dreams, empathy, and other such non-logical thoughts to motivate their actions etc. This of course, is certainly optional; many robots in science fiction tend to be very logical and emotionless but why not break with tradition?
  • Recognisable physical body parts. Of course, ‘recognisable’¬†does not necessarily mean that they have to be human-shaped. K-9 from the Doctor Who franchise is shaped like a dog and one episode of Star Trek: Voyager even featured a sentient WMD. K-9 is¬†the more relatable of the two, of course, because we humans are used to relating to dogs. Dogs that we can talk to and play chess with, therefore, are highly¬†relatable. On the other hand, when was the last time you tried to interact with a WMD? (Don’t answer that).

The difference with¬†robots¬†is that your audience will already have quite particular ideas about how a robot “should” behave. This is, in part, due to the influence of sci-fi authors like Asimov, but is also due to the fact that robots and computers do exist in real life (though in a more limited fashion than you would expect in a sci-fi novel).¬†We know, for example, that computers are logical to a fault and it’s important that your character reflects that peculiarly robotic quality if you want your audience to accept them.¬†Abstract thinking, imagination and personal ambition is something beyond the grasp of most computers and robots. The trouble is, if you want your audience to care about your character, they’ll probably need to be capable of at¬†least some of the above.

How you balance this contradiction will depend largely on the story you’re writing and the kind of character you’re trying to create but one of the best ways around this problem is how you use¬†voice. Often you can create the illusion of a highly logical, robotic mind simply by the way your character speaks. Let’s consider two androids from the Star Trek: The Next Generation franchise: Lore and Data.

Both androids are physically identical and were built by the same person. Only Lore, however, was capable of emotion and with this came a whole host of other human traits such as ambition, passion, deceitfulness and even megalomania. Lore’s human qualities were what made him such a great villain¬†and were central to his role as a bad guy in¬†Star Trek.¬†Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate that he also talks like a human.

Haven’t you noticed how easily I handle human speech? I use their contractions. For example, I say can’t or isn’t, and you say cannot or is not.

Lore in Star Trek: The Next Generation, ‘Datalore’, source:¬†http://www.chakoteya.net/NextGen/114.htm

Data, on the other hand, lacks emotion and the other human qualities which turned Lore into a bad guy. In spite of this, he remains one of Star Trek‘s most beloved characters. How is it that such an emotionless, logical, robotic character became so relatable (and far more likeable than his more human brother)?

Simple.

He’s not nearly as logical and robotic as he appears. It’s a trick, based largely on¬†dialogue (and the occasional scene where he casually removes a body part) to make the audience believe¬†that he is emotionless and logical because — after all — all robots are. He speaks in a “robotic” manner, such as calculating time intervals to the nearest second and not using verbal contractions, and so the audience believes that he is a machine and yet his goals and motivations are often very human indeed. For example, in ‘Pen Pals’, what motivated him to disobey Starfleet regulations and his captain’s orders if not compassion for the frightened child he had met? So, the writers have given Data a human quality (e.g., compassion)¬†but¬†have essentially¬†tricked the audience into believing¬†that they did not, because he¬†appears¬†robotic and makes the occasional claim¬†that he is incapable of such traits. So, while is very¬†important to strike the correct balance of human/robotic traits, the real trick with robots is how you portray them and thus convince your audience that the relatable and sympathetic character they are witnessing is, in fact, a machine.

I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got time for this week! But be sure to come back next when I’ll be continuing the series on non-human characters, this time focusing on mythical creatures.

Until next time!