Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Star Trek 411: A Time to Stand

411. A Time to Stand

FORMULA: The Search Part I + a whole new ballgame

WHY WE LIKE IT: Weyoun vs. Dukat.

WHY WE DON'T: The new computerized Bashir. WHY I DON'T: Admiral Ross.

REVIEW: After letting us believe that the season would open with a huge battle featuring the mega-fleet from Call to Arms, A Time to Stand turns everything on its ear by skipping three months ahead, and that fleet's on the run and beaten. Basically, while we were sipping pina coladas in the sun, the DSNiners were fighting a brutal war and getting their asses kicked. When 14 out of 112 ships survive any given encounter, you can forgive the characters their pessimism. Since we don't retake the station here, the show sets up a new (albeit temporary) paradigm. Sisko and crew are even reassigned from the Defiant for a special ops mission behind enemy lines, aboard the quite spartan Jem'Hadar ship they captured in The Ship. That part of the episode is well executed with some humor, a suspenseful climax and a tense cliffhanger.

Part of the paradigm shift is Bashir acting like a human computer all of a sudden. This is less pleasant. Fine, he's genetically engineered and you can show him smarter and more agile, but calculating everything to the fraction of a second, all the time, is just turning him into Spock or Data. The new paradigm also brings a new supporting character, an admiral for Sisko to get his war time orders from, Admiral Ross. I won't lie to you, I hate this character. Even in this small first appearance, Barry Jenner gives an awkward, almost embarrassed performance that will remain Ross' character for the length of the series. Just another lame duck admiral that must never ever be stronger or cooler than the starring captain, and so never becomes strong or cool at all.

While you get plenty of action with Sisko and crew, the most interesting part of the episode is what's going on on the station. The uneasy peace between Cardassian, Dominion and Bajoran representatives is fascinating: A hagard-looking Kira rebuffing Dukat's creepy sexual advances (which are played for the first time as if, yeah, he really did know her mother), Damar acting like this was Occupation Part II, Weyoun dismissing Damar as the inconsequential brute he is, Weyoun instantaneously folding to Odo's requests (he is divine, after all), and Jake getting nowhere with his journalism (and yet, you totally see Weyoun's point that this isn't technically an occupation). Kira's only anchor at this point is Odo... so good luck with that.

LESSON: The same good ingredients can be used in more than one recipe.

REWATCHABILITY - High: The episode leaves us with many questions and pretty much ensures that you'll immediately set your DVD to play the next one.

14 comments:

Madeley said...

Hate to bring up Babylon 5 yet again, but it's always honestly confused me: how come B5 had an incredibly low budget in comparison to any of the Treks but showed something different (FX wise) in almost every episode, while the better known and more-watched Treks had to get by with endlessly repeated shots and short-cuts?

I assume the budget was going elsewhere (A larger film crew? Set maintenence maybe? Always seemed to look more solid than B5's).

Siskoid said...

It actually took a while before Star Trek started using CGI rather than models. I think the ramp up in the Dominion War more or less coincides with that switch. As of Season 6, there's way more variety.

I can't really speak for B5's production costs (I know a Star Trek episode costs about 1 million dollars), but while they had more variety, the CGI was more obvious, sometimes on a level comparable to Space Above and Beyond.

Madeley said...

Oh, I think I'd go far as to say that B5's effects were barely above computer game level, the first season in particular. I suppose what I mean is that I would have expected Trek to be able to spend more on decent CGI than the former show. Though I have no earthly idea what I'm basing that on.

Of course, my comments are all in hindsight and I'm probably misremembering the timeline too- I hadn't realised that DS9 was using physical models as late as this, which of course take more time and personnel than a couple of guys with an Amiga.

billjac said...

My understanding is that because B5 was planned so far ahead and was mostly written and run by just one guy they were able to get more for their small budget just through good management. Shooting several episodes' scenes on each set before moving on to the next and creating several episodes' similar SFX shots at one time saves a lot of the time and money most shows waste jumping to do whatever needs to be done right now.

At least that's how JMS explained it on usenet at the time. Who knows how that relates to the reality.

De said...

In this episode, physical models were still being used. In the fleet scene of the previous episode, physical models were also used but in conjunction with a lot of digital compositing.

Matthew Turnage said...

I'm afraid you and I will have to part company on the subject of Admiral Ross. He's the only admiral on Trek I've ever liked (unless you count Kirk). He's not an unreasonable hardass, and I don't think he comes across like a weak sister either. He actually seems like a real human being.

Siskoid said...

That's alright Matt. I've come out and said I liked Deanna Troi right here on this blog.

Stephen said...

i agree admiral's in star trek blow for the most part and ross is no different. but bashir calculating the odds in mere seconds is super cool and a staple of trek it's what gives the good guys an edge on the bad guys. and it foreshadows his skills in statistical probabilities.

Siskoid said...

While I do like those stories, I still question the change. But it's not a big thing.

mwbworld said...

It is amazing how a series of shows about a large star faring civilization with many war like enemies has so few actual wars and multi-ship space battles?

Which makes it more a rarity when it does actually happen on screen, despite the repeated footage.

I still wonder about the Cardasian-Federation War which seemed to take place during ST:TNG (or just before) series but isn't really mentioned until relatively late in the series. Little odd, no?

Siskoid said...

Occurred before, since O'Brien was on the Enterprise in Season 1 of TNG. But yeah, only mentioned in The Wounded, Season 4. Relatively late, as you say.

Maybe none of the principals had any reason to discuss is (none took part for example), until the Cardassians actually showed up again.

mwbworld said...

"Occurred before, since O'Brien was on the Enterprise in Season 1 of TNG."

I remembered the date delineation being hazier than that, so I checked out Memory Alpha. Admittedly, we should take with not too much seriousness since it is an on-line ST wiki site.

They have the first ST:TNG episode Encounter at Farpoint being in the year 2364.

And the Cardasian War as ending open hostilities in 2366 and having the ceasefire in 2367.

So there's a year or two where you'd think the Enterprise being both a military vessel and flagship of the fleet might encounter some mention of the war.

Of course, we all know the real problem was the creators retroactively creating a race and war a bit haphazardly.

Not the end of the world, but I remember thinking how it made little sense when they announced the war has ending so soon before they introduced the concept of it.

Gheesh, now I'm all geeked up...

LiamKav said...

Trek and B5's budget was in more than just the ship shots. I liek B5 and thought it used it's budget very well, but you can't look at C&C in B5 and Ops in DS9 and tell me that those sets cost anywhere near the same amount to build.

Likewise, the very next episode has a large amount of location shooting... something B5 pretty much completely lacked.

LiamKav said...

Also, I imagine the actor's salaries were significantly different. I do remember one of the reasons/rumours for Robert Foxworth (er, the beardy admiral from Paradise Lost) jumping from B5 to DS9 was that he'd get paid more doing the latter.