TNG at 20: The Voyage Continues

26-Sep-07 6:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Twenty years ago this autumn, I was a sophomore in college. I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) with friends. While most of us were fans of speculative fiction, we had little idea of how entertaining and influential TNG would become.

I had grown up on the writings of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, but I had watched the original 1960s Star Trek only in reruns. During freshman year, I had fought for the dorm lounge television with people who preferred The Late Show With David Letterman over some old show with people wearing colorful pajamas, odd makeup, or both. But we were a small but dedicated band, and we made it to the stars. Among the friends I met then was my future wife.

Over the course of many late nights and foosball games, I learned about the United Federation of Planets, its Starfleet, and the Prime Directive that forbade its explorers from interfering in the internal affairs or development of alien worlds. The so-called "Wagon Train to the stars" combined Westerns with ray guns, and mythology with scientific speculation.

By the time TNG began, I was indeed a Trekkie — or "Trekker," as some prefer — having learned the cant among the franchise's fans: phasers, warp speed, and the Vulcan nerve pinch and salute. Of the eventual six movies with the space opera's original cast, the best two — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and IV: The Voyage Home — had already been released. Thanks to magazines such as Starlog and various "technical manuals," I learned about transporters and Jeffries tubes (the access tunnels throughout starships, named after an original series art director). Around Thanksgiving of 1987, I would attend my first science fiction convention, one run by Creation Entertainment in New York.

It's also worth remembering the context into which this Enterprise was launched — that, despite the success of multimedia franchises such as Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, there was little genre entertainment on television at that time. As we look forward to 2007's premieres of Heroes, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica: Razor, among others, note that 20 years ago, there was only Stephen Spielberg's anthology Amazing Stories, horror drama Friday the 13th: the Series, and another Earth-based movie spin-off, Starman. Weak visual effects, even weaker writing, and a lack of interest among mainstream viewers and networks had doomed all but the U.K.'s Doctor Who to short lifespans or syndication.

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TNG at 20: Where, Oh Where, Has My Little Spock Gone?

24-Sep-07 4:30 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

It was the best of generations, it was the worst of generations. Finally, after so many years, Star Trek was returning to our homes. The excitement was tangible: the teaser clips showed this wonderful (albeit strange-looking) new Enterprise, one that made Kirk's Enterprise seem like the family runabout. But never mind all that — it was Star Trek!

However, not all was breathless anticipation. All our favorite characters were gone. (Or so we thought!) How could it be Star Trek without Spock? And what on Earth(!) was this rumor that a Klingon was part of the crew!

Nevertheless, when the big night finally arrived, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from the TV! In the opening sequence, I mourned the loss of the haunting theme from the original series and groaned at the politically correct change to, "Where no one has gone before…" And as the episode progressed, my fears deepened as it turned into the type of episode I always liked least — some omnipotent being ("Q") was playing havoc with the laws of time and space. I wanted science fiction, not fantasy!

But there were highlights, too. It almost brought tears to my eyes when Admiral McCoy came aboard, providing a physical, connecting link to the past. (Little did we know that Spock and Scotty would also reappear.) The new Enterprise was a work of art, much more streamlined than the old model (so very important in the vacuum of space…), though it still suffered from the same inexplicable ability to provide seatbelts for the bridge crew! The computer still had the same wonderful "voice", another link with the past. The computer consoles were beautiful, as was Counselor Cleavage, err, Troi.

Eventually the episode ended, and for all my misgivings about the changes (Data was no Spock!), I knew I would be back next week. Well, mostly. I'm ashamed to admit I missed some of the early episodes, but a strange thing happened as the series progressed. I found I was growing to like the new characters in their own right, and I was enjoying their interactions and personalities. And an even stranger thing happened. My wife, a profoundly non-SF person, was also enjoying the series. (It didn't hurt getting to watch Will Riker each week!) They had managed to make the show appeal to more than just the Trekkies out there.

The rest (of the future of the future) is history. The Next Generation (and the other Star Trek spin-offs) were not the prime-time success in Australia that they were in the USA, leading to unusual broadcast schedules. I was often forced to watch or record episodes at midnight (or later!) — but watch them all I did. I grew to love the show, and like many people I believe it was the best of all the Star Treks. Certainly I grew to feel that the crew members were part of a family, one I was almost a part of myself. I laughed with them, worried for them, and yes, even cried with them. Picard was an outstanding captain — far better than Kirk, IMHO. Worf taught us all about "honor". And Data was a wonderful character for the scriptwriters to "play" with.

But he never did supplant Spock as one of my favorite non-humans of all time.

Peter Watson is old enough to remember watching the original Star Trek at home in Australia in glorious black-and-white. As a software engineer he gets to hang out with other people who know something about Star Trek. Visit his Web site at http://www.peter-watson.net/


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

Qapla!

18-Jan-07 11:28 AM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 5 comments.

Klingon culture has invaded our media — news, print, and film:

On Comedy Central, Jon Stewart reported on Representative David Wu's likening of the White House administration to faux Klingons. A couple of guest commentators from the original series provided hilarious lampoons of Wu, themselves, and pop culture. Beyond the obvious humor, though, is Wu to be commended or criticized for speaking the people's language in the House of Representatives? Is he effectively hip to pop culture, or is he dumbing down American politics? More important: would Wu's comparison have been strengthened by substituting Cardassians for Klingons?

Meanwhile, if last week's TRON comic book didn't sate your geek appetite, perhaps this week's TNG comic book will.

Further, the silver screen seems to be sporting a new film about 300 bloodthirsty, aggressive, barbaric Klingons defending Qo'noS against the Hur'q. Doubtless we'll be subjected to bat'leths, mek'leths, and many other pointy sources of violence.

Finally, my favorite Klingon joke:

Why did Worf color his hair?

… Because it was a good day to dye!!

Yes, I know — that's a joke deserving of Hegh'bat