Monday, May 18, 2009

Of Time Lords, Trek and Thylacines

Oscar Wilde wasn't a science fiction fan as far as we know. I'm guessing he would be into the more character-driven stuff than nuts-and-bolts, if he were.

But he nailed fandom on the head very nicely:
Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
The kiss of death to any successful series is to let the fans get hold of it because they will love it to death, smothering any spontaneous creativity with layer upon layer of continuity, rigidly codifying throwaway one-off lines into immutable canon. Thus two 40-year-old TV series, Dr Who and Star Trek, which started in a blaze of unfettered creativity, were both nigh on unwatchable by the end. Star Trek in particular couldn't run a single scene without a very comprehensive checklist of fan boxes being ticked.

(Dr Who was in almost continuous production from 1963-1989. Trek started later and was more on-and-off – but if you add the original series @ 3 years + 3 spinoffs @ 7 years each + 1 spin-off @ 4 years it actually beats the Doc. And that's not to mention the 10 feature films.)

So when Dr Who was revived, Russell T Davies did it about the only way he could: after an unspecified period and number of regenerations had passed since the last outing, during which time the Time Lords and most established Who history had been wiped out and suddenly everything was up for grabs again. Sadly the initial impetus really hasn't lasted – tendrils from the past began to reach across the gap almost at once and now the two are almost one again. All it will take will be the miraculous reappearance of the Time Lords – which would disappoint but not surprise me in the least – and the work will be complete.

I doubt JJ Abrams consulted Mr Davies, so his revival of Star Trek was done the same way Tasmanian Tigers looked like dogs. Convergent evolution in a similar environment. He starts at the beginning, he wipes out the Time Lords whoever and suddenly everything is up for grabs. Bonzer.

Yes, the film is fun – the best cinematic Trek offering for a long time. About a decade, in fact. That said, I hope it doesn't spark a new series. Trek has reached retirement age. The Enterprise is snazzy, and respectful of the original design, and takes into account modern technology – inanimate surfaces suddenly providing computer interaction, for example. So it should keep everyone happy. But the days of a bridge full of personnel, even if they are all equipped with the latest Apple technology, staring earnestly at screens showing lots of stars are gone. I confidently expect that the order won't be “set course of Delta Vega”, it will be “ship, we'd like to go to Delta Vega, please”. And the ship may need persuading. The future of starship navigation won't be Sulu and Chekov, it will be Eddie the Shipboard Computer. Hi there!

(Why do they build starships in the middle of Iowa anyway? Wouldn't orbit be more logical?)

The cast convincingly play young versions of the originals, especially McCoy, who lacks the southern accent but is still secure in the knowledge that he's a damn good doctor and out of the line of command so he can say pretty well what he wants. The biggest exception, sadly, is Kirk, who has all Shatner's cockiness but none of the charm that let him get away with it. And then almost every positive thing the film accomplishes is offset by the last five minutes in which the recently graduated Ensign Kirk gets given the Federation's newest and best starship to command as a prize for saving the Earth, Oh, come on! That's just insulting to the intelligence. A medal and a commendation, maybe, but then let him sweat his way up the ranks like everyone else. I bet he would be a really rubbish c/o to work under. Everyone's pay would be months in arrears because he couldn't be arsed to do the paperwork.

On the other hand, I will forgive just about any shortcomings for the throwaway line about Admiral Archer's beagle.

For reference: Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As ‘Fun, Watchable'


  1. I think the justification for the Enterprise being built on Earth was:

    a) It'll be operating under artifical gravity anyway most of the time so they might as well build it that way, so they don't need to install the art-grav first and then do everything else. Nevermind that it's a waste of time/power/effort, it's cheaper to film and that's what counts.

    b) Apparently in the Star Trek universe it makes sense for interstellar craft to land on planets every so often, so it might as well take off from one. This despite them having lots of shuttles and a teleporter. Wait, what?

    Then again, they use a pressurized ship even during combat, locate their bridge on the outer edge of the spacecraft, and carry six warp cores (which explode with enough power to counteract a black hole) alongside lots of frequently-ineffectual photon torpedoes. Star Trek has never been especially good at science.

    Was it just me who thought two of the most effective shots in the entire film were the ensign being sucked out of a hull breach in the opening battle, and the parachute jump onto the drilling platform - primarily because both used silence effectively? Firefly has many lessons to teach about effective portrayal of space! You don't need pew-pew noises to be cool!

  2. I'd have said building a massive great starship sans grav of any kind was an advantage ... but then I'd take on board all your points and also add seatbelts, so what do I know?


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