Star Trek

“The Classic Legend Begins An All-New Adventure…”

Here’s an addendum to my previous post: It’s the introductory preview that aired just before “Encounter at Farpoint,” the two-hour premiere episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Or, as the announcer dude says it, “Starrrrrrrr Trek!”

See what I mean about the ads making this show look action-packed? Let’s just say this impression was… not entirely accurate. The ratio of long-winded speechifying to fisticuffs and/or phaser fire was pretty broad in “Farpoint.” But it’s just as well, since TNG never did do action very well, in my opinion. I don’t know if the cast or directors weren’t comfortable doing action, or if the show’s tone of benign enlightenment simply wasn’t compatible with it, but TNG was always far better in moments of quiet drama than the sorts of shenanigans that Kirk and company often engaged in.

Still… it’s fun to see this little clip again. I think it conveys some of the excitement that swirled around the premiere, which is so very different from the blase’ or outright hostile attitudes with which the new Star Trek: Discovery is being met…

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Thirty Years of Making It So

Facebook has been utterly determined this week to make me feel how swiftly time rushes by as we get older. First, it was regurgitating photos from my trip to Massachusetts last year. Then it was photos from my trip to Scotland two years ago. But today the almighty algorithm has decided to pull out the really big guns by showing me every post everyone in the world has been making about the anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which debuted on this date — are you ready for this? — 30 years ago.

Thirty. Years.

Can it possibly so long? That’s an entire generation in its own right, isn’t it? Longer than the span between the debut of the original Star Trek in 1966 and The Next Generation in 1987. Thirty years ago tonight, I had just turned 18. I was a couple weeks into my first quarter as a college freshman, still feeling very much like a little kid as I wandered around the big grown-up campus of the University of Utah. I was commuting to school in a yellow, four-doored Volkswagen Rabbit, and I was dating a cute brunette girl with bright blue eyes, but not seriously. I remember that she pissed me off by calling right in the middle of the two-hour Next Generation premiere; luckily, I was recording it on my trusty VCR so I could catch up later on the bit I lost while I was talking dirty with her on the phone.

I also remember that I wasn’t terribly impressed with TNG at first.The premiere wasn’t nearly as action-packed as the commercials had made it appear, and none of the cast seemed very comfortable with their roles. In fact, Sir Patrick Stewart was so stiff as the new captain that I mistakenly believed for a time that he was a lousy actor. Or perhaps he was just playing a lousy character. They were all lousy characters in those early days, all prone to shouting while delivering lots and lots of expository dialog that moved the plots along, but did little to deepen the characters themselves. There wasn’t much chemistry between the actors either; the warmth and camaraderie that was such a notable feature of the original 1960s Star Trek was sorely lacking.

Speaking of the original series (TOS, to those of us who are “of the Body”), TNG had a weirdly schizoid relationship with its progenitor until well into its second or possibly even third season, which, as a lifelong fan of the original, I found deeply frustrating. On the one hand, TNG seemed desperate to establish its own identity apart from the adventures of the first Starship Enterprise, which was understandable, but it went so far out of the way to avoid mentioning any characters or events from TOS that the omission called attention to itself, even as the show was cannibalizing story ideas from the original. (The second episode, “The Naked Now,” was an almost beat-for-beat remake of the original series segment “The Naked Time,” which was either really gutsy or really stupid considering that TOS was still in reruns at that time, and there was a good chance everyone had seen “The Naked Time” very recently. Not that true Trekkies didn’t have it memorized anyhow.)

TNG was preachy, too. Oh, lord, was it preachy. Star Trek had always delivered social messages along with the space-opera, of course, but rarely so heavy-handedly as TNG was in that first season. It seemed like every single episode included an aside where someone wondered how humanity had survived the barbarous 20th century, or pointed out how much more evolved human beings were in the 24th century. It was tedious and condescending, and frankly, it got to be a little insulting at times.

Hell, I didn’t even like the Enterprise-D at first. (A note for non-Trekkies: the Enterprise flown by Captain Kirk and company carried the registry number NCC-1701; when it was destroyed in one of the feature films, it was replaced by a new Enterprise — actually the same model with a new paint job — and the letter “A” was added to differentiate it from the earlier one: NCC-1701-A. The TNG Enterprise was supposedly the fifth starship of that name, designated NCC-1701-D.) The ship’s proportions looked all wrong to me. The saucer-shaped primary hull was too long and wide compared to the compact lower section, making it appear both top- and nose-heavy, and the ship’s relatively flat side profile suggested to me that it had been stepped on by some cosmic giant and squashed. The interior sets, meanwhile, were downright boring, all beige carpeting and flat lighting, reminiscent of a nice but sterile hotel lobby, right down to the knick-knacks from Pier One.

I was certain the show wouldn’t last beyond its first season.

And yet, it did last, eventually running seven years, spawning four feature films after that, and unquestionably paving the way for the Star Trek franchise to become the cultural juggernaut it was during the ’90s, and is attempting to become again today. I continued to watch despite my early misgivings, although I’m not sure if it was in the hope that the show would improve, or out of morbid curiosity to see just how badly it was going to flame out. Either way, I endured every episode of that shaky first season. My viewing was a bit more sporadic during the second year, but starting with the third, TNG seemed to have found itself at last… and I finally began to consider myself a fan. In the end, I grew to quite like the crew of Enterprise-D and the actors who played them. There are some individual episodes I would hold up as some of the best television of its era, certainly equal to the best of TOS. (For the record, I’m thinking of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1,” “Family,” “The Inner Light,” and “Tapestry.”) I shed a tear when the series ended on the perfect emotional gracenote. And I even developed a soft spot for that strangely flattened starship too, enough that it pissed me off when she was destroyed in the TNG cast’s first big-screen outing, Generations.

Even so, to this day I am baffled by those fans who consider TNG superior to TOS. I know there are even people, both fans and “civilians,” for whom TNG is Star Trek. It’s the show that first comes to mind for these people when they hear the words “Star Trek.” Unapologetic old-school Trekkie that I am, that really grates on me. I suppose I can’t blame younger viewers who grew up with TNG the way I did with TOS, but I know people my age who for some reason champion Picard over Kirk, and that just makes no sense to me. Because while I do like TNG, I love TOS. For me, it’s overall far more dynamic, far more fun, far more meaningful, and frankly far more timeless, in spite of the outdated visual effects and miniskirts. (Note that I said “overall”; you can always cherry-pick specific example to prove or disprove my points.) I’ve recently been rewatching TNG and while it’s nice to revisit it again after quite a few years away — I’ve found it holds up pretty well, and in some cases is better than I remember — I just can’t see myself ever enjoying the show over and over to the point of memorization, the way I still enjoy the 1960s Star Trek. For me, it will forever be the spin-off. That’s a term you don’t hear much anymore; in the modern-day franchise model, something like TNG is thought of as a continuation. But in the old days, it was a spin-off, a derivative. It was a very good derivative, and like I said it did find its own voice eventually… but it was still a derivative.

However, time has a way of veiling just about anything with nostalgia, and when I think back three decades to a September night in 1987 and picture myself sitting on the edge of my chair with the VCR remote in my hand (so I could screen commercials out of my recording), my knees bouncing with anticipation, I can’t help but smile. It was such an outlandish idea back then, a whole new Star Trek with a whole new cast, set 70 years after the first Star Trek. I think the only thing my 18-year-old self would’ve found more unlikely would be more Star Wars movies, or a sequel to Blade Runner

 

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Happy 86th, My Captain

william-shatner_slcomiccon-collageContinuing my silly annual tradition of wishing a happy birthday to William Shatner, a Canadian actor of some note who occupies an inordinate amount of my imagination and childhood memories. He’s turning 86 years young today… and my perennial wish to buy him a drink remains in effect.

And yes, I did gank this image from Salt Lake Comic Con, which has hosted the inimitable Shat twice now. Many happy returns, Bill…

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Why I Still Love Star Trek, Even After 50 Years

Artwork by James Bama, 1966. Promotional poster from NBC for the premiere of Star Trek.

[Ed. Note: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek. A condensed form of this entry also appears as part of a group tribute at Echo Base.]

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of Star Trek… and by “Star Trek,” I mean the original series, TOS, 1966-69, Shatner and Nimoy, velour shirts and styrofoam rocks, the first and still, as far as I’m concerned, the best of all the myriad Trek-related properties. To my eye, every subsequent iteration since the original has been a mere spin-off, derivative by definition, while the rebooted film series that began in 2009 is nothing more than a caricature…. and not a very good one at that.

The show actually ended three months before I was born, but it continued to air in syndicated re-runs more or less constantly during my childhood and early teens. According to my mother, she liked watching it while she did the household chores and I just soaked it in from my playpen. But while I may have begun as a captive audience, I had become a full-blown convert by the time I reached school age. Consider:

  • One of the first conversations I remember having with someone of the opposite sex was the time I told a little girl in my kindergarten class all about this cool cat named Spock. (Weirdly enough, we’re still friends…)
  • Our kitchen floor was covered in ancient linoleum that featured good-sized circles as part of the pattern. I used to stand on those circles, make a buzzing noise, and then run to a different spot of the house or out into the yard where I would freeze and “rematerialize,” as if I was being beamed there by Scotty.
  • Of course I played with the Mego action figures of the day, as well as various other tie-in toys—I still have ’em all, too!—but my favorite Star Trek toy was a little tin case that held tiny files for cleaning my dad’s acetylene torch. He spotted me one day flipping the case open and shut while saying, “Kirk to Enterprise,” so he took the cleaners out and gave me the case. I carried it in my back pocket for years, even after I’d outgrown pretending to “call my ship.”
  • On Saturday mornings, I’d prepare to watch the cartoon adventures of the Enterprise crew—voiced by the original live-action cast, so it felt like “real” Star Trek to me—by setting up Lego bricks on a TV tray to create my own “helm console,” which I “operated” all during the show.
  • My bedroom walls were plastered with Star Trek posters — this was one of them — from elementary school until well after I started developing, ahem, other interests.
  • And I fueled my young imagination by reading and re-reading the novelizations by James Blish and the utterly insane comic book series published by Gold Key. The characters and even the Enterprise were all off-model, the stories often felt like they came from some other series altogether, but in those days, we took whatever Star Trek we could get, and we liked it!

This was all during the early ’70s. My focus changed a bit with the coming of that other well-known space franchise in 1977, and Star Trek itself changed a lot when the crew made the leap to the big screen in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and then again in 1987 when The Next Generation turned the whole thing into a franchise. I loved those, too, and a lot of other sci-fi and fantasy properties as well. But my first love, the touchstone that I have returned to again and again throughout my life, has always been TOS.

When I was a kid, I was simply drawn to the action, the bright color scheme and occasionally wacky cinematography, the swashbuckling characters, and the eerie atmosphere. (In terms of tone, TOS has a lot more in common with The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits than it does with the Treks that followed; space used to be weird and kind of scary. None of the other iterations of Star Trek has gotten that quite right, which is a shame.) But as I grew older, I came to realize how much Star Trek had shaped my personal morality, as well as my understanding of human nature and what we ought to be striving for. Not some perfect utopia where there is no interpersonal conflict and humanity is free to smugly muse about what animals we used to be back in the bad old days of the 20th century (cough-TNG-cough), but rather a better society than the one we have now, in which human beings are as flawed and fragile as ever, but they’re at least trying to improve. And more importantly, they have the potential to improve, and in fact are improving.

I’m not in denial about the fact that Star Trek is a 50-year-old TV show with all the dated production values that suggests. I know that most people today, especially younger people, look at an episode like “Arena” and see only a guy in a primitive rubber suit with a zipper up the back. I see that too, and I’m not incapable of chuckling about it (in a laughing-with-them-not-at-them kind of way, of course). But I also see much more than that. I see an immensely optimistic parable in which Captain Kirk, cast in the role of an Everyman representing all of humanity, comes right up to the brink of killing a defeated opponent… and then stops himself. He realizes “the other,” the bad guy, had his reasons, too, for doing what he did… that in someone else’s story, the reptilian Gorn is the hero. And in that moment, Kirk makes the conscious, enlightened choice to spare his enemy. To rise above his own reptilian-brained nature. And in so doing, creates an opportunity for a more peaceful future instead of merely “winning.”

Star Trek, the original, true Star Trek, wasn’t what people today think it was. It wasn’t all “Fire phasers!” and stuff-blows-up and nookie with the green woman of the week. And it irritates the hell out of me that the show has been largely reduced to that in the public consciousness (as evidenced by those reboot movies I mentioned, which superficially resemble TOS but miss the deeper philosophies of the original). If I had to choose an episode that best exemplifies to me what Star Trek was really all about, “Arena” is a good one. A better example is called “Devil in the Dark.” In this one, miners living deep underground on an alien world find themselves being stalked and murdered by some kind of creature that burrows through solid rock and burns its victims to a crisp. Unable to defend themselves from this threat, the miners call for help, and the Enterprise responds. In the course of hunting for the creature, Kirk finds himself alone, face to face with the completely inhuman thing. His instincts — and his orders — are to kill it on sight, but his intellect tells him there’s something more going on than it appears. So he has Spock make telepathic contact with the beast… and learns that it isn’t some mindlessly evil killer; it’s intelligent and sensitive, but desperate, a mother who’s been protecting a horde of eggs that the miners, in their ignorance, have been destroying. With that epiphany, negotiations are made, and in the end, both species learn to coexist, to each other’s mutual benefit. In a nutshell, that is Star Trek… a classic monster-of-the-week set-up that subverts your expectations and ends on a positive note about empathy, diversity, acceptance, and finding a way other than killing… when you can. The monster costume may be cheesy, the dialog might be melodramatic, but these things don’t matter to me so much as the message of the story.

That message, indeed all the messages found in this old television show about exploring the human condition through stories about exploring space, are as relevant and as necessary to hear now in the awful 2000s as they were in the turbulent 1960s. When the headlines are filled with human beings behaving at their very worst, their most selfish, their most barbaric, or their most ignorant, I cling to what Star Trek taught me: that society and people in general not only can but will get better. That’s powerful stuff, and it’s a rarity on today’s pop-cultural landscape, which tends to be dominated by grimly nihilistic “realism” that may make for fine drama, but is ultimately — to me — depressing and enervating.

Star Trek isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia for me; it’s my gospel. It gives me hope when I need it the most.

 

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Happy 85th, Bill

william-shatner-2016Today we continue my silly annual tradition of wishing a happy birthday to William Shatner, a Canadian actor of some note who played my first childhood hero in an obscure old television series with which the readers of this blog may or may not be familiar.

At the age of 85, Shatner is — or at least presents himself as — more active and engaged with life than I am at slightly more than half that many years old. I envy him that. And yet…

It’s dangerous to make assumptions about the emotional state of a person you don’t know, especially one who pretends to be other people for a living. But I have to say that Bill Shatner seems really sad to me these days. (As in, he feels sad, not that he is sad, you smart-alecks.) He strikes me as a lonely man coming into the final stretch of his life with the dawning realization that he’s missed out on something deeply important. While the rest of his Star Trek costars have appeared to enjoy a lively camaraderie with one another over the years and have taken genuine pleasure in being part of such a cultural landmark, Shatner, for whatever reason, has held himself aloof from all of it until very recently, and even now his convention appearances tend to be… awkward. (Full disclosure: I’ve met him twice in convention settings and found him far more cordial than his reputation would suggest, but he’s still not at all comfortable interacting with fans, a tremendous contrast to all the other Trek alumni I’ve encountered.) By his own admission, his only real friend among the Trek cast was Leonard Nimoy. And now Leonard is gone… and in his recent book about his friend, Shatner reveals they weren’t even speaking at the time of Nimoy’s death. That little tidbit really breaks my heart.

I keep thinking of a line delivered by his alter ego in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier — easily the worst of the original-cast Trek features, but one that nevertheless has its moments. In one of those moments, following yet another narrow escape, Captain Kirk tells Spock and Bones that he wasn’t afraid because the two of them, his closest friends, were with him. “I’ve always known that I would die alone,” he says. The boundary between the character and the actor often seems pretty thin anyhow, but now that Leonard and Deforest Kelly, who played Bones, and Jimmy Doohan, who was Scotty, are gone… with Nichelle Nichols diminished from a stroke and Walter Koenig not looking very well at all when I met him last fall… well, I wonder if Bill ever thinks about that line and gets a cold sensation in the pit of his stomach, and regrets the choices he made when he was younger.

I’m just speculating, and maybe I’m even projecting some subconscious fear of my own onto a man I only feel like I know. I’ve got no grounds and no right to have any of these ideas on behalf of another person who wouldn’t know me from Adam. Besides, George Takei will probably outlive all of us.

And yet… these are the impressions I get whenever I see The Shat these days. I hope I’m wrong.

In closing, I’ll just repeat what I wrote for this occasion last year:

If I could, I’d buy him a drink. And I would be honored to raise a glass with him…

To absent friends.

To life going on.

May you have many more happy returns, Bill.

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Trek or Wars?

mashup_spock-with-droids

So, I was talking recently with this guy and when I happened to mention that I wasn’t blown away by the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, the way I’d hoped to be, he replied, “Well, that makes sense… you’ve always been more of a Trekkie anyway.”

Whoa, wait… what?!

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback.

Not that I deny being a major Trekkie, of course. How can I, when I honestly can’t remember a time before I’d seen the original Star Trek series? Hell, one of my strongest memories of kindergarten — kindergarten! — is talking to a little girl about this cool guy on TV called Spock. But somehow it surprises me to think that people believe I prefer one of these pop-cultural juggernauts to the other. Certainly I’ve never seen myself as having a preference.

People love their rivalries, though, don’t they? Sports teams, political parties, favorite hamburger chains, what make of pickup truck you drive… the list is endless. For nerds, the irresolvable conflicts are Marvel vs. DC and Star Trek vs. Star Wars. I can tell you from personal experience that nerd rivalries are every bit as bitter as those between football fans. My first real taste of that came from this kid I knew back in college. He was frankly the biggest nerd I’ve ever met, the sort who was absolutely convinced there had to be an “in-universe” explanation for why the sets were different on later seasons of the BBC sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf than they’d been in the first year. (Um, because the production company got a bigger budget and built new ones?! As nerdy as I proudly am, I’ve always had this stubborn connection to real-world, behind-the-scenes reality.) This guy was so extreme in how seriously he took his fannish interests that he could’ve been a character on The Big Bang Theory. He would’ve been the guy the regular characters on The Big Bang Theory look down on, actually. Anyhow, this guy left me speechless one afternoon by snottily decreeing that he was a Trekkie and he hated Star Wars because there are obviously more story possibilities inherent in a trek than in a war. Um, okay, whatever, man.

Personally, I’ve always found the rivalry between the two properties and/or their fans, this idea that there are two warring camps who can never, ever find common ground, silly.and contrived, in spite of my old college pal’s rotten attitude. If you prefer one over the other, that’s your prerogative, but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy both, and I suspect most people — at least the people who like this stuff at all — like both.

For the record, I consider my affections pretty evenly divided between the two, about 50/50. Over the years, my focus has shifted back and forth between them, largely depending on which was more prominent in the culture at the time (Trek was far more active in the late ’80s and early ’90s, for instance, while Star Wars was in a fallow period then), but I love ’em both more or less equally. I find neither “superior” because they’re not trying to accomplish the same thing, and both franchises have produced lots of dross in name of the almighty marketing machine. From Trek, I’ve taken a lot of my personal sense of morality and ethics, as well as (probably) my urge to explore — or perhaps the stories of exploration have resonated with some trait that was already baked into my character. But Star Wars excites me in a way Trek never has. One appeals to my intellect and the other to my gut, I suppose. They are the poles at either end of my nerdy continuum.

Of course, at the moment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more consistently satisfying me than either Trek or Wars, so figure that one out.

This has been another meaningless exercise in navel-gazing brought to you by a late hour and a fuzzy head grabbing inspiration from wherever it can…

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Review: Star Trek: Captain’s Log

Star Trek: Captain's Log
Star Trek: Captain’s Log by David Tipton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This graphic novel, which I suspect will be of interest only to hardcore Trekkies, collects four stories about starship captains whose names aren’t Kirk or Picard: Pike (from the original series’ first pilot episode “The Cage”), Sulu, Harriman (briefly seen in the feature film Star Trek: Generations), and Jellico, a character who appeared in the two-part Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.” While it’s an interesting idea to more fully flesh out some of the background characters of the Star Trek universe, the results are decidedly mediocre, in part because three of the four stories follow essentially the same formula: the starring captain experiences (or is told about) a specific incident, then finds himself in similar circumstances and uses the trick that worked years ago to save the day again. Only the Jellico story breaks the mold… as does the Jellico character himself, perhaps the only truly abrasive Starfleet captain we’ve seen in all the many, many years of Star Trek stories.

My favorite of the four stories involves Harriman, captain of the Enterprise-B, and his struggle to come to terms with his role in the incident seen in Generations, in which the legendary Captain Kirk was (apparently) killed saving Harriman’s ship. Harriman is widely believed to be “responsible for the death of a monument” because he froze when the crisis began, and his confidence isn’t helped when an angry Doctor McCoy dresses him down. Overall, the story is somewhat banal — McCoy apologizes and shares some wisdom, the Klingons attack, Harriman outwits them and regains his mojo — but there are some really nicely written exchanges between Bones and Harriman, and the dialog is all in-character and authentic. (My favorite: “You’re a wise man, Doctor.” “Nah, I’m an old man. People just mistake the one for the other.” That’s Bones McCoy, at least in his later years; I even “heard” the words in De Kelley’s voice.) It helps that this segment has the best artwork of the four, too; Andrew Currie really captures Kelley’s and William Shatner’s expressions.

The Pike story has some nice emotional moments as well, expanding on a relationship only hinted at in “The Cage” between the captain and his attractive young Yeoman, but overall it’s just a generic shoot-’em-up tale. The Sulu story was completely forgettable (seriously, I can’t even recall what it was about). As for the final story about Jellico… it’s a nice change from the others, in that it’s told from the perspective of a newly transferred officer who’s trying to get used to her new captain, but I find Jellico such an obnoxious bully that I can’t believe he’d be an effective leader, and I can’t bring myself to care too much about him. He’s a jerk at the beginning of the story, he’s a jerk at the end of the story, and the protagonist has simply learned to live with it.

Ultimately, this is a fast, but disposable read aimed at a niche audience. But it does have its moments…

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Review: Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay

Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay
Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay by Harlan Ellison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The City on the Edge of Forever” is widely regarded as one of the best — if not the best — episode of the original Star Trek series. But as every Trekkie worth his replicator credits knows, the version that got filmed was substantially different from the teleplay that science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison turned in. The notoriously prickly Ellison didn’t take too kindly to being rewritten, and he’s griped for years about how Gene Roddenberry screwed him and his story over, and how much better his version was than the one that viewers saw. Now his original teleplay has been brought to life in a form that gives us an idea of how it might have looked on the small screen if it’d been made the way Ellison wrote it. This graphic novel adaptation, with scripting by brothers Scott and David Tipton and artwork by J.K. Woodward, is an impressive piece of work. Woodward’s art is particularly noteworthy, a highly realistic painted style that captures the likenesses of actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Joan Collins, and Grace Lee Whitney with eerie accuracy. And it’s fascinating to see both the parallels and departures from the more familiar television version of the story. There’s only one problem: I personally don’t think Ellison’s version of the story is better (or even as good as) the revised one.

Oh, his ideas were grander than the revision’s, to be certain. His Guardians of Forever would’ve been much cooler than the “stone donut” the TV producers came up with as a cost-saving substitute, and his story features some poignant moments and themes that arguably shouldn’t have been left out. But Ellison’s teleplay also includes some really hackneyed space pirates, a lot of unnecessary characters (which of course would’ve cost money in the form of additional actors who need to be paid), and some cringe-worthy “far-out” sci-fi jargon that sounds like it came straight out of the rocket-ship movies of the 1950s instead of the more naturalistic style Star Trek was going for in the 1960s.

Also, I was deeply troubled by Ellison’s misunderstanding of the familiar characters. While it was great to see Yeoman Rand do some butt-kicking instead of playing the helpless female she so often was in the TV series, Spock comes across as a condescending, peevish, frankly kind of bitchy antagonist to Kirk. To be fair, Ellison probably wrote this before the series had really nailed down Spock’s characterization, but with the benefit of hindsight, this version of Spock is just flat-out wrong… except in the final scene when he tries to console his heartbroken captain. That scene works beautifully. But in general, Ellison’s teleplay, while entertaining and emotionally effective, feels more like an episode of The Outer Limits (which Ellison also wrote for) than Star Trek. It’s not that it’s bad, because it’s not… it’s very good as a science-fiction story. It’s just not very good Star Trek, if that makes sense.

Still, this graphic novel is well worth checking out for the artwork and the glimpse of what might have been. It includes all the variant covers by Juan Ortiz and Paul Shipper from the single-issue comic run, as well as an afterword that reveals all the “Easter eggs” the writers and artist slipped in. (Watch for an appearance by Ellison himself as “Trooper,” a character I’m deeply ambivalent about, because I don’t think the story needed him — as Ellison has always claimed — but I do like him and his interactions with Kirk.)

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Shatner’s First Exotic Ride

You know, that fancy Rivet tricycle isn’t the first exotic vehicle that’s been associated with William Shatner. There’s also the little beauty that appears in this photo:

star-trek_shatner-space-carAn Internet evergreen, that photo seems to cross my radar every six months or so. (Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post it myself.) I have no idea what the story behind it is, whether it was a publicity still for Star Trek, or for the car itself, or if maybe it was just an amusing snapshot somebody grabbed one day that later escaped into the wild. Any of those options seem reasonable, since Shatner is in costume as Captain Kirk, and the car — a one-of-a-kind show vehicle that was originally titled the Autorama Special, and later renamed the Reactor — appeared in a 1967 Trek episode called “Bread and Circuses.”

The Reactor actually has a pretty interesting history, if you’re into this sort of thing. Built in 1965 by a Southern California hot-rodder named Gene Winfield, the two-seater boasts a lightweight aluminum body; a front-wheel drive train powered by a Chevy Corvair engine; electronically operated doors, hood, and roof bubble; and height-adjustable suspension… all features that were well ahead of their time. In addition to Star Trek, the Reactor was also featured in an episode of Bewitched and twice showed up on Adam West’s Batman series as Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman car.

Winfield enjoyed a long association with Hollywood, thanks in large part to the notoriety he gained from the Reactor. He would go on to build or play a hand in the design of many film and television vehicles, including the full-size mock-up of the Galileo shuttlecraft, again for Star Trek; the modified Sunbeam Tiger driven by Don Adams as the title character in Get Smart; and a plastic-bodied vehicle called the Piranha, which was prominently featured in The Man from UNCLE. Winfield’s creations in the ’80s included the 6000 SUX from Robocop; the flying version of the time-traveling Back to the Future DeLorean; the sleek “starcar” seen in both CGI and physical form in The Last Starfighter; and some 25 vehicles for Blade Runner, most notably the police “Spinner” that whisks Harrison Ford around the dystopian Los Angeles of the year 2019.

As for the Reactor, the commission job that put Winfield on the map, it still exists. Gene reacquired it in 1999 — I haven’t been able to learn where it was in the decades between its TV heyday and then — and restored it. It now resides at his shop, Winfield Rod & Custom, in Mojave, California. Yes, Gene is still building cars at the age of 87… another fine example of not fading away with age!

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So What the Heck WAS Spock Looking At, Anyhow?

[Ed. Note: This post is going to be a little on the self-indulgent side — okay, a lot — and all in service of a punchline that’s probably not nearly as funny as I think it is, so I apologize in advance.]

I really like the current look of my blog, with one exception: when you’re looking at the home page, with its long scroll of recent entries, there’s nothing to indicate whether anyone has commented on any of those entries unless you actually go into the individual entry page. Consequently, I wonder if people don’t realize there’s more going on “in the back room,” so to speak, and are missing out on things that get said there. (Not that there’s ever much going on back there these days; Simple Tricks isn’t quite the happening place it used to be, sadly. A topic for another time perhaps.)

In any event, there was an exchange in the comments on my last entry, the one about running across the tribute to Nimoy in the report I was proofreading, that I thought was pretty funny and ought to be more widely seen.

Basically, after I remarked that the tribute wasn’t such a surprise after all, given that the report’s writers were IT people (i.e., nerds), and that Nimoy had made quite an impact, my friend Jaren came back with, “The grouch in me thinks that his impact on IT will be minimal until we figure out just what he was looking at in his blue monitor box on the bridge. And until I get one myself.”

What Jaren is talking about is, of course, the viewing device that Spock was frequently seen examining at his bridge station on the original Star Trek, which I would say is probably one of the iconic visuals of that series, right up there with the Enterprise firing her main phasers:

star-trek_spock_bridge-viewer

As Jaren suggests, we never saw what it was Spock was looking at in there, or what this viewing device did that was any different or better than a simple monitor screen built into the console would be capable of. It was presumably some sort of computer interface or radar-type scanning scope (or both), as Spock would look into it and then recite some useful information. (Remember, the original series was made at a time when CRT-style monitors were enormous things, and nobody had any idea what an actual computer interface looked like anyhow, so I imagine this little personal viewer thingie must’ve seemed pretty futuristic.) But we never actually knew.

This has led to a lot of mildly risque jokes over the years about Spock surreptitiously watching dancing girls, old-fashioned peep shows, or even out-and-out porn (and this started years before watching porn at work became a real-world problem– once again, Star Trek predicted the future!). There’s even a clever (but in my opinion too long and kinda tedious) YouTube video suggesting that Facebook still exists in the 23rd century… and is as big a distraction as ever.

But I believe all these theories are completely up in the night. Like I told Jaren, we all know what he’s really watching in that thing, don’t we?

Yeah, okay, too much setup for something that maybe isn’t that funny. But hey, it amused me. And after the day I’ve had today, and the week I anticipate having starting tomorrow… well, I’ll take whatever amusement I can bloody well get…

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