Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Scotty Returns To The Future In An Obvious Attempt To Bring The Generations Together In "Relics!"

The Good: Interesting plot, Good acting, Nice character development
The Bad: Repetitive, Obvious, Simplistic and inconsistent pacing
The Basics: When Scotty is found alive, James Doohan reprises his role with energy in a tale of a man out of time in an otherwise pointless adventure.

When Spock appeared in the fifth season episodes "Unification I and II" (reviewed here!), there was a sense that the torch was passed between Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation in such a way that Star Trek was put to rest and the latter series was acknowledged as its superior and successor. It seems odd, then, that the early sixth season episode "Relics" would even bother to be made, then.

When the U.S.S. Enterprise discovers a massive structure in space known as a Dyson Sphere, they find a much older starship crashed on the surface of the thing. The Jenolin is an old ship that once transported people to the Norpin colony, a retirement planet in space. When Geordi beams over to the Jenolin, he discovers the transporter powered up and he manages to materialize an individual who was in the pattern buffer. The person is none other than Montgomery Scott, "Scotty" from Star Trek. As he struggles to integrate with 24th Century living, he discovers himself mostly useless and his skills vastly out of date. When the Enterprise is sucked into the Dyson Sphere, Geordi and Scotty must use the Jenolin to save the starship before it is destroyed.

"Relics" has several aspects that make us question what the purpose of the episode is right away. I'm not talking nitpicky things like Scotty referencing James Kirk when in Star Trek Generations, he will witness Kirk's disappearance. That type clumsiness is far too petty for the general audience reading this. However, there are two large problems with this episode. The first is that it asks us to suspend our disbelief to believe that on a regular shipping/trade route, there is an artificially constructed sphere with the diameter of Earth's orbit around the sun and no one noticed it. This seems a rather ridiculous idea, especially considering that at least one ship was lost on its surface. Add to that, the episode asks us to believe this phenomenon did not go discovered after a ship was lost on it for almost eighty years. How thorough can a StarFleet search be if an object that massive eludes them?

Second, "Relics" feels like an attempt to bring Scotty back. While "Unification" had an actual plot and idea that surrounded it, "Relics" feels forced, like a desperate attempt to cash in on the popularity of James Doohan's Star Trek character. "Relics" fails to be more than simply a chance to reprise the role and make one more connection between Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation. And by this point in the series, that is unnecessary and even counterproductive.

As a result, "Relics" becomes quickly repetitive. Scotty is a fish out of water in this new time period and his conflict seems to be the same over and over again just in a new circumstance. So, he's out of place in engineering, he's out of place on the ship, he's out of place with people, you can see how that would begin to drag. And it does in this episode.

However, Scotty is a good direction to go in for a crossover. Here, one of the most confident characters from Star Trek is thrown into confusion and obsolescence. This works well because Scotty finally gets his chance to shine and be in the limelight, as opposed to working just inside Jim Kirk's shadow. "Relics" is a chance for the engineers to have their day and when Scotty needs a boost, Geordi actually has the chance to rise to the occasion and command a rescue mission. Both Scotty's lack of confidence and Geordi's sudden development of it are new directions for their characters and they work quite well.

This episode would not even be a marginal success were it not for the actors. James Doohan, who was ailing at the time this was filmed, steps up with a performance that is convincing and energetic. Having seen Doohan at a convention shortly after this episode, it is amazing how good his acting is. The emotional distress and confusion Scotty belays is nothing like the misery and pain Doohan exhibited in real life. Indeed, after so long, Doohan is given his chance to fly as an actor.

Similarly, Levar Burton steps up as Geordi. More than a simple "yes man" for a change, Geordi actually has to be a presence and Burton does a magnificent job of accomplishing that. Burton is one of the neglected acting talents on Star Trek The Next Generation and it is a shame how frequently he gets buried. In this piece, he has a chance to do more and exhibit his range of facial expressions and vocal control over emotions.

In the end, this is an episode purely for fans of Star Trek. Without a strong background in Trek, the technobabble is daunting and the concepts one needs to accept are a bit more heavy than most television requires. It's basically the story of a grumpy old man being pulled out of retirement one last time for everyone else.

But for fans of Star Trek, it's hard to deny the enjoyment of seeing a member of any of the crews turn up again and the pop icons of Star Trek are always worth seeing. Scotty's reappearance is more fun than intelligent and sometimes that's enough. Even for Trekkers.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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