Microsoft buys Activision Blizzard

Well that certainly came out of nowhere! Microsoft has opened its wallet once again, this time buying up massive video games publisher Activision Blizzard for a whopping $69 billion. Nice.

After receiving criticism during the previous console generation for the lack of exclusive games on its Xbox One system, Microsoft has stepped up in a big way in the last few years. Early moves brought on board companies like Obsidian and Rare, and then last year came another shock announcement: the acquisition of ZeniMax – the parent company of Bethesda. All of those laid the groundwork for something big, and Microsoft has now added Activision Blizzard to its lineup, bringing on board hugely popular games and franchises like Call of Duty, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and even popular mobile game Candy Crush.

Microsoft will soon own Candy Crush!

At almost ten times the price of its Bethesda purchase, Microsoft clearly has big plans for Activision Blizzard and its games. Even by the standards of other corporate takeovers, $69 billion is a lot of money – an almost unfathomable amount. As Microsoft looks to expand its Xbox and PC gaming platforms, though, it makes a lot of sense to bring on board a company like Activision Blizzard.

Keep in mind that Microsoft is currently pushing hard to take gaming as a whole in a new direction, pioneering a subscription model based on the likes of Netflix – indeed, Game Pass was originally pitched as the video game equivalent of Netflix. Though on the surface the company seems to be taking a two-pronged approach, with its Xbox home console family and PC gaming being separate, in many ways that isn’t really the case any more. Microsoft’s goal is to bring these two platforms as close together as possible, offering most games to players regardless of their chosen platform. One need only look to two of the biggest releases of the past year as an example: both Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 came to both Xbox and PC, despite originally being franchises that were exclusive to consoles.

Forza Horizon 5 was a massive title for both Xbox and PC – and came to Game Pass on release day.

Let’s step back for a moment. My initial reaction to this news was disbelief! But after double-checking my sources and confirming that this was, in fact, not some kind of elaborate prank, my next thoughts were of the Activision Blizzard scandal, and how from Microsoft’s point of view this may not have been the best time to announce this acquisition.

There’s no denying that Activision Blizzard is a tainted brand in the eyes of many players, with the severity of the sexual abuse scandal cutting through to make the news in mainstream outlets when it broke last year. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, the scandal is part of the reason why Microsoft may have felt that the timing was right – Activision Blizzard shares had lost basically a third of their value over the last few months (down from almost $100 per share to below $65 prior to the acquisition announcement). Microsoft arguably made a savvy deal in some respects.

Activision Blizzard is a company embroiled in scandal right now.

There also seems to be a sense from at least some quarters of the gaming press and gaming community that Microsoft is “swooping in” to save Activision Blizzard from the scandal, perhaps even preserving the jobs of some employees or protecting games and franchises from cancellation. I didn’t really expect this reaction, and while it’s safe to say there’s been plenty of criticism to balance out some of the positivity, overall the mood of players seems to be more in favour of this acquisition than opposed to it.

We should talk about exclusivity before we go any further. Despite the hopeful – almost desperate – claims being made in some quarters, Microsoft isn’t going to publish Activision Blizzard titles on PlayStation forever. Once the deal has gone through and existing contracts have been fulfilled, expect to see all of Activision Blizzard’s new titles and big franchises become Xbox, PC, and Game Pass exclusives.

Starfield is a highly-anticipated Bethesda title – and it will be an Xbox and PC exclusive following Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda.

This is exactly what happened with Bethesda. Some players clung to the argument that Microsoft somehow wouldn’t want to limit the sales of some of these games to Xbox and PC players only, with some even going so far as to claim that we were witnessing the “death of console exclusives.” That hasn’t happened (to put it mildly) and we’re now expecting massive games like Starfield to become Xbox, PC, and Game Pass exclusives.

When Microsoft first jumped into the home console market in 2001 with the original Xbox, a lot of games industry critics and commentators argued that the company would open its wallet and spend, spend, spend in order to compete with the likes of Sega, Nintendo, and Sony. Microsoft certainly made some sound investments in games early on, but it’s really taken almost twenty years for some of those concerns to be borne out – and by now, the gaming landscape has so thoroughly shifted that it doesn’t feel like a bad thing any more.

It’s been more than two decades since Microsoft jumped into the home console market.

When Microsoft announced the acquisitions of the likes of Oblivion, Rare, and even Bethesda, there was still a sense that the games industry was pursuing its longstanding business model: develop games, release them, sell them, turn a profit, repeat. But now I believe we’re actually in the midst of a major realignment in the way the entire games industry operates – a realignment that’s shaping up to be as disruptive as Netflix’s emergence as a streaming powerhouse in the early 2010s.

Microsoft isn’t making all of these big purchases just to make games and sell them individually. That approach will remain for the foreseeable future, of course, but it isn’t the company’s primary objective. In my view, this is all about Game Pass – Microsoft’s subscription service. Microsoft has seen how successful the subscription model has been for the likes of Netflix – but more importantly for the likes of Disney with Disney+.

Disney+ is both an inspiration and a warning for Microsoft and Game Pass.

As streaming has become bigger and bigger in the film and television sphere, more companies have tried to set up their own competing platforms. In doing so, they pulled their titles from Netflix – something we saw very recently with Star Trek: Discovery, for example, which will now be exclusively available on Paramount+. Microsoft is not content to simply license titles from other companies – like Activision Blizzard – because they fear that a day is coming soon when other companies try to become direct competitors with their own platforms – muscling in on what Microsoft sees as its turf. If Sony gets its act together and finally manages to launch a Game Pass competitor on its PlayStation consoles, Microsoft will be in an out-and-out scrap, and pre-empting that fight is what acquisitions like this one are all about.

If Netflix had had the foresight to use a portion of the money it had been making in the early 2010s to buy up film studios or television production companies, it would have lost far fewer titles over the last few years, and wouldn’t have needed to pivot so heavily into creating its own content from scratch. I think that the Activision Blizzard deal is one way for Microsoft to shore up its own subscription service ahead of a potential repeat of the “streaming wars” in the video game realm.

The official announcement image.

So it isn’t just about “more games for Game Pass” – this deal is about Microsoft’s vision for the future of gaming as a medium, and also their concerns about other companies trying to elbow their way in and become serious competitors. Spending $69 billion may be a huge financial hit up front, but if it pays off it will mean that Game Pass will remain competitive and profitable for years – or even decades – to come. That’s the attitude that I see through this move.

And I don’t believe for a moment that Microsoft is done. Activision Blizzard may be the company’s biggest acquisition to date, but it won’t be the last. When the deal is done and has officially gone through – something that most likely won’t happen for at least twelve months – expect to see Microsoft lining up its next big purchase, and it could be yet another games industry heavyweight. There have been rumours in the past that Microsoft had considered making a move for Electronic Arts, for example… so watch this space!

Could another big purchase be on the cards in the next couple of years?

As a player, these are exciting times – but also turbulent times. I increasingly feel that it’s hardly worth purchasing brand-new games, because several massive titles that I’ve spent money on have ended up coming to Game Pass. In the last few days the Hitman trilogy has arrived on the platform, Doom Eternal landed on Game Pass last year, and even Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is now on the platform less than a year after its release. What’s the point in buying any new games any more? Let’s just wait and it seems Microsoft will eventually bring them to Game Pass!

This is, of course, an attitude Microsoft wants to foster. If Game Pass is an appealing prospect, players will stop buying games. Once they’re “locked in” to the Game Pass ecosystem, Microsoft thinks it’s got them for the long haul. This is how Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming platforms view their audiences, too: once someone has been hooked in, they tend to stay hooked in. That’s why they put the majority of their time and energy into recruiting new subscribers rather than ensuring current subscribers stay signed up.

This is all about Game Pass.

So it’s an interesting moment in gaming, and one that has the potential to herald an entirely new chapter in the medium’s history. People who decry the death of buying individual titles increasingly feel like they’re on the losing side; relics of an era that’s rapidly drawing to a close. Subscriptions have basically become the norm in film and television, with sales of DVDs, Blu-rays, and the like in what seems to be terminal decline. Television viewership, along with cable and satellite subscriptions, are likewise declining.

And who really feels that the death of broadcast television is something to mourn? Subscription platforms offered viewers a better deal – so they snapped it up. If Game Pass can do the same for gaming, more and more players will jump on board.

The Call of Duty series will soon join Game Pass.

Speaking for myself, I’ve been a subscriber to the PC version of Game Pass for almost a year-and-a-half. In that time, my subscription has cost me £8 per month ($10 in the US, I think). Call it eighteen months, and that’s £144 – or roughly the same amount of money as three brand-new full-price video games. In that time I’ve played more than three games, meaning Game Pass feels like a pretty good deal. If Microsoft continues to splash its cash on the likes of Activision Blizzard, bringing even more titles to the platform without asking me to pay substantially more for my subscription, then as a consumer I gotta say it’s worth it.

One corporate acquisition on its own does not irreversibly shift the gaming landscape. But we’re on a trajectory now that I believe will see gaming move away from the old way of doing business into a new era where subscriptions will be a dominant force. There will be advantages and disadvantages to this, but I don’t see it slowing down. As the likes of Sony and even Nintendo try to compete with Game Pass, if anything we’re likely to see this trend speed up.

Watch this space – because this certainly won’t be Microsoft’s last big move.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some promotional screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A whole host of Star Trek updates and renewals… but trust in ViacomCBS is still hard to come by

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.

Yesterday we got some fantastic news about the direction of the Star Trek franchise over the next couple of years. I’m sure you’re already aware of all of it, but just in case, here are the key announcements in brief:

  • Star Trek: Discovery has finally been renewed for a fifth season.
  • Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will premiere on the 3rd of March.
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will premiere on the 5th of May.
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has been officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 will premiere this summer.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks has been renewed for Season 4.
  • Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 will take a break when Discovery returns, before broadcasting the second half of the season later in the year.
  • Star Trek: Prodigy has been officially renewed for Season 2.

All of these announcements take the Star Trek franchise well into 2023, and when you add into the mix the as-yet-untitled 2023 film as well, there’s a massive amount of content to come over the next couple of years. It seems as though scarcely a week will go by without at least one new Star Trek episode premiering throughout all of 2022!

This is all unequivocally good news. Star Trek has made an absolutely triumphant return to the small screen since Discovery premiered in 2017, and the franchise has grown beyond my wildest hopes and most optimistic expectations in a scant five years. I hope that this is just the first phase of a new Golden Age, with more Star Trek on our screens taking us to the franchise’s sixtieth anniversary in 2026 – and beyond.

But it hasn’t been a smooth ride for Trekkies in recent weeks, especially for those of us who live outside of the United States. Star Trek: Prodigy is well into its first season for American viewers, but the rest of the fanbase hasn’t been able to see so much as a single episode – at least not via “conventional” means. This is despite Prodigy being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon; the latter being a kids’ television channel that is available in more than 70 countries and territories around the world and is wholly owned by ViacomCBS. Surely a Prodigy international broadcast should have been possible – yet the corporation running Star Trek has consistently chosen to prioritise its American audience ahead of fans in the rest of the world, even when doing so makes no sense.

The same situation initially befell Discovery’s fourth season, when an insultingly-worded, awfully-timed announcement saw the series pulled from Netflix with 48 hours to spare. It was only thanks to the huge backlash that ViacomCBS received, leading to a significant fall in the corporation’s share price, that Discovery was shopped out to Pluto TV, Amazon, YouTube, and other platforms. Fans won in the end – but it was a battle that we should’ve never needed to fight.

At the time of the Discovery disaster, I wrote a piece here on the website in which I asked a difficult question: what might the situation and the precedent it had set mean for future Star Trek productions, including those shows that have just been renewed or had premiere dates announced? You can check out the full article by clicking or tapping here, but to briefly summarise: I am not optimistic that the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ can be sped up, nor that shows like Strange New Worlds will be granted an international broadcast at all.

ViacomCBS is a poorly-managed corporation with leaders and executives who seem utterly incompetent – or who are dusty old relics, ill-suited to a 21st Century media landscape. The lack of care and preparation with which the Star Trek franchise is being handled is indicative of this, and the franchise lags far behind old rival Star Wars in many areas. Where are, for example, 4K HDR episodes? This is something Star Wars has been doing since 2019 with The Mandalorian, and many other television shows on Amazon, Netflix, and Disney+ are now streaming in 4K HDR. Where are the toys that should have been available in time for Prodigy’s debut? And, come to that, where’s the rest of the Star Trek merchandise for other shows?

These are just a couple of examples of how the Star Trek brand is being mismanaged by ViacomCBS, and unfortunately the breach of trust between the corporation and a sizeable chunk of its fanbase means that the plethora of announcements made yesterday are, at the very least, seen through a new lens. At worst they’re completely tainted, with excitement and hype replaced with either apathy or anxiety as fans ask whether we’ll be able to watch any of these new shows and new seasons – and if we can’t, why should we care?

Since I created this website in 2019, I’ve reviewed every Star Trek episode that has been broadcast – except for Prodigy. Why? Because ViacomCBS deliberately chose not to make Prodigy available here in the UK (by lawful means, at least) despite owning and operating the UK version of the Nickelodeon channel and thus having the ability to do so with ease. When a corporation behaves in such an insulting manner, I feel it’s difficult to support practically any announcement or project that they have going on.

It will take time – and most importantly, a significant amount of effort from ViacomCBS – to repair the breach of trust between the corporation and Trekkies. And while these announcements are exciting, I can’t bring myself to fully board the hype train, not until we have more information about how and when these shows are going to be made available.

Here are several key questions that ViacomCBS needs to address in pretty short order:

  • When will Paramount+ be available here in the UK?
  • Are there any plans to make Paramount+ available in Asia, Africa, and other regions?
  • If there are no plans to roll out Paramount+ in a particular country or territory, will these new Star Trek shows be available via some other broadcaster?
  • Will new episodes of Star Trek be available on Paramount+ outside of the United States, or will the international version of Paramount+ delay the broadcast of some or all of these episodes (as initially happened with Discovery Season 4 in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia)?
  • Can you offer fans a guarantee that Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 will be broadcast on Amazon Prime Video this year?
  • Will Paramount+ be available internationally in time for Strange New Worlds Season 1?
  • If not, will Strange New Worlds be available on another broadcaster or platform outside of the United States?

I love Star Trek. Heck, I run a Star Trek fan website – and in my small way I offer ViacomCBS free publicity and advertising by talking and writing about the franchise in my free time. But I can’t blindly support a corporation that has continually taken decisions that harm Star Trek’s international fans, and until ViacomCBS is willing to answer some of the questions fans are rightly asking about the availability of upcoming productions, it’s going to remain difficult for any of us to fully get on board and be as excited as we want to be.

ViacomCBS needs to get a grip and put real effort into accelerating the international rollout of Paramount+. If Paramount+ isn’t going to be available in time, then the corporation needs to make plans to ensure international Trekkies can watch the likes of Strange New Worlds at the same time as fans in the United States. Star Trek is not an American entity, solely the preserve of American fans. ViacomCBS and its predecessors encouraged the creation of a global fanbase because they saw profit overseas – but that fanbase has been bruised by a slew of poor corporate decisions that have damaged the reputation of Star Trek and Paramount+, and which have unfortunately seen shows like Lower Decks underperform.

As Star Trek gears up for an exciting couple of years, the team in charge has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust between ViacomCBS and Trekkies. Star Trek’s long-term success depends on fixing the problems of the past couple of years and getting things right going forward. I’m interested to see how ViacomCBS will respond – and willing and able to hold their feet to the fire if they continue to get it wrong.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The pros and cons of filming back-to-back

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

After a short pandemic-enforced break, Star Trek: Picard Season 3 resumed filming a few days ago. Production on the show’s third season has been underway for a while, and was officially announced back in September during the franchise’s Star Trek Day digital event. The interesting thing about Picard Season 3 being so far along in its production is, of course, that Season 2 has yet to be broadcast. This got me thinking about some of the benefits and potential pitfalls of filming back-to-back in this fashion, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

There are some great examples of productions that were filmed back-to-back. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films has to be one of the best examples of this: all three films were shot together in New Zealand, though post-production work and editing continued after the first and second films had premiered. The Lord of the Rings is held in very high esteem even twenty years after it premiered, and is rightly credited with bringing the high fantasy genre to mainstream audiences, paving the way for titles like Game of Thrones.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was hugely successful in the high fantasy genre.

Being shot back-to-back worked well for The Lord of the Rings then, clearly! The Return of the King – the third and final part of the trilogy – swept the board at the Academy Awards in 2004, picking up a record-equalling eleven Oscars.

In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the practicalities of production meant that shooting all three films together made sense. New Line Cinema had greenlit the entire trilogy and was expecting it to be a success, and the difficulties of setting up production in New Zealand – as well as having the actors travel there – all came together to make filming the entire project at once a practical and sensible approach to production. From the earliest days of pre-production, New Line Cinema intended to do things this way.

Whether in cinema or on television, there are advantages to filming back-to-back. There’s far less of a chance that characters will look noticeably different from one part of the story to the next, for example, as everything from costuming to makeup and even haircuts or simply ageing will not be factors that impact production. Keeping the same behind-the-camera crew will also allow for a consistent production that keeps the same cinematographic style. It makes it easier to go back and re-work parts of the story, if necessary – for example, if a writer or director felt the need to add a scene foreshadowing the ending, or even to change the entire end of the story to better fit what had come before.

There are advantages to back-to-back production.

But there can be drawbacks to this approach, pitfalls that can be very difficult to avoid even with good preparation and the best of intentions. And there’s one reason in particular why Star Trek: Picard kicked off this discussion for me.

Star Trek: Picard started with an episode that’s probably the best series premiere in the history of the franchise, surpassing even Deep Space Nine’s Emissary – the previous high-water mark. Over the course of the next few episodes, its story unfolded slowly and seemed to be building up to an exciting climax. Unfortunately, though, the season stumbled as it approached the finish line, with the first half of its two-part finale in particular being a real disappointment. The way the season eventually ended left several storylines unresolved and at least one gaping plot hole. To be blunt, the finale was weak – and it’s important that the writers and producers receive that feedback and take it on board.

I’m not the only person to have criticised the way that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 ended; the two parts of the season finale are the worst-rated episodes of the show according to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

The Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard was by far the weakest part of the story.

So what’s the point of bringing this up? Well, it’s simple: filming back-to-back, as is now happening with Seasons 2 and 3 of Picard, means that the show’s writers and producers will have far less of a margin for error; they’re much more constrained and less able to make changes based on critiques and audience reactions.

Set aside any thoughts you might have about “artistic integrity” or the “vision” of a production’s writers, producers, and directors. In the real world, with very few exceptions films and television shows are adapted – and in some cases changed entirely – based on the way audiences respond to them. This is why practically every film and television series is shown to test audiences before they premiere. Doing so can give production companies the chance to make last-minute adjustments, make cuts, or even rework entire sequences.

ViacomCBS will not have ignored the reviews and discussion surrounding Picard Season 1 and its finale. Those criticisms will have been absorbed by the corporation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they mandated changes to the story of Season 2 as a result, even if such changes may be relatively minor. Just to pick on one example, the story of main character Narek, which was dropped without a resolution part-way through the finale, might be something that the team in charge of the show insist that Season 2 clarifies.

Narek’s story was just one of several major elements that the season finale failed to pay off.

But if there are issues with Season 2 – whether they’re to do with story, art style, visual effects, etc. – it will be much harder, and much more expensive, to make any changes to Season 3. In all likelihood, Season 3 will wrap up its main phase of production before Season 2 even premieres, and while post-production work and pick-up shoots offer some opportunities to make changes, those opportunities are limited. If a film or series has been ready to go for a year or more, going back to film extra scenes can be tricky; it can be very easy to tell which scenes and shots were filmed and added in later, even in productions with high budgets.

In short, because Picard Season 1 had some very particular and noteworthy issues with its finale, I’m at least a little concerned about the direction of the series heading into Seasons 2 and 3, and the fact that the seasons are being shot back-to-back heightens that. Had Season 1 ended with a stronger finale, perhaps I’d be less concerned. But unfortunately it didn’t – and that leaves the show in a strange place for me. I’m genuinely excited to spend more time with Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena, but I’m at least a little anxious about the way the show’s production is being handled.

Where will the admiral and his crew go next?

In a way, this is something we may have to get used to as the pandemic rumbles on. Had it not been for covid and its associated lockdowns in California, it would’ve been possible for production on Picard Season 2 to get underway far sooner, potentially meaning that there’d have been no need to film the second and third seasons back-to-back. But the pandemic continues to be a disruptive force across the world, so productions may have to get used to working when they can and taking breaks when they must – at least in the short-to-medium term.

In some cases it won’t matter. In others, filming back-to-back can provide significant advantages. But there are potential drawbacks to this way of approaching a major production, not least the difficulty in going back and making changes based on audience and critical feedback. It’s the latter point that concerns me when it comes to Star Trek: Picard, and that’s due to the weak ending to an otherwise excellent first season. Perhaps in the days ahead we should go back to the two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego and re-examine what went wrong – as well as looking at what the season finale got right. If I forget, remind me! For now, you can check out the reviews of both episodes on my dedicated Star Trek: Picard page.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the copyright of New Line Cinema and/or Warner Bros. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We can abolish the TV license – but only if the government stops whining about “bias”

For the first time in a long time – possibly for the first time ever – the UK has a government willing to consider something that had previously been unthinkable: abolishing the hated and outdated television license. Their reasons for bringing up the issue at this precise moment may be questionable, but the policy itself is not. Since the turn of the millennium at least, support for abolishing this hated, regressive tax has only grown, and it’s now one of the most consistently popular policy positions in the entire country.

I’m not a political ideologue. I’m not wedded to one political party nor to a specific ideology, and I’ve voted for practically all of the UK’s major political parties at one time or another over the years. Though I seldom find myself on the same side of the argument as the likes of Nadine Dorries (the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, within whose brief the BBC and the license fee fall) I’m happy to see that, finally, a British government is bold enough to swing the proverbial axe and finally bring an end to this utterly outdated method of funding a television broadcaster.

Official portrait of Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

But the government is going about this in quite literally the worst way possible, putting forward their least convincing and most polarising argument. This is a cause for concern, because if the ineptitude of people like Nadine Dorries creates an increase in support for the BBC and the television license, the best chance we’ve ever had to abolish the damn thing will be lost. The government, through nothing short of abject stupidity, will have blown the country’s best chance to bring an end to an expensive anachronism, one which isn’t fit for purpose any more. And that would be a travesty.

Before we go any further, a quick reminder on what the television license actually is and how it works. Anyone who watches television in the UK – including some live broadcasts streamed online – is required by law to purchase a television license. The money collected by this tax – and it is a tax, no matter what some may claim – funds the British Broadcasting Corporation, more commonly known as the BBC. The BBC uses this money to pay its way, producing television programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who, Match of the Day, and many more. Failure to pay the television license, even on legitimate grounds, leads to harassment from the BBC’s scarily-named “enforcement division,” who try to act like bailiffs and will even show up at your house to harass you in person. Even if someone never watches any BBC programmes – which, in the days of 500+ satellite and cable television channels is increasingly likely – they’re still forced to pay the tax.

An example of a threatening letter from the TV Licensing organisation.

The television license is, unlike income tax, a regressive tax. Because the fee is the same for everyone, regardless of income or ability to pay, it impacts poor people and those on low or fixed incomes hardest, and while it isn’t the only tax in the UK that behaves this way, it’s by far the most egregious. At the current rate of £159 per year – $217 USD at time of writing – it’s borderline unaffordable for low-income households, especially with a growing cost of living crisis sending food prices, energy bills, and the cost of practically everything else skyrocketing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up the television license here on the website. Almost two years ago I first laid out my argument against this regressive tax, and before we press ahead I think we should recap why I feel the TV tax needs to be scrapped. Firstly, and most importantly, the television license is simply out-of-date. There may have been a justification for this method of funding in the 1960s, but no such justification exists in the 2020s. The world of entertainment has simply moved on, with not only a veritable smorgasbord of television channels to choose from – over 100 of which are free-to-air for anyone with a television set – but also a growing number of subscription services like Netflix and Disney+, with others such as Paramount+ coming soon as well. Not to mention the internet itself and platforms like YouTube. The idea of insisting that every household pay a tax to fund one single television broadcaster is just plain outdated, especially considering that fewer and fewer people watch or engage with the BBC at all. Those days have come and gone.

There hasn’t been a justification for the television license since TVs looked like this.

Next, we have the nature of the tax itself. As mentioned, this is a regressive tax, one which hits poor and low-income folks hardest. As someone on a fixed income myself, I can attest to this. £159 may not sound like much to some people, but for many folks, that could be several months’ worth of disposable income. As inflation rises and prices for everything creep up, the license fee becomes increasingly unaffordable, especially as it’s pegged to rise in line with the government’s official measure of inflation.

Finally, let’s consider what the tax actually pays for: entertainment. The BBC runs a news operation too, and pays a lot of money to bureaucrats and managers in an inefficient fashion, but the bulk of the money raised goes on programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, Line of Duty, EastEnders, Doctor Who, Top Gear, Match of the Day… and the list goes on. What do all of these programmes have in common? They’re commercially viable – meaning that they could be produced by any other commercial broadcaster.

Taxpayers’ money is being used to produce soap operas, reality television, and many other mediocre entertainment products.

Take The Great British Bake Off as a case in point. The BBC used to pay for the show, but when they were outbid by Channel 4, the series retained its popularity and its audience on a different channel. It is simply not acceptable in 2022 that tax money, raised from millions of people who can’t afford to pay the inflated rates, is being used to fund mediocre entertainment programmes that can easily be made by other commercial channels and broadcasters.

This is the winning argument. When it’s explained to people in this way – that the television tax is inflated, unfair, and regressive – abolishing it is not just popular, it’s the only argument that makes any sense, and there really can’t be any counter-argument that isn’t just obfuscation or that tries to shift the goalposts. By sticking to arguments about the inherent unfairness of the tax and the fact that it’s utterly outdated in a modern media landscape, the government – and campaigners like me – will win.

Logo of the TV Licensing organisation.

But this isn’t the way that the current government is trying to go. By talking about “bias” within the BBC they come across as whining – and worse, they come across as trying to punish the organisation for not giving them kinder, more fawning coverage. It’s Trumpian in the extreme, with echoes of Trump’s famous “fake news” attack, which he levied at any journalist or broadcaster who dared question him or call him out.

By using the “bias” argument, the government is going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, further polarise the political discourse in the UK, and fail in its stated goal of reforming the way in which the BBC is funded. The current government is sufficiently unpopular right now that any organisation that they criticise is going to receive a boost in support and popularity. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” – so goes the old adage, and so it will prove to be for many people in this country who would, all else being equal, remain opposed to the television license. But when they see the BBC under attack by an aggressive government, particularly as they seem to be launching this attack at this time to distract from other scandals, they’re far more inclined to support the BBC, and by extension the television license.

There’s a very real sense that the current government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is using the TV tax issue to dodge or distract from scandals and other problems.

Abolishing the television license does not mean abolishing the BBC. The BBC has enough time between now and the end of its current charter in 2027 to find and implement a new funding method. Many folks have suggested a subscription model, with the BBC adopting an approach similar to the likes of Sky or Virgin Media. Others have suggested that the BBC could simply do what every other television channel does and run advertisements. It could even go online, offering a platform comparable to the likes of Netflix. In short, there are options for the BBC to continue to exist and continue to produce its content.

Popular brands and shows could also be auctioned off, and as programmes like The Great British Bake Off have already demonstrated, there are many broadcasters who’d happily snap up the most popular ones. They’d remain viable on other networks – and many would probably do even better on commercial channels or online.

The Great British Bake Off was bought by rival broadcaster Channel 4 a few years ago.

But again, the government’s ham-fisted, idiotic approach to this issue is going to wreck it. If they genuinely want to abolish the television license, they’re already messing it up by putting their worst argument front-and-centre. Claims of “bias” may resonate with some right-wingers, but that’s offputting to practically everyone else in the country. Instead of making this a unifying issue, one which could actually score the government some much-needed kudos, they’re instead managing to drive up support for the BBC and its outdated method of funding, and turning what should be an easy win into a disappointing defeat.

I firmly believe that the abolition of the TV license is only a matter of time. But it would be such a shame if the current government squanders this opportunity through sheer force of incompetence, allowing the vestigial tax to remain in place for years or even a decade longer than necessary. By deliberately turning the TV license into a political issue, Nadine Dorries and her ilk have polarised the debate, lost potential friends and allies, and weakened their own hand. Abolishing the TV license should be a progressive issue – it’s a regressive tax that disproportionately impacts low-income households. But by making it such a polarising political issue in a political climate that is already so deeply divided, the current government is actively pushing away people who should be natural allies in this fight.

My message to them is simple: focus on a winning, unifying argument, and stop whining about “bias.”

In the UK, it is required by law (at time of writing) to purchase a television license in order to watch live TV. This article should not be interpreted as encouraging anyone to fail to purchase a license if a license is required. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The classic Star Trek dilemma: Kirk or Picard?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series and its films, The Next Generation and its films, and Picard Season 1.

“The only question I ever thought was hard / Was do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?” So sang “Weird Al” Yankovic on his 2006 parody hit White & Nerdy. In those two lines, the comedy singer encapsulated a debate that has rumbled on in the Trekkie community since The Next Generation premiered in 1987! This is a question I’ve thought about many times, and today I’m finally going to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and lay out my thoughts on this classic Trekkie debate.

Though there have been at least a further six captains or protagonists who’ve joined the Star Trek franchise over the years – or more, depending on how you count things – the classic debate has always surrounded Picard versus Kirk, and I think that’s probably because the contrasts between the two characters and their approaches to leadership are so extreme. Most Star Trek captains who have followed embody elements of both Kirk and Picard’s styles of management and leadership while remaining distinct characters, but when it comes to the franchise’s first two captains, there seems to be a major clash of personalities.

Just like “Weird Al” did, we’re going to consider this difficult question!

My first contact with the Star Trek franchise was The Next Generation in the early 1990s. It was only later that I went back to watch The Original Series and its films, encountering Captain Kirk and his crew for the first time. The Next Generation made me a Star Trek fan, and while I can appreciate what The Original Series did and how entertaining it was, I just don’t have the same connection to it – or to any other Star Trek show, frankly – as I do to The Next Generation. So that’s my own bias stated up front as we go into this discussion!

I’ve always found this debate to be fascinating, but I try not to take it too seriously. Some fans can turn genuine and heartfelt passion into toxic or even aggressive negativity sometimes, attacking others who don’t share their precise views on the nature of Star Trek (or other franchises). Fandoms shouldn’t be a place for division, negativity, or toxicity; they should be a place where we can all come together to share something we love. It’s in that spirit that I enter this discussion – and I encourage everyone to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, and it’s supposed to be light-hearted fun!

So let’s get started, shall we? For reasons both alphabetical and chronological, Captain Kirk gets to go first!

The Case For Kirk

Captain Kirk in his first appearance.

Captain Kirk will forever be Star Trek’s first captain, and thus he should be the yardstick that Trekkies use to judge the successes of any subsequent captain – Picard included. Without Kirk, there would never have even been Picard – because there would quite literally have been no Star Trek. Just look at the failure of The Cage, the first pilot shot for The Original Series, as a case in point: Star Trek only became successful when Captain Kirk was in command.

But Kirk isn’t the best just because he was first. James T. Kirk is a man of action: a tough-talking, villain-punching, decisive commander who stops at nothing to get the job done and protect his ship and crew. He’s not above a bit of rule-breaking, either; when you’re alone on a mission of exploration far beyond Federation space, what’s the point in Starfleet orders or the Prime Directive?

Captain Kirk wasn’t above getting into a proper fight.

On board his ship, Captain Kirk made friends. He didn’t see his crew as mere underlings, but as people he actually liked spending time with. He even developed Star Trek’s first ever cross-species friendship, bridging the gap between emotional humans and stoic, logical Vulcans in the best way possible. His friendship and partnership with Spock became legendary – and frankly, Picard has no friends… or at least, he has no friendships that come anywhere close to matching the closeness between Kirk and Spock. This pair literally created the genre of slash fiction!

It wasn’t until the finale of The Next Generation that Picard was prepared to sit down with Riker and play a round of poker, but Kirk had those friendships from the start. His closeness with Spock has rightly become legendary, but he was also firm friends with Dr McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and even the young Chekov. Kirk’s crew would even risk their Starfleet careers to steal the USS Enterprise and follow him on a dangerous mission to the Genesis Planet in The Search For Spock.

Captain Kirk was loved by his crew… not grudgingly respected.

As Star Trek’s first captain, Kirk made first contact with many different races and factions – including practically all of the franchise’s best-known and most famous aliens. He also introduced us as the audience to races like the Vulcans and the Klingons – two of Star Trek’s most iconic alien races. It’s through Kirk’s eyes that we first came to perceive many of the franchise’s classic factions; he gave us his perspective and allowed us as the audience to meet these aliens through his interactions with them.

Captain Kirk developed rivalries with some of Star Trek’s biggest and most notorious villains. The Romulan commander from Balance of Terror, Garth of Izar, who went on to inspire an entire fan-series, Dr Tolian Soran in Generations, and even “God” himself in The Final Frontier. Most significantly, of course, Kirk found his arch-enemy in one of the greatest villains ever put to screen in the whole of cinema: Khan. Picard’s enemies simply aren’t in the same league.

“Khaaaaaan!”

Captain Kirk recognised the dangers of space travel, and he blazed a trail that Picard and others merely followed. He knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to find a negotiated settlement to every problem, and wasn’t shy about pulling out his phaser – and his fists – to settle disputes. Do you think Captain Kirk would have been bossed around by the Sheliak, or by the Edo and their Mediators? Or would he have punched those alien menaces in the face and told them where to shove it?

In conclusion, Captain Kirk is a bona fide action hero, a man’s man, and the embodiment of the very best of Starfleet in the 23rd Century. He would consider peaceful options where they were available, but wasn’t above punching aliens in the face when he needed to. He would go above and beyond for the sake of his crew, even being reduced in rank by Starfleet for having the audacity to save Spock. He saved Earth on many occasions – and even saved the life of his rival, Captain Picard, and the entire crew of the Enterprise-D in his final act before dying a hero.

The Case For Picard

Captain Picard in Encounter at Farpoint.

Let’s calm down, leave the toxic masculinity in the ’60s where it belongs, and let a grown-up take charge. Captain Picard is the Joe Biden to Captain Kirk’s Donald Trump – he’s level-headed, diplomatic, and professional. Captain Kirk may have been the archetypal action hero of the ’60s, but by the late ’80s, things had moved on. What fans wanted to see from someone in a position of authority was not someone who was quick to pull out their phaser or punch an alien in the face, but someone who could be diplomatic, courteous, and who could resolve situations without needing to resort to such barbarity. Embodying all of those traits was Captain Picard.

A new era of Star Trek not only needed a new face, but a whole new style of leadership, and Captain Picard delivered. If the 23rd Century had been the “wild west,” where anything was allowed and rules were made to be broken, the 24th Century saw Starfleet evolve and move beyond that. Civility could finally replace cowboys like Captain Kirk.

Captain Picard is a more civilised leader perfect for a new era.

Did Captain Kirk ever pilot his own ship? In the episode Booby Trap, we saw for ourselves just how skilled Captain Picard was, and how intimately he knew his ship. Where someone like Kirk would have ordered maximum warp until the power was drained, Picard and his crew came up with a complex solution, then executed it perfectly. Picard made the Enterprise-D dance like a ballerina; Kirk could never have done anything like that.

Where is Star Trek: Kirk? Oh, that’s right: they never made that series. But they did make Star Trek: Picard, such was the overwhelming response from fans to this wonderful character. 176 episodes of The Next Generation and four films weren’t enough – fans were eager for more Captain Picard, and thus he became the first character in Star Trek’s history to get a new show named after him. More than thirty years after we first met Captain Picard, new adventures with the character are still being created, with at least two more seasons of the show in production.

Captain Picard got his own spin-off show because fans love the character so much.

While Kirk may have had fun with some villains like Khan, he never had to stare down the biggest, most devastating threat that the Federation ever faced. Captain Picard beat the Borg… and he did it twice. He even survived being assimilated and was able to push through his Borg programming to give his crew a piece of vital information that ultimately saved Earth. In First Contact, Picard brought the Enterprise-E to the Borg’s second invasion attempt, saving the day in the 24th Century and then again in the past. Forget the Klingons, the Gorn, the Romulans, and the people on that weird planet who all pretended it was Chicago in the ’20s: Captain Picard fought and defeated the most dangerous threat that the Federation has ever encountered.

Captain Picard realised that he can be on good terms with those under his command, but that as the captain he has to put the needs of the ship first. In the episode Lessons, he learned first-hand that having close relationships with subordinates is difficult for any commanding officer, and maintaining a friendly but respectful distance from his crew – even those whose advice he relied upon – was necessary to keep everyone safe and to allow him to be able to make the tough calls.

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D.

Captain Kirk got to make many first contacts – but he did so by default because he was first. Captain Picard actually made more first contacts than Kirk did – including with some very different forms of life. Whether it’s the Microbrains, the Exocomps, or the Q Continuum, Captain Picard was prepared to treat everyone he met with courtesy and respect, staying true to Starfleet’s mission of seeking out new life. But it doesn’t end there. Captain Picard introduced us as the audience to alien races like the Bajorans, Cardassians, and of course the Borg – and these would go on to be just as important to the Star Trek franchise overall as any of the aliens we met in The Original Series.

In conclusion, Captain Picard is a calm diplomat, the level-headed manager of a large crew, and the personification of the very best of 24th Century Starfleet. He guided his crew through some incredibly difficult and dangerous missions while maintaining his composure. He learned lessons about loss and grief that Kirk never had to learn. And he saved the lives of at least two of Kirk’s crew: Spock and Scotty. He also saved Earth from the Federation’s greatest threat, and even learned to perceive time in a non-linear fashion thanks to Q.

So Who Wins?

Kirk or Picard?

You’re going to hate me for this – but they both win. Everything I said above is true (in a roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way), but that doesn’t mean that one captain is better than the other! Like all of us, Kirk and Picard have strengths and weaknesses; things they do well and areas where they need to rely on others. There isn’t a definitive answer to a question like this, because the answer will always be “it depends on the circumstances.”

There are times when Captain Kirk’s approach to leadership is needed, and times when the way Picard approached a situation would lead to the best chance of success. As we saw in Generations, there was even a time when the only way to save the day was for both men to team up. The fact that each captain has his own set of skills and his own style of leadership isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength, one which benefits Star Trek as a whole.

Kirk and Picard meeting for the first time.

I mentioned in my introduction that subsequent captains have incorporated elements from both Kirk and Picard, and that’s because both men have so many positive, upstanding qualities that Star Trek’s writers were keen to give to new characters as the franchise has continued to grow. Kirk was always ready for action, but that never came at the expense of being thoughtful and considering non-violent solutions. And Picard’s diplomatic, polite style could give way to ordering his crew to “fire at will” when the situation called for it. Both captains are adaptable, able to rise to meet the needs of all manner of incredibly difficult situations – even if that meant setting aside their usual ways of doing things.

No one can doubt Kirk or Picard were absolutely dedicated to their ships and crews, either. They may have shown that dedication in slightly different ways, and they may have expressed their appreciation and love for their friends and crewmates in different forms as well, but both of them were quite literally willing to lay down their lives and go down with the ship if necessary. Both men ultimately lost their ships – the original USS Enterprise and the Enterprise-D were both destroyed. But they both bounced back to take over new commands and go on to even greater things.

There are times when I’m in the mood for watching Captain Kirk get into a fist-fight with a Gorn or for seeing his epic stand-off against Khan. And there are moments where I want to see Picard use diplomacy to win an argument with the Sheliak or watch him wrangle with one of Q’s puzzles. But there are also times where I want to see Picard grab his phaser rifle and kick some Borg butt, and times where I can think of nothing better than seeing Kirk solve a scientific mystery like that of V’Ger. Both captains have given all of us so much enjoyment and entertainment over the years that I simply can’t crown one of them a winner and leave the other a loser. To me, they’ll always both be winners.

The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series, The Next Generation, and every episode and film mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Forza Horizon 5 – video game review

Forza Horizon 5 was released in November for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. It took a little while, but after spending quite a bit of time with the game over the past few weeks I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and share my thoughts!

Forza Horizon 5 is a big game. There are different kinds of races and events to participate in, ranging from multi-race championships all the way to smaller challenges and mini-events. The game’s open world is huge and offers varied terrains and scenery. And perhaps most importantly for a racing game, Forza Horizon 5 offers a veritable smorgasbord of cars to choose from.

What Forza Horizon 5 is not, though, is massively different from its predecessor. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 4 at all, you know the formula. This time around there’s more: the game world is bigger, there are more roads to drive on, more races and events to take part in, and so on. But it isn’t a fundamentally different experience – aside from the scenery changing from the quaint English countryside to the deserts, jungles, and beaches of Mexico, it’s basically an iterative instalment of the series. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem for Forza Horizon 5; it’s a riff on the same concept, expanding it in some significant areas but without really breaking new ground. However, when the formula works, why shake it up too much? As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Horizon spin-off series has always taken a more casual approach than mainline games in the Forza Motorsport series, and that trend continues here. There’s a party atmosphere that runs through the entire game, with a handful of named characters who all take a very laid-back approach to running the titular Horizon festival. That feeling extends to gameplay, too. Races are organised seemingly haphazardly, and there’s a lot of fun to be had simply by exploring the open world, making your own fun, and driving some fancy cars at high speed!

Forza Horizon 5 is perhaps the most accessible racing game I’ve played – except, maybe, for Mario Kart 8. The game is geared up for fans of arcade racing, with a “pick-up-and-play” attitude that feels perfectly aligned with the aforementioned casual, laid-back approach taken by characters within the game itself. That isn’t to say that Forza Horizon 5 presents no challenge – not at all. But this is a game that allows players to tailor the kind of challenge or fun that they want to the way that they like to play. There are options to tweak practically every aspect of single-player gameplay, meaning Forza Horizon 5 would be a great introduction to racing games for a complete newbie – but a game that experienced racing fans can enjoy as well.

As a gamer with disabilities, I always appreciate games that go out of their way to be accommodating. In Forza Horizon 5, it’s possible to slow down single-player gameplay to give players more time to react or make moves. It’s possible to see a guide line on the ground or along racetracks pointing players in the right direction. And there are different levels of assistance; cars can be set up to brake automatically, for example, as well as change gears. Forza Horizon 5 also recommends specific cars for specific races, ensuring that players who aren’t familiar with cars or racing games won’t find themselves in an unwinnable situation.

None of these things have to be used, and they can all be turned off for players who want a more realistic or challenging racing experience. The game has pre-set difficulty options, but within those pre-sets it’s possible to tweak many different individual characteristics so players can get the kind of experience that they want. This really does open up the game to many different skill levels, and Forza Horizon 5 would be a great game for someone brand-new, a kid seeking a more realistic racer than the likes of Mario Kart, and everyone else all the way up to racing simulation fanatics.

Forza Horizon 5 also brings a lot of customisation options to the table. Every car (at least, every car that I’ve unlocked so far) can be customised. Cars can be repainted in every colour of the rainbow, and can have custom liveries applied – including advertising logos for famous brands. There’s already a bustling customisation scene, with players from all over the world sharing their custom creations for others to download and use in-game. I love a game with strong customisation elements, and Forza Horizon 5 absolutely delivers in that regard!

As I was getting started with Forza Horizon 5, I actually found myself getting a little emotional. As you may know, I’m non-binary – meaning that my gender identity falls in between male and female, and I prefer to use they/them pronouns. When setting up my Forza Horizon 5 character, the option to use they/them was present alongside male and female pronouns – something that was amazing for me, and for other non-binary players as well I hope. It’s still quite rare to see games offer this option, so it was an incredibly welcome surprise.

I’m not the world’s biggest car enthusiast. My knowledge of cars mostly comes courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the crew of Top Gear! But for people who know more about cars than I do, I reckon Forza Horizon 5 has a lot to offer. Although the game goes out of its way to be accessible and to have cars ready-to-race from the moment of being unlocked or purchased, there are still plenty of tuning options to fiddle about with. At the game’s uppermost echelons, where elite players are duking it out and races are won or lost by the millisecond, perhaps some of these things will make a difference. I’m not at that level – but some folks are, and there are tuning and customisation guides already for many of the game’s vehicles.

Although Forza Horizon 5 includes a lot of ultra-expensive supercars from manufacturers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Lamborghini, I think it’s great that the game offers classic cars, “normal” street cars, and even some novelty vehicles or cult favourites as well. For example, the game includes a classic Land Rover (a personal favourite of mine), as well as every nerd’s favourite car: the DeLorean! There’s a VW Camper available, a classic Mini, a Morris Minor, as well as a Hummer, and even a car taken straight from Hot Wheels! In short, there’s fun to be had with some of these vehicles, and while some may not be suitable for winning every race or clocking the fastest time, for having fun driving around the game’s open world I think some of these additions are absolutely fantastic!

Some racing games offer light-hearted fun, and for me, Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely that kind of game. I can pick it up for even just a few minutes at a time, hop into a race or two, and then put it down knowing I can do the same thing again later on. It absolutely can be more than that; players with the inclination can take it more seriously, spend more time on their vehicles, and really push hard to get the best lap times and reach the top of the various leaderboards. That’s not the way I personally play – but the fact that Forza Horizon 5 has plenty to offer to all kinds of players is a huge mark in its favour in my book!

I’m a subscriber to the PC version of Xbox Game Pass, so for me Forza Horizon 5 was available on release day to download and play at no extra cost. On that basis, I’m thrilled with the game. That being said, for folks who don’t like the idea of a subscription or who like owning games outright, I can absolutely recommend Forza Horizon 5 as a purchase. Game Pass is a great service, but I recognise that it isn’t for everyone. When I looked at Halo Infinite a few weeks ago I said that paying £55 for just the campaign felt a bit much, so getting the game on Game Pass made a lot of sense. But there’s a heck of a lot of value in Forza Horizon 5 for players of varying skill levels and with varying levels of interest in cars – so it feels like a solid buy.

I think that’s all I have to say about this one! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Forza Horizon 5 and I’m looking forward to jumping back in and getting into my next race. See you on the track!

Forza Horizon 5 is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. Forza Horizon 5 is the copyright of Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios, Xbox Game Studios, and/or Microsoft. Promotional images and artwork courtesy of Xbox and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How long is too long?

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for Dying Light 2, Red Dead Redemption II, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

I’ve talked a couple of times about video game length here on the website, and specifically about how some games can feel too short to offer good value at their price point. Games which cost £65 or $70 but only last five or six hours routinely get criticised for being too short, but my argument is that they’re really just priced incorrectly – had a six-hour game cost £25 instead of £65, it feels like a better price point and thus better value.

Take Ori and the Blind Forest or Kena: Bridge of Spirits as examples – relatively short games (under twelve hours) yet priced around the £30 mark. Both games felt like great value at that price point, and no one seemed to argue that they were somehow “too short.” In my review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits I even argued that padding out the game much beyond the 12-hour mark would’ve been too much.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was the perfect length for the kind of game it wanted to be.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve seen a different argument arise online, particularly in relation to upcoming action-horror game Dying Light 2. Developer Techland recently claimed that total completion of the game is expected to take in excess of 500 hours – longer, they say, than it would take to walk from Warsaw in Poland to Madrid in Spain. That’s a distance of 2,631 kilometres, or 1,634 miles.

Long-distance hiking aside, I’ve seen a lot of folks online actually criticising Techland and Dying Light 2, proclaiming that its length “isn’t a selling point,” or that the game is “too long.” Having tackled a similar argument before with games that were said to be too short, I wanted to take a look at this and consider whether a game can indeed be too long.

This recent boast from the Dying Light 2 developers hasn’t gone down well with everyone…

In 2020 I spent in excess of 120 hours playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the longest I spent in any single game in 2021 was Red Dead Redemption II, which took me 103 hours to complete the main story and the epilogue. I’m not a completionist who has to get every single achievement and discover every single hidden item or collectable. According to Red Dead Redemption II’s in-game progress tracker, after my 103 hours I’d completed 84% of the game.

However, the remaining 16% was – for want of a better term – fluff. It consists of collectables, travelling to obscure locations, catching at least one of every fish… in a word, boring nonsense that I had no interest in! Likewise with Animal Crossing: New Horizons – after 120+ hours I felt I’d done everything that the game had to offer at least once, and I had no real interest in continuing to dig up fossils or buy random junk from the shop to keep playing.

After more than 100 hours, I’d completed 84% of Red Dead Redemption II.

Games have a natural lifespan, just like any other entertainment product. That length will depend on what the game has to offer, how repetitive some of the tasks and missions are, and many other factors. If Red Dead Redemption II had offered another 103 hours’ worth of proper story missions, I daresay I’d have kept playing because I found the story to be engrossing – but I wasn’t going to spend that time in a fairly static endgame world where all of the missions were complete and all I had left were collectables to find and minor tasks to perform. That doesn’t hold my interest.

For some folks, though, it does. Some games encourage players to keep playing over and over again, and in some quadrants of the gaming community, it isn’t uncommon at all to find players who’ve dedicated literally years to a single game, sinking thousands or even tens of thousands of hours of playtime into titles like Minecraft, EVE Online, or even the aforementioned Animal Crossing series.

EVE Online is well-known for having very dedicated players who play for years and years.

But statistics would seem to suggest that those kinds of players – and those kinds of games – are comparatively rare. For example, in Red Dead Redemption II, most players have unlocked the achievement or trophy for completing the game’s first chapter. Yet on all platforms – Xbox, Playstation, and PC – barely one in three make it to the end of the epilogue and see the credits roll. Red Dead Redemption II has been out for more than three years, so there’s ample time for most players to have progressed that far if they’d wanted to – but it seems that the game’s length sees more and more players drop out as the story goes on.

I like a long story. I’ll happily watch a television show with seven seasons or something like the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings films. And I enjoyed my time with Red Dead Redemption II. But perhaps players who seek out these very long experiences are in a minority – achievement stats for a number of big titles would seem to bear that out.

Scarcely one in five Steam players who started Red Dead Redemption II actually managed to finish its story.

I mentioned the length-versus-value debate at the beginning, and I think a variation of this argument comes into play for long titles just as it does for short ones. If a game is unnaturally “long” because it’s padded out with repetitive fetch-quests, a massive open world that takes ages to traverse, and hundreds of hidden collectables that make no impact whatsoever on gameplay and story, then a developer shouldn’t be bragging about length. That isn’t a long game – it’s a bloated, padded one, and one that probably won’t be much fun for 80% of the time!

This is what I think people were getting at with the Dying Light 2 situation. While some folks may feel that any game can be too long to be enjoyable, the real criticism seems to be that players are concerned that the developers of Dying Light 2 are making a nonsense brag based on how the game world is going to be stuffed with minor, inconsequential fluff. Tasks like shooting 200 pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV aren’t actually a lot of fun for most players who wanted to complete the entire game, and while finally unlocking that last achievement or trophy may provide some folks with a brief hit of dopamine, the frustration of having to track down 200 obscure, hard-to-reach locations across a large open world probably wasn’t worth it.

Shooting pigeons was a minor task in Grand Theft Auto IV.

So is Dying Light 2 “too long” at 500 hours? Until the game is in reviewers’ hands and we can find out how many of those hours are spent on fun, interesting, or original quests, I don’t think it’s possible to say. Some people may argue that 500 hours will always be too long, and for them that may well be the case. Aside from Civilization VI, I can’t think of any game in the past decade that I’ve spent much more than 100 hours playing – so I guess I’m part of that crowd as well.

In principle, though, I don’t think 500 hours has to be too long for Dying Light 2. But it depends what the game has to offer by way of story, exploration, and engaging gameplay. If the bulk of players’ 500 hours is spent chasing boring collectables or slowly trudging across an open world that’s too large for the game’s mediocre level of content, then yeah, I’d agree that it’s too long and has been overstuffed with meaningless fluff. But if there’s a long story that manages to hook players in and keep their interest, then it’s a whole different conversation.

At the end of the day, we all want different things from our games. Folks who have busy lives and other commitments might feel the need for a shorter game, or a game that they can dip in and out of easily. Players with more free time or who like to stream their gameplay on Twitch might prefer longer, open-ended games that are chock-full of collectables. We all like different things, and there really isn’t an answer to a question like this that can satisfy everyone. If you think Dying Light 2 is going to be too long for you to enjoy… don’t play it, I guess. There are plenty of shorter games out there to take your interest instead. For my two cents, I’d rather see a game have too much content than too little, and be too long rather than too short – especially if it’s charging me £60 or $70!

Dying Light 2 will be released on the 4th of February 2022 for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, and PC. All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 7

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Short Treks, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Because Discovery is currently taking an unscheduled six-week break, I was in no rush to update my theory list! The second half of Season 4 won’t air until the 10th of February (or the 11th here in the UK), so there was more time than usual to consider the implications of the most recent episode: But To Connect.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale, even though some of its story points weren’t my personal favourites and some of the drama felt rather contrived. We have some interesting questions to consider about Ruon Tarka in particular, as the Risian scientist told us some very interesting and unexpected things.

This week we have three retiring theories and one confirmation. As always, we’ll look at those first before we jump into the main list.

Retired theory #1:
Dr Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Dr Kovich.

Though Dr Kovich’s role within the hierarchy of Starfleet and the Federation is still unexplained, after But To Connect I think we can finally retire this theory – one which I’d been holding on to since we first met the character in Season 3.

Dr Kovich’s early interactions with Georgiou in particular seemed to show him as someone morally ambiguous to the point of being uncaring; he knew that Georgiou’s health was going to fail, yet did nothing to warn her or Captain Saru. Combined with his stoic demeanour and a sense that he wasn’t telling us anywhere close to everything he knew, I speculated that he could be an operative – or even the head – of shadowy organisation Section 31.

Dr Kovich’s first appearance seemed to set him up as a mysterious, morally ambiguous character – perfect for Section 31.

There was the potential for some kind of tie-in with the Section 31 series, but with that project seemingly being shelved (at least for now), that doesn’t seem like it’s a consideration for the writers and producers in charge of the overall direction of the Star Trek franchise. In fact, we haven’t seen any mention of Section 31 explicitly since Season 2.

We’ve seen Dr Kovich as a psychologist, working with Starfleet Intelligence, having a say in the running of Starfleet Academy, and now as an expert in the field of AI. Whoever he is, and whatever formal title or position he holds, I think we can finally rule out Section 31. Dr Kovich has turned out, to my surprise I must confess, to be one of the true believers in the goals and ideals of Starfleet – something he demonstrated clearly in But To Connect through his interactions with Zora and Stamets.

Retired theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora with Captain Burnham in Stormy Weather.

There is still an open question surrounding Zora’s burgeoning sentience, and what that could mean for Captain Burnham, the crew of Discovery, and indeed the rest of Starfleet. Whether this is something Season 4 will find time to tackle, or whether Zora will be dealt with in more detail on another occasion isn’t clear right now – but I think what is clear from what we heard in But To Connect is that Zora is firmly on Starfleet’s side.

Especially after Zora’s refusal to follow orders in Stormy Weather – a moment that came with a throwback to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey – I was somewhat nervously awaiting Zora going completely rogue, perhaps even doing something to endanger the ship and crew.

Zora in But To Connect.

Though Zora’s refusal to share the co-ordinates of the DMA’s origin seemed, at first, to confirm my suspicion that this was the direction of travel for this storyline, Discovery ended up turning it around over the course of But To Connect, reassuring Zora that she could trust the crew of Discovery, and reassuring us as the audience that our heroes can trust her as well.

This was cemented by Zora sharing the co-ordinates of the DMA’s origin, but also by Zora being given an official role as a Starfleet mission specialist – the same loophole that brought Burnham aboard the ship after her mutiny in Season 1. Zora has started the process of becoming a more significant character on the show – something that I’d like to see continue in future episodes, as I kind of like the idea of the crew and ship working in tandem. It gives me Farscape vibes!

Retired theory #3:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

Kol, a 23rd Century Klingon leader.

If we were going to see the Klingons this season, I think the diplomatic summit in But To Connect would have been where it happened. With the DMA seeming to be of extragalactic origin, it doesn’t seem like the Klingons will turn out to be the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C, either. So I’m choosing to retire this theory for now.

I don’t know why we haven’t seen any 32nd Century Klingons since Captain Burnham and the crew arrived last season. It’s possible that Discovery’s writers feel they’ve done all they can with the faction and want to move on to other stories, but having a Klingon or two as minor characters at key moments like the diplomatic summit wouldn’t get in the way of that. So I confess that I’m not sure why we haven’t seen any Klingons lately – but it doesn’t seem like we’re going to this season.

Confirmed theory:
Captain Burnham’s war experiences from Season 1 will come into play.

Captain Burnham in But To Connect.

In But To Connect, we saw Captain Burnham arguing in favour of a less-aggressive posture toward the DMA. She drew on her own experiences with the Klingons, in part, to inform this decision. While Book and Tarka argued for attacking the DMA with their new weapon, Burnham was one of the key voices advocating for a peaceful stance and to try to make first contact with Unknown Species 10-C.

It’s reasonable to plan for worst-case scenarios, and as I argued in my review of But To Connect, the two contrasting approaches to the DMA didn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It would have been possible to take a more balanced position, as Discovery has tried to do all season long, in which the DMA-stopping weapon was built while the Federation also made an attempt at peaceful first contact. But regardless, I speculated last week that Burnham would be the one to argue for making an attempt at peaceful first contact, reminding everyone that no one currently knows what the DMA is supposed to be nor what the intentions of its creators were. And that’s pretty much what she did in But To Connect.

So those theories are done!

Now we’re going to jump into the main list, starting with a few new theories and a few theories that saw movement in But To Connect.

Theory #1:
Ruon Tarka’s mysterious “friend” is someone we’re already acquainted with.

I’m sure that’s how Tarka would’ve typed if he’d used MSN Messenger circa 2002.

Why did Ruon Tarka avoid naming his “friend” when Book asked him about it? Tarka’s friend is supposedly one of the major motivating factors in him wanting to stop the DMA – he wants to use the power source at its centre to “punch through” to a parallel universe in the hopes of meeting up with this person. But when Book asked him who this individual was, Tarka tried to ignore the question.

This could be a complete over-reach, but I wonder if the reason for the secrecy is because Tarka’s friend is someone who we as the audience are already familiar with. This could be someone from Discovery, or it could be someone from a past iteration of Star Trek. Given that Tarka wants to travel to a parallel universe, perhaps his friend is the counterpart from that universe to someone we’re familiar with.

I put together a short list of possible candidates for being Tarka’s mysterious friend, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #2:
Tarka aims to travel to the Kelvin universe.

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin timeline.

There are many parallel universes, as Tarka reminded us in But To Connect. The Mirror Universe is one that we’re familiar with from Discovery and from past iterations of Star Trek – but Tarka seemed to suggest that that isn’t his destination. In addition, Dr Kovich told us in Season 3 that travel to and from the Mirror Universe is no longer possible as of the 32nd Century.

Though Star Trek has shown us a number of different parallel universes before, the other major one that comes to mind is the Kelvin timeline (also known as the “JJ-verse”) in which the three reboot films were set. 2009’s Star Trek showed us the point of divergence; the moment at which this universe and the prime timeline separated: the arrival of Nero and his attack on the USS Kelvin. Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond furthered our understanding of that universe somewhat.

Kirk and Spock in the Kelvin timeline.

A fourth Kelvin film may or may not be happening, but even if it does the setting remains ripe for further exploration. We don’t know how far the Kelvin timeline and the prime timeline will have diverged, and whether it operates like the Mirror Universe with every character getting their own alternate counterpart. If it does, perhaps Tarka met his own Kelvin timeline counterpart and that’s how he cooked up this scheme.

Though Tarka is correct about the multitude of different universes and realities, of all the ones we’ve spent a significant amount of time with thus far in Star Trek, the Kelvin timeline seems the most likely destination. Compared to the likes of the Mirror Universe it’s safer, and if it diverged significantly from the prime timeline it stands to reason that the Burn never happened. We also got an oblique Kelvin timeline reference in Season 3 – could that have been a hint?

Theory #3:
Tarka’s friend made the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets made a model DMA.

How does Ruon Tarka know so much about the DMA and its inner workings? It’s true that he got data from the USS Discovery’s mission, from the scans Book’s ship took, and from other sources, but even so he seems to have been able to figure out the precise mechanisms by which the DMA operates incredibly quickly. This leads me to suspect that he may know more about it than he’s willing to say.

We should acknowledge a production-side explanation here. The way Discovery Season 4 has been written and edited has seen a number of key moments in the DMA storyline blitzed through incredibly quickly. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and the discovery of its origin point. The fact that these key moments happened in relatively short sequences with not a lot of setup adds to this sense that people like Tarka seem to have accumulated a lot of information about the DMA very quickly, and we should acknowledge that he claims to have been working on this problem off-screen for many weeks, if not months.

Tarka and T’Rina with a hologram of the DMA.

So there is that caveat. But something about the way Tarka stormed aboard the USS Discovery in The Examples with clear blueprints for building a scale model of the DMA did give me pause. And then in But To Connect, his plan to disable it (but not destroy it) using a very specific type of weapon also seems to have come along at a very convenient moment.

In short, I’m speculating that Tarka knows more about the DMA than he’s letting on, and that his friend may be involved in its creation. If his friend is from a parallel universe, they may have even built the DMA specifically to help Tarka travel there. In The Examples, Book accused Tarka of knowing who made the DMA, which could be a further piece of evidence.

Theory #4:
Book and Burnham will get back together.

Book and Burnham earlier in the season.

If there’s one thing that I’d cut from Season 4 it would be the unnecessary insertion of more Burnham relationship drama. After everything she went through with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, finding a way for her to feel settled was a huge net positive for the series. She doesn’t need to have that with Book, but having established that they worked very well together as a couple, undoing that would not be my preference.

So this is as much a hope as it is a bona fide theory, but I would like very much for Book and Burnham to resolve their differences – and quickly. Whether that will come from Book realising that Tarka has manipulated him, from Burnham reaching out, from the pair finding a way to compromise… it doesn’t really matter. But I’d hope that, within an episode or two of Season 4’s return, we can put all of this nonsense to bed. Permanently.

Theory #5:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

President Rillak convinced Captain Burnham to make this argument to the delegates in But To Connect.

We got a more detailed examination of this argument in But To Connect, and as mentioned it was Burnham – with no small amount of prompting from President Rillak – who led the charge.

In brief, the DMA being damaging and destructive doesn’t prove that it’s a super-weapon, even if it was artificially created. I’d add into this discussion the fact that the DMA, in all the weeks (or months) that it’s been in the Milky Way, has destroyed one planet and one small asteroid colony. If someone were using the DMA as a weapon, it seems remarkably inefficient to have harmed precisely two places in all that time.

Captain Burnham pointed out that we have no frame of reference when it comes to Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA. There’s simply no way of knowing what their intentions were by creating this anomaly, and while it could be a weapon, there’s also a chance that it isn’t. Right now, the fact that the DMA has been misunderstood feels like a distinct possibility.

Theory #6:
The DMA is a life-form.

Zora is an AI that came to life. Maybe the DMA is too?

On the other side of But To Connect we got into a complex discussion with Stamets, Dr Kovich, and the others about the nature of Zora. At what point does an artificial construct become a distinct and unique life-form? This argument had echoes of past Star Trek episodes like The Measure of a Man and Author, Author, and was interesting in its own right. But could it be laying the groundwork for something to come with the DMA?

Star Trek has shown us life-forms like V’Ger – a giant energy cloud surrounding an artificial life-form. Perhaps the DMA is something similar, and while it may have started out as a simple piece of machinery, it has since evolved into something more. Just like with Zora, perhaps part of the second half of the season will be about understanding this new form of life – and protecting it, if necessary, from the likes of Tarka.

Theory #7:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Adira and Stamets with a map of the Milky Way galaxy.

In But To Connect, President Rillak told us that the diplomatic summit she convened would bring together races from “all four” quadrants. Assuming she was referring to the familiar Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta Quadrants that make up the Milky Way galaxy, this would count as our first mention of the Delta Quadrant in the 32nd Century. I didn’t spot any familiar Delta Quadrant races (or their emblems) amongst the assembled delegates, however!

I had previously speculated that the Burn may not have affected the entire galaxy equally, and that regions farthest away from the Verubin Nebula may have survived without much damage. I still think that this is a possibility – though whether Discovery will revisit the Burn in any depth, or visit the Delta Quadrant at all, remains unclear.

To see a full write-up of this theory, click or tap here.

Theory #8:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

Ruon Tarka’s friend could, as mentioned, be someone we’ve already met. But there are other ways to bring back a character from a past iteration of the franchise – and there would be many potential benefits to doing so! I had initially proposed a version of this theory in the run-up to Season 3 that centred on the Doctor from Voyager – but with some creative technobabble, practically anyone could be included, despite the leap forward in time.

Choose To Live showed us the Abronians in cryo-sleep, and Stormy Weather saw the crew of Discovery use the transporter buffer to survive – just like Scotty had done in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could these be hints at something to come?

It would also be possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs or a holographic recording of a long-dead character – and while this would be less of a “crossover,” it could still be a ton of fun and great fan-service!

Theory #9:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak.

Although we’ve seen President Rillak working hard to unravel the DMA, I’m not ready yet to strike her (and the Federation) off my list of suspects! As we saw in But To Connect, President Rillak is very keen to see Earth (and other worlds) rejoin the Federation as quickly as possible. The DMA has facilitated greater contact between Earth and the Federation than there has been in a long time, and was also a driving force in Ni’Var rejoining. In short, if President Rillak ordered the DMA’s creation as part of a cunning plan to bring wayward ex-member worlds back into the fold… it’s working. At the very least, she isn’t letting the crisis go to waste!

I was also struck by President Rillak’s insistence on negotiating peacefully with Unknown Species 10-C. While this is perfectly in line with stated Federation values and objectives… could she have another motive? If the DMA was created by the Federation, destroying it could cause a shockwave to resonate along its wormhole and damage or even destroy the Federation facility or planet where the DMA was originally created. President Rillak’s peaceful approach may be intended to protect the people who created it – because she knows who that is.

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

Despite her recent appearances seeming to suggest she’s firmly on Captain Burnham’s side, I see a noticeable manipulative, almost Machiavellian side to President Rillak. She’s brought Burnham on board because she believes working together is to her advantage, as she did with the Ni’Var negotiations and at the diplomatic summit. But she also used Burnham in both of those cases to advocate positions that it would be politically or diplomatically difficult for her to do openly – effectively manipulating those events from behind the scenes.

Captain Burnham needs to tread very carefully, as I firmly believe that President Rillak is someone who will happily throw her – and everyone aboard the USS Discovery – under the bus in a heartbeat if she believed doing so would advance what she considers to be the Federation’s best interests. And if she believed that the way to bring the Federation back together is to give the various independent worlds a threat that they couldn’t handle alone… well, that might just be the reason why she sought to create something like the DMA.

As stated in previous weeks, President Rillak may not have created the DMA, nor ordered its creation, but may be covering it up because it’s in the Federation’s best interests in her opinion. She may also be choosing to keep this knowledge hidden so she can continue to exploit the DMA for her own purposes.

Theory #10:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

Zora’s status as a member of the crew was confirmed in But To Connect, and this followed her developing emotions and sentience earlier in the season. Zora is now much closer to her presentation in Calypso, potentially bringing the story of the Short Treks episode one step closer.

There are still significant hurdles to overcome if the story of Calypso is to be wrapped up in Season 4, though. Obviously we have the timeframe issue: will the USS Discovery be sent back in time, be abandoned, or is Calypso taking place centuries in the future? Then we have the USS Discovery itself – it’s been retrofitted since arriving in the 32nd Century, and now looks very different to how it did in Calypso. I’m not sure how Discovery will overcome these hurdles – but it’s possible. It feels like a proper link-up with Calypso is edging closer week by week.

So those theories are new or saw movement last week.

Now, as always, I’ll keep the theory list all in one place by recapping all of the other theories that I currently have in play for Discovery Season 4.

Theory #11:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could Unknown Species 10-C have already appeared in Star Trek?

Despite the fact that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier, making assumptions is dangerous! We’re only at the season’s halfway point, after all, so there’s plenty of time for twists and turns.

Based on the DMA potentially having an origin outside of the Milky Way, the three suspects that immediately spring to mind are the Kelvan Empire, the Sphere-Builders, and the super-synths from Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. They’d all been on my list of suspects going back months, and I really feel that any one of them would make for a potentially interesting story.

I have a longer list of suspects for Unknown Species 10-C, so for a more detailed look at these three candidates – and many others – click or tap here to see the full list.

Theory #12:
A major character will be killed off.

Shaxs’ funeral in Lower Decks.

Lieutenant Tilly’s departure in All Is Possible definitely shook up the cast. And Gray’s departure in But To Connect may do so as well. However, I stand by what I said before the season aired: killing off a character can be a great way to demonstrate the dangerous nature of the circumstances that the crew have found themselves in. So far, despite tangling with the DMA on several occasions, only a couple of redshirts have lost their lives.

In Stormy Weather, Dr Pollard raced through the corridors of the USS Discovery to reach a hull breach. Shortly after she arrived, a redshirt was blown out into space – but Dr Pollard survived. Although moments like this can make it feel that Discovery is shielding its main and secondary characters with some pretty heavy plot armour, I still feel that there’s scope to see a major character death before the season ends.

If you want to check out my pre-season “death predictions,” in which I speculated about which characters may or may not be in danger, you can find that by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #13:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever as it appeared in The Animated Series.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. Because Captain Burnham and the crew still don’t know much about the DMA or Unknown Species 10-C, it would make sense to at least ask the Guardian for help – maybe it has encountered this phenomenon or the people who made it before.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

Theory #14:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

Despite having grown to sixty member worlds, the Federation is still in a weakened state and isn’t yet back to full strength. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant cache of the valuable fuel, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

It would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves. This could even be the objective Unknown Species 10-C have – they may be looking for a way to control the Verubin Nebula and its supply of dilithium.

Theory #15:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The USS Enterprise was able to travel through time using the “slingshot method.”

This one is as much a hope as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #16:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

President Rillak may have tried to circumvent the ban if she felt doing so would be in the Federation’s interests.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but there are other Federation leaders – such as President Rillak – who could be implicated.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the DMA. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #17:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of Discovery.

Captain Burnham in The Examples.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham on the bridge in Stormy Weather.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #18:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer in the episode Anomaly. He has already been offered a command of his own, so Starfleet clearly values his command abilities and experience. President Rillak was seen to be assessing Captain Burnham’s suitability for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J in Kobayashi Maru… and she mentioned having a shortlist of candidates. Could Saru be on her list?

Several of the qualities that President Rillak said she was looking for in a potential captain seem to apply to Saru. He’s more level-headed, less likely to put himself in a dangerous situation, and more inclined to think of the big picture. He has a weakness when it comes to Kaminar, as we saw toward the end of Season 3, but generally speaking he isn’t someone who lets his emotions get the better of him. His wisdom and calm demeanour could be valuable in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship. This could also set the stage for his departure from the show, or possibly even for a new show following his adventures aboard his new ship.

Theory #19:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

Book with Leto and Kyheem shortly before the destruction of Kwejian.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. The DMA’s similarly mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: what’s going on with the DMA? Was it designed to kill? Or is it some kind of method of faster-than-light travel, using the wormhole at its core? If it’s the latter, perhaps some of the people on Kwejian may have survived or been transported to wherever Unknown Species 10-C reside.

Theory #20:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4.

Theory #20a:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

After arriving at the Abronians’ cryo-ship, Captain Burnham found a stone carving that seemed to depict the destruction of the Abronians’ homeworld. This carving was only shown on screen briefly, but it seemed to show the planet being damaged or destroyed in a large explosion. Burnham credited the planet’s destruction to a “supernova,” and the story then raced ahead.

Considering that the main thrust of the season so far has been about the DMA, perhaps Burnham was incorrect: the Abronian homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly, not a supernova.

Theory 20b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

The DMA seemingly contains the technology to generate an artificial wormhole. It’s thus possible that the DMA can facilitate travel between incredibly distant locations – not only for itself, but for other starships too. The subspace tear that the DMA left behind went nowhere – but it may be possible to get “inside” the DMA itself or even use its wormhole tech to travel vast distances.

One thing struck me as odd about the Abronians: the Federation was entirely unaware of them, despite the Abronian cryo-ship being relatively close to Federation space – such that Captain Burnham could reach it using Book’s ship in a short span of time. It’s possible that the Abronians had been asleep for millennia, unnoticed by the Federation and the wider galaxy for all that time. But it’s also at least possible that their cryo-ship is a newcomer to the area. If so, perhaps it arrived here via the DMA.

Theory #20c:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

One of the themes of Discovery since Season 3 has been connection, including building connections between the Federation and other races and organisations. The Abronians were awoken from cryo-sleep thanks to the interventions of Captain Burnham and Tilly – at least in part – and they may seek to repay the Federation, or Captain Burnham personally, for that help.

We saw this play out last season with Ni’Var; in the season finale Ni’Var ships raced to the Federation’s aid as the Emerald Chain attacked. Perhaps the Abronians will likewise step up to help when the Federation needs allies.

Theory #20d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

The Abronians’ cryo-ship is huge, and at least superficially seems to have the mass of a moon or small planetoid. If Captain Burnham and the crew needed a starship that large, such as to aid in the evacuation of a planet threatened by the DMA, for example, perhaps they’ll return to the Abronians and ask to borrow it.

As we saw in Choose To Live, the moon-ship was in full working order. All it needed was some extra dilithium to power up and it was perfectly capable of moving under its own power, and its computer systems were still functional. The only system that seemed to have failed was the wake-up timer! So if the crew are in need of a huge starship, perhaps we won’t have seen the last of the moon-ship!

Theory #21:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

A Red Angel suit from Season 2.

Now that we know the DMA is artificial in nature, the question shifts to who built it and why. We’ve covered the idea of it being a weapon or an out-of-control experiment, as well as being a life-form in its own right. It could also be something created by the Federation. But because this is Star Trek: Discovery, a show which likes to put Captain Burnham at the centre of its stories, perhaps there’s a connection to her that we’re missing.

The Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 were phenomenally powerful machines, capable of generating time-wormholes large enough to transport an entire starship 930 years into the future. We already know that the DMA potentially contains a synthetic wormhole, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap to connect the two. We also don’t know for certain what became of Captain Burnham’s Red Angel suit after the Season 3 premiere. There’s also the faint possibility of a parallel universe Burnham or time travelling Burnham being responsible.

Theory #22:
Ruon Tarka – perhaps aided by Book or Stamets – will create the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

I included Tarka on my list of suspects for the creators of the DMA, but this warrants a full entry on the theory list too! In short, we saw Stamets and Ruon Tarka creating a scale model of the DMA in The Examples, and according to Reno their experiment came very close to destroying the entire ship. They were able to perfectly recreate the device at the centre of the DMA, albeit on a smaller scale – so what’s to prevent Tarka from building a full-scale replica (other than the power generation requirements)?

This theory posits that he will do exactly that – somehow – or that his experiments will set into motion a chain of events that leads to the creation of the DMA in a kind of time-loop storyline. The DMA’s wormhole-generating technology may give it the ability to travel backwards through time as well as across vast distances, so it seems technologically plausible at the very least.

The DMA.

But To Connect fleshed out Tarka a little more, giving backstory to him and a potential motive for his single-minded pursuit of the DMA. He also may know more about the anomaly than he’s letting on – including who is responsible for its creation. Regardless, Tarka has been shown as someone willing to take all kinds of risks, and it’s not impossible to think that one of his risks could backfire – creating the DMA in the process.

Personally, I find time-loop paradox storylines to be frustrating – and they can be very difficult to pull off successfully. There’s no beginning point to such a story: the DMA exists because the DMA was created because the DMA exists because the DMA was created… it’s an infinite loop. But we’ve seen Discovery tackle time travel stories like this before – and the pieces seem to be in play right now for this theory to pan out.

So that’s the main theory list.

We also have two production-side theories in play, and I’ll recap those now.

Production-side theory #1:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

Mary Wiseman confirmed in an interview with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media aftershow) that Tilly will be seen again before the end of Season 4, and we glimpsed her in the trailer for the second half of the season as well. But that doesn’t mean she will return as a main character on the show going forward, and her departure in All Is Possible felt permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

Maybe those people know something that I don’t! As I always say, I don’t have any “insider information;” all of this is just speculation on my part. However, I feel that the manner of Tilly’s departure, the fact that she got that emotional sequence with Captain Burnham, a montage showing her leaving the ship, Adira seeming to take over several of her roles, and her departure feeling like the culmination of her arc going back to the latter part of Season 3 all come together to strongly indicate that she won’t be back as a major character. She may yet have a significant role to play in a future Season 4 episode, as has been suggested, but unless Discovery’s writers are really playing with our emotions I believe we’ve seen Tilly’s end as a main character on the show. She may come back in a future Starfleet Academy series, though… so watch this space!

Production-side theory #2:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for Season 5.

Is a fifth season going to happen?

Since Discovery debuted in 2017, we’ve known well before this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This obviously isn’t one of those “I hate new Star Trek” things that we’ve seen doing the rounds online for years; I adore Discovery and genuinely want to see it continue. But it’s profoundly odd to have arrived at Season 4’s mid-season break and to still have had no announcement about Season 5. For comparison, Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for Season 3 even though Season 2 hasn’t aired yet.

I’m hopeful that this is just a blip; a temporary delay for reasons unknown, and that the show has been renewed for Season 5 already behind the scenes. However, when we look back at Star Trek productions in recent years, it was often apparent that production work was quietly ongoing even if there hadn’t been any official word from ViacomCBS. As far as we know at this stage, there’s been no pre-production work on Season 5, let alone any filming taking place in the Toronto area. The abrupt announcement that the show is taking a mid-season break could also be indicative of issues with the production.

Once again, this is a “watch this space” kind of theory. I hope I’m wrong… but the lack of any news or even any significant rumours about the show’s future is beginning to have me worried.

So that’s it.

Discovery will return in five weeks’ time.

We’ve hit the halfway point of Season 4 with a number of theories still in play! There are major questions surrounding Ruon Tarka, Cleveland Booker, the nature of the DMA, and Unknown Species 10-C in particular that all need answers when the show returns next month. It’s going to feel like a long wait!

Before we go, one final point. I write up these theories because I like Star Trek and I like writing. But for some folks, fan theories can hamper their enjoyment of a film or television show. It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these theories probably won’t pan out, and we have to be prepared for the fact that even the most well-constructed fan theory, no matter how fun and plausible it seems, simply won’t turn out to be true. If you find that speculating and reading theories is beginning to detract from your enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery – or any other television show or film – it might be a good idea to take a break for a while.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – So who is Ruon Tarka’s “friend?”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

With Discovery taking an unplanned six-week break, we’ve got a little time to settle in and collect our thoughts. The first half of Season 4 has seen some progress toward unravelling the mystery of the dark matter anomaly, but there are still plenty of questions! From this point, the story could go in many different directions, and could potentially make significant connections and crossovers with past iterations of Star Trek. Today, we’re going to consider one such possibility.

In the episode But To Connect, which served as the mid-season finale, Ruon Tarka returned. Tarka is a Risian scientist who had been working on the DMA and who had collaborated with the USS Discovery’s own Paul Stamets in the episode The Examples to build a working scale model of the anomaly. We learned more about him this time, including what he claims to be his motivation for wanting to destroy the DMA while preserving the machine at its centre: he wants to use it to travel to a parallel universe.

Tarka made his first appearance in The Examples.

During a conversation with Book, Tarka claimed that he had “a friend” while he was forced to work for the Emerald Chain. This friend wasn’t mentioned by name, but appears to have been a major motivating factor for Tarka to find a way to cross the divide between universes; to “punch through” as he put it.

This could all be obfuscation on Tarka’s part; a made-up story to help him sink his talons into Book and manipulate him into doing his bidding. Tarka’s plans relied on Book: he needed him to either convince the delegates to approve the use of his weapon, or to use the stolen spore drive to deliver the weapon without Federation help. So we have to acknowledge that possibility.

Stamets and Tarka built a scale model of the DMA.

But I was struck by the way this conversation deliberately kept Tarka’s “friend” hidden from us as the audience. Book asked who the friend was, but Tarka quickly waved away the question. That makes me wonder… who is this friend? And could it be someone we’ve met before – maybe in Discovery, but maybe in a past iteration of Star Trek?

So today we’re going to consider a few possible candidates for Tarka’s friend. Who could this person be, and if they survived their imprisonment with the Emerald Chain, might we be about to meet them?

Tarka and Book aboard Book’s ship.

I can’t decide right now whether Discovery is setting up Tarka to be the main villain for the rest of the season, or whether Captain Burnham and the crew will resolve this storyline within an episode or two before moving back to the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C. Either possibility feels just as likely, so we could perhaps see the Tarka storyline rumble on for much of the second half of the season.

But we’ll have to set that aside for now! I’ve put together a list of candidates for being Tarka’s friend and we’ll go through them one by one. Just remember one thing: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will actually be included in Star Trek: Discovery. This is speculation and theorising from a fan – and nothing more.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s jump into the list.

Friend #1:
Aurellio

Let’s see… Aurellio is a bona fide scientist. He worked for the Emerald Chain. He and Tarka know one another. And although Aurellio has been mentioned several times this season, we haven’t seen him. Could he be the mysterious friend?

I don’t think so, not unless Tarka is even more devious than we think! Although we haven’t seen Aurellio this season, we’ve heard multiple times that he’s working with Starfleet, and he even built the new spore drive that Book and Tarka used in But To Connect. So unless Tarka has somehow managed to fake Aurellio’s entire existence… I think we can rule him out.

But on the surface, Aurellio fits the bill in some respects! We don’t really know of any other ex-Emerald Chain scientists, so it’s an outside possibility that Aurellio is involved in all of this somehow.

Friend #2:
Altan Inigo Soong

Dr Soong is the son of Data’s creator, and was encountered by Admiral Picard on the planet Coppelius in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 – the first part of the Picard Season 1 finale. As a human from the 24th Century, he shouldn’t still be alive almost eight centuries later, but Dr Soong had plans to transfer his consciousness into a synthetic body. This process was mentioned earlier in Discovery Season 4, as it was used to give Gray a physical body.

If Dr Soong was ultimately successful, it’s possible that his synthetic form survived to the 32nd Century, and he could therefore be Tarka’s friend. He was already a skilled scientist when Picard met him, and with centuries of time to develop his skills he could have proven invaluable to an organisation like the Emerald Chain.

Now we get into abject speculation, but if Unknown Species 10-C turns out to be connected to the super-synths from Picard Season 1, this could give Dr Soong an additional motive for wanting to escape to a parallel universe: he might be aware of the threat they pose to the galaxy and all organic races.

Friend #3:
The Doctor

Nothing that Tarka said about his friend implied that they’re organic – so the Doctor being a hologram shouldn’t count against him! I’ve speculated before that a backup copy of the Doctor could still be alive in the 32nd Century, as we saw in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness. While the Doctor wasn’t a scientist per se, after decades living and working with the Kyrians in the Delta Quadrant he may have broadened his skills.

If the Doctor was re-activated to find a galaxy ravaged by the Burn and all of his friends long gone, he might well want to escape to an alternate reality – there’d be nothing left for him in the prime timeline.

Perhaps the Emerald Chain intercepted his ship while he was on his way from the Delta Quadrant, or perhaps this is a different copy or version of the Doctor altogether from the one we saw in Living Witness. Because of the Doctor’s nature as a hologram, he could have easily survived this long.

Friend #4:
Control

Captain Leland, who had been “assimilated” by the Control AI, was killed at the end of Season 2, and the existence of life in the 32nd Century seems to suggest that Control was permanently shut down shortly after the USS Discovery left. But what if that didn’t happen, or if the shutdown of Control was incomplete?

So far this season we’ve had more mentions of Control – and a greater discussion of the implications of its rise – than we got in the entirety of Season 3. Could that be setting up something big later in the season? Could Tarka’s friend actually be someone that the Control AI “assimilated?”

If so, perhaps Control plans to abandon this universe to find one more easily attacked and dominated – and Tarka may find that his friendship with whomever it is was little more than a ruse.

Friend #5:
Another Ruon Tarka

There are multiple parallel universes – perhaps an infinite number! At least some of those universes contain alternate versions of everyone we’re familiar with: the Mirror Universe and the alternate reality of the Kelvin films being just two examples. So what if Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is, in fact, a parallel universe version of himself?

Tarka was confident that the parallel universe he intends to reach is better than the post-Burn reality he currently inhabits. But how could he possibly know that unless he’d either seen it for himself or met someone from that reality? Though in theory anyone from that universe could be Tarka’s friend, I think someone with the self-assuredness and arrogance of Tarka would be more inclined to trust his own counterpart.

We know that Tarka isn’t bound for the Mirror Universe – at least based on what he told Book. But here’s a spoiler for my next theory post: what if he’s trying to reach the Kelvin timeline? His unnamed friend could be his Kelvin timeline counterpart.

Friend #6:
Michael Burnham

We’re sticking with the parallel universe theme here. If an alternate version of Captain Burnham had somehow crossed into our universe, perhaps she’d been captured by the Emerald Chain and forced to work with Tarka. She might have warmed up to him, telling him of her true origin in a different, better universe.

Burnham has a keen scientific mind, and had she ended up in Emerald Chain captivity they might well have tried to put her to work as a scientist. Discovery has also put Burnham at the centre of big storylines before, such as by making her the Red Angel in Season 2.

The counter-argument to this would be that everyone we met from the Emerald Chain, including Osyraa, Ryn, and Aurellio, didn’t recognise Burnham or claim to have seen her before. It’s possible that they never met her or that she was working in a different lab, but it could also be seen as a mark against this theory. Tarka also suggested that his friend was male, which could also rule out Burnham.

Friend #7:
Dax

Thanks to the inclusion of Gray and Adira, we’ve spent some time with the Trill over the past couple of seasons. Trill symbionts are particularly long-lived, and there’s evidence to suggest that Gray and Adira’s symbiont, Tal, may have been alive in the 24th or 25th Century. It isn’t impossible, then, for the Dax symbiont to have survived to the 32nd Century.

Dax was one character I felt could make a comeback in Season 3. Early trailers dropped hints about the Trill, and bringing back Dax could’ve been a great way for the show to give fans a nod and a wink – but without needing to bring back an actor from the past. The nature of Trill life means that Dax would be in a new host by now – and thus the character could be recast in an easy and inoffensive way.

In Deep Space Nine we saw Dax mostly as a scientist thanks to Jadzia, and while Dax had many different roles over the course of their lifetime, returning to a scientific field is a possibility – certainly if a millennium’s worth of knowledge could be put to use. Dax is also aware, thanks to their adventures with Sisko and others, of the likes of the Mirror Universe.

Friend #8:
Soji

Due to her synthetic nature, Soji is also someone who could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century. With centuries’ worth of accumulated knowledge under her belt, and a desire to help her people, Soji may have continued the Soongs’ work on cybernetics at some point after her adventures with Admiral Picard.

We haven’t yet seen any Coppelius synths in Discovery’s 32nd Century, and I’d be curious to see what became of them. If they survived and were able to continue to build new synths, there could be a thriving population by now. Many of the synths looked alike, so it’s possible that Tarka’s friend may have a familiar face even if they aren’t a character we’ve met before.

It would be great to get a proper crossover between Discovery and Picard, and this could be one way of doing it. The only drawback is that, because of the difference in time periods, having a character like Soji appear in Discovery would potentially be a limitation on future Picard stories.

Friend #9:
A Borg (or ex-Borg)

Where is the Borg Collective? We haven’t heard so much as a whisper since Burnham and Discovery arrived in the 32nd Century. It’s possible that the Borg have been defeated somehow in the centuries since they last tried to conquer the Federation, but it’s also possible that they’re the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C!

Perhaps Tarka’s friend is a Borg, ex-Borg, or even the Borg Queen, and the Emerald Chain had somehow kept Borg in captivity. It could be that Tarka is the one being manipulated, and his efforts to stop the DMA will allow the Borg to gain control of the power source at its centre.

We saw in Picard Season 1 that Borg technology and components were deemed valuable, such that a black market had sprung up. The Emerald Chain is exactly the kind of immoral faction that might have dealt in harvested Borg implants, and that could explain why they kept Borg captives.

Friend #10:
Gabriel Lorca

Captain Lorca commanded the USS Discovery during the show’s first season – but this character was later revealed to be from the Mirror Universe. The prime timeline version of Captain Lorca has never been found, and despite Admiral Cornwell and others believing that he wouldn’t have survived for long in the Mirror Universe, it’s at least possible that he did.

Or perhaps we’re dealing with another alternate version of Captain Lorca, someone native to the parallel universe that Tarka is attempting to reach.

Regardless, it could be fun to see the crew’s reaction to encountering their old captain! And it would be neat to welcome back Jason Isaacs to Discovery – his performance was one of the highlights of an occasionally rocky first season.

Bonus Friend:
Literally anyone!

Thanks to technobabble, practically any major character from Star Trek’s past could have survived to the 32nd Century. Stasis fields, time-wormholes, transporter accidents, pocket universes, warp bubbles, and many, many different phenomena could be brought in to explain the reappearance of practically anyone.

We already saw an oblique reference to one such method in the episode Stormy Weather. The crew placed themselves in the ship’s transporter buffer in order to survive their dangerous escape from the void – a method employed by Montgomery Scott in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could it be that this was more than just a callback to that classic episode, and was the setup for something that will come into play later?

With the exception of those few main characters who had been killed off outright – Captain Kirk, Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax, and a couple of others – basically anyone could fill this role as Tarka’s friend and make a triumphant return to Star Trek!

So that’s it.

Tarka showed a hologram of the DMA to the assembled diplomats and delegates.

I could be completely over-reaching with this one, but I felt that there was something about the way Tarka refused to name his “friend” in But To Connect that could be significant. Why keep that individual hidden – unless there’s something that’s going to surprise us when they’re ultimately revealed?

We’ve seen the Abronians in cryo-sleep this season, and we’ve seen the crew of the USS Discovery put themselves in suspended animation in the transporter buffer. The DMA also contains a wormhole, a phenomenon that has been used to travel through time in past iterations of Star Trek. Gray used the “Soong method” to acquire a synthetic body. And there have been multiple mentions of parallel universes. Any of these could be hinting at the return of a major character, perhaps someone who used one of these methods to either survive to the 32nd Century or to cross over from their native universe.

So that’s my theory. Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is someone we’ve met before, perhaps someone from Star Trek’s past who we wouldn’t expect to see! Unfortunately we’ve got to wait at least six weeks to see if I’m right!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Stats and analytics for 2021

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 3-4, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, and Star Trek: Voyager.

Now that 2021 has come and gone, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the progress the website made over the course of the year. Thanks to my web host and other analytics I have a fair amount of data to measure the website’s performance.

A big caveat: this is just for fun! Running Trekking with Dennis is my hobby, not a serious job, and I don’t write here because I’m desperately chasing huge numbers of readers or “internet points!” I enjoy having a space of my own where I can share my thoughts and review some of the films and TV shows that I’m interested in – and I’d still be here even if no one showed up to read any of it!

It’s time to look at some stats and numbers for 2021.

If 2020 had been a year of slow and steady growth, 2021 was a wild rollercoaster! A couple of articles went “viral” – or at least as close to going viral as I’m ever likely to get – and those two posts accounted for significant spikes in views in June and again in December. Other articles generally did well, and I saw decent views for most of my Star Trek episode reviews, which was great, but those two pieces in particular seemed to get a lot of attention.

Overall, more than 61,000 people visited the website in 2021 – up from 14,000 in 2020. That’s a year-on-year increase of more than 300% – meaning the website more than quadrupled the number of hits this year. That’s astonishing, and the fact that so many people showed up to read articles that I’d written is actually quite a humbling feeling.

The number of visitors to Trekking with Dennis in 2021 could fill London’s O2 Arena more than three times over!

Visitors came from all corners of the globe, too. Trekking with Dennis picked up readers from the heart of Africa, every nation in South America, India, Russia, and even China! I guess I’m allowed through the Great Firewall (at least for now)! Every country in Europe was represented in the stats, including smaller countries like the Faroe Islands. Hi, Faroese readers!

Of course, the majority of views came from the Anglosphere, with the United States being the number one country. The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa were all well-represented, too. Considering the website is in English and deals with a lot of American-made films, games, and television programmes, I’d expect to see most of the views coming from those regions.

Hello, Faroe Islands!

In early November, the website’s name changed – and so did the URL. This change was disruptive, but far less so than I had initially thought. Though the number of hits definitely dropped following the change in URL, things actually got back to normal pretty quickly, and in December I saw the second of those “viral” posts I mentioned – something I definitely wasn’t expecting!

Across 2021 I wrote 263 articles – slightly more than in 2020. And those articles contained a combined 649,000 words! To give you an idea of how much that is: it’s the equivalent of approximately eight “average-length” novels, 100,000 more words than Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or roughly the same number of words as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. That’s a lot of words!

So let’s take a look at the top ten most-read articles in 2021. These are the ten pieces that I wrote in 2021 that scored the most hits.

Article #10:
Preliminary Star Trek: Strange New Worlds predictions

This was the third part in an unofficial series that I ran in the early part of the year, looking ahead to several upcoming seasons of Star Trek. In this article I looked ahead to Strange New Worlds and made a few predictions – guesses, really – about elements the show might include. As luck would have it, later that same day came the announcements of five new members of the main cast! That was some strange timing, especially considering that this was the first piece I’d written about Strange New Worlds in more than six months at that point.

One of my predictions has already borne out: I said in this piece that I was sure there’d be a redesign of the uniforms, and the teases we saw at Star Trek Day proved me right! With the show still a few months away, though, we’ll have to wait to see if I was right about anything else!

Significant line: “I’m really looking forward to Strange New Worlds. It seems to be offering more of a “classic” take on Star Trek when compared to recent projects, and I’m 100% there for that!”

Article #9:
(When) Will Marvel reset the MCU?

I don’t talk about Marvel a lot here on the website. Comic books and their cinematic adaptations aren’t usually my first choice, and while I’ve enjoyed some Marvel films as popcorn entertainment, I just don’t have the nostalgia or connection to the world of comics that many folks have. Regardless, on this occasion in June I talked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its growing complexity – and asked whether a potential reboot or reset might be coming any time soon.

Keeping up with all of the goings-on in the MCU can feel like a full-time job sometimes! And because of Marvel’s love of crossovers, the shared fictional universe that its films and TV shows inhabit can feel intimidating or even offputting to the newbie or casual viewer. As the MCU has moved away from being “the real world plus superheroes” into a connected, shared setting with its own lore and almost fifteen years’ worth of history, it’s become dense and complex. Not every MCU title is inaccessible as a result – but some are getting to that point. Just like the worlds of comic books have been reset (such as in DC’s famous Crisis on Infinite Earths series), I feel it’s inevitable that Disney and Marvel will eventually do the same, rebooting the MCU for a new generation of audiences.

Significant line: “The legacy of characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk could pass to new iterations of those characters with new actors taking on lead roles in stories inspired by earlier films, but remaining distinct from them. New backstories could be created, perhaps based on different versions of the superheroes from other editions of their comic books.”

Article #8:
YouTube channel spotlight: Cruising the Cut

Back in February I took some time off from sci-fi and fantasy to highlight one of my favourite YouTube channels from the past few years. Cruising the Cut is part-travelogue, part-documentary, part-lifestyle vlog, and follows the journey of a man who lives aboard a canal narrowboat here in the UK. When I first started watching, Cruising the Cut only had a few thousand followers, but the channel has recently passed the 200,000 mark – a milestone that is thoroughly deserved.

I’ve always had a fascination with the canal network – a series of artificial waterways made in the early years of the industrial revolution. Cruising the Cut often has fun and interesting canal facts, but it’s also the kind of slow, gentle viewing that I think we all need sometimes. High-octane action and tense drama is great – but sometimes taking a break from that and slowing down is just what the doctor ordered!

Significant line: “Canal narrowboats only have a maximum cruising speed of around four miles-per-hour, so don’t expect Cruising the Cut to be zipping all across the country in each video.”

Article #7:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – Death by a thousand cuts

“Death by a thousand cuts” was the somewhat dramatic title that I gave to my review of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in June. I felt it encapsulated my feelings about the so-called “remaster”: that there wasn’t one single overwhelming fault, but a plethora of little ones that built up and contributed to a sense that it was far less than it could have been.

I adore the Mass Effect games, and I went into Legendary Edition hoping to get a good version of the original trilogy. But unfortunately, BioWare and EA took the path of least resistance, putting together a pretty crap “remaster” that I felt was not worth the asking price. There were bugs that had been present in the original versions of all three games that hadn’t been fixed – and I couldn’t excuse such extreme laziness and such a lack of care. I recently crowned Legendary Edition my worst game of 2021.

Significant line: “Legendary Edition represents a phenomenal missed opportunity to take these games and do more with them.”

Article #6:
Star Trek: Voyager – The torpedo and shuttle “problem”

I have to admit I was surprised by the response to this one! In the late ’90s, some fans argued very strongly that the USS Voyager had used “too many” torpedoes and shuttlecraft over the course of its journey through the Delta Quadrant, and the argument did the rounds in some parts of the Trekkie community for a while. Though I hadn’t really seen many people discussing it in recent years, the argument always bugged me – so I finally wrote out my response.

In short, I argued that a combination of resource gathering, trading, and building replacements was more than acceptable as a counter-argument, and in particular the fact that the crew were resourceful enough to build not one but two Delta Flyers was proof of this. Obviously “it’s just a story,” and the number of torpedoes fired or shuttlecraft used was at the whim of the writers. But from an in-universe point of view, I don’t see why it has to be considered a big deal. It seems at least some people are still interested in this argument after all!

Significant line: “It stands to reason that, contained within Voyager’s databanks, are the designs and schematics for both torpedoes and shuttles.”

Article #5:
Star Trek: Discovery – Was there a last-second change for Tilly?

All the way back in January, shortly after Discovery’s third season finale, I wrote this relatively short piece looking at Tilly. This focused on the short epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2, specifically the scene in which Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge to assume command for the first time. Amongst the assembled officers and crew was Tilly, but for some reason her uniform colour had been digitally changed – and pretty badly, too!

Tilly was originally supposed to be wearing the red colour of the command division, but seemingly at the last moment her command red had been changed to science blue via some pretty awful digital effects. She was only on screen for a few seconds, but this was pretty noticeable on a re-watch. Now that we know Tilly’s destination in Season 4, I wonder if the original plan at the end of Season 3 had seen her character go in a different direction? Maybe the original intention was for Tilly to remain on the command track, or perhaps even to serve as Burnham’s XO? We may never know!

Significant line: “It’s possible that this literally was a last-second change; the low quality of the texture used for the blue stripe may mean it was something thrown together in a matter of days…”

Article #4:
Star Trek: Discovery – eight “gravitational anomaly” theories

I wrote this list-article shortly after Star Trek’s “First Contact Day” digital event. Sonequa Martin-Green had introduced the first trailer for Discovery’s fourth season, and it was in this trailer that we first got wind of the “gravitational anomaly” – unnamed at the time. I put together a handful of theories based on what we’d seen and heard in the trailer, and even as we’ve hit the halfway point of the season, at least a couple of those remain plausible!

This was the first opportunity I’d had to talk about Discovery Season 4 outside of pure speculation, and the trailer had dropped some hints as to the anomaly that we now know as the DMA. I had fun putting the list together, and going back to past iterations of Star Trek for inspiration – and it seems a lot of people found it interesting, too. This article did well throughout the year, but really saw an uptick in hits around the time Season 4 premiered, and has continued to perform well as the season has progressed.

Significant line: “Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4?”

Article #3:
Mass Effect theory: unlucky humans

Replaying the aforementioned Mass Effect trilogy got me thinking about a theory I’d kicked around when the games were new. In short, my theory was that humanity was particularly unlucky to emerge as a spacefaring race only around forty years before the Reapers attacked. Had the Reapers’ invasion come earlier, or had humanity’s progress toward faster-than-light travel been slower, it might’ve been possible to avoid the Reapers altogether and to emerge into a galaxy with no other sentient spacefaring races.

Had the extinct Citadel Council left behind plans and warnings, humanity could have had a 50,000-year head-start on preparing for the next Reaper War! This was just a fun one, an idea I’d had when the Mass Effect trilogy was new. Giving it the full write-up treatment was fun, but in all honesty I didn’t expect it to gain much traction. Being timely helped this article a lot, though, coming only a few days after the launch of Legendary Edition. I guess there’s a lesson there about getting my articles written on time!

Significant line: “If humanity hadn’t encountered the Mars archive when they did, or if the Ilos scientists hadn’t prevented Sovereign from contacting the Reapers in dark space when it originally intended to, it seems plausible to think that humanity might have been overlooked by the Reapers – at least in this cycle!”

Article #2:
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Unknown Species 10-C: The Suspects

This is the first of the two “viral” articles that I mentioned. Published in mid-December, shortly after the episode The Examples confirmed that the DMA is artificial in nature, this piece really took off! I put quite a bit of work into this long list-article, considering twenty-six different possibilities from past iterations of Star Trek – from The Original Series to Picard – as possible culprits for creating the DMA.

In the aftermath of The Examples, my head was swimming with half-formed theories about Unknown Species 10-C. It took a while to write it all up, but what resulted was definitely one of the more fun and engaging writing projects of the past few months. Discovery’s fourth season – like the third before it – seems determined to go in an unpredictable direction, but even if that’s the case I can still say I had fun considering all of these different possible connections to past iterations of the franchise. And apparently, at least some Trekkies were just as interested in Unknown Species 10-C as me!

Significant line: “I keep thinking back to Season 3 and the Burn storyline, and how the ending to that story was something completely unpredictable and brand-new to the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Discovery go down that road again.”

Article #1:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – what’s the best ending?

So we come to the most-read piece of the year! Published in late May, a couple of weeks after the launch of Legendary Edition, in this article I considered what the “best” ending of the Mass Effect trilogy might be from an in-universe point of view. I tried to consider the pros and cons of the synthesis, destroy, and control endings to Mass Effect 3, giving my thoughts on each.

I suspect that the reason this article got so many hits is that players were looking for a guide to achieving a specific ending to the game – something the article doesn’t provide! So unfortunately, despite this being the best-performing article of the year, I suspect many readers came away disappointed having not found what they were looking for! However, I hope those that stuck around found an enjoyable and thoughtful piece, one in which I did my best to consider how the various endings to the trilogy might impact the Mass Effect galaxy, and the friends Commander Shepard made along their journey.

Significant line: “I have a hard time making this choice – it’s by far the most difficult in the entire trio of games, even though the short epilogue that follows is anticlimactic at best.”

But wait, there’s more!

Those were the top ten most-read articles that I wrote in 2021. But the year also saw several articles from 2020 pick up a number of views, and I thought it could be fun to briefly look at a few of those. We’ll just do the top five, since this article is already running long!

Article #5:
Introducing someone to Star Trek for the first time

This article, from back in June 2020, didn’t pick up much attention at the time it was written. By the standards of the website at the time it did okay, but even then I didn’t feel it was breaking the bank in terms of its view count. But for some reason it did much better in 2021, picking up dozens and then hundreds of views in a slow trickle throughout the year.

In this list-article I picked out fifteen episodes and films that I felt could make for a great “first contact” for a new viewer; someone unfamiliar with the Star Trek franchise. I tried to avoid the obvious ones, like The Wrath of Khan, and suggested a few different stories that showcase the varied nature of Star Trek, and how the franchise can dip its toes in some very different genres. I’m glad that it found an audience in the end – and if it helped even one person introduce a friend or loved one to Star Trek, then it’s more than done its job!

Significant line: “I tried to pick a few examples of stories that hopefully show off not only the franchise at its best, but that it can be different to the preconceived notions many people have.”

Article #4:
Star Trekkin’ – a number one hit!

This is an article that I had a ton of fun researching and writing in August 2020! If you’re a big Trekkie you’ve probably at least heard of The Firm’s 1987 song Star Trekkin’, which, as the title of my piece suggests, topped the charts here in the UK. The song is ridiculously silly, and the music video that accompanies it is even more so, but it’s a weird and wonderful piece of Star Trek’s history that I wanted to acknowledge. It’s also a curiously British thing, in some ways.

I had this song on cassette many years ago, and I can remember listening to it through headphones on the school bus with the volume turned down – just in case anyone could overhear! I also bought the mp3 of the song again when I transitioned to digital music, and I confess that I still put the song on occasionally for both a bit of fun and a blast of nostalgia. Star Trekkin’ is a weird song, but it was fun to write about – and I’m glad that Trekkies are checking out what I had to say about it!

Significant line: “It’s well worth a listen for any Trekkie who hasn’t heard it, and while I don’t promise you’ll enjoy it as a piece of music, you might just crack a smile.”

Article #3:
Can we PLEASE stop calling things we don’t like “objectively” bad?

From the silly to the serious! I wrote this piece after getting sick to death of hearing so-called critics using the expression “objectively bad” to refer to things that they personally didn’t like. I’m not trying to nitpick or get mad about a technicality, but when I hear the word “objectively” used in the context of basically anything in media, and narrative choices in particular, I feel there’s a conscious attempt to try to shut down any counter-arguments. Media criticism is practically always subjective, not objective – no matter what anyone may claim.

There is no such thing as a film, video game, or TV programme that is “objectively” bad – nor “objectively” anything else. There are certainly works of entertainment that don’t follow established rules or precedent, but in every case opinions will vary from person to person. There are myriad examples of works of fiction that I personally hate that I know other people adore. Neither opinion is “objective” – and that’s that.

Significant line: “It’s got to a point where it’s been proclaimed so often that any time I see or hear the phrase “objectively bad,” I stop reading or listening. Any critic making such a statement has lost my respect and lost the argument.”

Article #2:
Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks)

This one is pretty straightforward! In 2020 – and sadly, again in 2021 – many New Year events that are usually televised were cancelled due to the pandemic. For several years in the second half of the 2010s I’d spent my New Years Eves with the London fireworks display on TV basically by default, but with the event cancelled due to covid in 2020 I got thinking about what I might watch instead – and this list was born!

Beginning on the 30th of December 2020 and running through to the early hours of New Year’s Day, this post saw a huge spike in views, and the same thing happened this past New Year. Due to the huge number of hits it had got in the wee hours of the 1st of January it was already quite high on the list, but the extra attention it got in December 2021 propelled it to becoming one of the best-performing pieces of the year!

Significant line: “Hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.”

Article #1:
It’s time for Deep Space Nine and Voyager to get the HD treatment

This article was the most-read of 2020, so I’m not shocked to see that it continued to perform well in 2021! In this article I called on ViacomCBS to remaster Deep Space Nine and Voyager, both of which remain in standard definition at time of writing. I argued that the move to streaming should be the reason why the shows get remastered, because the process will be less expensive this time around due to improvements in technology and far less of a need to produce and ship optical discs.

It doesn’t seem like ViacomCBS cares about Deep Space Nine and Voyager right now, sadly, and even though Paramount+ is playing host to both shows (in regions where it’s available), there’s still no sign of a remaster. I think it could be a good investment, because a lot of Trekkies who remember the shows fondly would be interested to see a remastered version; it would certainly drive some sign-ups to Paramount+. There are some decent fan-made remasters that you can find online, though… so that’s something!

Significant line: “A lot of folks seem to have given up on the idea of ever seeing those series in HD given the move toward online streaming and The Next Generation’s lacklustre performance on Blu-ray, but CBS All Access should be Deep Space Nine and Voyager’s ticket to a full-HD remaster.”

So that’s it!

Trekking with Dennis exceeded all of my hopes and expectations in 2021, with more than 61,000 people showing up to read the pieces that I wrote. I’m thrilled with how well the website has been performing, and I hope 2022 will be another good year.

To those of you who joined me in 2021, thank you. I hope I was entertaining, informative, or just a fun way to kill some time! You can look forward to more of the same in 2022, as I have no immediate plans to shake things up or make changes to the kind of things I do here.

2021 was a wild ride in so many ways, and it wasn’t a great year for many of us. Entertainment experiences – like films, video games, and TV shows – are some of the things that keep me going, and writing my thoughts or reviews of some of them is an extension of that. A chance to spend more time thinking and writing about Star Trek and some of my other favourites continues to be an enjoyable hobby, and a great escape, at times, from some of the less pleasant things going on out here in the real world.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months – and here’s to 2022!

– Dennis
Wednesday, 5th January 2022

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, owner, corporation, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 7: …But to Connect

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

Sorry for being a few days late with this review! I had several other things going on this week, including my big end-of-year article, a piece looking ahead to 2022’s entertainment experiences, and finally a review of The Matrix Resurrections that I worked very hard on. I also hoped to get around to a review of the new Disney film Encanto, but that ended up taking a back seat along with this review of Discovery’s mid-season finale.

As I said last week, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way the mid-season break was announced. Doing so on such short notice adds to a growing sense that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ are being very poorly-managed, and while I don’t begrudge the creative team taking additional time to work on or rework episodes in the second half of the season if that work needs to be done, it raises some serious questions about the handling of the Star Trek franchise and the Paramount+ streaming service on the corporate side of things. If ViacomCBS truly aims to compete with the biggest names in streaming, nonsense like this has to stop. In addition, there are still many Trekkies and would-be viewers all around the world who can’t watch Discovery due to corporate bullshit, something else that ViacomCBS needs to fix as quickly as possible.

The opening shot of the episode.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale. It was tense and had moments of high drama that demonstrated beyond any doubt that science fiction doesn’t need to drown in space battles and high-octane action to be exciting. It was also an episode that, unfortunately, made some of its moments of drama feel incredibly contrived.

After everything Michael Burnham went through in her rollercoaster relationship with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, giving her the chance to settle down with someone like Book was an incredibly welcome change. Forcing them to go against each other – especially for a central reason that felt contrived in the extreme – would not have been my choice for the direction of their relationship. Discovery has, over the course of its three-and-a-half seasons thus far, felt a need to inject extra drama and extra conflict where none was needed, upping the character stakes to near-soap opera levels at times. Forcing Book and Burnham to work against each other is the latest example of this trend – and it’s a disappointing thing to see.

The last thing Discovery needs is more Burnham relationship drama. Let her settle down, for goodness’ sake.

Book fell under the influence of Ruon Tarka, someone who we’ll have to deal with in more detail in a moment. For now, suffice to say that Tarka pounced on Book’s emotionally compromised state, seemingly manipulating him to advocate for attacking and destroying the DMA instead of pursuing peaceful first contact with whomever created it. Tarka has his reasons for doing this – claiming he wants to preserve the DMA’s power source so he can use it for his own purposes.

Book was clearly not thinking logically – and given his grief and the external prodding by Tarka, that makes sense. But the idea that Burnham couldn’t help him push through that, especially given that the DMA is explicitly stated to not be an immediate threat to anyone, is the point that begins to stretch credulity and make this whole situation feel contrived and forced.

The DMA was not posing an active, imminent threat to anyone.

Here’s the central point: the DMA, despite its potential danger and raw power, hasn’t actually done that much damage. If we assume that Discovery Season 4 has taken place over at least a couple of months of in-universe time, which seems reasonable given how long some of the scientists seem to have been working on these problems, it’s destroyed precisely two places in that time – a rate of one per month. And aside from Kwejian, the only other place we know it’s hit was an asteroid colony with a population of a couple of thousand. The Federation and the rest of the galactic races present at the meeting clearly have time on their side: the DMA’s path doesn’t seem to be taking it near to any inhabited systems in the immediate term, and while its unpredictable nature could see it disappear and reappear somewhere more dangerous, that doesn’t seem to be its primary mission.

If the DMA were a weapon being actively controlled, it would have targeted more places by now, so the Federation’s plan to attempt to contact its creators makes far more sense than attacking it. Even if Book couldn’t understand that at first, being blinded by his grief or desire for revenge, surely of all people Burnham would have been able to convince him to see the logic behind this slower, calmer approach. If the DMA had been actively threatening a planet – especially a named world that we as the audience might be familiar with, such as Betazed or Sigma Draconis III – things would be different. But without that desperate and immediate need to stop another disaster, the rational approach is to try to contact Unknown Species 10-C.

Book fell under the sway of Ruon Tarka – someone who clearly has his own agenda.

Earlier in the season, we saw Burnham advocate a compromise position, and But To Connect should have offered another opportunity to do so: building the weapon capable of destroying the DMA before attempting first contact. If the DMA then changes course and presents an active threat, it can be destroyed. And in addition, having the weapon in reserve while making first contact would be a valuable asset. If Unknown Species 10-C won’t see reason, the weapon could be a threat. If there’s no one there to negotiate with, the DMA could be destroyed. In short, the answer to the pretty basic problem that the episode posed isn’t “do one or the other,” it should have been “do both.” Build the weapon as a back-up while preparing for first contact.

If Discovery hadn’t insisted on themes of compromise across its last two seasons, I guess I’d give it a pass on this false choice. But in context, it seems to run counter to much of what the show has been trying to say for at least the last two years: that there are always solutions to or ways around these kinds of conflicts. The question of how to approach the DMA did not need to be a zero-sum game, and someone like Captain Burnham should have realised that – even if Book couldn’t.

This didn’t need to be a “black or white” choice. Compromise should have been possible; this is a major theme that the show has tried to present all season long.

Not for the first time, I’m left with a sense that Discovery’s writers and producers have a definite goal in mind; an endgame for the story and characters. But they haven’t figured out how to reach that finishing point in a clear and consistent manner, leaving this side of But To Connect feeling contrived.

On the flip side, the speeches that both Book and Burnham gave were very emotional, and I can’t fault the performances of either Sonequa Martin-Green or David Ajala. Both came across as two people trying to do what they genuinely believed was the right thing; conflicted because of what it would mean for their relationship, but determined to press ahead regardless. Although this wouldn’t be the way I would have chosen to handle either character, there can be no denying that the performances were exquisite.

Both actors played their roles exceptionally well.

Also on this side of the story we had a muted role for President Rillak. Though she was on Burnham’s side – wanting to advocate for an attempt at peaceful contact – she chose to recuse herself from the debate, serving as a moderator only. I still get the sense that she has schemes in play – bringing Burnham along as an ally being one of the ways she tried to manipulate proceedings to get her way without being openly involved – but it was interesting to see her in a more centrist, unaffiliated role.

Among her ambitions from the diplomatic summit were showing the Federation as taking the lead in the fight against the DMA, but also opening initial channels to United Earth with a view to bringing the isolationist world back into the fold. We’ve seen a slight softening of Earth’s leadership since Burnham helped reunite Earth and Titan in Season 3, and it was nice to welcome back Phumzile Sitole as the newly-promoted General Ndoye. As a Trekkie, I want more than anything to see Earth rejoin the Federation – but only if it feels right. Earth shouldn’t be manipulated into coming back into the organisation, so this story beat will have to be handled delicately.

General Ndoye represented Earth and Titan at the diplomatic summit.

Ruon Tarka was perhaps the most surprising character in But To Connect. His self-assured cockiness was still there from his role in The Examples, but we got an idea of what could be driving him forward, and where his interest in the DMA may have come from. Stating that he wants to cross over into a parallel universe was certainly not something I expected – but at the same time it felt very familiar, and very Star Trek.

Tarka comes across as somewhat similar to Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Soran wanted to return to the Nexus – a paradise-like realm contained inside of an energy ribbon that periodically transited the galaxy. Tarka’s desire to enter the DMA and use its powerful controller to “punch through” to a parallel universe where he expected life to be better is at least somewhat comparable – and his willingness to break the rules and work against Starfleet shows the same kind of single-mindedness that Soran demonstrated.

Tarka is determined to use the DMA controller for his own ends.

We’ll save for my theory post a full discussion of Tarka, his possible motivations, and potential destinations. But suffice to say this character turn has piqued my curiosity. There’s the potential to get a more complex presentation of a “mad scientist” character trope, one which gives him an understandable or even sympathetic motive for his actions. I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I see potential in this storyline.

Shawn Doyle was wonderful in The Examples, making Tarka stand out as a different take on a character archetype that has appeared on a number of prior occasions in Star Trek. This amazing performance continued in But To Connect, and Doyle deserves a lot of credit for the way he brought the character to screen with complexity – especially given the relatively small amount of screen time that Tarka has had in the season so far.

Tarka and Book formed an unlikely alliance.

As has happened several times already this season, though, Discovery quickly glossed over much of the actual work on the problems and puzzles posed by the DMA in order to get to the dramatic stand-off between Book and Burnham. Tarka’s weapon seemed to come out of nowhere, and although he’s clearly spent weeks or months of off-screen time working on it, in the episode itself it seemed to be a bolt from the blue; almost a deus ex machina solution to the threat posed by the DMA. As I’ve said on several occasions this season, the end result isn’t the problem – it’s that we as the audience really needed to see at least some of the process to get there, even if just by way of something like a montage.

In exactly the same way on the other side of the story, Zora’s discovery of the coordinates of the DMA’s origin was completely blitzed through in order to get to the story that the episode really wanted to tell. When it comes to the DMA, which is the season’s “big bad” at least thus far, Discovery has dedicated precious little time to actually dealing with it head-on, with much of the investigation happening off-screen. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and now finally the discovery of its origin point. All of these points, so incredibly vital to the story of the DMA, feel like they’re scarcely even footnotes in a story which on the surface should be making more of them.

Captain Burnham, Stamets, and Adira listen to Zora as she refuses to share what she’s learned.

Before anyone jumps in to tell me off for missing the point: I get it. Discovery has other stories to tell, and wants to use this season in particular to look at issues surrounding trauma and grief. Practically all of the main characters seem to embody different responses to trauma: Stamets getting lost in his work, Culber desperately trying to help others even if doing so is at his own expense, Book’s journey through the stages of grief, and Tilly’s career switch all come from that same thematic place. And these individual, character-centric stories are absolutely worth telling. However, in a sci-fi series that also has the DMA as a major plotline, it feels that the first half of Season 4 has prioritised these character moments at the expense of this other major narrative. It should’ve been possible to balance the season’s story to give both appropriate weight and screen time – but Discovery has yet to find that balance.

So let’s tackle Zora next. The USS Discovery’s computer-AI-Sphere data hybrid has been developing slowly since Season 3, and until the very end of The Examples a couple of weeks ago felt like a relatively minor part of the season. Her transformation into basically an additional main character has been an interesting one, and this week was by far Zora’s biggest moment centre-stage. I got echoes of a number of past Star Trek stories – from The Ultimate Computer and The Measure of a Man through to Picard Season 1’s dealings with the synths and Data – in the way Zora was analysed and discussed by Dr Kovich, Dr Culber, Stamets, Adira, and Gray. It was an incredibly honest and frank discussion, one which absolutely embodied the spirit of Star Trek.

Zora’s status and rights were discussed in But To Connect.

Through this side of the story, But To Connect gave us by far the best and most sympathetic presentation of Dr Kovich. I maintain that, based on his earlier appearances, some kind of Section 31 or spy role was a possibility – and maybe that was the original intention for the character when he was created in Season 3. In But To Connect, however, we saw Dr Kovich as a firm believer in the values and ideals of Starfleet and the Federation: determined to seek out new life, and to ensure that very different forms of life have the same rights as everyone else.

Stamets also shone on this side of the story, and the writing here showed off a complexity that the relatively short half-episode runtime could have hampered. Stamets’ attitude toward Zora’s newly developed sentience could have come across badly, making him out to be some kind of “AI-phobe,” in the vein of something like Picard Season 1’s Zhat Vash. However, the way Stamets was handled – aided greatly by a wonderful performance from Anthony Rapp – ensured that we could understand his reservations and concerns without seeing him as some kind of futuristic bigot.

Anthony Rapp gave his best performance of the season so far.

As in All Is Possible, Discovery succeeded at taking a complex argument and ensuring that the views on both sides were sensible and understandable, allowing true understanding and trust to be reached. Likewise this week, Stamets didn’t simply try to put his foot down and declare that the existence of Zora was some kind of horrible, insurmountable problem, and nor did Zora attack Stamets or try to shut down his concerns.

In an increasingly polarised political climate here in the west, where politicians and activists on all sides are increasingly dogmatic and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, Discovery once again showed us how debate and discussion should be handled: calmly, maturely, and with mutual respect. This is one of the lessons from this season of the show: that we can’t simply write off points of view we disagree with, nor should we try to shut down or dismiss them. Listening is the first step toward understanding.

Despite the stakes and the complexity of the arguments, But To Connect showed us how these kinds of conversations can and should be handled.

From my perspective as someone who’s non-binary, I felt there could be echoes of the real-world conversation surrounding transgender and non-binary folks in the way Zora’s movement toward acceptance was handled. There are many people who are dismissive of trans and non-binary people – something I sadly experienced firsthand recently in a conversation with someone I considered a friend. An unwillingness to listen and a desire to be dismissive of something we personally don’t understand is always going to be a temptation – but Stamets found that, by having a frank and honest conversation, his fears and concerns could be allayed.

There’s been a lot of debate around transgender and non-binary rights in recent years, and the issues of sex, gender, and gender identity have become highly politicised. Zora was struggling to find acceptance in But To Connect, and I felt that the show was perhaps drawing on the trans inclusion discussion for inspiration in this particular storyline. Speaking from a personal perspective, it isn’t easy to figure oneself out. To then present oneself to one’s friends only to be rejected is a horrible feeling – and I’m glad that Zora’s friends were able to remain on her side, even if they had questions about her at first.

It felt like the conversation with Zora may have had a real-world inspiration.

The Zora conversation also tackled the real-world issue of artificial intelligence and the growing impact of machine learning, algorithms, and AI on our daily lives. Star Trek has depicted “evil” AIs on several occasions, including in Season 2 of Discovery, so to take a break from that negative portrayal and to find a way to show AI in a positive light was a welcome change. I’m no longer convinced, for example, that we’ll see Zora go rogue or act against the crew’s wishes later in the season or in future stories; her status as a bona fide member of the crew feels settled.

Stamets was part of that, and voiced his concerns with eloquence before coming around to accepting Zora’s place in the crew. Dr Culber played a role too, as did Gray and Adira. It was very cathartic, after Stamets missed the entirety of Gray’s incorporation a few episodes ago, to see the two characters having the chance to interact. Gray’s future on the show is now uncertain following his departure with Guardian Xi bound for Trill, so it was even more important to give him and Stamets some small crumbs of screen time together.

It was great to finally see Stamets interacting with Gray and Adira.

In a very real sense, But To Connect felt like two distinct episodes haphazardly bolted together. In a longer season, both the conflict at the diplomatic summit and Zora’s moves toward sentience could have been explored while also giving more time to the likes of Tarka and his efforts to untangle the mysteries posed by the DMA. But because Discovery wanted to make a point – not a bad point, I concede – about Starfleet seeking out new life, we got both stories squashed down into the runtime of a single episode. Neither of these stories were bad, nor was the link between them, but the conflict at the summit in particular would have benefitted from additional development, and the incredibly minor side-story about Tarka and the DMA could have been fleshed out a lot more – as could Stamets, Adira, and Zora’s work to find the coordinates.

The similarities between the stories of Zora and the DMA would’ve still worked had they been longer or spread across two episodes, and I guess my big criticism of But To Connect isn’t that I hated or even disliked either, it’s that I would’ve liked to have seen a longer, perhaps slower-paced, version of them. Cutting the conflict between Book and Burnham – or finding a way to resolve it – would also have been a preference.

T’Rina and Tarka view a holo-model of the DMA.

But To Connect told two stories about seeking out new life: the very core of Starfleet’s mission. Zora’s story was the better of the two; it had more nuance, better characterisation, and a truly sympathetic presentation of both sides of the discussion. It dealt with incredibly deep and complex themes in an understandable way, giving rise to a conclusion that felt natural, but most importantly that felt earned.

The diplomatic summit, meanwhile, took what could have been a similar setup but presented it as a false “either-or” choice – a choice that, I would argue, felt unnecessary and thus contrived. Its conclusion, instead of being one that promoted understanding and dialogue, ended with one side claiming total victory and the other suffering defeat. This laid the groundwork for Book and Tarka’s rebellion – stealing a spore drive prototype and flying away to attack the DMA. That ending may have been a natural or inescapable one given the setup, but it didn’t need to be – and it seems to run counter to some very timely and important allegories that Discovery has tried to include this season.

Burnham casting her vote.

A few scattered final thoughts: Discovery seems to be going down the route of some of the ’80s Star Trek films by depicting interesting-looking background aliens… then giving them nothing to do nor even naming them. It would be nice to learn more about some of the galaxy’s races, but just dropping them in the background doesn’t feel like a particularly good way to handle things. The music in But To Connect was probably the best of the season so far, and the score used during the voting scenes in particular was incredibly tense – perfectly complimenting what was happening on screen.

Why does Burnham get a vote? I can understand why each Federation member world might get an individual vote, but giving everyone present the chance to vote could disproportionately favour one side. It feels like it was there for another moment of drama rather than because it makes sense in context.

We saw a full-blooded Cardassian, a Ferengi, and several other familiar races – including one who may be a Xindi. Missing from the summit, however, were races like the Klingons and factions like the Dominion. It’s possible that there have been major structural changes to those governments, or that diplomatic relations with the Federation are poor. Discovery may also be avoiding their use with a view to bringing them back in a future story – or to give room for the likes of Picard or Strange New Worlds to include these factions.

This character was a callback to the events of Kobayashi Maru.

Stamets flipping the issue of trust onto Zora was a clever one, and a great rhetorical way to begin to bring that argument to a close. Dr Kovich’s line that Stamets could have been reassigned if he couldn’t work with Zora was clever – but then who would have operated the Spore Drive? Saru and T’Rina make an adorable couple, and although I wouldn’t consider either Doug Jones or Tara Rosling to be “old,” it was still sweet to see Discovery giving screen time to a burgeoning romance between two people who aren’t 25 any more!

So I think that’s about all I have to say for now. Stay tuned, because later in the week I’ll be writing up my theories for the second half of the season. It’s only six weeks, but I really can’t wait to find out what happens next! The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C still present wonderful mysteries, and although my head says what we’ll ultimately get will be something brand-new to the franchise, my heart is still hopeful that there’ll be some kind of big connection or callback to a past iteration of Star Trek!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking ahead to 2022

Happy New Year! As we mark the first day of 2022 (and recover from the last night of 2021) I thought it could be fun to look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences that lie before us this year. There are a plethora of films, games, and television shows on the horizon, and there are sure to be plenty of surprises and new announcements to come as well. On this occasion I’ve picked out ten films, video games, and television shows that I’m personally looking forward to in 2022.

The ongoing pandemic has caused a number of delays, and while most of these titles feel like a safe bet, it’s still possible that additional disruption will mean that we won’t see them all before the end of the year. The further out we get, the more likely such changes are – so titles which are currently aiming for a November or December release could end up slipping back to 2023.

Let’s jump into the list!

Film #1:
Morbius

Up first we have somewhat of a rarity: a Marvel film that I’m actually slightly interested in! Morbius will star Jared Leto as a mad scientist who inadvertently turns himself into a vampire. The film isn’t actually part of the main Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s being produced by Colombia and Sony – the latter company having the license to Spider-Man.

From my point of view, the fact that the film isn’t part of the MCU is no bad thing. Keeping up with every Marvel project increasingly feels like a full-time job considering the shared nature of the universe and the frequency of crossovers. So perhaps Morbius will be able to be enjoyed as more or less a standalone piece. I know nothing about the character or comic book source material – but I’m hoping it’ll be a fun, action-packed, slightly spooky adventure.

Film #2:
Lightyear

I was surprised by the trailer for Lightyear – the film looks so much more fun and interesting than its premise alone would have suggested! An “origin story” for Buzz Lightyear, the film purports to show us why Buzz Lightyear figures were so popular in the world of Toy Story! I noted many different visual and thematic elements from mid-century, retro sci-fi; kind of similar to the theme of the Tomorrowland park at Disneyland.

Chris Evans is set to take on the title role, and I’m genuinely looking forward to Lightyear. The film seems to have an element of mystery to it, and from the trailer it looks set to be an exciting adventure with a fun visual style. Check out my full thoughts on the trailer by clicking or tapping here.

Film #3:
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage is going to play an exaggerated, fictionalised version of himself in a film that looks set to be hilarious – and full of meme potential! I honestly thought this was a joke when I first heard about it, but the trailer already had me laughing out loud. Cage has developed a self-awareness, leaning into his reputation for making B-movies, and I think the result can only be hilarity.

In short, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is either going to be great… or it’s going to be one of those “so bad it’s good” films. There’s simply no in-between! Oh, and The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal is also in it alongside Cage.

Film #4:
Moonfall

Disaster films are somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re usually so far-fetched and over-the-top, but they can also be dramatic and exciting; perfect popcorn fare and a fun way to kill a couple of hours. Roland Emmerich has directed some fun ones: 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow spring to mind first and foremost. So I’m very curious to see what his latest sci-fi/disaster flick will be all about!

The premise sounds bonkers: the moon gets knocked out of orbit and is on a collision course with Earth. The film promises that the moon “is not what we think it is” … so let’s find out what the moon really is, I guess!

Film #5:
Avatar 2

The first of four planned sequels to 2009’s Avatar is scheduled for release in December this year. After more than thirteen years, James Cameron has quite a task on his hands to get people re-engaged with the fictional universe that he created, but if anyone can pull it off it’s him. Despite being an enjoyable film in its own right, Avatar never quite succeeded to the extent Cameron (and 20th Century Fox) hoped, failing to really break into the top tier of sci-fi franchises.

Avatar 2 is the first of four opportunities to change the narrative. There’s always room, in my opinion, for new sci-fi, and Avatar had some successes with its world-building. There are open questions left over from the first film – and although I’m by no means an Avatar superfan, I’m curious to see where the story will go next.

Film #6:
Untitled Super Mario Movie

The Super Mario Bros. film that was a shock announcement at a recent Nintendo Direct broadcast still doesn’t have an official title, but it’s targetting a release around the holiday season (I know we’re still processing Christmas 2021, but still!) Featuring an all-star cast including Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Jack Black as Bowser, this has the potential to succeed where the 1993 version… didn’t.

Nintendo seems to have invested a decent amount of money into the project, and with a story and animation style that will hopefully be closer to the video game series than the 1993 attempt, this could be the unexpected hit of Christmas 2022!

Film #7:
Uncharted

The adaptation of the Uncharted video game series will star Spider-Man’s Tom Holland as adventurer (and discount Indiana Jones) Nathan Drake – and if you’ve been a regular around here for a while, you might recall that it made my list of films to watch in 2021 last January! But after being delayed, Uncharted looks all but certain to get a release this year (one way or another).

I had fun with the Uncharted video games on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. I’m cautiously interested to see how well the adaptation will work – condensing the story of even one video game into the runtime of a single film can be tricky. But I think there’s the potential for a solid action flick if all goes according to plan.

Film #8:
Jurassic World: Dominion

The legacy of Jurassic Park continues with the third entry in the reboot Jurassic World series, with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprising their roles. Details of the plot are sparse at this stage, with director Colin Trevorrow keeping a lid on things, but if the story picks up in the aftermath of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom then we can expect to see dinosaurs roaming free – and not just in their island park!

A lot of fans are excited for the return of the original trio of characters: Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, and Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm will all be making appearances in the film. An extended trailer (called the prologue) was recently released, and it’s well worth a watch!

Film #9:
Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery’s Philippa Georgiou) stars in this very weird-looking film about a woman who can cross over to infinite parallel universes. Evelyn seems to be tasked with saving the entire multiverse from an unknown threat, travelling to different realities and exploring different versions of herself and her own life.

The trailer was chaotic, and the plot may be tricky to follow, but Everything Everywhere All At Once looks like a wild, bonkers ride. It could be a ton of fun, so it’s one I shall watch with interest!

Film #10:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2

2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog exceeded my (admittedly rather low) expectations, and in a pandemic-disrupted year was actually one of the few cinematic highlights. Following its success will be no easy task for this sequel, but there’s definitely potential in this return to the universe of Sega’s cute mascot.

The stars of the first film (including Jim Carrey) will be returning, and the addition of other characters from the Sonic franchise looks set to expand the fun.

Video Game #1:
Six Days In Fallujah

Six Days In Fallujah is a controversial game. It intends to depict, in as realistic a manner as modern games engines will allow, the Second Battle of Fallujah, which took place in 2004. I was surprised to see the extent of the backlash that the game’s announcement received last year, not just from the expected sources like right-wing politicians, but from some games commentators and gaming outlets too.

In short, I think that it’s important to create art, particularly when the subject matter it tackles is difficult or controversial. It’s possible that Six Days In Fallujah will add nothing to the conversation around the Iraq War, but it’s equally possible that we’ll get something more than just mindless shooting. Video games can be art, and art can and should tackle difficult and complex topics. To see my full thoughts on Six Days In Fallujah, click or tap here.

Video Game #2:
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was a surprise announcement at last year’s E3, but with the Avatar sequels kicking off this year it makes a lot of sense to have a video game tie-in of some kind as well. Frontiers of Pandora doesn’t seem like it will be a direct adaptation of either the first or second films in the series, but rather a standalone title.

The world of Avatar seems well-suited to a video game adaptation, and with Ubisoft’s resources at its back there’s potential in this title. Taking on the role of a Na’vi warrior sounds like fun, and I’m definitely going to check out Frontiers of Pandora when it’s ready.

Video Game #3:
Mario Kart 9

At this stage there’s been no announcement of a new game in the long-running Mario Kart series. But Mario Kart 8 was released almost eight years ago, and with 2022 being the series’ 30th anniversary, the timing feels right for a new game. Nintendo loves to celebrate anniversaries with big releases, after all!

Mario Kart 8 has been one of the Switch’s big sellers since the console’s launch. But the game has a limited roster of tracks and playable characters, and after such a long wait in between titles, a growing number of players are looking for something new. 2022 would be a great time to launch Mario Kart 9 – so watch this space.

Video Game #4:
Stray

Stray is a game that lets you play as a cat. Do I need to say more? Publisher Annapurna Interactive has a great track record, having released wonderful and emotional narrative journeys like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home. Indie developer Blue Twelve Studio has been working on the game for a while, and its unique premise and beautiful setting have already piqued my interest!

The game entices players to unravel an ancient mystery and figure a way to escape a decaying cyberpunk city populated by robots. The stray cat at the centre of the game will have their own robot companion, too. This game looks adorable – but it also has an unsettling, otherworldly feel that could make for a fascinating and unique adventure.

Video Game #5:
Star Trek: Resurgence

I’d been desperately hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years; it’s been almost a decade since the last one failed miserably. With Star Trek being back on our screens in a big way, I’m glad that ViacomCBS is finally licensing video games again. Resurgence is the single-player story-driven game I’d been hoping for – and the trailer looked great!

New developer Dramatic Labs has pedigree – many of its employees used to work for Telltale Games, whose narrative adventures were highly-praised. Telltale worked on a number of adaptations, including Batman and Game of Thrones, so Dramatic Labs seems perfectly positioned to bring a brand new Star Trek game to life. I’m really rooting for Resurgence to be a success.

Video Game #6:
Starfield

Starfield has been in development for almost a decade. Bethesda had ideas for space-themed games going all the way back to the 1990s, and even pitched a Star Trek game at one point, so in a sense Starfield has been a very long time coming! At 2021’s E3, the company was finally able to announce a release date, and while details about the game are still sparse, we have begun to learn a little more about some of the factions and locales.

Bethesda chief Todd Howard has literally promised players “Skyrim in space,” so Starfield has big shoes to fill! After Bethesda has stumbled in recent years with the likes of Fallout 76, the game also has a lot of work to do to rehabilitate the company’s image. Anything less than an exceptional game could leave the Microsoft-owned studio in trouble. I want to be excited for Starfield… but I’m trying to avoid boarding the hype train.

Video Game #7:
Saints Row

I initially wrote off the Saints Row games as being “Grand Theft Auto knock-offs,” but the truth is that they’re so much more than that. The setup is unquestionably similar – players take on the role of a criminal in an open-world city – but developers Volition brought a distinctly comedic style that made the original Saints Row and its sequels stand out.

Saints Row is a reboot, one which will supposedly bring the game back to its roots. Given that Rockstar seemingly still has no plans to release Grand Theft Auto 6 any time soon, Saints Row could be the game that scratches that open-world itch.

Video Game #8:
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown

It’s been almost a decade since the last Test Drive game was released, so Solar Crown is coming late to the party! But following on from the success of other open-world racing games (like Forza Horizon 5, for example) it could be well-placed to take the racing crown this year.

Solar Crown is set in Hong Kong, and developers KT Racing have promised a 1:1 full-scale recreation of the entirety of Hong Kong island. That sounds incredibly ambitious, but I’m hopeful that they can pull it off. The result could be one of the best racing games in a long time.

Video Game #9:
Pharaoh: A New Era

I adored Pharaoh in the early 2000s. An Ancient Egyptian-themed city building game, it had all of the micromanagement you’d expect from a game of that type, but with additional features derived from its setting. For example, the Nile river could flood – so making use of flood plains became an essential gameplay element.

Pharaoh: A New Era aims to bring the game into the modern day, updating its graphical fidelity but retaining the original game’s trademark visual style and gameplay. I think it has a lot of potential to be a wonderful nostalgia trip for me – and if you missed the original twenty years ago, it could be brand-new fun for you!

Video Game #10:
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order II

At this stage we don’t know whether Jedi: Fallen Order II is even in development – though it’s heavily rumoured to be well underway. It’s a possibility for 2022, though, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed waiting for an official announcement. After the disappointment of Battlefront II and The Rise of Skywalker, Jedi: Fallen Order did a lot for the Star Wars franchise. It was an engaging story with some great characters – most of whom should be returning.

I’m really interested to see where Cal Kestis and his friends will go next. What adventures lie in store for them? And will we find out their ultimate fate – perhaps explaining why Cal and the others played no part in the Rebellion or the events of the Star Wars films? So many questions… but I’ll settle for another fun Star Wars adventure, even if it doesn’t answer all of them!

TV Series #1:
House of the Dragon

Despite being underwhelmed by the first trailer (and bitterly disappointed by the final season of Game of Thrones) I’m nevertheless curious to see what House of the Dragon will bring to the table. The new series has the not insignificant challenge of proving that Game of Thrones wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and that Westeros truly can be expanded into an ongoing franchise.

Honestly? The jury is still out. The television landscape has changed immeasurably since Game of Thrones’ 2010 debut, and in the big-budget high fantasy genre, House of the Dragon will face some serious competition. There’s potential in the series… but right now, I can muster curious interest rather than outright excitement.

TV Series #2:
Star Trek: Picard Season 2

After a longer-than-planned pandemic-enforced break, Picard will finally be back on our screens before too long. It isn’t clear yet whether Discovery’s unexpected mid-season break will delay Picard Season 2 from its planned February premiere, but that seems likely. Regardless, time travel and old adversaries are on the agenda for Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of La Sirena.

I confess that time travel stories aren’t always my favourites in Star Trek, so I’m perhaps less excited for Picard Season 2 than I hoped I might be. But a chance to spend more time with Picard himself, especially after the wonderfully complex presentation of the character in Season 1, is something that I’m truly looking forward to.

TV Series #3:
Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi

There’s a lot of Star Wars content to come this year! Obi-Wan Kenobi is taking place in between the prequel and original trilogies, and will see Ewan McGregor reprise his role as the famed ex-Jedi. What adventures will he be able to have during his exile on the planet of Tatooine? And will those adventures feel natural or tacked-on? I guess we’re about to find out!

McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi was definitely one of the better elements of the prequel films. I’m not sure I’d have chosen to make this series if I were making the big decisions for Disney and Lucasfilm, but I hope to get a fun action or drama series that respects the boundaries of the original 1977 film and doesn’t tread on its toes.

TV Series #4:
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings

This series made my list last year, as I had originally expected to see it in 2021. Amazon has found some success with its adaptation of The Wheel of Time, but in a sense that show feels like an appetiser before the main course! Few other properties have such potential to bring in audiences as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and there’s going to be a huge amount of interest in what is going to be the most expensive television series ever made.

With so little information about the characters or plot, it’s hard to know what to expect. The series isn’t going to be a new adaptation of any of the familiar books, instead drawing on a period in Middle-earth’s Second Age, millennia before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Amazon appears to be greatly influenced by Game of Thrones in the way the show’s casting and production have been handled; hopefully that’s a good thing!

TV Series #5:
Star Wars: Andor

A prequel to a prequel, Andor will focus on the character of Cassian Andor who was first introduced in 2016’s Rogue One. A Star Wars story that steps away from the Jedi and the Force is something I’ve been hoping the franchise would do more of for some time, and I feel that Andor could be a good vehicle to show us more about the Star Wars galaxy away from space magic.

The series may also show us a bit more about the early days of the Rebel Alliance, something we glimpsed in Rogue One. As a standalone piece it could be an interesting and dramatic spy thriller – and I’m hopeful that it’ll be entertaining at the very least.

TV Series #6:
Foundation Season 2

Season 1 of Foundation may not have been perfect, but it broadly succeeded at adapting a fairly dense work of sci-fi, bringing it to the small screen in an understandable way. Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance, and this complex story with some pretty deep themes ended up as a thoroughly enjoyable season of television.

We already knew that Apple TV+ had greenlit a second season of the show, and production has already begun. If Foundation can do more of the same, it’ll be a fine addition to this year’s television lineup.

TV Series #7:
The Last Of Us

The Last Of Us is one of the finest video game stories I’ve ever played through. It’s a vivid, dramatic, and occasionally harrowing story of a road trip across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States. Its central conceit of mushroom zombies may sound silly, but the cordyceps infection serves as the backdrop to set up an amazing character-focused story. And now it’s being adapted for television.

A TV show will suit the long and complex narrative far better than a film ever could, so in that sense I think the right decision has been made. I don’t know whether the story will be broken down into seasons or whether The Last Of Us will try to tell the entire story of the game this year – I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

TV Series #8:
Tokyo Vice

I’ve been greatly looking forward to this adaptation of a true story. Journalist Jake Adelstein spent part of his career in Japan working on crime stories in Tokyo, and his book told the true story of working for a large Japanese newspaper and the various cases and investigations he was part of.

HBO has a great track record when it comes to these short-format miniseries, and I think that Tokyo Vice has the potential to be 2022’s answer to the likes of Chernobyl – a true story adapted in a dramatic and exciting way.

TV Series #9:
The Wheel of Time Season 2

Amazon’s second high fantasy series on this list already has a full season under its belt. I enjoyed The Wheel of Time’s debut season, even though the story was quite cluttered and may have been hard to follow for some viewers. With more than a dozen books in the series left to adapt, Season 2 has its work cut out to keep up the pace.

The Wheel of Time had some great moments of characterisation and some well-crafted visual effects. Combined with a strong story I feel that the series is off to a good start – even if not every critic agrees. With Amazon’s own Lord of the Rings adaptation coming this year, Season 2 will be drawing comparisons to that show whether it wants to or not. Time to step up!

TV Series #10:
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

More than three years after Ethan Peck and Anson Mount won the hearts of Star Trek fans during Discovery’s second season, the highly-requested “Captain Pike show” is finally going to be broadcast! Strange New Worlds has promised Trekkies a return to a more episodic format, and the show could be the one to finally hook in the remaining holdouts who have been unimpressed with the franchise’s recent output.

This isn’t a ranked list, but Strange New Worlds is probably the show I’m most looking forward to this year – assuming it will be available to watch here in the UK. ViacomCBS doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to making its shows available outside of North America! But if that hurdle can be surmounted, I have high hopes indeed for Strange New Worlds.

So that’s it!

As we look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences of 2022, there’s a lot to be hopeful for. As a Trekkie, 2022 is arguably one of the biggest and most important years for the franchise in a very long time. Not only are there new and ongoing shows, but a brand-new video game and an increase in merchandise too. All of these things will hopefully cement Star Trek as ViacomCBS’ main franchise, securing its future in the longer term. I’ll be doing my best to support Star Trek this year – as long as ViacomCBS does its part too.

I hope you had an enjoyable New Year’s Eve! Now that the holiday season is more or less over, things can start to settle down and get back to normal. I adore the Christmas season, but it’s also nice to be able to unwind after what can be a stressful time of year.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!

Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!

Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Documentary:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill

There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.

Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.

Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.

Best Web Series:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling

I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.

Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.

On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Tasting History with Max Miller

There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.

I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.

Best TV Special:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!

Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!

Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.

The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!

I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.

Worst TV Series:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Rick and Morty Season 5

After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.

Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.

Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.

Best TV series:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Foundation

The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.

Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.

Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.

The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.

Worst Video Game:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.

And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.

Best Video Game:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Road 96

Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.

Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.

Worst Film:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.

Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.

I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Best Film:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Raya and the Last Dragon

I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.

Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.

Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Dune

I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.

Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!

Most Exciting Announcement:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Wicked

Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!

A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!

🏆 Winner 🏆
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!

So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!

Best Star Trek Episode:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
There Is A Tide…
Discovery Season 3

There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.

It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!

There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.

🏆 Winner 🏆
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.

It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.

Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!

So that’s it!

We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.

As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.

So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

Rick and Morty Season 5

The Wheel of Time

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Raya and the Last Dragon

Wicked

Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Discovery 3×12 There Is A Tide…

Lower Decks 2×10 First First Contact

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 6

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Short Treks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Stormy Weather does, on the surface at least, appear to have narrowed things down as Discovery approaches its unexpected mid-season break. As we’re barely at the halfway point, though, I’m not convinced that everything is as it seems! There are many possible explanations for the DMA having passed through the galactic barrier, and despite the assertions from some characters that Unknown Species 10-C must be someone that the Federation has “never encountered before,” there are still several highly plausible culprits who could be responsible!

So let’s jump into the theory list. At this stage, the list is actually fairly static. Stormy Weather didn’t confirm or debunk anything from previous weeks, and I’ve really just got one new theory – one that isn’t even connected to the events of the episode! However, several theories have seen movement, and while some may be close to being debunked I’m not ready just yet to strike off any of them.

Theory #1:
Captain Burnham’s war experiences from Season 1 will come into play.

Michael Burnham in Season 1.

At the beginning of Season 1, Michael Burnham made a series of mistakes (to put it mildly). Though she wasn’t responsible for the outbreak of war between the Federation and Klingon Empire, she was blamed for it for a long time. Her aggressive actions toward the Klingons, wanting to fire the first shot in a very un-Starfleet manner, proved to be a very costly learning experience for her. Having seen three-and-a-half seasons of growth and development since, I’m sure Captain Burnham has taken those lessons to heart.

Starfleet is currently assuming that the DMA is a weapon and that whoever created it has hostile intentions. That seems reasonable, and it’s sensible in many ways to plan for worst-case scenarios. But an aggressive faction building a super-weapon is only one potential explanation for the existence of the DMA – and someone like Captain Burnham, who once made the mistake of being too aggressive in the face of the unknown, seems well-placed to argue for a mission of first contact rather than jumping straight into a war.

In short, my theory is that Captain Burnham will be one of the main voices arguing for a less aggressive posture when investigating the DMA, reminding the likes of Admiral Vance and President Rillak that we simply don’t know what the DMA is or what it was intended to be.

Theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora and Captain Burnham in Stormy Weather.

This week we got to see more of Zora than we ever have before. At one point she did refuse to follow an order, but thanks to interventions from Gray and Captain Burnham, this was resolved. Zora didn’t “go rogue” in Stormy Weather; she was suffering emotionally as a result of the difficult situation she was in. Having only just become aware of her own emotions, she was in a very difficult and traumatic situation. But there may be more to come.

The dangerous nature of artificial intelligence has been a theme Star Trek has returned to time and again since The Original Series episode The Ultimate Computer all the way back in 1968. But recent iterations of Star Trek in particular have used narratives involving evil or out-of-control AIs and synthetic life several times: there were the rogue synths and the super-synths in Star Trek: Picard’s first season, and in Discovery’s second season we had the Control AI.

It’s at least possible that an emotionally-compromised Zora would go rogue, acting against the wishes or even orders of Captain Burnham and the crew. Though Zora professes to care about the crew of Discovery, her instinct for self-preservation in the face of a dangerous situation may kick in.

Theory #3:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

What is the DMA?

In Stormy Weather we learned that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier – meaning that it quite likely originated from outside of the Milky Way galaxy. That isn’t a given, but it’s a reasonable assumption based on the available evidence.

The fact that the DMA is artificial in nature doesn’t mean it was intended to be a weapon, though, despite its harmful effects in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s possible that extragalactic exploration had been done in a big way by the 32nd Century, but missions that took Starfleet crews outside of the galaxy are incredibly rare within Star Trek. In short, we know precious little about the universe beyond the barrier, meaning that whoever created the DMA is a complete unknown quantity.

Discovery feels like it’s building up to some big reveal about the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, and one way that could go would be for the crew to learn that the DMA isn’t what they have been assuming. The biggest possibility, given what we learned in Season 3 about the lack of dilithium, could be that the DMA represents an experiment in faster-than-light travel that went awry.

Theory #4:
The DMA is a life-form.

The USS Enterprise inside V’Ger.

The DMA’s extragalactic origin could be an indication that at its core is a sentient life-form, something akin to V’Ger from The Motion Picture. If that were the case it may not be attacking anyone, but simply exploring or trying to make contact. After all, “they were only trying to communicate” has become a Star Trek trope at this point!

Star Trek has shown us many different forms of synthetic life over the years, and while the DMA would certainly be one of the most unusual, it wouldn’t be entirely without precedent. Seeking out new life is at the very core of Starfleet’s mission, and finding a way to communicate with the DMA and figure out what it wants or needs could be a very interesting story – one about understanding and bridging the chasm between different cultures and societies that Star Trek has always done so well.

Theory #5:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could Unknown Species 10-C have already appeared in Star Trek?

Despite the fact that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier, making assumptions is dangerous! We’re barely halfway through the season, after all, so there’s plenty of time for twists and turns. While this revelation has made a handful of suspects significantly more likely than others, in my opinion practically all of the candidates remain in play at this stage.

Based on the DMA potentially having an origin outside of the Milky Way, the three suspects that immediately spring to mind are the Kelvan Empire, the Sphere-Builders, and the super-synths from Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. They’d all been on my list of suspects going back months, and I really feel that any one of them would make for a potentially interesting story.

I have a longer list of suspects for Unknown Species 10-C, so for a more detailed look at these three candidates – and many others – click or tap here to see the full list.

Theory #6:
A major character will be killed off.

Two “dead” officers.

Lieutenant Tilly’s departure in All Is Possible has certainly shaken up the cast. However, I stand by what I said before the season aired: killing off a character can be a great way to demonstrate the dangerous nature of the circumstances that the crew have found themselves in. So far, despite tangling with the DMA on several occasions, only a couple of redshirts have lost their lives.

In Stormy Weather, Dr Pollard raced through the corridors of the USS Discovery to reach a hull breach. Shortly after she arrived, a redshirt was blown out into space – but Dr Pollard survived. Although moments like this can make it feel that Discovery is shielding its main and secondary characters with some pretty heavy plot armour, I still feel that there’s scope to see a major character death before the season ends.

If you want to check out my pre-season “death predictions,” in which I speculated about which characters may or may not be in danger, you can find that by clicking or tapping here.

So those theories saw some movement this week.

As I said, there really hasn’t been a great deal going on on my theory list in the aftermath of Stormy Weather! But as always, we’ll keep the entire list in one place by re-stating the rest of the theories that I currently have in play.

Theory #7:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever as it appeared in The Animated Series.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. Because Captain Burnham and the crew still know so very little about the DMA, it would make sense to at least ask the Guardian for help – maybe it has encountered this phenomenon before.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

Theory #8:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Stamets with a holographic galaxy map in The Examples.

Season 4 touched briefly on the Burn with Su’Kal and Saru in Kobayashi Maru, and last season’s big story may not return in any significant way now that the DMA is out there. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered. To see a full write-up of this theory, click or tap here.

Theory #9:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

Kol, a 23rd Century Klingon leader.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #10:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

The Federation is still in a weakened state, nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

Season 4 has presented Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific puzzle: the DMA. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #11:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

HMS Bounty was able to travel back in time.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #12:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

President Rillak may have tried to circumvent the ban if she felt doing so would be in the Federation’s interest.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich might have. President Rillak could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the DMA. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #13:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of Discovery.

Burnham in the captain’s chair.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham in All Is Possible.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #14:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Soji could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century.

This theory returns from Season 3, where I doggedly clung to it for the entire season!

Discovery’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

There were several great crossovers during The Next Generation era.

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #15:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer in the episode Anomaly. He has already been offered a command of his own, so Starfleet clearly values his command abilities and experience. President Rillak was seen to be assessing Captain Burnham’s suitability for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J in Kobayashi Maru… and she mentioned having a shortlist of candidates. Could Saru be on her list?

Several of the qualities that President Rillak said she was looking for in a potential captain seem to apply to Saru. He’s more level-headed, less likely to put himself in a dangerous situation, and more inclined to think of the big picture. He has a weakness when it comes to Kaminar, as we saw toward the end of Season 3, but generally speaking he isn’t someone who lets his emotions get the better of him. His wisdom and calm demeanour could be valuable in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship. This could also set the stage for his departure from the show, or possibly even for a new show following his adventures aboard his new ship.

Theory #16:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

Book and Kyheem in Season 3.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. We don’t know what the DMA is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: what’s going on with the DMA? Is it a super-weapon designed to be destructive? Or does it perhaps contain a wormhole, portal, or gateway to some other place? If it’s the latter, perhaps Kyheem, Leto, and others from Kwejian might still be alive.

Theory #17:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4.

Theory #17a:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

After arriving at the Abronians’ cryo-ship, Captain Burnham found a stone carving that seemed to depict the destruction of the Abronians’ homeworld. This carving was only shown on screen briefly, but it seemed to show the planet being damaged or destroyed in a large explosion. Burnham credited the planet’s destruction to a “supernova,” and the story then raced ahead.

Considering that the main thrust of the season so far has been about the DMA, perhaps Burnham was incorrect: the Abronian homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly, not a supernova.

Theory #17b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

Stamets and Tarka believe that the DMA contains the technology to generate an artificial wormhole. It’s thus possible that the DMA can facilitate travel between incredibly distant locations – not only for itself, but for other starships too. The subspace tear that the DMA left behind went nowhere – but it may be possible to get “inside” the DMA itself or even use its wormhole tech to travel vast distances.

One thing struck me as odd about the Abronians: the Federation was entirely unaware of them, despite the Abronian cryo-ship being relatively close to Federation space – such that Captain Burnham could reach it using Book’s ship in a short span of time. It’s possible that the Abronians had been asleep for millennia, unnoticed by the Federation and the wider galaxy for all that time. But it’s also at least possible that their cryo-ship is a newcomer to the area. If so, perhaps it arrived here via the DMA.

Theory #17c:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

One of the themes of Discovery since Season 3 has been connection, including building connections between the Federation and other races and organisations. The Abronians were awoken from cryo-sleep thanks to the interventions of Captain Burnham and Tilly – at least in part – and they may seek to repay the Federation, or Captain Burnham personally, for that help.

We saw this play out last season with Ni’Var; in the season finale Ni’Var ships raced to the Federation’s aid as the Emerald Chain attacked. Perhaps the Abronians will likewise step up to help when the Federation needs allies.

Theory #17d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

At this stage I can’t envision precisely what use Captain Burnham and the crew might have for a moon-sized starship… but that doesn’t mean such a need won’t arise! The Abronians’ cryo-ship is huge, and at least superficially seems to have the mass of a moon or small planetoid. If Captain Burnham and the crew needed something that large for some purpose, perhaps they’ll return and either take it or negotiate for it.

As we saw in Choose To Live, the moon-ship was in full working order. All it needed was some extra dilithium to power up and it was perfectly capable of moving under its own power, and its computer systems were still functional. The only system that seemed to have failed was the wake-up timer! So if – for reasons yet unknown – the crew need a huge starship, perhaps we won’t have seen the last of the moon-ship!

Theory #18:
Stamets and Ruon Tarka will create the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

I included Stamets and Tarka on my list of suspects for the creators of the DMA, but they warrant a full entry on the theory list too! In short, we saw Stamets and Ruon Tarka creating a scale model of the DMA in The Examples, and according to Reno their experiment came very close to destroying the entire ship. They were able to perfectly recreate the device at the centre of the DMA, albeit on a smaller scale – so what’s to prevent them from building a full-scale replica (other than the power generation requirements)?

This theory posits that they will do exactly that – somehow – or that their experiments will set into motion a chain of events that leads to the creation of the DMA in a kind of time-loop storyline. The DMA’s wormhole-generating technology may give it the ability to travel backwards through time as well as across vast distances, so it seems technologically plausible at the very least.

Tarka and Stamets working on their model.

Ruon Tarka was shown as impatient in The Examples, and in his single-minded pursuit of the DMA he may be willing to take risks – perhaps risks which ultimately lead to the creation of the very anomaly he’s been investigating. How such a story would conclude is up in the air, but I don’t think we can rule it out as a possibility right now.

Personally, I find time-loop paradox storylines to be frustrating – and they can be very difficult to pull off successfully. There’s no beginning point to such a story: the DMA exists because the DMA was created because the DMA exists because the DMA was created… it’s an infinite loop. But we’ve seen Discovery tackle time travel stories like this before – and the pieces seem to be in play right now for this story.

Theory #19:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

We haven’t seen President Rillak for a couple of weeks now, though she has been briefly mentioned. But when I think about the possible suspects for creating the DMA, the Federation – and by extension, President Rillak – are unquestionably on that list.

President Rillak is a cunning, almost Machiavellian politician, willing to do anything to advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation. I believe Captain Burnham needs to be very careful with President Rillak. During the events of All Is Possible, working with Captain Burnham was advantageous to the Federation’s president – but I have no doubt that she’d throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus without so much as blinking if she believed it would be to her advantage. Which brings us to the DMA.

President Rillak might know more about the DMA than she’s currently letting on. If the Federation had created a weapon like this, or if it was an experiment gone wrong, covering it up might be her objective even if she wasn’t necessarily the one who ordered the DMA’s creation. Also, with the goal of reuniting the Federation foremost in her mind, President Rillak may prove to be the sort of uncompromising politician who’d willingly unleash destruction upon the galaxy if she believed that doing so would serve a greater purpose.

Theory #20:
Dr Kovich is an agent (or the head) of Section 31.

Dr Kovich in The Examples.

I freely admit that this theory is barely clinging on right now, but I don’t believe it’s been completely disproven just yet! The questions of who Dr Kovich is and what exactly his role is within Starfleet and/or the Federation have no clear answer right now. He’s clearly someone with power and influence, as we’ve seen him working with Admiral Vance and seemingly being able to appoint anyone he chooses to be an instructor at Starfleet Academy. Yet he also seems to have some medical training, serving as a psychologist or counsellor – and it’s in this capacity that we saw him most recently.

Because of the unclear nature of his role and the mysterious, stoic presentation from David Cronenberg, Dr Kovich is still an enigma. He’s also the kind of man who could potentially be an agent of Section 31. If it turns out that the Federation, President Rillak, and/or Section 31 are involved with the DMA, perhaps we’ll learn that Dr Kovich is as well. Or perhaps such a storyline will finally put this theory to bed once and for all!

Theory #21:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

A Red Angel suit from Season 2.

Now that we know the DMA is artificial in nature, the question shifts to who built it and why. We’ve covered the idea of it being a weapon or an out-of-control experiment, as well as being a life-form in its own right. It could also be the responsibility of Section 31 or the Federation. But because this is Star Trek: Discovery, a show which likes to put Captain Burnham at the centre of its stories, perhaps there’s a connection to her that we’re missing.

The Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 were phenomenally powerful machines, capable of generating time-wormholes large enough to transport an entire starship 930 years into the future. We already know that the DMA potentially contains a synthetic wormhole, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap to connect the two. We also don’t know for certain what became of Captain Burnham’s Red Angel suit after the Season 3 premiere. There’s also the faint possibility of a parallel universe Burnham or time travelling Burnham being responsible.

Theory #22:
The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery as seen in Calypso.

Stormy Weather picked up the storyline from The Examples regarding Zora’s emotions, and I would argue that the way Zora was depicted is now much closer to the way she was in Calypso. In that Short Treks episode, Zora was definitely someone who could feel emotions, so the confirmation of that now means that Calypso is, in some ways, one step nearer.

There are still significant hurdles to overcome if the story of Calypso is to be wrapped up in Season 4, though. Obviously we have the timeframe issue: will the USS Discovery be sent back in time, be abandoned, or is Calypso taking place centuries in the future? Then we have the USS Discovery itself – it’s been retrofitted since arriving in the 32nd Century, and now looks very different to how it did in Calypso. Despite Zora getting some development in The Examples and Stormy Weather, I can’t yet see a pathway to making Discovery and Calypso line up – but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen!

So that’s the main theory list.

We also have two production-side theories in play, and I’ll recap those now.

Production-side theory #1:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

Mary Wiseman confirmed in an interview with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media aftershow) that Tilly will be seen again before the end of Season 4. But that doesn’t mean she will be a main character on the show going forward, and her departure feels permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

Maybe those people know something that I don’t! As I always say, I don’t have any “insider information;” all of this is just speculation on my part. However, I feel that the manner of Tilly’s departure, the fact that she got that emotional sequence with Captain Burnham, a montage showing her leaving the ship, Adira seeming to take over several of her roles, and her departure feeling like the culmination of her arc going back to the latter part of Season 3 all come together to strongly indicate that she won’t be back as a major character. She may yet have a significant role to play in a future Season 4 episode, as has been suggested, but unless Discovery’s writers are really playing with our emotions I believe we’ve seen Tilly’s end as a main character on the show. She may come back in a future Starfleet Academy series, though… so watch this space!

Production-side theory #2:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for Season 5.

Is a fifth season going to happen?

Since Discovery debuted in 2017, we’ve known well before this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This obviously isn’t one of those “I hate new Star Trek” things that we’ve seen doing the rounds online for years; I adore Discovery and genuinely want to see it continue. But it’s profoundly odd to be nearing the halfway point of Season 4 and to still have had no announcement about Season 5. For comparison, Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for Season 3 even though Season 2 won’t air until next year!

I’m hopeful that this is just a blip; a temporary delay for reasons unknown, and that the show has been renewed for Season 5 already behind-the-scenes. However, when we look back at Star Trek productions in recent years, it was often apparent that production work was quietly ongoing even if there hadn’t been any official word from ViacomCBS. As far as we know at this stage, there’s been no pre-production work on Season 5, let alone any filming taking place in the Toronto area. The abrupt announcement that the show is taking a mid-season break could also be indicative of issues behind-the-scenes.

Once again this is a “watch this space” kind of theory. I hope I’m wrong… but the lack of any news or even any significant rumours about the show’s future is beginning to have me worried.

So that’s it.

The USS Discovery inside the void.

We have quite a few theories still in play as we approach the mid-season break. I confess that I have some expectations that this week’s episode – titled But To Connect – will move the needle on at least some of them! A mid-season finale should be a spectacle, ending on a cliffhanger or some explosive revelation to keep us as the audience on the edge of our seats. So perhaps this time next week we’ll be debunking and adding a few more theories than we did on this occasion!

Before we go, one final point. I write up these theories because I like Star Trek and I like writing. But for some folks, fan theories can hamper their enjoyment of a film or television show. It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these theories probably won’t pan out, and we have to be prepared for the fact that even the most well-constructed fan theory, no matter how fun and plausible it seems, simply won’t turn out to be true. If you find that speculating and reading theories is beginning to detract from your enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery – or any other television show or film – it might be a good idea to take a break for a while.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Matrix Resurrections – film review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for all four films in The Matrix series.

It had been a while since I watched The Matrix and its sequels. The 1999 original has become somewhat of a sci-fi classic, with several themes and rhetorical devices entering popular culture and our shared lexicon – albeit not always in the ways the filmmakers intended! Phrases like “a glitch in the Matrix” to refer to déjà vu (or anything else that looks or feels odd), and of course the famous blue and red pills as metaphors for comfortable ignorance versus unpleasant truths have taken on lives of their own far beyond The Matrix and its sequels.

Coming almost two decades after The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, there were questions facing The Matrix Resurrections. Could it live up to its predecessors? Could it recapture the magic of “bullet time” and the blend of metaphor and philosophical themes with sci-fi action? With the story seemingly concluded and several main characters dead, what else was there to explore in this fictional universe? From my point of view as someone who’s been exploring my own gender identity and identifying with The Matrix’s core concept of living a false life, I was very interested to see what the film would have to say about trans and non-binary issues as well.

Are you ready to re-enter the Matrix?

From the points of view of visual effects and cinematography, The Matrix Resurrections delivered pretty much everything I could have wanted or expected – but it didn’t really go beyond that. The original film was groundbreaking in 1999 with its incredibly dense yet beautifully-choreographed action sequences and, of course, the pioneering use of the aforementioned “bullet time.” Resurrections brought those same elements back to the table, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all over again. It didn’t feel pioneering or new any more, and perhaps in that sense some of the magic of the original film was missing. But asking every film to do something completely brand-new – especially the fourth film in a series – is probably too much.

Many films – probably most – don’t pioneer brand-new ways of filmmaking or never-before-seen visual styles, and we still enjoy them! So I don’t want to be too harsh on The Matrix Resurrections: it does its action sequences, its “bullet time,” and the rest of its visuals and special effects exceptionally well, far better than many titles released over the past two decades. Lana Wachowski has lost none of her edge as a filmmaker and director, and the way she frames some of the densely-packed action set-pieces, combined with the series’ use of its signature “bullet time” works just as well in Resurrections as it ever did.

Visual effects were great in The Matrix Resurrections.

I don’t know what the reasons are behind the re-casting of characters Agent Smith and Morpheus, so I don’t want to speak out of turn or criticise individual actors, the director, or anyone else involved in the casting. Looking at the way these characters are used in Resurrections itself, though, I can’t shake the feeling that bringing back the original actors would have had far more of an impact. One big part of what makes Resurrections work so well is the on-screen chemistry between Keanu Reeves’ Neo and Carrie-Ann Moss’ Trinity. Morpheus and Agent Smith were big parts of that story too, and the recasting is, at the very least, noticeable. At worst, it feels out-of-place and even detracts, at points, from our big return to this fictional universe.

This isn’t a criticism of either Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who has taken over the role of Morpheus, nor of Jonathan Groff, who took over as Agent Smith. Both characters are different iterations of the characters we met in the original films, and both actors do a wonderful job. It just feels that, in a story that’s partly about the past, breaking away from the past, and how past events in one’s life can cast a shadow, recasting these two key characters took away something valuable.

The re-casting of key characters was noticeable.

Setting aside the story for a moment, let’s talk about The Matrix Resurrections in terms of theme, metaphor, and the film’s philosophy. It was only on re-watching the original films having heard other people talking about its transgender allegory that I really came to understand how well it works. The conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions saw Neo (as The One) bring the Matrix itself to a screeching halt, shattering the false world and liberating himself and those around him. To continue the transgender metaphor, this can be argued to represent a closeted trans person breaking out of either their self-imposed or societally-imposed shell, liberating their true self and being able to live openly as the person they are – and always needed to be.

Resurrections, if it were to continue that allegory, had to find a way around what is a fairly typical issue that many sequels face. I’ve called this the “Disney problem” on more than one occasion, as many Disney films struggle to find a way to make a successful sequel, and it’s summarised thus: what comes after “happily ever after,” and how do you tell that story without tearing down the successes and emotional high points of the original work? The Matrix Revolutions didn’t really leave an opening for a sequel, at least not one featuring Neo and Trinity, so Resurrections had to find a way around this. Both narratively and thematically, the film absolutely nailed it.

Figuring out why Neo was back in the Matrix, and how he’d survived, were hurdles that Resurrections easily overcame.

Yes, there’s sci-fi fun going on. The Machines quite literally resurrected Neo and Trinity, putting them back in their shells and using them to power an new and improved version of the Matrix, one which was better and more efficient at keeping people trapped. But beyond that, there’s also the continuation of this important and inspirational trans journey.

And some people, judging by some incredibly offensive and provocative comments online, have reacted very poorly to that. The usual arguments about “wokeness” have emerged – seemingly directed at the fact that the film has a trans director, even though the film itself contains practically no overt mentions or depictions of any LGBT+ characters. What’s present is there at a thematic level, partly because companies like Warner Bros. want to make stripped-down films that they can sell in markets where homophobia and transphobia are rife. In fact, that was one of the things that I was surprised and perhaps a tad disappointed about with The Matrix Resurrections: although it’s a film with a transgender director and two gay main cast members, there was practically no open mention of LGBT+ issues nor any significant depictions of LGBT+ characters. Despite that, some so-called “critics” seem to only have this to say about The Matrix Resurrections when attacking it online:

(Yes, that’s an actual line from Family Guy…)

The Matrix Resurrections is, if you look at it on the surface, somewhat regressive. It takes Neo back to his closeted status, undoing three films’ worth of progress and a “coming out” analogy that many trans people found to be powerful. But as a standalone piece, the depiction of Neo’s life inside the Matrix at the beginning of Resurrections is so much more powerful and meaningful than it was in any of the original films – or indeed in all three combined.

I can barely find words to express how much the depiction of Neo at the beginning of the film resonated with me. Both from the point of view of mental health and as someone who has only recently began to make cracks in my own “shell” as a non-binary person, the way Neo was written and the way he comes across is so much more impactful in Resurrections. His struggles, his dependence on medication, his therapy sessions and questioning who he is and where he fits in this world are all incredibly powerful moments. At several points I had to pause Resurrections to catch my breath or wipe away tears. Seeing Neo in this way felt real – it felt like seeing a reflection of myself through Keanu Reeves’ incredible performance and Lana Wachowski’s beautiful writing and directing.

The blue pills are a returning rhetorical device.

The Matrix in 1999 either didn’t intend to depict this aspect of living a lie in such detail, or else brushed it under the carpet to get to the action. But Resurrections builds up to the action slowly, deliberately spending more time with a trapped Neo, someone who realises something is wrong but who seems desperate to push those feelings down – taking inordinate amounts of blue pills as medication to help with that. One of the early sequences with Neo and his therapist – played in a wonderfully nuanced performance by Neil Patrick Harris – truly embodied the struggle that many gender-nonconforming people go through. Seeing such a powerful depiction of something that I can relate to – because I’ve felt that way too – has been an incredible experience.

I didn’t come to The Matrix Resurrections for mindless action. In one of its more meta, self-aware sequences, the film itself pointed out that mind-numbing action isn’t “on brand” for the series. I’d argue that any adult who’s shown up for Resurrections expecting nothing but sci-fi and action has kind of missed the point: The Matrix as a series has always had a strong philosophical bent to it, one that can be interpreted in as many different ways as there are viewers. For transgender and non-binary people, these aspects of the story come to the fore. For other viewers, though, the film’s messages can be read through a lens of mental health, of escaping an unsatisfying or boring life, of finding a second life through online interaction, anti-capitalism, and many more besides.

I found the film’s depiction of Neo to be very relatable.

An unexpected inclusion in Resurrections was the coming together of liberated humans and machines – now known as synthients. The idea that the conflict between humans and machines wasn’t totally black-and-white, and that some machines could become friends and allies to humans was an interesting one – but one that Resurrections perhaps didn’t take as far as it could’ve. There’s a great kernel of an idea, but in a film that had a lot of other narratives to cram into its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, this rebel machine angle didn’t go as deep as some of the others. The reasons why some machines rebelled, and why those rebels sought out humans as allies, were never fully addressed. Perhaps that’s something a future sequel could pick up, as I feel there’s potential in a storyline about overcoming conflict and learning to let go of hate.

Speaking of sequels and The Matrix as a franchise, the film had some incredibly meta moments of self-reflection. Some of these were played almost for laughs, but others had a distinctly unsettling feel, as if the film was getting inside my head and blurring the lines between reality and fiction – itself a theme present in the film’s opening act. I wasn’t expecting this meta commentary on the nature of sequels, franchises, and the state of the entertainment landscape in 2021 – nor was I expecting a self-referential comment about Warner Bros., the company behind the film. Maybe this is a comparison that no one else will get, but I felt it was the second time this year that I’ve seen this kind of self-referential meta commentary from a Warner Bros. picture; the company did something similar in, of all titles, Space Jam: A New Legacy.

There was a lot of meta commentary about filmmaking and sequels.

One really interesting visual metaphor that the film made use of was the mirror. Mirrors cropped up many times, serving as portals within the Matrix. Again, speaking as someone who is non-binary, I haven’t always liked the reflection in the mirror. The clever use of visual effects to show Neo in particular looking in the mirror and not recognising himself, or seeing flashes of someone else that he didn’t recognise, is something that spoke to me in a way I was not expecting.

When I’ve looked in the mirror, the person looking back hasn’t been the person I want to be; it isn’t a reflection of my true self, the version of me that I want to be. Many people can relate to that in various ways, I have no doubt about that; we all have features or imperfections we’d like to change if we could. Just like with many other themes present in Resurrections and the entire Matrix series, this can be read differently by different viewers. Trans and non-binary viewers, I would suggest from my own experience, will relate very strongly to the way mirrors are used, though. A mirror is supposed to be a totally accurate reflection of oneself – but speaking from experience, a mirror can also be something to be avoided; a harsh reflection of someone we don’t identify with or wish was fundamentally different.

Mirrors became an important visual metaphor throughout the film’s opening act.

Let’s conclude by talking about the film’s actual narrative and story. The reason for Neo and Trinity being back in the Matrix – and the Matrix itself being bigger and more powerful – was kind of technobabbley, but I didn’t hate it. It was a gateway to something significant, and without it the film itself wouldn’t have been possible. I think as a narrative point it does work, but the film was definitely better for not spending too much time trying to over-explain how Neo and Trinity came to be trapped again and what the Analyst’s plans were.

The new character of Bugs was fun; a clever riff on a character concept from previous entries in the series who felt distinct, yet familiar. There was a bit of forced drama in the conflict between Bugs and Niobe – the latter now in command of the new human-synthient settlement of Io. That particular story beat didn’t really go anywhere; Niobe was concerned about the safety of the settlement, yet it never really felt as though it were under threat nor in any danger, despite the plan Bugs, Neo, and Morpheus came up with to rescue Trinity.

I didn’t feel this conflict was the film’s strongest narrative choice.

I liked seeing Agent Smith as a character outside of his usual role. He was definitely still an antagonist, but the addition of the Analyst as the program in control of the Matrix had untethered Smith. His desire to remain free from outside control was understandable at first – but was subsequently traded away for a redux of the Neo-versus-Smith battles from earlier films. It was still neat to see an unexpected team-up, however brief, between Neo and Smith – though I come back to what I said earlier: this would’ve worked a lot better if the original actor had been able to reprise the role.

The Analyst was a wonderfully nuanced character, and Neil Patrick Harris put in a great performance. The Analyst had taken over the Matrix, rebuilding it around Neo and Trinity and using their emotional connection to manipulate people and thus make the Matrix even more efficient. This gave the story the necessary explanation to function, and served as a decent motivation for the Analyst’s character.

The Analyst made for a great antagonist.

The synthient Sati – played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas – gave us a lot more information about the synthients, and was the best and most interesting machine portrayal in the film. She also had a connection to the original films, having briefly met Neo years earlier. Her motivation to rebel and to seek to see the Matrix shut down was easily understood: having seen her parents killed, she essentially wanted revenge.

None of these characters – or the other secondary characters – felt flat or uninteresting; I was genuinely curious to learn more about them and the places they occupied in this dystopian world. Each felt distinct, each had a purpose, and they were all written sympathetically. The story was complicated in places, and I think casual viewers or those not up to speed on the events of the original films will struggle in places to follow some of the denser moments which rely on lore and backstory to make sense. But The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel – part four in a series. Even though it’s coming almost two decades later, you can’t expect it to spend all of its runtime re-explaining events from the past!

The film relies on earlier entries in the series to make sense of its storylines.

Resurrections included a fair amount of footage from the original Matrix films, some of which were very brief clips that were only on screen for a second or two. This abrupt editing was a risky choice – it could have felt cheap or even lazy; a direct appeal to fans of the original films. However, I don’t believe this is how it comes across. It continues that feeling of being unsettled, of feeling that there’s another life that one could or should be living. In Neo and Trinity’s cases, these came in the form of memory and flashback – which is where the very literal use of clips from the original films come in. In the case of trans and non-binary people, to continue that theme, these clips could represent the true self that exists outside of the shell, bubble, or closet in which one is trapped.

I found The Matrix Resurrections to be a deeply emotional experience – and a film I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to see. As I continue my own gender identity journey as a non-binary person, films like Resurrections are important and helpful. Seeing moments that I could relate to depicted as visual metaphors in a film laced with analogy and allegory was powerful, but also absolutely fascinating.

Fans of the original films will find something to like – if they’re prepared to give Resurrections a fair shake on its own merits and not get bogged down in arguments about “wokeness” and the like. Though there were things I felt missed the mark, overall I have to say that Resurrections is one of the most complex, raw, and brutally honest films I’ve seen all year. It retains all of the signature elements from the original films, and for people who aren’t interested in a metaphorical or philosophical reading it’s possible to enjoy Resurrections as a work of action-sci-fi. For me, though, the powerful themes resonated with me, and made The Matrix Resurrections a film that was both an entertaining watch and, at times, a deeply emotional and cathartic experience.

The Matrix Resurrections is out now in cinemas and is available to stream on HBO Max. The Matrix Resurrections is the copyright of Village Roadshow Pictures and/or Warner Bros. Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A handful of older films, games, and TV shows that I enjoyed in 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.

I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!

Film #1:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)

We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.

The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.

Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!

Film #2:
Despicable Me (2010)

I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.

The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.

There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!

Film #3:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The Final Frontier has a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.

The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.

There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.

Game #1:
Control (2019)

Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.

One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.

I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!

Game #2:
Super Mario 64 (1996)

Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.

Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Game #3:
Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

I’d been meaning to get around to Red Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!

Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”

I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!

TV series #1:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)

I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.

The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.

TV series #2:
Fortitude (2015-18)

I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.

There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.

Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!

TV series #3:
Family Guy (1999-Present)

Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.

There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.

I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.

So that’s it.

There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!

All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, developer, network, publisher, studio, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 6: Stormy Weather

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

Last week we learned that the DMA – the anomaly at the heart of Season 4’s story – is an artificial construct. Following up that big revelation was the challenge that befell Stormy Weather and director Jonathan Frakes, and I’m happy to report that Discovery rose to the occasion. Stormy Weather was a tense, dramatic, and incredibly exciting episode, one that has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach.

Unfortunately, due to inexcusable corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS, Star Trek: Discovery is unavailable to many fans around the world. This short-sighted, self-defeating decision has been rightly condemned by Star Trek fans, but we need to keep the pressure on and continue to call out this misbehaviour at every opportunity. Star Trek is not the sole preserve of any one group of fans – it’s something all of us should be able to enjoy together. Denying that opportunity to even one Trekkie would be unacceptable; to deny it to millions in dozens of countries and territories around the world is just offensive.

Captain Burnham with her family tree.

So let’s take a look at Stormy Weather – an episode named for a song from 1933. There have been some connections between Discovery and sister show Star Trek: Picard, but one of the most unexpected thematic connections came in the form of this song. Picard Season 1 prominently featured the song Blue Skies, written in 1926, and to hear another older, slow-tempo jazz song in Discovery was an unexpected but interesting way to bridge the gap between these two very different parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Stormy Weather featured Captain Burnham prominently, and we’ll look at her contributions in a moment. But where the episode did remarkably well, in my view, was through a series of smaller moments that showed off several members of Discovery’s secondary cast – many of whom have had less to do so far this season than in Season 3 last year.

Several members of the secondary cast (Nilsson pictured) got things to do this week.

Commander Owosekun had a big centre-stage moment, objecting on the bridge in front of her colleagues and leading to a sweet moment later on between her, Detmer, and Saru. Dr Pollard, making her first major appearance of the season, got two significant moments in the spotlight, including one incredibly dramatic moment as a crewman was blown out into space through a hull breach.

Ian Alexander, who plays Gray, and Annabelle Wallis, who voices Zora, were Stormy Weather’s breakout stars for me. Gray had already given us one of the season’s emotional highs when he completed his transfer into a new synthetic body, but there was definitely a question mark surrounding his next steps. Adira was a commissioned ensign, but Gray didn’t really have a role aboard the ship – something that Discovery acknowledged this week when Gray found himself alone in the lounge as the crew scrambled to their posts.

Gray and Zora played Trill chess together.

There’s always something very relatable about this kind of storyline. Anyone who’s ever dealt with feelings of helplessness or loneliness should be able to empathise with Gray in this moment, and it’s certainly something I’ve been through before on more occasions than I perhaps care to admit! As everyone on the ship attended to their duties, Gray was left alone – and this led to a really touching sequence between he and Zora that ended up playing a major role in the story.

Zora was a background presence for much of Season 3, and it was only really last week when the revelation that she can feel emotions came out that she emerged as a major player. Zora’s interactions with Gray this week have done more to humanise her and lay the groundwork for future character development than any episode has since Calypso – and if Discovery chooses to, the show could now make Zora a major presence on the ship going forward.

Gray and Zora played significant roles this week.

I can’t be the only one noticing an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, right? Zora’s line to Captain Burnham when she refused to follow an order felt like it had come straight from HAL 9000! Of course, Zora went in a different – and thankfully far friendlier – direction shortly thereafter, but the reference was appreciated nevertheless.

The development of Zora’s emotions brings the character one step closer to her portrayal in the Short Treks episode Calypso, but at this point I’m still not sure how – or even if – the stories will line up. As we’ve discussed previously, for every step made toward Calypso since Season 2 we’ve seen at least one step away – and with Discovery in the far future already, the further development of Zora still leaves the show with significant hurdles to overcome if a full connection to Calypso is on the cards. But I guess that’s a conversation for another time!

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Gray and Zora were able to share a connection as two passengers on the ship who felt out of place and unsettled. There was a subtle continuation of the transgender theme present in Gray’s earlier incorporation story, as Gray made reference to choosing his own name; something Zora could relate to. Despite Gray’s incorporation feeling somewhat rushed at the beginning of the season, it’s been great to see him as a character in his own right, able to interact with others aboard the ship. Pairing him up with Zora was unexpected but an absolute delight.

Discovery has continued Star Trek’s use of storytelling by metaphor and analogy, and we see that again with Gray. His struggle to become visible, his comments about getting used to his new body, and again this week through his conversations with Zora all had serious things to say about the difficulty of transitioning, coming out as transgender, finding acceptance, and other trans issues. But they were told through a science fiction lens in the very best tradition of Star Trek. It’s hard to think of a more understandable and relatable depiction of a trans individual in all of entertainment, and the writers deserve a lot of credit – as does Ian Alexander, who stepped up this week and put in his best performance of the season so far.

Stormy Weather was a great episode for Ian Alexander and Gray.

Discovery as a whole is a series with a cinematic feel to it. That isn’t something unique among television shows any more, as we can see many other high-budget productions pushing hard for similar visuals and effects. But Stormy Weather definitely veered hard into the cinematic, with all manner of special effects thrown into the episode’s forty-five minutes. We had silent slow-motion sequences, stunning CGI visual effects – including a striking shot of the USS Discovery itself inside the void, tightly-focused shots of characters in motion, close-ups of faces, and a whole lot of fire and flame to name but a few. Such a varied mix of visuals, coupled with Jonathan Frakes’ clever cinematography, gave Stormy Weather a sense of weight, of gravitas, far beyond what the franchise usually manages outside of its feature films.

Let’s talk about the storyline itself. This week, everything was tied together. There were secondary plotlines with Gray and Zora and with Book, Stamets, and the doctors, but they all came together and connected with the main story in significant ways as Captain Burnham led the USS Discovery inside a subspace rupture that the DMA had left behind.

The USS Discovery approaches the void.

We learned something major about the DMA: that it’s of extragalactic origin, or has, at the very least, passed through the galactic barrier. This would seem to narrow down Unknown Species 10-C to a handful of suspects, assuming that the galactic barrier depicted in past iterations of Star Trek remains generally impermeable to residents of the Milky Way. There were comments from Book and Stamets that this evidence all points to Unknown Species 10-C being someone that “the Federation has never encountered,” but I don’t think we can be certain of that just yet. The Burn seemed to be connected to Ni’Var’s SB-19 project in Season 3… until it wasn’t! We’re barely halfway through the season, so there’s plenty of time for hypotheses to be debunked! In this week’s theory post I’ll go into more detail about what this revelation could mean for Unknown Species 10-C, so stay tuned for that!

Venturing inside a rift in subspace was a dangerous assignment, but one that was certainly necessary for understanding more about the DMA. There really isn’t much to nitpick on this side of the story, and Captain Burnham handled it about as well as any other captain could have. Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer would all have made similar choices under the circumstances, and we can point to many moments in past Star Trek shows where similarly dangerous scientific missions have gone awry despite the best efforts of the various captains.

Captain Burnham did everything she could to get her crew home.

Discovery has some very expansive sets when compared to past iterations of Star Trek, with the bridge in particular being larger and wider than basically any other to date. But despite that, this week I felt a real sense of claustrophobia in the style of old war films set aboard submarines. Stormy Weather was basically a bottle show – an episode set almost exclusively aboard the ship making use of existing characters. Rather than that being a limitation, as it sometimes has been in past iterations of Star Trek, the episode leaned into this in the best way possible, drawing on the inherent strengths of that style of story to create a genuinely dark and unsettling atmosphere aboard the ship.

This began with Gray and Zora alone in the lounge and culminated in Captain Burnham staying behind on the bridge, with only Zora for company, as the desperate last-ditch attempt to escape the void came to a head. Discovery has made interesting use of fire this season, and I’ve seen some criticism of the way the pyrotechnics come across on screen. But here, the combination of CGI plasma and jets of real fire worked exceptionally well, building up a sense of genuine danger that Captain Burnham, and indeed the whole crew, were in.

A combination of CGI and pyrotechnics made for a thrilling and dramatic presentation at the episode’s climax.

At this point, after more than three seasons of Discovery, we know that the show has a tendency to blitz through some of the technobabble and sciencey stuff to get to the drama and action, and so it proved again in Stormy Weather. As happened last week, when the DMA’s artificial origin was confirmed in a short scene with a few lines of dialogue, its extragalactic origin was likewise only included in a pretty short sequence. I liked the concept behind it – that the energy surge that hit Book left behind trace particles that could be used to uncover another piece of the puzzle. That setup was interesting. But the conclusion was once again very quick, almost rushed, and I feel more could’ve been made of both of these points.

Another point of criticism I had concerns Dr Pollard’s sequence in the hallway. I said before the season began that killing off a known character can be a great way for a show like Discovery to communicate the stakes involved. And as Dr Pollard raced to the hull breach, there was for a brief moment a feeling that she might’ve been running to her demise. In the end, though, it was a redshirt who ended up being killed – and the death was far less impactful as a result.

More could have been made of this moment.

Now I’m not on some anti-Pollard crusade wishing death upon the character! But hers is the latest example of how Discovery wants to have its cake and eat it too: the writers want all of the emotional impact of a character death but without being willing to commit to making it someone significant. We saw this in Season 2 with Airiam, and again in Season 3 when practically everyone survived despite the dangerous situations the crew found themselves in. The danger in flirting with character deaths but failing to follow through is that the show is slowly building up a sense of plot armour; there’s a developing feeling that basically no one who gets so much as a speaking line in an episode will be in any real danger. And that will have an effect as the season progresses – potentially making similar moments feel less impactful or tense in future episodes.

To be fair, past iterations of Star Trek had this problem too – but television storytelling has evolved since then. In a world where shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead pioneered a concept that I call the “disposable cast,” where even major characters can be killed off at the drop of a hat, Star Trek has to take note. Audience expectations are shifting in some respects, and if Discovery wants all of the trappings of modern television storytelling, it has to be willing to boldly swing the proverbial axe on occasion.

This could have been a good moment to kill off a named character instead of a redshirt.

Last week, the addition of wonderful guest star Shawn Doyle as mad scientist Ruon Tarka meant that I didn’t really feel Tilly’s absence. Stormy Weather was different, though, and I think we’re seeing the first real effects of her departure. Tilly suffered with anxiety, and doubtless would have found the void a difficult situation to deal with. But even at her most nervous, she had a way of lightening the mood and ever so slightly lowering the tension. Perhaps a story like Stormy Weather needed her absence to function as intended – and I concede that argument. But at the same time, I look back on the episode and wonder what Tilly might’ve said, how she might’ve found a way to break through some of the more tense moments with Captain Burnham, Stamets, Book, Zora, and everyone else. Adira fills Tilly’s shoes in several key ways – but no one can truly replace the lighthearted energy that she brought to Discovery.

In a fast-paced sequence at the beginning of Kobayashi Maru, we got to see the crew working under Captain Burnham’s command as one well-oiled machine. After that, though, Discovery took the captain on several smaller adventures off to the side, and it wasn’t until Stormy Weather that we saw her in such a tense situation, having to really feel the burden and weight of command. Like Star Trek captains past, she stepped up. I was reminded of the scene in the episode Booby Trap where Captain Picard takes the helm and pilots the Enterprise-D as Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge, alone, to sit in the captain’s chair and guide her ship and crew to safety.

Captain Burnham in her EV suit.

Speaking of The Next Generation, it was neat to see an oblique reference to the episode Relics. In that episode, Scotty was found alive in a transporter pattern buffer, and it was this method that the crew of Discovery were able to use to survive the dangerous journey out of the void. Discovery hasn’t been shy when it comes to harkening back to past iterations of the franchise this season, which has been fun to see. Shooting so far forward in time has expanded the number of callbacks and references that the show is able to do, and the writers – who are clearly big Trekkies themselves – have taken full advantage.

Along with Ian Alexander, we also have to praise Sonequa Martin-Green for her performance this week. Captain Burnham had a complex role this time, one that required her to put any thoughts of failure to one side and to focus on getting her ship and crew to safety. But she also had to find time for empathy, to share her feelings with Zora to help the AI deal with her own newfound emotions. On both sides Sonequa Martin-Green really nailed it, and Stormy Weather is one of the absolute best Captain Burnham episodes as a result.

Stormy Weather really showed off Captain Burnham at her level-headed best.

The themes of trauma, empathy, and unexpected connections were all present in Stormy Weather as they have been all season. This time it was Zora who needed the most help, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Data in Generations. Developing emotions for the first time led to Zora’s first experience with fear, just as installing his emotion chip did for Data, and both found themselves overwhelmed and struggling to cope. Just as Data’s friends rallied around him, so too Zora found help from both an old friend in Captain Burnham and a new friend in Gray.

It fell to Captain Burnham and, to a lesser but still significant degree, Saru, to remain level-headed as the situation deteriorated. Captain Burnham had to find a way to connect with Zora in order to convince the AI to go through with the plan to escape. Likewise, Saru had to calm Commander Owosekun when tensions on the bridge threatened to boil over. We’re seeing again the very different ways that people respond to trauma: in this case, Zora almost completely shut down, feeling overwhelmed and unable to do anything, whereas Owosekun wanted so badly to do something that she became angry. These themes are almost certainly going to run through the rest of the season, and will go a long way to keeping Discovery grounded in its characters rather than being lost in sci-fi wonders.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer on the bridge.

One scene in particular hit close to home for me. After Book had been hit by the energy surge and was recovering in sickbay, he had a moment with Doctors Pollard and Culber where he tried to ask if he was losing his mind, going crazy, and if the hallucinations he was experiencing would last. Having been in a similar position in hospital, struggling and not knowing where my mental health issues began and ended, I found David Ajala’s performance very emotional in that moment.

Book’s hallucination of his father stemmed from the fact that it was his father’s birthday – and we know that mental health issues can absolutely manifest from things someone is already thinking about or dealing with. His line to his father that he hoped he was real, because it would mean his spirit still exists and thus Leto, Kyheem, and others might still exist somehow too, was another deeply emotional line. Though the episode didn’t focus on Book, this presentation took him to completely different emotional places, and I found it resonated with me in a very personal way.

I found Book to be very relatable in this moment.

So I think that’s it for this week. Stormy Weather really has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach! It would have been easy for an episode like this one to come across as feeling like mind-numbing action, but Discovery’s tight focus on characters and emotions elevated it to being so much more than that. Little moments with the show’s secondary cast were greatly appreciated, and almost everyone got a line or two of dialogue this week. It felt like the plans to escape the void were a real team effort – and not just another “Burnham saves the day” story that we might’ve seen in Seasons 1 or 2.

There was some disappointing news yesterday, though. At the last minute, it’s been announced that Discovery is taking a mid-season break after next week’s episode, going off the air for around six weeks before resuming in February. ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to do better at communicating with fans, because this is the latest in a long line of unnecessary blunders. Fixing Star Trek’s scheduling conflicts has to be a priority, too – Prodigy only aired four episodes before taking a break, now Discovery gets half a season before it too has to take a break. It’s possible that there are behind-the-scenes delays, perhaps with post-production work on Picard or Strange New Worlds – but it’s not a good look for a company trying to market a big franchise and an expanding streaming platform. Fixing these problems needs to be a priority for Star Trek’s corporate overlords.

Next week looks to bring back Ruon Tarka, which should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned in the days ahead for my updated theory list – including several ideas about the DMA and its possible creators. And if you celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas Eve! I hope your holidays are successful and fun!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Winter sale deals for PC gamers

Important:

ALL SALES DISCUSSED BELOW HAVE NOW ENDED.
Prices listed below will no longer be correct.

Check back in June/July for my picks from 2022’s summer sales.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas or Hannukah – it’s time for some of the biggest sales in PC gaming! Steam, Origin, GOG, and Epic Games all have major sales right now, and there are some steep discounts and great deals to be found.

PC gaming can be incredibly expensive to get started with, especially with sky-high prices for graphics cards and other components at the moment (thanks, crypto-miners). But huge sales like these go a long way to making up for the high cost of entry in my opinion! Steam sales have rightly acquired near-legendary status among gamers, and consoles really can’t compete with the steep discounts on offer.

So this time, for the third year in a row, I’m going to pick out a few of the best deals and discounts – and maybe give you a few ideas for games to play over the holidays and into 2022!

Deal #1:
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
GOG, 19% discount, £6.79

Elite Force is one of the rare Star Trek video games that broke through to players outside of the existing Star Trek fandom. For a time shortly after its release in the year 2000, the game was a must-play in the budding multiplayer first-person shooter space on PC. It was the first FPS that I played at a LAN party shortly after the turn of the millennium, and I had a blast with Elite Force.

The game has a solid campaign, too, with players taking on the role of an ensign aboard the USS Voyager. Elite Force brought back most of the cast of Star Trek: Voyager to voice their characters, further adding to the sense of immersion. And the campaign’s story is very Star Trek-y, as the USS Voyager is sucked into a void in space. GOG also has discounts on a few other Star Trek games, so check out the likes of Away Team and Hidden Evil too!

Deal #2:
Red Dead Redemption II
Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £27.49

After more than 100 hours across three months, I finally beat Red Dead Redemption II just a few days ago. The game is both beautiful and incredibly bleak, with an emotional story that will leave you jumping for joy and wallowing in melancholy. Stay tuned for a full write-up in the near future, because I’ve got a lot more to say about this one!

Rockstar Games took their open-world format and applied it to the late 19th Century, crafting a visually gorgeous rendition of the American Midwest and South in that era. Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan – an outlaw who rides with the Van Der Linde gang. Expect the usual chaos and mayhem as Arther robs banks and gets into shootouts, but be prepared for emotional gut-punches too. Red Dead Redemption II is a long game, but if you get stuck into it you won’t want to stop playing when it’s over.

Deal #3:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Epic Games, 25% discount, £23.99

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is almost certainly my favourite game of 2021. The adorable adventure game plays like a wonderful homage to older 3D titles while simultaneously making full use of decades’ worth of graphical improvements to look absolutely stunning. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was already competitively-priced, so to be able to snap it up at a discount feels like a real bargain!

One thing I admire about Kena: Bridge of Spirits is that it doesn’t hold your hand. You’re given all of the gameplay tools to navigate an area and then left to do so – there are no arrows pointing where to go nor a barrage of pop-up tips. It also features the Rot: adorable little critters who help Kena on her journey to the Mountan Shrine. You can read my full review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #4:
Cyberpunk 2077
GOG/Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £24.99

I haven’t found many nice things to say about Cyberpunk 2077, the game which ended up being a crushing disappointment to many players who jumped aboard an out-of-control hype train. Even today, a year on from one of the worst game launches of recent times, it’s still not in a particularly good state – and as I’ve said more than once, the actual game hiding underneath the bugs and glitches could be described at best as being “above-average.”

But Cyberpunk 2077 has an interesting story, and when it works there’s no denying its dense cityscape is a sight to see. With a reasonable discount it feels like an acceptable buy, and with further patches to come in 2022, this could be a game worth picking up now with a view to playing in six months’ time once more development work has been done. Just remember to set appropriate expectations: Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a genre-redefining experience that pushes the boundaries of what video games can be. On a good day, it’s an above-average role-playing shooter.

Deal #5:
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Steam/Origin, 63% discount, £12.94

Jedi: Fallen Order is the single-player Star Wars game that fans had been asking for for almost a decade, and served as a great palate cleanser after the controversies around Battlefront II and even The Rise of Skywalker. A fantastic story-driven action-adventure, players take on the role of abandoned ex-Padawan Cal Kestis in the years between Revenge of the Sith and the Original Trilogy.

Jedi: Fallen Order has a unique and engaging story, one that really pulled me in and made me feel like I was living through my own Star Wars adventure with Cal and the friends he met during his journey. The game is tightly-focused on lightsaber combat and a handful of Force powers, allowing less choice than some titles but honing to perfection those elements it chooses to include. Origin also offers Jedi: Fallen Order as part of a bundle with Star Wars Squadrons and Battlefront II – which could be a good deal if you haven’t played any of those titles!

Deal #6:
Shenmue I & II
Steam, 75% discount, £6.24

Although the Shenmue saga’s third entry, which was funded primarily by fans, didn’t accomplish the goal of concluding the story, the first Shenmue in particular is one of the best games that I’ve ever played and I’ll happily recommend it to fans of single-player titles for as long as I live! Originally released on the Dreamcast, Shenmue and Shenmue II follow the story of martial artist Ryo Hazuki following the murder of his father. The quest takes Ryo from his native Japan to Hong Kong and beyond.

For younger gamers who’ve grown up with 3D environments, open worlds, and the like, it’s difficult to fully communicate how revolutionary Shenmue felt when I first played it in the year 2000. It was the first game I felt was truly cinematic, and that told a story that could’ve been from a novel or a series of films. Shenmue was the game that showed me what video games could be – and it will always be special to me for that reason. Oh, and the first game has some Christmassy elements, so it’s great to play at this time of year!

Deal #7:
Fall Guys
Steam, 50% discount, £7.99

The only online game I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed from the past few years, Fall Guys is an obstacle course battle royale; a cute cartoony version of the likes of Total Wipeout. It’s an absolute blast, and there really isn’t anything quite like it on the market. Despite a recent buyout by Epic Games, Fall Guys is currently only available on Steam and PlayStation – with Xbox and Nintendo Switch versions both suffering long delays.

Fall Guys’ reputation may have been tainted by a cheating problem that plagued matches early in its life, but that was fixed a long time ago. The addition of new rounds offering new challenges has kept the game fresh, and if you’re sick of the usual shooters and third-person action-adventure games, Fall Guys could be the breath of fresh air you’ve been looking for!

Deal #8:
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Steam, 70% discount, £3.89

A few weeks ago, Skyrim hit its tenth anniversary, and next year Morrowind will celebrate its twentieth! With The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, it could be a great time to either get back into Morrowind or to pick up the game for the first time if you missed out when it was new. Morrowind is by far my favourite Elder Scrolls game, and I think even Skyrim players will be surprised at just how much there is to do.

Morrowind has more NPCs than Oblivion or Skyrim. It has more weapon types, more magic spells, more factions to join, and two expansive DLC packs that add even more to a base game already overstuffed with content. Its text-only interface may be offputting to some players, but if you can look past that limitation you’ll find what I consider to be one of the finest role-playing games ever created.

Deal #9:
Super Woden GP
Steam, 50% discount, £5.14

Super Woden GP is a very old-school racing game with an isometric perspective. It’s a lot of fun, a throwback to the days when racing video games seemed to be based on the games kids would play with toy cars! Super Woden GP includes over 70 real-world cars and a varied mix of tracks. There’s no first-person view, and this isn’t a simulation experience by any stretch. It’s just good old-fashioned racing fun.

There have been some great racing games this year. Forza Horizon 5 is just one example! But if you want something a little different, a game that has more of a classic feel, Super Woden GP is definitely a title I can recommend.

Deal #10:
Mafia: Definitive Edition
Steam, 50% discount, £17.49

Developers Hangar 13 could show Rockstar a thing or two about how to truly make a “definitive edition!” This remake of the first Mafia game from 2002 truly transformed the game and brought it fully into the modern day. When I first played Mafia on the original Xbox I thought I was getting “Grand Theft Auto III in the ’30s,” but that doesn’t do the game justice. It’s an amazing story-driven action game in its own right.

2021 has been a year of disappointing “remasters” that, for the most part, have ended up feeling like barebones reskins or just repackaged re-releases. But Mafia: Definitive Edition, which came out in September 2020, is in a completely different league. If you missed this game the first time around, or if you haven’t played it since the early 2000s, it’s absolutely worth a buy.

Deal #11:
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Steam, 50% discount, £14.99

Since we’re talking about great remakes, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is another fantastic release. Comprising the first six games in the Halo series, all you’re missing is Halo 5 – and if you’re planning on playing Halo Infinite at some point soon, it’s definitely worth getting reacquainted with the long-running sci-fi shooter series.

The first couple of Halo games, which came out on the original Xbox, were certainly beginning to show their age in terms of visuals, so the overhaul was greatly appreciated! I have fond memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with friends – both co-operatively and competitively – so for me this one can be a bit of a nostalgia trip. For the price, getting six great first-person shooters feels like a steal, so this is an easy one to recommend.

Deal #12:
Control: Ultimate Edition
Steam, 70% discount, £10.49

I played through Control for the first time earlier this year, and I had a blast! It’s a spooky game in some ways, with the malevolent Hiss an ever-present and very unnerving adversary. Control has a very clever design, making creative use of what might otherwise be fairly bland office environments to tell a genuinely engaging and interesting supernatural story.

I found Control to be one of the most accessible games I’ve had the good fortune to play. With various modes and options to cater to players with differing abilities, Control went out of its way to be as open as possible. That’s something I feel more titles need to do as we move into the new console generation.

Deal #13:
Road 96
Steam, 20% discount, £13.56

Road 96 is a unique narrative experience that feels as if it was inspired by recent events! Taking place in a fictional country that resembles the American Southwest, players must make it to the border and escape from the authorities – undertaking a road trip and meeting dozens of interesting characters en route, each with their own stories to tell.

It’s a clever game with a great soundtrack and a neat premise, very heavy on story. Road 96 also has an artistic visual style that adds to the experience. If you’re in the market for something different, a single-player game that isn’t just about shooting, Road 96 might be the indie game for you!

Deal #14:
Banished
Steam, 66% discount, £5.09

Banished is a non-violent town-building game in which you have to carefully manage limited resources to keep the population healthy and happy. It’s almost deceptively simple but very tricky to master – even with all the hours I’ve logged it’s still a challenge!

I can’t get over the fact that Banished was made by one single person. Even if it had been made by a whole studio I’d still heap praise upon it, but the fact that this entire complex experience was put together by a single developer never fails to amaze me. There are some fun mods for Banished that the fan community has made in the years since its 2014 launch – some of which add whole new ways to play. For such a low price it’s an absolute steal!

Deal #15:
Jade Empire: Special Edition
Steam, 75% discount, £3.74

If you’re a fan of BioWare’s games, make sure that you didn’t miss out on Jade Empire! Released as an Xbox exclusive in 2005, Jade Empire is a role-playing game set in a world inspired by Chinese legends. It blends martial arts and magic in a truly fun and unique experience. Released in between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, I feel Jade Empire gets somewhat overshadowed – but it should be hailed alongside those games!

All of the trademark BioWare elements are here: well-written characters, a story with multiple endings, building up a group of characters and taking them on a journey. If you’ve played any other modern BioWare title the gameplay will feel familiar – but the story is well worth experiencing for yourself.

Bonus:
Epic Games Coupon
Epic Games, £10/$10

This one isn’t a game! But for the duration of the holiday sale, Epic Games are offering a coupon with a value of £10, $10, or the equivalent in your local currency to spend on games priced over £13.99 or equivalent. The coupon is valid even for titles which are on sale provided they’re priced above £13.99, so it can be a great way to stack up the discounts. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 would be £14.99 on Epic Games, or Red Dead Redemption II would be £17.49.

So that’s it!

We’ve picked out fifteen deals from the various PC digital shops and their big winter sales. There are a ton more games on offer at this time of year, so have a browse and maybe treat yourself to something new to play over the holidays! I know that’s what I’ll be doing!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.