Saturday, September 29, 2007
20 Years Ago
Twenty years ago, sometime over the next seven days, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired for the first time on a channel near you. I recall that I was one of the 'nothing will ever replace my beloved Star Trek' hold-outs, but I watched 'Encounter at Farpoint' with as open a mind as I was capable of. Nor was I disappointed. My predictions were, it seemed to me, largely realized. The acting was stiff. The uniforms looked even sillier than the original series'. The relationships between the characters were cold and businesslike. And the new ship looked like some bloated balloon animal with the mumps. I predicted a swift, and ignominious demise to this pretender to the throne. I then, largely, tried to forget about the show. I watched an episode here and there, and saw no real improvement. They mostly seemed either rehashes of original series episodes, or so weak as to be more worthy of Jason of Star Command than Star Trek. My good friend, Senior Tortuga, gave me one of the original com badge pins, which I gratefully accepted and put away, not saying how much I disliked the show.
Then, something happened. An episode called 'The Measure of a Man' aired. The episode revolved around Data, the android member of the crew, being ordered to report to Starfleet for tests to find out how to make more of him. Data refuses on the ground that the testing will most likely destroy him. Starfleet decides that Data is property, not a sentient being, and cannot refuse. Picard demands a hearing, and the courtroom drama that ultimately determines that Data is sentient is some of the best written television I had, or have, ever seen. The seeds of acceptance were planted. I missed most of the third season due to school and work, but the fourth season was when the show hit it's stride. The final show of the season found Picard assimilated by the Borg, and Riker about to fire a doomsday beam that will destroy not only the Borg ship, and Picard, but a lot of the Enterprise as well. When the black screen, with only the words To Be Continued, blotted out the action, I shrieked in anguish and threw things at the tv. I was hooked. By now I had taken that com badge out of storage and wore it proudly on my jacket for many years before it broke, and I still keep the pieces fondly tucked away. The Next Generation grew from a two-dimensional, sterile view of the future that more resembled Star Trek The Motion Picture to a vibrant, well written, beautifully acted rebirth of all that was best in Star Trek. I still can't stand the outboard design of the Enterprise-D, but I came to love everything else about the show, and 'Star Trek: First Contact' is arguably the best movie in the entire series of films.
I find it odd that, while I was one of the last people to accept the new show, I am now one of the most forgiving fans. I liked Deep Space 9, and Voyager, although both shows exhibited some of the worst...and best of all the series. And I miss Enterprise. The show never really got a chance to find its feet. I think there was too much pressure to try to expand the audience, and they just ended up alienating those of us that had been faithful to the end. It seemed that the producers had realized this in the final season, but by then it was too late. The ratings were gone, and first-run Trek on tv was dead again.
Now a new movie is in production. This one, directed by J.J. Abrams, will go back to before the original series began. We will see a young Kirk and Spock, and the rest of the crew, in their first voyage together. As I heard about this my old 'how dare they' hackles rose. Can we accept other people playing these beloved characters? I don't know. But, as history will bear out, I've been wrong about such things before, so this time I will just wait and see.
Live long, and prosper.