Sunday, June 25, 2006

Star Trek

EDIT: When done reading what I had to say in 2006, please also read this where I basically tell myself I might be full of it. Thank you.  Now, back to the past:

I’ve been doing this blog for quite a while now, despite the intermittent regularity of my postings, and oddly enough, I have never indulged in any real rant about one of my very favorite subjects:
Star Trek.

It should be no big surprise that as a big geek I am into Star Trek. I am one of those people who attend conventions (at least when they are close), buy the season set DVDs, and yes, I have not one but two different Star Trek uniforms hanging in my closet (I have never worn them to jury duty however, and never to work without a very good reason). I don’t have any Star Trek tattoos however, and I do watch and enjoy other shows. I am also quite willing to point out Star Trek’s errors- we’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m just gonna talk about Trek for a while here; what I like and don’t like, why I’m into it, and why I consider myself a Trekker rather than a Trekkie.

I am not quite old enough to have watched Classic Trek during its first run. My first memories of the Starship Enterprise bounce between the animated series, the Gold Key comic books, and the occasional rerun. My Dad did like Trek though, and when I was about six gave me a battered copy (which I still own) of James Blish’s first “Star Trek Reader.” These collected a series of short story adaptations of the Classic show and induced me to run around with my disc firing phaser toy and a red sweatshirt.

For a while though, while I liked my Trek, my consciousness was overwhelmed by that other Star thing, the one George Lucas made. I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture with interest though, and got a real kick out of Star Trek II when it came out.

Then, my Dad bought me a Dungeons and Dragons set for Christmas, much to my mom’s chagrin. She felt it was evil and all, and I dove right into the idea of role playing (being a child of overactive imagination anyway) but was looking for something a bit more space oriented (always looking to the stars I was, never my mind on where I was…). At the local hobby and game shop, I saw on the shelf the Fasa “Star Trek: The Role-Playing Game.” My mom bought it for me to lure me away from spells and demons, and it worked. My little dice were rolling now to see if I made a successful transition from normal space to warp space rather than to see if my sword of ogre decapitation was working.

After this I plummeted headlong into the world of Trek. We rented videodiscs (not laserdiscs mind you, but the vinyl videodisc!) of classic episodes. I read the photonovels. I contacted other geeky fanboys through the mail (we had no internet boys and girls). As I grew I made up tales of my own origins in the 23rd century and a desperate mission back to the 20th century to save it from marauding Romulans. I watched the new movies, and finally got to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation when it debuted.

I was a fanboy, a Trekker, an A1 geekboy known in some circles as James T Spock Superstar. I was DM-ing a Trek RPG session the night Roddenberry died. I flirted with making my firstborn’s middle name Tiberius.

And then came post Roddenberry Trek. Here now, are my reviews of all the series under the name Star Trek.

Star Trek—Where it all began, a show that revolutionized Science Fiction and TV, and how a redneck raised boy in a backward community saw his world. Racism was an everyday thing for me until I got the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” And I don’t mean “got” as in “came into my possession, but as in “hit me in my understanding.” Arguing over skin color was stupid! Thank you Trek for helping me out with that.

I still watch and love my classic Trek. It’s an old friend whose every move I know, but I love those moves so much there’s not getting tired of it. If you can’t get over the effects or the very 60’s acting, examine the themes of these episodes. That’s what makes them great.
(Best Episode: “Where No Man Has Gone Before”)

Star Trek: The Animated Series—Hey- I dig it, and I really wish Paramount would quit screwing around and get this thing out on DVD. Sure, it was kiddie-fied, but with writers like DC Fontana, David Gerrold, Larry Niven, and even Walter Koenig- there are some jewels here. (Best Episode: “Albatross”)

Star Trek: The Next Generation—Didn’t think they could do it, but this also became a classic show, and did a fine job giving its own spin-offs. No, Jean-Luc Picard was no Jim Kirk, but he had his own verve, and it was big crowd that gathered at my house to watch “All Good Things” air. There were some bummers, but TNG is still great Trek and started a whole mess of good stuff.

Worf! Who doesn’t love Worf? He’s great, and brought his bad ass Klingon self to DS9 as well which gave a very nice feeling of continuity between the shows beyond the occasional guest appearance.
(Best Episode: “The Inner Light”)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—A slow first season with a lot of potential gave way to six successive season that made this the best television show ever. Ever- not just the best Trek, the best TV show ever. The cast was superb, the drama without equal, and despite claims of being a “grittier” show than its predecessors, it did what Trek does best; examine the Human Condition in the most adverse of circumstances. Yes, it showed war in the future, but it also showed human determination going against the odds to make that war end, and build a relationship with those we fought. Beyond that “The Visitor” is the most emotionally heart wrenching hour ever televised. What an incredible show.

And for the first time in SF history we were presented with a character who was a person of faith, and was not presented as ignorant or backward. Col. Kira followed the Prophets, and we got honest portrayals of how our faith can conflict with our knowledge, and how we work through that.

The cast of dozens gave a rich tapestry that one didn’t find on the other shows. Casey Biggs showed up and was initially billed as “Cardassian Bridge Officer.” Finally later he became “Damar.” He was Dukat’s right hand man. Then a drunken bureaucrat, then a traitor to Dukat, then Dukat’s puppet replacement, then a man devastated by his personal decisions, then a freedom fighter, liberator of the Cardassian people, and martyr. That’s a lot of character development for someone who wasn’t even a regular character!
(Best Episode: “The Visitor”)

Star Trek: Voyager— This is the show Trekkies like, while Trekkers look on in disdain. The less said the better, but: There are seven good episodes of Voyager, but I sometimes have a tough time remembering all of them. They emasculated the Borg, made inconsistent writing the norm, and ignored all technical continuity. They also managed to show that the some total of human evolution will not be the God-like entities other Trek showed us, but rather giant salamanders rutting in the mud. Mr. Braga, I will never forgive you for “Threshold.” Even the stars bagged on this shows writing. The producers also proved that they could improve ratings not by improving script quality, but rather by adding cheesecake. This will continue into the next show as well. Ugh, what a stinker. This is the only series I refuse to buy.

There were characters here to like- in one episode, Tuvok and Paris are teamed up and play off each other like a young Kirk and Spock- then, having struck relationship gold, the writers never put them together again. Robert Picardo was always entertaining as the Doctor. The rest of the cast just left me cold. Robert Beltrane at least admits to phoning in his performance due to lackluster scripts.

I ask this- why were so many stories resolved off screen? You have a crisis up to the last five minutes of the show, fade out, fade in, and everything’s all better. It’s funny that the best episodes were the ones that weren’t really about the crew…(Living Witness, Equinox, the one with the planet that spins really fast.)
(Best Episode: “Living Witness,” one of the seven good ones…)

Star Trek: Enterprise—I should hate this show. I should revile it as I do Voyager. It was created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who just never got Trek. It had a character who was used as eye candy at every opportunity. For three years it showed a flagrant disregard for the continuity of the other shows. And yet… I loved this show. The characters were genuine and likable. The actors were fun, the effects were great, and once the fourth season put them back on the continuity track, this became really good Trek. Of course, B&B got spiteful when they realized other writers were doing what they never could (making good entertaining episodes that completely fit continuity), and whined until UPN cancelled the show, and then B&B wrote Enterprise’s last, and worst, episode. Still, this show died before its prime, and I really wish I could see this gang together again.

Jolene Blalock was obviously not chosen for her acting skills. She was obviously going to be B&B’s new Seven of Nine. She was the only Vulcan on the show who wore a catsuit, despite seeing dozens of other Vulcans. She was there to look good. Yet… the girl pulled of this character wonderfully. During the first three seasons when we saw Vulcan Battlecruisers and commando teams (despite TNG saying Vulcans hadn’t built a weapon in 2000 years) Jolene played T’Pol as the quintessential Vulcan. Even when B&B tried to screw her up with episodes like The Seventh, Jolene made me believe in T’Pol. She was funny like Spock, yet pulled off a powerful undercurrent that showed the passions that flow beneath the Vulcan exterior. The poor girl was stripped naked at every opportunity, and still managed to keep the character’s dignity.*

Maybe a TV reunion movie? Huh Paramount? Please? One that erases the last episode from continuity?
(Best Episode: The fourth season’s Vulcan Story-Arc which gave a reasonable explanation for all of B&B’s Vulcan crap)

I didn’t get into the movies here, though I really like all of them except two: Generations, and Nemesis. Each of them had plot holes I could hide the Kobayashi Maru in. I am intrigued to see what JJ Abrams Trek will be like- but I hope they keep it in line with continuity, while examining the human condition. Oh, and there better be cool Starships…

*Let me not play too coy- a nude Jolene Blalock is a joy to behold, but I firmly believe that such things could have been done in a good Trek way. As an example I point out the oft maligned decon scene from the pilot episode. There’s important dialog between two major characters going on here, yet the focus is on two hot actors rubbing massage gel on each other in soft light. The camera follows Trip's hands over T’Pol’s curves like a porn film. Yet I contend the scene could have been identical with a single camera wideshot and full lighting, showing that these are professionals in the future where we have put hang-ups like gender in military service behind us. That would have made it Trek rather than exploitation.

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