Monday, 12 August 2013

Prologue: Star Trek (Overall)

The Original Series lineup.
Written 5/5/13

Star Trek is one of those shows where there is very little middle-ground. You're either a fan, or you're not. The show was arguably the originator of modern fandom, fertilised by its extensive continuity and the sheer weight of it. Doctor Who may hold the record for longest-running sci-fi franchise, but in terms of material it's about a literal week's worth of TV behind Star Trek, with over 700 episodes over 28 seasons of five different shows, as well as twelve movies in two different continuities.
    It first began in the late 60s, alongside Patrick Troughton's Doctor. Gene Roddenberry had a utopian vision of the future, a society in which humanity had abolished nationality, race and economy and had instead joined together in humanistic harmony in order to travel across the stars. Still wanting to display some contempory issues, Roddenberry used alien races as analogues for 1960s political powers. Humans were the US, Vulcans were Europe, the Klingons were the USSR, the Romulans were Communist China and so on. The series focussed around the USS Enterprise and its crew, led by Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) and First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) as they boldly went where no man had gone before.
     Like Doctor Who in the UK, the Original Series of Star Trek gained a cult following in the US psyche. However, much sooner than its British counterpart, the fans of Trek were maligned into a sub-class of nerddom - the Trekkies. The image became one of obsessive fans pouring over a hokey old TV show with bad special effects - a show that was cancelled after four seasons. This didn't much change when Roddenberry and several other key figures revived the show in 1987, as Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show breathed new life into the franchise, with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) becoming the franchise's new face.
     If you ask an everyman, The Original Series and The Next Generation are probably what is seen as "Star Trek". But after the success of Next Gen, several more shows were created. In 1993, we saw the advent of space-station-based Deep Space Nine, which was more focussed on long story arcs. In 1995, they replaced  TNG with Voyager, a show that followed a ship whisked away to the other side of the Galaxy and making the journey home. Both had different ensemble casts and both had their strengths and weaknesses. Deep Space Nine and Voyager are my two favourite Star Trek shows, and I'll be reviewing both of their premiere seasons.
Patrick Stewart heads up the Next Generation lineup.
     After Voyager ended, the production team tried to reinvent the show by setting their next spin-off, Enterprise, as a prequel to the Original Series. The result was a show that had a hell of a lot of problems, and while it improved near the end, the show's earlier shortcomings saw it cancelled in 2005 after four seasons. With the last continuous Trek movie airing in 2002, we entered a Wilderness period, only broken by the J.J. Abrams reboots. (Which I've already spoken on elsewhere.)
     In a few weeks time, I'll begin my reviews, on Thursday, of the first season of Star Trek Voyager. If you're interested, I'll see you there.


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