Weekly Trek – October 17-23, 2016

It is no exaggeration to say that the reason Star Trek is still being talked about 50 years after its premiere is because of the fans.  When the original series was in danger of being cancelled after the second season, fans sprang into action (Possibly thanks to some prodding from Gene Roddenberry) and inundated NBC with letters.  The show was renewed for a third season, which gave Star Trek enough episodes to reach syndication.  And it was through syndication that the fandom grew even larger.

Over the years several celebrities have counted themselves among those fans.  Certainly President Barack Obama has indicated his status as a Trekkie, and there’s the famous (among Trek fans) story of Stephen Hawking, who appeared in an episode, touring the sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He indicated the warp drive and stated, “I’m working on that.”  This quote was later used by William Shatner as the title for his book about how Star Trek was affecting science.  Rihanna has stated that she has been a fan since her father introduced her to the show when she was a kid, and she provided a song for the Star Trek Beyond soundtrack.

A TOS episode was written for Milton Berle, who wanted to appear on the show, but the script for the episode, “He Walked Among Us,” never came together.  Eddie Murphy is also reportedly a fan, and early versions of the script for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home included a character written for him.  The TNG episode “A Matter of Time“ was written for fan Robin Williams, but he was unable to appear due to his commitment to Hook.  And Trekkie Tom Hanks had to turn down the role of Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact because he was directing That Thing You Do!

Mila Kunis has stated in interviews that she is a fan and that she and Family Guy creator and star Seth MacFarlane argue about their lists ordering their favorite Star Trek series.  MacFarlane took it a step farther and appeared in two episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise as a minor character, Engineer Stewart Rivers.  King Abdullah II of Jordan appeared in Star Trek: Voyager, as did avowed fan Jason Alexander, and Mick Fleetwood, buried in tons of makeup as a humanoid fish alien, cameoed on TNG.  Christian Slater’s mother was the casting director for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and he was able to convince her to give him a small role as an officer on the USS Excelsior in the film.

Kelsey Grammer is also a big Star Trek fan and showed up as Captain Morgan Bateson in the TNG episode “Cause and Effect.”  He and the rest of the Frasier cast were also due to appear in a skit in the Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond special celebrating the 30th anniversary of Star Trek  back in 1996.  Grammer, who was dealing with personal issues at the time, was unable to appear, but the rest of the cast members, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney, and Moose the dog, all went on with the show with Kate Mulgrew jumping in at the last minute to play Captain Janeway in the skit instead.  It’s a fun bit and available HERE.  Or if you want to see the entire special, it is HERE.

Perhaps the most famous occurrence of a celebrity fan appearing in Star Trek is Whoopi Goldberg, who as a child was inspired by Nichelle Nichols’ character Uhura on TOS.  When she learned that Star Trek was returning, she asked to be on the show, leading to the character of Guinan, who appeared in over 20 episodes of TNG and in two of the films.

The new films have not had as many opportunities for celebrity fan cameos, but, with Star Trek returning to television next year with Star Trek: Discovery, that could change.  Maybe Tom Hanks will get his chance after all.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – October 10-16, 2016

Several weeks ago in THIS POST, I discussed songs that were either about or included references to Star Trek.  At the time, I promised that I would cover television Star Trek references and parodies at a later date, and…well…here we are.

Frankly, this is a massive topic.  Over the last 50 years, Star Trek has been referenced on literally hundreds of shows.  If I were to try to cover every instance where a character name-checked Spock or said something about beaming up, I’d be at this for ages.  To give you some idea, here are the pages at the vast Star Trek reference site, Memory Alpha, for Live-Action and Animated Television references.  And even that isn’t complete (Also, some of them are reaching a bit, I think.).  No Muppet Babies?  Seriously, guys?  They did at least one entire Star Trek episode.

While many shows have done Star Trek bits, some of the best (and certainly most self-contained) have come from sketch comedy shows. 

Saturday Night Live is, of course, the most famous of all sketch comedy series, and they have taken on Star Trek a few times.  The first of these skits was in 1976, during the very first season of the long-running show.  In “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise,” Captain Kirk (Played by John Belushi), Mr. Spock (Chevy Chase), and Dr. McCoy (Dan Aykroyd) come up against a foe they cannot defeat: NBC executives determined to cancel the show.  The skit is hopefully available to watch HERE (It’s the NBC website, so I don’t know if there are country restrictions). 

Ten years later, in 1986, William Shatner was the guest host on Saturday Night Live.  One sketch from that night has become incredibly famous.  In it, Shatner is appearing at a Star Trek convention and, after getting a barrage of questions from the assembled Trekkies about the minutia of various episodes, he finally snaps and tells them all to “Get a life!”  You can see it HERE (With the same caveat as above).  Shatner later used the line as the title of his 1999 book about his own interactions with Star Trek fans.  Far from an attack along the lines of the SNL skit, the book is about his embrace of fandom and his realization of how amazing it is.

In the same episode, Shatner appeared as Kirk in “Star Trek V: The Restaurant Enterprise,” in which Kirk and crew are manning the Enterprise, which has been turned into a restaurant.  Kevin Nealon is decent as Spock, and Phil Hartman makes a great Dr. McCoy.  The real standout of the skit, though, is Dana Carvey who shows up as Khan.  He still wants his vengeance, and this time he plans to take Kirk down through health code violations.  The skit is HERE.

And eight years after that, at the height of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s popularity, Patrick Stewart hosted Saturday Night Live.  The episode featured one Star Trek related skit, “The Love Boat: The Next Generation,” where the TNG characters are running the Love Boat…in space.  The skit is available is semi-acceptable quality HERE.

In 1991, the short-lived revival of The Carol Burnett Show featured a sketch based on the original Star Trek.  In the skit, all of the characters have had their genders swapped due to the effects of a spatial anomaly.  Andrea Martin, who would go on to play Quark and Rom’s mother on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, appears as the female Spock.  You can watch the skit HERE.  This idea has been used in other Star Trek media.  A two-part story in the Star Trek comics based in the Kelvin timeline had Captain Kirk and crew encountering a ship from another universe where they entire crew was gender swapped. 

Also in the early 1990s, the sketch comedy series In Living Color took on Star Trek a couple of times, with Jim Carrey playing Captain Kirk in each.  In the first skit, “The Wrath of Farrakhan,” the famous minister comes aboard and shows the crew that Captain Kirk has been oppressing them.  David Alan Grier doesn’t get nearly enough to do as Spock, and Carrey is so over-the-top that the top isn’t even visible.  It is available HERE.

In a later skit, Carrey and other show cast members portray exceptionally elderly versions of the TOS crew in “Star Trek VII: The Really Last Voyage.”  Carrey has toned it down a little bit.  Of course, he’s also pretending to be ancient and using a walker to get around.  You can watch it HERE.

As I said earlier, this barely scratches the surface of all of the times Star Trek has been references or parodied on television.  For example, there’s “Taysiders in Space” from a show called Chewin the Fat.  Warning: you will need a universal translator for this one.  Mine failed.

You could easily spend ages on YouTube looking at various skits that have produced over the years, but it would definitely be entertaining.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter


Weekly Trek – October 3-9, 2016

WARNING: I am starting this post with a spoiler for a movie from 1994.  If that bothers you, turn back now.

Star Trek: Generations, released in late 1994, was billed as first time that Captain James T. Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard would meet on screen.  It was also the last since Kirk dies helping Picard stop the plans of the film’s villain, Tolian Soran. 

William Shatner, who had played Kirk since Star Trek’s premiere in 1996, was 63 at the time, and the films were ready to move on with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Shatner wasn’t quite as ready to give up his on-screen alter-ego.

Shatner counts author among his many credits.  Granted most of his many books have been done with a co-author, but he has quite the bibliography including the TekWar series of novels which were adapted into a television series in the mid 1990s.

After Kirk’s death in Generations, Shatner decided to try his hand at writing Star Trek novels (This wasn’t his first attempt at writing for Trek.  He developed the story for the 1989 film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which he also directed.  He has also written a number of Star Trek-related non-fiction books over the years.).  In 1995, Pocket Books published The Ashes of Eden by Shatner and long-time Trek authors Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens.  The book opens and closes with a framing device in which Spock visits Kirk’s grave on Veridian III, but it is primarily set between the events of Star Trek VI and the beginning of Star Trek: Generations.  While the entire TOS crew is featured at various times, make no mistake, this is Kirk’s story.  And at the end, someone beams Kirk’s corpse out of its grave.

The following year, the same trio of authors produced The Return, in which, as the title and the removal of his corpse at the end of the previous implies, Captain Kirk returns to life…thanks to a Romulan/Borg alliance.

And thus the Shatnerverse was born.

That is actually the term used for the series of novels written by Shatner and the Reeves-Stevens following the resurrection of James T. Kirk in the 24th Century.  While they were published by Pocket Books, none of the other Pocket lines of Star Trek books acknowledged them as being part of the series’ continuity.  They exist as their own alternate timeline.

To be completely honest, I only read The Ashes of Eden, which I enjoyed, and The Return, which I thought was a massive ego trip.  I didn’t realize until researching this post just how many more books are in the series.  Seven.  Seven!  For a total of nine.  With the most recent, Captain’s Glory, published in 2006.  And then in 2007, Shatner and the Reeves-Stevens produced Collision Course, which was about Kirk and Spock’s Academy days.  A planned follow-up was cancelled.

Obviously I can’t authoritatively recommend or not recommend the Shatnerverse books, since I haven’t read nearly all of them.  They do exist, though, and might be worth a look if you’re a fan of William Shatner and James T. Kirk.   

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

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