Sunday, 27 June 2010

To Boldy Go Where No Man Has Gone Before...

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So this week I thought I would go with a subject that could be classed as a little bit more “adult” than Muppets and Transformers; my following of Star Trek.

Unlike most my other loves, Star Trek was passed down to me by my parents; both my mum and dad have always enjoyed watching the shows, and still do, and I, as a young child, would watch with them. While they have probably seen every episode, they never took the show too seriously from a fan perspective; I however have a habit of getting engrossed in these things.

Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry in 1964 with the first pilot “The Cage” completed in 1965. It was rejected and wouldn’t be seen on TV until 1988. However, and unusually for the time, Rodenberry was given a second chance and a second pilot was made. Keeping only the character of Spock from the original pilot, a new cast was assembled including the characters of James Kirk, Leonard McCoy and the rest of the well known crew (apart from Chekov who didn’t debut until season 2). This pilot was seen more favourably, and a series was green lit by NBC. The original Star Trek show ran from 1966 to 1969 when after the third season it was cancelled due to declining ratings. It wasn’t until the show was put into syndication that it became the major success that we know it as.

I’ve never actually been a big fan of TOS (the original series), especially the TV episodes; I have always felt like it is too concentrated on a select few members of the crew, overly predictable in storyline and the guy in the red shirt was gonna get killed. However, there is no denying how much of what came after owes its origins to these three seasons. Many of the “big” races like the Klingons, Andorians, Vulcans and Romulans all came from TOS, as did characters like Khan and Trelane (a precursor to Q). Most of the TOS episodes I have seen are because I have been in the room when others were watching it; namely, my parents.

Throughout the 70’s, with the success of the show in syndication and 22 animated cartoon episodes, Roddenbury tried to get a Star Trek movie off the ground but never succeeded. In early ’78, plans for a new paramount television station were underway and along with them came plans for a new series of Star Trek titled “Phase II”. This show was to be “the second five year mission” of the original crew with most of the stars scheduled to return along with a few new faces. Screen tests were done, sets were built, thirteen scripts were written; but when the launch of the television network collapsed, so did Phase II despite all the work already done. All was not lost however, while the series was never filmed, the storyline for the two hour pilot “In Thy Image” was revised and would in 1979 become “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that two of the execs involved in the making of this movie were Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg; again, showing how the various things I love always tend to route their way back to Disney in some manor.

The film restarted the franchise and was followed by “The Wrath of Khan” in 1982, “The Search for Spock” in 1984, “The Voyage Home” in 1986, “The Final Frontier” in 1989 and “The Undiscovered Country” in 1991. I kinda remember as a child being taken to see either Star Trek II or III; I think I slept through a lot of it and my parents don’t remember which one they took me along to; my thought is that it was probably III. I did however see IV at the cinema (yes, the one with the whales), it was a 10th birthday party outing for a friend of mine. Generally speaking I like the TOS movies more than the TV series, maybe because they aren’t quite so predictable; they also involved a little more humour. I remember seeing II at my grandparents house once, Star Trek really was something enjoyed by a few generations of my family.

Following the success of the first few TOS movies, Paramount commissioned a new TV series to be developed. Set 100 years after TOS, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) started airing in 1987 and would run until 1994 (USA) and enjoyed both critical and commercial success; even though several members of the cast, including Patrick Stewart himself, have said that they never expected it to last more than the first season.

Out of all the Star Trek shows, TNG has always been my favourite; with Jean-Luc Picard being my favourite of all the Captains. Whereas TOS had a crew, TNG had a family that you connected with and cared about. I don’t remember when I started really watching TNG religiously; it didn’t start airing in the UK until 1990 and I while don’t think I saw many of the earlier episodes on first run, I know I was watching them by the end of series 3. Mostly I remember the 6pm weekday BBC2 timeslot where I, with my parents, would usually watch the show either before or while eating dinner each night. I collected the episodes on VHS; usually ex-rental copies that would contain 4 episodes on each tape that I could get cheap; but those I couldn’t get, I would fill in with the retail 2 episodes per tape versions. Eventually I caught up with everything that was already on sale and would buy them new on the day they were released; if memory serves this was usually the first time I had seen each episode because by now the show had moved to Sky TV which we didn’t have and the video release would come before the terrestrial screening. Eventually we did get Sky TV, one of the big selling points to my parents being Star Trek first runs, and by the time the series neared its end, the TNG video collection in my bedroom spanned the entire width of my bedroom windowsill.

The show ended with season 7, which had always been planned as the end rather than cancellation. And was followed by four feature films. Generations in 1994, mostly hyped as being the meeting of Kirk and Picard; First Contact in 1996, which I believe is the best of all the Star Trek films; Insurrection in 1998, which was a little soft; and finally Nemesis in 2002, which tied up and said goodbye to the crew with a few shocks thrown in.

My ever decreasing window view (as it filled up with Star Trek taped) wasn’t helped by the start of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) in 1993 and Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) in 1995; both of which I collected on video cassette from the beginning. I always like DS9’s quirkiness; unlike the ship crews, the station inhabitants had a much larger variation of species which often led to more comedy, but hugely expanded the ethos of several established races. The show’s expansion into the Gamma quadrant also allowed the creation of many new species; widening the universe as a whole. As for Terry Farrell and her Trill spots…….. ’nuff said. However, for me (and most), DS9 really took off with the start of season 4, where the Dominion story line, which had always been the long term storyline objective for the show, really took off. Coupled with a TNG favourite (Worf) joining the crew, and some truly exceptional episodes such as “The Visitor”, the Dominion War gave the series a story arc that lasted until its final episodes three seasons later.

I also very much enjoyed Voyager which, unlike the other ship crew shows, had a clear story arc objective that would last the shows entire run. It wasn’t just a case of each week’s episode being a self contained story that would allow character progression but rarely have any bearing on the next episode’s direction; with Voyager everything was always leading to them trying to get home. Again, like DS9, the show expanded the Star Trek universe as we explored the Delta quadrant and MANY more races were created and added to the list. Some would last a season or two, like the Kazon, or some would only appear in a single or few episodes; depending on how far that race had spread and how long it took Voyager to pass them by. Having a female captain this time also changed things considerably; Kirk and Picard were two very difference captains, Janeway was completely different again.

1995 saw the start of the UK Star Trek Magazine, and I bought it monthly from Issue #1 and got pretty much every issue from that point until 2008 when the magazine lost quite a bit of quality, as well as things to write about. Also, by 1995, I was at University and had discovered the Star Trek comic books which I could buy from a shop nearby and read during the less interesting lectures. At some point during my second year at Uni, one of the others on my course spotted me reading these comics and told me about how she had read and loved a Star Trek book called “Imzadi” which she lent me to read myself. This is the true moment I went from being a fan to a Trekkie.

To go off topic a bit; I hate books. Ok, I’ll be a little less general. Until the age of 19, I only read books that I was made to read, usually as part of English classes at school; and even then if I could get out of it by watching a movie adaptation the rental cost was worth it (cases in point Hamlet and Empire of the Sun). The only book I fondly remember reading prior to that age was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾. My interest level in books, especially novels, was zero.

Reading Imzadi led to me picking up another TNG novel, and then another and another, and pretty soon I was hooked on them; I still didn’t do a lot of reading, but when I did, usually while travelling, it was a TNG book. Now, aged 34, I read a lot more than I used to; whether it be on the train every day to work or while laying in bed. However, while the variety may have grown a little to include books by Dave Gorman or Danny Wallace, and some biographies; in general, I still only read Star Trek books. I read pretty much all of them that are released, apart from the TOS ones; my biases shining through; and if anything, I am a bigger fan of the Star Trek novels than I ever was of the show itself.

Any fans of the shows who haven’t branched into the books are missing out on so much. Each of the main crews has carried on past the end of their TV or film lives; what happened with Jean-Luc and Beverly; the Voyager crew after they got home, the Gamma quadrant after the war; where did the Borg come from; all these subjects have been covered. But as well as the series that we know from TV, many other genres have come to life in their own series, whether it be the stories of a younger Picard as captain of the Stargazer; or others such as Starfleet Corps Of Engineers, New Frontier, Klingon Empire, Vanguard or more recently the launch of Titan under Riker’s command. Characters that we know and love have been given new leases on life in the novels (unless they have died; trying not to give away spoilers); characters that were cameo appearances like Robin Lefler (TNG - two episodes in season 5), Klag (season 2), or Sonya Gomez (TNG season 2) have been given full careers and blossom; and supporting cast characters like Garak, Dr Selar or Ro Lauren are given much bigger roles and brought to the forefront.

Really, I cannot say enough about the Star Trek books; Keith R A DeCandido and David Mack especially over the past few years have written amazing books that have changed the Star Trek universe. In all I reckon, from quickly running down the book list (with covers for help), that I have read around 250 Star Trek novels and a further 70 plus Star Trek ebooks.

In 2004 I had a letter printed in the Star Trek Magazine, where I complained that they only awarded David Mack’s excellent two part novel “A Time To Kill/Heal” with three stars; this was a book set in between the two TNG movies Insurrection and Nemesis. Their response under my letter was that from that point onwards, they would not award a grading to the books any longer; LOL!

Jumping in time a little bit (as I have a lot in this post because I decided to go with full spans of subjects rather than try and keep everything chronological), 2001 saw the launch of Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT). I don’t really know what to say about Enterprise, certain parts of it I thought were very good but it didn’t grip audiences and I didn’t even watch the second season until years later when I bought it on DVD. I must not have been the only one, as in 2005 the show was cancelled due to low ratings; the first Trek series since the original to be cancelled by the network and not by the producers completing it. But, that said, I really enjoyed season 3. If nothing else, Enterprise added some back story to the Trek universe, it explained why the appearance of Klingons changed, the development of transports and shields, and the formation of the UFP. It’s a shame they never got the chance to carry on with the show, I’m sure they had plans that would have happened over the next three seasons.

In late 2007, a colleague from work decided that I was going to take part in the annual NaNoWriMo; as she was doing it, I should too. For those who don’t know (which I would imagine is most), the objective of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I decided to mix my loves of Star Trek and Disney and wrote a novel on the premise of Q (with Q and q) going on a vacation in time back to present day Disney World. I failed. Well, I say that, I ended up with a novel of 30,000 words; but it’s enjoyable and everyone who has read it has told me they enjoyed it. Unfortunately both time ran out (I finished it after the deadline) and the story didn’t have another 20,000 words in it. I am, however, very proud of what I produced; so if you want to read it, let me know and I’ll send you a copy.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to either see or meet several of the actors and actresses in person. Many have appeared at the Collectormania events that take place in Milton Keynes in the UK and this has allowed me to meet Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn and most recently Patrick Stewart. And, while I haven’t met them in person, I’ve also seen at these events, Kate Mulgrew, Tim Russ, Robert Duncan McNeill, Robert O’Reilly, JG Hertzler, Jeffrey Coombs, Michelle Forbes, Robert Picardo, Ethan Philips, Marina Sirtis, Walter Koenig, Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Jolene Blalock, Alexander Siddig, Gates McFadden, Denise Crosby, Armin Shimmerman and more. I’ve also seen Patrick Stewart in the theatre; seeing “A Life in the Theatre” in 2005 and his one man show of “A Christmas Carol” after which he did a Q&A session with the audience.

2009 saw the latest in the line of Star Trek feature films; a prequel to TOS. This was the first, and so far only, movie I saw at the IMAX and I enjoyed it. It was written cleverly enough to be a prequel but not have to lead to the start of TOS the TV series, which allows things to go differently than history has already established (such as Chekov being there from the beginning) and means that people can be in danger without the audience knowing they must be fine because we know they are however many years later. This is a major point because much of the Star Wars prequels criticism (Jar Jar aside) is that history has been either rewritten or is non consistent (like official Lucasarts software in 1995 that stated that Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were half brothers); a quick story element here makes that a non factor. When this film was rumoured and announced, I was less than impressed; a prequel to characters I didn’t care about that much (probably with the exception of Kirk and Spock), I just didn’t think would be very interesting. I was wrong. This was a very good movie which I hope will lead to two very good sequels.

So that’s it for Star Trek. Who knows if/when we will get another TV series, I’m sure it will happen eventually; I just hope it lives up to the standards of the shows before it. But until that happens, the universe lives on in the books and I look forward to each release.

Speak soon; live long and prosper \\//

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