Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Some Thoughts on Star Trek
I have such mixed feelings about "Star Trek". When it's good, it's good. But, it exists in this box and not much can be done there, it seems.
Take "City On the Edge of Forever" for example. Considered by many to be the best episode of TOS, and it is. But Harlan Ellison, the man who wrote it, has disowned it, and never forgave Roddenberry for taking the balls out of it. The classic, badass episode, in it's original script was even better. The original script had a crew member on the Enterprise as a rather sinister drug dealer, and Roddenberry tossed that out because "no one in Starfleet is a bad person." ... um, what?
Also, when it comes to Trek, the lack of consequences has always just killed me. Think back to the Star Trek episode "Galileo Seven". Kirk had to choose (this is a simplified summary) between saving Spock and McCoy or abandoning them in order to deliver medical supplies. It was a tough decision, choosing between his best friends and a large number of strangers. But Kirk made the decision he had to: he abandoned the search for his friends to save the plague-ridden planet. So far, so good...except Spock and McCoy ended up saving themselves. Kirk didn't have to suffer any consequences from his decision.
It was a foregone conclusion that Star Trek would be full of cheats, cop-outs, and cowardly writing even before the first episode ever aired. Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator, wanted no major conflicts among the regular crew (the minor bickering between Spock and McCoy hardly counts). Everybody was supposed to get along in order to reflect Roddenberry's hopeful, upbeat view of the future. It's a nice sentiment, but it restricted the writers from the most important conflicts: those between characters you know and care about. Instead, writers had to come up with a lot of external threats, including a number of dreary "ship in danger" stories. In the end, it took Babylon 5's quality to make me realize that Gene Roddenberry wasn't one to let a good storyline get in the way of his Message.
I mean, there's just been a good segmented sci-fi show for almost any piece of sci-fi you want to watch, and a lot of it has been done so damn well because they've been able to take some big chances. "Star Trek" doesn't have that luxury because it's "Star Trek". There's still supposed to be certain rules, and even if they're good rules, they do inhibit the storytelling. Time travel stories don't all have to be daft, but that's what we've gotten because it's easier than telling a good one. Technobabble doesn't have to be an impediment, it enriches the hell out of Battlestar - but it's because it helps you live in their world, and it doesn't solve all their problems. That's important.
Star Trek resides as sort of the white bread, bottled water, target brand show. It can be done well, but there's a ceiling.