Star Trek has always been primarily a TV show. That’s how it started back in 1966, and that’s how sci-fi fans knew it between The Next Generation’s Encounter At Farpoint in 1987, through to Enterprise’s These Are The Voyages… in 2005.
To put that into perspective, a child born during the first year of The Next Generation would have been an adult by the time the premature final season of Enterprise transmitted, with a Star Trek series being on air for every year of their life. In my book, that makes it an institution then, but one that’s had its time on the small screen.
I have always had an on and off relationship with the show that Gene Roddenberry masterminded. Back in the mid 80s, BBC2 used to show the classic original series, then quite correctly just called Star Trek, after tea on a week day, in the same time slot that they showed other 60s classics like Mission: Impossible.
My dad was a big fan of these shows, so the ritual became that after dinner, we would end up in the living room, digesting our Chicken Kievs and Birds Eye Potato Waffles in the company of Gorn Warriors and Orion Slave Girls.
By this time, I was already a massive fan of Doctor Who and Star Wars, so you would have thought I would have lapped up some more space opera action, but for some reason, the show never grabbed me in the same way.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the stories, and sat down to watch them in the same way I might enjoy something like Law & Order: UK now, but my other favourite TV shows fired my imagination, and got me to read books and think up my own stories about them – something I never felt with Star Trek.
This was about the time that I began to get my independence a little bit, and my friends and I used to visit the cinema almost every week, travelling on the bus (5p a ticket) to Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre near Sheffield. To us, this was like Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, full of wild temptations like arcades, girls and McDonald’s. Here it was that I saw many classic films, and some less than classic, from Batman and Back To The Future Part II, through to The Delinquents and Weekend At Bernie’s.
One movie we did all enjoy, however, was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Despite being roundly criticised as a bit of a stinker, at the time, I loved it.
For some reason, the rather stuffy characters from the original series were replaced by humorous, friendly individuals, and their adventures pitted against CSO webs and men with moustaches became believable battles against traitorous family members and gods. Locations like the desert outpost at Nimbus III and Yosemite became indelibly etched on my young mind, and at that point, I fell in love with Star Trek.
A few months later, BBC2 started to show The Next Generation, and by this time, I was sure I was a Trekkie. I had devoured the previous films with the assistance of my local video store and some of my friends, and had adored them all, in particular The Voyage Home and The Wrath Of Khan, which haunted my dreams for weeks with images of mind-controlling worms.
I used to wolf down my dinner (I think we had progressed to Spaghetti Bolognese by that point) and ran upstairs to the gargantuan portable TV in my parents’ room to watch the latest adventures of Picard and company.
And after a while, I got bored.
I loved Encounter At Farpoint, and meeting the new crew and ship, but each subsequent story seemed to get more and more dull, with the end result being that, shortly after the second series, I gave up. By then I had found Quantum Leap – much more my cup of tea.
I tried again with the launch of Deep Space Nine. By then an avid magazine reader, I jumped on any article about the show I could find, and could describe the whole crew of the space station before I had seen a minute of footage. My friend was lucky enough to have Sky, so this time around, there was no waiting for the BBC to pick up the rights a year later; he taped the first episode and we watched it together the next day, and once again I was in love. For about a month.
A couple of years later, with Voyager, it was the same story – I got the video tape of the final episode of The Next Generation and the pilot for Voyager, and loved them both. However, my experiences past these event episodes were restricted to catching the occasional instalment on BBC2 again. You could blame my narrow attention span, but at the same time I was lapping up every Doctor Who story I could get on video, some of which were much more creaky and old-fashioned than anything Star Trek ever broadcast.
Fast-forward to the 2001 launch of Enterprise, and I was just as excited as I had been eight years earlier. Here was a new Star Trek series, set before Kirk, with Sam Beckett in the Captains seat! Once again, I purchased the video so I could see the pilot episode before anyone else, once again, I loved it and, by this time, having Sky myself, avidly followed the first few episodes, until once again it stopped working for me.
Meanwhile, another trip to the cinema provided possibly my favourite couple of hours ever in the Star Trek world – First Contact. It was an absolutely fantastic rollercoaster of a movie, with space battles, scary monsters, pathos and comedy providing everything that was missing, for me, from the majority of TV episodes. There were some exceptions, like the Best Of Both Worlds two-parter, but again, this just served to prove the point that the ‘event’ stories were the only ones worth watching.
When Enterprise was taken off the air in 2005, I wasn’t particularly bothered, but I did feel that it was a good concept gone slowly to waste. Aside from some occasional references to new technology, I didn’t get any sense of the ship being the first ever human interstellar craft, and the storylines just seemed to be the same thing we were getting on Voyager, with a different crew. Most of whom I wasn’t particularly interested in spending time with.
Star Trek was pretty much dead, until, of course, the JJ Abrams movie came along. I know it has come in for a lot of stick from certain areas of fandom, but once again, I adored it. It provided the sense of scale that I think is missing from most TV episodes. Huge battles and explosions, cavernous ships and locations, a crew under pressure, and some mind-boggling ideas.
The humour, as well, was something I had missed from most of the TV stories. Not humour as in, “Oh, look at Spock’s/Data’s/Seven of Nine’s/T’Pol’s lack of understanding of human traits – how comical! Roll credits”, but instead, genuine, warm humour that comes from chemistry between characters, which, in my opinion, has been rare since the original crew movies.
So, those are my thoughts anyway. Feel free to disagree most forcefully below. Your idea of what makes Star Trek may be completely different from mine, but to me, it is all about the awe of exploration, of the danger and wonders out there in the dark vacuum of space, and how we can face it with our friends, plus a degree of bravery and optimism.
Those aspects are best expressed with a two-hour running time and sizeable budget, not through another little show where one of the crew gets possessed by an ethereal alien and acts slightly strangely, or where the holodeck malfunctions once again, and we have to have a cowboys-and-Indians themed romp, where the regulars get to dress up.
If you’re listening, the Ghost of the Great Bird, please keep Star Trek away from television screens and on the big screen where it belongs. Oh, and if you must bring it back to TV, keep Russell Watson well away.
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