Tag Archives: science fiction

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM  (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM  (2018)

Directed by: Jennifer Perrott

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Ben Bailey-Smith, Suzanne Packer etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Well, this was a lot of fun. I really connected with this latest adventure, which found the Doctor and her crew initially scavenging on an alien junkyard planet, before suddenly being caught in a surprise sonic explosion. They wake aboard the Tsuranga – which is an automated space hospital – like a flying version of the National Health Service. Discombobulated and injured from the mine explosion the Doctor, companions, Tsuranga’s crew and patients are soon to be faced with an even bigger danger.

Small but devastating the danger is called a P’Ting. It’s a creature that scoffs non-organic material; a cute looking eating machine that will devour the ship. It attacks the vessel and begins literally eating it out of space-ship and home.  The Doctor, aided by the ship’s medical staff Astos and Mabli; plus General Eve Cicero; her brother Durkas; synth robot Ronan; and Yoss, a pregnant man are all threatened by the darned P’Ting. I wondered if there was some sociological subtext to the P’Ting as it eats its way through the hospital in space, with Chris Chibnall critiquing the devastation of the NHS by the Tories. However, this message wasn’t to the fore and overall it was essentially a fun genre episode with lots of action and humour throughout.

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The standard genre set-up of a base/ship under siege is a Doctor Who staple. Despite the simplicity of the plot, it felt fast-paced and thrilling to me. The guest stars were excellent too, notably the comedian Brett Goldstein who stood out during his time on screen. There was some silliness with Ben Bailey-Smith’s Durkas rigging up a nebulous engineering control to pilot the crashing Tsuranga; nonetheless the entertainment levels remained very high. I especially enjoyed the humour and emotion gained from the alien bloke (who looked very human) giving birth; while Tosin Cole’s Ryan examined further his own relationship with his estranged father. Overall though, this was another light and uncomplicated episode from Chibnall, Whittaker and the team, but one that had me laughing and thrilled throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

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TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK OST – SEASON 3

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES – SEASON 3

My voyages on the first Starship Enterprise came to an end after seventy-nine intelligent, crazy, moving, mind-blowing, occasionally silly but always fascinating original series Star Trek episodes. Thus, having recently written reviews on the first and second series I have now completed watching the third series. In tone, the third and final season was probably more serious and I actually found the lack of comedy or parody worked in its favour.

Often maligned by some fans and critics alike for having some of the worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed, the third season, in my opinion, is actually very good. There are a few episodes, notably Spock’s Brain, that are just ridiculous and some, like Turnabout Intruder and Elaan of Troyius, that are rooted in regressive sexism. Plus, there’s a very familiar formula feeling too with contrived space-set situations echoing episodes from prior seasons. But to be honest I actually like that formula, which is why I still enjoy watching shows such as Quantum Leap, Doctor Who and indeed, Star Trek.

Thus, while formulaic familiarity set in, the budgets were cut and Scotty’s hair was all over the place from episode-to-episode, Season 3 still had some really memorable moments with great monsters, energetic villains, handsome actors and solid science-fiction concepts. Okay, some of the writing was at times lacking the snap, crackle and pop of say Gene L. Coon’s or D.C. Fontana’s scripts but I enjoyed the series very much. Here are six episodes which I feel still stand the test of time in terms of ideas, stories and drama.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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THE ENTERPRISE INCIDENT – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 2

This terrific episode has a brilliant spy versus spy plot as Kirk and crew attempt to steal a Romulan cloaking device. Crosses, double-crosses, fake deaths and conspiracies occur as the Enterprise finds itself at the mercy of Romulan vessels. Spock shows himself adroit at firstly betraying Kirk and then “romancing” the female Romulan Commander. While it doesn’t seem appropriate for his character to act this way it is of course part of a very logical plan. Nimoy’s performance is excellent and he again proves, underneath all that Vulcan make-up, he’s able to portray an emotionless character with much verve and charisma.

SPECTRE OF THE GUN – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 6

One of the over-hang scripts from Gene L. Coon’s reign as executive producer and show-runner successfully melds sci-fi with the Western genre. Kirk, Spock, Chekov and McCoy are transplanted by darned Melkotians into a virtual reality version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The only problem is they are all destined to die in the gun fight and must find a way of overcoming historical fate. Despite the contrivances in the narrative, the episode has much to offer thematically on violence and guns; as Kirk must decide between using force or peaceful means with which to overcome his foes.

FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8

Season three had some wonderfully pretentious episode titles and this one was no exception. However, it is a very effective episode that finds the Enterprise attempting to prevent an asteroid from colliding with a Federation planet.  However, the asteroid is not in fact a hurtling lump of space rock but a planet civilisation that provides a home to highly devout religious people. The clash of the Federation rules with the religious group’s rules provides much impetus for the drama. Moreover, the added woe of McCoy discovering he is dying and finding solace in the love for Natira of Yonada, makes this both an intriguing and moving episode.

WHOM GOD’S DESTROY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 14

The lunatics have literally taken over as memorable villain of the piece, former Fleet Captain Garth, gains control of the insane asylum at Elba II. Using shapeshifting abilities Garth is able to hoodwink Kirk and crew and take them prisoner. It’s a fun episode which finds the seasoned TV actor Steve Ihnat revelling in his role as the maniacal egomaniac Garth. There are lots of twists and turns throughout and the final fight scene involving Kirk fighting “himself” is most memorable as Spock must decide who the real Kirk is or who is Garth in disguise. While it’s quite a theatrical episode set in one location there’s load of fun to be had.

LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 15

Arguably the best episode of the season finds two battling humanoid aliens who will stop at nothing to wipe each other off the face of their war-torn planet. Frank Yorshin – who I recognised as The Riddler from the 1960s TV show Batman – portrays Commander Bele as a fanatical zealot. With his special telekinetic powers Bele takes control of the Enterprise and will stop at nothing to take his rival, Lokai, to trial and death. Indeed, Kirk is even forced to set the Enterprise in self-destruct mode to counter Bele. This is thematically a very strong episode as it critiques mindless racism and the senseless path of endless war. It’s also quite bleak at the end as a brilliant montage symbolises the potential destruction of Earth. Okay, so the message could be seen to be broad, and literally black and white, but it remains brave writing given it was released in the 1969 when civil unrest in the USA was rife.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 23

All Our Yesterdays found Kirk, Spock and McCoy dispersed back in time on endangered planet, Sarpeidon. I guess the ticking time bomb narrative of a dying world had kind of been done to death by now but it did not detract from an entertaining storyline which found Spock and Kirk in different timelines having entered a time portal by mistake. Kirk goes back to a medieval setting and is accused of being a sorcerer; while Spock and Bones are bombed five thousand years back to the ice age. Spock even finds time to fall in love as his genes regress with the age. Sounds silly but as Spock might say, I found it “fascinating.”

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

Created by: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer(s): Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng

Starring: Oliver Masucci, Karoline Eichhorn, Jördis Triebel, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Shani Atias, Daan Lennard Liebrenz, Mikkel Nielsen, Andreas Pietschmann, Deborah Kaufmann etc.

Cinematography    Nikolaus Summerer

Original network:    Netflix

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**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

Where do you start with this clever German science-fiction-family-drama-murder-mystery-serial-killer-historical-thriller-drama?  Because over ten fascinating episodes it is challenging, baffling and mind-blowing in equal measures. Does this mean it’s any good? Well, on the main, it is well worth a watch, especially if you like labyrinthine narratives concerning time-travel paradoxes, death, human corruption and familial conflict.

Set in the fictional German town of Winden, Dark begins in 2019 before later on moving around in time covering at least another two separate timelines. I will admit I do not want to give spoilers away on this but if you like on-screen jigsaws which span different years and various versions of characters as children, adults and the elderly then this is for you. Indeed, over the ten episodes the creatives behind the show take you on a gruesome, stylish and splintered journey into the characters’ past, present and future.

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Dark is grim, weird with loads of death. It opens with the suicide of a man and a teenager from the local school has also gone missing. Further disappearances occur which baffle the police while at the same time dead birds drop out of the sky. Yet, this is to all intents and purposes a normal town with regular families, school, police and oh, a Nuclear power station. So, if you’ve seen the recent Netflix show Stranger Things you’ll recognise we’re in similar Stephen King type horror territory. Having said that, Dark doesn’t actually worry about you liking these intense characters the way King and Stranger Things does. Although you do root for some of them they are a humourless bunch. But, who can blame them given what’s about to happen to their town and it’s the weirdness and mystery that keeps you watching.

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Centred around four families within Winden called: Nielsen, Kahnwald, Doppler and Tiedemann, who all have secrets to hide. As these secrets are revealed the intriguing writing gives us more and more mysteries and at times I felt lost. However, with a multitude of strands pulled together during the last couple of episodes I was fully on board this incredibly rich genre mix of horror, drama and science-fiction. The style is also very alluring with darkness, light, rain, stark landscapes and photography creating a thrilling mood, along with the haunting score. Finally, there were still loads of questions which remained at the end but I’ll certainly be back for Season 2 in the future.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #2 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 2)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #2 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 2)

Having written extensively about my love of Star Trek (The Original Series) in this article HERE – I have over the last few months completed the viewing of the second season.

My mission was to boldly watch every Star Trek episode ever made and report back with the findings. The second season, as a whole, compares favourably to the first in terms of writing and performance and concepts. One could say that season 2 drops slightly in quality toward the end. This could be explained by the uber-producer Gene L. Coon leaving as the day-to-day showrunner, plus Gene Roddenberry was less hands-on  too. Nonetheless, while the ratings continued to dip, the consistency of dramatic, comedic and science fiction or fantasy on show was in my view of an excellent quality. One notes that certain repetitions of format had obviously come to the fore in the format. I mean we still get Spock, Kirk, Bones and the rest of the crew fighting a slew of alien life forms or mad computers, yet such genre familiarity is also part of the major appeal.

With the budget (still sizable for its day) of each episode being lowered and NBC moving the second season to a later time slot on an unfavourable day the ratings suffered somewhat. So much so the show came perilously close to being cancelled. However, a core of Star Trek and science fiction fans protested physically and in writing to the studio and eventually they relented and gave the crew of the Starship Enterprise a third, and alas, final frontier season.

With regards to Season 2, there were some excellent episodes and I noted a move toward more comedic tones. Here are SIX episodes which captured my imagination in terms of narrative, drama and humour.

AMOK TIME – Episode 1

This classic episode is the only one of the Original Series to feature scenes on the planet Vulcan. It also is the first time the Vulcan hand salute is shown. It further marks the first appearance of the phrase which accompanies the Vulcan hand salute, “Live long and prosper.” The story finds Spock with a form of Vulcan heat and it demands he finds a mate to marry. Cue some wonderful acting from Leonard Nimoy and classic hand-to-hand combat between Spock and Kirk. The exploration of Vulcan culture adds a depth to Spock’s characterisation and this adds texture to an already fascinating character.

MIRROR MIRROR – Episode 4

The episode involves a transporter malfunction that swaps Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. It’s a wonderfully nifty sci-fi concept and has the cast stretching their acting chops playing nefarious versions of themselves with gleeful abandon. Moreover, the Trek theme of duality of psyche and split personalities is explored in a very entertaining fashion. When I first saw this it reminded me of the Red Dwarf episode ‘Parallel Universe’; but of course sci-fi is full of doubles, parallel and mirrored narratives within the genre.

THE DOOMSDAY MACHINEEpisode 6

This very cinematic episode is an absolute storming drama with echoes of Moby Dick and Jaws (1975) in space, as the crew of the Enterprise are caught within the path of a gigantic monstrous machine dubbed ‘the Planet Killer’!  All throughout the stakes are incredibly high because if they do not stop it whole galaxies could be destroyed.  The episode is intense and nail-biting with  Shatner absolutely nailing his performance, while guest actor William Windom brings an impressive mania to his role as Commodore Decker.

 

METAMORPHOSIS – Episode 9

This is a wonderful episode for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the photography by Jerry Finnerman was absolutely beautifully lit with warm hues, ambience and glow. The lighting compliments the gentle nature of the story which finds the Starfleet trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy pulled down to a planet by a mysterious alien force called “The Companion.” There they find a missing Starfleet scientist Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett) and discover he has not aged at all; but the price is he cannot escape “The Companion”. The drama plays out gently and is assured in its thematic exploration of loneliness, romance and the curative powers of love.

JOURNEY TO BABEL – Episode 10

This multi-layered episode finds us meeting Spock’s parents for the first time as the Enterprise ferries an array of Ambassadors within the United Federations to the Babel conference. Throw into the mix Spock’s dispute with his father and a murderer on board attempting to derail an important mining contract between the planets, and you get a mature work of political science fiction writing. The screenplay from Star Trek stalwart DC Fontana is full of great dialogue and a suspenseful murder mystery. Having already appeared in Season 1, as a Romulan Starship Captain, Mark Lenard as Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek is the stand-out guest star.

THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES – Episode 15

Aside from a wonderfully alliterative and fun title, The Trouble with Tribbles is often cited as one of the most entertaining and humorous Star Trek episodes ever. The episode was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation at the 1968 Hugo Awards, with the award instead going to The City on the Edge of Forever. Tribbles are of course, hamster-like-rodents which mate like rabbits and through sheer mass cause havoc on the Enterprise. Shatner is on top comedic form as Captain Kirk, dealing with the furry pests and a raft of Klingons sharing an uneasy truce; that is until a right-royal bar-fight breaks out in this laugh-out-loud fifteenth entry of the season.

 

 

MISDIRECTION (2018) – Latest Fix Films’ Short!

MISDIRECTION (2018) – Latest Fix Films’ Short!

As well watching loads of films and television programmes I also write scripts and produce low-budget short films. This year and last was quite productive.  My horror short Flatmates (2018) was shot and completed and having got a couple of festival screenings it still awaits an online release.  In the meantime I shot a 90 second micro-budget science-fiction thriller called Don’t Trust Me (2018) which can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE.

Furthermore, my short film C’est Fini (2018) was produced by the Northern Film School and our Star Trek Fan film The Holy Core (2018) found a backer and is currently in pre-production. Finally, myself and actress Melanie Gayle decided to work together again to produce a script for another 90 second short film competition Depict! This competition screens micro-shorts at the Encounters Film Festival and so we shot MISDIRECTION (2018), with that in mind.

MISDIRECTION (2018) was shot in June in a day with a small crew; not that they are short but there was only four of us!  The crew were great and so was my leading actress Melanie Gayle. My wife also provided wonderful voice work as the SAT-NAV. The 90 second version was edited and then submitted to Depict. Yet, I also had a slightly longer version cut and I think, despite the low-budget, it works well as a little twist-in-the-tale story that’s both funny and sinister too. There are obvious homages to the works of Philip K. Dick, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Black Mirror and Tales of the Unexpected. Here it is – hope you enjoy:

 

PITCH

A short, low-budget science-fiction comedy film with a twist.

SYNOPSIS

Valentine Ford is meeting her boyfriend, Dave, for dinner. However, her SAT-NAV has other ideas.

CAST / CREW

Starring: Melanie Gayle, Melissa Zajk

Written and directed by: Paul Laight

Camera: Inigo Berron

Sound: Tom Fisher

Editor: Joseph Martin-Kelly

Production: © 2018 – Fix Films

Website: http://www.fixfilms.co.uk

 

WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Talulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris, Angela Sarafyan, Anthony Hopkins etc.

Created by: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy

Written by: Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, Carly Wray, Dan Dietz, Gina Atwater, Ron Fitzgerald, Robert Patino etc.

Original network: HBO

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** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS HA! HA! **

Where does one start when reviewing HBO’s latest season of Westworld?  I could start at the beginning by clearly establishing the world, concepts and themes of this review. I could also begin by building in empathy and sympathy via a structured linear approach which would be easy for the reader to follow and create audience enjoyment and emotion via the action and events. Or, I could take the alternative route  by starting at the end, drip feed events via fractured timelines; develop a maze like structure full of dead ends and unreliable narrators; only to retroactively switch focus and continuity to confuse you beyond belief. Guess what Westworld’s writers did?  They took the latter course and over ten spectacularly beautiful looking episodes — acted, designed and directed with wonderful precision — we ultimately got a legion of stories which did not, for me, make any narrative or emotional sense.

This television show could have been one of the most memorable creations of recent years; up there with Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones; but alas it is not. With HBO spending a huge amount of money on it you’d have thought that they may have attempted to reign in the writers’ unnecessarily clever-clever approach to structure. Creator Jonathan Nolan has written some wonderful screenplays, Memento (2000) for example, remains one of the best low-budget films ever made; yet, that was within the discipline of a feature length film. Over ten episodes his, and writing partner Lisa Joy’s, choices to create an ever-shifting jigsaw narrative within an Escher painting style, left me with a headache and questioning the very nature of reasoning. I enjoy intelligently structured works, but NOT to the detriment of character empathy and narrative comprehension.

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Westworld is a stellar production and has some wonderful ideas and concepts relating to: coding, Artificial Intelligence, robot and human mortality, corporate espionage; android sentience and humanization; plus it challenges values of human versus computerized existence. However, exploration of such themes are very often lost amidst the jumbled and unnecessary complex timelines, which jump back and forward in days and years from scene to scene. It’s a narrative tragedy that the stories of Maeve, Teddy and Bernard, portrayed brilliantly by Thandie Newton, Geoffrey Wright and James Marsden, respectively, are lost at sea in a wave after wave of confusing plot and character turns. Anthony Hopkins was once again excellent as the A: I overlord Robert Ford, while, Evan Rachel Wood brought a deadly coolness and strength to her role of the “death-bringer” Dolores/Wyatt. Furthermore, the violence, action and blood-letting were amazing, reminding one of Sam Peckinpah in the high definition digital age. But for every intriguing story involving the host robots many other strands fell flat, notably Ed Harris’ “Man-in-Black” storyline. While it was good to see the acting brilliance of Harris, and Peter Mullan too, I did not care enough Harris’ character and his refusal to succumb to death became rather grating.

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Two years ago I wrote a highly praiseworthy review of Westworld – Season 1, which can be read HERE. Moreover, I even spent a whole week mapping out many of the plot strands and the order with which the show was structured in my article: Westworld: Post-Mapping the Network. That piece was my attempt to gain some sense of the events and order with which they occurred; and can be read HERE.  I will not be doing the same for the second season. Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any cultural reward in applying the same endeavour and analysis. There are really too many characters and storylines and the lack of clear exposition does the show no favours.

Overall, the show continues to amaze with its successful merging of Western and Science Fiction locations, costumes, props and hardware. The introduction of Shogun World was also a delicious diversion; however, that location was really filler to the other stories. It’s such a shame though as much of the visual pageantry is lost in a vacuum of confusing storylines and worst of all, by the finale’s end, I just did not care. There are some great episodes of televisual genius in Season 2 but the original concept, by Michael Crichton, of sentient hosts rising up murdering their human slave-masters, is lost in a myriad of temporal turmoil and chronological catastrophe!

(Mark for the production: 10 out of 11)

(Mark for narrative: 5 out of 11)

 

 

 

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

Created by: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson

Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller

Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville.  He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.

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The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in tooSeth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)