One of my earliest memories is of a black lady in a red miniskirt, a beehive hairdo and what I would now think of as a Bluetooth headset hanging out of her ear. There were flashing lights on the communication boards behind her and she utters the line “Hailing frequencies open, sir” then the picture cuts to a man in a mustard colored shirt in a chair. I couldn’t explain the show to my mother, I also remember that. I was mad when they took it off the air and I tried to describe to my Mom about the alien with the pointy ears and the phasers and the bright red surfaces all over the bridge. The salt monster that had terrified me a few years previously. She didn’t remember the show although I got a hug for the disappointment of not seeing my show that day.
When I came home from school one day in 1977 and found my show in reruns for the first time, I was ecstatic. I remember dragging Mom into the den to watch with me. “It was Star Trek. See? I told you Mom.” I rewatched all but two episodes in reruns over the subsequent years as I watched the show after school with my brothers and sisters who would have rather been watching anything else.
I took my first date to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its premiere weekend. I was stoked. I don’t think my date was because I never saw her again after that. The Motionless Picture (as the fans dubbed it almost immediately) wasn’t like original Star Trek but it was nice to see the characters again. I had no idea that what I saw onscreen was originally intended to be a second television series pilot that they punted into a movie instead. That knowledge came later with my introduction to the Wife and fandom at large, but I could feel Gene Roddenberry’s influence in every bit of it. The subtle trekkiness of it. It was there under the different costumes and muted bridge colors.
I went to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan by myself the first time. I thought it was so good that I dragged my friends with me to watch it a second time. I don’t think most people today would understand what that meant to me back then in 1982. I had never spent money to watch the same movie twice before, much less 27 times to see Star Wars over and over again like some of my friends in fandom had done. This was an action film that was also a Star Trek movie, and I loved it. It wasn’t quite as distinctively Trek as the first movie. Kirk’s son denounces Starfleet as just another military organization bent on perverting their science, er, their ridiculous life-generating magic bomb into a weapon.
If you ignored the embarrassing technobabble about the science it was a great movie that expanded on one of the best episodes of the series. If you had been a fan of the show for as long as I had been by that point, the fast and loose nature of some of the science in the show was just one of the things that you learned to suspend disbelief about. After all, you can’t enjoy the show if you are busy picking it apart while you are watching it. Spock’s death scene in Wrath of Khan still makes me cry decades later even knowing they bring him back in the next movie.
I can say what Brook won’t in that episode of On The Media. I was a Trekkie, not a Trekker. I used to say that it was a distinction without a difference Trekker vs. Trekkie but I’m not so certain this is true any more. The Wife and I fell in love over a box of Star Trek (and Superman!) comic books. She revealed that she was much more of a fan than I had ever been, having ordered from Roddenberry’s groundbreaking marketing arm Lincoln Enterprises pretty much as soon as it was announced. She walked around with a golden Enterprise necklace the way some people walk around with a golden cross or a St. Christopher’s medal. She had also been on the official Star Trek mailing list and attended several conventions before we even met. She could win trivia contests about the show and I could not.
I turned in my fandom pin when I met the Wife and the cadre of fans that she brought me in contact with. For example, I can’t be a true fan (the sensitive kind that wants to be called a Trekker and not a Trekkie) because I didn’t know these three characters were all played by the same actress, Diana Muldaur. I have no idea why I’d never made this connection; or why, if one of the fans I lead as Captain of a local Star Trek club alerted me to this fact, I still don’t remember that they were all the same person to this day. Trivia is a thing that I’ve never found important enough to remember, thereby earning its label of trivia. The fact of this doesn’t keep me from losing when we play trivial pursuit.
The Wife and I went to see Star Trek III: The Search For Spock together as well as every Star Trek movie after that one. Every Star Trek movie until they stopped being Star Trek movies in 2009.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation aired I began to notice the change. In movies it is easy to plot a simple story and hand-wave your way through the deeper questions of social order and the fabric of society. In a television series that has to produce (at the time) more than twenty one-hour shows each and every year, the show has to rely on the actors who appear on the show to invest more of themselves into the characters than is asked of the average movie actor. This is also true of the writers who have to produce the scripts that create the bones of the social interactions that the actors lend themselves to. It is a herculean task to create a television show even now with computer effects, short seasons and padded budgets. Back in the day when Star Trek aired, 1967-69, it was nearly an impossibility and had never been done that way for television until Desi Arnaz made it the television standard.
Speculative fiction like Star Trek is meaningless unless it reflects facets of the world outside, and the world outside the view of the television cameras had changed quite a bit since the original series had been on the air. The Vietnam war had been raging outside the camera’s range back in 1960’s America and the Cold War had dominated the lives of everyone living on the planet since the 1950’s. We were all going to die in the the thermonuclear fallout from World War III, that was the world that Star Trek was born into.
Star Trek was a breath of fresh air in that climate with it’s portrayal of a bright future where we could all get along. When The Next Generation (TNG) hit television screens we were living in that future. The predicted nuclear wars hadn’t occurred and the future was different than we expected. It wasn’t bright and it wasn’t going to get bright any time soon. The destruction of world civilization had been delayed a few generations but it was still a possibility that we all worried about, even if it wasn’t nuclear holocaust and the USSR that dominated our nightmares anymore. TNG had to be different from the future that Gene had created for his original Star Trek thirty years previously.
TNG was more militaristic for starters. The militarism was still subtle, but it was there all the same. The science was weaker, too. Star Trek made science shortcuts for reasons of storytelling and cost cutting. You can’t tell a story about characters if those characters don’t survive the journey from one planet to the next, so you introduce warp drive to shorten transit times into something more like a sea voyage. You introduce transporter tech so that you don’t have to film separate scenes of shuttles taking off and landing on each planet you visit (just don’t think about dying each time you get into the transporter only to be reborn on the planet surface) we can print food now with fabricators so the replicators in Star Trek aren’t even that much of a stretch anymore. Your flip phone that you used to love did the flip thing that it did precisely because Kirk did the flip thing with his communicator in 1967.
There were goofy stories based on the goofy tech introduced to tell the stories in the first place, but TNG made whole seasons of goofy stories about goofy science and goofy tech a thing. Which was fine, if it wasn’t a little much in the way of content to consume.
Then there was Deep Space Nine. I liked DS9 but I liked Babylon 5 more, which was interesting because the theme of a remote station on the edge of known space was a central story point that seemed to be shared between the two of them? Well, I’m sure J. Michael Straczynski doesn’t care much anymore. He got to make his show with the money that wasn’t mentioned in the settlement between him and Paramount. DS9 was better than TNG just as Babylon 5 was better than DS9. They were more real and dealt with more real subjects and didn’t seem to have so many goofy tech stories in their repertoire.
After that was Voyager and Paramount’s first betrayal of Star Trek fandom. I wanted to watch the show but wasn’t allowed to because Paramount wanted the fans to carry their UPN broadcast networks on their backs. I wasn’t having any of that. Then there was Enterprise and Nemesis:
…and I realized that there was speculative fiction that I liked and speculative fiction that I distinctly didn’t like. I probably should have thanked Paramount for the revelation that I could hate some kinds of fiction, even fiction offered under the guise of being Star Trek. I would thank them, but they weren’t done ruining Star Trek for me yet:
The Abramanations were definitively NOT Star Trek. This assessment goes far and beyond not liking story points or characterizations in these movies. I mean; red matter was an impossibility, a stupid impossibility just as Khan’s magic healing blood was a stupid impossibility in Into Darkness (Another aptly named film) There were stupid action sequences and stupid humor sequences. Too much stupid to ever be able to talk to other fans about the stupid without my having an aneurism suppressing the desire to throttle said fans as they praised the stupid; and so, I declared Star Trek dead because of those two films. But it wasn’t up to me, was it? I’m not the rights holder.
I signed up for Paramount+ recently. I signed up because I wanted to watch Picard and Woman in Motion. (I still need to watch that, now that I think about it. We miss you already Nichelle) I like the actors in Picard and I like the characters that they are reprising in the series; so I watched it, and it was better than I had expected it would be. It was so much better than I expected that I talked the Wife into watching it. She also liked it. Could it have been better? Come on, it always could be better. It was good for what it was, a tribute to the shows and characters that have come and gone in Star Trek history. Was it really Star Trek? I think you could say it was. TNG Star Trek if not classic Star Trek.
I would have preferred if they had ended it in season one, but they made season two; and after finishing watching season two I had to say it was also worth watching. I won’t hold my breath for season three but I will probably watch that too despite reservations.
However, Paramount+ kept showing me ads for Discovery and Strange New Worlds at the beginning of each episode of Picard. After I had watched all of Picard that there was the watch, I decided I might try Strange New Worlds. It was, after all, about Captain Pike, Kirk’s predecessor as captain of the Enterprise. Unlike the show, Enterprise, which was not part of Star Trek canon in even the slightest sense (there was no warp capable ship called Enterprise before the one mentioned in the original Star Trek) Captain Pike had been established as being part of the Star Trek universe from the very beginning. Even before the beginning of the show itself since it represents the premiere of the show that could have been but wasn’t (See The Cage for those who aren’t Trek nerds) so I started the first episode and hit my first snag.
Pike had appeared in Discovery before Paramount had decided to create Strange New Worlds. Was I willing to try to suspend disbelief for two seasons of a show that I already knew was bad? I mean, I had panned Discovery claiming worlds with the Federation flag in advertising a few years ago, could I watch two seasons of the show knowing that they were probably going to do horrible things to my beloved Star Trek? I’d survived the Abramanations, I thought to myself. Surely I can survive two seasons of Discovery.
Oh, how wrong I was. It started with the first episode of the series. The ship, Discovery, travels on magic mushrooms. No, I am not kidding when I say that. They are mushrooms and they are magical; ergo magic mushrooms. Magic mushrooms, spore trails through sub-space, or whatever technobabble you want to make up. Same fucking difference. Might as well chew a fungus and go their in your dreams. Your dreams will be better, I can promise you this.
I made it to the end of season one. I don’t know how. The story arc itself might have been interesting enough to hold my attention if only EVERY SINGLE THING about the show didn’t pop me right out of the ability to suspend disbelief with an audible WTF!?! Giant tardigrades. Microscopic critters that could eat you whole. The entire saucer section of the ship, when they start up the magic mushroom drive, spins. There are people on those parts of the ship, and it spins like a gyroscope. Even in the Star Trek universe there ain’t inertial dampeners strong enough to negate those forces, so how does the crew survive? They never even address it.
When Pike popped onto the ship at the end of season one, I knew that I could not watch season two and put him in with the crew of Discovery and their magic mushroom driven atrocity. So I stopped watching and haven’t been back.
I wouldn’t even be writing about this now if William Shatner hadn’t called out the current crop of Trek wannabes for not being Star Trek. That got their attention. William Shatner says that our Trek isn’t Trek enough? Where does he come off saying that? They offer up Gene Roddenberry’s panning of Star Trek V, as if that is proof that Bill Shatner doesn’t know what he is talking about.
On June 3, 1987, Roddenberry wrote a memo to Shatner expressing his distaste for the story. “Bill, as you undoubtedly know, I expressed to Harve Bennett at lunch last Monday my deep disappointment in the proposed Star Trek V film story,” Roddenberry wrote. “I simply cannot support a story which has our intelligent and insightful crew mesmerized by a 23rd Century religious charlatan.”
Roddenberry went on to point out that Shatner had previously agreed to recognize using religion in the script, which Roddenberry felt was unsuitable for the post-religious world he had created in TOS. The memo continued: “I had also thought that we had a clear understanding, man to man, that I would be consulted before any story went to screenplay.”
Roddenberry was so upset by the narrative Shatner had proposed that he also wrote similar letters to Bennett (who ignored him and appears in a cameo role in the final cut), his lawyer Leonard Maizlish, and head of the studio Frank Mancuso. In fact, Roddenberry was so incensed by the narrative direction Shatner had chosen, that he also wrote to sci-fi literary legends Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke to enlist their help in discouraging the studio from making the film. Both authors sent letters agreeing with Roddenberry’s position: Star Trek V “wasn’t Star Trek.”movieweb.com
You know what? Gene was right. Spock had no brother, ergo Star Trek V couldn’t have been canon and probably shouldn’t be considered Star Trek. So what? Citing authority about Shatner’s work has no bearing on what that same authority might say about your work, your favorite new shiny thing that you love so much.
Bill happens to be right, at least when it comes to Discovery. That show is a joke and the actors involved, while very talented and dedicated, should have insisted on there being science advisors on the show during filming and during the writing process. Paramount should have cared enough about their property, Star Trek, so as to not dilute it with the crap that they’ve made under the Star Trek mantle since Gene’s death. I don’t care what Gene’s son thinks about the shows, either. Gene Roddenberry, the great bird of the galaxy himself, laid it all out in the Star Trek bible.
I’m a little unclear about technological devices of the future.
Can we invent anything which sounds reasonable?
Simply think of something logical, with some kind of scienceStar Trek Writers Guide
or projected-science basis. Generally best are projections
of things we have now or which science is beginning to
build now. For example, in the pilot we had a hospital bed
which continually monitored all the key bodily functions,
and in fact some advanced hospitals today are already doing
part of this and working on further improvements.
Magic mushroom drives do not meet that standard. Discovery is not Star Trek just as the 2009 movie and Into Darkness are not Star Trek because the crap they came up with to explain their plot points doesn’t make fucking sense. I rest my case.
In the meantime I will say this. I was a Trekkie. I might still call myself a Trekkie if that means I can isolate myself from the Trekkers that think that magic mushroom drives, magic healing blood and red matter are things they want to be mystified by; otherwise Star Trek is even deader in my estimation than it was in 2009. Bill Shatner, you are right once again.
I finally sat down and watched the first season of Strange New Worlds, all that there was of the show at the time that I wrote this. I wish I could come to the show with fresh eyes and not the same eyes that have watched the journey of Gene Roddenberry’s creation from the time that it first appeared on television screens way back when. Watched all the things that I detailed above come to pass. If I hadn’t seen all of those things and been offended by a good number of them I might be able to give this show the praise it probably deserves to receive.
Unfortunately I’m not that person, I’m just the jaded old fan that I am and hopefully always will be. So here goes my review of the first season. The first episode annoyed the fuck out of me. Transporting something into Spock’s eyeball? Great way to make his eye explode. Stupid tech solutions to stupid story plot points. I’ve seen these kinds of imaginary moments of crisis way, way too many times now on too many shows that should have had the collective intelligence to known better than to try that shit.
The second episode made me want to love the show. It perfectly encapsulated the moral quandary of the best of speculative fiction. I was truly impressed with the episode right up to the point where Captain Pike has to go through his quandary about being shown how he dies when he was part of the magic mushroom joyride that is all of Discovery.
Every episode of Strange New Worlds does some stupid thing or other that sets my teeth on edge. Dr. M’Benga storing his daughter in the transporter buffer, a sub-plot that leads up to the episode where she becomes a… god? Who knows what she is now, at least she’s not a dead person stored in a transporter buffer. Then there is the season finale that once again calls back to the magic mushroom joyride and makes it quite clear that this time crystal bullshit from Discovery is going to be a theme across the entire series. Every single episode does something that makes me ask “why am I watching this?”
I can’t. I just can’t. From a storytelling perspective I can appreciate the value of illustrating why Captain Kirk was the right man for the job illustrated in Balance of Terror versus the bungled job that Captain Pike does in A Quality of Mercy. From a philosophical perspective I don’t think that the writers or the producers of the current show understand what it was that Gene was trying for with his show about a future human society. Nor do I think they are interested in what Gene intended for the show beyond the fact that the fans demand more of it and the rights holders for it want to make money from that demand. I see no need to put money in their hands given my disturbed thoughts on the subject.
“Rest in peace, Star Trek. Say hi to Gene for me.”