What if Then was Now? Part 1

The Captains TOS to ENT

Back in the good old days, you had around six months of new Star Trek coming at you week after week, for between three to seven years, with the average season length being 26 episodes.

There was the odd deviation now and again, particularly with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, but their one or two truncated seasons were the exception not the rule.

Nowadays, regardless of genre, we’re used to between six and fifteen episodes a season, depending on the show.  Some network television entries might go for 22 or more episodes a season, but most of us are streaming our content these days to escape the ads and the general drivel the networks cook up.

Shorter seasons usually means there are no ‘filler’ episodes, and it means we can binge like crazy people on our favourite series’if that is our desire.

For a few months now I’ve been wondering what each incarnation of Star Trek would look like, season after season, if they were limited to say a twelve episode order every year?

Which episodes would make it and which wouldn’t?

If we’re honest with ourselves, every Star Trek series has a bunch of outstanding episodes, a handful of good episodes, a decent whack of average episodes, and few real clunkers.  Would it be possible to put together a shortened version of every season of each series that still served our characters and kept the overall themes of Star Trek intact, and still be good viewing?

As a bit of a mental exercise I thought I’d give it a shot, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series I grew up on.

The only rules I applied to the experiment were that the pilot and the finale episodes had to be part of the season order – but in those instances, those seasons would be thirteen episodes long rather than twelve.  So, Encounter at Farpoint and All Good Things stay in, no matter what.  I also felt that it would be a good idea to re-order the odd episode, so long as the pilot and finale were left untouched.

Following is my take on Season 1 of TNG.  Depending on the response to this, we might tackle Season 2 in a week or so, or jump over to TOS, DS9, VOY or ENT to shake things up a little.

Please note that the episodes synopses are totally tongue in cheek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1
13 Episode Order

If Then Was Now Experiment Part 1

Star Trek Encounter at Farpoint

Episodes 1 & 2
Encounter at Farpoint
The iconic crew of the USS Enterprise-D come together to play with space jelly-fish, while visiting a futuristic shopping-mall and dodging an eccentric omnipotent being intent on putting humanity on trial for crimes against the known universe.  You know, things like the Kardashians, reality TV in general, the new Star Wars movies, and super-sized meal deals.

Star Trek Where No One Has Gone Before

Episode 3
Where No One Has Gone Before
The Enterprise is thrown into deep space thanks to an arrogant idiot and his enigmatic bestie (who thinks Wesley is the sweetest thing since peanut butter and chocolate met and made babies).  Off camera, someone releases some happy juice into the water supply and everyone starts to hallucinate.

Why include this episode?  There are some strong moments in this episode, and it’s an interesting idea that I personally enjoyed.  Plus, the Traveller pops up again later in the series to explain why Wesley goes away.

Episode 4
The Battle
A Ferengi puts a big pink bow on an old starship, the USS Stargazer, and gives it to Picard for Valentines Day.  Picard, still affected by the previous episode’s happy juice, starts to hallucinate again.  Tripping out, he jumps into his pressie and attacks the Enterprise for a laugh.

Why include this episode?  It gives us some pretty important back story on the character of Picard, and is a better introduction to the Ferengi than The Last Outpost.

Lwaxana and Deanna

Episode 5
Haven
A box with an animated face vomits jewels all over the Transporter Room and tells Deanna she’s about to get married.  Deanna’s mother, Lwaxana Troi, pops in for a visit soon after, with Deanna’s intended and his family, just as a bunch of disease ridden space hippies turn up and start talking about dreams.  Meanwhile, Riker does a lot of sulking and Lwaxana’s assistant does a lot of drinking. If anyone needed a good drink, it was probably Deanna and Picard!

Why include this episode?  One word.  Lwaxana.  If you want two words, Lwaxana Troi.  Deanna barely gets anything to do in the first season, and this is a nice episode that lets her character shine and gives us some of her back story.

Episode 6
Lonely Among Us
Pussy cats hate on a bunch of reptiles as an alien energy being possesses Beverly, but quickly jumps ship into Worf because she’s wearing some truly hideous eye wear.  Growing bored of Worf and frightened his persistent scowl might leave worry lines, it hops into Picard and shoots lightening at everyone, while doing its best to convince Picard he should beam himself off the ship as energy and into a nearby space cloud.

Why include this episodeLonely Among Us is pretty universally derided, but it does establish the whole “Bev can sack the Captain” concept and I actually enjoy watching the crew scramble to try and stay ahead of their possessed Captain.

Episode 7
The Naked Now
Everyone gets space-drunk on a familiar virus, while Wesley and some other guy play pick up sticks with engineering’s isolinear chips.  Meanwhile, Tasha and Data get jiggy with it, and a big shiny star fragment tries to get jiggy with the Enterprise.

Why include this episode?  I like it.  A lot of fans don’t, but I do.  I enjoy the stuff between Beverly and Picard and I get what the writing staff were trying to do: by seeing the crew in varying states of vulnerability, we learn a little something about them.  The episode just appears a little too early in the series run.

Episode 8
Datalore
The Enterprise finds another Data, called Lore, who might be a smidge psychotic.  Beverly discovers Data has an off switch, while her son thinks there’s something a little suss about Lore who likes to grin a lot and use contractions.  While all of this is going on, a big crystal snowflake that made friends with Lore ages ago turns up and tries to eat everyone.

Why include this episode?  Beverly gets to shoot someone.  Plus, this is possibly the best episode in the whole first season, besides The Big Goodbye.  Lore would go on and become a really interesting character, responsible for some excellent future episodes, and his introduction deserves a place in this shorter season one.

Episode 9
Heart of Glory
A bunch of feral Klingons with testosterone patches whacked all over their bodies, tell Worf he’s a sissy and then try to get him to help them steal the Enterprise.

Why include this episode?  It’s a great Worf episode, bringing his character to the forefront in a season where he doesn’t have a lot to do.  Also, I really love the camera work in the end, when the Klingon falls.  Nice work, Rob Bowman.

Star Trek The Big GoodbyeEpisode 10
The Big Goodbye
Picard, Beverly and Data skive off work and hit the Holodeck for some much needed rest and recreation.  Calling up one of Picard’s favourite programs, based on an old series of novels, they pretend to be in the 1940’s.  Eventually, the bad guys from the novel find out about the Enterprise and want to take it and the whole galaxy over.  Wesley saves the day, because why not?

Why include this episode?  It’s a great episode, and it’s the only Star Trek episode to ever win a Peabody Award.  On top of that, it won an Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Series.

Merritt Butrick

Episode 11
Symbiosis
Captain Kirk’s son has a bumpy nose and is a junkie.  Diana’s right hand man from the original V TV Series, who, funnily enough, was also Khan’s right hand man from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is an ass about it.  The Enterprise crew get to pontificate a bit and look all smug and superior.

Why include this episode?  It’s not a bad little episode that builds the tension really well, and it stars Merritt Butrick who played Captain (Admiral) James T. Kirk’s son in two Star Trek feature films.  Merritt would, tragically, die a year later from toxoplasmosis, complicated by the AIDS virus.  The message is still relevant today, and there are incredibly strong performances throughout.

Episode 12
Skin of Evil
Deanna crash lands on a planet where a really nasty oil slick with some serious issues lives.  The oil slick torments the crap out of the Enterprise crew before killing Tasha Yar.

Why include this episode?  I loved Tasha, and this is a great episode that really hits you.  Plus, we need to explain why Tasha doesn’t appear in future seasons.

Episode 13
The Neutral Zone
The Enterprise bumps into a really old probe with a bunch of frozen people in it.  They were all about to die from something yuck, so Bev takes care of it and now they need to try and adjust to 24th Century life.  Meanwhile, the Romulans drop in for coffee and to show off their really awesome shoulder pads. They get a bit angsty about some outposts of theirs and threaten our crew with a full Romulan makeover.

Why include this episode?  All things considered, it wasn’t a terrible end to the first season.  Most importantly though, it reintroduces the Romulans who will go on to play a major part at varying points throughout the series.

There’s not much you can do with the first season of TNG. I don’t mind it, but it’s not great.

There are a few episodes I quite like that I didn’t include in this season, simply because they go and set up something interesting but those ideas are never followed through.  Namely, Coming of Age and Conspiracy.

Other episodes weren’t included simply because they didn’t really do much for the characters, or for the overall series.

The above is far from perfect, but at the very least it’s watchable.

What would your picks be for a shortened season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Let me know, and I’ll stick them in a post.

Until next week, where we might take a look at season two or jump to another series, Live Long and Prosper.

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A Future To Believe In

50-years-launch-50-more-v2

Now that Star Trek is officially 50 years old (having celebrated its actual birthday a few days ago), it’s a good time for a die hard Trekker to reflect on his or her love of that particular universe – and why it continues to mean something to them years after their first exposure to it.

I’ve been in the middle of that process for a few months now, ever since the announcement of Star Trek: Discovery.  The recent release of Star Trek Beyond intensified it for me, and I decided to start talking to other Trekkers to see if I could find a common theme around what makes so many of us love Star Trek and keep loving it.

What I learned was Star Trek does two things really well, and both of those things resonate strongly with long-term fans:

  1. Star Trek shows us a future that’s worth fighting for, that’s worth dreaming about, and that’s worth wanting to help shape, and;
  2. Star Trek is a really intimate and personal experience for every single person who loves it, and that, possibly, is it’s greatest magic.

That second point is a frustrating one if you’re a show runner.  Star Trek does have a formula of sorts, but it’s a really hard one to get right.  Without exception, fans want challenging storylines that are provocative and insightful – which is scary for a show that needs to make money because, as Gene Roddenberry learned the hard way, you’re bound to piss someone off and risk alienating a segment of your audience.  Fans want a meaningful relationship with the characters which means you must get two things right straight off the bat – the writers room and the casting process.  Fans want it a little dark without losing the hopeful future Star Trek promises us… and despite craving intelligent science fiction we want that science fiction all wrapped up with pretty action set pieces that are full of amazing (and expensive) visual effects.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people about Star Trek these last few months, and for every single person there was always a deeply personal story attached to their love… “Star Trek was my ‘safe space’ when I broke up with my husband…” “Star Trek got me through bullying when I was a kid…” “Star Trek is what got me into the military…” “Star Trek was the thing that helped me set my moral compass…”

Those often amazing conversations showed me that while all of the above about challenging storylines and great VFX is true, the actual core ingredients are the characters and their dynamic.

Star Trek has a ‘secret sauce’, and that ‘sauce’ is its characters who are our conduit into that universe and it’s vision for tomorrow.

What I loved most, while talking to fellow fans, was that the characters who resonated with them weren’t always the obvious ones.  Yes, I heard a lot of Kirk love, Spock love, McCoy love, Picard love, Data love, Siski, Kira, Janeway, Seven, Archer, T’Pol and Trip love, but I also heard a lot of Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, Geordi, Beverly, Deanna, Wesley, Quark, Jake, Odo, Dax, Chakotay, the Doctor, B’Elanna, Kes, Neelix, Harry, Hoshi, Malcolm, Phlox and Mayweather love.

In the original series, some of those characters never got the chance to say more than “Aye sir,” and “Hailing frequencies open, Captain,” yet they still effected people – and more often than not, deeply.  Why?  Because they were representative.  Sometimes in obvious ways – Uhura was a woman in a position of power and a black woman at that, Sulu was an Asian who wasn’t a normal 1960s stereotype, and Chekov was a Russian at a time when the US and Russia didn’t have a lot of love for each other… but they weren’t just representative in that way.  Uhura was an expert and a woman in command who could come out and honestly say “Captain, I’m frightened.”  Chekov was a whiz kid whose emotions were always written clearly on his face.  Sulu had a cheeky and sometimes sardonic sense of humour that now and again seemed to say “you’re a complete dick, Captain.”  Watch some of the original episodes and listen to Sulu’s responses to Kirk or Scotty when they give a command that seems to defy common sense.  Both Uhura and Chekov do that at times also.  These characters were representative of real emotion, sometimes overtly expressed, sometimes subtlety conveyed, and we fell in love with them because of that.

Those human moments in a show that was so different to anything else on television, delivered by personalities we could relate to, gave us an ‘in’ to Gene Roddenberry’s universe.

For me, it was McCoy, Uhura and Spock.  They were my pathway into the original Star Trek.  Beverly, Deanna, Wesley and Geordi my conduits into Next Gen.  Jadzia and Bashir my way into DS9.  Janeway, Kes, Chakotay and the Doctor my door into Voyager, and T’Pol, Phlox and Malcolm my way into Enterprise.  Each of those characters had qualities I possessed or aspired to possess and they resonated with me and still do today.

I grew up in the sort of neighbourhood where every week someone was stabbed, bashed, and in someway victimised, and as a child I needed something that showed me a future full of intelligent, compassionate people who fought to get rid of those horrific things from people’s lives.

When I was bullied at school, Star Trek was my retreat.  I could lose myself in that world and dream of a future that was brighter than the one I saw for myself.

As I hit my teenage years and then adult years, Star Trek started to shape my morals as a person and many of the idealistic concepts in Star Trek still guide me today – particularly IDIC and the idea that we are stronger together.

I became an actor in my late teens because I wanted to go to Los Angeles and get cast in Star Trek.  I did make it to Los Angeles, but never got the chance to be in Star Trek because I made it there a year or two after Enterprise went off the air.

I became a professional Counsellor because of Deanna Troi.  Even though I’m a guy, Deanna and her profession spoke to me and though we barely ever got to see her do any real work as a psychologist, I still invoke her preternatural calm and warmth when working with clients.

I’ve always known that Star Trek was one of the most important influences in my life, but I’d never really spent a great deal of time wondering why.

This year seemed to demand it, and I’m glad I spent a little time exploring and reflecting on what Star Trek means to me and why it’s still the world I retreat into when I need to recharge.

There are so many quotes and examples I could provide to illustrate all the ways in which Star Trek has affected me, too many actually, so instead I’ll just choose a few…

Kirk’s statement in The Final Frontier, that he needs his pain.  That speech still effects me to this day.  Our pain, our failures, and how we deal with them all, defines us.  There are so many experiences in my life that I wish had never happened to me, but I cannot deny their impact and how they have strengthened and shaped me.

Kira’s dedication to her spiritual life mirrored my own journey to understand some of the indefinable but poignant experiences we all encounter in life.

It was something similar with Chakotay.  His spiritual life and journey, though often mired in stereotype, was beautiful and I loved that it was included, but the fact he was a physically strong and imposing, but deeply spiritual and sensitive man was what hit me like a sledgehammer.  It hit me deeply, in the same way the startlingly beautiful and noble Uhura did and in the same way the generous, calm and gracious Deanna did.  As a 6’2″ guy who’s been described as physically intimidating, but who is softly spoken and by nature a pretty caring bloke, it was fantastic to see a man on TV who was also all of those things, and who chose to use his presence not to constantly threaten and intimidate but to nurture and support.  It was what I needed to see and it came at a time in my life where I was in danger of going off the rails.

You might be thinking… “hold on, what about Riker?”

Will was always a little too ‘big’ a personality for me to connect with.

Star Trek is unique in its ability to craft characters that are universal but speak to each individual viewer.  If there’s one thing the creative teams behind each show and movie did really well, it was creating characters we can relate to.  I don’t know if they consciously tried to do that, but that’s what they did.

Each series and each film had its ups and downs story wise, but the characters were always exceptional.  Yes, Kes didn’t have a lot of room to grow and Neelix had the odd issue and could be pretty damn annoying, but by and large the characters are the thing that makes Star Trek shine.  At least in my opinion.

As we look forward to Star Trek: Discovery, with each of us no doubt carrying a small wish list around in our minds, I personally hope that the creative team behind the new series get the fact that no matter what, the characters are our way into this new version of the universe, and that Star Trek really is an important and intimate experience for each of us and that needs to be respected.

Yes, we want great stories and we want allegory and we want brilliant special effects, but if Star Trek is to succeed it needs incredible characters and it needs a way to inspire hope in us and allow us to link with the show in a way that is meaningful.  It needs to be something that mirrors all of us, in some way, and tries hard to be relevant to this generation of young people as they look around for heroes to aspire to be like.

Star Trek is important.  It’s important to me, it’s no doubt important to you if you’re reading this, and it’s important to the world.

What do we have on television now?  Zombie hunters who are now borderline sociopaths, families warring over a stupid iron throne and committing atrocious acts in their quest for power, families backstabbing each other over musical empires or political ambitions… there’s not a lot of hope, and there aren’t many shows demonstrating a different, better way to be.

Star Trek did that, and it can do it again.

I hope Bryan and Alex and everyone else involved with Star Trek: Discovery truly appreciate just how important Star Trek is at both that personal, intimate level, and that much bigger, aspirational level.

Bryan has said the world needs Star Trek now more than it ever has, so I think he does get it.  I hope he is able to realise his vision with the amazing creative team he’s assembled.

So thank you, Star Trek.  Thank you for shaping me, and for shaping so many amazing people I’ve met, and thank you for not being frightened of shining a light in the darkness – even when shining that light hasn’t been popular.

I’ve had enough of the depressing, sarcastic, angst-filled shows on television these days.  So many are so devoid of hope it’s depressing.  I need and I want something that challenges me intellectually, and I need and I want something that reminds me of just how amazing we are as a species.

The bright future Star Trek describes is the future I want, and it’s a future worth believing in.

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Happy Birthday Gene Roddenberry!

Gene Roddenberry

In Australia today, it’s the 19th of August, which means it’s the 18th everywhere else in the world, but you guys will catch up to us soon.

Why is the 19th of any interest to anyone?  Simple.  It’s Gene Roddenberry’s birthday.

So, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Star Trek fans in the great land ‘downunder’, I’d like to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GENE!  And THANK YOU.

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1921 and lived anything but a boring life.  He grew up in California, flew eighty-nine combat missions in the Army Air Forces during World War II, worked as a commercial pilot, was a police officer, and, of course, a writer.

Before Star Trek, Gene worked on more than twenty television shows in the 1950’s and 60’s, including Highway Patrol, Have Gun – Will Travel and The Detectives.  After the Enterprise’s three year voyage, he went on to develop Star Trek: The Animated Series, Genesis II, Planet Earth, The Questor Tapes, Spectre and of course Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was the last television show he wrote and produced before he journeyed to “the undiscovered country”.

Gene Roddenberry and the Enterprise in Shadow

His creative spark, however, lived on.  Not only in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise and a host of movies, but in two new productions.

After Gene’s passing in 1991, two of his ideas were further developed by his wife and turned into successful television series – Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda.

In recent years, especially since the passing of Majel Barrett Roddenberry in 2008, a lot of criticism has been leveled at Gene, with the most recent coming via original series star, William Shatner and his documentary Chaos on the Bridge, which takes a look at the dysfunctional first two years of the hit series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

To The Shat’s credit, he does a good job of attempting to create balance within his documentary, but there are certainly elements that do not paint Gene in the best of lights.

Despite the criticism, and despite some missteps, there is no doubt that Gene Roddenberry was onto something, and that he had a passion for human evolution and forcing us to look – sometimes uncomfortably – at ourselves and society.

I could literally write pages on Gene and his impact, but won’t.  Plenty already have, and the only new perspective I can bring is to describe how Gene’s creation influenced my life.  Instead, I encourage you to take a little journey of your own to learn about this remarkable man.

If you’d like to learn more about Gene Roddenberry, whether it be Gene the visionary, Gene the contentious personality, Gene the complex creative person, or Gene the loving husband and father, the source material is almost endless.  A few good places to start can be found below:

Gene Roddenberry’s Wikipedia page.

Gene Roddenberry at Roddenberry.com.

Gene Roddenberry at Memory Alpha.

Regardless of how you feel about Gene, I hope you can join me in remembering the creative human being who gave us Star Trek, as we celebrate his birthday this year.

And, as a double bonus, it’s also the wonderful Jonathan Frakes’ birthday, the man who portrayed Commander William T. Riker (and Lieutenant Thomas Riker) for seven years on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in ‘Generations’, ‘First Contact’, ‘Insurrection’, ‘Nemesis’ and select episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.  If you’d like to read more about Jonathan, then check out his Wikipedia page right here.

As well as being a fine actor, Jonathan grew into an incredibly talented director while working on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Jonathan is responsible for the best two of the four TNG movies – Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.

Some fans don’t like Insurrection for one reason or another, but as a working actor I love it for the beautiful moments it creates between its lead characters, and as a working director I love it because it’s quite simply a beautiful, intimate and gorgeously structured piece of work.  Despite how fans feel about ‘Insurrection’, I feel safe in saying that it stands head and shoulders above Generations and Nemesis.

If you’d like to explore more of Jonathan’s work as an actor and director, then visit his IMDb page right here.

Jonathan Frakes

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