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

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