The Bluffers Guide to Geekdom – Star Trek

tos_titleEver wondered what all those geeks in the corner were talking about? Sick of missing out of the sly references and obscure in-jokes? Never Fear! The Bluffers Guide is here to help.

Seeing that ‘Star Trek into Darkness‘, the follow up to the successful reboot by J.J Abrams is just around the corner as well as a new video gamwe tackle Star Trek in today’s guide.

So, what do you feel left out of this time?

Star Trek.

What, really?

Yes. Embarrassing, isn’t it?

I’m not sure being embarrassed about not knowing about Star Trek is quite the right emotion, but I guess it is pretty much the archetypal geek TV show. There are five main series, eleven movies (with latest out next month), a video game (out this month), a cartoon spin-off and more toys and lunchboxes than you can imagine!

I dunno, I can imagine quite a bit.

That’s Star Wars.

Sorry. So Star Trek is the guys in brightly coloured jumpers making out with hot alien women?

Well that’s the Original Star Trek (TOS), yes. Its the “Beam me up Scotty” (pro-tip: never actually said in the show), the guy with the pointy ears being logical, and “Goddamn it Jim, I’m a Doctor, not a catchphrase machine”.

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Sounds very familiar.

Because it is – The Original Star Trek ran for two decent seasons and a weaker one (by popular fan consensus) but lived well beyond its years in growing consciousness. In many ways it defined what a Sci-Fi TV should be like, and how its fans became a byword for the sort obsessive geekdom you normally only see in sports fans.

Three seasons? Doesn’t seem a lot.

Um, no. In the wake of the success of Star Wars the crew were reunited for a movie – Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture – whose sequel, The Wrath of Khan, is the one you have to say is your favorite whether you want to or not, although thankfully it’s a comparative rare case of fan consensus being correct. The ongoing success of the film franchise led to a TV relaunch set years later with a totally new crew and fledgling Computer-Enhanced Special Effects.

More bright jumpers and Hot Alien Women?

Less so, actually. Star Trek: The Next Generation is a more thoughtful show on the whole and tends to resolve problems without too much shouting computers to death or blowing up space lizards with improvised cannons, and at it’s best managed to introduce more serialised and character focused plots into the genre. Its riddled with pastel-shaded idealism, which isn’t very fashionable in SF these days, but was a huge success, with the crew taking over the movie franchise for four movies once the TOS people retired.

But there is still three more series? It’s never ending!

4eaacc4f19569-1Sorry. Overlapping with the end of TNG was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a darker and edgier take on the universe that at the time wasn’t warmly welcomed by a lot of fans for it’s lack of actually trekking through the stars and it’s air of grey morality and compromise. But this, and the heavy serialisation that showrunner Ron Moore brought to it, makes it a distinct and well remembered show in it’s own right. Oh and it had darker jumpers and more fighting, which probably helped.

But no movies for this lot then?

No – DS9 and it’s slightly-overlapping follow up, Star Trek Voyager didn’t get to jump to the big screen, and Voyager and ill-fated prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise showed signs of a franchise starting to run out of creative juice. Enterprise in particular managed to alienate a lot of fans by taking liberties with established background whilst failing to use those liberties to reach out to a wider audience in the way TNG had. Other shows were coming along, doing it better, and after only four seasons Enterprise was cancelled, taking Star Trek off the air once again.

Awwww. But hang on, wasn’t there another film? A shiny one, with lots of lens flare?

Yep. J.J Abrahms of Lost and Alias fame got to pick up the franchise and make a reboot, which is the fashion of the time, recasting the TOS characters as younger, sexier and fightier. Technically this is all in a parallel universe to the main series – there’s some hand-waving in the movie to explain it away – so that all the other series still happened along with all the tie-in toys, lunchboxes and so on, but any future movies can mine out what worked from the TOS series and films without having to obey any sort of master continuity.

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Sounds sensible. That’s a lot of continuity to master. So aside from there being lots of it, why is Star Trek so important?

Well, as mentioned, for a long time it was the only real show in town, managing to be both popular and accessible and also managing to talk about “stuff” – TOS using it’s “planet of the week” format to tell SF parables about racism, intolerance, good and evil, all that sort of thing, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so, but it brings with the idea that SF shows can be more than mere entertainment in a way that its predecessors like say, Lost in Space, didn’t. TNG starts a boom in SF programming by networks that brings us Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica (rebooted by Ron Moore), Farscape and Firefly, amongst others. Many of these shows define themselves against Star Trek, they certainly can’t ignore it’s presence.

Against Star Trek? What does that mean?

Well Star Trek is not without its problems and you’ll find a lot of geeks very down on it. Its characters tend to be noble, idealistic and capable, and can come across as arrogant, patronising and smug in their shiny, ultra-tech spaceship of unlimited resources. There is also a tendency for lazy plotting that can be summed up as “oh help! our magic science machine has broken!” followed by “hooray! we have invented a new magic science machine to fix it”. Star Trek has given geekery the word “Technobabble” and not for positive reasons. Anything else?

I think thats quite enough for now. Catch you later.

Sure. Live Long, and Prosper.

Wait, what…?

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 Star trek into Darkness hits screens 9th May.

GS Reporter: Matt Farr

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