Weekly Trek – September 26-October 2, 2016

This week I’m finishing up my discussion of times the later Star Trek television series showed callbacks to the original series (TOS).

In 1996 when Star Trek was celebrating its 30th anniversary, two of the more modern series were on the air and produced episodes marking the event.  I talked about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s (DS9) contribution, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” in last week’s post.  Rather than using TOS itself, Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) centered their episode around the movie era, specifically Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered County, the 1991 final film featuring the original crew.

In “Flashback,” Tuvok begins suffering mental degeneration due to what the ship’s holographic Doctor at first believes is the emergence of a repressed memory, which is a much more serious issue in Vulcans than in Humans.  In order to prevent Tuvok’s mind from being destroyed, Captain Kathryn Janeway mind melds with him and soon finds herself on the USS Excelsior, where Tuvok served as an ensign 80 years earlier (Vulcans are very long-lived), during the events of Star Trek VI.

Many of the Excelsior crew from the film returned to reprise their roles, including George Takei playing Captain Hikaru Sulu, Grace Lee Whitney as Commander Janice Rand, and Jeremy Roberts as Lieutenant Valtane.  They recreated several of the scenes from the film, which was made five years earlier, and filled in some gaps concerning what the Excelsior was doing during other sections of the movie.

I will be honest that I was hard of VOY when it was on the air.  I didn’t think it was nearly as good as DS9, but with 20 years distance (Oh wow, I am old), I can appreciate it more for what it was.  The series was more sci-fi action adventure than anything else, and, while I felt Janeway was written inconsistently, I have always enjoyed Kate Mulgrew’s work in the part.  She delivers a line to Tuvok in this episode about tea that absolutely perfect.  I think I would have liked Janeway the character a lot better if she had been given more moments like that.

I have always been a fan of the Excelsior-class design.  I used it for the ship class in my Star Traks stories and have…a few models and toys of it, so it was fun seeing it in action again in this episode.  After Star Trek VI, there was a lot of fan interest in a Captain Sulu series set on the Excelsior, but it never went anywhere, much to the fans’ and Takei’s dismay.  When I first watched this episode, I remember thinking that Takei wasn’t as strong in the role of captain as I would have liked.  Watching it again for this post, though, I have changed my mind.  He was perfectly fine, and I would have enjoyed seeing him grow even more into the part as his character was further developed.  Unfortunately, the window for that has closed.

“Flashback” was really the only time VOY dealt with TOS, outside of a couple of dialogue references, so we will move on to the final of the more modern era Star Trek series (At least until Star Trek: Discovery premiered in January.), Star Trek: Enterprise.

Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT) was a prequel series set about 100 years before TOS, so technically anything it did would be a call forward.  Also, as a prequel, the expectation would be that just about everything it did would be setting up something first seen in the series set later in the timeline.  And, yes, ENT did do some of that, particularly around how the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites moved from adversaries to allies, but not as much as you might think.  Between the Temporal Cold War plotline and the Xindi arc (Yes, I know they are connected.), ENT tried to stake out its own territory. 

In Season Four, though, under new showrunner Manny Coto, ENT really turned into the prequel viewers thought it was going to be in the first place.  Through a series of two-three episode mini-arc, the series touched on a number of elements from TOS, including the genetic engineering that developed Khan Noonian Singh and his followers back in the 20th Century, why the Klingons in TOS look so much different than Klingons before and after that era, and the Vulcans’ embrace of logic.  The Vulcan arc contains one of the few times that anything from Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) was brought into live-action, with appearances of both The Forge and a sehlat (A Vulcan animal.  As a child, Spock had one as a pet.) from the TAS episode “Yesteryear.”

With so many references, it’s hard to go through them all, so I wanted to focus on a specific mini-arc, “In a Mirror, Darkly, Parts 1 & 2,” which goes back to the Mirror Universe first seen in the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” and subsequently used in several episodes of DS9.  Unlike the previous Mirror Universe episodes, though, neither part of “In a Mirror, Darkly” involves characters from our universe.  Instead, the entire episode is set in the Mirror Universe.  They even created new opening credits and used different theme music from the episodes.  It’s like you somehow started picking up episodes from a Mirror Universe television network.

“In a Mirror, Darkly, Parts 1 & 2” don’t just reference “Mirror, Mirror,” though.  The major event that kicks off the plot is actually from the TOS episode “The Tholian Web.”  Bear with me here for a moment.  In “The Tholian Web,” the Enterprise encounters their Constitution-class sister ship, the USS Defiant (not to be confused with the USS Defiant from DS9), which is phasing in and out of reality.  At the end of the episode, the Defiant vanishes completely.  The ENT episodes show where it went: into the past of the Mirror Universe where the mirror Captain Archer and his crew steal it from the Tholians.  At one point, Archer has to battle a Gorn (First seen in the TOS episode “Arena” and now visualized via dodgy CGI rather than a man in a dodgy rubber suit.) in the corridors of the Defiant, making the whole thing a TOS extravaganza.

The show planned to revisit the Mirror Universe in Season Five, but Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled at the end of Season Four.

As a side note, as they were recreating a TOS-era bridge, the makers of ENT got in touch with James Cawley, who was the driving for behind the Star Trek: New Voyages series of fan films that was making new episodes of  TOS, and “borrowed” the scope that extends up from the helm console.  According to Cawley, they never returned it.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – September 19-25, 2016

This week I am continuing to look at times the later Star Trek television series called back to the original Star Trek (TOS).   

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) has been called the middle child of modern Star Trek.  It premiered in January 1993 while Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) was at the height of its popularity and was overshadowed by the end of TNG the following Summer, the first TNG movie in November 1994, and the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) in January 1995, which got a huge amount of advertising push as the flagship series for the new United Paramount Network.

While every show wants more viewers, the relative lack of attention paid to DS9 allowed it to go in directions and tackle topics that VOY couldn’t get near.  The DS9 writers were able to really delve into their corner of the Star Trek universe and their characters.  But while DS9 was mostly off doing its own thing, in some ways the show tied back into TOS more deeply than any of the others.

DS9’s science officer, Jadzia Dax, is a Trill, and the Dax symbiont that lives inside her has had a number of hosts before Jadzia.  In the Second Season episode “Blood Oath,” we learn that Dax’s previous host, Curzon, was close friends with three Klingons.  But these aren’t just any Klingons.  Kor, Koloth, and Kang all locked horns with Captain James T. Kirk in episodes of TOS.  Kor, played by John Colicos, faced Kirk in “Errand of Mercy;” Koloth, played by William Campbell, ended up with an engine room full of Tribbles in “The Trouble with Tribbles;” and Kang, played by Michael Ansara, and Kirk were at odds but managed to work together against a common foe in “The Day of the Dove.”  All three original actors returned for “Blood Oath;” although, they were given the modern Klingon ridged forehead rather than their TOS looks.  Kor would also return for two more episodes, “The Sword of Kahless” in Season Four and “Once More Unto the Breach” in Season Seven.

More significantly, DS9 took the mirror universe seen in the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” and used it for a continuing storyline.  In the original episode, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy and others are accidentally transported into a parallel universe where they encounter sadistic doppelgangers of their crewmates serving aboard the ISS Enterprise, a ship of a violent and oppressive galactic empire.  At the end of the episode, it appears that Kirk is able to convince the mirror universe Spock to choose between tyranny and freedom and try to do things another way.  Spock says that he will consider it.

In the Second Season DS9 episode “Crossover,” we learn that mirror Spock did more than that.  He was able to take control of the Empire and turn it toward peace.  Unfortunately, that left it unable to withstand an attack by a combined Klingon-Cardassian alliance that took over the quadrant.  DS9 would visit the mirror universe four more times during the series’ run, ending the storyline in Season Seven’s “The Emperor’s New Cloak.”

In honor of Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, DS9 decided to so something special.  Since they couldn’t bring all of the TOS cast to them, they went to the TOS cast.  In the resulting episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” Captain Benjamin Sisko and the other members of the Deep Space Nine command crew are transported back in time to Space Station K-7 during the events of the TOS episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”  Thanks to the same technology used to put Tom Hanks into old footage in Forrest Gump, the DS9 characters are able to share scenes with the TOS characters while searching for a time-travelling assassin bent on killing Captain Kirk.  The episode is fun from beginning to end and does a wonderful job of celebrating TOS in all of its colorful 1960s glory.

Next up: We conclude our look at TOS callbacks with Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Weekly Trek – September 12-18, 2016

While the original Star Trek series (TOS) reached a level that could without much hyperbole be considered iconic, the series that followed actually didn’t lean too heavily on what came before.  With a few exceptions, the later shows struck out in new directions, but for the next few weeks, I will be talking about those times that the later shows did make a direct callback to the original Star Trek.

As the first Star Trek series to introduce a new set of characters, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) had a lot to live up to.  Fans of TOS were skeptical, and I can only imagine the outcry would have been like online if the Internet had existed in its present form back then.  TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” spent most of its time introducing the new ship and crew, as you would expect.  Their adventure with Q and at Farpoint Station had nothing to do with anything the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk had dealt with (Although, there was a great deal of fan speculation that Q was from the same species as Trelane from the TOS episode “The Squire of Gothos,” an idea that Peter David followed up on in his 1994 novel Q-Squared.).  “Encounter at Farpoint” did contain a nice hand-off moment, though, as Lieutenant Commander Data escorts a quite elderly Admiral Leonard McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley, on a tour of the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D.  McCoy’s appearance is little more than a cameo, but he did leave Data with these wise words about the USS Enterprise, “You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”

TNG’s second episode, “The Naked Now,” was a sequel to the TOS episode, “The Naked Time.”  In both stories, the crew is infected with a virus that causes personality changes.  The original contains the famous scene of a shirtless Sulu in full-on swashbuckler mode brandishing a sword around the ship.  In the TNG episode, many of the crew, including the android Data, suffer symptoms similar to drunkenness.  This episode’s most famous scene is probably Lieutenant Yar’s seduction of Data.  It’s not a terrible episode, but it should not have been the series’ second outing.  It’s hard to appreciate the crew’s altered personalities, when we’ve barely gotten to know their regular ones.

TNG avoided much in the way of TOS references from there until the third season when Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek, played by Mark Lenard, came aboard for a diplomatic conference in the appropriately titled episode, “Sarek.”  This story revealed that the aged Vulcan was suffering from a neurological disease called Bendii Syndrome that was causing him to lose control of his emotions.  Captain Picard offers to mind meld with Sarek, giving the Vulcan control back long enough to get through the conference.

Sarek appears again at the beginning of the two-part “Unification” story in Season Five in scenes showing the death of the character, but that major event is overshadowed by the episode’s main guest star, Spock himself as played by Leonard Nimoy.  “Unification,” which involves Ambassador Spock’s efforts to unify the Vulcan and Romulan peoples, aired a few weeks before the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which marked the final film appearance of the entire original crew of the Enterprise, and the storyline makes reference to the events of the film.  Nimoy’s appearance on TNG was big news and brought in great ratings, but the crossover went both ways withT NG actor Michael Dorn playing his character’s grandfather, Colonel Worf, in Star Trek VI.

My favorite of the TOS-inspired episodes of TNG is “Relics” from Season Six.  In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise-D finds a ship crashed on the surface of a Dyson Sphere.  They discover that the ship’s transporter buffer is still running and contains two patterns, one of which is retrievable.  They rematerialize the buffer occupant and find that it is none other than Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  What follows is a touching episode about a man out of time dealing with a galaxy that has passed him by.  At one point, Scotty visits the bridge of the original Constitution-class USS Enterprise in a beautiful scene that likely hit more that one TOS fan right in the feels (I count myself among that number.).  In the end, Scotty’s knowledge is able to help in a crisis situation, and he sets out in a shuttle given to him by the Enterprise-D crew to learn about the 24th century.  Jimmy Doohan puts in a wonderful performance as the time-displaced Scotty, which I would rank among his best work ever for Star Trek.

The big crossover event between the two series, though, didn’t take place on TV screens.  Instead, it was in the first film to feature the TNG crew, Star Trek: Generations.  But even this is not a complete crossover, since many of the TOS actors opted not to appear.  Parts that were originally written for Spock and McCoy ended up going to Scotty and Chekov.  Really the only TOS character with any meat to his appearance, though, was William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk and really the film was advertised around the meeting of Kirk and TNG’s Captain Picard.  While I find the film itself wildly uneven (and it forces the TNG crew to be idiots in order for one major plot point to occur), Shatner’s performance is great.  I don’t know if it was because he wasn’t the lead, but he seems relaxed and to be having a great time in what is Captain Kirk’s final adventure.

While that was it for TOS’s influence of TNG, its effects would reach to the later series, as I will discuss in the weeks to come. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – September 5-11, 2016

This week marks the actual 50th anniversary of the premiere of the original Star Trek television series (TOS).  On September 8, 1966, NBC broadcast “The Man Trap,” which was actually the 5th episode filmed (Or 6th, if you count the original pilot, “The Cage.”).  Despite the show’s cancelation after season three, the 79 episodes of TOS have run continuously somewhere since then thanks to syndication and, more recently, streaming.  Fans of the show know these episodes inside and out.  To this day, if you let me watch about 2-3 minutes of footage, I can probably tell you which episode it is from.

Honestly, though, the making of the show is almost as interesting as Star Trek itself.  The broad strokes of what happened over those three seasons have become part of Star Trek lore.  We know about the first and second pilots, Gene Roddenberry’s fights with the network, the letter writing campaigns to save the show from cancelation, and the banishment to the Friday night death slot during the third season leading to the show’s end followed by its massive success in syndication.

Details beyond that, though, are readily available through a number of books.  The first was The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, which was published in 1968 while the show was still on the air.  It’s admittedly fairly sanitized, but it still gives a great look at the start of the series and what it took to get an episode from script to broadcast.

Many of the cast members have also written about their time on the show, including Nichelle Nichols in Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, George Takei in To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu (That one’s a mouthful), and Jimmy Doohan in Beam Me Up, Scotty (Co-written with my favorite Star Trek novel author, Peter David.).  Leonard Nimoy first claimed I Am Not Spock before later changing his mind in the book  I Am SpockThe most famous of these cast memoirs is probably William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, which he followed up with Star Trek Movie Memories.

But if you really want to know how TOS was made, there’s are three recent books that will fill you in.  Marc Cushman’s These Are the Voyages: TOS: Season One, Two and Three go into an exhaustive level of detail about the creation of the series and the development of every single episode.  Cushman includes information about drafts of the scripts, the budgets, and the ratings of each episode.  Considering the stories about how TOS was canceled due to low ratings, I found the perspective provided by Cushman’s research to be fascinating.  These books are daunting, though.  Each volume is over 600 pages long.  I have read them all and found the time investment to be well worth it.  I’m hoping he is able to continue with the movies or Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Hell, I’d love to read a volume about the animated series.

Once you’ve read Cushman’s volumes (or if you want something a little more personal), The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross is a great companion piece.  The book uses snippets of interviews gathered over the years to tell the story of Star Trek from its creation through the six films featuring the original cast.  The recollections of the participants are unvarnished, and some of the tensions are still apparent all of these years later.  There’s an old cliché about never meeting your heroes in real life.  While I will never meet Gene Roddenberry, these books pretty much had the same effect.  He may have been the Great Bird of the Galaxy, but he was also very human.

And if you want to watch the original series, this week is your perfect chance (If you have Amazon Prime in the US, you could be streaming it anytime, but moving on)!  Starting this Thursday at 8:30PM Eastern Time (The exact day and time Star Trek premiered 50 years ago) BBC America will be running the series uncut in a marathon of every episode.  Set your DVR now!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter