Friday, September 09, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

"Karma's a word. Like "love". A way of saying 'what I am here to do.' I do not resent my karma - I'm grateful for it."

- The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Ending a trilogy well is not at all an easy task.

Final installments in cinematic trilogies are, in fact, notoriously rough going. Consider Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Godfather III (1990), for example.  In cases such as these, it's fair to state that it is much easier to forge a beginning than a satisfying ending.

There’s also the opposite instance of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I suppose, which earned a Best Picture Oscar.  Yet there remain a number of critics (myself included) who consider that trilogy-ender wildly over-praised and overlong, and certainly not the finest of the three pictures in the series. 

So why do trilogy-enders tend to fail in terms of audience and critical appreciation? 

In large percentage, I suspect, because of deeply-held expectations. Viewers carry along much emotional and time investment when it comes to ending a trilogy; and also weigh-in a great deal of narrative 'history' in determination of how well a ''final" chapter succeeds.  Opinions about how a tale might end have already been, perhaps unconsciously, forged by the advent of a third film.  A trilogy-ender must, by necessity, satisfy those expectations, and yet not in an obvious, routine, or predicable way.

Unfortunately, the Wachowski Bros.' The Matrix Revolutions doesn’t escape unscathed from this “trilogy” curse.

In fact, it is undeniably the weakest film in The Matrix trilogy, in part because it devotes so much screen-time wrapping up the details of existing story lines rather than exploring more deeply the philosophical terrain excavated by the earlier movies.

To an unexpected extent, The Matrix Revolutions is also scuttled by an unfortunate but necessary re-casting in a central role, and by a storyline which, essentially, drops the two most interesting characters – Neo and Trinity – for an egregiously long spell. 

On the first front, Gloria Foster portrayed The Oracle in the first two Matrix pictures, but passed away before her scenes could be completed for The Matrix Revolutions.  Mary Alice replaces Foster and does an absolutely fine job in the role.  And yet Foster's more laconic and familiar presence is sorely missed here, despite the crafty manner in which the shift in The Oracle's appearance is explained. 

Again, I'm not picking on Mary Alice, or claiming that the filmmakers were wrong to re-cast the role.  Clearly, they had no other choice.  And yet still, this time around I miss the human connection to Foster's indelible, dynamic character.  Foster's Oracle was tough as well as charming.  Alice's interpretation seems "straighter," if you will, without some of the flamboyant affectation that made Foster light up the screen in each of her memorable scenes.

Regarding the second matter, Neo and Trinity are sidelined from the film for a long spell as war comes to Zion, and Neo makes a pilgrimage to the Machine City, a kind of wondrous, mechanical version of Baum's Oz. 

While Neo and Trinity are away, the film showcases an intense, large-scale battle to hold Zion, and the sequence is dominated by incredible special effects.  In essence, this show-stopping special effects triumph depicts the Machine/Man war that the Terminator films always seemed to promise but never truly delivered.  These visual effects are indeed awe-inspiring yet, and the battle also does a nice job of showcasing two minor human characters as they fight, moment-to-moment, overwhelming odds. In so many ways, it is this battle that it the very centerpiece of the film.

Yet -- and forgive me for saying so -- this isn't really why we go to see a Matrix movie. 

We go to see Neo, Trinity and Morpheus in action...inside the Matrix, preferably.  And to one degree or another, all three of those characters are essentially side-lined while second tier characters (Niobe, Zee, Mifune, Lock) fight the war, positioned in the driver's seats.  This narrative structure seems a miscalculation because it asks us to relate to characters we don't as easily identify with, and because it takes us out of the Matrix for such a long time.

The Matrix Revolutions boasts some other notable problems too.  For the first time in the franchise, the audience is already well-ahead of the characters here, at least in terms of critical thinking.  There's one absolutely agonizing, poorly-directed, poorly-acted scene during The Matrix Revolutions in which Neo -- with all his new found abilities -- fails to recognize Smith in the body of a human, Bane. 

Heck, you don't even need those special psionic/metaphysical capabilities to recognize Smith because the actor portraying Bane, Ian Bliss, does a masterful, almost supernatural imitation of Weaving's distinctive speech patterns.  Listening to Bane speak, it is impossible not to recognize him as Smith virtually instantly.  And it's not like Neo's attention isn't focused or something.

That Neo fails for so long to recognize Smith in his new, human guise  does not speak well for the hero's intelligence or even his sense of intuition.  Again, this scene represents one of the few instances in the entire trilogy during which we have time to grow bored with the film making, performances and writing.  I'm not generally a critic of Keanu Reeves' acting style.  I believe he's a good actor who can either be used very well in a film (Speed, The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded), or used poorly (Bram Stoker's Dracula).  Generally, the mix is right in The Matrix films, but Neo's Revolutions plays into the perception by many audiences that Reeves comes across as a dolt.  And The One can't -- and shouldn't -- be a dolt.

Such flaws established, The Matrix Revolutions does add at least one new element of philosophy to the series mix, namely in the explicit debate regarding karma. 

We learned in The Matrix Reloaded that Neo is actually the sixth "One" -- part of a chain -- and that his actions in this life will impact future lives and future selves.  That's the essence of karma, in the Buddhist sense, and if Reloaded concerned the idea of making "free" choices in what seemed a deterministic universe, Revolutions focuses squarely the impact of our choices on our lives, our world, and our  bigger destiny.  Rightly, Revolutions is about causality, how results, sometimes unintended, follow choices.  This is the film -- the ending -- that must concern such results.

The Matrix Revolutions isn't exactly "the bad one," as so many critics have claimed regarding the trilogy, but the film's balance does seem off, for the first time in trilogy history.  There's far too much focus on hover crafts weaving about in impossibly complicated sewer systems, much like the Millennium Falcon in an asteroid belt, and the battle sequences -- though incredibly impressive -- suck momentum away from Neo and Trinity's tragic love story. 

Finally, the ending "detente" between machine and man, while assiduously layered into the trilogy (especially in the middle film), somehow fails to satisfy on a dramatic level.  We leave the film wanting more; wanting to see the defeat of the machines.

One way or another, I'm getting on this train

Neo (Keanu Reeves) has become trapped in the domain of The Train Man (Bruce Spence), a subway station with no end and no beginning. 

"This place is nowhere.  It is between our world and your world," he is informed  by a kindly program, Rama Kandra (Bernard White). 

While trapped, Neo learns that such programs  have not only learned to reproduce, but to "love," an act responsible for the child program, Sati (Tanveer Atwal).  He is shocked to realize that machines have developed the equivalent of human emotions.

Outside the way station, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Seraph (Collin Chau) confront the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) to free Neo. Once released,  Neo takes a hover-craft with Trinity to reach the Machine City, a path that Neo has seen laid out for him in visions, while Morpheus and Captain Niobe attempt to return to Zion to defend it from Machine attack.

Meanwhile, in the Matrix, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) assimilates the entire population, turning one and all into mirror images of himself.  Amongst the lost are The Oracle (Mary Alice) and young Sati.

Once he arrives at the Machine City, Neo attempts to negotiate a truce between the machines and Zion, but the machines have a task for him: He must destroy Agent Smith once and for all, before Smith's corrupting influence can be allowed to pollute the "real" world.

It is remarkable how similar the pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity

Karma is all about the way that actions lead to results, and is also one of five categories of "causation" in Eastern beliefs. 

Karma suggests that actions spring from intention, and karma also drives samsara (the flow of life, essentially) for each being; the process of life, death and re-birth.

The Matrix Revolutions gazes deeply at the idea of karma in terms of its lead characters. Though Neo optedto save Trinity rather than the Matrix and Zion in Reloaded, he gathers additional information about the Machines and Programs in this film, and then  re-establishes his foretold destiny as established by the Architect/Oracle.   He chooses the path the Architect sought for him, but not in the way the Architect desired.

Namely, having lost his mortal love at Trinity's death, Neo arranges a peace between the machines and the humans.  And after defeating Smith, Neo also "re-boots" the world for the dawn of the Sixth and next Matrix.  It is true that things happen slightly differently this time around on the wheel of fate, but the end results are the same:  Zion continues.  The Machine City Continues.  And the Matrix continues

By saving every element in the world (machine, man and program), Neo creates a "sunny" future for Earth, as the film's final, idyllic shots reveal.  This peace may be fragile, but it exists, and so when Neo returns in some future life, his karma will be positive.   He is "The One," and Neo learns in this film that being "The One" means not simply representing human beings.  On the contrary, he is the savior/messiah for the Programs and Machines as well.

When the Oracle is asked by Sati if she will ever see Neo again, The Oracle answers in the affirmative ("I suspect so. Someday.") because in the cycle of birth/death/rebirth, Neo's actions have been wholly positive.  To put it another way, "our" Neo --  through self-sacrifice and heroism -- has created karma in this world, but it won't be until his next life that he actually gets to experience it and feel it.  That's how karma works.  We make karma in this life at the same time as we deal with karma from a past life.

Smith's karma also plays a role in his defeat in The Matrix Revolutions.  Smith "outgrew" his role as an agent in The Matrix when Neo (at the end of the first film), became one with him -- suffused him -- and then, essentially, blew him up. 

This infusion of the One's power,led Smith to grow exponentially in strength until he was the dominant force inside the Matrix; a force he used for negativity and evil.  In The Matrix Reloaded, these events come full circle as Smith totally absorbs and suffuses Neo, providing the protagonist the opportunity to corrupt the Smith-ian status quo, and similarly overturn it.  This act is a reversal of what we saw in The Matrix, and the Oracle reminds us, trenchantly, that Smith is Neo's "opposite."  Their karmas are also opposite.

It's also worth pointing out that Trinity reaches her pre-ordained destiny in this film. She dies young, at Neo's side, after willingly giving her life for him over and over again.  Neo may have rescued her before, but he was only delaying her fate, not changing it.  Trinity's selection was always to die for Neo.  That was her "karma," and it too paved the way for a future of peace.  If Trinity is to be re-born at some point, one would also anticipate her karma  in that iteration would be positive.

Each Matrix film has utilized some aspect of Buddhist philosophy to a substantial degree, and it's rewarding that The Matrix Revolutions -- on the event of the series' ending -- should focus on the big idea of our actions creating meaning; and the epic sweep of life, death and eventual rebirth.  "Change is always a dangerous game," according to the film, but in forging change, the film's heroic characters, particularly Neo and Trinity, build a new and better world.  Not the best world, mind you, but a better one.  They end the war.

The question that roils me to this day, however, is this one: Is this change enough?  The machines are still growing human slaves in those fields.  And millions of human souls are still locked in the Matrix, essentially a "lie" about reality.  The film ends with this paradigm as the status quo. 

Yes, Zion is free, but what are the rules of this new peace?  Must the humans of Zion stop attempting to free the minds of the enslaved?  And will the machines truly leave Zion alone, in defiance of history and five previous attempts to overwhelm it?

Again, the idea of detente (not defeat) is built into the Matrix films, and I do understand that. 

In Revolutions, fore instance, we learn that programs can be loving fathers and husbands, and also broach such concepts as self-sacrifice.  Such qualities make them not an enemy to humans, essentially, but a competitor. 

This is a noble, uplifting idea --- peace between biologicals and mechanicals -- but again, slavery is involved in the equation. Is it right to go on living happily in Zion knowing that your brethren are enslaved, exploited as "living batteries?" 

The Oracle glosses over this idea at the end of the film by noting that anyone who "chooses" to leave the Matrix may now do so.   But don't we already know, from Reloaded that the Matrix works in the first place because there is a choice involved, and that the slaves implicitly have accepted their slavery in The Matrix?   In other words, the System is designed to overcome choice, so how can the Oracle blithely state that the slaves have a "choice" about leaving?

Something about this truce just doesn't sit right.  Slavery is a moral evil, no matter the degree of "choice" apparently provided by the master. I don't believe for a minute that Morpheus would simply "retire," knowing that machines are still growing human beings for use as batteries.  The whole point of the war, it seems is freedom for all.  Not just the lucky thousands already dwelling in Zion.

In terms of drama, I believe the resolution of this film is extremely disappointing.  We have been told that this is a war of survival against the machines, and then -- at the last minute -- it isn't.  The machines offer a truce to Zion, Zion accepts, and life continues.  The change wrought by Neo -- beyond the welcome destruction of Smith, of course -- appears mostly cosmetic, not in the real nature of things or systems  It's no wonder that Morpheus asks "is this real?"   As viewers we wonder the same thing, and wonder how the truce can last (in the same manner that the Architect ponders this question).

I hope you feel I have not been too hard on The Matrix Revolutions.  Some elements of the film are downright gorgeous.  The Machine City, for instance, is an incredible vision of what a robot utopia might look like, and splendidly, terrifyingly-realized.  The battle to hold Zion, as I indicated near the top of my review, is a stunning vision, and one of a scope almost beyond our capacity to imagine.  I also appreciated the visuals of a thoroughly corrupted, rainswept Matrix, transformed into grisly embodiment of Smith's degraded, egomaniacal id.  Neo's funeral in the Mechanical City -- very much like a Viking funeral -- represents an unforgettable visual as well.

These are all sights worth seeing, and the message about karma -- about how our choices impact our future -- is certainly valuable and in keeping with the franchise's noble history.  But there's still a feeling, when The Matrix Revolutions ends, that -- if you'll pardon the expression -- the "hopey, changey" thing isn't really going to cut it; not when there are still two sides of such diametrically opposed interest involved. Ultimately, either the machines will win, or the humans will win.  The planet doesn't seem big enough for both.  Maybe what we're left to ponder, then, simply is that Neo has given the world a new beginning. 

And the world sometimes needs a new beginning...

The Matrix Revolutions is not the conclusion to the franchise everybody hoped for, but it remains an important part of what is, arguably, the most ambitious trilogy in cinema history, as I hope my reviews over the last few weeks have indicated. 

The Matrix movies are ones about reality itself, and about how -- through Buddhist philosophy, mainly -- we countenance, interpret, shape and accept that reality.  It has been eleven years since the first film was made, nine since the last, and yet the trilogy remain girded with stunning ideas and brilliant visuals.  That's why I prefer these films to, for example, the Lord of the Rings movies.

It's one thing to create an epic story  regarding  the clash between good vs. evil.  It's quite another to  look at the forces underlying that battle.  Forces such free will, karma, phenomenology, and so on.   It's the difference between brilliantly showcasing the specifics of a war, and attempting to explain why human beings go to war in the first place.  One film cycle is about  (admittedly impressive) surface values, and one is about the meaning of life itself in addition to those superficial traits.

Frankly, I could watch The Matrix again next week and write an entirely new review of the film, one that doesn't even gaze at the same concepts I enunciated in my review of two weeks ago.  Not many blockbuster action films so brawnily open themselves up to that  level of criticism, analysis, and debate. 

Like the system featured in the films themselves, this is a trilogy that seems to renew itself on each and every viewing.  In that way, it becomes more than the sum of its lesser (Revolutions) parts.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

From the Archive: 32 Things Star Trek Taught Me

1. "There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things you can't have. It's no fun facing that, but that's the way things are." ("Charlie X")

2. "Morals are for men, not Gods." ("Where No Man Has Gone Before")

3. "We all have our darker side. We need it! It's half of what we are. It's not's human." ("The Enemy Within")

4. "The sound of male ego. You travel half way across the galaxy and it's still the same song." ("Mudd's Women")

5. "Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman always remains a woman." ("The Conscience of the King")

6. "War is never imperative." ("Balance of Terror")

7. "The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play." ("Shore Leave")

8. "Life and death are seldom logical." ("The Galileo Seven")

9. "Madness has no purpose. Or reason. But, it may have a goal." ("The Alternative Factor")

10. "Freedom is never a gift: it has to be earned." ("Return of the Archons")

11."If there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. ("This Side of Paradise")

12. "A lie is a poor way to say hello." ("City on the Edge of Forever")

13. "You may find that having is not nearly so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true." ("Amok Time")

14. "In every revolution there's one man with a vision." ("Mirror, Mirror")

15. "Vulcans never bluff." ("The Doomsday Machine")

16. "Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad..." ("I, Mudd")

17. "The idea of male and female are universal constants..." ("Metamorphosis")

18. "There's an old, old saying on earth, Mr. Sulu: "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." ("Friday's Child")

19. "Everyone feeds on death, even vegetarians." ("Wolf in the Fold")

20. "Too much of anything -- even love -- is not necessarily a good thing." ("The Trouble with Tribbles"")

21. "They used to say if mankind could fly, he'd have wings, but he did fly. He discovered he had to." ("Return to Tomorrow")

22. "Without followers, evil cannot spread." ("And the Children Shall Lead")

23. "Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. When the laws do not operate, there is no reality." ("Spectre of the Gun")

24. "Only a fool fights in a burning house." ("Day of the Dove")

25. "The release of emotion is what keeps us healthy. Emotionally healthy." ("Plato's Stepchildren")

26. "We must acknowledge – once and for all – that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis." ("Mark of Gideon")

27. "Herbert was a minor official, notorious for his rigid and limited patterns of thought." ("The Way to Eden")

28. "We all create God in our own image." ("The Motion Picture")

29. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one." ("The Wrath of Khan")

30. "The needs of the one... outweigh the needs of the many." ("The Search for Spock")

31. "Maybe he's [God] not out there, Bones. Maybe he's right here. The human heart." ("The Final Frontier")

32. "Logic is the beginning of wisdom...not the end." ("The Undiscovered Country")

Happy 45th Birthday, Star Trek!

May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your birthday!

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

"Everything that has a beginning has an end."

- The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

From the Archive: Star Trek - The Animated Series: "Yesteryear"

The blockbuster J.J. Abrams' Star Trek film (2009) is not the first (or only...) Trek installment over the years to alter the franchise time line in some fashion (or, more accurately, create a separate or alternate time line). In fact, this kind of temporal tweaking was occurring in the series as early as 1973. September 15, 1973, to be precise.

That's the air date of story-editor D.C. Fontana's "Yesteryear." It was the second episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series broadcast on CBS in most U.S. cities, and -- not entirely unlike the popular Abrams' film -- it was heavily Spock-centric in nature.

"My ideas were these," Fontana told me in an interview for Filmfax Magazine in 2001: "Can we see Vulcan? What kind of story can I tell there? And can I involve Spock?" In answering those questions, Fontana created what is undeniably the most popular episode of the animated series, and one that is also regarded as "canon" by most Star Trek fans.

"Yesteryear" opens at the planet of the Guardian of Forever (as seen in "City on the Edge of Forever.") A group of Federation scientists stand watch at the mysterious time portal as Kirk and Spock return from a visit to Orion's past.

However, something strange has occurred in their absence. The scientists don't appear to remember Spock at all. A baffled Captain Kirk hails the Enterprise, and Scotty has no memory of the half-Vulcan science-officer either. "Something appears to have changed in the time line as we know it," Spock suggests.

Indeed, this is an accurate supposition, and the first officer of the starship Enterprise in this "new" time line is now an Andorian, Mr. Thelin. Upon returning to the starship, Spock also learns that in this universe, he died at age seven, during a dangerous Vulcan rite of "maturity" called the Kahs-wan. Equally as troubling, Spock's death at a young age caused the dissolution of Sarek and Amanda's marriage, and Amanda was subsequently killed in a shuttle accident on her way home to Earth.

Again, I thought reflexively of the 2009 Star Trek film, which also makes Amanda a casualty in an alternate time line.

Kirk and Spock soon realize that, in their original timeline, Spock must have actually traveled back in Vulcan history and saved his younger self from dying on Vulcan's Forge during the Kahs-wan, a ritual involving 10 days in the desert without food, water, or weapons.

However, when the Federation scientists "replayed" that part of Vulcan history (some twenty-to-thirty years prior...), Spock was unavailable -- in Orion's past with Kirk -- and therefore unable to return to Vulcan and save his younger self. Got that?

In hopes of restoring himself and the timeline, Spock masquerades as Sarek's (Mark Lenard's) cousin "Selik," and returns to Vulcan in the past, near the city of ShiKahr.

There, he comes to the assistance of his younger self as the seven-year old Spock and his pet sehlat, I-Chaya, are attacked by a Vulcan dragon called a le-matya. Fans of Godzilla will recognize the roar of the le-matya as being that of their favorite Toho monster, by the way...

Unfortunately, I-Chaya is poisoned by the dragon and young Spock seeks help from a local healer, braving Vulcan's Forge and thereby passing the Vulcan rite of adulthood. For his beloved pet, however, it is too late, and the healer offers Spock a choice. The sehlat's life can be prolonged for a time -- but the animal will feel terrible pain, or the healer can release the beloved pet from all his suffering...and end his life now.

Young Spock makes the decision to end his pet's suffering, and in doing so decides that the path of his own life will follow in the Vulcan way: logic and the total repression of all emotion.

When elder Spock returns to the present on the Planet of the Guardian of Forever, he informs a waiting Kirk that the timeline has indeed been altered (or a new one created...). "One small thing was changed...a pet died," Spock informs his Captain. "Times change..." he concludes later, and in a way, that could be a tag-line for the new Star Trek too.

"Yesteryear" has always been one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, in part because of the difficult but valuable message about pets, and caring for pets. When young Spock asks whether it is right to mourn the loss of his pet, his older self notes with compassion that "every life comes to an end when the time demands it," and thus there is no need to be sad about it. What is sad, Spock insists, is a life that has not been lived well.

Frankly, I'm amazed that a pet's (on-screen...) death made it past the censors and onto network television, on Saturday mornings, no less, in the 1970s.

Filmation's Lou Scheimer, producer of the Star Trek cartoon, told me in an interview in 2001 that "a pet's death had never been done on a children's program, and it was touching and provocative. Dorothy was instrumental in making it so creative."

When I interviewed Fontana, she told me that there was indeed a "worry about the death of the sehlat," but that "Gene Roddenberry told the networks" that she -- Fontana -- would "take care of it," in a way that acceptable. It was a story, that Fontana put "so much" of herself into...and it certainly shows, even today. If you've ever lost a beloved pet -- or worse, had to make the choice of life for death for a beloved pet -- you will find yourself quite moved by the last act of "Yesteryear."

Watching this episode again brought me right back to a terrible Thursday in April 2003, and the death of my first cat, Lulu. Our doctor offered us a similar choice: a short-term respite (through a difficult blood transfusion), or a merciful "passing" right there...and thus an end to suffering. We chose the latter option and it was - and remains - devastating, but I've always believed we made the right choice for her; the same choice Spock makes for his pet in this Star Trek episode. Maybe Vulcans and humans are quite alike after all...
Another intriguing aspect of "Yesteryear," especially in light of the new film, is a scene involving young Spock being bullied by other Vulcan children about his human half. Although in the cartoon (again, a Saturday morning show...) nobody calls Amanda "a whore," the insults are still pretty harsh. One child tells Spock that Sarek brought shame to Vulcan by marrying a human. Another tells Spock that he can never be a "real Vulcan." This scene -- with different costumes and sets -- is played out almost exactly -- quite faithfully, really -- in the Abrams film. (And indeed, it was a moment mentioned in passing by Amanda as early as the Fontana live-action episode "Journey to Babel.")

Another reason to admire "Yesteryear" is the scope of the story. Before Abrams' film, this cartoon segment probably represented the best view of Vulcan we were afforded in Trek history. In "Yesteryear," we see the interior of Sarek and Amanda's home, the deserts of Vulcan's Forge, and a futuristic metropolis (not to mention some hover cars). These things were possible only because of animation...a live-action series of 1973 could simply never have afforded so many varied sets, props or locations.

In light of the newest chapter of the Star Trek story, "Yesteryear" looks even more fascinating -- to a coin a phrase -- than ever. In it, we see how a time line is changed permanently (if only in regards to a pet's destiny...), get more than a passing glimpse of Vulcan, and once more delve into the difficult choices Spock made in childhood: the selection between Vulcan or human philosophy.

All in all, this may be Star Trek: The Animated Series' finest hour.

From the Archive: Report to the Transporter Room for Landing Party Duty

From the Archive: Star Trek: "The Enterprise Incident"

[John's note: Today, I continue my celebration of Star Trek's 45th birthday this week with a few episode and movie reviews from the blog archive.]

For over forty years now, Trekkers have passionately debated the third and final season of ST: TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series, for the non-Trekkers out there).

This was the spell during which the late Fred Freiberger (1915 - 2003) assumed the role of executive producer after series creator Gene Roddenberry -- the Great Bird of the Galaxy -- reduced his involvement.

A little background: Roddenberry had apparently promised NBC he would be a hands-on show-runner for the third season, but then the network pulled a fast one and re-scheduled Star Trek to the Friday night graveyard (or "death slot") at 10:00 pm. Roddenberry stepped down, and Freiberger arrived on the scene. Not everyone was a happy camper.

The general perception has long been that Star Trek took a significant downward turn in quality during Freiberger's tenure; perhaps as a result of his involvement.

Yet the ratings-troubled series had other problems to grapple with too, including a dramatic budget cut in the third season which rendered location shooting impractical except on rare occasions (such as "The Paradise Syndrome," early in the new season). According to William Shatner's Star Trek Memories, the per episode budget dropped from a high in the first season of $193,500.00 to a low at the third season of $178,500.00. (William Shatner, Chris Kreski, Harper Collins, 1993, pages 290-291).

Now intriguing, visually-exciting location work -- "planet side" action -- had been a staple of Star Trek in the first two seasons; with episodes such as "Arena," "This Side of Paradise," "The Alternative Factor," "Shore Leave," and "Friday's Child" springing to mind. But in the third season, Freiberger -- in the words of original series star, Nichelle Nichols -- suddenly became a "producer who had nothing to produce with." (Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York 1994. p.189.)

So depending on mind-set, you can either appreciate Star Trek Season Three for what it is (and in some cases, by necessity what it had to be), or dislike it for the manner in which it differed from the first two seasons.

One can either laud episodes such "The Paradise Syndrome," "The Enterprise Incident," "The Tholian Web" and "All Our Yesterdays" or curse the quality of such outings as "Spock's Brain," "And the Children Shall Lead" and "The Way to Eden."

Other third season episodes remain even more controversial, both loved and despised by fans in equal measure: "Let that Be Your Last Battlefield," "The Empath," and "Spectre of the Gun." Failures, or, in some cases, almost avant-garde masterpieces?

One third season episode that holds up remarkably well today is author D.C. Fontana's "The Enterprise Incident," which first aired September 27, 1968 and featured the Enterprise's secret espionage mission inside Romulan space to recover a new and deadly cloaking device technology. This was the second broadcast installment of the last season.

When I interviewed D.C. Fontana for Filmfax Magazine, she explained in detail about the origins of this episode: "It was a reflection of the Pueblo Incident, where a ship was captured in an area of sea where it shouldn't have been. The ship claimed not to be a spy ship, but in fact it was a spy ship."

Specifically, on January 23, 1968, the U.S.S. Pueblo, a Banner-class research vessel with six officers and seventy crew men aboard, was surrounded and captured by North Korean vessels. The U.S. government insisted the ship was well within international waters, but the Democratic People's Republic of Korea countered that Pueblo was inside its territory when captured.

Classified, high-security material was eventually found aboard the was on an American spy mission after all. The ship was brought back to an enemy port (the nearest U.S. naval vessel was -- ironically, the U.S.S. Enterprise -- positioned some five hundred miles south and in no position to assist...). The Pueblo crew was then processed, tortured, and eventually returned stateside. The ship itself remains in the custody of the North Koreans.

In "The Enterprise Incident," you can see many deliberate resonances of the real-life incident, which had occurred scarcely nine months before the episode was broadcast. Here, a Federation starship, NCC-1701, strays into enemy waters, metaphorically-speaking. The Romulan Commander (Joanne Linville) plans to take the Enterprise back to a Romulan port as a prize, and process the crew before eventual release. Of course, that doesn't happen.

Here, history is re-written rather dramatically. The party that is actually in the wrong (conducting the espionage in enemy territory in the name of intergalactic security,) escapes with a secret device that could alter the balance of power. In fact, the Enterprise actually gets away scot-free, with an important captive in tow: the Romulan Commander herself. In other words, Kirk and Spock are on the side of the angels, keeping the Romulan-created technology...out of Romulan hands.

In space, all warriors are cold warriors...

In "The Enterprise Incident," Kirk and Spock's secret spy mission also involves the logical half-Vulcan science officer...uh...romancing the Romulan Commander to gain her confidence.

Like the rest of us, then, the Romulans prove themselves intrigued by Vulcan morals and ethics. In this case, they make a bad mistake. The commander is manipulated by the poker-faced Spock. Specifically, he distracts her while a surgically-altered Kirk (now resembling a Romulan) makes off with the top-secret cloaking device. Scotty does a lickety-split installation, and the escape is made.

Notably, Spock re-affirms in this episode that "Vulcans are incapable of lying" and live by a code of "personal honor and integrity." The Romulan Commander naively accepts his word on these crucial matters, and pays the price for trusting Spock.

Yet, "The Enterpise Incident" works so well because the noble Spock clearly takes no satisfaction, let alone joy, in manipulating this Enemy of the Federation. In the hands of another actor, Spock might very well seem like a heel or a cad for actively encouraging the romantic inclinations of the Romulan Commander, but Leonard Nimoy plays the role sensitively; humanely. This subtle approach comes to the forefront during Spock's final conversation with the Romulan commander aboard the Enterprise, in the turbo-lift.

The Romulan commander has been tricked and disgraced. She is angry, and rightfully so, over Spock's trickery. And yet Spock doesn't hide behind orders or regulations here. Instead, he expresses, perhaps obliquely, that this has all been a rather useless and short-lived game. "Military secrets are the most fleeting of all," he acknowledges. Rather, he suggests to the Commander that it is the connection that the two of them shared that will prove more permanent, more lasting.

This is one of the reasons I love and admire Star Trek. The character of Spock -- perpetually the outsider -- gives us a good, outside perspective on ourselves and our behavior. By contrast, Kirk is the giddy American cowboy, the dashing American secret agent, the guy who is going to accomplish his mission with heroic flair and dynamic action. He is entrenched in his mission (he cannot afford otherwise), and he doesn't really look outside it at the big picture. We love and admire Kirk for this clarity of vision and purpose.

But Mr. Spock thinks more analytically, and with a deeper perspective. He weighs matters outside of petty political and military concerns. Though as a Starfleet officer he performed his duty, he intimates that in this case, that duty involved something "fleeting," hence ultimately unimportant. Rather, the bond established by the Romulan Commander and Spock suggests that these two clashing races/empires can find common ground in the future, beyond the conflict of the present.

The second-to-last time we encounter Mr. Spock in Star Trek history, he is pursuing this very cause: the re-unification of Romulus and Vulcan. I've always wondered if Spock's personal encounter with the Romulan Commander was the impetus of his decision to pursue this tough-to-negotiate peace. In some subtle way, Star Trek -- despite the presence of all kinds of alien creatures and some imperialistic tales -- has really been, sub textually, about the bonds that unite humanity. We may differ with the Soviet Union (during the Cold War) or the Taliban today, during the War on Terror, but we hope and pray that in the future what unites us all as inhabitants of the planet Earth will overcome that which today divides us. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), only Nixon could go to China; only Kirk could bring peace between the Klingons and The Federation. And here, way back in "The Enterprise Incident" in 1968, the seeds of peace between the Romulans and the Federation are being Spock; in his humane treatment of the Romulan Commander.

Now, Spock also manipulates the Romulan Commander very successfully and in some sense, it does play as cruel. But lest we forget, she is also manipulating him simultaneously, using what she perceives to be Spock's sense of racial superiority to harness resentment against Kirk and loyalty towards her. So they are both pawns of the mission. But I would suggest that -- all along -- Spock may have a better future in mind. He may be stealing a cloaking device and deceiving a beautiful woman in the present, but he also realizes that military secrets are fleeting and that one person can change the world; can alter the direction of the future (also a message of another Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror.")

In Star Trek history, "The Enterprise Incident" may actually be one of the most significant episodes of all, especially in terms of impact on the franchise.

This episode establishes a Klingon-Romulan alliance (later shattered, with great resentment and animosity in the Next Gen era), and it introduces blue Romulan Ale, though not in name, as a "powerful recruiting inducement." The episode also establishes Spock's time in Starfleet as 18 years.

Much of the drama also hinges on the mistaken belief that "Vulcans are incapable of lying," a turn of phrase which returns in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

Also, although Fontana introduced Vulcan "finger-touching" as a gesture of affection in "Journey to Babel," here we see a more...erotic...application. That too returned to Star Trek, in 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Additionally, in "The Enterprise Incident," the audience gets some significant knowledge of the Romulans, from the "Right of Statement" to the command structure inside the Empire.

And of course, "The Enterprise Incident" introduces the Vulcan Death Grip. Which, as you surely know, does not exist...

I'll go even further. I believe that "The Enterprise Incident" is very much a template for the modern Star Trek motion picture series, as it involves the Enterprise forced to take dramatic action to capture or otherwise stop a weapon of mass destruction. Here it is the Romulan Cloaking Device. But Khan had Genesis, Soran had the Ribbon -- which he wielded as a weapon, Shinzon had a tharalon device, and Nero had Red Matter.

Over the years "The Enterprise Incident" has not been without controversy, of course. Fontana told me that the "episode wasn't substantially re-written" from what she had imagined, but rather "was changed in ways that really bothered me. The relationship between Spock and the Romulan commander was somewhat different than what I had envisioned. From a production standpoint, the cloaking device was supposed to be small and easily hidden, but on the show it looked like a lamp. That didn't work for me, because they had to run around holding this large device, it was pretty obvious. More than that, the relationship between Spock and the Romulan commander wasn't what I had in mind. I wanted it to be more adversarial than it was."

Indeed, if "The Enterprise Incident" contains one weakness, it is that the Romulan Commander appears far too trusting, far too early, of Spock. Especially since she did not know he was stationed on the Enterprise and therefore could not anticipate her strategy before seeing him on the viewscreen. Of course, given a little thought, the Commander's actions might be written off as signs of a healthy, Kirk-sized ego. She believes she can appeal to Spock's ego, assuring him that he is a "superior being" and thereby offer him ample incentive to turn against the Federation. Given Kirk's irrational, arrogant behavior leading up this incident (all orchestrated, of course...) it is also easy to see why she could imagine Spock would prefer to serve her rather than the fragile, insulting Captain Kirk. Of course, that's what she's supposed to believe.

I think some fans also dislike "The Enterprise Incident" because it says, basically, that when Starfleet breaks its own laws, it is okay, because -- hey, these are the good guys.

Perhaps today, given all we've been through in the last decade, this makes the program feel a little simplistic. The (overlooked) fact of the matter is that this mission could have sparked an all-out war with the Romulans, one that could have cost millions if not billions of innocent lives across the galaxy.

And furthermore, the Romulans had not even used this cloaking device in battle yet. They had used a similar weapon in the past, on Federation border outposts ("Balance of Terror"), but still, this seems to qualify as a pre-emptive strike, right? Does Starfleet subscribe to the...Bush Doctrine?

For a second, imagine what a powerful episode this might have been had Kirk's mission failed; had he and the stalwart crew been taken hostage and interrogated back on Romulus; had the mission been exposed as a dangerous, irresponsible one; had Starfleet paid the consequences for issuing such orders. But you know -- honestly -- that sounds more like a Next Gen era story of DS9-flavored one. And if that had happened here, we might have lost the valuable message that is clear in "The Enterprise Incident:" that peace can begin in the heart of one man, or one Vulcan, as the case may be. That Spock is, for lack of a better word, emotionally affected by his contact with the Romulan commander...who, despite her manipulations, comes across as strangely vulnerable...and likable.

In closing, I submit that "The Enterprise Incident" is a worthwhile and memorable installment of Star Trek because in that last scene, Spock acknowledges something important and true. Kirk, the Romulan Commander, and Starfleet itself are all playing one dangerous move in a much larger chess-game. They are focused on that move: getting the Cloaking Device (or getting the Enterprise, contrarily). But Spock is thinking a long-term strategy, thinking several moves ahead, to something more permanent than a fleeting military secret. He was touched by his encounter with the Romulan Commander, more than he ever could have imagined.

On the other hand, you could also argue that Spock's entanglement with the Romulans, begun in earnest in this episode of the classic series, is the very thing that destroys his timeline some hundred years down the road. As the Vulcan himself might note, "fascinating..."

Also, I appreciate Leonard Nimoy's thoughtful take on this tale: "Episodes like "The Enterprise Incident" made it exciting to go to work. Like all of Dorothy's scripts, it had an edge to it, an adult level of complication, and social commentary. The characters' lives were being affected, their ethics violated, even their spirituality touched. Scripts like this added to the moral structure of the Star Trek universe." (Nimoy. I am Spock. Hyperion, 1995, page 118).

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

CULT TV FLASHBACK #140: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "11001001" (1987)

Although September 8th, 2011 is Star Trek's 45th anniversary, the upcoming year 2012 offers a milestone that's almost even more difficult to believe: the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994).  Wow...I'm really growing old, folks.

Anyway, in honor of this landmark date in Trekdom, I'll be gazing back over the next several months at TNG episodes that I remember especially fondly.  These selections won't necessarily be the familiar or expected ones ("Best of Both Worlds," "Yesterday's Enterprise,") merely installments that I feel contributed overall to the series' success and remain somewhat underrated.

And, as you may recall, I've been pretty tough on Star Trek: The Next Generation over the last few years.  Specifically, I feel that the series hasn't held up as well as the original Star Trek (1966 - 1969).  In fact, it often lacks the color, charismatic performances and powerful, clean writing that made the original Roddenberry series such an important title in television history. 

Specifically, I've often derided the writing of the Captain Picard character, who was made to surrender the Federation flagship two times in the first four episodes of the series.  I've also complained about the "tidy" story wrap-ups, which tended to rely on nonsensical techno-babble rather than the intricacies of character development and motivation.  Many Star Trek: The Next Generation stories also wasted time on the Holodeck, or featured tales that I termed "Love in Boat in Space," with crew member families coming aboard the Enterprise for a visit and, naturally, some manufactured interpersonal drama.

The stories that I remember and appreciate on The Next Generation the most, however, are those that truly took great risks with the familiar format.  And again, these aren't always the ones you might expect, or the so-called "popular" installments.  They aren't always the "epic" shows; merely segments which stretched the format and did a lot of with the characters and solid scientific concepts.  Sometimes these ambitious episodes failed (and were consequently derided), but at least it wasn't for lack of trying.

Given my general dislike of the Holodeck as a story ingredient, my first Next Generation flashback in this retrospective series may come as a surprise.  "11001001" indeed features the holodeck in a prominent role, but this tale by Maurice Hurley and Robert Lewin doesn't merely send a crew member on vacation in another time and place instead of dramatizing an important and valuable "real life" story.  

On the contrary, "11001001" is all about the human impact of the holodeck technology, particularly on the character of William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes).

As "11001001" commences, it is stardate 41365.9, and the Enterprise D. arrives at Starbase 74 for a routine computer upgrade. 

Performing the upgrade is a team of diminutive aliens known as "Bynars" from the planet Bynaus. 

Over time, the Bynars have grown so "interconnected" with computers and computer language that their "thought patterns" have become almost binary in nature.

As the Bynars work, the Enterprise crew relaxes, off-duty.  In a nice bit of characterization, the extroverted Riker seems at loose ends without his usual crew mates to pal around with, and so spends the first portion of the episode attempting to stave off boredom by visiting Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) in sickbay, watching Data (Brent Spiner) and La Forge (Levar Burton) paint in the conference room, and conversing with Worf (Michael Dorn) and Yar (Denise Crosby) about a competitive game called Paresi Squares. 

There's a slightly desperate quality to Riker here, and I appreciate this peek at his human frailties.  He's not a deep thinker (like Picard), and he needs other people around him.  When Riker tells Crusher that it looks like she's "packing up" to "leave forever," there's a vulnerable side to the character exposed, and it's good to see.  Frakes does especially well with this material, and carries this portion of the episode effortlessly.

Soon, Riker happens to the holodeck, where he find more Bynars working, and they ask him to test their upgrades to the system.  Almost immediately, Riker conjures a Bourbon Street bar in New Orleans, circa 1958, and indulges in a little trombone playing. 

His audience consist of one: a sultry but engaging woman named Minuet (Carolyn McCormick).  Riker plays "The Nearness of You" for Minuet, and soon comes to realize she is anything but a cipher.  In fact, Minuet seems responsive and intelligent in a way that no computer simulation ever has.  She seems to possess life itself; sentience.

Outside the holodeck, the Bynars manufacture an emergency for the crew to disembark, leaving only Picard and Riker aboard.  They the aliens steal the Enterprise and make for their home world, where a supernova has imperiled their civilization.  An EM pulse threatens to destroy their main computer, unless the Bynars can use the Enterprise -- with its computer -- as a repository for all their culture's knowledge and information. 

Once Riker and also Picard realize that Minuet is merely a distraction, they set the Enterprise's auto destruct sequence, and reclaim the bridge.  There, they find the Bynars incapacitated and assume their mission: saving the Bynaus main computer and therefore the civilization itself.  When the crisis ends, Riker returns to the holodeck and finds Minuet gone, only a "piece" in the now-ended Bynar tactic.  When Picard notes that "some relationships just can't work," Riker responds that, nonetheless, Minuet shall be "difficult to forget."

Like the original Star Trek's "Devil in the Dark," "11001001" concerns desperation, and an alien race that is so desperate to survive that it undertakes what could be misinterpreted as hostile action; here the theft of the starship Enterprise.  An enduring element of Star Trek -- and one that I love -- is that of mercy.  The men and women of Starfleet don't greet every challenge as an existential threat, and -- if able -- will demonstrate compassion and empathy for aliens in jeopardy and danger. 

This is a facet of our culture that is nearly extinct today, and such compassion and empathy is often viewed as a sign of weakness or vulnerability, not as a strength. 

Specifically, our culture encourages us to meet violence with violence, greet aggression with aggression, and target purported enemies for payback.  A wrong is not forgiven, it is cause for attack and reprisal.

Not so in the overtly idealistic universe of Star Trek, where the Bynars -- though acting poorly -- are treated fairly, and their world is saved.

But even that re-assertion of a great moral value is not the reason I appreciate this episode, even after almost twenty-five years.  Rather, I feel that the holodeck aspects of the story work remarkably well, and point to the evolution of the EMH  character in Voyager and other holographic characters as "sentient beings."  Here, Minuet is a fully-fledged individual, and Riker falls in love with her...regardless of her nature as a program. 

I often write, with respect to Woody Allen, that the heart desires what the heart desires, and this doomed TNG love affair seems indicative of that human truth.  Riker falls hard for a hologram, even though there's no real future in such a relationship.  She can't even leave the holodeck, actually.

Yet Riker loves her.  And that's just how the human heart works.  Once more, this idea carries tremendous relevance in our culture today, especially as some extremists seek to punish homosexuals for wanting what their hearts want.  But, like Riker, that's how they are wired.  It isn't a concious choice.  Star Trek has taken a lot of hits in the media lately for not featuring a "gay" character amongst its dramatis personae, but I don't think the attack is fair, or realistic. 

In showcasing characters who brave love with holograms, androids, aliens and the like, the various and sundry Star Trek series very clearly put forward the argument that it is not right to judge others for whom they love, and for how they love.

To expect a gay character to appear in a major role in 1987 Star Trek is not, entirely...logical.   

So in episodes such as "11001001" and "The Outcast," Star Trek did the next best thing: it made a compelling argument for acceptance of "alternate" life choices.  It paved the way for tolerance and compassion about such relationships.  That's pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.

Ultimately, this idea went further in Star Trek than "11001001," but this episode lays the groundwork for the idea that holograms are people too, and also the notion that the human heart cannot, necessarily, choose who to love or not to love.

In terms of "11001001," I also appreciate the fact that the episode doesn't make the mistake of drifting into overt sentimentality or schmaltz.  Jonathan Frakes underplays his last, heartfelt line of dialogue, and rightly so.  His comment about Minuet being difficult to forget thus transmits as not some angsty, shallow admission of personal pain, but as pure statement of fact.  As such, it resonates powerfully, and I commend Frakes and director Lynch for resisting the urge to make more out of the episode's valedictory moment.  It speaks volumes as it stands.

"11001001" is also one of the few Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in the first season that seems to showcase an authentic and light-hearted sense of camaraderie and chemistry between the new cast.  There's a delightful moment here wherein Worf intentionally misunderstands the nature of sports competition to Commander Riker:  "If winning is not important, Commander, then why keep score?"

And I also love Riker's politically incorrect jibe to Geordi and Data about a blind man teaching an android to paint.  That's a priceless joke, and too often Star Trek: The Next Generation felt staid and sedate, instead of fun.  These remarks are not merely fun, but fun in the jaunty spirit of the original series.  They evidence a joie de vivre, and make the characters seem genuinely colorful.  "11001001" also offers one of the great lines of the entire season, when Riker asks Minuet "what's a knock-out like you doing in a computer-generated gin joint like this?"

I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but there's a very...Star Trekkiness...about this brand of dialogue.  It is both serious and creeping right up to the edge of camp.  It is smart, and it is funny.  And I wish Star Trek: The Next Generation featured much more of it.  Star Trek is always at its best when its characters acknowledge the humorous aspects of their situation.  Somehow, it makes the universe seem more real.

Another ingredient that works well in "11001001" is the concept of the Binars themselves.  They make for a fascinating alien race, being so interdependent with computers, and one wishes they had returned to the series in a more dramatic capacity at some point. 

Considering the nature of the Borg (representing the blending of biological and technological components), it seems there might have been  a powerful story here to tell about the Bynars. 

Would they have considered the Borg brethren?  Would they have felt they could have changed the nature of the Borg...for the better?  And how would the Federation feel with a kind of proto-Borg culture like the Bynars within their borders?  In all, not revisiting the Bynars seems like a lost opportunity.

About my only quibble with the episode is - as usual - the writing of the Picard character.  Here, he spends the first half of the episode thanking profusely his crew for a job well done, complimenting them over very, very little.  I suppose his pervasive good cheer was an attempt to soften the stern character, but it plays as strange; like Picard has taken some brand of mood-altering drug like Prozac.  Suddenly the good captain is spouting "thank yous" and "well dones" repeatedly, as if in some kind of euphoric state.  Later in the episode, Picard also reveals his total lack of awareness of others, when he horns in on Riker and Minuet and just...won't...stop...talking.  Can't he see that they would like to be, you know, alone?   Eventually he realizes it, but only after quite a while.  Again, I'm not criticizing the dignified Patrick Stewart, only the writing of his character.

Overall, however, "11001001" is a great early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation because it isn't just about fun and games and getting out of a pickle on the holodeck.  Instead, it's about the human problems that the technology of the holodeck creates, and how those problems emotionally impact the characters  In many ways, this episode may represent Frakes' finest acting work on the series.  Accordingly, "11001001""  is also one of the best episodes in terms of Riker's character development.  We see the extrovert growing lonely...and then answering that loneliness with a trip to the holodeck, and finding the unexpected specter of true love.

Certainly, "11001001" doesn't make any "top ten" episode lists for TNG, but that's because it isn't epic in scope (like the Borg episodes or the Klingon episode).  Instead, the episode achieves what the medium of television does best: it fosters a sense of intimacy and connection to a character.  "The Inner Life  Light" is an episode that accomplishes the same thing for Picard (and it's one of my personal favorites), but "11001001" is an early segment of The Next Generation that really hits on all thrusters. 

This episode is all about interconnectedness: interconnectedness between the Bynars, interconnectedness between the Enterprise crew members, and finally, between Riker and Minuet.  "11001001" reveals how we can succeed when we connect meaningfully to others and also, emotionally, how we can feel lost when that sense of connection disappears irrevocably.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Cult-TV Faces of: The Doctor

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) in Lost in Space

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Star Trek 

Identified by Le0pard13: Tom Baker as The Doctor in Dr. Who.

Identified by Woodchuckgod: Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) in Dr. Who.

Identified by R.A.M.'67: Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) from The Bionic Woman.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) from Space:1999.

Identified by Hugh: Roddy McDowall as Dr. Jonathan Willaway in The Fantastic Journey.

Identified by Woodchuckgod: Dr. Salik (George Murdock) from the original Battlestar Galactica.

Identified by Woodchuckgod: Dr. Elias Huer (Tim O'Connor) from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) in Northern Exposure.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Jill Brockman (Kathy Baker) in Picket Fences.

Identified by Claudiu: Dr. Westphalen (Stephanie Beacham) from SeaQuest DSV.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in The X-Files.

Identified by Woodchuckgod: Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) in Babylon 5.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Identified by jdigriz: Jake Weber as Dr. Matt Crower in American Gothic.

Identified by Le0pard13: The EMH (Robert Picardo) in Star Trek: Voyager.

Identified by the Sci Fi Fanatic: Jessica Steen as Dr.Julia Heller in Earth 2 (1995).

Identified by Claudiu: Dr. Grote Maxwell (Joe Morton) from Mercy Point (1998).

Identified by Woodchuckgod: Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey) from Farscape.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) from Star Trek: Enterprise.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) from Firefly.

Identified by Le0pard13: Dr. Cotttle (Donnelly Rhodes) from the re-imagination of Battlestar Galactica.