After the dust had settled from the near disastrous fifth instalment, Star Trek made a stunning return to form with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Like Star Trek‘s best stories, TUC has its roots based in a story we can all relate to, the end of the Cold War. The film starts with a devastating explosion in space, which Sulu, now Captain of the USS Excelsior, is witness to. The Klingons have suffered a massive catastrophe, their key energy production facility has exploded, crippling the environment and economy. The entire Klingon civilisation has been brought to its knees, and relies on the mercy of the Federation.
At a meeting of the Federation’s top brass we learn that Spock has been in discussion with the Klingon High Council. Captain Kirk and the Enterprise are to carry the first olive branch and escort the Klingon flagship and their chancellor, Gorkon, to a peace conference on Earth. As this is due to be the Enterprise’s final cruise with its current crew, Spock is keen to find a successor as science officer, and has developed a protege in the form of Valeris, a young, confident female Vulcan.
After a painfully awkward state dinner aboard the Enterprise, where the topic of discussion ranges from the works of William Shakespeare to Adolf Hitler and too much Romulan ale is imbibed, the Enterprise suddenly, and unexpectedly fires on the Klingon ship, while two assassins in Starfleet uniforms beam aboard and shoot the chancellor. The ship is crippled and Kirk and McCoy beam aboard to offer assistance.
Gorkon has been critically injured and despite McCoy’s best efforts, dies. Kirk and McCoy are immediately arrested, on suspicion of assassination. A show-trial ensues, where the Doctor is accused of being incompetent, and that Kirk’s hatred of Klingons was his motivation to kill the Chancellor, and end the peace efforts. The two are sentenced to death, but in light of the upcoming peace talks, their sentences are commuted, to life imprisonment on Rura Penthe, a Klingon prison planet.
Determined to prove his friends innocence, Spock ignores Starfleet’s requests for the Enterprise to return to Earth and instead begins an investigation to find the chancellor’s assassins. Mr Scott soon concludes that the Enterprise could not have fired on the Klingon ship and that there must have been a second ship, in this case, a Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked.
Back on the Klingon prison world, the good captain is soon able to work his mojo (in between kicking some alien knee-balls) and thanks to a fellow prisoner, and shape-shifter, named Martia, he and McCoy become the first successful escapees from the Klingon’s version of Alcatraz.
The freezing conditions take their toll and McCoy is unable to continue, telling Kirk to leave him, but Kirk knows help is not far away, since Spock secreted a tracking device on his uniform before their arrest.
Kirk soon becomes suspicious of Martia, with her handy set of spare cold weather clothes and nifty ‘ice-flare’ and correctly deduces it’s a setup to ensure Kirk and McCoy are silenced, “killed while attempting escape”.
Thankfully, Spock and the Enterprise arrive in time, beaming Kirk and McCoy to safety (and in a bit of inspired comedy, just before they learn who is responsible for the assassination. Take that, monologue!).
During the trip back to Federation space, Scotty discovers the uniforms belonging to Gorkon’s assassins and rushes to tell Spock of his discovery, only for him and the senior officers to find the corpses of the very crewmen the uniforms belonged to!
To lure out the assassin’s assassin, an announcement is made to the crew that statements are to be taken from the dead crewmen. In sickbay, Spock finds that it is none other than Valeris behind the murder of the assassins, and under mind-meld, she reveals the other co-conspirators.
Thanks to Sulu’s loyalty to his old captain, the Enterprise learns the location of the peace conference and races to save the day. In classic Trek style, a final face-off between Kirk and Chang ensues, with Chang spouting Shakespeare, the Enterprise is near destruction when Sulu arrives to save his comrades and former ship. McCoy and Spock rig a torpedo capable of tracking the cloaked ship and Chang is defeated, leaving Kirk and crew enough time to stop the assassination of Gorkon’s daughter and save the peace talks, and the universe, once again.
TUC is my second favourite Trek film, and is a fine tribute to the cast of The Original Series. Nicholas Meyer returns to direct his second film in the franchise and he once again delivers the goods.
TUC presents a strong emotional story, but not at the expense of the action or characters. The film is at its best when the characters are brought to the fore, particularly the scenes with Kirk and McCoy in prison and facing up to the fact that their careers, which have shaped who they are, are drawing to a close.
Christopher Plummer’s Chang joins the ranks of Trek villainy, and is an excellent adversary for Kirk.
TUC deals with a big issue for the Trek universe, being inspired by Glasnost, and the fall of the Berlin wall, as well as more human issues, with Kirk being forced to face up to his Klingon prejudice and his worries for the future. This is a story that presents the Enterprise’s crew as very human, with fears and concerns like you and I, as opposed to the perfect flawless Fedearation citizens that came to bore me in the likes of Voyager and Enterprise. You can relate to them, and it brings the story to a wider audience outside of the normal sci-fi demographic.
Kim Cattrall is note-worthy too for her portrayal of Valeris, and her closeness with, and ultimate betrayal of Spock allows for some great chemistry with Leonard Nimoy, who as per usual, delivers another text book performance.
The special effects return to form after The Final Frontier with the battle scene at the film’s climax amongst the best in Trek. The Undiscovered Country is a brilliant film, and a fine way for the original crew to sign off.