The Babylon Project Reborn?

Back in February I wrote this article:

In it I opine about the deluge of bad Trek spinoffs, so much bad Trek that it would be easy to drown in the volume of it all. As a closing observation I tossed out a few paragraphs about the complete lack of revisits to a popular science fiction television show that I felt got short shrift back in the nineties, Babylon 5, and then proceeded to lament this fact. I said, in effect:

You, Hollywood mogul. Why don’t you leave the corpse of Star Trek alone and go mess around with the dream given form? It could use a bit more attention.

I have lamented about the sorry state of affairs that was the five-year run of Babylon 5 since the days that we waited breathlessly for each episode to drop, for each season’s contract to be picked up, for the replacement of cast characters, etcetera. It was a pins and needles affair through the entire experience.

As a wannabe storyteller, I wept when Commander Sinclair was replaced with Captain Sheridan. I knew what a hampering of the overall story arc that this replacement would represent. The compromise that was worked out that allowed Michael O’Hare to retire marked the show and altered everything that happened after it. Michael O’Hare wasn’t the first actor to be replaced from the original pilot lineup of characters. This wasn’t unexpected, but the number of actors who came and went as the story progressed was a staggering number for any series, culminating in the loss of my favorite character, Susan Ivanova played by Claudia Christian at the beginning of season five.

The syndication contract that was arranged at the beginning of the show proved to be a constant sore, with each succeeding season being marked by negotiations that threatened the show’s continued existence, much like the fictional threats to the five mile long space station that the show was about. All alone in the night. The fifth season was such an open question that series creator, J. Michael Straczynski (Joe) felt compelled to complete the majority of the storylines at the end of the fourth season instead of gambling on getting a fifth. In the end the fifth season was picked up by another network, but the snafu of getting all the contracts carried over caused the loss of Claudia Christian from the cast, which in my personal estimation marred the last season irrevocably. The fire had gone out of the show for me, and I watched with only passing interest as the series wrapped up its promised fifth season and bid us all a fond farewell.

The problems with the show didn’t end there, though. The coveted DVD copies that made or broke shows after their airtimes were finished back in the day were glacially slow in making their appearance, and they weren’t of the quality that we hardcore fans expected. The Wife and I made the ill-advised move to invest in laserdisc copies of the show, but the run of discs was never completed and we ended up having to sell the ones that were released for a pittance. That loss left a sour taste in my mouth, and has turned me against Fox media in all its forms ever since.

My ire for Fox is well-earned. They went on from defrauding us of the promised full release of laserdiscs for Babylon 5, went on to cover up for the fact that they skimped on putting together the episodes for airing. Fox never finished the composite shots correctly for widescreen display, and they never transferred the animation sequences to high definition formats, making display of the show on high-definition television an irksome task of squinting from just the right distance to make the show look good. All of this making Joe’s work to produce a show that could be transferred to new technologies in the future a waste of effort.

Today I read in the news that far from having hard feelings about Fox’s betrayal of his interests, Joe has decided to go back into business with Fox:

twitter.com/straczynski

To be continued.

You cannot step in the same river twice, for the river has changed, and you have changed.

Heraclitus

Opening Old Wounds

As a doctor, you of all people should be aware of the dangers of reopening old wounds.

ST II

I never thought much of that line from Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan. I mean, I’ve heard the old wounds phrase a thousand times if I’ve heard it once, from many places aside from Star Trek. Maybe I should have given the meaning more weight, or acknowledged the hazard more knowledgably. Maybe I should have tread the old memory grounds more cautiously?

Bob SegerNight Moves (Official Video) – Premiered Jul 10, 2020

I broke something in myself last week. I didn’t know I was breaking it until it was broken, and I don’t know how to put it all back together again the way it was before. I don’t even know that I want to put it back the way it was. It was painful even the way it was, and digging out the painful bits has revealed something about myself that I really never thought about before. I don’t think it is a good thing and I probably should change it.

Jackson BrowneRunning On Empty – Jun 8, 2019

What I do know is that I’ve listened to a lot of music that takes me back to 1983 in the last week, and I may have finally stumbled across a story that will compel me to finish it or it will kill me. I hurt like I haven’t hurt since those years, except maybe in the days following my mother’s death. Too much trauma in the last four years. I don’t know how much more I can take.

There has to be an invisible sun
It gives its heat to everyone
There has to be an invisible sun
That gives us hope when the whole day’s done

The Police
The PoliceInvisible Sun – Feb 23, 2010




Informational Segregation

Discover the incredible true story of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols and the US space program. Stream the documentary, Woman In Motion, exclusively on Paramount+ in the US on June 3.

Paramount+ on Facebook
Woman in Motion (2021)
Paramount PlusWoman In Motion – Apr 5, 2021

I love that this documentary exists. I need to say that first. I love the fact that one of my favorite actors had such a prominent role in diversifying NASA. Nichelle Nichols was the daughter’s idol as a child. She has a version of every Uhura doll that has been released since they first started making Star Trek toys back in 1974. The vendor who sold her that doll cried when she ripped it out of the package and started playing with it right there in front of him back in 1996. She is a fan and the daughter of true fans of Star Trek, the only series.

Got that? Good. I love the fact that this documentary exists, but I won’t be subscribing to Paramount+ just to see it. This documentary should be available streaming everywhere. Why won’t I subscribe to Paramount+ just to see it?

I won’t subscribe because we are forgetting the very lesson that Nichelle Nichols is promoting in the documentary.

Where are my people?

They aren’t visible because they were denied information. They were not just denied access, but they were denied even the information that would allow them to do jobs at NASA. This was done as part of the pursuit of insuring that the majority of the benefits created by technology landed in white men’s hands. They weren’t told that this was something they could do, and so consequently there were few who even asked if they might do it.

Hidden Figures (2016)
20th Century Studios UKHidden Figures | Official HD International Trailer – Sep 20, 2016

You would never have seen this movie made by a Hollywood studio at any point prior to 2016. Barack Obama’s election made Hidden Figures possible, because the popularity of Obama made movie investors sit up and take notice, be willing to hazard real money on a movie about the black women who were the pioneers of diversity in American government.

These women had to overcome obstacles that the average person has no way to understand. Not only the fact that they were women and they were black in the United States of the 60’s, but that the information that they needed to be who they were was reserved for people who could pay to access that information.

Information is for everybody who wants it, everyone who needs it, not just the people who can afford it. Information is not just for the people who subscribe to the correct entertainment channels and pay the right amounts to the right people. Information is for everybody, and we are allowing profit motives to re-segregate us into smaller and smaller groups. We are allowing copyright to Trump the best interests of our nation and our world.

This has to stop. We have to stop allowing copyright holders to refuse access to their products unless you are willing to pay them for it. This is the basis for the creation of libraries, the understanding that information should be available to everyone. The library should be a thing that you can access by computer or cellphone. You shouldn’t have to get in a car and go find a building somewhere in your city in order to borrow something from your library.

I look forward to seeing Woman in Motion and Hidden Figures played to children in schools, to adults who don’t think women and blacks should be allowed to do the same things as white men. They are the people who need this experience, and it should be made available to them, not just to the people willing to pay Paramount or Disney or any other copyright holder directly for their jealously hoarded intellectual property.

Retconned To Death

A meme popped up in a facebook group I’m part of, a meme asserting that Babylon 5 was the third best Star Trek series of all time. I can see how this claim might be true. Since Deep Space 9 was in actuality the third Star Trek series, and since J. Michael Straczynski (Joe) suddenly came up with the seed money to create Babylon 5 after suing Paramount, the owners of the Star Trek franchise, and then dismissed the suit after an agreement with Paramount, after Paramount realized how much their new series looked like Joe’s pitch to them for Babylon 5; it is quite easy to say that the third Star Trek series was Babylon 5, if not the third best series of Star Trek.

The meme’s real problem becomes apparent when it suggests that the second best Star Trek series after The Original Series (The Only Series) was Star Trek: Enterprise (long time readers of this blog should have been able to hear my head explode when I read that name off the list) I must object to this outrage in the strongest of terms. Enterprise was crap. It was so much of a crap show that I used it to illustrate just how bad science fiction television can be:

…But I’ll go even farther and state for the record that everything Star Trek after and including a good portion of Star Trek: Voyager has been crap. One could argue (and one did) that at least half of TOS season 3 was crap:

Half of TNG was really boring and terrible. Half of Voyager was terrible. It is still the greatest and most culturally significant franchise in SF history. When you get right down to it, art is hard. Consistent quality over a period of decades may not be a reasonable expectation. Might as well savor the high points and forget the terrible stuff. Forget the terrible stuff except for that Voyager episode when they went too fast and turned into lizards. That episode is too unforgivably stupid to forget.

I have to disagree with him though. There is no saving Star Trek at this point. Star Trek has irredeemably jumped the shark. After Star Trek: Discovery promoted itself by having a character claiming a planet with a shredded battle flag. After Star Trek: Lower Decks descended into the gags we fans lamely thought up for ourselves forty years ago (sealing a crewmans ass closed with Starfleet’s medical equipment? Has that joke showed up yet? I’ll bet it has) These shows make Star Trek: Enterprise look like high drama now.

I know, I know, there was a post I wrote that responded to a suggestion that Star Trek jumped the shark way back at the beginning of this blog:

…and I went on a few short years later to declare Star Trek dead all on my own:

However, like most things, there remains still more to say on this subject. There is a reason that Galaxy Quest is considered one of the best Star Trek movies (in the top ten) a reason that the riffs on the ideas first presented in Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry seem to be spreading outside of science fiction television and are presented widely now as just the way people should try to be. That reason? Star Trek has ceased to be on the cutting edge of television and forward-thinking philosophy. It has become a myth that overshadows the current attempts to reclaim the glory that was 1966 Star Trek. A franchise destroyed by its corporate owner’s inability to understand what it was that made the show special:

Planet Money – How Desi Invented Television – January 22, 2021

I’m not just talking about poor scripting or bad acting or stupid technobabble or whatever (Voyager lizard episode fresh in the mind now, thanks) Gene Roddenberry was part of a revolution that was not of his own creation, and Star Trek was one of the first new shows to come out of that vision of what television could really be if we gave it a chance. Desi Arnaz had a vision of making television in a way that had never been done before, and Gene Roddenberry had an idea for a show that would present people in a way that had never been seen before. They, together with the cast and crew of the 1966 Star Trek series, created something that has never been equalled since that time in television history.

None of the movies ever came close to being what TOS was when it aired. None of the series ever came close to equaling TOS in its effect on American society. No series since TOS has come close. This is a simple fact established in the number of myths that have moved out into society at large from inside the show and the fans of that show that was. Everything created since the 1966 series has been an attempt to recapture the essence of that show and harness it as a money making vehicle for its corporate owners. All of it has done nothing more than cement TOS as the only Star Trek worthy of being called Star Trek.

Everything since the 2009 Abramanation has represented a wholesale abandonment of Roddenberry’s philosophy for the future society the stories are supposed to be about. This betrayal was radically on display in Into Darkness:

…Where, not only does an admiral of starfleet fire on his own ships, killing his own crews, but he attempts to hold them hostage with terroristic threats. This is ironically the opposite lesson from the one we learned from Space Seed, the TOS episode that featured the character Khan seen recreated in some Mirror, Mirror version of himself in Into Darkness, the lesson being that terrorism no longer motivates individuals to comply with the demands of the terrorist in that distant future. That the knowledge that terrorists use our own emotions against us empowers us to defy our own emotional drives and makes us stronger than the terrorists could ever be. That lesson forgotten, the actors go through the same old cardboard cutout routines that they are paid to perform. The cardboard villain fails. The paper hero triumphs. The popcorn is stale and the sodas are flat, and I am no longer interested in the things that exploit my nostalgia for days gone by.

J.J. Abrams not even taking an interest in what kind of stories Star Trek had been about prior to his helming the 2009 movie shows itself in the works that he has created since 2009. Paramount’s insistence on treating the shows they’ve generated since 2009 as all equally Star Trek has driven off a lot of the original fans of the show. It is one thing to love Galaxy Quest and laugh at the good humored poking of fun at all things Trek from outside the Trek universe. It is another thing to consume this stuff that calls itself Trek and then continue treating it as if it is all worthy of fannish devotion.

My conclusion stated flatly? It isn’t worth the investment of time to even consume and then write criticisms of it, and I won’t waste even more time talking to people who think it is worth that investment of time. This is just more of the same from me on the subject of nostalgia. I don’t waste time arguing with Star Wars fans about the debacle that has been the Star Wars franchise since the beginning. There are other worthy subjects out there to spend time on, so I’ll do that instead.

Since this article started with my objections to a Babylon 5 meme, I want to point out that Joe’s worthy efforts to present his five year story arc failed in one important way. He had to fundamentally alter the story arc in season two in order to allow for the failing health of Michael O’Hare. Consequently the show did not end with the unavoidable destruction of the station and everyone on her at the time, as the arc was originally plotted out to end. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show right up to the point where Claudia Christian left at the end of season four. I felt season five was seriously weak tea, an interesting sideshow of events that had to happen in order to fill out the final season that Joe didn’t think he would be allowed to produce because of the way the show’s broadcast contracts were mishandled by the various television networks of the time.

Since we’re all about harvesting nostalgia for the good old days for its dollar value in the here and now, why don’t we try that with the second most influential series in television history? Babylon 5, the first of the long-form story arc multi-season shows that aired on television, the show that lead to the kind of scripting that you find in almost every single television series on the air today. Gone are the one-off shows that do not develop characters from episode to episode in a glorious never-changing now. The characters reflect on the things we’ve seen them do, and their previous actions are referenced in later episodes directly even if the stories themselves don’t flow from episode to episode seamlessly. Babylon 5 gave us that.

Let’s take that original Babylon 5 five year story arc and generate a new show with new actors that begins and ends the arc as Joe intended when he plotted it out and pitched it to the networks back in 1992. New scripts, new characters, same overarching story. Let’s do it just to show how malleable the narrative device is, how influential all the different parts that go into creating a show can be.

Maybe then we can understand just how Desi Arnaz was as influential as Gene Roddenberry was in the making of Star Trek, but less influential than the authors of the scripts and the actors in front of the cameras were. Maybe then we’ll understand what we sacrifice when we let people shake us down for nostalgia’s sake. At the very least we’ll get the conclusion to Babylon 5 that we were promised when we started watching it back in 1993. One that will look great on HD television, even.

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Another image from my lovingly maintained electronic shrine to Babylon 5, transferred from computer to computer since 1993. Image found available online here

Featured image: Star Trek’s Enterprise superimposed over a satellite image of Earth

Time is the Fire in Which We Burn

Each minute bursts in the burning room,   
The great globe reels in the solar fire,   
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)   
What am I now that I was then?   
May memory restore again and again   
The smallest color of the smallest day:   
Time is the school in which we learn,   
Time is the fire in which we burn.

From: Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day
by Delmore Schwartz

Featured image: Screencap from Star Trek: Generations

Still Alive Old Friend

Still, old friend. You’ve managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.

Kirk to Khan. Me to 2020

This thought occurred to me when Chadwick Boseman (November 29, 1976 – August 28, 2020) (Wikipedia) died from complications of cancer back in August. The man was so amazing on screen. Now imagine being that amazing while all the time knowing what was eating you alive from inside. The treatments. The pain.

…And still. Some of the best performances ever recorded on film by anyone. I am in awe of him and so many other people out there who strive and achieve against such great odds. It inspires me to keep going. To not give up.

Kirk to Spock. It’s two hours. Are you ready?

Wrath of Khan (the real movie)

Starfleet? Space Force?

Back in 2018, I was laughing at the stupidity of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) and his Stormtrumpers.

RAnt(hony)-ings

I’m not laughing anymore. This was on the Stonekettle Station Facebook wall today.

I’ve done a cursory look online (check out the image credit on that wikipedia page) and the symbolism does seem to be official if not actually adopted by the branch of military service that Congress funded last month. I’ll try to forgive congress the insult to American intelligence that their funding of one of the idiocracies pet ideas legitimizes.

Yes. That is potentially a theft of intellectual property in the form of a proposed device for the OHM’s Space Farce. …er Force. While you are laughing remember that, to the rest of the world, you are what they are laughing at. You the reader, not you the president. Not you Stonekettle Station. You, dear reader. All of you who count yourselves as Americans. You are a joke if this bullshit is not brought to an end.

Facebook – Stonekettle Station

Well okay. That was funny.


As far as who owns the rights to the IP in question, that isn’t clear.

I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee.

Apparently, the new logo is just another iteration on the former Air Force Space Command logo, which also featured an upward pointing delta, but the final product with its concentric rings and swooping orbits looks so much like Starfleet’s, I fear it could easily confuse any Vulcans and Klingons who see it.

This somewhat comical appropriation of “Star Trek” imagery carries a certain irony. The universe of “Star Trek” has always provided a hopeful, near-utopian vision for humanity, where we have finally learned to set aside things like racial prejudice and gender inequality, and we all work together toward a common purpose and quest. Money is a thing of the past because no one wants for any material need, and we have united much of the galaxy in a peaceful assembly of sovereign worlds.

Contrast that for a moment with the current administration’s values and practices: racial resentments and fear stoked for cynical political purposes, the wealthy made even more obscenely so through grift and political influence, coarse and bullying behavior masquerading as diplomacy, to name but a few. Even the notion of a “Space Force” seems patently absurd coming from an administration where science is mocked and disregarded.

At times it truly feels like the past three years have had us beamed into a parallel universe, where instead of a president we have a mendacious thug, and where notions like the U.S. Senate being a deliberate, serious body that serves as a vital check on presidential power now seem quaint and naive.

George Takei

If, however, the government took orders from the OHM, and the OHM’s intent was to mimic the Starfleet insignia (being an idiot of very little brain, but then I repeat myself) then the logo for Space Force as it is presented by the OHM probably constitutes theft of intellectual property. Proving the theft, proving the OHM’s intentions, then becomes the next hurdle to clear.

The Starfleet insignia as we know it today didn’t exist until the motionless picture (my second favorite Star Trek film) back in 1979. This was long after Gene riffed on the theme of the gold pins that NASA gave to astronauts on going to space to create the various ships insignias seen in the original Star Trek series (1967-69) None of those pins have an upward delta device with a star, also pointing upward, in the center of them. That insignia was just for the Enterprise crew, and the star inside the stylized delta represented command crew. A real fan will know what the two other symbols inside the delta were, and what they represented. The Air Force Space Command insignia does have a delta pointing upward, and that has been acknowledged to be a Star Trek reference. There is your bit of trivia for today.

Tricorder?

Facebook – Stonekettle Station

Stonekettle Station has a tricorder. Well, almost a tricorder. If the device captured all measurable energy in the recording field and not just the visible light, they’d have a tricorder. The future is now.

In the science-fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor (environment) scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

On May 10, 2011, the X Prize Foundation partnered with Qualcomm Incorporated to announce the Tricorder X Prize, a $10 million incentive to develop a mobile device that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board-certified physicians.[12] On Jan 12, 2012, the contest was officially opened at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.[13][14] Early entrants to the competition include two Silicon Valley startups,[15] Scanadu and Senstore, which began work on the medical tricorder in early 2011.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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A Tribute To René Auberjonois

TriAngulum Audio StudiosBack Trek- A Tribute To René Auberjonois – Dec 9, 2019

…He might have first run across René Auberjonois in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I will always think of him in his role from the series Benson, the only spin-off from one of my favorite TV shows, SOAP, and the only other character aside from the title character from SOAP that was really memorable. I had forgotten that he played Father Mulcahy in the movie version of M*A*S*H. I’ll miss him and the others from Trekdom who have left us over the last few weeks. It has been a rough year.

Admiral Titan EntertainmentBenson – Season 4 Ep. 8 – Mar 8, 2018

How did I not know that Ethan Phillips was also in Benson?