What’s Wrong With Star Trek

CAUTION: What follows is incredibly geeky. There are also spoilers for upcoming episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise and Battlestar Galactica. Continue with caution…

TrekToday is announcing that two characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation are planning to appear on Star Trek: Enterprise. Already Brent Spiner, who played the android Data on TNG has appeared on Enterprise, but as a different character. Jonathan Frakes (Riker) and Marina Sirtis (Troi) are rumored to be appearing on the season (and likely series) finale of Enterprise.

Now all they need to do is have Henry Winkler put on a spacesuit and hyper-jump over a space shark and the utter humiliation of Star Trek will be complete.

It’s not that Frakes and Sirtis are bad actors or their characters are terrible, they managed to pull off some good work in their 7 years on TNG, it’s the fact that Enterprise has to resort to this sort of stunt casting at all. It’s the fact that Star Trek as a whole has completely and utterly lost sight of what made it so popular in the first place.

All good drama is about one thing: characters. Why did the original Star Trek become an international phenomenon? It wasn’t because of rubber suited aliens or spaceships firing beams made by scratching the emulsion on the film — it was because people saw how the crew of the fictional spaceship Enterprise interacted and found some common ground with them. Generations of boys wanted to be like Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock. The situations of the show, simplified as they were, had resonance with their audience.

With the exception of the rather good Xindi arc in the third season, where is the relevance of Enterprise? This season has been a string of okay concepts, but mainly nods to fans. The opening evil alien Nazi arc was absolute crap. Indeed, the entire series has been a string of largely missed opportunities. Granted, Enterprise was planned just before 9/11 — but imagine if they’d run the Xindi arc in Season 2 rather than 3. Imagine if this arc were about the Romulan War, a key part of Star Trek‘s backstory. What if the Romulan War was a war that some felt was a war of choice because we’d chosen to explore deep space and gotten ourselves into the mess? What if the crew of the Enterprise, having just survived the Xindi ordeal found themselves one again having to fight rather than explore? What if the crew was split over whether we should be fighting the Romulans at all? That’s just one potential storyline with relevance and character drama. There’s an entire galaxy of them out there — sadly what we’re getting are the same old stories we’ve seen at least four times before now.

Contrast that with the “reimagined” Battlestar Galactica. The new BSG works because the characters are interesting, the plots are deftly written, and the producers have taken a stance against the technobabble that curses SF today. Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore has specifically stated that he doesn’t want the kind of particle ex machina plotting of recent Star Trek — and given that Moore was one of the writers responsible for the best of TNG and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he knows what he’s talking about. So it doesn’t matter how the Cylons managed to track the Galactica every 33 minutes — that’s a distraction from the story — the real story is what happens when 50,000 people are being chased by an enemy that’s kept them from slowing down for 150 sleepless hours.

The upcoming episode of BSG is an emotionally draining story that takes Starbuck, a character who for the last few episodes has been abrasive and irritating, and completely breaks her. Everything in that character’s life falls apart – and there’s a moment where Starbuck (played by the impressive newcomer Katee Sackhoff) admits to Edward James Olmos’ brilliant Commander Adama a secret that she’d been hiding from him for some time. In that moment we not only get an Emmy-caliber performance from these two actors, but Moore and company completely changes our view of Starbuck. It is moments like that in which real human drama drives the story that brilliant television is made — and that moment is heart-wrenching and real. At that moment, it doesn’t matter that they’re on a spaceship on the run from evil machines. We feel for those characters, and when we feel for those characters it means that it’s much easier to suspend our disbelief at the trappings that surround them.

And that’s what Star Trek lacks – real character depth. Granted, we get glimmers of it, but the stories are still being driven by external events rather than the characters behind them. Star Trek has become afraid to take risks, and what you know that every episode is a giant reset button in which little changes, why bother? Even though the Xindi arc tried to undo that, it still didn’t quite be all that it could have been.

It’s time to let Star Trek rest and eventually bring it back with fresh new ideas. There’s plenty of excellent science fiction out there, and Battlestar Galactica is one of the best scripted one-hour dramas on TV of any genre. In comparison Star Trek has become stale and uninspiring. The vision that drove it for years seems tapped. It’s time for Star Trek to boldly go away for a while.

2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Star Trek

  1. Science fiction isn’t exempt from (good) fiction’s requirement that the characters change because of what they’ve encountered in the story. That’s one reason I can’t stand TV shows or book series – SF or otherwise – wherein the characters don’t change and it doesn’t matter what order you watch the episodes in or read the books in, because of the giant reset button.

  2. janra hasn’t watched much TV lately, or is watching all the wrong things (think, Law & Order).

    I was ready to write off Star Trek and let it rest, even with the excellent Vulcan arc this season – the Brent Spiner arc was just a rehash of the Khan idea, with rejects from a Billy Idol video. But last Friday was good, in a very original series kind of way. Not much character development, but a neat idea, well executed.

    I’m happy to let Enterprise stay on, though I’d love it if they’d be more risk taking and creative like Battlestar Galactica. As it is, Enterprise is comfortable and familiar, which means I’ll watch it – when convenient.

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