Even though I didn’t turn on my TV, Star Trek kept coming up this weekend

Several Star Trek posts caught my eye over the weekend, while I was mostly engaged in creating an annotated table of contents for The Mountain of Kept Memory so I could see the flow of events better without re-reading the whole manuscript, and then writing a new chapter 6, a new chapter 8, and outlining a new chapter 10. Tonight I will write chapter 10 . . . or most of chapter 10, at least, I hope . . . and then consider whether to break out a new chapter 20 or go back to the beginning and begin addressing the smaller elements of this revision. I must say, the book is getting to be longish, but when your editor asks you to add three or four new chapters, surely she expects that to happen?

Anyway, Star Trek posts:

I have to admit, I’m kinda amazed anybody would watch all of the Original Star Trek as an adult, but it’s quite true it would fill in otherwise gaping holes in your cultural knowledge.

This post is by Megan Geuss at Ars Technica, who also watched the animated series (There was an animated series?) and the movies and is still working her way through all the myriad Star Trek spinoff shows.

Geuss says, “These things made the animated series easier to get through than The Original Series. And, upon reflection, I think this is how I would introduce The Original Series to someone with zero knowledge of the early shows. The live-action episodes are too long and drag a bit too much. The movies don’t necessarily require that the viewer is familiar with the characters—but it helps a lot. But the animated series is easy to digest, fun, and still keeps most of the major characters. From there, you could move onto the live-action shows if you were so inclined, or cherry pick the best ones for a novice watcher. Then hit the movies—because, as I found out, the movies were what tied everything together and gave Star Trek real depth.”

I thought that was interesting, particularly as I honestly don’t recollect even the existence of the animated series. I do agree about the movies, though — I think they were mostly at a higher level than the Original Series episodes.

The other post I happened across was The Politics of Star Trek by Timothy Sandefur. This post is a bit bleak, I will say:

Star Trek’s latest iterations—the “reboot” films directed by J.J. Abrams—shrug at the franchise’s former philosophical depth. In 2009, Abrams admitted to an interviewer that he “didn’t get” Star Trek. “There was a captain, there was this first officer, they were talking a lot about adventures and not having them as much as I would’ve liked. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough.” His films accordingly eschew the series’ trademark dialogues about moral and political principles, and portray the young Kirk and crew as motivated largely by a maelstrom of lusts, fears, and resentments.

Which, okay, but . . . what I remember is an original series that was often really pretty bad, not to mention perhaps a bit shaky philosophically. Also, I have to say, I found the first Reboot movie basically a lot of fun. Granted, I haven’t seen the other Reboot movies, but still.

Having read both articles, I wouldn’t mind hearing what Sandefur might have to say about the Original Series episode “The Turnabout Intruder,” described thus by Geuss:

“The Turnabout Intruder” sees Captain Kirk switching bodies with mad scientist and scorned woman Dr. Janice Lester, who can’t control the ship in Kirk’s body because she’s too emotional and vindictive. Although Captain Kirk admits at the beginning of the episode that it’s not fair that women “can’t become starship captains,” (which was news to me although I had just finished almost 67 hours of living in the Star Trek world), the rest of the episode trips over itself trying to show that women really shouldn’t be in positions of power—they’re hysterical and dark creatures that want what they want without thinking about their responsibilities to those around them.

I don’t remember the episode at all, but it’s hard to see it as drawing on superior moral judgement.

The one Star Trek I am most likely to re-watch and then complete watching, since I never saw the whole thing: Deep Space Nine. And while I might have Sandefur’s comments in the back of my head from time to time, I would expect to enjoy it a lot more than most of the Original Series episodes. Quality of storytelling, acting, and even special effects do matter, aside from any overarching themes that may or may not be intrinsic to the show.

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3 thoughts on “Even though I didn’t turn on my TV, Star Trek kept coming up this weekend”

  1. I have the animated series on DVD. It’s better than it should be, but I really wouldn’t use it as an intro to the series. Anyone not from that era (and many who are) are unlikely to be able to tolerate cheap 70s animation: minimal motion, endlessly recycled shots and musical cues, frequently wooden performances (despite getting an astonishing number of the original cast members), every guest character being voiced by James Doohan, etc.

    The best of them is “Yesteryear”, which established Spock’s childhood solidly enough that some of it was recycled by Abrams. (But the kid playing young Spock…) There’s also a pretty good one that’s an adaptation of a Larry Niven Known Space story.

    (With the result that Niven’s Kzinti got incorporated into the Trek-based wargame Star Fleet Battles.)

    “Turnabout Intruder” was terrible, but it was also the series last gasp. And while nothing before it contradicts Janice Lester’s claim that women weren’t given commands in Starfleet (though we’d seen one woman XO), the story was really about her specifically being nuts rather than women in general.

    (It’s not even Trek’s worst stab at sexual politics. That honor goes to the DS9 episode “Profit and Lace”– a stain on the escutcheon of what’s probably my favorite Trek series.)

    But while I think Sandefur isn’t entirely wrong about the general trend, I think he misjudges the extent. In “Errand of Mercy”, Kirk is clearly supposed to be wrong about the Organians, and he’s wavering between war as unfortunate necessity (good) and actively wanting to fight (bad). Kirk is initially as offended as the Klingons at the Organians’ interference, until they gently point out that maybe a massive war with gigadeaths on both sides might be better avoided.

    I liked the first reboot movie, the sequel rather less. But both suffer from the fact that they think of Wrath of Khan as their template. WoK is great– probably the best of the lot. But Star Trek as such isn’t supposed to be primarily about villains and massive space battles, but about exploration and intelligent problem-solving. (Even in WoK, Kirk wins because he’s able to outthink the superman, not outgun him.)

    I think Abrams is likely to be a better fit for Star Wars, where villains and massive space battles are a lot closer to the central point.

  2. Coincidentally yesterday’s WSJ had an article about fan made shows, including Original Star Trek shows. Left me with an impression that some are pretty good, if an actor who can channel Shatner playing Kirk is a good thing and for this purpose it probably is.

    I am surprised at the franchise’s longevity mostly because I found Next Gen boring – always read through the ‘show’ part and would be distracted from the book by the commercial, and can’t remember my reaction to DS9 at all. Never tried the later ones, and the reboot movie, while fun was idiotic in plot elements. The characters were ok, though.

    If anyone is curious today at least, the WSJ article is here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/when-the-audience-makes-the-cameras-roll-1441657364?mod=rss_Leisure_and_Arts

  3. Mike, good to know that “Intruder” might have been terrible, but not as systemically terrible as Geuss’ impression. And if I ever do go into re-watching and finishing DS9, I will be prepared to flinch at “Profit and Lace.”

    Elaine, I totally agree the Roboot movie incorporated idiotic plot elements, but I honestly don’t expect much of movies in that department. I liked the characters, especially the young McCoy.

    Me, I think the best of Star Trek is contained in some of the tie-in novels, not in the TV shows or movies at all. But then I am so thoroughly biased in that department, I probably am about the worst possible judge.

    Thanks for the link.

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